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A Marquette Trail Running Adventure

Last weekend I had the opportunity to tag along on one of those "epic adventures".  Hyperbole I know, but this is the type of thing that I think that label really should apply to.

Let's step back just a tad.  Fellow Sasquatch runner Jason is signed up for the Marquette 50 miler this coming August.  Cyclova XC's own Starr is also signed up for the Marji Gesick 50 miler in September.  I think they are both nuts, but I mean that in the nicest, I'm kinda envious of their goals, kind of way.  Anyhow, Jason had a trip planned to Marquette to do a 20 mile training run on the course, specifically the Four Peaks Loop.

Starr said it sounded like a good idea and lined up pretty well with her training plan.  At the time I had no real desire to go run that much, but I had heard Marquette is a pretty sweet town with great mountain bike trails so I'd be able to keep myself busy.  We made plans to camp at Tourist Park right in town pretty much a short bike ride from anywhere.

Starr and I arrived at about 7:30 on Friday evening after a pretty painless, but somewhat long 6.5 hour drive.  The forecast had been calling for likely rain pretty much all weekend.  We had driven out of the rain about an hour before arriving so we took the chance to get camp setup quick and then go hop out on the Noquemanon Train Network North Trails for about an hour of mountain biking.  Being on the very far western edge of the eastern time zone gives you a little extra boost in daylight and we made use of it.

The trails we rode were pretty dang cool.  Some rooty and rocky river bank, a big dam, some post apocalyptic looking old power equipment, some good forested climbs and one of the biggest sand pits I've ever seen.  I didn't remember to grab the camera for this ride, so you'll have to believe me when I say the scenery made it hard to keep my eyes on the trail.

Adventure Run

After a good night of sleep we woke up to drizzle and gray skies.  We ate breakfast, dressed for a run, filled hydration and packed nutrition and headed up to the Forestville Trailhead.  At this point my plan was still to run for a while and then head back.  That was soon to change though.

Jason getting us oriented at the Forestville Trailhead.
Jason was our tour guide for this adventure.  He had done the loop two years prior during his Marquette 50k run.  So he was navigating by memory, and by following his GPS track.  In the dense trail network up there that can be challenging.  Overall we managed just fine though.

Pretty quickly we were off and running through the Noquemanon ski trails, but very shortly onto the North Country Hiking trail.  I was immediately in love.  The single track was sweet, the terrain rugged and ever changing, the forests lush and green, the streams and creaks gurgling with the recent rain.

Very early on in the run on the single track.
Only a few miles in and we were to discover why the Marquette 50 is one of the most challenging trail races in the region.  This is the four peak loop, and we were tackling the first peak Hogback.  While we aren't talking mountain peaks here, the climb was real, and rugged.

The drizzle had progressed at this point to a steady light rain.  This made the scrambling on the rocks a bit treacherous.  It even made identifying the trail difficult because it went places that just didn't look safe given the conditions.  We definitely took the slow and steady approach here.

After cresting Hogback, we descended off the other side finding that it was definitely the longer hill.  Eventually we worked our way down through what I imagine the Pacific Northwest is like with the huge trees, soft and spongy footing, and persistent dampness.

Next up was a long runnable stretch on the way to Top of the World.  We settled into a nice rhythm of easy running here.  We were only about 4 miles into the run, but I was already thinking there was no way I was going to miss out on the rest of the run.  Not only was this way too cool, but the persistent precipitation was going to make riding impossible anyhow.  On the top of Top of the World Starr put the words right in my mouth before I ever said anything telling me I was not going back only to miss out on the rest of this adventure.  Yup.
Not a bad looking crew.

Cruising through the forest on our way to Heartbreak.
The climb to Top of the World was very slow and steady with only the last quarter mile being a bit steeper but no scrambling involved.  The view from the top?  Not that impressive.  The cool whisps of clouds from Hogback were now a solid bank of clouds obscuring pretty much everything.

Again, we had some difficulty discerning the trail off the peak.  The wet rocks were making slopes look much steeper and treacherous than they were or would appear in dry conditions.  We did find our way down though without incident and were off in search of the next peak.

While we only saw six other people in 20 miles, we were clearly not alone in the woods.
That route took us along Harlow Lake and then on some kind of swampy single track and ATV trails.  Starr and I commented that it was very Gravel Conspiracy-esq in the road conditions.  That is a good thing if you are looking for rugged.

Eventually we summited Bareback.  Again, the views were mostly of the clouds and rain.  In particular I found this descent to be quite sketchy.  In fact, I even videoed my lack of appreciation for going down.  The video takes some of the steepness out.  I promise it looked bigger in person.  It was only a few minutes later I slipped and landed flat on my butt.  Thankfully I had been preparing for that and it didn't cause any lasting damage.

After finally making it off of Bareback we ran along the other end of Harlow Lake before another pretty stretch of running along some creeks in the forest.  This was where we probably made our biggest navigational error and maybe added an extra half a mile round trip.  I say it was just to check out the cool flower right where we turned around.

How Jason knew these flowers were here and we should go look at them off the course I'll never know.

After getting back on course we eventually made our way down to the south shore of Lake Superior.  The dreary weather prevented sweeping views of the lake, it had its own peaceful beauty to it.

At this point it also started feeling a little cool.  We had been out running for around 3.5 hours now in the rain the whole time.  With just a little breeze off the lake our hands were all getting a bit chilly.  I was also beginning to suffer a little bit.  We were venturing into the longest run I had done since the Ice Box back in November territory and despite the easy pace, my legs were definitely giving me a piece of their mind.

Private cove on the shores of Lake Superior
After a beautiful run along the shore we abruptly headed inland, and upwards.  Had we run the loop counter clockwise, Hogback would have been a bigger climb, but this direction we saved the biggest for last too.  In under a mile we gained over 400 feet.  There was a few sets of stairs involved, but there was also plenty of rugged rocks.  It had also been about 4.5 hours of steady rain at this point and it was really wet.

Sugar Loaf is traveled enough to get some stairs.

Rugged, wet, beautiful

The views from the top of Sugarloaf continued to be about the same as the last two peaks.  We did stop for our group pictures though for posterity.

After Sugarloaf I figured we were about home free with just a few miles to go.  What I didn't realize at the time was that we had another 250+ feet to climb over a mile once we got off the peak.  I was getting a little bit of a second wind while hiking some of the steeper sections, but my legs were definitely indicating that they were ready to be done.

We don't have any pictures of us at the finish back in Forestville.  Jason and Starr were both looking and feeling good and started pounding their recovery protein drinks.  I immediately fell on the box of Cheesits in the car being pretty hungry.  I hadn't planned on going the whole way and hadn't brought sufficient nutrition so had been bumming food for the last few hours.  To say I was in a calorie deficit is probably an understatement.


After a nice warm shower we headed into town and got some pretty good pasta at the Pasta Shop.  We followed that up with some awesome candy from Donkers, and finally more recovery beverages at Blackrocks Brew Pub.

The rain that had been steady all day subsided and we were able to sit around a campfire for the rest of the evening.  It was a great trip despite, or maybe because of the weather.  I can't wait to get back out to Marquette again and explore more of the trails by foot and by bike.

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