For my 20th reunion last June I decided to bike to Notre Dame from Chicago. I have driven the sterile toll road route a hundred times, often wondering what the bike route would be like. The reunion gave me a purpose to be in South Bend, so I went for it.
My back-of-the-envelope navigation put the bike ride at 90 to 100 miles, with much of it on trails or back roads, so I knew it was doable. My mother and my sister tried to talk me out of it, but I was determined to ride.
A fellow reunion-goer, Colleen Thompson ’89, also thought the ride was crazy, but she agreed to take my gear down to Notre Dame. On Thursday before the reunion, I met up with Colleen and friends Karen Flaherty ’89 and Tom Coonan ’84 at a Wrigleyville Bar. Conversation drifted from Notre Dame to what jobs we held since graduation. After a burger and a couple beers with them, I departed to go home for some rest.
The 4:30 a.m. alarm came all too soon. I felt a slight bit groggy from the beers and had some doubts if I should do this alone. Nonetheless, I dressed, filled my tires to 110 psi, and rechecked my gear: Gatorade, power bars, helmet, gloves, inner tubes, maps and, most important, my cell phone.
My Kestrel triathlon bike, which I bought on eBay, has little in common with my childhood Schwinn. The lightweight carbon-fiber frame absorbs shock for a comfortable ride. The aero bars let me lean forward with little wind resistance. Similar to an executive golf bag, there is no end to the titanium options/upgrades you can purchase.
I departed my house and moved southeast on a deserted Lincoln Avenue. The street lights and stop lights looked like Christmas decorations as I sped toward the lake. The sun rose magnificently over the water and peeked through the morning mist. Chicago’s Mayor Daley, a bike enthusiast, hopes to make a continuous trail to Michigan City, Indiana. The present trail ended at South 71st Street, and I continued on Route 41 through Chicago’s Southeast side. The South Shore Neighborhood, once very wealthy, has changed; while still well kept up, some parts are rough. At 5:45 a.m. the streets were empty, and I felt safe. On South Shore Drive I passed Saint Michael’s church, a giant, well-maintained structure in a tired part of town.
I continued south on Indianapolis Boulevard and then Route 12 in Indiana. This road took me right through Gary’s industrial goliaths, which we see from the highway. The refineries and steel mills had fences surrounding them, so I was not as close to them as I would have thought. At 6:30 a.m. there was not much activity on the street.
Next I traveled through the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Route 12 became a beautiful backwoods road that was framed by a thick pine forest. The dunes were a half mile from the road, but having no appetite to add any distance to my trip, I put off that visit. The South Shore train stations in the park are built as log cabins and look like something from Yellowstone Park. The train was my safety valve, but I had no need to use it. I exited the forest and continued along a secondary highway, which was busy with Michigan City rush hour traffic.
I turned due east on Indiana 1000N road, a quiet country road flanked by farm fields. I made good speed and could ride in the middle of the deserted road. This road jogged around a few times, and my high-level maps did not tell me where I was. In frustration I rode six miles north to Route 12 in Michigan, which was a busy highway, but it had a shoulder and good mileage marks for Niles, Michigan.
As planned, I arrived on campus in time for the lunch included in the reunion package. I ate with some of my Holy Cross dorm mates, who thought the ride was pretty cool. I did see an alum from my hometown, Dick Phelan ’59. I described my path to him, and he recalled that when he attended Notre Dame the highway did not exist, so he would take Route 12 to Route 20 (Lincolnway West) to campus.
Having completed the ride, I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. Notre Dame seemed closer to my home, since I could ride my bike there by lunch. The ride also let me connect with the various terrains, which I had sped past on a toll road for the last 24 years. I plan to refine my path and bike to campus again this year for a game.