Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Ride of Rides: 2009 Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee - D2R2

Warning: this will be an epic post. This is only fitting as an account of an epic ride. Indeed, many scoff at just about any application of this term. I met a man from Alaska last year who only considers rides around 10 hours long - where emergency blankets and stoves are taken along, just in case - epic. Indeed, its a relative term, you can't nail it down. Its a concept bound up with geography, experience, preparedness, fitness, and chance. Over the last few years I've resisted calling rides epic. Rodd and I have come pretty darn close, especially when I think of one GPS adventure that got pretty gnarly on our 'cross bikes. I think I flatted three times and we hiked a mini-boulder strewn climb we'd mistakenly descended. Later we encountered some friends on the highway driving to the golf course and motor paced behind them at 55 for as long as we could. We were pretty cooked in Wakefield, then rode the 40k home. That was pretty near epic. But we knew we'd be ok, we'd make it. For me, I have to really doubt whether I'll be able to complete a ride, and pull through in order for it to feel epic. My first crack at the D2R2 this past Saturday seemed like it might deliver such a feeling. Instead, I experienced a different sensation: pure satisfaction. While it didn't end up being epic for me, I'm pretty sure it felt that way for others! It was an incredible ride. Here is the story (if you are wondering what the heck D2R2 is, get the low-down from the rando master organizer himself here).

I headed down to Deerfield, Massachusetts early Friday morning with my lovely wife and daughter. After stopping in MTL and Montpelier VT, we arrived in town at 6:30pm. After much consideration, we headed over to Georgio's Pizza for dinner. Carbo loading ensued. Big time. We were not the only bike people in the joint; another group of guys were on the same page. Back to our budget Red Roof hotel we went for some prep and to be early. The ride was to begin at 6am. Sleep.

Getting up was not a problem. However, 5am was too late to keep from feeling rushed. I'd planned to break the fast with baked beans on whole grain bread (the super dense stuff). I find this makes for a safe, long burning meal. However, I barely had time for more than a few bites. Luckily, I also had a vegan date square on tap from Aux Vivres in MTL. It would accompany me in the car. Bottles received Vega sports drink (2) and water (1). Three bottles on-board seemed prudent. I also packed about 8 packs of Shot Blox (really), four gels, two Annie's bean and rice burritos (these are awesome, and don't spoil easily). Of the non edible sort, I packed two tubes, a bunch of glueless patches, tire boots, two CO2 cartridges, multi-tool, and my pump. Much of this fit in my ancient Cannondale tubular seat bag, which resembles a massive sausage. Hideous but effective. Off I went, wearing shorts and jersey alone, as it was already rather warm out.

Once driving I soon realized I had little chance of actually finding the road I was supposed to turn down. Hmmm, not too swift in the planning there. It was dark and foggy. I pulled over, planning to turn around and try a road I saw. But a car with a bike on it passed, so I followed instead. Arrived at the corn field staging area at about 5:30.

Once signed in and pretty much ready to go I realized I'd left the cooler with bottles etc. at the hotel. Back in the car, driving too fast, back again just in time to see the group roll out. Hmmm, not so great. My research had revealed that the fast riders tend to roll out at 6 sharp. 170k riders have the option of going out between 6-7. I confirmed with a volunteer that the speedy people were in fact gone. You might catch them, she said. Uh, I dunno, 13 minutes is a pretty big gap I replied. Oh well, lets find out, I thought, and headed out.

Let me pause to reveal my intentions for the ride. #1: Ride with the lead group as long as possible. #2: Don't cramp. #3: Ride everything. In order to avoid getting lost/and or simply losing time on wrong turns, I needed to ride with the group. Ooops. Since I missed the boat I was on my own. My condensed cue sheet proved inaccurate at the second turn. Hmmm. This'll be challenging, I thought to myself. I resorted to the massive full sized 8x11" sheets, quickly becoming damp in my jersey pocket. This leads me to tip #1:

Tip #1: Sort out your cue sheet in advance. Find a way to mount it to your bars for easy reading. There are many ways to accomplish this. Randonneurs tend to use a bar bag with a clear sleeve on top. If you are sportier, you need another solution. In the event of getting separated from the group, you'll need easy access to the turn info. This route has a good 100 turns.

Ok, so I'm riding at a solid pace, getting the effort going, catching up to riders and passing, saying hi. I make some mistakes. No problem, just try to enjoy it as it comes, I think. We are on dirt very soon. The climbs don't wait to start, they just start. After about 15 miles I come up behind a rider in Embrocation Cycling Journal kit. I was on the lookout for Pete Smith one of the team's members, the Mad Alchemist himself (we're working on getting his embro in at Tall Tree in time for 'cross season). "Hey, are you Peter?" I enquired. It was. Pete had flatted and dropped off the main group. I offered to work with him to try to catch them. Game on. We worked together and chatted. Almost immediately we descended probably the BEST section of paved road I have ever encountered or seen. It was like a bobsled run, absolutely unreal. Even passing other riders it was controlled and ridiculously fun. I was loving the ride already. This descent was followed near mile 30 with an astounding dirt descent. It went on forever, though the cue-sheet says 1 mile. Whatever, it was nuts. I passed a rider on an Epic with slicks, and was hitting mid 40s (around 75k/hr). I slowed at one point to check my rear pressure as it was floating around so much. The last time I felt that sensation was while doing 70 on my 4" travel downhill bike on the fireroad at Mont St. Anne in 1998. Whoa. What a riot!

Pete and I continued on and put in a good bit of climbing before reaching the first checkpoint. To our happy surprise, the lead group had just arrived! Relief. We had plenty of time to fuel up before rolling out with them. The group was maybe 15-20 at this point, composed of one Cat1 racer, a number of local dirt masters, plenty of veteran hammers, one very strong woman, some other dudes, Pete, and me.

Checkpoint 1. I obviously didn't take this photo. I borrowed/pirated it from:
"Archambo is sandy," I was warned by one of the many incredibly hospitable volunteers. Hmm, so that's soon eh, I thought. Ok, giddy-up. After some warm up ascending we rolled a bit of flat into Archambo, the 27% beastie. I took note of a rider make an effort to get up front. He wanted to get clear of the possible carnage it seemed. I was about fifth wheel going in, but soon up alongside the surger. It was steep, and loose. But it was ok in the 34x28 with my Challenge Roubaix 28s. We crested together and felt good. The climb was not worse than some we have around here, Woodsmoke for example (see Rodd's recent video of the climb). Phewf. A highlight of the day came minutes later when one of the locals mentioned that climbing Archambo well was his goal for the season, and he'd done it. That called for a high five! Well done sir.

From Archambo we had more ups and downs, and the group gradually thinned. One of the riders crashed just before the second last checkpoint. He was ok, but suffered some road rash. Three of us headed out; myself and two locals. We rolled along pretty mellow, and were caught soon by another 5 or so. This section was the longest flat, running along the river we'd been criss-crossing all day. Before too long we began the Patten climb. Oh boy.

Good thing I didn't know what I was getting into, because Patten was a nasty brute. It began steep - 20% or so - and paved. Then it became dirt. I rode off the front on the pavement, turning the 34x28 standing, doing my best Lance impression. This leads me to tip #2.

Tip #2: Study the pedalling technique of riders who are much better than you. Lance is such a rider; he is much better than me, and you. Have you noted his pedalling technique out of the saddle? Its very smooth. I've been working on it for about three years. Its coming along. His flick in the saddle is also very effective. Work on that too. The key for really long, really climby rides is moving the effort around. You have to stand even at times when you don't 'need' to. This keeps you from tiring out your big muscles prematurely. In the past I've powered in the saddle too much and suffered hamstring cramps. Not this time; I stood a bunch. Use gravity to your advantage.

Ok, so, Patten is long. It flattened a tad after the pave, but then turned and kicked up again into the sunshine. The local with the best form was alongside me now, and the Cat1 with a 39t ring there too. The local, who was, BTW, very friendly, and happy to navigate for me, dropped back a bit as Cat1 and I took on the straight. The 39t proved too tall, and bogging ensued. I pulled away, and it was just me. Eegad. It was hot now, about 30 celcius, and extremely humid. As in too humid for glasses. This last stretch was THE part of the whole route that made me suffer. I was not prepared for its length. I kept thinking 'there's the top,' only to find that it wasn't. I wanted it to be done. I was defeating myself. 'You can do it.' 'Never give up.' These were my mantras. It hurt, then it hurt more. Then it was over. Checkpoint. Mmmm, watermelon. 100miles in. 13 to go.

From here there was still more climbing, some descent and flat at the very end. But before that we were treated to a trail section that was fairly mountain bikish. Not a problem at rando pace, but if we were racing it would have been a bit hairy. 108 miles in you don't want to flat. It was fun. Out onto the open road the local with the most juice said we were just about there. We'd caught up to a 100k female rider, who was very strong. She attacked, and one of the older locals took chase. I wasn't sure what to expect at this point, but I took it as my opportunity to spice up the finish, so I countered. I overtook them and kept going. After maintaining a gap for a few minutes I decided I needed to know where to go. So I let the others reel me in. We thus rolled into the cornfield finish together. Having spent the most time on the front, I think the others were happy to have me sign in first. I obliged. I think I came close to the course record, but I believe it is under 8 hours total time. Perhaps next year. Proper navigation on my part will be key if I hope to shave much time. Whatever happens, I'm sure I'll have a great time next year, especially if more riders from Ottawa make the trip down.

The dust congealed into a muddy paste on my shins. This is the sign of a good day in the saddle.

I cannot think of an event I would recommend more highly. Its encouraging to see that riding in the Ottawa area is sufficient for preparing for such a demanding ride. It seems like its not necessary to have big terrain to be able to ride big stuff. All you have to do is 'press the meat' on what you have available to you. Of course, altitude is another story, but this is just to say that one need not come from mountains in order to be able to climb. We evidently have terrain here both good in itself and good as a means to other ends. If we can put together routes half as good as D2R2 to share with others I'll be a happy man.

Why only one 'action' photo? I didn't bring a camera on the ride; there was no way I wanted to deal with it. Perhaps next year with friends along I'll get some action shots. Here is a link to a photo of me with the guys I rolled in with.

Start time: 6:13
Finish time: 2:17
Elapsed time: 8:03
Ride time: 7:35
Distance: 114m (183.5k)
Average speed: 15.05mph (24.2kph)
Max speed: 49.85mph (80.23kph)
Bottles consumed: 9ish
Banana consumed: 4
Fig newtons consumed: 8
Shot Blox consumed: 2 packs
Low gear: 34x28
Tires: 700x28
Frame and fork: carbon
Extras: Bar Phat under tape, SPD pedals and mtb shoes


Anonymous said...

Great write up Matt, and a great ride! I've read about D2R2 for a couple of years now. It's good to see an Ottawa presence. I hope to do it one of these years...

Steve H

Matt Surch said...

Thanks Steve. I suggest you jump in headfirst and get down there as soon as you can.

Matt Surch said...

Todd, 5 time D2R2 veteran and one of the many great people I met while rolling the route, sent me a really nice email afterwards, which contained a great tip for cue-sheets:

"PS Tip #1 is spot on. After my first year I started cutting the cue sheet into squares, stapling then to my handlebar bag to use as tear-offs. Lefts and rights are highlighted in different colors, and I coat them with hair spray to make them sweat resistant."

Thanks Todd, that's a good one. I'd also suggest packing tape to seal your cues, as most of us won't be laminating. Twist-tying them to your bars might work if you don't have a computer in the way. Ideally, you could tear them off as you go. Road names are a good idea, as distances can get fuzzy.