Money in the bank. This is a ride I’ve had on the calendar for almost six months, and thanks to Hurricane Irene, if the ride had been one day later it would not have happened this year. The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee (D2R2) is a fundraising bike ride to benefit the Franklin Land Trust in Western Massachusetts. I first heard about this ride a couple of years ago when the Rapha folks highlighted it on their site, and I knew it was something I wanted to do, close to home, not a race, and it raises money for a good cause. Then my friend Ed did the 100K ride last year, and he came back saying I had to do it this year with him. That’s all it took, so we signed up for the new 115K route.
Most people who ride the D2R2 do so on a regular road bike with a minimum of 28c tires, though I think I saw just as many cyclocross bikes and even a handful of hardtail 29ers and full suspension mountain bikes. I decided to use my commuter bike, which is a SOMA Fabrications Smoothie ES, with a compact 50/34 crank set and a 13-29 cassette in the back. A conversation I had with some veteran D2R2 riders a few weeks back changed my mind about using my regular 11-23 cassette even with the compact crank set. It turns out that with lots of 4-5mph seated climbs on the loose dirt I needed the 29 tooth cog more than I could ever have imagined, and there were a couple of hills that had me wishing I had a 32 cog.
I would say that about 80% of the route was on dirt roads of some sort, some being better than others. The condition of the dirt roads varied from almost pavement like to jeep trails that a normal car could not drive on. Having not ridden a road bike on many dirt roads I found the conditions to be better than I expected, the rain earlier in the week seemed to have settled the dust considerably, and the largest rocks were golf ball sized, except for one half-mile section that looked more like a single track mountain bike trail, complete with slimy roots and rock gardens. Nice.
The 115K ride was split up into four “stages”, so I am going to try and give a brief highlight of each stage.
Stage 1 (1,300 feet of climbing): After a quick breakfast provided by Black Sheep Coffee (excellent coffee!), we left the staging area at about 7:45am, more than an hour after the 180K riders! The first eight miles were on paved roads, and even a couple of miles on the Franklin Bikeways Bike Path, which connects many of the towns in the county. I have to say that my opinion of Western Massachusetts changed greatly after seeing their commitment to bicycles. I wish Cape Cod could do the same thing! Okay, back to the ride. More rollers on Green River Road before a few short climbs, then at mile 15 we reached the first water stop. We quickly topped off our bottles and kept moving.
Stage 2 (3,200 feet of climbing): The next 23 miles consisted of almost entirely dirt roads, and some tough climbs. I knew this ride was getting serious when we turned off a dirt road onto a jeep trail. Granted it was only for half a mile, but I had to dismount two times and run up a couple short hills. Didn’t see anyone clean this section. After the jeep trail we had a few miles of rolling pavement and a section along the river which was quite fun, it felt good to be moving again after being in the single digits for the last mile or so. A couple more short climbs before we passed through Guilford Center, then a tough two-mile dirt road climb (Ames Road) that averaged between 10-15%. After the climb there were some fast downhill sections, which were super fun. The next eight miles or so before the lunch stop consisted of rolling hills and lots of wooden decked bridges. Lunch came at mile 39, and you couldn’t imagine a more picturesque spot (see picture below), wooden covered bridge, white church, waterfall, the whole New England postcard in one setting. As nice as it was to eat some real food and rest a bit, we didn’t want our legs to think the ride was over, so after about 20 minutes we got back on the bikes.
Stage 3 (3,000 feet of climbing): The cue sheet warned us that this stage consisted of "a hard dirt climb, a very hard dirt climb, and then a super-hard dirt climb". Sound like fun? Immediately after leaving the lunch stop we started almost four miles of climbing, but luckily they were fairly short sections with some flats and fun downhills thrown in where you could recover a little. At this point our route converged with the 180K riders (going in the opposite direction) so it was fun to be bombing down some of the hills as they were grinding up. We then turned onto Vermont Route 112, which offered us some more fast rollers. Sure felt good to be on the pavement again. It felt so good that we decided to skip the next dirt climb and continue on 112. The cue sheet said we could reconnect with the route at mile 56, but somehow we missed the road, and now were off course by about eight miles. We ran into some 180K riders and thought we were heading in the right direction but it turns out we should have stayed on Route 112 for a few more miles to reconnect to the 115K route. 60 miles into a 72 mile ride is a bad time to get turned around, and though we had a map and never really felt lost, it still sucked. After a tough dirt climb over a ridge we were back on course and headed back to Deerfield, though not on our intended route. This detour actually added some miles to our day, but we also missed a couple of hard climbs, including the in-famous Patten Hill, which I hear is a 27% paved road that goes on for almost two miles. Can’t say I’m disappointed we missed that one.
Stage 4 (1,100 feet of climbing): This should have been a fairly easy 12 miles of rollers back to Deerfield, and riding along the Green River Road was fun, but we once again missed another turn in Greenfield and had to back track, riding on the shoulder of a fairly busy road for a mile or so. After riding over 75 miles on dirt roads with almost zero car traffic, it was no fun ending the ride with so many cars.
We rolled into Deerfield almost exactly seven hours after we started, (six hours of total ride time) and even though we got turned around a couple of times it was still an awesome day on the bike, and great to be able to ride with such a good friend. The weather people were calling for rain in the afternoon, but we lucked out and had a dry day, though it was quite humid. We knew the rain was coming soon enough, so we quickly changed into some clean clothes, had our free beer and some food, then hit the road. Just as I was pulling onto the highway the skies opened up and it rained the whole drive back to the Cape. The next day Irene pushed through Western Mass. and Southern Vermont, causing serious flooding on the same rivers we rode next to just 24 hours earlier. I feel sorry for the folks living along those rivers, and I just heard that the farm where the start/finish was is now under a foot of floodwater. Amazing part of New England, and I know those folks will recover, but it still sucks to hear about all the loss. We will be back for sure.
Update: Just received an email from the event’s promoter, and it looks like much of the D2R2 route was hit hard during Sunday’s storm. Green River Road is a mess, but the locals are already rebuilding the roadbed. The Green River Bridge (where we had lunch on Saturday) was built during the Civil War and is still standing, though the park next to it is under a foot of mud. All the retaining walls have been knocked down and the fish ladder is a mess. This beautiful site is maintained by the local neighbors with money out of their own pockets, and estimates to rebuild this area are close to $10,000.00.