Small town, big sky

Well, I was born in a small town. And before you rip me for ripping Mellencamp, know that I wasn’t even thinking of him when I had the idea for this post. But digging even deeper, were you yourself born in a small town? Or did you grow up in a small town? Because if you did, you’ll understand at a visceral level what it means to stand in the middle of the street at dusk, with the air so still you can hear wind in the trees a block away. If you close your eyes and pull those memories forward hard enough, you’ll remember the evening scent hanging in the air from the landscape around you. If you are old enough to have forgotten, one deep breath will recall to you the aroma was of the trees on your block, or the milkweed and reeds bordering the bank of the culvert near your friends’ house, or the gravel road leading up to your neighborhood from the blacktop, littered with crushed acorns fallen from the spreading arms of oaks.


Sunset beyond the Meadows

And the quiet. Those evenings when everyone was inside starting, eating or finishing dinner, when maybe you were the only one out because you had to take out the trash, or walk your dog, or do something before it got dark. You were there to see the sky filled with light from an unseen source, the mighty Sun having already dipped behind a horizon edged with a haze that made its light diffuse on the atmospheric canvas. There were no street lights or neon signs or tall buildings polka-dotted with office lights to wash out the view. Just the sky, and the quiet so deep that it pulled you into the road where you could see the splendor, knowing no cars were coming or would come for the long minutes that you wanted to spend, the adult looking at the same sky that was there as a child, in your small town.


Looking east from The Meadows

I know, it looks like suburbia. A march of tract homes in a developer-inspired meander intended to lend the appearance of non-conformity. An illusion, if you will. But the real illusion is that it is all orderly and tame. Wild turkeys cross the roads moving from the riparian stream to the woodlands. Pumas prowl the hills within a half mile of the perimeter. Feral pigs have been known to bolt from the underbrush. But the telling part is that each of these tidy little homes is its own lifeboat, a collection in a community where the rising moon means that whatever shops and businesses that might be a source of provision are miles and miles away. No commerce means no traffic except for the people you know coming home to park their cars and go inside for the night, leaving the night to gather around the familiar scent, and the silence to deepen, on the streets of this small town.

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upgrade part II

just a short post.

Getting the front fan cage out was more difficult than I thought it would be. I left it kind of resting on the motherboard after loosening the screws. I knew better and of course, karma hit me upside the head by revealing a broken latch for the video slot. Fortunately, the size of my card bridges the entire damn cage and both heat sinks, being supported by a slot in the rear fan cage. So I won’t miss the latch and I doubt whoever should inherit this machine after me will either.

When you open your box, be patient. That is rule #1.

Rule #2 is wear a grounding strap.

Pulling off the heat sinks was the last step before reaching the final destination. I decided to clean and inspect them before pulling the CPUs, because once I started that I was going to re-assemble until it was all back together.


Tools of the heat sink cleaning trade.

Those things are pretty massive. Motodad noted the copper tuning made them look like they have liquid cooling. The glass bowl holds isopropyl alcohol. When I was a young mad scientist I’d buy a bottle every month to fuel my Bunsen burner. In this case it was only an agent to get the old thermal paste off the copper plates on the bottoms of the sinks.

DirtClean Heatsinks

One down, one to go. You don’t realize how devastatingly handsome these are until you get close to them. Yes, I did lose focus of the gravity of the situation.

Patience and a lot of Q-tips got them nice and burnished. A can of air got the fins clean, but don’t let anyone tell you micro dust bunnies don’t have a sense of self preservation. They managed to wrap themselves around posts, cling to the fin edges, and do just about anything to keep from flying off like they were supposed to.

I didn’t bother to chronicle everything going back together. I put the heat sinks in before the front fan cage, which of course wouldn’t go in. So out came the sinks and the newly applied thermal paste. I didn’t reapply it when I put them back.

I did screw and unscrew the rear cage four times before I got the rear cage, heat sink cover and front cage to all line up and fit nicely. Apple likes putting things together with tight tolerances, and this was no different.

I lugged the 54-pound box back to its place under my desk. Connected all the cables. Forgot the power hungry tower would fire as soon as the AC was connected, and I didn’t have the monitor plugged in, but all was cool.

Logged on. Looked at the system profiler.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 12.03.21 AM

About that upgrade.

I went from dual quad-core Xeons running at 2.66 GHz to a pair of 8-core chips at 3.0 GHz. I could change the unknown to a known by updating the firmware. But the system fans don’t spin any faster, the temperature gauge doesn’t budge and everything works just dandy, so I’m leaving well enough alone. In the hardware department. For now.

Next mod: Yosemite.

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Time to upgrade

I’m upgrading my 2006 Mac Pro. I’ve been talking about trying to hack it to get from Mountain Lion to Mavericks since early last year, and switched my fuzzy focus to going to Yosemite. But other than making bootable USBs I haven’t really doing anything except watching YouTubes and reading how-tos.

In the course of doing that I found a few hacks to upgrade the CPUs, going from two dual-core Xeons to quad-core 5365s. And with the receipt of a pair of quad-core processors over the holidays, I’m finally taking action.


The last moments of the working box before I dive into it.

If the CPU swap is successful, I’ll then proceed with the OS upgrade. One might ask why even bother with a 7-year-old computer, but the cost of the upgrade is pretty minimal when compared to the cost of a new machine. Sure, I wouldn’t have to buy another Pro as the current iMac will beat the panels off this machine performance-wise. But I’ve invested a lot in this machine and its design is the last Macintosh that allows as many upgrades as I’ve already made. Unless I’m mistaken, none of the current Mac generations allow upgrades to memory, drives, video and CPU all on one machine by the end user.


6.5 TB of storage, soft RAID 1, 12 GB of memory and a card capable of driving a pair of monitors.

All those components have been replaced in my Mac since I bought it. All of them failed at one point, and were replaced by larger drives, bigger memory and more powerful graphics cards. But the brilliant design of the case made replacing these relatively easy. To do the CPU swap I have to get past all that stuff to the motherboard, which lies deep inside the machine.

If you have an early 2006 MacPro and are thinking of doing this mod, you may have read some of the excellent posts on ow to do it. And you probably hear about a few people’s travails in removing the CPU fan. I have two tips for you. One, you really will need a piece of PC hardware to get the fan out.


Second, the fan cage feels like it is catching on something when you tug it because it is mounted on a plastic slide latch that is about three inches long.

I made a small handle for the PCI card cover by slipping a pegboard hook through the small hole in the cover. I slipped it under the edge of the cover, gave it a few good yanks, and it popped right out.


The plastic slide is in the lower left corner of the shot, near the bottom of the chassis.

I’ll post more later. Time for sleep now.

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How MacWorld changed my life

Lying on the floor at my feet is a blue nylon bag with an imprinted logo reading “square jellyfish”. Inside are a collection of brochures I picked up at the 2014  San Francisco MacWorld conference. At the time it had the feel of being perhaps the last MacWorld conference ever. In October 2014 the organizing company IDG announced the show would go on hiatus. IDG had shut down Macworld magazine a month earlier.

An animal that does not exist in nature - I think.

An animal that does not exist in nature – I think.

I hadn’t looked at any of those brochures since slipping them into the bag, one by one, as I roamed the show floor on that late winter day. The friends with whom I usually attend the show did not make the trip that year. I myself slipped in towards the end of a show day to look around in the North Hall of the Moscone Convention Center, where it had returned after being in a smaller space at Moscone West for a few years.

I was sorry to see it go. I didn’t start out as a Mac guy, and until a few years ago I wouldn’t have called myself so either. I got my computing start on Commodores, where I learned BASIC, and moved on to build a Heathkit system from parts. My first factory-assembled computer ran CP/M, older than DOS. I also ran a BBS on CP/M and had no use for the jittery images on the first Apple I.

Even when the Mac came out, I wasn’t convinced. My poor Morrow Designs MD-3 was being outclassed by the more powerful Kaypro and Osbourne machines, and I secretly lusted after an Altair with an S100 bus. If you were born after the Pet Shop Boys made their debut this is all last century history for you. The part you might relate to is where I was sick of what I was doing and wanted a different job. I was not just tired mind you, but hated my work.

My then-girlfriend likewise hated her job and we wound up buying a Mac SE and a Laserwriter. I thought I would go back to freelance writing and she was going to study networking and telecom. She went on to become a junior system administrator and I…got promoted to management.

So now I officially hated my job, with a title. But I was determined to make it work. In the office I had a PC connected to our Unix email system and a 3270 emulator board to access mainframe applications. My staff ran 22 processing machines running on modified Perkin-Elmer systems. I was far more interested in what the programmers did to the systems than I was in managing the people operating them. And then one day I picked up a flyer announcing a computer show in town for Macs. I’d been a Morrow user group member for years and thought this show might draw maybe one hundred or so people, quite a bit larger than the 25 or 30 who showed up for my user group meetings.

As the ‘Aliens’ Hudson said, flipping A. There were hundreds of booths, thousands of people and the show was so big it not only filled all of the sole Moscone Center exhibition hall, but also most of Brooks Hall, a mile away in Civic Center. Shuttle buses ran between the two. I was agog, barely making sense of everything I saw.

I left the show with an inexpensive desktop publishing program and a handful of tchotchkes. I worked that program to death. I ported my BBS to the Mac. I learned how to use ResEdit.

One day I saw a job opening in the company for a group called “End User Computing”. Essentially, it was an internal startup. They were trying to put these hobby ‘puters to doing real work. I didn’t have big Unix chops. I didn’t have big mainframe chops. Heck, I barely knew my way around the Mac. But I interviewed with them. They were about to launch a hot new piece of software to move messages between the mainframe and the PCs – seamlessly! I asked if I could attend one of the planing meetings as an interested bystander.  I was there when the manager was called away to some crisis, pulled me into the hall outside the meeting room and asked if I really wanted to work for them.

Three years later I was standing in the offices of MacWorld magazine, talking with the managing editor about starting a business-oriented user group in San Francisco. I was an Apple ASC for my company. Attending conferences was part of my job, and I kept a sign-up list for employees wanting to borrow vendor tickets to go see the show every year. I supported the company execs, made product recommendations, evaluated vendors and performed consultations and installs for lines of business. It was easily one of the best jobs I ever had. Half the work was on PCs, half on Macs, with telecom, mainframe and the occasional Bloomberg thrown in for variety.

In all that time, I missed the MacWorld show but once. Now it’s gone, and I think forever. I have an image from that last show in my head, of a small booth for a product simply called Ring, from a tiny Japanese company. The chief engineer was in the booth, and the CEO was on the floor. They were barely conversant in English, but the demonstrator took care of explaining the product which unfortunately was not yet ready to ship. After the demo was over, I watched with others looking at the prototype sitting inside a Lucite box. I asked the demonstrator how many different devices it worked with. He said a small number, but he’d like to hear my suggestions for how I’d like to use it. We talked  a while and then the engineer asked a question. The demonstrator turned to me and asked if I’d like to place an order. I politely declined, and asked if many orders had been taken. He said a handful, but he expected better results when they returned next year.


The only freebies I collected in the 2014 MacWorld show were mints and an Odwalla button. And of course, a few brochures. No more WordPerfect umbrella.

Tonight, I finally opened the bag and looked at the contents. Sparse, like the show itself. There was a card from the Ring maker. I plugged their URL into my browser.

They are at CES.

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And then came the rain

A storm last week brought much needed rain to drought-ravaged California, but also caused havoc across the region. Urban floodwaters cascaded down San Francisco’s sloping neighborhoods and pooled around city streets. Several sinkholes opened up around the city while commuters and travelers were brought to a sliding halt on wet Bay Area highways.

Wednesday’s system will be stronger.

From the online site of the San Francisco Chronicle

I’ve mentioned before that I live in a river. Not the pretty babbling-brook riparian picture that may first come to mind but one more suited to a dense city, where water running on the surface is typically in concrete gutters. This southern branch of Islais Creek starts nearly a mile away from my house. It was encased in a culvert 100 years ago and covered over to create the subdivision in which Mason-McDuffie and others would build the house that now cover the land.

The Wednesday storm system mentioned in the Chronicle slowed down. Even now, at 12:45 AM Thursday morning on the west coast of the U.S., it is gathering strength. The bedroom door shakes in its frame as it moves in response to the air pressure in the house, changed by the occasional wind outside.

This storm is long and strong, stretching well over 150 miles lengthwise to the coast. It is pushed by a jet stream extending far out over the Pacific, nearly halfway to Hawaii. The waters off Ocean Beach are unusually warm, which will add to the storm’s intensity.

At the deep end of Mission Terrace, homes were inundated with water. The City brought huge Dumpsters and a crew out to help people get rid of carpet, drywall and many appliances.

Four of these rhino lunch boxes were set upon the street. Neighbors said at least two replaced ones that had been filled and carted away.

Four of these rhino lunch boxes were set upon the street. Neighbors said at least two replaced ones that had been filled and carted away.

The city set up the tents and assisted people with paperwork, as well as lending a hand in pulling soaked ruin from their homes.

The city set up the tents and assisted people with paperwork, as well as lending a hand in pulling soaked ruin from their homes.

The last line of defense before the door to the keep is breached.

The last line of defense before the door to the keep is breached.


All the above was written Wednesday and saved as a draft. My photos were on a different system and I had to import them to use them. Being tired and it being very late, I goofed it five times before finally just going to sleep, resolving to try again the next day.

And this morning was hectic, with wild weather delivered as promised. My delay in posting allowed time for the picture below to be shared to my neighborhood mailing list by the San Francisco Department of Public Works. It was probably sent to them by the neighbor living adjacent to this fine display.


11dec2014-santa rosa at san jose

This was the scene two blocks uphill from my house this morning. Notice the position of the sewer cover.


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Ilse Crawford

With attributions to the Wall Street Journal, who profiled this designer in their weekend edition of November 1-2:

The quickest way to make your home relaxing is to turn down the lights and open a few bottles of wine.

The dimmer switch is the most important design object there is.


Dimmer by Leviton, styling by Decora

Dimmers cost a little more than on-off switches, but they add much more value to a house over time. And immeasurable value to your ability to control light in your home. But this post isn’t so much about dimmers or even wine. It just illustrates something good to do after nine hours of conference calls, shared screen sessions and Microsoft Office documents.


Who was it that said water is for bathing and wine is for drinking?

I also went for a run. I signed out of my Lync session about four ‘o clock. Here on the U.S. West coast we observe daylight savings time, and it was nearly 4:30 when I finally hit the street. I carried a small flexible bicycle light looped into my water bottle. My route is all inclines and declines except for the two blocks leading from my front door.

It runs from Mission Terrace up into Glen Park, along Chenery and into the back side of Noe Valley. Technically, that back side is still Glen Park and was once a dairy farm. When I was a City Guide, I worked on a project with a woman whose family once worked that land. Now the only hint of its past is Mitchell’s Ice Cream.

The run was relaxing despite the traffic, the increasing gloom of dusk and the impatient drivers. I worked out a little upon returning home, and then actually logged on and went back to work, wanting to hit a checkpoint before calling in a night. Once done, I finally cracked open a bottle.

Okay, all for now. Sleepy.


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Damp Sunday route on Saturday

I took the touring bicycle out this Saturday because it rained overnight, and that bike has fenders. Plus it proved its mettle in the wet during my Iowa ride. However, climbing up through Westwood Heights on my way to the Forest Hill Extension, I realized the derailleur on the big ring wasn’t working. I didn’t want to stop and figure it out there and just stood on the pedals during the step part of the ascent.

My next surprise came as I wound down to the pedestrian flyover on Portola street. There are immutable laws of physics we learn one way or another; placing glasses of wine on imaginary shelves always succumbs to gravity, bodies in motion tend stay in motion especially if they are linked to a General Electric locomotive at speed and heat transfer does readily occur with ceramic plates parked on a hot stove.

So it also is with wet pine needles on pavement, and despite treaded tires on my bicycle, the rear end washed out at low speed as I turned from the sidewalk to the flyover. I didn’t fall, but the entrance and exit to the ramp is shaded by pine trees, and even the slightest turn of the handlebars telegraphed lack of traction.

This route is all up and down. There are two flat sections between Golden Gate Park and my house- in total they amount to perhaps 300 yards. It crosses mostly residential neighborhoods, the only commercial portion being the Inner Sunset. After a turn in the park, I exited to Arguello Avenue which flies arrow-straight into the Presidio of San Francisco.

The Washington Avenue road through the Presidio is popular with every exerciser of any abilities. I pass casual bikers, spandex speeders, stroller-pushing joggers, hikers of a deliberate pace. What awaits where the road meets the ocean is this:


Looking south at the Sea Cliff neighborhood. The tiny bit of strand is Baker Beach. The trail is part of a system that runs from Ocean Beach on the western edge of the City to the Golden Gate Bridge and Crissy Field on the north, and even out to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Embarcadero on the east.


Turning to the north from the same position. The bridge is closer than it looks.

If you are visiting in a car with a mix of walkers and non walkers, your special half-day starts by dropping the walkers at Baker Beach and having them follow the trail along the road to Vista Point on the San Francisco side of Golden Gate Bridge.The walk is 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how many time you stop to look around. The drive is just five minutes, but the wait for parking at the other end can easily be a half hour. A gravel overflow lot is just a short way past Vista Point, and will be on your left. There is a cafe and curio shop at the point, as well as bathrooms. Here you can also walk out onto the sidewalk of the Bridge itself.

My ride back was uneventful except for the few cars driven by distracted drivers. Word of caution: if you aren’t sure of where you are going, pull over and orient yourself.

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Going to Mordor

The art of travel involves many things. Chief among them is a desire for adventure and a lack of fear of getting lost. Before Frodo set out on his journey from the Shire, he already had a taste for adventure. By the time his journey became a Quest, he had his cloak on and was standing in the portal before asking for directions.

I left Mission Terrace on my Koga bicycle this morning under clear skies and a bright sun, already committed to the southern route down to Lake Merced and Ocean Beach. But lurking in the back of my mind was finding the passage to Mill Valley. I’d crossed the Bridge before and ridden to Tiburon a few times. But that route is easy to track as long you keep the water to your right going in. Finding Mill Valley is a little more difficult, though maybe not so hard as say Bolinas.

I knew I’d have to leave the bicycle path that parallels Highway 101 just past Sausalito and find the road winding through the redwoods into the heart of town. I’d seen solitary bicycles on that route and guessed that was where they were headed. There is no bike lane, the two-lane road is very narrow and the sunlight stabbing through the trees plays havoc with one’s vision. But the trip would be worth it, for me. The town square at Mill Valley is the starting point for the Dipsea Race, a foot race that makes its way up 673 steps over the shoulders of Mount Tam and through streams, forests and grasslands down to Stinson Beach. It was my favorite race for some years though it absolutely kicked my ass.

A road traveled by bicycle looks different by car. It take a few passes to appreciate it, but you look for sewer grates, pavement cracks and gutter debris that you would hardly notice in a car. Sometimes the prudent thing to do is choose a different route than you know by four wheels. That was the case today. But it was fun, detours and all. I wore my Giants baseball cycling jersey and coupled with last night’s marathon playoff win over the Washington Nationals, I made friends every 20 minutes.

So I rode. I wandered. I found the town square and a nice sidewalk coffee stand with seating and an awesome music playlist. I could stay here until my battery died, but I’d have no music for the ride home. And there is a big hill to climb out of here getting back to the bridge. But as I coasted in, I saw a solitary cyclist coming out on a road I’ve never used before. I will have to look for it on my return trip.


Taken on Bridgeway Drive in Sausalito, looking back at San Francisco obscured by a finger of fog.

Update: The route back was a “short cut” through old Fort Baker. This former military installation is not part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In the day it was a training post and the site of the Coast Guard lifeboat installation, those hardy men and women who go out to the bay and sea to aid and rescue people who get themselves in over their head on the water. Lucky for us, they are still there. So is Cavallo Point, a five-star resort nestled into a pocket of the Marin headland. If you have enough money to hire people to sail your  boat, you stay here when you visit Marin.

Anyhow. the route out and up is steep but much shorter than climbing out on Alexander Avenue from Bridgeway. And y0u are spared the insult climb on Conzelman Road to get back to the parking lot and access to the sidewalk of the Golden Gate Bridge. To find it just keep the water to your left as you approach the bridge.

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Replicator rescue

I’ve been away for a while and other posts touching on that travel are pending, but I need to take a moment to wallow in a little self-indulgent geekery. It’s not even that geeky really, but it is deeply satisfying at a level I know I won’t be able to get across on screen.

It starts way back in the early oughts with the purchase of my fixer-upper house and its fixing-upping with IKEA. One room in the house received a pair of GIR light fixtures to replace a couple of bare bulbs jammed into 1960’s-era utility brackets. I really hate naked bulbs in any light fixture. Skip ahead a few years and I’m building an addition to the house. For green and sentimental reasons I kept one fixture to illuminate a small passageway to the backyard. The  fixture was installed but amid all the hustle and bustle of construction the small plastic clips holding the glass covers were lost.

If you know IKEA you know some products disappear without warning and so it was with the GIR fixture. The clips were not available unless I bought what looked like the GIR’s successor, the PULT. As inexpensive as it was, it went against the grain to buy a whole light fixture just to get these tiny parts. And I did not, so a bare bulb once again was in the house.

Skip ahead to the current decade and the rise of the 3D printer. This past summer I made the happy discovery of a IKEA hacker site. It was just a short search from there to a guy who found himself in the same position with the fixture. He also had a 3D printer and created a replacement clip. Replacement? It was a facsimile, a replicant, a functional and physical copy. As I prepared for a trip to the Midwest I wondered if I could persuade him to create a set for me.

While I was in Chicago I found a  solution in the pages of USA Today while breakfasting at Sunny Side Up. A company called Shapeways accepted made-to-order plans.  A payment, a few emails and a few days later, a box was tossed over the gate to my front door.


This is a company focused on design. I like the company’s clean name and icon on the box. I also like how the simple blue star icon is repeated on the small plastic parts bag. To me this speaks to the planning and presentation of their product.



Here’s my ceiling fixture reunited with its glass cover, after seven years.

Like I said, I can’t really convey why this is such a big deal for me, but it is a very satisfying end to a piece of unfinished business.

P.S. Lest you think Inter-IKEA Systems B.V. is in trouble because of the rise of the 3D printer, they actually encourage such hacks. They do not, however, encourage the use of the name ikeahackers.


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I want to ride my biSICKul

(re-edited September 2014)

If you don’t get the title then listen to some early Queen. Or not.

I know it has been a long time between posts. Much has happened and with each passing event I thought it best to let things percolate before setting finger to keyboard. In reality, events happened in such rapid-fire sequence there has barely been time to process them, much less relate them.

The best stories are told by those have created their own. Everything else is pretty much instructions on how to do something. But talk is cheap and time is not. “If you knew Time as well as I do” said the Mad Hatter, ” . . . you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him.”

Of course, there are always exceptions. My point is, get your stories from people who have been there and done that.  You’ll get useful instructions and more often than not good entertainment.

I’m not applying that to me, because a) I am the worst damn storyteller on the face of the planet and b) I pretty much do read the fine manual in most situations and then get righteously pissed when those instructions are incorrect or missing a piece of information.  I have no patience for bad documentation.

One thing I do know: if you want to create a good story but can’t figure a way to do it, ask someone to figure it out for you and then follow through.  Your truly great stories all usually start with an impetuous act. For instance, the brother who, while enjoying a leisurely lunch with his family, issued a loud challenge across the room to a Klingon character actor at a Star Trek exhibit in Las Vegas – in Klingon. The response was also in character – but I digress. I said I was not a good storyteller.

My next series of posts will be from an experience in which I talked a friend into joining the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa – RAGBRAI. The current limitations of this medium mean the story will be here and the pictures mostly on Flickr. The pics will be public, so you should not miss any of the seven stages that made up this event.


Did we miss anything?

Everything you may have heard about RAGBRAI is true. What you may not have heard is the people who organize it and those who support the riders along the way know how to take care of people. You just need to show up ready to ride. And camp. And eat.

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