Tag Archives: Evanston

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.

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.