Last Friday I ran the GORUCK Challenge with a few of my friends. The four of us train together. We throw kettle bells around, roll on the ground like joint-locking honey badgers, and generally look for new and creative ways to beat the piss out of ourselves. We’re masochistic men in an age of soft sadists.
For those of you unfamiliar with GORUCK, the company was founded by Jason McCarthy, a former Green Beret who wanted to offer civilians the same type of rugged backpack he used while serving in special forces. With a design philosophy of “less is more and more is lazy,” the result is a line of functional, durable gear with a minimalist aesthetic that will last forever.
GORUCK’s mission didn’t end with the design of great gear. The GORUCK Challenge started as a way to field test their gear firsthand, offering anyone the opportunity to put their packs, and themselves, through the kind of abuse that GORUCK’s gear was meant to endure. As described on their website:
The GORUCK Challenge is a team event, never a race. Think of it as a slice of Special Operations training where – from start to finish — a Special Operations Cadre challenges, teaches, and inspires your small team to do more than you ever thought possible. Leadership is taught and teamwork is demanded on missions spanning the best of your city. The hardest part? Signing up.
Never one to turn down a challenge, I told my friends about the event and we signed up.
The Challenge is an overnight adventure that runs for 10-12 hours, covering an average of 15-20 miles. A Special Forces veteran, called a “cadre,” leads you and your team along a designated course, initiating sets of callisthenic exercises and mission scenarios along the way. Through all of this participants must carry all of their equipment, including 30-40 pounds of bricks, in their pack (or “ruck”) as well as anything else the cadre mandates. Everyone is also required to carry cab fare, just in case they decide to quit along the way.
In the few months leading up to the event, I did little specialized training – I went on a few hikes with weighted vests and backpacks – but for the most part I felt confident in my ability to get through an event with an overall pass rate of 94%.
This is what the Greeks like to call “hubris.”
We drove down on Friday night and made it just in time to meet the members of our team, a mix of current and former military, servicemen, and not-quite-right-in-the-head civilians. We introduced ourselves and lined up for initial inspection and roll call.
Within the first hour I was questioning my sanity. I think my teammates were reconsidering our friendship and whether or not they could quietly dispose of my body amid the onslaught of pain and punishments.
Remember that scene in Return of the Jedi when Jabba’s talking about the sarlacc pit? He’s all “ya cha nee chu oi” or some shit – my Huttese is a bit rusty – and C-3PO translates for everyone, describing the torture as a “new definition of pain and suffering.” Well, the GORUCK Challenge is a taste of what I imagine Boba Fett experienced after his jetpack malfunctioned.
First off, fuck sand.
Our cadre, kind man that he is, wasted no time in introducing us to its omnipresent properties. Our Challenge was in Newport Beach, which meant there was no shortage of the nuisance to fill our shoes, pants, shirts, packs, and miscellaneous orifices. The twelve hours that followed felt like navigating the twisted, sand-ridden intestines of a sarlacc.
I can’t go into details about the event. I had to swear a blood oath of secrecy before they’d give me my patch of completion. But I will offer a morsel of advice for those foolhardy enough to signup:
Teamwork is key.
Like it says in the description, this event is not a race. It’s not about you. It’s about your team. There were many times throughout the night, while shouldering the dead weight of an ill-prepared or under-fit teammate, that I had to check my ego. Frustration only wastes energy, so do the best with what you have, even if it’s an overweight teammate who can’t carry his own damn ruck.
If you fail to work as a team, you will be punished. There’s no such thing an individual infraction during the challenge. If one person screws up, everyone pays. It’s not fair, but neither is life, and by the end of the night we were working as a team despite ourselves.
When the challenge was over, I hadn’t slept in over 30 hours and felt like I’d been through a high-speed rock tumbler. Physically, I was miserable. Two days later I’m still sore and finding sand in unusual places. I think there might even be some stuck in my sinuses.
I did, however, leave with a great story.
While the initial objective of the GORUCK Challenge was to test the limits of individuals and their gear, its purpose has evolved into something much greater.
Everyone on our team made it through the night, which our cadre reported was a first for him. We experienced the importance of comradery for alleviating the mutual suffering of others. It was a potent lesson in social responsibility that no one there will soon forget.
Luckily my friends didn’t murder me and dump my body in one of the many parks we passed. Battered and bruised, we celebrated our victory with breakfast on the boardwalk at Mutt Lynch’s before a bleary-eyed drive back home.
The event was certainly a challenge, but one well worth the cost.
Good Livin’ gentlemen.