GORUCK will tell you that they are "building better Americans" and while that might sound like marketing spin to some, they mean it. Over the years, their gear has served me well. I've become friends with Jason McCarthy and other members of the team. We are even doing some work together now, which feels really good and I hope we do more in the future.
But, until last week I didn't fully understand what GORUCK was all about and why their events are a special kind of magic.
Three months earlier when I made the decision to do my first GORUCK event after some quality time in Jacksonville with the team, I knew that it would have to be a GORUCK Light and that I wanted it to take place in a cooler month so I didn't die from the heat.
November 1st looked like the first opening on the events calendar that fit my criteria. Sure, I knew that could mean snow or sunshine, but either way I was committed to it.
As Laura drove the car into the city, I couldn't help but laugh out loud with the forecast calling for low forties, torrential downpours and dangerous winds. Good living indeed!
Since this was a Halloween event, costumes were required. I opted to go as a Red Sox player because it was the only thing I could think of that wouldn't get in the way. The fact that my nice white game jersey would come home in a total different condition was ok with me.
We gathered at the Soldier's and Sailors Monument on the Boston Common. All events incorporate military landmarks into them, so this was a logical starting point.
Greetings were shared and costumes appreciated. There were ninja turtles, a tooth fairy, a couple of Movember inspirations and even an American flag carrying banana.
Cadre Chris soon arrived and the mood took a swing for the serious.
Laura had hung around to take some photos in the beginning. I gave her a quick kiss and she gave me a "you've got this."
We did a quick ruck check for our weights, IDs and water and then we headed down the hill so we could be welcomed properly.
"Since this is a Halloween event, everything will be in sets of 31," Cadre Chris announced with a big old smile on his face.
Pushups and flutter kicks were the start of the fun. Buddy carries and a bear crawl race would soon follow.
While I had prepared for this event with weeks and weeks of rucking with 20+ lbs on my back, I hadn't done nearly enough preparation for the PT. This realization hit me right away and I knew I was in for a world of hurt for the rest of the rest of the day. It also was a big reminder that before I do a full GORUCK Challenge (and yes I will be doing one) I've got to put in more PT training time.
We set off rucking into the rain, making our way to the Old North Church Memorial Garden.
It was emotional to stop, remove our hats and take in all the dog tags. One each for every soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I didn't even know this memorial was here and I wonder how many other important landmarks like this are in my area that I haven't visited yet.
The rain kept coming down, the wind kept howling and yet we never got as wet as the weather had predicted. But, trust me when I say we were WET.
When you ruck during an event like this, you are never more than an arm length away from the person in front of you. A team leader is selected and they have the task of making sure everyone stays together. This is a team event and everything is done as a team.
I've never waited for as many crossing signals as I did on that day. Some of the bigger intersections make for extra fun crossing when you have almost 40 people trying to get across at once as a team.
We could see the Bunker Hill Memorial in the distance and soon we found ourselves lined up across the bottom of the hill looking up at it.
I had never heard of a bear crawl buddy drag before, but soon we'd all be doing them up the slippery, wet hill. Rucks are not allowed to touch the ground, so if you were lying on the ground, the ruck was on your chest or someone else had to carry it.
That nice white jersey was no more and I'll always remember this hill as where I was reminded that size does not equal strength as I was dragged up the hill by someone I was shocked could pull it off. Go team!
Soon we were approaching the Zakim Bridge. I had never been under the bridge before and it is rather beautiful.
It was about this time that Cadre Chris began to get a big old grin across his face. I'm not sure if everyone noticed it, but it worried me because when a cadre smiles like that, you know you are in for something special.
Turns out that he had double-downed on the fun by finding coupons for us AND water for us at the same time.
Twelve of our team were sent off to fetch two railroad ties and the rest of us were sent into the water.
I didn't think that I could get any more wet or cold, but I was wrong. Nothing like doing group squats to wake up your nether regions. For extra fun, there were pushups and then the icing on the cake of suck. Hydro-burpees!
Burpees suck no matter who you are or how in shape you are. Add a 25 lb ruck on your back and doing burpees in the water takes that suck to a whole new level.
Thankfully I laughed all the way through it as my team mate next to me asked "what is a burpee?" A chuckle was had by all and all of us did what was asked.
Plus when you have someone in full dog costume emerging out of the river, how you not have a good time?
From this point forward, not only would we be rucking as a team, but we'd also be carrying two railroad ties over us.
People would switch in and out as needed. You quickly learn how important height is after screwing up switching out miss matched people. Soon we had Team Tall and Team Smurf and we got the hang of it.
Of course, you can't just carry logs around with you. You've got to use them for some PT and just outside of the Cambridge Galleria we each got our turns to do just this. Lifting it from one shoulder to the other. Rolling it down to the ground and then back up to your shoulders.
Once again, it is all about the team or this hurts more than it needs to.
The sun might have gone down and the rain hadn't slowed one bit, so back to rucking we went.
The only scary moment we had during the event was when suddenly one of our team was crying and bordering on freaking out. Instantly someone grabbed her ruck and the situation was assessed. Her asthma was getting the best of her and thankfully a hit of her inhaler had her back and going in no time.
Turning to cross the Charles River from Memorial Drive to Storrow Drive is when we really felt the wind.
I'll never forget as we got to the other side, the random college girl who was dancing in the wind and rain. We cheered her on and I'm still baffled why she was out doing what she was doing, but there was no time to find out.
We finally got rid of our railroad ties and realized that we might be on the home stretch.
As a team we began burst jogging back towards the common. My lungs certainly were not ready for this, so I did more of a speed walk/shuffle to keep up with the person in front of me.
We entered the Boston Common and climbed back up to the monument where we started. As if Mother Nature was on the GORUCK payroll, the rain stopped as we reached the top.
Shaking the hand of my cadre and getting my patch was truly a special moment. One that I wasn't sure I'd ever experience, but I'm so glad I did.
Now a week later, I'm still sore in spots from this experience. For days, my shoulders have ached and muscles I didn't know I had screamed at me. I'm still not sure what I did to my left index finger, but I must have smashed it on something.
Today, I did my first ruck since the event and it felt great. Roxie didn't want to go as far as I did, but it felt good to get back out there and set my sights on the next goal.
(5 Hours + 9 Miles) * 34 Team Mates + 1 Cadre = GOOD LIVING
One of our team had a GPS in his ruck and captured our route as shown above.
They say that a GORUCK Light isn't easy, but it is fun. I can now confirm that.
The way your team absorbs your weaknesses was something magical to experience first hand. The starting of friendships formed under stress in a shared experience is equally special.
GORUCK is about building better Americans. It is about pushing your limits while learning teamwork in an extremely unique way.
I'll wear my patch proudly, but in a sick twist of fate I told Laura when she picked me up, "I love the special pumpkin patch, but I'm sort of disappointed I didn't get the traditional blue spearhead. Guess I have to do another one."
I had heard that GORUCK Nation was made up of weirdos and now I'm a proud patch carrying member of them.
And yes, the rumors are true. The beers DO taste better afterwards. Sam Adams Brick Red in case you were curious.
Photo Credits - Thank you to Ben Eld, Matt Drukker and Catherine Gordon for the use of their photos!