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.
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.