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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Storm The Trent 2021: Trek Distance, Haliburton Edition, A Race Report


Storm is finally back! 

After COVID canceled 2020 and postponed 2021, we finally got to STORM again.

This race is an Adventure Race, and when Sean plans a route, Adventure is often big-A Adventure...

The Location

So first off I don't love the new location.  His previous Haliburton courses were great, but we've raced at the Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve "Wolf Centre" before in the old "Logs, Rocks and Steel" races... and it wasn't fun.  The trails are muddy, rocky, poorly maintained, barely used... 

Add to that torrential persistent rain allllll week and we knew it was going to be a muddy hell-fest.

The Start - Canoe!

Not us, taken before the wind kicked
up! Pretty scenery. Photo courtesy Storm,
Used without Permission.

Strava link:

First discipline was the Canoe - 6km paddle around a small lake with two checkpoints.

We just did 110km last weekend at the Huntsville 110, but despite that I felt really strong.  We were rocking the marathon-canoe-style paddles and our cedar strip boat, and made quick work of a bunch of better boats with kayak paddles.

I'm not convinced kayak paddles are superior for people who know how to really paddle a boat, and with the strong wind, they had a paddle in the breeze the entire time... 

It's hard to know until results are posted but I think we really killed it. Averaged 8km/h in our 17 foot cedar strip!

The Portage

Before we could grab our bikes, there was the small matter of an 800m portage.

My thought was to toss the 60lbs boat on my shoulders, which I did.  I entirely underestimated the impact on the core muscles going up a hill especially!  I made it 3/4 of the way, then my buddy offered to take over and I obliged... 

We didn't lose time to anyone around us there, in fact picked up a bit on some, so while I'm sure some portaged faster we were pretty decent at it.

Bike #1

Strava link:

First bike was a quick whip on gravel roads from the transition area to the first run - nothing to it, settling in, life's good.

Run #1

Strava link:

This was the one run we actually ran, pretty close to start to finish (other than maybe a few hills along the way.

You could choose how to get to the two checkpoints - we went counter-clockwise, which didn't seem terribly popular (although you don't tend to catch as many people going the same direction as you so that can be deceiving!).

Neither checkpoint was terribly difficult to find, one was right on the trail, one was a little past a trail junction - may have been more complicated if there weren't so many people around, hard to say.

Bike #2

This was a tale of two rides, really.

The first 9km were gravel roads, some tough climbs but very reasonable and easy terrain.

Then there was a section the organizer had labelled as "Rugged Terrain".

Knowing this guy, if he think it's rugged?  It's going to be pretty damn rugged.

And it was.  Terrible trail, for some reason there were giant logs/ties laid across it with 8-12" gaps in between.  With the rain everything was washed out and hellishly unrideable.  Slog slog walk walk.

Finally there was a rideable section, and a chance to use our full-suspension bikes - even a downed tree we could hop!

But yeah, 22 minutes to go 3km, it wasn't great or fun... ADVENTURE!

Run #2

When we had mapped this out, we knew it was going to be tough - the trail was called "Outlook Trail", and it was over 2km straight up to space.

I have no idea what it was like a week ago - but with the crazy rain over the last week?  It was a muddy hell climb.

We assumed we'd be walking the steeper slopes, but not almost all of it!  It was really tough to get any momentum in the sloppy mud... 

The view at the top was beautiful and almost worth it.  

(Who am I kidding, it wasn't worth it!!!)

Saw at least one team cheating (one team member hoofing it to the top while the other guy turned around halfway) - if you're reading this, you know who you are and what you did.  SHAME!!!

The downhill was moderately better, but still so tough with the slippy terrain... there was no making up time here.

26 minutes up, 21 down.  Not great!

Bike #3

This was a pretty fun gravel bike with a few killer climbs, but everything was rideable.

One section of it was completely flooded - but we knew the road under it was smooth so we bombed through with water over our axles!

A "puddle" - Pic Courtesy
of Storm, used without permission
(but they owe me for all they put me through)

Run #3 - the "Optional Advanced Section"

So the way this works... there are 3 checkpoints on the "Optional" section.

If you don't do them, you are ranked behind the teams that do them.

Is it optional?  Not really... it's part of the course, and if we didn't do it we knew we'd feel like we hadn't done the full race.

By this point my legs were cooked.  C-o-o-k-e-d.  My partner too.  We were both just struggling with a lot of different aches and pains, I had some cramps (that thankfully never got to the debilitating point, but were never a picnic!".

We did the first km super slow, once again finding ourselves slogging through mud bogs and up steep climbs.  These "trails" are absolutely terrible, never do them for any reason other than "a race organizer made me".

My favourite part of the "trail" was where someone had tried to make a little plank bridge with logs and cut timber to bypass a mud bog (one of about 50 we had to trudge through), but it was slippery as ice and half the timber was rotted out.  Amazing.  I don't consider myself a trail building and maintenance expert, but I can't imagine crafting worse trails than these... I don't know if it's just that nobody cares, or that the terrain is impossible (perma-mud)?

The only tricky checkpoint was the furthest point, it was near a pond that one could miss if one wasn't great at the maps.  But there was a pretty big crowd there when we were around, and it had been pretty well trodden, so not that tough in the end.

We walked what we had to, ran what we could, I fell twice on slippy mud, but ultimately I think we probably did this faster than most of the teams out there.  Calling it a win!

Ride #4 And The Finish!

This was a mercifully short ride - I was cooked times a hundred by now.

The only trick here was catching the last checkpoint along the trail back - but it was in plain sight.

Finish with nothing left in the tank - just the way we drew it up!

Post-Race Navel Gazing

No results yet, it'll take a few days.  Normally it's a mass start so you know where you stand, but with COVID they wanted to keep people more spread out.  It was confusing at times, we'd get passed or pass someone and we never really knew if they were a little ahead overall, behind overall, no idea when anyone started.

Usually we earn our keep with being clever and reading the maps well, but this one had minimal navigation and the trails were all really well marked.  The checkpoints were mostly trivial, so it was hard to gain any advantage where others might have slipped up.

We paddled hard, we didn't mess up, we persevered and kept it going through all the misery, so I think we'll show pretty well in the end!

One last thing worth mentioning - I wasn't well trained for this (other than maybe the paddle!).  The biking didn't go as well as it should have, I hadn't been running (and certainly hadn't been stair/hill climbing!), so this was a big shock to the old system... really need to purposefully train for something of this magnitude, and I didn't.

And if I never see these trails again?  It'll be too soon.  They're terrible. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Race Report: Huntsville 110 (by Muskoka River X)

Done!  Longest paddle (actually, longest endurance event of any kind!) of my life, 110km straight, 15 1/2 hours... let's get to it!

The Race 

Hidden Valley Resort, The Start!
There was once a race called the "Muskoka River X", we did it a bunch of times, but never managed to complete the full course.

The race was folded after that, but returned as the Huntsville 110 this year!

We had demons to slay, so we came back.

The new race replaced the Muskoka River with the Big East, had fewer portages (only 2!) and more lake paddling.

It also had a new handicap start format, where each boat class started at different times.

The Prep

After looking at when our C2 Stock boat would need to start (afternoon!) we decided to enter C2 Rec.  It meant it would take longer, but we could start in the morning (930am) and finish earlier at night.

We sought out and found a 17 foot boat, a nice cedar strip.  I mean it wasn't that nice... could use a refinish and it's heavy (65lbs!) but it would do.  The best thing is that it's stable as a rock in rough water, which we really needed.

Race maps were released early, marked them up with bearings and distances and were ready to rock!

Our Race, Numbered in Order!

The Start (1)

We put in at 9:30am at Fairy Lake in clear calm water.

Muskoka River in Huntsville, Upstream
To our surprise, we were among the lead boats of our wave.  A boat not in our category (C2 Stock Female) was with us at first, but we passed them in the canal and never saw them again...

Fairy Lake (2) was easy peasy, the heading I had was perfect, we had a tailwind, and we showed up to Huntsville (3) ahead of schedule!

There was a support team location there, but we didn't need to stop so early - skipped it.

Everything was pretty uneventful, found the mouth of the Big East with ease, we were cruising!

The Big East

We have paddled this river a few times in previous races and training runs, but this was the worst its ever been.  The water was so low, but there was remnants of high water damage everywhere.  Fallen trees, floating or just under the surface.  And the low water made every corner difficult, constantly searching for a channel with enough water to paddle through.
Big East Water Levels, Courtesy The Government of Canada

Tulip Inn, Top of Big East
We did a fine job of it, though, but it took a lot out of me (and pretty sure it took a lot out of my partner!).  We hit the top of the Big East still in the lead, ahead of our estimates.

Our wonderful support team was there for our first stop.  We replenished our liquids and were taking a bit of time, until... the second place team paddled up!  Crap.  Then the third place team!  Double crap.  We rushed out of there a little.

Downstream was a chance to recover a bit, although it was still stressful with all the obstacles and low water.  At this point there was a lot more river traffic, with later starting teams coming up the river as we went downstream!  Oh and flotilla of about a dozen cottager looking people (one of them smoking while kayaking, who does that??) ... we finally got through all of this traffic and the lower half was fine.

Lake Vernon (6)

We didn't anticipate much in terms of waves, but it was pretty gnarly when we hit Lake Vernon.  These lakes really kick up with a breeze!  Lots of motor boats and jetskis (spit) as well, so we had our hands full a few times.

As we came around the end of the lake, we saw another team going the other way... somehow they had blown right by the Big East mouth!  So no matter how rough our day was going to be, theirs was going to be worse - made me feel a little better.

Once we got to the far end of Lake Vernon, the waves were better, and we settled in and were moving really well.  The bottom (7) we weren't so lucky... back into open lake and some really rough waves, the worst of the day, and the worst motorized traffic.  It really slowed us down.

(Unbeknownst to us, between 6 and 7 if where we lost the race... more on this soon)

We finally made to through the Narrows and to the next checkpoint in Huntsville (8).

Huntsville (8)

This was the next support team point, we rolled up in the lead of our category (yay!).  Our wives got us all stocked up and what not, we emptied the boat of water, and just as we were being informed we were "8 minutes ahead"... the next team cruised up!


Then the next team.

Double crap.

It's not that we were that long at the support point, it's just that they had made up a ton of ground (water?) in that last stretch of Lake Vernon.  Looking at the Check Point timing later, we did have an 8 minute lead, then we didn't.

We managed to get through Fairy Lake (9) still in the lead, and rolled into the Brunel Locks (10) still there.

Brunel Lock Portage (10) and Muskoka River

The portage was easy, but then my partner stopped to pee.  Nature calls, you answer!

We were about 10 seconds too slow and it cost us getting into the water first... in fact both teams chasing us passed us there.  Then another team budded in front of us.  They're old and fast, so we let them go, but we shouldn't have.

Back in the water now in 3rd, we pushed extra hard downstream to catch the team in front - they took the bad line through some shallow stuff, we caught up, they tried to stay ahead, we managed to get them and put them behind us... that should be that, right!?

We couldn't catch the 1st team though, they were strong and seemed fresh, like they'd just rolled out of bed.

Mary Lake

This is where we flipped in 2019 in horrible conditions, wicked waves, and so I was happy to see it nice and calm.

Uneventful paddle across the lake, but now it was getting dusky.

We hit Port Sydney now in the dark.

A Quick Word on Paddling In the Dark

Everything looks different, deceiving.  Distances are confusing.  Things that you thought would be obvious (like how far the end of the lake is from where you are!) aren't.  

We had a good handle on the first few islands going back across Mary Lake, and I made the mistake of not looking at the map - and by the time I did need to look at it, I had lost all track of where we were!

Fortunately the navigation is pretty straightforward but that's a lesson for next time (if there is a next time).  

We found the mouth of the Muskoka River, so all good.  Good riddance, Mary Lake, consider yourself revenged.

Muskoka River Upstream

Just as we entered the river, the 3rd place team caught up and passed us.

We were sad.  Didn't expect that.  We had been a bit clumsy across the lake, I was messing around with the maps a bit and such, but they clearly put in a solid effort while we were daydreaming.

Upstream wasn't too terrible, except for the light fog that had set in... with the lighting it was really hard to see.  We knew of one tricky dead-end to avoid, right after this really special tree - and we went right up the dead end, even though we saw the tree!

We also beached ourselves coming into Brunel Lock, on a shallow section we knew about... it was just silly stuff, but with fatigue and darkness it happens.

Fairy Lake and Penn Lake

The lakes were pretty uneventful, we had our bearings, we stuck with them, we found what we needed to find.  The GPS shows us going straight between points so it all worked out.

We saw the 2nd place team light up every so often, presumably checking maps, and they were a bit more meandering than us - but we couldn't catch up.

By this point I was pretty wiped, bit of brain fog, not sure we would have had the juice for a final sprint if it had come down to that!

Finished just ahead of our schedule and just like that we'd paddled 110km!

3rd place in our category, just under 5 mins behind 2nd place... but we'll take it for sure.


This is the longest endurance event I've ever done, not counting the 24h MTB race (which I only was on the bike for half of, since we did it tag-team!).

It's not the hardest thing I have ever done (that is Ironman by a lot) but it's definitely not easy to keep going for over 15h!  Fortunately there were distractions most of the time, whether it was navigating or dealing with river obstacles, trying to find landmarks in the darkness... a lot to pay attention to.

I am not a canoe racer - I'm an adventure racer and gravel rider who happens to paddle - so I don't know if we'll do this again.  It really depends on the next race the come up with, if they go back to the old Muskoka River X course I'm in.  For now, big success, demon slayed, on to the next thing!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Paddling "The Notty" - the Nottawasaga River


Last weekend we paddled the Nottawasaga River near Wasaga Beach in Ontario.

Unsure of what current we'd face, we took two vehicles and went point to point - starting in Angus, Ontario and finishing in the town of Wasaga Beach.


It was really a tale of two completely different experiences...

Angus - 0km

The river in Angus was really quite lovely, quiet, lots of fishermen and very few boats. 

I was very excited at first!  Scenic river, quiet lovely scenery... this was going to be a wonderful paddle!


Log Jams - 5.5km

Not only were these big old log jams that were hundreds of meters long, but the portages around them were clearly not very well used.  Lots of tall vegetation, if you guessed right you could get by but it was pretty hellish.

And there wasn't just one - there were a bunch of these.  Not to mention other just random tree falls...

The worst was between 12km and or so, spent a lot of time out of the boat.

Mouth of Willow Creek - 17km

There is another canoe route along the Willow Creek - we didn't take it, but at that point we started to see signs that humans had taken chainsaws to trees that blocked the river.

Finally, sustained time in the boat, paddling!

Edenvale - 21km

This is where the Conservation Area begins - and the river widens.  The current was very slow, you could easily paddle upstream (and many were doing just that!).  

Wasaga Sports Park - 36km

This was where we finally took out, at a purpose-built canoe/kayak launching spot.

You can continue further downstream, but apparently the current does pick up (swifts) and it makes it impossible to go back upstream... so that was our day.

I'm not in a rush to paddle the Nottawasaga River anytime again soon, but if I did I would skip upstream of Edenvale and stick to the lower part.  

Finally the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Area posts maps and routes:

Let's just say they make it sound a lot better than it is... it needs some serious TLC!

Monday, August 9, 2021

Paddling Rice Lake (and some bonus Rail History)


We paddled Rice Lake this weekend as a training run for the Huntsville 110 in September!

Things we found out:
  • It's not as weedy/ricey as you might expect
  • There are a zillion motorized boats and they don't keep their distance 👎
  • The slightest wind causes the lake to rock and roll
  • Our new cedar strip is a nice stable boat in rough water!

We put-in at the Bewdley lakefront.

There is a lot of parking, but it was mostly full, and limited to 2h!  We launched at the LCBO dock ("for LCBO customers only", I'm a frequent customer!) then parked on a sidestreet to avoid the 2h limit.

Bonus: Next to the LCBO are public washrooms!

Our Route

We had planned to hug the south shore expecting shelter from the wind from the South.  Instead the wind was from the East, and it was pretty choppy.

Unpleasant?  A little.

Great chance for us to see how the boat handles chop, though, especially with boat after boat zipping by giving us rollers as well!

The Boat

We bought a 17' cedar strip for this year, very previously loved - handled the waves like a boss.  Solid boat, didn't want to roll at all, a big change from our previous one.

I don't have a great picture of it, but here's my son rocking out the carbon paddle!

The Route Continued

Without further ado - the map!

Moraine Relay Start

There is a property near Gore's Landing where we used to start the Moraine Adventure Relay.

The first leg was a canoe leg to Bewdley - then the race alternated between biking and running, mostly on trails, across the Oak Ridges Moraine trail.  Very cool race, hope it comes back in 2022!

Former Rail Bridge

I had read about this but totally forgot, until we came up on this weird straight line of rocks near Harwood.

Back in the 1800's, someone tried to build a causeway/bridge across the lake.

I say "tried" because they briefly succeeded, only to have ice destroy the bridge just a few short years later... 

You can read more about it here!

The causeway is right under the surface of the water in most parts, just above in others, and doesn't look like much more than piles of rocks out to the island... but pretty cool that it's still there!

Island Hopping

We went out to the island, where you can find this lighthouse.

Our plan was to skip island-to-island across the lake on the way back.  At first it was completely calm - water was like glass.

Then a breeze started, and the lake transformed in the blink of an eye.

I recall people saying it was a shallow lake, which is why it kicks up so quickly!  I'm not sure, but it definitely happened quick - we abandoned our initial plan and headed back to the safety of shore.

Never any danger, though, the boat is a rock.  

Back to the LCBO which was now open - got the stink-eye from the manager, they definitely don't love people using their lot... it was almost entirely empty and we weren't "parking" so much as loading/unloading, but probably better to use the public dock to the south.


I wouldn't rush back to paddle there again, the boat traffic was excessive (fishing boats in the morning, jet skis, speedboats, pleasure boats).  But neat to check out some old history things along the way!

Bonus Info: Onotabee River

I marked it on the map - but you can also head from Rice Lake up the Onotabee River!  It's very paddlable both up and down stream.  It's relatively high boat traffic, as it's part of the Trent-Severn.

This is a paddle we did further upstream:

Lots to explore.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Zwift Fondo Series: Ultima Fondo, aka The Mega Pretzel


I just spent almost 4 hours on my indoor trainer...

... and it was a lot of fun.

Such is life with Zwift - the gamification of indoor workouts is the most exciting thing I've discovered in years!

Today was the Mega Pretzel!

It has climbs, it has gravel, and oh yeah it has climbs... 

I found a few guides about it, but I found them all a bit lacking especially on strategy... so here goes.

Find An Organized Ride

I did this as part of the Zwift Fondo Series - having people around to draft helped a lot, not sure I'd want to do this solo.  People do it, but isn't 4 hours on the indoor trainer torture enough? has the best search, you can filter by route, start there.

Bike Selection, Bike Selection, Bike Selection!!!

The course is mostly paved (or the little gravel sections are short) so get a nice light road bike to start...

... except The Jungle.

You hit it twice - at about 11km for a single reverse loop, and again at around 85km going the normal direction.  It is almost entirely gravel, and road bikes have a massive disadvantage.

Very few people switched bikes (except for the 2 in this picture!) but they were absolutely fodder for those who did.  I picked up 50 placings the first trip through the Jungle, and retook ~5 positions from people who were stronger than me the second loop.

Where to switch?  

Don't wait for the gravel - it's at the bottom of a hill, and to switch bikes you need to be stopped... takes forever and you lose precious time.

On your way up to the jungle, you pass a windmill... right around there are the start pens (the weird angled roads you see here).

You can either do it right there, or at the top of the next rise (but don't get onto the descent or stopping takes forever!).

You exit The Jungle the same way you entered - as soon as the gravel ends, swap back to your roadie, and pat yourself on the back at how many places you made up!

I'd suggest practising going into the Garage mid-ride when you're moving on a less important ride.  Careful not to hit "End Ride" by mistake!  You can be in the Garage before you're stopped, but the icon to switch bikes will be disabled until you are.

The Route

  • Start / Lead-In - a few hills, find friends, be careful not to get dropped
  • 8.5km - Steep Climb 
  • 11km - The Jungle (reverse)
  • 23km - Epic KOM (reverse) - steeper!  Killer! Ouch!
  • Bunch of random nonsense
  • 52km - Volcano KOM 
  • 70km - Epic KOM - help I can't take anymore!
  • 86km - The Jungle
  • 103km - Hilly KOM - are you shitting me!?
  • 111km - Beer.
I really enjoyed it, but there are definitely easier ways to pile up 100km+ on Zwift!  Hit the desert and draft at 50km/h in circles for a couple hours, for example!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Tour de Zwift Stage 7: Welcome To the Jungle

The Jungle gets a lot of hate on Zwift.

I love it.

Mostly I think people just don't understand it!

So when I saw The Jungle on the Tour de Zwift list, I was giddy... 

The Big Mistake...

Two words: Bike. Selection.

There is really only one choice for the Jungle - a mountain bike.

I used the plain old Zwift Mountain Bike.  There are other options if you have the drops and level, they're within a few seconds of each other over a full lap according to Zwift Insider.

How much faster vs a road bike?  13m54s vs 15m!!!  That's enormous, wouldn't you like to be over a minute a head a lap?

And what about gravel bikes?  13m54s vs 14m11s... so it's at least close... but it's just not faster for almost the entire lap.

The Race

All of these people making different (wrong?) bike choices made for a fantastically fun race.  The very start (lead-in) was paved, I quickly fell back in the standings... but we only did that once - then onto gravel, and it was all making up spots from there on.

The difference seemed most obvious on the downhill - as the speed increased, the MTB flew.  I'm a heavier rider as well, so the combined effect meant picking up a LOT of places.  I pushed to make sure nobody could grab my wheel as I blew by, it was a hoot!

Right at the end of the lap was the paved(ish) tunnel... suddenly those road and gravel bikes I had just flew by were on my tail, catching up and sometimes blowing by.  It was short, so only those within about 10 seconds could catch before back to gravel...

The first one I did (C race, 2 laps) was amazing - right at that last section on the last lap, I was caught by 2 guys working together - only to then charged up the gravel hill with less w/kg and pip them at the finish.

So much fun! 

Pick a Mountain Bike and enjoy!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

I Finally Zwifted and It's Awesome


I am very late to this party, but ...

... COVID... 

... new indoor trainer with power (finally!)... 

... broken wrist that is keeping me from riding outdoors...


They give you a free trial, so I checked it out before buying.

Honestly at first I didn't really get it.  I rode, on virtual courses, but kind of mindlessly.  It didn't have the social element I was expecting.  I went up some stupid hill, didn't know when it would end, and finished my ride.

$17.99 CDN / months for this?  Nah.

Then I joined a group ride and it all made sense.

Then I raced and it blew me away!

Group Rides and Workouts

These are pretty cool, you're in a group, usually there's a leader who keeps everyone together.  Everything is expressed in "w/kg" - basically your power output divided by your weight (or at least the weight you told Zwift!)

Depending on the ride, the leader can be cool, annoying, the groups can be fun or you can end up alone if you're too fast or too slow... but it's pretty easy once you have a handle on your w/kg to find rides that match your ability and desired workout that day.

I use these for easier days, when I want some company and someone to hold me in check.


For me, this is where things got so much more fascinating.

Now it's worth noting these are far far far from structured workouts... they are legit races, and people take them seriously. 

The biggest benefit of Zwift races - you don't have to be that fast, and unlike real road races there is no danger!  There are categories all the way from A to D, and in each category there's typically a several groups that form.

The drafting is the one element you have to get a bit used to - following riders gives you a speed boost.  Zwift steers for you, but you need to understand at the front you need more power to break the wind than when you're in the pack.  

Most importantly you have to understand the draft effect decreases to almost nothing on hills.

And as a big guy, this is where I need to really pay attention... one minute I'm soft pedalling in the pack, next minute and off the back and busting my ass to try catch up!!!  

The result is that I'm paying attention constantly, the minutes don't crawl by they fly by.

The other thing is just like real life there are attacks - and usually on that final climb, or there's a sprint to the finish, and a palpable increase in pace leading up to it...

It's just a hoot.  Like playing a game for an hour (or less, or more!).

What Zwift Is Not

So they do have structure workouts as well for those who prefer to do ... that.

I don't, and from what I understand Trainer Road is better suited to that kind of thing.

I decided awhile ago that I have minimal interest in really improving to my full ability.  I know that sounds crazy, but honestly the biggest gains I've ever had were when I loved what I was doing and did it more.  Indoor especially that's a challenge - so fun trumps perfect training regiments. 

(Honestly I haven't done structured training of any kind since Ironman 2014 - I push myself but not in any kind of methodical way. And that's how I like it.)