The North Park Trail System- a lesson in cooperation.


photophotophotophoto When I first started to ride our local trails in North Park( an Allegheny County facility), our little band of outlaws were seen as interlopers on a trail system intended for use other than mountain bikes. The year was 1987 and the county police were anything but supportive, especially when we rode the trails at night. Couple this negative feeling with the attitude of the equestrian community and you have a situation that is not favorable to bringing on trail use for the new mountain bike community starting to grow in the Western Pa. area. We were not welcomed and as polite as we were to the police and the horse riding community, the negative feelings and the sense of entitlement to these trails was quite obvious despite our efforts to educate both entities.

Fast forward- Y-2K brings on a bigger mountain bike community coupled with an enthusiastic county executive who wanted to ride trails and now we have a voice in county government who understands that the trails can be multi-use and that the equestrian community and the hiking and mountain bike community can get along and expand the 12 mile system in the park. PTAG (Pittsburgh Trail Advocacy Group) came into the picture and began to enlist help to develop the trail system and worked cooperatively with the county to design and expand the existing network.. 12 miles became 15. 15 became 20 and soon more and more riders were coming to North Park and were assisting PTAG on trail work days. Cycling awareness in our area only enhanced the efforts of PTAG and along with weekly rides( like our Tuesday Night Rides) became the norm and trail use expanded greatly. This continued effort has expanded our trail system to its current 42 miles. An astounding feat in such a short time. I recently rode with Maurice Tierney, the founder of Dirt Rag Magazine( the quintessential mountain bike periodical), who is currently residing in the Bay Area. I remarked on our ride how wonderful it must be to ride in an area where mountain biking was founded back in the 70s. Maurice answered that the hiking community out there have virtually shut down the trails for multi use and until that old guard of hikers fades away, the current situation in Marin County is a bit bleak. Maurice went on to say that we really don’t know how fortunate we are to have our trail system and that it is one of the finest systems in the country. This guy rides everywhere and he knows what he is talking about. Due to cooperation with county government and sweat equity by the mountain bike community in Western Pa and PTAG influence,our system is a model for county and state government accross the country.
A few years ago, this expansion continued with the vision of some individuals like Bill Kirk, Dave Brunger, Dave Biber and a host of other free riders who constructed a free ride downhill trail and a freeride park within our local North Park trail system. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see the day when kids would be jumping and using the berms and ladders on a facility in North Park. To see guys in pads, downhill bikes and full face helmets using the Dr. J Dowhill trail regularly during the spring, summer and fall, is a testament to hard work, a vision and cooperation between a local band of riders and the county government. I have included a few pictures of these facilities in my post above and they do not do justice to the quality of work that went into these trails. Bill Kirk and Dave Brunger are always hosting rides and events that showcase this facility and should be applauded by the national mountain bike community for their tireless efforts.

So when you read in periodicals about the issues between user groups, one only has to look to the 42 miles of cross country trails that are used by hikers, mountain bike riders and equestrians without any ill feelings. We have come a long way in our neck of the woods from those early days when we had to turn off our lights and hide from the police, apologize and try to reason with the horse community, and work with hikers on expanding the small trail network. I am happy that I have seen it and I am happy that I have a local, high quality trail system to ride regularly only 10 minutes from my front door. Come out and ride with us. Thanks for reading.

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. 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.

The Infamous Tuesday Night Ride

photophoto I was sitting outside jamming a burrito in my face at Chipotle the other day, when I heard a loud rap on the window next to me. It was my old mountain biking buddy Bob Anderson harassing me again and we sat together and laughed about the old riding days. Back when I started mountain biking, I had an entry level bike with no shocks( they were not invented yet). A couple of road cycling friends got MTBs too and we began to explore the horse trails in North Park much to the chagrin of the equestrians who reported us to the police. Undaunted, we tried to get together as much as we could and one of the regular nights that fit everyone’s schedule was Tuesday night. I was always an organizer so I contacted my group and we began to ride regularly. Soon the word spread at the Month of Mud Races that there was a “training” ride on Tuesday nights led by yours truly. I am here to tell you that the original intent of the ride was exploration and fun and not a “training” ride. But since we were dabbling in racing at the Month of Mud Races and the Hidden Valley spring and fall races, some guys started to show up and the next thing we knew was that the pace of the ride accelerated with each passing week.

Fast forward, Chuck Greenlee and the Greenlee Mountain Bikes crowd started to show up with some pretty fast guys. They adopted me to race in their Vet and Masters Team and began to treat my ride as the official Greenlee’s weekly training ride. Really fast riders started to come like Bob Anderson, Chuck Greenlee, Jonathan Moran, EJ Sigety,Eric Sauereisen,Frankie Ross,Diane Blackburn,Steve Wahlenmeyer, and a host of other characters. Ed DeLuca came and was so fit he looked like he could explode right out of his skin suit. The guy was ripped and still is to this day. Ed rides a single speed today and still races the most difficult MTB races on the local schedule. We even started to see guys and gals from West Virginia and Seven Springs. It was becoming somewhat of a cult ride and the funny thing is that I organized it every week and was quickly becoming one of the weaker riders. My M.O. has always been to bring people into the sport and watch them eventually get stronger and kill me on every ride. The story of my life. The only reason they put up with me was because I kept them entertained with my inane stories and jokes along the trail. They were serious racers and I have always been a serious joker.

Each week my group of normal guys like Bill Belch, Master Plumber Supreme, George Sagan, and some other North Park specials were being pounded on the first hill by all these incredibly fast guys who had taken over my Tuesday Night Ride. People used to think I must have been really strong to ride with these guys when they really did not know my secret weapon………….the short cut. You see, I know every stone in North Park and when the pace became insanely fast and all these guys tried to beat each others brains in on the climb in the Nature Center, I would lead my little band of mortals up the climb to the North Park Lodge where we would stop, have a drink, catch our breath and wait for the thundering herd to come up the hill. Rested and hydrated, I would look at the group and say,” Here they come………..the pain continues.” We would be abused by the group for cutting the route but I looked at some of them and said that I had socks older than them. They would laugh, Bob A would abuse me personally and we would laugh as they inflicted more pain on us until…………..the next short cut. All in all, on the two hour sufferfest, I had about three bona fide hydrating, heart rate reducing, short cuts which kept us in the game. At the end, we had been pushed close to our limits but since we took some “liberties” we were at least able to ride most of the ride behind the fast guys and feel like we were still part of ……..”My Ride!!!!” The nerve of these guys taking over what had begun as an exploratory mission on new steeds of steel. I am proud to say that this ride continued and grew for close to 15 years until guys got married, had kids, had to attend to soccer games and baseball games like me which forced my riding during the week to 4:30 AM. The Tuesday Night ride started to fade with responsibilities and schedules. But it will be forever etched in the minds of all who took part. The interesting thing is now guys are starting to return because their children are raised and they have a little more time on their hands. I see some of the old Greenlees jersies on the trails and along with the younger,faster, Dirty Harry’s crowd, some of us old veterans can relive our youth watching the young guns ride up the trails at lighning speed ahead of us. But, I still know those old short cuts and the 58 year old kid and his pals can hang in there if we indulge ourselves. Age and treachery can sometimes beat youth and skill…………but not too often. Mountain Bike technology has come a long way and equipment can always keep you in the game. But the memories of the infamous Tuesday Night Ride live forever in my mind as I trace those old routes that have been worn in with the riders of time.

We all need to push ourselves in this world. I can say with certainty that my group of mortals became much better riders because the good guys pushed us out of our comfort zone. I see this all the time as people become involved in a sport and have a friend or friends that hold them accountable to ride each week. Whether it is with work, relationships, sporting pursuits, or whatever stirs your blood, don’t be afraid to push yourself. A good group can help you but take the initiative to work hard and improve. You can even do it at my age. Remember…..the older I get……..the better I was. Thanks again for reading.