Bitten by the Ski Bug

Back in 1961, my mom and dad( who did not ski) took my sister and I for the first time to Seven Springs Resort here in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.  It was a terrible experience of travel that cold March night on the turnpike and I remember clearly my dad white knuckling our car all the way to the Donegal exit.  What transpired that weekend was a lifelong love of skiing that was made possible by the generosity and care of my parents.  On a subsequent visit to Hidden Valley the following year, my mom skied for two feet.  At the prodding of her friend Virginia Ruth, my mom put on the skis, slid for two feet, fell on her head and said,” That’s it- take the damn things off.”  She never skied again nor did my dad who had back surgery and skiing was not in the picture.

Fast forward and I was a regular on the Friday night ski bus from the little ski shop in the North Hills Village shopping center.  My dad made friends with the owner and she said she would look out for me with all the high school kids on the bus.  How I skied with my wooden skis, cable bindings, and leather lace up boots is still a mystery to me.  The slopes were icy, no grooming to speak of, early primitive snow making or no snow making at all, at night, cold as hell.  But I loved it!!!  The ski bug bit me and the venom of that bite still flows through my veins- 53 years later.  I spent weekends after that at the Rich cabin on County Line Road and the weekly trip to the Laurel Highlands was the norm for me.  I had a smile on my face the whole way.  Franklin Park-20130307-00105

I have skied in 108 different areas to date and still manage to take several trips per year out west and to New England.  If you look at my bio, it shows my history in the sport and people ask me why I still ski at Seven Springs when I have the opportunity to ski elsewhere during the season.  The reason is put best by a guy that I rode the chair with last weekend.  As we braved the new snow on opening day at the Springs, I remarked to him that people asked me why I was going up to ski 3 slopes this early in the season.  He said,” Why not?  You make the same turns here that you do at Jackson Hole.”  How true.  I love to make turns- whether it is at Seven Springs or elsewhere, skiing is fun.  What else should I do on a Saturday morning- watch cartoons?  My friends from 53 years of skiing are still there and we all get together on opening weekend to catch up, drink coffee and tell each other about the new equipment we have and trips we will take.  Skiing is addicting and it is a lifestyle not just something we do.  I like to consider myself a skier and not just someone who skis.  There is a difference.  I also noticed this past Thanksgiving weekend that there were as many gray hairs and beards out there as there were young kids.  When you are bitten by the ski bug, you are a skier for life.  Whatever metaphor you like- bitten, hooked, etc, skiing is part of your life and that opening day no matter where it is excites you.  I still can’t sleep the night before.  Just like when I was a kid.  Love the Laurel Highlands.  O'Hara-20130104-00081

Returning back to last weeks post, ” Pay it Forward”, the ski bug or hook can be set by someone bringing new people into the sport.  My friend JR who I work with, has taken the time to bring his son Isaac to ski.  Along with Kate, Sydney, Joey and Jackson, they get up early, make the trek to the mountains, and ski together.  JR is a good man.  He is not wild about skiing but sees that Isaac and his pals and cousins love it and so he puts himself out there as the sherpa much like my dad did with us when my sister and I started.  Sometimes a friendly word from an outside source such as yours truly helps the process.  JR was skiing at Hidden Valley last spring and called me to tell me that he had the group there.  I immediately went to my car, drove with my ski boots on( a real acquired skill as a skier), and located them at HIdden Valley.  One of the boys was struggling a bit and I saw the problem and asked JR if I could intervene.  He responded in the affirmative and with a few friendly pointers, the kid who might have quit for the day became hooked- or bitten, and this past weekend, he skied better than ever according to JR.  You need a good start in the sport and whether you take a lesson or you learn from someone who knows, the initial experience is crucial.  So many people go skiing with a friend, get hurt, have a bad experience because their start was not good.  Take the time to learn properly.  Kids acquire skills naturally and take to the sport reasonably well.  But a few well placed words of instruction can mean the difference between someone catching on or someone quitting and never returning to the mountains again.  Guys like JR, my dad, Bob Rose all took the time and made the sacrifices so that kids like me and this group, could take up the sport of a lifetime.  I will always be grateful to my dad and Bob Rose- and this crowd will always be grateful to JR.  In the immortal words of Oswald, the old mascot for Seven Springs in his Tyrolean hat and Leiderhosen- ” Leben Weider” – Live again!!!  The excitement, the passion, the fun all reside on the slopes for me and I can’t wait for each season to start.  850 vertical feet and 3 slopes- you bet.  I will be there!!!  Thanks for reading and be passionate about something.  IMG_20141129_122823049

The Allegheny Crawl

There are a lot of distractions today for kids and their parents.  X Box, Play Station, soccer, baseball, organized teams, with all kinds of practices, games and meets.  So much more than when I grew up in a less harried environment.  Parents today rush around hauling their kids to multiple events and the logistics are mind boggling. Video games offer entertainment while parents tend to catch up on their own lives, but life is gas pedal to the floor in most households today. My parents did a lot for my sister and me back in the day, but the center of most of the activity was the community pool.  Moms tended to be stay at home in those days and as they lined up in their chaise lounges every day in what the guards called “hysterectomy row”, they cheered us on in our practices and meets with the swim team.  photo

I was a decent swimmer back then but only had a limited repertoire.  I could not swim the butterfly, backstroke was weird and I kept hitting the lane markers, freestyle was good for 25 meters and then I was fried.  But I could swim the breastroke all day because it was a natural stroke for me.  Problem was that I had some pretty good competition with the Rose brothers, Dru Duffy and Johnny Kane who were all talented breastrokers and I battled out the time trials in order to compete in the meets.  Sometimes I was successful and sometimes not but it was a good lesson for me that anything that you wanted in life, you had to work for and there were winners and losers.  Not everyone got a trophy, medal, or ribbon for just showing up – you had to learn to be a gracious winner and an equally gracious loser.  I swam in the winters too at the Allegheny YMCA on the northside of Pittsburgh in a rather rough neighborhood.  I saw fights, stabbings, police chases, and other various and sundry activities but my mom was steadfast in her belief that I should see all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.  My folks exposed us to a lot of athletic activities but interestingly, they were not athletic at all and had very little interest other than they thought these activities would be good for Molly and me.

The final activity of the summer/early fall after all the swim meets were over, was the annual Father-Daughter, Mother-Son relay where the parents had the opportunity to show off their prowess much to the delight of their kids and their friends.  As my mom lined up on the other side of the pool, she was on stage in her new suit and matching flowered bathing cap.  As the gun went off, she was the last one in the pool and began what she lovingly referred to as “The Allegheny Crawl.”  This was an odd stroke that was a combination breastroke/freestyle with a weak flutter kick that propelled my mom by the minutes instead of seconds as she flailed her way dramatically towards me.  She smiled at her friends and at me as if to say,” I will get there – be patient.”  Edna Kane had already touched the wall and John took off while I sat on the block waiting for my mom to “crawl” her way to the end of her lap.  With my little pot belly and Speedo at ready, I was amazed to see that the race was already over by the time my mom touched the wall and the silence of the crowd was deafening as I swam furiously to the other end of the pool.  The cheering was long over and my finish as an “also-ran” was a little humiliating.  But I smiled and congratulated my mom who was holding court and laughing with her friends.  But perhaps the most rewarding moment for my mom was to see my dad’s eyes as he hugged her with pride for attempting the event in the first place.  My mom and dad were always there for each other and my sister and I were always in second place.  They had a great marriage and it was evident in scenes like this when the pride in my dad’s eyes completely overshadowed the performance of the McCloskey mother- son relay team.  photoThe little guy holding the corner of the flag is me with my rival but good friend Johhny Kane to my left.  photo

Things were a lot less complicated in those days and the lessons learned at the community pool have lasted with me for a while now.  The competition, the practices, the atmosphere where all the kids and moms were safe and sound at the pool was comforting.  The lesson for me was that as much as we have tried to do for our kids and as much as generations will do in the future, the main thing is to put your spouse first like my folks did.  As the relays ended and the years at the pool marched on, I knew looking at my folks that all was well with the world when I saw the love in their eyes.  They rushed us to meets, practices, and all kinds of events like many of us do with our kids at great personal expense.  But the main focus was on each other.  I can imitate the Allegheny Crawl today and we all have a good chuckle out of that, but even though mom was not as fast as Edna Kane, she was stylish in her own way- crawling or not.  Long live Valley Brook Swim Club.  Thanks for reading.

Don’t Give up the Ship

   One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was  during the War of 1812.  When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie.  His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle.  Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender.  His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours”  is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.  

     During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio.  One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry   at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service.  .  The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay.  The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lKing James 2012photo800px-DONT_GIVE_UP_THE_SHIP_flag.svg264px-BattleofLakeErie489px-Portrait_of_Oliver_Hazard_Perry%2C_1818ake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.  

     But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa.  I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar.  As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry.  ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments.  We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round.  As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men.  As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds.  I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out.  Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure.  But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition.  As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!”  ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.”  We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.  

     I have always been a fan of the underdog.  The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance.  These are the people in our lives who need encouragement.  These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient.  These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them.  My memory is a little sketchy these days.  But these are the folks whose hope needs restored.  My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend.  She was so right.  Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie.  Call a friend today.  Thanks for reading.  

College Bound- “Carpe Deium.”


Perhaps one of the most interesting experiences for the 59 year old kid and his wife Janet, has been raising our son Jack. He has been a true blessing in the highest sense of the word and as a strong willed child, he has provided some interesting input and challenges at times in a household where all focus was on his daily needs. We are headed off to Ohio University in Athens tomorrow and as many of you have experienced in this endeavor, there is a lot of anguish, trepidation, but excitement for the years ahead. The experiences that will be available for Jack in an academic setting away from home are wonderful and fulfilling.

Recently contemplating as I drive to work, ride my mountain bike on the trails, and sit by my fireplace, I think back to when we first brought Jack home and his “tricks” on the living room floor. My mind is flooded with images of sandboxes, teaching him to ride a bike and the turnaround in Malone’s driveway. Taking him hiking, teaching him to ski, how to throw a baseball, how to bat, what pitches to take and what to leave. The Jersey Shore, Vail, Tahoe, Utah. The basketball years appear in my mind with AAU and school – the tournament travel, the practices( never missed), and the games -wins and heartbreaking losses. X-Box, girlfriends, our times as a family in the foundation of our church. It has been a blur and at 19 years old, he is ready to go and we look forward to his success in a new environment. We will miss him, but Athens is not that far away and we are always here for him and look forward to seeing him on his breaks and on the parents weekends. But this is his time,not ours and the transition will be an interesting time for Janet and me as well as for Jack.

This is nothing new for a lot of people who have raised children and see them off to school or a new job. But it is a new experience for me, and I have felt in the last few years that I have been running out of time. Time to be together, time to impart what little wisdom I can offer, and time to establish a good relationship with my son. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and have my bladder placed squarely behind my eyeballs. I am an open person and what you see is what you get. Jack is a little different as the strong willed child and his demeanor with me is sometimes not what I had envisioned as a father and son. We do have unconditional love for each other and that being the bottom line, I can deal with the fact that we are truly different people……….and that’s ok.

Dr. Terry Thomas, in a message delivered in our church this past weekend, stated very eloquently that you are not justified by the opinions of others or by your children. If you are seeking approval from them, or validation, justification, or whatever you require, or want to feel better about yourself, you are barking up the wrong tree. God is the source of justification, not what we do. He loves us warts and all, and understands that as parents, we do the best that we can for our children and as we transition in sending them off, we can sit back and see the fruits of our labor and the exciting possibilities of higher education under His care.

Janet and I have taken the opportunities to relay to Jack our experiences in college. The fun times, the pitfalls of getting behind in the first semester, and the ultimate end game of studying hard and getting the “skin.” The “skin” and good grades gets the good job, but the larger advantage to higher education in my mind, is that the college experience takes the burrs off. It polishes you, it teaches you how to relate to other people, how to study, how to execute a plan. College is not for everyone, but for those who choose to attend the college of their choice, the end results give memories that last a lifetime and friends who remain in your life forever. We have said it all to Jack and now is the time as we drive down I-79 tomorrow and into the Buckeye State, to take a breather, let go, hug him and wish him the very best that Ohio University has to offer. Being the opportunistic guy that I am, I have found all the great trails to ride and my wife and I are finding the best restaurants and points of interest so that when we do visit, we can enjoy seeing Jack grow and when he needs some space, we can enjoy Athens ourselves. As we drive back, we will also begin to focus on each other. The one constant is that Janet and I are a team. We were together at the beginning of our marriage and will continue to be there as a team in this time when new oportunities will arise for us.

As a hovering parent of an only child, I must admit that I have been dreading this day since Jack’s freshman year in high school. But as the process of college has ensued, I am trying to look at it as the natural progression that all of us go through as we mature from childhood to adulthood. I can’t control any more and the process of “letting go” is a new experience for the 59 year old kid. I joke about the fact that I may age chronologically, but never mature. So as I see the process with Jack, maybe we both can mature together? My wife will appreciate it. Wish us well,pray for us if you like, and thanks for reading.

The Reluctant Angler

downsized_0715091352 I told my wife Janet that this year I was not going to bring my fishing rods and tackle to the beach because I have not had much luck fishing at the South Jersey shore in recent years. I don’t have the patience that my friend Dean Denmead has who is an experienced fisherman and has learned to wait for the catch. Most years I buy at least four different types of bait from old man Moran at Moran’s Dockside in Avalon and when I ask him why I am not catching anything, he always says that this is not a good time of the year to catch fish. So why sell me the bait? I guess a sucker is born every minute. I brought the rods and tackle again this year. I should have known that the same luck would happen when ten minutes into our first beach day, a seagull zeroed in on me at 60 MPH and launched a fecal torpedo at me which blew through the mesh in my hat, splattered my hair, my shirt and dislodged itself on my beach chair. Bad omen for the trip and a definite “Welcome to New Jersey” from the real fishermen- the gulls.

I have had more successful outings with my grandfather and his buddies in my early years who were all real good anglers. I drove them to Oregon Inlet in North Carolina, fished with them in the Everglades, and at a fishing camp several times in northern Canada above North Bay. There is nothing like being with experienced fishermen and eating a fresh fish dinner on the shores of a crystal clear lake or landing a state record snub nosed dolphin in the Carolinas. The alligators floating in the canals in Florida provided adventure for the young guy and the veterans. I still use my grandfather’s tackle and rods and although I have been marginally successful expecially when I have taken my son Jack, I am sure that he has a smile on his face in that great fishing hole in the sky.

A couple of years ago, I took matters a little more seriously and went on line to find a fishing service in South Carolina off the coast of Hilton Head. I found a site by Captain Dave Fleming When we booked the morning and arrived at the dock, Dave told me that the fishing was really not that good. Imagine that? But, he added, if we wanted to catch shark, we could do that. I jumped at the chance and my wife and son reluctantly boarded the Mighty Mako with wide eyed wonder as to how this was going to go. Dave used mackerel heads and instantly Janet’s line tugged ferociously as she hooked a shark and Captain Dave helped her bring it ot the side of the boat. Janet was not at all thrilled at the prospect of touching the sand shark and Dave brought it up for her to see and then cut it loose. The next snap of the line was Jack’s and the same protocol was observed by bringing the beast in view and then cutting it loose. My grandfather spoke in my ear when my line snapped and he wanted me to land it myself. After all those years with Judge Miller, Bill Marcus and George Beran, and my grandpap, I better net and land the shark myself. Dave sensed that I had some experience and let me net the small shark and instructed me to grab it firmly by the back of the head and he would take a picture. I had never held a shark before and was amazed at the sandpaper feel of sharkskin. After the picture, I cut it loose and we continued to land shark after shark until a bull shark snapped Janet’s steel leader and Dave smiled and said, ” That was one we would not have wanted to be in the vicinity of the boat.” As I gazed off into the sound, I remarked to my son that we were only about 800 yards from where he and I were sitting on a sandbar the previous day. Little did we know that we were surrounded by sharks curiously looking at us from the depths of the sound. Needless to say, my fifteen year old at the time never went back in the water.

An interesting sidebar to fishing is that you can have the opportunity to have some good family time and conversations that will be remembered for a lifetime. Even when I fish with my friend Dean, we laugh about our time at the beach and the friendship of dropping a line in the water to see what happens is intoxicating. Captain Dave told us aboard the Mighty Mako that he was born and raised in the Hilton Head area and that his father is a successful attorney. His siblings were all successful stockbrokers and professional people working in New York and he was the only “black sheep” of the family who chose fishing as a career. He was a little sheepish in his description of himself and his very tightly wound family, but I assured him that in my mind, he was the smart one. People come to a beautiful place and pay him money to take them fishing. He makes a living at what he loves and lives in Paradise. The stressful lives that most people live trying to take that one vacation to where he lives all the time is a testament to Dave’s good judgement. Personally I believe he is the most successful one in his family. What really is important in life? I may not be the most successful fisherman in the world, but the quiet time on the water either by myself or with my family is worth its weight in gold. I need to be more patient. I need to get better at being a fisherman and the sport will teach me what Dave already knows. Slow down and enjoy what life has to offer. Whether you catch a fish or not. Wish me luck. Probably buying some more bait from old man Moran tomorrow. Thanks for 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 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 Great Adventure

photophoto My friend called me the other day and remarked how my life was boring. Always blogging about things in the past, riding the same trails, skiing the same areas, and working. He was trying to get me to come out to the west and do an epic mountain bike trip with him. He has the good fortune of being retired, kids raised and doing well, and has time to be adventurous in a most excellent environment. He means well and we like to get together but at the moment, my structured life is ok until further notice. I will still get together with him and my other friends but there are pressing things now that preclude spur of the moment adventure trips.

But what is adventure anyhow? Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. In many ways I was and still am adventurous compared to most people but then again, I do not take motorcycle trips to the Arctic Circle or climb Mt. Everest. The real purpose of my blog is to tell people the funny stories about my past adventures and share some thoughts of encouragement to those who might want to give the outdoors a try. From the couch to a 5K? Maybe pitch a tent with their son or daughter in the back yard and look at the stars. Or perhaps, take up a winter sport and enjoy another season. Adventure and excitement is relative. Most people have to take advantage of their own local environment and if they plan, they can take that adventurous trip of a lifetime.

So in that spirit of perceived adventure, I will recount a tale with which many of you can surely relate, including my friend from out west. It is perhaps the most rewarding, perplexing, mystifying, aggravating, worrysome and loving adventure that I have ever experienced. I have had a lot of adventures but none as interesting as nurturing the most narcissistic of the homo sapien clan………….the teenager. It all begins with the driving lesson. The wide eyed nervous but thrilled demeanor is on stage with the first step on the gas pedal, the first hard braking, and oversteering. Through it all, dad is patiently in the passenger seat calmly giving directions in the pool parking lot. After a series of turns and three point turns, the route expands on the park roads until that unexpected remark,” Can I drive to see my friend Jackie?” Imagine the bravado on the first day? But, the 59 year old kid, seeing confidence and some ability allows the adventure to continue to see the girl so that the brand new driver can impress. The teenage fascination with the opposite sex is on display with the window down and the cool look to the girl with the big smile.

Fast forward to inner city, AAU basketball and the land of hip hop( see picture above). Dad and his Rolling Stones and Byrds can’t quite relate but neither did his parents at the sight of long hair and Elton John glasses back in the day. The 59 year old kid and his spirit of adventure is amazed at learning about Wiz Khalifa, Dr. Dre and the world of social media. Nobody talks- they text. Communication is reduced to the I-Phone and the infernal X Box live. Life expands for the teenager in the man cave of the house where video games reign supreme. Remember from past blogs that Janet and I taught the teenager how to ski, swim, hit a baseball, throw a football, shoot a basketball, and now it is all put aside for the fair sex and shooting aliens in the virtual world. When the teenager comes up out of his cave, he is hungry. He eats, doesn’t say much and back to the virtual world and texting his friends. Fortunately this creature has a job at the local beer distributor thanks to some dear friends and has learned the value of making a buck.

Moving on, the high school adventure is at an end and graduation, college orientation, and eventually the college experience awaits this being who mom and dad hope can make it on its own. Tonight, I stop to see the number one son and he tells me he is hungry. I say,” How about a pizza or a hoagie to hold you over until after work?” He says,” Great” in a very teen like vernacular which I will not expose. He says,” I only have a one hundred dollar bill so you will have to pay for it.” I pull out my last 20 and buy the food and am down to 10 bucks. What is wrong with this picture? I laugh and say to myself,” he has a 100 and I have 10 bucks and am out a pizza and a root beer.” That is life with the being we all know and love……….the teenager. Oh he is polite and shakes hands, and charms his teachers, and the ladies, and enjoys his life. But we see the beast waking up in the morning, grumpy, until he is fed and comes alive in the living room. We see the teenager at his best and at his worst, but the unconditional love of this being is always present even in the most heated battles of mom and dad versus sonny boy. A boring existence? I think not. It is always adventurous to stay one step ahead of the cunning beast until the day when we release him to mid America and the campus of Ohio U in Athens. We then will see the real growth, education, and maturity that awaits us when he returns and we say……” what happened to that young boy, who turned into the teenager, and is now…… a man?” Life moves on and the adventure continues. My friend from out west always told me,” Pat- it gets better and better every day.” His son is now married, with his own son and another child on the way. ” It only gets better.” The teen years were a challenge but again, adventure is in the eye of the beholder. Most of you had that adventure and those who have not, your time is coming with the texting, burping,flattulating, “I got this covered” species we know and love as…………the teenager. Hey Jack- clean up that room and put those clothes away will ya?” Thanks for reading.

The Snow Day

IMG00117-20100116-1123photo Do you remember when you were a kid in school and the weather forecast began telling tales of impending snowstorms? First it was a watch, then a warning, and then the big heavy flakes started to fall and the snow began piling up in the yard, and on the street. You started to hear about school closings and you wondered and watched if your school name would come up on that little moving line at the bottom of your TV set. You went to bed hoping and praying that your school would have the sense to call a snow day because of the hazards that heavy snow could do to kids standing at the bus stop, and getting to school. Heaven forbid you would ever be stuck at school. From your knees you said, “Please God, let my school be closed tomorrow.” ” I want a snow day.” Your parents watched the news and got the scoop often after you went to bed and they greeted you in the morning with the most fantastic news. ” No school today kids.” ” It is a snow day and they called school off for the day.” You jumped out of bed with glee and couldn’t wait to get your winter gear on with your boots, grab your sled, pan, or whatever, and you rocketed out of the door to the neighborhood for a day of fun on the local hill in the snow. Man, they were great days and if you have kids today, or grandkids, you still live those marvelous hours of watching the weather and hoping for your kids, that they call school off……….for a snow day.

When you live in a winter environment you get used to the snow and the cold, and snow days are like gold because they not only mean no school, but in my case as a kid and as in the case of the Hasley kids seen above, it was the signal for a parent to blow off work and pack you in the car to take you skiing. The Hasley boys went this past week with their uncle and left the school days long behind in the rear view mirror as they rocketed towards the mountains. Smiles on their faces and facing a perfect day of powder on the slopes and ……no school. Funny how the roads are impassible to school kids and buses but ok for a trip to the mountains. When I was a kid, we couldn’t wait for Bob Rose to call us and tell us to be ready in 10 minutes. We would all pile in the car for a day which was a bonus to the weekend trips that were the norm with Bob Rose at the helm.

Fast forward to high school for me, and I was given permission to drive my mother’s 1964 Buick Special to ski. My folks were pretty lenient and trusting because they seemed pretty confident in my abilities to drive especially when my dad loaded sand bags into the trunk and had installed some pretty hefty snow tires on the rear wheels. In those days it was all rear wheel drive and it was important to have some weight in the trunk. I piled the skis down the middle of the seats along with my sister’s gear and whoever else I could pile into the yellow Buick and off we went oftentimes to a harrowing drive on the Pennsylvania Turnpike up into the snow covered roads of the Laurel Highlands. Parents today are so protective including me, but my folks always said, “Drive safely and come back in one piece.” Snow days were awesome because there was no question that my mom’s “Ski Bus” would be utilized for the day by all of us teenagers. It was real interesting one day when the convertible roof would not go back up. Why we put it down in the first place was pretty stupid, but pelting our friends with snowballs from the seats of the convertible was pretty amusing. That particular ride back on the Turnpike was pretty cold and we had a fair accumulation of snow on the floor and the seats. My dad was not too thrilled. But he got the roof fixed and off we went on the next…………snow day.

We always seemed to make the most of those cancelled school days. Either the skiing was first and foremost, or we just went sledding or tobogganing. When I was real young, I remember my dad building an ice rink on the back patio. He took two by fours and some plastic sheeting and made a rink and filled it to the brim with water. It would freeze and my dad would always test the ice before we could skate so that we didn’t sink through and cut the plastic. Once we got the green light, we skated every night after school and on the snow days, he would help us shovel the rink and the neighbor kids all came in droves to the McCloskey Ice Palace. Even my mother tried a few times and we have her recorded on a Super 8 film skating head first into the back wall of the house. My mom was a great mother, cook, wife and nurturer. But she was far from an athlete. Her skating skills were sketchy and she skied a grand total of two feet before she fell on her head and told us to take the damn things off. But they were great parents and seemed to revel in the fun of the winter especially ………the snow days.

Those teenage days of driving the yellow Buick taught me to drive in the winter and my current days of driving a four wheel drive almost feel like cheating. I learned how to feather and pump the brakes, control a slide and not panic, and know how fast was ok and how fast was dangerous. But snow conditions never keep me from skiing and even today as the 59 year old kid, I revel in the days when the doom and gloomers tell us how bad the weather is going to be. I take it all in stride and like the Hasley boys, I can’t wait to get to the slopes and enjoy those first tracks. The Jeep has taken over for the long gone ’64 Buick but those memories of all of us piled in the car headed to the slopes will always be cherished. Thanks Mom and Dad for the opportunities. I know you are looking down from the heavens,and shaking your head and saying,” He’s still crazy.” “I hope he comes back in one piece.” Thanks for reading.

“The Sherpa”

photophotophotophotoGoogle Image Result for One of the things that you may have gathered from reading my blog posts is that I live in guilt ridden hell. Growing up Catholic among other things, I have always tried to keep the peace around my house and also keeping the peace on an everyday basis. I am not a confrontational person and usually I would rather inconvenience myself to get the job done, and make sure everyone is happy. That is why I call myself – “The Sherpa.”

If you look at the picture of the gentleman above with the huge pack and the smile on his face, you will see an actual Sherpa. This tribe of individuals is indiginous to the mountainous regions of the Tibetan Himalaya and they are hard working folks who haul all the gear, tents, luggage for alpine climbing expeditions in the Himalaya. I am sure you have seen and read about these individuals and their feats of strength always amazed me as they made it to the summits with those tremendous loads that they carry. I have always admired the Sherpas and have read a lot about them. In my Walter Mitty way, I am a Sherpa. Take skiing for instance. When I was first married, my wife Janet skied but I wanted to make sure that she always came with me so I took it upon myself to carry her boots and mine in a backback. I hauled her skis on my shoulders along with mine and often walked to the lodge loaded down with equipment. Not that she would not do it, but I wanted to minimize inconvenience. When Jack came along, I bought a bigger pack and loaded three pairs of boots in the pack and hauled three sets of skis on my shoulders and asked them timidly to take the poles. I took it upon myself to help them with their ski boots in the lodge or if we had the opportunity to park near the trail head, I would help them put the boots on kneeling on the frozen ground to minimize any inconvenience or possible complaints due to the definite “pain in the ass factor”of skiing. The sport can be tedious at times schlepping all of the gear in the cold, getting everyone ready with the usual litany of making sure that we had all of the equipment. I was the equipment manager as well as the Sherpa and it worked out well even though I was sweating like a wild man before I took my first turn- even in arctic conditions.

Sometimes, my nieces and nephews would come along and the process became a little more involved with more Himalayan quality schlepps to the slopes. But the smiles were worth it and if there was any inconvenience experienced, I took care of it. Like when my son wanted me to take his socks off because he didn’t like them in the ski boots. I stopped where I was, got down on my hands and knees and took the socks off and he skied the rest of his day with bare feet in the boots. Taking the boots off at the end of the day, they were steaming like a cooling tower at a power plant. Amazing about kids but whatever it took for comfort, that was my motto.

Perhaps the ultimate Sherpa experience besides my family ski outings was the time that I had 13 visually impaired skiers to look after at the National Blind Skiing Championships( read about it in my post-February 17th,2013) I took two of our guys with me but because of weather and a lack of volunteers, I was put in charge of 13 competitors. Congo lines to dinner and the slopes were the norm and my Sherpa skills were sharpened by hauling all of their equipment to the slopes and making sure that I had it all in the van at the end of the day. All of this in below zero temps in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Sherpa family experiences did not take a hiatus in the summer. Hauling beach chairs, umbrellas, pack and plays, coolers, and all sorts of beach toys became a ritual in the early days of the McCloskeys at the beach. Things are a little better now that Jack is grown but the guilt ridden hell still pervades as I haul all of it into the garage after a trip just like in the old days.

One thing you learn being an aspiring Sherpa is that you get used to frozen fingers, bloody knuckles, balancing unwieldy loads, and doing it all with a positive, ” ain’t this great to be out here” attitude. My family likes to do the things that I do to an extent. But they are not as maniacal about the outdoor pursuits as I am. So I have always taken that into consideration as I try to make these outings as pleasant as possible. I am sure many of you have had similar experiences with getting the kids to the mountains or the beach. But I will tell you one thing, every loaded up day on my back was well worth the smiles of my family. Being a Sherpa has been well worth the while. Someday, it will probably be round two with grandchildren. I am hoping the back holds out. Otherwise, I may have to go to the Tengboche Monastary for some guidance by the Tibetan monks to encourage me to keep hauling and keep smiling. Thanks for reading.

The Lost Ski Areas

800x600px-LL-cf36c16a_DSCF4404800x600px-LL-dd1752d2_DSCF4395800x600px-LL-53de19e0_DSCF4407newaerialLaurel Mountain Ski Resort will be quiet this season  TribLIVE If you peruse the internet, and look up, you will find a site dedicated to the preservation of the memory of ski areas in New England that have been closed due to financial and weather related problems. There are many pictures of these “lost” little areas and the site has expanded from New England to New York State, New Jersey, Quebec, Alberta, Colorado, Washington, and Pennsylvania. The sweat equity of the founders of these areas and their passion for skiing was oftentimes not enough to overcome the financial pressures of taxes, electricity, diesel costs, maintenance of lifts and lodges, and payroll. I remember and have skied a lot of these little areas in my time and one of the most memorable was Laurel Mountain in Ligonier, Pa.

Laurel was founded in 1939 and opened to members of the Rolling Rock Club in 1940. The Mellon Family built a beautiful lodge which subsequently and tragically burned in later years. The area opened to the public in 1958 and eventually was turned over to the state in 1964. The Department of Natural Resources ran the area for a number of years until some private management firms tried their hand at running the resort. Weather and financial difficulties forced closings in many ski seasons and the last attempt was made by Seven Springs Resort in the 2004-2005 season. Unfortunately a warm winter accompanied by low skier visits forced the closing of Laurel Mountain up until the present day. There are rumors of re-opening but at this point- only rumors.

Laurel was always a mountain adventure to me. When I was a kid, I remember going up Route 30 and making the right onto Laurel Mountain Road. It was like entering a winter wonderland in a forest setting with snow covering the trees and forming a tunnel all the way back to the ski area. I was mesmerized as a kid with all the snow and the family atmosphere of picnic lunches in the lodge, hot chocolates on the deck, and the fun of being in the mountains in a non-commercialized environment. In college, I taught skiing there as part of the Ski Academy and became friends with many of the state employees who ran the area. The State ran a pretty spartan ship at the time but the trails that meandered in the wilds of the Pennsylvania forest on the Laurel Ridge were a scenic trip back in time. This was how skiing was supposed to be. Family oriented, small snowy area with local charm pervading the scene. The big draw was Upper and Lower Wildcat which was one of the steepest runs in Pennsylvania. At only 900 vertical feet, it still packed a whollop as a challenging run that you could ski all day and never be bored. Occasionally, you would take the surrounding trails for variety and make your way to the main chairlift that serviced the Wildcat slope. There were times when that chair stopped and if you were unfortunate enough to be at the bottom of the mountain, you either had patience and waited, or you began to walk up the trail to the top which was one heck of a workout.

When my son was first learning, I took him to Laurel frequently and made a day out of skiing the trails and then eating lunch and stopping at the Pie Shop in Laughlintown at the bottom of the mountain. Coupled with trips to Fort Ligonier, I had a captive audience with him as I explained the nuances of the French and Indian War which was fought in the very woods that we were skiing. As we ate our apple pies the conversations were either about his skiing progress for the day or the battle at the fort and how George Washington, and Generals Braddock and Forbes played a significant role for the British in the area. I often said that aside from skiing a great little mountain with my son, the better part of the day was the travel to and from Ligonier. It was good father and son time and I will never forget that opportunity that this lost ski area gave me as a father. Many picnic lunches were eaten by the McCloskeys at that lodge at the top of the mountain and the Midway Cabin with its hot chocolate and goodies from the Pie Shop oftentimes was the highlight of the ski day at Laurel Mountain. The snow, the views into the Laurel Valley, and the family atmosphere will never be forgotten.

We often see and ski the big major resorts in the west and New England. We marvel at the money spent on lodging, snowmaking, high speed lift expansion, grooming, and the marketing of the ski experience at a large ski area. Skiing has become a huge commercial offering with investments being made by large firms outside the ski industry. Every year, ski areas compete for the business of families, singles, couples, and company outings. The pressure to be competitive and profitable is intense as ski areas are run as a business and not out of that family oriented, local community ethos that started the “lost’ ski areas of old. I love the opportunities and ammenities of the big areas but I get nostalgic for the history of the sport that was honed in the smaller areas with the slow chairs, limited snowmaking and grooming, and that family atmosphere that was created by the founders of the original ski areas. Skiing Laurel Mountain was like traveling back in time. It was how skiing was meant to be and I can only hope that someday, someone will recognize the value of that gem in the Laurel Highlands and think about overcoming the odds and investing in a worthwhile skiing experience. I can remember asking Herman Dupre (former owner of Seven Springs) why he would not develop Laurel Mountain and he said,” Pat- sit down here and I will give you 38 reasons why.” I listened as Herman was a very successful engineer and businessman. I can see how the area could become one of the lost because of the varied encumbrances that halt its development. But someday, there will be someone who will take the challenge, even if it might not make economic sense, and reopen Laurel and reopen that portal to the past. Think snow and thanks for reading.