Have you heard of the Friends of the Park’s L.A.T.E. Ride? It’s been taking place in Chicago for almost 25 years.
Up to 9,000 cyclists meet up at Buckingham Fountain at midnight and ride 25 miles through the City of Chicago. The goal? Get back to Buckingham Fountain before dawn so you can watch the sunrise over Lake Michigan.
I was able to convince Jason to join me since this was a leisure ride event and not a race. Take it slow, I said. Don’t worry about pace, I said.
So, we taped flashlights and headlamps to our bikes, strapped on our helmets and rode over to the Fountain. A little after 1:15 AM we started on our ride.
In addition to the ride there are best lit bike and best decorated helmet contests and this year there was a costume parade. We didn’t get to the Fountain in time for those but we did get to see a lot of craziness out on the roads.
Photo from Facebook
Like the Blues Brothers. And people with radios attached to their bikes. And lots and lots of glow sticks, flashing LEDs, and even one woman who turned her helmet into a bird’s nest….complete with actual, live birds.
By the way, it’s really hard to take photos while riding your bike. Especially when you’re biking in a crowd. And that’s how you spend most of the ride. In a crowd. You also are expected to stop at right lights if the intersection isn’t being monitored by police. This makes for some harrowing moments sometimes. I got more comfortable riding in a crowd after awhile but for the first few miles I wasn’t particularly thrilled.
I was perfectly content to ride along at a leisurely pace and enjoy seeing parts of Chicago I’d never seen before. We rode through Chinatown (which still smelled of Chinese food at 2:00 AM), we rode through Greektown and Logan Square and entertained all the drunks standing outside the bars. We rode through Humboldt Park which, unbeknownst to me, is bordered by two sculptures of the Puerto Rican flag.
Jason, on the other hand, doesn’t have the bike butt callous that I do (nor does he own padded bike shorts) so he started to speed up and weave in and out of people in order to “get this thing over with.”
That made me sad.
So, I let him go ahead and I puttered along. We met back up at the rest stop at the halfway point where we chowed down on some bananas and Clif bars and remarked at how much the scene reminded us of Ragnar…just with more bikes. Jason assured me he was having fun, but that he just wanted to ride faster. No sense of adventure or exploration, that one.
Anyway, we stuck together for a few miles after that but then Jason pulled ahead and I tried to keep up. I was trying to ride a little more aggressively but we passed the aftermath of a scary scene involving a participant and a car and it shook me up a bit. So, I only sped up when I could find a good, clear space among the bikes.
When we reached the lakefront path I was able to up my speed and enjoy riding without having to dodge pedestrians. In fact, if I didn’t love sleep so much, I would come ride the lakefront path at night more often! I was having a blast during this part!
In fact, I was enjoying myself so much that I didn’t realize I actually passed Jason who was waiting for me. We stayed together for the last few miles.
26 miles, just over 4 hours. Our reward?
And watching the sun rise.
Jason took a short nap while we waited for the sun
Post-sunrise we hopped back on our bikes, rode the 1.5 miles home, showered, and collapsed into bed a little after 6:00 AM. We did it. We stayed up all night and rode almost 30 miles total.
I don’t think I’ve ever stayed up all night, including at Ragnar. I knew I could ride the distance so the challenge for me was doing it on no sleep.
Amazingly, being surrounded by other people kept me going. Well, that and I knew if I fell asleep I’d fall off my bike!
This event certainly was an adventure. It was more crowded and more leisurely than I thought it would be (lots of people stop at 24 hour restaurants along the way) but it was definitely a unique way to see the city and feel like, as cyclists, we owned the road.
Would I do it again? That’s a good question. I think if I was with a group of people who had a more adventurous spirit it could make for quite the party atmosphere. Lighting up our bikes, playing music, laughing, stopping to check out interesting things along the way.
Still, I have a feeling there might be other events out there that are more my cup of tea. But I’m glad I did this one and I would definitely recommend it as something you should try at least once! At the very least, it gives you a reason to be standing on the lakeshore watching the sunrise.