Nutmeg Nor’Easter 2021 (The Alt Cycling World Championship)
The 2021 Nutmeg Nor’Easter (aka Thee Non-Competitive Alt Cycling World Championship) happened a couple of weeks ago, leaving all attendees with hope for the cycling community at large. Find a reflection from the event by Joe Cruz here, alongside a stunning gallery of photos by Conan Thai…
Photos by Conan Thai (@everydaycult_)
When we try to say what cycling gatherings are for, maybe our imaginations go first to the surface and manifest things. They’re about riding bicycles and being out in lovely landscapes, and they’re about catching up with friends. If there is racing, maybe it can seem to be about the competition and the expression of fitness and skill. Sometimes there are bicycle industry booths, and so the gathering can bend toward the seduction of looking at new gear and buying new stuff.
All of those have a place, but it seems to me that more important are the emotions that we feel and are left with. Listening to so many people during and after the fifth edition of the Nutmeg Nor’Easter, the emotions rang true and clear: joy, openness, comfort, belonging.
Conceived and organized by Arya Namdol and Ronnie Ultraromance, the NNeV (Nutmeg Nor’Easter Five, get it?) on October 22-24, 2021, brought over 400 people to Colchester, Connecticut, USA. Riders took the train and pedaled up from New York City, groups carpooled from Michigan and Pennsylvania and Boston, and there were more than a few people from nearby small towns. The riding was beautiful and varied, sometimes hard, and an expression of the place and its history. It was New England autumn colors, rides on country lanes and unmaintained dirt tracks, rivers and lakes, a bucolic farm camping venue, and delicious food. These, though, are placeholders or metaphors for time spent as an exhale into smiles and warmth and shared delight.
Arya and Ronnie call NNeV Thee (sic) Non-Competitive Alt Cycling World Championship. Alt Cycling is a label for a set of ideas that aim to be an alternative to the over-focus on consumerism and competition in mainstream bicycle culture. The not-take-yourself-too-seriously nickname was a nice reminder to embrace the ideas behind NNeV, but to wear them lightly and to not turn “Alt” into just another line of exclusion.
NNeV is a celebration of wide supple tires, high stack drop bars, Honjo fenders, baskets, and a DIY approach to mixing new and old parts. Perhaps the underlying unity is that the bikes are comfortable and forgiving to ride on woods roads, and the clothes are ones that most everyone already has, cable sweaters, carhartt shorts, whatever comfortable shoes get on well with flat pedals. Ultimately, the curation succeeds in being the denial of preciousness. I like that aesthetic, even if I also like and can appreciate carbon or titanium gravel rockets. If you don’t think this is your scene, I can understand that, though I think you’re missing out on a colossal dose of positivity. What is harder to take is if you think that someone else’s “alt” makes your scene normal and normative. That makes it impossible for you to see who you’re excluding and renders invisible a thousand magnificent potentials about cycling and its history.
Aesthetics is also about what we value for its own sake, especially what’s important as self expression and coming to a better understanding of the people with whom we inhabit this world. NNeV takes a stand on what is valuable and good and meaningful about pedaling: making new friends, post-ride conversation and music, a space to hang out and be yourself and trade ideas about community, activism, and kindness. And the graceful truth about many body types, about hearing different languages, about making sense of diverse horizons and challenges. NNeV is a bicycle gathering where who you love doesn’t have to be left as a silence or an allusion, where the number of voiced women is as many as men, and where so many (but, honestly, not enough) BIPOC riders can ride and be. It’s not as if no other such opportunities exist, but my feeling is that there are not enough of them.
To be a posturing bro, to not talk to anyone but who you imagine to be your equal, to hope that someone asks you about the expensive gewgaw on your bike, to faux-lament humble brag that you were just out of the top-ten at some race, your training plan, some monster overseas trip you went on, and on and on. There was none of that full-of-shit nonsense that we all so often accept to ride bikes with a group of friends.
The opening ceremony was a Tibetan blessing and protection, and as we tossed our barley flour into the sky it did feel like a leap toward something hopeful and auspicious. We spent the weekend in the embrace of Cold Spring Farm with its barns and greenhouses, the fields full of tents, and with friendly but also businesslike farm dogs who woke us in the middle of the night while doing their job of protecting the other farm animals. A horizon-to-horizon view ringed by trees welcomed sunrises and sets, a half dozen stocked fire pits were places of gathering against the chill of the night. There were several big party tents, for speakers, for a swap meet, for shade from the sun and eating at the assembled picnic tables. There were local caterers preparing meals for purchase, including an incredible eat-as-much-as-felt-right pizza night.
There were Saturday rides of varying lengths and textures, from a few-hour stroll to an all-day mixed terrain challenge. I rode the 40-mile intermediate loop with a brewery stop. I joined Raphaela and her Vermont crew, we laughed and looked out for each other, we shared what we had in our bags for our snack stops. Throughout the day we would connect with other riders, get passed by or catch up to others, and revel in the resonance of hills and leaves and stone fences.
New Haven’s Radical Adventure Riders (RAR) shared their uplifting work, and the famed frame builder J.P. Weigle regaled us with reminiscences of decades of being around bicycles as technology and art. Karla Robles and Daniel Zaid dazzled with images of bikepacking in their home of Mexico, and shared incredible plans of a route that will traverse their country. I gave a talk on transcending the fears that will always be with us as we pedal the world. There was a dance party, a fashion show, and a lovely bike catwalk under disco lights.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, “Scorcher” was the moniker given to riders of those often-brakeless fixed geared bikes raced and ridden too fast on crowded streets. Soon the bicycles themselves were scorchers. On Sunday, Ronnie Romance gave the vaguest of course directions and we set off in camaraderie in our scorcher race. We did one lap as a laughing group, with introductions, support, affection all around. The racing lap was exhilaration, channeling that fixed gear directness into our grins.
All of that—the activities, the shelters, the landscape, the bicycles as well as the months of hard work on the part of the organizers—was the literal infrastructure enabling the possibility of connections among us. Arya is genuine when they said that they’d offer advice and insight to others who wanted to put on this kind of event. The deeper scaffolding of it all was a willingness to allow oneself to be filled with time spent in accepting, open jollity with bikes.
If you’re able to, you should go to a future Nutmeg Nor’Easter or create an event like it where you are. It’s good for the soul.
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