Connections

The Minarets- The View that Never Disappoints

Sorry I missed my Monday post but here it is a little late. I was skiing Mt. Rose, Nevada on Monday with my pals Eric and Hutch. We were on our usual spring trip to Mammoth and finishing in Tahoe. Hutch and I both said on the chairlift that if Eric had not moved to Nevada, we might not be here. It is our connection to him that enables us to ski in a great part of the country seeing that he moved there from Vermont. I have been skiing with Eric for over 40 years and his friend Hutch from Vermont for over 20 years. But it is just not the “hookup” of a friend in ski country, but rather a lifelong relationship that has developed between us as a result of skiing. The connection is more than skiing- it is true friendship when times are good and not so good.

Top of Diamond Peak. Maybe one of the best views in skiing. Lake Tahoe.

Then there is the spontaneous connection like what happened at Mammoth. My friend Robb from my local area, mentioned to me via social media that he and some friends were going ski touring in California and would we be available to ski with them at Mammoth before they went on their excursion? I texted back an enthusiastic “yes” and we connected at the top of chair 1 at Mammoth and had a grand day skiing together. Robb, Andy, Don, and Perry, all friends from my local ski area, were delighted to be led around by Eric who is the most familiar with the Mammoth terrain. It is not often that you can get a group of 7 and stay together. But these guys are all great skiers and the “group of seven” stayed connected and maxed out the vertical. Even though the really good Mammoth skiing off the the gondola was not available that day due to wind hold, Eric gave the boys all they wanted skiing the lower half of the mountain. The connection between the Pittsburgh boys and the Vermont/Tahoe boys was a good one and now they have connections in both Vermont and Tahoe.

Andy and Robb
Smiling Perry- Don was there somewhere?

Finally there is the connection that makes you think. Why did it happen, and perhaps for a reason? We were skiing June Mountain after leaving Mammoth and taking in some amazing scenery. At the top of of one of the chairlifts, we heard a voice calling to us. Skiing off the chair behind us was a smaller person, bundled up with large goggles and helmet. As the person approached us, the conversation was about how we all met at the gondola at Mammoth and we were recognized by the person as the “Stockli” guys. This person was skiing Stocklis too and was very happy to connect with us that morning. As the conversation continued, it was noted that the person was 60 years old. I said ” well you are a young guy”, kidding as we were older. The person replied that “she” was not a “he” and my gaffe became apparent. She laughed and said she was a lesbian and for me not to worry about it. In fact , she said” I take it as a compliment” Hard to tell with all the clothes on, but Deb from Mammoth was happy to ski with us as she said we were “really good skiers” and that we got her psyched to ski that morning. She seemed to want to hang with us and I boarded the chair with her because I felt bad alluding that she was a he. Guilt ridden hell that morning but apparently I was meant to make that connection. Deb told me that she moved to Mammoth from Vegas and loved working at the gondola. It was a good gig for her retirement years. She had a tough time with some customers at the gondola the day before. Apparently they didn’t want to wear their mask and the altercation became a little nasty. She said most of the people are like us, very compliant. But this year, she said about 15% of the people have been jerks. We had some good runs together and when I saw her later in the lunch line, she looked at me and said” thanks for skiing with me. I needed that this morning and you guys were great.” Not sure what was going on with Deb, if the altercation the day before had her down, or something else? But again , the connection was meant to be and perhaps skiing once again proved to be a conduit. You never know what is going on in people’s lives and if somehow, you can make their day a little brighter, you have succeeded as a human for at least that day.

Lifelong connections, spontaneous connections, or random chance connections are all good. I know one thing. Next year at the Mammoth gondola, there will be a happy face reconnecting with us and thanking us for saying hello. Good on ya Deb. Thanks for reading.

June Mountain Perfectly Groomed

White Knuckling

Classic New York State Thruway

You know- when you are a kid, you are fearless. Take me for instance. Whenever there was a snow day at school, I would jump into my mother’s ’64 Buick Special and head to the mountains. I threw some sand bags from the garage into the trunk, and headed out with big honker snow tires on the back. Rear wheel drive in those days. I remember taking it to Canaan Mountain, West Virginia for my very first PSIA clinic. What a ride on those backcountry roads. My dad called it ” The Yellow Bomb”. My mother always laughed and said” too much snow to go to school, so you drive to the mountains?”

The Yellow Bomb

Fast forward- after college I taught skiing at Sugarloaf , Maine and there were some harrowing drives to the ski area in Bob Irish’s VW which I used for the winter, staying in his cabin in Stratton, Maine. 40 below straight temps were not uncommon and I had to heat the oil with an electric dip stick otherwise the bug would not turn over. There were many subsequent drives on the New York Thruway over the years, going to Vermont and the Adirondacks to visit friends and attend the many PSIA clinics after passing my certification for ski instruction at Killington. The difference was I got smart and started to drive four wheel drive vehicles. They inspire confidence but they slide just like any other car. My first one was an orange International Scout which was a heavy bucket of bolts that seemed to always have some kind of mechanical issue. But it generally got me where I wanted to go.

I had a tow strap in the Scout and pulled many a stranded motorist out of a snowbank including the Honorable Richard Caliguiri – Mayor of Pittsburgh. He thought I was some kind of Somerset special and gave me a brief nod of approval before driving off and leaving me with my strap and a soiled ski school jacket.

After many ” white knuckle ” experiences behind the wheel of my 4 wheel drives, I got pretty comfortable navigating the roads of New England, Pennsylvania and Upper New York State. Recently my Jeep has served me well but I find as I get older, my driving has become more conservative. I rent 4 wheel drive pickups on ski trips and sometimes the tires are suspect. I have driven many times on I-70 in Colorado in whiteouts, and on 395 headed to Mammoth, the roads can become like driving on a mirror. My white knuckling on the steering wheel is the subject of laughter with my friend from Vermont and the other from Tahoe who ask if we will eventually get to the ski area say in June? My wife prefers 4 wheel drive SUVs on trips, but the boys prefer the pickup. The Mt. Rose Highway in Tahoe has been the site of many a harrowing night’s drive with epic snows either closing the roads or sending us on an alternate route.

Sierra Snow Conditions
The Sportmobile

When my friend Eric offers to drive his Sportsmobile, I am most grateful knowing I will not have to fight the roads with a rental pickup. We will get there safely and even when there are two foot snows during dinner, we will always get back to where we need to be. This is some kind of vehicle. Eric and his wife Helen take it all over the west.

So, I am not as fearless as I was in the 64 Buick or even the Scout, the Blazer, or the Montero, which went sideways one day down Highland Ave with my young son in his car seat. The blood eventually returned to my knuckles about an hour later in that storm. But the subsequent vehicles, including my current Wrangler, have served me well even though I take my time so as not to end up in the median or on a guard rail. Driving in the snow is not for the faint of heart, but with a lot of experience, and a certain amount of earned respect, I am a pretty good navigator of all things winter. Even though I may not make it to the destination until June. LOL!! Thanks for reading and drive safely this winter.

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The Jeep Wrangler

The Stoke

The Daly Chutes – Deer Valley, Utah

” Dude- I am stoked”. ” Man- the stoke is high today.” ” Stoked man.” You have all heard this in a lift line or elsewhere on a great day. Young people still get excited about skiing and they verbalize it in different ways including the word………….”stoke”. Now I am beyond the stoke vernacular in age, so I would not be caught dead calling anyone a dude or that I am stoked. However, the neat thing about skiing is that all ages can participate. I have skied for 59 years – as a kid and now as a grown kid. But still- I know my place among the millennials and keep my distance when verbalizing how I love a great day of skiing. I get ……. well ……..excited ,or at the ragged edge of adjective description- ” pumped” LOL!!

Mammoth Mountain , California.

So really- for the older generation of skiers, what exactly is ” stoke?” Well- it can be used to describe something about to happen. Like when your skis are hanging over a cornice and you are about to drop in. The excitement is high as you visualize your first couple of turns. And you are ….” stoked” . You drop in and make a series of linked turns and when you get to the bottom, the stoke turns past tense and you are ” stoked ” with that run. You have finished a high anxiety opportunity and you made the best of it and your smile is a wide as your face and you are ……………”stoked”. Me………………I am happy to have made some good turns and I silently say………..” alright!!!!!!” Would never yell out ” stoked.”

Stoke can also be used to describe the atmosphere of the moment. Like when you are standing in a lift line on a huge powder day. You hear the whoops and yeeeeeeowwws of the younger set as they recover their skis that they strategically placed in line at the front and they wait for the rope to drop. The ” stoke is high” as they impatiently wait on the chair ride for those first untracked turns in great snow. You hear the word ” stoked” all over the place as the crowd rushes from the lift to make those first signature turns. ” Dude- I am stoked” Not for me. I stay my course and politely ski out of the way of the dudes.

Laurel Mountain, Pa. 8:00 AM

I get excited as I look out on a perfectly groomed trail ready for the first turns of the day. I smile and click into my bindings, push off, and feel pretty darn good as I make my first turns on a sunny winter day no matter where I am. Out west or local. I am …….excited” I probably didn’t sleep real well but that is ok. I still have the enthusiasm of a kid as I slide down the mountain. Yes- I guess I am ” stoked” although I would never admit it or say it ……..except to you.

Things are a little weird now and my Jeep is my lodge as I now say. But we are happy booting up in the lot and eating our lunch in the Jeep. The stoke might be a little askew but we are definitely happy that the lifts are turning and we are skiing.

So although “stoke” is not really in my vocabulary, I am happy that the young people still enjoy the merits of skiing like I do and for that I guess I am …………………..” stoked.” Enjoy the winter and thanks for reading- dude.

Resolutions

Laurel Mountain

This time of year I usually see lots of people running our local park loop around the lake. People with the very good intention of changing it up for the New Year. Sadly, according to a study at the University of Scranton, 80 percent of people do not stick with their New Years resolutions for the complete year. I believe that a lot of people either start too fast or too hard to get in shape, lose weight, or whatever else motivates them. Then it becomes a chore and a lot of people quit what was to be a very good intention. I always encourage people to start easy and work into it. Then the chances of sticking with the resolution become greater and the benefits become apparent. You should be able to enjoy the workout and not stress yourself. I always say at this point in my life- no one is going to the Olympics. I have a friend who says to start slow and taper off. We all laugh but that is a good motto.

This time of year, I am usually skiing. I continue to ride a mountain bike for exercise but as I age, I have been trying to enjoy the activities and not stress myself with unattainable goals. I find that exercise 4 days a week including skiing and mountain biking is enough to keep me in shape. I have found recently that if I back off just a little bit, I can enjoy the activity so much more. Take skiing for instance. If you start out too fast, the turns are compromised and you end up fighting to get some kind of rhythm. I have found that if you start with some nice rounded turns, you can ease into the run and enjoy the quality of a good turn instead of trying to get as much vertical as possible. Quality instead of quantity is my current motto. I like to be able to look back and say, ” now they were some good turns.”

Mammoth Mountain, California

It also gets me ready for runs like the above when I travel. Same thing. Not too fast just make good turns and execute.

Winter riding is the same. This is not the time to be a world beater. Especially in my mid 60s where I am definitely not a world beater. I find that backing off a little bit enjoying the snowy conditions, and just appreciating the ability to get out and ride a couple of times a week is good enough. Alternate activities like snowshoeing are good too to mix it up a bit.

Winter Riding with the lights.
Snowshoeing with the bride.

In any event, enjoying the moment and not killing myself seem to be the ticket for me as I make my way into 2021. It has been an odd time with the pandemic but outdoor activities seem to be Covid resistant and if we are careful, we can enjoy the outdoors and not need to worry. I won’t live in fear but I also need to be vigilant.

So as we make resolutions into 2021, it is important in my opinion, to be realistic with your goals and what you want to achieve. You don’t want to be one of the 80 percent that falls short. In addition, I think that a lot of resolutions should include what you can do for others. The elderly, the shut ins, people who are injured, friends who are having a tough time financially, psychologically, or otherwise all need our help. Maybe as we run around the lake, ride, ski, or do whatever we do in the New Year actively, we can include some thinking about what we can do for others. I am no motivational expert here. Just an older guy trying to keep on keepin on, and making the best of what is ahead of me. It takes a village as they say and we all can do something positive for our physical health this year as well as using some time to help others. Thanks for reading and Happy New Years to all of you.

Breaking the Seal

So finally after waiting 8 months to ski again,( mild depression sets in on the last day of skiing no matter how much I like mountain biking), we rode up the chairlift and effectively broke the seal on the new 2019-2020 ski season. I said to the group it is like breaking a seal on a bottle of Gatorade. You take that first thirst quenching taste and then replace the cap. You feel so much better and you have done what needed to be done and experienced opening day even though the terrain was limited. Seven Springs Mountain Resort( our home area here in Western Pa) did a great job of snow making and grooming to open some nice skiing for the crowd that had been waiting patiently amid all the postings from the Ski the East group on Facebook. We were finally in the mix and proudly posted that the Springs was open for business and all is well.

Now you might ask, ” Why go up for one slope and two trails?” But my avid skiing friends all remarked in unison, ” Why not?” After a nice breakfast hosted by Seven Springs for all the season pass holders, ( which was excellent by the way), the enthusiastic crowd converged on the two chair lifts and the lines were long. But the best part was that nobody seemed to care and everyone figured that they would eventually get on the chair to take their first run of the season. Waiting in line was fine with all the “hellos” and ” how was your summer” conversations and not one person had a frown on their face or a negative word to say. We are all skiers and we are breaking the seal on the new season.

 

My friends Jaime and Melissa Thompson had been texting and giving me email updates all week on the gigantic snow whales that were forming because of the round the clock snow making . Armed with an arsenal of new HKD snow making nozzles and towers and a new 20″ main water line, Seven Springs was locked and loaded. The groomers eventually flattened the whales and the smooth groomed surface was ready for the taking. For the uninitiated, whales are huge snow piles that form in strategic areas from extended snow making. The water drains through the pile and when it is “seasoned” the pile become rubble for the groomers who smooth it over a larger area.

No matter what, your first run of the season is always exciting. From day one for me, back in 1961,  to the present day, I always cherish that first chair lift ride and that first turn down the mountain. I will always remember those first of the season outings with Bob Rose picking us up in the station wagon for the weekends in the mountains. I couldn’t wait for the phone call. My mom had dinner waiting for me when I got that call to be ready in a half hour on a Friday night. What a great way to grow up as a kid.  That excitement still is with me all these 58 years later. And although that first turn is always a little ragged. I thought to myself, “is the tuning ok or is something amiss?” But then I realize that I am in the back seat and need to get forward. Once that comfort sets in, the turns became more smooth and I realize that once again, ” I have this” and a new season begins.

Bill Boucher said it best when he stated in the lift line that it is hard to explain this enthusiasm to most people especially folks who don’t ski. But he went on to say that,” Pat, this has been such a huge part of our life and it still is.” Skiing is a lifestyle. We are not people who ski once in a while, we are skiers! It defines us, as Bill so eloquently explained. I agreed wholeheartedly as we lapped runs on the famous Wagner Bowl and Cortina Trail. Obviously we are anxious for more and as we eagerly watch the Weather Channel for upcoming favorable temperatures and snowfall, we know that to ski in Western Pa, on November the 23rd before Thanksgiving is indeed a true bonus. Yes, Utah, Tahoe and Mammoth await me and I am anxious as anyone to get this party started.

But like I always say with my pals Jaime and Melissa, ” you can’t be out west every weekend so why not enjoy what we have locally at Seven Springs and soon Laurel Mountain.

Our Laurel Highlands are most enjoyable and no matter what, as everyone said this weekend,” Why not!!” Thanks for reading.

Enter your email on the left of the page and be a follower or scroll down to the bottom of your handheld device and enter there. I like to share my viewpoints and scratch my writing itch. Hope that you all enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

Overload

Have to tell you folks that no one loves the anticipation of ski season more than me. When that first frost comes or the leaves start to change and I smell the fires burning, I start to think about when the first turns will be made. Buy typically, I show some restraint. When the Ski Magazine comes to the mailbox in August, I set it aside because I don’t want to start reading that until maybe October especially if I am in no need of equipment for the upcoming season. Which is where I am right now. I have all my skis tuned, Janet’s tuned, and am in no need for further ski apparel. So in those years, October is fine for opening up the mag and seeing what is new and perhaps read a review or two. I start to look on the Outside channel and Netflix and Amazon for some ski flicks but only start those in maybe November. But have you noticed how we have been bombarded with social media all summer long and the hype for the 2019-2020 ski season began almost as soon as the old season ended. In many cases this past season, the end was much later than usual with the Beast and western areas like Mammoth closing well after Memorial Day and into the Fourth of July.

Now again, don’t get me wrong. I love skiing and talk about it all year, but this year, the media hype began in July and didn’t stop all summer. While I was into the mountain biking season and enduring the early season rain followed by oppressive heat and finally some nice September weather, the videos, clips, emails,and more videos all came rushing in on Facebook and Instagram and kind of confused me a bit. Is this summer or is it just an extension of a year long ski season defying the global warming discussion? I mean come on? What was once a great flick about guys sending it in far away places in steep terrain and endless powder, became commonplace. I was not impressed because of the overload of visual eye candy almost to the point of me thinking I could do all of what Mark Abma does or Sage does, and not even blink an eye. I can ski like that, right? It is not sensational anymore because there is just so much of it. We are desensitized and duped into thinking that we are those heroes and we can do all of that and better sign up for it for 2019-2020. Which is what I did. I fell for it hook, line and sinker and bought Ikon, Epic and the local Highlands Pass all before the last turns were made on Superstar at Killington in May. I didn’t want to miss out, made the ski plans with my friends, and signed up per all the savings and media hype.

I even bought my wife some new boards at the end of the season sale at Peak Ski and Board here at home and put them on the shelf freshly tuned and waxed for the upcoming season. If they did a survey on the typical skier who buys into the media frenzy, my face would appear front and center and as much as I complain about seeing ski flicks and clips all summer, it got to me. I needed to be ahead of the game and I was the perfect victim of advertising and promotion by the equipment manufacturers, the resorts and their passes, and even the FIS who enticed me with stories of the superstars on the World Cup of whom I am a big fan. I am complaining but yet I am the poster child for the ski consumer that they all want.

Last night I dreamed I was having a conversation with shop guys about ski equipment. The strange thing is that it was old equipment. I suppose in my subconscious, my fear was I was not up with the latest technology and was far behind for the coming year. I dreamed I saw perfect conditions but for one reason or another, I was not able to get to the hill and make the first turns. I woke up in a cold sweat thinking I was going to miss it and be out of the loop or out of touch. The promoters have even invaded my sub-conscious. What is a guy supposed to do? I will tell you what………relax!!!. It will come soon enough and there is a lot of fall weather to enjoy still on the bike and some hiking with my wife in the meantime too. The chairs are not spinning yet so relax. Enjoy what is now and not what is coming soon enough.

Did you get sucked in too? Tell me about it. We all need to take a deep breath. LOL!! Thanks for reading.

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Fourth of July Turns

Outside of setting my neighbor’s awning on fire with a bottle rocket launched by my grandfather, one of the most fun Fourth of July weekends was skiing at Tuckerman Ravine up in New Hampshire. That weekend was the second trip to the Ravine for the year with my pal Eric Durfee and we coupled great turns on corn snow with water skiing, golf, tennis, and jumping in his dad’s pond and swimming in Lake George. I came home exhausted but making ski turns in July was a real treat. I can recall the sunshine in the bowl, the beads of sweat forming on my forehead and climbing with my pack in a t-shirt and wind pants. July snow is dirty on the trail from all the freeze thaw events but the fragrance of pine trees, the rushing water in the streams, and the general communal feeling of extending the ski season was pretty cool.

A number of years later, I had a meeting in Fresno, California. I called my pal Jeff Rose from Philly who was also attending and I said, ” Hey man, how would you like to ski Mammoth Mountain on the weekend before and after the meeting? He was all in, being an avid skier, and as we came through our shirts in 108 degree temps in Fresno, the locals looked at us like we were nuts with all the ski equipment. Rose conked out on me as I drove through Yosemite in the pitch black night, but we made it to Mammoth at 3:00 AM. Bleary eyed, we awoke to blazing sunshine on July 19th. The latest I had ever skied in my life. Again- the feeling of getting over on something by extending yet another ski season was first and foremost on my mind. That year, Mammoth closed at noon but we were the first on the lift in the morning and made tons of turns on bullet proof ice which miraculously turned to amazing corn snow for just a short while until it turned to mush. Corn snow is fickle. It forms in the sunshine for a brief time and rewards the faithful with hero conditions. That brief moment when the corn snow is perfect has to be harvested as soon as possible. It was amazing to see how soon it turned to slop and we exited the mountain right at noon. The afternoons were spent sitting in the hot springs, drinking a beer and regaling the locals about our forward thinking to ski while on a business trip.

I have not had the opportunity to ski that late in a number of years. I know they are hiking up Mt. Rose now with good snow still in the Chutes. Nevada folks are dedicated and with the snow pack out there this year, they will most likely be skiing and hiking long into July. Mammoth will be open again and also Squaw Valley,California in Tahoe with a remarkable announcement, will have one chairlift open all summer into the next ski season. I will be there for a wedding in September and if they have that chair running as promised, I will definitely take a run or two to set a new personal record.

Why do I talk about skiing in the summer? My mountain bike friends set their watch to when I will start to talk about skiing on a ride. I look at my equipment in my garage and take the obligatory edge feel when I pass my shelf on the way to get my bike. I guess my enthusiasm for sliding on snow carries me through the year as it is the most fun outdoor activity in which I participate. Only 5 months to go. Plus, I love the winter. Not that I don’t like the change of seasons, but in those rare occurrences when I can ski outside the regular season, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My pal Bill Yalch out in Colorado will be camping in his van and getting the last turns of the season this year. He may have to do some climbing, but he will harvest that beautiful corn in that way too short window of time. Think snow? No- not yet? Thanks for reading.

The Chairlift

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So, I was sitting on the chairlift last weekend at Laurel Mountain here in Western Pa. The rain was sheeting off my helmet and cascading down over my goggles and I noticed that I was the only one on the chairlift. Looking back to admire the view of our beautiful Laurel Highlands there was no one behind me or in front of me and I turned back around and sat in silence. Even though the weather was foul, I was protected in Pro Gore- Tex and thought about all the times in my life I have sat in silence on a chairlift while skiing. Truth be told, we spend way more time on the chair than we do skiing so what is it like?

Personally, I like skiing by myself sometimes. On foul weather days, I can ride the chair in silence and contemplate the scenery around me and most of all…..take the time to think about things. One of the nice things about enjoying your own company is that you can relax and not have to wait or meet up with anyone. Not that I don’t like to do that with friends, but silent times on the chairlift are therapeutic to me. Kind of like riding a mountain bike by myself. I talk to myself…..sometimes I get answers.

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I have skied in 108 different areas so I have ridden a lot of chairlifts in my time. Single chairs at Mad River and Stowe, fixed grip chairs with no safety bars at Aspen Highlands and Crystal Mountain, with short seats that scare me, and of course my main nemesis that I ride annually out at Mammoth- the infamous Chair 23. chair-23

I have posted about that before and when you have a four person chair, with no safety bar, suspending you hundreds of feet in the air over a wide expanse, people like me who are a bit acrophobic, tend to do the Archie Bell and the Drells and do the tighten up. But I get through because it is the only way up. So, what happens when other people are on the chair with me? Friends engage in conversation about the day and what is happening in their lives. It gives us all a chance to catch up and the social aspect of skiing is always enjoyed on the chairlift because …..well, as I stated, we spend the most time of the day there. The funny thing is when you sit with a stranger on the chair or a group of folks who you don’t know. Depending on my mood, I can sit there and say nothing, nestled behind my high collar and goggles. But in most cases, I usually chime in and say at least a cheery “Hello- great day huh?” That usually elicits some kind of civil discourse and oftentimes you meet interesting people and find out how their day is going, where they are from, what they like about skiing at an area, and then you hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

Then there are the ear bud types who play their music and just want to be left alone. Sometimes they look up and give you a loud, ” Hi. ” But most often they nestle behind the collar and the goggles and keep to themselves. That’s cool. You hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

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Late next week I hit the epic snows of the west. No more chairlift riding in the rain for me this season, but even though we have had a dismal winter here in the east, tenacity wins the day and one of the benefits has been time alone on the chairlift. I can look around, use the time to take in the beautiful mountain scenery of the Adirondacks, the Laurel Highlands, and on to the breathtaking vistas of the west. I will be hanging on for dear life on Chair 23, with my friends laughing at me all the way. But I won’t ride that chair by myself- that’s for damn sure. 🙂 Thanks for reading.