T minus 101 days

101 days until we hit the road for RT16. Zak has worked hard all winter booking hotels, securing campsites, reserving hikes, and dreaming about the endless days that slip into the most restful nights.

I, on the other hand, haven’t done much. I’ve started a few online shopping carts of more “vintage hiker chic” and looked up a few of the hotels Zak has booked on the bed bug websites. But that all changed this weekend.

First, we went car shopping yesterday. As much as we love Bob, we know he won’t be big enough for this year’s trip, which includes all the camping gear we didn’t have last year. The Knotts are getting a midsized SUV!

And today, we started spring training!

It was unseasonably warm, in the 60s! In February! In Chicago!! We woke up early and I have to admit the day didn’t start off great. We didn’t get coffee until we were about 5 minutes into the trip. I am in the depths of an addiction to caffeine and when I usually get my first cup within minutes of waking, this was a long wait. (I actually take my whole coffee pot to work each day. I add some sugar and milk as I walk out the door and then drink the whole pot throughout the morning.) But once the smell of Dunkin Donut’s brew filled the car, I was happy and ready to go.

We arrived at Starved Rock and drove to the far east side of the park, far from the Visitor’s Center. We’ve always started at the VC, but wanted to shake it up this time.

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Within a few hundred yards of starting we were in nearly ankle deep mud. I remember thinking that I hope it gets drier soon. It didn’t the rest of the day. In fact, it got worse at several points. Except on the very populated boardwalk. There was no mud, except that from muddy shoes, on the boardwalk.

The scenery was beautiful. There were still remains of the ice falls. So stunning. And there were signs of spring approaching, tiny buds on thin branches, fern leaves uncurling as they reached for the sun. And mud. A lot, a lot of mud.

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One of my favorite parts of these hikes is lunch. I tend to get excited about any given meal, but Zak packs the most amazing picnic lunches. Fresh prosciutto, syrah brined asiago, honey crisp apples, party crackers, and Thin Mints. All we need is a few bottles of wine and the Bodeans to make it Ravinia.

We did something like 12.6 miles in about 6 hours. The girls were awesome. Part of what makes our hikes so fun is watching them. Ellie discovered the magic of binoculars today. At some point pretty early on, she asked to look through them. She spent a few moments gazing into the distance, when she said: These are so cool, they make everything look so far away. We then informed her that she might be looking through the wrong side. She was. And was even more amazed that they made everything look so close. Zoe was my partner. My arthritic knee was giving me trouble and it caused me to slip in some mud and fall awkwardly. She was right there to help me up, clean me off, and encourage me to keep going, while offering to go slower with me. Love these kids!

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So, there we are. Practice hike 1 of the season done. We’ll get several more in, including some nights of camping, before this summer’s adventure begins. My heart is full and happy tonight, my face is windburned, and my legs are sore, just want I needed to get out of the winter funk.

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