Dial “M” for Mystery
Pamela and Jon Robichaud (early adopters/investors of sports hydration and nutrition company, Skratch Labs with Dr. Allen Lim) are on a cycling odyssey travelling through North America in search of new riding experiences. One of those experiences was the D2R2 Mystery Ride. The following is Jon’s report on the event.
When you’re traveling in a van for over a year and you read about a gravel road ride/race based out of the state you grew up in… you put a flag in the ground on the date of the ride and make a point to attend. This is exactly what my wife, Pamela and I did after reading a blurb about the Franklin Land Trust Deerfield Dirt Road Randonée (D2R2) in Outside Magazine.
The D2R2’s claim to fame is that it is one of the hardest gravel rides in New England and even on the east coast for that matter. The ride is held in Deerfield, MA, which is located in western Massachusetts where the landscape is littered with rolling hills, apple orchards, 19th century stone walls, and mom and pop maple sugar shacks. Tractors out number cars there too. With miles and miles of “jeep trails” and unmaintained (during winter) dirt roads, there is a network of endless routing possibilities.
When I signed up for D2R2 I was thinking, ‘How hard can it really be?’ Having grown up in New England I know it isn’t a place known for “easy” riding, and that’s just on tarmac. Sprinkle in some dirt roads, and you’ve got yourself a riding recipe that brings a smile to my face.
D2R2 offers up a variety of route options, from the original 180K grinder to a bit tamer 160K slog, a 115K, even a 45-mile route and a family friendly 20-mile route. I was keen to register for the 180K route and ride with friends I knew from Philly, Vermont, and New York. Instead I chose to sign up for the inaugural Mystery Ride. The title ‘Mystery Ride’ evokes wonder, intrigue and adventure, everything you want for a gravel ride. Right?
There are four known rules to the Mystery Ride:
1). Don’t talk about the Mystery Ride :-)
2). No questions about the Mystery Ride will be answered.
3). No cue sheet will be released and no GPS file will be released in advance.
4). All correspondence and descriptions (seen here) from Sandy (Event Founder) read more like warning signs and do no enter signs seen at a ski resort’s backcountry boundary with a sliver of optimism.
My watch started beeping at 5:30am, before the sun made an appearance on the horizon. As I looked out through the insect screen on the back of the van my mind thought it was way too early to be up. But I needed to fuel the body, pack my pockets with some Skratch Labs singles, Untapped Maple packets, a few packets of Justin’s nut butters and then there was the final gear check before the fast approaching, loose 7:30am rolling start time. Given the size of the checklist the morning felt relaxed, mainly because I knew I was doing the Mystery Ride and I wouldn’t be truly racing, but riding it. Yes, I had all the right equipment, per the suggested list from Sandy:
Bike: Cross or Gravel Specific – Check, Specalized Diverge with SRAM Force 1
Tires: Minimum 32cm – Check, ZIPP Firecrest 303 with 32cm tires
Gearing: Minimum 11-28 – Check, I was running a 1x drivetrain with a 10x42 casssette mated to a 42 front chainring.
From the get-go the course provided amazing views as we climbed out of the valley and into a maple tree forest where blue hoses crisscrossed each other, creating an expansive web of soon to be slowly flowing sap headed downhill to a sugar shack. As slow as the sap would drip from the trees I was making my way up hill. The first 11 miles seemed to tick off without a problem. There was a large section of tarmac that allowed for a steady warm-up and some varying gravel and dirt road sections before the fun really started.
The fun started around mile 21 as the loose gravel road pitched up and disappeared to the right. I couldn’t search for the best route, as I was busy looking just in front of my wheel, hoping to not have to dismount like others before me. Thankfully I had set my gearing up to be one-to-one at the low end (42t chainring with a 42t large cog out back), giving my legs a little relief to keep momentum on my side as I climbed. The course went from pitchy and loose, to down right nasty and laughable. When I got to a deeply rutted out Jeep trail section that contained some large rocks (seemed to be from a fallen stone wall). Try as I might, I had to dismount and walk, just as 99% of the others before me and behind me.
As myself and others made our way past the jeep trail section we talked about how it couldn’t possibly get much worse than what we just did. I should have known that verbalizing our optimism would jinx us. After riding for about a half mile we were greeted by a large 3’ deep and about 30’ wide mud bog with only one way across… trailblazing. We hiked for approximately three miles, which took a few of us an hour to bushwhack through. #MysteryRide.
The miles following the bushwacking/hiking included a STEEP section, clocking in at 22% for just over a half mile. It was littered with large stones and years of decomposing leaves making it impossible to locate a good line to take. After riding and hiking for about a mile, the steep hill lead to more hiking terrain even without the pitch…thanks to the rocks and rutted out jeep trail. At this point, the thing that started to go on me was my legs and energy level. When I came upon the lunch station it was like seeing an oasis in a desert.
With good fuel in my belly (fresh turkey sandwiches, Nutella and Fluff on bread, pasta salad, Oreo cookies and a banana with peanut butter) and a healthy dose of Skratch in my bottles, including downing a bottle of Rescue Hydration and taking a few shots of pickle brine, I felt as though my mind and muscles were back to life, likening the experience to Popeye eating spinach.
The roll out from lunch was relatively calm and the terrain enjoyable as there was little in the way of jeep trail climbing. When cued about what the final 10-12 miles of the ride look like, I remembered riding should be fun… and I should be riding not walking/hiking my bike, so I opted to pedal around the final “hard” section and head towards the finish.
Looking back at the ride, I brought a knife to a gunfight by choosing to ride in road shoes instead of mountain bike shoes. As exciting and fun as the mystery ride was, next year when we return, which we will, I’ll opt for the more rideable 180K or 160K courses. I applaud the organizers for crafting a nasty and memorable Mystery Ride… that I’m dubbing “A Grab Bag of Awesomeness” (TM) and thank them for the adventurous day, which I will not soon forget, for all the best reasons.