It's been a long time since I've been on a group ride, around 13 years is about my guess. Back then I went on a couple rides with folks I had met on usenet (rec.motorcycles to be exact, we didn't have no stinkin' web back then). There was an informal computer-geek group called the DoD, or Denizens of Doom. That moniker makes it sound much more nefarious than it was - basically a bunch of sysadmins and unix gurus on GS's, FJ's and other assorted iron. We would ride up to Stuff Yer Face in New Brunswick, or the Deer Park in Newark, DE and chow down and tell stories and laugh - a lot. Good memories.
Over a decade has gone by and my contacts from that group are gone, and none of my work buddies that rode are still on 2 wheels. I purchased my re-entry bike (a Ducati Multistrada 620) in October, and had managed to put over 2,000 miles on it through the late fall. All solo. Definitely fun, but I was also jonesing for some camaraderie.
I was a regular visitor to the old sport-touring.net site, and when it was reborn as STN2.0 I started to watch the Region6 board. Soon enough a ride was scheduled for a Sunday that promised nice weather with temps nearing 60, which is great for New Jersey in December. The meeting place was at 10am 100 miles to my north, but that was a small price to pay.
I sent some e-mails to the guy who was organizing the ride about my newbie-again status and my concern that I would be slowing the group down. He assured me they weren't out to prove anything, and that it would just be a nice, somewhat spirited, ride. Sounded good to me.
A bit of history - I stopped riding back in the 90's a short while after a lowside crash. I had been riding pretty much full-time for a few years, put 40,000 plus miles on a couple of bikes, even did some long distance trips including a 9-day burn to the Rockies. I was no stranger to lean angles, had no problem scraping the pegs. My fiance and I had planned on doing a month-long cross-country motorcycle trip in the summer of 95. A couple of weeks prior to the departure date we wanted to do a test-run of all the gear on a weekend trip to upstate NY. New tires were purchased. One morning we loaded the bike up (saddlebags, tankbag, rear luggage rack with tent, sleeping bags, etc), saddled up and started out. Came to a very slow tight S-turn, actually a 90-degree left followed by immediately by a 90-degree right. I knew it well. Nice lean into the left, quick flick to a nice lean to the right, maybe 15-20mph, and now we're sliding on the ground, watching the bike slide away into the opposite curb. No injuries other than a dime-sized roadrash on my knee (last time I ever wore jeans on a bike), but confidence well and truly shaken. Examination of the roadway produced no evidence, best we can figure is cold/new tires, heavier-than-usual bike, and the aggressive L/R flick just used up 101% of the traction pie.
I continued to ride, but less and less. I just never felt great leaning far into curves, especially right-handers. I keep waiting for the bike to just flop over and slide away. Then we got married and started a family, and the bike became pretty much a lawn ornament.
This year the biking bug bit again. I absolutely love riding, but heavy lean angles are still pucker inducers. Have to cure this, I know the bike can do *way* more than I'm letting it.
Spent some time Saturday afternoon prepping the bike for it's first public appearance. Washed and polished (Honda Spray and Polish, miracle in a can), chain checked and waxed, oil checked, air pressure checked, lights all working, ready to roll. Packed the tankbag with a rainjacket (you never know), extra gloves, extra earplugs, GPS, maps, cellphone, clear faceshield, and a bunch of other doo-dads.
Got a good night's sleep.
Awoke at 6:45. Weather.com says the temp is currently 31. Hmmm. Had a long hot shower, hot tea and a hot breakfast. Feeling fully charged I suited up and got ready to roll. My 6-year old son wanted to take a picture of me before I left.
Checked my bike over again, and ready to roll. Departed at 7:43am, around 31 degrees, 99.5 miles to go before the next stop.
Not surprisingly, it was cold. Thankfully I had recently snagged from eBay a Gerbing's heated jacket liner and thermostat - absolutely, positively, the best money you can spend if you want to be comfortable more often. If it was twice the price it would still be a must-buy. So with the liner cranked to maximum, and thermals on under the leathers, the only thing that was getting cold has my hands. I have a decently insulated pair of winter gloves, but now that I have the Gerbing a pair of heated gloves is at the top of my Christmas list.
The first half of the trip was all slab, Route 55 to Route 42 to I-295N. Solid 80mph, cold fingers, warm body, zero police. Very unusual to traverse 40 miles of I-295 and not see any white Crown Vics on the median. Didn't see a single other rider either.
Exited onto Route 31 North for the next segment. Starting to get nicely warmer, hands are feeling good. Nothing major to report.
A quick jog on I-78 had me at the meeting spot, albeit 40 minutes early. Went over to Dunkin' Donuts (well, the DD stand inside the gas station) for some more hot beverages and to warm up.
Around 20 minutes to 10 folks started arriving. First up was Doc, the ringleader and rule-meister on an ST1300. We chatted a bit and he was quick to make me feel welcome. I mentioned that I may split mid-day as I didn't really want to ride the 100 miles back home in the dark in the cold, and he agreed - no problem - just let him know when. We agreed later on the universal symbol for splitting off from the group (it involves 1 finger on each hand).
I believe andmoon (Don) was next to arrive on his BMW RT ("The New Model"), fully equipped with a kegerator on the back.
This bike was fully farkled up, aux fuel tank, hippo hands, heat, highway pegs, crash bars, screen extension, and a fabulous kickstand extension bar. Couple weeks earlier Don had ridden the bike to Thanksgiving - in San Francisco! Super nice guy, and he can ride the wheels off that old RT.
Rounding out the group was ERR (Dave) on a Triumph Daytona 955i (which is downright gorgeous), fjrSKI on...an FJR, and TJConc (Tom?)on a Kawi Concours. Everyone seemed real nice and laid-back, and more importantly, mature (for lack of a better word). I got the sense that we weren't going to see a lot of burnouts, double-yellow passes and other stunts, which was a relief. I was fully prepared to bail out early if things took a turn for the worse. Everyone was fully geared, lots of heated clothing, earplugs, reflective strips, armor, etc. Except for one person's shoes, which completely cracked me up. Dude, and I mean this in the nicest way, you just can't ride with brown socks and loafers. At least not after Labor Day.
A seventh soul never showed, so about 10:10 we followed Doc out into North Jersey.
I can't remember all the roads we took, but a good portion in NJ was on 519. A great moment was cresting a hill and the only thing you saw before you was Swartswood Lake, shining like a mirror - no road, no idea for a heartbeat where to go, just a lake. Awesome. Some nicely spirited riding on very well-maintained roads took us through Port Jervis, where we passed another batch of riders hanging out in a parking lot - including one on another Multi! I had yet to see another Multi rider since buying mine, so that was cool. He wasn't looking my way though.
Doc was Pace, fjrski was Space, and TJConc was sweep. I thought Doc led a great pace, I had no problem keeping up for the most part. Occasionally I would tap the brakes before a corner (especially those right-handers, grrr) where the others didn't, but I was in no way falling far behind. I was having a great time.
Coolest thing we passed - a John Deere tractor fashioned from green and yellow painted haybales. Nifty.
If you're on a motorcycle, and you're heading North through Port Jervis, there's probably only one place you're going - Hawk's Nest. I had been there once before, discovering it completely by accident on my way to upstate NY. A great little section of very snaky road, hung precariously to the mountainside overlooking the Delaware River. Similar to 219 on Storm King in New York, but a lot shorter and less extreme. Here's a pic of an old friend of mine on 219 back in the day - note the gear. Hawk's Nest is more photogenic though, and you can get great shots of riders.
Obviously a popular place with bikers, and Harley's were out in force today. We stopped for the obligatory group shot (after waiting for ERR to make a solo run on the Hawk), and I have to apologize for getting a crappy one. I decided against bringing the big Nikon gear as I haven't found a good way to pack it in the tankbag yet. So all I had was a small digicam.
We continued through Hawk's Nest and crossed over into PA at Barryville. On our way to lunch we encountered the only really crappy road of the trip, Lackawaxen Road. Lotsa gravel on the turns, as andmoon was thoughtful to keep pointing out. He was pointing down to the left and right so often it was almost like a dance groove he was in. I hit a bit of gravel on a slow left-hander than I couldn't help myself from putting my foot down dirt-tracker style. Like that would help.
We stopped for lunch at the Inn at Lackawaxen, and we were the only people in the dining room. Hot beverages all around - even TJConc got one - eventually. During lunch we had a chance to start to get to know one another, at least myself and the other 2 new additions. Doc continued to play the part of gracious host and benevolent tourguide, and TJConc's banter with him was hysterical ("Don't be hating"). Andmoon shared some stories about his young and stupid riding days, TJConc and fjrski swapped tales of "window shopping", and a general good time was had.
After lunch we stopped for gas as the Multi's only good for around 120-130 miles before reserve. I think andmoon is still going off gas he got in Indiana on his way back from Thanksgiving. I don't know exactly which roads we took from there, but I know we went through Promised Land State Park and down 447 to Stroudsburg. Doc and TJConc had switched Pace/Sweep roles after lunch, and we were kinda hamstrung on lots of 447 by slower traffic. Some nice moments, to be sure, but I think some of the boys were chomping at the bit for an unrestrained run.
Stopped for pie, hot drinks and eye-candy in Strousburg, where only andmoon didn't mind leaving his bike untended. We passed some minor gang/drug/wtf? activity on the way to pie. Doc left mid-pie to check on the bikes - thanks! And ERR sprung for the tab - thanks again!
It was around 4pm by the time we were done with pie, so it wasn't looking like I was going to be home before dark. I had planned on splitting off early, but I was having way too much fun to call it quits. I called home to apprise the wife on my updated ETA. fjrski lives in PA, so he hatched a plan to split off a little ways down the road. The rest of us would continue to some magical destination known to me only as "the Toyota dealer".
The bike were still intact, so we headed south on 611 and maybe River Road towards Riverton and crossed into NJ at Belvidere. There was some *very* spirited riding on this last section, after fjrski split off. I was doing what I was comfortable doing, and watching TJConc and andmoon getting farther and farther away. I had no problem with that, and felt kinda bad for ERR and Doc behind me - I certainly wasn't keeping a pace that was keeping them interested. One turn (a right-hander, of course) I felt I went into a bit hot and instead of just leaning more ("I think I can, I think I can") I dabbed some rear brake. Nothing bad happened, but that's a very bad habit to get into. Got to keep building the confidence level.
Headed south on 31 to the Toyota dealership. Tearful goodbyes were said, hugs all around, and promises to keep in touch were made. Uh-huh. Seriously, I did hate to leave the group as the ride turned out as good as I could possibly had hoped. Good guys, good roads, everyone behaved, I didn't fall way behind. Probably the best day of riding since I got the Multi.
ERR and I took off and headed south. I hadn't really ridden at night in over a decade, so it was nice to have another bike with me in the lead. Somewhere south of Flemington an older gentleman in an Audi A8L tried to dragrace ERR's Daytona from a light - nice try. We finally parted ways at I-295 around Trenton - thanks a bunch ERR. A very uneventful dark ride had me reaching my house around 6:45pm.
(wicked flash reflection in my faceshield)
386 miles door-to-door.
I thought to take a picture after I had been home a while.
A great, great day. Made some new friends, got to expand my comfort zone with curves a bit, and just had a terrific time on 2 wheels. Can't wait to do it again, but I can't get too many full days away from home and family. Winter is supposed to start any day now, or so they say.