Alas, not the inside of a gym

SheSpoke has been threatening, since the dawn of time, to join a gym. She was hitting her upper 30s, in both age and her hips. She was all set to go, had her appointment with the big box fitness center, then WHAM! a drunk driver slammed into her, injuring both body and car. Luckily, the car was totaled but the body was not.

Since then, SheSpoke has toyed around with the local recreation centers–but only for the swimming. Well, swimming is great if you’re recovering from an accident (which she was) or if you’re training for a triathlon. But adventurers like SheSpoke need a little more punch to their workouts, a little more excitement than smelling and drinking chlorine for an hour can deliver.

So she joined a gym over the weekend, at one of the big box, national chains. It was an incredible deal, and unlike those awful cell phone providers, did not require a long-term contract.

SheSpoke signed up Saturday and in the past 48 hours has:

  • Swam in the tiny but uncrowded lap pool: 45 minutes
  • Rowed with the iPod: 30 minutes
  • Attended first spin class: 60 minutes

Not bad for a gym newbie, although all gym rookies begin with an overabundance of enthusiasm. Everyone is a fitness guru in January. Even yo mamma.

SheSpoke has tried to join gyms in the past, one that is made up of all letters and one that is designed exclusively for women. The reason she only went once and never returned to these places is because of customer service. With the letter gym, SheSpoke was told she would have access to a personal trainer who would teach her how to use the equipment and about target heart rates and all that. When SheSpoke followed up on this, inquiring about freeweights versus the other kind, she was brushed off. SheSpoke never went back.

With the lady gym, SheSpoke went once to get oriented on the circuit training. As someone who has never lifted weights, SheSpoke was particularly interested in learning the nuances of how to use some of the equipment. The franchise owner, instead of teaching her how to use the equipment, was also simultaneously trying to sell a membership to a teenager. SheSpoke never went back.

More recently, SheSpoke took what she thought was advantage of a yoga studio’s local discount. When she arrived at the yoga studio, all the doors were locked. SheSpoke walked around, called the main number, and finally was let in through the back door. She was told that she was late for class–except there was no class. Then she was instructed to “go find Shelly” for a free yoga class. Unfortunately Shelly did not have a name tag on and was wearing the same $80 yoga pants as everyone else. SheSpoke wandered around the lobby for a bit when the woman who had scolded her for being late to a non-existent class found her again and asked her if she’d talked to Shelly yet. Since SheSpoke had no idea who Shelly was, the answer was no. Shelly was a nice lady but merely scribbled SheSpoke’s name down on a random envelope. SheSpoke never went back.

Heed this, gyms, fitness centers, and yoga studios: If you want to get people like SheSpoke–athletic, outdoorsy folks who are squeamish about joining gyms because of the cost and indoor-ness of it all–then treat any prospective customer as if he or she really matters. Here’s how to do this:

  • Listen thoughtfully as new customers ask dumb question after dumb question.
  • Assume we know nothing about how gyms or yoga studios work and what the equipment does.
  • When there’s a miscommunication about scheduling or price or anything, approach the situation with a listening ear. Remember: Dismissiveness begets dismissiveness.
  • Stay open-minded about the fact that the error may be on your part and that in order to get or keep a customer, you may have to bend or admit a mistake.
  • Do not misrepresent your services. The truth will out and then we’ll tell all our friends, and the blogosphere.

SheSpoke almost did not join the national gym chain this past Saturday because the manager on duty was reluctant to issue her the advertised free, seven-day pass. The manager did a whole bunch of eye-rolling, before*sigh* issuing one anyway.

The banner in SheSpoke’s mind read: Look lady, I don’t want to join this gym any more than you want to give me a seven-day pass, but I really need to get in shape and it’s too windy and cold out to frolick around. Give me the pass and let’s get this over with.

Funny. Once SheSpoke handed over her money, the gym manager was all smiles and greeted her superficially by her first name. SheSpoke will not forget the manager or her name.

Below are the top five reasons to hate gyms and fitness centers, in the same way SheSpoke has for years:

1. The expressions, “going to work out,” “going to the gym,” and “hot yoga.” Folks seem to pronounce rather than use these expressions. It’s annoying.

2. They’re crowded. Before and after work one has to wait for equipment. Some classes fill up, meaning you have to get to the gym an hour before class starts. With driving time included, that’s almost 2.5 hours spent going to exercise. Indoors no less.

3. They stink. Lots of sweaty people around, lots of different levels of hygiene.

4. They cost too much, and pretty much guilt you into working out.

5. They’re akin to a den of thieves. Stuff gets stolen out of the locker rooms and parking lots.

6. It’s a fashion show: chicks wear name-brand tank tops and makeup and dudes walk around in muscle tees.

To be fair, there are some upsides to gyms and fitness centers and yoga studios:

1. The fruit of your efforts are tangible: You can watch the inches melt away and the muscles, so overgrown with fat these past few years, re-emerge.

2. The variety of classes: spin, hot yoga, yoga flow, boot camp, weight lifting, Zumba. It’s all there.

3. It can be a social thing. Garner a workout partner and “head to the gym.” Just be sure to say rather than pronounce it.

4. Your can now justify the money you spent on your last iPod.

5. Strength, conditioning, flexibility, and six-pack abs.

Need I say more?

A week ago I was in rough shape–restricting chest muscles made it difficult to breathe, the strained back muscles made it difficult to do anything but sleep, and the anxiety about my health and my livelihood occupied any minutes of the day not dulled by Vicodin.

A lot can change in week.

I’m not saying I’m out of the storm yet, but I am saying I can now sit and stand comfortably for limited periods of time. I can type (although prolonged typing causes the first three fingers on my right hand to go numb), and I can see, through a glass darkly, that I will live to see another mountain biking road trip.

The last time I got debilitatingly hurt, I was on crutches and Vicodin for weeks. I injured the soft tissue on the left side of my body, specifically my left hip. I was unable to walk: first at all, second, for short periods of time, and third, up the stairs.  But with intense physical therapy (3x week), biweekly visits to the chiropractor, and a few thousand dollars later, I was better.

In the fall of 2007, I was lying down on the chiropractor’s table, wincing and whining about my injury and being treated with electro-impulses. As my breath condensed onto the rest of my face, I began dreaming of my next trip. Since the desert is my happy place, I naturally went there. I saw my tent, a gleaming yellow sun, red canyons, dashes of green, and the Yeti (as I so affectionately refer to my mountain bike). I was there, alone, soaking up the morning desert sun, waxing the chain on my bike, and sipping desert lattes, fresh from my camping espresso maker. Then, with dreamlike grace, I braided my hair into pigtails, donned my helmet, clicked into my pedals, and rode toward red rock.

Where was I? West Texas.

Three months later I found myself in West Texas, looking for a place to ride. Although conditions were too windy to ride, I did manage to sneak in a couple of rides in Silver City, NM.

This past Friday was my first rehab/therapy visit since the accident two weeks ago. I am now in the sub-acute stage, which means that sharp, piercing pains are mostly yesterday’s story but dull aches and uncomfortability are just beneath the surface, especially if I try to do too much, i.e., wash dishes AND tidy the house it the same day.

As I lay on the chirpractor/Chinese massotherapist’s table, feeling pain and pleasure from the poking, prodding, and adjusting, I began to dream, just as I had before, of my next trip.

This time, I’m going to Austin. 

Austin, Nevada.

I’ve heard, through internet grapevine only, that some fabuloso trails exist in and around Austin, NV, which is smack dab in the middle of the state along the loneliest road in America, Highway 50. Austin, population, 340, is surrounded on 2.7 sides by the Toiyabe National Forest, and hot springs, one of the requisites for an epic mountain biking trip to be even epicker, is nearby. 

Great Basin National Park, about which I know nothing, is on the way to Austin. In fact, Great Basin is on the Nevada/Utah border.

I’m  planning the trip for the beginning of June. That means I’ll have to, by then:

1. Be 90% better physically

2. Be 50% better emotionally and psychologically. You don’t have to be in a good mood to enjoy vacation, duh!

3. Own a car that can drive the 20 hours or so it will take to get there and back. I’m looking at Subaru Impreza Wagons.

4. Have enough cash to go on the trip. I have no idea how I’m going to swing this considering I haven’t worked in two weeks and may not work full-time for some time.

5. Learn more about Austin, NV.