D2R2 2012

We drove out in a rain storm, eyes tilted skyward, half in fear, half in silent prayer, but the sky cleared as we rolled into the meadow, the white registration tent like a beacon in a stormy sea. The field where we parked our car was fresh cut and the smell of earth and of farming hung in the air. We padded across to the tent, got our packets, and then returned to the car to pin numbers and pull on kits, mostly in silence.

As usual, the start of D2R2 is soft, which is to say, no gun goes off, no pack of riders spills into the road. What happens is you leave.

And not so long after you leave, you begin asking questions. There are obvious questions like, “Where is the next turn?” Some combination of GPS technology, cue sheet scrutiny and just following a rider in front of you will provide an answer. Other questions like, “Is this the top?” and “Are you sure this is the way?” and “Is that even a road?” come up also. Quick answers: “No. This is not the top. No, I am not sure this is the way, but it is a dirt path between two trees and the cue sheet says…and no, this is not a road,” but sometimes the way is not a road, but it is all beautiful, so keep your head up and keep pedaling.

And even if you have ridden D2R2 before, at some point not too far along you will ask: “Why am I doing this?”

Holy shit! What a question?!?!

Because on the face of it, it makes no sense. There you are grinding your way up a wet dirt track in the woods. Your lungs hollow out as you labor up and up and up. Sweat burns at the corner of your eyes and your quads scream up at you, and you wonder if you will make it to a place where the road no longer goes up, or at the very least stops going up like a kid’s party balloon, carelessly held.

Of course, even in your abject state there are many answers to the question. First, you are doing this because you have never ridden your bike in such beautiful places, places you will never go by car or by foot. Every time you lift your eyes from your front wheel you are struck by your surroundings, narrow lanes through primeval forest, farms perched on the edge of sky top meadows, old tracks that ribbon along rivers and brooks. It is high and low and various and sundry but also uniformly gorgeous and always worth the effort of getting there.

Second, you are doing it, because all year you think of doing a ride like this, an epic (yes, epic) assault on the hinterlands, a gravel-grinding, soul-chewing exploit of a ride. In reality, however, very few humans have the will to force themselves to do anything so hard. Few of us have the clarity of purpose to scout, map and execute such a thing, so we pay our money and ride out with our friends and wonder at the suffering and beauty that greet us along the way.

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, we ride this ride to know ourselves better. At RKP we say ‘to suffer is to learn,’ and D2R2 affords us that suffering in large and creative doses. D2R2 will tell you how good a climber you are. It will tell you how good a bike handler you are. It will break you down into your component parts and lay bare the truth of your riding.

It will teach you that you need to have an awful lot of food in your jersey pocket when lunch is 65 miles away. It will teach you that, though you feel strong and fast, it is best to keep your powder dry, because every ounce of that strength can be wrung out of your bones in a ten-minute struggle against a hill that has no name. You will find out that it is best to stick together and take care of your friends, because in ten miles they will be taking care of you. You, who normally eschew too-sweet sodas, will find that swilling a cold Coke at the top of a rise, with a smiling volunteer asking you how your day is going, will restore a humanity you didn’t even know you’d lost on that last dusty stretch of road.

Finally, you ride D2R2 to show yourself that you can. What a whopping large dose of self-doubt you can swallow after you do a thing like this. If you can ride D2R2, what can’t you ride? You are unstoppable.

We had a good day, my friends and I. Despite an early crash, one of our number soldiered bravely on to the finish, through double leg cramps and the creeping ache that comes from hitting the ground hard and then putting your body on permanent shake and grind for 60 miles. I felt as happy for him as I did for myself as the white tent hove back into sight after a full day on the course.

And, we met a lot of cool people as you will on a randonnee, riding together, helping with mechanicals, group-sourcing navigational duties. Next year I will look for the guys from New Hampshire whose buddy broke a spoke up on a nowhere hill in Southern Vermont, the young guys from Brooklyn who ground out the longest, hardest, meanest hill of the day with us, and all the volunteers who smilingly packed our faces with calories at each of the stops.

Safely back under the tent in the evening, the smell of pulled pork in the air, someone’s voice on a PA competing with the general din, I looked around the table at my friends and I felt happy, and I almost never wanted to move from that place. The air grew cool and the mosquitoes went away, and I sunk a Rice Krispies treat and washed it down with a ginger ale.

Finally, we stood before our legs seized and the plastic chairs ruined our backs. And then we drove home in the quiet car.


Follow me on Twitter: @thebicyclerobot

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  1. Rodd-o

    of course he meant you’re…
    and yeah
    what a hoot
    my first time but been living vicariously through teammates tales since ’09
    finally got my stuff together (got a passport) and made it down
    people talk of the climbs, and they are unbelievably long grinding and soul sucking, but the DOWNS!!! our two plumetteers were hitting upwards of 85 km, i was over 80.
    The downhills were unreal. The bobsled run? Deer Park Rd! Ed Clark Rd? So awesome. So yeah the climbs will kill you, but the downhills will bring you back to life.
    rodd in ottawa

  2. Peter810

    Robot, happy to meet you on the ride! You do a great job of capturing the experience. The gang from NH had a great time in spite of the broken spoke, and we’ll definitely be back next year for our 4th edition.

  3. Lars

    I’ve always wanted to ride roads like these, they are superb. I’ve never asked myself why I’m doing this ride, rather I keep reminding myself that I don’t have to ride so hard. I may have to move there.
    A big thanks has to be given to the kind of community that has done what it takes to keep these roads. Hats off to the Franklin Land Trust.

  4. Brian

    Robot, fantastic meeting you and the rest of the guys after lunch. Was a please suffering with you after that lovely descent. The guys from brooklyn will also be back again next year, hope to see you out on the dirt.

  5. Carey Lambert

    Amazing ride. I lived out there for 5 years. Went to school there and worked for Yankee Candle while I was in school. This was my first d2r2 though. Fought off some health issues, dropped 60 lbs. and got in shape for this ride (the 100k). Will be back next year, at 52, to go for the 180k! It’s every bit as epic as you describe. The feeling of accomplishment is amazing!

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