D2R2: Learning what it means to be tough

By Molly Hurford,

When I was down in Georgia back in February, I raced Southern Cross: 54 miles of some road, some dirt, some gravel, some fast descents, some wicked slow hills. It was a grind, and when I finished that race, I was exhausted. THAT, I thought, was a hard race.

Then, I did D2R2, which, consequently, is not even technically a race. It is a "fun ride" where even the shortest distance is longer than the Southern Cross distance, with more climbing and infinitely more dirt. And while it is billed as a "fun" ride, I don’t think my heart rate went under 150 the whole time, mainly because even on the screaming downhills, I was fervently hoping that I wasn’t about to eat it and roll off the edge into the woods or streams below. I’m sure there is a way to ride with “easy,” but I have yet to meet a New England cyclist that believes in riding anything easy, let alone roads where there are “competitors” out ahead of you.

Moral of the story: New Englanders don’t mess around. I know this because, in Georgia, the racers were all fit, tough-looking hard-core riders. D2R2? There were people of every age, shape and size on every type of bike taking to the start line. The casual way that the racers approached what was — for all parties, no matter how fast you chose to ride — going to be a hard day was nothing short of incredible.

The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee, or D2R2 to those who know it, was started in the ’90s as just a fun ride through the heart of Western Massachusetts. Maybe because it came at the end of road season when racers were ready to shift to knobby tires, or maybe it was just the fun-loving vibe of a race where you can camp on site the night before, but whatever the reason, its popularity has grown considerably. Now, with four different distances to choose from (100K, 115K, 150K and the hard one, a 180K for the masochist crowd), it has become part of the legend that is New England cycling.

The course is spectacular: back roads in New England showcasing the entire Pioneer Valley, complete with rivers, streams, cliffs, mountains, fields, meadows, quaint New England towns, covered bridges… It’s like someone took a set of a Disney movie and plunked it down on the Massachusetts/Vermont border. I very nearly expected to have birds start singing in chorus with me as I toiled along. A llama even stuck his tongue out at me, which is literally a scene out of The Emperor’s New Groove (Anyone? Anyone?). Of course, this fairy tale beauty does have a caveat: it’s flipping’ hard. Even on the shortest of the loop options, there is 7,000 feet of climbing, mostly up dirt roads.

So, I admit: there were dark times: the first grinding hill, the second grinding hill, the third grinding hill; the moment when I asked "how far along are we?" and got the answer of, "11 miles"; and the moment when I was triumphantly thinking that I was digging deep, really reaching into myself and shredding, only to have my ride buddy blaze by me while chatting with another rider.

But of course there were good times too: the sandwich I wolfed down at the lunch stop while admiring the beautiful view of the covered bridge; the last screaming dirt descent, even though I thought my hands were about to fly off of the hoods where I was feathering (clutching) the brakes for dear life; the beer I got to drink after pulling through the finish line.

It was, in short, fabulous. And anyone that finishes it — from the father-daughter tandem team to the speediness that is the Boston crew to the woman who was at least three times my age and on a mountain bike — is one seriously tough cyclist.

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