Last week I did a leg of the Ruck Across America (RAA), the grassroots fundraiser organized by alumni of the GoRuck Challenge. The pack started it’s journey on June 22 in Coronado, went north to Seattle, traveled across the country to Maine, then all the way down the east coast until it finally reached South Florida. By the time it reached me it was very stinky and filled with various knick knacks from around the country. There was a beanie baby reindeer and a bottle of Fireball. Despite the stink, it was a pleasure to carry.
What I liked about the RAA was the chance to spend a day hiking a section of the coast I had never visited. The most I’ve ever hiked in a single day is 20 miles, if you don’t count the GoRuck Challenge as a hike, which you shouldn’t. My crew opted to walk at a brisk pace, about 17′ miles. Leisurely compared to the GRC, but still aggressive enough that it was tiring. I thought the RAA backpack weighed about 20 pounds, but I wasn’t sure. It felt light but it burdens you just enough to wear you out, especially by the end.
Our leg took us from Hobe Sound to West Palm Beach. At the beginning there is a nine mile stretch of nothingness along US1 as it skirts Jonathan Dickinson State Park. It’s just a road with no sidewalk. We walked in the grass with trucks blasting by and picked stickers out of our shoelaces. It was dusty and not scenic but the conversation was good and we got honked at a lot. I told stories about Kokoro 25 to Mike Shelly and he shared his experiences from having done five Challenges. We talked of family and travel and living abroad. The conversation was enviable and the miles melted away.
The reward for that brambly stretch was a stopover for beverages at Judy’s Highway Cafe, a gem of a dive bar. We passed around a boot of Guinness between the four of us and it was the finest tasting Guinness I’ve ever had. I don’t know if it was the heat from the miles or because it was lunch time, but the beer tasted like nectar.
We did a round of Underberg, German bitters infused with ginseng, that all of us except for Brenna thought were goddawful. The proprietor shooed us out of the bar and went home because the cafe didn’t officially open until 3:00. We hit the road for a few more miles and stopped at Guanabanas, a great outdoor restaurant on the water, for burgers and suds. It was an absolutely fine journey thus far. Mike tried on a jumpsuit from the Martin County Fire Department that fit him perfectly.
The next leg was a long stretch down 1A along Juno Beach, which as far as hiking in Florida goes, is not a terrible way to spend the afternoon. There was an easterly breeze and the ocean was just to our left, stirred up with uninviting whitecaps, and you could smell the salt and the water. This was my favorite stretch. It’s never bad to have a good ocean a few dozen meters away. We cut west on PGA Boulevard until we reached Downtown at the Gardens, a posh outdoor mall. Total distance on that leg was about 10 miles.
At the mall we were greeted by Jeff Berman, the owner of the complex, and a few other officials. Mr. Berman had donated $500 to the Green Beret Foundation via Mike Shelly. We took pictures and shook hands and were glad for the break and greatly appreciated the donation. We had another refreshment at Dirty Martini and strategized the rest of the route. Since we were seated outside, I tried some stretching and yoga for recovery.
At this point we had 21 miles in the bag with 8 miles until the finish. My lower body was tightening up pretty good and both feet were blistered. I’ll talk more about the affect of a long distance hike, but suffice it to say it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
Mike Shelly and I completed the final stretch, which was mostly through the rough neighborhoods of Rivieria Beach and West Palm after dark…not the most pleasant of hikes. When we finally reached the hotel around 11:00 I was glad for being finished. We ate pizza, drank beer, and told stories. It was about as fine a day as you could ask for.
It’s special thing to take a day and hike a long distance, even if it’s in urban areas of South Florida. I was looking forward to my Ruck Across America leg for months because it was the opposite of my daily routine of being plugged in and rushing from place to place. The RAA is slow time and good conversation for hours on end. There are moments of deep shared experience and laughter and honesty and some hardship with all the hiking. We got cranky and I thought it wouldn’t be a proper experience if we didn’t, so we could feel relieved and happy when it ended.
It makes me think that GoRuck is amplifying a movement of hiking and rucking…I see more and more GoRuck Alumni getting together for ruckoffs. Getting humans to go out and walk 20+ miles is a pure experience, almost sacred, and I think it may be the best benefit of GoRuck the company…more so than the gear or even the Challenge. There are a lot worse things I can think of than having a nation full of hikers and ruckers.
Mike Shelly raised $2500 and we had a number of items donated for our leg, which we’ll auction off at the end. I feel proud to have been part of such a worthy cause. I was glad to be part of something much larger than myself and able to fulfill my role for a cause I feel passionately about. I hope the RAA becomes an annual event.
We flew an American flag the entire journey and got honked at dozens of time, which was excellent. One guy on a bicycle stopped and donated $40 cash on the spot.
I was wrecked from the hike and had to limp the last 4-5 miles. It felt almost like I ran a marathon. I don’t recommend a 30 mile hike unless you’re trained up for it. Walking takes a toll on your body!
Big thanks to fellow Firebasers John and Brenna, your company was very welcome. Huge props to Mike Shelly for being such a beastly rucker. I thoroughly enjoyed our hours of conversation and sharing my experience from Kokoro 25.
Good luck with Selection 002, I know you’ll kill it.
The pack continues to journey, past Key West and back up the west coast.