“No, it’s not a group suicide…”
Shortly after sunrise, 26 weirdos were standing at the edge of a steep bluff on the Alaskan coastal trail ready to rappel down a hundred or so feet to the rocky shore. We were covered in mud, wore heavy rucks, and literally smelled like crap. A drunk couple yelled down to us to ask if this was a group suicide. Everyone laughed and reassured them we were okay, but once we reached the shore we did an exercise in the surf that simulates drowning in ankle deep water, so I suppose their confusion was understandable. Just another day in GoRuck event paradise.
GoRucks are the oddball events of the OCR – Endurance world. There’s an abundance of obstacles, filth and heavy things to carry, but there’s no set course or timing chips. They start when you meet up with a genuine Special Forces Cadre, then venture out as a group to push beyond the limits you thought existed over 13 hours with a smile on your face – and at least 40 pounds on your back at all times.
Our 9 pm starting point was a park near the coast in downtown Anchorage. The Cadre for this event was a Navy SEAL, so I was fairly terrified. Would this guy be crazy enough to send us into the tidal flats and frigid Alaskan ocean? Going off the GoRuck website pic, he didn’t strike me as being an overly cautious.
We didn’t wait long for the answer. First task after roll call: go to the beach, get completely wet and muddy, then come back here. “You’ve got 5 minutes.”
I’m pretty sure most people knew whatever we did wouldn’t be good enough. On our 5th try, we finally got it right. Our reward for getting completely filthy was sitting in a saltwater trench and then “disappearing” underwater for 5 seconds as a group – adding 10 pounds of water to our rucks in the process.
Once out of the water, the 2-hour welcome party started with pushup facing downhill. Somewhere on the way to our 20 rep goal, the Cadre made us start over. I lost count of how many times we were reset back to zero (someone’s knees would fall, we weren’t in sync, the man bun the Cadre’s hair was in was too tight, etc.), but it was a lot and I’m pretty sure we did at least 80 in a row. Restarting the counts happened a lot, regardless of the exercise we were doing.
The party ended with an over-under tunnel of love that was downright painful.
Then we were given our first mission: locate and transport a pair of listening devices along the coast. The enemy had cleverly disguised the devices as heavy logs.
The devices were moved along the trail to a secure checkpoint: a swamp with 2 inches of goose poop floating on the water. It was guarded by a hornet’s nest, but almost everyone snuck by without getting stung. The lighter device was discarded and the heavier one continued its journey.
At 26 people, the heavier device seemed manageable. But this being GoRuck, Cadre Brett made things interesting by saying only the task’s team leads could talk. Within minutes, two people broke the rule and became casualties.
GoRuck Lesson 1: Follow the instructions or wish you did.
Casualties in GoRuck mean bodies need to be carried. Each casualty takes two people off the log (er, device support): the injured and the carrier. Things go from being manageable to sucking quickly. Everyone shut up after that and developed mad sign language skills.
A few quiet miles later, we reached a bridge the Cadre deemed unsafe. We headed off trail to the mouth of a ravine and tied a rope bridge to cross under. Hooking yourself to 100’ of rope with a carabineer and dragging yourself across a ravine is an interesting experience. Doing it in the dark while pushing and kicking tree branches out of the way made it downright exhilarating.
We recovered the listening device and made it to a bluff along the coast just short of the airport runway for a break where Brett told us a funny story about his first combat Op. It involved him and a SEALs team watching a group of drunken Iraqis ride a bucking donkey in Baghdad sort of like a rodeo. After that, we overhead pressed the log while he briefed the new team leads on the next task: moving the device to a steep bluff so we could kick it down the hill to the ocean.
The device hadn’t stopped careening downhill when Brett said (laughing) we had to go down after it. This is where we learned how to rappel, and it was pretty fun.
After the drowning exercise in the freezing surf, we packed 500+ pounds of rocks into sandbags and headed up the coast for a timed and a series of other fast marches (most of which we failed). About midway through our last march, the Cadre noticed people were too far spaced out. Bam! 5 casualties. As we slowed, the 5 casualties became 10.
At 10 bodies, everyone was carrying bodies, being carried or holding multiple rucks. Our group started failing one by one. Seemingly annoyed, the Cadre told us to stop and march back to the Goose Crap lagoon to pick up another listening device. The groans were audible. Then he smiled and said “just kidding, you’re done.”
It took a second to process, but after it sunk in, everyone swore at Brett with genuine passion, then relief. After 13 hours, our Tough class graduated.
A few of us had signed up for the GoRuck Light that was scheduled to start four hours later.
The five of us returning after the Tough were hoping the Light would be easier. After roll call, Brett made two of the returning Tough alums the team leads and said “you know what I want to see.”
“Okay everyone, down to beach to get wet and covered in mud.” Surprise! We missed the time hack. Our penalty: the Tunnel of Love through a muddy ditch.
W elephant walked out of the inlet and hiked a few miles to a lagoon and formed two rows in the water, then were told to disappeared for five seconds.
Since we were completely soaked, it was time for another welcome party. For the Light, exercises were in sets of 10 and he didn’t reset the counter on us. It seemed like he was genuinely trying to keep this one more fun focused – and we got to see his sarcastic sense of humor come out more.
After the welcome party and more elephant walking, we arranged the rucks into two course markers to play “it pays to be a winner.”
We divided into 2 teams of 8 for a series of wheelbarrow, leapfrog, low crawl, barrel rolls, etc. races against each other. In the first two races, winners sat in the shade for a break while the losing team jumped into the lake to disappear for five seconds. Losers in the 3rd race received a punishment so bad I won’t even talk about it.
Next up was a timed hike to acquire a new listening device camouflaged as a tree along the rocky coast. It was so light I asked Brett where the hell it had been during the Tough. A few hundred feet down the trail, another listening device (this time disguised as an enormous rock) was identified and hooked up to the first one. Not surprisingly, a 2nd device resembling a large rock was added up shortly after that.
We marched the devices back to the starting point, only to be turned back to the beach. Back on the coast, the devices were unbundled and chucked into the sand. Graduation time? Nope. 19 group burpees instead.
Once the last of the burpees was counted out, the moment everyone had been waiting for finally arrived after 4 hours and the patches come out.
The feeling of pride having fought off the urge to stay home after the tough and coming back to finish both events is something I think the 5 of us will remember for a long time.
These events are truly special. You meet amazing people and get to hang with genuinely elite members of the armed forces to celebrate fitness and America. Video from the event is available here .
Can’t wait for GoRuck Pearl Harbor Heavy in December.
Photo Credit: Brett Vernon, Christopher Lutes, Ralph Swan, Louie Weigers.
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