The Gap

You know, when you sit on a beach chair at the shore, your mind gets baked like your body and you tend to wander as you look at people walking down the beach. That guy with the black socks, and sandals, …..what does he do? Then you think of all the crazy scenarios that run around in your sun baked mind and you laugh. Now there is a young family……wide eyed and full of the future ahead of them…..wonder where they live? The mind thinks of nothing important in a beach chair. As my eyes located our two young life guards, I saw them constantly talking and laughing and I was thinking, ” I wonder what their story is?” ” Are they college room mates working together for the summer?” ” Maybe they are lifelong friends on a summer adventure?” IMG_0938

Then my mind went back to when I was not ready to enter the working world just yet after graduating from college. I said to my dad, ” I want to work at Sugarloaf, Maine this winter as a ski instructor. I will be staying in Bob Irish’s cabin in Stratton, Maine. I want to get the hours and training in so that I can pass my PSIA Certification for Ski Instruction.” My dad looked at me in a funny way and said, ” Don’t make a career out of it.” I could have done that, as many have done and enjoyed their life in the mountains, but I knew this was a need for a specific purpose and that I most likely would not make a career out of it. But, I was sure glad that I went and worked at one of the more premier ski locations in the East. It was cold as hell that winter, but the experience was great and it prepared me to go to Killington and pass my exam. I subsequently made another trip to Tuckerman Ravine and camped and skied with some friends and eventually made my way home straight to Marilyn Young’s party- 15 hours of driving right into her driveway looking pretty much like what you see here. 70019150-SLD-001-0028

A lot of young people take a “Gap Year” to do something they might never get to do if they just pursue their education and take the subsequent job after college. Some quit mid-stream and ” find themselves” when they are perhaps lost in the educational shuffle and need some time off to find their way. Others leave and never come back because college is not for them. I have seen both paths and most of them have worked out best for the person who is willing to take the time off, travel, experience new things, but knowing that someday, they would finish their education or move on to the job that awaits them after college. I really did not have much direction other than the half baked idea that I would go to law school. But that fizzled and the “Gap” at Sugarloaf gave me some perspective of being away on my own, earning a meager living, and working in the resort industry. It was a lot more fun than my summer job in the box factory and it prepared me for something outside of my formal education. I traveled a lot in my 20’s because I was more interested in my outside of work activities than I was with my job of working in my dad’s small company. It was important for me to have this “extracurricular” life because my work life was not all that fulfilling. My dad was understanding but the catalyst for my wanderlust began with my winter in Sugarloaf.

Personally, I think most young people are really not ready to go to college after high school. And if they do go, sometimes there are difficulties or questions that lead to taking the ” Gap”. Questions need to be answered and needs met so I tell young people all the time that if they have a particular passion to do something for a little while outside their prescribed path, they should take the opportunity. You have your whole life to work, have limited vacation time, and then the pressures of family, mortgages, and life in general. You feel better sometimes if you get it out of your system. Some people make a living from their “Gap” passions and if you can do that, you are fortunate indeed. But at the very least, you have had the experience and you can have the pleasure of relating your experiences to your co-workers in the future or your family and friends. To this day, I still tell of my adventures as a young guy in New England and I am happy for it. I am glad that my path took me to Sugarloaf and I am glad the the result of my winter was fruitful in many ways. I should have done more of that.

So, these two in the lifeguard chair have a lot of life to live. They will remember these days for the rest of their lives and when they are sitting in a cube or perhaps in their own business someday, they can look back with fond memories of the laughs at the beach, and the stories from their “Gap” experience. Parents- encourage your kids in all aspects of their development.beachwater Thanks for reading.

Moving Mania

It is said that the only constant in life is change. This has been a lesson to me over the last number of years because as I search for constant, stress free living, change always seems to come my way and I am not comfortable with it all the time. Sometimes I just have to deal with it. I have favorite shirts, shorts, ski outfits, cycling attire, socks, trails, slopes,and food. These things I can control to a degree, but life in general has change and patience is not one of my strong suits.

Take moving for (1) My mother in law moved in with us recently and that has been a positive experience but the caveat was that we needed to move in order to provide a nice, comfortable living space for her with her own bathroom, bedroom, etc. Sharing a bathroom with our 21 year old son was not optimal when one is used to coming from a nice house and 40 year old style of comfortable living. I resisted at first. I don’t like change. I liked my house and my fireplace. IMG_0776 I didn’t want to move because I know all the hassle of moving. Packing and unpacking, changing addresses, changing information, banks, real estate paperwork, etc, etc. Moving is painful.. I have personally moved so many people in my day that I can’t even count. I remember the brutal moves. Moving my wife’s friend on January 1st in the freezing rain. The first box out of the house I slipped and sprained my ankle. Hobbling for the rest of the move, my ankle looked like a basketball. I jammed it into a ski boot the next day but that is another story.

I moved my sister in and out of school, to NYC, to Maryland, to N.J. I moved my parents numerous times but all of this aggravation was due to the fact that I had a strong back and a weak mind. I was always there for the physical labor of it all. But now in my older years, I protect my strong back. So, we found a place right around the corner that has more room, no maintenance because it is a carriage home, and a pool. The style of living has been an upgrade but the move was still a whirlwind of labor, trips to Goodwill, boxes, selling and buying a house on the same day, moving companies, U-Hauls, address changes, banks, real estate……….on and on and on!!!

I am amazed at how it all came into place. What seemed to be an insurmountable task, is now like I have lived there for 20 years. My wife and mother in law worked tirelessly to make it happen and my strong back and weak mind filled in the gaps. So I have learned a lesson here in the fourth quarter. Nothing is constant but the rewards of putting up with the hassle to make a better style of living is something that I had to recognize. My wife was right! She always makes the right decisions in spite of her curmudgeon husband who tries to control change. Sometimes things seem like they are impossible and will never come together. Moving is a prime example. But with experience, one realizes that if you take it one day at a time, have patience, and a willingness to change, things always seem to work out for the better. It is easy to become inflexible as we age. But the maintenance of a youthful outlook on life is important as we …………move on. Thanks for reading.

College Bound- “Carpe Deium.”


Perhaps one of the most interesting experiences for the 59 year old kid and his wife Janet, has been raising our son Jack. He has been a true blessing in the highest sense of the word and as a strong willed child, he has provided some interesting input and challenges at times in a household where all focus was on his daily needs. We are headed off to Ohio University in Athens tomorrow and as many of you have experienced in this endeavor, there is a lot of anguish, trepidation, but excitement for the years ahead. The experiences that will be available for Jack in an academic setting away from home are wonderful and fulfilling.

Recently contemplating as I drive to work, ride my mountain bike on the trails, and sit by my fireplace, I think back to when we first brought Jack home and his “tricks” on the living room floor. My mind is flooded with images of sandboxes, teaching him to ride a bike and the turnaround in Malone’s driveway. Taking him hiking, teaching him to ski, how to throw a baseball, how to bat, what pitches to take and what to leave. The Jersey Shore, Vail, Tahoe, Utah. The basketball years appear in my mind with AAU and school – the tournament travel, the practices( never missed), and the games -wins and heartbreaking losses. X-Box, girlfriends, our times as a family in the foundation of our church. It has been a blur and at 19 years old, he is ready to go and we look forward to his success in a new environment. We will miss him, but Athens is not that far away and we are always here for him and look forward to seeing him on his breaks and on the parents weekends. But this is his time,not ours and the transition will be an interesting time for Janet and me as well as for Jack.

This is nothing new for a lot of people who have raised children and see them off to school or a new job. But it is a new experience for me, and I have felt in the last few years that I have been running out of time. Time to be together, time to impart what little wisdom I can offer, and time to establish a good relationship with my son. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and have my bladder placed squarely behind my eyeballs. I am an open person and what you see is what you get. Jack is a little different as the strong willed child and his demeanor with me is sometimes not what I had envisioned as a father and son. We do have unconditional love for each other and that being the bottom line, I can deal with the fact that we are truly different people……….and that’s ok.

Dr. Terry Thomas, in a message delivered in our church this past weekend, stated very eloquently that you are not justified by the opinions of others or by your children. If you are seeking approval from them, or validation, justification, or whatever you require, or want to feel better about yourself, you are barking up the wrong tree. God is the source of justification, not what we do. He loves us warts and all, and understands that as parents, we do the best that we can for our children and as we transition in sending them off, we can sit back and see the fruits of our labor and the exciting possibilities of higher education under His care.

Janet and I have taken the opportunities to relay to Jack our experiences in college. The fun times, the pitfalls of getting behind in the first semester, and the ultimate end game of studying hard and getting the “skin.” The “skin” and good grades gets the good job, but the larger advantage to higher education in my mind, is that the college experience takes the burrs off. It polishes you, it teaches you how to relate to other people, how to study, how to execute a plan. College is not for everyone, but for those who choose to attend the college of their choice, the end results give memories that last a lifetime and friends who remain in your life forever. We have said it all to Jack and now is the time as we drive down I-79 tomorrow and into the Buckeye State, to take a breather, let go, hug him and wish him the very best that Ohio University has to offer. Being the opportunistic guy that I am, I have found all the great trails to ride and my wife and I are finding the best restaurants and points of interest so that when we do visit, we can enjoy seeing Jack grow and when he needs some space, we can enjoy Athens ourselves. As we drive back, we will also begin to focus on each other. The one constant is that Janet and I are a team. We were together at the beginning of our marriage and will continue to be there as a team in this time when new oportunities will arise for us.

As a hovering parent of an only child, I must admit that I have been dreading this day since Jack’s freshman year in high school. But as the process of college has ensued, I am trying to look at it as the natural progression that all of us go through as we mature from childhood to adulthood. I can’t control any more and the process of “letting go” is a new experience for the 59 year old kid. I joke about the fact that I may age chronologically, but never mature. So as I see the process with Jack, maybe we both can mature together? My wife will appreciate it. Wish us well,pray for us if you like, and 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) 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) 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 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. The Over the Bars Cafe 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.

Christmas with the “A” Team

photophoto I had to take time out from my outdoor posts to tell you about the “A” Team which were my parents and their friends, especially at this time of year. My house growing up was always filled with people and my folks were the consumate entertainers. My mom was a wonderful cook and my dad was a great provider and helpful sidekick to my mom’s entertainment skills. When they built the house in Wexford, they upped the ante a bit and built a swimming pool which took the daily party to another level. A lot of people spent weekends and holidays at my parents home and it was not unusual for me to wake up and see a guy in a tux having a Bloody Mary after my mom had invited him to breakfast after a big night on the town. My mom sang with the orchestras at the parties at the University Club and Shannopin Country Club and usually made friends with some of the musicians. The party usually continued after hours with some strays eventually making their way to our house.

The big party every year was the annual Christmas Party. It started when I was a young lad at our house on Siebert Road. The preparations were amazing with the cooking, cleaning, stops at the liquor store, beer distributor, and bakery. This began weeks in advance of the party and it was all hands on deck. The first shift on Christmas Eve was usually the McCloskey clan with my aunt and uncle and my cousins. They came early and enjoyed themselves and when they left, the cleaning and regrouping began in earnest in anticipation of the arrival of my maternal grandparents and a steady stream of my mom’s relatives and their friends. I assumed the role of piano player, dishwasher, bar re-stocker and general cleanup guy along with my sister who had a habit of getting dishpan diarrhea and disappearing during the brutal pot washing scenes. Sally Rose, my mom’s good friend, assisted us with this role and it was amazing to see how many times the same pot came back to be cleaned again. Some real characters came to our house during this annual soire’ including one of my dad’s friends who had a habit of coming overserved and fell into the Christmas Tree. The party would not be the same if he did not make this spendid grand entrance. My dad made a hell of an egg nog which annihilated people after a couple of cups including my mother’s cousin who I always caught trying to put his ignition key into the side window of his car. I gently escorted him back to the house and eventually always took him home.

The house in Wexford was where the party began to get rather large because of my mother’s benevolence. It was a good thing that I learned to make a good Manhattan at age 10 and generally knew my way around bar service at our house. I assisted the bar tenders during off shifts at the piano and when I look at that piano today in my living room, I wonder how many Manhattans, beers, gin and tonics, and other alcoholic beveages have been spilled in the keys over the years. ” Play White Christmas…damn it” was a usual request as the liquid came cascading over my fingers and into the keyboards. The egg nog was rather sticky but I soldiered through and probably logged more hours than I care to remember keeping the music going at the party. If there ever was a Patrick Dennis it was me and my mom was surely Auntie Mame. I accompanied her on the piano and it was always a welcomed respite from the rather off key carols that resonated in our living room. I knew the party was eventually getting out of hand over the years when one guy who was a son of one of my folk’s casual friends pushed me out of the way going to the bar to get a drink. ” Who the hell are you?” he slurred. I expained who I was and introduced myself. He almost fell into me apologizing and telling me what a great party it was. He was a bit of a close talker and based upon his alcohol consumption, my face probably would have not passed a sobriety test after our conversation.

Usually the last of the revelers left at about 4:00 AM and after a huge day of entertainment, my sister and I sat down and looked at each other and said,” Well- 364 days until we do it all over again. My mom,” Christmas Carol” loved the holidays and even though the party was a collossal family effort, it was always fun and everyone had a great time. My folks invited a lot of people who had personal troubles, financial troubles, no one to celebrate the holidays with, and other various things that make Christmas a sad affair for some. My mom always remembered them and oftentimes they said to her that the party was the highlight of their Christmas. My folks were always generous and exhibited that wonderful Christmas spirit of giving and of love. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is all about anyhow? As I think back, my parent’s house was always an oasis for friends and especially friends who needed a friend. My mom always had two great sayings. ” Happiness is like a perfume, you can’t sprinkle on others without getting a little on yourself.” ” To have a friend is to be a friend.” Christmas Carol and her rather large benevolent elf- my dad, alway knew the meaning of being a friend. Perhaps that is why the Christmas party was always a hit. People liked to be with my folks.

Years have passed. My folks and most of their friends are gone. But when I go to that piano in my house in the quiet times, the Christmas Carols that come out of that old spinet bring me back to the days of Christmas past. Lots of hours have been logged on that piano and I keep it going for Janet, Jack and my in-laws. I get the keys rolling for our friends too but to date, none of them have ever fallen into our tree. Must be because we are not……………”The A Team.” Thanks for reading and have a wonderful and blessed Christmas and Holiday Season.

The Happiest Guy in the Whole World

downsized_0715091352richard-dix-2-sizedphoto John E. Reynolds- born August 8, 1899. Heads used to turn when nurses at the doctors office asked my grandfather his date of birth. Not many people had met someone who was still living a vibrant life and had been born at the turn of the 20th century. I spent a lot of time with my grandpap and the picture you see above is of me and my grandpap deep sea fishing off of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina. More on that in a minute.

John E was a character. Apparently in the days of prohibition, my grandpap had a key to every speakeasy in Pittsburgh. He liked a party and no government regulation was going to stop him from making gin in his bathtub upstairs or frequenting the joints that had music playing and liquor flowing. The other picture above is of Richard Dix the famous silent film star. My grandmother was friends with Alice Mills who was a silent film heroine and it was not unusual for Alice to visit Pittsburgh from California and bring other stars with her like Richard Dix. The reason they came was not only to see the Mills family but to get together with John Reynolds at the speakeasies and have a good old party in the middle of prohibition. My grandfather was actually pretty well known in the Hollywood circles and more and more stars came to Pittsburgh. They wanted to take my mother back to Hollywood and get her started as a child star but my grandmother would have no part of that. So Hollywood came to the North Side and had much revelrie with John E. Reynolds. The Feds came to my grandpap’s house one time and asked him if they could look out from his pantry to see the illegal wine making operation happening with the neighbor. Apprently there was some wine trafficking and the Feds wanted to use my grandparent’s house as a lookout. Well obviously when they told John E when they would be back, he immediately called old man Volpe and tipped him off. The day the Feds came back, there was no activity and they gave my grandpap a quizical look. Needless to say, the wine always flowed at 2815 Stayton Street courtesy of Volpe the bootlegger.

Fast forward, I came on the scene right before my grandparents stopped drinking. They had had enough and decided to quit cold turkey. The Abbot Beer Distributor was never the same without my grandpap and his cases of Duquesne Beer. But, all was well and they embarked on a mission to educate their grandson on the weekends. On Friday nights, they would always take me to dinner as a young lad and then we would make a beeline to Wheeling, West Virginia to take in the horse races at Waterford Park. My grandparents were purists. No trotters for them. They liked the flat races and taught me how to read a tip sheet, how to look at the horses and the jockeys, how to wait until the last minute to see the odds before placing a bet. My grandfather always swung for the fences and placed money to win. My grandmother was much more conservative and placed show bets. In her mind she would win if she hit either a winner a second place or a third place. But not John E. He went for the gusto and made me go to the window to place all bets. The people behind the windows got to know me and allowed me to place my grandparents bets even though I was woefully underage. My grandpap smiled and laughed no matter what happened. He just liked to watch them race. They took me to Hollywood in Florida, Pimlico, Churchill Downs, and all the other major tracks on the east coast. We had a ball and my grandpap smiled the whole time.

My grandpap always took me fishing as a young guy and to this day, I still use all of his tackle and rods. His cronies were Bill Marcus(an attorney), and Judge Bill Miller. Both of these gentlemen loved to fish and we went everywhere together. They had quite a racket. My grandfather was a real estate appraiser and bankruptcy referee. When Interstate 279 was going to be built, all the houses in the East Street Valley had to be appraised so that the government could pay people to leave their houses to make way for the new road. The three amigos did all the appraisal and legal work and it was years of work due to the scope of the project. They would work from April to November, take December off for the holidays and then spend the next three months in Florida fishing and playing golf. I would visit and fishing became second nature to me. When I could drive, it got better for the three amigos because they could sleep in the car while I drove to Canada, North Carolina or Florida. Lots of miles logged, lots of Canadian fresh water fishing with little to do for a teenager at night after those guys went to bed at 8:00PM. But at 4:30 AM they were ready to rock. They always let me drive the boat and run the outboard. It got a little dicey when we were in the Everglades and my grandpap thought it was funny to sneak up on an alligator and poke him with the fishing rod. Their mouths would always open in a menacing smile and as a cherubic young lad, I was in shock as my grandfather laughed hysterically. I dinged the propeller a few times in Canada on hidden rocks and almost tipped the skiff in the Everglades due to some jerky operation of the outboard motor, but the kind and patient instructions from the three amigos was always reassuring.

After my grandmother had passed, my grandpap lived alone in their new condo in the north of Pittsburgh. I say new because my grandpap almost burned the house down on the Northside when he had about 3 adapters and 9 plugs in the wall with his new computer and other electrical devices that overloaded the circuits. As the house smoked and the firemen put out the flames, they took it as a sign to move and they bought the condo. My mother would always look out for my grandpap on the Access bus every day, feed him his dinner, and then watch him return on the bus. I helped her by cooking dinner at the condo from time to time and taking John E. out after my run or bike riding. We always laughed about the old days, the fishing, the horse races and life on the Northside. My grandfather always wore a coat and tie as was the custom of the old time Irishmen. In fact, he was the only guy to walk every day down at North Park lake with the coat and tie and hat. He always bought a new car every year and one year when he was 89, he decided to buy a Honda. As a died in the wool Buick guy, this was surely a departure but when he accidentally drove it over the hill and into the woods at my folks house, he climbed out of the Honda and looked at me and said,” Ooh- I guess it is time for the Access bus.” Again we laughed, but deep down we were relieved that he was ok and he was no longer driving. When he turned 90, we sat him in the back of my dad’s vintage Buick convertable with a sign that read, ” John Reynolds is 90 Today”. One smart ass yelled to him ” Are you still getting any John?” And quick as a shot, he hollered back,” Yea- more than you sonny.” We all howled at that one.

The best part about all of this and my wonderful memories of him will always be his persistent smile and good humor. Now I am not a geneticist and I don’t know about traits that are passed down. But I like to think that I am a positive person. I love life and all the interesting, funny and adventurous times that come about in one’s lifetime. I believe my joie de vivre came from my grandpap. My mother always said that I took after him with his humor, his traits, and his quirky way of living. I am definitely a Reynolds and I can say that I am proud of that. Not that there is anything wrong with the McCloskey side of the family, but John E. Reynolds was a great role model and wonderful guy to know and love. Everyone should have a grandpap like I had. Everytime I throw a line in the water and try to land the big one, I think of him. Everytime I watch the Derby and the Preakness, I think about him betting the farm on the big win and my grandmother harrassing him the whole time. Everytime I see a white Buick with black interior( he was color blind), I think of him. The guy was hilarious. I can’t wait to see him again in glory!! Thanks for reading.

“The Itch”

897c098cf79eb975fa30e492cc0490f9785665aeIngrid_Hirschhofer_Grass_Skiing_World_Championships_2009_Grass_skis My friend J.R. Ellis always sets his watch when we mountain bike ride and sees how long it will take until I mention something to the group about skiing. We have some skiers in the group and some not, and J.R is one of the nots. But thats ok because it gives me the chance to talk about my favorite activity, and perhaps evangalize a little bit to try to get some folks to give it a try. But, we laugh about it and sometimes it is not very long at all until I talk about some ski area,some ski experience or my favorite equipment upgrades. The truth be told is that I started to run and ride a bike to stay in shape for skiing. It ended up being my other passion but nothing takes the place of sliding on snow and seeing the beautiful snow covered mountains.

Around this time of year, I get what I call…….”the itch.” The first ski magazines start coming in the mail. The leaves are changing and the days and nights are cooler. I look for that first frost and the first snowflake that usually falls as a birthday gift to me from the heavens. Ever since I have been a young lad and listened for the first ski report by Lars Skylling, it was always a long time between “the itch”and that first turn. People find it funny that even after all these years and the opportunities that I have to ski larger areas out west and in New England during the season, I still love to make those first turns down Wagner Bowl at Seven Springs- our local ski area. When the back side opens up, we are in high gear in Pa. and the winter is on full bore. But until then, the lagtime between the leaves falling, the weather cooling off and those first turns seems endless.

Back in the day, when I used to teach skiing for the Ski Academy at Laurel Mountain here in Pennsylvania as a young guy, we used to practice on a synthetic surface at the local county park. The county covered one of the slopes with a polyethylene rug and small poly beads. When it was wet, it was actually pretty close to real skiing but it was fun to be out there at this time of year with rock skis and your boots skiing on the rug. We were able to make some turns and then climb back up the hill. Most of the time we reviewed the PSIA teaching system which gave us a leg up on the season. As basic as this was, it was still something to look forward to in the fall when you are a fanatic like me. The picture above is of the Snowflex area at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. This surface is very similar to the rug we skied on but this place has a lift, rentals, and a ski school that operates all year. Pretty neat for the Liberty students, and a reminder to me when we visited down there this summer of all the fun that we had at Boyce Park many years ago. One of the things we learned at Boyce was to wear long pants and long sleeves no matter how hot it was. This is one of the rules of the Snowflex Center at Liberty. If you fell, the carpet burn can be pretty severe so you are better off being protected. Nonetheless, the risk of carpet rash was no match for the fun and good times of starting the season on the synthetic surface.

Another fun analgesic activity for the “itch” was grass skiing. If you look at the other picture above, you will see the tank tread like devices that are attached to the ski bindings and ski boots. As fun as the carpet was, this was actually a bigger thrill because you were making a series of teeny tiny turns by moving your feet and redirecting yourself towards the next turn down a grass slope that was a regular ski slope in the winter. Imagine using hundreds of tiny steps with both feet in order to redirect the tank treads in the direction that you want to go. You plant your pole like regular skiing and then you start making hundreds of small directional steps. Often you were successful as you became more skilled and many times you went ass over tincups when you hit a rock or a grass pile in the middle of the slope. I had two pair of these contraptions and always talked a friend into trying. At the end of the day, elbows and knees were skinned and bleeding but the fun outlasted any pain that we incurred. Many a summer picnic had grass ski runs and the ultimate experience was a race that was held at Ski Liberty near Gettysburg which I attended. They ran the chair lift down there in the summer and the fall, and grass skiing was a regular event at the area. However on race day, they had a regular Giant Slalom course set up on the slope and the start house had a large metal tray filled with soapy water to lubricate the tank treads. It only lasted one run but boy did it make a difference in speed. I had to get used to the speed but once I did, the little steps actually evolved into turns by redirecting the treads at a higher rate of speed. For a rookie, I did ok in the race and had a decent finish but there were a lot of crashes and burns on that fall day at Liberty. I would say that by finishing my runs in one piece, I was more successful than most of the crowd. Sometimes a smooth safe run works. And that was the case in this event at Liberty.

I still get that “itch” and read everything I can to get ready for the season. I try to stay in shape with cycling and trail running so that the first turns of the season feel pretty good and I am not too sore at the end of the day. But,unlike the west where they are skiing right now at Arapahoe and Loveland in Colorado, I have to wait a bit. The Boyce carpet is long gone and so are the grass skis. But as I try on my boots on that first snow flurry day, and take off the thick coat of wax that has protected my skis all summer, that doggone “itch” is starting to really get annoying. It is supposed to snow flurry here in Pa. this week which is a teaser because it is not even Halloween yet. But if I keep scratching that itch with the reading, looking at the pictures of my buddy Eric get those first turns at Mammoth, looking at the ski reports, talking about skiing on the mountain bike rides and setting records on J.R.’s watch, I can hopefully make it to December. Or maybe if I catch a weather break…….Thanksgiving. Think snow all you skiers and thanks for reading.

The Lifechanger

imagesphoto Several posts ago, I wrote about people who are mentors. There are also folks who fall into a slightly different category and they are what I call Lifechangers. I was at a birthday party last night for one of them and his name is Hot Harry Kirsch. Harry turns 90 this week and it has been my distinct pleasure to know him. Mary Jo Neff got up last night after organizing the affair and eloquently told the assmebled crowd how much Harry has influenced all of our lives by starting and running the Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. There are people like Harry who influence us and in many ways facilitate a life change.

I first met Harry when I started running at North Park during the running boom of the 80s. I had quit tennis and was looking for a change when I saw a group run by the tennis court and I said to myself that I was going to start running. I became passionate about it and ventured into the Stone Field parking lot and one of the first guys I met was Hot Harry. He was very friendly and introduced me to some folks and invited me to have a drink out of some jugs from his open trunk. I soon found out that Harry always left his trunk open to his car and anyone who ran from Stone Field was welcome to a drink from Harry’s stash. Harry also told me about his loosely organized club and soon I was wearing the shorts and singlet in the races indicating that I was a member of Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. I was actually very proud to wear that garb and be part of the whole North Park running scene.

Harry organized a bus to go to the Marine Corps Marathon every year. He was fond of the marathon because he was a Marine.He always organized picnics at his farm in Evans City,Pa and soon the group swelled to very large proportions including family and friends of the North Park Runners. Harry has an infectious positive atttude and a smile for everyone who comes his way. There have been a lot of folks who have come to the park in a similar fashion as me and have sheepishly tried to start to walk, run, or jog to make a change in their lives. You get to the point sometimes in your life when you realize that your health and mental well being are more important than any job. Everyone has stress in their lives and exercise is a great antidote to those daily pressures which can consume our lives. Harry made sure that everyone who was new had someone to run with and if no one was available, he ran with them himself. Harry loves the park and as a retired bus driver whose wife had passed away, the park was a good way for him to reconnect with people and soon his running prowess and enthusiasm for the sport got him a lot of notoriety in the local papers. I believe that Harry has 50+ marathons to his credit including countless Boston and Marine Corps Marathons.

I had the pleasure of running in Boston with Harry and his group and was amazed at how well Harry knew the drill up there with the accomodations, the food, the travel arrangements, the expo, and all with only a small duffel bag containing a spare set of running shorts, another singlet, and a toothbrush. Harry traveled light. He loved the marathon up there and took me under his wing as a rookie and I will never forget his wisdom, humor and friendship. Four of us crashed in one room and Harry snored like a chainsaw, but we didn’t care. We were having too much fun. No hot water in the hotel after the race,the elevator was down, but Harry and his sense of humor had us all laughing through an uncomfortable end to a great run.

Harry and the North Park crew changed my life for sure. Even though I eventually gravitated to road cycling and mountain biking, I still run on trails in the winter and on nasty weather days. Running is still in my veins thanks to Harry and the wonderful people of North Park. They say that you get an endorphin high from running but I am not sure if it is more the chemical high or the psychological high that you have completed a healthy activity for the day and you did it with friends. The comraderie of the running crowd cannot be matched. I see folks from all over the country running in groups. The exercise and the lively conversations are indigenous to running clubs and if you have not had the chance to join a running, cycling, skiing, hiking, outdoors club, go do it. Chances are you will meet fun folks who will hold you accountable to join them on a daily or several times a week basis. You will be fortunate if you ever meet a guy like Hot Harry. He is one in a million and if you ever see the car with the open trunk, help yourself and allow yourself to meet one of the all time greats. Thanks for reading.

To Say Hi or not to say Hi- that is the question!!

Most people who read my blog are fairly active and either walk, hike, ride a bike, ski, or are thinking about perhaps doing something active. Nothing hard core. Just doing or thinking about being active and getting out there. One of the social aspects of the active life is the simple act of being friendly or acknowledging someone who is out there doing the same thing as you. Perhaps you have noticed particularly friendly people who always say “Hi” on their way to you and past you. Others who choose not to do so and are engrossed in their own world of Podcasts, music or just plain unfriendly. Maybe they are concentrating on a family issue, school, or thinking about something in particular. It takes all kinds and they are out there on the roads,trails, and slopes. Lets look at a few of them:

The Walker- some walkers come by you and greet you perhaps because they recognize you as one who walks regularly. Others just are friendly and smile and say”Hi.” They make you feel good and if you see enough of these folks, the walks go well and you have a general sense of well being. Others have the earbuds on, look straight ahead, ignore your greeting and are intently listening to their Podcast or the latest on NPR. Maybe they are having personal problems and are walking for some solace. In either case, does it take that much to just say…………Hi?

The Runner- these folks are usually a little more intense and have the same issues with the earbuds and the Podcasts or music. Or perhaps they are either really fit and concentrating on their heartrate and their minutes per mile. They concentrate and use this time as training for some event or for personal fitness. Some runners look like they are in some state of pain. It takes everything they have to run at their pace and the contorted looks on their face say to you in an unstated way,” Hey- I am just trying to get through this run and it would take too much energy to acknowledge you.” Others just say, “Screw it, I am not talking to anyone.”

The Cyclist- casual cyclists tend to be more friendly than the serious road set. Now I am not putting down the serious rider because I ride the road bike myself and in my day, did my fair share of training on the road. But why does it seem sometimes that road riders either ignore you or when they are with a group, they look over like they want to chew your face off? You know the kind. The individual with the club jersey and shorts, or the wannabe Euro Dog with the expensive team kit who vicariously lives through his clothes and bike and pretends to be a Tour De France contender. “How dare you say hello to me you road cretin with your touring bike and no team kit.” These guys make a specific note of not saying hello or waving because they are too cool for school. I laugh at these guys because I have seen them too many times before. What is wrong with a smile or a slight nod of the head to acknowledge your presence as a rider? Tsk Tsk.

The Skier on the Chairlift- they guy who looks down and doesn’t talk for the whole ride. The wannabe racer who is too cool to talk. The snowboarder who thinks skiers are dorks and again is too cool to say hello on the chair. The good looking girl who definitely does not want to talk because she thinks it is inviting a hit on her. Let me tell you the days of hitting are over for most guys my age. We just want a hello and acknowledgement on what a beauiful day it is or how great the conditions are. Not…………” ski here often?”

The Mountain Biker- strong roadies turned mountain bikers or racers tend to blow by you and not even say hello. But for the most part, the mountain bike tribe is friendly and has a much better attitude than the chew your face off group. Riding in the woods is serene and these folks tend to be like the hikers who also are quite friendly. Must be something about being in the woods, not racing, and enjoying nature at its finest. Hikers are dog walkers and they all tend to be friendly. I have really never met a mountain biker or a hiker who doesn’t say hi. Only the jaded racers who train on the trail and can’t wait to blow by the hairbags in front of them.

If you look at my two videos up top, you will see both scenarios. See how you feel when watching them. Now I live in Catholic guilt ridden hell because that is my background. I say hello to everyone and always did. Even in races I was careful to announce my presence if I was passing or I kept it friendly with the group I was riding with. Not because I was not competitive, but I knew my place. I was not going to the Olympics and running, skiing, cycling on the road or in the woods is a social event as much as it is a training or racing event. You will never get a nasty look, or an ignored salutation from me. I believe we are all in the same boat. Enjoying the exercise, the environment, and the comraderie of being together enjoying the same activity together. So the next time you are out, make a mental note to see who and what types say hello and greet you and who are the jagoffs who ignore you. The people who need solace get a pass but the others, lighten up and say………”Hi.” Thanks for reading