Stranded: Survival – dirt, sweat, rain, tears, anger, friendship, and growth

This last weekend I participated in a pretty amazing endurance event called “Stranded: Survivor” that still has my body aching and my mind stewing. It is pretty difficult to categorize and explain this 16ish hour adventure. In fact, when I sent out a Snap Sunday morning to some of my friends that said “Just rucked all night and I smell terrible” I got a lot of confused responses. They mostly said things like “Rucking? What’s that?” or “Rucking? Did you mean ‘fucking’?”.

To quickly respond to that latter one… no, I did not mean fucking. As much as I wish it were true, there is not enough Viagra and MDMA on the planet to get me to fuck for 16-hours straight. And even if there was, I don’t know if I’d want to. That sounds exhausting. While I certainly have an interest in becoming multi-orgasmic and tantric sex, 16-hours is just too much. No, rucking is different. The smells that develop and muscle-soreness that comes from long rucking is similar to long fucking, but they also have a lot of differences.

The simplest way to define rucking is to call it “walking around with a bunch of weight in a backpack”, but that makes it sound really dumb and pointless (though, I’m sure some people would call it that even if they have experienced it). What rucking really is is an opportunity to test your mental and physical strength and bond with people over a difficult experience. We spent hours walking in the cold rain with 60ish lbs on our back. It sucked in the best possible way.

Stranded was much more than rucking though. Yes, we ended up putting down about 20ish miles during the night, but the event was more than just grunting along in the dark. We had 8+ foot walls to help each other over, dirt to low-crawl through, a telephone pole to carry, and much more. It was certainly a physical event, but the physical work was just a means to an end. The true end was to strengthen the mind and spirit, and to provide an opportunity for us to reflect on who we are and to refocus our lives if they aren’t going the direction we wish… at least that is what I got out of it.

Maybe the best way to explain the event is simply chronologically. So, here is what we did with rough times attached and my thoughts and reflections during that time. I’m not particularly proud of my thoughts in all cases, but I think it is valuable for me to share things I’m not proud of as well. And, obviously, this is only a reflection of my experience. I have no idea what the other 8 participants felt about it.

Signing Up for the Event: I receive a very basic packing list and no real description of what the event will include. I know I need a rucksack with 35lbs of weights and I was told that my huge mountain climbing pack would be too large. This frustrates me because I have no idea if I should wear running shoes or boots, whether I’ll need cold weather gear, how much food I’ll need, etc. This lack of knowledge is incredibly frustrating for me because the thing that triggers my anxiety the most is not having a basic idea of what I’m walking into.

Like I’ve mentioned before in this blog, this anxiety can be nearly petrifying. I have missed out on tons of experience and procrastinated a lot of things because I didn’t know where the exits were in a building or what the social norms in a situation were. I also didn’t want to ask because I was afraid I would be seen as a fool. To be honest, if I hadn’t started taking Buproprian this month I probably would have dropped out of the event due to lack of information. I don’t know if this lack of information was intentional and part of learning experience or what, but I know that it might deter some people from events like this.

A couple of weeks before the event: I receive two “assignments” that must be completed before the event. The first is basically to Facebook stalk the other participants and write down a sentence or two that describes my first impression. Most of the participants have very private profiles and I can only use a couple of pictures to figure out the first impression. I got two things out of this exercise. First, I realize that I have some pretty negative and superficial initial thoughts when I can only see a picture. I see people as pretty one-dimensional and vain, and I quickly attribute judgments if they seem similar to groups who I haven’t gotten along with in the past (conservative, fitness-focused, etc.). This is shitty of me, I’m not proud of these initial thoughts, but they are true. I was happy that my judgments were pretty much all inaccurate and I was able to get to know the participants a little better.

The second thing that stuck with me is how important a first impression can be. It made me wonder what people thought of me on a first impression and how I could work to improve that image (not in a fake way, but in a way that would better reflect who I am and who I want to be). We are all mutli-layered and it is a shame to lose out on future friends because of how I present myself in a superficial way online.

The event begins: I show up about 10 minutes early for the event. There are three other people who show up around the same time as me or earlier. Being late is a HUGE pet peeve for me and I always show up early when possible. Those of us who are early are punished. This was the first of three times when I almost quit the event. I found the whole punishment thing bullshit and seriously almost called an uber at that point. The idea of punishing people who acted responsibly just because they didn’t follow orders to the letter goes against everything I am. I do not (and hopefully never will) view obedience as a virtue. I will not just “follow orders” and I won’t feel comfortable in a situation where I am treated like a child that isn’t worthy of having the reasons for an action explained to them. There were moments in the military where I endured a lot of stuff because I was young and didn’t see a way out, but I’m not that person anymore. I could have just stood up, grabbed my shit, said good-bye to everyone, and walked out the door. I didn’t do that though, and I’m glad I didn’t, but I still don’t understand the reasoning behind punishing people like this.

The warm-up: The first two hours was a warm-up that included about five miles of rucking and some exercise. One round of exercise was just a bunch of sucking that didn’t seem to serve a purpose other than our own misery and, again, force us to follow orders (this was the second time I almost quit). Some of it was great, though. We helped each other over walls, along monkey bars, and flipping tires. We listened as our leader explained some of the psychological reasoning behind the event and we got to know each other a little bit. I wish we would have had an opportunity early on to get to know each other better. There was not really any formal time early on to find out about each other, our lives outside of Stranded, and such. We had opportunities to talk while walking but I felt super introverted and had a hard time initiating conversation. I fucking suck at small talk and many of the participants knew each other already. So, I ended up walking mostly in silence kind of longing for a conversation about deeper issues.

The long haul: After the warm-up, we went on our longest ruck of the night. I think it was only 5-6 miles but it certainly felt like more. The 60lbs was starting to weigh pretty heavily on my body but I was in good spirits. I really love rucking, my body is built for it. I’m kind of stocky with strong hips, thighs, and legs that are built for endurance. I’m not much of a sprinter, but I can go on forever. I was able to have a few good conversations during this march but I still felt a bit in my head and kind of an outcast. I know this is all my internal anxiety and such, but I couldn’t figure a good way out of it. I was also kind of anxious because I had no idea where we were or how long the march would last, there is something about the unknown that makes everything feel longer and larger than it really is. I could have swore we marched 10+ miles, but it was much shorter than that. It seemed long because of the cold rain, heavy weight, and unknown terrain.

Oh, we also got pulled over by the cops during this march. I guess 9 people walking down a busy road in the middle of the night with back packs and 2 foot long pieces of PVC pipe that resemble giant pipe bombs is kind of suspicious.

The meat: After we finished the march we arrived at a new destination where we would spend most of the event. We had some coffee, food, water, and changed out our cold/wet clothes. After a break, we participated in more activities to stress our bodies and minds, and to build our teamwork.

One of the events was a simple puzzle. We divided into two teams and tried to put together a 550-piece puzzle. Technically, my team won the challenge but personally, I think we kind of failed. We didn’t really operate well as a team, instead we just kind of did our own parts of the puzzle and occasionally reminded each other of colors we were looking for. I think there is a time an place for specialization but we might have had more success if we actively worked together. A second event was building a castle out of playing cards with our teams. This one we handled much more cohesively and kicked ass. The other team did really well too, but our castle stood up to the paper ball and straw assault that came later on.

This time was also when we did more physical stuff like helping each other over high walls and carrying the telephone pole around. I actually think we did really well here. There were no real leaders in our group, instead, we all seemed to intuitively know how to help each other and shared responsibility. Despite my aching muscles and the weird bruises that are appearing all over my body, this was a lot of fun.

We also spent some time explicitly sharing more intimate details about our life. We talked about the things we are passionate about, struggles we face, and finding the balance between helping others and taking care of our own health. I really enjoyed hearing about and sharing these parts of life and I would have loved more of this. I know not everyone feels this way, but I enjoy diving into the taboo and sheltered areas of our existence and get a lot out of hearing people’s thoughts on philosophy, spirituality, sexuality, passion, religion, death, the purpose of life, etc.

The Final Push: After we finished the meat of our journey together we put our rucksacks back on and pushed towards the final goal. Instead of heading straight back to the starting point we headed in a new direction through the woods. I was under the impression that this was leading us back to where we started… I’m not sure where I got that impression though. My memory is a bit fuzzy on details, maybe our leader explicitly said that or maybe my sleep-deprived mind (this was about 7 am) made it up. Anyway, we were heading in the opposite direction. I noticed the direction the sun was and realized we were heading roughly northeast instead of southwest. This killed my motivation and quickly descended into a bad mood.

It didn’t help that after a mile or two we again ended up doing shitty exercises that seemed to serve no purpose except to punish us. We low-crawled in the dirt, did burpees and such… this was the third time that I almost quit. I still don’t get the purpose of suffering for no reason. I can think of some pseudo-lessons about pushing through touch circumstances, realizing that we are going to encounter situations outside of our control, etc. but without an explicit reason behind the exercises, they just feel like an excuse to demonstrate authority and make us miserable. Again, I loathe authority and I think these deeper lessons can either be articulated more clearly or conveyed in a different way. (And, again, I think this is more a reflection of my own internal wiring that warrants further analysis)

Eventually, we got to a Wal-Mart parking lot for our final exercise. We played a round of “poker” between the nine of us where we bet with exercises. I got dealt a shit hand and tried to fold in the first round but was encouraged (told) to stay in the hand. So, I decided to hold and see what new cards I got. After two new cards, I still had a shit hand but decided to just stick with it because I didn’t have a real choice. One the third round of betting myself and two others actually folded and our “punishment” was pretty mild. This was another case where our activity did not have clearly defined rules and my anxiety shot through the roof. I hate not knowing the environment I’m in and could almost feel a PTSD attack coming on. In the end, the “winner” had to do all the exercises that were bet… which I guess kind of makes sense. The exercises were in the pot and the winner gets the pot, and I guess in some perverted sadomasochist sense it is a prize to do more exercise when sleep-deprived and physically exhausted. In the end, our teamwork actually showed itself again and we all took ownership of the exercises so that the winner wasn’t stuck with them.

Victory Lap: After poker, we walked our stinky asses into a smoothing shop and got some free smoothie samples. Our support staff was there and drove the first round of people back to the starting point. The vehicle could only fit three people so the ones who had to get back home the most went first. While the vehicle transported that round of people the rest of us started marching back home. We were given the option of leaving our rucks in the vehicle, but none of us took that offer. We started with the weight and we were going to end with the weight.

When the vehicle came back to pick up the second round of people I volunteered to go. Part of my pride wanted to be with the final group to arrive, but I was sucking hardcore. My body ached and I felt on the verge of injury, so I put my ego aside and got in the truck.

Home and The Future: After nearly 16-hours of physical and mental activity I arrived back at home. My plan was to eat a little food, take a shower, and then take a nap. The reality was different. I fell asleep within minutes of getting home and didn’t wake for three hours. After my unexpected nap, I hobbled my way into the kitchen, ate some food, grabbed a beer, and sunk into a hot bath. I tried to stay awake for most of the day but I failed. I was in bed by 8:30 pm and slept over 11 hours. As I sit here with a sore body but calm mind I can’t help but get excited about the next Stranded event, even if it is six months away. It is going to be difficult, but with that difficulty comes growth. I’m a better and stronger person today than I was on Saturday before this event.

I met some amazing people at this event and I hope I stay in touch with them. My greatest fear is that I will let my introversion, anxiety, and such prevent me from reaching out to them to grab a beer, ruck some miles, play board games, or just text from time-to-time. I hope I can overcome that fear.

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail about life in general?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address:
Instagram: @peterneiger
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Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”


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