Egypt!

This series of posts have taken me a long time to start writing – not because I didn’t want too, but because I have so much to share about my trip to Egypt. The good, the bad, and everything in between. In fact, I’m still not sure where to begin so instead of just offering a chronological travelogue of my trip lets start with a summary and go from their. By the way, you may want to review my earlier posts on trip preparation if you haven’t already (Trip Prep: Egypt parts one and part two).

The Good

Abu Simbel
  • The historical sites – you want old structures? Egypt has some of, if not THE, oldest in the world.
  • The people – on the whole everyone we encountered was friendly and enjoyed meeting Americans.
  • The Nile – cruising on the Nile and watching life along the banks was a highlight of my life for sure.
  • The culture – it was fascinating to see how people lived. So similar, yet so different.
  • Road Scholar – the trip was well organized and we had no major issues.
  • Our guide – knowledgeable and friendly.

The Bad

Me at the Sphinx
  • The vendors – I was warned about how aggressive vendors could be but nothing really prepared me for the onslaught everywhere we went.
  • Traffic in Cairo – I will never complain about driving in the USA or Canada again. I’ve driven in some of the worst traffic North America has and it doesn’t hold a candle to Cairo. Sorry LA and NY but as long as your drivers at least nominally pay attention to the stripes on the road Cairo is worse!
  • The food – too many places we stayed tried, and I emphasize tried, to replicate North American food. I think it would have been better if they just made what they were used to and stay away from the “chicken Kentucky” and the oddly bright pink lunchmeat. Plus, there is a world of sausage that they are missing out on. I get that you aren’t really going to find pork in a nation which is 90% or more Islamic, but there’s turkey, chicken, and all sorts of delicious alternatives. Mini-all beef hotdogs really aren’t “breakfast links.”
  • COVID – this is sort of a gimme I suppose. But travel with COVID is a little more difficult. Especially by air. However, I followed all precautions and came home without getting sick.

Favorites

The crowds and columns at Karnak.

Here, in no particular order, are the favorite things I did:

  • Rode a camel at the Giza Pyramids.  Cliché and touristy but still an experience I enjoyed. Did you know that they stand with their hind legs first? Be sure to hang on!
  • Went inside two pyramids – and lived to tell the tale. The first was very hot and stuffy and the lights didn’t work. It turned into a real “Indiana Jones” type adventure.
  • Cruising the Nile (see above).
  • Abu Simbel – I have wanted to see this since I was a kid. I literally wept when I first lay eyes on this both ancient and modern marvel.
  • Discovering sites that I didn’t even know existed.
  • Karnak – simply amazing.
  • Discovering that graffiti is as old as tourism. And that it was a popular thing to date your signature when you defaced an ancient temple.

Over Hyped

The Great Pyramid of Giza. The only wonder of the ancient world still standing!
  • The Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx – Vendors nearly ruined this for me with their aggressive sales tactics. I’m trying to enjoy and take in the majesty of the site and they want to sell me trinkets. My feelings on this are complicated because I know that most Egyptians are relatively poor compared to the average North American and everyone has to make a living. But still…
  • King Tut’s Tomb – everything in it, except Tutankhamun himself, has been removed to museums. The tomb itself is unremarkable as far as royal tombs go.

Biggest Concerns

  • Finding a clean toilet when I needed one – to be fair this is one of my biggest concerns anywhere. It comes with having Crohn’s.

Biggest Surprises

  • No Diet Coke – I learned to drink Coke Zero, tea and coffee.
  • Germany has more choices in McMuffins than we do in the United States!

So that’ it the first of I think several posts on this trip. Have you been to Egypt? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

No Diet Coke, only Coke Zero!
Breakfast in Germany

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Fitness 101: The Basics

Congratulations! It’s a new year and you have made the resolution to finally get into or back into shape. You have your new workout clothes, joined a gym, and are motivated to eat better. You’ve checked with your physician and she says that there is no reason why you should not exercise more and, in fact, encourages you to do so. In other words, you are ready to go!

Now what?

Here are a few quick tips to help you get off to a great start and be successful in your new quest.

The Workout

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Start slowly: the biggest mistake most people make when starting out is being too ambitious. No one walks into a gym never having lifted weights before and starts pumping out reps of 225 lbs. on the bench press. It is best to start out slow with a lower weight than you think you can handle. You need to learn to feel the movement and get used to using the equipment.

Stay Consistent: the secret to getting into shape is basic. Find a routine and stick to it. Make working out a regular part of your day and you’ll succeed in the long run. This means working out when you feel like it and even when you don’t – which is the tough part.

Don’t Get Discouraged: it takes time to see and feel results. You didn’t get out of shape overnight and you won’t get into shape overnight either. Don’t expect to notice change for several weeks. The good news is that progress is addicting. Once you notice the positive benefits of exercise you’ll find that you want more and it will get easier.

Move everyday: I’m willing to bet that you spend too much time sitting around. Learn to move more. Even if it’s just walking a few extra steps by parking farther away at the store, work, whatever. Being able to move is a gift and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Today’s walk around the block might lead to next year’s marathon!

Fitness trackers: I’m a big believer in them. If nothing else they help you to better understand how you move through the day. 10,000 steps may just be a number but most people don’t get half of that. I say again – move more!

The Gym

There will be crowds: gyms are most crowded this time of year with all sorts of people who have made New Year’s resolutions. Sadly, most will be gone within the month. You don’t want to be one of them.

Gym Etiquette: just a few basics. Check your gym’s rules for details.

Photo by Anthony Shkraba on Pexels.com
  • Rack the weights when you are done using them. This especially important as you get stronger – what might be light for you in a few months will still be heavy to someone else.
  • Wipe the benches and equipment off when you’re done – we all sweat.
  • Keep your stuff with you, don’t leave it on an empty bench while you workout across the gym – gyms have lockers for a reason by the way.
  • Mirrors are for checking your form. If you have to flex do it quickly – and in this age of “fitness influencers” and Instagram “models” everyone has to flex.
  • Speaking of influencers – some gyms forbid the use of recording equipment. If you are keeping a video log or whatever be sure to check.
  • Don’t hang around the equipment talking with your new gym buddies. Socializing is fine, just don’t hog stuff other people may need to use while you’re doing it.
  • Don’t be a creep – eyes on your own form guys and focus on your workout. Gym attire by it’s very nature is tight and often revealing. But that doesn’t mean the lovely lady on the treadmill wants you to stare at her for the entire workout.

Don’t be intimidated: everyone starts somewhere. Even the biggest, baddest dude in the gym was once a scrawny kid struggling to pick up a 2 pound weight to curl for the first time and the most bodacious booty started out as a flat or shapeless blob. Plus, these folks are focusing on their own workout. No one is paying much attention to you and most are applauding you for starting your fitness journey. And if they aren’t well who needs them? You are doing this for you and no one else.

Personal Trainers: do you need a personal trainer to get fit? Of course not, but many people find the extra accountability motivating. Plus, if you’ve never worked out in a gym before a trainer can really help you understand how exercises work together and the proper form to avoid injury. They also help get over some of that initial self-consciousness. I have a personal trainer who I meet with once a week and am still learning from him. If your budget allows it, I would recommend you try to work with one. If you can’t afford a trainer another option is to find a friend who already works out. See if he/she is willing to help you get started. Chances are they’ll be flattered you asked.

How Not To Diet

You just have to glance at me to realize that diet and nutrition are not my fortes. I’m pretty good at lifting heavy stuff but not at watching what goes into my mouth which is unfortunate because any bodybuilder will tell you that changing your shape is about 20% gym work and 80% nutrition. So, here are my top errors. Don’t emulate them:

Don’t clean out your refrigerator and cupboards by eating all the “bad” stuff first.
Don’t think you can lose weight and still eat fast food every day (or twice a day, or three times a day for that matter).
Don’t starve yourself in an effort to lose weight. You’ll only binge later.

Now for me, a lot of the usual tricks about eating don’t work and I’ve reached the point where I know why I overeat, when I overeat, and what I should not be eating. I’ve accepted that fat loss is in my hands (or mouth) and don’t feel guilt or remorse anymore when I miss goals. That’s why I’m still too fat. But, c’est la vie. Enough about my problems. I know that you can do better.

Oh, and by the way, I’m sorry to inform every nutritionist out there but if you really think that a bagel is a substitute for a doughnut you are missing the point. Granted they are both round and have holes but the similarity is only superficial!

So, Get Started Already

You have the basics – don’t be too ambitious, find a routine you can stick to, watch your diet. But the most important thing is just to get started!

Happy New Year and let me know how your fitness quest progresses through the year!

Photo by Cats Coming on Pexels.com

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Advice to Youth – Part 2: So You Still Want to Get Big…

Timo before and after. Photo courtesy of Timo Eherer.

If you read part one of this blog, The Matter of Size, you already know that as much as we like to get big that lifting, bodybuilding, pumping up, whatever you want to call it, is much more than the quest of always having to turn sideways to enter a room. Through weightlifting and bodybuilding you have already gained confidence, better health, focus, and discipline (or you are about to).

But as someone who has always chased those fabled 19″ (50 cm) arms – I get it. Strength and flexibility are fine but sometimes you just want to be able to flex and watch your sleeves start to rip under the strain of your massive arms to the amazement of onlookers. Intimidate or attract others with your Thor like physique.

Okay, fine. So how do you achieve this? Well, I’ve covered it to some degree in earlier blog posts including The Secret to Building Big Arms. But why should you listen to some fat old guy who doesn’t look like he could find a gym let alone bench press more than his bodyweight?

First of all, I can bench more than my bodyweight which, yes, is considerably more weight than it should be. But I get your point – you want to hear from some juiced up 300 pound genetic anomaly or the latest Tik Tok influencer. Someone who looks how you want to look.

So let’s compromise. Let’s hear from someone who is about your age and has achieved a great deal of size and strength.

Meet Timo Eherer who is a young German bodybuilder who I somehow befriended on Instagram (find him @new.teemo). He’s been at the iron game for a little over 5 years and is a natural athlete. From his before and after pictures (above left) I think he’s clearly learned a thing or two about how to gain mass over the years. Agreed? Good, keep reading for a few tips on how to grow.

Eat Big, Get Big?

There’s a saying in bodybuilding circles that to get big you have to eat big. This has led to many a young bodybuilder stuffing himself with all sorts of food and not necessarily healthy food. So the result is a lot of fat strong guys out there (I say looking in the mirror and pointing at myself). While it’s true that in order to gain mass you need to increase your caloric intake, it’s not true that you can eat anything you want because it’s “bulking season.” Though calories per se don’t make you fat, eating extra fat seems to do the job pretty well. This is because fat is calorically dense. It doesn’t take much to deliver extra calories but the volume will leave you less than satisfied with your meal causing you to eat more than you plan. And where do all the calories your body doesn’t use go? That’s right – fat.

As Timo says:

“Do not dirty bulk! It’s just a waste of time. You won’t build more muscle with a caloric surplus of 1000kcal compared to 200-300. in the end, you just get fat.”

Trust me on this one – he’s absolutely right. I have spent a lifetime essentially dirty bulking (see Confessions of a Junk Food Junkie for details) and the results are not pretty.

So what to do? It’s pretty simple actually. Here are Timo’s 5 top lessons – so far – from his bodybuilding journey:

Do not dirty bulk
It’s just a waste of time. You won’t build more muscle with a caloric surplus of 1000kcal compared to 200-300. in the end, you just get fat.

Always train harder is bull****
You also need breaks! Sure, Training hard is very very important. Going close to muscle failure to damage your muscle for growth is necessary. BUT you still need breaks. Deloads. Essential when you want to grow in the long run.

Protein is overrated
More protein means less carbs and carbs are the main energy source. You DONT need more than 2-2,5G of protein per kg bodyweight. Everything else is junk. Better get those carbs.

Alcohol won’t kill your gains
Sure, alcohol is bad in general. But you should not fear it. One drink here and there won’t do anything to your gains or performance. Just don’t consume it on a regular basis. That’s bad and a waste of money.

The weight you lift doesn’t matter
It is what it is. I had to mention this at the end now. Mind muscle connection and technique is EVERYTHING. If you have to drop your weights for a better feeling and technique then always do it! Progression is important. Doesn’t matter what’s the base weight. 100kg doesn’t mean it’s better than 80kg. It matters how effective your training is!

But I Want Big Arms!

Don’t we all? But okay, arm development is something that Timo has clearly figured out. As he says:

“I told you guys, 3x arms per week is the key. Arms can’t be big enough, right? Destroying arms one time per week might be fun but it isn’t effective at all. Also, don’t use too much weight, go lighter and maintain control. Train them 3-4x/week, use lower weights and get a good pump due to a good feeling and you’re fine. Watch them grow and thank me later.”

No Magic Potion

So there you have it. Some advice from a peer. In the end I think it’s most important that you learn to listen to and learn from your own body. Record workouts, take measurements, figure out what you respond to and more importantly what you don’t respond to. I’m all for learning as much as you can about proper technique and even at my ripe old age I check out various YouTube videos, blogs, etc. on how to lift. But, you also have to learn to separate the hype from the facts. The more you know about basic anatomy and muscle structure the better you’ll be able to avoid injury.

There is no magic serum, vitamin, pre-workout, or protein mix out there. In fact, my suggestion is to get your nutrition figured out before you resort to trying any of that stuff – and yes, I have some protein supplement in my kitchen right now. But I don’t depend on it for my basic needs.

I think that you will gain a lot from your bodybuilding journey. Do it right and the weight room will be your home from a long time to come.

Good luck – and don’t be afraid to let me know what you’ve already discovered works and doesn’t work for you. It may help someone else along the way someday!

Onward!

Curls for the girls – and bigger biceps! Photo courtesy of Timo Eherer

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Trip Prep: Egypt Continued

If all goes well in less than one week I will be off on my first trip “overseas” and headed towards Egypt! Land of the Pharaohs, pyramids, temples, and the fabled Nile River – on which I will be cruising.

As I mentioned in my earlier post – the suspiciously similar Trip Prep: Egypt – I’ll be honest, I did not expect my first trip abroad to be to Africa. I suppose technically I will first step foot on European territory as I’ll have a several hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany but I’m not sure that “counts” as a real visit. My dream is still to take a cross-European trip from London to Rome via Disneyland…er…I mean Paris and other points of interest along the way. But the opportunity to go to Egypt was just too good to pass up as seeing its many temples and ancient wonders has been on my bucket list ever since I first read about how the Abu Simbel Temple was moved when the Nile was dammed in a National Geographic Magazine at my grandmother’s house as a child.

Trip Refresher

Just as a reminder, or as new info if you didn’t read my earlier post, I’ll be taking a tour offered by Road Scholar. From what I can tell it seems to be a fairly standard package (my alumni association offers almost the same package), but it does offer an educational component that I think some tours lack and the price was reasonable. Over the course of two weeks we will visit Cairo at the beginning and end of the tour, see the major historical sites, and cruise the Nile.

Getting Ready – Practical Matters

Even with the big items like food and lodging being taken care of there was plenty for me to arrange on my own. Below are a few items I didn’t mention earlier followed by updates on previous preparations:

New Preparation Items

Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com
  • COVID Testing: This is the only issue that causes me some anxiety. I need to have a COVID test taken within 96 hours of departure. According to the State Department they’ve heard of some people having issues of not having this done within 96 hours of their connecting flight to Egypt. So bright and early Saturday morning I’ll be having a swab stuck up my nose and the results of the test in 24 – 48 hours. Just in time to get on the plane Monday with time to re-take a rapid PCR test if needed (for about $300 to get the results in 2 hours).
  • Vaccine Passport: This took a little work as one of the most popular sites for creating a QR code, VaxYes to make your vaccination records available digitally doesn’t seem to work well with Android Digital Wallets (GPay or Samsung Pay). This was necessary because Egypt requires this method to verify records. I had to download a generic “wallet” which VaxYes suggested in order to accomplish this. But it took me some time to figure out the problem and at least three times through the FAQs they provided to get it through to me what needed to be done.
  • Clothing: At first I was just going to pack my usual summer wear – shorts, t-shirts – but then I read a reminder from Road Scholar cautioning that what is acceptable in the United States might not be acceptable in Egyptian society as they tend to dress a little more conservatively. Basically, no skin between the neck and knees. My additional research suggests that I will be okay if my shorts reach my knees, which most do, and instead of tighter t-shirts opt for short sleeve casual sport shirts. I’m taking some light weight long pants as well especially for when we go to temples, tombs, mosques, and churches. Basically, every day. I want to be a good guest and adhere to the cultural norms as best I can even if I’ll be essentially traveling in a North American “bubble” so to speak.
  • Mail and Newspaper: Yes, I still get a hard copy of my local newspaper. So I’ve placed a “hold” on delivery while I’m out of the country. No need for anyone passing by to notice I’m gone. Likewise, a quick visit to US Postal Service website allowed me to hold my mail as well.

Previous Preparation Items and Updates

  • Passport/Visa – my passport is good for several more years and the Visa is actually purchased when I arrive.
  • Medications – if you are like me and a mature traveler with a couple medical conditions I bet you take a few pills each day. Don’t get caught short. Make sure all your prescriptions are filled before leaving and that you have enough to take with you – plus a few extra in case of delays. The recommendation is to take the original containers that your pills came in so that airport security and customs can better identify what you are carrying. UPDATE: refills have been submitted. Should have them in plenty of time.
  • Other Medical Concerns – the flight over to our first stop in Frankfurt, Germany is more than 8 hours in duration and an overnight flight. I’ll need my CPAP for sure. While most modern plans have outlets I noted that our airline could not guarantee this. So I’m investing in a battery for my CPAP (good for power outages at home, too). The CPAP Device and battery will also have to be registered with the airline’s Medical Operation Centre. UPDATE: after some concerns about caused by the supply chain “crisis” the battery has arrived and will be ready to travel with me.
  • Cell/Mobile Phone – verify that you have a “global” plan for your phone. Of course, you should be able to use it with Wi-Fi whenever available but you don’t want to be surprised with unexpected roaming charges while abroad. UPDATE: I settled on a plan where I am charged a daily fee if I use my phone. It is more expensive than the general international play which Verizon (my carrier) offers, but it will allow me to tap into my domestic plan with unlimited minutes, texts, and data. Even if I use it every day of my trip it will only cost me about $40 more than the monthly plan.
  • Electricity – oddly enough electric outlets are not universal throughout the world nor are electric supplies. Get some adapters and make sure that any electronics you take with you can handle the voltage where you are going. You may need additional transformers.
  • Cash – Road Scholars suggests taking a certain amount in cash and to exchange once we arrive. However my friends, who have taken a few international trips already, feel it’s best to exchange currency with your bank before heading out.
  • Credit Cards – Visa may be accepted everywhere but save yourself the hassle of fraud prevention turning off your card when you might need it most. Contact your card provider to alert them of your travel dates and destinations at least a couple weeks before you leave. UPDATE: Banks have been notified. I’m planning on only taking two cards with me as most of my basic needs are provided.
  • Join the airline’s frequent flyer “miles” club. This trip should earn me a couple! UPDATE: Done!

Pre Trip Education

My “action” camera and a few of my pre-trip reading materials.

I’ve finished my books on Egyptian history and modern Luxor. I’m currently reading Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act. So far Steves’ book has insights about observing and understanding other cultures that I really hadn’t considered before. I think it is well worth the read by anyone and everyone who is planning to travel or even if you aren’t.

Ideas? Recommendations?

What other ideas or suggestions do you have when prepping for an international trip? I’d love to hear them! Comment below or on my Facebook page (@JourneyswithDave).

More on my trip to Egypt to come!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Advice to Youth – Part 1: The Matter of Size

Google analytics is an amazing thing. Using it tells a blogger all sorts of things about his or her audience. For example: if you are reading this right now you are more than likely male, between the ages of 15 and 34, enjoy sports and fitness activities, and you found my blog by searching for something like “average bicep size” or “how big is the average man’s bicep” or maybe even “is 13 inch arms a good size for a 15 year old?”

If this description fits you, keep reading. Everyone else please go enjoy some of my other posts – hopefully you find something you like. If you do, please be sure to leave a comment and “like.” I appreciate it – thanks.

For Guys Just Starting Out

Now that the casual reader has moved on to other things let’s have a little man-to-man chat. I know that you are worried about the size of your arms. I also know that you are not alone in your goal of having bigger more muscular arms. Based on the literally thousands of you who have read my blog “When is an Arm Considered Big?” this is a common goal of anyone who has picked up a weight.

Believe me, I get it. I was skinny once myself many, many, years ago with arms that were six inches thinner than they are now. Heck, I remember being excited that my flexed bicep passed the 13 inch mark (which is the average size of a man’s arm by the way). Even now that they tape closer to 17 inches, I still want them bigger – the quest for size can become an obsession. There’s a satisfaction to watching that peak stretch the tape a little more each workout, the feel of the pump swelling the veins in your arm, finding that you know longer can wear long sleeve shirts, and so on and so forth. It can even become a bit of a game sizing up the “competition” on the street (bigger than him, smaller than him, way bigger than that guy, holy crap! I gotta hit the gym to catch up to him, etc.).

But here’s the thing – it’s not all about size. There is nothing inherently better about a 16 inch arm over a 13 inch arm. In fact, in some cases, the 13 inch arm might actually look better and be stronger. Raw size isn’t the true measure of an arm. Shape and leanness should be considered. And speaking of shape…

You Can’t Change the Shape of Your Muscles

You might get that split but not this shape.

I don’t care how many concentration curls you do if you have football shaped biceps you will never have peaks so tall that they have snow caps on them in the winter. You can always improve what you have but some things just won’t change. Accept this and you will be happier in the long run. Besides, flatter biceps actually have more volume than short high peaked ones and are likely stronger.

Do The Big Lifts and Focus on More than the Beach Muscles

Okay, he does have decent calves.

Early on in your lifting career you’ll get the most bang from your buck by doing the big three – squats, deadlifts, and bench. In fact, I credit heavy benching for my tricep development (just about the only muscle group I regularly get compliments on). Activate the big muscles in your legs (quads, glutes, etc.) and you’ll reap benefits all over your body.

Once you gone up a shirt size you can start the concentration work. But make sure that your legs can support your torso first and avoid looking like a badly proportioned action figure doll (I’m looking at you He Man).

Keep Records

I suggest keeping some records. In this age of cell phones progress pics are literally a snap – in my day you had to buy film, take it to a little booth in the mall parking lot, wait two weeks, and get it back only to find out that the lens cap was on the camera the whole time (end of grumpy old man rant). Keep track of your weight and measurements. Trust me, one day when you are struggling to get in that 10th rep on your third set of curls at 60 pounds it will help you to look back and realize when you used to bench the same weight and thought it was heavy!

I have records going back decades! This one shows my obsession with gaining size and perfecting my proportions.

Don’t Make My Mistakes

The one thing I wish I understood from day one of lifting is that building muscle takes time. There is no magic workout, pill, or pre-workout that will get you bigger faster. Your body will respond but maybe not as quickly as the stud over in the squat rack curling 100 pounds for reps. But, maybe faster than the guy in your gym class who eats everything in sight but can’t seem to gain weight. Each of us respond to exercise a little differently, but we all do eventually respond. So called “dirty bulks,” weight gainers, and fad diets will lead to excess fat. And though that fat may be easy to burn off now the day will come – and it will come without warning – that it won’t come off so easily. What good is having a pair of 18 inch arms when they are flat and flabby? None at all. Trust me on this one.

Eat clean, stay lean. You’ll thank me later – and so will your heart.

Don’t Give Up

There will be times that you decide that your quest to get bigger and stronger just isn’t worth the time in the gym, the constant monitoring of your diet, the sacrifice of going out with friends while they are all going to the bar. Like I said earlier – it will take time. Not days and weeks, but months and years.

It’s Better to Train Alone Than With the Wrong Training Partner

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need a training partner to properly workout. True, the right training partner is worth his weight in gold. He will have similar goals as you and be supportive of your goals, too. He will also commit to working out with you on a very regular basis. But, choosing the wrong partner who maybe has different goals, doesn’t show up when expected, keeps putting you down for your goals (“Why would anyone want big arms? Legs are all that matter!” as an example) will just slow you down and hold you back. In this case go your own way and keep looking for someone who is better for you. But I myself worked out alone for years. Did I like it? Not really but I kept trying to get the job done anyway.

Oh, and if you workout alone please don’t be afraid to ask for a spot. Most guys will say yes – at least until their set is done.

The Next Step

Okay, so now you know what I say. But, if you are still reading you may be thinking “hey, I’ve seen pictures of you old man. Why should I believe anything you say? You’re not built like [insert name of the latest TikTok or Instagram “influencer” here] and you don’t even have your own clothing line.

Okay, fair enough. So next week I’ll bring you part two of this discussion and give you tips from someone who might be more relatable to you. Stay tuned…

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Trip Prep: Egypt

If all goes well in about 6 weeks from when this is being written I will be off on my first trip “overseas” and headed towards Egypt! Land of the Pharaohs, pyramids, temples, and the fabled Nile River – on which I will be cruising.

I’ll be honest, I did not expect my first trip abroad to be to Africa. In fact the dream is still to take a cross-European trip from London to Rome via Disneyland…er…I mean Paris and other points of interest along the way. In 2019, with the urging of friends who suggested that I travel with them for my first overseas adventure, I had planned to go to Greece. But, you know, COVID…

So, now that I’m fully vaccinated and ready to see the world again those same friends and I will be heading to explore a culture that pre-dates the Greeks. I thought it might be useful to others to share some of my trip prep and my decision making as I get ready for this new adventure.

Alone or With A Group?

I recall reading somewhere that famed travel guru Rick Steves said that the best way to travel as solo (never mind that he often travels with an entire television production crew). The reason being that if you travel alone you will be treated as a person. Go in a big group and you will be treated as a group. Two very different experiences – by yourself you have the opportunity for conversation and getting to know other people. In a group, you will be mostly talked at and instructed on where to go and what to do. Also, you are traveling in a virtual “bubble” when you travel with a group. Sure you’ll meet people – but they will mostly be people in your group and likely from your country. Which works against getting to know another culture.

But there are advantages to traveling with a group, especially for the first timer (me). As part of a group tour most of the details are arranged for you. I don’t have to worry about hotel, transportation, or meals. Also, the language barrier is essentially eliminated which is a plus and a minus I think.

There are, of course, many touring agencies who offer a variety of trips. In this case we decided to sign up for a trip offered by Road Scholars. From what I can tell it seems to be a fairly standard package (my alumni association offers almost the same package), but it does offer an educational component that I think some tours lack and the price was reasonable. Over the course of two weeks we will visit Cairo, see the major historical sites, and cruise the Nile.

Getting Ready – Practical Matters

Even with the big items being taken care of there is plenty for me to arrange on my own:

Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com
  • Passport/Visa – my passport is good for several more years and the Visa is actually purchased when I arrive.
    • Medications – if you are like me and a mature traveler with a couple medical conditions I bet you take a few pills each day. Don’t get caught short. Make sure all your prescriptions are filled before leaving and that you have enough to take with you – plus a few extra in case of delays. The recommendation is to take the original containers that your pills came in so that airport security and customs can better identify what you are carrying.
  • Other Medical Concerns – the flight over to our first stop in Frankfurt, Germany is more than 8 hours in duration and an overnight flight. I’ll need my CPAP for sure. While most modern plans have outlets I noted that our airline could not guarantee this. So I’m investing in a battery for my CPAP (good for power outages at home, too). The battery will also have to be registered with the airline’s Medical Operation Centre.
  • Cell/Mobile Phone – verify that you have a “global” plan for your phone. Of course, you should be able to use it with Wi-Fi whenever available but you don’t want to be surprised with unexpected roaming charges while abroad.
  • Electricity – oddly enough electric outlets are not universal throughout the world nor are electric supplies. Get some adapters and make sure that any electronics you take with you can handle the voltage where you are going. You may need additional transformers.
  • Cash – Road Scholars suggests taking a certain amount in cash and to exchange once we arrive. However my friends, who have taken a few international trips already, feel it’s best to exchange currency with your bank before heading out.
  • Credit Cards – Visa may be accepted everywhere but save yourself the hassle of fraud prevention turning off your card when you might need it most. Contact your card provider to alert them of your travel dates and destinations at least a couple weeks before you leave.
  • Join the airline’s frequent flyer “miles” club. This trip should earn me a couple!

Pre Trip Education

My “action” camera and a few of my pre-trip reading materials.

One other thing I am doing is reading up about where we’ll be going on our tour. I’ve started with some of the books that Road Scholar recommended and am also doing some reading on my own as well (it’s a good thing I never throw out my old National Geographic Magazines!).

Ideas? Recommendations?

What other ideas or suggestions do you have when prepping for an international trip? I’d love to hear them! Comment below or on my Facebook page (@JourneyswithDave).

More on my trip to Egypt to come!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Confessions of a Junk Food Junkie

Yeah, in the daytime I’m Mr. Natural
Just as healthy as I can be
But at night I’m a junk food junkie
Good Lord have pity on me…

-Larry Groce, Junk Food Junkie © Peaceable Kingdom Publishing

Okay, true confession time. Despite all my talk of working out, my “bodybuilding journey,” my cardio, so on and so forth, the thing that has always tripped me up in my fitness journey is my diet. Despite my best intentions and knowing all the rules I have never had good control of my weight. My leanest years have not been because of strict attention to what I put in my mouth they have been due to illness and other factors. Why is this? Simple really – I cheat. I justify. I find every reason I can to bend, ignore, and trash the rules.

Sound familiar? If so, welcome to the club. It’s a big one and not just because of the collective size of the members.

The Problem

I make a show of recording my meals, checking calories, and all that diet theater. But in reality, I eat things that I don’t record. Not just occasionally, but every day. Worse, I actually find ways to justify every single bite. Everything from telling myself that one treat won’t hurt to convincing myself that if the food has enough protein it’s actually good for me even if I go over my daily calorie limit.

I’ve tried every trick in the book as well: Food substitution (eat this, not that), low density and high volume foods (grapes, celery and the like), don’t eat gluten, don’t eat starches, don’t eat- well, you get the idea.

All these strategies have failed. Because the simple truth is that if you want to lose weight you need to expend more calories than you consume. That’s it. The only thing that actually works.

Simple, right?

Food A Love Affair

Like most of us my diet efforts have been sabotaged from day one. Not just from the usual suspects like the fast food and convenience food industries (worth several blog entries in and of themselves) and a very sweet tooth combined with a love of sugary carbs (I know, sugar is a carb) but also certain emotional and habitual triggers.

For example: I always have to have – and I mean have to have – a corn dog when I visit and amusement park or fair. It’s an urge that is as strong as any other I have. If I’m at a movie theater I need a bag of popcorn and a giant Diet Coke. At home watching television? Then it’s snacking from my “snack table.” These are for some reasons part of my eating habits or emotional triggers.

It doesn’t stop with those triggers either. After lunch I feel the need to have something sweet. But, I don’t eat chocolate like everyone else – so I choose a Pop Tart and these come in packs of two with twice the calories of most chocolate bars. Worst of all regardless of how well I’ve prepped for a meal at home – if I’m running late and am hungry I’ll swing through the drive-thru to get something to “tide me over” until I get home to pop my prepped meal in the microwave. Sometimes, I go so far as to eat both meals!

Sound familiar to anyone else?

Is There An Answer?

Obviously, some people over come whatever emotional feelings they have regarding food and are able to carve out their abs, sculpt their chest, and build the body beautiful. Are they superhuman? Have they discovered the secret diet, supplement, or pill? Do they really just love grilled chicken and plain rice?

Of course not.

What they have done is make a decision that their fitness goals are more important than any transitory pleasure that they get from eating a particular food. They realized that they control what they eat and are not slaves to their taste buds.

Was it easy for them? Maybe. Is it easy for me? Obviously not. If you are still reading this it’s probably not easy for you either. But here’s the ugly truth as I see it: if you want to lose weight it’s the only thing you can do that will work.

Expend more calories than you take in. That’s the only rule that you need to follow (why does this sound familiar?).

Don’t Beat Yourself Up – Learn From My Experience

However, I need to stress something else. Though I have failed in my weight loss efforts I have stopped making myself miserable over it. I used to stare at vending machines for far too long deciding whether I’m going off my diet or not. Finally take that “forbidden” treat, scarf it down and then feel guilty for the rest of the day. In short, I was making myself miserable over not being able to lose weight even though it is something that is actually in my control. I’m an adult. If I decide to eat something it is my decision and I know what the consequences are so I’ve learned to live with that fact.

Take ownership of the fact that you are the only one who can make the change. Be an adult and admit that you have are not reaching your goals because YOU are your biggest obstacle. Stop blaming your metabolism, getting older, and the fact that Big Macs are just so good (especially followed by a cheeseburger for “dessert”).

Lean or fat – my choice. It’s your choice too. Make the right one.

The Good News

Once you’ve taken ownership of the issue – you can now take ownership of the solution. If you are your biggest obstacle you can also be your biggest champion. You have the power, you can do it! Was it easy for them? Maybe. Is it easy for me? Obviously not. If you are still reading this it’s probably not easy for you either. It won’t be easy. You will feel hungry. You will get “hangry.” But own the solution, be the solution and eventually you will lose weight.

Or so I think. I’m willing to give it another try if you are!

The Blogging Life: My Journey So Far

Humble Beginnings

Technically I have been blogging since 2008 which is when I opened up my first WordPress.com account and posted a blog titled Crohn’s Attack. I then didn’t post anything until February of 2010 with a post on body size, training, and other stuff which was titled simply enough Body Size, Training and Other Stuff. In fact, the first six years of this blog were the least prolific and, not surprisingly, the least read years of it’s existence. I didn’t start posting regularly until 2014 when I reached 720 views with 427 visitors. Things kept progressing slowly after that point. I wrote more often and got more viewers ready 2,177 in 2019.

Then in 2020 something both interesting and amazing happened. I posted only once that entire year – you read that correctly – one post in all of 2020 (it was called Fitness Quest: 2019 A Year in Review if you are interested), but my viewership soared. Not by a little, but by a lot. I went from 2,177 views in 2019 to 19,879 views in 2020! All without writing more than one measly post. What happened? I can tell you in one word: Google.

Google to the Rescue

After a little research I discovered that one of my post from a couple of years earlier, When is a Man’s Arm Considered Big?, made the Google front page. All of a sudden it seemed that my little blog was getting noticed and getting noticed a lot or so I thought at the time. So like any good blogger I thought – there must be a way I can capitalize on this attention. If people like that article they’ll surely like everything else I have to say.

The Best Intentions and Well Laid Plans

So I decided to dive more seriously into the blog. I rebranded what I had been calling Dave’s World into Journeys With Dave. I had the thought at the time that I would be posting more travel related content like some other bloggers who’s work I enjoyed and admired. Most notably Jon Miksis over at My Global Viewpoint who I also wrote a travel article on little known things to do around Lake Erie for this past year. In addition to rebranding I started a Facebook page for the blog to reach a wider audience beyond my friends. I also changed my mind set. If I was going to make this work as a little “side hustle” to pay for vacations which I could then write about I needed to get serious about posting. I committed myself to posting at least one new blog a week.

Results So Far

So everything was in place and I started writing weekly. I’m pleased to say that so far I’m managing to stick to my goal of something new each week. Sometimes I’d write more than once a week, like my series on the Grumpy Old Man Tour of Walt Disney World, and once or twice I did miss my self-imposed deadline. But this year is clearly my most prolific.

So far this year I’ve posted 32 times and I’ve written 43,876 words. This is more than twice my previous best of 15,973 in 2015 with 32 posts total that year as well.

Visits are on track to beat last year’s total easily as I’m over 18,000 views as of August 21, 2021 with 4 and a half months to go. So exceeding 20,000 vies and 17,301 visitors should not be an issue. My best month for viewing was January 2021 where I reached about 3,300 views. However, this is the month that I rebranded and switched from the free WordPress.com site to a paid WordPress.com site. The main reason for this was so that I could get ad revenue. As a result I saw a big drop in views in February but my readership is climbing again and I’m over 2,200 per month currently and trending back up.

Other interesting stats (at least interesting to me):

  • Most popular viewership time: Tuesdays at 10:00 PM
  • Most viewed day: January 17, 2021 with 138 views.
  • Average Words Per Post: 1,371

The Plan Forward

My main issue now though is frankly one of content. That post about When is a Man’s Arm Considered Big is still far and away my most popular blog. I’m not complaining about this, but I am trying to find a topic that will also hit that front page of Google – the holy grail of blogging – and so far I’m not having a lot of luck. I am finding that similar subjects seem to have some staying power, but when I try other topics I’ll get an immediate bump in readership but that’s it. I have noticed that other bodybuilding/fitness/workout type blog entries are moving up in viewership. This may be because my primary audience, at least according to Google Analytics, are men aged 20 – 24 who are not surprisingly interested in fitness and sports. So my plan is to keep giving this audience more of what it wants, like How do Your Arms Stack up to Other Gym Bros?, and even stories of my own fitness experiences over the years. By the way, the last blog was picked up by a website that promotes scientific research articles – so that was cool.

So my plan going forward is more of the same that I’m doing now. Post on a regular basis, see if I can build a new audience to compliment the one I have, and keep having fun exploring the world of blogging. I am also slowly working into other media as well such as YouTube and Podcasting. However, there are only so many hours in a day and as fun as all the social media stuff is it doesn’t pay the bills (so far at least).

Quick Lessons Learned

Here are a few things that I think I’ve learned which I hope might help you if you decided to start at blog or are working on a blog of your own currently:

  • Be consistent. Writing on a regular basis keeps your followers engaged and keeps your skills fresh and sharp, too.
  • Don’t expect to get rich quick. Or get rich slowly for that matter. If you do great and please let me know your secret. However, the odds are against this happening. So remember you are in this for the long haul. As long as you enjoy what you are doing I think that success will come but it will likely take years not days, weeks, or even months.
  • Experiment. Don’t be afraid of tackling a new subject. Your audience is looking for information. If you provide what they want, they will come back.
  • Check your stats. I pay attention to how each post does and try to learn from that. If you look at my first post and my posts today you’ll see a fair amount of change – for the better I hope!
  • Don’t be afraid to self promote. I’ve gotten better about suggesting to people that they check out my blog. I don’t know how many actually do, but my viewer counts continue to climb and I’ll get the occasional “attaboy” and “great blog” from friends and acquaintances.

So that’s it. I’ll check back in on the blogging effort at the end of this year just to let you all know how things are going. Good luck with your blog in the meantime!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

My Bodybuilding to Fitness Journey

“Every man wants to be bigger than dad…”

From the Pumping Iron song – Written by Michael Small and performed by Joey Ward

In some ways this is an easy entry for me to write, in other ways it’s difficult. I started out thinking that I would write a blog about my journey to a 350 pound (160 kg) bench press and how you could achieve one, too (short answer: go to http://www.timinvermont.com/fitness/benchpgm.htm and follow the program there. It may take a few rounds, but you’ll gain a lot of strength and a lot of size each time). But, I got to looking at old records and started to reflect on my progress over the years. This reminiscing led me to a basic question about myself: am I now or was I ever an actual bodybuilder?

Let’s review the evidence…

First Impressions

If you looked at me today or at any point in my life your answer to the question “is Dave a bodybuilder” would be a pretty emphatic “no.” Sure, I have some size and statistically speaking there are very few men my age who can lift as much as I can in the weight room (see my blog How Much Can the Average Man Bench Press for details and to find out how you compare). But I’m clearly much too fat to be a bodybuilder in the popular sense, my waist and hips are too wide, etc., etc. At best you might think I’ve done some power lifting in my past. But I’m no Arnold. Heck, I’m not even a Richard Simmons. But in the broader sense of the term? Maybe…

The Early Years

Skinny me!
Not so skinny me.

If you look into my past it’s clear that exercise and weightlifting in particular have been part of my life for a long time. I actually started lifting in high school using my dad’s 110 pound plastic barbell set purchased at Montgomery Wards (we called it “monkey” Wards back in the day – what a laugh that was…eh, I guess you had to be alive then). Believe it or not at that time my school did not have a proper weight room. There was a Universal Gym that lived in a store room just off the gym by the custodial office but frankly, even though I was on the on the track team, I was too intimidated the “jocks” to actually use it myself.

Despite my self image of being fat (probably a blog post in and of itself) I was a skinny teen and not even remotely considered a jock – though I did finally letter in track my junior year. The earliest records I have indicated that I had average sized 13 inch (33 cm) arms in my twenties and benched about 90 pounds (40 kg) for reps during a typical workout. My 39 inch (99 cm) was barely larger than my 37 inch (94 cm) waist.

Not surprisingly, my goal back in my teens and twenties was simple: get bigger.

And not just a little bigger, I wanted to be huge with 22 inch (56 cm) arms and to be barely able to fit into a XXXL shirt. I wanted to look like the guys on the magazine covers – Arnold, Big Lou Ferrigno, Dave Draper, and a host of others. This quest for size, by the way, had nothing to do with attracting girls. I think it was for what may be a more common reason – I didn’t want to be small or perceived as weak. I also wanted to be satisfied with what I saw in the mirror. Narcissism isn’t just for politicians.

Reality vs Expectations

The picture is small and grainy – early digital photography – but I like the look of that tricep!

So in my younger years I had bought fairly heavily into the myth that anyone could achieve a Mr. Olympia physique. The myth that the secret to size and strength was to take the right supplement, do the specific workout that Mr. Current Trophy Winner did, curl the weight with you pinky pointing up, and so on and so forth. Do these things and the muscle would come. In my naivety I didn’t realize that to achieve a champion bodybuilder’s physique took a lot more dedication than I had, to the point of making it your life, extraordinary genetics, and chemical assistance well beyond a second scoop of creatine before your workout.

So, predictably, I wasn’t very successful in those early years. At least in terms of my progress matching my expectations. However, even without having someone to guide me in the gym and to follow me around slapping pizza out of my hands, I did start to make progress. My trial and error method of training, my research skills, and overall desire to make a change did serve me better than I thought. I had the tools to at least get closer to my goal – but I kept getting in my own way so to speak. There was also, of course, my health issues. Primarily Crohn’s Disease.

Adversity, Attitude, and the Middle Years

Big, but needed more definition.

As I mentioned earlier I had issues maintaining a consistent workout. Some were due to allowing conflicts to get in the way of my training (I’m looking at you theatre), but others were of a more serious health nature. The first being Crohn’s which is often a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease. People who are afflicted with Crohn’s can suffer from severe pain, nutritional deficiencies, and more than 75% of us end up with surgery (I’m one of the 75% in fact).

Because of Crohn’s I lost all the meager gains I had made in my early twenties during a serious and long term episode. I went from 180 pounds (82 kg) down to about 130 pounds (59 kg). I didn’t mind the sub-thirty inch (76 cm) waist. But it came with 10 inch (25 cm) arms – flexed – and no abs. To be fair, I never had abs. Even as a skinny teen I didn’t have them. They just hadn’t been invented yet.

During those two years or so before my Crohn’s came under some level of control I had trouble just getting through the day and maintaining a job let alone work out. I was having trouble eating enough food to stay alive let alone gain mass.

But, the day finally came that my appetite returned and so did my efforts in the gym. I have to admit that I actually hit my bodybuilding stride in my thirties and forties. In fact it was in my forties that I started getting compliments and comments about the size of my arms. Fun fact, today my forearm is actually bigger than my upper arm was when I first started lifting (it pays to keep records folks).

It was also in my mid forties that my strength reached it’s peak – unfortunately, so did my weight but that’s another story. It took a few decades but my 60 pound (27 kg) bench press soared to 350 pounds (not quite 160 kg) one time max rep. I stress “one time.” Only once, I never tried again, but I still claim it.

Today – A New Attitude?

Before and after my ileostomy reversal.

In the past 3 or 4 years began what I called my period of rapid decline. Not because I was having less successful workouts. But because suddenly multiple health crises started popping up.

First came the Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clot in my leg). This was followed by the news a few months later that at some point earlier in the year I had suffered a heart attack which permanently decreased the function of my heart. Then Crohn’s decided to have another swat at my which led to a perforated bowel and an ileostomy bag for a long 6 months or so. During which time I contracted Norovirus which put me into kidney failure (see Wash Your Hands People for details).

But even after all the above, I still returned to lifting. The desire to want to be bigger and stronger has not abated over the years, but I have added a new dimension to my training.

A long time ago a personal trainer, who was a competitive bodybuilder, told me that you should never mistake bodybuilding for fitness. Bodybuilding, in the competitive world at least, is all about looks. In fact, many of the practices that professional and amateur competitors do to prepare for a contest can be harmful if not dangerous to the body. Water depletion, calorie restriction, and this is before any discussion of drugs is considered.

In my younger days, if I had the dedication and drive to be competitive, I might have followed that same unhealthy path in the quest to get big, look better and to win trophies. But today, now that the realization of how precious and rare good health actually is has become evident to me, I have changed my training. Sure, I still lift and want to have muscle to flex, but I now also work on cardio and fat loss. It may be too little, too late, but here we are.

Advice to Youth or Lessons Learned

The take-aways of my journey are simple. If you want to be a competitive bodybuilder that’s your choice and there’s nothing wrong with it. But understand that it is a lifestyle and one that will take you away from other things in life. Leisure time, outside activities, and possibly relationships. I may be over stating this as there are happy pro-bodybuilders. But they sacrificed along the way.

Here’s a few more tidbits of things I’ve learned over time:

  • To thine own self be true. When I first started training bodybuilding was an oddity. In fact, coaches were still actively discouraging weight training because they worried that their athletes would become “muscle-bound.” So to large degree the idea of lifting to get bigger and stronger was frowned upon. Today there is no such stigma and it’s almost expected that everyone will lift weights at some point. Just be sure that you understand your motivations for doing so. Is it to get stronger? Look better? Get bigger? Staying focused on your goal will guide your training.
  • Remember – you are doing this for you. No one else. Your goals are your goals and you don’t have to justify the why’s of them to anyone but your self. Keep that in mind when you are asked why you work out so much, watch your diet so closely, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Likewise, don’t think that you know it all. There’s a world of information on bodybuilding out there. Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is still essential reading, too. I actually shared a hose one summer with a grad student who was clearly an experienced lifter and we never once talked about training. A missed opportunity for sure and I’m betting one of many.
  • Nutrition is key. Trust me on this, you can’t supplement your way past a bad diet. Speaking of supplements, you probably need fewer than you think (I know I’ll get some flack on this point). Some extra protein when you can’t get all your meals in, maybe some creatine but that’s about it. Especially when you are just starting out. In any case, get your diet straight first. Then you can experiment with supplements – but I bet you’ll find that you can get very far without them.
  • Your heart is your most important muscle. I know that it’s hard to think about heart health and keeping your body fat low when you are in your teens and twenties and your metabolism is firing at full speed. No one asks about your blood oxygen levels at the beach after all. But believe me, one day without warning your metabolism will suddenly slow down and instead of being that skinny guy with a natural six-pack you’ll be that fat guy with a full keg! You’ll have trouble walking up stairs, and a couple of squats will really make you sweat. You can avoid almost all of this with a little walking and running each day. Cardio – it’s not just for heart patients. It helps keep you from becoming one, too.
  • Be kind. Some day down the road when a gym newbie asks you for a spot or advice, give it. Remember where you started. Also, humor that old guy in the gym who tells you that he used to lift 350 pounds. If you keep working out and stay healthy someday that old guy will be you.
Posing in the “playroom”

There is no point of regretting the past, but I do wish that I was more focused on my training early on. However, I am happy with where my current training is taking me. Even with my prime training years behind me (I have to admit it) I still make gains. Granted, my challenges are different now. I don’t try to lift all the weights. I now have goals that involve running longer distances – or any distance – and I find I’ve become more of a cheerleader for others as they begin their own bodybuilding or fitness journeys. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. Done right, bodybuilding and weight lifting can be a life long activity.

So, Are You a Bodybuilder or Nah, Brah*?

Oh, that’s right I forgot we started with that question. I have to admit that even today, when I’ve had to begrudgingly modify my training style to focus more on cardio and cut back on the heavy weights, that I still have that old mindset of bigger and stronger is better. My training partner can confirm that I spend a little too much time flexing in the mirror and trying to find just the right light to make by biceps “pop” when I flex. I enjoy the feel of the weight as I push and pull it. I look forward to the “pump” as the workout progresses and the endorphins kick in and that feeling when even though you’re tired it feels like you could lift a Mack Truck off your chest and conquer the world. I like seeing new veins emerge and when muscle definition starts to show through the layer of fat (diet ladies and gentlemen). I enjoy trying out new exercises and figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t.

So yeah, I may not be good at it and you’ll never see me on stage in a pair of posing briefs with way too much self-tanner covering every inch of my body, but I think it’s time to admit that I am a bodybuilder. Proud of it, too.

Are you one? Leave your thoughts in the comments and let’s discuss!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

*P.S. – I promise never to use “brah” in a header again.

The Purpose of Theatre*

I think that it is fair to say that theatre is essential to human existence. It has been around for nearly as long as civilization has existed in multiple forms from religion to pure entertainment. In fact, most popular forms of entertainment today – movies and television for example – have their origins in live theatre.

A Public Art

It’s also fair to say that theatre is common in most communities. You may never get to be a part of a Broadway audience, you might not even get to a large regional production, but most of us have been to a local community theatre and certainly a high school, elementary, or even church performance of some kind (I’m talking Christmas pageants by the way, not the regular Sunday service). Theatre in some form or another is ubiquitous in our society. It is not, as often ironically portrayed on stage, films or television, an activity of the idle rich. It is an accessible art form with millions of participants and as such is uniquely able to serve as a public forum for thought and ideas.

How Theatres Choose Their Seasons

Photo by Ruca Souza on Pexels.com

Now, a few of you involved in theatre may disagree with what I’m about to say. But, I have been active in theatre nearly my entire life. I was in school plays, going back to elementary, some college classes and started a Reader’s Theatre Group as a student, and a ton of community theatre for the past 39 years. My community theatre work includes acting, writing, directing, etc. and I’ve served on multiple boards of groups at both the local and state level. This broad experience has allowed me to make note of some similarities among theatre groups. Especially among smaller groups which do not have abundant resources and endowments to draw upon.

I have heard the same basic arguments from different theatre boards and members when selecting shows, especially when the bank accounts get a little low. The discussion tends to center around what shows will sell. So as a result, because of the pervasive belief that casting children in shows sells tickets, many seasons of smaller struggling groups tend to be filled with children’s theaters, musicals, or the holy grail of ticket sales, musicals with children!

The Real Question Theatres Should Ask Before Selecting a Show

A question that I think theatres don’t ask enough is what is the purpose of theatre? And, just as important, how is that purpose being fulfilled? Regardless of how you answer these questions I think we will all agree that the purpose of theatre is not to sell tickets. Selling tickets is just a tool to raise funds to help us fulfil the higher purpose of our craft. It is an unfortunate fact that all groups need funding to continue to put on shows. But has your group become dedicated to just selling tickets? I believe that the purpose of theatre is to show a slice of the human condition in a safe environment and to give the audience something to reflect on and think about long after the final curtain call. If your board’s only goal is to make money without consideration of the important voice that theatre has are they doing the right thing?

Obligation to the Community – More than Frivolity

All theatres have an obligation to their communities and that obligation is not just to present shows that are entertaining or that can be easily cast. It means that on occasion at least that your group should be doing what I would call difficult pieces. Works that are often not associated with community theatre in fact because they are too controversial or use “bad” language (gasp). Works that deal with the troubling questions of our day like gun violence, homelessness, sex abuse, inclusiveness, and so on and so forth. I maintain that as soon as a member of your theatre’s board says something along the lines of “that won’t sell tickets” or “our community isn’t ready for this show” then that is exactly when you should produce it!

A Place for Every Type of Show

Now I’m not being dismissive of children’s theatre or musicals. Both have their place and both can also be educational and thought provoking. In fact, the best scripts and productions always are. Even old standbys like The Music Man are full of social commentary and you don’t have to dig deep to find it. But if your only purpose in picking a show is because you think it will sell tickets you are missing out on an opportunity to not only help further educate your audience – and I bet your theatre is organized as an “educational” 5019c)3 – but to develop an entirely new audience as well.

Risk and Reward?

Will your risk pay off? In terms of finance, possibly not the first time or two you perform something a little more daring. But in the long run, I think your community will learn to appreciate the intellectual debate that your productions inspire.

There you have it, my two cents. I’d love to learn what you think on this issue. Am I right on or all wet? Let me know in the comments and get the discussion started!

Admittedly, some shows are harder to justify as thought provoking than others. But sometimes just having fun is okay, too! The cast of Monroe Community Players’ production of Gilligan’s Island. Photo by Robert Yoman.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

*I don’t use the word “theatre” with the “re” for any hoity toity artistic reason. I use that word to describe the act or art of putting on a play. If I’m using the word “theater” I’m talking about the performance space. I just find it an easy way to distinguish between the two.