Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 24, 2010; Howell, NJ

1/24/10 Howell, NJ

29 with low clouds to start; 39 and drizzle to end

While Sunday's ride threatened a repeat of the previous week, we were lucky with the rain. It misted and drizzled for our ride home. It never rained drops.

Threat of rain was no deterrent for the Connecticut Polar Bears. We rode with eight. Years ago that would have been a big turnout. Nowadays, we have picked up enough new regular riders eight is de rigueur on any given Sunday.

Coming up from the south, the rain clouds also carried warmer air. Sunday's ride was more temperate. Still, I appreciated the enveloping warmth of my electric jacket.

We picked up Pogy, engine running and ready to join us, at the Darien rest stop. Token2 was back from England. Having left his wife and daughter in the U.K., and by his admission up early and bored, I was surprised to see him waiting for us at the Dunkin' Donuts in Stratford. He rode a half-hour the wrong way just to turn around and join us for the ride back south to New Jersey.

I had no duties on this ride except to rest in the cradle, motoring along. While I enjoy touring alone, there is a certain luxury in letting someone else handle the navigation, determine the route and speed, as you relax and enjoy the ride.

It was misting lightly as we crossed from the New Jersey Turnpike to Garden State Parkway headed south. However roads across New Jersey horse country to the Cabin are not as rural nor tar snake strewn as those to Hillybilly Hall. Except for negotiating a couple of New Jersey's famous roundabouts, the ride was relaxing and uneventful.

Pogy presented me with a Connecticut Rider Education visibility vest. He says I got the last one. Most of them were made for instructors who joined the program earlier than I. It will be worn with pride and just may save me from getting run over by a cager someday.

We, well most all of us, enjoyed our lunch.

Grumpy eventually settled down and enjoyed his lunch. But they had Pepsi, not Coke and the waitress did not divulge such. Then she had unsweetened ice tea. Johnny B. took it gracefully in stride.

It is late enough into winter that talk turned to Daytona. Russ is organizing a ride. He's leaving mid-week after Bike Week has started, so Russ' ride is mostly riding. That's fine for me and fits with a conference I have scheduled the week before in Los Angeles.

Daytona can be a very nice break in winter's tedium.

That second day of riding, as you descend through the Carolinas, you can start shedding layers. After riding all winter bundled in layers and tight-fitting long johns, and too thick socks and scarves tucked into full-face helmets, the warmth is nirvana.

Sometimes Florida treats us especially well and you find yourself riding around in shirt sleeves in February.

Not only is it warm, you get to act like a teenager again, one of legal drinking age, with no curfew.

It is like Leo's trike asserts, “Recycled teenager.”

Leo is my hero. I have said it in this blog before. The day before our ride he celebrated his 94th birthday. He still rides Polar Bear. I believe he earned a perfect attendance pin last season. Up until a couple years ago, Leo was still on two wheels. Now he rides a trike, obviously year round, apparently everywhere, anytime, all the time. You go Leo!

Our Polar Bear route choices are a topic of ongoing discussion. Apparently the Captain pissed off somebody at New Jersey DOT because they put a curse on John K.'s EZ Pass. They made him relinquish his preferred license plate style pass, the only person we know so banished. Then they registered his bike in two states, that we know of.

So as we scoot across the New York City parkways toward the George Washington Bridge most Polar Bear mornings, John K. prefers to jump onto Interstate 87. However that lands you on a GW Bridge on-ramp that is something of a motocross course.

I really nailed a pothole last Sunday. Dead center. Saw it coming. Could not avoid it. It was deep. I thought I saw some dinosaur bones in it, but figured my fellow riders would not tolerate me stopping for an archeological investigation.

Because the road is so rough, Johnny B. does not like the I-87 option. He would prefer to parkway all the way. Unfortunately the last toll on the parkways before the bridge has gates. They pay no mind to John K.'s EZ Pass. One year the Captain plowed through a gate, anticipating it's opening when it didn't. In revenge the gates open no more for John K. No one else has any trouble with them at all.

In Vegas they would call it a “push.” Nobody's fault. Nobody wins.

Our options are limited. I suggested riding on down the West Side Highway and using the Lincoln Tunnel to cross the Hudson River. That was roundly ridiculed.

John J. suggested the Cross Bronx Expressway. That is like a miles long motocross course strewn with hazards and potholes and junk fallen off of passing trucks lined with a concrete canyon inhabited by gangs of thugs and criminals and prone to massive traffic jams anytime day or night.

I have a friend, David Vincent. He's from Memphis, Tenn. David has a gorgeous wife Cindy, a real Southern belle. David and I worked together as writers at a now defunct agricultural PR and advertising agency in Stamford. We hired David away from a big New York City PR agency.

So David tells the story of his first time crossing the delightful Cross Bronx Expressway. It is summer. It is hot. Poor Dave nails a pothole and snaps a tie rod. So Dave does what he would have done in Memphis. He pulls over to the shoulder, puts on the four way flashers, and he and Cindy start walking the shoulder to a nearby off ramp. This was before cell phones, so David figured to find a pay phone.

It was a short walk. David is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and jeans. Cindy is dressed in halter top, short shorts and tall heels. And like this they walk down the off ramp into the Bronx looking for a phone.

Dave notices the neighborhood is not looking too good. But he's a big guy and has been in the bad parts of Memphis before. Cindy is getting very nervous.

They find a service station with a tow truck. But the guy at the station tells them he can't go retrieve their car. Ain't got the permit. Tells Dave he has to call the cops.

So Dave uses the pay phone and gets a police dispatcher on the line. He gives the address of the service station, describes the location of his car and then the dispatcher says something David does not expect, “I want you to walk back to your car.”

In disbelief David replies, “You mean you want me to walk back on the shoulder of the expressway? Against traffic?”

The dispatcher replies, “You'll be safer.”

Our ride this Sunday is to The Exchange in Rockaway, N.J. We can avoid the whole GW Bridge controversy on this one by taking the Tappan Zee Bridge going and coming. Then it is a short hop out Interstate 80.

MapQuest says just under 2 hours travel time. So let's set a . . .

9:30 a.m. Departure time from Stratford, Conn.

Just 95 miles one way, I will come excruciatingly close to missing a point on this sucker.

Was it last year that this ride was so cold, or the year before? I remember pulling out every bit of clothing from my saddlebags and then stuffing polishing rags in my boots that one year.

This Sunday's forecast is for cold, but not punishingly so. Forecast are temperatures in the high twenties.

Hope to see you soon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hopewell, NJ (2); January 17, 2010

Below freezing, 30, to start; 40 and rain/sleet to end.

Forecasted sleet above the Merritt Parkway kept a bunch of bears away Sunday.

Token2 was in England; Bart, the most northern CTPB, was worried about ice, John J. prefers football and Grumpy had to pick his truck up from the garage; it was in for repairs.

We started out dry under low clouds. But thanks to the miracle of Internet weather and Doppler radar, we knew we were in for it. Our plan was to "turn and burn." We would ride down, sign in, and turn right around hoping to beat the rain.

Pogy intended to join us. But he jumped the gun.

I think he is one of those engineering type guys. So he was more obsessed with my descriptions in the weekly departure time e-mail of how many miles it was and how I was not going to get my extra point and MapQuest travel time. He missed the departure time (it is always the "subject line" of the e-mail) and went ahead and calculated his own departure time based upon data provided.

So we traded these mismatched voice mails Sunday morning. He called at 8:23 a.m. and left a voice mail to ask if we were going. By then I was running back and forth from house to garage getting the bike ready and missed his call.

I called him back at 8:48 and got his voice mail. My message to him was that we would be leaving the Dunkin' Donuts in Stratford in about 10 minutes; he should figure on us being at Darien rest stop in 20.

Meanwhile, John K. had stopped by my house and, figuring we might be the only ones going, except now with Pogy, we rode over to the Dunkin' together, just in case someone else showed. The Captain even mentioned riding over ahead of me to see if anyone was waiting there. He decided to wait for me.

So we arrived together at Dunkin' in "Chris time" which means a minute or two to 9:00 a.m. Meanwhile Russ had called me at 8:55 to see if anyone else was going. Of course he got my voice mail because by that time I was riding. Russ is used to the Captain arriving two hours early for breakfast and was confused by the empty parking lot.

Russ had just called his wife Christine to move the car back out of the garage so he could pull his bike in. As we showed he had to take his helmet back off and call Christine back to tell her he was going with us.

We took off a minute or two after nine and pulled into the Darien rest stop. No Pogy.

I checked my voice mail and had one from him at 9:11 a.m., saying he had been there since 8:30 a.m. and went back home.

And off we went, Pogyless.

We didn't beat the rain despite all our scheming.

We rode into it just as we hit the local roads into Hillybilly Hall in Hopewell, N.J. If the dang destination had been closer to the Interstates our plan might have worked. But it took so long to slog over the local roads from I-287 down to Hopewell, that the storm overran us.

Crossing through New Jersey backcountry was slow going. State Route 609 must be named for the number of tar snakes per square foot. So we had to tiptoe over the slickness.

We picked up our adopted New Jersey Bear big Matt on the way across. Discouraged by the rain and roads, he was turning around and heading for home when the CT Bears changed his mind simply by our blatant demonstration of insanity.

Matt actually turned around in a business parking lot and fell into our line.

It's a shame about the rain because Hillybilly Hall is one of the few destinations with a nice, big, warm fireplace in their dining room.

The parking lot sucks. It's too small and mostly all gravel.

But I have fond memories of nice lunches on cold days seated next to that big fireplace.

Unfortunately for Hillybilly management, most bears did the same as us, sign in and get the heck home before the sleet started. There were plenty of open tables in the dining room.

Russ and John K. did not even bother to take their helmets off. They just clomped into the place, dripping, and waited in lines. There were two long lines: sign in and bathroom.

We still insisted on taking our group photo. My camera stood in for Johnny B's.

It was raining harder for the ride home.

Seemed like forever picking our way over the narrow country roads. I kept thinking that if we could just get headed north we could get out from under this thing.

We did not get a break.

Our chosen route had a lot more east-west in it than north-south. In an attempt to avoid frozen precipitation we hugged Long Island Sound like a warm mother.

For us in coastal Connecticut it very often happens that a snow event north of the Merritt Parkway is merely rain along the coast. Long Island Sound often holds just enough heat to save us from the nasty stuff.

That meant the George Washington Bridge coming and going.

So we headed across Route 80 instead of up I-287. Unfortunately that meant we were running parallel to the storm as it swept up from the south.

Finally on the Cross County Parkway we got good news and bad news. The good news was that we started to break into bands of dry and wet. The bad news was at the very front edge of the storm it was sleet, not rain, that was falling.

A brief stop in the rest area on the Hutch gave me time to examine the precipitation at less than speed. It was frozen, white pellets.

I took advantage of the very brief stop to put my Harley rain jacket OVER my Gerbing Union Ridge heated jacket.

It was soaked by now.

Soon after leaving Hopewell I felt wet coming through at the crook of my arm. More on the right. Soon on both sides.

We hit some heavier rain at freeway speed. And the wetness spread. I cranked up the thermostat to compensate.

Nevertheless I was very disappointed. Gerbing touts this jacket as all you need to ride in severe conditions. I intend to send them a strongly worded complaint. And next time I see our Polar Bear Gerbing dealer, Len, from MLDS, I want to see if there is anything to be done about the jacket.

Generally riding in rain on a motorcycle is no big deal with the right gear. But when that gear fails, it can get miserable, fast, really miserable.

Russ' Harley version Gerbing leather gloves were soaked through. My new T2 gloves were dry on the inside. The leather cuffs were wet, but dry and comfy on the inside.

However it was not a fair test. My hands were tucked inside nylon hippo hands which blocked all direct rain.

As we headed up Interstate 95 on our final dash for home, it alternated between rain, sleet and dry, every few miles.

John K. was leading and he must have smelled the barn on Interstate 95. He cranked it and we flipped through the changing bands of weather. Fortunately the road surface was never more slippery than on a rainy summer day.

As I pulled into home in Stratford it was dry. Not a half hour later it was raining. Another half hour later and it was raining hard.

When I took off my Gerbing jacket it must have weighed ten pounds, eight of them water.

All in all we never rode through a heavy rain. It was steady, heavier at times, but nothing I would characterize as a downpour.

Any riding gear worth its salt should have kept us dry.

My new FirstGear pants, which if you read last week's blog I wanted to test, came through with flying colors.

The jacket was a huge let down. Here, pasted directly from Gerbing's web site, is their promise:

Q: Is my heated clothing waterproof?

A: Gerbing's outerwear products and gloves are constructed to conform to the industry standards of waterproofing and will keep you dry. Gerbing's outerwear is constructed with a waterproof outer layer, or face fabric. The main function of the face fabric is to provide a durable outer shell. To make the face fabric waterproof, the inside of the fabric is laminated with a urethane coating that provides a protective moisture membrane. In addition, all seams are tape sealed and our outerwear fabrics have a durable water-repellent coating (DWR) which is a chemical treatment that forces water to bead up and roll off the surface of the fabric. Gerbing's gloves (excluding glove liners) are all constructed with a waterproof/breathable membrane to keep your hands dry however the leather is not waterproof and should be treated.

We had no time for banter this trip with nary a lunch or coffee stop. So my blog posting is short a few stories.

And I apologize for the Gerbing jacket failure rant. Any fellow rider can empathize.

If it was some sort of hellacious downpour I would be more forgiving. As we found out two years ago riding back from Cape May in a nor'easter, all weatherproof equipment fails at some point. But I expected better on a mild rain day. As Russ quipped, "What did you expect for $400?"

I should note for our blog fans and posterity that Russ earned his gold rocker this ride.

Next Ride:

Thanks to the freakin' terrorist with exploding underpants, our Fort Dix ride has been moved to a repeat of The Cabin.

Club Dix is the officers club and has treated bears for years. I remember varying levels of security over the years, ranging from being waived through to having to show photo ID and be on a preapproved list submitted in advance by Bob Hartpence.

This year's security requirements were more than Bob could prepare in time for our ride. And I certainly understand and support the Army's concerns. Hopefully things will settle down for next year.

Meanwhile departure time for next week's ride is: 9:00 a.m.

Weather looks iffy with possible snow in the afternoon. But I never believe the long term forecast, unless it is good.

I will be celebrating my 29th wedding anniversary that day, with a ride to Freehold if the weather permits. I already have permission from my wife to go.

Did I pick a gem or what?!


Feel free to post your comments on Gerbing gear or anything else.

For a version of this blog with photos see my web site posting:,_NJ_(2)

Friday, January 15, 2010

North Brunswick, NJ; January 10, 2010

North Brunswick, NJ; January 10, 2010

bright but cold, 11 degrees to start, 26 to end

Maybe it was the challenge. A bitter cold Sunday, coldest of our Polar Bear motorcycle season so far, brought a big turnout among the Connecticut bears. Maybe too, the character of the CTPB is changing, or just broadening.

Core riders who make most every Sunday are still here and grow by a bear or two every year. Warm weather bears remain on my e-mail list, and so are presumably interested still. But the newest bears seem more hardcore this year. Fonz and Pogy are real riders. Bart quickly became one of the core. Jim, of all things, rode up from New Rochelle, N.Y., Sunday only to turn around and head back south with us.

Whatever the reasons, we rode down to Jersey with 10 bikes Sunday.

We even picked up an unexpected rider, Jim from Bridgeport Harley-Davidson, on his first ride with us. His plan was to ride up from his home in New Rochelle to meet us at the Dunkin' in Stratford and then turn around and ride back south with us. But he saw us headed southbound on I-95 as he was still headed northbound. Jim got off the next exit, looped around, gunned his beautiful old Harley (FLH?) and caught up with us in Fairfield.

By the by, the wrong way riding record is still held by our adopted bear big Jersey Matt. On more than one occasion, he has started out uber-early, ridden north from his home in New Jersey to meet us at the Dunkin' in Connecticut and then turned around and done the distance back down to Jersey with us.

I was sweep on this ride. (John Jackson took the lead, albeit with a bit of prodding.) Soon after we started out I saw a single headlight coming up from behind us, did not recognize the rider. His New York license plate threw me off too. But I figured nobody but a Polar Bear would be out here this morning headed south. So I slid over a lane and waved him into line. It wasn't until we got to our destination that I knew it was Jim from Bridgeport H-D.

We fooled Pogy too. He called me Saturday to ask if, where and when we were going. He had just returned from Shanghai, yeah Shanghai, and was anxious to go riding. Pogy works for Sikorsky helicopter and whatever his specific job is, it seems his territory is the world.

Anyway, Sunday morning, as arranged, I called his cell and told him we were feet up in 10 minutes. Typically he slides into formation from the Darien rest stop. We must have left a bit early because just a past Norwalk, where Pogy lives, he was suddenly there in the right lane looking to drop into our line.

As he settled in, it occurred to me that our leader John J. still would be looking for Pogy at the Darien stop just ahead. I switched to the passing lane and rode up to the front. John J. must have been intently focused on leading because it took some time before he noticed me next to him. I was right there, right next to him, matching his speed, and thinking about giving him a little kick, when he finally, finally looked over.

Next we engaged in repeated bouts of hand gestures, head shakes and nods. Bike-to-bike communication at speed is challenging any time of year. In winter shouting is not an option with full face helmets, balaclavas and face masks layered over our mouths and ears.

I gave what I thought was the universal signal for proceeding straight ahead. John J. promptly moved from the middle to the right lane. I held my left lane and again signaled straight ahead. Meanwhile, confused riders behind us started to scramble. Some were half in one lane, others held position, still others merged right. I'm amazed nobody exited the highway.

Finally John J. caught my meaning, tipped back into the middle lane and resumed apace. Successful, I slowed to let the line of bikes pass me so I could resume my sweep position.

Meanwhile, Pogy had figured on gassing up at the Darien rest stop. But we showed up early. So he grit his teeth and was on fumes when we finally got to the turn-in to Sir John's. We darn near ran him out of gas all the way down to Jersey. I'm kinda sorry we didn't. Running a Gold Wing out of gas is no easy task on Harleys. These Honda guys have more fuel capacity and get better gas mileage. It would have been something to run a Wing out. But Pogy did the distance by the hair of his chinny, chin, chin.

When we went to leave for home after lunch we all figured to gas up at Chez GSP, all except Bart, that is. Bart has a longer ride to join up with our group in the morning. So he was low. Too low. So we deferred to Bart and all gassed up at the two stations right outside Sir John's.

I got one of those crappy, plastic guard covered nozzles at the Getty and could not for the life of me get the handle to deliver anything less than full blast; got gas all over me and the tank.

Meanwhile our other guys gassed up at this and the other station. Filled up, we formed up, and blasted up the highway for home . . . without the one guy who needed gas now instead of waiting for Chez GSP. Fortunately for Bart, Token took time to count. He shot up the line and got John J. to hold up the race for home. Meanwhile poor Bart looked around and asked the gas attendant, “Did you see which way all those motorcycles went?”

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Back to morning, we rolled southbound in the incredibly cold air. I was quite comfortable. My legs were cold, but they tolerate it well. My torso was plenty warm. I was dressed at my last level of cold riding protection. That meant my electric liner was under my electric jacket. That combo works so well, I never even called for more than half capacity from the thermostat.

It also meant hippo hands were strapped onto my handlebars. Snuggled inside them, my new Gerbing electric gloves performed admirably, so long as they were protected from the wind.

The new Shark helmet worked fine too. It took me a few miles to figure out the visor stops to get it cracked just enough to clear the condensation, but not so much so as to freeze my face. At one point, I swear I was seeing ice buildup inside the visor.

On my feet my heavy snowmobile boots had not one but two chemical heat packs apiece inside, one under each set of toes, another under each arch. Heat pack warmth lasted the full day.

Our other guys were well prepped too. No one complained about being cold. In fact as we suited up for the ride home, the parking lot in Jersey, under full sun, seemed balmy by comparison. “By comparison to what?” you are probably asking yourself! Well by comparison to that morning of course. Certainly not by comparison to any other season.

The primary difference between winter and summer riding is that you don't just jump on the bike and go for a ride in winter. It takes a good half-hour to get dressed.

Sunday morning I had on extra, extra layers. I was teasing my wife Cynthia, telling her I was like knights of yore suiting up for battle in vestments and armor. I suggested maybe she wanted to be my squire, you know, help pull up the too-tight third layer long johns, lace my big boots, maybe at the very end hand me up my helmet and gauntlets from bended knee. She snapped back, “I do more than enough for you on bended knee. You're on your own with this Polar Bear nonsense.”

Protected in full wind armor, you mount your steed, ready to ride, nearly impervious to the cold, nearly impervious.

Arriving at your destination you then must remove some of the armor. Otherwise you would sweat buckets into your protective undergarments. These would then act as evaporative chillers when you went back outside. Unfortunately you cannot remove all the layers. It would not be polite to eat in your underwear. So lunch is still decidedly less comfortable than sitting in jeans and a sweatshirt on a summer day, chillin' at your favorite biker bar.

Everybody is clomping about in heavy boots, their overstuffed nylon pants thighs voop-vooping as thighs rub together with every step.

Then when you go to get back on the bike, there is a 10 minute ritual of resealing Velcro straps, pulling helmets over balaclavas, tucking in neck gaiters and plugging in electrics. The tucking in neck gaiters is something you just cannot do yourself. So we walk around like chimps grooming each other, helping to get that last flap under the jacket collar of a fellow polar bearer.

Once you're settled on the bike, most of the pleasures of motorcycling are there. Oh, we may miss riding with the wind in our hair and on our faces. And we certainly won't earn any suntans. But you ride with full protective gear in the summer anyway, don't you?

Sir John's treated us well. The romantic aspect promised on their web site was absent, But that was not the restaurant's fault. There are so few lady Polar Bears. And the ones who do participate, it's often very hard to tell if they are women or men because all clothing layers tend to fill out everyone's figure to a homogenized lump. Sometimes you can guess by fringe on the lady's jackets or chaps.

The maitre'd put three tables together for us. We were 11 when Jersey Matt joined us.

As we prepared to order, we were made aware that Bernie was buying lunch. Wo hoo! Steak and lobster! Turns out Bernie won member of the week, a Polar Bear 50/50 type deal. Even though Bernie wasn't there to enjoy with us, we were sure he would have wanted to buy us lunch with his winnings if he had been there with us. Thanks Bernie! What a guy!

Captain and Grumpy stridently protected the newcomers from making any chicken salad mistakes.

If you are not a longtime blog reader, it was maybe three years ago (or four?) that the chicken fiasco occurred. Captain and Grumpy both typically order a chicken sandwich for our brief Polar Bear feasts. (Grumpy orders a hamburger when he can be assured of getting one that meets his high standards.) At Sir John's the chef interprets a chicken sandwich as being made with chicken salad, rather than a slab or slices of chicken flesh.

When the mayonnaise hit the fan at that lunch several years ago, you would have thought the earth stuttered in its rotation.

Grumpy, in particular, is particular about his meal. He won't drink Pepsi when they don't have Coke. He has some very specific instructions in preparing hamburgers for his consumption. And he does not accept that a chicken sandwich can be made with diced chicken and vegetables, thickened with mayonnaise.

On a summer group ride years ago, we were all out to dinner at a rather nice restaurant in Vermont. When it was Johnny's turn to order he gave very detailed instructions as to how his steak was to be prepared: well done, and what, exactly, “well done” meant to Johnny B. He warned the waiter that if it wasn't done right, he wasn't paying for it. He then bragged to us all about how he was not grumpy, just particular.

So after we all gave our food orders I slipped away on the pretense of going to the restroom. I sneaked outside and from the landscaping picked up three of the biggest wood chips I could find. Then I intercepted our waiter, handed him the chips, and told him to serve them on a covered plate to our intolerant riding buddy.

Our steaks all came on covered plates and when Johnny B. removed the cover from his plate, his face went dangerously dark. If his wife Margaret had not been there, he might have killed us all. Instead he sputtered a bit, and very begrudgingly came around to the notion that it was a joke, on him, and that bashing someone's head in was not an appropriate response. As the rest of us all laughed, Grumpy worked very hard and finally managed a smile.

Lest you get the wrong impression, I should add that big, grumpy Johnny Bowlan has a heart of gold. He shared his campsite with me on my first Daytona ride when the campground proprietor wanted to put my tent next to the pump out station over the septic tank. Johnny shared without hardly knowing anything about me, except that I was a fellow HOG. (That's another whole story.) He showed me how to change the oil on my bike. He is as quick as any Bear to offer assistance and buy a round of coffees. Except Grumpy drinks hot chocolate, and not the mix with water, but made with milk . . . .

Pogy brought party favors. Everyone at our table, except Fonz and yours truly, got a side stand coaster and key chain. The items of largess are for promoting safe motorcycle riding and Fonz and I being ConnRep Rider Coaches already have a set.

With 11 at one table, it was hard to keep one conversation going. Generally there were two or three, so I cannot report on what was being discussed at the other end of our table. Down at our end, as sweep, I was campaigning for breaking the group into two sets of five, instead of a long group of 10. It took multiple suggestions, the group finally came over to my way of thinking, but then Jim discovered one of his former girlfriends was also a Polar Bear. (He must have spotted her fringe.)

So Jim decided to ride on south with her. Being nine the group voted my motion moot and we rode home in one big group of nine bikes, thresholds being what they are.

And maybe 10 is the magic number, because going back we had not nearly so many cars cut through or into our line of bikes as we did on the way down.

Leaned over in the 360-plus degree corkscrew on-ramp for the George Washington Bridge, an idiot cut into our line from a stop sign. I mean, I could see if it was a yield. But we clearly had the right of way. He clearly had a S-T-O-P sign. Guess he couldn't wait. Gotta love those New Yorkers. No quarter given, none asked.

A similar, but more predictable, aggression occurred approaching the Turnpike on-ramp. A driver realizing at the last minute that she needed to be over “there” to get onto the turnpike simply pushed into our line without a signal, without so much as a “by your leave.” That was bad enough. It happens. What was worse, however, was her not having the good graces to get out of our line when the opportunity presented itself. Thank heavens she did not have EZ Pass, otherwise she may have stayed in our middle all the way to North Brunswick. Fortunately she suddenly went slicing out of our line and across multiple rows of oncoming traffic to get her turnpike card from a toll attendant as we rolled on through the express pass lanes.

John Jackson was taking no prisoners as lead rider either.

We picked up Token and Bart at the I-287 and Hutchinson Parkway intersection (Token called it a “junction”) with nary a pause. John J. leaned into the on-ramp and cranked it down the Hutch.

As sweep I tried, when traffic cleared, to send John J. a signal to slow down to let the two new riders catch up. I held the right lane open for our guys to move over. But John J. just cranked away.

Bart finally caught up and slipped into line ahead of me. But Token must have found a wormhole or exploited a gap in the space-time continuum.

Actually he probably over-revved his brand spankin' new BMW. Yeah, new BMW.

Can you believe it? Token must have been wanting to protect his nickname. He went out to buy a new motorcycle after an egregious ass whooping from Erik Buell. He suffered a nearly yearlong odyssey of tow truck rides, replacing all sorts of parts, including the wiring harness, and the bike never ran right. John H. finally had to invoke the Connecticut Lemon Law against being saddled with shoddily manufactured vehicles. To their credit, John H. felt well treated by his dealer, Danbury Harley-Davidson. We all disavowed Buell as being anything like Harley-Davidson. And of course Harley has finally dropped that failed experiment.

Despite the fine demonstration of chrome and camaraderie by his fellow Harley-equipped Polar Bears, John H. still went and bought another foreign machine. A BMW for chrissake. I mean really, what do a BMW and a motorcycle have in common? One of our Harley guys described Token's new ride as a, “carapace of a futuristic insect morphed with a Star Wars vehicle.”

I thought the British did not like the Germans. Maybe all is forgiven. After all we had a falling out with the Brits too. Every time I see Mel Gibson in “The Patriot” I get hungry for some payback. (Nothing personal Token.)

That reminds me of a story from my Chesapeake waterman friend Buddy. His father was called “Geesey” on account of he hired out as guide for goose hunters over to the Choptank River and such.

One night Buddy, his dad and some other fellers are having a few beers at a bar out on Tilghman Island. Buddy is a very outgoing type guy and as he goes up to the bar to retrieve another round, he meets two young German guys. Only in their twenties, they had just sailed over to Maryland from Germany.

Buddy figures they must have some good stories and so invites them back to his table. Well they're all having beers and talking up a storm with their heavy German accents, the locals having a good time hearing about the Germans' adventure. All except Geesey. He's not saying a word.

Suddenly Geesey drains his beer and slams the mug on the table. The bar goes dead quiet. Geesey looks over at the German guys and says, “We had a little trouble with you fellas a few years back.” He's not kidding.

There is a very long pause.

Finally one of the German guys says, “Yah, yah, zat vus a long time ago.”

Geesey responds, “We kicked yer ass too!”

The German replies, “Yah . . . let me buy you another beer.”

Geesey says, “Nah, I'll buy you one.”

And all is jovial once again.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lake Hoptacong, NJ; January 3, 2010

Lake Hoptacong, NJ; January 3, 2010

Well I was all suited up and ready to ride. A quick check of the radar, and a generally optimistic disposition, had me thinking the snow would all stay north of us. The road outside was clear. A path was cleared down the center of my driveway where I had worked my way down to bare pavement through previous snow storms.

John Howard sent a photo of the motorcycle track he had cleared in his driveway. Looks like he has a much longer driveway than I. And when the snow is too nasty or icy, you worry about only shoveling, gouging, scraping or salting the width of a motorcycle tire.

Seeing the photo reminded me of a funny story a couple of Polar Bear seasons ago. During the week we had one of those nasty New England ice storms. It was followed by a cold snap and the ice was everywhere hard and steadfast. I worked on my driveway for hours Saturday. My wife Cynthia was out most of the day.

When she pulled into our driveway that afternoon, her car immediately listed to one side. As she drove down the driveway, car leaned over, she started to laugh. Right away she knew what I was up to.

Too much work to chisel out the whole driveway, I had cleared only one track.

Sunday the driveway was ready, the roads were clear. The weather was in the teens, well below freezing. So unfortunately, any snow at all could make the road instantly slick and icy.

As I was getting ready to put my helmet on the home phone rang. It was the Captain, John Kammerer. He had tried my cell, but I had missed it, shuffling in and out from the house to the garage getting the bike ready.

His take was that everyone else was already snowed in. His more detailed look at the radar suggested we were about to be snowed in too. “What did I think?,” he wanted to know.

What I thought was that I could not afford to get stranded in New Jersey. I had lots of work that needed doing Monday. Plus I have always had an aversion to dropping my bike.

We decided to not go. Actually, I decided to not go. Captain had another idea.

I hung up the phone with John and went back outside to stand down the Harley and reattach its battery umbilical cord. All the sudden it was snowing pretty hard. By the time I had all my riding crap off, it was slicking up the roads.

It snowed, steady, all day. By noon I was very glad I was not riding that day.

General Napoleon said, “You cannot buy a man's life at any price. But he will gladly risk it for a small bit of ribbon.”

Sorry, I am just not that into it, to drive my car to a Polar Bear motorcycle meet. Some people are more driven by points, pins and patches. Or maybe they just enjoy the heroic accomplishment.

John Kammerer, protecting his perfect attendance, changed from motorcycle clothes back into civies and drove his car to New Jersey. Here is his report.

Captain's Snowy Adventure
After numerous phone conversations, I converted back to standard clothing and headed south at about 9:20 a.m. As I passed the exit for Route 8 the snow stopped and the skies cleared. Sound familiar? (For non-Connecticut readers that's less than five miles south of our Stratford starting point.) I followed the proposed route and found it to be clear all the way except for an occasional flurries.

Upon arrival at the Wearhouse Grill, who was out in the parking lot to greet me but Bob Hartpence? There were about three-dozen bikes in the lot and it was early yet. Bob's eyes followed me as I parked the car. When I approached him he greeted me with, “It was already 18 degrees at my house when I left.”

I quickly went inside and saw Rich at the sign-in desk. He asked, “Where's the hat? Is it too cold for you?” So with the sun shining brightly, I commenced to explain the problem that those of us from the north had with snow.

Signing in at 11:20 a.m., I promptly departed. It was clear all the way back until exit 41 on route 15. I arrived at Sue's house at 1:00 p.m. (For non-Connecticut readers, that's about 10 miles south of our home departure point.)

I have no doubt that I might have made it on the bike, maybe! I am also convinced that, in fact, we all made the right call to stand down on this one, because it only takes one fall to ruin your whole day.

We did good today and get another shot next week. What could be better?

Editor's Note:
Thanks John. We will take that “nother shot” Sunday, January 10, leaving at 9:30 a.m. The distance is about the same. The cold is predicted to be about the same. But the skies will be clear.

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.