Tough Mudder Is Ridiculous. But So Is …

You have to crawl through 50 feet of mud. You have to jump over a flaming car. You have to slither under electric wires that will shock you if you don’t stay low. You get a helmet with horns if you finish. Obstacle racing—the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, and the others—it’s all so ridiculous, isn’t it? Well, wait.

I’ve never entered one of those races. But sometimes my weekend plans include: You have to hike 10 miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain and there’s not much of a trail. You have to bushwhack through New Mexico locust trees for about a half-hour, so wear double-front Carhartts and leather gloves and wear something over your eyes. There’s 50 feet of offwidth on the third pitch. Should we take some snowshoes, or just plan on postholing that last half-mile? Ticks. Poison ivy. There’s running water on part of the route right now. It’s all so ridiculous. Isn’t it?

There’s an old video in which (pre-mullet!) Kelly Cordes talks about alpinism, and in the middle of the film, he says, “In some ways, climbing is super-contrived. But you get thinking about it, and a lot of things in life are super-contrived, beyond just needing food and shelter. … But if you knew the result of everything in life, you almost get to a philosophical question of, ‘Well, what the hell’s the point?'”

I never ask myself that when I’m out doing something, whether it’s a (contrived) line up a rock face that no one’s ever heard of, or trying to get in a few pitches of rock in during weather that’s better for skiing, or trying to cover a monstrous amount of terrain in a day that has no chance of ending before dark.

But sometimes, when I’m up somewhere really exposed and cold and the wind is blowing so hard that it’s flipping snot out of my nose onto my sunglasses and my backpack straps keep whipping me in the face, I hear my high school football coach yelling at me, in that didn’t-your-mother-teach-you-better tone, “Leonard, what the hell are you doing out here?” Hell, Coach, I don’t know, trying to feel alive? Like my pal Aaron says whenever I’m somewhere up high with him and the wind picks up and starts blowing snow into my face so hard it feels like a sandblaster: “That lets you know you’re alive!”

Is that what it is, why I climb, and why millions of people do the Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, and we ski, and bike, and play in the mountains, and find ways to experience pain, even if it’s just windburn, or a scratch from a tree branch, or bruises from your heavy pack’s hip belt, or a goby from a hand jam, or a little road rash? I think it is. I think a lot of us are Edward Norton’s character from Fight Club, looking for a way to feel something to shake us a little bit out of our sometimes-monotonous lives, to wake us up and make us pay attention. Or maybe we just want to be a kid again and play in the mud. Or on the rocks, or getting the same Wheeee feeling from riding a bike but maybe not saying it out loud because you’re not seven years old anymore.

I’d love to see myself as a guy who climbs all the time and is outdoors as much as humanly possible, but I’m not. I spend way more time sitting in front of a laptop, drinking coffee and typing words and answering e-mails. This is, of course, not reflected in my Facebook profile photo—which is not a photo of me sitting on my ass in the ninth hour of a day with a 50-yard-stare into a computer screen. I’m sure if you look at your profile photo, it’s not of you sitting at your desk, under fluorescent lights, or at a conference table in a weekly staff meeting. Because there are very few emails you or I send and then exclaim, “I feel alive!”

I know I want to get out and feel something this weekend, preferable a couple hundred feet off the ground, maybe a cold mountain breeze helping out with my Shivering At The Belay Weight Loss Plan, and it wouldn’t hurt if I could get nice and scared for just a couple minutes trying to jam my hands in a slightly flaring vegetated crack somewhere, maybe draw some blood, get a couple bruises. I’ll keep doing my ridiculous shit and you keep doing yours, whatever it is, because we’re all just kids playing in the mud anyway. Wheeeeeeeee.

(photo courtesy my friend Amy, who is also ridiculous)


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15 replies on “Tough Mudder Is Ridiculous. But So Is …”
  1. says: Beth

    “I’d love to see myself as a guy who climbs all the time and is outdoors as much as humanly possible, but I’m not. I spend way more time sitting in front of a laptop, drinking coffee and typing words and answering e-mails.”

    THIS. We just had a conversation about how I DON’T actually hike as much as I would like to think that I do. That I ACTUALLY only rock climb about once a year. BUT. My Facebook picture? It’s always me outside. My blog is mostly devoted to getting outside however low key those adventures are.

    They are the things that make me feel alive. They’re the things that make me happy and give me the energy to tackle a week at work. So YES, to this whole post.

    And I’m totally excited to be doing the Warrior Dash with my nephew’s dad in July. Never done one and I’m damn excited.

  2. If I’m not somewhere, doing something that at least has the probability of severe injury or death on the weekend, I feel even more like enduring the week behind my desk was worthless. The only reasons I work are to eat food and fuel my weekends. If my weekends are lame, what’s the point of working? Ya know?

    1. says: Laura

      I wholeheartedly agree!!
      And I can’t wait to do TM this summer. A most excellent adventure, for sure.

  3. says: Laurel

    When people tell me I should do one of those things with them
    I tell them why pay (a lot! Those things are more than $100!) to crawl around in the mud when I can go alpine climbing in the North Cascades for free.

    But maybe I just say that so I don’t have to admit I just can’t run.

  4. says: MtnLee

    My new battle cry in the mountains: Wheeeeeee! Well done Sir! Let’s go feel alive somewhere soon.

  5. says: Lauren

    I’m 29 and still say “Wheeee!” when I go downhill on my bike. I also am usually riding a fine line between being scared out of my mind and having the time of my life.

  6. says: Cameron

    Awesome post and worthy thoughts to ponder. But what it evoked in my thought was wondering about those who don’t have the appetite for “Wheeeee!” – Those who read this and associate with it are most likely reasonably fit and ambitious people. Sure, many of us spend way more time in front of a computer sitting on our duff. But then we do go out and do something active. Granted, being active is not for everybody, but I’m guessing there are way more inactive and uninspired people out there slogging it through a week of work then go home and sit around for the weekend. Or who sit around and don’t even work. I don’t even know where I’m going with this except to say how do we inspire those who don’t chase the “Wheeeee”? Or do we even care? Should we care? Maybe this post is just part of the process. I’m going to go encourage someone I know to get after the “Wheeee!” – Will you?

  7. says: Kendall

    Funny you should post about this. Got a text from a buddy this week that said “Hey, would you like to enter the Tough Mudder with me?” After some contemplation I replied with a “Sounds fun, but not really that interested. I’d rather bust out some home/yard projects, hike/climb a mountain and hang out my kids at the lake on my Saturday”. Whatever floats your boat and gets you saying Wheeeee is spot on.

  8. says: Eamon

    Great post! Sometimes I feel totally alive when people land on my shit in Monopoly and I get a ton of fake cash. Ride the highs, survive the lows.

  9. says: Mike_R

    I still go “WOOO HOOO” whenever I hit the good powder or a really fast and flowy downhill on my bike.
    For me, the outdoors isn’t about “feeling alive”. I don’t feel less alive or dead or anything when I’m at work. It’s just that I like being surrounded by nature and a handful of people that think the same as me, rather than the superficial, inconsiderate mouth breathers that make up the bulk of the big cities’ inhabitants.
    On the other hand, I don’t have the balls to leave my current job and go live in the woods (like I always say I want to). I should stop whining.

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