|Off-season Connecticut Bears in June, from left: CT Blogger, Pogy and Captain.|
By: Chris Loynd
My original motivation for joining The Polar Bear Grand Tour was I couldn't imagine going four to six months without a motorcycle ride. I never dreamed someday I would end up doing more riding from October to April than from April to October. But here of late, life's had other plans.
One was losing my local HOG. (Harley Owners Group if you're not familiar.) The local dealership a mile from home closed and my next closest chapter is now New Haven, Branford actually. A few of my Bridgeport Chapter friends are now New Haven HOGs. I joined New Haven the year our Bridgeport dealership died, but was too busy to make many meetings or rides.
A new and very demanding job, starting right about the same time as loss of my local HOG, sapped free time and energy. It also cut into the quality time I had with my wife. So I tended to try to spend more time with Cynthia, who does not like motorcycle riding, than with HOGs. That cut into riding time, big time. The Connecticut Wine Trail offered Cynthia and me lots of wonderful excuses for Saturday and Sunday summer outings of quality time together.
About the same time as all this, I bought my Mazda MX-5 convertible. Not a motorcycle, it comes darn close on a sunny day with the top down. And Cynthia will ride in the Mazda, albeit under scarves and sun screen, often with a blanket over her legs. With its all-weather advantages and generous (by motorcycle standards) cargo capacity, the Mazda is an easier choice for vacation jaunts as well. Consequently, I never had my cycle out overnight at all this summer.
I also started teaching more motorcycle classes. I am a “rider-coach” in Connecticut's rider education program. Teaching classes was good therapy for the stresses of my day job. But classes ate up still more summer weekend days.
For motorcycle classes I always like to ride my bike to classroom nights and range days. It sets a good example for students. Both classroom and range are conveniently close to my home, beyond convenient actually; I could walk to each.
So when Token2 offered an off-season Polar Bear ride this past Sunday, I was still on the same tank of gas as when I filled up from a June ride to Pennsylvania restaurant Fireside Bar & Grille owned by Pogy's brother-in-law. By the way, Pogy has suggested for years this would be a good Polar Bear destination. It certainly is big enough. The food and service were excellent. George and Roy, it's worth a look!
|"Fireside" offers truth in advertising with a wood-burning brick oven.|
|Crab dip was AWESOME!|
|Off-season Bears seek shady parking spots.|
Pogy offered his nice jaunt at the “beginning” of the Polar Bear off-season. Captain and I joined him. We did a very Polar Bear type excursion, at least typical for Connecticut Polar Bears. We started early, rode interstates and turnpikes just about the whole way, ate lunch, then beat back home the way we came, deviating only to swap the GW Bridge southbound for the Tappan Zee northbound.
For Connecticut Bears, most destinations are farther distances than for our New Jersey brethren. With winter's harsher conditions and shorter days we stick to the big highways. There are a few exceptions. When the Grand Tour comes to northern New York, Token2 comes into his own.
Polar Bear destinations Long Valley, Augusta, Sloatsburg and Kingston are in his backyard. Token2 knows every twisty trail from New Jersey Highpoint to the Bear Mountain Bridge. When winter weather allows, he leads us on scenic rides with curvy roads and mountaintop vistas.
Memories of these convinced me to ask my wife if she would not mind too terribly if I switched my plans and went for a daylong ride with my buddies this past Sunday. My original plan was to accompany Cynthia on one of her triathlon events. (When I say “accompany” what I mean is driving along with her to the destination and then sitting in the shade reading a book while Cynthia does the swimming, biking and running.) Summer's winding down and I felt I wanted to spend more time with my wife (see the third paragraph).
She didn't think twice. “It's the first time I've seen you smile today,” she observed as I sheepishly asked to change my plans. “We'll have a nice glass of wine together on our veranda (back porch) at the end of the day.”
Token2 was offering a far-ranging scenic ride, an exotic lunch destination and a collection of hundreds of vintage motorcycles. He did not disappoint.
He invited just our Connecticut Polar Bear core. On Sunday it was just Pogy, Token2 and me. The rest of you guys missed a corker!
I started alone from Stratford – and late. If you are a faithful reader of this blog you know the CT Bears wait for no man. They leave on time. Exactly. Sometimes a tick or two early. And if you're late, you either catch up on the road or at the final destination. Guess I am out of practice. Generally, I like to show up right before the departure time. I just don't value taking off all those layers to hang out at my local Dunkin' Donuts. Even when I'm early, I usually just stand outside in the cold.
Likely my late departure was because I purposely did not build in the usual half-hour “suiting up” time required for winter riding. I often say the only difference between Polar Bear and summer riding is you don't just jump on the bike and go in winter. This Sunday I required only a sweatshirt and bluejeans under my protective riding jacket and pants. Another possibility, well excuse actually, is that my daughter's dog Montigue is visiting from Brooklyn. With Cynthia's 5 a.m. departure for her triathlon, it fell to me to walk Monti before I left on my motorcycle ride. He diligently sniffed every tree, pole and bush for two blocks.
Captain never confirmed if he was riding with us or not; we were to meet at our regular departure Dunkin' Donuts at 7:30 a.m. So it was that from 7:35, when I arrived late until I picked up Pogy at the Darien rest stop, I was never sure Captain – and therefore the whole ride – had not left without me. Fortunately, Pogy was still there, waiting patiently, for my arrival. Captain couldn't make it.
I doubt Pogy caught on, but I rode off the interstate and into the gas pumps to “meet” him. Usually we do a flying pick up, beeping our horns as we go by on the interstate, Pogy's Goldwing lumbering down the on-ramp to catch us. I figured to top off my tank in Stratford, but ran out of time. So I nonchalantly pulled up to the pumps like I planned to do so all along, and gained back five minutes' time.
All was moot, wouldn't you know? Pogy and I arrived at the Hutchinson Parkway bus stop meeting place for Token2 a good 15 minutes ahead of time. So even if I'd missed the group ride from Stratford to Darien I would have caught them in Westchester.
Wanting to be ready to leave promptly when Token2 arrived, and the morning weather pleasantly cool, Pogy and I did not take off our riding gear at the bus stop. We just sat on the bus shelter bench in our full complement, helmets and all, waiting for our lead rider. A jogger came by, paused, looked at us a moment and asked, “You guys waiting for the bus?”
Token2 arrived on time. He asked whether Pogy or I would sweep. My first response was magnanimous, “I'll sweep.” But then I got to thinking and suggested Pogy would be better in back. “You'll never keep up with Token2 in the twisties,” I surmised. Pogy commented, “Oh yes! That's what I miss without the Polar Bears, taking a lot of guff from my friends.” (He actually said something other than “guff” but this is a family-friendly blog.)
So off we went, riding three Honda motorcycles of very different character: Token2 in the lead on his nimble CB500X Rally Raid conversion, me right behind him on my “sport-touring” ST1100 and Pogy bringing up the rear on his Barcalounger, I mean, Goldwing.
After only a short stint on controlled access highway west over the Tappan Zee and north up the Palisades Parkway, the fun began. Token2 led us through Harriman State Park then along back roads all the way west to Port Jervis before stopping for a coffee, doughnut and bathroom break. Next he headed us back southeast treating us to more amazing Mohonk and Minnewaska scenery and the Shawangunk mountain range overlook in Ellenville where I took my only photos of the ride.
|Three very different Hondas.|
|Incredible mountaintop overlook.|
At the overlook the air temperature reached well above Polar Bear levels. Fortunately I planned for this eventuality. Underneath my sweatshirt, which I now removed, I had a special bit of summer riding kit called a tee-shirt. Unfamiliar to Polar Bear riders, it is a light cotton garment with short sleeves, perfect for riding on these days when you do not need an electric jacket liner. Often these tee-shirts are covered with graphics and for today's ride I'd chosen one emblazoned with a large Harley-Davidson logo. For safety, I still wore my riding jacket on top, but a specialized summer version made of Cordura mesh and TF2 armor.
Token's route took us through Pine Island, New York. Coming down from the mountains, I noticed broad, flat fields of blacker-than-black soils. The farmland was obviously highly managed with perfectly level plots built up and surrounded by ditches. At highway speed I could not discern the crop. A highway marker referenced “Drowned Lands.”
When I got home, a Google search revealed we were riding across the bottom of an ancient glacial lake that receded 12,000 years ago. The glacier left behind a low, boggy area lush with plant life. Then the Wallkill River deposited nutrient rich sediments there for a few thousand years more as part of the river's flood plain. Pine Island is so named because it truly was an inland island whenever the river flooded.
Settlers avoided the wet, boggy area until the early 1800s when Volga German and Polish immigrants recognized the soil's value and built a deep drainage canal. They even fought and won the “Muskrat and Beaver Wars” with downstream millers to keep their farms above water, eventually putting the water-wheel-powered folks out of business. The farmers also created malaria outbreaks by taking so much water out of one part of the Wallkill, the river was reduced to a series of stagnant pools.
Receding waters revealed some of the richest earth in the nation. More than 20,000 acres of deep muck soils make up the largest such deposit in America save the Florida Everglades. While most soils are made up of less than 10 percent organic matter, black dirt is 50 to 90 percent. While most top soils are measured in feet, even inches, black dirt soils run 30 feet deep in some places.
And what do farmers do with some of the richest soil in the country just 100 miles from New York City? They grow onions. Not as famous as Vadialas, and certainly not as sweet, these are the baseball-sized, hard, yellow onions you buy in net bags at the grocery store. Black dirt onions pack a punch. Their growing soil is rich in sulfur boosting the onions' pyruvic acid content, the ingredient that gives onions their sharp bite and makes your eyes water when you cut them. Still, these yellow onions are loaded with as much sugar as Vadiala and other “sweet” onions making them caramelize exceptionally well, offering a complex sharp and sweet flavor favored by many chefs.
We did not spend too much time on valley floors. Token2 had us running up and down mountains until our cheeks were sore from smiling in our full-face helmets. Motorcycles love corners.
Steep mountain scenery covered in pines and accented with huge bald granite facings, reminded me of that amazing scenery at the end of the movie “Last of the Mohicans.” While New York's mountains are the proper setting for James Fenimore Cooper's story, the film was made in North Carolina's Appalachians because there's too much modern jet traffic streaking the skies around New York's Hudson River mountains. To be accurate, historical events leading to Cooper's story all happened well north of where we were riding. While Fort Edward is now just a town above Albany, a reconstructed Fort William Henry is on the shores of Lake George.
Nevertheless, looking up at mountain faces as we rode by I imagined running along perilous trails, in buckskins and moccasins, touting a flintlock. Instead we were cruising along in Cordura and motorcycle boots, leaning in and out of corners, on macadam roads protected by guard rails.
As we rode through tiny towns I delighted in names of two businesses I saw along the way. Rather than a family or national chain name I noted “A Low Price Car” used car dealership and “Try R Deli” which requires no generic description. Truly strong branding. Short, direct, descriptive, with a call to action, I think “Try R Deli” could go nationwide. It certainly makes more sense than say, “Cumberland Farms” or “Piggly Wiggly.”
Most towns appeared to be suffering. We rode past empty small factories surrounded by parking lots obscured by tall weeds, enclosed in chain link fences, giant “available” signs posted out front. The few Main Streets we traversed were fronted by empty buildings needing a coat of paint. All of us commented at lunch on the number of “Trump” signs we saw, most of them homemade. I postulated the rural versus urban divide must be deep in New York, Clinton's adopted home state.
We ended the scenic part of our ride at the epitome of small-town economic decline, Newburgh.
Token2 led us, via a last minute change of direction, missed turn and short sidewalk ride, into the parking lot of a dingy little diner where I assumed he was going to ask for directions. Instead he announced lunch. He only told us after we ate he originally had a different eatery in mind, but discovering it was closed Sundays, Googled us into this place.
The diner's entry vestibule was stacked with cases of canned tomatoes and sacks of beans. A sign on the window facing the door announced, “We are praying for you.” We took the one empty booth and I sank below the table height on an ancient cushion. (I ended up eating lunch atop my padded motorcycle jacket doubling as a booster seat.) Token2 announced it was a Mexican food diner, declaring it authentic and good based upon his observations that: A) the place was packed at lunchtime on a Sunday afternoon and B) we three were the only non-Hispanic folks eating there.
It was an ancient diner, well past its prime. Pogy noted the once-beautiful woodwork and inlaid mirrors of what had been the ice box, not refrigerator, ice box. Burl-wood maple veneer decorated the fascia above an art deco, stainless steel, grill backing. We were guessing early 1800s (probably around the time they drained the drowned lands). Token2 wondered aloud if the counter stools were original.
Having delivered on two of his three promises, a far-ranging, scenic ride and exotic lunch, Token2 next led us a short way down the road to fulfill his third: hundreds of vintage motorcycles.
We went to Motorcyclepedia Museum. Even though it opened in 2011, I first heard about it last October then the museum hosted one of The Chocolate Expo shows. My former place of employment, The Maritime Aquarium, hosted Chocolate Expos for several years, which I was in charge of promoting. (Last year the expo delivered the Aquarium's largest ever single day attendance, nearly two weekend's worth in one long, very long, day.) This was my first chance to visit Motorcyclepedia.
Pogy also heard about it from a friend and asked Token2 to put it on our itinerary.
More than 500 antique, vintage, rare and custom motorcycles are displayed on two floors in the 85,000 square foot museum.
One of the cool ideas they have is motorcycles you can sit upon for a photo opportunity. While most of the exhibits are understandably no-touch, the photo opp bikes are dispersed generously throughout, starting with a couple of old Harleys with sidecars in the entry foyer.
I love museums of all sorts and could easily have spent hours more. My compatriots were done sooner than I. And yes, I've learned to accept not everyone is an information geek and history junkie like me. Admission is just $11, so there's no excuse not to visit again.
The most impressive exhibit is a timeline of Indian motorcycles comprised of at least one model (often more) for every year the bikes were manufactured except for the first year. The company built only three bikes in 1901. Interspersed is a delightful collection of the many variations dreamed up by the company including a pedicab-like trike where the second rider sits in front of the operator facing forward in a big wicker chair fastened between the handlebars, a snow ski equipped model, all sorts of business versions with transport boxes instead of sidecars for carrying everything from ice cream to fresh meat and . . . well you'll just have to visit.
It would be great if Polaris, current owner of the Indian brand and builder of current models, also Victory motorcycles, could donate their latest bikes to keep the timeline going. There is a post Springfield Indian motorcycle on the floor, but no sign delineating its manufacturer. (Lack of signs and interpretation was my only complaint about Motorcyclepedia.) There are other gaps in the post-Springfield timeline, as described below. Certainly a collection effort covering more than a hundred years of motorcycles should be continued.
There's an interesting exhibit describing how various scammers tried to abscond with and profit from the Indian brand after the original company closed in 1953. One example is a carved-wood mock-up of a soon-to-be-built motorcycle to impress prospective investors. A true wooden Indian!
Again, there is a great opportunity missed here to better explain the brand's movement and eventual acquisition by Polaris. There were India Indians (re-branded Royal Enfields), Taiwanese Indians including Indian scooters, and Gilroy, Calif. Indians with S&S motors. Then Stellican Ltd., an investment company that specializes in reviving brands like Chris Craft, bought the Indian name and built a few, rather expensive, Chiefs in North Carolina. If you're interested, the new Indian Motorcycle company offers a wonderfully frank timeline on its website.
Curation is weak throughout the museum. It is best in the Indian timeline room, still I wished for many more signs and descriptions. They need more cool touches like their blowup of an early 1900's article discussing whether gasoline will be available in significant quantities in the future. At the time George Hendee and Carl Hedstrom were starting their motorcycle manufacturing business in Springfield, gasoline was a rarity sold in glass jars at the local pharmacy or tin cans at the general store. (Rockefeller made his oil refining fortune in kerosene for lighting, not gasoline for propulsion.)
Beyond Indians, a great many more facets of motorcycling are offered at the museum, including Harley-Davidson bikes of all sorts for those enthusiasts. A display pays homage to Rat Fink creator Big Daddy Roth and includes one of his trikes. A case donated by Connecticut Cruise News Publisher Don Clady offers memorabilia from Marcus Dairy and Super Sunday but without a lot of explanation of these events and why they were important. Another room offers Asian and European manufacturers including a rare Wankel rotary powered bike. There are a few choppers and customs, a display of hill climbers and board track racers, police bikes, motorized bicycles, and much, much more. A three-wheeler claims to be the oldest, running, motorcycle on the planet. It sits next to a re-creation of Daimler’s first ever motorcycle. In one basement room is a full-sized Wall of Death motorcycle daredevil track.
With such a broad collection of novelties and rarities, I wished there were far more signs and descriptions. I probably saw some really cool and one-of-a-kind motorcycles, but don't know enough to understand or appreciate all I saw. Some motorcycle historian or museum curator needs to sort it out. Maybe when a prominent magazine editor retires? Buzz Kanter, this would be perfect for you!