Old Plank Road Trail Ride 6 of 52

Date: February 5, 2017
Distance: 42 miles
Weather: Sunny and relatively mild, low 40's
Hightlights of the ride: ice-fishing bald eagle & great horned owl sighting.

This is the longest ride we did so far. This trail is flat and completely linear, and it's really the distance that makes it challenging. At the eastern end, it connects to the Thorn Creek Trail, and we plan to do a ride later this year that somehow combines the two.

The trail passes through the town of Frankfort, which might be a nice stop over to break up the ride in warmer weather. Although on a Sunday morning there wasn't much going on in the town, we did pass by a number of restaurants, cafes and even a brew pub, any of which would be great to recharge the batteries after completing a portion of the trail.

The highlight of this trail for me were the wildlife sightings East of Frankfort: an extensive network of beaver structures, a great horned owl which we miraculously spotted resting on a branch, and which - once spotted - took off silently over the marshland, and a bald eagle on a tree, not high above the path. The eagle also flew away, but on the way back, we spotted him again ice fishing on a frozen pond.

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.


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.

North Branch Trail to Baha'i Temple 3of 52

Date: January 18, 2017
Distance: 36 miles
Weather: Overcast, cold and windy, lower 30's

As recently as last Spring, getting to the North Branch Trail involved winding our way through a number of streets, including one especially hairy signal-less crossing at Peterson & Leader. So, even though we've lived near the trail for almost two decades, we've gone on it less often than we should. With the a number of new extensions trails - North Branch reaching all the way into Forest Glen, and what used to be the Sauganash-Trail-to-nowhere now continued north to Dempster, and the partially-completed Weber Spur Trail - new and easier connections between trails now beckon.

This was a pretty straightforward ride. We were going mostly for mileage. We rode the NBT from Forest Glen (just west of the Chicago River at Forest Glen Ave) to Glenview Road. We traveled eastbound via Glenview/Wilmette Rd. to Sheridan. The street was generally wide and traffic light on a weekday mid-morning.

We always pack a picnic and hot tea, and we were hoping to enjoy our victuals at Wilmette Beach, but the wind was too fierce. We tried to find a good shortcut along the North Shore Channel back to the bike path that runs along it at McCormick Blvd, but we ended us getting a little turned around on the cobbled streets of Wilmette. (We did find a lovely coffee shop at the Purple Line terminus that we plan to investigate, but had to leave that for another day.)

Back on the North Shore Channel path, we found a protected spot for our picnic at Ladd Arboretum in Evanston, and made out way back home by connecting to the Weber Spur Trail behind the Grossinger Auto complex off McCormick Blvd. This trail has been paved between Touhy and Devon, but the southern section that would connect it to LaBagh Woods remains wild and unpaved.

Waterfall Glen Fat Bike Ride 2 of 52


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.