Messenger Woods Nature Preserve - Homer Glen, IL

7:58 p.m. on October 11, 2013 (EDT)
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Wanted to kick the weekend off right, so I packed the 'ol Z-poles in the backseat, and bee-lined it to a local forest preserve on the way home from work.

Bummed that our national parks are shut down?

Time to start patronizing the local ones!

Rolled my windows down to enjoy the unseasonably-warm, sunny, 73-degree day, and made it there by 4:45PM. The sun sets around 6:15PM, so I'd an hour-and-a-half to get that two miles in. If I can do 2MPH with a 25-pound pack, well, it shouldn't be too tough without one.

Messenger Woods FP is ten minutes from home.

Ironically, I cross county lines during that ten minutes: if ever I wanted to camp here, I'd be paying the "non-resident" fee. #$%^. Four primitive campsites sit at the center of the park, inbetween the loop trails.
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More on that when I decide to take the ultimate camping "stay-cation" and only go ten minutes down the road.

It's an old stomping ground of mine (literally) and I come out here any time I need some fresh air and time to myself. At 441 acres, it's a decent size and suprisingly secluded for being in the middle of the suburbs.

For those of you wondering, this is what the wilderness is for a southwest-suburban Chicagoan - like the one pictured below.
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Two loop trails - one north, one south - interconnect to form a 1.98-mile-long trail system.
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The trails contrast another: the longer, flatter south trail best features the prairie grove forest.

I've seen all sorts of birds, small mammals, and even deer on this half.

Today, it was squirrels.

Lots and lots of squirrels.

A veritable squirrel convention.

Since most the leaves have fallen, and it's impossible to take so much as one step without making a loud "CRUNCH!" there wasn't much a chance for me to photograph the wildlife - I'm sure they heard me a mile away.

Then again, despite my leaf-crunching gait, I think they were the noisier of us two.

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The hillier, shorter north trail best features those rolling uplands. A stream runs through the north end and makes for some nice views.
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Since I decided to drag-race the sun, the trekking poles came in handy: used them to push myself forward and kick up my pace. I'll review these once I've put some more miles on 'em.

I have spinal stenosis, so I rely heavily on my core strength to compensate for my bad back. Trekking poles have been a life-saver.
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I only passed a couple others on the trail: a dog walking his owner, and a teenage girl who decided to take her next Facebook "selfie" profile picture at the forest preserve. Whatever.

I've never been here when it's been crowded - actually ran into more people today than I've ever.

That was two people. And a dog, if you're keeping count.

Nor have I ever seen anyone actually camp here. There's a scout group that comes through every year, but save them, it's pretty much open game. Probably will come out here on a weekend I want to spend outside, but I don't want to spend in the car, driving.

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Hit the end of the South Loop at 5:15PM on the dot.

Hiked the full south loop and a little over half the north.

~3MPH pace.

Not too shabby.

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Here's the write-up from the IL Nature Preserves Commission, and they do a much better job of summing it up than I could:

"Messenger Woods Nature Preserve was dedicated in 1994. This prairie grove lies on glacial drift of rolling uplands, and is comprised of dry-mesic and mesic upland forest, with inclusions of shrub swamp, wet prairie, and an intermittent stream. Messenger Woods also provides habitat for birds requiring large, continuous blocks of forest. It is one of 13 state-dedicated nature preserves owned by the Forest Preserve District of Will County."

3:34 p.m. on October 13, 2013 (EDT)
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Spent yesterday trying to get in the Halloween spirit at Six Flags' "Fright Fest." Spent most the day waiting in lines, and a good amount of that time in the rain while waiting in said lines. Made the mistake of riding the front car of "American Eagle" wooden roller coaster backwards - damn thing threw out my back. @#$%.

I'm not the kind to put the horse in the stable (so to speak), so I got back up on it and made my way back to Messenger Woods this morning.

Why come back to the same place, twice in one weekend?

I wasn't sure if I hiked only a portion of the north loop last time, or if I completed it. Headed straight for the north loop this morning to confirm whether or not I had finished it on Friday evening.

Took a couple more photos of the north loop.
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I prefer it in later fall or early spring, when the leaves are gone and you really can see the ups-and-downs of the area.
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Not like it wasn't pretty today, but hey - to each his own, right?

Well, turns out I hiked it in full.

Burned through both loops in a half-hour again.
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Also turns out that makes my pace ~4MPH (sans pack).

I'm not gunning for Skurka-level speed, but I'm looking to build my muscles and be comfortable while hiking.

Unless I'm spending the night someplace, I don't like wearing a pack - just seems like cooking a meal you can't eat!

Conditioning myself for next weekend, when I begin my tour of IL backpacking locations. Plan on scouting-out three, spending the night at one, and hiking as many as I'm able.

August 29, 2014
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