A Solstice Ballad for My Hometown – Tenzin Namdol

A Solstice Ballad for My Hometown
Words by Tenzin Namdol, photos by Ultra Romance and Thomas Hassler.

While the God-fearing Christians of the lower Connecticut River valley ended their day cleaning off their lawn care equipment, a small group of Wiccan-observing, season-worshipping heathens rolled their tires through the forested glades of the Nutmeg Country triangle in honor of the Swift Campout. We smell of essential oils and the crystals around my neck jingles at each pedal stroke. The leaves on the trees have matured from their Spring-emerged highlighter green to a darker, more robust hue, properly at the ready for the next summer storm. The back-to-back Nor’easters these trails have endured in recent months have left branches and huge fallen trees in the path as we head for the lean to’s in Cockaponsett State Forest- a mouthful, I know, especially paired with the Pattaconk Lake that nests inside. This area is full of names like that: Hammonasset Beach is a rock throw away from Benedict’s home, the Quinnipiac flows into New Haven harbor several miles away. Connecticut is a colonized spelling of the Native Algonquian, Quinnehtukqut, which translates to “place of the long river”.

We ride through the redlining impacted suburban back roads alarming the neighborhood associations that Summer was coming. This being New England, the populace is well versed in reacting to a band of riders warning them that something was coming. “One by land, two if by sea” kinda deal. Only this time, the invaders are not the British but the hoards of Summer tourists that make up and sustain the economy of the Shoreline enough for the year. All the beaches and roads that locals enjoy in quaint serenity during the academic months become mobbed by in-landers who swarm around the area like ants around a dropped watermelon rind. The population of my town triples in the Summer months, always has. Having grown up in this town, I have merited a tourist-hating grump that delights at 1) shit-talking them with other locals 2) escaping them in the northern woodlands opting for ponds, lakes, and streams for that summer cool off but 3) secretly loving the appeal and beauty of my hometown that attracts so many to her doorstep.

Benedict and I chase around Summer all year long to keep up with our tans but the nostalgia comes in heavy, like metal, experiencing the actual calendar-ic summer. It transports me instantly to the summers I rode by bike around the beaches looking for fights between locals and tourists. The ice cream rides to Dairy Queen, sneaking cigarettes from passed out beachgoers, and lighting joints in parks at sundown. Before we had jobs before we had Instagram accounts to manage before we worried about the sunshine giving us wrinkles. The people around here don’t give a crap about good looking bikes or my expertise on wheel-tire combos best suited for short femmes. They don’t even know what femme means and probably think I ride bikes because of one too many DUIs.

This is where Benedict and I met and fell in love while I simultaneously fell in love with this area from the saddle. It was late Summer when we met; he was at our mutual friend Troy’s (@howellybones, and the yenta of our union) house where I had stopped to borrow a bike because not riding regularly for more than a year had my mental health suffering. There’s a certain brand of sardonic yet infantile humor that marks our regional identity. It was a combo of this marker, his rock hard bod, and his gentle heart that made me really love Benedict. We find ourselves here every Summer, not just because we love our mamas and wanna be nurtured heavily by them, but also because the lower Connecticut River valley has some truly stunning riding. It’s no wonder that famed frame builders, Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle choose this area to live and work.

Benedict and my love for the area is a mixture of humorous observations of Swamp Yankees, nostalgic memories of our childhoods, beloved land conservations that mix in gravel-y double track, some rootsy/rocky singletrack, and plenty of paved, quiet neighborhoods. Benedict has been riding these roads since before his voice dropped and thusly has become an expert route maker in these parts. Our Swift Solstice ride takes us away from the brackish waters of the Long Island Sound toward the swamps and bogs where witches once gathered to make medicine (probably). Much to the delight of our riding companions who took a train from NYC, rightfully fulfilling their craving for a slower pace and a swimming hole for this overnighter.

The Nutmeg triangle route includes the towns of Clinton, Old Saybrook, Killingworth, Deep River, Chester, and across the Connecticut River on a $2 ferry ride takes us to Lyme (yup, Lyme Disease is named after this town) and Peter’s Weigle’s home and shop in Haddam. Throw in the abundant historical home markers of the Puritan era, mix with enough mileage of rock walls to make a path to the moon and you got yourself the quintessential taste of New England charm right here in our backyards. If that doesn’t do it, there’s the unofficial but kinda official Nutmeg Country BnB, the welcoming and well-stocked home of our old friend Troy and his awesome partner Jen (@jenballer). They’ve hosted countless visitors who always leave wanting to stay much longer than they can or should.

We may be labeled unfriendly by the rest of country but, damn it, if you’re gonna come to our towns and hog up all the roads and beaches, you’re gonna get a little bit of sass. We will be polite, but quickly call your ass out if you’re being a wicked pissah. And we will not say “bless your heart” unless you’re having cardiac surgery. The people get this attitude from the landscape that surrounds them: beautiful but sometimes a little rough around the edges. I had a lot of angst, like most teenagers, growing up around here. Being a minority around a sea of white people who are not shy about asking if you’re an “illegal” or, if they’re a Kennedy Democrat, “where are you really from?” These kinds of interactions made me leave the shoreline as soon as I could often tainting my memories with uncomfortable interactions instead of feelings of gratitude at the surface-level safety and beauty of my surroundings.

Now, as an adult on a bicycle, I am able to re-establish a relationship with my hometown that has been more healing than years of psychoanalysis. Creating new memories with dear old and new friends, reconnecting with nature, and just finding the humor in it all. It has become an identity and characteristic in me that I didn’t even know I had, or appreciate until I left and came back. So, in the spirit of the witches who undoubtedly (but without historical data) roamed the areas I often ride, we welcome the summer with fire and bask in the abundance- the abundance of food and drink, for sure, but also the abundance that comes from your own body in her ability to heal.

____

Follow Nâm on Instagram, follow Benedict on Instagram, and follow Thomas on Instagram.

  • Doug Robertson

    Nam, Your writing is beautiful. Thanks for taking us along for the ride.

    • Agreed. I like the Nam and Bene one-two knockout!

  • dan scheie

    What an amazing experience this was! Grande Apizza gets a 10/10 on the Yelp review, the lakeside lean-tos get an 11! Thanks for sharing your slice of heaven with some of us city slickers!

  • Zian

    Nam, thanks for sharing! I have a similar relationship with Portland OR where I grew up for a time.

  • Trevor Bradshaw

    Beautiful writing.