Urban Sea Kayaking-Chicago Skyline Tour

Urban Sea Kayaking-Chicago Skyline Tour

The Bloyd-Peshkins of the Chicago Area, (Oak Park) were kind enough to take off some time from their busy workday lives to take a Kalamazoo boy out and show him the Windy City Skyline. I did not pack my beloved Silhouette for fear of not being able to fit it into a parking garage. I borrowed a kayak from Alec. We parked under Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago to launch on the river. You know it’s urban paddling when there is a guy living in his car under an underpass next to the river. It seemed very Tom Waits, but with you know, neoprene and carbon fiber paddles.

The idea of urban paddling is funny. I think most of us dream of wide open spaces far from urban areas where we can run naked down a deserted beach singing dirty sea shanties at the top of our voices. Well ok, maybe there’s only a few of us that do this. *cough* But when confronted with the dense vertical oppression of a place like downtown Chicago, I found I liked it. The sensation of slipping between the Gibsonian (this phrase will catch on if I keep using it), concrete and steel interstitial gaps to drop an inuit craft in a river was somewhat dreamlike. It seemed like seeing Nausicaa’s glider floating through the toxic jungle.

We got the kayaks in on the river and paddled out to the locks. The river is ironically lower than the lake, so the locks bring boats up to the level of the lake. It is actually somewhat difficult to get the lock operator to open the gate for sea kayaks. Also, there is a bit of an ecological issue with the Lake being down of letting Lake Michigan water into the river. It’s probably not a good idea to let the lock open for boats in onesies and twosies, but for boats at specified times.

But we got lucky and they opened within a few minutes. Sea Kayakers have to paddle over to the far sea wall and hold onto the rope lest they be shouted at by the lock operator in an indecipherable radio squawk. The current is pretty underwhelming, so it seems silly to hold on, but hey it’s part of the experience. Once out of the lock you can see Navy Pier and the lighthouse guarding the channel along the break wall. Mist surrounded the Chicago skyline, everything stood out in stark contrast to the dimmed gray of the clouds and fine rain. It was great to see Navy Pier and all of the sky rise buildings from the water. Alec and Sharon were great guides and knew the names of most of the buildings, Alec told me about one of the buildings that was built to moor dirigibles, back in their heyday.

We paddled along the outer-break wall to the harbor for almost an hour. It was great fun and I could easily picture a stormy October day being great fun. With the Sears tower, and the Trump tower shrouded in mist and huge waves to surf along the reflected waves of the concrete piles.

Alec and I leaving Sharon off to go to work :(, paddled up the river. Alec described the sights and some of the buildings he has worked in as a cabinet maker as we paddled. We managed to dodge most of the water taxi traffic. The view from a kayak is quite spectacular. Everything seems to loom large above you. In some ways the city seems more alien from the water, you can’t see people, or cars, just the giant buildings. Chicago has some of the largest too, so that is saying something. I got a bicycle commuter freak-out when Alec and I paddled under a bridge and I heard a car horn, I paddled to the right instinctively like I do on my bike before I remembered that I was not in any very real danger of being hit by a car.

For any person in the mid-west I would recommend trying to paddle this skyline in fall when all the major boat traffic is gone. It’s hard to imagine the majesty of cliffs made of steel being cool. But I would do this again any time.

Sidenote, my Pentax Optio is taking a crap on me. I am thinking about getting an Olympus.