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

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