The Day Before Bataan 2018

In preparation for tomorrow’s 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March, the husband and I are in serious preparation mode. We like to call it: relaxing. We are as prepared as we are going to be, our plans are finalized, and any changes now will be pointless if not damaging towards our successful completion of the Bataan Memorial Death March. Thus, we decided that today would be the day to relax, hydrate, and get some sleep.

We dropped by White Sands Missile Range so I could double check my pack’s weight which turned out to be a good idea since I was half a pound under the 35 pound minimum for the Heavy Division. Turns out I had some power/endurance gels in two small pockets on the outside of the pack which put me over the minimum weight requirement yesterday but would have disqualified me tomorrow since they could have been picked up somewhere on the course. A quick trip to the on-post commissary and a pound of rice later, my pack was back above the 35 pound mark. Unfortunately, that means with water and power gels, I will be at 40 pounds of marching weight.

Checking on the weather we will be walking in high 70’s to low 80’s heat with little cloud cover after 10:00 AM. It doesn’t sound hot and most people will assume this is actually a comfortable temperature; unfortunately, for me, this is already in the higher end of the heat spectrum. I have suffered from heat stroke and heat exhaustion several times over the past decade and a half which makes me more susceptible to falling prey to it again. With the wind blowing 15-20 MPH throughout the day, the human body’s natural evaporative cooler will be put to the test as my sweat dries too quickly to effectively cool.

With the weight of my pack and non-confidence inducing weather report, the best plan of action for the day was relaxation, hydration, and purposefully calming myself ahead of the walk tomorrow. The husband agreed with me very quickly. So, what does a person do at White Sands Missile Range and/or Alamogordo to pass the time on a Saturday? To be honest, there isn’t much to be done.

WSMR Museum
WSMR Museum Outdoor Displays

On post, a number of events and activities were taking place (meals, some entertainment, seminars, etc.), but none of them were overly appealing to either one of us. The most interesting thing to me was a historical presentation being put on by the NMSU ROTC at the base theater. However, we didn’t feel the desire to “hang around” post until this took place so we headed over to the White Sands Missile Range Museum to gawk at the impressive devices of testing and destruction. If you nerd out over military history, rocketry, and everything that goes into developing implements of destruction, you should find time to stop in at this museum. I’m the first to admit that it is probably a very boring experience for a majority of people, but the full-size inert munitions they have on the grounds should impress just about anyone.

NMMSH - Outdoor Displays
New Mexico Museum of Space History – Outdoor Displays

After an hour of touring the museum and its paraphernalia, we headed into Alamogordo to check out the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Again, this is a place to nerd out over rocketry (seeing a theme for the area yet?) and the amount of knowledge, work, and discovery that has gone into putting man in space. I visited this museum a handful of times as a kid (during two summers of Space Camp, yeah, I was that nerd) so this was just as much a walk down memory lane as it was a new experience. The husband enjoyed it about as much as possible when you’re looking at slightly dated (but still cool!) displays and large chunks of old-school technology. I still highly recommend it to anyone passing through the area. There is also a small, but fully equipped planetarium down the hill from the museum which is worth watching.

To wrap up the out-of-hotel relaxation tour, we stopped in at the Toy Train Depot to learn a little about the history of the railroad in this part of New Mexico and see some pretty extravagant toy train setups. There is a lot to see in this small building, the attendant was very friendly and chatty, and the running model train was very impressive. Also, you can take a small train ride around the park attached to the building.

Toy Train Depot - Alamogordo NM
Train Car outside of the Toy Train Depot in Alamogordo NM

Now, I fully understand that we are likely missing out on some sense of camaraderie associated with participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March by touring Alamogordo instead of hanging out at White Sands Missile Range. However, this is our first year doing the event and our first vacation in quite some time so the time together is as important as the event itself. Next year, I hope my best friend will be able to join me (or us) for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March. Maybe then we will take part in more of the community and bonding events.

What do you do the day before a big endurance event? Share your experiences in the comments and look for my post march post tomorrow (or the day after)!

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Arrival at Bataan 2018…

Bataan Bibs - 2018 - EditedAt 3:00 o’clock this morning, the husband and I packed up the car with the large North Face duffel bag, my large Blackhawk Assault pack, and some miscellaneous hydration sized bags. By 3:30 we were off…well, I was off while the husband snoozed/listened to an audio book through his earbuds. After four hours of driving through a pitch black, no moon, overcast night we arrived at White Sands Missile Range for the Bataan Memorial Death March in-processing shenanigans. However, I was a little disappointed when we stood in line for ten minutes before the doors opened only to be out of the building (packets in hand and smiles on our faces) 5 minutes after we were let in. So sad.

There was positive energy among the eclectic gathering of people in line. A woman in her 50’s will be running the marathon; a pair of veterans with their wives laughed about old times in the Army; a veteran behind us met up with an old friend he hadn’t seen in years. For the most part, the husband and I stood quietly, taking it all in and enjoying the atmosphere.

Young ROTC cadets from NMSU standing by the door in slacks and button downs looked cautiously over the people, probably wondering if they would ever measure up to some of the veterans looking back at them. If I could share a morsel of wisdom with them it would be simple: don’t try to be those who came before you, push the limits and set new standards. I look forward to seeing some of these cadets on the route come Sunday.

The base is very clean (as almost all military installations are) with clean rock landscaping in lieu of grass in most places. Civilian contractors roamed in packs of 4 with wee-eaters and hoes making slight improvements to an already exceptional post. The personnel we encountered were polite and courteous, filled with a positive energy that helps up the motivation levels for Sunday.

Now, for the bad news (or at the very least, cautionary news). I registered for the heavy division (35 pound pack minus water or other consumables) with the expectation of a 4 month train-up to this event. However, I fell pray to stress at work, general laziness, and an overall lack of motivation. These are not new things and I believed I had appropriately taken them into account when planning this whole endeavor – unfortunately, I was unsuccessful.

Since the beginning, I have had no intentions of competing in my age group for 1st or 2nd place (the only two positions who receive a medal per age group); I merely wanted to complete the event without crippling myself. When I factor in the lack of training/preparation, I am merely cautiously optimistic that I will 1. finish and 2. not be injured in some way. My plan is to keep a reasonable, steady pace despite 1,100 feet of elevation gain from mile 8 to 15 and deep sand sections. Fortunately, I have the husband beside me in the Light (no pack) Division to help keep pace and feed me protein bars.

Alright, I am going to wrap up this post but intend on writing more about course conditions and weather tomorrow – come back and see! I will leave you with this beautiful picture of White Sands National Park (we stopped in on our way to the hotel after in-processing).

Bataan - Not the Course - White Sands NP
White Sands National Park – Not a part of the Bataan Course

Have you completed the Bataan Memorial Death March? What training tips do you have for the uninitiated? Were you Heavy or Light Division, Military or Civilian? Share your experience in the comments! 

 

 

The Bataan Memorial Death March

2018-01-01 (2)With such an ominous name as “Death March” one could wonder why anyone would voluntarily participate in such an event. For me, it is a simple answer: Bucket List item.

For those who don’t know, I served a little over 6 years in the Army as an Infantryman. One of the primary tasks an Infantryman must be able to perform at any moment is walking from Point A to Point B within a designated amount of time. Something that you practice time and again until you can go all day or night without thinking twice about it.

Sounds simple, right? Well, add in the requirement to maintain X number of meters between you and the person in front of you while remaining cognizant of the person (or people) behind you. Don’t forget to keep your head on a swivel to ensure the enemy isn’t going to ambush you and kill you and your friends.

Still easy? Okay, put a bag on your back that contains everything you will need for Y amount of time – clothes, shovel, water, food, sleeping bag, poncho, ammunition, rain gear, cold gear, more ammunition, parachute cord, magazines (for aforementioned ammunition), your buddy’s ammunition, maybe a tripod – and try not to think about the fact that all of this stuff weighs 65 pounds or more (really try not to think about that 65 pounds being a third of your total body weight).

Anybody can do that, what’s the big deal? I gotcha, carrying around all that weight and remaining hyper-vigilant of your surroundings (for an enemy attack – you know, the kind that want to kill you) is easy. Now stop and go, never taking the weight off your shoulders, only being able to take a knee – no sitting for you hard ass – or hunch over for a moment’s relief for 12 hours through the night and over two mountains.

Maybe that’s got you thinking, “okay, maybe not for me”? But wait, that’s not all! After walking as far as you walked with all that weight on your back and ensuring nobody ambushed you or your friends along the way, you now get to drop that bag! Only to prep weapons and perform a furious, violence on the objective filled assault on a target. Sounds fun? Imagine walking a marathon carrying what amounts to the lower half of your body on your shoulders then sprinting 2 miles. All without sleep or any meaningful amount of food or water.

Not so easy, right? So why would I put a lighter version of all this on my bucket list? That answer is a bit more complicated.

My experiences in the Army showed me what I could do physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, as bad as it sometimes was, I never had to experience the sheer hell the men captured in Bataan had to endure. Those men were tougher than nails, harder than granite, and committed to preserving not only their lives but the lives of their fellow man. In the Army, we put ourselves through pain and undesirable physical conditions to pay tribute to those men who have done so much more than most will ever do. This is my tribute to those soldiers.

Another reason for voluntarily walking 26.2 miles with 35 pounds on my back through southeastern New Mexico desert in late March is: the challenge. Have you ever wondered, “how far can I go?” or “is that my limit or do I have more in me?”. These questions have always pushed me to take risks and pursue less traveled paths in life. I am by no means a pioneer or adrenaline junky who jumps off cliffs in a wing suit – I simply want to know how far this body and mind can go.

If you are interested in joining the thousands of people who participate in this event each year, you can register here for the 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March. The price of registration goes up in February!

What is the most challenging physical feat you have ever done? Why did you do it? Share your thoughts and comments below!