Thursday, October 9, 2014

My first commute to work in the big city!

I moved to Chicago in 2011 after having lived most of my life in a very rural area of Central Illinois.  I always knew I didn’t fit in out there – in the corn fields (no children of the corn references, please).  I dreamed of living the big city life for as long as I can remember.  After my kids were grown and my nest was empty, I had the freedom to live anywhere on the planet – I picked Chicago… Sweet Home Chicago.  And I do feel like I have come home.  I grew up without a stoplight for over 20 miles in any direction, in a place where you can’t buy a gallon of milk after 4pm on Sundays and where everyone knows everyone – EVERYONE.  City living was a big change, but somehow, it came very naturally to me.
My dad brought me an old cruiser style bike from his garage when I moved and said – you might want to run to the store or something.  Four years later, that bike is in the exact same spot he put it!  I said, I am never riding a bike in this town.  People are crazy!  I will get hit!  I will DIE!  And that bike needed a lot of work I didn’t want to invest.  I always saw the bikers out of the corner of my eye from the safety of the bus window.  Felt them buzz past me on the lake front path as I took my daily walk.  I was always a little indifferent to them.  I thought they had to be some weird mix of crazy/brave/foolish to pursue such a thing in a town like this.  I dated a man who was an avid cyclist and have a few friends who ride regularly and started to see it a little differently.
So I bought a bike  The how/why can be found in this post.  The day I rode my Fuji Absolute home from the store, was the day after it came in.  I went to pick it up the day it came in and got so nervous I was sick to my stomach and had to go back the next day ( the hang over might have factored in a little bit)!  I was terrified to ride my new sexy bike home from the store.  I understand the irony!!
But I learned to get over it.  For a couple work outs a week, I rode straight down a quiet tree lined street to the bike path in the middle of the day when there would be less car traffic and most of the hard core cyclists would be off the path.  Once on the path I was pretty comfortable.  I learned to work the gears, even passed a few people (all the walkers!!!).  I very quickly developed a snobbish attitude toward the Divvy bike riders (Chicago’s bike share program).  And the summer started ticking away.
I realized my new outlet, huge calorie burn and obsession had a time limit.  It would soon be too cold and the streets would be too icy and dangerous for me to ride anymore.  I had to get in as much as often as I could.  Well, I could get an extra ride a day in if I rode to work.  But the most direct route to work was down Lincoln Avenue.  If you are unfamiliar with Chicago, this is a VERY busy street!  TONS of cars…  you know those hunks of steel with people that want to kill all cyclists!!  (I know not really, but quickly my thought patterned switched)
I just had to do it.  I just had to get on my bike, so I picked the perfect weather day.  A little cool in the morning, warmer in the afternoon with very low winds.  I packed a bag the night before and went to bed.  Seven hours later I got out of that bed without having slept a wink.  I was so nervous.  This felt like as crazy as going to Malaysia without knowing a soul or speaking a word!!  I am about to do something so foreign and out of my comfort zone, I was nearly physically ill!!
But I did it.  I got on my sexy road  bike that morning and headed out to work… I missed Lincoln Ave.  No lie, I pass this street every day of my life- it is a huge messy six corners intersection for Pete’s Sake!  When I sat at the light I was so worried watching people and cars and trying to not get killed I went straight instead of getting on the road I needed!  Dork
Small detour, on to Lincoln.  Fortunately, it has very clearly marked bike lanes (hence the chosen path).  I was so relieved to come up behind a woman on a big cruiser.  While, my sexy bike (which still needs a name) could go a lot faster than her; she probably had more endurance, but I had to really cool down to stay behind her.  Which I needed.  She didn’t know it, but she was my tour guide for the day.  I stayed behind her all the way to Wells Street.  Then I was on my own for a bit.  I kept up, I paid attention, I made it to Huron.  Where I was shocked to see a cluster of other riders, truly 5-6 other people on bikes at the same light.  I knew there were a lot of commuters but I had no idea there were SO many.  YEAH!  I can’t be all that crazy.  These people looked sane… and not a single one sported a cast or visible stitches.  This was a huge relief to me.
Now, Wells St crosses the Chicago River.  Since I work in the Loop and live on the North Side – I needed to cross the Chicago River, too.  I hadn’t factored that in to Plan Ride To Work.  As I sat at the light looking at that steel bridge in front of me I could have cried.  It isn’t a huge incline, but more than I had done, on a meshy kind of road, over a river, next to cars.  HOLY COW!  The light turns and I ride… over the bridge,

Sweet Mother of GAWD I crossed the river on the Wells St Bridge!(That tiny little bitty strip is the bike lane - between the cars!)
One left hand turn on to Washington, shared lane going the wrong way down Dearborn to the bike storage at my building and I had survived my first commute to work.  I was so proud of myself it is a bit silly.  When I looked at my watch it had taken 29 minutes!  My train commute usually takes 40.  Give me a break!  I burned 400 calories AND got to work sooner.  HOT DAMN!  This biking thing rocks.
Since then I have ridden at least a day or two a week, even one day that started out at 42 degrees.  I take a long way home to get in a good work out and enjoy the views of this amazing town.

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