Our long walks are not the same.
This is not a comparison of better or worse. It’s a literal comparison of my intent and expectation of walking vs others.
You see, there are 3 types of things one needs to optimize for in the military (missing some less important ones).
High speed run at a 2 mile distance
Long endurance walks with weight
Swimming. (I won’t touch on this one here, fwiw, water is my jam.)
So 1, my fastest 2miler 13:06, could never break the 13:00 threshold to max out this run event. Over time, long distance running was something I did for fun. (sub-7 mile for 10miles became a norm) I even wanted to be an ultra runner (Dean Karnazes was my hero), maybe still do, I just want to suffer, that’s all really.
To the hot potato of the story:
Long endurance walks with weight.
This was tough shit. Didn’t matter your level of fitness. The pure intent of a ruck is what we like to call — suck-fest. Also affectionally described as “embrace the suck”.
There is a part of any and all military activity that is purely about suffering. Suffer for a greater good.
Let me tell you.
The greater good people always got their way. You don’t fuck with the people up there.
Back to suffering. Or was it long walks?
You see, these long walks were no joke. The way they worked. Maybe you’re told a distance, maybe not. In training most times, you know an estimated distance.
You’re also given a set time to complete an expected distance.
On average, walks were 8-12 miles. Depending on location you were tasked hills or not. Some hills had skeletons on the side of the road and were named after death or love symbols, till this day I don’t know why.
The terrain and weather rarely dictated anything, except level of suffering.
Wet, cold, and hilly were the optimal suffering conditions. I think I cried once. Till this day I don’t know if it was rain or tears on my face, I just walked and listened to me.
The final requirement was a ruck (backpack) that could not weigh less than 55lbs dry (dry means you drank all your water). Water can easily add 3-5lbs, dependent on a persons water requirements and desired suffering level.
My body does good with low water intake but I always maxed my water because I can dump if necessary.
Trade offs were risky.
So, you get a group of men together, slap 55+lbs on their back, tell them 10miles, you have 4hours.
What do you expect to happen?
Balls to the wall, get your ass moving and make sure you get in under 2.5hrs.
If you’re 1hr early, ngmi. Also, you’re not allowed to talk to each other. It’s a solo event with a perception of group.
To take it a step further. There is a practice which is called something like “Soul Hunters”. Where every time you are about to pass someone suffering and moving slowly, you take a deep gulp of air as you pass the person in pain. It’s to resemble the taking of that persons last bit of energy and soul. For you to carry in your tank, for the rest of your journey. Unless you become the victim.
The point of these events are not to pass an event. It’s to literally test how much you are willing to push yourself for a long walk.
The pain that moves through your body is unimaginable from a seat indoors. The amount of times that you tell yourself “I want to quit” and then convince yourself otherwise, yelling at yourself “don’t be a fucking bitch”, is in the triple digits, easy. It happens so many times that failing and succeeding becomes an after thought — the only goal is death.
If you want to learn the flip-flopping that occurs, I invite you to watch Tangled, a Disney movie about a lost princess that runs away from “home”. There’s a great scene that she can’t tell if she’s a good or bad person for running away from home. My wife and I laugh at that scene all the time. That was me on long walks.
Back to long walks.
Long walks can have different outcomes. The less time constrained you are, the slower you want to walk, for whatever desired distance, changes the level of suffering and learnings.
For our long walks we learned very little during the walk. Everything came to us after the walk.
We had to drag our bodies through hell to finally get a seat at the table with the greater good people, people up there.
Let me tell you. It felt good to sit at that table after that. Really fucking good. Sometimes so good you just fall asleep.
I’ll leave you with a real-life example, non-military.
The 33-mile trek crossing Big Cypress:
It was a fine breezy morning. Danny and I, had planned to cross the 33 mile trail within one daylight cycle — from the day break to night fall.
We had been told by park rangers that the season was a bit dry and that we should be able to cross relatively dry. This was good news because our goal was to walk hard and fast.
Boy did the greater good people have other plans for us.
The first 7 seven miles, Danny and me were killing it. We carried one pack, between us both, it probably weighed 15lbs. Exchanging the pack to maximize our pace and energy.
We had been training together for the military a long while already. The reason for this walk was 2 fold.
Test our bodies in an unseen terrain
Have some fun in the process of training
Nonetheless, our bodies were in sync these first 7miles.
When suddenly we hit some knee deep water. What follows is the shortest, long torturous story I can tell.
By mile 11, Danny and I ran out of water to drink, we contemplated drinking the Big Cypress water that we were wading through (purification tablets handy).
Trade-offs you asked? If you get diarrhea from contaminated water you dehydrate quickly causing you to night-night (This happen to Danny once before). The other option is see how long our bodies could go without water before we risk it all. Potentially hitting emergency measures. We were not carrying anyone out of there without a chopper.
You never know which one will actually take you further. So many variables at play. 33 mile trek and only 22 more to go, through water. Long 22 miles.
Somewhere along the way we ran into other people. It was our lucky day, they had spare water bottles and water purification systems better than ours. Danny literally turned to me and said.. “and you don’t believe in God?” where I looked at him and said “Nope”.
We rehydrated, briefly, shed some weight from the pack and carried on. At times like these, every ounce counts. Literally. Your body feels every ounce.
For the rest of the trek, Danny and me would look up, see foliage and trees, look at each other and say, “I think that’s land”. Learning in every instance, yes, it was land but the trail we had to walk through was not on land. It was through waist deep water. Around the land. We went through this cycle an unimaginable number of times.
Long walks you say?
We touched land around mile 28. We also did not meet our goal of crossing in 1 daylight cycle. We did meet the gods of pain. We camped with some other bodies. They helped us refuel a bit.
When Danny and I woke up the next morning, we shook off all the water bugs that had sneaked between our nice warm bodies with wet clothes while sleeping. I casually shook my pants and had several water bugs fall down my pant legs. They were not small creatures. Then, we looked over at the other group as they were getting dressed.
One of the guys asked about our boots that we had on. They were military style light weight boots. Foot care is a premium skill in the military, especially when you do rucks. Your lively hood depends on how good those feet are.
I mentioned the boots were awesome. The guy shows me his hamburger feet with the Asics he had on — he had massive blisters. I offered him to try on my boots on to see if they fit. They did.
I asked him to keep them, he did. He asked if I wanted his Asics in return, I respectfully declined.
Danny and I were on our way to the final stretch of our long walk, mostly land, some water. Barefoot.
We emerged from the bush of a long walk new men. Men that respected the potential for death when trying to have fun. Men that looked at flat prairies with respect. Men that learned a new level of suffering.
When I walk, I only know how to walk to suffer.
Our walks may be different.
I shall learn to walk for thinking & learning, not souled suffering.
P.S. till this day my cousin, Danny, will outright reject any idea of wanting to cross Big Cypress again. I think I’ll convince him otherwise, one day. Every time I drive through I-75 or Alligator alley, I look out at the flatlands and think when can we meet again. Nature calls to me all the time. I want to die in it.
P.S.S. The longest walk of ours was 18miles on the sandy beaches of Miami Beach, we had 55lbs on our backs. All our walks did. We started at about 4am and didn’t finish till mid-day or so. That was for fun too. We have several other long walk stories together, military and personal. \n