Up Precipice, For Time

By Zach Mosbarger

 

I’m sure more daring men have witnessed better views from higher elevations than this one, but I haven’t been up those trails yet. For now, I sit looking out over the Atlantic from the top of Champlain Mountain, a modest peak just a few dozen feet over one thousand. I bite into an apple and wish I had more adjectives; I think I’ve unintentionally uttered “beautiful” more times than I can count on my fingers and toes since we’ve entered Acadia National Park here in Maine. Call it the ‘forgotten national park’ or my own ignorance, but I was certainly unaware of what these islands had to offer before I started preparing for this trip. The guidebooks and park maps all recommend a three or four day stay to fully experience the wonders of Acadia, but we only have one. We made a quick dash up the Precipice Trail to the peak, where we’ve stopped for a quick backpacker’s meal and to take in the scene.

Acadia National Park sits off the coast of Maine, southeast of towns like Bangor and Ellsworth. The hub of human activity on the main island, named Mount Desert for it’s barren peaks, is Bar Harbor, a standard East Coast tourist town. As we’ve seen so far in New England, there seems to be more microbreweries per capita here than I ever came across in Ohio and Bar Harbor is no exception. I resist the urge to sample a well-known blueberry ale suggested to me by a traveler from Idaho so that Lexi and I can hit the Precipice a little earlier in the day than we did for the Vermont debacle.

Precipice Trail isn’t particularly long (we took our time and hiked to the top in about forty-three minutes) or challenging (the rock faces on Hell Brook Trail in Vermont made me more nervous than this) but if it is anything, it is steep. The sign at the trailhead urges hikers with any trepidation for heights to reconsider and find an alternate path to the top; “Falls from this mountain have resulted in serious injury and death“, it said.  A fair warning, I suppose, but I work out nearly every day.  This should be no problem.

Mere moments into the hike we are faced with scrambling up a pile of boulders for about eighty feet up a steep grade. I start to worry that maybe this will be harder than I thought and I’m internally overcome with that familiar inner voice that speaks to you at the beginning of the second round of a three round workout: “shit, this is hard…is it over yet? This really does suck…this is never going to end.” I’m forced to end my personal pity party when a group of badass women in their fifties cross our path on their way back down the mountain and wish us luck. If they did it, I can do it without complaining, right? Motivation renewed.

Taking a quick break to capture the view

Taking a quick break to capture the view

 

We start to accelerate our pace up the trail, even in spots so steep and awkward that they require iron rungs built into the rock. I feel like Indiana Jones traversing these natural ledges. My mom would have a heart attack if she saw me now, tiptoeing along the edge of a mountain where the slightest slip means a sure death. We make it past the difficult section of the hike without a scratch and the final hundred vertical feet are at a more manageable grade. The trees and foliage clear and the view opens up, the blue Atlantic sparkling below.  Small, uninhabited islands as far as the eye can see dot the water to both the left and right.  Europe must be straight ahead, I suppose.  Then I remember that you’d actually run into Nova Scotia first if you went by boat straight from here, and I’m slightly embarrassed.

Lexi and I with our standard selfie, this time with the Atlantic in the background

Lexi and I with our standard selfie, this time with the Atlantic in the background

 

The top of a hike, especially on a gorgeous September Sunday, is a wonderful place to find interesting people.  A solo hiker armed with his Nikon, a group of old men in their sixties, a couple from Boston walking their border collies.  I wonder which paths they took to arrive here, where they are going after this, what they think of the park.  This was supposed to be an active recovery day from our normal CrossFit work out schedule, but I find myself exercising my brain more than anything.  For what seems like the hundredth time already on this trip, I confirm that what I’m doing is important and by no means a mistake.  This lifestyle is quickly becoming an addiction for me and from the top of this little mountain on an island in Maine I feel like my decision is justified.

 

A moment too good not to share: later in the day, sunset from Cadillac Mountain

A moment too good not to share: later in the day, sunset from Cadillac Mountain

 

 

 

 

After Hours at Hell Brook

By Alexa Coughlin

 

It is carved into human instinct to congregate towards one another.  To live in close proximity to another creature that shares similarities in speech, function, and thought process is perfectly natural.  The call to gather and share in the company of others has long been popular practice to a comfortable life.  It is because of this however, that people have increasingly lost sight of yet another important human instinct- the need to get away!  In my belief, it is pertinent to a healthy, happy life to take time away from the hustle and bustle of crowds of people and to find comfort in the uncomfortable.  And what better way to do so than to hike a mountain?

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Yeah…I climbed up that

Last week, Zach and I decided to take a drive just 40 minutes outside Burlington, Vermont and enjoy getting back in touch with a little Mother Nature.  When surrounded by your own kind for so long, it feels wonderful to be the minority amongst the wildlife and vegetation.  After hitting a morning WOD at CrossFit Burlington, our legs were anything but rested prior to the start of our adventure, but we couldn’t resist the challenge of one of the hardest hikes Vermont has to offer.  The original plan was to be on the mountain by noon, a precautionary strategy used by a majority of hikers.  But like stated in previous posts, our life almost never goes as planned, and it was after 3:00pm before our feet met a dirt path.

Hell Brook Trail was definitely named appropriately.  Over four miles round trip, the distance wasn’t far enough to be intimidating.  But when paired with a steep uphill terrain of slippery boulders and jagged rocks, the trek became a little more daunting.

We loved it.  Being able to test our progress in the gym by traversing real life obstacles really put into context CrossFit’s mantra of the unknown and unknowable.  Step by step, we were greeted with a never-ending series of nature’s box jumps and rope climbs.  As we trudged further and further into the depths of the Vermont landscape, we became less cognitive of the human world we were marching away from and more in tune with the hum and buzz of the forest encompassing us.  It’s peculiar, in a way, how comfort can be found in two drastically diverse cosmos.  One being the blood, sweat, and tears accompanied by the boom of music or screams of encouragement that delineates a CrossFit box from any other montage of fitness practice.  And the second a scene so humbling one might find themselves lost in serenity amongst the flesh and flora of a backwoods trek.

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WanderWOD selfie just a few meters from the summit of Mount Mansfield

After a little over an hour of hike time, Zach and I finally reached the head of our journey. Looking out atop Vermont’s highest peak, roughly 4,400 feet, Mount Mansfield provided a three hundred and sixty degree view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below.  The houses of Stowe and Underhill looked like anthills from the summit. Pictures will tell the story of a quiet, peaceful moment overlooking the land, but our experience at the top was nothing short of loud.  What people don’t tell you about standing on top of the world, is how noisy it can be.  With nothing blocking the wind, Zach and I compared the sound to that of a jet engine taking off.  Standing on the edge was not only a test of ones fear of heights, but a test of balance against natures invisible hand which pushed us around like leaves in this turning autumn weather.

Believing that we had more time than was actually available to us, we sat down in a small nook about a dozen meters from the peak to escape the wind and enjoy a light dinner.  Assuming that our descent would take a comparable amount of time to our upward trek, we left with just enough time to beat the setting sun. We certainty won’t ever make that mistake again.  Zach and I found ourselves in a rather precarious situation after stopping more often than necessary to take pictures as well as visit the Taft hiking lodge to write our story in its’ travel log.  It turns out that the sun was much faster than we originally anticipated, and our descent of the trail began to increase in difficulty as our vision of the ground below our feet slowly began to decrease.

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It was all fun and games until the sun went down

As if the situation wasn’t unfortunate enough, we then somehow managed to lose the trail, or so we thought. After what seemed like an eternity of hiking horizontally, my heart rate began to increase with the idea that this path might not be taking us back down the mountain. It was also roughly this point in time when Zach graced me with his knowledge of hearing what he thought was a bear. With it fully sinking in that we were in a definite “oh shit” situation, I was just waiting for yet another roadblock to occur to push me into full panic mode.

By some random stroke of luck we found ourselves trampling down the familiar path of the Hell Brook Trail again. And by trampling I mean stumbling, tripping, and quite a bit of scooting. A drastically different scene from our more graceful, athletic ascent to the peak. It is unbelievable how much coordination is lost when one can no longer watch their own feet touch the ground.

I had successfully sweat through two shirts and a flannel from nervous anxiety by the time we finally caught a glimpse of the road.   The sight of smooth asphalt was a welcome one, marking our victory over the darkened forest.  I must admit that looking back on the situation now, Zach and I can laugh lightheartedly about our dangerous close call. In hindsight, our physical preparedness, forged from our countless hours in the gym, made the mental battle we were forced to fight a little easier.  After all, it is the ‘unknown and unknowable’ that CrossFit is supposed to ready us for.  With that said however, being lost on a mountain in Vermont pushed my mental capacity to the brink and I’m unlikely to venture into it again, at least when the sun goes down.

 

 

 

Why Montreal Is Awesome

By Zach Mosbarger

 

We are a few hundred miles into New England at this point and captivated by this early autumn weather.  It’s been a couple of days since we left Canada but I’ve taken a step back to reflect on our time in Montreal and the time has come to give the city its’ due recognition.  I talked a few posts ago about how I was enthralled with Toronto, but after visiting T. Dot’s neighbor to the northeast, I think I’m even more fascinated with Montreal.  This place is everything that Toronto isn’t.  I mentioned the sprawl of Toronto and how awesome it was and how it reminded me of Chicago, but three and a half days in Montreal provided an allure and an atmosphere we hadn’t yet encountered on this trip.  From the CrossFit to the shops to the people, we were treated well in La metropole du Quebec.  Here are just a few of the things that made our first visit to the city awesome:

They throw free EDM Festivals in the streets

All the fun of Tomorrowland without the massive crowd and red-eye flight!  Roaming the streets as typical tourists, we stumbled upon Villa Paradizo by accident.  Held on Crescent Street last weekend, the free two-day concert began in the early afternoon and raged well after dark on both Friday and Saturday.  Lexi and I caught the second day and, being no strangers to an electronic music show- we went to Hardwell in Columbus this past April- we fit right in.  Except for that weird guy throwing energy balls all over the street, the crowd was live and we had a blast.

 

Villa Paradizo on Crescent Street, Montreal

Our view during Villa Paradizo on Crescent Street, Montreal

 

Ohioans live there

With the opening week of NFL play beginning on Sunday and Ohio State set to play a primetime game on Saturday night, Lexi and I were ready for some football.  In an area where the official language of the people is French, however, we didn’t expect to find much in the way of an American-style sports bar.  We were finally pointed in the right direction by some locals and when we went to open the door of the place, we bumped- literally- into a fellow Buckeye on the same mission.  Her name was Kathleen and she had just moved to Montreal from San Francisco for work, after growing up north of Cincinnati.  She was as happy to see us as we were to see her and the three of us enjoyed the biggest pitcher of beer I’d ever seen.  We even got yelled at by French-speaking patrons when we exhibited our displeasure for the way the game was turning out.

On Sunday we found the local Browns Backers group in Montreal via Facebook, which turned out to be two transplants from Ohio sitting at a bar together watching Cleveland take on the Steelers.  Kathleen joined us, and the five of us traded stories and rooted on during the Browns surging second half comeback that fell just short.

 

They have a beautiful park in the middle of the city

Le Parc du Mont-Royal is a stunning park situated on a hill just west of the downtown area. It is a dog-lovers paradise. On our Sunday morning trip up the ‘mountain’, our canine friends could be seen frolicking in every direction under the watchful eye of their owners.  It is a fitness haven for humans, as well.  A visitor can run on a large, winding path up the hill, bike through countless wooded trails or, as in our case, bushwhack their way through trees to create their own route up a steep hillside.  Regardless of how you get there, the view from the top is incredible.

We weren’t the only ones who stopped on the overlook to take pictures of the city, but by the weird stares we received from some of the people nearby we could tell that we were probably the only ones all day that stopped to perform pistols on the ledge.

We attracted some concerned stares and looks of disapproval when Lexi hit this pistol with Montreal in the background

We attracted some concerned stares and looks of disapproval when Lexi hit this pistol with Montreal in the background

 

Montrealers are very hospitable

Karine and Nic, who we met through CouchSurfing, hosted us for three nights in their home in nearby Longeuill, just across the bridge from downtown Montreal.  Karine is a fitness fanatic herself and throughout the weekend we learned about her upcoming trip to France for a road rally, a ten day race that she will run with a friend to raise money and awareness for cancer.  Her kids were talented as well: her 11-year old son taught me a full on the trampoline!

 

And finally…

 

The Fittest Woman on Earth is from there

Though we didn’t get to meet the 2014 CrossFit Games Champion, we did hit a WOD at her gym.  Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and her family own CrossFit Brossard outside of Montreal.  It wasn’t all fun and EDM in the city; at CFB we moved through a brutal workout involving the Concept2 rower, ring dips and toes-to-bar following a strength session of front squats.  The highlight of the day had to have been when we met the champ’s mother, a solid consolation for not seeing Camille herself.

A bad-ass woman with a weird accent

A bad-ass woman with a weird accent

 

Right before we left the city we dropped in to CrossFit LaSalle and it would be unfair not to mention them here because we enjoyed their gym immensely.  Brothers Marco and Peter Berardi put us through an agonizing workout and their facility was state-of-the-art.  We especially took note of the espresso machine they had just meters away from the wall balls and kettlebells, where athletes get loose and sip on a cup right before their class.

The sharp home of CrossFit LaSalle

The sharp home of CrossFit LaSalle

 

Montreal was friendly to us and even though I have about fifty more cities I need to check off of my list, you can be sure I’ll be making another appearance there sooner rather than later.

 

 

Play to Your Strengths, but Stay Constantly Varied

We have been on the road for eighteen days now, a time span that has allowed us to visit fourteen different CrossFit affiliates along the way. We knew coming into this adventure that we were bound to get an in-depth perspective on today’s fitness culture from the ground level, and we’ve yet to be disappointed.

What started out in a few garages filled with just a handful of items-barbells, plates, kettlebells and rings- has evolved into a worldwide fitness movement. CrossFit boxes are popping up far and wide, and with each new community of CrossFitters our family grows exponentially. To invoke a real world image, let’s compare this growth to that of a real life family. Families are created by a parent or parents who pass their beliefs and values onto their sons and daughters. Each sibling in the family possesses this similar foundation, a set of beliefs that acts as a common base for growth. By the same token, each of these siblings most likely possesses idiosyncrasies that make them the unique individuals they eventually become.  For CrossFit, the foundation is cut and dry, a definition plastered on the walls of affiliates across the world and repeated at seminars every weekend: constantly varied, functional movement, executed at high intensity. This, handed down to us from the Book of Glassman. We all have this in common, but as we have learned from our first few weeks of travel, each box has their own unique twist. Some cater toward the gymnasty and agile while others load up the barbells more often than not.

Being on the move so much allows us to encounter quite a variety of coaching styles; whether it’s hearing unfamiliar cues or complete contrasts in general programming philosophy,  we’ve witnessed “constantly varied” right before our eyes.  We’ve run into a box with a powerlifting focus, ones with a bodyweight/gymnastic approach, and a juggernaut Olympic weightlifting gym.  While the CrossFit prescription calls for non-specialization , it hasn’t stopped some of these affiliates from sticking to their roots and centering their programming around what they do best.  In almost all cases, the type of programming an athlete can find at a gym reflects the background of its’ head coaches.  We’ve gotten to know several affiliate owners and/or head coaches over the last couple of weeks and had the opportunity to pick their brains about what makes their style of CrossFit unique.

At a gym in Canada, we were put through a strength session that started with heavy back squats- totally not uncommon.  What came next were a couple of lower body exercises that neither of us had seen or done since our pre-CrossFit rec gym days.  That’s not to say that these movements weren’t difficult- our legs were burning afterwards and made the box jumps that followed during the WOD much harder than normal.  We were a bit uncomfortable with it at first but our experiences so far with both travel and CrossFit have taught us to be prepared for anything and to be happy working outside of our comfort zone.  We listened to our coaches and did the movements as directed.  Afterward, the two of us came to the same conclusion: strength training plays a bigger part in CrossFit than either of us had realized, and that we don’t do enough of it.  We spoke with the coaches post-WOD about what drives them to coach this way, and their answers were simple.  They believe that a good strength foundation is important to teach, especially to athletes new to CrossFit, because the core movements (squat, deadlift, press) are simple and set up the more complex movements to be easier later.

Complex movements, meaning weightlifting.  Competitive weightlifting is an Olympic sport, so the nuances involved go much deeper than just loading a bar with weight and throwing it over your head.  At CrossFit Buffalo, we were put through our own impromptu Oly class led by Danny Salvatore.  Danny is USAW and CrossFit certified to coach weightlifting and the relaxed manner with which he taught the session displayed his grasp and understanding for the sport.  The lift we focused on was the snatch, a complex movement that has traditionally given both of us fits.  Danny was able to sharpen up our form as we warmed up, then had us transition to sets of one at ascending heavy weights.  The lifts became easier and easier and for Zach, 198 lbs (or 90 kg) felt easy just days after repeatedly failing at 185 lbs .  Lexi’s form was improved greatly over the course of the session and we concluded that having a coach present for movements as technical as those in Olympic weightlifting is beneficial, important and, most of all, safe.

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Taste the Beast…CrossFit Buffalo

The most noteworthy concentration of any box we’ve been to so far has been at CrossFit Burlington.  Obstacle course racing, as an industry, has boomed throughout the world over the last five years and CFB owner/head coach Beau Teal is an avid participant.  Beau and many of his athletes run in Spartan Race events throughout the Northeast and he describes them as an incredible test of functional fitness and mental toughness.  It is the Burden Run, plus mud, plus distance, plus hills.  CrossFit Burlington is currently building a specific area just for Spartan Race-type training that will include a traverse climbing wall and a monkey bar rig.  Combined with a running trail in the woods behind the building, a truly unique facility is under construction, connected to a CrossFit box.  A former U.S. Army Captain, this type of training comes naturally to Beau and he says it complements his CrossFit training immensely.

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Some sick graffiti on the wall at CrossFit Burlington

All of these specific disciplines are fun and take skill to master in their own right.  But, allow us to ask what we believe is a fair question: Can this hurt CrossFit, as it pertains to its’ goal of non-specialization?  We don’t believe so.  Elite regional and Games athletes play to their strength during competition and do their best to cover their holes during the offseason.  On that end of the spectrum, CrossFit training has become much like a full-time job and if those athletes need to specialize in order to improve a weakness, that’s just smart strategy.  Most coaches, when programming for the rest of us Average Joes, consider the needs of their clients and concentrate on making them healthier and more fit for a better quality of life, rather than for competition.  In other words, the gap between elite level CrossFitters and the masses is widening daily, but we believe it doesn’t hurt the quality of the program; paraphrased from the CrossFit Journal, the needs of our everyday CrossFitters and our elite level athletes vary by degree, not by kind.  At the same time, we believe it is a good thing that coaches will make an extra effort to teach what they are good at; it’s the same reason a former offensive lineman is unlikely to be a quarterbacks coach later in life.  Beau Teal from CrossFit Burlington was happy to weigh in on this topic and agreed.  It doesn’t matter what type of equipment there is in a gym and it doesn’t matter if there is a slight lean in programming one way or the other, as long as actual CrossFit is still taking place.

“The only two things that matter,” he said, “are programming and coaching.  Was the workout intense, and did you stay safe?”

At every affiliate we’ve visited so far, the answers to those two questions has been yes.  We’ve witnessed some varying styles but we are realizing that this is to be expected as CrossFit grows and new perspectives are added to the mix.  For people like the two of us, on a road trip to see the variance in styles, this is great; we are learning from top-notch coaches in their own respective fields of athletics and getting better each day. We suppose, for those new to CrossFit and considering beginning their own journey, that this will become a factor in deciding which affiliate to join as the sport and company both grow and more boxes begin to tailor their programming one way or the other.  In any case, two and a half weeks on the road has done little to sway our opinion that CrossFit remains the best option from a strength and conditioning standpoint.

 

-Zach and Alexa

 

 

 

A Labour of Love, and other notes on Toronto

I can think of a few places more historic or exotic to spend my first ever night in a hostel, but here I am in Buffalo, New York, fresh off of six days in Canada.  This post will be anything but brief; our cell service and lack of internet access has made updating this site and our social media outlets more difficult than normal.  We’ve become professional coffee shop wi-fi thieves, and with no shortage of Tim Horton’s stores in the Great White North we were able to skate by.  Still, there’s a lot to update our readers on.  We left Toronto yesterday and I’m already longing to visit there again.  I’d been anticipating the trip to Toronto for a while: I’ve had it circled in my mental calendar for weeks now as a city to get excited about, along with Boston, Seattle and Vancouver.  Three days and two nights in the T.O. were enough to affirm my hypothesis that Toronto is one of the coolest cities in North America.  Our experiences with CrossFit, CouchSurfing and our own sightseeing allowed us a unique perspective during our first visit and while our time there was short-lived, I believe we got the most out it.

A Labour of Love

The first location we set our feet upon in the city was outside the doors of CrossFit Canuck, a box co-owned by Tavia Ferreira in the Scarborough section of Toronto.  Tavia was our coach for this Labo(u)r Day workout and I knew during the warm-up session that she was special.  A high school physical education teacher with a master’s in kinesiology by day, Tavia’s passion for fitness inspired her to help open CrossFit Canuck a few years ago.  Not only were her coaching skills spectacular, but her personable nature and knack for positive encouragement at just the right moment made this one of our favorite stops so far.  We needed it during the thirty-five minute, multifaceted grind of a WOD that she put together for the holiday.  She left us on our backs and nearly nauseous, precisely what we were looking for after three days of park workouts, mobility WODs and open gyms.

On par with Tavia’s expertise was the facility itself.  CrossFit Canuck embodies exactly what CrossFit is supposed to stand for.  In its’ purest form, the sport isn’t about what brand of bumper plates you use or if you wear knee sleeves or if your gym has the shiniest new rig in town.  It’s about being tough no matter one’s skill level, about setting goals and achieving them, and about training for the unknown and unknowable.  Canuck was just that: a small industrial space occupied by bad-ass people doing bad-ass things.  Our other stops in Toronto (Brampton CrossFit and Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village*) were phenomenal as well, but we felt that Tavia and her box in Scarborough deserved recognition for being exactly what CrossFit should be.

*Nic Martin, head coach at RCFLV, was extremely knowledgeable.  He ran a smooth, tightly scheduled class and we packed in efficient strength, skill and metcon sessions all in an hour.  Listening to Nic coach, it was easy to tell that he is a disciplined and effective teacher and I’d recommend Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village to anyone visiting Downtown Toronto.  Just check out his resume on the RCFLV website.  Also, special thank you to Brampton CrossFit owner Paul Rudzik for taking a few moments to chat with us, and to Kirsten Dunne for coaching a great class…100 toes-to-bar are no joke!

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Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village, where we took on some clean & jerks and double unders

 

Home of Drake and Mike Myers

Toronto is a melting pot in the truest sense of the word, reflected by the number of diverse cultural neighborhoods throughout the city.  We were able to navigate through several of themincluding what turned out to be our favorite, Chinatown.  It was here that Lexi’s bargaining skills once again came into play, scoring deals at local street markets like two for $1 packs of strawberries and six apples for $1 the next day.  We actually did all of our grocery shopping in Chinatown, sans a supermarket run for our ‘family dinner’ on our last night (read below).  The area was impressive to me because of the cultural one-eighty from the nearby downtown area.  Dialects of Chinese could be heard in every direction and every storefront sign in sight was written in the language.

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Can anyone around here read this for me?

 

Little Italy, while a bit underwhelming, was still a pleasant neighborhood.  I suppose I expected it to look like New York’s Little Italy, a smale-scale throwback to the tight-knit community atmosphere that must have existed in that city at the turn of the 20th century.  The Toronto incarnation extended several more blocks than New York, but with much less visible history.  We did splurge a bit here, as you can only walk by so many gelato joints before you have to stop in and purchase a cone.

Perhaps the most curious section of town we walked through was Kensington Market.  When we were still in Barrie before we entered Toronto, we ran into an interesting fellow named Matt (again, read below) who pointed to Kensington as the “bohemian epicenter” of the city.  Naturually, we were curious and the district was conveniently located next to Chinatown, which made our visit inevitable.  It was definitely one of the more eclectic areas I’ve been in and reminded me of a larger version of Ohio’s Yellow Springs.  We actually saw a guy there wearing an Homage Columbus Clippers shirt and stopped to talk to him about his ever-evolving road trip to visit different professional ballparks.  He was just one of the many people we met while in Canada that upheld our belief that there still are amazing people out there and if you open yourself up for a moment, even just to say hi, deep connections can be made.

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Lexi meeting a new friend and asking for directions in Kensington Market

 

“You win with people.”  -Woody Hayes 

While disappointed that I couldn’t find Mayor Rob Ford, Lexi and I met a number of outstanding people from different backgrounds while we were in the city, and even a few before that in the charming town of Barrie.  They were locals and travelers, bikers and urban farmers, professors and students.  Here were a few that stood out to us:

-Michael was our host in Toronto.  He allowed us to stay two nights in his home and we had the distinction of being the first couchsurfers he’d ever hosted.  Michael has surfed all over the world himself but recently decided to see things from the other side and become a host.  We were grateful for his hospitality and our favorite moment during our stay was our second night, when the three of us and his two other surfers (students from Brazil and France) enjoyed a meal at his table.  Aside from being a fun dinner, it was the first realization I had that I was actually doing what I had set out to do: meeting new people from various backgrounds and learning as much about them as I could.

-We ran into ‘Bicycle Matt’, mentioned above, as he was passing through Barrie on his bike.  He was on what he described as a short ride from Toronto to Sudbury- it’s a four and a half hour drive by car- and stopped to say hi and eat pizza with us.  He told us of his first adventure, an epic tour from Toronto to Miami and back a few years ago.  We got to spend a couple hours with Matt and his advice on what to do in Toronto and on travel in general has certainly come in handy.

-Rich hosted us for one night on late notice in Barrie, which we were thankful for.  We had an enjoyable night without ever leaving his house.  The three of us cooked dinner and spoke by the fire for hours.  He was a big baseball fan, so the two of us obviously got along.  I must admit- I was jealous when he told me that he’d been to more ballparks than I have.  A Toronto native, he also provided helpful insight about what to do and where to go once we got to the city.

 

We closed out our first trip to Canada by going to the famed Niagara Falls.  The natural beauty captured our attention for a few hours before we reluctantly retrieved our passports and headed back into the USA.  It is onward through upstate New York before we head back up into Canada, this time to visit Montreal.  In the meantime, we’re considering picking up a French-English dictionary to brush up on our skills- or develop non-existant ones- as we hit Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

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Standard Niagara Falls selfie…we weren’t the only ones

 

-Zach

 

 

 

7 Lessons Learned from 7 Days on the Road

We are seven days into a great road trip.  We’ve seen major cities and national parks and have met some interesting people, both in and out of CrossFit.  Here’s a quick rundown of what I’ve learned so far.

# 7Michigan is actually beautiful despite what Ohioans like myself are taught from infancy.  We had incredible experiences all over the state, from Sleeping Bear Dunes to the pleasant towns of Traverse City, Charlavoix and Petoskey.  Our stay with our friend Kelly was great too; it marked the last time for awhile that we’d see a familiar face so Lexi and I were appreciative of Kelly’s hospitality- and our new Pringles t-shirts.

#6- Canadians are extremely friendly- and that is not just a stereotype.  Everywhere we’ve been so far (Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Barrie), we’ve encountered locals who were more than willing to provide directions, advice and even cookies (thanks to the woman at CrossFit Catalyst).

#5- Don’t leave sandals on top of the minivan.  You won’t see them again.

#4- Eating clean on the road is easier than I expected it to be.  Well, at least with Lexi calling most of the shots regarding our nutrition.  If I were taking this trip by myself I might be dumpster diving by now.  Lexi is pretty talented when it comes to haggling with the vendors at the various farmers’ markets we’ve checked out, and she’s an absolute pro when it comes to grocery store navigation.  Here’s a quick example of how we are on two completely different levels on this one-

At a farmers’ market in Kalamazoo, I set off on my own to find a deal.  I spot Lexi and proudly march toward her with my chest out holding the gorgeous peaches that I purchased for $3.50.  Lexi informs me that she had just bought twice as many peaches as I had, plus raspberries, cucumbers, zucchinis and tomatoes, all for $2.  I’ve let her take the grocery shopping reigns ever since.

#3- Mobility is easy to ignore, at least if you’re me.  Yes, we got a ‘favorite’ from the Supple Leopard himself, Kelly Starrett, but overall I must confess to the fact that I’ve been very undisciplined about taking care of my body on this trip so far.  Getting caught up in chasing the next few mile markers has taken my focus away from doing basic mobility every time we stop the car.  Definitely something to improve upon in the weeks ahead.

#2- I’m not as good as I thought I was.  Now, I hold my own pretty well with my boys Michael and Cale when we throw down at MRCF.  I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses.  However, being exposed to high-level talent at every place we’ve been to so far is showing me that I still have years to go before I can consider myself an elite athlete; five out of the six boxes we’ve visited so far placed an athlete in the 2014 CrossFit Games or 2014 Regionals.  It is the ultimate source of motivation to know that what you want is just ahead of you, you just have to keep going after it.

#1- The CrossFit Community is real.  The support and encouragement that Lexi and I have received early on in this journey has been more than we ever expected.  I said in my first post that this trip was part-social experiment- I wanted to know how people would react to complete strangers coming into their environment to ask questions, take pictures and sweat all over their floor.  Just seven days in, I have a much better idea about that answer than when we started.

 

-Zach

Onward into Ontario

On our way to Sault Saint Marie, Zach and I made sure to spend some time in a few of northern Michigan’s coastal towns including traverse city, Charlevoix, Petoskey, and Harbor springs. I have had the pleasure of visiting these areas before, but for Zach it was his first encounter with some of Michigan’s most charming cities. We both really enjoyed walking around the small shops and harbor areas, and we were even lucky enough to happen upon a small farmers market in Charlevoix. We put together a fun park workout in Petoskey, the benchmark WOD “Annie” followed by an interesting concoction of push-upss, banded good mornings, stair runs, burpies, and an interesting rock throw. After staying the night in Harbor Springs, we made an early morning trek to the boarder.

Here comes the fun part! Crossing the border was definitely a highlight of the trip thus far. Zach and I were eager to jump into a new culture, and definitely anxious to hit our first ‘foreign WOD’.  Our first stop was about ten minutes from the border, and following suit with the pattern of most boxes, it was tucked nicely back betwen a couple of warehouses in an industrial area.

CrossFit Catalyst was a pretty big space with a fun and unique setup. Zach and I both loved the broken in homey feel , but along with being greeted by the smiles and warmth of the coaches and athletes, we were also given the news of their ongoing relocation. The gym was in the process of moving all their equipment to their new space and so coincidently we happened upon a long mobility WOD. We happily obliged (it was definitely overdue).

The workout was the perfect fix after a long car ride with already sore muscles.  Sometimes mobility can get thrown to the wayside during the process of travel, as Zach will write about in his post tomorrow.

Wrapping up at Catalyst, we informed them of our plans to visit CrossFit Sudbury.  Jessica, our coach for the day, told us that they were good friends with the crew at Sudbury and to tell them we had just come from there.  We delivered this news to Adam, owner and head coach of CFS and he was pleased to hear we had chosen Catalyst while we were in ‘the Soo’.

CrossFit Sudbury was a cool box- again, tucked in and almost hidden from public view inside an industrial area.  We had one heck of a time trying to find the place, but once we did we were greeted with a smiling face and encouragement, not unlike the previous five boxes we’ve visited during this adventure.  Adam was great, and after we all exchanged pleasantries he left us to it.  ‘It’ ended up being the following:

-A sort-of benchmark WOD Zach and I have been doing every couple of weeks (5 RFT, 250m row and 4 strict handstand push-ups)

-Snatch strength work

-5 RFT, 5 ring dips 10 push press, 15 front squats

It was a good day with a fairly heavy workload, something we definitely needed after a few days of unconventional workouts.  The atmosphere at CrossFit Sudbury was very cool, although it was most likely way more laid-back than a normal WOD day because it was open gym.  We have to thank owner Adam Ball for letting us drop in and to the members who gave us great advice when it came to both traveling and CrossFit.

We now head south for the Greater Toronto area, something that Zach and I can’t wait to see.  While we are enjoying the lovely scenic drive on Ontario Route 400, T-Dot beckons!

 

-Alexa

Battered by the Bear

As much as the thought of going box to box and discovering what each individual CrossFit affiliate has to offer intrigues us, the opportunity to get outside the gym and apply the same concepts in the environment is just as attractive.  It is human nature to be drawn to the outdoors, to use your body the way it was designed to be used.  A regular CrossFit gym is the furthest thing from boring, don’t get us wrong- we wouldn’t be on this trip if we weren’t having fun every time we heard that clock tick down from three. To truly test yourself against Mother Nature, however, is to accept a challenge that multiplies the hardships endured within the walls of CrossFit affiliates everywhere.

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We had the pleasure of creating our own outdoor WOD today in Petoskey, Michigan at Bear River Park.  We warmed up with “Annie”, mixed in a triplet of push-ups, banded good-mornings and stair ascents, and finished with an interesting partner workout of burpees and ‘rock throws’ with a small boulder we found next to the river.  A fun day, absolutely, but nothing compared to yesterday’s endeavor.

We bid farewell after the 6:00 am class Wednesday to the friendly people at CrossFit 269 in Kalamazoo and drove north toward Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with one thing on our minds: the “Dune Climb”.  The park, named after an Ojibwe legend about a mother bear and her two cubs, sits between the towns of Empire and Glen Arbor in mainland Michigan’s northwest corner.  We’d read briefly about the Dunes and watched a couple of YouTube videos, but to say that we were slightly unprepared for what awaited us would be an understatement.

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Looking back on it, when we charged from the parking lot up the initial giant pile of sand like a couple of crazed guerrilla warriors headed into battle, the people around us were no doubt shaking their heads.  Should we have maybe consulted the map that the friendly park ranger gave us?  In hindsight, yes.  Expecting to see the shimmery waters of Lake Michigan upon reaching the top of that towering dune, we were instead greeted with yet another giant pile of sand.  And then another.  And another.  On and on went this perverse game of chutes and ladders, sand edition.  I remember questioning whether or not I was actually in the Sahara or, on a slightly less dramatic note, the Coachella Valley in California.  It’s hard to think of yourself as still being in Michigan when you’re surrounded by that much exotic beauty; is this really the same state I was in yesterday?

Enthusiasm slightly deflated, we slowed to a casual hiking pace after that first hill and took our time getting out to the water.  The crowd grew sparse the further we went as families and others decided to call it quits and turn around.  Numbering in the hundreds at the start of the trek, by the time we reached the shoreline only a handful of people had finished the job. Tired from the first part of our journey, we took a halftime nap to the sounds of the gentle Lake Michigan waves crashing on the rocks just feet away.

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As any CrossFitters would do, we decided to make the way back a workout for time.  Over the 3-mile-plus haul from parking lot to shore, the sand trails are numbered by twenty-eight markers that help hikers assess their progress.  Lexi started the timer on her iPhone, and with our feet in Lake Michigan we began our partner WOD:  for time, alternating sprints to each marker while your partner rests.  I took off first, backpack strapped tight.  When I reached marker 28, Lexi started.  I set off for marker 27 when she arrived, and so on.  The sprinting lasted for only so long; it slowed to a jogging pace on the infrequent flat spots, a slog on the menacing uphill climbs, and back to a dash on the descents.  It took us just over thirty-eight minutes to complete together, but more than that, it kept us in check.  It was the most humbled I’d ever been and it was without a doubt the hardest workout I’ve ever done.  Think “Murph”, with it’s excruciating longevity and slower tempo, mixed with the fighting-for-air-this-really-fucking-sucks punch to the gut that is “Fran”.  If it was the ‘constantly varied’ CrossFit prescription we longed for, we found it at the Dunes.

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My ego definitely took a hit, and I’m better for it.  I went in with the mindset that the Dune Climb would be a cakewalk, that I was in great shape and I had nothing to worry about, and while I believe we handled Sleeping Bear better than most could, it was the Dunes that had the last laugh.

-Zach and Alexa

Cleans and Crafties in Kalamazoo

RU-DY! RU-DY!

After our fantastic day at CrossFit Naptown in Indianapolis, we weren’t sure what to prepare for going forward.  We wondered, both aloud to each other and silently to ourselves, whether or not to expect the same kind of treatment at every affiliate we were planning to visit.  

We didn’t help ourselves any with my late e-mail to CrossFit South Bend.  I usually try to contact potential boxes at least three days ahead of time to give them a heads up that we’re coming but working out in South Bend was a last minute decision.  Seeing the campus at the University of Notre Dame had been on the list of things to do for a while, and our original plan had us making a quick stop in Irishland then continuing on toward Kalamazoo, where we’d stay for the next two nights.  Alas, plans don’t always work out the way they are supposed to (see my previous blog post).

I emailed CrossFit South Bend late Sunday night and they responded within two hours, encouraging us to come in for a Monday afternoon workout. Coach Amy led us through class: a back squat max strength followed by a sprint series combined with ground-to-overheads with a 45-kb. plate.  It wasn’t the first workout I’d ever made the mistake of overlooking and it probably won’t be the last.  I think my post-WOD exchange with Amy went something like this:

“Holy shit,” I said.

With a shrug and a chuckle, she came back with “Don’t forget to put your plate away.”

Amy was a tough, knowledgable coach and an even better person.  We got to spend about twenty minutes after class sharing our story and just like the coaches at Naptown and KW CrossFit before, Amy showed us a ton of love and support.  Lexi and I continued to shoot the breeze with her and some of the other coaches and athletes at CFSB before hitting the road again, this time across our second state line and into Michigan.  The destination was Kalamazoo, a quaint city known for its’ craft beer and colleges.  There we met our friend and next host Kelly at her incredible apartment downtown.  

Two Nights in the ‘Zoo

Kelly’s gym, CrossFit 269, was just a short drive away, so we hit the noon class while Kelly went to work.  It turned out to be a good day as both Lexi and I PR’d our power cleans (160# and 257#, respectively).  It has been humorous in a way; one of our biggest concerns going into this trip was that we could potentially lose the strength numbers we’ve been building up due to the very real “constantly varied” nature of dropping into different boxes every day.  However, five days and four gyms in, we’ve pressed, squatted, cleaned and snatched for strength.  

We met up with Kelly later and she showed us the crown jewel of Kalamazoo brew, Bell’s Brewery.  A special brew-area, a ‘general store’ and a restaurant/bar known as Eccentric Cafe made up the grounds on an unassuming building near some rugged train tracks just outside of the downtown area.  We sipped on a few Bell’s favorites and enjoyed great conversation before we walked back to Kelly’s for the night.  

A “wake-em-up, shake-em-up” strict press max and mile run for time greeted us at 6:00 am back at 269.  We said good-bye to Kelly and thanked her- and her cat Oliver- for being wonderful hosts before committing to a three-and-a-half hour drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

The journey was long but well worth it, as I’m finding most road trip drives to be.  Sleeping Bear Dunes was beyond beautiful, so much so that we felt it needed its’ own blog post, which we’ll publish tomorrow.  Get ready for an overload of selfies and nature photos from the two of us.  We had an incredible time and felt no shame about documenting it.  

I now sit sipping on a pretty robust stout beer (read: I can’t handle it but I’m doing my best not to make the Bitter Beer Face every time I take a drink) in downtown Traverse City.  We don’t know where we will head tomorrow but my excitement to enter Canada is multiplying the closer we get.  For now we’ll keep being ambitious with our travels and continue to put the miles behind us.  

A Naptown Drop-In

Yesterday I woke up, got out of bed, dressed for the days events and brushed my teeth. All the usual activities of an average human’s life. But what separated me from the normal is that when I woke up I was officially done with day one of my crazy, CrossFitting, CouchSurfing adventure. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a set place to come home to, a steady structure for when plans go astray and life kicks me in my ass. It’s an exhilarating feeling knowing that you now have complete and total control over your own life. The freedom is beyond a breath of fresh air. It’s comparable to the buzz of the clock announcing that another grueling WOD has reached its end. Undeniably though, it’s also as terrifying as listening to your coach announce the WOD in the first place.  From my understanding, people who travel religiously will frequently get asked the question how they got the courage to start in the first place. Now that I have begun an adventure of my own, I think my input to this query would prove to be of some value. Personally, it wasn’t courage that propelled my first steps into this new life, it was pure bewilderment. I had a lack of knowledge that needed filled. The knowledge of travel, movement, and the unfamiliar. And today got me one step further on my quest towards filling this void.

Our first task of the morning, was to make the trek back to our trusty steed of a mini van, in order to ease our minds that it had not been trifled with during the night or towed that morning out of some freak accident of terrible luck. To our satisfaction, there she stood. Not a scratch in sight. After we ousted our packs of any and all irrelevant items for the day, we then armed them with the few items that any loyal CrossFitter would deem imperative. Jump ropes, food, Nanos, light meals, stretch bands, snacks. Not to mention the leftover chicken from the previous nights dinner.

The fitness destination for the day was CrossFit Naptown. Zach and I were the first to arrive for yesterdays 11:00 open gym, and also the last to leave. Being that it was an open gym, we wanted to take full advantage of the equipment provided to us. CF Naptown definitely delivered. With two separate spaces, the box was stacked with C2 rowers, barbells, plates, and plenty of rig space. It was like walking into the CrossFit equivalent of a well refurbished home. But instead of an outdated house, it was a run down warehouse. And instead of brand new furniture and fresh paint, there were black rubber mats and wooden gymnastics rings. It short, it was a beautiful sight. We shook hands with a couple of the coaches and introduced ourselves and our adventure. Following suit with the first gym we dropped in at, the Naptown coaches were just as excited and willing to make a mark in our road trip.

After discussing workout possibilities, Zach and i decided on a deceiving couplet that we found on Naptown’s whiteboard from earlier in the week. Five rounds for time of 15 wall balls (20/14) and 10 clean and jerks (95/65). Wall balls have always been a strength of mine, given that I have some height for a girl, and the clean and jerk weight seemed pretty manageable. Needless to say, after the first round I quickly changed my mind about busting through this workout and fell short of Zach’s finish time by over two minutes (granted, I accidentally used 75 pounds instead of the prescribed 65, oops!). However, the finishing time was by no means the focal point of the day for me. Being that it was open gym, Zach and I were left to complete this workout on our own. No music, no coaches, just the sound of our own exhausted breathing. However, by the third round a voice broke through that silence and caught me off guard in the middle of my wall balls. “Come on Lex! Don’t drop that ball unless you’re done with the round, lets go guys!” The owner of the gym was standing at the far end of the rig, cheering Zach and I on as we struggled through the movements. 

After I finished my last rep of clean and jerks, I dropped the weight and looked up towards the guy that was yelling at me to keep my hands wrapped around the bar. I didn’t need to say anything, nor did I feel obligated to return any favors. But in that moment, my belief in the CrossFit community was solidified. This is not some trend that people will learn, obsess over, and then move past. CrossFit truly is changing the game of fitness, the face of sports, and most importantly the lives of people. Peter Brasovan’s cheers were not motivated by money or glory. He simply demonstrated his love for fitness and coaching when he went out of his way to push Zach and myself towards our highest limits. We weren’t performing a Games or regional status workout and there were no cameras or bright flashes to capture his act of kindness. The only motivation he had was his love for CrossFit and the people that make up this beautiful community. I never had the chance to tell him how much I appreciated the few words of encouragement he yelled, but I truly believe my gratitude would not be a prominent factor in his decision to pass that kindness on again to future drop ins. It’s just something he does. It’s just something WE believe in. 

When an individual believes that they can accomplish greatness, they are well on their way to doing so. When a group shares that belief, they are one step ahead of any individual. But when a community comes together to support a lifestyle, then history is being made right before our eyes. CrossFit is a lifestyle that I have chosen, that Zach has chosen, my family and friends, and coaches like Peter Brasovan have all chosen. It is not simply a means to fitness and better appearances. It changes something within. From the way I think and view situations, to the way I handle daily interactions. I have been changed for the better. And when people act out in kindness and encouragement just as Peter did for Zach and myself, it shows me that I am not alone in this change. 

 

 

-Alexa