Columns

Holinger: Our biking and hiking trails, and the stories they tell

Imagine a Fox Valley version of The Old Farmer’s Almanac, a kind of how-to, when-to, where-to and why-to guide for everything cultural, natural and gustatory – the 2022 Fox River Trail Guide, found tucked inside my delivered Kane County Chronicle.

Besides the many maps detailing paths, trails, parking, water stations and, thank goodness, restrooms, it features closeups of caterpillars, butterflies and a fish caught on the Fox that would feed a troop of ravenous Boy Scouts; summer festivals, from Blues on the Fox to brews in Yorkville; attractions on biking and kayaking routes; art exhibits scheduled throughout the summer; nearly 50 spots to grab a bite or coffee – plus the region’s newest restaurants; farmers markets from Oswego to Elgin; and the best places to rent, buy, repair and ride bikes.

Additionally, our community brags a plethora of other trails and paths, including the Great Western Trail and Illinois Prairie Path, all found at kdot.countyofkane.org/Publications/Kane_Kendall_Bike_Map_2020-10-07.pdf.

I’d like to share two stories of people who have made those trails part of their daily lives.

My friend Beth Parks, whom I got to know through her husband, writer Patrick Parks, performed an amazing feat during the COVID-19 pandemic. For 365 days in a row, she and Pat took to the trails – for 325 days on bikes, the rest, because of dangerous weather and pavement conditions, on foot. They traveled as far as 40 miles. Their shortest outing was four miles “on a bitterly cold day in December,” Beth recalls).

Distance, however, didn’t matter. That wasn’t the point.

What did matter was photography. Every day, she stopped when discovering something odd, beautiful, hilarious, frightening, ugly, bizarre, unidentifiable, poignant or sentimental to shoot. Returning home, she posted it on Facebook with the caption, “As seen on the trail today.”

It seemed hundreds of watchers, often stuck at home, checked in daily to see what the voyagers had run across. We lived vicariously through her eyes, saw the world through the telescope of their diurnal odyssey.

My final trail narrative is about a chance meeting with a trail stranger, one of the most delightful and surprising elements of venturing forth.

Last fall, I stepped onto the ivory crushed stone path on the Great Western Trail north of Wasco. After five or 10 minutes, I saw coming toward me an enormous shaggy black dog walking as if suffering from the same lower back pain as I did. At the end of the dog’s leash followed a very tall man, maybe 6-foot-4 or 6-5. He sported a grizzled beard, wind-blown white hair and a face expressive as Ernest Hemingway in his Ketchum years.

I picked up our miniature poodle, a breed known for its offensive behavior at times.

“Great dog,” I said, patting the gentle giant’s mane.

“That’s Blackjack,” the man baritoned. “She’s 16.”

He and I then spent 15 minutes comparing our respective 16-year-old dogs’ ailments, and then started in on our ailments. We could have talked for an hour, but I had dinner to make for my working wife and needed to get my 20 minutes of walking in. We said goodbye, but I had met a friend and knew we’d meet again.

Summer, our dog, no longer walks. Instead, I put a thick, heavy blanket in a stroller and wrap her up in it. I look like a grandfather out with his new grandchild – until Summer raises her black nose, furry ears and dull, blank eyes to peer out like a smuggled E.T.

Pushing her along, I’m waiting for the stroller to lift us up, silhouetting us against the blue, cloudless sky.

• Rick Holinger’s writing has appeared in more than a hundred literary journals. He has a Ph.D. from UIC and facilitates the Night Writers Workshop sponsored by the Geneva Library. His poetry book “North of Crivitz” and essay collection “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences” are available at local bookstores, Amazon or richardholinger.net. Contact him at editorial@kcchronicle.com.