Get Chicago, before it gets you!
No, I don’t hate cities. I recognize that they have their place. Such a dense concentration of people allows for many opportunities and services that may not be available in more rural areas. That said, big cities are not really my focus on this trip.
In terms of actual city population, Chicago ranks 3rd among the 92 places on my list (behind Salvador, Brazil and Toronto, Ontario). However, it is the largest in terms of total metropolitan area.
For most of the places on my list, I’ve tried to linger and absorb anything of interest from the community. For Chicago, I had a totally different strategy: I wanted to get in and out before the city even woke up. Perhaps this was the wrong attitude to take, but I’ve previously had enough Chicago experiences that I did not feel the need to invest much time.
Furthermore, I doubted that there would be many people in Chicago who would appreciate their inclusion in the song. The inhabitants of Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan know that they are in the song and are proud of this fact. It’s not such a big deal to those from more prominent locations.
Right or wrong, that was the plan. Let’s see how I did:
Tuesday, August 1 (cont.)
I rolled out of Kalamazoo, heading South. Approximate route (I skipped the tollway):
I had no other goal for the remainder of the day, except to get set up for Chicago (Verse 1 Line 1), the next place on my list. I did make a brief tour through South Bend, IN to see the Notre Dame campus and visit “Touchdown Jesus”
This is actually a really awesome mural. I would have liked to get a picture with Annie here, but doing so would have involved rolling her about 100 yards on the sidewalk. That probably would not be appreciated. Given that this is the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, tensions are already a little high between Catholics and Protestants. I did not want to be thrown out of a window.
I got hit by a pretty big storm in Indiana. I waited it out for awhile before impatience got the best of me. I wasn’t the only one:
Was that a motorcycle? What an idiot.
The storm cost me some time, so I began to become concerned about the sunset. I knew I wanted to get a really early start the next day, beginning as close to Chicago as possible.
Sometimes my spot for the night is well thought out and planned, sometimes it is the very definition of improvised. I looked at Google Maps and tried to find a moderately sized “green spot” to the south of the city. The most suitable one was right on the Illinois/Indiana border, the Plum Creek Forest Preserve. When I got there I found a couple of muddy tire tracks leading into a field, then into trees. “Good enough,” I thought.
With so little daylight I did not have time to check out where the path led. It was obvious that these were trails used by trucks (or maybe ATVs) for off-roading. Had it been a weekend night, when people are more likely to be out and about after dark, I probably would have passed on this spot. But the sunset gave me little choice.
I began setting up by the light of my headlamp. I noticed a pair of eyes (presumably a raccoon) watching my every move. There was a strange groaning sound coming from the trees that I did not recognize. It was really creepy, but I convinced myself it was a frog.
The spot was far from ideal, but I was only 35 miles from the very center of Chicago. I felt that this was a fair compromise.
Sleep would not come easily for me. I maybe dozed off a couple of times, but the groaning sound in the woods was making it difficult to rest.
Wednesday, August 2
My slumber was interrupted more permanently at 12:02 AM. A vehicle was coming down the path, towards my tent. This is always a little disconcerting when you are camped at an “unofficial” location. Is it the cops? Drunken teenagers? Hunters? The opacity of the tent makes it impossible to know.
The vehicle stopped briefly, with headlights focused on my tent. Maybe 30 seconds passed before it continued on down the path. I scolded myself for not investigating the terminus of this road. There is no way I could know if this vehicle was passing through or if they would need to return the same direction.
I decided to stay awake and track the vehicle with my ears as best as I could. I heard it stop once and multiple doors slam, telling me that it was at least a pair of people.
A little after 1 AM, the vehicle returned and passed by my tent again. They got stuck briefly in a mud puddle very near to where I was set up. The vehicle reversed, hit the gas harder and then was gone down the path. I stayed up a bit longer waiting to see if they would return before falling back asleep.
My preliminary alarm went off at 4 AM and I was up around 4:30. I was tired, but also eager to get out of this spot. I packed up in the dark and was back on the muddy, hazy path as twilight began.
Minutes after this video, I was on the freeway…an abrupt transition. I could not believe how much traffic there was, given that it was not even 6 AM yet.
I knew the picture that I wanted to represent the Windy City: A view of the skyline at sunrise. A quick glance at the map showed that Adler Planetarium would be the ideal location for this shot.
I wound along Lake Shore Drive and past Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears.
I wasn’t sure what I would find when I reached the end of the peninsula where I wanted my photo. Fortunately, the only people around were a couple of joggers and a guy pumping out porta-potties. There was no issue in rolling Annie up onto the sidewalk.
Chicago is famous for its architecture. I’m not sure what that word means, but I’m guessing it has something to do with making buildings that are not shaped to optimize usable space. If I were designing a building built on land that cost tens of thousands of dollars per square foot, I would probably choose a boring old rectangular parallelepiped, but what do I know? 🙂
I had a couple of other land marks I wanted to visit. First, the old water tower:
Then, of course, the home of the defending World Series champions:
I wanted one more picture: Next to the Michael Jordan statue at the United Center. I knew generally where it was, but just couldn’t seem to find it. I finally asked a couple of guys and they said it had been moved inside. Shame.
At 7:40am, I decided I had done enough Chicago. I set a route to get out of town before the city really started buzzing. I was stuck in traffic for a bit, but it eventually spaced out.
I don’t think I will offend anyone by saying that Chicago drivers are terrible. Honest Chicagoans would probably admit as much. However, I do find that they are the good kind of terrible. Their mistakes are usually aggression based rather than distraction based. This makes their moves easier to anticipate. I never felt too threatened.
Next on my list was Fond du Lac, WI (Verse 3 Line 4). Given my short night, I was eager to call it a day. I found a campsite at the city park in Juneau, WI. It was $10/night, but it had nice shower facilities and was in a peaceful spot. (I know, I’m just throwing money around like crazy.)
I was set up by 2pm and spent the remainder of the day writing.
Did I have the wrong attitude about Chicago? Probably. But can you really see me paying $21 for a half hour of parking? This trip continues to be a work in progress. Perhaps my city strategy will become more defined further along in my journey. However, I’m glad that my Chicago experience was basically drama-free. Sometimes my plans actually work!