The Art of Exploration · a diary of day trips, natural places, and miscellaneous adventures

Middlefork Savanna

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009 in Illinois
Middlefork Savanna

There are suddenly hints of fall everywhere. The morning air is dewy and condenses in the early hours of the day, forming tiny droplets on windshields and rear view mirrors. The sky is cerulean blue. Gone are muggy dawns and sultry dusks. It’s bike-riding weather for sure. Temperatures barely top seventy degrees at midday and if you ride early or late in the day you’ll enjoy a cool, refrigerant headwind as you ride towards the lake. The breeze is just cold enough to force you work just hard enough to stay warm and once you do the air is pure refreshment. Last night, I finished work at five, filled a water bottle, kicked the mud chunks off my mountain bike, and set out on the 20-mile ride to Middlefork Savanna.

The trek out to Middlefork Savanna is, for the most part, dull. It consists of about six miles of straight, gravel-track that runs along the spine of Route 176. The bike path is perforated every quarter-mile by quiet side streets and an occasional ride-halting, traffic-clogged road. Once you reach the turn-off to Middlefork, you’re still not really there. To enter the savanna, you must first ride past it and then double-back on a path that descends a small hill and turns south into a sparse woods. Once through the woods, the landscape opens onto a rolling sea of grass:

Last night, as I rode through the savanna I began to get mildly concerned. To get back home before dark I would have to ride fast. But my legs were already heavy with fatigue and the scenery was too lovely to speed past. So I rode at moderate pace to the south end of the savanna. I turned around and retraced my route, heading home at a leisurely pace. I figured evening darkness comes gradually and if I had to grind through the last fifteen minutes of my ride in dim light, I would be close enough to home to take comfort in street lights and familiar trails.

As the light faded the colors of the landscape came alive. Siennas, umbers, and golds glimmered amoungst the sun-parched patches of prairie grass. As I rounded a bend just yards before exiting the savanna, I spotted a red fox in a clearing. For a moment he froze, then trotted off to keep his distance. If you look closely, you might be able to see him in the center of the picture above, his little heart-shape face staring out from behind a clump of wildflowers and grasses.

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