A bridge to what lies ahead

Last year around this time, I signed up for a Meetup event to hike the backpacking trail at Forest Glen just south of Danville IL. I didn’t know a soul that was going, and being an introvert, that’s not easy. But the two ladies that I drove down with were great fun and friendly, and I got to know several other people on the trip who I became friends with on Facebook (including the ladies I rode down / back with). This year, many of the same people are going on the that very same trail again.

And I signed up for that too.

So it will be fun to go again, and this time feel like I’m going with friends. But given that the even was scheduled just a few days ago and I hadn’t exactly done a whole lot in the way of preparing for a backpacking trip yet, I figured I better do that today!

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Loaded up and ready to go hit the trail. Okay, HIKE the trail…

I decided Thorn Creek Forest Preserve near my house was a good spot to go. I knew it would have  a trail surface much like Forest Glen does – not to mention mud, and at least a few hills. When I arrived at the parking lot, the temperature was about 55F, and a decent breeze was blowing. It was too cool to not have a fleece jacket on to start. But less than 2 miles in? Yeah, the jacket came off.

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The jacket came off pretty quickly after I got going and generated a bit of body heat. 

I was fine with my Cuddlduds long sleeve shirt, soft shell pants and heavier Merrell boots. I also liked the new 80% merino wool socks I had on. I only packed about 16 or so pounds into my backpack (tent, sleeping bag, and usual “always bring” items), but also had my DSLR camera with 55-250 lens. I probably should use my 28-105 lens for the Forest Glen trip – the 55mm really isn’t wide enough on my APS-C (cropped) sensor for good wider field photos.

I started out on a pretty good pace, and really felt like I could keep it up for much of the hike. The weather did warm to 67F by the time I finished, so it really was an ideal day to practice hike. Normally I see a lot of deer at this preserve, but today it seemed to be all about the birds. LOTS of birds, and some I hadn’t seen there before:

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker. Not in focus, but it flew off before I could get a good shot. Was cool to see it. MUCH larger than I expected – they are about crow size.

Hermit thrush, Thorn Creek

Hermit thrush. Never even knew what that was before today.

This particular trail is supposed to be a pretty big loop, with a decent spur at the further point from the parking lot. But it crosses Thorn Creek, and the south bridge has been out for a couple of years now. I decided to walk as far as I could, so I took the north bridge trail, turned away from the spur towards the missing south bridge at the junction, and then turned back at the creek.

Thorn Creek at trail juncture

I love this location. It’s at the trail junction of the spur off the loop. Prettier when all the leaves are out, but I still like this spot. And photos don’t quite do it justice.

Interestingly, I did find a way to cross the creek not far from where the south bridge is out. And there’s a fascinating feature along the creek there.

After hiking back up the trail and up to the spur, I rounded the pond where the photo of the goose was taken (see below). A short trail off that mini-loop leads to another pond, but I didn’t spend much time there as I wanted to get in as much “fast”hiking as possible.

On the way back to the north bridge, I discovered another feature I hadn’t ever seen before – a random bench across the gully. I crossed over to it, and realized that that was where the old trail must have gone. I found wood planks that helped divert water when it still was a trail. Another place to explore again sometime.

Hairy woodpecker Thorn Creek

Hairy woodpecker, if I’m identifying this bird accurately. Better shot than the pileated woodpecker, but this one was a lot further away so it still looks slightly fuzzy.

Goose on nest in pond

A goose on… a nest, I think?

Here’s my stats for the day:

  • Distance: 5.22 miles
  • Duration: 2 hours, 18 minutes
  • Average speed: 2.26 mph
  • Max speed, 5.58 mph (!!)
  • Min altitude, 564 ft / max altitude, 692 feet (we’re flat here in IL, what can I say?)

I tried to push myself and not rest as often as I might normally. I stopped about every 2 miles, instead of every 1 mile as I often do when my wife hikes with me on day hikes. This seemed to work well – I either needed water or some food and water at those times, and my feet appreciated the rest too. I drank about a half liter of water, and had 1/2 a cup of cashews and a granola bar with me, which was more than sufficient.

Trees and trail

Not quite how I thought I had this focused, but I think it turned out well. It was nice to see some green out there today.

Although my calves were like, “Hey! Why such a workout dude?!” as I was moving pretty quickly when I was walking, I’d say the most they hurt was about a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Definitely not “OW!” just more like, “Oooh, yeah, good soreness there.”

My knee did not hurt at all, which I felt was good news given how things went last year. And that’s really good as it hurt last year after 2 or 3 miles, and I hiked 5+ miles today.

Tree with weird knots

I found the look of this tree fascinating for some reason.

I did start to get a bit tired around the 4th mile, so I definitely need to try to practice more before the end of the month. But I’m pretty confident about how strong I’ll be. My back didn’t hurt at all, my arms didn’t hurt from the trekking poles, and only my calves were really sore, and only from not seeing enough use on muddy trails / fast walking with some weight on my back, I’m thinking.

 

In all, a great day, and I feel good. I’ll probably be sore tomorrow, but it’s all muscle-rebuilding from the winter, and I should be in the shape I need to be by April 30. And all this is a bridge to what lies ahead at the end of the month, even if it will feel more like a familiar path shared with old friends this time.

Leaning bridge at Thorn Creek

A bridge to what lies ahead.

 

 

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