I drove to Raleigh after work on Friday. No dramas. There was traffic on the most direct route, but the less direct route that google took me through was scenic with a national forest and some lakes, and it wasn't much farther of a drive. I arrived at the Kroger across the street with an hour to spare. I had already picked up my last-minute 2L bottle of soda elsewhere, so I just walked around a bit. I drove over to the strip mall across the street with Black Bolt Crossfit, the parking lot of which would be home base for the night. I dumped out the 2L of soda, which is wasteful, but I don't drink soda. I wish they sold 2L soda bottles of still water. Someone on Facebook had guessed its purpose, so I knew that I wouldn't get to deviate from the somewhat vague instructions about bringing a 2L water bottle... I had originally planned on getting a thick plastic or over-built traditional re-usable water bottle, so I'm glad that person spoke up.
I had been debating about which pack to bring. This was a "gentleman's event", in that it had no weighted rucking, no push-ups, etc. It would be about learning and practicing skills on simulated missions. Because it was about urban survival and escape and evasion, I felt like bringing my bright red 26L GR1 would not be the best choice of color, even if it is a good choice in durable bags. I decided to go with a black backpack. Upon arrival, though, I saw that at least 1 other person had the same red GR1, and some people were wearing bright-ish clothes, so I decided to switch back to the GR1. I frantically moved my stuff over to the other pack.
Our packing list included these mandatory items:
- 2L H2O
- Photo ID
- Cell Phone
- $20 cash
- headlamp with extra batteries
- 15' 550 paracord
- Duct Tape
- Large tin coffee can
- 1 selfie stick per team
- External battery pack for the phone
- Plastic grocery bags
- Knife or multi-tool
- Chem light
- Ferro rod
- Note pad
- Canteen cup
- Rolled Gauze
- Contractor bag
- Ziplock bags
- Gallon-sized ziplock bag or map case
I bought most of the recommended items, too, because this would be a chance to learn how to use that stuff, and I wanted to have the tools to do so. People were starting to assemble, so I finished putting everything in reasonable pockets in my GR1, and approached the crowd.
The event, with its 72-ish people, were told to form teams of 8. Some groups of various sizes had signed up together and knew each other. I was coming alone. I saw a group that looked a bit smaller. It's intimidating, looking for groups to join, especially if you're at something like a GORUCK event with a bunch of tough-looking people. You worry about being a weak link in the chain, but it's really not something to worry about, especially in communities like this, because everyone's cool and wants to encourage each other and see each other succeed. The group closest to my car happened to look like they needed more members, so I asked if I could join, and another single asked if he could join, and we made a perfect 8.
Each team had a name relating to a certain letter in the alphabet, and we were team "I". The original 6 from this group knew each other through a local Crossfit Box called Crossfit Local. Each team set up an instagram handle, so we were @teamiloco. We would use instagram throughout the night to provide proof to HQ while we complete various missions out in the areas of operation. We would be in different 1/8 sections of a pie, centered around Black Bolt Crossfit. One person would be in charge of Comms (communications), we'd rotate Team Leaders, and I volunteered to be Navigator. I figured that I'm ok at navigation, based on the running and city exploring that I do. Worst case, someone could switch out with me if I didn't do it well. Since we'd be using our phones, I could use Google maps, anyway, so it wasn't like I needed compass skills. The teams would be competing with each other through the night to earn points for completing tasks.
The night consisted of lessons, some practice in a classroom setting, and then a mission where we got to use what we learned from that module. The first module was about resources. We learned how to plan a 72-hr bug-out bag. We worked on making gas masks out of the 2L bottle. For our first two missions, we had to find certain resources for water purification, med care, and fire. We practiced climbing over a fence, changing our appearance, observing who may be tailing us, finding a rally point, and also looking out for "caches", which were envelopes hidden by the cadre, with special bonus point tasks we could undertake, or with special intelligence that would help us in our final mission.
In the first two missions, everyone is learning how to work together effectively. It was great to get some early wins, too. Our team members were able to find both of the caches hidden in our area of operation. We knocked off different tasks. Some were harder than others, and the hardest was to find two poles between 6 and 8 feet long. We looked everywhere, looking in dumpsters and all kinds of places. Time was running out, before we had to be back at base camp. We sent out a scouting group to make a last-ditch effort to explore a few more areas, and what do you know - the two people who I was with managed to find poles, just in time.
We made our way back to HQ, for our next set of lessons. We learned how to escape from being duct taped. We learned how to use a tourniquet, which was also cool. And we learned how to address hemorrhaging. We were taught how to make a "jet boil" camping stove out of the coffee tin. My small pocket knife and my limited strength prevented me from being able to make a jet boil, but one team member was able to make one, which would be very useful later on. We also practiced making fire. I had some ferro rods, but my sparks weren't catching on the kindling in the humid air. A team member gave me some cotton, and another team member let me borrow a large knife that generated far more sparks. With their help, I was finally able to get a fire going. When I was little, I loved 007 and collecting gear, and going on missions and adventures with my sister. Now, I'm grown up and able to play with real gear... still pretend missions, but way cooler, haha.
We also got a booby trap to set. Our next mission consisted of setting a booby trap for the next team to come into our area, practicing med care (splints, tourniquet, stretcher), and then finding and purifying water. Each of the 1/8 pie areas of operation had its own characteristics. Some were more residential, and some were more commercial. The area of operation for the water hunting mission was really difficult. We had to dump out all of our water, and find a water source that we could purify. There were few options for us. We had one ray of hope, but it was a long way away. We went for it, and it looked grim for a while, but a scouting trip of two went out and found our saving grace. We then had to purify our water, which either meant building a fire and boiling it, or, thanks to a very prepared team member, using purification tabs! This saved us significant time, which we needed for our long hike back. Another successful mission.
In our next lesson, we learned a bit about being stealthy. This was one of the most interesting sounding modules to me, but the mission was not really easy to implement. We had to go to our designated area of operation, while not being seen by cadre roaming the area. In the meantime, we had to try to notice cadres searching for us and take a picture of them. It's difficult to move in a stealthy way when you're in a large group of 8, when the sun is rising again and it's getting bright, and when there aren't many other people aside from our group awake at that time in that neighborhood. Sometimes, you can't really avoid traveling on main roads, too. We did our best, though. I did like our hiding spot ;)
When we went back, it was time for our final mission, in which we'd use everything we had learned through the night. It started with putting our gas masks to use. We were going to get pepper-sprayed. I'm glad I over-built some parts of my mask, but I could've used even more coverage. My ears and neck felt sunburned. My hair got some pepper spray on it, too, and later that morning, when I was doing burpees, it would get on my face and into my eyes. It did pretty well, though.
After the gassing, our teams took off, going through booby trap alley. If someone tripped up a trap, they'd have to undergo a series of med care tasks. We were careful. Our team was bringing up the back of the pack of teams. However, next, we had to have someone in the stretcher get carried for a long time. As one might guess, I was the casualty, and during this time, our team jumped from last to maybe third. It was amazing. We passed team after team of much stronger groups. I was so proud of all of the carriers.
It came down to a fire-building challenge... build a fire, and boil water... first team to get a good boil wins. It was any team's game, because this challenge was worth the most points. We entered maybe a little above average in terms of point standings. It all came down to this.
Well, the other teams in front of us ended up blasting through the fire challenge quickly. I was amazed at how fast they got theirs going. We finished this together, though. Mission accomplished. It's always a unique feeling, coming to the end of an all-night event as the sun comes back up, celebrating the achievement with your team. We had fun, we learned cool stuff, and we made new friends.
Stuff I learned (aside from the technical knowledge):
- I haven't done events with teams competing against teams in a while. I've thought about Ragnar races, but I had always pictured myself looking for a team of people with similar running abilities. I realized through this event that you may actually be missing out that way. Sometimes, when you're the weaker one at something, you learn to ask for and accept help, like with fire-starting. I tend to be pretty independent and avoid asking for help, sometimes to not inconvenience people, and sometimes to prove that I can do it myself. But I wouldn't have had fire without my teammates. A good dose of humility is good for me. In other cases, when you're stronger, you get the opportunity to help others and practice leadership.
- This point is a little bit like the previous point, but a big broader in context. I've heard it before, most of the time, in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 , which describes how each person is gifted differently but equally vitally. Each gift is needed for the body to function. In the context of spiritual gifts, it was a bit harder to grasp, but this night helped make it more tangible. Each member of the team ended up contributing in some clutch way, each person with something different. In quite a few instances, our mission was on a thin line between failure and success, and someone was able to help our team pull off our victory. It was always someone different, too. It made me think, if it had been a team full of Jennifers, we would've de-hydrated, frozen to death, died from broken bones and wounds, etc, but thankfully, we had the team that we did. We were able to accomplish more together than we could as 8 individuals.
- Lastly, "Building Better Americans". That's one of the tag lines of GORUCK. I figured this out before, but it's good to be reminded of it again. At events like these, you realize the meaning of "better" and what's most important in a person. These are a bunch of physically tough people. Lots to admire in the dedication that it takes to be that fit, for sure. However, what struck me most that night, that I admired the most, were acts of selflessness and encouragement. There are people in this world who look out for others, without thinking about themselves. Those kinds of people have saved me countless times, in other contexts. I need to be reminded to strive to be more like them, and not so selfish. That's the real gold.