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.

It’s the little things that matter.

I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the more I think time is flying by. The days, the months, the years, all seem to advance so quickly. I seem to be on a rocket ship flying through the universe with planets, asteroids, stars, whipping by the body of the rocket at a rapid pace and I don’t even have the chance to observe them in detail. That is why I am making an effort to hit the reverse thrusters and try to enjoy the little things that matter. When you value the little things, it slows life down a bit. Take for instance these mums in front of my house.img_1082 I have taken notice each day of their blooming pattern. I take the scenic route to work and instead of taking the major state route, I take the road less traveled which allows me to enjoy the changing of the leaves which happens before my eyes just like the blooming of the mums. jilllake
I don’t go to the store and get the plastic bag of apples. This time of year, I go to the local farm market and get what is fresh. I look at the apple that I am about to eat from the farm and value the crisp, juicy, taste instead of the dried, tasteless bag of apples that came out of the cooler at a refrigerated distribution center warehouse.
My wife gets a kick out of me running out of the house at night to see the space shuttle fly across the evening sky. I get my notice from NASA each day and make an effort to see the shuttle. It is the fastest thing in the heavens on most evenings and its path intrigues me. Similarly, I get my telescope out to view the planets and get excited to see a little white sphere in my lens with smaller white dots that are the moons surrounding Venus or the ring around Saturn. I text my son to come out and see and he says to me,” Dad, I see it ten times better on the Internet.” They say little things amuse little minds but I think little things are what slow things down a bit. Looking at the stars on a night ride on my mountain bike. Whenever there is a break, I look up. night-ride-october-2-of-1

While I am on the subject of little things, lets talk about little kindnesses which we are afforded or afford each day. Things are hectic now and there is a lot of pressure just to get through life for most people. But when you slow down, and appreciate the little things that people do for you, it enhances your life experience. When my wife gives me a hug, a kind word from a friend, support when you are down. These are the little gems that make life easier. People do nice things for me all the time and I appreciate them. Patrick Dahlkemper did me a huge solid on a root canal. Barry Jeffries always takes care of me at Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop. Richard helps me out with a recent ski boot purchase at Peak Ski and Board. They don’t have to do these things, they do them because they like me. Go figure! I tend to have the Irish National Curse and always want to pay them back immediately. But I need to slow down and appreciate the kindness that they give me just because. On the “pay it forward” path, our lives are enriched when we afford little kindnesses to those we deal with on a daily basis and to the ones we love. I need to hold Janet’s hand more often. I try to always be there to help friends whether they are in need or just support them daily. The Golden Rule is sometimes lost today in this self serving world of ours. We are compelled to be kind to others not because they did something nice for us, but because we are all in this together. At the risk of being cliche’, ” All lives matter.” And as a believer, I know we are compelled to behave this way. So, as the seasons change, try to hit that reverse thruster, and enjoy the small things in life. That red oak leaf on your entrance mat that ushers in the fall season. That first sip of apple cider. The crackling of a fire, paying it forward. Even a little donut. img_1083 Thanks for reading.

“Lost in the Ozone Again”

924186 The picture you see above is of Commander Cody. His band is called Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Take a minute to listen to his famous song,” Lost in the Ozone Again” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heK8QjhWGag . Now I was a fan of the Commander when I first heard “Hot Rod Lincoln”. The Commander was not a one hit wonder because he also had a lot of other catchy tunes like the old classic,” Smoke, Smoke, Smoke, Them Cigarettes.” I also liked a lot of other burnout music from the New Riders, Southern Hillman Furay Band, Poco, The Flying Burrito Brothers and a host of other college favorites. The Commander played at my alma mater and it was a night to remember but that is another story.

Alright. Did you listen to the song? Good. Because now I am going to get to the point. For some reason, this song always rings in my head when I get lost on my mountain bike. I was talking to Barry Jefferies the other day at Dirty Harry’s http://www.DirtyHarrys.com. He was regaling the virtues of the new Garmin bicycle computers that can sync with the I-Phone, allow you to log into other rides that people have posted in many areas of the globe, allow you to map your own rides and download them on your PC, allow your significant other to see where you are on a ride, and lastly, allow you to find yourself and get back to where you started virtually eliminating the issue of getting lost on a mountain bike. I am definitely going to get one of these gizmos because I have gotten hopelessly lost before and it is an un-nerving thing save for the Commander and his tune that rings in my head. I sing it to myself as solace until I eventually find my way back by hook or by crook.

Take a couple of years ago when I was riding by myself in Rothrock State Forest up near State College,Pa. I had my pack, cell phone, the Purple Lizard Map of the area and was perfectly prepared until I zigged when I should have zagged and ended up 25 miles from Tussey Mountain Ski Area where I started. It was getting dark, I didn’t have my lights, and there was literally nobody in the Greenwood Forest Area where I ended up. I was an hour late and I was sure my wife Janet was panicking. I always told her that I can survive a night in the woods but I am sure that is of little comfort to her. The cell service was nill and at the last bleak of light, I found a couple who were camping and I begged them for a ride. They said to throw my bike into the back of their pickup and they generously drove me back 25 miles to the ski area. Had they not been there, I surely would have spent the night and my wife would have had an all out search and rescue. State College is a buzzing college town but on the other side of the ridge is as remote as you will find anywhere. I rewarded the couple with some bucks for gas and also with a fruit basket sent to their home out of really grateful appreciation. I got the obligatory ear beating from Janet and really, I deserved it. ” I am lost in the Ozone again, one sip of wine, two sips of gin, lost in the Ozone again.”

My friend Dixon and I were on an epic ride one day which started at Seven Springs Mountain Resort and the turnaround was in Ohiopyle,Pa. We started early and rode by map all the way to Ohiopyle and got some food and headed back. It was springtime and was a little cool and as the late afternoon enveloped us, we went the wrong way and ended up off track. Now Dixon is the guy who I posted about earlier who uses blue bubble gum as an energy food on the ride and his blue teeth sparkled in the late afternoon sun as we tried to find our way back on the unfamiliar single track. The Commander popped into my head again as I kept my eye on the setting sun and noted to Dixon that we need to head west towards the setting sun and we should eventually find a road. We kept the sun ahead of us and eventually ended up back in Indian Head,Pa and begged the proprietor of the Red and White Store to take us up the mountain to Dixon’s place because we were completely out of gas to take that climb. We were out all day and our map failed us. We jammed fig newtons into our mouths and guzzled Gatorade until we reached a sugar coma in the back of the lady’s pickup truck. At least we gave her some business.

Last year, I was up at Elicottville, NY and ventured off the Holiday Valley Ski Area trails into the Allegheny National Forest. I again had my cell phone, a 6 year old map, and was adequately fueled with bars and water. However as the day wore on and I experimented with some new routes, I became lost in the Ozone again as the sun began to set. Fortunately, there was some cell service and I caught the owner of the Mud, Sweat and Gears Bike and Ski Shop http://www.mudsweatgears.com on his way out the door. He asked me to give him some landmarks which I did and he gave me some verbal directions to get me out to a fire road which I was able to follow for a long while back to the ski area. “Lost in the Ozone again- one sip of wine, two sips of gin, I am lost in the Ozone again!!!!” That infernal song got me up that hill and back to the area where I got cleaned up and got a cold one and some good grub at the Ellicottville Brewery http://www.ellicottvillebrewing.com.

Each time I got lost on these selected adventures, I had to rely on the good graces of others. I was fairly prepared but sometimes when you zig instead of when you should zag, you can get lost. That is why the Garmin 850 is in my near future. http://www.garmin.com There are apps on the I-Phone which would allow me the same safety but I think the Garmin plus my I-Phone would be the ticket. Being old school, I will still take maps. I like to ride with people but often times I do ride by myself. However, my routes as of late allow me quick access back to civilization. Probably not a smart idea to ride off into distances by yourself. The Garmin will help but I also think that getting lost is not so adventurous anymore. The Commander and his song will have to fade in my subconscious until I hear it on Sirius Radio in the safety of my Jeep.

Lesson for the day- try to ride prepared with water, pack, tire irons, tubes, patch kit, etc. Also have the cell phone and a map of the area even if you have a fancy gizmo like the Garmin. Also- remember the Commander because his songs will give you some distraction as you make your way up a mountain or a lost fire road back to that cold brew and food awaiting you and the end of a great ride. Thanks for reading.

The Infamous Tuesday Night Ride

photophoto I was sitting outside jamming a burrito in my face at Chipotle the other day, when I heard a loud rap on the window next to me. It was my old mountain biking buddy Bob Anderson harassing me again and we sat together and laughed about the old riding days. Back when I started mountain biking, I had an entry level bike with no shocks( they were not invented yet). A couple of road cycling friends got MTBs too and we began to explore the horse trails in North Park much to the chagrin of the equestrians who reported us to the police. Undaunted, we tried to get together as much as we could and one of the regular nights that fit everyone’s schedule was Tuesday night. I was always an organizer so I contacted my group and we began to ride regularly. Soon the word spread at the Month of Mud Races that there was a “training” ride on Tuesday nights led by yours truly. I am here to tell you that the original intent of the ride was exploration and fun and not a “training” ride. But since we were dabbling in racing at the Month of Mud Races and the Hidden Valley spring and fall races, some guys started to show up and the next thing we knew was that the pace of the ride accelerated with each passing week.

Fast forward, Chuck Greenlee and the Greenlee Mountain Bikes crowd started to show up with some pretty fast guys. They adopted me to race in their Vet and Masters Team and began to treat my ride as the official Greenlee’s weekly training ride. Really fast riders started to come like Bob Anderson, Chuck Greenlee, Jonathan Moran, EJ Sigety,Eric Sauereisen,Frankie Ross,Diane Blackburn,Steve Wahlenmeyer, and a host of other characters. Ed DeLuca came and was so fit he looked like he could explode right out of his skin suit. The guy was ripped and still is to this day. Ed rides a single speed today and still races the most difficult MTB races on the local schedule. We even started to see guys and gals from West Virginia and Seven Springs. It was becoming somewhat of a cult ride and the funny thing is that I organized it every week and was quickly becoming one of the weaker riders. My M.O. has always been to bring people into the sport and watch them eventually get stronger and kill me on every ride. The story of my life. The only reason they put up with me was because I kept them entertained with my inane stories and jokes along the trail. They were serious racers and I have always been a serious joker.

Each week my group of normal guys like Bill Belch, Master Plumber Supreme, George Sagan, and some other North Park specials were being pounded on the first hill by all these incredibly fast guys who had taken over my Tuesday Night Ride. People used to think I must have been really strong to ride with these guys when they really did not know my secret weapon………….the short cut. You see, I know every stone in North Park and when the pace became insanely fast and all these guys tried to beat each others brains in on the climb in the Nature Center, I would lead my little band of mortals up the climb to the North Park Lodge where we would stop, have a drink, catch our breath and wait for the thundering herd to come up the hill. Rested and hydrated, I would look at the group and say,” Here they come………..the pain continues.” We would be abused by the group for cutting the route but I looked at some of them and said that I had socks older than them. They would laugh, Bob A would abuse me personally and we would laugh as they inflicted more pain on us until…………..the next short cut. All in all, on the two hour sufferfest, I had about three bona fide hydrating, heart rate reducing, short cuts which kept us in the game. At the end, we had been pushed close to our limits but since we took some “liberties” we were at least able to ride most of the ride behind the fast guys and feel like we were still part of ……..”My Ride!!!!” The nerve of these guys taking over what had begun as an exploratory mission on new steeds of steel. I am proud to say that this ride continued and grew for close to 15 years until guys got married, had kids, had to attend to soccer games and baseball games like me which forced my riding during the week to 4:30 AM. The Tuesday Night ride started to fade with responsibilities and schedules. But it will be forever etched in the minds of all who took part. The interesting thing is now guys are starting to return because their children are raised and they have a little more time on their hands. I see some of the old Greenlees jersies on the trails and along with the younger,faster, Dirty Harry’s crowd, some of us old veterans can relive our youth watching the young guns ride up the trails at lighning speed ahead of us. But, I still know those old short cuts and the 58 year old kid and his pals can hang in there if we indulge ourselves. Age and treachery can sometimes beat youth and skill…………but not too often. Mountain Bike technology has come a long way and equipment can always keep you in the game. But the memories of the infamous Tuesday Night Ride live forever in my mind as I trace those old routes that have been worn in with the riders of time.

We all need to push ourselves in this world. I can say with certainty that my group of mortals became much better riders because the good guys pushed us out of our comfort zone. I see this all the time as people become involved in a sport and have a friend or friends that hold them accountable to ride each week. Whether it is with work, relationships, sporting pursuits, or whatever stirs your blood, don’t be afraid to push yourself. A good group can help you but take the initiative to work hard and improve. You can even do it at my age. Remember…..the older I get……..the better I was. Thanks again for reading.