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Quintessential Gravel

D2R2’s New 160K Course

By Damon Telepak, The Cycling Formula

August 19th, 2019

Let me just start by saying at The Cycling Formula we dig cycling, but we REALLY DIG GRAVEL.  We proudly host a madcap gravel camp in Vermont with guest coach Mike Barton and evening lectures by local craft brewmasters (because #BeerIsRecovery, of course!). We’re proud to have our coaches & athletes regularly competing at races like Overland, SBT GRVL, & DK200 - and our very own Matt Curbeau absolutely crushed the inaugural UnPaved race. Even as I’m typing this I’m thinking about my gravel bike – wondering if I can get outside and sneak a ride in. Gravel is in our blood – it’s what we do - and we can’t wait to ride even more of it.

So with this “all-consuming passion for gravel riding” as a context, let me explain something to you all right now.  The new 160K course at D2R2 is a quintessential New England gravel route.  It is exactly the reason we fell in love with gravel & adventure riding to begin with.  It was more fun and more enjoyable to ride than any of us would have ever possibly imagined – and we frankly can’t wait to ride it again.

Unless you’ve just crawled out of a box and are completely new to gravel riding, then you undoubtedly know of the fantastic heritage of D2R2 and the fine folks of the Franklin Land Trust. They’ve been doing an absolutely spectacular job of hosting one of the premier gravel events for well over a decade – an event that’s truly a cornerstone of the New England gravel riding season.  They’ve put a lot of time and effort over the years into creating something that’s pretty damn awesome.

And it could only be through all those years of accumulated knowledge & experience, in riding all these quiet backroads & forgotten little trails, that the new 160K course could have come about.  It was not conceived by complete accident.  It did not just appear to them in some amazing gravel dream (you know, you have them too).  No not at all - no they’ve been eyeing this thing and toiling with it for a while, forming it and molding it – until finally, they had it right.  And did they ever get it right.

D2R2 160K Course, Franklin Land Trust

Almost as quickly as it begins, you find yourself seemingly lost in the New England woods, on a gravel road, riding your bike, giddy with anticipation about what’s coming up next around the bend.  Pedaling around turns and climbing up hills treats you to little vignettes of life in a forgotten corner of Massachusetts.  Snapshots in a time-capsule you’re privy enough to open - if only for a few moments – and then on you pedal to the next scene.  This is what gravel riding was meant to be.

The true genius of the new course is simple enough – gravel.   You ride a LOT of gravel roads and old forest paths.  You’re constantly “somewhere” in the woods listening to the rocks and gravel ping off your wheels & rims.  Any amount of time spent on paved road is either intended to take you to an amazing vista or simply get you back to gravel as quickly as possible.  There are no “filler” sections of pavement here.  It’s a route so dominated by gravel and pavé you scratch your head trying to imagine how it’s possible you’ve never known about it.  Were they somehow magically hiding all this gravel, only to let us all in on their little secret now?!

Adding to the perfection of the route is the variety of terrain and placement of major climbs. It is quite simply… well, perfect!   Now (and let’s be completely honest here) you are certainly going to be challenged on this ride. At 160k (100 miles) with around 10,000 feet of elevation gain you will feel it in your heart, lungs, and especially your legs.  But even through the stoutest climbs & gnarliest ascents you never feel as if you’re being made to suffer just for the sake of suffering.  It all has a natural feel, a natural rhythm & cadence - so much so that you’re completely “ok” with the more grueling challenges as they arise.  You’re riding with the contours of the landscape - you’re taking what it offers and accepting when it asks you to give back.  There’s an ebb & flow to it all – there’s a wonderful balance – and as you pedal further and further along you find yourself completely in tune with it.

The Best Gravel Route That We've Ridden in a While

At some point in your drifty haze of gravel-glee, it becomes dizzying in your mind to even fathom where you actually are.  These types of roads and trails aren’t on Google maps.  There’s no gas station or local corner store for you to ask for some sort of direction or bearing.  You’re just out there – in the forest – somewhere – riding bikes.  You’re absolutely shocked, when deep in the dark woods you inexplicably stumble upon a car parked off to the side of what you vaguely interpret to be a “road”. You start laughing as you say to yourself, “How the HELL did they get this thing out HERE?!  I’m on a gravel bike AND I’M NOT SURE HOW I GOT HERE…”

And it’s then your ride buddy turns and asks, “Man, WHERE are we?!” to which you can only reply wryly with a smile, “Man, WHEN are we?!”   It’s like a journey on some kind of way-back-time-machine, but at some point the ride operator quietly hit the “pause” button. You can’t recall where it all started or when it all began – only that you’re simply in the here & now, completely mindful, and living in this moment. And so there you find yourself... just riding your bike... lost somewhere in the woods... pedaling further and further into the wonderful unknown.  That’s quintessential gravel.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that epic gravel rides like this don’t just don’t happen by accident. Truth be told, it takes over a decade of hosting an event like D2R2 to accumulate enough intimate knowledge and experience of an area to dial up such a perfect gravel route. It is truly well-conceived, well-planned, and exceptionally well-executed. Here at The Cycling Formula, we bow our heads and give many thanks to our friends of the Franklin Land Trust for giving us this remarkable gift to partake in and enjoy.  The new 160K course at D2R2 is truly a quintessential gravel ride - hosted by a founding institution of the New England gravel scene. 

Now go get your gravel bike.  Let’s go ride that thing again.

Quintessential Gravel: The D2R2’s New 160K Course

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