A Day in Chicago by Bike

Last weekend I traveled to Chicago to celebrate my nephew's 2nd birthday. Technically, I landed at O'Hare but spent most of the weekend in Great Lakes, Illinois (about 40 miles north of the city) where my sister lives. 

Women and Children First

 

Our weekend was full of toddler fun: the Betty Brin Children's Museum in Milwaukee, family swim time, rainbow cupcakes, and toddler music class. As has happened previously on trips to visit them, I reach my limit of suburb time after about 3 days. I need the energy, diversity, and craziness that a city brings. So on Saturday March 17th (yep, St. Patrick's Day), I took the train into Chicago for a day in the city.

The previous time I was in Chicago I explored the city by Divvy bike. This worked out pretty well, as Chicago has a good density of stations. Planning to do the same this time, I reached out to "Bike Twitter" for recommendations on must sees, eats, and dos in the Windy City. 

I was surprised by a message from Elsbeth Cool, the owner of Four Star Family Cyclery. She offered me one of her fleet bikes to ride for the day, a Tern Vektron.  She told me she was just off the blue train line in Logan Park, and being the transit savvy person I am, I figured "No problem. I'll just transfer and be there shortly!" 

Elsbeth Cool

If only it was so easy. l spent the majority of the train ride trying to figure out how to transfer from the UP-N to the Blue L line, a feat which is apparently impossible. I asked 4 people on the train how to do it- none of them knew. Eventually I decided I would get off at the closest stop to Logan Park and make my way from there.

Getting off the train I was suddenly awash in a sea of St. Patrick's Day revelers. St. Patrick's Day in Chicago is a BIG deal. Oh shit. My sister was right - going to the city today was a big mistake and I'm going to have to deal with drunks all day. 

Quickly enough, however, the throngs caught their Ubers and Lyfts and were on their way to Wrigleyville or Downtown Chicago for the real party, and I was left to my own. Thankfully, in Chicago, the Transit App works incredibly well and has train, bus, bike, and carshare integrated. I discovered that a Divvy station was less than a block away, which I could then ride to Logan Park!

I've been seriously spoiled by the free-floating bike share model in Seattle and forgot how annoying it is to redock at a specific station every 30 minutes. I slowly and deliberately made my way to Logan Park, with the help of Google Maps. (Hat tip- the bike directions on Google are usually pretty spot on!) I found another Divvy station a few blocks from Elsbeth's house, dropped the bike, and walked to her place.

She opened Four Star Family Cyclery out of her basement last summer and business has been humming along steadily ever since! She works to get families on bikes that a practical alternative to traveling by car, which usually means electric cargo and family bikes! 

I was loaned a Tern Vektron for the day, which is a super cool folding electric bike. While Chicago is super flat compared to Seattle, having the electric assist meant I could get further and explore more with less effort. Winning!

Ukrainian Village

I set off with the intention to explore a few different neighborhoods, including Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, and Logan Square. I slowly made my way throughout the neighborhoods, stopping for photos, an occasional beer, and one really good baked potato at The Shelby. Seriously, if you're ever in Chicago, check out their baked potatoes. 

As far as bike lanes go and feeling safe on the road, Chicago wasn't the best. Many of the bike lanes on the major streets are solidly in the door zone (as with every other city), however, Elsbeth gave me a great tip to ride a block or two over from the main street and I would find quiet residential streets. She was 100% spot on and I spent most of my time on side streets. 

During my day, I stopped at many businesses, but two of them I want to briefly highlight.

The first is BFF Bikes, a neighborhood bike shop that I've followed on social media for years. They're a full service bike shop, but with a focus on women's specific apparel and bikes. When I rolled by on Saturday afternoon, they were in the middle of their 4th Anniversary Party with treats and a solid crew hanging out inside. I was warmly welcomed and had a great chat with some local riders and the owner. If you're in Chicago, I'd encourage you to swing by their shop.

BFF Bikes

The second business is a bookstore called "Women and Children First." I first visited this shop last year on my visit and fell in love. Unabashedly feminist and political, this local bookstore is a gem. With tables dedicated to trans* literature, highlights by authors of color and a welcoming, positive vibe, I think I could spend all day in here. (My undergrad degree is in Women Studies after all. This is my feminist dream come true!)  I browsed for a while and eventually picked up "Tell Me More" by Kelly Corrigan, a mug, and a Black Lives Matter button.

IMG_0227.jpg

From there, I rode back to Elsbeth's place, dropped off the bike, and was on my way back to the train. I think in total I rode somwhere between 15 and 20 miles, but I'm not really sure. The ease of the bike I was loaned along with the flat, grid streets of Chicago made it easy to just keep going. 

I can't wait to go back, hopefully this time with my sister and nephew riding alongside me!

Upcoming Posts! Hong Kong, Setting your own Pace, Gear Reviews and Camping Hacks

I have a goal to be more regular with posting - it turns out people enjoy reading this little blog I've put together. In that spirit, I'm going to attempt to be public about some upcoming posts I've got planned. 

While I'd like to tell you what order they're going to appear in, let's be honest, I'm probably the most disorganized person you'll ever meet and I'm going to write in whatever order I damn well feel like.

So here are a few things that have been percolating in my brain as of late:

  • Hong Kong! I went on a fabulous just-for-funsies trip to Hong Kong in February and I'm dying to show and tell stories and photos from this trip!
  • Setting your own Pace/Riding Your Own Ride.  There's a thing in the thru-hiking community called "Hike Your Own Hike", which basically boils down to do your own thing to ensure self-satisfaction and well-being. Over the past few years, many of my bike camping trips have been solo or with a smaller group, so when I do go on a bigger ride, it's a hard line for me to find between sticking with the group for the shenanigans and riding my own ride. (More on this in the post.)
  • Gear Reviews & Camping Hacks  - How do I eat real food when camping? What heavenly sleep system have I fallen in love with this season? (Seriously, it's dreamy and I absolutely love crawling into at the end of a long day.) Just some tips, tricks, and little things I've picked up along the way of a few seasons of doing this thing.

Ruby Beach, on the Washington Coast where I camped a few weeks ago in the pouring rain, but stayed nice and cozy.

A Swing...and a Near Miss

Call it luck or perhaps good planning, but until this weekend all of my bike camping trips have gone off without a hitch. No major mechanical issues, getting lost, or unexpected difficulties. For the most part, I've known exactly what to expect in terms of ride difficulty, length, and weather and have prepared accordingly.

Well, for some reason, I royally screwed up this trip. And I feel really bad because it wasn't just me at stake this time. I took a bike camping virgin with me! GAHHHHH.

My plan was to ride out to Scenic Beach State Park as a way to test out the route for the upcoming Swift Campout and to take part in Adventure Cycling Association's National Bike Travel Weekend. In a few weeks I'll be leading the Bikery's group on this same ride, and since I've never been to this park, I figured it'd be a good idea to give it a whirl.

Holy hell it's a good thing I did. I missed one crucial turn about 5 miles into our ride which resulted in a whole lot of extra dumb climbing. Overall, the difference in elevation was only about 100ft between the two routes, but if you compare the elevation profiles, the route we took has a bunch of nasty big climbs vs. gentle long climbs.

The route we took: https://ridewithgps.com/trips/9322607

The route we meant to take: https://ridewithgps.com/routes/14232946

My bike felt wonky on the ride out there too, and I can't figure out if it's because the weight was distributed unevenly or I was just carrying too much stuff. My friend's bike wasn't a touring bike I was carrying most of the gear (cooking and sleeping stuff) and he just had a backpack and seat post rack. This, plus the heat made for a very slow going trip.

All the stupid climbing was availed when we pulled into camp and the rangers happily assured us that even though the sign said "Campground Full", the hiker/biker sites were still open. Winning on bikes, yet again!

We quickly set up camp and made the wise decision to not put the rain fly on the tent. With an overnight forecast of 60 degrees and no rain, we both were willing to risk a bit of dew for the rare opportunity to see towering pines and stars from the tent. Definitely a wise choice.

No rain fly, no problem.

The beach area at Scenic Beach is about a 5 minute walk from the campground. We grabbed a snack and a beer and headed down to check it out. The day area here is huge, with tons of picnic tables, bbq grills, and a few volleyball courts. Even though it was being well used, there was still lots of space and it didn't feel crowded. After checking it out, we headed back up to make dinner, eventually coming back down to the beach for the sunset.

 

In the morning, we enjoyed the requisite cup of coffee outside, a quick bowl of outmeal, and then headed out. We had a goal to be on the road before temperatures soared into the 90's, as nobody wants to ride in that.

Unsurprisingly, the ride back to town went a lot faster than the ride into camp. It's funny how riding the intended route works like that.