Cycle of life

Activity has lessons for on the trail and for living

Max Barrett finishes a recent Marji Gesick race, a shorter 50-mile version. The 906 Adventure Team and local cycling in general was the subject of a presentation by its “director of adventure,” Todd Poquette, on Tuesday at the Ore Dock Brewing Co. (Photo courtesy of Todd Poquette)

MARQUETTE — Cycling is not just one pedaling movement after another. It requires a mental and physical commitment that can push even the fittest of people beyond their comfort zones.

Barring a major injury, what’s wrong with that?

This type of physical activity — and just introducing youths to riding bikes — was the appropriate subject of the latest talk in the “Local Badass” series, which took place Tuesday at the Ore Dock Brewing Co. in Marquette.

Todd Poquette, “director of adventure” with the 906 Adventure Team, talked about his passion while presenting a slideshow that depicted all sorts of cyclists, from a racer crossing the finish line to another racer completely spent from fatigue.

The team, a nonprofit group, promotes welcoming the community to the bike scene, and involves volunteers and board members with monikers such as “director of shred,” “czar of gnar” and “chief rad-ministrator.”

Much of Poquette’s presentation focused on what undoubtedly is one of the toughest bike races anywhere, the Marji Gesick 100, which leads participants 100 miles over Marquette County’s rocky terrain with an elevation gain of about 12,000 feet.

There also are no official aid stations in what can be unpredictable Upper Peninsula weather.

So how does a cyclist get through this race?

What Poquette calls a “self-supported ethos” is this guiding principle: You are responsible for yourself.

He tells racers: “You’re on your own. You accept responsibility for your preparation, choices and outcome. No one is out there to save you. There are no aid stations. GPS is required. Road rules apply, and in the case of emergency, please dial 911.”

Not only is this ethos promoted at the Marji Gesick, he said it’s urged at the Polar Roll and The Crusher, two other difficult area races.

And at the end of the day, it’s not just about a mountain biker winning a buckle for finishing under 12 hours in the Marji Gesick. It’s about the times in between the races.

As most people living on the planet will attest, life in general is challenging.

“I think that you can use this as your ethos for life,” Poquette said.

That ethos even is infused in the 906 Adventure Team’s youth biking programming, but in a different tone.

“We’re still living by those same rules,” Poquette said. “We’re trying to impart that type of approach to life to the kids.”

Still, race participants have to make that physical effort to make forward — or rather upward — progression on places such as Mount Marquette Road, which is not the easiest road in the area to climb.

Is there a perception of masochism with such pursuits?

It’s a balance of marketing and the deeper message, Poquette said.

“It’s part of the show,” Poquette said. “We’re not running an event in so much as we’re running an experience. We want people, when they go home, to talk about it, and we hope that it changes them in some way.”

He stressed race organizers don’t want to break down people.

However, that’s always a distinct possibility.

“We’re trying to, I’m going to say, take them to the edge, and maybe in the process, they’re going to break and they’re going to quit,” Poquette said. “That might happen. It has happened. In fact, it happens half the time or more.

“But the hope is that they’re going to come back stronger from it.”

Practice and commitment can go a long way toward succeeding at the edge.

However, Poquette noted some racers have finished the Marji Gesick 100 in spite of not training for the grueling event.

“I’ve seen people purely out of mental fortitude and force of will finish the the Marji after not having really prepared for it at all,” he said, “while at the same time, men and women who spent a year preparing quit. They were physically conditioned at a superior level, but they quit because they didn’t have it.”

That “it,” he said, involves racers increasing their potential and, in the process, creating better versions of themselves.

And it’s not just about the racers. Something about the enormous challenge the Marji Gesick presents to the cyclists brings out the humanity in the community.

“There’s aid stations that people set up that I have nothing to do with,” Poquette said, “and they’re taking care of people that are complete strangers, all day and into the night. That’s what the world should be. When you get yourself into moments of struggle, we are built to eliminate things that don’t serve us.”

However, kids need to learn to finish what they start, he said, although the 906 Adventure Team’s Adventure Bike Club has many practical aspects to it, such as caring for their bicycles and dealing with minor mechanical issues — at an age-appropriate level, of course.

The club’s focus, though, is not competition.

“We want them to ride with their group and really just have them experience a great social environment where they’re challenged,” Poquette said.

By his observations, that seems to have been accomplished.

“I’m just blown away by the way they gel as they create their own little groups,” Poquette said. “They support each other. They improve at an incredible rate, and the whole thing just evolves in front of you.”

With cycling, he noted, they can carry what they learn from the activity into the adult lives.

“They’re never going to age out of this sport,” Poquette said.

For more information on the 906 Adventure Team, visit 906adventure.com.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.