Monday, November 29, 2010

Polar Bear Hopewell, NJ; November 28, 2010

November 28, 2010; Hopewell, NJ

By: Chris Loynd

It was a glorious day for polar bearing. Temperatures starting in the thirties had me installing my hippo hands that morning. However the sun was bright and the day warmed to near fifty degrees. I hardly used my electrics at all on the ride home.

Our destination kept us on Interstate 287, a commuter relief highway that runs well west of the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway madness. I-287 has its scenic spots. But then we exited onto Route 202 south for a bit of that “strip mall” scenery that pervades the Garden State. Eventually we got off 202 after passing through pharmacy land (also a New Jersey staple) and finally had a scenic ride through farm and horse country. It was a nice finish to the ride down. Coming from the north, we avoided any detour issues in Hopewell proper, farther south of Hillbilly Hall.

We were light, just four bikes: Pogy, Captain, Jim and I. Fearing traffic, some of our guys tried a scenic northern ride. Mac was going to join us but got a better offer at the last minute.

At Dunkin' in Stratford, Captain and I decided it was a good opportunity to have someone else lead and sweep to get a feel for it with our group. So we figured to ask whoever we met at the rest stop in Darien to take over. Pulling off we found Pogy and Jim.

Then to my dismay, but not surprise, I was no sooner stopped than Captain was leading the other two down the on-ramp. I had wanted to stop a moment because I had plugged my electrics into the wrong outlet. I was wearing my Gerbing outer jacket, which isn't much good below 50 degrees and underneath my electric jacket liner. My gloves were plugged into the sleeves of the electric liner. Back at Dunkin' I had plugged into the outer jacket which was providing minimal relief for my body and none for my hands.

Not wanting to lose the group, I chased them out of the rest stop. Then I jetted ahead to catch up to the free-running Captain, and tapping the top of my helmet pulled him, and the others onto the shoulder. I shouted my explanation, but with helmets who knows how much is heard?

As I fiddled with my electrical connections, Captain apparently recalled our Dunkin' conversation. He then pulled up next to Pogy and as we left the shoulder, Pogy was now leading and Jim was sweep. I was Pogy's wing man and Captain fell in behind me.

Pogy did a fine job. He kept a nice and steady pace. He avoided excessive lane changes. Except for missing one of those #%^@* New Jersey jug handles, he was fairly flawless.

I kept as steady in my position as I could to help him out. If you are lead bike, but your wing man is not attentive, you lose the ability to make subtle changes in speed to allow for merging cars, passing, etc. Instead, the wing man becomes the de facto lead rider.

Captain vacillated up and back a bit. But the Captain does that. Usually he is fiddling with something on his bike: GPS, Citizens Band Radio, Weather Receiver, Radar, Sonar, whatever. He has his Road King and Gold Wing loaded with gadgets.

(What a s**t show this MetroNorth railroad offers! I generally like to write my blog on my Monday, sometimes Tuesday, commute from Stratford to Norwalk. This morning I am sitting in an unheated car. It's the second such cold trip this month. The best thing you can say about the train is it is slightly better than the disaster known as I-95.)

Hillbilly Hall was warm and inviting. We had a nice lunch next to a beautiful fire. Cream of broccoli soup was especially delightful. The Ruben was tasty and nicely broiled with the cheese crisp around the edges. Pogy asked the waitress if the sandwich was good here before he ordered. She assured him it was. After she left Captain wondered aloud if she would have said differently. Jim said his experience is that now and then he has encountered honest waitresses who suggested he make another choice. Fortunately, our waitress was telling the truth, fully backed by the kitchen, and she delivered three Ruben sandwiches with crisp fries. Captain had chicken, as always.

Lunchtime conversation drifted dangerously into politics. It started with airport screening. Captain stated he did not feel anyone had a right to avoid the pat downs and low dose x-rays. I suggested such rights were in something called The Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Then we got into 9-11 and whether or not Muslim countries should have apologized. Pogy has considerable dealings throughout the world, including Muslim countries, and his take is that most Muslims are mortified at the portrayal of their religion as terrorist.

My thought is that all religions are terrorist, or at least can be bent to those purposes. No other human invention has the ability to pacify the masses while simultaneously spurring them to worldwide domination. In our lunch conversation, I pointed out it was the Christians that started the Crusades, not the Muslims.

(We all agreed how conveniently history is forgotten or ignored.)

Has the Catholic Church ever apologized for the Spanish Inquisition or witch trials? They excommunicated Galileo for having the temerity to suggest Earth was not the center of the Universe held him in house arrest for the rest of his life, then banished him to purgatory, if you believe in such a thing. He was then stuck there 400 years until Pope John Paul II admitted the church made a mistake.

So maybe the Saudis have a bit of time still to formulate their response.

America has yet to apologize to its Indians or the Vietnamese. Yet we allow casinos as recompense to the former and buy shrimp and sneakers from the latter.

One of the fun things about writing this blog is getting in the last word. But you are welcome to offer you insights. You can e-mail them to me for the photo blog, or post them yourself on the Blog Spot version. I ask only that you avoid profanity and any direct slander of your fellow motorcycle riders.

It's amazing, isn't it, how something as simple as riding motorcycles can bring together such disparate views in a common purpose. We come from all different strata of life, with wide ranging opinions on politics and religion, yet we can agree on riding procedures and lunch, and sometimes, on avoiding traffic.

So we figured to move with alacrity from Hillbilly Hall to avoid traffic, deciding to skip the traditional coffee stop on the return trip as well. Turns out the only thing we had to fear was fear itself.

We cruised nicely up 287 north. Pogy went to follow his GPS' instruction to take 78 to the George Washington Bridge. But as the off-ramp approached, he saw me going wide to stay on 287 and he cut back over.

Approaching the intersection of the Garden State Parkway and I-287 we hit some slow traffic. Maybe we did eight miles of slow traffic. Of that, only the smallest part was stop-and-go. For the most part we putted along feet-up. Once past the exit for the Palisades Parkway, things picked up nicely.

Really the worst traffic we hit was in Connecticut. But that is always the case. I have traveled around this country and Canada, by motorcycle and car, and invariably the worst traffic jams are in this over packed state of ours. You can sail past New York City and still get slammed on I-95 approaching Stamford, the Merrit Parkway approaching Greenwich or I-84 approaching Danbury, in the middle of the night, on a weekday. There's no easy way in or out of this frickin' state.

So it was Trumbull Mall traffic that slammed us hardest. We were on the Merritt Parkway. Fortunately, I had Captain who knows every back road in and around Bridgeport. We tolerated the parkway traffic only long enough to catch the Route 59 exit in Fairfield. Captain, who I am sure enjoyed the opportunity to show off his local navigation skills, led us over one road and down the next 'till we popped out in Stratford with but a trifle of stop signs and stop lights impeding our progress.

It was doubly enjoyable for me because I followed Captain all the way to a convenient to both of us gas station and then accepted his invitation to visit his home, currently under extensive renovations.

Captain is taking his abode off the grid. A new roof, turned and reoriented to catch the southern exposure, is covered in solar panels for heat, hot water and electricity. He confidently said that when completed he will be selling electricity back to the power company. He has a battery array that will support his home, refrigerator, microwave, TV, et. al., for three days bereft of sunshine. Sort of like a submarine on land, if you will.

Me, I am perhaps a fatalist instead of a survivalist. When the apocalypse comes, I am more in mind to watch it unfurl with a glass of good port and a fine cigar. But if you want to run and hide for a chance to emerge in the smoldering aftermath, here's Captain's home address: 1313 Mockingbird Lane, what?, you thought I would really do that to one of my riding buddies? Besides, Captain would probably shoot you anyway. He wouldn't want to. But in dire circumstances . . .well, did you read last week's blog?

Meanwhile, if the end of the world holds off until this summer, Captain and I fantasized about a CT Polar Bear party on his newly-built deck, overlooking his newly-built dock on the Housatonic River. Maybe Pogy can bring his boat up and offer some party cruises as well?

If the world still exists this Sunday, and the weather's amenable, I plan on riding to Montgomeryville Cycle Center. It's one of our longer rides, famous for good food and bad weather. Here's hoping we get lucky on both.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Polar Bear Port Jervis, NY; November 21, 2010

Polar Bear Port Jervis, NY; November 21, 2010

By: Chris Loynd

Well the chill is in the air, but not yet the winter. I still have not installed my hippo hands. Fonz got a new set and I like the way they fit over his master cylinder. He got the actual, branded, Hippo Hands. I have a knockoff pair.

Fonz had his electrics this time, but I didn't get a chance to get his report on how he liked them. More on that later in the blog.

Pogy had navigation problems. Fortunately, he had some good bikes to lead him to and fro. Every week I send out an alert e-mail to our Connecticut and affiliated Polar Bears. In that e-mail I detail our destination and departure time. For years now I have repeated the same line, over and over, that we meet at the Dunkin' Donuts in Stratford, just off I-95, Exit 30, at the corner of Lordship Blvd. and Honeyspot Rd. So last week I finally got tired of repeating myself, figured everyone knew the Dunkin' by now, and merely said we would meet at the Dunkin' on Lordship Blvd. In so doing, we almost lost Pogy before we started.

My first clue to Pogy's navigation issues should have been a couple days earlier when he asked if I meant to say we were going to Port Jervis in New Jersey, not New York. I flippantly replied that we would stop at the first Port Jervis we came to on Interstate 84.

Port Jervis, New York, is right at the confluence of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So I figured Pogy was looking at a map and was simply mistakenly identifying the state.

Turns out when we got a chance to talk at lunch in Port Jervis, NY, he was thinking of Port Jarvis, NJ. He was headed for the Jersey shore. Glad he didn't set his sights on that one! And by the way, Google has never heard of the place!

I guess he was consulting his naval charts instead of land maps.

At the Cornucopia, he made a disparaging comment such that Port Jervis must not be much of a port because it is inland. In fact it was once a very important port on the Delaware River, doubly so in 1828 when the Hudson and Delaware canal was completed. The canal created a highly profitable conduit for Pennsylvania anthracite coal from the Moosic mountains to New York City. It offered an American answer to problems caused by importation of British bituminous coal. The city was renamed from the Indian settlement inspired Mahackamack to Port Jervis in honor of John Bloomfield Jervis, an engineer on the canal project.

Port Jervis' other claims to fame include being raided and burned before the Batle of Minisink in 1779 and for a famous lynching in 1892. More recently Port Jervis was named #1 coolest small town by Budget Magazine.

Maybe the confusion is because Pogy has the heart of a waterman. He has a boat for pleasure cruising. But he also rides a working boat for leisure. When he's not fishing for helicopter buyers, his idea of a good time is the kind of work most people say is a very tough way to make a living. I forget if it was dredging for oysters or pulling lobster traps. It is hard, wet, often cold work, generally started before dawn and pursued in all weather. Long Island Sound ain't exactly “Deadliest Catch,” still it is tough stuff, double tough. But Pogy does it for fun.

Meanwhile, the one week I don't give the exact Dunkin' meeting location in my pre-ride e-mail, Pogy decides to ride up from Norwalk to meet us in Stratford and is waiting at another Dunkin' in Stratford. (Usually we pick him up en route at the Darien rest stop on I-95.) Pogy said he thought I meant this other, particular Dunkin' on Lordship Blvd. But no matter how you fold the map, he was sitting at the corner of Main St. and Access Rd. He did get the right town, thank heavens.

Fortunately, I live nearby and Pogy saw me blow by his Dunkin' on my way to the Dunkin' where the rest of us CT Bears were waiting. (I thought those Gold Wings had GPS built in?)

He fired up the Gold Wing and caught up to us before we departed.

As did Fonz, see his explanation in the photo version of the blog at: . He pulled a “Chris” by showing up just as everyone else was kicking up their kickstands.

After the grumbling last week about our group riding technique, and despite your Blogger's perfect ride leadership skills, we decided to break into two groups this week. It certainly is easier to manage. But as one of our guys said, it is not nearly as cool.

I took the first group. We put the biggest grumbler from last week at the head of the second column.

It was gratifying to see that our CT Bears are reading the blog. Last week I spent a bit of space in this blog reviewing proper group riding technique with an emphasis on lane changing. I am happy to report, as evidenced by looking through my rear view mirrors, my words were not wasted.

We enjoyed a smooth and flawless ride. It is also a pretty one, if a biker can use such terms.

Connecticut's Route 34 is scenic and twisty, angling from Derby to Danbury. Then Interstate 84 is far less frenetic than I-95. It is far enough away from New York City to make it somewhat pleasurable to ride, especially when traffic is light.

You go up and down some mountains, the high points opening to vista views. Much of the road also follows rivers and these are lined with willow trees, still holding their thousands of tiny yellow leaflets when the other deciduous trees have relinquished their coverings. This makes the willows' cascading branches look like fireworks fountains scattered amongst the winter-dead landscape.

The Cornucopia in Port Jervis has a nice, big, paved parking lot. My group arrived first and I was able to get off my bike in time to catch some good riding shots of our second group arriving.

Proprietors offered a delicious buffet at a bargain 10 bucks. We were early enough to be first through the line. It appeared we were the only ones eating. Hopefully the crowd picked up later. The restaurant does a nice job of accommodating the Bears and deserves to be rewarded.

CT Bear talk was mostly of motorcycle things. Russ was telling big stories, as only Russ can do. Some of the discussion was about the upcoming Sunday's ride. It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving and last year we spent a bit of time in traffic. Unfortunately, being from Connecticut we have to get around New York City and over the Hudson River to get home after visiting Hillybilly Hall. Ugh!

For some reason, there was a lot of talk of carry permits. (This too came into play later in the day.)

Discussion revolved around which states offered reciprocal permits, apparently anyone from anywhere can carry a concealed weapon in Florida. There was some knowledgeable advice on how to transport a gun across states where you do not have a permit. All I know is if we are ever stopped and searched, I know nothing! I hear nothing! I see nothing! I say nothing!

On the other hand, if the Polar Bear Grand Tour ever adds a Newark destination, I would not want to ride with anybody but these guys.

For the ride home, I asked Captain to switch places with me; he would take lead and I would be sweep. I was unfamiliar with the Danbury Starbucks where we planned to take our coffee break. Another seemingly small decision had hour-long consequences.

Captain quickly capitulated to Bart. I'm not sure why. It really mattered not to me, except that Bart was maybe a little heavy on the horses for my taste.

I figure my old girl with 130,000-plus miles on the original mill will last the Polar Bear season if I baby her. I am no mechanic, but I do have some intrinsic sense that all the moving parts work harder at 80 mph than they do at 70.

Nonetheless, I kept up with the group.

Everybody should ride sweep at some time. You see everything. You see smooth riders, and jerky ones, and suffer most by the rubber band speeds caused by the jerky ones. You see riders who hold their lane position, and others who wander such that you wonder if they suffer vertigo.

Since my mini treatise on group riding last week seemed to bear fruit, here is another installment.

Group riding is not like riding by yourself or with a friend or two. You have a responsibility to the other riders in your group. Group riding requires a far higher attention and awareness than cruising by yourself on a Sunday afternoon.

To be fair to your fellow riders, you need to stay in your space, horizontally and vertically, as tightly as possible. You should make micro adjustments in your speed, not macro ones. Rolling off then speeding up is multiplied by every bike behind you trying to adjust to your inattentiveness. The sweep rider gets the worst of it.

Drifting left and right scares your fellow riders. They don't know if you are not paying attention or unable to ride smoothly in a straight line. Neither is a safe nor comfortable conclusion.

On the ride home we had some confusion at the Beacon Falls bridge tolls. Gates again. Wonder if some of these guys' EZ Passes ever read?

We managed to regroup and rode for a bit then Captain dropped out and onto the shoulder. As sweep, I dropped out to see what was up. Kevin dropped out too. As I rode up to the Captain, his bike was complaining loudly, “clack, clack, clack.” Captain shouted, “I think it's a bearing.”

Have you seen the tee shirts “Ride it Like You Stole it”? Well Captain rode it like he was gonna blow it. It didn't. Blow up, that is. But the motor did stop. Captain coasted along the shoulder until he found a mile marker sign.

I'm following, thinking, “Stop here. This is the sunny spot.” But the mile marker was in deep shade.

Hey, sun can make a big difference in warmth on a cold November day.

“I'm done,” Captain said as I pulled alongside. Kevin dropped to the shoulder too. Per procedure, the rest of the bikes kept going, headed to warm lattes in Danbury.

One of the foibles of Harley Owners' Group towing insurance is that they will tow your bike only to the nearest Harley dealership. That would have meant Danbury H-D. And then Captain would have to travel back and forth an hour one way from his Milford home. So instead he called his insurance company. Only they pretended not to know him.

First they said he would have to pay for the tow because they could not find his policy. “Fine, lady, I'll pay,” Captain said, “just send someone to come get me!”

Next they asked his permission to access the GPS function on his cell phone to verify his position. “Fine lady,” Captain said, “just send someone to come get me!”

Okay, they said they would call back. Then Captain's Blackberry bit the big one.

Next he called the insurance company back on my cell phone and gave them that number as an alternate call back number. I don't know if he let them access my GPS function. But I have noticed the geckos at the Aquarium looking at me in a strange way.

Captain discovered that by keeping his Blackberry stored in his armpit he was able to squeeze a few more moments out of the battery. I told you to stop in the sunshine.

In fact, getting cold, Kevin and I decided to push Captain's bike up the hill to a sunny spot on the shoulder. This was the same time the State Trooper decided to stop by.

I walked back and told him the guy up the hill was the one with trouble. So he pulled his squad car out and around to the Captain. I followed on my bike. Kevin decided he was superfluous and headed for home.

Turns out the insurance company sent the state trooper to verify Captain was in fact broken down on the shoulder of Interstate 84.

The cop took Captain's license and walked back to his car. “They're checking for wants and warrants,” Captain explained. “You're not packing?” I asked, considering the lunchtime conversation. I mean I figure being sweep bike obligates me to spend an hour or two on the shoulder with a broken down bike. But a night in jail seems over and above the call of duty.

Captain immediately responded with a firm “no” delivered with a warm and confident smile. At first I was relieved. But then I thought to myself that his response was the standard one anyone carrying a concealed gun would give. What good is it to carry a CONCEALED weapon if everyone knows you have one? I must say Captain delivered the line well.

Now that we had been properly identified and verified, the trooper cleared a tow truck who was only some 15 minutes away. (Fortunately the officer did not ask to search us.) In fact, the trooper was great and offered to let us warm up in his car. But my heart was still pumping, a trickle of sweat rolling down my back, after pushing Captain's bike up the hill. Plus now we were standing in streaming sunlight.

We told the trooper we were good and he said to just call if we needed anything.

Sure enough some 15 minutes later the tow truck appears.

We spent 45 minutes arranging for a tow truck that was waiting for a call a mere 15 minutes away. Hmmm, seems the logistics workers at the insurance company could have done a better job.

Captain negotiates a ride to his shop, Laurel and Harley in Stratford. We strap his Road King to the roll back truck. I offered to follow Captain and the truck to Stratford. I live there and figured I could get my car to give Captain a ride home from the shop.

Captain said the tow truck driver said he liked to haul ass. And he did. There went that many more RPMs on my old Springer's mill. But we all got home just fine. Next Sunday, Captain will be on his Wing. I hear they never break down.

Thank you Captain for teaching me a valuable lesson. I had always worried, been afraid even, of breaking down. My bike has so far had a legendary ability to break down only on the doorstop of a qualified Harley-Davidson dealership.

But Captain demonstrated for me that it's no big deal.

All told we were delayed a bit more than an hour. The insurance company, state police and tow company came to our aid; they were friendly, competent and capable. Captain later said the insurance company eventually recognized him and will reimburse his expenditure.

I will bring my cell phone charger with me on every ride from now on. And I will pick up one of those battery-operated emergency phone chargers as a back up solution.

Still, I am no longer afraid to “Ride it 'Till it Quits.” See you Sunday. Maybe.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Polar Bear Old Bridge, NJ; November 14, 2010

Old Bridge, NJ; November 14, 2010

By: Chris Loynd

Indian Summer! Are there any two descriptive words more delicious to the psyche?

Well, thinking upon it, perhaps there are a few others: winning ticket, tax refund, motel sex.

It was a gorgeous Indian Summer weekend. Every convertible owner dropped his top. I saw a beautiful Morgan tooling along with a spry older couple. Joggers reverted to shorts. Folks in their shirtsleeves were out in their yards raking leaves. Motorcycles appeared like mushrooms after a summer rain.

It was a wonderful day to ride, almost too warm for Polar Bear motorcycles. Likely I could have done with one less layer. I plugged in my electric jacket and gloves, but barely employed them. And when we got stuck in stop-and-go traffic on Route 18 north headed home, I cooked. It felt great.

I do not choose to ride my motorcycle in winter because I like being cold. I much prefer riding across Arizona mesas in streaming sun wearing my mesh jacket. I ride in winter because I cannot imagine putting my motorcycle away for three months. I would love it if polar bear season was like this every weekend. Ah, but fate landed me in Stratford, not Savannah.

Warm weather means big turnouts. We drew a crowd that eventually swelled to 12 bikes.

At the Dunkin' Donuts in Stratford, at a very reasonable morning hour of 9:30, owing to the short distance, Captain and your blogger had a discussion about breaking into two groups.

Riding in one large group can have some special challenges. Ten or more motorcycles, riding in staggered formation, gets to be a very long line. Leading such is like managing a train running through multi-lane interstates. Lane changing must be kept to an absolute minimum.

Still the Captain convinced me to keep together in one group with this statement, “These guys are all good riders. They know what to do.”

John J. was offered the lead, cajoled may be more like it. He whiffed. So I stepped up to the challenge. John J. instead fell in as the last bike, the “sweep” position.

Isn't it amazing how small, seemingly innocuous, decisions can have major consequences, unforeseen?

“We don't need enough lifeboats for every passenger; Titanic is unsinkable.” “We can get the Donner wagons over the mountains before the really heavy snows come.” “Read my lips, no new taxes.”

We left Stratford with a manageable eight bikes. Even with that many, it is nearly impossible for the lead bike to see the sweep, the sweep being just too far back. So we rely upon some procedures to manage the ride so it is fun and safe and successful for all.

Each rider knows his place in a safe, staggered, formation. It is important that the group remain tight to prevent the incursion of cars. Each rider holds his lane position.

There are special duties for the lead and sweep riders.

The lead has to find very big holes in traffic before signaling for a lane change. He has to allow for merging on ramps; tolls can be a real challenge.

The sweep watches for what the lead can't see. He picks up stragglers and clears for lane changes.

Changing lanes with a big group of bikes can be done safely and smoothly, if the riders are disciplined. The lead signals a lane change but does not move. All the other bikes pass the signal back to the sweep, but do NOT move. When traffic is clear the sweep moves over. Now the line of bikes controls two lanes, the current and future lanes.

Any cars stuck next to the bikes in the target lane will move up and out of the way. The sweep holds the lane, preventing any other cars from entering. When the lane is clear the lead moves over, all the other bikes following.

When done properly it is a marvel to see.

Unfortunately, some guy in the middle typically just can't wait. He sees the signal to move and jumps over to the next lane, effectively trapping a car in the space the sweep had hoped to clear. Now the sweep, and any bikes ahead of him but behind the trapped car, must make a dash around to get in front of the trapped car and back in line.

I digress, dear blog reader, but only slightly.

Sunday we had a new rider, Bob V., self-admitted Polar Cub, still Bob is an experienced rider and road captain and knows the drill.

Bob does not have EZ Pass and clearly announced that ahead of time.

So the way that works is as we approach a toll, the rider without EZ Pass zooms ahead a bit, headed for the cash lane. Meanwhile the leader slows the rest of the group approaching the EZ Pass lanes. If the leader figures the differential correctly, the rider paying cash is ready to rejoin the line just as the Pass riders exit the tolls.

Sounds good, right?

We reviewed the procedure with Bob\ and headed south.

We exited at the Darien rest stop to pick up three more riders: Jim, Fonz and Scott.

I planned to exit – instead of picking them up as we rode by like we usually do – because Fonz needed some adaptive connectors I had for an electric vest he was going to borrow from Pogy. So far Fonz has been trying to get by with a battery powered vest for warmth, as in running off of a 9-volt in his pocket, instead of wired to his motorcycle's electrical system.

No really. Batteries. It works fine when Fonz is standing still. But at speed it is probably good so long as the ambient temperature is above 70 degrees.

Only Fonz did not borrow the vest, forgot about the connectors, and expected us to just blow by on the Interstate side. He had his other riders hyped to run down the on ramp to join our line of bikes. That explains the quizzical look Fonz gave me when I pulled to a stop next to him.

“Connectors?” I shouted. “I'm good,” Fonz shouted back.

Scott is something of a new Bear. He tried a Polar Bear run a year ago, or was it two? He got as far as the Greenwich rest stop on the Merritt Parkway, declared us all crazy, and rode home.

This year Scott is on a new Harley Softail, equipped with electrics, and ready to ride. Although he still eschews rain riding.

We motored on, now a longish line of eleven.

At the Hutch Parkway we picked up Token, making us dozen bikes long.

That gets to be a lot of motorcycles to keep in line.

After picking up Token, we merged onto the Hutchinson Parkway in bits and pieces, but managed to re-form our line.

We held our own just fine until we hit the toll booths at the top of the West Side Highway in New York City.

That booth has the distinction of having gates, even in the EZ Pass lane. Captain mowed one of them down a few years back.

About half our EZ Passes would not activate the gates. Mine worked just fine.

With no shoulder to regroup, I rode down the right lane of the highway at about 10 miles per hour.

When I guesstimated I had most of our guys, I headed for the GW Bridge exit. There is a stop sign at the end of the exit, and I figured I could stop there and count heads. Which I did. And thank you so much to the New York driver who shouted encouragement and suggested I just keep going. Excuse me, but I have a right to stop at a STOP sign, even in New York City.

Back in a tight group we managed the bridge okay and headed toward the NJ Turnpike.

Now I am hoping Bob V remembered his role.

Sure enough, approaching the NJ Turnpike toll plaza, Bob pulls out next to us, zooms ahead, and runs right through the EZ Pass only speed lanes. Wha?

As I caught up to him, Bob just gave a shrug and dropped back into line.

Well, I figured he could sort it all out at Exit 9.

Meanwhile as we motored down the Jersey Turnpike in relatively light traffic, apparently Token became annoyed with my perfectly precise group leadership. I try to lead a group ride like I have a cruise control throttle, which I don't. I set a smooth and reasonable pace.

I find big gaps and make smooth lane changes and minimize the number of changes. I carefully pick the route sure to give us the least troubles. I judiciously apply my skills, always vigilant to the rear view mirrors, my only thought the comfort and safety of my fellow riders.

Apparently this was all too bucolic for Token. He got bored and came jetting up the passing lane. Abreast of my position he slowed for a moment and began gesturing. Only he used none of the pre-approved road captain hand gestures. It's not that he was giving nasty gestures. I just had absolutely no idea what he wanted to convey. As Russ said, “Even Token's hand gestures have an accent.”

After Token defected, we rode smoothly down to Exit 9 and left the Turnpike.

Past the toll plaza there really is no good spot to pull over what was now 11 bikes. And after the exit we must run a gauntlet of stop lights. This is where the lead bike really has to rely upon his sweep. With a long line it is impossible to see if every bike gets through on green. Little did I know John J. had abdicated.

John J. just sped off with the rest of us, leaving poor Bobby V. at the toll plaza. For all we know Bob could have been in handcuffs for his earlier EZ Pass Only violation. We never saw him again.
John J. should have held back and led the straggler to our destination. He would make a lousy cowboy.

John J. did leave a voice mail for Bob V. But it went unanswered and we never saw Bob again.

Fortunately, Captain heard from Bob V. later that night. After getting lost, Bob decided to turn around and head back home, alone, missing lunch.

Despite his shabby treatment, Bob said he may try to ride with us again. I'll bet he puts the destination into his GPS this time!

And despite his malfeasance, John J. will be welcome to join us again, because, after all, who among us has never made a mistake?

Likely John J. and I will both choose the middle of the pack on this Sunday's ride. We'll let someone else take the heat and see what happens. “How is it you can see the mote in my eye and not the log in your own?”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Polar Bear Lewes, Del., November 7, 2010

Lewes, Del., November 7, 2010

Part of the fun of Polar Bear riding is riding with friends. It is also one of the challenges. Our different riding habits and personalities make good blog fodder.

Russ, Carl and I rode down together on Saturday, a day early for our Sunday Polar Bear run to the club's self-acclaimed “South Pole” in Lewes, Del. (If you're a local, that's pronounced “lose,” not “Lewis.”)

Russ' brother lives on a farm in southern New Jersey. My folks live in Wilmington, Del. We both exited the turnpike at number two.

I was headed to my folks' home to do some chores for Mom, visit with Dad and play with Heidi their Schnauzerdoodle. Mom rewards me with scrapple breakfast. Russ and Carl I think skipped the chores, but got scrapple breakfast all the same. Carl even texted photo proof to me Sunday morning.

Scrapple is a Pennsylvania Dutch thing. My folks are from Lancaster County. I was actually born in Lancaster and lived in Intercourse for five years before we moved just over the line to Delaware. That State paid school teachers better and therefore my father's prospects (and not inconsequentially my own) improved.

Scrapple is traditionally made with all the parts of a pig that are not good enough to go into sausage. You mix what's left of the hog with oatmeal and spices and press it into blocks. Later you slice the blocks and fry it, hot, on both sides. It may be what some folks would call an “acquired” taste. But I grew up on the stuff.

My Grandfather Loynd was once a butcher and explained it this way, “You butcher the hog and cut out all the fine cuts, pork chops, loin, and such, plus the bacon. Then all the little trimmings and bits that are any good go into sausage. Next you collect up everything else and that makes scrapple. Then you sweep the floor and that makes puddin'.”

Russ and his brothers go in together to raise some pigs on the Jersey farm. They like scrapple so much they grind up the whole hog for it. That makes some mighty fine scrapple; I have had the pleasure of sampling such.

I once went through scrapple withdrawal when I lived in Milwaukee. I got so desperate I made some myself. I used pork tenderloin and it made some of the best scrapple I ever tasted. But it was a lot of work with the food processor.

Standing at the Stratford Dunkin' Saturday, visions of scrapple dancing in our heads, Russ and I began the parlay as to how we should organize our group ride. Even for just three riders it can be delicate negotiations. For my opening play I graciously conceded the lead to Russ.

But Russ countered, saying he wanted to sweep because the metal rods in his hand sometimes caused unexpected throttle surging and he would go shooting up in speed. “Uh, isn't that all the more reason to put you up front?” I asked. “I mean if you're going to suddenly go shooting up through the bikes.”

But what Russ meant is that it is easier for him if someone else sets the pace so he can follow.

I shouted over to Carl, “You okay with the rocking chair?” Carl responded, “Sofa!” Okay. We're off.

We had a nice ride down in reasonably light traffic. We made one comfort stop just after the turnpike un-split itself. Looking at the line at the pumps we decided to stretch our tanks to Exit 2.

At our comfort stop I suggested we could meet up again Sunday morning to resume our ride to Lewes. I had gone on Google Earth and found a Dunkin' Donuts on Route 13 just below I-295. Russ and Carl would be approaching from the east, I from the west. It seemed an easy place to reconvene.

The address was 1001 North DuPont Highway.

Perhaps it is a foible of my profession. I am often guilty of providing too much information. Attempting to ensure absolutely clear communication, I confuse my listeners by explaining something in greater and greater illustrative detail.

In that spirit, I cautioned the guys that our meeting place was on the southbound side of North DuPont Highway. Carl punched 1001 SOUTH DuPont Highway into his GPS Saturday night. And I never saw them again until Lewes.

Now Carl and Russ both passed lie detector tests, administered by the Delaware State Police, swearing that your faithful blogger told them the address was SOUTH DuPont highway. I don't think so even today. I even gave Carl a written note, which he acknowledged receiving. Still, I do have to admit I am reaching an age where I hear one thought in my head and somehow enunciate another, entirely different thought, through my mouth.

I described at length, in pictorial detail, with elaborate hand gestures, how they would come over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, exit onto 295, then turn south onto 13, and finally see the Dunkin' on their right. I described the pink and orange logo they would see, on the sign, at the facility, on Route 13, southbound.

The final result says something about the faith my fellow riders have in me. Russ and Carl blindly let their GPS take them down a dead end dirt road in the middle of the worst part of New Castle, Del., to a small church, on South DuPont Highway before they called me on the phone to express their confusion. Fortunately Russ says he was “saved” right there in the dirt parking lot as Carl and I sorted out the mishap via cell phone.

I took Carl's call standing on the berm in front of the Dunkin' overlooking Route 13, watching the rest of our guys blow by, all the way down from Connecticut, they having departed early Sunday morning.

Carl and I tried to coordinate a second meeting place. I proposed just after the toll booths after they cross the C&D canal. I even babbled on about what the bridge looked like, what a canal was, where we could meet after the tolls.

I stood on the shoulder of the road past the bridge tolls for 20 minutes. Neither Russ nor Carl appeared. Neither phone call nor text was received by me. I finally sent Carl a text to tell him I would see them in Lewes; his voice mail was accepting no inbound messages.

Turns out, Carl and Russ also saw our guys go by and decided to chase after them, and without so much as a “by your leave” to me.

When I finally arrived at Lewes, after waiting for Russ and Carl to never show, twice, I got all the excoriation about being late. Grumpy even took the group photo without me. Talk about insult on injury!

So this is the second time in as many rides my “pals” have left me behind and out. Maybe they're trying to tell me something?

I mean our guys were picking up random riders at rest stops on the way down. And they couldn't grab me on the way? They picked up another foreigner, Jim, from New York, when they pulled in for gas on the turnpike.

New Jersey Matt may have started something here with non-Connecticut, Connecticut Polar Bears. Who knows? Maybe someday in the future there will be a Connecticut location on the Polar Bear calendar.

Riding alone in my thoughts, I drifted back a few years in my mind. It felt good to me to be back on the Delmarva peninsula. (Delmarva stands for Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.)

My first job after graduating from college was here. I was running all over downstate Delaware, the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the Virginia peninsula writing stories for “The Delmarva Farmer” weekly newspaper.

Our copy deadline was Sunday at noon. I used to party Friday and Saturday nights with some girls I knew in high school who rented a house over in Sea Isle City, on the Jersey Shore. (“Jacks” had a soft ice cream machine at every corner of their Tiki bar that dispensed pina coladas.) Then early Sunday morning I would haul my butt onto the first Cape May to Lewes ferry, drive across Delaware, then across the Eastern Shore of Maryland to arrive bleary eyed, copy in hand, at the newspaper offices.

I would stay over in Easton Sunday night because our print deadline was noon Monday. We put the paper together in a mad frenzy Monday morning. These were pre-computer days with waxed galleys and literal cut and paste.

There was this typesetter girl on the night shift. She was kinda quiet and cute. Pretty, not in the hot babe way that young men seek, but attractive and trim. I noticed her. However the whole typesetting department was young girls. This was this one proofreader too. She was a hot babe type. Couldn't spell and was a critic of sentence structure. But who could get mad at her randomly rewriting my copy with a body like that? So I was too distracted to much notice Cynthia Trever.

It took a bit more effort on both our parts for me to discover that behind that quiet front of hers was a sharp wit and smart mind and a hidden feisty nature. She was nervous in some things, sure in others. She was independent. She asked for nothing and offered everything.

I danced with her at the company Christmas party, right about this time of year in 1979. But I didn't remember her. I danced with a lot of girls from work that night. The date I brought to the party didn't dance.

A week later at our more informal, back-shop, holiday party I was sitting on a concrete step to the press room, eating some oysters, chatting with my boss. That typesetter girl came up and said, “So Chris, when are you taking me dancing again?” Not missing a beat I said, "How about next Saturday?" We made the date.

After she left, my boss asked, “This happen to you often?” “Oh, all the time,” I replied.

Cynthia Trever and I ended up getting married after we got to know each other a lot better, sometimes over scrapple sandwiches at the H&G restaurant in Easton, on Route 50, northbound side.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Polar Bear Cape May, Oct. 31, 2010

Cape May, October 31

40's to start, 60's midday, back to 40's

Eight years ago I read a story in my American Motorcyclist Association magazine about a club that rode together only in winter. New to motorcycling, I deemed to give it a try. I liked it. I did that first ride alone, but then let a few friends in on it. They brought more friends. And I am amazed at how it evolved. (You can read the story of my first ride on my web site blog:

I brought the Polar Bear club to Connecticut. Introduced it here. Brought all these guys along. And last Sunday those same bastards left me behind at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway because I couldn't get my gloves on fast enough. Ingrates all!

Still, I would not change these pals for the world. And every season we pick up a few new maniacs. You are welcome to join us.

This year 10 of us rode to Cape May from Connecticut on the season opener, 450 miles round trip from Stratford. We started and finished in the dark. We rode, laughed, waited in line, lunched and teased each other.

We have little in common except motorcycles. Some of us are liberals. Others are conservatives. Others (Captain) are chicken little. One even has dual citizenship and talks funny.

We see more of each other in winter than summer.

Winter riding inspires ridiculous behavior.

Grumpy is going to double up on night shift, 24 straight weeks, so he can make more Polar Bear rides. Captain showed up Sunday with four sets of blood donation points plus a corn boil. Pogy made tee shirts for everyone, on his own dime, doling out the largess at our first rest stop. Big Matt rode up to Connecticut from New Jersey, turning right around to then join us on the ride back south. (It's not the first time Matt has done this.) Jim missed our departure time e-mail and so rode down to Cape May on his own, meeting us there for the ride back home.

Russ is on a new bike this season, his third in as many years. His Harley Wide Glide was good for quite a few years. The dresser he didn't like so much but fortunately an inattentive driver took it off his hands. She almost took his hand too, but Russ kept it, with the help of a few metal rods. Now he's on a Heritage Softail, similar to my bike, but without the spiffy springer front end.

Russ saw my bike in the service bay at Brothers Harley-Davidson. Being a superbly nosy guy, he asked Service Manager Marcel what I was having done. Marcel answered “rocker berings” at which point Russ called (I presume) every HOG and Polar Bear club member that may have even remote knowledge of me and my bike and told them I was finally in for an engine rebuild. I have 130,000 miles on the original mill.

I arrived in Cape May to a barrage of questions and genuine (I think) concern for my bike. Rocker bearings? Engine job? What?

At first I figured Russ was just being Russ, starting rumors, telling stories, embellishing. Then it occurred to me. No guys, the bearings replaced on my bike last week were in the rocker arms of my springer front end.

By the way, the mechanics at Brothers tell me my former dealership should have caught them a lot sooner. One was just flopping around in its race. I have to admit the bike rides a lot tighter now. I took the ol' gal on a 7,500 mile ride in August. You can see my photos on Flicker here:

Pogy joined us officially this year. He caught up with the group mid-season last year and liked it. I had talked to him for years about riding with us. Hey Pogy, try it, you'll like it! Now he is registered as a Flight B bear. A few more rides and he will earn the coveted Polar Bear patch.

By the way, Grumpy, remember Pogy can't get the CT patch until he first earns his rides and New Jersey patch. I forgot to mention that as he was asking about obtaining a Connecticut patch last Sunday. You can give out all the cool tee shirts you want, Pog, but you still gotta do the rides!

Jim showed up too, riding down on his own as described previously. He also signed up for the first time this year. So we've added two new Connecticut bears to the official roster.

Jim also received a typical Connecticut Polar Bear hazing. We ran him out of gas on the ride home. “Oh the first rest stop is just a few miles,” Grumpy said. Fortunately Jim was able to bounce the last ounce out of his tank to make the few hundred yards to the station, sputtering all the way.

We saw official Grand Tour photographer Walter Kern outside the VFW and I proudly showed him my new polar bear rider pinup girl on my rear fender. At which point my guys started yelling about the tattoo. Wearing all long sleeves, I had to strip off my shirts to show it. Walter took a picture for the club site.

We lost a couple riders on this trip due to health. Carl showed up at our Stratford start but dropped out a few exits later because he wasn't feeling up to the ride. Token rode with Bart down to their pickup point at the Hutch and 287, but turned around back to home before we arrived. It says something about both fellows' desire to ride that they tried. After next week's ride to Lewes, Del., the distances are shorter. Hopefully they both feel better in a week or two.

And so we embark with eager anticipation of a good season of winter riding. Hopefully we can avoid any snow or ice storms requiring a long ride in Captain's hairmobile.

Thank you to the New Jersey organizers for allowing us to join their club. It truly is more a New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware endeavor. Yet they welcome us with open arms.