Surviving the Marji Gesick ~ practical elements.

18 10 2017

Can you tell it’s still on my mind?

I have not written up my experiences on my personal blog or on the team blog (Velo Club Moulin) because we are working on an article for an upcoming issue of Cranked magazine. Until then, I have decided to focus a little on how to survive the race. I would *like* to say how to finish the race, but perhaps that would be presumptive. So, I am going to split my thoughts into several posts: practical, physical and mental.

For me, there were several big issues I had to contend with. Firstly, I had to fly (solo) with my bike from the UK to Michigan and as a result, I was somewhat limited in what I could bring by weight allowance.

My bike choice was easy – my Vertigo Cycles Kraken. Fat tyres, good suspension, super reassuring in the technical terrain and comfortable for long rides.

I do not own a full suspension bike, but I would encourage a budding contender to consider using one if it is an option. The trails are highly technical in places and there is so little recovery that anything you can do to reduce getting beaten by the rocks and roots for the best part of 17 or more hours is going to help.

Plus tyres are a win. One thing I did do was bring a spare Maxxis Rekon, despite my limited weight and space. I usually use a lightly treaded tyre on the rear of my bike and rely on the volume to supply traction but I wanted to have a slightly more aggresive option as well as a spare. In future I might use a more robust casing on the rear as I ran a higher pressure than usual, reducing the cush-factor, in order to deal with the sharp rocks. Pine Knob, I’m looking at you.

On the front, I have a Maxxis Highroller II 3.0 and that was perfect. A trimmed tread DHR n the rear would be my choice in future.

Tubeless, naturally. Which takes me, quite neatly, to spares I carry on the ride.

I carried 2 tubes – Bontrager 2.5-2.8 26″ 48mm valve stem (with removable core). This has several benefits: it is a robust tube, the valve is long enough for my deeper section carbon rims and the core being removable potentially allows sealant to be added. The downside? they are relatively heavy at the best part of 280g (iirc). I use Backcountry Research straps (Gristle and Mutherload) to hold these to my saddle and top tube. I also use a Super 8 for a waterproof and some food, but at the last minute did not bring a jacket to the Marji as the weather was so hot.

I used a Revelate Designs Gas Tank Bag to hold food. I saw a *lot* of folk running these top tube bags and I was shocked how few were running a Bentley Components DeWidget to mount this painlessly to their stem ;-)~ .

Food was a matter of Granola bars, Mike n’ Ikes, Smoked Turkey slices, Baby Bell cheese, jerkey, sandwiches and Clif Bars. Pizza slices stashed in the drop bag (more on that later) were not eaten, but were good for insurance.

The community supplied *so* much at various points along the course (thank you!) it was amazing, though of course you cannot count on having access to any one thing at a given time.

I did use a dropper post (9point8) and would not give this up if I was doing the race again. You have to have fun where you can and some of the descents deserve to be railed.

GPS is essential for the race. It is well marked, but as with every big, back country race I have done, if some ornery asshole decides to remove a sign or two, particularly at dusk, you could be stuffed. In my case, I used an eTrex 20 with my iPhone, using Gaia, as a back up. I use lithium batteries in the eTrex and it lasted easily long enough. Gaia would have been absolutely fine, detail wise, but you would want a waterproof case.

I had a Niterider Lumina 1100 on the bars and this is something I would change. My old Minewt was in my drop bag just in case, but I was actually surprised by how much light I needed to use. This was not the length of time, but the lumens. Normally when i night ride *alone*, I use around 200 lumens. This is fine, once your eyes adjust, if no one has brought the stadium light to over power you from behind. However, perhaps due to the density of foliage and vague trail under rocks, leaves and roots in the dusk., I used higher settings for a good while. The battery was *just* enough to get me through but in future I would carry another light on the bike for the latter half of the race.

As for riding kit: Giro Terraduros – lots of hike a bike, Endura riding kit – the best, Oakleys with Transitions lenses for the tree cover and the likelihood of being out in the dark. Wooly warm arm warmers and a windproof gilet. I wore, old worn out lightly padded Giro gloves.

One of the biggest decisions I made was to not use a hydration pack. The race is self supported, with a drop bag accessible at ~70 and ~90 miles with a total distance of around 103-106 miles (I have seen various strava etc figures). I know I can ride a certain distance on a certain amount of fluid in a certain time and at a certain temperature. The forecast for the U.P is generally 60-70°f at this time of year and not too humid. As such, the 3 bottles on my bike (2x26oz and a 24oz) would be good and I had decided to start with a 22oz bottle in my ‘High Above‘ hip pack.

Unfortunately, the weather threw a curveball with 92°f and high humidity after a colossal thunderstorm the previous day. As a result, riders were tending to suck through fluid pretty quickly. This is not quite such an issue if you have a support crew – which numerous racers did – but as a solo, you have to get it where you can.

There is a garage at Lowes accross the freeway that could act as a supply, but it is early in the race distance. I have no doubt there are other, similar, options near enough to the course to allow a detour and re-join.

In Scotland, I tend to use a steripen on long rides to sterilise water I find along the way if I am dubious about the source, which works well and I had this with me for the Marji. Nevertheless, after pre-riding some parts of the course, I found most of the streams in the early part of the race so I did not bring it wth me and instead, relied on provenance. I also knew that as long as I could get to my drop bag I would have more fluid.

In practice, this could have been extremely difficult. The impromptu community and Terrene Tyres aid stations around the South Network trails saw me refilling at least 2 bottles and The Wurst Aid station put on by the awesome Quick Stop Bike Shop crew had me with at least another 2 bottle fills and a bottle of Gatorade chugged. I filled my own bottles from 3 litres of water I had at the drop bag and also had coke and cans of starbucks espresso with milk I had in my bag. In total, I went through 16 24/26oz bottles, a 500ml coke, 2 300ml coffee and 2 bottles of Gatorade. Without the help from the locals, I would have been one desiccated bloke.

I had my tool kit in my hip bag, along with a wee bit of food, a Genuine Innovations pump and tyre anchovy kit, my Dynaplug tyre repair kit (punctures were on my mind, eh?), a wee pot of chamois cream, some Squirt Lube, my iPhone, car keys and a puppy mascot my wee girl made me. I did not carry a camera in the interests of weight saving, but did have some money and some tyre booting material (same thing!).

Because I was a solo visitor to Marquette and the race is uphill from there to Ishpeming (a 35minute drive away) I had to arrange my own transport back. Riding is an option, but another 1.5 hours would be tough after a long day. I was very lucky to meet a constable from the Ishpeming police who let me leave my car at the police station the day before (cycling back through the afore mentioned thunderstorm along the Iron Ore Trail) but that also meant I needed to make my way to the start of the race by bike, with my drop bag. This is only a ~5 mile cycle, but along with the 40 minutes of riding around it took me to locate the police station at the other end in my deranged state, my mileage was a little over the usual race distance. Depending on how you intend to go, this is an important consideration. It is doable, but takes some character and a good alarm clock.

Ok, from a practical standpoint, I think I have covered my thoughts. If you have any specific questions, fire away.



8 10 2017

Have you ever really reached? I mean *really* ?

I’ve spent the best part of 24 hours distilling my thoughts about the Marji Gesick in to what I hope will become a magazine piece.

I am turning it over and over in my mind.

I have no doubt, given more sympathetic weather and gained knowledge, that I could trim a few hours off my time but what do I want here? a buckle? is that achievable in reality? I don’t really know if it is or if I can commit the resources it would require to find out.

But that damn buckle.

Is it even a possibility?

Am I in that deep?

Marji Gesick.

26 09 2017

Done. 17 hours and change. 103 miles (ish). 12000+ feet of up, though it felt like more. Much more.

The weather threw a curve ball with thunderstorms dropping a reported 45mm of rain in 2 hours the day before, leaving everything slick as, despite the 31-32°c temps. Yep, it was humid in the woods.

Nearly 13 litres of water and or electrolyte and a coke and 2 gatorades. No where near enough food.

A lost pair of Oakleys in the dead of night and scaring up a couple of elk.

Tales to be told. but for now I just need some rest.


Not junk miles.

3 09 2017

At least I hope not.

A mangrunt deluxe, fast. A trip to the Cairngorm. A blast along the canals to Edinburgh to see my bros Chris and Marty – on the anniversary of SSWC 2007, which we organised.

It is all money in the bank for Marji Gesick. The legs are straining as I push as hard as I can for as long as I can. Yeah, I’m still in the 7.30 – 10 hour bracket. It is way less than I expect to be out for in the Michigan woods, but it will have to do.

The weather has not been kind since I returned from Vancouver Island, but you have to make do with what you have.

The Cairngorm loop was a highlight, in terms of terrain. 2 hours to ascend Cairngorm, drop down and then up Stob Coire an t-Sneachda, before tackling the boulder field on Macdui, hitting the top at hour 3. Then dropping the amazing trail to Etchachan and on into Derry. I found myself challenging the steepest drops faster than usual on Kraken and paid the price with a tubeless puncture at the bead edge which made it’s presence known at dusk as I followed the Geldie towards boggy Glen Feshie on the return.

The midge were gathering in unprecedented numbers and I used the Dynaplug to fix the tyre well enough to get back to base. On later inspection the anchovy was holding air except when the casing was compressed – insufficient beef in the tyre wall at the bead edge for it to bind to.

I also smacked the crank pretty hard off a rock, leading to a gouge in it (and my leg). I fixed it later with some black carbon/epoxy repair mix. Prices worth paying for tackling one of the best loops in the country. 9.30 hours in all.

Then it was ride-to-the-ride along the canals between Edinburgh and Glasgow to meet good friends and ride the steep hills of Edinburgh. The 4 hours of graft on the way through were rewarded with good times and good trails with my Telly Savalas brothers for another 4 or so hours of singletrack and big skies before taking the train home after a beer or two.

No reason training has to be dull, right?

How to fit a DeWidget.

23 08 2017

Ok, how *I* fit a DeWidget – I am sure there are a number of ways!

First, you need some double sided velcro. This has a multitude of uses for the bikepacker. I usually keep a few wraps around bars and whatnot for use when out and about: temporary attachments; to insulate the frame or components from abrasion; tying down flyaway straps etc.

Anyhoo. You will need about 6-7cm 1cm wide and 7-8cm of 2cm wide. If you are struggling to find some, you can get it here. Search around for different widths and trim with scissors or a craft knife. In my experience it does not need ‘heat sealed’ on the edges.

Then, mount your top-tube bag to your frame, loosely, near it’s final desired position. Mount your DeWidget to the steerer.

1. thread the thin portion of velcro through the daisy chain on the front of the top-tube bag.

I then remount the foam spacer – I would recommend this if you have one.

2. mount the 2cm section of velcro to one side of your 1cm velcro.

3. fold the 1cm section back on itself, on top of the 2cm section.

4. thread the 2cm velcro through the slot on the DeWidget.

It doesn’t matter if the bottom section or top is longer…

5. attach the 2cm velcro to itself in a loop as tight as desired.

The velcro has inherent stiffness that helps keep the mounting absolutely solid, even if there is a fair distance between the bag and the stem – which may be desirable given stem hardware.

The other thought I had was to use a sternum strap split bar buckle and attach it to the daisy chain, thus presenting a ‘bar’ in ‘phase’ with the slot on the DeWidget, but velcro has worked so well I have never tried…

You can get them here, not very handy, but I have used this shop for many parts and materials for MYOG projects and can recommend them. I have not found the same buckles in the UK yet.


12 06 2017

The early part of the Spring-Summer period was stellar. Sunny, warm, dry and no midge. June has been moist to say the least. I had plans to get a big ride in yesterday – getting miles in the legs is becoming important. But after descending from Beinn a’Bhuird from low cloud, into 35-40mph winds on exposed, trackless ground and portaging down a loose, slippery steep slope to the Allt a’ Coire an t Slugain, then getting absolutely drenched in an hour long downpour, I called it after 5 hours.

It isn’t long enough, though I was heartened by my progress: I rode the entire climb and from the south to the north top with 2 dismounts for stone steps on the track.

The contrast to a few weeks ago on Carn a’Chlamain is sharp. As I sit looking out at the incessant downpour again this morning, I can only hope that things clear a little soon.

They must, right?

Project next.

4 06 2017

It’s on my mind a lot. Entry is in. Flights booked. Coach, put me in the game.

Here’s another, for good measure…