Sunday, August 22, 2010

D2R2, Round 2!

Most people who ride the D2R2 for the first time say that they are definitely going to come back and do it again the following year. That's probably the best indicator of how great a ride Sandy Wittlesey and the Franklin Land Trust have put together and offer up to challenge-loving cyclists.  In my case, I followed up and really did come back for a second helping.  I was not disappointed!

Jeanne did not accompany me this year, going away to take care of her mom, instead.  This left me with the prospect of driving my truck all the way to Massachusetts.  I was toying with the idea of riding down and back, but was saved when Stephen Taylor offered to carpool with me.  It meant that I had to go through Lincoln, which added maybe 45 minutes each way, but it was definitely worth it, not only to save energy, but because he turned out to be a super nice guy.  He had two friends he was going to meet down there and who he was planning on doing the ride with.  They pulled in right after us, taking the adjacent tent site.  They both proved to be a lot of fun as we went out and had a great dinner at a little Thai restaurant in Greenfield, with great food and service at reasonable prices and no waiting.

Last year, we camped at White Birch Campground, a few miles south of the ride start.  I heard from friends who camped at the event that they had a great time chatting with the Independent Fabrication folks, who were there in force, and generally socializing.  That was the big reason why I looked forward to camping at the start this year.  This proved to be a disappointment.  The site was a recently harvested cornfield, and thus quite lumpy.  The only amenities were two porta-pottys, there was no socializing, but cars coming in and people setting up camp until early morning and a very noisy generator that ran until after midnight, starting up again at 4:40 am.  Last year, for an extra five bucks, we had grass, quiet, and showers at the campground.  Hmm.

The good thing about our camping spot was that it took 30 seconds to get to the organization tent.  My description of the D2R2's structure is "The organization is tight, while the rules are loose."  For me, these are the keys to a great cycling event, and organizers of non-racing events would do well to work toward this goal in everything they do.  They even dropped the intermediate check-ins at the break spots.  Sandy's explanation was that there are so many ways to cheat the course, what's the point?  I'm totally with you on that, Sandy!

There was a nice selection of bagels, baked items, fruit, jersey pocket food and most importantly, lots of coffee to get us going.  There was no lack for tables and seating, and all the volunteers were incredibly friendly and helpful.  I can't imagine how anyone could do a better job of being cheerful while meeting all the needs of the riders.

I was in the group at the 6 am start.  Sandy Whittlesey is in the cap and green fleece.  I want a pair of those shorts with the reflective patches on the back like that guy with the Camelback!  A Camelback is way overkill, by the way.  Unless it's a really hot day, there are enough breaks and water drops that most riders could get by with a single water bottle.

The lead group out of the gate proved to be more mellow than last year's.  Though it quickly whittled down to about 10 riders, I was able to stay with them for the first 25 miles, before I decided that I would be better backing off a little, knowing my limitations and what was coming.

Conditions were great, all day.  It was cool enough that I wore a wind vest for the first 30 miles.  There was an overcast all day, which cut the sun's heat and glare, but there was plenty of light to see.  We had an issue right after coming out of the first narrow dirt road, pictured above, as the road improved and we came into houses.  I guess residents get used to the lack of traffic coming out of this part of the road, as a careless guy started backing up his pickup from his driveway at an alarming rate, right into the lead riders.  A chorus of shouts woke the guy up and saved us from starting the day with a disaster.  The ride goes over three historic covered bridges.

You need to be careful going into the Burkeville covered bridge, as there's a chain you need to go around.  This is especially important to remember if you're trying to use a camera while you are riding!

Being in the lead group, we were the first cyclists of the day to go by.  Riding by one farm, we startled a donkey in a barnyard, right next to the road.  He put his front hooves on top of the wooden fence and let loose with the loudest and longest braying of protest that I've ever heard.  I wished I could have gotten a photo of him--it was a riot to experience.

Poland Gate is an ancient rock cut at the summit of Poland Rd.  Very neat.  The other riders had gone through while I slowed down, fumbling with the camera.

The D2R2 routes over a number of what Vermont would call "Class 4 roads," meaning public roads that receive minimal or even no maintenance.  This little two-track is indicative.  The conditions had been dry, leaving many of the dirt roads sandy and stony.  You had to stay attentive to keep out of the loose spots that could stop you in a hurry and recently graded roads had a lot of stones sitting on top.  For tires, I was riding a mismatched pair of older slicks whose actual measurements were 28.5mm front and 33mm rear.  These were a great compromise for the conditions.  Even people with (nominal) 28C tires were saying they wished they had something a little wider.  There were lots of places where the riders on mountain bikes had the best tires, but most riders agreed that they wouldn't want to be riding fat knobbies all day.  It would have been excellent to be on a pair of plushy Grand Bois Hetres!

I stupidly have forgotten this guy's name, but he was from Brattleboro and I ran into him several times over the course of the day.  Here, he's summiting South Heath Rd, just before the first break.

The cue sheet was three letter-sized pages long, requiring constant attention as there were so many turns.  Here the rider is reading the cue sheet while passing through the ubiquitous pastoral scene.  I had made up a custom cue sheet that would fit in my jersey pocket and printed it out on waterproof paper.  It worked great until I lost it about half-way through the ride.  After that, it was a combination of last year's distant memories, looking for the tracks of other bikes, staying with other riders, or just plain waiting at an intersection for someone else to come along that kept me on course.

The breaks were nicely spaced. I rode through the first water stop, giving me a very brief opportunity to be the lead rider on the course. That didn't last long! The actual breaks included fruit, pocket food, extra gels, and powder mixes (Hammer provided mixes, gels and electrolyte pills for free, but there was Gatorade mix as well.  They even had multiple flavors, including orange--my favorite!).  Also available were pickles, watermelon and salt, the three major food groups for cyclists.

The route was speckled with classic New England buildings, including lots of Federal style churches, town meeting houses and farmhouses, and innumerable ancient barns and farm buildings.

This road was perhaps at the far limit of condition of the roads of the day.  It wasn't really hard to ride, but you would probably not be able to get a standard 2WD sedan up it, at least not without scraping the undercarriage and perhaps losing a few parts.  On the other end of the spectrum were smooth, paved roads, some of which were a hoot to ride, with fast descents and tight, but sweeping curves.

The road actually crosses this pond.  I think it was on Colrain Pond Rd.

I didn't even try getting a picture while climbing the 27% loose gravel Archambo Rd climb, which I cleaned again this year.  Stephen Taylor called it "Rambo Hill."  The photo above was taken near the summit of Hillman Rd, which comes right after "Rambo" and seems tougher.  It's much less steep, but quite a long pull.

The state line marker at mile 53.  If I'm reading the dates correctly, this marker has been there 114 years.  It was shortly after this I realized I had lost my cue sheet.  I figured I had dropped it only a couple miles back, but there were hills I really didn't want to have to climb again, so I pressed on.

Lunch was again at the Green River covered bridge, which must be the perfect spot to take a break on a bike ride.  Just before the break is a long, steep descent down Josh Rd.  I went down it too fast last year and hit some rough stuff so hard my brake levers moved down the handlebars, something that has never happened to me before.  I was taking it a bit easier this year, but staying with some other riders who were keeping up a good pace.  The road was bumpy and the tree cover made for a lot of mottled shadows that left the surface hard to read, especially at speed.  Not far from the bottom, I hit either a hole or rock so hard I almost lost it.  It made a heck of a bang, but I was able to stay upright, prompting multiple calls of "Nice save, man," from the other riders.  It spooked me enough that I almost didn't make the sharp left onto a narrow bridge at the bottom, banking right into the rail on the the side of the bridge.  Checking the bike at the break revealed a nice flat spot in the rim, though the tire was fine and the wheel was rideable without any attention with a spoke wrench.
There were tasty catered sandwiches and pasta salad at the lunch spot, along with all the other goodies and lots of friendly volunteers and happy cyclists.  I chatted with some of the Vermont contingent and met up with Norm Lafleur, who was volunteering and who I haven't seen for a few years.  I must have dallied longer than I thought at the break, though, because my legs felt like lead on the long climb out of the valley.

The rest of the ride went well.  I was tired, but never cramped.  This may have been the result of being in good condition, but I'm going to give some credit to Hammer's electrolyte replacement products, too.  I found the drink mix almost tasty, certainly better than tolerable, and, just before Patton Hill, I even used the gel pack they gave me.  I have only had a gel once before, several years ago, and found it so disgusting I didn't want to try one again. The Hammer gel was fine, though, and it certainly didn't hurt me any.  Patton Hill is super steep and paved at the start, becoming a long, steady grind after it turns to dirt. Many riders end up walking the last section, though I didn't have much trouble with it, beyond keeping traction, at times.

This is the top of the last climb, on the very rough Hawks Rd, last dirt road of the day.  I had been with this strong rider for about 15 miles, as she had a cue sheet and was nice enough to help me with the turns.  I reciprocated by taking the lead on the familiar final paved section, getting our pace up as we cruised by the 100K riders until crossing the finish at 28 mph.  A flying finish for a fantastic ride.

You get an awful lot for your $75 D2R2 entry fee.  Though it's a fund raiser, they don't skimp on provisions.  There was a nice, catered dinner waiting for us, with all the food you wanted.  I spent a leisurely time winding down, eating, chatting with other riders, and looking at the cool bikes people were riding.

The Sylvan guys were back with a more polished version of their wooden bike.  They had one for people to test ride, if you wanted to.  The frame is $3,600, if you're interested in one. They've improved the lugs dramatically from the one they showed last year.

An exquisite J. P. Weigle

Perhaps the highlight of the day was getting a chance to chat with Peter Weigle at dinner.  I haven't seen him in person since the New York Bike Show in the early 1980s.  He's a very approachable guy, especially considering the fact that no one makes a classier steel frame than he does.  He is among the best of the best in framebuilding and his bikes are among the prettiest things with two wheels.  He turned down my offer of my glass of Preservation Ale, so I gave it to Stephen, instead.  Last year, Richie Sachs rode by me so fast that I didn't recognize him.  This year, I wore my Richard Sachs jersey in the hopes that he would maybe say hello, or give me a dope slap on the way by but, sadly, I didn't see the great man.

While Stephen finished his dinner, I packed up camp and looked at some of the other cool bikes.  There were several of these Circle As and any number of other unique and/or beautiful frames.  I even saw a classic Reynolds 753 tubed Raleigh Team professional someone had retrofitted with cantilevers and wide tires.  Very cool, especially in how well they matched the color where they repainted the area of the canti brazeons.  Even though the ride back to Lincoln was three hours, Stephen and I didn't run out of things to talk about, so many interesting things had happened during the day.  He said he would be coming back next year to do the 180k, as he had definitely been bitten by the D2R2 bug.  Like I said, one ride and you're hooked.

My ride time was 8:34 for 112 miles, 14 minutes better than last year.  I didn't check the time I finished, but I'm sure that my total time will be much better, as I didn't have the mechanical problems that dogged me, last year.  Elevation change for the ride is hard to definitively establish, so I'll go with the 12,850' of climbing that another rider's GPS recorded over the route last year, as it falls nicely in the 10,000'-16,000' range claimed by various sources.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Prepping for the D2R2

It's been a great season, even if I haven't been writing about it.  The 100/200 went off like a charm, with a few less people than last year, but still a really great crew to ride with.  Hot, and with a headwind, it was one of the toughest editions I've ridden.  There have been a number of other great rides as well, and I hope to get the chance to come back and write about them when things slow down.

 With the D2R2 only a week away, I decided to take a wonderful Saturday, when I should have been finishing building my woodshed, and slide in a training ride, instead.  I had it in mind that I would ride a few gaps, including the mysterious Braintree Gap, which I had tried unsuccessfully to find a couple of weeks ago, and try to hit as much dirt in between as possible.  I put a 28 tooth chainring on the triple and headed out at 8 am, riding the Duxbury Rd to Waterbury and then onto pavement, until taking the shortcut up Lovers' Lane to the great little bridge that is now closed to autos.
View of the Mad River upstream from Lovers Lane Bridge

Shortly after turning onto VT 100B, I was thinking of how I had noticed some dirt roads up on the mountains to the left when looking at the maps and  was ready when I saw Moretown Common Rd come up.  I hadn't planned on riding it, but I knew where it came out and decided to go for it.  It turned out to be a very nice climb on the other side of the Mad River, with some nice views at the top.  Here's one of some old barns with Camels Hump in the distance.

As it turns out, there are some roads that would have made the route easier, but climbing was something I wanted to do, so I'll just save that away for another day.
After a nice descent to the end of the Common Rd, it was on to Moretown Mtn Rd.  It's officially a "gap", at least according to the USGS, but it's fairly easy, at just over 1560' elevation at the top.  There's a very brief, but impressive view of Camels Hump right at the top.  The road then turns a little, so it's the only view you get.
Looking back at Camels Hump at the top of Moretown Gap
A little after cresting Moretown Gap, I missed the unmarked turn onto Devils Washbowl Rd. and had to back up the hill a ways to catch it. What a great name! It's a narrow little track, with a bit of climbing, but very enjoyable.
I wound around on the dirt roads, skirting Northfield, and came across a dandy little blackberry patch along the road. The berries are just starting to get ripe here and some were huge, as you can see. Very tasty.

I came out on the Warren Mtn Rd, but Roxbury Gap was not on the agenda today.  I was set on finding the "Missing Gap," as I was calling it.  I had spotted Braintree Gap on Google Maps and had intended to ride it a couple of weeks ago, but I missed the turn and ended up riding back over Roxbury Gap, instead.  This time. I had studied the satellite view carefully and knew exactly where the turn should be.  It looked like a driveway and had signs saying "No Outlet," but I didn't let that stop me.  At first, the road was quite rideable on my Gunnar Crosshairs cyclocross bike.  I was running smooth 32mm tires, which worked well on the crushed rock.  The road was steep and unrelenting, with lots of waterbars.  There was nothing that could be called flat, all the way to the top.  There's been a lot of logging in the past few years, and the road was obviously improved  for this purpose.  A 4-wheel drive auto with good ground clearance should be able to make it up to the last log landing without too much trouble, but it would be an adventure.

About a third of the way up, I came across prodigious blackberry patches along both sides of the road.  A good excuse to stop, I spent quite awhile, eating berries until I actually got tired of them.  I don't know that that's ever happened to me before--I love blackberries!  I stopped at a spot where a tiny stream, cold enough that it must have been spring-fed, ran right across the road.  it was a great opportunity to cool down, rinse off and clean up the berry stains.  As you can see in the photo, the road was getting pretty gnarly.  The photos do no justice to how steep the road really is.
After this, the road got even steeper and more rough.  I took this photo after coming to a grinding halt, losing traction on the large rocks.  I might have been able to go a little farther if I could have stayed in the center, but it was so steep that, even then, I may not have been able to get traction.  It was definitely mountain bike material, though I only had to walk a couple of short sections.  Braintree Gap peaks at 2490', just 30' shy of Lincoln Gap.  While Lincoln Gap's steep section starts around 1400', Braintree starts at 815' elevation.  It's one nasty climb!

The road down was a different story, entirely.  There were several sections when I was way off the back of the saddle, trying not to pitch over the bars.  I actually walked more on the descent than the climb, as it was just too gnarly and steep for a non-suspension bike with narrow tires.  You'd be banging up the bottom of that Subaru Outback if you tried to drive it down this, and you would never make it at all, headed the other way.  There were drops of over a foot in several places.  Here's a view back up the trail.
I'm going to have to come back with a mountain bike sometime.  The section below was more like riding down a stream bed, complete with gurgling water, in spite of the dry weather.

I came out on North Hollow Rd in Granville, and welcomed the respite for my hands, sore from the pounding and the death grip I had on the brakes.  A short run on the blessedly smooth pavement of Rte 100, and then it was time to turn off onto Plunkton Rd, another dirt road I've never ridden.  A bit of up and down and then the nice descent on pavement into Warren for a welcome break at the Warren Country Store.  Another rider there said the road construction on Lincoln Gap had proceeded to the point where it was rideable, so I headed out to do what I now see as Vermont's second toughest climb.  Thankfully, the construction ends right where the super steep stuff starts.  I made it to the top without any real difficulty with my 28x27 granny gear, and it was down the back side. I wasn't careful enough, though, and overheated the rim to the point that a patch failed, leaving me to fix the only flat of the day.

The pavement, once it started up again, was all fresh and new.  Asphalt is slow when it's first laid, but oh, so smooth. I recollected that there were some dirt roads that might connect through, and I tried a few, but they all petered out, leaving me to return to the pavement until getting to Lincoln.
From Lincoln, it was onto the Quaker St. climb and then Downingville Rd. There's one abandoned section that I like to ride, while it's still possible.  It always makes me think of some post-Apocalypse tale.

I took another break at the Jerusalem Store on Rte 17, where the clerk complained, but filled my water bottle.  "We don't usually do this because we sell water," she said.  So much for Yankee frugality and hospitality. Sorry, but bottles and trucks are far less efficient than pipes for moving water. I'd pay 50 cents for a water bottle refill, if the shop keeper needed the money that bad.  It would be cheaper, and I bet she'd make a better profit and she wouldn't even need to order it, put it in the cooler or pay to refrigerate it.

My path home led right by the bottom of Appalachian Gap, and I couldn't talk myself out of the opportunity to slide in an August ride to the top (keeping my multi-year, monthly App Gap record intact), so it was a not-so-quick run to the top, the obligatory snapshot, then back down before heading home on the Huntington Rd.
The D2R2 website recommends training with centuries that include 10,000' of climbing.  This ride was 110 miles with 9,300', which seems fine, considering that some of the roads were actually worse than anything on the D2R2.  I think I'm ready for next Saturday's fun!

I posted these photos and more to Picassa