Johnny O’s Excellent Adventure

Well, most of my ski group has been pounding the high speed chairlifts both at our local area and out west in search of the biggest vertical, and most runs that we can ski in a day. In our zeal to be the first on the lift, we look forward to reaping the most vertical before the crowd gets too cumbersome. So, it was a nice change when our nordic and mountain bike guru, John O’T contacted us and suggested we take a day locally and either use backcountry skis with skins or snowshoe to one of our favorite ski areas that has been closed for some As we assembled at an undisclosed location we donned our gear. The backcountry equipped guys began xc skiing the trail to the closed location and Hiller,Jeff B, and I used our snowshoes and carried our skis and pack with ski boots tucked The weather was blustery and it was snowing heavily as we forded the miles and finally arrived at the closed lodge. Hiding ourselves from the wind, Hiller,Jeff B and I changed into our ski boots, put the hiking boots in the pack and joined John and the rest of the group as we en masse headed down the steepest and most challenging slope in Pennsylvania.IMG_1574 It had been a long time since I have skied there and although there have been several other scofflaws that have done the same thing, the turns made on that slope in the last 10 years have been few and far between. photo

I wondered what the slope conditions would be like. I knew that the snow would be good but what had grown on that slope in the last 10 years? As we made our way through the sparse puckerbrush on the upper part of the slope, we were greeted by only a few small trees that had grown up over the years. The powder snow was deep, the turns were fun, and no one seemed to heed the warnings of the state workers that we might be fined for making this excursion into a closed ski area. There were no signs, it is a state forest, and we pay taxes so …………we ski!!!

The first run was pristine. At the bottom, I dropped my pack and we all boot packed up the slope all the way to the lodge at the very top of the run. Once more we made turns in the uncut snow and as we made it to the bottom, we sat for a moment relishing what we had done in the softly falling snow. The skins went back on, snowshoes were donned, and the group began the slow slog up the side trail that would eventually lead to the outbound trail to the We noticed the varying efficiency of the different equipment- backcountry skis with skins versus snowshoes. The snowshoes seemed to have an advantage on the steeper parts but once we made it to the flats up top, the xc motion of the skis was faster than walking in snowshoes. On our way out, we saw a guy with a snowboard on his back. I said to him,” What are You doing?” He looked at me and laughed and said, ” What were You doing? We both had a chuckle as we saw another guy with backcountry gear. He looked over and said, “You know, I just left Jackson Hole to come back to Pa for powder. Should have just stayed here.” We agreed but time in Jackson is well spent no matter what the conditions.

We all pulled out some micro brews back at the parking lot and I brought out a cheese platter with crackers for the group. As we discussed the days fun at our ad hoc picnic, seeking shelter from the storm under my tailgate, we all were appreciative of Johnny O’s excellent suggestion that led to the excellent adventure. We all are used to western adventure, but were sure happy that we got to have a true backcountry adventure right here in our home state of Pennsylvania. Sometimes you have to slow it down in order to really appreciate the beauty of the It isn’t always about the most vertical or how fast we can ski. We really appreciated the muffled silence of the woods in the falling snow.We took the time to look around and As we parted and I made my way down the mountain, I had a big smile on my face knowing that we all had pulled off something special with the hopes that someday, this amazing local treat of an area would once again be open to the public. Our merry band of outlaws, Hiller, John O, McWilly, Jeff B and me will be back if in fact the area remains closed, and perhaps another day of skiing through great snow and puckerbrush will lie waiting for us as we trudge out way through the Laurel Highlands snowfields. Another example of how to enjoy the winter. It is hard, it is long, but if you take the time to be creative and enjoy, the winters are wonderful. My favorite time of the year. Enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Embrace the Winter- Part 2.

photoIMG_0230photophoto Well, the rodent here in Punxatawney,Pa. says 6 more weeks of winter. By the looks of things, it will be at least that long. The snow blower has been going full bore and the skiing in the east has been epic. My friend Julie from Chicago asked me not to put “Think Snow” at the end of my posts even though that is a standard skiing greeting. She claims she has plenty and for someone like me, there never is enough of plenty. Maybe three years ago in Tahoe when it snowed 14 feet the week I was there. That was probably enough for that week. But for most of us here in the East, we have survived two Polar Vorteces(haha- I think I spelled that right?), a winter where there has been snow on the ground since Thanksgiving, colder than normal temps, but in reality- a good old fashioned winter like I remembered as a kid. A lot of folks around here are growning weary of the cold and the snow but sorry to say to them………..I like it. Not just because I am a skier, but I enjoy getting out in the snow and enjoying the cold,fresh air. I sleep like a rock when I come in from the cold. Like my dad always said,” It’s like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer- it feels so good when you stop.” But I don’t really see it that way. I say- embrace the winter.

You don’t have to be a skier to enjoy the winter. Take this morning for instance. I took the day off because I had some personal things to attend to, but in the early morning, I made my way to our North Park ( I always brag about our 42 miles of trails out there), and strapped on the snowshoes. If you can walk, you can showshoe and it is most enjoyable. You are not killing yourself on a run yet when you are finished, you have worked up a pretty good lather using the snowshoes and your ski poles for balance. The sun was shining this morning and the vision before me was like millions of bright, sparkling diamonds glittering from the snow covered surface of the trails. Every step revealed a new stash of diamonds while the others faded as I walked. The air was cold and crisp, the trees had a blanket of snow on the limbs and branches. It was a visual smorgasbord of nature at its winter best. We had a little bit of freezing rain and then it snowed again so the effort this morning was like walking on a bowl of Kelloggs Corn Flakes. Crunch, crunch, crunch, but it was neat and we had plenty of snow. Usually I am hammering on those dry trails in the summer on my mountain bike pedaling along and looking 3 feet in front of me only to make sure I don’t go flying over the bars. I don’t see anything except three feet in front of me or looking at some guys baggies up in front. But when you snowshoe, the forest comes alive. You can see birds looking for food, squirrels and chipmunks acting all OCD trying to work because the sun is out, even though they have stashed their food for the winter. You stumble on some dozing deer as they lay in wait for the sunset. I usually stop to hear…………..nothing. The silence is great and when you exercise in that kind of environment, you are rewarded like nothing else you have ever experienced.

Our park is an oasis in the middle of suburbia and you don’t have to drive far out of the park to get back to the daily hussle and bustle of the world. But for the hours that you can spend on those trails, the world seems so far away and I tell people that it is as good for your body as it is for your mind. Sometimes you just need to enjoy nature and let the troubles of every day living fade for just a little bit while you indulge yourself in someting beneficial. A lot of the time, you don’t need to concentrate on making turns down a slope, or making strides on a pair of cross country skis with no fixed heel. You don’t have to watch your balance and be sure to remain upright on a pair of skates. Snowshoeing is great. You can purchase a set from LL Bean or go on line and get a knock off for somewhat less including poles. But good old fashioned ski poles, cross country skiing poles, or hiking poles work just fine. The cool thing is that after a big snow, you can strap them on right outside your front door and go anywhere. Golf Courses, fields, trails, are all fair game for snowshoeing. Why not try it? We have a lot of winter left according to old Phil and you might just get hooked on a very simple form of winter exercise. My wife Janet and I do it together. The whole family can participate for very little investment. Hiking boots, winter clothing, ski poles, and snowshoes. Try it – you’ll like it. Embrace the winter will ya? You too Julie!!! Thanks for reading.

Attitude and Enthusiasm

McCandless-20130127-00085 I had my post all ready to go until I went out clomping around in the snow with my buddy John “Yukon” Staab today in our snowshoes. As you can see, John is “smiling like a butcher’s dog.” John enjoys life and has great enthusiasm for all things outdoors. John elevated it up a notch, took up mountain biking, got lights to mountain bike at night with the rest of us crazies, and joined LA Fitness and is a rabid spin class guy. I told him about snowshoeing and he went out and bought them right away and is enjoying yet another outdoor activity. Besides being an avid fisherman and skier, he has all these new activities many of which he shares with his son. YOU GO JOHN!!!
A couple of weeks ago, I was skiing in the Adirondacks with my buddy Mike Smith. I told you all about him in a previous post( hit the previous posts button on the blog). Mike always introduces me to the Backwoods Ski Club gang from Gore Mountain. I was riding the gondola with them when I noticed some black stickers on their helmets which said”80+”. When I inquired, they all enthusiastically said their ages were 80+. I told them what an inspiration they were and they said look in the next gondola car. There were a couple of old woodchucks there who had 90+ on their helmets. I introduced myself to them and said they were remarkable. They said they had been skiing in the Adirondacks all of their lives and didn’t know any better.
Two years ago, I was skiing at Mt. Rose in Nevada with the Eric Durfee contingent and we noticed a bunch of guys just ripping it thorough the trees with baggy clothes and full face motorcycle helmets. When we finally caught up with them in the lodge,they took off their helmets and out flowed gray hair and gray beards. They apparently had been skiing together since they were 16 and they ride motorcross together all summer. The youngest guy was 62.
I don’t go to reunions any more. I really don’t want to sit around with people who go home at night and take a hot bath and watch Brian Williams and the NBC Evening News. No offense to Brian Williams but I would rather go out after work or on the weekends, and enjoy the slopes,or the trails on my mountain bike,or running or these crazy snow shoes. When I get home, I take a shower, eat like a teenager, visit with my family, and then fall into a coma snoring like an 18″ Poulan. Life if good!! Like I said in one of my previous posts, I want to go out with a big Giant Slalom turn and rip it into the Great Beyond. Bill McCollum, the veteran masters racer and columnist for Ski Racing Magazine says, ” I want to go skidding accross the finish line of life, missing parts, leaking oil and screaming GERONIMO!!!” Bill has it figured out. One more thing to consider when you take another look at Yukon John Staab is what is said by the heralded Christian preacher Chuck Swindoll. Chuck says ” one thing I have learned is that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” How true. It is not too late. Read the book,” Younger Next Year”. I referred to it in a previous post. The authors have great enthusiasm and attitude. If you live that enthusiastic lifestyle, God bless you and keep up the good work. If you have not, grab life by the horns and go for it!!! Thanks for reading and God Bless.