Monday, January 7, 2019

EEDP = Extra Early Departure Protocol

Connecticut Polar Bears in Shamong extra early, from left: Fat Mac, CT Blogger, Pogy, Captain and Anonymous Ed.

Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, Ride to Pic-A-Lilli Inn, Shamong, NJ, January 6, 2018.

By: Chris Loynd

Over time the Connecticut Polar Bears have changed in character. I first invited members of my HOG group to join me in 2002 when I discovered the Polar Bear Grand Tour. Most thought I was crazy. A few came on a ride or two. But over the years we picked up some regulars. Some of those regulars have now been with us for 14 or 15 years. In the early years I rode plenty of meets on my own, too.

Polar Bear Grand Tour rules state that, "All meets start at 11:30 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted in the directions." Back in the day, I would wait for things to warm up a bit before starting out. Many rides I would shoot for a noon or 12:30 p.m. arrival, you know, lunch time. I even remember one ride on my own in the early years where I arrived after the Grand Tour was gone. (I got bolloxed on my directions in those pre-GPS days.) Too late for sign in, I enjoyed a late lunch and headed home.

As we added riders over the years, I started losing out to tenants of democracy. By popular demand the objective evolved to arriving promptly at 11:30 a.m. for sign in. Departure times creeped closer and closer to dawn. On this ride I polled the members and they all voted for earlier departures.

As many of the regular Connecticut Bears became 15 years older than when we first started, some of us became less comfortable riding at night. So we started ratcheting the time even earlier, especially for some of the longer distance rides. I jokingly named it EDP, Early Departure Protocol. We would arrive in time to first eat lunch (brunch?) and then sign in for our Polar Bear points.

This year a faction of especially early riders split from the group. They advocate riding before dawn, arriving well ahead of 11:30 a.m. If the Polar Bear venue is closed, they find a diner nearby and have breakfast first. Their goal is to be fueled, fed and ready to beat for home immediately at sign in.

Sunday I appeased a request by the extra early faction. Fonz emailed me during the week to say he called our destination, the Pic-A-Lilli Inn and confirmed they would be open and serving at 10:00 a.m. So I set a departure time at an eye-opening 7:30 a.m. That's a half-hour earlier than the early departure time we've used the past two years.

I just barely made the 7:30 a.m. departure. Approaching our departure Dunkin', Anonymous Ed and Captain were already headed down Lordship Boulevard, Ed in the lead. I made a quick u-turn, thereby designating myself as sweep rider for the rest of the day. Pogy was waiting for us at the Darien Rest Stop on I-95 but instead of picking him up on the fly, Ed pulled in and handed the lead over to Pogy.

Temperatures were perfect for Polar Bear motorcycling. Mid-forties are warm enough to keep you from fighting cold but not so warm as to make you regret your layers of insulating underwear. There wasn't much sun at sunrise, we even rode though some patches of drizzle. Traffic was delightfully light. Pogy's throttle hand was steady and the four of us cruised along.

There was only one disappointment as we pulled into Pic-A-Lilli one-and-a-half hours before sign in. We were not the first to arrive. Two other riders snuck in just minutes ahead of us. I saw them go by as we were getting gas. Otherwise the parking lot was eerily empty.

I make note of actual ride times to each Polar Bear destination to help improve future departure times. For Shamong I recorded previous 8:00 departure times that had us arriving at 10:30 and 10:45 a.m. Our time was pretty consistent this past Sunday. A 7:30 a.m. departure put us at Pic-A-Lilli at 10:05 a.m. with a gas stop before we arrived.

Fortunately, the Pic-A-Lilli is one of our Polar Bear destinations that really does it right. Captain rattled the door at 10:05 a.m. finding it locked. But before he could get back and report his disappointment to our group, one of the Pic-A-Lilli staff opened the door, stuck her head out and shouted a hearty welcome! There was plenty of staff inside, ready to serve and happy to see us. Our coffee (and one tea) arrived promptly and our meals soon after we ordered.

Just after we ordered our extra early lunch, we had a surprise visit by Mac. His greeting was, "You guys couldn't wait 15 minutes?" Our extra early departure time had him tiptoeing across icy roads near his home in a more northernly part of Connecticut. At first he said he "called" the Captain to ask us to wait. Captain defensively pulled up his iPhone list of recent calls. Then Mac admitted he texted his request for us to wait. Captain doesn't text.

We found ourselves with time to kill before the Grand Tour started operations. I suggested a game of pool.

We were back on the road at 11:40 and I arrived at my home in Stratford a little after 2:00. That included a "stop at the top" but only a very brief one. Our traditional coffee at the Montvale rest area at the top of the Garden State Parkway is another casualty of the EDP riders. Once a second opportunity to tell big stories and make fun of one another, now we just empty our bladders and hit the road. (Two weeks ago Grumpy and I enjoyed a brief respite in Montvale to the consternation of our fellow riders.)

Weather for our ride back was brighter, broken clouds and sun splashes. As we departed Shamong the weather front was dropping on top of us. Wind whipped across the flat and open fields of southern Jersey. We were getting pushed around quite a bit; I especially felt it sitting up higher on my lighter ST 1100. As we rode north I noticed the snow fences were being prepared. They had the posts in the ground, but the fencing was still in rolls on the ground. The New Jersey turnpike and northern Garden State Parkway offered more wind protection, trees and buildings and such. Temperatures dropped throughout the day.  As we approached the Westchester hills we rode along the edge of a rain shower. We were treated to a short spritz and a rainbow on our port side.

One other advantage of EDP is that early traffic is often lighter than later on Sunday afternoons. We got through the Oranges on the Garden State Parkway without putting our feet down. The sign for the bridge promised just 20 minutes travel time to the Tappan Zee. As we rode I saw signs that the new bridge would be closed for an hour this coming Saturday. They're blowing up what's left of the old steel girder and concrete bridge.

Here's hoping they're on time. This coming Sunday we'll need the bridge on our Polar Bear ride home to our nutmeg state home if we go. As of this writing, there's a 40 percent chance of snow on Sunday. But I only believe the long term forecast if it's good. The destination is even farther than Pic-A-Lilli. I called the Captain after we finished our ride and asked about the departure time. He figures 7 a.m. is his early departure limit. The ride should be about three-and-a-half hours. That puts us there a mere hour ahead of sign in. The destination doesn't open until 11 a.m., but there's a diner right around the corner.

Special Note: fellow CT Polar Bear Token2 has departed on his long-discussed South American adventure ride. You can follow his blog "Going South on El Burro." Vaya con Dios Token! We look forward to seeing you at Cape May in October.

Pic-A-Lilly parking lot upon arrival.

Parking lot as we departed.
Next group to arrive in the dining room was about the time we were paying our check.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Push Button Complications

Connecticut Polar Bears in Sloatsburg, NY, from left: Fat Mac, Captain, Anonymous Ed and Pogy.

Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Rhodes North Tavern, Sloatsburg, NY, December 30, 2018.

By: Pogy

Day started off with some snow flurries – 34 degrees and lots of overcast – departure from the Donkin was 1015 – Talked to the Captain at 0955 and said Grumpy was under the weather and Chris was with family so it looked like it was going to be he and I 

When I got picked up at the rest stop, there was a party of three – The Captain, Anonymous Ed and Fat Mac – Captain in the lead and I picked up tail gunner.  The ride down to Rhodes was with moderate traffic but moving.  This being our shortest ride this year, we were on site in 50 minutes.   As in years past, Rhodes had blocked off one of the parking lots for bikes and had a fire pit burning in the middle of the lot – Nice effect

Upon arrival at Rhodes, I had a blinking reverse light on my instrument panel.  Once I turned the key off, she was locked up. The reverse button was engaged and I could not get it to pop out.  Along comes Anonymous and he pushed the button once and it disengages – DA!!! Talk about feeling like a dip S&*%$#@!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Needless to say the guys wouldn’t let it go at lunch – xoxoxo.  In hind sight, last week I used the reverse mode for the first time in years and the only thing I can assume is when I pushed the button the disengage last week it never popped out – lessons to be learned – use your switches  on your bike or they will fail you when needed.

After a nice lunch, we had our picture taken and we headed back with absolutely no traffic – Never saw the bridge so deserted except for 0300 in the morning

Thanks for leading the ride Captain and Happy New Year to all 

See you next week and ride safe


Monday, December 24, 2018

Restaurants Never Believe Us

Connecticut Bears in Hamilton, NJ, from left: Grumpy, Captain, Mac, Anonymous Ed, CT Blogger with Pogy down front as always.

Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Hamilton Tap and Grill, Hamilton, NJ, December 23, 2018

By: Chris Loynd
Photos By: Grumpy and Grand Tour Photographer Bernie Walsh

Sunday's weather was perfect for polar bearing on motorcycles. The sun was bright. The temperature was cool enough to accommodate our layers of riding gear but not so cold as to over challenge them.

Maybe because of Christmas pending, traffic was delightfully light, especially on the morning ride. Just a day before, Cynthia and I traveled to visit my daughter and her husband in Norwalk. Midday I-95 was solid with cars both ways. The 17 mile trek took nearly an hour. Sunday the same ride was done in 20 minutes.

Feeling frisky, I took the lead. On the ST 1100 now, the Harley garaged until snow melt chemicals are completely washed away, I was more confident in my speed. The four-cylinder Honda can exceed the Turnpike 65 mph speed limit without breaking a sweat, or 4,000 rpm. So we enjoyed an active pace; my compatriots made their approval known at lunch.

Over the years, the character of our polar bear rides have changed as our riders have. This is my 16th season of winter rides. At the beginning I rode alone. I generally started out later in the morning, letting the sun warm things up a bit first. Polar Bear Grand Tour sign in was then, and is now, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In those early days I even miscalculated one Sunday and arrived too late to sign in. I enjoyed the ride all the same.

But as our winter Sunday motorcycle rides attracted others from Connecticut, the character of the group changed. It's pretty much a democracy, and the will of the group was to arrive right at 11:30 a.m. sign in. Some of our guys are not as comfortable riding back in the dark.

Several years ago, especially for the longer distance rides, I created the EDP, Early Departure Protocol. Bending even more to the wishes of the group, we started our rides early enough to get to our destination and eat lunch/brunch and be ready to ride home before sign-in even opened. There is growing enthusiasm among our riders for EDP.

I did not take a formal poll, but I think most of our riders would prefer EDP on every ride.

Fonz and his crew have taken to finding nearby diners where they breakfast and then ride on to the destination for sign in and an early start home.

One distinct advantage for EDP is that many of the destination restaurants are not equipped or overwhelmed by the Polar Bear influx of customers. Some destinations we've just written off as being too slow. Others, there can be a wait for a table if you get there too late. And no matter the destination location, we always have a long ride home.

Admittedly, the plan worked well on this ride. It was a first time destination. Somehow the restaurant managers never believe our Grand Tour Ride Coordinators when they tell them to expect 150 or more riders on a winter Sunday morning. Hamilton Tap & Grill was no different.

While the Connecticut Bears were not the very first to arrive (we were maybe the third group), we were the first to sit at a table and order our food. The manager came over to get us started on drinks. The one and only waitress strolled in 10 minutes after the 11:00 brunch was advertised to start.

As the restaurant quickly filled with bears, we were happy to have ordered already. Surely service slowed dramatically. The waitress, now up to speed, was hustling between tables non-stop. She never got back to us to refill our coffees. Grumpy's waffles arrived without their promised fruit and by the time she got back to us, the only remedy was to offer to take them off our bill. We declined. We also tipped our usual 20%. It wasn't really her fault and we could see she was overwhelmed.

In my Facebook review the management responded saying they were told to expect only 21 people. I'm not sure what miscommunication occurred. But the Grand Tour has two volunteer ride coordinators who find the restaurants, coordinate with them, even remind them the week before that we're coming.

Except for the service, and missing fruit, the food was quite good. Many of the brunch offerings were embellished with pork roll. Some of our Connecticut bears were unfamiliar with this New Jersey delicacy. We hope they stay on the Polar Bear schedule and look forward to seeing them next year.

One other popular blog topic is to rip on the ride leader and other riders. Our leader this ride kept running out of road. On the local road to Hamilton Grill, stopped at a stoplight, Captain suggested we gas up the bikes before lunch. So I moved our group to the far right lane. Only at the very next light the sign ahead said my lane was about to disappear. When the light changed, I awkwardly moved the group a lane left and we were on our way.

My next mistake was a bit more complex to fix. It turns out The Hamilton Tap & Grill is like the Isle de Morte, a place that can only be found by those who already know where it is. New Jersey and its convoluted ideas about making left turns didn't make it any easier. My GPS got us turned around but only by way of a series of turns and jaunt through downtown.

On the way back I made the same disappearing right turn lane mistake. Signs ahead promised the NJ Turnpike, but the right lane I chose evaporated before we could get there. After a messy merge into too many cars, we made it to I-195 and then the NJ Turnpike.

There was a bit more traffic on the way home. The Oranges always clog up the Garden State Parkway. We made a stop at the top but had some miscommunication still. Anonymous Ed skipped the stop all together. Most of the rest of the guys wanted a quick pee and resume, following the EDP precepts.

I noticed Grumpy was setting up a table next to the Dunkin'. I miss our breaks; we've been skipping them on a regular basis. So I got a cup of coffee and Grumpy and I enjoyed a bit of conversation. Meanwhile the rest of the guys were waiting for us out in the parking lot. They eventually left without us. Sorry guys.

Connecticut arrives. Chris Loynd, CT Blogger, in the lead on the Honda ST 1100. 
CT crew one of the first to arrive.
My lunch was tasty. The menu made it sound bigger than it arrived.
Polar Bear Grand Tour Photographer Bernie Walsh took our group photo this week. He's faster than a tripod!

Grumpy and Chris took time for a stop at the top beverage, but forgot to tell the rest of our crew.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Driving Rain

Connecticut Polar Bears at The Cabin, Howell, NJ, from left: Pogy, Grumpy, Captain and Chris.
All-day rain and a fair distance had us in the car this Sunday.
Polar Bear Motorcycles Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, drive to The Cabin, Freehold, NJ, December 16, 2018

By: Chris Loynd, CT Blogger
Photos by: Grumpy; guest photo by PB Photographer Bernie Walsh

Our weatherman let us down. We ended up getting Sunday's promised forecast a day early on Saturday when it was of no use to us. As late as Friday, Saturday was supposed to have heavy, steady rain. Sunday was light and scattered showers in the morning and clearing in the afternoon. But on Saturday the pattern reversed.

The Connecticut Bears have the disadvantage of distance when weather is bad. It's one thing to ride in rain for an hour on local roads. It's quite another to ride interstates for three hours in rain. So Saturday afternoon we opted out of riding.

We had such fun a couple of weeks earlier we figured another ride in the car would be okay. Plus this Sunday's event is the toy drive for the children's hospital through the Valerie Fund. Since I knew we would now be going in a car -- and therefore storage was not the same issue as on a motorcycle -- I went a little crazy Saturday evening buying some extra toys. I also knew there would be fewer riders and therefore fewer toys.

Polar Bear Grand Tour Grand PooBah Bob Hartpence even sent a Saturday email offering two points for those who came in a car and donated a toy. The usual penalty for driving in a car is receiving just one point.

Point of order, by the way, we are allowed only two car rides for a single point each. So any future car rides this season will accrue no points at all for the CT Bears.

However what the distance takes away on rainy days it gives back far more on sunny ones. Our greater distance means we accrue more polar bear points on any given ride than our New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware based compatriots.

Sunday's weather was miserable. Fonz and Anonymous Ed contemplated riding, but I got a text from Fonz Sunday morning saying they decided discretion was the better part of valor.

Good choice guys. It rained steady, sometimes heavy, the whole day. We were all glad we went in the car.

Pogy's wife Kathy sent him out to the car with a plate of freshly-baked cookies when we picked him up in Norwalk.

Captain again offered his spacious Subaru and piloted it as we sat and joked and snacked on cookies.

Lunch at the cabin was very good. Pogy and I tried a crab and sherry soup that was reminiscent of the turtle soup we prize at Bahr's Landing, another Polar Bear destination. This time I did get my Philly Cheesesteak, as did Grumpy. Captain and Pogy both ordered a Lumberjack sandwich. Our waitress was attentive and happy to joke with us.

Our conversation was fun and funny and wide ranging. My tongue is swollen still from biting it for the last two hours of our ride as the conversation turned pointedly political. A liberal surrounded by conservatives, I mostly just listened.

Polar Bear Photographer Bernie Walsh caught the CT Bears upon arrival, from left: CT Blogger, Captain, Pogy, Grumpy and Barry Kirschner a representative from the Valerie Fund at the Children's Hospital where the toys headed to a Christmas party that afternoon.

Polar Bear Grand Tour Photographer Bernie Walsh.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Traffic? In Connecticut?

CT Polar Bears in Blue Bell, Penn., from left: Grumpy, Anonymous Ed, Captain, CT Blogger and Pogy down front.
Motorcycle Polar Bear Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to PJ Whelihan's, Blue Bell, Penn., December 9, 2018.

By: CT Blogger and Pogy
Photos by: Grumpy

First of all, what a great Polar Bear location! This place is huge. They put the Bears out on a big enclosed, winterized and heated deck. Food was delicious, fast and reasonably priced. The servers were fun and bubbly and attentive. This is a new destination for the Polar Bear Grand Tour. Thank you PJ Whelihan's for a great job of hosting.

Kudos to our Ride Coordinators George Piegaro and Roy Bober! They have the tough job of finding restaurants with the right mix of capacity and attitude and willingness to host a couple of hundred motorcyclists on a Sunday afternoon.

Because of the proximity of our destination to my parents' home, I rode down Saturday late afternoon for a dinner and visit with Mom and Dad. I also had the luxury of getting out at 10 a.m. Sunday morning instead of 8:00 a.m. like my Connecticut compadres. Mom indulged me with a scrapple breakfast.

For my ride down Saturday I was sailing along just fine until I hit Norwalk. There I saw I-95 dead stopped in all three lanes. I had just enough room to make an ill-advised four-lane change from the far left passing lane to exit for Route 7 and the alternate Merritt Parkway south. I put on my blinker and fortunately was not the only one with the same idea. So the guy next to me in the big Cadillac Escalade beeps his horn, waves and then starts blocking lanes for me to get all the way over. He followed me off the exit and onto Route 7. Awesome! Thanks man, whoever you were!

It was a good risk; the Merritt was a breeze with no traffic. It was free-wheeling all the way down, over the Tappan Zee Bridge, Garden State Parkway and NJ Turnpike. I figured to keep it easy and so rode all the way down the Turnpike to Exit 2. That offers a slightly longer route but a straight shot across a country two-lane road to the Commodore Barry Bridge. Except it wasn't last Saturday night.

Just a short way across Route 322, I ran into a detour. Props to the local cops. They had cars with lights flashing at every turn of the well-marked detour with traffic control. There was still an unexpectedly long line of cars. All in, it was probably an extra 20 minutes, not bad at all by Connecticut traffic standards.

Sunday morning the rest of our Connecticut crew enjoyed an uncharacteristically traffic-free run down to Blue Bell. Turns out this part of Pennsylvania is well known to Pogy. So he took the lead. I think it may have been his first time leading a Polar Bear ride? They got to PJ Whelihan's at like 10:40. I'd figured them for for 11:00, which is when I arrived. I accused them of speeding but with Pogy at the lead he swore he kept a steady and reasonable speed. His fellow riders attested to same. The only answer was light traffic.

Going by the Pirate Code, they'd already ordered lunch by the time I arrived, knowing full well I was on my way. But our waitress was quick to get my order in too, including two progress reports on when my BLT would be arriving.

My sandwich was exceptional with the bacon generous, thick cut and crisp, the tomato thick sliced and the lettuce just right. The fries were right too. It was delicious, even though I rushed it a bit to catch up with my pals.

Polar Bear Grand Tour Grand Poohbah Bob Hartpence and Quartermaster Gary Rosen presented me with a staff hat (see photo below). They had special hats made in memory of Flight B Leader John Bachota who passed away recently. I'll wear it with pride.

Lunch done we gathered for the group photo. Grumpy was working a bit longer on his camera settings and Captain was being extra snarky, which led to the group photo you see above.

I joined up with my guys for the ride home, Pogy in the lead, Grumpy as sweep.

Pogy led a pretty smooth ride. We had a car get in between us once. There were a few instances where our pack riders were impatient, moving before Grumpy had cleared. That's not easy to do, by the way. Grumpy is an affirmative lane clearer.

Grumpy's take:
Pogy said nothing happened on the ride. Well being at the back you see a lot, to quote you (Chris). There was a car that cut into the group. I saw the Time to Tappan Zee sign saying 62 min. and my heart dropped and I just said s**t. But it was a great ride over  the Tappan Zee. See you next Sunday.
John B (Grumpy)

Once again the traffic gods smiled on us. We all stuck to I-95 for the whole trip home. We sailed through even Greenwich, Stamford and Norwalk. Captain and I were the last ones headed north with no traffic in Bridgeport. All the traffic trouble spots were quiet.

Maybe we should have Pogy lead all the rest of the Polar Bear rides if he's truly our traffic good luck charm! Here's his report:

Todays ride started off a balmy 22 degrees – The troops picked me up in Darien at approximately 0820 – The Captain somehow got me to  lead the ride today – which was fine – there were four of us – Me in the lead, then the Captain to keep me from getting lost in New York, then Anonymous Ed and sweep was Grumpy. The ride down was without traffic and we arrived at the destination at 10:40.  We got seated and just as the clock struck 11:00, the waitress took our order and shortly thereafter Chris showed up – he was in Delaware visiting his family so he joined us for lunch.  

We were back on the road (all 5 of us) by high noon – traffic again coming home was with very little traffic and I was home by 1500 – the rest of the guys had another 15-20 miles more to travel north

Great traffic day for the Bears, the food was good at Whelihan's, priced right and we now can look forward to next weeks ride 

Thanks Guys – Ride Safe


Polar Bear Grand Tour photographer Bernie Walsh.

"Yeah Kathy, I led the ride, no really."

Grand Tour photographer Bernie Walsh captured a couple photos of the Connecticut Bears arriving and a great picture of Polar Bear Grand Tour Chairman Bob Hartpence.