Saturday, August 30, 2014

S24O to Blackwell Forest Preserve

Last weekend the boys and I did a quick bike camping trip to the Blackwell Forest Preserve in Wheaton, Illinois. By my recollection, this is the closest place to legally bike camp (mileage wise) for most of Chicago so it's really the go-to place for first timers or anyone looking for a little bike + camping adventure.

I had been out there previously while my wife and kids were visiting family in Colorado, and liked it enough to go back, this time fully loaded with kids and gear.

It was a muggy day as you can see  - I was drenched before we even headed out. But sprits were high and I was excited at the adventure.

For the route - I trusted in the all-seeing eye of the Google Maps app. Now that they have a "bike" option, it has become an indespensible tool for route planning on roads I've never travelled before. With very few exceptions, it puts you on good, low volume roads or roads with bike lanes and paths almost all of the time.

The first 1/3 of the trip took us through residential streets in Chicago, Norrige, Harwood Heights, Oak Park, Maywood, and perhaps some others as we made our way to the Illinois Prairie Path.

While I did enjoy the tour through some of the Chicago suburban neighborhoods, it was a relief to finally be on the path. For longer trips and tours with young children, I think finding a nice separated path should be among the first things on the agenda. They are much more conducive to discovery, conversation, a relaxed pace, without the stress of traffic or worrying about stops, etc.

Dropped a water bottle.

The Prairie path is along the stretch we took is probably 1/4 paved, 3/4 crushed limestone. Hard-packed with the exception of previous rain, the path can accommodate most bike types. You'll see a lot of the "spandex" crowd if you are going on a weekend. Of course, the ideal tire would be bigger and something with a little traction on it for the occasions that the path is a little sandy or wet.

It had rained A LOT the previous night, as can be seen in this picture. This picture punctuates so many wonderful things about bike camping and bike camping with children. We never would've seen something like this had we been scurrying to our destination in a car, nor would we be inclined to get out, look, talk, and ask questions. This "image" was seared into their brain, and made up the bulk of our conversation on the way to and from our campsite.

Milestones, goals, markers - these things are important to children and to a bike camping trip. For us, it was important to look forward to Dairy Queen in Wheaton. I had told the boys about it from the get go, and we all knew it was coming. Ice cream tastes so much better when you've been in the hot sun sweating it out!

After the stop at DQ, we had a short last leg to the campground. As mentioned earlier, I had been before and was pleased with our spot.

At Blackwell, reservations are made on the phone. Don't ask them to give you recommendations on spots, they told me they "weren't allowed. My advice, look on the camp site pdf and then cross reference it with a satellite view on Google Maps. By my recollection, there are a few sites that offer a bit more "remote" feeling than others.

The campsites are well maintained, have tables, fire pits, and electricity (great for charging a phone). You can also purchase firewood for $5 a bundle. The bundles are very generous in size and if you are only staying one night, one bundle is plenty of wood.

Admittedly, our dinner and dining in general was a bit on the spartan side. Hot dogs (with buns) for dinner, and then smores for dessert. I brought some lasagna Ashley had made from the night before to warm in the fire. It was delicious. My advice, if you are going to warm/cook food on the fire and unless you have super-heavy duty tinfoil, TRIPLE wrap it. Even a double wrap isn't stout enough.

After dinner we enjoyed a little bit more of the Forest Preserve, which is very scenic/pastoral.

After our stroll, we hit the hay. The boys crashed hard. They were so tired and almost nothing is more satisfying than seeing your children sleep soundly after a day when you know they've filled their brains with interesting things.

One issue we had that night was - we did have some courteous neighbor issues. As in, the most heinous  campers you could ever imagine. Fortunately, they did not wake the boys or else there would've been real trouble.

Eventually, I drifted off to sleep and was hoping that with my boys being early risers, I could return the favor to our neighbors. No luck, they were early risers too.

We leisurely packed up and headed back the way we came. It was very fun to talk with my sons about what their favorite parts of the trip were (smores, sleeping in a sleeping bag), and what kind of animals we "wish" we could've seen.

Blackwell is $30/night for non-Dupage county residents, which isn't nothing - but in the grand scheme of things, worth every penny for the experience I had with my sons.

The next closest place I've found is Illinois Beach State Park. It's about 40 miles away and offers similar amenities. It does offer Lake Michigan views with a walk, but overall the facilities and amenities at Blackwell are superior. Price is roughly the same.

I need to get better at my "selfie" game - capturing me and the boys on the bike simultaneously. I'd also like to incorporate more video somehow too. Overall the trip was great and I can see us definitely going back next summer. Blackwell is open Between May and September.


Meghan Pillow said...

Great Post - I'm so impressed you did this trip by yourself with your boys! I love the part about the boys being so interested in the car submerged in the water. I love when my kids get so interested in something and ask questions or make up a long backstory to it. We hope to try this campsite out - thanks for your notes!

samh said...

Awesome truck camping write-up! Already thinking about these kind of future trips with our baby on the way, David!