With Friends Like These…

Posted: February 7, 2017 in Sometimes...

​It’s a weird world, yo. Like my dad always told me (and I have passed on to my own wee laddy)-  “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose. Unless you have really good friends”.
Make sure to pick good friends.

Friends who can think you’re an idiot, but not judge you for it. 

Friends who might drift away for years and when the current brings ‘em back to your shores, you pick up where you left off as though they split yesterday.

Friends who help you move. Even when you don’t have beer. (serious loyalty is displayed here!)

Friends who have absolutely conflicting views on life, religion, politics and can argue with you with great conviction and fervor, but forget what you were talking about when “Jump Around” comes on the radio and you both start singing along in horrifically bad ways.

Friends who return books and records you lend them.

Friend who never return books and records you lend them, and remind you that they have no intentions of returning them with great regularity.

Friends who are there for you and never ask a thing in return.

Friends who lend you fifty cents and remind you of it when they ask to borrow your car to drive to Wyoming to pick up a highly suspect mail-order bride.

Friends who mercilessly make fun of you, but kick the snot out of anyone else who does.

Friends who realize the comedic genius of picking other people’s noses.

It’s a weird world, yo. 

Has it been awhile since you spoke to that friend who makes you laugh so hard your stomach and face literally hurt? Call ‘em. Right now. 

Don’t even finish this stupid column. 

You need that fucking laugh right now. 

Get the fuck off of social media, where people who would normally weep if you approached them face to face try and bully you because being an online warrior takes no balls- and go hang out with your friend who has the same opinions as the interwebs chickenshit, and have a real discussion with someone who respects you as a human and won’t just shout you down. 

Someone with balls enough to disagree with you to your face. Maybe you’ll both learn something.

What about the dude you used to party hearty with back in the day? Ten bucks says that when you put your respective kids to bed, you can still rage. Even without various and sundry libations.

The crew you used to hit every concert in a 300 mile radius with. 

It might be nice to discuss your memories with people who were there instead of pummeling your poor significant other with your eight-thousandth retelling of the exact same story… then when you get home, you can regale your S/O with new details and the fresh perspective you glean. 

They’ll still hate it, but If they love you, they’ll fake smile and go “Uh-huh” a lot. I mean, since you have to tolerate their nutwad family, boring friends and awful tastes in music- I figure it evens out. (I’m available for custom rationalizations at reasonable rates. Send your request written on the back of any negotiable bill featuring a portrait of William McKinley and I’ll send you an itemized estimate).

I know for a fact you have at least one friend that you don’t ever have to speak to, but can read like a book. 

Ferinstance, they give you one, nearly imperceptible glance and you understand that they are asking you to look at the huge, exposed buttcrack and corresponing wedgie of the 52” waistline jammed into a pair of 34” yoga pants on the middle aged man in front of you online at Arby’s. 

I’m lucky. I have about 10 friends like that. 

You should call yours.

You know that one friend that is an expert at assessing a situation and quickly surmising how exactly to manipulate it so that you’re on the spot? Such as shouting, “Ew! Dude, I am not going to make out with you” at the DMV. 

That guy. You love that guy. Why aren’t you hanging out with that guy this weekend?

Remember that time you and your buddy decided to get onto a crowded elevator and face the back. Remember how fucking insanely uncomfortable everyone else got? Remember how fucking funny that was? Ask that friend to come over. Now.

You know that amazing rush of good feelings you get when somebody you didn’t even realize you desperately missed shows up out of the blue? Be that person for somebody. 

Why am I bringing this subject up? 

Fuggifiknow. 

I’ve just been thinking about how lucky I am to have the friends I have and how there are people I pass every day who people I have never met cherish dearly.
That made me think about how everyone (Everyone! Me, you, all of us) quietly judges random passers-by. “Lookit the hair on that asswipe!” “What was she thinking going outside in those shoes!” “Dude- those are PJs. Ain’t ya got no pride?”.

I suddenly realized that somewhere, there was someone who would rush to those folks defense as sure as there were people who would back me up and defend my having made a judgement in the first place. 

There are insufferable assholes that somebody looks up to or tries to insulate from those who think they are, indeed, insufferable assholes.

That got me thinking about the friends I have that I neglect and how everyday life can get in the way of simply keeping in touch. 

That led to my realization that those people, in turn, have neglected me for similar, if not identical reasons. 

That made me realize it would be cool to call them out of the blue. So I did. 

And it was like a brand new day dawned with every call.

It made me happy. It made them happy. If we don’t talk again for another 3 years, it’ll make us happy until then when we think about it.

Allow me to refer back to and elaborate upon an earlier statement about social media- I have never, over the entire course of entire life been exposed to as much vitriol, abuse, judgement, reactionism, bias and hatred as is vomited upon the public in one ten-minute span perusing social media. 

 Huge keyboard testicles on well insulated armchair tough guys who practice an absolute lack of basic social decorum, fact checking, consideration of others and most notably absent; tolerance and kindness. 

Despite both being continually demanded by everyone, especially those who practice it the least.

Upon the briefest of visits to the internet, any joy, compassion, understanding,- virtually any emotion that doesn’t smack of straight-up nastiness- is ground to dust beneath the barrage of angry, bigoted, divisive vitriol.

So I’m going to try something suggested during a Tell ‘Em Steve Dave episode by podcast regular (and Impractical Jokers star), Brian “Q” Quinn.

You see, Q had reported that he has limited his participation in social media to a bare minimum and in doing so, his quality of life, anger levels and love for his fellow man have all improves.

I have, as of this moment, suspended any and all mobile notifications for all social media outlets (except Instagram, because I follow some amazing photographers and friends who do things worth looking at).
I’ve recently reduced my participation exponentially to posting only music I like and funny statements. I do not read any “newsfeeds”, only posts directly to my wall or inbox. If they’re not positive, they’re gone and in more than a few cases, so are the folks they came from.

A zero tolerance to negativity policy.

What has resulted is as follows: 
I have regained many added hours to my real existence that were once devoured by falling down the proverbial “rabbit holes” offered by the various social media outlets.

My general demeanor has risen from curmudgeonly to jovial almost instantaneously (and reverts with equal swiftness whenever I accidentally read other people’s posts).

My opinions are no longer manipulated by people whose opinions I think I share, or I think I disagree with. Only positive posting and no reading outside my own page!

Conversely, this has made my interactions and social intercourse equally positive. 

Unarmed folks can’t fire across your bow.
Most of my closest friends have very little to say on social media, or aren’t a presence at all. 

The ones who do generally post positive messages, videos of themselves performing music, their photos, positive affirmations. 

I can live with all that, but the fact is, if I actually go hang out with them, I can not only observe them being creative or positive, I can actively participate in the joy!

Also, the number of folks who’ve wrecked their car answering someone sitting in the passenger seat is a shitload smaller than those who’ve piled up their Edsel replying to some strangers inflammatory tweet. 

I recommend staying off Twitter entirely. 

Yes. Social media is a great way to keep in touch with long lost friends. 

Yes, it is a public forum where anyone can say anything they’d like about anything, to a certain extent (you can discuss the methods by which public figures should be liquidated, but you cannot show a human female nipple. Because apparently, assasination discussion is way healthier than not being sexually repressed).

I’m obviously not a completely zealous anti-internet crusader, or you wouldn’t be reading this. 

But I do firmly believe that, as is everything else on earth, moderation is key.

So, I issue a challenge to you, true believers. 

Since I don’t expect everyone is capable of logging in and not reading, those who cannot, I challenge you to remove yourself from social media entirely for 72 hours (after you finish this column, share it and leave a like, of course).

That’s it, 72 hours, three days. 

Three. A nice, primary, biblical number. 

It’s also one day less than four, for those who need the encouragement.

Afterward, if you’re so compelled, leave me a comment as to whether or not you noticed a significant uptick in your quality of life. 

You can delve back in full force if you so desire, or you can remain temperate in your usage of social media. I have no dog in that fight. 

But I think you’ll be significantly less miserable should the latter be your course.

Either way, keep checking back here for my next installment. Stoking your happiness is less important than stroking my ego.

So there it is. See you in three days. 

Now, stop reading this horseshit and call your best friend!

It’s the little things, muthahs!

Posted: December 13, 2015 in Sometimes...

I was just walking back from from dropping my boy at his mom’s. We had just ended a great, 66° and sunny (DECEMBER!) Boys Weekend with killer hike, when I saw something that the word ‘epic’ can actually be legitimately applied to.

A dude in his 50’s, cruising in a totally, truly bitchin’, totally rodded up candy apple red, big flake, chromed pipes dune buggy, Alice Cooper’s “Eighteen” BLASTING out of the totally open cab.

He was at a stop sign on the corner ahead of me and it was such a fucking rad scene that I couldn’t help grinning like a nitwit.

When he saw me, he gave me an equally enthusiastic  grin, a nod of late 70’s hooliganism solidarity, waved out of chromed roll cage, cranked the Cooper louder and chirped ’em as he took off.

Awesomeness.

I come from a broken home.

This is nothing more than a statement of fact. That fact excuses nothing. It is not responsible for any behaviors, good nor bad, that I exhibit.

Nor is it responsible for my legendary drug intake, copious quantities of booze, random outbursts of violence or romance, my humor, my proclivity to weep at the end of Rebel Without a Cause (when Jim rushes to Plato’s lifeless body, arm outstretched, a full magazine in his hand, crying “I got the bullets!”), none of it. Just fact.

However, that fact is responsible for one very, very important thing. My friends.

Many of us came from similarly dysfunctional environments. Some of us had no father, others no mother, some had both but were ignored to the point of feeling as though they had neither. Some were only noticed when their cowardly fathers turned their attentions and fists towards them if they were brazen enough to try and protect their mothers from his insecurity and booze fueled beatings and still others were charged with winning the bread for frail, worn parents that the world had ground to a nub.

Again, no excuses. Narry a one. However, it did leave a void within all of us. A need for structure. It made us very aware of what most children and teens took for granted; that if you are totally alone in this world, you are, simply stated, fucked.

We needed a hierarchy in order to establish goals and to compete, thus learning how to deal with loss and how to excel. We needed emotional support, however unconventional, in order to surmount the many obstacles that our social standing placed before us. The sort of things kids with even barely functioning families already had.

We didn’t have a “Lord of the Flies” approach, however. We were much more cut from the S.E. Hinton teen ruffian paradigm. Nobody got eaten. Not whole, anyway. There was some hazing, and some alpha-dog posturing, of course. And by white suburban, prep school standards, it might have seemed extreme. But we had no examples to be led by, and we had great disdain for weakness. So much so, that the absolute weakest of our ranks could break your jaw before you could say “Fuck your mom”.

Again- no excuses. We were this because this is what we needed to be.

By age 11, we’d all been drunk, smoked weed, were addicted to tobacco in one form or another. We regularly carried weapons, generally blades of varying illegality, procured by questionable means. We were randomly jumped and beaten by other, similar groups of misfit kids. Small town America in the 1980’s was way scarier than NYC, yo. But we never saw it that way then.

Tough kids don’t have the luxury of crying when they gets their 16 year old girlfriend pregnant. Certainly not if she simply dumps him for a football player. As a matter of fact, there were only two excusable instances for tears of any kind (outside of watching Brian’s Song). They were, in this order- If your mom dies, or if your dog dies. Period.

So we found other ways of comforting each other. “Who’d she dump you for? Let’s go fuck him up” or “Fuck it, man. Smoke this and I’ll go swipe a bottle from the old man”.

We reveled in annoying the citizenry. We’d tape M80’s to the chief of police’s picture window and disappear into the night before it exploded because we had no other way of fighting back against the constant harassment. Getting clubbed from behind and left on the sidewalk, or running into the woods, blood stinging your eyes because officer shithead didn’t like you, not because you did anything wrong.

We threw massive keggers, we camped deep, deep in the woods for weeks on end, we threw huge parties for exiles returning from over the border (once the heat died down). We welcomed the cousins, however distant, of all of our crew as though they were our own.

We drove endless loops through small towns on Saturday nights, hopping from one car to another. Who had the shrooms? Who had the weed? Who had that hot chick that was their sister’s friend in the car?

We had no rules, save those we placed on ourselves. Don’t curse in front of anybody’s mom, even if she does, don’t screw around with anybody’s little sister (their older sisters were okay, but if you did, don’t discuss it unless said brother is not present) and under all circumstances, keep your fucking mouth shut. Since all we had in the world was each other, betrayal was met with fast and ugly justice. But betrayal was rare. Not because anyone feared retribution. Rather because of pure, absolute loyalty.

Some might think “How primitive. What vile little creatures” To that, I say now as I said then, Fuck you. To draw that conclusion meant you were so far removed from our reality, you had no right to judge.

Why am I telling you this? I have no need for forgiveness. I had too much fun to be sorry. I’m not trying to explain away my disdain for authority. Quite honestly, I don’t give a fuck what they think of me. The truth is, I’m not telling you anything. I’m simply reminding my 47 year old self of what it was like when I had “The Gang”.

The past few days have been exceedingly tying. There has been betrayal of trust, a sense of uselessness and, worst of all, the loss of an amazing friend. All hot on the heels of a feeling of invincibility and that all was right with the world, literally the day before.

So, after sulking and skulking and feeling sorry for myself, I strapped on my Docs and walked. I walked for several hours, all the while with my earbuds in. First, I tried to find a Buddhist podcast to help me find my center, but I’d heard all of them already. There didn’t seem to be any new ones.

So I turned to Kevin Smith, but again, I’d wasted the new SModcast and TESD earlier in the week when I was feeling good.

I tried Bach, but it wasn’t meaty enough for my misery. I tried Black Sabbath, both Ozzy and Dio, but their pallor of darkness was making me start to feel at home in my misery.

Then, finally, I found it. The only thing that could save me. Van Halen. I started with VH, then VH II, Fair Warning, Women and Children First and, finally, the last great VH album to be released in my youth, Diver Down.

As The Full Bug filled my head with dreams of half-shirt wearing bleach blondes sporting way too much black eye liner and tri-colored frosted eye shadow, I expected instant relief. “Dave has never let me down”, I thought. “What’s happening to me?”

I listened to each album twice. Once before my realization, and once after. That realization was as follows: Without the support system of the group of friends I had as a juvenile delinquent, I will always be, essentially, alone.

Without gentle ribbing, or blatantly abusive jabs, I will never snap out of a funk. Without the expectations of toughness we had for one another, I will never endure. Without my friends, my true family, without The Gang, I will always be alone.

Then I got a text. It was from one of those very people. He was having similar issues in life and I mentioned how I missed the support of our crew. He concurred. I put the phone back in my pocket and hit play.

“Bom ba deedah bom ba deedah…Happy traaails to yoooou…”

It was then, that very fraction of an instant when David Lee Roth gave me the key to all the secrets of the universe.

“Til we meet aaaaaaaaaagain”

I will never be alone. Because I still have each and every one of those kids carrying me every step of the way.

We may drift apart, but we always drift back together again.

I wonder, how many people wish they still had the same friends they grew up with? Tonight, I realized I am a lucky, lucky man.

In case you weren’t aware, I ride bicycles. A lot. And have for a couple decades now.

We started in the late 80’s/early 90’s (That’s the official time frame. In reality, we’d been bending the rims of Ross 10 speeds and shattering the plastic mags on Kmart BMX bikes since the 70’s). At that time, the term “building a trail” wasn’t invented. Not here on the East coast yet, anyway. We simply got on our bikes, pointed them into the woods and pedalled.

Our trails were and remain a combination of overgrown former mining and logging roads, ancient deer trails and hiking trails cut into the forest floor by generation after generation of adventuresome kids ( the latter now cherished relics, as no new ones are made. Because there aren’t any iPads in the woods…but that’s a story for another day).

Roots worn slick as grease by years of passing boots and dirtbike tires, running across the trails like angry wooden snakes, poised and ready to bring you down in a flash or sink their fangs into you innertube should your arse be sufficiently fat.

And between the roots, there were rocks. Rocks varying in size from chickenheads, to babyheads, to “that’s a big fuckin’ rock dude!”. Some buried deep enough to behave in much the same manner as an entire wall when it came to stopping ones forward motion, “Gravity checkers” as they were known.

Others scattered loosely, sometimes piled a foot deep, making traction an impossibility and prompting one to pedal frantically before hitting them in the hopes that inertia would get you all the way over before your front tire washed out. That worked. A little.

And, most prevalent in our neck of the woods, black coal silt. A fine, abrasive cloud of dust that blackened your toes through you shoes and socks and wore bearings down to misshapen blobs of sobbing steel with lighting speed!

And the bikes…oh baby! Personally, I rode a 1987 Trek 800 Antelope I had modified intensely. I’ve mentioned before how Gopher and I pulled the rear dropouts as far apart as possible while forcing a wheel with a 7 speed cassette into an area designed for 5.  It was an unwieldy beast. Steel, rigid, 26″ and way too long a wheelbase for what I did with it. But I did it.

My friends Gopher and Nukes were a little more advanced. The had shocks. With a (then) remarkable one inch of travel! Steel. Heavy. Twitchy geometry that todays riders would immediately kill themselves trying to maneuver in a straight line. But they whipped around the always startling turns our woods continually surprised us with.

And with narrow, NARROW bars to accommodate the equally narrow area these trails allowed.  All neatly capped with bar ends. What’s a bar end? Im glad you asked, sonny!

Bar ends were devices that aided climbing by offering a better riding position to prevent spinning your rear wheel out and screwing your momentum. However, conversely, they acted like angry, evil hands that randomly reached out and grabbed passing brush. Usually when you were approaching 20 m.p.h.

Ah, but today! Today there are dropper posts that everyone “must have”. Despite the fact that the technology is so new that ALL of them break, FEW of them function at all and NONE of them are necessary if you have hip joints. Because if you do, you can lift your ass OFF the saddle and hang it over the rear wheel (as opposed to just LOWER over the bottom bracket) where it actually makes a difference when bombing downhill.

There are not only suspension forks with obcene amounts of travel (upwards of 210 mm!), but myriad versions of rear suspension with as much or more travel, totally eliminating the need to learn how to navigate. When you can just barrel over anything, there’s no need to waste time learning finesse. Besides, with rear suspension, you can’t feel the trail anymore, anyway, so what good would finesse do you, right?

There are new, larger wheel sizes that are specifically designed to make surmounting obstacles easier, while simultaneously dulling the agility of the bike. A custom design to dumb the rider down.

New “standards” (the MTB industry calls every single new idea, no matter how obviously useless or doomed to rapid extinction as a new standard”. This thing you keep saying… I do not think it means what you think it means…) are being foisted upon riders and some supposedly objective publications may actually be getting paid to give some of the most useless crap since teats on a boar stellar reviews.

Here’s some insight:  http://www.churchoftherotatingmass.com/2014/01/07/are-we-not-journalists/

All the while, the ‘experts’ continue to sound the death knell of all things non-brand spankin’ and smacking of status symbol priceyness (whatchya compensating for there, sport?). If I had a dime for every time some trust fund tech weenie told me hardtails, steel frames and 26″ inch wheels were “dead”, I’d have a titanium 26″ hardtail. Nyah!

There are now full suspension fat bikes, 29plus, and lets not forget the baggadouchios who hog the trails and endanger everyone because they need more “über gnarly GoPro footage, brah!”. There are shuttles and chairlifts taking riders to the top of a mountain to ride back down… that’s just stupid, yo. There is ZILCH satisfaction unless you ride up, first. And that’s coming from a 47 year old, “I was at Lollapalooza ’92” card carrying old schooler (with a ‘ch’, not a ‘k’), junior! Man up, ya doughy pansies!

It seems a lot of built trails are all ‘flow’ and very little challenge and many historically natural trails are being homogenized in the name of preservation. I love, love, LOVE flowy, hard pack trails. I love a day full of 17 m.p.h. meandering and getting low and carving hard on manicured berms. But not ALWAYS.

Those are vacation rides. Riding the Allegrippis system at Dirt Fest this year was just such a pleasure. It felt like riding on a cloud and I couldn’t believe how little pedalling had to be done to preserve forward momentum. But I can’t do it every day. I don’t have any DESIRE to do it everyday. I get bored without constant challenges to my resolve, endurance and ability. It’s about always learning, always improving. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Period.

Todays rider, and todays American society, it seems, have no compulsion to achieve. No lust for conquest over themselves and nature. “Easy, man. Gotta be easy or I’m not doing it.” It’s appalling.

I can relate in no way whatsoever to a human being who takes no pride in being able to do something today that they could not do yesterday. As Gopher so succinctly put it “Why compete when everyone who shows up gets a trophy?”. Today’s riders mentality makes the ancient Roman senate look like Geek Olympiads by comparison. And I simply do not understand.

I’m all for getting more people’s butts on bikes. But what caliber person do we want on the trail is the question no one seems to be asking. Much of the sport has been reduced to aiming bikes as opposed to steering. It’s been made so utterly unchallenging that nearly anyone can do it. And if anyone can do it, anyone will.

As more morons with no grasp of trail etiquette bombard trail systems with their lack of consideration and wonton destruction of terrain, I promise you that trail access restrictions will promptly ensue. Even bike licenses and subsequent licensing fees aren’t out of the realm of possibility when a desperate attempt to stem the tide of kooks on two wheeled missles bent on destroying the culture is deemed necessary. 

I think my belief that there is no reward without toil has a lot to do with why I respect singlespeed riders. Personally, I don’t ever want to have to pedal a single speed bike up a mountain, but I have mad respect for those who do. And it’s based solely on knowing how much more difficult it is to ride than something with gears.

But I digress…

Yesterday, myself and my equally ancient hetero life mate, Gopher, decided to revisit some of our original singletrack runs. Me on my 26″ hard tail 2013 Motobecane Fantom (that’s right, kids, Bikes Direct! I don’t need a big name, I need quality at a blue collar price and I do my own wrenching, so Pffffft!) and Goph on his 1992 or ’93 Trek 930 Singletrack (which I powder coated a triple-fade from white’ to purple, to blue in ’95 or so), although he usually rides his ’92 Mongoose, on which the only original parts remaining are his front derailleur and a brake hanger.

These trails would be, to a modern rider, impossible to navigate on the bikes we chose.

Granted, there were decent sized chunks of this journey that a modern squishy bike could have mashed over that we had to carry ours over, but much like pizza and sex, when it comes to a ride, it’s quality over quantity. Mostly, anyway.

We bombed down death trails at 15 m.p.h, climbed 900 feet at a %14 grade in less than a half mile (well, Goph did. I got about 2/3 up and decided I’d reserve my moxie for the long haul…) we rode an amzingly beautiful, well hidden rarely traveled trail, completely encompassed in laurels known to our crew as “The Vietnam”… we were born in ’68, after all.

The last time he and I had ridden there, there was blasting going on for construction of the Casey Scenic Byway branch of US 6, 20 years ago. We also used to ride the byway itself before it’s completion. It was a dirt highway to all the great trails that are hard to get to now that the pavement has been laid down.

We rode all day, except for when we pushed ’em or carried ’em. We portaged though black mine water above our knees, shouldering our steeds to the other side. In the middle of the warm, greasy, black water, there was the shockingly cold remider that a creek fed it, and continued on into the woods on the other side. Mud made from the evil aforementioned coal silt six inches deep sneaking it’s gritty, grimy way between our toes and binding our SPD cleats full with it’s insidious cruddyness.

We explored the hidden remains of Edgerton, Pennsylvania (Google it!), past the pumphouse that once fed Jermyn and Archbald PA their drinking water, and the foundation of the tiny schoolhouse where only the girls spent their days, the boys being sent to work and die in the mines by age seven.

We took trails long abandoned that were once switchbacked roads who’s retaining walls at every bend were constructed by hand, one stone atop another, hundreds or thousands of stones in neat rows without mortar. Built by a generation that would find my idea of challenging to be laughable. That of the generation after me, horrifying. These men, their town, and this road long since swallowed up by the unstoppable force of nature reclaiming its own.

We toiled, sweat, cursed, fell and bled (as of this moment, I can only use my left butt cheek to sit. My right one is one large, gruesome bruise) we laughed and shouted with glee, and there were plenty of hi-fives and utterances of ‘Holy shit’ to go around.

What there was a conspicuous absence of, was other riders. A few bulbous middle aged guys puttering through the woods on quads with a case of Genesee bungied onto the rack, but no other bikes.

No fancy duallies with seventy two feet of travel front and back with electronic shift assist and dropper posts, auto pilot or remote drone riding capability (so you can ride from the comfort of your own home, between Walking Dead binges on Netflix and marathon sessions of Minecraft).

No downill kids getting a ride to the top of crane hill in daddy’s Escalade so they can shoot footage of their “epic” 37 second decent and quickly scurry home to upload it and wait to count the hits.

Nobody.

Just two gnarly dudes on the short side of 50 riding bikes that showcase the height of 20th century technology.

“Why Fud, you smug sonofabitch! What makes you think you’re so superior”, you may well ask.

It’s simple, really. If we weren’t superior, we wouldn’t have been alone in the woods.

‘Nuff said.

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True story…

Posted: July 12, 2015 in Outside on a bike

Most folks know that I conclude truthful tales by stating the title of this particular chestnut. Whoppers receive  no such qualification…

So, about our bike ride today… allow me to preface thusly: anybody who knows the long, sordid history of my lifelong friendship with Gopher will not find the following in any way strange nor out of the ordinary…

…Today, just after crossing the bridge over the Turnpike in Taylor,  we made the right at that Via Appia place in order to head off the main drag to ride in the relative safety of the backstreets and alleys. As we did so, there happened to be a police SUV driving in the opposite direction on Main. Now, my former atics have ingrained a VERY specific skillset upon my psyche that has become second nature… predicting an eminent busts. And with no stimuli other than this particular cop looking at me a second longer than I figured he needed to, my spider senses went apeshit.

Goph, also seeing this, jokingly did the fingers to eyes, Robert De Niro “I’m watchin’ youse” thing to bust my nuts.

Not three seconds after the ‘gonna get popped’ feeling took hold, the familiar “WOOP WOOP” of a police siren sounded behind us. Have I mentioned we were riding bicycles?? It was at this point that Goph gave me this 1/4 pissed off, 3/4 amused grin that almost made me laugh out loud.

We hopped off the bikes and the cop indicated he’d just be a second as he called in, putting his pointer finger up in the universal “hang on two secs” motion. It was at this point that my previous experience also engaged my database of reasons one can get popped by the fuzz, and my brain began to cycle through them like a big honkin’ brain powered rolodex. We certainly weren’t speeding, we weren’t riding abreast, I even signalled as we turned. No, none of them ones…

In a mere millisecond I scanned through all traffic, civil and criminal statutes we could possibly have violated while riding bicycles, finally coming to rest on what could be the only logical conclusion. “Dude, we match somebody’s description.”

About then the cop; a young, respectful guy, stepped out of the marked SUV and offered “The reason I pulled you over is because you match the description of a red-bearded guy that was trying to break into houses around here last week.” I shot Goph an “I told ya, dude” smirk and said “I’ll bet you’d very much like to see my ID, wouldn’t ya?”, handing it to him as he approached. “Yes, please” he said, grinning despite himself.

A few minutes later and another call into Comcenter and he was back out of the car and returning my driver’s license, saying “You do see why I pulled you over, don’t you?”. I replied that I of course did, adding that I seem to have a rather generically criminal face. “Remember when Pee-Wee Herman got popped whipping it out in the dirty movie?” sez I. “Um, yeah…” sez the cop. “Well, at the time, I looked just like he did in his mugshot. My cousin Shane still abuses me because of it. I’m totally used to it, no worries.”

He shook his head and chuckled, then asked if I was through Taylor a lot on my bike. I am, I told him. Several times a week. He then asked that since I am, would be cool if he took my photograph to pass around the station so I woudln’t get hassled again. I happilly agreed, as this mug shot will PREVENT future hassle. Historically they have instead been the RESULT of hassle, so this situation would be a welcomed change. I may have issues with authority, but I know what side my bread is buttered on, yo.

So, a quick click, an exchange of thank you’s and we were off.

After a block of silence, Gopher simply stated, in exactly the way Gopher does, “Dude….what the fuck?” At which point I laughed so hard I almost fell off the bike.

True story.

It was exactly twenty -one years ago yesterday that OJ Simpson led police on a slow speed car chase in Al Cowlings white Ford Bronco.

Now, I don’t know if you remember how shocking the thought of OJ Simpson killing someone was at the time. He being a star of stage and screen, a beloved sports hero, and for all we could see in the public, a generally good guy. Now we hear he’s suspected of a brutal murder, which is weird enough, right? But no! NOW he’s got his best friend driving 30 M.P.H. on the LA freeway, followed by an army of police, lights and sirens ablaze, while he talks on a carphone (remember carphones?) to the very cops chasing him the whole way!

Odd stuff, right? But wait! There’s more! My own special brand of weird was added to the mix! I didn’t WATCH it as it happened! Oh, no! I LISTENED to it on the RADIO!

See, my then girlfriend and current BFF, Bubba and I didn’t have a TV. What with us being in our early 20’s and it being the early/mid 90’s we were not only full of idealistic youthful disgust for all things mainstream, we were also basking in the glory that was 90’s music (we were and are consummate audiophiles; Elastica, HUM, the Birthday Party, Counting Crows, Black Sabbath could all be heard at one point or another in our pad. Except Prince. Bubba despised the Purple One and I could only listen when she was out. She’s since come to her senses), and we were, most importantly, broke.

So we listened to the radio CONSTANTLY. Local folks will remember when WRTI played ONLY jazz, Fred Williams being obnoxious and Terry McNulty doing his “Goose Pond” shtick on WILK (AM, mind you! Not their fancy new FM station.). Late night was the always gloriously weird and campy ‘Coast to Coast AM’ with Art Bell. Weekends were filled with the hysterically entertaining Car Talk, A Prairie Home Companion, Marian McPartland’s ‘Piano Jazz’ and Fiona Ritchie’s ‘Thistle and Shamrock’ on PBS. Laced between it all was a great new Alternative station called “The Mountain” (not to be confused with the current station of that name, this mountain became “the Bear” and featured a then still-relevant Howard Stern…but I digress) that filled the place with a solid mix of both new and old Alternative music. The Replacements to Prodigy. I miss that station to this day.

It was the perfect time to NOT own a TV!

So, here we were, both home on a Tursday afternoon (it was around 6:30 in LA, making it 3:30 ish here in PA). The fact we both had the same day off was an anomaly, as we both worked in the Steamtown Mall (when it actually had stores). Retail gigs never have set schedules, and neither, then, did we. Bub went to school full time and managed a jewelry kiosk that was in the center of the mall, directly in front of the where I had a gig in a poster framing shop. When we did work the same hours, we’d call each other and gab while we looked through the window of my shop and made faces at each. Or call and pretend we were idiot customers asking the most bizarre questions and watch to see each others reactions. Work was a good time back in the day, yo. I have much blog fodder compiled from those days.

Okay, back to my actual story… so, here we are, milling about the house. I seem to recall one of our famous two-man house cleaning parties was happening, when suddenly there’s a station break during Rush Limbaugh (settle down, Beavis. We all go through phases. Like I sez NO TV!) telling us OJ’s ex was murdered and he was a suspect and…wonder of wonders, he was leading the police in a slow-speed chase. We all know what that means NOW, but in 1994 when the words “slow speed car chase” wafted from the speakers, it broke my brain. “Dafuq?” was the only thought it could muster after such an announcement. BUT WAIT! THERE’S EVEN MORE! Al Cowlings was driving. But Al Cowlings wasn’t a suspect. But it WAS Al Cowlings’ car. Not OJ Simpsons’ car. But OJ WAS a suspect. MAYBE. Or maybe just a ‘person of interest’…

Now I’m thinking… What exactly was IN that bowl I smoked before I started scrubbing the toilet? Isn’t this really only a bunch of people driving and one dude just happens to be in front? And OJ? Nordberg from ‘Naked Gun’? (No relation to Mike, yo) 1968 Heisman winner OJ? NFL Hall of Famer OJ? The fucking Hertz airport sprinter? Getdafuckouttahere!

I distinctly remember standing in our living room, intently listening. I remember we each had these huge glass mug filled with ice water that we got at Boscov’s department store that I adored and we seemed to alway be chugging from (I have since broken both and never found replacements). I can also remember thinking for the first time “Fuck. I wish we had a TV”. I promptly stated said thought out loud and received “Fuck yeah, ainah?” as a response.

That moment is frozen forever in my head. As is the moment we heard his not guilty verdict while in the long gone Woolworth’s in the South Side shopping center. I actually was convinced he was innocent. Again… a phase, Homes.

We listened all day, enthralled. We listened for the next four months to the trial, Cochran, Dershowitz and Kardashian making a case that, in retrospect, was Barnum-esque at best, but certainly did it’s job establishing reasonable doubt. We listened to Marsha Clark being picked apart by commentators for not being Hollywood Fantastic and looking, instead, like a prosecuting attorney. We listened to Kato Kaelin pretending to be stupid while successfully milking his 15 minutes to a full half hour.

It was our entertainment for nearly all of 1994. It was ‘The Trial of the Century’. Everyone knew the latest developments. Walk up to anybody over 40 right now and say “If it does’t fit, you must aquit” and I’ll give you a donut if they don’t know what you’re talking about. It was the single most culturally dividing and at the same time unifyin event of it’s era.

It was, as were the 1992 Rodney King verdict riots, a bleak exposé and harsh commentary on the realities of our society during that decade, a decade that saw the ugly truths of racism exposed, a decade that got lazy, disaffected suburban kids to get off their asses to change things (like their parents 30 years previously), and a decade that nurtured artistic freedoms like no other, acts like PJ Harvey, Bjork, Spacehog, Alice In Chains, Ministy, Beck and of course, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were played on COMMERCIAL RADIO! A glorious decade of possibilities. Until it ultimately all came to an end, at least symbolically, with Woodstock ’99. The death knell of positive youth culture happened at a concert. Again, just like our parents generation at Altamont speedway 30 years before…

But what stays with me the most, the longest lasting, most indelible impact of the entire event, the only thing I could think about when I finally saw it on TV a few days after we stood aghast in our living room with our ears glued to the radio like Grunge era Walton’s, the only thing that came to mind yesterday when I heard it was the 21st anniversary was “It sounded faster…”

About three or four years ago, I was travelling the stretch of Route 81 that I traveled twice a day, every stinkin’ day on my way to and from my job at the time. And every day I’d pass by a mountain I used to ride bicycles on twenty years previously. I’d look up at it and say to myself “I’d like to ride a bike there, just once more before I die”.

I never said it out loud and always followed it with “But I probably won’t”. Until one day when I finally DID say it out loud. Just in passing. My ex wife was driving me to work that day (we were long divorced already, we’re exceptionally good friends to this day) and when she heard me say it, she said, simply “Well, get a bike and do it”.

Now, at this point in my life, I would generally begin expounding the difficulties involved in executing such a plan, but for some reason, something in the simplicity and plainness of her statement made me just go “Yeah. Yeah, I’m gonna!”. It took me a year or so, but I did.

This place I longed for was amazing. Technical up and down. Long, rocky climbs that were equally long and rocky on the way back down. Amazing scenery, beautiful streams and laurel stands, huge rock formations, hemlock groves and massive firs as well as gnarled, windswept scrub above the treeline at the top of the climb. All part of the reason it’s called to me continually over the years.

There is one thing that had been eluding me until today, despite a couple of rides in the general area since I took up the handlebars again. A place on the mountain we’d discovered accidentally twenty years ago and the actual place I was talking about whenever I’d say “I’d like to ride THERE one more time…”

At the top of a steep, long climb one hot summer day in the mid 90s, we stumbled upon an odd cul-de-sac surrounding what looked like an abandoned orchard or grove of gnarly old trees off to the right, and to the left, directly along side the trail, a weird, cylindrical stone tower. No mortar, just stones, expertly stacked and sturdy.

The trail had once been a road, there was no doubt. These same stacked rocks supported every bend and it had obviously been well engineered in centuries past. Of course, time had made the surface of the road a wild, rutted mess of a rock garden (Thank you, time. You make the best trails better!) but it was still obviously a feat of manpower and planning.

There is something about this place. Over the 20 plus years of NOT riding that had passed, this was the one place I always dreamt of whenever my mind drifted back when my life was better because… well, because bicycle, that’s why.  I still thought about a million other rides with fondness, but this one…this one GRABBED me! Over and over until I finally succumbed to it’s allure and flung my old, flabby leg over a top tube again (Said leg is no longer old, nor flabby, thank you very much. Because bicycle…)

Then… last week, Gopher (Lifelong friend, riding partner, contributor to my continued delinquency and the other part of the “we” mentioned above) suggested we finally rediscover this place of lore. I was surprised that neither of us had thought of it before, but in retrospect, I’m glad.It’s a difficult ride, but we’ve been training for this season since January. This was the time.

Goph had a couple surgeries over the winter that laid him up from Christmas on, and quite honestly, we were already tired of winter and base mile rides on Rails to Trails runs that began as predictable the very first time we rode them and got exponentially more tedious with each return. When he healed up sufficiently, we both decided we wanted technical singletrack like a guy married to a vegan wants a chili dog, so we just started pedaling.

We rode the entire valley, and every hill we could get our tires on. We rode up the hill to Aylesworth park in Jermyn, then bombed back down and across town to ride up the on ramp to the Casey highway (if you’re not from around here, just substitute these few lines with the phrase “a bunch of really big hills”).

If there was any way to make a ride more challenging, we’d do it. We’d ride to Scranton or Carbondale or both, trails and roads and weird paths between houses and every hill we could find. Anything . Oh- by the way, Scranton DPW, if a guy on a bicycle has to find the good line on a paved alleyway, you guys are doing it wrong. Just sayin…

So…today… we set out around 12:30 and got to the trail head about 12 minutes later because Goph drives like a fugitive. It was chilly and overcast and I regretted not having worn a shell. The trail in was the same as it’s been as long as we’ve ridden it, but we were confused as to how we ever rode here in the first place. Especially since the trail splits, but on the side we take, the trail just STOPS. If you didn’t know where the portage up the rocks to the left is, you’d just turn around. Who, we wondered, who brought us here? Try as we might, we couldn’t remember. Perhaps the place had always just called to us, as it was today and had for all our years off the bikes.

We hiked up the short, totally camouflaged rocky portage to the trail that just STARTS. It was once a road, but it just starts and ends at this terminus at a cliff. It’s bizarre.We plop our rides down & start to pedal. Immediately we remember- this ain’t no disco, this is technical shit. Within a quarter mile in on this trail up, Goph comments that “Dude, you couldn’t just BRING somebody to ride here.” It’d just be too much for anyone not used to technical riding. So…how did WE get here the first time? I doubt we’ll ever remember. The trail won’t allow it’s mysteries to be revealed, yo.

No 5 Dam

No 5. Dam. South Siders know this place by heart.

We stop at #5 dam (ya gotta, it’s gaddam pretty!). They’ve dragged up some big ass rocks to the entrances to the trail to keep the quadders out (we ran into a bunch of them, and they’re always courteous & slow down when they pass. For a trail to be closed off to them, it means a few bad apples fucked it up for everyone. Something mountain bikers can relate to). You cant ride your bike along the wall unless you lug it over the rocks, so we just peeped the dam, then got back aboard our trusty steeds. We had bigger fish to fry. Oh- Goph was riding his 1994 Trek 930 Singletrack. Aside from a fork swap decades ago and some new Tektro center pulls and a powder coating job I did on it about 20 years ago, it’s stock. Excellent bike.

We rode on and the climb began. We headed up and up, over babyhead rocks and sharp busted mine waste stone while negotiating massive washouts and loose gravel. It was a gloriously abusive climb. The area has recently been logged, but the new, environmentally conscious methods of logging is a far cry from the utter devastation of days past. With the exception of some stumps and rabbit piles of bucked branches, there’d be no way of knowing it’d been done if you didn’t know what it looked like before.

We got to the top, then down the brief decent to Lake Scranton. The trail back up the mountain starts just before you get to the road around the lake, because bikes aren’t allowed (it’s heavily trafficked by walkers and families) and we headed up. I promptly blew a manual over a log, landed at an unfortunate angle and just kinda fell over on my right side at full gallop. Whacked my giant dome on a stump- one of a dozen instances that made us go “Yay! Helmets!” throughout the course of the day.

So…I got up, although I would have laid there and groaned a bit if Goph wasn’t there and I’m already getting sore as I type…but I digress… and because I dumped, finding a place to get back on the bike took a little walking. It was loose, large stones laying on top of huge, jagged rocks on a fairly steep grade going up, so I have zero shame about the stroll up, and we rode the entire thing back down, which is way harder. So, it kinda balances out. When we finally did hop back on, it was a grind. We had to spin where we could, slam the pedals hard to clean some sections and just plant our asses on the saddle to keep the back wheels from spinning out and killing our forward momentum. That’d result in a disappointing dab at best, or a catastrophic high-side dump at worst.

Switchbacks with high berms (of loose gravel!) on the outside line, deep ruts on the inside, covered with last falls dead leave, waiting to grab your front wheel and send you ass over teacups like some sort of nasty trap set by Charlie just outside of Ong Thaan. Well, not really, but you get the idea…

Up further, checking the vistas through the bare trees and marveling at how as we’ve gotten older, we’ve begun to ride in all four seasons and how we’re just now noticing how different the woods look from season to season and creating a new appreciation for each. It’s just amazing how much more we appreciate EVERYTHING to do with cycling in general, and mountain biking specifically after being denied the chance to ride for so long.

Gravel is NEVER your friend.

See, Goph had a vicious car wreck over a decade ago that took him out of EVERYTHING for a long time. Almost lost his left arm and went through years of surgeries and physical therapy. Even after he was physically healed, it took several more years to get his head straight and get back into the saddle. Me, I was doing the Rock-N-Roll thing, sleeping til three, up all night, booze, drugs, slow horses and fast women. It wasn’t until I found out my excellent little man, Gideon was on his way before I finally cleaned up for real. So, we both had our reasons for not riding. Now, that we’ve tasted the awesome again, nothing is reason enough NOT to ride.

My fat ass at the Stone Tower

Fat guy finds a huge pile of rocks in the woods after 20 years of searching. Vasco da Gama I ain’t.

Finally, we start to recognize stuff. neither one of us were clear as to how we got there the last time. But now we knew we were getting close. When, fuckin’ foo-wow! Thar she blows! The weird, “nobody can tell us why it’s here” tower! “I thought it was bigger.” Sez I. “Me too.” sez Goph. We dismount, chow some Clif bars & chug some Nuun and discuss how we’re going to ride the cul-de-sac across the trail because we never did it, but always wanted to.

Cul De Sac

Cul-de-sac at the top of the mountain. I don’t care who you are, that’s pretty.

So…we do. It’s just a loop in the woods at the scrub line, but we can see enough through the trees to realize that this view must have been fucking amazing 100 years ago. We’d heard this was once a stage coach line, although the name of the trail on some maps is “Ore mine road”. After we make our loop, we head further down the trail, and it descends gently, but is still as technical as the rest of the ride. We end at another reservoir and we can’t see any way around, so we head back.

The climb back to the top is surprisingly short and we’re both kind of impressed with ourselves and the climbs we can handle without fatigue this season. We’re on the near side of fifty and not exactly skinny. But we’re good. We’re good cyclists. We have decades of experience and this season we’ve ridden enough that all the stars have aligned and all of our amassed experience in the saddle came rushing back. We’ve been tackling terrain and speeding down descents that scared us in our 20s. Not a lot of things I’ve gotten better at after doubling my time on the planet. Cycling is one of the few where that’s the case exactly. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but it is for us. And we’re insanely thankful!

Now- back down! My cyclocomputer has my top speed at around 25 M.P.H. Now, that may not seem like much, but this was on a road that is basically nothing but large, sharp rocks, punctuated with large, deep ruts. All covered with a dusting of loose gravel and logs. We aced it.

The once familiar squeal of applied brakes never arose. We we pounding the pedals, cleaning gnarly boulder fields and hopping deadfalls in a manner our 20 year old selves would have stood agape upon witnessing. Now- we’re on hardtails. 26 inchers. One of which is a quarter of a century old. And I can’t repeat this often enough- this would have frightened me 20 years ago. I had nothing but complete calmness and focus today. I have no issues with approaching the half century mark. I’m simply better at everything now.

We gleefully hit the end of our run, and before we hiked back down to the main trail, we took a peek at a trail I’d seen on a map headed up the other side of the mountain. Nearly grown over, but rideable,  we made plans to do so with fresh legs ASAP.

Scrambling back down the rock face to the trail back to the car, then hopping back in the saddle to peddle swiftly along the contrasting smoothness of the old access road. On more quick dip & scrambling technical climb up the other side and we were back to the car in no time.

Dismounting, strapping the bikes to the back of the car, we get in and I say that I think this might be the best ride I’ve been on in twenty years. Goph replies “You know what, dude? Me too.”

I did things today with a cool confidence I simply could not have done as my 23 year old self. Gopher did the same (we discussed out surprise at length on the drive home).

Because of today, I feel perfectly okay with making the following statement-

Dude, we fucking rule.

Me N Goph diggin our return

Gopher and Fud. We’ll be doing this when we’re 75.