This Weekend, See The Forest For The Trees

This Weekend, See The Forest For The Trees

I am going to miss all the green.

Already there are subtle reminders that summer has run its course.  Certain trees here and there are exhibiting a little yellow and brown.  The leaves that have fallen are changing colors as they lie on the path.  The tassels on the prairie grass have created a sea of brown - a preview of what the trees will look like in another month or so.

Once again, I have taken summer for granted.

I haven't seen the forest for the trees, as they say.  Actually, I haven't seen the trees, the bushes, the flowers, the grass, or the groundcover either.  I became so intoxicated with being outside, so energized by the sun on my arms and the air against my face that I barely looked beyond my handlebars and the path that rolled out in front of me.

Thankfully, there's still time.

As I ventured out onto the Poplar Creek Trail yesterday, I decided to take it a little slower.  I sat up a little more in the saddle.  I looked around.  I was immersed in green.

Not just a single green, but gradients of green.  It was as if I were holding a paint sample card out in front of me.  These colors didn't require made-up names to convey an emotion.  The shape and size of each living object assorted randomly and contrasted against one another said everything without the need for a single word.

Sometimes, you just have to slow down, sit up, and look around.  You have to see the forest for the trees or the trees for the forest, depending on where your head has been...

This area offers countless opportunities to take in all the green you desire.  The best way is from the comfort of a bicycle seat, but you can do it by foot if you choose.  Here's a quick rundown of some of my favorite places to ride:

Cook County Forest Preserves.  Many locations offer paved bicycle paths that loop around the entire preserve.  You won't get lost and you won't need to turn around as you'll arrive back at your original starting point eventually.

For beginners, I recommend the short, easy loop around Deer Grove, located at Dundee and Hicks in Palatine.  It's not hilly, features wide open prairie and is ringed by trees in many spots.

Busse Woods near Woodfield is also flat, but adds in a twisty section through dense woods and the openness of Busse Lake (not to mention the elk in Elk Grove).  It offers more than 8 miles of continuous riding.  Use extreme caution when crossing at Higgins or simply turn around and reverse your route.

The Paul Douglas Trail, located off Central between Roselle and Barrington overs a few more challenging hills with only three street crossings (all with lights).  It offers a combination between open prairie and woods along its 7.4 mile path.  There is also a 3-mile spur that leads to the Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington - an excellent place to learn about migratory birds.

The Poplar Creek Forest Preserve is bounded by Barrington Road, Route 59, Bode Road, and Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates and Streamwood.  This 9-mile loop offers open prairie, woods, a small lake, and a few challenging hills.  There are seven street crossings, all but one with traffic lights.

Illinois Prairie Path.  This is a subject for its own featured post! This crushed limestone trail - the first rail to trail conversion in the US - originates in Wheaton.  From Wheaton, you can ride to Elgin on the Elgin Spur.  Ride through Winfield and out to Geneva on the Geneva Branch.  Ride south to Warrenville and either continue to Aurora or branch off to Batavia.  You can ride straight east to Maywood.

The path connects to the Fox River Trail in Aurora, Batavia, Geneva, Elgin, and at the new Stearns Road Bridge in South Elgin (really impressive!).  It connects to the Great Western Trail in West Chicago and Villa Park.  It offers countless out-and-back and 30-mile loop options.

Fox River Trail / Prairie Trail. You can ride this trail from Oswego north to the Wisconsin state line in Genoa City!  It is paved until Ringwood with several on-street detours along the way.  It changes names in Algonquin as it enters Mc Henry County.

Here are the easiest sections to ride (flattest with least amount of street crossings):

Aurora north to Batavia, west side of the river.  There is an east side option from North Aurora to Batavia, but there are hills.

Batavia to St. Charles.  There is a section that involves crossing Route 25 twice - use extreme caution.

Elgin Library north to Crystal Lake.  There are some street crossings and a slight grade from Algonquin to the Crystal Lake Airport.

North Crystal Lake to Mc Henry / Ringwood.  Start from the parking lot on Hillside north of Sternes Woods Park and continue north through Mc Henry to Ringwood.  From there, the path turns to crushed limestone for the final 8 miles to Wisconsin.  Be cautious with all street crossings along this section.

The entire path offers an incredible ride experience as you parallel the banks of the Fox River, but you may get confused with on-street detours through Aurora, St. Charles, South Elgin, and Crystal Lake.  There are also sections with some rather steep and curvy hills.  I highly recommend dismounting and walking your bike through Sternes Woods Park north of Crystal Lake.

Here are a few more to check out:

Chicago Lakefront Bike Path

Lake County Bike Trails

DuPage County Bike Trails

Kane County Bike Trails

Get out there and experience summer while it's still here!  It's as easy as riding a bike...

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