Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee
August 27, 2011
D2R2 is a ride to raise money for the Franklin county land conversation. It’s also the hardest bike ride I have every done! I’ve done long rides, I’ve done very long and epic days of hiking, but I’m still processing the 9.5 hours of riding in my head and remembering everything that went on.
I went Friday afternoon to meet Jeff and Hilary Warner at their house and to carpool down with Peter Rondinone who came all the way in from Colorado to ride with us.
It’s about 2 hours from Concord to Deerfield, Mass. We made pretty good time down to Greenfield and were having pizza at Magpie Pizzeria by a little past 5pm. The pizza is wood fired and is pretty darn good. Dessert was tiramisu and that was probably one of the better versions of that dessert that I have ever had.
From there it was down to the start of D2R2 and setting up camp in the back fields. On the way to the start Jeff took us through Old Deerfield, very cool with all the old original buildings. It is what most people think of when they think “New England”. The camping was a tad disorganized and it was a first come first serve, set up kind where you want, atmosphere. Pete R. was staying at the Red Roof Inn nearby, which may have been the smarter move in the long run.
It was a fairly early evening. I was in my tent relaxing by 8:45 PM. The plan was to be on the road by 6:30 AM. You see, even though 180 kilometers (about 110 miles) may not sound like a brutally long ride, this course is not easy, and it is not fast. I’ve done 100 miles in around 5 hours with some of my friends and I’ve done as much as 135 miles in about 7.5 hours solo. This ride would soon make both of those look like easy days in the saddle.
Part of my registration fee included a free breakfast. Who am I to turn down food? The promoters started setting up around 4:30 in the morning, which meant they cranked on the generators at that time. I had set my alarm on my phone to wake me up at 5 AM…..the generators took care of that idea.
I was up and over at the food tent just before 5 AM and there was tons of coffee (good and dark roasted too), bagels, peanut butter, cream cheese, 3 different types of coffee cake and also hard boiled eggs for your protein. I did not leave the tent wanting and was fully fueled for a long day in the saddle.
Given that every description of this loop indicated some where in the area of 12-14,000 feet of climbing for the full 180KM, I opted f0r what I was hoping was relatively conservative gearing. I went with a 50×34 in the front and a 12-27 in the back. A conversation from about 2 weeks ago with Jeff changed my mind about using just a 12-25. It turns out that I needed the 27 cog more than I could ever imagine. I would have been really happy with a 30 or 32 in the back, but that was not an option with my campy 10 speed setup. Sram Apex would have been the ultimate choice today with a 34 in the front and a 32 or 36 in the rear.
Hilary left about 6:15, while the rest of us hit the road about 6:30. Our group consisted of Jeff W., Peter R., Joe and Jamie both from the Lancaster, NH area, and myself. Jeff had done this before, Joe had done a pre-ride of most of the course a few weeks before with Jeff, but the rest of us were all newbies. Our only game plan for the day was to keep following Jeff. Turns out that was the best decision. He did not steer us wrong once.
After literally 2 miles of flat road, the climbing started, and would not stop for the next 107 miles with 2 more flat miles at the end. I wish I could go into great detail about the loop, but there was so much to see and so many turns, I could not do it justice. I will do my best to relate some of the tougher sections, but everything else is pretty much a blur.
I can also add that western Massachusetts has changed my opinion of the state in general. I tend to think of Boston, Worcester, Taunton, Cape Cod, etc. western Mass. is more like Vermont or what people think New Hampshire is like. More cows, chickens and pigs than people.
Our main priority for the day was to take the uphills at a sane pace and make up time on the downhills or rare flat sections of the course. It would not have been wise to attack the hills and hope to recover elsewhere. You would quickly dig yourself into a hole with that approach.
The condition of the dirt roads varied from almost pavement like to class VI roads that did not allow cars. Most of them were not too bad, rain earlier in the week had supposedly knocked down the dust levels considerably.
The first water stop did not come until about 20-22 miles in. Believe it or not this had taken us almost 2:15 to ride so far. Everyone stopped to fill up bottles, grab a little food and recover for a second or two. This would continue to be the trend for most of the day. Fill up at the water stops, grab some food, take a quick break, and get going again before the body thought it was done for the day.
The next 30 miles or so were some of the toughest. We had several screaming fast downhills, one of which I had to use every millimeter of dirt to navigate a steep left hand turn. Without sounding too overconfident, I was never really scared, I know my skills and I am a very good descender. I don’t know what Jeff was thinking as he was behind me at this point, but it did make for a fun conversation at the bottom of the hill. At some point in this section we also hit a famously steep climb called Archambo Road. It isn’t very long, but it is a 27% grade. It took all I had to muscle up this with the gearing I had chosen. I can happily say that I cleaned the whole section though. No dabs, no getting off to walk.
After the 27% brutality of Archambo at mile 43, we had one short mile of recovery before Hillman Road. Jeff tells us about 1/3 of the way up that this is considered to be probably the toughest climb on the whole course. He was not kidding. I think at this point we saw a few people mentally “opt out” of the 180km loop and one guy who had been going gang busters early on was looking totally shattered.
The whole idea for me personally after mile 50 or so was to just get to the lunch stop around mile 63. I’m probably not too out of line saying that same thought process seemed to be the mentality of the other 4 in the group too. It was easily another hour or so to make those 13 miles though. The lunch stop could not have come at a better time or place. You had everything to choose from. Awesome sandwiches and wraps, chips, soda, cookies, pasta salad, water, and lots of shade. We could not dilly dally very long, again the whole idea was to not let your body start to shut down and go into recovery mode. It wasn’t quite a chew & screw scenario, but I don’t think we stopped for more than 20 minutes at best.
The lunch stop helped lift spirits considerably. We were all full and rested (as much as it was possibly this far into the ride). It was also nice knowing that we were in the final leg of the ride. 4 big climbs left, but this section actually had some flatter spots to use for recovery and keep the pace going at a reasonable rate at the same time.
Almost immediately after leaving the lunch stop we started almost 4 miles of climbing. It was also the point where we had our only flat tire of the day. Considering at this point how many flats we had seen I was pretty impressed. It was also a chance to rest again after the long climb. My next objective at this point was to hit mile 90. I felt like at that point we only had 20 more miles to go and that was easy to think of as “almost done”. It was also the point at which I became a bit unglued, from about miles 90-95 I was hurting. We had one more long climb called Patten Hill left to go and I wasn’t too sure how I was make it at this point.
I downed my last clifshot gel, drank a bunch of water and gatorade mix, and just kept it at my own pace for a bit. The 2 miles up Patten Hill were wicked tough. There was the final food and water stop of the day at the top though. The idea of water and food was my focus for those 2 miles. I had a slice of watermelon, a banana, water, and a 1/2 bagel with PB&J. Some how this seemed to revive me. It was my 2nd wind and I felt much better from this point on.
The last 14 miles are kind of a blur. Lots of turns, farms, sheep, cows, more hills (but finally getting relatively short) and then one final class VI section of road that was just fun to rip through. It also started to rain the last 2 miles of our trip. It sure as heck felt refreshing, but at the same time, I had not put the rain fly on my tent and had left my bag of clothes in the tent……not the wisest move on my part.
The 5 of use crossed the “finish” together. Total elapsed time was in the 11 hour range, but moving ride time was just under 9:13. I can live with that pace. This was by far the hardest bike ride I have ever done. It is probably in the top 5 of the most rewarding though. The views are awesome, the course is stellar and the people I got to ride with are great.
Hilary pulled in only about 30 minutes behind us too. I was very impressed with her ride. She made a comment about it being tough, but we’ve got 364 days to convince her to do it again.
Some how my clothes managed to stay dry in my gear bag while my tent was more or less soaked. I got changed, washed up a bit and then proceeded to eat a crazy amount of very good food. I think I liked the mac n cheese the best, with this tofu/rice concoction a close second, and I’m not a big tofu guy. The huge apple crumble for dessert was awesome too.
So I need to thank my 4 riding buddies for the day. The organizers of this awesome event, and all of the awesome volunteers who fed us and provided support through out the day.
The plan to crash one extra night at the campsite was squashed with hurricane Irene slated to smack into New England Sunday. The thought of camping in those condition was less than ideal.
1. Need bigger cog than a 27 in the back
2. Dirt road downhills are crazy fun
3. 15% grades are steep
4. 27% grades are really steep
5. Always put your rain fly on your tent if you are leaving for a long time
Thanks for reading