I can’t really ever remember being this exhausted day in and day out. It’s kinda crazy. I used to be a pretty intense swimmer back in the day and I can remember numerous practices where we were swimming more miles than a typical track training run. I could do that everyday for 4 months straight. Maybe I’m just getting older now because I can barely even get my legs out of bed. We finished biking to Madison, WI last night from Milwaukee all in one day and are planning on taking a rest day to explore the city. It’s almost one of our last decent metropolitan destinations other than Minneapolis before we really find ourselves out in the middle of nowhere. Anyhow, I still owe you all a recap of our Chicago visit so here goes.
As I said before, we had put out some feelers looking for a place to stay that wouldn’t cost us much money. I asked around on Facebook and contacted a few people who I thought might have some friends in the city. We got next to nothing at first but over the next 24 hours, the options started piling up. First, I tried a friend of a friend who I knew was following us on the blog. She said yes but I knew I was pushing the last minute notice and that was before we decided on the rest day in Valparaiso so we ended up passing on that (thanks Sarah!). Then, I found a place in Oak Park where my old boss’s last assistant now lives (thanks Dustin for offering to help us out on such short notice). My brother Evan then hooked us up with a good friend of his in Oak Park as well who was available and definitely willing to help (thanks Brian!). My friend Jen back in NYC even took it upon herself to contact everyone she knew in Chicago on our behalf to find something that might work. All of these options would have worked for us and we would have considered ourselves very fortunate. What we finally ended up with was beyond anything we could have possibly imagined.
My friend, Scott Frances, who is also a very talented photographer I work with frequently in the city stepped up to the plate when he heard we were looking for a place to stay in the windy city. His wife happens to be great friends with a fella named Joe King, a very successful restaurateur in Chicago. Turns out, Joe lives right downtown in the restaurant district and has a 3 bedroom, 3 bath condo that just happens to be completely empty during the time we were planning on coming in. Joe was off to Iowa to take his some to college for the first time but we were more than welcome to shack up for as long we liked. I think he was trying to outdo all of Ohio by spoiling us beyond belief without even knowing it.
So we set off from Valparaiso in good spirits knowing that we finally had something good lined up for us. I was a bit nervous about riding in to the city since I knew almost nothing about the surrounding geography of Chicago. What we found was one of the most bike friendly cities I have ever ridden in. Chicago apparently has one of the most extensive systems of parks and bike paths in the country that are all interconnected and very well signed. It was almost impossible to get lost once you found your way in. Our ride was to be about 60 miles and I think about 80% was on dedicated bike paths. They were not always in the best condition but they were safe and very easy to follow. Most it was fairly nondescript until we actually spotted the city on the edge of the lake. From there, we passed by the UC campus and Jackson Park. I was extremely excited about this bit since I immediately recognized it as the site for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. I have been a bit obsessed with this since reading Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. Marissa was probably a bit scared by the way my smile stretched past my ears and my eyes practically fell out they were open so wide. I think she was impressed though once I filled her in and she actually saw what I had been chatting about incessantly since we crossed the city limits. Plus, we got to see the Museum of Science and Industry from the outside, which was one of the few remaining buildings from the fair.
The rest of the ride in was fairly sublime as the sun began to set and the skyline grew out of the horizon. After so many miles of long, empty roads, it was weird seeing so many cyclists cruising the pathways. I kept nodding and waving to each as we passed but quickly remembered that we were no longer an anomaly except for our crazy, over-stuffed tank-bikes. Now, we were just a bigger nuisance for the triathletes to get around. 60 miles of stop and go city riding has us beat by the time we showed up at Joe’s door but all that passed as soon as he swept us in to his fantastic condo. He really was in the middle of downtown, just block up from Michigan Ave. with a space to match the locale. He was heading out to help his son pack but first he gave us the quick tour with explicit instructions to go through all cabinets to find and use whatever we needed. There was also a number of good wines and bubbly to choose from, not to mention the liquor and choice selects he had set out already for us. Oh, and he made reservations for us at his restaurant, Le Colonial, just a block down the street.
The next day Joe took off to Iowa while we toured the city for a few days. I took Marissa to see Millennium Park with the all the architecture and sculptures, including the Bean, of course. We toured the waterfront, enjoying walking around the city and leaving the bikes at home. A visit to the planetarium was a little lackluster but ice-cream quickly pushed that away. For dinner, we ended up in Greek Town gobbling up taziki and gyros before shuffling home along the river marveling at all the great architecture. The next day was time for errands and we set off to find some bike shops where we could find Marissa a new saddle. We were both so glad to spend the extra day to bike around on our stripped down rides. Our quest took us out of downtown and into the surrounding area that we would never likely have visited otherwise. After bouncing around to a few different shops, we finally found her a lovely Brooks B17 S in honey. We rolled around quite a bit more, taking in as much of the city as possible before our extended stay was over. I think we were both pretty impressed by how much Chicago had to offer and quickly agreed we could easily live here (the standard question we apply to every new town we roll through).