By Louisa Kellogg
RICONN left Providence on Monday and headed to our next destination: Hartford (more on that later). We have had an incredible week and the people we met and worked with were truly inspiring. As a native of Providence, I was excited to show off my city and see it from a new perspective. Our week did not disappoint on either front.
There is so much going on in Providence. We found ourselves run ragged with a packed schedule and a challenging city to navigate (so many potholes, so few street signs). We ended up biking 81 miles around Providence over the course of the week! We easily could have spent another few weeks in Providence, and I hope next year’s riders get to do so. Providence is a small city in a very small state. This makes it a great place to build community and work on local solutions. We found ample opportunity to observe this in the farmers markets we visited and especially in the work done by Farm Fresh RI. They are clearly ahead of the curve in helping people gain access to local food and promoting small RI farmers. Even in the rain, locals came out to buy fresh food and connect with their neighbors and their farmers.
We were extremely fortunate to stay at the Open Table of Christ Church on the south side of Providence. Bill Aldrich and Clarice Gothberg welcomed us and went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable and safe. I was happy to be staying at a church whose resources really are used to the fullest. The church runs a number of amazing programs including Project Outreach, which feeds 200 families per week! The church is located on Broad Street in the “bad” part of Providence, so I had never spent much time there before. We made sure to take all the safety measures we could and ended up having a great experience in our temporary home on Broad Street. On a ride home on Saturday night we passed a group hanging around some giant speakers someone had rigged up to the trunk of their car. The speakers pumped Spanish rap while people sat around talking and playing checkers. Maybe all we need to build community is some really big speakers.
After saying our goodbyes in Providence, we biked to Willimantic and then Hartford the next day! It was terrible. On the first day it felt like the entire 52 miles was uphill (though to be fair, there may have been some downhill in between). One thing is for sure; it was not flat. It didn’t help that it was 87 and sunny: “Wow, what great weather!” no. We conquered about fifteen insane hills, many of them 8 or 9% which is steep, many times walking to the top. The result was lots of sweat, cursing, and sore legs. In my delirious state I found myself wondering if mountaintop removal would be such a bad thing after all.
A quick side note: all five of us took the trailers at some point during the trip. People always ask how we manage to lug all our stuff around. The truth is that it’s not bad at all except for the trailers. Do you remember the part in Harry Potter when they have a necklace that is also a horcrux? They have to rotate who wears the necklace because it makes the wearer feel terrible and hate everyone if they wear it for too long. The trailers are exactly like that necklace.
We finally made it to Hartford yesterday with the help of some new friends: Don and Jan Hoyle, brother-in-law and sister to Clarice from Open Table of Christ. They warmly welcomed us into their home in Willimantic and told us about their home which is powered by solar panels and geothermal power. They also gave us many contacts in the area doing similar work and plenty of encouragement and food.
Biking to East Hartford the next day we met Ed Grace, a fellow cyclist who was changing his tire right where we stopped to ask for directions. He helped us navigate a tricky section of road and showed us how stylish rubber bands are when worn around the ankles of one’s pants. Another cyclist, Bob, showed us the way to ice cream and a lovely bike path. Despite his age, he rode with energy and enthusiasm for the scenery. Connecticut roads have not made the best impression so far, but the people certainly have. All in all, RICONN is closer and stronger because of this journey.
Bonus: An article from Joanna Detz of EcoRI