Bring on the Fall

Fall Decor

I love the fall. So happy that the steamy, hot, humid weather has ended and the days are sunny, the nights cooler and the leaves are starting to change. Janet does a great job celebrating the season with decorating the house and we both feel the change coming. Love it. Hauling out the fleece, watching college football games, going to the farm markets teeming with pumpkins, cider, apples and people who are celebrating like we are. Did I say I love the fall?

As I age, I also celebrate little things that I may not have paid much attention to in a younger day. Just appreciating what is around us. Little things like a cold beer after a mountain bike ride with my friends. The other night,( in a place which I dare not mention because the local residents would string me up if I gave away information on their beloved trail system,) we all sat around after the ride with our fleece, our camp chairs and various beverages relaxing in the cool temperatures. My friend Sandy McKee told us his daughter lives in Vermont and usually brings a couple of cases of Heady Topper beer from the Alchemist Brewery when she visits mom and dad. Sandy hauled a couple of these out at the ride, and I have to tell you, I was excited. It is not too often we get to sample Heady Topper here in Pa. A very popular beer in New England which almost never makes it out of there because of its popularity. To have a couple of cases make their way here is a real treat and Sandy just made the cool, evening post ride amazing! It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get when you drink in that first sip of a great beer after a ride. But sitting down in your camp chair, drinking in that first sip, looking at the changing leaves and talking about the ride with friends is really special. The post ride is almost as good as the ride itself.

A real treat – Heady Topper
Sandy McKee in the foreground. Made our evening ride more special.

I know I talk a lot about mountain biking in this blog but really, it is a great way to exercise and a wonderful way to take in the trails and scenery in wooded settings all around the country. This time of year in Pennsylvania, the weather is pretty cool and dry, and is actually our best weather in these parts. In my opinion, nothing better than taking it in on the seat of a bike. What makes it even more special is that I got a new bike recently which is light, fast, and enjoyable to ride. I have been riding a monster truck recently (a 29er plus) and although it is great on really rough terrain like we have in the mountains around here and in West Virginia, it is tough to haul that weight around as I grow older. The new light steed brings me back a little. A real gift as I start the fall riding season.

The Transition Spur

So taking that second sip of the Heady Topper, I looked around at my group and was thankful that I had good friends to share the experience of riding and reveling in the post ride. Bob K always brings snacks, and as we all sit around munching and sipping away, time stops for a moment or two if I allow myself to take it all in. I think sometimes that the fall also ushers in the final quarter of a year and as another one slips by, I think how important it is to grab every moment to enjoy what life has to offer. Simple things like trails, leaves, apple cider, and being with friends who value the same things. And of course – Heady Topper. Thanks Sandy. Thanks for reading.

Fall in the Laurels.

9/11 in PC

McPolin Farm – Park City, Utah
Old friends are the best!

Janet and I had the opportunity to visit Park City, Utah last week and do some hiking in the spectacular Wasatch range. We generally visit the west during the winter for skiing but decided to augment that with a trip to see Park City in the summer. The town is bustling and the weather is usually downright perfect for walking around and hiking in the neighboring ski resorts like Park City, Deer Valley, and the Canyons. We also took a trip to Sundance which is well worth the drive and the hike up to Stewart Falls was spectacular. We enjoyed that opportunity with our dear friends, the Birsics, who are Park City residents.

Sundance, Utah

Janet likes to hike and we do a lot of that at home. This was a little different in that the hikes are a little more strenuous but she was a trooper as we climbed lots of vertical feet to witness some of the most breathtaking vistas in the Wasatch. As we hiked through aspen groves and wildflower lined hiking trails, we marveled at just how beautiful the mountains are in the summer. Crossing some of the ski slopes, I reminded Janet of where we were and how she had skied them this past winter. She remarked that they looked a lot more steep in the summer. A typical comment for someone viewing ski trails in the off season. We just missed the fall season with the changing leaves but we had a hint of it here and there where a short storm blew in and the leaves began to fall in the chillier stormy wind. We could see the beginning of fall with some of the leaves already starting to turn in what is a rather short season in Utah.

Views of the Jordanelle Reservoir in Heber from Deer Valley

All week the weather was beautiful and we took advantage of great restaurants, shops, and other places of interest in Park City. On Saturday, September the 11th, we visited the McPolin Farm for a little walk on their well maintained hiking paths and our eyes became fixed on the huge American flag that hangs from the iconic white barn that is visible from the highway. People were clamoring to get a photo op in front of the flag and I wondered to myself if they just wanted the photo op or whether they had some sense of patriotism on the day commemorating the tragedy in the twin towers, the Pentagon, and Shanksville. Jan and I had our opportunity for the photo and thought about what President Bush had said that morning. In an eloquent speech from Shanksville, site of the Flight 93 crash, the former President tried to rally all of us to move on from the partisan politics and realize that we are all Americans. Whether you are conservative or liberal in political persuasions, white, black, Latino, native American, or whatever, we are all Americans and should band together to realize that we all are brothers and sisters under this banner of democracy and freedom. The former President said it so well.

As we wound down our week of being in the beautiful mountains, we kept telling ourselves how blessed we were to visit such a great town in a great part of the country. The 9/11 date gave us pause to reflect on how all of us who live in America are blessed to have great opportunities, the chance to help our fellow citizens, and the general feeling of kindness that should be the hallmark of all Americans. We live in a beautiful country and people from all over the world come to visit what we call home. As I looked at that flag one more time, I said a little prayer that all of us come together. Just like we did on that fateful day in 2001. I will never forget that day and neither will all of us who saw the details of that day unfold. We need to appreciate our country, the landscape from ” sea to shining sea”, and know that we are better than what has transpired in this last year. I look at those mountains and think what a great country we have. Happy to be able to see it and thankful for the opportunity to enjoy it. Thanks for reading.

The End of an Era

So, I was on a mountain bike ride with my pal Steve Gurtner the other day and he said, ” did you hear they tore the cabin down on County Line Road?” I said- “Dixon’s ?” He said yes. “nothing but a big old hole in the ground now” I was a little shocked and took a drive over to see for myself. Sure enough. A big old hole in the ground where once stood the Rich’s cabin or as my dad used to call it…..” The Dixon Hilton.”

The cabin had come into some neglect and disrepair in the last number of years and my childhood friend Dixon Rich said that it was time for it to come down. Dixon bought the cabin from his folks a while back and as the years went on, it didn’t get much use and was becoming a liability. So Dixon sold the property to some friends who will build a new place. As I stared at the hole in the ground, lots of memories came rushing back to me from my childhood weekends in the cabin near Seven Springs Resort where we all skied as kids

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The old ski lodge and yours truly.

I grew up with Dixon Rich and we have been friends since the minor league in baseball. His dad bought the cabin a long time ago and every weekend, Bob Rose used to take all of us kids up in the station wagon to spend the weekends at the Rich cabin. Sleeping bags all over the floors were common and the bunk beds were filled as well. Usually it was either Sally and Bob Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich Sr., or Ted and Mary Struk who had the chaperone duties and cooking detail to keep all of the neighbor kids from the Berkley Hills area fed and in line. That was the standard weekend in the winter for all of us thanks to the generosity of Dixon Rich Sr. who got the place for all of us to enjoy. I couldn’t wait for the phone to ring on a Friday afternoon when Bob Rose Sr. would call and say- ” 15 minutes- be ready and have all your gear ready.” We would ski Friday nights until 11:00, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and all day Sunday until we would pack up and head back to the burg. That is where we all really learned to ski at Seven Springs, and spending our nights at the cabin on County Line Road. For years!!!!

Dixon and I still skiing together nearly 60 years later.

As the years went on, kids became teen agers and there were all kinds of cars in the driveway. The key to the cabin was always on the top of the entry door and the only rule was before you left, you better put the key back where it belonged. If those walls could talk, you would hear some tall tales from that cabin with all of those raging hormones and visitors coming from near and far to ski weekends with the Berkeley Hills crowd. The parents would still show up from time to time but their git up and go for us had gone up and left as they aged a bit. The Dixon Hilton was party central for many of us growing up on weekends in the Laurel Highlands. Dix and I got into mountain biking around the same time and we used the cabin as a meeting place for our growing number of riding friends. It was cool to have a place to stay and hang out after a big ride from the cabin, over to Hidden Valley and back again. Dixon and I would also take mega rides to Ohiopyle and often get lost on the way back. We relied on the sunset to give us direction and if it got too late, the kindly neighbors from Indian Head would give us a ride back up the hill to the cabin where we were completely exhausted. When they had the NORBA National Mountain Bike series at Seven Springs, Dixon and I raced in our category, and then watched the national class races. The whos who of mountain bike racing came to Seven Springs in those days and somehow they all heard of the parties at the cabin on County Line Road. It was not uncommon to see luminaries of the mountain bike world show up in Dixon’s yard. Maurice and Elaine Tierney of Dirt Rag Magazine, Sue Haywood, Kurt Vooreis, and even Gary Fisher graced the grounds of the Dixon Hilton. The cabin became the meeting place for rides and the after ride festivities for years and it became our little year round resort.

Tough Trail at the NORBAS

Time flew by and our little band of neighbor kids spread out all over the country. The cabin didn’t get much use in recent years and one time Dixon was staying there and he called me on the phone. ” Hey Patrick, you wouldn’t believe it. I was sleeping and at about 3:00 AM the deck fell off.” ” I didn’t know you had to shovel snow off the deck to relieve the weight.” ” All of a sudden it was gone” We both had a good laugh about that one along with some other good memories.

I talked to Dixon the other day and he told me about the sale. I asked him if he kept some memorabilia from the cabin and he said that he had, including the valued pair of Jet Stix. We both laughed and said most people would not even know what they were. For you younger folks- google Jet Stix. Also- he said he kept the flashing yellow light that they used to alert people coming up County Line that the cabin was open and people were there.

Looking at this hole in the ground, I will miss the old days. But I will always be grateful to the Rich’s, the Roses and the Struks ,and my parents, for their investment in the kids in the neighborhood. That cabin was our home in the winter and I could not think of a better way to grow up. I am still skiing sixty years later and my enthusiasm has not waned one bit. That love of the sport was ingrained in us as kids and I will always be thankful for the cabin on County Line Road. Thanks for reading.

The Fresh New Season

Floral greetings on the hiking trails.

I am not sure whether I am just taking the time to notice or whether this spring has been more spectacular than most . The blossoms and growth in the woods and along the trails are really exploding and I have been thinking to myself as I hike and ride the mountain bike this year, what a blessing this has been. To have sunny days and vibrant colors emerging from the cold winter is really amazing especially around Western Pa where I live. It is usually rainy and wet in the spring and we all jokingly call it mud season. But, so far so good.

The Happy Hiker

I crowbarred my wife Janet out of the house this weekend and she is always glad that I prod her to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. We have a lot of good hiking right near our house and when you look around, you really could be anywhere as you make your way down the paths and trails sighting new plant growth and the usual visuals of the pine forests near our home. The thing I always have to remember is that we have a lot to appreciate right in our own backyard.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love hiking and riding in other parts of the country. There are so many places that have their own special atmosphere and vistas. Everyone who lives in those parts, are really proud of their landscape and their trails that they love to show us.

Western Vistas

There are really great places out there to hike and ride and the mountain views are really spectacular. But really, everyone in all parts of this country have good views and great trails if you are willing to take the time to spend especially in your own back yard. Copper Harbor, Michigan, Mohican State Forest in Ohio, The Moon Rocks in Davis, West Virginia. I love to visit other places and so do my friends, but there is a reason people live where they live. Family, friends, jobs, familiarity, and other factors generally dictate where people are located. Oftentimes I think to myself that I would love to live in the west. But I would never look down on my local outdoors opportunities and think that there is something better. I try to enjoy my local mountains and parks and be happy that I have the health and ability to do so.

The Moon Rocks- Davis, West Virginia.

I watch a lot of You Tube videos of people riding MTB in different parts of the country. And really they have a lot to offer. The thing that is most noticeable is the pride of the locals when they show a newcomer their local treasure of trails. They have an enthusiasm in their voice and a smile on their face that says- ” hey man, this place is the bomb.” And it often is and people are happy to hike or ride there. But is it the ” bomb?” Maybe the ” bomb” is your local scene with your friends in your local mountains or trails. Wherever you live?

Local Laurel Highlands lushness

I always chuckle at the conversations that lead to ” one -upsmanship” You know- like you telling someone from another place what a great time you had on your local trails and they tell you ” Oh man- that is nothing. You should have seen it out here this weekend.” I am sure that it was nice, but there are great hikes and rides everywhere. My dad had a funny saying that said, ” First liar never has a chance.” That is the classic response to ” one- upsmanship.” ” You think that was good? Well, you should see mine” In reality, my friends in Oregon love their trails. My friends in Colorado and California love their trails. My friends in Vermont love the Green Mountains. And I don’t blame them a bit. But I never have that longing to always be there instead of where I am. Love to visit and travel. But I always am thankful for the local scenery and the ability to enjoy it. I never demean the local scene. And there is something to be said for sharing it with my wife and my friends.

Bend, Oregon
Laguna Beach, California

But this coming weekend, I have a friend visiting from Philly and he loves to ride. I will be proud to show him around and let him see the fresh new season we have around here with all the blossoms, flora and everything that is spring on the local trails. I am sure that I will tell him that this is the BEST around here. LOL!! Enjoy what you have- wherever. Thanks for reading.

Laurel Mountain goodness

The Wrap Up

Enforcement

The one thing I will say this year about the ski season was ………that I was glad that we HAD a ski season. From changing my boots in the lot at Laurel Mountain to the Covid 19 security seen above at June Mountain, Ca. the theme was always the same. Please comply with the mask and social distance rules so that we can stay open. Admittedly there is a lot of controversy about masks but it is a small price to pay for the knowledge that the areas were doing the best that they can to stay open during the pandemic. The gentleman above said to me that he appreciates all the public was doing this season to help them stay open. He was concerned not only about the skiing, but for the welfare of the many employees that operate a ski area. Their livelihoods depended on compliance from the public.

No matter where I went this year, the theme was the same. Please comply for us to stay open. It was interesting to see how things transpired as the season went on. The mask laws were always enforced everywhere. When Jan and I went to Deer Valley, Utah in February, they had staff monitoring the lift lines to make sure that people had their masks on and up and over the nose. Signs were everywhere in ski areas this year instructing people to social distance in the lift lines and everywhere on the premises.

The only thing that was hard to monitor for the lift line staff was riding the chair lift. In the beginning of the season, there seemed to be more of a concern for only riding two people per chair- whether it was a triple or a 6 pack. That seemed to expand the lines significantly. Then there was the polite request from the lift line monitors for people to ride together if comfortable. More and more people rode together which reduced the lines but face masks were still enforced no matter how many people loaded the lifts together. Everyone had the option to ride alone. We were at Mt. Rose in Tahoe last Monday and a guy beside me requested to ride alone. I told him I completely understood and he was very gracious. I also told him that we were all fully vaccinated and he said he was too but didn’t trust anybody. He was nice about it but stood firm that he wanted to ride alone and that was fine with us. Generally the line monitors everywhere gave people a chance to ride as they felt comfortable.

All in all, I had the opportunity to get a good read on how the ski areas were doing with initially skiing in the East and then two western ski trips to see how it was being handled in Utah, California and Nevada. One of the other comments from the ski area personnel was that they knew they were being monitored by the state. And their fear was that if the state saw non-compliance or lack of enforcement on the part of the ski areas, they would shut them down. This was the fear from last summer when there was a lot of speculation about whether the ski areas would open for 2020-2021 and if they would stay open. So far so good. My intel from friends in Colorado and Vermont also confirmed that initially there were issues with chair lift lines but as the season progressed, that seemed to wane a bit. The larger areas had lift line issues but the smaller areas or more remote areas had no issues at all.

June Mountain , Ca. views never disappoint.

So as we wrap up another ski season as the areas slowly start to close, I am again grateful that we had a season in these very trying times. It will be interesting to see how the areas did financially seeing that there was a different scene this year. No big apres ski scenes, restaurants at 50% capacity at best with the “Grab and Go” food options being the norm. Most areas got their money up front with the sale of IKON and Epic Passes which is the only way to go considering the price of daily lift tickets. But the food and beverage sales had to take a hit. Again- it will be interesting to see what they report as far as revenue and what lies ahead for the 2021-2022 ski season. I always get a little melancholy with the knowledge that I won’t be on the slopes for another 8 months. I thought about that when I was making some nice giant arcs on some great groomers at the end of the day at Mt. Rose. I thought to myself” Pat- this is what you need to think about this summer when you are getting that ski itch.” I love the feeling of making the skis carve on some great groomers. It brings a smile to your face for sure. Even though the western snow pack was down 50% this year, and the really cool stuff was not accessible, it was still fun to rip the groomers and that feeling of making a nice rounded arc turn never gets old. So bring on the spring and summer. They are fun seasons too, but I will be looking forward to another ski season as the leaves start to turn in the fall. Thanks for reading .

A White Christmas

Even if you are not a winter lover or a snow lover, you have to admit, you like a white Christmas? Most of us who are winter people love the snow and when this last blast came through, blanketing our local parks and mountains with the white stuff, there was a feeling of happiness and contentment in the air. We saw a lady on the trail with a big smile. She looked at us and said….” We needed this!” The long range forecast was cold indicating that the recent storm with re-enforcing 1-2 inches daily would guarantee that we would see a white Christmas. We have not seen one in quite some time. The fact of the matter is that with all we have gone through in 2020, the storm and subsequent weather has been a psychological lift to all of us. If we take the time to take it in and enjoy it.

Personally, there is nothing better than strapping on the old snow shoes and heading out on the trails of our local park in Sewickley, Pa. The muffled sounds and the silence that accompanies a large snowfall, really helps you to put your mind in a place where you can relax, enjoy nature, and think about what is important as we close out a very tempestuous year.

One of the other gifts that we received with this storm was a visit from our friends from Philly who were here visiting their new grandson. Mike and Judy Smith are very active people and jumped at the chance to join Janet and me on the trails of Sewickley. We met up and strapped on the snowshoes and reveled in all that is winter around our local park.

The Flying Smittys
PSU buddies forever.

People in Sewickley also get creative and a surprise at the end of the trail was a most welcome photo- op.

The Outdoor Christmas Tree

Following the “all smiles” snowshoe outing, I got some sandwiches, cheese, fruit, drinks and goodies and proceeded to set up an outdoor picnic- Euro- style! Jaime and Melissa would be proud. It was a welcome surprise to our friends and also my wife who complimented me on the good idea. Although it was a bit chilly, we bundled up, sat in the camp chairs and enjoyed the end of a pretty good day- celebrating the surprise that winter gave to us this past week. Again- a mental break from all that has happened and is currently happening with all the unknowns about the Pandemic.

Winter Picnic in the Park.

I believe you have to take advantage of anything that a season presents to you. Snowshoeing is not only good physical exercise, but a great way to get deep in the woods and think about what is important in life. When all is quiet and all is calm, you can really appreciate the Christmas season. And to have the blessing of a snowfall, the frosted pine trees and the hushed sounds of wildlife moving in the forest, your mind slows and all the problems, schedules, and issues, seem to disappear at least for the moment. It was a real treat to see the Smiths. We have not seen that many people during this time and to see their smiles was truly a lift for the day. I even liked their grand doggie who came on the outing with us. And we were outside which made us feel more safe in these times.

I love Christmas and the gift of a lasting snowfall just accentuates my love for the season. When I snowshoe by myself, it also gives me a chance to think about the real meaning of Christmas. As my earbuds rang out the Messiah choruses, I loved listening to verses like the following:

” Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name- Emmanuel- God with us”

Isaiah 7-14.

I even start singing which is pretty hilarious to people looking at me on the golf course the other day. ” Hallelujah, hallelujah, halleluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuujah.” 🙂 There is something special about choral music ringing in your ears around Christmas. It really gets you in the mood.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. Take the time to enjoy the snow, the beautiful scenery, your family, and the real meaning of Christmas. Emmmanuel! God with us. We need Him. Thanks for reading.

The Car Wash Kings

Pete hosing off.

So this is the time of year for lights, night riding and inclement weather for mountain biking. Now before everyone at the shops gets their pants in a wad, we only hose off like this at the car wash with a LIGHT spray. Just to knock off the splooge. We don’t use the high pressure spray and blow all the grease out of the bearings. This is part of the routine for night riding locally in Western Pa. Also- as an additional disclaimer, we don’t ride trails that are muddy or where we can cause damage. We only have our selected routes that are rocky and drain well in the rain, sleet, snowy and melting conditions that we have here in Western Pa. Pete and I joke that we should have a season pass to our local car wash. We also have additional duties with our splooge suits.

Doing our laundry at the car wash.

People laugh when we tell them we do our laundry at the car wash, but it is a necessary function seeing that our wives would kill us if we brought home a mud encrusted splooge suit and just threw it in the washing machine. We have to prepare and pre- wash these beauties at the car wash.

Riding in the winter takes a special amount of fortitude. I always say that this time of the year is not the time to race, ride fast, or try to get into shape. This is the time of the year just to get out, peddle a little bit and get some exercise. Good lights are key and our Lord of Lumens – Bob Bannon keeps us all well lit.

The Lord of Lumens

The other night we had our first significant snowfall ( 6 inches) which is not an issue for fat bikes. Pete and I have 29er plus bikes with 3″ and 2.8″ tires which are a little more challenging in the snow but doable. Our pal Garage Door Bob and the Lord of Lumens run studs in their fat bike tires but we are not that dedicated. But maybe we should be when we slide out on the black ice that forms on the trails in the freeze thaw conditions we have around here. I take it easy because I don’t want to get hurt during ski season. But nonetheless, a visit to the car wash to knock off the snow and ice is mandatory. It feels so good when you return to your house with a clean bike( LIGHTLY SPRAYED ) and relatively clean clothes. I always say winter night riding is like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It feels so good when you stop. But we all do it and to have the bragging rights to say that we rode all winter, is pretty special.

Garage Door Bob
Our Doc Syed- keeping us all in one piece on rides.
The Shark- ” No such thing as bad weather- just bad clothing choices”
Yours Truly

So- if you think that riding is over with the time change, you might want to consider the alternative. Riding all year. One thing is that you are outside and that kind of exercise is recommended in these Covid times. For me, skiing and riding the MTB keep me outside and socially distanced. Just make sure you do your laundry at the car wash. By the way, my suit is available at Dick’s Sporting Goods or on line at Amazon. The jacket and pants are made by Frogg Toggs. They are in the hunting department at Dicks for around 38 bucks total. When the pants wear out, I just throw them away and get a replacement for around 15 bucks. Thanks for reading

That Great Smell

The Mountain TV

You know, my mother started me on my love for fires. We had a huge fireplace in our house growing up and at the first sign of cold weather, my mom would ask my dad to build a fire as she decorated the house for fall. My mom was the ultimate entertainer and to her, the house was a stage. My dad used to get firewood cut to 36″ to match the large fireplace and grate. He had some real blazes in that house.

Going forward, I had that appreciation for fires as I made my way through ski lodges, and anytime I had a moment to stand by a fire, I would do it, and take in the warmth and the great smell of wood smoke. In Colonial Williamsburg, one of my favorite destinations, they build fires on the street corners in the winter and the period actors discuss the merits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness warming themselves in front of those ” army stacked” blazes.

I took matters into my own hands when we built our last house and had Teddy Hall come down from the mountains and build a 30’retainer wall, fireplace and bench all out of stone from the mountains. I learned what a shiner was. It is the flat facing stone that is strategically placed amid the dry stack of the stones that give some texture to the stacked stone. Teddy deposited 18 ton of stone in our yard and began his magic culminating in what I always thought was a spectacular fireplace.

My son Jack and I would scour for deadfall with my chainsaw and load up my Jeep with free firewood. He was a bit concerned as a young kid about my sources but I explained that we were doing a favor to the environment. At least that is what I told him. LOL!! Anytime I saw wood that was available, I grabbed it and did whatever I needed to do to get it cut and split. All part of the process of building a great fire in a great fireplace. We had fires all year long as it is a great bug zapper in the summer and a warm place in the winter. Many nights I spent in front of that fireplace contemplating what was next in our lives. When my folks passed, I used to sit out back and look up at the stars wondering where exactly they had gone. I saw heaven in those stars and planets and thought about what my folks saw now? Did they see me looking for them? I drifted off to sleep many nights in front of that fireplace. My brother in law, Duke, called it the Mountain TV as it provided entertainment for many guests to our house for many years.

The suspect Christmas wreath.

Duke would build fires so large in our fireplace that he would catch the Christmas wreath on fire many a night. The remnants of that wreath were a reminder of Christmas and a tradition that lasted many years. If the wreath didn’t catch fire, Duke didn’t build it big enough and Christmas was not complete. We had some other funny times in front of that fireplace. Like when my friend Dean melted the soles of his shoes onto the hearth. I peeled them off the next day and mailed them back to him. I have seen some other amazing things at other fireplaces. Like ski boot shells melting or gloves smoking as they hung to dry with the owners frantically trying to salvage the boots and gloves. People don’t realize how hot a fireplace can get.

The other day, I was riding my mountain bike and I smelled wood smoke coming from the house in the valley below. I can pick up that smell from far away and it always brings a smile to my face and a reminder that my favorite time of the year approaches- the fall, Thanksgiving, Christmas and winter. Probably one of the things I miss the most in moving from my former house to our current one is the fact that I had to leave my fireplace. No more wood smoke, no more sitting out back, but my neighbor Tim has a nice fireplace and when I smell the wood smoke drifting my way, I am thankful that he invites us to come up and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I like where we live but it was tough to leave the Teddy Hall masterpiece.

Laurel Mountain Outdoor Fireplace

If you have a nice fireplace- use it. And if you visit ski areas, lodges, or other places where fireplaces are lit during the season, take the time to sit and take in the smell, the warmth, and the quiet time reflecting in front of a roaring fire. Thanks for reading and RIP Teddy Hall. You made our life rich indeed. Thanks for reading.

Change

So my wife and I were hiking the other day up in the Laurel Highlands and she said to me,” It took 32 years ,but I finally am hiking with you up in the mountains in the woods.” We both chuckled as I recounted all the times I told her how peaceful hiking is and how beautiful it is especially at this time of the year. The colors are vibrant as the changing of the leaves ushers in the fall season here in Western Pa. As empty nesters now, we are taking advantage of a lot of opportunities even in this restricted time.

As a byline, she also told me not to take her to any trails that might have rattlesnakes and I agreed seeing that I know ground zero up there for those sightings. But we did see bear scat and she was amazingly calm when we discussed black bear in the area. All in all, Janet is becoming an avid day hiker and when I approached the subject of possibly camping out and sleeping under the stars, she was not ready for that………..yet. But day hiking is relaxing and in this day of rapid fire change, it is nice to see a calm, peaceful changing of the leaves with a relaxing activity like hiking.

Interestingly, the outdoors has become a refuge for a lot of people in this Covid age. Many of my friends across the country are also making use of the time hiking, camping, and enjoying their native surroundings near their homes. From camping near the coastal mountains in California, to camping and riding mountain bikes up in the Bend, Oregon area, to hiking the Green Mountains of Vermont, my friends for the most part are staying close to home and enjoying nature at its finest. Recreation is becoming regional until things become a little more certain.

No matter where you live, there are opportunities to get outside and enjoy the change of seasons right in your own backyard. The fall is one of my favorite seasons and as I think about what has happened to all of us over the last several months, it is encouraging for me to see that active people are out and about. Even a lot of people who were not necessarily outdoors people, have taken the opportunity to buy a bike, a kayak, hiking boots, camping gear if they can get it. It’s nice to be in a remote place without a mask, right?

With change comes the knowledge that the winter season is approaching and people like me are looking forward to that change as well. Not sure exactly how the ski season will be in 2020-2021, but we are prepared with ski passes, trips planned, and a general positive feeling that being outdoors in the winter will be good for all of us. Keeping positive and hoping for the best. But at the very least, there are outdoor activities that can make winter fun and a lot of people might be trying snowshoeing, winter hiking and camping, and cross country skiing for the first time. We can all encourage them and join them to get through all of this together.

In this changing world, we have to stay positive and know that the only thing that is constant these days is change. When we see the colors fade and the leaves falling from the trees, we know that soon enough they will be green again and another season will be upon us. But in the meantime, enjoy each season near to your home and take advantage of spending time with friends and family in the outdoors. It does wonders for your physical and mental health. Thanks for reading.

” To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven”

– Ecclesiastes 3

A Walk in the Woods

I have to say that this time of year is my favorite among the seasons. The temps are changing and the leaves are turning colors- somewhat blazing this year. I love to hike at this time and my interest in that pursuit all started when I was a kid. I loved being in the woods. The first five human beings I knew outside my parents, were my five backyard neighbors- Richard, John, Ron, Glen and Cliffy. We lived in the woods – playing Army, catching crawfish and salamanders, and basically being there until my dad rang the dinner bell from our back patio. My parents didn’t worry about us much in those days. We were gone all day and would come running in for lunch, dinner and stay out as long as possible. We even drank from garden hoses and nothing ever happened to us. Imagine that? Slept out under the stars. We loved the woods and I still do today. This is a picture of Richard, John and me at Arapahoe Basin a couple of years ago. They both live in Colorado now. Even with the fact that we had not seen each other in a while, it seemed as if we left off right where we were the last time we were together. Isn’t that the way it usually is with good friends?

Fast forward from childhood, I hiked and back packed a lot in the fall right after college. The woods in the mountains seemed like a good place to reflect and try to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life at the time.

I would either set up my tent or make arrangements to sleep in a ” lean to” shelter provided by the state. I would look up at the stars in the middle of the night while stoking the fire and try to figure out a path forward – like many of us at the time. Hiking was a relaxing way to reflect, take in the change of seasons, and breathe in fresh air. A walk in the woods was always therapeutic and still is today.

Moving on, to today’s world, hiking is a great activity for my wife and me to enjoy. As empty nesters, we love to get our gear together, strap on our boots and packs, and take that proverbial walk in the woods.
We either go to the Laurel Mountains east of here, or locally to one of our favorite routes in Sewickley. We often remark in our local hike that we could easily be anywhere with the scenic forest and well built trails .

It looks a lot like Vermont or New Hampshire with the rocky trails and hardwood forest, but it is only a 15 minute drive from our house. We don’t have the dramatic backdrops of the Green Mountains or the Whites of New Hampshire, but for a local hike, the scenery is pretty good here in Pa. A nice way for my wife and I to connect without any pressure of keeping up with anyone or keeping some sort of time schedule. Time moves slowly when you take a walk in the woods.

My folks never understood my need to be out in the wilderness, either locally or when I traveled near and far to basically camp, hike, climb, ski, and otherwise enjoy what is out there. Their idea of camping was sleeping at a Holiday Inn with the windows open. Me? I like that tent where I can see and smell the night. The stars, the planets, and the general feeling that the woods are embracing me. I feel like I belong there. That is why it irks me to no end when I see people deface rocks and overlooks with graffiti. All of us who love the outdoors need to protect what we all enjoy. Public lands, trails, National Parks, are all part of our heritage and if we want to leave ” a walk in the woods” for our kids and grandchildren, we always must pay attention to protecting our outdoor places of recreation.

A final suggestion, if you are looking for an activity this fall, maybe try hiking? There are so many places to go and aside from a rucksack filled with water and snacks, and some good sturdy hiking shoes or boots, the investment is minimal and the rewards are great. My love for the woods and the outdoors stems all the way back 55 years with my old buddies playing Army in the woods behind the Zankey’s house. For all we knew, we were in the Rocky Mountains or as far as our imagination led us at the time. Take that walk in the woods. It will restore you and give you needed perspective in our world today. Thanks for reading.