Alone on the Wall

Just picked up an interesting book called “Alone on the Wall” by Alex Honnold and David Roberts. Now, I am not a rock climber but I have been interested in seeing what makes Alex Honnold tick. For those of you who are not familiar, Alex is what the climbing world calls a free solo climber. That being he climbs without the use of harnesses or ropes. He basically climbs rock walls with a chalk bag for his hands and his climbing shoes. That is it. Three weeks ago, he free soloed El Capitan in Yosemite which is one of his many “firsts”. That is 3,000 vertical feet of granite folks. If you have been to Yosemite, and look up the wall of El Cap, you can appreciate what a daunting task it would be to climb that let alone with no protection. You slip, you die.

Now I know that Alex has been interviewed many times and has achieved notoriety at 32 years of age. I have also seen interviews of his friends who say he has he ability to shut off fear. He studies the rock problems meticulously before he attempts to do anything and is fully aware of the risks versus the consequences of a fall. But one still has to wonder, why? Anything can happen and no matter how skilled you are, a slight slip of a hand hold can mean certain death.

Any of us who are involved in riskier sports can appreciate the risk versus consequence discussion. I don’t participate in anything close to what Alex does, but even in my skiing and mountain biking endeavors, these factors continually weigh into my decisions. As I get older, the consequences become more visible in that recovery is harder when you have an injury. I ride a mountain bike for exercise and not to prove anything. I am very conservative and although I am more confident because of experience, I don’t take any extra chances that would allow me to spend time in the hospital. I always say I ride to ride another day. Funny story is my doctor, Sy Hyder, is one of my mountain bike cronies. I asked him the other day why he didn’t adjust my coumadin dosage when my INR was a little low. He said,” Paddy- I knew we were riding Frick Park and I didn’t want you to bleed much.” Great when your PC has that kind of insight into his patients. He claims I am his only patient on coumadin who skis and mountain bikes. But he knows how I do it. No blunt force trauma hopefully.

The same mindset has become reality for me in skiing. Although I have much more experience in skiing than I have in mountain biking, I still have seen a more conservative approach as I age. Yes, I still try to ski the steeps and probably ski faster than I should, but as I age, sometimes I look a little longer down that chute to see where my first turn will be or if I want to do it at all. Rock walls are unforgiving and anything can happen on a pair of skis, even when you are in the zone and making great turns. Bravado can lead to consequences if you are not careful. But I only take chances if I know I can probably pull off the end result.

As I have posted before,I don’t like heights. Kind of strange for a skier but that is just the way it is. Reading “Alone on the Wall” and looking at Alex above in Yosemite gives me sweaty palms as I type. My fingers are sticking to the keys just thinking about what this guy does. They say youth is wasted on the young and maybe Alex can summon up courage and shut the fear factor off better than most his age or younger. But to me, he takes amazing risks even though he is well prepared in his mind.

I read fast so this should be a quick book to finish. But be assured that he makes me think. I admire his feats on the walls of the world but wonder if he can quit before it is too late? Maybe age and responsibility will bring him back to using harnesses and ropes? Even the great climbers of the world agree – begrudgingly. They love the thrill. But the consequences are real. Thanks for reading.

Whether to weather the weather?

I have always been fascinated with weather. I can remember times watching a lightning storm dance over the ocean, or ripple a cornfield with fingers of electricity that lit up the darkened sky against a mountainous backdrop. Nature’s fury can be dangerous with tornadoes, and hurricanes. In our neck of the woods, there is a tornado alley this time of year just north of where I live and I have seen the destruction that occurs when a tornado or a micro-burst ravages trees and buildings. My wife and I are glued to the TV when a hurricane story begins on the Weather Channel.

Speaking of the Weather Channel, I always envied Jim Cantore’s job.

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I always wanted to be the reporter hanging on for dear life in my Weather Channel Gore Tex outfit. I saw myself clinging to a light pole in a hurricane, 100+ MPH winds, garbage cans flying by my head, debris everywhere bringing the storm into the comfortable living rooms all across America. Pat McCloskey reporting live from Tampa, Florida, Niles, Ohio, or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s crazy but I would love that job. Always wanted to be a storm chaser too. Looking for the tornado waiting to be born.

In addition to being fascinated by weather events, I love to be out in it. I have my Gore Tex outfits and am completely waterproof when I ski in torrential rainfall. The snow is soft and great even though the water is cascading down my goggles like a Yosemite waterfall. This spring has been particularly wet here in the east and if you don’t get out to enjoy your outdoor activities because of weather, you don’t get out much. I have ridden my mountain bike more days this spring in foul weather than I can remember, but as my friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers says,” There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

The funny thing about being out in the foul weather is that once you make the effort, you are glad you did even though most people would think you have lost your mind. I can remember having my best results back in my weekend warrior days when the skies would open up on an mountain bike race course or during a road race. Most people either quit or didn’t bother to start. The ones who persevered sometimes didn’t have the attitude to continue like the guy changing his shirt here at the NORBAs at Seven Springs. He had enough when the skies opened up for a third time – concurrent with each lap. Mac Martin, a legend in cycling, taught me to persevere in bad conditions. He always said that if you think you are suffering, the other guy is suffering worse. Just continue on. I can remember going over the handle bars in Month of Mud races where it snowed 6 inches during the race. But grinding it out despite the crashes, paid off in the end. A little suffering for the weekend warrior taught me lessons in competition. You have to outlast the bastards.

Those days are gone now but I still make it a point to get out no matter what the weather is doing. I have skied in raging snowstorms and seen some amazing snow events. I have ridden on the road and trails in torrential rain and snow and coming back half frozen or soaked to the bone, I still have a smile on my face. Sure the sunshine is great, but look what you miss if you let weather ruin your fun. If you have the mindset that you go out no matter what, you will be happy you did instead of sitting on the couch. Get the gear- it is worth it no matter what you pay. If you suit up correctly, you can enjoy nature at it’s grumpiest. Experience the muffled silence of a snowstorm in the woods. Enjoy the smells of the green forests during a rain storm. The fragrance of the blossoms blooming in the humid air of the woods is better than any department store perfume counter. The soft tapping of rain on the leaves of the canopy is relaxing and even though things can get a bit sloppy, the experience of that soft rain is rewarding. Be like the Shark, no matter what, get out. No such thing as bad weather. Thanks for reading.

Familiarity breeds……………comfort.

So I got spanked last week on a mountain bike ride mainly because I am trying to get back into riding shape after a winter of skiing and hiking. The guys I ride with go all winter and are in good shape for the spring riding season. I will get there but not quite yet. But another factor for the spanking was the fact that we went on a familiar trail backwards. I hate to go that way because it is does not flow well and it is full of rutted, short nasty climbs. It is so much easier and flows better the way I usually go and going the way we did last week took me out of my comfort zone for a lot of reasons.
I tend to gravitate towards the familiar at times. Lines down ski slopes are also repeated until I feel totally comfortable. Now don’t get me wrong, I can handle the challenge of different routes on snow or on trails, but there are some routes that are comfortable, easy to ride, and allow me to relax and enjoy the ride and not be totally challenged with something with which I am not familiar.

So familiarity with the terrain breeds a relaxed approach and often I am comfortable with that. But other times I think to myself that at my age, I should challenge myself and not be complacent riding or skiing familiar lines. You don’t really learn much if you keep doing the same thing over and over. Riding mountain bikes should be challenging and skiing unfamiliar lines should be the same. By testing yourself, you can stretch your comfort zone and perhaps increase your technical ability.

There are times where I just want to cruise. But if you don’t challenge yourself, you can easily fall back into a rut where your pals are increasing in speed and ability and you are left behind. I don’t want that to happen so I force myself to ride and ski variable lines whenever the mood strikes me. I have to do it or I will be riding and skiing by myself. Young people challenge me. I tend to ride with younger folks and if I am able to hang on, I am a happy man. My ski group are my peers but they are fast and strong and if I don’t challenge myself, I won’t be able to hang with them either. So familiarity is not always a good thing.

Sport mirrors life don’t you think? As we age, if we tend to stay complacent, we don’t learn anything and are left behind. If you read fiction, try a biography. Try a new restaurant. Take a continuing education class. Go to a different venue for vacation. Meet new people. Have civil discussions with folks who are not of your political persuasion. Tough to do these days, but if we are to grow and survive, we need to listen and debate in a civil manner. Challenge yourself to listen to other opinions. Like a new trail, experiences in life can challenge you but when you come to the end, you have learned something. ” Hey, I found a new trail and it is great!!!” You perhaps have honed your skills and now you have advanced your repertoire.

People tend not to want to fail. I fall into the same category sometimes. But like skiing or riding, if you stop falling, you stop learning. I have reached a level of expertise where I don’t fall much, but when I do……it is a yard sale. But I pick myself up and learn from the experience. We are going to fail at things. But staying in the same familiar rut, doesn’t help anything. I struggle with this, but I know I have to expand the comfort zone. Where will I live someday? What does retirement look like? Keep moving forward, Pat. Here is to the unfamiliar!! Ride it for all it is worth. Thanks for reading.

Q.D.L. ( Quality Days Left)

My friend Jeff Chetlin( pictured here front and center in the orange shorts) said to me the other day on a MTB ride,” Paddy- I want you to get in your Jeep and think about what I am saying. I want you to think about quality days left.” He said, ” Today is a quality day. Sunshine, a long ride with friends, beers and lunch in the parking lot sitting around on soccer chairs, enjoying each other’s company after a great ride ” That is a quality day.” ” How many of these days do we have left?”
I thought about that on the way home and as Jeff also said, we really don’t know how many of these quality days we do have left. He is ten years younger than me but still, we don’t know. I asked the same question basically to my ski crowd a few weeks ago. ” How much longer do you think we will be able to ski the chutes, rip GS turns, and ski at a high level comparatively speaking?” The general consensus was if we kept ourselves in shape, didn’t get injured( longer recovery at an older age), and nothing catastrophic happened, we should be able to ski like this into our 70s. We saw a guy at Snowbasin one year making beautiful GS turns on the groomers at high speed…..at 75 years young. So back to Chetlin. He has ideas on how he wants to utilize his QDL.

Jeff seems to think that he needs to someday soon move to Bend, Oregon to pursue his dream of maximizing QDL. In many ways, his environment dictates and contributes to his QDL. He is questioning whether he wants to spend the rest of his active years in Pennsylvania or make the move to his favorite place out west. We all currently travel to ski trips and mountain bike trips but aside from those great days, our QDL are currently here in the Keystone State. But in my mind- that is ok. All of our friends are here with the exception of a few, and life is what you make of it, right? So I thought more about it and asked myself in my Jeep, what do I think is a quality day? Well, I have this positive way of viewing things and really, every day is a gift. When we wake up and are blessed with another healthy day, it is a quality day to me. I know that the epic mountain bike rides with friends and epic ski days with friends are quality days, but I think about every day being a quality day. No matter the weather, no matter what the circumstances, if you are blessed with friends, a good work environment, and a wonderful spouse, you have quality days. A great quality day is spent with my wife Janet. We need to value each and every day because we have each other currently in good health.
We will always value each other no matter what, but we need to maximize that time together. I am sure that Jeff feels that way about his wife Julie who is his partner in everything that he does.
So, I can dream about quality days left out west in some great location. But currently I live in Pittsburgh and must make the QDL alive and well right here. Again, the travel QDL are important and always will be memorable, but days like we had last Saturday with our MTB crew, riding in the spring sunshine, sitting around and telling stories in our soccer chairs, and sipping a cold brew, that is a quality day for sure. How many do we have left? Only the Lord knows that for sure. But my goal is to make every day a quality day, no matter what the day presents. I know what Jeff means about life in Bend. And, he may attain that goal soon. But for the time being, I am looking forward to the Coopers Gap Epic Ride in a few weeks at State College with the Chetlins and looking forward to more fun times with my Janet in whatever we do. Thanks for reading and maximize your QDL.

Younger Next Year

I learn something new every ski season. I like to think other people do as well like my buddy Bill Yalch, seen here with his eyes closed. He and Brady Cunningham asked me how to smooth out their turns and I gave them a tip that always works that basically says…”don’t be in a hurry to finish the turn and engage the new downhill edge early and ride it out- flexing the ankles along the way”. Ankles are the key. I followed them down the trails at Arapaho Basin and called out when to engage the edge and when to flex the ankle. They did it and were very happy. John and Richard Nicolette are two childhood friends of mine who are great skiers. They ski in a very efficient, traditional way, but were interested in the new method of engaging edges and widening their stance. Bottom line- good skiers like Richard and John get it done for sure, but there is always something to be learned with new technique.

Fast forward a day and I made my way to Reno to meet up with our annual gathering of F.O.E.D.( Friends of Eric Durfee).

This group comes from all over the country to ski with Eric due to his generosity and we all represent different phases of his life. Mark Hutchinson and Proctor Reid are his childhood friends from Vermont. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and coached Erik Schlopy who was a U.S. Ski Team member. Proctor raced with them as juniors and eventually raced for Dartmouth. John Ingwersen and Bart Smith raced for Cornell with Eric, and I came on the scene after Eric was married to my friend Helen from Seven Springs. This group skis hard and for a bunch of 60+ guys, we go from the first chair to the last chair. This year we had a little addition to our usual hard core gathering. My friend Jeff Mihalsky, a snowboarder- splitboarder to be exact( he has great prowess in the back country), came up from Sacramento to ski with us at Mt. Rose. It was funny- he kept calling us “old dudes” but we all learned a bit about snowboarding and my friend Eric said no doubt that snowboarding saved the ski industry. It was a great vision to see a bunch of old hard core skiers having a blast with a young snowboarder. We all get down the hill hard and fast and it was a great day and a mutual learning experience.

So one day at Mammoth, Eric says to Hutch ( a seasoned PSIA Ski Instructor as well as race coach), ” Hutch- give us all a tip for us to work on this trip.” He thought about it for a while and after telling me to lower my center of gravity and look more ahead, telling Eric and Ing to follow the turns with their center of mass instead of being so countered in the typical race position, and telling Proctor practically nothing because he bends the skis so well and gets them out from under his body that there isn’t much improvement there. We all learned something from those suggestions and even though we all are seasoned skiers, we all can learn something every season. Thanks Hutch.

After a series of shoulder surgeries, hip replacements, and other corrected maladies with this group, the skiing is still pretty high level and I asked Eric how long did he think we could pound it like this. He remarked that as long as nothing catastrophic happened, he didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have at least another ten years of high level skiing. That is the premise behind one of my favorite books,” Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley. Keep doing what you enjoy, stay in shape, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old. Chris is now in his eighties and skis and rides a bike everyday……everyday!!

I actually get a little depressed at the end of the ski season. I think about the year and how much fun it is to rip GS turns on a perfectly groomed slope. The thrill of skiing the steeps with the chalky smooth snow peeling from beneath my sharpened edges. The sun, the mountains, and the ability and the opportunity to enjoy them is something I treasure with my friends. As I nodded off on the plane after looking at the Rockies one last time this season, I daydreamed about the year and the laughs, the learnings, the fun, and the benefits of skiing. From the Laurel Highlands, to the Adirondacks, to the Rockies, to the Sierras, this season has been fun. Skiing is a lifetime sport and as we all move into another season, we have our motto…..” Younger Next Year”. Thanks Eric, Ing, Proctor, Bart, Richard, John, Bill, Brian U, McClean,Jeff L, Porter, John, Tim, Monty, Alan,Tom, Chris, Judy, Mike,Mike S, and my lovely wife and Holimont ski pal Janet, for a great 2016-2017 season. Thanks for reading and now it’s time to haul out the mountain bike.

The Chairlift

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So, I was sitting on the chairlift last weekend at Laurel Mountain here in Western Pa. The rain was sheeting off my helmet and cascading down over my goggles and I noticed that I was the only one on the chairlift. Looking back to admire the view of our beautiful Laurel Highlands there was no one behind me or in front of me and I turned back around and sat in silence. Even though the weather was foul, I was protected in Pro Gore- Tex and thought about all the times in my life I have sat in silence on a chairlift while skiing. Truth be told, we spend way more time on the chair than we do skiing so what is it like?

Personally, I like skiing by myself sometimes. On foul weather days, I can ride the chair in silence and contemplate the scenery around me and most of all…..take the time to think about things. One of the nice things about enjoying your own company is that you can relax and not have to wait or meet up with anyone. Not that I don’t like to do that with friends, but silent times on the chairlift are therapeutic to me. Kind of like riding a mountain bike by myself. I talk to myself…..sometimes I get answers.

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I have skied in 108 different areas so I have ridden a lot of chairlifts in my time. Single chairs at Mad River and Stowe, fixed grip chairs with no safety bars at Aspen Highlands and Crystal Mountain, with short seats that scare me, and of course my main nemesis that I ride annually out at Mammoth- the infamous Chair 23. chair-23

I have posted about that before and when you have a four person chair, with no safety bar, suspending you hundreds of feet in the air over a wide expanse, people like me who are a bit acrophobic, tend to do the Archie Bell and the Drells and do the tighten up. But I get through because it is the only way up. So, what happens when other people are on the chair with me? Friends engage in conversation about the day and what is happening in their lives. It gives us all a chance to catch up and the social aspect of skiing is always enjoyed on the chairlift because …..well, as I stated, we spend the most time of the day there. The funny thing is when you sit with a stranger on the chair or a group of folks who you don’t know. Depending on my mood, I can sit there and say nothing, nestled behind my high collar and goggles. But in most cases, I usually chime in and say at least a cheery “Hello- great day huh?” That usually elicits some kind of civil discourse and oftentimes you meet interesting people and find out how their day is going, where they are from, what they like about skiing at an area, and then you hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

Then there are the ear bud types who play their music and just want to be left alone. Sometimes they look up and give you a loud, ” Hi. ” But most often they nestle behind the collar and the goggles and keep to themselves. That’s cool. You hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

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Late next week I hit the epic snows of the west. No more chairlift riding in the rain for me this season, but even though we have had a dismal winter here in the east, tenacity wins the day and one of the benefits has been time alone on the chairlift. I can look around, use the time to take in the beautiful mountain scenery of the Adirondacks, the Laurel Highlands, and on to the breathtaking vistas of the west. I will be hanging on for dear life on Chair 23, with my friends laughing at me all the way. But I won’t ride that chair by myself- that’s for damn sure. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

The Adirondack Experience

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As I was winding my way through the Keene Valley this week en route to Lake Placid and Whiteface Ski Area, I was once again reminded why this road is voted one of the most scenic highways in the country. It is winter in the North Country and despite all the conversation of global warming, this region not only gets winter weather, but the residents enthusiastically embrace it. Whiteface was the scene of the 1980 Olympic alpine skiing events and my group of aging enthusiasts skied the Summit Chair reveling in the crystal blue skies and packed powder of the runs that once served as the start of the women’s and men’s downhill. Following a great day on the mountain, Lake Placid offers an atmosphere that still is electric with Olympic fever. Lake Placid was the host of the Winter Olympics in 1980 and 1932 and the Olympic Regional Development Authority manages all of the venues which still offer competition sites for many different winter sports to this day. img_1356img_1353

Every year, I make the journey to the Adirondacks to see my old friend Mike Smith who owns a marina on Lake George. Joining us this year, making the trip from Randolph Center, Vermont, was another friend Mark Hutchinson. Hutch coached ski racing at Stowe for 20 years and at 150 days per year in those days, he has a lot of experience in those legs of his. Couple this with Mike Smith, my skiing, sky diving, acrobatic plane flying, speed boat selling, motorcycle riding, gas pedal to the floor friend, you have the recipe for a couple of days of great skiing in a beautiful venue. But more than the skiing, there are many reasons that I like visiting the Adirondacks. img_1370

First and foremost, the scenery of the High Peaks region is incredible. As you wind your way through the mountains, along some of the most picturesque streams, and the Hudson River, you see nature at it’s finest. The roaring rivers choked with ice are a dramatic reminder of the power of water. The trees at the summit of the mountains remind you of giant ice cream cones covered in a white frosting. But another part of the Adirondack experience lies with the people themselves. Sitting around Bean’s Country Store in Queensbury, New York, you have a relaxed atmosphere of sitting over a coffee and talking to the locals who regale you with tales of snowmobiling, and skiing, with really no rush to go anywhere. The people are hard working and used to braving the elements, but you get the sense that they love living where they do and the harsher the winter, the more they embrace it with their enthusiastic attitude. img_1369

We made our way to Gore Mountain yesterday which has that Adirondack feel to it. But as most ski areas that are run by the State of New York,there is not much real estate development, which leads to a private ski club atmosphere. The Backwoods Ski Club meets there regularly which basically is an organization of local retirees and active people in the ski community whose sole purpose is to enjoy skiing and sit around and talk about it over a meal and a cold one. No dues, no meetings, just show up and ski together. The oldest member is 91 years young. It is so neat to hear his tales of life in the Adirondacks back in the early part of the 20th century.
At Gore, you can ski two of the steepest runs in New York State. Rumor and Lies both make you think about that first turn and it is not a rumor or a lie to say that they are challenging. But the locals love it when the challenge is extended to outsiders. The fireplace at the end of the day offers definite rumors and lies about the performance of the skiers that day, but the smell of that fireplace along with a beverage is one of the reasons why I always return to the Adirondacks year after year.IMG_0084

Making my way home along NY State Route 8, I am always amazed at how remote some sections of the Adirondacks can be. I took some pictures and hardly ever saw a truck or a car along the route. The North Country is rugged and although my wife likes the summers in Lake George and the vistas from Mike Smith’s Pilot Knob Marina deck, I personally like the winters. Not just for the skiing, but taking in the whole atmosphere of small towns, crystal clear streams, the High Peaks, and the charming Olympic town of Lake Placid. Nothing like a cold beer at The Cottage looking out on Mirror Lake where you can see pick up hockey games everywhere. photo

Sometimes I think I am misplaced living down here in the banana belt where you have to be tenacious to ski and get your days in. But it is nice to know that I have good friends in ski country and if you make the effort to visit, their welcome is enhanced by the region of the country that offers great vistas and challenging terrain. Think Snow. I want some more winter before it is all said and done. Thanks for reading.