Wild Wonderful Rocky/Rooty West Virginia

It has been a few years since I rode a mountain bike down in West Virginia. I used to go quite a bit back in the day. But as other destinations moved ahead in the plans, it has been a while until last weekend. Our fearless leader, Mike Connors, said a few weeks back, ” Let’s go ride down in Davis.” I said great idea and off we went with 7 other MTB fanatics who were like minded. IMG_0958

I thought I would up the ante a bit by texting Sue HaywoodIMG_0964 and asking her to lead our group of aging athletes. Sue has quite a reputation as a world class mountain bike racer and currently is retired from World Cup racing. However, she runs clinics and workshops and is still very much active in the mountain bike community.Sue has relocated to her home town of Davis, and man can she ride. She gave us all we could handle. 17786_10151858587474203_1524945910_n
One interesting thing about riding with a person of her skill level is seeing just how fit she is and how she effortlessly rides over the most challenging roots and rocks. If you can ride in West Virginia, you can ride anywhere- “BELIEVE ME.” In our case, there was a lot of riding but there was a lot of running and walking too. That is the thing that struck me the most was once I was on those trails again, I remembered just how hard they were. And, we are older now and the challenge is even more acute. I remarked to Syed Hyder, my physician who was on the ride, that I was fine for about the first hour and then I started to get tired and every little thing had a tendency to knock me off balance. He agreed after we bumped into each other a few times. Good thing the doc was along for the ride. There are no letups or coasting on those trails and the challenge of a three hour ride with a world class guide was evident to all of us. The curious thing about aging is the recovery time is not what it used to be. After the first ride, we plopped ourselves down in our chairs in a field by Sue’s house and relaxed with the obligatory beer. But the enthusiasm on the morning of the next day was waning as we licked our wounds from the first day of hard riding in West Virginia.

To digress for a moment, I would like to say that Davis had not changed all that much and the quaint little town in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest should be on everyone’s bucket list. Blackwater Bikes, Hellbender Burritos, and the famous Sirianni’s Cafe are all obligatory stops for the visit and just walking around town is a treat. Things are a lot slower in Davis but in my mind, that is a good thing. The residents enjoy life in the Canaan Valley and look forward to each season of riding and cross country skiing at the Whitegrass Touring Center.

Now back to the torture. The second day, we rode the famous trails leading to the Moon Rocks. IMG_0993 This granite outcropping is famous in the lore of the Blackwater 100 motorcycle races and also a famous landmark in the now defunct 24 Hour mountain bike races held in Davis. I had not ridden this trail in 23 years and the challenge of the Moon Rocks has not changed in all those years. Fred Fischer and John McWilliams were the only two of our group to make it to the top without stopping which was quite a challenge. We all remarked how tough this section was and as the elder statesmen of the group, I was tarred and feathered by the Moon Rocks. If the rocks could chuckle, they would have as we all left for the trail ahead. Fortunately I regained my mojo following Ken McFarland and Jeff Balicki on his most beautiful Scot Genius bike which he rode like a champion. My good friend Pete Hilton and I took turns laughing at the difficulty of the riding but he kept me motivated by his smooth riding and friendly banter. Quiet Pete!!!

To digress for a second moment, we took in the Brew Skies Festival while we were there. Evenings were spent on the lawn in front of the Timberline Ski Area as we listened to local and national bands playing various forms of country rock with a bluegrass bent. Food tents were also in abundance with some of the local restaurants and breweries hosting the food and drinks. We were not disappointed as the mountain state has some pretty impressive lineups of craft beers and local cuisine highlighted by local fruits, meats and vegetables.

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I am trying to avoid the narrative here, but the last day started with rain. The sunshine that we enjoyed for the first two days was most welcomed because I had never seen the sun in any of my previous outings to the Canaan Valley or anywhere in the mountain state. Most of the races I had done or outings that we participated in, were soaked with biblical downpours. So to have two straight days of sun for me was a welcome relief. However, the last day reminded me of days past and several of us passed but Mike, Pete Hilton, Fred, and Dr. Sy were the tough guys and rode Big Bear Trails up near Morgantown on the way home.

I suppose the point of all of this, aside from a narrative trip report, is that it is important to keep challenging yourself no matter how old you are. If you can stay in relatively good shape, you can enjoy even the toughest challenges like the trails in West Virginia. I have too many friends who have thrown in the towel but not my crew. These guys are enthusiastic riders who defy the age factor and the odds and keep riding the roots and the rocks. Take a page from their book. Even the fast guys like Dave Gault and Eric Seamon(still in his 40s- he doesn’t count) were challenged. But the key is to just “keep riding” like Scot Nichol of Ibis Bikes always says. He never thinks he is 62. He just keeps on riding. Thanks for reading and for sure…….head to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

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

The “Renaissance” Man

We had a former pastor say one time that there are people in this world who are “drainers.”  People who will suck the living life out of you with their neediness and high maintenance ways.  Then there are people who fill your personal cup to the brim and overflow it with kindness, appreciation, information, friendship, and other enhancements to your life that make you appreciate with wonder- why do they do it?  How do they do it? ” Boy, am I glad that they do it.” ” They are a real force in my life.”Usually people like this have many talents and interests.  I call them Renaissance men or women.  They appreciate life and all it has to offer and are willing to share their talents, wisdom, care and friendship with those around them.  One such person in my life is a guy named Don Cunningham.  photo

Now I am not going to DWELL on the fact that Don is an accomplished freelance engineer for sports television or that he has traveled the world working events like the Olympics, the US Open Golf Tournament, the Masters, Steeler games, Penguin hockey games, Pirate baseball games, the Tour of California bicycle races, the US Pro Cycling Challenge.  Nor am I going to DWELL on the fact that he takes his gear with him and gets a road ride or a mountain bike ride in, or even some slope time skiing.  But Don makes the most of his travel and is not a “slam clicker.” https://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/05/19/dont-be-a-slam-clicker/

Again, I am not going to BELABOR the point that Don is also a very accomplished mountain biker who has an enthusiasm for the sport that is infectious to others around him.  When you see his fitness, and skill level in negotiating rocks, roots, stumps, steep downhills, and grueling uphills, you are amazed at his riding ability.  Don has competed in some of the most daunting MTB races on the planet including the Trans-Alps in Europe as well as being a 10 hour finisher at the Leadville 100 garnering the coveted silver belt buckle.  But he is very humble about his accomplishments.  Kind of like a “ho-hum- yes I did that”  response.  But with all his ability on the bike, he is willing to ride with new riders and show them the ropes of the riding game with a smile on his face and a willingness to spend whatever time it takes to introduce a newbie to the sport.

I similarly am not going to PONDER on how he skis with fluidity and enjoys the winter months almost as much as the more comfortable months because he is willing to subject himself to the weather or any ski conditions. We went to Holimont last season in Western New York and had a wonderful day together at this private ski club and Don handled the cut up Lake Erie fluff with style.  His turns were strong and deliberate but his enthusiasm for the day was the most memorable thing to me.  We both are ski nuts and it was wonderful to share the winter wonderland with a friend like Don.  He even drove which was even more pleasant.  photo

The guy has been everywhere, done everything, and always seems to be in the mix of the fun events that mark our outdoor sports world.  If there is a big ride – Don is there.  If the skiing is good locally or out west- Don is there.  He makes friends easily as is evidenced by his recent meeting with a good friend of mine in Aspen on a mountain bike ride.  He was a bit lost and rode up to some folks on top of a ridge in Aspen.  With a smile, he asked for directions and the girl noticed the pronounced Pittsburgh accent.  After a few exchanges she found out that Don was a friend of mine.  Laughs abounded and now Don is a new riding buddy for Liz Talenfeld when he goes to Aspen.  He is like that.  Makes friends easily and people like to be with him.

Finally I am not going to GO ON SHAMELESSLY, about how Don makes absolutely the best beer in the universe.  His skill as a craft brewer is legendary and at every mountain bike picnic whether he is there or not, his beer is there and the accolades ring far into the night fueled by the current Cunningham IPA.  He is a Renaissance man, I tell you, in every sense of the word.  Traveler, athlete, educator, brewmeister, but most of all…………Don is a friend.  He probably has mastered that skill the best.  He is truly one of those individuals who fills your cup or fills your spirit and when you have spent some time with Don on the slopes, or on the trail, or sitting by his keg of IPA, you feel so much better just having spent the time with him.  He is compassionate, knowledgeable, energetic, and in most instances can grind you into the dust at his chosen sport.  But being an enthusiastic friend is what he does best.  If you can assemble some Renaissance men or women in your life, you are truly blessed.  We all have our share of drainers.  Oh, and one more thing………he does it all with a prosthetic leg.  Be inspired.  Thanks for reading.

Pay it Forward

Thought I would send the weekly post a little early due to Thanksgiving.  Speaking of which, I am thankful for people like Bob Bannon, the Lord of Lumens, for his friendship and being the glue to the local mountain bike community.  I am waiting for ski season but will still ride until it becomes a muddy, icy mess on the trails.  So last Saturday it was 18 degrees and I put out the message about the ride and only Bob, and a new young guy named Matt, and I showed up in the Family Dollar parking lot.  Our mission was to ride the fast and flowy trails of Deer Lakes Park here in Allegheny County in Western Pa.  Now Bob, being the Pied Piper of all mountain bikers here in the burg, was happy to show the new guy around.  Matt is a nice kid but really, I have socks older than him and Bannon is older than I am by a few years.  So it was Matt and the old guys heading out on the trails.       In true Bannon fashion, Bob makes the ride enjoyable because he describes where we are going to ride, what to look for by way of obstacles, and what trail maintenance he has done on the trails to make them flowy and enjoyable.  He puts a lot of volunteer time in and enthusiastically sends out weekly messages about rides in the area, where to meet, and when.  Getting back to the frigid ride, we were bundled up and as Bob went through his routine, we both noticed that Matt had a nice bike and was riding in running shoes.  Being the inquisitive guy that I am, I started asking him about where he was from.  Turns out he went to IUP and spent some time in forestry in the wilderness of Northern California.  Tough kid, good rider, but running shoes have to go.  Bob and I both gave Matt some advice about the virtues of clipless pedals and shoes.  The kid took it in stride and I think we may have made an impact because I think he sees the value and will get those items shortly.  photo

As the ride progressed, Bob and I were impressed at Matt’s fitness and his riding ability despite the handicap of running shoes. He also rode with no gloves.  Amazing!!! 18 degrees!!  We came across a guy we know from riding who was walking his dogs.  As I handed him my camera to take some pictures of the frozen trio, the big dog climbed up on me and barked in my face and the ratty little dog bit my shin.  I don’t have much luck with dogs.  I tell people that dogs like me………I taste like chicken.  You can have dogs, but that is another blog post followup.  We had lots of tales for Matt about local riding and riding in the west.  Matt met us through an organization called Meet Up. http://www.meetup.com.  Bob’s posting of weekly rides is on their web site and Matt hit it right when he had the opportunity to ride with Bob.  photo

The freezing rain started falling at the end of the Deer Lakes ride and as we ventured out into the parking lot, I gave some more advice to Matt to get back on the grass because the pavement was slick.  Too late.  Matt was down and I was a little late with more advice that would have enhanced his experience.  Bob and I were happy to have Matt that day.  We both like the opportunity to get people enthused about mountain bike riding and never miss an opportunity to “pay it forward” like people did for us back in the day.  Bob pays it forward big time every week……every day.  Good guy.  Lots of people like to ride with Bob.

An additional payoff was when I was tipped off at the OTB Thursday night ride that we would be stopping at the Deer Creek Diner for their famous pancakes after our ride on Saturday.  Matt was all in,  and we changed clothes and gingerly made our way our of the park on the glazed roadways to the diner in Russleton,Pa- right around the corner.  The coffee was hot and good, the service was very friendly, and the pancakes………….well…………..have a look.  Amazing!!!  I bring my own Vermont maple syrup when I have a chance to prepare like this outing and it is the only syrup that would do justice to these colossal cakes.  Matt had the chance to experience Grade A fancy syrup and Bob and I relished the morning knowing that we had given Matt a good ride, a good breakfast, and as a grand finale- Bob wrote down the exact specs for Matt to purchase a light so he could ride with our group on the trails after dark.  I hope that Matt reports back to” Meet Up” that he had a good experience with two knowledgeable, fun old codgers who showed him a beautiful trail system, fed him well, and gave him valuable lighting options.  photo

Really- this is what mountain biking or skiing is all about.  Sharing knowledge, enthusiasm, planning, and general frivolity in a relaxed environment.  Good exercise with the hopes that guys like Matt pay it forward some day soon.  The more riders the better the riding.  So, pay something forward.  Help out a new guy.  Share your experience and knowledge with someone.  I have done that and now all the people I have taught are killing me out on the trails.  Go figure.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We all have a lot to be thankful for- health, happiness, and friends like Bob.  photo

What I have learned from writing a blog.

Anyone can write a blog.  Word Press and other platforms make it easy for one to put out thoughts and musings about a myriad of subjects that may or may not interest the general public.  It all started for me in January of 2013 when I was repeating one of my inane stories from the past to my wife, Janet.  She was laughing and suggested that I start writing these stories down for posterity and to perhaps start a blog.  I thought about it, looked up Word Press on the Internet, and began a journalistic adventure that has continued for 167 posts to date.  Most of my drivel is about outdoor adventures and experiences that have been humorous as well as telling about how I view the world.  My friend Eric from Nevada said to me when I started, that unless I have climbed Everest, saved sherpas and climbers from imminent death with my heroics, no one will really care about my blog except my friends who know me.  In fact many of my friends laugh and say that they can hear me telling the stories by the way that I write.  It is almost as if I am talking when they read the posts.  photo

So here are some conclusions for you to review along with some suggestions for those who might consider writing a blog:

  • Anyone can write a blog.  Millions of people do and most people will not be published in a magazine so this is the only way of scratching the writing itch.
  • Don’t expect to get rich.  It takes thousands of hits on the blog to get advertisers interested.  I currently have 567 followers -some faithful, some not, but it keeps growing incrementally and that is fine with me.  I am happy that some people find my writing entertaining and informative.
  • Keep it specific to a genre.  I chose to write about outdoor adventures with a touch of humor.  I am not an international outdoor adventurer sponsored by magazines or equipment manufacturers.  I am just Joe Blow who has had some funny times riding a bike, skiing, and running trails. images (3)
  • You have to be a shameless promoter.  At the risk of being obnoxious, I have told people about my blog and asked them to be a follower.  I have had business cards made, bumper stickers made( many of which have been plastered at ski areas all over the country).  My wife Janet keeps me in line if I get out of control promoting.  I just like to write and it is fun to see the blog grow.
  • Pay the hundred bucks to get the premium service from the platform provider.  You can put a lot of pictures and video with the space that Word Press allows and they give you excellent support.
  • You have to be creative and selective with “tags”.  If used properly, they can attract traffic to your blog.  Tags like “cycling” , ” skiing” , “humor”, etc.  IMG00375-20110730-0915
  • As the blog has grown, it is amazing to see where the hits come from.  All over the world!  Most of the followers now are people whom I have never met.  Other bloggers, curiosity seekers who are interested in outdoor subjects, people trying to sell me on marketing my blog, Facebook followers who are friends of friends.
  • Facebook was instrumental in growing the blog.  But as it has expanded, the Word Press followers have eclipsed the Facebook followers.  It is easy on my blog- just hit the button to the left and be a follower.  You will get an automatic email when I get creative- which is usually once per week.  See- promoting again!!
  • The posts are archived monthly and as I review them, I think my writing style has improved from the early posts.  I have learned what people like to read and what bombs as a post.  This post will most likely bomb but I had to do it as a review of where I have been and where I want to go with this.
  • Re-blogs are good to do because a lot of folks will not read the archives( frankly they don’t have time).  But the occasional re-blog will be timely and give me a chance to recharge the memory banks.  IMGP0205
  • Personal stories and posts that expose feelings and stations in life can be interesting to some folks who are going through the same thing or thinking the same thoughts.  I try not to get too serious but sometimes events inspire me to drop my drawers and expose my feelings for all to see.  Sometimes I moon people, sometimes I expose my heart.
  • I write a lot of this to document my life for my son.  He doesn’t read it.  But maybe someday he will.  Nothing malicious on his part.  He is just not interested.  And……………….that’s ok.  photo
  • As I go forward, I am running out of material.  My experiences and memory are waning.  But I will continue to write about things that strike me as I continue what has been a very active and fun outdoor life. I will keep it humorous, somewhat educational, and easy to read in a couple of minutes because that is all the time people have time to give my blog.  photo
  • I follow other people’s blogs to get ideas and to fan the flames of the kindred spirit.  They follow mine as well and I have amassed some very fun blogging friends from all over the world.  The Ouachita Shutterbug is a fun photo and musings blog.  Single-Tracked Mind is another and we have threatened to do guest blog posts for each other.  “To the nth degree ” is another one focused on outdoor life in Pennsylvania.  Helena is a mountain biker and kayaker.           My friends keep me grounded.  So far, I have not” jumped the shark” and when I do, enough will be enough.  But the challenge will  continue to write inspiring, “if I can do it, you can do it” posts as well as funny stories from the past.  Good photos will be included to round out the stories and if you have the chance to comment, please do so on Word Press or Facebook.  If you wish to contact me, my email is on the cover page.  Thanks for reading and I hope that I have not been too obnoxious or boring.  Hopefully my self deprecation will make you laugh and be inspired.

” The Autumn Weather…….turns the leaves to flame.”

” It’s a long long way.  From May to December.  But the days grow short, when you reach September.”

Kurt Weill

These haunting words from Kurt Weill in his famous ballad not only speak to the season change, but also to the seasonal changes in our lives as we age.  I have always enjoyed the fall because of the spectacular foliage and cooler weather.  Sweaters, fires, Halloween, Thanksgiving are all special to me and so important to take in every year.  As the masses head to the gyms because of the time change, my crowd is a bit different in that we embrace the shortened days and time change with our lights on mountain bike rides and trail runs.  Back in the day, I first started to ride a mountain bike in the fall.  It was a great departure from road riding and the solace of the woods which I have always embraced, is wonderful from the vantage point of a mountain bike.  No cars, technical challenges that keep your attention and allow your mind relief from the rigors of the day.  But what to do as the days grew short?  Lights!!  We have been through the evolution of lighting technology to the point where it is not necessary to purchase a light like we did back in the day that costs $300.00. Sure, there are lights that cost that much and even more today but with the technology coming from overseas with LED, the cost of really superb lighting systems can be attained for under $100.00.  night ride october (2 of 1)

As I have aged, I have migrated from the competitive mindset to the “enjoyment of the ride” phase of my life.  Used to be that we all did night rides as training for the now basically defunct 24 Hour races.  But the joy of night riding is now even more pleasurable for me as I have time to enjoy the rides versus the 4:30 AM pressure rides of the past when my boy was involved in sports.  I get some hall passes now as an empty nester and to take in the woods at night in a relaxed manner is a truly different experience.  Close your eyes and imagine what we are experiencing today.  The musty smell of fallen leaves on the trail.  That smell of a distant wood fire.  The distinct smell of a passing buck as you eyeball a 6 pointer almost face to face on the trails.  Oftentimes I turn my lights out in the middle of a night ride to experience the silence of the woodlands.  Early fall, the crickets are my only companions as I gaze up into the clear night and see multitudes of stars peeking through the canopy of the rapidly changing treeline.  When I ride with friends, it is really fun to watch the line of lights light up the trails.  The friendships. The accountability of the weekly night rides extending what has been an absolutely spectacular riding season here in the East.  Taking the time to stop and experience.  These are things that I didn’t value early in my riding years because of the constant pressure of maintaining fitness.  Sure, I like to stay fit, but the most enjoyable part of riding now is the experience of the trail and the congenial atmosphere of riding with friends or riding solo at my own pace.  NiteRider2

Night riding with friends generates some interesting conversations on the trail when we compare lighting systems.  It is amazing to compare the bright LED technology to the old days of the yellow beam generated by Night Rider or Night Sun.  Both of those companies have stepped up their game but there is so much competition today especially with all of the imported inexpensive lights flooding the market.  Battery life, wiring, lumens, LED and other issues are brought forth on the trail and also continued in our local after ride watering hole-The OTB Cafe.  My wife and non-riding friends are amazed at the enthusiasm and the conversations that are related to how many lumens a light will actually produce compared to the claims of the manufacturer.  The “oneupsmanship” is really amusing as guys compare their lighting systems on the trail only to be totally outdone by a new system utilized by the Dirt Rage Magazine crew.  This $1200.00 retail light is ridiculously bright and the mortal man would not spend that kind of dough to stay upright on the trails at night.  But it is fun to see how that drowns out all of our lighting systems.  photo

So, if you think that the waning daylight and pending time change relegates you to the local gym, think again my friends.  The trails provide enjoyment long into the late fall and winter if you are prepared and game for riding in the dark. I see trail runners with their headlamps, dog walkers with headlamps and lights for their dogs, hikers utilizing LED technology.  Lots of folks on the trails after dark.   My friend the Shark(Mark Sauers) also has some advice for night rides as the weather deteriorates.  He says there is no such thing as bad weather- only bad clothing.  How true.   If we remember that and prepare, our experiences on the trail at night can continue through most of the winter.  Keep riding/running/hiking and for those who don’t have a light…………get on it!!  Thanks for reading.

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