Sunday was the 31st annual North Shore Century ride and the day couldn’t have been more perfect.
There was a definite chill in the morning air as the first riders to arrive watched the sun rise over Lake Michigan. Those of us who live in the North Shore can witness this spectacle any day we choose. We can see the sun rising over the lake on our morning rides or commutes to work. But we normally don’t get to share the moment with hundreds of cyclists, strangers who become instant friends through a shared passion for life on two wheels.
In the mix of riders out there Sunday morning was Dylan Eyler. You may remember Dylan as the 10 year-old who rode a whopping 50 miles in the 2014 North Shore Century. This year, Dylan returned as an 11 year-old with the goal of surpassing his previous record and riding a metric century (62 miles).
My husband, Aaron, and I enjoyed riding with Dylan and his family last year, getting to experience an endurance ride through the eyes of a young rider and to witness the joy of his achievement. With that in mind, we set out Sunday morning a little bit behind Dylan and his father with the hopes of catching up with them at the first rest stop.
While we very much looked forward to sharing in young Dylan’s triumph, our ride also had just a tinge of the bittersweet. You see, my husband and I are leaving the Midwest to head for sunnier weather – and hills! The North Shore Century ride would be our “swan song” of sorts, a chance for us to make our final rounds through the streets where we first learned how to ride on the road, the “rules of the road,” how to ride in a group and where we’ve made so many friends along the way.
Fittingly, we set out with just the two of us. We went a little off course to hit the Skokie Valley Trail, a trail that we have ridden many times and used for training.
Affectionately known to locals as the “bunny trail” and to my 5x Ironman husband as the “endless loop,” the Skokie Valley Trail offers a 10-mile stretch of straight pavement with only a few interruptions. It’s a favorite of local triathletes in training. As such, my husband alone has probably worn through several inches of asphalt on that stretch.
When he first started training – and I was able to keep up! – I shared in many hours of his training on this trail. There were days we were out there in blazing heat (with no trees to offer cover). We also got caught out there in hail more than once!
After a brief stretch on the trail, we popped over to the first rest stop of the day. There we met up with Dylan and his father. By chance, we also met up with the one person (outside of family) I have probably known the longest in my life. Jeff and I grew up as family friends. (Our mothers were pregnant with us both at the same time.) We celebrated many holidays, graduations and other family events together throughout our lives.
It turns out that Jeff also developed a passion for cycling along the way. Now, here we were, 40-some years into our lives, and we run into each other at a rest stop at the North Shore Century! (See what an awesome sport this is?!)
Now, Aaron and I were no longer alone. We were in our own little peloton of five.
We ventured on, all five of us together, weaving and winding our way through the North Shore suburbs. Traversing roads that we are now well accustomed to, Jeff’s presence gave me a new appreciation of the sites that I too easily take for granted – and the same ones that we will soon miss:
Lake Michigan and its lurking presence always to the east. The amazing architecture and fantastic homes. Resilient Fort Sheridan. The gleaming Baha’i Temple.
Soon, we made it to the final rest stop of the day. There, we ran into more friends. We got a “good-bye” hug from Ruth-Anne, from of World Bicycle Relief, and another hug from David Simmons (a familiar bearded face to anyone who rides in or through the North Shore suburbs).
David joined us for the final stretch of the day back to Evanston. Our peloton now included six. As we made our way back through the familiar stretch, there was a point where I dropped back to take a look at our pack. Old friends and new. Veteran cyclists and a young cyclist about to complete his very first metric century ride.
Then it hit me.
Aaron and I started our ride with just the two of us, much the way we began our life in the North Shore and certainly the way we began our cycling careers. Many years and many miles later, here we were, surrounded by friends. I couldn’t think of a more fitting ending to our ride and to our time here in the northern suburbs.
The day really couldn’t have been more perfect.
Thank you to the North Shore Century organizers for giving us this opportunity to say good-bye. And a special thank you to all the Higher Gear Gearheads, North Shore cyclists and Chicagoland athletes who have received us, ridden with us and befriended us along the way!
In case you missed it:
Time is running out here in the Midwest. If you’re looking for some great riding before the cold weather hits, don’t miss: