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Must’ve been, I don’t know for sure, maybe when I was 17 or so.  We’re talking 1994 here.  These were the early Clinton years.  The internet, just a twinkle in our eyes, was still mainly unused by the general public, having not yet killed off several thriving industries.  Kurt Cobain had just died, followed soon — from grief, I bet — by Richard Nixon, himself followed soon — from grief, I bet — by Jackie Kennedy. This is when G. Love came with a side of Special Sauce, Elton John could feel the love tonight, & Meat Loaf would do anything for love, but not that.  O.J. Simpson, tooling around in his white Bronco.  Doc Martens & flannel.  Ace of Base, at the height of their powers.

I go into the Army Navy surplus store downtown.  I can’t remember why I’m there exactly. I might be looking for some combat boots (goes good with flannel), a cheap new backpack or duffel for college, or a military jacket (goes good with flannel). First thing I notice is all the fucking shit crammed in there.  The door barely opens & there’s almost no room to move inside.  You have to shimmy through tons of military gear piled in heaps from the floor to the ceiling.  Steel helmets.  Gas masks, because why in god’s name does a regular person need one of those, but whatever, don’t even tell me. Racks upon racks of randomly hung clothes like military jackets & Dickies pants & khakis & police & firefighter uniforms.  Cloth patches for POW/MIAs, the Air Cavalry, all four branches of the military, Special Forces. In a glass counter, knives of all designs & lengths.  There’s an extremely old Asian dude sitting on a stool near the counter, & nobody else in there.  He says something, can’t figure it out.  Not being racist, it’s just the dude’s got an accent, that’s all, no judgment.  So because it’s my problem, I do that thing where I go, “OK, sure,” even though I could’ve just asked him to repeat himself please, but instead I just agree & hope he didn’t say something terrible. It’s hard for me to breathe, because whatever oxygen used to be in this room has been displaced by military-grade canvas & leather & steel, & since I’m a world-class wimp I get intimidated by the weapons.  I left without whatever it was I wanted. Didn’t buy anything.  I might’ve been in there for six minutes or so.

Cut to earlier this month.  We’re talking nineteen years later now.  Kurt, Nixon, & Jackie O are still dead. O.J.’s golfing & who the hell knows where Ace of Base is.  I’ve grown older but much more athletic & less easily intimidated. I have taken up occasional rucking.  I’m inspired by the people at GoRuck but am a middle-class slob so I don’t have $300 to spend on one of their bags.  Instead we’ve got a Target backpack that’s pretty sweet — but when I loaded it with 30 pounds of bricks & carried it for a few miles, the bricks ripped a hole in the bottom.  Nik suggests I buy a new backpack, a nice strong durable one I can use for a gym bag, hiking, & for rucking.

Oddly, although I’ve never once been back & I barely ever even drive by this place, & haven’t even given this place a second’s consideration since then, my first thought was: Hey, how about that Army Navy surplus store?

I take Nik & the baby to the store downtown.  It hasn’t moved.  First thing Nik says is, “Is it open?” Because from outside the place looks shut & a metal security gate is half-closed.  I open the door & go inside, & it’s exactly the same as it was in 1994. Possibly there’s even more shit everywhere. More coats hung everywhere, more racks of clothes jam-packed against each other with about 4 inches of space between them for browsing. Lending the 1994 atmosphere some credence, there’s a glass case & inside are VHS tapes of war documentaries. Through the haze of cloth and canvas I catch sight of something that looks like backpack strap material & so I swim through some jackets & body armor to get to it. A wall from floor to ceiling is stacked with little bags, like lunchpail-sized, way too small for my purposes, & when I touch one about four more fall off the shelf & tumble somewhere at my feet, if I could see my feet. I lurch through a rack toward the door, & there’s the same even older Asian guy sitting on the same stool. Like he hasn’t moved since 1994.

I wade through — literally, there’s just so much stuff you can’t actually walk, you have to wade through everything with clothes and gear pulling at your legs the whole time — anyway, I fucking wade through more stuff & find an assortment of backpacks piled on top of clothing racks.  Some are too big, some too small, some too lightweight. Somewhere in the store, Nik & the baby are browsing, & then I hear a bunch of shit tumble off a shelf or box or something, & Nik goes, “Whoops.”  I don’t even know what. I can’t see them. The room’s maybe 800 square feet & there’s no way I can find them. The Asian guy says, “Sorry!” & putters off to help them put whatever back wherever.  Eventually I locate my family near a display of steel helmets on styrofoam mannequin heads. Nik touches one & it falls off the shelf.  We wander over to the other side of the room, where there are Japanese swords & machetes & a pair of gloves with hard knuckles built in for beating people dead with.

Basically I need a backpack big enough to hold a pair of weightlifting shoes or at least 6 bricks, but not both things at the same time. I narrow it down to two bags.  One, we decide, looks too small to hold the bricks.  We’re in the middle of the store trying to estimate how big a brick is.  Nik holds her hands out.  “Like about this?”  Hmm, I say, maybe not big enough. This is the conversation a young family & baby are having, among machetes & knives & old combat boots — I need to hold bricks so I can walk for miles around the city with them. Ridiculous.

I take the bigger bag to the owner. It’s 59 bucks. He says something — fucking hell, I swear I’m sorry but I couldn’t quite make it out again, my fault — & then says he’ll give me the backpack I picked for only 50 bucks because it was a display model.  I paid for it, he gave me & Nik both miniature can-openers as souvenirs, & we left. It took nearly 20 years for him to make a sale to me, but he did it.

The point of all this

So now I have a new ruck. It’s made by Fox Outdoor Products, & check this shit: It’s called the Cobra Gold Reconnaissance Pack.  I don’t care who you are, that’s boss. Cobra. The most hardass of all snakes. Gold. Like solid gold. Either the element or the dance show, both are cool. Reconnaissance. That’s an important word too.

It’s got multiple pockets for my weightlifting shoes, my workout log, my wrist wraps & shin sleeve, jump rope — all the various & sundry crap I bring to the gym to hold myself together. Also, the bag fits at least 6 bricks with ease. Bonus: I didn’t even realize when I was in the store because there was so much shit around me that I was distracted, but the bag has a kidney strap around the waist & a sternum strap.  So maximum attachment & a comfy fit there.  Bonus bonus: I found out the company that makes the durable fabric material is Duro Industries — located BOOM! right here in Fall River. Helping out two local businesses. I’m pretty awesome.

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Today I dropped my 30 pounds of duct-tape-wrapped bricks in the CGRP (Cobra Gold Reconnaissance Pack) & strapped it on. It felt amazingly comfortable. The CGRP (Cobra Gold Reconnaissance Pack) carries like a dream — a dream about strapping 30 pounds of masonry to your back & then toting it around for a few miles at a brisk pace. I took Stanley & Myrna with me & let them pull me along for a moderate walking pace for 4.25 miles in a little over an hour. Ended up surprisingly sweaty, got the dogs walked, worked the legs a little bit, toughened up the knees — everybody wins.  Later, at home, I checked the CGRP (Cobra Gold Reconnaissance Pack) for signs of damage. None. I think it’ll hold up even if I drop 10 more pounds in there.

If I’m going on at some length (1,409 words so far), understand clearly that I’m pleased as fucking punch about this backpack. I’ve had a semichub for those GoRuck packs for a while, mostly because I appreciate the idea of buying something American-made that I’ll never have to replace. But I had zero interest in paying $300+ for one. I now have a ruck that’s comfortable, rugged, seems pretty durable, has a badass name, supported two local businesses, & cost less than one-fifth what a comparable size GoRuck pack costs. I win.

The goals with this rucking business:

  • Go a couple of times a week, mainly for active recovery, for some general conditioning, & also because for some stupid reason I find it really enjoyable to carry heavy things for miles.
  • Build up some endurance & keep the knees and posterior chain strong.
  • Build up to faster paces. Some dudes fucking run with a weighted ruck, others walk, others do a brisk march. I can do a 16-minute-mile walk with a 30-pound ruck just fine, & it’d be interesting to see if I can get up to about a 13 min/mi., rapidly walking.
  • Build up to longer distances.  It’d be cool to be one of those guys who up & decides to walk from here to San Francisco, but I don’t have the resources to do that. Unless one of you wants to pay me about a year’s salary so I can do it.  Then I’d consider it.  Serious inquiries only to the usual address.

UPDATE: A quick check of Wikipedia tells me Ace of Base released an album as recently as 2010 (no shit), & that as of 2012 they’re hoping to get together again.  Good luck to them.