Sunday, March 4, 2012

Highlands, NJ, February 26, 2012, Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog

Polar Bear Blog, February 26, 2012, Highlands, NJ.

By: Chris Loynd

Often I tease my fellow riders, boasting that my position as blog author makes me final arbiter of truth for our Sunday rides as reported here. But this one I have to own. This one I have to admit to. It was too egregious. There were too many witnesses. Physical evidence remains.

The worst led ride in Polar Bear history found me at the front, in charge, at least until the mutiny occurred.

Sunday's debacle was not my intention. It all seemed so easy on Google Maps.

Our Polar Bear rides are, by necessity, heavily dependent upon the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. When I consulted Google Maps for our route to Highlands, N.J., it offered three alternatives. One was way too familiar: down I-95, over the GW Bridge, down the Turnpike. The other was just as well worn: Tappan Zee to GSP. Then there was a third option.

So I thought to myself, “Hey! This is just 10 minutes longer. And it is the road less traveled – by us at least. It might be fun to take I-278 west down through Queens and Brooklyn, over the very cool Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and across Staten Island and then down Route 9. We would never even touch the Turnpike or Parkway! And how bad can the traffic be on a Sunday morning?”

I successfully navigated my Garmin software to map out the route, complete with way points. I then transferred it to my sophisticated, on-board, computer, global positioning, satellite receiver.

As it turned out, I should have used the wax pencil on my mirrors.

Any confidence I have built for my GPS over the past two years was shattered in a single Sunday. There is no longer any trust between us.

At first we had a grand time. Garmin and I were simpatico. I was really enjoying the urban twisties as the Hutchinson River Parkway became even more serpentine south of the GW Bridge. All too soon we were at the Whitestone Bridge. And there is started.

They have those damn toll gates. And it turned out that Pogy carries his EZ Pass mounted to the inside lid of his saddlebag. So when it did not read, there was a substantial time loss as he dismounted, opened the bag, handed the transponder to a disapproving toll clerk, remounted . . . well you get the idea. Our group came apart.

Exiting the bridge I saw a left-side turnout of sorts. It being New York City there was no shoulder on the right side. I pulled in there and waited for us to regroup.

We launched back onto the expressway, a feat of itself in traffic.

Then I missed a turn.

Leading a group of bikes, six were behind me, severely limits your options for navigation error recovery. If I had been by myself, I would have managed it all okay. And I would not have to report my stupidity in this public forum. Heck, I might have even paid three tolls for the Whitestone Bridge. I might have, if it was just me.

Instead, I blindly followed my GPS into bedlam. At lunch only then did a fellow rider reveal the causal element. “Sometimes when you miss a way point, your GPS will route you backwards to that point, instead of pointing you forward to the next one,” Token2 explained. “A better way is to plug in each point-to-point as a separate trip.”

Ignorant of that Garmin foible, and mildly panicked about missing the expressway after the bridge, and with a gaggle of conflicting opinions about the right way out of the mess, I found myself on the on-ramp headed back north to the #$%^& Whitestone Bridge, when I wanted to be going south away from the bridge.

A solution presented itself. One or two of my fellow riders even concurred. But not all of us executed the solution flawlessly.

Fortunately, no one was injured. Mac's rack should be able to be bent back to its original position. (Flag rack. On his bike. Geeze! What were you thinking?) Captain's front end may need replacing. But it's a Honda and therefore plastic and presumably only a money matter, perhaps even covered by insurance.

All that on my mind and a second wrong turn soon after recovering from the bridge roundabout and Token2 rode up with an offer to lead me to an easily discernible path, at which point he offered that I could attempt to regain any shred of dignity I might by retaking the lead. I was defeated. I agreed.

As we headed Token's way, me in the second position, I saw straight ahead of me the freeway ramp for which I'd so frustratingly searched. It was right there. It was straight ahead. It was the way point my GPS had been seeking. I should charge ahead and take it! The light turned green. I meekly followed Token instead, turning left to go a different way than my brilliant, desktop computer plan.

Eventually I recovered and saw the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge ahead. Holy crap! Thirteen dollars? The toll is $13? Oooooh, ouch! I should have Googled that the night before. It might have changed the whole route right there, and saved me the embarrassment of this ride.

I have always wanted to ride this great bridge on my motorcycle. When it opened in 1964 it had the distinction of having the longest suspended span in the world. Greater than even the Golden Gate Bridge. The mighty towers at either end holding up the span actually are built to lean away from each other to allow for the earth's curvature. Each is held together by 3 million rivets and a million bolts. John Travolta danced around the mighty suspension cables in “Saturday Night Fever.” I had never been on the bridge on my motorcycle.

Myself, I gladly paid the toll. It was a thrill, even if it cost something like a dollar a second. But I would not have foisted that fee on my fellow riders without their prior consent. Lunch cost just $20 apiece, for heaven's sake, and was really good, and lasted an hour.

It will be a month before I get my EZ Pass statement. However, according to MTA's web site, the motorcycle EZ Pass is heavily discounted and cost us only $4.18. The $13 sign was for cars paying cash. By comparison, New York should have whacked us $2.09 for the Whitestone Bridge and actually charged us more, $4.75, for the far less dramatic Tappan Zee Bridge.

But you know how it is. These guys will forever remember the $13.

Over the Verrazano and rocketing across stately Staten Island, a perverse thought crept into my head.

Things were settled down now. We were back in our groove. And I wondered, if only for a moment, I wondered, I was still in the lead mind you, I wondered if these guys would all follow me if I just now dove off on some random exit. My voice of reason told me I had instigated enough confusion for the day and any shenanigans would be poorly received.

At lunch I did offer my return route up for a vote. The resounding majority was for the good old, boring Garden State Parkway. And off we trudged yet again.

South Wayne, NJ, February 19, 2012, Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog

South Wayne, NJ, February 19, 2012, Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog

By: Chris Loynd


Hooters is our shortest ride in the Polar Bear schedule. Most of us only get one mileage point. However this year we managed to stretch it into one of the longest rides – in terms of time.

There was a Harley-Davidson ad a few years back that said, “No great story ever started with, 'I was sitting on the couch when . . .'.”

Captain has had his share of adventure on a motorcycle. Fortunately he overcomes most every adversity with a well stocked kit. He is a consummate Boy Scout, though I don't know if he ever was one. Captain is always prepared.

He reminds me of the pilot Orr in Joseph Heller's “Catch-22.” Orr keeps crashing. Each time his plane is shot down he makes a water landing and comes popping out of the plane fully prepared for any emergency with his little yellow life vest and paddling around in his tiny, inflatable life raft. (For all I know, Captain carries a tiny, inflatable life raft on his bike.)

So when his tire went down on our ride last Sunday, Captain snapped into action, pumping it up with the compact, portable, 12 volt, air pump he always carries in his bike's saddlebags.

Captain was sweeping and we were alerted to his plight only when his buddy rider Token2 eventually noticed Captain was no longer in his rear view mirrors and came riding up to alert the leader. (I'm not sure who was riding ahead of Token2, but that is the rider who should have alerted us when Token2 dropped back with Captain to see if assistance was required.)

Mac, leading his first Polar Bear ride, was oblivious. But in his defense, we do tend to get strung apart a bit when we merge from one highway to another. And there were a lot of bikes, well okay just eight, to keep track of.

While Token2 was up front shouting at Mac through a full face helmet, a car pulled up and matched speed with me. I was in the third position, which made me the second left-side rider after Mac. We were in the right-hand travel lane. This guy in the car was gesturing in great earnest. I had not a clue as to what he was trying to say. I soon found out.

Token2 now in the lead, pulled us off at the northernmost rest area at the top of the Garden State Parkway (GSP). He knew only that he had lost sight of Captain as we merged.

Before anyone launched a heroic rescue effort, I got Captain on his cell phone and he told me he had lost pressure in his rear tire on the on-ramp to the GSP from I-287. He was hoping to pump enough air into the tire to reach us. It takes some time. Those little pumps are slow. Waiting seems even slower.

Token2, perhaps feeling guilty about abandoning Captain, hesitated a bit then decided to ride back to see if he could help. This would require him to ride through quite a few miles of northern New Jersey and southern New York. Captain arrived at the rest stop long before Token2 reemerged from his fruitless reconnoiter.

When he arrived at the rest stop where we were waiting, I crawled on my hands and knees behind Captain's bike as he slowly pulled forward, trying to see if there was a nail or screw or other obvious problem with the tire. We went quite a ways through the parking lot, me on all fours like a dog sniffing Captain's rear tire. I could not find anything. Only when we arrived at Hooters did Captain reveal he had a center stand, you know, the kind that allows the back tire to spin freely while the bike remains conveniently stationary?

Captain next pulled out his tube of Slime flat repair and used the gas station's air to pump his tire back to life again.

It seemed longer. And nobody looked at their watch when we pulled over. But the whole delay was maybe 30 or 40 minutes. We headed to Hooters.

Unfortunately, the Slime did not perform as advertised. So in the parking lot of our destination, Jim-O, yet another apparent Boy Scout, brought out a tire plugging kit.

These are good guys with which to ride! It seems everybody but me had a can of slime and air pump. Jim-O had a complete tire plugging kit, one especially made for motorcycles nonetheless.

I remember when I bought my bike. I asked my friend and Dealership General Manager Domenic Maturo what tools I should carry on my Harley-Davidson. Dom looked at me, smiled, and said, “You?” and then held up his cell phone, “This is all you need.”

In fact I do have some tools tucked away in my saddlebags. But I don't much know how to use them. And there are a few emergency supplies too, mostly centered around my survival as I wait for help to come after I've called on my cell phone.

And in my own defense, I have tube tires. So if one goes flat, well, there's no way I'm carrying tire irons and a patch kit or spare tube. Besides, I would not have the first, faintest idea of how to get the wheels on and off this machine with its springer front end and the drive belt on the rear.

Captain tediously pumped his tire back to life in the Hooters parking lot. We patiently waited.

Then we were headed home.

Mac, also a Navy man, gave no quarter. Me, I maybe would have tried to limp the bike home. Mac blasted up the GSP at speed and Captain kept up . . . for a little while.

Fonz said you could see smoke out of both sides of Captain's rear tire when it blew.

Captain never heard the explosion. He just felt the wobble. But it must have been a big boom. Because when Captain went to guide his crippled bike from the far left passing lane to the far right shoulder, across four travel lanes, he found them all empty. All the cars had come to a dead stop behind him. Fonz and Jim-O had blocked the lanes too.

Captain never lost his balance. He expertly guided the bike to the shoulder. This time Fonz, Jim-O and Token2 stayed with him. (In fact I wonder if Token2 followed the tow truck all the way back to Milford.)

I did not see it happen. Three other bikes and I were trying to keep up with Mac at the head of the pack. So I cannot say for sure how Captain reacted to calamity.

I bet he was nonplussed.

My point of reference comes from when Captain blew up his Harley-Davidson motor on a Polar Bear ride last season. I stayed with him until the tow truck arrived and then followed them home. Captain took it all in stride and with good humor.

Then there is the story of Captain on a summer ride across the country a few years back, where his engine blew up and he had the bike shipped home, completing his trip by bus and then flying back from the West Coast after completing his vacation. He describes it all as a fun adventure.

Hooters was good to the eyes and stomachs, not so much the service. I was left waiting for my food, last one at our table. We tried to recall who it was that befell the fickle finger of fate two years ago. We voted that it was Russ whose order was forgotten. Well they don't hire the wait staff based upon an I.Q. test, and who can protest?

My chicken sandwich arrived just as my compatriots were finishing their meals. As my fellow Bears can tell you, I am a slow eater. So it turned out I contributed, in my own small way, to making our shortest mileage Polar Bear run of the season into the longest in time.