PATTERSON -- I wanted the orange headband.
I wanted the pain and the pressure, the nicks and bruises, and maybe a little blood underneath all that dried mud.
I wanted the swag, the free beer and the festival of champions. I wanted those things for myself, to say that I conquered the Tough Mudder, an endurance event aptly named for its torturous obstacles and unrelenting climbs.
But Mudder, sweet Mudder, she knows best.
From the moment I scaled the opening wall, the 6-foot barrier you have to hurdle just to reach the starting line, it was clear this would be no solo mission even if I felt abandoned.
Let me explain that last bit. You see, when this whole journey started about eight months ago, I formed a squad, like so many do. The Burns Unit. I called on many of my friends and co-workers to take the challenge.
Seven started the registration process. Five completed it, paying the $150 entry fee. Only two showed.
One called in sick. The other two simply bailed the morning of. No call. No text message. Nothing.
Burns Unit had been whittled down to two me and my brother-in-law, Jason Beier.
Quickly, I moved past the disappointment, determined not to let their absence ruin the adventure
the adventure I thought I wanted for myself.
When starter Sean Corvelle released us to the course shortly after 9 a.m. on Sunday, my aspirations for personal glory that "I, I, I" mentality vanished.
See, Mudder, sweet Mudder, she knows best.
Tough Mudder wants to wrap that orange headband around the globe, supplanting Ironman and marathons as the ultimate endurance event. And while its plan for world domination is trending toward a reality, there is one distinction Tough Mudder can make right now. In a genre of sport that is largely individualized, the Tough Mudder is about team
In order to pass this course, Corvelle said, I need you all to come together.
What Burns Unit lacked in volume 10 minutes before Sunday's start, it gained tenfold in the starting paddock. Strangers shook hands and pledged, with right hand's raised, to look after one another.
What Burns Unit lacked in leverage it gained tenfold at the Berlin Walls, where helping hands helped thrust you over 8- and 10-foot barriers.
What Burns Unit lacked in strength it gained tenfold at Mud Mile or Just The Tip or Funky Monkey and Hangin' Tough. There, helping hands rescued you from falls, pulled you from a cold plunge or towed you up slick hills.
With its steep military ties the obstacles are designed by British Special Forces, Marines volunteer at each obstacle, and a portion of the proceeds benefit The Wounded Warrior Project Tough Mudder encourages its participants to use camaraderie and teamwork to negotiate the course.
Big muscles and grit only get you so far. Eventually, the course will break most of you. That's when you experience the true jewel of the Tough Mudder teammates you never knew you had.
High-fives and "How are yous" populate the steep grades that form the Diablo Grande ridgeline. Marines push you to your breaking point as you approach Boa Constrictor tunnels caked in mud and emptying into standing water but put you right back together with words of encouragement.
In fact, three Marines helped hoist my brother-in-law and I up Everest, a 15-foot quarter pipe lathered in water, mud, oil
whatever slick substance Tough Mudder officials could find.
Moments later, we bounded across the finish line, where a volunteer placed an orange headband on my head.
"He gets one, too," I told her, pointing to my brother-in-law hunched over beneath the finish line. He was dead-legged and winded, but stood tall and pumped his fist at the sight of his take-home gift.
We did it.
For about a half-hour we celebrated among a sea of orange and brown smiles, most cradling the tokens of their accomplishments: a free beer.
A toast to Mudder, sweet Mudder, for what she knew best. For what she knew about all of us.
Nothing she threw at us would be impossible not a mud bog full of live wire, not quad-tearing climbs, or Army crawls in the dark if we came together.
James Burns is Regional Sports Content Editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2324.