Archive for the ‘Experience’ Category

“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.











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I’m not sure where to begin. Or in this case to end. Though the fact of the matter is that this journey is only half over. In less than three days I board Amtak’s California Zephyr for the return trip to Chicago.

First and foremost I have to commend Amtrak employees. Despite everything these folks go through on a daily basis, from bumpy rides, to tight quarters, to chronic delays, to having to inspect the train’s undercarriage in complete darkness in a Utah canyon, they remained upbeat, positive and never once scowled at daily adversity. Hats off to all of them.

It wasn’t long after departing Denver that our ascent into the Rockies became the magnificent sight most everyone aboard paid to see. While there wasn’t much snow, the amazing vistas, the s-curved winding tracks and the rocky canyons brought clicking cameras in virtually every window. The observation car filled, as were the narrow aisles of the sleeping cars.

Having visited the site of the Golden Spike and having read about the great lengths it took to connect the nation by rail, one can’t fully appreciate the work it took to build this until actually riding the rails. In terrain that is utterly and amazingly beautiful but utterly and amazingly unfit for human labor, these tracks were laid with precision and determination. Sides of mountains were blasted, tunnels were carved, land was graded and most all of it by human hand. These tracks, this route must certainly be one of the great American achievements.

The train’s engineer came on the PA system to tell us that we’d soon be entering Moffat Tunnel, a six-mile long tunnel that would take us over, or in this case through, the Continental Divide. We were told to stay in our respective cars because the doors between cars would have to remain closed in order to prevent the intake of exhaust from the train’s engines. Elevation; 9,239 feet.

From this point on the train began its descent. For hours the train descended into evermore narrowing canyons until at one point, it seemed as if we were descending into the very center of the earth. Layers of geological time carved away for the narrow track, such that had the windows opened I could have leaned out and touched prehistoric time.

At one point the train slowed to a crawl. The engineer told us that track sensors indicated a potential rock slide ahead. This canyon is lined with an electronic fence of sorts that triggers a warning system when something, be it a rock, a branch or an animal comes into contact with it. His eyes would be the first witness to whatever may have tripped the warning signals on this single line of track.

We passed through without incident but had their been something on the track, rocks or otherwise, Amtrak’s personnel would have had to attempt to clear it. There was no other track and no other way for the arrival of assistance.

Night fell in western Colorado and while I had thought I had seen the darkest skies ever over Iowa, I soon discovered otherwise. I dozed off after dinner and awoke to a narrow view the stars above.

In a canyon between Helper and Spanish Fork, Utah, the train stopped suddenly such that boxes tumbled to the floor and the steel wheels sounded as if they were skidding against the rails beneath them. While I have no idea how jumping a track may sound or feel, this is what I thought it might be like. The train was still upright so we hadn’t derailed but we were stopped in complete and utter darkness. The train’s electricity went out and from my window I could see only the dim rays of flashlights moving under my car.

For a good thirty minutes I watched and listened, but couldn’t see or hear anything other than shadows being emitted from under my car. Because most people were sleeping, or had been prior to the sudden stop, no announcements were made as to what had happened. Amtrak’s staff was obviously under the train inspecting something.

Eventually we were back in motion and on the relatively flat surfaces of Utah County headed northbound through Provo and into Salt Lake City. At 3:00 am the train arrived at Salt Lake’s new intermodal station where light rail, commuter rail and Amtrak converge. On the opposite track, the eastbound California Zephyr prepared for departure.

Initially pissed off at being four hours late, I realized that on a journey this far, though so many adverse geographical conditions, four hours isn’t that bad. I wouldn’t want to have to depend on this schedule, but I imagined how little four hours must have been to the thousands of people who once traveled across a country on a journey that at one time could have only been accomplished on foot. The fact that a nation once made this a priority is truly remarkable.

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On Wednesday the 18th I begin a day and a half journey that I’ve been waiting years to experience.  It’s said to be one of the most beautiful American journeys, particularly during the winter months.  It is the Amtrak ride through the Rockies to Salt Lake City.

The trip is scheduled for thirty-four hours each way.  By Thursday morning at 7am the train is scheduled to arrive in Denver.  After an hour in Denver the train begins its ascent into the Rockies and arrives fourteen hours later in Salt Lake City.  Only half of this portion of the trip will be during the daylight hours, and I intend to be glued to the windows, either of my room or in the observation car.  I suspect there will be plenty of competition for seating in the observation car.

I’ve reserved a sleeper car for the trip, paid for with Amtrak points I accumulated during my commutes to and from Ohio prior to the move to Chicago.  While Amtrak’s coach-class seating is ample for a journey such as this, and very reasonably priced, being able to sleep in a bed and having access to showers and complimentary meals in the dining car seemed to be a more comfortable way to go about the journey.

I’ll attempt live updates from the train, be that on the blog or via Twitter.  Data coverage will be spotty at best as this segment of Amtrak does not offer Wi-Fi service.  I look forward to sharing this trip with you.

Photo by Ann Owens

The entire trip will be completed with the use of public transportation.  From my flat in Chicago I’ll travel by bus to Union Station, board the train and once in Salt Lake City I’ll have access to the Utah Transit Authority’s buses and trains.

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Nothing says “Thanks for visiting Columbus” better than Smackies Original Pit BBQ on the corner of Broad and James. The airlines seldom serve food on flights and some good ole BBQ might just make your trip more pleasant.

If you happen to transfer en-route to Port Columbus at the intersection of Main and James you might have enough time to run into BP and grab a soda and a bag of sunflower seeds.

Transferring at Livingston and James will offer no amenities for your flight.

But don’t despair, because if you happen to transfer at Fifth Avenue and James you’ll be able to get in your “greens” with something close to a fresh picked salad of sorts.

I bring these images to your attention because I still find it outrageous that getting to Port Columbus via public transportation from anywhere in town requires a transfer on James Road.

COTA route 92 is the only dedicated route serving Port Columbus, and while it runs from just before six o’clock in the morning until just before ten o’clock in the evening, it is perhaps the last place a visitor would be inclined to venture if they were leaving the city.

COTA routes 1, 2, 6 and 10 connect from downtown to James Road, which gives one plenty of options to get to James Road, but once there one finds themselves in a virtual “no man’s land”. James Road has no “branding” as a gateway to Port Columbus. Additionally, the 92 runs at about 30 minute headways, so if a traveler were to misconnect, they’re stuck there for a period of time that makes waiting a bit uncomfortable.

COTA’s route 52 offers service from OSU to Port Columbus on certain dates in January, March, June, August, September, November and December – likely coinciding with the university’s noteworthy dates (move in, spring break, etc..) but this service isn’t really dependable for the general population.

Port Columbus just opened up the Green parking lot on the corner of Stelzer and 17th touting $4 per day parking. It might have been a better investment had Port Columbus partnered with COTA to create reasonable and convenient bus service in and out of the airport. Another parking lot only encourages automobile use and thus, more congestion.

Considering downtown Columbus is less than ten miles from Port Columbus (Experience Columbus calls it “10 minutes from downtown”), there should be a more convenient public transit option. The current options of transferring at James Road require at least one hour – and take the rider to an environment that will make them think twice before ever using COTA to get to and from Port Columbus.

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Join us next month as WOSU and NPR bring this one-day “un-conference” to Columbus.

We’ll spend the day at the WOSU studios at COSI sharing ideas and concepts that are important to you – because the topics will come from you, the audience.  Let’s see what we can discover together.

Register soon, bring your ideas about community involvement and help us lead the discussions.

Learn more about PubCampOhio by clicking this link.

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Spring Cleaning

Call it Spring Cleaning or the anticipation of moving, whatever the case, I’ve been going through cabinets and closets and eliminating things that I no longer need or have use for.

I typically find plenty of clothing items to donate once or twice a year, but this year I noticed something new showing up in the now-obsolete bin.

Although it sat in the basement for a few years, I thought it might be a good idea to keep my VCR.   I may just very well want to watch my own copy of Dances with Wolves again, but now I realize that I can get rid of that too.  Virtually any movie I wish to watch can now be downloaded to my computer.

Upstairs while rummaging through the closet in the spare bedroom I found stacks of city maps.  New York, Salt Lake, Helsinki as well as a Columbus street atlas.  Suddenly I realize that maps are everywhere now and most notably in the palm of my hand.

No longer must I search for a street in an alphabetical list then turn over the map and look for the coordinates where the street is printed.  In fact, I really don’t even need to know the city’s name any longer.  A zip-code will do and if I don’t have it, my new maps will offer suggestions.

It was time to rid myself of city maps.

Downstairs I have stacks of CD’s, most of which I’ve burned to my hard drive and I really should get rid of them.  I have copies of my music library on two separate external hard drives.   But there’s something about holding Marie Osmond’s CD jacket in my hands that I just can’t seem to do without.

Under the TV sits a DVD player that I still use from time to time.  A blockbuster hit or an avant-garde film from Video Central makes its way here from time to time.  I’ve had the DVD player for at least ten years and it is wearing out.  I can hear the laser searching over and over again as it samples the disc.

I’ll eliminate the DVD player right before I move because I’m not taking my television either.  I see no need to carry a 150 pound 27” CRT TV any further than I have to.  Sometimes I turn on the television for the sake of background noise while I work (like now) and glance up from time to time.   But I can do that with my radio and the programming is much better anyway.

There’s no need to watch the local news any longer unless its to see Kurt Ludlow’s shirt/tie combination.  With all due respect, the local news is pretty much worthless no matter where you live and for world news, there’s the BBC on the radio.  Still, RSS feeds deliver most of my news.

I sorted through a box of old photographs.  Most of them were of buildings and places – few with other people in them because I’ve always traveled alone.  I tossed a bunch of them because, after all, how many photos does one need of the Trans-America Pyramid or the IDS Tower?  I can look at them any time by going to Flickr and see better photographs than the ones I took myself.  I’ve had my important photos digitally scanned.  I store them away from the house, but keep a copies on my hard drive to view whenever I wish.  I was able to discard hundreds of photos.

In the bookcase I found a personality profile that a friend had made for me while I was living in Salt Lake.  The profile was based upon my birthdate, birth location and time.  I paged through the document having forgotten that I still had it.

The profile stated that I was somewhat of a minimalist and that I wasn’t very sentimental.  I paged through it leisurely then tossed it into the trash bin.

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