Take a FITcation in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland
Forget the vacation that leaves you stiff from traveling, overstuffed with greasy food and de-energized from lack of activity. The growing rage is FITcation – a get-fit adventure vacation that packs in a healthy smorgasbord of activities to expand your fitness instead of your waistline.
Pull out your map of Tennessee and put a pin 90 miles east of Nashville. In the heart of the Upper Cumberland, Cookeville is the emerging FITcation headquarters, offering packages from one or two days to a week or two. Explore the scenic beauty of lakes, waterfalls, rivers, mountains and caves and take your pick from working out with the “Fittest Man on Earth,” mountain biking, hiking, rappelling, rock climbing, caving, canoeing and kayaking – all in one package!
Last weekend I went on a FITcation to see what it was all about. “Jam in as many activities as we can fit in one weekend,” I told Molly Brown at the Cookeville-Putnam County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB). She is the point-person for booking your FITcation, so you’ll have her to blame or thank depending on your level of soreness.
“We’ve signed you up for a CrossFit Mayhem workout with the Fittest Man on Earth,” she advised me. “You’re in Heat 2 at 6:00pm on Friday.” Wait, what? Heat 2? I’m competing??
A fast dash from work in Nashville and I stepped into the midst of the CrossFit Games. Muscled bodies glistened with sweat, bells rang, feet jumped up and down, the thud and bounce of barbells on rubber mats mixed with cheers of encouragement from crowds lining the walls. Intense fitness. People travel from all over the world to train with Rich Froning, the personable Cookeville native and current holder of Reebok CrossFit’s Fittest Man on Earth.
Anyone can sign up for a workout with this amazing man. I get my chance. A quick briefing and Froning launches me into the mayhem with his stopwatch for my 17-minute heat. No records set, but I did last the distance! “Next time you come back, we’ll go mountain biking,” enthused Froning. I’ll add biking to my practice list!
Next morning I’m ready for whatever’s coming next. Obed River in the Upper Cumberland is rated the second most popular location for climbing and rappelling in the United States. Tom Lamb, our guide from Plateau Eco-Sports, chooses Black Mountain for medium difficulty and we hike a short distance through the woods to an unexpected company of huge limestone rocks that dwarf us like ants in a canyon. We tie climbing ropes around a couple of trees, drop the rope over the cliff face and scramble down the steep track.
Gradually I climb the sheer rock face. Arms shake from exertion, stretching wide to grab onto tiny nubs of rock. Fingers wedge into narrow crevices. Leg muscles flex and tighten, feet jamming against indentations and outcrops for leverage. How does it feel to scale a soaring rock face like a spider monkey? Intoxicating exhilaration once you reach the top! The reward is the free rappel down. Let’s do that part again!
Lamb tells stories of groups of young teens he brings here on high adventure camps. This challenge is for all ages and he uses it to teach life skills.
Within a 40-minute drive of Cookeville are 14 State Parks, including Cummins Falls, Tennessee’s 54th State Park – officially proclaimed on May 22, 2012 thanks to passionate efforts by Friends of Cummins Falls. The hike down to Cummins is a good cardio workout with numerous river crossings in frigid water. Once our feet are numb with cold, it becomes invigorating. In summertime the deep pool at the base of the falls is a popular swimming hole and the rocks and falls are a playground for hikers. The steep track back up the ridge leads through forests of Hemlock, Beech and Hickory. Laura Canada, Cookeville CVB Director, remembers the day a long rope helped hikers up the steepest slope.
In between all this physical activity, we recharge at healthy choice restaurants in Cookeville’s historic West Side. Savor the tangy bite of citrus glazed salmon in an orange ginger sauce topped with goat cheese at the New Orleans-inspired Crawdaddy’s Grill. Go totally vegan at Lettuce Souprise You with wheat grass shots at the organic soup, salad and juice bar. Tom Cox, nutritional aficionado at CrossFit, offers his services as a healthy meal planner, complete with menu plan and weekly shopping list. I need to revisit the historic district just to eat my way to good health.
Sunday we take a scenic paddle down the Caney Fork River in canoes with Tom Lamb (Plateau Eco-Sports), a pleasant way to blend cardio and upper body conditioning in a brisk couple of hours. Cookeville is also base for several excellent outfitters who can equip for every outdoor adventure.
My weekend FITcation is over, but yours can be just beginning! So many choices yet to explore. Boot camps, yoga, whitewater kayaking, caving, mountain biking, fun runs and marathons. In the spring, farmers markets and Mennonite Community organic farms will be flush with produce.
Life is too short to stay indoors!