November 29, 2009; Syndersville, PA.
36 degrees F to start but warmed up nicely to mid 50s by return, under a bright, cloudless sky
Can you believe this weather we are having? Last year, Grumpy and the Captain drove to this destination in a car through severely predicted snow in order to preserve their perfect attendance. This year we rode over with nine bikes in balmy sunshine.
Perhaps the only downside to these warm Sundays is that it brings out the Polar Cubs. Fair weather winter riders looking for a place to go on such a beautiful day turned out in huge numbers. The Grand Tour Website estimated 400 bikes, We arrived just a bit after 11:30 and ended up last in a line of bikes stretching all the way around to the other side of the gas station. Usually arriving at such an early hour earns us a space right in front of the dealership.
Rose Schoch and all her staff and all her family did all they could to manage the onslaught. But the chili and split pea soup could not come fast enough to feed the minions. No sooner did a new batch arrive than it was gone. It took me two queues to get a cup of her delicious soup. A big thanks to the staff of Schoch Harley-Davidson.
It's not that I do not enjoy a warm winter ride like every other motorcyclist. It is just that the record number of Polar Cubs is outstripping the resources of our destinations. If it remains this warm for the Hooter's run we may never see our curly fries and buffalo chicken sandwiches.
I am worried about losing Ralphie. After regaling him with stories of winter riding in the Polar Bear Club, all he's seen are these huge crowds and temperatures any rube could weather.
Was it two winters ago when we had that unusually warm winter? I remember writing in the blog, in February, that I wasn't afraid of February winter. My reasoning was that with only a maximum of six weeks left until spring, how much could Mother Nature throw at us? Turned out she showed just how much a mother she could be that February and March. We wuz clobbered with freezing cold, freezing rain, freezing winds, froze our butts off.
So I will not again tempt the fates, wishing for cold weather to thin out the Polar Bear herd. If we lose Ralphie, well we lose Ralphie. And we can always find another place to stop for lunch.
This ride we picked up a new bear because of the weather, but not like you think. Pogy Pogany came along Sunday not because it was warm but because Saturday was windy. In addition to his full time job wrangling helicopters around the world, he spends a lot of his “leisure” time tonging oysters. That's a pretty tough hobby. Saturday the winds whipped up the oyster beds and so Pogy needed another diversion for Sunday.
When he called to ask about departure details, he asked if the other riders, most all on Harley-Davidson motorcycles, would give him a hard time about riding a Gold Wing. I told him that of course they would.
But I also assured him we allowed other Honda riders in our midst, even designating one of our regulars “Token.”
Point of fact, we had three Hondas, out of nine bikes total, on Sunday. Token was there on his ST. Pogy was on his Wing. And then Bernie shows up on a yellow monster named after a mythical Norse goddess. (I just love the smell of napalm in the morning!) Turns out he wore the tread off his Harley's tires and had to settle for the next bike in his garage.
Bernie, by the way, was wearing his Harley high visibility suit. Dayglow orange mounted on a bright yellow bike bouncing around in my rear view mirror, Bernie looked like a bad acid trip going down the road.
Token was delighted. “We're taking over!” he exclaimed.
Hooold on thar Babablouie! The Japanese contingent still has a ways to go to achieve Connecticut Polar Bear domination. And Bernie will probably be back on his Harley soon. Although who knows what other brands may lurk in his garage?
For nostalgia's sake I took the lead. Schoch's Harley-Davidson was my first ever Polar Bear ride in 2002. Earlier in May of that year I passed Pogy's Basic Rider's Course, he actually was one of my instructors, and purchased the big Springer after the first range day. It was my first time ever on a motorcycle and I took Pogy's advice, “There is no substitute for miles.”
So when summer waned I looked around for a reason to keep riding and to my great good fortune found the Polar Bear Club in a article in my AMA magazine.
Here I am riding to Schoch's seven years later with my former motorcycle riding instructor, now an instructor myself. Ralphie, also an instructor, was with us as well. Russ called for a group photo of the three Connecticut Rider Education Program (ConnRep) Rider Coaches, although I will not repeat the words Russ used in describing our contingent.
This was also the destination of Clark Makinson's last ride. He died of liver cancer a few weeks later. I thought about Clark as we rode over Sunday. He was an interesting character. I think I would have liked to have gotten to know him even better. We rode Polar Bears together and a very wet Rolling Thunder and a memorable Roar to the Shore. Is there ever enough time?
we mounted our bikes at the Dunkin' in Stratford, I called Pogy in Norwalk to tell him we were, “feet up in five minutes.” Then I started on my layers. Since I was taking the lead, and it was at least a bit cold, I even tied on my white silk scarf. That always takes a bit of time. If you don't get it right it will come unknotted as you ride, quickly becoming 10 feet of wildly whipping worry. Finally, I went to plug in my electric gloves. But the last time I used them . . . it was without electricity.
The new Gerbing gloves have a great feature. If you wish to use them without electricity, there is a small, zippered pouch inside the glove in which one can store the electric cord. I had done so. Which meant, of course, that now I had to unzip the pouch to retrieve the wires. Meanwhile my fellow Bears are ready to go with engines running. “Off to a great start for ragging fodder,” I said to myself, inside my helmet where no one else could hear.
With Pogy joining us from the Darien rest stop and John H. and Bart at the Tappan Zee Bridge, I had to execute some running pickup maneuvers. If you want to join our ride from anyplace other than the Dunkin' in Stratford, we treat you like the mailbags on the Old West train lines. Remember how they put the bag on a hook at the station and the train snapped up the bag without even slowing?
Well, I slowed a bit, and held the right hand lane, until we snapped up the extra riders. As we came upon Pogy he was seated, engine running, and slipped into formation without missing a beat. At the Tappan Zee I had to hold the slow lane a little longer. As we approached I see Bart working on his helmet strap. I'm with you Bart, a brother procrastinator. (Oooh, I bet that hurt! Nobody wants to be compared to me when it comes to speed of preparation for riding.)
All in all we had an uneventful ride down. John Howard took up the sweep position. You can read his report at the end of mine. From my point of view he did a marvelous job. Lanes were cleared with alacrity. We exited and merged the expressways with precision. (Such was not entirely the case on the ride home, but such was not the sweep's fault.)
Arriving at Schoch's Harley-Davidson, the parking lot was packed already. Not wanting to put my guys on gravel, I rode all the way around the back and we ended up taking the last possible pavement spaces on the far side of the gas station.
Official Polar Bear Photographer Walter Kern caught a funny video of our group following the chili pot into the dealership. He also caught a video of us arriving, but, sigh, did not bring his camera up fast enough to immortalize yours truly, leader of the pack.
We signed in and scrambled like everyone else for a bit of food.
We heard from our first blog fan of the year. John K. was standing in line for the bathroom when a rider came up to him declaring, “You're the Captain!” John was a smidgeon surprised but chatted a bit. Then our reader found his way upstairs where I was sitting with our crew and introduced himself.
Thank you. In past years I mostly heard from my readers when the blog was late. With the new BlogSpot version, you can even post comments online if you wish. Meanwhile, feel free to say hello at the Polar Bear meets!
We gassed up and reassembled for the weekly group photo. I led the group back to New England and was doing pretty well until the Garden State Parkway presented herself.
It is funny how traditions start. Oftentimes there is no real good reason for them. But as habits become ingrained they harden into traditions.
Have you heard the story about the one-legged turkey? As mom prepares her Thanksgiving turkey, she cuts off the right leg before placing it in the roaster pan. Her daughter asks, “Mommy why do you cut off the leg?” Mom answers, “Because that's the way my mother taught me.” So at dinner, the daughter asks her grandmother, “Why do you cut off one leg of the turkey before you roast it?” Of course Grandmother answers, “Because that's the way my mother taught me.” Fortunately, her mother, the daughter's great grandmother is there for dinner. Again the same question by the young daughter. Great grandmother answers, “Because my roasting pan was too small.”
So we most always end our Polar Bear runs with a coffee stop at the last rest stop on the Garden State Parkway at Montvale; I call it “Chez GSP.” We make this stop even when we have to ride out of our way to make it.
Last Sunday we could have just booked across Interstate 287, the way we came, straight to the Tappan Zee. But the group consensus was to stay Interstate 80 all the way east to the Garden State Parkway and then proceed north to our coffee stop. That fateful decision spoiled my otherwise picture perfect motorcycle group leader performance.
This Garden State Parkway entrance off of Interstate 80 eastbound gets me every time. I never seem to do it often enough to remember the exit's eccentricities until it is way too late. Sunday was no exception.
As you follow 80 signs appear for the Garden State Parkway. As you get close, gently moving your line of nine motorcycles into the right hand lane in preparation, you see a small sign for the Parkway S-O-U-T-H. Okay. I want to go north.
Faking toward the south exit I readjusted quickly, hauling my snaking line of bikes through that never-never land between the road's shoulder and lanes. Just over the bridge, this MUST be it! I hold position only to see no exit at all. Still we are traveling the nonexistent lane. I can almost hear the guffaws behind me over the tractor trailers whirling around us.
Signaling to my wing man, Russ Curtis, best in the business, I throw both hands up in frustration and confusion. Russ hesitates not a minute and rockets his big Road King into the lead. I fall in behind because Russ exudes confidence in his direction.
As another mile or so clicks by, the only signs I see are for the George Washington Bridge, Oh my gawd! If I lead my guys into the GW Sunday after Thanksgiving, I will never hear the end of it.
Just as I reach the height of anxiety, a big sign appears for Garden State Parkway north.
Geeze New Jersey! Would it have killed you to put a sign waaay back there at the southbound exit. Something to the effect of “Northbound GSP 5 miles”?
Still behind Russ we merged through a sieve of toll gates. Russ was charging hard for coffee and I had to pull up to him and reassert the lead. In my rear view mirror I saw only three bikes. So I slowed our column down a bit and eventually the others wove their way through traffic and formed on me.
To assuage my embarrassment, I bought the round of coffees and hot chocolates at the traditional rest stop. (Order went fine, by the way, John H. Must be the accent. Maybe you should work on that?)
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A View From The Rear
As Chris remarked at the Chez Montvale Services, the traditional CTPB stop when returning north, “you get to see everything when riding sweep.” His erudite comment prompted me to share a few notes on the ride to Snydersville, PA, as seen from the rear.
It would be wrong to assume that after last weeks’ blog report I was relegated to the rear as punishment to eat Harley exhaust and enjoy the resonance from the ‘loud pipes save lives’ brigade (yes, the CTPB’s have their share); I volunteered. The group did a great job holding position throughout the day in holiday traffic; clean lane changes and a nice tunnel down the echelon when formed up, at least for the most part. But that would be a dull report wouldn’t it?
So let me tell you about Bernie; he hates, detests and otherwise loathes flat spots on his tires so once in a while when a lane on either side of the formation opens he will perform a ‘crazy Ivan’ (remember ‘The Hunt for Red October’?). Moving to the clear lane he starts a ballet of weaves that is a sight to behold, elegant, sweeping, always controlled within lane, perhaps for a few hundred yards sometimes for longer until satisfied that ridges have been scrubbed and it is time to return to the dull routine of normal group riding. Future sweeps take note.
Oh, and then there was the ‘never a GPS, just notes on my mirror’ leader of the ride who for the first 200+ miles had been faultless. Unfortunately, mirrors can only hold so much information, so what to do when the writing surface on the mirror runs out (acknowledging that getting bigger mirrors en route is not feasible)? Well, follow the signs of course! For 47 of the 48 contiguous states that can work but as the world knows directional signs in NJ are provided to deceive. Foxed not once but twice the non-GPS leader relinquished to the GPS enabled wingman to navigate to the Garden State North; the transition was plain ugly (no other description would be truthful).
The ugliness continued on the GSP north as the wingman, come leader, did not spare the horses out of the entrance toll to the GSP leaving a ragged group of tail enders blighted by cagers and gasping for speed to catch up. The new leader was returned to the wingman role at the behest of the original leader allowing the stragglers to reform but only after a mile or more had passed. I am still trying to catch my breath after running so hard.
The final moment of the day was delivered by a young lady multitasking on her cell phone in her silver Subaru WRX. Pressing on the rear she would not be held up by a bunch of bikers so reverted to racing up the inside line (while no doubt texting her BFF about her annoyance at the bikers) before drawing up behind another vehicle and then started to drift into the formation. Fortunately collecting her thoughts on DRIVING, heaven forbid, she actually recognized the need for lane discipline. Yikes! The young ones are the worst aren’t they……?
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One more note from Fonz:
Prior to introducing yourself to the Captain, make sure he is finished with his business in the men's room. The Captain gets a little nervous when a strange/unknown male approaches him, then puts their arm around his shoulder and looks down at him, while they are introducing themselves as a "FAN". So, next time, PLEASE wait unitl the Captain releases his grip.
Polar Cub, A.K.A-Fonz