This past weekend marked my third Goruck Challenge. There's so much to write about all of this that I barely know where to begin. Apparently I've got this weird little wildland/Goruck gene that makes me forget all the pain and misery of the challenges and within hours of completing one has me looking forward to the next.
My first GRC with class 036, I just wanted to survive it and earn the patch. Within the first hour, I was seriously wondering what I had gotten myself into. There were a few doubts as to how I was going to maintain this pace for 12 hours, but we all kept working, settled into a groove together and got through it.
For my second GRC with class 057 I was still nervous, but settled into a mind set of focusing on getting the whole team through to the end. This challenge commemorated the 10th anniversary of September 11, and was about something bigger than my own nerves. Due to a bit of dehydration and heat stress I hit the wall in the wee hours of the challenge. But thanks to to the support of an awesome GRC class, I was able to pick the wall up and carry it with me until I got my hydration all squared away again. Just another coupon.
The first two challenges, being that nervous about something and then making it through to the other side were huge confidence boosters for me. For my third challenge, I really wanted to step things up and support the team as much as possible. So much for the best laid plans.
As the challenge was approaching little slivers of info began to make things seem like this was going to be an interesting challenge. First the brick standard had been changed from 3 bricks to 4 bricks if you weighed under 150 lbs, and 4 to 6 if you weighed over 150 lbs. I haven't been under 150 lbs in well over 20 years, so 6 bricks it was. Next we heard that there had been a change in our Cadre. Jason, the founder of Goruck, who has led over 40 GRCs was going to be our cadre for this challenge. This was sure to be a challenge to remember. Then a few days before the challenge, Jason posted this to the event's Facebook page
"I'm your cadre, and this is a special one. SF was the site of the first ever GORUCK Challenge, which I ran, and recently the other cadre have told me I'm soft. They did it so I would inflict more pain on you all. Which I will, so I cant wait for that. See ya soon, all smiles."
Yeah, smiles. But hey, this was just the latest in a series of challenges over the past year that I had gutted my way through and come up smiling. Ya know, sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
When I did the 6 brick field test with the Radio Ruck a few months ago, I had no idea that this would become the new standard. Who knew I'd soon be replacing my yoga brick support with more bricks. I played around with a few new brick configurations. This one seemed to work out the best allowing for more range of motion for the shoulders and not putting too much strain on the neck during bear crawls.
Later the email came out from GRHQ that they wanted the bricks wrapped individually so I revised the set up to this one.
Also pictured are the Petzl E+ headlamp as a back up (used princeton byte again as primary) 5.11 watch cap, windbreaker, board shorts, mechanix work gloves, road id, GR Tac Hat, 2xu compression top and shorts, NS6 shirt, REI airflight running tights, Clumbia Omni-Heat long sleeve top, Salomon XA 3D shoes, smartwool PhD socks, platypus big zip 60 oz, Radio Ruck, 6 bricks wrapped in bubble wrap and duct tape, secured with cinch straps, velcro strap all, dry bag, extra socks snacks. After seeing some facebook posts from 084 strongly emphasizing that we should hydrate before the challenge I decided to strap my Camelbak Hotshot to the outside of my pack, a tip learned from Brie and Seamus in 057.
All in all, my pack weighed about 45 lbs.
With overheating last time still fresh in my mind, I went fairly light on the layers. Mistake. Cold weather challenges are a whole other ball game. Most of the time here, when it's raining it tends to be slightly warmer with the cloud cover than on a clear day. This was not the case for our challenge. It was raining pretty steady throughout and around 40 degrees.
We started off in a parking lot by China Beach getting our bags outfitted and signing waivers. Once that was done and we were all gathered together after a rousing pre-game pep talk by a classmate, Jason abruptly took off at a run of around a 10 minute mile pace, pretty decent considering the packs we were carrying.
Last GRC with 057 I got my first taste of a mission based challenge when Lou tasked Alex and I to infiltrate 059 and steal their b*tch bag. We grabbed two other members of our class, snuck up behind them and scurried into line behind them as they were doing low crawls. We bided our time until the bag was eventually passed back to Alex. Before 059 knew what happened we hopped up and ran off into the park, trying not to look to suspicious and brought the bag back to Lou. Yup, good times. For us at least. I can only imagine what happened to 059 afterwards. When multiple GRCs are operating in the same area, beware.
This challenge we were given multiple missions throughout the night. We ran through the neighborhood until we got to about an 8' high metal fence. This was our first introduction as a class to mission based challenges. Jason told us we had 4 minutes to get the whole team over the fence and down to the beach. We gave people a leg up as they were climbing up and then switched from handing the bags over the fence to supporting the people with the bags because it was taking too long the other way. Once over the fence and down to the beach, our Welcome Party began.
Here we learned the importance of teamwork. For a good 3 hours we bear crawled, flutter kicked, lunged and went for refreshing cooling dips in the SF bay's 52 degree ocean water. Remember that picturesque video from the 036 post of us doing flutter kicks and pushups in the ocean at sunset with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background? This was 086.
Anytime we failed to work together as a team, Jason would give us sets of inchworm pushups to reinforce the importance of teamwork. For these we lined up on our stomachs with our feet on the shoulders of the person in front of us like in the below video.
Now I've done fireteam pushups and elevated pushups with my pack on before, but this was a bit of an eye opener. With the pack on my back and feet on my shoulders I could only press up about 2" or so off the sand.
I knew that keeping my body tight and legs as straight as possible would help. I played around with moving my feet forward and back, but nothing really seemed to help on this one. Jason gave us inchworms anytime there were gaps in our ranks. At one point he took away speaking privileges because we weren't sounding off loud enough, which made sticking together as a group that much harder. We developed a system of grabbing on to the ankle of the person in front of us when we wanted them to slow down or stop and tapping their foot when we wanted them to move again. All in all it worked out pretty well.
Once our welcome party was over and we headed to leave the beach, Jason told us we were leaving behind a downed pilot and pointed to a large lumpy log that looked like the twin of the one from 057. I have no idea where they find these suckers or if they ship them around the country to make sure all classes can share in the Good Livin'. Some members of the class hoisted the log up, while other members shouldered their packs for them. Jason turned to us again and instructed us to not leave behind the "co-pilot" a smaller log probably only weighing about 300 lbs. or so. Our second mission was to get the pilot and co-pilot to their extraction point in a specified amount of time. The larger log led and set the pace. Over time we developed a system where the people that weren't under a log would shoulder a pack and stand next to someone of our approximate same height who was under a log. This would allow us to swap out pretty smoothly when the log carriers were ready. This was especially important for the big log since it was so oddly shaped. A few times when I was under the log and someone in front or behind me would swap out I would either find myself carrying more weight, or hardly any weight at all do to the height differences. We would swap from bag carry to little log to bag carry to big log and back again.
Unfortunately we missed our first extraction pick up time by a few minutes and had to shoulder the logs again for round two. We were able to pick up the pace by swapping out more frequently under the log the second time and made our second extraction time which I believe was close to the Japanese Tea Gardens of Golden Gate Park. We were given our next mission point and time limit, with the added challenge of being covert. So basically, any time we saw headlights in the distance all 29 of us would go scurrying and diving headlong into the bushes. I think it was around this time that I began shivering pretty badly, but of course didn't want to 'fess up to it. One of my classmates let Jason know at a stop and we found another classmate with an extra jacket. That jacket made all the difference in the world. I might've been on the verge of a decent case of hypothermia without it.
We made our way through the city towards towards our next stop which I believe was Haight Ashbury. As we were running, Jason told me and three other people that we had had equipment failures and that the straps were no longer working on our packs. I grabbed the pack by the top handle, slung it over my shoulder and did my best to keep up with the pace the group was setting. Before long Jason told me I was hit by a sniper and was now a casualty because I didn't ask for help. Here I let my ego get in the way. As a challenge vet the last thing I wanted was to be the weak link, or to hold the team up. Now because of the this, I had to be buddy carried to our destination. The truth is these are long challenges, and we all have our moments where we feel not quite as strong as other times during the challenge. In these cases it's better to be proactive, because it's a lot easier for the team to shoulder 45 lbs, the weight of my pack, than 210 lbs, the weight of me plus my pack. This also proved true as we had more equipment failures and strapless bags throughout the night. We found that if we rotated the strapless bags and our team weight (weighing probably around 60 lbs) every block, before people would get burned out, we were able to keep a much quicker pace to our objective.
Mentally this was a tough lesson for me. Because of the time limit, I couldn't take on the team weight or extra bags as much as I would've liked and still kept pace. Here I had a turning point. I could stay being all rankled or surly at being the first casualty, or I could figure out how to best support the team. As the challenge wore on, I focused on developing teamwork and communication strategies, taking the extra bags when I could or finding folks that could when I was barely keeping pace, and checking on those around me to make sure they had enough food and water. That was another little surprise for this challenge. Jason told us at the beginning that they only water that we would have during this challenge was what we brought with us and any we could get from water hoses that we found along the way. Ya ever tried to find a water hose out in the open in SF? Not as easy as it sounds.
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There were a ton of other stops along the way to such historic landmarks as Lombard Street and Coit tower, but of course we had to cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Once we were in Chrissy Field, Jason gave us 90 minutes to get across the bridge and back. This was well into the wee hours of the challenge. All of us were dead tired and running on fumes, but this seemed like a doable pace. We set out together and alternated between a fast walk and a shuffle run to make time. Once across the bridge Jason informed us that we had one last mission. We now had an hour to get back across the bridge and get to our final objective of Baker Beach. This was a pretty aggressive objective, especially since we were probably a good 12 hours into the challenge at this point. It took us 37 minutes to get across the bridge the first time. If we didn't make our final objective time, then the challenge would end farther up the coast at North Beach 5-6 miles away. I committed myself to giving it my all to make it our objective, but if we made it, we made it, if not we would keep going. I didn't really entertain the thought of this being the end. We would simply keep working until we were told we were done.
We set out again alternating fast walks with shuffle runs, back across the bridge. As we made it down to the beach, one of my classmates that was carrying an extra ruck called out for someone to swap out with him. I looked around and saw everyone else was hurting just as much as I was, so I offered to take it for as long as I could and still keep pace. A little while thereafter, Jason became trigger happy and started "sniping" people right and left. I was once again one of the casualties and had to be buddy carried. My classmates gave an incredible effort to get us all down the beach. At one point when we were swapping carriers I asked Jason if we could swap casualties. Buddy carries, also known as firefighter carries, are a point of professional pride for me. These were one way I knew I could help out the team. As much as I got carried through the challenge, I wanted to give back to the team and help out. But Jason replied no, and as he said many times throughout the challenge "Hey, it's not fair, but life's not fair." As we were staggering down the beach under the buddy carries, Jason called out for a 50/50 buddy carry as a group down to the surf. Here it took a bit to get us all together, but somehow we managed it. At this point I grabbed my battle buddy and carried him to the surf (this time not asking if I had been revived yet). It might've been a fairly relatively short distance down to the surf, but it was a small way to give back to the team.
Looking back at the challenge, this wasn't about making us feel good about what we could do well. When Jason called for leaders to lead us to the next objective, he specifically called for people that hadn't led before. Then he made sure the team knew (usually reinforced by inchworms or equipment failures) that leadership was a group effort and we were expected to fully support and help our leaders. This was about challenging and pushing us specifically in the areas where we weren't as good and drawing upon the team to help us through those areas.
GRC Class 086, I thank each and every one of you for determination through the roughly 13 long hours and all the pain that came with those hours, for your effort and for your support. I hope to see you at the next one.