Wednesday, December 26

Surfing Lake Michigan

In the past week, I've transitioned from beautiful South Carolina, surprisingly nice Bloomington weather (see Miracle on 446th St.) and most recently the Windy City. After two solid days of training up in the cold North of Chicago, I threw on some tights and a jacket and hopped on the bike without a second thought. Almost immediately, the wind from between the Lincoln Park townhomes pushed me halfway across the road while I was turning out of the driveway. I couldn't help but smile when I hit those crosswinds head-on half a mile later; for some reason I get a sick sort of satisfaction from these rides.  

As I continued south, the tailwind pushed me along at comfortable 25 or so effortless miles per hour across the freshly-salted Lakefront Trail. Aside from a few amateur photographers taking in the views for a few cold minutes, it was a great feeling to have the usually packed trail to myself. A few miles down, Chicago Police had barricades up to close off the trail, forcing me to explore the dirt, grass, snow, ice, salt and sand separating the trail from Lakeshore Drive. Aside from the sections where all of the above mixed into a simultaneously slushy and bumpy concoction, it wasn’t too bad considering a dedicated road bike on 25c tires.

The median soon ended, so I hopped back on the trail to brave the waves some more. Still on a broad reach with the wind, I used the gusts to my advantage, trying to time my efforts with the sections of low seawall and high waves. This strategy worked pretty well and kept a smile frozen (quite literally) to my face right up until I hit the Museum campus. At 27 miles per hour.

You approach the Shedd Aquarium with a gentle left-hander into the wind, so I prepared accordingly, winding up the gears a little so I didn’t stop dead in the face of a big gust. No gust came, however, so instead I found myself going at quite a clip round the right-hand semi-circle just ahead. Consistent spray from the lake had formed pretty icicles along the hand railing. As my rear wheel skipped out, the realization that I was sliding around a corner over black ice hit me nearly as hard as I would soon hit the concrete barrier before completing my slide to a stop after the front wheel followed its counterpart’s lead and gave out in spite of my best upright balancing act.

I popped back up with a choice word or three before picking up my brave steed to bring me back home. While realigning the brakes and slipping the chain back on, Lake Michigan threw up a massive wave that broke at the top of the waist-level barrier and quickly froze to my bike and any exposed skin it could find.
The ice cracked off of various places on my kit as I remounted the bike against the wind. This ride was now a completely different experience. The wind blew spray and sand into my face as I struggled to spin up my 39x23 gear to any respectable RPM. Now that I was already beyond frozen, my wave-dodging strategy became rather pointless. Fighting the wind to ride through flowing water and crashing waves deemed too hazardous to fjord by the CPD took the pain away from my hip and freezing appendages and brought the fun back into my ride.

With blizzard conditions on the way, the weather looks like it won’t be changing anytime soon; but that’s not so bad, is it?