Sunday, August 23, 2015

D2R2 2015, or another extended version of the Green River Ride

Well, I did it again.  I made it out to western Massachusetts for the D2R2, a fabulous dirt and mostly minor road randonnee that does a lot to fund the Franklin Land Trust.  I almost didn't go.  If you've read enough of my posts, you know that I'm a mostly fair weather rider.  That doesn't mean that I haven't rode in the rain (I have, and once I stupidly rode in a thunderstorm and lived to tell the tale, but I won't tell it here) but it does mean that riding in mud isn't my thing.  But I have a small ownership stake in the D2R2.  It starts in my home valley and traverses the hills that are as familiar to me as any place on the planet, hills that make me feel right at home.  So I was looking for the change in forecast, which had been predicting rain on weekend, that was suitable for a dirt road ride for me.  And it happened on Thursday.

Late Friday evening I managed to get my car packed with bike, cycling clothes, food, and filled water bottles.  I knew in advance that I'd be without many chances to get food en route (based on the route that I intended to ride) and that there would be a 30 mile gap when I wouldn't easily get water so I wanted to be sure to have two bottles with me.  I woke early, made a portable bowl of muesli, yogurt and fruit, which I ate at the rest stop on Route 2, and a moka pot full of coffee, and said good bye to everyone.  My two boys now wanted to go (after refusing the invitation all week) but it was late for that and I could only take one, which wouldn't work well, especially with both wanting to go.

This is the first year I started out alone.  Arriving at the starting point,  I saw some familiar faces and said hello to Jenny as she set off.  Otherwise I was on my own.  I did meet Mark and saw his very cool Horse Bicycle, with front and rear racks that are amazing.

After registering (yes, I held off too long and missed the online registration window), I headed north, skipping the dirt roads behind Deerfield Academy and fell in with some riders, most doing the Green River Ride and one doing the 115, who was doing his best to pay attention to his cue sheet.  Eventually he turned off and I followed the Green River group and, thanks to them, didn't make a wrong turn onto last year's route.  Sandy (the ride organizer) found a nicer way up to the first water stop near the covered bridge at Eunice Williams Road.  Leyden Road was wide and you might expect to see a lot of cars going fast on the road but it was mostly empty.  I finally saw the covered bridge, which looks brand new.  And I saw the historical marker that told the story of Eunice's end.

Having mentioned missing a turn, I might add that I had a cue sheet but was mostly following my GPS, which had last year's route on it, along with some additions that Sandy suggested last year.  This probably wasn't the smartest move ever but it all turned out fine in the end.  The rest of the Green River Ride was the same, at least the part I covered.  Soon after I left the water stop, I headed up Nelson Road for an extra loop.  Nelson is part of the 100K but it was too early for any riders to be on it then.  That first loop kept me off of the Green River Ride for 5 miles.  Most of it was dirt but there was smooth pavement as well and I saw my first views of the hills.  I next branched off of the ride at New County Road, which brought me up to the intersection of Franklin Hill Road and Amidon Road, and the 100K route, again.  This time there were people on the course, going in my direction. I chatted with a couple of guys and then left the course again at Stark Mountain road, which is a steep drop on dirt onto Route 112 and the North River.  I followed 112 north to Branch Road, which was the 115K route, except they were descending.  There wasn't all that much traffic on 112 or Branch.  I was clearly in Vermont now.

I made it to West Halifax and here is where my equipment issues surfaced.  First, I had to get over a bridge under repair.  There is a bypass just a short backtrack to Sprague Road and then onto my intended road, Reed Hill Road.  Somewhere on Reed Hill, I noticed that I was losing air in my rear time.  It seemed more like a slow leak so I pumped it up and carried on.

Somewhere near there I also noticed that my front derailleur, which was just checked at one of the two shops that I usually get help from, was no longer able to drop my chain onto my small front chain ring, which is what I need for the steepest hills.  The problem has a somewhat complex origin.  First, I changed my chain but it was obvious that my middle front chain ring was worn.  I was on my commuter and that is the chain ring I used 95% of the time so that wasn't all that surprising.  I brought it in to the shop and they said, yup, the chain ring needs to be replaced and ordered one for me.  Unfortunately my bike is so old, that the part was no longer available (it's a 2009 Shimano 105 triple and I already had issues finding a new free hub body when that part failed last year).  The mechanic put on an older style chain ring, without pins and ramps, and told me to let him know if I had issues with it.  I didn't.  I did notice some chain rub when I was in the 30 tooth ring in front and the 30 in back (that combination I would use on the steepest hills).  I decided to bring it to the shop that I pass on my commute on the Friday before the ride.  It seemed like the rub was coming from the front derailleur but as I slowed as I approached the shop, I tried to shift it into the 30 tooth chain ring in front and the chain fell off onto the bottom bracket shell for the first time (in a couple of hundred miles since the new chain ring was put on).  The mechanics decided this all was happening:

  1. The chain ring is what is throwing the chain off.  I don't know why this happened only once up to that point but it sounds logical to me.  They suggested I replace the entire crank if they can't source the new chain ring, which isn't likely, since the other shop couldn't find one for me.  My dilemma: I want a 30/30 combination for the steepest hills but I'd much rather have a compact double - I'll never get a triple again.  The stock Shimano compact cranks are 34/50.  Is there something out there that I can use that is compatible with the rest of my Shimano drive train and shifters?
  2. What I was hearing was the chain rubbing the bigger chain rings on the cassette, which was caused by the re-positioning of the wheel, which I used to have pulled all of the way to the back of the Surly's horizontal dropout. The mechanic did that to improve shifting, which it did. But now my bike is pretty noisy and doesn't sound healthy, especially on steep dirt hills when no one else is around.

So I continued on my way.  On two steep hills I had to dismount and manually shift my chain.  You might be saying, "just turn the screw and you'll be all set."  I would be but since I was unsure of which screw and which direction to turn, I might have been in worse shape after I messed it up.  You might be saying now, "learn to do it right."  I'll take that advice, thanks.

I found my way back to the 115K toute after what I thought was some of the nicest riding of the route, including nice stretches of great dirt road that was largely flat with almost no traffic (a couple of cars) and no other cyclists.  A lot of people live in that loop and the roads are kept up, they just don't happened to be paved.  The 115K route (which again I was riding against the traffic) was in use and a number of people were descending as I pedaled my way up the steepest part of the road on the part that was in the roughest shape, though not terrible shape.  At last I made it back to the 100K route and saw people riding but they weren't following the route on my GPS.  I then realized my how my mistake, using last year's route on my GPS, might cost me time and energy.  I could just follow that route, or I could take the new route and hope that I could keep up with these people or someone else might come by and let me know where to turn.  I probably should have followed my GPS but what is the D2R2 if not a time for a bit of adventure, right?

Well, those folks were faster than me and soon I was on Deer Park alone, without a map (don't count on your smart phone for most of this ride, there are precious few places where you will get service) so I soldiered on.  Eventually a nice couple from Pennsylvania caught up to me. I stayed with them until I was in earshot, or maybe just a bit further than that, from the covered bridge and lunch spot on the Green River.  That's when I noticed my rear tire was again getting low.  I stopped to pump up my tire and then found the lunch spot.  I was greeted there by Sandy, the ride organizer, who remembered giving me advice last year.  Despite the busy day and the 1200 riders and who knows how many volunteers (there were a lot!), he had time for a short chat.  I also ran into Julian, who I met last year and have been enjoying his Instagram feed since then.

I was pretty late but I hoped to get a quick bite, refill my bottles and change my flat.  The amazing folks at Blue Steel Bicycle Company, doing mechanical support for the ride, offered to fix my slow leak (i.e., just replace the tube and check the tire for sharp objects) and adjust my derailleur while I found some food and ate. I was close to heaven at that point, feeling the support of the volunteers who make the D2R2 possible.  Soon I was on my way home, the Green River Ride route straight from the cue sheet, and rode as fast as I safely could.  Suddenly, thanks to the folks from Blue Steel, I had a lot of confidence in my bike and it shifted when I wanted to and the new tube was holding air.  The lunch spot was mostly empty when I left and I didn't pass any 100K riders heading south (maybe 4, including a couple I met last year, who were still deciding if they had time for the rest of the 100K).  Finally, almost in Greenfield, I started to see other riders.  I passed a number of folks and then on Lower Road, I rode with a dad and his 11 year old son for a mile or two.  The dad had done previous versions of the D2R2 but this was his son's first.  And the son was doing well and enjoying himself.  We stayed together until the Deerfield River crossing.

I made it back to D2R2 central around 5PM, a little over seven hours after I left.  I was feeling great all day, except for the frustration with myself for not being able to fix my bike,  But the riding itself was great and the hills on my version of the ride weren't more than I could handle.  The roads were in excellent shape and the dust was minimal after the recent rain.

I saw my friend Carl, with his large format camera by the ice cream truck and said hello while he took my portrait.  I then looked for food and saw Dave Wilcox, who I rode with briefly on the 2013 High Point Ride (Mt. Greylock being the high point).  He remembered me from that trip and I caught up on where and what he is doing.  After eating I said hello to John Bayley and Pamela Blalock.  I also saw much of the Firefly crew and chatted with them and Carl.  Carl managed to get Kevin Wolfson to pose for a portrait.  I didn't get ice cream -seemed wrong to stand in line for Bart's ice cream with a Ben and Jerry's jersey.  What struck me most about the Boston bike people I ran into (Dave counts because he lived here for a while) is just how nice and open everyone is.  Sometimes I'm a bit shy about going to these big events but people like Dave, John, and Pamela make me feel welcome and part of the community.  And the folks from Firefly are pretty nice to me although it might be some years before I could afford to be their customer.

Then it was time to ride my bike to my car to change and get and drive home.  I noticed that I was tired and would be sore (the latter didn't turn out to be true) but felt great about the day.  I could have been more proactive and registered early and had the right GPS track and maybe I could have got my bike in order beforehand (although two trips to two shops in the week and a half before the ride didn't help completely) but the ride was fabulous.  I could certainly do this on my own and while I did a lot of the ride alone, I did get enough of the camaraderie to make it worthwhile.  And the cause is a worthy one.

Ride stats: 70 miles at 12 MPH, about 5:50 ride time, 7 hours elapsed time.

Miles for the month: 400, miles for the year 2400.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A short visit to the Element Brewery tasting room

This being a cycling blog, if you could call it that, I suppose I shouldn't be writing about beer and a brewery but a lot of cyclists drink beer and it's my blog so I'll go ahead and write about beer.

I took Friday off, both to get a ride in before the weekend started since we were heading out to a wedding in western Massachusetts and I wouldn't be getting in ride on my road bike, and to get an early start on driving to western Massachusetts.  So I got the kids to camp and then got out for a reasonably fast road ride (for me), 35 miles at 17 MPH.  That's about as fast as I've been this year so I felt pretty good about it.  I also felt good that when a bee flew into my helmet and I managed to get my helmet off (and then confirmed it was indeed a bee) and stopped without incident.  I've been stung in my head 3 times in the last few years and really didn't want to get stung again.  After the ride I packed up for the boys and packed the car and the bikes (including trail-a-bikes and both boys' bikes) and went to pick up the boys with my wife.

The ride out Route 2 is a lot nicer than the Pike, at least in our opinion, and we managed to miss all of the congested sections of Route 2.  The ride was pleasant and the boys were watching a movie and I was drifting between watching the road and catching up with everything folks on Twitter were tweeting about when, in the corner of my eye, I saw a sign, Beer To Go, and another in the same window, Element Beer.  This is what it looks like in Google Maps Streetview, without the signs that caught my eye.  I was introduced to Element Beer by my brother-in-law, whose taste in beer are much more eclectic than mine, and instantly thought, "we need to stop here."  My wife, who was driving, said we had time and found a place to turn around and dropped me off and told me to go enjoy myself, probably thinking that I'd just grab a bottle and we'd be off.

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

But it didn't quite work out that way.  I walked in, entranced by the bottles, all wrapped in paper, that I recognized from having my grimy little hands on a few bottles of Element in the past.   The room was empty so I announced my presence and soon Dan, one of the brewers, came into the room.  Element is a small brewery: the two founders and a part time helper along with a salesperson.  Dan lived in my town in the past before heading west but seemed more of a western Massachusetts native (I'm a native as well, but it's been close to 30 years since I lived there so I've lost the glow).  Dan calmly offered my a taste of a beer, or more accurately, a taste of which ever beers I wanted to try and had time for.  Time stopped for a few moments as I tried the Dark Element, which I eventually bought a bottle of.  I then tried the red and another and then, since my wife and sisters are gluten free, I tried the gluten free beer (and it's a fabulous beer, gluten free or not).  And since my wife doesn't gravitate towards higher ABV festive beverages as I do, I tried also tried the 5% gluten free ABV.  This all took just a few minutes but was pretty fun.  Dan is a great guide and let me sip as much as I had time for and was great company as well.  Finally I came to my senses and bought the Dark Element and the lower ABV gluten free IPA and headed out to find where my wife and kids parked.

Of course I was kidded when I got back to the car.  I heard that my son said that I was drinking a beer instead of buying one (sort of true) and my wife said that I was learning to brew beer (completely false).  But joking aside, they let me back in the car and we found our way to our hotel.  I would highly recommend a visit to the brewery if you are passing through, or near, Millers Falls.  It's a great room with a great host who will let you try some of the best beer in the universe.  And, if you are lucky, your partner won't mind the time you spend trying out some of those beers.

Later that evening, we enjoyed a great dinner at Hope and Olive.  In the morning we gave our younger son his new bike (with training wheels) and headed for the bike path from Northampton to Amherst.  The little guy enjoyed his ride across the river and eventually we all went for a ride on the bikes and trail-a-bikes.

A photo posted by NEBicyclist (@svillecyclist) on

And we enjoyed the wedding that evening.

Oh, and that beer that I brought home?  My brother-in-law and I drank it this afternoon.  And it was fabulous.  My wife is holding onto the gluten free one for a festive occasion in the near future.