Chicago by boat and bike

Get started here, with this Cubs fan.

On this trip, we saw Chicago from two great vantage points: by water and pavement.

We started our water tour at Wendella’s Boats, a Chicago fixture since 1935. We chose the Chicago River Architecture tour for around $25 plus the usual exorbitant Chicago taxes. We bought our tickets ahead online, which spared us from standing in the confusing queue at the dock. Be sure to  go to the Wendella site, and not a ticket broker, which adds at least $10 to the price, then tells you you’re getting a “discount” by buying online.We took the 4:30 PM tour, which seemed less crowded than the one that took off before us.

The boat quay is right below the Wrigley Building.

He’s got a ticket to ride!

The tour guide gave an informative discourse of the surroundings and buildings, as well as some interesting Chicago history. Even if you don’t care one whit about architecture, you get a nice tour of the second city all the way up to the locks to Lake Michigan. (Who knew Chicago had locks?) This was a great way to see a lot of Chicago in a short time (about 70 minutes, plus queue time), and get a fun boat ride.

Satisfied boat riders.

The next day we ventured out by bike shortly after 5 AM.  The streets were deserted except for a few other bikers and police, as we biked the two miles or so to Grant Park. There we joined  thousands of other cyclists to “Bike the Drive,” the once a year event when fifteen miles of Lake Shore Drive is closed to traffic and open to cyclists only. There are two 15-mile loops: north from Grant Park to Bryn Mawr and back, and south from Grant Park to 57th and back. The north loop has excellent views of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, and the amazing LSD skyline, including the famed Drake Hotel. The south loop passes the picturesque museum campus, the formerly beautiful Soldier’s Field, now marred by the giant spaceship that landed in its center, and famous McCormick Place. The north loop has a few smallish hills, but nothing that an average biker couldn’t master; south loop is mostly flat.

Dave at the museum rest stop, mostly deserted so early in the morning.

Starting at 5:30 AM ensures a less-congested ride, and more room to stop and snap photos. Folks of all ages participate, including many who have no idea how to ride a bike safely. Watch out for hammerhead cyclists on your left, whizzing by at 20-25 mph, and little kids who’ve biked out of reach of their parents, and have no idea they shouldn’t be weaving back and forth right in front of you. You’ll get the best experience if you are fit enough for a long ride and stay alert for hapless riders around you. The north route tends to be the most crowded, but both routes get crowded after 7 AM.

Iconic Chicago skyline, heading towards Grant Park from the north loop.

This year we ventured south first and enjoyed seeing the Museum of Science and Industry grounds relatively crowd-free. We had great views of the lake and skyline on the north route, and for the first time ever stopped on the bridge to get some amazing shots of the river.

Great view of the river from the bridge.

After finishing our 30 miles in record time, we added an extra half-loop going south again. This allowed us to snap some over the road shots of the cyclists below from the bridge turn-around.

Looking north from our perch on the overpass.

We finished up at Grant Park to collect our T-shirts and enjoy music and pancakes among the thousands of others sprawled on the grass and benches in the near-90 degree heat.

Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park.

Chicago Harbor Light, framed by cyclist.

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© Huffygirl 2012

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