Polar Bear ride, 2014

New Year's Day ride, 2014

My personal Polar Bear Ride of Jan. 1, 2014.

The weather forecast for the first day of 2014 in my area called for a high near 40 degrees with a few scraps of sun, followed later by a snowstorm, and followed later yet by the coldest days yet seen this winter, by far. It was clear that if I was going to ride a motorcycle in the early days of the new year, it was going to be on New Year’s Day or not at all.

I scanned the local motorcycle forum to see if anyone was planning a Polar Bear Ride, but came up empty. Polar Bear Rides seem to be a local phenomenon, with lots of participation in certain areas, and utter non-existence in others. If you happen to live in the latter, and wonder what I’m talking about, a Polar Bear ride is a group ride on New Year’s Day in latitudes where such a thing is no sure thing. It’s more about the camaraderie and shared idiosyncrasy than the ride itself. Some say it’s good luck to ride on New Year’s Day, but deep down we all know that’s just a convenient excuse to do something for which there are already many reasons not to.

Since nobody was planning a Polar Bear Ride, I decided I’d have to create a personal one of my own. Fortunately, an excuse presented itself.

My wife needed a few things from her office, which is 50 mostly country miles away. Since she has to make that tiring commute at least twice a week when school’s in session, I often make a run for her, in cases like this when I can spare her the travel. I’ve made the 100-mile round trip countless times over the past six years. It’s the road between our home and her workplace, between our former home and our current home, between where we used to live and the house I rented out for three years, before we moved back to it. I’ve taken every possible combination of state highway, county road, village street and country lane to get between those two points, just for variety. Frankly, I’ve done it so many times, it’s a ride I would be downright ho-hum about in July or August. But in January, when I’ve been iced in for a week and face the prospect of another icing, it starts to sound like a good idea. As I learned from my impromptu road trip last February, what may seem boring in the bloom of summer looks enticing in the drab of winter. My standards drop with the temperature.

starlings in winter

Blurry shot of starlings, shot from the saddle of the bike while riding Route 661. This time of year, all photos are black and white.

As it turned out, the prognosticated scraps of sunshine were few indeed. These are the winter days so prevalent and numbing here in Ohio: the cold is not Arctic, yet it often feels worse than it is for the lack of sunlight. The landscape appears bleached of color. All birds are black, reeling in flocks against a light-gray sky. Barren trees rake like stiff bristles in a brush against dull clouds. As I ride through farm country, past the rubble of the harvest, a scrap of a Louise Bogan poem comes to mind, something about “bitter winter-burning in the fields.”

winter fields

A line from a Louise Bogan poem comes to mind, something about “bitter winter-burning in the fields.” Motorcycle talk and quoting poems. You just don’t get this kind of full service from most blogs.

Needed books tucked into my saddlebags, I was home well before the sunset that the clouds usually hide anyway, this time of year.

salty roads

“What? You expect me to take my $10,000 motorcycle out on the road with all that salt? No way!” he exclaims, before getting in his $30,000 car and driving off in a salty haze.

I was a little surprised not so see even one other motorcycle on the road. I’ve made the same trip on equivalent days, days that weren’t a holiday, and have seen half a dozen.

I don’t expect more than that. The cold takes care of most riders, and the thick salt residue on the roads scares off those for whom a motorcycle is more a work of art than working transportation.

But really, not even one? The dreary deterence of January wins another round.

The Versys is tucked away in the garage, now, safe from the icy onslaught coming tonight. For another week, I’ll daydream of my days living in tropical climates and wait for another break, when the bear can again emerge briefly from hibernation.

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