A Perfect Gulf Weekend (in the middle of the week!)

IMG_3278When I thought about my adventure, a high priority was to dip my feet in the Atlantic while watching the sunrise, and dip my feet into the Gulf of Mexico and watch the sunset. I got my East coast fix while I was in North and South Carolina, and looked forward to spending some time on the Gulf Coast. Once I left Leesburg, I headed southwest.

My first stop was Sarasota, where I would meet an old opera acquaintance. Lisa Ellis was our seasonal stage manager for Kentucky Opera for several years. I drove down to the Sarasota waterfront and met Lisa and her 6 week old baby at the Toasted Mango, a beautiful bright little restaurant near the waterfront. We had a wonderful time catching up over a delicious lunch, which for me was a BLT with avocado on toasted marble rye. A wonderful unexpected visit!

I’d looked online up and down the gulf coast for the most ideal place to spend a couple of days and decided that Clearwater looked like a nice choice. So, I started my drive there, but rather than take the direct route, I crossed the bridge over the Bay to Longboat Key, and drove north. Many years ago I had vacationed a few times in this area, so I had good memories as I drove all the way up along Longboat Key to Anna Maria Island, seeing places I’d visited years ago. I found a nice little public beach access, and with camera in hand, walked out onto the tip of Anna Maria Island. It is a beautiful beach, and the sun was shining brightly. I kicked off my sandals, walked through the hot sand into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and took a few pictures of that beautiful beach.

Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island

Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island

Beach on Anna Maria Island

Beach on Anna Maria Island

The afternoon was waning, so i got into my car and drove over the huge scary Sunshine Skyway bridge and shortly arrived in Clearwater to my hotel for the next two days. Omigod my room was wonderful. Brand new and spotless. I was eager to get to the beach, but I had a date at a local Crossfit gym for their 4:30 class. So, I threw on some workout clothes and got right back into my car for the short 4 mile drive to the box, Seal Strong Fitness/Caged Crossfit. It was a small bare-bones box housed within a larger bare-bones gym, akin to Fitness Factory. I met the owner, Kory Knowles, and was immediately welcomed by the rest of the class. I was excited to see that we were starting with a 5X5 deadlift, as heavy as possible, and a little scared to see that it was followed by Grace, 30 clean & jerks for time! I eagerly loaded my bar and worked up through the 5 sets to 180lbs. The two coaches for the class were very involved, giving individual instruction and lots of encouragement. After that, I unloaded my bar to 75lbs in preparation for Grace. I think it’d been two years since I’d done that, and I was going 10lbs heavier. It was tough, but thanks to Nathan Wilson at DCCF my cleans were easy, although the jerks were pretty tough at that weight. When that was over, I took off my shoes, packed up my bag and went to shake Kory’s hand. He laughed at me and said, dude, you still have another workout left! Omg, we still had OTM for 12 minutes, 5 handstand pushups even minute/5 muscleups odd minute. So, I gamely grabbed an abmat for my HSPU and subbed 3 pullups/3 bar dips for my muscle ups. Pretty high volume workout, but I loved it and it was a great community.

Caged Crossfit

Caged Crossfit

Exhausted, I drove back to my hotel, stripped off my workout clothes, put on my swimsuit, and headed to Indian Rocks Beach, about 10 miles from the hotel. I made it there by about 7pm, and headed directly into the water for a nice little recovery swim. Then I settled into my chair and enjoyed the gentle gulf breeze as I watched the most beautiful sunset.

Clearwater Sunset

Clearwater Sunset

I headed back as the sky darkened. After a quick shower, I headed out for a bite to eat and pulled into a nice little spot about a mile from where I was staying. I took a seat at the bar and was pleased to see that a Cub’s game was on the tv above the bar. The bartender walked up to take my drink order, and was just a bit bummed that there was nothing darker than an Amber Bock. Oh, well, I got something cold and fizzy; pretty much anything tastes good after a super hard crossfit workout and swim in the Gulf. I ordered dinner, and as I waited and drank my beer, I noticed a nice looking but extremely inebriated woman sitting down a ways from me at the bar. How could I not notice, since she was loud, slurring her words and borderline obnoxious. I tried as best I could to ignore her as my dinner was served, but all of a sudden she called over at me, wanting to know if I was a runner since I was in such good shape. Politely, I said, no, I crossfit, and then had to explain all about it is since she’d never heard of it. However, the bartender did crossfit, and so we started a really nice conversation about working out. Drunk lady must have felt left out, because she then walked over, wrapped both arms drunkingly around me and started whispering loudly in my ear that I HAD to visit where she lived in Destin and that I HAD to join her for lunch, and once I’d been to Destin, I’d NEVER want to live anywhere else. EWWWW! I looked over at the bartender who gave me a very sympathetic glance and thankfully and quickly brought my tab over to me. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough! Sorry, no pictures of the drunk lady….

The next morning I returned to the no-nonsense crossfit gym for the 9am class. This time, I was the only one in class, so I had the full attention of my coach. The workout of the day was a 5X5 box squat. Interestingly it revealed a weakness in my glutes/hammies; as the weights got heavier, I was relying on forward momentum to get the weight up rather than my posterior chain. Great coaching on their part. After that was Jackie, which is a 1000m row, 50 thrusters and 30 pullups. The two coaches looked at each other and told me that although the women’s RX was 35#, they wanted me to do the workout with 45#. Well, I couldn’t say no, could I? So gamely I started the workout, did the thrusters with 45#, then did all my pullups unassisted, the first time I’d done unassisted pullups in a workout in about 8 months. The whole time I was working out, a group of about 20 Navy Seal candidates were training with the coach. As I packed up to leave they were about ⅓ of the way through their 3 hour workout and were in the middle of doing 100 reps of 1 pullup + 1 pushup, with no pause between the reps. As I walked out the door, the coach made them start over because they were taking too much time between reps! I got off easily!

The afternoon was spent reading and reflecting on my trip so far, and then around 4:30, I headed back to the beach for the last Clearwater sunset. As I drove towards the beach, a huge thunderstorm materialized. Instead of turning around, I kept going, knowing that in Florida those kind of afternoon storms often blow over fairly quickly. As I pulled into the beach entrance, it was still raining and thundering a bit, but I could see a line of perfectly clear sky approaching. After about 15 minutes, it was safe enough to walk out onto the beach. The water was fairly rough, and when I walked into the water the waves were extremely strong and knocked me over several times, so I was careful not to venture out too far into the rough water. After that I settled into my little beach chair and was rewarded with a beautiful sunset.

West and East view

West and East view

On my way back to my hotel, I stopped for dinner at a neat looking little spot called the Twisted Martini. It was a very brightly painted, wide open little restaurant with a nice outdoor patio. A nice little bonus was some live singing, a guy playing guitar and doing some pretty decent old covers. I enjoyed a fantastic bacon and bleu burger, with some very oddly cinnamon seasoned sweet potato fries.

Twisted Martini

Twisted Martini

The next morning, although eager to start the next phase of my adventure, I was a bit sad to leave Clearwater. Everything about the two day stay was perfect (well, except for drunk woman at the bar!). I drove north, looking forward to my next adventure in New Orleans!

 

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