Reader Stories: How 12 Minute Athlete Helped Jasper Survive the Gobi Desert

jasper-3

When I first created 12 Minute Athlete, it began out of my own desire for a simple, minimal equipment workout program that focused on gaining strength and skills rather than solely on appearance.

I knew that if I was looking for something like that, there must be others interested in a similar approach as well.

Yet I will never stop feeling grateful and stoked out of my mind when I hear your guys’ stories about how 12 Minute Athlete has changed your view on health and fitness and had a positive effect on your life. And when I received an email from Jasper, a 28-year-old teacher, student, and photographer (check out his impressive Instagram account!) now living in Hobart, Tasmania, with the subject line, “How 12 Minute Athlete helped me survive the Gobi desert” I was pretty floored.

Jasper went on to say:

“For three years I was a teacher at a small university in China (I am originally from Australia and have just returned), located in a town in the Gobi desert, about 100km (62 of your miles) from the Mongolian border. To say that it was an adventure is putting it somewhat mildly. I had found by this point that exercise was an excellent way to deal with the stress of living in a very different culture, but found that I really hated long, slow cardio. Eventually I stumbled across your site.

For last year and a half or so, I would do one of your workouts in my tiny apartment before I started my morning classes. It really changed how I looked at working out and fitness in general, and really helped me deal with the frustrations of living in rural China and made me appreciate its benefits even more. There was a fitness park with parallel bars and pull up bars on the university campus and I made full use of it. I even managed to ship a couple of kettlebells out here (shipping in China is actually really affordable).

It was really great to go into my first classes of the day at 7:30 AM and be full of energy while my students were still half-asleep. It kept me in shape through the long, cold and dark winters, where temperatures are often below -20 degrees (-4 in Fahrenheit! haha). I also travelled a lot, and while that usually involved a lot of hiking and general backpacking, your website was a great resource for the days when I had a really long bus or train ride.

I like the inclusive nature of your site, and I like the way you detail your progress as well; ultimately it creates a better dialogue with your readers. There’s a lot of posturing on fitness blogs/sites and the absence of that kind of thing on your site is very refreshing.”

Check out Jasper’s story on his extensive travels and how he fits in exercise no matter where he’s at in the world:

Krista: What brought you to rural China in the first place? What were the coolest and most challenging things about it?

Jasper: I’d always been curious about China. I did a really good course in my undergraduate years on Chinese History and I decided that rather than read about it in the news, I would go there and experience it personally.

jasper-2

People suggested getting a job as a diplomat or with a company that had branches in China, but I can’t stand working in an office. So I got certified as an English teacher; first I taught in the Republic of Georgia (a small, Eastern European country, not the US state!) and then I lived outside Shanghai for a year.

I found living in that massive urban sprawl to be a bit of an alienating experience, and also that I was somewhat sheltered from the realities of China in general, so I decided to go and live in a part of China that was really isolated. I contacted a university in a mining town in the Gobi desert and was actually hired at the interview!

China was great because it gave me the opportunity to discover that I really loved teaching, and I hope to keep doing it for a long time. I made a lot of friends, both Chinese and expatriate that I’m still in touch with. I also managed to learn a very difficult language to the point where I could have conversations with people. Also living in a more regional area of China meant there was more of a natural environment to see. Behind the town I lived in were mountains, and it was great to go hiking there.

However living in China is emphatically not for everyone. Even in more wealthy, developed parts of China you’re going to be dealing with quite a large degree of culture shock. Being fairly isolated, the town I lived in didn’t have the problems with pollution that plague larger cities like Beijing, nonetheless it wasn’t going to win any beauty contests! There was a lot of grey concrete.

 

As one of very few westerners there, I attracted a lot of attention to myself, which while flattering is a bit overwhelming. The weather was pretty extreme out there- it got as low as -13 degrees during the winter. As an Australian that presents a pretty big challenge; winters are quite mild here and don’t really stop you from doing much. I ended up spending a lot of time indoors, which I really wasn’t used to. This is the time where I really started combing the internet for ways to stay fit without access to a gym, and I stumbled upon your site.

Krista: What kept you motivated to work out while you were living in rural China?

Jasper: I didn’t really have a problem staying motivated to work out; it always made me feel great, so I did it as often as possible. Working out was an energizing force for my life in general; it helped motivate myself to study Chinese, give a lot more energy in my lessons and engage with my surroundings a lot more.

Krista: What’s your fitness background like?

Jasper: I’ve always been involved with some kind of sport, one way or another. I was a track athlete in my teenage years, competing for my high school and also for my local Surf Lifesaving Club (they’re a big deal in Australia). Later on I did a fair bit of martial arts: American Kenpo, Karate and Judo respectively. The interest in calisthenics came after I graduated from college and started working.

Krista: What does your workout routine look like now?

Jasper: I try to aim for the middle ground between strength and conditioning, and your workouts are great for that. Right now I follow a push/pull/legs split, and use workouts from this site as metcon (subbing in different exercises occasionally if they interfere with the strength component too much). I also dedicate 10 or so minutes before the workout to skill practice. A problem I’ve had is over-complicating my workouts but I seem to be getting towards an ideal balance.

An average week might look like:

Push
Warmup 5 min
Skill practice 5-10 min

A Handstand Pushups 5×5
B1 Pushup 70-90% Max effort x3
B2 Ring dips 5-10 x3
C Planche leans 1 min x3
D L-Sit on rings Max Effort x3
then
Metcon: Burpee tabata

Pull
A1 1 handed pull-up 50% max effort x3
A2 Pullup max effort x 3
B Ring-rows 3×10
C Tuck lever 1 min x3
D Dragonflies 3×15

Legs
A Sissy squat 3×10
B Shrimp squat 3×10
C Bodyweight deadlift 3×15-20
D Deep lunge step-up 3×15-20
E Forearm Plank accumulate 3 mins

then

Any 12 Minute Athlete workout

That’s basically what I’m doing now. Sometimes I make slight variations to the strength component like doing a pull-up/pushup pyramid, or sometimes I change the metcon to something like kettlebell swings/cleans/Turkish get-ups. It follows the pattern of Push -> pull -> Legs -> Push -> Pull -> Legs -> Rest. Generally your workouts get used 2-3 times per week; they’re always great fun!

Also, when the 100 burpee challenge comes up, I grind through it.

Krista: Tell us a little about your travels and how you keep working out while traveling.

Jasper: I’ve lived in and traveled extensively in Georgia and Armenia. I spent a month traveling around Turkey, I’ve been all over China and I spent a month in Laos. My mum and siblings live in San Fransisco so I’ve been there loads of times. I’ve been lost in the snow, chased by fearsome sheepdogs, eaten bear meat (surprisingly good), been to Stalin’s hometown, nearly wandered across a national border (earning me an interrogation from the Chinese border police), chatted to Tibetan monks, been woken up by a car bomb going off, walked across frozen rivers, and found abandoned villages in the forest.

I could really go on for ages, but I think the best experience was when I was hiking in Gansu province, in Northwestern China. I was about three quarters of the way up a mountain, when suddenly an eagle flew around the side of the slope and hovered very close to me, so close I could hear the wind ruffling its feathers. Then it dived down into the valley below, and soared back up to the peak on the other side. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

As for working out when traveling, really all you need is a bit of floor jasper-1space, and one of the no equipment workouts from this site. It can get a bit tricky in youth hostels though, as roommates tend to object to burpees first thing in the morning. If that’s the case, then I try to find a park/patch of open ground/clearing in the woods etc. China was great because fitness parks were practically ubiquitous, even in smaller villages. I never had a problem fitting in some kind of workout there.

Krista: Any fun or extreme places you have worked out at?

Krista: Once my travels took me to a village nestled in a gorgeous valley in southwestern China, I ended up staying there for a little over a week. Outside the village, to my surprise, I found a fitness park with pull-up bars and parallel bars. It was a great feeling, rising in the early morning to go through my routine there, with a river flowing past and snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Krista: Keeping a good diet while on a road can be tough. What does your eating look like and do you have any advice for making good choices when traveling?

Jasper: Tough question! I’m still trying to figure this out. When I’m not traveling my diet is pretty good and I make a big effort to eat healthily. As for traveling, it really depends where I am, how I’m traveling and for how long.

When I travel some inevitable detraining occurs but I nearly always end up losing weight. This is usually because I spend most of the time hiking and generally moving around a lot more than I do when I’m teaching; instead of flopping on the couch after a day of teaching, I’m hitting the trails.

Some countries have healthier foods than others. Southern China and Southeast Asia were no problem, plenty of healthy food there. Some places have starchier diets, so this makes it a bit trickier.

Krista: Do you have any current fitness goals?

Jasper: I think the most immediate one would be a freestanding handstand. I’m so close. I know I’ll get it if I give it another month or so of consistent practice. 100 burpees in under 10 minutes would also be great. My front lever is still a tuck lever, but I’m slowly straightening my legs. Being able to do a muscle up would be wonderful too.

Krista: Besides traveling and teaching, what else do you do?

Jasper: I’ve been doing my Master’s degree in Applied Linguistics. It’s been really fascinating and I’m eager for my next semester to start. I really like photography too, which feeds into my passion for traveling and hiking. I also read a lot of books, usually history, philosophy or travel writing. I try and develop myself as a teacher too, I’m going to San Francisco next month to do an additional training course.

Krista: Do you have any other advice for people struggling to stay motivated in their current situation?

Jasper: The great thing about fitness is that there’s an element of existentialist philosophy to it. When we work out we’re trying to transcend an ultimately limited self, just like Sisyphus rolling a boulder up the hill in Greek mythology. Being fit is never a complete, finished process. I guess that means in this lifetime it’s imperative to continue the struggle to make sense of ourselves, and working out is a great way to do that, in the most physical sense possible.

Krista: Wow, that’s some pretty powerful advice. I agree—I will never feel like my fitness journey is complete. As frustrating as it can be at times, the struggle is part of the fun 🙂

Has 12 Minute Athlete changed your view on health and fitness or impacted your life in any way? Get in touch at [email protected], we’d absolutely love to hear from you!

1 thought on “Reader Stories: How 12 Minute Athlete Helped Jasper Survive the Gobi Desert”

  1. Wow! Inspiring and very interesting. Thanks for sharing this Krista and Jasper! It shows that when you put your mind to something you can make it work if you really want to.

    I recently discovered this website while doing some research on the best ways to get back in shape. I’m really excited about what I have learned so far.

    Reply

Leave a Comment