I've ridden a few of the route options with a variety of bikes, gearing and tires. In 2006, I used 30mm CX tires. 2007 and 2008, I used a road bike with 28mm slicks. That made the descents pretty sketchy, and I didn't need to do that again. In 2010 and 2012, I used 35mm Racing Ralph's. All of these were tube-based setups, riding the full 180k course. Don't recall flatting in any of those years. The 28mm Specialized armadillo tires pumped up to 100psi were pretty much indestructible, but forget about control on the descents.
Last year I tried the 115k course with a hardtail MTB. I had fractured my wrist two weeks earlier and needed the extra cushion on a shorter loop. I enjoyed the route a great deal. Needless to say, I could totally bomb the descents with 60mm wide tubeless tires and front suspension.
This year, a group of us wanted to try something different than the standard 180k route. The 160k route was suggested. Due to road closures, the route was modified and came in closer to 151k with substantially less climbing than the 180k route. The 160k route was attractive because it hits many areas the other routes did not. So I started looking at the color coded map of all the route options to find a way to enhance the 160k route and make it a Hill Junkie worthy loop.
I noticed by adding only seven miles or so, over 1000ft additional climbing could be added, replacing a rolling section with two major climbs. With East Road, this meant the loop would have three steep, sustained climbs instead of just one. The added climbs were the uber tough Pennel Hill Rd and the climb up to Heath. Pennel Hill is part of the 115k route, and the climb up to Heath is a descent on the 180k route. Thus we'd never be leaving any of the official D2R2 routes.
A large posse of riders met at the starting area at 7am. A later start allowed most to drive over the morning of. Being the furthest out meant I had to leave the earliest. I doubt I got more than 4hrs sleep.
The area got recent rain, including overnight. The course turned out to be in superb shape, no loose marbly stuff, but maybe a little peanut butter here and there. The temperature was perfect. Just barely warm enough at 7am to not need long layers and rising only into the low 70's.
Alex and Jason were on silly light rigid MTBs. The rest of us were on CX bikes. Pretty sure I had the skinniest tires, 32mm Small Block 8's. I was counting on the tubeless setup to give me some cushion and control with a max pressure of 50psi.
The first 10 miles are flat, paved and through town. The pace was social. Once into the hills, things heated up. With no shortage of firepower and testosterone in the group, I quickly started doing math of how long it would take me to implode. The pace was clearly beyond my 6-7 hour pace. Would I have to bail out of my own enhancement to the ride in shame?
The East Hill Rd descent was interesting. There was a conga line of other riders walking down or otherwise skidding out of control. Yeah, with a Colorado trip coming up in a week, I wasn't going to risk it with my skinny tires. It was rutted out brownie mix covered rocks. Alex and Jason bombed it, of course, giddy they had MTBs. This was perhaps the only place the fat tires made a big difference in the whole ride. I think all of us but Scott on CX bikes hoofed it.
East Hill Road. Doesn't look it, but going down steeply.
A shot Paul captured looking up.
We got to the first food stop at 26 miles. Quarter of the way in and my legs were already getting noodly. Not good. I wolfed down 3x more calories than everybody else, including half a PB&J sandwich which must have had 200 calories of peanut butter alone.
Next up was the long 1300ft climb up Green River Rd. Never steep, but it went forever, and there was no shortage of strongmen to push the pace. There were several steep rollers as we approached the height of land. Now I was really feeling it as we descended into Jacksonville.
Jacksonville at the 43 mile mark was an informal food stop with a general store there. This was also a decision point, where the published 160k route and the Hill Junkie enhanced route diverged. Taking the diversion meant mandatory topping water off, at least for me. There was some whining about the pace thus far and the damage Pennel Hill was going to inflict. Yeah, I was scared too, riding with a couple slow twitch guys 10-15 years younger than I. So do I hang my head in shame and take the "easy" way to the lunch stop, or do I face certain doom and take the hard way?
Alex, Jason, Dave and Ken were solidly committed to the enhanced route, so I really had no choice. I proposed it. I couldn't Sally out.
I didn't realize there was a spanker of a climb on the way to Pennel Hill. I bet Reed Hill Rd hit grades over over 15%. Great, Pennel was going bury me. After some more gentle paved descending, we got to the base of Pennel Hill. The recent rain left the gravel, if you can call it that, in fine form. It was not loose at all, like last year. So instead of fighting to get traction and fighting against gravity, it was just a burn fest. Dave and Alex were gone. I kept searching for a lower gear. Not sure how long Dave and Alex waited, but Ken, Jason and I didn't spread out much by the time we crested.
The paved Ed Clark Rd descent is one of the best of all D2R2 routes. A great view up top, and then ridiculous, but high risk speed on the way down. You can get air over a roller or two if you're crazy enough.
Beginning the Ed Clark descent.
After no more than reaching the bottom, an even bigger, but not as steep climb challenges your will to continue. This his Heath Rd, which is a descent in the 180k route. This comes fairly early in the 180k route, yet a lot of riders were still coming by. Yikes, would they be back by dark? A one mile drop on Long Hill Rd brought us back to the official 160k route. Of course, there were no less than four major rollers to scale before reaching the lunch stop. A few of us were past due for calories.
The rest of the riding gang was still at the lunch stop when we got there. I devoured another massive dose of calories, eating a sandwich wrap, big serving of pasta, cookies, pickles and a Coke. Good thing we started rolling on a massive downhill, unlike the 180k route of year's past where you begin a massive climb from the lunch stop. Most of the riding group got a head start on Alex, Jason, Dave and I, since they had been at the lunch stop a while already.
Of course, downhills go by way too quickly. In no time we were looking up East Rd, the second tallest and second steepest climb of the ride. Combined and late in the ride, this made it the hardest climb for me. Dave and Alex were gone again. I shadowed Jason most of the way up. I was now deep into death march territory.
The 160k route lunch stop.
At the lunch stop, Paul quipped the last 15 miles are downhill. Actually, looking at the profile, it looked like the last 20+ miles were downhill. But you need to zoom in on that profile a bit. Sure, when you drop 1600ft in 20 miles on a 100 mile ride, it looks like it is all down. But there were numerous 50-200ft rises along the way, many of them steep. Scott was just killing all of these, like going for primes in a crit. I was trying all I could to not cramp up by standing and letting my weight collapse on the pedals for each down-stroke. Seated pedaling was coming scary close to full-blown seizure. On this 1600ft net drop, I gained another 1500ft of climbing! So much for downhill finish! Paul later clarified it was a "downhill bias." Yeah, I might have used that expression before too.
One of many punchy climbs after lunch and on the way "down." Think the highway department is trying
to convey a message?
Like clockwork, with about five miles to go, Alex and Dave make "their move." They bolted, not to be seen again until we got back to the starting area. I finished with 102 miles (164km), 10,700ft climbing (3260m) in 6.8 hours moving time. I managed to not completely cramp up, but I was completely wrecked. There were no flats or mishaps in the group of five that rode the enhanced route, but there were a couple flats in the extended group and a close call when Mark Doherty overcooked a switchback and regained the road below, Lance Armstrong style, without meeting trees or rocks.
The riding posse, with HJ, Norm, Mark, John, Mark, Mike, Scott, Paul, Jason and Alex.
Dave and Ken didn't make the photo.
A curious thing I've noticed about my GPS. It measures less climbing than anybody else's I ride with, as much as 10% less. When I begin going up, the elevation display immediately tracks the rise. But the total ascent stays frozen. It is not until I gain more than 15ft that the total ascent begins to register an increase. It does not catch up, but rather just starts counting first foot gained after 16ft have been gained. In other words, my GPS throws the first 15ft of every rise away. How many times do you rise 15ft in a long, hilly ride? Many. This becomes even more pronounced off road. I use a Garmin 510 with software version 3.10. Anybody else notice this?
The beer line is 30x longer than the ice-cream line. What is up with that? I went for the malted
Riders beginning to fill the banquet area.
Anyway, I have to commend Sandy and his army of volunteers who put this ride on every year. Organization is superb, replenishments along the course are always spot on, and the post ride food and beverages are not to be missed. Even though I'm temporarily scarred by this ride once again, the scars will be gone next year when contemplating a route.