Greetings and good tidings from Nutmeg Country, or welcome to the world of love, kindness, friendship, and joy. Maybe you’ve felt it all year long, or maybe you’ve been yearning to finally make the pilgrimage to the largest gathering of wool and steel on the East Coast. Either way, Jarrod Bunk has no doubt that stories of the soft times had in Nutmeg Country have reached your ears. The allure has been written about many times in this corner of the internet. The annual Nutmeg Nor’easter masquerades as the best alt-cycling weekend but Jarrod’s here to tell you that what you’ll find when you arrive is the biggest group hug you could ever hope for. This is a cycling festival that’s more about the people and the riding is just the reason to gather. Read on for Jarrod’s recap of the 2023 edition of the Nutmeg Nor’Easter.
Of the 500 folks that signed up 480 showed up to site registration, a testament to just how well wool insulates when wet. I arrived on the 8th weekend in a row of torrential rain socking in the Northeast with terrible weather. The rain came in just as I arrived to unload myself, my bikes and bits for the tag sale, and my many changes of clothes for the promising soggy weekend. It’s a fashion show, ya know.
This year, the Nor’Easter was held at a camp that had previously been owned by the Boy Scouts of America. I don’t know if y’all heard, but they had some bills to pay, and the venue was soon found in the grasp of a “big city developer” who would have surely paved over this beautiful place and put up a bunch of luxury condos. Fortunately, from what I gathered, a 10-year-old girl stepped in and started a campaign protesting the new ownership that gained enough traction and enough dollars to stop the developer in their tracks. It seemed fitting that the venue itself was a testament to community. Without it, this place wouldn’t exist today, and certainly wouldn’t have been able to host so many smiling folks for this year’s weekend of riding.
Saturday morning came; we gathered for a blessing from Arya’s mom. She asked us to choose something we’d like to experience out there, and hope for it to be. I wanted to feel some joy out there, so I really leaned into that in the moment and for the rest of the day. A lot of the joy I’ve felt riding bikes has come when I find myself in precarious situations and somehow get myself out of them. And, those moments typically coincide with gnarly weather events. As we awaited the start and the rain started to fall, I started chatting up different friends to find a group to ride the chunky route with me. At this point in the morning—rain falling at a record pace—folks were dropping out all over, making excuses to wait out the rain, or take refuge back in their bunks. I was super jittery and ready to roll so I did what anyone filled with anxiety and searching for joy would do. I set out alone to bounce on some grade-A New England chunk.
It was so wet that using a GPS wasn’t feasible, nor was pulling my phone out constantly to check the track. At one point I heard a group yell “Jarrod, come with us to the beach.” But I hadn’t had my fill and said, “Nah I need the chunk!” and joined up with some other friends for a while until I missed a turn, got separated and found myself on some chunky hiking/mtb trails not far from the start. So, I guess I got my wish to bounce around on rocks after all.
After I was done sessioning the singletrack and hiking my bike, I checked the map to see just where I’d wandered off to. Clinton was nearby. If you’ve been following the wool-laden rambles of the folks who frolic in Nutmeg Country, you may have seen Instagram lore of a place called Lobster Landing, famous for its rolls. I mapped a quick route there to experience the legendary shack myself and take in some downtime near the harbor. Lobster Landing did not disappoint. I warmed up with some bisque and the best lobster roll I’ve ever had—so good it’s now ruined others for me. I spun back into camp on some rolling roads and took in the local scenery en route. Once back to camp, I estimated that I had ridden just shy of the mileage of the route, but got my chunk and found my joy out there, smiling the whole time.
Saturday night was filled with new programming like spoon carving, mutual aid, and a medicinal plants guide, which I’m bummed to have missed. Of course, after the ride Fire in the Kitchen was also slanging pies for those who bought tickets in advance. Their legendary Lemon Boy is, alone, worth the trip north for (IYKYK). In all I heard, there were around 420-440 pizzas made and devoured. After pizza, there was a screening of Eugene Pak’s Riding Han, which was one of the most unique takes on the Tour Divide that’s been produced. Y’all should really add it to your watch list. After the showing, I made my way off to hang with Amanda, Kevin, and Joe for a bit while the dance party raved. We made it back for the last dance, just in time for Amanda to break out her skates for one last lap around the mess hall.
Sunday was a sleepy morning for most folks after a night of partying. Campfire hangs lingered long into the morning to make up for the night before’s wetness. Then it was clean up, pack up, leave no trace, and roll home. Sunday was a somber goodbye it also is the day that hosts Ronnie’s Scorcher race. The only part of the Nor’Easter that doesn’t seem to grow year after year quite as exponentially as the main event. You don’t know what a scorcher is? Don’t be ashamed, but next year if you can bring two bikes and choose to roll northeast, then you should make sure to pack a fixie with some swept-back bars.
Arya and Ronnie secured their best location yet, don’t get me wrong the farm was great but the new venue, Deer Lake Camp was sprawling and amazing. The center lodge was a great gathering for folks for the tag sale, check-in, and the food vendors. The vibes were the best that I could’ve hoped for, even with all the precipitation.
This year’s Nutmeg Nor’easter was filled with a lot of the feelings I’ve come to look forward to at this event, and a lot of new ones; love, kindness, companionship, joy, a place where folks who never quite fit in growing up found their folks, family, and friends. It was one for the books for sure. Make sure to mark your calendars for next year, and don’t forget to donate to Save Deer Lake!