Tuesday, September 24, 2013

2013 Adventure WOD Recap

This past weekend marked the second annual Adventure WOD, hosted by CrossFit Anywhere.  This year we teamed up with CrossFit Avalanche to host the event in Lake Tahoe.  The idea was that a canvas as broad and beautiful as Tahoe would offer unlimited opportunities for creative programming while taking the competitors away from the comfort of regular urban life.  A true adventure.  Mother nature didn't disappoint.

All week long we were checking and re-checking the weather forecast.  One day it looked fine, the next they were calling for rain, then it was scattered thunderstorms.  As an event planner, this is a tough situation because you really have no control over the elements.  While we discussed plan A's and plan B's in case things got rough, we were really just hoping and praying the storm held off.

The morning of the event came and it was chilly.  Volunteers and athletes alike were huddling together outside Avalanche, sipping their coffee and listening to standards.  The first task teams would have to perform was a max wall handstand for time.  This would set their heat order for the first 2 events.  Those events were as follows:

5 minute partner AMRAP:
3 muscle ups
10 pullups

EMOTM Strength Ladder:
OH Squat, Front Squat, Back Squat
(Men's bars increase by 20#, Women's bars increase by 10#)

The minimum work requirement for event 1 was 1 muscle up and 10 pullups per person.  Otherwise it didn't matter how the teams split up the work.  At the end of 5 minutes teams moved out of the gym and into the parking lot where the strength ladder awaited them--a line of men's bars and a line of women's bars.  There was no minimum work requirement here, just the sum total of poundage lifted between the two.  We saw some pretty impressive feats of strength during this portion of the day, with Drew Canavero making it to the final bar (315#) and Allisandra Pichelli finishing the ladder entirely (185#).

Right away we could tell that altitude was going to be an X factor all day.  People were sucking wind during the squat complex like they were doing an all out metcon.  Moral of the story: 6000 feet elevation is no joke, even when you're doing 3 squats per minute.

The standings after the first 2 events were then scored and tallied to establish the starting order for the adventure race.  The first place team would start first, second place :30 behind them, 3rd place :30 behind them, and so on until all teams had departed.  The starting line for the race was at the Tahoe Biltmore Hotel at the California-Nevada state line, making this possibly the first interstate CrossFit competition.  No big deal.

Once they began the race, teams would not stop for another 2+ hours.  Their tasks included a 1.1 mile hill run up a fire access road, 50 partner burpees with lateral jump, 2 minutes of partner planks, 2 minutes of crow pose, 2 minutes in a 1 armed handstand, solve a math problem, run 1.1 miles downhill, bike 6 miles, partner paddle board 600 yards, bike 3 miles, 50 partner burpees with lateral jump, 5 wall climbs, 100 kb swings, 75 goblet squats, 50 kb snatches, 25 thrusters, 400 meter sandbag farmers carry, and a 400 meter run to the finish line.  If all that wasn't enough of a challenge for these teams, the skies opened up while they were on their bikes heading towards the paddle board shop and started dumping rain.  The wind was whipping on the water, churning enormous waves onshore and dumping people left and right.  You could see the athletes go from competition mode to survival mode in an instant.  I can only imagine what it must've been like to get out of the water and get back on their bikes in the rain.  And then to swing kettlebells and carry rain-soaked sandbags.  From there on out it was grit and toughness that would get them to the finish line.

When it was all said and done 33 of the 35 teams that started the day, finished the day.  CrossFit Avalanche was a tightly packed sardine jar of shivering bodies and barbecue, as everyone tried to warm and refuel themselves.  People were laughing and crying (depending on the person), but all were incredibly accomplished.  I could not have been more impressed and inspired by the durability and toughness of these athletes.  If there was ever proof that CrosFitters are hard to kill, this was it.

Taking home the gold were Brandon Caskey and Monica Renk of South Tahoe CrossFit.  They were 11th after the first two events and made up ground during the hill run and the partner holds, before taking the lead on the bikes and extending it on the paddle board.  They would never relinquish it.  Second place went to Matt and Chelsey from San Francisco CrossFit, aka the "Purple People Eaters."

A big thank you to all the volunteers who made this event possible.  Some showed up the night before to run through events and all were there at 6:00 am the morning of, standing in the rain counting reps, and running alongside the teams to keep them moving.  Myles and CrossFit Avalanche were incredible hosts, if you've never been to their box it's a must visit.  Finally, the vendor support was amazing as well.  Alpha Strong brought their sandbags into the wild and they held up perfectly.  FitAID was there til the end giving out recovery drinks to depleted athletes and cases to the winners. Men Wielding Fire provided delicious food at the finish line, without which I'm not sure I would've made it home.  In sum, it was a brutal but memorable day that I can't wait to start planning for next year.  Congratulations to all the participants for making it through!!!

Check out our video from the event at the following link:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

AWF Balkans - Day 8

Day 8

Waking up to the sound of an Islamic call to prayer was definitely a first for me.  But that’s daily life in Sarajevo.  Constructed alongside Serbian Orthodox and Catholic churches, there are more mosques in this city than in the capital of Saudi Arabia.  Religious diversity is just one example of the cultural variety the Bosnian capital boasts.  Walking through the old town you could see everything from Western Europe to the Middle East, all under the subtle veil of a war torn past.  To say that you can read the history on people’s faces is an understatement.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say people look overly unhappy, just very serious.  Not exactly surprising when you consider the city was under siege for close to 4 years.  During that time the only way to get people or supplies in and out was through a 1000 meter underground tunnel to the United Nations air strip.  Many of the people still living in the city spent their formative years in that type of environment. 

After visiting a few mosques and walking around the old city, our group headed out to the Olympic Stadium from the 1984 Winter Games.  Here we were set to meet Adi, the owner of the largest CrossFit training facility in Bosnia.  His gym is carved out of the old track and field training facility for the Yugoslavian national teams of the 1980’s.  Talk about a piece of history.  Entering the single story building, I couldn’t help but be reminded of every YouTube video I’ve seen of Russian and Bulgarian lifters.  Non-descript red cinder block walls, simple placards on doors denoting things like “Equipment Room,” and “Showers,” and the no frills feel of a place built to encourage hard work.  Adi led us to the end of the hall where his portion of the facility was located: 2 rooms, 2 squat racks, 2 benches, 4 olympic bars, a 3 person pullup system, a few strategically placed rubber mats, some nautilus rehab equipment, and a classic set of wooden stretching bars mounted to the wall.  Perfect.

After a warm up out on the track that included some running and some pigeon to pigeon transitions, we divided the group up and worked up to 5 rep maxes of back squat and deadlift, respectively.  This was quite the scene, as you can imagine, with 30 people crammed between 4 bars.  But it kept things loud, heated, and intense, he way training should be in an Eastern European Olympic relic.  Between every set of squats and deadlifts, guys had to do 10 chest to bar pullups and girls had to do 5. 
We spent a solid 1.5 hours enjoying this scene, then headed out to the main field for some pictures.  With the word S-A-R-A-J-E-V-O spelled out in enormous letters in the seats across from us, we took turns speed walking 50 meters as fast as possible.  This display soon escalated to a tournament style bracket, with Sunny coming out the victor.  Not exactly a surprise since his legs are twice as long as everyone else’s, but it was a good race. 

From there Adi led our bus across town to an apartment complex that had been destroyed during the war but were still standing.  This is something I had really looked forward to witnessing.  The whole place was riddled with bullet holes and crumbling debris, but we found a way to make it ours.  Everyone finding their own space, we proceeded to do the following Tabata sequence:

Shoulder Taps
Good Mornings
L Sits

It was dusty, dirty, and decrepit everywhere you looked, but there were 30 people there doing something positive with the space.  It doesn’t get any more anywherefit than this.  I can’t wait to see the pictures from this WOD.  

It was a big day of training, so the showers and down time we took before dinner were well deserved.  The plan for tomorrow is to head out into the country to meet up with some of Armann’s Serbian relatives on their farm.  Should be a perfect way to bring today’s urban excursion into relief. 

AWF Balkans - Day 7

Day 7

Stepping out your front door and having the Adriatic Sea to welcome you is an experience few have.  Since Day 7 would be the last our group enjoyed this luxury, we decided to take advantage of it one more time.  Immediately after breakfast we met by the water and did a swim sprint workout:  Swim 50 meters every 2 minutes on the minute for 20 minutes.  We divided the group into halves (stronger swimmers/weaker swimmers), and started on opposite ends of the 50 meter distance.  Group 1 went on the even minutes, Group 2 went on the odd.  This kept the course relatively clear so people weren’t swimming over each other in an effort to stay close to shore. 

After the workout everyone had free time to enjoy the beach as they saw fit.  Jenn and I chose to lay around on the beach chairs with a group of others, but many decided to go out and try the inflatable obstacle course the hotel had set up a short ways offshore.  This was essentially a balloon bounce house, with jumps, ropes, and handles scattered throughout.  The TV show “Wipeout” came immediately to mind as I watched our group struggle, flail, and eat it all over the course.  Definite comedy for those of us watching from shore, but an exhausting workout for those directly involved.  Just goes to show you don’t always need to be “training” to get a work out.

Just before noon we loaded onto the bus and set our sights on Bosnia.  Although it was certainly sad to say goodbye to Croatia and her infinitely beautiful waters and coastline, I have to say I was excited to see the interior of the Balkans.  So much history from the Yugoslavian civil war is still fresh and palpable there and I knew our group would find it interesting. 

As we drove across the border the first thing I was struck by was the landscape.  Huge mountains and forested hillsides, beautiful rivers and cliffs… not exactly what I had pictured.  For some reason the image in my head was something much flatter and desolate.  Chalk it up to ignorance I guess.  Throughout the drive Armann got on the microphone and explained some details about the conflict, including the cultural peculiarities of Bosnia-Herezgovina.  Because this region was home to a large population of Bosnian Muslims, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs, it was where the majority of the fighting took place.  To a large degree, each nationality fighting for independence was defined by its religion, so mosques and cathedrals were easy targets for bombings.  And nowhere else in the Balkans was there such a high concentration of all three denominations than in present day Bosnia. 

We saw the lasting effects of the fighting at our first stop in Mostar.  Mostar is a small town in the hills that boasts a singular crown jewel: it’s bridge.  A beautifully arched stone structure connecting both sides of the river, this bridge was destroyed by bombs and mortars during the war.  We stopped and watched a video detailing the process of rebuilding that took place and couldn’t help but wonder how they did it.  Walking around the town you could feel the poverty.  The walls still boast bullet holes, many of the buildings have not been bothered to be repaired from explosions, and the street vendors are all huddled onto a single stretch of cobblestones that lead tourists to the bridge.  While eating lunch we could observe locals enticing foreigners to jump the 80 foot bridge for a fee.  Apparently it’s common for the local diving club to raise money by coaching tourists on how to safely enter the water from such a height.  Naturally, our group only a few days removed from a day filled with cliff jumping in the Adriatic, the buzz over lunch was about who would jump the bridge.  It wound up that only Sven, Sunny, and I were willing to pay the 25 Euros to take the plunge, but boy was it worth it!!!

Before we could jump we had to go below with the diving coach and do a series of practice jumps from a 10 meter platform he had set up down river.  In severely broken English, he coached us to keep our knees bent and relax our arms like a bird’s wings until just before impact.  At this moment we were to violently extend our legs and tuck our arms to our sides, breaking the water and entering vertical.  While this is not the first time I’ve thought of these things, I’ll admit the practice jumps helped get my nerve up.

As we climbed back up the rocks to the bridge I noticed our entire group had found seats along the shore to watch and take pictures.  I mention this because they looked a whole lot smaller from the bridge.  I was the first to jump, so I climbed the ledge (a 8 inch piece of stone was we had to stand on once over the rails), got my balance, and tried to think of nothing but the practice jumps.  If you ever find yourself in this position, it’s important you don’t waste time on the edge.  Just go for it.  And I did, floating through the air for over 2 seconds of blistering freefall before entering the water.  I’d love to describe exactly what it was like, but it happened quite fast.  Perhaps the videos will do it better justice.  Sunny and Sven followed soon after, each of us emerging unharmed and exhilarated.  And we had to have the biggest, loudest cheering section Mostar’s seen in quite some time. 

By this time it was nearly 6:00 pm and we had to be getting on to Sarajevo.  Only 3 days left to go…

AWF Balkans - Day 6

Day 6

It was with mixed emotion that we left the island of Brac this morning.  Even though there are a lot of amazing things to come on this trip, it’s hard to leave a place as beautiful and as comfortable as this one.  The coastal islands that Croatia boasts along its shores could easily consume an entire vacation.  Perhaps the next AWF adventure to this part of the world will take place on a series of yachts hopping from place to place. 

But for now we set our sights on Dubrovnik, the crown jewel of the Croatian coast.  We made our way across the island and to the ferry docks by 9:00 am to try and catch the earliest transport, but it turned out there were earlier birds than us.  While we were able to board the ferry no problem, our bus was forced to wait until the 11:00 am slot when there were less cars.  This meant we had a few hours to kill on the other side before we could start the drive to Dubrovnik, so we decided we might as well get a workout going. 

In teams of 3 we completed 500 walking lunges, 300 situps, 200 partner rows, 100 inchworm pushups, and 400 meters gurney carry.  In all elements more than one team member could be working at a time.  We tried to team up according to body weight, but in certain instances it just wasn’t possible.  I, for example, was teamed up with Jenn and Kelly… not exactly an easy gurney carry for the two of them, so we rotated in such a way that I was rarely carried. 

The location for this workout was right on the edge of the port, so we were essentially training in the shadows of huge cruise ships and ocean liners.  As always I was impressed with the willingness of the group to get their hands dirty.  Many of us were without training shoes because it was an unplanned stop, but there was no hesitation to do everything barefoot.  Everyone was working hard and smiling the whole time, so it couldn’t have been that bad.

After the workout we split up for a short while to grab lunch, then reconvened on the dock to greet the bus.  We boarded and made our way down the coast toward Dubrovnik.  The route we chose to take wound back and forth along the water and took us through many small beach towns.  Every one of these appeared more idyllic and quainter than the last, reinforcing the desire to sail the coastline. 
As we approached Dubrovnik, Armann explained to us that no automobiles were allowed in the old part of town (the old center of Dubrovnik is contained within an enormous castle wall overlooking the sea).  This maintains the feel it must have had while also preventing insane traffic jams.  The streets in the old city are more like alleys and the building rise vertically so that you don’t often see exactly where you are going.  In a sense, you feel a bit like in a maze, but because it is so small there’s not a real risk of getting lost. 

The first thing we did upon arrival was take the tour of the castle wall.  This was probably the closest thing I can imagine to the Great Wall of China, on a much smaller scale of course.  Looking out over the city from above you can see a number of churches, squares, and restaurants, but for the most part Dubrovnik appears residential.  Clothes are hanging out on lines, satellite dishes dot the rooftops, and although the architecture is 100% stone and ancient in appearance, it’s obvious that these places are “lived in.”  While touring the wall one can help but look over the edge.  Hundreds of feet straight down to the Adriatic below make this city practically impregnable from sea.  But the large hillside to it’s back offers a much simpler and direct route in.  During the Balkan Wars in the early 1990’s Serbian forces camped out on the hill above Dubrovnik and shelled the city over and over again.  Imagining this scene was frightening.

We also noticed a number of seaside bars just outside the wall where patrons could have a drink, take a dip, and warm themselves on the rocks.  Looked like a great way to spend the evening.  Somewhere around the halfway point of the walk, Denny, Donovan, and I took turns trying to scale the interior ledge of the wall using extremely amateur Parkour techniques.  This was our version of storming the castle.
After the tour we found a nice place for dinner and went our separate ways to explore the town.  Jenn and I visited a few galleries while others popped into some bars.  One of the coolest things we came across was a public square beneath one of the churches where a group of restaurants had set out chairs for their patrons to listen to live music.  A group of 4 were playing acoustic guitar singing “Ain’t no Sunshine when she’s gone,” by Bill Withers.  So cool.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

AWF Balkans - Day 5

Day 5
The group awoke eagerly for the day’s events, because they had been so mysteriously concealed the night before.  We walked them down to the harbor after breakfast and onto the pier, where they were met with 3 military grade speedboats and their captains.  The reaction was a mix of fear and excitement, but all were surprised.  Never have we done something this extreme on an AWF trip, but thanks in large part to our friend Bojan from Belgrade, we were able to make this possible. 

The plan was to take the group island hopping out in the Adriatic, hopefully finding some cool places to climb and cliff jump along the way.  Our guides began by giving a brief safety demonstration, then we were out on the water spinning donuts and speeding along at 30+ knots.  It should be noted that while these boats are very durable and extremely fast (they have large rubber tubes on the outside and run up to 600 horsepower engines) they leave a little to be desired in the shock absorbing department.  As the waves got bigger towards the middle of the sea, so did the impacts and the spray, leaving some among us with bruises on their legs and soaked to the skin.  Small price to pay for what was in store.

Our first stop was the blue caves, a tourist attraction the likes of which can only be seen in 1 other place in the world: the island of Capri.  Until 1:00 pm the sunlight beams up from underneath the water and casts the entire cave in an electric blue.  A few meters beneath the surface you can see natural rock bridges connecting the walls.  Apparently you used to be able to swim in and around these but it has since been outlawed in an effort to better preserve this treasure. 

After the blue cave, we shot across to the island of Vis for lunch.  This place is only accessible to tourists in the summer because of the inclement weather that pounds her shores in the winter.  The waves crash so high in the colder months that the population drops to a mere 200 people.  Thankfully for us the harbor was still readily accessible and we were able to find a restaurant within walking distance.  There couldn’t have been more than 30 buildings in the whole town, making this the quaintest experience we’ve had thus far.  The whole group ate local burritos, filled with beef, rice, peas, beans, pepper sauce, and cheese, then washed them down with waters and beers.  Impressively enough, this place was serving my favorite beer: Leffe Brown.  I took it as a sign and ordered one.

When everyone had had their fill we re-boarded the boats and made our way along the coast of the island to look for places to climb.  You really can’t go anywhere in Croatia without noticing the cliffs, but this stretch was particularly riddled with them.  Soaring rock faces that extend vertically from the water were everywhere we looked, bringing to mind every movie I’ve ever seen about ancient Greeks and Romans sailing through these waters. 

Our guides assured us that there were better places to climb and took us to a secluded beach tucked back in a cove away from the wind.  As soon as we entered the cove I knew we were in the right place.  2 enormous yachts had dropped anchor in the perfect water, along with a handful of sailboats and smaller craft.  The beach itself was made of smooth white rock, and partially enclosed by the remains of an ancient cave wall that had since fallen away.  High cliffs surrounded the main cove and dropped straight down to the water below.  We eyed up one that looked suitable for jumping, dropped anchor, and started swimming towards it.  Denny and I were the first to make our way to the top and took our time scoping out the best place to jump from.  As always seems to happen, the view from the top was a little different than the view from below.  But with such a clear shot to the water and such beautiful scenery around, there was no turning back.  I took the first leap, and was followed by Denny, Sunny, Sven, and Ryan.  Soon after the line of people climbing the rocks grew longer and longer, until it seemed like our whole party was up on the cliff waiting for their turn. 

Perhaps the most impressive jump of the day was turned in by Marlyn Morris.  She and Erica were the first women to make the climb, and I thought there was no way in hell they would jump.  This is a 60 foot cliff we’re talking about here, not your average diving board/cannonball spot.  But Mar got out to the ledge, gently let go of Sunny’s hand and did it.  She bobbed up a mixture of shock and happiness, and, aside from a few bruises, unharmed.  Erica followed her off less than a minute later.  I was dumbfounded at what I was watching.  I’ve probably seen 50 girls with more jumping experience than these get to the edge, panic, and back down.  The same goes for equally as many guys.  Something about the situation we found ourselves in today lent itself toward an increase in the bravery and/or trust of our group.  Maybe it was the location, maybe it was seeing so many others jump before, or maybe it was the momentum of what we’d already done to that point, but something was enabling these people to take risks they otherwise wouldn’t even consider. 

After a brief spell on the beach and climbing on the rocks, we pulled out of the cove and continued down the island towards “Green Cave.”  This was the most spectacular rock formation I have ever seen in person.  With a single column running down the center, the cave appeared to have 2 entrances.  Each of these were elegantly arched about 40 feet above the water, almost as if they were planned or built.  Inside the cave there was a single hole in the roof about 3 feet across that allowed air and sun in like a skylight.  We spent the next hour swimming in the water (under the water the contrast of dark inside the cave and blue outside the cave was incredible), jumping off the arches, and taking pictures of both.  Jenn and I even made a tandem jump to close things out. 

By this time is was nearly 4:00 and we still had an hour boat ride back to Brac across an increasingly choppy sea.  I won’t waste too much time describing that ride, but suffice it to say that it was a test of fitness to stay on the boat and in one piece.  What it must take to be a sailor in these waters, I’m not sure I want to know. 

We wrapped up day 5 with a private dinner at a secluded restaurant called Moby Dick’s.  Here we ate pizza, pork loin, and hamburger steaks, followed by crepes for desert.  Definitely not our healthiest meal of the trip, but it was delicious and well deserved after the day we’d had. 

It’s hard to believe that the trip is only halfway over at this point.  So much has happened that it’s difficult to process how anything else we do could top or improve upon it.  But that, as they say, is why they play the games!!!

AWF Balkans - Day 4

Day 4

Day 4 began with a 20 minute yoga session, courtesy of Kimberly Wilson.  Everyone was still feeling the effects of the first few days so we thought a good stretch was the right call before hopping in the bus for the 3 hours it would take to arrive in Split.  Considering there were quite a few among us who had never done yoga before, this went surprisingly well.  Sun salutations, flipping your dog, a few warrior poses thrown in… and the group was feeling good and limber heading back on the road.

Our final destination for the day was Bol, a city on the island of Brac.  In order to get there we needed to hop on a ferry in Split (2nd largest city in Croatia) and ride it across the channel.  This gave us a little downtime in Split to walk around the harbor and explore the local vibe.  While definitely more industrial than Ljubljana, Split still felt relatively warm.  The locals there were not stand offish or rude, but seemed to welcome the tourist element as part of life there.  I took this opportunity to purchase some water shoes from a street vendor.  As a small group of us were negotiating prices on the shoes, we were observed by another portion of our group.  This got them thinking that maybe they too should get some water shoes.  After all, maybe I knew something they didn’t know…  Time would tell they were right. 

The ferry ride itself took less than an hour.  Once on the other side we began driving up over the top of the island in search of a good location to train.  Just past the crest of the peak we found such a place.  An old rock quarry just of the highway caught our eye and we convinced the bus driver it was safe enough to pull over.  In the quarry were piles and piles of indigenous rock, along with an enormous mound of slabbed marble in all different shapes.  The workout for the day was a Partner Diane, where each team had to complete 42 deadlifts, 42 handstand pushups, 30 deadlifts, 30 handstand pushups, and 18 deadlifts, 18 handstand pushups.  For the deadlifts each team had to find a rock of suitable size and weight—not necessarily easy to find the perfect shape—and then move it from ground to waist using all the same criteria for a typical deadlift.  For the handstand pushups, partners could spot each others legs and feet. 
Sven and I teamed up for this one and found a rock that loosely resembled the “Africa Stone” that they used to use in World’s Strongest Man.  I found that gripping this thing was the biggest challenge of the workout.  Perhaps that’s the point of training this way: discovering the unintended obstacle.  We broke the sets up in 10’s and 11’s the first time through, 10’s and 5’s the second time through, and 9’s for the final.  There was no real “easy part” here, other than the rest you got while the other guy did deadlifts.  Even spotting the handstand pushups was tough because your shoulders were already tired from doing them yourself. 

As everyone was finishing it was evident how much people enjoyed the workout from the huge smiles on their faces.  Before leaving we gathered up the stones and built them into a large monument with the letters “AWF 2013” in front of it.  We even found a chunk of an old column to balance on top. 

Once down into Bol and all checked in to our apartments, we rented bikes for the group and set them loose on the town.  2 hours to ride and explore before reconvening for dinner.  Some rode all the way to neighboring towns, others hit the beach for some beers.  Denny, Kim, Uyen, Chris, Jenn, and I made our way to a secluded camp spot with a large island dock and took turns jumping off into the sea.  It was our first taste of the Adriatic and it was amazing!  The water is extremely salty, but so clear and blue that you can literally see to the bottom without goggles.  I would later decide that the reason for the saltiness is the types of rocks that line the coast here.  They are nearly porous from the erosion into the sea, making the water extremely dense with minerals like magnesium.  The benefit of this to the swimmer is that soaking in these waters is nearly the same as taking an Epsom Salt bath. 
Once back with the group we took dinner at a place right on the harbor, where we ate skewered chicken and two types of Mediterranean sausage.  Again, amazing.  The food here has been incredible.  I will miss it when we’ve gone. Before heading to bed on Day 4, we set the stage for Day 5 by telling everyone only that we would be out from 8:30 am until after 5:00 pm.  What we’d be doing for those 8+ hours, remained a mystery.

AWF Balkans - Day 3

Day 3

After the Lake Bled excursion and the long night at the concert, everyone was moving pretty slow this morning.  We had a long way to go and our first border to cross, however, so we were out and moving by 8:00 am.  The bus was still buzzing from the previous days activities:  people were sharing pictures, re-telling stories, and reminiscing on what could only be described as an unbelievable day.  But, as is always the case with these trips, the best was still yet to come.

Driving from Slovenia to Croatia was not a difficult route, but it did give us an education in the lasting tensions between countries in this region.  Because the war in Yugoslavia is still fresh in the minds of many people here, border patrol takes their job extremely seriously.  The co-ed pair of officers boarded our bus, which by this time was a mess of pillows, criss-crossed legs, and open mouth slumber, and were not impressed.  They yelled “Border Control!!!” as loudly as possible to shake some urgency into our group.  Everyone gingerly began searching for their passports in carry on luggage, but not in a timely enough manner for the two officers waiting for us at the front of the bus.  They chose to wait outside for us to get our affairs in order, when we discovered that 4 people had left their passports underneath the bus, and 3 had not received stamps at their port of entry.  Immediately, the officers went into lockdown mode, threatening to detain Denny, Kim, and Ali if they could not produce proof of their travel itinerary.  Armann (our guide and translator) assured us that this was typical of border control agents, and it was a suitable introduction to the way order is kept in the Balkans.  Thankfully, boarding passes and an apology were enough to keep the train moving.

Less than an hour later we arrived at our accommodations—a roadside bed and breakfast that looked straight out of a storybook.  There were beautiful red flowers in every windowsill and impeccably kept rooms inside.  It felt like we were staying at some high end ski chalet. 
After enough time to unpack our things, we hopped back on the bus and travelled a few more mile to Plitvics Lakes National Park, the Yosemite of Croatia.  Essentially, this place is a series of lakes that feed into one another through a network of waterfalls and streams, all of which are dutifully protected and continue to glow with the most brilliant colors I have ever seen.  Something about the limestone and dolamite rock formations that house the lakes give them these colors, ranging from turquoise to mint green.  The paths around the lakes were constructed in a very similar pattern to those we walked yesterday in Vintgar, reminding me of something out of Peter Pan.  Wooden planks of all different shapes nailed together to form bridge after bridge after bridge across the many waterways in Plitvics, allowing us to literally walk across the water. 

Throughout the day we stopped to take many pictures in front of waterfalls and enormous cliff faces, but never were able to find enough space to do a group workout.  Originally I had hoped to hang some rings and do skill practice with the group, but that simply wasn’t possible in this place.  Instead, we decided to hold off until we left the park and were rewarded with a high arching path above the local road just beyond the gates.  Since we had over an hour until the bus was scheduled to pick us up, we hung the rings and got to work.  Half of the group was working on ring swings, muscle ups, and dips, while the other half was practicing handstands, handstand walking, and various static yoga poses.  This workout quickly took on a playful tone as people were trying to one-up each other in different skills and learning things that were completely new.  Some highlights included Erik Hayes holding a handstand for approximately 6 months, Jenn Santich showing everyone how to stag, and Sven confidently (aggressively) spotting people on back flips.  As one might expect, we had quite the gathering of spectators gawking at us. 
Yet again, dinner was amazing.  Traditional soup to start with meat and fish to follow, all served outdoors in the courtyard.  The ambience just keeps getting better.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

AWF Balkans - Day 2

Day 2

After a good night's rest everyone was ready to rock and roll Saturday morning.  We were up early and on the road just after 8:00, heading towards Lake Bled for the day.  Thanks to the guys from a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/CFCELJE/312087588827267?hc_location=timeline">CFCE
we were met at the lake by 6 bars and 400 kg of bumper plates.  Nothing like a lakeside Oly session to kick off the trip!!!
In groups according to strength we built up to our heaviest sets of the following complexes:  hang snatch+full snatch+oh squat, and hang clean+full clean+front squat.  As always in the case on these adventures, many people PR'd their lifts in spite of the uneven ground, slippery footing, etc.  The energy of the group and the momentum of the experience propelled them beyond what they could previously do.

Immediately after we stripped down and jumped in the lake for part 2 of the workout: 600 meter swim to island.  In the middle of Lake Bled there is a tiny island, home to a single church.  Our task was to swim the distance, climb the steps, and ring the bell.  To give everyone a proper appreciation for this scene, picture water that's bluer than blue, an island and church that look straight out of a fairy tale, and 30+ people paddling towards it at once.  Surreal doesn't begin to describe it.  The boat rental people must have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

Once we made it to the island (yes, we all made it), we spent a few minutes walking around and checking things out.  A few people went to the bell tower and made a wish as is custom, while the rest hung out in the courtyard and cooled off.  Then it was back in the water for the swim home.  As soon as we reached the other side we loaded everything up and headed into town for some lunch.  As has been the case thus far wherever we've eaten, the food was phenomenal.  Big portions, delicious choices, and reasonable prices all around.  Win.

For our afternoon workout we headed toward Vintgar Canyon.  Some of the locals had recommended it as a place to see, but without much description of what exactly it was we were seeing.  Aside from taking the wrong path into the canyon (we ran an extra mile or so), what we saw was straight out of the Goonies.  The river had cut a very narrow and deep path through the rock and spilled its way over fall after fall until culminating in one final waterfall at the bottom.  All along this winding waterway, the park service has constructed a network of bridges and pathways built from wooden planks.  Every turn was more beautiful than the last.  At the bottom of the falls we took the opportunity to jump off the rocks and test the waters... which were freezing.  But so worth it.  This goes down as another in a long line of unintended gems.

To cap off the night we ate a traditional Slovenian meal of mushroom soup, salad, and chicken cutlets w/ potatoes, then headed to Tivoli Park for a benefit concert.  DJ Umek was the performing act, I'd never heard of him but 20,000 Eastern Europeans seemed to know him pretty well.  For 3 hours we drank, chatted, and danced our way to from the front of the stage in what can only be described as a Ljubljana rave.  Thankfully no one went missing during this experience, but it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Needless to say everyone was wiped out by the end of this.  Max effort snatches and cleans, 1200 meter of swimming, a 5 mile hike through the land before time, and an all night rave downtown... what more can you fit in a day?

AWF Balkans - Day 1

Day 1

So excited that this trip is happening!!!  It feels like we were just in the planning stages back in Iceland and here we are in Slovenia a year later.  Crazy how the time flies. 

Everyone arrived in Ljubljana Friday and by 3:00 pm we were all on our way downtown for a little exploration.  Right away I noticed that Ljubljana was much smaller than expected.  In fact, it’s the smallest capital in continental Europe at 260,000 inhabitants.  This made things feel extremely manageable while walking around.  Like most traditional European cities, Ljubljana is built around a castle.  Naturally, we made a beeline for it. 

Ljubljana Castle sits atop a high hill overlooking the city and within a series of man made canals that were probably moats at one time.  From the top of the castle walls we could see clear across to the Austrian Alps on one side and the Gorski Kotar mountains on the other.  From up there the countryside revealed itself as densely wooded…60% of the land in Slovenia is still forest.  And with only 2 million people inhabiting a land mass of 50,000 square kilometers you can imagine how remote some of these forests can appear.

As we were exploring the castle walls we came across 200 foot stretch of stone slab that looked suitable for exercise.  All 30 of us lined up facing the cliff below and completed 5 burpees, 10 pushups, and 15 air squats every 2 minutes on the minute for 22 minutes.  We alternated minutes so that half of us were working while the other half were resting, giving us a little more room to maneuver.  At first it seemed like this wasn’t challenging enough for the group, but by the end of the sequence there were only a handful of people finishing the sequence in their minute. 

Afterwards we headed down to the center square and walked around the immediate area.  The canals create a network of waterfront areas dotted with typical cafes and restaurants.  The streets are narrow and cobbled and the architecture has somewhat of an Austrian feel with high pitched roofs and flat, patterned molding across the face.  For a major capital, Ljubljana feels as small and manageable a city as I can recall.  Everything is walkable and the circular layout around the castle keeps you from getting lost.  All in all, I love this place. 

We ate at on of the many restaurants along the main canal, the owner cutting our group a nice deal on filet, ribeye, and chicken dishes.  The food was excellent!  Tender meat, buttered potatoes, grilled vegetables, and good wine.  What more can you ask for?  With Sven leading the charge, the group went on the hunt for ice cream following dinner.  Didn’t take long seeing that there were Gelato stands every few hundred feet.  Sven stacked 5 scoops in a single cup, ranging from mango to cookies and cream.  About par for the course.