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.

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Optimisation, part 2: Tooling up.

11 02 2017

What to carry when you ride. It’s a balance, isn’t it? on the one, hand you don’t want to be too encumbered with un-needed stuff, but on the other, a mechanical that can’t be fixed means a walk out.

Perhaps a long one.

The other key thing to keep in mind – the tools you carry *must* be effective. If you cant reach that essential 4mm hex bolt with your super-dooper, wee multi tool, it is useless.

Over the years, I have whittled down what I carry and made changes to the tools themselves in the interests of balancing utility with minimisation.

One relatively recent change has been the use of Backcountry Research Aweseme Straps and it’s various stable mates. These at-first-glance simple webbing straps have gone through several iterations to produce what I consider to be essential items. The Tülbag, courtesy of the inimitable Team Dicky is also well thought out – a good size, zip puller and grippy coated material make it an excellent jersey pocket take-along.

In it, I have a 5, 6 and 8mm PB Swiss hex key. These are coloured so they are more difficult to lose in grass and are made to exacting tolerances. There is a magnetic bit holder that allows me to use a PH2, slotted 5.5mm, T25, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4mm bits as needed.

I used to use the PB Swiss bike tool. This has most of the above tools, but also 2 integrated tyre levers and the subtle difference was down to me adding a 8mm bit. In use though, anything that requires an 8mm bit required enough torque that it damaged the magnetic bit holder over time, rendering it, eventually, useless.

I also never use tyre levers. All my tyre and rim combinations can be remounted by simple thumb pressure. It just takes practice.

What else? a Park tools folding chain tool and 10 or 11 speed quick link.

I also carry a Race Face 8 to 16mm adaptor. This is used to tighten their next SL and sixc cranks. essential if seldom (never? – so far!) required.

Occasionally, I add a ‘specialist’ tool… like this Bentley Components carbo loading tool – light and effective.