“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” – C. G. Jung
On October 24th, 2014 at 2100hrs, twenty people gathered at a riverfront park in Bend, Oregon to join together and endure an overnight, team event that would test their resolve of body, mind and spirit. This essay describes the event and explores what motivates us to step into suffering to find ourselves.
The prize: The Go Ruck Tough patch.
The late October crisp air meets my nostrils as I step out of my friend’s pick up truck in the Middle Oregon town of Bend. Nearly a half year earlier, I convinced a couple friends to join me for the overnight endurance event known as the Go Ruck Challenge. Earlier that same day I drove over from Portland, missing the afternoon nap I had hoped to get before this gig. I meet Brian and Devin, along with three of their warrior brothers at our informal starting point at Willpower Training Studio.
Ally carries Nick.
Emerging from first water immersion as a team. Team synergy came quickly in the cold.
This event promised to be formidable, with the subtle hint that any one of us might not finish; hence the instruction to carry an ID card and twenty bucks cash in a watertight bag. Cab fare. An insurance policy of sort, although I was suspect that cabs would be readily available in the wee hours of the morning in Bend.
Hustle to follow instructions from our Cadre leader, Bert.
Second cold water immersion. Just a sliver of the training that others go through to secure democracy across the globe.
Log carry. One mile along a narrow, rocky river trail.
I followed the careful instructions and duct taped six standard red bricks together, then wrapped them in bubble wrap in a poor attempt to somehow make them easier to carry, and loaded them in my backpack. I also packed a 3-liter water bladder, some food, a dry bag with extra clothing, small flashlight, and a Special Operations Warrior Foundation medallion. I carried this last item in memoriam of my brother, Jonathan, a U.S. Air Force Combat Controller killed in a plane crash years before. I’m sure he was amused at what I was about to step into.
Ruck to Pilot Butte to enjoy the sunrise.
The event began in Bend at a nice waterside park (Deschutes River). Most of us had mustered at the training studio, and then migrated down to the park at the same time. We lingered around in nervous conversation and anticipation of what the night would bring, reinforcing first names with redundant handshakes, speaking names out loud as we each found ways to remember who our teammates were. This proved useful later.
Steve carrying one team weight- firehose. Douglass looks on.
Nineteen other people stood with me in the cold, foggy night as we waited for this gig to begin, each, I began to see and feel, had a unique backstory. The humanity of this group was palpable; this was a team event, and we all knew it. The synergy was simmering. We’d need it later.
Surreal photo of the class sitting atop the Butte overlooking the valley. Sunrise pends.
We were each provisioned with our rucksack with weight (bricks or sandbags; yes, we had choices). As a team, we also had a National Ensign and Go Ruck banner that we were to carry, and while not carrying we were to treat the American flag with appropriate customs, courtesies and care. Finally, we had two team weights. One was a portion of a fire hose that rested heavy, yet comfortably (relative term) over the shoulders. The other was a piece of art- a wood carved guerilla head named Bart. He weighed about 25lbs. Each team weight was to be carried throughout the night while the team was moving.
Rucking down off the mountaintop. Headed to the 2 mile run and the final water challenge.
A few minutes before 9pm, the team quieted as we looked into the fog toward the roadway and watched our Cadre (our Go Ruck Challenge “guide”) member walk toward us then stand in the shadows about 25 yards off. His mysterious presentation was awesome, the night had begun. In the shadows, our Cadre, Bert, claimed one of our teammates for a team leader (there would be many) and began issuing instructions. We learned about Bert over the course of the night, and the morning. His life path as a warrior came to us with clarity and humanity as he journeyed alongside and presented us opportunity to experience life lessons along the way.
Gorilla sculpture- team weight #2. Atop a rucksack. “Please F’n Quit” patch for good measure.
Brian carries the team weight.
What ensued over the next 13.5 hours is hard to fully capture. Team work, self-work, discovery, pain, confronting pieces of the shadow self, defeat, victory- all of these and more. This event bled (literally) humanity. I really didn’t expect that; yet, it was inspiring. Go Ruck talks about ‘building better Americans’ through their events. Indeed, this is a path to do so.
Steve carries a teammate’s rucksack; minimum of 40 extra pounds.
Egg casualty. Bert gave out over a half dozen eggs that had to be cared for. If broken, the team owed Bert some suffering.
Nick getting in the zone to submerge one final time.
During the first hour of the event, during a particularly trying time for each of us (the moments when you really question why you chose to pay money to be cold, wet and very uncomfortable) Bert made a statement that resonated to the soul of each of us, as each of us struggled to get ourselves oriented to make it through this event, as the team was storming to get to synergy. He said that each one of us is fighting our own battle that no other person knows about. He described options: finance, relationship, addiction, employment (the standard human challenges). He called us out. It was beautiful. The timing, perfect. Shields down. This, I realized then, was why people come to these events. Why I, too, stood there alongside my teammates. We come to step into the center of our dark shadows, to face our demons, to find inner strength that eludes us any other way. We get those things, and more.
Teamwork. Head submersion for ten seconds. After 13 hours, seconds feel like minutes.
The pinnacle moment of the event was my teammates and I sitting on the parking lot atop the 4,000 foot high Pilot Butte overlooking the valley. As the sun rose over the valley, Bert demonstrated the incredible humanity of the warrior. Bert had previously asked us to think about the hardest thing we’ve had to do in our lifetime; we’d revisit that on this journey. On top of that mountain, like Socrates, Bert told stories of warrior-humanity that every American should hear. His narrative inspired. He asked each of us to share our most difficult challenge. His response to our answers (some chose to remain silent) was encouraging, helpful, and inspirational.
Success never felt so good.
Awaiting final approval from Bert.
We rucked off that mountain with a renewed spiritual energy. This is why we came. We, of course, still had a few hours of teamwork to accomplish before we earned our finish. Everything hurt at this point, but we knew that we had the strength to face our inner shadows, here, and more importantly, later. We just proved that to our teammates and ourselves. Maybe to Bert, too. Building better Americans, one ruck at a time.
10 hours into the challenge. Our cadre leader, Bert, spends some reflective time with the team. An exemplary Warfighter-Poet, Bert shares slivers of his life history with inspiration and humanity. He encourages teammates to share their most difficult life challenge and inspires them to push forward. The sun rises to illuminate each participant’s dark shadow that brought them to this challenge.