The Chicago River is black. VERY black at night. I stood at the rail on the pier, my life vest securely fastened and stared at the River. I had agreed to join a friend, Jean, to go kayaking on the Chicago River this Saturday night to watch the Navy Pier fireworks. The closer the day came, the more I checked the weather report, hoping for rain. I have canoed a glacier lake near Banff, Canada: kayaked in Key West and somewhere off the California coast near Camarilla, but not on a river, let alone one as busy as the Chicago River. And not at night.
Jean had booked us with Waterides https://wateriders.com/. Our email said to be at the dock at 8:15 pm for lessons and then we were to depart at 8:47. By this time of the year, it is dark by 8:30, especially in a city where the tall buildings hide the sun even before official sunset, or even what one friend of mine calls ‘naval sun down’ (when there is no longer even a glow from the sun). Parking directions indicated we were to park at a garage near the East Bank Club, then go through the lobby of the Club (stopping for a last chance at the bathrooms) and then wend our way outside, to the right of the club where we would find steps down to the River Walk and the pier, just north of the Kinzie Street Bridge.
We followed the directions and found ourselves in a dim but sufficiently lit area along the River, A BLACK river. We signed away our lives, swearing we would not hold the company liable if something happened to us; traded our purses, which they stored securely in a closet, for dry bags for our phones; found our life vests (mine actually fit me); and then picked up our paddles.
The group was growing larger.
Eventually there were 42 kayaks in our tour. Jean and I could probably have been the grandparents of most of those out there. A few couples looked like they might be in their late forties or early fifties but we were definitely the oldest ones there by at least a score of years.
A 15 minute safety lecture by one of the guides and we lined up for the boats. The heaviest person in the rear, Jean climbed into the stern. The guides helped us in, made sure we were settled correctly, and sent us off about 100 ft down river where we waited until the whole group arrived.
Just like riding a bike, it comes back. Jean and I had gone kayaking somewhere up in Skokie a year or two before, and we paddled off, sliding in with the group as if we’d…