Thursday, February 27, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand Day 9

It felt really good not to be moving on to another town after Day 8.  Queenstown was proving to be every bit as exciting and fun as it's reputation, but nothing we had done so far would prepare us for the rush of Day 9.

We loaded up the group early and caught the first bus of the day to Shotover Canyon for the adrenaline junky's dream:  the canyon swing.  And not just any canyon swing, the world's highest canyon swing.  109 meters above the river below (that's close to 400 feet for all you un-metrics our there) with a 60 meter free fall.  The rig they use is very similar to a bungee jump, except that the cord isn't attached to a fixed object like a bridge or tower at the top.  Instead its suspended from a wire cable that is strung across the canyon, so that as you hit the bottom of the bungee you begin to swing along the cable like an enormous slingshot.  Eventually gravity catches up with you and you start swinging back and forth until you settle to a hanging position and they reel you back in.  If it sounds crazy, it kind of is.

The crew that works at Shotover Canyon are diligent with their safety precautions but also do a great job of keeping groups relaxed and having fun.  You're offered all sorts of jump styles while preparing for your turn, ranging from a simple jump to using props like chairs, tricycles, and ropes.  There's really very little you're not allowed to do while jumping off their ledge.  One member of our group even took advantage of the naked jump, earning her 2nd jump free of charge.

As far as the feeling you get while taking the leap… it's pretty intense.  Free falls are always exhilarating, but I've never fallen for that long with such a lack of control.  Usually when you're jumping of cliffs into water you're thinking about your landing.  With this you're just trusting that the cable holds you the way it's supposed to.

By the end of our morning, all but one among us had done the swing.  We hurried home for a quick lunch then got back on the bus to make our appointment with the Jet Boat pilot.  That's right, Jet Boating.  This had to be, without doubt, one of the most impressive feats of skill I've ever seen.  We were pinning the throttle in inches of water, swerving around boulders and cliff edges, while doing donuts.  Obviously these guys are professionals and do this all day long, but I still swore we were going to crash every third turn.  I don't really even understand the physics of how we could maneuver in such shallow water.  Pair that with the road we had to take just to get to the boat launch (think bolivian death road), and I can't imagine frying a tourists nerves any more.

To round out the day we found a staircase right in the middle of Queenstown and hit a bear crawl, lunge, pushup, sprint workout as a group.  Crawling down stairs is always a great way to train the entire body in my opinion, and most Crossfitters haven't ever done it.  So I like to throw it in and see the reaction I get.  It ended up being one of the toughest WODs of the trip thus far, and had everyone ready to hit the town that night.  After everything we'd done that day, I couldn't blame them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand Day 8

Day 8 began with a free morning to explore the town, then a 1:00 swim WOD in the deepest lake on the South Island, Lake Wakatipu.  Because of its depth, this lake never really warms up, even in the heart of summer. So there were a few among us that toed the water a little more nervously than they did on Day 1 in Auckland.  The workout was intended to be 3 rounds of a buoy swim (about 200 meters), 5 pull-ups (tree branch or jungle gym), 10 pushups, 15 squats.  Very simple as written, but the temperature of the water made it far more challenging.  As the WOD got going a few people had to divert to a closer buoy, just to be safe.  The best part of this workout was easily the location.  Queenstown proper was on the opposite shore, and the mountains climbed high around us, throwing reflections on the aqua blue water.  The sun was out and beautiful, as it had been our entire trip, so even the cold water wasn't too much of a bother.

After drying off, we headed up the hill a short ways to CrossFit Queenstown for some heavy front squats and deadlifts.  We only had an hour before the next class came in so we limited ourselves to just those lifts.  Surprisingly, there were more than a few PR's from the group.  This has been something of a trend on AWF trips, and I have to think it has something to do with the absence of normality.  Sometimes routine creates pressure to perform, whereas the absence of routine removes that pressure.  Think about it… If you're in an unknown situation, you're not worried about performing up to some standard, you're just excited for the opportunity to perform.  Not a bad mental state to be in if you ask me.

We wrapped up the day with a trip to the top of the Queenstown gondola and an hour or so on her street luge course overlooking the valley.  No matter how fun you think this sounds, you have no idea.  The simplest contraption one could imagine (handlebars that control the brakes by levering forward or backward), and gravity.  The track was wide enough for 3 cars to fit side by side, and there were steep drops, sharp turns, tunnels, and chances to get airborne.  For our money, this may have been the best value of the entire trip.  We were racing, bumpering, and screaming down the course just like kids at a 10 year old birthday party.  The video footage says it all.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand Day 7

We were up and out the doors early again on Day 7, heading for Fox Glacier to see what that type of hike is all about.  It's not everyday that you get the chance to walk on a piece of ice thats been around longer than the human race.

After a safety briefing and boot fitting, we hopped on the bus with the guides and made our way to the terminal face of the glacier.  It was about a 2 mile walk from the car park, during which time our guide made it abundantly clear that the cliff walls around us were very loose and could crumble down upon us at any moment.  They didn't, thankfully, but it certainly added to the adventure of it.

Once at the glacier's edge, things slowed down considerably.  The guides in front of us were meticulously cutting and re-cutting staircases into the ice so their groups wouldn't slip and fall.  All well and good, but every guide was acting as if they were the first ones to carve the stairs.  The result was that we wound up doing a lot more standing than hiking.  Even so, just physically being on the glacier, watching the water flowing through it, and seeing just how powerful nature can be was worth the trip.

Once off the glacier, we made a quick turnaround and got out on the road towards Queenstown.  It was our last major driving day of the trip and I could tell everyone was getting a little bit of cabin fever from being stuck in the van so much.  That being said, we had to get over the pass by 6:00 pm or we'd be stuck on the wrong side of the mountains until morning.  So we hustled our way across and then stopped at a random pull out to stretch our legs.  What we found was a hidden gem.  Nestled not far from the road was a waterfall feeding into a small creek.  This may as well have been a playground the way our group was scampering up it.  People took turns ice bathing in the pools and doing handstands on the shore until we were ready to get back on the road.

Our last stop before Queenstown was CrossFit Wanaka, who graciously opened their doors to us for an additional hour so we could train.  We did 1RM split jerks, then a 21 minute AMRAP that included 5 shoulder to overheads, 10 sit-ups, and 15 wall balls.  Every 7 minutes we did a 600 meter hill run.  What a burner this turned out to be.  I looked around the room at one point and it felt like everyone was on their knees gasping for air.  Just what we needed to carry us the last hour on the road.

Check the video footage from Day 7 below.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand Day 6

Day 6 was our first of 2 major travel days.  We needed to cover roughly 500 kilometers through national forests, coastline, and mountains in a single day, easily our roughest road trip thus far.  But it was a necessary evil for us to get where we wanted to go the next morning: Fox Glacier.  

The plan was rough draft at best: drive a few hours, take a break when we found something cool to do/a great place for a workout.  Sometimes spontaneity and embracing the unexpected is the only way to stay upbeat when you're trapped in a  car for 7+ hours.  Our first stop was at a historic swing bridge in the Buller River Gorge.  This was a cool excursion that was more novelty that anything else- a 200 foot bridge built out of thin cables, kind of like something you'd see in Indiana Jones.  So we all walked the plank and got across, then took a quick hike through the surrounding forest and beach to stretch our legs.  While it was a very beautiful portion of river, the most memorable part of this particular stop were the sand flies.  Everyone got eaten alive in the 30 minutes we were there, and could be seen scratching their ankles, legs, and backs for the rest of the trip because of it.  Needless to say we picked up some Off! at the next supermarket.

After another few hours on the road we pulled off at the underpass of an old rail bridge and did some free climbing.  We used the I beams under the bridge itself as hand holds, but also were able to string up the rings for muscle ups, skin the cats, toes to rings, you name it.  This was our best opportunity thus far to do some legitimate skill practice on the rings so we took advantage.

While there we squatted logs and boulders, and even did some stone to shoulders.  Different animal when the stone isn't perfectly round, let me tell you.  This turned into a 2 hour workout, and it was a blast!  Super creative and resourceful, just like these trips are meant to be.

On the last leg of our drive we were blessed with one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. EVER.  Every few minutes the colors got deeper and deeper, to the point where we simply had to pull off the shoulder and admire them.  We took pictures in front of a random lake and did our best to capture the moment.  Soon after we were in Franz Joseph, a stones throw from Fox Glacier, and getting ready for bed.  Another big travel day lay in front of us, but with Queenstown as our destination, who could complain?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand Day 5

We boarded the inter islander ferry and said goodbye to the North Island.  This also meant that we were leaving behind our van and trailer and picking up a new one on the other side.  This was a little nerve racking since it meant we were depending on the rental agency to have everything prepared and ready when we landed, but because the cost of bringing the van with us on the ferry was so high, we didn't have much choice.

Once on the ferry we scouted a comfortable spot for home base, then broke the group into two halves for a workout on the main deck.  Death by burpees.  Only, because the deck was wet and disgusting, we did the burpees without pushups.  This was the second time an Anywherefit trip has trained topside on a ferry, and it proved every bit as fun as the first.  In this instance we had a section of the deck all to ourselves, as it had been divided into seating and standing areas.  Because there wasn't much to see so early in the trip, no one wanted to stake a claim to the standing area.

For the most part, this WOD went as expected: everyone was cruising through the early rounds, then ground to a halt once things got into the higher teens.  A few were able to make it to the twenties, and Sven took top marks with 25 rounds.  The coolest part of this workout was the elements.  The boat was rocking and the wind was spraying mist everywhere.  Luckily for us the sun was also out and shining, making the wetness a little more bearable.

After we made it across and got our bags from the carousel, we made our way to the rental agency to discover our van was not yet ready.  We were told it was still on it's way back from a neighboring town and that we'd have to wait another hour and a half.  So we took the opportunity to walk around town and grab some lunch at a local spot.  Right away, we could tell the difference between the North and South islands.  The marina we had left in Wellington didn't hold a candle to the one in Picton where we now found ourselves.  Crystal blue water, tree covered mountains, and an easier vibe were among the things that jumped out straight away.

After a great lunch we picked up the van and started driving west toward Newton.  We made an unscheduled stop, however, and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon romping around the countryside on ATV's.  Best decision of the trip so far!  The place we stopped was a combination of sheep farm and off road wonderland.  There were zip lines, quad tracks, and paintball courses littering the place.  We got fitted up and took off climbing the trails behind our guides, dumping in and out of creeks and pausing for nice views.  When we hit the top everyone decided to ride the Skyline, a 4 person chair lift turned zip line, across the valley.  While not exactly scary, this turned out to be a really cool addition to the trip.

On the way down the mountain our guides let us ride a few laps around the "fun track" at our leisure.  Which pretty much meant go as fast as you can without flipping.  And we did.  Everyone emerged covered in dirt and mud, but totally stoked on the experience.  A short drive later we were in Newton barbecuing burgers and hashing out plans for the next days long drive to Fox Glacier.  For a day that hadn't been expected to provide much, this one had really delivered the goods.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand Day 4

Day 4 was a crack of dawn start.  5:30 am we were up and getting breakfast on the go in order to make it to our trailhead by 7:00.  The shuttle bus only picks up 3 times per day for the Tongariro Hike--6:30, 7:30, and 8:30--each successive pickup growing more crowded.  Thankfully our group was on top of the wake up and we made it for the 7:30 pickup no problem.

There's something cool about a sunrise shuttle ride when you know what you're in for.  20 km up and over the North Island's best hike, passing just to the side of the mountain used in Lord of the Rings as Mount Doom.  I could tell everyone was a little nervous getting off the bus, but also really excited.  The plan was to let Asta run ahead with the runners, I would stay with the walk/runners, and Sven would park the bus and come with the 8:30 shuttle, sprinting to catch the pack.

The initial few kilometers were cake.  Flat land with a few twists and turns, but no crazy climbs.  Right about the 3k mark things started to ramp up significantly.  The trail turned right and started switching back and forth up the mountainside, giving us a beautiful view of the where we came from.  Soon nobody was running because the grade was so steep.  Bags were getting passed around from person to person in an effort the share the heavier loads, and there were plenty of "picture stops."

At the top of the initial climb the terrain flattened out and we caught a cool stretch of volcanic basin.  To the right was "Mount Doom," to the left Mount Tongariro.  It was a welcome reprieve from the steady climbing we'd been doing for the past hour, but it didn't last long.  Another set of peaks awaited us and they proved even steeper than the first.  We started climbing along the ridge, giving us an amazing view of the North face of the mountains.  As we hit the summit, the dirt turned soft and ashy and people started sliding down the backside.  SO FUN.  This took me straight back to Iceland 2011.

The back half of the hike was all downhill, weaving between sulfur lakes, volcanic debris, and thick vegetation.  While the views were incredible, the downhill pounding was starting to catch up with me.  By the time I hit the car park I was feeling it in the knees and ankles, and I wasn't the only one.  We basked in the sun, snacked on some Paleo Kits, then hit the road to Wanganui to watch the second half of the Super Bowl.

After the worst game ever (not biased), we rode the rest of the way to Wellington to wrap things up.  Brittney took the group down to a waterfront park and took us through some Yin Yoga to stretch the legs.  This felt amazing and it was so needed.  Everyone was ready for bed early, knowing we were catching the ferry to the south island early in the AM.

Video clips from Day 4 are below.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand Day 3

Day 3 of the trip began with a partner beach WOD.  We partnered everyone up in teams that were equally distributed based on strengths, injuries, etc.   The workout was a relay between partners that went as follows:

50 meter bear crawl
50 meter frog jump
50 meter burpee broad jump
50 meter partner wheelbarrow

In between every round teams had to complete 50 partner pushups.  At the very end, teams had to complete 100 partner sit-ups.  This workout would've been hard enough as written, but put it on the deep sand and everything got just that much harder.  Especially the wheelbarrows.  Supporting your bodyweight while having to keep stable on such a squishy surface absolutely blows up your arms.  This proved a big challenge for many of the people on the trip, forcing them to dig deep and lean on their partners for support.

As soon as we were finished, we got up to the main drag and rented some toys.  Surf boards, boogie boards, and sunscreen were the tools of the day, and we did our best to take advantage of them all.  Jason, Kevin, Helen, Sven, Gio, and I all tried our hand at catching waves with the surfboard, but with little success. Jason probably had the best ride of all, but still a far cry from the locals carving up the waves further down the beach.  I will say this though… Surfing is absolutely one of those things you don't need to be good at to enjoy.  I could spend all day out there trying and failing and still have a great time.

The rest of the gang either boogie boarded or sunbathed.  Everyone knew that Day 4 was the day we were aiming to be up early at on the mountain for our 20 km hike so no one really wanted to beat themselves up.  We gathered everyone up by 2:00 and hit the road for Lake Taupo.  A few hours later we were there and checking into our 3rd home in 3 nights, the Settlers Motel.  The owner of this establishment threw out the welcome mat in the form of an Icelandic Flag out front.  We all agreed that this had to be a good sign for the day ahead.

The highlights from Day 3 are below.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand: Day 2

Day 2 of our trip began with an early morning jaunt into the Symmonds Street Cemetery.  No, there was no climbing of gravestones or sprinting around mausoleums.  But we did find a trail that led to the bottom of a ravine and the base of an enormous bridge.  After a quick canvassing of the area, everyone was able to find a heavy object to squat, an area to work handstand holds, and a beam to hang rings from for toes to bar.  We divided the group into 4 x 1 minute stations: squats, toes to bar, handstand holds, and stair sprints.  We set the clock for 20 minutes, giving everyone 5 times at each station.  The goal was to hit the same number of reps each round for each exercise, but that proved quite the challenge.  Squatting logs and stones becomes pretty dicey when you're out of breath.  But it was a great way to break a sweat before hopping in the car for the drive out to Mount Maunganui and the coast.  And it was good to see everyone willing to get their hands dirty.  A good omen for the rest of the trip.

The drive to Mount Maunganui took around 3 hours, just enough time to get everyone acclimated to the 12 person van that was going to be our transportation for the next 10+ days.  We learned quickly that bathroom breaks needed to be frequent, music needed to be uptempo, and snacks needed to be readily accessible.  Also, we were driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car.  That took some adjustment.

All things considered, I think we did a damn good job navigating our way out of Auckland.  Parking in Mt. Maunganui, however, was a bit of a challenge.  We dumped the trailer at our hotel, found a good burger spot on the main drag, then hit the beach for some free time.  We got lucky as far as weather, with some offshore wind creating perfect waves for body surfing and the sun keeping us warm enough to do it without a wetsuit.  We spent the remainder of the day swimming, exploring the volcanic hillside overlooking the bay, and even chasing a few sheep.

Afterwards we headed back to the hotel where we cooked dinner and admired each other's sunburns.  Honorable mentions in this area go to Sven, Brittany, and Jason… all of whom would be pealing for the rest of the trip due to day 2.

Check out the highlights from day 2 below.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Anywherefit New Zealand: Day 1

Anywherefit New Zealand finally commenced on January 30th, 2014 in Auckland.  Sven, Asta, and I were in town a day early to get things organized with the rental bus, the hotel, and the grocery store, but the rest of the gang showed up that Friday.  As soon as we had everybody checked in and unpacked we shot off to Mission Bay for our first workout of the trip: Paddleboarding.  Few of the group had ever attempted this before, let alone out on the open ocean, so we were keeping our fingers crossed for calm waters.  As we took instructions from the SUP staff, I watched white cap after white cap roll in towards the bay and I had a flashback to the AWF Iceland 2012 ocean kayaking trip.  Shudder.

Thankfully, by the time we were out on the water things were starting to calm down.  People took their time getting to a standing position, but soon everyone was up on their boards.  Which meant it was time to either race or start pulling out the stupid human tricks.  Cue handstand attempts (all failures), headstand attempts (most failures), and overhead squats (few failures).  This was no crushing workout, but it was a ton of fun and a great ice breaker for this group of 12.  For me, it felt like I was knocking dust off after a series of long flights.

From Mission Bay, we went straight across town to CrossFit NZ to hit the weights.  Darren and his crew out there were more than accommodating, allowing us to christen their new barbell room with power snatches and back squats.  Everyone was given 4 attempts at unbroken sets of snatches (90%, 80%, 70%, and 60% of 1RM).  During this session, Sven and I were able to walk around the room and give small cues and coaching advice to some of the less experienced lifters.  Starting the trip off with a WOD like this helped me to get to know everyone's ability level when it comes to Oly, their mobility level, and gave us the chance to expose any injuries that might need working around.

Afterwards we worked up to heavy doubles of back squat, then hit a short and sharp team WOD.  Can't say enough about the members and coaches at CF NZ for their hospitality, only wish we could've stayed longer.  But the first 6 night of this trip are all in different towns… an unfortunate necessity when you want to drive to Queenstown in less than a week.  Not to worry though, there's plenty to do along the way.

Below is a few video clips from our first day.