Saturday night was a rough one from a sleep perspective. It was cold out so we had the in room air conditioner on heat mode. It ran until the room got up to 75 degrees, providing the white noise I usually need to sleep. Unfortunately once it hit that temp it’s thermostat would shut it down, removing the white noise. Once the temp would drop a couple degrees it would cycle back on. This all night cycle meant I never truly felt like I fell asleep all night long.
In addition to the AC unit I heard a ton of street noise. Our room at the hotel is only on the 3rd floor, making it susceptible to hearing pretty much everything going on down there. Cindy also still was having issues with her coughing from illness. I got up at 7 AM feeling absolutely exhausted. I had no time to be tired since it was IronLoo day.
We got up and ate breakfast at a place called the Oxford Cafe which was right next to our hotel which was convenient. They had a great selection of food however I stuck with something simple, ordering oatmeal, not wanting anything that would get in the way of what I knew was going to be a very tough day physically. For most of our breakfast Cindy and I were the only ones in the cafe which felt odd.
When we got back to the room I tried to map out our plan. We needed to catch a 10:22 train out of Penn Station which looked to easily be walking distance from our hotel. I had some instructions from Lou as far as which train to get on. As we walked I mentioned how it was dumb of me to not have brought a knit beanie for head warmth. We just happened to be approaching Macy’s so we went inside to try to quickly find one.
Cindy was immediately impressed with the size and grandeur of the store, a throwback to when store shopping was actually a thing. It was very busy with the holiday decorations looking amazing. It took some trial and error but eventually we found knit hats on the 4th floor. I was excited that we got to ride a few sets of the ancient wood escalators that I had told Cindy about in the past. They are so awesome. Cindy also found it very interesting that as we were exiting we arrived at floor 1 1/2, the only store I know of that has such a thing.
We found our way out of the store and continued our way towards Penn Station. We saw a small sidewalk entrance that was labeled as Penn Station so we figured we could get to the train there. A transit worker informed us that the trains were a block away at the actual station that was inside of Madison Square Garden.
When we got there it was an instant beehive of activity, the station was packed. We saw a lot of people with Giants jerseys on, presumably heading to the game later in the day. Cindy and I were very confused as to where exactly to go. Thanks to some direction from a cop we discovered we needed the LIRR and not Amtrak in order to reach the Oyster Bay line. We headed downstairs and managed to buy two tickets via the self service kiosk. We had around 15 minutes to kill so we grabbed ourselves our first NYC DD coffee of the trip, it was much needed. I didn’t like the feeling of being so clueless in regards to how to get where I wanted to go. It was frustrating.
So we found the track for our train and found a seat on the nearly empty car. We had more confusion in regards to if/where we needed to transfer to get to our end destination. The ticket taker woman told us we needed to get off at the Jamaica station to catch the Oyster Bay line. The ride out of the city was cool. It was interesting seeing the landscape transform from skyscrapers to neighborhoods.
Once we got off at Jamaica we only had a short wait until our next train showed up. It was a bigger train with two levels. I told Cindy we should head up top where better views were to be had. The ride to the Seacliff depot was very scenic and calm, the calm before the storm. When we got off the train we saw a huge white van which we knew was Lou’s work vehicle. The time had come.
I have known Lou for years but only from a distance. We met via our shared interest in calisthenics and my involvement with the Bar-barians. We never had spoken but we have chatted extensively over the years about both things exercise and life related. As we descended the stairs Lou pulled the van up and got out. Of course Cindy ran up and gave him a big hug which I did as well. It was so nice to see Lou in person.
Despite our lack of face to face contact we interacted like we just talked the other day. Lou is very outgoing and funny. When teamed up with Cindy and her talkative personality I could just do a lot of listening and laughing which was fine by me. In the back of Lou’s van were a huge collection of strongman gear including weight plates, farmer carry handles, and a log press. Every time we would hit a bump they would clang loudly.
Lou drive through a Starbucks to grab us some coffee. He normally works a night shift and drinks coffee like others drink water. His ON switch is permanently welded in place. We then unexpectedly got to meet Lou’s grandfather. We were picking up an atlas stone Lou had made that was sitting in the backyard. In the yard were a number of broken tools. Lou said he broke most of them, he just has a way of doing that.
Lou’s grandfather was actually born in Italy. When he came out he was giving Lou shit for breaking stuff, especially his garage door. It was funny how he could switch between yelling and laughing so quickly. He was very funny, I could see where Lou gets it from. So the plan was to get the 365 pound atlas stone into the back of the van meaning we had to get it out of the backyard that has a downhill slope to it. Lou brought out a very old looking handtruck of his grandfathers to use but was worried about breaking it as well.
We used the cart for the first and last part of the transport but I told Lou I would roll the stone up the steep, wet part of the climb. Sure it was a nearly 400 pound stone ball but I figured rolling it up the short hill shouldn’t be bad. Well I was wrong. I barely managed to get the stone to the flat patio above. It’s weight combined with the wet grass made it very difficult.
When we got to the van we were debating how to get the stone in the back. At first Lou thought about using the hand truck to pull it in but again fear of breaking it killed that idea. Lou then decided he would lift it up himself. That seemed like a really bad idea to me. He grabbed an old sleeve from a piece of clothing to use as a strap and proceeded to hoist the stone cleanly into the van, resting it inside the wheel of the spare tire. I couldn’t believe he could lift it.
We all piled back in the van, we had more supplies to grab for the workout. First we stopped at GNC where Lou grabbed pre-workout drinks which are kind of like supercharged coffee, supposedly to give you more energy. We then went to a Rite Aid where Lou bought some of that rubberized medical tape normally used to keep large bandaged areas in place. He uses the tape as arm wraps for lifting atlas stones. Before we got to Stone Park Lou gave us a quick tour of the some of the areas I had only seen in the past via his numerous exercise videos. It was cool seeing first hand where all of this stuff went down over the years.
So finally we had made it to the park. I had seen this park dozens of time on video but being there in person was surreal. There is the parking lot he has walked bare foot across, there are the monkey bars he has lifted stones over, there is the pull up bar I saw him muscle up over, it was so cool.
Well there was now work to be done to get all of the equipment set up. Not only did we have to unload the van we had to retrieve items from the park itself. Lou keeps monster tires and atlas stones there full time. The tires are kept back in the brush, chained together for safekeeping. The stones are in a big hole Lou and his friends dug by hand. It almost looked like a huge dinosaur laid round stone eggs in there. By the time all of the stuff was set up/rolled out I was already breathing heavy.
Just as we were getting the last stones out a car pulled up. It was Ray (the inventor of Ray’s Way), another calisthenic friend I met in the same way I knew Lou. He had come with his girlfriend which was very cool. He had been to Stonepark once before over a year ago. It was so great having both Lou and Ray there. A little later another friend of Lou’s showed up, Patrick. Patrick actually owns a gym and has been working out with Lou for a little while. He brought with him a special deadlift bar along with more weights.
So finally the fun could begin. Lou has a total of 5 atlas stones there of varying weight ranging from 185 pounds to the massive 365 pounder we brought with us. We alternated between the stones and deadlifting at first. I have deadlifted before at the gym for awhile. I was surprised that Lou said my form looked decent as it never has felt great. I worked all the way up to 375 on the dead lifts with Lou which was the most I have gotten in the last year. Ray and I were very close strength wise. Despite not looking it, he only weighed 5 pounds less than me. Of course everyone there was at least 20 years younger than me.
The atlas stone lifting was much, much harder than I expected. I figured with my extremely long arms lifting these should not be horrible. I was able to get the 185 pound stone onto my lap and up without huge difficulty. I next tried the 205 pound stone that despite being only 20 pounds heavier had a much larger diameter. This combination made it feel tremendously more difficult. I barely got it on my lap and when I tried to stand with it I felt a tremendous strain across my abs as I tried to extend upwards. It felt “you just gave yourself a hernia” bad. I was officially worried about really hurting myself but I had to continue on.
I had never done real farmer carries before where you have two independent handles loaded down with massive weight that you walk forward with, as fast and as far as you can go. With my high center of gravity it felt odd trying to balance and move at the same time. Lou started us off “light” with only 140 pounds of weight in each hand. Each time we successfully handled a weight that meant it was time to add more.
At my top end Lou threw 230 pounds on each handle which before yesterday I would have told you I had absolutely no shot getting off the ground. Hell just last week I failed getting 400 pounds off the ground at the gym with a hex bar. With Lou screaming at me to pump me up I somehow managed to get 460 pounds up in the air and walk 20-25 feet with it. It was nuts.
Lou had two monster tires on the lot, a 600 pounder and an 800 pounder. Early on in the workout I tried getting the 600 flipped a couple times and failed miserably. Later in the workout Ray tried it and failed but then after some form tips from Lou actually got the thing flipped up and over. Well that convinced me I needed to try again.
I spread out my arms to widen my grip. I moved my feet further away from the tire, allowing me to get my shoulders lower, pressed against the rubber. I then just pushed with all I had. The 600 pound tire moved slowly but it continued to rise upward until it was upright. I shoved it back down on it’s side triumphantly. I did it once again a few minutes later to prove it wasn’t a fluke.
At one point Cindy tried to budge the 185 pound stone which I knew wasn’t a great idea. She couldn’t quite get it off the ground but got close. Of course her back was feeling all out of whack afterward. She spent most of the afternoon watching/filming the action. I felt badly as the day went on because I could tell she was very cold. She didn’t realize just how long Lou’s workouts go.
Ray and my last major achievement of the day was with the 70 pound log press bar. After some failures at a higher weight we both managed to get the awkward bar overhead with 35 pound plates on each side. It was a tough movement.
For most of the afternoon we just cycled between the various lifts. Of course Lou and Patricks lifts were far more impressive. They both walked around with 600 pounds on the farmer carry with relative ease and Lou lifted the 350 pound atlas stone repeatedly. I was honestly surprised I was able to keep going that long, especially after the pain I felt with the 205 pound atlas stone early on. We wrapped things up as darkness was setting in. Putting all the stuff away was a good workout on it’s on.
We bid farewell to Patrick, Ray and his fiance Natalie. I really appreciated them making the effort to come out and share the Stonepark experience with us. Cindy and I got in the van and enjoyed the heat pouring out of the vents. Even with all the exercise my extremities were feeling quite cold.
Lou was our ride back to the city but we first want to relax and eat. Lou stopped at his place to change while I changed out of dirt covered sweats and into some spare clothes. We found a nearby pizza place and had a great time chowing down while enjoying a couple beers. Lou has had some very interesting life experiences and shared some more of them with us at dinner.
Finally it was time for the drive back to Manhattan. Despite it being Sunday night the traffic was substantial. Lou delivers stuff for a living in his extended van. I just could not stand dealing with that sort of traffic day in and day out. It was nuts.
Lou got us back to our hotel in one piece and swung to the side of 5th avenue to drop us off, bringing a chorus of horns from annoyed drivers. Lou answered back with his own prolonged horn symphony. We both hugged him again, thanking him for a great day. We told him we hoped to see him in Florida someday. It was quite a day.
I could already feel the repercussions from the workout settling into my muscles and joints. After a lengthy shower I collapsed into bed and flipped on the Eagles game. Thankfully I didn’t even stay awake until halftime, I was so exhausted. It looks like I avoided watching them get blown out by the Cardinals, reaffirming my feeling the last two wins were an anomaly and not a trend.
I slept better last night and we are now ready to limp around NYC in full tourist mode. It should be a great day.