Sunday, January 3, 2010

Vineland, N.J.; December 27, 2009

Vineland, N.J.; December 27, 2009

unseasonably warm and sunny

We slipped through a hole in the weather. Saturday it rained. It rained a lot. The rain moved north and east of us just an hour or so before our 8 a.m. departure. Monday morning it rained, and threatened snow. Sunday was luckily dry.

Even so, we started out in a fog.

Stratford, Conn., our starting point was shrouded in an advection ground fog from the snow on the ground and the warm air above it. I know the term because many years ago I was stranded in a podunk airport by one.

I think it was Peoria actually, not Podunk, Peoria, Illinois. I was sitting in the airport bar, which faced a huge picture window behind the bartender offering a second story view out over the runway.

With me at the bar were two very metropolitan ladies from the New York City PR agency where I worked at the time and a Purdue University Meteorologist named Jim Newman. We had just finished a soybean seminar, that is, a seminar for farmers who grow soybeans. If you don't know soybeans, think cooking oil, margarine, tofu or lecithin which is like in everything. Check your food labels.

It had been a long week in farm country and my city compatriots were very much looking forward to the flight home. It was late afternoon, Friday, February.

As we sat down at the airport bar one of our New Yorkers, Gail, asked for a Stolichnaya. This was like 1984. The bartender therefore answered, “Huh?” I said, “Gail, ask for the best vodka he has and expect Gibleys.” I ordered a Budweiser. I was fairly certain the bartender knew that brand.

It was unseasonably warm. Snow was on the ground. The air cooled as the sun weakened, and the dew point lowered along with the sun, and a fog began to appear out of nowhere.

As the minutes ticked toward our departure time, the sun kept falling and the fog kept rising and the runway kept disappearing. As our drinks arrived our meteorologist made a prediction, “Our flight will cancel.” Gail, disbelieving, nearly panicking, her voice trembling with that righteous indignation unique to New Yorkers, mistakenly asked, "Why? How?" And Jim launched into an explanation, as though lecturing a hall full of freshmen back at Purdue.

“What you have here is an advection ground fog. All day the snow has been evaporating into the warm air above it, loading it with moisture. Now as the sun sets, the snow will rapidly cool the air above it and the moisture will start condensing into a fog. If you went up just 10 feet you could see for miles. But the fog will be thick down on the ground,” Jim said. As he spoke, the fog in fact thickened over the runway below us. True to his prognostication, you could see 10 miles or more hence across the top of the flat fog cloud forming before our eyes.

Next a pilot, in uniform, joined us at the bar. This was decades before the controversies of such. Still, it was a bit of a shock. When we looked at him the pilot said, “Not to worry folks. This fog is closing the airport. I won't be flying anywhere tonight.” Sure enough, just then, over the loudspeaker we heard our flight cancel. Heck, maybe he was even our pilot.

“But above the runway you can see for miles,” we protested.

Sensing our frustration, and ignorance, the pilot explained pilots may not take off from an airport if the runway is obscured in case an immediate return landing at the same airport is required for any mechanical failure of the plane.

We ordered up another round.

Interestingly, as we sat watching the gathering fog with the sun setting above it in a clear and darkening sky, a FedEx jet deftly touched down. Again we turned, in unison, to the pilot. He just smiled. “The FAA has a whole different set of rules if you are carrying passengers. Carrying packages, the pilot is allowed to risk his own safety.”

I thought it was all fun. But my New York metropolitan co-workers saw a Friday night in boonville as a dismal disappointing sentence. Marianne made the best of it and we had a few drinks at the Holiday Inn. Gail sulked in her room. Me, I grew up on Holiday Inns in the middle of nowhere. I was happily in my element.

Sunday the Connecticut Polar Bears headed southwest in an advection ground fog. But on our day the sun was rising, not setting. By the time we reached Norwalk, Conn., clouds were breaking apart. Sunlight streaming through warmed the air, increasing its ability to absorb moisture. The fog dissolved. We crossed the Connecticut and New York border in brilliant sunshine that grew ever stronger.

Descending into New Jersey, the air warmed to unseasonable finery. As we progressed toward Vineland, I dialed down the electrics. Polar Bear riding is of course about riding in the cold. Nevertheless, is there anyone who would not rather ride in 50 degrees Fahrenheit than 30?

Traffic was light on the ride down. We were aware that we were riding on the tail of Christmas vacation. And we joked about having to pay for it on the ride home. (As it turned out, we found it not at all a laughing matter.) Meanwhile, I took note of the many Florida and North Carolina license plates traveling south with us. We call them snowbirds.

There are two causes of this which are somewhat unique to Connecticut. First, we have a lot of rich people who live in our state. (Yes, I know Jersey does to.) Second, we have personal property tax. Here you pay a hefty, biannual tax on your car. So if you are rich enough to have a house in another state, you register your car there to avoid the Connecticut tax.

When I first moved to Connecticut, I was amazed at the number of Florida license plates. Such were not so visible in nearby Delaware where I grew up, or even closer New Jersey where I lived before moving to Connecticut. (I lived in Hightstown, near Princeton, you know, Exit 8.)

So with the holidays over, those who did not have to stay and work, the rich retired and the grandparents and the rich grandparents, were headed south to wait out the remainder of New England's harsh winter.

Being early in the day, the George Washington Bridge was more expedient. It is a shorter distance to go that way. But rarely faster. We almost never risk it in the afternoon because ridiculous traffic volume makes for an extra hour or two of stop-and-go misery. Afternoons we detour farther north for the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River. It is farther to go and far faster.

I had hoped that by averaging the two bridges, I might gain enough distance to squeak out another point from the Grand Tour. As I entered the parking lot at the Five Points Inn my odometer indicated 190 miles. That meant a George Washington Bridge round trip from my home in Stratford to Vineland equaled only 380 miles. Certainly, I thought, the roundabout ride over the Tappan Zee Bridge must add another 20 measly miles?

My unsympathetic, GPS-enabled, compatriots informed me the extra miles up and over the Tappan Zee numbered only five. The Grand Tour operates on the honor system. And my honor is not for sale, most certainly not for 15 miles, nor a gold rocker.

Last year I earned only the red rocker, the first time since I started riding the Grand Tour that I did not make gold. New Jersey riders may be unsympathetic. Our extra distance riding from Connecticut racks up the points. If our guys make a majority of the rides, gold is obtainable. Last year, new job responsibilities and some really lousy weather so limited my ride opportunities, I missed the gold. I hope not to repeat. I wanted that extra point. Unfortunately, Vineland is no Cape May. Fifteen miles short, I earned only five points Sunday.

Even short a point your blogger Chris Loynd gladly earned my red rocker Sunday. Captain John Kammerer picked up his gold pin for 60 points. Grumpy Johnny Bowlan earned his gold rocker. John Jackson picked up a red rocker as well. Although we may say we ride for the fun of it, we do display our patches proudly.

We stretched our Harley gas tanks for nearly all those 190 miles it took to ride down to Vineland, N.J. from Stratford, Conn. What is this fascination with running out of gas? Some of our Polar Bear riders seem to delight in showing off their nerve by playing chicken with their gasoline mileage. So far they have run Joe Velez and John Jackson bone dry.

Me, I have never run out of gas and never intend to. I hate worrying about gas. As soon as my little light comes on, I fill up. Unless, of course, I am riding with our guys. I put 4.7 gallons in my 5 gallon tank when we finally stopped. I may have to buy a Honda ST. Token has not only more capacity in his larger tank, his Honda also sips gasoline at a frugal rate. Plus the rice burner requires only cheaper regular rice. Our American Harleys demand premium gas.

The Five Points treated us well. It offered breakfast and lunch buffets. We all chose lunch. Food was plentiful and tasty with one of my favorite menu choices for winter riding, split pea soup. Maybe they heard of Rose Schoch's success with the bears. Her's is thicker.

Token was kind enough to treat us all for lunch. He had a good year. His company, Combe, is apparently somewhat recession protected. So on behalf of the Connecticut Polar Bears, we encourage you to use more Lectric Shave, Aqua-Velva, Brylcream, Just for Men, Odor-Eaters and Vagisil as your individual predilections allow.

For the record, John H. was as generous last year as well. Others have treated too. I ponied up one year when I hit the Grand Tour 50/50.

Bellies full, tanks topped, points accrued, we suited up for the ride home. It soon turned to a crawl.

New Jersey's turnpike was solid with returning vacationers. Soon after we entered at exit 3, we hit a wall of stop and go traffic. It did not relent until we hit the split between exits 8 and 9. It took us 3 hours to go 101 miles on that part of the return trip. Our clutch hands throbbing, we finally were able to make headway. Fortunately the Garden State Parkway was not at bad. By the time we got in line to cross the Tappan Zee bridge, we were largely inured to traffic jams. Thankfully, the T-Zee approach was no worse than most clogged Sundays.

Grumpy's Tom Tom reports he was moving for 8:35 hours to go 419 miles. (Johnny B. lives farther north still than Stratford. He earned his sixth point Sunday.) It was a day uncharacteristically long even by CT Polar Bear standards, 11 ½ hours.

Here are a couple of BONUS submissions by John Howard, Token.

Mystery of the Missing Miles

The Blogger e-mail call to ride to Vineland, NJ anticipated a 400 miles plus trip travelling via the GWB southbound and the Tappan Zee Bridge on the return home (you have to be crazy to use the GWB north on a Sunday afternoon!) setting an expectation of a 6 pointer ride for those departing the DD at Stratford. A bumper day for points that, as it would turn out, was punctuated by gasps of disbelief on arrival at the aptly named 5 Points Inn.

Grumpy, the first to proclaim, triumphantly noted his ride to be a few miles over 200 one way from his home north of Stratford; 6 points bagged, grumpy no more! Viewing his odometer Blogger announced a disappointing 190 miles one way, even under repeated tapping the odo refused to yield to pressure to display a bigger number; the air was audibly escaping from the points balloon.

Token, who lives closer to the Hudson River than most, piped up “well I have 185 one way, and the journey home via the TZB adds about 5 miles – that is a 5 pointer for me”.

“Nah, 190 that can’t be right can it?” questioned Blogger, “It has to be more”. Parking lot fuzzy math ensued for several minutes, none of it helpful to the visibly troubled Blogger.

Honesty in recording and signing the mileage log is a commitment made by all Bears when enrolling. Let no Bear cast doubt as to the integrity of Blogger Bear who as the photo record illustrates declared his disappointing 380 mile, 5 point day. It was noted that the mileage travails were relieved by a cup of split pea soup, the assured path to sooth the soul of Blogger Bear.

New 150 Points Badge in the Offing?

Confidential sources close to the Polar Bear Grand Tour organizers have hinted that a new 150 points milestone recognition badge is being consider to provide continuing motivation to early season, high point accruing, Polar Bears. Photographed while in secret discussions, Chairman Bob is captured illustrating the general size of the new badge to an attentive high point scoring Bear, known as Capt. K.

Rumors that Capt K. will in future travel to the West Coast to give blood for the benefit of the 50+ mileage points this would result in have yet to be corroborated.

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