Monday, December 21, 2009

Montgomeryville, Pa.; December 6, 2009

Montgomeryville, Penn.; December 6, 2009

30 degrees to start “warming” to 40 under, a bright sky

Cold came to Connecticut. Winter rewarded us with a beautiful Polar Bear ride. Looks like we might keep Ralphie after all.

Long Island Sound, by its sheer volume of relatively warm waters, kept any snow from accumulating near my home in Stratford, Conn. Big, wet flakes fell. But they didn't last. Only a few managed to coat cold surfaces like parked cars.

It was not until we headed north that we saw snow on the ground. As we crossed over the Tappan Zee Bridge the far heights were painted in snow. It got more beautiful as we entered the mountains of New Jersey on Interstate 78 west. This was a wet snow and so it clung to every surface. Every tree's branch and twig was highlighted. Seeing it from the back of a motorcycle was a very fine experience, very fine.

We left the Dunkin' in Stratford with six bikes. A new rider, Dave, met us there. Fonz invited him. Dave was on a brand new Harley dresser, just 600-some miles on the odometer.

We picked up another Fonz friend at the Darien rest stop as we headed south. Ron was also on board a Harley.

We picked up two more, Token and Bart, at the Tappan Zee Bridge.

Grumpy was lead. Chris, your blogger, was sweep.

Is there something especially self indulgent about SUV owners? Somehow I suspect so. In addition to taking up more than their fair share of space and natural resources, they also seem the most egregious when it comes to not clearing snow off their roofs. They blithely fly down the highway with mini blizzards in their wake, or slabs of ice and snow flying off their machines, or they dump mini drifts at stoplights. All these are special hazards for us winter motorcycle riders.

There was some discussion in our group as to police discouragement of such boorish behavior, but I suspect the cops pursue snow top infractions with the same vigor as driving while cellphoning.

Just wait boys. When the big snows come the real danger is from tractor-trailer trucks. These morons throw off sheet-of-plywood sized slabs of ice from their roofs and drop rock-hard slushbergs from their mudflaps as they go their merry way. Last year someone in a car was killed in Connecticut by such malfeasance.

Nine bikes in total, we ran steady and true and continually to our destination. Only when encountering a few stoplights on 309 did we put our feet down. Despite a few ugly bouts with entropy, we reformed in the end, reaching Polar Bear sign-in with bone dry tanks and bulging bladders. In retrospect Grumpy and I both thought an interim stop may have been advisable.

For one thing, it was cold in the morning. I was almost comfortably cold on the ride over. Fooled by the forecast, I took a chance on my “geeze it's cold” level of protection.

By way of explanation, I am prepared for four levels of Polar Bear riding. Level one is “too warm.” Level two is “nice.” Level three is “geeze it's cold,” Level four is “damn it's really cold.” There is a level five, “holy crap cold.” Nobody can put on enough layers or run a big enough alternator for that level cold.

I have ridden in level 5 by the way. The only defense is to stop every so many miles and thaw out your frozen parts.

The various levels are difficult for me because of my bike setup. I do not have big fiberglass tubs bolted all over my bike like the guys on dressers. My leather saddlebags hold only so much. And clothing is bulky.

My strategy is to make my best guess and then tough it out because I invariably guess wrong. Plus any given Polar Bear ride can vary by one, sometimes even two, levels of cold during the ride itself.

“Geeze it's cold” meant I had not yet strapped hippo hands over the handlebar grips. I figured it might be iffy, but wanted to give my new Gerbing gloves a good testing. They just about kept up with the cold and wind. I had them cranked so high for so long they gave me a little burn blister on the back of my left hand.

Inside my hippo hands (level four), I can actually wear only the heated glove liners. That's Grumpy's tactic. He usually deploys his hippo hands early. Polar bear riding is all about the wind.
“Geeze it's cold” also meant I trusted my Gerbing jacket. It too, does not hold up to the full onslaught of a “damn it's cold” ride. That level of cold requires me to wear my heated jacket liner underneath my Gerbing jacket. As an interim measure, I tried wearing my rain jacket over my Gerbing jacket to block more wind. Even so I was on the edge of discomfort.

Fortunately for my legs I had, I thought, overcompensated with “damn” level protection. That means an extra pair of polypropylene long johns on top of the silks and Bergelenes. The poly johns are very effective at blocking wind penetration.

My toes did not do as well. My boots were one level too low on the cold scale Sunday. But, like the new gloves, I had to test the limits of the new boots. I was able to score a full kilo of Thinuslate in this pair. Still, it was not enough. My next level cold protection is a pair of snowmobile boots rated to something like 40 below. These, with a one, sometimes even two, chemical heat packs keep my toes toasty even at “holy crap cold” level riding.

There are rewards and liabilities riding in a group. One of the liabilities is not being able to stop whenever you want, instead depending upon the philosophy of the lead rider.

Still we survived. I do not think I was cold as some of the new guys who did not have electrics. We loaned them some chemical heat packs for their ride home.

Meanwhile, Montgomeryville Cycle warmed us well with free with chili and brownies, doughnuts and hot coffee. There was plenty, but then we arrived, and left early. Still, I think the weather probably kept the crowd at a manageable level.

We had a couple more riders earn their Polar Bear props this ride, including Bart receiving his first patch. Now, in addition to earning the Grand Tour patch, there is a unique Connecticut Polar Bear patch. Grumpy had them made and awarded his first to a new CT Polar Bear Sunday. To get one of our patches, you must first earn the Grand Tour patch, and of course ride with the CT Bears.

While we currently count Ron as a Harley rider, he was overheard trading information with a Gold Wing salesman at Montgomeryville Cycle Center. As Fonz tells it, if it were not for Pennsylvania's blue laws, Ron may have ridden a Gold Wing home. I guess he doesn't fool around when it comes to making up his mind. Or maybe he was thinking about the Wing's heated seat and grips and the nifty toe warmers that divert engine heat to your feetsies.

At Montgomeryville we found out that the new riders joining us Sunday were both coworkers of Fonz, which means they are part of Norwalk, Conn.'s finest. Dave perhaps will be Norwalk's first motorcycle patrol officer. That's a very good thing. First because we can never have enough motorcycle cops. Second because of the two new guys, Ron exhibited a penchant for oncoming traffic. (As I told Token last week, you see everything from the sweep position.)

At one point on the way home, a New Jersey state trooper came up in the penultimate passing lane (we were in the farthest passing lane) and paced us for a while. He then drove on. At Chez GSP there was a discussion as to whether we were persons of interest to the trooper.

We made a new CT Polar Bear group riding policy right then and there, passed by a popular vote. If a police officer ever activates his lights to pull our group over, one of the proliferation of Norwalk cops who now ride with us is to pull to the shoulder immediately while the rest of us ride on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Snydersville, PA; November 29, 2009

November 29, 2009; Syndersville, PA.

36 degrees F to start but warmed up nicely to mid 50s by return, under a bright, cloudless sky

Can you believe this weather we are having? Last year, Grumpy and the Captain drove to this destination in a car through severely predicted snow in order to preserve their perfect attendance. This year we rode over with nine bikes in balmy sunshine.

Perhaps the only downside to these warm Sundays is that it brings out the Polar Cubs. Fair weather winter riders looking for a place to go on such a beautiful day turned out in huge numbers. The Grand Tour Website estimated 400 bikes, We arrived just a bit after 11:30 and ended up last in a line of bikes stretching all the way around to the other side of the gas station. Usually arriving at such an early hour earns us a space right in front of the dealership.
Rose Schoch and all her staff and all her family did all they could to manage the onslaught. But the chili and split pea soup could not come fast enough to feed the minions. No sooner did a new batch arrive than it was gone. It took me two queues to get a cup of her delicious soup. A big thanks to the staff of Schoch Harley-Davidson.

It's not that I do not enjoy a warm winter ride like every other motorcyclist. It is just that the record number of Polar Cubs is outstripping the resources of our destinations. If it remains this warm for the Hooter's run we may never see our curly fries and buffalo chicken sandwiches.

I am worried about losing Ralphie. After regaling him with stories of winter riding in the Polar Bear Club, all he's seen are these huge crowds and temperatures any rube could weather.

Was it two winters ago when we had that unusually warm winter? I remember writing in the blog, in February, that I wasn't afraid of February winter. My reasoning was that with only a maximum of six weeks left until spring, how much could Mother Nature throw at us? Turned out she showed just how much a mother she could be that February and March. We wuz clobbered with freezing cold, freezing rain, freezing winds, froze our butts off.

So I will not again tempt the fates, wishing for cold weather to thin out the Polar Bear herd. If we lose Ralphie, well we lose Ralphie. And we can always find another place to stop for lunch.

This ride we picked up a new bear because of the weather, but not like you think. Pogy Pogany came along Sunday not because it was warm but because Saturday was windy. In addition to his full time job wrangling helicopters around the world, he spends a lot of his “leisure” time tonging oysters. That's a pretty tough hobby. Saturday the winds whipped up the oyster beds and so Pogy needed another diversion for Sunday.

When he called to ask about departure details, he asked if the other riders, most all on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, would give him a hard time about riding a Gold Wing. I told him that of course they would.

But I also assured him we allowed other Honda riders in our midst, even designating one of our regulars “Token.”

Point of fact, we had three Hondas, out of nine bikes total, on Sunday. Token was there on his ST. Pogy was on his Wing. And then Bernie shows up on a yellow monster named after a mythical Norse goddess. (I just love the smell of napalm in the morning!) Turns out he wore the tread off his Harley's tires and had to settle for the next bike in his garage.

Bernie, by the way, was wearing his Harley high visibility suit. Dayglow orange mounted on a bright yellow bike bouncing around in my rear view mirror, Bernie looked like a bad acid trip going down the road.

Token was delighted. “We're taking over!” he exclaimed.

Hooold on thar Babablouie! The Japanese contingent still has a ways to go to achieve Connecticut Polar Bear domination. And Bernie will probably be back on his Harley soon. Although who knows what other brands may lurk in his garage?

For nostalgia's sake I took the lead. Schoch's Harley-Davidson was my first ever Polar Bear ride in 2002. Earlier in May of that year I passed Pogy's Basic Rider's Course, he actually was one of my instructors, and purchased the big Springer after the first range day. It was my first time ever on a motorcycle and I took Pogy's advice, “There is no substitute for miles.”

So when summer waned I looked around for a reason to keep riding and to my great good fortune found the Polar Bear Club in a article in my AMA magazine.

Here I am riding to Schoch's seven years later with my former motorcycle riding instructor, now an instructor myself. Ralphie, also an instructor, was with us as well. Russ called for a group photo of the three Connecticut Rider Education Program (ConnRep) Rider Coaches, although I will not repeat the words Russ used in describing our contingent.

This was also the destination of Clark Makinson's last ride. He died of liver cancer a few weeks later. I thought about Clark as we rode over Sunday. He was an interesting character. I think I would have liked to have gotten to know him even better. We rode Polar Bears together and a very wet Rolling Thunder and a memorable Roar to the Shore. Is there ever enough time?

we mounted our bikes at the Dunkin' in Stratford, I called Pogy in Norwalk to tell him we were, “feet up in five minutes.” Then I started on my layers. Since I was taking the lead, and it was at least a bit cold, I even tied on my white silk scarf. That always takes a bit of time. If you don't get it right it will come unknotted as you ride, quickly becoming 10 feet of wildly whipping worry. Finally, I went to plug in my electric gloves. But the last time I used them . . . it was without electricity.

The new Gerbing gloves have a great feature. If you wish to use them without electricity, there is a small, zippered pouch inside the glove in which one can store the electric cord. I had done so. Which meant, of course, that now I had to unzip the pouch to retrieve the wires. Meanwhile my fellow Bears are ready to go with engines running. “Off to a great start for ragging fodder,” I said to myself, inside my helmet where no one else could hear.

With Pogy joining us from the Darien rest stop and John H. and Bart at the Tappan Zee Bridge, I had to execute some running pickup maneuvers. If you want to join our ride from anyplace other than the Dunkin' in Stratford, we treat you like the mailbags on the Old West train lines. Remember how they put the bag on a hook at the station and the train snapped up the bag without even slowing?

Well, I slowed a bit, and held the right hand lane, until we snapped up the extra riders. As we came upon Pogy he was seated, engine running, and slipped into formation without missing a beat. At the Tappan Zee I had to hold the slow lane a little longer. As we approached I see Bart working on his helmet strap. I'm with you Bart, a brother procrastinator. (Oooh, I bet that hurt! Nobody wants to be compared to me when it comes to speed of preparation for riding.)

All in all we had an uneventful ride down. John Howard took up the sweep position. You can read his report at the end of mine. From my point of view he did a marvelous job. Lanes were cleared with alacrity. We exited and merged the expressways with precision. (Such was not entirely the case on the ride home, but such was not the sweep's fault.)

Arriving at Schoch's Harley-Davidson, the parking lot was packed already. Not wanting to put my guys on gravel, I rode all the way around the back and we ended up taking the last possible pavement spaces on the far side of the gas station.

Official Polar Bear Photographer Walter Kern caught a funny video of our group following the chili pot into the dealership. He also caught a video of us arriving, but, sigh, did not bring his camera up fast enough to immortalize yours truly, leader of the pack.

We signed in and scrambled like everyone else for a bit of food.

We heard from our first blog fan of the year. John K. was standing in line for the bathroom when a rider came up to him declaring, “You're the Captain!” John was a smidgeon surprised but chatted a bit. Then our reader found his way upstairs where I was sitting with our crew and introduced himself.

Thank you. In past years I mostly heard from my readers when the blog was late. With the new BlogSpot version, you can even post comments online if you wish. Meanwhile, feel free to say hello at the Polar Bear meets!

We gassed up and reassembled for the weekly group photo. I led the group back to New England and was doing pretty well until the Garden State Parkway presented herself.

It is funny how traditions start. Oftentimes there is no real good reason for them. But as habits become ingrained they harden into traditions.

Have you heard the story about the one-legged turkey? As mom prepares her Thanksgiving turkey, she cuts off the right leg before placing it in the roaster pan. Her daughter asks, “Mommy why do you cut off the leg?” Mom answers, “Because that's the way my mother taught me.” So at dinner, the daughter asks her grandmother, “Why do you cut off one leg of the turkey before you roast it?” Of course Grandmother answers, “Because that's the way my mother taught me.” Fortunately, her mother, the daughter's great grandmother is there for dinner. Again the same question by the young daughter. Great grandmother answers, “Because my roasting pan was too small.”

So we most always end our Polar Bear runs with a coffee stop at the last rest stop on the Garden State Parkway at Montvale; I call it “Chez GSP.” We make this stop even when we have to ride out of our way to make it.

Last Sunday we could have just booked across Interstate 287, the way we came, straight to the Tappan Zee. But the group consensus was to stay Interstate 80 all the way east to the Garden State Parkway and then proceed north to our coffee stop. That fateful decision spoiled my otherwise picture perfect motorcycle group leader performance.

This Garden State Parkway entrance off of Interstate 80 eastbound gets me every time. I never seem to do it often enough to remember the exit's eccentricities until it is way too late. Sunday was no exception.

As you follow 80 signs appear for the Garden State Parkway. As you get close, gently moving your line of nine motorcycles into the right hand lane in preparation, you see a small sign for the Parkway S-O-U-T-H. Okay. I want to go north.

Faking toward the south exit I readjusted quickly, hauling my snaking line of bikes through that never-never land between the road's shoulder and lanes. Just over the bridge, this MUST be it! I hold position only to see no exit at all. Still we are traveling the nonexistent lane. I can almost hear the guffaws behind me over the tractor trailers whirling around us.

Signaling to my wing man, Russ Curtis, best in the business, I throw both hands up in frustration and confusion. Russ hesitates not a minute and rockets his big Road King into the lead. I fall in behind because Russ exudes confidence in his direction.

As another mile or so clicks by, the only signs I see are for the George Washington Bridge, Oh my gawd! If I lead my guys into the GW Sunday after Thanksgiving, I will never hear the end of it.

Just as I reach the height of anxiety, a big sign appears for Garden State Parkway north.

Geeze New Jersey! Would it have killed you to put a sign waaay back there at the southbound exit. Something to the effect of “Northbound GSP 5 miles”?

Still behind Russ we merged through a sieve of toll gates. Russ was charging hard for coffee and I had to pull up to him and reassert the lead. In my rear view mirror I saw only three bikes. So I slowed our column down a bit and eventually the others wove their way through traffic and formed on me.

To assuage my embarrassment, I bought the round of coffees and hot chocolates at the traditional rest stop. (Order went fine, by the way, John H. Must be the accent. Maybe you should work on that?)

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A View From The Rear

As Chris remarked at the Chez Montvale Services, the traditional CTPB stop when returning north, “you get to see everything when riding sweep.” His erudite comment prompted me to share a few notes on the ride to Snydersville, PA, as seen from the rear.

It would be wrong to assume that after last weeks’ blog report I was relegated to the rear as punishment to eat Harley exhaust and enjoy the resonance from the ‘loud pipes save lives’ brigade (yes, the CTPB’s have their share); I volunteered. The group did a great job holding position throughout the day in holiday traffic; clean lane changes and a nice tunnel down the echelon when formed up, at least for the most part. But that would be a dull report wouldn’t it?

So let me tell you about Bernie; he hates, detests and otherwise loathes flat spots on his tires so once in a while when a lane on either side of the formation opens he will perform a ‘crazy Ivan’ (remember ‘The Hunt for Red October’?). Moving to the clear lane he starts a ballet of weaves that is a sight to behold, elegant, sweeping, always controlled within lane, perhaps for a few hundred yards sometimes for longer until satisfied that ridges have been scrubbed and it is time to return to the dull routine of normal group riding. Future sweeps take note.

Oh, and then there was the ‘never a GPS, just notes on my mirror’ leader of the ride who for the first 200+ miles had been faultless. Unfortunately, mirrors can only hold so much information, so what to do when the writing surface on the mirror runs out (acknowledging that getting bigger mirrors en route is not feasible)? Well, follow the signs of course! For 47 of the 48 contiguous states that can work but as the world knows directional signs in NJ are provided to deceive. Foxed not once but twice the non-GPS leader relinquished to the GPS enabled wingman to navigate to the Garden State North; the transition was plain ugly (no other description would be truthful).

The ugliness continued on the GSP north as the wingman, come leader, did not spare the horses out of the entrance toll to the GSP leaving a ragged group of tail enders blighted by cagers and gasping for speed to catch up. The new leader was returned to the wingman role at the behest of the original leader allowing the stragglers to reform but only after a mile or more had passed. I am still trying to catch my breath after running so hard.

The final moment of the day was delivered by a young lady multitasking on her cell phone in her silver Subaru WRX. Pressing on the rear she would not be held up by a bunch of bikers so reverted to racing up the inside line (while no doubt texting her BFF about her annoyance at the bikers) before drawing up behind another vehicle and then started to drift into the formation. Fortunately collecting her thoughts on DRIVING, heaven forbid, she actually recognized the need for lane discipline. Yikes! The young ones are the worst aren’t they……?

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One more note from Fonz:

Prior to introducing yourself to the Captain, make sure he is finished with his business in the men's room. The Captain gets a little nervous when a strange/unknown male approaches him, then puts their arm around his shoulder and looks down at him, while they are introducing themselves as a "FAN". So, next time, PLEASE wait unitl the Captain releases his grip.

Polar Cub, A.K.A-Fonz