A Great Day in the City

Henry Clay Frick, the noted industrialist from Pittsburgh, Pa., donated 151 acres of property to the city in 1919 at the request of his daughter Helen who saw the vision of green space in the growing industrial sprawl. In 1925, the city officially created  this beautiful park with 190 additional acres.  The park opened to the public in 1927 and has been a gem for the city ever since.  Henry or Helen would have never imagined  that their park would also serve the current growing population of mountain bikers who would create, ride and maintain a network of challenging trails right in the city limits.  But that is just what has happened and our group of Saturday morning enthusiasts from the suburbs enjoyed a most challenging but culturally fulfilling day last Saturday as part of the continuing adventures of the 59 year old kid.photophotophotoMcCandless-20130303-00102

As the group assembled in the pouring rain, we were reminded by Bert, one of our tour guides for the day, that the trails would be treacherous due to the roots and rocks that become soaked and extremely slick on days like last Saturday.  Undaunted, we all proceeded as the weather improved to a steady drizzle and the merry band of elder statesmen attacked the first rooty hill climb with style and panache.  As we reassembled approaching the midway point on the ride, we were guided into some of the newer sections of trails that overlook the Monongahela River.  This tight singletrack is somewhat off camber and if you look to your right, the view of the treetops and the railroad tracks and river way below tend to make you hug the hillside and hope that you don’t lose your mojo and plunge into the trees with a following bounce onto the tracks and bounding into the river.  This might be a slight exaggeration but not too far off.  The 59 year old kid is conservative most of the time and lives to ride another day along with his pal,Bob Bannon who is also on the same game plan.  We dismounted in several sections and ran the trail until we reached a more reasonable spot.  Our group split because of some mechanical issues in the very steep chicane of switchbacks and as we reunited and made our way down some incredibly steep pitches which we rode with great caution, we all were happy to end that section in one piece.  Pretty challenging for a park in an urban setting.  frick-park-pratt1images (4)images (3)

Finishing this ride in improving weather helped the traction and as we approached the “Bradema” trail, we were treated to the story of the trail and the resultant official naming and sign installed by the city.  Apparently Brad who is a friend of a friend, crashed rather significantly on this trail and as he was recovering in the hospital, one of our jokester mountain biker friends suggested to the nurse in the hospital that poor Brad needed an enema.  Lots of laughter ensued but the city apparently didn’t get the joke and named the trail officially ” Bradema.”  Hilarious.  Exiting on the “Roller Coaster” trail, we climbed back to the street where our cars were parked happy to be in one piece and happy that the weather had improved from a rather dismal start.  It is amazing to note that when you ride Frick, you would never expect that this piece of wilderness is right in the middle of a very busy urban setting.  If you did’t hear the dull roar of the Parkway East, you would think you were in a rural setting in Vermont.  But as we exited, we were treated to another wonderful experience of riding in the city.

Frick borders Squirrel Hill which traditionally is the Jewish section of our city which has many culturally divergent neighborhoods of note.  As I watched couples walk to the synagogues on the Sabbath in anticipation of the first high holiday or Rosh Hashannah, I was reminded of how much I appreciated the culture of the Jewish tradition.  In college, I was the only gentile on my floor and I was cordially invited to all the high holiday celebrations at the community center on campus.  I became familiar with the traditions of the ancient culture of Gods chosen people. After the ride,  I felt I had to participate in some way so I suggested to the group that we hit the Smallman Street Deli on Murray Avenue for some great traditional deli food.  Wow- were we amazed at the size of the sandwiches and had I seen the potato latkes in the cooler, I would have ordered a few of those bad boys too.  I did however order the matzo ball soup with chicken which took me back to my college days of sporting the yarmulke at the high holiday celebrations.  I love tradition and our group was not only beaming with the conversations and recreations of the rigors of the mountain bike ride but also beaming through faces full of cole slaw, turkey and corned beef.  lsl

All in all, these are the kind of days that you always remember. It is a reminder that there are great opportunities right under your nose in your local town that can really rival all the stories of traveling to other locales to ride, ski and eat.  Sometimes the best trails, eateries are right in your own neighborhood or city if you take the time to look.  It amazed me how challenging the trails are in Frick Park right in the middle of the city.  Who would ever think that?  Coupled with a hunger killing meal at a great deli, and spending time with friends, ………………….now that makes for a great day.  Thanks for reading.

Photos courtesy of Jon Pratt and Smallman Street Deli.

Be a little part of History

2013-02-05-the-bowlIMG_0084photophotoTannenbaum-T-barGoogle Image Result for http--theinvisibleagent.files.wordpress.com-2009-08-ski09toni_matt_at_tuckerman_ravine-193.jpgw=460&h=610Ellicottville-20130208-00088 Many years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Toni Matt tell the story about his famous Inferno ski race down Tuckerman Ravine in 1939. Toni was born in St. Anton, Austria the hallowed ground of ski racing and ski instruction and when he came to America, he entered this famous race up in New Hampshire against all of the hotshot Dartmouth ski racers and won because he straightlined the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine. This was a feat that had never been done let alone in a race and the National Ski Hall of Fame recorded the account on the evening that I heard Toni tell the tale. Interestingly, 1939 was a pivotal year in American skiing. Some of the first rope tows went up that year in Woodstock,Vermont, Seven Springs, Pa. and Fish Hill up in Western New York state. People were starting to get enthused about sliding on a pair of skis and the late 30s prior to the big war, were the seed years of skiing in this country. Post World War II, the 10th Mountain Division veterans founded some of the larger ski areas out west including Vail. There are several accounts written about the 10th and their exploits against the Nazis in Italy and how their adept skiing skills not only helped them in the battles in Europe but also fueled their passion to create modern day ski areas.

I have always liked history particularly the founding years of our country. But it is also interesting to look at the history of my favorite sport in America. If you ask anyone who plays golf, they can tell you about the famous courses and their history in this country. The Opens, the Masters, how they don’t take out the wooden floor in the men’s grill at Oakmont Country Club because the spike marks belonged to such luminaries as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. If you have a passion for your sport, you know the history and appreciate the efforts of those who have gone before you. The old saying that “you don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been”, applies to American History as well as the history of sport. I love looking at the old pictures of the wooden skis( I owned several pairs and skied on them as told in my last post.) I love seeing how the early days of stretch pants, leather boots, cable bindings shaped the sport and respect the passion of those who took the time and effort to market skiing.

I had the pleasure of skiing Holimont this past week up in Western New York. The private club was founded in 1962 and has been a haven to ski enthusiasts ever since. The members are avid skiers, racers, and take pride in their club. You can feel the passion of the members in the way that they meet each week with their crock pots, lunches in the lodge, promoting events that foster their love for the sport of skiing. They let non members like me ski during the week and it is quite evident that this club is well run with excellent grooming, lifts and dedicated instructors and patrollers who are eager to converse about skiing at Holimont.

History has a great way of telling the story about those who had the vision to build a hunting lodge like Adolph Dupre did at Seven Springs here in Pa. How he built the rope tow for his customers out of an old truck engine, some truck wheels that served as the rotating wheels on the tow, and a heavy duty rope that he fashioned himself. These stories pervade all of those startups in 1939 and if you look at the pictures above, you will see the history unfolded. Those Holiday Valley Queens were somebody’s girlfriend, wife or eventually mother who told the story about the fun times that they had back in the early sixties with the snow carnivals. Don’t you just love that fur hat? Not quite sure what those guys were doing with the parachutes on their backs but it looked like fun with their wooden skis and leather boots. Well we have stories like that as well and I am sure that as the years go on, my wife and son and his family someday will see the old pictures of our skiing exploits and talk about our little bit of history on the slopes. If you have the passion for a sport, take pictures, talk it up to someone who would like to try, and encourage them to be a little part of history for someone down the road looking at how it was done. I think my ski outfits and equipment are pretty state of the art. But no doubt someone looking at them in the future will ask,” Wow- what does grampa have on his feet and what on earth is he wearing?” Hey, that old relic grampa will be a little part of ski history. Think snow and thanks for reading.