THE MARJI AND ME: YEAR II
by Matthew O’Meara
October 4, 2018
Here I sit again, roughly one year later w/ thoughts pin balling and ricocheting back and forth in my mind of what the Marji Gesick 100 bike/run is all about. Last year I strangled a goose to make a quill pen and used my own blood from the race in place of ink to write my letter. The horse and carriage postal service was still running at that point so my letter and two wooden chips made it to Todd and Danny by spring thaw. The guys have to make everything so damn difficult though (as most of us reading this can attest to) and they requested it be transposed to email or typing for the world to see. Of course I obliged and had to retype it…so that poor goose died for nothing I guess. This year I’m saving the geese and am taking the easy route (cyclists are inherently lazy always trying to find the path of least resistance anyway) by typing it right out of the gate knowing that there is a 100% chance this makes it around social media circles where people like reading typed language…not messy handwriting that needs to be decoded.
I just changed the main title from “Season II” to “Year II”. I think the main reason I did this was because it has consumed a lot of everything for 2 years. Todd sat at my dining room table last weekend and even said something to the effect of, “well we do steal an entire year from most of the people who do our race.” In the fall of 2016 I had signed up and decided to attempt the 100 mile ride. Trained and prepared myself (or what I thought was preparation…hint hint…I wasn’t prepared and DNF’d the shit out of it) for the 2017 hotter than Dutch love Marji. I then went into deep dark cycling depression over the race trying to figure out what the hell happened. I decided to write a letter and send the 2 chips back that I did manage to find out there to our lovely race directors w/ a future request if I were to finish the 2018 Marji. This might not make any sense to a whole bunch of people (it’ll certainly make more sense if you read the last letter) but it apparently was the only way I knew how to deal w/ my failure. So after the “full crappie” (this term is derived from a fish…a crappie…flipping and flopping out of water on land. It’s the equivalent of having an opportunity at something but totally blowing it. You can also “self crappie” but this more reserved for when you’re at a busy bar/nightclub at 2am fighting to stay awake/conscious until the darkness overtakes you. You’re buddy who is still mildly functional would tell the rest of your crew, “dudes, O’Meara just “self crappied” we better drag him out of here.” But in reality both terms can be used interchangeably). So after the “full crappie” in 2017 I signed up again planning on losing another year of my life, marriage, and overall mental health to finishing the race in 2018. It’s amazing…a race director being able to actually steal someone’s time on earth. How is this possible….Is it legal? Do we need to call the Marquette cops and have Todd and Danny arrested.
Matt O’:Uh yeah…this is Matt O’Meara and I’d like to report a theft. A guy named Todd Poquette has been stealing from me. You must know him…I think everyone knows him. I think he might even be your town mayor?
Marquette Police:Big Todd or mini Todd? Because I know both of them… (for those of you that don’t know “mini Todd.” He is made of paper, glue, and maybe a popsicle stick. See photo…and play along because mini Todd is here to stay)
Matt O’: Who the fuck is mini Todd?…oh wait I know who that is forget it. I like mini Todd…we’re cool…he’s sweet. He’s the little guy who pretends to shower in a human size shower and drink Big Todds beer right? Hilarious!!
Marquette Police: Yeah that’s him alright…I love that little guy too. We actually had coffee yesterday morning and were talking blowers v.s. plows…I mean you can rationalize it both ways right? Did you know he drinks almond milk latte’s?…would have never guessed he’s a latte guy. What about the time he was riding the dog pretending it was a horse…that was my favorite. Anyway, back to your theft complaint. What’s Big Todd Stealing again?
Matt O’: Oh yeah…I liked that horse riding one too. Seriously though…dudes stealing my time, my life, my money, my sanity, wearing out my tires sooner than the manufacturer claims they should last. I think he’s responsible for depleting the amount of oxygen in the air across the UP and upper Midwest that everyone has to breathe while training. My poor kids are going hungry because I have to eat all of the food in our house to keep up the caloric intake from burning it all during these long training rides.
Marquette Police: You must have done the Marji huh?…I’ll add your complaint to the stack of all the others that we’ve been receiving the past few weeks. And for the record…you can’t press charges against God. Trust me…I did the race last year and tried. The paperwork is a nightmare.
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.” I’m not even sure this completely works here but I’ve always liked that movie line even though it’s from a not so great guy (at least he’s the one that made it popular). Although Todd and Danny may seem like devils and some people may think they actually are in reality they are more like our angels…and they definitely exist. The greatest trick they have ever pulled was creating something as difficult as the Marji and have people coming back and wanting more year after year. Part of this has to do w/ the course but most of this has to do w/ them. I spent a lot of time in the last letter getting my thoughts out there on how incredible this race is, continues to be, and how it’s changed me….and continues to change me. This year was a totally different feel and vibe though. One thing that has happened is others have written about the same experiences I have had. Phrases like “doing this race makes me feel alive.” Or things like… there is a massive sense of accomplishment, community, bringing out the best in people, hard as fuck, chasing unicorns, etc. Ya know…those kinds of things. My fav is still “if you won’t quit, then I won’t quit.” All are true and then some.
The DNF from 2017 weighed heavily on my mind but I definitely felt more ready than I had one year ago but needed some additional changes. I’d somehow managed to set my low grade alcoholism habit/goals aside for the past 3 weeks leading up to the race. I’d been eating well and had gone on a juice diet which had me feeling pretty svelte in my new Shift Cyclery and Coffee Bar kit. Being (or should I say getting) to under 180 lbs for me is like hitting 10 half court shots in a row…it just doesn’t happen. Well…I got into the groove and it did. So I was feeling pretty good about the climbing and how much energy it would drain from me.
Anyhow…w/ my favorite and greatest support staff at the ready (my lovely wife who has had my back and supported me from day one of this shit show) the fireworks went off and we all started chasing the unicorn down the trail from Forestville. If you don’t know what I’m talking about just picture 300+ dudes in leotards wearing wooden shoes made from a cobbler in Holland chasing a woman riding unicorn. Got that picture in your mind?…Now add in the greatest marathon mtb racer the US has ever seen (Jeremiah Bishop) take a selfie video of himself during this madness w/ a play by play about how he is drafting off of a unicorn on foot. Literally shaking my head and laughing right now…
So my buddy Nate (we train together and have similar abilities) and I rolled out of Forestville ready to take on the day and hopefully make it to Ishpeming. Whether we wanted to admit it or not I think in the back of our minds we both had some fantasies and dreams of taking pictures at the finish line holding buckles around our waists doing pelvic thrusts in cowboy hats. Finishing was chore number one though and certainly the goal since I was 0-1 and this was his first go around. It didn’t take long but about mile 20 disaster struck (in the sense of mtb racing anyway). A barely audible tink tink tink type noise was suddenly coming from my wheel at every rotation. My initial/immediate/accurate to the nuts thought…FUCK I have a broken spoke. 2 seconds later though I try and convince myself that this barely audible tinking noise is something else…maybe it’s the pump I’ve taped to my frame. Yeah that’s it…it’s that damn pump rattling around. I never tape a pump to my frame so it must be that ol’ rascal making this annoying sound. Funny thing about your mind though…it has the inability to lie to itself. So try as I might I knew I had a broken spoke. The next part was what to do about it (for non-cyclists you can’t do shit about a broken spoke mid-race). I had brought an extra set of wheels for this exact reason and as we rolled along the wheel wasn’t coming apart. So I continued babying it through every single rock, root, and abandoned pipeline. The one thing I’d wished I would have had were some ear plugs cuz that tink tink tink was a like god damn jack hammer on my brain and psyche…please little wheel hold strong. As we come across our trusty wives before the Lowes crossing I tell Emily to grab the spare wheel. “Oh that, I don’t have it. It’s in the other car back at Forestville.” Ok…so our trusty support crew wasn’t quite Team Sky or so trusty after all but they were motivated and had signed marriage certificates which meant they were in it for the long haul. I told Emily to just have it at Lowes when we came through hoping the wheel could make it that far. Lowes parking lot is on the horizon and just like Team Sky now there she is w/ the spare wheel in all its unbroken spoke glory. But I didn’t take it. I had convinced myself that I may be violating an albeit gray rule of taking outside mechanical help. I was bound and determined to finish this bitch but I didn’t want any controversy…especially if there was maybe a shot at a buckle. So Nate and I rolled on w/ me still babying that front wheel w/ 1 broken spoke. By the time we got to the South Trail Head I had concocted a plan that I could rationalize as not getting outside help. We come in and there for the second time is the much needed wheel…again I refuse it. As I’m shoveling peanut butter pretzels into my mouth I’m also explaining to Emily how she needs to call Todd and see if placing the wheel back at our cabin for me to retrieve/install on my own would be breaking any rules. I still had some major concerns about the integrity of continuing w/ the broken one and my own personal safety going forward w/ some of the most technical trails ahead, and having to baby it for yet another 15 miles or so. After seeing and attempting (actually this is a lie…I didn’t attempt much help other than sort of poking at his cuts to see if they would stop bleeding. I did make sure he was of sound mind though…or as much as could be. His main goal seemed to be ignoring the cuts/blood and keep chasing the buckle. Who was I to tell him no?…I think I told him he’d probably need stiches. I hope he ended up o.k. and just has some cool scars.) to help a dude whose face was peeled open in two different spots gushing blood at the first turn after the Mt. Marquette Rd. climb all I could think about was this video I’d seen of a roadie during a time trial in Le Tour where his wheel just completely disintegrates out of nowhere and he completely eats shit into the pavement at like 40 MPH. I really didn’t want that to happen…and it didn’t. I made it to Mt. Marquette parking lot w/ Emily saying Todd gave the o.k. Rode over to our Rippling River cabin and changed the wheel out…Done and done. W/ roughly 50 more miles to go and a 1k lbs of worry (which was actually only a few lbs of broken carbon wheel) lifted off my shoulders. Shit started coming unraveled here though. Not for me but for Nate. In a roundabout way though his issues became mine too. This journey was a team effort. We’d trained together for this, pre-rode almost all of the course together in July 2 years in a row, and talked about it for 2 years straight. It meant a lot to me and I know it did for him as well to tame this beast together. 99.9% of my most epic days on a bike in the last 10 years have come when riding or racing w/ Nate and this was supposed to just add to that list. I can only compare some of this to my identical twin cousins who are like 50 now. They’ve literally spent their entire lives together. They married separate women but all 4 of them lived in the same house for many years…finally they each got their own homes…but directly next to each other. They look the same, act the same, are the same (I guess scientifically this is probably a true statement). I called one the other day and he immediately puts me on speaker phone because they are of course together headed out fishing for 3 days. I’ve seen these two complain about being cold at deer camp so one just climbed in bed w/ the other and they kind of snuggled/spooned to warm up…in minutes they were warm…no big deal and mission accomplished. Wasn’t the first time and probably not the last. Nate is like where in Gods name are you going w/ this comparison. My point is I know Nate really well as far as mtbing goes and he the same w/ me. He knew all the shit from last year that happened in the race and how much finishing this year meant to me. So when I look back and don’t see him on my wheel I get concerned. He finally catches on and is like, “Dude I can’t go. My legs are shit, I got no energy, I got nothing. I don’t know what’s going on but you gotta go…I’m holding you back.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My security blanket and suffer gauge to the finish line was going to be gone soon…Nates super tough and I’ve seen him in some crazy hard situations so I knew he must really be in dire straits if what he’s telling me is even halfway the truth. I didn’t like how this was playing out w/ 50 miles to go but there was nothing I could do to help so we bid each farewell and good luck and would see each other in Ishpeming. I felt bad…this wasn’t the plan. What about our pelvic thrusts w/ the buckles? Pics of us crossing the line together at 11 hrs59 sec? Spraying champagne while atop the podium in the daylight w/ JB on the 3rdstep? (now I am drifting). The plan was foiled but as I charged on I reset mentally and focused on what was ahead…because at the very moment I left Nate I got some motivation from it all and decided I was going to finish the mutherfucker before 7:30pm and do my own pelvic gyrations in Ishpeming. Somebody would surely have a cowboy hat for me to borrow. As I headed to Jackson Park for the first time I had calculated that if got there by 2:30pm it’d give me roughly 2.5 hrs for the Ishpeming loop (20 miles) and then another 2.5 hrs for the last 15 miles. It’d be tight but if I could make it back to Jackson Park for the 2ndtime by 5pm it’d give me a shot at some hardware and thrusts…and that’s all I could ask for. Easy right?…just like Axl says, “It’s so easy easy.” About as easy as golf is, being a 3 year old in a show tying contest, or trying to keep score of your bowling game with a #2 pencil and paper (anybody who says they know how to do this is lying…nobody really knows how the 3rdframe works w/out the computer calculating everything right?). To shorten this entire thing up…I was charging, confident, and doing it all like I’d planned until well…I wasn’t. Shit began to fade badly around mile 80 or so after coming through Ishpeming to finish the last 5 miles before getting back to Jackson Park again. The writing was on the wall that no buckle would be had. So I chilled out a little bit, slammed a beer, then tried to take in and really embrace the last 15 miles of the journey…because it was all coming to a head. I was going to finish the race and that is what’d I’d come for. Todd hadn’t stolen the last 2 years from me…he’d provided this forum and momentous occasion to create whatever I wanted it to be…and now the curtain was slowly closing on the show. It’d been such an epic, long, fun day with highs and lows that I wanted to slow everything down and wrap my head around it while still being in the moment. I rolled across the line (another lie…it was anything but a “roll”…was a godamn 2 up sprint after 111 miles…WTF) after 12 hours and 43 minutes of riding into the waiting arms of my wife and all the other Eau Claire crew that was up there. Nate regrouped as well to come back and finish not far behind after what sounded like an epic story of him v.s. a Huron Bakery turkey sanger (I think it was Popeye esque w/ the can of spinach and instant energy). To all of the people that were there…it was truly a feeling and sensation I will never forget…unreal. Danny shook my hand and then out of nowhere Todd came w/ a little plastic bag. I knew what was in the bag…everyone knew. It was the tokens I had sent him from last year. The tears rolled, the journey was complete, and the loop had been officially closed.
There is so much more that can be said but it will just get in the way…and other people usually say it better and more thoughtfully anyhow. I’m still just in shock and fucking awe at what this thing brings out in people. It’s just a bunch of people riding bikes (and running…don’t worry I didn’t forget) through the woods…how can that be anything more than just that? Here is what I would say…do the race and embrace the event. Find out for yourself and take in the beautiful landscape where this all goes down. Get to know Todd Poquette, Danny Hill, the communities and people of Marquette, Negaunee, and Ishpeming. If you do all of these things you will walk away w/ a feeling of magic…true magic that only the human spirit can create. This isn’t fake…it’s real. I saw a fuckin’ unicorn and The Grim Reaper in the same day. There are fireworks, belt buckles, fractured rock, grilled cheese, and of course…mini Todd.
If one drop of rain falls out of the sky in this race we’re all fucked and you’ll be able to find me at Black Rocks.
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 $110,000 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.