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Old 10-05-10, 03:21 PM   #1
CptjohnC
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DC Area advice: Chain Bridge

Unfortunately, this is a fairly specific question, so it will be uninteresting to most of you, but I don't know where else I can seek this info.

This morning, I decided to take a longer bike ride, and cut out metro. I determined that I could ride 11.2 miles from my first stop to my office, and even at my pathetic pace, it would be faster than my traditional 6 mile ride coupled with a 1/2 hour metro ride. In addition to getting a few extra miles in, I also save $4 each way.

This morning, I attempted my 'new' ride, and it worked as well as I had hoped, though I did have some issues finding my way. I have two major concerns, however, that I hope some other local cyclists can address.

First: Chain Bridge Road is full of traffic which is nearly stopped. There is no shoulder, and the cars seem to want to hug the right side of the lane, making it challenging to get by them. There's just enough traffic coming up from the bridge/glebe road to make it uncomfortable to ride on the left side of traffic, though there might be more space there than on the left. Does anyone else do this and have some ideas?

Second: The towpath is pretty rough. How often do they groom or resurface it? I'm sure my confidence will rise as I get comfortable on the surface, but today I was pretty tentative until I hit the paved surface. I noted a board surface to the right of the main path, but my attempts to view the same with google maps has not revealed anything. Does this board path lead to the paved path?

Third: How do other people find their way the first time they go somewhere new? I can navigate seat of pants, but I find it challenging to find the entrances to various bike paths the first time, esp. Is there some easy way to keep directions handy for reference? I suppose I could stop and review, but... it seems like there should be a better way?
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Old 10-05-10, 03:58 PM   #2
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1) Chain Bridge Rd sux. I assume you are talking about the actual bridge crossing in ref to cars hugging the right side? And that you are coming out of DC heading towards Glebe Rd? You can ride the walkway on the side of bridge, as there is little ped or bike traffic on it. I'd probably do that for the short span of the bridge.

2) As for the towpath, it won't get any better. If you have slicks, it sucks. The other path you see (asphalt) is the Capital Crescent Trail which parallels the towpath for a bit until it rises up and over Canal St and goes north to Bethesda. Won't do you any good.

3) I pour over Google Maps to get an idea of where I can go, and make a queue sheet if needed. I also visit websites that might have info about how to enter/exit a bikepath/MUP.
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Old 10-05-10, 09:26 PM   #3
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Where are you going to and from? It says you live in Fairfax in the profile, and you are taking the towpath at least to Georgetown or so if you are seeing it hit the Capital Crescent. You should probably be instead riding more in Virginia, hooking up with the W&OD and then the Custis to the river/Mount Vernon trail. Then it is just a matter of which part of the city you want to go to, but there are much better bridge options than the Chain Bridge, including the Key (but you'll have to deal with many peds) getting to Georgetown. You will avoid the towpath completely.
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Old 10-06-10, 07:07 AM   #4
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You should probably be instead riding more in Virginia, hooking up with the W&OD and then the Custis to the river/Mount Vernon trail. Then it is just a matter of which part of the city you want to go to, but there are much better bridge options than the Chain Bridge, including the Key (but you'll have to deal with many peds) getting to Georgetown. You will avoid the towpath completely.
Chain Bridge sux!
Or depending on time of day you can avoid most all of the Custis even. I take the W&OD and jump on the Custis only long enough to jump off at the Glebe/Fairfax Dr intersection and then run the bike lanes through Arlington into Rosslyn and across the Key Bridge. That dumps you onto M Street.
That said, I do it in the wee hours of the am, and there's so little traffic I could ride like a drunk wobbling across all lanes of M street if I so desired, there's so little traffic.

Custis going home is adventures in hill climbing tho I agree with Yoder, let us know your start/end, there's a lot of us that commute into DC.
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Old 10-06-10, 10:09 AM   #5
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Chain Bridge sux!
Or depending on time of day you can avoid most all of the Custis even. I take the W&OD and jump on the Custis only long enough to jump off at the Glebe/Fairfax Dr intersection and then run the bike lanes through Arlington into Rosslyn and across the Key Bridge. That dumps you onto M Street.
That said, I do it in the wee hours of the am, and there's so little traffic I could ride like a drunk wobbling across all lanes of M street if I so desired, there's so little traffic. Custis going home is adventures in hill climbing tho I agree with Yoder, let us know your start/end, there's a lot of us that commute into DC.
I live in Fairfax, but I drive to McLean each morning to take my daughter to school, and then I bike into DC. Because of my starting point, I ride 193 (georgetown pike) to 123, past GW Parkway, down to and across chain bridge, to Towpath, to Rock Creek Park Trail(?) to the mall, and then to my office using streets. I could take the W&OD/ Custis trail route, but that would add an additional 4-6 miles, according to google maps, and at my (slow) speed, that's another 20-30 minutes that I just can't afford :-)

Thanks for the advice

This morning I tried using the center of Chain Bridge road, and honestly, it worked somewhat better. I had to slide into holes in traffic as cars came up the hill, but overall, I liked it better because I could see what was going on. One nervous-nelly oncoming driver felt compelled to move too far right, which made me nervous as he started crunching over the road debris (I really didn't want him to over correct) but I tried to be really alert, and ensure that I was not on or over the center line when there were oncoming cars. The only issue I have with this is the question of what a police officer might decide to do if he sees me. :-/

I'm riding a 2010 Kona Dew Drop with reasonably wide, but smooth tires (700 x 37, Continental Country Ride, if Bikepedia is to be believed -- the tires say 28x1 3/8, if memory serves). Today was better on the towpath, as well, as I knew what to expect, but the surface is really rough! I had to take it really easy last night riding home in the dark, but a better light and familiarity will help there too. I know I'll need to check all my fasteners that much more often given the rough treatment, but the MTB frame and robust wheel set should be up to it, right?
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Old 10-06-10, 11:00 AM   #6
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Yup, switch to something with a little tread at least, and maybe go with 1.5 tires. Knowing that you are going into DC, you don't have an alternative on Chain Bridge other than taking the middle. The only other option, which will again add some miles, is to turn RIGHT onto Kirby (at the Exxon just before GW Parkway), then LEFT on Chesterbrook, and LEFT on N Glebe to take you back down to the bridge. From the turnoff at Kirby to Where Chain Bridge Rd meets Glebe, it's 1.3 miles going on your current route straight down Chain Bridge versus 3.8 going the Kirby route. That's only adding 2.5 miles, better than the W&OD routes.
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Old 10-06-10, 11:47 AM   #7
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Third: How do other people find their way the first time they go somewhere new? I can navigate seat of pants, but I find it challenging to find the entrances to various bike paths the first time, esp. Is there some easy way to keep directions handy for reference? I suppose I could stop and review, but... it seems like there should be a better way?
For bike path data, try this http://www.traillink.com/home.aspx
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Old 10-06-10, 01:25 PM   #8
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Since you are driving part of the way anyway, why not park closer to a better route in? You could select whatever distance you want. There are a couple of people who park just off my street to hop on the W&OD near Ohio St, and it's about 4.5 miles to Key Bridge or 5 miles to the Roosevelt Bridge.
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Old 10-06-10, 01:28 PM   #9
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http://www.bikewashington.org/ is a good resource for routes in the DC area.

I don't envy you having to ride on Georgetown Pike and Chain Bridge Road. Be careful - those are not bike friendly roads. Unfortunately, without major detours, you don't have many options. If you can somehow get from Kirby Rd. into the neighborhoods running along the GW Pkwy, you can get down to Chain Bridge from N. Randolph (steep hill for bikes and peds only).

Alternatively, you could drive across Chain Bridge, take a left on Arizona, and park in the neigborhood to the N & W (near the hospital/water treatment plant), which has access to the Capital Cresent Trail.

The towpath is never groomed, and as sections are restored, they are terrible for riding until sufficiently compacted (which can take a couple years). It can also get rather muddy, so fenders are a good idea for wet conditions.

Slicks vs. knobbies doesn't make much difference for the towpath - the only thing you can do is let a little air out of your tires, slow down and/or tough it out over the rough portions.

Last edited by alan s; 10-06-10 at 01:36 PM.
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Old 10-06-10, 01:40 PM   #10
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If I were in your position, while I wouldn't look to get on the W&OD, I'd still ride on the Virginia side to the Custis (or at least check that out as a possibility at some point). The distance would be almost identical if I understand your start point right (to up to a mile more depending on exactly where you start), and you could get over to Old Dominion Drive or the equivalent, keep going till you cross Lee highway and ride parallel to Lee until you hit Custis around the Lee shops (top of Spout run with Italian Store, Big Wheel Bikes, etc.) Then take the trail not to Key bridge, but keep going to the bridge that takes you straight to the Mall. That is more street, rather than trail, admittedly. But it avoids the rough towpath and the Chain Bridge.

My tires on my main commuting bike are 32s, and I don't have any trouble riding the towpath with my son on leisure rides, but I admit I haven't commuted on it, but I wouldn't be adverse to doing so if it made sense. I wouldn't generally want to go super fast on it (I mean fast for me and my bike, which isn't really super fast). It probably helps that I have Brooks Champion Flyer saddle (sprung). So, it sounds like that route is getting comfortable for you and makes some sense, but it's far enough out that there are lots of options.

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Old 10-06-10, 06:03 PM   #11
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Anyone ride the towpath in the winter? I can't imagine they clear it at all?
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Old 10-06-10, 07:33 PM   #12
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Anyone ride the towpath in the winter? I can't imagine they clear it at all?
Like the MUPs in the area, the towpath is not cleared. However, the snow and ice usually disappear fairly quickly. After a decent snow, the cross county skiers come out in droves, and the hikers make so many footprints, it is pretty rough going. Then if it freezes, it's almost impassable. When the snow is fresh, it is rideable, but knobbies are a must.
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Old 10-06-10, 07:40 PM   #13
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I don't envy you either trying to ride down Chain Bridge road at rush hour. I've only seen bikes on that on the weekends. I used to live in Mclean before I began bike commuting and would sometimes go down Chain Bridge road into DC in my car. After Labor Day, it is awful.

Going down Kirby as someone suggested may be problematic at rush hour. I've only driven that in a car and it is extremely windy and curvy with limited visibility in places.

Only other thing I can suggest for route advice and other practical tips is the WABA (Washington Area Bicycylists Association) Wash Cycle page. It is kind of disorganized but if you hunt around you can find some gems.

http://washcycle.typepad.com/
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Old 10-06-10, 07:49 PM   #14
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Going down Kirby as someone suggested may be problematic at rush hour. I've only driven that in a car and it is extremely windy and curvy with limited visibility in places.
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Yeah, I'd have to say Kirby is far less attractive to me than Chain Bridge. The good part is the cars are all but stopped, so all I have to do is dodge the occasional weaver. I'm guessing that over time I'll get better at it, and the cars will get more used to seeing me :-/
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Old 10-06-10, 08:48 PM   #15
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Yeah, I'd have to say Kirby is far less attractive to me than Chain Bridge. The good part is the cars are all but stopped, so all I have to do is dodge the occasional weaver. I'm guessing that over time I'll get better at it, and the cars will get more used to seeing me :-/
Riding up from Chain Bridge on a dark, rainy night, on a narrow, very busy 2-lane road, is really dangerous. I wouldn't attempt it. I don't think the drivers would ever get used to you, as you may think. It's your choice, but think of your daughter, and what it would mean if you were struck by a car and injured or killed. Just a word of advice from a long-time commuter . . . .
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Old 10-07-10, 02:56 AM   #16
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Chain bridge sucks, like the other poster said. Plain and simple. The Canal is rough, but I ride a touring bike with medium-width tires and I just run 5-10 psi lower than I usually do -- it's slower, but doable.

I would ride 2-3 miles out of the way to avoid the chain bridge. You could probably use the Key bridge (much better) and the capital crescent trail to get where you need to go. My commute is along the mount vernon trail, over 14th street bridge, through water front, and after that I just ride through the city - either via national mall or 4th-6th street SE to NE.
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Old 10-07-10, 05:12 AM   #17
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OP, you'll be surprised how a longer great route (smooth path, fewer crossings, etc.) can compare favorably to a shorter poor route -- not just for enjoyment and safety, but straight up on time due to better speed due to rolling resistance on tow path, crossings, hills, etc. I think you're concentrating only on mileage now and really selling yourself short. Try the alternate routes a couple of times before you decide to stick with what you've got. Heck, you've already seen your only route get better in just a repeat or two, the same holds truer when you experiment.

If you make it to Rosslyn on the VA side, I think you want to go past the Key Bridge. Pick up the Mt Vernon trail at the SE approach to the Key, take it a short ways and go across the Roosevelt bridge to get your best approach to the mall. It's the next real bridge, stay right/straight at the Y-ish intersection on the wooden planks just past the car park for Roosevelt island (don't get confused by the footbridge to the island). There may be other routes that are better to take you in further down river, depending on your exact office location and if you do things different re Custis, W&OD, etc.

Have you tried the Google Bikes directions? It shows some wiggles on the VA approach to chain bridge and some alternatives down N Military Rd to the Custis. You may already be on top of them, I don't know that area so can't evaluate, I come in from the MD side and stay on the Capital Crescent until Key Bridge. Occasionally see folks hiking their bike up a footpath from the chain bridge to get onto the CCT, but I don't think that makes as much sense for you as staying on the C&O until the boathouse then riding the CCT to water st / K st.

Last edited by slcbob; 10-07-10 at 05:35 AM. Reason: addition/correction after a little map recon
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Old 10-07-10, 09:34 PM   #18
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Riding up from Chain Bridge on a dark, rainy night, on a narrow, very busy 2-lane road, is really dangerous. I wouldn't attempt it. I don't think the drivers would ever get used to you, as you may think. It's your choice, but think of your daughter, and what it would mean if you were struck by a car and injured or killed. Just a word of advice from a long-time commuter . . . .
That comment was really oriented on the morning part of my commute, which is in daylight. I'm still contemplating the evening aspect.

While you may be right about Chain Bridge Road, the proffered alternative was Kirby Road: are you at all familiar with it? Also 2 lanes, also very narrow, also very dark, and MUCH, MUCH more curvy, and not much less busy, if at all. At least on Chain Bridge road, they have plenty of warning that I'm there, given reflective clothing, bright lights, etc...

I'm very strongly considering using the longer routes which use more MUP and residential type streets, rather than chain bridge road, though I don't know -- less than 1 mile up the hill, versus 3-4 miles on streets may not be such a good trade off, either. Of course, after climbing the hill, I have to ride the 45 MPH part of 123, too, so perhaps sticking to the slower speed roads is a better option.

Anyone know whether there's any problem using MUPs at night?
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Old 10-07-10, 09:46 PM   #19
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OP, you'll be surprised how a longer great route (smooth path, fewer crossings, etc.) can compare favorably to a shorter poor route -- not just for enjoyment and safety, but straight up on time due to better speed due to rolling resistance on tow path, crossings, hills, etc. I think you're concentrating only on mileage now and really selling yourself short.
Google bike directions gave me the current route. I've been using Google for most bike routings, with mixed success, but generally pretty good.

Perhaps the other routes could be better, but 1) I'm only on the Towpath for about a mile, before it comes to the Rock Creek/ Capital Cresent? trail, so the rolling speed impediment is minimal (I maintain 12.7 MPH for that short stretch, sandwiched between average speeds of 16 and 14. The main issue with using the other routes is getting from my preferred starting point to the W&OD. Sure, I could drive to some other location, but a) I try to be a polite citizen (I'm parking at a relative's home, not just any old public street, and b) that sort of defeats the point of cycle commuting, doesn't it? Of course, a couple more dark rides up Chain Bridge Road might convince me that it is the preferred alternative.
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Old 10-08-10, 07:28 AM   #20
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Anyone know whether there's any problem using MUPs at night?
I ride the Mt. Vernon, Custis and W&OD at night sometimes in the winter. Lots of bikers do it, but nothing like the volume in the warmer months when it is light. I would invest in a good headlight. There was a post in the Commuting section a few days ago with the subject "Best Bang For Your Buck Headlight" or something along those lines. I posted in there about my setup, mainly a P7 flashlight. This is plenty for me for my commute.

Even with this headlight (which lets me see and not just be seen) the biggest problem is people walking home from work in dark clothing (Makes me want to scream "Duh, ninja dude, are you trying to be invisible!!"). At least the Custis and parts of W&OD in Arlington have lights but the W&OD once you get to Falls Church does not have lights.
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Old 10-08-10, 08:11 AM   #21
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That comment was really oriented on the morning part of my commute, which is in daylight. I'm still contemplating the evening aspect.

While you may be right about Chain Bridge Road, the proffered alternative was Kirby Road: are you at all familiar with it? Also 2 lanes, also very narrow, also very dark, and MUCH, MUCH more curvy, and not much less busy, if at all. At least on Chain Bridge road, they have plenty of warning that I'm there, given reflective clothing, bright lights, etc...

I'm very strongly considering using the longer routes which use more MUP and residential type streets, rather than chain bridge road, though I don't know -- less than 1 mile up the hill, versus 3-4 miles on streets may not be such a good trade off, either. Of course, after climbing the hill, I have to ride the 45 MPH part of 123, too, so perhaps sticking to the slower speed roads is a better option.

Anyone know whether there's any problem using MUPs at night?
I have never had any problems using the MUPs at night, assuming you are talking about some sort of restriction on their use after dark. Parking a car after dark in the lots along the canal towpath is not allowed and is strictly enforced by the Park Police.

My suggestion about Kirby Road applies only if you are able to use it for a very short stretch in order to get into a residential area. I am very familiar with the road, and agree it is not a good alternative. I would be interested to hear if you can find an safe route through that area . . . please let us know.
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Old 10-08-10, 05:23 PM   #22
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I always get an adrenaline rush when I ride Chain Bridge. If you are to ride it I would recommend riding it in the middle with some good lights and reflective gear. I always worry about getting hit from behind more than getting hit head on. If you are going faster than the flow of traffic over the bridge you do not have to worry about what is coming behind you.
You could always take 309 to the 29 and cross the Key Bridge. I cannot imagine it adding more than 2-3 miles.
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Old 10-08-10, 10:16 PM   #23
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Anyone know whether there's any problem using MUPs at night?
I've been doing it for a couple of years and no one's ever said a word. Technically the W&OD is closed at dusk, but I think that's simply a placeholder should they choose to keep the riff-raff off since they do shut down the homeless encampments as soon as they pop up..
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Old 10-09-10, 08:18 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by CCrew View Post
I've been doing it for a couple of years and no one's ever said a word. Technically the W&OD is closed at dusk, but I think that's simply a placeholder should they choose to keep the riff-raff off since they do shut down the homeless encampments as soon as they pop up..
I thought I read that it was only closed at dusk to pedestrians but was open to bike commuters. It is kind of a moot point since nothing in the way of the "rules of the trail" are ever enforced there anyways that I can tell. That's not to say that more serious criminal offenses are enforced--for example I recall last year there was a guy exposing himself to people on the trail or muggings, those things will get police attention and rightly so. But I've never seen any person ticketed for say running a stop sign (although I expect someone has been ticketed for that) but passing without warning or riding without a light, I doubt those ever get enforced.
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Old 10-10-10, 06:24 AM   #25
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The W&OD is a Virginia state park. Officially it is open from dawn to dusk, per here. I'm not aware of a formal exception for bikers. Unofficially, there's no problem riding at night.

The Capital Crescent Trail is a bit more of a kluge as far as its ownership. Montgomery County MD and the CORRECTED -- National Park Service (not city govt in DC as I first wrote) both have skin in the game and were behind its development. The friends of the CCT are pretty active. Their safety page does not cite hours but does provide guidelines for activities after dark, so implicitly it is open at night. That is inconsistent with the default Montgomery County parks hours (closed dusk to dawn unless otherwise posted), and I can't recall ever seeing hours posted. But I've been riding it for years, have occasionally passed or been passed by police on the trail after dark, no problem -- in DC or MD. (I don't know what the official hours are for the DC portion)

In short -- no problem. Except for the standard night problems of ninjas, blinding lights from oncoming $700 hi-aimed HID boy, epileptic seizures from following a rider with a superflash, etc.

Last edited by slcbob; 10-10-10 at 06:35 AM. Reason: correction as marked
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