Most people don’t spend a whole lot of time in culverts.

Those tunnels of corrugated metal are typically reserved for the “recently escaped from prison/running from the law” crowd.

Most people don’t get up close and personal with rings of fire, barbed wire or those snow-blasting fan guns seen on ski resort mountainsides, either. Those things can hurt if not approached cautiously and bribed to behave.

Spending an afternoon clambering over a rocky landscape laden with such implements of potential harm isn’t something most people do willingly.

Instead, crawling under barbed wire Army-style, with your belly dragging in the mud or tumbling into a deep ravine only to torturously haul yourself up the other side, is a proposition most folks would attempt only under extreme circumstances — say, if you were being hunted for sport.

Yet these are the components of Sunday River’s Tough Mountain Challenge, starting at 10 a.m. Saturday.

In its second year, the Tough Mountain Challenge consists of 16 obstacles spread along a 5-kilometer course up and around the mountain terrain. In winter, this space is covered in snowy trails; in summer, there are culverts, mud pits and uphill sprints.

Obstacles include the “Hornets Nest,” a barrage of netting so low to the ground that participants are forced to crawl to get through it, and a pit of smoke and fire known as “Burning Man.”.

The “Gravity Plunge” boasts a high wall followed by a mud pit, and the “Slip, Slide & Die” will send racers sailing downhill to what looks like certain death (or at least a soaking-wet ending).

The Tough Mountain Challenge is the sort of adventure that seems to border on masochism. But 1,000 participants have already signed up for the chance to challenge the mountain and themselves. People, it seems, are gluttons for punishment.

Darcy Morse, communications director at Sunday River, said the mountain is perfectly suited for dishing out the abuse. “Given our natural terrain, it was a no-brainer to do something like this.”

Being able to complete the course — covered in mud and with limbs crying out from fatigue — is certainly an accomplishment for anyone, but Morse said the challenge is doable even for folks who haven’t spent the last year sprinting through the woods Last of the Mohicans-style.

“It’s designed to be a challenge. It’s also designed to be a lot of fun,” she said. “Certainly, there are those who take this sort of event seriously but for the most part, people show up to challenge themselves personally, to say they did something like this.”

The grueling effort isn’t without reward. Finishers get to take home a swelled sense of pride. They’ll also be handed a complimentary mug filled with their beverage of choice at the Tough Mountain after-party, which includes a beer garden, a barbecue, live music, a chairlift ride and ziplines.

“When you cross that finish line, your reward is that you crossed that finish line — that you get to fill that mug up,” said Morse.

The post-race festivities are ample motivation for participants who delight in a beer tent more than barbed wire. “(The Tough Mountain Challenge) is a party. People come ready to have a good time. It’s also not unheard of to see costumes or tailgating,” Morse said.

The 1,000 slots for participants have already been filled, so if you haven’t registered, you’ll have to wait until next year. But nothing’s keeping you from watching others risk self-mutilation and/or humiliation. There’s no cost to watch the man vs. mountain rivalry unfold.

“It’s probably one of the most fun races you could do in Maine,” said Morse. “It’s so different from anything else you can do out there.”

And that’s true whether you’re a glutton for punishment or a glutton for a party. 

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

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