Thursday, January 24, 2019

GORUCK Battle of the Bulge Tough and Light AAR

Friday January 18th rolled around and my son and I were driving to the start point for GORUCK’s Battle of the Bulge memorial Tough in Columbus, Ohio. We had signed up for both the Tough and the Light months ago when the events were announced. The opportunity to do an event in the winter and commemorate such a pivotal battle in WWII seemed perfect. We had been watching the weather all week before and the forecast had fluctuated from 12-18 inches of snow, to rain/snow mix to snow early Saturday AM.  As usual in Ohio, if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes and it will change. We were prepared to stay in Columbus between the events if the weather turned bad so the trunk of the car was loaded with rucks, food and clothes.

We arrived at the starting point about 30 minutes early and then made final preparations to get ready to go. My son and I got out of the car and mingled with the other people milling around and it seemed like it was going to be a small class with only 10 people. Our cadre for these events is Cadre Brad who we have only had for a Constellation so we both were interested to see how he runs events. We all lined up and began the typical admin phase of weight, ID, cab fare and water checks. Cadre gave a brief background of his time in the US Army Special Forces and then laid some ground rules about how he likes to run events. We discussed why we were there to commemorate the Battle of the Bulge and share some history with us while we did some work. We broke down into two groups to learn everyone’s name and then mixed up teams to learn the rest. This was a new twist and was nice with a small group. We then assumed the forward leaning rest position and he randomly selected two people to come up and rattle off the names of everyone. Our two people passed with flying colors and we started some PT. Everyone on the team had a chance to lead a round of exercises and we did pushups, jumping jacks, ruck curls, ruck presses, flutter kicks, cherry pickers, lunges and more. After a good round of PT we were much warmer than we were when we were standing there!

During one of the sets of exercises, one of our team members said he was done and was ready to tap out. We as a team and the cadre all encouraged him to continue and he re-joined the group. It wasn’t too long after that we were given our team weights and coupons for the event. We had two 5 gallon water jugs, which are always a treat to move, a duffel bag of skedco portable litters and a backpack with 25lbs of sandbags. Our first team leader and assistant team leader were selected and our first objective was provided. We lined up and moved out with a time hack to make. We took the Scioto Trail, a nice wide paved path along the Scioto River, north towards downtown Columbus. We had gone maybe 200m when the wife of the team member who wanted to drop earlier, stopped and said she didn’t feel well either. Both of them talked to the cadre for a bit and made the tough decision to drop out of the event. We found out after the fact that they both had food poisoning from some fast food place they stopped at before the event. Talk about bad luck! To compound the situation, they had driven down from Wisconsin and had a long, uncomfortable drive home to face, too. Very quickly we were down to 8 people. We redistributed the coupons and assigned a new flag carrier and continued to move towards our goal.

We made our way along the river downtown and it was nice to see the city lit up. The LeVeque Tower was lit in blue, the AEP building was red and the new lights on the Broad Street bridge and the others were nice. Our goal was the North Shore Park which was close to the AEP building and we made it with just a little room with our time hack. Cadre Brad talked about the significance of the Battle of the Bulge and how many troops from the Axis and Allies were involved. The numbers were staggering when you compare it to a city or a major sporting event where if you have 100,000 it is big. 200,000 Germans is just a mind blowing number and shows how much emphasis Hitler was placing on this attack. Learning this history has always been something I’ve enjoyed and I need to make sure I make it a priority in the future. We all topped off water, got some electrolytes in us and took care of feet if needed. We also took the opportunity to get some tubular nylon that a few of us had with us fashioned into handles to help carry the awkward water jugs.

We got new leadership for the teams and given a new objective, the south end of THE Ohio State University football stadium, called the Horseshoe. Being one of the locals, I knew how we could get there without taking the roads which is usually safer so I helped navigate our way there. It was easy - take the Scioto Trail to the Olentangy Trail just past Confluence Park and you can’t miss the ‘Shoe. We were given a time hack and moved out, rotating coupons as needed. There was a small detour as the Olentangy Trail crossed the river and we missed the turn but a quick recon to scout out and verify the path was all we needed to get back on track. We made our way along the Olentangy River and we could see the tower dormitories and the stadium from quite a ways off. We pushed and made our way to the south end and formed up. Once again we made our time hack! Our small team was doing great at communicating with each other, swapping coupons and making good time on our feet. Cadre Brad then shared some more history about 84 US forces who were captured and summarily executed by the Germans on the 2nd day of the Battle. This became known as the Malmedy Massacre. He also mentioned that as word of this spread amongst the Allied troops, the demeanor changed when the troops realized that the possibility of being a POW wasn’t happening but that rather it was a life or death situation. Many historians think this caused a massive doubling down on the intensity and played a big role in turning the tide of the German assault. In honor of those 84 soldiers we did 168 four count flutter kicks. We broke them down into sets of 25 and it was a grind but keeping those 84 soldiers in mind helped keep us focused.

After this was done we topped off water and learned our next objective, Goodale Park. I helped navigate our way there as we took the trail south and turned into the city. We were on sidewalks the rest of the way there and passed through an area called Victorian Village. The houses are beautiful and many have been restored nicely. Along the way we had a few cars honk and wave at us, which is always cool to see. It was close to closing time at the bars we passed but luckily didn’t have any drunk encounters. It was slower moving through the city as you have traffic lights, street crossings and uneven sidewalks with varying levels of snow removal to contend with. We still made our time hack as we walked to the gazebo that sits next to the duck pond on the east side of the park. We discussed more aspects of the Battle of the Bulge and how Patton and his tanks raced to reinforce the troops in the Ardennes. We also touched on the details about the weather they faced in the forest and how the German U boats in the North Sea helped with early reports on the weather that would keep the Allied air support out of the fight. We talked a bit about Jimmy Doolittle and the Doolittle Raiders which didn’t have anything to do with the Battle of the Bulge but was interesting nonetheless. A few of the GRTs in our team also shared some information they had on the Battle and it was very educational. We were starting to get chilly after rucking so much and then stopping so we packed up, got new team leaders and a new objective - the Dodge Recreation Center.

I had never heard or been to this park but knew the general area and it wasn’t long and we were on our way, with a bit of a twist - a casualty. Casualty carries are always challenging and with a small group even more so as there are fewer people to help carry. We organized a plan to take turns carrying our smallest team member, who on a side note, was going to be competing in a Ninja Warrior competition later that day! We distributed the coupons and that meant no free hands or coupon-less rucking for everyone. You gotta do, what you gotta do and we moved out. We rotated the casualty and coupons while making our way south to the Broad Street bridge. We were slower now due to fatigue, the workload, and stopping to rotate but we trudged onward. As we crossed the Broad St bridge we were tailed for a while by someone begging. He was polite but not happy to hear that none of us had our wallets with us to hook him up. On the west side of the river a new Veteran’s History Museum had just opened in November. Cadre Brad let us drop our coupons and walk around it a bit “off the clock” and we started to explore before a security guard chased us off. I’m not sure how much there really is to see outside anyways and I wonder if this was the classic case of “homeless or rucking?”  I am sure we all looked pretty bedraggled and smelled bad by this time - ha!  We collected our gear and made our way to the objective. I was surprised to see the recent revitalization of the area with a new brewpub, the Columbus Idea Foundry and new apartments. We arrived at Dodge Park but had missed our time hack so we owed Cadre some PT. We learned that 4 count flutter kicks are one of his favorites and all left nice sweat angels on the pavement when we were done.

More hydration, and if you wonder what my obsession with this is, read some of my other AARs and race reports. I never want to get behind the hydration curve again. New leadership was put in place and we were given our next objective, the Topiary Garden. We didn’t have any casualties but a shorter time hack. Cadre giveth; cadre taketh away. We moved out and made our way back to Town St and crossed the river and then pushed through downtown. We were making good time and talking as we rucked our way there. A few of us have done some Spartan races and we shared stories about them and talked about the potential for the upcoming GORUCK/Savage Race Toughs (these were announced the Monday after the events!) We worked our way through the city and it was early in the AM. The streets were quiet and the city was bracing for the upcoming winter storm. I noticed the clock on the steeple of Holy Cross church was a touch after 5AM when we passed it. According to the last weather reports, the snow should be starting around now but we didn’t have any sign of it yet. We reached Topiary Garden under our time hack (yeah!) to find that it was walled off and cadre didn’t want us to hop the fence. We chit chatted for a few minutes and decided to move out.

This next stop was to be our last as we were returning to the start point. We backtracked through the city to the Scioto Trail and took it south. We continued to rotate the coupons and make good time. The miles were starting to take their toll and we had at least one person who was getting some hip pain and my feet were staring to dislike all of the pavement pounding we were doing.  We crossed back under the train bridge and Interstate freeway (70/71) and continued along the trail to the park. We took a different path into the park which was nice as it took us up an embankment and gave another nice look across downtown Columbus. Side note, the LeVeque Tower lights were shut off at some point in the night but were back on for the early morning. We approached the parking lot where we had started almost 10 hours earlier and formed up one last time. Cadre Brad had us do another round of 101 4 count flutter kicks in honor of the 101st Airborne troops. The 8 of us who didn’t have food poisoning all finished strong and as a team. Cadre patched us and we loaded our gear into the car. All told it was a touch under 16 miles of rucking per my Garmin which was buried in my bag. The weather hadn’t turned on us so we decided to go home get some food and rest and come back for the Light.

During the break between the events we went home, got cleaned up, ate and hit the hay for some sleep. I got almost 3 hours in before the alarm went off and I got up, geared up and rolled out with my son to head back to the same start point. Many thanks to my wife for supporting this “hobby!” The bad weather had hit while we were home but it was mostly frozen rain which turned to rain the closer we got to the city. By the time we arrived at the start point it was a steady drizzle and 34F.

You could tell this was going to be a bigger event by the number of cars there. Cadre rolled though the parking lot and had us move to a different location so we could do some of the admin phase under cover of a picnic shelter. We moved our car and milled around with the other participants. I knew a few of them from the Tough (only 4 of us did both events) and a couple of others from SORE (Southern Ohio Rucking and Endurance) who I’ve done events with as well. It’s nice to have some familiar faces in the mix. Cadre Brad had us form up and we did the admin phase for the Light. We followed a similar process and rotated people in and out to lead some PT and get the blood flowing. Jumping jacks, pushups, ruck presses, cherry pickers and more were the order of the day. Now that we were warmed up, we picked some new team leaders and were given our first objective, North Shore Park.

I helped navigate back up the Scioto Trail and talked with the people around us. We had a few first timers for a GORUCK event and plenty of well seasoned ones, too. The look of the city was different in the gray and sometimes misty drizzle. We made our way long the river, which had swollen since we saw it earlier in the day during the Tough. We all took turns rotating the coupons around which were the same ones we had during the Tough. It was nice to have some fresh people help carry the load. I got to talk networking nerdiness with another GRT who does some of the same type of work I do. We made it to the destination and made our time hack as well. Cadre had us form up and we discussed the Battle of the Bulge, covering many of the same points we talked about earlier. It was a good reminder to a brain with a few hours of sleep as to why we were trudging through the cold rain. After a brief break to hydrate and make adjustments, we were given our next point - back to Topiary Garden!  We also had two casualties to contend with.

We made our way down to Broad Street and then headed east. Our team did a great job of rotating the casualties and coupons around. Now that it was daylight we had a few people ask us what we were doing and had plenty of stares from cars and pedestrians. We were slow moving but making good time. I helped navigate and since I knew exactly where we were going I was able to get us there as quickly as possible. The Topiary Garden is behind the Columbus Metropolitan Library so we knew we were close when we saw the building. We walked along the sidewalk to the rear of the library, entered the garden and formed up. While we waited for the cadre to catch up (he had stopped for a restroom break and asked us to reach the objective) a local came up and was asking what we were doing. He apparently wasn’t a fan of the American flag we were carrying as he considers himself a “rebel” and doesn’t like the government. He then told us he was a Flat Earther which led to some funny back and forth with one of our GRTs who had served in the Navy on an aircraft carrier. Lucky for us, the carrier never fell off the end of the Earth! He eventually wandered back to the cover of the building from the rain and we all took advantage of the opportunity to use the public restrooms. Cadre Brad joined us and we did 84 pushups in honor of the 84 soldiers killed on the 2nd day the Battle.

After we did our pushups, we got new team leaders and were given our next objective which was back to the starting point. I again helped navigate back and we continued our coupon rotation. After doing the pushups at the Library we were pretty wet and the temperature was dropping so keeping moving was important. We reached the Scioto Trail and turned south to return to the start point. I noticed the wind had picked up and we knew the weather was turning so we tried to keep a good pace. I enjoyed some good conversations with the people around me and liked hearing their experiences around hiking the Inca Trail, other trail races and events. We arrived at the start point and wrapped up with some more information on the Battle of the Bulge and then we were patched out. Cadre Brad took a team photo and suggested we all hit the road and to be careful as the rain was turning to frozen rain.

My son and I got to the car and dropped off our wet rucks and coats in the trunk and sat in the car for a bit to warm up. My hands had lost much of their dexterity with the cold and wet and I didn’t want to drive like that. My son was shivering and had early stages of hypothermia so EndEx of the event was very timely. We had covered 6.3 miles during the 4 hours of the Light and the movement had helped keep us warm but stopping had really cooled us off quickly. After we warmed up a bit we headed home and the weather was getting progressively worse as we headed north. Overall this was a great pair of events and I learned quite a bit about the Battle of the Bulge than I knew when we started. We had endured 22 miles of cold weather rucking and PT over the last 14 or so hours of activity. Cadre Brad did a great job sharing information, keeping us moving and making us earn our patches. I wouldn’t hesitate to do another event with him in the future.

Gear List:

  • GORUCK Java GR-1
  • 3 x 1L Nalgene Bottles for the Tough - 1 x 1L for the Light
  • 30lb GORUCK Expert Plate for Tough and 20lb GORUCK Plate for Light
  • Rocky RKC050 Military and Tactical Boot
  • DryMax Knee High Hiking Socks
  • Woolx Merino Wool base pants and top for Tough
  • UnderArmour Infrared base pants and top for Light
  • Grunt Style Performance Long Sleeve T-Shirt
  • Russell Athletic Dri-Power Performance Crewneck Shirt
  • Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants
  • Marmot PreCip Jacket - worn during Light only
  • GORUCK Beanie
  • Mechanix Covert Tactical Gloves
  • Vitchelo V800 Headlamp

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