Thursday, December 30, 2010

Polar Bear Snydersville, PA, December 19, 2010

Snydersville (Stroudsburg), PA, December 19, 2010

By: Chris Loynd

It was just a really nice day for a Polar Bear motorcycle ride. A threatening snow storm stayed out to sea. Attendant clouds kept the temperatures above freezing, mostly above freezing.

Grumpy is back. I knew it was him as I approached the Dunkin' Donuts jump off point in Stratford Sunday morning because he was at the head of a line of bikes ready to pull onto Lordship Boulevard . . . without me! He has left without me before, just left me to ride on my own for the lack of a mere minute or two waiting for a late comrade.

I was not late this time. My GPS, hyper-accurate time was 8:30 a.m. Well, okay, that's a lie. It read 8:31 as I pulled up to the line of bikes poised to leave . . . without me, as I said.

My usual M.O. is to arrive just as our guys are suiting up to leave. Okay, so I cut it a bit tighter than usual last Sunday morning because my wife Cynthia's computer was still predicting snow. Worried, I waited for the Cablevision forecast as I suited up. The TV weatherman said no snow. And I was off.

After eight years, the rest of the guys usually cut me a bit of slack.

It's okay for Grumpy to be punctual. He's ex-military. And he's, well, particular, very, hence the nickname.

As for Pogy and Scott waiting not-so-patiently at the Darien rest stop, I once again attest that our line of bikes departed the Dunkin' at precisely 8:31. So I don't want to hear any more guff about us being late to you guys.

In my last blog post I explored in depth the features and foibles of GPS navigation for motorcycles. I am no tech wiz, but I am well read. As I understand it, timing is everything for synchronizing the two or three satellites in geosynchronous orbit above the earth in order to triangulate my motorcycle's exact position in the world. So the time displayed on my GPS is the most accurate time you can get.

It read 8:31 as I approached our guys ready to go. Grumpy and I exchanged very little. I said, “Welcome back!” He nodded, I think disapprovingly, and dropped his clutch. Captain waved me into place with a nod of his head. There's just no way we departed Dunkin' any later than 8:31:30, no matter what Pogy says about his certified travel time from Stratford to Darien.

Except for a bout of stop-and-go construction traffic on Route 80 headed west, we enjoyed an uneventful ride to the Pocono Mountains. My odometer read just exactly 150 miles, one-way. So I am hoping my Flight Leaders give me the extra point. Captain clocked something like 308 round trip, so maybe my odometer is running a bit shy.

We decided that is maybe too long a run for some of us older guys. Next long ride, we maybe need to build in a bathroom break. One of our guys joked that he couldn't wait and just went in his riding suit. That also helped solve the problem of cold toes, at least for a little while, he said.

My GPS would probably give me uber-accurate exact distance traveled. And I am sure it is in there somewhere imprinted on a memory chip. I just don't know how to find it. Guess I had better spend some Christmas holiday downtime trying to better learn how to use the dang thing.

I also upgraded my cell phone last week. That too comes with its learning curve. It has wonderful, whizzbang features. You just have to memorize the 10,000 key combinations, 3,000 screens and 12,000 so called short cuts in order to tap the phone's potential. And don't even get me started on the million-some apps.

Smart phone my a**! If it's so smart, why doesn't it intuitively know what I want? Oh, there's an app for that?

Fortunately, I did pretty quickly pick up how to make and receive phone calls. And unlike Captain, I can text.

Back on topic, we arrived in good order, early though. Fortunately the split pea soup showed up soon after we did. Walter Kern even made a video of ever-helpful Grumpy carrying the soup for Mrs. Schoch.

Mrs. Schoch was there managing the food, greeting the Polar Bears and spreading good will. Thank you again for hosting us!

Unfortunately, Schoch's was using their spacious upstairs for other things. So we did not get any opportunity to sit down and kibbutz with one another. We stood around downstairs, had a bit of food, drank a half-cup of coffee. Somehow, I managed to still be last out to our bikes for departure. (It wasn't my fault I got caught in the longer bathroom line.)

Fortunately Grumpy was along with his camera. Mine had a dead battery. So we still managed the group picture. I am sure, in a pinch, I could have taken the photo with my fancy new cell phone. It has an 8 megapixel camera built in. I do know how to take a picture with my phone. I just don't know where it goes after I take it, or how to get a picture from my phone to my computer.

Our ride home was smooth and uneventful. Grumpy proudly offered to buy the coffees at Chez GSP. He had a $20 Dunkin' Donuts gift card. But the Dunkin' on the Garden State Parkway is not a “participating vendor.” Grumpy was a good sport and bought all the same.

I am sure there is more that happened on our ride. I fell asleep on the couch when I got home, had two, no three now, consecutive Christmas parties since Sunday. Plus Pogy and I had a very interesting discussion about our jobs and companies that affected me profoundly. And that's all I can seem to remember from last Sunday. Maybe some of my fellow bears can chime in with a few remembrances of their own.

Our next ride is a whole two weeks away. Because Christmas and New Year's both fall on weekends, the Grand Tour has decided to forgo Sunday rides on those holidays.

So in the meanwhile a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Polar Bear Montgomeryville, Pa.; December 5, 2010

Montgomeryville, PA; December 5, 2010

Polar Bear weather: 26 degrees to start, 29 to finish, don't think it ever broke 40.

By: Chris Loynd

Longtime Polar Bear Blog readers will know that over the years I have made good fun of GPS enabled ride leaders. Now I am one.

Pulling into the Dunkin' Donuts in Stratford just as my fellow riders were dressing and getting organized, Captain and I discussed the ride and route. He asked “Who's leading?” like he didn't want to be the one. So I figured, “What the heck?” and rode out to the front of the group.

I wasn't really ready to lead.

Yes, I had looked at the MapQuest map when I formulated a departure time. I have a vague concept of where Pennsylvania lies. Fortunately, I had at least entered the destination address into my GPS as a precaution. (Thank you Bob V.)

I embraced one of these satellite receiver contraptions for my trip west. In the 7,500 miles and four weeks of our trip together, GPS and me, we fell in love. I am a convert. GPS is wonderful for a motorcycle.

Being lost in Cambridge, Mass. on the bike a few years back haunts me still. I had to stop the bike, fish the paper map out of my saddlebags, figure out where I was, memorize two or three turns to where I wanted to go. It took me six or eight of these confusing, mind-wrenching, memory-taxing stops to finally get back on the interstate, headed for home with a headache.

GPS puts the map in front of you. Nearly as helpful, it tells you how far to the next turn. Still, it has limitations.

Like most things computer, GPS comes with a learning curve. Sunday's ride clearly evidenced I have not climbed far enough up the curve.

GPS also has it's benefits. For one thing, if you are willing to surrender your destiny to a computer algorithm, GPS will take you through all kinds of interesting country. This facility has been the fodder of blogs past. Led by other CT Polar Bear GPS following leaders, we have explored the very depths of New Jersey farm country, toured some of its nastiest cities and seen paved roads suddenly turn to dirt, all at the behest of someone's GPS.

My turn at GPS roulette came Sunday. I led us all the way out Route 202 from Interstate 287. In the past we have taken the faster Interstate 78 west, then dropped down to Montgomeryville.

The 202 is a pretty ride, actually. Once you clear the stoplights, there for a while the scenery looks nice as you transition from Jersey pharmacy land to horse country to suburban ticky-tacky boxes country.

Across the bridge in New Hope, Pa., we rode past beautiful old Pennsylvania stone houses. Downtown Doylestown was actually quite charming. Apparently my GPS felt it was faster to go right through the center of town than to bypass it on the expressway.

Russ accused me of having my GPS set to “shortest route” (or maybe “most scenic”) instead of “fastest route.” I confirmed my affirmation when I got home. In fact it was set to “fastest,” although you could not have proven it by my ride navigation last Sunday. After our summer adventure together, my GPS and me, perhaps it suffers from a lack of scenery on our urban expressway-dominated Polar Bear rides.

We did, in fact, reach Montgomeryville Cycle Center. And some of our riders commented, “Well we have never gone that way before.”

Thanks to my GPS, we came at the dealership destination from a completely different direction. I'm not sure of the compass heading. I'll have to look at a paper map to figure out how we got there.

The change in approach meant I missed the turnoff. On all our previous rides, the dealership came up on the left, which is where I was looking when it quite suddenly appeared on the right. I felt it would have been unsafe to get on the brakes too hard, being at the head of a line of bikes. So I dove for the shoulder. Everyone else made the turn to the dealership.

Russ, my wing man, could have made the turn too. But Russ is one of the best wing men in motorcycling. And just like Maverick in “Top Gun,” Russ knows: you never leave your wing man. So he rode twenty miles further with me (Russ said it was more like 50 or a hundred) until we could find an exit ramp and turnaround. Russ will follow you up a tree if he is your wing man.

When I finally arrived at the Polar Bear destination, Token quipped, “We've already taken the group photo without you.” But he was only kidding.

Motgomeryville Cycle Center offered warming beef chili with all the fixin's, including corn bread. Yummy! They also served hot dogs, coffee and water. Seating was at a premium, but eventually we found a spot for all of us together at the end of a table.

Bob Hartpence, Polar Bear Grand Pooh-bah, stopped by with some interesting comments about his challenges trying to keep in touch with members via e-mail blasts. All I can say, is that this blog is 100% opt-in. If you don't like it, don't read it. Geeze! Even bikers are going politically correct?

By the way, this blog is open to commentary. The BlogSpot version allows you to post a comment right then and there. The version with photos requires you to send me an e-mail.

It was fun to see Token2 regale in this plastic-dominated store filled with metric motorcycles. He truly was happy in his element. He said to me, “Look at this half of the shop: no chrome!” A token no more, these were HIS people!

Unfortunately, he had to nestle amongst Harleys for the ride home.

Before we departed, Token2 had to purchase a new controller for his heated garments. When we got to our stop at top of the GSP (yes, I did finally lead us home), turns out John J. has had trouble with his as well. John J. sent his controller back to Gerbing and the sent it back with a patched wire. John J. is still not happy.

Considering I am a Polar Bear rider that hates the cold, I think I will purchase a second controller as back-up.

My GPS and I agreed upon a homeward route. I wanted to take the more express Interstate 78 back. Simply by hitting the “home” button, my GPS showed me a reasonable route north to I-78 then east to I-287. We had an accord and off I went, bikes trailing behind me.

Unfortunately, most of our bikes were running on fumes, a gas stop sorely needed. I passed up a WAWA, thinking a few of my guys might not appreciate an off-brand fill-up.

(We did not have Grumpy with us. That's significant because he insists not only on brandname gasoline, but also one made from oil pumped under the proper geopolitical circumstances. Hugo Chavez, you listening?)

But the road past the WAWA started looking pretty rural and I was afraid we might not find another gas station. So I circled the procession with a "U" turn, always a move open to derision, and reversed my line of march back to WAWA.

Apparently my GPS took my indecision to indicate a change in plans. And without my knowing it, the GPS took it upon itself to change my route. Captain later said he believes the GPS calculates your route depending upon which way the bike is pointed at the time.

Between the u-turn and then riding around through the filling station, I guess I performed the equivalent of spinning around the blindfolded player in blind man's bluff. My GPS got confused.
The computer still took us home, but sent me back exactly the way I came, stoplights and all.

Sometimes it's hard to tell what or who is in charge, the computer or the user. Speaking of which, I can't wait to see the new Tron movie. Maybe there is a future version where a driver gets sucked into his GPS.

Now that most all our riders are GPS equipped (I was one of the last holdouts) they at least know what I am up to, floundering around at the head of the line as I was. They can follow my every foible, turn-by-turn.

A full line of bikes behind you definitely limits your experimental navigation options. On my own, I would not have sweated the turnaround. I would have simply taken the next State Route indicating “north,” confident in eventually running into I-78.

One advantage of GPS is that you lose your fear of getting lost. My Garmin motorcycle version even has an “off road” function. I can't wait to try that out with Russ at my side. He loves dirt and gravel roads.