What seems like almost a decade ago, a friend of mine mentioned some exercise article where the participants were on the beach and in the water with heavy backpacks. I thought that sounded ridiculous and would shrug it off with “Let’s just stick to wine festivals and 5Ks” sentiment. My laziness was not conducive to new experiences, and I am pretty sure I lost many opportunities to be happy because of it. I was re-introduced to GORUCK in Fall 2014 when a college friend, Kevin, posted on Facebook about one of their events. The smiles I saw made me send him a message with a quick “So how do I get into this?” What followed was a list of things to buy, exercises to do, and reassurance that they would get me through my first Light. I still hold him in high regard for this, and sometimes I loathe the day I agreed to do this expensive hobby.
That First Time
I started rucking as a way to prepare for my first GORUCK Light Challenge. I remember during that first Light on a rush through the National Mall, I turned to Kevin and said “Kevin… My foot… My foot is cramping up.” And he just briefly turns to me and says “Walk through it.” I swore then that this event would be my last, and to heck and back with Kevin and these people jumping onto trees upside down during this post-snowstorm cold weather event. But after the event, I just thought about the next one and how I could do better. So I strapped on the first GORUCK bag I ever bought, a Java GR0, and walked a lot with my dog and my pack of bricks.
Rucking is very much a social fitness phenomenon for me because it really didn’t need to happen, however the popularization of ruck clubs and people putting weight into backpacks and going together for mileage under the principle of “go fast, go alone; go far, go together” blows my mind. I love it. These days, I will strap 30lbs of steel into my bag, stuff in a hydration bladder full of water, and just go alone or with whomever wants to do miles with me. I don’t try to over-exert myself and stick to a simple route most of the time.
Let’s be clear that the GORUCK community has many flavors and they’re all acquired tastes. I’ve been to different parts of the country and met weirdos who all have one common trait among them: they have a really dumb hobby. Our hobby. They see heavy things on the ground and joke about the group effort it would take to move it to the other side of the city. They see a pile of bricks and throw up garbage memes about it. They say something really dumb and are an easy target for ridicule and satire. They have something to talk about every week and give you a good pulse on what’s wrong or right with America. They’re the best. The GORUCK community is a beast with different heads with wild personalities and attitudes, all tucked under a log, looking ridiculous because they don’t have to be there and only request a small patch for it.
The hardest thing about GORUCK events is failing to meet the standard you built up in your mind as being acceptable. Everything else about GORUCK events are doable. Pick up a log? Sure, let’s go. Carry a heavy sandbag? 3, 2, 1, swap in for another person. Carry a jerry can full of water? Go to hell, but okay. I’ll take it. I’m pretty sure everyone has had these thoughts at some point. I personally try to be careful these days, because being dumb at events also means risking another unintentional sprain or fracture.
My first event was in March 2015 with Cadre Bert. It was a Light Challenge after a snowstorm that dunked on Washington, DC with heavy snow. I would bug my friend Kevin with “Hey, it snowed. Think they’ll cancel it?” and be met with his “Just be there” response. I really did not want to do that event, and “Pre-GORUCK George” (hey, that’s me) fought to stay lazy and skate through life making excuses for staying in his comfort zone.
Anyway, I show up to this event in running pants, a sweater and running shoes. It was not worthy of staying warm and I looked dumb. Even more dumb was that our team weight was a kitchen sink, which everyone who knew each other at this Light laughed at for how funny it was to bring it. The team weight was introduced to the Cadre, who only smirked as all Cadre do when they’re using their Cadre brain and suffer calculators to come up with the three words that made all of our laughs turn upside down: “Fill it up.”
We filled that 15lb kitchen sink up until the Cadre could stand on it and not sink in (that’s a lot of snow!). We even built a snowman on it to the satisfaction of the Cadre and delight of the shadows. And then we carried that thing all around the National Mall area of DC, my feet slipping around on the snow with my slick road running shoes while everyone else had boots and trail running shoes keeping them stable. I wrote up an AAR about this event on my personal blog (as people were known to do to show their personal growth), but the common theme was to not take myself so seriously. I fed off the energy of the group and for a first Light it was fun. Signing up for more events after that just felt right. And then I was hooked.
Much more than a Rucksack
I did not use a GORUCK ruck for my first event. I went online and bought a military-themed rucksack, went to the store and bought a bunch of bricks, and hoped for the best. After my first event, I read so much into GORUCK and their rucksacks, and eventually bought a GR0 (21L GR1) in the sweet Java color pattern, which saw a lot of miles and dog hairs. That rucksack had a lot of memories on it, and it was a dark day when I had to sell it to make ends meet, washing it of the only smells and memories I had left of my dog before he passed away. It’s funny how an inanimate object can be rendered the most important thing in the world to you, yet you can’t supplement that value for added cash. But it was a Java GR0 and it had the value of being a specific color to someone else. I miss that rucksack. And I still miss my good boy.
These days my favorite ruck is a toss-up between two which serve the same purposes and only change because of how I’m feeling that day: the 20L Rucker in Black/Coyote Brown and the 26L GR1 in Arid Camo. The Arid Camo GR1 looks like hot garbage watercolors and I think it’s hilarious. I love it just for that. The 20L Rucker is one of the first iterations of the Rucker, and it had that great introduction of Jason McCarthy tossing two 45lb Ruck plates into it and messing around with the rucksack in a display of quality assurance. That sold me on the bag for exercise and challenges. It rocked with me through my first Heavy years ago and to this day the straps are still super comfortable and worn in with an off-brand 45lb steel plate sitting in it. I’ve named it “Lobo” after my former German Shepherd (the color pattern, really), and we’ve been on plenty of adventures.
Outside of the rucksacks, I’m a fan of the sandbags from GORUCK. Thanks to the rucksack and the sandbags, I’ve been able to change my entire workout routine when my gym closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the Challenge Shorts are permanent staples in my rotation of clothes for work and going outside to do some PT.
Ruck Club Roots
Ruck and Ruck PT is something I like to do all the time and often just because I want to get some mileage in for fun. It’s such a simple fitness activity to get into and transform “Pre-GORUCK George” (me) from a chunky boy to a more fit chunky boy. At this point, I’ve done enough rucking throughout my city to have decent routes memorized, so at a Challenge when the Cadre leads us a certain way, I can guess that we’re heading for water, stairs, or that log I saw a while ago.
I am part of the DMV GRT ruck club and enjoy their social and fitness rucks. There is so much I can say about them and how their ability to turn a snowball of an idea at the top of a hill to an avalanche of “What is this chaos and how did we end up having so much fun?” at the bottom is wild. It’s also a very dynamic club, and you get people from different parts of DC, Maryland, and Virginia (and outside) popping in every now and then. I’d love to see more people show up to their social and fitness events, because we’ve done things like Prom Rucks to overnight 20-milers, and a large group of people in costume doing things together without the promise of a patch sounds amazing.
The best part of the ruck club would have to be the atmosphere of family I get from it, especially since I do have my brother as a fellow GRT in this group. People come together for service projects, social events, and fitness adventures. People bond over roasting each other, sharing laughs, rolling eyes, and empowerment of plans. I wouldn’t change it. I continue to ruck during the COVID-19 pandemic and do a lot of PT in the local park whenever possible. Fitness and health wellness have been important to me to not shrivel up during this pandemic, however it has taken me a while to get back on track since it first started.
Rucking supplements my fitness by giving me peace of mind and a time to reset while moving on a designated route. It’s not the ultimate of meditations, but to me, the way of the ruck is knowing you’re able to take that next step with the weight of the world on your shoulders, hitting unknown or prescribed mileage, and shedding the weight off your shoulders at the end of the movement with a sigh of relief. It’s the feeling of togetherness with your buddy or team moving the flag closer to ENDEX, the fight in your mind and body to keep going, and the award of a smile, a patch, or a beer (or all three) meeting you when everyone agrees it’s time to wrap up.
Rucking long distances with a team is fun for me because it’s also being told we just hit 18 miles with a cooler filled with ice and beer… And then agreeing as a group that if we do 6 more miles on top of that we may, or may not, be assured a ruck club callout patch. And not caring what happens, because when the sun comes up and your buddies look like sweaty garbage on the patio of a nice restaurant with a destroyed cooler and 24 miles under your belt, it just ends up being all about the first bite from the breakfast potatoes that gets put in front of you and that feeling of success for just getting out of your comfort zone.
If anything, rucking through GORUCK has been the conduit to a more active life that was right for me at the most needed point in my life. That active life has given me the opportunity to think more about non-fitness things in a new light and added to my toolkit of being a more efficient version of myself.
If you’re thinking about trying GORUCK, consider these questions: “Do you want to carry heavy things with a team of random people from point A to point B, with the in-between mileage and detours being plentiful and unknown to participants? And make new friends and enemies along the way?”
The GORUCK Community is still a fun mystery to me, with surprising stories of resilience, disappointing acts of silliness, and all the goodness in between. I do know that at events, when someone says “Do you need help carrying that?” you should not let them follow-up with “Okay, looks like you got that.” Share the weight. Move the flag closer to ENDEX. Talk trash wisely until you get that patch.
About the Author: George Yanez is a GRT in the DC area and part of the GRT DMV GORUCK Club. This club specifically has a focus on service and used creative ideas to keep in touch during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a virtual relay ruck. George has completed over 50 GORUCK events and hopes to add some more patches to his wall in 2020.