What can I say about the recent Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee? This unique event was probably the single toughest cycling event I've done. At the same time, it was also the most interesting and enjoyable.
I arrived Friday evening in Deerfield. The campground hosting the event was actually a freshly plowed cornfield, and several tentsites had already been erected by the time I arrived. People were chatty and excited about Saturday's ride. D2R2's absurd difficulty is known, but everyone seemed excited about the prospect of 100+ miles of nothing but dirt roads and steep hills. I bumped into a few of the Boston area crowd, many familiar faces from the year's Boston Brevet Series. Like myself, most had been looking forward to D2R2 all year. After a little socializing, I set up my campsite, cooked dinner and prepped my gear for the ride.
The alarm clock went off at 4:30 Saturday morning, and I awoke to see the registration tent lit up and buzzing already. The friendly volunteers offered hot coffee and bagels while checking in the riders. I set about my usual routine. Within no time, it was 6 AM and we set off. The start was energized. Most riders spread out, well warned that pacing is important in such a grueling event. A pack of roadies shot off ahead quickly; I never saw most of them again, so we can assume that a road racing bike with narrow slicks can in fact complete the course. I chose to ride my Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen with a triple gearing and Ritchey Speedmax cyclocross tires (700x32) with fenders. Aside, fenders were not necessary given the dry spell, but I left them on anyway - yay AHH tire clearance! Lots of people were riding cyclocross bikes or something similar, which made a ton of sense given the terrain and distance.
D2R2 is divided into four stages as marked by checkpoints. Every stage is a whopper; even the last section of 13 miles is tough on an empty tank. In all, it's 15,670 ft of climbing over 111.8 miles. The cue sheet is a phenomenal document with comments like "almost no flat road until three miles from the checkpoint," "turn at pole onto jeep track, " "road becomes unmaintained and washed out", "27% grade" and "ignore road closed sign". The word "hill" appears 36 times.
Section 1 is the "warm up" of 35.9 miles and 5750 ft of climbing. During these initial miles, the reality of D2R2 starts to set in. Though the main event is really the second and third stages from which cover the next 63 miles. I was lucky enough to find a couple of like-minded riders, and we stuck together for the rest of the day. We eventually proved that the cue sheet isn't necessary if we followed a simple rule of thumb at every intersection: turn uphill. It worked every time, especially at the big hills. The fabled 27% grade hill was a hoot. It's steep enough that I immediately used the tiniest gear and stood on it, but the unweighted rear tire lost traction, even with cross tires. We walked that hill, and so did everyone else except for a few mountain bikers with the burliest tires. If I'd been paying more attention, I'd be able to name one remarkable descent that I remember vividly. It was almost two miles of dirt "road" winding through steep downhill curves. This was the part of the ride where I patted myself on the back for replacing my old brake pads two days before. It's the kind of descent where you hold on and hope you don't eat it because there isn't a good place to go. I bet the mountain bikes loved this part. Everyone did, even if our hands were white from gripping so tightly. In all, there were tons of hills and extraordinary views. The best description of the course is not mine, check this out if for more details.
The last checkpoint at mile 99 was a welcome and well-earned site. It was at the top of a spectacular hill following a long slow climb up Patten Road. The three of us sat for a moment sucking on watermelon. The remaining 13 miles section was pretty straightforward except for the gnarliest downhill of the day at mile 107 on some unnamed road. The washed-out trail dumped out onto a few miles of flat pavement to the finish.
The final time for the day was 9 hours 38 minutes. I was thrilled to have done it in ten hours. In fact, I was thrilled to have finished at all. The Deerfield fair across the street offered some great food for celebration, and that's pretty much how it wrapped up.
More pictures are posted here by the event organizers.