Sunday, September 25, 2022

Marji Gesick 100

I've never had as much consistent fun in a race as I had in the Marji Gesick 100. When I think back to long races I've done, there's usually a roller coaster of emotions. Take for example, Gravel Worlds 300 last month. There was a time in that race when I was having the time of my life: racing into a gas station at 2 AM in Kansas and hurriedly buying supplies. And then, there was a time when I was completely broken: sitting on the sidewalk outside a gas station eating a breakfast burrito at 8 AM, with still over 80 miles to go.
A really scenic field on the pre-ride with Stik, Lochner, and Simon (left to right)

For me, Marji Gesick wasn't like that at all. It started off fun, was fun in the middle, and finished fun. I think it was because of all the singletrack. I never had the chance to think too much or become bored; I was focused on partying on singletrack all day long. 

As funny as it sounds, sometimes my biggest enemy in long races is my mind. When you're doing nothing but staring at the section of road ahead of you illuminated by your headlight for hours on end, you tend to question things. Why am I doing this? What am I doing? Maybe I'm the strange one for thinking that, but I can't help it.

In Marji Gesick, I never thought that. The only thing I thought was, "I hope his next trail is the technical goodness they promised!"

I'll go back to the beginning of the story for this race. I knew some friends were doing it, so I scoured the Facebook group to find a spot available. Thankfully, I found a spot and registered. This was all before the Great Divide, so I didn't really think about this race at all until after Will and I got home from that trip. Plus, I was doing Gravel Worlds 300 in between the Great Divide and this, so I didn't even really think about this race until the start of September.

There was some last minute logistics changes, so I ended up driving to Marquette, Michigan with my friend and teammate Anthony. Also going to the race was Russ and the singlespeed gang consisting of Cinderbloch, Sponch, and Stik. 

After getting to Marquette, I grabbed some dinner with Anthony at an Italian place for some carb-loading. Then, I met up with the singlespeeders for their dinner and Rob and I put down some beers. LeSSgo.

The next morning, Friday, I met up with the singlespeeders for a pre-ride. I rode to their campsite to start the ride, and I got to see a few of their camp shenanigans. Well, mainly Simon shenanigans.

Simon showing off

We ended up riding for about three hours hours and riding almost a quarter of the course. Not exactly the smartest thing to do before a big race, but hey, we're singlespeeders, no one accused us of being smart.

After the ride, I went back to my hotel, got cleaned up, then bought some healthy foods for fueling before the race. And by healthy foods I mean personal pecan pies, sugar cookies, and some chocolate muffins.
We drove to packet pick-up, got what we needed, then went out to dinner again. It was really fun to have the full crew out to dinner, both the Syndicate guys and the singlespeed guys. I double-dip in both groups, I'm both a Syndicate man and a degenerate. I mean singlespeeder, same difference.

We dropped cars at the finish in Ishpeming, then I got back to the hotel thanks to Russ to do some final prep before the race.

Downtown Marquette the night before the race

My alarm went off just before 5AM on race morning and I quickly pounded down some chocolate muffins and sugar cookies. Plus, I washed it down with a healthy serving of Cranberry juice and Pedialtye. Yum.
Lucky number 498?

I had to ride to the start of the race (five miles away), and all my lights were packed away, so it was a completely pitch-black cruise to the start. Not ideal, but not terrible. Oh, and did I mention I had to ride with my massive drop bag on my back? Yeth.

Once at the race start, I got the drop bag squared away and talked to some people at the race. The race was a Le Mans start, which meant a half-mile run to the bikes before starting the actual race.
Before the race

We lined up behind the start, listened to a electric guitar version of the Star Spangled Banner played by a dude in the back of a pickup truck, and then got led out by a Harley motorcycle who blasted through the field of riders. Finally, it was time to start.
Yeth, it's a behk race

We set off on the run, and I tried to stay somewhat near the front. But whatever, it's a long race. I found my bike pretty quickly and pinned it to try and get toward the front. I saw Stik and gave him a huge wave, and I eventually settled in behind Eli and his singlespeed friend.

The first miles of the race were sort of weird. It wasn't singletrack, but it was hard to pass, so it was a sort of an awkward pace for a while. When we did hit singletrack, some people couldn't handle the wet rocks and roots so the groups started to separate a little bit.

Finally, my group of 10-12 riders hit a pretty technical rock drop section where some people got stopped and had to walk, there were also a couple crashes. Fortunately, me and one other guy flowed through smoothly so we got away from the group without much effort.

I rode with that guy for a while before eventually going ahead on a climb.

The next hours of the race sort of blended together. It was mostly singletrack, so I was just in a rhythm of riding and having fun. Before I knew it, I was 50 miles in.

I looked at my Garmin screen that had "distance remaining" and it said 59 miles. But I was already 50 miles in, and 50+59 does not equal 104 miles like advertised. Oh well, I didn't pay it any mind and kept riding.
Walking the rocks like the wimp I am

I got to Jackson Park for the first drop bag stop and chugged a Coke, ate some cookies, and refilled my bottles. I set off again on the Ramba trails in Ishpeming.

These trails honestly weren't that fun. They were very un-ideal for singlespeeding, and frankly, they were pretty un-ideal for any sort of bike. But whatever, it's a behk race and we're all on the same course.

I got hit with rain somewhere on the Ramba trails, and although it wasn't long, it did soak me and turn some of the trails into a slippery and muddy affair. After what seemed like the longest 25 miles of my life (purely in terms of duration, it wasn't boring), I got back to Jackson Park for the second stop at my drop bag.

By then, I knew the buckle was likely out of reach, being I had only 2 hours to do the final 15 miles. As easy as that sounds, everyone warned me the last 15 miles can take 3 hours or more.

Regardless, I started riding again and just rode as fast as I could without being stupid. Well, without being any more stupid than I already am.

Sure enough, the last 15 miles were extremely slow. Lots of hike a bike and twisty trails meant averaging 5 mph was difficult. Either way, I was still having a great time. The sun set and I had to turn on my light for the last 20 minutes or so, but it wasn't bad, and honestly, I probably didn't really need the light for most of it.

I collected the last token near the finish then rode across the line with the same smile I had when I started. I asked the guys how I finished, and they weren't sure. Turns out I was 2nd place singlespeed behind Brian Fuhrmann, but the race director guys mistakenly thought I won.
Me and 3rd place SS Jon Ramirez (1st place left)

After the race, my back was completely smoked, so I just laid down on a sidewalk for a while waiting for my singlespeed friends to finish. 

Once the other guys crossed the line, we all hung out and shared some stories for a while before heading back to Ishpeming. I drove back to the SS campsite in Simon's truck, then Anthony picked me up and drove me back to the hotel.

I fell asleep extremely quickly, and the alarm seemed to go off far too early the next morning. Such is the life of a bike rider I guess. Anthony and I packed up quickly and we hit the road around 7:30am. It was an easy drive, and even after dropping Anthony off, I was home around 7pm that night.

All in all, it's a really unique race. It was definitely one of the most fun races I've done, even if I did think the course was sort of strange at points. And listen, I'm not complaining it's too hard or anything like that. Not at all. I've done several races and rides harder than Marji. I just think some of the stuff near the end was sort of weird for riding bikes on, but it was a different experience, and that's a big part of why I sign up for races. Maybe it was just because of being on a singlespeed. I love gnarly trails, and I love insanely rocky trails. That's not exactly what this was, but still, it was fun. I'll be back again, probably next year, unless something else different and cool comes up.

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