Gravel Bike Adventure: Wauponsee Glacial Trail & Midewin Tallgrass National Prairie

I recently gifted myself a new gravel bike for my birthday this fall and I am enjoying getting on it and exploring some new trails that my triathlon bike could not take me on.  What’s a gravel bike?  Well, it mostly is a road bike with a couple features that allow it to ride on non-paved trails and other surfaces that a road bike would be ill-advised to ride on.  Those features include a little more comfortable upright riding position thanks to a more compact frame, and a wider fork and frame to accommodate wider tires.  It is very similar to a cyclocross bike I would think and would handle similar terrain.

So I thought that I would take rides on trails that I normally don’t get to ride on during triathlon training and posts some photos and thoughts about those rides.  It’s getting a little late in the season, but hopefully I can hit a few more trails soon.

 

GRAVEL BIKE ADVENTURE:  WAUPONSEE GLACIAL TRAIL & MIDEWIN TALLGRASS NATIONAL PRAIRIE

I have ridden portions of this trail before but not from one end to the other, so I was glad to get all the way to the end of this 22-mile trail on this late November day.  Named after an ancient glacial lake, the trail itself is mainly a flat rail-to-trail conversion, although I saw no signs of previous rail usage until the end of the trail near Kankakee.

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Due to some rough trail conditions of the trail located by the Sugar Creek Preserve where I would normally park and begin riding, and the trail closure just south of there to replace an old bridge, today I hopped on the trail near Manhattan and rode it to the end.  That was about a two-hour ride total, with a small detour into the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
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This trail is straight and flat for the most part.

As soon as I turned out of the parking lot I was met by a couple of walkers, one of which was a friend – Rollie!  I shouldn’t have been surprised to see him as I see him all of the time on my local trail near home, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to run into him out here.

Riding south I had to shoo away a black cat and a raccoon, and I spooked some crows.  I was a little concerned about passing a rider on a horse, but I made enough noise for both of them to notice me before making a cautious pass.

 

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This is an old train trestle bridge over the Kankakee River at the end of the trail in Custer Park.

 

Turning around at the end of the trail was welcome as it seemed that was a slow and steady gradual uphill climb to this point.  Another positive was having the sun now at my back which made what was left of the fall colors a little more vibrant.

About two miles away from where I parked I noticed a side trail of sorts that seemed like it was an actual trail heading into the Midewin National Preserve, so I decided to enter it and explore a little bit in there.  Midewin is a huge expanse where the old Joliet Army Ammunition Plant was located back in the days of the Second World War.  There are many reminders of the former plant visible from the trail, including bunkers where they stored the TNT that the plant produced.  Lots of old roads and an old cemetery that is well cared for.

 

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The type of trail in the prairie reserve.

 

 

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A munition bunker was located on the other side of this fence.  There was a ladder-type thing there seemingly inviting me to go over to the other side.   Do you think I should go over and investigate the bunker?

 

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Yeah, couldn’t resist going over to take a closer look.

 

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Just off of the Wauponsee trail is this cemetery inside of Midewin.  It seemed out of place but is well kept.

I would have explored further into the prairie but I saw a person walking alone up in the distance and then he disappeared, only to reappear as I got closer.  He was wearing a trench coat and seemed a little too weird for me, so I decided that I had better play it safe and turn back.

All in all, it was a good ride.  The trail is a little boring – straight, not much variety in scenery, but is well maintained and in good shape.  I will definitely go back just to explore more in the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

 

Confessions of an Un-peaceful Peaceful Sleeper

an amazing run

Last night I was enjoying a really deep sleep.  Honestly, most nights I enjoy a really deep sleep.  Now, you might ask how does one actually “enjoy” a deep sleep?  Well, I’m not sure really, but when the bedquake hit, it jolted me from the deep sleep I was enjoying and I was now no longer enjoying it!  A bedquake?  What’s a bedquake?

A bedquake is something my wife Kari has invented in order to prevent me from having a really deep sleep.  It’s a tactic she resorts to when the foot rub on my calf doesn’t work.  The foot rub on the calf is only good to disrupt my sleep if I’m not that deep into it.  One night I was just dozing off and could feel this strange calf massage thing going on.  I thought, “huh, that’s strange,” and just rolled over and went back to sleep. But…

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2019 Hot Cider Hustle 8-Mile Race Report

Hot Cider Hustle 8-Mile Race

When:  11/02/2019

Where:  Danada Forest Preserve, Wheaton, Illinois

Distance:  8 Miles

Results:  57:32 / 9th Overall / 8th Place Male Overall / 2nd Place M55-59 Age Group

I started running this race in 2011 and this was my 5th time running it.  It’s a fun race that is unique – an 8-miler, which you don’t see very often, it’s run in a nature preserve on mostly chipped limestone trail that meanders through some scenic Illinois prairie, and finishes the last half-mile or so on a grass horse track.

My goal for this race is always the same, finish the 8-miles in less than an hour and place in the age group and take home a medal.  Mission accomplished!

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This race starts at 9am but I have a habit getting there early to nab a parking spot in the main parking lot.  Again, Mission Accomplished!

I did a little shake-out run to see if I was dressed warm enough and was satisfied with what I had on.   After a couple of bathroom trips and reading the paper in the car it was time to head to the start line.

The start line has this funnel start in which only one runner can pass through at a time, which is really an odd way of doing it, but there may be some method to that madness.  Since this is a trail run and it’s only so wide, this gets the runners to spread out.  The first banner in the starting area said 7-minute miles, then 8, 9 and so on.  I came back from another quick heartrate boosting jog I took my spot in the 7-minute spot.  I was by myself.  I was looking around and it appeared no one else was going to join me.  Really?  None of you runners back there can beat a 56-year-old guy?  I noticed one guy wearing a North Central hat and said get in front of me and he was turning me down saying that he really wasn’t in racing shape.  Really?  You’re a former runner of the top DIII Cross Country running school in the nation and you don’t think you have a chance of beating me or the rest of these guys?!  I got behind him and told him just not to run too fast because I didn’t want to lose sight of him and get lost.

2019 ACE Wheaton Hot Cider Hustle Saturday (30 of 1951)
North Central guy and me 1-2 out of the gate.  I’M IN SECOND!  In retrospect, I should have started first and then I could claim that I lead the race for a while!  Oh well.  North Central guy lead from start to finish winning the race.

The guy doing the announcing yelled everything like it was the most exciting info you could hear and he always went up in pitch at the end.  Things like how to line up, when the race was starting, etc., he made it sound exciting.  He counted down to zero and an air horn blew and off we went.

North Central guy and I were 1-2 out of the gate and I was already throwing out my usual pre-race run plan, start comfortable and run negative mile splits.  Nope, I redlined it from the start.  After the first turn, I lost sight of North Central guy and started hearing the footsteps of others behind me.  By the half-mile mark, I was passed by a group of 3 runners, including the top woman and was now in 5th place.  Everyone ahead of me was younger until about the 3-mile mark when I finally got passed by another guy with grey hair wearing shorts.  He was running at a good clip and put some distance on me in no time.  And then I was alone again, which is where I find myself in every race.

At one point I passed a couple of high school kids monitoring the course to make sure that the runners don’t turn off course and they cheered me.  I told them to cheer nice and loud for the next runner so I could get a feel how far back the next guy was.  They didn’t let me down, and I heard loud cheering about 40-seconds later.  Nice.

Around 4.25-miles into the race, I encountered a girl who was right ahead of me on the course, right after a point in the course where those behind were supposed to turn right and follow the loop.  Since only one girl had passed me early in the race I knew right away that she didn’t make the turn.  I asked her if she missed it and she said she decided to only run five miles of the course, pulled out her phone and that was the last I saw of her.

The rest of the race went pretty much how I expected it to go.  I had brought along a gel, which seems kind of unnecessary for a race lasting less than an hour, but I couldn’t resist and started taking small nibbles from it.  I’m glad I did because it did feel like I was suffering less.

When I would pass a turn I would look back and I could see a runner wearing a blue singlet behind me.  He had been back there a while so I was hoping that the kick I had planned for the last mile or two would be enough to keep him at bay.  Then I got to the portion of the course where the 5K turnaround was located and hit a wall of slow walkers not even halfway done with the 3.1 miles.  This gets me going because they should know that they need to stay right and not block the rest of the racers.  I did a lot of shouting “SHARE THE TRAIL!” at these people, and not in the same way the announcer dude was shouting stuff.

I finally made it to the horse track for the finish and was in the final turn when the guy in the blue singlet finally caught me and passed me.  Got me riled a little knowing that he had been back there the whole time and waited to the very last 1/4-mile to overtake me, but whatever, that’s racing.  I finished and was glad to be done.

2019 ACE Wheaton Hot Cider Hustle Saturday (1021 of 1951)
A little beat, but felt like I had a good race.

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Results:  Hot Cider Hustle 8-Mile Results