Pre-script: Some people get really technical with After-Action-Reports but this isn’t the real military etc. so I will just try to break the event into ‘chapters’ and talk briefly about what we could have improved on and what we should sustain (i.e. keep doing well).
After my first Tough in 2014, a couple of the friends who had completed the event with me hopped in their car and drove 2.5 hours so that they could do a Light that Saturday afternoon (in another city with the late, great, legendary Cadre Joe Warner). I thought, “I am starving.” More importantly, I thought: “how in the hell can anyone go back for more?”
In June 2016, I was scheduled (i.e. I paid) to participate in both a Tough and Light in Albany, NY. But the Tough was a real grind and it wore me down. I threw up during it (don’t drink water too fast, kids), we all had to carry way too much log, and I have scars from that event to this day. But that is another event and another AAR.
I did not show up for the Light. I was mentally checked out after the end of the Tough. Later that Saturday afternoon, I started to feel better and kicked myself for not at least showing up for the Light (proceeded to kick myself for exactly 1 year because the events in my city fell on exactly the same calendar weekend as last year).
Earlier in 2017, I decided that my redemption would come at the Albany events scheduled for June. Even after completing what I have affectionately dubbed “The Vision Quest” at the end of PATHFINDER cycle 011 (36.25 miles in < 24 hours, end of April 2017), I still had some doubts creeping into my mind. “But the vision quest had no PT. But you were free to stop and rest, etc. as you pleased throughout the vision quest.” The you will fail demons were whispering in my ears all week before the 2017 T/L attempt. So much that I didn’t even pay for the Light until that Friday evening as I was walking out the door to show up at the Tough.
As I pressed “submit order” on the GORUCK website, I determined to succeed. If nothing else, I figured I would choke the demons by shoving my wallet down their throats. I had skin in the game, now.
Proceed to the start of the Tough. A different start point than usual for events in Albany: good. Also: unknown. That slight existential dread when you have no idea what to expect from a Green Beret who looks delighted to be leading the event. Cadre “don’t call me Cadre” Karl started by blasting the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star-Spangled Banner for us and we paid some respect to the flag.
We had a bit of PT trying to get ourselves in order for inspection. Run 1 item from the packing list across this field at a time, with quick time hacks and humidity and mosquitoes everywhere. Then, get the whole ruck packed up. Too slow, try again, but not before a little PT to motivate us to move faster. Tip: if you’re packed quickly, look around and see if anyone is struggling. Improve: get an idea of how to pack your ruck in a “this will work good enough and hold my items inside” manner. Don’t focus on getting it perfect. Sustain: hydrate while you’re in that damn muggy field.
After finally getting our collective act together, we moved across the field in some infantry-style formations that Karl taught us and proceeded to our first destination: a creek which we would follow along to stealthily insert at a main road. This really messed with some people’s heads, I think. It got to mine, a little. It was dark and cloudy (no moon/starlight) and the creek had some oomph to it because it had rained a lot that week. Our class tended to want to move along the banks of the creek where they were exposed. Karl ever-so-nicely reminded us that we were supposed to be in our formations from the prior movement. A couple of times I thought “oh great, there is a tree trunk in the water, I can place my hand on it so I’ll be stable.”
That is a lie and trees in streams hate you. Do not trust them. The moving water had carved out nice gullies underwater around the bases of these trees, as my suddenly-submerged body could tell you. Improve: not sure how to practice walking in creeks at night other than walking in creeks at night. Sustain: we stayed close enough to help each other out in case a team member went down/under.
After exiting the stream and getting back on the road, we walked up a gradual incline for what seemed like 74 miles. Actual distance probably closer to 2/3 miles to our next stop, where we had some time to refit on water, fix feet, etc. and figure out how to build an apparatus. Definition: a simple machine which you do a bad job of constructing while tired so you can miserably transport something heavy.
That’s right. I was excited because I’d only seen apparatus building at Heavy events (from the sidelines of Facebook). Any time you feel excited during a GORUCK event, that is another kind of demon, a stupid one, who tells you “this won’t be too bad.”
Narrator: it was bad.
We did a very mediocre job of building an apparatus to transport a huge 400+ lb tire which one of our locals had helped the cadre to source. We were given our destination and moved out. As it turned out, we did not have enough carpentry/engineering skills in our small team of 13 to avoid snapping some of our 2×4’s while the apparatus was under weight. We stopped and rebuilt the whole thing a couple of times along the way to our destination.
Trying to move the apparatus effectively. There was no comfortable way to push or pull this thing. But that’s kind of the point.
Eventually we figured out a blueprint that allowed us to move the weight. It still sucked. But at least the apparatus had become stronger and somewhat easier to steer along the way. Improve: learn/anticipate which way the forces of the payload will act on the pieces of the apparatus so you can prevent them from breaking too much. Sustain: we did a great job of communicating over some tricky movements along the path with the apparatus.
We dropped off the payload and deconstructed the apparatus a couple miles on down the road. We bid “I hope I never see you again” adieus to the tire and got to ruckin’ with a time hack and a destination that only Karl knew.
By now, sun was up and we had ourselves a good-old-fashioned Northeastern NY muggy-ass summer morning. It was gross out. We stopped once or twice for someone to use an inhaler as we found another huge and gradual incline. Fun fact: I drive that road every week on the way to church and used to think nothing of the drive. I would often see runners and bikers and admire their drive, thinking that it must suck. Now: I know it sucks.
As Karl gave us our next destination, I knew we were close by. Also: I never wanted to quit during this event (humble brag) but we walked right by my house. And I knew that it was at least 5 miles back to the start point from there. Sigh. Shortly after, we arrived at the church. Improve: just enjoy the suck of an uphill ruck. Sustain: had a good pace going, all things considered.
GORUCK announced late Spring 2017 that challenges would include a community service component to be arranged by the class/locals/cadre/etc. prior to the event. For ours, we had a local line something up and communicate with cadre. Event participants were unaware of what it would be, which I thought made it a little more interesting than a simple canned food drive or donation (no offense if your event did that, but I think this was more fun). We had a large section of recently-cleared space at the church which needed to be covered with landscaping fabric and river rocks so it would look nice and match the other beds on the premises. We had 5-gallon Lowe’s buckets and a few shovels to get this done.
“How many buckets of river rocks would it take to accomplish this task?”, you’re asking yourself?
All of them.
To sweeten the deal, Karl made us a deal. Get the task done in 2 hours and he would patch us and endex the event right there.
We finished in just a little more than an hour.
Dave and I must have carried that bucket full of rocks approximately 387 times.
I haven’t seen a group of GRTs move with such purpose before. We were like a well-oiled machine, with people filling buckets, taking them and dumping them in the proper place, and others filling in the space to make sure we had good coverage. Beast mode had been engaged by everyone on our team. We flew through this task and only broke our backs a little bit. But it was for the community so it felt good to do. Plus: the heavens opened and cooled us with a couple of short downpours. Improve: nothing. This task was accomplished flawlessly. Sustain: all the things. The team had been ground down by the apparatus and was now experienced at working together as a single organism.
After, we took a break and got some musings from Karl on apparatus-building as we waited for our local fellow to shuttle some folks back to start point for their cars (who would then take the rest of the class back to the SP). We took a class picture and went our separate ways.
GORUCK Tough Class 2332 at ENDEX, atop the corpse of the rock pile we pulled from while completing our community service project.
My God I was hungry. I ate exactly 1 CLIF bar during the event. I may have stolen a piece of someone’s MRE during the Tough, now that I think of it. I don’t know why that guy had MREs with him, but he seemed pretty excited about it.
It was now about 9am and I knew I had the Light at 2pm. I got some McDonald’s breakfast in the drive-thru (don’t judge) and went home in time to see the wife and baby before they left for their own activities that day. I inhaled food, showered, and fell asleep until about 1pm (i.e. I closed my eyes and immediately my alarm went off and I couldn’t believe it was 1pm). By the end of the Tough that morning, I had been awake for about 27+ hours without any sleepies. I was groggy and stupid when I woke up. Fortunately for current Tyler, past Tyler (*high five, past Tyler*) was a smart GRT and laid out clothes, equipment, boots, etc. for the start of the Light that afternoon. Improve: I probably could have hung out at the end of the Tough and shared a Bud Heavy with the guy who brought some. I was paranoid about getting back to the Light and knew my wife and kid wouldn’t be home long, and I wanted seeing them to re-energize me. Sustain: treat the whole thing like 1 event and plan/lay out equipment in advance so you have less opportunities to think. Thinking is often bad.
It’s amazing how much less of this event I remember than the Tough the night before, but that’s probably due to me going through it on only a few hours’ worth of sleep. We assembled at the start point, 14 of us, with a big majority being a group from a CrossFit gym who drove several hours each way to participate in the event. They all wore matching shirts they had made up for the event. It was cute.
For the Light, we had Karl from the night before and a guest cadre whose ruck said Milkbone on it after an interesting story from his time in the Marines (and also I don’t know how to spell his real name so Milkbone it is). He’d probably prefer to tell you that story himself at an event of his, anyway. We moved out after admin phase and came to a series of choke points/bridges and our rule was that we had to send 2 up to do burpees if there were any suspected threats (i.e. mock IEDs) along the route. Karl had been blown up by one in a real war and added this to our event to teach us about situational awareness so we didn’t get pretend blown up.
We had a bunch of sandbags and big, awkward water jugs with us too, so every person was carrying something at this point, I think. We picked up a log along the way for a short period and relocated it somewhere else. As far as logs go, it wasn’t bad.
I think everybody was carrying something at this point. Except the guy in the foreground, shadowing the event because he was tapering for a Spartan or something?
After we dropped off the log, things started to get a little testy. It was literally heating up outside (though I don’t really notice because I basically started sweating during roll call) and everybody holding something of varying weights in addition to wearing rucks was making some of us grumpy. Not pointing fingers, but it seemed like the CrossFit superheroes with their matching shirts were the ones taking issue with some of the expectations/SOPs of a GORUCK event (even though there’s like a zillion AARs, blogs, etc. now about these events and what to expect, but I digress).
We fell behind pace and were then given the option to choose PT or a somewhat harsh time hack over an unknown distance. After topping off our water from the giant slosh jugs we were lucky enough to be carrying, we chose the time hack.
I should say, we chose the ‘time hack’ option and the flag bearers at the front proceeded to run away from the group over uneven, hilly terrain for the next 12 minutes. Our whole group got strung out and we snipped at one another about pace. GRTs who knew some of the common ‘rules’ at events warned about getting separated and incurring casualties. Runners ran anyway. It was a good time.
Even though we crushed the time hack (or I should say the front of our element crushed the time hack and the rest of us made it to the RP some number of seconds later), we needed to get learnt about teamwork. Milkbone treated us to a patented “stretching exercise” from his days in the USMC which sure felt a lot like slow-as-hell push-ups. We were able to dump some of the sandbags because we beat the time hack, so morale picked up with less crap to carry and we started to head back in the direction of the start point. Improve: if you don’t act like a team and try to PR your 1-mile ruck time during an event when you’re supposed to be sticking together, you gon’ learn. Sustain: uh, not much about this part was good.
Side note, at this point someone took out a bag of unrefrigerated tuna as a “power snack” or some shit like that. Except when it’s like 88º outside and everybody already smells, adding “bag of tuna” smell to that is a terrible idea.
Thanks to my new nemesis for bringing a bag of warm fish for a snack during a late June GORUCK event.
Have I mentioned how awful the tuna was? *shudders*
We headed back to the start point basically the way we came and stuck together as a team. After the climax of tempers flaring during our ruck run, the team talked amongst ourselves on the way back. Along the way, we continued to make small time hacks and so we were allowed to dump more weight from sandbags until we ended up with all or most of them empty upon arrival back at the start. We had another chat about what we did well and what we needed to work on. Patches were handed out. Pictures were took. Improve: don’t bring tuna to an event. Even if you work for Starkist and they give it to you like friggen Halloween candy. Just don’t do it. Sustain: TICK CHECK!
Light 1573 ENDEX.
Also: I completed my first back-to-back events, coming farther still along this GORUCK journey than I ever expected to when I started.
Tough and Light patches from this weekend, the evening after finishing the Light.
That was tiring. When’s the next one? But really, I seriously enjoyed myself that weekend and had fun with both events. It helped that they weren’t beat-downs in the way that some events can be (but maybe that was because we mostly did the teamwork piece well? hmm…). Either way, we covered probably 20ish miles that weekend and carried some heavy stuff for most of it. It’s the longest difficult thing™ I’ve done, I think. I’m glad to have gotten to a point where I can be proud of doing great during these challenges and not simply surviving them. Wouldn’t it be awful if completing these 2 events within 24 hours made me feel like I should tackle something even more difficult? Mmm foreshadowing.
Next up: NYC Constellation, Aug. 2017.