“Let’s do it,” SFC G said.
The dozen of us in my team struggled to our feet.
Getting up took a lot of effort. Abused muscles had begun to lock up and bone seemed to grate against bone as our joints groaned in protest. Moans came from everyone. But he most extraordinary thing about standing back up was the pain in our feet.
That was enough to bring tears to a grown man’s eyes, curses mingled with prayers to his or her lips, and a deep seated dread of what the next footstep would feel like.
What did the pain feel like? I could go with the old clichés that it felt like having a baby (which I never have – wrong equipment) or smashing your finger with a hammer. But I’m supposed to be a writer so allow me to be a little poetic about how my feet felt.
What you do is take a chandler made of the finest glass crystal money can buy. Take it to the top of the Empire State Building. And then drop it on the sidewalk below. How that chandelier must feel when it hits the hard cement is how my feet felt.
And then do that over and over with each step.
I swung my ruck up and over, slipping it over my shoulders. I pulled the straps tight so they dug into my shoulders.
Getting back into formation was easy enough. SFC G made a slight, intentional error in military marching commands. He just said, “Forward march,” and we started walking.
The first few steps were pain filled. We all hunched over like old arthritic men going out to get the mail. The first steps were tentative and baby steps. Gasps and moans of pain came from each of us.
And then something short of a miracle happened. Exactly three steps in, the muscles eased up, the joints got lubricated, and the all encompassing pain in our feet went away.
Of course, when we stopped, the pain would would start all over again.
We’d actually begun training as a team in earnest several months before the march we were on now. The first couple of training marches wasn’t much more than ten or fifteen miles. A quick dash around the block so to speak.
But our crowning full up walk was a march from our barracks in Ansbach to a little swimming hole called “Palm Beach” just outside of Nuremburg.
Palm Beach is a waterpark, complete with slides, a wave machine, and several pools. It was a nice carrot to dangle before us on this march.
We got up early, fell in and started our walk. This was going to be our dress rehearsal so to speak, and had a total distance of almost 40 km (roughly 25 miles for those unfamiliar with metric). This was a full up test of equipment, boots, and of course the weakest link in the chain, us.
I’d carb loaded starting a few days before. Carb loading for me was doubling up on my breakfast cereal and having a couple of packages of Raman noddle’s instead of just one. Still, I packed along quick energy foods to include Jerky and dried fruit.
And of course water and plenty of it. I mentioned earlier about having a couple of 1 gallon canteens in addition to the quart canteen issued to me. I’d filled them and put them in my ruck. Several times this was useful to my teammates who had just the army issue canteen.
The idea was for the gallon canteens to get used first. Since they were in my ruck, this helped me out because the load I was carrying got lighter as time went by (You’d be amazed how much a gallon of water weighs).
SFC G had told us to take money. We’d eat at some gasthaus along the way and would need to pay for our meal. And once we completed our walk, we’d go swimming at Palm Beach and we’d pay for that. A truck would take us back to Ansbach (the first and only time I ever actually rode in a troop truck).
I’d driven or been along highway 14 countless times. And it’s incredible how much you miss when you’re whizzing down the highway. Even though it’s a nice drive through rolling hills and farmland, you’re busy watching the traffic. And if you see something cool, you’ve very little time to check it out.
Such was this picture. We’d started out and it was hazy. As the sky brightened, I saw this communication tower silhouetted against the brightening sky. I carried a Pentax 1000 and the vast majority of pictures I took in Europe were taken with it. I liked it because almost everything about it was manual. It had a built in light meter and the rest was up to me. About the only thing I can say about the picture was I was using ASA 100 Kodak film. I never wrote down the f-stop or shutter speed. It was just one of those “Wow, that’s cool,” point and shoot shots.
I made sure I always had plenty of film and several times I’d dash up ahead of the formation to try to get some decent pictures. For some reason, I seem to think I’ve got more than the one’s I’ve got in my albums. Maybe I did and they got lost somewhere along the way. I made sure I had plenty of film and several times I’d dash up ahead of the formation to try to get some decent pictures. For some reason, I seem to think I’ve got more than the one’s I’ve got in my albums to include some great shots in B&W. Maybe I did and they got lost somewhere along the way.
We walked through Katterbach along 14 and out into the German countryside. Our guidon carrier was out front and soon we started rotating through carrying it the company flag.
We did stop several times along the way to rest and that taught us the value of changing socks and keeping our feet powdered.
Around noon, we stopped at a gasthaus along the way. Like most gasthaus’ in Germany it was quaint and the food was delicious. If memory serves, I had my fav, Spaghetti Carbanora and a couple of sodas.
Then we finished our walk. Sitting down had taken the wind out of our sails so to speak and we had to force ourselves to finish.
By the time we reached Palm Beach, it was late afternoon. The truck was waiting for us, so we secured our gear in it, left the driver to watch things and went on in and swam for a couple of hours. By the time we left, the sun was setting. We all climbed into the truck, sat down and before I knew it, we’d all fallen asleep.
When I woke up, we’d gotten back to our barracks and it was already dark.
I don’t recall the pain in my feet after the dress rehearsal, but we were all sore as hell. But it was a good sore.
We were ready for Nijmegen.