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Love Thy Local Trail System

Love Thy Local Trail System

As a Chicago based team, mountain bike riding can be quite the challenge.  Our nearest trails are in Willow Springs at the Palos Forest Preserve.  Here's a fun fact, there are people that build and maintain them for our enjoyment!  They are CAMBr, the Chicago Area Mountain Bikers, and these volunteers giving their time and effort are the reason we have these trails to ride. 

So perhaps you ride regularly or were convinced to take your cx bike to give a it try a few times, in either case you know that when you go, you just park and ride.  No fee for parking or trail pass to purchase.  What a world!  Well here is our pitch:  support the work CAMBr is doing by becoming a member (basic is $35).  CLICK THIS LINK  

Trees fall and they clear em, berms created, and trails fixed (when those bad peeps ride them while wet and create terrible ruts).  In the last year alone, major developments on a new trail, Stonehouse, further connecting and extending the current system have taken place.  Check it out on this new map.   They also host training rides, kids days, plan trips to other trails systems, as well as host the Palos Meltdown race.  Side note: you can also throw in some muscle on work days, create those trails you ride!  

We all know those nights spent staring at the radar are just as filled with days riding.  So take a few minutes and a few dollars and become a member.  Increasing the numbers also shows the powers that be how important these trails are to the cycling community and that our numbers are large.  This helps fortify the case that bike trails are good and should not be nixed.

Thank you for joining.  We look forward to seeing you out there.  Just make sure to check the conditions first. 

Look at this fun stretch of Stonehouse.   How do think those rocks got there?  And look at this fallen tree on Turf, who is gonna clear it out? 

Look at this fun stretch of Stonehouse.   How do think those rocks got there?  And look at this fallen tree on Turf, who is gonna clear it out? 

3 Days, 3 Trails, 3 Words Each

A Memorial Day weekend ride report.

  • Alpine Valley - Elkhorn, WI
    • turns, chipmunks, climbing
  • John Muir, Kettle Moraine - Whitewater, WI
    • rocks, hikers, flying insects
  • Palos Forest Preserve - Willow Springs, IL
    • roots, two-way traffic, bbq's

Side notes:  Rode with several rad ladies, I'm always learning.  Copious amounts of ice cream enjoyed after each ride, as it should be.

~Erica C.


A wee bit 'o' trail time

As we all know it's sometimes hard to squeak out ride time.  When it comes to hitting the trails living in Chicago, it's even harder.  Either you need to wait for our nearest trails at the Palos Forest Preserve to be dry or be willing to drive a bit away.   This weekend had some beautiful weather starting on Friday.  

With the sun shining in the office windows and then the unexpected early departure of the boss, I made a quick connect to my teammate Jen M. to see if she'd be free to meet up at Palos.  As luck would have it, she could!  (Fellow teammie and hubby PB would be on baby duty).  I hurried out of the office to get home, quick change and head out.

We met up two hours later ready to have our first ride of the season.  First, however, Jen commented how her mix of layers and socks looked a bit ridiculous before looking up at me to see my melange of old, new, and non-kit, each element in varying color schemes in what I felt 'delightfully' clashed.  But who cares about fashion, it's about riding!

Since we didn't have much time, we decided to do the standard race loop.  For the most part it was all dry save for a few mud puddles here and there where I rediscovered my cx dismount and tried to hop over.  Jen pushed up the climbs with ease, I gasped my way (sometimes walked) but felt for the first day out...not so bad.  In fact, it felt great.  

It wasn't until after my track season last year that I rediscovered trail riding.  Perhaps it was the new found fitness that I gained by the end of summer or perhaps the complete change in ride style, but I was sad that I only got the bug in September!  I've been eager to get back out there since.  Unfortunately, the rest of the weekend did not provide an opportunity to ride again, but I was greatly appreciative of that hour.  Besides, my legs and arms were still feeling that ride 2 days later!

Erica C.


McLeody with a Chance of Pulaskis: A Trail Work Day Report

Last Saturday, a group of team members joined up with CAMBr to host a joint trail work day at Palos Forest Preserve. Despite the weather, which was cool and cloudy, spirits were high. We convened in the Pulaski Woods parking lot at around 9 am. CAMBr distributed equipment and divided the group into work teams of 8 or 9 people. Some of our teammates hopped into the back of a pickup and headed out to the far reaches of the park. Some others of us, including me, walked down the green trail a bit to work on some singletrack.

I can’t write too much about the section of trail on which we worked, because it’s top secret (well, just not finished yet). Suffice it to say that it’s a sweet little stretch of trail—smooth and flowy with a couple of features to keep things interesting. It had been raining the previous night, so the ground was wet and muddy. The moisture softened the ground, which helped us groom the trails. Several of us swung Pulaskis (axes with flat-headed picks on the other side), clearing roots and setting up the boundaries of the trail. Others came along with McLeods (giant hoes with big, toothy rakes on the other side) to smooth out the trail and work the grade. The idea was to shape the trail so it drained well without contributing to erosion. To do this, the trail had to be cambered to the grade of the ground ( by about 5 degrees in the direction of the downhill). That shape allows water to sheen over the trail while maintaining the fidelity of the trail itself. Brush was cleared on the uphill side of the trail; loose dirt was cleared on the downhill side. The brush would catch crud that the water carried downhill toward the trail. Moving the loose dirt to the downhill side prevented it from washing back onto the trail and causing puddles.

As we moved down the trail, we identified really soft areas and looked for ways to build better drainage into the trail. The pick side of a Pulaski digs a mean little trench for just this purpose. Trail work is really about working the details while keeping the big picture in mind. Facilitating drainage helps the trail dry out quicker. It also prevents puddles and wet spots, which is important because riding through puddles makes the erosion worse. Riding around puddles widens the trail. In a pinch, ride through the puddle, not around it (though it’s better to just ride the trails when it’s dry).

The final section of trail we worked on held the most promise for fun. This top-secret area provides a singletrack bypass for the big grassy hill by the Pulaski parking lot. We spent part of our time digging trail into the grass. That part was a lot less fun than digging drainage trenches, mostly because we had to dig out the roots while leaving as much of the dirt intact as possible while still maintaining that 5-degree camber—lots of precision for a McLeod. The other part of the time was spent getting muddy and digging more drainage for a really soft spot in the trail. Aside from the drainage, we moved some pavers into place to keep the trail intact and provide a safe path over the mushy spots.

We packed up the tools and headed back to the parking lot by around noon. With the trails so wet, we couldn’t do our planned trail ride. Instead, we retired to well-earned lunch and beer. Lunch was sandwiches provided by CAMBr. Beer was a full keg of Gossamer Golden Ale courtesy of Half Acre Brewery. CAMBr provided a bunch of preems to promote trail work. Each work day they raffle off a gift certificate for Thomson bike parts. They also had a full wheel-barrow of fuel stabilizer, so if you need any of that, come to a trail work day and get it for free. Aside from the stem and fuel stabilizer, working two days will get you a call-up at the Palos Meltdown. Five work days will earn you a free race entry. Ten work days will get you a 30 second head start at the race.

OK, so I made that last one up. But trail work days are an important part of giving back to the cycling community. The trails at Palos Preserve are the best in the Chicago area. But, they don’t build or maintain themselves. Get out there and work on the trails with the fine folks at CAMBr. It's a lot of fun and you'll develop a healthy appreciation for the trails themselves (not to mention the people that are out there each week building them). The full list of work days is <a href"">here.</a> When we’re not racing, that’s where you’ll find us. And if you’re lucky, we might have some preems of our own to distribute.



Women's trail ride!

The great turnout at the all women's trail ride in April has made us excited to hit the trails again!

Our next ride will be Saturday May 29th.  We will meet at 10am at the <a href=",-87.886806&spn=0.02124,0.055575&z=15">Wolf Road Woods parking lot</a> in the Palos forest reserve.  Palos is home to Chicago's best singletrack and has a wide variety of trails to suit every skill level.

Riders of all skill levels are welcome and experienced riders will be along to help those who are just starting out or looking to improve their skills.  It is our hope that these rides will help more women get involved in mountain biking and build community and confidence among female and transgender cyclists in Chicago.

Energy bars and drinks will be provided courtesy of CAMBr.  Bring a lunch and we'll picnic together after the ride!

Also, please note that riding trail when it is wet destroys the trails and the hard work of volunteers.  Please check the <a href="">CAMBr website</a> to make sure Palos is open for riding before you come out.  If the light is RED, consider the ride canceled.  We'll also post up here the night before if weather means the ride will have to be canceled.  Fingers crossed for sunshine!

Questions?  Please email mosleyjen at gmail dot com or juliadaher at gmail dot com. 
PS:  Don't forget your helmet!

HAC/CAMBR Joint Trail Work Day at Palos: May 8

Please join members of Half Acre Cycling and <a href="">CAMBR South</a> on Saturday, May 8 for a trail work day. We'll meet at 8:45 at the <a href=",-87.894906&spn=0.003188,0.010461&z=17&iwloc=0004844cec95077f1bf18">Pulaski Woods parking lot. </a>You’ll get your hands dirty, make our trails a better place to ride, meet some cool new riding partners, and sample some of the finest trail the greater Chicago area has to offer. For this trail work day, we’ll be working at the <a href="">Palos Forest Preserves</a> in Willow Springs, IL. Besides being the location of an experimental nuclear reactor in the early 1940s, the Palos Forest Preserve is home to nearly 50 miles of mountain bike trail.

After a morning of trail work, we’ll enjoy our handiwork with an inclusive group ride. This will be a ride for all skill-levels and a great chance to try mountain biking if you’ve never done it before or haven’t in a while. Women are especially encouraged to join us. Stick around for a picnic lunch and get to know the men and women of Half Acre Cycling and CAMBR as well as other local trail riders.

Things to do: Arrive at 8:45 am ready to work and have fun (exact location TBD, check <a href="">here</a> for details). Directions to the Mountain Bike Staging area: From I-55, exit at LaGrange Road (Route 45) south. After a mile, turn right onto Archer Ave and go south for about 3 miles. Past the cemetary, turn left on 95th Street (east). Go past the next stop sign, then take the next right onto Wolf Road. The MTB Staging Area is in Pulaski Woods #2, which is the third grove on your left.

Things to wear: Comfortable, loose fitting clothing (long-sleeve shirts and long pants) to protect yourself from the ticks; insect repellant; a hat to protect yourself from the sun; some solid boots; work gloves; eye protection; and a hydration pack.

Things to bring: Your bike and gear for a post-work-day group ride; a change of clothes; a picnic lunch (CAMBR will provide food as well); a post-ride beverage (HAC will supply some of that); and a friend or two.

Questions? Contact Paul-Brian at


My meltdown

I registered immediately in expert before I changed my mind.  Considering the hours I have in at Palos, my string of good results in WORS so far and the Fat tire race coming up, I need the miles anyway. Fresh off a week of "dude ranching" in Jackson Hole, I felt refreshed, but not cleansed. I ate a lot, drank a lot and got no miles in during the vacation other than a good hike. I returned home to a pile of work -  then rain leading into the race weekend and the  relaxation was quickly replaced with frustration.

Nevertheless, I went into Meltdown with a goal of a podium in my age group and felt "ready".  We were expecting a big team showing and I was looking forward to cheering-on my mates in the Sport and Citizen classes. They put on a great show and kicked some serious ass considering the fact that most of them are unfamiliar with the terrain.   Jacob and I ventured all-over the course and caught some good action at ravine "3" (see Dave's pics). Eric asked for some last minute advice to which I replied "dont look down" and when he came screaming (yes, screaming at ME) down the ravine, my next bit of advice was "close your eyes". Bad omen?  Not sure, but a half-lap later, they were pulling him out of the trees on Gravity Cavity!  Instead of "Tap out" I guess he "sapped out" and they took him away in the bus for an obligatory scan! Other than Helge and Jasons flats (again!), and Bob's digger, the rest of the crew came in battered but otherwise unbruised with great stories to tell.

Next-up, expert. The conditions of the course on the pre-ride were impressive to say the least and major kudos to the CAMBR group for whipping the course into shape ahead of the rain. Got a good warmup with John, Lee and Chris from Wheelfast and felt good for the start. Got decent positioning next to Dennis "Leadville" Schueler  (my age group competitior) and we chatted about Lance and the hell that Leadville was this year and that took the edge off a bit. Got a decent start and I wanted to get good positioning into the singletrack. The grassy section and climb early-on kinda sucks the life out of you, but it wasn't too bad. Lap one felt good, really fast with lots of trade-offs with an expo singlespeeder and another geared guy, a couple passes, then put my head down into the ravines and got a gap. Never, ever went so fast through the 3R's, WOW!

However, I realized that my Hr was higher then I wanted, but I was racing, right?  First lap went well, but I forgot to lap the Garmin, so I had no idea what I did for time. Going into lap 2 with a bit of a gap both ways, I see HAC Chris at the roundabout with a blue-cup handup yelling "take this, take this" but I was unable. However, after the climb, he's still there yelling and I'm parched. I grab it, big swig and its a mouthful of Over Ale, which wasn't quite what I was expecting!  The next handup from Jacob was great as I pass the HAC tent with all the yelling, cheering and the inflatable finger beating from Julie!  A gulp of something a bit more "expected" and keep going. Time to save something for lap three. No drama, felt normal and paced myself.

Then the grassy climb at the end of lap 2 was telling me the pain was yet to come. Another pro handup from Jacob (as well as another blue cup attempt from Vince(denied!) and its time to press-on. More yells (yeah) but I know the worst is yet to come. Big-ass-hill, not too bad, but I do get passed. stair steps - starting to hurt (I get passed again) and it looks (from the grey hair) like its a class competitor from Flatlandia - damn!  I try to hang, but he is pulling me. I seem to pick up a bit on him in Turf, then wham - first cramp, left lower thigh and left hamstring on the way out of turf (F*@K!). I keep spinning - slowly - knowing the climb out is next. I didn't go granny, but went down all-the-way on the back as my right ham starts cramping too. Never happened before and I am pissed. Another passes me heading to the sharp right before 3 ravines and I just do my best to hang-on. The ravines go ok, I try to stretch on the way down half-day and lost a lot of time in the new section worrying about the climb up Gravity. Still cramping, but surviving. I try to maintain, saving what I can for the end. Holly goes by, as does another one. As I go up to the roundabout Flatlandia Mike is coming at me on the other side. For a moment I think "can I get him?" and I realize that could be fatal and sit. As I come back from the roundabout I see my current position looks safe, and decide I at least have to pedal up the hill, cramp, or no cramp.

The encouragement from my Son, my friends and teammates was really necessary at that point, so BIG thanks!

I'm blown-up, frustrated, but glad its over, and I immediately ask Chris for that "handup". Jacob gets the results and he yells "dad, you got a podium!". Wow, surpised and pleased to see I ended-up 3rd in class! I knew Dennis would win and I wasn't far back of Flatlandia Mike, so I felt a LOT better knowing I held second for as long as I did. I guess I pressed a bit too hard on lap one, as I was thinking pre-race that just under 40 minute laps were in order.  I ended at 2:03.40 with a 38/41/44 going backwards on lap 3. Back to a better "post vacation" diet and more miles!

We had the HAC and Wheelfast gang over to our place for a little post-race party, and it really capped-off a tremendous weekend that highlights what a great team we really have! My hats off to my lovely wife Kristin for puttin' together the party, and again to CAMBR for a truly "pro" event.  Cannot wait for next year!

 -Al Thom

troll attack!

Teammate Eric Shivvers, usually a roadie, came out to Palos to race the Meltdown this weekend.  I think the trolls in the woods sensed that he was new at the game and took the opportunity to ATTACK!  Thankfully, the medics on site helped him out and a CAT scan later, Eric was released from the hospital with a clean bill of health.  We're excited to see him on trail again soon.


(photos: Isaiah Jay)