The Line of the Week
Tough Mudder – Squaw Valley
Blood, Barbed Wire & Ice
Up until a few days ago I had no idea what the Tough Mudder was. To be honest, when I was told about it I really didn’t care. Sunday is for football and that was my plan. As the days went by I kept hearing the name, Tough Mudder this, Tough Mudder that. So I called the media relations person and decided to get up at the crack of dawn this past Sunday to have a look.
The mist was rising up out of Olympic Valley and the sun was glistening off the dewy ground. I passed the post office and my first sight of the Squaw parking lot had me dumbfounded. It was 7:30am and it was jam packed. I have never seen the lot that full that early on anything but a pow day! I parked and walked into the Village. Once again, dumbfounded. My first thought, “What the hell is going on here?”
There were people in strange outfits, some shotgunned beers, some were pumping themselves and their teammates up like Drew Brees does before he takes the field. It was a madhouse. People were moving in all directions. There seemed to be no real sense of order, Squaw Valley touched on chaos. There were people from all walks of life. I immediately realized that every ethnicity was present in the Valley this weekend. Could this be the most diverse crowd in the history of North Tahoe?
I was told the Tough Mudder was an adventure race that had elements of military training, Burning Man and a team building exercise. The only thing Burning Man were the semi ridiculous outfits that people wore like wearing your undies over your pants. That was never really that cool. Team building and military training? That seemed more like it. There were shaved heads galore, a plethora of varied styles of mohawk, face paint, short shorts, and let’s not forget the spandex.
I waded through the crowd constantly scanning and people watching. I found myself laughing out loud every chance I got. I really had no clue what was going on. I approached the starting line (they had a scattered start). There were maybe 200 people frothing at the mouth. They were ready to start as the MC got them pumped. There were military style chants repeating constantly (“I say tough, you say Mudder!”) and countless others. I walked up the hill as the first orange gas canister fired, the race had commenced. As much as the racers were pumped up, the mixture of starting a race straight up a hill and the air being filled with a thick orange smoke instantly put people in their place. What began as a sprint dwindled to a slow hacking walk. This was only mile one!
I followed the Mudder up under the Squaw One chair past a group of Marine Corps soldiers who threw heavy, inflatable, orange balls at the large group of Mudders (that’s what the racers are called). They would yell “heads up” but the occasional unlucky Mudder would get smacked. It was then I noticed a gridlock up ahead. I trotted off trail and came to find one of the best things I witnessed in a long time. Low and behold was a large trough of murky brown water both cold and nasty. It was about 30 yards long. Just off the surface of the water was barbed wire. The Mudders had to crawl on their stomachs through the water. All I could do was laugh. What started off as a good time started to resemble the opening scenes from “Spies Like Us”. People were getting caught up on the barbed wire. One guy had blood dripping from his forehead. The best part was the hundreds of people who waited in line for this. It was one of those days when I am happy to be the photographer.
I cruised up higher to check out some of the other obstacles and came to the “Chernobyl Jacuzzi”. It was a trough filled with ice and more brown water. I watched in awe as Mudders dunked and dove under from one tub to another. They trembled in the freezing waters while onlookers laughed hysterically.
Originally, I had something else planned for the Line of the Week. There are so many adventure races these days that they are easy to write off. But this one was different. There was so much hype and so much energy and so much ridiculously wacky behavior that is was the perfect event for a Squaw Valley that lives for off kilter madness. Not only was the whole thing ridiculous but it brought more than 14,000 people to the Valley over the weekend. How can it not be a Line of the Week when this many people are all taking it to the limit.
The Line of the Week is a weekly photo piece by Ryan Salm featuring some of Tahoe’s finest athletes doing whatever we deem rad. We will be using the term “Line” loosely to describe anything resembling chutes, big airs, pointers or any general madness. All images are the property and copyright of Ryan Salm Photography. All images are only to be used in conjunction with the Line of the Week. Any other usage must be cleared in writing by Ryan Salm.