“I have the same dream. Cousins on bikes in the great outdoors.”
With that email reply, my cousin Adam & I registered for the most beautiful ride we’d ever undertaken – The Franklin Land Trust Deerfield Dirt Road Randonee.
The Franklin Land Trust takes the admirable stand to keep rural Western Massachusetts looking rural. The state wants to pave a dirt road? The FLT is ready with signatures of the folks who live there saying they’d prefer it unpaved. Someone wants to put up outdoor advertising? The FLT makes sure they don’t. So the D2R2 ride funds many of these efforts, and reaps the rewards of these dirt roads. The 25 or so km we rode on pavement was almost entirely car free.
Arriving at the campground in the afternoon, we set up and hung out with my pal Ray (@ddytdy) Ray knows how to D2R2. He brought a flatbed pickup truck and lashed a picnic bench to it. With an umbrella. Ray doesn’t drink, but he had a big ass cooler filled with good beer and fancy soda (Or tonic, as we were in Massachusetts, but not in Boston).
We hung out until the FlatbeD2R2 left (Ray’s fancy and had a hotel) and missed the awesome dinner at the campsite. No huge loss – we gorged ourselves on beef heart and bone marrow meatball sandwiches and too much fettucine fra diavolo, with more meatballs, and washed it down with Maine Brewing Co beer from the coolest restaurant in Turners Falls, Mass. – the Five Eyed Fox.
We signed up for the 100km distance, left the campground, and rode for a solid 500 yards before the road turned to a dirt wall.
With stretches up to 20% grades at some points, I learned quickly that standing to climb (I’m an inelegant masher of a climber) resulted in my rear tire spinning pretty good and doing its best to throw the bike off course. So I sat down, tore myself to shreds, and before we knew it we were… walking the bikes up the last stretch. Not for long, and we were passing barns and sheep in no time at all. In the first hour we had seen tarmac, a semi-gnarly Jeep track, and more dirt and gravel roads than I’d seen together in one place in my life.
I was riding the Compass Bon Jon Pass 700×35 tires setup tubeless at ~35psi in the front and ~40 in the rear. They didn’t love to hold sealant, but I just didn’t care. They rolled fast and plush over everything I came across. I don’t know if something more aggressive would have helped on that first dirt climb, but it would have significantly lessened my fun everywhere else.
We continued on past farms and fields of wildflowers, waving at the cows and talking for too long with the amazing volunteers at each aid station. Beyond a ton of food, everything to drink from pickle juice to lemonade, and a huge enthusiasm for both the cause and the riders, it was hard to leave. Especially the first one, which was at a tiny house with the biggest door ever.
The roads got better and better as the day went on – covered with trees when it got too hot, never-ending climbs followed by gravel descents where you’re 12 years old once again and going too fast with a smile. Though I don’t remember hitting a GPS confirmed 49 mph on gravel as a kid /stealthbrag.
By the time we reached the covered bridge (it was out for repairs – WTF, Massachusetts?!)
For the lunch stop, I could have eaten almost anything, but the tent full of sandwiches, figs, and even more pickle juice was a killer example of an aid station done right.
To this point, Adam had been navigating our route flawlessly. Feeling strong after lunch, we upped the pace a little bit and let me navigate as we rode. This was a terrible idea. We overshot our turn by a couple miles because the road we were on was so nice that I saw no reason to turn off of it. When we finally figured that out, I corrected our course with the famous Scott navigation technique: “take the worst route possible.” In this case, that meant a 1.5 mile climb that would have been very pretty had it not been so vertical. We finished this climb, wrecked and salty, only to turn a corner and see the next climb begin. The second climb was not as steep until the very top, but longer and totally exposed to the sun.
At the top of that hill was Apex/orchards. They had a true farmstand full of fruits from blackberries to bananas. I ate more than I should have, took a few minutes to enjoy the view of the mountains we’d just climbed, and started to get that rotten feeling when you know there’s only about 15km left and you want more. But we had beers yet to drink
Remember the Jeep trail we struggled with on the way up? It was a whole bunch better coming down. We let it get a little loose, and then we were turning back onto the road for a reunion with the cows we passed on the way out of camp.
As soon as we crossed the finish line, beers were indeed on tap into our new commemorative pint glasses.
We chilled on the truck and waited for Ray to finish his 180k ride. When we finally started to smell ourselves pretty strongly, we took one last ride through the nearby town and hopped in the river to wash off until the skeeters got to be too much to handle.
It was a huge challenge, and beautifully organized for a great cause. We’ll be back again next year to ride just a little further.