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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  • joejoejoe

    If this is a real competition, like hot dog eating or something, then you have to reveal your itinerary or have some means of confirming people are doing the entire route. There was a woman Rosie Ruiz who claimed to win the Boston Marathon but actually just jumped in in the middle of the race (she may have even taken public transit!).

    I think the rules should involve carrying a GPS transmitter or snapping photos with timestamps or something. GRID is a credible news source and the head of the CTA is a busy man. There has to be some way of managing the time of everybody involved (including the readers) that shows that what is happening is actually happening.

    Update: Here is the infamous story of Rosie Ruiz!
    http://www.eagletribune.com/sports/x993504251/Rosies-Run

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      I believe the racers have to keep a log of their stops and take photos quite often. I’ll let John and Adham share their logs (the photos are in the post).

      • joejoejoe

         I know John has shared his itinerary in the past. I think this is becoming “a thing” and you will likely have more people trying to beat the record. Having a secret route kind of defeats some of the fun and value of the competition. The race helps promote the CTA routes and CTA efficiency. Sharing the way you can get quickly from one line to another is part of the reason CTA President Forrest Claypool takes the time to promote these system races.

  • CineRam

    I’m not going to let Adham’s new record breathe.  I’m breaking it later this month.  Thanks for clearing up the matter about hitting every station and not every tine bit of track.  I’ll be video-recording my attempt and will send you the YouTube link once I post it.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

       Luckily for Adham, the Yellow Line’s Oakton station opened just after he set the last record for riding to 143 stations, so it turns out he’s got that for posterity. However, this is a great window of opportunity to set the record for 144 stations, because after the Green Line Morgan station opens in the near future, that record will be frozen as well.

  • Davistrain

    Good timing–I just saw an inquiry in Trainorders.com from a fellow who was curious about covering all the Los Angeles Metro rail system in one day.  Since LA just added the Expo Line, and it will add two more stations in a few months, the LA rail challenge becomes more interesting.  Many years ago I covered the original BART system on one ticket, but didn’t keep a log.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

       Now who’s going to step up and set a record for riding the entire Metra system?

      • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

        That will take a few days, I think. Heh.

        • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

           Actually, along those lines, since I’m not leading the Chicago perimeter bike ride this summer, I’m considering doing a Chicago Metropolitan perimeter ride, connecting all the termini of all the Metra lines over a few days and camping or staying in cheap motels along the way. The cool thing about doing this is people who don’t want to commit to the multi-day route could still easily join me for segments via the commuter rail line.

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