95 miles - Total: 913 miles
I left Windy City with an unprecedented and most delightful tailwind which pushed me all the way along the Western Coast of Lake Michigan to Milwaukee. I am in Wisconsin, the ninth state of my journey.
I am on the road pretty early to stay ahead of the weather as the forecast predicts rain in the afternoon. The day starts bright and sunny. I am itching to get back on the bike after a day and a half of rest. Has the prolonged rest messed up my rhythm? I am keen to get going again, I don't want my legs to get sloppy. After a plentiful breakfast I hit the road northbound through the "Magnificent Mile". I smile as I think about the contrast between rural areas when I have long stretches of complete solitude and this populated affluent setting where traffic and people dictate my movement. The Mile is a place for the glamorous, glitzy and tourist mobs. Riding by the tall downtown buildings, next to the beach and amongst the Chicago joggers and cyclists is exhilarating. I feel like I am one of them, my morning ride does not feel like a cross country bike ride and yet, I alone know where I am going: Vancouver.
The area often referred to as North Chicago is quite something from the rest of the city and a stark contrast to the world of South Chicago. Today I ride through a completely different dimension to what I witnessed when I came in the other day. Comparisons cannot be made here, the top and the bottom are extremes of the same scale. The disproportions of capitalism find its paradigm here. The North Shore is an extremely wealthy area dotted with ridiculously luxurious mansions and lakefront properties and expensive cars and neat driveways and lawns. This is the Orange County of Middle America, a rich slice of California reproduced and possibly enhanced. While I feel emotionally detached from these surroundings, I must admit that cycling here is an absolute pleasure, a hassle-free and enjoyable ride among tree-lined streets perfectly paved and with disciplined traffic. Dozens, maybe hundreds of other cyclists use the streets, it is the first time in my life that I have come across so many bikers. The route I take is the bike trail from the Loop which then becomes the Green Bay Trail. I follow it for a bit but soon enough I grow tired of it and judging by the favorable wind I decide that I should take advantage so I could finish early today. I am in highway mood and I continue along route 32. The road isn't in perfect conditions so I spend time focusing on the many cracks that run through the road surface. I zigzag my way with my front wheel in between holes and craks and despite the careful riding I am flying through the miles. It must have been the new chain and cassette installed yesterday, or the tailwind, or the day of rest or even the good food of Chicago, whatever it is I make great progress to Milwaukee where I arrive at around 3pm. A very short day by my standards.
I take a quick stroll around downtown. Milwaukee is not what you would immediately call a warm, welcoming town but it is not hostile and butch either. It seems like a town in transition, with a difficult past and an interesting and creative present. You get the feeling that it is doing its best to attract visitors from the better looking sister city, which is really the crown jewel of Lake Michigan. Milwaukee puts its best foot forward and it almost manages to impress with its hilly wide downtown streets. The Third Ward historic district, a smaller version of the meatpacking district in Manhattan, all redone with restaurants and bars is a clear reminder of the hectic harbor commercial activity which has seen better days. Several cold storage buildings are empty and sit unused. As I cycle through the district I think that these buildings would make wonderful lofts. The city is undergoing a spatial transformation with some green spaces and cultural areas as top priorities in its urban planning. With a lakefront the city has a pleasant lake front walk which snakes among a wide park and a few museums. But leave the downtown area and the city shows its scars. Data reveal that it is one of the poorest urban areas in America. Another bit of trivia, Milwaukee was the socialist capital of the US with the highest amount of votes for the Socialist party. Poor and socialist: is there any correlation between the two? Not as pivotal as Chicago but Milwaukee has had its fair share of immigration, with a lot of Europeans settling in and around the harbor. Even before then, before the West was explored and settled, Wisconsin was considered the new frontier. The area was extremely attractive as the huge water resources make it a fertile ground. Along the Lake I passed through the unattractive town of Kenosha, where a sizable Italian immigration wave settled. Some signs of this are still visible in the shape of a few Italian restaurants but nothing else.
It was pretty cool to ride along the Lake today; it is massive, it really looks like an ocean, its waters deep, and heavy. I noticed some swimmers timidly milling around the shore but nobody dared to swim afar as the waters seem cold and menacing. Several time I had the instinct to stop cycling, strip naked and go for a swim but I resisted the temptation.
Cycling along the lake has been a nice break from the rural America which has taken center stage since Day 1. Tomorrow I leave the shores of the Lake Michigan and I go North West into some less populated areas; this is the real deal. Now that I know I am healthy I am confident that I can go for it, I can go for Vancouver. Now the real journey begins. I will be exposed to the elements and the wind. Bring it on!
From the trail just north of the Loop
This is where the wealthy live in North Chicago
Orange County of the East
Pristine North Shore
The Green Bay Trail out of North Chicago
Entering Wisconsin, note the abandoned piece of furniture by the side of the road
It is not the sea but the shore of Lake Michigan
Coming into Milwaukee from the South
The tough side of South Milwaukee
In the Third Ward District, the name used to be Gennaro, of course..
Thrid Ward District, Milwaukee