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...


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.


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 ( 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!

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