Vince Rhee did the amazing, unglamorous and dedicated job of shadowing the Spahtens Bravo Team during their 12 hour GoRuck. On his birthday.
His words …
Are all families like this?
Friday night, a bunch of New England Spahtens got together for a pre-GRC dinner and drinks at Fire & Ice, just down the road from the Boston Common. Much frivolity, much food, a few adult beverages… and lots and lots of nervous energy. The group’s shadows (myself, Paul, Jessica, and James) had it easy–we knew all we were going to have to do was walk a lot, take some pictures, and encourage and support our team when they needed it. But it was still hard to miss how nervous even our mighty Spahtens were.
Then, just a few hours later, it started. 1:00am Saturday in the middle of the Common. All of the GRC participants started off with the first round of what ended up being the better part of two hours of PT. In the meantime, all of the shadows were called off to the side to have the details explained to us. We were told–in no uncertain terms–that this was their (i.e., our friends’) challenge and that we should let them take it on. Meaning no providing them with material support (!), no talking to them (!!)… basically, follow behind them a discreet distance but leave them alone. If you need to take a picture, jump in and take your picture, then get the hell out. Now this immediately put a kink into our original plans, as the point all along in shadowing was to be able to provide support to our teammates–and now we can’t even talk to them? Sad panda. But Jess and James and I (we had, unfortunately, lost Paul during dinner due to a personal emergency that came up for him) begrudgingly understood and went along with it.
There was also the fear that the Spahtens–who had all signed up as part of the same team–could still end up being broken across different teams (which would have made it interesting for our shadow group of three). But as it turned out, the vast majority of the Spahtens managed to wrangle themselves onto the same team (Bravo Team), though at the last minute, we lost a small handful to Alpha Team. All the teams broke out into separate groups, so we followed Bravo across the Common.
At just short of 2:00am, Bravo Team started out of the Common, heading down Comm Ave on their way to Fenway Park, about two miles away. Steve ended up with the honor (?) of being the initial team leader, and the first task he and Bravo were charged with was to carry a number of “casualties” all the way to Fenway. Off went the rucks from the “bodies”, as their gear was spread among the remaining team members. And then the bodies themselves were lifted off the ground, as the team started the process of carrying their fallen teammates all the way to Fenway Park. And to top off the festivities, the body count would grow every now and then at the whim of Cadre Chris. Not good times.
Walking through Boston (or any big city, I suppose) in the dead of night is… enlightening. The sounds, the people, the traffic… almost all of it goes away. The only people you see are taxi drivers and some of the city’s crews. But that’s it. The only sounds, the occasional taxi (again), the (mostly) silent constant shuffling of feet and rucks from our embattled team… and, in this case, the voice of Cadre Chris barking out his commands, mostly (as we were to witness throughout the whole thing) at the expense of the team leader. “Team Leader… pick up the pace. Team Leader… straighten up this mess. Team Leader… go faster. Team Leader… where’s your hat?” (hat = the orange traffic cone that our team managed to “adopt” along the way) And so on, constantly.
(The taxis were somewhat amusing–they would stop literally in the middle of the road as Bravo Team passed them, some of them rolling down their windows to ask what the heck was going on, some just starting slack-jawed as the team trudged by. It’s not like they were holding up traffic or anything at this hour…)
As Bravo worked their way down Comm Ave, we shadows would occasionally jump forward to take pictures from different angles, but by and large, we followed the rules and hung back 20-30 feet from the actual ruckers, just chatting (and bitching about the cold) and commenting about the goings-on (and bitching some more about the cold). And as we crossed into Kenmore Square, the shadows–now in desperate need of caffeine and a bathroom (and not actually in that order)–did what the ruckers could not. We took off. Blew right past the rest of the team, as we knew there was a 7-Eleven a couple of blocks up just past the hotel. As we got to the store, a (seeming) treat: there was a Dunks right next to it–and its lights were on! Hallelujah! James pulled on the door, and…*ka-chunk*. Locked. They didn’t open until 5:30am. More sad panda. So into the 7-Eleven for some tepid coffee (and quite possibly Boston’s most disgusting restrooms). But walking back outside, we had our second wind, relieved and somewhat warmer.
We knew the ruckers were headed to Fenway, and sure enough, we were able to catch up to them just short of the park. And not too long after that, the team made its first milestone as it reached the back side of Fenway Park. (As Cadre was leading Bravo through PT and some speeches, he made some reference to the greatest team in the world. I think both James and I said “the Yankees?” just a little too loudly, as Cadre basically told us to shut up from 30 meters away. And, as we didn’t want to end up being the reason additional pain was inflicted on the team, we did.) In back of a Shell station near Fenway, Bravo Team got their new orders to transport three “nuclear bombs” (i.e., bales of compacted cardboard), this time all the way to Faneuil Hall, about 3 1/2 to 4 miles distant. Bravo also got a new team leader in Lisa. And unfortunately, Bravo lost a team member when Kay was forced to leave with a screaming back–which also meant the shadows ended up down a member, as James left with her.
Now it was Jessica and me following Bravo Team back the other way up Comm Ave, heading back towards the Common and then to Faneuil Hall. By now, some of the early morning joggers were hitting the road, and they universally gave the team the same “WTF?” looks that the cabbies had been giving them all night. They’d ask what was going on, and Jessica would tell them “it’s the GoRuck Challenge” (which, nine times out of then, would be followed by “Go *what*?” from them). Passing through Kenmore Square again, success!–the Dunks was now open for business… say hello to coffee and hot chocolate for the shadows! (It should be noted that coffee… well, yes, it was delightfully warming and necessary, but it has certain predictable… side effects. Let’s just say that this particular shadow successfully marked out his territory in some Back Bay back alleyway…)
At one point, one of Bravo Team (Jay, maybe?) stopped to tie his shoe, and as he was getting up, Cadre grabbed his shoulder and told him to stay there. Another “casualty” and, per Cadre, if Bravo didn’t hustle back to get their fallen comrade, there would be punitive PT coming. But Bravo passed with flying colors, and the penalty was avoided. And before too long, it was six hours into the Challenge, as the sun rose in the east in the distance over the Common.
As Bravo Team crossed through the Public Garden, they got lucky. As a team, they were forced to cross the lagoon (the one where the swan boats operate during the summer)… but the lagoon had been drained for the season. Not sure if GoRuck knew about this beforehand, but as a result, the team got to stay dry as they crossed the “lagoon”. A huge bonus given how not-warm it was.
Crossing the parks, the various team “bombs” were slowly but surely leaving a trail of bits of cardboard in their wake. Having nothing better to do (and not wanting to just leave it there), Jess and I started picking up the loose pieces and throwing them away. Occasionally, one of the team would try to stop and pick up the scraps, too, but we’d invariably just yell at them to leave it… didn’t get too many arguments from them on this one. Eventually, Cadre must have taken notice of what we were doing and started having the team pick up the trail themselves, but we kept picking up the odd bit here and there that got missed/ignored.
Getting across the Garden and the Common was without incident. But on the far side of the Common, at Park Street station, one of the “bombs” fell apart. As part of the team tried to piece the broken back together and the rest of the team did PT, Jess tried to use the restroom at the Dunks across the street. “Tried” being the operative word, as she was told upon entering that there were no public restrooms. Whether this was actually true or due to the fact that, as she put it, she was looking somewhat homeless by this point, we’ll never know. But pee break denied.
Speaking of homeless… Bravo Team was still going strong, but let’s face it–they were a pretty haggard-looking bunch by this time. And this next bit didn’t help that image: It was very quietly suggested that instead of carrying the exploded bundle in their hands, the Bravo Team members should instead jam as much of it as they could between their backs and their rucks and tote it that way. Worked great, near as the shadows could tell, but it totally completed the homeless look for the team, and I am still kicking myself for not getting a picture of it. (You’re welcome, Bravo Team.)
When we got to Faneuil Hall… pee break once again denied for the shadows. (The sign on the front door said the shops opened at 7:00am, but this apparently doesn’t apply on Saturdays…?) Now things were getting a bit more urgent. But it was Bravo Team that had the real fun. As the team lined up in front of Faneuil Hall with their bundles, they attracted the attention of four Park Service officers who did not appear to be amused. Cadre tried to wave them over, telling them that he was in charge of this group and that he’d explain everything to them. One of the officers said that no, *he* (the officer) was in charge and that Cadre would be coming to *him*. Cadre lost this round. But he was quickly on the phone, presumably with other teams to let them know that they weren’t particularly welcome at Faneuil Hall (there was a bit of colorful language on Cadre’s part–shocker!–in describing the situation).
Finally, somewhere around Haymarket, the team managed to dump their bundles among all the early morning market trash piles. And it was at this point that Jessica made plans to finally head out, saying that as soon as she found a bathroom, the next stop would be the nearest T stop. (This was about 7 hours into the Challenge.) As we left the Haymarket area, Bravo Team started double-timing it to their next destination: the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown. It goes without saying that Jess and I weren’t double-timing it *anywhere*, so we kept walking an increasing distance behind them, losing sight of them as they headed over the Charlestown Bridge. But really, there’s only one way to the monument from where we were, so we weren’t too worried–just follow the red brick road (i.e., the Freedom Trail).
By the time we got to the monument (still bathroom-less), Sandy was now the team leader. And because it was the off-season, the visitor center was still closed. But Jess was creative and… ummm, took care of things. (Yet another section of Boston territory claimed for the Spahtens…) However, as we were in Charlestown, there weren’t any T stops convenient, so she was still stuck with me as a shadow for a while longer. 🙂 Next stop: the USS Constitution. As this was to be a buddy carry, Sandy asked if they could start the buddy carry at the bottom of the hill so that no one would fall flat on their face trying to carry their buddy down. Cadre: “No.”
After a fairly lengthy break at Old Ironsides (unlike at Faneuil Hall, the Park Service folks there openly welcomed the ruckers, letting them go through security so they could use the restrooms… didn’t look like the first time GoRuck had stopped there…), Bravo Team was off again, now with Copie as team leader. And apparently, the team hadn’t been staying together as well as Cadre cared for, for their next challenge/task was to form a “ruck chain”–the team lined up in two ranks, and each neighboring pair had to hold a loaded ruck between them. (It looked like some horrible version of the line you would get in on field trips in the 2nd grade, where you’d hold your classmates’ hands as you walked down the halls.) And off they went, “chained” together like this, out of Charlestown and across the street into Revere Park. (At this point, the team passed a building construction site, and the site foreman (?) asked Cadre what they were doing and how much longer they were going… Cadre told him “oh, 6 or 7 more miles”… note that this was already 9 1/2 hours into GRC.) At a playground on the other side of the park, Bravo Team was lined up, and the entire team proceeded to do pullups–with full rucks. Still not good times.
Next target: Harvard Square, at double time. The shadows? Behind them, at “single time”. 🙂 And alas, 10 hours into the GoRuck Challenge, Jessica said her goodbyes as we reached the Museum of Science, splitting off to (finally) head to the Lechmere T stop and, eventually, home. (Selfishly, as a shadow, I was happy it took her so long to find a place to pee and that she was stuck T-less for a while after that.) By now, the more-or-less double-timing team had left me far in the dust, so I had to hoof it (as much as I could by this point) to catch up with them, which I finally did just short of Kendall Square. And at Kendall Square, one more torture courtesy of something that caught Cadre’s eye: railroad ties. Two of them, in fact, to be carried by Bravo Team the rest of the way to Harvard Square. (Aside: I missed what the ties were supposed to represent… missiles? artillery?) Walking up Broadway, I would occasionally catch up with or get ahead of the rest of the team. And despite instructions, I would occasionally give them the time (none of them were allowed to have watches) or slip them an Advil or two. But hey, it was a few hours earlier that Cadre had uttered “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying” in a slightly different context, so I’d say the team was simply taking initiative…
As the team reached Central Square (and oh, the looks they were getting), Cadre was on the phone. Overhearing bits of the conversation, it appeared that the team was behind some set time schedule (at least this is what it looked/sounded like… not 100% certain of this), and as such, plans were changed on the fly–instead of Harvard Square, they were now going to be heading down Mass Ave, back towards the Charles. Still hauling the railroad ties. And it was along Mass Ave that I saw something that amused me: a cruiser from Cambridge P.D. stopped right alongside Bravo Team at a light as they walked down Mass Ave with the ties–and he didn’t even blink. Never even rolled down his window to ask what was up, unlike pretty much everyone else. I guess it’s commonplace to see a couple dozen haggard people walking down your main street with railroad ties on their shoulders? (As a purely personal aside, I would occasionally pull up alongside Sandy specifically and give her a wink and just let her know I was still there. I knew GoRuck was a true challenge for her, and I had to know she was still OK. Anyhoo…)
The team finally reached Memorial Drive and the Charles, at last shedding the railroad ties. (Don’t ask where.) And now it was Nele’s turn to lead the team, as under “orders”, they started to haul ass back towards the Common. And they were making ridiculously good time, even in full rucks… until they hit the Back Bay and the “casualties” returned. So it was back to hauling bodies, this time down Marlborough. (And yes, personally I’m still checking up on Sandy, who beaten up as I’m sure she was, was still hauling along like a champ, as was the rest of this incredible family.) And Cadre is *still* yelling at his charges, though by this point, his charges (well, Nele, at least) may have been selectively filtering him out. (“Hey, Team Leader… TEAM LEADER… I *know* you can hear me…”) Towards the end of the street, Patrick notices I’m there and asks if I’d been there the entire time, and I told him yes–and it really sinks in at this point that I’d been following and chronicling this amazing group of people for going on 12 hours.
Still carrying bodies, Bravo Team hauled across the Garden in no time (a ridiculous feat given how long they’d been at this), and then they were back at the entrance to the Common… just in time to start low-crawling across the grass under “machine gun fire”. After a hundred feet or so of this, they popped back up and reformed at one of the pavilions at the north end of the Common, ready to head out again. And head out they did… for about 50 feet, at which point Cadre told them that they were done and were now all GORUCK TOUGH.
The cheers, I’m sure, could be heard for miles.
I’ve had the pleasure of following the Spahtens through all manner of races–through mud, through snow… Sprints, Supers, Beasts, and everything in between. Sphatens *never* fail to support each other and cheer each other on at these things. *Never*. But when they were all certified GRT by Cadre, it was the first time I’d ever seen them collectively *relieved*. This was something new, this was something special. This was something that would never be confused with any race they’d ever done. But they had endured it together, and they had survived it together. And if it was at all possible, they were an even closer-knit family than they were coming in.
And it was my pleasure–it was *our* pleasure as watchers–to be witness to it all.
Not bad for a bunch of weirdos. 🙂
(“Hey, Team Leader… you’re done now.”)