Marji Gesick | Brad O’Brien #finisher

Brad’s experience at Marji Gesick

Marji 2021

It all started in 2019 signing up for Marji, a few of us talked and decided to give it a go. I logged on, signed in, and when the clock struck tried to purchase my entry. When I went to pay with PayPal, it wasn’t accepting my password, and by the time I got it figured out, Marji was sold out. I was out for 2019. COVID hit, and Marji 2020 didn’t happen. 2021 rolls around, and I was able to buy an entry! I was in!

Now, I’d like to say the training began, but it was ride when it works like normal, maybe a few harder rides mixed in. I will say I did put in more effort on the rides I did get in. Thursday September 16, I decided I wanted to bring both the Norco 29er and the Salsa fatbike, it was going to be a gameday decision but I was leaning on the fatbike. So I brought it into the shop to have a quick derailleur adjustment…. they told me to upgrade, but had nothing in stock. That did not help the confidence going into the weekend. I get home and begin packing and minutes before leaving realize we have a flat tire…. is this the Marji curse ? An hour or so later we are on the road. We make it to Marquette late Thursday night, Friday we spent exploring and headed to packet pickup. The nerves are real. Friday night we start packing the drop bag and getting the bike ready. Check, double check, change a few things, triple check.

Gameday, 5am wake up, Dave leaves the house before us to set off for the Marji 100. I sit there trying to eat but my stomach was uneasy. We load up and head to the start line. Dan and I had the plan to ride together, push at a good pace, but ultimate goal was to just finish. We arrive in downtown Marquette, beautiful morning, a little chilly but the forecast for the day was perfect. We walked the drop bags down and headed back to the car to get ready and say our goodbyes. 8am the race starts, and we roll out. The first 20 miles had a mix of paved roads, gravel roads, some technical singletrack, two track, and paved bike path. We rolled into Jackson Mine Park to the drop bag location, ahead of schedule and feeling great. In my mind I was thinking “is this really Marji?” Deep down I knew hell was going to be unleashed on the next 40 miles. We topped off our bottles, had a snack, and set off.

The next section was supposed to return us to Jackson Mine Park at roughly 39 miles. As the miles passed on, the trail difficulty continued to ramp up, the descents became more sketchy and the sections we walked became more frequent. The hours rolled on but the miles slowed down. Like I said, we were supposed to return around mile 39. With that mindset, I used the fluids and food I had accordingly. From mile 39 to almost 46 I went without fluids. It’s completely my  fault for passing a couple trail angel aid stations. I was starting to feel cramping in my legs, and our attitudes went from smiles to frustration. As we rolled into Jackson Mine Park at 45.9 miles, we were definitely feeling it. Ok, THIS is Marji, there is no question of that anymore.

I sat down and attempted to eat a PBJ, Coke, and tried to pound the water. I couldn’t eat much, my stomach wasn’t having it. This stop we took a little more time to refuel and gather our thoughts. “If this was really 46 miles in do we really only have roughly 15 to go ???” As we set off on the last leg of this journey, we knew this was going to test us. The terrain was no longer paved.. it was rocky, rooted, knarly singletrack and climb after climb after climb. We kept a good pace pushing forward. Literally pushing our bikes up climbs and grinding up the ones we could. Mile 50-something while Dan was leading the way, he hopped off the bike (this was normal for both of us on this course), but the look on his face said something else. His bike quit on him. The free hub had enough. With limited tools and knowledge on how to fix it, we made the tough decision to part ways. We shed some tears, took a shot, and said our goodbyes. This sucked. It wasn’t what either of us wanted.

Continuing on my own, my mindset was still the same, FINISH. The technical climbs continued, and the speed I was moving continued to drop. We left the second stop, not cocky, but confident we wouldn’t need lights to finish. The speed I was now traveling I was starting to second guess it. I caught up with another rider who had done the race 3 times before and seemed to know the area. He said we had about 3 miles left. It’s amazing how that little news will lift your spirits. With about 2 miles left the leaders (Acker) of the 100 started coming by. We popped out of the woods and had 1 climb left, Jasper’s Knob. Until this point, we had not seen any check points to collect the wooden tokens to prove you completed the course. As we ascended the last climb, all 4 check points were scattered up the hill. We got to the top turned around, and it was downhill from there.

Now, I’m not a big endurance rider or racer, but I’ve done a few. This was mile-for-mile the hardest race that I’ve ever done. There is nowhere around home to prepare for the course conditions. We joked and said maybe if you did Sawtooth at Merrell a hundred times. Overall a GREAT weekend with my wife and friends, great weather and great race. Dan has #unfinishedbusiness, and I’ve committed to give it another shot with him next year.

Brad O’Brien

Marji Gesick 50

Bib # 771

10hrs 15 min