A few of many great views on the trail!
As Todd and Danny have done a fine job alluding to, the course for both the 100 and 50 are indeed challenging to say the least. This doesn't mean that they're not completely ridable and achievable to someone with good fitness and strong resolution! I've had the pleasure of completing last years event and riding all of the new sections (thus far....) that are to be included in this years route. Is it getting a bit tougher? The answer in short is yes, but i feel that the changes will only improve upon the course from last year. There's a bit of everything you can imagine in a mountain bike event out there. You can see my previous blog post on the full course run down from last year. A few key changes are happening in the first half of this years course. First, the routing at the start is different and flows somewhat backwards from last year. The start at Forestville road should help with the increased number of participants, and give some time for things to spread out. We'll be tackling Top of the World backwards, so expect a tricky descent right at the top, but then a speedy downhill run towards Harlow lake. From there we'll take a similar path to last year down to the North Trails but will take a different route once we arrive there. Last year we hit the bike path along the lakeshore down to the South Trails but this year we'll be doubling back in the North Trails and tackling the Lowes Trail climb up towards Highway 28. Things are fairly tame in the North Trails, but once you get to Lowes Trail you'll have your work cut out for you. There are many steep punchy sections and roots to work your way over as you climb out of the Dead River valley up to the highway.
After crossing the highway we will get some respite cruising down the Heritage Trail towards the Black trail which connects up to the South Trails proper. Black Trail also has climbing (see a trend here?) but is a pretty smooth flowing trail leading to Grove St which climbs but gives you a moment to feed and breathe before launching back into singletrack. Since we're jumping into the south trails on the west side things are naturally a bit changed up from last year, but expect the first portions to be moderately difficult with the bulk of the technical riding coming once you cross over 553 and get into the Blue Trail. Blue has some healthy technical climbing with a ripping downhill before depositing you onto Mt Marquette road where suffering aplenty is to be had grinding up the steep gravel to the entrance of Scary Trail. Don't let the name deter you too much, while Scary Trail is steep it's not overly rocky. The most important thing is staying on your toes because it's got a few curve balls to throw your way.
From there to Negaunee is pretty similar to last year if i'm not mistaken with a hearty climb up to the top of the ski hill, a blazing descent, flowing along the Carp river and Morgan Creek and then slogging your way up to Jackson Mine Park where the drop bags will be located. The ride from South Trails to Negaunee is fairly uneventful and more challenging in the fact that it generally gains elevation, grinds through some sandy ATV trail and can be fairly exposed if it's a warm day. From there you'll spend the rest of your time attacking steep climbs and managing your speed down tricky descent in the Ishpeming trail network (RAMBA trails). While there are many difficult sections in this trail system there's also some short road and trails connectors that offer feed zones and respite from the intense terrain. Expect to be rewarded with some cool views on bluffs in this area and take a moment to enjoy them and lift your spirit as you tackle this adventure!
Blame Todd or Danny
Last year i undertook this event on a steel hardtail 29er with a suspension fork, 1x11 drivetrain (34t with 11-40), 2.1" Racing Ralphs tubeless and two bottle cages plus hydration pack. I'm definitely making some changes this year based on experience, and not because my setup didn't work just fine, but to help better tackle the terrain and keep from beating myself up so much. Starting with the bike, i'll be riding my Salsa Spearfish which is a low travel XC full suspension rig (100mm front/80mm rear). Since my Spearfish is Carbon it's a wash from a weight perspective compared to my steel hardtail and the rear suspension will go a long ways in descending, soaking up rocks/roots and generally keeping fatigue lower. I've kept the same 11-40t cassette on the rear but opted for a 32t chain ring up front and there aren't really any high speed pedaling sections and the increased ratio for climbing will be welcome later in the ride. For tires i'm going to be riding a more agressive tread pattern than the Racing Ralph and a bit wider by using a Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.25" will full protection. The terrain gets burly at times, so riding a tire that has good puncture resistance and durable sidewalls is a must!
For accessories i'll be sporting a Camelbak with increased capacity since my frame only stores one water bottle. I plan to store tubes/tools on the bike as opposed to my pack since there's a lot of out-of-saddle time and every bit of weight you don't have to move up and down off the bike is important. To keep snacks handy i'll be using my Oveja Negra top tube bag. For navigation i'll be running the GPX file on my Garmin Edge 1000 to keep tabs on the course and my relative location. Having a GPS to follow the route is definitely clutch at this event as there are many trails/paths/roads cris-crossing the course. Last year many people missed the turn for the Carroll Jackson trail and went immediately to the ski jump bypassing a nice section of trail, it'd be a shame to miss out on those extra climbing miles :)
For lighting i'll start with a compact 300 lumen handlebar light to supplement the rising sun at the beginning of the race. I'll keep a higher lumen light setup in my drop bag to grab if i need it as well as spare batteries. Lighting is critical at the start of the race because it's plenty dark in the woods still at that time of day and there's plenty of roots and rocks that could end ones day early were they not prepared. For clothing i'll dress weather appropriate at the start but plan to supplement short sleeve jersey and bibs with arm warmers/leg warmers/cap or any other item as needed to be flexible for the long haul.
This is NOT a race that you want to skimp on repair items. No one really wants to haul a pound plus of tools and tubes around but even worse would be walking for 10 miles because you can't fix your bike. There's plenty of spots with bad cell reception that are far from any road. I'll be carrying the following:
CO2 inflator and 25g cartridge
Multi-tool with a tool for every fastener on the bike (don't overlook this, not all multi-tools have every bit you may need!)
A couple feet of gorilla tape wrapped somewhere convenient
Presta>Schrader adapter (if you run out of air there's always the chance you may come across a compressor/pump)
This list covers my personal needs and most situations, but may not cover everything you may personally need so pack accordingly and don't blame me but rather Todd and Danny if things go awry...
Quick PSA: don't wait until the week of to go and get a whole new drive train installed, new tires mounted, wheels trued and cables replaced on your rig. Bike shops appreciate it much more when you plan ahead instead of rushing them, and you'll be less stressed about it as well! If you haven't readied your war rig yet then get on it, because you'll need a solid steed to carry you to your personal victory!
2016 Salsa Carbon Spearfish
No matter if you're doing the 50 or 100 mile event it will be a long day in the saddle. My opinion, and it's just that, is that energy gel and water won't be enough to get you to the finish (at least in a coherent/pleasant state). Solid food is your friend when you're spending the whole day pedaling and exploring Marquette county by bike. I for sure use energy gels and chews for those short energy bursts but you need a good long burning fuel source if you plan to go the distance. Everyone has different likes/dislikes but i find that the solids i choose that work best in conjunction with sugary fuels are more on the savory/salty side. Nothing is worse than bonking on a sour stomach and only having PB&J sandwiches or candy to survive on. I find that potato chips, jerky, veggie chips, pickles, etc... are great complements to the sweet fuels. Carry something to settle your stomach as well in case it starts to get sour on you, my secret weapon is a small pouch of to-go plain applesauce, but things like Tums and Pepto tabs work all the same.
Fluid capacity is equally important and personally i always like to have drink mix AND water. I'd hate to be caught hours in and have only drink mix to consume when I've had my fill. Having some straight water can be a life saver. Plan to carry extra in case of a mechanical or other unforeseen issue. This race is more of an adventure than most!
You'll have access to a drop bag so use it! I like to put a bit more than what i'll need in the when it comes to snacks so that i have options in case i'm tired of the other fuel I've been using. Toss some pretzels, a sandwich, pickle, fruit in there for a nice lunch/dinner to hold you over until the finish. Spending 5-10 minutes to get some hearty fuel in you could save you much more time in the long run if you were to bonk and have to walk all the hills in Ishpeming otherwise!
Options, options, options!
This event is most certainly unlike any other you have or will attempt barring a few individuals of course. When i rode it last year i treated it as an adventure over a race and started out with a nice steady tempo i knew i could do all day if i had to. There's literally all day to pass or be passed and it's much better when you're the one pedaling up a hill by people hiking than the other way around. There will be plenty of time to make up or lose ground so don't panic if you're caught going slower than you'd like for portions of the event, that's energy you're saving that you can burn later! Find some others to ride and work with that have a similar style and pace to yours and take turns rotating through to keep the tempo steady and moving. Use the few flat path and gravel road sections to your advantage for fueling and spinning your legs out as opposed to hammering. Many of the hills in Ishpeming are either full gas or hike a bike for keep that in mind when you're setting your pace!
You don't want to look like this guy at the finish...
Assuming you've covered all your bases on the bullet points above then arguably the most important thing that you'll need to finish this event is a good attitude. I've seen strong people crumble under adversity and under-trained people surprise themselves just because they kept their head up, smiled and cheered on their comrades. I don't view this event as much as a race as i do an adventure that i'm fortunate to be able to enjoy. We're fortunate to be able to ride such fantastic terrain with a wonderful group of people, and don't let yourself forget. I have my own emotional roller-coaster that i go through during these long events, but when things get a bit dark i just remind myself that it's just a phase and to buck-up! What helps me is to cheers others on, whether i'm making a pass or being passed. Celebrating others success not only lifts them up but gets you out of your own head. Keep your thoughts simple and light-hearted. Laugh at your mistakes, cheer for your accomplishments and always keep pedaling. I'll wrap up with a quote i leaned heavily on at the Leadville 100 when i was really struggling and my body didn't want to go on:
"You're stronger than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can" ~ Ken Chlouber
This could be you! (beard sold separately)