A Marji Gesick Story
Brandon J. Evans
At the conclusion of my second summer regularly riding bicycles, I rode approximately 75 miles of the Marji Gesick 100 on a fully rigid fat bike, with flats, no dropper post, in twenty dollar shorts, and no chamois. Stupid, I know. I guess this is the story of how I got so bright.
Since August 2017 biking has become a bigger and bigger part of my life. That is when we took the training wheels off my now eight-year-old son’s bike. As Clay will tell you, “he got [me] into biking.” That month also kicked off a diet for me. I’m down 70 pounds, it was 80 pounds, but I’m thinking and hoping that new 10 pounds is mostly muscle. It could be.
In 2009, a benign tumor that was compressing my spinal cord was discovered and surgically removed. It caused bilateral drop foot, which caused leg muscle weakness issues. In a nutshell, living for more than a decade (tumor signs go back to 2004) with nerve damage from spinal cord injury changed the way I walk, which caused me to use my calf and hamstring muscles less and less, which caused them to waste away. The saying, “use it or lose it” is very accurate. Anyway, through biking and other exercises I have been able to reverse some of those effects. That is the backstory you need to better understand my Marji Gesick story.
One Friday night in August 2018, my wife Amie and I had date night. We were drinking – typical of Marji stories, I know – and reflecting about my weight loss and strength improvements and our races over the last year. That was sort of our new thing. She runs. I bike. She has always been a runner. This was new for me, especially the me that she knew.
She and I were both excited. She had recently completed her first ultramarathon, and I had done better than expected completing a local 48-mile mountain bike race. Prior to the race, she worried that I was not ready, and we argued over whether I should do the 48 or the 28-mile race. She worries.
I was also disappointed that I was not doing the Marji Gesick 50-mile bike race that was coming up. I thought and hoped that I could complete it and I wanted that challenge. I was thinking there must be a back door into the event. There often is for other local running and biking races. Like many things, it just depends on who you know. Thanks to Clayton doing the 906 Adventure Bike Club that summer, I sort of knew the race director, Todd Poquette. Well, I had his cell number and he posts on Facebook so much that everyone feels like they know him. One of the last text messages that I had sent to him was my request to get off the waitlist for the Marji 50. That was sticking in my craw.
Anyway, after a couple drinks, on date night, I sent Todd a text telling him about a couple recent hill workouts that I had done by doing repeats on a local hill known as the Benson Grade. I had done 10 repeats one time and 15 repeats another time. For context, 15 times up and down Benson was approximately 20 miles, 5,500 feet of elevation gain, and it had taken 3.5 hours. I told Todd that I was going to another hill workout that Sunday and that I thought he should give me a challenge, the completion of which gets me into the 50. WARNING: do not drink and text Todd.
Todd is known for being somewhat sadistic. In one of his races he made all the riders carry a snorkel. On Facebook someone joked, I heard it was going to be a ladder instead of a snorkel. That is just Todd.
Todd told me to bike up and down the back side (river side) of Mount Marquette until I hit 12,000 feet of elevation gain. I accepted the challenge even though I had never been up Mt. Marquette. Then I put the whole text message conversation on Facebook because Amie and I found it quite funny and I thought peer pressure would help my motivation. I was thinking, I am really not sure I can do that. Then Amie and I found the hill and walked up it in the dark while it was raining and she was in heels. We were laughing a lot because it is much steeper than Benson and I was thinking, “There is no way. I can’t. Can I… There is not 12,000 feet of climbing the 50 mile, Todd!”
Long story sort, I met Todd at 6am that Sunday morning, he loaned me his fancy bike computer (GPS), and I started climbing. In just under 13 hours I had the 12k feet of climbing and had biked about 44 miles. 25 times up and down Mt. Marquette.
The whole thing was all over Facebook. A few riders joined me for parts of the day to help me complete the challenge. It was a great feeling to finish the challenge. Still, I must say, that I was not, and am not, sure that I could have finished the 50 at that time. I attempted the 50 in 2018 and did not finish, but I had the stomach flu. I really should not have even started. The night before I had fevers with cold spells followed by sweats. It was really stupid attempting. I’d probably do it again though. The real reason I attempted the ride is because I felt compelled to try after the way I got into the race the month before. I rode for approximately 25 miles and texted #quitter at Malton Road after 7.5 hours of riding.
The Marji really is not my style of riding. I really prefer hammering away on an easier terrain, and I am not a dare devil… but I like a challenge so I signed up for the 50 to be held in 2019 right away in October 2018.
In the summer 2019, I attended Marji camp, did a century in another one of Todd’s races, The Crusher, and did another ridiculous hill workout. I convince some buddies to do Mount Marquette repeats again. One of them, Jim Johnson, rode with me the whole day. We added a little to the course riding more at the top, right to the scenic overlook, which added more technical riding making for a better core workout. It also down poured, which messed with our GPS such that they occasionally stopped giving us elevation gain. That was frustrating. By the end, Jim and I had ridden for over 14 hours, over 50 miles, 26 times up and down the whole hill, numerous extra times on some of the easier stuff (trying to correct our GPS after the rain), and had over 13,000 feet in elevation gain. In summary after the summer of 2019, I was ready for the Marji 50 mentally and physically. There in lies the problem.
About a month before the race, one of my riding partners from The Crusher, Dillon Vial, purchased a transfer registration into the Marji 100. We texted about whether he was going to transfer that registration to the 50 or stay in the 100. I could not convince him to transfer into the 50. The transfer deadline came and went. I stayed in the 50. Dillon stayed in the 100. I found myself regretting not transferring.
About a week before the race, I texted Todd telling him that I was not sure I was appropriately nervous for the race and that next year, if I signed up for the 50, he should just move me to the 100 like he had done to someone else. There was no immediate response to that bait. However, a couple days later, Todd posted something on Facebook about check points and threatened that if he caught people asking about them he would move their registration to the Out and Back, the 200-mile race. I quickly responded asking what a guy has to ask to get moved into the 100. He responded with a limited time offer of a transfer for a certain IPA. I left work, located said beer, and showed up at his doorstep with a four-pack less than two hours later. I was actually shaking a bit. I had found the challenge I wanted.
My wife, on the other hand, was not happy with my decision. I had to put the whole thing on hold. Todd allowed that. He is not out to ruin my marriage. But after lengthy discussions and text messages with my wife while I was out of town and she was working, two days before the race I confirmed with Todd that I could in fact ride the 100.
The ride was brutal. As I mentioned at the beginning, I did not finish. However, Dillon stopped me from quitting much earlier. He would not let me quit. I owe him so much for that. I was happy with where, when and how I quit. It was an hour and half before the cutoff. I had 15 miles to go to make the cutoff, and I was moving at like 4 miles an hour. It was also down pouring, and Dillon was sitting in my van having essentially crashed out. Marji won if winning is measured by finishing but that was okay with me. It was a great day on the bike, and a great day with Dillon. At that moment, I was not sure I would do the Marji again. However, around a day or so later, I decided I still want the challenge. I’m still on course!
I may not finish the Marji 100 in 2020. I am okay with that as long as I push myself. I will get stronger and become a better biker. Hopefully, new and old friends will also push me along the way. However, I will also remember why I am doing all of this in the first place. I am a better husband, father, and lawyer, when I am happy and healthy. Biking plays a big role in that.
Todd asked me to write my story about the Marji and how it has affected me. As you hopefully can probably tell from this rambling, the Marji has had a very positive affect on my life. It has pushed me since August 2018 to get better, to prepare, and it continues to push me as I prepare for the ride in 2020. However, the best things that I can say about the Marji apply equally to Marji Camp, The Crusher, Polar Roll, 906 Adventure Bike Club, JR’Eh Group Ride, and seemingly anything Todd and Stacie Poquette touch. They are fun. They are inspiring. They motivate me, and they are where I make so many friends and memories. As I thanked one friend (I met during Marji) who donated to the 906 Adventure Team during my 2019 hill climb challenge, “The great thing about the 906 Adventure is that it’s not just for kids.”
I should stop now. I have to deliver two large Nerf guns to a 9-year old in an attempt to buy influence to get some friends into the 50… that’s another story, another date night and, well, alcohol. Sometimes I make questionable decisions. The Marji Gesick is not one of them.
It’s all about community.
While a lot of races out there are run by for-profit companies, that’s not the case for Marji Gesick, Polar Roll and The Crusher. All of our events are productions of the 906 Adventure Team, a 501(c)3 whose mission is to empower people to become the best version of themselves through outdoor adventure. We don’t have a large staff of people (two, to be exact) or significant overhead, and that enables us to donate a significant portion of race revenues in two ways:
- Since 2015, we’ve given back more than $125,000 to the trail-builders of RAMBA, NTN, Sisu Dirt Crews, WinMan and the DCNT.
- We also support youth adventure programs in three communities, investing over $35,000 this year alone in equipment, training, and gear to remove barriers for all kids. Our summer and after-school programs now have over 350 participants, and spots fill up as quickly as Marji Gesick. There is a need we’re trying to fill: to connect kids with their communities and get them off devices.