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As far as I know, there is not a novel with the title of Hog Wallow Friends.  If there is, I bet it stinks.

Ha!  Ha ha ha!

Hog Wallow Friends might be the best title for the story of my July, at least so far.  Friday afternoon, my boss decided that we both were taking a half day vacation.  So at noon, I was gone, a flash out the door before he could change his mind.  I zipped home, changed into my cycling clothes, and loaded the mountain bike up on my VW for a trip to a Chicagoland mountain bike that I don’t visit as much as I would like to — Palos forest preserve.  I was on the trail by 1:30.

The trails at Palos don’t dry fast, one of the reasons I don’t go there often, but the trails were dry and in great shape.  Palos, however, always has a few large spots on a few trails that hold water, a perpetual mud pit.  One of the first connectors that I took, a trail called Hickory Smoke as it runs through a grove of Hickory, as well as being a fairly fast trail.  At one point on that trail, there is a sharp bend around a large Hickory, a spot where quite a few large roots cross the entire trail.  In between those roots, the water collects, turning the trail into a mud bog.  I crossed the roots close to the tree, a bit precarious as the roots close to the tree are large and, to ride that close to the tree, you have to be comfortable leaning a bit away from the tree as you ride over the roots.  That ended up being the best line, with no issue as I rolled over the roots.

Remember those roots and the mud that exists between them.

Palos has a lot of trail with a lot of climbing, a different ride that the constant little 10-20 feet up and down trails that I normally ride.  It’s a workout.  I rode a good 2 hours or more, returned to the parking lot with a pleasant fatigue, stripped my sweat soaked shirt off and perched underneath the opened hatch of my car to recover with a bottle of water.

“Steeeeeevvvvvvvve!!!!  Is that you?”  It was my friend, Gina, someone I met last year on a group bike path ride, then again as part of the group I rode with during a ride called Rando de Taco.  Gina rolled to a stop in front of me, a big smile on her face, happy to see me.  Likewise.  I enjoyed the rides last year, Gina and her boyfriend Glenn instantly becoming friends.

“Did you just finish a ride?  If you want to ride some more, we have a group ride starting up in a few minutes.”  I might have declined, but I felt like I still had something left in the Steve tank.  Besides, I have never seen Gina ride dirt singletrack.  The two rides I did with her last year were flat path rides and not on mountain bikes.  Rumor was that Gina was a very fast and gifted mountain biker, a former racer who had quite a bit of success.  She is petite and fiercely competitive, a consistently fast rider who led our group on both rides I had been on with her, latching onto my back wheel or riding next to me when either of us were not pulling the group.  I had to see her ride dirt.

So I put my shirt and shoes back on, jumped back on my bike.  The ride was a coed ride, promised to be a medium paced ride.  All except Gina were people I didn’t know — Price, Steve, Chrisrine, Nancy, Don.  As seems to be the case when a bike is involved, three hours later I would have five new friends.

We rolled out onto the connector trail that I had started on a few hours earlier, Hickory Smoke.  The first section went quickly, with Price and Gina leading out, and with me right on their tail.  We stopped for the rest of the group, then Gina encouraged me to lead out.  I did just that.

Remember that I said that Gina is fiercely competitive.  I intentionally lead out fast, hoping to shake her off of my tail, but failing at that.  Quickly, we were out ahead of everyone but Price.

That is until we came to that bend around the tree with the roots and mud.  I took the same line, cleared the roots even faster than I had before.  After I cleared those roots, a few seconds later I heard a loud “Argggggghhhh!” followed by a splash.  Gina had leaned too far over as she crossed that roots, tried to put her foot down to steady her but found out it was too far down to the ground.

Gina was very personally acquainted with the hog wallow-like mud between the roots, covered from head to toe with thick mud as she fell in.  Following the splash was loud laughter as the riders behind witnessed the dirty debacle.

Pictures were not allowed, at least not until Gina was able to take a quick dip in a close by lake.  But her mishap had really created a loose atmosphere amongst the group, not that we were all that serious to begin with.  The pace slowed, the competitive fire reduced to a glowing ember, replaced by conversation.   Before I knew it, several hours had passed and I was near toast.

And that is when the competitive fire returned.  The slower riders in the group decided to finish up, leaving the faster riders — Price, Gina and myself (sort of) — to ride a little more at a faster pace.  They gave us a challenge to ride a three mile loop instead of the one mile connector they would take back to the parking lot, see if we could beat them back to the parking lot.  I was toast, but no way was I going to do the one mile connector.

I should have just admitted it.  I was buttered and spread with jam with about a mile left on that loop.  Price and Gina ended up slowing their pace to help bring me in.  I rode nearly 6 hours of single track that day, though.

We all finished up with a brew at the Imperial Oak, then I headed home to pick up Nate for a late night movie.  I still had a little left in the Steve tank, I guess.

Price invited me back to Palos for a early morning July 4 guys ride.  I made some new friends — Price, Dean, Neal, as well as getting to ride singletrack with Glenn (Gina’s boy friend).  I was invited to ride with Price and a few others the next evening, with a promise that I could try out Price’s fat tire bike on that ride.  We ended up at the Imperial Oak after the Tuesday evening spin, a mistake for me as I ended up staying out way too late!

So there you have it.  I am so glad that summer is back and the trails are ready to ride again!

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