Luxury Vehicles? Not for me.

As the beautiful fall colors are adorning our trees here in Western Pa., I see a lot of folks driving their luxury vehicles on leaf peeping excursions.  You know the ones with the Mercedes, Lexus, BMWs,  whose cars are immaculately shined, tires gleaming with Armour All, drivers dressed in pressed khakis and starched Polo shirts- loafers with no shoes, sweaters draped over their shoulders sporting aviator sunglasses.  These folks love their cars and love the idea of driving them to parties, work, or other locations where they can show their passion for their vehicles.  My crowd is a little more earthy and the mountain bikers, hikers, and skiers that I know drive dated SUVs and 4 wheel drive pickups.  I am no exception with a 5 year old Jeep which has 143,000 miles to date and is absolutely filthy- much to my wonderful wife’s dismay.  ” Why do you beat our vehicles” she gasps as she sees my Jeep filled with firewood or piled to the ceiling with mulch in the spring.  Some of that mulch is still working its way out of the seats this fall and the sand from the beach this summer compliments the compost like decor I have beneath my seats and on the surface of the carpets.  I see vehicles as a practical mode of transportation and if there is a layer of mud from my mountain bike gear, or last years doughnut crumbs still wedged in my cup holder, I am not dismayed.  As long as I can transport my gear and get there safely with 4 wheel drive, I am not concerned with the appearance of a vehicle.  IMG_0574

This disdain for vehicle maintenance all began when I started to drive my mom’s 1964 yellow Buick convertible back in high school. I transported many of my friends to school and back and oftentimes the top was down- even in the winter.  As we pelted classmates with snowballs from the moving convertible, it became a battle vehicle until the day the top would not go back up and my dad was aghast at the snow in the seats and floors.  I put large snow tires on the rear wheels and loaded the trunk with sand bags for the weekend ski trips to the mountains.  Whenever there was a snow day at school, you could be sure that the yellow Buick was filled with equipment and headed for ski country- no matter what the road conditions were like.  My parents were very understanding.  1964_Buick_Special_convertible

Moving along, I graduated to four wheel drive SUVs and the original orange International Scout hauled many a friend out of a ditch with the obligatory come-a-long or tow strap that I had stashed in my trunk.  I felt obligated to get anyone who was stuck, out of the snow and it was fun seeing what the Scout could do in adverse conditions.  That vehicle made many New England ski trips, hiking excursions to the Mt. Washington Valley, and regular weekend trips to the Laurel Highlands here in Pa.  When my dad built his house in Wexford, the Scout was our construction vehicle hauling angle iron for his greenhouse, mulch, lumber, and other required materials.  My dad thought the Scout was a great vehicle and often overestimated its capacity to haul.  Lots of oversized materials were transported in the Scout and as time went on, it was abused beyond function.  1979_International_Scout_II_For_Sale_Front_resize

Next came the Blazers.  Chevy warns you to break in the vehicles slowly and not drive too fast for long periods of time when you first acquire a Blazer.  My friend Bob Dresher and I would take the radar detector and set land speed records to Killington and the Mt. Washington Valley.  Needless to say, that vehicle woke up in a hurry.  Skis, mulch, firewood, all filled the Blazers for many, many trips and as the mileage piled up, so did the warning lights on the dashboard telling me that I had abused the vehicle beyond its normal capacity and maintenance was sorely required.  Honda Passports, Mitsubishi Monteros, and finally the Jeep have graced my driveway and my friends and neighbors all chuckle with the constant addition of ski related or mountain bike related bumper stickers or window decals.  My friends with the luxury vehicles all look at me with confusion in their eyes as to why I am not interested in driving a comfortable, well manicured vehicle?  I guess it just goes with my ragged, humorous personality and internal value systems.  The things that get me up in the morning are those that are fun and adventurous.  I may have wrinkled shirts and pants, and my Jeep is a mess, but my wife loves me for who I am and knows that some things are not on my radar screen.  Experiences are important to me, not creature comforts.  I have tried to be more considerate of Janet over the years, but that dirtbag ethos is lurking in my soul and I try to keep the lid on it as well as I can.  Ross_TX_89Blazer_1RR

The Jeep is running well and as I look forward to another winter of mountain adventures, I know that American ingenuity will keep me upright on the snowy roads.  I may have to hose it down from time to time and take comfort when I see a muscle car get stuck on the side-roads.  But I know that my selection and treatment of vehicles over the years has provided me with many memories of classic road trips. I don’t need pressed pants or a sparkling vehicle to enjoy the good times.  Just unloaded 2 Jeep-loads of firewood in my backyard over the weekend.  Guess I will be finding all of that bark next summer at the beach.  Thanks for reading.

The Art of the Change

IMG00214-20100708-1448IMG00053photophoto I met a friend of a few years ago and he was amazed that I was fully dressed to ride mountain bikes after driving from work. He was sitting in the lot in his business casual dress and I was patiently waiting for him to get ready. He inquired how it was that I left work in similar attire and now was fully dressed to ride? I told him that similar to being in shape and concentrating on fitness, you also need to be well skilled in what I call “The Art of the Change.”

SUVs, like my Jeep, facilitate this type of behavior in that you need some room to switch from business clothes to recreational clothes. The proper use of red lights and putting the vehicle in park are key elements to this skill- but I will refer to that later. Let’s talk for a moment about some of the classic changes that have taken place in the life of the 59 year old kid.

One time I was sitting in the parking lot of the OSI Meat Company near Salt Lake City after a successful meeting. My co-worker said, ” We didn’t get our tour of the plant” and I said,” You drive- I have seen enough meat plants in my day and we are 8 miles down canyon from Alta Ski Resort.” As she took the helm of the rental SUV, I quickly made the Superman like change from sport coat and slacks into my ski gear and asked her to pull into the Cliff Lodge at Snowbird. I told her to get a massage and that I would be back to get her at 5:00 so that we could drive to the airport to get our flight to Las Vegas for a trade show. She was dumbfounded but amazed at the plan and to her surprise- in no time I was back to pick her up and was dressed in slacks and a sweater. I told her,” Great afternoon pounding the High Traverse, Eagles Nest and High Rustler and look, ready to go to the airport.”

Another co-worker was with me on a week long trip to our Salt Lake City location for the company. Every day after work, I would drive her up to Park City and tell her to meet me at the parking location in 2 hours. We then would have dinner and enjoy the town before the return trip back down Interstate 80 to the hotel. She saw me remove my mountain bike, which I had brought on the plane with me, and as she walked away, she noticed clothes flying in the car and voila- another Superman change. When she returned to the car I was standing there putting on some shorts behind the car door( some decorum is necessary some of the times) and a T-shirt and some deoderant so that I would not totally gross her out and off we went to get a cold one at the Wasatch Brewery and a burger. This similar routine allowed a full day of work, 2 hours of great riding up at Park City and a beer and a good meal before we got up and did it all over again every day of the week. She was astonished and said,” Pat- if you would not have taken me up there every evening, I probably would have just stayed in my room and done nothing.” I said, “Jamie- you need to enjoy every moment in life. Carpe Deium girl.” She laughed and shook her head in amazement.

One time the Art of the Change was challenged by an Ambridge,Pa. police officer as I was coming from skiing in the Laurel Highlands and dressing on the fly for a funeral in Ambridge. At one point, I was down to my boxer shorts and the lights from the police car came into full view in my rear view mirror. I pulled over to the side of the road like a good motorist and scrambled with my dress shirt and suit pants as the officer came to the window. He greeted me and fortunately did not notice my bare feet on the gas pedal. He said,” Not you sir- the guy behind you is who I wanted.” ” Thanks for pulling over though and have a nice day.” I returned the pleasantries and sighed with relief that he had not seen me two minutes earlier driving down Rt. 65 basically in my birthday suit.

One other time, I was in the Reno Airport and frantically ripping through my bag to put on my ski clothes right at the carousel. People laughed as I strapped on my ski boots and schlepped my skis and bag to the curb to be picked up by my friend Eric to ski up at Mt. Rose. He laughed when he saw the blue Lange boots in the distance and said that he had only missed three runs when we arrived back at the area. That quick carousel change assisted us with gaining some valuable vertical feet.

One thing about cycling and skiing is that you spend some time changing clothes to participate in the apres activities. As important as it is to be able to change out of your clothes, it is perhaps more important sometimes to be able to quickly change into your clothes especially if you are meeting some folks and you are late. This is where the Art is fully employed. Traffic lights are the friend of any car changer and it is most important to know what can be accomplished between red and green lights. After putting the car in park, a shirt change, sock change,and cycling short change can easily be accomplished. Ski pants can take a little longer and your timing must be perfect otherwise you travel “au naturale” until the next light allows the completion of the change. If you are really skilled like the 59 year old kid, you can even put in your contact lenses between traffic light cycles. But safety first!! I have often been tempted to change by steering with the knees and completing a final change cycle but I consider that like texting and driving and opt for the completion down the road a bit. Some things can throw you off like a big toe stretching the lycra of cycling shorts down to the brake pedal. Or perhaps a ski sweater put on inside out. Or even a clumsy change of a sock. But the better you get, the more you can utilize traffic lights, heavy traffic, and quick pull-offs to a rest stop on the Interstates.

One of my mantras is to always pack what you need before your day starts. A rookie would stop at home first and risk having a series of “honey-do’s” befall him or her. You can get sidetracked if you do not focus on your exercise after work by the faux pas of not packing ahead of time. Similarly you do not want to sit around drinking a post ride or ski beverage still attired in your workout or ski clothes. The change is necessary for full comfort and the more skilled you are at the Art of the Change, the better the experience and with a little effort, you can enjoy some things that you might not have even considered. Timing is everything in life and you must reach out and go for the gusto. Use your vehicle or rental vehicles for the appropriate changes, be courteous to your fellow travelers but never let decorum stand in the way of a good time. If they catch a glimpse of your Steeler boxer shorts, so be it. Life is short- grab it for all its worth. Thanks for reading and use those red lights.

The Adventures of Four Wheel Drive

Google Image Result for http--www.allpar.com-photos-jeep-grand-cherokee-jeep-liberty-jet.jpg (2)Ross_TX_89Blazer_1RR1979_International_Scout_II_For_Sale_Front_resize So, the other day I was coming home from Kansas City and had a rear wheel drive rental van at my disposal because my Jeep was in the shop for repair. When I got back to the airport in Pittsburgh, it was snowing like crazy and I was treated to an adventure in driving on the way home. The two wheel rental van was less than optimal to say the least and I really was looking forward to getting my Jeep back.

I have been driving four wheel drive vehicles since I was in my early twenties. I used my mom’s Buick in my teens to go to the mountains with heavy snow tires and sand bags in the trunk. I had some driving adventures in Western Pa. and West Virginia but the moment I went to four wheel drive, I felt a lot more secure………..in certain instances. My first vehicle was an International Scout. It was a heavy, reliable bucket of bolts which I used to haul my friends out of trouble with my trusty tow strap. I thought that since I had a four wheel drive, especially an International, it was my responsibility to haul everyone out of the mud or snow when they got stuck. One time up in the mountains, I saw a black limo standed in the ditch at the entrance to Seven Springs Mountain Resort. I pulled in front of the guy in a raging blizzard and got under his vehicle with my ski school uniform on and proceeded to hook up my tow strap to the vehicle. I went to the window and the driver said,”thanks man” and kept looking straight ahead. I managed to pull him on to the road and when I went to the car, uniform dirty and greasy from the road, the Mayor of Pittsburgh was in the back seat and gave me a flippant “thank you” and told the driver to get going because he was late. There I was in my dirty uniform at the side of the road, soaking wet from snow, and all I got was “thank you” and basically get the hell out of the way – lubehead. My introduction to the fact that graciousness is not always first and foremost for some people for whom you do a favor. But I continued my benevolent ways with my strap.

When I drove Chevy Blazers, I used them in a slightly different way in that my friend Bob Dresher and I used to set the land speed record to Vermont from Wexford. Not the best way to treat a new engine but 90 MPH on the New York Thruway with the radar detector tuned in made for a short trip to go skiing. Several of those trips were slowed by sleet, freezing rain in Buffalo, and feet of snow going from New York state into Vermont to ski. The Blazers were large vehicles and it was convenient to take every bit of gear with me on the Northern treks. They were great to sleep in as well in the parking lots of ski areas especially with a sleeping bag that goes down to -40. I still have that bag but the Blazers are long gone.

I learned real quickly that four wheel drives climb real well but can slide like a mother when the snow is greasy, especially if you make the mistake of trying to get one more winter out of a set of tires. I had a Mitsubishi Montero for a while and had my son in the car seat when I started to slide down Highland Avenue near my house. I remained calm and aimed the slider towards the first open yard that I saw and came to a rest right in front of a stranger’s house. The same Mitsubishi also almost went over Wagner ski slope at Seven Springs when I began to slide sideways trying to park at the top of the mountain for a mountain bike race. Had it not been for the gravel road right in front of the chalet at the top of the slope, I proably would have had to bail out of the vehicle and watch it roll over and over towards the ski lodge. The good Lord was watching over the kid that day for sure. Yikes!!

My Honda was a fun vehicle and one time my family and I were traveling to ski up in Western New York with some friends. It was snowing like crazy again when we started our trip north and we watched four wheel drives flying by us on the way up. My son was a young teenager at the time and I was already starting to tell him about the virtues of driving cautiously. I asked him to mark the vehicle in his mind when they passed us and predicted that they would have an issue with the roads ahead. Sure enough, every one of those drivers were in the berm in the middle of the interstate stuck up to their doors. The tow strap did not come out in those instances for a number of reasons but suffice to say that my son got the message about four wheel drives and their supposed invincibility.

Currently I am a Jeep man and there is something about driving a Jeep. You kind of have a swagger like ,” yea- I have a Jeep and I load it up with firewood and mulch up to the ceiling” ” It is a manly vehicle and even though it is like all of my other four wheel drives with the musty smells and mud from mountain bike excursions and wood chips constantly raining from the seats, it fits my personality. I like tough vehicles and in my Walter Mitty mind, it makes me the true mountain man. My wife says I kill our vehicles but it is better than me driving a Cadillac or a Lexus. That would be like putting slippers on a hog. I am a four wheel drive guy.

Three years ago I had finished skiing with my friends in Tahoe and we all went to dinner in my friend’s four wheel drive van. I was the designated driver that night and while we were at dinner, it snowed 2 feet. Not unusual for Tahoe but it was a challenge to get the van out of the parking lot and on to the road. I white knuckled it down the road and large four wheel drive trucks passed me like I was standing still. Two feet of snow at any one time is nothing for the folks in the Sierra and I got used to the fact that driving is driving and if you respect the conditions and the limitations of the vehicle, you can make your way. It is all relative and the more you drive in the winter, the better you get. But as I tell my resident 18 year old driving expert in my house that he needs to be careful on the roads when it snows, I do need to let him experience what my folks let me experience. Driving the ’64 Buick in the winter taught me a lot and when I graduated to the four wheel drive world, I was a happy guy. So, be careful driving in the winter and respect the conditions and the limits of your vehicle. But enjoy the winter and be glad that there are vehicles out there that you can enjoy and get to the places that you love. Think Snow and drive safely! When you see my son, tell him the same.

One final reminder- if you follow my blog on WordPress, make sure you click on the title to see the pictures. Otherwise, you will only have my drivel to visually enjoy. Thanks for following.

The New England Road Trip

IMG-20121211-00079entering_white_mountain_national_forest2013-02-05-the-bowlnew-england-church I drive a lot of miles in a year. Between work trips and all my extracurricular activity for skiing, cycling and family trips, I put a lot of miles on a vehicle. For work, my general rule is that if it is 6 hours or under, I drive. I really don’t want to fly unless the distance dictates it. Airports are a hassle but a necessary evil in our day and times. But on the other side of the coin, I like to take road trips. You can pack more than you might otherwise, and you can dictate your own schedule. You can listen to your music in the vehicle, CDs, books on tape and most of all you have the time to relax,put the sun roof down, and take some personal time. I like road trips and the ones with my family are gold in that we have hours to talk and be with each other uninterrupted. But, I also like my solo trips because it is a chance to take some time, sit behind the wheel, listen, and think.

Back in the days in college when I went to New Hampshire for the first time to ski with a friend of my dad’s, I fell in love with the White Mountains. I really enjoyed Mt. Cranmore and the Mt. Washington Valley and the most scenic highway in the northeast- the Kancamangus Highway. After college, I worked at Sugarloaf, Maine for the winter and really enjoyed my experiences there. (See my earlier blog post-Maine Memories). All in all, that area of the country had a special appeal to me and it drew me back, year after year, with road trips in all the different seasons. I had taken the path of least resistance after my winter in Maine and worked for my father in our small manufacturer’s rep business. As I made my way through my early days in the sales wars, I often made lunch stops between visits to the steel mills and machine shops, and read my ski magazines and other periodicals about life in New England. My commitment to my family business was taking root for better of for worse, and the need for a road trip was a welcome respite from the industrial day to day in the sales world. I racked my brain trying to think how I could make a living at the time somewhere in the Northeast living in that great area of the country, but as adventurous as I was with my avocations, I was not that adventurous with a career change or taking a chance. I figured the best thing I could do was to stick with what I was doing and save up to take the frequent road trips to the Northeast.

The best road trips up there were to visit my buddy Mike Smith who owns a marina on Lake George. The both of us would frequently make the trek to Killington to ski with our good friends, the Durfees, who lived in Bethel, Vermont at the time. I think I could take that trip from Pittsburgh in my sleep. 79 North, to 90 East, cut the corner in Amsterdam, New York, get spit out at Ballston Spa, hop on the Adirondack Northway(I-87 North) to Rt 189, to Rt 4 to Rt7, past Killington and turn at Bills Country Store for the home stretch into Bethel. Lots of good times up there including our cross country ski excursions on Sundays in the stone quarry where we tried killing ourselves xc skiing up and down the piles of gravel covered with snow. Lots of busted equipment and lots of laughs between ski outings at the Beast of the East- Killington,Vermont. I learned about the value of Grade A maple syrup by observing the sugaring process at the Durfee’s neighbor’s house. I learned about wood stoves and how important it was for Bethel residents to make sure they got their wood in the basement for the winter to power their furnaces. Lots of sub zero ski days, road cycling outings on the back roads of Vermont and treks to the White Mountains to ski our beloved Tuckerman Ravine.

I couldn’t wait for those trips and had some hairy experiences in the winter making my way through Buffalo. Freezing rains with tractor trailers sliding sideways on the Interstates, to 3 foot snow events slowing my usual 10 hour trip times. However, it was adventurous and I always drove four wheel drive vehicles so I felt that I had some advantage even though they slide as much as any vehicle. If you check out my Fourth of July post, you will see that one year, my neighbors thought I was moving when I took a New England road trip with my bike, skis, golf clubs, tennis racquets, and water ski. That was maybe one of the best road trips of all time.

I still take road trips often and when I travel regionally for work, I always take my toys with me, either skis or a mountain bike and make the most of a trip. Why spend your evenings sitting in some restaurant by yourself or a bar pickling yourself when you can see a great state park, a lake, a great mountain, or take advantage of some other nice outdoor adventure right nearby? I have not taken a New England road trip for a while because the Durfees are now out in Tahoe and we visit them there. But,I do make a point to see my friend Mark Hutchinson in East Randolph, Vermont and ski the Beast whenever I am in the New England area. Also, Mike Smith is still at Lake George and we get together to ski the Adirondacks and enjoy the lake. It’s just like anything else, you have to make the effort to go see other places and the road trip is a great way to do it. It may take longer than flying and getting a rental car, but if at all possible, the road trip is relaxing, and living out of your vehicle is comforting and practical. Hit the road Jack!!! Thanks for reading.