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.

Enjoy the Ride

It is mud season now. April showers bring May flowers but for mountain bikers, it is a time for us to wait until the trails are dry so we don’t trash them for the rest of the summer. I bring out my road bike and begin the long process of trying to get in shape after a winter of maintenance trail running, snowshoeing and skiing. I can always ride in the rain on the road bike because I am used to the drill. If you don’t ride in the rain in Pittsburgh, you don’t ride much in the spring. Trust me, as I get older, the process gets a little harder but I am dealing with it in a more mature way which I will discuss in a short. Suffice to say, I don’t blast out of the parking lot these days. I ease on down the road.
As I meander on the country roads north of my house, I think back to the painful rides at this time of the year when I raced a road bike. It was always a chore to try to get in shape so that you didn’t get dropped on a training ride or in a race. You had to scramble just to be able to ride with your friends. As I daydream on my current rides, I think back to when I used to meet Art Bonavoglia, Frank Habay, and George Sagan up on Saxonburg Boulevard waiting for a crew to come up out of Shadyside in Pittsburgh. I slowly dragged my sorry butt out of bed and made my way to the meeting point where George, Art, Frank and I waited for the freight train that was coming. Scott Dismukes, a former track cyclist- strong as hell, Bob Gottlieb- Cat 2 rider of local fame, Barb Katzenburg-national class road racer, and Mike Alex- PHD candidate in Electrical Engineering at CMU riding a mountain bike with slick tires. These guys(and gal), could ride and when they came roaring up the road, you better be warmed up and ready to jump on the pace line or you were history. I would see them in the distance and sigh to my friends,” Here they come.” The pain began. photo
The destination was always Lake Arthur up in Butler County. These are beautiful country roads here in Pennsylvania but all I saw on those rides was the backside of someone faster than me in the paceline. As we exchanged pulls, ( mine were always the shortest), we made our way through pastoral fields and dairy farms. Virtually no traffic which made the ride as pleasant as it could be but the pace increased with each country mile. By the time I got to Prospect, Pa with a stop at the country store to reload on food, I was exhausted. I can remember laying on the sidewalk jamming Fig Newtons in my face and washing it down with Gatorade as fast as I could swallow. I looked at Mike Alex and said,” How the hell do you ride that fast on a mountain bike?” He said the slick tires helped but he was only being humble. I looked at Art, Frank and George and said, ” How am I going to make it back?” But I always managed it somehow. Fig Newtons and bananas were the Cliff Bars and Power Bars of the day. That type of energy food was not available yet. The Newtons and the bananas generally did the trick but when I pulled into my townhouse I was totally gassed. The killer crew left me and roared back to Shadyside logging in excess of 100 miles. photo

As I come back from my daydream on my road rides now, I am usually alone. I think back to that far away time in a galaxy far, far away. Painful spring rides, wool jerseys, leather hair nets, toe clips and cleats, downtube shifters, and steel road frames. Today I ease into my spring road rides. The equipment is lighter, smoother shifting, and carbon fiber rides a lot more comfortable than Reynolds tubing, although there is something to be said for the classic steel frame. I don’t stress myself. I don’t need to train. If a hill comes, I shift down and noodle up until I reach the top. I don’t have to do what Mac Martin used to tell me. ” Take it out of park McCloskey, and when you reach the top of the hill, don’t just coast- put the hammer down because your competition will be coasting behind you.” I don’t need that pain anymore as the 60 year old kid. My road rides now are enjoyable. I can look at the spring blossoms, ride in the softly falling rain, and really……enjoy the ride. home02
I mostly mountain bike these days but I must admit that I look forward to bringing out the road bike in the spring. It reminds me of my past and I definitely don’t have the pain that I used to go through at this time of year. Like life- I am now enjoying the ride. I see flowers, trees, farms, and sights other than the back of some guys lycra shorts. Haul that road bike out guys and gals, let the trails dry out. Thanks for reading.

Johnny O’s Excellent Adventure

Well, most of my ski group has been pounding the high speed chairlifts both at our local area and out west in search of the biggest vertical, and most runs that we can ski in a day. In our zeal to be the first on the lift, we look forward to reaping the most vertical before the crowd gets too cumbersome. So, it was a nice change when our nordic and mountain bike guru, John O’T contacted us and suggested we take a day locally and either use backcountry skis with skins or snowshoe to one of our favorite ski areas that has been closed for some time.photo As we assembled at an undisclosed location we donned our gear. The backcountry equipped guys began xc skiing the trail to the closed location and Hiller,Jeff B, and I used our snowshoes and carried our skis and pack with ski boots tucked inside.photo The weather was blustery and it was snowing heavily as we forded the miles and finally arrived at the closed lodge. Hiding ourselves from the wind, Hiller,Jeff B and I changed into our ski boots, put the hiking boots in the pack and joined John and the rest of the group as we en masse headed down the steepest and most challenging slope in Pennsylvania.IMG_1574 It had been a long time since I have skied there and although there have been several other scofflaws that have done the same thing, the turns made on that slope in the last 10 years have been few and far between. photo

I wondered what the slope conditions would be like. I knew that the snow would be good but what had grown on that slope in the last 10 years? As we made our way through the sparse puckerbrush on the upper part of the slope, we were greeted by only a few small trees that had grown up over the years. The powder snow was deep, the turns were fun, and no one seemed to heed the warnings of the state workers that we might be fined for making this excursion into a closed ski area. There were no signs, it is a state forest, and we pay taxes so …………we ski!!!

The first run was pristine. At the bottom, I dropped my pack and we all boot packed up the slope all the way to the lodge at the very top of the run. Once more we made turns in the uncut snow and as we made it to the bottom, we sat for a moment relishing what we had done in the softly falling snow. The skins went back on, snowshoes were donned, and the group began the slow slog up the side trail that would eventually lead to the outbound trail to the cars.photo We noticed the varying efficiency of the different equipment- backcountry skis with skins versus snowshoes. The snowshoes seemed to have an advantage on the steeper parts but once we made it to the flats up top, the xc motion of the skis was faster than walking in snowshoes. On our way out, we saw a guy with a snowboard on his back. I said to him,” What are You doing?” He looked at me and laughed and said, ” What were You doing? We both had a chuckle as we saw another guy with backcountry gear. He looked over and said, “You know, I just left Jackson Hole to come back to Pa for powder. Should have just stayed here.” We agreed but time in Jackson is well spent no matter what the conditions.

We all pulled out some micro brews back at the parking lot and I brought out a cheese platter with crackers for the group. As we discussed the days fun at our ad hoc picnic, seeking shelter from the storm under my tailgate, we all were appreciative of Johnny O’s excellent suggestion that led to the excellent adventure. We all are used to western adventure, but were sure happy that we got to have a true backcountry adventure right here in our home state of Pennsylvania. Sometimes you have to slow it down in order to really appreciate the beauty of the mountains.photo It isn’t always about the most vertical or how fast we can ski. We really appreciated the muffled silence of the woods in the falling snow.We took the time to look around and enjoy.photo As we parted and I made my way down the mountain, I had a big smile on my face knowing that we all had pulled off something special with the hopes that someday, this amazing local treat of an area would once again be open to the public. Our merry band of outlaws, Hiller, John O, McWilly, Jeff B and me will be back if in fact the area remains closed, and perhaps another day of skiing through great snow and puckerbrush will lie waiting for us as we trudge out way through the Laurel Highlands snowfields. Another example of how to enjoy the winter. It is hard, it is long, but if you take the time to be creative and enjoy, the winters are wonderful. My favorite time of the year. Enjoy. Thanks for reading.

The “Renaissance” Man

We had a former pastor say one time that there are people in this world who are “drainers.”  People who will suck the living life out of you with their neediness and high maintenance ways.  Then there are people who fill your personal cup to the brim and overflow it with kindness, appreciation, information, friendship, and other enhancements to your life that make you appreciate with wonder- why do they do it?  How do they do it? ” Boy, am I glad that they do it.” ” They are a real force in my life.”Usually people like this have many talents and interests.  I call them Renaissance men or women.  They appreciate life and all it has to offer and are willing to share their talents, wisdom, care and friendship with those around them.  One such person in my life is a guy named Don Cunningham.  photo

Now I am not going to DWELL on the fact that Don is an accomplished freelance engineer for sports television or that he has traveled the world working events like the Olympics, the US Open Golf Tournament, the Masters, Steeler games, Penguin hockey games, Pirate baseball games, the Tour of California bicycle races, the US Pro Cycling Challenge.  Nor am I going to DWELL on the fact that he takes his gear with him and gets a road ride or a mountain bike ride in, or even some slope time skiing.  But Don makes the most of his travel and is not a “slam clicker.” https://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/05/19/dont-be-a-slam-clicker/

Again, I am not going to BELABOR the point that Don is also a very accomplished mountain biker who has an enthusiasm for the sport that is infectious to others around him.  When you see his fitness, and skill level in negotiating rocks, roots, stumps, steep downhills, and grueling uphills, you are amazed at his riding ability.  Don has competed in some of the most daunting MTB races on the planet including the Trans-Alps in Europe as well as being a 10 hour finisher at the Leadville 100 garnering the coveted silver belt buckle.  But he is very humble about his accomplishments.  Kind of like a “ho-hum- yes I did that”  response.  But with all his ability on the bike, he is willing to ride with new riders and show them the ropes of the riding game with a smile on his face and a willingness to spend whatever time it takes to introduce a newbie to the sport.

I similarly am not going to PONDER on how he skis with fluidity and enjoys the winter months almost as much as the more comfortable months because he is willing to subject himself to the weather or any ski conditions. We went to Holimont last season in Western New York and had a wonderful day together at this private ski club and Don handled the cut up Lake Erie fluff with style.  His turns were strong and deliberate but his enthusiasm for the day was the most memorable thing to me.  We both are ski nuts and it was wonderful to share the winter wonderland with a friend like Don.  He even drove which was even more pleasant.  photo

The guy has been everywhere, done everything, and always seems to be in the mix of the fun events that mark our outdoor sports world.  If there is a big ride – Don is there.  If the skiing is good locally or out west- Don is there.  He makes friends easily as is evidenced by his recent meeting with a good friend of mine in Aspen on a mountain bike ride.  He was a bit lost and rode up to some folks on top of a ridge in Aspen.  With a smile, he asked for directions and the girl noticed the pronounced Pittsburgh accent.  After a few exchanges she found out that Don was a friend of mine.  Laughs abounded and now Don is a new riding buddy for Liz Talenfeld when he goes to Aspen.  He is like that.  Makes friends easily and people like to be with him.

Finally I am not going to GO ON SHAMELESSLY, about how Don makes absolutely the best beer in the universe.  His skill as a craft brewer is legendary and at every mountain bike picnic whether he is there or not, his beer is there and the accolades ring far into the night fueled by the current Cunningham IPA.  He is a Renaissance man, I tell you, in every sense of the word.  Traveler, athlete, educator, brewmeister, but most of all…………Don is a friend.  He probably has mastered that skill the best.  He is truly one of those individuals who fills your cup or fills your spirit and when you have spent some time with Don on the slopes, or on the trail, or sitting by his keg of IPA, you feel so much better just having spent the time with him.  He is compassionate, knowledgeable, energetic, and in most instances can grind you into the dust at his chosen sport.  But being an enthusiastic friend is what he does best.  If you can assemble some Renaissance men or women in your life, you are truly blessed.  We all have our share of drainers.  Oh, and one more thing………he does it all with a prosthetic leg.  Be inspired.  Thanks for reading.

Pay it Forward

Thought I would send the weekly post a little early due to Thanksgiving.  Speaking of which, I am thankful for people like Bob Bannon, the Lord of Lumens, for his friendship and being the glue to the local mountain bike community.  I am waiting for ski season but will still ride until it becomes a muddy, icy mess on the trails.  So last Saturday it was 18 degrees and I put out the message about the ride and only Bob, and a new young guy named Matt, and I showed up in the Family Dollar parking lot.  Our mission was to ride the fast and flowy trails of Deer Lakes Park here in Allegheny County in Western Pa.  Now Bob, being the Pied Piper of all mountain bikers here in the burg, was happy to show the new guy around.  Matt is a nice kid but really, I have socks older than him and Bannon is older than I am by a few years.  So it was Matt and the old guys heading out on the trails.       In true Bannon fashion, Bob makes the ride enjoyable because he describes where we are going to ride, what to look for by way of obstacles, and what trail maintenance he has done on the trails to make them flowy and enjoyable.  He puts a lot of volunteer time in and enthusiastically sends out weekly messages about rides in the area, where to meet, and when.  Getting back to the frigid ride, we were bundled up and as Bob went through his routine, we both noticed that Matt had a nice bike and was riding in running shoes.  Being the inquisitive guy that I am, I started asking him about where he was from.  Turns out he went to IUP and spent some time in forestry in the wilderness of Northern California.  Tough kid, good rider, but running shoes have to go.  Bob and I both gave Matt some advice about the virtues of clipless pedals and shoes.  The kid took it in stride and I think we may have made an impact because I think he sees the value and will get those items shortly.  photo

As the ride progressed, Bob and I were impressed at Matt’s fitness and his riding ability despite the handicap of running shoes. He also rode with no gloves.  Amazing!!! 18 degrees!!  We came across a guy we know from riding who was walking his dogs.  As I handed him my camera to take some pictures of the frozen trio, the big dog climbed up on me and barked in my face and the ratty little dog bit my shin.  I don’t have much luck with dogs.  I tell people that dogs like me………I taste like chicken.  You can have dogs, but that is another blog post followup.  We had lots of tales for Matt about local riding and riding in the west.  Matt met us through an organization called Meet Up. http://www.meetup.com.  Bob’s posting of weekly rides is on their web site and Matt hit it right when he had the opportunity to ride with Bob.  photo

The freezing rain started falling at the end of the Deer Lakes ride and as we ventured out into the parking lot, I gave some more advice to Matt to get back on the grass because the pavement was slick.  Too late.  Matt was down and I was a little late with more advice that would have enhanced his experience.  Bob and I were happy to have Matt that day.  We both like the opportunity to get people enthused about mountain bike riding and never miss an opportunity to “pay it forward” like people did for us back in the day.  Bob pays it forward big time every week……every day.  Good guy.  Lots of people like to ride with Bob.

An additional payoff was when I was tipped off at the OTB Thursday night ride that we would be stopping at the Deer Creek Diner for their famous pancakes after our ride on Saturday.  Matt was all in,  and we changed clothes and gingerly made our way our of the park on the glazed roadways to the diner in Russleton,Pa- right around the corner.  The coffee was hot and good, the service was very friendly, and the pancakes………….well…………..have a look.  Amazing!!!  I bring my own Vermont maple syrup when I have a chance to prepare like this outing and it is the only syrup that would do justice to these colossal cakes.  Matt had the chance to experience Grade A fancy syrup and Bob and I relished the morning knowing that we had given Matt a good ride, a good breakfast, and as a grand finale- Bob wrote down the exact specs for Matt to purchase a light so he could ride with our group on the trails after dark.  I hope that Matt reports back to” Meet Up” that he had a good experience with two knowledgeable, fun old codgers who showed him a beautiful trail system, fed him well, and gave him valuable lighting options.  photo

Really- this is what mountain biking or skiing is all about.  Sharing knowledge, enthusiasm, planning, and general frivolity in a relaxed environment.  Good exercise with the hopes that guys like Matt pay it forward some day soon.  The more riders the better the riding.  So, pay something forward.  Help out a new guy.  Share your experience and knowledge with someone.  I have done that and now all the people I have taught are killing me out on the trails.  Go figure.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We all have a lot to be thankful for- health, happiness, and friends like Bob.  photo

Time to razor and wax em!!!

I usually get a celestial gift on or around my birthday in the form of snow flurries or snow showers.  They look after me up there and remind me that I am on their radar screen.  🙂  But it is also a trigger to get some things organized so that when the first turns are made on the slopes, I am ready to go.  I usually put the ski magazines that come trickling into my mailbox in August, September, and October in a rack so that I don’t get too excited too early.  My mountain bike friends always joke about how long it will be before I will mention skiing on a ride.  They set their watches and look for new records in the discussions.  But when those flakes start to fall, the precipitation  reminds this big flake to get organized for the season ahead.photo

My friend Eric Durfee taught me the fine art of sharpening and waxing skis many years ago.  He is a native Vermonter now living in Tahoe and his son Travis was top ten in Downhill and Super G west of the Mississippi for many years .  He and his dad know a thing or two about tuning skis.  Back in the day, Eric got me a pair of these tuning vices which are now too narrow for the bottom work because of the width of skis these days.  I have to Magiver a little bit to do any work on the bottoms but mostly when needed, I take them to the local shop and use their Wintersteiger machine to get the bottoms flat. http://www.wintersteiger.com  In the old days, we used a 10″ mill bastard file to try to flatten the bottoms but ski bottoms are so hard these days that only a machine will get them flat.  The modern tuning machines can also provide a beveled edge and Eric and Travis can also do that manually with file devices with specific bevel adjustments.  I am not that sophisticated.  I get the bottoms flat and then side file with an 8″ mill bastard file and can feel the sharpness measured on my fingernails- old school.  The Durfees chuckle at this because it is so old school and how I cannot utilize the technology of bevel file tools.  But I prefer to have the edge sharp to my own liking.  There is something also therapeutic and comforting knowing that you are working on your own skis.photo

Waxing is another requirement.  I use Swix all purpose wax that I buy cheap through PSIA.  When I go to Tahoe, the boys grab my bar and throw it violently into the wastebasket.  But I use it here at home mostly because it works and it is cheap.  Nothing like a freshly waxed pair of skis.  I have a bit of nostalgia when I go to my garage on tuning days, especially in the beginning of the new ski season.  My dad made my bench out of a door that he bought at the hardware store many years ago.  He mounted it in his house when I was younger and then he helped me mount it in later years in my garage in my townhouse and then in my first house in West View, Pa.  I had it mounted in my current garage and every time I work on my skis, I think of my dad who helped me with many things.  He was the first guy who got me skiing 53 years ago and he didn’t even ski.  He loved the fact that I took to the sport when I was young and then when I asked him to help me design a bench, he was more than happy to help.  His mechanical engineering and general carpentry skills came into play.  I wish I had more of his talent, but it lies elsewhere.  I am a klutz mechanically.  But I can sharpen and wax a pair of skis.

I like to stay after tuning all winter because it really makes a difference in the way a ski performs.  Mentally it is an edge when the conditions get icy because you can feel confident that you have a pair of skis that will hold when you put pressure on a ski in the initiation of a turn.  The Durfees are way ahead of me when it comes to modern tuning technique but for the most part, my way has served me well over all the years.  When I go out west to visit though, I have to be at the top of my game because the Durfee boys will be inspecting and criticizing my work.  I am a tuning guru locally, but I am behind the times in the Sierras.  But it is all good and it works for the most part.photo

Funny how things like tuning can be passed down generations or even among friends.  My pal Art Bonavoglia and I used to ski in Vermont when the Durfees lived there and Art got his first taste of Durfee Tuning 101 in the basement of the Durfee home in Bethel, Vermont.  Art can really put a sharp edge on a pair of skis but these days he is spoiled because the local shops in Vail tune his skis. He is on the ski school staff there.  But his input goes into the shop as he drops them off and no doubt a lot of his requirements came from those Vermont days and also from days in the McCloskey garage where we worked together on the boards back in the day.Minturn-Red Cliff-20120202-00009

A lot of folks take their skis to a shop in the beginning of the season and then don’t touch them until the following season.  Not much tuning is required if you don’t ski in icy conditions but waxing is always a must for all skiers.  I am constantly preaching the value of sharpening and waxing on a more regular basis to local skiers.  But whether they take my advice or not, I know that I will continue to tune my skis and my wife’s skis and that the benefits are not only in performance of the equipment, but also in the memories of seasons gone by with my old bench and my 30 year old Geze vices that have withstood the test of time.  Thanks to Eric and thanks to his son Travis who keep us all in line.  Think snow and thanks for reading.

A Great Day in the City

Henry Clay Frick, the noted industrialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., donated 151 acres of property to the city in 1919 at the request of his daughter Helen who saw the vision of green space in the growing industrial sprawl. In 1925, the city officially created  this beautiful park with 190 additional acres.  The park opened to the public in 1927 and has been a gem for the city ever since.  Henry or Helen would have never imagined  that their park would also serve the current growing population of mountain bikers who would create, ride and maintain a network of challenging trails right in the city limits.  But that is just what has happened and our group of Saturday morning enthusiasts from the suburbs enjoyed a most challenging but culturally fulfilling day last Saturday as part of the continuing adventures of the 59 year old kid.photophotophotoMcCandless-20130303-00102

As the group assembled in the pouring rain, we were reminded by Bert, one of our tour guides for the day, that the trails would be treacherous due to the roots and rocks that become soaked and extremely slick on days like last Saturday.  Undaunted, we all proceeded as the weather improved to a steady drizzle and the merry band of elder statesmen attacked the first rooty hill climb with style and panache.  As we reassembled approaching the midway point on the ride, we were guided into some of the newer sections of trails that overlook the Monongahela River.  This tight singletrack is somewhat off camber and if you look to your right, the view of the treetops and the railroad tracks and river way below tend to make you hug the hillside and hope that you don’t lose your mojo and plunge into the trees with a following bounce onto the tracks and bounding into the river.  This might be a slight exaggeration but not too far off.  The 59 year old kid is conservative most of the time and lives to ride another day along with his pal,Bob Bannon who is also on the same game plan.  We dismounted in several sections and ran the trail until we reached a more reasonable spot.  Our group split because of some mechanical issues in the very steep chicane of switchbacks and as we reunited and made our way down some incredibly steep pitches which we rode with great caution, we all were happy to end that section in one piece.  Pretty challenging for a park in an urban setting.  frick-park-pratt1images (4)images (3)

Finishing this ride in improving weather helped the traction and as we approached the “Bradema” trail, we were treated to the story of the trail and the resultant official naming and sign installed by the city.  Apparently Brad who is a friend of a friend, crashed rather significantly on this trail and as he was recovering in the hospital, one of our jokester mountain biker friends suggested to the nurse in the hospital that poor Brad needed an enema.  Lots of laughter ensued but the city apparently didn’t get the joke and named the trail officially ” Bradema.”  Hilarious.  Exiting on the “Roller Coaster” trail, we climbed back to the street where our cars were parked happy to be in one piece and happy that the weather had improved from a rather dismal start.  It is amazing to note that when you ride Frick, you would never expect that this piece of wilderness is right in the middle of a very busy urban setting.  If you did’t hear the dull roar of the Parkway East, you would think you were in a rural setting in Vermont.  But as we exited, we were treated to another wonderful experience of riding in the city.

Frick borders Squirrel Hill which traditionally is the Jewish section of our city which has many culturally divergent neighborhoods of note.  As I watched couples walk to the synagogues on the Sabbath in anticipation of the first high holiday or Rosh Hashannah, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the culture of the Jewish tradition.  In college, I was the only gentile on my floor and I was cordially invited to all the high holiday celebrations at the community center on campus.  I became familiar with the traditions of the ancient culture of Gods chosen people. After the ride,  I felt I had to participate in some way so I suggested to the group that we hit the Smallman Street Deli on Murray Avenue for some great traditional deli food.  Wow- were we amazed at the size of the sandwiches and had I seen the potato latkes in the cooler, I would have ordered a few of those bad boys too.  I did however order the matzo ball soup with chicken which took me back to my college days of sporting the yarmulke at the high holiday celebrations.  I love tradition and our group was not only beaming with the conversations and recreations of the rigors of the mountain bike ride but also beaming through faces full of cole slaw, turkey and corned beef.  lsl

All in all, these are the kind of days that you always remember. It is a reminder that there are great opportunities right under your nose in your local town that can really rival all the stories of traveling to other locales to ride, ski and eat.  Sometimes the best trails, eateries are right in your own neighborhood or city if you take the time to look.  It amazed me how challenging the trails are in Frick Park right in the middle of the city.  Who would ever think that?  Coupled with a hunger killing meal at a great deli, and spending time with friends, ………………….now that makes for a great day.  Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt and Smallman Street Deli.

Don’t Give up the Ship

   One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was  during the War of 1812.  When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie.  His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle.  Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender.  His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours”  is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.  

     During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio.  One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry  www.jet-express.com/   at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service.  .  The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay.  The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lKing James 2012photo800px-DONT_GIVE_UP_THE_SHIP_flag.svg264px-BattleofLakeErie489px-Portrait_of_Oliver_Hazard_Perry%2C_1818ake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.  

     But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa.  I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar.  As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry.  ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments.  We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round.  As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men.  As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds.  I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out.  Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure.  But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition.  As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!”  ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.”  We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.  

     I have always been a fan of the underdog.  The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance.  These are the people in our lives who need encouragement.  These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient.  These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them.  My memory is a little sketchy these days.  But these are the folks whose hope needs restored.  My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend.  She was so right.  Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie.  Call a friend today.  Thanks for reading.  

Greenlees Mountain Bikes

NiteRider2photophotophotophotophoto There is a statistic floating around out there that claims that 90 percent of all mountain bikes sold are never taken off road. Consider what percentage are utilized on rocky, rooty, muddy, eastern trails coupled with doing it at night with lights and you have a small percentage of bicycles and riders. Back in the 90s, I had the good fortune of becoming associated with a group of individuals that took the sport of mountain biking very seriously and became almost legendary in their victories in local mountain bike races in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Their use of these off road machines put the manufacturers to the test every time they had a training ride and some of the best riders and racers at the time belonged to a group started by Chuck Greenlee of Prospect Pa.

Chuck had a small shop and prided himself on carrying the best equipment that could be tested on the rocks of the terminal moraine. The frame to have at the time was either a Merlin titanium or a Yeti and Chuck quickly assembled a group of individuals who supported his shop and ultimately made up his race team. Jonathan Moran, Ricky Haas, Eric Sauereisen, Bob Anderson, E.J Sigety, Steve Wahlenmeyer,Frankie Ross, and Bill Alcorn were all incredibly good riders and the balance of the group were in the older category as veterans which included Chuck, Mike Reidinger, Tim Sweeney and yours truly – truly bringing up the rear. Diane Blackburn was our lone woman rider who could ride most guys into the ground. I first got to respect Diane when she gave me a real ration of grief for getting lost on a Month of Mud course. She was in our group at the time and I ziggged intead of zagged and heard it from Diane for weeks. Jonathan and the boys rode the Pro Expert Division and their rides and routes taught me a lot about riding on the rocks. Of course, I was not able to keep up with this group but they all were kind enough to spend the time to teach me the finer points of riding in this treacherous terrain. Often there were several groups riding at Moraine State Park in those days that were associated with Chuck’s team and the fast guys were able to do their thing with the slower guys bringing up the rear and learning all along the way. I had many over the bars experiences much to the amusement of the “A” team but being part of that team of folks was not only an education, but an immersement into a culture of ride or be left behind. ” What doesn’t kill you makes you strong” was certainly on display on those rides and the fruits of the work displayed itself in the podium finishes for the Expert Group. Our Vet group held our own and oftentimes won our divisions in races like the 24 Hours of Canaan( see May 15th, 2013 post). The NORBA Nationals, 24 Hour races, Hidden Valley Fat Tire Fallouts and Stampedes, Month of Mud races, WVMBA Series races, all had podium representation by the Greenlee crew in all age divisions. Even our older guys like Tim, Chuck and Mike were always competitive overall as well as winning in the Vet and Master division. Like a blind squirrel who finds an acorn once in a while, I even had some good finishes at the time that showed me that with a little hard work and keeping momentum on rocks and roots, even a schlubb like me can be successful. I was happy to be a Greenlee Mountain Bike Team member.

Besides the victories, the better part of being associated with Greenlee’s Mountain Bikes was the culture created by Chuck and also the team itself. E.J and his wife Sharon would always welcome us back to their home for cookouts after rides and races. Steve’s girlfriend Julie ( now his wife) would always get her parent’s motor home to be the base of support at the races and her immediate family was always welcoming with a great place to rest and have something to eat. The mechanics from the local shops would all set up outside the RV and if there were any issues at the races, it was a communal repair pit for anyone who needed it.

I loved traveling to the events in West Virginia with Chuck and perhaps some of the more harrowing rides in the country were with Chuck trying to catch Sam Dyke and the “Parrot Man” with his super suspended van on the back roads of the Monongahela National Forest. We made it to Davis, Slaty Fork and other locations in record time. Chuck was always a pedal to the metal guy not only in his riding but in his driving. But the best part of hanging with Chuck was that if we needed anything by way of equipment, parts, etc, Chuck was always there at all times to provide and would work on broken bikes well into the night. When you are passionate about something, it becomes part of your life. You are not just someone who rides a bicycle, you are a mountain biker. It becomes part of your persona. It seems like a long time ago, but a lot of the skills and more importantly friendships have lasted to this day and my passion for riding a mountain bike was first fueled by a fun loving crew from the wilds of Butler County.

These days, my old Merlin hangs from a hook in my garage. I had it refurbished a little bit to accomodate the chance that maybe my son Jack would ride it. His current interest is not there but maybe someday, he might like to have a start in the sport that has given his dad so much enjoyment. If that bike could talk, it would certainly tell some great stories. There are many groups and teams like the old Greenlee’s Team and they all have several things in common- passion for a sport, comraderie, laughs, accountability, and great memories that last a lifetime. If you are involved in a group like this, consider yourself fortunate. Your life is enriched. If not, try to join one. One great way locally is to get plugged into Jason Miller’s site called ActivePittsburgh. http://www.activepittsburgh.com Jason has created a one stop shopping for all clubs, events, teams, organizations, in the local area and his site is an excellent resource for all of us who are active and those who would like to be including anyone who has moved into our area. Check it out and thanks for reading.

The Internal Amplitude Dial

photoCottonwood-20120216-00019IMG00132-20100208-1434 We all have an internal dial or dials which are like radio dials. We have the ability to turn up the dial, turn down the dial, look at a second dial which might indicate how we approach fun, aerobic limit, or competitiveness. Everyone’s dial is different based upon experience, age, physical fitness, and the ability to assess risk. I have written previous blog posts entitled Risk versus Reward and I would encourage you to re-vist them for a perspective on that subject. Outside Magazine’s current issue is dedicated to the topic of risk. But all of us have the ability to adjust those internal dials based upon where we find ourselves at the moment when we are partaking in a physical activity.

If you look at the picture above, this is our skiing group that gets together once a year in Tahoe/Mammoth for a week to 10 days of pretty hard core skiing for a bunch of guys who are pushing 60.( Some of the group are already there). The good thing is that this group is extremely enthusiastic and skiing is very important to all of us. Last year, I turned the group on to the I-Phone App “Alpine Replay.” This is one of many apps that measure vertical feet skied, speed, calories burned, and other measurements. We all got sucked into the technology and spent one day during the week at Northstar at Tahoe skiing perfectly groomed trails with no crowds. We actually had the perfect day to beat the single day record because there are several high speed chairlifts,and we have the equipment that makes it easy to turn and control at speed. The dial was turned up a little that day with our enthusiasm. We ended up skiing 57,833 vertical feet (each of us). The next day, Hutch and I logged 52,000 vertical each. That is a lot of runs in two days but again, we had perfect conditions which allowed us to turn up the dial a bit.

Even guys our age can get caught up with modern technology. I-Phones, Map my Ride, Go-Pro cameras which allow you to video document your own experience as you race to get it on You Tube for the chance to go viral. Equipment advances, high speed chairs, over-sized racquets and clubs, dual suspension all carbon mountain bikes, carbon road bikes, power meters, the list goes on and on which allows mere mortals to venture into the expert zone. We all know our limits and the amplitude dial is relative to each person. But the outside influences on the dials can increase the amplitude sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The secondary dial is more important to me. As the 59 year old kid, I love the challenges on the trails and the slopes. But the competitive mark on the dial is seldom used any more. It is more of an adjustment between fun and aerobic fitness. I love the roller coaster sometimes with friends on the slopes and the trails with all of the modern technology. But sometimes, I like to get off the roller coaster and stand on the platform or have a seat on the bench and dial it back a bit. Take today. I was running trails in the rain and ordinarily I try to push myself to the best of my ability. The amplitude and the secondary dial were not that high but I enjoyed the run and even stopped to see two beautiful bucks. I took the time to count their points. In the old days, I would have just kept running. My wife and I were hiking up at Glendorn a few weeks ago and I stopped to observe a beautiful salamander on the trail. Other days, I would not have even noticed. This week, Mark Sauers and I rode with an old friend who has had some extreme physical problems yet keeps on riding. Bill Belch is a testament to fortitude and continues to ride even at night with some serious vision issues. Mark and I dialed it back a bit and we really enjoyed our ride with our friend as it was great for us to reconnect and great for Bill to be pushed a bit. His dial was turned up pretty far but the outcome was very positive for a very positive guy. John Staab is another friend who rode with us yesterday and wanted to stop for a bit to have an energy bar, sit on a rock and enjoy the scenery for a little bit. You know, he got off the roller coaster and wanted to sit on the platform for a while. Really, nothing wrong with that. John had the longest ride of his season, his dial was up a bit, but he also enjoyed the experience. The secondary dial was turned to …..FUN.

I have been reading some interesting commentary lately about smaller ski areas and how they do not necessarily have high speed chairs. It is part of the experience. They even talked about the single chair at Mad River and mocked it as “stupid.” I tend to disagree and respect the history of the single chair. I remember riding the one at Stowe,Vermont when they would give you a blanket for the ride up. Sometimes, the slower double chairs allow for longer conversations. Skiing is a great sport and a fun activity, but it is as much social for me as it is making turns and runs. Sometimes, I am fine with not constantly taking the high speed chairs and maybe turning the dial down a bit and enjoy the slow ride up the mountain. Kind of like listening to the Frank Sinatra station on Sirrius Radio. As much as I like to stay up with current music, sometimes listening to the Chairman of the Board and even the Spa Channel, relaxes me. Sometimes that dial needs to be turned down a bit. Not all the time. But sometimes when you need it.

My friend Eric drove down to Mammoth this week to catch the first ski runs of the season. Eric has had neck surgery, shoulder surgery, and foot issues which have limited his ski time a bit. But he was enthused when he made his first runs down there and had no pain. The ability to ski like that and to enjoy the sunny weather caused him to turn his dials up. It is funny that his doctor told him he may want to “dial back” a bit but he ended up skiing between 23-30 runs per day and then going for a mountain bike ride. Somehow, I don’t think Eric will be dialing back any time soon. He will be pushing us to break the 60,000 vertical feet in a day record this spring on the Alpine Replay app and that is ok. The dial may be turned up a bit that day, but all within reason for a bunch of older dudes. So pay attention to your inner amplitude dials. They can be adjusted many times during the course of a day or a trip depending on how you feel. Go for the gusto but know that the dials can be adjusted to the fun zone and ……………..that’s ok. Thanks for reading. By the way, that is a Porcupine on my skis. I stopped to look at him too and he liked me. Also- this is my 100th post. Thanks for reading. This has been a lot of fun.