Three Days in Chicago

Day Three

Starting with today, the reason I’m here this time: It’s my dad’s 85th birthday. We’re having a barbecue and Ann and Dan’s — my sister, my brother-in-law — at their place on the northwest side. Beautiful day for it. Sunny, in the low 70s, with a non-prevailing wind and a few clouds pushed this way from that hurricane in the East.

Pop: Happy birthday. Again!

Day Two

My bro-in-law Dan Wasmer and I got on our bikes and rode from the Wasmer-Brekke homestead down to my brother Chris’s place south of Interstate 80 in the south suburbs. By car it’s a 43-mile trip, so not the impossible dream in terms of getting out and riding it. But here’s the thing: The city itself presents itself as a kind of barrier; that’s especially true when you try to ride west out of the northwest side: O’Hare is a giant obstacle that needs to be navigated around; no problem in a car, a pretty good challenge when you’re on your own on two wheels. Riding south, the challenge is a little different: Finding a route that’s reasonably direct and that avoids the unseen terrors of non-Caucasian, non-Spandex-wearing neighborhoods; also, finding a route that keeps you off the busiest streets. Because, though you see tons of cyclists on the lakefront bike paths — too many; too many who are still getting the hang of riding; too many riding among too many pedestrians and runners and random path-crossers; too many to ride at an expeditious pace and feel safe — you don’t see a lot of people on the streets and roads.

We headed south from the northern end of California Avenue until it’s interrupted at Lawrence; we jogged west on Lawrence and then southeast on Manor back to California; then to Grand Avenue, then east to Damen; then Damen down to Blue Island Avenue, and west on Blue Island (which turns into 26th Street) back to California and the Cook County Jail complex; down California to 71st, then, after a brief sojourn on some side streets not all that far from my mom’s old neighborhood, back east to Western Avenue. Western is busy but not impossible at that point; we had one car full of guys yell something at us — whatever it was, I greeted it with a friendly wave — and we rode all the way out of the city before we turned west again, on 123rd. That took us to Kedzie before we hit a detour; Kedzie was fine, and we took that to 175th, then south on Central Avenue, across Interstate 80 just west of the I-57 junction, then a few more miles south (to Vollmer Road, then Harlem Avenue) to Chris’s place. Our mileage: 43 miles, the same as driving (and going at a reasonably friendly pace, we made it in three hours, even with all the traffic signals we hit).

So now I know how to do that.

Day One

Took the 6 a.m. United flight from Oakland to Chicago. Encountered major confusion and building frustration (other travelers’, not mine) at the United check-in counter. My experiment on this flight: I took my handheld GPS unit to see if it would work. I got a window seat (to work, the GPS needs to simultaneously “see” at least tglobal positioning system satellites). I managed to get a window that I couldn’t really look out of, though, it was far enough aft of my seat that the only way to get a view was to lean my seat way back; I prefer not to do that because I know how unpleasant it is have the seat in front of me pushed back in my face. But I did manage to figure out a way to prop up the GPS in the window. When I turned on the device 10 minutes after takeoff, it had no problem acquiring signals from half a dozen satellites, and it worked throughout the flight. The result: I have a track I can view to see the path we took, which admittedly may not be interesting to anyone but me. The problems I found: Since my window was in an awkward position, I couldn’t really move the GPS much to check the map display while we were en route; and I also found the 2-inch display pretty hard to read. The thing to do would be to figure out how to connect the unit to a laptop so you could get a nice big display of the route as you’re moving. Next time, maybe.

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2 Replies to “Three Days in Chicago”

  1. Your description of the trek to the South Suburbs brings back old memories. As a kid, I took 103rd Street down past the city incinerator, and ended up on a multi-lane highway. My friend and I were a bit disheveled when a cop pulled up behind us, got out and asked, “what the Hell are you idiots doing, riding your bikes on a highway.” I’m not so sure we would have turned back, if he hadn’t questioned our sanity in such a brisk and authoritative way.
    In Pennsylvania, were I live now, I have been lobbying our State Legislators to fund bike trails within the right-of-way of some of our most scenic roadways – like the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Your brother-in-law Dan may remember that he had an encounter with a guardrail on that very same roadway, back in the 70’s, when he came in for my brother’s wedding.
    When I talk to legislators about my idea for a right-of-way, they assume that I mean, right down the center of the road. I don’t. That’s dangerous, bordering on crazy. Roadways like the Turnpike have dozens of feet on either side of the roadway still within the right-of-way. I see no reason not to allow tax paying bicyclists to enjoy the same scenic, fast and exciting route through our Commonwealth, as the auto jockeys do. Anyway, it probably won’t happen, but think of how nice your trip would have been had you been able to traverse your route with the same efficiency as those driving in cars.
    Very Best,
    Jeff Zolitor

  2. Hey, Jeff:
    Thanks so much for writing, and I’ll make sure that Dan W. sees your note. It sounds like you guys got out on the Calument (now Bishop Ford) Expressway. Hell, I used to find that terrifying in an old-style Detroit-made machine, let alone on a bike. Glad to hear the Chicago police supplied a guardian angel.
    Interesting idea about cycling/non-motoring rights-of-way along limited-access highways. I’m for it! Having said that, let me add that there are many places in California it’s legal to ride along shoulders on the interstates and other freeways. I’ve done it myself many times, and my experience has always been the same: I couldn’t wait to get off the highway; mostly because of the relentless noise. On the other hand, I’ve ridden plenty of frontage roads, too, and those aren’t nearly so hard to bear; so distance from the traffic lanes really does count for something. Good luck, in any case.

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