The path along the Fox River through Fabyan Forest Preserve may be the most popular section of running trail in all of Kane County. The preserve itself has been named a favorite for years in reader polls by local newspapers and magazines. The property was once the estate of an industrial magnate. It has its own Frank Lloyd Wright home and the remnants of cages where bears and other animals were kept.
There is a Japanese Garden and the beautiful arbor sidewalk (at left) on the west side of the preserve, through which the Fox passes in its alternately roiling and lazy glory. When the river floods the isthmus section of the park is submersed, leaving behind long trails of river findings like a testament to natural archeology.
So there is plenty to enjoy while running through Fabyan. One morning a band of five bald eagles flapped out from the protection of a white pine, and in winter there are mergansers feeding in the open water when the rest of the river freezes over.
On many days it feels like a peaceful place. Runners and cyclists share the path, which does a huge S-curve over the isthmus to clunk over a metal and wood bridge on the east side. Turning north the trail heads to Geneva through even more dense woods, and a pastoral windmill stands atop a mowed grass hill. The windmill actually operates at times, its huge warms waving vacuously at the passing cyclists and runners.
The trail can get crowded at times, and many races are held that pass through the park. Soon the Fox Valley Marathon and Half Marathon will take place. The Fox River Trail Runners put on the increasingly popular race, which runs north and south along the river trail.
The trails were once a set of rail lines following the river. Trolley trains carried turn-of-the century commuters from town to town. There were plenty of industrial trains as well, headed north to factories in St. Charles like the Howell Furniture Company.
For years after the train lines closed down there were traces of its former existence. But as the pole lines slowly collapsed and fell, and cement mile markers leaned and fell over, there were no longer any signs of the trail’s history as a train track.
But I’ve lived here a long, long time. And just after the trains stopped running I took birding hikes along the cinder beds where the train tracks rusted into place. Weeds choked the lines shut eventually.
Then our county took over the trails and turned them into greenways. In 1982 the first river trail opened, and I was the first runner to lead the Geneva Community Classic 10K down the barely finished path. Two years later I won again in perhaps my best race ever.
So there are many happy memories, and also deep tidings of consideration and care. My late wife in her failing health liked to walk along the trail. Our walks grew shorter and shorter as cancer did its work. During a walk for Living Well Cancer Resource center she could not make it back the mile we’d walked up to Fabyan Park. So she sat down while I ran in my hiking boots back to the car to come get her. It was a desperate and strange run indeed.
But before that there were many health-restoring walks along that river. I teased her often about the time she estimated the size of a beaver we’d seen at 300 lbs. It was a huge animal, but no more than 80 lbs. at the most.
Such are the absent-minded exchanges while traversing such trails. But there are deep thoughts as well. Thinking through life’s challenges is what many of us do while out running or riding. That’s a good thing.
And when life’s transitions bring you to a point where all familiarity is overwhelmed by change, you seek out these places for space to consider what it all means. Sometimes it’s actually possible to think it all through while we’re on the move. But other times you simply must stop for a moment and catch your emotional breath. I know I have.
Ten years ago this November my mother passed away. She was 80 years old. My mom was a great fan of my running. She also loved peaceful places like forest preserves, and growing up she used to take me to a spot by a stone waterfall south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We’d sit listening to the peaceful sound of water tumbling over the dam and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by the brown and muddy Mill Creek.
We need these places to catch our breath at all ages, you see. We also need them to help us get out of breath. Because through effort our true and best thoughts are often revealed.
Now I share my time with a running companion named Sue, and we sometimes run in silence together just taking in the beauty of the trail. North from Fabyan to St. Charles and back is about eight miles. We have the river for company as well as each other.
“This reminds me of marathon training,” she recalled a week or so ago. This summer she’s been training for an Ironman that takes place September 13th. Many days we’ve run down that trail gladly in prep for that race.
But a week ago she got stuck in a wicked rainstorm and texted me t0 come pick her up. She stood under the Fabyan Bridge out of the rain and away from the lightning. Climbing into the car, she was shiny and wet like an otter that had just crawled up from the Fox River. “Well, I didn’t get the whole run in, but it went well until the rain,” she laughed.
And that’s how we go down a trail gladly. Through it all, and all for one…as in one more good ride or run.