I have a birthday coming up. It’s not one of the major milestones, but as a wise man has said, it is one that puts me closer to the end of the race than the beginning. I needed a personal challenge, a gut check, what the Japanese call a shugyo.
When I started considering this, I thought of my friend Joe Walls’, a talented Eskrima Guro from Pittsburgh, practice of an annual birthday beat down. He invites students and friends to his school and they fight either stand up, grappling or weapons matches for as many rounds as he has years on this earth. I currently have one private student, so that seemed impractical.
I then thought about one of my contingency plans. I keep get home bags in each vehicle. Worst case scenario, I’m at work, the truck breaks down or is otherwise unusable, but I need to get home. What? Yes, you in the back, what was the question? It doesn't matter why it happened, only that it could. Anyway, my plan is to fill the hydration bladder and water bottles in the pack and start walking home as quickly as possible. The average distance from my current day job to the house of all the routes I could take was 20 miles. I was confident I could make the walk, but wasn’t sure how fast I could make it or what kind of shape I’d be in when I got home. I used to do quite a bit of hiking and backpacking. I’ve also reintroduced hiking to my PT program, but 20 miles was more than I had done in one walk. This was looking like a promising solution. On a sidebar, note that I said hiking, not rucking. They are related, but different. Hiking is walking somewhere with or without a pack on your back. Rucking is moving with purpose, under a heavy pack, while carrying a rifle. Rucking does sound more badass and in this day and age, I guess some need that.
The challenge, then, would be to walk a minimum of 20 miles, as quickly as possible. Based on previous hikes, I set a goal of eight hours or less to finish the challenge. I would be carrying my get home bag and what I normally have available on my person. Total weight came out to 28 pounds. The pack itself is an old Gen 1 or 2 Motherlode from Camelbak. I’ll do a write up on the contents in the future. Know, for now, that I designed it either to get me home or shelter in place until I can get home or help arrives.
The morning of the test arrived. I woke up before the sun, without the alarm. That is always a good sign. I washed up, filled the hydration bladder and the two Berkey sport bottles I keep in the bag. They are designed with a smaller version of the filter used in the Big Berkey counter unit. In keeping with the idea behind the challenge I added a couple bags of jerky and trail mix to the bag. There are vending machines at work. Most of what is in them is not food, but, they do sell jerky, almonds and a few other things that would work well in this scenario. I figure if the power’s still on, I’ll pay for as much as I can. If not, I’m kicking out the glass front, taking what I need and leaving the money in the bottom of the machine. I have other food in the bag, but it’s more for shelter in place situations, not eating on the move while hauling ass home. The bag went back in the truck. After coffee and a light breakfast, I headed to my start point. Once there, I put on the ball cap that has covered my head from here to the Gulf and India and back. I adjusted the pack’s shoulder and sternum straps, hit the stop watch on my G Shock and started moving.
The first three hours stayed cool, and slightly damp. Then about nine a.m. somebody turned the sauna on. The temperature climbed rapidly and the cool damp turned into hot and muggy. I hit the halfway point feeling pretty good. I ate a light meal of beef jerky and trail mix, changed my socks, refilled the hydration bladder in my pack and got back to it within 25 minutes feeling like a new man.
One of the things I’ve found is that while breaks are essential for the body on a long hike, they can and will screw with your mind. It would be easy to tell yourself you did enough, call for a ride and be done. Who would know? Well, if no one else, I would know that I quit. Personally, I’d rather die.
The return trip my feet started getting angry. No hot spots or blisters, they were just pissed off and had no qualms about letting me know. I had to take two short five minute breaks to stretch my calves and put my feet up.
Now, some folks that I’ve known have described me as a devious SOB. That is not entirely true. My mother was no bitch. I do, as an acquaintance of mine describes it, enjoy playing with my food. What most don’t realize is that when I am training, I will do things to test my own will. My truck was parked in a lot that was next to the trail. It was also a mile and a half from the end of the trail. So, when I saw the truck I still had three miles to go. I swear it was calling my name and reminding me it had a full tank of gas and a working air conditioner, who would know? I would.
21 miles and 7 hours 37 minutes later, I was done. I will say the shower afterwards was a little slice of heaven. The recovery ritual was pretty sweet too.