“There are those two months of winter when I won’t be biking to work,” he said.
“Two months?” I asked. Then I told my neighbor that I wanted to use his calendar.
I’m the guy who prefers summer biking. When I awoke at 5am to seventy-five degree temperatures and was out on the lakefront trail by 6am I was in a state of pure bliss. Today I awoke to a temperature of forty-nine degrees and it’s a sign that my outdoor bicycling season is nearly over.
When I was a kid my summers were spent riding my bike. Day after day, summer after summer it was me and my bike. My third bike, pictured here, had an odometer and as I raced around the block day after day, Lucy, the old woman who lived at the corner of our block would ask with each round, “How many?” and I’d blurt out the latest mileage as I passed her.
My next bike, of which there are no photographs (we didn’t have pocket cameras) didn’t have an odometer, but it was a three-speed and by this time I was exploring the neighborhoods surrounding mine. Throughout those summers I’d bicycle from the shores of Lake Calhoun to the Cathedral in St. Paul and to all places in between.
Back at home after a day’s ride, I’d pull out my map of Minneapolis /St. Paul and highlight the streets that I’d been on that day, using the map as a way to discover new streets to explore.
Fast forward to 2012 and I now have GPS tracking available which not only maps my ride (www.mapmyride.com) it also offers statistics on distance, time, elevation, average speed, and calories burned. I now have this wealth of data at my fingertips thanks to orbiting satellites that make our lives on earth easier.
While the data surrounding a season of bicycling is nice to have, for me it’s never been about the data. My bike rides have always been about exploration and freedom. Freedom to move through time and space in near silence in a narrow sliver of space that I control.
In smaller cities, that sliver of space was seldom interrupted. In Salt Lake City I could bike up a canyon and only pass a handful of people. On the bike path along the river in Columbus I might pass a few dozen people when I was near the university. In Chicago, however, I often navigate through hundreds if not thousands of people, especially on the weekends.
This is List A and this is what I’ve learned from bicycling on Chicago’s north side:
- Know that only those behind you can see you.
- Assume that those coming towards you cannot see you either, especially if they’re passing in heavy traffic. Lights on at all times is best.
- Expect runners in front of you to stop immediately at any given time and/or dash to the lake without looking first.
- Understand that tourists on bicycles is NOT a good thing. Not for anyone. Tourists commandeering their own four-person pedicab is a really bad idea.
- Avoid Navy Pier between the hours of 9am and 8pm. Realize that this is impossible because the the trail crosses the entrances to Navy Pier.
- Remember that you will say aloud every word of George Carlin’s Seven Words while navigating the bridge over the Chicago River which is the lower level of Lake Shore Drive.
- Translate “on your left” into every language you can and assume that only local bicyclists and runners know that this means.
- Assume that the mom pushing her double-wide stroller and talking on the phone has no idea that there are other people living in Chicago.
This is List B and this is what I’ve discovered from bicycling along the lakefront:
- The earlier I ride, the better.
- Every morning I’ll see the gray-haired woman on roller blades.
- Often I’ll see a very old man in a yellow hi-viz vest shuffling along just north of Fullerton.
- Equally as often I’ll see the very old woman in her housecoat, orthopedic shoes,and giant bug-eye sun glasses out on the trail pushing her walker. She’s still got it!
- Every morning, evening, and weekend I’ll see the tanned and toned shirtless runner near the Oak Street Beach that looks exactly like Carmine Ragusa.
- I never see people inside of the Mies van der Rohe apartment buildings.
- Heading south from the Museum Campus and through the prairie restoration area is amazing!
- Heading further south to where the city is creating separate paths for bicyclist and runners is even better.
- Passing McCormick Place on the way home and realizing that there is still 90 more blocks to go feels exhausting.
- Rounding the corner northbound towards the Oak Street Beach is exhilarating and makes me want to keep going.
- I’ll pass Carmine Ragusa again.
- Getting splashed by crashing waves near Fullerton when the lake is rough feels great when it’s hot outside.
- The lake can take on so many different shades of blue.
Everything on List B makes dealing with List A worth it.
Year to date I’ve biked 550 miles in 45 hours and have burned 23,714 calories. I’ll likely make it past the 600 mile mark before it’s just too chilly.