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.

A Refreshing Break

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

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

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

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

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

LOST!

Now I know in this day and age with GPS and technology that allows one to navigate from the seat of a mountain bike on any trail in the world, a map might seem archaic at best. Not for me. Being a little bit of a curmudgeon, I still depend on maps in my pack to get a good read on where to ride. Case in point are the Purple Lizard Maps which are available at http://www.purplelizard.com These maps are water proof, tear proof, peanut butter proof, beer proof, and generally a good way to get around. I just ordered my current version after using one for the last 20 years up in Rothrock State Forest near State College, Pa. These maps are great …….if you know how to use them. Like, read the trails and fire roads correctly instead of taking the wrong one and ending up 25 miles from my starting point at Tussey Mountain.

I got hopelessly lost after mis reading the map. It was getting dark, I was already an hour late to meet my wife and her room mate from college. I was out of water, my cell phone did not work, and my Cliff Bar situation was getting bleak with a fuzzball caked piece left. I pretty much figured I might be spending the night because I didn’t have a light either. There is a sign on the chairlift stanchions at Whiteface, New York, and Killington, Vermont that says,” Don’t ski alone. These mountains are as desolate and remote as they were 200 years ago.” So is the backside of Tussey and I thought of those signs as I was starting to get concerned about my lack of navigational skills. Fortunately, I met up with a couple camping near Greenwood Furnace who offered to take me and my bike back in their pickup truck to Tussey. They were the only people I had seen for hours. Had they not been there, I would definitely have spent the night up against some tree. Not that I could not do that, but my wife would have been out of her mind with concern. As it turned out, by the time I came back to the Ritchey house where my wife and her room mate Kathy were waiting, I heard an ear full and knew that I needed to study the maps a little more closely. After all these years riding there, I am pretty familiar with the area now and the map is more of an insurance policy than anything. But I am glad I got the current version to use on my upcoming trip there to do the Coopers Gap Epic with a bunch of great mountain biking friends.

I will tell you that I do a lot of adventurous things, but getting lost is a bit unnerving especially when you are running out of food, water, and light. Take the time I was mountain biking up in Ellicottville, New York riding away from the Race Loop Trail at Holiday Valley and into the Allegheny National Forest. I had a map of the area, although a bit outdated again, and I zigged when I should have zagged and voila, I ended up lost again- no water, sparse energy bar supply, and no lights. However I had cell service and called my friends at Mud, Sweat and Gears Bike and Ski Shop, who asked me about my location. I described the clearing with a potential of 3 different trail options that were not real clear on the outdated map. They knew and directed me to the right trail and as I made my way to town for something to eat, I bought a new map from the shop right before they closed for the night. They laughed at my old map and said, no wonder I was lost. Most of the trails are not featured on the old map.

My wife does not like me to ride by myself but if I am careful and have the right amount of food,water and the current version of the trail maps, I am pretty self sufficient these days. Most of the areas I ride are popular and you see a lot of people. But some are more remote like the Laguna Wilderness Trail System that I rode a lot back in the day. I had a good map for those rides but the signs warning about mountain lions was a bit concerning. Never saw one. Only the big blue Pacific Ocean. But without the map, you can get DFL on those trails very easily. And they get fairly remote quickly with the threat of the big cats and rattlesnakes.

Bottom line, good idea to always ride with a partner or on trails that are familiar and have bail out points. Secondly, a good map or better yet, a GPS that you can count on. I have to get one and get into the 21st century. But in the mean time, my maps are up to date and hopefully I will read them correctly and not cause my wife heartburn. Ride safely my friends and thanks for reading.