52in52

Great River Trail Ride 25 of 52

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Date: July 6, 2017
Distance: 20 miles
Weather: Brutal heat, mid 90's.
Highlights of the trip: gorgeous piney campground on the banks of the Mississippi at Usace Thomson Causeway Recreation Area, Arnold's Bike Shop in Thomson, IL.

We picked the wrong day for this ride. We were planning to ride a 20 mile stretch of the 60-mile Great River Trail between the towns of Fulton & Savanna, Illinois. However, after the first few miles of nicely wooded, shaded path, the trail took us over vast, open expanse of prairie, crackling in midday sun. Thermometer readings may have been in the mid-90's, but with heat radiating off the exposed ground we felt like we were under a broiler. We began to look with anticipation for the smallest hint of shade offered by spindly trees and sparse sumac bushes.

At last we came to a beautiful evergreen woodland park with pine-scented shaded paths and a working water fountain. We used out bottles to generously douse ourselves with water from head to toe. This would be doable, we thought, prematurely, as it turned out. After a short run through the state park, the trail spit us out again onto the side of a flat, bare, straight, sun-baked road, with contours of a US Penitentiary shimmering on the horizon. Gamely, we headed on, but after a couple of blocks it became clear that continuing the journey as planned might actually put us in danger of heatstroke.

We decided to cut our loses and turned east into the small hamlet of Thomson, IL in search of light colored t-shirts, sunscreen and water. We were pleasantly surprised to find all three at Arnold's Bike Shop. Actually, we were even more surprised to find Arnold's Bikes Shop in the first place -- a tiny shop, tucked away in a tiny town, packed to the rafters with recumbent bikes and trikes! The owners gave us free tubes of sunscreen and a free t-shirt to cover up my sunburnt shoulders, and gave us directions to a nearby old school ice cream place.

On the way back to Fulton, we took a little extra time to explore the beautiful piney state park, and discovered a tiny, secluded campground directly on the bank of the Mississippi, pictured in the main photo.

We'll definitely be back. In cooler weather.

Cannon Valley Trail, MN Ride 24 of 52

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Date: June 27, 2017
Distance: 40 miles
Weather: Sunny, mid 70's.
Highlights of the trip: spectacular scenery throughout the ride, beautifully maintained rest stops along the trail.

I wasn't too happy about going to a funeral on my birthday, but the unfortunate timing did have a silver lining in that we decided to take an extra day driving back from Minneapolis and use that mini-vacation to do something celebratory. Almost as an afterthought, we threw a couple of demo Brompton bikes into the trunk before heading out of the house.

After the funeral, and some social time with relatives, we left Minneapolis in the late afternoon. We chose quiet roads and planned to stop in the town of Red Wing on the banks of the Mississippi. We visited there many years back, and remembered it for the Red Wing Shoe factory there. On our approach into town, Chris spotted a sign that he thought said "Canyon" Valley Trail, which is how we decided we would spend the night in town and ride the trail the following day. Chris loves canyons.

The sign in fact said "Cannon" Valley Trail, but we decided to ride it anyway, and it ended up being one of the most memorable and beautiful rides of the year for us. This trail was our first encounter with trail day fees. In this instance I can honestly say the $4 per person contribution was well worth it. Cannon River Trail is one of the best maintained trails I've ever been on, with beautifully landscaped bike rest areas, complete with self-service bike repair stations over the length of the trail.

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Solstice Ride to Foster Beach Ride 23 of 52

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Date: June 21, 2017
Distance: 20 miles
Weather: Clear, low 70's.
Highlights of the trip: discovering more off-street connections east of Gompers Park

Although our days at the shop are tiring, especially during peak season, there's something supremely soothing about getting on a bike after work and gliding off into the twilight at the end of the day. As we wound our way from the shop over quiet side streets, we tacitly decided to go up north a bit further than necessary, so that we could enjoy the North Branch Trail a little longer. We picked our way over the quiet streets tucked away back behind the CTA bus depot off Elston, and crossed over the small woodchip covered foot path off North Indian Rd. to join the trail southbound right at the new bike bridge over the Metra rail line.

By this time, the tiredness started to melt away, and we rolled quietly through Forest Glen and Mayfair into Gompers Park. East of here, we enjoyed being led by one of the other ridersover little-known off-street connections between Gompers, Eugene Field, North Park University campus and stopping for a short break at the waterfall off Argyle where the North Branch of the River meets the North Shore Channel. At that point, we backtracked a bit to Foster and joined the traffic for the remainder of the ride to the Lakefront.

There was still a good bit of light still left as we lifted our bikes and climbed down the rocks to the edge of Lake Michigan. We brought beer, cider and a little food to share as the sun slowly went down behind the building, and our conversations faded to a lazy murmur. A group of teenagers nearby put on some hip-hop music, and another group in the distance set off a small volley of fireworks.

We stayed a while longer in the near complete darkness, sheltered from the city by the big stones, before heading back into the brightness of street lights.

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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Guerrilla Camping Ride 8 of 52

Date: February 18-19, 2017
Distance: 35 miles split between one evening and following morning
Weather: High 50's daytime, low 40's overnight
Highlights of the ride: actually getting lost, actually sleeping in a tent in an unsanctioned spot in February, TWO bald eagles on one branch.

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.

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.