Monday, April 21

Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area: 152 miles of lessons

DSC_2102 My preference is to get on the road early. Sunday's planned ride started off a tad cooler than I expected. I wore my Tourmaster, silver and black jacket and black overpants, which performed as expected. I packed hiking boots, camera equipment and a fruit lunch. I navigated an Interstate most of the way. Riding into a head wind contributed to much of my initial discomfort. Still, the thrill of embarking on my first real ride of the season kept my mind off my increasingly cold, gloved fingers. By the time I had exited the city and entered the hinterland, I forgot about my numb digits. As I pushed increasingly west and south, I settled in and located that comfortable zone of being alert yet relaxed. DSC_2117

The streets show the ravishes of winter. Repair work is omnipresent. Clearly the patching is done without regard to two-wheeled travelers. In places, huge craters and ruts cover half the lane! Gouges and poorly marked road shifts make riding seem like an obstacle course event. Patched road surfaces are also problematic as some are often doctored with that slippery black stuff that looks like electrical tape snaking down the road. In one unavoidable spot, I felt the back tire slide just enough to elevate my heart rate. Far too many repaired edges are ragged and raised enough to trap a motorcycle tire--that is, if one isn't paying the closest attention to the road's surface.

I am out of ride shape! Admittedly, I slacked off over the winter and shouldn't be surprised. Since rescuing the bike from winter camp, my "trips" have been of short duration so I've avoided confronting the result of my winter vegetation. This journey was payback! On this, my first real trip of the season, my ankles cracked, creaked and complained after about 20 nonstop miles. My knees begged for stretching; my neck felt the weight of my helmet. Ignoring these bodily grumbles required considerable mind control! It helped that I did a full body parts check and ordered myself to loosen up my shoulders, keep my thighs tank tight, and position my feet comfortably on the balls. It took me more time than I care to admit to find that sweet seating spot. I am, however, thrilled to report that my lower back didn't fail me. It is the one thing I worked on over the winter.


Last ride season, I tried to visit many state parks, forest preserves, natural, and wildlife areas. Continuing with that theme, I settled on Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, located in Grundy County. According to its literature, prairie once covered nearly 60 percent of Illinois and Goose Lake Prairie, which is the result of glaciers, best reflects the grasslands and marshland of the area. Goose Lake Prairie is also home of many birds with at least 175 species having been recorded since 1970. Unfortunately, the ones I spotted were faster than my camera skills. I did see a spotted sandpiper and a couple of Henslow's sparrows. And, something rather large flew over head and looked rather raptor-like but I couldn't ID it from the rear and so far away.DSC_2146

Goose Lake Prairie now totals more than 2500 acres and is the "largest remnant of prairie left in Illinois." The diversity of grasses is stunning. It took me more than 2 hours to cover most of the grounds. It is understandably soggy but the trails are beautiful and the sounds one hears are truly symphonic! The trails are isolated (I saw one person the entire time). When I saw this individual, I immediately realized I left my weapon of choice packed on the bike but I was too far to return to the bike. He carried a huge tripod extended. I made up a mental story of him killing innocent hikers and photographing their dead bodies. I had my Nikon D80 and N80 with me and decided either one would make a good weapon if needed. You know what they say, "You can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl."

Buffalo once roamed this area before it became Goose Lake Prairie, but the place is now home to far less formidable wildlife. Today the area contains red fox, coyote, prairie dog, deer, cotton tail rabbit, muskrat, beaver and badger. While on the trails, I thought of how a visit to a place like this would be a healing trip for kids mired in the bustling inner city. For some children getting away from the city is rare and difficult. Places like Goose Lake Prairie are wonderful respites for hearing yourself think, for deep breathing, for listening to sounds created not by mankind, but by nature's orchestra of birds, bullfrogs, and cricket, to mention a few. DSC_2151

Goose Lake Prairie is best known for its mammoth variety of grasses, some of which grow as tall as 12 feet. The Tall Grass Nature Trail is well-marked and doesn't allow you to get lost. I'm now impressed with my new knowledge of big bluestem, switch grass, Indian grass, bluejoint and prairie cordgrass, among which I can probably only identify two on the list--if my life depended on it, that is. Walking along paths with varied hued grasses lining the whole way is surreal. Grass color, style, and personality are unequivocal. I especially like the round clumps that create a textured landscape in the middle of smooth flat grasses. Looking out on the vast prairieland is breath-taking and the absence of trees had a visually striking impact my conscious mind. DSC_2157

After finishing the trails (I think I missed one, shucks), I head north to Heidecke Lake, which is part of the state's fish and wildlife area program. It claims 1,300 acres of "prime fishing." To avoid over fishing the exact amount of fish one can catch on a given day is clearly posted. I plan to return to the area--I enjoyed it that much! DSC_2177

Fortunately, the ride home was uneventful. I took a very circuitous route, enjoying the two lane stretches of road that took me farther west than I needed to go but it was a welcomed relief to avoid the Interstate for some of the return trip. Regardless, it is evident that winter has not be tough just on us humans. The roads have been battered, forcing anyone on two wheels to take extra special precautions out there. In closing, as I write this, I feel the outcome of having been a slackard over the winter. The correction begins today!

Ride total: 152 miles

Safe riding!