21 August 2009

Summer in the City

I would be hard-pressed to say what kind of cycling is my favorite. Sprints and any kind of racing would clearly not be at the top of my list. But beyond that, any time on a bike is enjoyable and satisfying. Sometimes, more in memory than in the moment, but most of the time it's just good to be out.

Still, I'd have to say that any time shared with one of my grown kids, riding, rates right at the top. This was true when they were younger, too, and I have been gratified to hear that some of their good memories are of our riding or hiking together. Lately, getting to ride with one of them is all too rare. So last Friday was a special treat. (To the kids who didn't ride ... this post might just as well have been about a ride with you. It just happens to be about her!)

I typically take Fridays off from the office, and during the season I often ride - maybe a short 25-30 with a friend, or occasionally the longer solo ride, like the solo century of a few weeks ago. (Which I see now I haven't written about.) Last Friday was special because it was with my daughter, it was most of the day, and it was in Chicago. Never mind that it was hot (but not beastly) and windy (it was windy), and that my computer completely malfunctioned. This was to be a casual but purposeful ride, with Kathryn taking the lead on the Chicago portion, and me riding a route and an environment that was completely unknown to me.

My ride began with a 30 mile leg to our rendezvous at Damen and Augusta, on the near west side of Chicago. The Grand Illinois Trail has a helpful route to get into the city from the west suburbs, which I have now used a half-dozen times. I'm sure there are other ways, and indeed if I were to take my road bike instead of my touring/commuting wheels, I'd have to look for an alternate. But thanks to the Illinois Prairie Path, it is fairly easy, direct, and timely to work through the west suburbs from Winfield through Maywood.

I actually stayed off the IPP through Glen Ellyn. Leaving during the morning commute, it was ironically quicker to stay on streets than to navigate all the trail crossings parallel to the commuter rail line. Plus, it's a nice spin through Wheaton and Glen Ellyn, entirely residential and past the Glen Oaks Country Club, where the Path intersects Hill St. Roll into Lombard on the Path, and stay on it all the way to 5th Ave. in Maywood.

Or, rather, these days, to one of the numbered Aves. in Maywood. Fifth is torn up. First is impossible to ride safely. Turns out Second does not cross Madison, and what you want to do is get on a N-bound street that takes you safely to Washington on the east side of Maywood. A few short blocks on Washington and you are in River Forest. The GIT has signage up to get you off Washington, under the commuter tracks, cross Lake St. and Chicago Ave., to Augusta.

Augusta is a lesser-known but classic urban street. It runs straight as an arrow from its western terminus in River Forest, until it ends at Milwaukee Ave in Chicago. If continuing to the Lake, it's a quick (and kind of breath-taking) jog to Chicago Ave., then marked bike lane and route to the lake. Anyway, cycling Augusta west to east is a visual sociology lesson: River Forest, Oak Park, the Austin neighborhood, eventually Humboldt Park, and then the near west side. Houses change, cars change, the parkway changes, the color of people changes. One thing is consistent, though - and now this summer I have ridden this route 3 times - and that is that it is a safe route, from one end to the other. Safe in the sense that people seem used to seeing cyclists, and I have not felt out of place nor unwelcome. Safe in the sense that the GIT trail markers make it clear that cyclists are likely, even expected along here. Safe at a certain point in Chicago when there is an excellent, generous bike lane. But even without that, this is a cycling street.

You have to get used to stop lights, and you'd better be prepared to stop at them.

Kathryn was waiting for me at Damen and Augusta, and had charted the next 9+ miles of our ride. We headed for the North Branch Trail (Chicago River) by way of Damen (north), Elston (northwest) to Milwaukee (I don't know, I guess NNW?) to a trail-head. Very clear marked lanes for bikes the whole way, and some of the way the lane was very generous indeed, with ample width for parking on the right side.

I don't know when it happened, but my daughter is an animal rider. She is strong! I was also glad to see how wisely she navigated traffic situations, used the lane, held to her rights but did not take dumb risks. It was nice to be able to relax with a good rider. And strong! I realized that I was sort of taking advantage of that, and had to push myself to take the lead into the wind and let her draft a bit. That is an unfamiliar cycling skill for her, and unfortunately this was probably not the best route, certainly not at this time of day, to work it out. I hope I helped a bit, anyway.

The North Branch Trail is a beautiful forest preserve section hugging the Chicago River. We ended up doing about 15 miles on it, which included at our northern turn-around a stop for the sandwich lunch Kathryn had packed. She thought of everything!

On the way back to our meeting point, we hit a section of Elston that coincided with the Muslim call to Friday prayer, and saw a neighborhood come alive very interestingly. Unfortunately, this was also the most challenging traffic situation we got into as well. Where in the world did all the traffic come from? And who knew how many stupid people drive BMWs?

Back at Damen and Augusta we effected a swap - Kathryn emptied her full water bottle into my empty one (leaving her with a half-bottle and ten minutes of riding, and me with 2 full ones for 2 hours), and I let her take some of my Albuterol. (We both have exercise induced asthma.) A fair swap. Then it was home and on to work for her, while I slogged west, "alone again, naturally," into the S/SSW wind.

For some reason I had not started with a bottle of sport drink in the morning. 2 bottles of water, that's OK. But by 1:30 in the afternoon, it was clear that I ought to have had that fuel, early on if not throughout the ride. I began to ride with a single destination in mind - a park in Hillside (I think) with a PowerAde vending machine. My water was going fast - it was hot and windy - but as I got to this park, a mother and son were just rolling away from the magic pavillion ... "the machine isn't working." What!?!

At this point of the IPP, there are not path-side businesses. Glen Ellyn and Wheaton, the Path rolls past lots of places to stop and buy. Villa Park, things are close, but I don't know of a convenience store. I think I did choose to bypass a 7-11, but now can't remember where I saw that. The old train depot in Villa Park is now a museum, and also sells "ice cold pop and water." I stopped for a can of Mist, sat in the shade and downed it. It helped, more than water alone would have, but failed to revive. I was now maybe 8-9 miles from home, and wondering if I'd have to stop in Glen Ellyn or Wheaton.

So I did stay on the Path through G.E. In addition to the prospect of getting re-fueled, there is the virtue of a flat route, which the streets that I took in the morning are not. Stopping and shopping seemed like too much trouble. (Which, by the way, is another sign that I was beginning to be seriously in trouble, as to hydration and fuel. Dumb reasoning is a bad sign. It's just that, with me, it's hard to know if it's natural or extremity-induced.) Ah, but there is always Tates. Yeah, that's it, Tate's.

Tate's is Wheaton's authentic ice cream parlor. Just across the tracks from the IPP as it rolls through downtown; and on the right side of the tracks to get me home anyway. What a relief to stop and get a large, very chocolaty cone, sit in partial shade, and indulge myself. Hey, cycling IS self-indulgence, coming and going; it is for me a good reason for rewards, and its own reward. Tate's gave me the courage and strength to ride the last 3 miles home. Hey, that's my story and I'm sticking with it.

Without a computer, I was stuck with an estimate for my in/out miles, Kathryn's planning on the street route, and a pretty accurate appraisal of the trail mileage. That evening I got on Map My Ride for the first time, and found that my in/out estimate was pretty close. (To be fair, I had ridden this section before, and some memory still works.) So, the final mileage for me was 91 - and I am sticking with that! 31 of those with Kathryn, and those are perhaps my favorite 31 miles of the summer.

Who's next?


kathryn said...

Thanks for posting this! I ride that Damen-Elston route every Tuesday and Thursday now... it's never as fun as that ride was with you! Next time I'll have to come to Wheaton and got some good path riding in with you!

Chuck King said...

Any time! And I'm pretty itchy to ride back in the city, too...