Friday, July 13, 2007

North Branch Trail

Based on my ride with Howard earlier this week, I decided to try his route up Elston and the North Branch Trail. I left work a little early assuming the route might take a little longer than my usual ride.

The trip had an inauspicious beginning. As I headed north on Damen through the Medical District I negotiated around a bus stopped at Ogden. As I crossed the wide street I heard some tooting behind me as I made for the bike lane. More tooting followed and when I stopped at the red at Congress, a guy in his green Jaguar honked some more at me as he pulled along side in a right turn lane. This little encounter made me the most pissed off I've ever been on my rides; I had done absolutely nothing wrong but this jack ass in his pricey car was apparently upset because he had to wait a second or two as I headed for my lane. So I pulled infront of his car and flipped him the bird accompanied by a loud verbal equivalent. He was with someone I assumed to be his spouse but now he wouldn't even look me in the eye. He gave some sort of impotent wave no doubt hoping I wasn't some sort of psycho. Still pissed, I stormed off in a crunch of chain popping and gear grinding. Despite getting the last word and the satisfaction of putting an a-hole in his place, the encounter really put me in a sour mood.

The rest of my ride north on Damen was pleasant. Damen has a dedicated bike lane and took me through Ukranian Village, Wicker Park, and Bucktown; neighborhoods with generally bike friendly populations. After the dicey intersection at Fullerton, I turned northwest on Elston.

Elston Avenue is like a bike highway; bike lane, smooth surface, and not too many intersections. But since it primarily goes through industrial areas, it isn't very scenic. I don't imagine motorists enjoy it too much either. Vehicular traffic was backed up almost the entire seven mile stretch. At one point I noticed I kept passing the same black mega pickup truck hauling a trailer. He'd pass me once traffic got moving but soon he'd get bogged down and I'd glide past him again. Eventually I saw the guy get really aggressive far ahead. He cut into the bike and parking lane and passed a bunch of cars on the right. I hammered the pedals to catch up and annoy but I guess his recklessness paid off. I couldn't catch him anymore.

I finally made it to the North Branch Bike Trail but I was a bit disapointed. It goes through some very beautiful areas of the Cook County Forest Preserve but I found the surface a bit rough for my liking and the path winds all over the place. However I realize the path isn't meant for speed and efficiency. It is for people who want a relaxing ride or hike through some terrific country. If I wasn't trying to compare the speed of this commuting route, I would have slowed down and really taken in the scenery. The path goes through arches of trees and skirts the North Branch of the Chicago River. Sometimes the river gives off a stale washing detergent smell though.

After a while the placid forest began to grow tiresome. The rough asphalt was jarring and I was looking forward to getting off it. The constant bumping caused my bike to start rattling again and I suspected I had a loose spoke. When I reached Willow Road I opted off the trail and took a more direct route home. It was nice to get on some smooth streets again. When I arrived home I saw the ride took about fifteen minutes longer but covered the exact same mileage as my usual ride. I doubt I'll take that route again though. Elston was too boring.

Distance Traveled: 24.3 miles
Distance to date: 3252.8 miles
Price of gas: $3.54

Update: The Cook County Forest Preserve is planning to resurface the North Branch Trail per this announcement. I might take another crack at it this fall.

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