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Ben Folsom
Rules 5 and 9
Rules 5 and 9

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I have bagged the White Stag.

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Bike Commuting Pro Tip: Front Panniers

An installment in an occasional series of tips, tricks and best practices for making the most of your commute.

If you are riding your bike to work, in most cases, you are going to have to bring some stuff with you to work, and/or home from work, whether clothes, briefcase/computer, shower kit, roadside safety, etc. If your system is efficient, you can set yourself up for an occasional unloaded ride into or home from work, but a key component of bike commuting remains the ability to carry stuff.

Many commuters start out with a backpack, which makes sense as there is literally nothing you need to do to prep the bike. As the commitment to bike commuting grows, the bebackpacked rider will grow weary of a sweaty back, and may even experience balance issues resulting from having extra weight above the rider's center of gravity. The next logical step is a rear rack.

Rear racks level up a rider's experience by moving the carriage off the rider's back, down toward the center of gravity and behind the rider, where the weight will not affect steering of the bike. Rear racks may be simple platforms, to which the commuter bungees, velcros or otherwise straps gear atop the rack, and nearly all racks have side rails from which the rider can hang pannier bags. More advanced rack systems, such as Topeak and Jandd, have proprietary systems for connecting bags to the rack. In short, a rear rack can be as simple or as complex as the rider's need and commitment.

The final carriage achievement to unlock is the front rack. A front rack permits the commuter to carry bags on the front of the bike. Front racks may be up high, as in the case of randoneer racks, may have a (smaller) platform, or may be 'low-riding,' with the bag rails well below the headtube (as in the case of the Tubus Tara on my bike in the attached photo). Front racks possess their own challenges: Not all bikes can accommodate a front rack, they are heavier and more expensive than a rear rack, and the weight added by the rack and bags affects steering of the bike.

Despite all these issues, a front rack remains the right choice for a regular commuter for a very simple reason: A physical phenomenon known as drafting.

Drafting is when a rider tucks into the aerodynamic slipstream of another rider or object in front of him or her. The drafting rider does not have to work as hard against the wind, as the rider or object in the front is blocking the wind in a small pocket immediately behind the leading rider or object. A rider that is drafting can go the same speed as the leading rider or object, but using 80% or less of the energy compared to fighting the wind. Front bags help to cut the wind, thus allowing the rider to draft on them, saving 20% or more energy. This means if I am peddling at 20 miles an hour with front bags, I am expending the same amount of energy I would be if I was going 16 miles an hour!

If you do you not have front bags on your bike, or if your bike cannot accommodate a front rack, the same effect can be achieved by riding behind an open umbrella.

We hope you have enjoyed this episode of Bike Commuter Pro Tips. See you next time!

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2003 LeMond Buenos Aires: He Grew Into It

My son Josh aka Twin Turbine A turned 15 in April and is growing like a vine. He has sprouted seven inches in the last year and a half, three and a half inches in the last eleven months and an inch in the last 90 days. He is now less than a half inch shorter than I and I have come to peace with the fact that he will be taller than his father.

This has presented some challenges in the bike areas of our life. He has outgrown his current bike, a 21-inch / 53 cm 1984 Trek 520. It took him four years to outgrow his first bike, and just nine months to level up past his second. The Bike Shed is lousy with 22.5-inch / 57 cm vintage Treks, at last count, I have at least five frames or complete bikes that are not currently claimed by dad (in all I currently have REDACTED bikes in ride-ready shape). Part of the reason I have stocked up on this particular size is a firm knowledge that both twins will eventually be dad's size. At least this is what I tell the missus.

So I have a selection of vintage Treks available for Josh. None of them is ready to ride, but his chosen bike would be next in line. Then with this morning's coffee, it hit me: I have one bike that is too big for me, a bike that is not practical for my core uses and that I am really hanging onto for the name cachet: The LeMond.

I busted it out from the back of the Bike Shed, pumped up the tires and sent him on a test ride. He loved it, despite never having ridden a bike with paddle shifters (this bike is straight Shimano Ultegra). Looks like we have a winner.

It will need some work, short of the full overhaul treatment, and there will still be a dad-sized touring bike built for him. I am happy to see this bike getting back on the road. At best for me, this bike was going to be a neighborhood cruiser.
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1982 Trek 728: Rear Derailer

Oh god, not this shit again

The early 1980's were a whirlwind of tour tech, with the sun setting on SunTour, Shimano ascendant and Sachs Huret pushing limits from the market minority. SunTour still had the patent on the slant-parallelogram rear derailer design, and while Shimano bided their time, waiting to pounce on the market with fully-integrated groupsets immediately upon expiration of this patent in 1984, Sachs Huret attempted a design revolution: The Duopar design.

In addition to the long cage you would expect from a derailer intended for wide-range gearing, this unit, available alloy and titanium as the Duopar and alloy and steel as the Duopar Eco (for 'economical'), had a second parallelogram (hence the 'duo') situated between the main parallelogram and the cage. This second parallelogram was essentially a clutch, moving the cage vertically up and down. As the rider shifts to lower gears (i.e., larger sprockets), the cage rotates forward and the clutch pushes the cage down. This has the effect of extending the gearing range of the unit.

By all contemporaneous accounts of testing and early market review, it was a huge success, shifted smoothly and was considered a killer app in a world where SunTour V and VX series derailers were the only game in town.

Unfortunately, the Duopar Eco (I do not have nor have ridden an original Duopar) had engineering weaknesses and wore out quickly. The result of time applied to these units appears to be extreme fragility, a tendency to unship from the top jockey wheel and a tendency to get wrapped into the spokes and torn off. At a practical level, there were also other issues with this design, including a two-piece hanger bolt with a big dog split-thread bolt and a small-dog expander bolt (that required a wrench to loosen if the rider wanted to swing the derailer back, as when removing a wheel), stamped plates that seem susceptible to torque and a plastic hanger bolt cover that pops off and is gone forever on the first bump in the road.

Trek delivered this derailer stock on touring models for at least four years, from 1982 (on the 728) through 1985 (on the 620, while the up-market 720 got the SunTour Cyclone Mk-II), and three of the four I own came with this unit (the fourth was put together from a frame-only). I wanted to honor this venerable piece of tech, so I used it and suffered through two bike tours in 2014 on the 1985 620. My frustration brewed on those tours, finally culminating in replacement with a SunTour V-GT. The 1984 620 came with the Duopar Eco, and it was replaced with a SunTour Cyclone Mk-II before the bike was ridden even one mile. For this bike, the Huret came off in tear-down and now sits forlorn on my workbench, watching wistfully as a good-as-new SunTour VX-GT does the work.

In short, I do not use Huret Duopar Eco rear derailers. Ihave written extensively on this topic, if you are interested in detailed history and descriptions of engineering and functionality of this unit, or if you are interested in re-reading my progression of disgust with it from 2014 to 2015, check references in comments.


So SunTour VX-GT. It is simply the best ever, except maybe for the Cyclone Mk-II or V-GT. I took my second-best unit off the shelf (never put your best gear on a bike until you build your last), exploded it, cleaned, it lubed the bushings and put it back together. There is a proprietary slotted nut on the inboard side of the upper cage, luckily a previous SunTour eBay score included SunTour's derailer removal tool, a T-shaped jobber that has two sizes of hex and the slotted driver.

With the new chain running between it and the Helicomatic freewheel, it shifts perfectly and silently, and I am so happy.
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1982 Trek 728: Decal

Trek's earliest logo display was a super funky, earth-toned, 70's-to-the-bone seat tube decal, the company's first catalog, 1976, shows one nearly identical to what you see here, and it was used through 1983. For 1984 through at least 1987, the logo decal changed significantly and moved to the downtube.

For this 1982 model, the brown background is a separate decal, the 'TREK' letters are separate decals on top of the background; you can see this clearly from the flaking of the lettering in the attached image.

In 1983, the same decal color scheme was used (in fact, the 1982 728 and 1983 620 appear to have the same frame color; the incredibly dull early 1980's frame color choices by Trek will be the subject of a separate post). That year, likely due to a revolt in the decal-application shop, this logo decal had wrapped into one design, this is the case with the 1983 620: It is all one sticker.

Both this decal and the one on the 1983 arrived in bad shape. Luckily, I found an eBay seller with some replica 1982/1983 brown/yellow/white decals. I bought one for the 1983, which needed a replacement fork, necessitating a partial powder coating job. The replacement seat tube decal was destined for next overhaul on that bike (circa 2021) when I had the rest of the frame powder coated to match the fork, which is itself coated in Proformence (sic) Gold, the closest approximation I could find to the 1983's color (it's a messy story and covered in its own G+ collection).

Now I could use another, for this bike's redo in 2022. Alas, I bought the one for the 1983 before acquiring this bike, and since then, the seller has sold out. is the place for replica Trek decals, however this particular unit is not in their inventory. I will inquire with them directly, and if not successful, will simply be patient, as something will turn up by the time I need it. It's the way things always are with these old bikes.
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1982 Trek 728: Paint

In the classic period, Trek used a DuPont paint system known as Imron. Introduced in 1972, Imron is one of a family of polyurethane enamel paints (Axalta, Cromex and Delthane are other brand names for the same technology). At the time of its introduction, DuPont called it 'The Wet Look that Lasts,' for its high-gloss finish, environmental durability and longevity. Trolling the internets for information on Imron, I see lots of hobbyist car painters that talk about Imron finishes still looking new after decades. The photo attached to this post does not do justice to the metallic shine on this 35 year-old paint job, and with Pedro's silicone Bike Lust polish applied, it is beautiful like a sparkly vampire (2008 called and wants its joke back, sorry about that).

While Imron, its competitors and follow-on products (it has evolved significantly over time) proved to be incredibly popular in the commercial vehicle-painting business, Imron was also a very expensive, and dangerous product to use. It was expensive because it required a dedicated mixing system using proprietary hardware, required airtight spray booths and was a two-stage process: First you paint, then you cover (more on this below).

It was dangerous because, in addition to the usual risks of inhaling particulate matter, Imron-type polyurethane enamel paints use an isocyanate (as in, cyanide) as a hardener. After the paint is sprayed on the frame, the frame is sprayed again with the hardener. The hardener binds with chemicals in the paint to give Imron its glossy and super-hard finish.

Exposure to this isocyanate hardener can cause extreme and immediate health problems, and eventually death. The New York Times published a piece on isocyanate hardeners in 1981, when Imron was in its tenth year on the market, revealing that the product was so dangerous that the makers had all considered taking them off the market immediately after their collective debut in the early 1970's. However, concerns about 'loss of business' led the companies to bury the risks in watered-down warning labels and safety recommendations. The makers, including PPG as well as DuPont, through the lobbying efforts of the National Paint and Coatings Association, had managed to stave off government regulation by insisting the industry could self-regulate.

The health issue of the highest concern was 'sensitization.' When these products were released, use of a mask was de rigeur for professional spray painters, however not all used sealed, fresh air supply masks, nor necessarily even charcoal-filter masks. Repeated inhalation exposure to the isocyanate in the paint second stage eventually causes the rapid onset of asthma-like symptoms. Thereafter, the painter is 'sensitized,' and ever-smaller exposures can result in worsening symptoms, and death from pulmonary failure was not uncommon. As the 1970's proceeded, it became standard industry practice that once a painter was 'sensitized,' his career was over. But because of weak regulation, the problem was not specifically recognized, and victims were treated and compensated as though these were routine workplace injuries and not life-threatening and lifelong conditions.

In researching this piece, 'shooter' forums are awash with testimonials of pro and hobbyist painters that were just fine one day, then had a bad cough after shooting Imron, then ended up in the hospital the next time they tried. Or old shooters warning the younger guys in the forums about their buddies that up and died shooting atomized cyanide.

The NYT story came at a time when Pittsburgh-based PPG had settled a negligence suit over the product, reporters had found evidence of dozens of sealed out-of-court settlements, and the new Reagan administration had set aside a pending Carter administration rule requiring stricter labeling. Free markets and all.

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1982 Trek 728: Cockpit

In general when restoring classic bikes, I prefer to keep the bike as close as possible to the original build. If the bike came with original parts, in most cases, they get a thorough cleaning and inspection, and go back on the bike. As I have evolved in my collection, experience and preferences, I have begun to mod the bikes better to suit me.

In some cases, this means replacing an original part with a substitute as a matter of course, as with the deletion of the Huret Duopar Eco rear derailer and the addition of... anything else (more on this in a later post). In other cases, it is a matter of convenience, as with replacing barcon shifters with downtube (see below) and in still other cases, it is a matter of fit and comfort.

This bike's cockpit came equipped with a 40 cm Cinelli handlebar tied to a 90 mm Cinelli stem; Dia Compe Gran Compe brake levers with gum hoods and SunTour barcon bar-end shifters. All this gear is original, and even the gum hoods looks old enough (and disintegrated fast enough on removal) to be original.

The handlebar had fat foam grips of the type frequently seen on my original-stock 1984 bikes (both my 1984 Trek 620 and the missus' 1984 Trek 520 had them), though these looked crudely installed compared to the professional installations on the 1984 bikes. The tops of the foam grips were in turn wrapped with black Tressostar-style cloth tape, while the cut at the brake lever end of the foam cover on the drops is closed up with electrical tape. Fold in the shift slinky-wound shift cables emerging from the bar end shifters and you have a quite messy-looking cockpit.

First things first, I have come to prefer a tighter cockpit, so the bar and stem were replaced, the bar with a classic and quite common 37 cm Sakae Ringyo (SR) Custom Road Champion and the stem with a 60 mm SR Custom.

I love the barcon shifters, and am quite comfortable with them (>16,000 miles on my once and future commuter equipped with them, the 2011 Surly Cross Check), though for this build, I removed them, to be replaced with downtube shifters. This is principally for convenience, as I will need to ship this bike to Kansas City, Mo., and back from St. Louis, Mo. for this bike's inaugural tour. The handlebar will have to be removed, or at least loosened and rotated, for packing, and constraining shift cables to the downtube and off the handlebar cuts in half the number of cables to deal with in this process. In all likelihood, by the time this bike comes around for another tour (est. five years in 2022), I will have modded it back to barcons.

The brake levers stayed, though they will get new gum rubber hood covers. These are interesting levers. They do not match the exact 1982 catalog specs for the bike, which is not necessarily surprising, nor an indication they are not original; my research indicates Trek often substituted similar parts for productions bikes at the time of assembly. The specified Dia Compe Gran Compe levers have a quick release on the top edge of the lever. This would allow a user to slack the brake line for wheel removal without having to do it at the brake itself. These brake levers not being installed is not a concern, as the same function can be achieved by disconnecting the centre-pull brake straddle wire. If this bike had period-correct side-pull caliper brakes, it would be more of a headache, as few side-pulls of the time had quick release or slackener functions.

The installed levers are interesting mainly for the removable pivot barrel, the piece around which the brake levers rotate to actuate the brakes. Unlike cheap brakes of the day, which had pinned pivots that could not be undone, or mainstream brakes, which have a nutted bushing so the unit can be disassembled, this hollow pivot bushing simply floats in the housing. If one were to take the brake assembly off the bike, tilt it to the side and push on the pivot, it would simply fall out. In theory this makes the whole thing higher maintenance, as I can easily see my exasperated self dumping a pivot onto the floor and having it roll under the bench out of my reach, but in practice, once installed, under cable tension and ensconced in a hood cover, they are safe and going nowhere.

A final touch on these brakes, and another element making them higher maintenance, is the external barrel adjuster. This 'Liberty Torch'-shaped barrel sits in the top exit port of the brake lever housing, serving as both the 'button' that adapts the exit port for cable housing and a barrel adjuster. Typical brakes of the day did not have barrel adjustment at the lever or anywhere in the cockpit; if they have barrel adjustment at all, it is at the brake itself. A small, jutting notch in the inserted portion of the barrel adjuster marries to a slot in the exit port of the brake lever body to ensure the barrel turns independently of the assembly. This is a nice vintage touch.

Cockpit review will continue.
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1982 Trek 728: Crank

Of all the things bike-vintage, the half-step-plus-granny triple crankset may be the most unobtanium of all the parts types, and when I spot them affordably on eBay, I typically buy them. The history of the half-step-plus-granny triple crankset is inextricably intertwined with the history of the front derailer, as the triple front became prevalent, the need for the half-step-plus-granny dissipated, to the point where there is no real production version of this classic touring component.

Author's aside: Through my many years of researching bicycle history and components, I have often come across references to Frank Berto's 2009 book The Dancing Chain: History and Development of the Derailleur Bicycle. Typically, I have been able to work around these references without the source material, always knowing I needed to pick up a copy. With the topic at hand, front shifting and triple cranksets, I reached my limit, and have found references leading me to believe there is some detail on the subject in Mr. Berto's book. I have dutifully and finally ordered a copy of the fourth edition of this book. End author's aside.

The pedaling theory behind the half-step-plus is straightforward: The big ring is for riding fast and unloaded, the middle ring is for riding loaded on flat terrain or unloaded up hills, and the little ring, always a large dropoff, is for riding loaded up hills. It is a theory that works well in practice, as I almost never shift to the big ring when loaded, while still using all five or six gears in back.

Matching the crankset with a front derailer, I cannot determine the exact history of the fat-cage, triple front derailer, but anecdotally, it developed in the early 1980's. Before that, the main factor differentiating front derailers was lateral range, the available distance between the unit's innermost and outermost limit settings. There was no real 'triple' front as we know them now. And this is where the physics get a little complicated and confusing for me.

See, a good, old fashioned front derailer, of the type we know now as a 'double,' will shift from a tiny inner ring to a large middle ring, and onto a big ring easily. However, the same double front derailer will not easily shift from a small inner ring to the middle rings of a more modern, stair-step (think 50-40-30 stair-step, rather than a 50-45-30 half-step) triple crank. It will chunk and skip, and as you continue to pulling the shift lever, will eventually skip over the middle ring and land on the big ring.

Why does it do this? I do not know, I know that before I experienced it personally on Turbine B's bike, I read about it on Sheldon Brown, where he mentions it but does not elaborate, indicating only that double fronts have a problem with large tooth differentials between large and middle, and not middle and small, as I would have expected.

To solve that problem, you need a modern triple front derailer, which is designed for a specific range of difference between rings. On the aforementioned Turbine's bike, I attempted to build the bike from a frameset, and used a vintage double front derailer, a SunTour Cyclone Mk-II, with a vintage stair-step 50-40-30 Sugino (at the time, I had no half-steps not already installed on a bike) and it was nothing doing. I sourced a vintage 80's Shimano Deore DX triple front, and viola, it works perfectly.

It is a bit elusive, why the smaller inner cage cannot make the small-to-middle jump when there is a large small-to-middle tooth differential, while the larger triple cage can make that jump. Also, Sheldon mentions the reverse is also a problem, when you use a large-cage triple-front with a half-step-plus-granny crank, though I have as yet no experience as such. Who knows, perhaps Mr. Berto will educate me.


This bike came with a Sugino AT half-step-plus-granny triple crank in 50-45-28, the classic Trek touring crank. The plastic crankbolt covers disintegrated upon removal, revealing standard 14 mm hex crankbolts. It was pretty grimy, including a layer of decades-old fossilized hardcake. I dropped it in the degreaser for 24 hours and went to it with the brass brush and toothbrush, while I did not take it apart down to the chainring bolts, it came quite clean.

For reinstallation, I discarded the hex-top crankbolts in favor of more modern 8 mm hex wrench bolts, the ones with the integrated rubber dust covers. The chainline seems good-to-ideal, given that the SunTour SS bottom bracket installs fluidly and I eyeballed it. Paired with the original Huret Success front derailer and a new chain, everything is turning smoothly.
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So Long, Screwy: The Die Is Cast

I hope Missouri drains properly by August, because the tour is happening, exactly as planned (see previous post, linked in comments). I am looking for touring partners and the window is now open:

1 August, Tuesday: Fly to Kansas City, Mo., recover and build bike, stay in hotel, specifically the 816 Hotel in downtown.

2 August, Wednesday: Ride 82 miles to Windsor, Mo. and camp. Half of this ride will be on crushed limestone rail-trail. The next three and a half days will all be exclusively on crushed limestone rail-trail.

3 August, Thursday: Ride 89 miles to Columbia, Mo., stay in Tiger Hotel in Columbia.

4 August, Friday: Ride 63 miles to Portland, Mo., camp.

5 August, Saturday: Ride 50 miles to August, Mo., stay in one of six or seven B&B's in town.

6 August, Sunday: Ride 48 miles to downtown St. Louis, stay in Hotel Majestic.

7 August, Monday: Pack gear up (Urban Shark, two blocks from the hotel has a pack-and-ship service, and there is a FedEx depot two blocks further) and ship, get on plane and fly home.

All told, it will be in the vicinity of 350 miles in five days of riding, with a travel day on either side. We will see nearly the entirety of one of the best rail-trails in the US. By all accounts, the regions through which we will be riding are extremely accommodating to bike tourists. Drop a comment or PM me if you are interested in coming along.

So Long, Screwy: T-minus 60 days.

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The Heat Dome: Day Zero

Previously on The Heat Dome:

* Hey hon, it’s an organized bike tour, let’s do it together!
* I don’t have to camp right?
* What’s a ‘heat dome?’


22 July 2016

The gear was packed, I was getting a lot of birds stoned at once with this ride:

* A bike tour, which I like very much (obvs)
* A bike tour for my wife, who is not yet a fan but is trying
* A new, organized ride that could be a thing we/I do every year
* Two days with just my wife, as all kids were at various summer camps
* A chance to visit with friends in Fredericksburg, Va., the midpoint of the ride
* A live road test for my newest touring bike, a 1983 Trek 620, which was scheduled to roll out on Bike Hobo Fantasy Camp the following month

The ride was organized by Sports Backers, a Richmond, Va.-based sporting promoter, with the hallmarks of a good organized ride: One-way transport (to or from the ride, depending on where you started), transport of gear to the mid and endpoints of the ride, comfort stations along the way. In all, we would learn there were 136 riders registered, though with the heat, we would learn they were confident 30% or more of the riders would not show.

Despite the provision of carriage service, I would carry all our gear, both to keep it near, and also to dial in my new bike under load and get accustomed to the handling; there hardly seems a better circumstance for prepping a bike for a long, unsupported bike tour than a long, supported bike tour. My carry was about 30 pounds, which is about 30 pounds less than a normal tour carry. I had clothes and support gear for both of us and some snacks, but with no camping I had no bedroll, kitchen or pantry.

The meet up for one-way transport from DC to Richmond was Rosslyn, Va., in Arlington Country, Va. Although I advocated for riding the 15 miles from home to the ride (and as such, also back from the ride), the missus advocated for dropping a car, in case we were to become separated or either or both of us were to drop out of the ride, in that case, transport would only take us to the endpoint (this would later prove to be a good idea), we parked the car in an underground lot that had access all weekend.

The bus ride was about three hours, which we passed talking, reading and sipping whiskey. There was lots of good conversation with other riders. Our arrival point in Richmond, Va. was The Diamond, the baseball stadium on Richmond’s north side. This stadium is the home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels, a Double-A baseball team in the San Francisco Giants farm organization. A good friend in Richmond had volunteered to pick us up and take us to our accommodations for the evening, he was running a little late and it was HOT. Hundred degrees on asphalt and no shade hot. We sought refuge in a VIP tiki bar that was unlocked, we had plenty of water, but the missus was clearly ready to move on. Eventually, a groundskeeper from the venue discovered us in this prohibited area and attempted to evict us, after discussion, we were permitted to stay (there was literally no shade on the entire grounds).

The college mate arrived and took us to our accommodations in tony Carytown at the empty flat of another friend who was traveling on business. After cooling off, we prepped our gear for a quick departure in the morning and headed out for some Richmond food and culture. Passing the famous Byrd Theatre, where in college in 1995 the missus had air quotes slept while I watched Pulp Fiction with her friends, we met up with a former college mate, had burgers, then found our way to another bar for a last drink (the missus was quite anxious to get to bed; I have never accomplished anything significant on a good night’s sleep), where we met some random guise, including 40 year-old identical twin boys and another gentleman that had a carbon fiber bicycle and took great pride in dropping names of notable people with whom he had gone on bike rides, along the way very thoroughly toursplaining me how you really do a big bike ride.

Too late and after too much fun, we retired to our accommodations for the night. Reveille would be at 0500.

Next: Day One.
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