D2R2: harder than I expected, more fun than I imagined
Over the years I have made a lot of questionable equipment decisions in pursuit of new adventures on the bike. Last year’s attempt to take on my first MTB race while riding a single speed cyclocross bike ranks highly on my list of silly decisions. But this past weekend topped it when, for the 2019 edition of D2R2, I was forced by time and equipment constraints to ride my Moots Routt RSL that is currently setup for road use. Meaning I was going to tackle the steep Western Massachusetts gradients with a 48T single chainring upfront. I hoped the 32-max gearing on the cassette would be sufficient to partially make up for this chainring, but then I lost the use of my 32-cog to an early mechanical. This left every single ascent on the course to be tackled at a leg grinding cadence of 45 rpm. In short, this ride hurt. A lot. But it was also a pretty special day on the bike that easily surpassed most of the races I have done in the past few years, raising the question - is this one of the best bike events on the East Coast?
My first D2R2
While Rasputitsa has long been a staple of my early season calendar, a variety of schedule conflicts always kept me from participating in the Deerfield Dirt-Road Randonnee, or D2R2, in the past. But after Ted raved about the event a few years back, Lisa, Chris and I decided that we had to make the trip to the 2019 edition to experience what is in many ways the grandparent of the East Coast gravel scene, with a history dating back to the 1990’s. The D2R2 premise, as described on the event website, is simple:
The courses will use the narrowest, oldest, twistiest, quietest, and most-scenic roads available.
A range of courses will provide access to novices as well as challenge the world's strongest riders.
D2R2 will never offer prizes for anything other than gags, nor will finish results ever be presented like it was a race.
The course is not marked. Riders will use cue sheets to navigate the route. Official RideWithGPS routes will also be available.
Riders shall cover the course in a self-sufficient manner, without motorized crew vehicles.
The organization will put as much effort into its food offerings as it does the ride itself.
D2R2 is a key fundraiser for the Franklin Land Trust's efforts to conserve land in the region. The staff and board of directors of the FLT sincerely thank you for your participation!
In our experience that description holds true from start to finish. The D2R2 vibe is distinctly more relaxed than at your typical road race or even an event like Rasputitsa where the hardcore racers (and former cyclocross world champions) come out in force. Instead, D2R2 is a communal affair where a significant number of participants camp on site the night before (though the odd decision to put tents in between each car means that if you have a neighbor starting early you can expect to hear them pumping their tires at 5AM — ugh).
D2R2: The Ride Begins
Poor sleep aside, our stoke was high on the morning of the ride. The weather forecast had cleared up overnight and while the morning was overcast and misty, the afternoon looked likely to feature a fair bit of sunshine. We snagged a bit of breakfast from the ride village and took our time kitting up as the ‘not a race’ philosophy of D2R2 meant that we could casually begin the ride well after our scheduled start. Eventually Lisa, Chris, and I rolled off the start line and headed through Old Deerfield as part of the 115km course - a medium distance by D2R2 standards though one that we were warned featured a surprising amount of climbing. Despite those warnings, the first few miles were flat and mostly paved, giving a sense of foreboding as we realized that all of the elevation must be packed into the final 100km. Sure enough, we soon hit dirt and with it the steep gradients that would characterize so much of the next few hours.
D2R2 Finishes with a Punch
By the time the miles started ticking down, my inadequate gearing and general distaste for climbing started to contribute to quite a bit of fatigue. And yet, D2R2 kept the hits coming with a big climb out of the lunch stop and an even bigger climb up to the final rest stop of the day. This latter climb was when I nearly cracked - it was steep enough that with my gearing I had to put a foot down more than once. It was also at this point that we resorted to emergency tactics and broke out our flask for that last bit of extra energy. Eventually we made it to the top and refueled at the final pit stop with sandwiches and oreos. A handful of miles later, with our 115km done, we rolled across the start/finish line to partake in the free beers and post-ride food before heading back to Northampton for dinner with family and friends.
Looking back at D2R2
As Clay wrote about in his Farmer’s Daughter recap, gravel events can be a great reminder that there is so much more to bikes than categorized races and chasing upgrade points in pursuit of a number on your USAC license:
Categorized races are the outliers. We who strive to make Cat 2 are the weird ones. Isn’t it enough that you can go ride in a new environment, see some amazing scenery, and challenge yourself physically, mentally, and if we’re honest, emotionally?
D2R2 certainly fits this bill. From its pre-and-post ride festivities to its wide array of different distances for different riders and the fact that the entire event is held to benefit a great cause - it all adds up to something really special that doesn’t exist in any USAC race that I have participated in over the past decade. And for those that want to tackle it at pace, it can be one of the most challenging days on the bike that you’ll have all year (I certainly struggled at various points on the ride).
Perhaps D2R2, with its long history, is too difficult to replicate to ever be the future for the sport that we write about so often in the State of the Sport. Or perhaps the race focused orientation of Rasputitsa or Kanza will win the day in the next evolution of cycling events. But either way D2R2 is something special and I encourage all riders, particularly those that are more used to 5:30AM races in Central Park or Tuesday night crits at Floyd Bennett Field, to venture out to future editions.