Bulldog Challenge 2009

After last week’s misery of mid-term + Shako + illnesses anguish, I was very much looking forward to a weekend with nothing but raking to do. I even had hopes of sleeping in a bit this morning, which started off well enough when the Hobbit climbed up into our bed to cuddle with Daddy. (Awwwwwwww….)

Then, at 8am on the nose, a thunderous BOOM shook the windows, startling me from semi-somnolent naptime. The Hobbit immediately perked up, eyes glinting. “Boom!” he pronounced in a happy voice. “Cannons … uh, ‘dets. Boom, Daddy.” In the innocent speech of the Shire, this translates to: “I heard a boom. Unless I’m mistaken, it was the sound of a cannon on the parade deck, inevitably fired by the cadets. What do you think of the boom, father?”

“Unh…,” I answered.

“Cannons, ‘dets, boom!” he repeated, bouncing up and down on the pillow beside me before lowering his angelic little face within an inch of my own and saying in a not-very-hushed voice: “Daddy, sleeping!”

Well, not anymore.

And thus to me groggily walking downstairs, pouring a bowl of cereal, and walking to the backdoor to look at the piles of leaves that awaited me. Only what caught my eye was not the leaves but the fact that there were people hiking across the marsh behind our house. People in various forms of camouflage and mud-splattered shirts, carrying sandbags.

“Ah,” I thought. “That explains the cannon.”

It could be said, no doubt, that my only casual interest in determining the reason for a cannon firing so close to my home on a Saturday morning speaks volumes about the world in which I live these days. In that regard, it might also be regarded as strange what a familiarity the Hobbit has with that world.*

Regardless, seeing those filthy folks in the marsh reminded me at once that it was the time of year for the Bulldog Challenge, a Citadel tradition organized by our contingent of Marines. As they tout it:

The Bulldog Challenge is a fun, motivating, and challenging team event designed to test every competitor’s physical and mental toughness. The course is just over 6 miles long and stretches throughout the campus of The Citadel, parts of the City of Charleston, and through the marsh!

That last item — a waltz through the marsh — was clearly meaning behind my house this year. I donned my good hat and boots (oh, I had pants on, too!) and wandered out with camera in hand to investigate.

This is a shot from the backyard. The Bulldog Challenge brings 4-person teams from all over the country. Each team is given two sandbags they must carry through the 6-mile course. I’ve captured the moment here of one of the lasses on this co-ed team tossing a sandbag across a sinkhole to one of the lads.

Here’s the entrance into the marsh, just a stone’s throw from my backyard of leaves that I’m obviously not raking. Note, of course, that the more this path is run during the course of the day, the worse it’s going to get. The day was still early when I shot this. These guys look seriously gung-ho, don’t they? I watched them as they hoofed along around the bend, at which point one of them carrying the sandbag disappeared from view — sucked down like a bobber on a fishing line. (Note earlier picture of the girl tossing a sandbag over what I think was the same sinkhole.) I assume they got the fellow out.

So this is what awaited them at the “end” of the marsh run over by the alumni center. My heart warms just to see it! To take this picture I perched on a thick branch above the muck beside one of our Redbadgers (a cadet signed up to join the Marines on graduation; they wear red badges on their uniforms) who is a two-semester student of mine. “Do they have to belly-crawl through it?” I asked him.

“They just have to cross it,” he said. “But they can’t help but belly-crawl.”

Sure enough, I watched the group picture here take one step into the mud and then flop forward when they tried to take another. It was pretty wild stuff. And don’t forget, each team has to get two heavy sandbags, through, too: the fellow in the foreground here is pushing his ahead of him, smartly using it as a gripping point to pull himself along.

That smiling kid? That’s one of my current cadets, who has reached a point where he can stand up again (at the end of my branch). I think he was surprised to see me there, but he smiled just the same. Good lad.

Here’s a shot of the teams exiting the football stadium (whose stairs you can see they have to run up and down). They’d run at least a mile since they’d exited the marsh, but you can still see the splatters of mud on the wall that they have to jump down. You can also see the water they’re being provided with. The Marines aren’t abusive, after all.

I had to take a quick shot of this team running past the campus tennis courts (at which a youth tennis tournament seemed to be going on!). Participants are supposed to wear long trousers, but an exception was clearly — and rightfully — made in this case. Happy chaps, they actually bellowed “Freeeeee-dom!” every so often. I didn’t have the heart to tell them their outfits are quite anachronistic and that Mel Gibson is a horrid historian.

* More on the Hobbit’s strange world: Some months ago we were driving on a cold evening and he pointed to the puffing clouds coming from the exhaust of a nearby car. “Cannons, boom, daddy, ‘dets, walk, crash, crying,” he said. In translation: “Those exhaust fumes remind me not of anything normal for a child my age, like clouds or steam, but of cannons going boom, which I saw a few days ago when my father took me for a walk to see the cadets in parade; I recall on the way back home that I lost focus of the cardinal rule of walking — keeping my head above my feet — and so fell to the ground with a resounding crash in front of fourth battalion; the end result of this, inevitably, was me crying. I recall the experience now with fondness.”


  1. I’m so glad that you translate the hobbit for us.

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