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Return To Motorcycle Hill

Updated on September 15, 2011

...a Place I Guess I've Never Been

As I sit at a computer, of which five years ago I would have had no need for and not even known how to operate; I laugh at the indispensable role it has taken on in my life. Recently my wife has caught on to this wonder of the ages as well and we now have two computers running at the same time some nights. Being poor, and cheap, I thought that calculating my ecological footprint might be a good way of gauging just how much this convenience is costing me. I visited three sites:, myfootprint .org, and in order to use their calculator and see if there would be a substantial difference in my new computer age ways, or my old, sit in front of the television days as far as the use of electricity was concerned. After digging up some old receipts from five years ago and comparing them to electric bills from the last few months I found that I am now saving money, although, as the calculator pointed out, it is not from the absence of the two cathode ray television tubes, running all day, that makes the only difference.

The calculators on these sites showed me more than just my use of electricity; they showed me my "Carbon footprint," which results from my mere existence on this planet from day to day. Five years ago, I was Bigfoot. While my electric bills were only around twenty dollars a month more per month, I have to believe that electric was cheaper then, and cost of living may have been a little lower as well. As it stands now, according to the footprintnetwork site, it would only take 3 to 9 planets to support my lifestyle, although on the myfootprint site it was only 2.3 planets. The numbers were much higher for my lifestyle five years ago.

As it stood on the two sites I have mentioned, the CO2 emission output of my wife and I is around 11, 350 pounds a year, where the national average is 41,500. I had much better results with the EPA site, which stated that my output was 2,042 pounds per year. I do not attribute this to the use of the computer, so much as the modifications made since we moved. We have a smaller apartment so we bought a smaller stove and refrigerator to replace the ones that were there. These appliances are energy smart. I sold our car, a gas guzzling Cadillac DeVille, which seemed excessive in this day. We now use compact fluorescent bulbs, because they last longer, and have gotten rid of the old tube televisions. We were not trying to be environmentally friendly on purpose at the time, it just happened that way, being poor means being green, whether you like it or not.

Living within our limited means came easier than I thought it would and getting rid of the car made a huge difference. Being on a budget, and living in the city where transportation is easily accessible, we found no need for a car, this did not prove to be a problem until I found that if I was to want to get away from the concrete jungle for a while, it would most likely be an all day affair. This is when I remembered Motorcycle Hill. When I was younger, Motorcycle Hill was a trail my friends and I rode our bicycles to in order to take advantage of the steep inclines and dirt trails it had to offer. It ran along the North Channel of the Chicago River along Kedzie Avenue, just north of Devon. This trail was three blocks from where I now reside, and I wondered if it was still there; it was.

When I got there, my first impulse was to find the starting point we used to use as children. I walked north along the trail to where I thought I had remembered that steep incline to be, but it was no-where to be found; it has been forty years. When I turned around and started walking back towards my home, I noticed something that was always there but had somehow gone unnoticed, that being the trail itself. The trail sat at the edge of the city limits with no artificial barrier to block the winds or rains during the years. Trees were bent towards the east, where the west wind had dictated there position to be since the time that they were saplings, thoughts of John Muir riding the treetops crossed my mind, as I could picture him climbing to the top, and bending them with the weight from his body to shape them in this way. Older trees were broken at the stump, or higher, as the result of violent storms that passed with the seasons and took out their wrath upon the open grove that ran for a mile, north to south, which stood within their paths. The channel, flowing green from the reflection off the trees, gave refuge to a raft of ducks that swam unmolested and without a care. I sat upon a stump remembering that just a few short years ago, while with a friend, we took his boat down this same channel towards Wilmette and spotted Great Blue Heron soaring along the banks like pterodactyls in some pre-historic dream. Forty years ago, this river was poison. One hundred and forty years ago, this river didn't exist.

In the middle of the 19th century, this land was the land of the Pottawattamie and the Chippewa. One hundred years ago one might have found remnants of thier existence here, but not now. Now, if one were to dig on this site, all they would find would be remains of the excavation from when they dug up the land to make this channel, and the sewer pipes that lead into it. As far as the city is concerned, this trail is a mistake. It lay on the disputed boundary of Chicago and Lincolnwood, and neither wanted to be responsible for its upkeep, so it thrives. Now, it is home to rabbit, possum, skunk, duck, and geese. The deep tunnel project of the 1980's diverted the sewage and the river is now a habitat for many species of fish, including: largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, rock bass, and carp, to name a few. As I sit on a broken stump watching the ducks , I wonder why I never noticed this little stretch of woods for what it was, nature reclaiming its place. I smiled from the memories of riding my bicycle there when I was younger, and wondered when I would ever find a chance to come here again. Life keeps a person away from things like this sometimes. Then it dawned on me, I do have a reason to come back; I have a puppy. Nature writer Richard Nelson and his dog Keta have nothing on me. I do not expect to see any deer being born, but it would be cool to see the reaction of a four-month-old city pup in nature, rather then a fenced off tennis court, or a park with leash restrictions.

It had been a week since I had been to the trail on the channel, so on a pleasant Saturday morning I loaded my pockets with treats and a tennis ball and led my dog "Patch" to the trail. Patch is a three and a half month old, what we found out to be, Australian Shepherd-Lab mix. She's a smart pup, and very active. I figured she would enjoy the natural surroundings, something she is not accustomed to, and the chance to run free, without a leash, as there was no traffic to worry about on the trail. I was right. Once I let her off the leash, she started to investigate these strange surroundings. She led me down the trail, checking to make sure I was keeping up with her.

About half way down the trail, where there is an incline leading towards the river, she put a scare into me by heading straight for the water. She had never seen a river before, and I was afraid her curiosity would get the best of her. However, my worry was without cause, as she stopped at the bank, smelled the water and turned around. As we continued our walk, a rabbit happened to dart past us startling Patch, and causing her to run. The rabbit seemed to have other plans, and decided not to chase her.

As we walked further, I began to notice peculiarities about this trail. It seemed that where the trail neared the river, branches were laid out along the path, as if to act as a guide for hikers. I also noticed that fallen branches along the path were freshly cut, as so not to block the way of hikers. I found this to be unusual, as I know that neither the city of Chicago, nor the village of Lincolnwood laid claim to this land, and the county Forest preserve district, most likely, had no idea that it even existed. Still, this did not detract from the natural beauty the trail offered, so we continued our walk and after two and a half hours decided it was time to go back home.

On my third visit to the trail, and Patches' second, we came across someone else on the trail. He and I started to talk, and I found out that it was he, and a few friends who were responsible for the sawed limbs on the trees along the path. He explained to me that the land belonged to the Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. His name was John, and he told me how his group had taken it upon themselves to tend to the area along the river, keeping the trail clear, picking up litter that might be left around, and generally preserving the space for the use of people like others and myself for hiking, dog walking and fishing. He went on to explain that the agency that oversaw the land the trail was on was concerned with the water aspect alone, and had neglected the areas wooed section.

Further south along the channel, where the river is within the city limits, there are parks, canoe launches, and paved bike paths. On the other side of the river, in Lincolnwood and Skokie, there is a bike path and sculpture park. On this contested piece of land however, there is no governmental interference. Only John and others from the community, of whom I have met, are responsible for its upkeep. They walk the trail keeping it free of obstacles and debris while hiking, fishing, or walking their dogs. Over the past month, we have met up on Sundays sharing histories we all had with the trail while walking along the river. We'˜ve discussed going to the alderman's office and seeing if there was anything they could do to make sure it remained to appear as natural as it does now, but decided against it figuring that it was better to leave well enough alone.

So now, thanks to Patch and our daily walks to the trail, I feel like Thoreau with my own little piece of Walden Pond. I look forward to the winter after the first snow, to walk along the fresh blanket unmolested by exhaust fumes. I anticipate the spring, watching it foliage come back to life, and summer when it is in full bloom. Patch, by the way, enjoys the trail as well, as she has made friends with other dogs (and their owners). The greatest thing about all this is the fact that it is just blocks from my house. All I had to do was take a short four-block walk to a small part of the natural world that thousands of cars drive past every week. A world that passers by have no idea is here, as I hadn't, until I felt compelled to get out of the house for a change and visit a spot I thought no longer existed, but really never knew was here.


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