Monday, December 24, 2012

The Night Ride

Note: This post was originally written in 2011 and was included in my other (only) blog at the time I only went out for a walk. At that time, I was trying to keep all of my blogging in one place. I've since decided that cycling belongs here in my newly-created cycling blog and that my older blog will remain reserved for subjects related to natural history.

Leaving work after a party with co-workers, I walk out into the darkness of early evening. Sure, it's only 7:00 PM but darkness comes early this time of the year. I walk my bike out onto the street and hop on, coasting south towards home. An athletic field at the end of the street is lit up as bright as day. Multitudes of soccer players are broken up into small groups practicing. I downshift and pedal up the ramp to the pedestrian bridge going across Lakeshore Drive. As the traffic zooms by below I looked out over a darkened Lake Michigan. Low fluffy clouds are scudding in from the northeast borne on winds that will strengthen to gale force over the next couple days, throwing 18 foot waves onto shore and drowning this section of the path under a constant barrage of icy cold water. Thankfully though, the path tonight is dry.

As I turn onto the Lakefront Path, I look to my left at the lake. Waves roll in, topped with whitecaps as they come breaking onto the shore. The lake is looking very choppy with the strengthening wind but the waves are nowhere near big enough yet to start breaking up over the sheer walls to throw icy spray onto the path. Pedaling south towards Navy Pier I'm surprised at how many joggers and other bicycle commuters are still out here. The nice tailwind coming from out of the northeast helps lend a bit of welcome extra speed. After a long five days at work I'm looking forward to the ride home and a weekend of relaxation away from the stresses of the job.

I pass along underneath Lakeshore Drive, riding along sidewalk running parallel to Lower Wacker Drive. This evening the path is blissfully free of most of the congestion of joggers, tourists, and other cyclists that I typically encounter on my rides homeward. Passing out into the open again, I down-shift into higher gear and begin to shovel on the coal. The tailwind and the near-deserted path lend themselves to greater speed than I usually get to experience riding through this area. My new front headlight blazes a path in front of me letting me confidently find my way around all the various potholes and cracks in the pavement that I see and swerve around in daylight.

Everything gets a little darker as I begin to follow the section of path curving around the Shedd Aquarium. The aquarium on my right is all lit up with spotlights shining along its sides while out to my left I can see the choppy waves rolling in and the scant few sailboats still moored at the marina this late in Fall. The path rolls by beneath my wheels. I pass hardly another soul as I speed along southwards. Passing McCormick Place I see a few fishermen casting their lines, and beyond them the darkened shore of the little isthmus of Northerly Island.

A few streetlights illuminate the path and the sound of traffic on Lakeshore Drive is a constant rushing sound coming from my right, while the sound of the waves rolling in on the lake shore is more hushed coming from my left. I pass a deserted beach on the left, waves are beginning to build enough to start crashing against the breakwater. There's activity to my left where workmen still man cranes lifting giant blocks of stone as they work late into the evening building the breakwater of the new marina. With the late Fall storms and the looming harsh winter that has been predicted, I think to myself that those guys must be racing against the clock to get that breakwater completed before the bitter cold and ice force them away.

I'm now well into the southern leg of my ride home and well into the stretches of my ride that are the darkest. The beam cast by my new headlight looks even more impressive riding along these darkened stretches. I curve along the edge of the path that juts out into the lake. Everything is dark around me. The clouds rolling in are lit from above by the now hidden half-full moon, and from below by the lurid orange glow of the city lights. The sky meets the water somewhere way out there in a velvety blackness. A few lights from the water cribs or even from industry across the lake on the opposite shore, are the only things marring this darkened view. I can almost image a Lake Michigan free of industry and the hand of man as I look into that inky darkness on the far horizon. Here, the sound of the waves is louder than the sound of traffic.

As the path takes me inland again, the now louder, ever-present sound of traffic calls me back from my reverie. I pass a final few people walking a dog or pushing a stroller as I ride through a better lighted section of the path again. I come up on the turn-off where I leave the path. I lean into a sharp left, then right. I coast downwards and through the underpass running beneath Lakeshore Drive. I pass the Museum of Science and Industry to my left. My apartment is only minutes away now. My arm outstretched, I signal a left turn. Finally I come to a stop at the courtyard gate to my apartment. I switch my lights off and get my keys out. I feel exhilarated.

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