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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.

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Two bicycle specialty stores closed in Metro Detroit this year. Three more suddenly changed “ownership” in November on their way to eventual closure.

On the national scale, Advanced Sport Enterprises, parent company to Performance Bicycle and Bike Nashbar, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month.

After decades of failure to adapt, Southeastern Michigan bicycle retail is in a brutal phase of enforced transition. Despite an overall economic boom many bike shops are a bust. Southeastern Michigan bike store closures and hasty ownership spin-offs that precede further closings confirm that.

The questions are; how did this happen; how can it be avoided and what will the industry look like once the rules of business exact their toll?

Like most significant shifts in business there is no singular cause.  A conspiracy of factors combines to weigh heavily on traditional bicycle retail. The reality that the industry has ignored these factors for so long manifests itself in this crisis.

Not every bicycle retailer is in crisis though, and some old-skool bike shops not only survive but are capitalizing on the increasing failures of retailers who thought they knew it all but had neither solid financials or enough vision to adapt in the changing retail landscape.

Southeastern Michigan bike shops like Jack’s Bicycle and Fitness, Roll Models in Allen Park, Michigan, Brick Wheels in Traverse City and Wheels in Motion in Ann Arbor are still there, still doing business and quietly surviving and growing as the others collapse around them.

In the renaissance of downtown Detroit, a new generation of bike family businesses has emerged on the shoulders of men like Jon Hughes of Downtown Ferndale and Downtown Detroit bike shops. Hughes also leads the family effort to grow the Lexus Velodrome and launch a new demi-empire in media and cycling in post-recession Detroit. He comes from a dynasty of bicycle business that stretches back three generations to Mike Walden and the formation of the country’s second oldest cycling club, the Wolverines. Even Bob Akers, who runs the decades-old, dingy, crumbling International Bike Shop in Garden City has survived as the shiny newcomers who thought they knew it all have tumbled.

Why do some shops survive while others fail? One factor common in the surviving Michigan bike retailers is they own their own real estate. But the ingredients for success, not just survival, are more complex than just owning your building.

Harvard MBAs don’t start bike shops. Bike shop owners don’t have business degrees. They start bike shops because they love bikes or have no other opportunity. They’re hobbyists. Not businessmen. The barriers to entry are low. Got $100K? You can open a bike shop. You’ll never tell a bike shop owner he doesn’t know business. As far as bicycle retail store owners are concerned, they are experts at retail. The crash of Michigan high-end specialty retailers proves otherwise.

I was this guy.  I lost my own store after 17 successful years during the recession. Then, like a scene from a movie where the plot repeats again and again, I went to work for two other retailers around the U.S. who, like me, thought they knew everything and couldn’t be told anything. They’re gone now too. More will follow.

Failure is only failure if you fail to learn. But in bicycle retail, no one listens. The first bike shop I worked for when I was 15 years old went out of business because the owners failed to adapt. The last bike shop I worked for four decades later did exactly the same thing. The owners refused to adapt. In a repetitive pantomime, I tried to convince the owners of the last shop I worked at to move the cash register to facilitate better customer traffic flow. It was a minor change that may have resulted in a minor improvement. I tried for a year. They never moved it. They went out of business months after I finally quit in frustration and left to work in another industry.

I take some small satisfaction in knowing the store that lasted the longest was mine. But business is pass/fail. You can run a successful business for 6,205 days like I did, but if you fail on the 6,206th day, you are a failure.

The first lesson I learned in losing my own store is you have to own your failure. Mine was my fault. While there were factors including a global recession that contributed to my 17-year-old store failing, I could have moderated them. Others did. I wasn’t smart enough or humble enough at the time. Some people pay college tuition for an education. I paid in bankruptcies and a modern day “Grapes of Wrath” by losing everything. While the second way may be a more durable education, it’s also more painful.

I went on to work for two more bike retail owners who made exactly the same mistakes I did while ignoring the changes that could have saved them. But bike shop owners don’t listen.

The specifics on what is killing some of Michigan’s bicycle retailers is a fascinating case study in the evolution of business that could fill a book. Bike shop owners and bike shops are, in many ways, indicative of the American economic condition. They are the epitome of small business America. As the small, independent bike goes, so goes all of small retail- good and bad. Small restaurants, pet stores, book retail, independent jewelers and all small retail can learn something from the enforced evolution and bizarre non-evolution of bicycle retail.

Small bicycle retail has been quick to scapegoat the big, ugly mega-retailer and the .com as the reason for their bust. That is a lie. In the broad sense, bicycle retailers are killing themselves by failing to adapt and innovate. They do it in hundreds of small ways every day they continue to do the same tired things over and over and over. Even the bicycle retailers who have survived could do better. For most of the survivors a major reason they still exist is they own their own real estate and remain impervious to swings in the volatile southeastern Michigan economy. But even their future is increasingly in doubt as forward-thinking innovators understand new opportunities in the age of Amazon One-Click.

What will happen to Michigan small bicycle retail? One thing is certain: it will continue to change at a rate that outpaces the ability of most shop owners to adapt. That means we’ll see more southeastern Michigan bike shops closing. Unless they learn from someone’s mistakes the cycle of failure in Michigan cycling retail will continue.

 


 

Tom Demerly is a 42-year bicycle industry veteran who owned his own business for 17 years. Today he is a defense and aviation analyst for several international publications including TheAviationist.com published in Rome, Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Dustin Davis, story by Tom Demerly of tomdemerly.com.

It is an image of fierce defiance frozen in a terrifying moment. A powerful vision of what many people see as the American condition. As I type this, over 15,000 people have shared it from my Facebook page across social media that I can track. As of Monday night, another person shares it every 15 seconds. While I despise the colloquialism “going viral”, there is no doubt something about this image has resonated again and again with the current collective American consciousness.

It is the Taylor Creek Fire “Don’t Tread On Me” photo.

Dustin Davis, 32, of College Place, Washington, shot the photo of a rattlesnake frozen in its fiery death throes on Wednesday, August 8th, 2018 at 12:55 PM local time during the early stages of the Taylor Creek fire in Oregon. Davis was fighting the fire as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Regiment of the Oregon National Guard.

Davis told me Monday night in an interview on Facebook Messenger that, “On a mop-up mission my buddy Miles and I stumbled upon that little guy. I knelt down and took the picture with my iPhone. I was very intrigued by the way it had died and was really moved by it.”

 

 “On a mop-up mission my buddy Miles and I stumbled upon that little guy. I knelt down and took the picture with my iPhone. I was very intrigued by the way it had died and really moved by it.”

 

I saw the photo on Dustin’s Instagram page at dndavis0ne and copied it to my Facebook page. I added the observation that Dustin Davis’ remarkable photo of the charred snake looked like the snake depicted on the famous Gadsden Flag with the moniker, “Don’t Tread On Me”. For that reason, the image seemed iconic and metaphoric of our country that feels increasingly divided, increasingly fractured, and trapped in some kind of modern “trial by fire”. Judging by how the image has resonated across social media, I wasn’t the only one who recognized the symbolism of Dustin Davis’ now famous photo and the Gadsden Flag.

Firefighter and photographer Dustin Davis.

Almost as soon as I shared it to my Facebook page, initially without Dustin Davis’ permission, the image started to go viral. When it started to trend, I tried to find the original source I copied it from when Dustin Davis contacted me on Facebook. Given that I had initially taken his photo from Instagram with a screen capture and without asking, Davis was incredibly gracious about letting me continue to use it after I replied to him. He even agreed to this interview late Monday.

The massive Taylor Creek fire, burning now since early August, was started by lightning according to the official information from the U.S. Forest Service in the region. It has burned over 52,000 acres and, as of Monday, August 20, is nearly “79 percent contained” according to the Forest Service. A nearby fire, also started by lightning, the Klondike Fire, covers a staggering 72,074 acres (113 square miles of area) and is now only 28 percent contained. The wildfires burning in the American west now are reported to be the worst in history, a reality that has raised an increasingly divisive debate about everything from forestry and water management to global climate change as the fires continue to burn out west.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Be careful with Stefano Sollima and Taylor Sheridan’s latest blockbuster, “Sicario: Day of the Soldato”.

It’s sinister, seductive relevance carries a sobering slap-in-the-face wake-up call or toxic political venom. It’s your choice. But either way you lean with the theme, the relevance and mastery of this knock-out sequel make it a rare case of a follow-on achieving everything its predecessor did, and maybe even more.

Chalk it up to timing and headlines, but “Sicario, Day of the Soldato” is laser-guided relevant with weighty themes of Mexican immigration and political subversion. The real-world significance cause the movie to do something few films do now: you actually care about the story.

“Sicario: Day of the Soldato” follows the original 2015 “Sicario” with much of the same cast. Gone are character Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) and Icelandic composer and Oscar winner Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Director Stefano Sollima.

New to “Soldato” are Isabela Reyes (16-year old actress Isabela Moner) and the ominous, throbbing soundtrack strains of Hildur Guðnadóttir (say “GWON-A-doh-ter). Also from Iceland, Guðnadóttir was previously a classical cellist who is relatively new to bigtime soundtracks. This is her break-out moment. The two opening notes from her main theme to the movie are resonant and foreboding. It’s the “Jaws” theme for the Mexican border.

Character Isabela Reyes, a youthful character forced into the story, replaces the role of Kate Mercer from the previous film. In the original “Sicario”, Kate Mercer was symbolic of all of America struggling to understand the drug cartels, immigration issues and complex injustices surrounding the U.S./Mexico border. In “Soldato”, the juvenile Isabella Reyes performs a similar function but from a different perspective. She never had youthful innocence, is resigned to a violent life and is calloused and durable. While Kate Mercer represented the U.S. relationship to the border issues, Isabella Reyes serves as a character metaphor for all of Mexico trying to understand the border crisis, and also falling victim to it.

Young actress Isabela Moner’s masterful portrayal of character Isabela Reyes is the dramatic delivery tool to “Soldato”.

There is a complex lineage to the plot of “Sicario: Day of the Soldato”. The genetics of the story can be traced back directly to master story mechanic Tom Clancy. Clancy’s 2011 book Against All Enemies followed the path of Middle Eastern terrorism to central America and up to the United States across the Mexican border. That theme was also woven into the 2012 film “Act of Valor”. While this theme could have been structural to “Soldato”, it is, in reality, the only accessory to the main plot. The idea of terrorism entering the U.S. through illegal Mexican immigration is presented, and then seemingly abandoned in the film. If “Soldato” has a singular shortcoming, that is it. But this relevant footnote interlocks on the plot fairly smoothly.

An integral part of both “Sicario” and “Sicario: Day of the Soldato” are their remarkable thematic economy. There is no fluff. It’s all meat. As a result of this tight plot and orderly story you can never look away. Every scene matters, every detail engages. While the writing and organization of the theme facilitate this thematic economy, what delivers it is flawless visual production.

The visual experience of “Soldato” is beautifully textured with a subtle hint of well-done graphic novels. Composition of shots provides a true feel for the barren Sonora desert and the southern border region. It conveys something many people in the United States don’t get about the Mexican border issue: this is a different world from the rest of the United States. This writer lived near the Mexico-United States border for nearly three years, crossed the badlands between Arizona and Mexico numerous times and has stood across the wall from Juarez, Mexico. I’ve also lived in the Middle East and travel across North Africa. The border region has more in common with the Middle East and North Africa than it does with anywhere else in the U.S. As a result, most Americans have a tough time putting the border crisis into perspective. “Soldato” provides a visual insight that dramatizes the reality of the Mexico/U.S. border.

There is another brutally relevant gut-punch in “Soldato”. One that is as accurate as it is politically inflammatory. “Sicario: Day of the Soldato” acknowledges the weaponization of illegal immigrants. Whether they are Libyan and Syrian immigrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Malta or Greece, or Mexican immigrants trying to gain entry to the U.S., the exodus of distressed populations has been subversively used by nations to impose discord and hardship on neighboring countries. As the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico has degraded over the border debate, the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. has, by nearly all accounts, accelerated to a point where the question of what to do with the increasing number of people who cross into the U.S. has become deeply divisive. “Soldato” pulls no punches in editorializing that illegal immigration is being used as a tool by drug cartels and a corrupt government to destabilize the U.S. After the last two weeks of illegal immigration headlines in the U.S. and a couple hours in the theater with “Soldato” this light bulb goes on over your head pretty brightly.

Given all the relevance, economy, visual luxury and masterful execution of “Sicario: Day of the Soldato”, this film gets a spot on the very top shelf of the best dramatic thrillers as sharp as a paper cut from today’s headlines. “Soldato” is a rare sequel masterwork, durable and abundant with visual and thematic relevance.


 

Tom Demerly writes for TheAviationist.com and appears in Business Insider. His articles and editorials are read by millions around the world.

 

 

 

 

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

They are among the most famous images in human history. The Robert Capa Life Magazine D-Day photos.

Blurry, poorly exposed and framed in terror, the images transcend photography and achieve a higher level of journalism: they are visual experience.

Robert Capa, whose real name was Endre Friedmann, was a Hungarian willing to go where no other war photographer would. He was the only news photographer on Omaha Beach with the early waves of the allied invasion force, hitting the beach with the second wave. Capa went on to shoot photos in five wars. His friends included Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.

Photojournalist Robert Capa, the only photographer on the beach during the second wave of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.

Robert Capa cut a dashing figure with handsome features and a jaunty smirk on his face. He did, in fact of matter, laugh at danger. He seemed to revel in it. Capa was 30 years old when he landed at Omaha Beach and shot his photos. His mannerisms and exploits defined modern journalists like Dan Rather, Wolf Blitzer, Christiana Amanpour, Geraldo Rivera, Peter Arnett, Robert Pelton Young, Evan Wright, and John Simpson.

The enormity and perfection of Capa’s D-Day photos cannot be overstated. They are, in every way, perfect photographs. Robert Capa’s D-Day photos not only depict what it looked like to be in the first wave of the Normandy landings, they demonstrate how it felt to be there. Horrifying, Chaotic, disorganized, polarized, distinctly black and white and desperate. Had Capa’s photos turned out to be well composed, in focus and correctly exposed with the negatives arriving to the darkroom undamaged our perception of D-Day and, in fact, warfare overall, would be different today.

The black and white medium speaks to the absolute polarization of the conflict. The battle of Normandy was not just the allies against the axis, it was a clash of good against evil. No battle since has been so clearly delineated in the public conscience.

The blurriness of the photos accurately chronicles the chaos of D-Day. Troops landed in the wrong place. Landing craft were swamped. Soldiers drowned before firing a shot. Those who survived the landings were shredded by machine gun fire from fortified concrete bunkers. Artillery from naval ships rained onto the beach indiscriminately killing both friendly forces and the enemy. More so than even Dante’s Inferno, the Capa photos are the visual depiction of hell.

In point of fact, Robert Capa’s D-Day photos changed the world to a similar degree the invasion itself did.

Along with photos of the Apollo Moon Landings and the funeral of John F. Kennedy, the Capa D-Day photos are the most famous photos in history. As media evolved into the video and then internet age the relevance and impact of still photos waned. People were hard to shock with a single image. Our brains became trained to interpret visual information differently, cameras became more common and higher quality, the transmission of images became instantaneous and every person with a smartphone became a reporter. But even with this evolution and proliferation of media Capa’s D-Day photos still stab with a sense of horror and violence.

Capa shot the D-Day images using two Contax II cameras both fitted with 50mm lenses. He carried redundant equipment in case one camera malfunctioned or was destroyed in battle. Capa shot 35mm film negatives. He carried additional rolls of film with him, but changing the film without accidentally exposing it and keeping it dry was nearly impossible on D-Day.

Although Capa shot a total of 106 frames before, during and after the landing of the second invasion wave he accompanied, most were destroyed by a fifteen-year-old lab assistant named Dennis Banks working for Life magazine in London. Banks accidentally set a film negative dryer too high and melted three complete rolls of film. In a bizarre allegory, it is as though those lost images symbolize the soldiers lost on Omaha Beach that day. Even Capa’s ruined images remain significant.

Page layout from the original Life Magazine D-Day issue on June 19, 1944.

Only 11 total photos by Robert Capa of the D-Day invasion survived the darkroom error. Capa never mentioned the loss of the images. He took the matter completely in stride, the horrors and loss of battle having hardened him.

Life magazine published ten of the eleven photos on June 19, 1944. The feature was a splash-photo spread with short captions that were partly inaccurate. The captions didn’t matter. Capa’s photos told the story of the horror of D-Day most effectively without words. The images live on, almost more impactful now in retrospect than in the month following the D-Day landings.

On May 25, 1954 Robert Capa was killed when he stepped on a landmine while reporting on the French involvement in what went on to become the Vietnam War. Two journalists accompanying him, Jim Lucas and John Mecklin also from Life magazine, reported that Capa held his camera even as he was evacuated to a forward area field hospital, where he died from his wounds at the age of 41.


 

Author Tom Demerly is a U.S. correspondent for TheAviationist.com, the foremost military aviation blog in the world. He is a former U.S. Army Long Range Surveillance Team member and has visited all seven continents. He has written for TACAIRNET, 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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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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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com (originally published in 2004)

The weather report said the sun would go down today at 7:49 pm. And it did.

Now it is dark.

In the street there is a sporadic, somber procession. It is a black and white picture. There is no color, no pageantry, and no grandeur. The grace is gone and now and it is down to gritty reality.

It is the time of The Strugglers. 11:18 pm, Taupo, New Zealand- the 20th, 2004 Anniversary Bonita Banana Ironman Triathlon.

The Pros are asleep. Their stomachs are full, their muscles are massaged. Their performances are a matter of record now. They are done. Have been for quite some time. They finished in the sunlight in the front of cameras and microphones racing for paychecks and trophies.

It’s easy to understand why they race. They should race. They look like they should. Lithe and toned and buff and tan and serious, the Pros and the other talented athletes reap the generous gift of genetic athletic abundance, meticulous preparation and clear-cut motivation. They are here to kick ass. It doesn’t take a psychologist to decode their motives. They’re athletes, and this is the big show. It’s what they do.

The pros’ time is over. Now it is time for The Strugglers.

There are no levels of performance for The Strugglers. You either are or you aren’t one. If you haven’t finished by now and you’re still out under the lights you are a member of this vaunted fraternity, The Strugglers. Just as the stark street lights leave either harsh illumination or black despair for The Strugglers this is a matter of finish or not finish, victory or defeat, do or die, pride or humiliation, success or failure. It is all the chips on one square, all the cards face up on the table, and all the aces have already been dealt today. The Strugglers play high stakes with a bad hand.

It may never have been pretty for The Strugglers. Most of them may not be athletes in the sense that they spend hours and hours every week training, but they line up nonetheless to do this race. The downtrodden, the meek, the ones with something to prove or something to defeat. Whatever it is they bring it here and beat it into ugly submission over 140.6 miles, each one a full 5,280 feet. The Strugglers earn every inch of every foot of every mile.

In a day so daunting and fearful they line up on the beach as if bravely facing the gallows. A cannon sounds the beginning of their trial and there is little known at the onset about how matters will be resolved, except to say it will be hard and uncomfortable and then downright painful. That may be the most frightening part: The not knowing. Some will find absolution, some will teeter and wobble and fall. There will be polite acknowledgement of their ambition, but ultimately, for The Strugglers the only thing that matters is Finishing. It’s what they’re here for.

So for The Strugglers, this is a huge gamble. Hero or failure. No in between.

And struggle they might, against awful odds and distance and poor conditioning and genetic poverty, but in bravery they are absolutely peerless. Without equal.

The Strugglers know it will not be pretty. They know it is not a sure thing. They do not have the luxury of prediction or past performances or experience. This is not their aptitude. But this is their choice and their bold dream.

Imagine being sent to do something, something beastly difficult. You know in your heart of hearts you are not prepared, maybe not even suited for this. You know the stares of others less brave and more envious fall heavily on your effort. They want The Strugglers to fail. For every Struggler who crosses the finish line it is a failure for those who never dared try. For every Struggler who sadly and reluctantly succumbs to the distance before the finish line and is carried off the course it is a victory for those who never started. They take sick pleasure in that. Shame on them.

Those who never had the courage to try have no right to cast judgment on The Strugglers.

The Pros are comfortable and resting. But the Strugglers have not left their sacred vigil. They soldier on, unswerving in their oath to finish, No Matter What. People marvel at the Pros performance, but I say The Strugglers are the real athletes. Explorers on the terrible frontier of self-doubt, fear and potential embarrassment on a grand scale. They bring less to the start line and they do more. Longer, harder, more painful: It is a different race for The Strugglers.

It is a parade really. A parade of people so brave and tough and fearless that they don’t care if it might not work. They bank on the fact that it could. They don’t back away from the possibility of failure. Imagine their performance as set against the backdrop of the very best in the world and they are not self-conscious about their version of the very same dance. Ask yourself, would you take the stage at the Kennedy Center after Barishnikov or Pavoratti? Are you that brave?

The Strugglers are.

Their performance is tedious and grinding. It is utterly relentless in its duration. The distance, the time, the struggle cannot be compromised. The Strugglers know this, they accept it- embrace it even. And they never succumb. Under the street lights, through the cool air, in filthy clothes streaked with their own discharge of minerals and fluids and sometimes even tears and blood.

The Strugglers do a different kind of race. A harder one. And they are Elite. It takes longer. It is less practiced. It seems to never end, and it does more damage.

Decode their motives if you will. But I decode yours as trying to explain more why you didn’t try than why they are. Instead, I respectfully suggest, salute them. Unless you have walked with The Strugglers until midnight on the Ironman course they stand above you in the athletic arena. Struggle as they may, they mustered the courage to try.

 

 

Tom Demerly has been doing triathlons since 1984, still does them (but slower and fatter now) and just completed the Detroit, Michigan GORUCK Light event. He worked in the triathlon industry since it began, and the bicycle industry from the age of 15, over 40 years. Today he is a correspondent for TheAviationist.com in Rome, Italy.

 

 

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