Monthly Archives: November 2011

Five Against the Mountain


“10 Years of Packing Light”

Uri Fridman of Pack Light. Go Fast. reflects on 10 years of packing light.

In the beginning it was hard. I was still in the “what if…” mindset. I would pack extra shirts or bring every toiletry I owned; and while experience plays a huge role in learning to pack light, the mindset is also very important: you have to tell yourself that you’ll be fine if you don’t bring that extra pair of shoes or that extra hat just in case it is cold.

I started experimenting with washing things at hotels, with bringing clothes that can be worn during business meetings and that would also be comfortable enough to wear after that. I began making lists of things that worked and things that didn’t. However the most important thing I began doing was to learn from the previous trip, just like I did in the military.

I applied the same focused effort I applied so many times when I was preparing my gear to climb or to go on a patrol, only this time I was focusing on how light I could go the next trip while still being able to perform properly.

It took a lot of trying, correcting, trying again and yes, sometimes I had to run in the middle of the trip to get that item that I needed and I didn’t bring. It was all part of the fun. That’s how I saw it, a fun thing to try and in doing so it made my trips better, simpler and I began enjoying the business trips as well, since I wasn’t being weighted down by a carry on, a main suitcase, the suit bag, the computer bag… I was traveling now with one bag, big enough for all the things I needed, but small enough that could be used as a carry-on.

Standing Desk

I always thought the idea of standing desks was pretty silly. It struck me as the sort of thing that people who have always worked in a chair and never worked on their feet would think as a good idea. I’ve had a number of jobs that required I stand for 8+ hours at a time and standing isn’t actually that easy to do for a long time. Or, to put it differently, it’s physical exertion, not a natural thing (hence why Donald Rumsfeld was wrong in equating his work at a standing desk to prisoners being forced to stand for extended periods of time).

When I started work as a hotel doorman, despite being in great physical shape, I didn’t have the leg strength to comfortably make it through a shift. Some old timers taught me to stand directly in front of the stone benches outside the hotel if I needed to get support. Staff wasn’t allowed to sit down, but even leaning against something below the knees helped make standing in the heat easier.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve seen a lot of political types like myself switch to standing desks. In most cases, it’s as part of an effort to lose weight. Recently there have been studies which show sitting all day, even if you’re regularly exercising, can still “slowly kill you.” Despite this, I didn’t embrace the standing desk concept until recently.

As I’ve started to work out regularly, I find myself in the delightful position of constantly being sore (in a good way). I tend to go to the gym over lunch (and eat lunch at my desk), so this means I would be sore, in my office chair. My office has a vacant standing desk, so I started to spend time using it when I’m sore. Over the course of the last 6-8 weeks, that’s shifted from spending an hour or so standing while I work, to about 6-7 hours a day.

I have no clue how much of a physical benefit it is providing me, but I know it’s more comfortable after a work out and keeps my body loose. If you haven’t tried it, I say give it a shot and slowly work up your ability to stand and work. If nothing else, you could be cool like me and use a standing desk.

GORUCK Radio Ruck & the Mud Dog Run

The GORUCK Radio Ruck, pre-mud

Before I get into the details of my experience doing the Mud Dog Run this past Saturday in Frederick, Maryland, I want to talk a bit about the GORUCK Radio Ruck. I was loaned bag by the fine folks at GORUCK, so I had a couple days to test it out as my every day bag, prior to running with it.

GORUCK bags consistently seek a couple design notes. First, they are very simple, with limited exterior pockets, no brand labels, and small amounts of MOLLE webbing. Second, they are made with 1000D Cordura fabric. It’s a heavy, tough fabric and though it is not waterproof, it will keep things dry inside in very wet conditions. Given that GORUCK was started by a member of the Special Forces and the bags are designed for military-grade applications, they are made to take a serious beating and survive without trouble.

The Radio Ruck is a 17L backpack – the second smallest of their backpacks. The first thing that stood out to me upon receiving it was how tough the fabric was, almost to the point of being rigid. The bags improve with use and I found it only took a few minutes for the straps to adapt to my frame. That brings me to the second thing I noticed – how wide and well-padded the straps on the Radio Ruck are. The bag doesn’t have any sternum or waist straps, so well-fitting and comfortable should straps are key. One of the most impressive features of the bag  was the laptop compartment on the back panel. It’s also well-padded and designed to take a laptop into combat. For people like me who aren’t likely to see combat, let alone combat with a laptop, in the foreseeable future, what this means is that the padding is completely adequate to have a laptop right up against your spine as you go through whatever activities it is that you do.

The interior of the bag has two organizing pockets on the front panel, with a mesh pocket on the back panel. There’s a velcro opening on the top, below the grab handle that can be used to pass the tubing for a hydration bladder out. And that’s about it. It’s 17L, so it was more than adequate to hold my gym clothes and shows, a Kindle, my MacBook Air, and charger. It’s actually about the perfect size for a day pack.

I was able to get this Radio Ruck because it was no longer needed at its intended destination for the weekend,  the Philadelphia GORUCK Challenge. While the Mud Dog Run was only 5k and the GORUCK Challenge likely covered 15-20+ miles, I felt it my obligation to put the Radio Ruck through as much torture as I could in the short race. I think I succeeded.

The Mud Dog Run is located on a farm in Frederick, Maryland. It’s sponsored by the Flying Dog Brewery, one of my favorite mid-Atlantic breweries. It’s a 5 kilometer obstacle course, featuring, not surprisingly, a lot of mud. I’d guess between 1000-1200 people did it this weekend, as each wave was capped at 300 people. I registered on the last day, so was in the last wave to go. I had the Radio Ruck with me, packed with a 2L hydration bladder, a change of clothes, a pair of sandals for after the race, and a small assortment of snacks for post-race consumption (Peanut M&Ms & Clif Shot Bloks).

I started in around the middle of the pack. Going in, I’d decided that since I’m just getting back into running and no speedster, I would go at a pace that I could maintain the whole race, but seek to go through every obstacle as fast as possible. This seemed to work pretty well, because by the time we’d crossed the first four obstacles, I’d passed a bunch of people and was cruising. I ended up finishing around the top 20% for my wave and while I didn’t break any land speed records, I felt good about my performance.

What made the Mud Dug Run fun was the obstacles. None were particularly challenging, so long as you embraced getting muddy and wet. The third obstacle was a long, boggy stretch of mud that ended in a 30-40 foot long pond. The pond floor was mud and it sloped down into the water and up out of it. I’m about 6’4″ and at its deepest, the water was around my mid-thigh. Coming out of the pond, the uphill mud was really slick and I slipped, falling flat in the water to my upper chest. It was a cool day and the water was pretty icy, so from this point forward I was wet and muddy. Just to be sure that I stayed wet, two obstacles later we encountered a giant slip ‘n’ slide, with hoses spraying down a big plastic tarp. Most people were trying to surf down it, but I figured I was already wet and did a headfirst slide down the hill. Good fun.

The GORUCK Radio Ruck, post-mud & flour

Things go more fun heading into an obstacle that required you to crawl low to the ground through deep mud. We had been warned by race officials that this obstacle, which was under a low tent, had metal bars across it and a few people had cracked their heads on these bars already. I decided the easiest way to ensure I was low and didn’t get stuck would be to take off the Radio Ruck and push it in front of me while doing a belly crawl in the obstacle. It worked and my head was safe, but the Radio Ruck was almost completely covered in mud.

I’m a bit confused on their order, but there are two others worth mentioning. One was another crawling obstacle, this one filled with white flour. In addition to crawling 20 feet through a few inches of flour, there were two women dumping bags of flour on me while I did it. Since I was one of the few competitors wearing a backpack, I heard one of them say, “Make sure to get the backpack,” while I was crawling through. It’s not shocking, but since I was already wet, the flour stuck both to me and the Radio Ruck with no problem.  The other fun obstacle was a web of criss-crossed bungee cords that we had to duck and climb through. The Radio Ruck made things a bit difficult, so after the first couple feet I took it off my back and just threw it the remainder of the distance, then charged through to get it. Naturally it had landed in a deep pocket of mud. Oh well, it’s just a small taste of what the bag would have experienced in Philly…

Over the last kilometer or so, I was just cruising. I passed a few groups of people from the previous wave and by the time I entered the penultimate obstacle, I could hear a live band playing to the crowd and smell the fire pit which I would have to jump over as my final obstacle. I finished in a sprint and felt pretty good about my time. After catching my breath, I headed over to the beer garden for a post-race pint. The Radio Ruck was completely covered in mud and flour, prompting a few people to ask me how the bag had gotten so dirty.

One last word on the bag. At $245, the GORUCK Radio Ruck is not cheap. But it’s made in the USA by American workers and should last a lifetime. And if it doesn’t last a lifetime, GORUCK’s lifetime guarantee means you can get a busted bag fixed by the company.  Compare that to a $100 pack from North Face or some other adventure company that’s made in China and will be blown out in a year of moderate use, and GORUCK strikes me as reasonably priced. When I got home on Saturday, I cleaned the Radio Ruck so I could return as close to the condition I’d received it as possible. I didn’t take the “after” shot, but I was pretty impressed by how well the bag cleaned up after all the mud it had been through. From a quality perspective, this was actually the test that I was most interested in and the Radio Ruck really shined. While I’m not certain that I would take the smaller Radio Ruck over the somewhat larger GR1, I can definitely see myself getting a GORUCK bag in the not too distant future.

Mud Dog Run & the GORUCK Radio Ruck

I’ll be doing the Mud Dog Run this weekend. It’s sponsored in part by Flying Dog Brewery. Here’s the description:

The Mud Dog Run is a fun, high intensity, obstacle course run around one of Frederick, Maryland’s most beautiful farms. Starting at Crumland Farms, the Mud Dog Run will encompass 5 Kilometers of very tough terrain. The course will contain obstacles such as, climbing walls, cargo nets, mud pits, and featuring Crumland Farms 2011 corn maze (do not get lost!). This race is not for the faint of heart. If you like a challenge and some food topped off with Flying Dog beer at the finish, then the Mud Dog Run is just your type of race.

I’ve recently started working out religiously. I’m trying to get in shape for my wedding this coming spring. I was in pretty phenomenal shape in college and have watched that slowly disappear as I’ve spent years sitting at a desk like a lazy slug. It’s not been a fun process and it feels great to start shedding the pounds through some challenging workouts.

While I’m trying to get in shape, I also am holding onto the goal that in the future (hopefully before, but if not, after the wedding) I will do a GORUCK Challenge, a hardcore physical challenge put on by GORUCK, builders of some completely bomber military-style backpacks. I have a long way to go get to the point where I can handle their event, which often stretches over more than 20 miles and 10 hours. I’ve never been interested in running a marathon, but the GORUCK Challenge strikes a chord in me. I want to be able to do this, to meet the challenge. I’m viewing the Mud Dog Run as a miniature trial in my training, though the specifics have little in common to the GORUCK Challenge other than both being rough and tumble outdoor physical events.

Though GORUCK is based in Montana, the GORUCK Challenge has an office in DC. I reached out to them and they were kind enough to lend me a Radio Ruck for me to use this weekend at the Mud Dog Run. Their packs are built to take a beating and I’m sure this one will have some fun in the mud in Maryland.

Stay tuned for an after-action report on both the Mud Dog Run and how the Radio Ruck serves me this weekend…