Saturday, June 20, 2015

Something for Everyone - Riding Marquette MI and the IMBA Regional Summit

Did you know that mountain bikers have their own terms for things?  Like scabs are called “bacon,” and a “yard sale” is a crash where your parts and kit end up scattered across the trail. 

Makin' Bacon in Marquette
Mountain bikers even have our own time zone, SMBT (Standard Mountain Biker Time).  SMBT is approximately 20-45 minutes later than whatever time zone you are actually in.  So when your friend says “Let’s meet at the trail head at 10:00,” it is generally understood that he will arrive around 10:30. 

We said we'd be there at 4:00
And, as I found out this weekend in Marquette Michigan, we even have different dialects among mountain bikers around the US. 

Marquette was the host city for the IMBA Great Lakes/Upper Midwest Summit.  My friend and fellow COMBO (Central Ohio Mountain Biking Organization) board member Dean and I left early Friday from Columbus, Ohio for the summit.  We were looking forward to the opportunity to geek out with other bike nerds, learn from the IMBA presenters, and, most importantly, sample the sweet singletrack on offer at the IMBA Bronze-level ride center in Marquette.  Our friend Rick Armstrong from Gator’s Bike Park met us there. 

An ominous odometer reading on the way to Marquette.
Rick arrived before us and had already ridden some of the trails.  When we met up, Rick told us about his ride.  Using a term he had picked up from the locals, he described a certain portion of the trail as “two track”.  The first time Dean and I heard the term, we ignored it.  The second time Rick used it, we asked “what’s two track?”  Rick explained that “two track” referred to “jeep road” or broad patches of trail where two bikes can ride side by side. 

Rick uses a lifeline to "phone a friend."  Still chose the wrong answer.
“Hell with that.”  I said.  “That’s called doubletrack.”  Everybody knows that.  Except, apparently for people in the Upper Peninsula.  Well, and they call it “two track” in Florida too.   Figures. 

Sweet Michigan Two Track
This phrase makes no sense.  Everybody (including people in the UP and FL) call one-lane trails “singletrack.”  So, of course, trail that accommodates two bikes naturally is called “doubletrack.”  Otherwise, we’d all be riding on “one track.”  I mean, really.  Still, once I rode the trails, I was able to forgive the Michiganders (just not Rick).

UP One Track?
We let Rick finish his story anyway, and then we went to register for the summit.  At registration, we found that there was some local beer chilling on ice, so we poached a couple.  Turns out Marquette is a beer town with a mountain bike problem.  These particular brews were provided by Blackrocks Brewery, who is donating 10% of all sales of its delicious 51K IPA back to the trails.  How awesome is that?  Plus, they had cans of their Honey Lav and North Third Stout available.  Something for everyone (but all for me).  Hey Blackrocks, want to expand into Columbus Ohio?

After registration, we decided to go ride while we still had daylight.  We headed out to the Marquette South Trails, which we could reach from our hotel just by taking a short ride along the lake on the bike path.  We were staying at the Hampton Inn, which had awesome views and great staff.  They were super accommodating to us, providing a bike storage room and a bike wash station.  And the staff didn’t bat an eye as we came in dirty and stinky from a ride.  They even gave me newspaper to stuff in my wet shoes and a garbage bag in which to stow my dirty duds.

The view from Hampton's patio.  That's the real "ore dock" on the left.
The bike path leading to the trails provided some amazing views of the lake.  Lake Superior is so cold and clear and big.  The vastness shrinks my own small and cluttered worries, pushing them out just like sleep or hunger does.  That’s why I come.

I lament our own Great Lake, Erie, which is fucked.  We have this giant, amazing body of water so near.  And I am so drawn to it, but I can’t go in.  Took my daughter camping on the lake shore last year, and we couldn’t swim at all.  Between the toxic algae and the e-coli, it’s damned poisonous.  I know it’s partly because Lake Erie is at the bottom of the lake chain.  Whereas Lake Superior is fed by mountain snows, Erie is fed by the other lakes.  And it’s warmer.  But really, overuse and abuse, mainly by farmers, has fouled it with phosphorous runoff from fertilizers and manure.  And our own shit.  Literally.  Maybe there’s still hope, but it won’t be coming quickly. 
The green stuff is algae.   How are you not freaked out?
By the way, did you know that Michigan was given the Upper Peninsula as part of the settlement for losing Toledo to Ohio in the Ohio-Michigan War?  Wonder if it's too late to trade back . . .

Anyway, if you headed the other direction, the bike path would take you into town, past several great bars and restaurants.  My favorite was the Ore Dock.  More on that later.  After a spin out on the paved path, we reached the East Access point for the Marquette South Trails.

Dean and I were itching to stretch our legs after the ten-hour drive, and we went fast out of the gate.  Rick, who was already tired from riding earlier in the day, dropped off after a couple miles to go find some more Blackrocks IPA.  Dean and I raced each other out the rocky Blue loop, climbing out on Up a Creek, Secret, Split Tree and Gurly, and Flowing back down Doctors and Forget Me Not. 

We mostly rode the blue trails on the right.
Then we tackled the killer climb on the gravel Mt. Marquette Road, to check out Mount Marquette overlook. 

Downhill again on singletrack, as it started getting dark, just in time to miss most of the food at the evening’s reception.  Guess the schedule wasn’t written in SMBT.  At least there was still beer. 
In the morning, we looked longingly out the window at the terrain in the distance, knowing that it would be a while before we could ride again.  It was conference time. 
Dean and Rick wanted to drive to the workshops location (because they’re woosies).  The conference was at Northern Michigan University, a fitting site, because it felt like we were back in school. 

Chris Kehmeier drops science .  Photo by Griff Wigley
I demonstrate proper duckface for the class.  Photo by Griff Wigley.

Michael Brunet board member with the Noquemanon Trails Network.  Photo by Griff Wigley

Rick plays on his tablet while pretending to take notes.  Photo by Griff Wigley

The conference was only a couple miles away, and I like seeing a city by bike, so I opted to ride.  But, just as I was hopping on my bike, I saw Dean walk out with Gary Fisher.  Apparently, his Trek colleagues were nowhere to be found (maybe a little too much IPA?) and so, Dean had offered him a ride to the conference.  And I had already taken my bike off Dean’s rack.  Dammit.
When we got to the NMU Dome, there was coffee, Danish, and welcoming remarks from IMBA’s Executive Director Mike Van Able, who shared his vision for the chapter program and some recent successes.  As good as Mike is at giving a speech (never trust a guy who starts with “I’ll be brief”), I’m certain that his real gift is the ability to get things done.  After his welcome, we were off to our workshops.
There was a little bit of education for everyone.  For instance, while Dean attended a session on the bells and whistles of our member database system, I attended a seminar on building amazing bike skills parks.  Both sessions have direct impact on COMBO’s upcoming projects.  We also learned about effective fundraising, partnering with industry, working with land managers, and strategic planning.  Dean, Rick, and I each picked seminars that lit our own lamps. 
Me, Gary, and Mike.  Besties.  For reals.
But you don’t really care about that, do you?  You’d rather just ride.  Yeah, me too.  And Dean too.  And Rick too.  But that’s what being a COMBO board member is all about.  We sit in plastic chairs through hours of PowerPoint presentations.  We soak it all in, so we can turn around and provide better trails for you (and us). 
Because really, without trails, where would you ride?
Dean’s a skilled media and marketing guy, so those sessions on how to pull analytics from our database were right up his alley.  Rick is fighting like hell to provide more trails for kids.  He wants to learn what makes land managers tick.  And me, I have projects in the hopper.  I need to know how to turn the materials into a finished product.  The summit offered something for each of us.

There was even one of these.  (Columbus friends will get the reference)

Perhaps more importantly, the summit offered us the opportunity to connect with old friends and make some new ones.  We talked with Mike Ryba from CAMBA who was a key player in Ohio Mountain Biking history and who continues to fight the good fight in Cuyahoga County.  His 14-year fight for access at Cuyahoga River Park is finally paying dividends.
We also hung out with Paul Arlinghaus, who is my personal role model, and who has accomplished so much for mountain bikers in the state of Indiana that he was recently recognized with the 2015 Outstanding Trail Advocate from the Indiana Greenways Foundation.  And really, who in Columbus doesn’t love the trails in Brown County Indiana? 

Me, Paul, and Mike.  Also Besties.  For reals. 

 It was also an opportunity to deepen COMBO’s friendships in IMBA.  I love telling Mike Van Able our story, and I love how genuinely excited he is to hear it.  We talked about taking our kids mountain biking.  And friends like Tammy Mebane, Matt Andrews, Sallie Hoefer, and Chris Kehmeier, whose passion and knowledge are a tremendous resource for local chapters like COMBO.
Michelle Barker helps us strategize fundraising
Oh, and did I forget to mention that we got to hang with Gary Fisher?  Awesome.  He spoke to us and inspired all of us.  We are keeping communities happy, healthy, and smart.  As he explained, what we’re doing is “righteous, righteous, righteous.”  Right on. 
Also, at some point, we had the realization that Gary Fisher, at this point in his career, is getting a salary just to show up and be Gary Fisher.  How righteous is that? 
We left the conference in the late afternoon, knowing that there were hours of daylight left in this Northern latitude and ready to go hit some trails.
Today we were going to do a group ride of some trails of the local IMBA chapter, RAMBA, but, as it happens, that was not to be.  First, within the first 100 yard of trail, Dean ripped a sidewall on his rear tire.  It was not repairable and he didn’t bring a spare tire.  So, we headed back to the car.  Fortunately, Dean had brought a spare bike, but by the time he got his pedals changed, the rest of the group was long gone.  We rode a while trying to find the path they were on, but ultimately abandoned it.  Wish I could have spent more time with the RAMBA folks, but they were awesome hosts and have made some truly amazing trails!
We decided to try a bike shop for Dean’s tire, but the shop was closed when we got there.  In fairness, the Quick Stop Bike Shop guys had spent a lot of time helping with the summit.  And I guess the whole town was out riding with Gary Fisher.  As we sat down for dinner, I was getting edgy, watching the daylight slip away.
Finally, we headed back out to the Benson Downhill & Freeride area on the South Trails. 
We stopped for a minute to watch Gary Fisher open a new jump line.  He did the ribbon cutting with a backhoe, while showered by Blackrocks beer.  That’s how you open a trail, properly baptized with beer by the father of mountain biking!
But we rode on.  And, wouldn’t you know it, after one run on the downhill at Down Dogger, it started drizzling.  The mosquitoes were coming thick and heavy too.  You couldn’t stop too long or you’d get swarmed.  Poor Dean’s arms looked like he had been carrying an angry porcupine. 
His legs didn't look much better
Thing is, bats eat mosquitoes.  But in this part of North America, bats are in serious trouble.  They are dying off in mass numbers thanks to a fungus called white nose syndrome.  In 2012, the disease was estimated to kill between 5.7 million and 6.7 million bats, with 90% of populations wiped out when the fungus hits a location.  Bad news—it’s headed to Ohio. 
We stayed out as long as we could in the rain and the twilight, until we decided to call it a night.  Then, it was back to the hotel for a shower and a run to the Ore Dock for our evening mixer, just in time to miss all the food.  Damn.  It’s like these IMBA folks are not running on SMBT.  Damned Midwesterners and their punctuality.
The Ore Dock was great.  Excellent local beers and we got to party with Gary Fisher.  For a man of 65 years, he sure knows how to get down!
Party at the Ore Dock!  Helmets on for safety.  Photo by Griff Wigley
In the morning, we were struck with another case of SMBT syndrome.  We were supposed to meet our Great Lakes cohorts for breakfast at 8:00, but we all overslept and didn’t even get up until 8:30.  (Sorry Tammy!)  I guess we were each depending on the other to set an alarm.

So, we gulped down our breakfasts for a few extra trail miles before heading out on the long drive home.  By now, we had all settled into our own riding styles and were picking our own routes for our last day.  Dean, a converted roadie, was looking for hills to climb.  A former personal trainer, Dean is all about the athleticism and grace that comes with momentum and flow.  He wanted to charge up some hills and then pour back down on smooth singletrack. 

Rick, on the other hand, was looking to bomb some downhill.  If you know Rick, this won’t surprise you.  It fits his personality.  You gotta be fearless and confident to enjoy downhilling, and Rick has both qualities in spades. 

So, he shuttled up the Benson grade on the back of a pickup truck to bomb back down. 
Me, I set out early.  I was about one thing: some long cross country miles.  I lit out earlier than the others and just rode as much as I could in the time we had left.  I followed some cross country tails along a river gorge (“Gorgeous”) along the top of a long buried pipeline (“Pipe Dreams”), over rocks and roots, and past a beautiful waterfall.  The last minutes of my day were spend coasting down a long strip of flow trail back to my hotel room.  Nothing but smiles! 


This trail system really does offer something for everyone.  No wonder it was awarded the IMBA Bronze-level designation.  I can’t wait to get back and ride some more; we only scratched the surface of Marquette.  Ideally, I’d spend a week in the Upper Peninsula, and include a trip to Copper Harbor as well.


Somehow, Dean, Rick and I all arrived back at the hotel at the same time.  We had told the nice lady at the hotel counter that we’d be checking out at 1:00.  She forgot to ask whether that was SMBT.  So, when we actually showed up, dirty and swaty at the hotel at 1:00 (right on SMBT time), to pack shower, and leave, we found that our key cards didn’t work.  But the hotel staff was totally cool, and let us get back in the room to shower and gather our belongings.  Looking at the state of the bathtub when we finished, I fished all the cash I had out of my wallet to leave the cleaning lady for a tip.
Double rainbow on the way home. Dean cried a little.
On the ride home, Dean and I shared what we had learned.  We couldn’t wait to get back to Columbus and share with the other board members.  So many good ideas for our organization!  When I finally got home, my wife was in bed already.  But it’s cool.  She knew I meant 10:00 SMBT.
Be brave, and do it in your own way.




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