Saturday, July 28, 2012

And, the winner is.... um, no one?

Well, given the number of texts I received in recent weeks, it's clear that a good number of my readers and blog followers put forth a respectable amount of effort toward determining what the (easy) answer was to the (complicated) question posed during my TwitOnARoadTwip2012 (trademark pending) roadtrip.

Sadly, no one answered the question correctly. The answer would have been the easy part. It was finding the question that was more difficult. But, as time has passed and I've received a good number of 'ugh, I give up' texts - I'll spoil it for everyone.

It's worth nothing that one person was almost on the right track. But, since her on-the-right-track guess was one of a dozen that essentially parroted my blog back to me, I couldn't give her the benefit of the doubt.

So, what's the question?

Step 1: The clue is in the hint
Notice the underlines? There was a reason for that. Also notice that the statement begins with an underlined question mark.

Step 2: Find other underlined text
The reader that came the closest recognized the underlined 'A' but didn't take it to the next step. Here, it helps to know two things.

1) I have a history minor. It's military history. I love codes. But, I recognize few others do... so I would use the easiest one to identify.
2) I take a lot of pride in my writing, so if something seems jilted or unnatural, it's worth noting.

So, what did I do? Well...


Step 3: The question revealed

So, if you read the first letter of each paragrpah, the question presents itself. I had to use unusually stilted language to start a few of the paragraphs, and I hoped that (along with the underline) would draw attention. It apparently did not.

The question? Average race time. The answer (thanks to some simple math and my two race reports)?

1:54:34

No soup for you. You come back, one year... cuz then I'll be doing another road trip and you can try again!


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Saturday, July 21, 2012

First Look: The sequel to Number 181

It's been a busy several months putting pen back to paper (or, in this case, fingers to keyboard) trying to write down Shawn Kidd's next adventure. I'm through the framework of a first draft, though I know that I still have more to go back and add. I was in such a rush to get my thoughts down, I put placeholders in some areas... Strange, I know. But, Shawn wasn't going to wait on me before he started making waves. He pulled me along, so I had to go.

But, since things are beginning to come together, it seemed appropriate to give you guys a bit of a peek at the sequel to Number 181. The excerpt below is from word 1 of the sequel.


Paraguay


Raul Rojas felt exhilarated as the car bounced down the rutted road. Nearing seventy years old, he found that few things in life coaxed any real emotion from him anymore. Yet, he found himself badgering his driver with repeated entreaties to hurry as the caravan made its way along the rough roads of eastern Paraguay. Rojas had lived his entire life within a day’s drive of where he now sat, and he could find their destination blindfolded.

Still, he asked once more how long they’d be.

“We are nearly there, jefe,” came the reply. The young man behind the wheel didn’t turn as he answered, choosing instead to keep his eyes on the dark road in front of him. The thin shafts of light that traced outward from the lead car twenty yards ahead of them helped, but the beams of the pick-up trucks that trailed behind slashed across the car’s mirrors and blinded him every few seconds. The effect was harrowing in the midnight fog and exacerbated by the incessant prodding by Rojas. The elderly man still instilled fear in his men, though. If he wanted to risk blowing a tire or striking some wandering goat, his men would press on.

“Yes, yes, Manuel. I’m certain you find my badgering annoying, but this is certainly a meeting for the ages.” The sedan rocked as one of the right wheels dropped into a deep cut caused by the early spring showers. Manuel’s foot bit down hard on the pedal and forced the car to bounce wildly back onto the comparatively-level dirt road. The jostling slammed Rojas roughly against the sedan’s roof, but as he had the previous times, he simply ignored the impact.

A soft glow formed off to the right as the crumbled road began a lazy turn in that direction. Though they were only ten miles from Foz de IguaƧu, a tourist destination just over the border into Brazil, no light from that city reached the quiet plains. Instead, the squat buildings that served as Rojas’ family business appeared around a sharp bend and the trio of vehicles passed a long, low metal sign.

Rojas Agrochemical.

Born into family money, Raul Rojas leveraged his land holdings and government contacts to establish a sprawling agricultural empire with his chemical plants at its heart. The business was lucrative to the point that he and his two sons could live in luxury, but they padded their profits by devoting any unused factory space to the low-tech processing of drugs. What started as a hobby, an experiment in chemistry, had turned into the largest production ring in the region. And, it had turned Rojas into an unlikely kingpin.

Rojas had a nervous disposition and was quick to anger, two traits that did not mesh together well. His reputation as a just and fair employer among his agricultural workers was offset with his brutal and impulsive nature with the employees of his illegal ventures. Retribution was severe and immediate. Men had simply disappeared. At the heart of it stood this short, balding man whose suits appeared two sizes too large as they hung from his wiry frame. The wisps of gray hair that remained may have indicated an aging businessman, but many a missing person had underestimated Rojas or assumed he had softened with age.

Still wary of drawing the attention of local and regional law enforcement, though, Rojas tended to avoid high-profile dealings and the transfer of large amounts of product. But, tonight, he was making an exception.

“This is thrilling, Manuel,” Rojas said as the car turned toward one of the darker buildings in the back, a lone floodlight marking a rusted metal door.

“What is, jefe?”

“Our organization has been evolving and making its presence known on the global stage. Tonight, we will be doing business with one of the foremost men in his field and securing our future. It is truly a great time for us.”

The cars came to a stop, and the three other vehicles poured out their passengers into the small clearing near the doorway. The seven men took up protective positions between the sedan and building, one of the larger men forcefully directing them. They were armed with a mix of available weapons, and Rojas scoffed at the image for a moment. Except for his lieutenant, the men were dressed sloppily and showed little professionalism, any sense of order and discipline failing them immediately after exiting the car. The various firearms they presented swung randomly through the night searching for nonexistent targets.

The guns.

Sadly, each man carried a different firearm, and Rojas took it as a the clearest sign that his organization would never gain the respect it deserved if he didn’t take a more active role. One man spun a Baretta 9mm hand gun on his finger. Another awkwardly cradled a Soviet-made AK-47 on his hip. Still another stared down the sights of a SPAS-12 shotgun. It was a formidable display to be sure, but it also reeked of amateurism and chaos. Order and symmetry commanded respect, and Rojas’ team was as asymmetrical as one could be. This meeting would help change that, though.

“Hector!” Rojas yelled as his driver jumped from the car to open the door for his boss.

The burly lieutenant turned from directing the men and stomped back toward the sedan. He was well over six and a half feet tall and nearly 250 lbs, but he moved deliberately. The 38 year old had been in Rojas’ employ for the better part of a quarter century but had the misfortune to be cursed by bad luck for nearly all of it. Even so, it appeared the cloud was now long gone. In recent months, he had begun to dress better and stand taller, his wardrobe having slowly improved to match his buoyed demeanor. Rojas was pleased with the change as it played well into his ideas for a more professional force.

“Yes, jefe?” The man’s voice was low with a tinge of exasperation in it, but Rojas didn’t notice.

“We are certain he is here?” Rojas attempted to straighten the suit’s soft wrinkles that he had received during the hour-long drive from his home. He ran his hands down over the sleeves to ensure none of the dust they had kicked up upon their arrival had settled on them. His heart raced as it had years ago when he first entered the drug business. He felt alive.

“We are, jefe. Diego is inside with him even now. They have one of the weapons for our… evaluation. Diego assures me he has seen ten others and believes there are considerably more.”

“Excellent! This will indeed be a big day for us. Let’s get inside.” Rojas strode purposefully toward the door and rapped loudly on the metal frame. He pressed it open without waiting for an answer, and his men followed him silently inside.

The walls of the interior were lined with empty crates and rotted boxes, the forgotten trash of Rojas’ legitimate business dealings. Each crate had held tanks of chemical fertilizing agent or test crops at one point, but the frames were all aged and thoughtlessly discarded in the dimly lit room. All, that is, with the exception of one crate that had been upended in the center of the room to form a table of sorts.

On it sat the most beautiful thing Rojas could remember seeing. The compact submachine gun seemed to pulse under the single, overhead light and his eyes remained locked on its sleek lines. Heckler and Koch designed the MP5 decades ago, but dozens of military groups around the world still used the weapon, many exclusively, thanks to its reliability, light weight, and abundant supply of ammunition. Even the lowliest of groups had boxes of 9 mm rounds lying around. The gun appeared to be in pristine shape and was, in fact, brand new. It, along with a significant number of others like it, disappeared from a transport truck in Germany ten months earlier and had somehow ended up in the hands of the man that stood across the crates from Rojas.

Rojas fascination with the gun distracted him for a short time, but once his eyes fell on its seller, his heart jumped. The man was well-known in mercenary circles for being both brutal and fair, two characteristics others might find at odds with one another. Rojas saw it for what it was. If you dealt fairly with the man, he would do so in turn. Cross him at your own peril.

Rojas had never met him before, but the shoulders were broader than he’d expected. The dark thermal shirt and chest gear he wore tapered to a thin midsection that disappeared into black cargo pants. Though his arms were crossed, the man held them in a way that allowed Rojas to make out the handgun and knife blade stored in the folds and hooks on the man’s vest. It was the eyes, though, that sent Rojas’ mind reeling. Bright blue eyes sparkled through the black mask and bore down on the Paraguayan. They were the only exposed skin on the man’s body, but even the tiny amount of light in the room caught them dancing evilly.

Rojas had met the Norwegian.



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Friday, July 13, 2012

Twit on a Road Trip [Finale]

As the sun rose on Thursday, my TwitOnARoadTrip2012 time was winding down following the events of  GORUCK DC. Though we were drained from the previous day's efforts, we were able to make our way to Dupont Circle to throw back drinks with Brent, Lou, Jason, and assorted GORUCK family at James Hoban's Irish Bar. Fatigue and alcohol quickly took their toll on our ragged group, though, and we slowly broke apart to our homes, hotels, and squares of carpeted floor. July 4th, 2012 was in the books.

Very few people would be able to function after the day we had, but we awoke and made our way to the National Mall and Smithsonian Museum of American History - an impressive home to war artifacts, the fabled Star-Spangled Banner from Fort McHenry, and the Gunboat Philadelphia. Any grand plans we had to further investigate our nation's capitol disappeared at the first mention of finding a bar. This is not an uncommon occurrence when GRTs congregate in large numbers. Hell, it's usually true when we are wandering the streets alone, too.

Elephant & Castle. The sign across the road called to us, so we opted for an afternoon of rejuvenation and cellular repair, drinking up a storm and causing a general uproar. We were loud and slightly obnoxious. I say 'slightly' in reference to our own scale. When compared to societal norms, we were off the chart.

Relaxing together offered the chance to experience the best aspect of GRCs and the GRT family. Sharing stories and drinks, we talked the afternoon away. It's impressive how quickly people that you've just met can become like old friends. Sweating together during a challenge - any of life's challenges - has the strange ability to add depth and respect in any relationship. Friends, both new and old, bonded to bring the conversation to hilarious and felonious levels.

As a starter, I told the story of my epic 1988 National Spelling Bee victory and ensuing controversy.

Going back to the night before, Chris repeated the hilarious and extremely disturbing way Cadre Lou hoped to create a "T-1000 baby."

Your argument is invalid
Eventually, we started discussing when we'd get together again and talked upcoming GRCs to choose from. Kevin erupted in annoyance. "We don't have to do a GORUCK every time we hang out!"
  
Recounting the horrors and heroes from the day before, we enjoyed the A/C while the sun marched across the sky. Drunken discussions were had on the acceptability of hand-holding during a GRC. The topic of disease-infested ponds was touched upon. I blame the previous day's GORUCK and dehydration for the disaster that followed.

A fuzzy fifteen minutes later, we had women exchange an orange peel from mouth to mouth... followed by two guys doing the same thing. We then requisitioned a shopping cart and proceeded to roll all over Pentagon City. One of us did handstands on the bike rack outside a Costco.

Crazy. At 3PM... on a Thursday. We are not well in the head.

Ending up at one of the bars near the mall, we waited as one of our number attempted to get a new phone. [NOTE: Don't trust a pelican case in your ruck to protect an iPhone during GRCs. Just in case you were considering it...] Doing so, we ran into some GRTs from another July 4th class (remember.. there were five) and chatted up the differences in our experiences. At least, I think that's what we did. We were getting smashed.

To bring it all together, we headed out to GORUCK HQ in DC and threw back some beers with cadre. It was nice seeing some of them in their native habitat, and since none of my past cadre were in
GRHQ: Behind the Curtain
attendance I had a unique relationship. No one in the room had yelled at me to do divebomber push-ups or pick up an effing log. We all hit a couple Georgetown bars and closed out the night as friends.

It was a great bookend to my road trip, so after breakfast with my GRT family, I jumped in the car and made the executive decision to push on toward home for the night. It made for a long drive and I didn't get to the house until after 1AM, but it was worth it. I was going to need the entire weekend to relax and get myself in some semblance of order for Monday.

Monday... Work... I did it up hard for over two weeks and came out of it with a ton of new memories and more than a few new friends. I came up with ideas for future vacations and found new people that shared my passion for stupid crap that would be willing to do them with me. That's the best you can ask for, and I can't wait until the next one. It's only been five days, but I'm having GORUCK withdrawal. I'm having GRT withdrawal. And, I can't wait for the next trip.

Eagerness is one thing... but where to? I heard Jason Aldean's "Fly Over States" several times over those many miles, and it really hit home with me how little people in our big cities know of our country and how much we take for granted. When I drove to Florida from San Francisco, I was struck by how far apart people were. Hundreds of miles separated cities and homes. The west-east trip showed me how big our country is, but this trip showed me how close together we are. I visited Civil War sites and realized how near everything was - even 150 years ago. Louisville, considered by most to be in a culturally 'southern' state, was a Union bastion. The two capitol cities, Richmond and DC, were 90 miles apart. I left Washington, DC at nearly 1:00 PM and was in my Florida bed that night. We are so much closer than we think. We think in terms of 'here' and 'there,' but we share the same land and air. I could have spent days in some of the cities I blitzkrieged through on my drive - Louisville, Nashville, Chattanooga, Lafayette, Cleveland. This country is full of amazing places and fascinating people. My trip gave my dozens of ideas for future travels. If I do half of them, I'll see more of this country than 95% of Americans, and that's too bad. Go check out your country - not in pictures or television... GO - and let me know what you think.

FIN

Twit On A Road Trip: By The Numbers

Miles Covered: 5309
Days on the Road: 15
States Visited: 16 (plus Washington, DC)
New states checked off the list: 3 (Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota)
Countries Visisted: 2 (Canada is a country... for now...)
Half Marathons Completed: 2
Bricks purchased: 16
GORUCKs completed: 1
Patches earned/received: 4
ToaRT2012-Related Facebook Updates: 181 (I'm not joking. I counted. Irony... or destiny?)
ToaRT2012-Related Tweets: 94
Blog Updates (including this one): 11
"Halls of Fame" visited: 3
 Oil changes: 1
Highest Mileage Day: Day 15 - 852 miles from DC to Florida
Most Expensive Gas: $3.67/gal (New York)
Least Expensive Gas: $3.04/gal (Georgia)
Gallons Purchased: 134
Average mpg: 39.6
Baseball Games attended: 7 (4 MiLB/ 3 MLB)
Active MLB Parks left to see: 7 (down from 10 pre-trip)
Most nights spent in one city: 3 (tie; Buffalo and DC)
College Campuses Visited: 9
People Convinced I was David Boreanaz: 4 1/2*
Beers drank: Countless. And priceless. And now I'm even more senseless.

*One woman asked if I was the actor  on 'that show.'
Knowing my Boreanaz history, I asked, "Bones?"
She said, "No... that's not it."

? - For those of you still following along, the prize is up for grabs.
Both the question and answer are out there somewhere.

 I'd like to give to thanks to my 2007 Honda Civic for making all of this possible. She was a champ.

5309 Miles of the eastern United States
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Race Report: Finish on the Fifty Half Marathon [New York: State #7]

This is going to be short and sweet... mostly because there is little good I can say about my experience with the Rapid Running Buffalo Half Marathon.

"But, wait, Russ. This says you ran the Finish on the Fifty Half Marathon."

Exactly.

I registered for the June 30 race about two months prior to the date, willing to pay the high entry fee ($85) since I happened to be in the area during my road trip. Since the time of my arrival in the city was questionable, I opted to pay an additional $20 (seriously?) for race-morning pick-up. Total rip off.

Well, on June 21st - the day before I left on my drive and only 9 days before the race - Rapid Running sent out an email postponing the race to an unspecified fall date. I was miffed because there was no way I'd make it up there in the fall. They offered to transfer registrations to another RR event, but none fit my schedule or were anywhere near me. I emailed asking (politely) for a refund knowing it was a lost cause. I've come to find out thousands of others did the same (some not so politely). Apparently, RR's excuse was that they hadn't prepared for so many entrants. Well, how about you cap the entry number then, geniuses? STOP TAKING ENTRIES.

Rumors swirled that they didn't have a sponsor and that was the problem. Regardless, I was annoyed with the lack of customer support (a constant diatribe I have about America in all industries). So, I was prepared to adjust my drive accordingly when visitbuffalo.com went WAY out of their way to put on a comparable event.

Visit Buffalo recognized the smear that RR placed on the city and in 8 DAYS got sponsors, community approval (including cops), and Buffalo Bills front office concurrence to run the race. In 8 days. Now, it wasn't perfect, but I give them total credit for pulling this off.

About 500 people showed up to race. Where were these thousands that RR claimed? Admittedly, the experience left bitter tastes in the mouths of many, but only 500? Visit Buffalo was able to get t-shirts for us (sweet!) but no medals (a disappointment to many... especially those that had signed up with RR for this event as their FIRST race).

We met early in the morning at the Bills clubhouse for packet picket. The indoor practice facility was impressive, but I've seen much better facilities on college campuses. Oh, and the Bills play in Orchard Park, NY. It's a nice area with rolling hills and... cows. But there is absolutely nothing out there but the stadium. Why Buffalo chose to build their stadium in BFE is beyond me. Why a professional football player would choose to play for Buffalo is similarly confusing.

The bare-bones organization made for a hectic start, but we were quickly off and running through the pastures of eastern New York. it was actually a nice run but not at all what I expected. The field was minimal, so long stretches would go by where I would be near no one. A few overpasses and culverts produced hills, and it began to rival those I saw in Tennessee. I started fast (something unusual for me), and I felt it as I toured the marshes and cattle fields of miles 10 and 11. But, I fought forward because of what was coming.

RR had promised a finish on the 50 yard line of Ralph Wilson stadium, and Visit Buffalo had matached the promise. We turned into the tunnels and emerged under the goalposts for a mad dash through the dozens of spectators to the 50 yard line. It wasn't as grandiose as I had imagined weeks earlier, but it was certainly a memorable experience. Even better? I set another PR (my second for the trip) in 1:54:17.

Rapid Running's complete disregard for its customers made a large hill for Visit Buffalo to climb, but they did it well considering their resources. And, the Finish on the Fifty was certainly one I will remember.

I can't post a picture of a non-existent medal, and my distance from Buffalo makes it unlikely I'll run another race there. So, I can't recommend this race. But, given what they pulled off, I'm sure that next year (Visit Buffalo enjoyed the 8 days of confusion and was considering making it an annual, better-organized-with-more-time event) it will be an improvement.

However, I won't be running another Rapid Running race (they aren't a fly-by-night operation... they have a somewhat large presence in racing) again.


video

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 4th, 2012: GORUCK - Washington, DC

This is long. Sorry. But, take 10 minutes and read it... 
and then let me know which GORUCK you want to do...
and I'll be there.

Those of you that have been following my road trip reports (many thanks for that... if you haven't, you can start here) know that by the time I reached Washington on Tuesday afternoon, I was 12 days and over 4000 miles into the endeavor. Other than some time spent with a GORUCK brother in Minneapolis, it was largely a solo endeavor. So, I was looking forward to meeting up with some of my buddies from my first GORUCK (073 in Savannah) and meeting new friends. Some of you may be asking what a GORUCK Challenge is... well. I have done three now and I haven't the slightest clue. Read this and it might help. Or, not.

The reunion was happy but brief, since our first obligation was to reach the RuckOff and alcohol rumored to be awaiting us. This is one of the ironies of GORUCK: We pass on overindulging in beers at the RuckOff in an attempt to stay hydrated. Meanwhile, we will grab a drink from anybody passing by during the challenge itself. And, since this unique Independence Day GORUCK offering was stepping off at 5:00AM on July 4th, dehydration and heat stroke during the event were distinct possibilities.

Still, we met up with our fellow ruckers (there were five separate classes poised to step off the next morning, so there were an abnormally high number of participants) on top of Balance Gym just off the National Mall. Many thanks to those fine folks for allowing us to use their roof. As opposed to my Savannah and Austin challenges, I wasn't surprised to find that the 7/4 DC challenge brought people in from all over the eastern seaboard. We ate, we drank (sparingly alcohol... liberally water), and we chatted.

And, I'll be damned if one of the guys standing next to me didn't say, "Aren't you the guy that wrote that book?" Now, I may pretend to be a respectable bad-ass and all-around Renaissance Man, but I am continually amazed to find out that anyone knows a damn thing about me. He complimented me on it and asked about the sequel, and my spirits were buoyed by the conversation. The book's genre (have you read it? No, well check it out!) is fairly niche in that it's The Red Badge of Courage for the Bourne generation. But, that fits perfectly with the GORUCK personality and interests. GORUCK alumni (GRTs) are certainly in the target demographic's wheelhouse... mostly because I wrote it for me, and we share passions for the same crazy undertakings. Like a GORUCK.

I met over 40 people at the RuckOff, most very cool, but the core group of us that were traveling and rooming together broke off to go get some dinner. Cary, Chris, Denise, Kevin, Kayla, and myself (yes, that's six in a room), grabbed a couple others (we absorbed Amanda, Sarajane, and Andrea into our drunken collective for much of the trip) and headed out in the general direction of the Metro looking for food along the way and opted for Stan's Restaurant, a decidedly... 'dark' establishment near Dupont Circle. The place was packed... wall to wall customers... and we were the only white people in there. I distinctly heard the staff refer to 'los blancos' as we made our way through the place. Damn good food and service.

Following that, we made our way back to the hotel where I claimed my warm section of thinly-carpeted floor and fell asleep to the dulcet tones of a late night showing of one of the Final Destination movies accompanied by Kevin's snoring. It was a forced sleep, as we were rising at 2:30 AM to meet the shuttle for the short ride to the Lincoln Memorial, but the night passed quietly. I was just happy to have a 5AM start time for this ruck when compared to the usual 1AM start. I awoke refreshed, and we disappeared into the dark morning...

THE CHALLENGE

Recognizing the exhaustion and heat I was in for, I took advantage of the minutes leading up to the challenge by dozing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Laying there as the sun crested over the distant Capitol building was a memorable sight, and I'm sure the few normal people around the Memorial at the time were wondering why all these people with rucks full of bricks were lounging around Mr. Lincoln's steps.
The day begins at the feet of a legend

Our numbers quickly grew as five classes worth of participants scribbled out their signatures on death waivers. We were quickly isolated into predetermined teams and introduced to our cadre, Brent, a recon Marine that is more California than Capitol. Understanding the nature of the heat we would be experiencing during the day (it topped 100 degrees by 11AM), he had a much more relaxed attitude than my previous two GRCs. This was more out of a desire to not see us die than to give us any sort of break.

We started with PT as the sun crested over the distant trees, completely failing in our attempts at inchworm pushups. I've seen teams begin poorly before, but we were depressingly pathetic. Lunges and buddy squats followed. Carrying a ruck full of bricks... and your partner and his bricks... and squatting. Again, we failed horribly as a team to do this as many of us stood - brothers on our shoulders - as we waited for our team to get together.

Inchworm Fail
I blamed the heat.

Our cadre blamed upbringing and maternal lineage.


Pondering log strategy (yea... I said 'log
We left the lawn and moved to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Beams of sunlight began slicing across the dark rock, and I teared up. I have been to the Memorial a few times previously, but I do have an actual family connection to the War and being there on July 4th surrounded by so many of our current servicemen and my GRT family... it was pretty damn emotional. And, I was far from the only one.

From there, we rucked east toward the capitol, stopping briefly to grab our first downed tree of the day. The recent storms left many coupons littering the roads, and we were 'blessed' with three separate logs and a handful of branches. We were very blessed... very... very blessed. After a photo op, we turned up Pennsylvania for lunges and buddy carries... while gaining strange looks by all those we passed with our log.


Many poor decisions are made in this building

The beauty that is Aids Pond
Our cadre then came to the conclusion that we were both hot and uncomfortably disease-free. So, we low-crawled through the pond (and I use that term loosely) at Pershing Park. The neon green water made for a slick surface to slide across and allowed for rapid absorption into our degrading immune system. Push-ups in this newly-dubbed "Aids Pond" followed, and we were given the option of either dragging our battle buddy back through the water or carrying them. The surprising number of pairs that decided to go the 'drag' route is proof positive that the green fungi's assault on the decision-making sections of our brains had reached critical levels.
The draggers were either lazy or sociopathic


The lime Powerade that each of us sported on our person (the guys with beards were particularly gruesome), stayed with us for another mile until we reached Georgetown Waterfront Park. It was here that we began to worry that the fungi included hallucinogenic compounds. Before us was an arching water fountain cascading cool, refreshing (and CLEAN) water 6 feet in the air. Brent decided it was a good place for some flutter kicks and push-ups. I would have cut off my arm to get in there, so PT was a minimal sacrifice. It washed away most of the grime, and we were feeling confident.


It's like being watered down with liquid Heaven

Unfortunately, this confidence caused elements of our team discipline to waver, and the fallout was bear crawls up a hill. At this point, another aspect of the GORUCK came into play. We are often running right behind each other with little knowledge of what's in front of the group. It leads to many shouted warnings such as "Curb!," "Stump to the right!," and "Watch out for the hobo!" The numerical superiority and overall nasty appearance that a GORUCK team usually carries with is also means that we are more immune to rucking through dangerous areas and disgusting conditions than we would be on a regular day. But, it was still strange to be crawling up a steep hill and hear the shouted "Dead Rat!" warning echo over Georgetown. Even more strange? We didn't go around it. No one did. We just went over it. The warning was simply to make sure people didn't grab it for leverage. Yea... we are those kind of people.

"Crab walk, you lazy bastards!"

By this time, the sun was nearly overhead, but we found refuge in the shadows of a secluded staircase... that I came to find out was used for one of the deaths in The Exorcist. The steep and tight nature of the staircase made it perfect to throw someone down in the movie. Well.... shit.

These steps (there are 9,413 of them... I counted. Pretty sure that's accurate) supported our class's box jumps from bottom to top. Once at the pinnacle, we were rewarded with a waterfall of sunlight that nearly melted my face off. Here, we waited while a downed airman (i.e. log #3) was located. Four people were parceled off to get the 'airman' while the rest of us were told to descend the steps. Upon arriving at the bottom, Brent screamed that the airman needed more support. Back up the steps. We met the log team and proceeded to carry this log back down the Exorcist steps.

I was jealous of the actor lucky enough to fall DOWN the steps

Being at the leading edge of the log, the image of it slipping from the hands of those in the back flashed through my mind. I wouldn't have even had time to cuss them out before my face was goo. Good times.

It was near this point that we took a break and one of the class shadows (usually a photographer and/or GRT not actively participating) performed the admirable duty of restocking our beer supplies (Thanks, Dan!). At this point, dehydration was about #4 on the list of "Things likely to Kill Us Today." The list was a bit fuzzy by the afternoon, but I'm pretty sure "Skittish DC Cop with a Gun" and "Water-Born Parasite" were on there somewhere.

We turned across Key Bridge, a heavily trafficked area at this time of day, with our 'airman' and discovered that the bridge apparently led from Georgetown into Hell. I'm pretty sure flames were dancing across the far end. It was hot, is what I'm saying. And, we were carrying a log. Next to traffic. The image of the log slipping over the barricade and flying through someone's windshield flashed through my mind on several instances. Instead of coming up with a way to keep it from happening, I spent the trip figuring out a good excuse.

"Who? Me? What log? Surely you must be mistaken. I am simply on my way to market for fresh fruit."

"Yea, right! That forest over there threw it? It just barely missed all of us... looks like you weren't as lucky."

"Si! El arbol!" ***point at the rest of my team*** "Los Blancos!"

However, we made it across Key Bridge and made our way down to the Potomac River. This tributary, a bubbling waterway full of history and national significance, was about to be violated in a way few could fathom. As Brent dove into the cool waters, we stepped off in full view of stunned kayakers and paddleboarders (our trusty S-4 Logistics shadow that had provided alcoholic sustenance swam out and shanghai'd one of the boards from an unsuspecting young woman... it wasn't pretty). After some more water PT, we low-crawled through the mud and muck to evade the "entrenched snipers with lasers." Apparently, this force we were tasked with avoiding was significantly advanced. In true Schwarzenegger fashion, we arose from the muck completely unidentifiable, covered in black mud and foliage. If the locals were confused by us before, they were afraid now.
Covert Ops
You can't seeeeeeeeee us

But, onward we went to Roosevelt Island. Never having been there, I didn't even know Teddy had a huge statue on the mid-river dirt. It is a strange honorific, but Teddy is a certified bad-ass. He deserves his own island. We performed a recon mission of the surroundings. We ran. We ran some more. Fortunately, Teddy is located in a (mostly) shady spot, and we were spared the blazing sun.

Back off the island, we were momentarily spared the Key Bridge exposure (think that scene from the Chronicles of Riddick where the sun is literally rolling toward you like a wall of fire) and instead turned south toward the US Marine Corps War Memorial and Iwo Jima statue. There was no way a Force Recon cadre was going to let us sneak by this. Of course, it was July 4th and security was monumental. Having 25+, mud-covered pseudo-paratroopers walk up with rucks on their backs gave them pause, but a quick explanation and what appeared to be sympathy for our sad state got us through... after a bag check.

"Sir, what are these things wrapped up like kilos of cocaine?"
"Um... bricks?"
"Roger that.. carry on."

It was at the USMC War Memorial that we were able to rest our bodies but not our souls. Staring up at the Memorial (another that I had not yet seen even though I had visited DC many times) and hearing Brent tell us some stories of comrades and friends he had on deployment can take just as much out of you as inchworm push-ups. With a sober air, we pressed our way back across Key Bridge, somehow oblivious to the heat as we were reminded that it really was July 4th and that there were worse things than wandering through the nation's capitol on a beautiful, hot day.

Respect

We made quite the impression on the families now enjoying Waterfront Park, and our co-opting of the same fountain from hours earlier without any semblance of restraint showed how happy we were to get the mud off. Let me be clear... we destroyed this fountain. Men and women alike stripped down to get the mud off and out. I believe everyone kept their naughty bits covered, but who knows. We wanted cool, clean water, and clothing was a deterrent to that at this point.

It was here that Brent snuck away to GR Headquarters ("I'll see you guys there... move it!") and left us to find our way to Montrose Park and the challenge's end. Though mostly an uphill trek, we were numb at this point as the sun had already crested hours earlier and begun its way to the west. It is tradition to buddy carry across the finish line - one last show of teamwork and togetherness. So, we steeled ourselves for it as we rounded the hedges after the mile ruck from the waterfront.

Oh ho no. We came around the corner and Brent waved us toward him... and we ran. Down.. down... D- O- W- N into the bowels of Montrose Park. I think we passed a town in China. Murlocs (high-brow literary reference!) blinked as we passed. It was far, is what I'm sayin'. And, the whole way... we rued the return trip, because we knew we'd have to come back up. After having thought that the end was nigh... our spirits deflated.

We reached the bottom and splashed into Rock Creek. Flutter kicks followed. Seal crawls after that. Then, the worst thing of all happened.

A friendly chocolate lab hopped from the bushes.
To the end

I can't tell you how much this upset us all. Few things frighten ruckers (by nature, we are a 'screw you' group that is content to punch ourselves in the gut, literally and figuratively, in order to challenge ourselves), but seeing a chocolate lab bound toward us gives us chills.

Because, this is Java... and it means Jason isn't far behind.

Jason McCarthy is one of the coolest dudes you'll meet.. friendly and loves chatting with GRTs. But, he's also the founder of GORUCK and has ground more classes into the dirt as cadre than can be counted.


Buddy carries to the top. Up loose gravel.

Time Hack.

Go... now.


And, so we went... over rocks and stones and twigs and steps. I worried over the steps, but fortunately only half of us had to negotiate them. The other half simply laid over our shoulders. Screams of encouragement echoed in the park. Sweat, washed off only moments ago in the creek, returned in buckets. Up we went, past the Chinese and cave people, to the crest of the hill. And, as a team, we made it.

GORUCK Class 200
GORUCK Class 200... complete.

Brent talked about how the past 12+ hours (it was nearly 6PM when we finished) were as tough as anything Special Forces had to do over similar times. He looked us each in the eye (always a nice touch and something I'm sure Jason reinforces with cadre) and handed us our patches. I gave him a NASA coin that had survived the ruck with me. People drifted away, but the six of us stayed and chatted with Jason and the remaining cadre. It was still 99 degrees out, but we didn't care. We enjoyed the post-ruck relaxation. We had beaten the ruck once more.

When I first researched GORUCK, I thought GRTs were insane. Why do this? To challenge yourself? Prove yourself to others? My first GRC in Savannah was frightening in its unknowns. I told myself I wouldn't do another. But, the GRT family won't let you do just one. I now have thousands of friends all over the country (I didn't know Justin in Minneapolis through any mechanism other than the alumni website) that have gone through similar experiences, and we share the same perspectives on a multitude of issues. And, we are all bat-shit insane. But, we come together for great things. We carry logs, yes, but we organize mini-rucks to raise money to fight leukemia and cancer. We play in the mud and grime, but we find organizations that need support. Brent is one of the driving forces behind the Silent Warrior Scholarship Fund (www.silentwarriorscholarshipfund.com) that supports college-bound family members of Recon Marines. In the days following the challenge, the GRT community pulled together over $1,200 in donations.

Being part of the GRT family is amazing, and THEY are why I keep coming back to do challenges. The first was to challenge myself. Now, I know my team will succeed... and I show up to help them make it happen.

GO!...... RUCK!

What the GORUCK Challenge is really all about




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Monday, July 9, 2012

Twit on a Road Trip [Part 7 : Day 11 and part of 12]

Have you read the previous posts? You should... they're moderately entertaining...

Day 11 - also known as Monday, July 2nd - started off with something I've never done on any vacation or road trip I've ever been on. I had to get my oil changed. It seems that I had been on the road so long that it became necessary to get some maintenance done. So, I changed my car's oil and transmission fluid in Buffalo, NY. While I waited, I walked across the street and got a haircut.

This was apparently a looooong road trip.

Thankfully, I had a short drive on the 2nd, so I took my time getting out of Buffalo. It was nearly noon before I got back in my car, and I still had a quick stop at Home Depot to buy bricks and duct tape. Ordinarily, a statement like that will get me put on some predator website, but I had an reason for such a strange purchase: I was going to Washington, DC the next day to carry bricks around the city, following a Force Recon Marine for my third GORUCK Challenge.

Ok, so maybe the 'predator list' thing is less strange.

Since I was driving into DC and several of my fellow participants were flying, I volunteered to supply the bricks. Thankfully, I didn't have to explain my purchase to the HD employees, as they are used to seeing people buy bricks. Still, the image of me pulling the little red basket behind me through the store drew some fascinated looks.
Get in the trunk, and no one gets hurt!
Who cares if they suck?
Awesome stadium.
Eventually, my car loaded down in the back end, I jumped on the toll roads (are you freaking kidding me?) and headed southwest and back the way I'd come. This time, though, my destination was Cleveland. I took my time as I skirted Lake Erie and arrived at the city around 4PM. I had several hours of free time, so I wandered the downtown area, snapping pictures and eating at PotBelly Sandwich Works. Tasty. With my free time, I braved the scalding temperatures to walk out to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (this brings the HoF number to 3 on the trip) and past Cleveland Browns Stadium. I loved the waterfront area, and the city's passion for sports is impressive. This is especially true given their teams' less-than-stellar success in recent years. Still, they are behind them. I decided then and there that I could easily make the city my home. I was warned about cold temperatures... Yankee, please! I lived in the north until I was 10. Back the truck up.

I ended my wanderings back at Progressive Field. Not being a huge Indians fan, I hadn't realized that the name had changed from Jacobs Field in 2008 and was slightly miffed. This corporate sponsorship crap is really getting out of hand. Admittedly, "Progressive Field" isn't too bad a name, but c'mon. At least choose something related to sports. "Coca-Cola Field" was ok. "Miller Park" is great. "US Cellular Field Home of the Chicago White Sox" is unacceptable.

Let's see this fixed, people.

And, while I'm on it, can we get away from these ankle-length baseball pants? You look like a moron. Baseball is meant to be played in 3/4 pants that stop at the calf so that you can flash those bad-ass stirrups. It's in the Bible. I read it. You can't tell me Jesus would approve of full-length baseball pants. Similarly, he would denounce the Designated Hitter Rule as idolatry and/or totally lame as Hell.

"If thou desireth to pitch, thou must wield thine own mace and striketh true."

The "Jake": Most impressive
What the hell was I talking about? Oh, the Indians. So, this team royally sucks. It's true. But, I love a loser and found myself really getting behind them. Listening to Cleveland sports talk that night and the next day, I came to sympathize with the wait-till-next-year love for the team. And, the stadium is really, REALLY nice. It's top 5 for me.. possible top 3. Great atmosphere and fans. They were promoting a 4-miler race that started at the football stadium, ran through the Cavaliers' arena, and finished on the track at the Jake (Progressive Field? Bah!). I wish I lived in a city that did this kind of stuff.

Alas, I jumped in my car and drove down to Akron in an attempt to get a clean start on the next day's drive, a long one that took me through the Pennsylvania woods and past Pittsburgh. Fortunately, it was all on toll roads. (We wouldn't want to break tradition and drive on roads my tax dollars are already charging me for, would we?)

The 12th day went by in a blur as I hauled literal and metaphorical ass to DC so that I could meet up with my buddies at the hotel. As this entry is already getting long, I'll hold off till the next for GORUCK DC. Be warned, the next one will be long, strongly censored, and make liberal use of my keyboard's characters to intimate the naughty words.

It was epic. Illegally... Amorally... Alcoholically... EPIC. I hate that word. It's overused. But, oh so true.
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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Twit on a Road Trip [Part 6 : Day 10]

Ok, I know. Another post that only covers 1 of the 15 days on the trip. Trust me... it was a long day and deserved its own entry. As Day 10 started, I was starting to run on fumes. Up to this point, I had stuck pretty close to my rather non-existent plan. This whole thing started as an attempt to hit five baseball stadiums, though random wanderlust and nation-wide zigzagging would imply otherwise. Still, I wasn't going to hit Milwaukee because the Brewers ignored my repeated emails instructing them to stage a home game for my benefit. As I saw the days coming, I realized I was going to be unable to get to Detroit, also.

This had the added effect of me planning ANOTHER trip to the Midwest that involved drinking in Milwaukee and Madison and then taking the ferry over to Michigan and hitting up Detroit. I eventually came to the realization that I should end this trip (and the other ten that I have planned) before putting thoughts down about the next one (or, the 11th one).

This fell out largely due to my goal for Day 10, Sunday July 1st: Cooperstown, NY. There was no way I was going to get this close to the Baseball Hall of Fame and not check it out. This was especially true seeing as though it was in the middle of nowhere. It was unlikely I'd be in this neck of the woods again anytime soon.

I should point out here that I damn near planned a 12th future trip after I got to Cooperstown. But first... It was a more than a three hour drive to Cooperstown, so I hit the road early. Toll roads (sonuvabitch) stretched out before me, and it was hours before I slipped off into the central New York hills. I cut through some of the saddest little towns you've never heard of - Mohawk, Richfield Springs, Exeter - and became convinced that the baseball HoF was contained in a cave under a bridge. The Hall is located in this god forsaken area on the (completely incorrect) understanding that noted Civil War nobody Abner Doubleday invented the game in the region. I don't understand why he would choose this location for such inspiration other than he was hoping someone would hit him in the head with a rock. Instead, he swung a branch at the rock and hit a soft liner to left field (all corn by the way). This is the mythological and completely untrue birth of baseball (I'd stake my completely unworthy reputation on it).

Thus, I had mixed emotions as I crossed through a cut in the hill and found Cooperstown spread out below me. It. Was. Awesome. Respectably sized and all about baseball, Cooperstown is heaven for lovers of the game. The downtown area is like the set of a '50s television show. Cafes and diners mark the main road. Shops with baseball gear and equipment are on every corner. Pubs and restaurants line the side streets. Kids play stick-ball everywhere, and all the talk is of baseball.

I'll be honest, I thought I had hit a cow in Exeter and died. It was the only explanation.

Dodger great
Jackie Robinson
People were everywhere. They sat on the benches eating ice cream. They tossed baseballs. I thought, "How will I even park?!" Why... right here is fine. Right next to the baseball Hall of Fame would be perfect. It was like I was standing next to James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams as he explained what the sport means and what the field would mean to the lovers of the sport.

"People will came, Ray. People will most definitely come."

The front door to my personal religious institution
Sorry... I lost myself there for a second. Anyway, I ducked into Copperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame. So very cool. They had hundreds of artifacts on the history of the game. Each team had a locker with notable accomplishments recorded. Stadiums were highlighted including Ebbets Field, which will always be one of the great regrets I have. Nothing I can do, but I would give anything to watch a game in Flatbush.

Records were highlighted... Rickey Henderson, Cy Young, Christy Mathewson, Cal Ripken. An entire section was devoted to the works of Hank Aaron (a truly great individual, in baseball and life). Then, plaques for those honored in the Hall. A humongous apse filled with legends of the game. Some are well-known to the average person. Many are unknown except to the most ardent of fans. It was great. I could have spent days in this building. Alas, I only had four hours (they went by shockingly fast).

And, this is how I ended up planning ANOTHER trip (in addition to the aforementioned Milwaukee-Detroit sojourn) that would put me coming up to Cooperstown and staying for a weekend. Yes, there is that much to do and, yes, even someone that isn't as diehard a fan as I am would love it. The town itself is fascinating and home to a few thousand people. There's certainly enough to keep someone busy for a couple days, and - so - I will be returning eventually. I made myself a promise.

But, I had to get back on the road to Buffalo. I had another obligation. This time... a concert. When I checked on things to do in and around the 5000+ mile track I drove, I paired it off with some of my favorite bands. Sadly, most aren't touring right now. But, one was. And, damn if it wasn't one of the best ones out there today.

Lzzy.... Sxxy
So, I went to the Town Ballroom in Buffalo - a venue that had seen better days but was clawing its way back - to see Halestorm. Fronted by Lzzy Hale, the band had become a rousing success, especially with its latest offering that made it the first female fronted rock band ever to take the No. 1 spot on the Active Rock airplay chart. The music is great, but I hadn't ever seen them live. But, Lzzy is hot and I couldn't pass it up. Turns out that Lzzy isn't necessarily the most talented (in my humble opinion) of the Hale siblings. Her brother, Arejay, plays drums, and he put on as impressive a performance as I have ever seen in a live show. Totally unstoppable.

The crowd was diverse and devoted. It was quite the audience as I saw kids in their teens and adults in there 50s (60s?). Even the bartender pulled me aside during one of my (frequent) trips for libations to ask more info about the band. Even he was fascinated by the cross section of society in attendance. But, when they started rocking, Halestorm brought us all together. Town Ballroom was a great place to watch them, intimate and awesome. Orlando may have a glut of live music venues, but I have never been overly impressed with them (Hard Rock Live is the closest to 'good' in the area). Not only did the TB have a nice set-up, the history of the place was palpable. Well done, Buffalo. Below are some face-melting videos for your enjoyment. Trust me, they don't do the experience justice.

"Rock Show"

"Here's to Us"


"I Get Off"


"It's Not You"


 
 
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Twit on a Road Trip [Part 5 : Day 8 and 9]

First, I apologize for my slacking. I was a few days behind, and then my laptop died on me. I had fully expected to get behind in my blog once I hit Washington, DC solely based on the fact that I would be exhausted and/or drunk with my GORUCK family. But, the loss of my laptop was unexpected.

Mea Culpa.

Anywho... I left Akron with the goal of Buffalo. I knew I was going to be spending a few days in the city, but organizing the to-do list while there was a bit overwhelming. This all revolved around a half marathon *supposedly* scheduled for Saturday, June 30th (Day 9 of the trip). But, the organizers of said race, Rapid Running (Don't EVER run one of their races), had their heads so far up their backsides that they couldn't organize a trip to the grocer. The day before I left on my trip, they canceled the half marathon. Knowing I was screwed, I still sent them an email asking for a refund. The 'we had too many people sign up for the race' excuse seemed flimsy to me, but getting my $85 appeared to be a longshot. So, I planned on not racing and planned my trip around a Blue Jays game. Well, visitbuffaloniagara.com realized that this would piss off people visiting the city, and they pulled together a race in EIGHT DAYS. It wasn't great, but I give them credit. More on that on my upcoming race report, here (I'll post link when it's done).

American Falls from the overlook
I drove up to Buffalo (short trip from Ohio) across the unnecessarily-expensive toll roads and arrived around 2PM... plenty of time to head up to the falls and see Niagara. They were most impressive. I went out on the overlook and even rode the Maid of the Mist into the falls themselves. It was amazing. I also came to understand that the Canadians have a much better view than we Americans do. They've capitalized in this by allowing what amounts to the combined efforts of DisneyWorld-wannabes throw up on their side of the bridge. It's quite the display. The American side? Parks and preserves.... I know, right?!

Horseshoe Falls from Canada
I took some pictures from 'our' side and then walked over to Canada. It was my first time in the country, though I doubt those 1000 yards of Canada should really count. It was mostly Americans and Swedes. Beautiful views, though. I ate an early dinner there and then returned to the States. I would imagine my 'singles' trip to Niagara puts me in the minority, as I wasn't on a honeymoon or couple's retreat.

I left there in a hurry, though, anxious to make the Buffalo Bisons AAA game that night. I had been to MANY games on my trip and thought I might pass on the Bisons. But, I drove near the stadium on the way to the Falls and couldn't pass up a game. Right downtown, Coca-Cola Field is a great place to watch a game. I made it to my hotel late and hit the bed hard. But, I had a long day ahead of me on Day 9, as I headed back into Canada.. this time by car....

Oh, but first I ran a half marathon. A PR in 1:54:11. But, check the race report for that. And, CHECK it. The finish was amazing... even if the organization (understandably) left something to be desired.

The end was worth the rest of the headache
So, I pulled out my passport and headed to Canada. The border crossing was s-l-o-w. The fact that my Florida plates drew interest and that Canadian customs seemed perplexed by the fact that I "drove all the way from Florida for a Blue Jays game, eh?" didn't slow me down. They didn't seem to understand I was doing a dozen other things on this trip... but whatever. I crossed into traffic-filled Canada, armed with photos of my route on the iMaps application to limit my data needs on my phone. Though I extended some coverage to Canada, why take the chance?

Getting used to kilometers took a second, as the 'Toronto 130' sign threw me for a loop. WTF? That's two hours! Oh, wait... kilometers. Silly Canadians. It should be noted that I accepted kms by the end of the day and wondered why Americans didn't just stop being obnoxious and embraced what the rest of the world already has.

Traffic made me late for the Blue Jays - Angels game, but I parked and walked the downtown area for a bit. CN Tower. The Rogers Centre (yea... that 're' at the end of 'centre'? I don't get that either. Silly Canadians). Oh, and the people? Yea, I wasn't impressed. Canadians are NOT friendly in their native habitat. The nice ones? They were all AMERICANS. So, turns out Canadians are only polite when they travel to foreign countries. Yea, you read that here first.

On the flip side, the burning atmosphere at roughly 170 degrees Celsius (I'm not converting, but I'm pretty sure that's accurate) couldn't deny that the Blue Jays have a nice set-up. The roof was open and CN tower loomed over the field... a sickly, AstroTurf concoction that looked like Green Giant vomited on Canadian top soil. But, it was nice nonetheless.

I watched the game and ducked back on the Queen's Expressway to return to America. Traffic was grande (note the 'e' at the end). I crossed back at Niagara ("Wait, you drove up from Florida for a Blue Jays game?!" in an American accent this time...) and plunged into my bed at midnight.

It was a great day that saw me straddling two countries and sharing with our neighbors to the north. I understand my experience is somewhat unique in that it was scalding hot in Canada. But, that just means I need to get up there again. Vancouver next time, though. I hear good things...

But, Day 10... day 10 was to be a great one...
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