This weekend (July 9th- 10th) is the annual Friends of the Parks' LATE Ride through downtown Chicago. The LATE Ride is a unique experience every young Chicagoan, or those who are young-at-heart, should try. I say this because it begins at 1am and continues through the night until sunrise. It is a 25-mile, non-competitive bicycle ride that begins at Buckingham Fountain, continues through various neighborhoods including the South Loop, Chinatown, and Greektown. The ride culminates in a beautiful sunrise along Chicago's lakefront as you ride south back to Buckingham Fountain. People of all ages participate - pimping their bicycles, decorating their helmets, and some even trailering a sound system behind for surrounding riders' enjoyment.
Although I will not be participating this year, I had the opportunity to participate in the ride the past two years. I initially had some trepidation about being able to stay awake through the ride. That wasn't a problem as the adrenaline rush of riding with thousands of other cyclists (and some taxi cabs - yikes!) along with cheers from drunken revelers in Greektown kicks in. Once you pass through Greektown, the route turns north until you reach a rest stop about halfway through the ride. It is usually in a park on the northern edge of the route and is a good time to hydrate, grab a snack for energy and use the facilities.
As far as gluten free snacks, there were some nuts provided by one of the vendors. I highly suggest bringing your own water, gatorade, and gluten free snacks that travel well, to be sure you have something safe to eat. McDonald's has sponsored the breakfast in previous years, so that offers a very limited set of gluten free options, if any.
The ride typically takes somewhere around 3 hours, depending upon when exactly you start and how fast you ride. The highlight of the ride is definitely the sunrise along the lakefront. The water starts to glisten and all of the skyscrapers are drenched in a pinkish-orange glow. It is worth a sleepless night to experience that view.
I want to stress that it IS NOT a race and while you should have fun, take safety precautions seriously. I personally witnessed a few accidents last year that put a damper on the ride in a hurry. There are volunteer policemen and marshals at many of the intersections, but not at all. You do need to have your helmet on, a light (especially for riding in the darkness preceding sunrise along the northern lakefront), and be a defensive rider.
The ride benefits the Friends of the Park, a non-profit organization that works on many park beautification and clean-up initiatives.