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D2R2: Scenery equaled only by ride’s challenge

  • One of many climbs with gorgeous scenery Ben Barnhart photo 

  • Relief and a sense of accomplishment after a big climb. Franklin Land Trust photo/Ben Barnhart

  • The annual D2R2 is a rolling mix of cycling fun, sweat and stunning scenery. Franklin Land Trust photo

  • Time for a lunch break at Guilford covered bridge   Franklin Land Trust photo



Recorder Staff
Sunday, August 13, 2017

Come next weekend, some 1,500 bicyclists will descend on Franklin County for “a world of hurt,” in the words of Jon Brennan, who’s returning from Texas for his sixth Deerfield Dirt-Road Randonee.

Franklin Land Trust’s D2R2, now in its 13th year, has plenty of rugged roads, lush scenery and country camaraderie to draw in throngs of riders each year, like the Austin, Texas tech worker who’s gearing up to return Saturday for a 100-kilometer ride after an injury last year forced him to cancel.

The 64½-mile loop, from Deerfield, through Conway, Ashfield, Hawley, Charlemont, Heath, Colrain, Halifax and Guilford, Vt., Leyden and back down through Greenfield, “is great fun,” says Brennan, the former Somerville and Cambridge resident. And yet, “It’s hard as hell,” he adds.

“Anyone who lives in the area who’s paid attention has heard about the covered bridges and the creekside lunch, and they’ve heard about all the amazing carriage roads, they’ve heard about the difficulty and about the gravel. It’s just major fun, and fantastic,” says Brennan, who’s done the 115K ride a couple of times but was forced to cancel last year because of a herniated disk. This year, he plans to return for the 100K.

“The last few years I’ve come out, it’s been an opportunity for me to come back and re-ride the 66-mile ride. We all just spend the day on bikes, hanging out and talking. It’s beautiful, it’s sunny, it’s rainy, it’s windy, it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s a little bit of everything. It’s just the perfect day to be on a bike. Every time, when I’m done, I say, ‘This is the best day I’ve had on a bicycle.’”

Many of the scenic landscapes represent some of the nearly 32,000 acres of land protected by 30-year-old Franklin Land Trust, which plans to mark many of its roughly 60 protected properties that lie adjacent to the gravel, dirt and paved routes for this year’s D2R2.

Riders who turn out Saturday — about 70 percent of them from around New England, an expected 100 or so from the immediate area, with some registering at the event — will be helping to raise about $120,000 for the land trust. That represents about one-sixth of its budget, in what’s become the organization’s largest annual fundraiser, says Director of Development Mary Lynn Sabourin.

Year after year, she says, riders who have come from as far away as Italy, France, Spain and even Singapore “remark how gorgeous it is here,” and temporary signs along the way deliberately show off the Land Trust’s conserved open space.

Brennan, who says he’s ridden all over the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere, says this area has “so much good riding, that even if they had to make concessions, it would still be a beautiful ride. I so look forward to just kind of spending the day cruising around. It’s just so much fun, you forget that most people don’t ride 115 miles at 15,000 feet of elevation in one day. It’s the most radical bike ride, never boring. I’ve suffered through D2R2 enough times to know that as soon as I’m over the hill, as soon as I’m done suffering, I’m going to get treated to a fantastic view. I can’t wait.”

Origins

That was the experience of Sandy Whittlesey of Deerfield, who put together the first D2R2 in 2005 along a grueling 180-kilometer (115-mile) route for about 30 riders. The challenging benefit raised $600 for the land trust.

“My love of dirt roads goes back to my childhood in Acadia, where the carriage roads were a staple of the family’s summer recreation,” Whittlesey told The Recorder a couple of years ago. “When I moved to this area in 1992, I was completely blown away by the endless network of little roads. ... Franklin County offers some of the finest cycling in the world.

“Understand that our little roads are a blast for cycling because they were built for horse-carts, not cars,” he added. “They are narrow and bend in ways that defy modern highway standards. Moreover, we have the odd history of towns here being more populous in the 19th century. So there are countless roads to ride, a dream world with no cars to bother you.”

With roads that he called “so amazing, varied and numerous,” and routes that have been added to appeal to riders of all skill levels, including a 12-mile “family ride” along Colrain’s Green River Road, this isn’t a race, but rather a friendly group ride.

The appeal of the region’s back roads is a truth the Franklin Regional Council of Governments has taken notice of, as it works to develop a comprehensive bicycle tourism plan this year with help from a state grant.

“While the funds raised by D2R2 are critical to FLT’s efforts to conserve the farms, woodlands, rivers and scenic vistas of western Massachusetts,” said Richard Hubbard, the land trust’s executive director, “the most gratifying part of the event is when we hear from riders how amazed they are by the beauty of the land along the ride. It reaffirms the importance of our work.”

This year, participants will warm up with a pre-ride dinner Friday evening at Pioneer Gardens off Deerfield’s Mill Village Road — one of the farms protected by the land trust — with People’s Pint Franklin Farmhouse Ale on tap. There’s also a breakfast and a picnic lunch near the Green River covered bridge and a Smithsonian-catered dinner with Berkshire Brewing Co. beer following the ride.

Alan Schacter, a first-time D2R2 rider from San Francisco who plans to join up with five or six of his friends and relatives from Connecticut, said he’s done plenty of cycling in Oregon and in the Lake Tahoe area, but he’s looking forward to the 100-K ride.

“I think the beauty of this one is the majority of it will be on dirt roads,” he said. Schacter moved from Connecticut about about 30 years ago and he’ll visit his brother in Whitingham, Vt., during his trip east.

Denver cyclist Bob Rhatigan says he came out to R2D2 for the first time last year after reading about it on the Gravel Cyclist website.

“It is so much fun, yet so difficult at the same time,” one post said, along with a video, in 2015. “If you love cycling, you have to do this ride. There is a D2R2 route for everyone. If you love gravel cycling, you HAVE to do the 180-kilometre once in your life. It is that good. … Many have hailed D2R2 as the hardest, most beautiful, most fun, most traffic-free, most unique and overall best ride they have ever done.”

D2R2 has also been highlighted in Sports Illustrated, Bicycling Times, Outdoor Magazine, Velonews magazine and was included this year as a Boston Globe “must do” summer event.

Rhatigan signed up with his brother, Ray, who lives in the Boston-area, for the 180K ride last year, but Ray had mechanical problems about halfway along the ride, so they wound up returning with his brother on what was converted to a single-speed bike

“Because of that little mishap, and how much as I loved the event, I said, ‘We’ve got to come back again,’” although an injury while training this spring has caused them to limit themselves to a 40-mile “Green River Tour” route for now.

“It’s not an easy event,” said Rhatigan, who rides a cyclocross bike. “I ride a lot of mountains in Colorado, and there’s a lot of elevation gain, but not as steep as you find in the hills on the East Coast. This is definitely hard, but fun and well worth it.”

And then there’s the backdrop.

“The scenery was absolutely stunning,” he recalled. “Back in Massachusetts, it’s really gorgeous, with the greenery and the trees and the low-traffic roads. And it’s for a good cause, too.”

On the Web: www.franklinlandtrust.org/d2r2

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 269