MIGHTY FIT

Hump Day: Games I would play in my head while hiking

Humping is a reality for many of us, and I'm not talking about the kind that has a happy ending. In my Marine Corps career, I estimate that I easily hiked 1,000 miles with a full pack — between 50 and 150 lbs. At a minimum speed of 3 miles an hour, that's over 300 hours of time for the mind to go to dark or funny places.


Going internal

Maybe slip on some ice...

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Will Perkins)

On a long hump, the mind so often goes dark. I remember envisioning the sweet relief of rolling an ankle so I could ride in the safety vehicle, even picking out the exact rock I was planning to eat shit on.

"That one….seriously, that one. Okay, fine, the next one… Ah, fine, I don't wanna cause any serious damage. I'll just take a header into that ditch and cause a concussion instead."

On my 23rd birthday, I was on an 8-mile movement to a range for a live fire event. It was the second day in a row we were humping, and the entire epidermis of my right foot was already falling off, from the ball of my foot to the start of my heel, from the previous day's movements. I had spent the previous weekend in Virginia beach drinking homemade Sangria, and the effects were still very much present.

I spent that entire hump in my own head questioning all of my life decisions.

Making it fun

You know he's thinking about the next 'Avengers' movie.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Careaf L. Henson)

Eventually, I got to the point in my career where I just accepted that I would be walking for the next 8 hours and decided to make it fun. Games I played:

  • Reliving every fight I've ever been in and how I would Jason Bourne my way to victory if it happened again.
  • During daylight hikes I would make up fake hand and arm signals and try to confuse people who took things too seriously.
  • I would secretly listen to music on my iPod (I'm old) through a strategically placed earbud. #combathunter
  • My roommate would use hikes as an opportunity to eat as much as he could; it was one of the few times you had enough "free time" to eat a full meal. The trick would be to figure out a way to use the heater packet while hiking. You need to jam it between your pack and back and focus on walking level, so it doesn't fall out. Beware of the high potential for second-degree burns.

"Hey! What was the name of the fat guy in The Office?"...

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jessika Braden)

  • At one point, I wrote a new phonetic alphabet with just profanities. You can imagine what replaced Foxtrot. It was enlightening.
  • "A cougar is following you." That's just a game where you pretend a cougar is going to rip out your jugular as soon as you stop. The trick to this one is to think one step ahead of the mountain cat.
  • I would replace famous movie characters with my mom and see how the story would play out. It was never as entertaining, but always much more satisfying. If my mom took the place of Frodo in Lord of The Rings the opening scene would have also been the closing scene.
    • Gandalf shows up at night after dinner. Mom says, "What are you doing here? I'm busy, get out." He counters "Lisa, you need to take the ring to Mordor to destr--" And, in classic Lisa fashion, she cuts him off mid-sentence with "That's not my problem, now is it? Take it yourself."
    • Roll credits.

The right answer

Humping is a profession nearly as old as prostitution...

(Photo from the Thayer Soule Collection (COLL/2266) at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division)

Once I matured, I realized the right answer is to become externally motivated. I believe the jobs of the Platoon Commander and Platoon Sergeant are easier than the rifleman, because you are concerned with your Marines, rather than yourself. When your focus is pointed outward, time flies.

This lesson applies to every kind of difficult situation. Caring for others is one of the most selfish and least selfish things you can do. When it comes to hiking, if you focus externally, you get to push your own ailments aside until you are alone in your room, crying like a big dumb baby.

Keep moving forward...

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron S. Patterson/Released)

In the gym, you are forced to confront your demons directly; there are no troops for you to look out for.

But in actuality, everything you do to make yourself better is also making the lives of those around you better. So, in a way, finishing a workout for your spouse or kids is no different than completing a movement for your unit.

Where are you in your hump day progression? Are you living in a world of regret and grief? Are you writing the next great American novel in your head? Or have you reached the point of hiking enlightenment and started checking on your guys and planning for their success when you reach your objective?