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Michael and I headed to Florida over Thanksgiving week to spend time with both our families. We celebrated Michael’s side of the family in Inverness on Thursday and then with my family in Auburndale on Saturday. Sunday morning, we decided to spend a few hours at the Circle B Bar Reserve on Lake Hancock.
Named after the cattle ranch that once existed on the property, Circle B was restored to its natural state by Polk County, beginning in 2005. The restoration that has occurred on this marshland in just ten years is pretty impressive.
The visit brought back many memories and images of the Florida that I grew up in back in the 1970’s.
Here are a few images I shot during our visit:
I’d return here to Circle B over Disney any day.
Whether you live in a rural or urban setting, and whether you know it or not; there are some amazing walking and biking trails near you. I found sights, sounds and smells that can dazzle to extremes, just a short distance from my home. I can experience the city, farm and fields, beautiful river and forest views; all in a relatively short distance. The sounds of traffic, babbling brooks, chirping birds… even silence. Stale city smells, pungent livestock, fresh forest air… are all there waiting for you to explore.
Last week, I took my longest ride so far, traveling south from Elgin down to the heart of St. Charles. There and back, my ride clocked in at just over 22 miles, round trip. To date, I’ve covered about 16 miles of the Fox River Trail (FRT) between St. Charles and East Dundee.
In total, the trail is approximately 43 miles long from Montgomery to the south, to Algonquin on the north end. The trail links in multiple locations with other Illinois trails branching out in other directions.
Here are some highlights, as well as some tips to help you avoid getting lost and to work around some trail closures. I’m sharing some photos I’ve taken along the path over the past few weeks.
Detours. I was naive enough to believe once you were on the trail, you’d stay on a clearly marked trail. It’s not the case. There are some closures and detours you’ll want to be aware of along the trail.
Traveling north from Elgin on the Fox River Trail. There are really only two minor considerations you’ll want to know about traveling north of downtown Elgin. The first, is a pretty simple jog that takes you a few blocks east of the river, around the Gail Borden Library, to allow you to cross near the Kimball street bridge. There are green bike signs that help get you across this busy street. You then have the option of taking the sidewalk around either side of the library until it reconnects with the trail. This is a permanent part of the path. I should note that once you cross Kimball, you should take the side walk south of the library back down to the river or you’ll miss a beautifully maintained section and the Veteran’s Memorial. Otherwise, you just continue straight ahead, passed the library and a large (currently) vacant piece of land, back to the actual trail going north.
The second spot is at I-90 about a quarter mile passed Trout Park. The path is not closed there. I saw one post online stating it was closed. You are crossing through a construction zone– and there are signs requesting you walk your bike through the short stretch, although most cyclists I’ve encountered, ignore the signs. The bridge that crosses the river at I-90 (taking you off trail) is closed and under construction.
Traveling south from Elgin on the Fox River Trail. A couple miles south of Elgin the FRT is closed. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll suddenly find yourself traveling along the Illinois Prairie path, and not know how you got there, or how to get back on the FRT. Forking off to the west is a closed path that appears to dead end at a train trestle. There is actually supposed to be a bridge
going under the trestle that connects the trail. This spot tripped me up my first ride. It is not marked as part of the FRT and there are no signs anywhere that instruct how you can detour back to the trail.
The best work-around I found, is to take the Illinois Prairie Path to Middle Street and go west, into South Elgin, go north one block on South Gilbert Street to State Street and then taking the State Street Bridge west, putting you are back on the trail again.
On my return trip, I did investigate the ‘skipped’ portion of the FRT and it is walkable but not easy to ride– up to where the bridge is out. That portion of the path is in extreme disrepair, lots of steep and bumpy, twisting spots that need to be redeveloped– if and when the bridge is replaced.
Seba Park on the west side of the Fox River is currently under construction but you can follow the path through, staying on the trail. From there, the trail is quite beautiful and unobstructed. Following the shoreline of the Fox River, along side a railroad track for some distance, is a nice peaceful ride.
There is one long, fairly steep incline that I find too difficult to ride and walked it instead, when heading south. It’s fun riding north though— but you need to use your breaks.
As you get close to St. Charles, there are a few spots where you have to ride main roads and residential streets between gaps in actual dedicated paths— so you’ll need to use extreme caution if walking or cycling. Some spots aren’t marked, you just continue straight ahead and the trail will become clear when it picks up again. I used the TrailLink app and GPS just to be sure.
I stopped when I reached downtown St. Charles because I was confused where to go. The map shows the trail forking and following both sides of the river through downtown. You cannot ride your bike on the sidewalks in downtown St. Charles though. The narrow roads and traffic congestion make riding in the streets a little daunting as well. Signs are posted requiring cyclists to walk bikes on sidewalks. Since I was out for a ride, not a walk; I decided to turn back towards Elgin at this point. I found out later, there is an actual riding path on the west side of the Fox River, which after some distance, must cross back over the river to the east side, before heading south towards Aurora.
On my way back, a work crew on the path forced me on a bit of a detour through a small portion of Tekakwitha Woods. I was rewarded with a stunning bridge view I would have otherwise missed.
I’m looking forward to more exploring this summer. My next goal is to ride from Elgin to the northern trailhead in Algonquin. A friend of mine just told me yesterday that north of East Dundee, is a beautiful scenic ride.
There are thousands of miles of trails across the United States and some are bound to be near you. Some you never knew existed. Get out there and explore!
- Trail Link- Fox River Trail
- Kane County Forest Preserve- Fox River Trail
- Fox River Bike Trail
- City of Elgin- Biking & Walking
I was almost at my six-mile mark, having just crossed a newly constructed, planked bridge– and there was the sign that greeted me: BIKE PATH CLOSED UNTIL SEPTEMBER 2015. Not what I expected to see when I reached IL-Route 25 and Stearns Rd. a week ago. It was my first ride south on the Fox River Trail from Elgin, Illinois. This was an exploratory test run.
I’d ridden north on the trail a few times, going as far as East Dundee. This was my first venture south on the trail. I’d set a goal to ride all the way to the south end of the trail by the end of the summer. Now with the trail closure, it looks like I might have to come up with a new challenge.
As a kid growing up in Florida, I rode my bike a lot. We lived in a new, sparsely populated subdivision with plenty of safe road to ride. We also made our own trails, even though it was pretty difficult to ride in the Florida sand and clay. On a rare occasion, I’d leave the subdivision and ride up the main road to the convenience store. Usually, picking up pop bottles along the way to redeem the deposit for penny candy.
Yes, I’m that old.
We lived in three different places when I was in my teens; all within four to five miles of the schools I attended. I didn’t ride my bike to class on a regular basis but sometimes I would ride there after hours or on weekends.
I also really loved to ride my bike after a good rain. I’d ride through puddles with the water and sand splashing; spinning off the tires and spokes– coating my calves and ankles.
That was so many years ago.
I’d only been on a bike a few times since then.
So what’s the sudden interest now?
Exercise. Exploring. A Challenge. Entertainment. Pick one.
Elgin, Illinois is a fairly, bike-friendly city. Downtown there are some bike lanes, many of which, strangely, don’t connect from block to block. The streets aren’t terribly congested most of the time, making them fairly safe and easy to ride. The bonus is that home is only about a half-mile from the Fox River Trail.
I’d seriously thought about getting a bike a number of times in the past few years. I was always afraid I’d end up not riding it enough to be worth the investment. Then last November, we were at a charity event, anchored by a huge silent auction. One of the auction items was a bike, we bid— and the rest is history. I’m now the proud owner of a 2014 Raleigh Talus 3.0 Mountain Bike.
I was only able to go for a couple very short rides (last fall) before the weather got too cold and icy. My first real ride wasn’t until March— still cold— snow on the ground— at least the roads and sidewalks were clear. Maybe not so ironically, it was also rainy. We’d had a couple of warmer days, so I hadn’t really considered the weather when I went for the early morning ride. Besides the rain, the temperature was hovering around freezing and I hadn’t thought to wear gloves. After a couple miles, frozen fingers and wet with rain, I cut my ride short. Not to mention the burn in my legs from unused muscles I forgot I even had.
So far, I’ve only ridden about sixty miles total. I found a great fitness app, Runtastic, that uses GPS tracking to record and map my rides. In addition to mapping and distance, it also records elevation changes, calories burned, time and a lot of other information.
Biking is great exercise and a perfect way to clear your head. It’s also wonderful way to see the city and nearby trails. Riding on two wheels, you see things in a completely different light.
It’s never too late to reignite a passion for an old hobby or activity. It just takes the motivation to get out and do it.
In my next post I’ll share some photographs from my rides, so far; exploring the Fox River Trail.
One of the priceless gems of our property at 321 Division Street is our ancient Ginkgo tree. I know it’s definitely over 100 years old (based on an old picture) and would guess it’s actually between 110 and 130 years old. The modern Ginkgo tree is often called a living fossil, a descendent of the species dating back to the Early Jurassic period.
It is well known for its fan-shaped leaves that can be frequently found in ancient Chinese art.
In the fall, I’ve watched all the leaves drop from the tree in one day. When it happens that quickly, it’s a spectacular sight. The species is known to commonly drop all its leaves in 1 to 15 days.
This year, our tree is acquiring much more of the deep golden color leaves than usual. In recent years, we’ve had warmer weather leading up to a hard frost that causes most of the leaves to drop still green.
The Ginkgo, or Ginkgo biloba tree, grows tall before its branch stretch out wide. Our tree is somewhere around 70 feet tall. The Ginkgo is known to easily reach heights of over 100 feet.
Ginkgo trees are either male or female; the male producing cones with spores that are highly allergenic. The female produces ovules and once pollinated develop into silver green fruit that turn orange when they are ripe. There is a large nut in the center of the fleshy fruit. Ginkgo trees can reproduce asexually as well, which is evidenced by our tree. The nearest mature Ginkgo tree is a block away and is female. We believe it to be an offspring of our tree.
The biggest drawback about our tree is the fruit. Our Ginkgo produces large quantities (hundreds of pounds) of fruit each year, The fruit is smaller than a walnut.) Though a few do drop throughout the fall, most remain on the branches long after all the leaves have dropped and we’ve had several good freezes.
The fleshy fruit contain butyric acid, that when ripe and fallen, have a foul smell like vomit. On an unseasonably warm day, this smell can be detected over a block away. This odor only lasts a few days but because the fruit usually drop so late, we often have fruit under fallen snow and have to deal the the smell briefly in the spring as well.
Once established, the Ginkgo tree is quite hardy and resistant to disease and pollution. They do not survive (tolerate) shade though. An interesting fact I found was that six Ginkgo trees survived the Hiroshima atomic bomb (1945) when most every other living thing perished.
Our own tree sustained substantial damage as the result of bad hail storm a number of years ago, losing nearly a quarter of its branches. We had an arborist come and prune the damaged wood and the tree remains healthy. He also researched and believes it to be one of the three largest Ginkgo trees in Illinois.
Ginkgo and Ginkgo Suppliment Health Warnings
In some cultures, Ginkgo is used in cooking or as a featured ingredient or dessert.
Several years ago, it was one of the most widely-popular dietary supplements on the market. Ginkgo biloba was sold to millions, promising great memory enhancement among other things. In fact, this is completely false. Though a few smaller studies reportedly show benefits in dementia and Alzheimer patients, most studies show no slowing or improvement with consumption. There have been no proven beneficial uses for Ginkgo in other touted areas either, such as lowering blood pressure .
There are also many dangers to ingestion and regular Ginkgo use in some people. Many people are highly allergic. Ginkgo has been studied and shown to be detrimental to some people’s health. Specifically, taking Ginkgo supplements can be harmful to people with blood circulation problems, pregnant women and people taking antidepressants.
Ginkgo can cause bleeding, gas, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness and heart palpitations.
In addition, the over consumption of the seed (meat) can cause poisoning and convulsions. Some people are allergic to just handling the fleshy fruit, much like poison ivy.
So as a general warning, never start a regiment of dietary supplements without investigating them first. Most of the advertised new wonder drugs are marketing scams claiming unproven scientific results. Read the labels, ask your doctor and research online before taking a risk.
You’re already eating them and most people don’t know it. Some of the food on your table has been altered to produce toxins— toxins that are entering your body. It’s not on the label and it may not be safe.
GM or GMO foods (Genetically Modified Organisms) are now making their way to grocery shelves, in restaurants and into your home. The biggest concern for consumers should be the results of studies showing the adverse affects of GM foods on the digestive system, liver, kidneys, and reproductive organs of the animals tested. They have also been linked to premature aging. The studies show the consumption of certain GM foods have caused allergic reactions to other normally non-allergenic foods that didn’t previously exist.
What are GMOs?
To put it in the simplest terms, GMOs are plants and animals that are genetically altered by inserting or splicing the genes of different species with the goal of a specific result. For example, combining the genes of a fish and a potato. Scientists are crossing species barriers set up by nature. They are creating hybrids that would be impossible to occur naturally. It’s also known as Genetic Engineering.
The official reasoning behind genetic modification is to produce crops that offer improved yields, enhanced nutritional value, tastes better, have a longer shelf life, and are resistance to drought, frost, or insect pests.
Unfortunately, to date, there is no proof of any increases in the quality of GM foods either in yields, taste or nutritional values over Non-GMO foods. Modified GMO crops that have increased primary pest tolerance, start to be attack more readily by secondary pests, requiring further engineering and genetic modification. Herbicide tolerance in GMOs, allows and encourages the higher usage of chemical herbicides on food crops to kill weeds, increasing their overall toxicity. The most common used herbicide is Monsanto’s Round Up.
The genetic engineering of plants often requires the alteration of more than one single trait, when that trait fails to completely fulfill its intended purpose or when multiple results are desired. Stacked traits in one particular GM corn hybrid has eight GM traits to alter insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.
GMOs are rapidly changing the natural balance of our ecosystem, causing a chain-reaction effect that cannot be reversed. The environmental effects of these changes may not be felt immediately but will take years to accurately measure and understand. Geneti modification cannot be undone. To better understand this, look at the serious long term affects the Japanese Beetle and West Nile virus are creating after being artificially introduced into other parts of the world other than their origin. They affect all elements of the environment (i.e. plants, animals, humans) directly, as well as the effects caused by the use of new chemicals introduced into the ecosystem in an attempt to combat them.
The genetic engineering of plants often requires the alteration of more than one single trait, if that trait fails to completely fulfill its intended purpose or when multiple results are desired. Stacked traits in one particular GM corn hybrid has eight GM traits to alter insect resistance and herbicide tolerance.
“Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter haematological [blood], biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies.” – Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–1751
– Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–1751 – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/3-health-hazards-of-gm-foods/3-1-myth-gm-foods-are-safe-to-eat#sthash.Du1Kv9fg.dpuf
“Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter haematological [blood], biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies.”
– Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–1751 – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/3-health-hazards-of-gm-foods/3-1-myth-gm-foods-are-safe-to-eat#sthash.Du1Kv9fg.dpuf“Most studies with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter haematological [blood], biochemical, and immunologic parameters, the significance of which remains to be solved with chronic toxicity studies.”
– Dona A, Arvanitoyannis IS. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009; 49: 164–1751 – See more at: http://earthopensource.org/index.php/3-health-hazards-of-gm-foods/3-1-myth-gm-foods-are-safe-to-eat#sthash.Du1Kv9fg.dpuf
GMO labeling is not regulated or required in the United States. Legislation to require labeling is being fought by the major corporations that use GM ingredients in their products. Currently, 60 countries around the world, including the European Union, have very strict laws regarding GMOs, if not completely banned altogether. You can see a list of countries and what is banned: here.
The genetic modification of animals foods is best explained by the wide usage of antibiotics, growth hormones and outright genetic engineering; in addition to GMO feed used in animal production.
Currently, the largest commercialized GM crops in the U.S. include: soy (94%), cotton (90%), canola (90%), sugar beets (95%), and corn (88%). This has resulted in GM ingredients invading 80% of our prepared foods.
The production and human consumption of GM foods is still in its infancy. Very few studies have been done to even begin measuring the effects it has on people and the environment. The limited studies performed on animals show potentially dangerous and life-threatening consequences.
For More Information:
I highly recommend you download the full GMO Myths and Truths PDF file and read it carefully.
Here’s a detailed list of GMO Health Risks.
Here’s another link: Former Pro-GMO Scientist Speaks Out On The Real Dangers of Genetically Engineered Food.
You can find and download a list of vertified Non GMO Product here.
Is it really organic?
How can you tell if it’s organic?
The word organic doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it did back in the 1970’s when my aunt started organic gardening in her backyard. She had a small garden, so using manure and compost to fertilize, constantly aerating the soil and hand-picking insects from the plants instead of using pesticides, was time consuming but manageable.
Imagine trying to do that on a large scale farm.
Organic refers, not to the quality of food produced, it refers to how it is produced. Organic fruits and vegetables are supposed to be grown in clean, uncontaminated soil using only clean, organic fertilizers (non-chemical) and without the use of any pesticides. They also cannot be treated with preservatives. Organic animal products can’t be raised using medications, antibiotics or growth hormones. Also, organic foods cannot be genetically modified (GM or GMO). Producing foods organically is also considered much better for the environment.
Sounds pretty healthy, doesn’t it?
The way the use of the word organic is used and regulated, leaves most of us confused and often misled.
The USDA uses four different categories in organic food labeling: 100% Organic; 95% Organic- labeled Certified Organic; 70-95% Organic– labeled, Made With Organic Ingredients; and 70% Organic– labeled, Contains Organic Ingredients. You should be suspicious of any products labeled or displayed in stores with any form of the word organic, that is not accompanied by the USDA seal.
We have to ask ourselves, if it’s not 100% organic, is it still worth the increased cost?
Common sense tells us that foods without pesticides; and animal products that were produced without antibiotics and hormones should be healthier for us, right?
Unfortunately, studies show that pesticide residue, though lower in organic products, still exist in them, To date, there is no proof that any of the pesticide residue found in organic or conventionally farmed foods affect our health. There is also no proof that antibiotics used on animal products interfere with the affects of human antibiotic effectiveness.
It is important to know that there are no claims by the USDA, or any evidence that supports the existence of any increased nutritional value or quality in organic foods. All studies indicate that they are comparatively the same.
I’m frustrated to know that there have been very few attempts to even study and compare the health of people eating only organic foods versus conventionally grown foods. The data just doesn’t exist.
It’s also important to note that people frequently become confused by the terms: organic, fresh, natural, sustainable and locally grown. Each word or phrase can mean a totally differently thing. Though the use of any of these descriptions are intended to suggest a healthier and more nutritious product– that proof doesn’t exist.
So is it worth it?
All currently available research shows no measurable health benefits to consuming organic foods over conventionally grown foods. So is it really worth paying the average additional 40% to 120% increase in cost?
Without clear data supporting it, it really just becomes a personal preference. Many people can’t afford to spend the extra money on a chance that organic is better for you.
Some people claim that organic foods taste better than conventionally grown foods. Yet in my own personal research, I have not found any noticeable differences.
Organic produce isn’t always ‘as pretty‘ as conventionally grown produce and may contain natural imperfections that end up equaling waste. This might also be a deciding factor in the value, particularly when purchasing produce by the pound as opposed to individual item-pricing.
One last thing to consider is that organic foods are not supposed to be treated with any preservatives, leading them to spoil much quicker. This can be problematic for individuals that find it difficult to make frequent trips to the market.
Whether you decide to buy organic or not, Americans as a whole, do not eat enough fruits and vegetables.
Whichever you buy, the Mayo Clinic website highly recommends washing all produce thoroughly because all of it can contain dirt and bacteria, not to mention possible contamination from handling, no matter how it was produced.
The decision is yours.