Sunday, July 1, 2012

Better L.A.T.E. Than Never

At 1:00 a.m. on Sunday, July 1st the 24th annual L.A.T.E. Ride kidked off on time.  The name stands for "long after twilight ends".   I decided to be a part of this madness this year.  The ride supports the Friends of the Parks organization that benefits greenspaces in Chicago.

I registered for the ride months ago and let friends who bicycle know of my plans but for some reason, none of them decided to join me!  A week ago I picked up my ride materials at an R.E.I. store near my home.  At about 11:30 Saturday night I put my bike on the rack we have for it that mounts on the back of our car and I headed downtown.  Pam and I rode "Bike The Drive" in 2010 and 2011 which is held on the Sunday of the Memorial Day weekend.  As you drive downtown for that one early in the morning you see bikes on just about every other car headed into the city on the Eisenhower.  Not so this past Saturday night.  I wondered whether I had the right night but as I reached downtown, dozens of cyclists could be seen moving from parking garages toward Columbus Drive.
As I approached Columbus Drive I could see thousands of cyclists lining up
Cyclists were each registered into one of six randomly assigned color groups.  I was assigned to the green group, the third wave of participants slated to be released onto the course.  I took my place among the hundreds lined up behind the sign designating the area for green cyclists.  Music blared from speakers in the assembly area and everyone was in a festive mood.  About ten percent of the participants were in some sort of costume or wore decorative lights of some type.

Bibb color determined your starting group

A few riders wore costumes or colorful light displays

Looking south on Columbus Drive at the crowd lined up ahead of me

I'm ready to go...

... and so are more than 8,000 other riders
Promptly at 1:00 a.m. the riders in the first wave started south, followed a few minutes later by the second wave and then it was my turn.  Like most events involving a large number of participants, it took a couple of minutes for everyone in the group to be on the move and biking was slow for the first couple of miles but people were enjoying the party atmosphere.  As we moved south on Columbus and then turned right on Roosevelt, police had the intersections blocked off from traffic and were waving cyclists on.  We continued south on State and then right onto Archer Avenue where went through Chinatown and then turned right onto Cermak.  At Halsted we turned north and cycled through University Village and then through Greek Town.  We turned northwest onto Milwaukee and then west onto Division Street.  By this time we no longer had intersections blocked off for us and we had been told to obey all traffic signals.  We stopped at most stoplights but most participants went through intersections where there was no traffic.

Traffic signals were not the only rules that were ignored.  The vast majority of riders had helmets but some didn't bother with them.  I did not see any accidents but I did pass one guy who had taken a spill and was being attended to by friends.  It did not look serious.  For an event like this, you always get a few participants who did not bother to officially register. I counted plenty of folks who did not appear to be wearing a bibb indicating that they had registered.

By the time we turned north onto Humboldt Boulevard, biking traffic had thinned out a bit and I had moved up a little in the pack.  After moving through Humboldt Park, we turned east on Logan for a short distance an then left onto California for the trip all the way to the halfway point of the ride at Horner Park.  I stopped and had some water but did not need any of the other serivces offered so I got back on the course, turning right onto Montrose and headed toward Lake Michigan.  There were eight or nine service areas along the course where volunteers were fixing flats or attending to other mechanical problems.  Additional volunteers along the route who guided biking traffic or rode with us were able to communicate with ride leaders if anyone needed help.

It was stressed more than once that this was a ride, not a race and most people were careful.  By the time we got to Lake Michigan, it was time to take a right on the Lakeshore Path for the long ride south.  It was great to not have to worry about car traffic any longer.  Bike traffic had thinned out a lot since some riders were slower or had stopped along the way.  I enjoyed a great ride along the lakefront under the light of a mostly-full moon and clear skies.  We continued all the way south to Museum Campus and then turned north for the short ride back up to Buckingham Fountain.  I finished the 25 mile course at a little before 4:00 in the morning.  Some had opted for the $7 pancake breakfast and were waiting to witness sunrise over the lake.  I packed up my bike and headed home to bed after this great ride and unique look at a few of Chicago's neighborhoods.