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Get Out & Ride the Illinois Fox River Bike Trail

bike trail
Bike Trail through Island Park in Geneva - Photo by Richard Ross

The end of summer – at least in terms of the celestial season – officially arrives at the moment the direct rays of the sun, in their journey south, cross the Equator. It is called the Autumnal Equinox. Find out when the September Equinox is for your current location.

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Time Zones, Labor Day & the End of Summer

In 2024 the autumnal equinox will occur on 22 September, at 12.44pm Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), or 1.44pm British summer Time (BST). By the way, BST is five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).

Unofficially of course, the event is marked by the arrival of Labor Day. Kids are sent back to school and summer vacation is but a distant memory. Thoughts of the World Series and football games now filter through our minds.

Meteorologically speaking, the end of summer coincides with the end of August. Also, things are arranged in this way by those of us who like to view the seasons in 4 equal pieces. No matter which version to which you subscribe, the time is generally thought of as painful for many. It’s time to empty the pools, harvest the last vegetables and tear up the garden. It is also time to tune up the snow blower… yuk!

Perks of Living in the Fox Valley

Personally, I’d rather take a different tack. Even though I know what is to follow, September is a time that I really enjoy, and part of the reason that I live here in the Midwest. in particular, it is the reason why I like it here in the Fox Valley.

Living in the Fox Valley has many perks, and one of the nicer and definitely more utilitarian of them is the bike trail. The Trail follows the Fox River for many miles – actually 35 of them – from Aurora, all the way to Crystal Lake! Just one of hundreds of trails in the state, it provides thousands of bikers annually with uninterrupted stretches of asphalt (and in some cases, crushed limestone) along which can be seen incredible varieties of wildlife, windmills, and waterfalls.

Weekends on the trail during the summer months are often more frenetic than the Eisenhower Expressway during rush hour. Those on the trail for exercise speed along in both directions like so many Danica Patricks and Marco Andrettis!

young kids with their bikes
Kids with their bikes near the Mill Race Inn in Geneva – Photo by Yvonne Carpenter-Ross

Post Labor Day Sights & Sounds

After Labor Day – especially during the week (and being retired does have a few perks of its own) – the traffic on the Bike Trail thins out to an incredible extent. “Joy-riders” like me can pedal along at a snail’s pace and enjoy the crisp air, the music of dwindling numbers of song birds, the sights of an occasional egret or Great Blue Heron, muskrat, hawk or perhaps even a deer.
I live in Batavia and only occasionally take the path much farther south than the point at which the Illinois Prairie Path branches off to the east. Instead, I prefer to get on the path just north of Wilson Street. Here, a rider actually has the choice of following the route north on either the east or the west side of the river. That is until Fabyan Forest Preserve, where one must continue north on the east side of the river.

From Geneva to the Hideaway Restaurant

At a younger age, I often would take the Marco Andretti approach and time myself for the round-trip from Geneva to the Hideaway restaurant in Valley View/St. Charles, and back. It was great exercise but there was precious little time taken to “stop and smell the roses”.

Perhaps it is nothing more than the process of aging, but I now prefer to take my time in the cool and shadow of the early morning, hoping to have the trail all to myself. I can even stop periodically to watch a solitary fisherman, wading through the river and working the shoreline. He is looking for the occasional smallmouth bass and walleye that have returned to the area in increased numbers.

Numerous Options

I know that I have numerous options in terms of which path I could ride. My usual route generally takes me only from downtown Batavia to the footbridge in St. Charles and back. I still look upon the condominiums that have taken the place of the “Piano Factory” shopping mall. The building was once home to the Howell Company, the company for which my father gave forty-three years of his life, working his way from the paint line to National Sales Manager.

I don’t really care how long my trip takes now. Most people don’t have the luxury of taking their time, even if they had it to take. But the serenity is unequalled, and that scenery is – especially at this time of the year – simply awesome.

a bike parked on a dirt path in the woods
Photo by Red Shuheart on Unsplash

Annual Show of Color

As the sun angle decreases, the trees begin shutting down their chlorophyll production. The rainbows of color that have resided within the leaves and unseen by our eyes, begin preparing for their annual show of that color.

The yellow of the willows generally appears first, followed by the squash yellow-orange, fire-red of the maples and reddish browns of the oaks. By the end of the month, in a good year where there has been sufficient rainfall at the right times, the woods along the river are ablaze in color.

One has no need to travel north to Wisconsin to see the colors there. In a good year, no destination could match what we have right here in the Fox River Valley. The morning air is cool and dry. It warms quickly as a result. The slight chill is a welcome relief for guys like me who prefer temperatures in the high 50s to high 60s.

red maple leaf
Red maple leaf in the fall – Photo by Richard Ross

Bike From the “Little 500”

Another thing that occurs at this time of the year is the calming of the atmosphere. If there are any breezes at all, they are gentle. And thus, they allow little resistance to peddling. I can’t help but mention the fact the bike I ride now is the one I rode to compete in a race called the “Little 500” when I was a freshman in college. It has but one speed, foot brakes and medium-fat tires.

There are few like it around anymore. But every time I get on it, I can easily remember the fire that burned in the aching muscles in my legs with every lap I peddled in that race. And so, the nostalgia of the bike and the race are worth more than any of the latest model multi-speed Titanium versions costing several hundred dollars.

Bucket List

My “bucket list” includes longer rides on some of the bike trails to the south and east. I even mentally planned a long trip north to Wisconsin or beyond. Seems like the bucket is growing bigger… In the meantime, take some time. Slow down.

At this time of the year, nothing really beats what Mother Nature has to offer along the Fox River Bike Trail. Exiting the trail and walking up the hill toward Route 31, I notice a flock of geese. They are flying just a bit higher than they did last spring. They seem to know that the Fall Equinox also brings buckshot with it…

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