Thursday, May 22, 2014

Becoming T-Rex Hunters

The end was in sight; the last few hours of our GoRuck Challenge was upon us. As we bear crawled towards the water in synchronization, then did push-ups and 8-count burpees in the sand, we knew a few things: 
1. It was morning, so our class had made it at least 10 hours through the night
2. We were back on the beach and our start point was about a mile and a half away
3. The event would probably get harder before it was over
By then we were thinking and moving like a team though; we all understood that we could take whatever would be thrown at us because we were a unit.
But we didn't start like that.
Ten hours before we found ourselves crawling on the beach as one, we were a bunch of individuals, crowded under the hazy streetlights east of the Santa Barbara pier. 
Illuminated by the light of the full moon, our cadre had us line up so he could check our bricks. The first lesson learned was a quick one: pay attention to detail. If you hadn't read the event instructions thoroughly, you wouldn't have known that you should have written your name and phone number on your bricks. Those who had not followed instructions immediately went for a swim.
Since we were not allowed to wear watches, there is no way to know how long our "welcome party," the first physical training (PT) session, lasted. It looked like this: water, sand, rolling, push-ups, sand. We were a strong, but stupid class.  We got "stupid prizes" because we played "stupid games," i.e. we weren't working as a team or using our brains.
A stupid game looks like this: Rolling to the left when we should be rolling to the right. Rolling too many times. Crushing the person next to you when rolling over. It took us a couple of hours to figure out how to roll properly. It took us almost as long to figure out how to low crawl efficiently. Lesson number two was not easy to figure out: work as a team.
Sandy and wet, we set off into the night on multiple missions. Though each mission was difficult on its own, things started getting really interesting when we found ourselves back in the crisp Pacific Ocean for another PT session. Already cold and sandy, it felt nice to rinse off during those exercises. However, the nice feeling was fleeting.
For the next long chunk of time, we had to first bear crawl, then backwards crab walk up the Mesa staircase; a set of about 250 stairs. This would not be our last "stupid prize."
After the stairs, our night slowed down in time, but sped up in effort. We found a giant log (I estimate it was 300-400 pounds) and had to carry it as a team a few miles. We started down Mesa Lane carrying the log on our shoulders. No one was communicating well, and we kept on shuffling into each other. We were 16 people speaking 16 different languages going 16 different ways. It was a mess.
By the time we got out of the neighborhood, our cadre knew we needed a talking to. He told us that we looked like a bunch of kindergarteners and we had better get it together. After our pep talk, we decided to carry the log with straps. This proved to be about 100 times easier than shouldering the log. We also counted cadence and were able to walk together. Devising a system of switching sides also helped us immensely. Though we missed our time hack by about 45 minutes, we ended the log-carrying portion as a team.
There would be many other challenges set before us as the night went on. We'd get lost in a canyon, narrowly avoiding falling off of hills and running into cacti. We would pick up a large PVC pipe, fill it with water and carry it for miles. We'd have "casualties" and have to carry team members for miles. We'd walk with our packs over our heads and without a shoe. We'd get more "stupid prizes."
Back on the beach, we could see the pier in the distance. We had just finished another PT session in the ocean, and we were getting what would be our last mission. We'd have to make it back to the pier with five "casualties" and the empty PVC pipe. With 16 people, four of them women, and two people (at least) carrying the PVC, a bunch of people would have to step up and carry more bags and each other.
As we made our way down the beach, everyone did their part and more. Some of the women ended up carrying bags and men (at the same time), others carried three bags and flags; others carried a couple of bags and the PVC.
After we crossed under the pier (the finish?), we had no rest and went straight back into the water for another PT session. It could have lasted five minutes or five hours, but when it came to an end, we all knew. Facing south towards the Channel Islands, the pier to our left, we were told to turn around.
Standing in the water, the American Flag over his shoulder, waving in the wind, Cadre Mickey shared some words with us. Though I can't remember everything that was said, I do remember the feeling I had: sheer pride and happiness. I was proud of who I knew Cadre Mickey was, a warrior and a leader, proud to be part of a group of hard-working people, proud to be standing on the shore of my home country, among friends.
When it was all said and done, our Cadre said it best: "You started off as a group of individuals…but in the end…in the END, you were a team of napalm-pissing, t-rex-hunting, bad-ass mother f'ers. I'm proud of you all."


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