The J. Benjamin Moulton House and the Tour of Rogers Park

1328 W Sherwin 1This Saturday, after a month of cancelled tours, Chicago Neighborhood Bike Tours returns with our Tour of Rogers Park.  One of our stops will be the J. Benjamin Moulton House.  This home was designed by Walter Burley Griffin, one of my favorite architects and a regular highlight in my tours when one of his works is present in a neighborhood.

Griffin was a Prairie School architect who was a one-time employee of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Griffin left Wright’s employ when Wright attempted to pay him for his work with Japanese prints instead of his wages.  Griffin would marry Marion Mahony, Wright’s favorite illustrator whose illustrations and renderings of Wright’s designs were greatly responsible for his fame and reputation.   Griffin established a new practice in Chicago and worked in conjunction with his wife on many projects.  His unique vision of Prairie School architecture gained his firm many residential commissions in Chicago and its suburbs and many of his master works have become city and national landmarks.  Griffin would go on to win the contest to design the new capital city of Australia, Canberra and would establish with Marion Mahony Griffin offices in Melbourne and Sydney.

In Rogers Park, we are lucky to have another impressive surviving work of Griffin’s in the J. Benjamin Moulton House.  One of the more noteworthy Griffin techniques was doing in wood what many others would do with lead in the windows. This created a very sturdy and thick version of the arts and crafts prairie window and this 1908 home is an excellent example of how it is both elegant and substantial.  It is just one of the many splendid homes we will visit on the Tour of Rogers Park this Saturday, October 18.

Details, location, time and tickets are available here.  I hope to see you there.

House moves

John S. Van Bergen's Irving House, in the parking lot of the former Dominicks at Isabella and Green Bay Road

John S. Van Bergen’s Irving House, in the parking lot of the former Dominicks at Isabella and Green Bay Road

I was excited for my ride this past Saturday.  My son Jackson was released from the hospital this past Wednesday after three weeks in the Pediatric ICU.  The three weeks were extremely stressful for our entire family, and being together under one roof and having our boy healthy enough to come home has been our priority during that time.  The schedule during that time was super hectic.  Chaney or I would spend the night at the hospital with Jackson while the other one would be at home with our daughter Zoe.  Trying to maintain a schedule that involved sleeping, eating, working, and caring for our children during the second lengthy hospitalization for Jackson in four months left little time for much of anything else.  One of the early casualties of this schedule was riding my bike. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to indulge in any type of riding with any regularity.

Saturday was the first day that I was able to ride since he got home.  I’ve lost a lot of fitness and gained a lot of weight in what seems like record time, so getting serious about riding was necessary for body and mind.  On this particular day, I also wanted to see the sites at the parking lot of the future Whole Foods and former Dominicks at Isabella and Green Bay Road.  Normally, this isn’t a particularly picturesque parking lot or anything, but I knew that I would see a fairly unusual site there this time.  Saturday was the morning after the move of the Irving House by architect and one-time Frank Lloyd Wright employee John Shellette Van Bergen from its former home in Wilmette to its temporary home on the parking lot asphalt. 

Preserving a home like this is a worthy endeavor.  It is a laborious and expensive proposition too, but it occurs in the part of the country where house moves, and moves of even bigger structures is old hat.  Chicago has a history of building moving.  The city was originally built at lake level.  Streets at equal height to Lake Michigan created a nightmare for the citizens of the city.  Sewage would not drain without the aid of gravity and the resulting sanitation concerns caused numerous epidemics that cost the city sizable citizen casualties. The only challenge greater than rebuilding the city after the Great Fire, was raising it up entirely.  Over the course of almost twenty years in the 1850s and 1860s, the city streets were raised to accommodate gravity fed sewers. When you raise the streets, you need to bring the buildings up as well, or gravity will not aid homes and businesses getting rid of their waste water.

During the two decade long project, land and property owners and government combined their efforts to raise tens of thousands of buildings.  Companies formed that used hydraulic jacks and jack screws to bring buildings up to new grade.  Many buildings were relocated to different streets and blocks using rollers, sometimes involving hundreds of laborers.  Over the years, as the city expanded and changed, Chicago firms would be relied on again and again to lift structures designed only to be rooted in place, sometimes to move lakefront mansions to new homes on side streets to make room for highrise beachfront hotels, or to shuttle a town hall, a cottage, a church or a store to a new home.  Soon, the world would come calling as property owners all over the world would turn to the leader in house moves, Chicago, to relocate property of every type, style and size.  Many of the techniques developed then, have been used all over the world in the century and a half since.  This week, a piece of history made its way from Wilmette, a little bit south to Evanston, in the backyard of the world capital of home moving.  One can imagine that many of the challenges the workers faced with this daunting task was aided by many modern innovations, but, far more so by techniques honed in the second city, over 160 years ago.




Back to Jackson getting home, I want to thank all of our many friends and family that helped us through the last three weeks.  To the many who hoped, prayed, passed on good wishes, brought meals, visited, reached out and kept us in their thoughts, we thank you all sincerely.

Biking Ridge

Zoe bikes the Ridge

Zoe bikes the Ridge

Once a year, Evanston shuts down Ridge Avenue and opens it up for a few hours to bikes and families for our city’s version of Bike the Drive.  Like Lake Shore Drive, Ridge is otherwise closed to bikes, and one would be very brave and/or stupid to bike it.  Ridge is extremely narrow for four lanes of traffic, but that is what it is designated for.  Even in cars, drivers are constantly encroaching on adjacent lanes simply because there is so little room and the avenue does a bit of curving and angles periodically.  On each side of the street there are signs all the way from Howard on the south to Emerson on the north clearly announcing that bikes are not allowed on Ridge. Ridge is nonetheless the most obvious north/south thoroughfare through Evanston, so yes, occasionally you will see cyclists ignoring eleventy zillion signs and braving the mortal perils of Ridge as well as the occasional Evanston motorcycle cop and the corresponding ticket.

But once a year, Evanston puts together a top-notch family cycling event called Bike the Ridge.  The whole avenue is closed to auto traffic and gets covered in cyclists young and old.  Along the way there are mobile mechanic stops, school fund-raisers, free water-bottles and other giveaways and a giant rally/party at a park between Oakton and Main Street complete with bands, food trucks, farm stands, a bouncy house and all manner of bike-related and family friendly entertainment. Since we moved from Portage Park to Evanston in 2009 so Jackson could attend Park School, we have made Bike the RIdge our family biking event. Cycling is a central component of my life, but though I regularly bike commute to work, ride in fast group rides or with friends on training rides up and down the north shore, gravel rides on the DPRT and conduct bike tours all over the city and nearby suburbs, biking with the family is a rare treat.

In 2008, I took an old jogging stroller for large kids to Alex Wilson at West Town Bikes to try to make a bike-trailer for Jackson after having discussed doing so with him for several months.  Alex is the founder of West Town Bikes and one of the most knowledgeable bike people in the universe.  He is also a genuinely great person who has done so much for Chicago cycling and tons of young people in Humboldt Park, West Town and Chicago in general. Alex also taught me a great deal about bike advocacy, how to overhaul hubs, how to build wheels as well as how to conduct one’s self in pursuit of a better biking environment in and around Chicago.  He taught me about always DOING. Always continuing to do more bike stuff and not to be deterred by pitfalls and personalities, just keep going.  Who else would I seek help from but Alex?

After doing some initial work on the trailer, Alex recruited Todd Allen to assist in completing the Jackson-trailer.  Todd Allen is also a world-class genuinely great person, cycling advocate as well as being a recumbent bike, bike trailer and bike cargo genius.  With Alex’s and Todd’s innovative work, we were able to make a bike trailer that would allow our son, with all of his various special needs, to enjoy a bike ride.

The trailer had its limitations.  It was very big and bulky so merely transporting it was an adventure in and of itself.  Even in our lift-van, the thing would barely fit.  Riding with it attached to a bike without substantial weight in it was all but impossible, quickly bouncing itself to toppling and even disconnecting from the hitch.  On an early excursion with the trailer we learned the hard way that both wheels of the trailer had to hit any uneven pavement at the same time or the trailer could topple.  Sadly, we learned this to the detriment of Jackson’s ear and face which got scraped up and required stitches when the trailer upended and sent Jackson to the tarmac.  Even if you had smooth pavement, the trailer could not handle sharp turns so many bike paths were actually too winding for the trailer and the condition of Chicago area streets and the many potholes that one would encounter and the probability that one wheel could go into a rut while the other was at grade was too great a risk.  I am pretty sure Chaney would have had a heart attack if I had ever attempted to ride with Jackson on the streets anyway. My original goal was to bike in Chicago Critical Mass with my son, and take him on my tours, but the limitations of the trailer would never allow this.

Still, special needs bikes and trailers can cost tens of thousands of dollars and this was a luxury we could never afford.  Further, most of the models out there are only designed for standard wheelchair users.  Jackson uses a tilting wheelchair due to his dysautonomic reflux, and very few of the special-built bikes for disabled passengers would accommodate any tilted position.  Those that allowed a wheelchair to get straight aboard generally have too small a foot-print for a tilting wheelchair.  Therefore, though the trailer was hardly perfect, every so often with the right circumstances present, it allowed us the opportunity to bike with our son.

Bike the Ridge is our special event.  We didn’t need any crazy scheme to get to an ideal place involving multiple vehicles simply to go for a bike ride.  Instead, one brief morning each September we could bike to the end of our block, turn left and enjoy a lovely two and a half mile stretch of smooth pavement, no cars and the company of thousands of other cyclists.  Some years Jackson would laugh and laugh.  Some times he could go for a number of runs up and down Ridge.  Some years he would get lulled to sleep and some years he would howl up and down the avenue.  Zoe would enjoy the day just as much as her brother and us in her bike seat.  In subsequent years, she would do little stretches on her Strider, and later her bike in addition to runs in the bike seat when her little legs got too tired.

This year, Bike the Ridge came when Jackson was in his second week in the Pediatric ICU at Lurie Children’s Hospital. It was Chaney’s night in the hospital so Zoe and I were together in the morning.  After our morning routine, we hit Ridge bright and early just after they had closed the street.  We started at 9:10 and there were already hundreds of cyclists riding the Ridge.  The sad milestone of the first Bike the Ridge without her brother was offset somewhat by being the first time Zoe biked the event on her own.  All in all, her little legs carried her just shy of three miles.  We got to hit the park, eat some orchard grown apples, listen to the School of Rock bands do their best Elvis Costello and Beatles impressions, jump in the bouncy house and get some books from library bike before remounting and heading home.  It was both elating and sorrowful.  I was so happy to watch my daughter have fun on her bike and so proud of her being able to bike so well on her own, but very sad that Jackson and Chaney weren’t with us.  While she was jumping around in the bounce house, I was tearing up thinking about Jackson, and the myriad of wires and tubes he was connected to 12 miles southeast of us.

After the event, we went downtown so Zoe could spend some time with her brother.  This is Jackson’s second long hospitalization in the last 4 months, and as hard as this ordeal is for him, Chaney and I, it has been equally difficult for Zoe.  She misses her brother so much.  She misses having both sets of parents together, and family dinners, breakfasts, time with her brother, and a reliable routine.  She has handled it like a champ.  She has grown up to surpass every developmental benchmark of her brother, but she has never stopped thinking of him as her older brother, in every sense that it means.  Watching her with her brother that afternoon, and watching her bike the Ridge that morning made me so very proud.  Instead of being the strong parent that is helping her get through this difficult time for all of us, she was the super kid that pulled me along.


Cancelling the Tour of Edison Park and Norwood Park

As we continue to pull for Jackson to get well and get home, I will also have to cancel this Saturday’s Tour of Edison Park and Norwood Park.  I will keep everyone updated about the need to cancel any future events as warranted.  Refunds will be given to all who pre-registered, or they can opt for two free passes to future rides.  Purchasers of fall and winter season passes will receive two free passes for the two rides missed so far that can be used on any ride in the future.

Mental Health Miles

Dwight Perkins Woods at Grant Street and Ewing Avenue

Dwight Perkins Woods at Grant Street and Ewing Avenue

Our son Jackson is still in the hospital.  Our family has gotten back into our hospital-life pattern.  Our system is that either my wife or I work at least part of the day and from work goes to the hospital to be with Jackson and stays the night.  The other one of us heads home from the hospital to be with our daughter Zoe and stays at home.  Sometimes our ships cross and we can see each other at the hospital, and other times, we miss each other entirely.  The time at home is filled with trying to keep things in order; cooking dinner, caring for Zoe, the cats and dog, doing dishes, taking out garbage, running loads of laundry, keeping the house habitable, and squishing as many items into the brief time at home as physics will allow.  Nights at home also allow us to sleep in an actual bed instead of the vinyl pull out couch in Jackson’s hospital room, though sleeping without my wife next to me never feels right.  Even so, at least my back isn’t screaming at me in the morning on my home nights.

Some days, there is enough time left over to stop at the office for a bit of work, run an earnest money check to another Realtor’s office, or if we are lucky, get in a run (for Chaney) or ride (for me).  Riding is something I do for pleasure, for exercise, for adventure, for transportation, and in times like these, for my mental health.  My friend Robert Cardenas shot me a message the other day asking if I wanted a quick mental therapy ride with him.  Sadly, the timing of his day off from work and my night on at the hospital prevented me from joining him, but I was able to get in a little ride the day before as well as yesterday.  When I find myself extra sedentary due to long days and nights at the hospital, running around for work in the car, and trying to maintain some sense of “everything is going to be ok” for Zoe, my fitness takes a nose dive.  Add in the less than healthy food options in abundance by the hospital, and it is like a full-on attack on my health.

As badly as I need to ride to burn off the weaponized burrito I consumed for lunch, I need it just as bad, or even more so to clear my mind.  Putting in miles allows me to absorb the gravity of Jackson’s situation and our family separation in a calm setting, free of panic that sets in when I can get caught in a trap of self-pity, worry, and despair.  Despair comes easy for me, and physical exercise is the release.  I have had mental-health challenges most of my life.  I first started seeing psychiatrists and psychologists back in high-school.  Off and on throughout my life, I have been prescribed anti-depressants to help me function.  Moments of personal or family crisis exacerbate my disposition to panic and sulking, and while professional help has allowed me to rise above my personal demons, riding my bike is my ultimate therapy and the best anti-depressant I have ever used.

Instead of obsessing on Jackson’s SAT rate, I can lose myself in keeping my cadence over 100 rpm.  Somehow I can devote thought to whether they are using enough Mepilex on his nose before they put on his Bi-pap mask  at the same time that I focus on my effort, my breathing, how my legs feel, how my wind is doing, what that creaking from the handlebars is, what’s up with my power meter, how fast I can make it to Dundee Road, whether to try to catch the rider in front of me, how my stroke feels.  Somehow, all of these items clogging up my mental space also allow me to calmly take in the day’s challenges.  I can think about the work in front of me, how to help my son, how to help my wife and daughter, how to cope with everything we have going.  Computer and internet problems at work seem smaller.  Panic about whether to cancel a tour or not, about whether I can accommodate my clients appropriately, whether I can finish checklist items for an IDFPR exam and whether the bugs in the website can be worked out all fit into the picture when I have the luxury of considering them while I pedal.

Mental health miles.  Good for body, soul and mind.

Total distance: 30.39 mi
Max elevation: 489 ft
Min elevation: 371 ft
Total climbing: 2746 ft
Total descent: -2717 ft
Average speed: 19.36 mi/h
Total Time: 02:16:01

The Evanston Curse

Through the pines lies the Brown House at 2420 Harrison in Evanston

Through the pines lies the Brown House at 2420 Harrison in Evanston

This coming Saturday was to be the first running of the Tour of Evanston, on its third scheduled date. It is time to officially consider the possibility that the tour is cursed as I cancel the third attempt to tour the city my family calls home.

A little over a year ago, I decided to get myself in shape.  I had purchased an extra large cycling jersey just prior to this and knew some bad stuff was up when I could not zip it close.

Uh oh.

I had over the course of four plus decades gone from stout to husky to portly to very much out of shape completely.  This despite regular bike commuting, the occasional recreational ride and lots of bike tours and research for those tours.  With the help of Colnago Mike, (the Padrone of Chicago bike racing, Michael Abene), in August of 2013, I started training.  This was a type of riding I hadn’t done in some three decades back to when I was racing as a junior.  On my way to our very first ride, my chain somehow got jammed up and yanked through my rear derailleur destroying both and we ended up walking up California talking about bike advocacy instead of doing the ‘goons ride.

A few days later, we made it up to Highland Park.  At the half-way point, we stopped at a coffee house and Michael came out with a muffin and offered me some.  I was barely holding it together and the thought of putting any food in my mouth almost made me hurl right then and there.  I was…huff…pufff……way, way out of shape.

Over the course of a couple of months, Mike and I made many trips up through the north shore suburbs and up and down the Des Plaines River Trail.  We were doing many more miles compared to what I had been doing and I was dropping weight and getting fit.  I had also rediscovered my love of going fast, riding hard and challenging myself on the bike.  Then came the brilliant idea that I should try to race cyclo-cross.  My first race was in October of 2013, almost thirty years after my last race as a junior.  I achieved my main goal of not getting a DFL.  I entered my second race and later that month, took off in the Masters heat of my second race since the 80s.  I was feeling way better on this race and was actually passing people….lots of them.  Too bad I hadn’t learned much about proper tire pressure and cornering in wet grass.  On the second lap, I slid out on a corner and ended up breaking my clavicle.

The main result of this was that I made life miserable for my wife for 8 weeks, who suddenly had the solo duty of lifting our 75 pound (then) 10-year old special needs son Jackson all the time. Less importantly, I was also unable to bike, so the first scheduled tour of Evanston in November of 2013 was cancelled.  This was only my third cancelled ride in over 7 years of doing the tours, but was followed right away by my fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh cancelled rides as I canned the remaining fall and winter rides to recover, do penance and get back in riding condition.

I managed to bounce back pretty well, and get back to training and biking.  Eventually I was able to resume Jackson-lifting duties and my brief second-life in bike racing was quickly scrapped.  The rest of the fall and winter were spent on the trainer and rollers and when spring came back, so did the training rides, bike commuting and the tours.  The Tour of Evanston was rescheduled for May 17, 2014, but just before it ran, our son Jackson got very sick and had to be hospitalized.  He ended up staying in the Intensive Care Unit at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago for three weeks, and in the process, the second attempted run of the Tour of Evanston had to be cancelled.  Jackson meanwhile got better, but never quite back to his baseline before the hospitalization.  The important thing was that he was well enough to be home with us and we were all together again instead of trading nights on the couch under the vent in whatever room we were in on the 16th floor at Children’s.  We got used to new treatments, new therapies, new equipment and resumed living our life interrupted.

Riding returned.  Training resumed.  The tours started up again and the third attempt to do the Tour of Evanston was rescheduled for this Saturday, September 27, 2014.  This past Tuesday, Chaney got called by Jackson’s school because he was having trouble breathing and she ended up going to get him and take him home.  I stayed home with him the next day and then took him to the doctor who advised us with a course of treatment and instructions to call if his condition worsened, which it did so we soon found ourselves back on the 16th floor of Lurie Children’s Hospital for a new stay in PICU.  We are back to trading nights and days at the hospital and I am back to cancelling the Tour of Evanston.  All of our energy is going into maintaining some normalcy for our daughter, and getting our son well. The Tour of Evanston, once again, is not to be.

I would normally say that I’m not superstitious, but I do always carry my tool kit plus at least two tubes, a patch kit, two cartridges AND a pump in my jersey and/or saddle bag, though I’ve never needed all of them.  On the same thought wave, I have to wonder if this tour isn’t…cursed.

A crisp fall Tour of Edgewater

Edgewater thumbnail

Fall has come early this year and the end of the week brought weather we typically get in Chicago in late October or November.  On Saturday, the air was crisp with gloves, hats and coats on our riders, but the sky was beautiful and bright and a small group of us gathered to tool around the north side Community Area of Edgewater.  This is a lovely section of town with a variety of late 19th century developments that have turned into little neighborhoods like Edgewater Beach, North Edgewater, Highlands of Edgewater, Lakewood-Balmoral and Andersonville.  The area has stellar examples of many different residential architectural styles.  Through the residential streets, American Four-Squares sit between Queen Anne VIctorians and Tudor Revivals.  On the main thoroughfares, residential skyscrapers neighbor Gothic churches and mixed-use developments.  It is a wondrous architectural backdrop to bike through.  Here was our route.

Total distance: 13.24 mi
Max elevation: 600 ft
Min elevation: 554 ft
Total climbing: 728 ft
Total descent: -705 ft
Average speed: 8.82 mi/h
Total Time: 02:46:06


Tour of Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa

Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa Tour

Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa Tour

Today we managed to avoid the rain that all my apps were predicting and tour Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa.  These two northwest side communities are in the heart of Chicago’s bungalow belt and are surrounded by rail lines.  The rail lines were responsible for bringing manufacturers and industries to the communities.  Soon the population expanded as companies located along the rail lines sought workers.  Workers and their families filled the bungalows and brick flats in the neighborhoods.  Parks, schools, religious and civic institutions dotted the area to service the new residents and the built history of these streets endures today, giving us a perfect backdrop for our tour.  Here was our route:

Total distance: 12.92 mi
Max elevation: 666 ft
Min elevation: 600 ft
Total climbing: 1371 ft
Total descent: -1355 ft
Average speed: 8.06 mi/h
Total Time: 02:46:08


New Tour in advance of the first running of the last new tour which hasn’t run yet because it’s cursed I guess

Belmont Cragin Hermosa Ride Poster 2014

Belmont Cragin Hermosa Ride Poster 2014

Catching up after a long absence away from something has never been a strength.  The chaos of the way that work piles up and some gets through and some gets backed up and the dam’s release when it all gives way is perhaps overstating it, but that is the general feel I have for these things.

In the wake of the most recent leave from tending to my web garden and rides, the Evanston tour got cancelled. Again. The Tour of Evanston might be the tour I have the most trepidation about, though I feel most excited to do that one. The number of things that WON’T be on the tour could make an amazing tour.  I think it will be a really awesome tour when it finally runs. Unless its cursed. It is starting to seem a little snake-bit with both the first and second dates cancelled with short-notice.  Well, third time is so consistently the charm that I am planning on a September make-up date, nearly a year after the original tour was supposed to have run.

What could go wrong?

This will be AFTER the Tour of Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa, which will go forward as planned on August 30, 2014.  So yeah, the new new tour will be before the old new tour.  Ross Felten’s new tour poster is spot on and posted just above.  Tour information is right hear.

Summer 2014 Schedule and Poster

Summer 2014 ScheduleWriting about next season or announcing the new season’s tours is always an incongruous activity since it occurs when the weather is so unlike the weather you will be riding in.  This past weekend was an exception, and it was the first time that the Spring felt like it could actually lead to a real summer, the perfect time to be doing this.

Saturday was the Tour of Irving Park and it was also the first ride of the year that actually had nice weather.  There were 34 riders including myself and all the marshals and it was a fun ride.  Irving Park is such a lovely area of town and always makes for a good tour.  There are sections with housing common to the large areas of Chicago like bungalows, Tudor revivals, etc., but the Victorians in Old Irving and the bungalows in the Villa are exceptional.  Sunday, Riding Michael (Michael Abene, aka Colnago Mike) and I biked up to Fort Sheridan on our first smoothie run of the season.  Today I managed a nice ride back there solo and sans smoothie, beneath threatening skies that turned out to be all bluster.  Spring… awesome.

Summer is even more awesome and filled with great tours this year.  In June, I will continue the downtown series I’ve been doing for a few years with the free Tour of the Near North Side done in partnership with the City of Chicago as part of Bike to Work Week.  That Friday night is the Night Tour of the Near North Side, where the buildings and sites that appear brilliant in the night and lights are our focus. In July we will revisit the Community Areas of West Town and Avondale, followed by an August running of the Tour of Lincoln Park before ending the summer with a brand new tour of Belmont-Cragin and Hermosa.