Luxury Vehicles? Not for me.

As the beautiful fall colors are adorning our trees here in Western Pa., I see a lot of folks driving their luxury vehicles on leaf peeping excursions.  You know the ones with the Mercedes, Lexus, BMWs,  whose cars are immaculately shined, tires gleaming with Armour All, drivers dressed in pressed khakis and starched Polo shirts- loafers with no shoes, sweaters draped over their shoulders sporting aviator sunglasses.  These folks love their cars and love the idea of driving them to parties, work, or other locations where they can show their passion for their vehicles.  My crowd is a little more earthy and the mountain bikers, hikers, and skiers that I know drive dated SUVs and 4 wheel drive pickups.  I am no exception with a 5 year old Jeep which has 143,000 miles to date and is absolutely filthy- much to my wonderful wife’s dismay.  ” Why do you beat our vehicles” she gasps as she sees my Jeep filled with firewood or piled to the ceiling with mulch in the spring.  Some of that mulch is still working its way out of the seats this fall and the sand from the beach this summer compliments the compost like decor I have beneath my seats and on the surface of the carpets.  I see vehicles as a practical mode of transportation and if there is a layer of mud from my mountain bike gear, or last years doughnut crumbs still wedged in my cup holder, I am not dismayed.  As long as I can transport my gear and get there safely with 4 wheel drive, I am not concerned with the appearance of a vehicle.  IMG_0574

This disdain for vehicle maintenance all began when I started to drive my mom’s 1964 yellow Buick convertible back in high school. I transported many of my friends to school and back and oftentimes the top was down- even in the winter.  As we pelted classmates with snowballs from the moving convertible, it became a battle vehicle until the day the top would not go back up and my dad was aghast at the snow in the seats and floors.  I put large snow tires on the rear wheels and loaded the trunk with sand bags for the weekend ski trips to the mountains.  Whenever there was a snow day at school, you could be sure that the yellow Buick was filled with equipment and headed for ski country- no matter what the road conditions were like.  My parents were very understanding.  1964_Buick_Special_convertible

Moving along, I graduated to four wheel drive SUVs and the original orange International Scout hauled many a friend out of a ditch with the obligatory come-a-long or tow strap that I had stashed in my trunk.  I felt obligated to get anyone who was stuck, out of the snow and it was fun seeing what the Scout could do in adverse conditions.  That vehicle made many New England ski trips, hiking excursions to the Mt. Washington Valley, and regular weekend trips to the Laurel Highlands here in Pa.  When my dad built his house in Wexford, the Scout was our construction vehicle hauling angle iron for his greenhouse, mulch, lumber, and other required materials.  My dad thought the Scout was a great vehicle and often overestimated its capacity to haul.  Lots of oversized materials were transported in the Scout and as time went on, it was abused beyond function.  1979_International_Scout_II_For_Sale_Front_resize

Next came the Blazers.  Chevy warns you to break in the vehicles slowly and not drive too fast for long periods of time when you first acquire a Blazer.  My friend Bob Dresher and I would take the radar detector and set land speed records to Killington and the Mt. Washington Valley.  Needless to say, that vehicle woke up in a hurry.  Skis, mulch, firewood, all filled the Blazers for many, many trips and as the mileage piled up, so did the warning lights on the dashboard telling me that I had abused the vehicle beyond its normal capacity and maintenance was sorely required.  Honda Passports, Mitsubishi Monteros, and finally the Jeep have graced my driveway and my friends and neighbors all chuckle with the constant addition of ski related or mountain bike related bumper stickers or window decals.  My friends with the luxury vehicles all look at me with confusion in their eyes as to why I am not interested in driving a comfortable, well manicured vehicle?  I guess it just goes with my ragged, humorous personality and internal value systems.  The things that get me up in the morning are those that are fun and adventurous.  I may have wrinkled shirts and pants, and my Jeep is a mess, but my wife loves me for who I am and knows that some things are not on my radar screen.  Experiences are important to me, not creature comforts.  I have tried to be more considerate of Janet over the years, but that dirtbag ethos is lurking in my soul and I try to keep the lid on it as well as I can.  Ross_TX_89Blazer_1RR

The Jeep is running well and as I look forward to another winter of mountain adventures, I know that American ingenuity will keep me upright on the snowy roads.  I may have to hose it down from time to time and take comfort when I see a muscle car get stuck on the side-roads.  But I know that my selection and treatment of vehicles over the years has provided me with many memories of classic road trips. I don’t need pressed pants or a sparkling vehicle to enjoy the good times.  Just unloaded 2 Jeep-loads of firewood in my backyard over the weekend.  Guess I will be finding all of that bark next summer at the beach.  Thanks for reading.

All Hail the Bathtub Trail

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Years ago when I first started to run the trails in the fall with our fearless leader, Jack McArdle, we were always treated to a description of the route at our local park.  If we complained, we were assigned “penalty hills” and as we groaned with a smile on our face, we dutifully ran the hills until the next assignment by the trail boss.  Invariably, each trail run always included a run up or down the “Bathtub Trail”.  At first I was confused as to what Jack was talking about until I came upon the ancient bathtub placed to collect spring water at the base of the trail.  It was always a curious placement and I always wondered who put it there and when was it placed?  It was always a topic of discussion and I was always way more curious than my fellow runners with my inspections of the clear spring water and the curiosity as to why on earth someone would take the time to put a bathtub there?

As time went on, the Bathtub Trail was a common route for runners and eventually mountain bikers in the park.  But the trail itself was a challenge to any newcomer on two wheels with its off camber construction and loose soil which if ridden with reckless abandon, would extract a flesh wounding penalty to the disrespectful or ignorant rider.  It was almost as if the bathtub itself was a sentinel which demanded respect and if the proper homage was not paid, the penalty for a rider down the trail could be severe.  The opposite could be true as well in that the unprepared rider or runner might not make it up the trail without dismounting and humbly walking up to the summit.  photo

I can remember vividly Pat” the nurse” which was his moniker by the trail runners, attempting to ride down the Bathtub Trail with his newly purchased hybrid bike.  Despite my warnings about hybrid rims and tires not holding up to the demands of the trails, Pat rode down the trail without respecting what was before him. As his rims both “pretzeled” under the rigors of the terrain, the nurse went careening into the trees and came up a dazed and bloody mess.  He agonized over his destroyed wheels and remarked  ” I just bought this bike and now it is trash.”  I warned him.  I thought to myself,” another example of not respecting the trail and paying homage to the reputation of ……..the bathtub.  It was almost as if positive execution required some sort of homage to this graven image or perhaps we should light yak butter candles or install prayer flags like the climbers who dare climb in the Himalaya?  I laugh at these fleeting, ridiculous ,thoughts but maybe there is something to it?  Just kidding……………maybe?  photo

Currently, the Bathtub Trail has some competition surrounding it as other trails have been constructed offering alternate routes for the trail runners, equestrians, and mountain bikers.  But for me, the familiarity with the trail ridden hundreds and hundreds of times in all weather is comforting.  Familiarity with any trail can make things a lot easier and riding them without much thought can be comforting or lead to disaster if you take for granted that the descent is still a little sketchy.  I was riding the other day with some guys and they inquired why I was riding down the Bathtub and ignoring some of the newer single track.  I remarked that you had to pay homage to the Bathtub Trail every once in a while to keep the “karma” positive.  We all had a good laugh at that one but as I passed the tub, I looked into the glass like water and gave it a nod of respect.  Not much different than I would have received a blessing from one of those Tibetan monks before attempting a daunting climb.  That bathtub has seen much carnage over the years and has extracted some serious penalties from some unsuspecting riders and runners.  But not me.  All hail……………..the Bathtub Trail.  Thanks for laughing but don’t do it near the trail.  🙂

A Great Day in the City

Henry Clay Frick, the noted industrialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., donated 151 acres of property to the city in 1919 at the request of his daughter Helen who saw the vision of green space in the growing industrial sprawl. In 1925, the city officially created  this beautiful park with 190 additional acres.  The park opened to the public in 1927 and has been a gem for the city ever since.  Henry or Helen would have never imagined  that their park would also serve the current growing population of mountain bikers who would create, ride and maintain a network of challenging trails right in the city limits.  But that is just what has happened and our group of Saturday morning enthusiasts from the suburbs enjoyed a most challenging but culturally fulfilling day last Saturday as part of the continuing adventures of the 59 year old kid.photophotophotoMcCandless-20130303-00102

As the group assembled in the pouring rain, we were reminded by Bert, one of our tour guides for the day, that the trails would be treacherous due to the roots and rocks that become soaked and extremely slick on days like last Saturday.  Undaunted, we all proceeded as the weather improved to a steady drizzle and the merry band of elder statesmen attacked the first rooty hill climb with style and panache.  As we reassembled approaching the midway point on the ride, we were guided into some of the newer sections of trails that overlook the Monongahela River.  This tight singletrack is somewhat off camber and if you look to your right, the view of the treetops and the railroad tracks and river way below tend to make you hug the hillside and hope that you don’t lose your mojo and plunge into the trees with a following bounce onto the tracks and bounding into the river.  This might be a slight exaggeration but not too far off.  The 59 year old kid is conservative most of the time and lives to ride another day along with his pal,Bob Bannon who is also on the same game plan.  We dismounted in several sections and ran the trail until we reached a more reasonable spot.  Our group split because of some mechanical issues in the very steep chicane of switchbacks and as we reunited and made our way down some incredibly steep pitches which we rode with great caution, we all were happy to end that section in one piece.  Pretty challenging for a park in an urban setting.  frick-park-pratt1images (4)images (3)

Finishing this ride in improving weather helped the traction and as we approached the “Bradema” trail, we were treated to the story of the trail and the resultant official naming and sign installed by the city.  Apparently Brad who is a friend of a friend, crashed rather significantly on this trail and as he was recovering in the hospital, one of our jokester mountain biker friends suggested to the nurse in the hospital that poor Brad needed an enema.  Lots of laughter ensued but the city apparently didn’t get the joke and named the trail officially ” Bradema.”  Hilarious.  Exiting on the “Roller Coaster” trail, we climbed back to the street where our cars were parked happy to be in one piece and happy that the weather had improved from a rather dismal start.  It is amazing to note that when you ride Frick, you would never expect that this piece of wilderness is right in the middle of a very busy urban setting.  If you did’t hear the dull roar of the Parkway East, you would think you were in a rural setting in Vermont.  But as we exited, we were treated to another wonderful experience of riding in the city.

Frick borders Squirrel Hill which traditionally is the Jewish section of our city which has many culturally divergent neighborhoods of note.  As I watched couples walk to the synagogues on the Sabbath in anticipation of the first high holiday or Rosh Hashannah, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the culture of the Jewish tradition.  In college, I was the only gentile on my floor and I was cordially invited to all the high holiday celebrations at the community center on campus.  I became familiar with the traditions of the ancient culture of Gods chosen people. After the ride,  I felt I had to participate in some way so I suggested to the group that we hit the Smallman Street Deli on Murray Avenue for some great traditional deli food.  Wow- were we amazed at the size of the sandwiches and had I seen the potato latkes in the cooler, I would have ordered a few of those bad boys too.  I did however order the matzo ball soup with chicken which took me back to my college days of sporting the yarmulke at the high holiday celebrations.  I love tradition and our group was not only beaming with the conversations and recreations of the rigors of the mountain bike ride but also beaming through faces full of cole slaw, turkey and corned beef.  lsl

All in all, these are the kind of days that you always remember. It is a reminder that there are great opportunities right under your nose in your local town that can really rival all the stories of traveling to other locales to ride, ski and eat.  Sometimes the best trails, eateries are right in your own neighborhood or city if you take the time to look.  It amazed me how challenging the trails are in Frick Park right in the middle of the city.  Who would ever think that?  Coupled with a hunger killing meal at a great deli, and spending time with friends, ………………….now that makes for a great day.  Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt and Smallman Street Deli.

To be…….”Trans- Generational”

     What does it mean to be trans generational?  I would explain it as being involved with activities and interaction with different age groups with a common purpose.  OTB at the North Park Boathouse

 

Take for instance when I was a kid, my mother would make me dinner early because ” my friends” were calling me to fill in for the men’s doubles tennis league at our community pool complex.  These guys were my dad’s age but respected the fact that I could play the game and was mature enough to handle the interaction with an older generation.  It was lots of fun and I did learn some things that taught me that I had maturity beyond my years especially when an argument would ensue.  I had first hand knowledge of how ” adults” handled these situations and sometimes saw the maturity level dip a long way when one of the guys hit another over the head with a racquet.  But for the most part- the trans-generational activity was positive for me as a young man.  

     Fast forward and now I was in my late teens and interacted with some older guys who helped me get involved with ski instruction.  Chip Kamin was only a few years older than me but Bob Irish and Larry Cohen were in their forties at the time and we had a great time skiing together.  Their wisdom and inspiration allowed me to pursue certification with the Professional Ski Instructors of America and together they taught a young guy the ropes.  Point being that sports like tennis, fishing, golf, skiing, cycling are lifetime sports that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities.  There are mentoring opportunities for older guys and also the interaction with young people keep that generation in the game.  IMG00227-20100731-0812

     In a recent article in the PSIA publication “32 Degrees” there is an article which references how some snow pros share their secrets to longevity.  The common denominator is to “keep moving”.  Each of the instructors that were interviewed were extremely active well into their 50s, 60s, and 70s.  They each talked about looking for opportunities to connect with other passionate people with diverse perspectives.  Oftentimes this results in older people interacting with younger people in a common passion like the sports mentioned above.  I can remember as I became a parent, how important it was to bring my son and my nephews and nieces along in the sport of skiing.  IMG00117-20100116-1123

As I got older, I made a point to bring along younger guys and girls into cycling and in one instance, I introduced mountain biking to Bill Kirk and his son Billy and young Bill and I still ride today- 20 years later.  To be trans-generational benefits not only the younger generation with wisdom and mentoring from the older set, but for us older guys, to have the opportunity to ride or ski with a younger crowd keeps us young not only in our mind but in our perspective on how the world is progressing.  You can learn a lot on a chairlift or on a mountain bike trail by talking to a younger person and see what is relevant in their lives.  Heck, I lost a musical perspective way back when ” money is for nothing and your chicks for free.” That’s where I lost track.  But keeping up with the times is important and to keep tabs on current musical talent via younger people is enlightening to say the least.  

     Skiing, mountain biking, road cycling and trail running all are good activities that can unite generations.  Oftentimes we have some good debate and try to solve the world’s problems but the key factor is the difference in perspective between professional people, teachers, students, and retired folks.  The common factor is the activity but the conversations and interactions are the result of having a common passion and the accountability to get together no matter how old or how young the crowd.  I used to laugh in a road cycling criterium race when I would hear,” Inside Mr. McCloskey” or ” inside Mr. Sagan” as a young guy would slip ahead of us older guys on the inside lane of the road.  I used to smile thinking that this was pretty cool that we all were racing together, people of different generations.  

     Currently I ride mountain bikes on Thursday nights with a group that for the most part is 25 -30 years my junior.  With the exception of a couple of older guys, this group has provided some fresh perspective on many subjects including the technology that has developed with cycling.  I like the ride and the people and even though we come from different generations, mountain biking unites us and our passion fuels us enough to come each week and be accountable to the ride.  So no matter what floats your boat, keep active.  Stay involved in the sports or hobbies that always sparked you.  And most importantly try to be involved with groups that are “trans-generational.”  That is the neat thing about lifetime sports.  They unite all of us.  Thanks for reading.  

 

Baggies versus Lycra- a mature perspective to the debate.

photoOTB at the North Park Boathouse

Ok, so I am headed out of the Giant Eagle with my groceries and I see this guy getting out of his Corvette. He seems to be a little older than me and he has his wrap around shades, gold chains, lycra running shirt, lycra cycling shorts, and running shoes. He is headed in to the grocery store and I am thinking that he is the typical guy trying to hold off the inevitable by exercising and having all the toys along with the chest toupe’, chains and all that. But why would you want to show your produce neatly wrapped in lycra cycling shorts in the produce section of the Giant Eagle? There is a time and a place for everything and lycra is for riding and running – not shopping. At my age, I would not be caught dead walking around in lycra cycling shorts in a venue that was other than my local park or outside of my house ready to ride my road bike.

So let’s jump into the fray and the long standing debate among mountain bikers and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of lycra versus baggie shorts. Lycra has its advantages and although I have been riding my road bike in lycra shorts for years, I am starting to get to that point where I am looking for an alternative. Yes, lycra is standard and with the new compression technology, it is still appealing from a functional point of view. But for us “getting to be older riders”, the change in attitude is similar to the desire to ride the triple crank on a road bike instead of a straight block like the old days. I know that it is sleek to have the nice lycra road kit and I would not have been caught in anything else back in the day, but I am starting to get a little more comfortable with outfits that may be more touring than racing. The “club fit” is beginning to take over for the ” race fit” and you know what……that’s ok.

Enter the baggie of the mountain bike set. When I was mountain bike racing, I still utilized the lycra kits and it was standard and still is in most instances although baggies have been seen in Enduros and some cross country races not only locally but on the national circuit. Why? Because they are comfortable – that’s why? Mountain bikers tend to be more laid back than road folks and baggies seem to fit the culture like some of the new jersies that can be worn post ride without embarrassment. I like the pockets to keep your stuff- like George Carlin used to say. ” You gadda have a place for your stuff.” Baggies also have a little give and take in the right places and although many of these shorts have lycra liners, they are comfortable, functional and can be worn into a grocery store without anyone taking notice of you. Baggies can also be worn in the winter with knee warmers and most of the time you can ride in inclement weather and have he feeling of freedom rather than being trapped in tights or other winter wear.

So as a chronologically advancing rider, I am starting to see the advantages of comfort on a ride versus trying to portray the image of the over the hill racer trying to hang on. I like keeping my keys, cell phone, goodies,and other various and sundry items stuffed into my pockets of my baggies rather than stuffing them into a lycra jersey or my pack. I take my pack on mountain bike rides only if it is going to be a longer ride or if is colder and I need a place to stash my rain jacket. Other than that, pockets in baggies are just fine. Things change as you age and sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror I say,” do you really want to go out in that tight fitting outfit today?” Then I defer to the baggie and the comfortable shirt or jersey and am much happier knowing that function has finally taken over for form in the life of the 59 year old kid. The real test will be when I break down and wear baggies on a road ride. You never know, the next thing that may happen is fenders, side view mirrors on my helmet, maybe a flourescent orange flag attached to my road bike? Maybe I will be like the tourons that I know that gain weight on rides by stopping at every coffee shop or lunch place? Tough to do in the woods on a mountain bike but there are still some appealing stops that may cater to a more casual rider. I am happy to report that I am not there yet and please slap me if you see me putting a flag or a reflector on any of my bikes. But the culture of the baggie has replaced the function of lycra and for the general public shopping for their tomatoes and cucumbers, their visual world is a lot safer than the other day when Corvette man disrupted their experience.

So, although the baggie versus lycra debate will rage longer that I will ride someday, it is good to recognize that there is a perspective that lies outside of the functional debates between the two forms of exercise clothing. Respect the comfort but more importantly, respect your fellow shoppers. That chest toupe’ with the chains was a little over the top. Thanks for reading.

Culture Creates Commerce

McCandless-20130303-00102photoOTB at the North Park BoathouseOTB at the North Park BoathouseOTB at the North Park BoathouseOTB at the North Park Boathouse I started riding mountain bikes in our local county park in 1987. At that time,we were outlaws because the county police were not familiar with mountain bike riding especially at night with lights. We were not welcomed by the equestrian or hiking community and basically had to forge our own way in the world with a lot of ill will on the part of the other trail users. If you take the time to look at my post from June 23rd of 2013, you will see that life and times have changed a lot for our local park and the perception of mountain bikes has been radically altered. In order to carve out your place, the culture has to be changed not only in the park but also with associated organizations like county government. Fortunately we have a sympathetic ear now in that the former County Executive was a mountain biker and the current Parks and Recreation Director rides and enjoys other outdoor activities that have spawned in our local North Park.

But this culture change would not have happened if it had not been for organizations like PTAG( Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group) http://www.ptagtrails.org This hard working organization driven by folks like Bill Kirk( above left in picture with three guys) and Dr. Jamie Pfaeffle ( middle guy), Dave Brunger, Mike Connors and a host of others who faithfully built, and maintained new trails and met with the county to propose their vision and execute their plans. We now have 42 miles of trails that are enjoyed by many due to the hard work of PTAG. PORC( Pittsburgh Off Road Cyclists) http://www.porcmtbclub.org is a club that supports local rides which utilize trails like North Park. Bob Bannon is the tireless organizer(seen above in the white chin warmer) and has created a weekly ride schedule that makes it possible for riders and new riders to get together. Momentum has been building in the Pittsburgh area when it comes to off road riding and this growing culture of people have also been inspired by Dirt Rag Magazine http://www.dirtragmag.com founded in Saxonburg,Pa by Maurice and Elaine Tierney 25 years ago. Dirt Rag has grown to international status and a lot of the folks associated with the magazine ride in North Park on thursday evenings as part of a weekly organized ride. As the synergy between these groups has meshed over the last several years, the amount of riders in our park system has risen exponentially each year. Where you would only see a rider every once in a while, you now see groups of riders in the park at all times. This synergy has also created a culture of commerce in that the county is anxious to privatize many of the attractions in the park like the zip line venue, a potential bike shop and running store, and current sandwich shop at the golf course. But perhaps the biggest attraction that has added to the culture of riding in the park has been a project developed by Mike Kotyk, Marty Maloney, Robin Maggs and Dirt Rag circulation guru and professional photographer Jon Pratt. http://www.jonpratt.com The Over the Bars Cafe http://www.otbbicyclecafe.com built in the old boathouse is an absolute home run and I will tell you why.

For years, I have often wondered why no one developed the abandoned boat house in the park. It is a classic building with a great view of North Park lake. OTB began as a cafe on the southside of the City of Pittsburgh and it helped drive the city cycling scene as a haven for recreational cyclists, messengers and racers. It was one of the first venues to put in bicycle racks as parking spaces and their success in the city inspired the owners to invest in the North Park location. After a lot of discussion and multiple meetings with county government, the lease was finalized and Mike, Marty, Robin and Jon had attained permission to develop their dream of a restaurant in a county park that would create a culture to further develop cycling and commerce. There was a lot of sweat equity put into the construction and remodeling of an old boat house but if you see it today, it is the gem of North Park with a great bar, comfortable seating, and outdoor tables with beautiful umbrellas and a fire pit that complement the wonderful view of North Park Lake. The menu is casual dining from breakfast through dinner and the weekly featured micro brews attract not only the active crowd in the park but the general public as well because currently the OTB is the hot place to be on a week night or a weekend. When one travels to the parking lot( and the expanded lot due to popularity), you see bike racks on vans, four wheel drives, and all types of vehicles because after a great ride on the roads or trails of North Park, the OTB is now the standard post ride meeting place for the active crowd. The thursday night ride that I referred to earlier is actually called the OTB Ride and it is organized by PTAG member Billy Kirk and his pal Dr. J( Jamie Pfaeffle). In fact North Park now has a freeride trail that one rides at his or her own risk. It is called the Dr. J Trail in deference to its creator who is a spearheading force in PTAG.

It is interesting to see how so many organizations, inspired riders, friends of the park, restaurants, cafes, bike shops, magazines have all come together to create this culture of riding and communing at such a wonderful local county facility. This culture not only creates the commerce that was envisioned by the Allegheny County Parks and Recreation, but it also has developed over a number of years with momentum as these organizations, businesses, and people come together for a common cause. The created energy here is really something to recognize and it should be an example to local communities across the country who wish to develop similar venues and cultures in their recreational parks and public places. This atmosphere has come a long way since I had to turn out my light and hope that the police would leave and let us ride the trails. Now the county police are really supportive and in fact there is a new mountain bike patrol around the lake where the county police ride bicycles to enforce the law. Who would have ever imagined? Personally I am really proud of our park and the culture that has been created. When I roll into that parking lot at Stone Field or the Boathouse, I have a smile on my face because I know that I am part of a culture that has been developed over many years that promotes healthy activities, commerce, and gathering places for all of us Type A individuals to tell stories and laugh and enjoy life. Thanks for reading and if you ever get to Pittsburgh, go to the OTB Cafe on the Southside or in North Park. You will quickly recognize that you are part of something really special.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt Photography and Bauer Photography.

Greenlees Mountain Bikes

NiteRider2photophotophotophotophoto There is a statistic floating around out there that claims that 90 percent of all mountain bikes sold are never taken off road. Consider what percentage are utilized on rocky, rooty, muddy, eastern trails coupled with doing it at night with lights and you have a small percentage of bicycles and riders. Back in the 90s, I had the good fortune of becoming associated with a group of individuals that took the sport of mountain biking very seriously and became almost legendary in their victories in local mountain bike races in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Their use of these off road machines put the manufacturers to the test every time they had a training ride and some of the best riders and racers at the time belonged to a group started by Chuck Greenlee of Prospect Pa.

Chuck had a small shop and prided himself on carrying the best equipment that could be tested on the rocks of the terminal moraine. The frame to have at the time was either a Merlin titanium or a Yeti and Chuck quickly assembled a group of individuals who supported his shop and ultimately made up his race team. Jonathan Moran, Ricky Haas, Eric Sauereisen, Bob Anderson, E.J Sigety, Steve Wahlenmeyer,Frankie Ross, and Bill Alcorn were all incredibly good riders and the balance of the group were in the older category as veterans which included Chuck, Mike Reidinger, Tim Sweeney and yours truly – truly bringing up the rear. Diane Blackburn was our lone woman rider who could ride most guys into the ground. I first got to respect Diane when she gave me a real ration of grief for getting lost on a Month of Mud course. She was in our group at the time and I ziggged intead of zagged and heard it from Diane for weeks. Jonathan and the boys rode the Pro Expert Division and their rides and routes taught me a lot about riding on the rocks. Of course, I was not able to keep up with this group but they all were kind enough to spend the time to teach me the finer points of riding in this treacherous terrain. Often there were several groups riding at Moraine State Park in those days that were associated with Chuck’s team and the fast guys were able to do their thing with the slower guys bringing up the rear and learning all along the way. I had many over the bars experiences much to the amusement of the “A” team but being part of that team of folks was not only an education, but an immersement into a culture of ride or be left behind. ” What doesn’t kill you makes you strong” was certainly on display on those rides and the fruits of the work displayed itself in the podium finishes for the Expert Group. Our Vet group held our own and oftentimes won our divisions in races like the 24 Hours of Canaan( see May 15th, 2013 post). The NORBA Nationals, 24 Hour races, Hidden Valley Fat Tire Fallouts and Stampedes, Month of Mud races, WVMBA Series races, all had podium representation by the Greenlee crew in all age divisions. Even our older guys like Tim, Chuck and Mike were always competitive overall as well as winning in the Vet and Master division. Like a blind squirrel who finds an acorn once in a while, I even had some good finishes at the time that showed me that with a little hard work and keeping momentum on rocks and roots, even a schlubb like me can be successful. I was happy to be a Greenlee Mountain Bike Team member.

Besides the victories, the better part of being associated with Greenlee’s Mountain Bikes was the culture created by Chuck and also the team itself. E.J and his wife Sharon would always welcome us back to their home for cookouts after rides and races. Steve’s girlfriend Julie ( now his wife) would always get her parent’s motor home to be the base of support at the races and her immediate family was always welcoming with a great place to rest and have something to eat. The mechanics from the local shops would all set up outside the RV and if there were any issues at the races, it was a communal repair pit for anyone who needed it.

I loved traveling to the events in West Virginia with Chuck and perhaps some of the more harrowing rides in the country were with Chuck trying to catch Sam Dyke and the “Parrot Man” with his super suspended van on the back roads of the Monongahela National Forest. We made it to Davis, Slaty Fork and other locations in record time. Chuck was always a pedal to the metal guy not only in his riding but in his driving. But the best part of hanging with Chuck was that if we needed anything by way of equipment, parts, etc, Chuck was always there at all times to provide and would work on broken bikes well into the night. When you are passionate about something, it becomes part of your life. You are not just someone who rides a bicycle, you are a mountain biker. It becomes part of your persona. It seems like a long time ago, but a lot of the skills and more importantly friendships have lasted to this day and my passion for riding a mountain bike was first fueled by a fun loving crew from the wilds of Butler County.

These days, my old Merlin hangs from a hook in my garage. I had it refurbished a little bit to accomodate the chance that maybe my son Jack would ride it. His current interest is not there but maybe someday, he might like to have a start in the sport that has given his dad so much enjoyment. If that bike could talk, it would certainly tell some great stories. There are many groups and teams like the old Greenlee’s Team and they all have several things in common- passion for a sport, comraderie, laughs, accountability, and great memories that last a lifetime. If you are involved in a group like this, consider yourself fortunate. Your life is enriched. If not, try to join one. One great way locally is to get plugged into Jason Miller’s site called ActivePittsburgh. http://www.activepittsburgh.com Jason has created a one stop shopping for all clubs, events, teams, organizations, in the local area and his site is an excellent resource for all of us who are active and those who would like to be including anyone who has moved into our area. Check it out and thanks for reading.