Saturday, June 28, 2014

saturday, june 28, 2014: western suburbs, chicago, illinois

Saturday, June 28, 2014: western suburbs, Chicago, Illinois 

One of my secret pleasures is jumping in on an out-of-town group ride.  Meaning that I'm from out-of-town, and I'm jumping in on someone else's group ride.  Yay for the internet.  (How did anyone find anything in the pre-internet age?)

Two years ago, on a similar trip through Chicago, I rolled down the street a few blocks from Valerie's brother's family's house and joined the 6:00 am Saturday Lake & Harlem ride.  That was a fun ride.  Nice group of guys (maybe 15).  Reasonably brisk pace.  Maybe a 50-mile loop.  A much more gentlemanly pace and feel than the more famous (and maybe more fun, but in a very different way) Judson ride in the north.

Today, I was't quite so lucky.  A much-later-than-ideal departure meant we pulled into town just after 4:00 am.  I was up at 5:15 and rolled out 25 minutes later.  But today there was only one other dude waiting at Lake and Harlem.  We rode for 45 minutes and came back to the meeting place for the 7:00 am ride.  Ten or twelve guys.  All a super good sort.  But the pace was a little too casual and, well, it's a _different_ sort of ride when I, at 40, am likely the youngest one there.

Lake Street / East St. Charles Road is not really an awe-inspiring bicycle route.  Sort of run-down commerical/industrial.  A sprawling freeway overpass dominates the landscape.  Though I'm in love these old suburbs.  Because they're old.  And because they have life.  And history.

The modern suburb is full of curvy subdivisions built around uninspiring cul-de-sacs and populated with ticky-tacky houses.  But these old Chicago suburbs, with their distinct street-parking-only town centers and block housing with row upon row of brick bungalows...these suburbs have character.  Neighborhoods that have a distinct flavor and feel.  And you feel like every block is a book with a thousand stories of love, tragedy, triumph, hope, fear...  In other words (or in another word), life.  These are Mystic River neighborhoods (even though I know that's Boston and this is...not Boston).  As I roll along, block after block, house after house, door after door, I'm a little overwhelmed with the infinite complexity of the human experience cast in the shadow of the soft Saturday morning sun.

The route back (we rode in a clockwise direction) offered fresher, greener, more monied scenery.  Again, how cool are these suburbs with their distinct town centers.  Local shops.  Not big-box stuff, but real stores, probably with real storekeepers.  The butcher the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker.  (Though, really, more like the deli, the coffee shop, and the hair salon...but, you know, still awesome.)

And how about Western Springs and Riverside with their super cool water towers:

Western Springs water tower, now a museum.
Riverside, Illinois.

Who wouldn't want to live in a neighborhood where you could walk a few blocks to a cool little restaurant and eat on the sidewalk in the shadow of one of these?

Of course Riverside isn't just a pretty water tower.  The Wikipedia entry for the town calls it a "architectural museum."  Check it out yourself.  I mean, come on.  I want to go back and do laps.

Riverside, with its curved streets in a sea of right angles, stands out starkly.  (Notice there are curves, but no cul-de-sacs.)  The neighborhood was apparently planned by Fredrick Law Olmsted, the architect of the slightly more famous Central Park.
Ride stats:

Miles: 56.5
Time: 3:08
Elevation: 1,014'

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