Priceless Souvenir

We’ve all experienced the symptoms: sluggish body, nausea, an ache in the chest, tearful eyes. Only in this case it’s not the flu, a hangover, or a bad breakup. It’s returning to work after going out to lunch on a gorgeous day. Walking away from your motorcycle when what you really want to do is fire it back up and ride the rest of the afternoon away. One such day, knowing it’s hard to make a quiet and unnoticeable escape on a Harley, I dragged my feet back inside the workplace. As if proving that riders are more conspicuous than other commuters, a woman in the elevator glanced at the helmet in my hand and said, “I like your bike!” She went on to explain that the day before, she’d left the building with another female coworker. “We heard this motorcycle coming through the parking lot and looked up and it was you! A WOMAN on this big ol’ bike…and we were so proud!” It brightened the rest of my workday considerably, even if she didn’t realize it. Funny how a simple comment or gesture can lift another’s spirit, whether you are on the giving or receiving end. Recently, performing a random act of kindness WHILE on that longed-for road trip left me with a priceless souvenir.

We were on our way to OC Bikefest for a much-needed vacation. Rather than take my bike this year, I opted to snuggle in behind my boyfriend. I’ve had friends say it looks strange when they see me on the back of a motorcycle, but I’ve never taken the “M” endorsement on my driver’s license to mean “man-free zone”. I love being in the wind, whether on my own, or sharing the experience. The ability and freedom of choosing how I ride is a gift I’m always thankful for! As we came to a crawl approaching the Bay Bridge toll plaza, I looked around to check out the bikes of other riders also headed to Ocean City. We passed one particular couple riding tandem and they caught my eye because they appeared to be a father/teenage-daughter duo. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was their first trip together and thought about what awesome memories they would make. My own father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s this year, so I find myself reminded daily of how truly precious a memory can be.

Realizing we were edging closer to one of the toll booths, I started digging cash out of my pocket. As we finally approached a window, I heard a bike pull up behind us. Glancing back I was pleasantly surprised to see it was the twosome I’d noticed before. I handed enough money to the attendant for two bikes to cover our fee as well as theirs, and we were off to maneuver through the rest of the bottleneck. Before everyone made their way back to open road and once again got up to speed, I turned back to smile at the pair. The teen’s face lit up with a big grin and she gave a shy wave as her dad looked up and mouthed a thank you. The expression on her face made my day, leaving me with a huge grin of my own the rest of the way to the beach. Having to concentrate on the road, my boyfriend missed most of that exchange. When I described it to him later, I told him the feeling it left me with made that $4.00 toll the best money I’d spend our whole vacation. It’s definitely a highlight of the trip I’ll always remember.

Now, November brings with it a couple of introspective holidays for me: Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for our Vets and the sacrifices they make to protect the cherished freedoms we have. And each year I grow even more grateful for the time I am able to enjoy with my loved ones. Please keep Veterans, family and friends, and even complete strangers in mind when you are inspired to commit a random act of kindness. You’ll be glad you did- paying it forward is such a great gift not only to others, but also to yourself.

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Mammaries…light the color in my face…

Does anyone remember Super Bowl XXXVIII? Not so much the game itself, I don’t remember who won or even who played for that matter. Oh- but I do remember the end of the performance from Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at halftime. My friend and I were left squinting at each other, wondering if we’d seen what we thought we saw. We had…it was a flash of boob. Not only did that little peek at a chunk of fatty tissue cause a lot of controversy, the incident eventually led to the development of the term “wardrobe malfunction”. I guess it’s the politically correct way to say that without meaning to, you had your privates flopping around in plain sight of the public.

Although wardrobe malfunctions can happen anywhere, they can obviously be an issue for any woman choosing to ride in the wind at high speeds on a motorcycle. Especially in the summer months when we’re not bundled head to toe in layers and leather to keep warm. In my somewhat embarrassing case, I hadn’t thought about how a change of bike design could affect the airflow around me enough to displace clothing. I first learned to ride on a Suzuki Savage, and when I switched to an HD Sportster, I found the breeze coming around the windshield hit me at a totally different angle. Instead of flipping back, my hair would fly straight up. Maybe that should have warned me some tank tops could do the same?

Instead, I learned my lesson on Route 33 near Ruckersville, Virginia one beautiful day. No particular place to go, just riding a loop before heading to work that afternoon. I was comfortable in a previously well-behaved tank top, and a hoodie zipped at my waist. That way the sweatshirt wouldn’t flap up in the air and stream behind me like a cape, while also keeping any lingering late-morning chill off my arms. Heading north on 29, I had to stop at a red-light before turning east at 33 toward Barboursville. A couple of dump trucks coming from the other direction had the right-of-way. They turned left in front of me, each driver giving me a huge smile and friendly wave.

I made the turn and as I followed them, I wondered if they waved because they rode too and were wishing they were on their bikes instead of working. Then I wondered where the next passing lane was because they were going so slow. Then I realized they were either losing some gravel out of the trucks or kicking it up off the road on me. I could hear occasional pings against my bike windshield and tank, so I wondered if it would scratch the paint. THAT’S when I finally looked down. To my relief the bike was fine, but um, hellooo-oo BOOBIES!! I did have a bra on at least, but STILL! Not exactly a full-coverage style. With the hoodie on and only zipped at the very bottom, the material flapping around my sides led me to believe nothing was wrong.

In actuality, my tank top had been blown up and was now scrunched under my chin like some sort of scarf. This left plenty of room to fall out of the open front. Red-faced and swerving, I clawed at the shirt to yank it back down as I pulled over and zipped the hoodie up to my chin. On rides afterward, friends I shared the story with couldn’t resist teasing and asking if I was “doing a boob check” when they caught me tucking my head and looking down to make sure everything was in place. Consider this your friendly reminder to get another type of boob check.

October, aka Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is on the way. It’s a good time to make sure your yearly breast exams and screenings are up to date. And if you find yourself with a wardrobe malfunction on the road, try not to let it bother you too much. In the grand scheme of things there are more important things to worry about. I’m just glad mine didn’t happen in front of a Superbowl-sized enough audience to prompt a whole new word for flashing!

Rock of Ages

It’s always fun to watch my niece unwrap presents, especially when the look on her face means the gift was obviously something she really wanted. On a Christmas several years ago, she seemed thrilled as she tore festive paper away from a long metal rod. At first, I thought she was awfully happy about receiving a bicycle handlebar. I wondered whether she was simply customizing the look of her bike or if the part was a necessary replacement because of an accident. As I speculated, she slapped a cell phone on one end of this mysterious bar thingy, held it up high and took a picture of herself. Oh. So THAT’S what a selfie stick looks like. Luckily, I’d figured this out before giving away my lack of gadget expertise. If I’d suddenly asked her if she’d wrecked her bicycle, it wouldn’t have been so easy to slip back under my rock unnoticed.

I’m old enough under there to remember when simply getting pictures of anything was an adventure in itself! You could use a whole roll of film, send it away to be developed, wait a week or two and wind up with…nothing, except disappointment. Photos of blackness because the lens cap was on or there was no flash. In some unlucky cases the result was double prints of pink blobs because a finger was in the way or the people in the shot were out of focus. Those close to my age know what I mean. There are some technological advances that make life a little easier- saving time and money. Taking pictures is a good example, you know instantly if you have the shot you want. If you forget the camera, the cell phone can save you- stick or no stick.

There are other situations where my cell has come to the rescue, especially while riding my motorcycle. When rain develops, I can look at the radar image on a weather app to see if I can get out of it quickly. It makes it easier to decide if I need to find an interesting place to stop and wait for it to end, or I just have to put on rain gear and push through it. Phone navigation apps help to point myself back in the right direction if I take a wrong turn and don’t have the luxury of enough time to stay lost for a while.

my first gps
My first GPS

Yet I look back on the days of scrawling directions on my arm, no safety net of a phone, and miss that time. In many occasions now, a wireless device puts everyone on the road in more danger- namely when they are in the hands of inattentive drivers.

You’ve seen them, the texters behind the wheel who think they can stare at their phone and drive at the same time. Pretty easy to spot, usually they’re in the car in the passing lane going 10 miles an hour under the speed limit, swerving back and forth or slamming on the brakes every few seconds. They’re also the ones sitting at the light after it has turned green still staring at the cell screen. Distracted driving gets worse all the time and it’s so infuriating when I take note of how many drivers I see looking down at their phone instead of concentrating on operating their vehicle. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated- a statistic that doesn’t seem to be taken as seriously as it should. As riders I ask you to please look into supporting the motorcycle rights organization in your state. Get involved with ABATE or other groups in order to help form legislation to stop distracted driving and keep us safer on the road.

As for the tech junkies transfixed with their cell phones at all times, I don’t get it. I’m sure they probably can’t figure out why I want to jump on two wheels to ride every chance I get either. It’s hard to describe to anyone who’s never been on a bike, let alone those who don’t know life before wireless, that feeling of being present in the moment. It’s a joy I hope they’ll one day discover instead of continuing to scroll through messages and images on a flat screen. Experiencing an awareness of all my surroundings and enjoying interaction with other human beings along the way is a blessing in my life. And life under my rock is good!

“Mid-Atlantic! Where the wind comes sweepin’ down both lanes…….”

As motorcycle riders we all love to be “in the wind”. Lately that phrase seems to take on a whole new meaning. Last year around this time, heading out for a ride involved constantly dodging raindrops. Now it seems like every other week I’m trying to stay upright in extremely heavy wind gusts. Unfortunately, this weather usually coincides with the garbage collection schedule once or twice a week, which leads to an annoying round of the how-many-houses-away-will-the-trashcan-be-today game. I don’t remember all these high wind warnings and advisories occurring as frequently or violently in the past. Actually before I got my own bike, I really didn’t consider how much the wind could affect a ride. It didn’t take long to learn that lesson.

I’d only been riding my own for a few months and was still on my first bike, a light little Suzuki Savage 650. When I met up with a buddy for a scenic ride in the country, he mentioned that the forecast for the afternoon was windy. We decided to head out anyway and although I don’t remember what speed the gusts were that day, I do recall feeling like the wind could blast me off the road or into the lane of oncoming traffic. At our first stop my friend asked how I was doing. Trying to keep my voice from shaking, I told him I didn’t mean to be melodramatic but I was truly scared of the wind pushing me into losing control of the bike. It was a huge relief when he reassured me that even with a heavier bike and more riding experience, he wasn’t comfortable either. Luckily, the breezes slowed throughout a lunch break and had gotten much more manageable before it was time to head home.

Several years and another bike later, I was again caught by surprise on a blustery afternoon. This time, the ride to work on my Sportster had been relaxing. The return home however, was quite a different story thanks to unexpected gusts from 45 to 50 mph. I tried to stick to the backroads in the woods where there was a little more shelter. Inevitably, a break in the tree line would send me out into the open again to be walloped with another gale. I weebled and wobbled for a good 30 minutes, wondering part of the time if the driver of the van behind me was going to call the police and report me as a suspected DWI! Laughing about it afterwards at a local bike night, a bunch of friends teased me and said I probably wouldn’t like riding in the plains or flat parts of Texas. One buddy reminisced about a day-long trip he’d taken, spending the whole time leaning into the wind almost sideways to keep from being blown away. I can’t imagine.

Still, I dream of eventually getting the opportunity to take a cross country trip- different weather included as it’s part of the adventure of different sights. This season, to one extreme or another I’m sure we’ll get lots of practice riding in all kinds of conditions here closer to home. Practice makes perfect? I’d say any ride makes for practice that IS perfect!

Tired of winter? Here’s a band-aid!

A winter storm passed through this part of the country leaving everything coated with an icy glaze for a couple of days. Once the roads were cleared, people gradually got back to their normal routines. This time of year that usually means I’m commuting to work while it’s still dark. But a delay after a morning trip to the veterinarian’s with my dog meant driving my truck across a mountain as the sun was rising. I wish I could have taken pictures because I don’t think I can describe how truly incredible the view was. All the different hues of daybreak were reflected off the frozen trees, every branch sparkling as if thousands of twinkling lights had been strung throughout the woods. It was so breathtaking I’ve thought about it often, trying to make sure I’ll remember the scene and store it with other mental snapshots of mine. Small moments like this do so much to soothe the ache of waiting for better riding conditions. Even though I had to constantly watch for patches of black ice, and it had been several weeks since it was nice enough to get out on the bike, I realized how much I do love the beauty of all the seasons in the Mid-Atlantic.

Whether your winter downtime consists of a few weeks or a few months, at least it’s a good opportunity to get the bike ready for when it is riding season.  As I’ve mentioned before, there is value in taking a basic rider course from an organization like MSF. Not only will you learn important riding skills, but also tips on caring for your motorcycle. Although it’s been quite a while since I took the class, I can recall the acronym they gave for the pre-ride motorcycle inspection checklist: T-CLOCS, Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis, and Stands. I will admit, I have to search that on the web to get into the full details of each category. It seems there’s no more room in my brain to store them between those photos committed to memory and about 1,583,033,206 different song lyrics. Oh, and of course, riding memories! So even if you have to refer to a list like I do, or you’re so familiar with your bike maintenance routine that it’s automatic, make sure you take advantage of foul weather days to give your ride the TLC it needs. Nobody wants to wait out the cold weather only to miss riding when a nice day arrives because there is something wrong with the motorcycle. The same goes for finding out there’s an overlooked issue with the bike that leaves you stranded on the side of the road.

When I first started riding I was guilty of taking off without spending-a minute to look over even just the basics.  During a break on a ride through Luray, my buddy “Skid” was checking out my bike and noticed some sort of blemish on the rear tire. There was a cut in the tread that didn’t appear to be leaking air, but he didn’t like it. The tear could have been made by running over something that day, but because I hadn’t given the tires a simple once over before I left home, I couldn’t be sure. There happened to be an auto-parts store next door, and he asked me to go over and pick up some Fix-a-Flat just to make him feel better in case we discovered I had a slow leak later in the day. His girlfriend walked with me, and after making the purchase we decided it was time to have a little fun. I stashed the can in my purse, and asked the cashier for a band-aid so we could introduce Skid to the latest and greatest in tire repair.

When we got back to the bikes and I appeared to be empty handed, he asked if I’d got the Fix-a-Flat. I told him I couldn’t because they were out of it, but they sold me something they said was better and even easier to use. Brandishing the band-aid and doing my best to stay serious, I explained how I was instructed to place the bandage over the cut on the tire. Skid took the strip from me, looked at it, looked at the tire, and back at me, “WHAT?”

“Yes”, I continued. “They said it would work even better if I spit on the pad first. And the best part is it only cost 8 bucks!” Poor Skid kept staring at the band-aid; he turned it over, inspected it, and turned it back again. Finally he looked up at me with an expression on his face that was all too easy to read. He was trying to figure out how to tell me I was the biggest moron on the planet without making me cry. I couldn’t take it anymore, and burst out laughing, letting him off the hook. With spring on the way, I’d advise you to invest in a service manual for your motorcycle. Do learn the basics of bike maintenance and perform them regularly. Do carry a first aid kit in a saddlebag, with band-aids included. Don’t expect them to patch a tire, but they could come in handy for minor situations like bee stings or pulling a friend’s leg!

 

 

What’s on your list of “firsts”?

Happy New Year! I’m not one for making resolutions anymore. It seemed to become this grade school-like exercise where the assignment is to list a bunch of your petty faults, along with a set of rules to follow to fix yourself. Oh, and if you’re not perfect by March then you fail! No thanks. I do love to reflect on my favorite adventures from the past year and look forward to all the new experiences and “firsts” to come in the next 365 days. There are roads to ride, places to visit, and people to meet for the first time. If riding your own motorcycle is on YOUR list of firsts, make this the year it happens!

I’ve mentioned the lady rider who inspired me to get my own motorcycle before, and with the I-can-do-anything-attitude my mom gifted me, I knew it would happen. But, where do you start? My advice to you is the same I received; take a motorcycle riding/safety course. Mine consisted of a classroom session on a Friday night, then a half day of training on the range Saturday and Sunday, with testing at the end. Passing the course, which met requirements established by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, meant I didn’t have to take an additional driving test at the DMV. Also, there were discounts available from participating insurance companies after receiving a completion certificate. Since it’s been… a while since that weekend, I thought I’d check with friends who are, or were class instructors to see if the experience is still similar. Ruth was an instructor in Central Virginia and confirmed that the course is still much as I remembered it. Like me, she’d ridden as a passenger before riding a bike on her own. She explained how that transitioned into becoming a RiderCoach:

I dated guys with motorcycles in my teens and rode as a passenger, but hadn’t operated a motorcycle until 1998, when I took the Basic Rider Course (BRC) in Charlottesville, VA.  A couple of years after taking the course, I got a job working in the Albemarle County Public Schools’ Community Education Department.  The Basic Rider Course was one of the classes offered through Community Ed.  I learned more about what a great service the DMV-sponsored course provided the public by the positive feedback from students.  Most raved about the course, the RiderCoaches, and what a great experience they had.  By 2007, I had enough riding experience and decided I wanted a better understanding of the course we offered, so I took the Motorcycle Instructor course through the DMV.  It was intense; a couple of very stressful weekends of studying, gaining and practicing skills that would assist students to safely operate a motorcycle.  I was the only woman in that group of 15 men to become a certified RiderCoach.

Coach Rod is still an instructor through this program and was inspired by Ruth to take a class and then go on to be certified as a RiderCoach right along with her:

My inspiration to become a rider coach started at the picnic table of my best friend’s bike shop. Several of my riding friends were talking about taking the basic rider course. It was a safety class I guessed but had NEVER heard of such thing and didn’t know it existed. They asked if I had taken the course and I was like NO, I’ve been riding 30 plus years, never been down what have I got to learn? They had ALL taken it and said you might be surprised at what you will learn. Ruth was one of those riders and she convinced me to take the class. It was a gorgeous September day on day one and it went well. It poured buckets on day 2 and was cold and miserable! What I learned about myself as a rider was amazing. I was a lazy braker, (usually just the rear and the front if needed), my cornering was marginal. There was just a lot I was not doing properly. After 2 days I was a better rider than I had been my entire life. At that moment I knew I wanted to teach this class. It was fun, exciting and it just might save a life.

Rodman also points out where you can get more details on taking a class, “You can pick a class by signing up for the weekend of your choice at opendoors1.org or visit the MSF website to find the classes closest to you. VA has 350,000 riders. We add about 7000 more each year through this program. For roughly 150 bucks you get great training and a chance to learn on someone else’s bike!!!  You only need a driver’s license and the proper attire. We provide helmets and bikes. Under 19 requires a parental signature. It’s a ton of fun and two days of great work.”

Rod’s brother, Clark, also teaches the course! He explains, “My Brother got me into being an instructor after he had been doing it for a while. His conviction on just how much one could benefit from the course did it for me. After taking the class myself, I realized that I wasn’t the rider I thought I was. Always room for improvement!”

If you have no experience on motorcycles, even as a passenger, don’t let that deter you from taking the class. One such student stands out in Clark’s memories as an instructor:

This student came in with nervous enthusiasm. She knew in her heart she was going to get that Ducati monster after getting her permit. She insisted on a bike that was a bit taller than we would have liked but handled it with determination. She did well all weekend and had a near perfect riding exam. When we handed her the permit and gave her her score she gave us a huge smile and said, “So I did ok for never having ridden before?!” That weekend was the first time she had ever sat on a bike!!

Maryann was also inspired by a family member to become a riding instructor in Northern Virginia:

I have been riding since my college days. The summer of 1969. We used to go hill climbing when we weren’t in class. I had a 3 gear 120cc Suzuki. It had a shifter that would cut the gear ratio in half for trail riding. I raced TT Scrambles in Lodi, CA – on a 100cc Hodaka. I didn’t ride after my oldest son was around 2 until my kids were grown. Then it was only street riding. My son-in-law was the one who wanted to become an instructor. I went along because it sounded like fun. And it was! We taught a lot together. Lots of mother-in-law jokes. It’s a great course. Within 3 days I watch people who have never been on a motorcycle become decent and safe riders. That is the most fun. Watching the light bulb go on. Changing from someone who is afraid to lean the motorcycle to someone who can ride a curve, or swerve, with good form.

Anyone else in the area looking for more information on this class can go to nvcc.edu, and search for the basic motorcycle rider course. No matter what state, once you do some investigating, you’ll find a course convenient to your location to suit you along with awesome teachers like Ruth, Rod, Clark, and Maryann. One thing these four instructors have in common is their advice to new riders. All of them stress the importance of practicing basic skills and riding your own ride. In other words, don’t get pushed past your comfort zone by other riders as you gain experience.

These coaches have also mentioned that a big part of what makes teaching fun is when a student is successful, and they see the rider “get it” for the first time when it comes to learning a new skill. Be that student! Worried about looking “foolish”? Check out Ruth’s recollection of a student who stood out for the wrong reasons:

My most memorable event as an instructor was when a student came back to class Sunday morning with a hangover and still a little intoxicated.  While attending a party, he had passed out in a theater and wasn’t sure what happened to his riding attire. He came to class wearing Shakespearean tights, mismatched socks, colorful slippers, and a see-through mesh shirt that didn’t quite cover his belly.  He said he grabbed clothes from the costume closet.  He fully expected to finish the course in that state and seemed stupefied that we sent him away.  

After that example, I think it would be more foolish to stay home and not take a chance on yourself and reaching a new goal. I might see you on the range too, looking back on the fun I had in my own class, this might be the year I take my first refresher course!

‘Tis the Season to be Soggy?

Imagine you’re at one of your favorite biker bars and a man yells, “Uh-oh! Look what’s coming!”

What do you think you’re going to see when you look up? Maybe it’s this guy’s buddy, finally making an appearance at the ol’ watering hole? Do you expect to see everyone’s dream bike pulling into the parking lot? Or could he be pointing out that there’s a beautiful woman walking through the front door?

In the situation I found myself in, everyone turned to see someone staring out the window…at a nasty looking, black and gray line of clouds heading our way. Resembling a dropped bag of marbles, we scattered to our bikes and rolled out in all directions before the storm hit. I don’t think police sirens can even break up a party that fast!

I also don’t think I’ve seen a year we’ve received as much rain as this one! As I begin to write this, it looks like a trip to Colonial Beach, VA for Bikefest 2018 could be partially soggy. It makes me wonder if there will be ANY dry days for riding and watching the leaves fall, or more filled with rain and a transition right on into snowfall.

As winter and the holiday season draw closer, I can say some of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever been given involve riding with protection against the elements. One year, my dad gave me a rain suit. With a worried look on his face, he asked me if it was too big and if I thought it would come in handy. I told him I hoped not, but it was really going to be nice to have it just in case! Naturally it has been put to good use quite often. The larger size actually works well for layering if it’s cold. Plus, we know it’s possible for gear and leather to mysteriously “shrink”, especially after all those holiday feasts!

Whether you’re looking to give or receive, another great gift item that will elevate comfort and extend the riding season into cold weather is any type of heated gear. In the past, I had tried different tips and tricks I’d heard about in an attempt to keep warm. Then, my brother gave me a pair of heated gloves, and with a gift certificate from my mom I picked up a jacket liner to go with them. Simply connect it to the battery of the bike and it feels like riding with an electric blanket wrapped around you. This turned out to be the best solution for me, and really works to keep the ride pleasant enough to stay on the road when the temperatures drop lower. Particularly when that change is quicker and more sudden than expected, like during the aforementioned 5th Annual Bikefest at Colonial Beach.

The lingering effects of Hurricane/Storm Michael led a small group of us to delay the ride down by a day, not being fans of torrential downpours even with rain suits. With another look at the forecasted highs and lows and the chill of the heavy wind gusts that wouldn’t diminish for two days, I unpacked some of my lightweight clothes to make room for sweats and dug the heated gear out of the closet for the trek to the festival. Once there we made up for lost time, taking in all we could up and down the beach. Much like, as my friend Sharon described, a bunch of kids running amok at an amusement parkIMG_20181015_112206 desperate not to miss anything.

There were vendors and events to check out, foods to sample, and a steady stream of free live music all along this scenic stretch of the Potomac River. Area favorites like Blues Rebellion and Grindin’ Gears could be found at High Tides Black Pearl Tiki Bar and Dockside Restaurant, while The Artimus Pyle Band and Buckcherry took to the main stage at Town Hill during the weekend. The final day the breezes slowed, and I headed home with only occasional drizzle to deal with and a smile still on my face.

The best part of this rally was sharing the fun with good people and making memories to look back and laugh on. May Thanksgiving and Christmas be blessed with more of the same for everyone.