Wednesday, September 12, 2018

4th annual Marji Gesick 100 blog

It's hard to believe that the 4th edition of the Marji Gesick 100 race is just around the corner! It seems like the saddle sores from the first one just healed... The race sure has come a long way, starting out with a small crew of riders at the Harlow Lake unit in 2015 to being an NUE event with 666 pre-registered participants including ultra-runners. Having been one of the lucky few to enjoy the first edition, it's been awesome to see the event grow and change over the past few years. That first year we had a very foggy notion of what we were getting into. We knew we'd ride about 100 miles, and that the trails were tough. No one knew where we'd get aid or what was available until we reached our drop bags in Jackson Park. The starting field was so small we were able to park in a little lot and lined all the bikes up in a few minutes. Fast forward a couple of years and the event takes over Forestville with hundreds of people milling about. While much has changed, one thing is sure to be the same; the good people of Marquette and the natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula. There's so much more to the event than just riding on some trails. The experience of getting to Marquette, setting up camp or lodging, mingling with locals and travelers, the nervous energy before the event, and the exhausted but happy energy afterwards. The reason we keep coming back every year isn't just for the bike ride, because we get to ride lots of great places, but rather the event as a whole. It's one of the few cycling events Jenny and I have made into an annual tradition, and part of that tradition is writing about the race and sharing our experience.
Racers anxiously awaiting the LeMans start!

The Course

The first 17 miles are the same as last year. We'll start out with the LeMans running portion which is over quickly despite many peoples' fears, and then it's off to the races on the xc ski trails towards Harlow Lake unit. Don't fret if you're not in the position you had hoped for coming out of the start, it's a long day and you're better off saving some for the back half than blowing up in the first few miles. The first substantial climb is up Jedi trail to Top of the World where we'll also find the first technical section. Generally speaking there are a few techy sections through Harlow Lake but we'll be spared tackling trails such as McLovin and Who Cooks for You. Don't force the rooty sections beginning around mile 10, but rather try to rely on good handling and consistent riding. The race energy and jitters can cause a person to push too hard in the techy stuff which can end your day quickly with a spill or mechanical. Around mile 12 we'll run into some chunky gnar which will have quite a few folks hoofing it, but take your time and avoid turning an ankle on the mossy rocks. It probably won't be the last time you're off the bike anyways...
View from Top of the World

We'll leave Harlow Lake unit and pedal a series of XC ski, two-track and singletrack routes back to Forestville around mile 17. We'll take Ramblin' Man, Wildcat and Mildcat en route to the North Trails proper on the Dead River. If you haven't heard, Pine Knob is out for this year.The North Trails will provide some reprieve from the gnar and you should be able to settle in to a nice endurance pace finally. Be sure to make the most out of the short gravel and two-track connectors when it comes to eating and drinking. It's easy to lose sight of nutrition in the heat of battle, but getting behind on nutrition early could spell disaster for the latter half of the day. The next big chunk of work comes around mile 25 when we get to Lowes Trail, a mildly technical and steep climb which punches it's way out of the Dead River valley and up towards US 41.We'll arrive at the notorious tunnel around mile 28 and that's it for the North Trail system.
Crossing the Dead River

Miles 29-31 are on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, a paved bike path. Use this time wisely to fuel, address any issues or needed adjustments and catch a rest before the next section. Around mile 31 we'll dive into Harlow Farms connector also known as Black trail. Black trail weaves its way generally uphill into the South Trails proper and is pretty tame. Once into south trails we'll traverse about for several miles with a bit of everything until we hit the descent on Eh Line down to the South Trailhead around mile 40. Traditionally there has been a well stocked "aid station" at the pavilion, but remember there are no official race aid stations so take that for what it's worth... Now's the time to put your game face on and focus as the next several miles are both strenuous and technical with plenty of steeps and rocks. Don't rush the aid station if there is one because after that there truly isn't much of anything for who knows how long. We'll punch it up to Gurly, blast down to blue trail and through Doctors before abruptly turning and punching it up Mount Marquette road. Scary Trail is steep with some turns that will sneak up on ya so ride smart and keep your head up. Once down we'll meander to the Carp River where we'll be faced with the biggest climb of the entire race. The climb starts around mile 45 and lasts until just after mile 47 after ascending over 600 feet of vertical. Enjoy the shred down EZ Ryder back to the Carp River as we'll soon be climbing again. Once you arrive at Pipe Dreams you can breathe a short sigh of relief as the substantial climbing subsides for a while, although we'll be generally ascending until we arrive at Jackson Park. Morgan Creek Trail to Pioneer Loop is mostly relaxed singletrack which weaves it's way through the higher terrain until we depart from the south trail en route to Negaunee.

View off-route from Mount Marquette

Around mile 55 to 56 we'll pop out onto a curious surface called pavement whereupon it's advised to eat and drink merrily. This strange surface lasts for less than a mile before we dive back into some two-tracks and ATV trails. Around mile 60 we'll meet our old friend the Iron Ore Heritage Trail which means we're dangerously close to Jackson Park and that coveted drop bag. Jackson Park is around mile 65 so that gives you plenty of time to eat, drink and cook up a game plan for the next section. My advice is to eat and drink as much as feels comfortable without bloating or feeling nauseous. If you can diminish your supplies before arriving at Jackson Park then that's less time you'll need to spend eating at the checkpoint. Also, it gives you time to digest that food and drink before dealing with the more technical trails in Negaunee.
Jackson Park during the night time

Jackson Park, finally!! It is always an awesome sight to roll in and see all the amazing volunteers, fellow racers, family and friends that gather to cheer riders onward. Take the time you need here as you won't return for 22 technical and strenuous miles. The trails up in Negaunee and Ishpeming and tight, twisty, punchy, and not so flowy. There's not a lot of opportunity to fuel during the loop except for the occasional connector or crossing so make the most out of that stop as you may not return for at least a few hours. This also tends to be the time when the fatigue is stacking up and you're not thinking so clearly. Try to set a game plan ahead of your arrival at Jackson Park that way you're not wandering around like a Zombie and leaving with just a bottle of water. Leaving Jackson Park you'll wander on trails through the old town zone and get to actually ride on someones old staircase to their front door! Further into the loop you'll hit classics such as Malton Loop and Epic Trail. At mile 77 you'll actually ride within a few hundred feet of the finish line. Each section of trail pops up onto a knob and there is typically some sort of cool view or vantage point to take it all in. Try to remind yourself how cool the trails, scenery and people are as you're deep in the hurt locker grinding up each knob. Around mile 87 we'll return to Jackson Park for what is hopefully the last time of the race...

RAMBA goodness!

You've made it this far, there's no turning back now! According to the Strava route i'm referencing for mileage, the total distance is about 102 miles so that leaves us with 15 miles of ground to cover. The last 15 miles however are not for the faint of heart. We'll be faced with a couple substantial climbs after leaving the park and ride amazing trails such as Grandview, Flannel Shirt, AM/FM and Carroll Jackon. You'll see Suicide Hill from a distance, but then a few miles later it won't be so distant. Odds are the sunlight is waning or has long disappeared at this point. No matter the case, soldier onward and upward to the next high point. Make each summit an achievement and keep those pedals turning or feet hiking, one in front of the other. Arriving at the shore of Lake Sally you can rest assured that the struggle is nearly over, but not before just a few more climbs. Jasper Knob is the last castle to defeat before gliding/walking/crawling your way to the finish in Ishpeming on Main Street.
A classic!

Well, that doesn't sound too bad now does it? No matter how you slice it, it's one heck of a challenge getting from start to finish but i assure you it's worth it. The course favors those well prepared and equipped. Do you not meet either of those criteria? Well, sheer will power can get a person pretty darn far...
Jenny finishing after 2AM Sunday


We're too far gone now to talk about training so i'll jump right into nutrition. I'm just gonna tell you what my game plan is, and some tips i find handy and you can take that for what it's worth. First off, have some semblance of a game plan. It's too long of a day to straight wing it in my opinion. Hopefully you've tried out some drink mixes, gels, chews etc.. and have a fair idea of what you like. For me, i use Carborocket Half Evil which provide 333 calories per bottle. I'll carry a bottle on the bike and 1.5 liters of water on my back. I try to make a bottle last 2 hours or so, and carry the powder in a ziploc to mix with water when i can refill. I'll premix one bottle and carry a ziploc or two of mix to last me until i hit Jackson park and my drop bag. Water consumption is variable with temperature/pace/etc.. but i typically try not to over hydrate as it can cause bloat. 16-20 ounces of total fluid per hour usually work well for me. I drink more or less depending on the effort level. I try to regularly sip my drinks as opposed to chug half a bottle at a time to aid in digestion.
Get your pre and post game beverages at Blackrocks Brewery

For races 6 hours or less i'm fine with just drink mix and some gels/chews, but for longer undertakings i need solid and "real" food. I like to put my gel in a reusable flask that holds 6 servings. I find the flask is easier to access in my jersey and take a sip from as opposed to opening a bunch of gels and managing all the trash. I'll carry one flask to last me until Jackson Park where i'll have two more waiting for the final two sections. Since one flask doesn't quite cut it, i'll carry a few packs of chews to store in my top tube snack bag along with some chewy granola bars and something savory like Cheez-its or Combos. IF there's an "aid station" at South TH or en route to Jackson Park i'll typically feed on whatever sounds good at the time ranging from bananas to cookies to bratwurst. Remember that simple sugars and carbs only go so far when you're doing an endurance event, and proper food will help keep you from riding that high and low roller coaster that comes with just drinking mixes and eating gels.
Jenny leaving the aid station at night

Solid and whole foods are your friend, especially if you're not in a huge rush and just want to find the finish line. It's not always easy to stop and eat serious food if you're after a buckle, but if you can spare the time i highly recommend having something legit waiting for you at Jackson Park sure as a Border Grill burrito, cold pizza, pasta salad or otherwise. Just imagine going all day without eating, it's hard isn't it? Now imagine not eating all day while pushing your body to it's limits? I think you get the picture. Not only will sustenance help fuel your muscles but also keep your mood elevated and help you avoid those serious mental low points.
Burrito Palace


Again, i'll just tell you what i'm using and have used and let you be the judge. It's probably too late to get acquainted with a new dropper post or full suspension setup, but you can always makes small adjustments over a week out if you're smart about it (i.e. swap a 36t chain ring for a 30t, not a new drivetrain dood!). I've ridden the race on both a steel hardtail and a full suspension bike, and hands down enjoyed the experience more on my full sus steed. I'll be riding the Salsa Spearfish with a Fox Float 32 Stepcast fjork. Take the time to make sure you've got your suspension setup properly, and make a visit to your local bike shop if you're clueless. Running 300 psi in your fjork you might just as well run rigid, and vice versa running 30 psi you might as well bring a pogo stick. I've raced the first two editions without a dropper, and added one to my arsenal last year and was pleased that i did. It's just nice be able to get your seat out of the way when negotiating techy sections like Top of the World, Scary Trail, Gurly, etc... I'll be running the KS LEV Ci 125mm drop seatpost which is pretty new to the market.
Race rig ready to go!

Salsa Cycles Spearfish

Drivetrain wise i'll be running trusty ol' 1x11 Shimano XTR with a SRAM XX1 10-42 cassette. I like the feel and action of the Shimano but like the 10 tooth cog on the SRAM cassette so i can run a 32t up front and not feel like i'm out of gear on a few sections. Speaking of which, i run the Wolftooth CAMO setup with a 32t chainring mated up to Cannondale Hollogram aluminum crankset. Haven't had great lucky with carbon cranks in the rocky stuff and having alloy where i know i can bash a few rocks makes me feel better. Keeping my feet connected to the bike are Shimano XT pedals, they're tried and true and i'd rather save the nice XTR for the not-so-gnar stuff. Velocity USA Blunt SS hoops laced to Industry 9 hubs keep me rolling smooth and setup tubeless nicely with the Vittoria Mezcal 29x2.25 tires. I've been running these tires for several hundred miles so far and they roll fast, have good durability and corner well. I used them up at the HAMR race a few months ago with zero issues.

Some other additions to my setup include a Garmin Edge 1000 for the large screen and nice maps. To carry the necessary supplies i'll lash a tube under my seat (wrapped in plastic of course) with a Backcountry Research strap and stuff my remaining repair supplies in my Camelbak Chase Vest. To keep snacks handy and easy to eat i'll have my Oveja Negra top tube bag. I like the Camelbak vest because it has nice pockets on both should straps where i can keep salt tabs, chews, energy bars, etc... It's also nice because of the form fitting nature so it doesn't flop around much when you're getting rad.
Camelbak Chase vest with all of the pockets!

For repair kit i like to be well prepared. I've had good fortune at Marji that past several years but that can always change and i'd rather carry stuff and not have to use it than be out of luck waiting for someone to help me out. Here's what i like to carry:
Spare tube
Crankbros M17 multi-tool
Genuine Innovations tire plug kit w/bacon strips
CO2 inflator (push valve not screw on)
Extra CO2 cartidge
Birzman Apogee MTB pump
Park pre-glued patch kit
Park tire boot
11 speed quick link
Small valve core removal tool
Spare presta valve core
Derailleur hanger
Top cap tool to remove said derailleur hanger (Salsa design)
Repair kit

It might sound like a lot, but i strap the tube under my seat and am sure to wrap it in plastic to keep mud and dirt from rubbing holes in it. The small parts all fit in an old patch kit caddy and i stuff the rest in two zippered pockets on my Camelbak. This is about as minimal as i'm comfortable with, and of course you can always add more but i've been able to get out of most situations with these items. I don't carry extra sealant because i top it up before the event, and if i get a big enough puncture i face it upwards while i plug it so all the sealant doesn't drain out. I like the spare valve core because sometimes they get all clogged with sealant and it's nearly impossible to get air in with a small pump. I like the Birzman pump over my old Lezyne because it has a quick disconnect and won't pull out the valve core like i had happen with the Lezyne. That's also why i only use push-to-inflate CO2 heads and not thread on ones. Know how to replace your derailleur hanger, and if it has small screws holding it in place, be sure they're not so corroded you can't get them off. Also, if your derailleur hanger is like mine and need a large wrench or special tool be sure to have it on you.

I like to pack along plenty of clothing options to take up to Marquette as you never know what the weather will bring. It's good to have lots of modularity and layering options. For example, i don't typically wear heavier jackets or one piece tops, but rather like to use thin base layer, short sleeve jersey, arm sleeves and vests as needed so i can adjust with the weather. If it's for sure going to be rainy i like to use a high quality rain jacket like Gore wear to keep from getting chilled. Regular bib shorts can be coupled with knee warmers, leg warmers, embrocation cream or wool socks to cover a variety of temperatures. Don't underestimate a good pair of gloves for keeping your hands from blistering or slipping on damp grips. If you're so inclined you can always throw some spare socks, base layer, shorts, etc.. in your drop bag to have at Jackson park.
Don't forget about style

Head games
Aside from the phsyical challenge presented by such an undertaking, the mental battle is not to be overlooked. A large part of success or failure is due to mental fortitude or lack thereof. During any race that takes 10+ hours there is bound to be plenty of highs and lows. After doing some pretty long events i've developed some good skills at keeping the boogie man at bay and having a successful ride. First, keep positive thinking at the forefront and try to push out all the negative thoughts that enter. If you think you're gonna crash on a feature then you probably will, just like if you look at the tree you want to miss you'll probably run into it. Telling yourself you're up to the challenge, ready for anything and willing to face all tasks head-on will do wonders for your ride. Positive self talk is a critical aspect of endurance racing. Second, break the ride or race into "digestible" sections that you can grasp. Thinking of far away downtown Ishpeming when you're at Harlow Lake will seem overwhelming as you're walking the first tough section. Focus on completing one section at a time and celebrate each small victory to keep your morale high. For instance, i break the race into "zones" that i look forward to riding and finishing; Harlow Lake unit, North Trails, South Trails, commute to Negaunee, RAMBA loop, and the final section from Jackson Park to Ishpeming. Focus on getting from one zone to the next and don't worry about what's hours and hours away, you'll get to it eventually.Third, camaraderie is not to be underestimated as a great source of motivation. If it's really quiet and folks are groaning about the next climb, try to be upbeat and elevate the mood. Odds are you won't all be in tune with the same mood so help one another out and you're bound to have someone cheer you up when you really need the boost.
Perseverance award winners 2016

The spirit of adventure
To me, the Marji Gesick is an adventure ride, nothing more and nothing less, and i'm always just happy to find the finish line. It's a fantastic opportunity to test yourself and maybe even learn something in the process. It's easy to get caught up in all the hype concern, stoke and energy leading up to the race and have your mind going a million miles an hour. Just stop, think about how cool it will be to ride all that awesome trail, and embrace the adventure that surely awaits. The race seems to have a way of laying to waste the best laid plans so don't overthink things. Where there's a will, there's a way. I'm incredibly excited to get up to Marquette and ride with a bunch of great people and you should be too!
Hanging with a legend
Reliving the action.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

3rd annual Marji Gesick 100 blog post

Well folks, once again that wonderful time of year is here again! The Marji Gesick 100 is just 10 days away and i can hardly wait to hit the trails in Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming! Jenny and I will be making the trip up north of the bridge a week from today to get up there a bit early and "acclimatize" prior to the race (ride some sweet trails, have some beers and camp). If you've done the Marji then you know what you're in for already, but there are some changes this year. Just before Labor day weekend i had the chance to rip around up there for a few days checking out some of the changes and additions. I know Todd highlighted some of them in a social media post, but just to recap here's what i found:

Harlow Lake area - Riding from the start it's business as usual heading out on ski trails/two tracks towards the Harlow Lake unit. On this particular day i had the good fortune of riding the terrain after a big rain had come through making it that much more exciting. Top of the World was sporty to say the least, and normally it's not an issue to ride it but after slip sliding down the first mossy rock roll i bailed. With Angry Bear cut out this year you've got a bit more sandy road to ride which makes things easier, but the rocks and roots on Andy Gregg trail were super greasy when wet and difficult to keep it upright. Once you get through World Cup and back up the two track towards Forestville road you actually punch on past it on old ski trail which is a bit of a biatch but a welcome change. The additions of Ramblin' Man and Wildcat make the next miles way more fun, but i think Pine Knob will be a trail of reckoning for many folks. Once you arrive to Pine Knob it's time to dig into that well of patience and focus you've been saving up. If it rains or is wet, this section of the race is going to be very difficult.

North and South Trails - The North trails are some of the more beginner friendly ones out there so this will be a good time to sort yourself out, settle into the groove and rip some sweet dirt. The new Silver Lead trail is a hoot and much better than that frigg off sandy thing that we used last year. You'll punch it up the pavement after the trail and bomb down into the start of Lowes Trail. I didn't go ripping through there this time around, but rode it earlier in the summer and the construction will change things up a bit from last year. Once you get across 41 you can forget about taking easy street down the IOHT because someone decided to throw in two-track and ATV stuff all the way towards the black trail. Once you hit the core of the South Trails you're in for a good rip toward the main South Trailhead. Sometimes there's peoples here and foods and drinks and whatnot but no guarantees. Brace yourself for the next several miles because they're not easy. You punch it up to Gurly on the Blue Trail and rip down some buck nasty rocks which will catch some folks off guard. All i can say is stay high and tight to the right, if you start drifting left you're in for a ride. Once to the bottom you'll be riding some proper rocky singletrack around the mountain until you dump out onto Mt Marquette road. This is a steep gravel road that takes you up to Scary and so on and so forth. Scary isn't as bad as it seems, just steep. Once you bottom out at the Carp river be ready to climb one of the biggest continual ascents in the course. By this time you'll probably be feeling it and wondering why the hell you came here in the first place. Just ride your bike. There's a new section added in on the west side of 553 and i'm sure there's someone you can blame for it. Keep your wits about you as this climb requires some finesse to stay clean. It's business as usual from here until Jackson Park. In summary some of the biggest and baddest climbs are in this area so be prepared and pace yourself.

Negaunee and Ishpeming - Even though you may be at mile 65 or greater when you roll into Jackson Park you're definitely not half-way to the finish. The going is slow here on out and your patience and perseverance will be put to the test. Unless you're vying for a top spot i highly suggest properly fueling here, taking an extra minute or two to eat some solid food, put on some chamois cream, chug some extra fluids and find a buddy or two to ride with (especially if it's dark). Out of the gate you'll get into Humpty Dumpty. This is a new trail and i'm sure you've seen videos/photos. Once you get to the wall be smart about your decision to ride or walk. It's all of 10 feet or more to the bottom and it'd be a shame to end your ride here. Things have gotten changed up here and there for these two loops but the vibe stays the same; punch it up a knob, twist around and white knuckle to the bottom. You'll repeat this theme far more times than you thought possible. Even the fastest folks will be struggling to average 10 mph from Jackson Park to the finish. The good news is you only ride 25 or so miles before you're back at the park and your drop bag. Once again, eat some food, catch your breath and take a second to sort things out. If it's dark make sure you've got plenty of lights to last to the finish. Despite what the mileage says the last legs will take several hours. General theme is to keep your guard up, things get tight, twisty and weird out here.

Ok, so now you've got the rundown from a macro level on the course. The patented Todd hype machine has been going full gas since the day after the race last year and your head is a jumble of thoughts and fears. To throw you a bone here i'm going to tell you what i've done the past two years to get me through, what i've learned and hopefully a few tips that will come in use on race day.

Gear - First year i rode my hardtail steel bike, it worked but i definitely felt a bit thrashed at the end of the day. Second year i rode my Salsa Spearfish and was much happier to have done so. The great benefit to full suspension is that you can rip the descents a bit harder and not get so beat up. If all you've got is a hardtail then fear not, several hardy Marquette residents have completed Marji on full rigid singlespeeds and Tyler "Big Grin" Keuning has done it on a Surly Wednesday rigid steel fatbike singlespeed. So, you've got your bike and you're wondering what tires do i run? Burly tires. The UP folks know what's up and run some heavy duty rubber for good reason. Leave your Schwalbe Lightskin Racing Ralphs at home. Seriously, don't bring them. I've used the Schwalbes with Snakeskin casings but am pretty selective about my lines and stay light on the bike. This year i'm using Continental Mountain and X-king combo with Protection carcass in a 2.4 width (they run narrow closer to 2.25). Make sure you're tubeless sealant is fresh and not all boogered up like a weird stans creature inside. If you've got a dropper post then bring it, but it's not necessary. I've not used a dropper the past two years but will bring one this year as i'm used to having it and can "send it" harder with one. Now is the time to make sure your bike is dialed in and not Friday before the race. Don't even think about changing anything later next week!

Clothing - Bring lots of options with you, the weather can shift at any time by the big lake and you don't want to be caught out in a sleeveless tri-suit on Marquette mountain. We've been lucky the last two years with warm temps and no rain. It's going to cool down at night so if you plan to be out there a while put some layers in your drop bag at Jackson Park. I like to have lots of options so i layer up with things like arm/leg warmers, wind vest, thin under armor shirts, etc... if need be. Some extra socks and cycling caps never hurt if you're partial to using those.

Nutrition - You're going to want to err on the side of cautious when it comes to fluids depending on your goals. There will be times when there's no where to turn for extra water or food. Ten plus hours on the bike is a long time to be eating gels and drink mix. Sure it can be done, but it's nice to have options when you get to hour seven. I like a balance of gels, drink mix, solid foods and gas station type snacks. It's nice to have some salty treats to balance out the sweetness. Bananas, applesauce and rice cake bars will help keep your stomach from going completely sour if you're sensitive. If you plan on being out there a long time, i'd even recommend getting a sub sandwich, Border Grill burrito or pizza slices to stash at Jackson Park. Some good solid food can go a long ways mentally and physically. It's one thing to bonk riding your local 8 mile loop and a totally different thing to bonk riding AM/FM in Ishpeming at night. Don't be that person.

Maintenance - Through some skin care products in your drop bag and keep a chapstick and some chamois cream pouches in your Camelbak, they don't weigh much and can come in handy. It doesn't hurt to have some Ibuprofen, Caffeine, and salt pills handy just in case either. As far as your bike is concerned, carry a small bottle of chain lube along with your repair kit. Here's what i'll be carrying: tube, multi-tool, chain tool, quick link, tire plugs that look like small bacon strips, tire boot, valve core remover, Tire sealant and derailleur hanger. It all fits into a medium seat pouch and covers most things.

Your biggest foe on the course will be yourself. The hype machine is running in full swing to get you thinking and concerned about what you're getting into because this race is no small feat, but anything worth doing is never easy. Take the hype and use it positively to make sure you're ready to go physically, mentally and equipment wise. I've seen people ride 330 miles in Iowa on gravel in freezing rain that never race a bike the rest of the year. I've seen people with one arm ride the Leadville 100. I've seen crazy people ride Surly Wednesdays with one gear on the Marji Gesick 110. If you want it bad enough you can do it, and that's made easier without a time cutoff. Jenny made it nearly 80 miles the first year before pulling the plug in Jackson Park after the first loop. I was stoked for her to have made it that far on her Beargrease, but she wasn't happy without finishing. The next year she came back with more than enough lights and better prep and a resolve to finish. It took her 19 hours by the time she rolled across the finish in Ishpeming with Jim Draheim, and they were the last two to finish, but finish they did. The last section from Jackson Park to Negaunee took them 5 hours in the pitch dark. I had met them in Jackson Park to help her prep lights, check the bike out and cheer and when they left for that last section i had no doubt they'd finish. You're going to have to make a commitment to yourself to finish and not consider any alternative if you truly want to roll across that start line. Leave the negative thoughts and comments at home or at least don't mutter them aloud. you're going to need the support of others when you're down and when you see someone in a dark place do everything you can to lift their spirits. Look around yourself at the natural beauty of the area if you're pissed off about something, and if you're brain is going a hundred miles an hour just tell yourself "Just ride ya bike mon!".

Here's my challenge to everyone including myself, let's prove Todd and Danny wrong with the finishing rate. They've tried their best to thwart us from finishing, but lets push that rate through the roof. Let's get more buckles than they've made. Let's keep them up until Sunday morning when the sun is rising for the second time during the race. Let's hang out after we finish, go to Jackson Park or out on course and give riders that boost they need, and let's Thank Todd and Danny for an awesome challenge!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Trans Iowa V13 experience

Ok, so my Trans Iowa blog is a bit delayed behind some of the others, but nonetheless here it is! If you're not familiar with Trans Iowa or only have a vague idea of exactly what it is, i suggest heading over to Guitar Teds website and reading up a bit on it as it's a pretty interesting event put on by an interesting dude (Trans Iowa V13 website). I won't go into the gritty details of how Trans Iowa came to be, the history and whatnot but rather my point of view on the whole deal. I first stumbled across Trans Iowa on the internets many moons ago, and at the time the event had just been wrapped up for that year and it was tentative as to whether it would take place again, or at least so it seemed. A bookmark was created on my work computer under a vague tab labeled "bike stuff" and forgotten about as the summer of that year took over as well as favor towards my mountain bike. Flash forward to early spring of the next year and an email from one of my sponsors, Velocity USA, asking if i were interested in doing an event called Dirty Kanza as they had a free sponsor entry. Wasn't really sure what it was at the time other than a super long version of Barry Roubaix in Kansas. Went to Emporia that year (2015) and raced in some pretty rad conditions battling mud and rain. I'd say this is about the time i came to understand my capacity to enjoy the adversity in long, wet, muddy and rad events. Flash forward about a year after that experience, another Dirty Kanza and many gravel miles later to the winter of 2016/17. Surfing the interwebs at work i elected to dig through that "bike stuff" tab to see what other events i had either came across or heard of and saved for a later date when i came across that dusty Trans Iowa bookmark.

Weapon of choice

A cup of coffee or two and some mouse clicks later i decided it was time to fill out a postcard and follow the rookie procedure for trying to score a spot in Trans Iowa V13. There is a proper procedure in place for throwing your hat into the ring for Trans Iowa, and i would suggest if you want to do it (assuming it still exists) then you read them thoroughly and do it the right way. I dug a file folder made from card stock out of my desk, carefully measured the standard dimensions for a postcard onto it and as legibly as possible wrote down the required information, nothing more nothing less, and sent it via postal courier to Guitar Ted's attention. There's a lull in the time that you mail the postcard to the actual time that you find out if you've been selected (naturally) and true to his words on the post card lottery date names begin to show up in the roster. Clicking on that link that directs you to the participant list and scrolling down is something i'd compare to scoring an entry into one of those events that sells out in 2.5 milliseconds. Low and behold, there was my name hidden somewhere at random in the list of those chosen to undertake Trans Iowa V13. It was at that point that it truly sunk in that i was now obligated to ride my bike, regardless of conditions, approximately 330 miles on gravel roads in Iowa at the end of April 2017. No big deal right?

Bike preparations

Days turn to weeks turn to months during a mid-western winter. Fatbike racing demands my attention up until early March whence i can finally turn my efforts towards riding bikes on unpaved roads. Lots of things were going on this spring; preparing to "retire" from work, starting the Michigan Gravel Racing Series, and planning/preparing for our adventures to come over the next years time. During all of this in the back of my head i keep thinking "man, you better sort out what you're doing for Trans Iowa, seriously though...". I would say that my preparation for Trans Iowa may have been a bit unorthodox, but i suppose in the end it all worked out. I did spend some good time slaying grav grav in March, but at the start of our time off, Jenny and I headed south towards warmer climes and left the gravel bikes behind in favor or road and mountain biking in Appalachia. My original plan was to ride a Salsa Cutthroat that i built up for ultra-endurance events over the winter, complete with dynamo hub, K-lite bikepacking lights, USB charging, huge gearing range, and bomber components. Well, i only actually rode about 300 miles total on that bike up the the last week before the race and wasn't really dialed in to ride 330+ miles in Iowa. For once in my life, i used some of those thinks and thoughts from previous events and decided to stick with my tried and tested Salsa Warbird. This meant i'd have to run battery powered lights, carry USB chargers for my Garmin and phone and sort out a good setup to keep me comfy for 24+ hours on the bike.

A smattering of grub 

With mere days to spare i got the Warbeard all kitted out with aero bars i stole from my time trial rig, a smattering of Niterider lights, and battery packs duct taped and zip tied to random parts of my bike. It seemed my setup was all tuned in and then i looked at the weather forecast. Rain, rain, wind, rain, cold, and maybe some more wind for good measure. Hopeful thinking didn't do any good in this situation. Thrown for a bit of a loop i strapped a half-frame pack onto my bike to carry extra provisions and grabbed a bigger camlebak setup to toss more supplies into the night we were leaving town to make our voyage westward. Things were shaping up in an ominous way, don't get me wrong, i love adverse conditions, but the full stack up of the cold, rain and wind for 24+ hours was harshing my stoke level a fair amount. As we rolled into Grinnell, Iowa amidst the rolling hills, endless gray skies and tree bending wind the only thing left to do was shrug it off, and hatch a plan for survival. As competitive a person as i can be, with what was laid out before me i took a full on survival approach as opposed to assessing every gram i was carrying. I commandeered Jenny's small backpack from the car, stuff it with actual rain pants, jacket, two pairs of gloves, socks, and layers. My frame pack became engorged with calorie full morsels, repair items, hats, batteries, you name it. The last thing i wanted was to have to DNF because i didn't have what i needed, and i sure as hell wasn't going to skimp.

The pre-race Meat-up at the Grinnell Steakhouse was abuzz with talk of the conditions, strategies, gear selection and how to survive. There weren't many familiar faces there other than Salsa teammate Greg Gleason, whom i had never actually met in person, Ben Mullin and a few others. We sat down at a table with a group of riders including Walter Zitz whom i didn't know at the time i would literally ride the entire event with. As we finished our meals attentions were turned towards the actual meeting where knowledge would be dropped upon us on how things would go down the next day. Jenny and I both took note of critical times (4AM start), locations and race information then made our way back to the hotel for final preparations. Not much sleep was had that night between the 11 pm bed time and 2:30 am wake-up. Forcing the body to accept food in the middle of the night isn't the most fun thing one can do, but necessary. Rolling back into town in the pitch black night, blinking red lights of fellow riders could be seen all along the way, and re-assured me that we were all in this together. Standing around the start line, exchanging greetings, and making final adjustments the tension can be felt almost as palpable as the cool wind blowing through the streets. Jokes are made, a Subaru wagon is backed up and before we know it the sounds of SPD pedals engaging with shoes fill the small town and we're off. Small cycling lights are all we have to venture forth into the night. I'm thankful the rain has yet to start and riding in a pack is a possibility. Slowly and surely the group of riders dwindles as folks settle into their respective paces in alignment with their goals. I look around me, making salutations with riders whom i am not familiar. These are my people, these are the ones i will need to work with for the unforeseeable future, these are the ones i'll need to boost my spirit when it is failing.

Toeing the line

The first few hours pass rapidly and as the sun rises there are few of us remaining together in the front group after the first minimum maintenance hike. Despite the small grouping, i'm pleased with who i see surrounding me; Greg Gleason, Dan Hughes, Walter Zitz and Jackson Hinde. I figure myself most fortunate to be surrounded by riders of such pedigree and it helps to ease any anxiety i have over the journey ahead. The hours pedaling distill ones thoughts to the immediate and necessary only. Time to eat, have a snack. It's been 3 hours, should have a couple bottles down by now. Chain is grinding a bit, lube at the next opportunity. Navigation by cue sheet is aided with the daylight and lack of precipitation. My custom cue sheet holder with sliding ziplock bag is doing the trick. It's an exciting moment each time a cue sheet is discarded to the bottom of the pile. Event more exciting is passing through checkpoint one and being allowed to advance along the route. As the hills continue to roll i can't help but begin to feel the full weight of my pack and bike being pulled upon by gravity. My power meter has long since gone haywire so heart rate is what I've got to track effort. Dan Hughes is running a particularly svelte setup and it becomes a topic of conversation between myself and others. What's his plan for when the rain comes? What's he going to do when the night falls and all hope is lost (ok, exaggerating a wee bit there)? For the time being, his setup is paying off, Dan is spry up the hills and steady in the flats, pushing forward like a diesel engine in the freshly spread rock and dirt. I begin to feel the brunt of the pace as has Jackson, and we joke about our drifting backwards from the group to ease the struggle. Now, we have a sixth member in our group, the rain.

Resupply candid shot

As the rain comes crashing to the earth from the sky we all begin adjusting our barriers to keep us safe from its menace. The groups cohesion is tenuous at this point with a few of us dangling on the precipice. I've come to terms that the pace is too much for me, and if they go, they go. The rain increases in intensity and we begin to face the full wrath of a hefty cross wind. I know i can't wait much longer before i put on my rain pants or it'll be curtains for me. Jackson and I have an unspoken alliance at this point as we're riding in the back of the bus, and as i look ahead i notice Walter slow to a stop. The first flat tire in our group has reared it's ugly head in the midst of heavy rain. Walter tells us to keep rolling, but this is a great opportunity to don those rain pants and have a snack. The alliance has grown 3 strong. Rolling once again, our terrific trio pushes forth against the elements towards that storied checkpoint 2 at 190 some odd miles. Heads are down and miles are ground out with a steady efficiency. A point comes where Jackson must bid us adieu as our paces differ too greatly and we wish him the best on his journey. Pedaling onward Walter and i take note of increasing evidence of civilization and a perceived pep in our step has us pressing onward rapidly down a bike path and into the warm hearth of a Casey's General Store. Not long after our arrival and Jackson is with us once again. Gloves changed, hands dried, food consumed and chains lubed.

Respite from the rain

For the sake of monotony i'll just say that we continued our regularly schedule program until checkpoint 2. Walter and i together and Jackson not far behind. There is no prior knowledge as to when or where a "re-supply" stop will be so it's always a pleasant surprise to find respite from the rain. Arriving at checkpoint 2 we are excited to find a tavern whereupon we may find solace in pizza and beverages. Rolling up we're surprised to see Greg's steed in the bike rack and him inside. In my head at this point i considered it a feat to make it this far and felt unsure about my future. Greg was in good spirits, in his element gritting it out and pursuing Dan whom was somewhere in Iowa solo. Seeing Greg renewed my spirits to push on, and Walter and i elected to dry off the best we could and carry on. Jackson rolled in with some stomach issues but in good spirits. He calmly asked if we were planning to press on and we solemnly acknowledged this to be the case. Heading out the door of that warm and inviting place was no easy feat. The rain continued to fall as did the nighttime. Only 140 miles to go, over halfway, we can do this. I still had my doubts. Another town, another convenience store, another pair of latex gloves, more caffeine and another rendezvous with Jackson. I continued to be impressed and humbled by Jackson's fortitude as he pushed on behind us solo. Now we battled the headwind and would continue to do so to the not-so-bitter end. Taking turns pulling or drafting was fruitless with the sloppy roads. Everything became wet and filthy at the same time. With the increasing darkness came decreasing temperatures.

Somewhere in Iowa on a minimum maintenance road at 2 am with tiny snow flakes flitting about i came to know more about Walter. We talked to pass the time as we carried out rigs in ankle deep mud, musing about the situation but generally trying to advance ourselves along the course. As the night continued to smother my will i found myself wondering if what we were doing was safe. Perhaps i wanted a reason to quit, and perhaps it was because i could use a zipper. Whatever the reason i told Walter i needed to stop, eat and adjust clothing. On the lee side of a pole building i fumbled with everything, shoving food into my face and wanting to stop. As we rode on i even began plotting a way out of the misery, looking for signs of a town, somewhere, anywhere to find solace. None was to be had, and it was surely my darkest moment of the ride. I made my intentions clear to Walter who simply replied "well.... let's just keep going". And we did keep going, turn after turn, cue-sheet after cue-sheet. 100 miles to go, then 90 miles to go, now we were in double digits which are more comprehensible than triple digits at that point. Finally, it seemed we were destined for civilization of some sort, but every time it neared us we were steered wide and clear by the route laid forth. Is that someone coming up behind us? Looks like a bike light, hard to tell though? "Hey guys!" It was Jackson, incredible! "did you guys see that snow?". "yeah, we sure did". "Man it was cold last night, how are you guys doing?". "eh, we're doing alright, it's good to see you man". As the sun came up the way it always does we found ourselves at a 24 hour Walmart. The rain was letting up a bit and a consult with someone's weather app revealed that we might actually catch a break. The wind however had no interest in abating. Jackson called into the hotline on our behalf, reporting our intentions to finish and carry on. I think it took all the way to this moment to realize that we might actually finish this thing.

The last 60 miles were hell, pure and simple. I don't really know how Dan did it all night and the next day by himself and the same goes for Greg. I would guess it has something to do with the simple desire to not get caught and to catch the other. Doesn't really matter though, those guys did it, and it was damn impressive. As for us three, we stayed solidified as one, no man would be left behind and we would finish the damn thing together. Much time was spent travelling at speed of 5 miles per hour or less in relentless hills, wind and soft gravel. It didn't matter though, we weren't to be thwarted. Despite each 8 mile section taking roughly an hour we found ourselves at the finish line roughly around noon as far as i can recall. Walter had no brakes so we sent him up the middle and matched our speed to his. I was happy to finish, happy to have those two with me and happy to get my ass off the saddle. Coherence was minimal at this point, 32 hours of Iowa had happened to us and the mission was to get warm and sleep. Someone told us there was a guy out there on a single speed that had a chance of finishing. I would have liked to greet him at the finish but the van beckoned me to rest.

The Terrific Trio; Myself, Walter and Jackson

Team Salsa; Greg Gleason and myself

There are differing opinions on Trans Iowa. Some folks like to offer ideas for what to change, what Guitar Ted should or shouldn't do, and various other inputs. Mark, if you're reading this, don't change a thing you don't want to and know that i'm truly appreciative of the event and experience you've put so much hard work into. The volunteers and first rate, some really good folks that take their time they could spend elsewhere and chose to be involved in such a unique undertaking. I count myself fortunate to have been able to just finish the event and it has expanded my capacity for enduring adversity. My wife is a critical part of the success of this journey, from driving my broken body home to just simply loving and believing in me. Without good equipment and support from the likes of Salsa Cycles, Velocity USA, Train out Pain, Sound Probiotics, Betalain, Wolftooth Components, Grand Rapids Bicycle Company, and 45NRTH (wore my Japanthers!) such an undertaking would be much more difficult if not impossible for myself. To all the folks who toed the line but didn't finish, much respect to you for simply just being there and giving it what you had. It's an experience i won't soon forget.

Here's my Strava for the ride

 The only reason my feet didn't fall off

No water in that pack either

The clothing that got me through

 The clothing that got me through part 2

Destroyed Warbeard

Big thanks to Joe at the East Paris GRBC for resurrecting the Warbeard