11 February 2006


Today was the day I've been waiting for ever since I decided that off-road riding was for me ... my first ever trip to the Palos Forest Preserve! Palos is talked about by local mountain bikers in revered tones, and its 50 miles of singletrack would provide the perfect escape from the salted roads of Chicago!

We've been waiting a couple of weeks to head down there, as the weather has been so mild that we didn't want to tear up the trails if they were muddy. But this week saw overnight lows down into the 20s, and a predicted low of 18 on Friday night ... so today was the day! Lou sent out an email early in the week, and a few of us answered the call ...

Just 45 minutes from Evanston, Palos offers sweet singletrack; some old, broken up pavement; some widetrack; and a whole lot of roots and trees to hop over. (A detailed description is available on the CAMBR web site, under Trail Guide --> Illinois.) I rolled out of Chicago with Andy at 6 a.m., and we caught up to Lou and Chris Mosk on I-55 just before the exit. As we were getting ready, Mark Winston rolled up; then, just as we were about to go, Jerry O and Ted (Andy's cousin) drove in. Five minutes later, and we were ripping!

It was absolutely unreal. Unlike anything I had ever experienced -- most of us were on 'cross bikes, which probably slowed us down a bit but made for excellent handling practice. We headed out around Bullfrog Lake, dropped into Red Gate Woods, and I think we made our way along Turf 1 to Psycho Path, but I could be wrong. Somehow or other, we did end up hitting 3 Ravines -- until that point, I was doing OK hanging onto Lou and Mosk, both accomplished MTBers -- through the ravines, though, my inexperience at fast downhills began to show, and I lost the wheel. Not too bad, but I was definitely trying to play catch up!

At one point, I was following Mosk down a hardpack ridge when a giant log appeared in the path ... Chris cleared it easily as I went for a 'cross dismount -- woops! The ground was still semi-frozen, and I carried a lot more speed than I anticipated ... when my shoes didn't grab, I shot head-first into the jump, my new bike somersaulting through the air over my head! I've got a few welts on my leg and my white beauty (photos soon!) has a few new blemishes, but all in all, no major damage.

It definitely pays to ride with guys who are a lot more experienced than me -- just watching Mosk use the trail and terrain was an abject lesson in everything I've missed by being so focused on the road. I had a few bobbles where I lost their wheel, but all in all it wasn't too bad, and I definitely learned a lot as we worked our way around the twists and turns!

The day took a bit of a turn after about 90 minutes of riding -- Lou and Mosk had to get home, leaving Ted and I to try to find Andy and Jerry, who had missed a turn. Eventually we all hooked up, and headed back out -- the trails up by Bullfrog were still dry, although Lou warned me that "they turn quickly ..."

And turn they did, as the day suddenly hit 38 degrees with some sun. We were in good shape as we headed back over to Stair Steps, until we got ahead of Ted, who missed the turn to Turf 1. All of a sudden, we were backtracking and trying to find him, as he led us out back through 3 Ravines. Another rider told us he was up ahead, and we dropped into the second ravine ...

... where I noticed that my rear wheel was going soft. Crap! We were at basically the furthest point from the cars, with the trails turning to mush around us. I pretty much had one choice -- and that 1/2 hour run with 3x hill repeats that I skipped on Thursday? Yeah. Been there, done that. In cycling shoes. Pushing a 17.5lb bike. Or shouldering it. Or suitcasing. It was a long way back!

So I have to get a new rear tire, and my new ride has a couple of small paint dings that weren't there yesterday. But Palos was an absolute blast, and as I watch the lake-effect snow fall outside my window, I'm trying to figure out when I can get back there ...


1 comment:

Steve Driscoll said...

Back in the mid-80's, I used to spend the entire afternoon on those trails, riding my brand new Schwinn Cimmaron! 35 lbs. of PURE mountain bike. Sounds like the experience has only gotten better!