Friday, February 26, 2010

California Day Two

Thursday, February 18, 2010
Pismo Beach to Monterey

Another 10 degrees would have made the ride tolerable. What should have been the gem of my California adventure was tarnished by cold, clouds, fog, mist and cold. After my ride I was warm, fireplaces wherever I went. Tomorrow I head back south, after touring Monterey Bay Aquarium. I am seriously considering the inland route because it may be a critical five or 10 degrees warmer.

I knew it was coming, one of the disadvantages of modern weather forecasting. I did a bit of work in the morning, allowing the outside temperature to climb a bit and the fog to back off the road. I could not yet see out to sea. The hills behind the sea had lines of fog hanging in their heights still at 11 a.m.

Three hours difference between California and Connecticut make work difficult. I returned what calls I could, replied to a few e-mails and forwarded others. Our Aquarium Graphic Designer Deb admonished me to stop sending her more work. She is preparing for vacation. She will be off to Ismaldora, Florida Keys for some serious fishing a day after I return.

In morning's nadir I was out and riding south. At times Route 1 mixes in with Freeway 101. So I ran high speed until just above San Luis Obispo, jumping off point of no return down the twisty, two-lane PCH. This is perhaps the most famous stretch. Known for unparalleled beauty, it hugs cliff side where California falls into the Pacific Ocean.

It wasn't too bad to start. There was no sun. Sun always makes you feel warmer, even when the air isn't.

As I rode I cooled. I kept a weather eye for some place to pull over and add some layers. Then there it was, the elephant seal viewing point. I pulled off and managed to park on a small strip of asphalt near, but not in, the entrance to a gravel lot.

Seals were there all right, huge, noisy, stinky, magnificent, animals. You could get pretty close, looking over the edge of a fenced cliff to the beach below.

After the proper gawking and zoo photos that I will likely never review, I started pulling more body insulation from the bike's saddlebags. I added the winter liner back into my riding pants. I pulled out a Ridehide shirt. I dropped a chemical hot pack into each boot, pulled out my neck gaiter and my heaviest winter gloves. Darn, I should have brought those goose down mittens after all. Wish I had my electrics, on the other hand, the rental bike has no facility for providing power to them.

Who knew? It's California for chrissakes.

As I rode north, the PCH increased its scenery with every turn. Soon it wound itself into tight, 20 mile per hour recommended speed twisties, and switchbacks, miles of 'em.

The road is cut into the sides of these outrageously steep sand and mud cliffs hanging out over the deep Pacific. There are “rock fall” signs every where. Heading north, massive hills and cliffs to your right; to your left a sheer drop, sometimes hundreds of feet, to the sea below.

Now and then the road apparently actually does fall into the sea with the rest of California. I worked my way through half a dozen repair crews. Some of them were drilling pilings into the cliff to shore up the disappeared roadbed.

As you approach one of these sites, a caution sign warns “rock slide ahead.” Then just around the corner you can see where all hell broke loose, along with a chunk of California. The thought flits across my consciousness, “What happened to the guy on the road when the hill let loose, the road plunging into the ocean below?”

One of the signs was more ominous, “pavement ends.” If you look at a map, Route 1 is basically the only option for miles. Fortunately the road continued on gravel, and only a small patch of it.

I skipped the rest of the tourist options. Hearst Castle was totally shrouded in fog. You could not see up the hill a hundred yards. By the time I passed Nemanthe, where everybody told me I just must have lunch, I was too cold and it was too late and I was in no mood to take all that gear off only to dress again for the run to Monterey.

Both options were passed by with only a momentary downshift to acknowledge their presence and passing. Maybe next time.

Despite its unrefuted scenic beauty, the cold and the attention required by me to manage the bike in relentless corners, was dulling my enthusiasm. Can you believe that for the last half hour I was thinking, “Okay, just another vista and amazing canyon. Brake, downshift, look, lean, roll.”

For the last bit the road climbs up, up, up to Big Sur. The rise in elevation of course meant a concurrent drop in temperature. By now it was getting on to three o'clock. The day's warmth was fading fast.

Then, slam! You are in stop-and-go, shopping center lined, Route 1, just like back home. It's called Carmel. I did not see the scenic part. I'm sure it's nice. I had had enough for one day.

Pulling into Monterey on Route 1 it looked like any New Jersey seashore town. Little boutique hotels, once independent, now owned by national chains lined the street, along with all the familiar brand names of fast food and pharmacies, with a few new ones tossed in, Carl Jr.'s, In and Out Burger.

Following my nose I wanted to see where the Monterey Bay Aquarium was located and then try to find a hotel nearby. Suddenly through a tunnel I emerged on the famed Cannery Row. It was lined with shops, quaint, touristy stuff, and very expensive looking hotels. One clue, management includes the word “Spa” with “Inn” and valet parking. Westin is not in my budget. Steinbeck would be shocked at the gentrification.

Riding to the end of Cannery Row I ran right into Monterrey Bay Aquarium. Completing my reconnoiter, I turned back for the strip of cheaper hotels lining Route 1. Fortunately I got lost.

Coming out of the tunnel I turned too soon, banged around the backside of Monterrey for a bit, and finally found Route 1 again. Except that I turned the wrong way, back toward the tunnel.
Fortunately, as it turns out. On the way to the tunnel I see a sign for visitor information

Figuring that I will be floundering through the city tomorrow to go to the Aquarium, I stopped in for a local map. The nice lady asked if I had a place to stay and recommended the Cannery Row Inn. I immediately asked the rate. “Just $69 king bed. Very nice. Right at the head of Cannery Row. Walking distance to the Aquarium.”


Turned out to be my second lucky hotel choice of the trip.

When I checked in the clerk said she did not have any more kings at the $69 rate. But for $10 more she could upgrade me to a king bed with a fireplace. Oh yeah! That was an easy up sell.

She also had a referral card to a local seafood restaurant entitling me to a free appetizer. She offered that if I was interested, she would call ahead and get me a good table. And she did. I was escorted to a table next to a fireplace and overlooking the bay. The restaurant is built out on a pier, likely a pier that once was part of a sardine factory. Sardines were not on the menu.

Monterey's history aside, I ordered the dungeness crab instead. They allowed me to split my free appetizer between a half order of calamari and a half artichoke heart. It was a very good combination. The calamari was spicy, the artichoke tart with vinegar.

As I finished a great meal, I glanced a final time into the crystal clear waters I had been watching below. There was a sea otter rolling around and playing with a floating chunk of driftwood.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

California Day One

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Los Angeles to Pismo Beach, California

Well the netbook booted just fine after riding all day in the saddlebag.

What an amazing first day. Is it better, I wonder, to have your best day of vacation be the first, or the last day?

Yesterday was mostly all airplane. So it counts as a work day. The time difference between East and West Coast caused me not a bit of trouble. Being a world champion sleeper, and having shorted myself with preparations Monday night, I simply slept through the extra three hours last night. Easy.

I woke refreshed and finally surrendered my watch to California time.

After breakfast I caught a cab from my LAX Travelodge Hotel to nearby Eagle Rider motorcycle rentals. Business acquaintance Mark Bastarache of Business Network hooked me into a discounted Harley-Davidson rental. I picked up a beautiful Road Glide, blue, for my trip on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), U.S. 1.

Hey, wait a minute. How can we have two U.S. Route Ones? There's one of those on the East Coast too. Our part of the country being settled so much sooner, surely we were first. Shouldn't California's be U.S. Route Two?

Everybody at Eagle Rider was great. I packed the bike, left a bag behind with my Aquarium business wear for the IMAX convention next week and promptly made my first foray onto the famous Los Angeles freeways. Yes, they are as bad as you have heard.

My task was to shoot up the 405 to catch 10 west to Route 1 north. Seems simple, right?

Well thinking myself clever, I opted for the car pool lane. It was the only lane appearing reliable. The others were rubber banding severely at every exit and on-ramp.

Unfortunately once in the lane I felt bound by the double yellow line. There had been broken white lines here and there where cars could merge in and out of the car pool lane. I entered at a set. But when Route 10 appeared, no broken lines did. By the time I determined to sneak across, I had missed my exit. I might have made it on I-84 back home. But in L.A., once out of the car pool lane there were still five lanes to cross to make the exit.

I went on by I-10 and took Santa Monica Boulevard exit. Based upon my glance at the map before I left, I figured how far can it be to the ocean? So I turned left, west, and started down the Boulevard. Hey, just like the popular song, “All I wanna do is have some fun, I gotta feeling I'm not the only one . . . 'till the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard.”

Only the “Boulevard” looked very much like a dirty, gritty, four lane city street with curbside parking and a stop light every block. After a bit of this I figured it was not what I sought for vacation riding. Glancing at my AAA Triptik map, I turned left again, heading back south to pick up I-10.

A bit more stop and go city driving and I was zipping along again, headed as west as you can go in the U.S.A., to the Pacific Coast Highway. I was there in no time.

(Yeah, I know Hawaii is further west than this. And Alaska stretches nearly to Russia, just ask Sarah Palin. Let's not get technical. Okay?)

Weather was gorgeous. An above average 80 degrees. Sunshine. Brilliant Sunshine. It felt great!

Seems to me the only way to survive New England is to get the heck out to someplace warm at least once per winter. But then again, I did not grow up there, so I am not fully acclimatized.

I had started the morning with my light pair of winter gloves. When I hit the PCH I switched to fingerless, also zipped the winter liners out of my leather jacket and riding pants.

At first it was still very urban. Then there it was, the vast Pacific Ocean. Beautiful. Bluer than the Atlantic. Visibility to the horizon.

California gives every appearance of having, just very recently, fallen into the sea. To the west is the ocean. To the east are steep, very steep, hills. Sometimes the hills are maybe a mile away, sometimes they reach right to the water.

There is no transition here. Steep hills, mountains even, then the sea. No Piedmont nor gently rolling hills. Only abrupt, steep, deeply cut, hills.

California's geography looks very young. Features are sharp, angular, extreme. Every where water runs it cuts very deeply into the hills and mountains. I am no geologist, but it does not look like they have a bit of granite in the place. Maybe farther back to the Sierra Nevada. But here on the coast it looks like sand and mud, not even rock. Little scrubby bushes cling to the hills and sparsely so.

Then I got to Malibu and amazingly there were houses everywhere. They were right down on the beach, with the road hard on their backs. Even crazier, houses were clinging to these obviously eroded hillsides.

I'm no architect nor engineer. Even so, it seems to me any fool can see that the soft land is continually falling into the ocean. How do the people who live in these houses sleep at night? I would be pacing the floor, on the uphill side, ready to jump out before the house tumbled down with the rest of the sand into the sea.

It is hard for me to summon much sympathy for mudslide victims. When you moved in, wasn't it obvious the hill was just waiting to let go?

On the other hand, people live in New Orleans several feet below sea level with only an Army Corps of Engineers mud dike holding the water away. In Florida they rebuild after every hurricane. Even I live along the mouth of a river supposedly protected from flooding again like it did in the 30s by several dams upstream. The year my son Trever was born, hurricane Gloria paid a visit. We didn't move inland.

I turned up Malibu Canyon Road and cranked the big Harley up the hill through twists and turns clinging on the edge of a very steep and deep canyon.

As I carved the canyon I wanted to stop and take a picture of this amazing topography. I saw turnouts, advertised by signs a quarter mile in advance. But each turnout was lined with no parking, stopping or standing signs. I didn't get it. Why have a scenic turnout, if no parking is allowed? Not knowing the local custom I rode on.

Then I saw a sign for a “vista” and there the parking signs allowed me to stay for 10 minutes. That's where I grabbed some photos.

It was amazing to me how rural the canyon was. All the sudden you went from packed city to wilderness. Such extremes compose California's charm.

As I popped out of the canyon top I rode a bit more up the mountain. It was noticeably cooler. Not knowing how far it was to the very top, I turned around and headed back down. As I entered the canyon, a sign explained the no parking, stopping, standing turnouts. It said, “slower vehicles use turnouts.”

Since the highway was only two lanes, trucks and Winnebagos and such pull into the turnouts to allow faster vehicles to pass. Glad I wasn't parked in one, defiantly taking photos. They do run trucks and trailers up and down these roads.

Back along the coast, the PCH went from two lanes to four, then back to two. Again, it went from house lined to completely rural in a matter of yards. I guess there are some hills too steep even for these crazy Californians. Or maybe there just aren't enough Californians to build out this far.

They have a unique idea of freeways here. Instead of building over or underpasses, they simply declare that “freeway ends” with “cross traffic ahead.” It's all the same road, the speed limit drops from 65 down to 55. Nothing else changes. Once past the intersections a sign declares “freeway begins” and you can crank on another 10 mph.

I actually started out on Route 101. From Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo Routes 101 and 1 have an on-again, off-again, relationship. They split at Buellton and reconnect at Pismo Beach. It is marked as though you're always switching from one to the other. There are lots of signs offering 101 access once you're on 1.

At Buellton the geography changed dramatically. The ocean was gone and I was twisting and turning through cattle country with rancheros and very few signs of civilization. Another dramatic and abrupt change in scenery.

Vandenberg Air Force Base gets the shore on this part of the PCH. It's a missile test range. So I guess they don't want to be shooting rockets over the highway. Amazingly, you drive right past rifle ranges, I mean right off the highway. You could walk to them. Fortunately they shoot away from the road.

Rather suddenly once again, the country flattend out and changed from cattle to crops. Vegetable farms and packing plants stretched for miles.

Guadalupe was a working town. It looked like a hundred farm towns I have visited. One strong main street. Plants and trucks and tractors and mud dragged onto the highway at either end of town. Dying retail in the center. Old houses built right to the road. Pool halls, bars and VFWs and churches for Sunday cures to Saturday debaucheries.

At the northern edge of town I stopped to add a few layers and switch back again to the winter gloves. The warm sun was drooping in the sky.

A glance at my vintage Triptik and San Luis Obispo seemed a reasonable target for what was left of the day. That's where Routes 1 and 101 part ways for a hundred miles, with a ridge of mountains between them.

For a bit before that, the coast cut back into Route 1 again and I was enjoying the PCH with an ocean view. Just above Pismo Beach 1 rejoins 101. And just before it does, it skirts along a coastline cliff. I saw a couple of cool hotels and then I suddenly was back up to 65 mph on the 101 freeway.

As I rocketed toward San Luis Obispo, I was having a conversation with myself inside my head. The more I talked to myself, the more I became convinced that Pismo Beach scenery back there was pretty sweet. And now I was headed back inland. It took me a few miles to decide. Then I got off an exit, crossed over, and got back on the freeway retracing my tracks back south.

It turned out to be an extraordinarily good decision.

The cliff side hotel gave me a good government rate and a beautiful room overlooking the ocean. The sun was low and warm and casting long shadows and soft colors. Out over the water there was a low line of clouds miles away.

Perched upon the cliffs, an amazing gazebo dotted an impossible point of land. Before I walked out there for a better look, I called the wifey at home. And in our less than half-hour conversation, my beautiful scenery disappeared. That low line of clouds was a fog bank. I watched it roll right over me and the hotel. The sun was still up. The ocean and cliffs were gone.

They did not reappear the next morning either.

Meanwhile the hotel restaurant was under construction. Fortunately the desk clerk steered me to “Steamers” a short walk away. The restaurant's theme is “a mile of clams.”

I also took a walk on the beach. Beach access was via about three stories of steep staircase.

Returning to the hotel, I decided to take a dip in the pool. It was heated and open until 11 p.m. The air was misty, a light drizzle going. I started out in the hot tub then took a dip in the pool and then back to the whirlpool. Had the whole pool area to myself.

Back to my room late, I dressed and finally walked out to that gazebo. The hotel had bright lights shining on the cliffs and the rocks below. Very nice.

Finally I sat out on my room's porch with my net book and tried to capture today's scenes, Pacific waves offering a bucolic symphony.

Monday, February 22, 2010

South Wayne, NJ; February 14, 2010

South Wayne, NJ; February 14, 2010

Hooters? Really? On Valentines Day?

Yeah, it was not the most romantic thing I've ever done. Sorry hon! The Polar Bear calendar just fell that way.

We left extra early, anticipating glacial service based upon our experience with previous Hooters Polar Bear runs. John J. did not get his order until Monday last year. The waitress totally forgot about him. But you know what they say about if only they were brains.

This year our waitress was Crystal. That may be her real name. But I sorta doubt it. Sometimes such working girls assume aliases, I presume to protect their identity or perhaps to be more perky and memorable than their parents designed.

A year ago on my November ride to the Florida Keys I spent a few days in South Beach. One night feeling like a drink at a bar I visited the local strip club. Strip clubs are one of the few bars where a fellow can drink alone and no one things any worse of it.

So this perky girl comes up trying to wheedle more money out of me than my $10 beer. She says her name is “Diamond” and asks me mine. “Is that your real name?” I ask. “Oh yes,” she gushes, “What's your name?” I tell her, “Penurious, but it doesn't mean what you think it does.” She didn't get the writers joke. I thought I was astoundingly clever. But maybe it was just the beer.
One of our guys asked Crystal how she told her dad she was working at Hooters. Her mom thought it was fun, she says, her dad had a harder time accepting it.

As it turns out, Crystal was attentive and the kitchen not all that slow. We filled in the wait with fried pickles, something new to all of us. Reviews were mixed, but I liked them.

Of course I have not had anything deep fried that I did not like.

I saw this guy on the food channel once. They were running a show all about fried food. So this one chef down south, Texas maybe, decides to deep fat fry bacon., He was talking about how he had to get special, thickly-cut bacon so it would not disintegrate in the fryolator. Then he suspends several slices with toothpicks, breads the whole and drops it into the fryer.

That sounded about as fattening as could be to me. But this chef says something was missing still. Eventually he figured it out and amended his dish. He perfected the flavor by serving his deep fat fried bacon with gravy.

Hooters is the shortest run on the calendar for the Connecticut Bears. With our early departure we arrived at our destination before 11:00. Even so, there were bikes in the parking lot. Guess some guys just can't get enough orange.

It was only moderately cold, in the high twenties. If you think about it, 10 degrees does make a difference. Last week's 18 seemed a whole lot colder than this week's 28. Somehow you expect it to mean less in winter. In summer the difference between 80 and 90 degrees is certainly noticeable.

Grumpy and Nic had the lead. Token2 was sweep. In the cradle we had Captain, Fonz, Pogy and yours truly, CT Blogger.

Fonz and Pogy are quickly becoming regulars. And so every year, little by little, the mania spreads.

Pogy will sign up next year. We will make sure to get him in before Bob Hartpence cuts off admission. Fonz joined us early enough to squeak under the 550 bear quota.

We discussed plans for Daytona. Some of Grumpy's buds are dropping out, mostly because of the economy. One lost a job, another had his vacation time restricted. Times are still very tough out there.

And when the times get tough, the tough go on vacation.

I was discussing my plans to go early to a convention in Los Angeles. When I commented on how long the flight is, poor Pogy almost choked on his fried pickle. He handles international business accounts for Sikorsky, peddling helicopters around the globe. I think he said the Sultan of Brunei was a client.

As Pogy said, when he gets to San Francisco he figures that's the homeward leg, short hop to the East Coast.

In Los Angeles. I have an IMAX movie convention to attend the week after our next Polar Bear run.. So I figured to take a bit of vacation time the week after our Valentines Hooters run. I rented a Harley Road Glide at LAX and toured the Pacific Coast Highway.

I can post on BlogSpot, text only. The photo enhanced blog on my own site requires software not carried in my little netbook. I may post a few stories from the left coast too. So subscribe to this blog if you want the earliest updates, or wait until I get home for the photo enhanced version, or read both.

This is the first Polar Bear blog post I have posted more than a week late. Sorry guys.

I have been happily riding around California and will post those stories too.

Meanwhile, I am sorry I missed you last week. Somebody send me a story, Token2?

I get back in, hopefully, in time to at least post your stuff before the Sunday ride to the Firehouse Eatery. If all goes well, I plan to join you on that ride.

Departure time should be 9:30. MapQuest says just two hours to the destination, 87 miles one way.

Bart and John J.: I know you are following this blog and so will receive an automatic notification when it posts. If you like, share with our other regulars how they can read this entry if they wish. And please send out an e-mail to our core group for departure time, although they can likely figure it out on their own!

Hope to see you Sunday.

Enjoy! I am.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 7, 2010; Pattenburg, N.J.

February 7, 2010; Pattenburg, New Jersey

15 to start, ‘pert near 30 to finish

We departed the day after a monster snow storm dubbed “snowmageddon” by President Obama blanketed southern New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Washington D.C. They got New England style weather. Connecticut received nary a flake.

Not content to read weather maps and radar sweeps I reached down to our destination with a phone call Saturday night. The girl who answered at Landslide Saloon might be a good date, if there are any single Polar Bears reading this blog. According to her they, “got about a foot of snow.” But she assured me they were still expecting the Bears, the parking lot was plowed out, local roads cleared and we should have no trouble riding motorcycles to them from Interstate 78.

I sent out an e-mail to our Connecticut crew sharing my report from Pattenburg and declaring my intention to ride on the morrow.

Turns out the biggest challenge we had was salt. The Interstates were clear and dry. The state road from the Interstate to the Landslide was clear as well with only a few wet spots, those rendered liquid by copious sodium chloride deposits. Sitting here in my study, I can still hear my chrome screaming out in the garage.

I am thinking the girl reporting from the Landslide might be a good date because when we arrived there it looked like they had, at most, four inches of snow on the ground. Anyone with such an optimistic and forgiving sense of proportion gives hope to many potential suitors.

Since there are only three turns on the route from Stratford, Conn., to Pattenburg, N.J., I offered to take the lead. I had trouble with my navigation system still.

First of all it was so dang cold, the grease pencil kept chipping. It was hard to bear down enough to get a reasonable impression as I wrote my three turns on the Springer’s rear view mirror. When the pencil did chip, I had to deal with that paper wrapping, trying to get it started with a fingernail, shaking in the cold, peeling off too much paper only to break a chunk off the tip and then fumble with it all again.

Eventually I got the proper coordinates entered. But in my fighting with the grease pencil, I neglected to write the exit number off of I-78 and onto N.J. State 173 west. Such a small detail allowed my riding compatriots a bit of amusement at my expense.

I led our group of bikes off of the final interstate highway at the first exit for Route 173 west. I had remembered, even without the mirror, that it was a mere 1.6 miles from the exit to the Landslide Saloon. As the odometer clicked closer to that mark I had a sense of foreboding. We were running exactly parallel to the interstate. And as we rode beyond the distance expected, I saw up on my left, up high on the interstate, a sign declaring yet another exit for Route 173 west.

Okay, so there was a later exit. Can’t wait to hear the teasing I’ll get on this one. I can practically hear my compatriots cackling inside their helmets trailing on behind me.

We ride more than another 1.6 miles, still shadowing the interstate. And there is even another big green sign. There is yet another exit for 173 west. Who knew? Well if I had written the dang exit number on my mirror.

There’s no time for pity. My attentions are needed to negotiate a traffic circle which catches the interstate off ramp and routes it our way. The circle is strongly familiar, whereas the earlier parts of 173 west already traveled were not.

Sure enough, just up the road apiece, the interstate has fallen away now, I’m not even clocking the odometer anymore, Landslide Saloon appears on the left. I see Polar Bear Grand Tour Photographer Walter Kern standing near the first entrance. We are coming in too hot to make that one and I lead us in the second entrance to park at the end of a line of cars and trucks.

As we come clomping into the Landslide, brother Bears from deeper in New Jersey are full of excitement, stories of big snow. Flight B Leader Rich shows pictures on his camera. Indefatigable Bob Hartpence, forced onto four wheels, was holding court nonetheless.

Sign in isn’t ready yet. We take a table and settle in to order lunch. Our attentive waitress asks if we want separate checks and I assure her we mean to make no trouble and she can put us all on just one tab. She needs a name for the tab and I whimsically offer, “John.” How is she to know we are three-fifths John?

Polar Bear Grand Pooh Bah Bob is joking that Jersey has all the snow this winter. “We’ll have to truck some of it up to Canada so they can hold the winter Olympics,” he quips.

At that point Pogy, who works at Sikorsky Aircraft, says that in fact one of his company’s helicopters is transporting snow to the Vancouver slopes. Canadian TV confirms Pogy’s report. The Sikorsky S64 Skycrane, the world’s second largest helicopter, has been carrying snow to the Olympic venue. Not from New Jersey, but from further up on Cypress Mountain in British Columbia. They are also using trucks to transport snow, but Pogy’s bird delivers the freshest snow, topping off the slopes and half pipes to delight competitors.

Oh, and in case you are getting any ideas for your own ski festival, CTV reports the big helicopter rents for $10,000 per hour. Actually, that’s probably Canadian dollars, so you could get it for less here.

As New Jersey is getting pounded, Vancouver has enjoyed the warmest January in history.

Meanwhile, our food arrives. Our attentive waitress gets our orders onto the table with a smile and, unbeknownst to us, an acute ear. As she is placing the plates of food our always cheery eater grumbles something, he thought to himself only, about expecting at least a pickle to accompany his sandwich.

Well it wasn’t a moment later that our waitress brought over condiments, extra napkins and such. Then, without a word, as if by slight-of-hand, a single dill spear appeared on a small plate in front of Grumpy. And my Momma always told me you had to ask nicely!

As we finished our meals, it turns out I was right, John got the check, well at least he tried to. Feeling magnanimous, John Kammerer offered to buy us all lunch. None of the other Johns, nor Pogy or I, objected.

Captain dropped his Discover card on the check and excused himself to, as he always says, “tap a bladder.”

Meanwhile the waitress comes up, picks up the card and the check, but returns soon after. The Landslide Saloon does not accept Discover, only Master Card and Visa. Well before the rest of us can start reaching for cash, Pogy pulls his more acceptable (to the Landslide anyway) credit card and offers to buy lunch for us all.

Captain returns to his bare Discover Card on the table, the restaurant check gone, and I tell him the truth, “Your card was refused.” His eyes narrow, his nostrils flare, but he knows better than to take the bait. “That card is good,” he says, “very good.” “Well, they would not take it,” I retort. “Pogy had to pick up the tab.” John K’s blood is coming up, but John H lets slip that they don’t take Discover here. “I have other cards,” K says indignantly. “Yeah but we didn’t want to hafta wait for you,” I needle.

(That’s especially effective teasing because I, CT Blogger, Chris Loynd, am the very last Connecticut Polar Bear for anything: last to finish eating, last out of the bathroom, last to get dressed, last to square away on the motorcycle, last to show up at Dunkin’ Donuts in the morning, etc.)

Captain regains his dignity by insisting on buying coffee at Chez GSP on the way home.

Out in the Landslide parking lot we take our group photo and start bundling up for the ride home. Pogy had a handful of Connecticut Rider Education reflective safety stickers for John H, requested by Token to adorn his new BMW. Token2 is a graduate of the program. A former Connecticut Polar Bear Jim Ivanko was his instructor. Jim was one of the first to join us from Connecticut in winter riding.

As we are getting ready to go, the Captain needs gas. That’s unusually poor gas mileage for his Harley. I think it might have had something to do with the way he was snapping his throttle on and off on the ride over. I was in the lead and Captain was second bike. I noticed he kept running up on me and then drifting back. A couple of times he got so close I was tempted to kick his bike.

Since as leader I was holding a rock-steady speed, one you could set your cruise control by, I can only figure Captain’s mind was elsewhere.

We had only five bikes. It should not have been hard to maintain group riding discipline. I think our turnout was low for fear of snow. Oh, and apparently there was some football game later that day. But we made it home in plenty of time to watch the commercials.

Token2 was sweep and an admirable one. Anytime I was even thinking of changing lanes he was already there, holding back traffic creating a clear lane of opportunity for me.

I was able to complete this week’s blog during a snow day Wednesday. “Blizzard” conditions are promised. So far it’s been tolerable. Maybe tomorrow I will wake up to a driveway full.

Next week’s ride, through a trick of the calendar, falls on Valentine’s Day. Better than that, by freak luck of our riding calendar, our destination is Hooters. My wife Cynthia does not seem to appreciate the irony. Not only am I going on a Polar Bear motorcycle ride on Valentine’s Day. I have the gall to ride to Hooters. Hey babe, I love you the same each and every day of the year! (Note to self, better get candy AND flowers!)

Hooters is one of our shortest rides of the year. The Hooters in South Wayne, N.J. traditionally also has the slowest service of any Polar Bear destination. So last week we got the brilliant idea that we would arrive early, say 11:00. That way we can eat lunch and then sign in for our Polar Bear Points when the Club Officials arrive, and still be back in Connecticut before Monday.

MapQuest says travel time is 1 hour and 39 minutes. So if we leave Stratford, Conn. at 9:30 a.m., we should be to Hooters by 11:00. Oh, and the distance is 83 miles, leaving us with an unsatisfying one, yes one, mileage point. Maybe Grumpy can squeak out the extra twenty miles. Token2 will be lucky to make 100 roundtrip miles. See you Sunday!