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Old Devil Dogs Using Old Tricks – Why Veterans Love Hardship Adventures

January 1, 2024
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Each of us has (or is) that one friend that despite not really being able to look all the way to the left anymore can’t help but find activities that resemble military training exercises. If the road is hard, the conditions arduous, the reward slim to none, it’s perfect. Tough mudders, mountain climbs, and carrying a hundred-pound ruck through the Grand Canyon all provide something deeply visceral to the veteran soul; the nostalgia of trauma bonding mixed with the feeling of accomplishment that comes from enduring something difficult. 

The day-to-day experience upon having left active duty can often be a mixed blessing. Sure, I don’t have that Gunny breathing down my neck because his marriage is on the rocks and he doesn’t have any adult friends, but I also can’t wander down to my best friend’s barracks room when I'm bored and seeking shenanigans either. For many, the military offers a sense of accomplishment and completion that spreads over what equates to our 9 to 5, because unlike our civilian counterparts, what we’re briefed in the morning can generally be finished by our brief in the evening. This is, for many, infinitely preferable to the blah pace of civilian existence by comparison.

So we go to work, punch a clock, and go home. Taco Bell is always available, and once you’re done driving for the day, drinks are an option. No one who can legally punish you for disagreeing with them should be waiting when you come home at the end of the day. (If there is, your spousal situation is your own choice). One could take this as a drastic improvement to one’s mental health, as the need to be on guard twenty-four seven is reduced… But where’s the spice?

Apparently, it’s just over the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. I could have carried a smaller pack, but live and learn, right? Or it’s at the top of the Matterhorn obstacle at the Tough Mudder competition. The stretching might have helped, but the ice bath I had to swim to get to this point tightened everything up. Perhaps I could find the spice in the high-pitched ring that follows my .308 round hitting steel at 800 yards, but by that point I should already have my pack on and be headed to the next event.

The spice is in the pain, the hardship, the strain. The nostalgia, however cliché, is what gives us that shot of serotonin we are always chasing. Why use an old Alice pack instead of the new Arc’teryx one? It’s just… Better. The spice reminds us that we are alive, upright, and capable of achieving whatever we put our minds to because we do not allow ourselves to quit. We get to pull out those old tricks we paid in sweat and blood for. The day to day of civilian life is something to be appreciated, as constant stress is not good for the heart, but there’s something to be said for going across that land nav finish line with a compass in hand, beating the kid with the GPS who forgot to bring extra batteries. Too bad he never really suffered, or he would know; two is one, and one is none.

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