The Earth Awakens

Still waiting for the trails to dry, but we are getting close in this neck of the woods. In the mean time, I am watching the world awaken from the seat of my road bike.IMG_0154 It is interesting when you go on solo rides through the country roads this time of year, that you can take the time to appreciate spring and how the word awakens to a new season. The sun splashed hillsides yield new floral growth similar to a newborn baby smiling when it is fed after a nap.IMG_0152 If you take it in, you can almost feel the frozen ground melting and draining and enjoying the benefit of longer days and warmer sunshine. The grass grows greener instantly, the air smells fragrant with the scent of blooming plants and blossoming trees. I have to say that for many years, I did not notice. I was always working hard to stay on the wheel of the guy in front of me in a pace line on a road bike. Like the saying goes,” if you aren’t the lead dog, the view is always the same.” I did not take in the signs and the scents of spring in my early days of road riding and road racing. Now I do and it is a very pleasant experience. IMG_0150
My fascination with spring growth was fostered, I suppose, by my dad. He loved flowers. When I was young, he grew marigolds, geraniums, alyssum, and other plants in the basement under artificial light. When he built his new house, he purchased and built a Lord and Burnham greenhouse and spent many a winter night meticulously planting seeds in his plant trays and carefully watering them with the appropriate nozzles and sprays. Miracle Grow was his “go to” plant food and the result was gardens full of thick, colorful growing flowers and planters and hanging baskets groaning under the weight of the thick lush flora.IMG_0124 Whenever I see flower beds or go to the spring flower show at Phipps Conservatory here in Pittsburgh( a National Historic Landmark- built by Lord and Burnham), I think of my dad. IMG_0126 When the plants came out of the greenhouse and were ready to be planted, my dad the engineer, devised a quick way to plant them. He had a drill with an over-sized auger and would drill the hole and yours truly would plant literally hundreds and hundreds of flowers in the beds every year. It was amazing how spring came to life at my dad’s house in Wexford and also our old house on Siebert Road.
My current road riding routine includes stops to enjoy the sights of the back roads of Sewickley, Pa. I will climb to Allegheny Country Club and sit on the bench and watch the golfers approach the holes on the back nine.IMG_0145 The lush green fairways, and the manicured greens remind me of my old caddie days and I take the time to drink it all in on sunny days. I pass horse farms and stop again to visit the horses grazing in the field. Sometimes they make their way over to the fence where I am standing wondering if I have an apple for them? Power Bars and Cliff Bars are not to their liking but maybe I might start bringing an apple or two for their enjoyment? Climbs up out of Sewickley back home are steep but I don’t ride them the way I used to, suffering to keep up with my group. I drop the gearing down and spin my way to the top without taxing myself too much. It is a much more enjoyable way to ride as the 60 year old kid. I enjoy the back roads and even though I can’t wait to get back in the woods on my mountain bike, I do enjoy the road with the sights and scents of spring- including the horse manure. ūüôā
Forsythia is another blooming bush that is verdant in the spring. My mom used to bring in sprigs from our bush on snowy spring days and ” force” the blooms in a vase of water.IMG_0167 It was her way to welcome spring although Pennsylvania spring weather was not always cooperative. My dad never planted anything before Memorial Day but we were in high gear on those following weekends. It cut into my riding routine a little bit, but I enjoyed the time with my dad and always managed to get my rides in somehow.
As we age, we tend to appreciate things a little more. I am enjoying the spring and enjoying the growth and scents of an awakening earth. It is great to do it from the seat of a bicycle. You can enjoy life and “stop and smell the roses.” Thanks for reading and enjoy the spring. IMG_0134

Musical Trails

” Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette. Puff, puff, puff them and if you puff yourself to death. Tell St. Peter at the Golden Gate that you just have to make him wait, but you just got to have another…..cigarette”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LyYLrVNKE68

Nothing like a little Texas swing from Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen to start a trail run. 924186 Now, I have always been a bit of a late bloomer as they say. I got married at a later age,had a child at a later age, still have not matured in many ways, and still put stamps on envelopes and mail my bills. But I am embracing technology and now have a new partner on my winter trail runs- Pandora. You might say, ” Pat- what is so novel about running with ear buds? Everybody does it.” Well I tried the I-Pod a number of years ago and didn’t like it because when I am riding my mountain bike, I like the feedback of sound from the trails. Same with skiing. If I hit an ice patch, I want to be able to hear it so my reaction is appropriate and not be distracted by Mick yelling in my ear that he needs some satisfaction. But running the trails- that is a horse of a different color. Thanks to Janet, JR, Chris, and Daryl, I have finally found Pandora on the trail and have loaded up my shuffle opportunities with some of my favorite music. download (3)

With the Byrds, Commander Cody, The Dead, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco and a host of other music from my college years, I can run over those logs and rocks and make time to the cadence of my favorite songs. I can get lost on those trails with daydream visions of my old dorm room with Bob Rose and his aviator sunglasses getting ready to put his KLH speakers out the window for spring term- blasting the Commander for everyone outside. I can see the cracked linoleum floors and see the packed refrigerator with Genesee Cream Ale provided by Jeff Ruggles. I can even see that curmudgeon of a lawyer Pat Clair, with his long black hair back in the day, tapping his toes to the rhythm of the Byrds. I can see the layout of that room with the early post office decor- because it genuinely was ripped off from the campus post office by a number of rowdies in our dorm. I laugh as I hear these old tunes and it helps me through the dark nights of the winter on the dark and desolate trails. I have run our trail system for 35 years. I have not become involved in the Fat Bike craze or the studded mountain bike tire craze yet because when it starts to get cold, sloppy, and icy, I park the mountain bike and pull out my trail running shoes. photo Something different and no hassle with extra clothes and a mud/ice caked bike. But again, I am a late bloomer and I may change. In my defense, my behaviors may be archaic, but I have always tried the latest sports equipment looking for an advantage. I did embrace the oversize tennis racquets, shaped skis, and 29er mountain bikes. But with regards to winter trail activities,I am still in the trail running,hiking,and snowshoe mode. But my new friend Pandora has made it all the more enjoyable. For 35 years I had to entertain myself with my own inane thoughts on those dark, lonely, winter trail runs. Now I have my old college musical friends running and hiking with me.

When the first real snow arrives, I pull out the snowshoes and am in a more contemplative mood. I like the beauty of the snow covered trees in the woods. My eclectic taste in music changes on these nights as I listen to Enya, Celtic Women, Sara McLaughlin,and Libera. The haunting Celtic melodies or the choir music of Libera almost elevate me as I hike the snow covered trails with my snowshoes. It is as if I am almost in another world of some kind with that peaceful, contemplative music in my ears coupled with the visual pastoral settings of a snow covered landscape.

It is interesting how music affects your mood and manages performance in activities like trail running. I like the shuffling of my selections but when that hard uphill comes into play right before the end at the parking lot, I like the ability to kick into my last effort with some inspirational music from ………..lets say……..The New Riders…….” Panama Red.” ” Just don’t know when Red’s in town, he keeps well hidden under ground…….” Ahhh, made it up the hill.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKgB-3aANe0 Amazing how that music got me going. Hey- I am a late bloomer. You guys have had the ear buds for years. I am just now discovering and enjoying it. Keep bringing me into the 21st century my friends. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.

Ski the Midwest- you may be surprised.

Not too long after I worked for the winter up at Sugarloaf, Maine and after I passed my PSIA Certification Exam for ski instruction, I was motoring west through Ohio to a PSIA clinic sponsored by Boyne Mountain, Mi. 161¬†I was feeling rather smug with my recent accomplishment and time on the big mountain, Sugarloaf, and wondering what I could learn in Michigan? ¬†Was there really any decent skiing there? ¬†Do they have any vertical or elevation to speak of and why did I agree to come to this event? ¬†Chip Kamin, who was an examiner for PSIA Central, and Larry Cohen had asked me to accompany them to this workshop clinic and I agreed because these were the two guys who got me into ski instruction in the first place and I respected them both. ¬†So here we were, making our way through Toledo into Michigan which was no where near any reputable skiing in my mind. ¬†I was more concerned with visiting the Christmas super store- Bronner’s, in the Bavarian themed town of Frankenmuth, Mi. logo01¬†I figured if I was going to drive all this way to ski on something in Michigan, I would at least salvage the trip with a visit to this famous little town with the famous Christmas store. ¬†Boy- was I surprised when I got to Boyne and had the experience of a Central Division workshop clinic.

Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota in my mind were famous for Nordic skiing. ¬†The Upper Peninsula in Michigan has the famous ski jumps at Iron Mountain and cross country skiing up ¬†in those three states is king.136 ¬†But we will get back to that in a minute. ¬†Boyne, as it turns out today, is the second largest operator and owner of ski and golf resorts in the country. ¬†Among its current properties are Big Sky, Crystal Mt., Sugarloaf and Sunday River. ¬†Boyne knows how to operate a ski area and although the vertical at its home base in Michigan is a little smaller than my home area here in Pennsylvania, it is very well run and the snowmaking, grooming and natural snowfall make for some pretty nice conditions. ¬†Chip introduced me to Peter Batiste who was a fellow examiner in the Central Division and he did the split of all of the attendees at the clinic. ¬†I was fortunate enough to make the first split and ended up in Peter’s group. ¬†My smugness started to melt as I watched our course conductor ski. ¬†His handling of the clinic and his skiing ability made me real glad that I had decided to attend this event. ¬†Like I have said in many of my earlier posts, smaller mountains have produced some pretty impressive skiers. ¬†Boyne was no exception and the enthusiasm for skiing at the smaller mountains is infectious. ¬†No wonder Glen Plake, the famous extreme skier, spends time in the smaller areas. ¬†Not only are they a feeder to the big resorts out west, but they have their own character and enthusiasm even with a limited vertical drop. ¬†I learned a lot in that clinic and on our way back, the conversation was lively with Chip and Larry about Peter and the professional quality of the PSIA clinic in the Central Division.

Fast forward to another time and I had the opportunity to once again ski the midwest only this time in the frozen tundra which is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.383816_10150517402916753_1548434111_n ¬†Here is where winter is locked in for many months of the year and if you read my post about the National Blind Skiing Championship, you will get a feel for the challenging weather and conditions that skiers in that region face. https://chroniclesofmccloskey.com/2013/02/17/the-national-blind-skiing-championship/ ¬† You really have to love the winter to live there and especially ski there. 308261_10151571337441753_2003138656_n¬†40 below zero straight temperatures are not uncommon in these parts and when you are skiing a small area with limited vertical terrain, you wonder sometimes why you do it? ¬†But again, the midwestern ethic of fun, excitement, and passion runs deep in this neck of the woods. ¬†I was again surprised at the excellent conditions and ¬†the professional way in which the area, Blackjack, ran its “mountain.” ¬†People are tough up there and in many ways, they reminded me of the tough as nails people from Maine that I had known in my stint at Sugarloaf. ¬†If you didn’t have a dipstick in your engine block heating the oil, there was no way you were starting your car in either area of the country. ¬†I had 40 below in Maine as well, but the UP is in a class of its own with the winds off of Lake Superior and the copious amounts of snowfall due to lake effect. ¬†Blackjack might be a smaller area but they get boatloads of snow. ¬†599556_10151571337436753_1357161776_n

Bottom line, never judge anything before you have the experience. ¬†I had preconceived notions about Alpine skiing in the midwest, but I was pleasantly surprised. ¬†What they lack in vertical, they more than make up for in professionally run areas and expertise in their ski instruction. ¬†Sadly, Larry and Chip are no longer with us, but the memories of those clinics( I went back several times), are etched in my mind. ¬†I have always been grateful to Larry, Bob Irish and Chip Kamin for getting me involved in ski instruction. ¬†I miss all of them. ¬†Thanks for reading and You Betcha…………ski the midwest.

Cycling the Miles for a Cause

IMG00227-20100731-0812IMG00375-20110730-0915DSC00468 A number of years ago my next door neighbor’s son came to me and asked me to do the MS150 Bicycle Ride to Erie. It was dubbed the “Escape to the Lake” and it was a benefit for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society http://www.nationalmssociety.org It was a lot of fun and especially for a young 8th grader who had never ridden much outside of our local North Park. This ride is always well attended and supported and the fun thing that year was staying overnight in my freshman dorm up at Allegheny College in Meadville,Pa. As I walked around campus and stayed in the dorm, I thought to myself,” Did I really do this” It seemed like the distant past.

As time went on, I opted for the camp out at Allegheny and also at Edinboro State University because I enjoyed the down time in my camp chair and sleeping under the stars in my dome tent. Always liked camping but I am the Lone Ranger when it comes to that sort of activity with my family. The neighbor kid eventually grew up and got married but I still kept up on the MS 150 until AAU Basketball got in the way of those weekends and I had to make a choice between being a good father in the stands at courtside or riding the MS. Fatherhood won out. But the MS Rides live on and they benefit research that is finding a cure for a very debilitating central nervous disorder. The money you raise goes to a worthy cause and you get a wonderful ride in the country with a well organized event as your reward.

Moving on, I had the opportunity to ride some events with my friend Scott Weiner down in Maryland at the Catoctin Challenge. The Maryland events were fun and organized by a really funny and good guy, Phil Heffler, who made a habit out of heckling his riding friends. He painted” last hill” on the road for miles even though there were many killer ascents ahead of us. He painted lanes for his riders and then a separate lane for a girl who was riding. Those signs read,” this lane for good riders.” Then he had the separate lane for his lady friend right next to it. Really hilarious stuff and Phil roamed the course having fun berating his friends and supporters. Phil organizes rides every year from Frederick, Maryland to Pittsburgh and if you want to take part in his hilarity and well orgnized rides, contact Phil- pheffler@aol.com

Several Maryland rides benefitted the 1-6 Organization http://www.1in6.org for men who were abused as children. This organization was supported by the Roz and Marvin Weiner Foundation as title sponsor with the honored guest being none other than our 3 time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond. The interesting thing about riding with LeMond was that he is a very engaging person. The funny thing is that most of the people on the ride either did not know much about LeMond or had their own agenda on the ride so about 6 of us got to ride both days with the former Tour champion. The stories that he told on the road were amazing and the development of a lot of current companies involved in cycling equipment had their seminal influence from LeMond. Scott time trial bars, Giro Helmets, and countless others were entrepreneurial and research endeavors by LeMond. You learned a lot about world class cycling and the development of product by riding weekends with Greg LeMond. These were also camping events and my fix for the outdoors under the stars was satisfied in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland.

My friends Pete Hilton, Eric Durfee(the local) and Mike King and I rode in “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” in Lake Tahoe one year which benefitted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. http://www.lls.org Riding a road bike around the most beautiful lake in the country surrounded by the Sierra’s is indeed breathtaking. This ride also supports a very worthy cause and riders come from all over the country to these events. My friend Tim Hamburger is very involved in this organization and if you are inclined to ride or support this organization, Tim would be appreciative. His countless hours of training riders for this event is exemplary and his volunteering spirit is appreciated by all of his riders and event organizers.

Sometimes, these events hit close to home. My friend Jim Pottinger is riding an event in Vermont to beneft the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in honor of his son who has T1D juvenile diabetes. Becket is a cheerful little guy but the stress that he goes through with daily testing of his blood and the disruption to his young life as well as his parents is something that the JDRF addresses on a daily basis. http://www.jdrf.org Please consider supporting Jim on his ride. http://jdrf3.convio.net/goto/BecketsBikers

This weekend, Maggies Marauder’s go into action at the MS150 Keystone Ride up in State College,Pa. Pete, JR, Cyndee and Barry, Don, and a bunch of my pals will take part in this ride that benefits MS. Maggie Schneider is dealing with MS and this group rallies around her as she rides to raise money for the issue that she deals with on a daily basis. Consider supporing the Marauders who are led by team captain Bob DeZort and the memory of our friend Chip Kamin who helped found the group that rides in this event.

Riding the miles for a cause is not only worthwhile and a really fun event to benefit a particular organization, but it is amazing to see the folks who can ride those kinds of miles. You have the experienced cyclists who ride a lot of miles and these events are not much of a challenge. But you see most of the people on less than adequate bicycles riding with a smile and making it to the end with folks scratching their heads and saying,” How could that bike and that person make it 150 miles?” You see the same thing at marathons and ask the same question. But the heart of individuals who have a goal not only physically but the goal to support their favorite cause is impressive. Please consider supporting these organizations, riders, and I encourage you to take part in these events if you have never done so. A worthy cause, riding a lot of scenic miles, camping under the stars( or hotel room if you prefer) great entertainment, good food, all make for an exciting weekend. Now that I don’t have the AAU Basketball excuse anymore because my baller is headed to college, I may have to make a return to the roads of the cause. Thanks for supporting and reading.

Life changes- new opportunities!

photophotophotophotophotophoto The 59 year old kid is always up for new opportunities especially when life changes a little bit. Our one and only is headed off to Ohio Universiy in the fall and things will change around the McCloskey household a bit when he makes the move. However, instead of being melancholy as we will miss him, we will be excited about the new opportunity for him at a great school with a great course of study in the business program. But instead of looking like the typical sap in the “Ohio U Father” T-shirt with wing tip shoes, plaid shorts and a straw hat and camera, I want to be able to enjoy some of the ammenities that Athens, Ohio has in store for my wife Janet and me. If you reference my previous post about “Cycling in the Buckeye” from 9/26/2013, you will notice that there are a lot of excellent road and mountain bike adventures to be had in the state to our west.

One of the things I wanted to do during the orientation program at Ohio U was to see what kind of cycling opportunities there were in the Athens area. It is an intertesting location in Ohio in that it is more like West Virginia than the typical Ohio flatland. There are rolling hills as it is on the northern tip of the southern Appalachian chain. I called Athens Bicycle http://www.athensbicycle.com and spoke to Peter Kotses who guided me to several options in the area. For one, there is a 17 mile bike path that connects Athens to Nelsonville,Ohio that is quite an enjoyable ride along the Hocking River. It is also a gateway to Sells Park which is the local City of Athens park. The Athens Bicycle Club has done a masterful job of cutting and marking singletrack mountain bike trails in the park and thanks to an access from the Dale and Jackie Riddle State Nature Preserve, this park now connects to the trails in Strouds Run State Park whose trails were also created by the Athens Bicycle club over the past several years. There is a lot of riding out there and as I made my way through Sells Park on the Rockhouse Trail and onto the Finger Rock Trail, I had covered a lot of ground and had to get back for the orientation program. Looking at the map which you can download from the Athens Bicycle website, you will be able to see that there are miles of trails that eventually end up at the bottom end of the beautiful Dow Lake. I did a big favor that morning on my 5:30 AM ride when I personally cleared all the cobwebs on the single track with my face so that the riders who would follow me later in the day would have a clear riding path through some pretty dense forested trails. These trails will be a wonderful riding experience for me in the next four years of visiting my son in Athens.

My wife Janet is not one to sit around either and as we utilized the bike path, we noticed that Rt. 50 was an excellent road cycling venue which extends all the way into West Virginia and on through Maryland. In fact, the Race Across America(RAAM) was making its way through Athens and we saw all of the male and female leaders of the race at various times of the day and night riding through on their 3,000 mile journey across the country. I stopped to talk to a British group who were riding in the team competition. I asked them if they knew my friend Danny Chew who won the event twice and they were not familiar with him. Time marches on and the million mile man Danny was not known to the up and comers of RAAM. In any event, road cycling is also a viable opportunity in the Athens area.

Janet and I are hoping that our enthusiasm for new things will extend to our son Jack who seemingly likes the school and the wide open world that awaits him with the college experience. I have encouraged him to seek out opportunities at the school that he might not be familiar with and potentially enjoy activities that he never dreamed would interest him. Ohio U and Athens is a real outdoor activity center and I have encouraged Jack to take advantage of the great outdoors as well as getting involved in school organizations,clubs, and intramural sports. Life is his oyster now and we know that he will hopefully take full advantage of these great opportunities. One thing is for sure, Janet and I will be looking forward to our newfound recreational playground when we visit Jack and we will also take advantage of the many post ride watering holes and restaurants which line the main drag of Athens. Yes, we will miss Jack on a regular basis around our house but as long as he is happy and enjoying his new experience, we will get used to this new life as empty nesters. But we will not sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We have a lot of life to live and one of the great new opportunities will be visiting our son in a wonderful place that we have only begun to discover. OU? Oh yea!! Thanks for reading.

“The Faceplant”

IMG_2349root If you examine the photo above, (click on the title of this blog if you don’t see it), you will see what I would term as one of the great face plants of all time. This is my friend Scott Root who was leading a mountain bike race down in West Virginia when he had a slight collision with another rider that sent him flying and tacoed his wheel. You can see this in the flying debris above Scott’s head. Now I have been over a lot of handlebars in my time both on the road and on a mountain bike and also have caught an edge on skis that sent me careening on my face down a snowy slope, but I have never seen a plant as heinous as this. Interestingly Scott survived and actually drove himself home and was nursing what he termed as “hole” in his shoulder. He had the foresight to go see a doctor the next day but somehow managed his pain after the race and on the long drive back from the mountains of West Virginia.

I tell you all of this not only to give you appreciation of the collossal face plant, but also to tell you a little bit about Scott Root. I first ran into Scott years ago when he was an outstanding swimmer and a terrific athlete even at a young age. We are contemporaries and his prowess as a swimmer was well known in the AAU circles. He went on to a very successful high school and college career and I ran into him years later when he entered the fray of mountain bike racing. ” Weren’t you the Scott Root that I knew years ago as a swimmer?” The affirmative answer also led to many discussions which included the fact that Scott was the silver medalist in the World Masters Mountain Bike Race in Quebec a number of years ago. He is a very successful local and regional racer and to this day still races in the Expert Category rather than compete with the Masters who are his contemporaries. Point being that Scott still rides and races at a very high level despite the fact that he is a contemporary of the 59 year old kid. Some of us have kept up riding and staying in shape because it is important for good health. Scott takes it one step further by staying in race shape and never letting his guard down over the years.

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin refer to the classics bike racers as “hard men of the peloton.” If you look at my post from last week, you will see George Hincapie competing in Paris Roubaix and he surely was one of the “hard men of the peloton.” Scott Root would qualify as one of the hard men around here. Not many guys could pick themselves up after a face plant like that and get home with a “hole” in their shoulder and not seek medical help until the next day. Not many guys his age can ride at that level against a much younger competition and still win and place in most Expert Races. Not many guys are that dedicated that they commute to work on a bike in all kinds of winter weather and searing summer temperatures. Scott does and remains a very fit individual. There is a lesson here. I always try to encourage folks to get involved with outdoor pursuits and even at my age, you can keep doing what you have been doing as long as you are consistent and nothing catastrophic happens to you. Ratchet it up a level and some of you can continue to ride, run, ski hard and do it at a very high level. Ratchet it up one more level, and you continue to train and race like Scott and keep being competitive at an older age. No matter where you find yourself, keeping fit and testing your limits, can be an enlightening and productive way to spend your off time. You would be amazed to see the older athletes out there today competing and just partaking in high level outdoor pursuits. You don’t quit playing because you get old, you get old because you quit playing. You don’t have to be a “hard man of the peleton” but you also don’t have to let age dictate your fun or lack thereof.

One other comment on the “Faceplant”. Many of us have faceplants in life that do not happen over the bar of a bicycle or on a pair of skis. Some of us have things going real well and then all of a sudden we have a job loss, the loss of a spouse, issues with children, aging parents, any number of things that can lead to a virtual faceplant but a tough experience nonetheless. Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it. Can you survive the faceplants in life? I have had my share both literally and figuratively but I always find that having a positive attitude and counting my blessings in life help me through these “plants”. Never underestimate the power of thankfulness and prayer as you go through life’s faceplants. You may not be banging your head off the asphalt like Scotty here but if you take his attitude and get up to fight another day, you can be a “hard man” in your own right aided by the experience of a fall and the courage to face another challenge- day by day. Keep riding, running, skiing, swimming, whatever floats your boat and thanks for reading and following the blog.

Transition- Oh! The Pain of It All

FShincapiephoto I hope you all enjoyed my blasts from the past with the “Best of Chronicles of McCloskey”. I tried to use those to transition to the new season of blog posts following the winter posts and winter activities. As I made my last turns of the season today at Whiteface in the Adirondacks, I felt my usual melancholy of another ski season coming to an end. I know that it has been a long, tough winter for a lot of folks, but I love the winter and I love to ski and it always makes me a little sad when I make the final turns of the year. But, spring is here and the anticipation of the spring and summer activities makes the transition a little easier. Or does it?

If you look at the picture above of George Hincapie suffering in the Hell of the North- Paris Roubaix, it reminds us all that the Spring Classics in Europe are under way and that the suffering that the pros endure will trickle down vicariously to our spring rides on the road and mountain bikes. In the days when I used to race a bike, I paid for all of those ski days and light fitness maintenance in the winter when I dragged the bike out and climbed up that first hill in the spring. I suffered trying to get into shape the best way I could but there is a huge difference between riding rollers and running flat trails in the winter, and actually getting back on the bike and climbing a real hill again. The spring brings back painful memories of trying to shed the winter pounds and getting some miles in on the road and mountain bike.

I can remember clearly doing some early time trials on the road bike with our ACA Bicycle Club and feeling horrible as I pushed myself to my first posted times of the year. I can remember the unpleasant feeling of throwing up all over a tree at the end of the trial and laying on my back wondering why I tortured myself this way. I remember my Greenlee Mountain Bike friends convincing me to do some early season races like the event up in Coburn,Pa where the climbs were painful and muddy and the fire roads at the top of the ridges were still frozen. Guys were dropping like flies as they slid on the ice into the trees and it was all I could do to keep the bike upright and descend in one piece. I was conservative and took my time but it was still an early season, hair raising, rude awakening. It took a while but eventually I was able to get into some reasonable shape but the early season suffering was always something I did not look forward to after a long, fun winter of skiing.

Fast forward to today and the 59 year old kid has a different philosophy. I don’t pressure myself to ride hard to get into shape. With age comes patience and I know that eventually I will get into shape but when the pain on a climb becomes too much, I back off to a reasonable pace and enjoy the ride instead of keeping the back of some guys jersey in my immediate vision. There is no rush anymore to get into shape as quickly as I can. At my age, you can “ease on into it” and I encourage any newcomers to the sport of cycling to do the same. Also, if you are a grizzled veteran like me, I encourage you to do the same and enjoy the ride with me. Let the fast guys go and kill themselves. We have earned the right not to do that anymore. We are not the fast guys- we are the fun guys. Enjoy the ride. I tell anyone who is embarking on an exercise program to always ease into it because if you push yoursef too hard, you will find an excuse not to do it. But if you have patience and slowly develop your fitness base, you will not only enjoy the fresh air, scenery, and exercise, you will also benefit from the mental well being of being on a bicycle. Ease on down that road or trail. You can push yourself eventually and you will know when you feel like you are getting into some decent shape. But for me, there is no need anymore to blow lunch on that tree. I would rather have a nice ride, get into shape and eat that nice enjoyable lunch afterwards.

One other thing that Chris Crowley says in his book,” Younger Next Year” is to get the best equipment that you can afford. Good equipment in any sport makes all the difference in the world and gives you an opportunity to enjoy your sport with the confidence that you have a good ride under you. What the heck, you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, why deny yourself? Something that you are going to ride 3-4 times a week or more should be something that you look forward to using. Old guys like me usually have good equipment but guess what- we need it! Chris Crowley also says that if you keep the same regimen in life, you will be able to do the things that you like to do well into your sixties, seventies, and even eighties. Carpe Deium folks- it’s spring! Thanks for reading.