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A Deep South swamp in Illinois; Mountain bike paradise

A Deep South swamp in Illinois

You might think you’re in the Louisiana bayou when paddling through Cache River Wetlands, said Jay Jones in the Chicago Tribune. America’s northernmost cypress and tupelo swamp instead lies just 350 miles south of Chicago in the Cache River State Natural Area. This swamp happens to be a prime spot for leaf peeping, with late October through mid-November the prime time for changing foliage. I discovered this firsthand on a tour provided by a canoe rental company (whitecranerentals.com). Despite brilliant sunshine, “an eeriness set in” as my canoe glided into the swamp. Soon enough, I was distracted by the show: The cypress leaves had turned a reddish rust color, and the pale-yellow leaves of the tupelo contrasted with the trees’ dark clusters of teardrop-shaped fruit. The same magnificent colors are visible from boardwalks and hiking trails, but “to really experience the majesty of this swamp,” you need to get out on the water.

Mountain bike paradise

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Next time you visit the Blue Ridge Mountains, bring your Stumpjumper, said Melanie D.G. Kaplan in The Washington Post. Boone, N.C., a college town already known for its ski slopes and great road cycling, recently opened a $2 million mountain bike park that should make Boone a destination for yet another breed of outdoor adventurer. Rocky Knob, as it’s called, laces five challenging trails through 185 acres of mountainside and throws in a “pump track” near the parking lot. That’s a small dirt course of bumps and jumps that a rider can flow through without pedaling, and it makes mountain biking “a killer spectator sport.” I found the trails challenging even in hiking boots, but I strapped on a helmet, mounted a borrowed bike, and starting climbing the hill. My legs burned, and learning to keep the pedals higher than the rocks was a challenge, but I kept at it. “On the final stretch, through a tunnel of rhododendron, I even felt flowy.”

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