Cycling the Winter Lakefront Labyrinth

On a winter night, cycling along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail feels like embarking on a strange expedition, a la Labyrinth. Some areas are totally blocked off due to overwhelming ice accumulation, forcing bikes onto nearby dirt paths or streets; some areas have massive chunks of pavement missing, pulled out by the force of lake waves; some areas are especially dark and foggy, eerie as you look out to the blackness of the horizon. If I listen to David Bowie on my iPod as I ride along, the only effects missing are grotesque muppets with British accents.

During my first winter cycling, I rode the Lakefront Trail nearly every night. Last winter, with a new office further from the lake, I used the trail much less. This winter, yesterday’s ride was only my second time commuting along the trail. Nowadays, taking relatively quiet secondary streets that go straight home is a more attractive proposition than the out-of-the-way trail.

But sometimes the car-free environment, along with the moody mood, is too much to resist, even when the ride takes twice as long.

That’s when I cycle the Lakefront and I always enjoy the distinctive experience.

  • danielle

    Hi! I just found your blog and I am loving it! I am living in the Netherlands now and I love riding my bike everywhere and I have been thinking about how to continue to ride a bike as transportation when I get back to the states. Reading about you riding your bike in Chicago is making me really excited about riding when I come home, although less excited about the hills!

    • Dottie

      Hi Danielle, That’s great to hear. I would love to ride in the Netherlands sometime. I hope you’re able to transition smoothly to riding in the States.

  • Cameron

    What an unique convergence of city cycling and finding one’s photographic style. Kudos to your snowfence undulating musically across the icy bleakscape. Someone (from Magnum?) once remarked that if a photograph is a two-dimensional abstraction of our three-dimensional world, then why not take one more step away from it by removing the color. Grey scale renderings free us from that distraction to concentrate on organization of forms.

    • Dottie

      I like that. I’m slowly learning through trial and error what forms look good standing alone without color.

  • Julie

    Love the b&w photos! I use to do film photography until I got allergic to being even near the developing chemicals. Digital isn’t the same – I don’t like working in photoshop and computer printing. I still try to bring all those film skills to my digital pix (even snap shots). There is something about only having a few pix per roll that make you think more about the shot before you click.
    Anyway, I have a question about the upload of the film images. Are you scanning negatives or prints? On my computer it looks like each picture has the full range of tones (pure black, pure white, and the greys). Unfortunately on my computer it is toning down the blackest to a very dark grey and the whitest to a very pale grey. Not sure if I am explaining this well. Anyway, I was wondering if that was an issue with the upload or a digital rendering.

    • Dottie

      I’m scanning the negatives with a film scanner. Most of the whites on my screen have a hint of grey, but the blacks are black.

  • Lovely Bicycle!

    Too bad about the interruptions and detours. Still, I think it’s great that they plow it in the winter and keep it lit after dark. That makes all the difference between something being a commuter trail, as opposed to not useful at all.

    • Dottie

      Absolutely, I am very grateful for the plowing and lighting.

  • Jason

    Your photos make Chicago winter cycling look dreamy, and your site was one of my motivations and research sources in getting my own Workcycles Oma. I had her briefly, but alas, she is now lost somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of the Dutch Bike Co. Seattle management. Please pedal some good luck my way that I will ride my Oma again soon! Keep shooting those great photos.

    • Dottie

      That’s so nice to hear! I hope you get your Oma back soon. What’s the deal?

  • Dave

    Heh, hopefully it doesn’t have the bog of eternal stench either :)

    I’m finding I have to pick specific routes to travel right now, because there is so much sewer work going on in the city that if I just meander randomly, I’m almost guaranteed to run into it and have to detour and/or ride through a kind of sketchy situation with debris all over the road, metal plates, etc. That and the new streetcar installations are making things interesting.

    • Dottie

      It sort of has a bog, where the main path is iced over and I have to detour to a muddy side path, but the stench is not so bad. :)

  • Trisha

    Wow, you think that the path is CLOSED? Sign overkill!

    • Dottie

      Ha, yeah, really.

  • SM

    I can relate to the feeling of wanting to step back and experience the car-free environment once in awhile. The path seems to be a welcoming friend to you and your bike, in terms of acceptance, and complete riding freedom. Where as the car environment offers more challenge. Your photographs captures the moody mood nicely.

    • Dottie

      Yeah, not worrying about cars is a beautiful freedom.

  • NancyB

    I look forward to your B&W photography too. When I was a kid my older brother and I used to develop the pictures we took on my dad’s manual Canon SLR in our basement. My first camera and my first developing was a pinhole camera for the science fair.

    • Dottie

      That’s cool. I’d love to try a pinhole camera one day. I hear they’re pretty easy to make.

  • Maureen

    Your photos capture the mood of dusk on a winter’s evening! They are so delightful! TFS!

  • Karen Voyer-Caravona

    Dramatic, stark shots.

  • adventure!

    I really love the look and feel of this film b&w shots. The word “etheral” comes to mind, esp. that shot of Hancock and The Drake. Beautiful stuff!

  • Kelly

    What a gorgeous frame.
    You also captured frigid Chicago quite well.

    • Kelly

      Also makes me want to go for a ride, despite it being 1AM..

  • Carolyn I.

    I love the B&W shots, it adds so much mood to the photographs. I love shooting with B&W.

    I don’t think that you could miss that the bike path is CLOSED in this section. I guess that they must make sure no one misses that. There are many people who can’t seem to read signs, no matter how simple they are. I wonder though if there are any that still bike on it despite the amount of signage, that either can’t read, or don’t care.

    • Dottie

      Some people still go through the trail in that stretch, although it’s covered with ice and snow. Sometimes I go through, depending on the condition of the dirt (i.e. mud) path that is parallel.

  • Nicole

    That’s some great pics! Love your blog :)

  • Liz

    Even in N. FL we have had 20 degree weather. It’s dark right around 6 pm. I keep one bike for night riding as I do like it, though I have to be extra careful of my route and everything around me. Thanks for the surreal photos. I love your dedication to cycling.

  • Gram Bev

    I’d like to live in Chicago. I never realized what a great place it was before you girls had this blog. XX, Gram

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