We at 815 Outside are big believers in the pre-hike. That’s when we go out a couple days before our scheduled public hike and make sure the trails are safe. We used to pre-hike one, two — sometimes three! — weeks ahead of the hike. But now we pre-hike as close to the date of the “real hike” as possible. Here’s why:

Some of you may remember the ice storm we experienced in February. It was so nasty, we had to cancel two of our hikes. Hundreds of trees and branches were knocked down and thousands of people in northern Illinois were without power for a few days.

We rescheduled the hikes for March. Sure, we figured the trails might be a little “soupy” as hiker Brian Hedges (pictured below, kneeling, wearing hat and sunglasses) would say, but when we arrived at the wetlands the morning of our rescheduled March hike, we quickly discovered that the paths were beyond soup. They were flooded. There was no safe way through or around them.

But all was not lost! We were fortunate to have a co-leader (Winnebago County Forest Preserve Deputy Tim Speer, pictured above in uniform) who led us to the nearby Pecatonica River Forest Preserve. Our adventurous hikers (pictured above at PRFP) caravanned to the new preserve and we proceeded to safely hike four miles!

You may think, “Duh, wetlands are wet lands!”  While you’re not wrong, it was shocking how much of the wetlands were under several inches of water. When we pre-hiked the wetlands in February, the trails were still packed with snow! It goes to show that so much can change — on land and in water — in a short amount of time in northern Illinois.

“Heraclitus b 4 compressed” by Roy Fokker is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Since that Pecatonica hike, we’ve pivoted to pre-hiking within a few days (at the most!) of each hike to make sure the trails are tenable. We give our hikers as much information as possible about the weather and trail conditions. Hiking is inherently risky, but a pre-hike, communication and reliable leadership go a long way to building a safe 815 Outside community.

The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus (left) once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” We agree! And we find that to be true of the forests, wetlands, city trails and ourselves. We are always changing, always evolving. And at 815 Outside, we’re doing it together, one step at a time.

Thanks for reading! Happy (not soupy) Trails!


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