New Jersey winters are cold. Not Minnesota cold, but cold enough that most motorcyclists put their bike away until spring. There are a few who will get out on the road during an unusually warm winter day, but not many. Then you have the Polar Bears!
These aren’t the Polar Bears who take a dip in frigid water during below-freezing temperatures. (That is a whole different level of crazy!!) These Polar Bears are the guys and girls who refuse to let their bikes hibernate for the winter.
The gist of it goes something like this: Every Sunday, there is a different destination to ride to. You don’t have to ride with a group, but you can if you want to. Just arrive at the scheduled destination, usually a bar, restaurant, or motorcycle dealer between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., sign the log book and enjoy the company of your fellow Polar Bears. You get 2 points for showing up, and an additional point for each 100 miles of your round trip to the destination site.
The February 4, 2018 ride was scheduled for The Franklin House Tavern in Schaefferstown, PA. Looked like it would be an average run. Snow flurries were in the forecast for later in the afternoon, but the temp wasn’t too bad by Polar Bear standards at around 34 degrees. For me, it would be about 230 miles round trip. Four points!
This wasn’t going to be the most scenic drive I’ve ever taken; spending most of the ride on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but this week’s goal was a bit different for me. Instead of enjoying the ride, taking the long way and grabbing a bite to eat, this was going to be a straight-through, no frills ride, so I could get home in time to catch my Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl!
Things were great at the start. After gearing up with plenty of warm layers, I fired up the bike and hit the road.
About an hour into the ride, I noticed some light snow, but nothing bad. It didn’t take long, and the change was barely noticeable, but soon enough the snow was really falling and the roads were getting slick. My face shield was covered in ice, on the outside and inside, so visibility was a big problem. Along with slick roads and poor visibility, I was also stuck on the Turnpike. The next exit was about 25 miles away (it was actually the exit I would need to take to reach the Polar Bear destination) and there weren’t many options.
The smart option may have been to pull to the side of the road, but I am usually not accused of being smart and I was also worried about being exposed to traffic on the side of the Turnpike with the roads getting worse. So I slowly plowed forward, using my feet as outriggers. (One of the few times I considered it fortunate that I have big feet!)
Before the next exit, I came to a Turnpike service area! Finally, a chance to get off the road, get some gas, a cup of coffee and evaluate my situation. Getting to my Polar Bear destination was no longer my goal. Now my only mission was to get home safely and hopefully in time to see the start of the game.
I sat in the restaurant for about 40 minutes and it looked like the roads were getting better. Cars were now moving at a much quicker pace, so I decided to head out and see if I could make it to the exit. The Turnpike was actually in pretty good shape by this time. It was still snowing but the temperature had warmed enough that the road was now just wet.
After exiting the Turnpike, the road was in bad shape. There wasn’t much snow on the ground, but there was ice and it was really slick.
Ok, no big deal. I will just turn around and get back on the Turnpike, which was in much better shape. The only problem is this was a divided road and there was no way to turn around for a couple miles. So again, I move ahead, using my feet as outriggers like I did before, until I came to an intersection where I could turn around.
There was a motel at the intersection, so I pulled in and considered getting a room for the night. It was only around noon, so I had plenty of time to decide what I would do.
I stopped at the Dunkin Donuts on the corner for about an hour and some coffee. It had stopped snowing and the roads were now clear, so I decided to head back to the Turnpike and home. There would be another Polar Bear ride next Sunday, and just getting home safely was my goal.
There was no longer any snow on the ground and the trip home was rainy but uneventful. No Polar Bear points, but I made it home safe and in time to see the Eagles win Super Bowl LII.