Pacific Northwest Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Northwest Living Taste

  Fitting Gifts
Useful or conventional ideas aren't always the most fun
he basics may be useful, and enduring, but they don't always make the most interesting gifts. Here are a few variations on fitness-related items that might make someone happy this holiday season.

No instruction, just reflection and inspiration in "The Vintage Book of Walking," edited by Duncan Minshull. It celebrates some famous walks in world literature, with more than 200 voices in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama, from Dante to Thoreau to Virginia Woolf to Ray Bradbury. (7.19 British pounds - about $10.50, Vintage; - yes, the British site.)

"The Round Album: Song Cycles & The Choir on Bikes" is a 48-minute, 15-song CD by a Toronto group of bicycle enthusiasts and activists who sing and cycle at the same time. What began as a one-time performance at Toronto's 1993 Bicycle Week has endured as weekly gatherings for riding and rehearsal, with occasional performances, all in the name of fun, humor, music and sustainable transportation. Songs include "Way-O" (sung to the tune of Harry Belafonte's - and The Bon Marche's - "Day-O") and "Bicyclized Ode to Joy," based on Beethoven's "Hymn to Joy." ($15 Canadian - about $11.50 U.S.; 416-338-5087;

For your own backyard batting cage, the new Zooka Sports Baseball Pitching Machine is small, lightweight (30 pounds) and battery powered, yet is microprocessor-controlled, takes a digital speed readout of every pitch, and with each charge can throw more than 500 times at 50 mph. ($699; 877-854-9319;

NordicTrack's new Teton Trekker is promoted as the world's "first extreme workout machine," with incline adjustable up to 50 percent (and decline to 5 percent), to prepare for Mount Rainier or just to burn more calories. ("Only" a 25-percent incline has been shown to use 270 percent more calories than walking on a flat surface.) The Trekker includes a heart-rate monitor and pre-programmed workouts to simulate trails in the Grand Tetons, and also can connect to the Internet for online-assisted training. ($1,499;, 800-727-9777)

Ground Zero's Free Motion is an intriguing new type of equipment that combines the ease and safety of selectorized strength-training equipment (in which the user inserts a pin to select the weight lifted) with the variety and functional-movement benefits of dumbbells. On the biceps machine, for example, a user can curl in the usual plane of motion (straight in front of the torso) or in virtually any other direction, simply by moving the hands, thanks to a cleverly designed pivoting joint. If I had room and a spare $3,750, I'd be tempted to install a Cable Cross station, which incorporates many movements from all 15 machines. (877-363-8449 or If you don't want to buy one, Sound Mind & Body Gyms in Fremont, Madison Park and Eastlake have some of this equipment.

Atomic Balls are granite spheres used in the sort of strength training done for strongman contests. The Web site ( says the balls can be used indoors and out, though if dropped outdoors they may crack concrete, and indoors rubber mats are recommended: "This is more to protect the floor than the Atomic Ball." The smallest, the Dragon Ball, 10 inches in diameter and 60 pounds, is $106 for light gray and $129 for Pale Blood Red, which "camouflages the torn chunks of hand and forearm flesh lost in training, alleviating some of the spousal worry factor." Next sizes up are 140 pounds, 180, 220, 275, 320, 365 ($429/$539) and the 6,000-pound Acme Anti-Road Runner Stone, for $10,000 ($11,000 in Pale Blood Red; 717-757-9898). Also available: 100- and 200-pound mill stones ($299-$399) to use instead of iron plates on barbells for "primitive deadlifts."

Massages are nearly always welcome gifts, but this one isn't just any ol' rubdown: a heated-stone massage at the base of Snoqualmie Falls, enveloped by the sound, with the therapist and table standing in the pool. It's offered year-round ($249 for one hour; 800-826-6124;, but recommended especially for July to October. The massage-ee can either hike 15 minutes to and from or combine a drive and 5-minute walk. A soak in the heated therapy pool before and/or after is included - and probably welcome. Especially for the massage therapist.

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