Go Ruck or Go Home

by Collins Roth

Adventure was calling. And right in his Washington, D.C., back yard was the stuff of reality show competitions and Green Beret endurance training. This is living.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Brian stopped us and barked, "Team 95, I am sorry to tell you that you have not earned bridge privileges yet."

It was about 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning and 28 degrees, but the 26 of us running up Rock Creek were clearly going to have to go through the creek as we made our way north. Minutes later, Brian, a former Green Beret, stood on the bridge watching us wade through waist-deep water. We were in hour one of a GoRuck Challenge, an event whose website vaguely promises "15-20 miles. 8-10 hours. Good Livin."

Over the course of the next 12.5 hours (because GoRuck believes in under-promising and over-delivering), we covered 19 miles on foot around Washington, D.C. There was a route, but we didn't know that. First running, then pretending to run, and eventually staggering in formation — all while doing Indian runs, wherein the last pair runs to the front of the line.

We did it as a team, because if we didn't, Brian treated us to gifts. Gifts like withdrawing bridge privileges as we went around Teddy Roosevelt Island (the Potomac at 6:30 a.m. is fairly cold this time of year), declaring casualties (who of course needed to be carried), or going "strapless" with our backpacks (which meant you carry instead of wearing).

We carried tree logs (multiple logs, and big ones, for hours), visited monuments, memorials (delivering on GoRuck's pledge to show you the best of your city from a very unusual perspective), crossed back and forth over to Virginia (once we had earned bridge privileges), and ran up the Exorcist stairs 15-20 times (a few times carrying teammates), to the bemusement of drunks, taxis, and law enforcement all night, and everyone else by daylight. Throughout, we took turns carrying our team "coupons" — a cinderblock named Cindi and a 6-foot tall sand-filled PVC pipe painted as a candy cane named Candi — without letting our backpacks touch the ground at any time.

Ah, the backpacks. I forgot to mention the backpacks. GoRuck was founded by another former Green Beret who couldn't find a decent, military-grade backpack, or "ruck," in the civilian world. So he started making them. Then he started doing Challenges throughout the United States to field test his Rucks. So we were all wearing GoRuck Rucks filled with water, food, and anything else we might need for the Challenge. And six bricks. Yes, the brick kind of bricks. Why? Just because. Forty-some pounds of pure pleasure.

At 1:30 p.m. Sunday, 24 of us went up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial (we lost two people along the way) side by side. Tourists didn't know what to make of us, but took a lot of pictures anyway. By this time, we really were a team. A third of the group was being carried fireman-style (a punishment for arriving late at the Mall). We were muddy, we were exhausted, and we couldn't have smelled good. Some could hardly walk, but still carried one or even two Rucks to lighten the load of those of us carrying other teammates.

Writing about it now, it sounds awful. But training for it, and living it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Who knew adventure travel didn't need to involve flying all the way around the world? I have toured cities on buses, in cars, and by helicopter. But the chance to hoof it around my hometown on a guided tour in the middle of the night took me to places I go all the time as though for the first time. I may not be travel for everyone, but it's a hell of a way to see the city. As GoRuck says, signing up was the hardest part. GoRuck moves to Europe and Japan next year. I think I may have to manage that part again.

Photographs by Jessica Roth Photography.


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