Tuesday, August 30, 2011

D2R2 2011: By the Skin of Our Teeth

Dawn. This field is now foot deep mud.

This year's edition of D2R2 was bookended by tragedy. Rodd, the man who first came across the event on the interwebs back in 2006 was poised to ride D2R2 for the first time, but a fixed gear crash put an end to his plans, and set him on a road to shoulder recovery. Jamie, looking forward to returning for his second crack, had to pull the plug to deal with a house purchase fiasco. Most regrettably, Steve, who missed the 2010 D2R2 due to his grandmother's passing, informed us a week before the event that his father had passed away unexpectedly. Everyone was in a state of shock. We'd ride without our comrades, but we'd wish they were there with us. Fortunately, at least for our group from Ottawa, the ride itself was free of drama, misfortune and suffering. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for Franklin County, which was hit very hard by Irene over the course of Saturday night and Sunday. While we were fortunate to enjoy great weather during the ride, the area took an absolute beating afterwards, carrying significant consequences for locals. We barely made it out Sunday morning before the carnage began. 


Rolling out at daybreak.
Rest stop #2, atop a pretty long climb. I noticed these sunflowers in 2009, but didn't in 2010 or  this time around until Pascal mentioned them. Then we posed the bikes. 

With all the regrets this year, our group was small: Pascal, Andy and Nathan Underwood, the lone wolf, riding the 180k , and Chris the 115. Nathan and Andy were first timers, Pascal a second-timer, and myself rounding out my third Dirt Rando. Chris was on his second Dirt Rando. Nathan would be our strongest rider, and on a 38x28 low gear, he'd have to climb at a faster rate much of the time. Pascal and Andy were on low gears, 34x34 for Pascal, and 26x32 for Andy. I'd intended on rolling a 34x32 or 34 so I could climb beside the the other guys, but I didn't make it happen, so I'd have to climb faster some of the time to prevent grinding too much. 

Andy started with three bottle, ended with two. He suffered our only puncture, likely on the rock that knocked his bottle out.
Chris was riding the 115, and unwittingly ended up riding for a longs ways with Richard Sachs, Mike Zanconato, and a bunch of other Velocipede Salon regulars. He even pulled RS back to the group at one point, legend!
Lunch stop, an amazing location. I suspect this river was raging hours later.

Looking out form the lunch spot, a veritable handmade bike show. We'll do a post dedicated to the bikes of D2R2.
Our ride unfolded beautifully. I won't provide a blow by blow, as that'd be boring. I'll try to highlight a couple things that struck me as noteworthy.

A few key changes to my equipment allowed me to enjoy the ride without anxiety. First, navigation. Grant was kind enough to entrust his Garmin 705 to me, which I managed to load up with four separate stages of the route. While the tracks I used contained many extra way-points that causes the unit to beep incessantly, irritating everyone around me, and me, I only erred on a few turns over the whole day. The difference between navigating with the GPS versus cue sheets is not night and day, not staying on track versus getting lost. Rather, I found the difference pertained more to the flow of the ride. Rather than slow for turns I might or might not have to make, I was able to carry momentum most of the time and enjoy the sensation of leaning in and getting the lines right. Or not. In some cases my line choice did not work out, and a foot had to come out to allow for a correction. Pascal got a good laugh on one occasion, when I locked up my back wheel of pavement for a second as I mangled a turn.

Nathan on the left, Matt on the right, one of the many beautiful covered bridges on the 180k route.
This bridge was ancient. I hope it weathered the storm.
Pascal through a beautiful wooded section. Most of the 180k route ins in fact wooded, which means wind and sun are not big factors.
The Little Big House, gallery, and the final rest stop of the route, atop Patten hill, one of the most difficult climbs.  The scale of the house is way off, lending an Alice in Wonderland aesthetic. Looking at it, you cannot tell how high the door is. Lucky for me, a woman entered while I was looking, and I got the scale. The door knob was at her head height, and she was about 5'10", so I put it at about 9" tall. This is without a doubt the most fascinating sight on the route. This stop features restorative watermelon, pickles, pretzels, and more. It is my favourite stop on the ride.

Processing the day's events, it struck me that the experience was rather unlike my first two. The first D2R2 has to be an eye opener for most, an epiphany for many. That was certainly the case for me. The second was about doing it with a degree of familiarity and seeing how it felt in comparison. This third time, there were no question marks penciled in beside climbs: would I make Archambault, Hillman, Patten? Yes, I would, my preparation was all there, I'd be fine. The question was: would I ride the whole route well? 

Indeed, the climbs of the route leave an indelible impression on the mind and body, in part because one spends so much time going up them. Pain is hard to forget. In contrast, the descents are a blur, and if taken in full flow mode (flow state, of complete in-the-moment-ness), one's ability to recollect more than an impression is challenging. This is somewhat of a paradoxical situation. If one hopes to execute their riding skills to the fullest on the epic (yes, I said 'epic,' and I mean it) descents of D2R2, a flow state of un/consciousness is the best way to do that. In such a state, one processes information and reacts in the most direct manner possible. This mode of cognition bypasses the part of the brain that forms memory. This is why people say, after narrowly escaping harrowing situations: "Its all a blur." It is, very little memory is retained from the flow states that manifest when we find ourselves in life or death situations. 

Pascal and Matt descent. Sight lines are long on these old carriage roads, so you can let the bike run if you  like. I like.
Some of the descents of D2R2 are so intense at high speeds that they literally become a blur. However, I don't think I actually entered a flow state for any of them. Do I want to, knowing I won't remember them if I do? Its probably unwise to say 'no,' since flow states tend to allow us to perform better than we could otherwise. They don't allow for indecision, hesitation. Bringing this back to navigation, a GPS that only beeps before an actual turn off the present course would help one maintain the focus required to flow. Ultimately, this is safer than the alternative. 

This brings me to my focus for future D2R2s: riding the descents flawlessly. I will make the climbs; my test will be the descents. Riding them flawlessly will require taking the right lines, entering sections at the right speed, and minimal braking. This will be my personal D2R2 challenge. Proven this year, 35c tubeless tires support such riding; all my equipment was dialled for the descents, including my cantilever brakes. Yes, cantilevers can provide enough braking power to ride at high speeds, at least in the dry. 

Matching team socks, courtesy of Alex's ordering coordination. To my surprise, they stayed rather white.

So, coming out of D2R2 2011, two things, perhaps lessons, are at the forefront of my thinking as I look ahead to the 2012 edition. First, a GPS unit with one continuous track and correct waypoints is a must (for me). Second, I will have to run lower gearing so I can climb beside my buddies. Both will support flowing through the route in more seamless manner, which is the main challenge if elapsed time is of marginal concern. Speaking of time, we rolled in after 9:45 on the road, at exactly 4pm, our projected arrival time. Neat. An hour later, the rain began as we plowed through great food and beer under a the cover of one of the circus tents. With luck, we'll share our celebratory meal with our comrades who missed out this year, plus a few more newbies. The smiles make it all more than worthwhile.

Many thanks to Sandy and all the fine folks who make the 2011 D2R2 not only possible, but an outstanding event. The vegan food options were very much enjoyed and appreciated, and it was truly heartening to be greeted and cheered on by so many volunteers out there making the event happen. Given the devastating impact of Irene, we will be more keen than ever to return in 2012 and spend out Canadian money in Franklin County. 

1 comment:

Mookie said...

Matt, sorry I missed you guys. We rolled at 6:05 with a compact group that whittled down to 4 hearty souls by the lunch stop. It's funny how so much of this ride is about correct equipment choice, notably, tires and gears. Once again, I witnessed several riders who came ill-prepared who ended up suffering needlessly. My 35mm file treads descended flawlessly and though the 34x28 was fine, a 30 or 32 in the back would have been lovely on that last loose section of Patten. See you next year!