Saturday, October 1, 2016

Marji Gesick 100 ( err, 110) Race Report

Suffering is easier in the company of a best friend.

Wow!  Where to begin on this behemoth of a race?  Last year was the inaugural one.  Todd Poquette of the 906 Adventure Team and Danny Hill, the Jedi Master of trail building for RAMBA, are the deviant masterminds behind the event.  The race is named after the Chippewa Chief who led the Jackson Mining Company to a large iron ore deposit in what is now Negaunee, Michigan.

No bikes allowed beyond this point.

100 miles wasn't good enough, so they through in an extra 10 for this one.  AND, there would be a 0.4 mile run to your bike.  Aside from the Vapor Trail where I started out with lights, this was the first time I put lights in my drop bag.

The race was unsupported (by the race organization).  They would take your drop bag out to Jackson Mine Park (mile 70 and mile 90), but that was it.  It was mentioned in BOLD in every email that you are on your own. You were allowed to have support crew meet you along the course. But it was up to you to get to the finish ... or get yourself out of the woods if something went wrong.You were strongly encouraged to ride with a GPS, as they did not guarantee that the signage would still be there by the time you rolled through.

This sign was the pre race meeting.

Having said all of that, the towns people came out in droves!  I counted no less than 10 "unofficial" aid stations set up by volunteers, community members, and friends/family of the racers.  I even saw an old couple alongside one of the very short greenway sections, in old-timey lawn chairs, with Mason jars scattered around their feet full of clear liquid.  Now, I did not stop, so I cannot tell you what that those jars contained!

Made to order at an "unofficial" aid station!

300+ racers lined up at 7:30am.  The national anthem was played.  ALL placed their hand over their heart and most took off their helmets.  As soon as it ended it was a mad scramble to replace the helmet because Danny was lighting the home made bottle rocket.  As it went up, then over, and then DOWN into the crowd, I was off on my journey.  Thank goodness I had been incorporating 3 mile runs into my work out schedule.  THAT was a long assed run ... in carbon soled shoes!  Lisa shot off like a rabbit and I would not see her again for awhile.  After about 7 minutes, I hopped on my bike and attempted to turn the pedals over quickly.  I wanted to reconnect with Lisa.  We had discussed racing together and from doing TransRockies, PMBAR, and Double Dare, she was the peanut butter to my jelly.

The first few miles was wide open, soft cross country ski trail. Why did we need a Lemans start?  The first thing I noticed was that there were alot of fat bikes.  But of course, most of the racers were from this region and probably have a longer fat bike season than a skinny tire one.  Everyone played nicely during this rolling section.  My legs were quite angry at this point; I blame the run as they had felt really good in the days leading up to the race.  I caught up to Lisa just as we arrived at a fairly nice double track descent.  From there we hit a flat trail that at one time was a railroad.  Somebody forgot to tell them to remove the railroad ties, however.  Even though there was some soil in between the ties, it was still annoyingly rough!  Ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk went my bike for about a mile.

Glad to be off that and finally into real single track.  Lisa was rocking the gnar and I was glad to follow her lines.  Unfortunately we did not get the chance to ride the Top O' The World section as there were lots of racers around us and it ended up being a HAB both up and a short bit down.  But there was plenty of tech to challenge us.  The trails were tight and twisty with short, punchy ups and steep droppy downs. And littered with rocks and roots. Overnight there had been a heavy dew which made the rocks and roots that much more interesting.  I used my upper body alot, working through the gnar.  I hit my 710mm wide bars more than once on the ever abundant trees.  Lisa and I were passed by a few locals, who knew what was lying around the next tree or rocky outcropping.  Most were nice and patient as there were not many opportunities for passing.  One dude who was up my butt and way to antsy for only being 10 miles into the race, bit it hard.  The trail demanded too much attention for me to look back, but I heard him say that he was o.k. That is why you leave more than one wheel length between you and the rider ahead! 

Back out onto a sandy road, Lisa motorpaced me to the next single track.  My legs still felt like cement had been dumped into them.  I threw down a Honey Stinger waffle and hoped that they would come around soon.  The next trails that carried us back to Marquette (Noquemanonn, EZ-PZ, The Cedars, Dead River) were relatively smooth and flowy. We finally felt like we were gaining some ground.  The trails in this area were a network of spiderwebs.  I had to pay close attention to signage as well as my Garmin to make sure I was on track.

Then we hit the Lowe's climb, which paralleled the power lines. Nothing technical, just a crap load of up. I knew we were close to the Hwy 42 crossing when we hit the back door of a strip mall, which included Lowe's.  From there we worked our way through a culvert to avoid becoming a pancake on the highway.

Just enough light to avoid the large rocks ... or body parts?

Once on the other side, we stopped and Lisa grabbed some water from our support crew.  This gave me a chance to throw down down peanut butter filled salted dates (what the diesel engine likes).  And then we were on a couple miles of the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (greenway) over to the South Trails. My legs had finally arrived and I was ready to lead the way!  I was glad there was a cyclist at the turn off point because it was a very sharp right and hidden.  The first section of trails were machine built and full of flow.  Lots of bermage!  I was definitely in my happy place here, running on all 8 cylinders.  We slowly worked our way around the Marquette Golf Club.  I saw several signs as we approached close to the fairways that said, "Be quiet, golfers nearby." I kept my inner wild child at bay, but put the I-9's in full on coast mode!

At mile 45, Lisa and I rolled into the South Trails parking lot where Rudy and Vicky awaited.  Here we both refilled our hydration packs and took on more food.  Now 5 hours into the race, I thought our chances of securing a buckle were good.  Right out of the parking lot the South Trails turned into Mr. Hyde.  As we were negotiating a rocky uphill, we saw the trail had claimed a victim's bike.  The derailleur and cassette of his bike were intertwined like newlyweds, probably a hard upshift under extreme torque, as this was a heinous climb.

With a 28 on the front, I made easy work of this climb.  The trails had hero dirt, the knobbies were all grippy, and I was in my rock crawling mode.  Had it not been for a fellow racer walking his bike on the ensuing descent, I woulda cleaned that rocky drop as well.  Then came the gravel road climb up Mt. Marquette.  360 feet in 0.75 miles = alot of 12-13% grade.  As we slowly made our way up, I talked to a racer that said the best downhill was just to come.  I asked, "Is it the Scary Trail?" to which he replied, "Yes."  Sa-weet!  I had heard about this one and was looking forward to it.

Finally at the top, I dropped in, having no idea what to expect.  I could tell that the shit was about to hit the fan when I saw a cluster of racers off their bikes.  Pausing for only a moment, I said, "rider back." One guy said, "It's slick; are you sure?"  I did not answer as I hit my drooper button and sent it!  I think I heard a gasp or two as I continued down the trail.  Although it was indeed technical, the pucker factor was just a 3.4.  By far, this was my favorite trail of the day.

Halfway down Scary was the second checkpoint.  There were 4 of these CP's in the race.  You had to grab a poker chip at each one.  This was proof that you completed the course and would get a finishing time. The first one had been somewhere in the North Trails.  I grabbed one for Lisa, stuck it in her pack and off we went.

One more punchy climb and then another fun descent on Ezy Rider. Somewhere on the climb Lisa picked up a stick that jammed into her cassette.  She lost a couple gears and we could not get that little bastard out. I knew our support crew would be waiting for us around mile 55, so I took an opportunity to forge ahead and prepare for a surgical extraction.  While we awaited on Lisa's arrival, I made sure to eat and drink.  After several minutes, she arrived.  Rudy was ready with an array of tools.  At this point, Lisa told me to go on.  I really did not want to. But she was insistent  The day before we had discussed riding together, but that if one of us felt we were holding the other back, we would let the other go. As much as I hated too, I pedaled off.  At this point, I was 6 1/2 hours into the race.  That left 5 1/2 for the last 50'ish miles.  A challenge, but still doable, or so I thought.

I soft pedaled for a couple miles, hoping that I would here the familiar buzz of Lisa's wheels catching up to mine.  But after 10 minutes, I knew I was on my own.  The next 15 miles to the town of Negaunee was a steady slog uphill on mind numbing trail.  On paper, it looked fast, but with a rather large chunk of it being snowmobile trail, it turned out to be a death march in ankle deep sand.  There were a few sections where I could ride up on the lip of the trail, but then it would disappear.  On more than one occasion, I had to push, not uphill, but on a flat section!  At this point, with still 5 more miles to get to Jackson Mine Park where my peoples would be, I could see the buckle slowly slipping away from me.

Finally, I hit the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, a mix of smooth gravel and pavement.  I could see a racer 100 yards in front of me.  Head down, I hammered to catch up, where I could take some respite from the headwind.  50 yards ... 25 yards ... 10 yards ... and locked on to his rear wheel!  I could not help but notice his snazzy orange I-9 hubs on his orange Salsa with the orange Fox SC Fork!  After a couple miles, it was my turn to take a pull.

Jackson Mine Park, mile 70

As I arrived into the outskirts of town,  I went through my mental checklist of what needed to be done at the SAG stop.  Jackson Mine Park was full of support crews and spectators!  I had a hard time finding Rudy and Vicki in the throngs, but they saw me and waved ecstatically.  While I grabbed food and drink, they told me they were able to get the stick out of Lisa's cassette.  And that she was still feeling good, but not "Carey pace" good.

Leaving out of the park, I had 4 hours to complete 40'ish miles. Easily accomplished in other hundies I have raced), but near impossible here. I was determined to leave it all out here, tho'.  The initial climb up Malton was pretty chewed up and whereas it was rideable during my pre ride, now with 70 miles in my legs, I HAB'd it.  Up top, this trail was super tight and twisty, and at times I thought I was going to be turned into a pretzel.

5 Points on Steroids!

One section I particularly remember is a sign that said Sharp right turn with a sheer drop off on your left!  No effin' joke!  No guard rail, no yellow tape, just an 80 foot free fall to your death.  I rode it, but kept my eyes firmly planted on the trail in front of me.  This trail was definitely old school, created by lots of back breaking hard labor with simple tools.  Lots of punchy ups and downs over big rocks.  More half-track than single track, with side cuts that would be quite a tumble down should you stray off the 12 inch path. Although slow going, I was having an absolute blast working the bike through this section. Got to give a big shout out to Joshua Hicks of Result Fitness and the 10 months of burpees, jump squats, box blasts, hang cleans, dead lifts, etc.  After 70+ miles of racing, I still had that upper end torque necessary to clean this trail.

At about the 78 mile mark, the course dumped me out into downtown Ishpeming.  This was the hardest portion to navigate as it was hard to make out the signage and avoid traffic, too.  I did see a racer up ahead and followed his lead, while at the same time looking at my GPS for confirmation. Just to throw salt in the wound, Todd made sure the course went right by the finish!  The 50 mile racers were finished and I could see them enjoying beer and barbeque!

Motoring on, I caught up to the racer.  His name was Derek, from Marquette.  I truly enjoyed his company, as I was in a low spot at this point.  Working together, the mileage seemed to move on somewhat quicker.  I shared some water with him, as he had missed his last feed. He seemed genuinely concerned that I was getting top notch treatment from the locals.  To which I replied, yes, the "yoopers" were a friendly bunch.  At some point, while climbing up to the 53rd bluff in this 20 mile section, he popped off my wheel.  I kinda missed that big burly bear and his awesome attitude the remainder of the race.

After 2 1/2 hours of constantly being on the gas, I arrived back at Jackson Mine Park.  It was now 6pm.  I grabbed my helmet with the light, refilled my hydration pack one last time and headed out for the final 15 miles.  15 miles in any other race would be doable in 90 minutes or less.  But I figured I had another 2 hours of gnar to tackle.  And, it was already getting dark in the woods.

This last section ought to be titled, "How many times do I have to climb to the top?"  I would cough up a lung on the loose and steep ATV trail climbs and then have just enough left in me to tackle the gnarly descents.  These hill repeats of death seemed to go on forever. A few of them I had to walk. Getting back on the bike after an arduous push to the top was a feat in of itself.  I laughed out loud at how silly I must have looked trying to clip back in. And just to make sure we had muddy bikes at the end of the race, prior to each climb was a green quagmire that ran the width of the trail.

At mile 97, I asked Tyler on a fat bike if he could smell the barn yet.  I suppose that is a southern colloquialism, as I totally threw him off guard.  I shoulda thrown out some "yonders", "up and unders", and "over thars." That would have really messed his mojo up ... hehe.

At around mile 98, I lost Tyler on a long fireroad descent that popped me out onto a road.  A real paved road, with houses nearby.  Surely to God I must be close to the finish!  No sooner had I thought those words than I was immediately turned back into some single track with yet another steep climb. I saw a sign ahead for another checkpoint, the fourth and final one.  And then I saw a two way traffic sign.  I was befuddled momentarily.  And then I let loose (in my mind) a Yosemite Sam tirade of expletives.

The last CP was an out and back!  As much as the fatigued 47 year old whose legs were about to fall off wanted to sit down and throw a fit, the maniac who loves to suffer embraced it, knowing that I was going to finish this!

Grabbing that last poker chip gave me renewed strength.  Turing my light on now for the steep descent, I railed it.  This last bit of single track still required constant focus, and now with the sun setting, the trail was even more difficult to read.  Night riding is tricky, especially at last light.  I would much rather be racing in the pure dark as opposed to dusk, where shadows play with your depth perception.

The last mile was all paved and all downhill.  Crossing the finish line at 8:11 pm brought with it a roller coaster of emotions.  After 12:41 minutes of racing, I was happy to have completed this monster, bike and body intact.  Yeah, I was a bit disappointed in not getting the buckle, but that was short-lived.  After a year of preparing for this one, so many things could have potentially gone wrong. But not one bad thing happened, for which I am so blessed.

1st woman, 28th overall.

I have to bow down and give tremendous kudos to all the peeps that allowed this amazing event to happen.  From race director on down to the smiling kid who handed me a cup of water trailside at mile 25, this race is in the top 5 of volunteer and community support.  Even though it was proclaimed as a "self-supported" event, there were hundreds of people out there who would have helped in any way they could, should I had needed assistance.

The pre race schwag, including a poster, patch, sticker, and unlimited Hammer Gels were spot on! There were no podiums, only a $1.00 to the winner, and a buckle to the sub-12 hour finishers.  The Marji Gesick 110 is about racing the course, not each other, and I liked it that way.  And each person finishing this beast was a winner.  The attrition rate was high; less than 53% finished.

An unbelievable adventure through the craggy wilderness of the UP.

I have already signed up for 2017, as I have unfinished business.  For those of you that live and love the Pisgah Productions type events, then this is right up your alley.

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