Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Des Plaines River Trail - Cook County South Section.

Yesterday, with a week's vacation coming up, I set out for an alleged swap meet in town. I had hopes of finding parts to keep me busy with projects in the upcoming week. Showing up at the scheduled start time, there was no one there with anything bike related save a bike stand where attendees could supposedly wash and tune up there bike.
Bummed at the failed swap meet, I hopped on my bike. My rear rack had two panniers ready to be filled with parts. I had been reading about the Des Plaines River Trail the night previous and had looked at maps and figured out where I could hop on. I thought I could hop on Grand Ave out of town and see where the trail started for a possible future trip.
With my Raleigh Super Course ready for action, I set out on this fixed gear bike set up for city travel. Grand Ave was a decent way out of town compared to Augusta which has a dedicated bike lane, but rambles through lots of stop signs, broken glass, and not the safest of neighborhoods in my opinion. Grand Ave takes a slight diagonal up north on the westerly way out of downtown Chicago and despite the busy traffic, it is a wide avenue with two-lane traffic, leaving plenty of room for a bicyclist to safely ride without fear.
Roughly 10 miles later, still on Grand Ave, I stopped in River Grove, purchased a couple bottles of water, and stowed them safely in my panniers. I set out to find where I might hop on the Des Plaines River Trail.
According to the Cook County Forest Preserve District, this trail is closed, as there are signs at every main road with a large "CLOSED" sign over the trail. However, the trail is certainly passable. I'd read that the trail is crushed limestone and I figured I'd be alright on a road bike with decent, wider tires.
Arriving on the trail, I started north figuring I'd stop and turn around shortly after. However, the off-road trail became engrossing as I seldom get the chance to ride anywhere but city streets. Suddenly, the thought of a little mud, tree roots, and loose gravel became delightful and I continued northward.
The trail meanders next to the not too scenic Des Plaines River, which seemed like on a swamp on one of the hottest days this summer and I would have been bitten by mosquitoes had I stopped and rested.
I passed and was passed by a handful of other riders, all on modern mountain bikes. I must have looked a bit odd on a late '70s road bike riding fixed gear through the woods. However, the inability to coast was amazing on these off-road trails. I've read of the benefits of riding fixed gear in poor weather, but riding through dirt and gravel trails was truly fun on a fixed gear as I could control every turn and feel how my rear wheel responded to the changing ground. This Raleigh Super Course is my everyday rider in city streets and I often load it up and enjoy riding fixed gear, not having to stop a loaded down bike with just rim brakes.
The trail switches between wider gravel to singletrack, and I exited the trail about 10 miles after I started. I found myself near Morton Grove, and started back on suburb streets as the weather looked like it would start to storm. Luckily it did not and I met up with Milwaukee Ave far outside the city limits near Niles, and headed southeast to the start of the North Branch Trail. After a quick snack I continued on Milwaukee Ave all the way down to Wicker Park, turning south on Damen to make it home, completely exhausted. At 40 miles, including a good 10 miles of slow riding offroad, this was the longest fixed gear trip to date for me.
 1978 Raleigh Super Course, murky Des Plaines River in the far background.

Local fauna a few feet away from the trail. This was a learning and friendship adventure.

The open limestone road.

No comments:

Post a Comment