By: Chris Loynd
Photos by: Chris Loynd, Fonz, Marco and our waitress
Editor's Note: although this ride was March 16, I am writing the present blog post on March 29. How very different the world looks today from just two weeks ago.
Our beloved Polar Bear rides were quashed by the Covid-19 virus pandemic. Back in mid-March, our destination ride to Brian's Harley-Davidson was cancelled by the destination. Things were still very uncertain then. Brian's H-D decided hosting hundreds of riders from New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania and even Connecticut was probably not advisable. The phrase we were all using then was, "Out of an abundance of caution."
Brian's is one of those destinations close enough to my boyhood home to sneak in a visit with my Mom and Dad. Friday night, I was contemplating going. But with both of them 85-years old, and with the increasing amount of information becoming available, I called saying, "Out of an abundance of caution, I just don't think it makes sense for me to visit. You know. Just in case." They were disappointed, but agreed.
However the warnings were not so dire on March 16th. The gloom not yet settled. The economy still open.
So I sent an email to my Connecticut Polar Bear riders inviting anyone who wished to join me on a jaunt up Connecticut Route 8 to Otis, Massachusetts, home to the best chicken pot pies in the country and a delightful country diner. As you can see by the photo, a bunch of them joined me.
Route 8 is one of my favorite local rides. Even on the expressway part, if you slow to the speed limit and relax, it's really quite scenic. Well, first you have to clear Bridgeport. But once you're past Shelton, it's a pretty ride. (Yes there is a slight blip of urban ugly in Waterbury. It lasts but a few minutes as you work your way under I-84.)
Route 8 always reminds me of a train set. Rocks, trees, hills, a river winding next to you, some nice vistas and deep forests, I think it's beautiful in all seasons. In winter you see even more deeply into the scenery.
The expressway dies in Winsted, Connecticut. A few moments past the franchise restaurants and college, then through this scenic town along its New England green, and you're back in the woods. It's dotted here and there with small settlements. It skirts Colebrook River Lake, a reservoir flanked by granite cliffs just north of Winsted. Crossing into Massachusetts is barely noticeable, a sign and slight change in the color of the macadam.
There's a sharp dogleg over the river in Sandisfield, Mass., but then it opens up to smooth turns and a reasonable speed limit generating motorcycle fun as 8 clings to the Farmington River. It's a nice bit of highway for motorcycles and sports cars. In fact as we were leaving the diner we saw a string of modified imports and tuners running nose-to-tail with fart-can mufflers having fun.
Route 8 goes up into the Berkshires, through Massachusetts and into Vermont. But Sunday we ventured only so far north as Otis.
March 16 was still chilly enough, especially in the morning. For the ride home I didn't turn on my electrics at all. I did notice there was still snow on the runs of the Otis Ski Resort; I could see the mountain through leafless trees over to the right on our way home. As ride leader I pointed to direct my fellow riders' attentions. But such communication is ambiguous at best on motorcycles.
Farmington River Diner is a delightful place. On any other Sunday I've visited it's jammed packed. Sadly, today we had no trouble putting together a table for eight with immediate seating. They put us right in the middle of the restaurant. There were a few other folks in booths around the outside walls. By comparison, it was sadly quiet.
We sat together shoulder-to-shoulder, the six-foot rule of today unknown to us then. I promised not to kiss any of my fellow bikers and we joked about social distancing. I'm guessing everyone was extra careful to wash his hands. Fonz handed me his phone to take a group photo and as I handed it back I pretended to wipe my nose on my hand. It was funny . . . then. By-and-large we were unconcerned — two weeks ago.
The food there is great, good country fare. I ordered a chicken-fried steak with biscuits. Yum! Marco was on the fence when he ordered and regretful after seeing my dish, even though he professed his club sandwich was tasty too.
Half our group headed home after brunch. I led Captain, Marco and Scott just a few minutes further north to Otis Poultry Farm. All of us but Captain came prepared with freezer packs to transport home the coveted frozen chicken pot pies.
From the looks of the store, I'm not sure how much longer it will be open. Corona virus may kill it at last. Last year when I visited it was looking dire. This year was worse. The chicken pot pies were piled in a chest freezer in front of the now empty, glass-fronted, freezer display cases.
Inventory of other items was pretty thin. Many of the shelves were empty. The gruff proprietor was still there, still in his uniform of white poultry hard hat, plaid shirt and suspenders. He took our money and bagged our pot pies in plastic grocery bags, still legal and free in Massachusetts.
I walked out with eight pies, all I could fit in the Springer's saddlebags, along with freezer packs and insulated bags to keep them frozen for the ride home. As it turned out over these weeks ensuing, I should have put the barrel bag on the back of the bike and worn a backpack. I haven't nearly enough pies to last the apocalypse.
For those of us who stuck around, we ended the ride at Captain's workshop where he's building his submarine. As you can see by the photos, he's serious. You can see more on Captain's website: SubsCT.com.
One of my fellow ConREP motorcycle instructors, Fred, is a retired engineer. He's on my Polar Bear email invite list and while he couldn't ride, he and some friends met us at Captain's place to tour the boat.
The Polar Bear goal is to someday carry us to Bahr's Landing, surface, pop the hatch, tie up at the dock and sign-in. Grand Tour Chairman Bob Hartpence says we still only get one point for not arriving on motorcycles. But it will be a hoot!
Epilogue:Our Polar Bear Grand Tour ride calendar shows the rides remaining as "RIDE SUSPENDED — COVID-19 VIRUS" in big red letters. There was some hope we may be able to squeeze in Cape May and a makeup ride to Kingston in April. But yesterday President Trump first threatened an "enforceable quarantine" on New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. I envisioned tanks and barbed wire on the GW Bridge. He later softened to a CDC Strong Travel Advisory for 14 days. Still, that pretty much kills the rest of the Polar Bear season. Here's hoping there's no fall weather resurgence of virus and we can open up the 2020-21 season in October. And here's hoping that we'll all still be alive and have enough money to enjoy our polar bear motorcycle pleasures.
Meanwhile, stay at home and stay safe,
|Down to just five pies in the freezer already and the zombies haven't even appeared yet.|