Wow, my poor, neglected blog… I feel as though I owe myself an apology. I just haven’t had the urge to write, lately. It’s Friday evening, and I’m chillin’ while the fam watches Singin’ in the Rain. I still feel fairly well-rested from my vacation that ended 4 days ago, although the short work week was stressful and unpleasant. For whatever reason, my mind is uncluttered enough that I may be able to put some coherent thoughts down on this virtual paper…
Don’t think I WANT to have avoided my blog. Honestly, I can’t imagine why I have lacked the inclination to write. After all, I posted in January or so that one of my MAJOR goals for the year was to complete a GoRuck Challenge, and I DID that in June! That should have been a blog-worthy big deal to me.
And it was a very cool experience for me — one of the most difficult physical events in my life.
I’m simply at a loss to explain why I didn’t jump on WordPress the next day and rave about it.
My first excuse is very straightforward: the GoRuck Challenge (GRC) was the kind of thing where you kind of had to be there; it’s difficult to put in words what it was like… One of the reasons for that, I’m not embarrassed to admit, is that much of it was and is a blur to me even the day after I finished. First, the GRC started between 9 and 10pm at night and went all night, finishing up around 8:30 or 9am the next day. Try staying up all night hiking around SF and let me know how much detail you actually remember. Hours of rather mindless physical activity went by… Second, I was so cold for so many hours in the middle of the night that I was very close to hypothermia. Seriously. Such a condition is not conducive to clear memory…
My second excuse is that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. If that’s true, I shared 28,000 words about GRC on Facebook! Here’s a link to a photo album I cobbled from pics others took of the event, and it depicts quite well what team 179 was doing the night of June 2nd into the morning of June 3rd in San Francisco… https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3665953401219.154599.1046284161&type=3
(Not sure that link will work for everyone. If you can’t view my photo album and are interested in seeing it, friend me on FB and you can view it there.)
Nevertheless, some random thoughts about GRC are in order, I think, so that in the future I can remember how I felt about it. The passage of a couple of months has done nothing to diminish my basic thoughts and feelings about it…
The most significant thing I want to convey about GRC — and this is super important to me to emphasize — is that at no time during the ordeal, even at my lowest point when I wasn’t sure I could physically go on, did I ever want to give up. Mentally, I was strong. I know that because I do vividly recall — as I stood shivering almost uncontrollably near the middle of a “penguin huddle” surrounded by my GoRuck buddies, being hand-fed like a baby an energy bar by my great friend David — actually thinking “There is no place that I would rather be!” I felt so alive. If I had been home in bed I honestly would have felt bored by comparison. I know that may be difficult to understand for some people, because the things our group was doing seem a bit crazy. All I can say is, when I was in the middle of a GRC, I felt as though it is kind of crazy NOT to challenge myself in that way, given how fleeting life can be. Perhaps most importantly, it is the camaraderie I felt with my team members that is something I could never buy, something I would never trade, and what made it all worthwhile. That feeling is hard to describe and why you kind of had to be there to feel that…
Why was I shivering so badly? Because not long after our team left the Presidio parade grounds (after about an hour and a half or so of grueling PT, things like push-ups and burpees and rolling all over the grass), we hiked over to the Palace of Fine Arts and waded into the duck pond. Yes, duck poop and all. In unison, we got down in the water and did push-ups and flutter kicks and even puts our faces in. OK, it was kinda gross, but I actually wasn’t thinking that at the time; I was just trying to follow along what the “cadre” (official GRC leader, not part of the team but more like a drill sergeant) was telling us to do. We were supposed to act at all times more or less in unison, and that is not easy to do for 24 people wallowing in a duck pond. But I digress… the point is, after getting wet from head to toe like that, we emerged into what was not only a typically cold night in SF, but a very windy one at that. I mean like 40 mph or so, but I can’t prove that. I knew going in that being wet and cold was my worst enemy, as I weigh about 135 lbs. and have very little body fat. For the next I don’t know how many hours, I was fighting for warmth. It was worse even than I imagined, because I had nowhere to hide.
Completely damp, we were hiking here and there all over the northwest quadrant of SF. We hiked along the waterfront from around Crissy Field east past Marina Green and Fort Mason and I don’t remember how far, then back again. We struggled west through the biting wind to Fort Point and the southern pedestrian entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge. (I was in the lead carrying the team’s U.S. flag during that trek; it helped me recover to have something to do and to feel like I had regained some control of my body.) We trudged southwest through the Presidio all the way to Baker Beach. At some point we turned east again and rucked through a residential district north of Golden Gate Park. Again, I just can’t remember everywhere we went. Hours went by, and I wouldn’t say it was like a dream or a nightmare, it just WAS.
I forgot to mention one important aspect of the whole GRC experience. I probably didn’t make clear that I and each person on the team was carrying a GoRuck rucksack filled with bricks. Just for the fun of it. Not only that, for added hilarity, the cadre made us stop at a construction site and collect big chunks of wood and concrete and buckets filled with clods of dirt and smaller chunks of concrete and, as a team, carry all that stuff around all night. Really. I do remember trying to take my turn carrying one of the big hunks of wood. I sucked at it. My arms went dead. At one point a guy named Hse and I were trying to carry a huge chunk of that damned concrete. We were supposed to lift it over our heads during one break in the action, called a “rave”, but we just couldn’t lift it higher than our waists. I also remember taking many turns carrying a bucket and water jugs. So, yeah, that aspect sucked, because after awhile my arms just couldn’t lift anything. My 30-lb. rucksack itself, about 23% of my body weight, actually bothered me a lot less than I thought it would. I literally grew attached and rather fond of it.
Sometime during that hike along the waterfront, carrying the Stars & Stripes, I began shivering less and feeling stronger again. I realized I could survive the whole thing if I simply kept putting (don’t laugh) one foot in front of the other. It’s a cliche, but true.
And then sometime during our walk through the residential streets, there was a neighborhood where the wind speed decreased, and the weather felt almost balmy in contrast to the waterfront, and we were actually having fun. Gradually we realized that the first rays of dawn were creeping across the sky. We stopped in a commercial district where the cadre allowed us to get more water (although personally I had not run out and didn’t need any). David spotted a clock (we were not allowed to have phones or watches, which was the main reason I generally had no idea what time it was) and he turned to me with a smile and said “It’s 5:15!” I knew at that point it was just a matter of time, that we were going to survive and finish.
The most embarrassing moment for me was, after the team was allowed to stop at a coffee shop to use the restroom, I was way back in line, and the cadre made us leave before I could relieve myself. I really really had to go. About a half hour later or so, I more or less pleaded with our team leader to let me use a porta-potty we spotted. I was surprised that I was the ONLY ONE desperate enough to need to stop at that point. There I was in the porta-potty taking the longest effin leak in my entire lifetime (like the Tom Hanks scene in A League of Our Own), and the team was yelling at me to finish up, we had to keep moving! But what could I do…
Anyway, after that we stopped at some field and did some army exercises mimicking infantry assault tactics, which was pretty fun. And I don’t know what else, again it was kind of a blur, and I was just happy to be alive with the sun coming up in beautiful SF!
The really fun part, the highlight of GRC 179, was how earned our “GoRuck Tough” patches by completing our final mission. We hiked back down to Baker Beach. There were great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin headlands to the north, and it was a beautiful morning. I was one of the team leaders, along with Eleanor, one of the 3 women on our team, who had the honor of marching us down from the Presidio to the beach. When we got there, Cadre Beaux gave us some more interesting instruction about naval assault tactics. To emphasize what that is like, he had us line up and march right into the surf. We got down in the water and let the waves crash over us. We did more push-ups and flutter kicks in the water. Then we crawled up onto the sand and got covered in sand (for “camouflage”), including all over our heads. After all that, we were handed our patches, which sounds anti-climactic but was oddly very rewarding.
Just getting back to the parking lot at the Presidio parade grounds required a long hike back up those steps by the beach and another mile or two. Needless to say, most everyone was exhausted. But I felt strong, and I was very happy to be done.
So there you have it, my official memoir about GRC.
My plan is to do another GRC in November…