Weekend Roving: Des Plaines River Trail (summer)

What sensual deprivation we suffer when we live this rectangular life. We live in a little rectangle and we travel in a little steel box to the next rectangle; we go inside and we watch a little square picture in another box. We suffer this deprivation of our senses that we couldn’t bear when we were children. When we were shut up indoors for too long, we had to burst out after we’d eaten in the evening. We had to tear around in the dark, roll around in the grass, pick up apples and throw them against trees to see them smash and to smell the apples. We wrestled out in the dark just to feel all of that. You realize how you have misspent your life that this would be so strange to you, this wonderful smell. — Garrison Keillor “The News from Lake Wobegon”

IMG_1208Whether it’s owing to the daily grind of the passing weekdays or the pedantic pace of necessary yet tiresome routines, there is definitely a sense of new possibility that grows as the weekend approaches. In just two precious days you try to repair what is broken, dust off what was neglected, and revive what has become weary. It is work that can never be completed, sadly, but there is definitely fun hidden in the attempt.

It’s usually toward the end of summer that James and I go down to the basement and dust off our bikes. Just like every year since we purchased them, we’ve had every intention of riding them as soon as the first warm day comes each spring, and yet we somehow never find ourselves with the time. But, as summer wanes, so too does the busy pace.

Donning the hornless helmets of weekend warriors, we try to get out and explore the many bike paths in our area and stretch our endurance to its very limits. Admittedly, we sometimes are a bit too eager!

IMG_1209Recently, we set out for the Des Plaines River Trail – a beautiful 31-mile trail that follows the Des Plaines River north all the way into Wisconsin.

The trail is part of an amazingly vast system of trails put in place by the Forest Preserve District and has been painstakingly assembled and maintained over several decades thanks to the hard work of several organizations who fought hard to preserve the land, river, and forests.

We started near the southern end of the trail, just inside of Lake County at the Half Day Forest Preserve which took us north along the river to the Wright Woods Forest Preserve. Here, the trail meanders through a dense forest in the valley of the river.


From there, the trail moves east of the river and our thighs felt the brisk change of incline as we ascended from the valley into beautiful, open savannahs and prairies full of blooming goldenrod and queen anne’s lace.


Then the trail descended, again, into the valley where we were once again in dense forest, but just on the cusp of a beautiful marsh we could catch glimpses of through the tree trunks that were whizzing past.

We’d set our roundtrip limit at 25 miles, so by the time we made it to Independence Grove, we knew it was time for a long breather, a stretch of the legs, a little lunch, and some exploration.

Much to our surprise, we’d never heard of Independence Grove. I was amazed to learn that this giant system of bays, trails, and wildlife refuges was an old gravel quarry as recently as 1978. In an inspiring show of determination and vision, the Lake Country Forest Preserve bought up the quarry and the surrounding land. Then, over the course of the next twenty-something years, the barren landscape was carefully and thoroughly transformed into the masterpiece it is, today. Where there was once an useless pit, there’s now a fish habitat. Where there were piles of gravel, sand, and absolutely no topsoil, there’s now wildflowers, trees, and wildlife habitat.


We biked around the perimeter of the water and made our way to the Millennia Plaza, Native Garden, and Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center was quite an impressive structure and yet not imposing on the surrounding natural landscape. We even had a sit-down in their café and split a veggie burger. I had an ice cream sandwich and James had a root beer float. Don’t judge! We earned that junk food!


Eventually, it was time to hit the dusty trail and head back southward. It was very dusty, by the way. We’ve not had a drop of rain in at least two weeks. This meant that the crushed limestone was airborne and we were very visibly powdered with it by the time we had made the roundtrip!

It didn’t help matters that we’d also picked one of the hottest days of the year to explore the trail! The heat index was probably near 100-degrees and we had to stop several times on our return ride to keep hydrated. Sheepishly, I must admit that we had to walk our bikes up a couple of the hills that were just too much for us to handle by that point!


Though we were tired and though we certainly had other things that were arguably more pressing to do with our “free time”, that weekend, it felt great to behave as a child who neglects his homework, going outside to enjoy the natural surroundings that we so often hurry past on our way to the next “rectangle”.


We’re looking forward to hitting this trail again once fall color arrives. There are several maple groves that line the eastern side of the river and they’re sure to be a dazzling sight in just a couple more weeks. Hopefully with the lower humidity and the endurance we’ll have built up by then, we won’t have to walk our bikes up any of the hills! Maybe one day we’ll even make it all the way to Wisconsin!


~ by Jason on September 2, 2010.

4 Responses to “Weekend Roving: Des Plaines River Trail (summer)”

  1. Beautiful words and beautiful scenery…as usual! Love you guys!

  2. Thank you for such a gift on a gloomy Thursday morning, sitting in my rectangle, reading your eloquent narration and enjoying the lovely photos!

    What a gift to share your love of life and beauty with others! Keep it up!!

  3. Jason, and JED, What a wonderful reading, and makes me wish we were there to go with you. Jason your writing and discriptions are wonderful. Write a book! Include recipes and other things. Love you guys,

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