I did not want to get up. Who in their right mind would go for a motorcycle ride, in the freezing cold, early on New Year’s morning? But the 9th annual FTR New Year’s Day Run was happening and I’d said I was coming. Trying to find inspiration to vault myself out of my warm bed, I thought about the last time I rode from New Jersey to Florida for Daytona Bike Week, without heated gear. But that was when I was younger. OK, so it was only three years ago, but still…

Then I thought about my friends Abe and Sherry who were on a 3,600-mile motorcycling vacation, riding from their home in Pennsylvania and knocking out a Bun Burner Gold (1,500 miles in 24 hours or less) on the way to Houston, Texas. While I was lounging in bed, they were already on their way back from their New Year’s Eve respite in the mountains of North Georgia. That did it. Up and at ’em.

Around 8:30 a.m., I backed the Dyna out of the garage, started her up, and then she stalled and wouldn’t start again. Apparently she didn’t want to go out, either. After wasting some time trying to figure out what was wrong, I abandoned diagnostics, started up the Switchback and then hit the road.

At 35 degrees and cloudy, there wasn’t much warmth so I was grateful for my heated gear. As I rolled down the Garden State Parkway, the sun peeked out and by the time I rode over the Driscoll Bridge, the day was looking a lot better. After 85 miles on the road, I arrived at Tom and Linda’s house just in time for the buffet breakfast they were hosting.

I could have gone to any one of a number of New Year’s Day rides closer to my home, but I was drawn to the Friends That Ride run. Many of Richie Pan’s closest friends would be there, and since he passed away just six months ago, it would be the first FTR run without him. Regardless, it was still pretty great spending time with some of the folks I don’t get to see often, and meeting some new folks as well.

As we were hanging around talking and laughing, Tommy called us to the end of the driveway where a sheet had been thrown over some fencing. He pulled the sheet off and revealed something that many of us thought was long gone—the sign from one of our favorite biker bars that was closed and razed last year. The sign had been quietly hanging in Richie Pan’s garage all this time!

And there was Richie’s wife Cindy, bundled up in layers of clothing stuffed inside Richie’s old Carhartt Coveralls. She was holding a gold-colored container which the guys bungeed to the back of her Dyna. It appeared that Richie was coming on the ride with us after all.

Then a quiet murmur made its way through the crowd. Mike, one of the guys that showed up for the ride, was experiencing chest pains. The cops came, then the ambulance, and the EMTs wheeled him away. We were tired of our friends being taken from us and each of us silently prayed or cursed and hoped for the best, and then we saddled up and headed out.

After a quick stop at a nearby gas station where those who’d failed to fill up that morning took care of business, we rode through Ocean County at a brisk pace. That’s a euphemism for “we blasted down the back roads hoping no one was chasing us.” In short order we reached Monmouth County and the shore communities of Neptune, Ocean Grove and Asbury Park where the Polar Bear Plunge was taking place. And people think we’re crazy for riding motorcycles in the cold. These people swim in the 45-degree ocean wearing next to nothing!

We parked in front of the Brickwall Tavern & Dining Room where we basically took over the bar. Some of the guys from Dark Star, Richie’s tattoo shop, showed up. After a few rounds of refreshments, we walked over to the Bond Street Bar & Grill. Cindy was carrying Richie with her, as she didn’t want to leave him on the back of her bike, afraid that someone would steal the container, not knowing what was inside. What a surprise that would have been for some unfortunate thief!

The Bond Street Bar & Grill was a few notches down from the Brickwall Tavern. On the menu board one of the staff had written, “Fuck your resolution!” Some of us ordered wings and we ate and drank and proceeded to have a good time well into the afternoon. It was time for me to head north so that I could make it home before dark. I heard later that there were words between one of our guys and a bartender, and someone threw a wing at the bartender who then called the cops. At that point everyone left and the cops they ran into outside didn’t seem inclined to throw anyone in jail. So folks began to drift toward home, making a few more stops at various taverns along the way. I’d heard about one more police encounter but apparently nothing came of that, either.

Over 30 bikes and even more people (some were two-up) had been on this year’s ride, which Tommy told me was by far the biggest attendance ever. No one got arrested, and Mike is on the mend with three new stents installed. All in all, the day was a rousing success. It seems that in times of tragedy and loss, friends and family really pull together. That’s why I was drawn to ride an hour and a half in the cold. And that’s why some of those who went on the ride are saying, “We should do this more than once a year.” I think Richie would be proud.

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