July 4, 2015 § 24 Comments
Occasionally people sidle up to me on rides and say, “Listen to this.” So I listen. Of course what they really want is for me to blog about it, so I invariably don’t, unless of course I do. Yesterday was a double whammy. On the one hand you had the Alto Velo bicycle riding club in Richfolksville, CA, suing the Alto Velo Seasucker bicycle riding club in Wankerville, NC, for trademark infringement.
I was all prepped since it had to do with law and stuff, until Wily tipped me off on the new Garmin 520. “DC Rainmaker has a write-up on it. And you won’t believe what it does.”
“What does it do?”
“It shows Strava segments in real time so you can ‘race’ other Strava wankers who are still in bed waiting for a more favorable wind, less rain, or better air pressure.”
“Wow,” I said.
“Yeah,” said Wily. “Just think of all the people who are about to die.”
“How do you figure?”
“Are you kidding? Face glued to the stem while your Garmin eggs you on to your top-10 in the 55+ men’s age group between 210 and 218.6 pounds? Just as you nail down the 32-second Festersore segment, out pulls a garbage truck and wham! KOC.”
“King of the Cemetery, dude.”
I went home and looked up the DC Rainmaker’s review, which is here. I skimmed it, since ol’ DC has a bad case of graphorrhea, and only noted the following, which came after a lengthy explanation of all the computer fiddle-faddle you have to set up in order to race Strava avatars while you train: “With all the prep work taken care of we head out for a ride.”
Now I don’t know about you, but I ride in the morning when time is tight and “prep work” generally involves unloading a pair of corn-studded bowl breakers, wolfing down a cup of boiling coffee, airing up the tires, and making sure my arm warmers match.
So now you’re telling a guy who’s lucky to make it out the door without a couple of skid marks in his shorts and TP stuck to his cleat that he has to pre-load a fuggin’ Garmin (which he doesn’t own) so that he can race an absent stranger while he trains? And isn’t “race while you train” one of them oxymoron things, like “driving while you walk”?
The whole thing makes my head hurt because it is the next ripple in the new wave, which is to further divorce humans from each other and wed them more tightly to their computers. I mean, we have a ride that leaves at 6:35 AM pointy sharp every Thursday that is so fucking hard it will make your gallbladder pop out your eyes. The people who do it aren’t looking at their fuggin’ Garmin, they’re either cross-eyed or staring at the wheel in front praying it doesn’t speed up, or they’re dry heaving or seeing big black spots or lying in the ditch. Oh, and generally they are very familiar with race podiums.
And of the hundreds of serious bikers in the South Bay, there’s never more than a dozen who show up, and why should they? With the new Garmin 520 they can compete in comfortable privacy against 0’s and 1’s; mostly 0’s.
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July 3, 2015 § 12 Comments
The biggest muscle in the old fellow cyclist’s body is not the buttock or the jaw despite the close proximity of the two. No, the biggest muscle is the will muscle, or rather, it is potentially the biggest muscle. Typically the will muscle in cyclists is poorly developed and dwarfed by the beer muscle, the descending muscle (located in the abdomen), and the Strava muscle.
However, in order to reach your fullest potential and perhaps break the top-40 in an October upgrade crit, you will first need to enter a race with thirty or fewer riders. Failing that, you will need to work on your will muscle.
The will muscle’s most basic failure-to-flex typically occurs on rainy, cold, overcast, humid, hot, snowy, or windy mornings. By failing to flex the will muscle when there are four raindrops on your window you will remain in bed. This initial flex is more important than all other flexes of the day.
Like any muscle, the will muscle requires constant use to build and to avoid atrophy. It also requires fuel. Unlike the beer muscle, which is fed on beer, and the descending muscle, which grows on giant tins of Danish butter cookies, the will muscle only grows when nourished by positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement such as showing up on the Flog Ride and getting shelled in the first hundred yards will cause the will muscle to shrivel.
The will muscle can also be wrecked from overuse, like a normal muscle in Crossfit. The will muscle can only do one major exercise at a time, and some exercises require all of the muscle, such as giving up drinking, waking up before noon, or learning the names (middle ones too!) of your children.
In other words, there is never enough will muscle go around, so if you’re going to quit boozing, or quit wenching, or start learning Sanscrit, you can pretty much write off any other goal or activity that requires significant use of the will muscle. Remember the old American Express ad, “You can have it all!”? Well, they lied. You can’t.
The will muscle, even when highly developed, eventually fatigues and gives out when overused or when asked to do the impossible. It will also fail when you give it too big a task before properly conditioning it, like when I used to lift weights.
When I used to lift weights I went straight to the huge, massive stuff. After loading up the bar with 95 pounds of solid steel and lowering it from the little holder thingies onto my chest, I had that funny thing happen when the weight is sitting on your chest crushing your heart and you can’t lift it off, and you make that funny choking screaming noise and hope someone is watching, which they were, and if it hadn’t been for that junior high school girl who ran over and lifted it up with one hand (she was a beast) I wouldn’t be here today.
Your will muscle is the same way. Don’t ask it to do the massive 95-lb. bench press (quitting booze, etc.) before you have conditioned it with easier tasks (switching to decaf, actually listening to your spouse, not calling your boss “asshole”). In other words, work up to the big stuff.
Finally, don’t fall for the performance-enhancing stuff to make your will hypertrophic. Everyone hates an iron-willed teetotaling machine with a six-pack and a seven-figure salary.
So, start small and build up your will muscle with baby steps, such as, for example, by finding a really useful blog on the Internet that has a very affordable subscription price, say on the order of $2.99 per month, and subscribe to it.
For $2.99 per month you can subscribe to this blog. You know you’re planning to do it some day, so do it now. Will muscle! Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!
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June 29, 2015 § 30 Comments
One of the great things about having Ms. WM leave town until September is that I finally control the purse, and am getting closer and closer (baby steps!) to wearing the pants.
As DJ likes to describe his approach to finances as “ratshit cheap bastard,” I prefer to describe myself as “willing to spend anything except money.”
So when we ran out of coffee it was a great time to improve on our home economy by purchasing something more reasonably priced than Trader Joe’s 28-oz. can of Organic Morning Wakeup Breakfast Blend, because $14.99 is a ton of money to spend on burnt beans.
As a pretend cyclist and profamateur opponent of Confederate flag bike races, morning coffee isn’t simply important. It is the morning. The day that begins with bad coffee gets hit with the “replay” button–I go back to bed and wait for 24 hours, then try again. The day that begins with no coffee doesn’t even begin.
So I walked over to the Pavilion’s. This is a fancy supermarket owned by Safeway, where for something that costs $1.00 at Safeway you can pay $2.00 and enjoy the thought that you are morally better and financially more stable than all of those impoverished heathens forced to shop at lesser-branded stores. I enjoyed my feeling of superiority and was only marginally bothered by my dirty t-shirt, broken flip-flops, and home buzzcut that I’d kind of messed up in the back.
I stood in the coffee aisle, first mesmerized and then outraged. Coffee cost $7.99 AND UP for a 10-oz. bag of unground beans? Are you fuggin’ kidding me? I checked to make sure the prices were dollars, not drachmas, reais, or pesos.
As I left the Starbucks and Peets shelves I moved along to the right, where name brands became less familiar and prices began to dip a bit. “Senor Ortiz’s Guatemalan Blend” for $6.99. “Colombian Superior” for $5.99. Then I left the 10-oz. bag section and hit the plastic buckets labeled with the names of my childhood. “If it’s Folger’s, it’s got to be good!” The prices were looking even better.
Then at the end of the line I came to the steel cans. Standing at the end was a small assemblage of fine coffee products made by “Pantry Essentials.” The 11.5-oz. can cost a mere $2.49.
“How bad can it be?” I wondered.
“Fucking undrinkably nastily raw-sewagish terrible,” my inner coffee voice answered.
“Yeah, but if it’s undrinkable I can toss it. It’s only $2.49.”
“You never toss anything once you’ve paid for it,” said Inner Voice.
“Ok, then I’ll drink it. It will only take a few days anyway.”
“What about your son?”
I paused. In fact I’d forgotten that the other coffee consumer was my eldest son. He was quiet, polite, clean, ate everything he was served, worked hard, and had only one small pleasure in life, which was his morning coffee. “He may not know the difference,” I told Inner Voice.
“You are Satan,” said Inner Voice, and went back to bed.
The next morning I opened the lid of the Pantry Essentials coffee. It smelled awful. I put three heaping spoons into the coffee press, because we don’t have a coffee maker. I poured over some boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes. I plunged the press and poured the coffee. The awful smell had intensified. It had the odor of something that’s been between your teeth for a few days, or that funny stink that comes out of the disposal when you’ve been putting lots of crap down it and have forgotten for a week or so to run the motor.
“Better cut this shit with heavy cream, lots,” I thought, and did.
That first sip of morning glory was gnarly. Thousands of Davidson taste buds marched off to their death with that swallow. I grit my teeth and drank the cup. “Maybe,” I said as I left for my morning bike ride — a coffee cruise — “he won’t notice.”
When I got home he had gone to work. And he had left me a note.
So, I guess he noticed.
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June 19, 2015 § 20 Comments
My way just happened to be wrong.
From the moment that Junkyard announced the creation of the Flog Ride, everything was messed up. First of all there was the name he’d given it, “Love and Thursday.” Then there was the length, only four laps. Worse, the first lap was neutral. To cap off the mess, we were supposed to descend with care, especially around the two hairpins.
With a little bit of effort, though, we got all of that fixed. We changed the name to the Flog Ride. We lengthened it to five, then six laps. We reduced the neutral section to the first 25 feet, and we descended the hairpins at the razor edge of physics where speed, friction, and tire pressure all come together in a terrifying blur of clenched sphincters.
It was glorious. We’d do the 25-foot warm-up and then hit PV Drive North full gas. The uninitiated were typically shelled in the first 500 yards. Those who managed to hang on for the first lap, survive the kamikaze downhill sweepers, avoid the peacocks wandering in the road, and keep from slamming into the side of fast moving traffic when we right-hooked back onto PV Drive North were reduced to puddles on Lap 2.
By Lap 4 there were never more than five riders in the lead, and everyone else was busted out the back and struggling around the golf course alone, in the dark, angry, hurt, broken, and wondering why they’d gotten up at 5:30 AM for a 6:35 group ride that had lasted thirty seconds.
Each time up the 7-minute climb was a terrible infusion of pain, and hardly anyone ever came back to do the ride more than twice. The Flog Ride was the sadistic bully at the end of the block whose house you’d go three miles out of your way not to have to walk by. It was the barometer for how badly you sucked, how low your pain threshold was, and how poorly your self-image comported with reality.
On the plus side, the graduates of the Flog Class of 2014-2015 racked up wins at Boulevard and numerous other races. The fitness that came from doing six eyeball-extracting intervals was superlative; if you could do all six laps with the lead group and finish on the 20% grade up La Cuesta, you were race ready.
The fact that hardly anyone ever showed up was no problem. All it took was two other idiots bent on mayhem to get the training effect we sought.
The fact that dozens of eager riders showed up, got instantly shelled, and never came back was no problem. Welcome to life, suckers!
But despite the ride’s near perfection in every way, it did have one minor complication: In a few short months three riders went down in the hairpins, and thanks only to dumb luck, when they slid out across the yellow line there was no oncoming traffic. Had there been, people would have died or been catastrophically injured.
After the third accident, we decided that no ride was worth this kind of risk, even though such a decision clearly called our insanity into question. The options were to cancel the ride or to modify it so that it comported with the wise architecture sketched out by Junkyard in the first place. So instead of racing up the hill and then racing back down, we raced up the hill and coasted down, taking the hairpins at slow, fully controlled velocity.
Not only were shelled riders able to regroup without racing down the descent, but slow coasting on the downhill meant that the uphill intervals were even harder, if such a thing is possible. There’s no way to make a bicycle ride safe, but sometimes you really can take out the sharpest fangs without killing the fun. Just don’t call it Love and Thursday.
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June 16, 2015 § 15 Comments
It was pretty unpleasant, that last lap out on the Parkway. There I was, hanging onto Big Thom’s rear wheel for dear life. He was in a hurry and that translated into extreme physical discomfort. For me. He flicked me through to take a pull but I reflected on the last couple of times he’d shown up on the Flog Ride, crushed me, and left me for dead.
My turn could wait.
Then across No Man’s Land came Major Bob, which was great news because he has never shirked a pull in his 35 years of bike racing. He didn’t this morning, either, even as I shirked and faked and gasped and hung on for dear life, awaiting the turnaround.
The whole thing was surreal, and not just because we’d reached escape velocity and had left the gravitational pull of the pack. It was surreal because I was sitting on Big Thom’s wheel, and if there’s one iron law of bicycle physics on the NPR it is this: You can never sit on a La Grange rider’s wheel because they are always buried in the rear of the group, searching for oxygen and spare legs.
Then, there was the other surreal thing … the guy off the front we were chasing was NJ Pedalbeater, another La Grange rider. And the final corkscrewed, Dali-esque nail in the eyeball was that La Grange had been out front for four laps and we hadn’t been able to reel him in. The only thing that smacked of comforting familiarity was that one teammate was chasing down the other. But other than that …
Off the front? La Grange? For four laps? And a desperate chase effort led by … La Grange? And the desperate effort of Big Thom turning manly seal clubbers into soft, velvety pelts ready for harvesting? Whaaaaat?
Call it what you want, but don’t call it an anomaly. Call it Sausage Power.
Since he was elected president of arguably America’s best racing-cyclo club, Robert Efthimos has breathed amazing life and vitality into an organization whose time had come to hand over the reins to new blood. Under Robert’s watch race participation has soared. Rather than whipping out a birder-like checklist and ticking off the rare appearance of La Grange at a race, you can now expect them there because they show up in force, set up a tent, and race the entire day.
Nor is their presence limited to one type of race. La Grange can now be expected at any race you show up at and in any, sometimes every, category. Robert’s brand of leadership by example mixed with a big tent philosophy, his deprecating self modesty, and his ability to execute has given LA cycling an important model for growth. By assiduously courting new sponsors while continuing to work hand-in-glove with his existing ones, such as the incredibly generous and dependable Helen’s Cycles, La Grange is showing other clubs a model for how a club can strengthen its cycling identity while still attracting people who don’t race.
Nowhere is this easier to see than in La Grange’s monthly mixers, where club members and non-members, racers and non-racers, and gasp, and even cyclists from the poor, unwashed South Bay are welcome. Over the last three years we’ve gone from wondering “Who is that Sausage dude with twelve bike cameras and a fast finish?” to “Imma try to get on his wheel and afterwards borrow ten bucks.”
All of this and more went through my head as we hit the turnaround. After having sat on for half a lap I jumped hard, dislodging Big Thom who had so nobly sacrificed for the cause. “La Grange may be on a roll,” I said to myself, “but they still have some work to do.”
Several hundred yards from the imaginary finish I realized that it was I, not they, who was the work in progress: La Grange’s OTF rider coasted across the line with his hands in the air.
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June 10, 2015 § 55 Comments
Two days ago I ran a little thing about the NCNCA rule that prohibits outsiders, aliens, foreigners, ineligiblers, and anyone south of the Calmason-Caldixon Line from competing in the Elite District Championship Road Race, which is the state championship road race for the State of Northern California, the 51st star sewn onto Old Glory.
I was shocked that my nasty, rude, mean-spirited, offensive, and vitriolic post could possibly upset anyone, but it did, and the unhappy comments poured in, along with a new nickname, “Sparky,” bestowed by one Timothy Burgess, an NCNCA board member, non-racer, and Official Nickname Bestower. He also blessed the comment section with the phrase “penis wagging,” which was frankly a classic. It made me think of a dog, only standing up, sort of.
What was more shocking than the outrage was that anyone in NorCal agreed with me, but apparently two or seven people did. I will have to find out who they are and block them.
After the electrons settled, a couple of things became clear. One, I was wrong about the rule. NCNCA can do whatever they want and no one can stop them. One of the things they want to do — since 2013, as I was told on the phone — is to exclude every P/1/2 rider who doesn’t have “California–NCNCA” listed on their license from competing in their State of Northern California Elite District Championship Road Race, a/k/a the Pescadero RR.
I was wrong because apparently the USAC rule that defines eligibility for state championship road races (US citizen, resident of the state) doesn’t actually mean “state” in the sense of one of the states that makes up the USA. What “state” means, I was told is “racing district” (supporting documentation for this claim was provided by an official who claimed USAC “forgot” to put it in the rule book), which can sometimes be a state but other times can be a “racing district.” There is nothing in the rule book that says this, or that defines a racing district, or that equates such a district with a state, or that says a state championship is an elite district championship, but that doesn’t matter.
What matters is that NCNCA does it this way, and as the promoter so eloquently put it, SoCal riders are *NOT* welcome in the P/1/2 race at Pescadero.
So, I was wrong.
But that’s okay because my post was really about something else. It was about actions that depress rider turnout at races, and many commenters focused instead on whether or not the exclusion was fair, or legitimate, or founded on the USAC rules. Let’s punt the point for the sake of discussion and return to my real motivation, which is to have more people race their bikes in road races. The promoter and others pointed out that Pescadero is just one race and that there are many others in NorCal that anyone can enter. One commenter exuberantly claimed there were “hundreds of race days.”
I doubt that there are hundreds of road races in NorCal each season, but perhaps there are. What I doubt strongly more is that a business model based on insulting, abusing, and excluding potential customers is really very much of a business.
Let’s imagine that a grouchy, irate customer with a blog and a leaky prostate wrote a vitriolic letter to Wal-Mart complaining about lousy service and being made to feel unwelcome. Do you think that the customer service department would tell the person that he was *NOT* welcome at that store, but that there were hundreds of other stores to choose from? Would Wal-Mart call the customer a lousy shopper, or a drug user, or suggest that the customer’s mere presence interfered with the shopping of locals from the neighborhood?
Of course not, and Pescadero is no Wal-Mart. The road racing in NorCal has a bit of the mythical about it, at least when viewed from down here in the SoCal ghetto. People speak about the courses, the aggressive racing, the spectacular scenery, and the high caliber of riders in something close to hushed tones. “This,” they say, “is real road racing.” [Disclosure: They say nothing of the sort about the crits.]
Much of it may be hyperbole, or that hard courses are harder when you’re far from home and don’t know the route, but many guys I respect have vouched for the brutality of NorCal road racing–and always in a good way. It is the hard racing that keeps this tiny cadre coming back, the kind of hard racing that lots of people never even aspire to try. To summarize, it is hard, very hard, and filled with hardness. I don’t know for sure, but would not be surprised to find lots of 100% carbon made fully of carbon there as well.
Whether NorCal is better, or less doped than any other –Cal is beside the point. It’s different, and lots of good riders live and race there, and word gets around about the excellence of the road courses. My own attraction to Pescadero was simple. It’s billed as one of the best and most beautiful and most challenging and most flat-fucking-awesome races in a state (the State of Northern California) that is already known for setting the bar high. On a tour a few years back we had lunch in Pescadero. I’d say it was beautiful but that word is much too poor to reflect the place.
Plus, all-around stud Kevin Metcalfe had a very cool race description of the event.
There was another reason to nut up, book a room, and make the drive, which would have started at 7:00 PM on Friday and required another rider to spell me at the wheel. That reason is simple: SoCal doesn’t have anything comparable this late in the season. In fact, Pescadero breaks a six-week road racing drought in the State of Northern California and the State of Southern California. If you want a tough, 75-mile masters road race, that opportunity ended here in Bakersfield back in April.
SoCal’s calendar is of no concern to NorCal, but maybe it should be. Not everyone here wants to race crits every weekend. There are riders who would make the trek north if there was a bit of momentum, and even the addition of five racers in an event can “affect the outcome of the race.” I can see groups from south of the Calmason-Caldixon Line making the trek north, especially as the epicness of the racing gets broader exposure. I even have connections with a bike racing blogger who has been known to trumpet the awesomeness of a venue as loudly as he excoriates poor sandbox behavior, doping, and cycling “advocates” who support helmet laws.
Yet the current nontroversy has trumpeted to one and all that SoCal riders are *NOT* welcome at Pescadero in the P/1/2 race. Sure it’s beautiful, epic, challenging, and unforgettable, but hey, sucks to be you. As Tim Burgess suggested with a twist of either cutting sarcasm or blase stupidity, this sounds like a great opportunity for an enterprising promoter to put on a race!
[Note to Tim: That enterprising promoter is *NOT* welcome John, and the race already exists. It’s called “Pescadero.”]
There is of course the whole issue of why any self-respecting bike racer would want to win a championship jersey against a weaker rather than a stronger field, but as the TV show was called, “Diff’rent Strokes.” In my case, I’m sorry to have missed the race although there was excellent circuit racing in Chula Vista that day and I got an undreamed-of fourth place in the 50’s and a miracle 10th in the 40’s on a tough, windy, hilly course. Had I gone to Pescadero I would have been lucky to have finished.
So, really, who needs Pescadero? Well, I do, but Pescadero obviously doesn’t need me. Yet all is not lost. What’s this place called “Leesville”?
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June 3, 2015 § 33 Comments
In bicycling there is a simple pecking order:
Stronger Legged Rider > Weaker Legged Rider
And even though the order can reshuffle from ride to ride and from year to year, you basically know where you stand because when they chuck it in the big dog you either ride away from them or they ride away from you. These temporary reshuffles are painful when you’re the reshuffle-ee, but what’s really painful is when the reshuffle is permanent.
This is a function of too much beer, or not enough training, but usually it’s the inevitable result of not dying. If you don’t die long enough you will get reshuffled, first to the middle of the pack, then to the back of the pack, then off the back.
It’s funny how the re-ordering happens. There you are, enjoying yourself, comfortable and confident in your place, and you notice someone you’ve never seen before. New Rider proceeds to stuff you into the box and your first thought after “Who the hell is that?” is “DOESN’T THAT PERSON KNOW WHO I AM?”
Sadly, New Rider doesn’t know, and more sadly, doesn’t care. Big helping from the sadness dish all ’round.
Unwilling to cede your place to the upstart you respond but upstart doesn’t appear to realize that this is your Crushing Move Designed to Devastate All. In fact, upstart appears hardly to be breathing, or if he is breathing, you can’t hear it through the pounding of your own heart and the rasping of your own lungs.
This repeats itself on a couple of rides until you are battered into submission. But it’s only the beginning, because no sooner have you adjusted to New Rider than you notice New Rider #2. Then #3. Then finally it’s a small wolf pack of hungry, fanged animals and the only thing they know about you is that you’re old, you tire easily, you don’t have any snap, you’re not very good, and you’re easily dispensed with because the real battle is between themselves. Count yourself lucky if they acknowledge you with a nod.
The composition of our Donut Ride peloton has changed lately. The old guard has quit coming and has instead gone out to pasture on a new ride called Mellow Mandy, a name that speaks for itself. The former Young Turks are now longer in the tooth and have graduated to profamateur status. The ones who used to be masters racers are now hanging on for dear life, because the deck is being reshuffled with a hammer.
This past Saturday I found myself on the Switchbacks with Diego, Jules, RJ, and Frenchy #2. Wily and Joker had attacked at Malaga Cove and vanished. None of my cohorts was over 25, and two of them weren’t even 20. One wasn’t yet 17.
It was magical to watch them attack, rest, and attack again. Unlike Old Man Riding, where we get into a groove and try to hold it, they slashed, thrusting the needle deep into the red, then sat up. I’d count to five and they were totally recovered, attacking again or chasing down the counter that had gone when one rider swung over. You could physically see their recovery and their youth. Each time a rider sat up to recover, my effort would drop from 100% to 95%. His would go from 100% to 0.
By sitting on and praying I made it to the base of Crest. Frenchy #2 had gone off the back after his tenth full-on attack. A flurry of accelerations on the short wall put me off the back, too, and the upstarts rode away, not apparently tired or even strained from the previous 9-minutes of no-holds-barred riding.
Frenchy #2 caught me and immediately began attacking. I counted twenty efforts before he sat up for good, and of course I took the opportunity to douche him at the end. I mean, if he were my kid he’d be the third oldest.
Of course the bright side is that you can then find a different group to ride with, hopefully with non-dead-but-getting-there riders who are closer to death than you are and therefore the new pecking order establishes itself with you at or near the top. Mellow Mandy is sounding really, really good.
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