Mountain biking through the Kettle

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By Jack Crowe

Cycling Columnist

Sometimes you are the hunter and sometimes the hunted. That's what I was thinking while driving up to Kettle Moraine State Park near Lake Geneva, Wis. Some friends and I decided to play hooky from work before Thanksgiving. So we set out for a weekday of mountain biking during hunting season. More about that later. First, the topography.

A moraine is a collection of glacial deposited soil and rock. The Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin was formed when two glaciers collided thousands of years ago. The kettles are essentially potholes formed by the retreating glaciers. The lakes, kettles and hills have created pretty much ideal mountain biking conditions.

Most of my mountain biking is done along the Des Plaines River trail which snakes along the river south to Madison Street and north past the Trailside Museum to O'Hare Airport and beyond.

The Des Plaines River Trail is a fairly tame single track path, although I recently did what BMXers call a "stoppie" there. I was riding under an overpass near O'Hare when a piece of old construction rebar grabbed my front wheel. It broke three spokes and sent me sailing in one of those agony-of-defeat moments as my bike stood up on the front wheel. I did what could have looked like an acrobatic handstand midair before body slamming to the ground. Luckily, there is no construction debris in the Kettle Moraine.

Even though my wheel was repaired, my poor mountain biking skills did not prepare me to tackle the 20 miles of John Muir Biking Trails. Those trails are anything but flat. That means climbing up steep trails, bouncing along tree roots and loose gravel and descending on damp rocks that want to throw you into a ravine if you lose concentration for a moment.

Then there were the hunters.

We were not kitted out in hunter orange, though we did wear bright yellow cycling colors that we hoped no one could mistake for a six-point buck. One friend told me that he had been up to the Kettle before during hunting season and had seen only one hunter. We passed four, with rifles and scopes, during the first few miles.

There was an uneasy alliance between hunter and biker. The hunters know that the John Muir is a designated biking trail and they should have known that the weather was so unseasonably warm that mountain bikers could not resist being out on the trail.

Instead, one hunter, cradling his weapon in his arms next to the trail, gave me a look that said: "You guys have got this forest for most of the year. Can't you leave us two weeks during hunting season?"

My look back at him suggested something like: "If you don't shoot me, I'll work with you by flushing out in your direction any deer we see."

Deeper in the woods we lost the hunters, but the trail remained bone jarringly rocky from beginning to end. After riding five hours, I was tired and insisted on getting back to the car long before dusk so as not to tempt a frustrated hunter with an itchy trigger finger. We did. And though it may have been stupid to be out there, we enjoyed the day.

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