Took the bike to work with me today, and hit the trail at about 4:45 p.m. Winter has not been kind to the 9.5-mile loop; it's very hard -- oddly pavement-like for a limestone trail -- but carpeted with lumps and bumps from hoof- and footprints. Here's hoping some automotive patrols by the Forest Preserve District rangers and a lot of bicycle tires smooth the surface a bit.
During my previous trip around the loop, I noticed an odd tendency for long downhill runs to end in an abrupt hairpin turns that force the rider to brake away all that wonderful momentum. I decided to try going the other way around -- clockwise -- this time to see if it worked better in that direction. The verdict: not so much.
I departed from the Lemont Road trailhead, figuring the cool east wind would assist on the return half of the loop. Well, the fact that most of the last quarter of the trail was (by Illinois standards) fairly seriously uphill negated the tailwind.
As I noted before, the main trail isn't particularly well marked. I reached a crossroads (crosstrails?) and guessed that the main trail would be the one that didn't involve a 90-degree turn.
Bzzzzzt! Wrong, stupid bicyclist with your arrogant directional presumptions!
In fact, the default straight-ahead option took me straight into the GLACIAL RIDGE DEATH PLUNGE. OK, I have to admit there was a small sign that said something to the effect of "Slow: steep downhill, loose gravel." And wow, they weren't kidding. I was pushing 30 mph with my front tires slithering drunkenly through the gravel. I didn't dare hit either brake. All I could do was hold it together and do my best to stay upright. Which I did, somehow.
Hey, it's steeper than it looks.
I stopped at the bottom of the hill for a few out-of-breath profanities. Once the adrenaline receded to merely fatal levels, I noticed what a pretty little spot it was. A rock-strewn Sawmill Creek trickled under a graceful steel bridge. Songbirds arced across the small clearing in the tiny valley. The trail ambled across the bridge and ... back UP an even steeper hill with more loose gravel. After chugging my way up on the granny ring (OK, I admit it, I walked it up the second half), the gravel/limestone petered out and became a thin dirt track in the grass. It took me a while to find my way back to the actual loop trail.
A 50-yard stretch of the trail just west of the poverty prairie is under water. I imagine it will dry out by summer, but for now, you can walk along the railroad tracks and bypass the swampy bit. After that comes the major uphill assault. I think I acquit myself pretty well for a flatlander, although I'm certainly feeling it now in my calves.
I'll definitely hit this trail a lot through the summer months. Lots of variety and challenges. Maybe I'll even figure out how to stay on the stupid main loop.