D2R2 really delivers

August 26, 2008

  • Photo gallery below, after my comments

I first heard about D2R2 while riding a brevet in 2006. I think it was the BBS 400 km. I was with two riders who spoke of it. I think they were Ted Lapinski and Russ Loomis. They talked about the ardors and cruelty of the ride, the relentlessly steep rough roads, the pain and suffering, the exorbitant length and breadth of the thing, the sadism and masochism, and the DNF rate. I listened while they went on. And on. And I listened on. Eventually I had some sort of a brain malfunction, perhaps an overload of the brag detection centers, and I blurted out, “So why would anyone do this other than to prove how much pain and hardship he can endure? Is that the whole point of it?” I think it was something like that.

Ted, I think it was, corrected me. I had it all wrong. It’s a beautiful ride, one of the nicest in the region, one of the nicest he’s done. The views – splendid; the roads – quiet; the terrain – varied; the sights – all overwhelmingly picturesque. I immediately regretted my outburst and made apologetic sounds (uh huh, mm mmm, right, yeah) as though I understood. Since then I heard a lot more riders talk about D2R2, usually about its vicious brutality.

I didn’t get to ride D2R2 in 2006 or 7 but this year, 8, I did. Clearly I was going to ride the 100 km variant. I wasn’t going to spoil what sounds like a very enjoyable ride by choosing the 170 km death march. I know how my mind works: concern about finishing would cause me to focus on the difficulties and finishing and would distract me from enjoying the ride. I don’t need to drive a gasoline-fueled motor car four and a half hours round trip  from Boston for that. Besides, the nine o’clock start for the 100 km is quite civilized.

So what can I tell you about the ride besides the already well known? I used a road bike with 35 mm cyclocross tires, standard Shimano triple (30t granny) and 12-27 cassette. It was fine. I used the 30/27 ratio a lot. I put SPD pedals on for this ride but I’d probably have been alright with KEO too. I unclipped on the climbs only twice. Once, when a stick got caught in my chain-set and the chain dropped off inwards. The other time, close to the first climb, was more educational.

There was a tight group at the front on the flat roads before the first climb. They made me nervous. It was like I feel on CRW centauries – too many of the riders (a few is enough) in the front group looked more eager stay attached than skilled. There were a lot of skinny tires in that group. I let a gap develop without going so slow that I got swamped by those behind me. In short, I wanted some space. But the gap wasn’t enough. On the first climb, which, in the D2R2 genre, is steep and rough, the lead group got off and walked. It only takes a few riders to put a foot down (and discover, teetering, that they can’t get stated again) to block the road. I slowed down as much as I could and looked for a gap to get through. One opened and I went for it, only for another cyclist to ride into it ahead of me stop, right there, to get off and walk. Sigh.

After that I spent way too much of my attention on other riders rather than on enjoying where I was and what I was doing. Things only settled down in terms of overcrowding after the first water stop.

Lesson learned: give the leaders a few minutes head start. Or ride the route some other day.

D2R2 is a swell ride. Really lovely. It’s picturesque to the point of absurdity in places: vistas seemingly composed for the photo shoots of exaggeratedly pastoral picture postcards and glossy Vermont tourist calendars; the sort of views that flat-landers might sprinkle croissant crumbs over in the Sunday Boston Globe while reading the tips on where and when to find the best leaf-peeping.

Also remarkable is how the route avoids roads with much traffic. This was impressive. We touched Route 2 briefly and that was about it. But beware: these dirt roads are not entirely devoid of traffic and some of the locals are fast. Don’t assume and don’t, as I witnessed a couple of times, take a blind bend riding fast downhill on the left.

Anyway, I loved it. Immensely. D2R2 really delivers. I want to do it again soon when leaves are turning.

I recommend it to anyone who’s ok with steep climbs and rough dirt roads and who likes overlooks with old-timey country goodness. Don’t let the D2R2 war stories put you off – it’s not that hard. Nor do I think that’s what this ride is about. Certainly the 100 km route isn’t. It’s relatively hilly by Massachusetts standards in that there is proportionately less flat and gentle riding than is typical. But it’s far from mountainous and none of the climbs are long.