The Brendan Boat

Just trying to take a break from all the Covid-19 stuff and give you all a little enjoyment for St. Patrick’s Day. Back a number of years when I was in Ireland riding my bike, I peddled my arse to the west coast and ended up on the Dingle Peninsula. That is where I purchased the item above that depicts St. Brendan and his monks rowing their dory boat. You see St. Brendan and the monks were from a place very close to Dingle and they are famous for their explorations of the Aran Islands and westward spreading the gospel. Read Tim Severin’s book ” The Brendan Voyage” for a fascinating account of their voyages. It is said that they made it all the way to Newfoundland 500 years before Leif Erikson and close to 1000 years before Columbus made his way to the Caribbean. National Geographic also did a piece in August of 1977 reporting on Severin’s re-creation of the voyage outlined in the book. My point today is that St. Brendan and the boys were not much into social distancing. In fact they went way out of their way to spread the gospel and also meet new people and visit new lands on the way. The Irish are like that.

St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of what the saint did in Ireland as a Christian missionary and bishop. It also celebrates Irish culture with parades, Guiness, Irish Car Bombs, and similar merriment but also recognizes the social character of the Irish and their descendants like me. My mother was a huge fan of the day and also a huge fan of all things Irish. Her humor was represented in sayings like the above and also in her love for things like Belleek china, Waterford crystal and making Irish soda bread. But again- it involved people, and our house growing up had that classic Irish tradition of gathering friends and family and enjoying the humor and the company. I spent many times on the piano in my folk’s house playing Irish songs and to this day do the same at home. My mom’s favorite saying was that “happiness is like a perfume, you can’t spread it on others without getting a little on yourself.” And she did in many ways- cooking, singing, entertaining her friends and relatives, and well…….being Irish. I believe I received her sense of humor as a gift because I always try to look at life from the bright side. If I can offer some humor to my friends and family along the way, I feel good and I hope they do as well. I tell my inane stories of my experiences on the chairlift and on mountain bike rides, much to the amusement of my friends who have graciously heard the stories over and over again. But I believe that a little self deprecation, which is the root of many of my stories, leads to belly laughs and people shaking their heads and saying………..McCloskey???????”

 

So this Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day. Yes- we are in the middle of a national crisis. The parades have all been cancelled, restaurants are closing, bars are closing, we are encouraged to be diligent and wash our hands and keep our distance. Not in the Irish tradition at all. But we need to do it. But when the day comes, and you have “The Quiet Man” on television or maybe “Waking Ned Devine” , think of the folks that you would like to be with and give them a call or a text. Have a laugh and try to keep some humor during some trying times. I will probably do that and bore people with more stories and corny Irish jokes, but they will laugh and say- ” thanks for the call man”.        Slainte’ .

Interaction Begins with A Warm Glazed Donut

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So it was my turn to supply the donuts. Bob Potter was so gracious for the last couple of weeks to furnish the donuts for our group at Laurel Mountain on Saturday mornings. I thought I better step up and stop at the Pie Shoppe in Laughlintown to get the warm, glazed donuts and they were received at our table in the lodge with enthusiastic smiles. You see, our group at Laurel interacts with several other groups to form what we lovingly call our little private club in the middle of the Laurel Highlands. As the group munched on the donuts and drank coffee waiting for the lift to open, our view of the Ligonier Valley was sunny and spectacular. I really look forward to being with our group on Saturday mornings not only to ski, but to chat about the pending conditions and the day ahead, and also to find out how everyone’s week went.

The interesting thing is that you can write about the good times at Laurel, post on Facebook which can give you a thumbnail sketch in time of what happens, but it is nothing like personally experiencing the skiing, the mountain, the employees and especially our friends. The interaction is wonderful and we all look forward to seeing each other.

Switching lanes a little bit, personal interaction seems to be waning these days. I am kind of old school in that I call my friends and make it a point to get together with them. Local friends and out of town friends too. If someone is sick I send a card or visit, in short, I believe that personal interaction is so crucial in maintaining friendships. You have to see someone face to face to really gauge their feelings. If they are happy or sad, you can see it if you are with them. Sure, you can text because it is quick, and you can post on Facebook for those who you don’t see often, but social media pales in comparison to seeing your friends smile when you personally interact with them. That is losing ground today. I see it in the workplace. I tell the young folks all the time, don’t send emails back and forth, if you have an issue, pick up the phone and talk to the person. I spent 21 years with my current company building relationships. I took the time to visit suppliers and distribution center purchasing contacts. I would take them to lunch and dinner, hack around a golf course with them, and even ski with a few of them. Most of them became my friends not just because of business, but because I cared about them. If there was an issue, we could talk about it, solve it, and move on. You don’t get that kind of relationship texting or emailing. I have developed long standing friendships in the business world because I made it a point to care about their issues and how we could service them better. They jokingly call me the Director of Happiness to this day. I may not be the brightest bulb in the halls of Armada Supply Chain Solutions, but I do care about our customers.

I recently took my son Jack, who is finishing up his MBA, to visit my friend Fred Kohun who is a long standing faculty member at Robert Morris University where Jack is studying. Fred took the time to show Jack a lot of pictures, memorabilia, and things of interest from all over the world in his office. At the end of the meeting, Fred remarked to Jack that the reason he spent the time to show Jack all of that was to tell him how important it is to network in the business world. Most of Fred’s success as a consultant, and faculty member, was because of interaction with people and networking all over the world in his career path. Not sure if that resonated yet with Jack, but like a lot of kids in his generation, they would do well to take a break from the Internet and social media and personally interact with people.

So, the group in the lodge at Laurel booted up as we polished off the box of donuts and coffee and sprinted for the trail as soon as the closed sign was lifted. Everyone was smiling and ready to attack the freshly groomed trails and slopes. It all started with anticipation of the day, the “Cheers” like atmosphere upon entry to the lodge, and the warm glazed donuts. You can’t text that experience. You have to be there to hang with whom Rus Davies lovingly refers to as Laurel Mountain characters. Go call a friend today and meet with them. Maybe someone you have not seen in a while? Use the phone app on your I Phone and take a break from social media. Your friends will appreciate doing things with you and seeing your smile in person. Thanks for reading.

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Several photos  courtesy of Rus Davies. Long time Laurel Mountain skier and enthusiast.

Evensong.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Quintessential Pennsylvania Hunting Camp

If you are familiar with Pennsylvania, my home state, you will know that hunting is BIG around here. Especially this time of year. There are lots of white tail deer in our state and I mean lots, and this time of the season they are running! A tradition that has been passed on by hunters here in the Keystone State is the maintenance and upkeep of the classic hunting camp. So many stories about guys ” going up to camp” for the hunting season. Plenty of food, booze, and camaraderie to spread around for days. The camps are typically built from salvage material and over the years they are improved and additions made by family and friends. Marienville, Kane( the icebox of Pennsylvania), Bradford, and other central Pa. haunts have been the home of hunting camps for generations.

So it was a nice surprise when I was invited to come to camp with my friends Bob and Julie, and as I made my way on a cold Saturday morning with snow on the ground, I turned off I-80 and made my way eventually to the  double track that led to …..” the camp.” As soon as I saw Bob cutting wood for the wood stove, and smelled the smoke in the cold air, I was reminded of how much I like fires and fireplaces and wood stoves. I exclaimed to Bob, as I came into the camp, that this place was the classic Pa. hunting camp to which he had a big smile on his face and agreed with a wheelbarrow full of wood and told me to get to work. It was cold last Saturday and the main source of heat for the house was the wood stove. But as the other folks entered the camp, food and sleeping bags began arriving and placed in the kitchen and the living area near the wood stove. No matter what ever happens, a mattress and a sleeping bag is all you need at a camp for pure comfort at night. The heat of the stove is mesmerizing and you know that no matter how bitter the weather is, there will be warmth, wood, and plenty of craft beers and food to feed the guests for the weekend.

As Julie rolled out the breakfast sandwiches and Charlotte tended to her large pot of chili, I got ready to roll for a day of outdoor adventure in the Pennsylvania wilds. You see, I love cold weather, fires, snow and the smell of wood smoke. Did I mention I like fires? LOL!!

Hunting camps have been passed on for generations and the traditions of a day in the woods followed by a hot meal and some beers and discussions of the one that got away have been the stuff of legend for Pennsylvania hunters. Yes there is hunting in the surrounding states but when you talk deer hunting, and camps, you are most likely going to reference central Pennsylvania. Really no argument there because we do have the largest deer population and also a very large black bear population. The group had been down in the woods before I got there and were still marveling at the sighting of two large bald eagles by the lake. Dr. Jack came rolling in and the group was complete. As we made our way to S.B Elliott State Park and through Parker Dam State Park, we were treated to a scenic drive right into the parking lot. As we forded some rather deep stream crossings we came upon our friend John who mystically appeared out of nowhere and when I asked how on earth he ever found us, Bob responded that they all had ridden motorcycles up there for years and knew all the terrain quite well. You see, we were there for a mountain bike weekend and not a shot was fired. No ammo, rifles, or any mention of the buck that got away. But rather the buck that we saw while riding some of the more scenic trails this state has to offer. Most of us had orange or yellow clothing to distinguish ourselves from the running herd, but yours truly had on a black rain suit which I quipped, ” I will be mistaken for a bear which should be ok seeing that it is not bear season yet.” In any event, at the end of the ride, the merry band of riders settled in again by the wood stove and the beers started cracking. As the chili made its rounds and the rest of the nuts, chips and snacks were enjoyed, our pal Tom probably summed it up best when he said, ” You know, the best part of the ride is sitting around afterward, enjoying a cold beer, some good food and stories shared by friends in the woods. Yes, I was invited to a hunting camp. But the aura of the camp was just as good for riders as it is for hunters because it is all about the people.

Good friends getting together to ride mountain bikes, but so much more than the ride. The company is great, in a classic setting.  And the older we get, the more we appreciate it. Turning 65 this week was a revelation and it made me take stock in life and remember that there are people who care about you and like to be with you ……….up at camp. Thanks for reading and remember to follow the blog by entering your email address to the left of the page or scroll down to the bottom on your smart phone.

Youth Mountain Biking is Booming!!!

When I was a kid, I loved to be outside. Still do, and it was fostered by my mother who always encouraged us to get outside and get some fresh air. Playing army in the woods, unorganized baseball, kickball, football were only interrupted by the ringing of the dinner bell by my dad after all day outside. Eventually we got into organized sports and team play was everything. Today there are a lot of distractions for kids including video games,I-Phones, and TV which play havoc with a plan by parents to encourage kids to play outside. A lot of kids would rather play in the virtual world than play in the real world outside. Enter Trail Adventures- a program put together by Allegheny County Parks and Recreation here in Western Pennsylvania. If you go to the Allegheny County Website https://alleghenycounty.us and go to the Parks page and search for Trail Adventures, you will see a sign up for an amazing program coached by Drew Landefeld and Cody Pletz. These two young guys put their heart and soul into youth mountain biking at the North Park Trail System in Northern Allegheny County.

The program begins with kids as young as 6 years old all the way to 18 years old with different coaches and divisions teaching kids how to ride a mountain bike and safely tackle the trail system with its rocks and roots along the way. When you see the parking lot full of parents and kids all excited to meet at the big tree and get their instructions for the day from Drew and Cody, the wide eyed excited kids can’t wait to get started. This program begins in April and ends in late fall before the time change and the improvement and skill level is amazing for such a young group of kids. Drew and Cody herd the cats, so to speak, and before the summer is over, the parents and kids have huge smiles on their faces and a new generation of mountain bikers is on their way to a lifetime of enjoyment on the trails. You can also reference http://www.trailadventurespgh.com

Similarly for the competitive set, one of the hottest leagues in the country today is the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) which fosters high school racing and a genuine team dynamic. The charter states that NICA promotes skill development, healthy low impact outdoor recreation,coaches training, and environmental advocacy for the protection of trails. Aside from that, there is some pretty robust racing and it is not only huge on a national scale, but really huge for us locally. Jim Pottinger, who is department chair of gifted support in the Gateway School District, is the head coach of the Pittsburgh East Cycling Team which is based at Boyce Park in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Jim not only has his own kids racing,(daughter Riley and son Tobin- both tops in their division) but along with the 30 plus racers and 15 plus parents, they care and tend to the trails in Boyce which is one of our more beautiful parks in the county system. A robust race schedule happens late summer into fall with the championships held at Boyce Park. The team travels to races across the state of Pennsylvania along with local match ups with local teams. The team has strong support from Barry and Cindi Jeffries, the owners of Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop in Verona, Pa. Not only does Pittsburgh East get equipment support, but Barry and Cindi have funded a lot of the trail work and the race support for the team and park as well.

Lou Marshall, who coaches the Pittsburgh North Cycling Team, also has a strong connection with Pittsburgh Pro Bikes and together with a team of talented racers from the North Allegheny and Pine Richland School districts, they are very competitive both regionally and nationally, but they have a strong emphasis this year on training and riding for fun.   West Virginia has strong representation as well with over 130 racers currently competing and coached by Cassie Smith, a nationally competitive pro racer in her own right.

A disturbing statistic is that over 35 percent of teenagers today are considered obese. Youth mountain biking clubs and NICA clubs are battling this statistic and encouraging kids to get outside and play in the woods and mountains which they will be able to enjoy for the rest of their lives. Not everyone can play football or baseball on a team, but a lot of kids can certainly ride a bike and enjoy a sport that will last them a lifetime. Message being, get off the keyboards and play outside. Get involved as kids in a local program like Trail Adventures, compete or just ride with a local NICA club. And get your parents out to coach, train and be a part of a booming environment which is mountain biking. It is alive again folks. Be a part of it. Thanks for reading. Click on the tab to the left of the website and enter your email to be a follower. Also at the bottom on your smart phone. I will try to entertain and not bore you………once a week.

Photos courtesy of Jim Pottinger and “Coach” Lou Marshall.

“Self Betterment”

Listening to a podcast the other day on my way to the mountains, I heard the term “self betterment” and thought it was an awkward word combination. I know what the author was trying to say which probably would have been “self improvement” but so be it. It caused me to think about what to do as we age and how to keep moving forward.

My friend Pete and I were talking the other day about education and how important it is to continually read and listen to books on tape or podcasts. Maybe take continuing education classes?  You learn something when you do those things and your mind is challenged. I, for one, am a voracious reader and enjoy mostly non-fiction of which my focus has been French and Indian War history as well as the founding of this country. I live in an area rich in history especially pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times. Places like Fort Ligonier are precious to me as I can gaze into the past while looking at uniforms and artifacts housed in the museum there. I like to read books by David McCullough such as his recent book, ” The Pioneers”. I learned a lot about the western emigration to Ohio and the life on the Ohio River in the early days of our country. The more I read, the more I learn and can truly up the ante in my appreciation of local historical lore.

Sometimes “self betterment” comes in the form of lessons learned. I always say, no matter what happens, you always take away a learning from any experience – positive or negative. Take a recent trip to Chicago. After a conversation with an Uber driver who was from the Middle East, he became agitated with me. I was trying to make conversation and keep things light, but he didn’t take it that way and told me flat out that he didn’t have to talk to me. After he dropped me at the hotel, he gave me a look that could melt stone as I reached for my bag. I didn’t know what was about to happen as he told me to ” get the f out of his car.” Kind of un-nerving to say the least and he didn’t care in the least what rating we gave him. But I think things were lost culturally there and most likely my fault. My humor is sometimes not appreciated and the learning or ” self betterment” I learned that day was to keep my mouth shut and speak when spoken to.

Associating with people who value life and experiences is always a path to ” self- betterment”. People with positive attitudes, a kind spirit, a volunteering heart, are people who can make you a better person. Just because you age, does not mean you cannot improve your life and your appreciation of life. I am trying to slow down and smell the roses so to speak and I surround myself with people who can teach me things and make me a better person. My wife has done that for sure. She has good insight on many things and her kind spirit is always a message to me as she selflessly takes care of her aging mother every single day. The old saying that ” you are who your friends are” is so true. My grandfather also said on the flip side of a coin, that ‘ if you fool with a skunk, you end up smelling the same way.” Look for people who make you better.

My friends tend to be skiers and mountain bikers. But we have more than that in common. Many of those folks have made me a better person. They educate me, they are thoughtful and kind, and they enjoy the outdoors and point out things to me that I would never notice. People who now have retired and give back to the community in ways that cannot be measured.

Bottom line…………”self betterment”? Education? Experience? Friendships?” If you pay attention, as you age, you can learn something every day. Thanks for reading.

More Cowbell

Well folks, back in the saddle again and commenting on a unifying item called the cowbell. In World Cup ski races, you can hear the cowbells clanging and ringing on he sides of the race trail as the racers scream by at top speeds. The Swiss have a habit of bringing monster cowbells that sound more like a clanging gong than a ring of a standard bell found on the necks of the bovine community in Switzerland.

I came prepared this past weekend with my official Swiss cowbell that I bought on my honeymoon some 31 years ago in Zermatt. This tradition of cheering on the competitors is also used in World Cup Mountain Bike racing and last weekend the alpine sound greeted the downhill competitors as well as the cross country competitors as they made their way down rock strewn and root infested Snowshoe, West Virginia. I rang my bell for reigning World Champion Nino Schurter as he climbed the summit of a grinder right before a treacherous rock garden. I rang for the rest of the field and was joined in a chorus of bells of all shapes and sizes. I rang for all American competitors as I hoped that the home squad would make a good showing on American soil. This is the World Cup Finals after all in Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia. How much more American can you get than that? Kate Courtney- our former World Champion for Cross Country, dug deep and finished 5th in the XC race which guaranteed her a victory in the overall season title. ” USA, USA, USA,” went the massive crowd chant along with an assembled thousands of ringing cowbells.

As I thought about the event on the way home which included some great riding at places like Tea Creek and Silver Creek Backcountry trails nearby with my band of traveling mountain bikers, I thought of what the cowbell meant in the melee of the excited fanfare. I thought about how I had not been to a World Class event in some time but looking at the athletes, soigneurs, photographers, team mechanics, nothing much had changed. The gathering of the mountain bike tribe was still pretty much in tact even though some of us had aged and many new youthful faces had emerged. The vibe that Snowshoe created was energetic and supportive of cross country races and downhill alike. But the thing that really struck me was the unity of the crowd, cheering on their favorites and taking in the brilliant sunshine ringing their cowbells enthusiastically regardless of age, faith, race, creed, color, Democrat, Republican, whatever. We are all mountain bikers and we love our heroes as well as the tribe we ride with. All joined together as one unified throng of thousands, ringing our cowbells and smiling. Everybody should take a lesson from the mountain bike tribe. We have a lot more in common that we think. Thanks for reading.  Click on the follow button and join in the fun as I continue to muse about things in later life.  Thanks.