Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve

Tried the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve main loop after work. A scenic 9.5-mile ride and a good workout in wonderful weather: 77 degrees, partly sunny, light SW breeze.

The preserve is on Cass Ave, just south of I-55 between Darien and Lemont. Started at the ski-equestrian trailhead off Cass Ave. The sign doesn't mention bicycles, but doesn't discourage them either.

The trail itself is the familiar limestone screening, in very good condition. Having done most of my rides on fanatically straight-and-level rails-to-trails paths, Waterfall Glen offered the unusual chance to climb hills (actually glacial ridges) and negotiate some tight curves.

The grip shifters got a good workout as the trail undulated through beautiful stands of oak trees. Discovered that the front derailleur wouldn't shift to the smallest chainring. The hills weren't steep enough to make the malfunction a serious issue, but it was annoying. Obviously, this Illinois boy doesn't get to use the serious-uphill sprocket very often, but I want stuff to work like it's supposed to.

It seemed like every hill had a short, steep climb -- and every descent ended in a sharp 180-degree switchback that required a hard brake to walking speed. All that good kinetic energy wasted on heating up the wheel rims! I went around the loop counter-clockwise; I'll go clockwise next time and see if reverse pattern is more energy-efficient.

The trail passes through stands of oaks and maple, savanna and a "dolomite prairie," where the bedrock lies very close to the surface; the shallow soil is home to various kinds of rare plants. Interesting to see the various landscapes roll by. Informative signs are posted along the way.

The main trail could be marked a little better for newbies. There are several spots where the trail splits and the bicyclist has to guess which one is the main trail and which is a dead-end spur. Granted, there are map boards at most of these splits, but a simple "Main Trail -->" would be welcome so you wouldn't have to stop to orienteer. I'm all about the momentum, baby. But a very minor issue.

Overall, a great place to ride. I'll be back, especially since I work nearby.

Side note: The Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve bike trail is part of a "Route 66 Trail system" of off-road paths and comfortable roads for bicycles, equestrians, hikers, and more. I had been unaware of this interesting concept. More info and downloads online.

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