Last night, a few of the Marines decided it would be smart to go out for a couple drinks before the 209 mile Rucking For Raiders hike kicked off this morning. Being a Marine myself, I thought it would be rude to say no. We’d all go back to our hotels by midnight.
Fast forward to today, ‘Ruck Day 1′, pre-hike, 2:45AM at Auburn, Alabama’s Sky Bar. There’s a man sitting in the corner wearing a sparky robe alternating between a Motorola Flip Phone & a new iPhone while rolling his own cigarettes with fancy sunglasses on. There’s 3 of us Marines still out, and we are intrigued.
2:55AM: The gent invites us over for freshly rolled ciggs & proceeds to tell us he is 1) Hunter S. Thompson’s grandson, 2) a millionaire who was just in Time Magazine’s marijuana issue and 3) heading to Waffle House and would we like to join?
3:00AM: We walk outside and he wants to show us his 1993 Jeep on the way to Waffle town. In the back? A hot-pink dildo that he unscrews revealing hidden pill bottles. Strewn about are several sharp weapons he claims to have forged himself, including the hatchet in the holster on his pants.
3:02AM: Don’t mind me, just swinging a stranger’s homemade machete around in the middle of Wright St., cackling because I’m not sure if this is real life anymore.
3:10AM: Waffle House. I’m sitting next to a grad student from Texas named Tiny, and another Marine buddy, and am in possession of a cowboy hat & pink ukulele snagged from marijuana guy’s Jeep.
Marijuana guy has found a table of hotties & is too busy to notice. Living in the moment with zero regard for the day ahead, I order my extra crispy hashbrowns to be smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, topped and country style.
7:38AM: One of the Marines from the night before calls, startling me out a deep sleep in my dark hotel room.
“You’re up, right? We’re heading over now & it kicks off soon.”
“Yep, yep! Of course. See you in a minute.”
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
Ordering a Lyft, I scramble to prepare for the day. My head is pounding & I need some good juju, so I throw on my Zero Blog Thirty shirt & the rest of my hiking gear. Zipping into the hotel cafe, I chug 3 full cups of watered-down apple juice, dry heave at the hashbrowns next to a tub of gray gravy, & I’m out the door.
8:30AM: I arrive just in time and it’s a pretty cool sight. The local fire department is there with a huge flag hanging from their truck, and locals, friends and family are waiting to send the hikers off. There are local news networks covering the event, and people pausing by rows of boots with photos of the fallen Marines they represent.
The organizer of the event, SSgt. Daniel Campbell, gives a moving, heartfelt speech about the ruck, why we’re doing this & the spirit of the day. The excitement I feel trumps any hangover and suddenly I feel like a million bucks. All these people together for Rucking For Raiders, raising funds for Gold Star families and letting them know they aren’t forgotten.. and as a bonus, getting to spend the next few days with great Marines, fellow vets and jazzed ROTC students. When we stepped off I could have skipped down the street.
After the first 3 miles, the entire group stops and breaks into 3 groups. I’m in group one, so we go on ahead another 7 miles. Throughout the day we rotate, doing 7 mile chunks, and about mid-day, a blast from the past came back to haunt me. A blast that was smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, topped and country style.
First we were going by a gas station, and I thought I was out of the woods. But then round 2 came with a vengeance far from civilization. Decisions had to be made behind an abandoned building in an open field with dozens of people nearby.
Unfortunately a few other people were in worse shape than me, but with blisters. One Marine looked like he had two small, silicone implants glued to the bottom of his feet, and a few people had blood seeping through their socks.
As I write this, we’re getting ready to head off into the night for another 7 miles, thankfully, with no more hashbrown left in my system. Everyone I’ve met has been interesting, and there is non-stop conversation and laughter. It’s awesome to have that sense of camaraderie again. Over the next couple of days I’ll be focusing more on their stories, and the stories of the fallen as we get closer to the memorial in Navarre, Florida. Alright, flipping on my headlight and logging off. Wish us luck!