Mountain Bikes and Bluegrass Music

Did you ever daydream while listening to music and think of a place where that music takes you? I am a big fan of bluegrass music and every time I listen to Allison Krauss, the Steel Drivers, Nickel Creek, Rhonda Vincent or a host of other musical talents, I think of the mountains of West Virginia and the fun times I have had there over the years. The first time I ever spent some time there was with Chuck Greenlee when we went for the 24 Hour races in Davis and Timberline. There was no music at that time because Chuck and I BS ed each other the whole trip while trying to beat the Parrot Man and his souped up van all the way down the interstate. We did set the land speed record in Chuck’s pickup but it was a harrowing ride especially when Chuck’s friend, Sam Dyke, would find us along the road just outside of Morgantown and it was a three way race in short order.

After a while, I started to know my way around down there and always drove. Not only for self preservation but it was nice to have all my gear with me in one place. Driving to Davis and Slatyfork was always a long drive on the back roads but really beautiful as I made my way through the mountains listening to bluegrass and kind of getting into the spirit of West Virginia. Through the years I have gone with several groups to races and events like the West Virginia Fat Tire Festival hosted by Gil and Mary Willis at the Elk River Touring Center. The Wild 100 was another event that was a true back country race that Elk River hosted and oftentimes we would stay either at Elk River or The Jerico in Marlinton. At the Jerico, the grandfather of the proprietor would always tell me that they had some Yankee boys buried on the hillside above the cabins and I would always sleep with one eye open down there. All in jest but kind of unnerving,

But all the while in all of the trips, I had my bluegrass on and there have been nights on the deck of the Elk River Touring Center that Gil had some local bluegrass bands play for an event. What a treat after absolutely flogging myself on the rough, rooty, rocky West Virginia trail systems. The one thing you have to remember about riding in West Virginia is that it is the toughest riding you will ever do because the West Virginians want it that way. The locals like Sue Haywood, ( former pro with Trek and many times national short track champion), love to take you out and show you the treasure trove of demanding rock strewn trails. It is their turf and they not only know it well but they ride it even better Sue is a noted local and has raced all over the world but makes Davis home. She is a great teacher and riding those trails in Davis are a real challenge. But watching her makes it look easy. Even on the famous ” Moon Rocks”

But after a ride down there, which can be a whole different ball game when it rains, you are exhausted, beat up, bleeding, and hopefully your bike has remained in workable shape. Otherwise, it is a visit to Blackwater Bikes in Davis for repair. http://www.blackwaterbikes.com But sitting behind the grocery store at the trail head after the ride and sipping a nice cold IPA with my pals, I quietly turn on some bluegrass in my Jeep and really enjoy the wilds of West Virginia with a musical flair.

I am proud to say, that on the last trip to Davis, I introduced the boys to what I consider a real treat musically speaking. We drove just north to Thomas,WVA. and took in some bluegrass at the Purple Fiddle.

It is a locals place that specializes in good food, beer, and hosting some of the best touring bluegrass bands in the country. http://www.purplefiddle.com I hustled the group along and after a much needed shower, we made our way to one of the front tables and listened to a band from North Carolina named Mipso. Pretty talented and what I thought was a great way to end a Saturday after getting slayed on the wet, demanding trails of Davis. I believe in atmosphere and The Purple Fiddle delivers all the time. After this last trip, I thought maybe Davis was getting to be too tough for the 65 year old kid. But listening to Allison Krauss on the way home, and this week in my car again, the pain has subsided and we probably will make our way to the mountain bike festival in the fall in Davis if the Covid thing doesn’t play havoc with the trip. Look out Sue- here comes the old guy posse again. Laughs for you for sure.

There has been a lot of bluegrass fueled fun down in the mountain state over the years and thinking about all of the trips and riding that I have done down there, I think I have created some really good memories for myself. I will never forget the NORBA races in Snowshoe and after our races, it was fun to watch the pros. Even when they lose like the year Missy Giove lost the dual slalom finals and had a message for the crowd. Hilarious.

Last fall we all made it to the World Cup Finals at Snowshoe and watched the best in the world compete as well as get some miles ridden on the infamous Tea Creek Canyon trails early in the morning before the races.

Another fun trip with another fun loving group who also appreciated the atmosphere and down home hospitality of the Mountain State. Loved listing to the locals in the woods singing “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” while the racers bounded down the course at breakneck speed. Yes, music takes you back to great times and bluegrass always takes me back to West Virginia either in my mind, or planning my next adventure. Thanks for reading.

More Cowbell

Well folks, back in the saddle again and commenting on a unifying item called the cowbell. In World Cup ski races, you can hear the cowbells clanging and ringing on he sides of the race trail as the racers scream by at top speeds. The Swiss have a habit of bringing monster cowbells that sound more like a clanging gong than a ring of a standard bell found on the necks of the bovine community in Switzerland.

I came prepared this past weekend with my official Swiss cowbell that I bought on my honeymoon some 31 years ago in Zermatt. This tradition of cheering on the competitors is also used in World Cup Mountain Bike racing and last weekend the alpine sound greeted the downhill competitors as well as the cross country competitors as they made their way down rock strewn and root infested Snowshoe, West Virginia. I rang my bell for reigning World Champion Nino Schurter as he climbed the summit of a grinder right before a treacherous rock garden. I rang for the rest of the field and was joined in a chorus of bells of all shapes and sizes. I rang for all American competitors as I hoped that the home squad would make a good showing on American soil. This is the World Cup Finals after all in Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia. How much more American can you get than that? Kate Courtney- our former World Champion for Cross Country, dug deep and finished 5th in the XC race which guaranteed her a victory in the overall season title. ” USA, USA, USA,” went the massive crowd chant along with an assembled thousands of ringing cowbells.

As I thought about the event on the way home which included some great riding at places like Tea Creek and Silver Creek Backcountry trails nearby with my band of traveling mountain bikers, I thought of what the cowbell meant in the melee of the excited fanfare. I thought about how I had not been to a World Class event in some time but looking at the athletes, soigneurs, photographers, team mechanics, nothing much had changed. The gathering of the mountain bike tribe was still pretty much in tact even though some of us had aged and many new youthful faces had emerged. The vibe that Snowshoe created was energetic and supportive of cross country races and downhill alike. But the thing that really struck me was the unity of the crowd, cheering on their favorites and taking in the brilliant sunshine ringing their cowbells enthusiastically regardless of age, faith, race, creed, color, Democrat, Republican, whatever. We are all mountain bikers and we love our heroes as well as the tribe we ride with. All joined together as one unified throng of thousands, ringing our cowbells and smiling. Everybody should take a lesson from the mountain bike tribe. We have a lot more in common that we think. Thanks for reading.  Click on the follow button and join in the fun as I continue to muse about things in later life.  Thanks.

Wild Wonderful Rocky/Rooty West Virginia

It has been a few years since I rode a mountain bike down in West Virginia. I used to go quite a bit back in the day. But as other destinations moved ahead in the plans, it has been a while until last weekend. Our fearless leader, Mike Connors, said a few weeks back, ” Let’s go ride down in Davis.” I said great idea and off we went with 7 other MTB fanatics who were like minded. IMG_0958

I thought I would up the ante a bit by texting Sue HaywoodIMG_0964 and asking her to lead our group of aging athletes. Sue has quite a reputation as a world class mountain bike racer and currently is retired from World Cup racing. However, she runs clinics and workshops and is still very much active in the mountain bike community.Sue has relocated to her home town of Davis, and man can she ride. She gave us all we could handle. 17786_10151858587474203_1524945910_n
One interesting thing about riding with a person of her skill level is seeing just how fit she is and how she effortlessly rides over the most challenging roots and rocks. If you can ride in West Virginia, you can ride anywhere- “BELIEVE ME.” In our case, there was a lot of riding but there was a lot of running and walking too. That is the thing that struck me the most was once I was on those trails again, I remembered just how hard they were. And, we are older now and the challenge is even more acute. I remarked to Syed Hyder, my physician who was on the ride, that I was fine for about the first hour and then I started to get tired and every little thing had a tendency to knock me off balance. He agreed after we bumped into each other a few times. Good thing the doc was along for the ride. There are no letups or coasting on those trails and the challenge of a three hour ride with a world class guide was evident to all of us. The curious thing about aging is the recovery time is not what it used to be. After the first ride, we plopped ourselves down in our chairs in a field by Sue’s house and relaxed with the obligatory beer. But the enthusiasm on the morning of the next day was waning as we licked our wounds from the first day of hard riding in West Virginia.

To digress for a moment, I would like to say that Davis had not changed all that much and the quaint little town in the middle of the Monongahela National Forest should be on everyone’s bucket list. Blackwater Bikes, Hellbender Burritos, and the famous Sirianni’s Cafe are all obligatory stops for the visit and just walking around town is a treat. Things are a lot slower in Davis but in my mind, that is a good thing. The residents enjoy life in the Canaan Valley and look forward to each season of riding and cross country skiing at the Whitegrass Touring Center.

Now back to the torture. The second day, we rode the famous trails leading to the Moon Rocks. IMG_0993 This granite outcropping is famous in the lore of the Blackwater 100 motorcycle races and also a famous landmark in the now defunct 24 Hour mountain bike races held in Davis. I had not ridden this trail in 23 years and the challenge of the Moon Rocks has not changed in all those years. Fred Fischer and John McWilliams were the only two of our group to make it to the top without stopping which was quite a challenge. We all remarked how tough this section was and as the elder statesmen of the group, I was tarred and feathered by the Moon Rocks. If the rocks could chuckle, they would have as we all left for the trail ahead. Fortunately I regained my mojo following Ken McFarland and Jeff Balicki on his most beautiful Scot Genius bike which he rode like a champion. My good friend Pete Hilton and I took turns laughing at the difficulty of the riding but he kept me motivated by his smooth riding and friendly banter. Quiet Pete!!!

To digress for a second moment, we took in the Brew Skies Festival while we were there. Evenings were spent on the lawn in front of the Timberline Ski Area as we listened to local and national bands playing various forms of country rock with a bluegrass bent. Food tents were also in abundance with some of the local restaurants and breweries hosting the food and drinks. We were not disappointed as the mountain state has some pretty impressive lineups of craft beers and local cuisine highlighted by local fruits, meats and vegetables.

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I am trying to avoid the narrative here, but the last day started with rain. The sunshine that we enjoyed for the first two days was most welcomed because I had never seen the sun in any of my previous outings to the Canaan Valley or anywhere in the mountain state. Most of the races I had done or outings that we participated in, were soaked with biblical downpours. So to have two straight days of sun for me was a welcome relief. However, the last day reminded me of days past and several of us passed but Mike, Pete Hilton, Fred, and Dr. Sy were the tough guys and rode Big Bear Trails up near Morgantown on the way home.

I suppose the point of all of this, aside from a narrative trip report, is that it is important to keep challenging yourself no matter how old you are. If you can stay in relatively good shape, you can enjoy even the toughest challenges like the trails in West Virginia. I have too many friends who have thrown in the towel but not my crew. These guys are enthusiastic riders who defy the age factor and the odds and keep riding the roots and the rocks. Take a page from their book. Even the fast guys like Dave Gault and Eric Seamon(still in his 40s- he doesn’t count) were challenged. But the key is to just “keep riding” like Scot Nichol of Ibis Bikes always says. He never thinks he is 62. He just keeps on riding. Thanks for reading and for sure…….head to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

The Wild and Wonderful West Virginia NORBA

pat 2 I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the zany story and experience of the 58 year old kid at the NORBA National Mountain Bike Race in Snowshoe, West Virginia. NORBA stands for National Off Road Bicycling Association which, at the time, ran the national series of age group and professional mountain bike racing in the U.S. I had raced bicycles for 25 years and had my experiences sailing over hay bales in tight corners in road criterium races, doing spectacular endos over the bars and into a face full of mud in mountain bike races, throwing up after contesting a time trial in hot humid conditions. I have been dropped off the back of my group in long road races like the Tour of Cayuga Lake and had some moderate success in regional events racing with my friends. I was not in the league of guys like Scotty Root or Mac Martin who rose to national class heights from our area, but I was able to hold my own training and racing with my friends as a weekend warrior.

So my pal Ralph Phillips calls me on my 51st birthday and says,” Paddy- why don’t we race in the NORBA Nationals in Snowshoe next summer?” Now I had slowed down considerably after my 49th birthday as my obligations with my son began to increase with ball games, practices, and the like. However, I had always been just off the podium in previous NORBA Races and I always was miffed that I never medaled in one of those races. So Ralph says we should enter the Sport Division and that I had a good chance of medaling in my age group. The Sport Division is an interesting age group division in that it catches guys who don’t want to get their butts handed to them in the Pro Expert Division by National class age group racers. These sandbaggers move down a class to Sport and contest for the prizes. On the other end of the spectrum are the guys who have some success regionally in the beginner class and decide to move up only to be surprised when the gun goes off. It really is a catch all division and if you don’t want to face Scott Root, Gary Fisher, Steve Tilford,and other killers,you can enter this class and have a chance to stand on the podium for your age group. Ralph was confident that with a little training, I might have a shot at that elusive medal for over 50.

Fast forward to race day and it poured biblical rains the night before and the course was a mess. The announcer warned us at the start line about the deplorable conditions and to be careful. We lined up by age group with women, juniors and age group men. As the gun went off, I found my place with the other gray hairs and a mixed bag of other age group men, women and juniors. As we approached the first downhill, it looked like they had plastered the downhill through the trees with axle grease and people were crashing right and left. A lot of racers got off their bikes and tried to walk down the hill but that was no better because it was like walking on butter. I decided to stay put way back in my saddle and slide my way on the bike down through the trees and to my surprise, I made it all the way down to the accolades of the few brave souls who were spectating and encouraging the group in this treacherous descent. After I collected myself I moved forward on the course only to find that the conditions had turned to peanut butter and the further I rode, the more mud collected on my bike until I had what felt like a 70 pound bike. I dismounted and ran with the bike stopping along the way to remove clumps of mud with my hands to assist the turning of the gears and the wheels. Besides this maddening condition, it was extremely humid and hot and I was sweating like I had just gotten out of the shower. Racers were moaning and complaining all along the course and as we began the long brutal climb to the start/ finish line at the top of the mountain, we all tried to make the bike as light as possible.

As I made my way up the climb I noticed that there were a lot of people who had given up after one lap. Ours was a two lap race and there were a lot of juniors, women and gray hairs that had enough and as I came through, the thought crossed my mind. But I had never, ever quit anything in my life and I was not about to start now seeing that this was most likely the last race I would ever do and that I was getting a little long in the tooth for this sort of thing. Also, the time needed to train and travel to these events was not feasable and I decided to slog along and finish the damn thing. One more descent of death on the axle grease through the trees safely and one more slog through the peanut butter. As I approached the final climb to the finish, I was totally dehydrated and out of water. I stopped quickly at a hunting club and drank from a hose for a short time. I didnt really care what the source of that water was but it was cold and I filled my bottle.

I got within 800 feet of the finish line and I saw Ralph who had already completed the race. As soon as I saw him, my hands started to cramp out of control and I couldn’t hold on to the bars. I also felt my thighs and calves cramping and soon I was on the ground writhing in pain. Spectators and fellow racers were encouraging me to continue because I had only a short time left to the finish. I rubbed my legs and thighs, stretched my hands and with one last “old dude” effort, I mounted the bike and pedaled accross the finish line and collapsed. The announcer loudly exclaimed,” and yes ladies and gentlemen, here is Pat McCloskey from Sewickley, Pa crossing the line as the lone survivor in the over 50 class of the Sport Division of the NORBA Nationals at Snowshoe,West Virginia.” A rather inauspicious ending to my 25 years of racing bikes ……but I got my NORBA medal and a Class Division Champion Red Sweatshirt which was pretty cool SWAG.

The picture above is of the presentation and you will notice indeed that there are no others on the podium. This picture is one of the funniest pictures that I own and I wanted to share it with you. Nobody else in my division was stupid enough to do another lap in the heat and muddy conditions of that day. But, the 51 year old kid at the time, persevered with his rock head and Ralph was proud of me for finishing. That was it for the racing. As I said, it was a rather dubious ending with a funny result but I will always remember the NORBAS and friends like Ralph who take you out of the comfort zone and put you in a position to push yourself beyond what you think is plausible. Thank you Ralph and thanks to you all for reading.