Winter is upon us.

I know this not by the weather forecast, but by the frequent warnings I’ve been hearing on the radio reminding Chicagoans that the Winter Parking Ban on main thoroughfares goes into effect tonight at midnight — whether or not any snow has accumulated.

I hate winter. After the holidays, it is just four or five months of misery. A lot of people up north look forward to fall and the cooler weather it brings after enduring the heat and humidity of summer. To me, it means the end of riding season.

With the cooler weather, it takes more effort to work up to the point of wanting to go for a ride. But to paraphrase Naked Raygun, I got gear. I got gear. I got gear. I can use it. Thermals. Check. Multiple layers of sweaters and vests. Check. Insulated riding pants. Check. Balaclava. Check. Jacket, gloves and helmet… Ready, steady, go.

Let me backtrack for a moment, before I give a false impression. I ride a Ducati Monster. But I am more of a piker than a biker. Sure, I can change the oil, lube the chain, check the tires and do minor service. But beyond that, I am completely clueless when it comes to things mechanical in nature. I am the type who has to make five trips to Home Depot to solve a problem that should have taken a half-hour to accomplish.

Still, despite my lack of mechanical inclination, riding is my last refuge. I love the freedom of being able to embrace the road on my terms, traffic be damned. There are few places one can go to get away from the world and yet watch it from a different perspective. When I am on my machine, all thoughts leave my mind — except for maybe an occasional yodeling song by Murry Hammond. It’s just me and whir of that pretty little 620 cc motor. Dang if I could fix it if it broke.

I bought my bike after I turned 40. Midlife crisis averted. So I’ve only been riding three years. Riding season is pretty short, but I’ve recently been expanding it as I pick up warmer gear. The pants I just picked up this year have me tempted to even ride next weekend in the Toys for Tots Parade, but I will probably find some excuse for not going.

This year, I’ve been making a point to ride on Sundays. It has meant missing a few quarters of the Bears’ games. Because I am superstitious, I like to believe I am actually contributing to their winning season by not watching them. So I may have to rethink this last ride of the season bit.

This past Sunday, I was wavering between going for that last ride or sitting around like a noodle on the couch. Linda reminded me that I needed to check the air pressure in her tires, as the warning light went on in her car. Armed with my new digital tire pressure gauge, I headed off to the garage and took care of business. While there, I decided to check the tires on my car, only to discover the pop I heard the night before in the Target parking lot must have led to the flat tire I then encountered. Fortunately, this did not require a trip to the store.

A half-hour later, the tire was changed and I had worked up a sweat. Bears kickoff was approaching. But I was feeling full of myself for managing to change the tire without getting rolled over. Then the Ducati called to me with her fake Italian accent and I nodded back. Ten minutes later, dressed like someone heading out on an arctic expedition, I was on the road.

Chicago is a pretty crappy city to ride a motorcycle in, so the first thing I usually do is head north out of town into Lake County. I call it my Lake County Tour of Haves and Have-nots. It’s a ride I take with multiple variations, but generally leads me through some of the poorest towns (Waukegan, North Chicago) and into the unfathomably rich suburbs of Lake Forest and Highland Park (old money) and nouveau riche towns like Bannockburn and Winnetka. The previous week, I took a stroll through Highland Park down Ravine Way (which is the road that features the house from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off where Cameron’s father’s Ferrari meets its demise) to the beach along Lake Michigan. As I sat there admiring the view of all the mansions on the hill, I saw a 10-point buck that I momentarily mistook for a coyote, as one was in the news recently romping down the heart of State Street (that great street).

The point of riding is just to get out and clear my head while taking in a great view. I may have to go back to that file in my brain over the winter. Then again, if the Bears keep playing well, this might not have been my last ride of the season.

Tom Long is one-third of the seldom heard Chicago band The Ethyl Mermen. The name Tom Long can be found in the dictionary, Baseball Encyclopedia and a pub in Ireland. Tom Long is not affiliated with any other Tom Long; he won the rights to use his own name after prevailing in a three-way game of Jan-ken-pon by choosing "dynamite!" No Toms were harmed in the making of this blog.

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