Why do I torture myself year after year? I willingly go to a place where I get to hang out with 150,000 of my closest friends. I spend a hot summer day outside in the sun. I tolerate waiting in long lines for the ladies room. I eat battered, deep-fried, junky food. What is this torture? Why, the Great Minnesota Get-Together, of course!

Any self-respecting Minnesotan will trek to the Minnesota State Fair at least once each year. I have friends who go multiple times. Take my friend Jen A, for example, whose husband is in the Army. They got stationed in Guam for three years. A year ago he left a month before Jen. Jen waited until after the Fair. And when has she come back for a visit? To coincide with the Fair. She has been there just about every day. I don’t know how she does it. I go for a few hours and I’m done in. Think I’m joking about attendance of 150,000? Look at this. And I went on the last Sunday. The last Sunday usually goes over 200,000.

These just in:

Quotes from Jen (which I include because I truly am impressed by your desire, determination, and stamina, and I know you were doing what you love to do): 1) “After a 15.5 hour day yesterday, I’ve logged 67 hours at the fair this year. A record for me. One day to go. (Sunday).” 2) “My last day at the fair. 16 hours for a total of 83 hours over 6 days. That’ll do.”

2014 State Fair breaks all-time attendance record. Thank goodness I didn’t go on Saturday, attendance 252,092.

So this is the fun I had at the fair.

photo of overheated Kelly

When I bike to the fair, I am hot and miserable before I even pass through the gate.

Biking to the fair.

Just like going to the fair at all, biking to it always seems like a good idea before I do it. It’s a four-and-a-half-mile ride, most of which is on a dedicated bike- and busway. Easy route, but even if the temperature isn’t too hot, I get overheated. So I’m at a disadvantage before I even get through the gate.

I should also mention that the fair encourages you to not take your car. As could benefit me, there are three bike corrals. Unfortunately they are at the three corners of the grounds other than the one where the transitway spits me out. Getting to a bike corral adds a half-mile onto my ride. But I’m glad they have them because it takes a lot of the thinking out of arriving at the Fair.

Anyway, I had a couple of personal connections at the fair.

Personal connections and vegetables in general.

My coworker’s grandmother enters vegetables every year. And she wins every year. Look at those Yukon gold potatoes! Jen (a different Jen) helped harvest those winners. And since I love vegetables, you get a photo of the west wall of the Horticulture Building. And who wouldn’t be impressed by giant pumpkins, Charlie Brown?

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Blue ribbon Yukon Gold potatoes dug up and sorted by my coworker, grown by her grandmother.

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It’s the Great Pumpkin!

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These are a few of my favorite vegetables.

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A little purple goes a long way.

I also managed to find my nextdoor neighbor Larry’s painting in the Fine Arts building. As my mentor Chris Gargan always said, a little purple goes a long way. Or was that John Ribble? It was twenty+ years ago.

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Mini-donuts! In beer form!

Beer.

Natch, it didn’t take me long to acquire beer. Unlike last year, Lift Bridge Brewery made PLENTY of their Mini-Donut Brown Ale. It sounds so wrong, but it works. This year there was also a s’mores beer replete with a floating marshmallow, and a lager that came with blueberry frozen foam.

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Kelly visits a beer exhibit. Yes, a beer exhibit.

A great thing about the Minnesota State Fair is that it keeps up with the times. Whether it’s an evening of Minnesota bands, sponsored by The Current, or craft beer, the fair is all over it. Back by popular demand for the third year, was the Land of 10,000 Brews exhibit, also in the Horticulture Building. This is where there are six options for four-beer flight from Minnesota breweries. The selections vary daily. Sometimes there’s fancy stuff, but mostly it’s a way to support our burgeoning craft beer industry.

[Update from the interim between writing and posting: Some asshole robbed the exhibit at gunpoint a couple hours after the Fair closed for the year. Armed robbery of over $10,000.]

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Does she look like she’s actually having fun?

Major annoyances.

I’m pretty sure I ranted about this last year, too, and every year before that. If it’s not old enough to walk under its own power, it’s most likely not old enough to really comprehend, and therefore actually enjoy, what is going on at the fair, and should therefore be left at home. Your doublewide stroller isn’t doing anybody, and I mean anybody, least of all you, any favors. Tell the truth. Do you actually enjoy pushing that thing through the throng, having to constantly apologize to the crowd around you for needing non-standard space accommodation, the crowd which is already annoyed by the rest of the crowd? Are you having fun when the tot is screaming because it wants cotton candy, or is over-stimulated, or is over-tired? And when it falls asleep, well, what was the point anyway?

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It’s a parade. Yay.

While we’re on the subject of hindrances to the already crowd-hindering crowd, what about the daily parade? I guess some people watch it, but it seems like it’s mostly meaderers scattering to the curbs to make way. I find it particularly purturbing because on either side of the street it goes down are some of the things I’m most interested in, such as the aforementioned Horticulture Building and the abeermentioned Ballpark Cafe, from whence the Mini-Donut Brown Ale (and many other fine, Minnesota brews) is served, and because I always manage to encounter it. I just want to cross the damned street. Call me a chicken if you must, apropos to the fair.

photo of Kelly with a Pronto Pup

It’s a Pronto Pup. Or is it a corndog. Huh?

Fair food.

Unless you live in a cave, you’ve likely heard of all the any-state’s fair food you can get on a stick. Minnesota’s fair does food on a stick like no other. However, I mostly avoid it. Battered, deep-fried delights are so far from how I typically eat that it doesn’t take much of it to do me in. But I’ll always get a corndog. I don’t like weiners but I love me a corndog. I am a poor Minnesotan because I’m still not sure exactly what the difference is between a corndog and a Pronto Pup. What I do know is that this year I got a Pronto Pup rather than a corndog and I didn’t like it as well. I think a Pronto Pup is more of a batter batter while a corndog is more of a cornbread batter. Next year I shall go back to the corndog.

photo of Kelly eating corn on the cob

Corn!

What never disappoints is the roasted corn on the cob. Minnesota sweetcorn, grilled in the husk. ’Nuff said. Oh, except for that they compost all the discarded cobs.

 

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How much time do I have?

Weather, more beer, more food.

All afternoon I felt like I had blown it with regard to the weather. The day before, Saturday, was a little less warm, a little less humid, less unsettled. Sunday started out overcast and not-warm, but of course by the time I got pedaling the sun came out and the dewpoint started creeping up. The forecast was for a clear afternoon with rain and thunder likely in the evening. It approached more quickly.

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Hanging out with Summit Brewing founder, Mark Stutrud. Well, a reasonable facsimile of him, anyway.

I made my move in the direction of the exit when I figured, based on radar panel number three, that I had about forty-five minutes before the heavens would open. I need about twenty-five for the bike ride. Fortunately, the main Summit Brewing counter, in the International Bazaar, is right on the way to the entrance I use next to the bike corral. Summit had a fair-only brew this year, but it was not on offer on Sunday (unless it was at an auxiliary location). Nevertheless, I ordered one of the beers that was available and participated in what was their genius marketing ploy for the fair, taking a selfie with the life-sized cutout of founder Mark Stutrud. I have actually hung out with Mark several times in person, so this was a little weird, and yet, necessary.

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Tacos al pastore y asada.

I had just about decided that I was out of weather-time and had every intention of heading out, when I was dazzled again by what had caught my attention on the way in, tacos from Los Ocampo. I wasn’t exactly hungry, but wanted to eat, and figured that if I ate a little more at the fair, that would be enough for the day. I went for one each of the al pastore and the asada. The nice people sitting on the bench next to me approved of my choice (having vast, it seemed, experience at one of Los Ocampos’ restaurant locations) and gave me a piece of their fried plantains. It was all very good.

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Hopefully I’ll beat this home.

I finally, finally, uncorraled my bike and headed home, a little later than I meant to. On the other hand, it wasn’t already raining so I knew whatever happened, I wouldn’t get it too bad. As it was, I only got spritzed on during the second half of the ride. I got home and took my second full shower of the day. I tied my hair up in a different way that proved to be a beneficial way, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the fair.

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I’ve written before about how much I like to sit outside on my front steps with a tasty adult beverage (which in my case will be beer, ninety-eight per cent of the time). And since I moved in years ago, my tasty beverage-enjoying has been sheltered from the sun god by a lovely, thick maple tree.

It’s true, I have been known to disparage this tree because it’s the largest and fullest tree of the three in our yard. In the almost seven years that I have lived here, I have often wished that my little garden area got more sunlight which it would, if the maple weren’t so full and wonderfully developed.

You know what they say—be careful what you wish for. Three weeks ago, two-thirds of this magnificent tree was sacrificed for clearance of overhead power lines.

If I look only at the extra sunlight my poor garden plants now get, then it seems like a suitable trade-off. But if I look at the tree itself, then my eyes melt. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said two-thirds. I happened to walk out the door to go to work at the same time the tree-trimmers were milling about in my front yard assessing the situation.

“This isn’t good. The branches are growing straight up.”

“I’m not going to sugarcoat it—it’s going to be ugly when you get back.”

And thus it was. The tree is a shadow if its former self (unintentional pun intended). I haven’t even taken a picture of the carnage so I can’t show you, but use your imagination based on what I’ve said. I do know, though, that it has been better for my potted tomatoes.

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Weather without you

July 14, 2012

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With all of the bike riding I do (by which I mean my eighteen-year span of bike-commuting to work), you’d think that I’d have had some bad luck with the weather at some point but I haven’t. I ride during the not-cold season, which for my personal tolerance of conditions here in Minnesota means when the temperature is above freezing and below 95F/35C. I used to bike through the winter down to about 15F/-10C but I’ve gotten soft in my old age. For eleven years, my commute distance was 2.75 miles. For the last seven years it has been a mere 1.75, a paltry twelve minutes of my time.

One thing that has never put me off from biking to work is rain in the forecast. As long as it’s dry in the morning, I don’t care what’s going on for the ride home. My general guide as to whether it’s raining too hard to embark on my homeward journey is car windshield wipers. If they’re only on intermittent then I’m good to go. In addition, my office windows look out to the direction from which the weather approaches. And thanks to iPhone and the WeatherBug Elite app I can zoom in on the radar, practically down to my block. Plus, I was a meteorology major for a term in college. These are all fine qualifications, right?

What I’m sort of trying to say is that there aren’t usually too many surprises. That’s not to say that I’ve never gotten wet because I have; sometimes I make an informed choice to set off even though I know it’s likely that the approaching stormfront will have its way with me. Such was the case this afternoon.

I’ve gone both ways. Sometimes I’ll hang out at the office (or a nearby bar, ahem) for an extra while to wait things out. But other times—especially if it’s after 4:30pm aka close enough to quitting time—I’ll boldly inform my boss that I’m leaving NOW.

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Today it could easily have gone either way. For most of the time it was pretty clear and sunny (and hot). We were dedicatedly working away on a Friday afternoon when we noticed—at exactly the aforementioned 4:30 no less—that there was doom and gloom on the near-horizon where previously there had been none. Three of us were on bikes. We lost all ability to focus on work and instead obsessed with looking out the windows and snapping photos to post on Instagram.

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Initially, I assessed that the rain was moving in quickly and that the line would pass quickly. I resolved to stay at the office for what I figured would be about an extra half hour. But then it got to be 5:00 and nothing had happened yet. That’s really close enough to bail out on the situation, especially on a Friday!

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It was like the storm decided to play chicken with me as soon as it realized I had decided to leave that instant. In the time it took me to stuff my things into my backpack I could see that the line of rain had barreled up to within about a half mile (a perk of being on the 11th floor). I should have sat back down but it was 5:00 on Friday. I would be traveling in same direction as the storm. The strong tailwind would help me ride fast. I took the gamble.

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It was already spitting when I exited the building. A block into the ride while I waited for a red light, it started raining in earnest. There was a building with a lovely, wide overhang across the street and I briefly made a move in that direction. Then I decided that it was hot enough, that the rain actually felt refreshing and wasn’t too annoying thanks to the visor on my bike helmet, and that it was only for ten minutes. I pedaled on, lightning be damned.

By the next stoplight the rain had let up already and I was glad I hadn’t wimped out. But by the next light it was raining hard again and I got to experience something I never have in all my years of bike-commuting—I got hailed on.

Luckily the hail was only pea-sized and the rain never went all the way to torrential. That’s not to say that a few of the hailstones didn’t sting when they hit my hands and legs, or that I didn’t get soaked. They did and I did. But after I got home and changed into dry clothes, I took comfort in engaging in two things that I love to do—sitting outside on my steps (or in my doorway alcove in this case because it was still sprinkling) and writing a blog entry, both made better with a refreshing beer in hand (Stone IPA in this case)!

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Aside #1: If it’s not lime green I don’t use it. You think I’m joking.

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Aside #2: I was visited by Molly the neighbor cat. She is a gorgeous and friendly beast.

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My air conditioner doesn’t count? Okay then, my favorite piece of clothing is the one I’m not wearing. No? Your favorite piece of my clothing is the one that I didn’t take off because I do have air conditioning.

As a Minnesotan who writes a blog, you have no doubt noticed that I must periodically dwell on the weather. This is much easier to justify if we’ve just gotten fourteen inches of snow in one twelve-hour shot, or if, as it has, it has been 300° (Fahrenheit or Celsius, take your pick) with humidity that would make a Swedish sauna proud for all but two non-consecutive days in the last three weeks.

What inspires such things as my grouse about elevators is that my mother passed her overheated physiology right on to her only child. What got from my father, who is exactly the opposite of my mother and runs for sweaters when it dips below 80°F/27°C, is a better ability to cope with the heat. What I bring to the table on my own is my understanding that the better hydrated I am, the less uncomfortable I will be. That, and my acceptance of having to sequester myself within the air conditioned bubble.

It’s all relative, I know. Just today, a native-Floridian friend (actually, I think he’s Equadoran before Floridian, the point being tropical, or close to it) quipped that he “never understood people suffering in heat waves.” But he’s currently visiting New York City to where my Minnesota heat wave has moved, allowing him to commune with people who don’t usually experience 104°F/40°C temperatures and high humidity, and suddenly he has a different perspective. Of course in Florida it’s humid and hot. Here in the north, it gets pretty hot for a while and kind of humid sometimes, but not the extremes of both days on end. 

We must complain.

But can you blame me? Two days ago, we set a new high dewpoint record of 82°F/28°C, during an air temperature of 95°F/35°C, resulting in a heat index of 114°F/45°C.

Now we’re on the same page, aren’t we?. There are only so many garments one can remove when one is overheated. My favorite piece of clothing is my air conditioner!

Stepping

July 13, 2011

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Everybody has a favorite place in their home, right? Whether you rent or own, house or apartment, there’s some place where you like to spend time. An obvious answer for me would be in my bed. I love sleeping. I love fading in and out on a weekend morning. But when I’m asleep, I’m not awake actually enjoying it. For the awake experience, I choose my front steps.

As you can see, beer once again is usually involved. That’s because a couple of years ago, two things came into play. First, I had been working out regularly since March and it was then summer and warm. After working out after work, I would then walk or bike home. Second, at some point I accidentally discovered that Sorella Wine & Spirits was a not inconvenient one block detour on that walk or bike home. I’d pop over for some tasty supplies for what I started calling Home Happy Hour. Because it was summer, I’d enjoy sitting on my front steps when the air was still warm from the day, but the sun had sunk behind the god-awful ugly high-rises and wasn’t directly cooking me. It became a favorite thing to do.

Last summer, I bought two cheap, low lawn chairs—I guess they’re known as “beach chairs”—and that transformed the experience for the better. The steps were good, but now I had a more comfortable seat with a chairback and which was low to the ground to facilitate stretching my legs out. Heaven. Then I discovered that the chair tucks nicely into my front door alcove and combines with the protection of the second level deck overhead to make for a wonderful storm-enjoying setup. It’s usually after dark when I sit outside for that, with or without tasty beverage.

It’s not always Home Happy Hour when I sit on the steps, but most of the time it is (oh, and a couple of gratuitous rabbits from the yard). What’s your favorite place at home?

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Today I had to identify my favorite summer snack. If by summer you mean those months here in Minnesota when it isn???t snowing and if by snack you mean something that is a treat, then my answer is Bell???s Oberon.

The Bell???s website describes Oberon as ???an American wheat ale brewed with Saaz hops. Spicy and fruity, Oberon is the color and scent of a sunny afternoon.???

It sure is!

I don???t pretend to know all the nuances of ingredients and varieties; historically I don???t like wheat beers, especially if they???re varieties referred to as hefeweizen or weissbier. The flavor tends to be sweeter than I prefer and I usually get a near-instant headache from them. But something magical happened when I tasted Oberon for the first time.

I was at a wine tasting event with a friend of mine who feels about wine like I do beer. He also works part-time at a liquor store and so often gets to go to these distributor-sponsored events, which I believe this was. There is also some sort of food to nosh on; in this case it was several local restaurants that had tables sprinkled throughout the floor.

I had been up and down a few rows and tasted many wines and found myself at the Murray???s Steakhouse table. The chef was serving up beef bites saut??ed in butter, garlic, and mushrooms. They tasted heavenly. The stage was set.

Banished to the overflow tent adjacent to the main hall were a few breweries, including local favorite Summit, as well as a couple of others including Bell???s Brewery from Michigan. My experience with Bell???s at that time about five or six years ago was hearing my coworker (and beer guru) rave about their Two-Hearted Ale. I had tried it and was unimpressed because at that time, my palette had not yet begun its rapid transition into liking hops.

Being at a tasting and being willing to try new things, I walked up to the Bell???s table, explained my slight experience with Two-Hearted, and wondered what else I could try. The first sample I was given was Oberon. It looked pretty light and yellow, but with some body. I was still savoring the flavor of the steak bites. I sipped the Oberon. I was in love!

I know it was largely because the beef had primed my taste buds and then the beer complimented the beef. I still think of it as serendipity and one of my favorite dining experiences. If I hadn???t had those steak bites I probably wouldn???t have been floored by the Oberon. But I had and I was. And the rest is history.

So every April, I look forward to the appearance of Oberon???s bright blue carton and sunny logo on the shelves of the coolers. When I see it, I know summer can???t be too far away.

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(As an aside, Minnesota is apparently Bell???s??? best market for their hoppy Two-Hearted Ale. I have since come to greatly appreciate that masterpiece as well.)

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I finally went on a ride I???ve been wanting to, down the Mississippi River to Minnehaha Creek, up the sides of a couple of lakes, and back home on the Midtown Greenway to the Hiawatha path. It???s 20.5 miles. I stopped to take a photo approximately every mile and here they are, locations duly noted on the map.

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Photo 1, mile 0.75: Mississippi River. I didn???t think to start taking photos until I got down to the river, hence the 3/4 measurement.

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Photo 2, mile 1.75: Mississippi River

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Photo 3, mile 2.75: Mississippi River, under the Lake Street Bridge

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Photo 4, mile 3.75: Mississippi River

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Photo 5, mile 4.75: Mississippi River, near the turn-off for Lock & Dam #1

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Photo 6, mile 5.75: Minnehaha Parkway

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Photo 7, mile 6.75: Minnehaha Parkway, between Lakes Hiawatha and Nokomis

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Photo 8, mile 7.75: Minnehaha Parkway

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Photos 9, 10, mile 8.75: Minnehaha Parkway, ???Cottontail on the Trail??? at Portland Avenue. I did not know this was there, and it was time for a photo, honest!

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Photo 11, mile 9.75: Minnehaha Parkway

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Photo 12, mile 10.75: jog up to Lake Harriet

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Photo 13, mile 11.75: Lake Harriet

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Photo 14, mile 12.75: Lake Harriet, lunch stop. I was really hungry by this time and the hotdog was a good enough combo of carbs and protein.

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Photo 15, mile 13.75: Lake Calhoun. The temperature was in the mid-80sF. There were a lot of people enjoying the water.

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Photo 16, mile 14.75: Lake Calhoun soccer fields

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Photo 17, mile 15.75: between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, access point to the Midtown Greenway

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Photo 18, mile 16.75: Midtown Greenway. This follows old railroad tracks along 29th Street.

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Photo 19, mile 17.75: Midtown Greenway. White building is a Freewheel Bicycle store and pitstop for bikers. It even has showers.

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Photo 20, mile 18.75: Midtown Greenway, turning toward Hiawatha Avenue.??

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Photo 21, mile 19.75: Hiawatha Avenue bike path. Franklin Avenue Light Rail Station in the background, and also downtown Minneapolis skyline. Almost home!

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Photo 22, mile 20.58: Home, whew!

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Satellite Map ?? Google Maps