Thursday, July 3, 2014

Alta Alpina 5...4....3 (2014

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(June 28, 2014) Alta Alpina Five  Three Mountain Pass, 89 miles, 8235' climbing.  w Dr. Dave who did Four Passes--117 miles, 12,198'.
Elevation of my ride--Dr. Dave did the last climb labeled in red

Congrats to Matt for doing 8 passes and joining Colin, me, & Toby (8 1/2 passes)--making four people in our small club, the Diablo Cyclists, who have completed the Alta Alpina 8.

On the drive in on Carson Pass overlook

All the climb passes are open--a month ago they probably were shut because of snow.


From outside Woodfords. @6000', looking toward a 8800' climb
Don't know what is more disappointing--riding coming to a sudden flippin conclusion or my altitude gain of 8200'+ being so damn hard.  I was feeling OK (though far from great,) ready to start the 4th climb--the front side of Monitor, but was a bit weary as I would have sworn we already climbed over 10,000'.  Yep the two  remaining climbs would have been done but not at any speed--I felt more tired than at the end of the Motherlode or Sierra Double Metric (both with over 10,000' climbing.)

Picnic at Blue Lakes Road--cold when the sun set behind the clouds.
So......I left a sandy rest stop at the base of Monitor, took a photo of Dr. Dave heading for the turn, was inattentive as I put my camera away, hadn't wiped the sand from my tyres (when I got back to the motel I wiped them down as so much sand was on them), and all of a sudden the bike went out from over me and  I flipped sideways.  My tailbone took the brunt of the fall, my head a little but enough to crack the helmet, and somehow the pedals slammed into my calf with already bulging varicose veins and my leg froze up.   Two days later when writing this my tailbone is fair, head is OK, and my calf is still throbbing.  So, in a matter of seconds my Alta Alpina Five was over and two great days of riding with Dr. Dave.   Dr. Dave continued up Monitor 1 but he said he was hurting so he didn't descend the far side and come back up Monitor 2--I know if I was with him he'd continue to race away from my bad jokes and good music and would have easily completed 5.
Lots of people I talk to have no clue what the ALTA ALPINA is, through every cyclist knows about the DEATH RIDE, and many have the Death Ride 5 mountain passes as their ultimate goal.  So for the uninitiated, the ALTA ALPINA is run over the same 5 mountain passes as the Death Ride, and is run by the Club that started the Death Ride & then was booted out by its County partners when the Death Ride became a cash cow.   So the ride goes over numerous mountain passes that separate California and Nevada, all at high altitude.  The LOW portion of the ride is about 5,500.'  So with the thin dry air breathing is harder and one is never as thirsty as riding here.

So what are the differences between the DEATH RIDE and ALTA ALPINA:

-On the Death Ride 4 of the 5 mountain passes are closed to traffic, none are closed on the Alta Alpina.  This is really no big deal as the 4 passes that are closed on the Death Ride are very lightly traveled, and the one that is open, Carson, is a major road that is heavily traveled.  On the Alta Alpina, as you do Carson early in the day, you have better conditions on it than on the Death Ride when it is the last pass of the day with more traffic and more cyclists crowding the road..

-The Alta Alpina has a fraction of the thousands of cyclists that participate in the Death Ride, which includes many cyclists first starting out on endurance cycling (eg. Team in Training.)  So there is more room to ride unencumbered on Alta Alpina.    On the long Ebbets downhill Dave and I were happy  that though we had to navigate past a couple of cars going uphill, there were no cycling blockades ahead of us or cyclists whizzing closely by us (in fact there were no cars on the 15 mile downhill going in our direction.)

-The Alta Alpina is far easier to get into than the Death Ride, that now runs a lottery to get in.

-The Alta Alpina doesn't offer tons of event memorabilia (eg. coffee cups, license plate frames, shorts) that the Death Ride does.  The Alta Alpina jersey hasn't changed in the last few years.

-The Death Ride is 1-5 passes which run from Southeast to Northwest, the start of Carson Pass is about 15 rolling miles away from the end of the other four..   Long ago the Death Ride sometimes offered a 6th bonus pass, but hasn't done so in a while.    The Alta Alpina includes the old Death Ride bonus pass options, so its 1-8 passes (doing 8 passes makes the Alta Alpina 8 the hardest Double Century in California), the order running in the opposite direction from North to South.  There are four passes on each side of the Markleeville area.

-On the Death Ride about 80% of the riders take off at first light, or 5:30, so there is a mass start and cyclists to maneuver through.   On the Alta Alpina there are numerous start times and as there are multi options of substituting passes there really is no mass start.

-Death Ride support is very good, there are numerous rest stops that are generally crowded.  The Alta Alpina has less rest stops, but the existing stops are uncrowded--many times the number of cyclists and rest stop workers are about equal.

-The Death Ride course is lined with family and friends and locals cheering you on, and at one point a local track team
runs alongside to fill up your water bottles.  No one is cheering or running alongside on the Alta Alpina.

The Death Ride is  like going to see the Rolling Stones with 60,000 other people at the Oakland Coliseum.  The radio station plays Rolling Stones music for a week solid.  Then you can get a few Rolling Stones t-shirt and other souvenirs at the Coliseum, and enjoy the concert shown on the video board as your seat is 500' from the stage.  Then next day at work everyone wants to know about the Stones concert.  The Alta Alpina is like a Patti Smith concert at the Fillmore, no publicity, no opening act, just you and 1,000 other fans standing within 25' of the performance.  So if you want to partake in AN EVENT do the DEATH RIDE.  If you want to experience PURE RIDING do the ALTA ALPINA.   Both on the same course at high elevation under snowcapped peaks--everyone should do one of these unique rides at least once.

Dr. Dave and I on the Blue Lakes Road preride

Artist on Blue Lakes Road--someone removed the Bike Mike statue

Blue Lakes redux--much warmer than the evening before--lunch before we head back

Dave at Toby's Pond.

2011 Photo--Snow on Blue Lakes Road


I'm doing this ride with Dr. Dave who is incredibly great to ride with but somehow carries a curse.  On my first attempt on the AA8 I blew up on the 5th pass riding with Dr. Dave, last year on the Mt. Shasta Summit Century I blew up on the final pass riding with......Dr. Dave.   Last week experienced brevet rider CA Mike suddenly fell for no reason riding guessed it.   I trained well so I thought I could avoid the "blowing up" whammy, but didn't account for the new mystery sudden fall curse.

When Dave and I signed up for this event we decided to do 5 passes, which on the Alta Alpina would have us start climbing Carson Pass.  Carson is the worst pass of the 8 on the Alta Alpina.  The long (14 1/2 mile pass) is steep at the bottom and top--and there is usually a prevailing headwind.  It is so long that two other mountain climbs, Luther Pass and Blue Lakes Road, spur off of it in the middle.  The length and steepness at the ends aren't what makes it "sucky"---it’s the climb with the MOST traffic, has a disappearing shoulder, and the road surface of the steep part near the top is...let’s use "sucky" again.  I don't know what's worse.  The climb or the downhill with the same RV's that blocked traffic on Hwy 88 for miles now being pissed off and trying to pass cyclists closely going back down Carson.  So Dave and I decided we'd forgo the top of Carson, and turn off on Blue Lakes Road--making our 5 pass ride 12 miles longer but more enjoyable.

We also were staying at a motel in Woodsford which is at the start of Carson.  So it seemed like a good idea to start the ride right outside our motel than the official Turtle Rock Park start-4 miles away.

Blue Lakes Road is everything Carson is not.  Its nicely paved that dead ends into a campground after 12 miles, so there is very little traffic on it.  It’s a gentle climb until the last quarter.  On Carson you are heading towards the snow covered peak, on Blue Lakes the snow covered peaks are constantly off to your side.

Choosing to do Blue Lakes Road was great, but somehow Dave and I got brain freeze with the start time.  Alta Alpina told us that the Blue Lakes rest stop, 20 miles from our motel in Woodsford (8 miles up Carson then turning off onto the 12 miles up Blue Lakes Road) would open at 9:30--as it really is a pass for the Alta Alpina 8 riders after they have done Kingsberry-Luther and Carson.   So we figured what a deal--we could leave from our Motel at 7:30.  In reality, we were doing a longer 5 pass Death Ride that essentially starts at 5:30, so we would be leaving 2 hours after what most people do on a comparable ride.   No big deal when we started but we could have banked 2 more hours of riding in the cool dry air instead of the very warm afternoon dry air later on--and eliminate the very late afternoon when the winds pick up.  Later we wouldn't feel rushed to finish before the afternoon winds come in.    We'd have missed getting the coveted Blue Lakes Road pass stamp but what the hell.  Next year I'll leave at least 1 hour earlier and carry Postage Stamps to cover my jersey number slots for completed passes.  There is a bathroom and water at Blue Lake, so even if a rest stop isn't open it’s no big deal taking care of some necessary business.

At checkin with Kitty, first woman to attempt RAAM--Race Across America.  Kitty has ridden for too long--she is delusional.  When she first saw me she said "wow-did you lose 30 lbs from last year" (NO, I lost 8 lbs.)  Later when I told her about my killer veins that need compression guards she pointed to a little blue spider on her leg and said "I have varicose veins also."  I think she needs to start a 1200k brevet--right now.
Blue Lakes is so much fun that Dave and I continued a tradition I started long ago when still doing the Death Ride:, the day before we prerode the 24 mile route, just spinning like crazy.   Dave had never done the whole thing--previously being stopped by snow drifts that closed the road a quarter of the way up--in JUNE!.  This year the California Drought was evident, there were traces of snow on the mountains alongside but not the heavy snowpack seen in past years.  From the outhouse monument at the end someone had removed the Big Mike statue--named by CA Mike on a long ago on a Death Ride preride that my wife also did.   We passed the ponds Toby really liked when we did the same preride 2 years ago on the Alta Alpina 8.  Saw the spot where I got the Death Ride 6 Pass sticker in 2004 when it was a bonus pass and I first discovered Blue Lakes Road.  Man--time has quickly passed by.  At the end of the ride Dave discovered a rough spot in his wheel--luckily he is anal like me and we both brought spare wheels.   We also discovered that Dr. Dave's Garmin lies like a rug about the temperature--his read that it was 83 degrees when mine read 75.  I'm surprised Dave's Garmin didn't give him 60 miles and 20,000' climbing for Blue Lakes also; so I now discovered why he is always calling out oppressive temperatures when its nice outside.  In any event the forecast was for it to be 5 degrees warmer tomorrow for the Alta Alpina.

Dave and I scouted around for a preride pasta meal and Dave figured out that of our three choices one was a dump and the other was so fancy we weren't dressed properly (what--no cycling clothes at dinner.)  He suggested Saletti's Italian Resturant and it was great.  Minden has a few cowboy bars on each block and it was pretty apparent that World Cup ain't big here.

The next day came quickly and it was Blue Lakes Redux--this time adding the 6 miles up Carson.  It felt strange starting at 7:30, late for an organized ride, but the Blue Lakes rest stop first opens up at 9:30.  Its the fourth pass the Alta Alpina 8 pass riders would do.   Leaving right from out motel at the base of Carson we began climbing immediately with no warmup.  The warmup was when the dry air hit our bodies and Dr. Dave pulled off his jacket within a minute.

Making friends up Carson into the headwind.  We'll lose everyone when we turn on Blue Lakes Road.
We wound up mixing in with a few other cyclists, either 8 pass riders who has started very early who were going to turn on Luther Pass, or 5 pass riders who were going straight up on Carson.  This must be the friendly ride--everyone's jersey number had their first name in BIG letters.  

Dual selfie on Blue Lakes Road taken by Dr. Dave during the event (Dr. D)

Scenes from Blue Lakes Road.  Dave getting the sacred sticker at the end of the climb.  If I had a lounge chair I would have set it up at the end and stayed there for the rest of the day.
A stiff  morning headwind hit us on the startup Carson and Dave and I traded pulls, religiously keeping our power under 200 watts (none of the "is 450 less than 200" goofing around  that was heard often on the Sierra Century.)   We smartly organized with a few other cyclists to trade pulls.  Actually, one cyclist passed early on without giving a shout out, which always gets my dander up, but keeping in the 180-200 range we came back to him, and then he was more than happy to join our rotating group blocking the wind.

We lost almost all the other riders when Dave and on turned onto Blue Lakes Road--only one other cyclist, nicely decked out in a Sierra Century Jersey, was doing our route.  We expected a cross wind but Blue Lakes Road was pretty calm, and once again Dave and I enjoyed the mountain scenery and wild flowers off to the side.    We were riding real easy--especially on the beginning gentle grade, and bsing about our kids, diet (we can lose weight in the winter but when the riding season starts and we have to stay stoked on carbs, the best we can do is maintain our weight) and music and taking photos.  We also had the joint revelation that we started to late and we should have begun the ride a hour ago--big deal if we don't get a summit stamp, we know what we did.   We reached the end of Blue Lakes Road 15 minutes before the rest stop was due to open, but they just finished setting up and we were first to get the Blue Lakes sticker.  Unfortunately the only sports drink mix on this ride is HEED which I think has a vile aftertaste, so I had a pocket full of Scratch/ Gatorade baggies throughout the day.   After a banana and fig bar it was time to head back on the downhill trip that would take us less than half the time of the climb.  When we headed back down we saw lots of cyclists starting up, including teammate Matt now on his 4th pass of his 8 pass attempt, and he looked real happy.

Stop at end of Blue Lakes for 3rd whizz of the day in first 30 miles--which was a result of already downing 3 bottles of sports drink.    Altitude riding is not like riding up sea level mountains. Apart from it being much easier to lose your breath with modest effort, you're continually thirsty, and Dave and I would continually drink like crazy throughout the day. 

Fast downhill after the Carson intersection where we picked up some traffic.  Luckily the pavement is good at the lower level of Carson.  We stopped at our cars in the motel parking lot-ditching knee and arm warmers, t-shirt, and picking up more drink mix, pre frozen drink bottles, MP3 & speaker (under 200g) setup that slides into light bracket,  and downing a pre chilled bottle of PERPETUEMPerpetuem isn't an electrolyte sports drink but a high carb replacement drink, and it is great when really really cold and with a shot of Hammergel mixed in.

Turtle Rock Park, where the ride officially began and lunch waited, was only 4 miles away over some steep rollers.  It was around 11-, too early for a real lunch so we just reloaded our water bottles and downed another fig bar/ banana combo.   I hoped they would have Perpetum here but its availability was spotty.  All the rest stops, however, were flush with ice which was appreciated, but NO DIET SODA (or ice pops) which was not.

Next came the speedy downhill to the tiny town of Markleeville and the 8 mile drag out to the base of Monitor and Ebbets climbs, which begin next to each other.  No cheering spectators filling the lawn of the Markleeville Courthouse as on the Death Ride--hell, the lawn is gone from in front of the Courthouse.   Maybe it was the weather getting warmer in a full bright sun or some weariness after 52 miles, but the 8 miles seemed much longer, even though much of the ride is on gently rolling road alongside a strongly running stream lined with fishermen.  

Heading towards Ebbetts 1 and going by REAL scenic water crossings

In years past there was no water available after a stop at the base of Ebbets 1/ Monitor 1, and I always ran out  on this 14 mile climb--which is the steepest of the day.  Additionally, I'd hit Ebbets 1 after 4 passes had already in the legs, and would be extremely weary on the climb.  Today the Alta Alpina folks added a water stop 6 miles into the climb, so running out of water was no longer a concern.  As I only had 1 pass in my legs instead of 4, so I hit Ebbets 1 feeling really good.

Ebbets 1 (Monitor and Ebbets are up and overs where you descend the other side and have to reclimb the mountain's backside, so the frontside is "1" and the backside is "2") had a gradual grade for the first 8 miles, then the last 6 are filled with long double digit sections.  The road is twisty and tree lined with glimpses of snow covered peaks and other great views.   Hard to believe this is the same Highway 4 that runs near my house--it looks more like a bike path.  Dave got miffed when two guys shot past us but they weren't on the ride--we rationalize that they just started and were doing this as their one climb of the day.   We still kept the power in the 180-200 range and my heart rate under zone 3 (aerobic/ tempo training) but I was real conscious of my taking harder and deeper breaths at this mild effort level that often felt like I was close to maxing out .

Selfie on Ebbets 1

In front of reservoir near the top of Ebbetts...and what did it look like 3 years ago??....

Dave and I at the top of Ebbetts Pass
Dave wanted to hear stuff he could sing with so the jazz was turned off and Van Morrison singing Gloria, or U-2/ Patti Smith singing Dancing Barefoot got us over many of the 15% sections.   Funny moment when a Liggett/ Sherwin Paris Roubaix highlight came on and a cyclist we passed said "oh Bob Roll."  Ok, give her credit for coming close.  The guy ahead of her was wearing a Domo Farm Fretes jersey so when we passed him I shouted out--"hey, you team won this race." 

When we left the water stop Dave was 200' ahead and riding tempo--on a training ride I'd bridge back to him but today I just kept sitting 200' as the mild effort seemed hard enough.   We regrouped when we reached Kinney Reservoir near the 8700' level top that was frozen over 3 years ago.

Another few uphill kicks from the Reservoir past the cattle grates at the top of Ebbets--at 8730' the highest point on the ride.  I just grabbed another fig bar to munch on the downhill--no need to stop as we would cover the 6 consistently semi steep downhill and reach the next rest stop in Hermit Valley quickly.  As nice as Ebbets 1 is, Ebbets 2 doesn't have great scenery, the trees seem to thin out, and though the climb back is only 6 miles its seemingly annoying.   At least the road--which was very rough in the past, had been fairly repaved, and my favorite rest stop on the ride is in desolate Hermit Valley below.

Rest stop worker at Hermit Valley keeps the mood lite.

Cowbell symphony at Hermit Valley

Karen riding Ebbetts Pass 2 solo
Downhill was nice with the repaving job and that there was no blocks of cyclists going up and down the narrow road (only a couple of bicycles and cars.)  Hermit Valley is a small flat patch that lays between Ebbetts 2 and the hilly Pacific Grade that climbs into Bear Valley.  More rest stop workers than cyclists at the stop, highlight was long legged rest stop worker dancing around with a banana tiara.   Unfortunately this is one of the stops they decided NOT to have Perpetuem.

It is a 5 mile climb back to the top of Ebbets, so it kinda like the climb to the ranger station on Mt. Diablo.  But it was tougher, much tougher though it averages 6%.   Sun was out and it was real warm on the climb which is only in semi shade and the sun reflects off the side of the mountain on the other side of the road.   Maybe it was the altitude, the climb starts at over 7,000.'   Now when I thought I was putting out too much power (over 200w), and looked down to check I was in the 160-180 range.  I think this is when Dave said he ran out of gears and he has an 36x32.   (Next year I will also.)  A few cyclists were coming down, almost no one was going up near Dave and I. 

Nice moment when we passed a woman and she yelled out "hey waffle man."  I didn't recognize her immediately so I slowed to find out how she knew me (I'm usually living on homemade Liege waffles leading up to an event.)  Turns out that Karen, who worked the best rest stop a few years in a row at the Sierra Century, and I have a mutual friend.  She was soloing Ebbetts which is a nice job as there is only one campground to get water on the route. 

Wecsaid goodbye and got back to Dave and we discussed skipping the top rest stop.  When we did arrive Dave noticed that  they had Perpetuem, so we did stop so I could make a shake.  Dave also spotted the women from Alta Alpina who we saw on the Motherloade wearing the great Alta Alpina Orange club kit.  So Dave had to tell her that I got the club jersey, whereas she wanted to know "how come I wasn't wearing it today?"

Downhill of Ebbets 1 is narrow and curvy and scenic, and on the Death Ride here is where you suddenly come face to face with four Team in Training climbers riding side by side and blocking the road.  Nothing like this today.  When we started the descent we saw Matt and ex clubmate Rebecca climbing near each other and still looking good.  A couple of cars were passing uphill cyclists on curves and a little too close to us.  Dave is much faster than me on the downhill (who isn't) so he shot ahead on the steep part and waited for me when the road leveled out a bit so we could speed towards Monitor together for the last 2 passes of the day.


Right turn ahead to Monitor, we just rolled out of sand lot to the right, my ride is about to come to a crashing halt.

Dr. Dave & Rebecca, the St Mary's College Cycling team.
If early in the morning we wouldn't have had to stop at the rest stop at the base of Monitor, but it was now a good idea to top off our bottles for the 9 mile climb of Monitor 1.  It’s fairly steady and I did a nice job on it a few years back on the Alta Alpina 8--I was looking forward to getting revenge on the Monitor 2 climb which had killed me.  Still feeling good though hand which I think is arthritic (but Kaiser doesn't) is hurting under my thumb, and I'm slowly losing appetite so additing more water in strong Perpetuem mix will be a good thing.  Maybe I was losing my concentration. 

I reset the Garmin when we pulled into the rest stop and I got a whole .03 miles out of the stop with an average moving speed of 6.6 mph (max speed 8.8mph)  when suddenly the bike slid out.  Think I was shocked that bike was going down and didn't prepare quickly for a fall, though I know to hold handlebars tight so you don't instinctively stick out an arm and break a wrist or collarbone.  I landed strangely, rolling under the bike--getting hit hard on my lower back and calf and a light helmet shot (enough to crack it.)  My varicose veins, already swollen at altitude, must have gotten hit by the pedal as my right calf was on fire.The Medics checked me out and had to hang around awhile at the rest stop which was in full sun, as SAG that was just minutes away had to go up Ebbets for cyclist who just broke collarbone.     SAG driver I finally got in with was a nice guy and was going home for the day, so he nicely dropped me off at the motel which was 4 miles away from the Turtle Rock Park start.  When I was ready to bring my bike inside I noticed loads of sand stuck to the tyers--so much so I wiped them down before bringing them into the room.  Maybe this is what caused the fall??

Figured it would take Dave 1 1/2 hours to ride up and down each pass, and then another 1/2 hour to ride back to the motel.  So figured 4 hours to get back and it was now 3:30 so...what were we thinking again starting at 7:30.  After a shower I was set for a good nap except I couldn't lay on my back or side and had a slight headache from either the altitude or my head bumping into pavement.  So tossed around for about 2 hours when, knock on door, Dave appeared.  Dave had cramped up the front side of Monitor so he didn't go down the backside for the last climb.   I know if we were riding together he would have had 5 in the bag. 

We drove over to Turtle Rock Park so I can check in.  It’s kinda depressing--a dozen cyclists are eating in a room that can hold 6x as many, the Alta Alpina club is selling clothing but they gave no Medium shorts left.   Dave and I had planned to go back to Minden to try JT Basque House which my working Cousin Bob had recommended for years.  As Cousin Bob once owned a restaurant, I take his food recommendations seriously. 

Outside we ran into Rebecca, who had stalled out on the 7th pass and didn't do the 8th.  She's a perpetual dynamo who used to ride with our club before she moved away.  She used to run everyone into the ground for 80 miles and then figure out she was tired after going at 110% all the time.  Looking at her Alta Alpina Strava times, she wasn't pacing herself.  For the month Rebecca was 7th of 126 people on the Blue Lakes climb--and the Alta Alpina club uses this road for a club time trial.  On ride day she was 2nd, and the guy in front of her didn't finish the whole course either.  Next year, with a few more climbing doubles and better pacing, Rebecca will easily do the 8 pass ride.

Rebecca reported that clubmate Matt broke a chain on Monitor.  Later we found out that he fixed it and finished the 8th passes!!  No ride report from him yet, can't wait to find out if he had the horde of moths flying into his light on a cold Monitor descent once the sun set.  At my motel I spoke the next morning to the person who was the LAST one to finish the 8 passes--at midnight--while riding a hybrid bike.  He experienced the moths and cold.  Great job. 

Dave and I passed on the Alta Alpina end of ride offering and we drove to Minden to JT Basque House.  A unique dining experience in an old building where the waitress recited what main dishes are available.  We never saw a menu, and, no one mentioned that we had a choice of a complete dinner or ala carte.  Before we knew it we were brought bowls and platters of soup--bread--beans--green salad--French fries--stew meat, all before the main dish.  Waitress was amazed that we were leaving so much food over.  When I got back to work Cousin Bob said "I like to eat but the full dinner is too much, I always order ala carte. " Who knew.  I did know I should wipe a tyre down covered with sand--not taking care of a little detail quickly ended what promised to be an epic ride.  Instead it was just great.

I really didn't care much that I didn't finish the 5 passes, as I have done 8 passes once, 6 passes once, and 5 passes a half dozen times on a combo of the Alta Alpina/ Death Ride.  In one month it is the Mt Shasta Summit Century (with as much climbing) which I have never finished, so there I'll be royally pissed if I don't complete that ride.   Give myself a week off the bike to heal, and then its back to climbing training.

1 comment:

Midland said...

Read and enjoy all the ride reports. I passed on the ride in 2012 when my ride buddy crashed 2 weeks before. Want to head out that way soon.