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LaBagh Woods Ultra-Local Adventure Ride 22 of 52

Date: June 11, 2017
Distance: under 10 miles of fatbiking and bushwhacking
Weather: Sunny, muggy 90's
Highlights of the ride: Instant escape. Graffiti.


We've reached the point in the summer when it's getting harder and harder to schedule our adventure rides. It's hard to take days off from our highly seasonal business in season. And some of those days off need to be designated for mundane tasks like laundry, taking the cat to the vet, shopping for groceries. Time for adventures has to be fought for and fiercely defended. Days, weeks tick by, and we're only just managing to stick to our goal of 52 adventure rides in 52 weeks.

Adventure this week had to happen on a workday (unlike God, we work on Sundays), and it had to happen before shop hours. The only solution was to keep it ultra-local. Adventure had to begin right outside our front door.

Fortunately, outside our door is LaBagh Woods. It is a gritty, scrappy little strip of urban forest preserve holding on for dear life along the banks of Chicago River's North Branch. But when you dip into the thicket on a fat-tired bike, the oaks are as magnificent, the water as sparkly, and the grasses as sun-dappled as anywhere.

The singletrack, which snakes along on both sides of the river, and branches out on numerous intriguing paths throughout the woods, is highly rideable. We were on fat bikes, but a mountain bike or even a hybrid would be up to the task, provided it has not rained and the ground is bone dry. But there were a lot of branches and logs strewn across the trail, and getting around them required a lot of dismounting and portaging the bikes over obstacles.

These derelict woods can be creepy, and bear evidence of weird, and even sinister human undertakings. So even if you live in one of the adjacent communities, you may not know that this small green space also holds surprises like several hidden ponds, which are hunting grounds for wading birds, tall stands of brilliant yellow irises, and dramatic long-fallen old trees whose decaying carcasses teem with the life of dense mosses, tiny flowers, insects and fungi.

Undersides of bridges and train trestles are bombed with exuberant graffiti, which, like this entire preserve, pulses with vibrant life.

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North Branch Trail Ride 7 of 52

Date: February 12, 2017
Distance: 33 miles
Weather: Sunny and mild, high 40's
Highlights of the ride: basking in the warm sun on the riverbank above one of the dams.

 

 

 

 

 


 

When something sits in front of you every day, it can be easy to forget it's there at all. On the NW side of Chicago, we have the North Branch Trail, and I am often surprised by how few people have been on it. Some don't even know about it.

The North Branch Trail is surely a gem among Chicagoland's network of bicycle trails. It has everything a great bike trail should have: distance, scenery, variety, along with excellent pavement conditions and generally well-designed street crossings (a notable exception being the deplorable crosswalk at Touhy). The NBT will take you through woodland and prairie, along the river and its adjacent wetlands, and if you follow it to the end, between Tower & Dundee Roads you will come to the Skokie Lagoons, which can almost make you forget that you are still in the big city.

You can easily turn this ride into an all-day excursion, with a mid-day break at the Chicago Botanic Gardens, accessible through the gate off Dundee Rd. (admission is free if you cycle in!). We skipped the CBG on this winter day, and instead parked ourselves above one of the dams in the Lagoons for a fresh-air picnic, a diversion that I heartily recommend.

The new NBT extension begins in just west of the North Branch of the Chicago River on Forest Glen Ave. From this point, it is about 16-17 miles to the end of the trail at Dundee Rd. This summer, the trail will be extended even further south-east to Gompers Park. This section will be linked to the existing trail through LaBagh Woods.

On a side note, this was the first time in recent memory that I rode a 700c-wheeled bike. I usually ride my ancient 1990 Bridgestone, with its stout steel frame and sturdy 26" wheels outfitted with heavy-duty Schwalbe Marathon Premium tires. Because the weather was mild and dry, I picked up a Kona Dew Plus (photo at right) from the shop: a lightweight aluminum hybrid with nimble 700x32 tires and disc brakes. At well under $700 this bike is everything that any recreational and commuting cyclist would want: it's fast, responsive, versatile enough to move effortlessly between pavement, light gravel and grassy slopes. And I'm pretty sure it cut my riding time and effort in half compared to my old-faithful Bridgestone. I love, love, love this bike!

Seriously, ride the North Branch. Take a day, pack a nice lunch, bring a friend -- you will not regret it.

Moraine Hills SP Fat Bike Ride 5 of 52

Date: January 29, 2017
Distance: 11 miles
Weather: Cold and overcast, upper 20's

Three loops form a cloverleaf of crushed limestone trails, with far more interesting topography than one might expect from a Northern Illinois park. Because of the relatively short distance of the trail, we again chose fat bikes to increase the level of difficulty.

The one-way trails are beautifully maintained and well-marked. The terrain is quite hilly, and the climbs rewarded us with sweeping views of Lake Defiance, and streams and wetlands in the area. We stood on the edges of the mostly frozen lake, and listened as the conversation from the other shore floated to us over the wintry silence.

The park has a number of overlooks with viewing platforms and shelters. These, however, afforded little protection from the cold as we huddled over our salami sandwiches and thermoses of hot tea.

The final loop offers an up-close look at the McHenry Dam. This would be a great finale for a day-long hike in warmer weather.

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Salt Creek Trail 4 of 52

Date: January 25, 2017
Distance: 24 miles
Weather: Light misty rain, low 30's

Who knew that you can ride this 26-mile trail from the back of Brookfield Zoo all the way to Busse Woods?! We didn't do the whole ride this time, but we explored a 12-mile out-and-back section which may offer some of the nicest scenery on this trail. The paved path winds along the creek through a lovely woodland, punctuated with those dramatic leafless winter oaks, which look like old men standing around, with nothing much to do.

Gorgeous trail, and we definitely plan to ride this its length all the way north and back when time permits.

Waterfall Glen Fat Bike Ride 2 of 52

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Date: January 11, 2017
Distance: 11 miles
Weather: Light rain, low 30's

Nice 11-mile loop over crushed limestone with a few climbs. The riding was made more strenuous by the ultra-low-pressure fat tires, which require consistent pedaling, even on descents. Near-freezing conditions created barely-visible ice patches in some places, and soft, squishy terrain in others, which provided additional challenge and added a bit of unpredictability.

The landscape is gorgeous. I almost like it more this time of the year, when foliage does not obscure the contour of the terrain or the drama of the oak branches reaching for the sky. Scones and bracing hot tea made were especially tasty with the chilly mist falling all around.

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