Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Walking the Windy City - Part 6

I’m so glad you’re here!  Though this is the sixth part of a nine-part series, you can access the previous entries by clicking here.  [1][2][3][4][5]

Part 6

Heat generally makes me hungrier than the cold, but putting fifteen miles on your feet will do it, too.

At the end of the Lakeshore Drive tunnel, I hooked a left, climbed a ramp, and emerged back on the frigid beach.

My next major landmark was a couple miles away: Lincoln Park.  While I considered the distance, my stomach roared, my final protein bar having been consumed almost an hour earlier.  My gut couldn’t be tricked anymore, but I wasn’t planning to stop for about two more hours, after reaching my destination, Wrigley Field, six miles away.  I’d just have to hack it, I guess.

The lakeshore walk had picked up; runners and bikers went whizzing by.  I was, so far, about fifteen to twenty minutes ahead of schedule, so I could stand to slow my pace a bit.  Couldn’t stop, but I could slow.  With that, I left the sidewalk and walked to the shoreline about a hundred feet away and walked along the edge. 

Behind me, the towering skyline of Chicago stopped abruptly at Lakeshore Drive, resulting in a surprisingly inorganic boundary for Chicago’s downtown.  Even just a short ways off, this felt like a different place.  You ever play a video game and leave one area or zone that’s a forest and the next one over is a desert but there’s not really any transition?  That’s what it was like.

Thus, I consigned myself to walk the relatively barren shoreline.  I looked out into the lake and saw the same offshore platforms that I’d seen that morning, distant and immobile.  

About the beach itself, I wonder if, despite the fact you’re sitting on concrete, people still come out here during the summer time to be close to the water.  It’s certainly not as natural-looking a beach as what you’d find on the South Side, but I feel like it might still fill up.  Maybe the lake is low and normally this is underwater.  Unlikely, but because I only get a snapshot of any place I visit, I have to extrapolate to get the whole picture.

The walk was pretty boring at the moment until I passed an opportunity for distraction. 

What I assume to be a ladder for climbing out of the lake should you intentionally or unintentionally end up in it, bore long, spindly icicles.  My parent’s house, particularly the eastern facing parts, always had big icicles during the winter.  As a kid, getting the icicles off was just as fun as playing in the often-coincident snow.  You had to get them off in one piece, and the bigger the better.  Once I got them down, a fairly dangerous foray for a nine-year-old that often involved climbing on benches or jumping towards the sharp death drippings, I’d swing them around like a sword.  When I got bored with that one, or a little piece broke off, I’d end my fun by throwing them into the air as hard as I could and watching them fall back to the driveway, shattering with a satisfying crash.  Even today, I still relish the opportunity of finding a particularly juicy icicle, removing it, and smashing it on a sidewalk.  You never really grow up, you know; you just get bigger and you get more responsibilities.

I was on a mini-vacation, and I thought I’d already passed icicle season this year, so I deserved to treat myself.

I picked up an icicle, smashed the end on the ladder, and tossed the base into the lake, where I watched it bob and float for a moment before disappearing.  Pleased with my diversion, I decided to head back up to the sidewalk to make sure I didn’t miss my next mark.

I followed the sidewalk for a bit.  I was walking parallel with another man, perhaps in his 40s, that was down next to the shore like I just was.  We kept the same brisk pace for a few minutes and I glanced at him.  He stopped at a ladder, like I did, but then continued.  Maybe he was looking for an icicle, too, or maybe he saw me do it, and it looked like fun.  I could only hope I was such a trendsetter.  OK, I just gotta let it happen.  Yep, here comes another ladder.  And…

Success!  He took one, too!  Doing the more proper and socially acceptable thing, he simply plucked it off the ladder and held it, much in the same way as the shopping bag he casually swung at his side.  He walked several steps and quickly cast his icicle into the lake without turning his head as if it was some kind of bug that had landed on his hand.  He looked to his left to see if anyone saw him and increased his pace.

My original point about not growing up still stands. 

Honestly, this was the most concentrated residential buildup I’d seen along the shore yet.  This was on the North Side, so these would have been pretty pricey units, but you’d have a heck of a view, and the location was about as convenient as it got. 

About thirty minutes after crossing Michigan Avenue for the last time, it was time to take my final Lakeshore Drive tunnel.

This was longer than the rest, as it went at a bit of a slant as opposed to straight under the road and out the other side.  It felt a bit warmer for once, and I could feel the temperature change the deeper into the tunnel I went.  The sound of a runner came up behind me and I stepped aside, allowing the more ambitious athlete to pass.

It felt like I was in one of those tunnels at a stadium where all the players run out and the crowd cheers wildly.  I was on a visiting team, though, so I wouldn’t get anything like that on the other side. 

When I did pop out the other side, I was nearly at my next mark.  Right near the entrance, though, there was a bike rack with a little electronic kiosk.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois had sponsored these little bike kiosks, and I’d seen them earlier on in the day at a bit more of a distance.  Basically, you could rent a bike for free and return it thirty minutes later.  Alternatively, you could rent it, drop it off at another depository, and pay a small fee.  I think it was seven dollars to have it for the whole day.  As I considered how nice it would be to be at my destination faster, I weighed the potential benefits and problems of getting one.  Who knows when these things stop?  I didn’t want to be at Wrigley Field, not have a close drop-off point, and then have to go find one in a local park or, heaven forbid, come back to here or nearby to return it.  Moreover, this is Miles by Foot, not Miles by Pedal.  If I’d taken a bike, I’d have been at Wrigley in about an hour and a half, with how flat things are.  No, on foot was better, both for posterity and practicality.

I crossed the street and I was at the southern edge of my second-to-last major mark: Lincoln Park. 

Lincoln Park looked much more like a typical park I might expect to see in a city.  Lots of trees, interspersed walking paths, people out doing park things.  This felt more natural.  My directions didn’t cover Lincoln Park very well, so I decided to wander in the general north-ish direction and wait to find a compatible crossover street to the left. 

Lincoln Park still looked like wintertime; the grass and other plants were in their natural fall or winter state, and I realized I kind of preferred that over the manicured, landscaped parks I’d passed through already.  Moreover, Lincoln Park felt like a place that all the locals come to; not that they don’t go to Grant, Millenium, or either half of the lakeshore, but Lincoln just seemed like a local kind of park. 

Every state between here and home claims Lincoln.  Illinois claims him during his formational political years, Indiana does for being his childhood home (they even put it on their “Welcome to Indiana” signs on the interstate,) and Kentucky claims him as the only president born within our borders, if you don’t count the Confederacy’s president Jefferson Davis.  He’s buried in Springfield, though, and his years in the House of Representatives started here, so Illinois might have a little more meat in their claim than either of us. 

Grant Park was named after Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln’s preferred general.  Many of the streets in downtown Chicago are named for states; I saw Michigan, of course, but also Ohio and Washington, and several streets bore the name of presidents, including James Polk and William Henry Harrison.  In short, Chicago is, at its core, a very patriotic city.  It really is the all-American City I’d always pictured. 

Although I thought I was done with tunnels, I passed under one more to get to the western edge of the park.

I thought this was funny; the city put a nice sidewalk here for everyone, but despite this, the earth to the right is worn with footsteps, bike tracks, and pawprints.  Either the sidewalk isn’t wide enough, people pass other pedestrians a lot, or, more likely, people tend to do what they want.  It’s almost as if one path was for the rich and the other was for the poor at first glance.

Lincoln Park Zoo, much like Central Park Zoo in New York, is the city’s primary zoo; throughout the day, I’d seen billboards and flyers for the zoo and its impressive animal retinue.  I could see the edge of it, with a large lake filled with waterfowl just south of the boundary.  Something for another time, I’m sure.

I passed high-rise condos and restaurants alongside the street, but I didn’t find a cross-street that I recognized from my directions.  I didn’t want to cut over too early, but I wanted a change of scenery, too.  I’ve found that, the longer a walk goes, the more likely I am to deviate.  After finding one that looked as good as any, I crossed the quiet road to a state-named road, Wisconsin Street.

That’s quite an apparatus!

On top of a building down the street, someone had attached what appear to be trashcans end to end and stretched them from the roof to a dumpster, presumably with holes cut in the bottom of each “can.”  My guess is this facilitates getting rid of construction trash from the roof, but it looked funny, like a black centipede climbing the building. 

I took a right onto Lincoln Avenue.  No idea if this was the correct road, but as long as I kept heading north, I felt comfortable taking it. 

Lincoln Avenue was a central road to the neighborhood, which was quiet, bright, and ostensibly safe.  The stoplights often changed without cars in either place, so crossing the street was easy. 

On Lincoln Avenue, it claimed that a restaurant called Bricks Pizza was seventy-five feet away.  I looked down the street and it was right there, so I didn’t believe it was actually seventy-five feet away.  Luckily for me, I’ve measured my pace before to determine my average gait distance per step.  #walkingnerd.  Conveniently, my natural stride is almost exactly three feet, so I decided to test this very specific claim, and I started counting to see if, indeed, it was twenty-five steps away.

One, two, three, four, five …  twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty…five.  OK, Bricks Pizza, you win.  It put me right at the staircase that descended to the basement-based restaurant.  On second thought, pizza sounded pretty good…nope, power through.

This style of townhouse was common all over Chicago, and I saw several like it near the university several hours earlier; in fact, I consider this style to be native to Chicago in a way.  This looked like a newer iteration of the traditional style, but still handsome nonetheless.  Honestly, you get the best of both worlds when you do that: easy upkeep but you get to keep the classic look.

Lincoln Avenue seemed to be the main drag through this part of town.  There were small shops and large chains alike, but none of them compromised the homey feel of this charming, quiet neighborhood.  Even the CVS, with its older brick façade, didn’t look out of place.

That being said, some establishments did stand out.

This colorful grocery would probably catch the eye of local passerby, but it sure caught mine.  Urban areas, in my mind, are the most important places to have local groceries; they’re a fun, locally-grown alternative to big box stores (I’m not sure what the Chicago equivalent of Kroger is), and they’ll often have a lot of fun, can’t-find-at-Walmart stuff.  Maybe I could get something –

OK; my stomach was to the point of serious pain now.  I hadn’t given it any real food all day, and I was starting to lose my breath even at a quick street crossing.  My tank was empty, and I felt it with every step.  I got one more block and I stopped at a nearby park.  I checked my phone, which sat at a puny 18%; it was ten till two, and I was planning to be at Wrigley Field no later than three o’clock.  I guessed it was probably about forty-five minutes away, a little over two miles, which would, in theory, give me a half-an-hour to eat.  After twenty miles of walking, my feet were sore, my innards were turning, and I couldn’t go any farther without some food.  Sorry, Truck Show; no El Jardin for me.  Now is the time.

Luckily, there was a local sandwich shop right across the street: Snarf’s.  In the interest of time and due to the lack of preparedness for a place to eat, this would be as good as any.

In I walked, and the line was short; the shop was small, but full of local families, college students, and people coming and going with to-go orders filled with delicious smelling sandwiches.  One person was in front of me, but he knew what he wanted.  It turned out to not be enough time to look at the menu.  I stepped forward, and the guy at the counter prompted me for my order.

Juan, I believe he said his name was, had tons of energy and was pumped up about the day.  I tried to absorb the cavalcade of options on the board behind him to determine not only what I wanted, but what would be good fuel for the walk I’d done so far and for the miles I had left, both to Wrigley Field and at O’Hare afterwards.

I decided to ask Juan for his opinion, and without hesitation, he recommended the Philly Cheesesteak.  It’s like he knew me; a good Philly is, like, my favorite sandwich.  I agreed, choosing the tamer 7” size over a footlong.  This isn’t Subway; I trusted they would actually give you your money’s worth here.  Juan saw my camera, asked me for a picture with him and one of the line cooks, and I told him about Miles by Foot.  I promised to get a picture of them up, so I just had to hope the place was tasty enough to warrant a good report.
I placed my order, used the facilities, and grabbed a seat near –

An outlet!  Oh joy!

My bleeding phone was saved!  I jammed it in, heard the chime indicating a charge, and a wave of relief spread over me.  Instead of fiddling with it, I took a moment to relax, putting my mind at ease.  I heard them call my order a couple minutes later, and I went over to retrieve it.  I returned to my ailing phone and opened up my sandwich.

Generally, the messier the sandwich, the tastier it is.

I have to be honest, I don’t really remember much from the moment I took the first bite till the time I crumpled up the empty wrapper.  The bread was crisp, toasty, and flavorful, and the steak was perfectly seasoned; there was just the right amount of moistness, but despite the grilled onions, mushrooms, and peppers, it wasn’t the least bit soggy, a common ailment for Phillies.   The toppings were exceptionally flavored, crisp, and fresh.  The amount of cheese was just right, too.  Even as I write about it now, my mouth is watering.  It was nothing short of a gourmet Philly for a great price, just under ten bucks.  About five minutes after I began, the deed was done.  My stomach grumbled, and I worried I’d eaten it too fast, but after grabbing my phone, now at a much healthier 56%, I walked off that overstuffed feeling, thanked the guys for the great job, and walked back out to finish what I started.

This was the first time during any Miles by Foot walk where I felt like I’d given up, but I had to reassure myself I hadn’t.  I’d already put down more miles in a day than I had in any Miles by Foot walk before, and there was still a long way to go; the walk isn’t supposed to be torture, it’s supposed to be fulfilling.  Sometimes, there’s just other parts of me I need to be filling.

With a belly full of meat, bread, and veggies and a short part of the walk left, I knew I could do it!  I couldn’t wait to cross the finish line!

Join me next week for the final leg of the main walk.  Until then, keep going!

- Matt


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