Northern Ontario (and a little bit more)

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June 20th, 2013: Waterloo – Owen Sound, 140 km

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After a week of (mostly) relaxing, getting back on the bike felt great. The ride up to Owen Sound was mostly flat farmland, with the hills increasing only slightly as I neared the Georgian Bay. I decided at the last minute that I would attempt to be hosted via warmshowers for the evening. I was. There was another dude at the house who was going from west to east. Another X-Canada tourist! Sweet! His bike was very atypical for a touring bike: 5” of front suspension on a smallish dirt-jumping style frame. He made it through Northern Ontario, so obviously it was working for him. We shared some stories from our respective sides of Canada, and I started getting pumped for the road ahead.

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June 21st, 2013: Owen Sound – Tobermory(ish), 100 km

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What’s this? Stiff legs! I guess seven days of slacking couldn’t go completely unpunished.

Heading up the Bruce was more of the same kind of riding, minus the farms. I had checked out a map the night before and spotted a beach that looked ideal for camping. Upon arriving, I discovered that it was highly patrolled by both park officers and black flies, and so I went off to make other arrangements.  After several unsuccessful attempts at lawn camping, I ended up behind an unoccupied cabin near the beach, a bonus, because I was still able to use the beach facilities and go for an evening dip. Ah, summer!

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June 22nd, 2013: Tobermory & Bruce Peninsula National Park

I knew I wanted to stay an extra day at the park; I just wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. I ended up leaving my bike gear at the park information centre and going off exploring for a while.

The Georgian Bay water had a refreshing and inviting cleanliness to it, and I couldn’t help but go in several times, despite it being colder than ANY of my previous dips in the Atlantic Ocean. The rock formations around the various swimming holes were unlike anything I had seen, from underwater tunnels to giant overhanging limestone shelves. Definitely worth the extra day.

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The park employees offered me a place to crash for the evening, but not before we checked out a beer garden and several bars downtown.  I ended up dancing the night away at The Legion – the only Legion pub I’d ever seen where young people were actually being refused entrance due to the place being at capacity. They also had a piano, which reminded me just how much music I’ve forgotten in the last two months.

June 23rd, 2013: Tobermory – Whitefish Falls, 90 km

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I was looking forward to this ride. Another ferry! Quite a modern ferry, in fact. I wasn’t expecting this.

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While waiting to board the boat, I met a bike tourist from Switzerland who was loaded with more gear than anyone I had ever seen: four panniers PLUS a trailer. Badass. We hung out on the boat together and talked about our travel plans. He was on a trip from Montreal to Vancouver. Cool. We talked about possibly travelling together for a while.

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After exiting the ferry on Manatoulin Island, I quickly kissed that notion goodbye, as his gear significantly slowed him down. We split, parting amicably.

I had another warmshowers host waiting at Whitefish Falls, about 30 km past Little Current, and so I kept my pace pretty brisk, looking forward to a promised cold beer and shower.

Near the end of the day, around dusk, clouds of flies started following me whenever I slowed down going up a hill. Oh, deer flies as well. They circled me. I felt like Pig Pen from Peanuts. I wondered if it looked so obvious to the traffic that passed me.

My hosts had prepared dinner for me, including veggies from their own garden, and other goodies. They were both cyclists, though not of the long distance tour variety. Still, their passion and enthusiasm were evident, and it was inspiring to hear about how important cycling was to them. The day ended with a bath in the lake, more great conversation, and a snooze in a gazebo with a view of a brilliant red moon.

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June 24th, 2013: Whitefish Falls – Blind River, 125 km

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I headed off around 9:30am, looking to get a out halfway to Sault St Marie by the end of the day. Early on, I passed the previously mentioned Swiss biker. It turns out he had camped just outside Little Current and left quite a bit earlier than me. This leap frogging continued throughout the day, as I decided to take a “detour” at Espanola, which slowed me down considerably.

Temperatures reached around 30C, and I was grateful for the wind, even if it was impeding my progress.

About 30 km out from Blind River, Swiss and I crossed paths again, and we made tentative plans to camp together once we arrived there. I ended up waiting for quite a while before another cyclist showed up: Gary the American. He was riding from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. After being assured by the lady working at the local convenience store that the park nearby was completely fine for camping, we unpacked our gear.

Around midnight, a policeman came and booted us. I tried to sound as pathetic as possible in implying just how much work it would be to put away everything and relocate, but he was having none of it. Apparently, he didn’t really care that we were there, but some local meddler had decided that it was against their sensibilities to have bikers camping in a public park, and so the officer had to shoo us away.  We biked for several km to the nearest dirt road and hastily set up camp, about 15 ft from a train track, it turns out.

June 25th, 2013: Blind River – Sault Ste. Marie, 140 km

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After a pow-wow at Tim’s in the morning, we decided to travel together for the day. Our paces were very similar, and his route took him south below Lake Superior from SSM on.

We cycled for about 45 minutes in the morning through an intense thunderstorm, but the conditions improved considerably afterwards, and by midafternoon, the temperature was hovering around 30C once again.

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We arrived at Vélorution, a bike shop in SSM known for its hospitality towards bike tourists, around 5PM and set up camp behind their shop. Party of two soon became party of five as other bike tourists showed up, all just finished the grueling hills around Lake Superior. We all talked into the evening about travelling, and I grew became excited for the next leg of my trip.

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June 26th, 2013: Sault Ste. Marie – Sawpit Beach, 95 km

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I was off to a very late start, which was accented by the realization 8 km into my ride that I had left clothes back on the bike shop. Oh well. What’s the rush, right?

Soon into the ride I encountered some pretty awesome hills (and the Swiss!) and set a new top speed record: 65 km/hr! Knuckles were white. I also hit the official Trans-Canada Highway halfway plaque. Cool, though I don’t think I followed that route directly. I also crossed the official half-way point of the Trans-Canada Highway at Chippewa Falls. It wasn’t the official midpoint of my trip (not far off, though), but it felt significant.

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After some advice from locals in Pancake Bay, I set out towards Sawpit Beach, a little cove with a sandy shore and great swimming. And mosquitos. Always mosquitos. In fact, just assume that, from now on, whenever I am describing a location, mosquitos are a given, even if I forget to mention them. They’re EVERYWHERE.

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I fell asleep to the sound of distant thunder on the lake. Would it rain?

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June 27th, 2013: Sawpit Beach – Wawa, 145 km

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I woke up to the sound of maybe 100 mosquitos hovering around my tent. No breakfast on the beach this time, I guess. I hastily biked off in my PJs. It was too early to deal with bugs.

About 30 km in I hit the Twilight Lodge and Resort, just as a thunderstorm that had been following me lakeside made its way to the shore. Three words: Deep. Fried. S’more.

The skies cleared up and I made my way into Lake Superior National Park. Ah, yes. Now for some really big hills. The longest one I hit was around 4 km, probably the biggest since Cape Breton Island. I didn’t have much time to rest, as every time I stopped, the bugs appeared. All sorts.

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I met a guy napping on the side of the road who was in the midst of walking from Thunder Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. He looked a little bewildered when I mentioned that he had about 2500 km to go. What’d he expect me to say? Good man.

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I arrived in Wawa around 6:30pm and headed straight for Tim’s. Not long after, I met with three other tourists who were coming from the west. We ended up stealth camping together near the tourist information centre. No problems from the police this time.

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 June 28th, 2013: Wawa – White River, 91 km

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Fairly uneventful. The day started with a 40 km gradual uphill ride. Mosquitos.

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I met some more bikers in White River and we camped next to the big Winnie the Pooh statue in the town’s only park. Apparently, they’re very OK with park campers here, as the groundskeeper simply requested that we move to an area that he had already trimmed when we started to unload.

June 29th, 2013: White River – Marathon: 97 km

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Another day on the road. I saw two moose. Dead ones, in various states of decomposition. Nothing large and living since New Brunswick.  The day ended with a 4 km ascent followed by a descent into Marathon of similar length. 

At the top of the hill into Marathon, I met Cayse Ruiter, a guy currently biking across the country to raise awareness for the cause of organ and tissue donation. Check out his trip at outliveyourself.ca. He was covering crazy daily distances, having only left Tofino, BC on June 10th. Wow.

I camped in Marathon with a Korean bike tourist who didn’t know much English at all.  We ended up getting invited over to some folks who were camping nearby. They ensured that I left stuffed and slightly intoxicated, though Kim showed more brevity than me. Another evening of great conversations. I guess Northern Ontario isn’t so remote after all.

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June 30th: Marathon – Terrace Bay, 85 km

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Big hills today. Up and down the entire way. I hit another speed record: 67 km/hr. I arrived in Terrace Bay quite early in the day and contemplated going further for a while. In the end, I stayed and camped on the beach, having received a tip from the three bikers I met in Wawa that the beach here was nearly bug free. Sweet! They were right, mostly. It was quite a cold beach, and I guess the skeeters don’t like that much.

Today was the first day in over a week that I didn’t run into another bike tourist. Chilling out on the beach I reflected on my isolation. Was I lonely? Or merely alone? I was just fine. I lit a fire and had a (very cold) bath in the lake before chancing a fly-free tent for a view of the stars as I dozed.

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(I removed the fly after taking this photo)

July 1st, 2013: Terrace Bay – Thunder Bay, 215 km

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The bugs found me. My tent was covered with the bloodsuckers in the morning, and so I packed up as quickly as possible before heading to higher ground for breakfast. I’ve become quite good at this now. I met a cyclist in the morning from England who was (no surprise) heading east. He swore by tonic water to fight the bugs. Something about the quinine. I made a mental note to buy tonic water wherever possible.

I started quite late, around 11am, and made it to Nipigon (around 105 km) by about 6pm.  There weren’t many hills in this stretch, but the ones that I did hit were huge, several between 3 and 5 km long.

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At Tim’s in Nipigon, I ran into the family whom I spent time with at the campground in Marathon. Small world!

Earlier in the day, I ran into Dustin, a solo tourist who had started in Winnipeg. He certainly didn’t look the bike tourist type, but he sure didn’t let that stop him. In fact, he inspired me to kick my own ass and go all the way to Thunder Bay. Well, him, and the possibility of sleeping in a bed for the first time in ten days.  I made it the additional 110 km on a can of fruit, two bottles of Gatorade, some baby carrots and jellybeans. I don’t really understand that, but I won’t complain. 

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About 25 km out from TB, the fireworks started going off in their harbor. I pretended they were celebrating my arrival. What an epic finish. Most people have their 200+ km days in the prairies with tail wind. I had mine in Northern Ontario.

 July 2nd-3rd, 2013: Thunder Bay, 0 km

I knew I was staying in TB until at least the 3rd, as I had bike parts coming into town that I ordered in SSM. Time for a change. I was able to spend some time with another friend from NL. Good times with lots of McDonald’s soft serve and a couple ridiculous movies.

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Thunder Bay was an odd city. It didn’t really have any centre, or at least any place that felt like one. The harbor area felt ripe for tourism development though, and I imagine that, in ten to twenty years, it will be quite the destination, despite its remote location.

I guess it wasn’t too remote. Before getting to know the geography of Ontario this intimately, I had this image of Thunder Bay being this remote outpost in the northernmost parts of the province, barely connected to civilization. Not the case. It’s as modern a city as any. The weather was beautiful, and air off the lake was cool and refreshing. I’d come back here. Again. Well, maybe not specifically, but I’d definitely stop by.

July 4th, 2013: Thunder Bay – Upsala, 130 km

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For the first time in ages, I felt really low. Not sure why. The whole trip felt pointless. Nothing was interesting.  Even conversing with locals felt like old hat.  Still, gotta keep biking.

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A few highlights though: met some really cute French girls biking from Vancouver to Quebec. Maybe I should turn around… I also followed a frequently used railroad for most of the day. I love trains. Did I mention that?

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I finished off the day just outside Upsala, and I set up my tent in an abandoned hotel. Surprisingly, there weren’t many bugs in the area. Yet.

July 5th, 2013: Upsala – Cobblestone Lodge, 133 km

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Ah, yes. The morning mosquito serenade. It has become quite comforting.

Mood has improved a bit.  Maybe it was some temporary trip apathy. I guess I can allow myself some bad days after two and a half months on the road.

The weather was nice today. I gentle breeze accompanied me most of the day, keeping me cool and keeping the scenery alive and shimmering.

I met a group of five bikers today who were riding to promote awareness for ALS. Another sponsored tour. Their bikes were incredibly light, as they were eating exclusively in restaurants and staying on hotels. To each their own. It was a bit comical to hear them complain about the weight of their bikes, which must have weighed about half as much as mine.

I ended up near a place called Cobblestone Lodge, and after I invited myself into their lounge for a brief reprieve from all the mosquitos, I was offered a free spot to camp. Sweet! Well, the shower was a welcome convenience, but the campsite I was given was overrun with bugs, and I nearly went insane trying to set up my tent. So much for quinine.

July 6th, 2013: Cobblestone Lodge – Vermillion Bay, 125 km

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Bad mood nearly gone. I met a tourist from France named Yasse. His impossibly high spirits were enough to shake away any remnants of the funk I had been in the last couple days, and I headed towards Dryden with a resurgence of energy and motivation. Even the rain the hit me an hour out of the city didn’t phase me. Bring it on!

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Dryden was just a pit stop, about 40 km away from Vermillion Bay. I hung around the town for a couple hours to dry and resupply, even stopping by the beach and resting for a spell. The wind had picked up, and I didn’t feel like a huge battle.

I went off to VB just as the weather started looking ominous, and I was soon completely drenched. Luckily, the wind was strongly at my back, and I hit the local popular restaurant (Buster’s BBQ. Amazing.) in no time. Still, I was soaked, and I felt pretty goofy slushing my way into a seat in my soaked biking clothes. A paying customer is a paying customer.

As the restaurant was closing, I started chatting with a couple of young hitchhikers who were travelling from somewhere in Alberta to Oshawa, Ontario. They were also without accommodation for the evening, and as the rain came pouring down outside relentlessly, I decided I couldn’t abandon fellow travellers for the comfort of a motel. Not tonight. I was about to take up residence with them in a small shelter just outside the restaurant when an older couple drove up and offered us beds in their camper. Yes, please! Turns out, they were picking their foster daughter up from work. Good timing.

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July 7th: Vermillion Bay – Kenora, 85 km

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By the morning, the rain had spent itself, and I headed off to Kenora after giving my bike a thorough cleaning. Rain is not good for the drivetrain. Almost through Ontario! Over a month later!

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About halfway to Kenora, I met another cyclist: a 71 year old man from Japan who was travelling from Vancouver to Toronto. I had actually heard about him from nearly every tourist that I met who was heading east. I guess he left quite an impression. He had flown from Tokyo and was biking to Toronto to see a friend. What a guy! If ever there was a silent witness for the longevity of cycling, it was this man, Akazawa.

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I had an old friend form high school living just outside Kenora, and I was able to spend the night on their couch. They were staying on a beautiful log cabin just off the Lake of the Woods (which, by the way, has got to be the best name for a lake I have ever heard). I happily went for a swim off their dock while soaking in the peaceful surroundings. Because of the dragonflies, the mosquitos even weren’t so bad. A balanced ecosystem.

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July 8th, 2013: Kenora – Hadashville, 125 km

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I started the day just outside Kenora. Another late start. I’m getting good at these. I wasn’t sure how far I was planning on going, but I knew that Winnipeg was the next day’s destination, and so anything more than half way there was a bonus. I saw a few small communities on the map around the midpoint, and so I made my way towards them.

The anticipation as I headed towards the border was too much. I spent a month or so in Ontario, and I was anxious to get on to something new.

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I stopped at the information centre just after passing the Ontario/Manitoba divide and took a quick breather. The centre had a cyclist log, and as I was reading through I saw a very enthusiastic recommendation for a Ukranian restaurant in Hadashville, about 60 km from where I was. That was enough to confirm the evening’s destination, and seeing as it was already almost 5pm and the restaurant closed at 8pm, I got my ass in gear ASAP.

I arrived 20 minutes before closing, and it clearly showed, as the waitress gave a smirk at my relief upon discovering I had arrived in time to order.

After an hour or so of consistent food consumption, I spent some time talking with the waitress and learned of a gazebo outside the restaurant where I could crash for the evening. I was stoked for a mosquito-free evening, but I soon realized that the netting was full of holes large enough for the buggers to infiltrate, and I opted to set up the tent inside the gazebo to provide some more reliable protection, but not before receiving several more battle wounds. Sleep at last.

July 9th, 2013: Hadashville – Winnipeg, 106 km

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I woke up to the sound of several mosquitos buzzing around outside my tent. I guess it was a good idea to set it up. Half of the gazebo was wet from the rain the previous evening. Luckily, not the half I was sleeping in. I casually packed my gear up and headed to the restaurant for some dark roast. I guess I wasn’t out of bugville just yet.

Today was a flat day. Flattest day yet, I think, but no flats, yet. About halfway into the day, I left the Canadian Shield for good, and the boreal forest quickly dissipated into small patches of trees here and there.

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As I turned northwest to head into Winnipeg, I faced a severe headwind, and with no trees to block it in the foreseeable future, I just had to deal with it. It wasn’t that bad, as it’s not like things look different any faster in the mostly featureless terrain. I started playing a game where I’d guess how far away something was, but with my GPS completely dead, I had no way of knowing if I was right. Oh well.

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At least it divided up the large chunks of flat into something other that the constant 2 km markers on the side of the road. Those are so annoying. Sometimes, I just want to zone out and forget about distance, but there they are, a constant reminder of how slow (or fast) I’m going. I deliberately look away from them at every chance, as I can’t help but start making quick mental calculations about places the moment I see a concrete number.

Sometimes when the road was especially flat and straight, I could see the curvature of the earth in the disappearing power lines. At that moment, I felt very small, but a little bit awesome as well. Here I was, slowly traversing the globe, one degree at a time. I suppose I’ll feel like this a lot during the next couple weeks.

I arrived in Winnipeg and biked another 20km to the city centre. Why have a welcome sign so far out and next to nothing useful? 

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After some unsuccessful attempts at host-finding, I connected with a warmshowers family who made me an awesome dinner and shared their slideshow from their recent six month (!) bike tour of Europe. The photos were beautiful, and I made another mental note about visiting Europe ASAP. Those notes are really piling up.

I spent a day in Ottawa hanging out with my uncle who happened to be in town at the same time. Pretty sweet coincidence. We went to The Forks and sampled most every food stand, I think, including some amazing cinnamon buns. I first heard of those buns from my warmshowers host way back in Whitefish Falls, and they came highly recommended. They did not disappoint, except for maybe the lack of cream cheese icing. I guess I’m not a purist.

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Tomorrow I’m off to some point between Winnipeg and Brandon. I’m not sure how far I’ll get, but I have in mind to get to Medicine Hat (~1000km) in 9 days or less, so any km over 100 that I can do every day will help.

Dare I say I’m on the home stretch? Nah…but I can almost see The Rockies peeking just at the horizon! Catch y’all later!

Also, I think I’ve exhausted all the synonyms for mosquito.

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5 comments

  1. Hey Joe!

    It’s Zach of the super bike buddies! It feels likr forever ago when we celebrated your birthday and deliberated on how to deal with a brligerent camper (“first i would say sorry”). We’ve been making our way west and have made about the same progress as you… We can’t wait to see the Rockies pop up over the horizon as well.

    Keep ridin,

    The buddies

    1. Hey man! Great to that from you! Is central USA as flat as the prairies…? I’ll get over to your blog when I have a consistent connection and some time. Race ya to the Rockies! 😉

  2. Hey Joe! Sounds like a really cool trip. I’m with the local newspaper in Outlook, Saskatchewan, and someone mentioned to me that you were at the farmers market this morning. I tried catching up with you but I guess you were off and running!

    I had a few questions about your journey. Do you have a number I can reach you at, or an email? Thanks!

  3. Kumusta na Joe, hope you liked the small treat Hopia ( purple yam), it keeps you going for another extra 5miles lol…it’s one of my favorites!
    Trevor and I were glad to have met you in Drumheller, praying that you’re safe in your journeys.

    Your stories are wonderful seems like you take us to places for real while reading them.
    Amping pirmi ( take care always).

    See you around!
    Kathy and Trevor

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