Creative Genius

You don’t have to be a Picasso, or Brahms or Mozart, or even Martin Scorsese to be a creative genius in my book. Lots of my friends are really creative and can look at an opportunity, or a problem, or a riddle and figure out how to best create a solution. Perhaps the best creative genius that I knew, who was able to solve most problems and riddles, was my father. A Carnegie Tech mechanical engineering graduate, Dick McCloskey saw most things as a fun challenge. His engineering mind was always at work and he relished the opportunities to create solutions that would last. He could plumb, do electrical work, solder, and artistically create things like the treasure chest that he made me as a kid. I still have it some 55 years later and store my mountain bike maps there. My dad made us an ice skating rink in the backyard by using 2X4s as rink perimeters and a large roll of Visqueen plastic as the liner to the rink. He would fill it with water every winter and we were not allowed on it until it was completely frozen for fear the skates would cut the plastic. Many nights were spent on that rink on the back patio and it was the centerpiece for the neighborhood kids for winter entertainment.

When I first started to go to Tuckerman Ravine in the spring for the ritual of spring skiing, I needed a way to lash my skis to the external pack that I owned. My dad rigged up some aluminum tubing with some hasps and wing nuts and presto, I had a frame that allowed me to attach my skis with the boots in the bindings to the outside of the pack. Skis pointed to the sky on either side of the pack.

Interestingly, my friend Eric who lived in Vermont at the time, was faced with the same challenge and he made his supports from wood. We have laughed about that in later years as the boy from Steeltown had metal supports and the boy from Vermont had supports made exactly the same from wood. Creative genius from two different perspectives.

But the masterpiece which was created around the same time by my dad, was the ski bench that he made me and I still use some 42 years later and is featured in my blog photo here. I remember going to my dad and saying to him that I needed to have a bench now that I knew how to tune my own skis. Thanks again to my creative genius friend Eric Durfee ,who taught me everything I needed to know about tuning skis. He was also perhaps the best ski instructor I ever had but that is another story. I told my dad that I needed to have a bench using the vices that Eric had given to me and he looked those over with great thought. What popped up in his creative mind was something I would never have imagined. A door from the hardware store complete with hinges. He knew that I needed to have a place for my bindings to fit and he cut the door to the specifications of my skis allowing the bindings to rest in a cut out hole in the door between the two vice pieces. He then mounted the door on the wall of my townhouse in the garage with supports underneath either side of the horizontal door. When I was finished tuning my skis. I flipped the door up to be secured by a hasp on the wall and pushed the supports up against the wall and the whole bench was out of the way until the next time I needed to use it.

The interesting thing is I still use the bench today and as an aside, it also serves as a refrigerator in our garage for items that my wife wants to keep cold. My dad never saw that coming, but the creative genius of my wife allowed her to think about a place to keep things cold in the winter and as long as I did not get metal filings or wax in the food, she was open to storing things on my ski bench when it was not in use for it’s original intent.

I could go on and on about my dad’s creative genius. There were so many things that he made for me that we enjoyed together when I was a kid. Today people just buy things. My dad made them, and his love for creating solutions is something I will never forget. Perhaps the biggest benefit about my dad’s creativity was the chance for me to spend time with him. I cherished those moments and I think about him every time I open up that bench, heat up the iron to wax the boards, and get the file ready for the side edge tunes. My dad never skied, but he and my mother made sure my sister and I did and I am in their debt so many years later. Creative genius is more than just the solution. It is the catalyst to education and a chance for guys like me to appreciate and look back so many years later with thankfulness and love for my dad and mom. Although my creativity is on the other side of the brain, I still look back with respect and love for those who educated me with their ability to see the solution. Thanks for reading.

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Make The Best of It

This time of year in Western Pennsylvania, people tend to get down because of the weather. We are right on the borderline of snow/rain/sleet/freezing rain/and with the time change, the attitudes of some folks tend to get a bit blue. It is also accentuated when the Steelers are not quite up to par and risk not making the playoffs. The major reason I write this blog is to encourage folks to get outdoors and make the best of it. With the weather pattern changing and the storms blowing off the Great Lakes, we tend to be like the Pacific Northwest and precipitation and cold weather go hand in hand.

For those of us who actually do make the best of it down here in the Banana Belt, the lights come out for mountain bike rides as we suffer through cold, wet and slimy conditions, at night, in the dark, illuminated by an array of really high quality lighting systems.


One of the things that makes it manageable is clothing. Rain pants and wicking underlayers are key. I happened upon an amazing full rain suit made by Frogg Toggs which I picked up in the hunting department of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Inexpensive, but it definitely blocks the wind and keeps you warm. And for 38 bucks, when it finally wears out, you can easily replace it. We even hang it in the car wash to hose off along with our bikes with a light spray.

Full disclosure here, we do use a light spray and not the high pressure spray which blows the grease out of all the bearings. We don’t want to incur the wrath of the Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop crew so we tend to be very conservative in the clean up phase after rides. When the splooge factor is high, we must visit the car wash. Splooge being the nasty, muddy, slop that coats your bike during wet winter rides. But it is all remedied at the car wash. And, you can hose off the suit too. And when I am lazy, I just hose off the suit while wearing it.  Just like a shower with the car wash wand.  Lots of fun rides in the winter if you have the drive to continue to ride year round.

A lot of us are skiers and snowboarders too, and we plan our western trips for the season. But living here in Western Pa, you can’t be out west all the time so you make the best of local conditions and just get out. No matter what the weather throws at us.

For these activities, clothing is just as important as seen here with my Patagonia Pro Gore Tex suit that keeps me bone dry along with my snow making gloves from CHS Snowmakers. http://www.chssnowmakers.com

If you can stay dry, skiing in rain is really good because of the soft snow and no lift lines. One of the best days I ever had skiing, was at Whiteface up in the Adirondacks in a torrential rain storm. The rain was cascading off my helmet and goggles as I rode the Summit Chair, but the snow was so soft and easy to ski. I hated to quit at the end of the day because the skiing was so good. Again, you have to be willing to get out this time of year. The cold weather will come soon enough and January and February and especially March, which tends to be more winter like. But in late November and early December, you take what you can get. Just get out and do it and you will feel so much better when you do.  I sound like Warren Miller?   

There are lots of activities in which you can participate during the “off season”. When the snow piles up, the snowshoes come out for my wife and me, and with a headlamp, you can snowshoe at night as well as during the day. Hiking is another fun activity for couples. As with skiing and snowboarding, the apres’ activity is also a fun reward. Nothing like a hot drink sitting next to a roaring fire. The IPAs in the parking lot after rides are pretty tasty too.

So, no deep message here this week folks,( not that I ever give a deep message), just some encouraging suggestions that will make you think about making the best out of rotten weather. Like my friend the Shark always says,” No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” Thanks for reading.

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Evensong.

At this time of the year, I have always enjoyed choral music. I guess my appreciation went back to my college days when I would end the semester at Allegheny College with the annual pre-Christmas holiday concert in the chapel on campus. There is something special about choir music that sets the mood for Christmas and when I headed back to the dorm, my head was right for the celebration of the birth of Christ. There was something comforting in that music and it always took the burrs off finals and cramming to make decent grades. I felt like all was right with the world as I relaxed and headed home for Christmas vacation.

Fast forward and I found myself cycling in England a number of years ago. At the end of every ride, I would head back to the B&B,shower, and then hustle over to the famous cathedrals nearby and listen to the 4:00 PM presentation of Evensong. This has always been a tradition in the Anglican Church where the choir sings in the late afternoon or evening and the public is welcome. So much so, that in Salisbury Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, I was invited to come up and sit right in the middle of the choir on either side of the main aisle. What an experience listening to the beautiful harmony on all sides. It was quite moving and I remember it vividly to this day. Some days I was running late and went straight to the cathedral in my cycling togs. I was hoping I was not too disgusting for the sharply dressed, starched, choir in their vestments, as I sheepishly sat in with them and profusely apologized between songs, as I perspired all over the stone floor. They nodded politely and continued on with the presentation.

Nowadays, I rarely have a chance to listen in person, but I do tend to take in choir music on my Pandora Channel with some renditions by Libera, and even more secular music by Lorenna McKennett or Enya that gives you the same relaxed feeling as you drive. Their Celtic music with that haunting melody, can be equally relaxing. Sometimes, this kind of music can actually alter your mood and relieve stress if you do like I do, and drive the back way to and from work without fighting the masses on the freeways. I would rather go a little out of my way, enjoy the scenery, and take in the changing leaves or the gently falling snow which decorates the pines in the hollows of my commute. Those of you who know me might be wondering if I somehow have a loose screw. But I am here to tell you that as much as I like rock and R&B, I can equally be entertained and relaxed on the Spa Channel or choral music on my drives to work.

This time of year, I also have the opportunity to drive to the mountains on Saturday mornings for some local skiing in our Laurel Highlands. Being the Type “A” person that I am, the day begins well before sunrise and I am on the road in the dark. That quiet time in the car is a wonderful time for me as I anticipate a great day of skiing with my friends and have the opportunity to sip some coffee and listen to some relaxing music on the Libera station on Pandora. Sometimes I will listen to Gregorian Chant by the Benedictine Monks on the album “Chant”. The byproduct of this mood altering music is the fact that I am totally relaxed as I enter the parking lot, go to the lodge, and begin the process of booting up. Once I am on the slopes, I can still hear the chorale music in my mind which helps me make relaxing turns on the hill as juxtaposed to the headphone wearing death metal music that the crazies are listening to buzzing all around me. My elbows are out! Efficient skiing and boarding is smooth. Relaxing music creates smooth turns. Flex the ankles and finish the turns. Kyrie Eleison.

So what’s the point Pat? Well- simply put, give choral music, Gregorian Chant, and Celtic music a chance. This time of year it always gets you in the mood and is a nice alternative from Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And, if you are headed to the mountains for skiing, or a ride, or anywhere else where a car ride is involved, make the most of it and unload the stress from the week. Also, this type of music can make you think about the reason for the season. The words bring you to the real meaning of Christmas and release you from all the stress inducing secular time crunches for a consumer oriented holiday. I think of Evensong and am glad that I had that experience to make me appreciate the season. Thanks for reading and enjoy your Christmas or Hanukkah, and quiet times in the car.

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Breaking the Seal

So finally after waiting 8 months to ski again,( mild depression sets in on the last day of skiing no matter how much I like mountain biking), we rode up the chairlift and effectively broke the seal on the new 2019-2020 ski season. I said to the group it is like breaking a seal on a bottle of Gatorade. You take that first thirst quenching taste and then replace the cap. You feel so much better and you have done what needed to be done and experienced opening day even though the terrain was limited. Seven Springs Mountain Resort( our home area here in Western Pa) did a great job of snow making and grooming to open some nice skiing for the crowd that had been waiting patiently amid all the postings from the Ski the East group on Facebook. We were finally in the mix and proudly posted that the Springs was open for business and all is well.

Now you might ask, ” Why go up for one slope and two trails?” But my avid skiing friends all remarked in unison, ” Why not?” After a nice breakfast hosted by Seven Springs for all the season pass holders, ( which was excellent by the way), the enthusiastic crowd converged on the two chair lifts and the lines were long. But the best part was that nobody seemed to care and everyone figured that they would eventually get on the chair to take their first run of the season. Waiting in line was fine with all the “hellos” and ” how was your summer” conversations and not one person had a frown on their face or a negative word to say. We are all skiers and we are breaking the seal on the new season.

 

My friends Jaime and Melissa Thompson had been texting and giving me email updates all week on the gigantic snow whales that were forming because of the round the clock snow making . Armed with an arsenal of new HKD snow making nozzles and towers and a new 20″ main water line, Seven Springs was locked and loaded. The groomers eventually flattened the whales and the smooth groomed surface was ready for the taking. For the uninitiated, whales are huge snow piles that form in strategic areas from extended snow making. The water drains through the pile and when it is “seasoned” the pile become rubble for the groomers who smooth it over a larger area.

No matter what, your first run of the season is always exciting. From day one for me, back in 1961,  to the present day, I always cherish that first chair lift ride and that first turn down the mountain. I will always remember those first of the season outings with Bob Rose picking us up in the station wagon for the weekends in the mountains. I couldn’t wait for the phone call. My mom had dinner waiting for me when I got that call to be ready in a half hour on a Friday night. What a great way to grow up as a kid.  That excitement still is with me all these 58 years later. And although that first turn is always a little ragged. I thought to myself, “is the tuning ok or is something amiss?” But then I realize that I am in the back seat and need to get forward. Once that comfort sets in, the turns became more smooth and I realize that once again, ” I have this” and a new season begins.

Bill Boucher said it best when he stated in the lift line that it is hard to explain this enthusiasm to most people especially folks who don’t ski. But he went on to say that,” Pat, this has been such a huge part of our life and it still is.” Skiing is a lifestyle. We are not people who ski once in a while, we are skiers! It defines us, as Bill so eloquently explained. I agreed wholeheartedly as we lapped runs on the famous Wagner Bowl and Cortina Trail. Obviously we are anxious for more and as we eagerly watch the Weather Channel for upcoming favorable temperatures and snowfall, we know that to ski in Western Pa, on November the 23rd before Thanksgiving is indeed a true bonus. Yes, Utah, Tahoe and Mammoth await me and I am anxious as anyone to get this party started.

But like I always say with my pals Jaime and Melissa, ” you can’t be out west every weekend so why not enjoy what we have locally at Seven Springs and soon Laurel Mountain.

Our Laurel Highlands are most enjoyable and no matter what, as everyone said this weekend,” Why not!!” Thanks for reading.

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The New York State Scareway

Everybody is getting pumped up for the ski season ahead. Here in the East, we are experiencing our first blast of arctic weather and the snow making machines are blowing from New England clear into North Carolina. Ski The East website is humming with pictures of snow making and first tracks. Western trips have been planned, passes purchased for local and western skiing, and it is all systems go for the winter ahead for skiers. One of the rituals that I have on my schedule for the last 45 years has been the annual auto trek to New England or the Adirondacks to ski with long time friends. I have always driven 4 wheel drive vehicles since I was a teenager, but they are tested with drives on the New York State Thruway or the Scareway as I call it.

One of the pleasures of a road trip is that you can pack more into your vehicle than you would on the plane and you can drive at your own leisure and schedule. From the old days with tapes in the cassette player for entertainment to modern day Podcasts and Sirius XM Radio, I sit back and settle in to the annual 8-12 hour drive in normal conditions. But I never get normal conditions. The typical drive encompasses the following harrowing situations:

I -79 to Erie and 90 East- usually a whiteout condition with heavy snow blowing off the Lake Erie snow machine. I try to time the drive but I always get caught here with the lake effect and visual impairment all the way to Buffalo. The windshield fluid usually craps out here too as I try to peer through salt stains until I can pull over and get some more.

New York State Thruway at Buffalo- usually snow or freezing rain and wind blowing tractor trailers sideways off the frozen pavement. A slight reprieve heading east towards Rochester only to be slammed again with the Lake Ontario snow blower. One year I fought a 3 foot storm all the way to Vermont beginning in Rochester and continuing on through Utica and eventually all the way to Bethel, Vermont.

NYS Route 67 through Amsterdam, New York- cutting the corner here I ran into a heavy snow last year with no one on the road on a Sunday night. I saw the red light, I looked right and left and blew through the light to make sure I made it up the hill from the bridge with my Jeep, only to be stopped by a lone State Trooper. I explained, he understood, and let me go with the warning to get back on the Scareway because cutting the corner was not advised that night.

The final slog up Interstate 87 to the Adirondacks or east to Ft. Ann and into Vermont- usually the roads are covered and as tractor trailers have passed me maniacally, I have seen them up the road jackknifed into the valleys between the northbound and southbound lanes. Even have seen a few that jumped the guardrails on the right hand side of the road. I tell folks they are not that good to drive that fast. But the harrowing drives always come to an end with an extended drive time but better safe than sorry I always say. Especially seeing the tractor trailer carnage all the way up and back from Pennsylvania.

But the reward is always the reunion with friends and oftentimes great skiing at Killington on Superstar with Hutch or Whiteface and Gore with Hutch and Mike Smith,

If you decide to tackle the Scareway, make sure you give yourself enough time and take your time for sure. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I am a right hand lane guy. I relax in the right hand lane and only venture out into the scary world of the left lane if I absolutely have to pass someone often in an un-plowed section of the interstate. White knuckling and talking to myself, I eventually make my way back to the pulse reducing comfort of the right lane. And make sure your tires are good enough to handle heavy snows. Otherwise, don’t tackle the Scareway in the winter. It is not for the faint of heart. Thanks for reading.

Overload

Have to tell you folks that no one loves the anticipation of ski season more than me. When that first frost comes or the leaves start to change and I smell the fires burning, I start to think about when the first turns will be made. Buy typically, I show some restraint. When the Ski Magazine comes to the mailbox in August, I set it aside because I don’t want to start reading that until maybe October especially if I am in no need of equipment for the upcoming season. Which is where I am right now. I have all my skis tuned, Janet’s tuned, and am in no need for further ski apparel. So in those years, October is fine for opening up the mag and seeing what is new and perhaps read a review or two. I start to look on the Outside channel and Netflix and Amazon for some ski flicks but only start those in maybe November. But have you noticed how we have been bombarded with social media all summer long and the hype for the 2019-2020 ski season began almost as soon as the old season ended. In many cases this past season, the end was much later than usual with the Beast and western areas like Mammoth closing well after Memorial Day and into the Fourth of July.

Now again, don’t get me wrong. I love skiing and talk about it all year, but this year, the media hype began in July and didn’t stop all summer. While I was into the mountain biking season and enduring the early season rain followed by oppressive heat and finally some nice September weather, the videos, clips, emails,and more videos all came rushing in on Facebook and Instagram and kind of confused me a bit. Is this summer or is it just an extension of a year long ski season defying the global warming discussion? I mean come on? What was once a great flick about guys sending it in far away places in steep terrain and endless powder, became commonplace. I was not impressed because of the overload of visual eye candy almost to the point of me thinking I could do all of what Mark Abma does or Sage does, and not even blink an eye. I can ski like that, right? It is not sensational anymore because there is just so much of it. We are desensitized and duped into thinking that we are those heroes and we can do all of that and better sign up for it for 2019-2020. Which is what I did. I fell for it hook, line and sinker and bought Ikon, Epic and the local Highlands Pass all before the last turns were made on Superstar at Killington in May. I didn’t want to miss out, made the ski plans with my friends, and signed up per all the savings and media hype.

I even bought my wife some new boards at the end of the season sale at Peak Ski and Board here at home and put them on the shelf freshly tuned and waxed for the upcoming season. If they did a survey on the typical skier who buys into the media frenzy, my face would appear front and center and as much as I complain about seeing ski flicks and clips all summer, it got to me. I needed to be ahead of the game and I was the perfect victim of advertising and promotion by the equipment manufacturers, the resorts and their passes, and even the FIS who enticed me with stories of the superstars on the World Cup of whom I am a big fan. I am complaining but yet I am the poster child for the ski consumer that they all want.

Last night I dreamed I was having a conversation with shop guys about ski equipment. The strange thing is that it was old equipment. I suppose in my subconscious, my fear was I was not up with the latest technology and was far behind for the coming year. I dreamed I saw perfect conditions but for one reason or another, I was not able to get to the hill and make the first turns. I woke up in a cold sweat thinking I was going to miss it and be out of the loop or out of touch. The promoters have even invaded my sub-conscious. What is a guy supposed to do? I will tell you what………relax!!!. It will come soon enough and there is a lot of fall weather to enjoy still on the bike and some hiking with my wife in the meantime too. The chairs are not spinning yet so relax. Enjoy what is now and not what is coming soon enough.

Did you get sucked in too? Tell me about it. We all need to take a deep breath. LOL!! Thanks for reading.

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A Refreshing Break

My friend JR gave me a Yeti cooler like the one you see here and I loved it. It was subsequently ripped off much to my chagrin. So I got another one and decorated it and it is one of my prize possessions. I fill it with ice every day and drink a lot of cold, refreshing water for many reasons. My original blood clot in my calf was the result of a crash on my road bike in Ireland and a long plane ride home. Dehydration also played a part and I have been dealing with the results of a DVT and a Pulmonary Embolism ever since. Don’t get me wrong, I am fine. I can ski, run,ride a bike, etc. But I wear a compression sock when I am at my desk or on a plane because my calf swells and I take Coumadin with no effects other than keep my INR in check. But no residual effects of the embolism these 30 years later. Had I taken the time to drink more water, I may have never had any of these things happen to me.

You may never think of it, but in the winter, you need as much water as you do in the summer. At the ski areas out west, there are water coolers everywhere and I always take advantage drinking lots of water at altitude. The first day, I tend to get a headache due to the altitude adjustment but drinking lots of water takes that away and all is well. It tends to be dry out west and in the summer and winter, it is important to hydrate.

Not to dwell on TMI here but I have also had the unfortunate experience of having a kidney stone. Another result of not drinking enough and salts and calcium build up in the kidneys. Maybe one of the most painful experiences of my life and another reason I live with the Yeti cooler at all times.

Nothing is more refreshing after a mountain bike ride than to sit down in my soccer chair and bring out the cooler of ice cold water. I sit there,re-hydrate, and take a breather. Which brings me to the real subject of this post. After 274 posts, 4 years after my wife suggested to me that I write a blog to get all of my stories in my head published,( I also have 2 volumes that I had made into coffee table books), I am going to take a break. I am again out of gas and need to put the Chronicles on hold for a while.

It has been a lot of fun but it is time. I may pick it up again sometime, as it is only a hobby. I have appreciated all the nice comments and not so nice comments. It is nice to see that people have followed the blog and have enjoyed it. My only vision beyond chronicling my adventures and thoughts for my son Jack to read with grandchildren some day down the road, is to encourage people to do things that they might not ordinarily do. As you age, it is important to stay active. Never let people tell you that you are too old to do anything. Try new things. Engage with new friends. Be positive and enjoy what life has to offer. Some people my age come home from work and get a hot bath and watch Fox News all night. What kind of a life is that? It is great to be with people of all ages and I find it especially rewarding to be in the company of younger people while skiing, or riding and hearing what they have to say about the world from a younger perspective. Like drinking water from that Yeti, their ideas are refreshing. So in the mean time, try new things, be kind, be positive, and take that pause that refreshes after a wonderful day in the world. Thanks so much for reading.