Garage Strength

Garage Strength - Oct 25

October 25, 2011. ~8:30am

I was knocked out last night. Mom and I were late coming home from her Vitamin C treatment (I ended up on the NE extension of the turnpike by accident, not realizing it until we got to Quakertown). So I got to the gym around 5pm. By then, a lot of the high school athletes were there. Jason Coon was having a lousy day on the squat rack – he was doing jump-squats and dropped the bar – loaded with 225 lbs – and just about put a hole in the floor. Dane lectured him on staying in control. Jason went outside in the dark and in the dew and chucked sticks around the yard by the throwing circle, talking to himself all the while.

Meanwhile I had a leg day. The cool thing about Dane’s routine is that I was warming up with what I normally would consider my workout – a few rounds of front squats and overhead squats with the bar, plus split squats. I started warming up for snatch with 25s on the bar, gradually moving up to 35s and I think getting about 120 or 130 for three or four reps, which is okay considering I have not done that move in years.

Power cleans went better, and I maxed out at 175, more than my bodyweight, so a success in my mind. I felt good last night. I squatted as well, managing 225 for five before failing after one rep at 235. Again, it has been about five years since I did anything with that much weight on it, so not bad. The ‘warm down’ – again, what I would have considered a workout on its own – was kettlebell swings with the 80 pounder (mine is only 36), followed by pistol squats (one-leg, butt to the floor, no weight), and jumping lunges. Four sets of this just about did me in. My calf was shaking on the drive home trying to depress the clutch when I shifted gears.

We ate the chicken soup I started making at Kate’s on Sunday. After picking the bones clean for dinner with Kevin and Kate on Friday night, I slow-cooked the bones in a crockpot for twelve hours or so. The next morning the rest of the meat fell off the bones into the soup, and I brought it home. It congealed into what Dane calls ‘chicken gelatin’ overnight in the fridge, and to get mom eating more I packed it full of rice, beans, carrots, spinach, half a stick of butter and some flour to thicken it. She managed to get down an entire bowl last night (plus half an avocado). The soup was excellent.

I do not think I was fully recovered this morning. I went over at 8:30 for a cardio routine. I am playing golf tomorrow and do not want to be sore from lifting heavy (though I fear my legs will be anyway from yesterday, but that is manageable on the golf course. Sore arms less so). Dane had me doing circuits of kettlebell snatches with the 50 pounder (heavier than I have ever done), rope climb, pushups, the walrus (walking across the floor on one’s hands, feet propped up on a wheeled block of wood, in a pushup position), more pushups, box jumps, jumping lunges and pulling the prowler. I could not recover between sets for some reason, and had a headache all morning. My heart rate was through the roof and took far longer to come down than usual. I only did two circuits and left after collecting my computer (I was recording the ambient sound of the gym to play in the background during some of the interviews).

Dane’s sister Kai (sp?) was there today working out. I have a time set tomorrow to chat with her about the farm and how her and Brant have helped out get the farm under way. She told me her five-year-old daughter works out once a week in the barn. “She has lats,” Kai said.

I also chatted with another woman (name?) with breast cancer. She was interested in mom’s Vitamin C treatment, and attributes her quick recovery from surgery to Dane’s diet and exercise program she had been on. She is back in the gym, seemingly healthy, and starts chemo shortly.

Both Dane and Dan were sporting new haircuts last night. Dane declared it is his last shave of the summer – he will let his beard rip from now on through the winter.

I left the gym this morning with another chicken (Dane claims the broth should get my mom some of her strength back, even if it is the only thing she can get down), plus some mint chocolate he let me try, which is amazing. I brought a dozen eggs home last night, which I ate for brekky this morning. I still have about half a gallon of raw milk (in the midst of Kate’s party on Saturday, seven beers deep, I started offering people gulps of the stuff out of the jug. I think her friends thought I was a little off. I also made myself an Ezekiel English muffin which likely contributed to their opinions of me).

Questions for Kai:
  1. Whose idea was it to buy the farm?
  2. What do you think of Brant mowing with your 18-month-old on his back?
  3. How do you guys split the financing?
  4. How much influence did Brooks have on this?
  5. Tell me what you know about Brooks deal?
  6. Who is Dane’s biggest influence? Brooks?
  7. How close are the three of you to each other and your parents? How does that contribute to the success of you guys as a family?
  8. How do you think Dane and Caitlin will raise Lincoln?
  9. How often do you workout in the barn?
  10. Do you and Brant have your own responsibilities beyond the farmhouse?
  11. Tell me about the history of the farm and the house.
  12. What do you do for a living? Brant? How do you guys reconcile that with the lifestyle your brothers are living?
  13. How much influence does Joel Salatin have on Dane and/or Brooks?
  14. I heard Brooks is presenting Food Inc. at the National Archives? Are you going?

Garage Strength Notes, Day 8

October 13, 2011:

It was just Dane and me this morning. I arrived a bit after 8:30, a few minutes late because I was reading an article in the new issue of Time about Steve Jobs and did not want to rush. Dane was not there anyway. I walked into the open barn, failing when I tried to switch on the lights. Anton was barking somewhere in the distance. I found him in the little back office, sitting on a soft recliner in the dark. The ‘office’ is not quite an office, but is on the brink of perhaps resembling one. Same goes for the ‘bathroom.’ With a bit of imagination you can visualize the result, but both are a long way off from realization.

Anton followed me out of the dark office space. I walked across the Astroturf (which gave me a nice big blister on my big toe from pushing the ‘prowler’ back on Monday in my bare feet) to the little station on the opposite side of the barn, perhaps 50 or 60 feet away where Dane keeps his smart phone and iPod touch that is hooked into a set of computer speakers he apparently keeps plugged in all of the time so that when I browsed through his music and chose an artist and a song, the sound came out immediately and at a reasonable volume. Dane emerged from the adjacent farm house where his sister Kai and her husband Brant live, carrying two French presses full of coffee, which he would ostensibly be finishing on his own this morning as it was a training day for him. He ate a raw egg yolk by the side of the barn, discarding the shell in the bushes amongst the many others that had been given a similar fate (indeed once by myself).

I did a cardio routine today which involved a lot of jumping onto boxes, pulling the prowler across the turf and bouncing around the room in a series of burpee jumps that were quite difficult and not friendly to my lower back. I have incredibly tight hamstrings. The box jumps were actually really fun, each rep a little challenge to myself whether or not I could make it from a standstill onto the top. The stakes can be quite high. Dane recalled a story of a female fighter he trains who was having a sub-par day on the box, alternating jumps with sets of front squats in a nearby rack. She had completed the box jumps on the big box, which was not exactly a box at all but a metal frame platform, carpeted. But only just. After the next set of front squats Dane set up the smaller box. The woman was not amused (though I do not think Dane intended it to be funny), and promptly stationed herself back at the big box, where on the very first rep she missed the landing and crashed to the floor with a shin-bone bearing gash on her lower leg that ended up requiring sixteen stitches from smashing into the metal lip of the frame. On ‘max’ attempts now, Dane typically uses the wooden boxes (‘more forgiving’) and stacks stiff rubber pads on them to add height. Sometimes he will put a sweatshirt on the edge to prevent a similar accident.

The workout was a circuit, sort of. It should have been but we were too busy yapping between sets that I did not complete them in as quick succession as I should have. The series included the box jumps, prowler pull, kettlebell snatches, burpees, jumping lunges, more prowler, one-legged squats, more prowler, and box squats. We chatted about training. Last night on TV I saw by chance the ‘Crossfit Games,’ which incorporate a lot of the movements that Dane does in the barn, but branded as ‘Crossfit,’ a name that I gathered has something to do with Reebok (For Dane to become a ‘Crossfit’ gym, he would have to pay a $5,000.00 naming fee, plus take a $1,000.00 certification course, so that rich moms would pay to come to his “accredited” gym. He is actually more okay with the concept than I expected, especially the nutrition side of it which advocates the ‘Neanderthal diet,’ again a clever name for concepts that he has been preaching for years). I mentioned that the idea that they have an Olympic-style “games” for the Crossfit movements seems kind of silly because is not the point of Crossfit to get fit for a specific sport by incorporating full-body dynamic exercises into routines that focus on ‘useful strength’ rather than simply getting big and/or strong? Dane agreed, but because there is money in it, they will do it. He likened it to the Strongman competitions, which similarly seem to have pointless competitions simply for the sake of it. One of the Crossfit challenges was front-squatting 230 pounds for seven reps, riding a stationary bike for 700 meters and monkey barring back and forth on a 50-foot section of them. Do this once, then repeat two more times and go up against six other guys, the winner being the first one across the line. It was oddly entertaining to watch – these dudes are incredibly fit and look like statues, but more resemble triathletes in their lean builds than the typical running-back type you might see in the NFL – but I could not shake the fact that they ought to be transferring that fitness into something that more resembles an actual sport. And it is obviously a little bit about vanity too – most of the guys were clean-shaven all over to accentuate their abs, and quite obviously had gel in their hair despite the fact that this seemed to be a serious fitness competition. The event reminded me almost of a cross between a bodybuilding competition that is all about vanity, but where they actually have to use their bodies rather than just display them. I cannot decide if I would watch it again, but like I said, it was oddly enjoyable. I find it fun just to watch people doing cool things with their bodies, so I guess it qualifies.

After my routine, I followed Dane down onto the throwing circle where he would spend the next hour or so, alone and in the drizzle, practicing his technique and throwing simply for the sake of it. I asked him yesterday if he thinks he has another Olympic bid in him, and he answered almost nonchalantly and was non-committal. He immediately agreed with me when I suggested he was PRing because mentally he is in a happier place. I compared his throwing for the sake of it to someone heading to the driving range with a couple large buckets of golf balls, and Dane agreed with this as well. The act is almost meditative. I left with another dozen eggs and a gallon of raw milk.

Garage Strength Notes, Day 7

October 11, 2011:

Arms today. I cycled over, nice and slow to try and get my legs loosened up after a brutal session yesterday. I have a large blister on my big toe from pushing the sled across the floor in barefeet. Dane has a word for the move, which I cannot think of right now. Evan and Jason were there, as was Dan again, a black woman I have not met, and two other guys I have not met. Dane was out back with Evan and Jason throwing when I arrived on my bike, a bit early. I mowed the lawn this afternoon for my dad.

My workout started with some kettlebell stuff – swings and Turkish get-ups – while Dane finished up with the throwers. I did some pushups. He came up and had me warm up on the fat-bar flat bench. The fat bar is difficult, and sets with only 100 pounds on were tough. But I am extremely weak. These were alternated with climbing the skinny rope (he has two attached to a beam in the ceiling, one about the size of my wrist – skinny – and the other about the size of Dane’s forearm. The bigger one is decidedly tougher). Next I moved over to the decline bench (with a normal-sized bar) and alternated sets on that with pull-ups on the monkey bar. I had to use the band for assistance. But I am extremely weak.

I asked Dane what marathon time it would take to get on the “grinder board,” the whiteboard off to one corner of the gym that lists peoples names’ and their remarkable accomplishments. If your name goes on the board it does not come down. Examples are squatting 2.5 times your body weight – this would currently equate to 437 ½  pounds for me, on my 175 lb frame. To put this in perspective, I squatted 455 in high school when I weighed 255, which at the time was a school record. Dane told me a sub 3-hour marathon would qualify, so that is my new goal. Thank you Ash and Brian for inspiring me to get back into it – Mia and I are now signed up for two marathons next spring, one in Tel Aviv and the other two months later in Stockholm. Stockholm will be my target.

I moved then onto sitting military press with some ring pull-ups, and finished off the day with “miracle grows” (because it’s a miracle how much they grow your triceps!), fat-bar seated curls and the forearm device.

Afterwards I chatted with Jason and Evan about the gym. Jason was one of Dane’s first clients back when Garage Strength was actually in a garage. He and Evan are going to tell me some stories tomorrow when I have the computer there to record everything. I ran into Jason’s mom in the driveway on my way out. She actually was the one who found Dane, through Coach “T” at SV. Her daughter had been a state-champ sprinter, and Jason wanted to follow in her footsteps from the throwers circle. Still in 8th grade and significantly overweight, Jason’s mom signed him up with Dane, and they bought into his program, gym, food and all. She told me it was convenient for them, as Dane’s was only a few miles away, and Jason spent some time working there in the summer. Win-win for all involved. 

Garage Strength Notes, Day 6

October 10, 2011:

Dane told me that his philosophy – or what he wants to appear in the newspaper – sort of centers on ‘doing what you say you will do.’ His parents drilled that into him and Brooks as kids. If you want to be a state champ, work hard and do it, do not just talk about it. He talked to me today about personal responsibility and being accountable for your health. I told him my angle was going to be on him doing what he loved, not really about the gym. He said that no matter how much he hounds the people he trains, they have to want to do it themselves.

As for the food and the farm, he believes that food has a relationship to everything you do in life, and that healthy soil begets healthy food, begets healthy bodies, begets healthy relationships. He did not make the farm to be the only place in the world that does it, but rather because he believes in it, and he hopes other people follow his lead. He related the Russian coach and how he was an open book talking about training methods, versus the American coaches who will charge money just to talk to them, and then the secrets they divulge are not secrets at all! This annoys Dane.

Dane also related that when you have all these ideas about the world, mostly negative, especially in his case in college, that you should channel that negative energy into something positive that will actually change the world, rather than just sit and complain about it. 

Garage Strength Notes, Day 5

October 3, 2011: Garage Strength, in the gym

I went over to the gym this morning at 8:30 to train for a bit before Dane wa scheduled to throw. I got there before him, and found Brant’s dog Pippi roaming around outside. She looks like a full-grown version of the smiley dog from St. Lucia, and made almost the same face through the open barn door. She jumped up on me and was very excitable. Brant came out of the farmhouse looking for her, wearing a red sweatshirt and grey sweatshorts. He remembered me, but only after I told him who I was. He corralled the dog, and I followed him into the farmhouse to find Dane making a French-press of coffee. He told me he only drinks it three days a week (on days when he trains), but when he drinks it, he drinks a ton of it. One day this summer he drank nine cups in 100º heat, and had to excuse himself from the gym to go back in the house and sit down while his caffeine headache wore off. He thought he might faint. Dan, the other trainer, was there that day, so he took up the slack for a bit until Dane recovered.

Jen related this story to me. She looks to me to be 40-something, slightly overweight, but solidly overweight, not quite the flabby fat that you see in a lot of Americans. He calves are like grapefruits, the first thing I noticed about her. She had on a blue and white stripey t-shirt and gym shorts, and was very outgoing and articulate, and we chatted throughout the morning, the three of us bantering on about this and that in the training world. She was giving Dane shit for some of his personal eccentricities. “He usually does things for himself,” she told me, which is definitely Dane. Jen started training with Dane a year and a half ago. Back then she was 65 pounds heavier and on sixteen different prescription medications. Dane had her tested for celiac disease, which came up positive. He started her on a diet which included raw eggs and liver milkshakes, but she came fully around to his way of thinking and is all the better for it now. She is on a supplement plan Dane prescribed, but no longer takes a single prescription drug. Dane spotted her doing dumbbell bench presses and pulling the big sled across the room with a 5” diameter hemp rope.

Today was an upper-body day for me, and after the reasonably good day I had doing power cleans and things with my legs (which are very strong, and make me feel good about myself), I was embarrassed today by my feebility at doing anything with my shoulders and arms. Dane started me doing “pornos,” external shoulder rotations with a light dumbbell, followed immediately by ten pushups on the soft astrotuf middle of the gym. We followed this up with fat bar incline bench press, progressively increasing the weight and lowering reps, with sets of the climbing rope in between. Towards the 4th set I could no longer make the top of the rope unassisted, so started wrapping a leg around it for some leverage. The last set of incline bench was with a much lighter weight, and to failure.

Next was flat bench, with rubber-band assisted curl-ups (chin-ups) between sets, again increasing the weight and lowering reps until the last lightweight set to failure. I am pitiful at the bench press. Then we did the sled-pull, which quickly became my favorite exercise, utitlizing the twisting motion of the body to gain leverage. Dane told me if I did it correctly, my abs should be sore tomorrow. The workout was finished with band-assisted dips, a fore-arm torture device that is essential a fat piece of pipe on which a thin line is attached to lightweight plates…you have to ‘reel’ the plates up to the level of the pipe while your arms rest over a bar. Then came another tortuous lightweight shoulder exercise and overhead dumbbell tricep presses. These last three were performed as a circuit. I am not going to be able to wipe my butt tomorrow. I left with another chicken, 18 eggs and a gallon of raw milk, some of which I just had in my coffee. I cannot believe that anyone would ever drink skim milk after tasting real, raw milk. It’s not even the same product – if someone says yes, they like milk, but only drink skim, then, no, they really do not like milk. That is something else entirely.

When I left at 9:45, Dane had just gone out to his throwing circle, alone, in the 45º temperature and with a light mist falling, and would be out for the next several hours, practicing his technique.

            Oct. 3:

-                Do you think your PR throws are a result of mental stability now that you have a family and a feasible business? Something to fall back on?
-                Is it safe to compare the throwing motion to that of the golf swing? And if it is, does it take the same repetition and muscle memory earned by spending hours on the ‘range’ each day practicing?
-                What are your long-term goals for the gym and your career? Do you want to expand, or stay on the farm?
-                For Jen: What was your initial motivation in coming here? Did you know Dane beforehand? How did he convince you to eat liver smoothies? What are your long-term health goals? What would you say to a skeptic? Do you feel strange working out in such an unorthodox gym? Did you exercise before? What were some of the drugs you were on prior? Does what your doing with Dane clash with practices you see at the hospital? Is it difficult to go back to work as a nurse knowing now what you’ve learned from Dane? Do you view your participation here as a political statement?

Garage Strength Notes, Day 4

2 October 2011, Dane’s House, 125 Reeser Road

Lincoln was sitting in Dane’s lap drinking from a bottle when I walked in the door. He was only born on August 23, and he and Caitlin (sp?) are teaching him to drink from it so she can go back to work in January.

I sat on the couch and set my computer on the coffee table, not really sure how to start this interview, even though it was just a chat with one of my best friends. So I just started chatting. I did not want to intefere with Lincoln, so we kept it casual for a while, talking about his brother Brooks and the new farm he bought (83 acres) in Newport, PA, where Nate Bauer is from. He has been learning how to make specialty pork (Lebanese cured, for example), and selling it at high prices in farmer’s markets as far a field as Washington DC and New York City. This was actually a perfect place to start, because Brooks is also doing what he loves, and I am positive that he has influenced Dane. 

The chicken my dad and I ate on Saturday night was not butchered by Dane. He packs them up in crates, loads them into the pickup and drives them to a Mennonite who does it for them, then cleans the carcasses and packages them for sale. Dane is not even sure of the legality of him butchering his own (it is a grey area in PA), so for the time being he will continue having them butchered. In Newport, at Brooks’ farm, the practice of butchering on the farm is decidedly illegal. They consider it a ‘commercial’ practice (whereas farming is agricultural).

I remained on Dane’s sofa for over an hour, scratching his little white dog Anton’s head. Every time I stopped, he would lean back and push his head into my hands, asking would I please continue. Dane says Anton is good with Lincoln. At one point, Caitlin laid Lincoln on his back on the floor and Anton sprawled out next to him, curious.

Dane re-told me the story of his road trip to Kamloops and back, and again about his time spent out there training with Dr. B, where he says he had the first serious inclinations of opening his own gym and training people for a living. Dylan Armstrong, the guy who initially put that all together, remains out there getting ready for the 2012 Olympics in London. He was third in Beijing.

Dane was in Kamloops from fall 2007 until the summer of 2008, ironically abroad during the same period that I first moved to Sweden. I had not realized this, but he and Caitlin were also in the midst of a long-distance relationship, obviously ultimately successful. We stopped the interview when Dane got to the part about him coming home and opening the first gym in his parent’s house, hence the name. I want to keep it going another time.

Dane did mention that Kamloops would be, in essence, his ‘grad school’. He was a paper boy and bouncer at a bar to pay for it all.


            Oct 2:

-                How did you meet Caitlin and how did you two handle the long-distance?
-                Where do you get your training methods? Solely Dr. B? Mr. Yoder?
-                Are you still training yourself? Do you have any ideas of another US Trials bid?
-                What happened in college when you got your teeth kicked in?
-                How did studying religion affect your views on it?
-                Why did you study history and religion in the first place?
-                How many hours do you work on a normal day?

Garage Strength Notes, Day 3

29 September:

I drove to Dane’s today anticipating bringing home some eggs, milk and maybe a frozen chicken or two, and didn’t want to cycle with them on my back. Plus, the weather looked threatening and I’m a sissy when it comes to cycling in the rain. Instead I took the windows out of the front doors of the Jeep and rode over listening loudly to the Foster the People cd I bought in West Reading at Vertigo. Kate and I ate lunch at Good Eatz, then carpooled down to the OTB to watch Lightning Madison come third at Monticello with Mommom and Pappap. Kate drove me back to West Reading to get the Jeep, before which we popped into Veritgo. The album is fantastic.

I met Dan in the garage (barn). I didn’t know it then, but he works for Dane, and was a football player in college looking for a place to train when they first met. He’s young. He told me Dane was out back next to the chicken pen traning some guys in shot and discus. He had built a regulation throwing circle in the adjacent field, two shot circles an a discus circle, and is able to transition from the weight room to the practice area in a few steps. Evan and Jason, two SV throwers were there with him, and he spent the 30 minutes I watched relentlessly hounding them and telling them how much they suck. Typical Dane. He made fun of me in high school much the same way, going so far as to tease me for the peach fuzz on my face before I started shaving. I sympathized with Jason especially, who gets upset about it on occasion. Dane even makes fun of this.

The shotput the guys were using is a pound and a half heavier than competition, and Evan was wearing a leather device that attached his wrist to his first three fingers to alleviate the tendonitis that can form after intense and repetitive training. I watched each of them make about 8 or 9 throws, querying Dane between each on what was actually going on. He has high hopes for Evan especially, though on that day there numbers were unimpressive, in the high 30s and low 40s. Dane threw 62’ to win the PA State Championships in 2002, a number he claims would still be good for the win today. A good thrower in high school is in the high 50s.

Back in the gym, Dane started me on what I hope to become a month-long training program, participating in the same style exercises that he trains others. I met Jason, a high school senior at SV who started going to Dane in March 2011. He weighed 340 poounds then. Yesterday he was 260, and Dane commented that he was a new version of me. I topped out at 255 in high school (and held the squat record at one time, 455 lbs), and go to an all-time low of 155 when I came back from Costa Rica in 2002. My sister Kaitie called me Skeletor when I got off the plane. Dane said that Jason has gained so much confidence in his new body that he has started hitting on one of the hottest girls that comes to the gym. Dane has had to tell the other youngsters to tell him to cool it so he doesn’t embarrass himself. I told him to show Jason a photo of my wife Mia to see just how high his prospects could become if he works hard enough.

Dane started me out on the platforms doing power cleans, after first warming up with two sets of front squat on an empty bar. The power clean is a move I remember fondly from high school, and one of the Olympic lifts he uses on all his clients. A forty-something physical therapist that came in just as I was leaving can clean over 150 lbs, more than her bodyweight, which is seriously impressive. She was lean and wiry, by no means ‘bulked up’ and quite attractively fit. I started doing reps of three, and finished with a max of 170 for two, making all the reps along the way. I have to ask Dane if the low reps is part of a particular theory.

I moved on to one-legged squats and jumping lunges, as I’ll call them. The last set of squats saw me holding 45 lbs dumbbells for sets of eight. Then it was the ‘prowler.’ I pulled a sled stacked with 45 lb plates across the 50-feet of the floor, which he’d covered with astroturf. Going backwards was easy enough, but the trip back saw me nearly on the floor as I had to push the thing the opposite way, considerably more difficult, especially in my bare feet. It’s awesome that I can train there barefoot. These moves were immediately followed by box steps holding dumbbells again, for sets of 10 per side, or twenty total. Dane says this will be good for my tight hamstrings, and my legs were burning by the end. I bought some eggs and a frozen chicken from the freezer right in the gym, and left, as we were taking Pappap out for dinner that night and I had to get home in time.

Garage Strength Notes, Day 2

September 28, 2011:

Skipped today – took mom to Philly, spent the day in the car! Listened to 1/3 of Eva Gabrielsson’s book about Stieg Larsson. Sat in the car and got inspired by the This American Life episode on the un-reality of money while mom got her MRI in Collegeville. Inspired me to do the Dane story with that angle – no money, lots of passions. Speaking of which…

Angle #1 (?): If money is imagined, then what is the point in chasing it…?

I’ve known Dane my entire life. We played Little League against each other. Both of our dad’s were our respective team’s coaches. Dane and I spent high school together. Freshman year, 4 weeks into our first high school experience, Dane convinced me to quit the Spanish class and come join him in Herr K’s German class. My school was small, and we only had two options for languages, and only one teacher for each. Dane just said ‘there’s something different about Herr K, you have to take his class.’ It took a meeting with the guidance counselor, who was confused, as I was getting A’s in Spanish. I could only tell him it ‘felt right.’ He let me switch, on a hunch.

Dane and I went on to enjoy several year’s of Herr K. We learned German, for sure, but his class was more about life. It was about discipline (he once gave the ‘silent treatment’ to the other German 2 section for over a month, speaking only German to them, as he felt they had disrespected him). It was about hard work. It was about passion.

Dane and I learned all of these things in spades, and the lessons stayed with us. We left high school, andboth graduated from Penn State. Dane was heavily recruited to play football at several Division 2 and 3 schools, but chose PSU to join the track team. He was state champ in shot-put and a defensive end on the football team our senior year. I was captain of the golf team.

Neither Dane nor I followed a typical path in college, instead choosing subjects that interested us. After several semesters ‘finding myself,’ I ended up with a minor in history basically by default. I didn’t choose to major in it simply because I ran out of interesting classes to choose from one semester and picked something else. Dane was also a history buff, and combined this with religious studies, philosophizing between practices with the track team.

I got the travel bug. Summer after my sophmore year, I took off and went to Costa Rica for a month to travel and do volunteer work. It was a test of sorts to see if I could spend a lot of time away from home, which I hadn’t done to that point. Spring of junior year, after deciding that traveling was indeed for me, I went to Australia to study tourism management in Brisbane, at the University of Queensland. On the way, I stayed 10 days in New Zealand, vowing to return to what quickly became my favorite place on earth.

After college, Dane and I lost touch. We’d meet for the occasional beer when we were back in Leesport, but went months or even years without saying a word to each other. But we read each others blogs, and this is significant.

Then, I was writing for pleasure, for myself, just about my experiences. I went back to New Zealand in 2006, after graduating from PSU with a BS in Tourism Management and a minor in History, and before starting a ‘real job’ as a sales agent for a company in Annapolis that ran a sailboat for tourists, and for which I had worked on as sailing crew for a while in the summer. That trip, two months this time, was when I met the woman who is now my wife, a 6’ tall, blonde Swede named Mia.

Dane hitch-hiked across Canada. He had a dream of making the Olympics as a shot-putter, and wanted to train with [name], who lived in Kamloops, near the west coast. His stories of catching rides with guys halfway through a case of beer are both scary and enlightening. When not training, or talking about it, Dane was a bouncer at a local pub. He chuckled when a girl tried to pass off a fake PA ID – he denied her, she complained, and he promptly produced his real PA ID, at which point she politely asked for hers back and left the premises.

Dane’s pilgrimage to Canada and mine to New Zealand did not change our lives, but they solidified our worldviews and gave us the inspiration to chase our dreams. In the five years that followed, up to the present, Dane, after failing at his Olympic bid, has carved a niche in the athletic training world, opening the world’s first and only gym that raises and sells its own food. The gym, called Garage Strength, after first opening in his parents garage, is now house in an 18th century barn, with climbing ropes hanging from the ceiling, kettlebells lining the walls and high school freshman girls doing pull-ups and powerlifting exercises. Out back, his 130 hens lay eggs daily, and Dane stores them in a large wire basket you’d normally see at a golf driving range. Dane has over 70 regular clients and hasn’t had a job since 2009.

I started writing professionally a year after that first trip. Thanks in part to Dane’s encouragement from having read my travel blog, I started sending articles into magazines, and they started getting published. Mia and I worked professionally on sailboats, doing yacht deliveries up and down the east coast and running adventure travel programs for teenagers in the Caribbean. This summer, we sailed our own boat – our only possession, and our home – from the Chesapeake Bay to Ireland, fulfilling a dream and getting a lot of writing material in the process.

Both Dane and I have interesting stories, but it wasn’t until today that I realized how I was going to pitch it. After listening to the money episode of TAL – which only confirmed some notions that I have held for years – I realized that there is a logical continuation on that thesis – if money is inherently imaginary, what then is the point of pursuing it? Dane and I seemed to have figured that out long ago, and yet were never really aware of it. We just did things we were passionate about, and the money (though not a lot of it) followed.  

Garage Strength Notes, Day 1

September 27, 2011, ~4:15pm:

I cycled to Dane’s today. The triathlon wheels – the ‘Hed Jet’ wheels I bought from Brian back in the day – were still on my bike from the race Mia and I did last fall. They are heavy, and make a whooshing sound when I ride. They are unnecessary. I took these wheels off the bike, but needed the tires. The tires on my lightweight wheels are bald, some grey stringy stuff showing beneath the black rubber cover of the front one. I recall needing to bum a spare back tire from the mechanics at the last Livestrong Challenge ride I did a few years ago. It would never have made those 100 miles. So I took the tires from the tri wheels and put them on the light wheels. Done and done.

I felt strong riding to Dane’s. Without music on, I thought. I thought I’d write about Dane’s Garage Strength, turn it into a long-term project that I might sell to Outside or Men’s Journal, one of those. And the Reading paper.

Since visiting last time with Mia after (or before?) our wedding, the ‘garage’ (really the barn nowadays) has come a long way. On my last visit, Dane was still training out of his parents garage (hence the name) on Slater Rd (where we use to race his minivan against my Jeep Wrangler). The barn is now complete, and huge. In it Dane has several climbing ropes, monkey bars, kettlebells, weight sleds, Olympic bars, benches, dumbbells and frozen chickens. And a large driving range bucket full of eggs that his hens just laid. He showed me how he eats the yolks, raw. Ordinarily this is supposed to sound disgusting in an article like this, but I see it otherwise. I make soft-boiled eggs for breakfast regularly, and Dane assures me his freshly laid eggs are as warm as the ones I’m eating from the stove. There are no machines in Dane’s barn.

The walls are painted white, and he has several white boards around the place with peoples names and various strength and conditioning programs. Three young girls were working out together. They each did several legitimate pull-ups, followed immediately by rubber-band assisted bodyweight dips. Then they moved on to the sled. It has three snowplane like feet on it, with space to fit weight plates on the top. Attached at the front end is a natural hemp rope, about 30’ long and fatter than my forearm (which is not all that fat). The girls took turns lying flat on their backs on the floor at one end of the barn (on a rubberized indoor/outdoor carpet that spans the center of the barn), and pulling the weighted sled across the room towards them, hand over hand. The two not participating assisted when the one on the floor struggled near the end. Later, they got into a pushup position on the same floor, only their feet were on a 12x12 square wooden platform (like those we played with in elementary school gym class) with office chair wheels on the bottom. They walked across the room on their hands, while a heavy chain hung around there necks. The girls are freshmen in high school. They are swimmers.

“You should be here around 6:30, this place gets nuts.”
Dane took me outside to see the 130 hens he has in the field out back, a flock (?) that has multiplied substantially since I saw it last. The one lone rooster in the pen with the hens strutted. Opposite the movable, outdoor chicken coop (happy chickens!), Dane had set up a concrete throwing platform, two circles for shotput and one for the discus. In the barn on the lower level were a few dozen baby chickens that let me pick them up.

I told Dane of my inspiration, and he is enthusiastic. Tomorrow I’ll start my month-long training and spend as much time at the farm as I can until October 28, when I have to be in Virginia for work.

“Cailtin’s dad had Lincoln baptized while I was gone. I asked him if there was any way to un-baptize him.”

“Everyone thought I named him after Abe. He’s named after a wrestler. Cailtin was unsure at first until we drove through Gettysburg, with Lincoln shit everywhere. She said, ‘I guess I kind of like that name.’ Lincoln’s not named after Abe though.”