I first heard about this ride from quasi-teammate Helicopter Matt, who rode the inaugural event the full 170k distance. He spoke of steep hills, loose dirt roads, and a whole lot of pain. Matty is a strong rider, and by strong I don't mean super powerful on the flats or nimble on the climbs, though he is clearly no slouch. I mean that he's the kind of guy who goes as hard as he can no matter the circumstances, isn't afraid of a challenge, and would ride a fixed gear messenger bike at a dual slalom downhill race if that was all he had available to him. Tough is a good way to describe him, or better still, Polish. I'm Lithuanian so I kind of get it...
Anyway, I missed the 2008 event for some reason despite the rave reviews from the crew over at vsalon. I made it a point to sign up for 2009. The ride is so great the legendary Richard Sachs decided to sell his home in Chester CT and relocate to Franklin county after 30 years in the nutmeg state. I selected the 100k option because riding your bike should be fun, not torture, and you shouldn't hate your bike after any one ride. The 170k threatened all of these principles.
Saturday August 15th was the date of the ride and coincidentally the first day of a week long family vacation on Lake Winnipesaukee. The crew (Mike Z, Rebecca Z, Kenny A, John M, and Gary S) were supposed to meet at the park and ride at 6:30 am, but when I arrived at 6:35, John (also Lithuanian, which would help him out later in the day) was no where to be seen. Our call to his cell phone woke him from his summer slumber: those damn school teachers have the life except for the poor pay, incompetent administrators, self-serving union heads and parents who can't seem to understand or teach their children about the concept of self-accountability. "Meet us there" we said and off we drove, fully expecting that John would not be making the trip up alone and choose additional sleep instead.
We arrived in Deerfield about 90 minutes later and shortly after registering Johnny boy pulls in. What a trooper! We exchanged pleasantries with some low to mid level cycling icons, folks that have at one time or another at least thought if not said out loud "don't you know who I am?" I could name names, but they know who they are.
We had been warned to be prepared for the first hill, which was so steep that if you didn't get there first you were invariably going to be held up by the bottleneck of riders and forced to dismount. Kind of like a cross race, but without the coordinated start and subsequent hole shot. The preferred manner of preparing for this hill was to be first to go and charge into it like the run into the Arenberg Forest. Queue up the Ride of the Valkyries. Alas, we were late to the start and left the registration area at 5 past 9 am or so. Hold the Wagner for now, but we did set a good tempo heading out.
The first 4 miles or so were nice, paved country roads and we all remarked on how pretty it was around there. Two fit chikas from Vernon cycle blasted past us on the first climb and someone commented that the testosterone levels just jumped through the roof as the pace picked up just a bit. Ronnie did well to keep up riding one of the ugliest yet most practical bikes I've ever laid eyes on or ridden... it was awesome but heavy. At mile 4.85 the fun began as Old Albany Rd turned first to dirt, then to gravel, then to a 10%+ washed out climb littered with the aforementioned hike-a-bikers. Johnny was leading it out and I had his wheel, but 1/3 of the way up he slid a bit to much to the left where the sand was soft and the walkers were dense. His cries of "oh no!" meant the climb was done for him. I took first wheel and held firm to the middle of the road which wasn't the most packed down but was free from pedestrians and offered options to both the left and right should I come across any trouble. The road was in best shape where the tires of a car would be, and with the better traction people tended to push their bikes there. I yelled "you people walking, move to the edges so we can ride the firmer stuff" as I grunted past several others, probably sounding and acting more obnoxious than someone wearing a team kit should. I'm sure I bumped a few people looking for some grip. Two minutes into the climb we had cleared the steepest and roughest parts, and only Kenny and I had made it so far without dabbing. Gary and John were back with us but had unclipped on the lower slopes of the hill. Kenny and I traded turns until he inexplicably went up a small knoll just of the road and slid out on the grass. We pushed along and our crew regrouped as we turned left onto South Shelborne Rd. for some super fast and fun dirt road descending. Yahoo!!!
Crossing Rt 2 we had caught up with 3 ECV guys, one of whom I knew from the cross scene to be a strong rider... the kind of guy who never looks like he's working very hard at all. The others two ECV guys were clearly strong as well and as we climbed the second major hill of the day, Cooper Lane, the pace picked up. "Here come the pros" a few slower riders said as our group, now 8-10 strong, thundered up the incline. This road was in better shape and wasn't so steep so the speed was relatively high. We dropped a few guys, but crested the hill at a farmhouse that overlooked a beautiful valley to the east. The road turned to asphalt and we roared down then right back up the valley walls. The view from the top was breathtaking. Picture perfect green hills and crystal clear blues skies. The sun was starting to really heat things up, and here for the first time it was noticeably hotter being out of the woods. We plugged along the final small climb before the rest stop at 13 miles.
I've not had an Oreo in a few years, but that one was delicious. Gary agreed and we shoved off after refilling our water. Until this point, we pretty much had someone in front of us to follow the entire way, but leaving rest stop #1 we were on the point with John as navigator. Well, things got dicey. He'd read one direction at a time, we hit it 30 seconds later, and pass two or three possible turns unsure if we were missing something. Most of the directions came at less than a mile intervals, in fact the longest stretch of the day was only 5 miles with only one other section longer than 3. When we blew past a left turn onto Reynolds Rd. the taunting began. A woman on a sweet Colnago was cackling at John incessantly, and I goaded her into teasing him further. "Hey Magellan, do you need a bigger map?" she asked, cackling further . He was responding to that barb when I said "ok, ok Vasco DeGamma, just get up here and tell us what is up next." John took it all in good humor but this wasn't shaping up to be his day.
We reached some paved roads in Colrain and kept the pace up, passing many on rt 112 before we pulled up with our only flat of the day: John. Ronnie caught us on his Fargo and a relatively lengthy tire change was at least made bearable by the shade of the road side trees. Off again we were 6 strong, having picked up an Arc En Ciel rider who had been generally hanging around with us but seemed to like to attack whenever he got the chance. He had waited while we changed John's tire but immediately took off never to be seen again which was pretty strange.
Our third major climb of the day started out innocently enough with a turn onto Franklin Hill Rd and a bit of confusion as to which of three left turn options was the road and which were driveways. The myriad of tire tracks led up to the first option, and the road gradually grew loose and steep. Gary and Kenny hit the hill hard and I latched on and rode third wheel for 2 minutes or so. The pace slowed a bit but I felt great so I jumped around and pushed ahead, eventually opening a small gap though I didn't know it until we hit this sweet left/right dirt road switchback combination that afforded you a alpe d'huez-like view of the road from which you just came. Awesome. We regrouped, crossed into Vermont, and headed into the northern-most and mostly flat or downhill sections of the ride.
I should mention here that most people we saw were on cross bikes. Perhaps as many as 60% of the riders were using them with their 32-36 mm (about 1.25" to 1.5") wide knobbed tires. Maybe another 25% were on mountain bikes with tires in the 2-2.5 inch width range, with the remaining idiots riding road bikes with 23-28 mm (.75"-1") wide slick tires. Count our entire group in that last category. It was in this section that we first discovered that a wider knob covered tire would have been nice to have. We bombed the hills anyway, hitting speeds of 30+ mph on dirt roads and feeling so much vibration through the bars and pedals that your hands and feet stung. Kenny, Gary and I were dropping fast, passing lots of people on bikes better equipped for the job, but there was no sign of Mike or John. We pulled to the side and waited while others passed, a few saying that "one of your guys had a flat" but soon "one of your guys crashed." This was not good news and we waited for what seemed like forever with a growing crowd of friends.
John and Mike came into view and it was clear that John had gone down. He had that glassy look in his eyes and he kept saying "I don't know how I went down." However it happened, it must have been hard as his helmet was destroyed and his arm and jersey were pretty torn up. We regrouped and rolled out to the next rest stop which was just a few miles away. There, John was pressured into calling it a day, no one wanted to see him crash again and he was clearly not in the right state of mind to go another 30 miles or so. We dined on PB&J sandwiches and the best trail mix I've ever had in my life.
The handling of John took some time, and friends Ronnie, Tom N and Brian G had all waited for us which was nice. What was not nice was the way we hit Green River Rd coming out of that stop. The 10 miles immediately after the stop were flat, fast, twisty and tons of fun. Mike Z set an insane pace in the high 20s for 4 miles or so, and when he pulled off we had dropped the guys who had waited so long for us. Whoopsie! I'd say "sorry" but can't because I took over and kept the pace high, screaming along the river on this gnarly dirt road that made you think of the spring classics. Replay that Valkyries now. Gary eventually came to the front and drove the final section and later we learned that Kenny was right at the edge of popping here... the long stop combined with eating lunch took the wind out of his sails and 350 watt+ pulls were not helping him get back into it.
The fun of this flat road ended quickly when we turned right onto Nelson Rd, which climbed up and away from the river below. This was the fourth major climb of the day, and it hurt after that run along the valley floor. The grade was steady and the dirt not so loose, but we were now 3 hours or so into this thing, the sun was hotter than ever, and what the hell were we thinking by bombing along that river road?! Gary and I once again set the pace, with Kenny and Mike just behind. Our ascent continued on for 6 miles mostly on dirt and finishing with an absolute beast of a climb up Peckville Rd to the third water stop. This final mile was a straight up stair-step paved road out in the wide open and very hot sun. Gary and I duked it out and pulled into the rest stop craving more water and food. They had the best fresh-picked peaches and plums I had ever eaten.. and I ate many that afternoon.
The next set of directions was interesting, with the cue sheet telling us to first turn right onto Rt. 2, then right onto a side road, only to turn back left onto Rt. 2 a mile or so later. We all knew what that meant: some smarta$$ wanted us to climb some ungodly steep hill that they found rather than sending us the most direct way. Sure enough, we turned onto and then off rt 2 to discover Skinner Rd went pretty much straight up for 200 meters. Back across Rt 2 we were heading into the final sections of the ride and the "gnarly descent" of Hawk's Rd per the cue sheet. Gnarly but fun and a bit frightening on bikes clearly not suited for the purpose. We all survived though and merged back onto one of the paved roads that we had started the ride on, around the spot that the two girls had passed us.
We picked up two guys on cross bikes for the run in to the finish, and a train formed as we flew across the fields abutting the Deerfield River. We arrived safe and happy and were glad to see John hop out of the organizers truck a few minutes later looking a bit better and glad he had choosen to get a ride back. We cleaned up at Deerfield Academy and enjoyed free food and beer courtesy of Bershire Brewing Company.
An hour after finishing the ride I met my mother at Yankee Candle to pick up the kids and take them north to the lake house a short 3 hour drive away. It was a long day, but I will not miss D2R2 in the years to come regardless of what else may be going on. I would love to ride this course in the rain on cross bike but when dry, a road bike is more than enough.
Stats: 61.5 miles, 7,500' climbing, 4:20 minutes ride time.
Gearing: 53/39 front, 12/27 rear
Wheels: DT swiss 1.1 rims 32 h on dura ace front hub, power tap rear. Bontrager hard case 25 mm tires
Bottles consumed: about 6
Next: Le Tour de Winnepesaukee and how to catch small mouth bass