I used to live in Western Massachusetts. I can assert that it is some of the best riding in the entire country. Here’s why: Massachusetts was one of the first areas in North America settled by European immigrants. Road building began there before it began in many other places. While Connecticut and Rhode Island have loads of roads, Western Massachusetts has a much lower population density than most of both of those states. And compared to Vermont and New Hampshire, Western Mass. has a much higher density of roads. The result is a somewhat sparsely populated area (for New England) with an unusually high density of roads. It’s a good combination.
In the 1990s I explored both dirt and paved roads on Miele road bike shod with Vittoria CGs. Those Super Record calipers tended to influence my speed, but control was limited. And while there were a few events in the area that would take in the odd unpaved stretch here or there, I often dreamt of racing linked sections of dirt. Hell, even a century would have been terrific.
So imagine my surprise when Richard Sachs told me part of the reason he moved from Connecticut to Massachusetts was because of this ride called D2R2. The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee starts 15 minutes north of Northampton, near historic Deerfield Village. It falls in late August and offers five (yes, 5!) different routes. As I talked with the team at Seven Cycles about our project bike, part of the plan was to use D2R2 as the bike’s initiation.
In fact, my first ride on the new bike was the day before over a route selected by Rob Vandermark, Seven’s founder and CEO, along with Patria Lanfranchi (manager of Ride Studio Cafe) and the guy who is easily everyone’s favorite race announcer, Richard Fries. When I told Richard of my plan he said, “It’s the worst event, but I go back every year.”
I had no idea what he meant.
What I didn’t appreciate at first was how important the term “randonnee” was in the ride’s description. This is neither a century nor a gran fondo. The general idea is that because it’s a randonnee, you’re supposed to be able to read a map as you ride. I’d say that slightly more than 99 percent of all cyclists I have ever spoken to are more interested in riding than pulling over to check a map, so anything a ride organizer can do to ease navigation is welcomed. We may be masochistic, but that’s confined to the effort, not the turns.
Of course, what would have been helpful is if the route notes had always been accurate on distance. What would also have been helpful is street signs denoting the name of each road we were meant to turn onto. Both those details were shaky. I learned this because I signed up for the 115k so that I could ride with Richard once again along with Tyler and Jamie from Firefly; Wade, Jordan and another person from Parlee; and Marty and Brad from Geekhouse. There wasnt a nicer group of bikies to ride with—a fantastic group of fun people. But 115k is 72 miles, not the 92 I got back to the finish with. I’ve never been lost so many times on a ride, even though I enjoyed the company and the roads.
Our misdirections were so epic, Alfred Hitchcock would have smiled. We never found the first and third of the three food stops. I’m lucky I rolled with as much food as I did. And technical assistance at the lunch stop? I could have used a floor pump to top off a flat I’d had earlier. There wasn’t a mechanic within the area code.
D2R2 is meant to be a charitable ride for the Franklin Land Trust, which is buying up land in Franklin County, Massachusetts, to prevent development. It’s a laudable goal because it truly is a special place. Why a ride meant to help Western Massachusetts might spend so many miles in Vermont is anyone’s guess as I’ve yet to get a response to my first email to the organizer. What’s even harder to understand is why the ride is so damned expensive. Early-bird pricing is $99; the price gradually creeps up until day-of registration is $150. That worked out to $2/mile for me. There’s a continental breakfast as well as a post-ride meal with one included beer. But with only two guys at the tap, the line was often 50 feet long.
I get the idea behind good deeds. And I love the idea of preserving that part of Massachusetts so that I might ride it some day with my sons. But there are so many well-run events where getting to the finish is a question of fitness, not your ability to guess how to correct a cue sheet, that the entry fee seemed excessive. How about I give you guys $50 and figure out my own ride? With five different routes on the road at the same time, there were times when my group was criss-crossing riders on different routes and it made us wonder whether we were headed in the right direction or not. Once you’ve made a couple of mistakes, seeing another rider headed in the opposite direction is nothing if not a moment of directional existentialism. Why the hell five routes? Since when was three not enough?
The issue here is that if someone with real organizational know-how comes in and starts offering a gran fondo that doesn’t guarantee extra credit miles, they can charge the same amount of money and leave people far more satisfied. Charitable giving is great until you bonk, and at a certain point it’s helpful to regard the expectations the market has set. What if someone had been injured? I saw no one sweeping the course and at all the gran fondo events I’ve done I’ve seen vehicles driven by the organizers sweeping the course, looking for problems. There was a woman at the lunch stop who had gotten so lost, had bonked so badly, that she wanted to just get a ride back to the start. They were happy to oblige, but I heard them say to her they didn’t know what to do with her bike until later that day, which meant she’d have to wait at the finish for her bike to arrive before driving home.
Again, the riding itself was stellar. The roads, both paved and unpaved, were terrific fun. But I’d have had a less anxious day if I hadn’t constantly had people saying, “No, this is wrong. We need to turn around.” Honestly, I didn’t talk to a single person who didn’t make at least one wrong turn. The question on my mind is just how that enhanced the experience. The point to me as an event organizer is not antagonism, but to treat it like a party and to act like a good host, making sure everyone has a good time.
DIY would have been a better approach. Two full bottles, some food in my pockets and an Andrew Jackson. Part of the fun would have been seeing what was available at the various stores we passed. The serenity and enjoyment from this kind of riding is dynamite, but for that much money, I have a right to expect that the organizer will take care of me.
Now I know what Richard meant. I may go back some day, but if I do, it will only be because of the company. And I’ll figure out how to input the route into Map My Ride and upload it to my GPS before arriving. I’d love to love this ride; I can’t recall the last time I was so excited to do a ride. But this was like getting a date with the cutest girl in school, only to find out she can’t hold a conversation.