Monday, November 11, 2019

Michigan Off-Road Expedition (MORE) Route

Background

The idea is simple enough; traverse the great state of Michigan from the southern border to the Mackinac Bridge (and eventually the Upper Peninsula) on as much dirt as possible. It's not an original one either, and i must give credit where credit is due. The spark that started the flame for me was stumbling across the "Split the Mitt" page on Facebook. Split the Mitt was posed as a Strava segment challenge riding from Ohio to the Bridge on the NCT. I followed the group for sometime but eventually postings ceased and the last post was in November 2015. Still the idea lingered in the back of my mind, and like most things in life got pushed aside for other adventures, races and plans. When it comes to epic rides i like to have unique goals and a route that inspires me. Point to point routes are great because you have a destination to reach as opposed to riding in a giant loop. The past few years i have been riding bigger and bigger routes all over the place and find the journey and challenge equally enjoyable. It seems as though every big "outdoor state" like Colorado, Arizona, Oregon, etc... has their own epic dirt cycling route that people dream of and i kept wondering why don't we have that? 




Photos by Garrett Hein

Creation of the route

Yes, it's true that we do have the NCT but it is primarily a hiking route and many sections are off-limits to bikes. One thing that left me a bit uninspired with the idea of following the NCT all the way was that it would required riding roads nearly half-way across the state until White Cloud. Many of the roads one would use to follow the NCT are paved and not exactly the most scenic. I wanted to create a route specifically with cycling in mind and make use of trail systems wherever possible to maximize dirt and singletrack. This required starting from scratch at the southern border. I began by using one of my favorite dirt resources; Gravelmap! I had to do a lot of filling in by using both satellite imagery and limited knowledge of the area just to see the general gravel grid. Once i had an idea of where the concentrations of good gravel is i began roughing in the route by combining the gravel with trail systems such as Forst Custer, Yankee Springs, Cannonsburg, etc... I also looked at the satellite view trying to stay in forested areas knowing they're more scenic and hospitable than open farmland. In an effort to maximize adventure i also utilized State Game Area seasonal roads where singletrack is lacking. 

The route

Once the route was roughly designed i went back through and made adjustments to make re-supply, camping, and other long ride requirements easier. Sometimes it's just better all around to forgo a few miles of dirt in favor of a clean route through a re-supply zone. There was really no set distance for the route ahead of time, and just getting from the border to the bridge in a straight shot takes over 300 miles so i knew it would easily exceed 400. In the end the route came out to over 550 miles by the time it wandered from trail to trail. The Northern stretch was much more straightforward as the NCT is predominantly singletrack and much of it is open to bikes. I'll be honest that some of the stretches of NCT to the north are not great riding, but i felt that it would be best to leave them in, make note of the quality of riding, and let the rider make the decision. Trails change over time whether by nature, re-routes, trail work or otherwise so i'd hate to completely bypass a section of dirt when it could be a great trail to ride in the future (sometimes more use brings more attention which can bring improvements!). I also view this route as a living entity and not at all set in stone. Every year new trails are being built and i plan to take that into account and edit the route if it makes sense.




Views of varied terrain along the route

Riding the route

At over 550 miles the MORE route is definitely a challenging ride. While none of the singletrack is overly technical in nature it can be very rustic is spots and makes progress slow going at times. The southern portion of the route has a lot of gravel and two-tracks which makes for quicker travel while the northern section is heavily singletrack with hilly terrain. The routes passes through notable trail systems and you could easily add days and miles along the route by riding each trail system in its entirety. It's totally up to the individual how they'd like to approach the route, but my recommendation would be to plan on roughly one week to complete the ride. There are ample camping opportunities making this an excellent bikepacking route. I have created a simple riders guide to help with planning purposes and will continue to refine the detail over time. Re-supply is straightforward as well with the route passing very near many 24 hour stores and larger towns. While you could certainly take a crack at riding the whole route in one long ride i would recommend taking at least a few nights to camp and rest. The route travels through so much beautiful country that it is a bit of a shame to ride in the dark and not enjoy the scenery!
While being more logistically challenging the route could certainly be ridden in sections for those who don't have the time or desire to do the whole route in one go. I have ridden the route in one long push without sleep and have to say that it's epic for sure! It took me 61 hours to get from the border to the bridge with a handful of re-routes to avoid seasonal closures and logging. If you want to see my ride you can check it out here: Matt's MORE ride







Future of the route

As this is a side project and not my full time job, i plan to continue refining the riders guide, route descriptions, and mileage charts. My goal is to create a Facebook page and group where folks can interact to discuss plans and potentially find other like minded people to ride the route with. I have thoughts about organizing a grand depart in the summer of 2020 and plan to put some effort into finding a date over the winter months. I don't have any plans to make a race out of the route and feel like it is best ridden over several days in good company but you can certainly enjoy it however you like!
I have a route designed for the Upper Peninsula that is roughly 450 miles. My plan is to get up there in the Spring of 2020 to do some recon and hopefully ride some or all of the route. This would bring the total MORE route to 1,000 miles!







Links

I have the route uploaded in both Strava and RidewithGPS. After closer inspection at the Strava route i found an inconsistency with the mileage/elevation chart overlap. I believe that sheer amount of manually plotted points is the root of the issue, but it did work just fine on my Garmin Edge 1030 when i rode the route.









Friday, September 13, 2019

5th Annual Marji Gesick 100 blog!

Whelp, it looks like it's time to dust off this old blog and toss out my thinks and thoughts on the 2019 Marji Gesick event. Hard to reference it as the Marji Gesick 100 anymore since there's a 50, 100 and 200 miler these days! It's been an awesome year leading up to the 5th Marji Gesick including the first year of Marji Camp. We had the good fortune of being coaches at the camp and helping people prep for the event. Whenever people ask for tips on the Marji the first thing i always say is to get to Marquette and ride the trails! Nothing can really replace riding the terrain and getting to know what you're up against. Now that we're only a week out i still recommend trying to get to town early and do some pre-riding to dial in your setup. In past blogs i've talked quite a bit about nutrition, training, setup, etc.. Since my nutrition is essentially the same these days and you can find tons of info online i'm gonna gloss over that as well as training. I feel the most helpful info at this point is current course design along with the new additions, and race day setup. With that, i'll jump right into the course for 2019!

The sun has set on training for Marji 2019!

The Course
Danny and crew have lined up some awesome changes to the course for 2019. We'll have some new singletrack sections, some classics added back in, and a few changes to the order of things. I'll go in order from start to finish (for the 100, you out'n'back folks will just have to read this backwards). The start remains the same with full on LeMans run and ski trails. Don't let anyone fool you about the LeMans start as it is well under 1 mile (until Todd and Danny read this...). Be careful out there because it's not super smooth and a great place to turn an ankle. The beginning miles are the same as last year with the first singletrack being Jedi and the first tough section being Top of the World. We'll ride all the same stuff up until we exit Wildcat and hit Pine Knob. Some of you may recall Pine Knob from 2017 and it's an awesome techy trail. It's back for 2019 and riding solid. We won't spend a ton of time in North Trails and before you know it you'll be chugging up Lowes climb and scrambling through a culvert.

Hanging out on da trail

I'll take my trails extra chunky please and thanks!

Prince Polo is a great way to fuel after Pine Knob!

Alright, so you get past Lowes trail and hit the IOHT paved stretch. Get yourself some jiblets and a tankard of ale to fuel for the next stretch of climbing! The course stays the same from the IOHT to the South Trails pavilion. Good news is that the NTN crew gave Eh Line a facelift with fresh dirt and sharp lips on the jumps so give er hell! I got to watch a master at work seeing Mike Brunet drop a dead tree right next to, but not on top of, a bridge. These guys know what they're doing and the trails reflect that. Take some time to appreciate the epic singletrack we're so lucky to have in this race. Don't eat too much at the south trailhead (if there's any food or water there...) because we'll be punching it up and down Marquette Mountain for the next hour or so. The course is the same until we descend to the Carp River and that's where we get to ride the first new section of goodness! Remember that clapped out two-track we used to ride up to Snake Oil? Surely you've had nightmares about it but thankfully that's out for 2019. Instead we'll get to ride "New Yellow" up the mountain to Zueg's trail. The bottom section starts out steep but then it becomes rolling machine built dirt with ample room to maneuver. We'll hit the two-track just for a hot second before turning left into Zueg's trail which has a bit of everything. All but the most skilled riders will probably have to put a foot down a time or two. There's a bunch of rad rock work and techy bits to negotiate on your way to the top but once you get up to where you see open sky and start descending it's game on! EZ Ryder is a shred worthy descent with a few "sport lines" in there to get extra rad on.

Rocks on rocks for Zueg's trail! Bring tough tires...

If you're doing the 100 and see these signs in the dark it's gonna be a long day for ya!

Once you cross under the highway and hit the west side of the south trails it's all essentially the same as years past. Save some gas for the technical climb up "Old Yellow" as there's no easy way to climb it other than twisting the throttle. Once up top we'll be-bop through the woods a bit before slowly grinding our way to Jackson Park. It appears that we'll be using the same two-tracks and ATV trails to get up to Negaunee. Take this time to eat plenty of snacks, stay hydrated and rest your upper body. This is not a good place to hammer because there's no free trail once you get to the RAMBA trail system.

Jackson Park is a great place to hang out at night and cheer people on!

Notice the expression on Danny's face when Al asks how much climbing there is in the last 15 miles...

If you've made it to Jackson Park you're doing good but you're not even halfway. You know how they say the halfway point of a marathon is at mile 20? There's no way around it and everything in RAMBA land is techy and slow going. Stock up at Jackson Park before heading out for loop 1 because it's gonna be a while before you see Jackson Park again. We start off the same by hitting Humpty Dumpty, Fence Line climb, Panorama and Wolf scat. Things get a remix once we get down by Lily Pond. Instead of a small loop and back out we'll fart around on some horse trail by Dead Deer before heading up the backside of Snakes Back (in the past we've descended this). Once to the top of Snakes Back we'll get into a new section i like to call Danny's Dirty Little Secret. Once down that trail we'll link up into Bacon Strip and much is the same up to Last Bluff. The GPS file shows that the ATV creek crossing is back in so prepare for wet feet before heading over to Section 16. The Section 16 climb is brutal like much of the RAMBA stuff so spin it to win it (or just slam that 32-20). The descent off Section 16 is one of my favorites and features smooth rock rolls and a fast rip down to the road. Since Section 16 is a bit remote we'll ride a bit of road and ATV trail right by the finish line before getting back to the gnar. 

Fwend!

Things will certainly start to get weird the closer you get to Ishpeming


One of the many overlooks in RAMBA land

Right after you roll by the finish line, which is still very far away in terms of the race, get ready for the one-two punch of Partridge Knob and New York Climb. They're both technical with sporty descents so don't doze off! Thankfully we already hit Snakes Back so you can chill on the Old Dump trail en route to Sissy Pants and the Hamptons climb. A note on Sissy pants: the rock garden is very tough to ride and once you're fatigued it's nearly impossible so be smart and don't smash yourself! Here on out the course is the same back to Jackson Park. Get jazzed up because "only" 15 miles remain...

Good luck!

Following Devan Jimula's line is only for the bold

Get stoked brother!

Don't crack that celebratory 51K IPA just yet! The last 15 miles is notorious and the odds are you're delirious. The route is identical to years past right up until the final miles. We'll jam up Dirty Mary climb (or walk completely humbled), and then shred some greasy stuff off the backside of the Luge. Flannel Shirt and AM/FM are classics! By the time you get to Grandview you'll be wishing you had taken up knitting as a hobby. That huge skill jump hill would suck to ride up! Oh wait, we're just gonna ride Carroll Jackson trail and THEN go up the ski hill. Cool. Once you bomb down to Lake Sally you'll be thinking "where in the hell..." but then you'll realize there's "not much left!". Oh you poor soul... Surely you'll hear curse words emanating from the trees and all will be revealed when you set eyes on the big sweaty monster. *insert sound of carbon soles scrambling up a rock face* Ok, now we're almost there right? WRONG! Hold onto your spandex because Ol' Danny boy has one last little treat for ya bud! Enter the new section of trail Cry Baby. It's a tight and twisting maze of glorious dirt ribbon that finds every up and down in the surrounding terrain. I'm guessing they'll block the technical section much like the rock roll off Grandview that goes into the road, but just in case watch yourself! The route is the same into the finish once you survive Cry Baby. Jasper Knob comprises the final climb and even though you're probably smoked at this point the adrenaline should get you through. Just be careful on the descent because there's a big G-out (drop into flat) at the bottom of the descent. It would be a shame to taco your rear wheel here... Don't forget to phone in your to-go order to Congress Pizza from the top of Jasper so it's nearly ready after to flip Todd the bird and through hateful sideways glances at Danny. 

The view sure is grand!

Everybody hurts... sometimes.

It's the world's largest gemstone, but i doubt you'll care when you see it...

So, you're probably wondering, how does the course stack up to years past?! Well, i'd say in general expect maybe another 1k or so of climbing at the least as compared to last year. It's gonna be a bit slower with the new additions but i think the new yellow climb versus the two-track to snake oil up the Ski Hill is a wash. Re-arranging the first loop out of Ishpmeing should be refreshing for Marji veterans and i think it makes that loop flow a bit better with getting Snakes Back and Danny's Dirty Little Secret out of the way before recovering on Bacon Strip. The trails that have been added are fun and rad so that's a plus. I would estimate that it will add 15-30 minutes as a whole to the fastest times from last year. Distance looks to be a fuzz over 100 which is standard. Overall i'm super stoked on the 2019 course and think it's gonna have a nice flow and be a bit less confusing than in the past.

The views are amazing!

Nutrition
As noted earlier, i'm just gonna gloss through nutrition by telling what my plan is and letting you take what you will from that. I'll be sporting a Camelbak vest and one or two bottles on my bike depending on the section of course. I prefer to be prepared in case there isn't a rogue aid station as opposed to relying on them and getting burnt. Vest will be water only and bottles will be mix. I'll be using Maurten and Carborocket 333 for liquid calories. I prefer gel flasks versus gel packets because they're easier to use, make less waste and i can adjust my intake on the fly. I save gels and fluid calories for the tough sections where it's hard to eat. On the bike paths, roads and smooth trails i'll be eating some type of bar, chips, cookies, etc.. I like to get some solid food down coming into Jackson Park as it's hard to eat much in RAMBA land. I recommend eating a decent "meal" when you get to Jackson Park. The time it takes to eat a burrito and down a Coke will pay dividends when you're not bonking and walking up all the hills an hour later. I like small turkey/cheese sandwiches, bacon and soda to boost energy. Stay on top of snacking as much as possible even if it's just a GU chomp or two every 20 minutes. Keeping nutrtion coming in regularly will stabilize blood sugar and give you consistent energy versus bonking then drinking a 2 liter of Coke to recover. i'll save the caffeine for later in the game when my reactions start to slow in the last few hours. This year i'll be adding some Floyd's of Leadville CBD chews to my arsenal as opposed to Ibuprofen. I'll also carry electrolyte pills such as the Carborocket Rocketlytes to help balance out what i'm losing in sweat.

Stay hydrated out there folks! (This message approved by Blackrocks Brewery).

No matter how hungry you get, don't eat these "chips".

Equipment
You're going to want a stout setup for this event. Leave the light skin racing tires at home and toss something durable on with an extra ounce of tubeless sealant. Set that suspension up softer than usual if you've got it, and make sure that rebound is dialed in! I'll be riding the latest iteration of the Salsa Spearfish with 100mm of travel out back and 110mm of travel up front. I've chosen the Fox Stepcast 34 because i like a stiffer fork in rowdy terrain. While you don't want to be lugging a hog up the hills i'll say weight isn't as much of a priority for me when it comes to this event. My bike is right around 25 pounds. I'll be running Vittoria tires with TNT casing. They're a bit hefty but i like how tough and grippy they are. I've also opted for 2.35 versus a narrower tread for extra traction. Shifty bits are SRAM AXS Eagle with a 32t chainring. I've used a 34t with an 11-40 cassette in the past and it worked just fine, but the Eagle helps me clear some otherwise tricky stuff and i've found little use for a 34t chainring up in Marquette. I'd rather have my chain spend most of the time in the middle of the cassette to avoid cross-chain friction and issues. I'll also be rocking a dropper for this event to help get the seat lower for the steep stuff and also negotiating steep climbs where i need to maneuver the bike. To track output and exertion i'll have a SRAM Quarq power meter along with Shimano XTR pedals to lay that power down. My frame will be set in the high bottom bracket position to avoid pedal strikes and the suspension will be setup to be more forgiving. I'll have sintered metal pads on in case it is wet and for extra bite. Velocity USA Blunt SS hand-built wheels laced to Industry Nine hydra hubs will help me ratchet my way up and over obstacles and give my tubeless setup the ideal width to stay seated.

The Beardfish in its natural braapitat

Peyote up front and Mezcal in the rear

Gear
My repair kit will be much the same as in years past. I can't iterate enough how valuable having tire plugs and knowing how to use them can be! If you get a puncture the sealant won't fix then plugs are the next step in maintaining tubeless. They're super fast and can save you a ton of time putting in a tube. I'll be tossing extra repair stuff in my drop bag in case i have to use stuff early and need to replenish. To navigate i'll be relying on my Garmin 1030 and i pretty much always leave it on the map screen for handy reference. The course has been well marked but having a little computer to tell you if you're off route is priceless. A 50 oz. bladder will be in my Camelbak, and i'll put my Dynaplug kit in the front vest pocket along with a CO2 that's ready to rock. The other pocket will hold nutrition. I like the vest because i still have access to my jersey pockets where i put my gel flask, bars and other goodies. Shoes will be my Shimano S-Phyre which have been dynamite, helmet will be a Smith as will the glasses. Depending on weather i'll be rocking my Salsa team kit and will add wool arm/knee warmers if needed. Full finger gloves fo sho!

Tire plug for the win!

Love my Smith helmet because it securely holds my glasses when i don't need them

Tips
Lastly, i'll finish up this rambling blog with some tips and thoughts i've found valuable over the years. Prepare and rehearse your setup before race day! Even though it's only a week away there's still time to test out plugging an old tire, making sure all your stuff fits in your saddle bag, etc... Make sure everything has a place and you can get to what you need easily. I like to have "quick repair" items at the ready like my plug kit and CO2 while i may stash my tire boot, chain links, etc.. in a spot that takes more time to get to. I figure if something breaks bad enough digging for a few extra seconds won't kill me. Speaking of repairs, if you get a puncture or break a chain don't freak out! The 100 miler takes at least 10 hours so an extra 30 seconds to get a deep breath, relax and assess the situation is fine. I've seen people wreck their only tube by trying to rush the fix and pinching it, or drop a quick link because they were too frenzied. 

Mentally it helps to break the event into digestible chunks. First we'll ride Harlow, then North Trails, South Trails, Negaunee, and Ishpeming. Don't overwhelm yourself by thinking about the 40+ miles that remain after getting to Jackson Park. Take each knob you climb up there as a victory and check them off one at a time. Remember, we are fortunate to get to push our limits as a HOBBY and not have to stress about finding clean water or shelter as part of our daily lives. Enjoy this luxury, and embrace the challenge! These are some of the best trails anywhere as far as i'm concerned and it's amazing that they can all be linked into one huge route that never overlaps. If you start struggling just find a good view or pause on an overlook and take it all in, reset your brain and start moving again. No matter what just keep pushing forward because every foot counts! 

Take care of your equipment out there. We won't be racing a 3 stage enduro so don't shred like you are. Try to pick clean lines, avoid being sloppy in rock gardens and don't shift your bike under 10 megawatts of power. If you chain is dry and creaking stop and put some lube on, and if you burp a tire or notice you're hitting the rim just stop and air it up. Address issues before they become real problems. The same goes for your body! If you start drooling on yourself just stop and smash a clif bar and some drink mix. Don't dig a hole so deep there's no way out.

Always be kind! Trail karma is legit, and you'll find that your morale will be boosted if you try and spread some trail cheer. No matter how crappy you feel or angry you are at Danny just fake a smile or wave and encourage others you encounter. Most likely they'll cheer you on as well and that little boost may be just what you both need. One word of advice though, it's good to have fun and chat a bit at aid stations or the checkpoints but don't spend all day there because your bike won't ride itself...

That's really all I've got. Hopefully there's some little gem in there you can take away to help yourself succeed. I can hardly wait to see everyone up there and am especially stoked for my wife Jenny to tackle the 200 mile Out'n'Back along with many other good friends. It's going to be a great day(s) to be out in nature. Don't overthink things between now and then. If you've got a setup that has treated you well then don't change anything!!! Just take it easy, get into town with ample time to eat some good local food, have a beer at Blackrocks, make some friends and checkout the trails!

Hanging with buds is what it's all about!

Don't take yourself too serious, it's just bikes and spandex

Have fun out there!

If you're lucky you might get to eat pizza with a legend!