(Believe it or not, those are black/gray socks. They were muddy and soaked and worthless, pushed down around my toes)
I once complained to a friend who was finishing advanced training, while I was in basic, that our double digit kilometer masa (big long hike with full gear) was torturous. He said to me, "Wait 'till you do one in the twenties. That's when they get hard." At the time I realized that 20 some kilometers would be murderous, but our 12k was still painful enough.
Well, now that we've done our first masa of advanced training, 21k, I can tell you just how right he was. The two other platoons in my company all did the hike two days before, and seeing them all limp around and talk wildly about the water-filled muddy trail was disheartening. Everyone told the same story, of the 'rivers' you had to run through every half-kilometer, instantly being soaked from the waist down. 21k with soaked legs and shoes and socks.
My group didn't start the hike until after Shabbat at about 10pm, so thankfully I had that free day to rest up. A solid 45 minutes into the hike I was still waiting for the rivers. It hadn't rained for two days, so I figured that maybe all that water had dried up and we would luckily avoid the unnecessary obstacle. But, as luck has it, I too had the joy of encountering slippery conditions.
Just before our first break at the end of the first hour, we had to jump off a section of the trail that was washed away by the week's downpours. We jumped right off into a stream that went up to my calves, with freezing cold water instantly stinging my toes deep inside my otherwise water-proof boots. I tried not to think about it, but during our little break I couldn't help but wonder how in the hell I'd get through another few hours like that.
If I only knew. At the end of each hour you have a very short break, a necessary cooling down and hydration time, and it also serves as an extra gear swap. We have to carry stretchers and water packs, a few to each platoon, so that extra weight has to be switched around. As I've written about in that above linked-to post, the water pack is by far the worst of all the gear, so no one really wants to grab it. I take it for about an hour on each hike, though, a fact I always dread.
So, at the start of the second hour I was strapped up with the water pack. Stupid. It turned out to be the worst section of the hike, with all the uphill parts of the road. I am quickly realizing while writing about these physical tests that I just don't know how to explain them to anyone. How can I write here in this blog and tell you what it felt like at 50 minutes, knowing that another break was just 10 minutes away, to see a massive uphill stretch in front of me, with an unbearably heavy pack on my back?
I can't! Add to that already impossible scenario the fact that I had just fallen twice on each shoulder and elbow, hard, because of the constantly muddied road that was really just uneven trenches from the Jeep driving in front of us. I am writing this post three weeks after the hike, and both my elbows still hurt. Essentially, my legs were going one way, my upper body another, and the water pack a third. The mud was unbearable. I was doomed.
But, like all things, the second section passed and so did the water pack. The trail dried up a bit, the knee-deep water became something I looked forward to since I felt like I was burning up at about 120º, and finally we opened up the stretches with 5k to go. We struggled mightily with our light machine gunner and his full combat vest with Rambo-esque ammo belts on one stretcher, but we finished. We did it, though it wasn't pretty. Despite serious cramping in my legs during the last hour, I finished strong.
It was past two in the morning, we hiked for four hours, but we did it. You know how bad it was? The next day, even the platoon commander, who leads these things, was limping. And check out my friend's heel. Both of them were like this:
I guess I kinda made it out OK! Until the next one...