The Day I Skipped Out of Work and Got on the Train to Bike Chicago
I've always loved Chicago and I enjoy cycling; thanks to Amtrak's new service I was able to take an afternoon off and see Lake Michigan from the other side.
Taking your bike on the train
Amtrak wanted people to know about their new program that lets passengers pay an extra $10 and take their bike on the train. Being a media guy, I got a press release from Amtrak and Michigan Department of Transportation- co-partners on the project. Also being a media guy, I asked and they bought me a ticket. So, on a Wednesday afternoon, I got on the train to Chicago with my Cannondale, ready to pedal a few miles and enjoy a day on the other side of Lake Michigan. As it turns out, I was lucky to be on the air Thursday morning.
Why I wanted to go
Two years ago, while in the Windy City for a soccer tournament, I discovered Chicago's Lakefront Trail and absolutely loved it. I ran from Montrose Beach South to the Adler Planetarium, passing Chicago landmarks like Navy Pier, Jackson Park, Lincoln Park Zoo, Grant Park, and Soldier Field. Summer 2017 I took my bicycle and had intentions to ride the entire trail, but ended up walking for nearly 3 hours after I blew out a tire. So, I was eager to get back to Chicago and take the lake shore route again. It was an adventuresome day.
Leaving Kalamazoo- the trip West
The Amtrak station on Burdick was busy with members of Kalamazoo Bicycle Club showing up to send off riders. The news media was there and I chatted with Kerry Irons of the Adventure Cycling Association about the opportunity for cyclists to travel much more with the route open from Detroit to Chicago via Ann Arbor, Jackson, Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Niles, Michigan City and other destinations along the way.
I was the only one with a bike who boarded in Kalamazoo and the conductor directed me to a car with some open space usually reserved for guests in wheelchairs. I leaned my bike against the wall, grabbed a seat and enjoyed not having to worry about traffic. It's about a 2 1/2 hour trip by car from Kalamazoo to Chicago and Amtrak promised just over 2 hours. It turns out Summer road construction season is not just for roads, so we were delayed in Gary, Indiana for a short time each direction of the trip.
Knowing my cycling time was now shortened, I asked the Amtrak employee at bag check the best way to get to Lake Shore Drive and he was quite helpful. He warned me to be back by 5:15 for pre-boarding, especially with a bicycle, and thought I'd probably make it to Navy Pier.
Fifteen minutes later, after riding thisclose to city buses, nearly being sideswiped by a taxi and carefully watching every door of every parked car wondering which one was going to open right in front of me, I was past Navy Pier and picking up speed. That's the best thing about Chicago's Lakefront Trail; it is well-marked and people (mostly) following directions allowing you to really move if you put your mind and your muscles to it. Although I only averaged 10.8 mph, I did hit a top speed of 22.8 (pretty good in Chicago traffic). The view is the best, with Lake Michigan on one side and Lake Shore Drive on the other.
Heading back- time is running out
It was now past time to head back. I quickly pedaled to the marina and headed back into the city on Monroe Ave. It was then that I realized I hadn't really paid attention on the trip out- I just headed for the lake. Now, needing to find my way back to Union Station, I wasn't sure. That's what phones are for, right?
Everything was fine until the battery ran out.
Time was running out too.
I was lost.
This was the last train to Kalamazoo.
I grabbed an emergency battery out of my pack and recharged my phone just enough to find my way to the station mere minutes before boarding. Although I only got a few hours of sleep, I was happy to be back home in my own bed instead of stranded in Chicago in shiny bike pants.