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Our goal was to experience and pay homage to Benedict’s family home.
Start – Stop: Old Saybrook, Ct – Brattleboro, Vt
Distance: n/a (van miles, My Friends.)
Elevation Gain: n/a
Riding Time: n/a
Time Awake Spent in Pursuit of The Trip, Roughly: n/a
Weather: June 7th: So pleasant. I am sure it was somewhere in the 70s, with a little breeze like the breath of a young angel. June 8th: In Hartford it was furnace. In Brattleboro it was cool and foretold of rain.
Day 00 Objectives & Points of Interest
Experience and pay homage to Benedict’s family home.
Catch some fish from the floating mecca that is the Sea Sprite.
Avoid verbal abuse from Capitan Pete.
Drive to Hartford, stay the night, get the rest of the gang the next morning and drive to Vermont.
Install a trailer hitch.
Repair a flat tire in our van.
Set up our rigs.
Before we traipsed off to the steep and steeped mountains of Vermont we had to visit Benedict’s hometown of Old Saybrook, CT and go fishing aboard the Sea Sprite under the all-seeing eye of his father, Captain Pete. Now Capt. Pete’s mastery of the seas and his beguiling effect on its creatures is well known. It’s as if the Sea Sprite were the ocean-going equivalent of the Pied Piper’s flute and Capt. Pete is the Piper himself. Only in this situation the deep-rolling humm of the Sea Sprite’s diesel doesn’t attract the children of ingrates; instead they attract fish, independent of their progenitor’s generosity. So we get it in our heads that we need to go fishing with Capt. Pete and Benedict to kick off this tour. No doubt about it. And we are amped.
But the fantasy kickoff doesn’t stop with just a fishing safari. As part of the package we were able to visit Benedict’s childhood home and tour the ephemera, trinkets, and collectibles that help conspire to make Bene the man he is. It was if we were given full access to the Smithsonian, or Motley Crüe’s dressing room–a peek behind the curtain. We met his mother MJ, too. And if you thought Benedict had the hair of an angel, well after meeting MJ we know where it comes from. What a stunner!
Before hopping on the boat we had the chance to take in Old Saybrook: see the sights, walk the streets, and try our hand at the the artisanal co-op lifestyle that is an essential part of Benedict’s countenance. Wearing the emperor’s clothes is not as easy as it appears; it takes a presence of mind to maintain the temporal awareness necessary to live Poppi’s lifestyle, but any bikepacker worth his or her salt and intends to ride in New England has got to try.
A Chronological Breakdown of June 7th’s Events
8:52am: I get up to find a repair shop that can install the trailer hitch that has been floating around the back of the van since I picked it up in Washington D.C. two days ago.
8:55am: Find a place that can install the hitch. Cheer silently.
9:30am: Drop the van off at the trailer hitch install joint. The van also has a low tire, probably a puncture, they can probably just plug it. I say I will probably go to the coffee shop around the corner while they’ll probably take an hour to do the install and repair.
9:37am: The cafe doesn’t have great coffee and that’s okay because while I sip on a few cups of liquified black cardboard I overhear a local couple at the other end of the counter recounting their honeymoon trip to San Francisco. They are so in love, and it’s not saccharine or stevia or in anyway too sweet or maudlin. They are honest and beaming and just being around them makes my coffee taste better, and I can imagine that instead of cardboard I am drinking liquified art-grade paper–the expensive kind without all the chemicals.
10:09am: The van is fixed and the hitch is installed. Turns out I picked up a nail, but not just a regular old 10-penny. Guy from the repair shop said, “We don’t have nails like this around here, where’d ya come from?” I tell him I drove up from D.C. “That makes sense, this is old and hand forged.” He clutches it in his fingers tight, eyeing it like a treasure, marveling at its antiquity. “Cool, thanks.” I say as I snatch it out of his palm, “How much do I owe you?”
11:30am: We pick up a Benedict and Patrick at Cake’s house. [Benedict’s GF—sorry ladies and gentleman, for the time being the angel-haired viking is shacked up with a really really sweet lady named Cake.]
11:44am: We arrive at Benedict’s ancestral home and are introduced to Mary Jane or MJ, Benedict’s mom. There was no doubt he came from good stock before, but after meeting MJ it’s clear to all of us that there is no way Bene could have turned out to be anything less than impressive.
11:57am: Speaking of impressive, Benedict gives the YJ crew a tour of the digs which fortunately for us is well-preserved with the paraphernalia of his youth. Mail-order medieval Wine Goblet? Check. Mail-order broadsword? Check. Julia Furtado Poster? CHECK CHECK CHECK CHECK! Obviously this man has taste.
12:03pm: Knowing that he’s going to have to work once aboard the Sea Sprite, Bene puts in a quick pump. It doesn’t hurt that the cameras are on and looking his way. Needless to say, it was very impressive.
12:35pm: Benedict suggests we head to Foodworks, his local co-op, and visit regional heavy and all-around personable guy Troy. While we are there paying homage we can buy some lunch.
12:47pm: Troy isn’t working today.
12:47pm: Visibly deflated Benedict announces, “Well we might as well shop here anyway.” Foodworks, despite Troy’s absence, is a great place to eat and the crew loads up on nine dollar smoothies, raw nuts, and various pre-made lunch options.
1:40pm: We’re now officially on our way to the Sea Sprite. Although we don’t shove off until 2:00 pm Benedict agrees that it would be wise to get there early. Emiliano has joined us and we head to Starbucks, because, well, whenever we have free time we generally head to Starbucks–unless there is a vetted artisanal cafe close by.
1:43pm: The Capitan–Captain Pete–is just backing the Sea Sprite in when we arrive. Now, our friend Will Gardner was supposed to be joining us and was going to be responsible for bringing the beer. But his daughter had a triple-digit fever and he couldn’t justify just burying her under a couple bags of crushed ice while he was out hooking Sea Bass, so he had to beg off.
1:45pm: Despite his avowed clean living Patrick understands how important beer is to a trip like this. He and I borrow Emiliano’s Beamer and race back into Old Saybrook to rustle up some cold ones for the trip. Of course Connecticut has unique liquor laws and it takes us a couple stops to find the beer shop.
1:58pm: Disparaging texts blow up my phone about our tardiness as we pull into the harbor. The beers are appreciated and even those who don’t drink recognize the effect they have on our seafaring group as a whole, despite the slight delay procuring them caused our voyage.
2:09pm: We’re sailing!
2:23pm: On this outing we do two kinds of fishing. The first kind requires the the lures to be weighted in such a way that the line will drop all the way to the bottom then Capt Pete slowly drives the boat forward, taking us over an underwater hill on which the sea bass are known to group. As anglers the process is simple: once we feel a pull on the line we’re supposed to snap the rod up about three feet and take two turns on the reel. That will set the hook and if we feel a fish we can reel it in.
2:37pm: The technique seems easy but so far only a few of us have successfully hooked a fish. Capt. Pete is distraught, and expletives of our incompetence pour from his mouth like the central sewage drain of lower Manhattan. There is a sense that he has a reputation to uphold, that of a surly sea captain with a heart of gold, a heart that can only be known after us swabs have proven our maritime worthiness. Thus far, as a group, we swabs are unworthy.
3:17pm: A few of us have brought in fish, “In the box baby!” Benedict cheers as the fish drop into the cooler. But our deep water trolling results are not satisfactory, so Capt. Pete turns to option two. This time he drives the boat at a much higher clip; the lure is meant to sit just below the surface of the water. Us anglers are supposed whip our fishing rods in a jerking motion that gives our lures the appearance of a fish in the midst of grand mal seizure. Apparently sea bass can’t help themselves when it comes to biting a fish in the middle of a fit because they are jumping on our hooks!
3:20pm: “Double Bubble BABY!” This is what you yell out when you’re fishing on the Sea Sprite and two different anglers have fish on the hook at the same time. THIS IS WHAT YOU YELL! And with our change to high speed grad mal trolling “Double Bubble BABY!” rings out from the back of the boat with the frequency of an unchecked car alarm on Sunday morning.
3:53pm: Eventually everyone reels in at least one fish and Capt. Pete turns the boat back towards the harbor. While the fishing was fun this is the moment that we all really came for: to see Benedict Flash That Steel. His filleting skill is renowned throughout New England, and I have heard tell that he has put out a few how-to guides and laser discs tutorials entitled Fillet or Filagree: How to Flash That Steel, With Benedict Wheeler (DM @ultraromance for your copy). I can tell you it’s very impressive to watch as he works through fish after fish with the precision of a surgeon and the efficiency of a Foxconn employee. From the bridge we hear, “Watch Poppi flash that steel!” It is obvious that Capt. Pete is proud of his son and his deft skills with the knife. Throughout the process he is tossing the entrails and clippings into the air for the seabirds flocking to our boat. Their shrill chatter pierces the air as they dive and dodge to capture the offal left behind.
4:32pm: We pick up Cake from the cafe she works at on our way to Otto’s. Benedict is giddy. Cake is lovely.
5:37pm: Ottos, well Ottos is a treat. We pizza in the open air and Will, his daughter’s fever having broken (or maybe his wife is now in a position to watch her), joins us for dinner. We feast, we talk jive, and while we eat night falls.
7:57pm: The plan is to drive to Hartford tonight so that we can pick up the rest of the crew in the morning. Cake intends to ride back to her place in Old Saybrook and Will needs to return to his family. We say adieu and hightail it. It is dark but our spirits are high. The Budget Inn is not nice.
A Chronological Breakdown of June 8th’s Events
8:45am: Daniel, Patrick and Benedict leave to find coffee and to pick up Moi, Sarah, and Mary from the airport.
9:35am: The team assembes, greetings and hugs are exchanged, bikes are pulled from cardboard boxes and assembly begins.
10:45am: We are still assembling. It is SO hot as we piece together our rigs. We’ve picked the back entrance of the motel as our service course because it (a) has space and (b) is located really close to where we parked our van. This also happens to be the smoker’s patio and the location of a curios cairn garden.
11:37am: Assembly is coming to a close but it is not without incident. Many of the cairns have been lost this morning and our group willfully turns a blind eye to what is most likely a bad omen.
12:45pm: We hit the Whole Foods and REI in Hartford in order to stock up on last-minute provisions.
2:15pm: On the road to Brattleboro.
6:13pm: We’ve arrived in Brattleboro, checked into our hotel, and a driven into town to hit up the co-op and find dinner. The co-op is really nice and Benedict points out that if we were looking to procure some artisanal cheese for the ride that this would be the place to do it.
6:15pm: We cheese. Afterwards we wander the town, looking for the right place to eat.
7:33pm: Still wandering the town we settle on a brew pub located right near the Connecticut river. For various reasons our group normally doesn’t brew pub, but the Mexican place and the Thai place were already closed for the evening. The brewpub is not notable, I’ll leave it at that. Afterwards we return home and finish our last-minute packing.
Poppi’s Pre-Tooah Club Macho Warm-Up
This is a man with exquisite taste.
In a dark basement, on homemade equipment, a star was born.
Chances are Poppi could throw this discus clear to Bed Stuy. But those deep puddles of blue tranquility tell you that he wouldn't dare, because he might harm one of God's creatures.
Anybody call a plumba?!
Sea Sprite Charter Fishing Trips
From left to right: Capt. Pete, MJ, Ultratradition aka Pats aka Patty.
I present to you the Wheelers and their flaxen hair.
Ahoy Young Sean! Benedict's cousin Young Sean joined us on today's safari. He's a mate in training, and what he lacks in fillet skills he makes up for in rampant enthusiasm. He was so busy tending to our needs that the guy's feet didn't even touch the ground.
Who dat boi?
Dat boi doe...
You knew he wouldn't disappoint.
You remember that guy in Indiana Jones and The Radiers of the Lost Ark? The guy who grabs the medallion and burns his hand? Well Bryan went to Skywalker Ranch and stole that dude's sunglasses from George Lucas' wardrobe vault.
"Get your rod up!" "Yank and Crank!" —Capt. Pete
"I've seen adults cry on this boat!" —Capt. Pete
Textbook grand mal seizure trolling form.
I'm pretty sure we threw mine back. But that's not to say it wasn't a spirited fish—I believe this youngster is going to go far. My guess is that it will be two, maybe even three, more fishing seasons before some ribald party of steamfitters hooks him during their annual company outing.
The Ultra Franchise in all of its glory.
Dem Ultra Boyz. "LUNKER BAY BAY!" Patz came dressed as Magnum PI. And this costume was the most right thing you could do.
No doubt Capt. Pete was less than delicate in using wayfarers' jargon to explain the nuances of how one of us swabs had just made an egregious angling mistake.
Poppi Flashes That Steel
If you expect knife and man to become one, you must honor and revere your blade.
Tossing dem giblets.
Where we rendezvous with the rest of the crew and ready our bikes.
It was close quarters on the patio/smoking deck/cairn garden/service course.
I'm sorry to say that many of these cairns would not survive the afternoon.
It takes a village, and we were that village.
Moi looks SO good in those shades man. Bryan knows it and Mary can't even handle it.
Dark web surfing in a watermelon costume.
We got there just in time to catch the last couple hours of air compressor-charged remodeling. It was like an idea was being pounded into our heads, but when we went looking for it all we found was hot air.