Midwest Trail: Palos Forest Preserve

One of the many lakes at Palos

Saturday, for my Long Slow Distance run, I decided to head over to Palos Forest Preserve. Palos is known predominantly for being the premier Chicagoland mountain biking destination. While it has no mountains to speak of, the rolling terrain does offer some challenge.

The above trail map comes from the CAMBR website (Chicago Area Mountain Bikers) and they, in conjunction with the forest district, are responsible for maintaining the trails, purely on a volunteer basis – hooray for CAMBR!

I got there just before dawn, so I sat in my car until I thought I could see enough to run – the trail from the mountain bike staging area is a single-track, so didn’t want to risk injury. My plan was to run the yellow trail, at 8.3 miles a decent distance for me (my plan is to increase this each Saturday so that I’m ready for the Chicago Monster Half-Marathon on Halloween). I looked at the map once more, got out, and purposefully (?) left the map in the car – it was raining, so I didn’t want to ruin it, smart right?

The initial section ,as I mentioned, is single-track and, as far as midwest trail runs is concerned, is fun, twisty and rolling. At the end of the single-track is the multi-use trail, for runners, walkers, cyclists, and equestrians. I of course, turned right instead of left and eventually had to backtrack.

Palos Yellow Multi-Use Trail

Once headed in the right direction, I settled into a nice even pace, pausing occasionally to sip some Nuun (thanks AngieB!) and take the random photo with my new Blackberry Tour – what a camera improvement over the Curve! I saw deer, maybe a coyote, some chipmunks and squirrels. Considering there was a light rain, I was surprised  and gratified to see any wildlife.

About an hour into the run, I heard strange radio-like sounds followed by a voice. Looking around, I could see no one and so, continued on. A few moments later, once again, a disembodied voice. I slowed down, stilled my breathing, and this is what I heard:

     “911. What is your emergency and location, please.”
     “Me: Oops, my phone just dialed by itself.”
     “911: So you don’t need emergency assistance.”
     “Me: Um, no, thank you.”
     “911: You are SURE you don’t need emergency assistance?”
     “Me: No, I’m good thanks.”
     “911: Thank you.”

Much relieved, but chagrined, I soldiered on. I was trying out a new tri top from Sugoi, carrying my phone in the rear pocket under a new Fuelbelt I was trying out, and apparently the phone buttons got pushed in just the right manner to call 911. Oops.

When I reached a T in the path, with multi-use behind, to the left, and to the right of me, I wondered if I should continue ahead, on a single-track trail that looked more like a stream bed than an actual trail – it had no markings to boot. Since I didn’t have my map with me (doh!), I wasn’t sure what to do, but I knew that the multi-use trail going left and right was marked with peach (or similar color), so that probably wasn’t right. I plunged ahead.

Beautiful Palos single-track

Eventually the streambed turned into what is pictured above, just beautiful trail! And, I saw a yellow trail marker, so I knew I was on the right track. I ran along until…the trail ended at a road. Hmmmm…. I jogged up the road a bit and…the trail started again. Continued beautiful single-track until…the trail ended at a road, an intersection of two roads, to boot.

Hmmmm… I wandered left, I wandered right, I backtracked, now I felt lost (sniffle). I phoned my wife, completely forgetting about the map program I had on the phone, and asked her to boot up the old computer at home. I continued moving, always moving, searching for hope. And there it was, an equestrian staging center! No map, but in the corner of the parking lot, a trail marked yellow.

I hung up with my wife, and ran along – turns out that I had chanced upon a spur of the yellow trail, which eventually led me back to my car. Not exactly what I had in my when I started, but really what normally happens when I trail run. My 8.3 mile run became an 1:30, 9.67 mile run. Except for getting lost, this was a run I would have happily continued. I’ll be back to Palos!

If you are in the Chicago area, definitely check out Palos Forest Preserve. If you park at the mountain bike staging area, there are several single-track trails to choose from, along with the gravel multi-use trail. My next run here will be a reversal of the yellow trail, with the cemetery loop added for an additional few miles.

Other nearby trails: Waterfall Glen, Danada Forest Preserve, Sag Valley, Waterfall Glen again, Herrick Lake and Danada, Greene Valley, McDowell Grove, Blackwell (winter), Greene Valley (winter), Illinois Prairie Path, Hidden Lake (winter), Waterfall Glen (winter).

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