Saturday, July 5, 2014

sunday, june 29, 2014: the "judson," chicago, illinois

Sunday, June 29, 2014: The "Judson," Chicago, Illinois

Yes, it's flat.  No wise cracks necessary.
If your search for a group ride in Chicago happens to lead you to, you will see "Judson" listed as starting at 7:30 am, that the ride starts at Judson and Greenleaf, and this peculiar note:

“Team Judson is first and foremost an anarchy, and whoever is in front gets the ultimate choice about the route we take.”

It turns out that the only accurate piece of information from the three is the start time.  Well, that and the name.  If you ride bikes in or around Chicago, you will have heard of the "Judson."  Even if you haven't ridden it.  The ride has a reputation, though based on my experience, perhaps not deserved.

The Judson doesn't actually start at Judson and Greenleaf, a nondescript intersection in a wealthy Evanston residential neighborhood just south of the picturesque Northwestern University campus, but at Dempster and Chicago, in front of a Starbucks, which is exactly two blocks north and four blocks west of the advertised starting place.  The ride itself follows a very determined route (I did this once before, two summers ago, and from what I could tell we followed exactly the same route) which all the regulars will know.  Therefore, I would like to suggest a change to the ride description: "Team Judson is first and foremost an anarchy, and by anarchy we mean that we don't start where we say we're going to, but everything else is determined and predictable."


My morning on the bike started around 6:00 am and began with a leisurely spin north, northeast from Forest Park to Evanston (the starting place for the Judson, both advertised and actual, was about 18 miles from where I was staying).  And let me just stop right here and say that rolling out on your road bike, regardless of the location, at six o'clock on a Sunday morning in late June is simply one of the great joys of life.  There's a stillness in the city (or the countryside, or forest, or whoever you are).  For an hour or so, anyway.  Combined with solstice sunshine, summer greenery, warm morning temps.  It's a magical combination that I will describe simply as good, good stuff.

That good, good stuff, however, was interrupted a few miles from my destination with a morning biological imperative.  We've (likely) all been there.  That place where you'd pretty much trade your front wheel for a public toilet.  Fortunately, I rolled across a Starbucks and needed only trade the purchase of orange-mango smoothie.

Today, the Judson started out pretty chill, but picked up steam suddenly and intensely about three miles in.  There were, all told, maybe 30-40 riders in the group.  Folks were quite courteous.  We stopped at stop signs and red lights.  There was friendly conversation.  Riders would sometimes shoot off the front in a sort of breakaway attempt, then guys (like me) would move up to and pull them back.  (No attacks here, I didn't know the route!)  The pace stayed high and the mood animated for 30 miles or so, but somewhere on the route back I suppose folks just got tired of riding fast or something because the pace dropped considerably, the animation was gone, and I cut off from the route a bit short of Evanston and simply rolled back home.

The Team Judson website includes this quote from Friedrich von Schiller.

"Anyone taken as an individual, is tolerably sensible and reasonable -- as a member of a crowd, he at once becomes a blockhead."

Schiller, a thinker and playwright particularly concerned with aesthetics and the question of individual freedom, might have enjoyed the liberating aesthetic of the bicycle.  This sentiment on crowd mentality is perhaps the most truthful observation of bicycle riding I've ever read.  But having died in 1805, I think we can safely assume Schiller had some other context in mind.

But while the Schiller description seems a particularly insightful description of any weekend morning bicycle group ride, the Judson, despite its reputation, proved civil, friendly, and well-behaved.  Perhaps all it takes to calm a crowd is an understated, preemptive, cynical prediction of its behavior.

Someone else out for a bike ride Sunday morning.
Ride stats:

Miles: 89.6
Time: 4:38
Elevation: 1,460'

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