Sunday was a perfect fall day. It started in the wee dark hours of the morning when I woke up in my tent at Tolland State Forest. Excited for the day ahead, I jumped out of my sleeping bag into the chilly morning and made a quick oatmeal breakfast. After taking the tent down and cleaning things up, I drove over to Westfield for the start of the Great River Ride. The plan was basically to camp out in the area to avoid a long drive from home. It didn't really work out that way because Google Maps put me somewhere other than where I should have been in Westfield. I managed to get to the ride just on time or maybe a couple minutes late.
Starting out, it was about 40F and I was grateful for my layers of warm weather gear. The hills began almost immediately and climbed on for a few miles. By the first check point at mile 22, I caught up with dispersed groups of riders. I road with Jake, who I met during the Boston Brevets, for a long while. We discussed some of recent bike tinkering projects; if only I had a decent machine shop. At or around the second checkpoint, I bumped into Paul who I met and rode with in the recent D2R2. This time around he was on his super stiff Ti racer instead of the day-glo orange Kona mountain bike. We kept up our pace and conversion through the next 50 or so miles of hills. The most notable climb of the middle portion of the Great River Ride was the East River Hill at mile 64. It started inconspicuously like any other hill and then transitioned into an endless and perfectly linear slog. It was so straight and featureless that it was difficult to judge progress on the hill by any means other than counting the telephone poles we passed. We thought there were 50. Baked potatoes were a welcomed snack at the following checkpoint. By this point, the air was warm and the sun was shining - perfect fall weather. Leaving the relaxing potato stop was hard, but the rest of the ride was worth getting to. Most notable is Jacob's Ladder starting at mile 82. From what I can tell it get's its name from the sequence of hills connected by short flat stretches that more or less make steps going up and up and up. Thankfully we were going down, not up. The Ladder continues for 5 miles. It's an exciting ride all the way down with excellent views of the valleys. We pedalled through the flats to keep our speed and very quickly found ourselves with just a few miles to go..
We finished the 108 miles happily and without any mechanical issues aside from my squeaky chain. Not the fastest time (7hours 40minutes) of the day - there some impressively fast riders ahead of us. But we pedalled quickly enough to have fun while enjoying the stops and the fall day. The Great River Ride lives up to its name. The sun and unusually vibrant foliage were front and center. It was also great to see some familiar faces and get in some spectacular late season riding. The grand buffet at the end was nice too. I'll definitely be back for it next year.
On a slightly related note... I was talking to the ride organizer (Don?) about some of the Westfield events and how much I enjoyed the D2R2. He mentioned that he is putting together an event similar to D2R2 in 2009 that will take place in Vermont's Mad River Valley. I'm sure it will be as brutally hilly and as amazing as the original.