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.)
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.
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.