By Michael McColly
For me, summer in Chicago has become the season to hike. I don’t mean a stroll through Grant Park or a long walk home from the bar after a breakup. I mean a purposeful pilgrimage across the city. I’m talking about urban hiking. For years, as a hiker and fitness freak, I packed my gear and headed west or east to the mountains of Appalachia to get my nature fix and break free from the city. But after a walking tour of the UK, where people walk everywhere and trails link city to country to coast, I came home and looked out at this vast metropolis and asked myself: why can’t I hike here? A few weeks later, I walked to the Indiana Dunes from Rogers Park, and I’m discovering you can walk anywhere with a good pair of shoes, an adventuresome spirit and the willingness to break old ways of seeing urban landscapes.
The key to urban walking is distance. A three- or five-mile walk won’t do. You have to push beyond your idea of how far is far. You have to treat the hike as if it were a new place, a wilderness of another sort. I have a few rules: no car, no cell phones, no soundtrack to distract you, but, sure, bring a small camera or notebook. This is all about exploring how perception changes when you slow down and look at the landscape at the pace generated by nothing more than your own muscles and will.
Here are a few of my favorite hikes. Living in Rogers Park I’ve explored all three directions, south, north and west. But the joy of this form of recreation is to make your own pilgrimages. Read the rest of this entry »
By David Witter
Nelson Algren bought his beach cottage in Miller, Indiana in 1950, partially from the proceeds from the film rights to “The Man with a Golden Arm.” I was born on Juniper Street, across the Calumet Lagoon from his cottage a few years after Algren had left. However, tales of the man whom many consider to be Chicago’s greatest writer have echoed through my family gatherings ever since.
In a way, a lot has changed in Miller since Algren and Simone de Beauvoir drank, swam, hiked, made love, wrote and enjoyed the dunes area just east of Gary only forty-five minutes from downtown Chicago. Yet a lot has stayed the same, and it is not hard for Chicagoans to spend a summer afternoon retracing the steps of Algren in Miller. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a picture on my dresser of a nondescript dirt path, leading to an unidentifiable footbridge, which crosses a thin, nameless stream, then continues on toward a rising set of foothills and beyond. I don’t remember where the picture was taken, but that hasn’t mattered for a very long time. The snapshot’s there simply to remind me of a search that can only occur outdoors. The goal, when there is something that finite, is often as simple as physical exertion or discovering where certain paths lead. I also know people who believe that things such as sandstone outcroppings, tall prairie cordgrass and stands of eastern red cedar trees represent our most intense connection to a spiritual life, and that nature gives off a rejuvenating energy; so they hike back into the wilderness or tramp through the dunes to recharge and become whole. Read the rest of this entry »