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Location #9: Chile

Written on April 15, 2014 at 4:31 pm , by

Rock climbing near santiago

Paige climbs at a desert cliff near Santiago, Chile. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11.com)

Paige is climbing in Chile to support VE Global, which fosters the development of children at social risk in Santiago by empowering volunteers to serve as positive role models, educators and advocates of social justice. Learn more and help Lead Now support VE at www.crowdrise.com/leadnowtourchile

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By Paige Claassen

I awoke abruptly to horns, chatter, and clanging. I was in the city. Nothing unusual for most, except that I’d spent the last nine months far away from noise and traffic – deep in forests, barren Indian deserts, or vacant winter shores.  For most of Marmot’s Lead Now Tour, my climbing objectives were peacefully removed from civilization. But my final month of travel brought me to Santiago, Chile. I felt culture shocked.

For such a large, sprawling city, Santiago boasts many nearby outdoor climbing cliffs. Mountains surround the entire city, but the tall snowy peaks are rarely visible beneath the brown haze of pollution. My throat ached each morning, not yet accustomed to breathing the clouded air. Yet Santiago offered the change of pace I yearned for over the past months. I could practice my Spanish while navigating the city and find fresh fruits and vegetables at each corner.

I spent most days attempting hard climbs outside the city, completing a few routes that no women had climbed before. But the end of the month brought the final challenge of Lead Now – the largest climbing competition in South America. The pressure of performing well in front of a large audience and the challenge of attempting a route I’ve never before seen excited me as a teenager. But over time, I transitioned my focus to climbing outside. I hadn’t competed in three years, nor had I climbed in a gym in nine months. Climbing in a gym and climbing outside are practically two different sports. Each requires very different skill sets.

south american rock climbing competition

Paige places 4th at the largest climbing competition in South America. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11.com)

I wasn’t prepared for this competition, but I knew it would be a fun reintroduction to a facet of climbing I hadn’t recently explored. On the first day, I performed well, completing all 5 routes in the qualifying round and placing second. The following day, I placed third in semi finals after timing out on my last route. In finals that evening, my body felt exhausted. I opted for a brief warmup in hopes of conserving the little energy I had.

ve global

Young girls from a VE Global supported residential home in Santiago cheer for Paige at South America’s biggest climbing competition.

In climbing, competitors must remain behind the climbing wall before the competition, so as not to see the routes they will climb. As I walked out to the wall, I scanned the crowd and spotted four of the little girls supported by our Chilean non profit partner, VE Global. Their smiles calmed me. I didn’t feel intimidated. Instead, I felt my old competitive edge creep back in, fed by the loud music and cheers of the audience.

I didn’t do my best in finals. I couldn’t shake the fatigue built up in the previous rounds. My body was accustomed to climbing one very hard route outside each day, but I lacked the endurance needed for a multi-round competition. But unlike my early days of competition, I wasn’t disappointed. I had fun. I left Chile after nine months of travel with a smile on my face, reminiscing about all the new friends I had met around the world and the beautiful places I climbed. The journey has been rich with memories, but it feels good to be home!

To get involved and donate online to help, visit Crowdrise.

Check back next month for a final video about Paige’s adventures and stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in Chile!

Get Out and Get Fit with Rails-to-Trails

Written on April 8, 2014 at 9:34 am , by

Written by Jordan Clifford, editorial intern

Spring has finally sprung! Well, sort of. It’s still a little chilly, but the sun is out and we’re definitely ready to blaze some trails. With hiking (and allergy, unfortunately) season just around the corner, Claritin is teaming up with non-profit Rails-to-Trails to raise funds for those of us looking for more outdoor areas to get—and stay—fit.

Never heard of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy? Let me fill you in: basically, they turn abandoned railways into multiuse public paths—like the famous Highline in New York City or the 238-mile-long Katy Trail in Missouri. “Our mission is to try and retrofit communities to get people to lead active lifestyles,” says Keith Laughlin, president of Rails-to-Trails. When the organization launched in 1989, there was less than 250 miles of rail-trails, but today they span nearly 21,000 miles across the U.S. The ultimate aim is to have 90 percent of Americans live within three miles of a trail, Laughlin explains. With 700,000 miles of extensions and new trails currently in the pipeline, they’re well on their way, and it’s a goal we can totally get behind.

One celeb supporting the initiative? About a Boy star Minnie Driver. “I love the idea of communities recycling their unused rail lines,” she says. “If you’re living in proximity to [a rail-trail], that’s a wonderful part of your community to utilize as a way of staying healthy and getting healthier.” And as the face of Claritin’s new “Be a Claritin Trailblazer” campaign, Driver announced the company’s $50,000 donation to the conservancy last Thursday and launched a social media campaign to raise an additional $10,000.

Want to join in and help the cause? Visit Claritin’s Facebook page and for every like, comment or share between now and June 1st, they’ll donate an additional dollar (up to $10,000). Check out Minnie’s video and let us know where you’d like to see more rail-trails pop up.

Photo of New York City’s Highline courtesy of ©Iwan Baan

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Sweat for Good: How YOU Can Kick Cancer to the Curb!

Written on April 4, 2014 at 10:01 am , by

“Ride it forward” is 45-year-old Janeen Parave’s new motto. That’s because the two-time cancer survivor is on a mission to spread awareness and raise funds by training for her second Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) this summer. Last year, Janeen participated in the 190-mile bike-a-thon within a matter of eight months of completing breast and ovarian cancer treatments. And now she’s back—stronger than ever—ready to tackle the Massachusetts mileage this August with a $4,500 goal. Um, can we give her a big virtual high five and “You go, girl!”?

“PMC taught me the value of setting goals and that I can accomplish anything physically and mentally beyond my cancer experiences,” says Janeen. “I learned how resilient the human body can be after being sick. When I crossed that finish line, not only did I know I did something great for others, but I did something extraordinary for myself.”

Help Janeen and other cycling weekend warriors reach their goals in the upcoming months by making a donation—or what the sweat, sign up yourself! Can’t commit to 190 New England miles but still want to make a difference? Get involved with a local event like Soul for Survival or a “Virtual Ride” like Tour de Pink, which allows you to pick the location, when you ride and how much mileage you want to cover for breast cancer research. For you pavement pounders, lace up for an American Cancer Society event near you or stride for another cause you’d like to support, like assistant web editor Sam, who’s training for the New York City Marathon with Team Stop the Clot! Working your tush off never felt so good.

Photo courtesy of Janeen Parave

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Location #8: Ecuador

Written on March 18, 2014 at 10:22 am , by

Paige is climbing in Ecuador to raise money for Heifer International, a global non profit that applies the “teach a man to fish” philosophy by helping bring sustainable agriculture to impoverished communities. To join Lead Now in supporting Heifer, donate online at www.crowdrise.com/leadnowtourecuador. Donate $27 or more and you’ll be entered into a monthly raffle to win a Marmot tent!

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By Paige Claassen

It wasn’t until I arrived in Ecuador that I connected the dots: ‘ecuador’ means ‘equator’ in Spanish. This small country, roughly the size of my home state of Colorado, is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Pristine beaches, snow covered 20,000 foot peaks, and the Amazon jungle are each accessible within an eight hour drive.

Paige Claassen and local Ecuadorian climber Christian Medina take in the site of the Tungurahua volcano. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11.com).

ecuador rock climbing middle earth

Paige became the first person to climb the new route Middle Earth, graded 5.13d at 13,000 feet. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11.com).

Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism is making the country’s many outdoor sports available to locals and tourists alike. Roads, bike lanes, and access to National Parks seemed even more progressive than in the United States. With four weeks to explore the country, I set out to visit as many unique areas as possible, each holding it’s own special views, cuisine, and activities.
My tour began amidst the historic architecture and abundant cathedrals of Quito. As I drove south into the countryside, the Quilotoa crater presented the opportunity for a breathtaking two hour hike at 12,800 feet around the 7.5 mile crater rim.

A bit further into my journey, I reached Tungurahua, an active volcano spewing steam and black puffs of smoke along with its thunderous explosions that shook the town and farmland beneath. I missed Tungurahua’s eruption of lava by just a few days.

But my true objective waited in Cajas National Park, just outside the quaint city of Cuenca – an unclimbed route on a 30 meter cliff spattered with orange lichen awaited a first ascent.

After spending a few days cleaning the route of loose rock and volcanic ash, I was ready to attempt my goal. Yet Ecuador wasn’t yet willing to hand over this beautiful piece of rock to a foreigner, and instead struck me down with food poisoning.

I came back three days later light and ready to attack, and completed the route. I named it Middle Earth for the fairytale setting – rolling hills with Dr. Seuss like tufts of grass, horses whinnying and llamas humming below the cliff, and menacing wisps of fog rolling quickly in and out of the valley.

alpaca fiber spinning in ecuador

A local farmer supported by Heifer International spins alpaca fiber by hand. Alpaca fiber is much softer than sheep’s wool! Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11.com).

To top off my trip, I visited two of Lead Now non profit partner Heifer International’s local projects in Ecuador. Heifer helps impoverished communities establish a secure income and future by developing sustainable agriculture practices through livestock, seeds, and training. During the first project, I learned from alpaca farmers about their animals and how the alpaca fiber, or fur,  is spun into yarn and sold at markets. As part of the second project, local produce farmers invited me to roast cuy, or guinea pig (a local delicacy), over a fire and then share a meal together. These interactions with the local people are experiences I will always keep close to my heart.

My preconceptions of Ecuador misled me. I expected a third world country similar to that I experienced in Peru – beautiful but dirty and seemingly a bit unsecure. Instead, I found a country rich not only in traditional South American culture, but filled with diverse settings, impeccably clean streets, and the friendly faces of parents and children playing. I’m so glad I seized the opportunity to explore this often underappreciated country. Thank you for the beautiful memories Ecuador!

To get involved and donate online to help, visit Crowdrise.

Check back next month for a video and update about Paige’s next location. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in Ecuador! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .

Location #7: Turkey

Written on February 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm , by

Paige and Heather sit among ancient ruins in Turkey. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11)

Paige and Heather sit among ancient ruins in Turkey. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Paige climbed in Turkey to support CARE, which combats global poverty. Help Paige raise $10,000 for CARE on her Crowdrise page.

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By Paige Claassen

A marathon runner will likely earn sloth status in a sprint. A road cycler is prone to a few bruises on a mountain bike course. Put a technical sport climber on a horizontal roof and watch them flounder and fall. We’re all assumed to be experts in our respective sport, career, or hobby. But seemingly subtle variations from the outside actually make a big impact when you’re the one in the driver’s seat.

I spent the month of January climbing the steep limestone roofs of Geyikbayiri, Turkey. Typically, I prefer vertical climbs that require precise footwork, strong fingers, and technical movement. Alternatively, the rock in Turkey offers a much steeper, more powerful and physical style of climbing. My attempts to navigate the stalactite roof features left me feeling disoriented, as though I was underwater and didn’t know which way was up.

As with other styles of climbing, roof climbing is a very specific skill that requires dedicated practice. Roofs often require climbers to lead with their feet rather than hands. Surprisingly, roof climbs often offer “no hands rests,” whereby a climber can wedge their knees against features and let go of the rock with both hands. Unfortunately, my skillset does not lend itself to this style of climbing. I struggle to identify sections of the route where I can let go with both hands, or where I should climb feet first.

Paige navigates the sea of roof features, such as the stalactite in the foreground. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11)

Paige navigates the sea of roof features, such as the stalactite in the foreground. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Challenges within our own field of expertise can leave us frustrated and disheartened, when we struggle with a feat that we “should” be capable of performing. However, these obstacles offer unique opportunities to grow within our field. Likely, improvement in one area of our trade can only help us in our given specialty.

With this in mind, I tried to learn all I could about roof climbing in Turkey from my friend and fellow visiting American climber, Heather Weidner. I observed Heather’s seemingly effortless roof maneuvers. She gracefully twisted around the same stalactites I had tried to climb over. Whereas I saw a blank section of rock with no holds, save a 90 degree angle I couldn’t possibly grab, Heather saw an opportunity to “knee bar” and let go with her hands. After a few weeks of Heather’s instruction, I felt more comfortable identifying rests and tricky movements. What once felt impossible suddenly didn’t seem so unreasonable.

This is why I love to climb. Each route offers a new obstacle, a new chance to learn, and a fresh start. Thanks for showing me the way through the roofs, Heather!

Heather Weidner demonstrates a "no hands rest." Photo by Paige Claassen.

Heather Weidner demonstrates a “no hands rest.” Photo by Paige Claassen.

Did you know that women and girls make up 70 percent of the world’s 1 billion poorest people? Or that a child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to survive past the age of 5? These are statistics from CARE, a Lead Now supported organization that helps the poorest communities in the world unleash their full potential. Help Lead Now support CARE by donating online at http://www.crowdrise.com/leadnowturkey. Contribute $27 or more for a chance to win a Marmot two-person tent!

To get involved and donate online to help, visit Crowdrise.

Check back next month for a video and update about Paige’s next location. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in Turkey! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .

Work Out to Fight Cancer All Year with New Balance

Written on January 16, 2014 at 9:25 am , by

We’re midway through January, so let’s check in on those New Year’s resolutions. Have you started (and stopped)? If one of your goals is to sweat more, we may have found the perfect incentive to hop back on the wagon.

New Balance, a brand known for its annual partnership in October with Susan G. Komen, decided there’s no reason breast cancer awareness and support should be dedicated to just one month. And since, ya know, someone doesn’t stop fighting cancer after BCA month has come and gone (although we wish that were the case), we couldn’t be more stoked about the new Lace Up 365 program. Here’s how it works: Go about your daily business, eating healthy and sweating on the reg. Now, every time you work out, tweet or Instagram about it (you’re going to anyway for #GetFitParty) and use the #LaceUp365 hashtag. That’s it.

Dedicate your sweat to #LaceUp365. (Photo courtesy of New Balance)

Easy, right? Every time that hashtag is used, it alerts New Balance that a workout has been dedicated to a breast cancer survivor to help raise awareness year-round. And if a monetary donation is what you’re after, simply visit New Balance’s website and check out the Pink Laces Club. Not only will you find exclusive features, personal stories and get-fit tips from and for those fighting breast cancer, but five percent of every purchase from the Lace Up for the Cure Collection, with a guaranteed minimum donation of $500,000, will go to Susan G. Komen.

So next time you’re going back and forth about whether or not you have time for that workout, remember that you GET to workout and use #LaceUp365. Someone else in this world could want nothing more than a sweat-dripping workout, but their body is too busy fighting a terrible disease. You never know if seeing your tweet (or Insta!) will brighten their day and remind them we’re all in this together.

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Location #6: India

Written on January 13, 2014 at 9:55 am , by

Local indian girls share a laugh and bright smiles with Paige's team. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Local indian girls share a laugh and bright smiles with Paige’s team. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Paige climbed in India to support Apne Aap Women Worldwide, which works to combat sexual exploitation of women and girls. Help Paige raise $10,000 for Apne Aap on her Crowdrise page and don’t miss this bonus video from Louder Than 11 about the three million women currently trapped in prostitution

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By Paige Claassen

In our society, we strive towards a similar ideal. Whether that comes in the form of a high ranking, high paying job, a slender waist, or elegant clothes, the model women of magazines all look much the same. We’re praised for creating our own paths and for defining ourselves as individuals; but if we step too far outside the box, our motives might be questioned. I, for example, am currently traveling around the world to rock climb. I’m not earning a salary, I haven’t worn makeup or fixed my hair in months, and I don’t have a permanent home. The path I’m taking is not straight, it’s not predictable, and I don’t know what’s around the next bend.

I spent the month of December in India, and my goal was to climb the hardest route in India, called Ganesh and graded 5.14a. Unfortunately, the hot Indian sun beat down on Ganesh all day, making it nearly impossible to climb. I woke up at 5 a.m. each day to put in my attempts before the sun rose at 7 a.m. My day ended at 9 a.m., when I walked away from the cliff, dripping in sweat, hair disheveled, and frustrated with my efforts. This route lent itself better to a male’s strengths. The moves were long and powerful and I would need to channel all my strength and motivation to complete this climb.

A beautiful sunset and a monkey. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

A beautiful sunset and a monkey. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Meanwhile, India offered a few additional obstacles of its own. The small, dusty town I visited had a reputation for inflicting the dreaded traveller’s diarrhea on visiting foreigners (which I did not avoid). A high risk of malaria in the region also had me taking preventative medication, rumored to have a variety of unpleasant side effects. Oily food, few fresh fruits and vegetables, and no opportunities to run or cross train provided further fitness challenges.

But I had traveled all this way for one route, which was one of the best in the world. I knew I was capable. So with that determination, the matter was settled. I punched through the long moves that a girl isn’t supposed to be capable of doing. I finished the route, and I finished it before the boys. A little extra icing on the cake!

It's one big move after another, says Paige about Ganesh. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Paige Claassen becomes the first female to ever ascend Ganesh, the most difficult sport climb in India. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

I realized that my path, with all its turns and unknowns and new challenges each month, is a path of choices. Sure, India wasn’t the most comfortable month of travel, but it was a month I’ll never forget. The sites I saw, the people, and the colors each left their own special imprint in my mind and opened my eyes to a new world.

Paige got to know a few local Indian women while on her trip. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Paige got to know a few local Indian women while on her trip. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Part of that world is beautiful, but deep scars lay behind the beauty. Lead Now’s non-profit partner in India, Apne Aap, offered a glimpse into the struggles many women in India face.  Apne Aap says that “every year, nearly two million people are trafficked for sexual exploitation; of these, the vast majority are female, and half are aged 12-16.”  This is a statistic I can’t even begin to grasp, but I want to do what I can in reducing that figure so that other women can have the choices that I enjoy day to day. Join me by donating online at http://www.crowdrise.com/leadnowtourindia

To get involved and donate online to help combat sexual exploitation, visit Crowdrise.

Check back next month for a video and update about Paige’s next location. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in India! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .

LOCATION #5: China

Written on December 23, 2013 at 10:00 am , by

Can you spot Paige climbing on the famous Moon Hill arch in China?

Can you spot Paige climbing on the famous Moon Hill arch in China? Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Paige climbed in China to support the Colorado flood relief efforts of Foothills United Way. Foothills United Way has established the ‘Foothills Flood Relief Fund’ in response to the impact of the severe flooding across Colorado’s Front Range. The funds raised through this effort will be used toward health and human services for those affected by the flooding in Boulder and Broomfield counties. Help Paige raise $10,000 for Foothills United Way on her Crowdrise page. Donate $27 or more and you’ll be entered into a monthly raffle to win a Marmot tent!

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By Paige Claassen

China can be an intimidating place for foreigners. I remember visiting Beijing eight years ago for the Youth World Championships of rock climbing. Half of the US team suffered from either food poisoning from local restaurants or sore throats from the pollution. As a result, America’s best young climbers relied on Pizza Hut for their pre-competition fuel. The situation was less than ideal.

 Paige belays Ting on her warmup for the day

Paige belays Ting on her warmup for the day. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Memories of my first time in China littered my mind as I drove up to the cliff in Yangshuo last month. Upon arriving, I looked down the cliff line to see a young woman my age bounding around, hanging from trees, and performing calisthenics warm ups.  I’ve learned over the past few months of travel that I have to make new friends everywhere I go. I wanted this girl to be my new friend.

Xiao Ting, or simply Ting as I called her, welcomed me into her world. Rock climbing remains a severely male dominated sport in China, so Ting was as eager to meet another motivated female climber as I was to find a companion I could climb and laugh with. Ting’s lively personality meshed perfectly with my eagerness to embrace this new environment, and over the following three weeks our friendship grew.

Ting taught me her warm up calisthenics (actually a great ab workout!). She pointed out routes she thought I might like. She admitted that she tried harder when climbing with other women because she felt more driven to push herself as an individual rather than rely on her boyfriend Abond (arguably China’s best climber).  Aside from climbing, Ting and I shared an interest in food and nutrition. She wanted to learn to bake western style cakes, so I shared some of my favorite recipe sites with her (I’m a big Smitten Kitchen fan!). In return, Ting introduced me to a new food I can only describe as a collagen rich granola bar, containing sesame seeds, goji berries, nuts, and a few unfamiliar ingredients. She explained that in the winter, she puts the homemade mixture in hot water to make a sort of porridge that is good for digestion after meals and smooth skin.

Ting demonstrates her pre-climbing warmup routine

Ting demonstrates her pre-climbing warmup routine. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

These little tidbits from another young, motivated, and energetic woman made China comfortable. After five months of international travel, I needed a good dose of laughter with a girlfriend. I think the comfort I felt from Ting helped me achieve two of the more difficult routes I have ever completed. One even required me to climb upside down out a horizontal roof. Thanks for the inspiration Ting, I’m thankful to have you as a new friend.

:)

To get involved and donate online to help the Colorado Flood Recovery efforts, visit leadnowtourcoloradoflood.

Check back next month for a video and update about Paige’s next location. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in China! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .

Related: Lead Now Tour Main Page

Paige completes Sea of Tranquility (5.14a)

Paige completes Sea of Tranquility (5.14a). Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Speedo USA Pulls Athletes, Artists and Philanthropy Together with Cap Art

Written on December 13, 2013 at 10:33 am , by

It’s about life’s journey, rather than destinations, Coughlin says. (Photo courtesy of Speedo USA)

Written by Alena Hall, editorial intern

Searching for a meaningful gift for the swimmer in your life? Lucky for you, Speedo USA launched its Art of the Cap Campaign earlier this week, introducing five new, limited-edition swim caps designed by incredible athlete-artist duos that give back to influential charities across the country.

Team Speedo athletes (and Olympic gold medalists) Ryan Lochte, Natalie Coughlin, Nathan Adrian, Dana Vollmer and Cullen Jones paired up with celebrated artists  to design the five caps available just in time for the holiday season. At the core of the collaborations is a true connection between the athlete and the artist, from personal stories to interests and style, which breathes life into these creative designs.

The proceeds from each swim cap will be donated to five charities selected by the athletes themselves—Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, Right to Play, Kids Beating Cancer, Simon’s Fund, and the USA Swimming Foundation’s Make a Splash Initiative. Head over to the campaign’s website to learn about each athlete’s connection to their selected cause and what it means to them to be able to give back. Coughlin’s design in particular reflects not only her love of swimming, but her deep appreciation of the environment. Proceeds for her cap provide sport program opportunities in disadvantaged communities across the globe.

The swim caps are available exclusively at SpeedoUSA.com for a limited time, so check out this inspirational project and unique gift idea before it’s too late! Trust us, it will be tough to decide which team made the coolest cap.

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LOCATION #4: Japan

Written on November 22, 2013 at 12:56 pm , by

The world’s busiest crosswalk is Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.

The world’s busiest crosswalk is Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Paige used the month of October in Japan to raise money for the Colorado flood relief efforts of the American Red Cross. The Red Cross responded immediately to the September flash floods that claimed over 17,000 homes along the Front Range with rescue, food, shelter, care, and comfort for those who suffered severe damage. Help Paige raise $10,000 for the American Red Cross at http://www.crowdrise.com/leadnowtourcolorado. Donate $27 or more and you’ll be entered into a monthly raffle to win a Marmot tent!

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By Paige Claassen

Imagine you’re unable to distinguish between a restaurant and a bank when walking down the street. Going to the grocery store is a three hour event. A busy city street full of people is completely silent. This is Japan, one of the most unique and fascinating countries I’ve ever visited.

‘Organized chaos’ is the only way to truly describe Japan. From the outside, Japan seems cluttered, frantic, and hectic. But focus in and you’ll find perfect order and tidiness. At first, I found Japan intimidating in it’s lack of familiarity. But after a bit of acquaintance, I fell in love with this country, aptly known as the Land of the Rising Sun. Everything is sunny in Japan, except the weather.

I visited Japan in October and encountered an unusually late typhoon season. While my objective was to rock climb, I was forced out of the mountains by torrential rains, a small earthquake, and the threat of tsunamis.

Paige climbs on the Pacific Ocean as a typhoon rolls in.

Paige climbs on the Pacific Ocean as a typhoon rolls in. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

Perhaps this interruption in my plans was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed me to dive into the Japanese culture. Here’s what I discovered:

Fresh sashimi from Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest fish market.

Fresh sashimi from Tsukiji Market, the world’s largest fish market. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

  • My new favorite foods: Okonomiyaki (the Japanese pancake, which is nothing like a pancake) and sashimi fresh off the boat, which melts in your mouth like butter. Japan also grows amazing fruits. My favorites were Fuji apples and Asian pears.
  • Bowing: To thank one another, or even to greet or bid farewell, the Japanese people bow. As a foreigner, I found this incredibly convenient, because even when I couldn’t express my gratitude in words, I could smile and bow.
  • Cleanliness: Feeling under the weather? The Japanese wear face masks when feeling ill to prevent the spread of germs out of respect for those around them. Hand rails in public areas are sterilized throughout the day. As a result of this respect for health, I found I could eat nearly anything in Japan. Unrecognizable seafood, street food, and nearly raw eggs served on top of most meals – no problem.
  • Prices: I had always heard Japan was incredibly expensive. In general, I found prices comparable with the US. The few things that will empty your wallet are toll roads, gasoline, and fruit (expect to pay $50 for a cantaloupe and $3 for one apple). On the other hand, I regularly paid $5-$10 for a full meal of sushi at the popular conveyor belt restaurants.
  • 7-Eleven convenience stores: 14,000 7-Eleven stores throughout Japan are open 24 hours a day and provide cheap meals on the go, prepared daily. For a quick, inexpensive, and tasty lunch, this is your stop.
Some sun! Paige enjoys the vibrant fall colors in the Japanese Alps.

Some sun! Paige enjoys the vibrant fall colors in the Japanese Alps. Photo by Jon Glassberg (LT11).

I hope these tips help you navigate Japan. While overwhelming at first, I think Japan might actually be a more comfortable and convenient vacation option than Europe. Try it out for yourself!

To get involved and donate online to help the Colorado Flood Recovery efforts, visit leadnowtourcoloradoflood.

Check back next month for a video and update about Location #5. And stay tuned for the video of Paige’s time in Japan! FitnessMagazine.com, with thanks to Marmot and Louder Than 11, will have the first-look exclusive video .

Related: Lead Now Tour Main Page