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GORUCK America 2022: Boiler Ruck’s Generalist Ruck

The idea behind GORUCK America is for GRHQ to send a member of our team to visit a Ruck Club and help build community in the real world. Keri Lewis, who works in our Human Resources department, jumped at the chance to head to West Lafayette, Indiana and attend a unique GORUCK event with the Boiler Ruck Club. Keri is a military brat and her family roots reside in the Midwest so this was the perfect event for her to get her feet wet (literally) at her first GORUCK event.

“I knew this event was going to be unique, but I was not prepared for such a meaningful experience. The event was held at a very special place; you could feel that. Not only was it beautiful, but before we set off we learned about the indigenous tribes that called this land home followed by a moment of silence to honor them. As we rucked through the woods I thought of the people that walked before us. When things felt hard, I was reminded that these hard things were just a part of life for some. One particular moment struck me; I was carrying a heavy water container and readjusted it to carry it like a child. I thought of the other parents or family members that carried their children or loved ones because they were too tired to walk anymore. The event was filled with thoughtful and contemplative moments like this surrounded by a bunch of like minded ruckers. I learned new things, was challenged, did hard things, and felt a connection to the land we traversed.” –Keri Lewis

The Saga of Boiler Ruck

Hello fellow GRTs, my name is Dan Zehner, and I’d like to tell you a story of the little ruck club that could. This is the saga of Boiler Ruck.

I started our local GORUCK Ruck Club because I was tired of being the only guy in town who gets weird looks when carrying heavy things over long distances. Misery loves company. I remember one day deciding that I would put it out there for others to join. People will find me, I said. There’s going to be so much interest! I fooled myself. In our day people would rather sit on the couch binging ‘The Great British Baking Show’ while wolfing down potato chips, not carry a 30# steel plate for miles and miles. So I mostly just posted pictures of myself smiling while I put in the miles all over Tippecanoe County. “Come join me tomorrow at lunch while I go to the Purdue Horticulture Park!” Months went by, until I finally found a guy who was in the Purdue ROTC to come ruck with me over lunch. Success! On Wednesday nights, I’d take my kids out to the local Boy Scout camp and hike their trails. Some dear friends of ours manage the property, so it was always fun to see them and get outside as a family. Sometimes my wife Tracy would come, other days, she needed a well deserved break from little voices clamoring for her attention. Over the months, we would explore the creek, discover new hills to climb, building our fitness, endurance, and ability to persevere. 

The camp provided so many opportunities to do hard, fun things together as a club. The first time I actually had more than just my family join, we found a pile of logs that needed to be moved.

What other group but a Ruck Club would find it fun to relocate a few hundred pounds of dead trees? It was like Christmas morning for us, though. Miles and smiles under the logs. That’s the essence of the Ruck Club. I called the group Boiler Ruck, to play off our proximity to Purdue University. It also symbolizes our workmanlike ethic. We do hard things together, and we like it. We’re not a huge club, like some you might see gracing the GORUCK community, but when we get together it’s always a good time and a family affair. Some of my favorite moments are just me and my kids, hoisting my girls onto my shoulders (their favorite spot) and knowing I can carry them as far as they want to go.

Given the transitory nature of many people in our community associated with Purdue, we have people come and go from the club. Sometimes people just get busy with life. Others go through hard seasons where they’re overwhelmed and just don’t want another thing on their calendar. No judgment, friend. We’ll still be here. 

When you try to ruck every week in your county, you find that there are so many interesting places to explore. Just to avoid wearing a hole in the ground in the same spot every week, we have to find new places to roam. Around our fair city of Lafayette, Indiana there are an amazing variety of urban, suburban, and wilderness areas to stretch our legs and push our comfort zone.

The Wabash Heritage Trail is a really special spot. 

The trail covers 18 miles along the Wabash River, from Fort Ouiatenon in the South, to the Tippecanoe Battleground in the North, passing through downtown Lafayette along the way. It’s an incredible history lesson to just walk the whole thing. You travel paths laid down over a century before by the indigenous people who stewarded this land before European and American settlers took it over. Time almost slows down as you imagine what life was like back then. Fur traders, hunting parties, and families gathering wood for their fires all passed through these same foot paths you’re walking on. 

A single twig breaks, but a bundle of twigs is strong. – Tecumseh

The Generalist Ruck

  • Important points
    • Different than other GORUCK events
    • Primitive skills
      • Fire by friction
      • Tracking
      • Throw sticks
      • Herbalism
    • Historic setting
    • Land acknowledgement focus
    • Team competition at stations with swag reward
    • Great sponsors
      • BBco
      • Revolution BBQ
      • Rose Market
      • 5 Star Nutrition

The Generalist Ruck was conceived as a way to bring the best of what GORUCK teaches us as people together with building useful skills that help fill up our souls. Hard work, good teammates, and primitive skill building. My good friend Morgan Snyder goes into what that term ‘generalist’ means on his blog, Become Good Soil. Essentially, in a world where we are pushed to be specialists (go to college, get a degree in a specialized field, work there until you die), there is a need for us to become generalists first as a foundation. To learn useful skills that everyone should know. How to start a fire and keep yourself warm at night. How to procure and cook your own food. How to use a knife in a variety of situations. How to be physically fit for functional work. For our Generalist Ruck we focused on a few of these skills and did it in typical GORUCK fashion: all the way. 

We started out the morning with what I call the Liturgy for Rucking as a way to center ourselves for the work ahead. In the shadow of the Tippecanoe Battlefield monument, we paused to reflect on the teammates around us and what connects us as people. As I read aloud the history of the people who stewarded that land before us such as the Wea, Miami, Potawatomi, Shawnee, Wyandot, Winnebago and Delaware people, we all were struck by the depth of history in this out of the way part of our great land. What usually is flyover country for most Americans was highlighted as a significant part of our shared experience. This is where our forefathers clashed with the indigenous people and two ways of life intersected with tragic consequences and long lasting pain. The Potawatomi Trail of Death wound right through the ground we stood on. It only seemed right to honor that heritage before stepping out on the Wabash Heritage Trail.

We rucked up (me carrying my trusty Heritage GR1 for the occasion), and Matt from White Pine Wilderness Academy gave us the lowdown of the skills competitions he would be running that day. All of us were excited for the opportunity to learn some new things and push ourselves, so we picked up our friendly neighborhood sandbags and started down the trail.

Over the babbling Burnett’s Creek we walked, taking in the lush greenery that the spring rains had brought. Folks from around the country (and even one from Canada) were welcomed into the beauty of an Indiana spring day. Not too hot, not too cold, and no clouds of mosquitoes (mercifully). 

Our first stop on the trail was under the I-65 bridge where Matt gave us some quick instruction on how to make fire with just a couple of sticks and a bundle of tinder. If you’ve ever tried this before, you know it’s not that easy. It sounds simple, right? Just rub a couple of sticks together and you’ll get fire! Nope. As with most things in life, you need some level of mastery over a critical skill, and some persistence at it to make it go well. Our teams of two got to work drawing our bows back and forth, spinning a small basswood drill onto our fire boards (a board with a hole cut in it and a notch to capture our embers we produced). Back and forth we drilled. On and on. Finally we began to see smoke. This is where some of us thought: great! We’ve made fire! Those teammates found out the hard way: where there’s smoke, there’s not necessarily fire. My son Alex and I knew better from a lot of practice. I remember many hours spent with my dad as a young lad on our back porch practicing this same technique. We always pushed through the smoke production stage until we were sure we had made a coal. We were looking for billowing smoke and a pile of hot dust with a coal in it. That’s the gold! Alex picked up our precious proto-fire and settled it into a nest of tinder to coax it to life. After a little bit of blowing, orange flames lept from the tinder bundle. We had made fire! And before anyone else, I may add. It pays to be a winner, and to spend lots of time with your dad doing cool stuff like making fires. 

After each of our teams finally got their fires going, we kept on rucking down the trail. The warm sun greeted us through the canopy of trees as we marched along with the pride that only comes with doing something that most people can’t. I don’t have any statistics to back this up, but we all had a feeling we had just done something that most people in America don’t take the time to do. That means something to your heart, whether you’re 8 or 80 years old, male or female. Whoever you are, it’s important to do hard and interesting things! Keeping with the interesting and hard things theme, our next challenge was to do a tracking evaluation with Matt. This eval was done in the CyberTracker format, passed down from its origins with the indigenous tracking people of Africa. There was no up front instruction, it was a true test of your knowledge. Matt planted some flags in the mud next to a few sets of tracks and asked us a question about each one of them. Who made this track? Which direction were they traveling? Which foot made this track (front, rear, left, right)? We studied our tracks carefully and gave our best (mostly wrong) answers to Matt. Therein lies the brilliance of this eval method: it gave our evaluator a true gauge of our knowledge of the local environment. No hiding behind “oh, I knew that” or looking at someone else’s answers. We didn’t have any instruction or teaching beforehand other than how the evaluation was going to go! After we gave our answers in secret, Matt huddled us up to show us the errors of our ways. Some of us (me) mistook a beaver track for a snake. Some thought that a squirrel digging up a walnut was a bird digging for worms (again, me). All of us learned a lot more about the local fauna of Indiana than we ever thought we would. With our dish of humble pie in our bellies, we rucked on to our last skills challenge.

Our last station incorporated some good ol’ GORUCK PT beatdown, led by my buddy Dave. Dave’s an Army guy and gets excited whenever he gets to lead a hard workout. He called this one ‘There and Back Again’ and it’s a doozie. Here’s how it goes:

There and Back Again
Style Complete as fast as possible
Score Points – 3-2-1 based on finish
Rep Scheme Pyramid (1-10-1 by 1s with multipliers)
Movement 1 Burpees (1x step)
Movement 2 Pushups (2x step)
Movement 3 Sit Ups (3x step)
Details Each group will execute the pyramid workout individually, points will be awarded by adding the finish place between both members of the team (3 points for first, etc.). When one member finishes, they may help their fellow member by substituting a movement with them (e.g., one member may give the other a break by executing 7 burpees when they’re on the 7th step). That individual must complete the entire movement.
Points of Performance Each repetition must be the full range of motion. To complete their workout, they must successfully tag the cadre’s ruck

We decided given the fact that we were 4 miles into an 8 mile ruck and a thunderstorm was approaching (plus we had to get back to the parking lot in time for our taco delivery), we only would do the even numbers of the pyramid. It was still plenty challenging, and we had a blast with it. My abs still hurt! One by one, we finished our work and helped each of our team members get their reps in. There’s nothing like shared suffering to build a team, as we say in all of the GORUCK events I’ve ever been a part of. Even my 8 year old shouldered more than his fair share of pushups, burpees, and situps. Once we were good and smoked, Matt had some fun for us ready to go. He had set up a firing range for primitive throw sticks! These have been used by indigenous people all over the world for thousands of years for hunting game as large as deer. Basically, they’re non-returning boomerangs. Don’t be deceived by their simplicity! These sticks can kill someone in the right hands (or seriously injure you if you aren’t paying attention)! Matt told us a story of a friend of his who wasn’t paying attention, walked onto a live range where students were throwing, and got sent to the ER with a gash in his forehead. Thankfully we avoided injury and enjoyed a great time hunting a watermelon, which our teammate Ryan sliced open from 10 yards away. In keeping with the dignity of the hunt, he ran up to the fileted fruit and whacked it with his stick to make sure it was good and dead. We all joined in the ensuing feast, rewarded for our labors with the sweet nectar of the red flesh. All was right in the world. And then we heard thunder. Very close by.

We sheltered under a nearby overpass until the thunder was a few miles away, and then got ready to head back to the start point. The 4.2 miles back were slippery, muddy, rainy, and glorious. We basked in the hard work we had accomplished so far, and helped each other move the ever increasing weight of our sandbags. The 70# and 120# had grown by at least another 20# during the thunderstorm, and we definitely felt it. None of us will forget the lessons those burdens taught us: stay together, do your part and carry the weight, and let a teammate know when you need to switch before you hurt yourself. As the great Generalist Boba Fett once said, “He’s no good to me dead.” You’re no good to your team if you injure yourself, so we all took that advice to heart and made sure to keep those sandbags rotating. Blessedly back at the start point, we gathered for an epic ruck off.

We were greeted by some amazingly delicious BBQ tacos provided generously by my good friend Jonathan at Revolution BBQ in Lafayette. These paired very well with the vegan, gluten free, and dairy free donuts from Rose Market. No joke, these donuts were killer, even after sitting in my trunk all day. To complete the ruckoff trio of awesomeness, we had delicious beers from Brokerage Brewing Company (and some Gatorade for Alex). I submit that this is among the greatest tasting ruckoff fair in all of GORUCK events. The usual pizza and Budweiser were swept from our minds with amazing locally made awesomeness. I’m so grateful for my friends who lovingly provided this smorgasbord for our tired bodies! As we enjoyed the fruits of our labors, we tallied the points for the winner of a great prize package from 5 Star Nutrition: a whole boatload of BCAAs and other goodies to help with recovery! We all went home with hearts full of joy over accomplishing some real work and stomachs full of delicious eats from skilled hands.

Lessons learned for Ruck Club Leaders

Before we part today, I want to share some things I learned putting this event together if you’re a Ruck Club Leader reading this and want to do this yourself. Most of these were learned the hard way, and had I learned them in time this event could have been even better. In no particular order, here we go:

  1. Start planning at least 9 months out. Get funds committed from at least 30 attendees before you post anything publicly about it. I made this mistake of getting people interested, but not paid first, and ended up having a bunch of people not show when it came time to actually pay for the event. 
  2. Talk to GR HQ 9 months out about the costs for a Cadre. In our case, we found it wasn’t in our budget to have a Cadre led event. 
  3. Get others involved. Use your Ruck Club members or even a local CrossFit gym owner to help you plan and get the communication out about your event. Don’t go it alone. Remember, we’re all about force multiplying and teams here!
  4. Use local resources to tailor your event to your area. We have White Pine Wilderness Academy less than an hour drive away, so Matt was more than willing to step in and provide some awesome skills training. See what’s in your area in terms of survival instructors, primitive skills instructors, etc. Your local LEO or FD may also be interested in providing training!
  5. Advertise, advertise, advertise. It’s super easy to set up a Google Site for your event. It doesn’t cost anything, and you can even create payment links for people to sign up through PayPal. Get this set up at least 6 months out, so you can post it everywhere and get sign-ups and payments in plenty of time.
  6. Plan for contingencies. Think through what could happen on your proposed route. What will you do if there’s severe weather? What if someone gets injured? Are there any poisonous snakes or venomous spiders you need to account for (lookin’ at you, Florida)? Do your due diligence and scout your route ahead of time. 
  7. Test your payment methods. I learned the hard way that for some reason I hadn’t set up my PayPal correctly to accept credit cards. Get this nailed down early.
  8. Over communicate. Send out weekly updates to attendees with all the necessary details, and more frequent updates as you get close to your event date. Use your teammates to help you with the comms load. Post regularly on social media about the event to get lots of interest and sign ups. Remember, you already have the payments in to cover your Cadre (right?), so any above that are just gravy. Post to other Ruck Club pages too!

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