Sunday, March 29, 2020

Polar Bear Season Killed by Covid-19 Virus

Delightfully naive Connecticut Polar Bears on what they only suspected was the last ride of the season, our local substitute for the Grand Tour to Otis, Mass., around the table from left: CT Blogger, Captain, John J., Anonymous Ed, Pogy, Fonz, Scott and Marco.
Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, unofficial ride to Otis Chicken Farm and Farmington River Diner, March 16, 2020.

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:

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!


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.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Big Turnout and Surprise Guest

Big turnout this week. Connecticut Polar Bears in Highlands, NJ, from left: Captain, Lou, Token2, Pogy, John J., Fonz, CT Blogger, Marco, Mac and Scott.
Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Bahr's Landing, Highlands, NJ, March 8

By: Chris Loynd
Photos by: CT Blogger and Bernie Walsh

Your CT Blogger led this Sunday's ride. My plan changed dramatically as we passed the Darien rest stop.

I heard from Scott before I suited up Sunday morning. Nice weather and a tiny window in his work schedule meant he could join us. He lives in Stamford and waits to join us as we ride by the Darien services.

At the Dunkin' we had a good turnout already. Captain, John J., Mac and Marco were in the parking lot; Marco aboard his new Goldwing. That made five of us to start. That's as many as we often get in total.

As I approached the Darien rest stop I counted four more bikes waiting. Pogy I expected. There was a possibility that Pogy's friend Lou would join us. I added him to the email list just the week before. He was there. As we rode by I counted four bikes. I did not know who was aboard the fourth.

Each week I send an email to dozens of Connecticut riders. Everyone is welcome.

Leading with a half-dozen bikes is one thing. With nine bikes in line, you have to rethink your strategy. That many bikes, practicing safe following distances, strings out the length of three tractor-trailer trucks. It's like chasing lanes with a train, not a few motorcycles.

I am fine with leading a big group; I've done it plenty of times. It just requires a change in strategy. Fortunately, I had a very good sweep. John J. was attentive to my requests, made holes when we needed them and in most all cases the guys behind me waited for cars to clear once John J. took control of the target lane.

Despite our best, and seriously responsible, efforts to be courteous in traffic, we had our share of idiots.

Approaching the George Washington Bridge on the Westside Highway we were unwittingly featured in "Fast and Furious 35" (or whichever number the franchise is up to nowadays). Three similar Honda cars came zooming through traffic like maniacs. The were weaving and cutting off cars with moves measured in inches, not feet. I am waiting for my residuals from Universal Pictures. Having survived the ordeal, I'll gladly sign my contract.

As we exited onto the city street to mount the GW Bridge, there they were, parked partially on the shoulder. I didn't see the filming truck. But I can think of no other reason for such boorish, inconsiderate, stupid driving behavior unless we were in a movie.

That doesn't explain the car on the other side of the GW Bridge. I think he was just a rude idiot. The guy cut me off to switch to the Local I-95 lanes. Past the last possible minute he changes his mind and dives back in front of me for the Express Lanes. He cut across the media, hit a pothole and kicked up a rock that hit me in the chest.

After that the excitement abated. All the way I did my best to maintain a steady speed. There were a few times I tried to pull us along faster or slow us down to accommodate traffic. Diluted by the eight bikes behind me, my efforts were not always effective. We had some cars cut our line. Fortunately most of them did not stay or the other bikes were able to get around them.

Our route was pretty straight forward, I-95, Parkways through New York, NJ Turnpike to Garden State Parkway. There's a long jaunt down to the shore on a local road with lights. I think John J. and I managed it pretty well. We lost our continuity to traffic lights only a couple of times.

As we slowed on the local road and stopped at traffic lights, our group compressed enough for me to get a clear view in my mirrors of all the riders. When that happened I looked over at my wingman, the Captain, and shouted, "Is that Token?" He shrugged.

There was a bright green sport adventure bike in our group. I know of only one Polar Bear who would ride such a garish machine. (Well, actually two, but I was pretty sure it wasn't Thumper. His bike is more subdued.)

When we finally pulled into the parking lot at Bahr's Landing I was sure it was him! Token2 was the unknown bike waiting at Darien. What a pleasant surprise!

He lives in Virginia now. This week he had business north and decided to join us on his extended ride home. He had a 3:00 p.m. reservation on the Cape May — Lewes ferry (see photo below).

Lou also joined us. It was his first time with the Connecticut Polar Bears. We'll see if he returns. I think he had a good time. He was at the other end of our long table at the restaurant, so I didn't get much conversation time with him. I heard from Pogy later there was a move by some of our pack riders that concerned him. Despite what you read above, I do not encourage, nor endorse, aggressive riding.

Marco scrapped his old bike after it ate not one but two driveshafts. He loved his old bike, yes. However he was singing praises for the new Goldwing on Sunday.

Token2 commented how thin the Harley ratio has become among the Connecticut Bears. He would likely have a different nickname had he joined us nowadays.

Fonz did not ride with us Sunday. He had a visit in Long Island and showed up in time to sign-in and head for home.

Bahr's Landing did not disappoint. The food was fabulous, the view spectacular. There's a beautiful set of big windows with waterfront views. It was clear enough to see NYC.

A big dock next to the restaurant is rumored to be our destination some day in the future when we all arrive on Captain's submarine. He's making progress, but not promising a ride for us next year. You can see his project on

We had a less eventful, but more challenging, ride back. There's more traffic later in the day. Still we got through the Oranges feet-up and across the Tappan Zee in good time. On I-287 our group split between those preferring the Merritt Parkway to I-95.

Our season is winding down, just five rides left, one more than normal due to an unexpected cancellation. If you've been reading this blog and thinking of joining us, jump in, the weather's fine. If you're not on the email list for departure times, my contact info is in the bio: Life's too short to not ride year-round!

At left, Marco and Pogy compare and contrast their new Honda Goldwings.

Pogy's new ride on left and Marco's on right.

Mac earned his red rocker on this run.

Polar bearing via submarine someday?

CT Blogger earned his 60-point pin and held it upside down for his selfie.

Polar Bear photographer caught us arriving. That's me up front. Where's my wingman?

Scott always rides at the back of that pack. That's just how he rolls.

Old Honda, my 1997 STll00.

New Honda, Marco's Goldwing, I think 2019?

Token2 our surprise guest.

Mac a dyed-in-the-wool Harley guy.
Token2 headed home. His bike in lower left corner. Not tied down, just in gear.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

What's to Say?

Backlighting from the windows made for a tough photo, but that's from left, CT Blogger and Captain with Pogy standing behind him. I'm holding up one of the soft pretzel logs we had as an appetizer. Excellent!

Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Long Valley Pub & Brewery, Long Valley, NY, March 1

By: Chris Loynd
Photos By: Bernie Walsh and Unknown

We had a pretty small turnout from Connecticut this Sunday. Just me and Captain starting out. We picked up Pogy in Darien along the way. I led.

Except for a few inconsiderate drivers, we had a pretty smooth ride over and back. It's a bit of a luxury to lead only two bikes. We made more frequent lane changes. It was easier to slip in and out of traffic.

I was bounced around by the wind in a few places, especially on that big bridge on I-287, you know, the one with the sign "subject to crosswinds."

Nevertheless, we got to Long Valley in good order, made good time, one of the first, but not THE first, to arrive.

Long Valley had a special Polar Bear menu and the food was excellent, the service fast enough to please even the Captain.

Our ride home was pretty uneventful too, just the usual Connecticut I-95 guff.

So there's not much to say in the blog. My pictures are weak because Grumpy is Daytona bound. Fortunately, I was able to grab some good ones off of the Grand Tour Facebook post.

See you next week.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Unluck of the Irish

Connecticut Polar Bears waiting for lunch in Waretown, NJ, from left in back: Marco, Grumpy, CT Blogger, Captain. Down front: Fonz and Pogy.
Polar Bear Motorcycle Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Lighthouse Tavern, Waretown, NJ, February 23, 2020

By: Chris Loynd
Photos by: Grumpy, some by Fonz, last one by CT Blogger

Our ride Sunday was to an Irish pub covered in shamrocks. Their luck did not rub off on us.

On the way down, Anonymous Ed, who was leading, started looking down at his bike and slowing down and was clearly distracted. We made it off the exit for Waretown. In just a short bit he pulled into an empty parking lot. Most of us pulled in behind him. Captain stopped on the shoulder then impatiently shouted he'd go get us a table and was off.

Turns out Ed lost his shifter knuckle. He knew from Fonz, who had left half an hour earlier than our group, that there was a gas station just before the destination. So Ed power shifted his way there with Grumpy, Pogy and me following.

At the gas station Pogy came to the rescue with his fix-all kit. He produced zip ties and safety wire. We had Ed shifting his Harley in no time.

Meanwhile, we noticed Marco's bike parked around the side of the gas station. Marco wasn't there.

Lighthouse Tavern was walking distance from the gas station. However getting across the road was a challenge. There was a lot of traffic on the two lane highway.

We got across the road but scattered as we hit the parking lot. There's parking in front, alongside and in the back of the venue. Fonz was parked in front. Captain had already arrived and got one of the last spots there, Grumpy too. Ed led Pogy and me down the side then headed onto the gravel. Pogy and I balked and parked in the last macadam parking space on the side of the tavern.

Pogy was aboard his brand new GoldWing and wasn't ready to baptize it in stone chips. After we parked, he pointed out his new bike is already blood stained. He figured to practice removing the side panel plastics in his warm garage before needing to potentially do it on the side of a winter highway. Unfortunately it was more of a challenge than he expected and he ended up cutting his fingers and dripping on his bike.

Meanwhile, Ed just rumbled across the gravel and all the way around the back of the pub to park with Captain and Grumpy up front.

True to his mission, Captain had secured a table for us. But the mechanical issues ended up causing us to order lunch later than originally planned. We did get our order in just moments before the Bucks County Hogs who once again showed up in big numbers. The kitchen was a bit slow. After all, they got slammed with so many bears arriving at once. This has happened before at Lighthouse and is the reason we invoked EDP (Early Departure Protocol).

Meanwhile Fonz had already eaten and was ready to head back as soon as he signed in. Marco, who left extra early with Fonz told us what happened. He's not exactly sure, but was hearing rattling and having power issues that made him think his recently replaced driveshaft is still not right. At our destination, he was a bit more than 150 miles from home.

We had a lively discussion at lunch about motorcycle towing insurance and their allowances for miles and how many tows per month or year. Marco found out the hard way a couple of weeks ago that the New Jersey Garden State Parkway (GSP) has its own favored towing service. So Marco actually had to get two tows to get home, one to get him off the Parkway and a second one to haul him home. (New Jersey predatory politics at their finest.) That's why Ed didn't stop on the GSP when his shifter failed. He was determined to nurse the bike off the exit.

Fortunately, Marco was able to limp to the service station — off the GSP — and call his buddy. Marco and his pal went in together on a trailer some years ago. Fortunately his friend is really a good friend, Marco said like a brother, who was willing to spend the rest of his Sunday driving to New Jersey and back to Connecticut to rescue Marco.

Meanwhile our food arrived. Captain's consternation was only partially assuaged. Grumpy had to settle for lemonade because Lighthouse is a Pepsi establishment, no Coke. I told them we were sounding more and more like a bunch of grumpy old men. I wasn't in any hurry and my corned beef was delicious!

This week Polar Bear Grand Pooh-bah Bob Hartpence made a public plea for patience with our destinations.

As we headed home our advance scout, Fonz, called our group's ride leader Anonymous Ed to let him know the GSP was shut down for some reason. Police were diverting everyone to the George Washington Bridge. Ed pulled the group over and explained and Captain took the lead because he was more familiar with getting off the bridge and onto the parkways, thereby avoiding the dreaded and mendaciously monikered Cross Bronx Expressway. Nothing "express" about it. Just after crossing the GW Bridge headed north you have to be in the far right lane to dive onto the parkways.

On the approach on the NJ Turnpike we came upon an accident. That was some bit of slow moving congestion. Then we slogged through plenty of stop-and-go traffic to get to onto the bridge, our clutch hands cramping. We entered the bridge on the far left side where the Easy Pass Only lanes were. Then we blocked and moved and worked our group through solid traffic to the far right lane.

Captain and Pogy left the Hutchinson Parkway for I-287 and I-95. That left me in the lead with the rest of the group and we motored home without any additional drama. I heard later that Marco made it home okay too.

Polar Bear Photographer Bernie Walsh likes being in front of the camera too.

Fonz with breakfast and Marco waiting for a tow.

Captain ready to grab a table and put in his food order.

Pogy's new GoldWing drew a crowd of admirers.