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Friday, February 26, 2016

THE LEGEND OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL, Vol. 6: REBIRTH -- February 26, 2016

 With my new found sense of self worth, and a new sense of confidence in myself , White Squirrel emerged again in the fall of 2010.   The team; however, had a much different make up, which, over the next three years, would evolve and change even more.  

Between 2010 & 2013, Billy Graves, Pete Lobianco, Chris Keller, Tim Sindlinger, Kevin Hardy, and Dave Raymond were, at one point, members of Team White Squirrel -- French Creek State Park, July of 2010
In September of 2010, I entered Team White Squirrel in the Wildlands Adventure Race at Blue Marsh Lake with the expectation of having fun...and winning the race.   We had five experienced mountain bikers and an accomplished marathon runner on our team.   I realized in earlier races, that just having a team of good mountain bikers was not going to win the race...we needed runner.  Pete was that guy.  Two of my former brother-in-laws, Kevin & Billy, were with me...and so was Chris Keller.  I don't know where to begin with Chris....I think my wife puts it best.  When you look at Chris all you see is kindness.  He is, from what I've experienced, an amazing husband, father, family man, and friend.  He also is one of the best damn mountain bikers I've ever met.  White Squirrel was definitely back!  

Pre-Race fun.  Chris Keller, Billy Graves, David Raymond, Kevin Hardy, Pete Lobianco -- September 26, 2010.
Looking back on it, this race was special to me for so many reasons.  I felt good and I felt happy.  There is no substitute for that feeling...and it was nice to finally experience it again.  This race was also one of the muddiest races I ever participated in.  I remember arriving that morning and noticing that the lake looked as if it had just been drained.   I've seen this before at Lake Redman.  The surface looks as though you could walk across it...but trust me...you can't.  I moment I saw it I said to Chris, "It's going to be a muddy mess today!"  We moved fast that day and worked well together.  Really well.  As a team we pushed on through whatever suffering and punishment that Butch Ulrich could dole out.  We crossed the finish line 3 hours, 35 minutes, and 24 seconds later and won first place in the Male 5 Man Team Division.  

Pulling Pete up the hill during the mountain bike iditarod -- September 26, 2010
I got sucked waste deep in the newly drained part of Blue Marsh Lake.  Thanks, Butch!  -- September 26, 2010
More team work -- September 26, 2010
First Place Male 5 Man Team P. Lobianco, D. Raymond, K. Hardy, B. Graves, & C. Keller -- September 26, 2010
For the next three and a half years, White Squirrel raced and performed pretty well...literally finishing first in 2011 & 2012 at Wildlands, making up some serious ground and finishing fifth in the 2011 French Creek Fling after suffering a horrible mechanical problem two minutes into the mountain biking section of the race, and three consecutive impressive showings at the Cushion Peak Adventure Race in 2011, 2012, & 2013.  The constant in all of those races, but one, was Chris Keller.  Like Kristian Hains before him, I found that he and I worked well together and raced well together.  I also began to include my family in a few of the races.  The Wildlands race, in particular, required a transition crew.  My wife, my father, my step-mother, Mary Jane, and my son, Alex formed the best transition crew ever!  Surrounded by my friends...my family...and doing the thing that I loved, made me feel so complete.
Team White Squirrel (Dave Raymond & Chris Keller) Cushion Peak -- April 17, 2011
Team White Squirrel Transition Crew (Robin Arnold, Alex Raymond, David M. Raymond) -- September 25, 2011
I love my wife, Robin, so much.  She insisted that I didn't have mud on my face during the 2011 Wildlands Race -- September 25, 2011
Dave Raymond of Team White Squirrel completing the boulder climb at Cushion Peak -- April 21, 2012
Butch with his bullhorn.  A common sight at one of his adventure races -- September 25, 2011
Chris Keller and Robin Arnold enjoying a post race victory meal after the 2012 Wildlands race -- September 30, 2012
Chris Keller and David Raymond.  Wildlands Adventure Race -- September 30, 2012
Team White Squirrel Transition Crew (Mary Jane Black, Robin Arnold, & Alex Raymond) -- September 30, 2012
David Raymond at Wildlands Adventure Race -- September 25, 2011
Butch overseeing the suffering that he is dishing out.  In the background you can see Team White Squirrel's transition crew:  Robin Arnold, Alex Raymond, and David M. Raymond -- September 25, 2011
Team White Squirrel (David Raymond & Chris Keller) at the 2012 Cushion Peak race -- April 21, 2012
David Raymond turning pedals at Cushion Peak -- April 21, 2012
Team White Squirrel (Chris Keller & David Raymond) getting pre-race directions at Cushion Peak -- April 20, 2013
Team White Squirrel (Chris Keller & David Raymond) at the conclusion of the 2013 Cushion Peak Race -- April 20, 2013
From the outset, I knew that telling the story of the White Squirrel would be difficult.  For me, it is a story of joy, excitement, and adventure....followed by despair, desperation, and searching.  But it also is a story of rediscovery, acceptance, connection, and love.  In the years since, people have asked me if I would ever go back and change anything...would I do anything different to avoid the heartache that I experienced.  The answer is always a quick NO.  Even though I do regret the way I handled some relationships, I wouldn't change it.   Those decisions, and the consequences of those decisions, have made me into the man that I am today.  

White Squirrel's last race was in 2013...for no other reason than the fact that we had all decided that we just wanted to ride our bikes.  That's what we do now.  Time with friends, on our bikes, having fun...that's why I started this blog in the first place...to share that experience with whoever felt compelled to read about it.  Thank you, Butch Ulrich, for your work organizing and putting on the races.  I had an amazing time and will never forget it.

I don't get to see Kristian Hains too much anymore.  He has young children and he, rightfully, spends his time with his family.  Last I talked to him, he had sold all of his bikes.  I sent a link of these writings to his wife.  She emailed me and let me know that Kristian had read them and liked them.  I miss him and wish him and his family nothing but the best.  Maybe someday he'll get another mountain bike and head out on the trails with me.  

Mark Lentz and I are still best friends.  He and I don't get to see each other as much, but we still ride together often and our friendship has only gotten stronger.   He would give me the shirt off of his back.  Thank you, Mark.

Tim Sindlinger has been my riding partner from the beginning.  As of this writing, he is at the tail end of recovering from neck surgery and should be ready to get back out on the trails with me by April.  

Mikey Nardelli, who I mentioned in Vol. 1, no longer rides.  We've maintained our friendship and we still keep in contact.  He's happy...and that's all that counts.   

Like Kristian, I don't see Glenn Medice much anymore.  I regret the way I handled our relationship the most.  Glenn is a great teacher, father, and husband.  Every once in a while he and I will run into each other in passing.  Our conversations are pleasant and nice.  I have nothing but fantastic and happy memories of our escapades together.  

Chris Keller and I still ride together...but Chris, like we all should, keeps family first.  Oh...and hunting.  I don't see him much during hunting season.  

There are others who I didn't mention in my White Squirrel series that deserve a lot of thanks.  In particular, Jay Zech.  He is the owner of Gung Ho Bikes.  The shop became a hang out and then a sanctuary for me.  Jay, without even knowing it, reassured me while I was at the lowest points that things would get better and offered to help in any way.  Thank you, Jay.  

Finally, I need to thank my wife Robin, who saved me.  I need to thank my son, Alex, who has been by my side since the day he was born.  And I need to thank my father who has always been there and who has loved me unconditionally.  I love all of you so much.  (That means you, too, Mary Jane!)

Life is a journey, not a destination.


David A. Raymond -- February 26, 2016




Friday, February 19, 2016

THE LEGEND OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL, Vol. 5: METAMORPHOSIS -- February 19, 2016

When life hits rock bottom it is often easy to blame yourself...and in doing so, try to change and become someone who you are not.   In my case, I blamed the life that I was living, the music I listened to, the people I worked with, the friends I surrounded myself with, and even the bike I was riding.  In my case, I set out to erase the slate and completely start over with the belief that all my problems would somehow disappear.  Spoiler alert...it didn't work.  

Trying to out ride my problems -- July 2010 (Gettysburg National Park)
The original intention of this blog was to highlight and celebrate the joy I experience while cycling, the bonds I form with my friends, and yes...the ice cream that I love to eat.  From the beginning, I realized that winter would come, the trails at the county parks would be closed, and the Pennsylvania roads would be covered with rock salt and gravel.  I had decided, that during my forced winter hiatus, I would go back and tell the stories of the past.  In the back of my mind, I realized that I would eventually come to this point of the story....so, as I sit here watching my cursor blink...I'm not sure what direction this will take.  I guess I'll start here...
The realization that your life, as you knew it, was a farce makes you feel like a drowning man.  You flounder and reach for anything...hoping that something helps.  I couldn't seem to find joy in anything.  My mistaken belief that I need to change who I was led me to disassociate myself from my friends.  I remember, at one point, I got a text from Mark Lentz.  He continuously tried to reach out to me and help...but I wouldn't let him.  I'll never forget the last text he sent me that day.   It simply said "This isn't how friends act."  He was right...but I didn't know what to do...so I just broke off my friendships with him, Glenn, Mikey, and Kristian. That choice was one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made in my life.  The one friend that I didn't push away was Tim.  I didn't tell him what was going on, though.  I had this misguided belief that my problems were my problems and I didn't need to burden him (or anyone) with them.   He sensed something was seriously wrong, but I wouldn't open up.  

Dave Raymond & Tim Sindlinger in Michaux State Forest -- July 2010
Thank God I had quit drinking years before this.  I reached not for a bottle...but for my bike.  I was never as good on a bike as I was then.  All I could do was ride.  It was the only thing that made me feel better.  Ridiculously, I blamed my bike, too.  I associated my new mountain bike with everything that I thought was wrong with me.  So I sold it...way too cheap...and purchased a mountain bike that I hated from the moment that I brought it home.  My 2010 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR was a shadow of what my Epic was...but it got me through this period in my life.  

My 2010 Stumpjumper FSR in Michaux State Forest -- July 2010
I blamed racing too. So, the racing stopped.  Tim and I spend a lot of time riding in Michaux State Forest.  We explored a lot of new area...but in all that time, I never had the courage to open up to him.  We spent a lot of time together but there was always a wall of silence hanging in the air.   I had purged my life of everything that I thought I needed to...but I was miserable.  I didn't realize how empty life could be without the people you care about. 

By July of 2010, I was in total disarray and was unrecognizable to the people who cared about me.  Events had forced me to face the realization that my life would never be the same and that I couldn't hide my problems any more.  Picking up the phone, I called my dad.  I had never opened up to him and even avoided visiting him for fear that he would sense what was going on.  The last thing I wanted my father to think was that I failed...and I didn't want him to feel burdened by my failures.  I asked him if he could meet me for lunch the next day.  I was so preoccupied with myself that I didn't even remember he was having surgery the next day.  I was so ashamed.  By trying to shield him I had actually shut him out.   That phone call; however, was the beginning of a new and stronger relationship for the two of us.

Father & son camping at Rocky Gap State Park -- May 2013
Next I went to see Tim.  I will never forget what happened.  I got to his house and he was in the garage.  He had his tire pump in one hand and his front wheel in the other.  He stood there in complete disbelief as I told him what was going on for the past year and a half.  Then he dropped everything in his hands and embraced me.  We just stood there, in his garage, and cried.  Thank you, Tim.

Tim Sindlinger stood with me on my wedding day -- July 21, 2016
By the fall of 2010 the pieces of my life began to put themselves back together...but not in a way that I had ever imagined.  I began dating my wife, Robin.  She was the one who made me understand that I didn't need to change who I was.  It was Robin who showed me all the good that was in me.  I was Robin who I felt comfortable opening up to.  She opened my eyes to the fact that there was nothing wrong with who I was (and who I am).  She appreciated me and encouraged me to reach out to those I pushed away.  Honestly, I was scared as hell to walk down the hallway at school and talk to Mark.  I asked him to forgive me for not allowing him to help me...and he did.  Our friendship has grown stronger ever since and I consider him to be one of my best friends.  I wasn't as successful with Glenn and Kristian.  Even though we talk to each other, our relationship has never been the same.   I really miss them.

David Raymond & Mark Lentz in Caledonia State Park -- October 2015
As much as this particular time of my life sucked it was vital in making me into who I am today.  The whole time I prayed that my life would get better.  I know now that "better" doesn't always look the way you imagine it.  Life is funny like that.  I never would have imagined that that I would be happy again.  I never would have imagined the amazing relationship I would build with my father.  I never imagined the friendships that I would have.  I never imagined the amount of success that I have with my career.  And I never, in a million years, would have imagined that I would get the girl!  Sometimes it takes the biggest challenge you've ever faced to grow into to person that you need to be.

On July 21, 2013 I married my best friend and became the happiest guy on the face of the Earth.

Life is a journey, not a destination.


David A. Raymond -- February 19, 2016
White Squirrel will return soon.

Friday, February 12, 2016

THE LEGEND OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL, Vol. 4: SUCCESS -- February 12, 2016

All throughout the winter of 2008/2009, Kristian and I had been getting geared up for the first race of the spring.   Our experience at Wildlands and French Creek the previous fall made us fall in love with adventure racing.  Because we had spent the entire winter mountain biking at places like Michaux State Forest and French Creek State Park, we were in great racing shape by time the 2009 Cushion Peak Adventure Race came around.  Heck...I had even bought my first pair of trail running shoes and a new mountain bike.   Gone was my 2006 Epic...replaced with the most expensive bike I had ever purchased...my 2009 Specialized Epic Carbon.  I was ready to race.

Mountain biking Michaux State Forest.   Mark Lentz, Dave Raymond, Mikey Nardelli, & Kristain Hains -- February 2009
I can remember picking Kristian up that April morning in 2009.  Just a week before, I had purchased my new (well, new to me) 2004 Chevy Silverado.   My life really seemed to be perfect at that moment.  All the pieces had fallen into place:  I was healthy, in great shape, my kids were doing well in school, and I was incredibly successful at my job.  For me, life was pretty good on that April morning in 2009.  

My 2009 Epic Expert Carbon -- April 2009
The Cushion Peak race was another two man event put on by Butch and Breakaway Sports.  This one was located at the South Mountain YMCA in Berks County, Pennsylvania.  That particular day, April 26, 2009, was unusually hot.  By the finish of the race, temperatures had soared in to the 90s!  
Each of Butch's races are different and, this particular race...the Cushion Peak race...was always my favorite.  The event covered approximately seventeen miles and combined mountain biking, trail running, boulder climbing, archery, and rifle.   The tennis courts of the YMCA served as a common transition area for the racers....a place to switch shoes, pick up or drop off your bike, and grab whatever you need for the next portion of the race.  

The start of the 2009 Cushion Peak Adventure Race.  You can spot Team White Squirrel (Dave Raymond & Kristian Hains) just left of the big tree.  We are wearing gray shirts -- April 26, 2009
The race start was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  Butch led us to the base of the boulder climb.  Kristian and I entered this with a game plan.  We knew that we weren't going to win the race on the boulder climb...mountain biking was our strong point.  We also knew that we needed to have one speed:  GO.  Just keep moving forward.   It didn't matter if we took a moment to walk and recover...just as long as we kept moving forward.   Experience had also taught us that it was impossible to predict what kind of obstacle or suffering that Butch would put in our way.  At one point we had to crawl through a rope obstacle course.  Normally this wouldn't be difficult, but Butch made each of us carry a raw egg through course which  had to be kept in one piece all the way up the hill.  I'll never forget the look on Kristian's face after we finished navigating Butch's chaos...his egg didn't survive.   Our second attempt was much more successful....but we had lost precious time.  We needed to be flawless the rest of the race. 

Another of Butch's obstacles...the Wall at Cushion Peak -- April 26, 2009
The details of the rest of the race seem to escape me.   I do remember the two of us frantically moving from section to section.  I remember us acing the archery section...but having to deal with a rifle that kept jamming.  All the while, we had no idea how we were doing.  Because the course was so compact, teams were diverted to different stations in different directions so there wouldn't be a log jam of teams in one area.  We had no clue as to who was in front of us and who was behind us.  Each time we thought we were coming to the finish line Butch would divert us somewhere else.   The final obstacle was a tire carry...on our back...while holding the tire over a rope.   Thanks for the suffering, Butch!  

More suffering...courtesy of Butch -- April 26, 2016
Crossing the finish line was almost surreal.  We were there with only one other team!  Kristian and I had finished first in our class!  I remember jumping up and hugging him.  I remember the sense of accomplishment.  In my life I had been on a championship football team.  I had won many mountain bike races.  But this seemed special for some reason.  With just three adventure races under our belts, Team White Squirrel had it's first 1st place finish!  It seemed like a beginning.  This was just the first of what Kristian and I believed would be many.  I had finally found my niche.  I had found something that I loved and a friend to share it with.  I had no idea that this would be the last race White Squirrel would run for a long, long time.  I had no idea that this would be the last race Kristian and I would do together.  I had no idea that, within a week, my whole world would be turned upside down.

Team White Squirrel (Kristian Hains & David Raymond) at Cushion Peak -- April 26, 2016

Life is a journey, not a destination.


David A. Raymond -- February 12, 2016



If you are interested in competing in one of Butch's adventure races be sure to check out Breakaway Sports.   As always, you can check out of my mountain biking and adventure racing pics at the All Trails Lead To Ice Cream website.


White Squirrel WILL return.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

THE LEGEND OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL, Vol. 3: A PARTNERSHIP -- February 7, 2016

Within days of our Wildlands experience, Kristian Hains and I were signed up for our next adventure race.   Seems, that like me, he caught the "Adventure Race Bug" pretty bad.   Both of us had spent some time mountain bike racing....but, to the two of us, this was so much more.   We had become really good friends and we found out, that as a team, the two of us worked very well together.  We each brought to the table our own skill sets and, combined with our love of mountain biking, we figured we could possibly fair well...after all, we managed a 5th place finish at Wildlands with no experience.   

Team White Squirrel (David Raymond & Kristian Hains) at the 2008 French Creek Fling -- October 12, 2008
Seems that the Wildlands race at Blue Marsh Lake wasn't the only adventure race that our new friend, Butch Ulrich, sponsored.  Exactly two weeks later, Kristain and I found ourselves at French Creek State Park for the 2008 French Creek Fling.  This race was different.  Instead of a five man team...it was just the two of us.  The canoeing portion required, if my memory is correct, two laps around Hopewell Lake...with the caveat that we were not allowed to paddle around the boat dock... we had to pull our boat over it!   This race also offered a new element...orienteering (reading maps, using a compass, and finding objects hidden in the woods.)  Neither of us had any experience with compass and map reading.  (Thank you, Butch, for the pre-race crash course!)  

Kristian and I had another thing going for us...we were both familiar with the trails at French Creek...and we knew what we were in for.  Long and steady uphills, rocks, and more rocks.   Looking back on this race eight years later, I don't remember many details except that we seemed to be doing well and that we had the sense that a top three finish was within our grasp.  The fact that I don't remember the orienteering section of the race makes me think that we must not have had much trouble with it.  The real trouble began halfway through the mountain bike portion of the race.  The portion that Kristian and I viewed as our strength.  Riding down a technical section of Boone Trail, near Scott's Run Lake, I hit a series of rock gardens harder than usual.  As my 2006 Specialized Epic popped out from under me, I heard a metal on rock sound that is not appealing to any mountain biker.  I didn't see any immediately damage, but believe me, it was there.   Just a few hundred yards up the trail I heard metal snap.  My rear derailleur had ripped completely off of my bike!

My makeshift "single speed."  At least we finished the race.  A phone call to Jay at Gung Ho Bikes was in order as soon as I got home -- October 12, 2008
I thought it was over, but Kristian pointed out that we could just cut the cables, tie them up, and turn my bike into a single speed for the rest of the race.  After all, whether we converted my bike or if we just DNF'd (did not finish), I was going to have to buy a new derailleur.  With some basic tools, and some of Kristian's ingenuity, we were back in the game.  Unfortunately, we must have been passed by half the field.  Time to make up ground.   And make up ground we did!  Considering that we lost about 20 minutes fixing my bike, the two of us managed to finish 17th overall and within the top 10 in our category.   Not bad a bad day after all.  

This is what Kristian and I loved...the adventure completed together.   Something we accomplished as a team...and some amazing memories and stories we would have forever.   With cold weather approaching, it was time for the White Squirrel to hibernate for the winter...but, by April, team White Squirrel would return, with their best effort to date!

Life is a journey, not a destination.


David A. Raymond -- February 7, 2016



If you are interested in competing in a few of Butch's adventure races be sure to check out Breakaway Sports....and as always, you see all of our riding pics at  All Trails Lead To Ice Cream.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

THE LEGEND OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL, Vol. 2: TEAMWORK -- February 2, 2016

The White Squirrel unexpectedly appeared almost two months after our trip to North Carolina in a way that I could never have imagined.  Throughout the summer of 2008, Mark, Glenn, Kristian, and I participated in the Mid-Atlantic Super Series...a string of mountain bike races predominately located in the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.  That summer, the final race of the series was at Bear Creek Ski Mountain Resort in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.  

Racing at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in the Mid-Atlantic Super Series -- September 2008
I really had anticipated this being my final race of the year...but after the race, a fellow racer, Gary Johnson, approached Mark, Glenn, Kristian, and I with very intriguing offer.  He had been looking for a group of people to form an team and enter an adventure race the following weekend.   I had never heard of adventure racing...but after hearing Gary describe it we were all curious.   Five people...mountain biking, canoeing, trail running.  Everybody stays together as a team.  We had no idea what we were in for....but the four of us racing together as a team sounded amazing.

Before I knew it, the five of us were entered in the 2008 Wildlands Adventure Race at Blue Marsh Lake.  We had no idea what to expect.  We had no idea, really, of what we should bring.  And, until we met the man in charge, Butch, we had no clue how much fun "suffering" could be.  It was at the check in table that I learned Kristian had named our team WHITE SQUIRREL.  It was the perfect name for a group of guys who just wanted to have fun.

The original Team White Squirrel:  Mark Lentz, Cody (Mark's son and our transition man), Kristian Hains, Dave Raymond, Glenn Medice, & Gary Johnson -- September 28, 2008
This race took place before the whole Facebook and social media craze....so I don't have many pictures....but here is what I remember.  I remember driving in the rain the whole way there listening to Glenn wonder out loud why he was heading to a race...on a Sunday morning...in the rain...instead of being home in bed.   I remember thinking that beginning of the race, the "mountain bike iditarod," was one of the hardest things I had ever done.  (We disengaged the chain on Gary's bike and pulled him up a long grassy slope.)  I remember Mark hating the running part and Glenn bitching about it.  I remember us absolutely kicking butt on the mountain bike section.  And I remember the canoe ride at the end....we all had cramped up and then, just as we were about to paddle towards the finish line, we heard Butch on his bullhorn instructing two of us to get out of the boat and tether ourselves to the boat.  Gary and Mark jumped into the drink leaving Glenn, Kristian, and I paddling like we were in peanut butter. 

Yeah, 5th place isn't 1st place, but we thought it was pretty cool -- September 28, 2008
There was so much about this whole experience that I just loved.  The most surprising thing about the race was the spread of food at the finish line.  The most mind-boggling thing about the race was the realization that the five of us, with no expectations and adventure race experience, actually finished in 5th place!  The most amazing thing about the race was how much fun I had.  This was something more than mountain bike racing.   In a mountain bike race I disappeared into the woods and then afterwards told everyone how cool it was.  In this adventure race I created memories with friends that we can share forever....and that's definitely a prize worth racing for.

Life is a journey, not a destination.


David A. Raymond -- February 2, 2016

WHITE SQUIRREL would race again sooner than expected!