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Another Cyclist’s Tale of Watery Peril on the Lakefront

The Lakefront Trail near Chicago Avenue. Image: Google Street View

Recently I reported on how in September local bicyclist Stephanie Brenan slipped on wet algae near near the Adler Planetarium and broke her arm, and that other local cyclists had experienced similar spills, leading the Chicago Park District to take measures to improve safety in the area. In the wake of that article, Chicago native George Brannen, now a retiree living in Seattle, contacted us with his own story of a lakefront misadventure during a recent visit, which I thought might be of interest to our readers. -JG

Last April I very much enjoyed a bike tour of Chicago I took with about a dozen other visitors -- many from other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Germany (I think), and other countries. Having six generations of family presence in Chicago binds me to this magnificent city, though I’ve lived in Seattle for nearly 50 years.

Near the end of the trip we cruised along the lakefront with a fine tailwind. Near Chicago Avenue, I seemed to catch a disruption in the cement, a frost heave, which torqued my steering in such a way that I found myself in the lake with the bicycle. I believe I was about 10-15 feet out making my way toward “shore,” which was a cement wall, a few feet high. As I drifted towards the wall, an impressive wave surge hit the wall and pulled me back away from shore.

Initially I saw the two Australian women waiting to grab my arms when I could reach the wall. At that point I realized that my weight, the pull of the surge, my layers of wet clothing, and the wall would make it difficult to pull me out of the lake. I looked for a ladder, but there was none nearby. I admit to being very frightened at this point.

Other members of the group swarmed to my rescue, and were finally eventually able to extract me. The Australian women later told me that the tireless efforts of a Brazilian man who was with us seemed to make all the difference. There were others too. These actions clearly put the rescuers at risk, as the waves were washing upon the cement bank, and certainly they must have gotten quite wet.

The very selfless efforts and kindness shown causes me to reflect. Initially feelings of humiliation and embarrassment prevailed, and then awareness arose that my rescue depended on multiple persons from other lands putting aside their own safety and comfort to commit to a lifesaving challenge. Thanks to the quick thinking of these people from other lands, I am alive and well, and I'll never forget this experience -- it was a timely reminder of the importance our global community.

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