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.