Friday, February 11, 2011
The CTA's Ski and Ride program
by John Greenfield
[This piece also ran in New City magazine, www.newcity.com.]
Although Chicago is a superior city in most respects, I suspect that Minneapolis, a much colder, snowier town, is actually a place where more people enjoy the winter. This is because residents of the Twin Cities, with their strong Scandinavian heritage, know how to embrace the season, donning cheerful woolen clothing and diving into cold-weather fun like sledding, skating and snowball fights, followed by large quantities of glögg.
Here in the Windy City, most people dress in black and view winter as something to survive, not celebrate. They see it as a series of hassles and indignities: freezing el platforms, slushy sidewalks, salt-choked air and parking spots selfishly reserved with old furniture.
Not me. I’ve got a two-pronged strategy to make the most out of cold weather. The first is indoor coziness and/or winter denial: gastropubs, rock clubs and hot tubs; Hala Kahiki and the Garfield Park Conservatory. As I type this, I’m sitting in the ninth-floor winter garden of the Harold Washington Library, surrounded by leafy trees and ivy-covered walls.
My second tactic is making sure to get plenty of outside time in the brilliant winter sunshine. I bundle up and ride my bike daily, and take long walks around Logan Square after fresh snowfalls create an atmosphere of hushed beauty. One of these days I’m going to get up early, pedal to the Belmont Harbor peninsula and do (clumsy) yoga as the sun rises over the steaming water—I mean it.
So I decide to strike a longstanding item off my winter to-do list: cross-country skiing along the lakefront with a friend. Since I don’t own a car, I tie up my two pairs of thrift-store skis and poles with inner tubes, sling them on my shoulder and hoof it to the Logan Square train station to catch the #76 Diversey bus east. I get plenty of funny looks as I wait for my ride, but the sweet-tempered bus driver doesn’t object to my outlandish cargo. “Have a fun time,” she smiles.
After I transfer to the Halsted bus and pick up my friend in Lakeview, we take the Roscoe underpass to the Lakefront Trail, clip into the bindings and start shushing north, flanked by high-rises. We come to the Waveland Clock Tower, a Gothic gem, and enter the Marovitz Golf Course, with its refreshingly wavy terrain and stately spruce. At the north end of the links, a couple of homeless guys have pitched tents.
We unclip and scramble over a fence to exit the links, then ski over to Montrose Harbor and Cricket Hill, where we “herringbone” our way to the summit, swarming with pint-size sledders. Zooming down the slope on skis is a rare treat in this pancake-flat town.
On our way back we take a trail that hugs the lake, enjoying breathtaking views of the bleak expanse. A crowd of ducks and geese bob among the ice floes—they don’t seem to mind the cold. After completing our Nordic skiing excursion, we celebrate at Ann Sather’s with an après-ski feast of Swedish meatballs and cinnamon rolls, toasting our trip with cups of hot coffee. Take that, winter depression.