Fire and Ice

Before I begin, I should remind you that I am not a travel lifestyle blogger. I typically blog as I would compose a diary, to remind myself of where I was and what I experienced. This is going to be a long post because I want to capture the details that matter to me, and not boil down my travels to a perfectly-manicured and concise article on the time I went to Iceland. So, reader, you’ve been warned…

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There are people out there that say there is a particular sadness in leaving an immersive trip, the sadness that the incredible journey is now just a memory on its way to becoming a story.

I returned to Seattle after spending a week in Reykjavík, Iceland at the beginning of December 2015. The worst part about visiting Iceland is how badly it makes me want to go back now, so as not to let it become just something I remember. I suppose that delaying the completion of this post is my one way of pretending it isn’t over, but time has a way of slipping by regardless.

Everything I knew about Iceland made it seem like a fairy tale; although I had heard about the Northern Lights, the architecture, and the quaint feel of the only large city many times over, it was too fantastical to be believed. I had to see it for myself, and arriving in Iceland, it was truly like I had traveled somewhere other-worldly. It’s part of my story now–and I can recall the trip itself, still fresh like the snow we trudged through to and from the city each day.

Sunday, November 29th

John and I packed for most of that Saturday, when he insisted on bringing a laser pointer for no reason other than, “It’ll be fun.” On Sunday morning, we both went to the gym for one last WOD, then cleaned up and started loading my car.

Ari and B met us at noon, and we hauled away to Sea-Tac where John’s coworker let us park the car. She drove us to the airport, we checked in, and we sent all of our bags away; two free checked bags is a very comfortable policy, it turns out. Thanks, Icelandair!

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With parkas on and only our purses and small backpacks, we passed through security and on to our terminal. We grabbed a bite to eat and awaited our plane. I chatted with my mother on the phone, keeping an eye on the impatient crowd at the gate. Eventually, there was movement, and we all boarded the Boeing 757.

Once snugly in our seats, we settled in for the seven-hour ride. John and I had been moved to exit row seats, so our leg room was ample and the tray tables quite awkward. We set our watches eight hours ahead, took off through some low-lying Seattle clouds, then turned northeast and climbed on towards Canada. The sun was already low in the sky, and we spied pink snow-capped mountains out the window before the night sky took over.

With not too much to see, I split a snack with John and had some water before trying to snooze as much as possible. The woman on my other side was part of a group of three or four, traveling to Iceland for some kind of celebration; I never discerned what their reason was, although they were planning to spend time both in the city and somewhere outside of it. She ordered two mini bottles of wine, so I figured perhaps she was celebrating a birthday as well.

Spotify offline playlists kept me calm and soothed, and when my phone read “5:00AM,” I woke up and watched some of the in-flight offerings until we landed.

Monday, November 30th

The Seattle flight left at 3:45PM Pacific Time, which meant a 6:55AM Monday arrival. Once on the ground at Keflavík Airport, I marveled at the fact that I was on Icelandic soil for the first time; it was a wish come true.

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Customs was a quick process, as we were one of only a few arrivals at that dark, early hour, and after collecting our bags, we did some duty-free shopping. The thing to keep in mind about Iceland is that the liquor is expensive, but that it’s quite reasonable at the duty-free store. We grabbed a few choice bottles, including some Brennivin, along with some Garún Icelandic Stout NR.19 (Borg Brugghús), Einstök Toasted Porter, and an obscene amount of Viking Gylltur.

After shopping, it was time for juice and a snack, killing time before our 8:30AM shuttle to the Blue Lagoon. The freshness of the smoothie was much-needed after a long plane ride. However, what was even more needed came next.

The Blue Lagoon excursion immediately following arrival was one of our best ideas. Blue Lagoon is a major tourist destination, although one a traveler cannot miss; all my worldly friends stand by this, tourist trap and all. They make it so tourist-friendly anyway, it’s hard to say no.

Our shuttle bus driver stashed our luggage in the cargo hold, then drove us through the pitch black dark about 12km from the airport. We transferred our luggage to the bag storage at the end of the parking lot, where our group of three busses–ours only had about six people on it–parked; no other visitors had yet arrived, making our arrival seem even more special. We stopped in front of the Blue Lagoon sign to take a few celebratory selfies and sips of liquor, reveling in the cool winter air and the pre-dawn hush. Perfect snowflakes blanketed the ground and muted all the background noise, so it was just the trudging of our boots and our lowered voices in the air.

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We had pre-booked our visit, so once we reached the main building, we got in line and got squared away with our wristbands before heading to the luxurious locker rooms. Again, with relatively few visitors at the Lagoon, it was relaxed and peaceful. I remember the locker rooms being the perfect temperature, both in the air and beneath my feet. I changed into my favorite swimsuit and commented to Ari about how flattering the lighting and mirrors were; I actually looked like I work out as hard as I do! An added bonus to an already great experience.

Many people warn tourists about the showering process, where one must strip down before entering the Lagoon. No one mentioned the fact that there were single shower stalls in addition to the common shower. With no rush, there were plenty of single showers open. Spotting an open stall, I took it, and I relished the warm water and soap; after all, I had been on a plane all night. I made sure to load my hair with conditioner to stave off the minerals, then put my swimsuit back on and wandered out into the frigid morning.

To say my feet were then cold was not giving Iceland its due credit. The air was freezing, and the walkway surface was not much warmer. It behooved us to hang our towels as quickly as possible in order to get into the milky blue pool before turning into human icicles.

With dawn breaking and steam rising off the surface of the water, I couldn’t help but want to hurry on in, though. The Lagoon was heated to a comfortably hot temperature, somewhere between 98-104 degrees Fahrenheit, and again, after a seven-hour plane ride, it was just what I needed. We slowly ventured to the outer reaches of the Lagoon, with our visibility obscured by the thick steam and low light; thankfully, I didn’t fall into any unexpected deep spots (something you expect when you’re 5’1″).

Since it was a birthday celebration trip and all, our next order of business was to procure champagne, so off to the bar we went. In all actuality, this meant finding the stairs closest to the bar, dashing inside, dripping all over the floor whilst apologizing for doing such, and then ordering our drinks of choice. We were rung up with a swipe of the wristband, and back into the warm waters we went. (Luckily, for our next round, the swim-up bar was open; no more mad dashes for a beverage.)

We spent the next few hours wandering in the water, sitting in the steam rooms, and lounging in the jacuzzi areas. The water had a sort of soft quality to it, and only in the steam rooms did I ever sweat.

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Eventually, it was time to leave, so we reversed the process: showered, dried off, dressed, paid, ate lunch, retrieved our bags (and beer), and waited for the shuttle to the city.

We eventually made it to our Airbnb apartment, after transferring to a mini-bus due to the snow. The apartment’s “on-site manager” (so to speak) met us, let us in, and gave us essential pointers for our stay. We unpacked, freshened up, and were ready to see the city by foot. Icelandic fish ‘n’ chips were on the menu for dinner that night, so we were able to cross off one item on John’s “must do” list. Please note that we visited Reykjavik Fish Restaurant to get our fish ‘n’ chips; our friends had advised that they once tried to find fish ‘n’ chips in town and had ended up at a joint that had “fish ‘n’ chips” in the name, but alas, no actual fish ‘n’ chips. Reykjavik Fish, however, had a chalkboard with its offerings, and their hearty fish ‘n’ chips were just what we needed.

In addition to dinner, we took in the sights of a Christmasy-looking Reykjavik and wandered through a snow-covered cemetery before calling it a night and doing our best to ward off the jet lag.

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Tuesday, Dec. 1st

A winter storm rolled in on Tuesday, bringing lots of snow to the area. “Lots of snow” is an understatement, but I don’t have a much better way to quantify it. We took our time, after sleeping in, to bundle up and seek out the famous Sægreifinn lobster soup.

Let me tell you about lobster soup in the most succinct way possible: it’s incredible.

Warm, flavorful, perfectly salted, and rejuvenating, lobster soup became an instant favorite of mine. The menu at Sægreifinn is also wonderfully straight-forward: there’s the soup, fresh seafood skewers, and beverages–alcoholic and non–to choose from.

We warmed up at Sægreifinn (The Sea Baron), enjoying our soup and complimentary bread, as well as enjoying being out of the wind and snow. It was a good day for cozying up in coffee shops and bars–which is considered one of the best tourist activities when in Iceland–and generally just seeing all the city had to offer.

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We spent a good deal of time at the Culture House, a part of the National Museum of Iceland, where the exhibition Points of View was being housed. This was another good way to learn more about the country we were in, taking in art and history from centuries ago through the present. While we were in the building, I distinctly remember seeing large, fluffy clumps of snow falling past some of the windows. The relative quiet and stillness of the Culture House–along with the picturesque snowfall–was peaceful, a nice departure from the hustle of “real life.”

Other places of interest on this snowy day included Lebowski Bar and a book shop. White Russians and books, what could go wrong? We eventually wound up back at the house after trudging along through most of Reykjavik.

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(PS – I visited Lebowski Bar’s page in February, and I noticed that they were offering free bacon on all burgers for Valentine’s Day. First of all, that’s quite the way to celebrate; second of all, had I known about this sooner, I would have definitely pushed for a return visit slash date night.)

Wednesday, Dec. 2nd

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The morning was clear after the previous day’s winter storm, and after starting our day, we walked down to the Harpa Concert Hall to pick up tickets for a Sin Fang show later that night. We arrived at Harpa at just the right time, as the sun was high enough in the sky to throw some beautiful colors into the surroundings.

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Shortly thereafter, dark clouds, heavy with precipitation, rolled in, but instead of rain, they brought more snow. We wound up at Kex Hostel and Bar, where the restaurant/bar provided us with unnecessary amounts of delicious food: a spicy burger, salmon and kale, fresh sausages, and a simple yet much-needed green salad.

Later that evening, we went back to Harpa and watched the show. We were in one of the small auditoriums, looking down on the group. All the songs were in English, and all of the filler between songs was in Icelandic. This made for a pretty mellow experience for us. We didn’t understand any of the punchlines to the jokes, but we laughed along anyway. Young Boys was the subject of some kind of joke about it being a “gay anthem.” It’s fairly obvious upon listening to see how that could be; the song itself is one of my favorites now, and I encourage you to take a listen.

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After the concert, we quite likely ended up at Prikid, as we had time on our hands, and feet with which we could walk.

Thursday, Dec. 3rd

Or, the Day I Turned 30. And how else would I start the day but with a WOD at CrossFit Reykjavik? (Actually, it started with toast, skyr, some juice that I’m sad we can’t find Stateside, and an espresso from our grumbly espresso machine. But I digress.)

In order to get to the gym, we needed to take a cab; our driver got us there quickly, especially quick considering the snow-covered roads. Icelandic drivers mean business. We arrived in one piece, then wandered the perimeter of the building until we figured out we had to access the lower level to get to the gym. In our defense, the snow was obscuring the pathway.

CrossFit Reykjavik is, as another visitor noted, a fitness factory. A well-oiled machine, we dropped in during the block of time where classes start every twenty minutes. The space is organized to allow this type of rotation, with strictly timed warm-ups, skill or lifting sections, and the WOD.

Our coach led us through warm-ups, which were easy enough to follow, as the combination of Icelandic and body language were all we needed. He checked in with us Americans every now and then to make sure we understood what was going on, which was appreciated.

The day’s lift consisted of 8 minutes to find your 1-rep max overhead squat. With a cranky shoulder, no Olympic lifting shoes, no weight belt, and a few days of improper nutrition and jet lag, I still managed to PR my overhead squat by a few pounds. 50kg/110lbs., good enough for a birthday PR. The rest of my Seattle crew either matched or PR’d their OHS, as well.

Then there was the WOD. It came with a 12-minute time cap, and read:

For Time
400m run
then…
21-15-9
SDHP (55kg/35kg)
Box jump overs (60/50cm)
then…
400m run

I was worried about hitting the time cap, between all the aforementioned ailments and chronic asthma. However, I surprised myself partway through my first set of SDHPS, noticing the clock was not very far along.

I’m actually going to finish this, I thought. Since that was the case, it then was in my best interest to try and keep up as best as possible. My fitter half and two BFFs unsurprisingly came off of the middle part of the WOD ahead of me, and they were well into their closing 400m run when I joined in. At the least, the gym operators weren’t cruel enough to send us out into the snow and ice, so we ran 8 small laps around some of the equipment.

I had a small lead on a few of the local athletes, and I finished well under the time cap. John naturally finished in his favorite spot, “fastest in the class,” although he didn’t look at the right clock to log his time. His time is forgotten to all eternity.

(That’s not true; B was able to track both their times, and John logged his on our gym’s website. I just looked it up online, and his time was 8 minutes and 15 seconds.

Fine.)

Final time: 10 minutes, 25 seconds 

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After the WOD, we took advantage of the wrestling mat and stretching room, rolling out before heading into the locker rooms. We showered, then instead of getting dressed and going home, we put on swim suits and hopped in the gym’s hot tub. (And cold tub. They had both.)

We did not get to take advantage of the sauna, although I imagine that would have been glorious as well. Instead, once we showered and changed, B noticed a Hlöllabátar across the way, so off we were to acquire some ham boats for post-WOD sustenance. I had to run the page through Google Translate because I don’t speak Icelandic very well (that’s an understatement), but the sandwich–boat–in question is the “Skinkubátur.” All you need to know is these boats are reasonably-priced and tasty. No frills, just great boats.

After the boys wrangled a taxi in the parking lot of a grocery store, we were on our way back to the apartment to rest up before birthday dinner. Walking around and eating lots of things whilst on holiday is difficult, so we played some games to keep ourselves entertained. I’m not exactly sure when we brought out Milles Bornes, but that is a game I highly recommend bringing on vacation, along with Quiddler. Both are good, clean fun, and I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way. They’re a very good way just to have fun, and they take up little room in the suitcase.

Our friends Aaron and Michelle departed Edinburgh, Scotland via EasyJet, and were en route to Reykjavik by early evening. Ahead of their arrival in the city, the four of us Seattleites went out for dinner. For the first few days, the boys had been asking us ladies were we wanted to go for our special days. There were several very nice restaurants around, and most were serving special Christmas meals. We kept telling them that we would make a decision at some point.

Naturally, it being my 30th birthday and all, I decided on lobster soup.

So, lobster soup it was, with the added treat of fresh salmon and cod skewers, along with a sampling of all the Christmas beers the Sea Baron had. It was a hearty and peaceful dinner, as we got to sit upstairs in the old bunk room area.

Bunk room?

Yes–there are several bunks in the upstairs area, which used to be lent out to fisherman in need of respite. A whole different type of homey feel to the restaurant, and one that made this birthday seem all the more unique and special.

After soup and beers, we moved onto Kex where we met the two ex-patriates, and where we enjoyed Einstok beers and a chocolate flourless cake. Aaron, the gentleman he is, requested a candle on the cake for my birthday, and Kex delivered.

The cake slice arrived with extra whipped cream, and a tea candle placed gently atop the cake. I’ve never been more delighted!

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It was a special night to be celebrating my birthday in Reykjavik, turning 30 with five of my favorite people, all who entered my life at various points in time. I couldn’t have thought up a better way to turn 30, and the best present was knowing there was more of the trip still ahead of us. We kept it relatively under control on this night because we had to be up early for the Golden Circle Tour.

Friday, Dec. 4th

I would say we were up at the crack of dawn on this day, but considering dawn wasn’t going to happen for several hours, I will just say we were up early. We had booked tickets for the Golden Circle Tour, including bus pick-up near our Airbnb, and had to get up to meet the mini-bus.

Unfortunately for us, we were the last scheduled area for pick-up, so we waited maybe 45 minutes out in the cold–and I mean cold as in “far below freezing”–before we finally got to climb into a tiny bus. The waiting game was perhaps the biggest hiccup in our trip, but all things considered, it was not the worst thing in the world. No one was hurt in the process, and we eventually got to our big buses, where Aaron and Michelle had saved us all seats.

I fell asleep for most of the drive out to our first stop, which was a tomato hot house, Friðheimar. There we were able to sample some delicious tomato soup and bread, learn about the indoor tomato cultivation, and also pet some Icelandic horses. One particular horse was rolling around in the snow without a care in the world.

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Next on the list was the Geysir geothermal field. As the name might imply, there is quite a bit of geothermal activity here. It’s of utmost importance for tourists to keep to the path because even though it’s cold out, it’s quite ill-advised to touch the far-beyond-boiling water.

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One of the geysirs, looking hot.

We waited patiently for the Strokkur geysir to erupt, and we were eventually treated to a spout of water preceded by a big bubble.

We refueled in the restaurant, then boarded the bus to Gullfoss (Golden Falls). Gullfoss was incredible and worth the biting wind. The water plunges over 100ft., and in the cold winter, some of the spray froze to the edges of the cliffs, creating what essentially looked like another frozen waterfall. I’m not certain what else I can say about the waterfall, other than it was incredibly beautiful. Absolutely amazing.

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Last on the list was Thingvellir National Park, a geology lover’s dream come true. The tectonic plates are pulling apart here, creating steep, blocky walls. We could also overlook the original Parliment and the lake, again braving the cold wind.

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100% John’s camera and eye here.

Back in town, we rested up before embarking on a night out. It started with a card game at the house, included some ham boats and hot dogs, and ended at Prikid with dancing and realizing Icelanders bring their A-game on the weekends. I’ve not a clue how any of the women were able to pull off high heels and normal club clothes in the dead of winter, but I admire them for it.

Saturday, Dec. 5th

When we finally awoke on December 5th, it was Ari’s turn at 30. Neither one of us had experienced anything strange, such as losing a limb nor all of our hair spontaneously falling out at once, so it was looking like 30 would be just fine.

We paid a visit to the iconic Hallgrimskirkja, where we took the elevators to the top of the church and looked out over the city. To say it was gorgeous would be an understatement. Even in the winter fog, with the visibility reduced, it was worth the trip to the top. I can’t wait to go again in a future summer.

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John’s work, again. (By this point, the rest of us had quit trying to take photos because John’s camera was showing all of us up.)

After coffee at Reykjavik Roasters, we went to Snaps for a very late brunch. Brunch runs until 1600 at Snaps, so we were just fine between sleeping in and our wandering. Being the holiday season, there were some additional Christmas treats on the menu, including mulled wine, which I have a weak spot for. Even though I was at the point in the vacation where I needed to probably think about putting myself on a restrictive calorie diet, I ordered Eggs Norwegian, and there were no regrets. Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon? Heaven in a single dish, I would say. (Actually, this blogger basically said the same thing about Eggs Norwegian at another place. We can’t both be wrong.) Everything else we ordered was on-point, and we gladly indulged.

It was a wandering and food-centered kind of birthday, with a siesta of sorts at the house after brunch. Eventually, we trekked down to Kex yet again for birthday treats, and later, four of us made it to Slippbarrin for cocktails and accidental (?) free shots of whiskey.

Ringing in 30 in Reykjavik was a great choice.

Sunday, Dec. 6th

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Sunday signified the end of the trip, and we begrudgingly packed up. John made one last trip to the neighborhood pool facility, and the rest of us went for coffee and a light pastry breakfast at Kaffihus Vesturbaejar. I had a croissant with some cheese and jam, and the bistro was calm and cozy, perfect for the close of a fantastic trip.

Also perfect was our bus ride to Keflavik, which began with another mini-bus pick-up. Our mini-bus driver was a natural at driving in the snow, and he wove up and down the side streets to gather other passengers and occasionally honk at pedestrians who were walking a bit too slow for his frantic pace. It was certainly a ride for which I buckled up, but when all was said and done, we not only were in one piece, but we had been thoroughly entertained by our young, relentless driver.

The longer ride from the central bus station to the airport was relaxing, with the sun illuminating the landscape outside. I snapped a few photos, but the dirty window and the moving bus diminished the quality of what I was really seeing.

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Once at Keflavik Airport and through security–and after we finally figured out the self-check system for the bags–we grabbed a hot meal of Icelandic meat soup and bread. I need that recipe in my arsenal, and I need Keflavik Airport’s food in my life more often. What a treat.

I also would not mind having the airport’s bars in my life more often, as the service and selection were both great. We enjoyed a few last drinks, including the last Einstok porter for awhile.

Soon enough, we were back on an airplane, and I snuggled up to the window seat. We hadn’t seen the Northern Lights the entire trip, but once we climbed high enough and the sky got dark, I looked out the window. Past the wing, there was a faint, green glow in the sky. At first, I thought it must have been a cloud, just catching the last rays of sunshine, but it persisted, and I knew it was the Northern Lights.

I nudged John and told him to look out the window, that the Northern Lights were just outside. We both craned our necks to watch them, until they were too far behind us to see any longer.

Turning our attention forward, we settled in, headed home to the Pacific Northwest, and said goodbye (for now) to the Land of Fire and Ice.

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The gang’s all here.

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PS – In case you were wondering, John forgot all about the laser pointer until he unpacked everything back in Seattle.

PPS – Photo credits for this post include John, B, Ari, Aaron, Michelle, and myself

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Two Years’ Time

September 19th, 2012 is the day to which I ascribe my CrossFit anniversary. Two years ago, I wrote:

Finally made it back in to the local box. The coach at this particular box is fantastic, and the team members are fairly easy-going. Now, I’m no strength trainer. Never have been. The prescribed weight for today’s Workout of the Day (WOD) [The Chief] was 95 lbs. for females during hang power cleans. Guess what I used? A 35-pound bar. And that was still difficult. It’s okay, though. Weights are something that I have always avoided. That said, I got through the work-out. It broke down to this: one round consists of 3 hang power cleans, 6 push-ups with hand release, and 9 squats; there were 5 segments at 3 minutes each; in those 3 minutes, you would complete as many rounds as possible. I got through 3 rounds each time, grand total of 15 rounds. Which at baby weight and slow-ish pace isn’t all that impressive, but it’s impressive for a chronically-injured ex-dancer… with asthma.

Yeah, I busted out the inhaler today. Cool, right?
Again, it’s okay. I’m making progress towards wellness and trying to get back in the routine of challenging myself.

I had done two other WODs previously, Grace and the Filthy Fifty. Grace was modified to 22lbs., and I halved all the reps in the Filthy Fifty. My third WOD, the “sticking point,” apparently, was The Chief, completed with a 35lb. bar and what I’m sure were push-ups from the knee.

To be completely honest, I haven’t attempted any of these WODs in the last year, let alone attempted them as Rx. However, I’m to the point where I can Rx all of these things (yes, even the double-unders in the Filthy Fifty). That’s not to say I would have an amazing end result after each WOD, but Rx’ing those things is sure as heck progress when I consider where I started (which was essentially several levels below rock bottom).

In two years, strength has become my bias, particularly squats. Maybe I should have been doing strength training all along. I would have definitely developed a much better snatch technique if I had started at 16 rather than 26, right? Then again, who knows. My athletic trajectory wasn’t calibrated correctly, and I suppose I should have at least been lifting weights and lifting heavy many, many years ago, but so it goes.

I’d say I’ve made leaps and bounds towards wellness and challenging myself. As far as challenges go, every day I’m in the gym, I’m facing a seemingly-impossible task list. Every day, I come away with more goes. The biggest pitfall for CrossFit and me is that I don’t seem to have enough hours in my day to add in the skill work I need and want without over-training. I have to do things in bits and pieces, and my next goal is to keep myself on track. I need to set small goals, work on those, level up, and then take on a new skill. Then I need to revisit those other skills, refine them, advance them, and so forth and so on. For example, I set a goal to get my double-unders and ring dips several months ago. After trying a new rope and working for several weekends on ring dip negatives, I have double-unders and ring dips; I don’t have big sets of those yet, but that will do for now. Right now, it’s toes-to-bar and handstand push-ups that are big gymnastic hurdles. I need to work on my advanced pull-up technique and muscle-up technique. I need to get comfortable in executing the full snatch, not copping out on power snatches every time.

I’ve also decided to compete more. I’m not bringing an incredible athletic background nor natural talent to the field; instead, what I have are sets of skills that I am continuing to work on and improve. They’re not elite by any means. I just simply like seeing where the gaps are in my skills compared to others–all with the additional element of other people watching as I do so. It makes me grumpy yet excited, and it’s a way to cultivate relationships with my friends, both here in Seattle and elsewhere. I’ve done a number of competitions in Oregon, even competing recently with a former teammate from Human Evolution Labs (which, by the way, has since closed its doors) in a team competition. Recently, on September 7th, I competed in the women’s open division in the Elysian Games, which was an absolute blast. It was a challenging competition, and to just finish most of the workouts felt amazing. Granted, I got pretty cranky after my first two workouts, but as soon as it was my turn to get back out there, I perked up and started joking with the judges. Once I was done with the last two workouts, I was in a completely different state of mind; I was elated to have gotten through the competition. Overall, I finished 15th out of 30 women. Not bad for my first non-scaled event (although I did modify rope climbs halfway through the last WOD; most of us had to, as our grips had been taxed in all three previous WODs. Even so, by taking the modification, I was able to continue through all the movements, including my new favorite skill: toes to rings).

Toes-to-rings, comin' right up.

Toes-to-rings, comin’ right up.

Wellness is definitely a centerpiece in my life still. I feel very strongly about holistic wellness, and finding CrossFit was a catalyst in changing my priorities. Sadly, there is much less whiskey and craft beer in my life; when I do seek it out, I go for the good stuff, at least. I found my “third space,” and “meet me at the bar” has much different meaning. My social circle is heavily influenced by my friends from the gym, and yes, I met someone amazing and wonderful and fantastic–I could go on, but I’ll reign it in–at my gym.

And the best part is that it’s the healthiest relationship I’ve been in. I’m in an entirely different mindset compared to all prior relationships and quasi-relationships and whatever you want to call that period of time from [insert which of my prior relationships you had the biggest qualms with]. Seriously, just read my blog from, like, 2010 until early 2014. Those were some dark times for heartache and my mental well-being. There were some things that happened in there that had repercussions for many years afterwards, and I’m glad that sometime around the start of 2014, the fog finally started to lift. I’ve healed for the most part. Things are better within me. And because of that, things around me are better, too.

In the past two years, my life hasn’t gone from godawful to perfect. No, it’s morphed from “it has its peaks and valleys” to “it still has its peaks and valleys, but I feel much better about myself.” I feel more sound, although I still battle some nagging insecurities and stresses. I finally figured out what it meant to truly care and love myself first, even though I knew that’s what I was striving for. It finally manifested, even though it was a rocky ride to get to that point.

I’ve endured a lot, and I always anticipate the Universe’s next great blow. After all, that’s what I’ve come to expect. But I think that I’m learning to expect happy things, too–although I’m still wary of that (with good reason. I mean, come on). This weird little multidisciplinary cross-training fitness modality I discovered helped me cultivate strong, positive traits that I’ve had all along, but that have been suppressed.

So, I suppose you could say I was saved by Grace…

and the Filthy Fifty…

and The Chief.

Because here I am. I’ve stuck with it. Let’s see where this crazy journey takes me next.

Reaching for Good

“I just wonder, when will I stop feeling like I’m bad at this,” I said, lamenting to that boy on the phone about my lack of confidence in all things CrossFit.

I noted that two years ago, I couldn’t do a single box jump, pull-up, rope climb, double-under, or wall ball, and I sure as heck couldn’t tell the difference between a clean, a jerk, and a snatch (no, not like that, come on). My work clothes didn’t fit, I thought pasta and low-fat dairy would solve all my problems, and yoga was my only tie to physical activity.

Nowadays, I complain about different things: that I can’t string 10 double-unders together, that my box jumps aren’t fast enough, that my unbroken sets of pull-ups are too small, that my wall ball shots aren’t high enough, that I should lift heavier. I can critique my errors in the full and power versions of the clean and the snatch, and my front squat has emerged as my best lift. My diet has evolved (although I did have ramen at Samurai Noodle today–worth it. And then I had some Seahawks game day brews. Whoops!), my workouts have evolved (although I still like the occasional yoga session as sharp contrast to my CrossFit training), and I definitely fit differently into my clothes.

But I still want more. I want bigger sets, more advanced skills, heavier weights, faster times. I want to “level up” and to catch up with some of the rabbits I’m chasing.

And still, I have it in my mind that I’m an imposter. Will I only believe I’m decent when I have 50+ unbroken double-unders, a muscle-up, and a heavier-than-bodyweight clean & jerk? Or will I get to that point and still think, “Still not good enough.”

Burpees over the bar. Yay.

Burpees over the bar. Yay.

I don’t believe this to a be a problem for everyone. This is a product of my own remnants of perfectionism. For example, I was good at piano–but in my mind, I was never that great because memorization didn’t come easy, I wasn’t winning local competitions, I never mastered the most difficult pieces. In my mind, I was never good at dance because my proficiency in ballet lagged behind my tap skills, I couldn’t turn and leap, my splits were never as far down as I wanted.

And maybe that’s just me. Always setting my definition of “good” just out of reach. I’m trying to break my self-deprecating mindset, to have confidence in growth and progression, to remember that developing skill takes hard work and dedication.

And that means pushing myself out of my comfort zone.

Come see for yourself. I’m competing on Sunday in the Elysian Games, which is my first time competing in an Open division as opposed to Scaled. The idea is that it’s an Rx division, but if you absolutely need to scale any of the movements, you can–great for a first competition, or the first time out of a Scaled competition! I’m nervous, of course, seeing that there aren’t many movements I consider to be “in my wheelhouse.” (If you’re wondering, right now, my wheelhouse consists of exactly two things: deadlifts and burpees. Lucky me.) However, it’s a good way to push myself out of my comfort zone and into a setting that will challenge me physically and mentally.

I didn’t come into CrossFit with a ton of talent. In fact, I’d say maybe the only thing I had were my flexible hips. But I’ve found something that keeps my attention, and it keeps me coming back day after day to tackle another weakness.

And that, I suppose, is good enough for now.

Why I Do CrossFit

That is such a cop-out title. People love the “Why CrossFit is Dangerous,” “Why CrossFit Isn’t For Me,” “Why CrossFit is the Best Thing You’re Missing,” etc. Even so, I want to consider and share why I continue to participate in this form of fitness and recreation, and why this is the only other athletic thing I’ve stuck with besides cheer and dance–and why it’s the only athletic thing that I feel like I’ve grown in and continue to progress in as I approach my two-year anniversary.

The Workouts
I remember my first workout clearly. I got left behind on the warm-up lap after a very nice girl chatted with me for a bit and then picked up her pace to match the rest of the group. I learned how to clean and jerk from a very hands-on coach. I was the last person done with the lightest weight possible. And I was thrashed for several days following. But I logged on to Facebook and left a very telling status update that night which basically told my circle of friends, “Okay, I finally understand this CrossFit thing.”

After one session, I realized that it was a form of fitness which provided the opportunity for people to push their boundaries, not in terms of physical limits, but in overcoming mental hurdles. Weightlifting, for example, is something I was mildly interested in, but societal norms in rec centers and other gyms is that girls, ladies, and women don’t use the weight room. It was always intimidating, uncomfortable, and a sure-fire way to look like the novice I was. But CrossFit basically says, “To Hell with that.” Women learn the same lifts, the same moves, and the only difference is that sometimes our prescribed weights are lighter. There is nothing that says we can’t aim for the males’ prescribed weights, and depending on the workout and people’s fitness levels, sometimes I lift heavier than the guys. And there is no shame in any of that for anyone.

Essentially, the workouts continue to be challenging as a person progresses. The seemingly endless ability to scale and modify–whether that means “down” or “up”–means that it truly “never gets easier, you just get better.”

The Third Space
Typically, people have their home space and their workspace. In my line of work and in the spirit of balance, we often talk of establishing the “third space,” that place that exists outside of home and work. My third space in recent years always tended to be a coffeeshop or a bar, somewhere where I spent time reading and writing, for the most part. After graduate school, I didn’t need that function as much (for better or for worse), and I floundered a bit in trying to establish a different sort of third space.

What my gym has provided me is a third space for recreation, the ability to shed the weight of the day (ironically, usually by throwing literal weight on me) and a place to rejuvenate. For some folks, that place isn’t and never will be a gym or a fitness center, and that is perfectly fine. Trust me when I say that I’m surprised the gym became my third space. For a long time, I was the girl who made every excuse to avoid going to the gym; I still do that–except I establish good, solid reasons to keep myself out so I can get a rest day in (over-training is bad for you, people!). My third space is a place to reconnect with myself, where for a small amount of time, I can disconnect from technology and the tasks at work and focus on self-improvement. It’s also, luckily, a place where I can interact with other people and feed my social life.

The People
And that brings me to the people of CrossFit. My athletic background was, in my mind, fairly minimal. I spent 12 or so years dancing and 4 years cheering between high school and college. I dabbled in other team sports, but mostly harbored a distaste for the years I attempted soccer, basketball, and softball. I enjoyed being around other people, even though I didn’t have a ton of incredibly close friendships from dance and cheer, which is no one’s fault; to me, it seems like I just didn’t quite fit in the same way most of the other ladies and men did. (On a related note, I fit in quite well with my band people, but that was outside the fitness spectrum by a long-shot, at least in my experience.) However, I still loved the team dynamic, understanding how each individual’s strengths played into a bigger picture while we were each able to hone our skill sets and work on weaknesses.

After college, the opportunity to participate in team-based fitness seemingly disappeared. I think I’ve mentioned numerous times that I tried running, I tried yoga, I tried group fitness classes, but each time, I lost interest and quit going (even after buying memberships for some of these things!). Nothing grabbed my interest enough to make me commit. Looking back on it, part of that reason was there weren’t other people to hold me accountable. Sure, there were regulars in my classes, but the environments weren’t conducive to socializing and getting to know other people.

But then there came CrossFit. Technically, CrossFit classes are group fitness classes; there are scheduled times and a coach, and you’d think it would have been the same situation as with Zumba or spin or cardio kick-boxing. For some reason, though, a team develops and emerges, and in my case, I was able to integrate into a team, which then led to my accountability to others kicking in, which then led to returning over and over to the gym, which then led to a greater want to develop individually and contribute back to the overall skill set my gym showcased.

That sounds fairly convoluted, I think, and there are a lot of psychological and social processes at work there, but what it comes down to is, there are a lot of good people that I met, and that mindset that we are all in this journey together is prevalent in the community. (“Community?” Yeah, there’s definitely a community around this form of fitness.) There are more and more fitness communities springing up, too (based on my social media), and there is a ton of potential in those teams and communities to shift the habits of other adults towards health and fitness.

Oh, and also–they’re fun!

Some of the SEAtown CrossFit crew during float day on the Yakima River near Ellensburg

Some of the SEAtown CrossFit crew during float day on the Yakima River near Ellensburg

In a nutshell–it’s a healthy combination of fitness, self-improvement, relationship-building, and fun. We push and challenge each other to try new things. We teach each other. We laugh. We encourage. A personal fitness journey moves to “we,” and the secret to what I need to be happy and healthy is no longer a secret.

 

In Which She Reminds Herself Why She’s Here

Another mental block. Another dry spell. I haven’t felt like decompressing via my usual online sources like normal. Maybe it’s partially because I’m still bothered about a particular friend/colleague/role model/trusted confidant who ditched me on all forms of networks without so much as a, “I apologize, but you’ve gotten to be too much,” and I feel like I’ve been let down or deceived and like maybe I’m just really not that awesome at the field I chose. I’m hurt by it, but I suppose that’s life, and sometimes that’s what you get when you tell someone, “Hey! It’s been awhile. Let’s catch up!” Of course I have trust issues. No surprise there.

Or maybe it’s just because the shininess of student affairs has worn off or because I’m moving into intermediate ground in CrossFit and the wonder has turned to frustration at stupid skills I still can’t master, as well as celebration for new, more complex skills. Or maybe it’s just a lack of time in my day.

I’m realizing that things I thought I cared the most about in grad school aren’t what I truly, deep-down want I to pursue. I’m realizing that all those times in the working world that I felt energized and inspired were those times when I was involved with athletics and fitness and being active and well. Spirituality, transition, holistic education, experiential learning, identity development, communication, and health and wellness–all off-shoots of the idea of cultivating wellness and developing that idea of purpose by really honing in on what makes an individual move towards a more satisfying state of being.

I want to learn more about what makes our hearts race, what makes our minds clear up, what makes our eyes recapture that gleam they lost at one point or another. When I start talking about exploring how sport can create community, or how coaches’ training and curriculum is possibly missing elements we so respect in student affairs, or how life is not a linear, two-dimensional path but one punctuated by chaos and the unknown–that’s where I come alive.

I obsess over my writing and my skills in the gym. I feel alive when new thoughts about these topics “click” in my head, or when I call out, “Time!” and know my body has accomplished something my mind once called impossible. These things remind me that I am far behind mediocre. I am not average.

And I will push past those barricades, whether they be a careless end to a friendship, a heavy weight, a stupid much-hated skill I cannot for the life of me understand (double-unders can die), or my own self-doubt.

This is the evolution. I love it, and I don’t care.

Away We Go

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It’s one week into 2014. I am mentally cuing myself to keep challenging myself, to keep on experimenting. So far, in the CrossFit world, I’ve made my $#!& list of weaknesses to tackle, and wow, there is a long ahead of me. Add overhead squat, snatch, and clean & jerk technique to the list, and we are set (for now).

My biggest priorities are pull-ups, strict press, wall balls, and double-unders. These are all foundational skills that elude me. And I hate them because it reminds me that I’m making up for over two decades of babying myself physically along with battling my perceived neurological and spatial problems. I can’t wrap my head around double-unders yet. I am trying, albeit not enough days of the week. I attempted some tonight, and I got a few in between single skips, but not enough to feel accomplished.

That said, I noticed my form in the jump is better during my double-unders. I don’t have to tuck jump in the single-double combos. And a year ago, I didn’t have a double-under at all. This is a skill that I would love to murder in the face (figuratively), but it will take dedication.

I’m also trying to dial my diet in a bit more. I got kind of fluffy again over the holidays, and I’m ready to make myself look like I actually do, in fact, get humbled four to five times a week by the CrossFit monster. It’s very hard to say no to treats while working, but I’m getting better. And my at-home meals are wholesome and tasty, and hopefully they will become more creative. I found Karam’s Garlic Sauce to be incredibly helpful–and it’s paleo-friendly (although I am some kind of off-brand shade of paleo, if we are to be honest here).

A fire has been lit under my rear end. I am legitimately engrossed in this sport, although I am not on track to ever be fierce competition. My competition has always been with myself, though, and I’m showing old Ardith that she is capable of so much more than she thought.

Even when I’m frustrated with lack of progress in some skills, there are many places I’ve made gains. This year, I’ve already set new milestones. I back squatted 160lbs. in a 3×5 set; 160lbs. was my one-rep max in June 2013. Tonight, I closed out a 5×2 deadlift session at 205lbs; that is 5lbs. more than my old 1RM, and I lifted it twice with a decent amount of ease. My toes-to-bar are getting slightly higher, and they were much more consistent than in the past. And I have my frog stands, in the world of weird skills we don’t use that frequently.

Obviously, this sport or activity or whatever has become a huge part of my life. This is part of the evolution of strength. I didn’t get here because I’m a natural athlete; I got here because strength also stems from what Coach K calls mental fortitude. I can be defeatist and tell myself I’ll never get better when I hit a road block. Or, I can attack my weaknesses head on, train to not give up, and drive myself to push it every day–even if my “heavy” doesn’t attract the oohs and aahs of the whole community.

I’m competing with me, and all I want to do is win. The better Ardith is pulling further ahead each day.

A Year Inside the Box

Hey Ardith –

It was great to have you in the Lab!  Come back anytime!

Kevin

One year ago today, I committed to CrossFit. Over the summer, I tried two different boxes, tried two different WODs, got miserably sick for a few weeks, and during my absence, I got an email from one of the coaches.

That particular coach happened to be the head coach of CrossFit HEL in Portland, OR. That little prod was enough for me to give CrossFit another try, and on September 19th, 2012, I went back, stuck it out through The Chief, and just kept showing up after that.

I will not say it was easy to come back. It wasn’t easy those first couple of WODs, taking the warm-up lap and falling severely behind each teammate every time. It wasn’t easy learning new motions, new language, and new philosophies. But what also wasn’t easy was looking in the mirror and seeing just how out-of-shape I had become; I felt more uncomfortable in my own skin than I ever had as an adult, and it was not okay.

I decided that what seemed the most difficult was going to be the most beneficial, and I could not afford to let my second-guessing keep me from making a positive change in my life.

There is a shirt floating around the CrossFit realm that starts:

“THE BOX
Walk in terrified…”

And that’s exactly how I felt walking in last September. And often, I still feel anxious, perhaps a bit intimidated by skills I haven’t mastered (and likely won’t for awhile).

But I’ve been going back to the box with butterflies in my stomach for a year now.

There is something to be said about facing your challenges head-on. And there is something else to be said about having a team that supports you through your weaknesses and accomplishments.

And there is something even greater to be said about the coaches that don’t give up on you.

It had been several years since someone had taken a close look at my deficiencies and followed up with feedback to help me out. Whenever I tackled a new challenge, he was there to say, “Awesome.” When things were overwhelming, he talked me through them. He welcomed me to a team that further provided support and community, and that group of athletes anchored me into a positive, healthy, life-changing routine.*

For me, CrossFit hasn’t been about competition with others or achieving top-tier ability within the CrossFit world. It has been about continually improving myself holistically: physically, mentally, spiritually, and communally.

Physically, I’ve pushed myself, completing workouts that look impossible on the computer screen. Even though I am a notorious “WODSCALA“, I am still doing more than I thought possible for a chronically-injured, uncoordinated ex-dancer/cheerleader.

We talked a lot about mental fortitude at CFHEL. It would be impossible for me to get through even my scaled WODs without the proper mental attitude. Yes, I allow myself to be nervous–but I have allowed myself to be nervous before piano performances, dance recitals, cheer try-outs, and job interviews, and that is all perfectly fine.

What I do not allow myself to do is to be defeated before a workout begins. On particularly challenging days, I will take a few breathes and maybe even say, “See you on the other side,” and then quiet my mind. It is the same technique that I used in dance. When I am in performance mode, I am focused on putting my best self out there. I don’t care that I have a resistance band for ring dips; I don’t care that I’m 30lbs. lighter on the bar for a Hero WOD. Am I on the floor? Am I facing the challenge head-on? If the answer to those questions (and some others) is, “Yes,” I am doing it right.**

In terms of the spirit, I am learning to trust in the idea of being exactly where I need to be at any given time. Those of you who know me know that I believe in something bigger than myself, bigger than this world. I cannot define it, but the Universe and its energy–as much as I complain about it–present opportunities for me to take. I can choose to take them, and in this case, I was given the choice to either continue with my old routine of thinking, “Well, at least I walked 15 minutes today, but why can’t I fit in my pants?” or to take on a challenge.

Because I took on that challenge, I was rewarded with more than a few inches off my waist; I came into a community that has been more important than I could have ever imagined. Teammates at my gym turned into close friends. Close friends at other gyms turned into teammates, as we shared our progress (and our misery) across the state lines. And sure, maybe we all seem a bit cult-like and more than a bit crazy, but we have all found something in common that motivates us and brings us together.

Tonight, on September 19th, 2013, I walked into SEAtown CrossFit because I have said “yes” to the challenge of a new job in a new city, and even though I’m not allowed to run or jump for the next several days (long story), I found some skills on which to work. I attempted my first sets of strict handstand push-ups tonight. I worked on strict pull-ups. And while everyone worked on double-unders, I rowed and busted out several sets of back squats. While being restricted on what I can do wasn’t how I envisioned spending my CrossFit-versary, I am happy that I was able to get back out on the floor, set some new milestones, and meet some new people.***

One year in, and this journey is far from over.

August 2012

August 2012

September 2013

September 2013

Train for Chaos

Train for Chaos

Coach K and Company

Coach K and Company

*which is based on giving the middle finger to routine, in terms of workouts

** “It’s okay, as long as you’re not crying while you’re jerking…”

*** And the best part is, I am now part of multiple teams. CFHEL, you got me to where I am today, and we are on this journey together. Excuse me for being forward, but I love you all.