Friday, December 23, 2016

Why, Oh Why?

Connecticut Bears in Freehold, NJ. We decided to take the group picture inside because it was raining outside.
From left: Captain, Grumpy and CT Blogger.

Motorcycle Polar Bear Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Freehold, NJ, December 18, 2016.

By: Chris Loynd, a.k.a. CT Blogger

Rain was forecast, and came. The day before we had almost six inches of snow in Connecticut. Our two hour ride, one way, was 90 percent interstate highway. Even though the temperature would warm to 50 degrees or more, at 60 mph that's still cold enough to require winter riding layers. On top of my gear I still need to wear my rain suit to stay dry. I was Michelin Man and then some. And as I was putting all that crap on Sunday morning I had one thought. "Why?"

Well it was a chance to spend a day on my motorcycle with my friends.

Yeah, it's maybe better on a sunny and warm day on some winding back roads. But Sunday offered none of those opportunities. Sunday offered highway riding in the rain . . . with my friends . . . on my motorcycle.

Like the tee-shirt says, "If I Have to Explain It, You Wouldn't Understand."

When I first started handling marketing for a local motorcycle dealership, Bridgeport Harley-Davidson, I had a reporter visiting and he kept asking the same question of everyone in the dealership. He kept getting the same answer from everyone, me, the owner, the general manager, the sales director, but was not satisfied. His questions was, "What's so special about riding a motorcycle?" Our answer was, "You just have to ride to know."

There's the responsiveness. You feel much closer to your machine than in a car. There's the camaraderie. A connection with others found in most every sport. There's the heritage. Harley-Davidson takes that to legendary levels. It is a feeling. It gets inside you.

We got lucky on the ride down to The Cabin in Freehold, N.J. No rain! Not even drizzle. Roads were even dry here and there.

In Connecticut we started out in fog due to our snow cover and unseasonably warm air. It's a phenomenon called an advection ground fog.

My first experience with advection fog is a pretty funny story. Many years ago, I was part of a traveling road show for soybean farmers. Our NYC ad agency created informative seminars for the American Soybean Association. We assembled a panel of experts of interest to soybean farmers: a commodities trader, a business finance guy and Dr. James Newman, eminent professor of meteorology from Purdue University.

It was an intense couple of weeks, town-to-town-to-town, different hotel every night, handholding the presenters, working the audience, handling logistics. We had just finished. It was Friday night, in a little Midwestern airport, and we were all anxious to be heading home.

We decided to have a celebratory drink as we waited for our plane. There was a little bar where you sat overlooking the runway through an enormous plate glass window. My more cosmopolitan compatriots were especially eager to get out of the sticks. They were not as comfortable in farm country as I was.

Here's an example. As we sat down MaryAnne ordered a Stolichnaya. The bartender said, "Huh?" I said, "MaryAnne, ask for a vodka rocks and hope they have Gilbey's." I settled for a Gordon's gin instead of my usual Tanqueray.

We sipped our drinks. We watched the planes come and go.  It was winter. Soybean farmers are too busy for seminars in the summer. There was a lot of snow pack. The runways were clear and dry though. And it was a freakishly warm day.

As we debated ordering a second round, Dr. Jim Newman joined us. "Go ahead and order another," he said, "You're not going anywhere tonight."

That was devastating news to my metropolitan companions. "Wha?"

Now this was before the internet and readily available forecasts on smart phones. We looked blankly at Dr. Jim and, being a professor, he was all too happy to explain, "You see, what we have here is an advective ground fog. As soon as the sun goes a little lower the snow will super cool the warm moist air above it and when it reaches dew point, a dense fog will start to form, hugging the ground."

I swear I saw fog forming as he spoke. It got thicker and thicker. It grew up from the ground. Our airport terminal bar was second story high and you could easily see over this rapidly forming fog blanket. I think you could have cleared the fog layer standing on a stepladder. From our second floor perch you could see for miles. But the runway itself was totally obscured.

No sooner did our second round of drinks arrive than the announcement came over the intercom, "All airport operations are suspended." The city girls' eyes bored into Professor Jim like it was his fault. He blithely babbled on about supersaturation.

Next thing we know an airline pilot joins us at the bar. "Why can't you take off?" MaryAnn scolded, "Heck the cockpit of the jet is sticking up above the fog. Once you're off the ground you have unrestricted visibility." The pilot explained a plane cannot take off unless it is able to turn around and land at the very same airport it just departed should anything go wrong. "You can't land if you can't see the runway," he said. Just then a FedEx plane landed, whump, right down into the fog, right in front of us. We all glared at the pilot. He read our minds. "Different rules for freight versus passenger planes," he said, "The freight pilot is allowed to risk his own life."

We spent yet another night eating hotel food and the next morning the sun's rays dissipated the fog in plenty of time for our Saturday morning flight to New York.

Last Sunday, our fog was thick on local roads but pretty thin up on the interstate. As the day went on, it disappeared completely. New Jersey did not have the snowpack Connecticut enjoyed.

Just three of us rode this Sunday. I took the lead, Captain was in the rocking chair and Grumpy swept. I teased Captain about me taking lead to ensure our speeds remained reasonable. Then at lunch Grumpy informed me I was just as guilty of "heading back to the barn" speed syndrome as anyone else. Well it is easier to criticize others in this blog than to face the man in the mirror. Fortunately I have my riding pals to keep me grounded. Cognitive dissonance being what it is, I was sure he was exaggerating all the same.

As we exited the restaurant our luck had run out. It was raining, not real hard, but steady. How's the saying go? "There's no bad weather, only poorly dressed adventurers." We were well-dressed for rain and rode in and out of it the rest of the way home. We never faced a downpour. So what is there really to complain about?

Well there were those times wet tar snakes tried to pull our bikes. It's a disconcerting feeling when the bike unexpectedly takes a quick skitter to one side or the other. One long snake tried to edge trap my front tire. The New Jersey Oranges were worst for rain and traffic.

I kept Grumpy's admonition in mind and kept a weather eye on my speedometer on our ride back up the Garden State Parkway. By golly, he's right. Here I am complaining about others when they have the lead, yet I could see that darn speed needle creeping up all on its own. Human nature is a powerful thing.

Starting out in the fog.

Arrival in Freehold, still mostly dry.

This was the toy run Sunday before Christmas to benefit a local New Jersey children's hospital.
Fortunately lots of bears came in cars despite the rain and there was plenty for the kiddies.
Uncharacteristically empty.

Festive Flight A.

Bob photo of the week.

Captain peruses the bill of fare . . .

. . . so does Chris.

Our friendly waitress.

Wet departure.

Join us after New Year's; it's fun!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Racing Snow

Collegeville Connecticut Bears, from left: Grumpy, CT Blogger, Token2 and Captain.
Motorcycle Polar Bear Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Collegeville, Penn., December 11, 2016.

By: Chris Loynd, a.k.a. CT Blogger

Season's first snow was forecast to fall this Sunday. We were all watching the "futurecast" closely Saturday night. Fortunately flakes were not predicted until late in the day. On Saturday night the weather prognosticators were suggesting a 7 p.m. snow start; Sunday morning they moved it up to 6. That was a weather window with which we could work.

However, early Sunday morning Token2 was looking at radar showing a snow swath over Philadelphia, closeby our destination, and wondering if he should ride. Dude! You're the one with the adventure touring motorcycle. The one who rode to the Arctic Circle.

Weathermen also promised us the first truly bearish Polar Bear ride of the season, forecasting temperatures in the low twenties in the morning and not much above freezing the whole day.

I broke out my Freeze-out onesie for the first time this season. I should have put on the hippo hands too. My Warm and Safe suit cranked more than enough heat for my body, right down to my toes. I never turned it up more than halfway. But the gloves struggled. Even at full heat my fingers were too cold. Hands fared better on the ride home. It's amazing what 10 extra degrees can do.

Gloves are tough. Make them too thick and they're no good for the motorcycle controls. They also need to be waterproof. Leather is preferred for protection, but is thick. Someone needs to design a glove with a thin, windproof and waterproof layer. I'd also like a longer gauntlet. My Warm and Safe gloves just barely cover my jacket sleeves. It is quickly annoying when you have even a tiny air leak up your sleeve at 20 degrees and 65 miles per hour. Some Polar Bear riders wrap the gap with duct tape.

In defense of Warm and Safe, my gloves are an older model. Their new "Ultimate Touring Gloves" look to have deeper gauntlets and double heating wires in the thumb. Maybe next season? My wife tries to understand, but my motorcycle gear collection baffles her. How many pairs of gloves does one man need?

Whether it was weather or whatever, we were down to the Connecticut Polar Bear core Sunday: Captain and Grumpy met me at the Dunkin' Donuts in Stratford, our weekly starting point. Captain told me about Token2's radar watching; they'd spoken earlier Sunday morning. "He said he may or may not be at the bus stop," Captain said.

Turned out Token2 strapped them on and was waiting for us.

I had the lead. Captain was sweep. Grumpy and Token2 tucked inside. We had a lot of ground to cover and a short weather window. With a small group of experienced riders, I turned up the wick. Grumpy was on me like glue. Captain was reading my mind, clearing lanes before I signaled. It was delightful.

Our destination was Appalachian Brewing Company in Collegeville, Penn., just north of Philadelphia. It is agonizingly close to 400 miles round trip. But we get only five points for the 380 mile ride. Not that we should complain. Most of our New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania Polar Bear brethren earn far fewer points on these rides. I've always said the Grand Tour is really not meant for us coming from Connecticut as we do. They graciously accept us all the same.

Starting out at 8:00 a.m., we figured to be in Collegeville well before the 11:30 sign-in. Last year an 8 a.m. start put us there at 8:20. With our tight group, a quick turnpike rest stop pee break and a bit of spirited riding, we hit town at 11:10 a.m.

Token2 was right. Light Pennsylvania flurries swirled around us as we searched for a spot of lunch.

Appalachian Brewing has notoriously slow service. So we hit a Friendly's a few miles off of the turnpike. We figured to polish off our repast and then ride into town to sign in and earn our points.

Friendly's lived up to its name and then some. Our waiter was friendly and accommodated us with a six seat table even though we were only four. Spare table top and chairs were piled with helmets, jackets and gear.

Captain had breakfast; Grumpy, Token2 and I had lunch. Food was tasty and fast. I went way off my diet with the fried clam strips, one of my all time favorites. Token2 and I upgraded to waffle fries. Yum! Everybody in the restaurant was friendly. Several folks struck up conversations with us. Four guys on motorcycles in winter were novel enough. Four guys from Connecticut doubly so. The nice lady in the booth next to us handed us a couple of $5 off coupons she had clipped from some circular somewhere. And our waiter cleverly split our ticket so we could take advantage of both. (Maybe that's supposed to be a secret? If someone from corporate is monitoring, rest assured we would have sat at two adjoining but not touching tables to get the deal!)

We were done in less than an hour, even took the group photo in the Friendly's parking lot. At Appalachian Brewing we didn't even take off our helmets, just strolled in, signed in, and were feet-up in five minutes.

Gas and go just before the Pennsylvania Turnpike on-ramp and we were hustling for home. We even skipped coffee in our stop at the top. Traffic was light, even across the Tappan Zee Bridge. As always, the worst congestion was in Connecticut. We rubber-banded a bit on the Merritt.

Even so, my ST was in the garage by 4:00 p.m.

I was sitting on the couch recovering, after exploding out of my multilayer riding gear and into comfortable jeans and sweatshirt, when my phone rang. It was Captain. "I'm driving behind a salt spreader," he said. He was in his car headed to Sue's place. "It's snowing!" The time was 5:20 p.m.

Grumpy got a new cell phone with wide-angle, multi-pixel camera and was showing me how it worked.

Polar Bear Grand Tour photographer Bernie Walsh. He took a group photo of us but it didn't make the page.

Bob photo of the week, next to Flight A Leader John.

Captain signs in with Flight B Leaders Jim and Joan.

Token2 signs in.

Grumpy signs in.

Quick turn stop at the top.

Outside my house at 5:20, that's snow!

Front of my house and a bit of holiday cheer!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Captain's Kryptonite

Hatfield Connecticut Polar Bears, from left, Anonymous Ed (actually his sleeve only, see arrow), CT Blogger, Token2, Fonz, New Guy Jim.
Down front: Captain and Thumper.

Motorcycle Polar Bear Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Hatfield, Penn., December 4, 2016.

By: Chris Loynd a.k.a. CT Blogger

Captain's ride to Montgomeryville Cycle Center in Hatfield, Penn., some years ago made him a legend in Connecticut Polar Bear lore. Poor fellow has yet to live it down. Grand Tour Polar Bear Pooh Bah Bob Hartpence will never let Captain forget it. And this past Sunday we discovered there may exist cosmic reverberations from that event haunting Captain still.

If you do not know the story, I will torture our much maligned Captain once more in the retelling. Full disclosure, I got this hearsay from my fellow Connecticut Bears. Unfortunately, I missed the infamous ride.

The Grand Tour scheduled ride on that fateful day long ago was to Brian's Harley-Davidson in Langhorne, Penn. Captain was leading. Unfortunately, he programmed the wrong motorcycle dealership into his GPS. He then led his compatriots to Montgomeryville Cycle, despite miles of protestations. When he approached the dealership's empty parking lot, Captain's heart sank. To their credit, the other Connecticut riders followed him all the way to the wrong destination. Communications are limited at speed in full face helmets.

I can attest that as lead rider you feel the pressure of those behind you. You know everyone of them has his own GPS confirming or refuting your route choices at every turn.

I've had my share of u-turns and miscues. If you lead enough rides, you will too. I own a disastrous circle at the foot of the Whitestone Bridge in New York City. That one even led to bike damage.

Even wise and wonderful Polar Bear Grand Tour Chairman Bob Hartpence is known to his closest friends as "The Shortcut King."

For our Connecticut Captain, maybe there is some magnetic field around Montgomeryville known only to him. Maybe it emanates unseen in cosmic waves. Leading a ride there I famously overshot the mark because I was looking for this dealership on the other side of the highway. Russ stuck with me as I sought a far away U-turn opportunity on the divided highway. The rest of my fellow riders ditched me, hard on the brakes, dove into the dealership and were having coffee and chili by the time Russ and I arrived from our U-turn.

I am a scientist by training and philosophy. So I do not put much credence in the "supernatural." At the most I admit there are many things in this world we do not yet fully understand. One of these is the powerful effect Montgomeryville Cycle Center continues to have on our beloved Captain, once again evidenced in this year's fateful ride to the Hatfield dealership.

For one, Captain insisted on leading the ride there this Sunday. I was ready to lead, even wrote the key direction on my mirror in grease pencil: "I-287 x-15." I offered this to Captain. His response was, "I'll go where my GPS says." Unfortunately, his GPS chose prosaic over poetic.

We slogged west across Route 202. It was that much more annoying because it was the exact same route we took last Sunday. You start out in pharmaceutical land. Ortho-McNeil-Janssen, Roche, Johnson-Johnson, Thermo Fisher Scientific, the road is lined with corporate campuses fed by fields of solar energy arrays. Then the scenery settles into strip malls and housing developments, miles of them. Next you enter car land. As you reach Flemington the road is lined with auto dealerships: BMW, Audi, Jeep, Dodge, Ram, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Infiniti, Hyundai, Toyota, Kia and the NJ DMV inspection lanes. Finally, as you near Pennsylvania, you enter some scenic farm land, much of it rich people's horse farm land, presumably for the highly paid workers of pharmaceutical land. Meanwhile my health insurance is killing me.

Over the Delaware River, Pennsylvania's version of Route 202 dumps into narrow New Hope, then continues in two lanes, small towns, stop-and-go congestion. It does look like Pennsylvania here and there. Fieldstone colonial houses and antique shops in town, along with convenience stores. It does open to some farm vistas now and then.

It gets more congested and suburban as you near Montgomeryville Cycle Center. Captain -- or perhaps more correctly his GPS -- magnified this effect by moving us over to Business Route 202 for the last bit. Personally, I was perfectly happy on the expressway 202.

Nevertheless, we arrived on time, 11:30 a.m. on the dime.

And that included an emergency pit stop. Hey, when you gotta go . . . .

Captain did not suffer the stop gladly. His outburst was out of character for him. Hmmm, maybe the Montgomeryville effect runs deeper than we divine. New guy Jim got a talking to the minute our helmets came off in the Montgomeryville Cycle Center parking lot. Apparently there was an earlier conversation. I'm not taking sides. But as I age, I do understand the need for more frequent potty breaks. That's why I restrict my coffee intake on Polar Bear Sunday mornings.

Captain soon settled. Jim seemed okay. Good humor was restored. We broke bread together and laughed once again.

The dealership treated us to free lunch, chili con carne, corn muffins, coffee, even doughnuts. It also offered 20 percent discounts. Thank you Montgomeryville Cycle Center for hosting us once again.

As we were walking into the dealership, Token2 remarked how tight our group rode on the way over. He was second-to-last rider; I was sweep. I wholeheartedly agreed. There was a bobble here and there, boxing in a Jeep and a last-possible-minute route decision. But all-in-all it was one of our better group rides.

We cannot claim the same for the ride home.

After a double U-turn, down-and-back, gas stop, Captain did take us on the scenic route home. He chickened-out on one turn thereby missing the covered bridge. He was probably influenced by peer pressure of the Unified Harley Riders of Central Jersey who were riding directly ahead of us.

It's a nice, scenic, country route on the way down to the Delaware River. The roads narrow, then narrow some more, then drop down to one-lane over creek bridges. (Thumper remarked at the obvious economy of a one-lane bridge.)

The fun ended as we entered I-78 heading back east for Connecticut. We missed the exit for I-287 plunging onto the Garden State Parkway in the Oranges. After voting to skip the stop at the top of the Garden State Parkway, we overturned that decision, deciding we might as well stop now that we were passing directly by it anyway.

Thumper shared a story of his first Polar Bear ride. He'd missed the group and went on his own. He avoided interstate highways, stuck to local roads, and made the destination at 1:30. He had a chicken sandwich, then rode home, the last part in the dark. "After that I realized the Polar Bear rides were mostly interstate riding," he concluded. To his credit, Thumper is a brand new rider -- was one of my motorcycle students just this past summer -- and holds his own with the rest of us on his single-cylinder BMW.

We're trying to talk him into leading a ride. Hey, maybe Montgomeryville Cycle Center next year?


Friday, December 2, 2016

Thanksgiving Leftover Traffic

Hillbilly Hall Connecticut Polar Bears, from left: Jim, Mac, Anonymous Ed, Captain, CT Blogger, Grumpy and Token2.

Motorcycle Polar Bear Blog, Polar Bear Grand Tour, ride to Hopewell, NJ, November 27, 2016

By: Chris Loynd, a.k.a. CT Blogger

My winter motorcycle compadres often remark on the crazy nature of our Sunday jaunts to nowhere New Jersey. Most riders put their bikes away for the winter: filled with fresh oil and Stabil-laced gasoline, tires on plywood bases, nourished by a steady drip of electrons from a low voltage battery tender.

We choose instead to plunge into Thanksgiving weekend traffic and other dubious adventures.

Temperatures were just over the freezing mark in the morning Sunday, but climbed to the upper forties for the ride home. It was just cool enough for me to wear my full electric suit. For years I polar beared with just an electric jacket and gloves. I'm glad to now also have electric pants and socks. All wired together and thermostatically controlled, the warmth makes for a wonderful sensation.

Why ride in winter?

For me it is a combination of positive joys. Prime among these is riding my motorcycle. I enjoy that so much, I was loathe to give it up all winter long. Then there is certainly the camaraderie. There is something special about having your friends bust your balls once and a while to keep perspective on life. It's also fun to get a few whacks in yourself, be honest! Then in some weird way, there's also the organization. Riding in the Polar Bear Grand Tour, instead of just doing a pick up ride now and then, adds purpose. You sign in, log your miles and earn patches and pins. In software circles they call it "gamification." Even if it is a silly sense of achievement, it is an achievement all the same.

I also enjoy riding well with others. Keeping a tight formation, good organization, managing traffic as we navigate our group of motorcycles down the road is a pleasure in itself. We rode quite well this past Sunday.

Captain, who is always willing to step up and lead a ride, also encourages full participation. Two Sundays ago he started in on Ed.  Captain thought it was about time Ed took a turn at the front of the pack and told him so. Ed joined us last year, is a good rider, and has quickly become a regular Connecticut Polar Bear.

So last Sunday, Captain pretty much tells Ed it is his turn to lead. Ed apparently did not take Captain seriously the week before. "I'm not ready," he said, "I mean, I don't know where we're going."

"How did you expect to get there?" Captain asked. "Just follow you guys," Ed answered.

But Ed did not falter. He ran out to his bike, powered up the GPS, found our destination and took the lead.

We all agreed he did a great job. He set his cruise control and kept a steady pace. Mac was his wing man and I've never seen Mac ride so tight. Usually he rubber bands and wavers side-to-side in his lane. Not last Sunday. Especially on the ride over where traffic was lighter, Mac was right in place behind Ed. We found out at lunch that Mac also has cruise control and liked the predictable pace.

Grumpy was a little loose in formation this last ride. He was third bike of seven. I was behind him. Grumpy opened up a pretty big gap now and again. I pressed up closer on Grumpy's flank, goading him back into place. My machinations had minimal effect. Grumpy leads a lot of rides. And if you fall back far enough in the pack, you become the defacto leader. I'm not sure what was on Grumpy's mind.

Ed noticed, as did most of us. And when Ed teased Grumpy about it at lunch, he found out Grumpy's nickname is earned, not given.

New guy Jim is looking to become a regular. He rode with us to Cape May, then joined us on this ride. He's signed up, a new Flight B Bear. Jim mentioned at lunch that he was out in North Dakota this past week. "What's in North Dakota that entices you there in winter," we asked. Turns out he was there protesting the oil pipeline. I think Jim will add an interesting element to our political spectrum.

One thing we all agree upon is the fun of riding motorcycles in winter. Well, at least I think we do. You can comment below why you are, or are not, riding with us from Connecticut to have lunch in neighboring states from October to April.

On the way home, we knew we were in for Thanksgiving traffic. An early start Sunday morning got us back on the highway midday. My GPS initially predicted I'd be home by 3:00 p.m. We speculated that we would be out ahead of the worst of the traffic. We were right, right up to the Connecticut border.

Even the Tappan Zee approach was not much worse than any given Sunday. But as soon as we exited I-287 we got slammed as only Connecticut can do. Half the group took for the Merritt Parkway. Ed likes I-95, so does Captain. Sandwiched between them I figured it was "six of one, half a dozen of t'other" and stayed with them. As we got to the end of I-287 the traffic came to a dead stop. Looking over the bridge to our right, we could see the same condition on I-95 approaching us for as far as we could see.

"Merritt?" Ed asked, as I pulled up next to him. "I don't know," I replied, "Maybe it will break up after Stamford." "Not that," Ed said with a nod over the south side of the bridge. "It's your call," I said, "I'll follow you." Ed decided to turn around and head back up 287 for the Merritt. We let Captain know, and the three of us were off.

Mostly the Merritt was moving. But traffic ground to a halt at each and every on-ramp. It was like trying to stuff just one more bite of turkey down your overfilled gullet. The parkway was not entirely stop-and-go. Here and there we clipped along. But of the extra hour-and-a-half it took us to get home, a full hour or more was claimed entirely by Connecticut traffic.

Remind me again, why do ride these rides in winter, on a holiday weekend?

Token2 and new guy Jim.

Ed prefers to remain anonymous, at least in showing his face.

Phone check upon arrival.

Hillbilly Hall between seasons in its decor.

How does Captain always manage to attract liberals?

Lunch, around the table from left: Captain, Token2, Grumpy with camera, Anonymous Ed and Mac.

Bob photo of the week.
Flight A leaders.

Flight B leaders.

See you next week!