This is the first summer that my wife Peggy and I have both taken the summer off. We generally have good-paying summer school options to work, and we have used them as a matter of course for the last fifteen years or so. But as school teachers, with paychecks that continue through the summer, we have an option many do not have to take summer off. Part of our reason for taking off now—we have a new second home in Three Oaks, Michigan, where we have more or less relocated for the summer.
Because it is just 70 minutes away from our Hyde Park condominium in Chicago, we get here most weekends during the school year, as well. That includes weekends where I don’t get home from Saturday track meets until 5:00. It is close enough that we can still make the dash here for a Saturday overnight and a Sunday in the country.
It is a surprise to both Peggy and me, who come from genuine middle-class roots, that we own two homes. We’re not quite sure how we have managed to swing this. There are also many good surprises that come with our second home—and so far not many bad surprises.
One big part of the fun has been to have new places to run and bike. Running on country roads, against the traffic on the edge of the road or on the shoulder when cars go by, takes me back to my first running days as a teenager in Exeter, New Hampshire. Those rolling and curving running routes on Pickpocket Road, or up the hills on Shaw Hill Road or Kimball Road, and out Newfields Road are etched in my memory.
It is likely that our Ignatius boys know the straight as an arrow root on Roosevelt Road to the Lake Michigan bike trail, which we run almost daily in cross country season and frequently the rest of the year, as memorably as I knew those country roads. The city landmarks are sidewalks, store fronts, traffic lights and street crossings, bridges, and bus stops. But country running is a lot quieter and much less of a jumble and assault on the senses in terms of noise and visual input. There is less to notice, so maybe you notice more. I remember mail boxes, road signs, farms with dogs that would chase you, shady trees and woods, and, most of all, big hills.
Three Oaks is home to the annual late-September Apple Cider Century ride, connected to the Dewey Cannon Trading Company located in the center of the town. So the roads extending up to 25 miles in different directions have been painted with color-coded apple arrows and mileage numbers. These standardized routes and painted markers, also available in map form, really don’t guide us, but they tell us which roads seem to be common to the area bikers. These roads seem comfortable for running and biking.
Neither Peggy nor I have been running enough over the last year to need many running routes, and we’re not running far, so our running routes don’t go far. I have a short three or four-mile run that circumnavigates the town proper, which has been the route that I used to start running again. It uses side streets and sidewalks. But for a longer five-mile run we can be out of town and into corn and soy fields after one mile of running, traveling south on Three Oaks Road for another mile and a half or so before looping back toward town on Donner and then Phillips roads. There are barns, horses, rows of corn stalks and soybean plants, farm equipment, and very few cars, except sometimes on Three Oaks Road, which is the closest thing to a main drag. Those drivers move to the other side of the road when they can to pass, and they wave hello and smile.
Bicycle riding, of course, takes us farther into the countryside and extends our access to more roads. We’ve mainly headed south, in the same direction that we run. On the bike, we can actually ride to Indiana and back in just an hour or so of riding, about 16 miles total. The terrain rolls with hills to provide some anaerobic work. The roads sometimes have names, like Spring Creek Road, but there are also roads with rural numbers, like 1000 N and 350 E. The turnaround for the out and back ride is at Stevetty’s Pizza, a small bungalow house with some picnic tables, really, located near Hudson Lake in northern Indiana. At some point we will have to ride there to stop and eat.
We’re not big touring cyclists. Even in our triathlon training days, our long rides were just 30 miles or so—not like the standard five-hour or 70-mile training rides of more serious cyclists. In the Chicago area we generally stuck to path and trail riding, avoiding the roads. The Lakefront path was close and easy for a get on the bike and roll ride. But we frequently would drive the bikes all the way up to the Des Plaines River trail which stretches for 20 miles from Lincolnshire north to the Wisconsin border. A closer trail option was the Chicago River North Branch trail which starts at Devon and Caldwell Woods in Edgebrook and stretches north for 15 miles or so into Winnetka and the Skokie Lagoons.
But since adopting our two children, triathlons and even just bike riding have gone by the wayside—until we started spending time here in Michigan. And now that we have started riding on our own, we’ve also started to look for places to take the bicycle trailer built for two. We’re not really comfortable taking it out even on the less travelled roads, so we have been exploring bike trails here in Michigan and northern Indiana.
We’ve taken two trips to South Haven, Michigan, about 50 minutes away, mostly on the interstate, to ride on the Kal-Haven Trail Sesquicentennial State Park. We had run and biked on this train-bed trail at the other end, 33 miles away in Kalamazoo. The trail is wide enough, hard enough, and clear enough, crushed limestone and dirt, that the bike trailer rolls well behind my mountain bike, and Peggy even uses her road bike. The kids enjoyed the covered bridges and the trees for an hour of riding. They sang and talked and played. We didn’t dare push it for much longer than that because the bike trailer is pretty cramped quarters.
Looking for something closer to home, we discovered just yesterday the trails in northern Indiana. Our first ride was the Prairie-Duneland Trail that travels ten miles from Chesterton, about 30 minutes from Three Oaks, to Hobart. It is a paved train-bed trail—perfect for the trailer and the road bike. It is shaded, riding through farm fields, parks, and back yards with a lot of swimming pools. There are amenities like water fountains along the route, and shade houses with picnic tables. We moved quickly and efficiently enough that the two four-year olds spent two hours more or less happily in the trailer, as we travelled the entire length and returned. After the ride we visited the Chesterton Dairy Queen, or DQ, as it now seems to be marketed.
The web site TrailLink.com also shows a trail that connects to the Prairie-Duneland Trail, the gravel and dirt Iron Horse Heritage Trail, and just a few miles away is the Calumet Bike Trail, another gravel and dirt trail, that travels through the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore area. So we are likely to return to Indiana soon for more riding.
These Indiana trails also sit less than an hour from downtown Chicago and our Saint Ignatius campus, and during the two-hours riding on my bicycle, I started to plot a plan for bringing our team out here to run. In August, before the competition season begins, we have a chance to do some Saturday practice runs in locations distant from campus. It gives us a chance to run in places other than our usual routes north or south on the Chicago lakefront. We have some established traditions for Saturday runs, in Washington Park near the University of Chicago and where I live, in the south, and then up north, at Loyola University, where we run north along the lake through Evanston and Northwester University to the Bahai Temple in Wilmette. These runs generally include a social event afterwards—a pizza party at Loyola Beach after the Bahai run. Logistics are pretty simple, as we load most of the boys into two carryall vans at the school and return them there after practice, while the others drive themselves and park in the Chicago Park District parking lot.
A trip to the Indiana trails would stretch our boundaries a lot. Logistics would be more complicated, because there are complicated driving directions, interstates, toll roads, traffic, and state park admission fees to consider. Maybe we could come out to Indiana for a run on Friday afternoon, spend some time at the beach, and then come up here to Three Oaks to camp in our yard for the night. Saturday, we could return to run on the trail again, swim a little bit, and then head back to Chicago.
A backyard camping overnight with 40 hungry and sweaty boys? Two hours on the bike pulling two four-year-olds in a trailer will get you thinking some crazy thoughts. We’ll have to plan something simpler.
But these trails are beckoning for more runners.