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”

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. 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.

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

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

Kurt Weill

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

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

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

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


Next week I celebrate 26 years of marriage to my best friend and wonderful wife.  The picture you see here of Janet has been altered because I did not want to dilute the beauty of my bride on that wonderful day with my countenance as I would show that picture for the next 26 years.  It has been a great honor to be married to her and if I had not taken the opportunity that was presented to me 27 years ago, I might not be in the position that I am today as her husband and father to our son.

Let me take you back to the days when I was a 33 year old bachelor, living a rather structured life. Typically, my life looked like this:

  • Wake up
  • pack my cycling gear or running gear
  • go to work
  • drive to North Park and either run or ride with my posse of friends
  • summer time- Tuesday night road cycling time trials
  • summer time- Wednesday night road cycling Criterium races at the Highland Park Zoo parking lot
  • winter- run trails with lights
  • winter- ski every weekend
  • eat at the “dump” ( a local greasy spoon) or the default Italian restaurant with my cronies
  • go home
  • lay on the floor and watch HBO until bedtime
  • get up and do it all over over again – the next day or weekendphotophoto

This was very easy to do and all of our crowd would know where we all were every night of the week or every weekend.  The routine was great and I was getting used to not doing much in the evening but resting for the next days athletic activities.  I had an old TV that I pilfered from my mom and dad and got pretty good at laying on the floor and changing the channels with my toes because I had no remote.  My townhouse was pretty low maintenance and whenever I left for a race or a ski trip, I just locked the door and went my merry way.  Life was good and my friends were faithful and held me accountable to work out.

One day, my future mother in law, whom I have known for many years, asked me what I was doing lately. ” How is your love life,Patrick?”  I would tell her I was like a cactus in the desert with an occasional tumbleweed passing through on a late night windstorm.  She laughed and said that Janet ( I have known her since she was 8 years old- that is another story), was going to a party with her flight attendant friends and maybe I should go to meet all of them?  I responded that I would like to do that and when the day came, I was laying on the floor, watching the tube, comfortable after a shower, toeing the TV, and wondering if I really wanted to go seeing that I had  big ride scheduled for the next morning.  But I thought, “what the hell, might as well go.  You never know who you will meet and take advantage of the opportunity”.  Well, I went to the party and sure enough, the most attractive girl was Janet.  I was a slave to fashion at the time( not) and picked up all the girls in my Blazer with my baggy shorts, my grandfather’s fishing shirt, and running shoes.  Janet later remarked that she called her mother and told her about my crazy outfit.  I still wear that type of stuff today.  But as we talked at the party, I began to scheme how I would attract Janet into going out with me.

The long and the short of it was that I took her cycling.  I picked up her bike at her folk’s house and when they asked me what I was doing, I told my future in laws that I was fixing Janet’s bike.  They asked if I knew that she was dating a guy she worked with and I said,” I will make her forget his name.”  They laughed about that for years and our dating career started at the Park.  Janet was a little intimidated when she saw the sea of lycra, helmets and road bikes but I assured her that we would take a little ride and then go get something to eat.  Fast forward, Janet has been subject to all of my passions at the park and on the slopes and has handled it with grace.  She has had some mishaps as of late with a broken elbow last summer while hiking and a broken humerus ( not humorous) on a rails to trails ride this summer.  I have taken her skiing in the freezing rain, blinding snowstorms out west, bullet proof conditions at Whiteface in the Adirondacks, and various other adventures that she might have never experienced had she not met the 59 year old kid.  But the best adventure for me was taking the opportunity to go to that party and experience how a kind and loving person could enhance my rigid life.

I guess the point of all this is that if you don’t take opportunities in your life and stick to the mundane and the routine, you might never experience life to it’s fullest potential.  The operative word for all of us should be ” yes” because you never know what might present itself, what great place to be experienced, what wonderful people you might meet, and what life changing experience might unfold right before your eyes.  I have had a lot of experiences in my day because I was crazy enough to always say “yes”.  But the best experience for me was the day that I took an opportunity and said,” I do.”  Thanks for 26 great years Janet.  Thanks for reading.



All Hail the Bathtub Trail


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

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

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

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

The Famous Bope Ham

IMG_1633 Sometimes people like me can be self serving. I wonder when I am going to get my next ride in, can I schedule a trail run, how many ski days do I have so far? It seems like life sometimes is a series of athletic events blended in with work, family, and obligations. Enter the Famous Bope Ham.

You are probably wondering,” What on earth is the Famous Bope Ham?” Well simply put, it is absolutely the most tasty baked ham you will ever enjoy if you are fortunate enough to have a slice someday. It is the creation of my mother-in-law and the recipe has been passed down to my wife Janet who prepares it flawlessly. The picture above is Janet and our good friend Mike Dunlay with the ham. Janet brought it over to feed Mike and his family during the time when they were celebrating the life of their father who had passed away. The ham is comforting. When people see it for the first time at a funeral or if someone is ill, a smile lights up their face when they cut into the baked outer crust and dip a piece into the sweet sticky juice at the bottom of the pan. Suddenly, all the sadness, discomfort of an illness, or other maladies disappear at least for the moment as one savors a bite of this tasty comforting food. The ham appears courtesy of my loving and thoughtful wife who bakes the semi-boneless delectible meat all day or all night in the oven at low heat. The ham is scored and cloves are placed at the intersections of the scores,and finally according to the recipe, brown sugar and orange marmalade are placed on top of the cooked ham to melt and blend with the ham juice to form a most wonderful sweet, gravy. When the ham appears at an event, things come to a screeching halt as the host graciously acknowledges the gesture of my wife Janet and like a magnet, the guests in the home march like Zombies towards the treat. It is mesmerizng to be sure and when the first people slice the ham, dip the slices into the sweet gravy and eat, their eyes close with unbelief. They are hooked under the power of the Famous Bope Ham.

Holidays at my mother and father in law’s house always include the ham and when I am particularly famished after a great day on skis, a great run or ride, I am always delighted when my plate is filled with slices of this most delicious and filling meal. But here I go again with the self serving. It is not about me and my hunger, it is all about the ham. The Famous Bope Ham is more than a tasty treat delivered to a grateful home. It represents love, caring, understanding, giving spirit, all wrapped up in a sticky, sweet, tender goodness that binds families and friends together.

Perhaps no illustration could be better than when we take the ham to serve the families at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh. We bake the ham all day and get all the side dishes, drinks and desserts together and make our way to the House and get the meal to the penthouse where the families reside. If you ever feel like you want to serve people, look no further than the families who reside at RMHC. Oftentimes, they are there for weeks, months, and longer waiting for a liver transplant for their child. Perhaps their child has a debilitating illness that the good doctors at UPMC-Children’s Hospital treat over time. Oftentimes, these scenarios are life threatening and the families are not sure of the outcome. They only know that their children are in the best of care at Children’s Hospital and have a wonderful place to stay courtesy of the volunteers and staff at the Ronald McDonald Houses. There is no greater feeling than seeing a young person who is battling illness, walk into the dining room and partake of the ham. When they eat that first bite, the smile on their faces and their bright eyes looking at us brings out the bladder behind my eyeballs for sure. It is a most hearwarming moment and if only for a short while, we feel like we have made their life a little easier and their families are most grateful for the appearance of …….the Famous Bope Ham. It is more than a meal. It represents all that is good with not being self serving if only for a short while. Janet and I love those families and pray for them every day. And the ham……….once again,appears out of the oven to serve and delight the most grateful recipients. My mother always said that happiness is like a perfume that you can’t sprinkle on others without getting a little on yourself. When Janet serves the ham, and people enjoy, that perfume of happiness definitely is in the air. Thanks for reading and please support RMHC Charities.

“I did it!”

photo This simple phrase is always heard in jubilation at any finish line of a race where hard work paid off. Take the guy in the picture above. Sridhar Mandyam is my next door neighbor who last year signed up for a program at our local YMCA called” from couch to 5K.” Sridhar is an IT consultant and does a lot of work with overseas customers and has many late nights. He was not much for physical activity due to his hard work and hours but he claims that seeing me all the time in the driveway with my bikes and skis inspired him to get off the couch and do someting physical before it was too late. I was flattered of course but more importantly, Sridhar changed his life. He ran all of last year and this winter, and prepared for his first race- The Pittsburgh Half Marathon.

Sridhar’s physical appearance has changed. He looks like a runner and has that healthy glow of someone who is enjoying his exercise and endorphin boost. When he showed up at my front door after the half and proudly displayed his finisher’s medal which you see above, I could not have been more proud of my next door neighbor. I took his picture as he glowed in the satisfaction of completing the race that he had prepared so hard to finish. That smile on his face is priceless and Sridhar is hooked on running. He can’t wait for his next race. He will definitely do the half again next year and who knows what other races will come his way. But his lifestyle is changed. No matter how busy he is, he has to get his run in. The sign of a man who is inspired to be physically fit and values his health.

A similar story occurred a few years ago when a friend of mine, who was living in Maine at the time, decided to do the full marathon in Pittsburgh. He asked me if I wanted to do it with him and I said yes and I began the tedious preparation of training for the event. He trained as well up in Maine on cold, lonely back roads in the dead of a New England winter. As the day approached, I became acutely aware that the weather was not going to be favorable for a marathon in Pittsburgh. The high the day of the race would be in the 80’s and at race start, it was already in the 60’s. I told my friend that he should eat something before we left- he didn’t. I told him to wear a hat and sunglasses- he didn’t. I told him to drink along the route as much as possible- he didn’t. At the 20 mile mark after all of his preparation, he totally shut down and was ready to take a cab to the finish. I would hear none of that because of his preparation and his training for the race as I implored him to walk. We walked for 4+ miles and when we came in range of the finsh line I told him that he must run or jog across the finish line- he was not to walk across the finish line of the Pittsburgh Marathon. We argued about it a little bit but I convinced him to run which he did right into the arms of the volunteers who took him to the medical tent to get an IV. As his wife, my wife, and I waited for him to exit the medical tent, he came out with his finisher’s medal beaming from ear to ear. ” I did it” he said and we all were so proud of his monumental effort. To this day he has his picture, medal, and race number proudly displayed in a frame in his living room. I hope Sridhar does the same with his picture and medal. “I did it” they said!

Most of the people who enter running races or any race for that matter are doing it to finish and achieve a sense of satisfaction for training and achieving their goal. They are not in it for time, place, or anything competitive except with themselves. Only a small percentage are experienced and running for time and place. Most weekend warriors are working toward the goal of just finishing what they have entered. When you see these folks cross the finish line of their first race, they are beaming and thrilled beyond belief. That is the magic potion of entering a race. A lot of people criticize those who train for an event most likely because they have never experienced the joy of completing a competition. There are a lot of couch potatoes out there who would rather make remarks than get off the couch to try it themselves. But for those who do, the nervousness of the start line, the exuberance of the crowd of fellow competitors when the gun goes off, and the ecstatic emotion that comes with crossing a finish line and getting that medal is one that you will never forget. I feel sorry for those who never test themselves and experience the euphoria of race day. My friend who ran the marathon says it was one of the high points of his life. Sridhar is still on cloud 9 with his excitement for his newfound passion. If you haven’t had the experience, check with your doctor then try it. As the famed ski film producer Warren Miller always says,” you better do it this year, because you will be a year older when you do.” Then you can say with pride……” I did it!” Thanks for reading.

The Local Loop

photophotophoto Every town in America has its iconic running and cycling loop. The Central Park track around the reservoir in New York City comes to mind along with the roads there that are closed to traffic on the weekends to facilitate bicycling. You can run the route along the Charles River in Boston or Lakeshore Drive in Chicago which all have the history of being where most people start to walk, run or ride a bike close to where they live. We have our own iconic loop here in Pittsburgh at North Park Lake.

The Lake Loop is 5 miles around and has traditionally been a benchmark for beginner runners and walkers. If you can make the 5 miles, you have definitely accomplished something. When I first started running out there with Ralph Schmitt and Les Brodie, 5 miles was a daunting task but eventually it became routine and variations of the route became the norm along with escaping the antics of Les and Ralph. Snowball battles, tipping Port a Johns, and other distractions along the runs became stuff of legend. Eventually, time became a factor for me and I began my quest for the all encompassing PR(personal records) not only around the loop and the variations, but in 10K races with our crew, pictured above. We had fun times back then but like Brenda and Eddy, you can never go back to the green. Different crowd, different atmosphere but………….still same old lake loop. Crowded on January 1st with all the New Years Day resolutionists, crowded on the first, nice spring day, and most of the summer. Isolated in the harsh days of winter but still observers can see the presence of the hard core Lake Loopers grinding out the miles in the snow.

If that loop could talk, you would have the most interesting book in print today. New mothers relating stories about their children,ER docs relating their care of gunshot wounds, couples discussing life together and life’s troubles, hard core runners not thinking about anything but heart rate and time, and cyclists battling the crowded bike path and surrounding roads with cars always to their left. Heck, Mick Jagger used to run the loop when he was in town. Imagine some of those conversations. I am sure Keith was not with him but the Pittsburgh Marathon staff certainly were entertained by Mick who was a faithful 7 mile runner. I have had some interesting experiences around that lake. Once time returning from a road ride out north, I was rounding the loop back to the parking lot at Stone Field when I felt a “WHAK” on the back of my neck. It was a chipped ham sandwich with mayo( the classic Pittsburgh Teddy Bear sandwich) along with a scathing, yelling commentary from the passing guy in the passenger seat of a car telling me to ” get the f@#$ off the road, a@@#$%^. Not really what you want to hear at the end of a pleasant road ride in the country, but I kept my head down and kept peddling none the less. I don’t mess with angry drivers- they carry guns.

It is interesting that things have changed a bit around the Lake Loop. Lots more people, and now with separate running and cycling lanes, the coveted real estate is guarded by some aggressive types. Our group comments all the time about people running and cycling around the lake who hold their ground and you better get out of the way or you risk getting run over- literally. There are road riders who fly around that lake. I call them the North Park specials because they ride in a pack and are really fast around the flat lake loop but never seem to venture out of the park to ride a hill. Some folks are clueless when they walk or run 4 abreast forcing those going in the opposite direction to seek refuge in the road along the loop. This can be a little dangerous and many crashes and falls have occurred. Courtesy sometimes plays second fiddle to the dedicated lake loopers who get their ride or run in come hell or high water. Get out of the way or prepare to die. Not the way it used to be but things seem to mellow as the season moves on and the enthusiasm of the rank and file seems to wane with the changing seasons. The hard core are still there but the newcomers and less dedicated seem to vanish as the temperatures and weather change. But the loop- remains constant. 5 miles. No getting around it.

I remember the days of 30 minutes around that lake. I look at the fast guys now and wonder what happened to the time. I generally run trails in the winter so the loop has been ignored by me with the exception of returning from a ride or walking with my wife. I wonder what I will look like in the years ahead running or walking around that lake? I am sure I will return at a much slower pace and continue the walks. I will age and get slower but one thing remains constant- the lake loop will always be 5 miles- winter, summer, spring, and fall. Thanks for reading and give some love to your local loop.

Its a Young Person’s World isn’t it? Sometimes!

IMG00251-20100811-2242earth-full-view_6125_990x742 So, I am out running the trails tonight and I see an old dog ahead of me plodding his way behind his master who is running ahead of me. All of a sudden, the old dog cuts up into the woods and cuts a corner and the next thing you know, he is ahead of his master. I made a remark to the owner how smart the old dog is and he said that he did that the very first day that they ran. Age and treachery can sometimes beat youth and skill. The old dog validated something for the 59 year old kid. You can take a short cut or cut the corner and there is no law against it.

Toby Keith says,” I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” I love that line because sometimes you can shock some young people. Maybe you make that mountain bike climb in pretty good time and even perhaps still put some of your younger riding friends in the hurt locker. Not all the time and youth is served in athletics. But every once in a while, you feel good, you had a good night’s sleep, you ate well, you had your coffee strategically in the morning, and brother, you climbed that hill better than the average Joe. Maybe you are skiing and the conditions are perfect, the sun is shining, and you rip off a couple of high speed arcs and raise a few eyebrows. Some young guns come up to you in the lift lines and maybe say,” You old dudes can still rip em.” Not all the time, not in all conditions, but just once, you might be as good as you ever were.

I used to love my father in law’s line to his two sons when I was first married to their sister. My father in law was a semi-pro baseball player and played in the Army. He was a pretty good high school athlete and challenged the two lumps to a race between the telephone poles. He used to say,” Let’s go pole to pole.” They laughed and abused him, but you know what, they never took him up on it. The point is barring something catastrophic, if you keep yourself in reasonable shape, eat well, sleep well and take your exercise seriously, there is no reason that age should get in the way. You don’t quit playing because you get old, you get old because you quit playing. I saw my pal Lon Sonick out in the woods the other day with a big smile on his face riding his mountain bike with studded tires on the snow covered trails. Lon is ten years older than me and he looks like he is still in his 40’s. A bunch of guys out at Mt. Rose in Tahoe have been riding motocross and skiing since they were 16 years old. They are all in their 60s now and ski like banshees down the chutes of Mt. Rose. They just keep on doing it.

Mindset is everything. I look around my office and see all younger people. They call us the “legacy” people and I sit with the IT group and it sounds like a foreign language to me. The key is to stay current and don’t let technology pass you by. I killed my I-Phone the other day and had to get a replacement. I frantically was calling our IT guy Bill East to help me get it set up but with Bill’s instructions and a little patience, I was able to transfer all the information and redo my apps that I use. My friend JR gave me a portable cell phone charger the other day as a Christmas gift and I was amazed at how convenient that is. I never liked Super Mario or Pac Man and my son’s X-Box Live mystifies me especially the time he spends on it. But he probably thinks the time I spend skiing in the rain or riding a mountain bike is equally ludicrous. It is a young person’s world alright but if you keep up, you can still learn a lot. And…………if they listen a little bit, they can benefit from your experience. Its all good.

I am headed towards the fourth quarter of life. I don’t dwell on that but games are usually won or lost in the fourth quarter. Guts, determination, cunning, and character are what win races in the end, and win games in the fourth quarter. I will have a great quiver of skis, a new mountain bike, a tuned up road bike,and all the clothes needed to enjoy that fourth quarter to the fullest. Positive attitude will never waver, but also, I will focus on what really is important in that fourth quarter. Experience has led me to some conclusions which concentrate on what really wins the game or wins the prize. Kindness to people, a caring serving spirit, a focus on my faith, a love for my family, are really what matter and win the prize in the end. And you can never lose your sense of humor. I lost some good friends this year. Two guys to a heart attack and one guy to cancer. But as I ride the chairlift, run or ride, I laugh thinking about them because I can see Charlie skiing the Heavenly powder, Larry telling him that he needs to work on his turns, and Chip telling them both to take up bowling. That thunder I will hear this summer will tell me that Chip won out on that discussion. So, if you are like the 59 year old kid, get into the game and enjoy that fourth quarter. The game will be won or lost on your efforts. Thanks for reading.

What in the world is the “Polar Vortex”?

photophotophoto The country was gripped this week in sub zero temperatures and we all heard on the news about the “Polar Vortex”. I am amazed that now we have descriptions for phenomena like snow storms, and cold fronts that are named like Hurricanes. Polar Vortex? Hey folks- it’s January. Most of the country experiences winter and in January you get snow, ice, cold temperatures, darkness, and a general feeling of “woe is me.” Some of us have been spoiled with some milder winters as of late, but in International Falls,Minnesota, Fargo, North Dakota, Buffalo, New York, and all of New England, winter rules in January.

Now, you can either let yourself be gripped in fear and depression as the news media bombards you with tales of woe on a daily basis as you exit your home to school or work in the dark and return in the dark, and cold, and the feeling that you live in a Dickens novel. Or you can adhere to the wonderful description of attitude by Chuck Swindoll when he states that “life is 10 per cent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” Personally, I like winter as you have seen from my blog posts this winter and last. I am a skier. I like snow. I don’t even mind if I travel and am hampered with delays because I have the attitude that I will get through any inconveniences and get to my destination bound and determined to harvest some of the great skiing conditions that are available. Even when I go to my local area early in the morning, when it is dark, and cold, and the roads are covered with ice and snow, I know that soon I will be making turns.

People asked me this week whether I still run the trails at night when it is in the single digits or below zero temperature. I smiled and said “sure- why not.” I love the air, the snow on the trails and trees, and the general good feeling of health when you finish a run in the winter. Like my friend the Shark says,” there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” He corrected me on that this weekend by saying,” choices Paddy!” I ski and run in Gore Tex Pro clothing. You can layer and be dry as a bone and protected by the wind. Patagonia makes wonderful clothing like this as seen in the pictures above. My “go to” outfit it the Patagonia “Super Alpine.” As they advertise, it is indeed bomb proof and is great for all outdoor activities. I have the down sweaters that I wear under a shell when I ski and I also have polypropylene shirts that I can layer to use on a run or a mountain bike ride. Layering is the key and if you can keep the wind from penetrating your clothing, you can easily ski, ride, or run in sub zero conditions. Check out

The main point here though is attitude. My dad always had an expression that said,” Smile- the fresh air is good for your teeth.” Sure it’s dark, and cold, and snowing, but it is winter!! Embrace the winter and thank God you are alive and have the health to enjoy the trails, paths, roads, and slopes, where you live. I heard a lot of moaning this week about the Polar Vortex and the bad weather and I laughed as I left work to go to the trails to run utilizing my headlamp. I will probably ski in the rain this weekend because we will be on the ass end of the Polar Vortex with warm air being sucked up our way as the Vortex exits out over the ocean. Take it as it comes people. Enjoy life. Enjoy the winter. Get snowshoes, cross country skis, alpine skis, ice skates, Flexible Flyers, toboggans and get out there and put that smile on your face. You might cover that mug up with a scarf but get out there and enjoy the winter. Spring will be here soon enough and we all will enjoy the transition. But in the mean time, enjoy what we have and you will be amazed at how positive attitude will help you in your work place, your home, and in your relationships. Try it. My friend Nancy Leverett who is an active skier and is visually impaired, read my recommended book,” Younger Next Year” by Chris Crowley and told me she went right out and joined a gym. She not only enjoys winter sports like skiing and ice skating, she now is motivated to work out to stay in shape for those activities. Check out Great book that I always recommend to help with attitude adjustment.

Polar Vortex? Bring it on man!! Get that positive attitude, get the best equipment and clothes, and go do it!!! Embrace the winter. Thanks for reading.

The Lifechanger

imagesphoto Several posts ago, I wrote about people who are mentors. There are also folks who fall into a slightly different category and they are what I call Lifechangers. I was at a birthday party last night for one of them and his name is Hot Harry Kirsch. Harry turns 90 this week and it has been my distinct pleasure to know him. Mary Jo Neff got up last night after organizing the affair and eloquently told the assmebled crowd how much Harry has influenced all of our lives by starting and running the Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. There are people like Harry who influence us and in many ways facilitate a life change.

I first met Harry when I started running at North Park during the running boom of the 80s. I had quit tennis and was looking for a change when I saw a group run by the tennis court and I said to myself that I was going to start running. I became passionate about it and ventured into the Stone Field parking lot and one of the first guys I met was Hot Harry. He was very friendly and introduced me to some folks and invited me to have a drink out of some jugs from his open trunk. I soon found out that Harry always left his trunk open to his car and anyone who ran from Stone Field was welcome to a drink from Harry’s stash. Harry also told me about his loosely organized club and soon I was wearing the shorts and singlet in the races indicating that I was a member of Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. I was actually very proud to wear that garb and be part of the whole North Park running scene.

Harry organized a bus to go to the Marine Corps Marathon every year. He was fond of the marathon because he was a Marine.He always organized picnics at his farm in Evans City,Pa and soon the group swelled to very large proportions including family and friends of the North Park Runners. Harry has an infectious positive atttude and a smile for everyone who comes his way. There have been a lot of folks who have come to the park in a similar fashion as me and have sheepishly tried to start to walk, run, or jog to make a change in their lives. You get to the point sometimes in your life when you realize that your health and mental well being are more important than any job. Everyone has stress in their lives and exercise is a great antidote to those daily pressures which can consume our lives. Harry made sure that everyone who was new had someone to run with and if no one was available, he ran with them himself. Harry loves the park and as a retired bus driver whose wife had passed away, the park was a good way for him to reconnect with people and soon his running prowess and enthusiasm for the sport got him a lot of notoriety in the local papers. I believe that Harry has 50+ marathons to his credit including countless Boston and Marine Corps Marathons.

I had the pleasure of running in Boston with Harry and his group and was amazed at how well Harry knew the drill up there with the accomodations, the food, the travel arrangements, the expo, and all with only a small duffel bag containing a spare set of running shorts, another singlet, and a toothbrush. Harry traveled light. He loved the marathon up there and took me under his wing as a rookie and I will never forget his wisdom, humor and friendship. Four of us crashed in one room and Harry snored like a chainsaw, but we didn’t care. We were having too much fun. No hot water in the hotel after the race,the elevator was down, but Harry and his sense of humor had us all laughing through an uncomfortable end to a great run.

Harry and the North Park crew changed my life for sure. Even though I eventually gravitated to road cycling and mountain biking, I still run on trails in the winter and on nasty weather days. Running is still in my veins thanks to Harry and the wonderful people of North Park. They say that you get an endorphin high from running but I am not sure if it is more the chemical high or the psychological high that you have completed a healthy activity for the day and you did it with friends. The comraderie of the running crowd cannot be matched. I see folks from all over the country running in groups. The exercise and the lively conversations are indigenous to running clubs and if you have not had the chance to join a running, cycling, skiing, hiking, outdoors club, go do it. Chances are you will meet fun folks who will hold you accountable to join them on a daily or several times a week basis. You will be fortunate if you ever meet a guy like Hot Harry. He is one in a million and if you ever see the car with the open trunk, help yourself and allow yourself to meet one of the all time greats. Thanks for reading.