On one side is a small commuter town with a lot of growing businesses on its borders. On the other is an old railroad town that has exploded with new development, big box stores, and lots of traffic. In between is this hidden little gem.
To be fair, I used to use my dining room as a bicycle shop. I rode, I raced, and I managed a bike shop, so it was really my thing. I still do a lot of these things, but I’ve moved outward to other hobbies as well, and it’s not as central as it was.
But back then, it was easy. Roll out the front door of my apartment, down two side streets, and I found myself right where the above sign is: the entrance to the Hickory Creek Forest Preserve off of LaPorte Avenue in Mokena. Quiet side streets, anonymous houses, and then this bike lane of meadow and forest just sitting there, a way to decompress.
It can be a stressful job, working with the public every day. Working with suburbanites can be even moreso, with the obsession over tiny details, and perceived slights becoming the impetus for foul language galore. It’s a wonder that I ever owned my own retail establishment considering how hard it can be.
But this ride did a lot to turn that away. This is the first part after the meadow, taking you under the trees into this wonderland canopy of green. I used to like to stop here and listen to the rain, as you’d get hit with so few drops, but the sound was a roar. Amazing.
This section went for maybe a mile, then it opened up again into kind of a tall grassland with quite a number of younger trees. Someday it will probably be a canopy, too.
The bridge was the halfway point of the ride. It could be a bit tricky, as neither side has a straight approach; from both there’s a slight turn to get on the bridge, and it could be slick as hell with even the slightest bit of rain. I’ve almost wiped out on that, and the iron structure of the bridge itself would not feel good at all. Coming back over the bridge from the opposite side of the above picture usually means a lot more speed, too, as it’s the bottom of a big hill.
There’s a good amount of wildlife out here. I almost hit a deer on multiple occasions, and I’ve seen everything from beavers and skunks to the most adorable baby raccoon you can imagine. And birds. So many birds.
I find the outdoors much more relaxing than sitting in front of a television or even a book, honestly. It’s why I do better living at the end of the Earth rather than in the suburbs anymore. But Hickory Creek helped me keep my sanity while I was still there.