The New Jersey Project

I set out to ride unchartered teritory with the intent to get lost in New Jersey. I wanted to ride without the safety net of riding with someone familiar with New Jersey. The real goal is to find a way to travel from Delaware to Connecticut in a decent amount of time without using the NJ Turnpike or the GardenState Parkway.

On Friday August 28th I took a scheduled day off from work to spend with my wife for the last day of her summer break. We got on the Harleys at noon and crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into Jersey on Interstate 295. We hauled butt to Bordentown just south of Trenton. We got on Route 206 which goes from Trenton straight up through the middle of the state all the way north. To an idiot like me this looks like a good route on a map. While riding through the city of Trenton… not so good an idea. Diana asks me at a traffic light “Are we going to get shot?”. I reply “I think so.”

We finally get out of Trenton and into Princeton. Just north of Princeton it was getting warm and Diana wanted to stop for a rest, so we pulled into a Taco Bell at about 3:15pm. As we sat drinking a Strawberry Colada and cooling off in the air conditioned fast food joint I noticed the tree’s outside seemed to start blowing a little. I looked up to see dark menacing storm clouds coming our way fast. I wanted to hop on the bikes and stay ahead of the storm. I paced while Diana put her rain gear on.  We got on the road just in time for a major down pour. Once again I prove to be an idiot. We could be sitting in a cozy Taco Bell but instead we are pulling into the closest grocery store parking lot and running under the store canopy to escape torential downpours. Since Diana had her raingear on I sheepishly had to ask her to go out in the storm to my bike and retrieve mine for me. She makes me plead with her. I pull out the map and try to figure out where we are. The map gets soggy and I still don’t have a clue. I look over at Diana and she looks sad as if to say our fun day together has turned into a disaster. I say to myself “this is an adventure, someday we will look back on this ride fondly.”

The rain let up a tad and we remounted and headed west to try to get out from under the storm. I took us in a circle by accident before we ended up back on Route 206 heading south. I randomly took roads that seemed to head west from under the storm cloud. We found some nice backraods and the rain to sun ratio increased the further we went west. We finally found our way out of New Jersey and into New Hope, Pennsylvania… a place we have been before! We weren’t lost anymore, yeah!

We regrouped and grabbed a burger at McDonalds and decided to follow Rt 202 South all the way to Delaware because Diana didn’t want to combine highway with rain. Oh man did that take forever. I felt so inadaquit… I’m sure most everyone we ride with would have known a better way home, but no here I am stuck in traffic hours from home.

We finally got home around 9:00pm from our adventure. We may not have found the route we are looking for but we eliminated two possibilities. We familiarized ourselves with the lay of the land, did some highway, did some expressway, did some backroads, did some muggy hot riding, did some thunderstorms and did some showers and basicly had a day filled with a variety of experiences and spent next to nothing eating at gas stations and fast food places. Was it the romantic last day of summer vacation we planned on? Probably not. Was it a failure? Probably not. I think it was just part one of… The New Jersey Project!

The Forbidden Zone – New Jersey

This is not Liberty Park

                        This is not Liberty State Park!” 

When I first started riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles in Delaware a few short years ago my idea of riding was going to the Hooters in New Castle, DE for Bike Night. During my second season of riding I was introduced to the concept of day trips and back roads after joining the local HOG chapter here in northern Delaware: First State Chapter. A few of the initial day trips I went on ventured into New Jersey. Those trips mainly visited Wild Wood, Cape May and Atlantic City… otherwise known as the Jersey Shore.

Riding was still new to me back then. I followed my HOG Chapter to many places and it was always an adventure… because I was a newbie. We traveled throughout the tri-state region of Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Delmarva Peninsula and Chesapeake Bay are now familiar stomping grounds. Lancaster and York, Pennsylvania have also become familiar. Sometimes we travel north of Philly to the quaint little town of New Hope, Pennsylvania on the banks of the Delaware River. For some reason we stopped traveling into New Jersey. Our rides into Jersey have become limited to the dreadful dash up the Jersey Turnpike to Fort Lee where we hop onto the scenic Palisades Parkway which leads to New York, Connecticut and the rest of New England.

NJ Turnpike

Due to a series of events the sense of ADVENTURE has eluded me this summer. For emotional and financial reasons I stayed in familiar territory following my HOG Chapter on local excursions. Please don’t get me wrong, these are enjoyable trips of respectable distances and I love riding with First State. These are not short rides; we put a lot of miles on the motorcycles this summer. We can ride all day and come home well after sunset with a million or so dead bugs stuck to the front of our helmets and bikes. But now I find myself wanting to break that routine. I want to get on the motorcycles with Diana and head into unchartered territory with no Road Captain to follow. I want to get lost. I need to get lost. I need things to be new and exciting again without the safety net of following someone who knows where they are going. Where can I get lost?

Sometimes we joke that our Road Captains must be wanted in New Jersey for criminal acts because we don’t cross the border. It’s strange because our sponsoring Harley-Davidson dealer is at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge a stone’s throw from the Delaware River that separates Delaware from New Jersey. We even have a few members in First State from the Garden State. They joke that they belong to our chapter because there is nowhere to ride in Jersey. Most of New Jersey does seem to be congested with urban sprawl. Are there any back roads in New Jersey? Are the only two roads that can take you through the state the NJ Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway both of which are pretty scary?

cranes

             “The other Newark” 

There it is… the ominous New Jersey state border. What lurks on the other side of the Delaware River besides airports, factories, cities and super highways? It reminds me of the border to The Forbidden Zone in the Planet of the Apes. On this side of the river lies familiar territory with many great undiscovered roads to find, but I won’t get lost. On the other side of the river lies the call of adventure.

I’m fortunate that my spouse loves this sport also. We can get lost together, make some memories and have some adventures. Off to New Jersey we go! Don’t give us any hints… we want to get lost. This is about the adventure of going where you don’t know where you are going.

Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on my Motorcycle

Chesapeake bay bridge

As a new rider, one of the most daunting ideas was the thought of crossing bridges on a motorcycle.  Many are very narrow, few have any shoulder at all.  There are lots of very high bridges…from which the fall would be quite long.  Often bridges have very little safety barrier along the sides – perhaps just a small railing, nothing that would actually hold a vehicle from going over the edge.  And then there are crosswinds!  Larger bridges are even built to intentionally sway a bit; it is more structurally sound that way than a rigid-built bridge.  Somehow knowing that doesn’t really help very much when weighed against the vulnerability of riding fully exposed to the world like you are on a motorcycle.

For 2-1/2 years I rode an XLH883 – the smallest Harley-Davidson model made, with a high center of gravity.  When riding it often felt like if someone sneezed it would blow me off the road.  But I didn’t let that uneasy feeling trap me in my home town.  Heck, with the Delaware River to the east, C&D Canal to the south, and the Chesapeake Bay & Susquehanna River to the west, I can’t go much of anywhere without crossing a bridge!  But I pretty much kept it to the smaller bridges for quite awhile.

Stepping up to my “big girl bike” last summer changed all of that.  The extra 175 pounds slung low to the ground on my 2008 Harley-Davidson Super Glide gave me an almost instant feeling of security that I never felt before.  I wanted to jump on my ride an tackle the world immediately!  Within a few short weeks I was riding on Interstate highways and begging to ride my own on weekend trips.  I started flying over the Reedy Point & Chesapeake City bridges with comfort and ease.  I even found dodging the potholes, patches, cracks, and loose pavement chunks on the old St George’s bridge to be fun!  (Call me crazy, but it’s like skiing moguls!)  But one accomplishment still eluded me…crossing the Bay Bridge.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge consists of two spans (a 3-lane span that generally carries westbound traffic and a 2-lane span for eastbound traffic) connecting Annapolis with Kent Island across the Chesapeake Bay.  At 4.3 miles in length, the Bay Bridge was at the time it was built the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure.  The roadway reaches a height of nearly 200 feet above the water.

On Saturday, June 27, 2009 I went along with two dozen other members of the First State HOG chapter to the All-American HOG “Brain Freeze” Poker Run.  Every stop was an ice cream joint…so yes, we all got our brains well frozen that day!  The trek took us across the Bay Bridge.  Because of construction, there was two-way traffic on the westbound span (as if I needed anything else to make it even more of a challenge!), so we rode in single-file formation.  I welcomed this idea because it gave me more room to maneuver should I need to dodge out of the way of a semi, and it put me a little farther away from the edge where I would have been less than 2 feet away from plummeting 200 feet to my death!

As we began up the long approach and the roadway began to gradually rise, I felt a slight anxiety attack coming on.  My chest tightened.  I reminded myself to breathe.  Breathe in….breathe out….breathe in….breathe out….  and within a minute I was fine.  I did have a bit of a death grip on the handlebars, but this really wasn’t too bad I thought to myself.  All of a sudden thum-thump!  What the hell was that?  OK, I am quite familiar with the zig-zag section joints…but this thing was like long intertwining fingers, with huge gaps where they intertwined.  A bicycle tire would have fallen through!  Good-grief that wasn’t fun.  Oh crap, here comes another one on the other side.  Hold steady, no sudden moves, keep it smooth just like on grooved pavement.  Whew!  Oh yeah, breathe!  Coming down the other side now.  Geez this bridge is long.  What have we been on it for like 10 minutes?  OK, a good 5, but still!  Almost at the end, we’re going back to staggered formation.  Hey, that was actually pretty cool!

After a nice relaxing day eating way too much ice cream, I returned back across the Bay Bridge…this time after going through the toll plaza.  I had to get my EZPass out and hold it up to the sensor for it to register, but then I didn’t have any place to put it.  I quickly shoved it halfway under my waistband as I started across the bridge.  This time I was prepared for those section joints, and more concerned with the EZPass flying out into the Chesapeake Bay than anything else.  No anxiety attacks, I even remembered to breathe!

Two days later, our chapter went on a ride to Solomon’s Island for Million Mile Monday.  We traveled much the same route as we had on Saturday.  By this time (after doing it 4 times in 2 days), crossing the Bay Bridge was a piece of cake!  Another huge accomplishment to check off.  Now I just have to go on that weekend trip…

Here are some of the 200 pictures taken by my GoPro Helmet HERO handlebar mounted camera that was set to take a picture every 5 seconds.

Bay Bridge 1

Bay Bridge 2

Bay Bridge 3

Bay Bridge 4

Bay Bridge 5

bay Bridge 7

Bay Bridge 8

Bay Bridge 9

Riding in the Rain

On May 31st, 2009 my alarm went off and I rolled over to discover that Jay was already up and about.  Jay doesn’t generally function before noon, so 6:30 AM is a real shocker!  I stumbled out of bed and opened the blinds, only to see that he had already pulled both of our bikes out.  They were lined up by the curb, ready to go!  Then the aroma of fresh brewing coffee pervaded my senses.  I staggered to the kitchen to find my bagel, pre-sliced, laid out on the counter in front of the toaster oven, waiting for me to be ready to toast it.  Cream cheese, a knife, my vitamins, and a class of OJ were set out on the kitchen table.  And he made himself coffee too!  Good grief, how long has Jay been up???  He was rearing to go that morning, and after a few minutes I was too.

The plan was to meet at the Odessa Sunoco, wheels rolling at 8:00 AM.  Steve (one of our veteran Road Captains in First State HOG) was to lead us along a scenic tour of southern Delaware to the Eastern Shore HOG Summer Splash Poker Run in Ocean City, Maryland.  The forecast was for a bright sunny afternoon, but as I got geared up it became quickly apparent that there was still some lingering rain in the air leftover from last night’s storm.  It began to drizzle, so we decided it best to don the rain gear so as not to start out the day wet and miserable.

Who would’ve thought that after nearly 4 years/thousands of miles of riding – day trips, overnighters, 3-5 day trips – I had never actually ridden in the rain?  OK, I had ridden passenger in the rain, but never on my own bike…until that day.

We knew that it was going to clear up, so we mounted up, headed out, and hoped for the best.  As we rode to the meet-up spot, the rain grew steadier.  I just used the same philosophy I do when driving my car in the snow: no sudden moves, keep it smooth & consistent, gradual breaking & acceleration, and stay a little slower than usual.  By the time we pulled in to the Odessa Sunoco, I had pretty much decided that riding in the rain wasn’t really all that bad.  Apparently there weren’t many people willing to agree with me, because all totalled only 7 people on 5 bikes showed up.

We all stood around in our rain gear laughing our butts off, and hoping that the rain would let up just a little.  Around 8:30 or so our little group did eventually head off into the pouring rain.  It came down steady for maybe another 30-40 minutes, then we rode in so much road spray it was hard to tell the difference for another half hour or so.  By the time we made our first stop near Seaford, DE, I had puddles in both of my boots.

Paula took break time to clean her bike.  I sat down to pull off my boots and wring out my socks.  Jay usually carries a roll of little plastic bags in his pack that we wrap around our feet when our socks get wet, but we must have used them all up.  Being desperate, I stuck a pair of latex gloves over my feet!  Folded over the “fingers” and put my soaking wet socks back on.  We had seen the last of the rain for the day, but it would still be a long battle to get dried out!

We picked up another couple near their beach house, and then another down at Ocean City Harley-Davidson.  We arrived as the last group was heading out to do the poker run, so we decided not to do the run.  We drew our cards and hung around relaxing for awhile – enjoying hot dogs, music, and sunshine. 

Eating Hot Dogs

Hanging out at Ocean City HOG Summer Splash

It felt so good to let my feet dry as I enjoyed the company of good friends.  I laid my boots and wet socks out in the sun to dry out as much as they could.  The only pair of socks they had in the dealership were little girls fuzzy slipper socks.  I have small feet, so I decided these will have to do! 

Diana relaxing and letting her feet dry

It couldn’t be a trip daown-e-oshun without stopping for a Nic-o-boli at Nicola Pizza in Rehoboth Beach…so off we went for fabulous food and a brief walk along the boardwalk.

First State HOG at Nicaboli’s in Rehobeth, DE

First State HOg in Rehobeth, DE

Altogether it was a great day, and I had gotten my feet wet riding in the rain (literally).  I wish I could say that all was good once the rain had passed, but the rain actually didn’t pass.  We had the coolest month of June recorded in over 20 years, and compiled 50% more rainfall for the month than normal.  At one point I believe that it had rained on 19 of the past 21 days!

The cool wet weather didn’t stop us from getting out and riding though.  Sure we got dumped on a few times, but for the most part we did a lot of RIDING & HAVING FUN!!!  And hey, in just a few short weeks I went from being a virgin to a veteran in wet weather riding.

Frame Mounted Harley-Davidson Bottle Opener

The bike that has everything

I drink Yuengling bottles which have twist offs, but I think this Harley-Davidson Frame Mounted Bottle Opener is a post worthy accessory. I realize it’s not chrome, but I could overlook that if I was camping on a motorcycle trip and I needed a cold one and it didn’t have a twist off and I was desparate for a beer and there was no other bottle cap popper handy. Caps off to the owner of this Harley-Davidson motorcycle and its owner.

Bottle Opener Close Up

August 2009 East Coast Biker Online

August 2009 East Coast Biker Online

Check out the August 2009 issue of East Coast Biker Online! Diana’s article is on pages 24, 25 and 26. Joker’s monthly New England Update is on page 56 and my monthly Product Review is on pages 66 and 67. Click Here!