” The Autumn Weather…….turns the leaves to flame.”

” It’s a long long way.  From May to December.  But the days grow short, when you reach September.”

Kurt Weill

These haunting words from Kurt Weill in his famous ballad not only speak to the season change, but also to the seasonal changes in our lives as we age.  I have always enjoyed the fall because of the spectacular foliage and cooler weather.  Sweaters, fires, Halloween, Thanksgiving are all special to me and so important to take in every year.  As the masses head to the gyms because of the time change, my crowd is a bit different in that we embrace the shortened days and time change with our lights on mountain bike rides and trail runs.  Back in the day, I first started to ride a mountain bike in the fall.  It was a great departure from road riding and the solace of the woods which I have always embraced, is wonderful from the vantage point of a mountain bike.  No cars, technical challenges that keep your attention and allow your mind relief from the rigors of the day.  But what to do as the days grew short?  Lights!!  We have been through the evolution of lighting technology to the point where it is not necessary to purchase a light like we did back in the day that costs $300.00. Sure, there are lights that cost that much and even more today but with the technology coming from overseas with LED, the cost of really superb lighting systems can be attained for under $100.00.  night ride october (2 of 1)

As I have aged, I have migrated from the competitive mindset to the “enjoyment of the ride” phase of my life.  Used to be that we all did night rides as training for the now basically defunct 24 Hour races.  But the joy of night riding is now even more pleasurable for me as I have time to enjoy the rides versus the 4:30 AM pressure rides of the past when my boy was involved in sports.  I get some hall passes now as an empty nester and to take in the woods at night in a relaxed manner is a truly different experience.  Close your eyes and imagine what we are experiencing today.  The musty smell of fallen leaves on the trail.  That smell of a distant wood fire.  The distinct smell of a passing buck as you eyeball a 6 pointer almost face to face on the trails.  Oftentimes I turn my lights out in the middle of a night ride to experience the silence of the woodlands.  Early fall, the crickets are my only companions as I gaze up into the clear night and see multitudes of stars peeking through the canopy of the rapidly changing treeline.  When I ride with friends, it is really fun to watch the line of lights light up the trails.  The friendships. The accountability of the weekly night rides extending what has been an absolutely spectacular riding season here in the East.  Taking the time to stop and experience.  These are things that I didn’t value early in my riding years because of the constant pressure of maintaining fitness.  Sure, I like to stay fit, but the most enjoyable part of riding now is the experience of the trail and the congenial atmosphere of riding with friends or riding solo at my own pace.  NiteRider2

Night riding with friends generates some interesting conversations on the trail when we compare lighting systems.  It is amazing to compare the bright LED technology to the old days of the yellow beam generated by Night Rider or Night Sun.  Both of those companies have stepped up their game but there is so much competition today especially with all of the imported inexpensive lights flooding the market.  Battery life, wiring, lumens, LED and other issues are brought forth on the trail and also continued in our local after ride watering hole-The OTB Cafe.  My wife and non-riding friends are amazed at the enthusiasm and the conversations that are related to how many lumens a light will actually produce compared to the claims of the manufacturer.  The “oneupsmanship” is really amusing as guys compare their lighting systems on the trail only to be totally outdone by a new system utilized by the Dirt Rage Magazine crew.  This $1200.00 retail light is ridiculously bright and the mortal man would not spend that kind of dough to stay upright on the trails at night.  But it is fun to see how that drowns out all of our lighting systems.  photo

So, if you think that the waning daylight and pending time change relegates you to the local gym, think again my friends.  The trails provide enjoyment long into the late fall and winter if you are prepared and game for riding in the dark. I see trail runners with their headlamps, dog walkers with headlamps and lights for their dogs, hikers utilizing LED technology.  Lots of folks on the trails after dark.   My friend the Shark(Mark Sauers) also has some advice for night rides as the weather deteriorates.  He says there is no such thing as bad weather- only bad clothing.  How true.   If we remember that and prepare, our experiences on the trail at night can continue through most of the winter.  Keep riding/running/hiking and for those who don’t have a light…………get on it!!  Thanks for reading.

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.

Snow Bound

IMG_0070 I was up in New England this week and happened upon a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier called “Snowbound- a Winter Idyl”. Sorry, it is the English Major in me coming out. This long winded narrative was surely in the spirit of all of the New England poets who described their time in the meat locker of New England winter weather.

” Shut in from all the world without,
We sat at clean winged hearth about
Content to let the North winds roar,
In baffled rage at pane and door.”

Doesn’t this just give you that fuzzy feeling for cold winter weather? The rodent here in Pa. says at least 6 more weeks and I am starting to see some cracks in the personalities of even those who like the winter. But take heart……….I have been encouraging all of you who might not like winter to try skiing, skating, sledding, snowshoeing, or anything else that gets you out of the house to enjoy what winter has to offer. At this time of year, I start to sound a little evangelistic in my zeal for winter and know that many folks cannot wait for a break in the weather even though spring skiing time is coming and that folks, is a blast not to be missed. But what simple pleasures can bring the spirit back to those of us who brave the cold and are desperately seeking warmth on those Alberta clipper days? A warm fire- that’s what.

I have always been a fan of the fireplace. A while back, I wrote a post called ” The Mountain TV” where I showed you my outdoor fireplace and all the fun associated with building a good, hot, wood fire. My first experience with fire in the winter came when I was a kid skating on North Park Lake here in Pa. before the rink was built. My folks always took us sledding and skating on the lake and one of the highlights for me was to warm myself by the fire that the county workers built and have some of their delicious hot chocolate. As they strategically moved the embers, I marveled at the red hot sparks that rose in the cold air and got my first smell of that fire that I would love to smell all of my life. Fast forward a few years and I find myself in front of a roaring fireplace at the old ski lodge at Seven Springs after a day of brutal cold weather skiing. I loved the big old green sofa in front of the fire where all of us kids used to plop ourselves down and carefully place our boots, gloves, and coats up against the fire to dry. It was amazing to see the steam coming off our boots and gloves and the occasional incineration of a ski jacket that just got too close. But the real experience of that ski lodge fireplace had nothing to do with warmth.

Sitting there one time, I was starting to fall asleep as one usually does when you come in from the cold to a warm inviting fire. All of a sudden I heard this thumping and whining in the back of the ski desk and in a few minutes I saw the General Manager, Jim McClure, come out with some beaten and bruised teenagers with a final word to them -” I ever catch you stealing signs or defacing property again, I will beat you within an inch of your life.” He let them go and then looked over to the apple cheeked fat kid on the couch( me) and said, ” Pat- let that be a lesson to anyone you know. You mess with anything up here, you will be dragged into the back room and given…..” Mountain Justice.” I always had a lot of respect for Jim McClure and still do to this day. Other lessons learned were to see my older ski heroes ( guys on the ski school) make their moves on unsuspecting co-eds in front of the fire. Man, those guys had more moves than a Swiss watch and with a little glug or other alcoholic fuel, some of those ladies with the big hair, stretch ski pants, and spiked heels were fair game. I never really got the spiked heels in the ski lodge but they did have the stretch pants. No matter to the old guard ski school guys. They were on the hunt. Rob Leonard used to say that the pillars out at the front gate to the resort should have fire shooting up out of them. In many ways, there was some devilish stuff going on and I witnessed it from the safety of the green couch and my fireplace in the lodge. I giggled a lot as a fat little skier.

Western trips soon came into play and I warmed myself by some collossal fires in the ski lodges. There is something relaxing and soothing to sit by a fire after skiing or doing anything athletic in the cold of the winter, but those ski lodges made it all the more inviting. A hot drink, some warming time with your boots off, made the cold not so brutal and that smell…….I love it to this day. You can go into many of the houses in the mountains and smell that burnt hardwood smell even when the fireplaces are not lit. I like to smell that in the summer and fall because it reminds me that winter is always coming and it is a little reminder when you get that itch to ski.

My backpacking days always included a fire no matter what the time of the year. I used to go a lot in the fall and as I told in my earlier post, I would take my cheater wax blocks and my Bernz-0-Matic torch in my backpack. You could burn anything with one of those torches and the cheater bricks. Even the state provided green wood was no match for that equipment. The state lean to’s have that aroma to them and it is always nice to light a fire after a day of hiking in the woods. Which brings me back to my own fireplace. We sit out there at night at look at the stars and solve the world’s problems with a beer or a glass of wine with the neighbors and friends. If you look at the picture again, you will see that it is very rustic and is a daily reminder of my life and times in the mountains. I call it a little bit of the Laurel Highlands right in my own back yard. It is buried now under some serious snow, but I have been known to light it up out there and clean off the Adirondack chairs even in the midst of the winter.

So, again, get out and enjoy the winter. And when you get cold, don’t give up. Just take a breather to get warm by a fireplace. Get used to that smell and enjoy what a good fire has to offer. Thanks for reading.

Trail Transformation

photophotophotophotophoto This summer and fall, the trails in the Laurel Highlands and our own trails in our county park were dry and flowy. The mountain bike riding was spectacular and even when the time change came, the night riding was done in rather temperate conditions. That all changed at Thanksgiving when the winds of November came blowing. The snow came and the trails were transformed into winter conditions. When this happens, it gives the 59 year old kid a chance to switch gears a bit and do more trail running and hiking. My friend EJ Sigety used to drag me out all winter on the trails to mountain bike ride no matter what the conditions, but these days, I use good judgement and enjoy the trails in different ways.

I spoke in one of my last posts about dialing it back a bit and that on occasion, it is a good idea. Hiking is very enjoyable way to dial it back and I see things on the trails that I don’t see riding in a pack or pounding up a hill in the heat with my eyeballs bulging out of their sockets. Hiking in the snow can allow you to experience the silence of the woods, and the smell of a distant fireplace. You can experience a buck eyeing you up as you enter his domain. The trails look different and the footing dictates that you carefully place your steps so that you remain upright. Where this transformation may discourage some folks from enjoying the trails in the winter- hiking, trail running and snowshoeing can be a great alternative to the riding that we enjoy most of the year. I usually take my ski poles with me to help with the footing and balance in the icy conditions. These can also be used with snowshoes. Sturdy hiking boots are a must and I usually use my old reliable Vasque Hiker IIs that are 40 years old and still kicking. Dialing it back over Thanksgiving was enjoyable and I ran into some of my die hard friends who were still riding . They harrassed me but I enjoyed the hikes and was glad for a change.

Now if you are the hearty type and want to keep riding on the icy trails in the winter, you can use studded mountain bike tires as shown in the picture above. The new rage is the “fat bike” which has oversized tires that aid in the traction. These were developed originally to race in Alaska and have seen some major acceptance in the mountain bike community here in the lower 48. The curious thing about riding in the winter is that once you get going, the heat builds up and if the traction is good, you can enjoy a good ride when perhaps you would have thrown in the towel. Sometimes I will ride, other days I will run or hike. But the main thing is to keep enjoying the trails and the woods in all seasons and have the mental and physical preparation to do so. My friend Mark “the Shark” Sauers has a great expression for winter as well. He says there is never bad weather……only bad clothing. I would agree in that if you have the right winter weather gear, you can be comfortable even if the conditions are raw. Gore Tex, wool socks, good winter riding shoes, trail running shoes or hiking boots can make all the difference in the world and allow for that “go for it” attitude that you need in the winter. Good lights as described in my earlier posts about night riding can make a big difference too. There are a lot of good choices for lighting that are essential for enjoying the trails after dark. I try to avoid indoor exercise at all costs and good water proof clothing can allow outdoor activities even in the coldest, winter rain or snow. You get that fresh air, good exercise, come home and take a hot shower and sleep like a baby. Nothing like it.

Winter is just starting so why not think about continuing to use the trails at your own pace and sometimes with different tools. Nobody is going to think badly about you if you put the bike away and run or hike. Just as long as you do something and not let the winter get you down or allow for added padding which is painful to lose in the spring. Hydration is important as well. You lose a lot of moisture exercising in the winter and the need to drink fluids is as important in the winter as it is in the summer. Take your hydration pack with you at all times. Chistmas is coming folks and maybe Santa has some new equipment for you to use. Gear up, pick your poison on exercise, and enjoy the winter. Thanks for reading and think snow.

Packing for a Trip is an Art and a Science

Adventure Rolling Duffle, Extra-Large Duffle Bags  Free Shipping at L.L.BeanGoggin_Samson These are the famous words of Steve Elliott who is a co-worker and a very experienced traveler. Steve travels light on business trips but he is also a motorcycle rider and has to be careful of what he takes on trips because he has to support it on the bike. Steve is also an accomplshed photographer and it is amazing what he can fit into his camera bag. His experience traveling the globe has taught him the wisdom of not taking too much when you travel. You only need so much and with experience, you can learn what is important and what is not.

I have my own protocol which I will share with you, but first I would like to entertain you with the major mistakes that I have made in my life and the lessons that I have learned. For instance, in my early skiing and camping days at Tuckerman Ravine, I thought it would be a good idea to pack my food in my pack in Pittsburgh before I left on my 12 hour drive. I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of a loaf of bread and put them back in the bread bag. As they bounced in my pack on the way up, and on the hike up, and against the wall of the lean to as I slept, by midweek I had peanut butter and jelly doughballs to eat. Freeze dried foods were the answer. I bought a hockey goalie bag one time because I thought it would be the perfect bag for all equipment and clothing on a trip. The problem was that the space made me greedy and I packed way too much and the bag weighed a ton. I now find that several bags like the duffles from Bean are perfect and have rollers. With the hockey bag on one shoulder and the ski or bike bag on the other shoulder, I was lucky I did not throw my back out of whack. Way too much weight in one bag.

I just finished reading a book by Paul Stutzman called “Hiking Through”. It is his story of his journey all along the Appalachian Trail. It was interesting to read how he sent winter clothing home at the post office and picked up a shipment of lighter clothing from his friends. Obviously there is a lot of planning in arranging food and clothing drops but the mantra of the trail is the lighter the better. When you hike 2000+ miles, you need your pack to only contain the essentials and not extra clothes and food that you do not need. Ramp this up a bit and the packing rules for climbing Everest can be so strict that climbers break toothbrushes in half to conserve weight. When you get to those altitudes, you need your pack to be as light as possible because the effort is really difficult and one thing you don’t need is to be heavy in the pack.

So, bringing it back to my level again, these are my protocols for my different activities:

Skiing- I start from the feet up. Skis, boots, poles obviously. I then pack my socks, longjohns, ski outfit, a couple of t-necks, a sweater, a fleece vest, wool hat, gloves and a baseball cap with a pair of jeans. Most of this can fit in my green duffle and the ski bag and if you overflow, you can use the ski bag for extra clothes. But I try to make sure I have cold weather gear because I can always strip down. But I find that if I go from the feet up, I don’t usually forget anything.

Cycling trips- again, I go from the feet up and make sure that I have cycling shoes,socks, extra cycling kits, including arm warmers, and knee warmers, some rain jackets that can be packed in the back of a cycling jersey. T shirts, underwear, and shorts with a fleece vest are usually the only other thing you need. One time we went for a two day down and back road bike ride on the Skyline Drive in Virginia. We made arrangements to stay at a hotel on the southern end. All we had was a pair of running shorts and a t-shirt stuffed in the back pockets of our cycling jersey along with our wallets. We rode 100+ miles on the Skyline Drive, checked into the hotel, showered, ordered a pizza and sat around in the t-shirt and shorts and went to sleep. The next day, we put the cycling stuff back on again after we had washed it in the sink, and stuffed the clothes in the back of the jersey again. Two 100+ days on the bike with minimum baggage. We had to carry everything so the lighter we were, the better we were.

Hiking like the other two activites is dictated by the length of the trip and the weather expected. But as we have said, the lighter the better. Like the Skyline Drive ride, all of our needs are on our back so it good to save the back and keep it light. Foul weather gear is important but you must look at the weather and if it is warranted, make sure you take it. Hypothermia is no joke so be light but be prepared.

One final word is packing for your daily exercise. I utilize our local county park for running trails and mountain biking. I have made a practice of packing my clothes the night before, and taking my running shoes or bike with me to work. I have found that if I would stop home before I go to the park,I could get delayed with some chores that I can finish after my workout. Also, it is too easy to come home, sit on the couch and put the tube on and be a slug. If you pack your stuff and take it with you to work, you can change in the car like me or go to the mens or ladies room at the park. I have been known to utilize red lights on the highway to make some quick changes in the car. Not recommended unless you have some skill from years of experience like the 58 year old kid. Sometimes you get burned like when I was stripping out of my ski clothes and into a suit for a funeral when a police car pulled me over. As I scrambled to get a shirt and pants on, the officer politely came to the car and told me to be on my way because he was pulling over the guy behind me. Whew. Close call on the road.

In any event, no matter what trip you take, or what activity you do, give some thought on how to pack and how to pack lightly. There are always washing machines and dryers everywhere. At the very least there are sinks and drying racks. So why load up with anything more than the essentials like foul weather gear. Take a tip from Steve. He has traveled everywhere and never had an issue packing light. Thanks for reading.

The Starlit Canopy

2989561827_2c3e9dd7d1C_CF_Yosemite-Valley-Starry-Skies-Web-HeaderIMG_0070 One of my favorite things to do is to sit outside by my fireplace and look up at the stars on a clear night. Viola Christy,a co-worker of mine, encouraged me to get a telescope and I did that and have enjoyed locating the planets with the help of Google Sky. I look through the scope, locate things, and then sit down again by the fireplace and contemplate how tiny we really are in comparison to what lies out there in the night sky and what is beyond somewhere where we can’t see at all. I have always been fascinated with the night sky and it all started a long time ago………….in a galaxy far, far away………..just kidding.

Actually the start of this fascination began when my dad bought me an Army surplus tent and diligently constructed a flat location in the back yard. Now my dad, being the mechanical engineer, had to have the lot for the tent perfectly level and to add to my comfort, he put Army cots in the tent for my friends and I to use during our overnight “camping” in the backyard during the summers of my youth. Many times, I would get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities because my mom would leave the back door open. Not primitive camping by any stretch and I always knew that I could come back inside the house if anything spooked me. But most often, I would come back and before I crawled back on the cot, I would sit outside and look up at the stars and wonder what was out there.

Smells are unique at night and the air has a special aroma especially around this time of year when the leaves are changing and the temperature stops to drop. Things are awfully quiet except for the crickets at 3 in the morning, but the brilliance of the heavens continues to shine well into daybreak. I found myself looking up at all hours of the night and I still do today as in the example of the recent meteor shower only visible after midnight and before 6 AM. There I was, just like when I was a young lad, looking up at shooting stars at 4 AM. My family thought I was nuts. I told Jack that I located Saturn in the telescope and asked if he wanted to come out and see it the next night. He said,” thanks Dad, but I can see it way better on the internet.” Nice.

When I was in college and shortly afterwards, I had the itch to backpack and regularly used the Laurel Ridge Hiking Trail for my weekend excursions. I reserved and slept in the lean-tos along the trail, and first came up with my handy dandy way to light a fire. The state DNR always provided firewood. However, many times it was green and it was difficult to start a fire. I always liked to camp and backpack in the fall when the air was cooler and there were no bugs to fight. But fires were always a challenge until I bought myself a Bernz-o-Matic torch and some fire starter bricks. With these tools, you can start a fire out of concrete blocks if you had to, and I always made sure I had my torch and blocks with me in my pack. I still use it today outside at my fireplace. Once I got the fire started, and my pad and sleeping bag set up, I once again, spent the night looking up and to my surprise, saw many more stars in the Laurel Highlands than at my house on Siebert Road due to almost no light pollution from streetlights, neighborhood lighting and malls. I had a great time by myself out there in the woods and as strange as it may seem,I enjoy my own company. The stars once again accompanied me and it was comforting to fall asleep under a starlit canopy deep in the Allegheny Mountains.

My ski/hiking trips to Tuckerman Ravine up in New Hampshire allowed me to camp out for a week and climb and ski during the day. See my early blog posts on this subject. Over the years I learned a lot of good things from my mistakes. For instance, don’t make a week’s worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from a loaf of bread and stack them all back in the bread bag. After a week, you have a peanut butter dough ball because you have slept on it, picked it apart during lunch, and shoved it around in your pack all week. Lesson learned in food preparation. Freeze dried foods work much better. I was always amused at some of my friends who had little experience in camping or skiing in such a daunting place. One friend who was a very good local ski racer, was so intimidated at the steepness of the skiing that he didn’t dare remove his skis during a walk sidewards from one ravine to the next. He walked over rocks on his way and practicaly destroyed his skis. He then came back and as I lit up my campstove that evening and was getting some water to boil, I found him cooking his hot dog over the flame. Obviously he had little to no camping experience and it was a humbling experience for him to be with a bunch of good skiers who also knew how to cook things in boiling water. Some people are fish out of water in the woods, but thanks to my dad and my college backpacking trips, I educated myself on outdoor living. And, again, my friends in the celestial canopy kept me company at the wee, small hours of the morning.

When my son Jack was young, I bought a two man tent and we began to sleep out in the yard in the summer. Sometimes he liked it and sometimes he didn’t, and wanted to go back to his bed. But I always picked the starlit nights and as I told him at a very young age about the North Star and the constellations, I was amazed at what he retained. I tucked him back in his bed on some of those nights and since I had the tent already set up, I went back out and looked up through the top of the netting on the tent and saw my friends in the heavens as always twinkling down on me as I drifted off to sleep. The teenage years have limited our camping experiences but I have had the opportunity to use that tent on several overnight bicycle outings where I have opted against a hotel or college dorm accomodations and reseved a space for our tent on the grounds. As the bicycle crowd started to calm down and the campers began to prepare to go to sleep, there I was in my camp chair, reading by the light of my lantern, and enjoying the night air once again from the comfort of my dome tent. What is it that attracts me to looking at stars in the night? I have tried to outline it here but there are so many relaxing reasons that I can’t list them all. I have had the experience of seeing the Northern Lights at night up in Maine, seeing the stars rise over the Maroon Bells in Colorado, and watched hundreds of shooting stars lying on my back in a field in Yosemite. My family was too tired to take that adventure in on our trip out there but I went and it was the best celestial show that I have ever seen. Even the ranger laughed and commented that he is always upstaged by the shooting stars during his presentation on Stargazing in Yosemite. The “ooohs” and “ahhhs” drown out his monologue regularly.

As I get older, I appreciate more and more the things that my dad did for me as a young lad. He was not a camper. He was not a skier. But he and my mom made sure I was exposed to many things and I will never forget the old Army surplus tent at the corner of our lot, standing at attention, through rain and clear nights, waiting for a little boy to come out, look at the stars, and fall asleep on the cot with the tent flaps tucking him in at night…..under a starlit canopy.

How to torture your relatives.

Saltlick-20130109-00082IMG00242-20100809-1556IMG00243-20100809-1600photo My father had a great saying whenever I returned from one of my adventures. I told him about the event, the adverse weather, the rain, the snow, the cold winds, whatever. My dad said, ” Kind of sounds to me like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer. It feels so good when you stop.” He was right in a way. For some strange reason, I like foul weather. I have all the Gore Tex gear. I was always fascinated with weather and for reasons that I can’t really put a finger on, I always did better in events when the weather and the conditions went to hell. Snowstorms in the Month of Mud Mountain Bike Races, torrential rains in NORBA events, wicked cold weather and snowstorms on ski trips. I liked it when the weather was a factor. Even today, I try not to let weather ruin my fun. I put on the foul weather gear and go for it. Around here, if you don’t ski or run or ride in the rain, you don’t get much activity. Even when you go away, you run the risk of bad weather in any season and I always try to prepare for it and enjoy it in a quirky way.
Now that attitude does not necessarily apply to my family. Take my sister for instance. She is game, but I have tortured her in many ways on many different trips. We stood at the top of the Cirque at Snowbird in a raging snowstorm and our friend Mike Smith took a header down the slope and didn’t stop till he hit the bottom of the run. I looked at Molly and said,” You’re next.” She also gave me the deer in the headlights look when she started to see the snow slide on High Rustler at Alta after a harrowing trip accross the High Traverse. I made her ski on bullet proof ice at Killington,VT, then drive 5 hours to Sugarloaf, Maine to ski on ice balls the size of baby heads. It’s not that I am a tough guy or anything like that. It is just that I like to ski and will do whatever it takes to slide on snow. My sister likes it too but not to that degree. But she was a trooper in all that adversity. One year I took Molly and her husband Ray on a charity bicycle event which seemed tame enough except when we were about 5 miles into the event, the heavens opened up. They were soaked and hadn’t ridden a bicycle very much. As they were sopping wet, they faced a daunting hill and Ray quipped,” Looks like a walker to me, Molly.” I felt badly as they pushed their bikes up the hill while I tried to lift their spirits telling them that the rest stop was not far away. Yes- I tortured Molly and then her husband had the good fortune of being tortured by the jagoff brother in law. Again, not that I am vindictive or tough, or anything like that. I just try to make the best of adverse situations. Sometimes my positive attitude gets me a “Go suck an egg, Pat.” But eventually after the day is over, the furor dies down to a few laughs and good memories of athletic and meteorological torture.

You have seen the picture before of my wife skiing in the freezing rain. I have also had her and my son out in raging snowstorms in places like Eldora, Colorado. They try to smile and embrace my zeal. But oftentimes it generally breaks down eventually and a trip to a fire and a hot drink is in order. I have taken my wife on 4 hour hikes here in the Laurel Highlands to see a scenic overlook between Rt. 653 and Seven Springs Resort. She also was subject to a 6 hour hike in Nevada with the master of athletic torture, Eric Durfee, only to be comforted by Eric’s wife Helen and the teenage comments of my son Jack who endured the hike as well. But the views of Lake Tahoe and Reno were spectacular. Those views were a little lost on them at the time, but the pictures that are on our coffee table remind them that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you strong. They laugh but they think, ” What a putz.” Unfortunately I put the icing on the cake two weeks ago when Janet and I went hiking on our local trails and she fell on a rock and broke her elbow. I am not mentioning that the leaves will be changing soon and the hiking will be spectacular when she heals. I also am not mentioning that it is not far from ski season around here. I might leave that one alone while the poor soul is still in a sling. You see with not much effort and a lot of positive energy, you can torture your family on outings to the point where they question whether they will ever go anywhere with you again.

Maybe I do hit myself in the head with a hammer? Maybe I torture my family. But even my cynical teenager says, ” Dad- I know your heart is in the right place.” He will be off to college next year and I will be limited with potential torturous outings with him. However, my lovely wife will always have the opportunity to participate in “fun outings” only if she wants to do it. Sometimes I have pushed her and she responds in a positive way and has a good time in the great outdoors. But I will be discerning in the future. But, then again, our good friend Debbie Sagan says,” Hey Pat, we are active people. Things happen.” She just got over some broken elbow issues herself and is back on the trails running with her pal Mary Jo Neff. Deb fell and got hurt on her bike a few years ago and now competes in and wins triathlons. Torture is a state of mind. You either embrace adversity and grab the experience for all it is worth or you punt. Nothing wrong with punting, but you might just miss a good time in the rain, snow, or heat. One thing I know, my sister, my son, and my wife will always have memories of the crazy outings that they have participated in with the 58 year old kid. They did real well. They just don’t want to know details of the amazing adventures I have had in really crummy weather. “Hey- my head feels good now?” Thanks for reading.