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More Alps: Finding GS Land

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  • atomicalex
    Western Alps: Wrapup

    This trip was taxing for me in a lot of ways.

    While riding up the Aosta side of the Kleiner Sankt Bernhard pass on day 7, I got lost in situational analysis of the personal stress I was under and grabbed a handful of front brake (likely while rolling on a bit of throttle) in the wrong spot coming up a steep and dirty righthanded hairpin at low speed. I tucked the front end and went down on my right side at very low speed. The most n00b of riding mistakes. The feeling of the rear end sliding out under power was new to me – I’m no stranger to the rear end getting wiggly, but on my old F, the Tourances hook back up and I go along my merry way. Or is it that I am in the ride and it’s not the tyres at all, but the rider who is coaxing the rear end back under and letting the front lead? I don’t know. One thing I did note upon getting back onto my old F is that my brakes are much more consistent than the rental bike’s were. I can’t say for sure that this contributed, but I do know that it could have. Regardless, rider error is rider error.

    The F700GS is, in general, a good bike. I liked the wider powerband, but did not like the twitchier throttle. Twitchy is a matter of perspective – as my F is a single (every bike I’ve ever owned has been a single), everything is twitchy to me. I noticed it more when I was tired than not, so it was a combination of bike and rider. Given the large sections of Autobahn transit on this trip, the extra ponies were quite welcome. I am not so convinced that an F800GS is my dream bike anymore, though. I did not fall in love with the twin the way I expected to. I think the tyres compounded the situation – I wanted a more dirt-friendly tyre and one that did not require so much care to avoid mud and cow dung. I was repeatedly surprised by how the handling changed as it rained. The BattleWings were/are simply more at home on dry pavement that wet or loose stuff. The feeling of a tyre just spinning against the asphalt is not entirely pleasant when you want it to be hooking up. The lack of handguards was quite noticeable with all of the rain we encountered.

    The stock seat was miserable. Switching to the low seat would have helped my butt but put more bend into my knees. This would not have been good on the longer days. The narrowness of the seat was cool, it allowed a different kind of interaction with the bike chassis than I have on my single. I think I made the right choice to use the stock height seat – it certainly made it clear to me (again) that my F is too low and that I can handle a full-sized bike without any issues. The seat height had no impact on my drop – it was pure rider error and there was nowhere to put a foot or knee down anyway.

    Getting sick was also not in the plan. While recovering, I spent some time reading up on the internet about stress responses and learned about the adrenaline/cortisol loop and its impact on gut motility. This is exactly what happened to me and why the rösti was such a disaster. For several days beforehand, my gut was basically shut down, and then I tried to stuff it full of difficult-to-digest material that needed to move. Talk about compounding the problem. I know better to keep an eye out now for both emotional stress and my body’s response to it. In the end, I wasn’t “sick” as in food poisoning, but sick as in not healthy. Interestingly enough, I did not trigger any Celiac responses during this trip. This is a huge positive as France is generally a nightmare for Celiac people. The irony of my gut being the “BMW” of the trip – miscellaneous system-wide shutdowns, refusal to cooperate, lack of proper documentation, design flaws, issues with engineering tolerances, etc. – was not lost on me.

    The route was solid. Once again, all of the hours of planning and routing paid off serious dividends. I would like to go back and ride the French portion again (alone, or with a more like-minded riding partner) and explore the side passes that we skipped. I would also like to do it on a smaller bike – perhaps a DRZ – definitely something in the 400cc range. More luggage would be nice, too. And a rental from a shop closer to the destination. Pass-bagging remains a great focus for a trip for me. GPX files will follow shortly, once I get them edited.

    My Garmin issues were just embarrassing. For someone who is six layers deep in contingency planning, I miffed the top layer. Thankfully, my backups worked. The sectional overview printouts were a tripsaver when combined with additional information from the large Freytag map. I did eventually sort out the power port issue – the clip inside of the power port on the bike was the problem – it was not contacting the center pin of the adapter cable. I finally figured this out and fixed it just before turning in the bike. My poor old Garmin is actually just fine. For now, at least.

    The idea of finding GS Land did not enter my mind until I was riding the Route des Cretes. It stayed in my head for the remainder of the trip.

    My packing was not only sufficient, it was great. I took four sets of Maier polyester sport liners (Galeria Kaufhof), six pair of assorted L/R ski socks, plenty of clean underwear (Hunkemöller edgeless), three Champion C9 wicking tshirts (Target), one Craft mesh base layer tshirt, one fleece pullover (Cabela’s), one fleece jacket (Target Merona), one pair of jeans (Silver), one nice button shirt (OCK), one pair of sneakers, a couple of bras, and a pair of Umbro shorts. I will expand my collection of the C9 wicking t’s – the closer-fitting ones are perfect under the sport liners and like the liners can be washed and dried at room temperature overnight. The ski socks presented a drying problem which I resolved by strapping them to the outside of my drybag (look carefully at the day 5 pics) and letting the sun work its magic. I did not need my neoprene vest – it never got that cold.

    The drybag was somewhat cumbersome and I definitely prefer side cases, but it was functional and worked great as a drying rack. If this is the only option, it’s not a bad one. It’s just not the best one. My tank bag fix worked well, too. I sewed a strap using plastic quick connect fittings that I got at the fabric store. I put matching fittings on to the existing straps on the tank bag and ran the new strap under the bike seat mounting points. This made for quick on and off and allowed me to snug it up neatly. By arranging the fittings properly, I could connect one end of the bike side strap to the other to leave it neatly stowed when the bag was not on the bike. I admit that I got this idea from the bag itself – the safety strap works that way so that it can be safely left on the bike and easily accessed rather than falling into the steering head each time the bag is removed. I also used this technique when making the tank bag for my Super Sherpa. I will likely transfer the new lower strap to my old F if I can make it work.

    My tools were insufficient, I need to plan better for future longer-term rentals and make sure that I have more of the basics. The T45 would have saved me the visit to Alpes Moto Cycles at a minimum.

    My ADAC membership paid for itself again. It was profoundly simple – I called and explained that the bike was rideable but needed to be checked, could they find me a shop that would be open for a few hours. Within 30 minutes, they had a shop and contact info for me. This basically saved my trip for me. Die gelbe Engeln retten! The yellow angels save the day! Even in the call center. I can’t wait to try this out in the US some time…..

    I noticed that I am developing my style as a ride leader. I identified three topics that are important to me. First, routing awareness. All riders need to be on the same route, and even better if all nav systems are the same make so that gpx files are processed in the same manner. Second, inter-group communication underway. I often could not see my riding partner as she preferred to ride about 500m back and this significantly compromised communication. Third, respect for riding style. In technical sections, individual riding styles dominate, and I am happy to let this play out as needed – faster peeps first, leaf peepers later, please. I also learned that I am most at home in the twisties, as opposed to the hairpins. I like the hairpins, but I do not enter flow in them. They are work and I need more of my brain engaged to make them fun. In the twisties, I can enter and exit flow at will with gentle transitions. This is what riding is about for me. It is consistent with my love for track work – controlled situations with known elements that can be played with at will. I need to do more track work.

    Costs for the trip were somewhat higher than last year – roughly 120€ per day in food, lodging, souvenirs, and fuel. This was expected and due to the locations – basically the finest and best-known Alpine ski regions – along with Provence and Cote d’Azur. It was worth it, we were able to find inexpensive lodging without much trouble at all. The rental and extra kms were about 980€, with repair parts on top of that. I used Delta miles for my airfare and paid about $200 in taxes and fees. I flew in four days early and stayed two days later, working at my employer’s HQ office during those days and getting a head start on acclimating to the time zone. This worked out very well and I am grateful to my boss for supporting me on this aspect.

    This was my third long trip with one or two more people in close quarters. From the three trips, I have learned that I am good with other humans for about seven days. In all three cases, the eighth day was the tipping point for me mentally, regardless of the level of personal stress I was under. In the future, I will limit co-trips to seven days. Maybe with some alone travel up front.

    In sum, it was not as bad of a trip as it could have been, but not as good as it could have been, either. The do-over is going to rock.

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  • atomicalex
    Originally posted by Bugguts View Post
    You ground down the foot pegs?
    There was the little issue of the bike finding a home on the road. The left peg was rubbed a bit, so I refused to be held responsible for the right side. The prior renter appeared to have plenty of fun with it, somewhat more successfully than me!

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  • Trials
    Holy, that's a lot of col de passes ! to the lady motorcycle juggernaut.

    & welcome home

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  • Bugguts
    Originally posted by atomicalex View Post
    Really, I refuse to be held liable for wear on the rider footpegs. A non-insignificant part of motorcycling involves putting them on the ground at speed.
    You ground down the foot pegs?

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  • atomicalex
    Western Alps: Pass List

    Note that there are a couple of duplicates. More passes were proposed, but I got sick and missed the middle Alps ones. 44 unique passes and significant routes, primarily focused on the Route des Grand Alps.

    1. Sustenpass

    2. Grimselpass

    3. Nufenenpass

    4. Sankt Gotthard by Via Tremola

    5. Furkapass

    6. Simplonpass

    7. Col de Castillon

    8. Col de Turini

    9. Col de Couillole

    10. Col de Valberg

    11. Gorges de Daluis

    12. Col de Touts Aures

    14. Col de Luens

    15. Col de Clavel

    16. Tunnel du Fayet/Grand Canyon du Verdon

    17. Col d’Illoire

    18. Col d’Olivier

    19. Col d’Ayens

    20. Route des Cretes

    21. Col d’Allos

    22. Col de la Bonette

    23. Cime de la Bonette

    24. Col de Granges Communes

    25. Col de la Lombarde

    26. Col de Larche

    27. Col de Vars

    28. Col d’Izoard

    29. Col de Lautaret

    30. Col du Galibier

    31. Col du Télégraph

    32. Col du Mont Cenis

    33. Col de L’Iséran

    34. Col du Petit Saint Bernard

    35. Col des Montets

    36. Col de la Forclaz

    37. Col du Grand Saint Bernard

    38. Col du Petit Saint Bernard

    39. Cormet de Roselend

    40. Col de Méraillet

    41. Col de Saisies

    42. Col des Montets

    43. Col de la Forclaz

    44. Furkapass

    45. Oberalppass

    46. Via Mala

    47. Julierpass

    48. Albulapass

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  • atomicalex
    Day 12: Returning the Bike

    I check into the work clinic this morning – the nurse practitioner almost instantly identifies the problems and it is a bit of a kick in the head that I have not recognized how much my situation has contributed to my lack of health. The homeopathic remedies that I know from Germany work well, almost instant physical relief from some symptoms. Knowing the answers is a big mental relief, even if it aggravates me. It is that much less stress, and I make headway breaking the ugly stress loop that I have been in.

    In the afternoon, I return the bike to Briel. I am surprised that they do not have an estimate ready. They are professional and unassuming, without much fuss. They photograph the damage and prepare the estimate. There is some negotiation about the total damage, and I incur about 550€ in charges. Really, I refuse to be held liable for wear on the rider footpegs. A non-insignificant part of motorcycling involves putting them on the ground at speed. In all, it is less stress than I expected.

    I am coming down to earth and up for air, finally.

    It is a somewhat welcome end to a trip that has cost me emotionally, physically, and financially.

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  • atomicalex
    Day 11: Lustenau to Duisburg

    In the morning, the French bread does its thing and cleans out whatever it is that is hurting me. I need a few minutes to recover, and we are on our way again.

    Leaving Lustenau, we stop for fuel and take the long way around town to avoid the Autobahn, as we do not have Austrian Vignettes. We see the industrial district. Riding north on the 190, we cross the border into Germany and are once again allowed on the Autobahn. We pick up the A96 and ride north as it turns to the A7. At Ulm, we take the A8 west. At Karlsruhe, we take the A5 north.

    We consider stopping in the Eifel, but I am too beat up and tired. Regardless, we grab the A61 north instead of the A3, choosing the prettier, lower stress (fewer big trucks) route.

    At Bonn, we turn off on the A565, and get separated when my Garmin routes me over the A4 to the A3. This is actually the long way, but magically, I still arrive minutes before her in Duisburg. We unbuild the bikes and I take my gear to my hotel near work in her car.

    I return the car a little later and ride to my hotel south on the A3 at night. It is magical to me, like being home in a way. There is a sweet smell in the air from the roadside weeds. The signs are all familiar. I am ready for bed.

    It has been a long trip. I am not sad that is it over. I am happy I got to take it.

    I want to go back to GS Land one day.

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  • AZridered
    Originally posted by atomicalex View Post
    [URL=""]... and I choose a rösti, the Swiss potato and cheese concoction that is just to die for. I will regret this shortly. I have been under some stress and the accompanying gut disturbance, so a sticky, cheesy, carb bomb is probably not the best choice, but I have not processed the stress sufficiently to recognize what is happening to me. I succumb to all of it and am up all night trying to walk my insides into motion.
    Lactose intolerance? It's a bitch.

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  • atomicalex
    Days 9&10: Andeer to Thusis to Lustenau

    I am sick, and forced to admit it. I still do not connect the stress to it all, but ok, does it really matter? I sleep in for two hours and feel almost human. I do not eat.

    I leave the B&B and head in the direction of Splügen, thinking to ride at least part of our route today. I turn around after a bit and pull out the iPhone, finding the Gyger Bed and Breakfast in Thusis, which will let me in at 14.00. I ride around a bit more, revisiting the Via Mala, and then plop myself in front of the hotel and order a peppermint tea. I stop at the local market and get a yoghurt and some crackers. At 13.45, I inquire about my room, get my key, and promptly fall asleep. When I wake up several hours later, Thusis is closed for the weekend. I take a walk and find a kiosk near the train station, buying some sparkling water and a yoghurt drink. This is starting to look like a pattern. I sleep for most of the night, and when I wake up, I am still not in great shape, but OK to ride. I eat some of the French gluten-free bread that I picked up a few days before. It is rather fibrous, which I think might be good. I have it strapped to my pack as I have no room inside.

    I make my way to Tiefencastle on the 417, giving up Splügen. We have planned to re-ride some Italian passes and spend a day on Stelvio and Umbrail, possibly including Gavia. This does not happen for me. I give it up and decide instead to simply ride Julier and Albula so that I can join my partner, who is riding that section, later after Davos. I take the 3 south and follow it to the 27 in Silvaplana, then the Albulapassroad, and finally rejoin the 417.

    Julierpass is light and easy. The Marmorerasee is just as beautiful this time as last. Albula is interesting. In some places, wide and well-built, in others, basically a sort-of paved cattle path. And under construction, too. The construction in both France and Switzerland has been a constant. It seems as if every 20kms, we have been stopped to wait for a washout repair or replacement of some so-called barriers.

    After descending Albula, I pick up the 28 in Davos and ride to Landquarrt and Mastris, where I find Tardisstrasse. What will happen there? Nothing exciting, it’s an outlet mall, characteristically open on Sunday so that people have a reason to go there. If it’s anything like the one in Roermond, NL, prices are hardly “outlet” as we know the concept in the US. I stop at the Heidiland rest stop and wait for my partner, grabbing some SP at the shop. SP+Ducati? That’s Italian! And Heidiland… How can I not stop? The ghost of Johanna Spyri will come after me if I don’t. The loudspeakers in the parking lot are yodeling, it’s a little weird. My partner is along shortly and we ride north on the A13, getting off to ride around a traffic circle in Lichtenstein and put on rain gear – a strong storm is blowing in. I can now check Lichtenstein off on the list of EU countries I have visited on a motorbike.

    We find the Hotel Sinohaus-Linde in Lustenau and dinner at the Restaurant Olive around the corner. I finish the French bread with my salad.

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    My motorsickling wander-lust has been re-awakened ... and it's all your fault young lady ... . Great stuff ...

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  • atomicalex
    Day 8: Martigny to Andeer

    I awake on time, still a bit tired and definitely a bit sore. Although the fall was not violent and I did not even scuff my gear aside from a nickel-sized spot on my right boot, I am not a 15YO anymore and I know this.

    I make my way to the Swiss Autobahn, taking the A9 some 30kms to Sion, home of Claude Urfer SA BMW Motorsport. I walk in and explain my situation to the lady at the desk and she quickly routes me to the workshop leader, who invites me to bring the bike around back to the shop where he will have a technician waiting for me. The lady speaks enough English, the workshop leader speaks German, and the technician speaks French. We are only missing Italian. The technician (center left in coveralls in this staff photo from Urfer’s twitter feed) takes a test ride and pokes and prods while the workshop leader inquires politely about my trip so far. I cannot bring to words how easy this visit is and how nice the staff of Urfer are to me. When all is pronounced healthy, they invite me into the showroom lounge for a cup of tea. They are having bike’toberfest later today, would I like to stay and hang out with them for the party? I want to, but I want to make my passes more. Very much a class act, and I’m quite grateful to them. All of this is at no charge to me, even though I ask if I can contribute at least to the coffee fund. No, Frau Helmetag, just enjoy your trip in Switzerland!

    My riding partner is some 50km behind me, we plan to link up near the Oberalppass.

    I continue on the A9 to Susten, where I pick up the 9 east. This is a stretch of placeholder road – the Swiss are still building out the A9 completely, so coverage is patchy. Before Brig, I rejoin the A9, then exit to the 19 east to traverse the Furka in the reverse direction and continue with the eastern half of the trip.

    Furka backwards is as wonderful as Furka forwards. I miss the Bond lookout again, watching the clouds and the mountains and the sheep.

    I stop briefly in Andermatt to wait for my riding partner. She is still behind, as she wants to try the new Gotthard road. It is reportedly boring, as expected. I wait on top of Oberalp, at the headwaters of the four major rivers of Western Europe – the Rhone, the Rhein, the Reuss, and the Ticino. Oberalp is a gentle pass with stately curves and some interesting and long avalanche galleries. We meet up, and as I am getting stiff, I begin the descent. The back side is as engineered as the front side – a great pass.

    I stop along the way in a Swiss village – the market hours are funny – actually open in the afternoon!

    After a wrong turn into Ilanz, I turn around and find the road to the Rheinschluct – the gorge of the headwaters of the Rhein. It is stunning. From there, it is on to Bonaduz, when I meet up with my riding partner. We then head south on the 13 and the Via Mala, another gorge route that dazzles.

    We find a small family bed and breakfast in Andeer. Dinner is around the corner at Hotel Piz Vizan, and I choose a rösti, the Swiss potato and cheese concoction that is just to die for. I will regret this shortly. I have been under some stress and the accompanying gut disturbance, so a sticky, cheesy, carb bomb is probably not the best choice, but I have not processed the stress sufficiently to recognize what is happening to me. I succumb to all of it and am up all night trying to walk my insides into motion.

    Last edited by atomicalex; 09-29-2014, 07:04 AM.

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  • stevekozak
    Originally posted by atomicalex View Post
    I want to focus on the good parts for now.
    There are plenty of those!!! I am greatly enjoying your narrative!!

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  • atomicalex
    Steve - there was some persistent negativity on this trip that I did not plan for. I really struggle with it, and it distracted me.The negativity didn't cause my fall, my inability to deal with it productively did.

    I want to focus on the good parts for now.

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  • stevekozak
    I am curious if your "personal thoughts" that caused your mishap were related to your riding partner being "very unhappy and making it known" about the missed turn?

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  • atomicalex
    Day 7: Chamonix to Martigny, Mont Blanc Loop

    From Chamonix, all looks good. The sun is visible, and the morning begins with a good breakfast and we are off to Martigny.

    We cross the Col des Montets, a low pass typical of France. Then it is on to the Col de la Forclaz, a wider, more open pass that is higher up. We are enjoying a bit of sun and the weather is good. We cross into Italy and pick up the 203.

    Martigny is a beautiful sight – the terraces of vines remind me of a mix between the Wine Road of Italy and the Rhein valley near the Lorelei.

    As we pick up the 21, I miss the turn for the Col de Champex, and we continue on to the Grosser Sankt Bernhard. My riding partner is very unhappy and makes it known, but does not want to return to the pass, something I would like to do. The Grosser Sankt Bernhard, or Col de Grand Sankt Bernard in French, is not a difficult or particularly technical pass like its smaller brother, but it is far cloudier. The clouds at the top are so dense that we are unsure which direction we came in from. It is the oldest known pass in the Alps and separates Mount Blanc from Monte Rosa. A hostel of some sort is documented back to 1049. We stop for a hot drink, I visit the cloister built in 1563 built to honor Saint Bernard of Menthon as a travelers’ hostel. The descent is foggy and rainy into Aosta. In Saint-Rhémy-En-Bosses, we pick up the 27 and ride into Aosta. In fact, then entire Aosta valley is cloudy and rainy and redefines the pilots’ term “low ceiling”.

    From Aosta, we rejoin SS26 and ride the Kleiner Sankt Bernhard in the opposite direction. I fall in the early hairpins, distracted by some personal thoughts. Thankfully, the bike is only cosmetically (although expensively) damaged, and I ride to the top to collect myself, my thoughts, and my ADAC card.

    The ADAC is the German version of AAA. I joined when I lived in Germany, and keep my membership current mostly because the monthly magazine is so good. It is a window into the German driving psyche and motor culture. Today, a call nets me the address and phone number of a nearby Honda shop who will gladly check the bike for me. I also check BMW for a nearby dealer – the closest is a shop in Sion, Switzerland. The Honda shop will have to do for now. I call ahead to announce myself, and the person at the shop speaks just enough moto-english to get the job done. He will be there until 19.00, too. I have five hours to get there, it will only take about one. We descend the pass and I continue on the D1090 while my parther heads north on the D902.

    In Aime, I find Alpes Moto Cycles, and inside, a gentleman who charges me 15€ to give the fork a sharp poke and check that things are sufficiently true to continue. I’ve packed a much smaller tool set than normal, and have a T40, a T50, and a T55, but not the T45 required to loosen the fork and insure it is not stressed. Not really needed, thankfully. He sends me on my way with instructions to get my head back in the game and to ride my own ride. Oh, and check with BMW, because after all, he is only a Honda/Yamaha/Kawi shop, and this is a German bike. I want to kiss him. I turn back to fuel up and find the D902 and the Cormet de Roselend.

    Just before the pass, the D902 becomes the D925. The road runs past the Lac du Roselend and over the Col de Mèraillet and continues north. After Mèraillet comes Col de Saisies, a big surprise. I turn onto the D218 and begin the ascent. Saisies is a festival of curves. It features every imaginable type of turn, from long sweepers to tight switchbacks that do not let up. It is challenging and fun, and I enjoy it immensely in spite of the day’s earlier events. At the top is the typical carnival atmosphere of an Alpen ski resort town, although at this time of the year, completely empty. The gentle northern ramp brings me to Notre-Dame-de-Bellecombe and the D1212, which I take east.

    Before Combloux, I turn right onto the D909, and then rejoin the D902 in Saint-Gervais-le-Bains. I pick up the D1205 in Le Lac and head to Martigny as the day is closing. As the sun is just starting to set, I cross Col de Montets and Col de la Forclaz again and ride into Martigny to see thousands of little streetlights twinkling. It is a beautiful sight, and while I am tired and need to find a hotel quickly, it is quite inspiring and I am glad I have come as far as I have and get to see it. The aromas from the vinyards are strong as I descend into the city. Once in town, I take out my trusty iPhone and pull up – the Motel des Sports is not cheap, but also not expensive. They offer me garage space for the bike and WiFi in the restaurant, too. I phone home to decompress a bit, then sleep well.

    BMW will open at 8.00 in the morning, and I plan to be there right on time.

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