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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bikes and Beetles in Unsnowy New Jersey

I joined the Polar Bear Grand Tour back in 1992. I wanted to continue riding my motorcycle through the winter and this tour was my way to achieve my goal. Originally, I thought I'd be doing it alone as I didn't think my wife would be the least bit interested in riding in 20 degree temperatures with even lower wind chills. I was wrong. She couldn't wait to get started.

That was at about the same time we both took up skiing. Jane's brother-in-law, Jack, got us started skiing and even came out from Illinois to supervise our first steps down the hill on skis. Jack was also the first to push us in the direction of learning to ride a motorcycle.

We went out skiing about a dozen times that first year. But when the motorcycle bug struck and we started doing winter motorcycle riding, the skis were put away, permanently.

The winters in New Jersey are totally unpredictable. There were some years with heavy snows that almost shut down our winter riding. Then there were years like this one where snowstorms were rare and the temperatures just high enough that we got rain and wind instead.

In this state, we seem to have two distinct climates. North Jersey usually gets snow while South Jersey either gets rain or nothing at all. That makes our Sunday winter rides quite interesting considering that we often traverse the state from south to north.

This last polar bear ride was to Long Valley, New Jersey, about 52 miles north of our house. On Saturday, the entire east coast had a massive coastal rain and wind storm that was never-ending. It dumped huge amounts of rain everywhere, saturating the ground. Then the winds approaching 60 mph at times blew against the trees, uprooting many and causing numerous power failures. We were continuously watching the weather reports trying to determine what the weather would be like for Sunday. Of course, to add more confusion, Saturday night was also the time change to Daylight Saving Time.

On Sunday, I got up early to check the weather and it seemed to be OK but there were some road closings and high winds were anticipated. I was going alone since Jane had one of those nasty colds going around and was in no condition to brave the cold and wind.

I tried to program my GPS but it wouldn't accept the address where I would be going. I could go many ways and I didn't know what path I'd take until I got on the road. I wanted to see how bad the wind was. Turns out it wasn't bad at low speeds but at 65+ mph, it tossed me around a lot. That made me leery to try to go over the Driscoll Bridge on the Garden State Parkway. I opted to head north via Route 18 through New Brunswick. That route was uneventful except for all the potholes and construction. When I finally got to I287, I had the option to head west on I78 and traverse country roads in a northerly manner until I got to Long Valley. However, I might encounter streams that had overflowed their banks or possibly trees across the roads. I decided to continue north on I287 and pick up Route 206. That turned out well as the speeds were lower and the winds less objectionable.

The last 10 miles were enjoyable as I climbed in elevation and the temperature lowered. The mountains and trees were all around me and I was comfortable in my electrics nestled behind my full windshield. It was a good polar bear day.

As usual, I arrived and immediately started taking my pictures and short videos that I place on the Polar Bear Grand Tour Web site each week. You'll find them on the Long Valley page.

While taking pictures I saw a nice 1974 Volkswagen Beetle in the middle of the motorcycles. It had a "QQ" plate. Here in New Jersey, the "QQ" plate designates a car at least 25 years old. I had a 1933 Chevrolet once with a "QQ" plate. I couldn't just drive the car anywhere. It had to have limited mileage and be used for educational purposes. The 1974 I saw was the same year VW I once owned. The owner, a polar bear rider, had recently bought it completely restored. He had driven the car today instead of riding his bike since he had a bad cold. It was my good fortune. He showed me the car. It was beautiful. I took pictures and a couple of videos. You'll find them on the link above. I once wrote an article about the three VW Bugs that I owned including my own white 1974. That article was written when I was the Motorcycles Guide at About.com. I had joined with all the car Guides to write about the VW after the last VW came off the assembly line in Mexico.

On the way home, I decided to ride through Princeton, New Jersey. The trip was stop-and-go down Route 206 but I was in no hurry. After I got to the Route 1 traffic circle, I found the road closed. There was some storm damage beyond. I quickly turned around the circle and headed north on Route 1. When I saw a familiar crossroad, I turned off, pulled over to the side of the road, and switched the GPS to "Home" to get myself un-lost. Thank God for the Home button. It gave me a neat country ride over a road I had never been on and then suddenly pointed me to a familiar road that took me home without a hitch.

All in all, it was a good riding day. I survived the wind and cold another day even though I only saw a couple of clumps of snow over the 104 mile route.

I'm hoping the remaining winter is kind to me. I don't expect to see any more snow, in keeping with the way things are this year. On the other hand...

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