Friday, May 18th around midnight...we roll into Long Beach. The streets are dark and there's a sense of calm...that is the calm before the storm. We pull into a parking lot near the center of town, "Kennedy Plaza, 1 West Chester Place, Long Beach, NY." We're here. As we tie our sneakers tight, secure our headlamps and check our gear bags one last time, people begin to arrive; first two, then a few more and within minutes a crowd of sixty; mostly strangers, some friends, all anxiously awaiting the start of our adventure.
Just before 1am, the scheduled start time, two cars pull up. The storm has arrived. Whispers can be heard throughout the crowd. As the faces emerge from the cars, one is recognized; it's Cadre Bert, who wastes no time in making an introduction and informing us of the time we have already wasted time by just standing around. The rest of the Cadre unloaded the night's "coupons" or for those not familiar with the terminology, heavy shit that will be carried by the team at all times, for the entire night. Our coupons for the night included 3 beer kegs, 4 cinder blocks, our team weights which included a bowling ball, tow chain and roll-up (50' length of 2.5" fire hose) and a total of 3 American flags and one GoRuck flag.
Cadre Bert stands on the ledge of the fountain. Time to shut up and listen. Roll call. A few expletives. We were reminded that normal people run a 5k on the weekend but we signed up for a challenge. A GoRuck challenge that has us standing on a street at 1am for what is described at registration as an 8-10 hour guided tour that will cover 15-20 miles through the city of Long Beach. If we wanted to play in mud or paint ourselves neon and run around the block for 20 minutes, we were in the wrong place. The rules were read: 1. Always look cool. 2. Never get lost. 3. If you get lost, look cool. The group is split into two. GoRuck Challenge Long Beach Class 576 has begun. Team Alpha led by Cadre Bert, 27 individuals. And our team, 576Bravo, 29 individuals, led by Cadre Silver.
"Team 1 over here! Team 2 over there! Two lines. Shoulder to shoulder. All GRT's, (veterans of the challenge) report to the cadre." Team leaders were appointed by the Cadre and the welcome party had begun, with rucks on and spirits still high it was time for PT. Push-ups, squat thrusts, crab walks, duck walks, flutter kicks and squats, the next two hours were a wake-up call. The cadre were not here to mess around. This was not going to be easy. Oh, and I forgot to mention, in order to be fair, Cadre Bert gave each GRT an egg. The egg was to be held for the entire welcome party; and not in your ruck or your pocket. Of the two places it could be held, most kept it in their mouth. A broken egg resulted in thirty additional minutes of PT. Any “meathead” could do a challenge and ‘lift heavy shit,’ but it takes real talent to not break a sensitive egg during the course of a challenge."
After an epic failure at the "name game" the entire team was held in the plank position while each member of the team low crawled under the entire line. Remember what Cadre Bert had said earlier? We shouldn't have wasted time sitting around. It was time to stop being an individual. We should know the members of our team. It was time to start being a team. It would be the only way to survive. And that was becoming unavoidably clear.
PT was over; or at least for the moment. We were assigned buddies. You are to know where your buddy is at all times and never be more than an arm's length apart. I was fortunate to be partnered up with one of the West Point Cadets on the team. This proved to be a huge strength and help for me as the night went on. A short “bathroom” break was permitted and we were reminded to hydrate.
Time to mount up. The two teams paired up. Cadre Bert and Silver gave us the first mission. Find your way to Silver Point in Atlantic Beach. Stay together. Two lines single file behind the flags. Don’t forget the coupons. The destination was 4.6 miles away. We had 1hour30 minutes.
Simple enough. Not exactly. We learned quickly the importance of staying together. Stop. Take off a shoe. Just one. Faster. Let’s move. Still rucking down Park Avenue, Cadre Bert stops us in front of the VFW Memorial. Huddle up. He tells a story that most aren’t lucky enough to hear. It’s about his buddy, Jeremy Wright, a world-class athlete and medical student who gave it all up to enlist in the army following 9/11. Jeremy excelled through Special Forces training and was deployed immediately after earning his Green Beret. He was killed in action two months into his first deployment.
On the move again. Highly motivated. The teams split up. Cadre Silver silently leads the way. Down the roads and side streets of the sleeping town. We move stealthy, silently, passing along the weights, helping each other where we could, starting to work as a team. Silver turns left off the road. Damn. On the sand. It’s about 4am when we hit the beach.
“Put down the team weights over here! Neatly. Line up single file. One line. Facing Me.” Now we stand shoulder to shoulder with our backs to the ocean about 100 yards from the shore. We had our orders. Turn around. Lock arms. Twenty nine individuals, walk arm in arm down the beach into the darkness. Soaking wet and cold we emerge as a team and back up the beach to Silver.
Down on the ground. Push-ups. Get Sandy. Roll to the left. Roll to the right. Thirty seconds to hit the water and get back here. Not fast enough. Do it again. Back in the water. Shoulder to shoulder. Get down into push-up position. Face the waves. Anybody want to quit? No? Turn around. Sit down. Lock arms. A lot of things go through your head when you’re sitting chest deep in the cold waters of the Atlantic as waves crash over your head. Now on our stomachs, still in the surf; low crawl. And he meant low. About ten minutes and 100 yards later we were up the beach and on our feet.
Sunrise in Atlantic Beach. More PT. Team building exercises. Wheel barrows. Buddy bear crawls. Leap frog. Tired and cold; we made it through the night. Ten minute break to hydrate and breakfast on the beach. Special of the day…sand. Power bars with sand, trail mix with sand and to wash it down, a camel back straw thoroughly coated in salt water and sand.
Batteries recharged. We were off again. Silver found us a few new coupons during the break. We ditched the cinder blocks and picked up a section of boardwalk at first then traded it in for a couple logs; the smaller weighing in around 400lbs and the big guy coming in at 8 or 900. And I can’t forget about the sand baby. AKA a canvas bag filled with 150lbs of sand.
Same rules as before. Two lines. Stay together. Coupons don’t touch the ground. The next four hours were filled with nothing but good livin’ Long Beach Style. We covered somewhere between 8-10 miles stopping only once for another short “bathroom” break and a quick dip in the ocean for some morning PT. Get sandy again. And move on.
By the time we made our last stop on the beach, sometime around 9am, 576Bravo was a finely tuned machine. As I stood on the beach with Steve and Arty quietly chatting about the night’s events and what was yet to come, I realized that the three individuals that pulled up in the truck that night, along with the twenty five other strangers, were individuals no more. We were a team. And we were determined. We live as a team and we fail as a team. Now I knew what Cadre Bert meant when he said this isn’t about you. It’s about everyone else with you.
Next mission. Gather our gear and get to the next destination, a school about 2.5 miles away. The road was only a few hundred yards from our starting point so it would be pavement the rest of the way. The couple hours were grueling. Muscle cramps. Sleep deprivation. Fatigue. But we pushed on and made it to our destination ahead of schedule so we were rewarded with a ten minute break. But not before our punishment. Silver, silent as the night, watches like a hawk. Even though we made good time, the pack separated more than an arm’s length seven times during the last ruck. Squats. No number given. Ruck over head. Silver starts…”Down…Up,” One! “Down…up,” Two!. Up to twenty. Still going…maybe we’ll stop at 50. Not so lucky. Passing 70. Legs and arms shaking, we hit 100. “Down!...with a smile. Everybody! Down…up. 101, 102, 103. Rucks back on.” Break time.
Team 1 joined us at the school. It was time to move out for the last leg of the trip. Team leaders report to Cadre Bert. They’re dead. Steve ran to help…without his buddy. He’s dead. Team 2 get your three victims and move out. Tic toc. Not fast enough. Down to one shoe again. Silver left. We now have Cadre Derek and we’re on the move.
The next hour was filled with pain and pride. It was now after 11am on Saturday morning and Long Beach was coming alive. As we rucked down the streets, carrying our rucks, coupons and victims, American flags leading the way, people came out of their houses and stop their cars to take pictures, ask questions and cheer us on.
The mood is light but serious. Kennedy Plaza, our starting point, is in sight. Is it the end? Not so fast. We march back into the plaza and are quickly reminded it’s not over yet. Coupons are placed down neatly in the center. The teams split up into two single file lines. Push-up position. Hold it there. Cadre Derek talks to us about strength. Particularly finish line strength. Do you have it in you? “When I say down you say GoRuck… Push-ups begin…GoRuck, One!, GoRuck, Two!...GoRuck, Twenty! “Ok. Nice. On your backs. Flutter Kicks. Go.” How long is this going to last?
Ok everyone, nice job. Feeling good? Not done yet. Push-up position! Now when I say down, you say GoRuck!...when I say up, you say Tough!” ...GoRuck! Tough! GoRuck Tough! GoRuck Tough! As we shouted GoRuck Tough the stronger we got. We were all fired up. We knew we made it. "On your feet! Congratulations, You are all now GoRuck Tough." Cadre Derek personally presented the GoRuck Tough Patch to each new GRT.
-GoRuck Challenge Graduate, KBNY Coach, Chris Delvecchio