Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ride Report: North Branch Trail

When I first moved to Chicago and started biking again regularly, my go-to long ride was an up-and-back on the Lakefront Path.  That is still a great ride (about 35-40 miles door to door, round trip), but the northern section of the Lakefront Path is overly crowded during the summer, even at early morning hours.

These days, when I don't want to think about where I'm going to ride, my go-to Saturday ride is Chicago's North Branch Trail.  A little less than 20 miles of paved trail through the wooded Cook County Forest Preserve, the trail loosely follows the North Branch of the Chicago River, winding its way north from N. Milwaukee and W. Devon Avenues, along the river and then meandering through the Skokie Lagoons until it reaches the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

In the Spring and Summer, the Trail is shaded and grants some relief from the heat, although the humidity can be just as bad or worse because of the river and lagoons.  It is a relatively wide, flat trial, with minimal street crossings and two overpass bridges (no dismount needed).  It is not a trail on which you can (or at least should) get up to racing speed, but is relatively fast given the well-paved surface and relatively low traffic level on weekend mornings.  You share the trail with other cyclists (mostly recreational bikers on hybrids, with the hard-core trainers sticking to the faster and less crowded streets), walkers and joggers (there seems to be an group stroll on Saturday mornings at about mid-trail for "older" Asian ladies and gentleman) and the occasional stroller and dog.  There is also a gravel horse path that parallels the trail, but I have seen very few horses in the numerous times I have ridden the trail.

Once you get to the top of the trail, you can access the Chicago Botanical Gardens by bicycle, but just the back/service roads, with almost all of the actual gardens being off limits for bike riders.  For a shorter, up-and-back morning ride, the Botanical Garden makes a good turnaround stop, with a nice bathroom/rest area with some vending machines, bike racks (although the racks are not well designed to work with U-Locks) and shaded benches on which to sit a spell and savor that Powerbar or energy gel at your leisure.  For longer rides, the Botanical Gardens makes a good jumping off point as well, with the Skokie Valley bike path and the Green Bay Trail/Robert McClory Bike Path only a few blocks to either side of the Garden's North entrance.

Up and back will give me 44 to 46 miles, depending on the exact path through the Skokie Lagoons taken.  This always seems a little short to me.  If I have time, I will jump up to the Skokie Valley Bike Path and then come back via the Green Bay Trail to the North Shore Channel Trail, which includes a sculpture garden.  This will bring in the ride at somewhere in the 65-70 mile range, and to my mind is just about the perfect length for a weekend ride.  But for those mornings when I did not get out the door early enough, an up and back to the Botanical Gardens is a good fit.

The only drawbacks to the North Branch Trail are typical for in-city trails in general.  The quickest route to the Milwaukee/Devon trailhead where I generally start is by Elston Avenue, which merges into Milwaukee a few blocks before the parking area for the trail on Devon Street.  Elston has a good, wide bike lane and is a fast street, especially if you can catch the right rhythm for the stop lights, but it is not what I would call aesthetically pleasing for the most part and can be traffic-heavy at times.  The other drawback is as I mentioned above - the North Branch is really a recreational trail, not a route for intensive training (if you are in to that sort of thing).  It's a little too crowded, too twisty (although that can be fun) and too narrow for riding much above 18mph, except in short bursts.  But since I rarely ride faster than that other than for short bursts, this is fine by me.

The best part of the North Branch Trail is how isolated parts of it can seem from the city.  You can really feel like you are riding through the wilderness in sections - especially if you are lucky enough to catch a family of deer in the early morning mist or get a glance of a river turtle sunning itself on a muddy bank.

Sunday Ride Stats (August 29, 2010):
North Branch Trail via Elston/Milwaukee (up-and-back)
Bike / Load: Trek 2.3 / high tail w/camera
Total Miles:  44.5
Ride Time:  2 hours, 42 minutes
Average Speed:  16.5 mph

Friday, August 27, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010


More Lo-Fi Fun: Lomo LC-A

Rose Hill Cemetery, Easter 2010 (expired Fuji 100 Superia, Lomo LC-A)
The pre-cursor to the current lo-fi/toy camera fascination was the rise of Lomography.  A (very deliberately and very skillfully created) little cult of enthusiasm built up around a cheap, plastic-lens, russian knock-off camera, the Lomo LC-A.  The LC-A first came out in the 1980s, but the "lomography" marketing juggernaught really didn't take until the 1990s.  The LC-A is a cheaply made camera - a plastic lens, which tends to create strong vingetting and softness or blurring; and a body that is prone to light leaks and unintentional double-exposures due to poor film winding.  LIke the later-hip Holga, however, the characteristics of the LC-A that would normally be considered drawbacks have become to be thought of as its strengths.
Lakeshore Path, June 2010 (expired Fuji Superia, Lomo LC-A)
The lens tends to create soft, saturated images, with strong vignettes and interesting tonal shifts in the way colors render.
Lake CTA Station, August 2010 (expired Fuji 100 Superia, Lomo LC-A)
The LC-A can actually be most interesting in low light photography.  The camera keeps the shutter open long enough to get a sufficient exposure.  This can result in some interesting blur effects.  This shot really doesn't show it, and I haven't had much luck with that style, but I have seen people produce some very cool night and low light shots with this camera.
Daley Center Fountain, August 2010 (expired Fuji Superia, Lomo LC-A)
Because the LC-A is small, its easy to carry around pretty much everywhere.  I often toss it into the camera bag with whatever main camera I'm taking.  I can't say that I'm ready to buy into the "don't think, just shoot" mentality put forth by the lomo cultists, but it's nice to have options, and the LC-A is a fun addition to any lo-fi camera collection.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ghost In The Machine

These were taken back in late April or early May of this year.  (Notice the trees are just beginning to bud out.)  This was the first pack of the ill-stored and expired 669 which I took out to experiment.  Blue cast is very strong and other colors are muted.  The odd developing streaks that you see on the left or top of the photos was on all of them.  When I changed to a new pack I cleaned the camera's rollers and that seemed to help, but it may have just been a quirk of that film pack.  The streaks actually work, I think, for some of these shots, giving them an ethereal, ghostly feel.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Boats In Morning Sun

More Polaroids.  These are a couple of the better ones from the same outing from the last two postings.  The one on top is my favorite and seems the most like the types of shots I used be able to expect from this film in the past.  Because the film is old, the colors tend to be extremely washed out.  This was taken in strong morning sun and the colors on the boats are actually much brighter and distinct in real life.  I like the effect achieved here, though.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

No Diving

Blatantly ripped off idea from Dottie @ LGRAB and Dream Camera (Polaroid Land 250,expired Polaroid 669)

Variation on the theme above, pumped up the colors a little in photoshop to try and compensate for the washed out nature of the expired film (Polaroid Land 250, expired Polaroid 669)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Everything Old . . .

 . . . is fodder for some hipster to decide its ironic and cool.  Case in point, "lo-fi" photography - film cameras, toy cameras, Polaroids, vintage cameras and all manner of unreliable, unpredictable and lower-quality image making devices.  Oh, and did I mention that now that digital is the ubiquitous choice of the masses, that these non-digital options are also more expensive than their shiny new brethren?  But hey, just because the hipsters like it doesn't necessarily mean that it isn't actually cool.  And some of this stuff is definitely cool.

Even in the age of instantly viewing your shot on your camera's digital screen (don't deny it, everybody chimps), there is just something inherently fascinating about watching the picture slowly come up, or the anticipation of that moment before you peel back the developing layer to see what the camera made out of the image you framed in the viewfinder 60 second before.  Call it the triumph of chemicals over pixels.

I caught the Polaroid bug very late.  I picked up an old Land 250 just in time for Polaroid to announce it would be discontinuing the manufacture of all compatible films (and then only a bit later picked up an SX-70 with similar results).  But I instantly fell in love with the camera.  It was a sort of "where have you been all my life" moment.  I still love, and predominantly shoot, digital, but also love to bust out one of my Polaroids now and then to change things up.  An expedition with a Polaroid is a much different affair than with digital, or even regular 35mm film.  Where I might take 100 shots (or much more) on a day outing with my 40D, a prolific day out with the Polaroid will involve pressing the shutter 10 to 20 times, at most. Setting aside the cost of the film, the process itself is just much more involved, and you are forced to slow down, pre-visualize your shots and be more selective about when and what to shoot.  Add in the fact of expired film that isn't working quite as well or in the same manner as fresh film would, and it the day becomes an act of experimentation.

I have a box of unused Polaroid films that I have been sitting on.  This includes some color and black and white film for my Land 250 (authentic 669 and 667), some Spectra/600 packs, and a couple of very rare packs of the last Polaroid SX-70 blend film.  I also have some packs of the newer Polaroid films produced by the Impossible Project (http://www.the-impossible-project.com/), which is the only place that I know of that you can get new film for that SX-70 you might have hanging around in a drawer somewhere.

The film isn't getting any fresher sitting in the box, so I have been making a point of shooting more Polaroids lately.  The 669 color film seems to have faired the worst, but you do get some interesting effects.  I'll be posting more (and better) results from my renewed experiments with these films soon.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Slowest Drawbridge In The World

"The Even Longer Way Home" - Chicago River Bridge, Lakeshore Drive
Or it least it seemed that way at we all sat there waiting in 90 degree heat while being feasted on by a veritable horde of mosquitos.  I've never been caught by this bridge before, and wasn't really sure why it had been drawn up in the first place.  As far as I could seen none of the boats coming in or out were tall enough to worry about.
Getting past the accumulated pack of walkers once it went up was an additional treat.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Apparently, I Am A Pawn Of A UN Conspiracy

TMP: Bike Love Is A U.N. Plot 
In which I am thoroughly depressed as to how what was once the lunatic-fringe right has somehow moved solidly into the party mainstream.  How do these people manage to dress themselves in the morning?  I mean, seriously.  W.T.F.?