Photograph by Ben Barnhart bbimages.com
Record Number of Bicyclists Participate in Franklin Land Trust’s
10th-Anniversary Deerfield Dirt-Road Randonnee
Event generates funds to support land conservation
in western Massachusetts
On Saturday, August 23 some 1,250 bicyclists descended on Franklin County to participate in the nation’s largest dirt-road cycling event, the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnee.
Sponsored by the Franklin Land Trust, this year’s D2R2 (as the event is known to participating riders) attracted cyclists from 32 states, Canada, Europe and Asia. In the ten years since inception, D2R2 has grown to become the largest fund-raising event for the Land Trust, with the bulk of the monies coming from entry fees and corporate sponsorships.
Behind the scenes, FLT recruits over 100 volunteers to help staff the rest stops, patrol the courses and provide all the support to help make the D2R2 experience challenging, safe and thoroughly enjoyable for its participants.
This year 1013 men and 237 women registered for one of six dirt-road routes, ranging in length from 20 to 118 miles. All routes began in Old Deerfield and took the riders through rural agricultural land and forests in west central Massachusetts and southern Vermont, most of it on quiet back roads with beautiful scenery. The registration fee includes a hearty breakfast under giant tents before the start; a lunch stop at the midpoint, up in Vermont; and a catered dinner back in Deerfield at the finish point. This year the organizers added a special 20-mile Family Course – a relatively gentle ride up the Green River Valley and back – designed to attract local families with children (see below)
“Randonneuring” is a vintage French format in which riders are challenged with hard courses but encouraged to keep the spirit of the event social. There are no prizes and no head-to-head competition, but the more-advanced riders, taking on the longer, more challenging routes, start at daybreak to get away quickly. The majority of those riding shorter courses start in small groups at their leisure. The randonneuring style also promotes a degree of self-reliance, as riders must navigate the course using cue sheets and perform their own repairs.
The first D2R2 was held in 2005, when local cyclist Sandy Whittlesey invited a group of riders by word of mouth to test their legs on a withering loop of primitive roads dating back to stagecoach days. “That first year I knew our handful of riders would have a really good time,” Whittlesey says, “but I never imagined that the event would become so incredibly popular.” But that first dirt-road cycling event received national press and spawned scores of similar events nationwide. To this day D2R2 remains the largest of its kind in the U.S.
While dirt-roading has become mainstream, D2R2 retains a quirky uniqueness. “There’s something very Franklin County about it,” says Whittlesey. “The number and character of the roads, the culture, the fantastic scenery, the hills…I don’t see the other events as competition because they’re not in our little corner of the world.”
The event attracts cyclists from a wide range of disciplines, from competitive cyclocross and road racers to recreational riders and mountain bikers. D2R2 has a very egalitarian culture. “Nobody cares how fast you are, what your background is or what kind of bike you’re riding” says Whittlesey.
Last year well-known cyclist and writer Mike Magnuson rode the 100k route and chronicled his D2R2 experience in an 8-page feature article published in the September 2014 issue of Bicycling magazine. “These are some incredibly difficult dirt roads,” he said. Shortly after his lunch break with a group of fellow riders, and back on the course, he found himself taking a sharp turn “onto a steep road that lifted away from the river and rose something like 1,800 feet over the next four miles. Riding in a group of some 50 riders, I struggled to reach the top…and then exulted in the view: another 100 to 200 riders strung out across the next mile, with not a cloud in the sky and nothing but green fields stretching in all directions. In all my years of cycling, I had never seen a sight as breathtakingly beautiful. I had always believed a truly perfect moment would never come to pass, but this was perfect. This was magical.”
So many of this year’s riders reported the same sense of exultation and achievement. April Tam, a software engineer from Somers, NY, and a member of the Westchester Cycling Club, rode in her 6th D2R2. “I love this event, hard but doable, and a great way to challenge myself. I get a rush each time I finish climbing a particularly tough hill.”
For Tom McCrumm, a sugarhouse owner in Ashfield, this was his 5th D2R2. “I love this event; this is part of why we live here. I’m a huge supporter of the Franklin Land Trust and its mission of local land conservation. When you ride in D2R2 you really have to push yourself…and you learn a lot about your inner strength and resolve. And I get to meet riders from all over the country who share my passion for the back roads and beautiful vistas of this area.”
Chris Raia, an industrial designer from Wilmington, Delaware, rode in his 3rd D2R2. “I love it because I have the opportunity to reconnect with other members of my racing team in Boston, where I lived before moving down to Delaware. The experience of challenging yourself all day on the dirt roads out there is amazing – he rode the 160k course – and there are some brutal grades to deal with. Today the weather was perfect, my best D2R2 experience ever.”
The Franklin Land Trust is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of agricultural land and other open space and natural resources in western Massachusetts. This year marks FLT’s 28th Anniversary, with over 28,000 acres of land conserved since its founding.