Somewhere near the end of our time in Athens, Ohio, carpal tunnel syndrome in both of my wrists was starting to create daily difficulty for me. By the time we left town for Chicago, I had left behind our home of several years and the pain and numbness in my wrists and hands meant I had to give up carpentry and wood working. We arrived in Chicago where we opened up a record store for a hot minute, then casually found a series of jobs and careers over the years until we ended up in a happy station of family, work and lives to enjoy. For many of those years, I had all but abandoned cycling, which had been integral to the majority of my life. There was no style of bike, or positioning or changing of handlebars, stems, seat height or any adjustment that would allow me to bike for longer than 20 minutes before numbness took over my grip completely.
After years of trying to manage with stretching, braces and exercises, with better insurance, I was able to have both wrists operated on. This was followed by physical therapy to regain grip strength and lose the symptoms of CTS. It worked to alleviate the frequency and severity of symptoms, but it did not stop them. It did however allow me to return to cycling. If you ride behind me, you might catching me doing flexion exercises while riding as I still get numbness. That said, even centuries and other regular long rides are doable now, when at its worst, I could barely get on a bike.
When I first started riding again, I would explore the city at night while my family slept. It was peaceful to venture further and further out, or ride a saw-tooth pattern through the neighborhoods dimly aglow and full of shadow from the street and alley lights. Whole blocks would be completely absent of any living soul, just houses and apartments and schools and the built environment, people tucked behind walls and blinds. Learning to love riding again began on those rides, and a new love developed alongside, from the memories of growing up resurfacing on my bike.
The homes of the neighborhoods of Chicago were kin to the homes in the neighborhoods of Cleveland and its suburbs. Differences were noticeable, but you could have swapped out a house or a school or a store-front between the two cities without anyone noticing. It was like being in a place you grew up in, that you had never been before. After years of living here, I was just now exploring and it was like discovering and remembering simultaneously.
This exploring inspired me to find out more about the buildings and the builders and architects that made them. I did the first Chicago Neighborhood Bike Tour in March of 2008 in our then neighborhood of Portage Park, and all of it was born out of those night rides through Chicago. I thought at the time it would be fun to do, that I’d learn a lot, that I might meet some real estate clients or find cool cyclists to ride with or befriend someone new or spread the word about historic preservation. There were really a lot of goals and ideas, many of which fell by the side, but others I discovered on the journey of doing these tours.
As much as I liked finding new places, I also liked finding places where you could dig for details on the original home’s building permit, and see archived photographs of neighborhoods as they were forming and find drawings or permits or articles to discover the history of the making of Chicago for myself. I liked sharing the stories I had discovered. I figured out it was best to tell it by pedaling all the way through a neighborhood and letting it unfold as the route went, not by date or event.
I liked all of the things that went into making and running the tours enough that I have somehow managed to get to a tenth year of these things.
Things have changed a lot for me in the last decade, and I had to pull back on how many new tours I could do and how frequently I could do them. I have also ended up with less time to spend updating the site and putting the tours online. That is life of course, and making time for everything we want to do is always a challenge.
I never know how much longer I will do this, and at times last year, I was discouraged with the way the tours were going and I thought 2017 would be my final year. The bell lap. When I put together the schedule, I put together a year’s worth of tours that would be something of a greatest hits, thinking it would be a nice way to finish things off. I’m less resolute about hanging up the spurs after a few months away from these rides, but it does make me realize that day could come whenever.
This was the first time in a decade of doing this that I tried to plan out the rides for a whole year. While it certainly has some particular advantages, overall it is truly a stupid endeavor, as so many events that can interfere with routes or interest are not yet announced. Should I discover dire interference is imminent, there is the possibility of rescheduling in the future.
I really, truly do hope to work more on the site, get more of the tours up there, put some poster and shirt specials together and tidy up around here. The dust in this place (cough cough) is in danger of becoming sentient if I don’t get to it soon. But time being what it is, we’ll see how that goes.
Just in case this is the last go around, or to give you a little nudge to come out and try our bike tours, we’re doing a pretty sweet deal for the season. For $50, you can buy a season pass for 2 riders, (16 ride passes total), plus 5 posters of your choice. You could bring 16 people to one ride, or one to all 8 paid tours this year, or any combination. In total, this is $185 worth of rides and posters for $50. Sweet, right?
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Thanks for helping me get to 10 years of this, and here’s hoping that I will see a bunch of old and new friends on the rides this year.
Tour of Oak Park
Tour of Logan Square
Tour of Hyde Park
Downtown Night Tour
Tour of Evanston
Prairie Tour Three
Tour of Lincoln Park
Tour of West Town
2017 Chicago Neighborhood Bike Tour Poster by Ross Felten
Season Pass 2017 – $50