You often hear people referring to tone, athletes and coaches in pre-game interviews speaking about “setting the tone early in a game.” Musicians obsess about tone—is it too warm, too bright, too saturated—which leaves many wondering: are they talking about sound or imagery? Tones, vibes and all other perceptions of time and space can inevitably set the mood for the duration of the situation you find yourself in. A heavy check in the opening sequence of a hockey game can send an opposing team reeling just the same as a heavy technical riff can send a crowd of metalheads into a frenzy.
When I pulled into the driveway of the house that would be base camp for four days of cycling around western Massachusetts with the gentlemen of Arrow Racing, Dan L. (aka Action) and Mikey Green had well set the tone for the weekend’s exploits. Both Mike and Dan took a time-out from layups and jump shots to welcome me to a weekend of two-wheeled adventures, but not before a proper dinner at a local watering hole named the People’s Pint while we waited for the rest of the party to finish the drive from Philadelphia to Deerfield. Pints from People’s washed away the sharpness of an eight-hour drive and a Scorpion Bowl from a local Chinese restaurant furthered the soothing, the way John Coltrane soothed with his openings before crushing you under his improvised solos.
The next morning we enjoyed a relaxed roll-out under the guidance of Dan L., who, not unlike Coltrane, soothed us with an easy pedal along the sleepy streets of Deerfield to the ease of shade-covered rollers, only before a left or right led to a steep pitch over splintered carriage roads. We turned pedals as the heat of the day turned up and bottles emptied, and when a rest stop all-of-a-sudden was not and we stared at another steep grade, the search for open doors, friendly faces, or unattended hoses began. A day at play on empty roads with nothing to do tomorrow but the same, and play we did, on secret cuts through double-tracked farm roads, through state forest paths that reached ungodly pitches, to smooth rolling pavement following the New England bikeway. With that the tone had been set for the headlining act of the weekend: the Deerfield Dirt Road Randonnée, D2R2 for short.
Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are fighting someone or something, and you are throwing punches that have the same effect as a butterfly kissing your nose? Round after round, no matter how hard your brain is forcing the body, the results are pillows and kittens instead of Mike Tyson. As morning’s light trickled through the trees and fog and the first mile or so of the D2R2 went by, I felt as though this must be a dream, but I wasn’t punching—I was pedaling, and the fight wasn’t with a man or monster but with the road. No matter what I told the legs, they ignored me, perhaps angry from the two days of crawling over hills or pounding down gravel lanes. For a moment I wished I was sleeping—at least that would be an explanation—but the road turned upward and I sank into a dullness. In the first few rotations of cranks there were no sounds, just the sight of steaming breath, then a tune began and continued. Dan being the man of action that he is, he broke into a full rendition of the Doobie Brothers’ ‘Taking It to the Streets,’ only to be joined by Mr. Green—and take it we did. Dan’s blazing descents down blown-out gravel slopes was like Randy Rhodes riffing on ‘Crazy Train’: we had long since come off the rails, and now it was time to dive head-first into the abyss of what D2 had to offer. The elevation gained in the distance traveled seemed preposterous; how could we go up so much with no significant mountains in sight? Up we went, and then down and then up and then up some more until there was no way we could possibly go up again and then we did.
There’s a strange thing that happens at the end of 10 hours of pushing your body around on a bicycle: a relief, but yet a full understanding that with snacks and water this could keep going on for a while, and you wonder how much longer, how much of this can my body take, 15 hours, 20 hours…? And then the sight of tacos and beers reminds you that whatever you rode that day was plenty, and a swim in the crisp cool Green River further drives that point home. Coltrane may foray into a chaotic atmosphere of noise and audible boundaries, and our riding may have done the same, but in the end the smiles of driveway hoops and local beers gives everyone a sense that this was good and it was ‘The Night We Called It A Day’ in Western Mass.