Moving Mania

It is said that the only constant in life is change. This has been a lesson to me over the last number of years because as I search for constant, stress free living, change always seems to come my way and I am not comfortable with it all the time. Sometimes I just have to deal with it. I have favorite shirts, shorts, ski outfits, cycling attire, socks, trails, slopes,and food. These things I can control to a degree, but life in general has change and patience is not one of my strong suits.

Take moving for instance.photo (1) My mother in law moved in with us recently and that has been a positive experience but the caveat was that we needed to move in order to provide a nice, comfortable living space for her with her own bathroom, bedroom, etc. Sharing a bathroom with our 21 year old son was not optimal when one is used to coming from a nice house and 40 year old style of comfortable living. I resisted at first. I don’t like change. I liked my house and my fireplace. IMG_0776 I didn’t want to move because I know all the hassle of moving. Packing and unpacking, changing addresses, changing information, banks, real estate paperwork, etc, etc. Moving is painful.. I have personally moved so many people in my day that I can’t even count. I remember the brutal moves. Moving my wife’s friend on January 1st in the freezing rain. The first box out of the house I slipped and sprained my ankle. Hobbling for the rest of the move, my ankle looked like a basketball. I jammed it into a ski boot the next day but that is another story.

I moved my sister in and out of school, to NYC, to Maryland, to N.J. I moved my parents numerous times but all of this aggravation was due to the fact that I had a strong back and a weak mind. I was always there for the physical labor of it all. But now in my older years, I protect my strong back. So, we found a place right around the corner that has more room, no maintenance because it is a carriage home, and a pool. The style of living has been an upgrade but the move was still a whirlwind of labor, trips to Goodwill, boxes, selling and buying a house on the same day, moving companies, U-Hauls, address changes, banks, real estate……….on and on and on!!!

I am amazed at how it all came into place. What seemed to be an insurmountable task, is now like I have lived there for 20 years. My wife and mother in law worked tirelessly to make it happen and my strong back and weak mind filled in the gaps. So I have learned a lesson here in the fourth quarter. Nothing is constant but the rewards of putting up with the hassle to make a better style of living is something that I had to recognize. My wife was right! She always makes the right decisions in spite of her curmudgeon husband who tries to control change. Sometimes things seem like they are impossible and will never come together. Moving is a prime example. But with experience, one realizes that if you take it one day at a time, have patience, and a willingness to change, things always seem to work out for the better. It is easy to become inflexible as we age. But the maintenance of a youthful outlook on life is important as we …………move on. Thanks for reading.

The Jeep Wave

So I bought a Wrangler to replace my Jeep Liberty which had 181,000 miles on it and rust holes as big as my fist. My son thought it was bad form for me to cover the rust holes with duct tape but I said it added character. In any event, it was time and I went to my friend Jim Krebs and got another Jeep – but this time I wanted the Wrangler. Funny thing is that when I first got it, my wife Janet remarked that people in Wranglers were waving at me. I said to her that maybe it was something to do with Wranglers like the Harley people give the cool, understated wave to each other. A nod of acceptance in their case. So when I got home, I went on the net and discovered that there is a very popular practice called…………the Jeep wave.
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Now I found out some interesting things in my research. Number one, you should always wave no matter what. Secondly. there is a protocol which if followed strictly, allows for a point system that grades your Jeep. If it is pre- civilian dating back to the 40s, you always wait for them to wave first then you respectfully wave or maybe even salute. If the Jeep is tricked out better than yours, you also wait until they wave first. Maybe to see if you are worthy of their wave? But always, always wave no matter what. My son Jack thinks it is dorky of course but you are a bit of an a-hole if you do not wave.

Now , some things I have found in my own personal research on the subject while driving. Women tend not to wave either because they are preoccupied or prefer not to wave to a stranger. Kind of like the stranger is saying,” Drive here often?” To which they seem to say- “Buzz off Sherlock. You and your wave.” Other observations include people who try to give you a cool version. Not much effort but a quick peace sign above the steering wheel. There are those who give you the full hand staccato wave like they are saying, ” Yes- I follow the rules and obviously you like my Jeep so I will fully acknowledge you.” There are the outdoors types who have all the doors off and the top removed and give you the wave outside the left of the car. I hear that it is extra points if you have your roof off in the winter and you give the wave out of the top of the vehicle with your wool cap showing.

The wave is reserved for Wranglers. There is no Liberty wave, Grand Cherokee wave, only Wranglers. The basic design of the exterior of the Wrangler has not changed much over they years and apparently the protocol of the wave goes back many years. Veteran Wrangler owners have told me that it becomes a little bit of a pain in the ass to keep waving but I must admit, I like it. In these days of waning gentility, fraternity, friendliness, there are mechanisms that allow people to join together and celebrate life. Take for instance the fraternity of the Terrible Towel. We all feel one when we wave the towel here in Pittsburgh. Somehow these things give us a bond that we celebrate. The Jeep wave is one of those mechanisms. So, if you see me waving at you and perhaps you don’t have a Wrangler, please note that I probably have gotten so excited waving that I wave at everybody. My wife is amazed at the people I talk to on a daily basis. Toll booth operators, the guys and gals holding the stop signs at road construction sites- I talk to all of them. Fast food drive through people. I wave to the cops- it never hurts. I guess I just like people and get involved maybe where I should be a little more reserved. I need the Jeep wave like I need a second navel. But it is another way of saying- hi neighbor, nice Jeep. My son just shakes his head. SMH as they say. Thanks for reading.

Everybody needs an Uncle Al

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When I look at this picture I smile. This is the Murray family that I grew up with back in the day. Al and Elaine Murray were good friends of my parents and Anne, Patti, Michael and John became good friends with my sister and me. People back in the early 60s dressed in their Sunday best to go to church, dinner, or other special occasions. Times have changed and things are more casual but this reminds me of when my folks took my sister and me to Fort Ligonier and other fun sites after church. They dressed me in a sport coat and bow tie with a 3 cornered Colonial hat( Dorksville, USA). But this was the way things were and I am sure most of us have pictures just like this of family times together.
But this is not the story. I want to focus on Uncle Al,the patriarch of the family that you see here. The Murrays were not blood relatives but we saw them as so and Molly and I called Al and Elaine – Uncle Al and Aunt Elaine. Uncle Al was a character. Like a lot of guys my age, we had people in our lives that had some influence and Al was one of them in my life. He was an affable Irishman as you can see with that mug. He grew up in a tough neighborhood and consequently he could handle himself. Like when a guy came up to him in a trench coat with something protruding underneath. The guy says to Uncle Al,” give me your wallet.” Uncle Al immediately decks the guy and he falls and hits his head on the curb- lights out!!! The police came by and told Al that the guy better have a gun because Al was in trouble if he didn’t. Turns out that the guy did have a 38 caliber revolver and Al knocked him cold.
Another time, we were all in church in South Carolina and a priest at mass started to get all political in the pulpit. He says to the congregation,” Maybe I should not be speaking this way from the pulpit?” To which Al responds in a voice louder than the whisper,” You’re right- shut the hell up.” My dad and I almost fell over with laughter in church and another legendary performance for me from my Uncle Al.
If memory serves me, they had a dog named Trixie who barked incessantly when we came to visit. We all would be exchanging pleasantries when all of a sudden Al screamed out ” Shut up Trixie” at the top of his voice. The damn dog fell silent and Al beamed at me with a wry smile that said,” I showed that dog.”
Point being that humor is an essential part of life and Al never took life too seriously. When you are a young guy growing up, you look up to your dad and his friends. Uncle Al was definitely the leader of his family and was a disciplinarian. But he was also funny as hell and a hero to me growing up. When he passed some years ago, I felt a void that reminded me that some day, I would not have my dad either. His generation was fading and it was time for me to grow up. But we need Uncle Als in our lives because they mentor us. They show us that families matter and that you can get through life’s troubles and trials with laughter and a light approach to life. Keep your pictures of family and friends. They will make you smile when you root through some dusty old box and find some gems from your past. Pictures are a window to the past – your past. Cherish your memories and make some of your own. When your wife or husband or child says ” Smile for the camera”, do it. It will be a lasting memory for someone down the road. Thanks for reading.

Musical Trails

” Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette. Puff, puff, puff them and if you puff yourself to death. Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate that you just have to make him wait, but you just got to have another…..cigarette”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyYLrVNKE68

Nothing like a little Texas swing from Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen to start a trail run. 924186 Now, I have always been a bit of a late bloomer as they say. I got married at a later age,had a child at a later age, still have not matured in many ways, and still put stamps on envelopes and mail my bills. But I am embracing technology and now have a new partner on my winter trail runs- Pandora. You might say, ” Pat- what is so novel about running with ear buds? Everybody does it.” Well I tried the I-Pod a number of years ago and didn’t like it because when I am riding my mountain bike, I like the feedback of sound from the trails. Same with skiing. If I hit an ice patch, I want to be able to hear it so my reaction is appropriate and not be distracted by Mick yelling in my ear that he needs some satisfaction. But running the trails- that is a horse of a different color. Thanks to Janet, JR, Chris, and Daryl, I have finally found Pandora on the trail and have loaded up my shuffle opportunities with some of my favorite music. download (3)

With the Byrds, Commander Cody, The Dead, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and a host of other music from my college years, I can run over those logs and rocks and make time to the cadence of my favorite songs. I can get lost on those trails with daydream visions of my old dorm room with Bob Rose and his aviator sunglasses getting ready to put his KLH speakers out the window for spring term- blasting the Commander for everyone outside. I can see the cracked linoleum floors and see the packed refrigerator with Genesee Cream Ale provided by Jeff Ruggles. I can even see that curmudgeon of a lawyer Pat Clair, with his long black hair back in the day, tapping his toes to the rhythm of the Byrds. I can see the layout of that room with the early post office decor- because it genuinely was ripped off from the campus post office by a number of rowdies in our dorm. I laugh as I hear these old tunes and it helps me through the dark nights of the winter on the dark and desolate trails. I have run our trail system for 35 years. I have not become involved in the Fat Bike craze or the studded mountain bike tire craze yet because when it starts to get cold, sloppy, and icy, I park the mountain bike and pull out my trail running shoes. photo Something different and no hassle with extra clothes and a mud/ice caked bike. But again, I am a late bloomer and I may change. In my defense, my behaviors may be archaic, but I have always tried the latest sports equipment looking for an advantage. I did embrace the oversize tennis racquets, shaped skis, and 29er mountain bikes. But with regards to winter trail activities,I am still in the trail running,hiking,and snowshoe mode. But my new friend Pandora has made it all the more enjoyable. For 35 years I had to entertain myself with my own inane thoughts on those dark, lonely, winter trail runs. Now I have my old college musical friends running and hiking with me.

When the first real snow arrives, I pull out the snowshoes and am in a more contemplative mood. I like the beauty of the snow covered trees in the woods. My eclectic taste in music changes on these nights as I listen to Enya, Celtic Women, Sara McLaughlin,and Libera. The haunting Celtic melodies or the choir music of Libera almost elevate me as I hike the snow covered trails with my snowshoes. It is as if I am almost in another world of some kind with that peaceful, contemplative music in my ears coupled with the visual pastoral settings of a snow covered landscape.

It is interesting how music affects your mood and manages performance in activities like trail running. I like the shuffling of my selections but when that hard uphill comes into play right before the end at the parking lot, I like the ability to kick into my last effort with some inspirational music from ………..lets say……..The New Riders…….” Panama Red.” ” Just don’t know when Red’s in town, he keeps well hidden under ground…….” Ahhh, made it up the hill.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKgB-3aANe0 Amazing how that music got me going. Hey- I am a late bloomer. You guys have had the ear buds for years. I am just now discovering and enjoying it. Keep bringing me into the 21st century my friends. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

Confessions of an Acrophobic Skier

Okay- I admit it.  I have skied for 53 years but I am afraid of heights.  I have faced my demons over the years and have managed to think nothing of the lifts in my local area.  But even there, when the chairs start swinging in the wind, I get a little wigged out and hang on the the back of the chair.  So, you ask, how can you be a skier and be afraid of heights?  You have to get up the mountain to ski down – don’t you?  The answer is a resounding “yes” but it is always a mental ordeal for me until I get back on terra firma with my skis on.  Let me tell you about some ski lifts that I faced in my life.  IMGP0205

The Single Chairs- Stowe used to have them and Mad River Glen in Vermont still has the single chair.  But they were kind of crazy in that they each  came screaming at you in the loading zone and before you knew it, the operator was loading you and giving you a wool blanket for the ride up because in most cases in mid winter in Vermont, it was wicked cold.  So there I am hanging in mid air, in a single chair, with a wool blanket wondering why this was the only option at the time.  The single chair is iconic in New England ski lore and most people love the history of the lift.  Me?  I just wanted to get off the damn thing and start skiing.  1196455234_3692

The Fixed Grip Doubles with the pole in the center of the seat- the two that come to mind for me were the Cloud 9 chair at Aspen Highlands and the High Campbell chair at Crystal Mountain in Washington.  I was stuck in the most frightening place on the old Cloud 9 Chair one year.  The lift stopped and all I could see was 1000 feet below me on one side of the ridge and 1000 feet down on the other side of the ridge with the chair swinging wildly in the wind.  I was hanging on to that pole for dear life.  The High Campbell Chair was scary as well because it rose higher and higher as you were coming into view of the summit.Mount_Rainier_from_west  When you got to the top and did a little hiking, you had a great view of Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens on a clear day, but getting there was harrowing for me.  An avalanche took out that chair last year and it has been replaced.  I was in Crystal last winter but didn’t get to ride the replacement chair.  Oh well.  mammoth-mountain-chair-23-660

The infamous Chair 23 at Mammoth Mountain, California- Mammoth is huge and so are the drops below the gondola as well as the chairs.  A lot of them do not have safety bars as is the case with Chair 23.  Every year, I face my demons again and load this chair with my friends.  Two years ago, my friend Helen had to talk to me to distract me on the ride up.  No safety bar and if I was in the middle I literally had both arms on the back of the chair looking straight up in the air.  Helen laughed at me and so did her rotten husband.  On our Mammoth trips each year, our group always delights in seeing how I will handle the heights of Chair 23.  My phobia is well known with our group and it is a laughing matter to all of them.  Sorry, but when I slide off the ramp at the top, I am a happy man.  chair 23

Gondolas and Aerial Trams- these are not as bad for me because I am inside, sitting down or standing and have the feeling that I am in an airplane.  In some strange way, I feel secure although the gondola at Mammoth rises to some astronomical heights and I mostly stare at the metal grating on the bottom of the gondola car until my friends tell me it is time to get off.  They chuckle as I grab my skis and head for solid ground.  I always feel better when I have my skis on. Tram_winter_A_1340x700_1_normal

Sometimes to get to the good stuff you have to climb.  I have been on the High Traverse at Alta, Utah when part of it is eaten out and you have to take your skis off and walk across the rocks.  That is real shaky for me looking to the left with a view of the base lodge and steep vertical in between.  I can’t wait to get my skis back on and get out of the way of the crazy locals who are racing along that ridge to get to Eagles Nest to ski the deep stuff.  At Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire, you have to climb to get anything.  No lifts, and when your skis are over your shoulder, your knees are hitting the slope because of the pitch, and you are getting to the top of one of the gullies, putting the skis on and looking straight down into the valley- whoa Nellie!!!!!.  It was amazing how much better I felt when at last my skis were attached to the bottom of my boots. I climbed to get to some good stuff at Snowbasin in Utah with my friend Jeff Mihalsky.  He is a mountain goat and loves to climb.  I was happy to ski his favorite lines but I must admit that the demons were screaming around me until I had my skis on once again.

Heights are definitely my nemesis in many ways.  I have driven 18 miles out of my way to take the San Matteo bridge in San Francisco instead of taking the dreaded Bay Bridge.  Whenever I have driven that Bay bridge, I have to talk to myself in the right lane all the way across and convince myself that I can make it.  The height of that bridge is real frightening for me. Just like in a chair lift.

I have survived the lift and climbing situations over the years but it has definitely been a challenge for me.  But, I like to ski and make turns so much that I have been willing to do whatever I can do to ride the lifts and fight my fears.  So, if you are thinking about skiing and you don’t like the idea of chairlifts, aerial trams, or gondolas, just think of me.  I have been at the mercy of my fears for 53 years but I still love to ski.  That should tell you something about the great sport of skiing. Believe me, if I can do it, you can too.  Thanks for reading and hold my hand if you are on the lift with me.

Ski Bars- Home of the Whoppers!

One of the wonderful things about a great day of skiing is sharing the fun ups and downs( no pun intended) of the day with your friends at the local ski bar.  Apres ski, as it is called, is a celebrated ritual at great ski bars across the country like the Snorting Elk at Crystal Mt., Washington or the Classic apres at the Red Lion in Vail.  East Coast skiers hang at places like the Wobbly Barn on the access road in Killington, VT. or the iconic Matterhorn in Stowe, Vermont.20140227_174308slide4  Last March I had a great day skiing at Whiteface up in the Adirondacks with my pal Mike Smith and we sat at the corner of the bar eating a late lunch at The Cottaqe which was the scene of many a McCloskey, Durfee, Smith, ski outing.  We loved talking to the bartender about Andrew Weibrecht’s silver Super G medal at the Olympics seeing that he is a Lake Placid native and his folks own The Cottage as well as the famed Mirror Lake Inn.  The fun runs of the day, the bravado, and the thrills and spills are all recounted at the ski bars across the country during ski season and the atmosphere in these post ski day hangouts is electric.  photo

One of the more interesting things that usually occurs during the apres ski sessions are the embellishments of the feats of the day in direct correlation to the amount of beer consumed.  The stories get better and better and sometimes one needs to keep the tales in check because you never know who is listening.  That goggle tanned girl that is sitting next to you might have just hucked off an 80 foot cliff into deep powder and skied away like it was no effort at all.  She might not be all that impressed with your beer goggled story of how you cruised a groomer at 60 MPH according to your I- phone app.  That speed is doubtful at best, and as the girl chuckles and walks away, she thanks you for the beer.   Perhaps one of my favorite stories occurred at the Mangy Moose in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  I was sitting at the bar with my friend Paul Vey who had just skied Corbett’s Couloir for the first time.  Paul played basketball for the University of Vermont and used to sneak out of the dorm to go skiing at Stowe or Smuggler’s hoping not to be caught by the coach.  Paul is an avid skier and to hear him say that skiing Corbett’s that day with me was the highlight of his athletic career was impressive. It made me feel good being a part of his skiing experience down that classic run. Paul was a Division I NCAA athlete.  We both talked about the experience, but were interrupted by a loud conversation next to us which involved a guy who was telling the tale of how he skied Corbett’s Couloir that day on telemark skis.  Paul and I were amazed at the gall of the guy who was obviously working the crowd with his tales of tele glory.  The fact of the matter was that we recognized this guy as the one who crashed and burned down Corbett’s right in front of us.  We helped him clean up his yard sale all over the slope below the couloir. You could see the sheepish look on his face as he altered his story for the fans but we all had a good laugh and talked about the challenge of Corbett’s and Jackson Hole skiing in general.  03jack395.2

Sitting with your friends at a ski bar and telling the tales of the day can be extended if you buy one of the t-shirts or hats for sale.  The good times can be extended to the summer when you wear the stuff and someone notices a familiar after ski haunt.  Hopefully you wash the shirt a few times so that it is a bit worn and maybe run the hat over with your truck in the parking lot to give it some character.  Maybe some sweat stains might also help the cause.  Appearance is everything and your favorite t-shirt or hat from that famous apres ski bar is a prized piece of clothing.  Our friends from Philly, Judy and Mike Smith, always laugh at my clothing which always has some kind of a logo from a ski area or a ski bar. They think that this is the only type of clothing I may own.  They might be right,  although I don’t have Mangy Moose pants or The Cottage boxers. My favorite is an old, worn Rocky Mountain Oyster shirt from that famous little joint in Jackson. The rather well endowed mountain goat on the front advertises the delicacy of what is a gastronomical treat to some westerners.  I don’t want to go into it but Google Rocky Mountain Oysters and see how “they” are prepared.

The next time you find yourself in the apres ski joint of your choice, take time to listen to some stories and chuckle at how some guys work really hard to impress the ladies, or their friends with tales from the day.  Maybe you will find yourself recounting and embellishing a few stories yourself.  If you look down at the other end of the bar or another table, you might hear me and my friends telling some tales of our own.  Remember- the older we get- the better we were.  Especially in a ski bar.  Thanks for reading and think snow.  Elk+Taps+%26+Fire

What I have learned from writing a blog.

Anyone can write a blog.  Word Press and other platforms make it easy for one to put out thoughts and musings about a myriad of subjects that may or may not interest the general public.  It all started for me in January of 2013 when I was repeating one of my inane stories from the past to my wife, Janet.  She was laughing and suggested that I start writing these stories down for posterity and to perhaps start a blog.  I thought about it, looked up Word Press on the Internet, and began a journalistic adventure that has continued for 167 posts to date.  Most of my drivel is about outdoor adventures and experiences that have been humorous as well as telling about how I view the world.  My friend Eric from Nevada said to me when I started, that unless I have climbed Everest, saved sherpas and climbers from imminent death with my heroics, no one will really care about my blog except my friends who know me.  In fact many of my friends laugh and say that they can hear me telling the stories by the way that I write.  It is almost as if I am talking when they read the posts.  photo

So here are some conclusions for you to review along with some suggestions for those who might consider writing a blog:

  • Anyone can write a blog.  Millions of people do and most people will not be published in a magazine so this is the only way of scratching the writing itch.
  • Don’t expect to get rich.  It takes thousands of hits on the blog to get advertisers interested.  I currently have 567 followers -some faithful, some not, but it keeps growing incrementally and that is fine with me.  I am happy that some people find my writing entertaining and informative.
  • Keep it specific to a genre.  I chose to write about outdoor adventures with a touch of humor.  I am not an international outdoor adventurer sponsored by magazines or equipment manufacturers.  I am just Joe Blow who has had some funny times riding a bike, skiing, and running trails. images (3)
  • You have to be a shameless promoter.  At the risk of being obnoxious, I have told people about my blog and asked them to be a follower.  I have had business cards made, bumper stickers made( many of which have been plastered at ski areas all over the country).  My wife Janet keeps me in line if I get out of control promoting.  I just like to write and it is fun to see the blog grow.
  • Pay the hundred bucks to get the premium service from the platform provider.  You can put a lot of pictures and video with the space that Word Press allows and they give you excellent support.
  • You have to be creative and selective with “tags”.  If used properly, they can attract traffic to your blog.  Tags like “cycling” , ” skiing” , “humor”, etc.  IMG00375-20110730-0915
  • As the blog has grown, it is amazing to see where the hits come from.  All over the world!  Most of the followers now are people whom I have never met.  Other bloggers, curiosity seekers who are interested in outdoor subjects, people trying to sell me on marketing my blog, Facebook followers who are friends of friends.
  • Facebook was instrumental in growing the blog.  But as it has expanded, the Word Press followers have eclipsed the Facebook followers.  It is easy on my blog- just hit the button to the left and be a follower.  You will get an automatic email when I get creative- which is usually once per week.  See- promoting again!!
  • The posts are archived monthly and as I review them, I think my writing style has improved from the early posts.  I have learned what people like to read and what bombs as a post.  This post will most likely bomb but I had to do it as a review of where I have been and where I want to go with this.
  • Re-blogs are good to do because a lot of folks will not read the archives( frankly they don’t have time).  But the occasional re-blog will be timely and give me a chance to recharge the memory banks.  IMGP0205
  • Personal stories and posts that expose feelings and stations in life can be interesting to some folks who are going through the same thing or thinking the same thoughts.  I try not to get too serious but sometimes events inspire me to drop my drawers and expose my feelings for all to see.  Sometimes I moon people, sometimes I expose my heart.
  • I write a lot of this to document my life for my son.  He doesn’t read it.  But maybe someday he will.  Nothing malicious on his part.  He is just not interested.  And……………….that’s ok.  photo
  • As I go forward, I am running out of material.  My experiences and memory are waning.  But I will continue to write about things that strike me as I continue what has been a very active and fun outdoor life. I will keep it humorous, somewhat educational, and easy to read in a couple of minutes because that is all the time people have time to give my blog.  photo
  • I follow other people’s blogs to get ideas and to fan the flames of the kindred spirit.  They follow mine as well and I have amassed some very fun blogging friends from all over the world.  The Ouachita Shutterbug is a fun photo and musings blog.  Single-Tracked Mind is another and we have threatened to do guest blog posts for each other.  “To the nth degree ” is another one focused on outdoor life in Pennsylvania.  Helena is a mountain biker and kayaker.           My friends keep me grounded.  So far, I have not” jumped the shark” and when I do, enough will be enough.  But the challenge will  continue to write inspiring, “if I can do it, you can do it” posts as well as funny stories from the past.  Good photos will be included to round out the stories and if you have the chance to comment, please do so on Word Press or Facebook.  If you wish to contact me, my email is on the cover page.  Thanks for reading and I hope that I have not been too obnoxious or boring.  Hopefully my self deprecation will make you laugh and be inspired.

Navigating the Adventure Waterways

Piloting a water craft has never been my strong suit.  I have always been attracted to rafts, kayaks, canoes and the like, but my technique has never allowed me to be successful.  In fact some of the most humiliating experiences of my outdoor adventures have been my poor attempts to navigate the waters of adventure.  20It all started when I was a kid and our community pool manager,Don Geyer, took all of us to Ohiopyle,Pa. to go rafting on the Youghiogheny River.  It was fun and the large rafts navigated the rapids rather easily and I thought I was destined for greatness on the waters of the Laurel Highlands.  We had several trips over the years and I always went and my appetite for water adventure was created in those rapids on the Yough.  Fast forward to post college in my granola crunching years where I thought it would be cool to take up kayaking.  I took a 6 week course and felt really uncomfortable trying to roll myself upright in a pool in the kayak.  I always exited in ” save my ass” fashion and surfaced much to the disappointment of the instructor.  As patient as he was, he was not getting the rollover technique ingrained into his worst student.  I like to consider myself athletic but for some reason, the kayak and I were not friends and my balance sitting down in the thing was tenuous.  It was at this time of the year when we had our “graduation” on the Yough and I went to Ohiopyle with the group on a crisp fall day with snow flurries in the air.  Not the optimum conditions in my mind.  But I brought my state of the art Buckflex rain suit with me figuring that it would help me stay dry and warm as I navigated the river.  As expected, I went in the drink a lot and my rain suit was a poor substitute for a wet suit and I paddled soaking wet for most of the outing.  With snow flurries in the air and my teeth rattling from heat loss, I was a poor picture of a successful kayak whitewater adventurer..  My expert paddling friends Bert Davis, Jim Weaver, and John Hinderliter would not have been happy with my performance.  As I dragged the craft up the hill to the truck in silence, I knew that the kayak world of Ohiopyle was not for me and I had better find another pursuit.

7a8f5ae2-4c4f-439c-b3fd-312ea1779447_MSo moving on to the next opportunity, I entered an interesting race in the mountains that was a combination of skiing, mountain biking, canoeing and trail running.  My friend Dixon and I entered this race and I was undaunted by the fact that I had never piloted a canoe.  I figured that I had the skiing, cycling, trail running thing down pretty well and that the canoe would be a short venture into the unknown.  Was I surprised!!!  The skiing went well as we crossed the face of the mountain as fast as we could and were the first guys at the transition.  Dix and I both jumped on our bikes and rode the snow covered trails down to the Loyalhanna Creek where the canoe transition was placed.  Pumped up by the fact that Dix and I were both in the lead, I jumped in the canoe and promptly flipped it and I ended up in the drink again only this time, the water was bone chilling, teeth rattling, icy cold and it took my breath away.  As I saw Dixon successfully paddling downstream( he had been a canoe paddler all his life in his summers in New Hampshire), I scrambled to right the canoe and managed to drag my soaked frame into the boat and start the process of paddling.  As my legs started to cramp from the cold and wet, I once again told myself that I would never paddle another craft in my life as my teeth rattled in a deja vu fashion from my kayak days.  I managed to get the canoe to the shore for the next transition and changed into my wet trail running shoes and was able to catch up to Dix because he was not a runner.  We both were surprised that someone had surged ahead of us on the water and we ended up second and third, but looking at the snowy banks of the Loyalhanna from a submerged position in the water was an experience that I did not want again.

The last foray into the water craft world was right after I was married and much to my trepidation, I relented to take my father in law, mother in law, and my wife on a rafting trip on the Yough.  They knew that I had done it before and I was the household resident expert.  I ended up with my mother in law and my wife in a small 4 person raft as my father in law went with some other friends.  All was well until we approached the notorious “Dimple Rock” which had the reputation for bending canoes in half and sucking unsuspecting rafters into a vicious eddy before spitting them out into Swimmers Rapids. As luck would have it, my female companions were firmly planted in the front of the raft with yours truly at the rear piloting us directly into the path of the infamous, sucking rock.  No matter what I did, that thing was like a magnet and as we hit it flush in the center, the raft folded in half, I ended up 8 feet in the air and as the raft sprung back into shape after bouncing off the “Dimple” I was ejected out into the Swimmers Rapids.  My wife said later that she was talking to me and looked back to see no one in the rear of the craft..  I floated by them laying on my back with my life vest and tennis shoes protruding from the rapids and told them I would see them in a mile at the end of the Swimmers Rapids.  They were not too happy to be piloting the 4 man raft which was now the panicky two lady raft.  I climbed back in at the end of the rapids with my ears ringing with nothing sympathetic to say the least.

So as I see the leaves falling and the beautiful colors of the Laurel Highlands in full grandeur, I like to view it all from the seat of my mountain bike or on foot hiking the miles of available trails in our ridges to the east.  I have been tempted to try SUP and perhaps kayaking again.  But safe to say, those thoughts quickly vanish as I picture the drowned rat 59 year old kid on the waters of adventure.  Thanks for reading and don’t let me dismay you.  0fcb7bc6-f5b3-403f-98e3-006f9f8d1f5f_M

The Allegheny Crawl

There are a lot of distractions today for kids and their parents.  X Box, Play Station, soccer, baseball, organized teams, with all kinds of practices, games and meets.  So much more than when I grew up in a less harried environment.  Parents today rush around hauling their kids to multiple events and the logistics are mind boggling. Video games offer entertainment while parents tend to catch up on their own lives, but life is gas pedal to the floor in most households today. My parents did a lot for my sister and me back in the day, but the center of most of the activity was the community pool.  Moms tended to be stay at home in those days and as they lined up in their chaise lounges every day in what the guards called “hysterectomy row”, they cheered us on in our practices and meets with the swim team.  photo

I was a decent swimmer back then but only had a limited repertoire.  I could not swim the butterfly, backstroke was weird and I kept hitting the lane markers, freestyle was good for 25 meters and then I was fried.  But I could swim the breastroke all day because it was a natural stroke for me.  Problem was that I had some pretty good competition with the Rose brothers, Dru Duffy and Johnny Kane who were all talented breastrokers and I battled out the time trials in order to compete in the meets.  Sometimes I was successful and sometimes not but it was a good lesson for me that anything that you wanted in life, you had to work for and there were winners and losers.  Not everyone got a trophy, medal, or ribbon for just showing up – you had to learn to be a gracious winner and an equally gracious loser.  I swam in the winters too at the Allegheny YMCA on the northside of Pittsburgh in a rather rough neighborhood.  I saw fights, stabbings, police chases, and other various and sundry activities but my mom was steadfast in her belief that I should see all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.  My folks exposed us to a lot of athletic activities but interestingly, they were not athletic at all and had very little interest other than they thought these activities would be good for Molly and me.

The final activity of the summer/early fall after all the swim meets were over, was the annual Father-Daughter, Mother-Son relay where the parents had the opportunity to show off their prowess much to the delight of their kids and their friends.  As my mom lined up on the other side of the pool, she was on stage in her new suit and matching flowered bathing cap.  As the gun went off, she was the last one in the pool and began what she lovingly referred to as “The Allegheny Crawl.”  This was an odd stroke that was a combination breastroke/freestyle with a weak flutter kick that propelled my mom by the minutes instead of seconds as she flailed her way dramatically towards me.  She smiled at her friends and at me as if to say,” I will get there – be patient.”  Edna Kane had already touched the wall and John took off while I sat on the block waiting for my mom to “crawl” her way to the end of her lap.  With my little pot belly and Speedo at ready, I was amazed to see that the race was already over by the time my mom touched the wall and the silence of the crowd was deafening as I swam furiously to the other end of the pool.  The cheering was long over and my finish as an “also-ran” was a little humiliating.  But I smiled and congratulated my mom who was holding court and laughing with her friends.  But perhaps the most rewarding moment for my mom was to see my dad’s eyes as he hugged her with pride for attempting the event in the first place.  My mom and dad were always there for each other and my sister and I were always in second place.  They had a great marriage and it was evident in scenes like this when the pride in my dad’s eyes completely overshadowed the performance of the McCloskey mother- son relay team.  photoThe little guy holding the corner of the flag is me with my rival but good friend Johhny Kane to my left.  photo

Things were a lot less complicated in those days and the lessons learned at the community pool have lasted with me for a while now.  The competition, the practices, the atmosphere where all the kids and moms were safe and sound at the pool was comforting.  The lesson for me was that as much as we have tried to do for our kids and as much as generations will do in the future, the main thing is to put your spouse first like my folks did.  As the relays ended and the years at the pool marched on, I knew looking at my folks that all was well with the world when I saw the love in their eyes.  They rushed us to meets, practices, and all kinds of events like many of us do with our kids at great personal expense.  But the main focus was on each other.  I can imitate the Allegheny Crawl today and we all have a good chuckle out of that, but even though mom was not as fast as Edna Kane, she was stylish in her own way- crawling or not.  Long live Valley Brook Swim Club.  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.