I would like to tell you not to come and ride D2R2 (The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee). It is not the most organized cycling event you will attend. The route is sadistically hard. It is dangerous in many spots, and you do NOT have the right bike for it, no matter what bike you have.
And yet, despite all that, sometimes because of it, this is the single best cycling event I have ever ridden.
Unlike many rides which start with someone on a bullhorn giving nominal instructions at a start line, followed by a starters pistol or some other clear sign that the ride has begun, D2R2 invites you to leave when you’re ready. Ride up to the sign out sheet. Record your number and time of departure, and then get rolling. Go.
What you discover, once on the road, is that there is no signage on the course. No arrows. No logos. Nothing. You are entirely dependent, for whatever length (100K, 115K, 180K) course you choose, on the cue sheet.
Here are some representative samples from the cue sheet:
“Continue straight past “Road no longer maintained” sign”
“Continue straight past gun club onto very rough jeep track”
“Top of hill, farm animals often in road; CAUTION, hard right turn on descent”
“T-intersection, LEFT onto Cowpath 40!”
Stage 3: “A hard dirt climb, a very hard dirt climb, and then a super-hard dirt climb”
“CAUTION: Super-fast downhil with crazy turns and full stop at the bottom”
“CAUTION: gnarly descent, stones, washouts next mile”
Rather than turning the ride into an orienteering course for the velo set, though, this approach to navigation forces everyone to talk. You start by asking if anyone has seen the sign for Cowpath 40, and end up talking about where they come from, what they’re riding, what they ate, etc. It galvanizes the pack, which is a good thing, because there are spots along the way where you need as many friends as you can get.
Another issue is the difficulty of some of the terrain. There are not just steep climbs. There are steep climbs on dirt, and there are not just steep climbs on dirt. There are steep climbs on loose dirt, strewn with gravel and loose stone. And there are not just steep climbs on loose dirt, strewn with gravel and loose stone. There are steep climbs on loose dirt, strewn with gravel and loose stone that go on and on and on, until you’re sure you’re going to throw up and quite possibly fall over.
I was lucky. I had good legs all day.
Ride founder Sandy Whittlesey has done what so many of the iconic races/rides in our sport have done before. He has looked at the area he lives in, figured out where all the most interesting places to ride are, and connected them with a bit of ambitious cartography. This is not a ride that seeks to imitate other rides. This is a ride that tries only to show you exactly where you are.
The ostensible purpose of the event is actually to benefit the Franklin Land Trust, a group that “works with landowners and communities to protect their farms, forests, and other natural resources significant to the environmental quality, economy and rural character of our region.”
In this case, that means rolling farmland, rambling jeep tracks, absurd, escapist dirt roads that shoot up inclines and snake along ridges, paved bits that bisect primordial forest and everywhere the rumble of a river or a brook.
I have hiked, biked and traveled all over the parts of Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont the D2R2 takes in, but I had never ridden an inch of Whittlesey’s route. He showed me what I’ve been missing.
We rolled back into the start/finish meadow around 5pm with the first drops at the leading edge of Hurricane Irene plopping heavily into the grass. The grills were sizzling, the smell of burger grease wafting on the wind. There was a line at the beer tent, and there were smiles on every face.
It would be easy to chalk up the joy of D2R2 to the scenery or to the hard-man difficulty, but that would fail to capture the spirit of the thing. Simply climbing really hard, technical terrain does not make a ride great. D2R2 takes you up those roads because that’s the only way to see what’s up there. And, of course, you get the descents. I touched 50mph on one of them, a sketchy paved track that swooped and banked like a drunken sparrow. It was, without exaggeration, the best descent of my life, the sort that mixes bowel-guttering fear with smile-plastering joy. At the bottom I could only manage a torrent of profanity to express the complex emotions I’d just felt.
In this, its seventh year, the D2R2 has grown into a big, happy, unruly mess of an event. The word is out. Just short of 1000 riders took part, and word of mouth alone will drive that number higher in 2012. I would like to tell you not to come.
But I can’t.
Photos courtesy of and © Andrew Conway.
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