Forrest Claypool and Adham Fisher at the Linden station centennial.
It was supposed to be just a friendly CTA riding race, but it wound up being another record-breaking event. Leicester, England, native Adham Fisher was in Chicago last week for the last leg of his North American tour, after making record attempts in NYC and Toronto. On Thursday he set accomplished his goal of reclaiming the Chicago ‘L’ racing title, visiting all 143 stations in 9:06:48. Saturday Danny Resner and I, who held the record at 9:30:59 until two other teams broke it this month, squared off against the Brit in a head-to-head competition. Since it was the weekend, we assumed that the system would be running slowly so stakes would be low. We were wrong.
We all started out at the 100th anniversary celebration for the Purple Line Linden station, where CTA President Forrest Claypool addressed the large crowd. “For a century, CTA has been helping Wilmette residents get to and from their destinations quickly and conveniently,” he said. “We’re proud to help celebrate the village’s rich history and the important role the CTA has played in Wilmette’s development over the years.” Afterwards a Dixieland band played and attendees lined up to tour two historic 4000-series cars, built in 1923, which the CTA had towed up the tracks to the event. These relatively luxurious cars, in service until 1973, feature soft seats, lights with glass lampshades and kitschy vintage advertisements.
A small crowd joined Fisher, Resner and me for the start of the race. There was Scott Presslak who, along with his teammate Kevin Olsta, briefly held the record at 9:24:05 earlier this month until Rob Bielaski and Ben Downey brought the time down to 9:08:56. Also joining us were urban planning enthusiasts Trey Blaise and C.J. Bright, who rode the whole system in about ten hours in December 2010, although they weren’t trying to set a record. Rounding out the party were photographer Serge Lubomudrov; Keely Leonard and Zach Florent from Walzing Mechanics theater company, interviewing Fisher for their show El Stories; Adham’s friend Patrick, in from Chester, Indiana; and a couple of Steven’s colleagues from UIC planning school whose names I didn’t catch.
Zach, Scott, C.J., Trey, Patrick and Adham.
Danny and I had planned to part ways with Adham as soon as possible, so after the group polished off the Purple and Yellow lines and caught the Red Line, we exited at Belmont even though the most logical thing to do would be to ride the Red Line to 95th. We figured we’d give the Englishman the visitor’s advantage on this. Our ride was fairly uneventful, but most of our transfers went smoothly. Here’s a synopsis of our not particularly logical route:
Start at Linden
Purple Line to Howard
Yellow Line to Skokie
Yellow line to Howard
Red Line to Belmont
Brown Line to Washington/Wells
Pink Line to 54/Cermak
Ran to Cermak/Cicero
Caught bus to Midway
Orange Line to State/Lake
Red Line to 95th
Red Line to 63rd
Bus to 63rd/Ashland
Green Line to 55th
Green Line to Cottage Grove
Green Line Harlem
Ran to Forest Park
Blue Line to O’Hare
Blue Line Jefferson Park
Bus to Kimball
Brown Line to Belmont
Red Line to Grand
Note that, unlike our first attempt, we missed a bit of track between Grand and State on the Red Line. At Thursday’s CTA racer summit it was agreed that this is permissible, as long as you visit every station by train.
Old-timey spire at the 63rd/Ashland station.
Halfway through the trip Adham called to tell us he had been severely delayed on the Blue Line, and about an hour later he told us he was still on the same line. Danny could hear the station announcement for Oak Park over the phone. So when we got to Grand with a time of 9:08:03 we were a little disappointed that we didn’t beat Adham’s Thursday record, but we now held the second-best time ever and we were confident we’d won the day’s race.
Adham arrived at the meeting place, the Wise Fools Pub in Lincoln Park, a half hour after us, looking subdued, which seemed to confirm we’d won. But when I showed him our stopwatch he literally jumped for joy. He showed me his watch: 8:56:33. Apparently the supposed Blue Line delay was just a ruse to make us overconfident. The nine hour barrier had been shattered.
Unlike all the other former record holders, Adham always declines to reveal his itineraries. As for the new record, he claims he was as surprised as we were. “Despite it being a Saturday, waiting around for a reasonable amount of time, narrowly missing two trains (one through sheer stupidity), not running that quickly due to recovering from Thursday and being screwed up by the Green Line yet again, I managed to break the 9 hour mark,” he emailed.
So the Englishman flew back across the pond a champion once more. That’s fine – Danny and I will let his new record breathe for a bit, knowing that we have as much time as we like to challenge it. But I know that as soon as we break Adham’s record he’ll start planning his next trip stateside to reclaim the crown.