Go Nordic!

Olympic Gold Medalist Jessie Diggins,

Years ago, I met a young lady who was a member of the Middlebury College Nordic Ski Team. She was recounting her workout routine while quickly demolishing a half gallon of ice cream right before my eyes. She had to pay close attention to her diet and make sure that she was eating enough calories to fuel her practices and meets. In many cases, they just can’t eat enough. You see, cross country ski racers are a rare breed. Among endurance athletes, they have the most impressive VO2 data and their engines are unmatched in the endurance sports world. We have a real superstar right here in the U.S with Jessie Diggins who is a member of our U.S Nordic Ski Team and a gold medalist from the most recent Olympic games in Korea. She has had tremendous success on the World Cup and is a favorite for gold in the upcoming Olympics in China. These athletes are amazing and their skill and endurance is worth watching on the upcoming coverage of the Olympics in February. Check them out.

More gold in China?

If you take it down several notches, there are opportunities out there for the mortal man to participate in this winter sport. I am an alpine skier and rarely get to go cross country skiing any more but I have always had respect for people who make use of Nordic ski centers like the one we have at Laurel Mountain right here in Pa.

Laurel Mountain Nordic Ski Center

The cool thing about cross country skiing is that you can enjoy it casually like a nice tour through the woods or you can make it a real workout. Traditional skis can be used in the machine made tracks and the feeling of gliding along with your skis floating though the tracked trail is spectacular. Shorter skating skis are also available and you can skate your way along groomed trails which is another great workout. Finally, there are wider touring skis that have metal edges which allow you to break trail on a freshly fallen snow landscape like a golf course. Many ski touring centers offer rentals and if not, most outfitters like L.L. Bean. Public Lands, and REI have equipment for sale or rent. With the recent big snow in the East, I see many people out on the golf courses and on the groomed trails these days trying to make the most of the winter weather.

Tracked Trails.

Years ago, I had touring skis and would ski at night on the golf course near my home with a light on my head. A fun workout on clear, cold nights. Oftentimes in those days, I would also visit my friend Eric in Vermont and as a diversion from alpine skiing at Killington, we would take cross country equipment out of his garage and head to the quarry near his home in Bethel, Vermont. It was there that we skied up and down gravel and sand piles showing off and usually crashing and burning many times until we either had destroyed his equipment or were so stiff and sore and snow covered that we left and headed home for a cold beer. Fun times in those days in Bethel.

I often joke with my friends who cross country ski. I call them communist skiers. They laugh because they know that I associate cross country ski racers with the Eastern Bloc. Most of the success in recent years has been with skiers from the Baltic countries or Russia as well as the usual suspects from the Scandinavian countries. But look out for the Americans. We are coming on strong and the term communist skier jokingly will be a term of the past for me.

As much as I like alpine skiing, I do miss the days when I used to cross country ski. I may take it up again although Janet and I like to snowshoe when we are not skiing. We take advantage of the snow when it comes. If you are looking for a good day in the woods, there is nothing like a sunny winter day with cross country equipment in hand. Try it and perhaps look up your local Nordic ski center or consult with L.L.Bean, Public Lands, or REI and enjoy the winter. Thanks for reading, watch the upcoming Olympics on NBC and Peacock, and think snow.

The Return of the Ride King

Jeff Wuerthele- aka ” The Ride King”

You know, you have to be a special kind of enthusiast to get two knee replacements and then come out on a 28 degree morning to bounce around on the rocks and roots of Laurel Mountain in November on a mountain bike. Jeff Wuerthele is that kind of person. In fact this whole crowd of guys who are in their 50’s and 60’s are enthusiasts who think nothing of weather and just appreciate the opportunity to ride in the Laurel Highlands on one of the last nice, sunny days of the year. From this point on, the weather here gets a little sketchy but these guys take it all in stride. They are also skiers and snowboarders so it stands to reason that they are not inhibited by weather that would make most people shy away and just sit on their couch watching SportsCenter. These are fun guys and I am happy to call them friends. In fact, my doc who is also in this group, commented that we all are good friends united by the sport of mountain biking. Guys like Jeff Wuerthele kept us all together for years with rides in the mountains and I am happy to have him back on the trails. He said it was the first group ride he has done in a while and he was happy he showed up.

Just to give you a snapshot of how these guys tick- lets take a quick look at this group, of which I am the elder statesman soon to be 67 years young.

Jeff Wuerthele- retired, former bike industry luminary and overall fun guy who lives full time in the Laurel Highlands and enjoys snowboarding and riding a mountain bike- again after two knee replacements.

Angelo Ross- the youngster in this crowd. A true renaissance man who is a retired school teacher, is currently on the Alpine skiing education staff for the Professional Ski Instructors of America. He has his own podcast, his own clothing business, and is also a guide for Wilderness Voyageurs in Ohiopyle, Pa. Very talented in a lot of areas.

John Cassucio- successful businessman and mountain bike and skiing enthusiast who is in excellent shape and fuels himself on Hammer products and vitamins. He is a testament to living cleanly and respecting his health as he ages. Not to mention a fun guy with a great sense of humor, and a skilled videographer.

Mark” the Shark” Sauers- mentioned many times in this blog. A true character who is a successful sales guy in the medical field, a certified snowboard instructor and excellent mountain biker. Perhaps his greatest asset is his willingness to share his faith on the trails with all those who ride with him. He walks the walk for sure.

Steve Gurtner- dentist and enthusiastic skier and mountain biker. Great sense of humor and a really skilled rider. His famous self deprecating line is ” Pat- we are bringing our B game to an A ride.” Not quite true in his sense because he is a fit, skilled rider, but funny all the same.

The Doc- Syed Hyder- seen here on the right. Syed is always on a busman’s holiday on our rides because he is always patching up people. The story of him inserting a presta valve into some guys chest on a ride to relieve air pressure is legendary in the medical community. An excellent and skilled rider and a really funny sense of humor always entertains us on the rides.

5 old ding dongs trying to repair Syed’s tire. Jeff working hard- LOL!
The Doc prior to Wolf Rocks eating his tire.

While we were all out in the woods as far as we could be from the cars trying to repair Syed’s tire in many different ways, we all remarked that just hanging around in the sunshine in the Laurel Highlands was enjoyable enough. Nobody cared that we were temporarily dead in the water as it was all part of an adventure for old guys out in the wilderness. That is the cool thing about mountain biking. Probably more than any venture I do outdoors, this community is responsible for fostering many lifetime friendships. Hard to explain – you have to be a mountain biker to understand. But, the adventures, the laughter, the camaraderie and the ability to participate as we all get older is fantastic. Most of my friends are either mountain bikers or skiers or in many cases, both. Lots of gray hairs under those helmets.

The wonderful end to the day of adventure was eating at the Out of the Fire Cafe in Donegal with our good friends – Julie and Jeff Chetlin. Jeff is very much like the Ride King in that he is the lynchpin of many cycling groups. Currently rehabbing from a health issue, Jeff is anxious to rejoin this group of merry men as well as others in the expansive network of Chetlin ride partners. He and Julie were so happy to see everybody and hear the stories of mishap on the trails. He is missed and we are all sure he will soon return to full health. Like Syed, he remarked that he has met all his good friends through mountain biking. Again, there is something about this sport that is uniting in many ways and we all feel it one way or another.

Angelo, the Ride King and Cassucio- just hanging around.

So, as I finish my rambling this week, I guess the point of all of this is that there is value to being active outdoors that extends beyond the health benefits. To participate in a healthy, challenging sport and to foster life long friendships as a result, is a real plus as we all age. I always remember Scott Nichol, of Ibis Bikes, stating a simple encouragement. When I asked him how long did he think we all could do this at this level as we age? His simple remark was,” Pat- don’t think about it- just keep doing it.” That has been my mantra for sure- just keep doing it. And if I can do it with friends like these guys, I will be a happy man living a long, healthy, fruitful life. Thanks for reading.

Paturday

Wolf Rocks at Laurel Mountain with the Paturday Crew- Photo by John Cassucio

My friend Jeff Chetlin calls my rides Paturday rides. Kind of a reference to the fact that my mountain bike rides as of late are more relaxed and the theme is to enjoy the ride. I also refer to my rides as PPPP. Pat’s Pleasant Park Peddling. You see, I have chased people on road bikes and mountain bikes for 40 years. This year I decided to just bring it back a notch and ride at my own pace. When my pals come on a Paturday ride, they know they will have a good ride, good mileage, good route and a good time. We don’t have to kill each other, we just need to enjoy the ride. Ride to ride another day, don’t get hurt, and well……………have fun. Nobody is going to the Olympics.

Take this weekend for example. The Paturday ride was at my favorite place locally to ride a mountain bike- Laurel Mountain. I don’t know what it is about the Laurel HIghlands but I feel truly relaxed up there. I like the Laurel Mountains at all times of the year, and I have a couple of good mountain bike routes that challenge the best and allow for the more casual to also enjoy. Paturday means when we come to a particularly tough rocky section- I let the tough guys go and I meet them at the end of that particular section. They have had a challenge, and if I don’t feel like killing myself, I just ride an alternate trail and meet them. They are all smiles and breathing hard and getting what they need. I have a more relaxed section and that is just fine with me. The people who ride with me get their share of the rocks and roots that make a Laurel Mountain ride classic. But I/we don’t have to do all of them. The tough younger guys on the Paturday ride do them all and I admire them for sure. But I get enough skipping the real killer sections. Paturday- something for everyone.

Enjoying the ride.

One of the benefits of the PPPP pace is the ability to look around and see things that I really never saw before. I see the huge ferns that line the trails at Laurel. I take the time to go out to Wolf Rocks Overlook and see the Laurel HIghlands in all their splendor. In a couple of weeks, that overlook will yield spectacular views of the gently rolling ridges with the leaves blazing with color. I never took the time to notice that before. I was too busy chasing the guy in front of me. I also notice that when I ease into a ride instead of blasting out of the parking lot and redlining my heart rate, I do much better on the ride. It takes me a good 45 minutes to warm up. I guess that is a function of getting close to 67 years of age. I am like a diesel. I am not fast anymore, but if I can warm up, I can ride for longer periods of time. If I try to follow the tough guys and blast out of the parking lot- my ride is basically over. Ease into it, enjoy the flora, the things you can see on the trails, and the ride is much more enjoyable if you just take it down a notch.

I have been blessed with a lot of fun friends who ride. The cool thing about mountain bikers is that they are relaxed and the emphasis is fun on the trails. Sure, there are some that still race, or ride race pace, and want to use the rides for training. That is great. But even those guys like the ” chill” atmosphere of a Paturday ride and know that every ride does not have to be a training ride. Mountain bikers are fun people where the apres ride is as important as the ride itself. People bring snacks, beers, chairs and a general state of comradery exists.

So, I guess the point here is no matter what you do, run, ride, hike, or walk, – try a PPPP pace or make it a Paturday pace. I think you will enjoy yourself and see things that you never allowed yourself to see before. Thanks for reading. Fall is coming. A wonderful rime of the year here in Western Pa.

Seemed Like a Vacation

Ok, so we all are getting a little cabin fever, right? Vacation plans are on hold, getting together with friends is typically by phone call or text. The walls of the house are kind of closing in and it is important to get out and get some fresh air and exercise for more than the need to boost the immune system. We need it to also boost us mentally as we plow through this Covid-19 issue. We think back to how it was before when we could go somewhere and have a change of scenery. That option, for the moment, has been limited to local venues like parks, and local trails for the mountain bike set. But last Saturday, we called an audible and it seemed, well……..like a vacation of sorts. A few of us, trying to be socially distanced, met at Laurel Mountain State Park in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania and rode on the trails that are lined with mountain laurel, spring wildflower growth, and in general, bathed in brilliant sunshine.

The enthusiasm in the parking lot was felt among all of us as several of us had not seen each other in a while. We all have our little socially distanced riding groups of a few people but this time, a few more people showed up under the threshold of what is acceptable. The laughs, the mood, the stories about how we all are coping were well received and set the tone for a Saturday ride in the Laurels. My friend Jeff dubbed it a ” Paturday” ride because of my pleasant route through the rocks and roots at a relatively acceptable pace. A couple of the fast guys and gals(Everyday Dave and Eric and friends) took off and did their thing which was fine but my race pace days are over as well as many of us in our group. Jeff even brought his drone and took some really cool footage of all of us socially distanced on the Wolf Rocks. The important thing was the camaraderie that is always present on mountain bike rides. This day was exceptional because of the extenuating circumstances and I think we all recognized the value of the change of venue and the need to socially connect in person.

But if I could put my finger on the one thing that made “Paturday” special besides all the good folks who showed up to ride was the fact that we all can appreciate something right in our own backyard. Sure, we can’t wait to get back to Bend or other far away riding places. But for the moment, we all appreciated the chance to get away about an hour and a half from our closed in walls and enjoy something local. Appreciate something local. Maybe like we have never done before? I kind of take riding at Laurel for granted but not anymore. Even the obligatory stop at the Pie Shoppe in Laughlintown for the home made pizza and delicious baked goods was appreciated more than most stops. This Covid thing will teach a lot of us a lot of lessons. One of them is to appreciate all that you have. Thanks for reading- and riding.

Be a follower on Word Press. Enter your email to the left here or on your smart phone at the bottom. The blog is growing. Thanks.