Almost Heaven

Why is it that it always rains sideways when I go mountain biking in West Virginia? I remember the NORBA races back in the day at Snowshoe when it poured biblically the night before the races and the course was a peanut butter mess with extremely high humidity. I suffered like a dog. The years that we all went down to Slatyfork for the Fat Tire Festival, we could hear the torrential rains swelling the creeks outside of the Jerico Bed and Breakfast http://www.jericobb.com in Marlinton and woke up to flash flood warnings. But we rode. This year we went to a great event called Dirt Fest run by Dirt Rag Magazine http://www.dirtragmag.com in Big Bear, West Virginia and again, it rained cats and dogs on the Friday that we arrived. It was like “Almost Heaven” was saying to me,” Pat- you have to bring your “A” game down here and we are not going to EVER give you a gimme.” Even though we had brilliant sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, the damage had been done and the slime on the rocks, boulders, and roots which define West Virginia riding, made Saturday morning the usual challenge. There are people like Tom Florcik http://www.trailflobikes.com and Sue Haywood who make it look easy and send it over the big drops. But I tend to be more cautious because as I always like to say, ” I ride to ride another day.”

So why do I keep beating my head against the wall and venturing into a most challenging environment? I do it for the beauty of West Virginia and the people who make the event so much fun. Dirt Rag Magazine has been around for over 25 years and was the brain child of Maurice and Elaine Tierney. I am happy to say that I have known MO a long time and have had many enjoyable riding days with him along with cohorts like Karl Rosengarth and Jeff Wuerthele. Dirt Rag arranged all the logistics with Big Bear which is a formidable task along with arranging a whole myriad of suppliers in the bike industry to attend with demo equipment. Along with great food by Doan’s Bones Bar b Que http://www.doansbones.com and the fabulous pizza supplied by Liz Klevens, the event was lacking for nothing. The movies and the beer supplied by Green Flash http://www.greenflashbrew.com and Oskar Blues http://www.oskarblues.com did not disappoint and the whole weekend went off without a hitch. No one seemed to mind the muddy but steadily improving conditions. But what really brings us back year after year? The People!! The mountain bike community is a friendly lot of “crunchy”, ” earthy” people who love the outdoors and can really ride the challenging conditions. It is not often that you see a group of ladies like Val from Asheville, NC, Chrissy from the Canaan Valley and Stephanie from the burg, pound fearlessly over muddy, rocky obstacles with smiles on their faces and laughter all around. Mountain bikers know how to have fun and at the end of the day, know how to kick back and enjoy the fading sunlight and the roaring fire complete with stories about the adventures of the day sipping a cold IPA. I love my crew and also love to gather with the “tribe” at events like Dirt Fest. The Chetlins, the Girones, and Sy were missing but they were in Bend riding. So, they had an excuse. Our local crew makes a contribution to the scene with characters like the Shark, Bob Bannon and John O’Toole- veterans of the sport, Johnny Mac and Bob Anderson- really skilled riders, Pete Hilton, Mike Connors and his son Riley-fun, good riders, and Angelo Ross- the originator of http://www.naturalcause.org . John Casuccio, Joe D’Oro, Michele with an “L”, Michelle with two “Ls”, all skilled MTB folks, and of course Jeff Balicki who got MVP for the weekend riding the heinous rocks and roots just out of knee replacement surgery three months ago. If you ever saw passion for a sport, look no further than this affable barrister from Pittsburgh. He worked hard to get back on the trail and will be ready for ski season for sure. It’s the people…..people!!!! That is why we ride. Sure it is challenging, it is hard, it rains like a cow peeing on a flat rock, but the people of Dirt Rag and the folks of the eastern mountain bike community make it fun with the camping stories, the crackling fires, and the beers. Barry and the guys from Dirty Harry’s make sure all of us ride in style and repair the damage after weekends like this. The local shop is part of the community and we should all support them.

So if you ride mountain bikes, find events like Dirt Fest and support the cause. You will not only have a lot of fun no matter what the weather does, but you will make friends for a lifetime sharing the passion of riding and the truly spectacular trails. Thanks for reading.

Dirt Rag Magazine- 25 years

photophotophotophoto Many people might not know it, but Pittsburgh, Pa. is a mecca for mountain biking. What? You ask. Yes. Pittsburgh is a mecca for mountain biking and there are several reasons why. First of all, our terrain is hilly and rolling and there are a lot of local and State parks in the region that have developed trail systems. The Laurel Highlands just east of the city are gently mountainous like most of the Appalachian chain and again, have a well developed trail network, aside from the Laurel Ridge Hiking Trail. The local club PTAG (Pittsburgh Trail Advocacy Group) has been very active in working with other trail users and developing systems in our local and State parks. But, in my humble opinion, the two individuals that promoted the sport to its current popularity and launched our reputation as a region for mountain biking were Maurice and Elaine Tierney.

For those of you who are in the know in the world of off-road cycling, Mo and Elaine are well known aside from their Mountain Bike Hall of Fame status. In 1989, they founded Dirt Rag Magazine. Maurice, a professional photographer and Elaine a talented journalist and general go getter, launched a small newsletter from the computer in Maurice’s office. The magazine was a local riders favorite and as Lee and Elizabeth Klevens and a host of other friends stapled and folded the early copies, the magazine grew in popularity with product reviews, local race results, and off beat stories that outline what is the soul of the sport of off road cycling. The early crew of Dirt Rag worked long hours together to secure advertising,garner race results, and come up with copy that was interesting to this relatively new genre of cycling. Dirt Rag’s long time Quality Manager, Karl Rosengarth, was quoted as saying that,” working at Dirt Rag feels more like playing in a punk rock band than toiling as an employee of a business.” High praise indeed for the atmosphere that has made the magazine successful for 25 years.

I started to read Dirt Rag in 1991 and as I was fairly new to the sport, I started to ride with the crew and their friends out on the trails near their office. I can remember Maurice showing me the ropes of riding and how welcoming all of the Raggers were when I would accompany them on their rides in Harmarville and Penn Hills park. I can remember many nights with the lights on my handlebars leading me on trails that I had never ridden watching the likes of Lee and Elizabeth keeping the pace high as we rode into the night. In those days, my wife was a flight attendant and when she was out of town, I found myself in the middle of nowhere, late at night, with a fun loving, well conditioned Dirt Rag crew. You really could not describe the fun to most people because they would ask,” You were riding a mountain bike with lights on at 11:00 last night?” But it was true and the tribe grew and grew over the years. I remember Maurice leading all of us at the original Wild 100 down in Slaty Fork,WVA. The Wild 100 was a 100K point to point race and Maurice had our strategy and our course mapped out well before Gil Willis gave us the race map at the starting line. Maurice was very familiar with the area and we felt confident that if we rode with Dirt Rag, we were not going to get lost, we would have a good time, and we had a very experienced ride leader at the very least. Maurice and Elaine, and the Dirt Rag crew created an aura around the sport that enhanced the experience of creating and publishing a magazine that eventually would be full color and sold in bike shops around the world. Subscriptions have been increasing every year and as Dirt Rag celebrates its 25th anniversary,the expertise and development of the magazine is quite impressive to the likes of me who remember the early days of their visionary idea. If you look at their 25th anniversary edition, you will see pictures that show the days of post ride beers in the garage of Dirt Rag World Headquarters in Saxonburg. You will see post ride pictures from their number one shop supporter Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop in Verona with Barry and Cyndie leading rides out of their shop. The history of Dirt Rag is not just related to the magazine but in the culture that was created by the publishers. The Punk Bike Enduro was an end of the year celebration of riding near the office and often well attended by luminaries of the cycling world as well as all the local dirt heads from Western Pa and West Virginia. The weather was often horrendous but that is what made the event fun. Enduro is big now in the sport but the Punk Bike Enduro with the few who actually contested it and the many who just rode it and drank beer along the way, helped to cement the reputation of Dirt Rag in cycling lore.

Today, the attention to detail is exemplary. I was riding with Emily Walley, the girlfriend of General Manager Justin Steiner, who meticulously stopped at different places on the ride to get good digital photos for the magazine of a new Marin bike that she was reviewing. Her attention to detail and lighting was impressive to me, a guy who takes I Phone pictures. I offered to do a product review for the stick that was used to hold the bike up, but it was all for not with the laughter of the riding group at that typical McCloskey remark. In any event, Dirt Rag today is a technological marvel and is produced with the professional attitude and expertise of those who really love the sport and have made a living out of their passion. Maurice is now living in the Bay Area which is close to the living quarters of the pioneers of the sport as well as headquarters for many of mountain biking manufacturers. Maurice loves the Bay Area but also wants to keep his finger on the pulse of all that makes Dirt Rag great. He was in town last week and as we had a beer at the OTB Cafe in North Park, he told the group how fortunate we all were to have access to great trails with no interference from competing groups. Trail use is a hot topic on the left coast and there is a lot of resistance from competing groups which concerns Maurice. But we ended the night with a big bear hug and I thanked him for welcoming me into the sport so many years ago and creating an atmosphere here in Pittsburgh that encourages riders of all abilities to enjoy our Western Pa. trails. The best part is that he made a living doing what he loved. He still does. Here’s to 25 more great years, Dirt Rag. Thanks for reading.

The Wild 100

fader8IMAGE_1_12022009095949 One of the more interesting events that I have participated in was the Wild 100 Mountain Bike Race in Slatyfork,WVA. This was a point to point event with 6 check in stops in very remote corners of the West Virginia wilderness. The weekend always started with a camp out in the field behind the Elk River Touring Center. Most often the Inn was sold out but it was more fun to camp under the stars anyways. The next morning was a mandatory meeting at 6:45 AM where you were given a map to the 100 K course along with the notation for the check points. You had to make the check points by a certain hour or you were asked to board a pickup truck for the long ride back to the touring center. Only one time did anybody in my group not make the check in point. One of our guys one year was an ultra runner and wanted to try the event. He underestimated the difficulty and the need to ride miles on the bike. He was escorted out. He told us to keep riding.

Most of the years I participated, I had an interesting entourage with me. Maurice Tierney, founder of Dirt Rag Magazine, was our navigator. He was a pretty good map reader as well as being fairly familiar with the area. Some of the other Dirt Rag guys joined us along with my friend Dixon whose energy source on the ride, among other things, was blue bubble gum. At the top of Props Run, which was nothing more than a stream bed that went to the top of the mountain, Dixon could be seen loading up on blue bubble gum and smiling with matching teeth. Dixon is a character and deserves his own blog post. Props was always inluded in the course and some times you went down it, which was a bone rattling descent, or you went up it and pushed your bike for about half the distance. There was a lot of fire road and if you decided that you wanted to shorten the ride, you went into the woods to several places like Bear Meadows, or the infamous Tea Creek Canyon. The streams and water that you encounterd in the canyon were dyed with tannin from the leaves and the image of a cup of tea was very apparent in the color of the streams. But you had to pay attention here because the descent was off camber with a lot of slippery, slimy roots, into the valley where you had a check in point before you began a long climb out of the canyon.

Navigating wilderness trails and fire roads was a true challenge and you had to prepare well with a pack loaded with plenty of water, energy drinks, food, and lights in the event that you had an issue that would push you into the evening hours. Suffice to say I never had that issue but on the final fire road descent I was always bonking badly and jamming the last dust ball infested energy bar into my face to ward off the fatigue and the blue dots appearing before my eyes. The last time I saw the blue dots was when I did a time trial at Halloween on a very hot day dressed in a tuxedo. That was a heinous road climb up into an industrial park and the blue dots of maximum exertion apeared before my exploding eyeballs. Always avoid the blue dots. They are a sign of imminent disaster. I always avoided the big bonk on the last descent to Rt. 219 and successfully avoided he speeding logging and coal trucks which were dangerously close to us as we navigated our way back to the Touring Center. The outdoor shower was welcome but the temperature of the freezing stream water that fed the showers was anything but relaxing. However, all was saved with a great bar-b-que and awards ceremony followed by blue grass music on the deck. One more night in the tent and back to the burg. The Wild 100 was always a great experience.

This years event is not scheduled yet but if you call Gil and Mary Willis at the Elk River Touring Center, they might be able to tell you if they are scheduling the event or not. They are great people and it is definitely worth the ride to Slatyfork just to ride. The Inn is wonderful as well as the food and the hospitality. The riding, the fishing in the Greenbrier River, and the evenings on the deck with a cold beer are also memorable. http://www.ertc.com If the Inn is crowded, you can go down the road a bit to Marlinton and stay at the Jerico Bed and Breakfast. A wonderful place with pre-Civil War cabins that have been restored with pot belly stoves and lofts. Lots of Confederate memorabelia around and the proprietors grandfather always delights in telling us Yankee boys that there are 9 of us buried up above on the hillside. The earlier battles of the Civil War were held in this general area and sleeping under the picture of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson gives you something to think about as you doze off to sleep to the relaxing sound of the stream bed outside your window. http://www.jericobb.com

The riding in West Virginia is always challenging but there are hundreds of miles of great trails all accessible from either facility. There are lots of fishing events, music festivals and riding events at Elk River like Women’s Clinics conducted by local heroine Sue Haywood who is a member of the Trek Professional Mountain Bike Team. If nothing else, you might be fortunate enough to ride with Dixon and get some of his prized blue bubble gum on your ride. Thanks for reading.