the bad place

the bad place

Monday, November 21, 2022

Not Really Nor'Easter Part Two

Haddam, Connecticut
October 25th, 2021

I had my doubts. 
Walking through the loose gravel, tall grass, and wet leaves that constituted the "driveway" behind Ronnie and Arya's barn, I surveyed the slope, plotted the trajectory, and did the math. Short, but steep. Doable... but dicey. 
Because otherwise, I would be camping in their backyard and digging holes or asking to use their bathroom for a few more days. Whether they liked it or not.
I'd had less concerns the day before; descending the abrupt little drop into the field in the glorious dry and sunshine of a later October day. But constant and heavy rain that had rolled in last night was changing the narrative. 
I'd been warned, of course. Arya had given my van a wary look and pursed her lips, inquiring if I had four wheel drive. While Ronnie had just given me a dulcet and promising "oh, you'll be fine," waving his hand dismissively, and invoking a name from the past in the form of an "encouraging" anecdote about how her van had "no problem" when she and her new boyfriend had recently visited.
My right eye betrayed only the smallest of twitches.

With my foot, I raked layers of slick, wet leaves out of the way, then once again mentally visualized my course up and out and into the blind turn of the quiet but not un-busy road on which they live. 
Then I walked back to the idling van, buckled up,  accelerated toward the crux....
and prayed my timing was good.

Then, just over one year later, I abandoned this and started a whole new blog for some reason.
No, YOU read it. 


Lauren Cat West.

Jarrod Bunk of Hope.

Jeff Frane of Wilde.

Many a extralight Rene Herse tire succumbed on this section.

Ron and his dream pool.

This show is literally bonkers.

Ronnie's Murder Barn

Monday, June 13, 2022

Rule of Three: Number Two

Part Two:

I forget when I first heard about Rule of Three. Likely something on social media. A brand new gravel race in Northwest Arkansas. Teams of three riding 100 miles of three different surfaces: pavement, gravel, and what the region has become synonymous for... singletrack. In the hopes of a free entry and some comp'd expenses, I'd pitched the idea to Tyler: we should put together a team. Him, me... and someone. A pro? Ted King or Yuri Hauswald. Rebecca Rusch. Or how ridiculous would it be to ride with Lance Armstrong? Floyd Landis. The idea kept evolving. What about someone else? Someone who very much wasn't us? Someone who wasn't yet another 40 plus year old white male living their most best mediocre life? Ayesha McGowan. Tara Seplavy. Leo Rodgers. Someone whose presence at a gravel race was a story instead of a privilege. A move forward instead of just more of the same. But like so many ideas, it slowly got overshadowed by other responsibilities and the grind of daily life. Until race day arrived and far from being on my bike, I was just on my phone, watching everyone else's experiences of yet another event I'd hoped to be at. 

When I woke up one morning and saw that registration had opened for 2022, I sat down at my laptop and shrugged as I clicked to confirm my entry. Solo category. Hopefully I could make it. If not, then I'd be making a charitable contribution to what I hoped was a new grassroots race amid an overblown circus of shit. 

Was it? I'm undecided.

More on that later.
photo: Thomas Adams

The stretch between Natchez Trace and Little Rock doesn't hold much in the way of riding or detours. Not that I've discovered yet, anyway. Due north, you have Land Between the Lakes with the Canal Trail and miles of gravel roads, and while I had every intention of riding there on this trip, I was keeping it in my pocket for the return. I'm sure there are trails to ride around Memphis, but you don't hear much about them, do you? And I'd ridden in Little Rock once before and been both frustrated and desperately underwhelmed. I imagine there are some great gravel roads and routes to be found along the stretch, but that's a trickier animal, requiring more planning and intel than simply parking at a trailhead and going. Plus, I was trying to make at least some semblance of haste. Possibly even arrive in Bentonville in time for the first official "shake down" ride on Friday. So I pushed forward and tossed a coin between riding the Northwoods Trails in Hot Springs, AR and the Monument Trails at Mount Nebo. Both total unknowns.

Mount Nebo won. 

There's a lovely kind of anxiousness to solo riding a trail system you've never been to before. Where do you park? Which way do you ride? Which trails do you ignore or prioritize? And in what order? It's a good exercise in "letting go," because as much as you want to do it "right," there often is no "wrong." God, even as I write that, I realize how completely false and stupid a statement it is. There is the potential for all kinds of wrong. Hence the anxiousness. I suppose what I mean is... riding at all is often better than not, so even if you're stopping at every trail intersection to check the map or pushing your bike up the downhill you were supposed to have ridden instead... it's something. Something different. And I like that a lot more than I like knowing every rock and root and subtle bend in a trail I've been riding for twenty years longer than I intended.

Mount Nebo was good. My van wasn't a huge fan of the very steep but short climb to the top, and I kept a wary eye on the thermostat, but I liked what I found up there. A lot of work and money had clearly gone into it. Likely the same money getting pumped into Bentonville. Rock chutes and plating along sweeping berms and bench cuts. A few cruxes that had me walking on my singlespeed, but nothing that left me frustrated or injured. I rode everything it had to offer, some trails twice, and sipped a clandestine beer in the van as I considered my next move. Bentonville was less than three hours away. I could be there in time for dinner and probably weasel my way into the group campsite a night early. Or I could relax and enjoy one last sunset before the clouds moved in... and never went away. I opted to stay, and lucked into an unoccupied campsite.  

That evening I finally swapped the gearing on my gravel bike from the 42x18 that's lived on it ever since I didn't go to Gravel Worlds last August... to something a little more appropriate for Rule of Three. Opting for a 42x21. 42, because that was what I had and honestly just didn't care enough to consider changing it. And 21, because I happened to find a 21 tooth cog in a tupperware cubby in the van. Likely a "just in case" squirreled away before a long ago TSE or some Pisgah Productions race. 42x21. A nice 2 to 1 ratio, as if that meant fuck all to me. 

I admit, riding down the trail to Sunset Point, that it felt the slightest bit stout for singletrack. And it obviously was. But I didn't want to think any more about it. That had been my brief concession to caring. I'd have all day Saturday to ponder it.

I pulled up to the Meteor around 11:30 on Friday, only the slightest bit self-conscious as I circled it three times looking for a place to park; the noisy crackle of the van's overworked CV joints painfully loud. "Oh that?" I silently yelled out the window. "That's just how the van sounds. It's fine. We're fine... we're all fine here now, thank you. How... are you?" 

In the spirit of not trying, I opted not to hustle trying to make the group ride, and instead ordered a beer and walked around to see who I could find. Immediately I found Matt Moosepacks, who used to come in and drink PBRs at the shop and who is both hustling and killing it with the bag game these days. I sat for a little while underneath his tent and stared blindly at the crowded parking lot. 

Once upon a time, my legitimate super power was recognizing faces. Familiar or not. All faces. Someone would pass me on the street and I'd muse, "I know them from somewhere." And after a moment it would come to me... They'd stood in line near me at the grocery store once. Or sat a few tables away at a restaurant. Been on the same bus once. In a crowd at some event I'd attended. We'd rolled around naked together one night...Or something similarly mundane.

But lately, I just struggle to tell anyone apart. Some form of face-blindness that seems to be exacerbated by crowds. Looking straight through familiar faces less than ten feet in front of me. Maybe it's some psychological effect from the pandemic and isolation. Maybe it's just some form of senility that will only get worse. But honestly? I swear to fucking god, everyone just looks like Peter Stetina to me these days. Literally everyone. 

Or else Peter Stetina just looks like everyone. It's one of those. 


Is that you, Peter?


But somehow in the crowd, I recognized Jack. His shock of bleached blonde hair and heavy black framed glasses standing out. Possibly because I'd just seen him at PMBAR, both of us standing on our own meaningless podiums for whatever category it was that we'd raced. So in the spirit of familiar faces in faraway places, I went up and said hi. 

Which is how I met Katie and Katie (and not pictured Hannah) and how we all ended up hanging out throughout the weekend. 


At some point, I hopped on my bike and rode off to fulfill at least one of my Bentonville rituals: Curry Fries at the Pedaler's Pub, which I sadly remembered being better. And after a few more drinks with KKJ&H at a boojie Mexican restaurant nearby, rode my bike to 8th Street Market and Bike Rack Brewing to meet up with Thomas and Gabbi Adams and some of their friends from Oklahoma. Over Rule of Three IPA's divvied out by instagram friend now met, RayRayRay, we talked about kids and travel and where we all end up. And whether the grass is always greener. And I told them a story about pretty Becky, who, as we sat griping one day long ago about place and circumstance, about our exes and Greensboro, had tried to put it in some perspective. "It could be worse, man" she said, tossing her blonde hair from one side of her head to the other. "My ex? He lives in the Seventh fucking Sphere of Hell these days." 

Where's that? I asked. 
"Fucking Stillwater, Oklahoma, man!" She said, laughing. 

And I thought that... was pretty funny. 

Next up, Rule of Three: Number Three.



Friday, June 10, 2022

Rule of Three: Number One

Whether or not I acknowledge it often enough, I have to admit to being relatively fortunate. In that while my mornings may be often distinguished by the slow ascent through a haze of having imbibed more than I should have the night before... rarely do they begin with the troubling immediacy of having to take a desperate emergency shit in the wee hours of rising dawn.

But this was one of those mornings.

Did I mention that it was pouring rain? That I'd pulled into the race venue in the dark of the previous night, and with no real lay of the land, blindly driven across a giant field, and parked at the literal furthest point away from the port-a-potties?

Well I had. 

And did I mention that among the many things I overpacked for an eight day road trip, a rain jacket was somehow not among them?

Well it wasn't.

Outside of the white noise of heavy rain on the van and ground, the field was quiet. No bustle of arriving cars or racers getting ready for their long day. If other people were awake, they too were hunkered inside their vehicles and tents. And while it wasn't quite light out, it was no longer dark. I could clearly see the portapotties some football field's length away. So. what? Trudge across the field and accept being drenched before the day had even begun? Sacrificing the few dry clothes I had left? No nearby copses of trees to hide behind or in, either. So that if I acquiesced to my immediate instinct and darted some twenty feet away from the van, if any one of my many neighbors were to peek their heads out of their curtains or tent flaps, my crouched, lonely, and clearly distressed form would be not only visible, but unmistakable in its undertaking. 

And what then? Leave it in the field? Whatever the current quiet, it was about to be full of 1000 racers in so many vehicles. So even if deposited at the periphery, I'd still be dropping a veritable land mine. And I have enough Leave No Trace etiquette to know better.

So what? Bag it?

Oh, make no mistake, I've most certainly shit in a bag before. Four times that I can readily think of. Once parked in Joe Freeman's driveway while I waited for him to please wake up and let me in. Twice when camped behind SuperCorsa Cycles on two separate Spring get-the-fuck-out-of-dodge van rambles, unable to make it until Drew walked over to open the shop doors at 9am. (Both of these locales mercifully aided by the fortunate proximity of a bucket.) And once at the finish of my fourth DK200 (now Unbound), being entirely too obliterated and generally heat-distressed to trust myself to successfully make the walk a few blocks to the portapotties. Squatting low in the van in broad daylight while Dorothy stood watch outside. This time without the aid of a bucket. Just crossed fingers that my aim was on point, that I could prevent myself from peeing at the same time, and that these were the good plastic Kroger bags without a tear in the bottom.

And then? Put the bag in one of the few trash cans at the race start/finish? Empty its contents in a portapotty? Leave it next to my van until I could dispose of it reasonably, some 24 hours later?

The logistics were vexing, whatever choice I made. But I was starting to break out in chills.

I was in the process of hastily examining all the grocery bags stuffed in the grocery bag-bag and turning in dire circles like an indecisive dog, when I heard a merciful lessening of the rain... and tore open the van door and sprinted across the field, knowing full well that if I tripped or so much as stepped wrong... it was over. 

Thus began RULE OF THREE.


Until two days before I got in the van and started driving west, I was 99% sure that this would be yet another event that I would be unable to attend. Outside of workload, staffing at the shop has been a particular crux for the past few years. Oh, I've got a good crew. But their very part time schedules don't allow for any real continuous coverage that allows me to step away. But Lee St. Clair was available and willing and suddenly things started to fall into place... and I began to throw together the tentative beginnings of a travel bag. Until Tuesday night arrived and I found myself crossing the North Carolina/Tennessee border, feeling all of my lingering fucks blissfully melt away, I didn't really believe it was happening.

I'd managed to snag a late afternoon ride at the Fonta Flora Trail near Morganton, and some dinner at Highland Brewing in Asheville, and slept that first night in the dark quiet parking lot of Big Creek Trailhead. Waking up to the beautiful noisy rush of water over rocks. Coffee. A quick cold swim. And back on the road, headed to Mead's Quarry in Knoxville to ride as much of the Urban Wilderness as I could before moving on. 

I spent a couple of hours riding familiar and new (but all fun) trails, and followed it, as always with a swim in the quarry. Wishing for what seemed the millionth time that I'd brought a goddamn floaty of some kind so that I could drift lazily in the sunshine and green water and gaze up at the rock walls.

Next time. And I needed to get moving, anyway. 

Halcyon Bike Shop had already closed by the time I pulled into Nashville, so with no real bearings or intel, I chose a brewery called Yee-Haw. And it's not that I regret that decision, so much as I know for a fact that there are better places to go in that town, and wish mightily that I'd found one of them instead. 

But... the tacos were ok and the Pilsner was fine. I sat in an Adirondack chair and watched men in cargo shorts pantomime bending their friends over every time they scored at cornhole. Watched jacked beared men in flag t-shirts buy their very tan girlfriends cocktails, constant vape clouds billowing over their heads. And I tried to intentionally feel something other than my usual misanthropic bitterness. And while that didn't come naturally, I did find it. A man leaning in and whispering something to a woman, peals of genuine laughter erupting from her as she spilled her drink and wiped her eyes. 

And me, smiling like an idiot across the patio at people I didn't know and some joke I hadn't heard. Like a voyeur creep.  

That night I slept at the Wrangler Camp in the Natchez Trace and listened to nearby horses neigh and nicker throughout the night. Strangely happy to get to plug in the small fan that lives in the van's bulkhead, because even if it meant the night was warm... it meant summer was here. Or close.


Rule of Three Number Two


Wednesday, June 8, 2022

PMBAR '22: "Hey Brother, Have You Heard The Good News?"

Riding slowly down the trail and looking to our left for signs of life, there was a collective sinking feeling. 
The checkpoint wasn't there. 
And while I couldn't tell you where "there" even was... Mills River, maybe.... I knew one thing for certain. The checkpoint most certainly was not. 
So we backtracked for a minute, panic-meandered down a different trail, then stopped while Rich checked and rechecked the map against the passport. And then he broke the news that I already knew. 
This wasn't the right place. 

To which I nodded, shrugged, and grunted.... and proceeded to ride in the direction he pointed. 
Same as it ever was. 

"This way."

"Well, the good news is..." he said as we half-wheeled each other down what I assumed was now the right way, proceeding to think out loud about things I had already zoned out on. 
If the rule of a hypothetical drinking game for the day was to take a swig every time Rich said those words over the next however many hours ... I'd be finishing PMBAR in very rough shape. 

In most of my life, I would be considered a "top," whether I deserve to be or not. Not strong or dominant, necessarily, but still somehow the captain steering or at the very least barking the orders to steer the wreckage of my life into whatever abysmal crevices I desire. Torpedoes be damned. 
But in the case of PMBAR, I admit... I'm a "bottom." Rich's bottom as it happens. Which is particularly funny because as both of us age in our own ways, myself sighing in dismay at the growing bags under my eyes and casting wary glances at my softening pecs and wondering if I'll perhaps need a bra in my golden years... 
Rich's bottom is simply disappearing. To ride behind him these days, is to ask "how did this wiry 90 year old woman get in front of me?"

So much like Ren's pecs... I am Rich's bottom. Perhaps we could broker a trade?

(Yes, I just made a Top/Bottom reference to me and Rich. You're welcome.)

The real point is... that even if I suddenly moved to Pisgah and rode those trails every day and understood them intimately... I would still probably just shrug and grunt and ride in whatever direction Rich told me to at PMBAR. Because that's the nature of our relationship there. 

I was on the road driving west by 1pm on Friday. I can count on one finger how many times that's happened in my many years of trying to arrive in Pisgah before dark. Torrential rains made for slow going, but it all passed fairly painlessly. And by the time I arrived at The Hub, not only had the rain stopped, but the sun was shining gloriously on my pale neck and arms and shitty DIY mullet...
and on whatever it is Rich is doing with his hair these days.

I seriously don't know.

After much debating between Mexican food and expensive burgers, we agreed to drive to Oscar Blues Brewery rather than ride. Which made me a little sad; something something about rituals, smart or not... But also turned out to be a great decision, as the moment we arrived, the sky opened up. Once finally huddled under the massive patio roof, we saw many a people we knew and supped and drank and laughed and questioned the meaning of double rainbows and live music at a brewery. (Seriously... why?)
Then we headed to the start/finish at Smoker's Cove, just because, and drank a little more. And then we turned in early. Or not. I don't actually know, save that our consumption for the evening for once felt, if not tame, then... manageable? 

What does it mean?

Race morning followed suit. Having awoken at 4am from an anxious dream about malfunctioning ATM's, improper bike sizing, and other people's wives, and never really returning to sleep, the 6am alarm I'd set was a breeze. Coffee. Eggs. Bowel movement number one and the realization that we still had over an hour to start. More coffee. Bowel movement number two. So that by the time the race meeting started I was actually 100% ready to start the race. 
That never happens. Which begged the question, "what the fuck is about to happen?"

A quick refresher on the format of PMBAR. Five checkpoints in the woods, the locations of which are given to you at race start in the form of a small paper"passport," along with various rules and off limits roads and trails. Get them in whatever order you choose. 
A far cry from the crowded mass-start of most races, PMBAR tends to begin with everyone sprawled out in a field looking at maps, and then rolling out sporadically and in no particular order. 

"Well, the good news is...."
In the same way that some people pepper their every sentence with some form of "um" or "so" or "you know what I'm saying"... Rich was beginning to stutter. To repeat himself in ways that were losing meaning. Because the good news always seemed just around the corner of another potentially bad decision. And we'd made a few. Which didn't matter much, as I was less worried about our place than I was about our duration. The expectation of podium is meaningless at this race. Anything can and will happen. But the expectation of time spent riding... can crush you. For instance, if you were banking on nine hours, in most cases, that's your "fuck it" point. In that you WILL stop making good decisions past that. Consuming food. Drinking water. Trying. Caring. Which makes the possibility (probability) of two to three more hours less and less palatable. 

One of the more discombobulating things to me about PMBAR has always been that even after three hours of constant riding and pushing, rarely do we have even one of the five checkpoints under our belt. And let's be honest... three hours is pretty much the maximum amount of ride-time I'm able to squeeze in these days. And while the hope is that the checkpoints will come in quick succession after that, rarely does that happen. Which is how five checkpoints located approximately ten miles apart as the crow flies, easily turns into a 15 hour day.

As has happened before, our navigational mishap put us behind a train of riders who, by rights, we probably should have been ahead of. And also landed us in direct contact with three other singlespeed teams on pretty much the exact same course. And gearing. Which meant that now, instead of existing in a blissful no-man's land of ignorance and slogging through Pisgah on our own. We were "racing." 
God, I fucking hate racing. I hate that feeling of pushing hard only to turn around and see the rider you "dropped" dangling 20 feet behind you. I hate the back and forth of passing and being passed. It does nothing to stimulate my fight or flight reflexes and just makes me want to stop and sit and let everyone ride ahead so that I can be back in the no man's land of a long quiet day.
But the one thing I will say about racing, PMBAR or otherwise... letting those moments define the day is always a mistake. Because if given half a chance, people will explode. For all kinds of reasons. Nutrition. Mechanicals. Fatigue. Will to live. So that while it feels like this jockeying back and forth will last forever... mile 40 is a very different animal than mile 70. Give it time.
Slowly but surely, we pulled away from the other three teams until we were once again in blissful Pisgah limbo. With no idea of proximity to other racers. For all we know, they'd found a better route and were minutes ahead of us. Or not.

Before I really knew it, we were finishing Clawhammer and beginning the final climb on Pressley (I think these are the right words). I had sprained and possibly fractured my wrist over a month ago helping my mom move the world's heaviest and last remaining cathode-ray-tube television and was in a rough place descending Black to the finish line... but we made it. And rolled across the finish line in Second place. Behind Chris Joice and his teammate, which we'd pretty much expected. While once upon a time, Chris was a solid competitor, but I could usually count on finishing ahead of him... these days I audibly curse when I see his name on the start list. And he knows it. Fucker. 

Yeah, yeah... laugh it up.


Scott Smith and his partner finished behind us, having made the same epic mistake we had very nearly made ourselves... blindly hiking up Laurel to snag the mandatory checkpoint. Mistake, because outside of no actual mandatory checkpoints this year, there also was no checkpoint on Laurel. Even though there's always a checkpoint on Laurel. 
The lesson being: read the passport.

I don't remember the order we ended up snagging all the checkpoints in. Or the name of most of the trails and roads, even though I've been on all of them. But I do remember that mistakes aside, this was one of the most enjoyable PMBAR's I've ever had. My fitness still felt lacking and I failed to eat the way I intended to. But I was never in the hole. Never 50 yards behind Rich barely able to turn my legs over. Never feeling like crying as we pushed our bike up yet another unridable mountain.
So much of my perception of Pisgah is based on riding events, with a capital "E." Hard events. Really hard events. So that rarely is riding there a pleasure. There's often the satisfaction at the end of a long day of "being done" and "doing well" (or not.) But the day itself is often spent hunting or hurting or holding on for dear life. It seems like I'm constantly grinding up the same soul-crushing hills or bouncing down the same brutal rutted trails... and never really touching "the fun stuff." Because I know it exists. 
While there was still a shit ton of terrible (Bradley Creek cough cough) we actually rode some legitimately fun trails. Squirrel, Spencer. Trace Ridge. The New Black. (I think we rode these trails?) And I felt, if not an affinity, then an affection for Pisgah, for the first time in a long while. 

So, the good news is... that next year is going to be absolutely soul-crushing. Watch.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Nutmeg Country: The first part.

The woman across the room flashed me. 
Not a top flash, mind you. A bottom flash. A front bottom flash. Full and pronounced. With no provocation or introduction. I considered flashing her back, as that seemed to be the vernacular, and it seemed rude not to, but instead just walked up and pointed to the worn paperback of Gogol's Dead Souls in her hand, telling her I'd always wanted to read it. "It's okay," she said dismissively through a row of lip piercings. She was seated on the floor with her back against the wall. Her head was shaved and beneath her grey sweats and hoodie, I could see heavy tattoo work on her hands, throat, and scalp. Her face was angles. Sharp and long. She pointed at my stomach and asked, "How did you get those?" Those what? "Abs." I looked down, realizing I was still clutching my t-shirt in a hand and walking around in a state of post-ride undress. I laughed and leaned in against the noise of the room to tell her. She cocked her head to the side and cupped a thoroughly pierced ear. I tried again, but she shook her head. "Write it down. It's way too loud in here," handing me her beaten paperback and a pen. But I was having problems. Numbers and letters looked the same, and I kept mixing them up. I felt drunk. And had vague memories of an edible. What was it? How strong? Too strong? I crossed out the gibberish I'd scrawled on the inside of the back cover and tried again. A nonsense equation when all I needed was a word. "Hey... it's okay," she said, tilting her head to one side and looking at me with jet black eyes. "No, I've got this," crossing through another botched attempt. I heard her sigh loudly as I tried again. 
"Hey... nevermind," she said suddenly, brusquely taking her book back and getting to her feet. She towered over me, fantastically tall. "I'm out."
And then she glided away and I tried one more time to tell her where I got my abs, yelling into the suddenly empty room...


A truck horn blared nearby.
I opened my eyes slowly and pulled my head out from beneath the blankets, rolling onto my back and looking up at the roof of the van. Stretched my feet to each corner of the mattress and watched the already dwindling threads of story fade away. 

What the fuck... was that dream?

Though to be fair, I legitimately do have great abs. They're just currently hiding under too much skin. 
I pulled a tattered curtain aside and peered into the relative quiet of the Walmart parking lot. Beneath a turning maple that had done very little last night to hide me from the glare of streetlights. I was substantially less into my jaunt than I'd intended, but as I get older, I like driving at night less and less. Add to that the anxiety that the van's headlights might just (and certainly have) decide to just... stop working...  
When it gets dark, it's best to just find somewhere to hunker down.
The intent was to be somewhere north of Hershey, PA, but instead I'd wound up in Winchester, VA. It meant my drive would be longer today, but I was ok with that. Because it also meant I could get my morning coffee at Hopscotch. Years ago, I discovered this strange and startling punk rock oasis of a record store/coffee shop, and it's become a ritual ever since. A fresh red-eye, a sticky bun, a bag of good dark roast, and a moment of cultural and musical reverie, and I was off... alternating bouts of Baxter Dury, 108, and Lightning Bolt with podcasts about NOMEANSNO, Kid Congo Powers, and Penelope Spheeris. 
Eight hours later, I pulled into Cold Spring Farm, in Colchester, Connecticut. Site of the Nutmeg Nor'easter version 5.0. 
I parked my van in the field and went to find my friends. Whoever they might be. 

Well shit... look who I found.

I first officially met Benedict back in 2016 when I was asked by Bikerumor to cover Specialized's relaunch of the Sequoia: their a-bit-late-to-the-party entry into the already shark-jumped category of "gravel." The resulting article (if one could deign to call it that) is the kind of hot mess that chagrins me on a literary and journalistic level, but that I still stand fully behind if only because it pissed off so many fucking people. 
We stayed friendos, and would occasionally see, sup,  and stay together at various events through the years.

I later met Arya (then Namz) at the Philly Bike Expo during a particularly messy time, and we subsequently bonded at NAHBS in Hartford, swapping t-shirts and doing a deep dive on the pitfalls of polyam, silly hardcore kids, and who even knows what else.  I am, (and I quote)... her "favorite emo boi." I accept. Honestly, I'm just glad to be a "boy" and not a "man"...  because I feel so very old these days. 

I consider myself ridiculously fortunate to know them both, and to have watched what they have done individually and together grow, evolve, and flourish. Substantially. From reluctant poster children for brands that wanted a piece of their burgeoning charisma, to the fiercely independent (and always extremely kind) bastions of... whatever it is that they are. Because tropes aside, they are both wholly unique. And are heavy forces of inspiration to multitudes of new and seasoned riders. Myself included. 

This would be the fifth installment of the Nor'Easter, but the first that I'd made it to, despite years of trying. And because I like to ignore emails and fly blind, I wasn't even sure what to expect, save that I was ready to roll with any of it. Even front bottom flashes. 

One thing I did expect: a certain dress code. Oh, to be sure, we are all sui generis, with our own myriad and complex lives and tastes. But we are also all stomping up to the barn in our Blundstones and highwater Carharts to fill dangle-mugs with coffee. And while some of that is a bromidic paint by numbers costume... some of it is honestly just finding your crowd. Which was kind of the point. Because while a love of bikes is a common thread for most of us in "the industry" that doesn't mean you feel at home there. As in... while a Tool t-shirt and a soul-patch can at times be more palatable than a wicking Under Armour button-up and a goatee... both are still a far cry from a crooked Los Crudos patch randomly spotted on the street. (In Wilkes-Barre, PA of all places.) 
You know?

Another thing I expected: lots of Crust. And I was right.  

I'm told that attendance was nearish to 400 people. Out of that, I would wager that at least 200 of those were on Crust bikes. And out of that number, I would guess a nearly fifty/fifty split between Evasions and Bomboras. With a healthy smattering of Lightning Bolts and Romanceurs in the mix. Toss in some Rivendells, Panasonics... Surlys, All Citys... a few Fireflys...  and a notable and singular Fast Boy that made my chest hurt. 
But you know... I actually really like Crust. I do. I've liked them since they were just a patch on a hat and an oddball fork. An occasional stem. Maybe a handlebar. Rumors of a frame. I like their branding. Their ethos. Their colors. Their videos. Their Onlyfans. Shit, I even like their bikes, despite sometimes struggling to tell them apart. Are they great? I mean... they're fine? My Bombora is literally everything I need it to be. I've ridden it a lot of miles in a lot of different places and you know what?... it's totally fine. 
Like all the bikes I own.
Totally fine.

One thing I didn't expect at the Nor'Easter... The level of organization. Things were dialed. Parking made sense. Camping made sense. Food made sense. There were ample porta-potties and wash stations. Talks. Presentations. Rides. Coffee. It's not that I didn't think Ronnie and Arya capable of this level of coordination and structure. It's just that I sometimes forget that just because I struggle wildly to effect any kind of order and peace in my own life, some of my friends are actual adults with their shit together. 

That first night, I wandered from fire to fire, introducing myself to strangers in a forced attempt to crack the shell I've been building over the past few years. And perhaps that meant I was messier than I've been in a while. Nothing untoward, mind you. Just butting up against the decorum of suggested quiet hours. Because while some of you perhaps needed sleep... I needed this. Needed to get away. Needed to be anonymously social. Needed to be outside. Needed to ride my bike all day. Needed to stay up late by a fire talking to people I didn't know about cacti and the lime-cycle and about what inspires us to keep moving.

Every so often someone tells me that I'm living their dream: Chasing my passion. Owning my own business. Doing what I love. I literally do not know what they are talking about. Because regardless of what I occasionally broadcast to the world, what I really do, with very few (though occasionally dramatic*) exceptions, is work all day, a minimum of six days a week. And the nature of that work, however romantic it may seem, can be extremely frustrating, thankless, and monetarily fruitless. 
And maybe once upon a time, that toil was "rewarded" with trips to races or events that I could never afford myself; energizing respites from the often depressing vacuum of my own market... These days? Like so many of us....
Je suis mort. 

Enough so that even driving five hours just to wake up in a Walmart parking lot in Virginia felt like a coup. 


*Ummm... I maybe went to Portugal.