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Posts Tagged ‘lakefront trail’

Appreciating life

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

photo 1Chicago’s lakefront trail is most dynamic on Saturday mornings from spring through the fall. If you are up early and get to the trail, you will feel the pulse of the city right there. I have seen and participated in various activities in one form or another many times, yet I find myself deeply moved each time I am back on the trail, and feel very fortunate to be part of it—living, embracing, and appreciating life to the fullest.

On a Saturday a few weeks ago when the weather was still very warm, I rode my bike north on the trail after my early morning swim. I encountered many people running along the trail, some in groups, and others solo. Perspiration dripped from their back and arms, giving their skin a healthy and radiant glow.  As I passed them, admiring their strength and spirit, I noticed a young father pushing a baby stroller ahead of him as he ran. Despite the extra weight, he was going at a good pace. I raised my thumb on the handlebar.

photo 3I was happy to see more people were using the blue Divvy bikes, the Chicago bike sharing system, on the trail. The front and back lights on the bikes flashed in white and red as if to render a friendly greeting.

The trail got more crowded as I moved north. Once I passed Grand Avenue, the mile-long swimming section along the raised concrete sidewalk came into view. There were quite a few people in the water swimming long distance, with the majority wearing wetsuits.  I slowed down, watching their arms alternating in and out of the water and admiring the power and speed of these strong swimmers, both men and women.

photo 5As I turned the curve and headed toward the Oak Street underpass, I saw many people playing sand volleyball. They all looked young, nicely tanned by the summer sun, and healthy. Right off the sandy beach, children and adults were enjoying themselves on the beach.

Everywhere I looked, I saw the joy of activities and movements. It was the beauty of life at its best.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into a feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May 2014

Summer in Chicago

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Lakefront trail

Lakefront trail

Summer is always my most favorite season in Chicago. Besides all the outdoor concerts, sports venues, and other events, what I like to do most is biking along the lakefront trail or swimming in the Lake.

Biking always starts earlier. This year, I was out on the trail since late April when the air was still chilly and patches of snow were still blocking some segments of the trail. In less than a month, I watched the trees turn color, the leaves emerge, and all of a sudden, the budding flowers cover the entire trees with brilliant yellow, red, white, or pink. The long trail was filled with a sweet, intoxicating fragrance. Depending on the weather, I either rode my Trek hybrid, which has thicker tires, or my Cannondale road bike, light and fast.

Flowers in early spring

Flowers in early spring

I started noticing swimmers with wetsuits in the Lake in early June, at a stretch between Grand and Chicago Avenue. Despite the extra protection, I bet their exposed limbs and face would feel the bite of the icy water, like being stung by jellyfish. I admired and envied them, but stayed away. Then one day in mid June, I saw two men swimming in their regular swim trunks. “Yeah!” I hailed as I sped by on my bike.

I didn’t plunge in until late June. To my pleasant surprise, the water was not as cold as I expected, and I was able to swim for 45 minutes. I felt like kicking myself for not getting into the water earlier. But the warm water didn’t stay for long. The next day when I went back, I felt the change of temperature the moment I stepped in. It must be below 60 degrees. I managed to swim for 30 minutes and rushed back to take a long, hot shower. But I went to swim in the lake every day, enjoying the amazing energy the live water was able to give me. It is definitely worth the challenge of the cold.

For those of you who haven’t tried swimming in the lake, I strongly recommend taking a plunge. It’s magically refreshing and energizing. I hope you’ll love the experience as much as I. So blessed to have the vast lake nearby.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. The film was on national PBS in May, 2014.


A new perspective on Lake Michigan

Thursday, August 15th, 2013
English: Chicago Lake front bike trail

English: Chicago Lake front bike trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been riding my bike along the lakefront trail in Chicago for the last seven years from spring to late fall, averaging about 60 miles or so a week. I marvel at the brilliant reflection of sunrise on the lake, the green, gray or blue color of the water each time I take a look from a different angle or location, and the rocks and beaches along the lake that receive the thrashing water as if eager to embrace it.

It was not about a month ago that I began swimming in the lake that I got a different perspective on it.

One experience in Lake Michigan back in 2007 when I was doing a writer’s residency at Ragdale in Lake Forest shunned me away from the lake until recently. I remember joining a couple of fellow writers to swim in lake. It was a hot summer. During the July 4th weekend when I was there, temperature reached 91 degrees. I was taken by surprise by the icy cold water. I kicked and pushed as hard as I could but couldn’t stop shivering. I ran out of the lake in less than 20 minutes and never ventured back again.

English: Map of Lake Michigan. Category:Michig...

English: Map of Lake Michigan. Category:Michigan maps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A friend of mine recently told me how much he enjoyed an early morning swim in the lake, saying the water was warm. A lover of outdoor activities, I decided to give it another try. How glad I was when I realized what he said was true: the water was warm and nice. More, the lake water seems to have so much more vigor and life that I felt energized ten times more compared to my swimming in the heated pool of my building. I was immediately hooked and went back to the lake the next day and the next.

I was lucky that my first couple of days in the lake the water was calm and warm. On my third day, the lake turned choppy, but I managed doing my route, finding it challenging but fun. I got bolder and dived into the lake the following day when a stronger wind created waves in the water. I got disoriented twice and felt as if I was rocking with waves the rest of the day when I was working at my desk. I got a taste of the power of the lake.

Since then, when I ride my bike first thing in the morning along the trail, I begin to pay attention to the movement of the water in the lake. The peaceful ripples feel like an invitation to the lake, and the choppy churning, a warning. When waves push one after another until they crash forcefully on the shore, I know better not to step into the water.

It takes a lot more concentration and strength swimming in the lake. I’ve learned to flow with the waves, cautious and sometimes a little fearful; I’ve learned to appreciate the calmness when I can do backstroke; and I’ve learned not to panic when I chock on a gush of water. Wearing a pair of goggles, I look down deep into the lake. On a day when the water is clear, I can see long stretching plants wavering in certain areas, and when the water murky, I sense the mystery and power underneath. Because I swim early in the morning, long before the lifeguard comes on duty, I’m always alert and welcome the sighting of another swimmer in the water or any jogger or cyclist on shore.

A guy by the name of Frank has become a familiar sight, but he swims way out at the edge of the circled swim area. I also get to know a gentleman named Larry, who, on a wavy day, volunteered as my lifeguard. There is a fisherman standing on the edge of a concrete platform every day. From a distance, he looks like a statue against the rising run, but provides me with a level of comfort nevertheless.

To touch the water, feel the power of the lake, and be energized by it certainly give me another perspective on the lake and a deeper level of appreciation and awe for it. Try swimming in the lake if you haven’t done so. You, like me, will realize what you have missed and will enjoy the wonder that the mighty lake provides.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary movie by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit for more information.

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Mulberry Tree

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Mulberry Tree

I’ve been riding my bike along the Michigan lakefront trail from Museum Park by Roosevelt to the 63rd Street Park since early spring. It’s a beautiful route: starting by the Field Museum, going around Shedd Aquarium, passing behind the McCormick Place…. The trail extends for miles and miles. On the east side is the vast body of water, like an ocean, reaching into horizon. Its color turns blue, green or gray depending on the time of the day and the weather. It’s never the same. On the immediate west: trees, grass, and flowers, and then the stream of cars, buzzing on Lakeshore Drive. The scene is never the same either. I hit the trail two or three times a week, marveling at the ever changing sights and enjoying the view. Magnificent!

Last Thursday, I got on the trail later than usual and stopped at the park close to 53rd street. As I put my bike beside a bench and stretched before turning back, I noticed purple spots of stains on the paved trail. My heart skipped a beat. I looked up and could hardly believe my eyes: a huge mulberry tree arching over me, beckoning in the breeze. Only a few berries were left on the branches, which explained the stains on the ground. I looked around and found another one next to it, and then, across from the trail, yet another one. For some reason, this mulberry tree was the only one still being covered with large, dark berries! I was thrilled. I couldn’t believe I had missed them all this time.


And more berries!

I went back with my camera the next day in mid afternoon when the sun was shining. The golden beam made the dark green leaves and purple berries sparkle in midair. I touched them, gently and carefully, thinking of the five mulberry trees of my childhood. These trees were much larger and healthier. As I took photos from different angles, my mind was racing with childhood memories and my mouth watering for these lustrous berries. I was overwhelmed with joy and excitement.

I knew then and there: mulberry tree, which had played a significant role in my childhood, would always have a special place in my heart.

I am and will always be a mulberry child.

Jian Ping, author  of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. Visit,

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Chicago Style

Monday, June 14th, 2010

By Jian Ping

Last Friday, Chicago celebrated the Blackhawks’ championship with love, passion and style. Reportedly two million people came out for the parade under the hot blazing sun and more than a hundred people had to be treated for heat inflicted complications.

I have to admit I was not a big fan of hockey—I didn’t go to Michigan Avenue, nor did I go out to buy a Hawks Championship T-shirt. I worked at my desk all day on Friday. The bright sunshine bothered me so much that day that I installed a thick curtain in my study over the weekend. But last Friday, when the heat cooled off substantially in the evening, I took my bike out for a ride on the lakefront trail—I needed to breathe some fresh air and stretch my limbs.

I peddled way south, dodging the assaults of small flies that moved in mid air in swarms. By the time I turned back, the city was cast in magnificent night lights. As I turned the corner from behind the Shed Aquarium, three signs of lights came into view and caught me by surprise. One was: Championship 2010, Hawks on the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building, and the other two were a big logo of the Blackhawks on the east side of CNA Plaza, matched by a huge image of the Standley Cup on the south side. I hit the brakes and jumped off the bike. Admiring the magnificent sight, I felt the dynamics and pulse of the city right there and then. It was not unusual to see tall buildings such as the Avon or Prudential posting signs for special occasions. But I was deeply touched that evening!

“Go Hawks!” and “Go Chicago!” I wanted to shout.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China. For more information, visit,