Benchmarks

Tussey Mountain Trail at Rothrock State Forest

I think we all try to assess our fitness in the beginning of the season with a series of ” benchmarks” which are tests to see where we are. Personally, I have several hills on many of my mountain bike rides that I use as tests, and if I can ride them with no issue and not get off my bike, I know that I am still in the game. It takes some effort but they loom ahead as a reminder and they are there so that I can see how well I am doing at different points of the season. Usually in the spring these benchmarks are harder because I am just getting over my winter maintenance mode. This year I am backing off a bit. I don’t need to race anymore and I can ride at my own pace. But I still like to see where I am and if these benchmarks become easier as the spring and summer evolve.

Wet Rocks Define the Benchmark

Sometimes the conditions of the tests make them particularly difficult. Like now in the springtime with all the rain in the east, the slimy rocks and roots make for a particular challenge and you have the choice to either back off and ride around the challenge, or get off and walk, or ……..get it in gear and take the test. See how you do with a weather affected benchmark. Can you still ride it no matter what? It takes effort to do the latter but that is the criteria for assessing fitness and a sense of self satisfaction that you can still do this!

In today’s world, you have Garmin devices or apps on your phone that can also give you information on where you are. Time of a ride, distance, vertical feet of climbing, speed, etc are all measured and visible to you after and during each ride. There are also the competitive apps like Strava that can measure your effort against someone else or a group of riders on the same trail. I would have jumped on this years ago but now, I ride to ride another day.

Rainstorms Adding to the Difficulty of Benchmarks.

Some days, you just don’t feel like challenging yourself. The weather is bad, your motivation is lax or you just plain don’t feel like it. No one is watching and really the personal challenge is always up to you. There are always roadblocks to getting in shape or maintaining fitness but you have the choice. Either accept the challenge or not. Maybe not today but tomorrow? Your call. Kind of like the benchmarks we set for ourselves in life too? The challenge is always there to do the right thing. Help out a neighbor in need. Thinking of other people and what they are going through. My mother always said ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” It is so true and some days, we are not really motivated but we ” put it in gear” and do the right thing even if we don’t feel like it. Kind of like hitting that benchmark hill in full gear even though your motivation is not there at the moment.

My dad always had a saying for doing things that you may not like to do at the moment. He said it was like ” hitting yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop.” I laugh when I think of that but really, there are times when you have to reach for that higher gear and go for it. Help that neighbor battling a life threatening disease. Or the friend who is going through a personal struggle. I keep a legal pad on my counter in the kitchen that reminds me to pray for people whose names are on that list. But also, to remind me to do something for them. No matter what the weather is, no matter how tired I am, no matter how inconvenient. When you hit that higher gear and challenge that benchmark of kindness and civility, you feel so good. It is not the food that you brought them, or the flowers, candy, treats or whatever. I am sure they are appreciated. But the real appreciation lies in the fact that you thought of them and no matter what- you are there for them.

As we get older, complacency can settle in. But just like the hill challenge on a mountain bike ride, there are daunting challenges out there for you to tackle. Be up for the challenge and help your friends and even people who you may not know. Volunteer, donate, give your time and resources, and hit that higher gear. You will feel a sense of purpose and a calling that is highly rewarding. Thanks for reading.

Wolf Rocks. Laurel Mountain , Pa.

Younger Next Year

I learn something new every ski season. I like to think other people do as well like my buddy Bill Yalch, seen here with his eyes closed. He and Brady Cunningham asked me how to smooth out their turns and I gave them a tip that always works that basically says…”don’t be in a hurry to finish the turn and engage the new downhill edge early and ride it out- flexing the ankles along the way”. Ankles are the key. I followed them down the trails at Arapaho Basin and called out when to engage the edge and when to flex the ankle. They did it and were very happy. John and Richard Nicolette are two childhood friends of mine who are great skiers. They ski in a very efficient, traditional way, but were interested in the new method of engaging edges and widening their stance. Bottom line- good skiers like Richard and John get it done for sure, but there is always something to be learned with new technique.

Fast forward a day and I made my way to Reno to meet up with our annual gathering of F.O.E.D.( Friends of Eric Durfee).

This group comes from all over the country to ski with Eric due to his generosity and we all represent different phases of his life. Mark Hutchinson and Proctor Reid are his childhood friends from Vermont. Hutch was a race coach at Stowe and coached Erik Schlopy who was a U.S. Ski Team member. Proctor raced with them as juniors and eventually raced for Dartmouth. John Ingwersen and Bart Smith raced for Cornell with Eric, and I came on the scene after Eric was married to my friend Helen from Seven Springs. This group skis hard and for a bunch of 60+ guys, we go from the first chair to the last chair. This year we had a little addition to our usual hard core gathering. My friend Jeff Mihalsky, a snowboarder- splitboarder to be exact( he has great prowess in the back country), came up from Sacramento to ski with us at Mt. Rose. It was funny- he kept calling us “old dudes” but we all learned a bit about snowboarding and my friend Eric said no doubt that snowboarding saved the ski industry. It was a great vision to see a bunch of old hard core skiers having a blast with a young snowboarder. We all get down the hill hard and fast and it was a great day and a mutual learning experience.

So one day at Mammoth, Eric says to Hutch ( a seasoned PSIA Ski Instructor as well as race coach), ” Hutch- give us all a tip for us to work on this trip.” He thought about it for a while and after telling me to lower my center of gravity and look more ahead, telling Eric and Ing to follow the turns with their center of mass instead of being so countered in the typical race position, and telling Proctor practically nothing because he bends the skis so well and gets them out from under his body that there isn’t much improvement there. We all learned something from those suggestions and even though we all are seasoned skiers, we all can learn something every season. Thanks Hutch.

After a series of shoulder surgeries, hip replacements, and other corrected maladies with this group, the skiing is still pretty high level and I asked Eric how long did he think we could pound it like this. He remarked that as long as nothing catastrophic happened, he didn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have at least another ten years of high level skiing. That is the premise behind one of my favorite books,” Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley. Keep doing what you enjoy, stay in shape, and don’t let anyone tell you that you are too old. Chris is now in his eighties and skis and rides a bike everyday……everyday!!

I actually get a little depressed at the end of the ski season. I think about the year and how much fun it is to rip GS turns on a perfectly groomed slope. The thrill of skiing the steeps with the chalky smooth snow peeling from beneath my sharpened edges. The sun, the mountains, and the ability and the opportunity to enjoy them is something I treasure with my friends. As I nodded off on the plane after looking at the Rockies one last time this season, I daydreamed about the year and the laughs, the learnings, the fun, and the benefits of skiing. From the Laurel Highlands, to the Adirondacks, to the Rockies, to the Sierras, this season has been fun. Skiing is a lifetime sport and as we all move into another season, we have our motto…..” Younger Next Year”. Thanks Eric, Ing, Proctor, Bart, Richard, John, Bill, Brian U, McClean,Jeff L, Porter, John, Tim, Monty, Alan,Tom, Chris, Judy, Mike,Mike S, and my lovely wife and Holimont ski pal Janet, for a great 2016-2017 season. Thanks for reading and now it’s time to haul out the mountain bike.