I just got back from a few days in Chicago, where I was attending a conference related to my work. The conference was fine, and I got a lot out of it, but it had nothing to do with biking, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.
But Chicago is another thing. Both I and my wife grew up in the Chicago area, and although we have no family left in town, there are some friends who we like to see whenever we have a chance to get back. And if you can couple the visit with friends and some biking, you’ve got the best of all possible worlds.
I’d like to urge everyone who has never been to get to Chicago. The trip downtown from O’Hare Airport was slick and cheap ($2 each) on the commuter train, which sailed by the multi-lane parking lot that is the Kennedy Expressway. The near north side around Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile is great for walking, shopping, and dining. In the 30-some years we’ve been away, the city has become more people-friendly than ever.
Pat and I arranged to meet our friends Brad and Linda for a Saturday morning ride. A bike rental place sits at the entrance to Navy Pier, and I had made online reservations for a pair of hybrids. The bikes were ready when we got there at 9 a.m. After some quick adjustments, we were on our way.
If you choose to bike along the Lake Michigan shoreline, you can go either north or south from Navy Pier. We opted for south, because going north the bike route is too jammed with walkers and roller bladers. An asphalt path about six feet wide bears a yellow stripe down the middle — that denotes the bike route. Southbound is plenty crowded too, around Navy Pier. The route crosses the Chicago River where it meets the lake, and the way is constricted. Joggers, walkers and bikers all share the narrow walkway across the bridge, but then things start to spread out.
We set a steady, but not fast pace along Lake Shore Drive. Brad rides a recumbent every day, and it was no big deal for him, but Linda doesn’t ride a lot, and did a nice job keeping up. We rode through Grant Park, Chicago’s “beautiful front yard” with its stunning view of the city’s skyline to the right and the lake dotted with pleasure boats to the left.
Pat, followed by Linda, avoids a bad spot of trail.
We rode the trail around Shedd Aquarium, and passed Soldier Field and McCormick Place. Now the crowd really thinned out. It was still steady — just more gaps between people than there had been. The bikers ran the gamut from roadies in full kit to hybrid riders in t-shirts and shorts to mountain bikers in baggy cargo shorts to kids on 20-inch first bikes. The atmosphere was that of a pleasure ride. No one was trying to rack up major mileage, and it felt like the kind of riding I remember when I was growing up — we’d ride fairly long distances, but did it naturally, with no special equipment or clothing.
Just before reaching Jackson Park with its Museum of Science and Industry, we decided to stop and head back. We stopped for some Kodak Moments when we got back to Shedd Aquarium, then set off on the last leg of the ride.
Pat & Linda, with Brad in front on the recumbent.
The Bike Noob hisself, complete with helmet hair, shows off a Texas biking souvenir.
I had to stop to adjust a loose seat post, and when I finished, I couldn’t see Pat, Brad or Linda. I couldn’t tell if they’d passed me when I wasn’t looking, or if they hadn’t caught up to me yet. Since I hadn’t been riding very fast, I assumed they must have passed me, so I started out again. I stopped opposite Buckingham Fountain to take more pictures, and then saw them catching up to me.
Pat had hit a patch of water, the bike slid out from under her, and she took a tumble. She didn’t complain, and had very little road rash, although she landed on her tailbone and bad hip — the same places she hit when she was thrown from a horse last week! She led the way back to the bike rental shop, and we headed out for a welcome brunch.
It was a perfect day for riding — temperatures in the 70s, bright and sunny, a little breeze. As near as I can tell, using Map My Ride, we went about 13.5 miles. That’s way more than Linda normally rides, and it got her fired up to train for next month, when we’re all vacationing together in Michigan and plan to do a lot of biking.