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Urban trailblazing: stay in shape while exploring Chicago

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When the seasons start to turn in Chicago, most think the fight to stay fit is best fought from the warmth of a gym treadmill. This, of course, is utter bunk. Fall is this town’s most glorious season. The heat of summer is dying, but the days are still bright and the air still fresh. It’s the perfect time to get out and see all Chicago has to offer, as well as the best time to get some great exercise outdoors.

This is the time to learn how to be an urban explorer. What’s an urban explorer? Well, for DePaul students’ purposes, it’s someone who isn’t satisfied with merely living in a city. Urban explorers want to experience every little nook and cranny. They are people who, much like a backpacker or a trail runner, get their day’s exercise immersed in the beautiful wilderness that surrounds them, even if that wilderness is made of iron and concrete.

For those who think they could dig that life – or maybe just want to stave off the gym for a little while longer – here are a few tips and trails to get your blood flowing!

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Hipster Hinterlands

Route: Northwest up Milwaukee Avenue from the Western – O’Hare Blue Line station to the Logan Square Blue Line station, south down Kedzie Avenue to Armitage Avenue, east on Armitage back to the Western – O’Hare stop 
Length: 3.5 miles
Perks: Beautiful turn-of-the-century gothic architecture, abundant graffiti murals and a myriad of concert halls, matinees, cafes and bars
Concerns: The area has its fair share of gang presence. For the most part, it is far from dangerous, but keep alert.

Any one part of Chicago’s new cultural elite knows that the place to be right now is Logan Square. Home to countless young artists, musicians and writers, as well as long-established Polish and Puerto Rican communities, the Square hums with a kinetic urban counter-culture. This trail runs in a large triangle through the heart of that counter-culture and touches on some of the highlights of the surrounding area. The actual Logan Square itself at Kedzie and Milwaukee avenues is filled with trendy bars and cafes, as well as the famous Logan Theatre. And for those more adventurous explorers, the beautiful Polish St. Hyacinth Basilica is just a few blocks northwest on Wolfram Street and Central Park Avenue.

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Nerdvana

Route: East from the Garfield Red Line station across Washington Park and 57th Street to Jackson Park and the Museum of Science and Industry; return
Length: 4.2 miles
Perks: Too many to list. Hyde Park is Chicago’s Secret Garden, the Museum of Science and Industry its Parthenon and the University of Chicago its resident storybook castle
Concerns: The unfortunate history of violence in and around the area is a reminder to all explorers to travel in caravans whenever possible

Author Nelson Algren once described his love for Chicago “like loving a woman with a broken nose; you may well find lovelier lovelies, but never a lovely so real.” No neighborhood in Chicago so embodies that sentiment as Hyde Park, an area as raw as it is regal. Home to both Chicago’s oldest university and some of its most violent crime, it has been termed by numerous residents “the academic ghetto.” Still, a trip through the neighborhood, especially the areas surrounding the University of Chicago, gives one a sense of having stepped into some Tolkien-esque forest village, complete with a gothic castle. The many parks and pools are frequented by UC students and South Side natives alike and are complimented by an array of offbeat – though more “nerdy” than “hipster”- bars, cafes and book shops. Bordering the lake at the eastern end of the suggested trail lies Jackson Park and the Museum of Science and Industry – crown jewel of the neighborhood, if not the whole city. A massive temple of human innovation and invention, the museum is an exploration trail in and of itself and is more than worth the long journey there.

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Long walk on the beach 

Route: East from Fullerton Red Line station to Lake Shore Drive, south down the Lakefront Trail to the Museum Campus
Length: 6.0 miles
Perks: Great shops and cafes along Fullerton Avenue, beautiful greenery along the Lakefront Trail
Concerns: Do you have the cojones to walk six miles?

Though the longest trail on this list, it’s also by far the easiest and most picturesque to walk, and a great way for non-native Chicagoans to get to know their new home and the DePaul area of influence. Starting from the Fullerton Red Line stop in front of the Lincoln Park campus, this route runs along some of the best scenery the Lincoln Park area has to offer, and then south through a beautiful green trail that makes one understand why Chicago’s motto is “City in a Garden.” The Museum Campus at its southern terminus can be very touristy, but it also offers acres of parks and beaches to meander through, not to mention the great museums themselves.

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Viva Italia

Route: East from the Polk Pink Line station to Ashland Avenue, south on Ashland to Taylor Street, east on Taylor to the UIC quad, north on the quad trail to the UIC-Halsted Blue Line station 
Length: 1.5 miles (though many more if you choose to meander through the parks and side streets along the way) 
Perks: Wooded parks and avenues around every corner of the trail, wonderful Italian restaurants and bars along Taylor Street, and the UIC quad is great for running
Concerns: Drunken UIC students.

Little Italy is one of Chicago’s oldest neighborhoods, and coupled with the neighboring University of Illinois at Chicago, it’s also one of its most active. This trail, which cuts through the heart of the area, reveals only a fraction of its beauty. The woodsy Vernon Park on Racine Avenue offers a secluded path to walk and run in relative solitude, and the greater UIC campus is home to an urban aesthetic all its own. The whole area, of course, is rife with Italian cuisine and music, and more than a few pizza joints can provide deep-dish nourishment at the end of a long hike.

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Rogers Park romp

Route: East from the Morse Red Line station to the lakefront, south down the Lake front Trail to the Loyola campus, west from the campus to Clark and Albion bus stop
Length: 1.6 miles
Perks: One of the prettiest lakefront walking paths in the city, numerous works of public art and a ridiculous amount of delicious taquerias Concerns: Many parks and paths close late at night; be mindful of when and where you explore

Quite possibly the friendliest neighborhood in Chicago, this small area on the city’s northern border is also one of its most diverse. Home to thriving African-American, Hispanic, Polish, Vietnamese and Irish demographics and bordering South Asian and collegiate areas, Rogers Park has something for everyone. As resident Nick K’ÛÎ_ntzman described it, it is “Chicago in a sun dress.” The prescribed trail leads along the lake and through the Loyola campus, which merges with the lake path to create a beautiful stone walkway that eventually empties onto Sheridan and then Lake Shore Drive. As with all of these trails, though, further exploration is encouraged. Few places in the city will make you as glad to be walking as the bright, colorful Clark Street and Morse Avenue. Heading north along the lake will eventually take you to the suburb of Evanston.

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Explorer gear

Chicago is a big place. If you want to wander through it, you should always wander prepared. Finding the right gear can mean the difference between a triumphant stroll through the park and a panicked dash for the nearest “L” station.

Explorer bag
This will be your best friend. Everything you plan on taking with you, including the clothes on your back, should be able to fit in this bag. It should be large and durable enough to hold all you need without strain, but still small and light enough to be carried comfortably. Most school backpacks and laptop bags work fine, but bike bags do not. Those are for biking, not exploring.

Toiletries
For farther and longer walks, a bit of toothpaste and deodorant can be a godsend. Many has been the explorer who scoffed at the idea of carrying an under- arm stick down Fullerton Avenue, only to turn red-faced when the people around them started crinkling their noses.

Travel log
When Lao Tzu went off the grid in Ancient China, he didn’t just bum around for 30 years. He bummed around and wrote about it. And you should do the same. You probably won’t re-write “The Way of Tao,” but trail musings and vagabond thoughts will be worth their weight in gold when the time comes to look back on them.

Wallet
Female explorers, hear this now: no purses. No, no, no purses. Any money, ID or tiny essentials you might need should always be carried in an easily concealable wallet. A stolen purse is a great way to ruin your trip, and your day.

Snacks
Never underestimate the pick-me-up power of a salty snack and some water. Pretzels, granola bars and pea- nuts are especially recommended.

Shoes
Good shoes are an absolute necessity. Hardy canvas or plastic walking shoes are best, though tennis shoes and hiking boots will also do. Sneakers and skate shoes need not apply.

Self-defense measure
Chicago is a large city of several million people, not all of whom are always polite. Though it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever need it, a baton or can of mace is a great insurance policy against any ne’er-do-wells one might encounter on the street.

Music
Optional, but extremely recommended. A sunrise walk along a lakeshore path with some Led Zeppelin in your ears in an unforgettable experience.

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Urban trailblazing: stay in shape while exploring Chicago