Out Our Front Door’s Sun Harvest ride is one that draws both veterans and first time bike packers every year. For some riders new to OOFD, this was the longest they’d ridden their bikes in a weekend. For others, a chance to catch up with friends they’d been riding with for years. New relationships and old.
It can also be somewhat bittersweet - this is the last camping trip many of us will take before the long, cold Chicago winter sets in. But what better way to celebrate the fall?
A sold-out ride slowly gathered on Saturday morning at what is becoming a popular starting point for us - Cog Cycles and Yarn in North Park. We were greeted by donuts and coffee à la Ashley, and the beloved shop dog of Cog - Tater Tot. We rolled out strong, nearly 60 of us, and like a school of fish we safely moved as one along the busy Chicago streets until the sun peeked out and we left the city.
Fall camping means we don’t pull into camp sweaty and looking for shade. Pulling into camp means getting out the puffer jackets and beanies - still plenty of sunlight left in the day for a nature hike, hanging out around the campfire while dinner heats up, and - for several badasses - a chilly dip in the very nearby Lake Michigan.
Picture it: as the sun sets, the softly lit canopy sheltering our hot chili dinner gets even cozier, and the campfire crackles unbothered by the light rain that has started. Cups of hot apple cider go around - some spiked with a nip of whiskey, some not - to accompany our chili and cornbread. We are surrounded by sounds of conversation that drown out the rain, and as a special treat - jaunty accordion music. (Until Alex takes a break for dinner and disco music pipes out of the canopy instead). Our campsite is a beacon of light, warmth and company. And as the buzz of conversation grows quieter, we slowly disperse to our cozy tents and hammocks...
The next day starts early. We’re taking a different route back - longer, but worth it. Everyone has a quick breakfast of oatmeal and coffee before we roll out to one of the state’s can’t miss trails - the Des Plaines River Trail.
This absolute gem of a trail is not busy this sunny Sunday morning. We are passed by the occasional peloton and likewise ride past a few horseback riders; but the trail is wide here at the north end, and we can crane our necks around to admire the beautiful canopy of fall colors along the river, and even spot a bald eagle. The air is crisp and all we hear are the soft sounds of our tires rolling over fallen leaves, the crunch of crushed limestone, and the occasional whirring of bicycle hubs spinning while we coast.
But we’re getting closer to the city, closer to home, and we give up the winding crushed limestone of the DPRT for the straight pavement and humming power lines of the Skokie Valley Trail. By the time we reach Highland Park, everyone is more than ready for lunch, and we descend upon the little oasis of restaurants like a swarm. We regroup, refueled, and it’s time for the home stretch.
We reach the trailhead for the North Branch Trail at the Chicago Botanical Garden after some slow sidewalk riding to avoid busy streets, and just like that, we’re back on a beautiful, winding, river-adjacent bike path. This is certainly the busiest Trail we’d been on, and we’re treated to the stares of pedestrians we pass as our massive group rolls along. We regroup at the trailhead where we once again roll through city streets as a unit, our numbers protecting us from some of the less friendly drivers. We call out potholes. We know for sure we’re back in the city now.
We say our farewells to new friends and old. Our group disperses, heading home to recuperate and dream of our next adventure.
Special thanks to Brian, Liz and Tater Tot at Cog Cycles and Yarn.
Written by lead guide Kat Leyh
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