Ishpeming, Michigan [Marji Gesick 100]

78431030-2018-marji-2450-2Screen Shot 2018-09-23 at 7.42.01 PM

I don’t know how to race for only one day. What is my maximum effort? How long can I ride hard? So many questions, but this insecurity is good. When was the last time you did something you deem scary? I’m so new to racing, but I’ve fallen madly in love with it.

This would be a new beast; feeling mildly insecure about such a short race I reminded myself of my goal. I want to keep getting stronger. Whether that be physically or mentally (though I think they go hand in hand), I know I can always self-improve.

Bikepacking is my favorite sport. I said this to my friend, and he laughed. Apparently, some people don’t think it’s a sport. That’s fine. Bikepacking turned me into an athlete, so it will forever be a sport, the sport; my sport. It’s a glorious mash-up of physical capability, mental prowess, and logistical maneuvering. There’s route finding, wildlife encounters, and a plethora of unexpected curve balls. It utilizes all of my facilities, and I love it more than anything. In fact, it’s the lens I see all things in life through. I’ve dialed in my long term race game quite a bit from my first go at the Smoke-n-Fire last year, so this year, I’m going to work on improving my short game.

I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I managed to squeeze into the Marji Gesick last minute to compete in the 100-mile women’s open. I slept proper before the race and suffered no pre-race nausea. Maybe that was because it was my first single day race? Maybe it was because I was finally being honest about competing? Maybe it was being there with a team? Maybe it was having Sarah and George there with me? Whatever the reason, I went into this race with one goal in mind; I am going to try really hard to finish in 12 hours, and as 7:30 p.m. rolled around I was longingly gazing across the sky. All I could focus on was a sign that said, “The Magnuson”, which only reminded me my temporary home was just down the hill. I was still 20 miles from the finish. I could roll down to a hotel room full of beef sticks and PBR, and snuggle up beneath the blankets. DNF is not my style though, so I continued on for another hour to the checkpoint…

I wasn’t even nervous as Sarah pulled the car into the parking lot. I love dirt races. I love dirt people. I love dirt riding endurance weirdos. You can’t judge an endurance athlete by their body or by their style. Some of the sloppiest looking folk are the most savage riders. It becomes less about facade and more about what’s within. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more secure with who I am. The more I put myself at starting lines, the more I believe in myself. I’m scared, but that’s okay. I set realistic goals and chase them. If I fail to achieve that goal, then I will work at it until I get what I want. You can have anything you want if you want it bad enough.

The sky was still dark, the air crisp from the rain the day prior. George topped off his tires, I adjusted my seat height. I’d changed my saddle for this race and was riding sans boots so it seemed the saddle was a bit too high. George showed me where to bring my drop bag. I’d stuffed 2 Snickers in there along with a liter of Mountain Dew and several bottles of water. I’d never done a race with any support so I wasn’t sure what to expect. After the drop, I wandered away to offer pray/give my offering to the Earth for providing us with such an incredible playground. I eventually wandered out to the course to place my bike for the Le mans start. There Sarah, George and myself said our good lucks and goodbyes and I walked to the starting line.

I stood by myself in the crowd. Teal overshirt, cut off shorts and t-shirt and tennis shoes; I was feeling good. I listened to all the people who seemed to know each other. All of these people seem to be friends with each other. I’m an unknown. That could be me someday, I think, and grin. If I go to enough races, maybe I will have friends at starting lines too. When I used to go to starting lines, I’d feel insecure, nervous; I’d look at all the women and think they looked faster than me and I’d be eating their dust all day. Now when I show up to races, I smile at how awesome all these women are for showing up and I’m gonna give it my best to compete against them. Competition in athletics can and should be a positive thing, we can use the strength of those women in front of us to pull out the best within ourselves. It’s not about being better than someone else; it’s about the journey to becoming stronger athletes within ourselves. These ladies are my sisters; we are all members of this incredible bike tribe. Before I know it, the anthem plays and rockets shoot into the sky. Off we go. I start my run at a comfortable pace and fall toward the back of the pack. I hop on the bike, turn on the Garmin and my day begins.

Since this was something so new to me, I used the Garmin for the first 50 miles or so. I’d track elevation gain, speed, and a few other details. I generally don’t track my rides, I’ve found that I can save about 10% of my battery if I don’t actively track. Because the only times I use my Garmin is during long-distance racing, battery life is gold. If I was going to chase that buckle though, I needed to have a pace in which that was attainable. 8 miles an hour. Easy. Thinking about my past racing, I’d condense my 3 day strategy into a single day strategy. I’d eat 10 Snickers bars throughout the day, which I’d unwrapped and cut into tiny pieces pre-race. That would be the only thing I ate all day (except for that last minute lone oatmeal creme pie from Sarah). I’d put a half of bottle of Mountain Dew mixed with Powerade in my water bottle to use as rocket fuel later. I’d warm up for 30 miles, keeping my breathing at or below my aerobic threshold. I tried to really zone in on my breath. Then I’d push it for 20 miles, recover for 20 and finish strong with two solid 15-mile pushes. Foolproof right? Well, I rolled into the finish line at 12:40 a.m.; some 5+ hours later than I’d wanted to. Why?

Nice flowy, fast miles decorate the beginning of the course; very misleading to first-timers. I knew that I was in for some hard miles ahead when I’d realized I’d ridden 30 miles and barely climbed 2500 feet. That left about 9500 feet of climbing to be done in the next 70 miles. I’d climbed 8000+ feet one time in 45 miles and that took me 12 hours. I tried to put this ride in perspective. The belt buckle was slowly tip-toeing out of my grasp. I disregarded what I knew, and ramped up my speed to carry on into the second section of my ride. Even more amazing trail. I’d look left, look right, and want to leave the course to ride crazy lines or play around with some of those reckless looking drops. I’d express gratitude to the countless day hikers I’d pass; thank you for sharing the trail. I’d launch my bike any chance I got. I always roll over the big rock instead of taking a cleaner line. It’s more fun, plus I brought these fat tires out for a ride anyways. I’d lead people when they failed to ask to pass; I’d pass people when I was tired of looking at butts. I’d only stop to pee twice. By mile 60 or so, I realized I’d been riding hard for the last 30 miles and still felt pretty good. I’d tried to pick up my pace and succeeded. I was almost averaging 8 miles an hour for that section. I passed the crowds of people and carried on to catch the next lady. After mile 64 though, be prepared for the bulk of the climbing. It’s all a little foggy now, and I barely remember the trail names. Early on, I recall the A-line trail which was the highlight of the whole race for me, a fast burmy descent where speed checks aren’t necessary and plenty of air is to be had. The torture really hits after the 70 mile mark. Once you hit the bag drop, you roll out for a loop. This is where I climbed up and away to find the view of my motel. My pace slows down considerably and I walk more than I’d like. Eventually, the sun sets, and the forest is dark before the rest of the sky. I had to turn on my light around 7:30 p.m.  I’d began to panic; would my lights make it? I had brought 2- just in case. I make it back to the bag drop by 9:00 p.m. Only 15 miles left. I almost skipped my bag drop. The 15 minutes I spent fiddling around with water, clothes and Mountain Dew seemed to be far too long but I was thirsty and needed rocket fuel. A sign cheerily says “15 miles left this way” and I start doing math in my head. Okay 7 miles an hour… plus a little lazy stacked in there… I should finish by 11:30 at the latest. The last 15 miles are the hardest of the whole trail. Chock-full of HAB and nonflowy up and downs, this section tests you. I was feeling exhausted, but my legs felt incredibly strong. I was riding stuff the people riding with me were walking. I’d descend as fast as I can. MILES are MILES I’d repeat in my head. Though time was moving, I felt faster than I really was and I’d finished the last climb with two amazing single speed (SS) men. John, and Paul were full of ambition and positive, encouraging vibes as I had been riding every climb I could. Finally, the last climb. A HAB straight up to a checkpoint. My fourth token! John or Paul, I can’t remember which then said “all right, it’s all downhill from here!” I laughed and said “seriously, just a climb to a token? that’s hilarious” and hopped on my bike to finish the ride. Blasting downhill behind the SS’s I thought I’d be able to pass them with my big gear to the finish, and then I blasted downhill the wrong way. Whoops! We all met at the finish line, hi-5’s all around. I came back to an amazing Sarah ready to hug me, hold my bike, give me food, congratulate me; she’s an incredibly amazing woman. I saw George in his cloak and we gossiped about the daunting course. I proclaimed “I’m ready for a yo-yo…” NOT. That’s a horrible idea.

I loved this race, it was a challenge unlike anything I’d ever done. I’d finished 5th female, and 132 overall. I’d compare it to the Colorado Trail, but there is no use. There is nothing like climbing in the Great Lakes. Sure we don’t have the elevation, but we have the fresh water seas, and EPIC miles of single track. All the rides are a straight sawtooth profile. Up, down, up, down. I’d teared up a few times on the course thinking, “it’s good to be home, I’m finally home.” To suffer, to dig that deep on the shore of my favorite lake, gichigami, is a gift unparalleled.

I’ve finished my goal of 8-in-28. Some 4800 miles of racing my bicycle, 15 pitiful miles in a canoe and one death march on two feet over 26 miles in Prescott, Arizona.

  1. [Smoke-n-Fire 2017] 460 miles bike in September
  2. [Whiskey Row Marathon] 26.2 mile run in May
  3. [AZT 300+] 600 miles bike in May
  4. [Tour Divide] 2700 miles bike in June
  5. [Wisconsin River Race] 15 miles canoe in July
  6. [Colorado Trail Race] 520 miles bike in July
  7. [Smoke-n-Fire 2018] 420 miles bike in September
  8. [Marji Gesick 100] 101 miles bike in September

It was a blast and I’ve learned so much about who I am, who I want to be, and who I will remain to be. I’m now 29 years old. And to celebrate this year, I’m going to do a year of racing bikes on a SS. My theme: Alexandera is 29, a season of SS on a 29er. I want to dig deep and find a strength I haven’t tapped into since my fixie days. Though I will be busy with school, I plan on keeping up on the training and getting on the fatty this winter. I absolutely love the winter. The cross country ski trails are beautiful and just down the street. I wonder what races I’ll be able to get to next summer, but best believe I’ll do everything in my power to make it to as many as I can. And hey, I’m gonna train all winter.

So I dare you to as well. Let’s race each other. Thanks again to all you wonderful humans that have supported me this year. This was my year of ladies; I made so many women friends on bikes. I’ve built a solid community of SAVAGE bike friends all over the country. I’ve had the best year of my life.

[Ladies of the Marji Race Recap]

I’d heard a voice come up behind me and she complimented my TD run. I said thanks and we chatted a bit longer. And then I said I wanted to see who was talking to me so nicely (I was pedaling up hill and hadn’t been able to look back at her) and she said, “It’s Sam, we rode the first day on the TD together!”. I was ELATED and looked back immediately. I didn’t care if I crashed or not. I’d asked friends to track her through the TD and for the first 10 days or so she was killing it! I eventually heard she scratched and I just wanted to say that I was so impressed while riding with her. I’d been her biggest fan probably; the TD is challenging, a first time on a single speed is so tough. When I wasn’t able to make the TNGa, I was stoked to see her name on the start list and I aggressively watched her dot. She had an amazing ride, placing 2nd woman (1st and ONLY female SS) and 6th overall. She was my hero and I had to get her number. I’d tried figuring it out from people I knew that maybe knew her, but I had no luck. I’d hoped I would see her again someday. And I did, and we rode together (albeit for a brief moment) on the Marji course, regardless of the brevity of our interaction, I still saw her beautiful badass shining smile, and it lifted me up up up. I totally didn’t get her number, again.

And then I met Jenny. Probably the most adorable woman on a bike I’d ever seen. She’d taped friends to her bike (and helmet), which I simply adored. I always, ALWAYS tape things to my bike when I race, and this time, I’d taped the name of my 2018 riding heroes. She’s just wayyyyy more fun and creative about it. She was so positive, incredibly strong riding in front of my for some 50 miles of the race. She’d pass me on the climbs and I could only pass her when she was resting. We would chat about this and that. She’s said she rode the Baja Divide and I wanted to know more. We lost each other at the first pavilion stop and I never saw her again. I do know that she FINISHED and that’s incredible.

And then I met Jill on the top of a hill while she was peeing. That’s the way I want to meet everyone; this was just the first time that ever had happened to me. She eventually rolled up to catch me; she was a speedy one! I’d asked where she was from, was this her first time and the usual conversation pieces. She was one of the seemingly so many gals from Grand Rapids. I wanted to move there in that moment so I could be friends with these women. I had been listening to some tunes, and we rode side by side chatting for a while. She pulled in front of me and I sang off key to my loud music, eating her dust. She said she loved my outfit, and I said she was a badass. She seemed to be feeling the miles a bit (as was I), but once we radiated in each other’s energy and jammed to tunes, we crushed out some 10 miles in no time. As the miles added up, we’d passed a dude or two and, though there were no words spoken, we rolled into the park. She stopped, I carried on. This would be the last time I saw her. She pulled into the finish line as the next female to finish after me.

The last lady interaction I had was with a woman named Hannah. She climbed those rocky technical sections like she was floating. She’d ride what we all walked and would disappear into the sky. I’d chat with her for the longest amount of time. She’d be conquering these climbs and I’d be crashing a million times because I kept clipping my bar ends on trees. She’s an enduro maniac and I immediately developed a girl crush. I didn’t know if I wanted to be her or be her friend. She was honest about being competitive and riding what you got. We talked jerseys and bike gear, racing and school and all the stuff in between, all the while climbing and descending. People moved off the trail to let us pass. I’d never felt so cool as I did during this race.

It was all because of my ladies out there. Bringing it on the trail for hours on end. I’m honored to belong to this tribe…

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Lorraine Fox says:

    Sooo good to read about your ride, Alex!!!!! Onward & Upward❣ Lori Fox

    Like

  2. logan says:

    Hi Alex. Can you shoot me an email when you get a chance? I am the editor over at bikepacking.com and have a question for you…

    Like

  3. Carey Lowery says:

    After reading this, I have no doubt you will crush the MG out and back. You are a crusher! And a happy ine to boot!

    Like

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