The difficult year that is and was 2020 is well document. The Coronavirus Pandemic has touched every facet of our lives and made an indelible impression on all that are living through it. Everyone has been impacted in one way or another with some sort of cancellation or postponement. At least we can still enjoy a Chicago River Christmas paddle and end the year on a positive note with one last outdoor adventure.
Friends of the Chicago River embark on a Chicago River Christmas paddle
Five canoes and two kayaks embarked from the REI access point just south of North Avenue for a three hour Chicago River Christmas paddle. We paddled south to Wolf Point and then to the State Street Bridge. The weather cooperated, and we set off on December 27th with a balmy 45-degree temperature. Once it got dark the mercury plummeted into the 30s, but we were well prepared for the cold.
We are volunteer canoe guides with the Friends of the Chicago River. We had an abbreviated season this year, so many of us had not seen each other all year. Besides our guided trips, we usually go on at least one outside trip together. This year that did not take place for most of us, so we were excited to paddle at least once together this year.
Related: Bad etiquette on the Wisconsin River
Put-in at REI
I pulled into the access point by the new REI store to see several canoes queued up and ready to be walked down along with several people milling about in masks. I did not recognize anyone in the masks. Musky Marv welcomed me, and I told him I was not sure it was the right group. He replied, “what other crazies would be out here canoeing today?” Good point.
I extended my hand and then we exchanged a Covid handshake. A Covid handshake is when two people extend a handshake and then one or both parties remember that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Then one or both parties remove the handshake invitation. An awkward fist or shoulder bump ensues.
Festive lights for the Chicago River Christmas paddle
I joined fellow guide Deb in her canoe, which was strung with Christmas lights around the gunnels. Additional Christmas lights dangled from a pole in both the bow and stern that went over our heads. Each boat had its own style of decorating for Christmas. For example, Russ’s canoe had large Christmas bulbs hung from the front and back. Marv even brought a blue tooth speaker to play Christmas carols.
Enjoying the downtown lights
We started paddling at 4 p.m., so we had some light initially. Darkness comes quickly when you paddle near the winter solstice. By the time we reached the Chicago Street Bridge, it was completely dark. The lights from downtown illuminated the waters. I brought a headlamp, but I don’t think I turned it on once. While we experienced some stretches of wind, most of the time the river was a sheet of glass.
As we approached the Chicago Riverwalk, we became part of the Christmas spectacle. People out for an evening stroll recorded us on their cell phones. They probably added this script to their Instagram stories, “check out these lunatics paddling in 30-degree temperatures at night.” There was very few people out and about downtown. Usually, during the Christmas season, the River North and downtown area are packed with visitors and locals alike.
Every paddle is precious
Every single person has been touched by the Pandemic and had something canceled this year. I was scheduled to ski the Norwegian Birkebeiner and spend two weeks in that beautiful country. This ski race was canceled and soon after all countries closed their borders. Then I had booked an April paddle to the Okefenokee Swamp. The National Forest Service soon thereafter canceled all bookings. These sacrifices and disturbances pale in comparison to what many people have endured.
Since so much was taken from us in 2020, it felt good to be able to plan and execute one last outdoor group outing this year. It was like our middle finger to the year. Screw you 2020, you cannot take everything from us. Now that we were able to have one last fling before it gets really cold, we can hunker down and wait for spring before our next group get together.
Moonrise over the Chicago River
We soaked in the beautiful downtown lights as we went under the State Street Bridge. Marina City Towers rose to our left. It was a feast for the eyes that have seen too much zoom chats and Netflix of late. Just when we thought it could not get any better, the moon rose over the skyline.
End of the Chicago River Christmas paddle
After we had our fill of the downtown lights, we turned around and headed back for REI. Soon the dock came into view, and we carried the canoes up the loading zone and took down the Christmas lights. At least we extended Christmas for a few more days and enjoyed each other’s company one last time in 2020. We headed to our mutual cars and bubbles as we waved goodbye to friends we would not see until the weather warmed back up.
More Traveling Ted posts from the Chicago River: