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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

At a neighborhood meeting with our Mayor last week there were questions about finding lost pets, zoning ordinances and people having too many lights on the outside of their houses.

And then there was the question of the night. The bomb dropper. The president of a large neighborhood association asked the Mayor of Dearborn, “What is the City of Dearborn doing about the coronavirus?”

The room went silent.

For just a moment, the mayor flashed a quarter of a smile across the right side of his face. He glanced down at the table top in front of him, recalibrating his response I suspect, in the way that politicians at every level must offer a substantive response to even the most inane, crackpot inquiries. Then he began, “Our emergency services have been drilling on response practices in preparation for any unlikely… ”

If you do a Google search on, “Things most likely to kill a person living in America”, you find that heart disease is our most prevalent lethal threat. This is followed by cancers. Not far down the list, the number 8 killer of Americans, is a broad category called “accidents”. Drill down into “accidents” and you learn that using a smartphone while driving is creating a great national cull of our highly mobile, highly connected population.

But nowhere on any list does “highly contagious, rapidly-proliferating, recently mutated exotic Asian viruses” appear. That is because, for the president of a neighborhood association- or anyone living in Dearborn- the threat of coronavirus is effectively nil.

In the United States, there are 1.5 million people hospitalized every year from accidents related to smartphone use. Last year the common flu killed 10,000 Americans. So far, this year the Centers for Disease Control say that, “At least 19 million people in the U.S. have experienced flu illnesses this season”. And as I type this, the acceleration of the spread of the largely non-fatal coronavirus half a world away from Dearborn, Michigan in a city most Americans couldn’t find on a globe, is decelerating.

But still, the coronavirus question came up. Why is that?

On June 1, 1980, Ted Turner launched the Cable News Network, or CNN, the first 24-hour news network. In the four decades since then, the way Americans consume news, and what is actually called “news”, has changed more than at any time in history.

Prior to 1980, the U.S. relied on predominantly 3 news networks that broadcast six hours of content each per day. Today there are at least 25 major network news media outlets in the U.S., all broadcasting across multiple outlets 24-hours, around the clock. That is a staggering 2300% increase in the amount of network news media we’re served every 24 hours in only four decades.

But it gets even more interesting. And dangerous.

In less than half the time it took for network news media to completely reinvent itself, only 16 short years ago, Mark Zuckerberg invented “participatory media”. Most people call it social media. When Zuckerberg started what was then called “The Face Book”, he did what most innovators do; he put something out there that would change the world before he invented the rules about how to use it. From edged tools to fire to printed words to nuclear weapons and instant communications, humans invent culture-changing technologies before they figure out the rules for how to best use them. We throw the new, culture-changing technologies out there and worry about figuring out how to best use them later. In the process, there is always calamity.

In the 16 years since Facebook began, the number of outlets with access to your 600 X 800 news screen went from 25 news outlets to… 1.69 billion individual users, each one vying for attention and relevance. Even more than the four-decade, 2300% proliferation of available news every 24 hours, the explosion of 1.69 billion individual broadcasters on Facebook (not to mention other social media outlets, like Twitter’s 330 million) has influenced the way we consume information, and confuse it with what is credible news.

The single deadliest thing about the coronavirus outbreak is the media frenzy that surrounds it. Coronavirus is a serious health threat, but not in Dearborn, Michigan. In the five years since it was first identified, and before this most recent outbreak, its impact on public health has been minimal compared to other health risks like cancer and distracted driving. Cancer and distracted driving just haven’t dominated social media and news media for the last seven days.

This revolution in how we consume media, and confuse it with news, is why a neighborhood association president in Dearborn, Michigan, 7,273 miles and 13 time zones away from Wuhan, China is now suddenly asking about coronavirus when the things that will likely kill her go basically ignored. And this is the very real threat.


Tom Demerly in the Kremlin, Moscow, Russia with delegates from North Korea.

Tom Demerly reports on Defense and Technology stories from around the world to TheAviationist.com, BusinessInsider.com and numerous other international news outlets. 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

An expedition not unlike our own, Robert Falcon Scott’s failed ordeal in Antarctica in 1912.

 

When I was a kid I had a friend named Raymond Schuckle. He lived at the end of the block, closest to the park, from me.

Winter had come and it was harsh. We were not much older than 11 or 12. Raymond and I shared an interest in model airplanes. Boredom from the long winter had set in, and there was little to do. So, we decided to launch an expedition on foot across four miles of suburban territory to Harb’s Hobby Shop on Monroe Street in Downtown Dearborn.

I had read Maurice Herzog’s book, “Annapurna”, that I bought from Mary Fera’s Dad’s shop, Little Professor Book Store, near Harb’s. The book recounted the first ascent of an 8,000-meter peak in the Himalayas by a group of bold adventurers. To my 11-year-old mind, our expedition across Dearborn to Harb’s Hobby Shop would be exactly like Maurice Herzog’s brutally difficult expedition to climb Annapurna in the Himalayas.

We prepared. I had a crude, blue, nylon anorak and a pair of mittens made of some kind of cheap shearling that came from a flea market. I also had a gray wool balaclava, that I got from K-Mart specifically after reading about them in “Annapurna”. It was $3.97. I had inexpensive vinyl “moon boots” insulated with foam. We wore blue jeans, T-shirts and sweaters as our technical base layers. I was careful to wear two pairs of sweat socks. Raymond Shuckle, my lieutenant, was better equipped. He wore an impressive snorkel jacket and snowmobile boots with special felt liners. He also had covertly reapportioned a pair of genuine skiing gloves from his older brother. He wore a bright red knit stocking cap, useful for signaling in the event we would need rescue.

We had plotted our navigation and ranging based on car trips we had made over previous months and years in the region. We knew the route, up Cherry Hill, then to Outer Drive, and eventually a long slog along Michigan Avenue to Monroe over piles of frozen, plowed snow. These massive ice and snow formations were our version of Herzog’s crevasses and sastrugi on Annapurna. There was a secondary route we could take through Ford Field, but that meant a dangerous descent of the icy sled hill and grueling climb up the steep gradient of Monroe Street toward Michigan Ave. This, however, was the most direct route, although it was significantly more rigorous and involved greater risk.

After sunset, we set out.

Our first obstacle was crossing the open, wind-blown snow field of Levagood Park. This could have become an immediate disaster, as blowing snow limited our visibility. Luckily, being only a block from our houses, we were familiar with the terrain and able to effectively navigate to our first landmark, Sea Shore Pool. It was bitingly cold and the snow was deep, perhaps six inches, with a hard-frozen crust on top. After our successful trial-by-fire crossing of the Levagood ice fields, we pressed on.

Crossing Telegraph Road was a risk. Passing cars threw torrents of salty slush on us as we waited for our chance to dart across the lethal passage. It was our analogy of crossing deadly crevasses. We continued undaunted by the risks and managed to cross as a pair, making it to the other side. This is where we entered untraveled territory. In no uncertain terms, Telegraph Road marked the outer boundary of our neighborhood, and the entrance to the hinterlands.

We charted a course through side streets, abandoning the sidewalks as they were largely impassable and, instead, took to the streets themselves. This meant increased risk, but we were willing to accept it in exchange for greater speed. At one point, we came across a group of kids we had never seen before, dressed similarly to us in moon boots and snorkel jackets, but older. They were a rough looking bunch, standing at the edges of the street. Their plot was to wait until a car slip-slid down the street, then run behind it with the hope of grabbing the bumper. This would give them a wild, careening ride, sliding on the soles of their boots, until the speed became too great or the distance too far, at which point they would let go and tumble to a stop. We stopped to watch them for a while but judged that this unknown group of older indigenous kids could become dangerous at any moment and engage us with tightly packed ice-balls. We pressed on.

47 years later, I return to the scene of the Levagood ice field crossing from the original 1973 expedition.

Schuckle, for his part, was an excellent lieutenant. He seemed largely non-plussed by the ordeal, pressing on with neither complaint nor rancor. That is, until I looked at his face, drawn in discomfort and the agony from the biting wind. Although he said nothing, he was clearly near his limit.

We had made it to the open expanse next to the Dearborn High School athletic field. This was the gateway to the Rouge River basin. There were rescue facilities there in the form of a fire station where we could, presumably, surrender to the elements, declare our mission a failure, and turn ourselves in to the firemen at the station for what would be a humiliating defeat at the hands of mother nature and human endurance. They would offer rescue but at the cost of humiliating repatriation to our parents. Whatever sanctions accompanied that were too horrible to imagine.

So, we pressed on.

Despite our condition, we were resolved to our fate under our own destiny. Ice spicules blew from east to west, assailing our bare skin around our eyes like frozen wind-borne razors. Our endurance was waning. We had both spent the day at school and would have to return tomorrow, so it was necessary to manage our physical resources. Exhaustion from our adventure, no matter how bold and heroic, would not grant clemency from a day of school.

It was at this point, in the open ice fields just north of the fire station along Outer Drive, that I took matters into my own hands and regretfully signaled retreat. I remember, to this day, the exact moment I admitted defeat. This capitulation was at least better than surrendering to the firemen for rescue, as we could return home- if we survived- covertly manage our maladies from the ordeal, and equip ourselves for another attempt as conditions improved.

I don’t remember much from the trip back. Humiliation, the harsh elements and fatigue must have blocked my recollection as with any trauma.

I do remember getting home. My boots and socks were heavy and soaked. My rag-wool balaclava had likely meant the difference between survival and oblivion, as it was encrusted with ice around the breathing hole and covered in snow. My mittens were sodden, and my hands bright blue from cold, the skin wrinkled from immersion in the damp mitts. I stripped from my jeans and T-shirt in the bathroom, and ran a steaming bath. I remember that bath. I remember it well. Plucked from the arctic hell-storm and immersed in opulent, hot water in the safe haven of my house was such a bizarrely polarized juxtaposition of fate that I could hardly wrap my young mind around it. We had survived, our dramatic failure remained undiscovered, and we had gathered valuable information to try again. Despite our failure, there was a meager inventory of success from the ordeal. It was on this I chose to focus as I made plans to check the weather forecast and begin preparations for another attempt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Another report, another finding that NASA, NOAA and the UK Met Office have confirmed that global temperatures have been rising, continue to rise, and have resulted in a host of all-time meteorological records. The reports were published this week, and they tell us what we already know. We’re in deep trouble.

But we still deny the human impact and ability to control climate change. Why is that?

Perhaps the biggest problem with climate change is its “marketing”. It’s an idea that people are inherently resistant to. A second problem is culturally rigid thinking. And a third problem is a societal and individual resistance to new thinking.

Firstly, the crisis, which is absolutely real, absolutely man-made and absolutely controllable (but not reversible) has been poorly “marketed” or talked about.

In the social media age, image is everything, and climate change has fallen victim to some rotten media marketing. Its advocates tend to be labelled as weirdoes or academics who are prone to jargonish science-speak. Climate change also smacks of left-leaning politics. That’s a shame, because if ever there was a great cause for right-leaning robber-barons to embrace, it’s manmade climate change. There is the opportunity to recalibrate our global economy and earn trillions in profits from climate change, and that’s good. I think Elon Musk, as eccentric as he is, sees some of this. Bill Gates sees it too. I think Warren Buffett is watching it and waiting for a way to earn big profits from the marketing of climate change and its solutions.

But climate change suffers from bad marketing. Climate change started out as “global warming”, was re-branded “climate change” since that term is more literal. But this phenomenon should really be called, “Man-made, accelerated climate change”. But that doesn’t fit well in twenty-word social media posts, and people are too busy to learn anything that challenges what they already know and is longer than a Tweet or a Facebook post.

We already know that the climate is always changing. That’s normal. Even the magnetic poles migrate and change. Also, normal. What is not normal, or sustainable, is the rate of current climate change acceleration that is a direct result of mankind’s influence on the earth through overpopulation, overconsumption and pollution. Some climate change is normal, natural and unchangeable- desirable even. Our global ecosystem is built to adapt to it. Species become extinct partially from failure to adapt and partially from environmental change, and species also evolve over time to adapt to gradual change. The key word is “gradual”. What we’re seeing now is not gradual. It’s catastrophic.

The climate change I’ve seen myself, around the world in my lifetime, isn’t gradual. It is unbelievably accelerated. Glaciers I climbed on in 1999, that took thousands, or millions, of years to create, have now disappeared. In my lifetime. Animal populations I visited have been cut by 90%. Species I saw in person in my 30’s are now extinct.

Today, when I see sharks within ten miles of a populated coastline, the sharks are smaller, usually have scars from boat propellers indicating they have been feeding off scraps and trash from boats and ships, and their behavior is different. They are listless and docile. Go a few hundred miles off a coastline, drop down, wait for some sharks to come along and you see completely different animals. Larger, no scars or hooks in them, perfect fins and different behavior. They behave like alpha predators. The coastal sharks, even of the same species, behave like stray dogs waiting for the garbage to be thrown out. That is what a species looks like as it tries to adapt to a single generation of accelerated climate change, and when it enters serious decline.

When I was in Antarctica in 1999, I saw thousands of whales. This summer in the Azores, in the middle of the Atlantic in 5,000 feet of water, I saw about fifteen whales over three days, and those whales we had to look for most of the day. Whales migrate past the Azores toward Antarctica. What I saw was worrisome.

There is a strange calculus to climate change denial. Let’s say the chances that every climate change scientist is 80% wrong in their findings. That’s unlikely, but let’s assume that for the sake of discussion. That means they are also 20% right. A 20% chance that catastrophic climate change could manifest itself in our lifetimes. You pick the numbers you like; 90% chance climate change is false? 99% chance? There remains that lingering chance that it is right, and no human can afford that chance at any percentage.

America maintains a massive arsenal to defend ourselves against nuclear war, mostly from the former Soviet Union, a country that doesn’t exist anymore. Yet we continue to maintain that enormous resource for an enemy that hasn’t existed since the Soviet Union collapsed in December, 1991, almost three decades ago. Today, according to the worst statistical analysis of the probability of nuclear war, there is, on the high side, about a 2% chance of a nuclear war ever starting. The chances of one starting in our lifetime, according to a 2015 expert survey in strategic probability, is 0.24%. That’s less than a quarter of a percent. The chances that climate change will alter our lives in our lifetime is much higher, yet we maintain no strategic deterrent force against climate change, despite the fact that it is a strategic global threat.

We are destroying this planet and accelerating climate change at unsustainable and catastrophic levels. We may survive the changes, but our lives will be less convenient, less healthy and less enjoyable. The lives of our children, even worse. And the lives of their children completely unrecognizable to us. If we continue to deny what science is telling us we may hold on to our lives, but they won’t be worth living.


Author Tom Demerly has traveled the world since 1980 including some of the most remote areas in Antarctica, Vietnam, Africa, the Middle East and South America.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

As a commentator, he was a master. Measured. Well-paced. Gifted with dramatic inflection and a lilting accent that brought credibility to his narration. As a dramatist, he was a rare thespian of the microphone. He paced his voice, volume and inflection to build a crescendo that hammered on the edge of control. And perhaps most importantly, as a person, he humanized and dignified a sport that is rife with indignity and subterfuge.

Paul Sherwen died last week at the age of 62. Far too soon. His untimely passing is gutting to the world of cycling, not just for fans who loved him, but for the complex synergy of broadcasting the Tour de France and all of professional cycling in the English language.

You can read of Sherwen’s impressive professional cycling career in any of the many eulogies published around the world for him over the last 72 hours. But Sherwen rose to greatest prominence as a broadcaster, commentator and even moderator of cycling’s most turbulent era.

Sherwen began broadcasting with Phil Liggett in 1989. That is when he went from great cyclist to mega-star. The combination of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen was not just good, it was magical synergy. The sum was greater than the total of its parts. By themselves, Sherwen and Liggett were excellent commentators. Together they became the institution of cycling in the English language.

It would not be an embellishment to suggest the team of Sherwen and Liggett saved cycling.

The damage inflicted by the Armstrong era cast a dark cloud over professional bike racing and the Tour de France. Its creditability as a legitimate sport was shattered in the post-Armstrong era and didn’t recover even after the brash Texan doper and extortionist was forced into exile. The doping scandals and accusations continued. For any informed observer, cycling had a titanic image problem. It was dirty.

Enter Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett. Commentating next to the thousand-pound doping elephant in the room the duo would chat during slow stages as the group rode together at a pedestrian pace. Cycling coverage had changed from a 45-minute recorded and scripted highlight reel to a rolling commentary of the entire stage. It became an endurance event for live announcers. Try describing anything non-stop for six hours. If your voice holds, you quickly find out you run out of things to say. Not Sherwen.

During the Tour de France, Sherwen and Liggett were served snippets about the areas the riders were passing through from race organizers. They were dry historical facts about castles, bridges, rivers and factories. It was the stuff you slept through in school. But Sherwen would grab this stuff off the feed and, as though you were sitting next to him in a touring sedan on a leisurely drive across rural France, weave a lilting tale from the popcorn-dry feed. When Sherwen talked about the milk production of the cows of Provence region, it sounded quaint and charming and… damn near interesting.

When the action started, Sherwen’s voice moved to his gut. He became more baritone. More Serious. More urgent. His pace picked up just a tick. Tension boiled under his narration. It felt as if the other shoe would drop at any moment, and we all slid to the edge of seats. His colloquialisms were Shakespearean. Who had ever heard what it was like to, “Throw a cat among the pigeons” or, “Reach deep into the suitcase of courage” before Paul Sherwen? Sherwin brought rare dramatic eloquence to a sport of blue collar schoolboys.

Paul Sherwen dignified cycling, amplified the drama, downplayed the scandal.

It is difficult to imagine a post-Sherwen cycling era. At 75 years old, Phil Liggett may decide to pack up his microphone and move on to a well-earned retirement. Something Paul Sherwen never got. Sherwen played the key role to Liggett’s performance, shoring him up when he made the errors in remembering a cyclist’s name that any 75-year old would make. They did so seamlessly, and it only added to the show. But without Sherwen as his muse and protector, Liggett may not want to continue. If that is the case, it is not too much of a stretch to say that when we lost Paul Sherwen, we lost all of cycling. Or at least any semblance of dignity, drama and decency it had left.


 

Tom Demerly has been a cycling commentator and journalist for over 30 years. He has written for Outside, Velo-News, Inside Triathlon, Triathlon Today, Triathlete, Bicycling, Bicycle Guide, USA Cycling, USA Triathlon and many others.

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

I was once so poor, I didn’t have a coffee cup.

It didn’t matter much since I had neither coffee or a coffee maker. I had boxes of things I owned when I was rich, before I lost everything. But I wasn’t going to stay in one place long enough to unpack them, so what was left stayed in the boxes. I never unpacked. Nothing was permanent.

No coffee cup though.

My parents told stories of the depression when they were kids. The stories didn’t seem possible to me. When I didn’t have a coffee cup it occurred to me, “Well damn. Here is our depression. Exactly like my mom described.” Now you’re reading my story of not having a coffee cup.

Eventually things began to improve. I was good at what I did, a writer. Got a good job writing at a company in California. Money came in. California is expensive so you need to earn a lot of money to be even reasonably comfortable. You still won’t have any money left over, so you better keep your job or find a new one outside California. If you want to make any money, don’t move to California.

Moved from California to Michigan. Brought my two cats in a cat carrier on the plane. I had written a letter to the airline well in advance telling them my cats were the most valuable thing in the world to me. They met me at the airport and took extra care of me and my two cats on the flight from California back to Michigan. I was thankful for that. Nothing was more important. I figured if I couldn’t even care for two cats, I was pretty worthless. But in this case, with the help of the airlines, I managed fairly well. Thank God, and I’m not even religious. The airline was Southwest airlines. If you can, when you fly, fly on Southwest Airlines. They actually care about people. And cats. That’s rare these days.

Still no coffee cup though.

When I got back to Michigan I took back an old job that I liked but didn’t earn much money. I was going to help open a new business soon. There was, at least, the promise of improvement if not tangible improvement itself. Sometimes you can do pretty good on just the promise of things getting better. It’s better than knowing things are going to get worse. I’ve gotten good at sensing when that is going to happen. It’s a bad feeling and you better trust it.

My friends Paul and Sue, whom I’ve known forever, visited me right away when I moved back. They knew me before the recession, before I lost everything. I was actually well-off then. Owned a house, car, business. Those things can disappear in an instant, so fast you can’t believe it. You think you are secure. Trust me, you aren’t. A million dollars means nothing.

I know that when Paul and Sue and their sons saw how things were for me then they were… well, I don’t know what they were. They never said. Sue drove me to the store. When it became apparent I had no money for food, her and her two sons brought food to my house. I always made sure my cats had food. They came first.

Things kept getting better. Made a little money. Lived in a house with a big yard, grass (we didn’t have that in California) and plenty of windows. The first warm day I went outside and just laid down in the grass. It was the first time I felt safe in a long time. My cats watched me through the window. That was a good feeling. I still remember that moment, lying there in the grass.

Eventually things got much better. That’s America. You can have everything, lose everything, and get everything back again.

On one trip to the store I bought a coffee maker, $22, a huge can of coffee (don’t remember how much) and a coffee cup. It’s still my favorite cup. I worry about breaking it. It would be a bad omen.

So with this new coffee cup, I am pretty careful.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

 

 

  1. Civilians Don’t Know How to Answer a Question.

It’s one of the most conspicuous differences between civilians and military; civilians cannot answer a simple question. Try it. Ask a question that requires a simple, expedient, one-word “yes” or “no” answer. Usually civilians answer a question with a question. One of the first things you learn in the military is how to effectively answer a question to communicate necessary information concisely and quickly. For every veteran and military person who has to wade through the mire of civilian semantics trying to get an answer to a simple question, this phenomenon is boggling.

 

  1. Veterans Will Never Let You Forget They’re Veterans.

Guilty as charged. The military experience changes you. It instills deep-seated fears, some reasonable, some not. It teaches skills and competencies that can’t be learned anywhere else. It also provides a sense of belonging and self-esteem that membership in any revered group does. It may be subtle, many people may not notice it, but whether it is how he stands, how tight her hair bun is, the way he looks around a room when he enters it, the hat, the belt or the boots, it is usually easy to spot a veteran. That’s not an accident.

 

  1. Civilians Cannot Make Decisions. 

The military teaches how to make decisions, the importance of having a method of decision making and how to make decisions quickly and efficiently. It also teaches what to do when you make bad decisions, which you inevitably will. Civilians cannot make decisions efficiently. Too many variables, too much second guessing, too much time wasted. One of the most maddening things about being military or veteran in a civilian world is the bizarre theatre that is watching a civilian trying to make a decision as they are influenced by factors they themselves don’t even realize. For veterans, this is agonizing to see.

 

  1. Veterans Treasure Quiet Space, Hot Water and Good Food.

Hurry-up and wait, long days that start before sun-up and end way after dark. Cold, wet clothing and numb feet. Dirty hair and cramped spaces with smelly bodies. Welcome to the military. Once you are out of the military you usually just want to sit down for a moment and quietly stare at the horizon. Quiet, open spaces, warm meals and a hot shower are opulent luxuries to a veteran. These things are wealth. Never take them for granted.

 

  1. Veterans Know How to Work as a Team.

In the first two weeks of being in the military you begin to coalesce into a collective organism known as a team. The mental barrier between self and team disappears, and you discover the strength and synergy of teamwork. It’s a humbling and empowering experience at the same time, and once you’ve experienced it you never forget it. Civilians have a rough time with working as a team because they are forever trying to preserve some semblance of “self”. Self must evaporate in a team environment for the greater good, and that is frightening to many people until they learn how to be an effective part of a team and the remarkable benefits.

 

  1. Civilians Are Delightfully Naive. 

Few things are more entertaining to a veteran than talking to civilians, especially most young civilians, about world politics, U.S. military involvement around the world and human nature. Civilians live in a beautiful bubble of tranquility and peace that makes their everyday foibles feel massive and their choices seem difficult. Frankly, it is at once cute and annoying. Americans, especially, live a frail bubble of security that facilitates a bizarrely privileged life usually free from difficult decisions involving life and death. Unfortunately, this has begun to change as increasing polarity between economic privilege inflict difficult choices on more and more poor people ill-equipped and untrained to make good decisions. That is tragic to watch in our country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com.

There’s no politically correct way to express this, but, yeah… ahhh. I feel a little out of place.

I’m a 56-year old conspicuously Caucasian guy in the crowd-packed center of the massive Mexicantown Cinco de Mayo street celebration late on a hot May afternoon in Detroit.

There’s heavy ganja haze in the air. It’s thick enough for a contact buzz. I’m carrying a huge U.S. flag in my hand, and feeling like I’m not particularly understood or appreciated here. Other than the double file line of about 50 quasi-military, tacticool, mostly white guys and girls with a distinctly law-enforcement look that are behind me, I feel pretty isolated. And pretty conspicuous with my flag and backpack as we navigate the tightly packed downtown party crowd of tens of thousands. There is almost no room on sidewalks, the streets are bumper to bumper and packed with crowds. And smoke.

We’re doing GORUCK Light Detroit 2018.

In the evolution of participation sports GORUCK events have emerged. With approximately 500 events scheduled in 2018, GORUCK challenges are huge now. Today I’m in my first one. I’m wondering if it’s coming slightly off the rails.

GORUCK Light is a team endurance event that includes military style calisthenics, running and a lot of walking or “rucking” between 8 and 12 miles in group formation while you wear a weighted backpack. Think basic military training, then add your new constant companion, a 10- 40-pound weighted backpack that makes everything that would have been easy for a reasonably fit person, a good bit tougher.

GORUCK events are inspired by contingency training for military special operations units.

Jason McCarthy, a fit, chiseled, dark- haired guy with that bolt upright posture that screams former military, founded the GORUCK brand in 2008. There are a lot of remarkable things about GORUCK, but the single most remarkable thing is its growth. In only ten years GORUCK has become huge.

McCarthy founded GORUCK while still in U.S. Army Special Forces and deployed in the Middle East during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). He made an emergency survival and evacuation “Go Bag” backpack for his wife who served in the Foreign Service. If there was a coup d’état, an IED attack, or any other threat in one of the most dangerous places on earth, Jason’s wife Emily could grab her “Go-Ruck” and evacuate with the essentials of food, water, additional clothing and rudimentary survival gear.

GORUCK founder Jason McCarthy (center), a former member of U.S. Army Special Forces.

Without knowing it, McCarthy had conglomerated an idea that had been around for a long time into a saleable brand, then began to parlay that brand into an image, an event and even a lifestyle.

GORUCK could have become just another military backpack brand, and in the wake of the 9/11, there are a lot of them. But Jason McCarthy also built something else along with his simple, sturdy, square, tech-free backpacks. He built a vibe.

The GORUCK vibe is a learned responsibility. It’s isn’t politically yawed, it’s not a “movement”. It’s an insight and acceptance of the real world in accelerated change. A change that in the post-9/11, Arab Spring and polarized U.S. political world can just as easily come off the rails as it can evolve into a new unified world. Either way it goes, the GORUCK ethos is adaptable. And capable.

Most participant endurance sports are compensation. Compensation for a sterile life lived too easily, too slowly, too conveniently. Our culture has become overweight and underprepared. If most Americans got a flat tire in a rural setting and had to walk six miles in hot weather to find a tow truck they would be in deep trouble, especially if their smart phone battery died. GORUCK Light acknowledges that. So, you train for the “real world” and gain some functional fitness and endurance while meeting friends and re-connecting with how to cooperate on a team. GORUCK events are no different in terms of compensating. They offer a “synthetic” or contrived set of discretionary challenges. But much of what you learn and practice at GORUCK is practical, and it may come in handy if you are ever have to walk your way to safety, or even make a connecting flight across the airport after the shuttle has left.

GORUCK Light Detroit on Saturday, May 5, 2018 in Hart Plaza.

In December, 2016 CNN reported that, “Karen Klein, 46, was headed to the Grand Canyon National Park with her husband Eric and their 10-year-old son. State Road 67, which leads to the canyon’s north rim, is closed for the winter and their car’s GPS detoured them through forest service roads.” Klein was stranded in her car and forced to endure a brutal, freezing 26-mile solo hike for 30 hours. CNN reported she, “Subsisted on twigs and drinking her own urine, to get help.”

In December, 2006 Daryl Blake Jane was stranded in snow in his Jeep Cherokee on a remote U.S. Forest Service road west of Mount Adams, Washington. He was forced to survive in his vehicle, in the depth of winter, for nearly two weeks.

In between these instances there have been many more when people had to rely on basic fitness and skills to survive. This isn’t the fringe “prepper” or “survivalist” mindset. This is basic responsibility for your own life and the people around you. GORUCK teaches and tests that responsibility.

Different from the vibe of Ironman triathlons with their finisher photos and individual stories, GORUCK is about the group. It’s about cooperation, teamwork, unity and acceptance. It is about admitting your shortcomings and about doing more than your share while not expecting an extra pat on the back. It’s about carrying someone else’s ruck when the going gets tough, and having them carry yours. Everyone has a bad moment in GORUCK. There are no solo finisher photos in front a branded banner, no medal around your neck. You get a Velcro patch for making it as a team for the hook and loop section of your GORUCK. Every tribe has its icons.

GORUCK events include a community service component where participants have to plan and execute a project that benefits the community. Every participant is required to play a role in the community service project. Our event participants collected food and clothing for homeless people in Detroit and raised cash donations for shelters.

GORUCK events vary in intensity from the GORUCK Light, the easiest and shortest introductory event, to the difficult long distance, non-stop GORUCK events like GORUCK Tough and GORUCK Heavy. GORUCK also provides practical skill training events.

The GORUCK events mesh well with the Crossfit, veteran, law enforcement, emergency services crowd but don’t have an exclusive mindset. This is about teamwork, integration, doing more than your share and accepting help when you inevitably have a weak moment. And everyone has a weak moment sooner or later. But the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, and that is one of the lessons of GORUCK. Two is one, one is none, and synergy gets everyone to the finish as a group. In GORUCK, you are never more than an arm’s length from a teammate. Stray too far, and you are doing another combination of push-ups, bear crawls or eight-count body builders. You don’t even go the bathroom in a GORUCK event by yourself.

We’re through Mexicantown now in full Cinco de Mayo swing. Now we’re making our way at a fast trot along Vernor Highway, underneath the iconic Detroit ruins of the Michigan Central Train Depot. We hump our packs up from underneath the train tracks and through Roosevelt Park where we pose for a group photo. From there it is double-time east on Michigan Ave. as we enter the final miles of the event at a fast clip.

Our team carries a simulated casualty on an improvised litter in the final miles of the event.

But one man goes down from heat, dehydration and the workload of moving fast with a heavy pack. Our “cadre”, the instructor/administrators of a GORUCK event, show us how to rig an expedient casualty litter from an eight-foot section of 1” tubular nylon climbing webbing. In only minutes, we have the “casualty’s” ruck off, I wear it on my chest with my ruck on my back, and we continue east at combat speed on Michigan Ave. You never know the distance or course in GORUCK. We may have another three miles to go, or another five. We may have to climb four parking structures, or one. We may have to cross open waterways (the GORUCK Light event earlier in the day in Detroit was in the Detroit River four times). Not knowing the course or distance is a component of the event.

Finally, we reach Washington Blvd. and take a right, still moving fast, still carrying our “casualty”, a roughly 230-pound lad who is finding out that riding in a field-expedient improvised litter isn’t much more comfortable than humping a 40-pound ruck. Everyone is out of water. There are no aid stations in GORUCK. No support. No mile markers. No course map before the event. Like selection for the most elite special forces units you never know when the instructors will stop the “class”, circle you around, and declare “ENDEX” or “end of exercise”.

The GORUCK baby elephant walk.

One of our scouts veers off into a parking structure two blocks from the Detroit River. It’s dark now and I wasn’t looking forward to figuring out how to move our “casualty”, our rucks and ourselves through the dark water of the Detroit River as the air cools way off. So, I’m glad when our team hits the stairs and begins to run up eight flights to the roof of the parking garage. I’m glad until I realize I am at the front of the group running up flights of stairs wearing two 35 pound rucks. By the fifth floor I am destroyed. Three to go.

At the top of the parking garage our instructors “Wild Will” and “DS”, one a former U.S. Air Force Special Operations Combat Controller, the other a former U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations member, both with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, circle us around. What now? When does this thing end?

Wild Will unzips one of the team weights we have been carrying over the last 8 or nine miles, a massive and awkward cordura duffel, and produces a can of Dos Equis. We’ve learned a lot today at GORUCK Light Detroit, and perhaps the best lesson is that, whether it is in a big party crowd in Mexicantown on Cinco de Mayo or carrying your new buddy in an improvised litter down Michigan Ave in Detroit, GORUCK Light brings people together. Then we hear those magic words:

“ENDEX! You made it.”

GORUCK Light Detroit 2018 ENDEX, “End of Exercise.

 

 

Author Tom Demerly is a former member of a U.S. Army National Guard Long Range Surveillance Team (LRS) and Company Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He has raced endurance events on all seven continents including Antarctica and completed over 200 triathlons including the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona. Hawaii. His articles have been published in Outside, Business Insider,Velo-News, Bicycle Guide, Bicycling, Inside Triathlon, Triathlete, Triathlon Today!, USA Triathlon Magazine and many other publications around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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