Chicago Day Rides

5 Bike Adventures You Can Have Today

The idea that worthwhile life experiences and adventures have to involve international travel, significant investment and considerable allotment of time are damaging, and keep many of us from filling our lives with adventures right now. It perpetuates the notion that leisure and recreation can only be earned through sacrifice, soul-crushing work, and saying no to what you deeply yearn to do. So we say: say yes!

Adventures lurk inside the city, or just outside of it, and even a day --even several dedicated hours -- spent relishing the outdoors, or doing something our of the ordinary, will make a difference in your week and in your outlook.

1. Breakfast al fresco:
This can be done on a weekend morning in cooler weather, or -- in a pinch -- early on a work-day when the days are longer.
Ride your bike to a nearby beach or natural area. Depending on how much time you have, I would suggest a distance of 5-12 miles one way. Bring along a portable stove, cookware, uncooked breakfast fixings and a thermos of hot tea, or a way to make a hot beverage of your choice. A small table cloth is a nice touch. Pro tip #1: unless you have a self-staring stove, pack matches or lighter!
You will not believe how delicious, nourishing and warming your meal will taste. Take your time enjoying it. Your sneaky adventure will buoy you for the rest of the day.

2. Full moon ride:
Grab a good set of bike lights, and set off before dusk on a full moon night. Ideally, plan a route that in 1-1.5 hours of riding will take you to a body of water or an open field to view the lonely satellite. (Our favorite viewing spot in Chicago area are Gillson Park and beach in Wilmette, or the Skokie Lagoons off Tower Road on North Branch Trail.)
Riding home at night on an unlit trail, with only the circle of your own bike light to guide you is a beautiful way to be alone with yourself.

3. Inclement weather bike ride:
Why not turn bad weather into your ally? Dress for it, but don't expect to be completely comfortable. Finding a way to enjoy the experience despite adversity is what makes it an adventure. One of my favorite rides was a chilly, rain-soaked, early April small town exploration on Brompton Bikes in Fox Lake, the last stop on the Milwaukee District North Metra line. Instead of our usual 30-40 miles, we limited ourselves to about 12, including a meander through the rain-soaked Grant Woods Forest Preserve, where we ducked under a picnic shelter and fortified ourselves with a little bourbon-soaked hot tea we brought along for the occasion (highly recommended!). Dunkin Donuts coffee never tasted as good as it did while we waited for our return train.

4. Foreign cuisine:
In a large city going to an unfamiliar ethnic neighborhood can be almost as exotic as an actual trip to a foreign land at a fraction of a cost. I recommend leaving your smart phone at home, and biking to an area you rarely visit. I've lived in Chicago for over 30 years, and there are still plenty of options for exploration, including Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, Rumanian, Nigerian, Middle Eastern, and many more. If you're not sure what to order, do the really adventurous thing and ask for a recommendation from the server. As a result, I once ended up confronting a plateful of very spicy but nearly raw meat at an Ethiopian restaurant.
Pro tip #2: a Brompton folding bike will quickly provide a conversation opener and help to bridge any communication gap.

5. End of the line:
Pick a regional train route, hop on with your bike, and go to the end of the line. Using Chicago Metra Train routes alone yields a dozen desinations, so you could try a new one every month! Once you get past the suburban sprawl, you will find that nature and open spaces are a lot easier to get to. The small town you end up in may have a friendly breakfast spot, where you can get some tips on best nearby places to disappear for a few hours. The quiet rural roads are not likely to have a lot of traffic, and the bike will easily carry you to a place where you can enjoy silence and solitude. In milder weather, you can bring along a packable hammock and even enjoy a midday nap, or simply spend some moments suspended in the company of trees and birds.

Just go!

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Milwaukee Meander

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The lake view is the same, but the minute your feet touch the ground, you know you are not in Chicago anymore. The vibe is different, more friendly, laid back.

It was a last-minute decision to come, but it's an easy drive to Milwaukee, and we arrived well before lunchtime. Milwaukee has more bicycle trails than you can shake a stick at, and, unlike Chicago trails, which are mostly linear, and therefore inherently somewhat redundant, the trails here make tantalizing loops, and you can often get back to your starting point without actually retracing your steps (imagine that!).

Originally, we thought we would ride a loop using the Hank Aaron Trail and the lower half of the monster 120-mile Oak Leaf Trail, but it was just too ambitious with almost half the day behind us. So instead, we headed north on the lakefront section of the Oak Leaf Trail, and then meandered along the trails that follow the Milwaukee River Greenway.

Along the way, we came upon the Riverside Park and lovely arboretum, and we poked around the unpaved paths for a bit before riding on. We were chatting idly about how nice a beer would be right about now, when, as if by magic, a iron gate appeared on the side of the trail with a little bearded  man in a red hat, crooking his finger at us in a beckoning gesture. (No, seriously, it was just a very tempting "Beer Garden" sign above the open gate.) Deliciously refreshing New Glarus selections were offered in .5 and 1 liter steins, and we consumed our half-liters with relish at a rustic picnic table.

This seems like a good place to note that ONE LITER is a heck of a lot of beer. It is, in fact, approximately three regular beer bottles. Yet no one seems to bat an eyelash when a 110lb lady who looks like your aunt (she was in line ahead of us) orders a liter of Oktoberfest Bier, and saunters over to her table, lugging a beer stein roughly the size of her torso. There, she joins several other patrons, some of whom are working on their second liter, with empty steins waiting to be returned for their $5 glass deposit. Interestingly, no one seems to be getting terribly drunk. This is due either to that laid-back air we picked up on when we first got out of the car, or perhaps the little guy with the red hat had something to do with it.

Further down the trail we found a large bulletin board with all the summertime beer gardens helpfully marked on a map! On our journey that day, we stumbled upon another one, and this time we indulged in a brat to go along with the second half-liter. We enjoyed this simple repast while listening to a lederhosen-clad accordion player.

Not having spent much time in Milwaukee, we were unfamiliar with beer gardens, but I assure you that they are a fabulous innovation, and there should be at least one along every bicycle trail. It seems like a sure-fire money making opportunity, as most bicycle riders I know are also devout beer enthusiasts, and I am mystified that other cities, specifically Chicago, are devoid of trail-side beer gardens. Until our city catches on, we plan to make regular trips back to Milwaukee to explore its vast network of trails, and sample beer selections along the way.