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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Urban Cycling Adventure

Consider this a residual of the “Toronto Effect.”  My cycling experiments on Toronto’s streets taught me two things: urban cycling is pretty interesting (even exciting/scary at times) and...I suck at it.

My cycling skills have improved significantly over the past two years.  This is a good thing because, frankly, when I started I was a menace to both myself and anyone/anything in general proximity.  I’m far less dangerous today as I pedal along mostly deserted country roads.  Me on city streets?  A different story.

I know I sorely lack a few critical skills.  The Chicago Lakefront Trail will either be my salvation or demise.  Time will tell.

A century ago, Chicago’s civic-minded embraced a plan developed by a certain Daniel Burnham.  His plan for the city was revolutionary in many respects, but the plan was never implemented in its entirety.  Here’s where the elders were brilliant - they adopted a central tenet of Burnham’s plan: “The Lakefront by right belongs to the people," wrote Burnham. "Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.” 

And so, yesterday, I pedaled the entire length of the Chicago Lakefront Trail.  It’s roughly 36 miles roundtrip.  A three-hour adventure.

I was delighted, impressed, amazed, tense, freaked-out and utterly charmed.  I hope to “do the Trail” one day per week for the rest of this season.  It’s quite an adventure. 

The trail begins well south of the city center.  There never was much development there and the beaches, back in the segregated 60’s, were the province of the “coloreds.”  The area remains undeveloped, sparsely traversed.  I found that stretch soothing.  Rolling farther north, there’s been construction/reconstruction.  Chicago once had an airstrip along the lake called Meigs Field.  It was bulldozed several years ago and the land returned to natural habitat for migratory birds.  I rather like municipalities that serve up such treats for the general populace.  Birders wander about.  It’s peaceful. A beautiful dune ecology on display.

The Trail serves many.  There were quite a few cyclists and runners.  They can easily be grouped according to proficiency.  I saw quite a few impressive athletes and quite a few struggling aspirants.  Nice to view hopes, aspirations and (every now and then) delusions on grand display.

I was passed by an absolutely gorgeous young man who rolled past on a “beach-cruiser.” Shirtless, deeply bronzed, flip-flopped, lean, muscular and sporting an impressive ponytail, this honest-to-god Adonis had a small boy riding in a child’s seat.  I watched as they sped away and, all the while, the young man was gesticulating and pointing out features of interest to his rapt protégé.  Watching them made me happy.

As one approaches the central city area, the Trail gets crowded.  Turns out a whole lotta folks like to come to the lakefront: roller-bladers, skate-boarders, chaotic families, oblivious lovers, daredevils, derelicts, people of every age, race and disposition.  Ah, yes, the urban experience!  I had deprived myself too long. 

I could go on...and on.  From the city center, the trail heads north through well-to-do ‘hoods and upscale beach environments.  The denizens were well-manicured.  The vistas gorgeous. 

The entire Trail is a gift, a joy, a blessing and, at times, a nerve-wracking adventure.  I’m hooked.

As I was nearing the end of my ride, I noticed a rather comely lass pedaling towards me.  I’d guess she was in her forties.  I smiled and nodded as we drew closer.  She, in turn, blew me a kiss as she rolled by.

I was utterly, squishily charmed.

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Blogger Wine and Words said...

"squishily charmed" Adorbale you! Go get her son!

"The entire Trail is a gift, a joy, a blessing and, at times, a nerve-wracking adventure. I’m hooked."

A metaphor for life...well, I wish it were for me. Maybe I will paint it in neon upon my chest. Who knows. Maybe it will glow.

Thu Aug 16, 11:25:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

"Go get her"!?! I wouldn't even know where to begin.

I'm not sure there can be a metaphor for life. I've been trying to wrap my mind around it my entire life. Yeah, life is "all that" (and more). Keep thinking on it long and hard. The glow will come.

Fri Aug 17, 12:14:00 AM  
Blogger Bella said...

that's quite an accomplishment! and sounds like nice scenery. I too have begun a regimen of trying to walk more, not cycle, so my ass doesn't grow roots to this chair! LOL

Fri Aug 17, 09:32:00 PM  
Blogger PattiKen said...

I agree with W&W. Go get her, boy. You'll know what to do. It's like riding a bicycle. :-)

Sun Aug 19, 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Ah, how y'all make me smile!

You're singing to the choir, Bella! I've been far too sedentary for far too long. I'm hoping to change all that.

I appreciate the encouragement, Patti, ain't all that simple any more. I've never been glib. Never been quick with "a line." It's even harder now when one considers that I have so much less to offer than what I did when I was younger, stronger, far more confident and wealthier than I am today.

On the other hand, all that I've come to experience and understand mean more to me than I can express...and there just may be someone, somewhere, somehow, who wishes to engage in fair trade.

I'd like that.

Sun Aug 19, 09:14:00 PM  
Blogger Selma said...

WOW. I would love to do that. Such a sense of liberation and achievement. You go, Jonas!!!

Mon Aug 20, 12:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was only in Chicago once and quite enjoyed myself. Sounds like it was a wonderful ride.

Sat Sep 01, 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger anna said...

I love Chicago and envy you for being there.

Sun Sep 02, 09:55:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Thank you, Selma! I've ridden the Trail three times now. Each time thrills and delights me even more (particularly since I've grown more comfortable cycling in a crowded environment). I've so many thoughts and impressions that I've not yet been able to organize them into coherent form. I'm trying.

Yes, Deb, these rides are wonderful for a great many reasons. This recluse is stretching his legs a bit.

Chicago certainly has its charms, Anna. That's why it's been home to me. Having said that, though, I'll note that a great many cities have their endearments and enticements. Montreal, for example, is a city I find utterly charming and intoxicating.

Mon Sep 03, 09:56:00 PM  
Blogger Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

I have always had trouble with making sure that my feet were on the pedals and watching where I was going. Sigh.

Sat Oct 13, 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Yes, indeed, Jerry - cycling poses a few challenges. Although I was a competent cyclist decades ago, a loooong hiatus from the sport (and decades of physical aging) left me unprepared for a return to the sport. It took me three years to re-build my skills. This year, after logging more than 2,000 miles in the saddle, I kinda know where my feet and eyes are most times. Sometimes my eyes are fixed squarely on my feet that remain clamped on the pedals as I lie scraped and embarrassed on the street. So it goes. It's all part of the adventure.

Sun Oct 14, 11:21:00 AM  

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