Today, my friend Ed and I made up a long standing appointment that I had been looking for.
He had invited me to join him in a canoe trip up and down the Chicago River, and I thought it was just what I needed as a “try something new”. I hadn’t been in a human powered boat since … I dunno …. since before I was ten.
So, we rented a canoe at a local outdoor store near his home in the swanky part of the Western Suburbs, and drove downtown to Chinatown. After a short search, we found a launching point behind the parking lot of a seafood restaurant on the Bridgeport-Chinatown border.
Up the south branch of the river we went, with Ed giving me lessons on proper technique with the oar. Surprisingly, there was little to see until we reached the innovative River City, a swanky condo complex built on top of a marina. After that the landmarks came quickly: Smith and Woelinsky’s, Morton’s The Steakhouse, the Sears Tower, Untied HQ, Boeing HQ, The Lyric Opera House, the olde Post Office, Union Station, the Merchandise Mart, Trump Hotel and Tower, NBC Tower, etc. We paddled about 10 miles, hanging a right turn into the main river, and paddling to Columbus Avenue. The next stop was the locks and Lake Michigan. With darkness already fallen, we turned and paddled back. After a quick shrimp dinner (shared with many disgruntled White Sox fans catching dinner after another loss), we headed home.
All and all, quite a day, even if I cannot lift either of my arms over my head.
edit: I got cut off a bit last night as it was late and I was tired. I cannot say enough how fun this was. I thought I had seen Chicago every way there was to see it; I’ve even been on the tour boats on the river before, but this was totally different. I strongly encourage folks to give something like this a try, provided of course the proper safety rules are followed (don’t go alone until you get experience, and know what to do in an emergency) …. you need to bring lights to mount on the boat after sundown …. life jackets are an absolute must).
I was also surprised at the number of times our picture got snapped by boaters going by or people on the various bridges. While we saw no other rowers or paddlers on the river, I didn’t think this was a rare event that would prompt a photo op. With the number of restaurants with on river seating, I kind of thought w should have gotten a little cash back for providing part of the ambiance …. either that or a complimentary steak dinner.
The saddest part of the trip, something so easy to ignore when you are standing several meters above the water on a bridge or on a river walk: the state of pollution in the river is not very good. I would like to think that the various bottles and cans we paddled past got somehow blown into the river, and were not just dumped there by idiots. I’d like to think that.
The only regret: I have not been working out lately. I was actually shocked that over the long trip, I only stopped to rest three times, and otherwise kept paddling. I wished I had been in a little better shape. The paddling is one thing, but you also have to lift the canoe on to and off of the car, and tie it down. That alone is a bit of a chore, but in no way turned me off from doing this again.