You Are!

I am not a Penn Stater. But my wife is. An avid one at that, and so is her mom, her uncle and aunt and her cousin. They all bleed Blue and White. They all shout…..” We are!!” For almost the last 30 years, I have been witness to a phenomena that is reserved for those who have been through the State College experience and have gone through leaps and bounds in their love for their school and their PSU friends. No group could ever be as close as my wife and her PSU pals.

Every fall, we make the trek to Happy Valley to take in a football game and get together with Jan’s whole clan. The fact of the matter is that we get together with them frequently. Ski trips, football games, the beach, weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations, all are attended by this really close knit group of Nittany Lions.

Personally, I get the bonus of riding mountain bikes in Rothrock State Forest Challenging to say the least but equally as scenic riding along the ridges of Tussey Mountain with my friend Mike Smith- the spouse of my wife’s good friend who was a cheerleader for the Lions. I see the traditions of ice cream at the Creamery, a box of Rocks at the Skellar, hamburger a la Corner, and many others that have been introduced to me by Janet and her friends.

The ladies are particularly close and a lot goes into planning the trips, the food and drinks at the tailgates at the Smith’s motor home. How Judy(the cheerleader) manages to drive that behemoth through traffic, set up the tents, the food, the drinks, and welcome friends and strangers alike with her husband Mike, is really remarkable. For almost 30 years this crowd has invaded the Ritchey home as they graciously allow us to crowd in and crash for the weekend. Mark and Kathy are an amazing couple whose generosity over the years is inspirational. Kathy was Janet’s “roomie” and they are the best of friends. Dunz, Copes, Fru,the O’Donnells, the Readings, the incredible food prepared by Diane Barrett and her husband Billy. These guys all blow your mind with their love and passion for each other.

But the spirit of the Penn State Experience was truly on display this weekend when a record breaking attendance was set in Beaver Stadium for the game against Michigan. If you have ever experienced a “white out” it is a most intimidating sight for the opposing team but the zeal of 110,000+ people chanting “we are” stirs the collective soul of everyone who calls himself or herself a Nittany Lion.

However, if you really want to understand the soul of the Penn State experience, it really lies in the friendships that are created over the years. Penn State people love their school but more often than not, their fondest relationships and memories are with their friends from their days in Happy Valley. Janet’s best friends are her Penn State friends and they make an effort to get together, email,talk on the phone and plan the next get together. My wife recently lost her brother and the last crowd in the corner at our house was the PSU crowd. Gathering around Janet and her mom, crying, laughing, sharing feelings and hurts, and collectively wrapping their paws around two of their brood who were sad and hurting. This is the soul of the group. They love each other in the good times and in the bad times. They are there for each other through thick and thin and often it is no easy task seeing that the group is spread all across the country.

As I sat among Michigan fans this past weekend( the way the tickets worked out), the people around me remarked what a great experience they were having in Happy Valley. They said, there is nothing like the Big Ten experience and I am sure that friendships like these can happen at most schools who create that kind of atmosphere. I had a quite different experience going to a Division 3 private college but I have learned a lot watching the Penn State crew over all the years. They have become my friends as well and have embraced me like one of their own. Their paws have comforted my wife and me in hard times and welcomed us in all the good times when we get together. They are generous,kind, attentive, and would do anything for you. When I looked out on that massive crowd this past weekend, I thought about the cheer “we are!” It vibrated through the stadium and echoed in the mountains around Happy Valley. It was broadcast nationally on television and as I took it all in,I can surely say….., without a doubt…….. ” Yes- you are!!!” Thanks for reading.

Road Trip!!!!!

You know the familiar call to battle? ROAD TRIP!!!!! I always love to take road trips because of the excitement that is causes. The planning is almost as much fun as the trip. ” What are you bringing?” “When do we meet?” “Where are we staying?” “Who all is coming?” The emails and phone calls start flying and the excitement crescendos when the vehicles are all lined up and rolling. Sometimes you join in the caravan of fun from another location – bike racks loaded, your favorite music blaring. Road Trip!!!!!
I like road trips also because I can spread out my gear. I don’t have to have it all consolidated on a plane and can take my time enjoying the ride with my top popped, sun glasses on, and my favorite music making me tap my toes and bang on the steering wheel. This past weekend was no exception as my mountain bike group converged on State College, Pa. to take on the heralded Coopers Gap and Tussey Mountain Trails in the rocky mountains of Central Pennsylvania.

23 really good riders began the weekend rolling out of Pittsburgh at the direction of Jeff Chetlin and Josh Royston, our spirited and heckling leaders. As people came screaming into the parking lot at Tussey Mountain Ski Area, the conversation became lively and the comical sidebars of discussion ensued. Chetlin needled everyone and as the merry band of riders assembled, and rode up the first climb, the cameras came out. My friend Mike Smith, from Philly, was amazed at the quality of riders in this eclectic group including some fast couples- Jeff and Julie, Darren and MJ Allworth, Tim and Barb Girone, Dan and Mary Moore, and Dave Gault with his new gal Stephanie McCague Hughes who was our MVP. She was riding a demo bike and is a new rider. The rocks on the trails punished her but her determination to ride as much as she could impressed the veteran group.
I told the guys who I was riding with that these women ate nails for breakfast. Their skill and speed over the heinous rocky sections of the trails was a sight to behold.  

 

We had two docs on the trip who can really ride the rocks with speed. Mike Smith and Syed Hyder. Along with the Chetlins and Steve Guertner who are fast riding dentists, we were set with any medical issues or if someone smashed their choppers on the boulders. The balance of the group was made up of highly skilled veteran riders- Denny Lovell, Mike Connors, JB Loughery( who gave me great visuals on how to get over some really rocky sections), John Casuccio, Matt Graver, Craig Matthews, our local guide and trailmaster from State College, and the Pittsburgh Ride Kings themselves- Bob Bannon and Garage Door Bob Kowalski.

The rocks and roots really punish you but this group handled them with style.

Jeff Chetlin seen here on his new IBIS dual suspension carbon rig,along with his wife Julie, seemed to relish the punishment. As with most road trips, the evenings are spent with some beers and good food and a raucous recounting of the day on the trail. ” Did you see that endo?” ” I thought I was going to barf on that rooty, steep climb.” ” How about Mary riding that section?” Riding bikes through the lobby of the hotel had the guests and the employees all laughing at our crazy band of mountain bikers. Popping out of the elevators on bikes surprised some but made all laugh. One thing about mountain bikers is that they all like to have fun. No egos, no unfriendly passing on the trails, just smiles and laughs all the way.

Brice Minnigh from Bike Magazine has an interesting article in this month’s issue where he states that his riding group are the “trees that make up my forest.” A little corny but when you stop and think about the camaraderie of the people who make up a road trip, they are indeed a close clan that share a common goal. They are your forest of close friends. We are once again planning a fall trip to Rothrock State Forest and Cooper’s Gap when the leaves are ablaze and the weather cools to a comfortable temperature. I can hear the call to arms now in my mind. Road Trip!!! Take a look at the following video to see the difficulty of the trails but the skill level of this very talented band of riders. I was honored to be able to ride with them. Thanks for reading.

 

Videos by Jeff Chetlin.  Photos by Tim Girone and Jeff Chetlin.

Riding on the rothROCKS!!

Purple Lizard Mapstussey2-0Rothrock-(4)-0rothrock_crop_1024x1024photo17 My wife Janet is a Penn Stater. She and her family bleed Blue and White and for the last 26 years of our marriage we have made the pilgrimage to Happy Valley for homecoming, and other PSU related events. The bonus for me, and also my buddy who you see here on the left in the 3 guy picture (Dr. Mike Smith of Philadelphia), is that we get to ride at Rothrock State Forest. It’s always nice to have an Osteopath along when bouncing along the rocky trails of central Pennsylvania. Mike, Bobby Reading and I always get together at homecoming to ride mountain bikes and then enjoy the sumptuous feast at the tailgate during and after the game. Mike and I have had some real adventures over the years up at the Rothrock and they don’t call it Roth-rock for nothing. See the pictures above as a testament to the challenges of the trails. Momentum is always your friend on rock strewn trails but if you stray on the wrong ones, like the Mid-State Trail, you not only get some unrideable climbs but the tombstone like rocks present a challenge even when we have to walk in some sections. Mike and I have slid across icy bridges, ridden the rocks in the ice and the snow, searing heat, biblical rains, and we always consider it an epic adventure. It has been great to have him and Bobby as accomplices in mountain bike fun over all of these years. Even when I ride solo, there is something special about looking out over Bear Meadows, admiring the foliage, and looking skyward to see the Blue and White of PSU painted all over the horizon.

If you are inclined to try this area, I would recommend that you at least purchase the Purple Lizard map available at all the bike shops in State College. I have an old ratty one that I have used for years with the exception of the one year that I forgot it along with my cell phone. The long and the short of that adventure was that I ended up 25 miles from the ski area at Tussey Mountain( our starting point), alone, out of water in my pack, out of food and it was getting dark. The Central Pa. mountains are very remote and I was due back at State College an hour before. Fortunately, I was able to find one couple who was camping and they graciously agreed to drive me back to Tussey. I sat with my bike in the back of their pickup and had it not been for their benevolence, I would surely have spent the night in the wilds of the Rothrock State Forest. My wife was none too happy as I entered the Ritchey house( her roomate from college), several hours late, in the dark, and late for our dinner engagement. I am surely a candidate for a new Garmin GPS which should at least be insurance in the event that I ever get lost again. But, to continue, there are a number of great shops in State College- The Bicycle Shop http://www.thebicycleshopinc.com and Freeze Thaw Bikes- http://www.freezethaw.com which can assist with rentals, parts, and anything else that you would need to tackle these great trails. I would also recommend checking http://www.mtbproject.com and http://www.happyvalleybiking.com for further information. The Ride Guide TV show out of Canada on the Ski Channel also did a great expose on the area. You can catch the highlights on You Tube.

One thing about mountain bike riding in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is that you have to get used to riding trails that are rocky and technical. When you get into the Laurel Mountains and the Central Pa. ridges, there is no getting around riding technical trails. You can take a breather on the many fire roads,but for the most part, you will pay your dues on these paths of destruction. Some days, I feel energized and have the mojo to ride most of the rocky sections, but on other days, I have crashed and burned and have paid the price for challenging the shale and granite of the Keystone State. The Tussey Mountain Trail and the John Wert Path have several sections of real rocky terrain. If you add the elements of rain, snow, or ice, the ante is upped exponentially and momentum is definitely required to survive. However, the beauty of the ridges coupled with sunny days or changing leaves, add to the general feeling of satisfaction in immersing yourself into the mountainous terrain of Pennsylvania. My favorite moment comes at the end of most rides when we ride down the Longberger Path to the parking lot. This downhill has a few rocky sections but the descent is the reward for all the climbing of the day. Most of the rides in this area end up near the Tussey ski area and the long downhills, culminating with a tasty beverage at the end of the ride, makes all the rocky suffering worthwhile and gives you the great memories and feelings to make sure that you come back soon.

Mike,Bobby, and I are not Penn Staters, but riding in the Rothrock has forged many memories that bring a satisfying feeling that somehow we belong here. I am a Nittany Lion at heart even though I never hit a book here. I am sure that I will be eating Janet and Val’s chili and Judy’s turkey, slaw and challah for many years to come on those homecoming weekends. It tastes really good after a long ride in the Rothrock. But on those solo rides, when they occur, I will be more careful to be prepared. No more pickup truck rides for me. Thanks for reading and come ride the rocks!!!

WE ARE!!!!!!!

photophotophotoPurple Lizard Mapsphotoband_TIPS Well maybe not me, but this is the cheer of my wife’s alma mater, Penn State University. If you look it up on You Tube under “Origins of We are Penn State Cheer”, you will see a heart warming story. On any home game, you will hear one side of the stadium cheer, “We Are” and the other side cheer ” Penn State.” Now for a guy who went to a small little school up in Northwest Pa, this brings chills to the spine. It is inspiring and is the mantra for all of those like my wife and her wonderful friends who all went to school together at a fabulous university in a fabulous little town -State College,Pa. Happy Valley.

I would like to speak in this post of the idea of friendship which is embodied in the relationship that has developed over 30 years with my wife Janet and her PSU friends. Let’s start with Mark and Kathy Ritchey who so generously open their home to all of us during the annual rite of the fall-Homecoming weekend. We kill their house but the smiles and the hospitality of the Ritcheys is unmatched. They are generous to a fault and their home is our home. Their daughter Megan plays for the Women’s Soccer Team and Kathy and Mark are like second parents to all of those girls and coaches.

A big motor home rolls in for every home game and especially on Homecoming weekend. It is driven by a little spitfire of a gal named Judy Smith who was a cheerleader for the Lions back in the day. She and her husband Mike drive into the Valley and bring the most amazing food for the tailgates. Nothing beats Judy’s Yum Yum bars and her exquisite turkey served with home made cole slaw on fresh challah rolls. Mike Smith is one of three non-PSU persons like myself and fortunatly for me,he is a mountain biker. For the last 25 years, we have ridden together before the game up on the great trails of the Rothrock State Forest. Our route can be found on the Purple Lizard Maps available at all the bike shops in town. We hit the Longberger Path to the John Wert Path( a rocky hell of a trail), up Heckendorn Gap via Treaster Kettle Road, and then rocketing back down the Longberger to the finish. We have ridden a lot of the trails over the last number of years in all kinds of weather. I will never forget Doc Smith sliding on the ice over this wooden bridge right near the start of the ride. A tough start for Michael but he is a tough guy and the rest of the ride was uneventful and enjoyable. Mike is our medical guy. With all the pub crawling and the scavenger hunts designed by the diabolical Kathy Ritchey, we need a medical man on staff.

Valerie and Bob Reading are another wonderful couple and Val was one of the original(roomies). Bob is an amazing athlete. Mike and I took him for one of his first mountain bike rides and his road riding prowess showed up hard in the climb up the Gap on Treaster Kettle. He left the mountain bike guys in the dust on the climb and Mike and I looked at each other in wonder. Bob still looks like he could play college football. Valerie is one of the friendliest persons I have ever met and her culinary skills along with her sister Diane and her husband Billy, make the tailgate the envy of the alumni crowd. These three can cook up a storm along with Judy’s grub and my wife Janet’s “to die for” chile. Beth O’Donnell another roomie from the day, also prepares a feast for the tailgate and her husband Mike, a former PSU player, enjoys the feast with all of us. Mike is a friendly, capable financial guy who is a dedicated volunteer and generous supporter of all that is Penn State.

Then there is the incomparable Mike Procopio. Copes is a labor attorney from the West Coast via Sharpsburg, Pa and PSU. When he applied to Law School, he looked up the next school in the “P” section of the college manual and found Pepperdine. He was accepted and the next thing you know, Mike is looking at the bikini clad co-eds on the beach from the library window. He is a capable guy and the group has no better friend than Copers. He would give you the shirt off his back and then some. Mike Dunlay(aka the Dunz) is the ringleader of this group. A successful restauranteur from Chicago, he is shown above holding Joe Paterno on his shoulders in the famous Sports Illustrtated cover commemorating the teams National Championship. Dunz is also the guy that I refer to in my earlier ski post on “Characters.” Dunz was the guy I took to Killington to ski with my friend Eric and his national class ski racing son, Travis. Dunz shows up in wrap around Clint Eastwood sunglasses and Cincinnati Bengals billowing cotton pants. We all skied fast that day as usual and the Dunz rocketed down the trails of Killington hollering and laughing all the way down much to the amusement of my friend and his son. People kept asking me if he was an NFL player and I said politely “No- that is ……..the Dunz” He is another guy who would take a bullet for the girls. Another generous guy to a fault who would do anything for his Penn State crowd.

Now you might ask yourself, why am I spending such detail on this group? I am trying to portray the archtypal description of friendship embodied here. As an outsider, I have had the opportunity to observe this crowd for a long time and they are truly a tight group. They have been friends for over 30 years and make the effort to see each other not only at Homecoming but at other times of the year, all over the country. They make the time for each other. They call each other. They value their friendships. I am pleased that they consider me a friend as well and they have always welcomed me into the their midst as an honorary Lion. Pretty nice for a guy who didn’t really make the most of his college experience. Janet is a good friend to all of them. My mother used to say that to have a friend is to be a friend. I see Jan calling her friends from PSU, getting together with them, laughing with them, crying with them, and it is really heartwarming to see how much she enjoys her friends for all these many years. So as inspiring as this is to me, it should be to you as well. Cherish your friends. Make plans and take the time to get together with them. We are getting older. Our kids are growing and will soon have their own path and friends in life. But I expect this group to be rock solid for many years to come. I want to tag along and when the crowd screams,” WE ARE” I will shout back ……”Penn State.” Thanks for reading.