The Night Visitor


This time of year, I kind of switch gears and get away from the mountain bike, and transition to skiing,running trails, or hauling out the snowshoes. I have always been a runner at night in the winter and it is a solitary pursuit whether running around the lake in our local park, or running trails.img_1227 I am not anti-social this time of year, but it is nice to go out at night with the headlamp and spend some time by myself. I enjoy my own company. I talk to myself. Sometimes I get answers. It gives me time to think and to enjoy the winter weather. There is nothing like a run with the softly falling snow accompanied by my Pandora Christmas selections on the I-Phone. In the old days, it was the Sony Walkman with tapes. But I move ahead with technology- kicking and screaming. img_1232

There were many nights that I had the chance to contemplate Christmas and the true meaning of the birth of Christ. I always had fond memories of nativity scenes or the “creche” because of a wonderful story that I watched as a kid- ” Amahl and the Night Visitors.” carnegie_presepio It was re-broadcasted in 1963 from its original 1951 production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Although the story is fictional with the shepherd boy and the Magi, the opera by Carlo Menotti was based on biblical truth. I was always fascinated with that production on TV and thought of it often when I would see a creche. Perhaps one of my favorite nativity scene locations was in the grove right near my run starting point at Stone Field in North Park. It was always nice to finish a run and walk up to the grove which was decorated by Allegheny County Parks and Recreation. The star was perched at the apex of the roof of the grove and the floor was coated with hay and the walls lined with hay bales. The Magi, the shepherds, the angels all were present with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. A brilliant display especially on cold, snowy, winter nights around Christmas time.

Looking at that scene at the end of a run was comforting to me and I noticed a lot of other runners, walkers, and hikers in the park making the trek up through the field to the grove. Children were amazed and even the dogs seemed to be silent in reverence to the serene scene in our county’s largest park. It has been several years since that nativity scene or creche has been present in that grove. As we all know, there is controversy about separation of church and state and due to nationally recognized litigation, the grove is now an empty, silent, space this time of year. img_1229

Now I am not one to get political or controversial on my blog at all. I also hold any opinions to myself on Facebook posts. But I must say that I miss that creche in the park and the wonderful job that the County did on the presentation each year in that grove. I also believe there are many people who feel the same way as I do. We miss it – that’s all. We are not here to debate the first amendment but rather reminisce on the nice feeling that was present on those winter nights at the end of a solitary, contemplative run. Christmas has many meanings to different people. For me it is a celebration of my faith and the wondrous miracle that took place 2000 years ago. I never see the creche as a graven image, but rather a reminder of the humility of Christ as He came among us.

So, I continue to run, in the solitary darkness. I watched the space shuttle soar overhead last night in the presence of hundreds of stars that can be seen from the darkness of our beautiful county park. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a blessed time with your family and friends. Enjoy the season and thanks for reading.

Creche picture courtesy of Carnegie Museum.

The North Park Trail System- a lesson in cooperation.


photophotophotophoto When I first started to ride our local trails in North Park( an Allegheny County facility), our little band of outlaws were seen as interlopers on a trail system intended for use other than mountain bikes. The year was 1987 and the county police were anything but supportive, especially when we rode the trails at night. Couple this negative feeling with the attitude of the equestrian community and you have a situation that is not favorable to bringing on trail use for the new mountain bike community starting to grow in the Western Pa. area. We were not welcomed and as polite as we were to the police and the horse riding community, the negative feelings and the sense of entitlement to these trails was quite obvious despite our efforts to educate both entities.

Fast forward- Y-2K brings on a bigger mountain bike community coupled with an enthusiastic county executive who wanted to ride trails and now we have a voice in county government who understands that the trails can be multi-use and that the equestrian community and the hiking and mountain bike community can get along and expand the 12 mile system in the park. PTAG (Pittsburgh Trail Advocacy Group) came into the picture and began to enlist help to develop the trail system and worked cooperatively with the county to design and expand the existing network.. 12 miles became 15. 15 became 20 and soon more and more riders were coming to North Park and were assisting PTAG on trail work days. Cycling awareness in our area only enhanced the efforts of PTAG and along with weekly rides( like our Tuesday Night Rides) became the norm and trail use expanded greatly. This continued effort has expanded our trail system to its current 42 miles. An astounding feat in such a short time. I recently rode with Maurice Tierney, the founder of Dirt Rag Magazine( the quintessential mountain bike periodical), who is currently residing in the Bay Area. I remarked on our ride how wonderful it must be to ride in an area where mountain biking was founded back in the 70s. Maurice answered that the hiking community out there have virtually shut down the trails for multi use and until that old guard of hikers fades away, the current situation in Marin County is a bit bleak. Maurice went on to say that we really don’t know how fortunate we are to have our trail system and that it is one of the finest systems in the country. This guy rides everywhere and he knows what he is talking about. Due to cooperation with county government and sweat equity by the mountain bike community in Western Pa and PTAG influence,our system is a model for county and state government accross the country.
A few years ago, this expansion continued with the vision of some individuals like Bill Kirk, Dave Brunger, Dave Biber and a host of other free riders who constructed a free ride downhill trail and a freeride park within our local North Park trail system. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see the day when kids would be jumping and using the berms and ladders on a facility in North Park. To see guys in pads, downhill bikes and full face helmets using the Dr. J Dowhill trail regularly during the spring, summer and fall, is a testament to hard work, a vision and cooperation between a local band of riders and the county government. I have included a few pictures of these facilities in my post above and they do not do justice to the quality of work that went into these trails. Bill Kirk and Dave Brunger are always hosting rides and events that showcase this facility and should be applauded by the national mountain bike community for their tireless efforts.

So when you read in periodicals about the issues between user groups, one only has to look to the 42 miles of cross country trails that are used by hikers, mountain bike riders and equestrians without any ill feelings. We have come a long way in our neck of the woods from those early days when we had to turn off our lights and hide from the police, apologize and try to reason with the horse community, and work with hikers on expanding the small trail network. I am happy that I have seen it and I am happy that I have a local, high quality trail system to ride regularly only 10 minutes from my front door. Come out and ride with us. Thanks for reading.