All Hail the Bathtub Trail

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Years ago when I first started to run the trails in the fall with our fearless leader, Jack McArdle, we were always treated to a description of the route at our local park.  If we complained, we were assigned “penalty hills” and as we groaned with a smile on our face, we dutifully ran the hills until the next assignment by the trail boss.  Invariably, each trail run always included a run up or down the “Bathtub Trail”.  At first I was confused as to what Jack was talking about until I came upon the ancient bathtub placed to collect spring water at the base of the trail.  It was always a curious placement and I always wondered who put it there and when was it placed?  It was always a topic of discussion and I was always way more curious than my fellow runners with my inspections of the clear spring water and the curiosity as to why on earth someone would take the time to put a bathtub there?

As time went on, the Bathtub Trail was a common route for runners and eventually mountain bikers in the park.  But the trail itself was a challenge to any newcomer on two wheels with its off camber construction and loose soil which if ridden with reckless abandon, would extract a flesh wounding penalty to the disrespectful or ignorant rider.  It was almost as if the bathtub itself was a sentinel which demanded respect and if the proper homage was not paid, the penalty for a rider down the trail could be severe.  The opposite could be true as well in that the unprepared rider or runner might not make it up the trail without dismounting and humbly walking up to the summit.  photo

I can remember vividly Pat” the nurse” which was his moniker by the trail runners, attempting to ride down the Bathtub Trail with his newly purchased hybrid bike.  Despite my warnings about hybrid rims and tires not holding up to the demands of the trails, Pat rode down the trail without respecting what was before him. As his rims both “pretzeled” under the rigors of the terrain, the nurse went careening into the trees and came up a dazed and bloody mess.  He agonized over his destroyed wheels and remarked  ” I just bought this bike and now it is trash.”  I warned him.  I thought to myself,” another example of not respecting the trail and paying homage to the reputation of ……..the bathtub.  It was almost as if positive execution required some sort of homage to this graven image or perhaps we should light yak butter candles or install prayer flags like the climbers who dare climb in the Himalaya?  I laugh at these fleeting, ridiculous ,thoughts but maybe there is something to it?  Just kidding……………maybe?  photo

Currently, the Bathtub Trail has some competition surrounding it as other trails have been constructed offering alternate routes for the trail runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers.  But for me, the familiarity with the trail ridden hundreds and hundreds of times in all weather is comforting.  Familiarity with any trail can make things a lot easier and riding them without much thought can be comforting or lead to disaster if you take for granted that the descent is still a little sketchy.  I was riding the other day with some guys and they inquired why I was riding down the Bathtub and ignoring some of the newer single track.  I remarked that you had to pay homage to the Bathtub Trail every once in a while to keep the “karma” positive.  We all had a good laugh at that one but as I passed the tub, I looked into the glass like water and gave it a nod of respect.  Not much different than I would have received a blessing from one of those Tibetan monks before attempting a daunting climb.  That bathtub has seen much carnage over the years and has extracted some serious penalties from some unsuspecting riders and runners.  But not me.  All hail……………..the Bathtub Trail.  Thanks for laughing but don’t do it near the trail.  🙂

Cycling the Miles for a Cause

IMG00227-20100731-0812IMG00375-20110730-0915DSC00468 A number of years ago my next door neighbor’s son came to me and asked me to do the MS150 Bicycle Ride to Erie. It was dubbed the “Escape to the Lake” and it was a benefit for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society http://www.nationalmssociety.org It was a lot of fun and especially for a young 8th grader who had never ridden much outside of our local North Park. This ride is always well attended and supported and the fun thing that year was staying overnight in my freshman dorm up at Allegheny College in Meadville,Pa. As I walked around campus and stayed in the dorm, I thought to myself,” Did I really do this” It seemed like the distant past.

As time went on, I opted for the camp out at Allegheny and also at Edinboro State University because I enjoyed the down time in my camp chair and sleeping under the stars in my dome tent. Always liked camping but I am the Lone Ranger when it comes to that sort of activity with my family. The neighbor kid eventually grew up and got married but I still kept up on the MS 150 until AAU Basketball got in the way of those weekends and I had to make a choice between being a good father in the stands at courtside or riding the MS. Fatherhood won out. But the MS Rides live on and they benefit research that is finding a cure for a very debilitating central nervous disorder. The money you raise goes to a worthy cause and you get a wonderful ride in the country with a well organized event as your reward.

Moving on, I had the opportunity to ride some events with my friend Scott Weiner down in Maryland at the Catoctin Challenge. The Maryland events were fun and organized by a really funny and good guy, Phil Heffler, who made a habit out of heckling his riding friends. He painted” last hill” on the road for miles even though there were many killer ascents ahead of us. He painted lanes for his riders and then a separate lane for a girl who was riding. Those signs read,” this lane for good riders.” Then he had the separate lane for his lady friend right next to it. Really hilarious stuff and Phil roamed the course having fun berating his friends and supporters. Phil organizes rides every year from Frederick, Maryland to Pittsburgh and if you want to take part in his hilarity and well orgnized rides, contact Phil- pheffler@aol.com

Several Maryland rides benefitted the 1-6 Organization http://www.1in6.org for men who were abused as children. This organization was supported by the Roz and Marvin Weiner Foundation as title sponsor with the honored guest being none other than our 3 time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond. The interesting thing about riding with LeMond was that he is a very engaging person. The funny thing is that most of the people on the ride either did not know much about LeMond or had their own agenda on the ride so about 6 of us got to ride both days with the former Tour champion. The stories that he told on the road were amazing and the development of a lot of current companies involved in cycling equipment had their seminal influence from LeMond. Scott time trial bars, Giro Helmets, and countless others were entrepreneurial and research endeavors by LeMond. You learned a lot about world class cycling and the development of product by riding weekends with Greg LeMond. These were also camping events and my fix for the outdoors under the stars was satisfied in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland.

My friends Pete Hilton, Eric Durfee(the local) and Mike King and I rode in “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” in Lake Tahoe one year which benefitted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. http://www.lls.org Riding a road bike around the most beautiful lake in the country surrounded by the Sierra’s is indeed breathtaking. This ride also supports a very worthy cause and riders come from all over the country to these events. My friend Tim Hamburger is very involved in this organization and if you are inclined to ride or support this organization, Tim would be appreciative. His countless hours of training riders for this event is exemplary and his volunteering spirit is appreciated by all of his riders and event organizers.

Sometimes, these events hit close to home. My friend Jim Pottinger is riding an event in Vermont to beneft the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in honor of his son who has T1D juvenile diabetes. Becket is a cheerful little guy but the stress that he goes through with daily testing of his blood and the disruption to his young life as well as his parents is something that the JDRF addresses on a daily basis. http://www.jdrf.org Please consider supporting Jim on his ride. http://jdrf3.convio.net/goto/BecketsBikers

This weekend, Maggies Marauder’s go into action at the MS150 Keystone Ride up in State College,Pa. Pete, JR, Cyndee and Barry, Don, and a bunch of my pals will take part in this ride that benefits MS. Maggie Schneider is dealing with MS and this group rallies around her as she rides to raise money for the issue that she deals with on a daily basis. Consider supporing the Marauders who are led by team captain Bob DeZort and the memory of our friend Chip Kamin who helped found the group that rides in this event.

Riding the miles for a cause is not only worthwhile and a really fun event to benefit a particular organization, but it is amazing to see the folks who can ride those kinds of miles. You have the experienced cyclists who ride a lot of miles and these events are not much of a challenge. But you see most of the people on less than adequate bicycles riding with a smile and making it to the end with folks scratching their heads and saying,” How could that bike and that person make it 150 miles?” You see the same thing at marathons and ask the same question. But the heart of individuals who have a goal not only physically but the goal to support their favorite cause is impressive. Please consider supporting these organizations, riders, and I encourage you to take part in these events if you have never done so. A worthy cause, riding a lot of scenic miles, camping under the stars( or hotel room if you prefer) great entertainment, good food, all make for an exciting weekend. Now that I don’t have the AAU Basketball excuse anymore because my baller is headed to college, I may have to make a return to the roads of the cause. Thanks for supporting and reading.

The Local Loop

photophotophoto Every town in America has its iconic running and cycling loop. The Central Park track around the reservoir in New York City comes to mind along with the roads there that are closed to traffic on the weekends to facilitate bicycling. You can run the route along the Charles River in Boston or Lakeshore Drive in Chicago which all have the history of being where most people start to walk, run or ride a bike close to where they live. We have our own iconic loop here in Pittsburgh at North Park Lake.

The Lake Loop is 5 miles around and has traditionally been a benchmark for beginner runners and walkers. If you can make the 5 miles, you have definitely accomplished something. When I first started running out there with Ralph Schmitt and Les Brodie, 5 miles was a daunting task but eventually it became routine and variations of the route became the norm along with escaping the antics of Les and Ralph. Snowball battles, tipping Port a Johns, and other distractions along the runs became stuff of legend. Eventually, time became a factor for me and I began my quest for the all encompassing PR(personal records) not only around the loop and the variations, but in 10K races with our crew, pictured above. We had fun times back then but like Brenda and Eddy, you can never go back to the green. Different crowd, different atmosphere but………….still same old lake loop. Crowded on January 1st with all the New Years Day resolutionists, crowded on the first, nice spring day, and most of the summer. Isolated in the harsh days of winter but still observers can see the presence of the hard core Lake Loopers grinding out the miles in the snow.

If that loop could talk, you would have the most interesting book in print today. New mothers relating stories about their children,ER docs relating their care of gunshot wounds, couples discussing life together and life’s troubles, hard core runners not thinking about anything but heart rate and time, and cyclists battling the crowded bike path and surrounding roads with cars always to their left. Heck, Mick Jagger used to run the loop when he was in town. Imagine some of those conversations. I am sure Keith was not with him but the Pittsburgh Marathon staff certainly were entertained by Mick who was a faithful 7 mile runner. I have had some interesting experiences around that lake. Once time returning from a road ride out north, I was rounding the loop back to the parking lot at Stone Field when I felt a “WHAK” on the back of my neck. It was a chipped ham sandwich with mayo( the classic Pittsburgh Teddy Bear sandwich) along with a scathing, yelling commentary from the passing guy in the passenger seat of a car telling me to ” get the f@#$ off the road, a@@#$%^. Not really what you want to hear at the end of a pleasant road ride in the country, but I kept my head down and kept peddling none the less. I don’t mess with angry drivers- they carry guns.

It is interesting that things have changed a bit around the Lake Loop. Lots more people, and now with separate running and cycling lanes, the coveted real estate is guarded by some aggressive types. Our group comments all the time about people running and cycling around the lake who hold their ground and you better get out of the way or you risk getting run over- literally. There are road riders who fly around that lake. I call them the North Park specials because they ride in a pack and are really fast around the flat lake loop but never seem to venture out of the park to ride a hill. Some folks are clueless when they walk or run 4 abreast forcing those going in the opposite direction to seek refuge in the road along the loop. This can be a little dangerous and many crashes and falls have occurred. Courtesy sometimes plays second fiddle to the dedicated lake loopers who get their ride or run in come hell or high water. Get out of the way or prepare to die. Not the way it used to be but things seem to mellow as the season moves on and the enthusiasm of the rank and file seems to wane with the changing seasons. The hard core are still there but the newcomers and less dedicated seem to vanish as the temperatures and weather change. But the loop- remains constant. 5 miles. No getting around it.

I remember the days of 30 minutes around that lake. I look at the fast guys now and wonder what happened to the time. I generally run trails in the winter so the loop has been ignored by me with the exception of returning from a ride or walking with my wife. I wonder what I will look like in the years ahead running or walking around that lake? I am sure I will return at a much slower pace and continue the walks. I will age and get slower but one thing remains constant- the lake loop will always be 5 miles- winter, summer, spring, and fall. Thanks for reading and give some love to your local loop.

Transition- Oh! The Pain of It All

FShincapiephoto I hope you all enjoyed my blasts from the past with the “Best of Chronicles of McCloskey”. I tried to use those to transition to the new season of blog posts following the winter posts and winter activities. As I made my last turns of the season today at Whiteface in the Adirondacks, I felt my usual melancholy of another ski season coming to an end. I know that it has been a long, tough winter for a lot of folks, but I love the winter and I love to ski and it always makes me a little sad when I make the final turns of the year. But, spring is here and the anticipation of the spring and summer activities makes the transition a little easier. Or does it?

If you look at the picture above of George Hincapie suffering in the Hell of the North- Paris Roubaix, it reminds us all that the Spring Classics in Europe are under way and that the suffering that the pros endure will trickle down vicariously to our spring rides on the road and mountain bikes. In the days when I used to race a bike, I paid for all of those ski days and light fitness maintenance in the winter when I dragged the bike out and climbed up that first hill in the spring. I suffered trying to get into shape the best way I could but there is a huge difference between riding rollers and running flat trails in the winter, and actually getting back on the bike and climbing a real hill again. The spring brings back painful memories of trying to shed the winter pounds and getting some miles in on the road and mountain bike.

I can remember clearly doing some early time trials on the road bike with our ACA Bicycle Club and feeling horrible as I pushed myself to my first posted times of the year. I can remember the unpleasant feeling of throwing up all over a tree at the end of the trial and laying on my back wondering why I tortured myself this way. I remember my Greenlee Mountain Bike friends convincing me to do some early season races like the event up in Coburn,Pa where the climbs were painful and muddy and the fire roads at the top of the ridges were still frozen. Guys were dropping like flies as they slid on the ice into the trees and it was all I could do to keep the bike upright and descend in one piece. I was conservative and took my time but it was still an early season, hair raising, rude awakening. It took a while but eventually I was able to get into some reasonable shape but the early season suffering was always something I did not look forward to after a long, fun winter of skiing.

Fast forward to today and the 59 year old kid has a different philosophy. I don’t pressure myself to ride hard to get into shape. With age comes patience and I know that eventually I will get into shape but when the pain on a climb becomes too much, I back off to a reasonable pace and enjoy the ride instead of keeping the back of some guys jersey in my immediate vision. There is no rush anymore to get into shape as quickly as I can. At my age, you can “ease on into it” and I encourage any newcomers to the sport of cycling to do the same. Also, if you are a grizzled veteran like me, I encourage you to do the same and enjoy the ride with me. Let the fast guys go and kill themselves. We have earned the right not to do that anymore. We are not the fast guys- we are the fun guys. Enjoy the ride. I tell anyone who is embarking on an exercise program to always ease into it because if you push yoursef too hard, you will find an excuse not to do it. But if you have patience and slowly develop your fitness base, you will not only enjoy the fresh air, scenery, and exercise, you will also benefit from the mental well being of being on a bicycle. Ease on down that road or trail. You can push yourself eventually and you will know when you feel like you are getting into some decent shape. But for me, there is no need anymore to blow lunch on that tree. I would rather have a nice ride, get into shape and eat that nice enjoyable lunch afterwards.

One other thing that Chris Crowley says in his book,” Younger Next Year” is to get the best equipment that you can afford. Good equipment in any sport makes all the difference in the world and gives you an opportunity to enjoy your sport with the confidence that you have a good ride under you. What the heck, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, why deny yourself? Something that you are going to ride 3-4 times a week or more should be something that you look forward to using. Old guys like me usually have good equipment but guess what- we need it! Chris Crowley also says that if you keep the same regimen in life, you will be able to do the things that you like to do well into your sixties, seventies, and even eighties. Carpe Deium folks- it’s spring! Thanks for reading.

Cyclists- those that have crashed and those that will.

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Google Image Result for http--www.mcalcio.com-wordpress-wp-content-uploads-2007-12-7cycling-crash-in-the-giro-ditalia.jpg (2)1029803518_95d38ab91d_o My friend Bob Reading broke his brand new Specialized helmet a couple of weeks ago when he crashed on his mountain bike up at Rothrock State Forest in State College, Pa. A couple of weeks later, he went down twice on his road bike near his home in Florida. His lovely wife Valerie provided us all with pictures of his road rash which brought back a lot of memories for me and they are not too pleasant. Bob is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and a very fit and talented rider. But things happen on a bike sometimes that just sneak up on you. John Howard, who was on the U.S Cycling Team and the first winner of the Race Across America says there are two types of bike racers or cyclists for that matter. Those who have crashed and those who will. It happens and when you are the 58 year old kid like me, you ride to ride another day.

That was not always the case. When I used to ride in criteriums, which were an accident waiting to happen on a tight course with a lot of riders, the slightest mishap like a touched wheel, a rider hitting the brakes in a corner, or someone who had not glued his tubular tires correctly on a rim resulted in riders going down. I had my share of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and went skidding across the course getting that all too familiar road rash on my legs and hip. I sailed over a haybale in a corner in a crit in Parkersburg, WV. and ended up in a mall parking lot dazed and confused. I was fortunate not to break the collarbone which was a common cycling accident. My friend Art Bonavoglia was not so lucky as he did it during a contested sprint. I witnessed another friend George Sagan go skidding under the announcers stand at the Vet Nationals one year. I rode a criterium in the rain one year in New Jersey and there was a huge crash where I was forced up onto the sidewalk, made it around the crash and ended up in front with a bunch of Jersey guys who would take you down for a $5.00 prime.(lap prize). I stayed out of their way and was happy to finish in one piece.

Road races had the same issues and you always tried to stay as close to the front as possible to avoid any crashes. But sometimes you just could not avoid problems due to weather or the careless riding of those in the pack. One race, we had to finish the sprint going over a railroad track. Guys who didn’t research the course didn’t know about the track at the end and had issues when at top speed they went across the track carelessly and went down hard. Another crazy race, the promoters handed out index cards with places written on them. Guys were diving to get the cards and taking riders down right and left. When you are younger, you think you are invincible and do some dumb things on a bicycle. My friend Eric and I went from the entrance of Killington, Vermont to Woodstock in a 60 MPH descent. I did think what could happen if the front tire blew, but I was committed and escaped an issue successfully at the bottom of the mountain. I had a similar experience coming down County Line Road up near Seven Springs Resort when I raced Reggie Zipko down the road to his house. Anything could have happened on that road and I was not too smart with that antic. I remember another time on a ride in Pittsburgh with a bunch of guys when I followed a garbage truck down a hill and into the left turning lane to Forbes Avenue. Much to my chagrin, the truck was leaking grease and as I made the left turn, the back wheel skidded on the grease and I went sailing through the intersection and landed in some hedges in front of a gas station. The grease cushioned the slide a bit but I still ended up with the nasty rash and a painful ride home.

These days I ride to ride another day for sure. One of the things you learn from experience is that you just don’t rally back as quickly when you are older. You have to back off that throttle a bit and know that you don’t have to fly down that hill, ride up over that big log or obstacle, to prove you can still hang. Use the ride for fitness because the days of being competitive are really over. Again, things can sneak up on you and you can’t help the crashes sometimes. But if you can ride with a little more caution and use your experience on the bike, you can stay upright in most situations. I think a rider as skilled as Bob Reading has had enough falls for a while. He will also ride to ride another day. But like John Howard says, the crash will happen to all of us. Lets just hope as the years go on that we are spared anything traumatic. Look ahead, ride smart in a pack, and let caution be your guide. Then we all can be the 60 year old kid riding for fitness someday. Thanks for reading. Be safe out there.