Friday, February 5, 2016

Birthday Challenge Results

A few weeks ago I wrote about undertaking a challenge for my upcoming birthday.  The challenge was to complete a variation of the workout called "Fran", in less than seven minutes and 39 seconds.

In Crossfit, workouts are usually named.  The reason for this is so that the workout can be easily identified when discussing it, and easily found in your log book.  That way you can track your results more exactly and more thoroughly.

So anyhow, the workout called "Fran"  is the one I did.  And I have done it probably a dozen times over the last few years.  In fact it is the most well-known, and perhaps notorious workout in all of Crossfit.

The first time I attempted to workout about three weeks ago, I found myself flat on my back gasping for air about four minutes in.  The wheels had come off. My heart was racing. Clearly my body was not ready for this level of intensity!

I lay on the ground for several minutes before I got up and finished the workout, for a total time of 18 minutes, 30 seconds.

But then a surprising thing happened.  Just a few days later, after only one practice run, my body had already adapted a tremendous amount.  In my second attempt,  the wheels never came off.  I finished in 8 minutes and 10 seconds.

I did one more practice run that was a variation of the "Fran" workout.  Then two days before my birthday deadline, I thought maybe I had a decent chance to succeed at the challenge.  I went into the gym in mid-afternoon when it is not crowded.  Warmed up a bit, and then started the stopwatch.  Seven minutes and 23 seconds later, I had succeeded.

I'm not really sure why we do these things to ourselves!  I guess one of the reasons is to find out whether we can, or whether we cannot.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Faery Hair versus Fran, Father Time, and Political Figure Who Will Not Be Named

The earth has completed yet another circuit around the sun.  Again. I don't have any New Year's Resolutions. Again.  But I do have a birthday resolution!  For my thirty nine years, I am going to attempt to complete the CrossFit workout Fran (Rx) in 7:39 or less.  To make the challenge a bit more I challenging, I aim to do so with unbroken sets in the first round.

All my previous Fran attempts have been in the high six to mid seven minute range, but those were all seven months ago or longer.  Even worse, I haven't stepped foot in a Crossfit gym for over six weeks.  And I let my Crossfit gym membership lapse.   But here is a list of what I have going for me:

  • Somewhat like Samson, I will have the power of Faery Hair!*  Not sure  yet what color I should get though.  
  • I will get at least seven hours and thirty-nine minutes of sleep.
  • I have continued to do barbell lifts (squats, deadlifts, overhead press, bench).  
  • I have continued to rock climb about twice per week, so I should be ready for pull-ups
  • Endurance is decent due four days of cross country skiing recently
  • I will do at least one rehearsal attempt of the same workout
Doesn't sound that hard perhaps, but doing unbroken sets in the first round is going to put me in a dark place.  Overall I am predicting this is going to be difficult but attainable. 

I would plan to start on my birthday at 7:39 p.m., just to have the power of the numbers behind me, but the gym I am going too is tremendously busy on weekdays at 7:39 p.m (and probably 7:39 a.m).  I don't want to be rude by getting in everyone's way when it is crowded.  So I am going to take a late lunch that day, and head to the gym in mid-afternoon.  The entry is thus entered on my work calendar (What else are work calendars for anyhow?).

I will post results shortly after the event. Hopefully I can get some pictures of the event or one of the rehearsals to post, with my hair sparkles sparkling, while I am throwing around more or less a hundred pounds of barbell in rapid succession.

*Not only can Faery Hair provide extra strength, I'm told Faery Hair can fight floppy-haired, crude political figures, whom I will not generate more publicity for by mentioning any names.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Is Your Office Job Ruining Your Health & Making You Dumber?

In the middle of reading the blockbuster book Move Your DNA, and I had to start writing about it even before I finish reading the book.  This is one of the most brilliant, deep, and thoughtful books on movement I have found so far.  While so many books on health, movement, exercise, and wellness have glaring holes you could drive a truck through, this is not the case here.

In the book the author, Katy Bowman, M.S., describes how captive orcas have a floppy dorsal fin.  Why do captive orcas dorsal fins sag, while wild orcas do not have this problem?  Apparently swimming in a small prison pool slowly in circles is not equivalent to fast swimming at varied depths that orcas can do in the wild.  You don't say.

Bowman goes on to compare modern humans to the captive orcas.  If you work in a office, you are nothing more than a captive killer whale at Sea World, with a floppy dorsal fin.  So here goes my rant on the issues of the typical office environment...

  • Lack of natural light... Even if you have windows close by, you are probably too self-important to take much time to go outside during the day.
  • Long life-sucking pointless meetings... Sitting in a chair, in large groups of people, wasting time.
  • Elevators... I work in a three story building, and people routinely take the elevator to get from the 1st floor to the 2nd floor!  The artificially flat environment we have created has wreaked havoc on the muscles in our feet and legs.
  • Junk food...  All the free food that shows up in the break room is slow acting poison.  But, hey, it's free.
  • Modern communications... Why walk over to your co-workers desk when you can simply IM them?

  • Sitting in a chair...  You go from sitting in your car in the morning commute, to sitting in a chair at work, to sitting in a car for your evening commute.  Then you wonder why you have back/shoulder/neck/foot/health problems!   The rise in popularity of standing desks is an improvement, but standing still for eight hours has it's own issues.  If you got an expensive treadmill desk, would that solve the problem?  Unlikely, because the variety of movement that your body requires is not met by one simple repetitive motion on flat terrain.  And if you think you can throw in thirty minutes of repetitive motion exercise a day to correct for eight hours of stillness, think again.

Unfortunately the lack of movement in the modern office environment is not only comprehensively destroying our health, it may also be creating the dumbest generation of human beings in history.  Just as domesticated and captive animals lose ten, twenty or even thirty percent of brain mass in comparison to wild animals, urbanized, office captive, and "domesticated" homo sapiens are probably no exception.  

That we may be the dumbest generation of homo sapiens ever is not surprising when all we have to do is push keys on the keyboard and click things.  We don't have to remember where the good foraging is located, how to identify plants, how to track animals, or even how to grow food.  The brain itself is mostly needed for movement purposes after all.  The sea squirt is a creature that moves through the ocean, and looks for a suitable rock to attach itself to.  Once said location is found, it attaches to the rock, and proceeds to digest it's own brain.  Without movement, the brain is no longer required.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Simien Mountains Trek Day Five

As we rise on day five, we are fortunate to find that the rain from yesterday has let up, at least temporarily.  Eating our usual breakfast of one egg and some oatmeal, plus some of the left of lamb from the slaughter, we pack up for one last day of walking.  Shegaw and Zerie load up the mules for the last time.  If only we could backpack with mules carrying all the supplies every time!  Really, it's one of the best ways to travel in my opinion.

We leave the relative familiarity of Sankaber, and set off down the middle of the dirt road for Debark.  If the past few days are any indication, it's completely safe as the number of vehicles that have we saw pass by was a grand total of one; No problems with traffic when people cannot afford to buy cars.

If we're lucky we might even make it to Gonder by nightfall, in time to stop by Sofa Juice for a smoothie.  Despite the unattractive name, Sofa Juice makes some excellent avocado mango smoothies at an amazing price.

Walking on the dirt road for an hour or more, we are happy to see no cars.  Even with the declining altitude, the rolling hills begin to take their toll.  Five days of walking in the mountains at reasonably high altitude, with no rest days, and perhaps our bodies have not been able to quite adjust just yet.  We depart from the road, and head up one hill after another.  It seems that our scout Metuke is purposely taking us directly up the hills instead of around them.  Perhaps he wants us to get better views.  At this point, we have seen the views though, and we are just thinking about a rest day and Sofa Juice.  Merciless, we head up yet another hill, for one last look at the Simien valleys thousands of feet below, and a view that goes on for dozens of miles.

Heading into farm and pasture land, we encounter a brief hailstorm, which paints the ground with a white covering.  It's an unexpected site for Africa, as it looks like snow.  We snap a few photos for proof, and continue putting one foot in front of the other.

Soon we reach what appears to be a hand built farmhouse, surrounded by fields of wheat and barley.  Two kids, no older than seven, come running out to Metuke.  Metuke says ene bet (my house).  We head in side.  Do I need to mention there is no electricity or running water?  In the countryside we are not surprised to learn this.  His kids look happy, and everyone appears to be well fed.

Metuke motions for us to sit down on the hand built furniture as we stop for a lunch break.  His kids watch us closely... They don't have weird looking (pale white) visitors often.  Metuke pulls some teff injera out of a basket and another large container with red paste.  It's spicy, and at this point we are hungry enough that we probably wouldn't really care much, as long as it's edible.  Soon that thought gets put to the test.  Metuke pulls out another huge ceramic container and pour some chunky liquid into a few glasses.  Having seen the cows outside, and the lack of electricity, it doesn't take a genius to realize we are about to drink fermented milk.  They say that "hunger is the best flavoring," at the definitely helps us to down the entire glass of this novel beverage.  I stop at one glass, but my adventurous friend downs a second.  I guess, like bunna (coffee), it just takes some getting used to.

Metuke keeps pushing the food on us, and we appreciate his generosity, but we can only eat and drink so much.  Especially from someone that has so little according to Western standards, its a nice thing he has done.  Or perchance is he just buttering us for a favor to ask?  In our limited Amharic, and his limited English, we somehow figure out that Metuke wants to stay home, and not walk us back to Debark.  If I was in his shoes, I would be tempted to do the same, Not remembering the way back to Debark, we swiftly reject that idea.

Metuke says good bye to his children, who stay home alone (Well except for the cows, dogs, and chickens, so not entirely alone).  We head out from the homestead and we see some dark clouds in the distance.  Just like the day prior, these look threatening and heading our direction.  It is not long before we see flashes of electricity.  We count, one, two, three, four, five... and then the thunder erupts.  Five miles.

The clouds grow to cover the sky, the downpour begins, and the lightening and thunder move in to four, three, two miles, and then they are around us.    We are caught in a storm of biblical proportions, in the land which claims to possess the ark of the covenant that was given to Moses over 5000 years ago, and in which our pre-human ancestors have resided for millions of years.  By luck, or God, or science, we don't get struck by lightening somehow.  Climbing the last hills before the outskirts of Debark, we soon arrive cold and wet.  The storm continues as the streets turn into small rivers, and we enjoy the entertainment from the safety of some outside seating under an awning.  Eventually the storm lets up, and we catch a terrible van ride back to Gonder with nineteen other of our closest friends... Closest by the fact that we are all practically on top of each other in the van.  I guess that's the level of comfort you can expect for 40 birr ($2) on a 90 minute trip.    Oh well, as long as we return before Sofa Juice closes for the day.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Simien Mountains Trek Day Four

Today we will begin the return trek, walking from Chennek Camp to Sankaber.  Eating our breakfast of an egg and some porridge, we look forward to another day of walking and excellent vistas.  Metuke is not surprisingly ready to go, and soon we set off walking.  Due to the longer distance we will cover today, and that we have seen much of the Simien Mountains already, some of the trek follows a quiet dirt road.

We're walking fast, probably five or six kilometers per hour.  I'm not sure why, but probably we want to show Metuke we are in decent shape.  It's a bit silly, considering we are on vacation of course.  I guess that our competitive side just won't go away.  It is nice, however, to put some distance between us and the other tourists.  Since there aren't any cars or buses on the road, we have it to ourselves.  The silence is luxurious, and that's one of the reasons why we are here.

After a few hours of walking the clouds begin to roll in.  Thick, dark and ominous looking.  We hear a few distant rumbles.  Then we feel a sprinkle.  We quicken our pace as the rain starts to come down steadily.  Soon it is coming down in torrents.  A flash appears down the valley.  We count... one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, BOOOMM, then thunder roars.

We hustle through the rest of the hike, dripping wet. Taking shelter under the eaves of the cooking hut, and soon after the storm passes.  A shepard and his folk passes by.  My hiking companion, ever the Paleo man, is craving meat.  He asks if Dinknesh will prepare lamb, and how much that costs. Yes that can be done.  Some negotiations commence with the shepherd.  They reach an agreement, and the shepherd leaves a small lamb with the two mule handlers.  The Paleo man starts to walk away, and I request he stays around for the slaughter, since it is his purchase. 

One of the mule handlers attempts to cut the lamb's throat, but the knife is too dull.  Metuke steps in and takes the knife away.  He sharpens it on a rock carefully, and then quickly kills the lamb. In less than two minutes, he has the lamb skinned, digestive tract removed and the lamb expertly butchered. Clearly he has done this many times before, and I am thankful for his skill and experience.  We take the large bowls of lamb pieces, including liver and one or two other organs (maybe heart, but I can't remember) to Dinknesh for preparation. 

Dinknesh confidently sets to work cooking the lamb.  In a hour or so, dinner is served, but we find that nobody else is eating lamb.  Every Wednesday and Friday is a fasting day for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, who represent a majority of the population.  No animal products whatsoever are consumed on these days.  We hope that perhaps the can eat the lamb tomorrow, but Dinknesh says that additionally they are not allowed to eat animals that were killed on fasting days.   Lesson learned.  Unfortunately some of the lamb will go to waste.  Nothing really completely goes to waste, as the bacteria and other animals will consume it eventually, but it's not the ideal situation.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Simien Mountains Trek Day Three

Metuke looking out over the Simien Mountains
We wake up refreshed as
the second night of sleeping on the ground is better,  as we already are getting used to doing so.

 We eat our usually breakfast of an egg and some porridge prepared by Dinknesh, along with shay (tea) or coffee.  Sometimes the simplest foods are the best. Paired with an out of this world, once in a lifetime view, this breakfast cannot be beat.

Geech camp is busy with activity as other trekkers wake up and emerge from their tents.  The scout Metuke has already finished his breakfast and is eager for us to depart,   I think because of the larger distance we will need to cover today.  "An hit" (Let's go).   I hurriedly stuff an extra egg into my mouth knowing this, and no sooner do we I finish chewing, we start off for Chennek camp.  On our way there we will ascend to 14,000+ feet high point, cross a valley 2000 feet lower, re-ascend to 14,000, and then re-descend to 12,000.

Looking out over an escarpment, it seems we we can see forever.  Metuke points straight across the valley to a faded and impossibly distant point on a plateau on the other side.  Somehow we figure out that he is indicating that we are going there today.  It's hard to be believe that we could walk that far in one day, and we decide just to not think about that.

We come across a few small groups of local children, excited to see us.  As always the ask for pencils, money and plasteek, and some of them have various crafts and items to sell.  We're not sure what they want with plastic bottles, but we know the people here are resourceful, and almost everything gets re-used in one form or another.

The ridge line makes a sharp turn to the south.  We continue ascending, and as we round a bend we begin hearing the sound of water.  The sound increases and we suspect a fwafwate (waterfall) is close by.  Soon this is confirmed.  A cascade streams into a canyon that is so deep that we cannot see the bottom.  The feeling about such a special place is hard to describe, and we are so privileged to be here.  Priceless.


A number of other trekkers have stopped to appreciate the fwafwate, and we meet some travellers on a north to south trip through the entire continent of Africa.  In retirement, and on an African journey with no fixed end date, I can't help being a little jealous.

Continuing on we plod our way down into the first of the two valleys and emerge at the bottom two hours later.  Ascending the other side, the grade and altitude combine to slow our pace.  With stubbornness and patience we eventually top out.  From the apex, Metuke points for the second time that day, to what seems to be another impossibly distant location, and says Chennek denkwan (camp).  Again we try not to think about the distance and just put one foot in front of the other.  Despite the distance (and our fatigue), the views nearly free of human presence also lift our spirits and we never get tired of looking at them. 

Rolling into camp late in the afternoon we see our tent already put up, some of the same strange looking birds are scavenging about, and some hot tea is waiting for us.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Simien Mountains Trek Day Two

The first night sleeping on the ground is usually not the greatest.  Despite this, we get up and say deuna addirk  and deuna addursh (good morning) all around. 

After an excellent little breakfast of porridge, tea and eggs, we say konjo megebno (beautiful food) to Dinknesh.   

Te-ze gaj toohal (Are you ready)?

We set off from Sankaber camp under the watchful eyes of the scavenger birds.  These patient oversize crows are waiting for us to vacate so that they can pick up any crumbs that we have left. 

We set a steady pace to Geech camp, some thousand feet higher, and unknown (to us) number of miles. Once again Dinknesh, the two mule drivers, and the two mules head a different direction, taking a more direct route to Geech Camp.  

Mmm, grass for breakfast!

We reach a small village of several huts.  There are several villagers around and plenty of children.  The children are outgoing, and some of them follow us around.  They ask for pencils.

A shepard tends his flock of beug (sheep), largely uninterested in the foreigners passing by.  The sheep are even less interested in an interruption to their grazing.

Behind the pastoral scene stands a vast array of Giant Lobelia trees, one of the unique species of the area.    It was images of these peculiar Lobelia trees that first drew my interest into visiting Ethiopia.  There are actually many plants referred to with the common name Giant Lobelia, and the more exact name  is  Lobelia Rhynchopetalum.   Now try saying that five times fast. Anyhow, it only grows at high altitude, and for the most part just in Simien Mountains National Park and Bale Mountains National Parks in Ethiopia.

We really like to eat grass.

My nose is itchy.
A villager invites us to a coffee ceremony. We had a wonderful coffee experience in Gondar already,  in which coffee was roasted over coals in a pan at our dinner table,  so we decline politely.  

Coffee was thought to have been first discovered in Ethiopia.  Apparently someone accidentally spilled some beans near the fire.  After the beans were accidentally roasted, the beans gained a wonderful aroma!  The rest is [coffee] history. 

We walk onward out the village, continuing along a ridge line.  Shortly thereafter, we reach a troop of a few dozen Gelada (Theropithecus gelada), grazing on tasty blades of grass. Some of the baboons groom each other as well.  The Gelada Baboon only lives in the highlands of Ethiopia and nowhere else.  They are unique in that they spend nearly all of their time on the ground (as opposed to in trees).  At night they sleep in inaccessible and precarious cliffs and ledges.  Gelada baboons have complex social structures, and an extensive range of vocalizations.
I hope they're not coming over here. I don't want to talk to them.

After watching the Gelada for half an hour, we continue on.  A few more hours of walking among the Giant Lobelia trees, and we reach Geech camp.  At Geech camp we have more company than we had at Sankaber.  Some slightly higher-end tourists have bypassed Sankaber and come straight to Geech camp.  They drove on unpaved road to a place a little past Sankaber, and then walked from there.  Nonetheless, Geech Camp is not crowded, and there is plenty of space.  It's not the Hilton Hotel, but the views are much improved.

Needs more salt.

I'm going to watch the football game. 

Can't you hold still while I'm grooming you?

I don't like Mondays.