SLMC Polar Bear 2017

Every year the Salt Lake Motorcycle Club puts on the Polar Bear Ride. This year was the 40th anniversary and I’m not sure they could have asked for better weather. With a high of 73, the sky was clear and the sun was shining. It was warm enough for a comfortable ride, but also cool enough that it was comfortable while waiting in line to pull chips for the poker run. This year they saw one of the biggest turnouts ever, 900 bikes, and ~1200 people. It was 140 miles from Salt Lake down around Utah Lake to Springville, and back downtown for a show at The Depot.

This year I rode with my friends that work at Keys on Main. I’ve known some of them for almost 7 years. We had agreed to meet at the club at 9:30, but having made some questionable food choices (Beto’s) the night before, I was feeling less than prime that morning. I shot off a text letting them know I was running late and to let me know if they wanted to meet at Intermountain Harley instead. Having not heard anything, I set out to for the club at 9:45. It’s not too far away and I was pulling into the back alley at 10:00 on the nose. I knew as soon as I turned they had left; the alley was empty, so I turned around and headed for Harley.

Once I arrived, I was directed into a parking space by one of the club members. I dismounted grabbed my bag and headed in. I had registered the day before, so I didn’t have to wait in that line. I was determined to find the coffee. It didn’t take long, I grabbed a cup and filled it with the glorious “get up and go” I needed. I still hadn’t heard from my friends I was supposed to meet, and I began to worry they weren’t coming.I ran into some other people I knew, chatted for a while, and was invited to join a few different groups. It was then I spotted Eric, one of the riders I knew from Keys. They had just finished registering. Feeling relieved, I walked over to the rest of the group; they told me they had parked in the back of the building, as I had, so we walked back to the bikes.

Upon reaching the back of the building, I realized why I hadn’t seen their bikes when scouring the parking lot, I had parked right next to them.  There was just one bike between me and them. It was then I recalled that I had heard the crack of pipes as I sat at the light just 1/2 a block from the alley entrance. I realized they must have been 1 block ahead of me the whole time, and (as they took the freeway, and I took the surface roads), arrived just moments before me. It was a pretty happy coincidence, and it worked out great for when we headed out.

The Polar Ride is great because they have a set route, but it’s really a ride on your own time. Meaning there isn’t a great expectation that all 900 bikes will ride together to each stop. It is expected that you will ride at your own pace with your own group. What’s nice is throughout the route you’re catching up with other groups, and you’re still getting the experience of participating in a ride with hundreds of others, without the dangers and frustrations of riding in such a large pack. The club did a great job of helping people finding the stops, a large improvement over last year (when my group missed 2 of the 3 stops). The poker run portion was also well-organized this year, utilizing poker chips instead of cards, lines moved quickly and there were refreshments at each stop.

This year the ride culminated at the Depot, and it included a concert featuring the American Hitmen. The venue is known for hosting concerts, so it was an ideal location. It was pretty efficient getting in, pulling the last chip, and turning in your poker card. Once that was done it was right upstairs where they were announcing raffle prizes and handing out plates of food. They had pulled pork barbecue sandwiches that were more than welcome after the long ride. They ran through the raffle rather quickly, which is nice because if you’ve ever been to a moto-ride raffle you know that over 1/2 the people/tickets don’t make it to the raffle.

I grabbed a plate of food, and walked over to order a drink. The moment I did, they called my ticket number. I shrieked, left my food at the bar, and headed up front to find out what I won. The man handing our prizes glanced at me, and grabbed a leather vest. I was ecstatic! I need a vest, it’s the one leather item I don’t have… it’s hard to find vest that works with my chest…. I happily took it, and glanced at the tag. It was a small. . . Never in my life have a I been a “small”. I sighed, and tried to hand it back for one of the jackets, but he was a little confused, and handed the last two items to two others. I tried to trade with a woman who had just been handed a jacket that was too large for her, but she really wanted something with sleeves. I asked if there was a store that I might be able to trade in my vest for a larger size an I was told by the woman on stage to follow the man who had handed me the vest to the “prize room”.

Upon entering the prize room, I was greeted with a chorus of “what’s going on?” “What’s happening?” The members scoring the poker cards were clearly not expecting non-members to waltz back there to look at the prizes. I half-explained my situation, trying to be efficient and quiet having overheard a “We need to be able to hear!” in the corner, and was told that I could not exchange my prize, in very much of  a “you get what you get” tone. The man I’d walked back with was still advising me and the other woman who had been sent with me to choose what we wanted. We both were looking at the helmets but one of the female members adamantly stated we could not trade for a helmet. I began to feel extremely awkward. Honestly, I don’t need a helmet, but wasn’t seeing much else that matched the valued of the vest.

The other woman looking to trade prizes nonchalantly picked up a helmet amid the protests from the female member and the guy who had walked us back there, seemed 100% OK with what happened. I was confused and flustered, so after one more quick survey of the table I grabbed a bucket full of things to clean your bike. My other options were some electric feet warmers, gift cards, clothing (ie. shirts, hats), or stuffed animals, so it seemed to be the best option. I grabbed the bucket and scooted out of there feeling more than a little uncomfortable. I’m still not sure why I couldn’t have grabbed a helmet, they didn’t necessarily advertise which winners won helmets, so really it didn’t seem to matter.

I went back to the bar, grabbed my food, and paid the bartender for my drink. I felt bad that my friend and the bartender had waited that whole time for me to come back, but they didn’t seem too bothered. We found a place to eat and I was excited finally eat, having skipped breakfast since I hadn’t been feeling great. Soon the concert started and I was immediately impressed. The band, American Hitman, were exceptional and it was really a great ending to the day.

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