Tough Mudder Nor Cal

Pre-Dawn Drive to Squaw Valley

Our Sunday began at 4:45 a.m., earlier than we ever rise. We dressed, brushed our teeth, threw our things into the car, and then carefully transferred sleeping boys into the vehicle. We drove almost two hours up highway 80, heading toward Squaw Valley, California, to the Nor Cal Tough Mudder. Seriously, check out the Tough Mudder website here. You won’t be sorry you did.

For Charity Number on Your Forehead Don't Throw Up Tie Your Shoes, Mudders

Ian had been training hard for this event since May, when he decided to join our friends NoNo and Mars in this obstacle course extraordinaire, this crazy endurance “race” to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps recently returned wounded veterans. Yes, that means our dearest Daddy and darling friends paid for the privilege to test their meddle against 24 seriously gnarly obstacles designed to challenge both body and mind.

Our arrival at Squaw valley was a joyful, exciting time. Hundreds of participants and spectators milled about reasonably, filling out death waivers and promising not to sue. All Mudders recieved registration packets and race numbers, which were written on their foreheads and bodies for easy identification. One wonders whether they expect participants heads to separate from bodies—well, better safe than sorry.

Team Burndoggle!

This is team Burndoggle. As you can see, spirits were high before the start. Butterflies? Oh yeah! This is some crazy stuff, folks. We in the support crew, our dear friend Dakini and me and our two children, were there to take photos and give high fives and wishes of good luck. Honestly, I’m overjoyed that I got to be present for this. What a day! What a day!

25199 and 25200

An amazing, loving, superb couple, our lovely NoNo and Mars! Lets just say they’ve been training for the Tough Mudder for something like 11 years. Yes, they take their fitness seriously.

Moment with our Boys

Daddy was pumped up and jittery, and took some time before the 8:40 start to love up the boys and play with them. Oh yeah! Asher kept looking at Ian like he was more than a little insane. Frankly, I don’t blame him.

Starting Line Excitement

The Tough Mudder start line was at the base of a huge mountain. It seemed to say, “Get use to it, Mudders, because mountains are going to be your life for the next several hours!” Some Mudders wore funny costumes. I saw ‘fro wigs and matching tights and tutus and teams of friends all in pink scrubs. The National Anthem played before the 8:40 wave was allowed to start. There was crazy cheering and Asher cried because I was making too much noise. A lot of this day was well outside his comfort zone.

We Burndoggle team supporters knew we wouldn’t be able to witness MOST of the Tough Mudder obstacles. (Here is the course map.) But we were there to pass the day, have a great time, and hope for the opportunity to see our friends kicking ass, so we bought tickets for the cable car to take us up to 8,200 feet above sea level. (Asher didn’t much like this part either, but he bravely did as he was told and stuck very close to me. Especially when it started rocking after passing a pylon. Even my stomach did flip-flops while on this thing.)

Gondola, Squaw Valley, CA

Right after we exited this cable car “sky bus” thingy, we emerged at the top of a gorgeous mountain with a vista that stretched all the way to Lake Tahoe in the distance. But that’s not what caught our eye right away. First, we were captivated by the nearby obstacle called Everest—a quarter-pipe against which Mudders threw themselves in the hopes of  scaling it. A group of burly athletes lined the top to help other Mudders over the obstacle. Yes, Mudders, you see work in cooperation. This isn’t a race, per se. It’s more about teamwork and cooperation and facing your fears. These guys at the top were more than happy to haul others up and over the edge. But just jumping high enough to grab one of these body-building helpers’ hands was a huge feat. Most people I watched couldn’t do it. Some did. Mars did it, somehow, when I wasn’t looking. This may be my only regret of the day.

Mudders at Half Pipe

(None of these marvelous people are my people. That’s OK, though. They’re cool!)


What was truly thrilling was the fact that Mars, NoNo, and Ian were there when we arrived, waiting for their chance!  There was something of a traffic jam for the Mudders to get over this thing. I hadn’t really dared to hope that we might catch up with them at any point on the course. This was a dream come true. NoNo waited and watched others make their attempts, strategizing all the while, I think.

See the Grit?

Ian's Almost Up

Ian weighed the risks carefully.

Over the Top

NoNo and Ian both climbed the 12-foot half-pipe to get over. Tough Mudder isn’t about doing every obstacle perfectly. It’s about making it through. This Everest was only obstacle 3, I think (after the Kiss of Mud and the Death March). We got kisses and then they were off again, running up an even higher mountain to who knows where? … something about crawling through snow, I later found out.

High Camp View

Dakini and the boys and I followed an alpine meadow trail a ways over to two nearby obstacles: the monkey bars and the rope climb. These were monkey bars on steroids, I tell you. About six lanes of Mudders monkeying uphill to a peak and then downhill to the end of the obstacle. Most fell into the muddy water below. Some made it all the way across. Many made it only part way. I really didn’t ever realize how many different monkey bar styles there were before this day!

Mudders at Monkey Bars

This might be my favorite photos of the monkey bars because of the tights, of course, but it doesn’t convey the numbers of people crossing at once. Crazy. We waited here quite a while, hoping our friends would arrive after having passed through obstacles that we skipped by coming here. We’ll never really know if they went through this section of the course before we arrived here on foot with a 4-year-old, or after we finally gave up hoping to see them.

How Do You Like Tough Mudder? Mudders at Monkey Bars PBJ Sandwich

Right near here was the rope climb, which I later learned was something of a triumph for Ian. At this point the boys were holding up beautifully, especially since I kept feeding them.

High Camp View

The High Camp views were amazing. Truly spectacular. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel small and yet restores your faith in the world because of it.

Us at High Camp, Squaw Valley

Dakini took this great photo of us on top of the world among the mules ears. It was such a gorgeous day!


Squaw Valley hosted the Olympics in 1960. They have an Olympic Museum, which would be interesting to visit sometime, but we weren’t here for that.

The Downhill

Eventually, we rode the cable car back down the mountain and got the gear bags for our warriors. We ended up waiting under some shade at the cargo net obstacle for quite some time. This is a shot that Lucas took, which clearly shows Mudders coming down a (third?) mountain single file to get to the cargo net. We could see them way at the top as tiny specks, and we must have scanned the outlines of hundreds of descending people, looking for our three darlings, all the while shuffling our feet and hoping.

Tough Mudder Supporters Did a Lot of Waiting

The waiting was hard. Anxious for me. But mostly boring for the boys. I jollied them along as best I could with PBJ sandwiches and pears. Lucas made a little birdie out of a pine cone and bits of wood chips. Asher made a big pile of rocks and then carefully formed the letter A with little sticks. “Mama, look what I made! Is that a A?”

Atop the Cargo Net (Cropped)

After what felt like a long, nail-biting time, Ian emerged on the top of this obstacle. We had spotted our friends snaking down the mountain, and we were cheering like mad when he reached the top and looked right at us. Moments later, NoNo and Mars were there, too. They were close to the end of this ordeal and spirits were very high!

Racing to the Cheering Section for a Kiss

Daddy ran to us. We cheered and applauded. We got hugs and kisses. I snapped many photos of these gorgeous, dusty Mudders. (A gazillion more are on my Flickr stream.)

Dusty and Happy

Don’t they look wonderful? But alas, even though they had scaled the Berlin Walls, carried logs, swam under walls, jumped off high planks, and braved the Chernobyl Jacuzzi already, they weren’t done yet. Two or three other obstacles still remained ….

Helping Hands

Like this balance-beam obstacle called Twinkle Toes. Again, there were many lanes that Mudders could cross. Trouble was, the boards kept wobbling and many people fell into icy-cold water. I’m told the day was punctuated by frequent encounters with icy-cold water.

March of Doomy Electricity

They approached the last obstacle, Electroshock Therapy—a field of electrically charged wires ready to zap Mudders with 10,000 volts as they pass—at a walk. This is one that messes with your mind, I think.

Mars and Ian at Finish (Cropped)

And then they were done. Their reward? A free beer and some food, a T-shirt, and this nifty orange headband.

Ian Exhilarated

Ian was elated, but not quite in his right mind at the finish. Dizzy? Addled? Relieved? Definitely happy!

Ian, NoNo, and Mars

Team Burndoggle’s time was something like 5 hours and 20 to 40 minutes. I don’t know exactly. I was too excited and busy congratulating them and taking photos to check the time. Whatever. They did it! And then much celebration ensued. The grins were worth a million bucks. There was pizza and more beer.

NoNo and Mars

And our Tough Mudders posed for pics in the most delightful ways.

Victory Smiles

And my little, impressionable boys got to see Daddy do something amazing and clearly worthwhile, something he worked hella hard for—which is why I dragged them two hours into the Sierras at the crack of dawn and then up and down mountaintops after all.

Congratulations, NoNo and Mars! You rock!

Congratulations, Ian, my love. You are heroic and mighty! I’m so proud of you.


  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I’m Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

    Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.

    © 2003–2018 Please do not use my photographs or text without my permission.

    “Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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