Wednesday, August 20, 2008

North Carolina and Table Rock

I got to the train station in Georgia at 7:30pm, Tuesday the 5th. I arrived in Burlington, North Carolina at 10:00am, Wednesday the 6th. It was a looong train ride. I saw TK17/Duncan waiting for me as the train pulled up, I recognized him from his Pilgrimage video. We all got introduced, and then headed to IHOP for breakfast (my first meal in almost 15 hours). Most of Wednesday was spent resting, and I led a small training session at UNC – Chapel Hill that evening showcasing some of the different training methods I'd learned on my trip. The real adventure of North Carolina happened Thursday, though.

We left around 9am from Duncan's house in three cars. The plan was to rendezvous with two other people, and then go hiking all day at Table Rock, a huge series of mountains and rocks, with a valley containing the “North Carolina Wall.” The trip started off well enough, and then we hit a bump.

Two of the cars were already full, the third car had enough room for the two extra passengers we were picking up. The third car also happened to develop a transmission problem that prevented it from shifting out of second gear. This pretty much makes it an adventure to get out of your neighborhood. We parked it at a Dairy Cream off of the highway, and reconsolidated passengers, then headed to pick up the two extra people.

They were waiting in a parking lot of a strip mall, and as we pulled up we realized a new problem. Since the car broke down, we now had 9 seats and 11 people. I spent the next 3 hours of our journey to Table Rock in the trunk of a Honda Element.

Only one person knows how to get there, and he's in the other car. After about two and a half hours, we start to question whether or not this place exists, because we see no tables, rocks, or mountains that look like either. We finally start seeing signs of the mountain, and we begin our ascent. For a while, the paved road was steep and winding as we head up the mountain, but then it turned into more of a dust road than a dirt one. Driving up and down this winding dirt road created a massive dust cloud behind us, obscuring vision. Again, after about a half an hour we started to question if we were actually headed anywhere in particular, or just out for a nice drive.

Finally, we arrived at a parking lot, and saw a sign for “Table Rock Trail.” We made it to the trail! We piled out of the car, which was completely covered in dust at this point, and started out our hike. Several people decided to do it barefoot, so I join them, kicking off my shoes, tying the laces together and slinging them over my shoulder. We reached several photo-op spots, using a bit of creative climbing and Parkour to get on top of boulders. Almost every time it seemed like we had reached the top of the mountain and everything else was descending, but every time we kept going further and every time the view got more and more spectacular.

At one point, our first real view of the valley, there was a rock-peninsula about 100 feet ahead and parallel to of us. Duncan and two other traceurs climbed down the rock face we were resting on, traversed their way through the brush and thorns, and then climbed out to it. It must have been a fantastic view, with nothing obstructing their vision. We continued the climb, and after getting distracted probably fifteen times by interesting Parkour spots or climbing walls, we eventually made it to the end. This was definitely the best view of the entire hike. We were out on a corner of a cliff with the entire valley stretched to our right, and another set of mountains reaching up to our left. We stayed there for probably twenty minutes, just taking in the sights. From valleys to falcons, it was nature at its finest.

It was also dinner time. We'd been out hiking for close to four hours, with a four hour drive before that. We were famished! So before starting the trek down the mountain, we broke open a cooler in the trunk of the other car and got to work on our picnic! It was a great picnic, with turkey, ham, assorted fruits and vegetables, bread and some cookies for desert. After eating, we piled back into the cars, I got back into my trunk, and we were comin' back down the mountain. I almost immediately curled up in the trunk of the Honda Element and passed out. (and let me tell you, waking up in the trunk of a Honda Element is probably one of the strangest things you'll ever experience).

A quick stop at Dairy Queen to pick up the car (and for ice cream), and we headed back to Duncan's house to pass out. I left the next morning for home, and I definitely think that the hike was a fantastic way to end my summer adventure.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Luuucy, I'm Hoooomme

I am back home in Severna Park, Maryland! Look out for the rest of the stories from my trip in the coming weeks, with a big cumulative post at the end!

Texas National Jam Write up

Texas Parkour held their National Jam in San Antonio this year, Friday July 25th through Sunday the 27th. Over 75 people showed up throughout the weekend, coming in from all over Texas and the rest of the country. San Antonio, Houston, Austin, and Dallas all had a strong presence, and traceurs flew or drove in from Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Maryland and Michigan.

People started arriving Friday morning, and kept streaming in throughout the day. Jereme Sander's house was used as a staging ground for everyone, who stayed entertained while waiting for people with Jereme's trampoline and Zachary Cohn's slackline (although most of the adventure was in putting up the slackline. Knots are a very important thing to remember how to tie!). By 7pm, everyone had shown up (save KC Parsons, from Michigan, who earned the nickname “Chicago” after everyone kept thinking he was from Chicago), and we left for University of Texas: San Antonio campus for some night conditioning.

The focus here was not so much Parkour, but showing everyone how hard you could, and should, train. A lot of people who train Parkour either don't condition, or don't really know how. This is unfortunate, because conditioning your body for Parkour is so important – how we consider ourselves athletes but do nothing except for skillwork. Football, soccer, and lacrosse players all do non-skill conditioning work... what makes Traceurs any different? This “conditioning” night session was intended to teach people about conditioning and show them how they can be creative with their environment and still train hard.

We started off with a warmup, which transitioned into a workout. There was running (forwards, backwards, sideways), Quadrupedal movement (forwards, backwards, sideways), “PK Gen Style” push-ups (see: Philly Jam video for examples), hopping, and jumping. We moved onto balancing on some rails, both bipedally (standing and in a duck-walk position), quadrupedally, keeping track of your falls. For each time you fell, at the end you did 10 pushups or squats. Traversal practice was next, from a cat hang position people would shimmy across a wall, which would angle downwards (or upwards depending which side you were on), at about a 45 degree angle.

Eventually, we traveled to a large set of stairs, broken into two 14 step sections divided by a landing. Jereme showed everyone a workout he borrowed from Forrest of Parkour Generations. Everyone starts at the bottom of the steps in a squat position, and then using only your feet and hands (so you remain in a squat position in the air), jump up a step when the leader calls out “Up one!” If the leader calls out “Up two!” then go up two steps. However, sometimes you'll hear “Down one!” or “Down two!” and you have to jump backwards some steps. After this, more stair work. Hopping up all the stairs, one step at a time, with one foot, and then doing pushup hops down (hands on the top step, do a pushup, and when you are exploding up, your entire body hops forward a bit and your hands land on the next step down). Hop up the steps again with your other leg, and then QM down. Instead of resting while everyone else finished, once you completed everything you would just run up and down the steps, with more and more people joining as they completed the stair workout. This was wrapping up the night, and everyone circled up for a group cool down stretch. After about 30 minutes of stretching, people hung around for a bit, jammed, had fun, and then we headed back to Jereme's house around midnight for sleep.

The goal was to leave at 9am the next morning for Hemisfair Park. The convoy left around 9:30 (which was when we REALLY needed to leave anyway, we figured we'd be getting out a bit late) and showed up at the park around 10. By the time the convoy from Jereme's house got there, twenty people were already there, jumping around! Because there were so many people there (at one count, 55), we split into two groups. One group stayed at the meeting location, and the other headed to the other side of the park where there was a wooden Castle-style playground. Everyone in the first group spread out and worked on different things. Chris Salvato and Zac Cohn led a brief balancing workshop for a few newer tracuers, introducing newer concepts like shuffling along the rail sideways, instead of always forwards and backwards. Another Chris, from Oklahoma, was being coached on his dive kongs and double kongs. People were drilling cats and step up cranes, and there were really traceurs just scampering everywhere. After a bit, the two groups switched (but the second group came back to the wooden castle pretty quickly, they were asked to leave the area they were in), and everyone trained together at the playground.

People were nailing some pretty impressive cats and precisions, while on the other side of the playground some of the Huston crowd were drilling kong to cats when a police officer parked her car right next to us. She stepped out, made sure we weren't going to run into her car, and then hung out and chatted with us for a bit. Soon, a second officer came over and joined the conversation. They seemed genuinely interested, and the second officer told us a story from when he was young on the force. He was making a drug arrest, and the suspect ran. He proceeded on a footchase, but soon was weighed down by all of his equipment and started to overheat in his uniform long sleeved shirt and long pants. We discussed why, as recruits and trainees, they run all the time in shorts and t-shirts, but rarely do any training in full equipment. I thought that this drew an interesting parallel to traceurs who change into their “Parkour shoes” and where special shoes whenever they train. Would these people suffer the same problem? Being unable to perform to their maximum capacity because they didn't train in what they usually wear?

We wrapped up at the playground and headed out for a late lunch. Jereme then suggested we all go cliff diving, so we piled back in the cars and parked on this seemingly abandoned country road. We crossed the street and headed into the woods, eventually finding a trail down to a boulder-filled stream. After jumping from boulder to boulder for a while, we were able to cross to the other side and pick up another trail that led us to a much deeper stream, surrounded by cliffs. The cliffs ranged from 3 feet above the water to 30, and anyone who didn't feel like climbing and flipping into the river had a relaxing afternoon soaking in the warm stream. Many gainers, double fronts, and full twists later, we piled back in the cars and headed to dinner, then Jereme's house for sleep.

Getting up early AGAIN on Sunday morning, we left the house around 9:20 and drove to Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. The heat was starting to some people, but everyone still got out and trained hard. San Marcos was a lot of fun, a lot of interesting architecture, and a lot of awesome rails. Breakfast hadn't really happened yet, so we left a bit earlier and got burritos, then headed to another nearby wooden castle park where Jereme led a warmup and Matthew Lee Willis led a game or two of follow the leader. There was an article in a local newspaper about the jam, and a couple people were there waiting for us. Some people were there just to watch, but other people hoped to join in – they were just a bit intimidated. With a bit of encouragement, some of them joined in the fun and had a great introduction to Parkour!

We left the park and met up again at a river running through one of the nearby schools. There was a bit of swimming, followed mostly by a tricking session in very wet grass. There was enough traction to trick fine, but clothes and legs and feet got soaked. This resulted in some pretty cool explosions of water when people's feet started whipping around. At one point, Jereme set up a line of about 8 people, and everyone backtucked simultaneously, water shooting into the sky.

The day finished up as everyone went back to Mike Avery's house. We hung out there for a few hours before a midnight trip to IHOP, where there were plenty of “Yo Momma” jokes (Yo momma's so fat that my dog bit her and died of high cholesterol.), a creepy waiter, and a really super creepy older guy. When he started hitting on some of the traceuses present and getting into an argument with Chris Holden about the military we decided it was a good time to leave. We parted ways, and the Texas Parkour National Jam finally ended.

Overall, it was very, very hot. People did a ton of pushups due to “the Game” (if you say certain words, you have to do 10 pushups. No I won't tell you what they are, because I don't want to do them! They're all negative words though, and the game is played with the surface goal of fostering a more positive attitude. It's really just an excuse to make people do pushups though.), with Desmund Mitchell racking up 350 at one point. They started selling the newest Texas Parkour t-shirt (a sunset, with a silhouetted traceur vaulting a cow) We sweat a lot, and drank approximately seven hundred gallons of water. A ton of people showed up, and it was a huge success.

I'd definitely back to Texas – although maybe I'll wait until Winter.