NorCal stint: old friends and new CrossFit boxes

After the CrossFit Games, phase 2 of my U.S. trip commenced: a quick trip to the Bay Area. Since I used to live there, the subject of the blog post is a bit tongue-in-cheek (for those not in the know, calling the area NorCal is about like calling the city San Fran … it’s just not done).

Monday morning Rika and Janie took me to Budget to pick up another rental car, because the rest of my teammates decided to stay in Los Angeles for the remainder of their U.S. stay (suckers!). I mean, it looks like they had a great time. But aside from not seeing a friend or two, L.A. bores me and I was happy to get up north. While I’m on the subject I want to relay how cool the car was that I rented: it was an economy car but it was brand new, a Ford of some sort or another and it had a digital display and radio and its coolest feature by far was the gas tank that didn’t have a screw off cap, it just had an emissions- and leakage-safe place to put in the nozzle. AND it was actually kind of fun to drive!

So I took off around noon and with a quick pit stop at In’n’Out Burger (this is a SoCal institution and I’d amazingly never eaten there so decided to check it out: double-double protein style animal style no sauce no cheese, making it relatively paleo), I drove myself up to the Bay Area, specifically to Alameda where I was staying with a friend from my Ask Jeeves days, Hope. Pretty much as soon as we had put my bags down she took me to her back garden and showed me her bar. No, not an alcohol bar but a bar she uses for gymnastics (she started with trapeze and moved onto tumbling and some other things), so I proceeded to show her the kipping pullup which she found fascinating and horrifying all at the same time. Mainly because she had not yet seen the butterfly pullup.

We spent the rest of the evening drinking wine, catching up, and watching archives from the CrossFit Games. The next morning I got up, checked my old spots in Berkeley (my favourite Mexican restaurant appears to be no more), and had a latte at Café Milano where I always used to study. Took some photos of the Cal campus. It’s weird whenever I go there because I like it so much and it’s so familiar, that it feels in some ways like I never left, or like I could easily slip back into being there as if nothing ever changed.

In the early afternoon I went to CrossFit Oakland which is actually in Emeryville. Yes, CrossFit, solving the age-old problem of what to do between meals. CrossFit Oakland is moving facilities at the moment, but it looks like it will be really nice when it’s done being built out. In the meantime it hasn’t been checked by the authorities so all the workouts have to be done outside. The guy who runs it, Mike, was super nice and not only didn’t bother to charge me a drop-in fee but told me to take as many t-shirts as I wanted for free because they were old stock. Of course I took him literally and took 5 so I insisted on giving him something, but these are actually great t-shirts and they will definitely be getting some exposure around Cape Town!

The workout of the day was handstand hold for time, followed by 21-15-9 burpees, 20” box jumps, and kettlebell swings. I had a bit of an issue here: I got to 1:39 and then I was completely losing feeling in both my hands so I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and came down. Second attempt I stayed up about a minute. Definitely need to practice that one more, but after I figure out my nerve impingement issue! The second part of the workout went a bit better for me as I finished in 6:12 although I could feel that latte and I actually stopped for about a second somewhere in the round of 15 burpees. That *never* happens to me. Damn being lactose intolerant!

Following the CrossFit I headed down some dodgy back roads of West Oakland (I thought my GPS might be trying to take me off somewhere to be shot … but happily, not) to the trapeze studio for some tumbling class. This involved jumping on a long trampoline-like rig and doing a variety of other gymnastic moves (cartwheels, pike jumps, trying to jump, flip all the way over and land on your feet (I never quite made it … Almost, just couldn’t get my legs underneath me)). This was a lot of fun but also very humbling. We finished up with some handstand walk practice.

We had sushi for dinner and due to a sad miscommunication (date mixup) it was just the two of us and we missed seeing some other old friends. This was a bit of a shame but not too much of a shame because at around 9pm I crashed. I think all that bouncing around was a bit harder on my body than it seemed at the time!

The next morning I headed over the hills east to Pleasant Hill, home of Diablo CrossFit (so named because of its proximity to Mount Diablo). I would have wanted to check out this box anyway because of its name (Diablo is Spanish for Devil), but this is also a very good CrossFit gym. They were in second place going into team event #4 when one of their team members made a bit of a strategic error by neglecting to eat carbs between workouts. Lesson learned, the VERY hard way, as Diablo CrossFit wound up in seventh place by one point (the top 6 made the cut to the final day).

The workout of the day was kipping pullup practice followed by 4 rounds for time of 10 chest-to-bar pullups, 10 ground-to-overhead with two 30-lb dumbbells, and a 100m farmers carry with two 25-lb plates. This last part was interesting because we don’t do it a lot, so it was an interesting balance of moving fast and trying not to trash my grip and have to drop the plates! The chest-to-bar pullups were my biggest problem though because, well, because they are way more taxing than regular pullups and when I get tired I tend to miss reps by not actually touching the bar or not getting sufficient height. I finished this one in 15:38. Good workout though!

Afterwards I spent some time touring the construction going on next door. I was impressed enough with the big pullup rig they had in the middle (words don’t do it justice, it looks like a torture device). Apparently the owner Jeremy designed it himself, until I saw the size of the space they were building out next door. Not sure what it is in square feet or square meters, but guessing maybe 8-10 times the total size of the main room at CCF, and including an outdoor area with a café and ice baths (gym rule is going to be if you want to do a girl [workout… you sick people] you have to get in the ice bath after). This is like a competitive CrossFitters wet dream, I’m not even kidding. Stayed for a little bit after trying on t-shirts (the drop-in fee is waived if you buy one) and chatted to the gym owner. Again, super nice, very knowledgeable, highly strategic. If I were a competitive CrossFitter in the Bay Area, I’d say this is the place to train.

Unfortunately I got caught in some severe traffic on the way to my lunch with a bunch of ex-co-workers. That was quite awful, because I got to see some of them for a lot less time than I would have liked. But on the plus side, my salad was very good, and the conversation sparked Laura to find my favourite Ask hack of all time (Ask Iris was replaced with a chain-smoking, beer-guzzling alter ego). Afterwards most of us went by the Ask Jeeves offices (where many of them still work), and Hope toured me around to see old acquaintances, meet a few new people, and do some pullups on her pullup bar. Very strange things around the Ask Jeeves offices if you ask me.

Then Steve and Dan took me to the server room (because no visit to Jeeves is complete without a visit to the server room) and it just so happened that one of my old servers, GRANDMASPURSE, had been listed for decommissioning the day before (and by none other than the lovely Valerie Lanard). So Steve and Dan let me have the pleasure of unracking my server (first I gave myself an electric shock removing its electrical cord, which was not my fault there was a short somewhere on the power strip). Since GRANDMASPURSE was from the days before rackmount servers (!) well they existed back then but we still bought some that weren’t rackmountable they had to lift up the two servers above it so I could safely slide it out. Which I did, then promptly decided to jerk the server overhead just because it was so light (I think it was about 35 or 40 pounds, and I do remember a time when such a weight was a lot heavier than it feels now!). Steve, of course, took a picture which will undoubtedly show up on Facebook at some point.

A quick trip past Blue Bottle Coffee, and my favourite boutique later, I hit the road to Sonoma showing up maybe 30 minutes before the end of Hope’s trapeze session. So I got to try a few swings after ground training. Oddly enough, and I say this because I am super comfortable in the handstand and handstand pushup position, I am extremely uncomfortable hanging from a bar by my knees. That inverted position is very challenging for me. I also forgot to jump up off the platform, which of course caused me to have less speed and height than is desirable. The movements themselves were challenging because they were unfamiliar and I think the biggest challenge I had was doing things on cue. Considering my amazing reflexes there seems to be a big disconnect between hearing a command and obeying it. But on the positive side, the height didn’t seem to bother me when I was inverted, and on the last swing when I was told to let go on command and not try and do a backflip because it would happen naturally and if I tried bad things would result, I had no problem doing as I was told and completing my backflip safely. Fun stuff! Heady stuff and again humbling, but this sort of gymnastic routine fits in well with that old CrossFit prescription that you must regularly learn and play new sports.

Four of us girls stayed that night at a cabin on the property, drinking wine, eating, and only jumping on the trampoline after moderate drinking. Between my rope burn (I had just taken the wrap off!), my ankle and the fact that I’d been drinking, I decided not to jump around too much but rather went and showed Valerie how to do kipping toes-to-bar. I think I have learned my lesson with gymnastic activities and drinking. But that was a super fun time, playing South African music for my friends and talking about all manner of things Jeeves-related and not.

Valerie thought I was a bit nuts (she said dedicated but she meant nuts) when I got up the next morning to drive to San Francisco to hit the 7am workout at San Francisco CrosSFit. Little did I know this box was literally a shipping container. I felt right at home, although I despaired a bit at the thought of a long drive down Route 1 through Big Sur back to LA without a shower, especially since it was raining and the workout was 5 rounds of 5 front squats and 20 pushups. I used a relatively light 105 pound (48kg) weight for the front squats. In retrospect I should have used a little more but I didn’t want to have to worry about not being able to plow through the squats since it was a metcon, after all, and I think my 5-rep max for front squat is something in the low 60s. And I wanted to be able to reliably clean the weight since I wasn’t up for sharing a rack. The pushups of course were my limiting factor, but I wanted to do them cleanly not least because our coach that morning was none other than Adrian Bozman (or Boz, as he’s known), aka the head judge from the Games. My final time? 9:38. So, after the photo op (I’m not one for celebrity photos but considering that I was filthy I thought it was cool) I headed back in the car and hit the road for LA on the scenic route.

The trip was stunning. It was, in retrospect, a bit sad to do it by myself with no one to talk to and expound on the beauty that is the California coast. It was reminiscent of my Garden Route trip a few weeks back although the Californians are smart (or maybe stupid) and built the road right along the coast so its beauty is magnificent. The colours … truly stunning. And I even managed to figure out how to play my Two Minute Puzzle road song when I got out of radio range: via the computer.

I did eventually get my shower when I stopped in Santa Cruz for lunch and saw a CrossFit box (!) so I went in just to say hello and wound up getting offered a shower so I sure as hell wasn’t going to turn that down! Didn’t stay to train, though, because I was concerned about getting to LA in time. Shame, though, the workout looked like fun but I did in fact make it to LAX at just about the perfect time so I think I made the right decision! It was a bit odd driving back into LA on the 405 and hearing the same songs on the radio we had heard before and during the competition, but knowing that everyone was gone. The very definition of a let-down!

Long story short, the visit was a whirlwind. It was great to see old friends again, albeit briefly, comforting to see old places again, and the visit made me realise just how much I do like California.

• “Oh, they’re hot.” – Hope
• “You are going to get filthy. If you have a problem with that… Well, you should know better by now.” – Boz

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