Earlier this month I joined my friend Houston Joost for the epic D2R2 180K randonee ride. Although the event had been on my calendar for nearly two years, up until the end of April, I had not fully appreciated the challenge that the D2R2 could potentially present. Houston’s Facebook comment: “How is your training for the D2R2?” got my attention. Up until this time, I was like … “Hey, great, another cool century ride (ok, a century plus 10 additional miles) … I don’t need to train for that?” … or did I? As I sought to answer that question I discovered that the D2R2 holds a well-deserved reputation as one of the most difficult rides on the eastern seaboard. It was time to get training. Based on a survey of ride reports (follow the links listed at the end of this post) I selected a new Giant TCX 0 cyclocross bike and started logging training miles. Note: Altough the predominant number of bikes in the D2R2 are cyclocross bikes, along the way I saw a wide variety of rides: sleek carbon road bikes, classic randonee rides, mountain bikes, 29ers, and everything in between (as the NE is home to many custom bike shops, there were many bikes that are, at least in my mind, works of art … my friend Houston’s bike being no exception (see below). Three months to get ready for 110 miles on dirt roads that presented 19,000 ft. of elevation gain …
I made my way to Boston on the Friday, the day before Saturday’s D2R2. Houston met me at the airport and delivered us to the home of his in-laws who had generously agreed to host us for the D2R2 event (we could not have had better hosts … thank you “Uncle Tim,” Mary, and Grace). A brief note about my pal Houston. Houston was my friend in college (undergraduate school at Westminster College) and, before Friday evening at the Boston airport, I had not seen him in person for nearly 20 years—our reconnection had been what, at least for me, has been a series of orchestrated reunions that have come about as a welcomed byproducts of social media (i.e., Facebook). Houston and I picked up where had left and reconnected as we made our way to Somersville, CT. Note: The D2R2 begins in Deerfield, MA and then routes riders through both Massachusetts and Vermont). Houston had recently moved to beautiful California (Marin County.) from Philadelphia, is a high-flying corporate entomologist with FMC, a husband to a skilled corporate lawyer, and father of a busy 18-month-old and expecting a little girl on the way in November … there would be no shortage of things to talk about during our 1 1/2 hour trip to CT.
Following a dinner of Mary’s legendary lasagna, Houston and I headed out to the garage to assemble our bikes and prepare for the upcoming ride. Note that Houston and I had each elected to ship our bikes to Uncle Tim’s to ensure that would be there for the ride, unwilling to leave our fate to the airlines (Houston had also mailed some CO2 inflators and while I mailed an additional package of nutritional products in order to avoid TSA security issues while carrying on luggage). Houston elected FedEx, I chose UPS and each were waiting for us when we arrived. As a perhaps interesting aside, although I had received a delivery confirmation from UPS earlier in the week, I received an e-mail on Friday morning alerting my (via Tim) that Houston’s bike had arrived but mine had not! Uh, what … !!!??? This caused a bit of a stir in my home as I tried to get to the bottom of where in the world my bike was. Hmmm … delivery confirmation, August 15th, “left at garage.” Electing to not be denied my shot at the D2R2 I grabbed another set of pedals from my road bike and an extra set of shoes and stuffed them into my bag … surely I could find some type of bike to ride!? After a couple of yet unanswered e-mails to Houston and Tim seeking clarification, I called Mary on my way to the airport. After the initial and friendly introductions … “Great timing Brian, your bike arrived just 10-minutes ago …”, Mary informed me. Whew … before leaving my truck I removed my extra pedals and shoes, confident that my gear was already waiting for me in Connecticut. Only later that night did we learn that it was Houston’s bike, and NOT mine that was delayed and only delivered on the day before the D2R2 event!
By 11 o’clock, with a near steady rain continuing outside (the rain had cut both Houston’s and my check ride to all but a single lap around the driveway—it had started to rain shortly after nightfall) we headed to bed, more or less ready to go … departure time for the ride up to Deerfield was set for 4:45 a.m. By 11:30 I had exchanged my final text and with my wife asking her to pray that my bike would hold together and closed my eyes to catch some sleep; however, Houston had other plans (we were sharing a room) … you see, Houston snores (this fact proved to provide a bit of fuel for some lighthearted banter over the remainder of the weekend).
I greeted the morning, and the rain, at 3:50 a.m. and through on my GLXY kit, prepared a bowl of thick cut oatmeal supplemented with some rice protein and a banana (the fresh fruit had been set out after I had turned in by our hosts … again, tops!), and spent a few minutes organizing my nutritional products (i.e., mixing a couple of 2Xs-strength Perpetuem, dividing up my solid food and gels, etc.) before being joined by both Houston and Uncle Tim—Tim had braved the early morning hour to see us off (truly a great guy and it was very nice of him to wake early to share the morning with us and see us off).
While Houston drove, I spent a few more minutes fiddling with my nutrition and organizing my hydration backpack. A word about hydration … in years past the D2R2 has offered blistering heat and saturating humidity. Although this year’s event provided perfect weather (light rain in the a.m., cool temperatures, and overcast skies that did not completely clear unit mid-afternoon), given my level of training/fitness, the prospects of coming up short on water did not appeal to me, so I “hedged” and carried a 3L hydration bag. Although the prior three months’ of training had yielded a good strength to weight ratio, my choice (which, by the way proved completely unnecessary, added nearly 15 lbs. to my frame) and, in hindsight, was a poor one—the D2R2 offers amble support that a rider can complete the with only minimum reserves, e.g., two bottles, a bit of supplemental nutrition, and a couple of spare tubes/CO2 cartridges.
We arrived shortly before 6 a.m. and following a routine check-in we were rolling by 6:15-ish (my Garmin said 6:19 a.m.)—the D2R2 allows an open start, riders begin when they are ready.
The slideshow (above), includes images of me “solo” along Stage 3, the set of laminated cue sheets that I made for the event, me celebrating with a complimentary pint of craft beer at the end of the day, a map of the D2R2 courses, my bib #33 atop an article in the Greenfield, Mass “Recorder,” along with my friend Houston just before heading out on Stage 3.
Houston was already rolling when I entered the starting shoot and clicked on my Garmin Edge 500 and 910XT (I wanted to do a little additional testing and, given the length of the event, I elected to wear the 910XT to ensure that I would have odometer for the entire course—see my post on the 910 here). I let Houston stay out in front and purposely held back, preferring to follow rather than lead in order to get a feel of what would be in store for the remainder of the day. I also needed to “follow” as my first cue sheet had been attached backwards … Stage 1’s laminated sheet was facing down and was nearly inaccessible due to the manner in which it was attached to my handlebars—again, I jokingly wanted to blame Houston for that as there had been a bit of mix-up as Houston helped me attach my cue sheets to my bike during bike assembly. Houston kindly played tour guide for miles 1 through 36 (I am certain out of a feeling of guilt … ha!), stopping to make sure that I made the many blind turns and changes in course. I apologized for holding him up, only to be reassured that he appreciated the brief rests that these stops offered. Stage 1 offered nearly 6,000 ft. of climbing on surfaces that ranged from unadulterated asphalt to washed out, rock-strewn, gravel and bare, wet dirt. From behind, I cautiously met the repeated climbing challenges while watching Houston steadily power along out in front.
As we embarked on Stage 2 and, after receiving a “yes” answer to whether the remained of the event would offer more of the same types of challenges as Stage 1, I knew that I “had it”—barring an accident, severe illness, or a catastrophic mechanical failure (all things that remained possibilities) I would have the legs to complete the D2R2 180K. I gradually started to meet the larger climbs with more confidence only to watch in disbelief as Houston started to fade. A couple of stops-and-starts, followed by a couple of tries at my best encouragement, followed by addition prodding had done little to change Houston’s outlook. He was complaining of fatigue, static elevated HR, headache, etc. … outwardly agitated, this veteran D2R2 riders (Houston had completed this same ride last year), in his own words, was “cooked.”
As we rolled out of second checkpoint, across yet another covered bridge (see the photo gallery above), and began the next climb Houston pulled the “rip cord” and informed me that he would not be continuing on. Despite my multiple encouragements that things would surely turn around (athletes frequently experience alternating periods of highs and lows during long-course endurance events) Houston made up his mind that continuing would not be worth the “cost” and called it quits … he would return to the staging area via a more direct route, eat, take a nap, and patiently wait for me while I finished what I had set out to do—he would be waiting for a LONG time (my day “official”: 13 hrs., 32 minutes, and 43 seconds)! As I shared with Houston later that evening, for the next 20-miles or so I kept expecting him to miraculously reappear on the course … this; however, was not to be. I also thought of Houston again when I realized that I had left my iPod (along with a custom playlist for this event in my luggage) … I had discussed bringing it along with him the night before before we mutually decided that, given our many shared interests and long absence in real time communication, could more than fill 12 or so hours with conversation. With Houston’s premature departure I was left with … well, I was left with the sounds of the stunningly beautiful New England countryside, the banter of other cyclists moving along the route, and conversations shared with a new group of cycling friends that I joined toward the start of the final stage. Throughout the day the landscape was stunning. Pastoral farmers, historic homesteads, rock walls and battlements dating back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, rolling brooks, streams, and rivers were the order of the day. At one portion of the third Stage, I flagged down another rider who graciously agreed to take my picture by an idyllic stream—remember the D2R2 is a ride NOT a race! After navigating solo for much of the post-lunch stage, I joined a small group of cyclists as we headed for the final stage and ultimately, the finish. We shared navigation duties and, after dropping what until this point had been my meticulous attention to the cue sheet, I paid a price for it … we missed a significant turn onto Call Road (before the iron bridge on Route 112) and continued on 112 for nearly 2 miles (this miscue, along with another earlier one missing Jurek Road (no sign) as well as some other minor missteps yielded a total mileage for my day of 120.4 miles). The additional 4 miles before facing the legendary Patten Hill climb further rattled some of the already weary riders in our little group.
By the time we reached the final checkpoint I was ready to get home. I knew that Houston was waiting for me and that our hosts were expecting us for dinner (a dinner which, once I got to it, was the perfect ending to an amazing day: caprese salad made with local tomatoes, sweet corn (again, fresh and local), a thick T-bone, a regional craft beer, followed by homemade peach cobbler—outrageously good and most appreciated). Our group scattered a bit, only to come back together to accomplish the remaining navigation challenges with precision. The air was dimmed with twilight along with statements like “never again” or “I can’t wait to eat spaghetti and meatballs,” “that beer is going to taste so good,” etc.—the type of stuff that is frequently thrown about at the end of an exhausting outing or expedition, as we completed the remaining series of climbs and began the short descent to the finish. Earlier in the day, Houston had informed me that the saying at the D2R2 … “when in doubt, climb” … this proved true on multiple occasions throughout the day.
I crossed the finish line, followed by my friend Dave, only to be greeted by a round of applause from other riders enjoying the festivities and food offered at the finishing line. I acknowledged them with a wide smile and a couple of nods before heading across the field to meet Houston. Houston greeted me with a congratulations and had me pose for a photo. It was over—an event two years in the making had come and gone. As Houston packed up out bikes, I made my way over to pick up the commemorative pint glass filled with a well-deserved beer that I subsequently shared with my friend Houston before heading home. Dave came over and thanked me for my encouragement (and I thanked him for his company), I exchanged additional congratulatory words with, and met the children of two other riders who I had shared the last miles of the ride with before heading to the car for the final time.
The D2R2 is an “epic” event. The event has a great vibe and offers something for nearly every class and calibre of rider. My ride was made even more memorable by reuniting with an old college pal and through the introduction to our gracious host family. As I was reminded by Houston’s uncle, a former Navy SEAL, “The only easy day is yesterday.”—Well said Tim … can’t wait to see what is next!
Many others have contributed to the body of knowledge about the D2R2 and several good “ride reports” can be found by surveying the following links: