The Bike and the Box Turtle

So, I am pounding up the Bathtub Trail, kind of clearing my head on a solo mountain bike ride this week and I come upon a box turtle right in the middle of the trail. I did something unusual- I stopped. I checked him out and marveled at the way the color of his shell blended in with the rapidly changing leaves all around me. I looked at the texture of his shell and thought to myself, what a wonderful Creator who weaved this beautiful ecosystem we have to enjoy right in my own county park. As I made my way up the trail, I noticed the diversity of the leaves that were beginning to cover the ground. Flaming red maple leaves, brilliant yellow oak leaves, multicolored ash, chestnut, and other species of deciduous trees that spread their foliage like a patchwork blanket before me. Fall has arrived and I am contentedly happy.

Usually I try to ride for a good workout and push myself, even on solo rides. But this day was reserved for more pleasant riding, kind of like mobilized hiking enjoying the natural world all around me. At this time of year, the trails are usually dry and you can pretty much ride as fast as you can and feel “in the zone” as you rail the corners and pound up the hills. This is the time when most of us are in peak shape and the euphoria that you feel after a fast paced ride is intoxicating. But, there are days in the fall when I like to just ride the bike for relaxed transportation in a world that is peaceful, welcoming, and shelters you from the pressures of the real world. The changing leaves are all around and along with the shorter evenings, the cooler temperatures, and the smell of the tannin in the leaves displays something that Western Pa. has in it’s bag of tricks to entice travelers and natives alike. If you are out in it, close your eyes and take a deep breath of that musty, woodsy, cool air into your lungs. Only at this time of year does it smell like that. Summer fragrances, winter blasts of cold air,spring evening smells, are all good eye closing intakes, but the fall air is the best.

The mountain trails in our Laurel Highlands are coming alive with color, and arm warmers, vests, tights, are all practical wear as the cooler temperatures welcome in the coming winter season.

But back to the box turtle. Instead of using him as a speed bump, I took the time to examine him and notice how he fits in. The diversity of the changing flora seem to welcome him as part of their patchwork of color. The buck are starting to surface and as they stare at you with their fully grown racks, they are part of this diversified animal kingdom that makes up the forest in the mountains and parks of Western Pa. Turkey, grouse, groundhogs, raccoons, birds of all species, including the majestic osprey and red tail hawk, are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. Bald eagles are visible in the mountains and their wingspans continually amaze me as I stop to take in their flight pattern in the ridges to the east. I see open chestnut pods releasing their treasure to the scurrying squirrels and chipmunks. Acorns,and seeds of all kinds are being scooped up by very busy little rodents who take great chances using the trails full of hikers and mountain bikers. The come perilously close to losing their life as they dodge the knobby tires of the many bikes on the trails.

But as my mind wandered, I thought about how all of this fits together. The trees, the leaves, the animals, all form the ecosystem that we call the forest. As I ride along, not in anaerobic debt, I take in the smells, the sounds, and the sights of a changing natural world. Yet it is one entity created out of a patchwork of diversity. Kind of makes you think doesn’t it? Enjoy the fall. Thanks for reading.

The Tribe

I am reading an interesting book by Dr. David J. Rothman called,” Living the Life- Tales from America’s Mountains and Ski Towns”. I thought it was going to be some fun stories about the ski life but it has turned out to be so much more in the description of the lifestyle of the sports that we are all passionate about. Dr. Rothman suggests that there was a certain “cause and effect” that took place when we realize that something that we were attracted to as an outdoor activity became a passion. The resulting experiences and stories are shared by a group of people that are communities in effect and we understand the stories that we tell about ourselves.

I remember coming back from Tuckerman Ravine2013-02-05-the-bowl one year and telling my folks about the steepness of the skiing and the ice block avalanches and the weather and the total experience of being in the mountains in it’s most raw state, and my mother’s response was, ” That’s nice dear- would you like some more potatoes.” Not my mom’s fault but she just didn’t get it or appreciate it. But the Tribe does. That is what Dr. Rothman so eloquently describes in his book and what I am about to describe here to you.

There are groups of people who I call fans. They are football fans, baseball fans and many of them have played the sport but most of them are fans of a sport in which others perform. In sports like skiing,mountain biking and snowboarding, there are groups that are formed and friendships made that last a lifetime. IMG_0803 These groups also merge into what I call ” The Tribe” which is a gathering of many groups celebrating the passions of these activities. The gathering of the Tribe can take place at a mountain bike festival, a race, or at the bottom of the slopes in the springtime for instance at a ski area where folks are celebrating the weather, the friendships, and the stories around a beer and a burger on a sun splashed deck.

If you are not involved in a group or a Tribe of people, chances are you will be lost in the conversations of the Tribe. ” Hey- did you see that endo that Joe did over the bars into the creek with all that splooge on his face?” ” Hey- did you see Mike ski down that couloir with rocks on every side?” ” I looked down that couloir and had to really think about that first turn.” ” How about that climb out of the canyon?” ” How about that rock strewn singletrack with the slimy root section- hairy wasn’t it?” These are the types of conversations that infuse the gathering of the Tribe at a festival, race, or ski area. IMG_0723

The disappointing thing about being with the Tribe of your peers, is that when you come back to work, or home and try to recreate the vibe of that weekend or time spent with the Tribe, you cannot adequately describe it. But the cause and effect and the passion that resulted in the decision to join a group and the several times a year gathering of the Tribe, is necessary because these are the people who are ” your people.” Nothing against your co-workers, family, friends who may not participate but there is nothing like the feeling of when the Tribe gathers and the stories begin at the end of the day around a campfire or an outdoor deck. IMG_0811

Recently the local mountain bike tribe gathered in the Laurel Highlands for a celebratory ride for a birthday of a friend. A whole cadre of folks came out representing many groups of riders all there to celebrate the big day of one of our own. Elaine Tierney, of Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and Dirt Rag Magazine notoriety, said it best when she was amazed at the gathering of different age groups represented. Elaine remarked,” We have people riding here in their 20s, 30s, 40s 50s and 60s. All age groups riding together and enjoying all that the mountains and the friendships have to offer. Age means nothing when you are passionately involved in a sport like mountain biking, skiing, or snowboarding. So, I always encourage older folks not to shy away from an activity because they think they are too old. There is a group for you and also a Tribe who will welcome you with a smile, a beer, and conversation that you can understand once you are a member. Thanks for reading. Be a follower of the blog

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

Bouncing along the Laurel Ridge

photophoto There is a saying around here that if you grow up skiing in the east, you can ski anywhere. Easterners cut their teeth on rock hard icy trails with high winds and frigid conditions. Some of the best racers and skiers in the country grew up skiing on the steep and demanding trails of the East. The same can be said for the trails that we Easterners ride on mountain bikes. From the mountains of Georgia, to the Shenandoahs, to the Appalachians, to the Green and White Mountains of New England, the trails are rocky, rooty, muddy, sploogy, tests of will in very tight singletrack conditions. The Greenlee boys taught me the ropes a while back when we rode at Moraine State Park. This area in Western Pa. is known as the Terminal Moraine. Geologically speaking it is where the glaciers melted and deposited large amounts of granite not indiginous to this area. These granite tombstones litter the trails and make the riding challenging to say the least. All of us who ride in Western Pa. have been exposed to these trails one time or another if they are serious about mountain biking.

West Virginia is held in the same regard for demanding trails as I have pointed out in previous posts. Gunnar Shogren, a former GT Mountain Bike Professional was known as the “Beast of the East” because his stock always rose when national races were held in the East where he was most comfortable. Western rides tend to be lung searing, altitude challenges with fire roads and singletrack. But nothing can compare to the Eastern conditions that we ride regularly. Central Pa. has its mountains and no challenge is greater than the Tussey Mountain Trail or the associated trails that are part of the Rothrock State Forest near State College,Pa. If you want to ride momentum stopping, tombstone like obstacles in the trail, you need not look any further than the Tussey Mountain Trail or the John Wert Path. A true test of skill and endurance can be found here.

However, the Laurel Ridge is close and dear to my heart because I have spent a majority of my life enjoying the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. The trails in the mountains have their own challenges as seen by the picture of the “Rock Garden” at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. http://www.7springs.com This section of trail is part of the 24 Hour Race Course and has also been part of the course when the NORBA National Mountain Bike Series was held at Seven Springs. I fractured my wrist in this lovely little garden a few years back and was relegated to riding most of the summer in an Ace Wrist Guard with a metal protector. A little uncomfortable for the summer but it allowed my wrist to heal while I still pounded the trails. I have spoken in the last few posts about testing and pushing yourself even when you are a 58 year old kid like me. Momentum is always your friend, as my friend Barry Jeffries always says. Sometimes you have to test your will and ride these sections to keep your skills sharp if you want to continue to enjoy what the Laurel Highlands has to offer. There are miles of trails like the other photo shown above and I always enjoy the Laurel Highlands on a mountain bike. I call it accelerated hiking. No cars, no crowds, just quiet peaceful trails riddled with the frequent challenges of rocks and roots. Your troubles can be left behind if you ride these trails because you have virtually no time to think about anything else than concentrating on where to put your wheel in the next rock section. Whenever I finish(survive) a good ride in the Laurel Mountains, I feel like I got a very good workout and kept my riding skills sharp. Even for an old guy.

If you check out my post about my fireplace, it is constructed with the rock that you find in the mountains of Western Pa. It is a constant reminder to me of the challenges that we face whenever we Eastern riders go to our trails of choice. Like the skiing here, the riding is challenging. The green woods are lush with fern growth and the hardwoods provide a perfect canopy for riders. Lots of local riders enjoy these trails and many of them ride them with true expertise. But it is important for us older riders to continue to ride these challenging trails and keep our skills sharp so that we can enjoy this wonderful sport for a long, long time. Test yourself, push yourself. We all know our limits but when you go just a little beyond your comfort zone, keep your momentum up and ride it out, you can have a thrill that lasts for many days until………….the next ride. Check out the Laurel Highlands. Whether you ski them, hike them, or ride them, let them teach you. You will enjoy it. Thanks for reading.