Monday, September 23, 2013

The Nasty Was, Well, Nasty (and a Total Blast)

I sent email and Facebook posts Saturday night with a one-sentence summary of my experience at GORUCK's Nasty at Massnutten Resort in McGaheysville, VA: It was a blast, and now the husband needs to be very, very nice to me so that I don't get him in trouble for the multitude of bruises in awkward places on my body. Yes, I have set a new record on the number of bruises, but it was well worth it. And now for the more-than-one sentence account.

The Nasty was billed as "obstacles and beer ... Special Forces style." Beer was one dollar. The obstacles were the Special Forces style, patterned after those on Nasty Nick, the obstacle course that all Green Berets must pass in their Selection process. Unlike events such as Tough Mudder or the Spartan Race, Nasty was not a race. Some of the people in the first wave to start, at the same 7:00 a.m. for which my alarm was set, clearly treated it as such, with the fastest finisher taking roughly one and a half hours to complete the 19 obstacles located on the six-mile course that included climbing three of the resort's ski slopes.

Having done several other GORUCK events, I knew more people there than I thought I did. Picking up my event packet, a man came up beside me, greeted me by name, and gave me a hug. I will be honest and admit that I could not tell you which event or events I'd done with him. Heading to the cash register in the PX to pay for our merchandise, the founder of GORUCK greeted me by name and gave me a large hug. There were several people whom I did recall from my first GORUCK event even before they asked how my head was or noted that it looked better than it had after that event. One person approached and said he'd done the Charlottesville Challenge with me. It was nice to feel part of a larger community; it made me a bit less nervous about what was to come the next day.

I did Nasty with the sons and the girlfriend of the younger one. I was heartened by the fact that the sum of their three ages was larger than my singular age. (When I tested for my black belt in Myo Sim kendo, the combined ages of the three people with whom I tested was less than my age.) We made a good team, encouraging each other and, where needed, physically assisting each other, though that was more of the males assisting the females than the other way around. We were in the wave starting at 10:00, which was good since younger son and girlfriend did not arrive at our hotel room until 2:00 a.m. If we'd been starting earlier, we'd have started with a much larger sleep deficit.

Arriving for our start, there were not many people my age to be seen. We passed three women looking to be close to my age and who were looking up at the course as they drank coffee. I noted that they must be the mothers who were not doing it with their kids. I eventually saw a woman looking to be about my age and wearing a number indicating that she was doing Nasty; she turned out to be five years younger, but at least in the same decade of life. We also ran into more people with whom we had done other GORUCK events, something that also happened at several points along the course. Again, the feeling of community was a nice one.

The initial maps of the Nasty course showed 27 obstacles. Some got cut and some got moved, meaning that the map was somewhat outdated. The reconstruction from memory that older son and I did generated 19 obstacles and a possibly accurate list of the order in which they appeared on the course. If I got some of the order or some of the names wrong, I apologize. We weren't exactly checking them off as we completed them given that we weren't carrying any extraneous things such as pencil and course map with us. Many people were carrying rucksacks or water bladder bags. We thought about carrying water but decided that we didn't want weight on our backs to interfere with our balance. Given that there were three water stations along the course, we didn't miss having water with us. There was also at least one obstacle at which people were told to remove any sort of backpack. When we finished the course, I actually voiced the question of whether someone might have left a backpack or bag somewhere along the course. If it were too far up the course, retrieving it could be a real hassle.

As might be expected, obstacles started out somewhat simple if not easy, and got more complicated and harder as the course progressed. Interestingly, though, the two obstacles we saw that got shut down due to safety issues were among the simpler ones. Many of the first, simpler obstacles involved one skill that would later be combined with other skills in the more complicated obstacles. Low Rail required low crawling under a wooden grid. Cargo Net required climbing a cargo net to the top, going over the top beam, and coming down the other side. Swing, Stop, & Jump required a rope swing to a beam and then jumping from there to the ground. As we were approaching one of what might have been a simple obstacle, someone in front of us fell to the ground with, as one of the sons put it, his arm pointing in a direction an arm is not supposed to point. We were directed around the obstacle and on to the next one. We looked back at one point and rescue squad personnel were treating the person, and it appeared that the obstacle would be permanently closed. On another obstacle not too much later, a woman fell onto her back while attempting to jump from a lower beam to a higher log and grab it to climb over it. I was next in line to do the obstacle, and the GORUCK cadre monitoring it suggested that I not do it. He said that I could try if I wanted to, but I took his first suggestion and limited myself to jumping onto the low beam and then off. Younger son's girlfriend did try it. She could not keep her grip on the higher log but fell in a controlled manner and landed on her feet.

As I said, it took one of the earliest starters about an hour and a half to complete the course. It took us about seven and a half hours, a lot of which was waiting in line to attempt an obstacle. The first significant wait was for Under Cover, which required crawling through one of two tunnels. It looked as though construction of the tunnels was fairly easy--dig a trench with a backhoe, put plywood over it, then pile the dirt dug from the trench on top of the plywood. Because some people were unsure about entering the tunnel, and others did not want to start right after another person, the line backed up quite a bit. People were given the option of skipping the obstacle by bear crawling up the slope a certain distance and then crab walking back down. Those who chose to wait for the tunnel were treated to stand-up by Jason, GORUCK's founder. Waiting was worth it just for Jason's explanation of GORUCK's "three rules."

Those three rules, stated on t-shirts so popular that at one point on Friday I counted over eight people (including myself) wearing three rules shirts in the same room. Those rules are
     (1) Always look cool.
     (2) Never get lost.
     (3) If you get lost, look cool.
I am not sure why, but I had interpreted this as "looking cool" being "cool" in a stylish manner. I'd thought of the rules in a comical sense, imagining a cool-looking person trying to look even cooler when lost or otherwise doing something wrong. For that, I extend apologies to Jason and his current or former Special Forces colleagues. Always look cool? Always look "cool" as in calm, collected, and controlled. Look in charge so that those who need to will look up to you. Never get lost? Try not to let things go south in a hurry. Try to keep the situation together. If you get lost, look cool? If things do get worse, at least appear to stay calm, collected, and controlled. The people with you need to know that you're on top of things and ready to handle whatever needs handling.

Under Cover was one of my favorite obstacles, though it was one that had me very nervous during the wait time. I'm not claustrophobic at all; I've had two MRIs without freaking out. Still there was something about looking at the small opening into the tunnel and hearing other people around us talk about losing it or freezing up did get some of my nerves active. While some people did not want to follow anyone else through the tunnel, the four of us went one after another. I followed older son, younger son's girlfriend followed me, and younger son brought up the rear. While the entrance to the tunnel looked quite small, the tunnel itself seemed roomy. I could do much of it on my hands and knees rather than belly. It opened up a bit at each of the four turns, too.

After the tunnel through the earth, we crawled or bear crawled up a large tube, in an obstacle called The Tunnel Rat. It was a bit slippery in the inside but otherwise quite uneventful. I wonder in 20-20 hindsight whether putting this before the more earthy tunnel would have given some of those who bypassed Under Cover some enough extra nerve that they might have attempted it.

Commando Crawl was memorable because while waiting and watching other people do it, I didn't think I could. There were two logs with a single strand of rope between them. The goal was to go over the first log, crawl along the rope, and go over the second log. If you were able to stay on top of the rope, getting over the second log was pretty much a done deal. If you flipped upside down to be hanging below the rope, well, that was a problem. I knew in theory how the rope should be traversed--one leg with its foot hooked over the rope behind you and the other leg hanging down as a counterbalance. Getting started on the rope was the hard part for me. I'd watched older son do it, getting the one foot hooked on the rope before leaving the "safety" of the first log and then getting the counterbalancing leg in place. Having accomplished that, I actually felt fairly secure. I took it slow and easy and found counterbalancing when I started to shift to one side or the other sort of easy. The trouble came at the very end, when I was going up to the second log. My arms just seemed to lose whatever strength they'd been using, and I flipped over. If I'd thought about it--or not thought about it perhaps--I might have stayed attached to the rope and attempted to right myself. Instead I let go and dropped off. I made it further than I thought I would and actually look forward to trying this again should the opportunity ever present itself. I felt some satisfaction even though I was the only one of the four of us not to make it all the way.

The next obstacle, Tarzan, was another that I'd like to try again, not to mention one I plan to train to do. Like Tarzan, one swung across a series of monkey bars over muddy water. As with Commando Crawl, I was the only one of the four of us not to make it. That said, younger son hit the water the first two times he tried to jump out to the first bar. After that, he came to the side that had a beam on which one could balance to grab the first bar. I had no problem grabbing that first bar; my trouble came from misjudging how far it was to the next bar. When I swung and tried to grab it, oh well, that was all she wrote. I at least managed to remain standing as I hit the water below meaning that I only got wet up to a bit past my knees.

As an intermission from specific obstacles, remember that Nasty was held at a ski resort. Completing the course involved climbing up three different ski slopes. Some had obstacles along the way, but there were many stretches of just putting one foot in front of the other and trying not to look up and see how far we still had to go. Of course, we eventually got high enough to be in the clouds and unable to see far enough in front to know just how far we had to go. It was not so foggy, though, that we did not see the bear that crossed the trail some distance ahead of us. Fortunately, it did not have cubs in tow and it seemed less interested in us than we were in it.

Tough Nut was a series of board fashioned into Xs. I think one was supposed to go from the vertex of one X to the vertex of the next without touching the ground in between. However, given the challenging distance they were away from each other. I simply climbed up and through one and then went on to the next. I didn't necessarily do it the way the designer intended, but I did do it.

"Do it" is more than I can say about the next obstacle, The Wobbler. This was one of the two obstacles that I completely bypassed. I have a very real fear of heights that did come into play on some obstacles. I might have attempted The Wobbler had there been a way to initiate a plan B and duck out or finish it more safely and quickly. Because only three people could start the obstacle at any one time, we were told when we arrived that it would be a 50-minute wait. If we wanted to bypass it and get on with the course, the cost was to do 50 burpees (some people were doing 8-count body builders instead of burpees). After considering the likelihood that I'd end up in a fetal position and crying in the cargo net at the top, I elected to do the 50 burpees. When a team of young men came through and tried to do 50 as a team or between five and ten each, I pointed out that if a 57-year-old housewife could knock off 50 burpees, surely they should each be able to do it, too. That did not convince them, though. They did the 50 as a team and went on their way.

I went to Nasty with the aim of having a good time, and for the most part, I did. The time after I did my 50 burpees was the one period in which I did not have a good time. The 50-minute wait for the others to do The Wobbler grew into somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours. It started to rain, and it was a cold rain. I did not want to continue on the course without my team, so I sat for a while, jogged in place for a while, people watched for a while, chatted with the others for a while, and otherwise tried to amuse myself and stay somewhat warm since staying dry was basically impossible. The others did eventually get to experience The Wobbler, and it was fun to watch them from the security of my burpees. Maybe next time, Wobbler, maybe next time.

The Wobbler was followed by a long downhill stretch that included my other favorite obstacle, Low Wire. Low Wire was exactly as billed. It was a downhill stretch somewhere in the 30 to 50 yard range (I am not good at distances unless I'm pacing them off) crawling beneath barbed wire. How low was the barbed wire? Older son guessed it was nine inches in places based on the fact that the back of his shoes was occasionally snagged. I occasionally had my hat get caught, being a bit luckier than the woman in front of me who got her hair snagged and needed help to get it free. There was a casualty on Low Wire, though. Older son had given me his brand new Batman Under Armour top since I was so cold, and the rocky bed for Low Wire wore holes in it though not in the shirt I was wearing underneath.

Finishing Low Wire put us at the bottom of one ski slope and ready to climb another, the same long, steep one that we did at the end of a GORUCK Light held at Massanutten in June. While this Memory Walk could possibly be considered an obstacle, it was not an official one. Instead, it offered the chance to reflect on the sacrifice others have made so that we can do things like Nasty. We were given small American flags which we were to insert into a pegboard at the top of the mountain. As we climbed, we were asked to think of Master Sgt. George Banner, an August casualty in Afghanistan. He lived in Orange, VA, about a half hour away from where I live and about an hour away from Massanutten. We somewhat split up along the climb, older son in front, me in the middle, and younger son and his girlfriend in the back. The solitary nature of the climb made it easy to reflect. Doing GORUCK events has made me so much more aware of what it takes to serve in the military, and not just the Special Forces side of it. I reached the age at which someone might enlist in the military during the waning days of the Vietnam War, and never considered enlistment. I don't know if I would enlist were I in my late teens or early twenties now. I just know that I have come to value the fact that there are those who are willing to serve and make, if needed, the ultimate sacrifice.

We regrouped at the top of the slope and were told that the walk down on a service road was considered The Mogadishu Mile. We were to stay together as a group, and if we separated we should consider that we had failed to negotiate the obstacle. This was pretty much the only walk during Nasty in which we did stay together as a foursome. Several groups came jogging past us, but we pretty much walked down. Younger son's girlfriend and I have both had our share of knee issues, and we didn't want something to get hurt before we'd had a chance to finish Nasty.

Four of the five obstacles remaining after The Mogadishu Mile contained one or both of my personal nemeses, height and balance. I've always been somewhat afraid of heights. The balance issues may simply be age-related. They may also be due to a hereditary neuro-muscular condition I have a 50 percent chance of having, and which would eventually make it impossible for me to do anything like this. The first obstacle, Easy Balancer, involved walking across three logs, each a bit more wobbly and each a bit higher than the one before. I made it across the first log just fine, but started to falter on the second, longer one. Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is more than one way to cross a log. I simply sat down, legs hanging down at each side, and scooted across. I did the same on the third log. I honestly can't say if I would have felt more of a sense of accomplishment had I tried to walk across and fallen. Had that happened, I might not have been able to walk on. I am already thinking about ways in which I can practice and improve the balance thing before the next time I do something like this.

The Inclining Walls were not an issue given the help I got from the sons. The walls were too high for me to jump and grab the top on my own, so a lift was essential in my being able to get the one foot over the top that is essential to finishing. Next up was The Weaver, and I am not ashamed to say that this is where I lost it. The Weaver was an inverted V shape with multiple boards on each side of the V. To complete the obstacle, one was supposed to go over one board and under the next. I managed to make it under the second board but after I went over the third I looked down and had a moment of panic at the thought of going under the next board, higher up. Falling onto my back was not something I wanted to experience. I started to whimper and then cry. Several people offered to come help me get down, but I didn't want to do that. I wanted to finish The Weaver in some way. I ended up just climbing up and over each board, ladder-like. Of course, when I got to the bottom of the far side, it was a sizable drop to the ground and I froze again even with older son standing there ready to help me. I finally went down on my stomach and got in the same position used for going over something. While I wasn't proud of losing it, I was proud that I'd finished it rather than drop in the middle.

With two obstacles left, the skies opened a bit more, and the rain picked up. The Confidence Climb gave me anything but. It was a huge 12-rung ladder that topped out about 40 feet up. The first four rungs were about a yard apart. The fifth rung was a longer interval up followed by two more about a yard apart. The rest of the rungs were separated by the longer intervals. Having lost it on The Weaver, I did not want to lose it a second time. As I stood in line, I decided that I would climb to the fourth rung up, and come down from there. A man behind me in line admitted to his own fear of heights and said he was doing the same thing. Had The Confidence Climb been earlier or had I been earlier, I might have tried for the seventh rung. But by the time we got there, we had been on the course for almost seven hours. I was also cold and wet and wearing shoes coated in mud. Going over the fourth rung seemed challenging enough. Younger son went all the way to the top and back. I tried not to watch, but I did see him go over the very top rung before again turning away so I couldn't see.

The last obstacle was The Tough One, and involved both height and balance. Climb either a rope or a ladder up about 15 feet. Walk across a grid of boards, keeping your balance. Climb a 20- or 25-foot ladder, go over the log at the top, and come down on a straight cargo net. In all honesty, I did not even consider doing this one. Had it been warm and dry, I might have attempted at least the climb and grid, but the folks in charge might have had to let me do that much and then go back down the ladder to the ground. The two sons went over the entire obstacle, and I was able to watch each the entire way unlike with younger son on The Confidence Climb. I was proud of both of them and glad I was there to watch.

Older son and I then jogged to the finish line and got our Nasty 001 patches just as the tent cover over the patch table tried to blow away in the wind. Younger son and his girlfriend walked down; she had some muscle soreness she didn't want to risk aggravating. Younger son and I had a free beer, after which I got back to the basics of getting dry and warm. At that point, I did wish that I had paid for two nights in the hotel just so we would have had a place to clean up and warm up. Hindsight being 20-20, we opted for changing clothes beside or inside our Element or Forester. I must admit that seeing the bruising that had been hidden by my pants and sleeves was a bit disconcerting. I told the husband that he has to be very, very nice to me for the next little while, because I could probably get him in a lot of trouble were I to claim he was responsible. I have never been this bruised and in so many places. It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to go away and be replaced by the more usual bruises from karate.

A few more thoughts 48 hours out. I had a blast, even with the cold, wet wait for the others to do The Wobbler. I would definitely do it again and hope I get the chance. I have confidence that the GORUCK folks will try to iron out some of the wrinkles of excessive wait times. This might require running the event for two days instead of one. It might require having obstacles set up so that more people can do them at the same time. Have four or five tunnels instead of two. Have four or five monkey bar rows rather than three. In terms of specific suggestions, I would offer to the GORUCK powers that be that there should be more than three water stations and more than one porta-potty station along the route. Older son mentioned that it might have been nice to have an up-to-date diagram of the course and a short description of the preferred method of negotiating each obstacle. On The Wobbler, for example, one was evidently supposed to climb the rope or the ladder and then go over a log into a cargo net. Instead, some people were climbing up and going into the cargo net by going through it. If it had not been so wet and cold, I think there would have been more of a party atmosphere at the finish, but by the time we got there, a lot of people had already left, and I can't say that I blame them.

There has been discussion on various Facebook threads of some people's posting that having done Nasty makes them better than others who did not do it. I don't know who those people might be, but if any are friends of mine, they won't be if I find out. Having finished Nasty in no way makes me better than anyone else. At the same time, my choosing not to do two obstacles and and to do others in what might be a nonstandard way does not make me less than someone who did all the obstacles in their intended fashion. I can, however, say in all sincerity that the Jean who jogged across the finish line was a better Jean than the one who jogged across the start line 7.5 hours earlier. I had fun and grew a bit in the process. I'm not sure it gets better than that on a rainy, cold day in the mountains of the Old Dominion.

Perhaps I'll see some of you at a future Nasty.


Anonymous said...

Excellent write-up, and excellent point of view. Cngratulations on finishing this and all the GoRucks you've done, Jean.


Debi said...

Congratulations, Jean! I've never doubted you could conquer anything and everything you've set out to do...and you've never proven me wrong. Here's hoping your next Nasty is a dryer one, and every bit as fun and fulfilling!