The rain is pouring hard. I feel the water droplets fall violently on my skin. But yet Jeff and I can’t stop laughing as we pedal our bikes faster heading back north. We probably have the same thought at that moment, “It was sunny when we started! Why didn’t we check the weather today?” I see parents pushing strollers and speeding up as their little kids happily stick out their tongues to taste the rain. It can be fun to be caught in the rain. Some joggers hide under the trees. A few look upset because this heavy but cool rain in the middle of a hot day ruins their plans. The rest keep on running and pedaling undisturbed, entranced by the noises coming out of their earphones.
Earlier that afternoon, Jeff and I wanted to go on an easy bike ride along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail. We had light lunch and drinks packed nicely in Jeff’s messenger bag along with a blanket. I had picked a spot between West Fullerton Parkway and North Avenue Beach for us to have our little picnic*. As soon as we got to the place, thick, dark clouds turned the world grey and then decided to unload what they had been carrying on us and Chicago.
I have never considered myself an outdoorsy or a sporty person. My idea of being outdoors used to consist of sitting at a café or a beach, reading a good book with a drink in my hand. Living five blocks away from Lake Michigan in Chicago supports my love for lazy summer days. I’d put on my bathing suit, sunscreen,and a summer dress, pack a bottle of water, towel, and a good book, and I would be off to the lake every chance I got. Sometimes, Jeff would join me and we’d pack some food and just hang out at Chicago’s front yard. It’s nice to sit on the grass facing the gigantic body of water or the high-rise buildings which mark the curves of the city’s east side.
Last summer, Jeff and a good friend of mine, Farah, inspired me to get a bicycle. I remember asking if they planned to be “serious bike riders” who’d put on their cycling gear and just zoom along the trail that stretches for 18 miles like the wind. Jeff has had a bicycle for as long as I can remember and he rides his bike to and from work during warmer months. I think of him as a pretty-serious bike rider. Farah bought hers that summer and at the time was having so much fun beach hopping. I was totally sold when she said, “Serious bike rider? I ride my bike wearing a summer dress!” “Okay,” I thought, “I could do that! I think I’ll combine fun in the sun, light lunches, and bike riding and see how that goes.”
On beautiful spring and summer days, when the sky is clear and the breeze is cool, it is so easy to keep riding the bike for miles through parks, beaches, and cool spots. Each point offers different scenery. From the little kids in their soccer outfit trying to kick the ball far too big for them to play with at a park on Foster Beach, to boats parked at Belmont Harbor, and to the perfect view for a poster of Chicago’s skyline from the north at a curve close to North Beach Avenue. My favorite view is still the city’s modern civilization beauty, framed by blue water and sky, from the grassy lawn of Shedd Aquarium.
But now, the dark clouds follow Jeff and me as we go north. We race the rain to see who is faster. As we enter Montrose Beach area, the rain decides to go east. The trail and grass look dry from this point up to Bryn Mawr. So we stop, pull out the blanket and devour our lunch. Our eyes follow the dark clouds as it moves fast across the lake, maybe to unload on Michigan. The sun is out once again and it dries our semi-wet shirts while we watch people pass by. The sirens from ambulances and a fire truck driving on Lake Shore Drive add to the city’s soundtrack. Three teenage girls walk by with a boombox, a scene we hardly see anywhere anymore, singing and dancing to the tune. “They look a bit too young to be stuck in the 80s.” says Jeff as he sips his coffee. We just finish the coffee when we feel little water droplets from the sky. A different group of clouds are following the previous batch. Summer days in Chicago seem to be thunderstorm-prone.We’ll just stay flexible and go back out next weekend. More cool spots to share!
*Our definition of “picnic” might be slightly different from what others would normally imagine. Ours consists of: either sandwiches or any dish we happen to cook that weekend packed in individual lunch containers, two water bottles, an old blanket for us to sit on, and sometimes, coffee in a slim thermos. No baskets, no pretty plates, cups, or paper napkins. We try to keep things simple .
Have a great summer everyone, come rain or come shine!
Photos property of The Traveling Chili Pepper