Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lost in the Pioneer Valley: first time at D2R2

The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee is just one big long hard day in the saddle, if you need the dirty truth. In the past 7 years it has become THE ride to do in the summer, the course is now the stuff of legends. I have always had a reason to avoid the D2R2 (too far away, too expensive, too close the cyclocross season, too long, blah, blah, blah). In truth I was just worried about covering 90-112 miles of dirt roads with serious climbs and be able to drive home afterward. But since I broke my mountain bike a few weeks ago, the choice was stay home and train alone, or go to Deerfield for a long pre-cx training camp with 600 or so others.

Dirt road ronde's are becoming a thing in New England. While the mid-Atlantic states have developed "Monster 'cross" and the mid-West has gravel grinders, we have the dirt road ronde. The dirt road ronde covers 60 or more miles with 50% or more dirt track, but in a intensely non-competitive way and with a big dose of post ride camaraderie. By intensely non-competitive I mean that none of these events officially post results, but everyone wants to ride as hard as they can. None of the rondes have winners, but a lot of people are riding just short of race effort. Between the Jam Foundation Gran Fundo, the Ronde de Rosey, and the new Kersarge Klassic we may have enough events for a New England series. Imagine that, a whole summer of cyclocross rides before cyclocross season! But I digress.

The night before this year's D2R2 turned to a hard thunderstorm driven rain. I hoped that all would be clear by day break, but it was not. I was glad that I had not registered for the 180km route with a 6 a.m. start. At 7:00 it was still raining lightly in Deerfield. Fortunately by 8:00 the rain had stopped but the roads were damp. I contacted Doug Aspinwall to have some one to ride with for the event. We both signed up for the 115km route. I figured 72 miles of dirt roads and climbs was more than enough riding for 4 weeks before cyclocross season. I also figured Doug had ridden this before since he lives a mere 20 miles away, but I was wrong. No worries, though, he had plenty of local buddies that we would ride with, at least for a while.

We rolled out at 8:10 over the timing mat. (this is the only charity ride I've done with timing chips, but likely they were worth while to account for all the riders if nothing else). Doug and I slotted in with 6 of his friends and/or team mates who had ridden this route before. We covered about 9 miles of tarmac before the first gradual dirt road section. After the first water stop at mile 14 the hard riding began. The first few dirt hills were relatively short (all under a mile long) and not horribly steep. I found that Doug and I were gaping most of the others in our group on these punchy climbs. But we waited at the appropriate spots to re-group. Doug certainly had a better idea of what was coming than I did. The last hill before the lunch stop was a long slog, about 3 miles to the ultimate top. I started a little too hard at the bottom and had to grind my way slowly for the last half mile. We grouped up and descended quickly to the covered bridge.

The spread at the Green River lunch stop was marvelous. I clearly had not eaten enough in the first 3 hours of riding, because two sandwiches, a bag of chips, some pasta salad, and a few pickles all looked good to me. I did refrain from the second sandwich in the end, but by the time I was finished, most of the group had already left. Doug was waiting for me, but we had been ditched. I figured we'd catch them after 10 miles or so. But the too large sandwich I ate was sitting in my gut like a rock. I was climbing like a lethargic bowling ball. We had second thoughts about the route as 100km and 180km riders kept coming toward us on the opposite side of the road. We then took a wrong turn onto the 100km route. After a very fast and frightening descent we realized we would need to go back to the Green River lunch stop. We saw multiple flats and one broken collar bone on the descent down Deer Park Road. Dodging the road debris and riders fixing flats was harrowing.

After reviewing the map and various coarse options, Doug and I decided to finish the 100 km route. We would have put in 78 miles for the day on that course. Cruising down Green River Road at 24 mph with Doug was a blast. We quickly over took several small groups of 100km riders. I enjoyed seeing the wide variety of cyclists who came out for the event. But I then made a wrong turn up a paved climb and we find our selves at another juncture with the 180km route. Rather than back track, we decided to follow the 180km route for the final 27 miles of that course. By luck we crossed paths with Dave Penney, Doug Jansen, and the Wilcox among others on the long route.

We started the one hill I knew of before the ride just behind Dave Penney, Patten Hill Road. Dave and his buddy quickly gaped me on the 14% paved section. I kept a steady tempo standing to stomp the gears until the hill flatten a bit. Once the road turned to dirt I had no choice but to sit and grind it out. The last mile stayed at a 9% grade, so spinning was not possible. At the top of the hill, a wedding party was gathered in the adjacent field. It was a lovely day, and a beautiful view. I passed just as the bride was starting her procession. I wondered how many random cyclists would make the wedding photos. C'est la vie.

At the rest stop just past the top of Patten Hill Doug and I stopped. I was very glad to see a tray of dill pickles, as well as pretzels, watermelon, and bananas. The day was not very hot, but it was sunny, and six hours of saddle time was wringing me out. Several friends of ours on the 180km course were also stopping for their last rest. Doug and I started off again just behind a group lead by Dave Wilcox. I had to concentrate very hard to maintain control at the speed we was descending on dirt roads. I fought to stick with his group over the first few rolling climbs. But eventually my elastic snapped, I was a drift from the group for good. Doug and I attached to another group of riders with about 5 miles to go. Once we hit the flat pavement back to Old Deerfield I got a last burst of energy. We traded tempo pulls in the group until the last few hundred meters.

After the ride finished, I got a newly minted copy of Molly Hurford's book on US Cyclocross. I gathered my free pint of Berkshire Brewing beer and plate of food. I got to catch up with Steve Weller, Sara Foulkes, and several of my cyclocross buddies over dinner. It was a swell party.

While it was fun to sample some of each route on the D2R2, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. The confusion and stress were not worth the effort of sampling each route. But with nice weather and finishing the ride with friends, I had a great time. Every New England cyclist should consider riding the D2R2 at least once. It is a great grand ride.