|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.|