Saturday morning I woke up after 4 hours of fitful sleep. I slipped on my new super soft hooded runnerís jersey and slapped my red cycling cap on my fresh from the clippers head. My bag and bike were already loaded up in my car from the night before so all I need to get ready was an energy bar and a bottle of nestle quick. After an uneventful but very entertaining drive from Naperville to Chicago (thanks to a little hot water music) I was ready to meet up with the Chicago Cycling Club for one of their first training rides of the season. I met up with my friend on the way to the Addison Clocktower and we soon joined up with the others. Directions were directed, registers registered, rules ruled on and the group was off.
All in all a fun laid back 30mi ride up to Evanston and parts of Skokie back down into the city. Normally I ride alone in the city; comforted by the fact that I float un-noticed by the rest of the cityscape. I ride lost in my own thoughts and consequently on the streets that I love. Today is very different. Almost immediately our group is whittled down to a manageable 9, then a stoic 5, and then a pitiful 3. Once it was pared down to a surprising 1. My fellow riders are a pleasant bunch. We stop at most major intersections, signal when changing lanes, and are generally respected by motorists. We chat about what we do for a living, what kind of rides we do, the weather and of course bikes. Thereís my friendís red saeco cannondale with crazy 4-spoke wheels that he fearlessly bunny hops over curbs with. Some bikes made from materials Iíve only read about. A couple older steel frame roadies, a mountain bike, and even another fixie. Soon I realize Iím the only rider not wearing a helmet or cycling tights. Normally a spandexed roadie sticks out, but here a pair of regular pants are odd. After the ride we chat besides the clocktower, say our goodbyes, and thank each other for a good ride. Now I have 6 hours to kill before the race tonight.
The interim before tonightís alleycat is a conglomeration of biking, eating, gyms, video games, biking, eating, fixing bikes, biking, and biking. I look at my speedometer after my partner in crime and I get to grant park for the meet and see Iíve already done 51 miles today. Combined with the 118 I did last week and I feel my legs ache. Something I havenít felt since before the winter. The mood of the city is strange today. People are already walking around celebrating St. Patrickís day with beers in hand. Barís with green awnings have lines out the door, and green beads litter the streets.
By now the sun has gone down and we approach the atrium in grant park where 40 some odd bikers are hanging around excitedly talking about the upcoming ride. My friend and I are running late so we quickly register and together as a group we all explore the route together. Almost immediately I can tell Iím seriously outclassed by this group. Previous stages of the Tour Da Chicago have tested my abilities (most notably my sense of orientation), and this one will be more of the same. As we ride the wrong way down a late night Michigan avenue, and a still trafficked lower wacker drive we draw stares from drivers and bystanders who realize we are not enough to be a parade, but enough to be reckoned with. One of the checkpoints is in front of the WGN building and while Iím carrying my bike up the staircase I can here the dj interview a dog expert about dog breeds. At first he simply raises his hand in salutation at the group, but the group grows and he soon interrupts and gives his listeners the play-by-play as we congregate. We must be a strange bunch to look at. Most of us wearing high-cuffed pants or cutoffs with backpacks and messenger packs, some with race kits, others with wool jerseys. A rat patrolís tall bike makes an appearance and soon Marcus arrives with his bike plus BOB trailer. All of this in awash of red blinking LEDs.
Back at Grant Park we lay our bikes in the grass and line up besides the statue of Abe Lincoln and wait for ďgo.Ē During our neutral lap I counted 30 odd stationary objects I could run into, and the 60 miles Iíve already ridden have decided for me to take this ride as safely as possible. And weíre off. One second Iím waiting, the next Iím riding, and the next thereís three of us picking our way from checkpoint to checkpoint.
The 6th stage of the Tour Da Chicago is called the Stairmaster. 6 check points about eight miles and my guess of about 300 steps you have to carry your bike up and down. Many of these checkpoints are tucked away in the plazaís of office buildings, or involve finding a specific staircase that I all but avoid in my normal everyday life. Each time weíd arrive at a checkpoint weíd find a friendly face whoíd kid us about our lateness and give us some encouragement on how to get back on track. The whole time looking over their shoulder for the potential of police or security guards. During the neutral lap someone over heard a cop reporting to dispatch that there were a 100 bikers out here. CPD math requires you multiply the actual number by 2.
We finish our first lap bruised, but intact around the same time the leaders are finishing their optional second lap and head home. With the madness of the race behind us, we ride to my friendís cautiously. It is only 9pm, but already I can feel the St. Patrickís day partiers are turning mean. Buttons state that everyone is Irish on St. Paddyís day, but Iím not Irish. Iím Chinese and if I ever see a ďKiss me Iím ChineseĒ button on Chinese New Yearís Iíll blow a firecracker in their face. One my way back to Lincoln Park I ride on the yellow line as cabs dart in and out, guys are yelling at each other across Diversy. Girls are sitting on curbs sobbing into each otherís arms. Garbage cans and newspaper boxes lie in the street. . If my culture was used as an excuse by drunks to relive their frat/sorority days, Iíd just die.
I find my car and check my cyclo-computer. Final log: 68.8 miles. Driving home I think about how strange it is to be a Chicago-biker. The peaceful 30miles with a laidback Chicago Cycling Club. The 8miles and 300 steps of surreal mayhem during the final stage of the Tour Da Chicago. Mostly though, floating along as the city breathes and exhales.
check out mr. Stacey's pics!