Kayak downtown Chicago

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View from Dick’s Last Resort

Have you kayaked the Chicago River yet? What a thrill! This had been on my wish list for several summers, ever since I worked out on Goose Island and saw the colorful kayaks floating by. I believe those kayak classes and tours by Kayak Chicago were the first and perhaps the only ones available at that time, and it seemed like a novel urban adventure to me. I had this daydream of kayaking in the afternoon then going to one of my favorite restaurants, Uncle Julio’s, just east on North Avenue, for happy hour and toasting to the adventure with a round of Swirls. But years passed, I no longer worked on Goose Island and it didn’t happen.

As time went by, I started to notice more and more groups of kayakers on the Chicago River downtown. Finally, the opportunity arose for me to make this wish come true: When I recommended kayaking to family from out of town and a couple of friends, they were up for it.

I went on the internet and found a handful of kayak establishments in addition to Kayak Chicago including Urban Kayaks, Wateriders and Chicago River Canoe and Kayak. They all sounded great: I’d still like to try Kayak Chicago starting at Goose Island to kayak a less busy part of the river, Wateriders has several fun tours and Chicago River Canoe and Kayak is a bit north offering less urban kayaking experiences which I would definitely like to do, especially now that I’ve gotten my feet wet kayaking for the first time. The three kayak businesses closer in all had similar tours (architecture, sunset, fireworks, etc.) at comparable pricing.

Being a downtown gal who strives to keep potentially complex plans simple, I opted for the Urban Kayaks one-hour Riverwalk Intro Paddle. I liked that my first kayak experience could be a lesson during which we’d be closely watched over by a professional kayaker and that it was along the Riverwalk, one of the most magnificent areas of downtown Chicago.

The folks at Urban Kayaks were great! It’s easy to book online after which they email a liability waiver to sign and then all you have to do is show up and give your name. They treat customers kindly; they sit you down first in a brief class on how to kayak; they don’t balk at helping you get your life jacket on properly and getting in and out of the kayak; and the tour guide stays very close by in the water, keeps the group together, gives helpful instructions through a megaphone and is even in radio contact with the boats to keep the flock safe.

Because I had never kayaked before, I read all the kayak sites for general information, like how to dress (expect to get wet) and what to bring (water, if you wish) and leave behind (cell phone, cameras – unless you want to buy one of their waterproof bags). Urban Kayaks has lockers, both locked and open-air shelving to stash your stuff.

I had planned to use the airtight compartment on the kayak but didn’t need to. What they don’t tell you online is that the life vests have two large pockets that can hold quite a lot and they zip up good and tight. So I was able to stuff an extra pair of glasses in one side and my “necessity pack” in the other. I never ended up needing any of the things I brought; I might as well have left them in the locker, lol. Perhaps on a longer kayak tour, one would want personal items along. Once the life vest was tightened up, I found I could stash my water bottle down the front and it stayed perfectly secure.

By the way, I did a kayak-for-two with someone who had kayaked previously because this was new to me. Even though I learned, I believe I would still prefer the dual-kayak for subsequent experiences, because it’s easier to talk to each other and you’re both having the exact same experience, which makes it more fun.

Urban Kayaks also has porta-potties and a “changing room” which is actually a porta-potty without the toilet, and it’s in the toilet area. They were rather stinky, as porta-potties tend to be, so I was glad I was wearing a swimsuit and didn’t have to use the dressing area.  And I recommend you do the same. I really didn’t get as wet kayaking as I’d expected. I didn’t have to use the dressing area: Afterwards, I simply left the swimsuit on and switched my top clothes (to dinner-appropriate attire) right in the open. It was so easy.

Now that I’ve kayaked the busiest part of the Chicago River, which is the strip along the Riverwalk, I feel well-schooled in how to kayak safely. It gets pretty hairy: The boat and barge traffic along there is serious. There are sightseeing boats, constructions barges, pleasure crafts of all shapes and sizes and water taxis. Kayakers quickly learn to stay as far to the right as possible and stay aware.

After all the kayakers I’ve watched go by on this strip of the river, it was such a rush to find myself actually doing it. People gawk at you, wave and take your picture, though you’re pretty focused on controlling your kayak in busy waters. I was glad I did it and now I feel ready for further kayak excursions like the sunset tour and checking out more serene venues.

We ended up dining on the balcony of Dick’s Last Resort and watched ensuing kayak groups navigate the Chicago River. That capped off our experience perfectly. I highly recommend kayaking along the Riverwalk then eating at one of the numerous great restaurants on the river.

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City sidewalk safety, part 2 – Streets and sanitation

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Lessons your parents drilled into you as a youngster are still vital today: Watch your step, look both ways before crossing the street, and watch your head! Following are some practical strategies to traversing downtown Chicago – or any large city. And at rush hour, when life seems to speed up to an almost frenetic pace, this takes on extra significance, especially for the newbie.

  • Look both ways before crossing; people sometimes drive the wrong way on one-way streets.
  • Another good reason to look both ways before crossing the street is the bicycle lanes. And here’s a trick that is even catching seasoned Chicagoans off guard: On one-way streets, bicycle lanes are two-way, making it really crucial to look both ways.
  • Luckily, in Chicago pedestrians have the right of way — even so, occasional rude drivers may act as if they’re aiming for you. Stay within the crosswalks.
  • Beware buses: They often come barreling down the street too close to the curb, so stand a safe distance from the street while waiting to cross. And Heaven help you if you’re in the street while a bus is coming at you; a bus driver with a bad attitude can be extremely intimidating (and should be reported, by the way, if this happens to you).
  • If you’re wearing shoes with soft or thin soles, the bumpy curb ramps for the blind and visually impaired at most intersections are uncomfortable to sensitive feet while wearing light soles. For this reason, I often walk around them.
  • If it has rained and you see a wet part near the curb, don’t walk or stand there. It’s simply scientific: The sidewalk got splashed and so will you when the next cab comes zooming past.
  • Skyscrapers with their floor to ceiling windows need cleaning. Beware walking beneath window washers. One sign is if the sidewalk ahead looks polka-dotted with large droplets and it’s not raining. Less frequently, you may encounter leaky air conditioning
  • If you’re adverse to large bugs hanging around, you may want to plan your trip to Chicago in the cooler seasons or before late summer. Otherwise, these eyesores can blight your view from the John Hancock and Willis Tower observatories (the higher you go, the bigger the bugs), to the River Walk, at the harbor or from a restaurant with an otherwise magnificent view. Also be alert when walking under scaffolding, though the worse place for them is in the tunnels that run under Lake Shore Drive to and from the lakefront. For this, a hat is suggested.
  • Although you want to look up and admire the architecture, sculptures and statues — some of which will talk to you; click here for info — also look down: Even in a place as nice as Chicago, there are areas of cracked sidewalks and high curbs; and unfortunately, there’s also pet urine and runoff from leaky garbage bins.
  • Avoid portions of the walkway containing obvious amounts of pigeon poop, and certainly don’t stand there for any length of time. Especially under train tracks, while innocently waiting to cross the street, you could be standing beneath a pigeon’s favorite poop perch!
  • Beware the grates around decorative trees: Those are spots where dogs like to go. Worse, they can cause serious slips, trips and falls, especially when wet.
  • Some subway grates are infamous for blowing up ladies’ skirts. I’ll let you discover those on your own, just for fun.

One last tip: Along with the glitz and glamour of the city comes who-knows-what on the bottom of your shoes. It would no doubt be wise to shed your shoes right inside the doorway to your home and even wipe them down and disinfect them. Then kick up your feet, pat yourself on the back for navigating the city like a pro after reading my last four articles, enjoy the memories, and come back again soon! Chicago is lovely and has much to offer in every season!

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City sidewalk safety, part 1 – Strangers and dangers

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When Marilyn Monroe (by Seward Johnson) visited Pioneer Court on the Mag Mile in Chicago

If you didn’t catch my two previous articles, you missed some important information. We’ve discussed city etiquette including what to do and, more importantly, what not to do if you happen to find yourself in downtown Chicago — or any large city — especially at rush hour. This article is about your comfort, safety, and well-being.

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    One of the four iconic Millennium Park fountains at night

    Be aware and alert, holding your possessions close to your body for two reasons: so you won’t bump others with your bags or get bumped and also to deter thieves.

  • Folks might ask you for money. Whether or not you decide to give is up to you; just be careful. Don’t let strangers peer into your wallet, and keep a tight grip on it.
  • If someone looks or acts certifiable, they might be. If such a person approaches you or shouts at you, move away and do not make eye contact; do not take it personal and do not engage. Go on your way, enjoy yourself and forget about it. Don’t let one jerk spoil your city adventure.
  • Obey your signal and also, if one is present, the traffic cop. It’s important to comply with “Chicago’s finest.”
  • At any crowded scene, be suspicious of unattended bags and find someone to report it to. That said, sometimes activists or product promoters leave their stuff off to the side.
  • Don’t be surprised if some very friendly person jumps in front of you with a merry “hello!” You probably don’t know each other. I’ll admit even I was fooled for a nanosecond the first time this happened to me. No, it’s very likely a volunteer campaigner/activist trying to get you to sign a petition or donate money. The strategy is rather annoying, but if you feel the cause is worthy, go for it if they’re legit.
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    The city: Mix and mingle and make new friends — but play it safe

    It’s almost always noisy in a bustling city. Sirens and other sounds can be loud enough to damage hearing. Cover your ears, and don’t worry about what anybody thinks. Later when they’re hard of hearing, you’ll be glad you protected yours.

  • You may find yourself in the South Loop campus neighborhood. A lot of rowdy people hang around some areas there, especially Pritzker Park and the Harold Washington Library (which truly is a great place), even blocking the sidewalk at times. Don’t let them deter you from your path; you have a right to walk there. There are also a lot of police in that area.
  • Although Chicago is a beautiful and exciting city, there are some unsavory areas and stinky areas, even downtown. Simply pass through these quickly and don’t give it a second thought. Chicago is beautiful!

Welcome to the jungle! My next article in this series has more important ways to enjoy the big city safely and comfortably.

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The 30-foot eyeball (by Chicago’s own Tony Tasset) that watched over Pritzker Park for awhile

International Yoga Day: Strike a pose

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This is my cat’s version of cat yoga: taking over my yoga mat just when I am about to start yoga

We interrupt our normal programming (the ongoing series on learning to walk like a city slicker) to bring you a special announcement: June 21 – and every year on June 21, typically also the first day of summer in the North, the Summer Solstice – is International Yoga Day. In case you think this is no big deal, look again. And if you think yoga is just for girls or is simply stretching and deep breathing or meditating, listen up!

First, a funny yoga story: Years ago, a gal pal and I decided to do a yoga class at the Garfield Park Conservatory. What could be more serene than doing yoga in such a setting! On the way to our class, I spouted that I’d been doing yoga on my own since the age of 13. So when we set up our mats, she said she was going to put hers behind mine so she could be in the back of the class. Thus I found myself positioned between her and the instructor and several exotic trees. Was I in for a surprise: I discovered for the first time that yoga can be extremely difficult! We found ourselves getting into impossible poses and holding them for impossibly long periods! My friend eased off – but I kept going. I didn’t want to look like a fool after bragging I’d done yoga since my teen years. Wow, was I ever hurting after that class – for days! It was then I realized that what I had been doing all my life was simply mild stretching!

Flash forward a decade later when I was taking weekly yoga classes at a local gym. A big hulk of a guy, obviously a weight lifter, sat in front of me in yoga class looking tough in his armed forces t-shirt. Noting several strong looking fellas in class that day, our yoga teacher apparently decided to go all out. About half way through class, the hulk was grunting and groaning. Later as I glanced at him from my downward dog position, I saw he was sitting there resting…By the end of class, he was soaked with sweat and could hardly rise to his feet while yours truly bounced lightly to her feet, feeling energized and glad to be a disciplined yoga regular.

But enough about me! I told you those two stories to demonstrate what I said above: Yoga is not wimpy, and yoga is good for both guys and gals. Plus don’t worry that you will find yourself in a yoga class sitting around chanting – unless you sign up for that specifically. Sure, yoga can be a spiritual experience. But among the many types of yoga, general yoga classes help one’s body develop strength, stamina, flexibility and balance as well as benefiting the psyche. Yoga offers something for everyone: There’s laughing yoga, aerobic yoga, hot yoga, power yoga, cat yoga and so much more.

“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 21 International Yoga Day per the suggestion by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. This day was suggested because, being the longest day of the year in parts of the world, it carries significance in many cultures. Also, June 21 is said to be the day that Shiva, the very first yogi and guru, introduced yoga.

“Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.” ~ Amit Ray

One of the reasons the idea of Yoga Day was so widely accepted by leaders of many countries is because yoga is believed to bring its user a sense of well-being and inner peace. The rationale followed that if everyone had inner peace, there would be a chance for world peace.

“Yoga is not a work-out, it is a work-in…so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” ~ Rolf Gates

The very first Yoga Day was exciting indeed, breaking two Guinness world records: one for the largest yoga class ever of almost 40,000 people (held in India) and the other for the largest number of nations participating at once (84). There was a yoga class of 5,000 in San Francisco that day. Yoga Day has grown every year, with special events added. In 2017, the Indian Prime Minister, along with numerous top Indian businessmen, participated in a yoga class of 51,000. New York City, Japan, China, Athens and Dublin also hosted major yoga gatherings.

“In truth, yoga doesn’t take time – it gives time.” ~ Ganga White

This will be the fourth World Yoga Day. Countries and cities all over the world are gearing up for this. A quick internet search will yield plenty of articles and events heralding Yoga Day along with amazing photos. Chicago has many yoga festivals at this time of year. Check your local listings. Even if you live in a small town, I guarantee your local yoga studio is aware of International Yoga Day and will be holding some kind of event. If you haven’t given yoga a chance yet, 2018 can be the year to personally discover the welcome difference yoga can make in your life.

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and endure what cannot be cured.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Walk like a city slicker, part 2 – Life in the fast lane

 

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This is part 2 on navigating the city like a pro. If you missed part 1, check it out here for some basics. We want you to enjoy yourself in the big city and come back for more. But walking downtown, especially during rush hour is a bit like a challenging Global Family Fitness obstacle course.

Chicago and similar cities can cause gapers blocks: Awesome skyscrapers attract attention and are breath-taking to behold, even to us locals. But be aware that while you’re here having fun, most of the city is hard at work. We built this town, and we own these streets. While we’re buzzing around the Loop like worker bees, please don’t get in our path and annoy us, lest you get stung, lol.

In downtown Chicago and other bustling municipalities, things are fast-paced during the workweek – especially during rush hours. Because people are doing just that: rushing. That includes hurrying to work, running around trying to get as much done as possible on lunch break and scurrying home.

Here are some basics to enjoy your visit to the big city without disrupting the flow of business-as-usual. Common sense goes a long way, but if you’ve never been here before, there are some things you may not know. For instance, it wouldn’t be wise to plan a leisurely stroll through the financial district while business is in session and people are on the clock.

Walk the walk

  • Just as slower traffic on a roadway stays to the right while those faster pass on the left, the same unwritten rule applies to city sidewalks, especially if texting while walking.
  • Stay in your lane; one foot in front of the other and straight ahead garners more respect than veering all over the sidewalk.
  • Many an accident on foot or near misses could be avoided if people would just not cut corners.
  • Even if you’re lost, don’t suddenly come to a dead stop on a busy walkway; you wouldn’t do this in your car. Pull over to the side so people won’t slam into you. Same goes if you stop to take a picture or talk on your cell phone.
  • Please avoid wielding baby carriages (and running over peoples’ feet) or flocks of children (keep them real close) downtown during rush hour.
  • When traversing stairways, even if you’re with somebody, single file is ideal, especially during rush hour.
  • Don’t block sidewalks near intersections; once that light at an intersection changes, a veritable army of hard-working citizens will march across the street like soldiers on a mission.
  • Spacing out and blocking an entrance or exit is a no-no, and holding a pow-wow just outside a revolving door or at the end of an escalator is downright dangerous.
  • There are certain routes where droves of pedestrians walk especially fast to and from the trains. These are on Madison and Adams going east in the morning and west in the evening during rush hour. You might as well avoid these routes altogether because you’ll be like a fish swimming upstream, and it’s really a struggle.
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This is a no-no when you and your family or friends are walking in a downtown urban area

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  • It’s great for our economy when groups of friends and large families decide to visit, but this isn’t “A Chorus Line.” Don’t take up the whole width of the sidewalk. This goes for families with lots of children too; keep your children close — for safety reasons too.
  • If you notice someone coming toward you is in a frantic hurry and trying to squeeze through the crowd, be nice: Part the way, let them by.
  • Have consideration for people carrying lots of bags. They’re not taking up that space to try to annoy you; they’d rather not be encumbered, but sometimes it happens. Now that one can buy groceries at Target downtown, more and more people are wielding several grocery bags.
  • It is not okay to bang into someone – or their bag(s) while you’re passing by; that’s rude.
  • Just because you walk fast doesn’t mean you’re a superior being. And if you walk slowly, that doesn’t give you the right to road hog.

Give a wide birth to those who are sitting. The city is crowded, but it’s no excuse to invade others’ personal space. For instance, many people like to enjoy lunch break sitting outdoors. Back off and allow them to claim a little patch of their own where they can sit in peace; it’s not just being considerate; it’s the civilized thing to do.

Next up: The continuation of this series on navigating urban areas on foot, with your safety and comfort in mind.

 

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