by Carolyn Johnson | photos by Milica Wren

There were just two letters and two numbers, but they were a constant refrain during every dirt road ride this summer. The harder the ride, the more they came up. I'd marvel at how hilly and tough a climb had been. Then my more experienced teammates would say, "wait 'til D2R2."

"But from the beginning, the ride felt different. There were so many people."

The Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee sounds, on paper, like a lot of the other rides we've done over the last few months: difficult and beautiful. The ride is a fundraiser for the Franklin County Land Trust, and the roads it traverses bear signs every so often reminding you that this scenic vista or that bucolic farm field was preserved through the fundraising.




But from the beginning, the ride felt different. There were so many people. They came from all over, and with every style of bike imaginable -- from fat bike, to tandem, to adventure bike. Friday night we rolled onto a damp field, set up our tents, and did our best to get some sleep before our pre-dawn wake up. In the early morning mist, head lamps raked across a muddy field crammed with bikes and tents, giving the whole scene a mythic quality. We'd decided ahead of time that between the team, we'd basically have every possible D2R2 experience you can have: Cindy, Milica, and I would take on the 160 km ride. Darcey and Jamie would do the 115 km. Leah would assemble a posse for the Green River Tour.

Here's how our days unfurled:

Leah: Despite a summer of illnesses, not enough riding and way too much work, it was hard to say no to the call of the D2R2. The never-ending dirt roads, miles of green, promises of ice cream, beer, and smiles all around are enough to shake anyone out of a funk. I decided to ride the Green River Tour, a route that I knew I could complete, happily and without incident. I found some good riding buddies and off we went. Minutes later, one of my new friends was falling way behind, with murmurings of brake issues. I soon realized her front v- brake wasn't working at all and decided to have a closer look. It was then we discovered I was the only one who knew how to fix it (how often does that happen?!) so, I set to work on the side of the road. Just a small, quick fix and she was all smiles again. I already felt like the ride was a success.




Darcey: In our group of 20ish riders doing the 115k course, I stuck close to Jamie, since he had a cue sheet prominent on his front handlebar bag and a confident sense of direction. We approached a wall of a hill, but some of the other riders motioned to turn left onto River Road. "Whew. At least we're not turning right!" I said. "Actually, we are turning right up the hill," Jamie replied. Gulp. And it wasn't just one steep hill - it was many, each more painful and exhilarating that the previous one. Somewhere in our delirious climbing, we realized that we've gone off the map. We had missed a turn somewhere. We needed to navigate to get back on track.

"The car crashed into a boulder right in front of me, essentially immobilizing it. After seeing that everyone was okay, we cautiously continued."

Carolyn: At first, something didn't seem quite right about our route. It was miles and miles of smooth, easy pavement. This lighthearted ramble was the legendary D2R2? Then, we turned up our first hill. My heart sank when I realized that my bike, which I had rapidly reassembled after a trip to the Colorado mountains, wasn't shifting into its easiest gears. I began to gird myself for an impossible day on the bike, but we were lucky to be riding with an expert bike mechanic, Charlie Schubert, who generously did an on-the-road derailleur adjustment that saved my ride. At some point on every subsequent climb, I had a quiet "thank you, Charlie" moment. It wasn't long before we saw the first "Road no longer maintained by town" sign. It wasn't long after that that we found ourselves half-biking and half-hiking down a steep, rocky stream bed of a jeep trail. We had arrived.




Darcey: After lunch, because of the additional miles we tacked on in the morning, a few of us looked for an alternate way in the route ahead. This involved either crossing the river by the only way possible - through the river - or cutting down a road on the map marked Josh Road. One rider in our group chose the river. Three of us chose Josh Road. There was a state trooper and a D2R2 volunteer nearby. They looked at our bikes and said that we were not geared to handle Josh Road and warned us that if something happened, we wouldn't be able to be rescued, but we were welcome to go that way if we wanted. With that warning, we went off past the DEAD END sign, off the pavement and onto the trail. I saw a car pass by us on the trail, so I thought, how bad could this road possibly be? But then the car crashed into a boulder right in front of me, essentially immobilizing it. After seeing that everyone was okay, we cautiously continued. I loved being able to prove that my bike and tires were perfect for these conditions. It rolled right over the roots and rocks and was nimble enough to navigate around the swoopy trail lines in the woods. It was amazing, and still a little terrifying for my skill level. There was one section of steep, slick moss-covered boulders that I walked down but otherwise it was the most fun (and challenging) section I had all day. At the bottom, we stopped for M&M's, a few photos, and a high-five or two by a picturesque waterfall before continuing on our route.




Carolyn: By lunchtime, I realized that "D2R2" was code for a ride that is made up of either climbing, descending, or false flats that quietly suck the energy out of your legs while you wonder why even the easy-looking parts feel so hard. By the time we reached the four-mile climb at mile 66, I was already feeling spent. I watched with admiration and a little jealousy as Cindy and Milica flew up the hill and prepared to grind up at my own pace. At some point, hypnotized by suffering, I stopped paying attention to the road and followed some spray-painted arrows up what turned out to be a mountain bike trail. Oops. Then I went the wrong way again, descended, and had more climbing to do to get back to the group. This is when I really began to appreciate the special art of the D2R2 cue sheet, full of warnings and annotations that read like stage directions: "CAUTION: Entering 'The Bobsled Run'" or "great views along here". You know you're on a hard ride when you have to be reminded to look up and enjoy the scenery.




Leah: I know I missed a lot by choosing the shorter route, but I did get to save a very overwhelmed frog at the lunch stop, watch a friend crash so spectacularly at the bottom of a loose descent that I'm still in disbelief that she walked away, ride with someone on their longest ride ever by far, and answer the question "So, what IS Firefly?" many times. What IS Firefly? All of this.

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