The Tribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jeep Wave

So I bought a Wrangler to replace my Jeep Liberty which had 181,000 miles on it and rust holes as big as my fist. My son thought it was bad form for me to cover the rust holes with duct tape but I said it added character. In any event, it was time and I went to my friend Jim Krebs and got another Jeep – but this time I wanted the Wrangler. Funny thing is that when I first got it, my wife Janet remarked that people in Wranglers were waving at me. I said to her that maybe it was something to do with Wranglers like the Harley people give the cool, understated wave to each other. A nod of acceptance in their case. So when I got home, I went on the net and discovered that there is a very popular practice called…………the Jeep wave.
IMG_0861

Now I found out some interesting things in my research. Number one, you should always wave no matter what. Secondly. there is a protocol which if followed strictly, allows for a point system that grades your Jeep. If it is pre- civilian dating back to the 40s, you always wait for them to wave first then you respectfully wave or maybe even salute. If the Jeep is tricked out better than yours, you also wait until they wave first. Maybe to see if you are worthy of their wave? But always, always wave no matter what. My son Jack thinks it is dorky of course but you are a bit of an a-hole if you do not wave.

Now , some things I have found in my own personal research on the subject while driving. Women tend not to wave either because they are preoccupied or prefer not to wave to a stranger. Kind of like the stranger is saying,” Drive here often?” To which they seem to say- “Buzz off Sherlock. You and your wave.” Other observations include people who try to give you a cool version. Not much effort but a quick peace sign above the steering wheel. There are those who give you the full hand staccato wave like they are saying, ” Yes- I follow the rules and obviously you like my Jeep so I will fully acknowledge you.” There are the outdoors types who have all the doors off and the top removed and give you the wave outside the left of the car. I hear that it is extra points if you have your roof off in the winter and you give the wave out of the top of the vehicle with your wool cap showing.

The wave is reserved for Wranglers. There is no Liberty wave, Grand Cherokee wave, only Wranglers. The basic design of the exterior of the Wrangler has not changed much over they years and apparently the protocol of the wave goes back many years. Veteran Wrangler owners have told me that it becomes a little bit of a pain in the ass to keep waving but I must admit, I like it. In these days of waning gentility, fraternity, friendliness, there are mechanisms that allow people to join together and celebrate life. Take for instance the fraternity of the Terrible Towel. We all feel one when we wave the towel here in Pittsburgh. Somehow these things give us a bond that we celebrate. The Jeep wave is one of those mechanisms. So, if you see me waving at you and perhaps you don’t have a Wrangler, please note that I probably have gotten so excited waving that I wave at everybody. My wife is amazed at the people I talk to on a daily basis. Toll booth operators, the guys and gals holding the stop signs at road construction sites- I talk to all of them. Fast food drive through people. I wave to the cops- it never hurts. I guess I just like people and get involved maybe where I should be a little more reserved. I need the Jeep wave like I need a second navel. But it is another way of saying- hi neighbor, nice Jeep. My son just shakes his head. SMH as they say. Thanks for reading.

Navigating the Adventure Waterways

Piloting a water craft has never been my strong suit.  I have always been attracted to rafts, kayaks, canoes and the like, but my technique has never allowed me to be successful.  In fact some of the most humiliating experiences of my outdoor adventures have been my poor attempts to navigate the waters of adventure.  20It all started when I was a kid and our community pool manager,Don Geyer, took all of us to Ohiopyle,Pa. to go rafting on the Youghiogheny River.  It was fun and the large rafts navigated the rapids rather easily and I thought I was destined for greatness on the waters of the Laurel Highlands.  We had several trips over the years and I always went and my appetite for water adventure was created in those rapids on the Yough.  Fast forward to post college in my granola crunching years where I thought it would be cool to take up kayaking.  I took a 6 week course and felt really uncomfortable trying to roll myself upright in a pool in the kayak.  I always exited in ” save my ass” fashion and surfaced much to the disappointment of the instructor.  As patient as he was, he was not getting the rollover technique ingrained into his worst student.  I like to consider myself athletic but for some reason, the kayak and I were not friends and my balance sitting down in the thing was tenuous.  It was at this time of the year when we had our “graduation” on the Yough and I went to Ohiopyle with the group on a crisp fall day with snow flurries in the air.  Not the optimum conditions in my mind.  But I brought my state of the art Buckflex rain suit with me figuring that it would help me stay dry and warm as I navigated the river.  As expected, I went in the drink a lot and my rain suit was a poor substitute for a wet suit and I paddled soaking wet for most of the outing.  With snow flurries in the air and my teeth rattling from heat loss, I was a poor picture of a successful kayak whitewater adventurer..  My expert paddling friends Bert Davis, Jim Weaver, and John Hinderliter would not have been happy with my performance.  As I dragged the craft up the hill to the truck in silence, I knew that the kayak world of Ohiopyle was not for me and I had better find another pursuit.

7a8f5ae2-4c4f-439c-b3fd-312ea1779447_MSo moving on to the next opportunity, I entered an interesting race in the mountains that was a combination of skiing, mountain biking, canoeing and trail running.  My friend Dixon and I entered this race and I was undaunted by the fact that I had never piloted a canoe.  I figured that I had the skiing, cycling, trail running thing down pretty well and that the canoe would be a short venture into the unknown.  Was I surprised!!!  The skiing went well as we crossed the face of the mountain as fast as we could and were the first guys at the transition.  Dix and I both jumped on our bikes and rode the snow covered trails down to the Loyalhanna Creek where the canoe transition was placed.  Pumped up by the fact that Dix and I were both in the lead, I jumped in the canoe and promptly flipped it and I ended up in the drink again only this time, the water was bone chilling, teeth rattling, icy cold and it took my breath away.  As I saw Dixon successfully paddling downstream( he had been a canoe paddler all his life in his summers in New Hampshire), I scrambled to right the canoe and managed to drag my soaked frame into the boat and start the process of paddling.  As my legs started to cramp from the cold and wet, I once again told myself that I would never paddle another craft in my life as my teeth rattled in a deja vu fashion from my kayak days.  I managed to get the canoe to the shore for the next transition and changed into my wet trail running shoes and was able to catch up to Dix because he was not a runner.  We both were surprised that someone had surged ahead of us on the water and we ended up second and third, but looking at the snowy banks of the Loyalhanna from a submerged position in the water was an experience that I did not want again.

The last foray into the water craft world was right after I was married and much to my trepidation, I relented to take my father in law, mother in law, and my wife on a rafting trip on the Yough.  They knew that I had done it before and I was the household resident expert.  I ended up with my mother in law and my wife in a small 4 person raft as my father in law went with some other friends.  All was well until we approached the notorious “Dimple Rock” which had the reputation for bending canoes in half and sucking unsuspecting rafters into a vicious eddy before spitting them out into Swimmers Rapids. As luck would have it, my female companions were firmly planted in the front of the raft with yours truly at the rear piloting us directly into the path of the infamous, sucking rock.  No matter what I did, that thing was like a magnet and as we hit it flush in the center, the raft folded in half, I ended up 8 feet in the air and as the raft sprung back into shape after bouncing off the “Dimple” I was ejected out into the Swimmers Rapids.  My wife said later that she was talking to me and looked back to see no one in the rear of the craft..  I floated by them laying on my back with my life vest and tennis shoes protruding from the rapids and told them I would see them in a mile at the end of the Swimmers Rapids.  They were not too happy to be piloting the 4 man raft which was now the panicky two lady raft.  I climbed back in at the end of the rapids with my ears ringing with nothing sympathetic to say the least.

So as I see the leaves falling and the beautiful colors of the Laurel Highlands in full grandeur, I like to view it all from the seat of my mountain bike or on foot hiking the miles of available trails in our ridges to the east.  I have been tempted to try SUP and perhaps kayaking again.  But safe to say, those thoughts quickly vanish as I picture the drowned rat 59 year old kid on the waters of adventure.  Thanks for reading and don’t let me dismay you.  0fcb7bc6-f5b3-403f-98e3-006f9f8d1f5f_M

A Great Day in the City

Henry Clay Frick, the noted industrialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., donated 151 acres of property to the city in 1919 at the request of his daughter Helen who saw the vision of green space in the growing industrial sprawl. In 1925, the city officially created  this beautiful park with 190 additional acres.  The park opened to the public in 1927 and has been a gem for the city ever since.  Henry or Helen would have never imagined  that their park would also serve the current growing population of mountain bikers who would create, ride and maintain a network of challenging trails right in the city limits.  But that is just what has happened and our group of Saturday morning enthusiasts from the suburbs enjoyed a most challenging but culturally fulfilling day last Saturday as part of the continuing adventures of the 59 year old kid.photophotophotoMcCandless-20130303-00102

As the group assembled in the pouring rain, we were reminded by Bert, one of our tour guides for the day, that the trails would be treacherous due to the roots and rocks that become soaked and extremely slick on days like last Saturday.  Undaunted, we all proceeded as the weather improved to a steady drizzle and the merry band of elder statesmen attacked the first rooty hill climb with style and panache.  As we reassembled approaching the midway point on the ride, we were guided into some of the newer sections of trails that overlook the Monongahela River.  This tight singletrack is somewhat off camber and if you look to your right, the view of the treetops and the railroad tracks and river way below tend to make you hug the hillside and hope that you don’t lose your mojo and plunge into the trees with a following bounce onto the tracks and bounding into the river.  This might be a slight exaggeration but not too far off.  The 59 year old kid is conservative most of the time and lives to ride another day along with his pal,Bob Bannon who is also on the same game plan.  We dismounted in several sections and ran the trail until we reached a more reasonable spot.  Our group split because of some mechanical issues in the very steep chicane of switchbacks and as we reunited and made our way down some incredibly steep pitches which we rode with great caution, we all were happy to end that section in one piece.  Pretty challenging for a park in an urban setting.  frick-park-pratt1images (4)images (3)

Finishing this ride in improving weather helped the traction and as we approached the “Bradema” trail, we were treated to the story of the trail and the resultant official naming and sign installed by the city.  Apparently Brad who is a friend of a friend, crashed rather significantly on this trail and as he was recovering in the hospital, one of our jokester mountain biker friends suggested to the nurse in the hospital that poor Brad needed an enema.  Lots of laughter ensued but the city apparently didn’t get the joke and named the trail officially ” Bradema.”  Hilarious.  Exiting on the “Roller Coaster” trail, we climbed back to the street where our cars were parked happy to be in one piece and happy that the weather had improved from a rather dismal start.  It is amazing to note that when you ride Frick, you would never expect that this piece of wilderness is right in the middle of a very busy urban setting.  If you did’t hear the dull roar of the Parkway East, you would think you were in a rural setting in Vermont.  But as we exited, we were treated to another wonderful experience of riding in the city.

Frick borders Squirrel Hill which traditionally is the Jewish section of our city which has many culturally divergent neighborhoods of note.  As I watched couples walk to the synagogues on the Sabbath in anticipation of the first high holiday or Rosh Hashannah, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the culture of the Jewish tradition.  In college, I was the only gentile on my floor and I was cordially invited to all the high holiday celebrations at the community center on campus.  I became familiar with the traditions of the ancient culture of Gods chosen people. After the ride,  I felt I had to participate in some way so I suggested to the group that we hit the Smallman Street Deli on Murray Avenue for some great traditional deli food.  Wow- were we amazed at the size of the sandwiches and had I seen the potato latkes in the cooler, I would have ordered a few of those bad boys too.  I did however order the matzo ball soup with chicken which took me back to my college days of sporting the yarmulke at the high holiday celebrations.  I love tradition and our group was not only beaming with the conversations and recreations of the rigors of the mountain bike ride but also beaming through faces full of cole slaw, turkey and corned beef.  lsl

All in all, these are the kind of days that you always remember. It is a reminder that there are great opportunities right under your nose in your local town that can really rival all the stories of traveling to other locales to ride, ski and eat.  Sometimes the best trails, eateries are right in your own neighborhood or city if you take the time to look.  It amazed me how challenging the trails are in Frick Park right in the middle of the city.  Who would ever think that?  Coupled with a hunger killing meal at a great deli, and spending time with friends, ………………….now that makes for a great day.  Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt and Smallman Street Deli.

To be…….”Trans- Generational”

     What does it mean to be trans generational?  I would explain it as being involved with activities and interaction with different age groups with a common purpose.  OTB at the North Park Boathouse

 

Take for instance when I was a kid, my mother would make me dinner early because ” my friends” were calling me to fill in for the men’s doubles tennis league at our community pool complex.  These guys were my dad’s age but respected the fact that I could play the game and was mature enough to handle the interaction with an older generation.  It was lots of fun and I did learn some things that taught me that I had maturity beyond my years especially when an argument would ensue.  I had first hand knowledge of how ” adults” handled these situations and sometimes saw the maturity level dip a long way when one of the guys hit another over the head with a racquet.  But for the most part- the trans-generational activity was positive for me as a young man.  

     Fast forward and now I was in my late teens and interacted with some older guys who helped me get involved with ski instruction.  Chip Kamin was only a few years older than me but Bob Irish and Larry Cohen were in their forties at the time and we had a great time skiing together.  Their wisdom and inspiration allowed me to pursue certification with the Professional Ski Instructors of America and together they taught a young guy the ropes.  Point being that sports like tennis, fishing, golf, skiing, cycling are lifetime sports that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities.  There are mentoring opportunities for older guys and also the interaction with young people keep that generation in the game.  IMG00227-20100731-0812

     In a recent article in the PSIA publication “32 Degrees” there is an article which references how some snow pros share their secrets to longevity.  The common denominator is to “keep moving”.  Each of the instructors that were interviewed were extremely active well into their 50s, 60s, and 70s.  They each talked about looking for opportunities to connect with other passionate people with diverse perspectives.  Oftentimes this results in older people interacting with younger people in a common passion like the sports mentioned above.  I can remember as I became a parent, how important it was to bring my son and my nephews and nieces along in the sport of skiing.  IMG00117-20100116-1123

As I got older, I made a point to bring along younger guys and girls into cycling and in one instance, I introduced mountain biking to Bill Kirk and his son Billy and young Bill and I still ride today- 20 years later.  To be trans-generational benefits not only the younger generation with wisdom and mentoring from the older set, but for us older guys, to have the opportunity to ride or ski with a younger crowd keeps us young not only in our mind but in our perspective on how the world is progressing.  You can learn a lot on a chairlift or on a mountain bike trail by talking to a younger person and see what is relevant in their lives.  Heck, I lost a musical perspective way back when ” money is for nothing and your chicks for free.” That’s where I lost track.  But keeping up with the times is important and to keep tabs on current musical talent via younger people is enlightening to say the least.  

     Skiing, mountain biking, road cycling and trail running all are good activities that can unite generations.  Oftentimes we have some good debate and try to solve the world’s problems but the key factor is the difference in perspective between professional people, teachers, students, and retired folks.  The common factor is the activity but the conversations and interactions are the result of having a common passion and the accountability to get together no matter how old or how young the crowd.  I used to laugh in a road cycling criterium race when I would hear,” Inside Mr. McCloskey” or ” inside Mr. Sagan” as a young guy would slip ahead of us older guys on the inside lane of the road.  I used to smile thinking that this was pretty cool that we all were racing together, people of different generations.  

     Currently I ride mountain bikes on Thursday nights with a group that for the most part is 25 -30 years my junior.  With the exception of a couple of older guys, this group has provided some fresh perspective on many subjects including the technology that has developed with cycling.  I like the ride and the people and even though we come from different generations, mountain biking unites us and our passion fuels us enough to come each week and be accountable to the ride.  So no matter what floats your boat, keep active.  Stay involved in the sports or hobbies that always sparked you.  And most importantly try to be involved with groups that are “trans-generational.”  That is the neat thing about lifetime sports.  They unite all of us.  Thanks for reading.  

 

Don’t Give up the Ship

   One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was  during the War of 1812.  When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie.  His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle.  Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender.  His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours”  is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.  

     During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio.  One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry  www.jet-express.com/   at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service.  .  The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay.  The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lKing James 2012photo800px-DONT_GIVE_UP_THE_SHIP_flag.svg264px-BattleofLakeErie489px-Portrait_of_Oliver_Hazard_Perry%2C_1818ake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.  

     But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa.  I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar.  As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry.  ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments.  We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round.  As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men.  As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds.  I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out.  Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure.  But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition.  As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!”  ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.”  We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.  

     I have always been a fan of the underdog.  The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance.  These are the people in our lives who need encouragement.  These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient.  These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them.  My memory is a little sketchy these days.  But these are the folks whose hope needs restored.  My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend.  She was so right.  Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie.  Call a friend today.  Thanks for reading.  

Baggies versus Lycra- a mature perspective to the debate.

photoOTB at the North Park Boathouse

Ok, so I am headed out of the Giant Eagle with my groceries and I see this guy getting out of his Corvette. He seems to be a little older than me and he has his wrap around shades, gold chains, lycra running shirt, lycra cycling shorts, and running shoes. He is headed in to the grocery store and I am thinking that he is the typical guy trying to hold off the inevitable by exercising and having all the toys along with the chest toupe’, chains and all that. But why would you want to show your produce neatly wrapped in lycra cycling shorts in the produce section of the Giant Eagle? There is a time and a place for everything and lycra is for riding and running – not shopping. At my age, I would not be caught dead walking around in lycra cycling shorts in a venue that was other than my local park or outside of my house ready to ride my road bike.

So let’s jump into the fray and the long standing debate among mountain bikers and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of lycra versus baggie shorts. Lycra has its advantages and although I have been riding my road bike in lycra shorts for years, I am starting to get to that point where I am looking for an alternative. Yes, lycra is standard and with the new compression technology, it is still appealing from a functional point of view. But for us “getting to be older riders”, the change in attitude is similar to the desire to ride the triple crank on a road bike instead of a straight block like the old days. I know that it is sleek to have the nice lycra road kit and I would not have been caught in anything else back in the day, but I am starting to get a little more comfortable with outfits that may be more touring than racing. The “club fit” is beginning to take over for the ” race fit” and you know what……that’s ok.

Enter the baggie of the mountain bike set. When I was mountain bike racing, I still utilized the lycra kits and it was standard and still is in most instances although baggies have been seen in Enduros and some cross country races not only locally but on the national circuit. Why? Because they are comfortable – that’s why? Mountain bikers tend to be more laid back than road folks and baggies seem to fit the culture like some of the new jersies that can be worn post ride without embarrassment. I like the pockets to keep your stuff- like George Carlin used to say. ” You gadda have a place for your stuff.” Baggies also have a little give and take in the right places and although many of these shorts have lycra liners, they are comfortable, functional and can be worn into a grocery store without anyone taking notice of you. Baggies can also be worn in the winter with knee warmers and most of the time you can ride in inclement weather and have he feeling of freedom rather than being trapped in tights or other winter wear.

So as a chronologically advancing rider, I am starting to see the advantages of comfort on a ride versus trying to portray the image of the over the hill racer trying to hang on. I like keeping my keys, cell phone, goodies,and other various and sundry items stuffed into my pockets of my baggies rather than stuffing them into a lycra jersey or my pack. I take my pack on mountain bike rides only if it is going to be a longer ride or if is colder and I need a place to stash my rain jacket. Other than that, pockets in baggies are just fine. Things change as you age and sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror I say,” do you really want to go out in that tight fitting outfit today?” Then I defer to the baggie and the comfortable shirt or jersey and am much happier knowing that function has finally taken over for form in the life of the 59 year old kid. The real test will be when I break down and wear baggies on a road ride. You never know, the next thing that may happen is fenders, side view mirrors on my helmet, maybe a flourescent orange flag attached to my road bike? Maybe I will be like the tourons that I know that gain weight on rides by stopping at every coffee shop or lunch place? Tough to do in the woods on a mountain bike but there are still some appealing stops that may cater to a more casual rider. I am happy to report that I am not there yet and please slap me if you see me putting a flag or a reflector on any of my bikes. But the culture of the baggie has replaced the function of lycra and for the general public shopping for their tomatoes and cucumbers, their visual world is a lot safer than the other day when Corvette man disrupted their experience.

So, although the baggie versus lycra debate will rage longer that I will ride someday, it is good to recognize that there is a perspective that lies outside of the functional debates between the two forms of exercise clothing. Respect the comfort but more importantly, respect your fellow shoppers. That chest toupe’ with the chains was a little over the top. Thanks for reading.

Culture Creates Commerce

McCandless-20130303-00102photoOTB at the North Park BoathouseOTB at the North Park BoathouseOTB at the North Park BoathouseOTB at the North Park Boathouse I started riding mountain bikes in our local county park in 1987. At that time,we were outlaws because the county police were not familiar with mountain bike riding especially at night with lights. We were not welcomed by the equestrian or hiking community and basically had to forge our own way in the world with a lot of ill will on the part of the other trail users. If you take the time to look at my post from June 23rd of 2013, you will see that life and times have changed a lot for our local park and the perception of mountain bikes has been radically altered. In order to carve out your place, the culture has to be changed not only in the park but also with associated organizations like county government. Fortunately we have a sympathetic ear now in that the former County Executive was a mountain biker and the current Parks and Recreation Director rides and enjoys other outdoor activities that have spawned in our local North Park.

But this culture change would not have happened if it had not been for organizations like PTAG( Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group) http://www.ptagtrails.org This hard working organization driven by folks like Bill Kirk( above left in picture with three guys) and Dr. Jamie Pfaeffle ( middle guy), Dave Brunger, Mike Connors and a host of others who faithfully built, and maintained new trails and met with the county to propose their vision and execute their plans. We now have 42 miles of trails that are enjoyed by many due to the hard work of PTAG. PORC( Pittsburgh Off Road Cyclists) http://www.porcmtbclub.org is a club that supports local rides which utilize trails like North Park. Bob Bannon is the tireless organizer(seen above in the white chin warmer) and has created a weekly ride schedule that makes it possible for riders and new riders to get together. Momentum has been building in the Pittsburgh area when it comes to off road riding and this growing culture of people have also been inspired by Dirt Rag Magazine http://www.dirtragmag.com founded in Saxonburg,Pa by Maurice and Elaine Tierney 25 years ago. Dirt Rag has grown to international status and a lot of the folks associated with the magazine ride in North Park on thursday evenings as part of a weekly organized ride. As the synergy between these groups has meshed over the last several years, the amount of riders in our park system has risen exponentially each year. Where you would only see a rider every once in a while, you now see groups of riders in the park at all times. This synergy has also created a culture of commerce in that the county is anxious to privatize many of the attractions in the park like the zip line venue, a potential bike shop and running store, and current sandwich shop at the golf course. But perhaps the biggest attraction that has added to the culture of riding in the park has been a project developed by Mike Kotyk, Marty Maloney, Robin Maggs and Dirt Rag circulation guru and professional photographer Jon Pratt. http://www.jonpratt.com The Over the Bars Cafe http://www.otbbicyclecafe.com built in the old boathouse is an absolute home run and I will tell you why.

For years, I have often wondered why no one developed the abandoned boat house in the park. It is a classic building with a great view of North Park lake. OTB began as a cafe on the southside of the City of Pittsburgh and it helped drive the city cycling scene as a haven for recreational cyclists, messengers and racers. It was one of the first venues to put in bicycle racks as parking spaces and their success in the city inspired the owners to invest in the North Park location. After a lot of discussion and multiple meetings with county government, the lease was finalized and Mike, Marty, Robin and Jon had attained permission to develop their dream of a restaurant in a county park that would create a culture to further develop cycling and commerce. There was a lot of sweat equity put into the construction and remodeling of an old boat house but if you see it today, it is the gem of North Park with a great bar, comfortable seating, and outdoor tables with beautiful umbrellas and a fire pit that complement the wonderful view of North Park Lake. The menu is casual dining from breakfast through dinner and the weekly featured micro brews attract not only the active crowd in the park but the general public as well because currently the OTB is the hot place to be on a week night or a weekend. When one travels to the parking lot( and the expanded lot due to popularity), you see bike racks on vans, four wheel drives, and all types of vehicles because after a great ride on the roads or trails of North Park, the OTB is now the standard post ride meeting place for the active crowd. The thursday night ride that I referred to earlier is actually called the OTB Ride and it is organized by PTAG member Billy Kirk and his pal Dr. J( Jamie Pfaeffle). In fact North Park now has a freeride trail that one rides at his or her own risk. It is called the Dr. J Trail in deference to its creator who is a spearheading force in PTAG.

It is interesting to see how so many organizations, inspired riders, friends of the park, restaurants, cafes, bike shops, magazines have all come together to create this culture of riding and communing at such a wonderful local county facility. This culture not only creates the commerce that was envisioned by the Allegheny County Parks and Recreation, but it also has developed over a number of years with momentum as these organizations, businesses, and people come together for a common cause. The created energy here is really something to recognize and it should be an example to local communities across the country who wish to develop similar venues and cultures in their recreational parks and public places. This atmosphere has come a long way since I had to turn out my light and hope that the police would leave and let us ride the trails. Now the county police are really supportive and in fact there is a new mountain bike patrol around the lake where the county police ride bicycles to enforce the law. Who would have ever imagined? Personally I am really proud of our park and the culture that has been created. When I roll into that parking lot at Stone Field or the Boathouse, I have a smile on my face because I know that I am part of a culture that has been developed over many years that promotes healthy activities, commerce, and gathering places for all of us Type A individuals to tell stories and laugh and enjoy life. Thanks for reading and if you ever get to Pittsburgh, go to the OTB Cafe on the Southside or in North Park. You will quickly recognize that you are part of something really special.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt Photography and Bauer Photography.

The Reluctant Angler

downsized_0715091352 I told my wife Janet that this year I was not going to bring my fishing rods and tackle to the beach because I have not had much luck fishing at the South Jersey shore in recent years. I don’t have the patience that my friend Dean Denmead has who is an experienced fisherman and has learned to wait for the catch. Most years I buy at least four different types of bait from old man Moran at Moran’s Dockside in Avalon and when I ask him why I am not catching anything, he always says that this is not a good time of the year to catch fish. So why sell me the bait? I guess a sucker is born every minute. I brought the rods and tackle again this year. I should have known that the same luck would happen when ten minutes into our first beach day, a seagull zeroed in on me at 60 MPH and launched a fecal torpedo at me which blew through the mesh in my hat, splattered my hair, my shirt and dislodged itself on my beach chair. Bad omen for the trip and a definite “Welcome to New Jersey” from the real fishermen- the gulls.

I have had more successful outings with my grandfather and his buddies in my early years who were all real good anglers. I drove them to Oregon Inlet in North Carolina, fished with them in the Everglades, and at a fishing camp several times in northern Canada above North Bay. There is nothing like being with experienced fishermen and eating a fresh fish dinner on the shores of a crystal clear lake or landing a state record snub nosed dolphin in the Carolinas. The alligators floating in the canals in Florida provided adventure for the young guy and the veterans. I still use my grandfather’s tackle and rods and although I have been marginally successful expecially when I have taken my son Jack, I am sure that he has a smile on his face in that great fishing hole in the sky.

A couple of years ago, I took matters a little more seriously and went on line to find a fishing service in South Carolina off the coast of Hilton Head. I found a site by Captain Dave Fleming http://www.mightymako.com When we booked the morning and arrived at the dock, Dave told me that the fishing was really not that good. Imagine that? But, he added, if we wanted to catch shark, we could do that. I jumped at the chance and my wife and son reluctantly boarded the Mighty Mako with wide eyed wonder as to how this was going to go. Dave used mackerel heads and instantly Janet’s line tugged ferociously as she hooked a shark and Captain Dave helped her bring it ot the side of the boat. Janet was not at all thrilled at the prospect of touching the sand shark and Dave brought it up for her to see and then cut it loose. The next snap of the line was Jack’s and the same protocol was observed by bringing the beast in view and then cutting it loose. My grandfather spoke in my ear when my line snapped and he wanted me to land it myself. After all those years with Judge Miller, Bill Marcus and George Beran, and my grandpap, I better net and land the shark myself. Dave sensed that I had some experience and let me net the small shark and instructed me to grab it firmly by the back of the head and he would take a picture. I had never held a shark before and was amazed at the sandpaper feel of sharkskin. After the picture, I cut it loose and we continued to land shark after shark until a bull shark snapped Janet’s steel leader and Dave smiled and said, ” That was one we would not have wanted to be in the vicinity of the boat.” As I gazed off into the sound, I remarked to my son that we were only about 800 yards from where he and I were sitting on a sandbar the previous day. Little did we know that we were surrounded by sharks curiously looking at us from the depths of the sound. Needless to say, my fifteen year old at the time never went back in the water.

An interesting sidebar to fishing is that you can have the opportunity to have some good family time and conversations that will be remembered for a lifetime. Even when I fish with my friend Dean, we laugh about our time at the beach and the friendship of dropping a line in the water to see what happens is intoxicating. Captain Dave told us aboard the Mighty Mako that he was born and raised in the Hilton Head area and that his father is a successful attorney. His siblings were all successful stockbrokers and professional people working in New York and he was the only “black sheep” of the family who chose fishing as a career. He was a little sheepish in his description of himself and his very tightly wound family, but I assured him that in my mind, he was the smart one. People come to a beautiful place and pay him money to take them fishing. He makes a living at what he loves and lives in Paradise. The stressful lives that most people live trying to take that one vacation to where he lives all the time is a testament to Dave’s good judgement. Personally I believe he is the most successful one in his family. What really is important in life? I may not be the most successful fisherman in the world, but the quiet time on the water either by myself or with my family is worth its weight in gold. I need to be more patient. I need to get better at being a fisherman and the sport will teach me what Dave already knows. Slow down and enjoy what life has to offer. Whether you catch a fish or not. Wish me luck. Probably buying some more bait from old man Moran tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

Greenlees Mountain Bikes

NiteRider2photophotophotophotophoto There is a statistic floating around out there that claims that 90 percent of all mountain bikes sold are never taken off road. Consider what percentage are utilized on rocky, rooty, muddy, eastern trails coupled with doing it at night with lights and you have a small percentage of bicycles and riders. Back in the 90s, I had the good fortune of becoming associated with a group of individuals that took the sport of mountain biking very seriously and became almost legendary in their victories in local mountain bike races in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Their use of these off road machines put the manufacturers to the test every time they had a training ride and some of the best riders and racers at the time belonged to a group started by Chuck Greenlee of Prospect Pa.

Chuck had a small shop and prided himself on carrying the best equipment that could be tested on the rocks of the terminal moraine. The frame to have at the time was either a Merlin titanium or a Yeti and Chuck quickly assembled a group of individuals who supported his shop and ultimately made up his race team. Jonathan Moran, Ricky Haas, Eric Sauereisen, Bob Anderson, E.J Sigety, Steve Wahlenmeyer,Frankie Ross, and Bill Alcorn were all incredibly good riders and the balance of the group were in the older category as veterans which included Chuck, Mike Reidinger, Tim Sweeney and yours truly – truly bringing up the rear. Diane Blackburn was our lone woman rider who could ride most guys into the ground. I first got to respect Diane when she gave me a real ration of grief for getting lost on a Month of Mud course. She was in our group at the time and I ziggged intead of zagged and heard it from Diane for weeks. Jonathan and the boys rode the Pro Expert Division and their rides and routes taught me a lot about riding on the rocks. Of course, I was not able to keep up with this group but they all were kind enough to spend the time to teach me the finer points of riding in this treacherous terrain. Often there were several groups riding at Moraine State Park in those days that were associated with Chuck’s team and the fast guys were able to do their thing with the slower guys bringing up the rear and learning all along the way. I had many over the bars experiences much to the amusement of the “A” team but being part of that team of folks was not only an education, but an immersement into a culture of ride or be left behind. ” What doesn’t kill you makes you strong” was certainly on display on those rides and the fruits of the work displayed itself in the podium finishes for the Expert Group. Our Vet group held our own and oftentimes won our divisions in races like the 24 Hours of Canaan( see May 15th, 2013 post). The NORBA Nationals, 24 Hour races, Hidden Valley Fat Tire Fallouts and Stampedes, Month of Mud races, WVMBA Series races, all had podium representation by the Greenlee crew in all age divisions. Even our older guys like Tim, Chuck and Mike were always competitive overall as well as winning in the Vet and Master division. Like a blind squirrel who finds an acorn once in a while, I even had some good finishes at the time that showed me that with a little hard work and keeping momentum on rocks and roots, even a schlubb like me can be successful. I was happy to be a Greenlee Mountain Bike Team member.

Besides the victories, the better part of being associated with Greenlee’s Mountain Bikes was the culture created by Chuck and also the team itself. E.J and his wife Sharon would always welcome us back to their home for cookouts after rides and races. Steve’s girlfriend Julie ( now his wife) would always get her parent’s motor home to be the base of support at the races and her immediate family was always welcoming with a great place to rest and have something to eat. The mechanics from the local shops would all set up outside the RV and if there were any issues at the races, it was a communal repair pit for anyone who needed it.

I loved traveling to the events in West Virginia with Chuck and perhaps some of the more harrowing rides in the country were with Chuck trying to catch Sam Dyke and the “Parrot Man” with his super suspended van on the back roads of the Monongahela National Forest. We made it to Davis, Slaty Fork and other locations in record time. Chuck was always a pedal to the metal guy not only in his riding but in his driving. But the best part of hanging with Chuck was that if we needed anything by way of equipment, parts, etc, Chuck was always there at all times to provide and would work on broken bikes well into the night. When you are passionate about something, it becomes part of your life. You are not just someone who rides a bicycle, you are a mountain biker. It becomes part of your persona. It seems like a long time ago, but a lot of the skills and more importantly friendships have lasted to this day and my passion for riding a mountain bike was first fueled by a fun loving crew from the wilds of Butler County.

These days, my old Merlin hangs from a hook in my garage. I had it refurbished a little bit to accomodate the chance that maybe my son Jack would ride it. His current interest is not there but maybe someday, he might like to have a start in the sport that has given his dad so much enjoyment. If that bike could talk, it would certainly tell some great stories. There are many groups and teams like the old Greenlee’s Team and they all have several things in common- passion for a sport, comraderie, laughs, accountability, and great memories that last a lifetime. If you are involved in a group like this, consider yourself fortunate. Your life is enriched. If not, try to join one. One great way locally is to get plugged into Jason Miller’s site called ActivePittsburgh. http://www.activepittsburgh.com Jason has created a one stop shopping for all clubs, events, teams, organizations, in the local area and his site is an excellent resource for all of us who are active and those who would like to be including anyone who has moved into our area. Check it out and thanks for reading.