Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Soldier Field 10-mile race, The OPR Trail, and Crazy Thoughts on Chicagoland

The Soldier Field 10-mile was a crazy race. They capped it out at 3400, and it was very well-run, but there were still so many people out running on the trail it was amazing. The course was flat and scenic along the lakeshore. Beautiful views across the lake early in the morning with the sun sparkling on the water. The course was out-and-back, so at one point, there were people running both directions on the trail. The kinda thing where you didn't want to stick your hand out the opposite direction for fear that it would get whacked off like you were on a two-lane freeway. You could see the legendary Soldier Field with over a mile to go, and eventually got to run into the stadium and watch your picture up on the jumbotron. Running into the stadium was an emotional experience that brought chills as all the people you were running with started to cheer upon entering. Pretty cool. And the race was complete with some after-race Michelob Ultra and Washington apples. Lovely combination.

Another running highlight of our trip was the OPR (Old Plank Railroad) Trail. If you ever get the chance where you live, or where you travel, rail-trails are a great place to run. Around my area, the Ironhorse Trail, the Foothills Trail, and the Chehalis Western are long stretches of old rail beds converted to running/biking trails. The OPR Trail extends 20 miles through some of the forest preserves south of Chicago. We ran a short stretch in the middle of the trail and it was beautiful. The course traveled through lush green grass and trees in well-manicured neighborhoods, over a bridge with some amazing architecture, and a pond with a huge fountain. We saw cardinals up in the trees, and had a rabbit run with us alongside the trail a little way. We weren't used to the heat - around 80 degrees at 6:30 am - no wonder we only saw others walking and not running. I don't know how people run in the midwest. In the winter it's too cold and in the summer it's too hot. It seems they flock to the city or the lake, and other than that, stay indoors. We did a huge amount of adventuring in the few days that we were there, and rarely were there lots of people out playing.

In addition to the OPR trail, something I really looked forward to seeing was the view of the city from out on the water. The sunset from Navy Pier was beautiful - I think for me, the views here were even more spectacular than the ones from the John Hancock, and there were no tourists or long lines. My photo is only a short glimpse of the city - looking north along the lakeshore, it seemed to go on and on forever, as if there were many cities all strung along together.

We did so much walking through the streets and parks of Chicago on Saturday, after the 10 miles in the morning, I don't know how my legs survived. My quads were truly thrashed and still felt like lead by Sunday morning. We're not typically art-people, and didn't see a lot of the museums Chicago is known for. We prefer to 'get out' rather than 'go in'. However, there is still soooo much art out and about in Chicago. Grant Park and Millenium Park have some fascinating statues, pavilions, fountains, and sculptures. We actually had to force ourselves to stop and rest a while in the shade at Buckinham Fountain and pondered the personality of the city of Chicago - couldn't quite put a finger on it.

Baseball in Chicago was a necessity. A city that size with two teams . . we chose the Cubs and to experience the bleachers at Wrigley Field. Some serious history there - completely old-school baseball compared to high-tech new stadiums at home. It was in the mid-90's, and the game was sold out. To experience the crowd was a huge high - and to hear the national anthem at a crowded ballpark on Memorial Day - and hear the roar at the words, "the land of the free" left me speechless. A little bit more baseball history . . . we got to watch Ken Griffey Jr. play center field down below us . . . and have memories of watching him play in Seattle 11 yrs. ago when they won the AL West Championship. I must be getting old.

After two beers and two dogs, we headed out and narrowly escaped the deluge from a thundershower. We headed up the lakeshore into Wisconsin for some geocaching. It was fun sitting at the lake and watching the storms travel in across the water. There is some serious lightning out there. We don't have storms like that at home. Other than that, Wisconsin warrants no photographs. A lot of the little towns on the way were desolate - like deserted ghost towns, and in one of the nicer ones, you weren't allowed to swim from the beach. Odd. And the restaurant in Kenosha . . . I'm not gonna go there, just think: dog food. (Getnout has a great restaurant review of the place!!)

The coast of Indiana was a trek (geocaching again) on a different day. What a beautiful shoreline there. There are actually several miles of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore with beaches that almost look tropical. We stopped at a ranger station along the way to inquire a little bit about the area. Interesting to note that although it's a huge expanse of water, and the moon is what pulls the tides, there really aren't hugely measureable tides there. We asked about Mt. Baldy that was shown on the map as a point of interest. It seemed a place a lot of people who visit like to hike. When we asked about the elevation, I must've laughed out loud. Something like 120 ft. Yes, you read that right. I think that's less than the hill in front of my house. (Not to mention my regular running routes, trail runs, etc.) 120 ft hike. Hike?

And into the Michigan woods - there weren't any hills there. Beautiful forest preserves for geocaching - and we had the whole place to ourselves for a couple of hours.

Our first day in Chicago we had picked up our race packets at one of the many Fleet Feet stores in the ciy. We were in a place called Piper's Alley, and did some wandering. We discovered Second City - a comedy place which is the legendary birthplace of many famous comedians, including several of the old Saturday Night Live cast. In the same building was this 'thing' - the photo to the left. As a blogger, I found it very intriguing. This 'thing' is set up to randomly read blogs off of the internet. You can stand there and listen. Periodically, the voices/faces take turns to read a paragraph or so from some random blog. As you can see in the photo, the woman in the bottom left is reading, because the other readers have turned their eyes while they listen to her. While I stood there, one of them was reading from some blog about a person's dream they had. So imagine, at any random moment, one of them might be reading this very paragraph I've just typed.

I really ought to wrap up so I can get out the door for a run, only to continue later and read all the blogs I've missed while I've been gone. Some last observations on Chicago:

  • the Navy pier is immense and amazing - so many sights, smells and sounds there to experience
  • motorcyclists/bicyclists don't wear helmets
  • liquor is sold in grocery stores, and children are allowed in bars (at least @ Dave & Busters - and I learned that I'm really bad at video games!)
  • everybody honks their horns all the time, and the parking fees are outrageous
  • there are tolls on the freeways, so they really arent free-ways, are they?
  • oh, and - due to a hotel housekeeping error, our luggage, and everything in our entire room was missing upon our return to the hotel Monday night - but, we caught an earlier flight home on standby Tuesday which made up for it!

Perhaps my most favorite thing of all about Chicago are the trains. We rode the train underground and we rode the train above ground - the L. It was a true Chicago experience for me to immerse oneself in the culture. It was as if I was traveling along the rails of the historic past through time into the busy Windy City of today. The people of Chicago are very diverse - so much that we had a hard time figuring out the personality of the city - the heartbeat. We come from a land where people love their technology, drink lots of coffee, and have a highly acute sense of adventure. And there is lots of fresh air. We had a great trip, missed the kids tons, and are glad to be home.


Anne said...

I hope my next trip to Chicago is as 'wonder'-full. I agree with you on Wrigley Field and Navy Pier. That blog exhibit sounds intriguing. And I'm guessing where you live they don't mix booze and food? Sounds like my life in the deep South, where it was a sin to buy beer before noon on Sundays.

Thanks for all the pictures to go along with the written journey.

JustRun said...

That was a great recap of your trip. I hope when I go in the fall it's at least half as good. :)

olga said...

I like your pictures of the sky-scrapers and the beach. Whe we went to Chicago, I was ready to move there, but the humidity...eww. The city is lovely though, not all the parts, but which one is?

Robb said...

Thanks for taking the time to post all the photos and take us along on your grand adventure. What a great trip.

Sarah said...

I loved all your pictures and descriptions! That must have been so cool to run into the stadium. They have a jumbotron near the end of the NYC is such a high to see yourself and the masses on the big screen. I can't wait to hit Chicago later this month. Its a short trip and I originally wasn't planning on packing my running gear. But now I will!

iliketoast said...

wonderful post and you did so well to capture and share your experiences ... i wanted to run in the baseball stadium and catch the train too

Sarah Elaine said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip... Super photos, too. I especically like the victory pose.

Jessica Deline said...

Oh I love trains in Chicago too! Great pictures and great report - that was fun to read :)

angie's pink fuzzy said...

what fun!!! gorgeous pictures.

liquor isn't sold in grocery stores where you live?