In my heaven there are no hills to ride up, only descents. But in the real world Newton's First Law of Cycling applies: for every uphill there is an equal and opposite downhill! As a result, you have to do a little work to get to the reward. Other than that, the D2R2 is cycling in heaven. There are almost no cars, beautiful views, plentiful food and water (in heaven there are going to be beer stops, I just know it), and super nice people volunteering and watching. Even the drivers of the very few cars that we saw were totally cool when they had to wait for us.
I signed up for this ride a couple of months ago and had been looking forward to it for a while. I have never in my 24 years as a "serious" cyclist done more than 100 miles in a day and the last time
I did that was years ago. So, I opted for the shorter of the two rides, 100km. Part of the reasoning was the 3 extra hours of sleep I would be able to get Saturday morning before driving most of the way across the state. But I also knew that if this course was as hard as the bloggage from last year indicated, this was no place for me to try and set a new personal best for distance, time, or anything else.
After checking in I found the Cycle Lodge crew (Jim, Beth, Barry, Dave, Simms, etc) and headed out with them at a very reasonable 9:15 AM. Those on the long ride (180km) had mostly left around 6:00. The first hill came after about 10 minutes on flat farm roads and it was an eye opener. I'm not a great judge of steepness but this was steep, maybe 10%? More importantly, it was mostly soft sand with plenty of stretches that just sucked up whatever speed you might have generated on a more forgiving section. Plus there were just enough loose rocks on the surface that you were sure to bump into one at the worst possible time. After switching tracks one too many times looking for a good line, and trying to get around others already hiking it, I succumbed to the sand and had to walk quite a bit of it. At this point we were about 20 minutes into what I expected could be a 7 hour ride and I was already questioning my choice of gear (39x28), tires (35 mm city tires) and footwear (road shoes and pedals). Oh oh, this is going to be a really bad day if this is how its going to be. At least I had my trusty steed, my Indy Fab Planet X cross bike. Although not as efficient as my road bike, it was the only sensible choice for this ride although I would soon realize that cantilever cross brakes with last years worn out pads barely have the stopping power needed for 15% grade descents with 90 degree corners at the bottom.
Fortunately, this first climb was the worst climb of the day, although not the steeepest. I managed to keep the pedals turning on every other climb but I couldn't even begin to count how many times I double checked to make sure I was really in my lowest gear. I rode almost every hill bottomed out in the 28 and checked two or three more times on many of the hills looking for one more gear only to feel the limit screw. Better than feeling the spokes I guess.
I can't really remember all of the hills now, but we basically headed northward, upward, downward, upward, and downward until we were well into Vermont. I noticed that I didn't see a single town line sign on the entire route, but I did notice a granite marker for the Mass/Vermont line that looked like it has been there since Shay's Rebellion (i.e. a very long time ago if you don't know your Western Mass colonial-era history).
If you missed the granite marker, you knew you were in Vermont when you reached the covered bridge which is the turnaround point for the short ride and the lunch stop. Here is a picture of the diabolical genius who created the D2R2, Sandy, in front of the bridge:
By this point I had let the Cycle Lodge crew go ahead so I could just enjoy the ride without having to suffer on the climbs. An extra gear would have helped, but I had decided that I was just out for a tour at an easy pace. The last I saw of them was as they pulled out of the lunch stop. But I ran into a team mate, Steve Curren, and we rode the rest together and even found another Mass Bay guy, Peter Lastnameidontknowyet, to ride with. None of us are naturally gifted climbers so we made a pretty good group. We also seemed to pass and then get passed by the same 6 or 7 riders the rest of the day so they were like part of the group too. After the lunch stop the long version of D2R2 goes strait up a long hill but the 100km version mercifully follows the Green River downstream for several miles so lunch can digest. Then there is a sudden switch back turn and it goes straight up hill again. The good news here though, is that the ice cream truck is parked near the top. I haven't yelled "ice cream truck" so loud since I was about 10 years old. Bart's ice cream is almost an institution in Western Mass. Their Mass Mocha flavor (get it? MOCA= Museum Of Contemporary Art in North Adams) has chocolate covered espresso beans in it and I figured I could use some of that for the rest of the ride. Knowing that hard exersise and dairy are sometines not a good combination for me, I ate most of the beans and less than half the ice cream, but that was enough to make it well worth the $3 investment.
For some reason, I started feeling better at this point (caffeine is my friend) and pushed the climbs a little more. Apex Orchard had free apples and peaches for us but you had to climb a nasty paved hill to get to them. As with all things D2R2, the reward is well worth the effort. Then you get to descend and that is something I think I do well. Some skills I guess I developed to make up for sucky climbing ability, good equipment, and thus far never having a serious crash on a descent probably all help. But the key is weight to surface area ratio. At 205 pounds, I generate momentum pretty fast and can usually pass smaller guys even if they pedal. Plus, I'm the master of the slingshot. I love descending and D2R2 has some places you can let it fly. There are also some places you should definitely not let it fly. I probably got lucky once or twice because I had no problems and never flatted (I've definitely jinxed myself for next year now). There were lots of people with flats stopped on the side of the road on the descents. Fortunately, everyone that I saw was ok and well equipped for repairs.
At some point the climbing was mostly done with and there were only a few turns still to be followed on the cue sheet. I knew I would make it to the end but every few minutes I ended up saying to myself " I'm really glad I didn't try to do the 180km." I must have said it 5 more times while I was drinking post-ride beers from Berkshire Brewing Co. But today, two days later, I'm already starting to think about next year and maybe doing the long version. I must be nuts, I know better. I did the right thing this year. One year older isn't going to help.
The post ride spread was great, as was the beer. Solobreak bought me a beer, and Steve didn't want his so I had his and mine. Three nice beers after 7 hours in the saddle and I was feeling very mellow. I managed to lose about three hours in what seemed like 20 minutes. All of a sudden it was time to drive to Easthampton to go to Adam Myerson's "How to Train for Cyclocross" seminar. It was 6:30, the seminar started at 7:00 and my GPS said it would take half an hour to get there if all goes perfectly. GPSs are amazing (thanks Mom). I almost got Solobreak to join Steve and I under the pretense that he could heckle Adam during his seminar. But in the end Foley couldn't bear the thought of the $25 entry fee so it was just me and Steve. We got there right on time while Adam was still working out the tech details of the power point presentation. He must not have been an AV Club kid in high school, although it wouldn't surprise me if he was. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that cycling generally has a much higher percen12 tage of AV Club and marching band geeks than other sports, but that is a topic for another day, I still need to find time to practice my saxophone tonight.
Adam got it going while I poured us some beer. Fortunately, Al Donahue had some nice commemerative glassware left over from the Gran Fundo so we didn't have to drink Allagash Triple out of dixie cups. Now, at this point I had been up for 18 hours, driven 200 miles from Cape Cod to Western Mass, ridden the toughest 65 miles of my life, drank three and a half beers, haven't showered, and Adam breaks out the power tap files from some races he can't even remember in 2004. Zzzzzzz. Actually, I was so psyched to be talking cyclocross with Adam and all the other bike geeks at the seminar, that I was wide awake the whole time. The main point of Adam's talk was that you have to do your training for cross at highly variable power outputs. Cyclocross isn't like a time trial so don't train for time trialing. That's the condensed version, you'll have to sign up for next years seminar and skills camp to get the details.
After a quick stop for beer and frites at the Dirty Truth the day was done and we found a hotel to crash.
I have a couple of weeks off from announcing now but I be co-anouncing the Vermont UCI cyclocross-Verge weekend with Alan Cote on September 18-19. So, I'm going to race early in the day then jump on the mic with Alan and talk the rest of the day (both days). I can't beleive it but this will be the first time I have ever raced or announced within the borders of Vermont.
And if anyone is looking for something to do next Sunday August 29th, come see my band at the Marshfield Fair Roots and Blues Festival. We play at 1:30 and the music only gets better from there.
Thanks for hanging out with me at startfinishbikenews, see you soon.