Road Trip!!!!!

You know the familiar call to battle? ROAD TRIP!!!!! I always love to take road trips because of the excitement that is causes. The planning is almost as much fun as the trip. ” What are you bringing?” “When do we meet?” “Where are we staying?” “Who all is coming?” The emails and phone calls start flying and the excitement crescendos when the vehicles are all lined up and rolling. Sometimes you join in the caravan of fun from another location – bike racks loaded, your favorite music blaring. Road Trip!!!!!
I like road trips also because I can spread out my gear. I don’t have to have it all consolidated on a plane and can take my time enjoying the ride with my top popped, sun glasses on, and my favorite music making me tap my toes and bang on the steering wheel. This past weekend was no exception as my mountain bike group converged on State College, Pa. to take on the heralded Coopers Gap and Tussey Mountain Trails in the rocky mountains of Central Pennsylvania.

23 really good riders began the weekend rolling out of Pittsburgh at the direction of Jeff Chetlin and Josh Royston, our spirited and heckling leaders. As people came screaming into the parking lot at Tussey Mountain Ski Area, the conversation became lively and the comical sidebars of discussion ensued. Chetlin needled everyone and as the merry band of riders assembled, and rode up the first climb, the cameras came out. My friend Mike Smith, from Philly, was amazed at the quality of riders in this eclectic group including some fast couples- Jeff and Julie, Darren and MJ Allworth, Tim and Barb Girone, Dan and Mary Moore, and Dave Gault with his new gal Stephanie McCague Hughes who was our MVP. She was riding a demo bike and is a new rider. The rocks on the trails punished her but her determination to ride as much as she could impressed the veteran group.
I told the guys who I was riding with that these women ate nails for breakfast. Their skill and speed over the heinous rocky sections of the trails was a sight to behold.  

 

We had two docs on the trip who can really ride the rocks with speed. Mike Smith and Syed Hyder. Along with the Chetlins and Steve Guertner who are fast riding dentists, we were set with any medical issues or if someone smashed their choppers on the boulders. The balance of the group was made up of highly skilled veteran riders- Denny Lovell, Mike Connors, JB Loughery( who gave me great visuals on how to get over some really rocky sections), John Casuccio, Matt Graver, Craig Matthews, our local guide and trailmaster from State College, and the Pittsburgh Ride Kings themselves- Bob Bannon and Garage Door Bob Kowalski.

The rocks and roots really punish you but this group handled them with style.

Jeff Chetlin seen here on his new IBIS dual suspension carbon rig,along with his wife Julie, seemed to relish the punishment. As with most road trips, the evenings are spent with some beers and good food and a raucous recounting of the day on the trail. ” Did you see that endo?” ” I thought I was going to barf on that rooty, steep climb.” ” How about Mary riding that section?” Riding bikes through the lobby of the hotel had the guests and the employees all laughing at our crazy band of mountain bikers. Popping out of the elevators on bikes surprised some but made all laugh. One thing about mountain bikers is that they all like to have fun. No egos, no unfriendly passing on the trails, just smiles and laughs all the way.

Brice Minnigh from Bike Magazine has an interesting article in this month’s issue where he states that his riding group are the “trees that make up my forest.” A little corny but when you stop and think about the camaraderie of the people who make up a road trip, they are indeed a close clan that share a common goal. They are your forest of close friends. We are once again planning a fall trip to Rothrock State Forest and Cooper’s Gap when the leaves are ablaze and the weather cools to a comfortable temperature. I can hear the call to arms now in my mind. Road Trip!!! Take a look at the following video to see the difficulty of the trails but the skill level of this very talented band of riders. I was honored to be able to ride with them. Thanks for reading.

 

Videos by Jeff Chetlin.  Photos by Tim Girone and Jeff Chetlin.

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.

The Natural Portrait

My friend Helen Durfee always said that the fall season in Western Pa is just as nice as Vermont, just a little less dramatic. She grew up in the Laurel Highlands and lived the first part of her married life in Vermont. I agree that Vermont and New England are famous for “leaf peeping” but I have to say that this particular fall here in Western Pa. has been spectacular. img_1111

I have been treated to some amazing days of mountain biking and hiking this fall where I have taken the time to enjoy the color of the leaves. I have taken the time to “savor” the days like a fine steak or fresh seafood. I try to take little bites and enjoy the flavor. Like my commute to work on Squaw Run  Road. I don’t go the fastest route to work but rather the scenic roads to enjoy the changes in the leaves each day. This year the changes have been remarkable. img_1117

Another contributing factor to my enjoyment of Fall 2016 has been the app that was suggested to me by my friend Eric Durfee( Helen’s husband and native Vermonter). It is called ProHDX and can be downloaded on your I-Phone. This particular app allows you to shoot a photo and really get the focus and colors sharply so that the end result is an I-Phone photo that looks particularly good compared to most. I am not a real good photographer and the only camera I have is on my I-Phone. But I have really enjoyed using this app and the convenience of the I-Phone on a ride or a hike can yield some spectacularly sharp images. img_1106

The one nice thing about a hike or taking in the view from a mountain bike is that you can avoid all of the cars packed with “leaf peepers” and enjoy the quiet transformation of the season in the woods of Western Pennsylvania. Many past seasons have been rushed with race pace rides looking at nothing other than the persons backside in front of me. Games, practices, kid’s activities take a lot of time and effort for many of us. But as you age and the seasons of rushing to activities wane, it is a great practice to slow down, take in the seasons, and enjoy the flames of the maple leaves, the golden colors of the oak trees and even the pale shading of the ferns on the forest floor. In my old backpacking days, I did take the time to hike and enjoy the fall in the Laurel Highlands. But in the many years since, those times had been replaced by soccer games, basketball games and general activities with my wife and son. Now I have a college student who does his own thing, and my wife and I are trying to slow down and enjoy what God provides for us by way of a natural display of color. img_1108

So, I guess the message here is to savor your experiences. The yearly season change where the warm days try to hang on into Indian Summer, create some spectacular viewing if you take the time to enjoy the days. You don’t have to go to the mountains to enjoy the scene. Just look out your window, your windshield, or take a walk in the neighborhood. Smell that fall aroma of leaves. See the tannin of the leaves change the creek colors. Notice the difference. Slow down. Thanks for reading.

We were Outlaws

Lets have a little fun this week? How many old mountain bikers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Four!!! One to screw it in and 3 to remember how great the old bulb was. That is about right when we remember the days when we were outlaws on the trails. Billy Kirk and I were talking at our post riding place, the OTB Cafe when he said,” Hey Pat- how about a post on the old days?” So here we are Billy. Back in the late 80’s when a lot of my crowd started riding, we had equipment that was relatively simple.img_1097 Shocks had not been invented yet so we were all riding chromoly hard tails,cantilever brakes, with 3 ” knobby tires and no suspension. I had a Scott with a “U” brake that kept collecting leaves, mud,cigarette packages, and other various and sundry items because this bike was really meant for fire roads out west instead of nasty, rooty trails of the east. But we all managed. Trouble is- our local trails were really hiking and horse trails and the police didn’t appreciate our new activity on these established trails especially at night. night-ride-october-2-of-1
But we continued to ride and when the police yelled at us through their bull horns to get off the trails, we simply shut off our lights and waited them out. They got smart and started to park at our lot to wait for us as we came back with our lights. But we waited them out until they left, scrambled to our cars and trucks and left in a hurry, spewing invectives about donuts. Other trail users didn’t like us back in the day and we had to somehow carve out a place for our activity on our local and statewide trails. img_1098

Fast forward- mountain biking was becoming real popular in 1989 and the first local race series started with Gary Bywaters forming the Month of Mud. Back in the day, most of us were road riders and mountain biking was new to us as we struggled with the new equipment in a race setting. img_1095 Not to mention the fact that By had us racing in late October and November. Snow began to fall at the Brady’s Run course one year, and at the end of the race, there was 6 inches of fresh powder on the trails. Needless to say, guys like me ended up over the bars multiple times. The Cranberry Course was often flooded and By used to place pink flamingos on the course to lighten the atmosphere. We even had a course at Traxx Farms where we raced through a pumpkin patch. All of this effort for fabulous prizes such as a rock, a pear or an apple. The season ending trophies were By’s old race walking trophies with the name plates removed and typed result labels scotch taped to the trophies. A lot of these stories rest in the lore of the Month of Mud and I love to tell the fast guys today about the “good old days.” Some of them can relate but most of them were toddlers when we raced the original Month of Mud races. Hell, I have socks older than most of those guys. But they are fast!!!

It is fun to talk about the old days of mountain bike riding in Western Pa and West Virginia.The characters and the personalities are many. But life moves on and like the old bulb, it really has to go. The Month of Mud today is big time with sponsors, 100+ riders and multiple classes. A much different event than the exploratory atmosphere of the old days. Also, we have as a community, carved out a place on the trails with the good work being done by Trail Pittsburgh, LHORBA( Laurel Highlands Off Road Bicycle Association) and PORC( Pittsburgh Off Road Cyclists). A lot of sweat equity being done to validate our place on the trails. We don’t have to hide from the police anymore, they ride with us. Times change, equipment has surely changed and a lot of us old veterans are keeping current by continuing to ride and investing in the new products. Despite knee replacements, hip replacements, family obligations, time constraints with work, and other distractions, the old guard still rides and passes on the traditions to the new guys and gals. We learn a lot from each other. That is the thing about activities like mountain biking. The participation level spans all age groups. A lot of time has passed for many of us, but the thrill of the trail captivates us on many levels. So Billy, I will continue to tell the stories and when it becomes too repetitive, just put me in the corner and tell me to go to sleep. Thanks for reading.

Photos of  Jeff ” Bionic Knees” Wuerthele,  Karl “the legend” Rosengarth, and yours truly, courtesy of Dirt Rag Magazine.

Wild Wonderful Rocky/Rooty West Virginia

It has been a few years since I rode a mountain bike down in West Virginia. I used to go quite a bit back in the day. But as other destinations moved ahead in the plans, it has been a while until last weekend. Our fearless leader, Mike Connors, said a few weeks back, ” Let’s go ride down in Davis.” I said great idea and off we went with 7 other MTB fanatics who were like minded. IMG_0958

I thought I would up the ante a bit by texting Sue HaywoodIMG_0964 and asking her to lead our group of aging athletes. Sue has quite a reputation as a world class mountain bike racer and currently is retired from World Cup racing. However, she runs clinics and workshops and is still very much active in the mountain bike community.Sue has relocated to her home town of Davis, and man can she ride. She gave us all we could handle. 17786_10151858587474203_1524945910_n
One interesting thing about riding with a person of her skill level is seeing just how fit she is and how she effortlessly rides over the most challenging roots and rocks. If you can ride in West Virginia, you can ride anywhere- “BELIEVE ME.” In our case, there was a lot of riding but there was a lot of running and walking too. That is the thing that struck me the most was once I was on those trails again, I remembered just how hard they were. And, we are older now and the challenge is even more acute. I remarked to Syed Hyder, my physician who was on the ride, that I was fine for about the first hour and then I started to get tired and every little thing had a tendency to knock me off balance. He agreed after we bumped into each other a few times. Good thing the doc was along for the ride. There are no letups or coasting on those trails and the challenge of a three hour ride with a world class guide was evident to all of us. The curious thing about aging is the recovery time is not what it used to be. After the first ride, we plopped ourselves down in our chairs in a field by Sue’s house and relaxed with the obligatory beer. But the enthusiasm on the morning of the next day was waning as we licked our wounds from the first day of hard riding in West Virginia.

To digress for a moment, I would like to say that Davis had not changed all that much and the quaint little town in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest should be on everyone’s bucket list. Blackwater Bikes, Hellbender Burritos, and the famous Sirianni’s Cafe are all obligatory stops for the visit and just walking around town is a treat. Things are a lot slower in Davis but in my mind, that is a good thing. The residents enjoy life in the Canaan Valley and look forward to each season of riding and cross country skiing at the Whitegrass Touring Center.

Now back to the torture. The second day, we rode the famous trails leading to the Moon Rocks. IMG_0993 This granite outcropping is famous in the lore of the Blackwater 100 motorcycle races and also a famous landmark in the now defunct 24 Hour mountain bike races held in Davis. I had not ridden this trail in 23 years and the challenge of the Moon Rocks has not changed in all those years. Fred Fischer and John McWilliams were the only two of our group to make it to the top without stopping which was quite a challenge. We all remarked how tough this section was and as the elder statesmen of the group, I was tarred and feathered by the Moon Rocks. If the rocks could chuckle, they would have as we all left for the trail ahead. Fortunately I regained my mojo following Ken McFarland and Jeff Balicki on his most beautiful Scot Genius bike which he rode like a champion. My good friend Pete Hilton and I took turns laughing at the difficulty of the riding but he kept me motivated by his smooth riding and friendly banter. Quiet Pete!!!

To digress for a second moment, we took in the Brew Skies Festival while we were there. Evenings were spent on the lawn in front of the Timberline Ski Area as we listened to local and national bands playing various forms of country rock with a bluegrass bent. Food tents were also in abundance with some of the local restaurants and breweries hosting the food and drinks. We were not disappointed as the mountain state has some pretty impressive lineups of craft beers and local cuisine highlighted by local fruits, meats and vegetables.

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I am trying to avoid the narrative here, but the last day started with rain. The sunshine that we enjoyed for the first two days was most welcomed because I had never seen the sun in any of my previous outings to the Canaan Valley or anywhere in the mountain state. Most of the races I had done or outings that we participated in, were soaked with biblical downpours. So to have two straight days of sun for me was a welcome relief. However, the last day reminded me of days past and several of us passed but Mike, Pete Hilton, Fred, and Dr. Sy were the tough guys and rode Big Bear Trails up near Morgantown on the way home.

I suppose the point of all of this, aside from a narrative trip report, is that it is important to keep challenging yourself no matter how old you are. If you can stay in relatively good shape, you can enjoy even the toughest challenges like the trails in West Virginia. I have too many friends who have thrown in the towel but not my crew. These guys are enthusiastic riders who defy the age factor and the odds and keep riding the roots and the rocks. Take a page from their book. Even the fast guys like Dave Gault and Eric Seamon(still in his 40s- he doesn’t count) were challenged. But the key is to just “keep riding” like Scot Nichol of Ibis Bikes always says. He never thinks he is 62. He just keeps on riding. Thanks for reading and for sure…….head to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

The Tribe

I am reading an interesting book by Dr. David J. Rothman called,” Living the Life- Tales from America’s Mountains and Ski Towns”. I thought it was going to be some fun stories about the ski life but it has turned out to be so much more in the description of the lifestyle of the sports that we are all passionate about. Dr. Rothman suggests that there was a certain “cause and effect” that took place when we realize that something that we were attracted to as an outdoor activity became a passion. The resulting experiences and stories are shared by a group of people that are communities in effect and we understand the stories that we tell about ourselves.

I remember coming back from Tuckerman Ravine2013-02-05-the-bowl one year and telling my folks about the steepness of the skiing and the ice block avalanches and the weather and the total experience of being in the mountains in it’s most raw state, and my mother’s response was, ” That’s nice dear- would you like some more potatoes.” Not my mom’s fault but she just didn’t get it or appreciate it. But the Tribe does. That is what Dr. Rothman so eloquently describes in his book and what I am about to describe here to you.

There are groups of people who I call fans. They are football fans, baseball fans and many of them have played the sport but most of them are fans of a sport in which others perform. In sports like skiing,mountain biking and snowboarding, there are groups that are formed and friendships made that last a lifetime. IMG_0803 These groups also merge into what I call ” The Tribe” which is a gathering of many groups celebrating the passions of these activities. The gathering of the Tribe can take place at a mountain bike festival, a race, or at the bottom of the slopes in the springtime for instance at a ski area where folks are celebrating the weather, the friendships, and the stories around a beer and a burger on a sun splashed deck.

If you are not involved in a group or a Tribe of people, chances are you will be lost in the conversations of the Tribe. ” Hey- did you see that endo that Joe did over the bars into the creek with all that splooge on his face?” ” Hey- did you see Mike ski down that couloir with rocks on every side?” ” I looked down that couloir and had to really think about that first turn.” ” How about that climb out of the canyon?” ” How about that rock strewn singletrack with the slimy root section- hairy wasn’t it?” These are the types of conversations that infuse the gathering of the Tribe at a festival, race, or ski area. IMG_0723

The disappointing thing about being with the Tribe of your peers, is that when you come back to work, or home and try to recreate the vibe of that weekend or time spent with the Tribe, you cannot adequately describe it. But the cause and effect and the passion that resulted in the decision to join a group and the several times a year gathering of the Tribe, is necessary because these are the people who are ” your people.” Nothing against your co-workers, family, friends who may not participate but there is nothing like the feeling of when the Tribe gathers and the stories begin at the end of the day around a campfire or an outdoor deck. IMG_0811

Recently the local mountain bike tribe gathered in the Laurel Highlands for a celebratory ride for a birthday of a friend. A whole cadre of folks came out representing many groups of riders all there to celebrate the big day of one of our own. Elaine Tierney, of Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Dirt Rag Magazine notoriety, said it best when she was amazed at the gathering of different age groups represented. Elaine remarked,” We have people riding here in their 20s, 30s, 40s 50s and 60s. All age groups riding together and enjoying all that the mountains and the friendships have to offer. Age means nothing when you are passionately involved in a sport like mountain biking, skiing, or snowboarding. So, I always encourage older folks not to shy away from an activity because they think they are too old. There is a group for you and also a Tribe who will welcome you with a smile, a beer, and conversation that you can understand once you are a member. Thanks for reading. Be a follower of the blog

” Shredding the Gnar” – in the city.

Don’t you just love that hilarious term- “shredding the gnar?” Originally it was an expression of the ski, snowboard, mountain bike set when they set out of some radical run where peril and intimidation were around every corner. Now it is a term that is used in tongue and cheek when we all do something radical or radical in our minds. ” Yea man- we were shredding the gnar today, dude.” Hilarious and everybody laughs. Well this is a story of “shredding” in the city.
Most mountain bike adventures are, well, in the mountains. Adventures out west, in far away places in the mags, and our own personal adventures in remote locations. But mountain biking can be enjoyed wherever there is a trail and many city/county locations have some pretty interesting trail systems managed by city and county government. Several come to mind in my experience. http://www.o.c.parks.com describes the Orange County, California managed trails in the Laguna Coast Wilderness just above Laguna Beach, CA.IMG00159 Great trail system which I described in my post from May 19, 2013 in the archives. Check it out.IMG00214-20100708-1448 Tiger Mountain is part of the Issaquah, Washington managed system described in http://www.singletracks.com. Great trails within easy driving distance from Seattle. Golden, Colorado manages an extensive hiking and mountain biking system- http://www.cityofgolden.net. A lot of these trails are in fairly remote locations but within city and county governance. But most people would not know that there are some really enjoyable trails right within the limits of some major cities.
Wissahickon Park is part of the famous Fairmont Park in Philadelphia.images (5) It has an extensive trail network with some pretty technical riding.cdv_photo_001-23 The amazing thing about this park is that when you are “shredding” the technical there, you would think that you are in a tropical forest. The only clue that you are near a major city is the traffic noise that you hear from the Schuykill Expressway. ( Surekill Expressway). . Ride this extensive system and peddle out to the Fairmont section and run up the art museum steps like Rocky. Or better yet- try to ride the steps. 🙂 Moving west to my neck of the woods are the parks managed by the city of Pittsburgh. http://www.pittsburghparks.org Most of the riding is in two of the more famous parks. Riverview Park for one, is one of the older parks but has an extensive trail system which curiously drains really well. It is the park to ride in the winter and after a rain storm. Most of the trails are on a shale bed which aids in the drainage and can be enjoyed at all times of the season. The picture you see here is of my Saturday morning group with the famous Allegheny Observatory in the background.IMG_0180 This facility was founded in 1859 and still serves as a major research facility for the University of Pittsburgh in the Astronomy curriculum. Lots of well maintained gardens line the trails and walkways and again, you would never know that you were well within the city limits of Pittsburgh.
Frick Park- the largest park in Pittsburgh has a rich history with the Frick family who donated the land.images (3) Very technical riding in this park especially in wet weather. If you can survive some of the downhills and sidehill off camber riding – you have definitely “shredded the gnar” in one of the more centralized parks in the city limits. Interestingly, this is also a favorite park for night riding in the winter because the trails tend to be well used by city mountain bikers, hikers, dog walkers, so the snow tend to be packed rather quickly and the trails are rideable most of the winter despite the snowy conditions that may exist in the suburbs. night ride october (2 of 1)
In the old days, we used to do night rides and connect some of the city parks. ” Shredding the Gnar” might include some railroad crossings within city limits, busways( we almost got arrested one night for trespassing on the busway- (another story another time), or perhaps some large culverts under the parkways and city streets which tended to be, well, gnarly. Urban riding includes streets, tunnels, busways, railroad tracks with missing wooden boards on the riding surface next to the tracks- gnarly to say the least when your front wheel drops in. All of these features interconnecting to the city parks trail systems lead to a rather enjoyable riding experience that most people would not think is available to “mountain bikers.”
So, the next time you are in a major city, do some investigating and see if there are trail systems managed by the city or county. Chances are there is some real “gnar” that can be enjoyed and an exciting time can be had riding well within an urban setting. Mountain bikes are not just for mountains. Thanks for reading.