GORUCK Normandy HTL AAR, Part 1
I woke up from my midday nap with boundless nervous energy. This would be the last real sleep for the next three days.Three days of intense physical and mental stress where sleep is the only real cure and one of many things I can’t have. I got up, already dressed for the first event, put on my hat and grabbed an espresso. Then it was to the already-packed car for the 32-minute drive to Utah Beach, Normandy.
I had participated in six previous GORUCK events; four Toughs and two Lights. This trip was supposed to be my first Heavy. Then Cadre Dan posted on Facebook how we should do all three events back-to-back—the Heavy, the Tough and the Light (known as HTL)—because we are flying all the way to France, because all three events will be in different locations and because all three events would concentrate on different parts of the Normandy invasion. How could I argue with three becauses? So my first Heavy attempt became my first HTL attempt.
Let’s pause for a second and explain all this to you folks who have no clue what I’m talking about. GORUCK is a company founded and run by ex-military special forces guys (FYI not much emphasis on the “ex”). They sell amazing gear and put on endurance events in which you have to wear 30 pounds of weight in your ruck (backpack) the entire time. They beat you down with a mix of PT and long hikes while carrying a ton of heavy shit like sandbags, utility poles, cinder blocks or whatever else they can find on the side of the street. The whole purpose is to turn you and everyone who showed up into a team who can operate seamlessly to accomplish missions. It’s painful. It sucks. It pushes you to your most extreme physical and mental limits. And it’s awesome. For me personally, GORUCK has shown me who I really am. It’s built my confidence by showing me that I can do much more than I think I can. It’s also taught me how to function as a teammate and operate as a team leader, which I have taken back to Push. I’ll explain more in a future blog post.
GORUCK has three main events. The 24-hour Heavy, the 12-hour Tough and the 5-hour Light. This event would be all three back-to-back-to- back with a four-hour break in between each. That’s 41 hours if we don’t go over. With the breaks we are talking about 50 freaking hours from beginning to end.
My nerves were on edge and doubt filled my mind. I hadn’t prepared for the cold. It’s nearly 90 degrees in Charleston. It should be 90 degrees in Northern France too, right? Yeah, real smart, Wesley.
My pack was too heavy. I knew Elizabeth would be there at the end of the Heavy to resupply us, but I still had 24 hours and I would be burning a shit ton of calories. Food = fuel. 30 pound ruck plate (weight), food, full water bladder, hoodie, jacket, extra socks and gloves, headlamp, extra batteries, glasses in case my contacts fell out and the required identification and 20 euros in case we had to cab home. That’s it. I knew I was pushing 50 pounds and I had never gone above 40 for an event. Fuck a duck! Freezing cold + too much weight = psyched-out Wesley.
I closed my eyes and meditated for 10 minutes in the backseat of the car while Elizabeth drove, Hotspot sat in the passenger seat and Harlowe chilled beside me in his car seat watching Curious George on his iPad. “Unfuck your mind,” I kept repeating to myself over and over. “You’re ready.”
Training began months prior as soon as I finished the Charleston marathon in January. I was in good shape, but I had hit my lowest weight since college by eating mostly vegan and running 40 miles a week. Let’s be honest. This body was made to run, not to carry heavy shit. I’m not a pack mule and, unfortunately, GORUCK events are perfect for pack mules. My skinny, weak ass wasn’t anywhere prepared so my first goal was to begin weight lifting three days a week. I also changed my diet and began pounding meat. I stopped running and began rucking three bootcamps a week and rucking in the evenings and on weekends. All totaled I was working out about ten times each week, which I took down to about seven after getting really sick twice and realizing I was crushing my body. I also began mental training. I started meditating every day and began the Wim Hoff Method. I inundated my mind with Normandy and other WWII content, including books, TV shows, documentaries, movies and podcasts. I drove my wife nuts for about three months. The stories of those badass men would be my fuel.
We arrived at the Utah Beach Museum where we visited the day before. About ten others were already there with their rucks lined up for the initial inspection. There’s no turning back now. We trained for months. We flew all the way to France and trained over to Normandy. One last bathroom stop and twenty minutes of introductions as more ruckers filed in. The cadre showed up and told us to get in four ranks. I gave Elizabeth and Harlowe a final kiss. I hugged Hotspot and said, “Do not let me quit.” He replied, “We got this, baby.”
I lined up and looked at the beach. Today I’m going to get my ass kicked into the sand. But I won’t be running out of a Higgins boat with Nazi machine guns aimed at me. I won’t be jumping out of an airplane, floating down to Earth helplessly as target practice for a Nazi solider. It’s time to stop being a little bitch. It’s going to hurt but I won’t die or get seriously injured as so many did RIGHT HERE where I stand. I will not dishonor them by quitting. It’s go time. Let’s roll.