Chicago – Day 1: Sunday

I woke in Kalamazoo at 5am, still not over the jet-lag. I could see packing the bike every morning was going to be a pain, but once it was done, the Trooper and I hit the road again.

I’d bagged my first state – Michigan – yesterday. Today I would bag two more – Indiana and Illinois.

We headed down the I-94 again, and stopped for breakfast in Michigan City, which is actually in Indiana not Michigan. After breakfast, it began to rain and I had to pull on my waterproofs as I was leaving. I hate riding in the rain – which probably has something to do with me taking a tumble on a wet drain cover last year in Edinburgh. But after all the heat, the rain was refreshing.

The rain followed me nearly all the way to Chicago, but cleared just as I approached the city, and I’m glad it did. The Chicago skyline is impressive – if I hadn’t been on a bike on the middle of the interstate, I’d have stopped for a photo.

Chicago Skyline

Chicago Skyline as you approach by road

I managed to navigate my way into the west of the city, and cut north toward Lincoln Park. I’d booked the Days Inn near the park from Kalamazoo, on the recommendation of both my guide books. I’m glad I’d picked up that lap-top – internet access was proving useful for much more than blogging.

I spent the next hour riding around in decreasing circles, asking for directions as I went, until I homed in on Diversey Parkway and the Days Inn. I hadn’t yet managed to pick up a detailed city map but decided that that ought to be a priority for all other cities I visited. I was still determined not to use GPS on this trip.

Max had given me the number of his friend, Jason, but I still only had my UK mobile/cell phone with me. My plan was to get a US prepaid phone as soon as I could. It was going to be expensive with the call roaming, but I called Jason from my UK phone. I tried 3 or 4 times, but it keep ringing out, and Jason couldn’t call me back because his phone wasn’t enabled for international calls. It seemed like I might not be meeting up with him after all.

I fired up the lap-top to find out where Wicker Park was on Google maps. Max was online and had sent me a message asking if I’d made contact with Jason. About a dozen messages and phone calls later, with Max sitting in the UK acting as middle man, I managed to make contact with Jason, who was only a few miles away from me.

We arranged to meet at the Tavern right near Wicker Park and off I set on foot – I figured I might have a few beers, so the Trooper was safer in the public parking where I had left him. Getting over to Wicker Park was more of a hike than I expected. I arrived just in time, but very hot. Jason was waiting, instantly recognisable with his beard and long hair. The first cold one went down way to easy. I needed another, and Jason joined me.

Jason is a cool dude and a really friendly, warm guy. I thought I’d like Max’s friends, and I did. He’s currently doing some acting and working on security at the Metro, one of Chicago’s hottest music venues. He and Max go back a long way – they knew each other at college and later played in a punk band together. Jason certainly had a lot of tales about Max – even I was surprised by some of them. I doubt Max would thank me for repeating them here, so I’ll won’t.

Me and Jason at the Wicker Park Fest

The Wicker Park Fest was a cool affair. They had closed off a few streets, and had the festival in the middle of these streets. All the shops and bars were open, as were dozens of street vendors. It cost a $5 “donation” to get in.

At both ends of the main street, and on a central side street, stages had been set up and bands were playing throughout the afternoon and evening. The bands weren’t really my cup of tea, but they were entertaining enough to watch for a while.

The North Stage at the Wicker Park Fest From ChicagoMilwaukee

Jason and I wandered around the Fest, every so often buying more beer. I checked out one of the local tattoo studios. There were about 8 artists working there, but only 2 of them came anywhere within a mile of Erik and Alex. If that’s the best American tattooists offer, then nobody is touching me with ink until I get back to Tribe in Edinburgh.

Me, Jason and friend at the Wicker Park Fest From ChicagoMilwaukee

Around 8.30pm, the jet lag kicked in and I had to excuse myself and leave Jason at the Fest, but before I left Jason offered to meet up with me a couple of days later and show me around the city more.

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