The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb

The beginning of fall at Mt. Washinton, NH.

So it’s a rainy day and I am surfing around You Tube and I happen to see Phil Gaimon’s coverage of the Mt. Washington Hill Climb. Phil is a former professional in road cycling and has raced all over the world. He now has a You Tube channel where he continues to chase records on STRAVA and tours the country riding in the most iconic places and chasing records for climbs. When I saw the coverage, it brought back memories of when my pals Eric Durfee, Jack McArdle and I did it back in the mid-80s. Eric, at the time was a Category 1-2 road cycling racer and extremely fit and ended up in the top 5 overall which was a huge accomplishment. Jack and I were not in that category but I recall being respectable at the finish.

A young Pat back in the day at the start in New Hampshire.

Thinking back on that day, it was a bluebird sunny one at the bottom of the mountain and as I recall it is about 7.6 miles to the top on a road that was part asphalt and part gravel and dirt. The road today is paved to the top but at the time, it was definitely a cyclo-cross tire on the rear wheel. A fairly large group at the time started together and people started to settle in for what was a grueling climb to the top of one of the highest mountains in the East – topping out around 6,000 feet. I recall settling in and at about the halfway mark( reported to me by a bystander), it was about 46 degrees and a heavy fog. Typical weather for Mt. Washington that can change rapidly at any moment. It was windy. The highest winds recorded on earth are at the top of Mt. Washington because of its location as the epicenter of weather patterns roaring across the US and Canada. My friend Jack was behind me and he reported later that he stopped several times to get a drink out of the rain barrels that were used to cool down radiators on the descent in a vehicle. Pretty nasty stuff but he was thirsty. LOL!! Coming into the upper sections, I was able to see the summit weather station and just kept my head down and grinding the gears to approach the last several switchbacks that were reported at a 20 percent gradient. Lots of people cheering us on as I struggled to finish upright and came in with a time of 1 hour and 25 minutes. Respectable for a guy from Pa. My pal Eric from Vermont was top 5 and he was a little over 1 hour and three minutes, just to give perspective. Don’t remember what Jack’s finishing time was, but he made it and immediately stripped down at the top to his Superman briefs which garnered laughs from the crowd as he shivered to change clothes in the parking lot and put on a wool hat and parka because it was 41 degrees and sleeting.

The course marked in red.
Todays racers finishing on the 20 percent paved grade.

The interesting thing is that there is a running race up Mt. Washington as well. The winning times for the bicycle race and the running race are within a minute of each other. Phil Gaimon’s winning time this year was 51.38 which was a record. Sure he had the advantage of paved roads all the way and also the good fortune of technology of light bike design, training improvements and nutritional expertise. But nonetheless, an excellent time, and speeds up that mountain are getting faster every year. Athletes today are just so much better. But back in the day, my buddy Eric made a statement. Today there are a lot of entrants with many of them making the top to the cheers of their friends and family in 2 hours, 3 hours, or whatever it takes. Many of them ride it just to see the scenery and to say that they finished. One guy rode up there this year on a unicycle. Amazing!

As we made our way back down the mountain in Helen Durfee’s van, we were amazed that we could not ride our bikes down the hill. Even with today’s disc brake technology, you would not want to negotiate that road on a bike downhill. Even many of the parade of cars descending the Auto Road have to stop to cool the brakes. It is that steep. So happy to have seen Phil’s recording of the 2022 event as it brought back many memories of an interesting day a long time ago in the White Mountains in early fall. Thanks for reading.

Duckin

Breaststroke by the incomparable Michael Phelps

It’s funny. My wife says to me occasionally as we walk, ” Hey- you are duckin.” I laugh and say-” well maybe that is because of all the breaststroke I did as a kid?” Duckin is her word for saying that I walk like a duck. Left foot pointed left and right foot pointed right in a kind of fast waddle. I am kidding but as I remember back, all of us kids who were breaststrokers, walked like a duck. Perhaps it was a hallmark of the physiology needed to do the whip kick that is the engine of the stroke. The Rose brothers, me, Johnny Kane, Dru Duffy, all battled it out in the community pool wars and the YMCA teams. We all ducked. Even the Rose girls ducked ( sorry Annie and Mary). Breaststrokers all ducked. That is the way it was and apparently still is. I still duck.

The Allegheny Y Team back in the day- I am third from left at the top.

So as the days dwindle down for our community pool, I do take advantage of what we have left until Labor Day and swim some breaststroke from time to time when the pool is not crowded. Breaststroke was always a natural stroke for me. I could freestyle and backstroke, but the butterfly? No way. But breaststroke came natural and I competed as a kid for our community pool- Valley Brook Swimming Club, The Allegheny YMCA and also Shannopin Country Club. My dad drove me back and forth between venues a lot so that I could catch my heats. I would no sooner finish a heat in a relay or individual event when my dad would rush me into the car to catch the meet at Shannopin which started later. Breaststrokers were a valued commodity and all three teams needed a breaststroker for individual events and medley relays. There was a lot of competition between all of us “strokers” but it was a fun part of the competitive side of growing up.

Our community pool

Today I find that swimming in my community pool is relaxing and as I “stroke” along, I think about how the sport has changed. Watching swimming on TV I see the rules have changed as well. It used to be that you needed to touch both hands on the wall before you could turn. When you did turn, you had to push off the wall and get your arms above your head and make one giant pull under water and kick to surface and start swimming the next lap. Today- you can dolphin kick for as long as you can and then surface and start swimming. You also submerge your head after each stroke. In my day, your head could not go below the surface of the water. I try the new breaststroke and it is definitely more efficient and faster. But the main reason I swim is to stretch out. I tend to get tight from mountain biking and swimming helps me stretch out and relax those tight leg muscles. As I swim along, I think about all those old meets at Trees Pool at Pitt, with the Jello sticking to our feet. The energy powder in those days was Jello and it spilled all over the floor and made our feet sticky and we sported the many colors of cherry, grape and lime. I think about the summer meets at Valley Brook and the other away meets and finally think about how hard it was to jump in the pool at the Allegheny Y or Allegheny High School in the winter. Wool hats and parkas to Speedo suits in the indoor pools.

So as the countdown begins, I will try to take advantage of all the great summer days left before the fall takes the pool out of play. Another guy from the neighborhood swims every day and he is amazing. He plays golf every day and swims every day and I just found out……..he is 80 years old. Doesn’t look it. Swimming is a wonderful form of exercise – even if it makes me duck. Thanks for reading.

Rich Roll Rocks

Rich Roll- ultra distance athlete and successful Podcast host.

Last year, my friend Jeff Chetlin turned me on to a great podcast by Rich Roll. You can google him to find out all about his podcast and his amazing lifestyle change over the years. But suffice to say that he is impressive as is his list of guests on his daily podcast. I also read his book which is a good one too.

I have listened with great intent to his interviews with world class athletes like Lyndsey Vonn, Lance Armstrong, and Rebecca Rusch. Rich brings out the best in all of them by asking provocative questions and allowing them to expand during his usual 2 hour show. The interesting thing about world class athletes is their drive to which Rich is intimately familiar as he himself is a national class ultra athlete.

The Rich Roll Podcast

Rich is aging like many of us and it is interesting to hear his guests who speak on what it takes to stay healthy. I heard a Rich Roll podcast with Drs. Dean and Anne Ornish who spoke at length about plant based eating and how that lifestyle can be a “fountain of youth” for many of us. They also spoke about mitochondria health in our cells and as we age, how it is compromised. I first heard of NADs (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) and how we can refurbish our cells taking a product called Tru-Niagen. I take it every day because I believe that the science is there. Rich has varied guests in the medical field who talk about health in general but also as it relates to those of us who are trying to stay healthy through exercise as we age.

Rich on an ultra distance training run.

Recently Rich had Dr. Peter Attia as a guest who has worked with many world class athletes. The discussion centered around Zone 2 training. Now, as I listened, I thought back to where I had first heard that term. It was from the Heart Rate Monitor Book published by Sally Edwards in 1993. I had a monitor in those days and found the discussion on training in zones particularly enlightening. Sally Edwards as well as Dr. Attia find that training in Zone 2 which is basically a heart rate zone where you can exercise and still have a conversation, is the most beneficial. The heart rate zones are different based on the conditioning of the athlete, but the basic premise is not to always be in zone 4 or 5 which is aerobic to anaerobic in scale and often hampers one’s ability to be conditioned. He spoke about lactate levels which are blood lactate readings taken basically in a lab environment where an athlete’s blood is taken regularly during exercise to find the optimum level at which lactate levels begin to build in the muscles leading to lactic acid formation. If you can be aware of your levels, keep your heart rate in zone 2 and not go above your recommended levels, the training benefits are optimized. The discussion also included awareness of watts produced during exercise and the balance between watts and lactate levels. Watts seemed to be more pertinent in the discussion than heart rate but many casual athletes do not have a watt meter attached to their bike as world class cyclists do.

Now Rich Roll even admitted during the interview that most people who exercise are not at the level at which lactate measurement is a consideration. Most of us can relate to heart rates that are in different zones and if we stick to training or exercising in zone 2 – the conversational zone, it will be more beneficial and also……..more enjoyable. Pain is not always gain.

Dr. Peter Attia- google him.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me about the interview with Dr. Attia was the discussion on what goals we have as we age. Dr. Attia stated that as an aging athlete, we need to consider what we would like to do in our later years as octogenarians and above. Do we want to be able to get up off the floor without using our hands? Do we want to easily get up out of a chair? Do we still want to race? Do we want to ski? Do we want to have sex? All of these things are considerations and if we outline them, we can “back cast” to the present time and lead a life that will make those things possible barring any catastrophic health issues. Bottom line in the discussion for us mortals is just to keep moving. I always quote Scot Nichol of Ibis Bikes when I asked him how long we can ski and ride like we do. His standard answer is ” just keep doing it.” ” Don’t even think about it.”

If you get the chance, tune in to the Rich Roll Podcast. It can get technical but for most of us who exercise for health with our racing days behind us, his discussions with his guests are enlightening. I won’t be undergoing any lactate testing any time soon but I recently did get a Garmin Fenix sports watch that gives me way more information about my daily exercise and lifestyle than I could ever utilize. But it does give me some benchmarks that I can use as I “forecast” to the future and see how long I can keep doing the things that I like to do. Garmin, Rich Roll, and books like ” How Not to Die ” by Michael Greger M.D. keep me in the game. Friends do too and to have a group of people who have similar interests on the slopes and trails keep me motivated and engaged. Zone 2 keeps it fun too. Thanks for reading.

Taking a Flyer at Snowshoe

The Finish Line- Snowshoe, WVA World Cup Mountain Bike Race

” So Pete, what made us think we would escape the rain, roots and mud of riding in West Virginia?” I said this as my friend Pete Hilton and I made our way through the Backcountry Trails at Silver Creek right outside of Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia. We decided to take a flyer and go see the World Cup Cross Country Races and get a ride in too. We have a lot of experience over 30 years of riding mountain bikes in West Virginia for different events and unfortunately it rains most of the time. But somehow, that adds to the allure of the place and we kind of expect it. When we went to the Word Cup finals last year, it was a hot, sunny weekend. But that was a first. At the Wild 100s, the 24 Hour Races, the NORBA Nationals, the Fat Tire Festivals over the years- it always rained………….and that’s ok believe it or not.

Before the muddy mess.

So Pete picks me up at 4:00 AM and we take the drive to Snowshoe from Pittsburgh. About a 4 hour jaunt and when we get there, we get our tickets for the races and then head to Silver Creek. The long and the short of that is we got lost because I started out on the wrong trail. We had a long, rocky, climb and eventually ended up in the woods on a trail system that we had ridden before. Rooty, muddy , slimy and all around West Virginia treacherous snot fest. But we survived as usual and got back to the van and changed clothes and headed to the races. We met up with our Pittsburgh contingent and took in the expo area and saw a lot of the new bikes and equipment and also saw some of the racers who were warming up for the respective women’s and men’s cross country events.

U.S. Rider Kate Courtney warming up for the Scott Team

As we made our way to the start line and then to the course, it began to sprinkle and then about halfway through the women’s race, the skies opened up in true West Virginia fashion. We were positioned at this amazingly muddy and steep downhill and witnessed some of the most skillful bike handling you will ever see. Take the time to watch the races on Red Bull TV and you will see how difficult the course became and how well the women rode. My MVP for the day was Jolanda Neff of Switzerland who bombed down the muddy, slimy, rock infested descent and bridged to the lead group to finish on the podium. An amazing feat of fitness and skill was on display for all of us to see in a truly biblical, torrential downpour.

The first lap for the men .

The men were next and it seemed to be raining even harder as Hank, Samra, Pete and I hung out in the North Face Store just to stay a little dry although we were totally soaked. We welcomed people into the North Face Store jokingly hoping not to get thrown out. But eventually we made our way to the wicked fast start and eventually back to that treacherous downhill to see how the men handled it. Well, not only are the speeds higher than the women, but the fearless attacks in the torrent both on the climbs and on the descents were impressive.

Thomas Frischknecht- Former Olympic medalist and World Champion- manager of the Scott Team and a nicer guy you will not meet.

Although the weather was really foul, the amazing thing about the whole event is the people. First off, the fans are truly enthusiastic and no matter how badly they were soaked, their cheerful attitude and encouraging voices and cowbell rings, buoyed the riders on. The Red Bull TV people all comment on the enthusiastic fans at Snowshoe and it was on display even in the raging rainstorm.

The athletes, managers, and employees of the manufacturers at the booths are amazingly approachable and always happy to oblige with a picture or a discussion. There is something in the air at Snowshoe that makes it a great venue for mountain biking and mountain bike racing. People are friendly, and the visiting athletes from all over the world are always glad to come here. Even though it is quite remote, it is like a gem in the wilderness of West Virginia and the people of mountain biking make the venue even more special.

Don’ miss this bar b que – bottom of the mountain on the way out.

The Pittsburgh Contingent.

On our way out, Pete and I stopped at the Almost Heaven Smoke House at the bottom of the mountain on the way out to RT219. Great bar b que if you visit and the owners are hard working and friendly – typical of the locals of West Virginia who embrace the World Cup every year. I am hoping that the UCI always hosts the World Cup at Snowshoe and we can continue to see world class athletes show us all how it is done. Nothing like the races and nothing like the people of the mountain bike community.

We headed home after the men’s races were over and the four hour drive back seemed to fly by with our enthusiastic recounting of the events of the day. A long day for a couple of guys in their 60s but what the hell- go for it. Spending the weekend is the way to go, but Pete and I had other things that precluded that. But we made the effort, got a ride in, and saw some great racing in the wilds of West Virginia. It truly is ” Almost Heaven” even when it rains. Thanks for reading.

Final Images courtesy of Red Bull TV

The Greatest Summer Job

Golfer and Caddie contemplating a putt.

Watching Tiger ,Rory McIlroy, and my favorite, John Daly, last week at the British Open on TV reminded me of all the fun times I had as a caddie at Shannopin Country Club here in Pittsburgh back in my youth. I was never much of a golfer because I was too nervous and jerky to have the patience to be a good golfer. But I enjoyed playing with my dad. But as a caddie, I learned the nuances of the game and carrying doubles twice a day during the summer when I could was a great experience and some good money as a young guy.

You learn a lot about people when you caddie. I had the good fortune of being friends with our caddie master and his assistant so when my friend and I would get to the parking lot on men’s day and on the weekend days at 3:00 AM and take a snooze until the sign up list was out, we would be the first out and have the opportunity to carry two rounds with two bags each. Eddie Weil and Joe Stavish would make sure we got some good guys. Right up the middle guys with low handicaps. Those guys were not only good golfers but real characters on the course. Between belches and farts, they loved telling us stories and when they hit the turn at 9 holes, they would go in for the obligatory shot and a beer and press their bets on the back nine. That is when the pressure mounted and being a caddie, and a good one at that, paid off for these guys. I always made sure I put the bag down so that they could select their club and not have to pick it out of their bag on my back. I was careful to not walk in anyone’s line on the green and would always wash their ball whenever I could and return it to them on the next tee. Little things like that made you a good caddie besides course knowledge to a visitor.

Shannopin Country Club 9th hole

My claim to fame was being a caddie for Ben Crenshaw when he was a student at the University of Texas. He came to Shannopin to qualify for the U.S. Open and Ed Weil gave me his bag for the event.

Ben Crenshaw at the 84 Masters

Ben was two years older than me. He was a sophomore at Texas and I was a senior in high school. He was very quiet and used those extra long tees when he hit his driver. I was amazed at how long the guy hit his tee shots for someone of his stature. He is not a big guy but his timing was impeccable and he would launch these tee shots into the stratosphere. He didn’t have much to say other than ask me the occasional question about a particular hole- where to hit the tee shot, how long to the back of a particular hole, questions like that where a good caddie has the answers.

I had the good fortune of being a caddie for other good guys at Open qualifiers and West Penn and State championships as well. Mo Barr- the star basketball player at Duquesne back in the day, was an excellent golfer and I had his bag at a qualifier. He was a strong guy and leveraged his height to really hit the ball out of sight off the tee. Rick Hrip was a really good regional golfer and I had his bag at the State Open one year and when we came to the 17th hole at Shannopin, he hit his shot up to the left of the green on the hillside. He asked me if he could play a pitch and run down to the green and I told him no. If he did that, the ball would run off the green and over the hillside. I knew that from experience. I told him to cut a sand wedge up high and land it square in the middle of the green. He did that, saved his par, and went on to win the State Open. He gave me credit when he was talking to reporters at the end and I was very happy to have helped him. Nice tip too.

The good thing about being a caddie as a young guy is not only is it a good job outside, but you meet people who teach you a thing or two about class, sportsmanship, and life in general. I loved being a caddie for Knox Young who competed many times in the U.S Amateur and was a West Penn and State Amateur title holder. He was a kind, gentle guy who talked to me on the golf course about things in life and had a real interest in where I was going to school.. I met many captains of industry on the golf course who had a lot to say about business and how to approach a career as a young guy. I would also see the guys who would play golf and then stay all night playing cards in the locker room to avoid going home . Those lessons on how to treat or not treat your family were not lost on me.

I worked a lot in those teenage years at Shannopin as a caddie, a car parker and the occasional stint in the kitchen when Rico, the manager, was shorthanded. The lessons you learn at a country club as a young guy are priceless and I will never forget my times there. I knew every member and caddied for a lot of them. Recently, I saw a young guy while riding my mountain bike on a trail that is adjacent to the practice tee at Allegheny Country Club here in the burg. He was a caddie and was talking to another caddie and I pulled up and said to them, “guys- you will always remember this job. To be a caddie is the greatest summer job there is.” I meant it, but they looked at me like I had two heads. Youth is wasted on the young. Thanks for reading.

PPP( Pat’s Pleasant Peddling)

With Hank and Samra- Wolf Rocks Overlook- Laurel Mountain, Pa.

So, when we pulled into the parking lot at Laurel Mountain, the snake hunters were getting ready with their long tongs, long pants and boots. We all chatted briefly and the conclusion was that there probably would not be much to look at because of the cool temperatures and cloudy conditions. This suited Samra just fine as she commented, ” I thought this was going to be a pleasant ride?” “If I see a rattlesnake, it is not going to be pleasant.” Hank and I chuckled as we explained that rattlesnakes are fairly docile. If you don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with you. Yes they are in the Laurels as well as black bear, but again- just leave them alone. We all were up for a pleasant ride and although Samra and Hank are in great shape, they were content to ride at my pleasant pace. I find that the older I get, the more I like ” pleasant rides.”

My mantra-LOL!!!!
Blooming Mountain Laurel

I am not in the “blast out of the parking lot at full speed” crowd anymore. I need to warm up. Probably a good half hour or more. I had my stint in bicycle racing for 25 years and although it was a lot of fun with it’s share of suffering, I am happy in these last several years to back off a little bit and enjoy the rides. See things like blooming mountain laurel instead of focusing on the guy or group ahead of me. Samra and Hank don’t like big groups and were perfectly happy to have me show them my favorite place to ride at a reasonable pace.

If you live in Western Pennsylvania or are thinking of visiting, the Laurel Mountains have some great options for hiking and mountain bike riding. The trails are well marked and can be found on Trailforks and MTB Project. Maps are also available at the DCNR office in Laughlintown at the bottom of the mountain on Rt. 30. I usually ride the trails up near Laurel Mountain State Park Ski Area. Even at a pleasant pace, there are challenging sections like Wolf Rocks and Spruce Run Trail into the Summit Trail. I still like the challenge of riding the rocks but they can be done at a pleasant pace and not necessarily race pace. They will work you and your suspension but definitely worth the effort. The view from the Wolf Rocks overlook is not to be missed as well. But be aware of the rocky overlook where above said rattlesnakes tend to sun themselves if not too many people are around. But if there are riders and hikers present, no worries at all.

I still have friends who are very skilled riders and like to push the pace. I admire them for their fitness and when I ride with them, I tend to go at my own pace and sometimes take short cuts in order to make the ride pleasant. They will push me oftentimes and I have to get out of my comfort zone, but more and more as they age, they appreciate the opportunity to sometimes ride the PPP pace. I think we still get a good workout and as I always say, ” nobody is going to the Olympics.”

The fall is coming.

Another good thing about the PPP pace is that it is good for some of my friends who have had some recent health setbacks. They are trying to work their way back and you don’t have to hammer all the time to get the benefits. In fact, it is amazing to me and to some of my pals, that if you back it off just a little bit, you don’t kill yourself and you have a lot of energy left to enjoy more of the ride. This weekend with Hank and Samra, we worked the rock sections but rode at the PPP and completed the whole enchilada of my Laurel Mountain ride and I did not collapse in the parking lot. I could have ridden more. My fitness at this time of year is best, but I think the pace of the PPP helps me and can help others too. I like to think of it as an aging guy’s program. Ride to ride another day.

So if you see me out there on the trails, or you want to ride with me, you will know that I will ride at a pace where I can talk to you. I am learning to listen more and I would like to hear more about you, than telling you about me and my worn out stories. The PPP is a fun mountain bike ride. You will always smile. Thanks for reading.

My Neighbor the Southpaw

PITTSBURGH – 1987: Pitcher John Smiley #57 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1987 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

A couple of years ago- I saw this guy across the street struggling with the heavy snow in his driveway. I was using my snow blower at the time and went over to help him. He appreciated it and we got to talking. He looked kind of familiar and he introduced himself as John. Turns out he is John Smiley, formerly a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates. I remember him pitching and remember his great career of 12 years with the Bucs, the Minnesota Twins, the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians. With an ERA of 3.80 and a 126-103 win loss record, John has a lot to be proud of in his former career.

PITTSBURGH – 1989: Pitcher John Smiley of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches during a Major League Baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1989 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Fast forward and I see him a lot recently hitting whiffle golf balls in his yard as he has taken up the game of golf again after his arm is finally healed after all these years of curve ball abuse. Of course I engage him about baseball. I was always a fan of baseball as my dad used to take me to Forbes Field as a kid and I saw all the greats from the 1960s play. Sometimes professional athletes or former athletes hesitate to engage in conversation about their sport but John is an extremely knowledgeable and engaging guy who loves to talk baseball. Right up my alley. We got to talking about his fun times in the Fantasy Camps in Florida in which he participates. For those of you who do not know, fantasy camps are for old guys trying to relive their youth on the baseball diamond with their old heroes. They pay a lot of money to play and the former professional players like John love to participate and tell all the old war stories in the evenings around the dinner table. John loves to tell me how funny former pitcher Steve Blass is and also about Bill Mazeroski’s amazing stories about the 1960 World Champion Bucs. I was amazed that Maz still participates at his age but these guys love baseball.

The University Club Father Son Baseball back in the day with my dad.

John likes to tell me stories about the nuances of the game like when he was pitching and the opposing team would pick up on his cadence and signal to the batter what pitch was coming. They stole the signals. One game in Montreal, John and his catcher at the time decided not to use any signals to throw the opposition off. They won easily and it was a moral victory for John and his catcher. I asked him what he thinks of the new electronic strike zone and John enthusiastically applauds it saying that any technological advance in the game that takes bad calls and chance away is a good thing. I was always a fan of baseball and loved my time playing in minor league, little league and pony league as a fat little catcher before moving on to other sports. But always liked baseball and to have a neighbor who loves to talk baseball and knows what he is talking about is a plus.

John also talks about how his father worked with him and got him to be dedicated to the game at an early age. Like a lot of kids who grow up to be professional athletes, there was not much time for fun outside of baseball. You had to train, play and practice at a very high level to make it. He said that he missed a lot of things as a kid growing up but would have never made the major leagues if it had not been for his dad and the coaches he had. He said that making it involved a lot of playing in the south in the heat. That separated the men from the boys, in John’s opinion, and in order to make it in the majors, you had to be dedicated and able to perform in all weather especially the heat.

A lot of professional athletes, again, don’t like to engage in conversation with fans. But John is quite the opposite. He sees that I am enthusiastic and interested in what he has to say about the game of baseball. I love his stories. Jan thinks I may be bothering him but I always insert myself in conversation with John while he is practicing with the whiffle balls. He is always quite energetic and never minds my endless questions. But that is who he is. A successful retired professional who loves the game and now has a nosy neighbor with whom to trade stories. As you would suspect from maybe knowing me, I tell him stories too. But nothing can compare to a career on the mound for a professional baseball team.

I am a talker. I struggle with listening sometimes but I always make a point of listening to John. I force myself to shut up and listen. A skill which needs constant work. But my talkative nature has led to some great conversations and ultimate friendships with some really interesting people. If I hadn’t initiated conversations with John, I would never know the great stories he has in his head. You have to listen, but you also need to initiate conversations sometimes. You never know how you will be rewarded. Thanks for reading.

Anyone Can Be a Father. It takes Dedication to be a Dad.

Curt Wooten on left. AKA “Pittsburgh Dad.”

Curt Wooten is a funny guy. As “Pittsburgh Dad”, he has created a comedy routine that is really popular here in Pittsburgh. But for those of you out of town, you will still appreciate his antics on his weekly You Tube videos. Remembering this photo from a few years back and also the poignant statement above about being a dad, many memories are filling my head on Father’s Day.

I will never forget the day we brought our son Jack home from the hospital. I said to my wife Janet, that life will never be the same. As a rookie dad, I was always trying to do the best for Jack and it all began with me trying to get him to do the things that I like to do. Skiing, riding a bike, hiking, all the outdoors stuff.

Mt. Rose, Nevada
Skiing with the boys.

I even made an effort to teach him all about American history with trips to Ft. Ligonier( of French and Indian War Fame), Fort Pitt, Williamsburg, VA and our famous trip to Gettysburg on the way to the shore. We looked like the Clampetts with fishing gear on the roof, bikes on the racks and tons of luggage I hired a guy to guide us and he drove our vehicle around the famous Gettysburg Civil War sites and after about three hours, he lost Janet and Jack – but I was enthralled. Again- it was all about me and what I liked and what I thought was important.

Jack at Williamsburg

After many days of hikes, bike rides in the woods with Jack on the “tag a long” and skiing, he came to me in the 6th grade and said he wanted to play basketball. I said” Basketball?” We are outdoors people! Janet looked at me and said,” it’s not all about you big guy.” So we began the basketball wars and I became fully engaged in Eden Christian Academy basketball, North Allegheny Basketball, and AAU Basketball

AAU Nationals in Florida with the DeJuan Blair All Stars.

Jack and I would attend Pete Strobl’s Scoring Factory at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association and I was fully on board with his training with Pete. http://www.thescoringfactory.com Pete- who currently coaches a Pro team in Europe, taught Jack a lot about basketball but more importantly he taught him about commitment, hard work and effort that pays off in life.

The most fun times were with Darelle Porter ( former All American from Pitt) who coached Jack when he played for the Dejuan Blair All Stars in AAU Basketball. Darelle and the other coaches would ask me if I played and if I coached Jack. I politely responded that I was an outdoors guy, never visited gyms, and couldn’t even dribble. They took me under their wing and thus the fun times with DB.

Time moved on and Jack lost interest in basketball and became a gamer. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around video games which are extremely popular but conflicted with my image of Jack as an outdoors guy or a seasoned hoopster. College came on the horizon and Jack finished up with an accounting degree and magna cum laude from La Roche University. He now lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and works with a company that does audits of credit unions. I can’t even balance my checkbook.

Marisa and Jack

The interesting thing now is that Jack’s girlfriend is getting him to do all the things that I liked to do outdoors. Hiking, walks along Lake Michigan, kayaking, and he is even playing hoops again at his local health club. He still has a deadly three point shot and has always been a fan of the NBA.

These days, as empty nesters, Janet and I look back and think about all the good times we had raising Jack here in Pittsburgh. We miss having him here but realize that he has his own life now and he is different in many ways than we are. As a type “A” guy, I always wanted to direct Jack’s life but realized that Janet’s adage that ” its not all about you big guy” is a real fact of life. I think often of how I tried so hard to be a good dad and not just a father like the saying above says. We all have the calling as dads to teach our children principles, raise them in the faith, and in general get them started on a good path in life. But the lesson for me is that now Jack has his own life and I must let him live it. In many ways, Jack teaches me now. But I am still old school in a lot of areas. Still write checks, put stamps on envelopes, mail things at the post office, and I think things like Venmo are cartoon characters. Jack just shakes his head as he tries to get me into the 21st century.

We don’t see Jack as often as we would like. He makes his excursions to Pittsburgh and we have a whirlwind time catching up with him and just letting him tell us how life is for him without offering much advice( or at least we try). We make the treks to Grand Rapids to spend time with Jack and Marisa and go to the lake and to other mid west attractions like the Tulip Festival in Holland on a recent trip.

But for the most part, on Father’s Day, I think about the privilege that I have being a dad. The opportunities that we gave Jack pale in comparison to the blessing that we have had with Jack as our son. Father’s Day is about being a dad. And for the record, I did ask Jack, now that he is again doing some outdoor ventures, if he would like to ski again? He was a decent skier. But he said, ” Truthfully dad- I never liked the cold.” Go figure- Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thanks for reading and happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

The Final Ride

After a wonderful memorial service for our dear friend Brian Lunt, our group of riders were asked by Brian’s wife Rose to take Brian’s ashes for a final ride in the park- on his beloved trails. We all wondered how this would go and the task of filming the event fell on Dave Ashi with his brand new Go Pro and also Nancy Furbee who was backup with her I Phone. Nancy was quite creative with her Facebook video and Dave and Tim Traynor did a great job with the Go Pro video so that Rose and her family would have the event forever memorialized.

Spreading one’s ashes seems to be more popular these days as folks have favorite places where they would like to be laid to rest – rather than a cemetery plot. There are stories of people’s ashes being spread at sea, on ski slopes and trails, and in this case- on mountain bike trails. This is nothing new but it seems to be gaining in popularity and our group was happy to be compliant with Rose’s request.

Discussing our protocol

As we began the procession, the weather seemed to hold off and we were blessed with a good start – attributed to Brian looking over the proceedings from above. I had the urn in my riding pack and was dubbed ” the Hearse” by the group with a few chuckles along the way. But as we proceeded along the familiar trails of our local park, I thought about my own mortality and how a 61 year old guy like Brian is now gone. Someone who we have ridden with, laughed with, and with whom we have had many conversations on the trails and ski slopes, is now not going to be physically part of our group anymore. It makes you think. It also makes you think where and how you would like to be memorialized when the time comes. We definitely wanted to make sure that Brian was properly remembered and aside from the physical spreading on the trails, Mark “the Shark” Sauers made sure of it with his wonderful words of encouragement to all of us including fond memories of our pal Brian.

Mark set a spiritual tone when we stopped to distribute the ashes in the first location. When you see the remains and think of things like” remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” you need the encouraging words that Mark shared with all of us. This is not the end. Death is a transition for believers and we all came away with the thought that we will all see Brian again. I thought of Revelation 21-4 which says that in the end, ” He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain. For the old order of things has passed away.” You can’t help to think of all of this when you are involved in something like we did that day. But Brian would not like us to all be somber either. There were many laughs along the way as we proceeded to the next stop. Our pal Bill Belch kept dropping his bike while we were standing and I joked with him to ” get it together Bill- this is a funeral you know.” We all laughed at that one, including Bill, and it kind of broke the more serious tone at the moment.

The final stop was at a scenic overlook in the park and as it started to rain, no doubt due to Brian saying” Get on with it people”. I warned the group about the wind. It was rather humorous to see us releasing Brian to the wind only to have him come back in our face. I am sure he was laughing at that one and we all joked about Brian making it difficult now with the rain and the wind. As we all put our feet in a circle of solidarity at the end of the day, we all had positive thoughts about something that we were not sure of. How was this going to go? How do we carry the urn around? Will this be somber or will we have some fun doing it, in compliance with Brian’s wonderful sense of humor? In the end, we all said that this is how we all wanted people to remember us. Take us all to a place that we love and be among friends – even though it may only be in spirit at the time. It was a positive experience and it also was an event that solidified our friendship even more. We all loved riding with Brian and Rose was right- this was the right thing to do. Thanks for reading. Photos courtesy of Nancy Furbee

The Well Rounded Athlete

I came upon a post last week in Facebook by Julie Gavrillis describing how she came back into contact with a mountain bike that she had not seen in years. Julie was the manager in 1994 of the Volvic – Power Bar Women’s Mountain Bike Team and the bike that she received recently belonged to one of her riders- Susan DiBiase. Julie went on to say what a nice, humble champion Susan was and how she was privileged to manage that team back in the day. The tie in here is that Susan and her brother Jimmy are old friends of mine from our skiing days at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. Susan developed into a multi- pronged professional athlete being on the U.S National Freestyle Skiing Team from 1988-1992, The Budweiser Pro Mogul Tour -1992-1994 , and also a professional mountain bike racer for GT from 1990-1993, Volvic- Power Bar in 1994, and finishing with the Evian Women’s Team from 1994-1996. She also spent some time in 2007 as an Ambassador for the Professional Women’s Team- Luna Chix. But my little story about Susan is how she first became involved in cycling which all started with local rides with our Moon Cyclist group and the ACA weekly criterium races at the Highland Park Zoo.

The recovered mountain bike from back in the day.

Susan first started with road riding and racing and would bring her pal from Penn State to the races to ride with us during the week. Karen Bliss was Susan’s pal and was 4 time U.S. Points race champion on the track and 3 time National Criterium Champion and recently nominated and entered into the U.S. Bicycle Hall of Fame. At the time, Susan and Karen were training and racing, and because we were friends who first got her started in cycling along with Susan’s step father, Paul Phillips, they would be gracious enough to ride with our group. I can remember telling the guys at the time that we had special guests riding with us. Gary Gillis and Mike Mihok from the Moon Cyclists were skeptical at first, but when Susan and Karen would pound us into submission and the guys would look at me and say ” Who are they?” I would laugh and say-” try to keep up”. The only reason we were not dropped weekly was that the girls didn’t know where they were going. They had to rely on us for the route- otherwise we would never have seen them.

Fast forward- Susan set her sights on pro mountain bike racing and had success with several teams. She never forgot her old pal Pat, and when I would go to mountain bike races back in the day, Susan would always make sure I was involved and introduced me to her team mates and friends from road cycling and mountain biking. I met all the luminaries of the sport through Susan and those were fun days to be sure. I felt proud to have been a part of Susan’s riding history and she was always gracious enough to mention it to her friends and team mates.

At the World Championships in Vail in 1994, my friend Bob Anderson( local mountain bike racing legend),Tim Sweeney (local masters racing legend) and I took in the races as spectators and saw the world’s best compete. We watched John Tomac win the downhill in a black skin suit looking very much like Darth Vader as he rocketed down the course. We hiked all around the cross country course and watched the men’s XC races as well as the women and cheered Susan on with her team mates. Again, Susan made sure our experience was complete as she invited Bob, Tim, and me to the after -race party for sponsors, suppliers, and teams competing in the championships. We walked around with our passes and bumped heads with all the legends of the sport and Susan was so happy we enjoyed the event. I needed to get back to Denver to catch a flight and was trying to see where Bob was so we could leave. I looked into the mosh pit at the party and saw a horizontal Bob being passed around by the crowd and was resigned to the fact that Bob was having a great time and the ride to Denver would be a quick one with Bob napping in the back seat.

Susan and Julie Gavrillis reunited

Currently Susan is the General Manager and U.S marketing director for Babolat- a universally well known equipment supplier in the tennis world. She and her husband Peter live in Fraser, Colorado and Susan is still very active in her athletic pursuits. I was happy to see the post by Julie and the many memories that it brought back to me. As Julie says, you will not find a more caring person than Susan and her smile and giggle will always be remembered locally and also throughout the sports world where Susan competed many years ago. Hopefully we will reconnect someday but in the meantime- I have Jimmy. Thanks for reading.