Arya and Ronnie, the two cuties that are at the front of our bike bag sponsor Ron’s Bikes, invited my partner Karla and me to come over to their event, the Nutmeg Nor’Easter. Described as “the non-competitive alt cycling world championship” and running its fifth edition, this would be the first Nor’Easter after a time where reunions were discouraged, but the organizers still took care of delivering an event 100% outdoors and only for vaccinated people, although no vaccination cards were verified. Because you see, this is the type of gathering where you are trusted to care for yourself and those around you, but in a non-coercive way. For Karla and me this would be our first time not only in Connecticut, but also east of the Rocky Mountains; the first impressions, provided by our Uber trip from the airport at 1 am, made us think we were in a good scenario for which stories, and local tales revealed we weren’t wrong.
Two days before the official start we got a private tour of the area which took us from Ron’s Bikes HQ to the town of Chester via a quintessential Nutmeg Country ride that included leaf-covered dirt tracks, punchy climbs, rocky descents, a castle with a guy dressed up as Sherlock Holmes, a ferry across the Connecticut River, and pizza.
All of this was done on bikes we borrowed, two Ronnie style-built 26-inch bicycles with rigid forks, 3x drivetrains, friction shifters, canti brakes, and fresh, low buzz-sounding Ultradynamico tires. We even came across Ballz and Troy in the middle of the forest, two of Arya and Ron’s friends often seen on their photos, which I don’t know if it was planned as part of the tour or they just happened to be around.
The morning of the Nor’Easter Karla and I got dibs on the first camp spot and then we got our hands busy. Despite the huge amount of work that organizing an event for over 400 people requires, I couldn’t sense a note of stress in the air, which I thought was only possible thanks to all the work that had been done during the previous weeks. Both the farm and Nor’Easter staff were going at it everywhere they could and some had to be forced to take time to eat because, except for the cycling caps that got returned for some reason, everything seemed to be in place and there was one last chance to take a breath before the Nor’Easter wind arrived in the shape of humans, steel bicycles, dynamo lights, bags, and tents.
Most of the evening went by receiving the attendees and witnessing a parade of folks and their bicycles till it was time for the two presentations of the night. First, we had a talk from Connecticut cyclist and frame builder J.P. Weigle, who has been exploring the local roads and a prophet of the 650B wheel size since before some in the audience were born. Then we listened to the local New Haven chapter of the Radical Adventure Riders who opened up and shared their personal experience in front of the public and inspired us to work towards a more inclusive cycling community.
The second day was the riding day. The program included a menu of different routes in a variety of lengths and terrains, with anything from 60 to 15 miles and class 4 chunk to smooth pavement; it was a matter of deciding what type of fun you wanted, and following the line on the provided GPS track. Karla and I settled for the 40-mile ride because it seemed like a good balance between challenge and fun. Before the start, we gathered at the great pumpkin to receive the blessing from Arya’s mom who made a prayer in Tibetan that would keep our bodies and bikes in working shape and made me feel confident of my helmetless head because I forgot to ask for one. After throwing a pinch of flour to the sky and sharing some of Arya’s mom’s tea and rice, it was time to depart. The local roads turned into a pasarela where a diversity of personalities and bicycles rolled through the colorful autumnal landscape and the many ups and downs of this land. Oh yes, because this terrain is anything but flat and actually, I didn’t even touch the big chainring and I sure was glad to have that tiny one.
About seven hours later Karla and I dragged our tired legs over the last climb and made it back to the farm just in time for the all-you-can-eat pizza provided by the fine folks of Fire in the Kitchen that we enjoyed while we made the last rehearsal of our presentation. It’s a tough spot to be put between professor Joe Cruz’ famous talk about fear and the dance party, and made us even more nervous than we were already since we decided to give the presentation in English; Arya had offered and encouraged us to speak in our native language but Karla and I agreed to make our best effort and try to get our message across at as many people as possible. Joe showed up in a three-piece suit and owned the stage making use of his experience in front of a class, taking us with him on his trips across the world, then it was time for Karla and me.
After a brief introduction of our pretty faces, Karla spoke about a women/trans/femme/nonbinary bike touring weekend she organized at the beginning of October while we were in México City, a story she’s currently working on that you’ll see here on The Radavist in the near future. Then she handed over the mic to me but the memories get blurry from here and all I remember is that we invited people to come over to Sonora for a semi-organized multi-day bike trip happening sometime next winter, which we kinda regretted that same night as we were going to sleep. After our talk came the dance party but we decided to take refuge in the closest bonfire and had some beers with new friends.
Sunday morning took a bit longer to start and coffee machines were working overtime to keep up with the demand, so we replaced the coffee with a half-gallon of delicious chocolate milk from the farm stand that I drank almost entirely after Karla had a sip and said she’d had enough. We took time to visit the tag sale tent where, by the way, we had shirts that we brought all the way from Sonora for sale in self-checkout mode but I forgot to promote them during our talk (hey thanks to the five of you who bought one!). Then Ronnie’s voice came through the air in unplugged format because he couldn’t get the microphone to work, announcing the beginning of the one competition of the weekend, the Scorcher Race: two seven-mile loops, mixed terrain, fixed gear only, and juicy prizes for the first three places. By now I could feel something funky was going on in my digestive system but I wanted to document the race so I grabbed a handful of toilet paper and jumped on the bike to get ahead of the racers; the course was on roads we had done the previous day so I knew that, if needed, I could hide between the trees.
As I rode I could hear noises coming up from my belly and I knew my guts were struggling to digest that half-gallon of whole milk I’d drunk; I had never had any issues digesting dairy, but I guess I found my body’s limit. Feeling heavier than usual, I rode looking for a spot for photos before the race came, and I settled for a well-lit segment with a gentle climb. The first loop would be a recon ride where the riders would be more or less in a pack before the second one where all hell would break loose, and it didn’t take long for them to show up after a curve. Despite this being a warm-up, the pace was high and they were in front of me in a blink and between the excitement, cheering them up, and handling the camera I don’t think I took a single good photo.
After they were gone I got back on the bike to go to the next spot I had planned; still feeling crappy, I rode wishing I could just puke and get rid of the sensation. I got to the spot and there I was, making noises in the middle of the forest, happy that there was nobody around to hear but also looking forward to returning to the farm. A first rider appeared in the distance and was being followed by another one some seconds behind; this was in the middle of a long climb, and the last dirt before they reached pavement again. Take a bad photo, cheer, fart, repeat. Then I rode some more before I heard a commotion behind me and saw that two riders were almost shoulder to shoulder with a third one following closely, and a very steep climb was coming up; this could only mean there were attacks about to happen and I wished I was on a motorcycle. I rode to the last spot I had planned, snapped a couple more riders, and made my way back to the farm; when I arrived I headed straight for the toilets, hence missing the awards and the closing ceremony, but my lovely teammate got that photo of Arya and Ronnie hugging which provided me with the closure I needed.
Overall, I don’t think I exaggerate when I say these were some of the best days of my last two years, and I know I’m not alone in this. On top of all the good interactions, the mutual aid, the excellent riding, and being surrounded by pretty bikes, we had unsurpassable weather all weekend and it seemed like rain waited for everybody to be home to make its appearance, and apparently, it did.
I know that, as a community and individuals, we have work to do towards making our tiny world more inclusive and less prone to practices taught to us by the system we live in, but this weekend reminded me that it is not only possible, we are headed there.