Getting closer to the Big Day…

Lake Tahoe from Heavenly

We’ve been working toward this trip for months now.  Countless emails, phone calls, spread sheets, and folders have gone in to setting up this trip.  It’s the Wedding Planning trip to Tahoe and it’s a big one!  We are finalizing decisions on the ceremony location, the reception dinner location and menu, the rehearsal dinner location and menu, the photographer, DJ and potentially making decisions on the florist and stylists.  We are also staying in the hotel we’ve chosen for our wedding party so we can decide if they will fit our needs.  We have so many things to consider and so many decisions to be made in a three-day time frame next week.  So much time and planning has gone in to this, and so much rides on this week’s trip, it feels like it should be stressful.

But it’s not stressful.

First off, it’s a trip to Tahoe.  I don’t care what you’re going there for, it’s really hard to feel stressed when you go to Tahoe.  It’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet and right now it’s covered in fresh powder.  Even though we are not going to have time for skiing or snowshoeing, I’m still looking forward to being in the mountains.

Merelyn and I on Mount Rose...

The day she said "Yes"...

Another thing that makes this trip exciting is that my parents and my soon-to-be-inlaws get to finally meet in person.  I’m very excited about the opportunity to bring our families together, even if for a short trip.  I really do love that we’ll all get a chance to enjoy Tahoe together and having them both there to help us with some of these important decisions is priceless.

The wedding isn’t until October, but time seems to be flying by and the Big Day will be here before we know it.  I know I can’t wait.  Even though it has made things more difficult to plan, I think Tahoe is the perfect place to have our wedding.  We began our romance in Tahoe, I proposed last year in Tahoe and, in October, we will be married in Tahoe.

Now we get to start thinking about where to have the Honeymoon!

Yoga Practice for Hikers: Variations on the Dragon Pose…

I recently went hiking/trail running with a buddy of mine who had been hitting the trail pretty hard over the course of a couple of weeks.  He’s never been big on stretching and was starting to feel it.  Prior to our hike, he mentioned needing to find some stretches he could do to open up his hips a little bit.  I suggested a couple of things and quickly walked him through a simple sequence to help relieve some of the muscle tension he’d built up in his legs and bring some flexibility back into the hip joints.  That morning I introduced him to variations of Anjaneyasana (The Low Lunge) known as the Dragon Pose.

Basic Dragon Pose...

Putting it to practice…

Now I’ll walk you through the sequence.  This is a great short sequence for stretching leg muscles and opening the hips before or after a long hike.  As always, you should start in a relaxed position (either seated or standing) and practice proper Yoga breathing until your mind is calm, focused and present.  You can actually use the beginning of the Sun Salutation sequence to get into position and I often do two or three sequences of Sun Salutation before attempting the Dragon Pose:

  1. When ready, bring your palms together at your chest, thumbs resting against your sternum (Mountain Pose). Exhale.
  2. Inhale and raise your arms stretched above your head, shoulders back and pelvis forward (slight backward bend in your spine) (Forward Salute Pose).
  3. Exhale and bend your knees slightly, bending at the waist and keeping your back straight, lower your hands to touch the mat on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
  4. Inhale and move your right foot back, knee touching the floor (Lunge). – (THIS IS OUR STARTING POSITION).
  5. Make sure your left knee is aligned with the big toe of your left foot and your knee is directly above the ankle.  Point your right foot so that your right knee and the top of your right foot are resting on the ground (you may need additional padding under your knee).
  6. Exhale and slide your foot back as far as you can comfortably go while allowing your pelvis to drop toward the floor.  You should feel the stretch in your hips and groin.  Make sure to keep your hips squared to the front of your mat, don’t let your torso twist as you reach back with your right foot.
  7. Continue breathing in this position and with each exhale, try to drop your pelvis more toward the floor and deepen the stretch in your hips.  You really don’t want to hold this pose for much more than 2 or 3 minutes, but for now we want to shoot for about 10 to 15 breaths.   To advance the pose:
  8. Inhale and lift your torso bringing the back straight and chest out, shoulders back.  You can either rest your hands at your side, or rest your hands on your left thigh using them to help support the position and take some of the strain off your left knee and quad.  To deepen the position even more, you can raise your hands above your head (similar to Warrior I Pose), fingers toward the sky, while keeping your back straight, chest out and shoulders back.  Once finding your position, hold for 10-15 breaths.
  9. Exhale and lower your torso to your left thigh and bring your hands to the ground supporting your body.
  10. Inhale and slide your right knee forward slightly then curl your toes under your foot.
  11. Exhale and straighten both legs, raising your tailbone, rolling your weight to your toes and the ball of your foot then push your right heel to the ground.
  12. This position offers a great stretch of the left hamstring.  Keep your hips squared to your mat, flex the right quad and push your weight toward the right heel.  Maintain your left foot on the ground and push into your big toe.  Straightening the left leg can be difficult in this position if your hamstrings are tight, stretch as much as is comfortable and breathe.
  13. When ready, Exhale and bring your left foot back to join your right foot in Down-ward Dog, pushing your tailbone to the sky and feeling the stretch.
  14. Inhale and swing your right leg into lunge position and repeat the sequence with the other leg.

There are more variations to the Dragon that I will discuss in a future post.  For now, enjoy the freedom gained from this liberating stretch and don’t forget to Breathe!

 BONUS:

Here are further variations on the Dragon I found at YinYoga.com.  I especially like Winged Dragon and Fire-Breathing Dragon for a good hip stretch.

Alternative Dragons:

  1. The first alternative pose is a simple low lunge called Baby Dragon, as shown in the picture at the top of the page. If you like, you can rest your hands on blocks.
  2. The next option is to rest the arms or hands on the front thigh and lift the chest, increasing the weight over the hips. This is called Dragon Flying High.
  3. A deeper option, Dragon Flying Low, is to place both hands inside the front foot and walk hands forward, lowering the hips. For more depth, come down on the elbows or rest them on a bolster or block.
  4. In Twisted Dragon, one hand pushes the front knee to the side, while the chest rotates to the sky.
  5. In Winged Dragon, with hands on the floor, wing out the knee a few times, rolling onto the outside edge of that foot and then stay there with the knee low. You could come down on the elbows or rest them on a block or bolster.
  6. Overstepping Dragon exercises the ankle. From Baby Dragon, allow the front knee to come far forward and/or slide the heel backward, until the heel is just about to lift off the ground.
  7. Dragon Splits offers the deepest stretch for hip flexors. Straighten both legs into the splits. Support the front hip with a bolster under the buttock for balance and to release weight; this relaxes the muscles. Sit up tall or fold forward for different sensations.
  8. For Fire-Breathing Dragon, in any of the above variations, tuck the back toe under and lift the knee up, lengthening the leg. This puts more weight into the hips, increasing the stretch.

Gear Review: Pocket Stove and Ketalist…

On my most recent trip to Texas, my fiancé and I decided we’d like to go beach camping near Galveston.  I packed a few camping supplies I thought we’d need including an old tent I never use (another story) and one of my extra JetBoil cooking systems.  Once in Texas, we discovered that I only brought the cup portion of the JetBoil…not the stove.  Unfortunately, you can’t buy “just the stove” at retail stores and so we were stuck looking at alternatives for being able to cook.

So at the Houston REI, while I nervously debated buying a brand new JetBoil for the trip, Merelyn found the Original Pocket Stove from Esbit.  At only $10.50 (versus at least $100 for a new JetBoil) it sounded like a halfway decent idea.  For this trip, we really just needed a little something to boil water since we were going to cook our dinner over a campfire (see mini-review at the end of this post).  I, of course, jumped at the opportunity to try out a new piece of gear…especially inexpensive gear!  We bought the Pocket Stove for $10.50 and even though it comes with 6 fuel tabs, we bought an extra pack of solid fuel tabs for $6.25.  Total investment was well under $20 for a stove and 18 fuel tabs (supposedly enough to cook for 3 hours).

The Pocket Stove is basically a small, folding metal stand that will support a cooking receptacle about 1.5″ above the fuel tab.  There are two cooking positions depending on conditions and how focused you want the flame.  It weighs in at about 3.25 ounces without the fuel and, when closed, the stove stores up to 6 fuel tabs inside.  According to the box, the solid fuel works well at any elevation and boasts a boil time of 8 minutes in most conditions.  The REI website specs actually list average boil time at 14 minutes which is probably closer to the truth.

We also purchased the Halulite Ketalist nested kettle and cooking system for boiling our water over the Pocket Stove.  The Ketalist was $34.95 at the Houston REI and comes with a hard-anodized aluminum kettle, two small plastic bowls (one with an insulated sleeve and drinking lid) and a spork.  The total weight is about 11 ounces and is made for backpacking.  I would consider more of a car-camping product because of it’s size.

We set up camp on the beach outside of Galveston and, as it was incredibly windy, I dug out a firepit and built up a wall around it to try to block out some of the wind.  It worked well enough for me to be able to set up the Pocket Stove and light one of the fuel tabs.  I filled the kettle with about two cups of water and set it on the stove.  After 8 minutes, we still didn’t have boiling water.  After about 12 minutes the fuel tab had burned out and we still didn’t have boiling water.  I tested the water and it was plenty hot enough for cocoa, coffee or oatmeal but not boiling.  I wanted it to boil!  I lit another fuel tab and let it run it’s course.  We never did get the water to boil using the Pocket Stove.  I reasoned, after the fact, that if I were to burn two fuel tabs at once I could probably generate the heat I needed to get the water boiling but never had the chance to try it.

I was able to put the kettle on the campfire later that night and got the boiling water I wanted pretty quick.  The kettle worked well and was kind of nice to have.  The wind had really picked up and it had become pretty cold so I made some nice hot tea to take to bed with me.  All in all, I like the concept of the Pocket Stove…it’s a very simple design and it works, somewhat.  If I had limited space and time to wait for hot water, I’d use it again.  The Kettle will probably become a regular addition to our car camping trips, I just don’t see it going backpacking with me anytime soon.

BONUS REVIEW:

Camp Chef Cooking Iron

picture from REI website...

Car camping affords you many luxury items that would normally be too heavy, too big or too awkward to take backpacking.  Large comfortable tents (not something we had), blow up air mattress with powered pump, huge jugs of clean water, etc.  While we were at REI preparing for the trip we came across one such luxury item that we couldn’t pass up.  The Camp Chef Cooking Iron is a cast iron sandwich grilling contraption for making grilled cheese sandwiches (or any number of other things).  It folds open allowing you to put buttered bread on either side of the irons and then fill it with cheese, meat, veggies, etc.  Then carefully fold it back together, lock the arms in place and lay it over the campfire.  You will want to flip it a couple of times so it doesn’t burn one side of the sandwich, but the result is fantastic!!  We had some amazing grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner that night along with some vegetables we pre-marinated and wrapped in foil to toss into the fire.  The sandwiches were nice and crispy on the outside, but the bread was still soft inside and the cheese melted beautifully.  At $17, I would totally recommend grabbing a couple of these to toss into the car for your next outing….or just keep them for cooking in the back yard!

Tenderfoot…

my Cattle Dog on the trail

According to Wikipediatenderfoot is slang for an inexperienced person, particularly one who is not adapted to a rural or outdoor lifestyle setting.

Wiley the Cattle Dog enjoying the hikeI mentioned Saturday that I am starting to train my Australian Cattle Dog, Wiley, to be a trail dog.  She’s admittedly overweight, uncoordinated and….a tenderfoot.  She has only been on a couple of hikes in her life, and those were many years ago.  Since then, she has been relegated to a few sporadic neighborhood walks.  Knowing this, I am taking steps to take her training slow and make sure she builds the physical conditioning she needs to conquer the trails.

I may have overdone it a little yesterday.

He first conditioning hike was only about 1.7 miles and, though a good climb, was on a mostly paved surface.  She did well and other than being tired, didn’t show any real signs of wear-and-tear.  So when it came time for our next hike together I decided to push a little more and get her out on some real dirt and double our distance.  We did a moderate 3.4 mile hike with a good mixture of flat hiking, climbing and descending.  The terrain was a mix of soft dirt, rocky dirt, gravel trail and, in some spots, eroded and broken down asphalt.

My little tenderfoot is, literally, a tenderfoot today.  Her pads are a little chewed up from the trail and she is walking very gingerly around the house today.  She is obviously sore and stiff and only gets up to move when she feels she needs to.  I think I overdid it.

Wiley is showing signs of fatigueLessons learned: 3.4 miles is outside her comfort zone right now.  She started showing signs of fatigue around 2-2.25 miles.  So, for now at least we will keep her training limited to 1.5-2.5 miles until she shows me she can handle those distances with ease.

For now, does anyone have any advice for treating her sore, chewed up little paws?  My understanding is that giving a dog pain relievers is not a good idea (no Ibuprofen for her!).  I am giving her treats with supplements for her joints, which should help long term.

As always, any advice or tips are welcome.

Adventures of a Cattle Dog…

Wiley is an Australian Cattle Dog.  These dogs are specifically bred to be outdoors, to have superior endurance and tolerance for extreme conditions.  In short, she’s the perfect candidate for a hiking companion.  The breed was developed on the cattle ranches of 19th century Australia where the long days, harsh working conditions and extreme elements made it difficult for ranchers to find a proper cattle dog among the existing breeds.  Ranchers played with crossing the native Dingos with existing cattle breeds.  From 1840 to 1870 Thomas Hall of New South Wales bred imported Blue Smooth highland Collies with the native Dingo and began to see the traits he desired.  He continued to breed pure Dingo into the mix  and experimented with these breeds until his death in 1870.  These were the original Australian Cattle Dogs, at the time called, Hall’s Heelers.

Beautiful expressive eyes of the Australian Cattle Dog

My beautiful Cattle Dog...

Tom Bently acquired a dog that was said to be one of Hall’s pure strain.  Bently’s Dog (as he was known) was an incredibly strong worker and a beautifully built dog.  Bently’s Dog was reportedly heavily studded out in an attempt to propagate these desirable qualities.  The characteristic white blaze on the forehead and the black tail-root spot commonly seen in the blues is said to be a throwback to Bently’s Dog.

Hall’s Heelers (later called “Blue Heelers” or “Queensland Heelers”) were very popular, but there was still some experimentation going on.  Sometime after 1870, the Black and Tan Kelpie was crossed into the breed resulting in the tan points seen in Blues and a deeper red instead of black in the Red Heelers.  This last infusion set the breed type and is the direct blood descendant of the Australian Cattle Dog breed we have today.

Young Australian Cattle Dog

Wiley in her youth...

My Heeler found me.  She was a stray, discovered and taken in by local neighborhood kids who proceeded to take the dog door-to-door in search of her rightful owner.  When at my door, as I insisted she wasn’t mine and I didn’t know the owner, they explained that they only had one day to find the owner.  The girls who found the dog were in the process of moving and if they did not find an owner, they would be forced to take her to the Humane Society.  They left my house, but I couldn’t stomach the idea of this dog going to her potential death.  I chased the kids down a few houses away and explained to them that IF they did not find the owner before they had to leave town that I would take her and continue the search.

Well, they never found the owner.  I put up signs, walked her through several neighborhoods and asked around…but could find no one looking for a missing Heeler.  After a couple of weeks, I began to hope that I never would find her original owners.  She and I had bonded and, as I found out, bonding with a Cattle Dog is a lifetime commitment.

Young Australian Cattle Dog

Her favorite "chewing stick"...

I took Wiley hiking a couple of times when she was younger, but she had some minor hip problems when I first got her limiting our excursions.  I also was going through some disparaging medical issues that had put a major damper on my outdoor activities.  So, Wiley never got a chance to be the rugged, outdoor specimen that she should have been.  But I’m trying to fix that.  She’s inexperienced, she’s a little fat and she’s about as graceful as a three-legged Hippo but she’s got the genetics to be a brilliant trail dog and I want to give her a chance.

So today we began her reintroduction to the outdoors.  May she somehow find her roots and become a noble, hardened, tireless trail dog as she was meant to be.

Tom’s Thumb and the quest for the Ogre’s Den…

My most recent quest to the McDowell’s led me to the steep trail up the boulder-clad, granite mountainside, toward the fork that would take me either east to Goat Hill, Hog Heaven and the East End or west to Windgate Pass.  My destination lied just north of the well-traveled ridge-line path to Windgate Pass.  I would journey in the shadow of the Glass Dome, along the Gardner’s wall, skirting the massive granite promontory known as Tom’s Thumb on my way to The Rist…where I would seek out the Ogre’s Den.

I love creative landmark names and some of the best names on the planet come from river runners and rock climbers.  It just so happens that the granite-strewn north end of the McDowell Mountain Range in North Scottsdale is a climbers heaven.  The north slope of the range, where my trail would take me, is littered with massive chunks of granite rock.  Some are huge exposed monoliths like Tom’s Thumb, a 150ft geological feature that is easily recognizable from almost anywhere in the valley.  Others are piles of jumbled boulders that have collapsed on each other creating a virtual playground for rock climbers.

As I had agreed to drop off some friends to an afternoon of drinking in Scottsdale, I decided I would take advantage of the opportunity and hike the trail to Tom’s Thumb.  I have visited Tom’s Thumb before, many, many years ago when I was new to the valley and had no idea what this massive feature was.  I simple knew I had seen it many times when driving in north Scottsdale and was curious as to what it looked like up close.  Not knowing, or being aware, of any trail I simply parked my truck and climbed the mountainside to reach the huge granite feature.  That was nearly 15 years ago. Now, I know the valley and I know many of the trails and landmarks and I wanted to revisit this iconic destination again…on the official trail.

horses grazing along the access roadSo I drove down the unimproved, dirt road past private property, commercial sub-divisions and open grazing land to the base of the mountain.  The area is now part of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, and there are designated trails and official rules regarding the use of the area.  Due to some construction near-by, there is a temporary access parking area for Tom’s Thumb located at the end of 128th street (signs are posted to guide you).  The parking area would potentially hold about 10-12 vehicles but there is a smaller overflow parking area just before you get to the main one which I would guess holds about 4-6 vehicles.  Luckily, this trail is not very crowded and not often accessed from the north side.  Especially when you get to visit the trail mid-week, as I did.

The trail starts at the northwest corner of the main parking area.  There is a sign to mark the way and also warns to clean up after your pets (thank you very much).  It’s a relatively easy walk at first until the trail turns sharply south and begins the switchback up the mountain.  It’s not a long trail, but it does climb aggressively up.  There are some great little side trails to small lookouts that offer great vantage points to the north.  If you’re willing to wander off trail a little, the route offers some very unique and interesting boulders and rock formations.

The main trail to the ridge-line splits and heads east to larger rock formations and climbing areas while the western trail heads further into the preserve toward Tom’s Thumb, Windgate Pass and the Gateway Trails.  There is a sign along the main trail that tells you where to turn off to visit Tom’s Thumb and the Gardner’s Wall.  Tom’s Thumb is impressive, but unless you have your climbing gear with you and the experience to use it there’s not much to do there.  I stopped at a nice boulder pile just south of Tom’s Thumb and climbed around for a while practicing some basic bouldering skills.  As I played among the boulders, I had a visitor.  Considering I had only seen one other person, an older man walking his dog, on the trail that day I was surprised to have someone appear on the trail with me.  We crisscrossed each other’s paths a couple of times before the young woman asked if I’d been here before then asked,  “Do you know where the cave is?”

I did not know where the cave was…but I had heard about it.  The Ogre’s Den is a small cave located “just off the trail past Tom’s Thumb“, according to the hiking books.  The challenge had been offered and I accepted, we WOULD find the Ogre’s Den.  Armed with an impressively vague description and no real idea where to look or what to look for, we set out “past Tom’s Thumb” to look for the cave.  I admit that I wandered cluelessly across the ridge to nearly every pile of boulders that could possibly house a small cave.  The only other clue we had was that there was supposedly wall paintings and artwork in the Ogre’s Den and as we both searched we hoped it would be obvious once it revealed itself.

We decided quickly that we had searched too far from Tom’s Thumb and headed back, hiking around the south side of The Rist where, on a hunch, I followed a small game-trail up the south side of The Rist and stumbled upon a shallow hollow in the rock, with a well-worn floor and artwork painted on the rock walls.  I called my discovery down to my new companion who quickly scrambled up the path to join me in the Ogre’s Den.  We spent a few minutes exploring the small cave, finding a small shelf in the rock where past visitors have left offerings, presumably to the resident Ogre.  There is also a small decorative box next to a pile of spent ballpoint pens, with paper on which to scrawl your appeals to fickle Ogre.

Tom's Thumb monument

Tom’s Thumb…

I climbed out of the cave through a small crag above the offering shelf and found myself at the shoulder of the main trail through The Rist.  I had passed within feet of the Ogre’s Den and had never suspected it’s location was so close.  Laughing at my own inability to discover the feature we were after, we headed back the way we had come.  My new friend had parked at the same trailhead and I now had a trail companion on the return to my truck.  As much as I am a fan of solo-hiking, there is something fun about meeting a fellow hiker, sharing conversation and swapping stories.  Especially when you’ve just successfully completed a quest together!

Tom’s Thumb – McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Scottsdale, Arizona

Some trailhead parking. From Phoenix head east on 101 to Pima, north on Pima Road to Dynamite and east on Dynamite to 128th Street.  Head south on the unimproved dirt road following the signs to the parking lot trailhead.

Trail Length: 3 mile round-trip (without the extra wandering around)
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
Difficulty: Easy at the top, moderate to strenuous up the mountain
Open: Year-round.

View Tom’s Thumb… by wildernessdave on Breadcrumbs

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Tradition or Habit…

When I was younger, some of my favorite outdoor excursions were whitewater rafting trips with my Dad. Sometimes it was simply an afternoon trip down a class 2 with my brother and I close to home. Other times we’d be on epic week-long trips with a huge group of river rats floating multiple rafts and kayaks. Usually on the longer trips, the entire group would get together after the trip and, over pizza and beer, add up the trip expenses and settle up on money while rehashing our recent adventures. We often rafted the Illinois and Rogue Rivers in Southern Oregon and our favorite stop was always Wild River Brewing & Pizza Co.  Pizza and beer, after 3 or 4 days on the river, just seems like an appropriate way to end a trip.

Once I had moved away from home, my father and I still found adventure together.  I would often fly back home for river trips or he would travel out to meet me somewhere for a multi-day backpacking trip.  Somehow, without really planning or thinking about it, we would end a long excursion with pizza and beer.  Even in South America after spending 4 days hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu, we returned to Cuzco and found a pizza place where we could end the trip properly.  At some point along the way it just became expected.  I guess that’s how traditions develop.  Slowly, naturally and without planning.  You can’t force a tradition, it just happens or it doesn’t.

These days, I have found myself falling into a similar tradition.  It’s simple really: I don’t like to hike on a full stomach.  That, inevitably, leaves me famished after a long afternoon of hiking.  So, I have developed the habit of stopping in at a local brewery or micro-brew-serving restaurant for lunch/dinner after my hikes.  Any restaurant will do so long as it’s got good local beer and it’s NOT a chain.  I’ve been lucky so far and found some amazing little places to celebrate this extension of an old tradition.  I didn’t really recognize it at first, but as I reconnect with the outdoors and that part of myself that has always loved the outdoors I am also reconnecting with the old traditions that carried me here.  It’s a way for me to give homage to the experiences and traditions that fostered in me a deep and lasting love of Wilderness.

What is even more exciting to me, is the prospect of having traditions that I will someday be able to share with my children.  Traditions that will allow them to have some level of connection with their grandfather.  Traditions that will hopefully encourage the same kind of fondness for nature and adventure that I share with my soon-to-be wife.

I know I’m not the only one.  I want to hear from you guys.  What are your post-adventure traditions?  How do you celebrate a successful excursion?  How did your tradition develop and how will you ensure that it continues?

Tough Mudder Arizona 2012 – Blissfully Insane…

AS A TOUGH MUDDER I PLEDGE THAT…

  • I understand that Tough Mudder is not a race but a challenge…
  • I put teamwork and camaraderie before my course time…
  • I DO NOT WHINE – kids whine…
  • I help my fellow Mudders complete the course…
  • I overcome ALL fears…

I welcomed the cold.  I seemed to be alone in this opinion but the last thing I wanted was to get overheated and dehydrated.  I know that my body will produce plenty of heat to keep me warm over the next 12.5 miles, regardless of how many of the 29 military-style obstacles before us have us plunging into pools of ice-cold water.  I need it to be cold, or this is gonna suck.

I don’t remember exactly when I got it in my head that I wanted to do this race.  I know it started with an interest in signing up for a Warrior Dash when they were here in Arizona in 2010.  I missed that one due to a schedule conflict with a family trip and now, as my fitness and conditioning were improving, the 5k Warrior Dash just didn’t seem like enough.  At some point I mentioned to my brother, half jokingly,  that there was going to be a Tough Mudder in Arizona and I was thinking of signing up.  Soon after, a local gym let me know they were creating a team to take the Tough Mudder challenge.  That was it, I signed up with the gym’s team.  Once I signed up things started falling into place.  My brother and sister-in-law wanted to go too.  They signed up on the same team I was on and started planning a trip to come out to Arizona for the race.  My fiancé didn’t want to be left out, so we signed her up too.  The four of us would be our own team, within a team…and we couldn’t wait!

The Arctic Enema…

The Tough Mudder concept began as a business plan contest submission.  In 2009, Will Dean submitted his business plan where he boasted he could attract “500 people to run a grueling race through mud and man-made obstacles” and his outlandish idea was a semifinalist in the Harvard Business School’s Annual Business Plan Contest.  Since then, the race has exploded across the US and internationally going from an impressive 50,000 participants in 2010 to a projected 500,000 in 2012.  Why has this insane race that delivers on it’s promise to “test your all-around mettle, not just your ability to run in a straight line, on your own, for hours on end, getting bored out of your mind“?  The website explains the race like this,

“Tough Mudder events are hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie. As the leading company in the booming obstacle course industry, Tough Mudder has already challenged half a million inspiring participants worldwide and raised more than $2 million dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project. But Tough Mudder is more than an event, it’s a way of thinking. By running a Tough Mudder challenge, you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days.

I think that’s the draw, the important piece of this that inspires people, “you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days“.

So there we were on a cold Arizona morning, full of nervous energy and bouncing and jogging in place at the starting line to stay warm.  We listened to the National Anthem (which was performed at the start of every wave of runners) and then a rousing, blood-pumping speech which included a group recitation of the Tough Mudder Pledge.  The MC did a remarkable job getting the crowd pumped up before the race, insuring us, once a gain, that this was no walk in the park.  When the gun went off, it was hard NOT to take off at a full-tilt sprint but I kept having to remind myself, “you have 12 miles of this shit!” and paced myself.

I won’t walk you through a blow-by-blow of the race because they are all different.  Each Tough Mudder is designed specifically and uniquely for THAT particular location.  That’s one of the many reasons why so many “Mudder’s” sign-up for multiple races.  They do have some iconic obstacles that you will see in every race like the Arctic Enema, Everest and the Mud Mile.  To see a map and description of what we went through here in Arizona, you can go here and click on the link for the full map.

Nightline recently aired this segment on the 2012 Arizona Tough Mudder…

Sorry about the commercials, it’s worth the wait…

 

When we passed a sign that read “If this were the Warrior Dash, you’d be done” I was incredibly happy I signed up for something more substantial.  Somewhere around mile 11 my opinion was slightly different.  As a whole, we took on every obstacle with enthusiasm.  Not just as a challenge but, honestly, as a break from running.  Many of the obstacles, especially the Berlin Walls, require teamwork and my brother and I found ourselves sitting at the foot of the walls helping numerous people up and over the 12-foot vertical structures.  My brother was one of the few people there who could negotiate the Berlin Walls successfully without assistance (it was impressive to watch).  Likewise, the Everest challenge was specifically designed to require teamwork as you sprint full speed up a slippery, mud-soaked half-pipe wall hoping that someone at the top will grab you before you lose your footing and slide down.  Many slid down before they could be snatched by a helping hand…

As insane as it sounds when you try to tell others about the experience, it was a hell of a lot of fun.  It draws a particular type of person and people not drawn to this type of race have a really hard time understanding why people sign up, and pay good money, to do this to themselves.  For me, I don’t try to talk them in to it or justify it…I just know that for me, and the others that were there with me, it was a great experience and a lot of fun.  As much as we hurt after the fact, as uncomfortable and cold as we were during the race, as much as we complained about being jolted with 10,000 volts of electricity (enough to knock you unconscious for a second or two)…we are already talking about when we’ll be able to sign up for another one.  And THAT is enough of an endorsement to the event right there.

To find a Tough Mudder near you, check the events page here.

 

BTW – I just received an email before posting this article that my finish time was in the top 5% and qualifies me to compete in the World’s Toughest Mudder 2012.  It’s a grueling 24-hour version of the Tough Mudder and I will NOT be participating.  Good to know I qualified though!

ADDED 2.2.2012: This video was just released by Tough Mudder announcing their official partnership with Under Armour for the event clothing. The Arizona 2012 Race was the first official event to see Under Armour T-shirts given to the finishers. This video is very well done and really captures the overall mood of the event…