Green Beret Challenge, Atlanta, 2015
This was a different kind of event for me and requires a different approach to laying it down on paper. I mean after all, this was the very reason the Grey Berets were created; a geriatric powerhouse comprised of Scott Bennett – aka “The Patriarch”, Jae Lumley – “Dirty”, Richie Taylor – aka “Mr. Pink”, and me your humble “Scribe”. Titans of Tendonitis ready to take on what the GBC was going to throw at them.
This review can’t be just a collection of nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind. “Dead is Dead!” Wait? What? It deserves a certain level of gravitas benefitting such a serious undertaking.
Oh fuck it! Who am I kidding?
6:20 AM, Dunkin’ Donuts– What the fuck do you mean there is no coffee?! This is Dunkin-as into coffee -Donuts! “Something wrong with the water in the area sir”. Shit!
6:40 AM, Waffle House – She is taking longer to write up the ticket for one coffee then it took to draft the Magna Carta. By hand?!
6:45 AM, QT – Morning rituals are nice. Race morning rituals are a necessity.
7:ish AM, Fort Yargo State Park – I roll up to the parking lot and see my fellow Grey Berets already there.
7:30 AM, Fort Yargo State Park – Sign in was a breeze. I didn’t have to. They had the team captain sign in their respective teammates. I heard of no problems.
Observations on the run:
CHAPTER 1 – WTF
The music is blaring out of funky LED lit (in GBC green no less) speakers. It’s deep and primal, ethereal. It has a Cirque du Soliel quality to it (this is good in my book). The Grey Berets go for a quick jog in the woods on what appears to be the actual course. We get back just in time to line up for the start.
Dark green smoke is ominous, and I get the cool factor and all. One could easily run the movie in your mind of oneself coming out from this cloud in super slo-mo, resplendent in you sponsored OCR gear, the bodies of all the competitors behind you stuck in the mud of your awesomeness. But like the blue smoke of Savage Race and the white smoke of Spartan Race, green still tastes like a shot of battery acid with a burnt benzene back.
A short run through the woods and then it was straight uphill under the shadow of a massive power line. The Grey Berets were doing a moderate pace knowing we had some tough tasks ahead. As Mark Ballas told us during the weeks leading to the race, “the pain would be legendary”, so we weren’t gonna sprint to it.
We reached the top of the hill to find a wooden ammo crate filled with an unknown heaviness for two team members and a 10 foot pole with 4 sandbags attached for the other two. “Well I guess we’re taking these fuckers for a walk boys!” So we walk, briskly. There is no running or even jogging with these awkward loads. And we walk, and we switch hands, and we switch shoulders and we switch loads. This painful pax de deux just kept fucking going. The sandbags are hanging by ropes and their gentle swaying is just enough of a distraction to keep us from reaching a synchronous gait while at the same time giving me a shot to the clockweights a couple of times. And we kept going. I knew we would be hauling heavy shit, but I was starting to wonder if we would be carrying said shit the entire time. And then the trail looked familiar and the realization sunk in that we were back near the starting line. Fuck me! This meant we would be carrying Satan’s testicles and his wooden box of horrors up that fucking power line hill! My idea of bringing shoulder width sections of pipe insulation to wrap the pipes with was already proving to be a prescient move. We gutted out the hill and finally reached the top. Well, that was a fun fucking one mile loop.
CHAPTER 2 – Swamp Thing
Feeling light in the loafers after casting off the first load, we dropped into the woods for some trail running. After about a mile of running and general Grey Beret goofery we came upon a tidy but large pile of dirt. Next to it a sign read “Fill one sand bag per person and continue on course”. There was no one around. This was basically self-serve misery. There was a large pile of sandbags (helpfully stamped with huge black letters – “sandbags”) and the mound was stuck with multiple garden trowels like some sort of gardening Pinhead. We quickly reached an accord regarding what constituted full; to the top of the last ‘S’, basically enough to grab has a handle. I believe we were all inwardly thinking we didn’t want to come across as a team of sandbaggers. OH shit! That’s fucking funny! See what I did there?!
We quickly doubled back to wade through the foreboding creek we had only just crossed over via a cool metal grate bridge. The creek was the kind of waterway that screamed Southern Gothic meets sci-fi horror. The water was black as night, the sunlight held at bay by a thick canopy of trees, unimaginable horrors lurking below the surface just waiting to pull us under. All I wanted to do was keep Satan’s fucking love lychee from getting wet so it wouldn’t end up weighing more than a certain OCR elite’s ego. (too soon?) The creek opened up to a wide expanse of water, picturesque in its swampiness. We slogged through the short distance under the watchful eye(socket) of a skeleton hanging from a parachute snagged in a tree. A rescue mission from last’s year’s event gone wrong perhaps? A few jokes flew regarding age and the Grey Berets. Spirits were high. The Shade of the trees and the coolness of the water were short-lived and was quickly replaced by a wide open firebreak. Our breezy attitude changed faster than a bride at a Filene’s Basement gown sale, as we hauled Satan’s man-satchels up one fucking hill after another.
The downside to a laser straight trail is you can see how far you have to go. The upside to hills is they obscure your ability to see how far you have to go. Either way we are fucked, as the bags weigh heavier on our shoulders and our minds with each step. I began to wonder what we would be doing with these evil polypropylene bags of hell. Would we have them for the rest of the day? Approaching the bottom of a particularly steep section of hill we came across some flexible plastic (body?) sleds. Each one holding two sandbags and no one in sight. There was a bit of confusion as to our next step, but luckily Mr. Pink had paid attention to the starting line announcements and was sure we were to continue upward. Ever fucking upward. Trudging on I looked back and wondered when we would see those things again. And we just kept fucking going up. By now I had shifted Satan’s nutsack from one shoulder, to the neck, to the other shoulder so many times it looked like I was voguing.
CHAPTER 3– The Undertaker
We top out to see a grouping of coffins in the distance. I knew from the social media mind games Mark Ballas had played prior to the event we would be hauling these vampire sleeping bags some way, somehow. And now as we approached, I knew with the certainty of the condemned what we would be doing with the sandbags we had been carrying for almost a mile.
Each rope handled pine box of pain came with four pipes and six short lengths of rope (and a fucking extra sandbag for good measure) like some kind of evil Boy Scout vampire camping kit. Mr. Pink and I made quick work with some skillful wrapping and frapping while Dirty supervised and Patriarch posed for pictures. The volunteer told us we were currently the second team. We were stoked and this gave us a tremendous boost of confidence. Counting to three we heaved the Antichrist’s assemblage to our shoulders, said a collective “what the fuck!?” and headed off into the woods. Almost immediately the approximate 300 pounds started to take its toll on my shoulders despite the cushion of the pipe insulation. This was going to be fucking miserable, and only made more so mentally by not knowing if we would return via the firebreak up that miserable fucking hill already traversed or from some other more gentle direction. The mood was lightened somewhat by a discussion regarding how terrible we would have been as litter bearers in the time of the Pharaohs. I am hitting my hydration pack like a tweaker on his last crack pipe. We come close enough to the firebreak to hear others making their way up the hill. We let out a battle cry; “GREY BERETS!” We at least remember our team name. Which is nice.
The trail was rough and uneven, and though we had lashed Beelzebub’s box of baubles to the frame with the extra two ropes, it always seemed it would come sliding off. We had a macabre debate about the injuries that would be sustained should the coffin fall. And we kept walking. Sometimes the trail opened up other times it was not much wider than our rig. Shifting shoulders was becoming more frequent for everyone as the feet turned into yards and the yards turned into fractions of miles. But unlike the sandbags, it required a full shoulder press to make this happen.
And then it happened; A subtle shift in direction and the inevitability that we would once again be climbing that godforsaken hill. This is not what I was thinking when I thought we would see the plastic sleds again. As we make our way up the hill and the last quarter mile, the grunts and groans get louder the breathing more labored, the shoulders having become fucking mush long ago. But there are people ahead and cameras in view. No looking weak now!
As we were breaking down our frame we got a chance to chat with some fellow GORMRs. Well, that was a fun almost fucking one mile loop.
Chapter 4 – Sandbabies
We continued on the firebreak, gladly leaving behind The Undertaker. If we felt light after Satan’s testicles, we were positively fucking buoyant now. The downhill run along the firebreak was like a handful of uppers after a 3 night bender in Vegas.
A quick left into the woods and I could see the backside of the damn through the trees looming over the trail. What labors of Hercules awaited us there? We arrived at the top of the damn to find another mound of dirt accompanied by a pile of flaccid sandbags and pierced with a multitude of more garden trowels. This time, however, there was a buzz of activity with volunteers, spectators and a videographer all very much interested in our collective misery. “Fill the bags to within a thumb length of the top. Just enough to be able to tie it closed”, commands the volunteer. Fuck me! I mean we didn’t puss out when we filled the first bags in anonymity, but this time the bags were going to be a good 2-5 pounds heavier! This is soon forgotten when a camera lens is stuck in my face while I claw at the dirt (garden trowels are for old English ladies with gingham aprons and pink wellies) with my hands. It’s film baby! And no self-respecting OCR runner, let alone a Grey Beret shirks from a camera. In my mind I spoke with the eloquence of JFK and projected the sex appeal of Denzel. But most likely, if I don’t end up on the “cutting room floor”, I will come across sounding more like Karl Childers and looking like Redd Foxx.
“Follow the damn towards that tent and then follow the red ribbon off to the right” are our marching orders. A scant 100 yards and down the steep back face of the dam we go. And then up. And then fucking down. The two shoulder shuffle in full effect. Come on vogue! Then up. Are you fucking kidding me!? Now hugging my sandbag like a lost puppy. And then down. And then up (for the love of…..!), finally arriving at the tent.
Chapters 5&6 – Packs of Pain and the Swim
We stumble to the tent as Team Fantastic Four is waiting for a final teammate and wrapping things up for the task we are about to do. A GBC member advises us we have one minute to decide who will swim and who will be a mule. Though the swim was with an old school life preserver that looked like a reject from Minecraft and the water did look refreshing, I and patriarch opted to Ruck. I’m a fucking idiot.
I have never rucked, don’t understand it and the rucks had more straps and buckles than Miss Kitty’s pleasure dungeon. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing. While Dirty and Mr. Pink made their way to the shoreline to frolic in the lake, Patriarch and I pack our rucks with two sandbags each. We about kill ourselves getting them on our backs and I almost topple over shifting the pack from “cattywampus” to “vertical enough to get going”. And off we go in a straight line away from the lake with 100 pounds of mother fucking earth threatening to pull my ass to the ground. We don’t go far before the trail breaks left. “Great!” I say. “This won’t be too long.” Then it breaks right going away from the lake. Another left and I think we are running roughly parallel with the shore, somewhere “over there”. And we keep going. Hints of civilization are popping up; a road here a parking lot there, a group of walkers looking at us with complete horror. My left shoulder strap is twisted and I know the ruck is not optimally positioned, packed or cinched but I don’t want to stop for fear I won’t get this beast back up on my shoulders. Both of us are walking stooped over like Yoda, less the cane. Shitty this ruck is. We weren’t saying much, both of us lost in our own misery. But every once in a while we would do a “systems check” and crack wise. And then for the second time that day a subtle shift in direction (this time left) made me think we were on the back turn. But the slog just kept fucking going and my ignorance to the way of the ruck was only compounding the pain. Then like a glorious Saharan mirage the lake appeared. And the gifts continued to rain down upon us with the deliverance of some sort of elevated concrete manhole structure. Yes! Oh Yes! A place to set down the pack that wasn’t the ground!
I miscalculated my selected portion of the structure relative to my waist height and ended up on my back like a fucking turtle, legs kicking arms, flailing. Patriarch looking at me like I was a dumbass. But I was free of the weight and it was glorious! We took a breather, I straightened my shit out and then we continued the slog. Shortly after we came to a point where we could see the shoreline from whence this ruck fuckery commenced and we knew we were going to make it. A short, and luckily firm, walk through the water and Dirty was there with a helping hand to get us on shore. The last 50 feet was a fucking steep brutal hillock upon which the tent stood. It’s as if every extra little inconvenience was found to force one to dig deep when you were at your lowest. I deposited myself and the ruck to the ground with the grace of an acid addled rave dancer.
Well, that was a fun fucking one mile loop.
“Break down your rucks and carry the sandbags back through the way you came”, says the GBC dude. Oh my fucking gawd! You have got to be fucking joking!?” We manage to make it back to the dirt mound without dying, though Patriarch did feel the wrath of a few hornets kicked up in the tall grass.
Chapter 7- Grey Matter
We are told each one of us must answer a question. Dirty’s eyes go wide as he explains that he “can’t remember shit guys!” I’m pulled aside for my question and I think to myself; “I got this. I paid attention to Mark’s Tuesday tips. I did my research on Special Forces groups. I know who Barry Sadler is for Christ’s sake!” Hit me!….. “What football team was the first to win four Super Bowls?” I swear I heard a trombone just before I said “huh?! What the fuck?!”
Of all the things in the world to ask, sports related questions are the worst. I do not follow professional sports of any kind. Football is a mystery to me with its billions of rules and hyper specific positions. I know less about football then I do about quantum mechanics. They took my surprise and epithet as a sign of defeat and were about to move on to my other teammates when it came to me, like a magical cartoon thought balloon. In that moment I knew my age was an asset where knowledge had failed. I grew up in the 70’s and there was but only one team that transcended the line between fan and non-fan and was squarely in the realm of overall popular culture; “the Steelers”, I answered. “Right you are! Don Pardo tell him what he has won!” Welllllll Alex, he’s won the opportunity to leave that heavy fucking sandbag behind and continue on unencumbered!” Unfortunately two of my teammates were not as correct.
Chapter 8 – The Sandman
The Grey Berets, suitably beaten up but still going, head into the woods with two very full sandbags. The trail is beautiful, shaded and offering nice views of lake. It is a fantastic opportunity to make up some time running, but we just can’t get the legs moving having to share the sandbags. We pass the time discussing all of our questions: Who wrote the Ballad of the Green Berets? (makes sense), what year was the green beret officially made part of the uniform? (makes sense, but required deeper B-side type research), who was the 41st president (tangential at best) and my question (way the fuck out from left field). But hey, it wasn’t standing at the Spartan memory board with a sharpie, it was a challenge. As we come around a bend we hear someone bellowing “you old guys have all the knowledge!” We look up to see team Fantastic 4 on an intersecting trail to ours and they are dragging those sleds we saw 3 days earlier at the nascent stages of the race. “We had to carry all four bags, and now we’re dragging them!” Well at least we knew what was to come. We continued along the lake until the trail turned left. “Back to the fucking firebreak” I groaned. And then the sleds appeared; evil renditions of the bits of plastic I used to sled on during the snowy months of my youth.
Not wanting to go one foot further than we had to, we selected the front sleds, added one of Satan’s Cornish pasty crimping to the two already in them, and got to setting them up. “Oh goody! More fucking straps!” Luckily Mr. Pink showed me the way as I was too mentally fried to deal with nylon webbing gymnastics. Dirty and Patriarch had no such issues. Our hydration packs were tapped out so we made a move to top them off at the small water jug. “Empty. They have gone to get more”, said the volunteer. “The fuck you say!” my brain cried. This spot was the nexus of three challenges and every team would pass through this point four times. One fucking jug of water was a slight miscalculation. “There is water up at the coffins” the volunteer continues with. This was great, because that was the direction we were headed, but it also fucking sucked because it was the same fucking hill we had just climbed two times before. Find a happy place, find a happy place. Awesome! Only a 150 pound sled and a quarter mile in the blazing sun between us and some high quality H2O.
And so we dragged the plastic planks of pain slowly up that hill, each Grey Beret trying to occupy the same spot of dirt so that both arms could be utilized for pulling. Again images of ancient Egypt popped into my melon. We were the slaves dragging huge blocks of limestone but without the benefits of large well lubricated logs. Exhaustion breeds bizarre hyperbole. During a short breather we look downhill to see team Fantastic 4 breaking down their sleds. We tell Patriarch to note the time. Ever upward.
We see some more GORMRs along the outer edge of the trail heading uphill with us. And though I pitied them for the coffins to come, we cheered them on while gaining some measure of strength from their return cheers. We reached the top and fell on the water jugs like dingoes on a baby.
While we enjoyed a bit of a respite, we were somewhat troubled to see the rules of The Undertaker had become lax to nonexistent. Dirty started to “help out”, but we had our own fucking misery to contend with. We had to keep on keeping on. So into the trees one more time. The flat and/or downhill trail made for an easier time dragging the sled. We started singing at the top of our lungs. We were getting loopy. Along the lake (déjà vu) we stopped for some nutrition and some good natured lamenting about the extra two sandbags. And then finally we reached the end of this challenge.
Well, that was a fun fucking one mile loop.
We broke down our sleds, piled our sandbags as instructed and headed off. What was the time?! We were 25 minutes behind team Fantastic 4. I was sure this was the last challenge as we had gone over eight miles by now. I feared 25 minutes was too much time to overcome in our current state. We were beaten up pretty good, but our spirits were still high and we hadn’t killed each other yet. The run, though in the sun, was downhill and we soon saw the lake. Our speed was less then blazing but we weren’t walking. I could feel my legs starting to shut down as we approached the wooden bridge that looked so tantalizing from afar at the beginning of the race. On the far end of the bridge I could tell there was a GBC sign, but without my glasses could not tell if the arrow pointed left or right. If right, our misery would soon be over as it would take us past the bottom of that retched Power line hill and towards where this madness started. If left, well, I may have just curled up into a fetal position and started sucking my thumb. YES! The arrow pointed right. I felt triumphant for our team in what we had accomplished so far. There was no hidden gear we shifted into, fueled by the-end-is-near-nitro, only the labored breathing and occasional grunts of the truly tired. The blue arrows suddenly had us veer off the trail and bushwack it towards the lake. And there it was, the finish line, on the other side of 100 yards of water, minimal in its trappings but glorious in its proximity. The water was cool and refreshing, and as we got closer to the opposite shore people started making their way down to greet us. And there was cheering and it was grand. We crossed the finished line holding hands as one unified team, and after 3 hours 40 minutes it was over.
I’m not one for contrived platitudes or even heartfelt truisms. I’m more snark than serious. And I don’t feel as if I have miraculously changed into a new person and my life’s path will forever be altered. I’m probably just not that kind of a person. However, this challenge gave me a new found concept of what the possible is.
I was shell-shocked after this event not only physically and mentally but also from the fact that I had just done something I was not entirely sure I was going to be able to do as well as my harshest critic, myself, would have thought. This event was the hardest thing I had ever done and it was brutal and maddening and awesome and fucking crazy, but it’s now a part of me. And I can now go forth in other racing endeavors with a touch more confidence and maybe dig a little deeper. At the very least I can always say; “At least it’s not a wood coffin filled with fucking sandbags……..”
Tretsch says DO IT!
Did you run The Green Beret Challenge? Tell us all about it!
The Grey Berets are Left to Right (minus photobomber), Scribe, Patriarch, Mr. Pink, and Dirty.