Thursday, December 20, 2018

GORUCK Land Navigation Heavy - East AAR

In June my son and I completed our first GORUCK Heavy event, the Land Nav on the west coast in Southern California. You can read the AAR here. It wasn’t but a few weeks later that the coordinator of the event started to plan a similar event for the east coast and the location was identified as Pisgah National Forest outside of Asheville, NC. We jumped at the chance to do a similar event, closer to home and in weather we’re comfortable with. After my challenges with the west coast event, we both signed up for the Cleveland Area Rucking Crew’s Heavy Drop Training and completed 3 rounds before this event. In addition, we did multiple other events and continued to train and improve. I had a goal to fare much better in Asheville than I did in CA where I was consistently the slowest team member and….well, read the original AAR and let’s not rehash the past. That said, this is the AAR for the East event.

TL;DR – Completed the event which was 25.5. hours, over 40 miles per the cadre and did better than I did out west. It wasn’t easy at all and was very much a Heavy but I earned my patch.  This is a long AAR and probably isn’t in the normal AAR format, but I like to go back and read them and relive and remember my events. The more detail, the better IMHO.

My son and I drove down Friday after he got off work and for the majority of the drive it was raining. The weather was going to be a big variable as we had been watching it all week and it changed from 24 hours of rain to rain here and there to anything in between including possible snow. Asheville had recently been hit with a major winter storm the week before and had 12” over the weekend. We wondered how that would play out during the Heavy as our start point had changed a few days before we left and even changed while we were driving once the cadre arrived on-site and scouted out the location. The previous start points and areas of operation were deemed unsafe. GORUCK truly lives up to “Safety First” as a priority. We arrived at the hotel, got our gear ready for the event, filled up our water bladders and Nalgenes and hit the hay.

We woke up, got ready and hit the IHOP across the street from the hotel and made our way to the start point, Beaver Creek River Park. There were a few other people there and we all milled around and made small talk while we waited. We knew were in store for a real treat as our Cadre were Shredder and DS who we’ve done multiple events with and a new (for us) Cadre, Wild Will. All we knew about Will was that he was a Force Recon Marine and if Shredder and DS were cool with Will joining the party, so were we. Once we saw the cadre roll in, we lined up and got ready for things to get very real.

The Cadre started with the usual admin phase tasks like introductions, roll call and a quick gear check. Unlike other Heavy events, we didn’t have a 30lb weight requirement, but instead needed to carry 9L of water. We were not going to be in an urban setting where we could easily source water and needed to make sure we all had plenty. We also were not going to carry a large flag, but instead individual flags so those were distributed to everyone. The Cadre gave us a short briefing confirming that first and foremost, this was a Heavy and would have the appropriate work load. Secondarily we’d be focusing on Land Navigation skills starting from basic map and compass and advancing from there. As it was a Heavy, we needed to do a PT test. My heart rate jumped as I dropped from the Extortion 17 Heavy in Columbus during the PT test (12 miler specifically) due to IT band issues. Since then I had been diligent on training my hip flexors, quads, glutes and hamstrings to avoid the IT band issues from cropping up again. I’d completed a 17 mile trail race a few week before as a “final test” and while slow, no IT band issues. Here we were 5 minutes into the event and I was already doubting my ability. We started with pushups and while I didn’t meet the standard, I did more than I had done at Extortion 17. My partner crushed the standard by A LOT and I think everyone but one other person at least met the standard. Ha. This was going to be a long event but I was bound and determined to finish.

Our next task was not from the standard PT test but to find our pace count for 100m. I knew what mine was but it was a good exercise to make sure it was accurate. We also found our pace count while shuffling/running which is different from normal walking. With these stats in mind, the cadre gave us an azimuth to follow and for the ones who didn’t know what an azimuth was, they just needed to follow the group. We grabbed our rucks and rolled out. When we arrived at what we thought was the point, we were told to keep going to what ended up being the entrance to the North Carolina Arboretum. We lined up and Cadre asked us what the distance from the start point to where we were. Sadly it seems we all focused on moving together and nobody knew the pace count. Cadre Shredder had us get into the forward leaning rest (think pushup position – no resting – LOL) while he discussed the importance of listening to instructions and how they could find all kinds of nasty things for us to do if we didn’t want to follow orders. As we recovered to standing up, Cadre asked us about our team gear which is a 5 gallon water jug and a portable litter/stretcher. We all looked around and realized nobody grabbed them in our haste to get to the gate. We were given a time hack to run back, get them and return as a team. Off we went and we stayed together, more or less, to the start point, grabbed the items and hot-footed it back to the gate. I was one of the last ones there but we made the hack. We were reminded of the importance of attention to detail before we were given a new direction to go.
We collected everything and moved out to meet up with the Cadre down the road a bit where we were given paper maps of the trails in the Arboretum. After some instruction on using multiple sources of information we were told which trails to take and moved out. The ground was muddy and snow was still around at this time but luckily my boots have good traction. We made our way to a nice cement patio for some more map instruction. It started raining but nothing too hard, just enough for everyone to break out rain gear and make sure their rucks were closed. I’ve read maps for years and was even a Ranger at Philmont Scout Ranch for a summer (long ago and many pounds lighter!) and taught orienteering many times to other Scouts and adult advisors. That said, every time I hear any of the GORUCK cadre talk abut maps, I listen and learn a lot. They are top-notch and orienteering is a perishable skill which I don’t use in my day job as a networking geek.  All three cadre took turns covering orienting a map, reading the Military Grid Reference System (MGRS) and taking a basic azimuth or bearing. It was good stuff and many of the participants had not worked with any of these topics or it had been long ago. The cadre were thorough and made sure we all had it as the entire event relied on these foundation skills.

After this instruction we broke into 3 teams to put it to use and were given coordinates to navigate to, investigate and return.  Our team plotted our azimuth and calculated distance and moved out on a bushwhack. I was a pacer and it takes some time and focus to get into the groove of counting your pace. Ranger beads help and I used the set I had. We found our point and returned to report to the cadre. While talking with the other participants we found that one of the guys is an EMT, volunteer Search and Rescue team member and is also an Eagle Scout. That made three of us that are Eagles including my son, the EMT and me. *Update* There were 6 Eagles in this event - how is that for amazing?! We all talked for a bit and then were given new coordinates and starting making our way to the first point. We were told roads were being patrolled by the enemy and we needed to avoid being seen. We made our way in the right direction and bushwhacked a bit before finding a path that paralleled the road we needed to follow. This was where I realized one of our team members had boots that I later found out were cheap Wal Mart boots and provided very little traction. He was slipping and sliding – it was hard to watch as there wasn’t much we could do to help. He kept slogging along and took some advice from others on how to pigeon walk to help with traction. We reached a point where we needed to change direction and as what usually happens in large groups, reaching consensus was difficult. Cadre Will was with our team and reminded us that as some point, you have to make a decision and move so we did. We bushwhacked our way to an open area and again struggled to find direction. We eventually sent out a scouting party who found a plaque with a park trail map and we used it in conjunction with the paper map and compass to move onward. At the next intersection there was more consternation on where to go and ultimately we chose to follow the compass until we reached a point where we needed to bushwhack our way to the rendezvous point where the other teams were already assembled. We discussed what worked well and what didn’t. As we were the last team, the coupons became ours to carry.

Cadre continued to provide instruction and we were informed we needed to reach a new coordinate as a group with a pretty tight time hack. We again were reminded to not use the roads and bushwhacked our way across a few streams and some interesting terrain. Moving a group of 29 quickly though the woods isn’t as easy as it sounds and we eventually made the nav point but missed the time hack. With no rest we were told to follow Cadre DS and Will and not fall behind. We moved out and started up a trail that had all kinds of conditions from muddy, to obstructed with fallen tree branches and rocky in spots. We pushed on and kept moving and as usually happens, faster people in the front got strung out from the slower people in the back. We were not staying together as a team which if you’ve done a GORUCK event, is never good. Cadre Shredder had us all stop and assume the front leaning rest position while he discussed the importance of staying together and communicating with each other. We moved out again with the goal of staying together but it wasn't long before we spread out and Shredder had us back in a front leaning rest. We then did some pushups to help reinforce the message and resumed the ruck up the mountain. The trail got steeper and we didn’t slow down. The team member with the bad boots was really struggling with traction and fell more times but showed a lot of heart by getting up and moving forward. I was sucking wind but moving forward as well but desperately needed to stop for a drink of water/electrolytes but didn’t and continued the forward slog. After while we crested the top of the trail and found ourselves at Sleepy Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We took our rucks off, drank and ate some calories and enjoyed the beautiful view from the top. I drank 1L of water and electrolytes, ate some almonds and a Bobo Bar. I prepared the next Nalgene of water and caught my breath a bit. Some people tended to their feet but mine felt pretty good considering it was now approaching dusk and we had moved a bit over 9 miles through wet and challenging conditions.  After a brief rest Cadre DS had us line up and take off our gloves and leave them next to the Sleepy Gap sign. We then were informed that we were going to begin our 12 mile ruck, which is a part of most Heavy events. We had a 3 hour time hack and moved out as a mob. As we were moving out that I learned one of our teammates rolling his ankle and was going to drop from the event. Initially he was going to wait for a ride but Cadre told us that the road was closed and he needed to make his way down to get to where a car could reach him. He gritted it out and did his best getting down. We all stayed together as a group and I knew we were not moving as quickly as we could but if you are injured, there is only so fast you can go. We reached the turnaround point and were told we were 1h20m into the march and missing the time hack by quite a bit as we had only covered 4 miles on the way down. We also were told that the march was not a team activity but rather an individual one.

This news allowed those who were slowed by moving with the group to really put the speed on as they began their trek back up to get their gloves and return (4 down, 4 up and 4 down again = 12). I'll never be one of the fast ones and it wasn't long before I was walking by myself in the dark. I was making time as best I could and at the same time, trying not to stress about it. I was totally enjoying the views out over the valley and seeing the lights and even Christmas decorations. The moon was coming out and provided plenty of light so I didn't need my headlamp. It took quite a while before I saw the fastest people coming down. I'll be honest, I wasn't as far behind as I feared as the tunnel we needed to go through was a few hundred meters away.  Many of my team mates gave me encouragement and I trucked onward and upward. I made it back to the sign, 8 miles in and 4 to go.

There were two other guys up there and we were all refilling water, getting electrolytes, collecting our gloves and prepping for the return trip down. We rolled out together and for the most part kept pace with each other. It was nice to have someone to talk with, though I enjoyed the solitude earlier as well. Sadly, one of them was planning on dropping when he reached the bottom. He didn't feel he was prepared for this event and didn't want to continue. I can relate, having been there, done that. He was pretty convicted and didn't seem open to changing his mind. Pounding the pavement for maybe 10 miles now and my body was aching and the dark thoughts started to creep in. I thought about my "Why" (why I was there and even doing this) and brushed the thoughts aside. The terrain as beautiful, the weather wasn't bad and I love being outside and getting to do an event like this with my son is priceless.  Screw quitting. We made it to the bottom in 3h40m so quite a bit off of the standard. There were still at least 3 people behind me that needed to finish, plus my son who had volunteered to go back up after he finished (under the 3h hack, BTW) and offer assistance. So I wasn't last - that's an improvement over my usual - hahaha. it was time to top off the water, re-hydrate, re-fuel a bit and Cadre had brought pizza for everyone. That was unexpected and very nice. The remaining team members finished and we lost another one, the EMT. So now we are a team of 26 having lost 3. There is nothing easy about a Heavy and this one was living up to the Heavy name.

After a short break(longer for the earlier finishers) we lined up and were given our next mission and nav points. We broke down into 3 teams and were to go searching for beacons that had been placed by the cadre. We calculated the azimuth, distance and best path on the map and moved out. Our team made our way to the nav point where we were going to enter the woods and then bushwhacked our way in. The plan was to go 100m into the woods then turn towards the river, find the path the beacon had been hidden along and locate it. If our coordinates were off, we were going to use a box pattern to expand our search area until found. We fought though the underbrush which was vines and thorny vines that liked to grab your feet and make you move slow. We searched for the path and never found it. We moved back to the point we entered the woods, double checked our plans, made some new plans to search a bit further and re-entered the woods. We struck out again and Cadre Shredder came to us and helped us find the path. Once we found it, the beacon was found and we moved back up to the road. I had a good talk with Shredder about this event compared to the West coast one. Terrain and vegetation make all the difference!

Once we joined the rest of the larger group we lined back up and did a quick review of what did and didn't work. We then were given our next mission and some more coupons to carry. A Top Secret Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) had crashed and the enemy was closing in on it. We were a Quick Response Force (QRF) tasked with securing the UAV and retrieving its contents. We were provided coordinates and broke into 3 teams.  Team 1 was Nav team while teams 2 and 3 carried the coupons. I was one of the pacers for the Nav team along with two other guys. We moved out down a single track trail and our Navigators kept us heading the right direction. The terrain was challenging between roots, rocks, mud, snow, ice and the usual suspects.  We had abut 2200m to cover and were making decent time. Along the route we rucked past an underpass for the road we were more or less paralleling.  Cadre Shredder called us all back and we collected under the road and sang "God Bless America" - loudly.  It was awesome and lots of smiles were shared.

We moved back out to the trail and made our way to to the point but there was no sign of the UAV. We got to practice our searching and recon skills and it wasn't too long before we found it. We secured the area and while we were given new coordinates to move out to, the rest of us needed to form a security circle. There must have been some confusion about what laying on the ground and facing out meant. This resulted in more corrective action from the Cadre. Listening is an important skill and there is a price to pay for not doing it. After some more quality time doing forward leaning rests, squats and smurf jacks (look it up - it sucks plenty) we were ready to listen. Due to our delay and confusion our exfil point was blown and we needed to carry the UAV back to our starting point for this evolution. The UAV was two kettelbells tied together and was bulky and clumsy to carry. We made our way back and completed the mission. 

We had a few moments to refill water, grab some calories and enjoy the stars. We could really see Orion's belt in the clear sky - it was amazing!

Cadre had us line up and pull out the long climbing ropes we had been carrying and we learned how to tie the Alpine Butterfly.  Cadre polled us while we were making the knots as to what we thought we were going to do with this rope. Some of the responses were entertaining but none were quite right.  Cadre Shredder led us in a round of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" which sounded great, I am sure.  That should have been a hint, but really, just when you think you know what’s going on, Cadre proves you don’t. We then were told that we were going to be reindeer and pull Santa’s sleigh, which was the cargo van being used for logistics. We were to pull it from where we were, back across a bridge and up the hill to the end point for the 12 miler. Easy enough, right? While we’re pulling we would be rotating in and out of the van and given 90 seconds to find a coordinate on the map. We started off and got the van rolling pretty easily courtesy of our knots and 26 reindeer and started rotating people in and out. We had finished only a few people by the time we reached the destination, so we unhooked the rope and it was driven back down the hill. We followed and hooked back up and the cycle began again. The Cadre were really having fun with this and started to turn the van into the party bus by strobing the lights, cranking rap and metal and in general messing with you during your time in the van. It was a lot of fun and we did 5 trips up and down the hill. I missed my first plot due to crappy eyesight so wondered what the penalty for that would be. It didn’t take long to learn that those of us who failed owed 20 burpees. Crap. Then the Cadre had a “Deal” – double or nothing. We could enter the party bus and plot a new coordinate in 45 seconds or owe 20 more burpees. Not too many people like burpees so the six or seven of us who missed it the first time signed up for the deal.  One of my teammates let me borrow his reading glasses and I entered the van, was given my coordinates to plot. Once the timer started, the gangsta rap started and the lights were flashing but I did it. Much easier to plot when you can see those small lines. You never know how your team will help you, but they always do.

Not everyone was successful with their 2nd attempt but Cadre didn’t have them pay their penalty now. We untied our knots, coiled the rope and prepared to move out. We were provided a new coordinate, plotted it out and moved out with purpose. We were headed back towards the Arboretum and when we got to the trail head the rope was broken out again and we were instructed to use our carabiners to clip on and follow Cadre DS and Wild Will. We clipped into the rope and began to make our way down a single track trail and negotiate the fallen trees, rocks, etc. Being connected to each other via rope really forces you to work on your communication. We were really coming together as a team and calling out rocks, logs, etc. that were in our way as we focused on moving quickly. We had a pretty good climb up some switchbacked single-track trail and while we’re making our way up, daylight is breaking. We had survived what I had been calling, in my mind, “The Long Dark” – what can I say, I am a Tolkien fan. 

We were able to move a little faster now that we could see and pushed onward and upward. We stopped a few times as we approached the crest to check our coordinates and make sure we were on course. The Cadre had already told us that they’d be more than happy to let us go the wrong way so we didn’t want to just blindly follow the trail. We eventually caught up with the Cadre and the view was astounding. We were on the East side of the mountain and could see the sun cresting the mountains across the way. There were some low hanging clouds and fog that just really made it a sight to see. Cadre had us line up and we took a team photo and then my son and two other teammates started to secure the ropes for a Ranger rappel down to the side of the mountain. This event just kept getting more and more awesome!

It was the first time to rappel for some of us so the proper technique to use was demonstrated then we all made our way down. It was a lot of fun and required no special gear. I really appreciate the Cadre giving my son a chance to lead and practice skills he has. How many teens are comfortable leading 25 other adults in a task like this? Anyways – proud dad moment over for now. As we reached the road at the bottom of the mountain we found Cadre Shredder and Wild Will leading the team in finding some lazy logs that we needed to carry down with us. They were coined the names “Uber” and “Lyft” and we started making our way down  with them. We took turns rotating in and out and everyone had a chance to be under the log. As we worked our way down the Cadre offered another deal. We of course took it and it was a simple one – ditch “Uber” and “Lyft” and carry a new log they found. We tossed the two logs down the hill and started the work of getting this new monster log out. It was maybe 15 feet long and 18” at the narrow end and the kicker – pretty green. It was a beast!  We worked to free it from the side of the road and get in rolled into a position for us to pick up. We tried 3 times before it was determined that it wasn’t going to be a log we could work with.  We rolled it back into the ditch and lined up.

We were then told to grab the ruck of the person in front of us and start to run down the hill. We took off and running like this is quite a challenge as you have to stay close and not trip over each other. We were making some progress and then two people got tangled up and fell.  Luckily no serious injuries happened and we resumed. My left quad was starting to really hurt and I trucked on as best I could but eventually had to let go and step to the side with a sharp pain. It’s now 4 days later and it still hurts when I stand or sit down. It’s not bad when I walk and is getting better but I think I pulled my quad. During this time someone’s flag fell off their ruck. This is a major faux pas and Cadre Wild Will had us bear crawl back up the road to the fallen flag and back before we could pick it up. While this was happening I was on the ground trying to work the knot in my quad out. Cadre DS helped by stepping on my quad and while it sounds weird, it hurt like hell, but also felt good too. We worked on my leg for a few minutes and I rejoined the team who was now doing burpees. My quad wouldn’t tolerate burpees so I asked what PT punishment I should do and did ruck raises. We paid our penalties, lined up and moved out.

I was now the gimpiest one on the team and was the pace setter – a dubious place to be. I had multiple offers to take my ruck but declined. We were close to the end and I was going to finish as strong as I could WITH my ruck. I really appreciated the offers but wasn’t going to finish on a low point like that. We made our way back to where we could see our cars and we knew we were so very close. Cadre had someone in the team lead us in a call of “GORUCK” and “Good Living” which we yelled while we rucked back into the starting point. It was really cool and those of you on the Tough page can see the video someone posted. We reached the starting point and lined up. The Cadre all shared some thoughts on the event, what we had accomplished and congratulated us. One of the guys had just completed his first ever GORUCK event and we also had a 16 year old son and his mother finish. It was great to see! Cadre Shredder has a specific patch that can be earned by completing a certain number of events with him. It’s rare air for people to meet the requirements for the Cadre patch and he had shared with me earlier in the night that my son had met the requirements. I was beaming with pride as he called my son and another team mate up to earn their Shredder patch.  My son is the youngest holder of a Shredder patch! We were all patched with the event patch and finished what we had started 25.5 hours and 40+ miles earlier. Cadre DS’s wife had brought doughnuts and coffee and we all enjoyed some well deserved sugar and caffeine. 

We took some pictures, said good byes to new friends and hopped in the car to hit the hotel. We looked and smelled rough and my car will never be the same – LOL. We got to the hotel and the breakfast buffet was winding down but was still out so we grabbed plates of food and headed to the room. There is a running joke in the GRT community about “Homeless or just rucking?” and while we were waiting for the elevator, two young ladies approached, looked at us and one suggested they take the stairs. Ha!  They didn’t want to share the elevator with us, which was understandable and provided a good laugh for us. We got cleaned up and snoozed for a few hours dreaming of cramps, mud, cold and fun.

Looking back on the event, it was hands down the best event I’ve ever participated in. The effort the Cadre put into the planning was apparent. There was discussion of a North and South Land Nav events and if those come to fruition, I’m totally down for them. They are worth every penny and you earn your patch, no doubt. I would love to see GORUCK do more of these but if they don’t I am happy to track down these custom events and give them my all. There is a lot of coordination and planning involved and an unfortunate twist of events with a job change meant that that man who helped spearhead this event, didn’t get to make it. We were certainly thinking of you, buddy and carried you with us as we enjoyed the sufferfest you helped make possible.

I am also happy overall with my performance during the event. I contributed and was an asset to the team, didn’t “Grey Man” and didn’t stop putting out the best I could. I went into my head a bit during the 12 miler but kicked those negative thoughts in the Jimmy and pushed on. I was wearing my Operation Enduring Warrior patch on my ruck which says Unbreakable. I couldn’t quit and wasn’t going to. I had knee surgery earlier this year and that didn’t cause issues this event and my IT band didn’t flare up. The only time I was the weakest link was at the end with my quad issue. I was probably close to being the weakest during some of the ruck climbs, but I wasn’t and that’s probably due to training. I have done a few rounds of the Cleveland Area Rucking Crew’s Heavy Drop Training and it is no joke and put you to the test. I recommend it. I’ve also been doing some trail running and rucking. I’m far from where I want to be physically but man, I tell you, I’m further from where I was last year which was in a pretty bad place. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that.
If you’ve actually read all of this, thank you. I had someone mention during the event they had read my West coast Land Nav AAR, so it is possible to read it all.  I hope you find it helpful, maybe even entertaining as you picture us pulling a van or getting lost in the woods.

Until next time!

Gear List:
  • GORUCK Desert Digital GR-2
  • Condor Battle Belt II Padded Hip Belt
  • 511 Tactical Coyote TDU 1.5” Belt
  • MSR Dromedary 6L Bladder
  • Nalgene 1 quart bottles (x3)
  • Rocky RKC050 Military and Tactical Boot
  • DryMax Knee High Hiking Socks
  • Woolx Merino Wool base uppers and lowers
  • Grunt Style Performance Long Sleeve T-Shirt
  • Russell Athletic Dri-Power Performance Crewneck Shirt
  • Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants
  • Marmot PreCip Jacket
  • GORUCK Beanie
  • Mechanix Covert Tactical Gloves
  • Outdoor Research Gators
  • Vichelo V800 Headlamp
  • Silva Explorer Compass
  • protractor
  • NUUN Electrolytes (I used 8 tables in 4 quarts of water over the event)
  • Stinger Honey Waffles (x2)
  • CLIF BLOK Orange Energy Blocks (x2 – the caffeine helped)


  1. Excellent AAR Ron! A Land Nav is now on my radar.

  2. See ya in the North .. keep training and kill that HDT cycle!

  3. Ron, great AAR! Question -- how did you attach the Condor Battle Belt II Padded Hip Belt attached to the GR2? Do you have any pictures of your setup?