Fimmvorduhals Hike, 7/24/2018

Wow. This is the least Chrissy and myself could say after finishing the Fimmvorduhals Trek in southern Iceland. This 15.5 mile hike takes you from sea level, essentially, up to about 3,400 ft above sea level, then drops you back 2,700 feet or so into a lush valley. I just want to leave you with a collection of photographs, and then a bit about logistics.




Logistics! So as promised, I’d give some advice. We tried to hitchhike from Hvolsvollur to Skogar–hitchhiking in Iceland is safe, but we found it about as time effective as taking a bus, getting there at the same time (and having left slightly earlier, too). The entire hike took us about 9 hours, because we (stupidly) rushed to catch our bus. My advice? Don’t rush. Soak in this incredible experience. Get a bed for 60 bucks or so each at the hiker’s huts at the end of the trail. Get a bus the next day from one of the several companies.

Kayaking North Vermillion River, 5/19/18 ✶✶✶ ✶

Hopalong Casssidy River Trail to Red White and Blue Bridge (Illinois Rte. 57)

May 19, 2018

Gradient: ~4.3 feet per mile

05555300, Vermillion R. near Leonore; 475 cfs, 4.56 feet deep
05554500, near Pontiac, 160 cfs, 3.47 feet deep

Recommended levels: I would likely not paddle this any shallower. I scraped bottom three times, and it took some water-reading skills to not scrape more.

Put-in: Hopalong Cassidy River Trail, a really attractive and well-maintained gravel parking lot just west of the river and north of County Route 18. Coordinates are: 41°07’15.9″N 88°50’27.2″W

Take-out: I had to modify my take-out plans. Originally I intended on an 8 mile trip ending, going with Mike Svob’s advice in Paddling Illinois, at the Stony Ford bridge. I got to the bridge, ready to do a bike shuttle, only to find a strict mix of private property and a lot of “No Trespassing” signs. I ended up knocking at a neighbor’s door and found that paddlers were using the Stony Ford Sportsmen’s club property as a takeout until a ton of folks got their vehicles stuck and kind of ruined it for anyone. So, I ended up driving down a couple miles to the Red White and Blue Bridge (welcome to small-town Illinois). The take out here is river-right and just upstream of the bridge, on a gravelly side bar. I schlepped the kayak up the immediate side of the bridge–not easy– but there is a dirt road/footpath that can be used. I parked on the side of the highway, and felt pretty safe doing so, given that it seems to be a very low-traffic highway.

Time: About 3h15m
Put in: 2:15 PM
Takeout: 5:30 PM

Wildlife: Vultures, a deer, an eagle on the shuttle, a scarlet tanager (I believe), a heron, hawks, a couple large turtles, one (small) water snake, lots of asian carp jumping about, and a couple horses (!!!) at the end of the trip


I picked this trip out based on Mike Svob’s recommendation in Paddling Illinois, and was not disappointed whatsoever. Finding information for this section is pretty exceptionally difficult, and I had to rely on his awesome but somewhat outdated book: as mentioned before, I had to modify my takeout plans. I was glad I did, as it only took me 3 hours and change to paddle this stretch.

There’s another, way more popular trip downstream on this river that runs Wildcat Rapids and then an old dam, where paddlers died about 15 years ago, prompting a closure of the river to recreational paddling. I’m not really sure how property law works in Illinois or how the DNR can unilaterally close a river to paddling when they don’t own most of the property surrounding the river–but that’s neither here nor there. Given my late start and the time it’s been since I’ve paddled a lot, I certainly didn’t feel comfortable taking on whitewater, especially alone.

This section was exceedingly serene, though, along with some riffles to keep things interesting. Almost immediately after putting in , you pass old bridge pilings, and shortly after the high rock outcroppings and cliffs begin alternating from bank to bank, mostly supporting oak-sycamore-maple forests, with some pretty studdings of woodland phlox and columbine on the rocky outcrops.

Numerous gravel and rocky islands dot the river, and usually signal a riffle train and shallow water coming up. A word of advice: follow the tongues and stay away from the islands. This is what worked for me, at least! Usually. I ended up pinned on a standalone rock, but was able to easily roll off of it quickly. The river as a whole is fairly shallow–I don’t think it was ever deeper than 5 feet or so and usually a bit lower. I scraped just a few times. Interestingly enough, however, the water wasn’t super clear: I’m used to thinking of clear streams and rocky bottoms going hand in hand. I wonder why that isn’t so here.

Mike Svob indicated that the last two miles to the Red White and Blue Bridge weren’t nearly as attractive as the eight miles before–and while the cliffs do fade off after the Sandy Ford Bridge, the river remains a nice paddle. I didn’t see the houses he mentions–the only building I saw was the Sportsmen’s Club just before Sandy Ford. And it’s in this section that I saw horses along the banks–so I wasn’t too torn up about paddling the last two miles.

Two notes of interest about this river.

The first is that this is one of the nicest bike shuttles I’ve ever done. Farm roads, not busy, nice paving…on a windy day it could prove difficult. But the shuttle takes 45-55 minutes and tacks along several really nice farm roads before diving into a tour of Streator, a really pretty small town.

The second’s more related to the hydrology of the river. This is one of two Vermillion Rivers in Illinois. This runs into the Illinois River somewhat near Oglesby, while the other runs right through Danville, Illinois on its way to the mighty Wabash. Confusingly enough, this is in addition to a corresponding Little Vermillion for each Vermillion. Make sense? Good. So why two rivers with the same name just a moderate distance from one another? Turns out, when settlers first came and displaced Native Americans, the two rivers originated from one wetland, flowing in opposite directions. People likely used the wetland and the two streams to go back and forth in canoes, making them one river for their purposes. Just two ways of seeing the same thing, I suppose–they certainly weren’t wrong for calling them one thing, and we certainly aren’t wrong for calling them another.

I would totally paddle this serene, quiet, but often riffly and birdsong-loud river again if I was in the area. I was stoked to get out on water, but would think twice about driving more than an hour to get here.


Kayaking DuPage River Main Branch 5/8/2018



Put-in: Private residence near 95th/Kings Rd
Take out: Riverview Farmstead Preserve, Will County Forest Preserve
Time: 1h40m
Gage: 05540130 110 cfs, 4.75 ft ; 05540290 200 cfs, 7.4 ft

Feeling stuck between two 6 day workweeks (for myself), Chrissy and I decided to go for a short getaway on the main branch of the DuPage River. We dipped in right behind a friend’s house just near the confluence of the East and West Branch at about 5:50. Getting setup and running a shuttle always takes so much longer than I want it to! 

But, alas, with getting set being the most difficult part and well behind us, we dipped our boats in and set off. The glide of the water felt so refreshing, particularly framed against a pretty hectic day at work and on an 85 degree day. 


Sun setting, we enjoyed an intentionally ultra short, almost totally flatwater paddle. 

As expected on our home river, herons of both the great blue and white varieties abound. Tons of birds flew round us, as the sun began to drop precipitously towards the horizon.   

Chrissy spotted several deer and also scared away a raccoon. I helped point out at least two muskrats along the way, and we could hear the drone of spring frogs along with the drone of the two roads we crossed under. 

We also tried to push up Springbrook Creek–an absurd name for a body of water, I feel–but were quickly stymied by the lack of water in the bed.  Something to try when the Naperville gage ticks past 110 cfs!

Getting to the takeout at 7:30, refreshed from an easy dip, we threw one kayak on my car and went to run the post-paddle shuttle. Coming back to pick up the second kayak solo, I got this staring me in my face: 


And I felt super welcomed, of course, by a chained and locked fence with a stop sign. It was past sunset, of course, by ten minutes. So I had to walk the longish entrance road about half a mile and get my kayak, then walk with it on my back to the car and put it up. Felt like a long night, getting everything unpacked around 9 oclock (I wake up at 5 am for work). 

Totally worth it. 


Hiking Shades State Park 3/22/18 ✶✶✶✶✶

Given the impending start of farm season and the imminent decline of free time, I thought it crucial that Chrissy and I got out to Indiana–yes, Indiana–for a good hiking getaway. We drove 3-3.5 hours to an airbnb outside of Crawfordsville, Indiana, for a chance to hike at Shades and Turkey Run State Parks. Before this trip, I think I’d be hesitant to drive that long for a weekend (Fri-Sun), but my mind is changed, and I am thankful for having it changed. We got, for late March in the midwest, pretty good weather–high 40’s and sunny each day! I think Chrissy was skeptical as we wound through the rolling hills of west-central Indiana, but by the end of the trip, she was less hesitant to proclaim the trip 5 out of 5 stars. I am slated to agree with that assessment–a longer trip here would be worth a much longer drive.

At Shades, on the first day, our hiking took on three manifestations. We hiked trail two, a 1.25 mile loop that leads out to a creekside bluff overlooking Sugar Creek, the commmon thread that enjoins these two state parks. From the bluff, a nice wooden staircase drops you quickly to Steamboat Rock, at the foot of the Pearl Ravine. The ravine, a beautiful and semi-rugged hike, takes you up and past a small waterfall before climbing back up to the first creekside bluff.


After trail 2, we drove up to a different lot and took trails 4 and 5 together, hiking the two loops that go through Frintz and Kintz Ravines back-to-back, but not before we ate lunch in the sun at a picnic table–Spring really is coming!

It was on these 1.4 miles or so of trails that we saw, just a couple hundred feet from the parking lot, a pileated woodpecker for the first time (no picture, sorry!), and just a little later, we found some of the first flowers of the season and some really nice stands of ramps!

Finally, our last trails for the day was a 1.6 or 1.7 mile figure 8 between trails 7 and 8, winding through Kickapoo and Shawnee Canyons, with a beautiful section taking us out onto a gravelly bar on Sugar Creek, for us to consider how nice the day was…..but it was time to get onto Crawfordsville, we were huuuuungry after the 5 or so miles we hiked! I would love to hike up to Pine Hills Nature Preserve next time I’m around, kayaking Sugar Creek is definitely on my list, but we saw the vast majority of this park today which was awesome. I LOVED how clear the trail markers are, and all of the interesting names were a nice touch too.

West Branch DuPage River 2/27/18 ✶✶✶

West Branch, DuPage River: Centennial Park (Naperville) to Private Residence near 95th Street (Bolingbrook) ✶✶✶

This stretch of river, hardly a wilderness experience, puts you through a charming downtown area with some nice riffles and waves immediately, and then winds its way through suburban development before tucking into a nice forest preserve for the final mile or two before the pullout. I took out at my girlfriend’s house, after the confluence with the East Branch of the DuPage River.

Skill Level: Beginner, some experience recommended. Some class 1 rapids and many riffles.

Distance: 6.5 miles

Gage: USGS gage 05540130 at ~360 cfs and ~6.3 feet

Recommended levels: I have paddled this section lower, but I don’t know that I would again. I would hit this at a minimum of 300 cfs, and expect to scratch bottom a few times. I did once at 360 cfs. I would love to run this at something like 500 cfs, but at anything higher would scout some of the low-lying bridges first.

Time: Put in at 3:10 PM, pulled out at 5 PM; 1h40m.

Last week a huge warmup thawed out a ton of snow–ten inches, in some places, and brought over three inches of rain to the entire area. On the second to last day in February, the mercury soared over 60 for the first time this calendar year, and I got out for a really quick paddle.

I’ve put in a few (several?) times at Centennial Park in Naperville now, right on the river near a play ground, and I think I have finally (maybe) found the actual put-in. If you’re looking at the playground with the river directly behind it, the put-in looks to be stone steps on the left that are a little hidden until you walk up to them. Regardless, I’ve never had any difficulty putting in at less than ideal spots here; folks are usually just very curious to see ya luggin’ a big boat and paddles and will ask questions!

The first mile or so in this section is by far the most fun, with numerous riffles and small rapids, pedestrian bridges, and a really attractive downtown riverwalk as you course through downtown Naperville. The section here is about 75′ wide if I had to guess, and the river only ever gets up to 100′ wide or so–wide enough to prevent logjams (I have never seen one on this stretch), and small enough to feel, well, small.

After the first mile, you pass the North Central College football field to your left, marking your exit from downtown Naperville. Almost right across the river from that, the hospital I was born in towers over the river! You’ll then spend the next few miles fluttering through suburban housing developments and tracking Washington Rd closely; as I said before, this is hardly a wilderness float. Even still, the loud din of birdsong rings out well over the volume of Washington Rd

At 4.8 miles in, you pass under Washington Rd and into a really nice forest preserve, with attractive oak groves to your right and a hilly wooded bank to your left. You can’t see it from here, but on the right side of the River and across the street is the organic farm that I work on! It’s here that I heard an owl and a woodpecker on this warm February day. This is one alternate takeout that would shorten this trip; just before you pass under Washington Rd, Weigand Riverfront Park also presents another opportunity for a takeout, at 4.88 miles into the paddle.

All things considered, this was a great way to get out and start the paddling season. I would add–this was my first trip with a lifeproof case for my phone (for the forthcoming pictures) and the frog-togg raincoat that I have, and that setup worked extremely well to protect from pretty cold water. This is definitely the coldest I would paddle in!


Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore 2/23/18

This past week, on a fairly warm February Friday, I planned to go to explore the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, near the Illinois town of Danville. Needless to say, I stayed up too late Thursday night and sought out quality hiking a little closer to home. Within about an hour, I brainstormed the outlines of a trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and within 75 minutes of leaving my front door, was parking at my first stop for the day, Cowles Bog.

Cowles Bog, actually a slightly alkaline fen, takes its name from the botanist Henry Cowles, who studied plant life and succession extensively at the Indiana Dunes, postulating that much of the area would eventually transition to a beech-maple climax forest.

I, probably correctly, assume that Mr. Cowles would outwit me instantly in a match of botanical wits–but that didn’t stop me from feelin’ some type of way for this site. The usual oaky woodland of the Chicago area is here, although undoubtedly not with the white or burr oaks more common in my neck of the woods. More exciting, though, is the plant life I saw here that I almost never see in Chicagoland. Jack pine, ferns, a representative of yucca, winterberry holly, paper birch, and blueberries all abound here, as well as yellow birch and (I believe) beech and hop hornbeam trees. Animal life on this dreary day did lack, but I heard my first sandhill cranes in several months.


Oh, is this post about a hike, too? I hiked 4.7 miles in a little over two and a half hours–I would give this three hours. I also give this hike four stars. Hilly, hard, sandy, well-drained from a severe rainstorm event earlier in the week, this hike was incredible, with a secluded beach punctuating the hike. The only downside was the power plant next door, but I found the juxtaposition more fascinating than anything. On a clear day, you can see the skyline of Chicago from the beach, too–today was not the day for it.


Bailly Homestead

After the wild success of the Cowles Bog hike, I stopped near the Bailly homestead historic site. I parked at the Bailly contact site, and hiked (this is more of a walk) in a counter clockwise fashion, checking out the historically accurate Chellberg farm buildings–and chickens! (brought to teach kids about food production), before descending into a ravine system on (yet another) really cool boardwalk.

The boardwalk, giving a picturesque view of a now-tiny stream running through, had recently been submerged in at least one spot.




Walking across the street to see the Bailly cemetery, the trail got a little soupy for the first time, but not so bad as to stop or really slow me en route to what turned out to be a huge tomb! The size of the tomb was foreshadowed by a (probably) pre European settlement oak on the left of the trail, maybe 500 feet before the tomb.




Retracing steps back, and then taking a right to get towards the Little Calumet River (the reason for this site being a historic treasure), the trail becomes more unattractive as it rounds a restoration site in progress and an environmental learning center–seriously, a lot of this forest is cut down, to let sunlight in–cool to see, in a way, but with nothing growing yet on the forest fllor, it looked like an incomplete picture. One highlight was a huuuuge beech tree growing at some point on the left side of the trail. Eventually, you come around and the trail becomes a slightly muddy but pleasant nature walk before popping out at ANOTHER boardwalk, this time almost a quarter of a mile, through a marshy riparian section of the Little Calumet. This boardwalk had also been clearly submerged, with lots of dead logs on top of the bridge and water rippling just below the 2x4s.


After the boardwalk adventure ends, you cross the Little Calumet proper, although on this day there was no telling the difference, really.

Crossing the bridge and hopping up onto a ridgetop savanna, you soon cross into a recently burned prairie restoration, Mnoke prairie, and then intersect with a paved bike path that crosses the river again and brings you to the Bailly homestead, a national historic landmark. I found it worth contemplating the CHANGE of the past few centuries, before getting in my car and zooming to a visitor’s center……I give this hike 3 stars–mildly interesting, lots of variation, but very flat overall. I finished the 3.8 mile circuit in just under two hours.



Snowshoeing Goodenow Grove ✶✶✶✶

There are definitely less options for snowshoe and ski rentals than I’d like around me. So, today, I woke up and drove about an hour to get to the only forest preserve in Will County that rents snowshoes– (very) mildly annoying because I live in Will County and have to drive an hour to get there, but…..

The fog had settled in last night, on Valentine’s Day, and I knew the weather was destined to be mild….but I was afraid of rain. I figured if I left by 11, I’d be able to beat it. I left at about 1130–good thing, too–and driving to Goodenow Grove, was thinking to myself about how much random chance is involved in deciding whether or not to call an outdoor excursion due to weather. I hoped to miss any huge rain. On my way to the site, I heard on the radio that the fog advisory had been extended ’til 4 pm–yes! I would at least not miss out on the chance to get pictures of this place in the fog.

I got there around 1245, and got onto the trail by about 1. They require a driver’s license or ID, a ten dollar cash deposit, and a ten dollar payment to rent a pair of snowshoes. They take payment with cards, but for the deposit you need cash–I did not think about this before, and ended up putting up about five dollars worth of dimes and nickels–they were pretty gracious about it though, thankfully!


So once on the trail, I planned, on recommendation, to walk out to a huge bridge I’d seen photos of–it is not the bridge over Plum Creek that’s right next to the campground and nature center and parking lot, but the next bridge, about 1.5 miles away from the nature center.

Alas, for someone who loves to go exploring outside, I have a pretty horrific sense of direction. So I naturally, coming upon the Snapper Pond Trail (brown), felt that I had started the wrong way and turned around…I realized about ten minutes later I’d been going the right way before I had turned around, but felt that I had enough time to do the entire Scout Trail and get tot the bridge and back before my rental snowshoes were due at four.

The Scout Trail itself is nice, but mainly unremarkable, winding through wood of various densities–but it also takes you to the short balloon trail, the quarter mile Oak Ridge, which I thought was really gorgeous, particularly in the deep fog enveloping the preserve–I got some good elevation change, too, for the area, as it dipped down to the creek and then (fittingly) to an oak-filled ridge overlooking the creek.



In the on-the-fly mental math, I felt that if I finished both the Oak Ridge and the Scout Trail by 2, I could make it to the bridge and back by four. So, on I went. I dropped my awkward-to-carry water bottle, too, to pick up on the way back!

I also think snowshoeing this past week has helped me realize that my right foot doesn’t quite walk straight, but that’s another topic for another time…

The Plum Creek Regional Trail starts out nicely and only gets better, as it winds, again, through a mostly flat section of the preserve, and again through woods of varying density and some sections of prairie. The map indicates that there’s a pond somewhere fairly close to this trail, but this fog was dense enough to keep most of the preserve under wraps.


Eventually, you come to a section that borders some  private property, with a very handsome oak grove–pasture, maybe? Tough to tell in this weather, but it does look beautiful. IMG_4956.jpg

After passing this really beautiful section, you wind through about another half mile of turns before you hit this beauty:

Once I finished taking pictures it was 3 oclock, so I hurried back! I wish I had enough time to take on the High Point trail today; it looked nice ‘nd spoooooky. But, then again, for a vantage point hike, a super foggy day may not be the best…I will definitely be back to Goodenow Grove in the future.