Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Praise of Expedition Speed: A Sort of Ride Report of the 115km route of D2R2.

A guest post from Dario about the D2R2, because I wasn't there to see how it was:

The ride couldn't have begun better. Sandy Whittlesey (D2R2 founder and promoter) and his progeny, Fin, smiled at our motley, nearly arthritic crew. We knew then and there that it was going to be a great day of riding. Accompanied by friends Dave and Ken, Peter, Bruce, and I rolled out at about 9 am on one of the most perfect days of riding this summer. The different routes of the D2R2 all have their challenges, namely many steep hills and lots of loose gravel and sand. There is also the most incredible scenery and certainly some of the nicest people you'll ever meet, anywhere. I saw other riders, more fit than I, young and old, hammer up and fly down hills with 6%, 8%, 12%, 15%, 20%+ grades. (Personally, I refuse to go down anything steeper than 20%, even if I make it up the hill to begin with.) D2R2 is renowned for the hard men and women who tackle the 150km and 180km routes. But it's chief accomplishment is to bring together under one tent (literally) the different kinds of cyclists (racers, experienced randonneurs, tourers, and supposedly fit recreational riders, such as my companions and me), in what is easily one of the great cycling events around. (Granted I don't do big group rides much and I don't get out much.) So, rather than sing the praises of the seasoned racers and the bikes of the famed frame builders present at D2R2, I'd rather chant the virtues of expedition speed and its well-intentioned practitioners.

What is expeditions speed? It's all relative of course, but it's as fast as you can ride in six inches of snow without blowing up. It's making it up Patten Hill Rd. (a very steep, longish hill on the D2R2 course) with a smile at the top. It's riding the flats at conversational speed. You have to be able to chuckle, if not laugh, at expedition speed. It's making sure that you are all together especially when someone is a little slower. It's when the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. It's stopping when you can because you can. You know that you are at expedition speed when one of your mates stops to take a pee and before he can say "go on, I'll catch up to you guys", everybody is stopping for a nature break. Expedition speed is about the clock, but not about besting your record, but about making sure you're home for supper in time. "Chi va piano, va sano, e lontano" goes the Italian saying (He who goes slowly, goes safely, and far) is the way I put it. And, there is, very fortunately, different ways of riding at expedition speed.

For example, my fellow expeditionists and I recall the amusement provided by the jeep track, just off Packer Corner Rd at about mile 19 of the course. Y'know, the one that's marked with a very evident "Posted" sign on the tree. By the time we reached the exotically named Abijah Prince Rd, which according to Sandy W.'s cue sheet, reads "Jeep track gets more civilized", we were already nostalgic for the barbaric singletrack section we had just ridden. Bruce, I realized, is a consummate artist at riding in surplace. Using less than one to one gear ratio, he is able to negotiate obstacles and steep pitches by keeping up a consistent rhythm. It isn't as easy as it sounds. If I were to go that slow, I'd fall over.

If you ride slow enough in any case the major climbs begin to resemble one another and this in a curious time-warp continuum way can prolong your ride and, hence, your life. You can try to go fast up Ames Hill Rd (mile 29), Pennel Hill Rd. and Phillips Hill Rd (miles 49, 51) and the previously mentioned Patten Hill Rd (mile 58) and then when you realize that you've used up all your gears you stop, lean over the bars, feel like you can't go on, catch your breath, and then pedal some more. And if you apply this tactic assiduously, you eventually get to the top of the hill. I hadn't realized that Ken had perfected this art. He was our trailblazer and he frequently paid for being so avant-garde. Once recovered, he bounced back to his immense credit and deep satisfaction.

Now let me tell you how real expedition speed cyclists approach Pennel Hill Rd., which is an excuse for a road, by the way. It's really a long sandbox set at a 15% pitch. Turning right off of Rte. 112 S, Bruce declared that we should gear down. As Sgt. Rock might say, "Smoke 'em if you got 'em". I mean it's not like I had been in the big ring all day. So, we made lots of crunching and grinding noises while sliding around in a few inches of sand as we rode in circles at the bottom of the hill. A flock of ducks crossing the road? Or more likely, we resembled the newly arrived souls on the shores of Purgatory. We knew we had to go up the mountain, but we would rather have hung out at the beach. As each of us tried to make our way up the hill, I happened to remember (about 100 meters up, DUH!), Jan Heine's advice about very very steep hills: Sometimes it's faster to get off and walk. Sage advice. So I walked fifty yards or so. I cleared the rest of the hill, but only because I wouldn't allow myself to roll backwards.

There were many other memorable moments in which our well-honed expedition speed techniques were put to good use. As Sandy emphasized in his pre-ride email, try to stay within your limits and you will enjoy yourself immensely. This we did. Thank you Sandy!

Look at that smile! And that was before the ride.


dario said...

We missed our youngest snail who would have certainly expedited our expedition speed!

Peter said...

Enjoyed this post a lot.