Markagram 2019: Event Recap
Markagram, perhaps one of the most intriguing events we’ve seen, follows a 264km route in Norway that traces the shape of a pentagram. For 2019, there were only a couple of finishers, a sheep’s head was eaten, and black metal music was enjoyed by all. Read on for a recap from Andrew Schaper…
Words by Andrew Schaper; photos by Emanuel Verde; color photo gallery by Daniel Golden
Each year we arrange this brevet, we wonder if this will be the year when the weather ravages the riders and not a single person finishes. Judging by the forecasts leading up to event day this year, it seemed like this could be the year. There were a series of heavy rainfalls the week before and a good chance of snow pack in the higher altitudes of Nordmarka (the expansive forest north of Oslo). Those factors could make for a heavy slog through wetter areas of the course that traces an upside down pentagram of 264km (164 miles) on the gravel trails and paths of ‘Marka’. With temperatures hovering around the freezing point, the potential for a lack of morale was high. Factor in the entire race taking place in the dark, and I was starting to feel bad for these guys. It’s is exactly what they come for, though, I reminded myself.
To boost morale, we held a route overview the night before and had a presentation by the main sponsor of Markagram, Search and State. Daniel Golden, the founder of SAS, and some others flew over from NYC to set up a pop-up shop and had created a limited-edition jersey for all the participants. After imbibing a responsible amount of drinks from Rouleur, the bicycle inspired bar that has been the main checkpoint and host to Markagram the last three years, the intrepid randonneurs went home to catch up on the rest needed for their impending voyage.
A group recon ride was held in the morning to assess the conditions and introduce Daniel to the wonder of gravel trails that lie so close to the city. As a former NYC resident, I knew it was something he would appreciate. To our surprise and sadistic disappointment, we found the trails to be not just dry, but actually really fast. At least the air was bone-chillingly wet and cold.
Roll out was at 7:00 PM that night, and riders began gathering at Rouleur hours before. Most were clad in lycra and wool armour needed for the venture, and some were scrambling around fiddling with sealant and undercharged batteries and packing sacks of provisions to haul or store in strategic locations in the woods. There are no places to restock at 4:00 AM in the middle of a dark forest. All were ingesting cup after cup of coffee provided by Lippe Coffee, a local sponsor in the snobbiest of coffee cities.
As the fateful hour approached, we issued the riders their tarot cards that served as their guiding spirit and the identical card they needed to retrieve from a pack located at all the four other checkpoints. With a freshly marked pentagram on all their foreheads, the armada struck out into the night in a scurry of different directions and fates. Those of us who organized it remained in the cowardly warmth of our tavern and enjoyed updates of wrong turns and abandonments throughout the night. With an extended length from last year and almost 5,000 meters (16,400′), the 12-hour time limit seemed daunting, maybe impossible. Previous editions had people coming in within minutes, before and after the deadline. We would see.
I arrived at 6:00 AM with supplies for making American pancakes for the weary travellers. With a stack of flapjacks steaming on a plate at 7:00 AM, it became apparent that no one was making the time limit this year. Two hours later, the cakes were cold and half eaten, but still no riders had arrived. Finally, three desperados arrived, familiar faces who had completed the previous two editions. Not this year. They abandoned before heading back toward the last checkpoint. Such is the cruel nature of this race: you are given many opportunities to scratch when heading south toward a checkpoint. You can continue toward a warm bed or head back north into the cold, dark woods. About an hour later we had the arrival of the only known finishers of the full course, a couple of experienced Norwegians who were no strangers to long-distance gravel after competing in Dirty Kanza earlier this year. At around noon we packed up the welcome party, realizing anyone else still out there would most likely head home to bed.
As tradition dictates, a viking feast was held that night with the requisite Smalahove (half a sheep head) accompanied with the delightful playlist of black metal spun by local dark DJ, Sten Ove Toft. Battle stories were told and we learned only three others had completed the full course and many had abandoned due to the cold and the resulting mental and physical fatigue from the climbing that can find you descending only to turn around and climb the same hill, another literal dark turn that adds to the heaviness of this race.
One positive aspect I heard from someone who completed the race was that this year coincided with a full moon that allowed them to ride with lights off and moonlight lighting the way. A common reflection for those who rode through the night was that as the sun rose and illuminated the surrounding lush forest, it served as a reward and inspired them to relish the achievement of partaking in such a harrowing night of adventure. Those who have completed the five checkpoints within the time, or maybe only collected one checkpoint, all have the resounding memory that heading out into the unknown away from safety and light is a priceless feeling of abandon and freedom as sweet as returning to the warmth and security of their well lit home.
Plans are already in the works for next year’s Markagram, and its unique format could be applied to many areas, which has us thinking…
Can you imagine this event as a longer, two-day ride? We can. And we look forward to seeing where it goes. Stay tuned over at Markagram.cc.
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