Wednesday, August 22, 2012

D2R2: Green River Tour+

D2R2 Morning
Last Saturday I took part in a famous East Coast ride known as the Deerfield Dirt-Road Randonnée (D2R2). Don't be too impressed: I only did the short Green River Tour, augmented slightly to make it an even 50 miles. It was a good way to test my comfort level with unpaved riding, and I had a wonderful time. 

The D2R2 happened unexpectedly. For the past two years I'd tried to go, but each time it did not work out. This year I did not even consider it, for lack of appropriate bike. So I wasn't training, and hadn't done any unpaved riding in months. Then a couple of weeks ago, Rawland Cycles offered me to try a new bike they've just released - a sporty model with 650B wheels and fat tires. When I mentioned the D2R2 was coming up, everything happened quickly. The Ride Studio Cafe took delivery of the bike just days before the event, assembling and tuning it with miraculous speed. On Friday I took it on a shake-down ride on some local dirt trails and determined that I'd be able to ride it. A friend borrowed a van with room for three, and could give me a ride to the start. Late in the evening I packed, printed out a cue sheet, and devised a method to affix it sturdily to the handlebars. Then I tried to stifle my excitement and go to sleep. Finally I drifted off, to the sound of rain against the window.

D2R2 Morning
The D2R2 is more than a ride; it's an event. Many arrive the evening before and camp out in tents. Neither I nor my carpool companions were able to do that, so we left the morning of. At 5:30am Somervillain and our friend Brian arrived at my door. The rain started up again as we rolled my bike into the van alongside the other two and secured it with bungee cords. The rain continued as we drove toward Deerfield, MA. I began to wonder whether it would get so muddy that I simply would not be able to do the ride, but tried not to think about it.

In the early hours the roads were empty and the drive took us less than two hours. The D2R2 start is an enormous grass field, surrounded by patches of woods and cornfields. A thick fog hung over it all. In the distance we could see rows of colourful tents. To the side were rows of densely parked cars and vans, laden with bikes. Riders were assembling their bikes, changing clothes and shoes.

D2R2 Start
There were cyclists riding in circles on the grass, as if warming up before a race. The start times are staggered, with the 180K having already set off before we arrived. Brian and Somervillain would be doing the 100K route, with a 9:00 am start and mine was the 9:30 start. We had plenty of time. 

D2R2 Morning
It was clear from the beginning that some treated the D2R2 as a competitive event and others treated it as a party. Groups of riders in team kit were gathered in clusters discussing game plans.

D2R2 Start
Others chatted with friends, as if they did not have a care in the world.

D2R2 Morning
A row of portable toilets stood picturesquely, against a backdrop of mountain vistas. The rain seemed to be easing up, but the fog and the overcast skies remained. The grass was wet. My cleats sunk into the mud as I walked my bike toward the registration tent. 

D2R2 Morning
Not having pre-registered, I expected chaotic crowds, but it was civilised and well-organised. I registered and received a number to pin on my jersey and bracelet granting me entrance to dinner later. Each rider was also given a sticker with an ID chip (like the kind they use to track pets!) to place on their helmet, so that they could keep track of our times and whereabouts in case of emergency, since there is no mobile phone reception throughout much of the route. This is the first year they did the ID chip thing, and I have mixed feelings about it. But I dutifully affixed the sticker, and got my number pinned on. I have never done a ride with such official trappings before.

D2R2 Morning
A hot breakfast was served, with coffee and vegetarian frittatas. There were also bagels, hard boiled eggs, pastries and juice. 

D2R2 Start
I was so excited that I wasn't hungry, but forced myself to sit down and eat - jumping up occasionally to greet people I knew and to photograph all the fabulous bikes.

D2R2 Morning
Most of the cyclists I knew were doing the 100K ride, with a few opting for the 115K and the 180K. I began to question my decision to do the short, flat route. But then I remembered that it wasn't about the distance and the climbing itself, but about doing all that on dirt roads. I am not a confident off-road cyclist, to put it kindly, and I've only done short stretches in the past. The shorter route was enough to start with, if I could even handle that much.

D2R2 Start
As the last of my acquaintances set off for the 100K, the sun came out, slowly bathing the green field in a warm glow. The sky turned blue. Now I was eager to get going.

D2R2 Green River Tour
Even though I'd now met some people who'd be doing the River Tour route, I decided to ride alone so that I could stop whenever I liked and take pictures. I'd brought my big, heavy DSLR camera in my saddlebag. I wanted to enjoy the scenery and take my time. I arranged the cue sheet at an angle that was easily visible from my vantage point on the bike. At 9:30am I set off, allowing the first wave of starters to go on ahead of me. 

D2R2 Green River Tour
After following the cue sheet through a short stretch of paved side streets, I finally arrived at a dirt road leading through some corn fields. The dirt here had turned to mud from the rain, and had not yet dried out even though the sun was out now. I gave it a try and found that my tires could handle the mud.

D2R2 Green River Tour
It did get pretty bad in a couple of stretches - deep and viscous. I accelerated through it to keep the bike going. Later I had to clean mud out from under my pedals.

D2R2 Green River Tour
After the cornfields came a stretch that was unexpectedly un-D2R2like: a manicured bike path, and some main roads with awkward turns. This went on for about 5 miles and I tried to get through it as quickly as possible. I began to pass cyclists who'd started before me. Some of them looked worried and confused - clearly not having expected to be on the road with cars for such a long period of time, and not able to read a cue sheet and ride at the same time. Finally the cue sheet directed me to a (still paved) back road that was much quieter and passed through some scenic farms. But still no dirt.

D2R2 Green River Tour
It was not until mile 10 that the pavement ended again and the scenery changed from farms to forest.  Here the dirt and gravel were damp, but not wet or muddy. There were ruts and some loose stretches, but all perfectly manageable on fat tires.

D2R2 Green River Tour
The Green River Tour is described as flat, and it is compared to the longer routes. My 50 miles included about 2,600 feet of climbing. The 100K, while only 15 miles longer, included 7,500 feet of climbing. Still, even the Green River route is not pancake flat. On the outbound leg, there was a general upward trend. There was also a scattering of very short, but steep climbs throughout. My computer registered 10-14% grades on a few occasions and I would see cyclists walking up the steeper inclines. Riding uphill on unpaved terrain is more difficult than on asphalt and requires lower gears than would normally be used for the same grade. I did use my low gears liberally over the course of the flat ride. 

D2R2 Green River Tour
The Green River winds through the woods picturesquely, and I found this part of the route extremely relaxing. The air smelled like leaves and grass and dirt after the rain. I could hardly feel the heat of what was now a very sunny day with temperatures in the 80s. I was torn between wanting to go slowly to prolong the experience, and wanting to go fast because it was fun and I was full of energy. A couple of times I turned around and went back just to have another look at something that I passed too quickly on the first go. 

D2R2 Green River Tour
At around mile 15 there was a checkpoint with water, food and portable bathroom facilities. The volunteers were exceptionally nice. I refilled my nearly empty bottles and ate a banana.

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
The beautiful dirt roads continued after the checkpoint, until finally I saw ahead what could only be the lunch stop: a red covered bridge surrounded by a sea of cyclists. The organisers were clever with the route design, so that all the riders ended up at the same half-way point lunch stop, which remained open from 12:00 noon until 4pm. 

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
This spot was so gorgeous, words and pictures can hardly do it justice. Green water flowing so smoothly, that the river surface resembled a sheet of malachite. Then, suddenly, a waterfall, white water frothing over rocks. Thick leafy canopies provided natural shade. Soft fragrant grass and pine needles made for a cushioned sitting surface.

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
Cyclists arrived from all directions. 

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
Bikes were placed everywhere.

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
The lunch tent was beautifully situated, spacious, and offered many food options - sandwiches, snacks, potato and pasta salad, and buckets of sliced pickles.

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
I made use of the pickle juice when refilling my water bottles, which made for an interesting conversation with a roadie who thought the stuff was there as a joke. Nope. And yum!

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
Some riders tried to rest, or tend to their bikes.

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
But most treated it like a big party, circulating and eating and socialising. 

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
No one looked dead-tired or miserable. Most were not in a hurry. I saw lots of cyclists arrive but not many leave until I myself got going after 2pm.

D2R2 Green River Tour
The return route was slightly different, affording more glimpses of unusual structures and landscapes. It was difficult not to constantly stop to photograph things. There were several long, winding downhill stretches here made somewhat treacherous by viscous mud, puddle-filled ruts and loose gravel. I was surprised at how easily the bike handled through it all. I was really just thinking about how pretty everything was the entire time, not about the riding itself. 

D2R2 Green River Tour
To ride for miles and miles and miles without seeing any cars, stores or pavement, was really something. The smells of undisturbed forest on a summer afternoon put me in a trance. It was at this stage that I added a short extra loop to my ride, to turn the 44 miles into an even 50.  While I was not ready for the challenging climbs of the 100K, I did wish for more distance. But I didn't wander too far from the prescribed route, as my phone had no reception and I did not want to get lost. 

D2R2 Green River Tour
It was sad when the dirt roads ended. But luckily, the paved stretch was more pleasant on the return route than it had been heading out.  

Finish Dinner, D2R2
Rolling up to the finish after what had basically been a road-to-trail photo expedition with a lunch break, part of me wished that I'd done the hilly 100k and challenged myself more. But I was already starting to forget that just that very morning I hadn't even been sure that I could handle the short ride. One step at a time.

Finish Dinner, D2R2
Fortunately no one gave me a hard time about my choice of the easy route. However, my ravings about how much I loved the dirt roads were seen as a promising sign that I'll join more unpaved rides in the future.

Finish Dinner, D2R2
Once the 7pm cutoff came, results were swiftly published.

Finish Dinner, D2R2
A hot dinner was served, along with locally made beer. The party continued. 

Finish Dinner, D2R2
It's hard to describe what made the atmosphere so special, but everyone around me just looked so genuinely happy. There was a feeling that you could approach anyone and start talking to them.

Finish Dinner, D2R2
All around, people looked relaxed, open, unguarded, sunkissed.

D2R2 Green River Tour
And in that moment it felt that everything was right with the world. That feeling comes over all of us sometimes, however briefly. At the end of D2R2 I sensed that many of us felt it all at once. That's what made the event special.

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
As for the riding itself, I would describe the Green River route as relaxing, scenic and not challenging - provided you have a basic level of comfort with riding on dirt and gravel, and can handle the distance. The length of the official route is 44 miles, with just over half of that unpaved. The terrain rarely gets technical, and when it does you can simply walk. You can also walk up hills if your gearing is not low enough; the steep ones are short. I would, however, recommend wide tires (35mm+ should keep you comfortable) and reasonably low gears. Bring lots of water, as there will be nowhere to get it until the rest stop. And - very importantly - learn how to read a cue sheet. GPS computers can be insufficient and I found the cue sheet worked better. I was asked for directions at least a dozen times by riders who could not manage to read and ride simultaneously. As far as training, I would say just aim for being comfortable with the distance, keeping in mind that riding on dirt and gravel is more effortful and tiring than riding the same distance on pavement. If you've never ridden on unpaved terrain before, seek out some local trails just to get an idea of what to expect. And if trails are lacking, try riding up and down a grassy slope - the effort and traction are similar. Because riders are basically given all day to finish the route, there is no pressure and the Green River Tour can be anything you make it. You can see how fast you can complete the entire course, or you can meander at 5mph and take all day. All sorts of cyclists did this ride - from fast experienced riders who simply wanted to take it easy that day, to cautious novices. 

Covered Bridge Lunch Stop, D2R2
Those who did the challenging D2R2 routes spoke of many things I did not experience. Grueling climbs rewarded by visits to a peach orchard and mountain-top views. Terrifying descents on loose gravel. A crash of a rider unknown to us, an ambulance struggling up a dirt road with the sirens on. Pain, sweat. Sweat, pain. But in the end the riders' faces showed mostly joy. Not the "thank God this is over" kind of joy, but joy from the experience of the journey.

D2R2 Green River Tour
For me, taking part in D2R2 felt like a mini vacation. I loved the landscape, the terrain, the camaraderie, the bikes - all of it.  From reading and hearing about D2R2 in previous years, I could not get a sense for what the supposedly "easy" Green River route was really like, and so I hope this ride report was helpful for those on the fence about their ability to handle it. Next summer I would like to return and attempt the 100K route. The Rawland demo bike I rode was just perfect for the terrain and I will post a review soon. A thank you to Rawland Cycles and Ride Studio Cafe for making this happen at the last minute. A thank you to my friend Somervillain for the carpool. Thank you to everyone who organised the ride and volunteered, as well as the Franklin Land Trust (you can donate to support them here). And a thank you to everyone who tolerated my picture-taking and made for such great company. I hope to see you next year. More pictures of the event start to finish here

40 comments:

  1. "All around, people looked relaxed, open, unguarded, sunkissed."

    Nice when the spirit visits everyone at once! It sounds like it was a wonderful time.
    Those peaches sound like a lifetime memory in themselves.

    I look forward to the Rawland review.

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  2. It was great to read your description of the Green River Ride and the overall day. You did a great job of listening and observing and wrote a nice description of how the other riders felt, given my past experience. I also saw an accident the year I rode the D2R2 and the sight of the guy at dinner with a broken clavicle tempered the joy of the day.

    You should try the 100K. The climbing is intense in places but you have access to great training rides, paved but useful. The Spring St/Eastern Ave climb in your neighboring town is slightly more hilly that the overall route and 10 miles of that a couple of times will let you know that you can do the route.

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    1. I ride up Spring Hill fairly frequently, though usually on my city bike. It's strenuous, but I don't find it makes for a great training ground, because of the car traffic. I prefer to go out to Arlington Heights, Lincoln and Lexington.

      With the 100k route, I am pretty sure I could handle the climbing. I was just really worried about doing it on loose dirt and gravel. Next time I should be fine though. I am considering doing the Vermont 100K this Fall, which I think is largely on dirt.

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    2. I was thinking of the the Heights, Lincoln, and Lexington. That Heights (concrete water tower) climb from the east has the length and intensity of the climbs on the D2R2 if not the surface.

      I only learned the name of the Spring Hill neighborhood last week, despite driving through it frequently.

      I think dirt/gravel is a question of some experience but also equipment, including tires. You will love it.

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    3. I was just at the water tower in Arlington Heights yesterday; here is my riding companion trackstanding in front of it as I guzzled water. I really like that climb actually; there is even a bike lane!

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    4. Park Ave does have a wide bike lane but you have to try the climb from the east (Spring Street to Eastern Avenue). That's the steep side with more elevation gain. I admit that it is one hard ride for me, especially on the fifth iteration.

      Your companion looks pretty happy after the ascent.

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  3. Where can I find the map of the Green River Tour and other D2R2 routes? Are those available somewhere on internet?

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    1. The routes are posted on the D2R2 website and some upload them to ridewith gps, but they are not identical from year to year. Here is the Green River route from last year. Looks like there was a bit more climbing than I stated here.

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  4. "It was clear from the beginning that some treated the D2R2 as a competitive event and others treated it as a party. Groups of riders in team kit were gathered in clusters discussing game plans grimly."

    I'm in that group of "grim" and serious riders in team kit. My kits says "Awesome" and has a firebird emblazoned on the back. That group was far from serious and everyone was there for a slow paced, enjoyable day on the bike...perhaps they just prefer the look and feel of silly team kits over wool jerseys and toe straps. You should have come over and said hi!

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    1. Hey that wasn't meant as a criticism. I look grim on a fast 20 mile club ride. I did say hi to some of you. Awesome kit. I will reword the offending section.

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  5. Great write-up! Too bad you have to return the bike. Do you think you could have done the ride on your Seven?

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    1. For the Green River route I think it's not impossible, at least on most stretches. But I would not have wanted to. Aside from handling issues, with the 26mm tires I would be almost guaranteed to get constant flats. A 650Bx42mm tire feels pretty much ideal to me on this kind of terrain.

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  6. I appreciate this report and will forward it to some friends who backed out on us this summer!

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  7. I feel like the 40 miler gets a bad rap, because so many people who ride D2R2 do it for the suffering - but it's not just "the short verstion", it's a REALLY nice ride! I did it last year, and returned for the 100k this year...the climbing was too much for me, which is not to discourage anyone, because I didn't train and I am having back problems at the moment. I just sorta thought "that 40 miler was awesome, I wanna get me more of that!" but the 100k was so much more about climbing/suffering than the 40 miler. (full disclosure: I took the 40mile route back to start after lunch) I'm thinking of trying to write a secret cue sheet that is a longer distance, but more flat!

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    1. "I'm thinking of trying to write a secret cue sheet that is a longer distance, but more flat!"

      I was talking about that with someone - was it you? I would love to put together a 100k or even 100 mile cue sheet with more moderate climbing for those interested in the dirt roads and the distance aspect of it.

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    2. +1 for a longer route without the epic climbing

      Oh and I think I saw you photographing that broken bridge on the return trip!

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    3. I'd be interested in a longer version of the 40-miler, too. What a beautiful ride! I felt like I could really enjoy myself and take in the beautiful surroundings without killing my legs.

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  8. from the D2R2 website:

    The Franklin Land Trust works with landowners and communities to protect their farms, forests, and other natural resources significant to the environmental quality, economy and rural character of our region.

    If the goal of the ride was to instill a love and appreciation for the land, your report shows it was a success. Should you return for the 100K next year, I hope that you will still be able to enjoy the beauty of the scenery.

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    1. When a ride is fast or strenuous, it's very difficult to document. I look forward to being fit enough to carry my big camera on those rides.

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  9. Nice. Captured it.

    As a continuation of the other post this event looks like a metal bike fest. Not one carbon 29er.

    I'm sure the 100k is infinitely harder; if the climbs don't kill you the descents will. Certainly the road conditions photographed aren't challenging; there's always a smooth line.

    The Rawland looks hot; I should ring them up as they're nestled in Grant Petersen land.

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  10. Just curious about terms. You often mention 'off road' riding and 'road to trails' riding in posts but it seems like there's a difference between roads and trials in the sense that roads can be dirt or paved while trails are a different beast entirely, full of debris and obstacles not found on roads. This seemed more like a wonderful excursion through various types of roads, most of which were of the dirt variety.

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    1. In this regard, everyone's terminology seems to be a little different. I see it as a continuum, where a dirt road would be something wide enough to fit a car, whereas a trail would not. But a trail need not mean it's full of obstacles; there are some that are and others that aren't. Similarly, dirt and gravel roads can be of different degrees of roughness.

      As far as the term "off road," I use it very broadly to describe an area that is unpaved and mostly free of motorised traffic. Some agree with this usage, others don't. But it's really a continuum. In the context of bicycling I feel it makes more sense than to place unpaved and paved roads (which call for different tire widths and gearing) in the same category, while putting trails in a separate one.

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    2. Thanks for the clarification. In my part of the country unpaved roads are very similar to paved and require no difference in tire widths and gearing. Trails, on the other hand, are places where cars have not yet accessed and are often very steep and marked with large rocks, roots, and sometimes water crossings. So when we speak of 'off road' it means something different entirely.

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  11. Veloria,
    You mentioned you use pickle juice. I have a bad cramping problem, my quads normally lock up at 35 miles and then ache like heck for the rest of a ride. Does the pickle juice really work for you? I've been thinking about taking a small bottle on my next big ride.

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    1. It can be pickle juice (just a bit of it added to a water bottle) or it can be salty lemonade. Supplemented with banana(s) for snacks. For me the bananas+salt combo eliminates cramping entirely, though of course YMMV.

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    2. Thanks, I'll give it a shot on tomorrow's group ride. Great column about the ride too!

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  12. A 650b Nordavinden, eh? I'm also looking forward to your review -- I recently purchased one of the last (if not the last) of the rSogn framesets, just for the 650b experience.

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  13. Selene of bicycling.com/blogs/fitchick wrote about her D2R2 experience as well. Two different perspectives. I enjoyed reading both and thought you might enjoy reading her take.

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    1. Yes, it's a little different! Thanks for the link.

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    2. What a contrast. Selene writes from a position of what we might call "racer's privilege:" the norm and aspiration is racing, and the D2R2 may as well as have been ridden by hobbits. To be fair, maybe a better comparison is to imagine how someone like Jan Heine would've written this up, as Velouria takes a newcomer's perspective (perhaps a reason I visit it more often than Jan's).

      As long as Bicycling mag continues preaching to a very specific choir, many great cycling blogs will be about.

      Wish we had as big a mixed terrain ride out here on the Left Coast...

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    3. I appreciated SY's description of the ride and did not think she was speaking from a place of any kind of privilege or putting down other D2R2 participants. The point is, this ride is so wonderfully versatile. You can race the course like her, or you can bring your DSLR and take all day like me, or anything in between. I am sure JH would love it too.

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  14. The d2r2 is a lovely ride. A little further west, Berkshire County Mass, and into Columbia County NY is just about the most beautiful dirt road riding anywhere. One can have one's own personal d2r2 at any time!

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  15. Does 180km really qualify as a "randonée?" More like a good time on the bike to me :3

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  16. I did a lot of my "training" for the 100k riding around Belmont, where we have a couple big hills. There are even some "paved" roads that go up Belmont Hill (to Habitat) that are in worse shape than anything I saw on the 100k route.

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  17. Looks like a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing.

    I'd like to do it next year and I am lucky enough to have an old steel hardtail mountain bike with 37mm slicks that I keep in my inlaw's NH basement for visits.

    Would that be a reasonable bike to use? I don't see many mountain bikes in your pics.

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    1. There were mountain bikes, even on the 180K. I hear they were great on descents.

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  18. Looking forward to the Rawland Nordavinden review :)

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  19. The Nordavinden review is up, and you can find it here.

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  20. Hello! I was a volunteer at the ride and met you briefly. You said hello and thanked me, before taking out your camera to photograph passing riders. Now it's my turn to thank you, for this lovely post. Next year I hope to ride the 40 mile route!

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    1. Oh hi : ) Thanks for commenting and I hope to see you next year.

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