in the wind with fallen leaves
clinging to summer
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I’ve been a student and then a teacher through the earliest iterations of online learning. At university I took one of the last mailed correspondence courses in the mid-nineties and I’ve been online since BBSes and user-groups in the early 90s. That whole time I was working summers and holidays in IT jobs, though they weren’t called ‘IT jobs’ yet. For two summers I helped Unitel Engineering digitize their paper based parts ordering system at their electronics shop in Scarborough by moving everything in their decades old paper based system from filing cabinets to Lotus123 on DOS/early Windows.
After graduation I got my first full time gig at Ontario Store Fixtures where I was attached to the programming team that was converting their old DOS based manufacturing system to JDEdwards OneWorld integrated management process. This was a very early server based system that was the step between desktops and the cloud based systems we use today. Two years teaching overseas in Japan showed me the technology that was soon to arrive in North America, such as digital cameras and high speed home internet. I played Diablo with a friend in Mississauga from my apartment in Akita City and watched Y2K pass over us at a thousand year old temple. When I wasn’t doing that I was helping engineers and doctors translate their work for international consumption, working on everything from electronic/robotics systems that helped parallelised people move their limbs to the latest in LCD technology coming out of the NEC factory near where we lived.
By the early naughties we were back in Ontario and I was a certified IT and network technician and working full time in the field. I changed directions into teaching in 2003/4 and my first teaching job in Peel Region had me setting up the first wireless router in the board in our library so students with their newfangled Blackberries and wireless laptops could get online – it would be years before board IT caught up with us. The next summer I got a job in their new elearning summer program. We were using the Angel online system which was a rudimentary webpage with such basic media that you had to hand code the html if you wanted it to be anything other than text.
One of my favourite elearning experiences came in those early days. Peel didn’t run elearning as a credit factory. They focused on strong students with digital experience and then pushed for advanced course delivery. In our Grade 12 academic class we had students from across Ontario as well as international students from Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai who were taking the course to prove they had the English language skills necessary to attend university in Canada. Working with this international group felt like what the future of teaching could be.
A good example of the above and beyond nature of these students was the final exam, which happened in a live two hour window. The students overseas were up in the middle of the night and when the internet went down in part of Mississauga my student who was in that blackout called around, found a friend with working internet and rode her bike over there to complete the exam on time. Back then elearning wasn’t an excuse to do less, it was a reason to do more.
I continued to teach elearning in summer school for the next five years as I moved to my current school board and they started up their own elearning program (I volunteered to be in the inaugural group and was the only one in it who had actually taught any). This branched out into blended face to face and elearning classes ranging from career studies to a specialized locally developed media arts program for at risk students as well as the usual online English courses. Early versions of video conference like Adobe Connect came up and I always seized this emerging technology to develop better learning relationships and bandwidth with my students. One day we were all on a live video conference working independently when one of the student’s moms came in and asked if he wanted takeout hamburgers for lunch. She laughed when we all replied that hamburgers sounded great. That was in 2008 before unions and school boards conspired to take video conferencing off limits. It took the education minister in a pandemic emergency this past spring to get Ontario’s education system to begin using this technology again… twelve years later. Sabotage by political interests in Ontario education are a big reason why we are still so bad at elearning.
Rather than focus on students who needed access to courses and had highly developed digital skills and resilience, elearning devolved into a way of offering credits for at risk students that didn’t want to attend school. It was then decided to give elearning sections to teachers in smaller schools that were losing population instead of giving those sections to teachers who had the experience, skills and interest in making this challenging emerging learning situation work. The end result was students and teachers who didn’t want to be in elearning. As that all happened I found myself removed from teaching it and by 2012 I was no longer doing any elearning at all.
In the meantime I’ve developed a very successful computer technology program, so my journey into digitally enabled pedagogy has not stopped. My students and I built some of the first virtual reality systems used by students in the province and we’ve tackled all sorts of IT challenges including Skills Ontario and then CyberTitan and cybersecurity. We’ve created a unique software engineering/video game development program that has already launched a number of careers and we have grads working everywhere from Tesla and Google to Electronic Arts while others have started their own companies. In aid of that I’ve become a Cisco Netacademy Instructor which offers my students one of the most advanced elearning management systems in the world, and I’m constantly exploring online coding LMSes such as code.org and codehs.com for my students. If anything, stepping away from elearning, especially after what it had become, gave me the flexibility to explore digital pedagogy more than staying in it would have.
Elearning implementation has always suffered from a lack of vision. It stumbled into existence as a substitute for mail order courses in the late 90s and early Zeroes because it was cheaper and faster than all those stamps. In the early days it was tentatively adopted by programs like Peel’s independent summer school but it has never been adopted into specialized virtual schools and was still struggling for acceptance up until this year when suddenly everyone was an elearning/remote teacher.
Even in 2019 unions were attacking elearning as a ‘lesser than form’ of teaching in an attempt to stop government attacks on public education. That Ontario’s anti-education government was suggesting stuffing 40-50 students into elearning classes shows how this scalable system is prone to abuse and pedagogical deflation. Those union attacks annoyed many members like myself who have been working on developing this emerging medium of learning for most of our careers.
There is nothing education does better than look backwards and poorly handle change. If it does adopt technology it’s usually to try and redo what it has been doing for decades as a cost saver. Google Docs instead of photocopies, online forms instead of quizzes, worksheets on screen instead of paper; educational adoption of digital tools is all about the Substitution in SAMR; use it while keeping things as much the same as possible. As I said earlier, elearning implementation has shown a startling lack of vision and leadership.
|There was a time when you had a choice…|
I recently didn’t get an elearning job, but that’s OK because the last thing I want to be doing is middle managing to the status quo, What I want to do is explore and expand our best digital pedagogical practices; seeing how cheaply we can do the minimum doesn’t do anything for me (or anyone else not in management). There still seems to be a lot of pressure to overload elearning classes with students and then using limited corporate walled-garden systems from attention merchants like Google. This is baffling from a f2f teacher perspective where I’m seeing people getting paid teacher salaries while not actually doing any teaching. We could leverage the influx of teachers into the system much more effectively than we are to quickly create smaller remote classes that would involve teachers actually teaching and supporting learning instead of babysitting.
I’d want to advocate for smaller class sizes in elearning, especially in higher needs classes where remote teachers are also doing the jobs of guidance counsellors and special education support in a dangerous time. I’d also want to advocate for an efficient system for vetting alternative online systems that offer greater bandwidth with our remote students, but most boards have equated student privacy and cybersecurity with exclusive deals with tax dodging advertising/technology giants rather than looking to create a diverse yet secure ecosystem of online digital tools for learning. Signing an agreement with an attention merchant to indoctrinate the students in your care in their advertising systems so you can hand them graduates familiar with their products is an easier box to check.
What would my dream elearning job be? Let me take my digitally expert senior students in software engineering/game development and computer engineering, give us leading edge tools and let us see what digital learning is capable of in 2020. By exploring emerging technology we could not only make elearning more effective, but also ease the social distance anxiety many people are feeling.
Just before school started this year in its masked, socially distanced, quadmestered and frankly diminished capacity, I saw this tweet from Jon Resendez. It stayed on my mind as we launched this uneven and unsustainable (for the people doing double cohort, double classes remotely and f2f all day every day simultaneously) quadmester. More pedagogically sound elearning processes wouldn’t just help remote teachers at the moment, they’d help everyone since we’re all remote teaching in one way or another, it’s just that some of us are trying to do it while face to face with students at the same time.
There are two sides of elearning I’d want to explore with my digitally skilled students. My computer engineers could focus on the physical hardware that might improve remote learning outcomes and my senior software engineers would be able to explore and even write the software we need to explore and expand communications between remote teachers and their students.
One of the exciting evolutions happening right now is in virtual reality. We’ve been exploring this through our board’s forward thinking SHSM program since 2015. As the technology has matured prices have tumbled. The Oculus Quest 2 runs at a resolution that would have required a $1000 VR system connected to a $2000 high speed PC back in 2015, but it now costs less than $500 (very close to what a Chromebook costs). What might a class equiped with immersive, fully interactive virtual and augmented reality look like?
Experiential learning takes a huge leap forward in VR. Giving students a chance to virtually explore Anne Frank’s house instead of talking about it or passively watching a video makes the benefits of immersive experiential learning obvious.
If you’re more future thinking how about a detailed 3d model of the ISS that you and students could explore:
… or a universe simulator that lets you create gravitationally accurate solar systems? You can explore the deep ocean or amaze yourself in Google Earth VR, which is so engaging that you often forget you have the headset on while you’re in it. It was a lifesaver for me during lockdown when travel wasn’t happening. Seeing parks on the south tip of Africa closed for COVID also brought home for me the world wide nature of what’s happening.
The benefits of experiential learning in VR can even extend to giving everyone a feeling of what it’s like to be autistic. Students who experience VR tend to feel that they’ve actually experienced it. This is a big step away from passively reading a webpage or watching a video, which is about as far as elearning goes these days. Bringing experiential and immersive experiences to elearning will revolutionize the process and radically change what our ideas of a field trip is (elearning students don’t currently have field trips).
Beyond the experiential benefits of elearning, what I’d really like to go after is using virtual and augmented reality as a work around for social distancing. This is leading edge stuff – labs are looking into it now, but from a business perspective. Education won’t stumble into it for years, but wouldn’t it be something if we could leverage this current technology in time to help us all manage the social isolation we’re all feeling?
In 2018 Nick (our national finalist CyberTitan) led a team that developed a VR title they called a ‘virtual classroom’. The idea was to let students use 3d avatars to meet in virtual reality. All VR headsets have microphones, speakers and cameras build in, so they’re already inherently designed to be communications tools… and that was more than two years ago…
Our kung-fu in the software engineering class has only improved since. Not only could we explore existing virtual and augmented software opportunities for educational use, we’d also be capable of developing our own VR classroom 2.0. We just need the room and support to make it happen. What would room and support look like? I’m currently looking at 31 students with a waiting list in software engineering next semester. If we’re still waterboarding everyone with quadmesters in semester 2 then splitting that massive class into two sections of 20 each would mean we could all meet face to face in the morning to resolve problems and take aim at new ones and then go virtual in the afternoon to test what we’re working on instead of the current schedule that would have me trying to be in two places at once while depending on another teacher who has no idea what we’re doing to ‘support’ the remote learning. In short, it would mean arranging the class around pedagogical effectiveness rather than seeing how many students we can stuff into one section.
Beyond the hardware and software research, I’d also like to address the massive gap we’re experiencing in our current elearning charge. The digital divide is deeper and wider than you think because it’s not just about a lack of connectivity and available technology at home, it’s also about technological illiteracy because Ontario education assumes that students and staff all know how to use digital tools rather than training and teaching them in it.
We hand students digital technology in the early grades and just assume they understand what it is from home use, but that home use, if it exists at all, is usually habitual and very limited. Just because students aren’t afraid of technology doesn’t mean they understand how it works. Every year I see grade 9s who think they’re digital experts because they’ve owned a series of game consoles since they could walk. Their parents’ choice to digitally impoverish them by only ever handing them toys instead of tools makes it even more difficult to teach them computer engineering because they think they know everything when they don’t even know how to share a document, or unzip a compressed file.
It would be a satisfying thing to develop a hands on mandatory technology curriculum that makes all students literate in technology use in the same way we expect them to be literate and numerate in languages and mathematics. Like those other foundational literacies, digital/media literacy is a foundational skill if we’re using this technology in every class (as we are).
There is much to do in remote elearning in order to make it a viable learning strategy both during the COVID19 pandemic and beyond, but we need vision and the will to explore where this is going instead of just waiting for business to hand us down their leftovers or an uncaring government to use it as an excuse to Walmart education into pedagogical irrelevance.
I was once talking to an administrator who said, “I hate the word pedagogy, what does that even mean anyway?” The complexity in the concept is exactly what we should be protecting as we continue to evolve learning in our digital age. Pedagogy is not a concept that plays well with a management approach that is looking for cheap and easy solutions. Perhaps that’s why I always feel like I’m the one fighting for it when I’m talking to educational management, but we should always be working toward it even if it’s difficult.
Developing a more pedagogically powerful elearning system won’t just help us manage this pandemic crisis, it would also help us manage the looming environmental crisis of which this pandemic is just a symptom. If we could get elearning to begin approaching the pedagogical complexity and interpersonal bandwidth of in-class learning we could be restructuring education so it isn’t pumping millions of tons of carbon emissions into the air from bussing students to remote locations every day. A truly digitally empowered local school could be a k-12, walk-in experience for all but a few students because engaging, high bandwidth virtual communications and connectivity would mean we’d no longer have to burn the world to keep education looking like it did in the 1950s.
There are so many reasons why we need to develop vision and stop reflexively supporting status quo thinking in Ontario education. Leveraging experts in the system for their expertise rather than populating the system with middle managers intent on maintaining the status quo would be a great place to start.
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Two goals over the summer as far as biking goes: go to a track day and get in some off road experience. Fortunately I’ve got choices for both nearby:
|That’s not too far!|
1… Track Days: Grand Bend Motorplex does beginner track days at various times throughout the summer. I’m going to make a day where I can go down there and give the Ninja a workout in a track environment. It’ll be an early start, but if I can time the weather right it’ll be a great opportunity to develop more fluid riding and gently get a feel for how the bike handles in more extreme conditions. A hundred bucks doesn’t seem bad for a full day of track time.
If not Grand Bend then there are other options. Cayuga is $125 for a day and an hour and forty five minutes south through Hamilton. Mosport and Shannonville are both venues for Riderschoice.ca, who offer track days there. I haven’t been to Shannonville since I did the Nissan advanced driving school in the 1990s, it’d be nice to go back. Shannonville does their own track days, for $145 a day. Calabogie is way out Ottawa way, but it ain’t cheap, though the track is supposed to be fantastic.
2… Off Road Training: Yamaha Adventures is a lovely hour and a bit ride north of where I am. The full day package on their bike isn’t cheap ($329), but it would give me a chance to get a feel for off-road riding without the equipment overhead.
Trailtour also offers trials and dual-sport courses, both of which are cheaper alternatives, and they happen to be under an hour south of the family cottage. Trials riding is very technique intensive and would do a lot to improve my balance on any bike.
As many different experiences in as many different circumstances as I can manage, that’s the goal this year.
I’d originally tried a smaller coolant tank in the back, but it couldn’t handle the needs of the bike, so I’ve relocated the stock one under the back seat. With panels in place it’ll be all but invisible.
As much as possible I’m hoping to keep the bike looking mechanical and simple, but with some carefully sized fibreglass I should also be able to keep the ugly bits out of sight.
Up next is wiring in the lights and finishing the back end. After that it’s just making fibreglass. Two side panels for the back and the rear cowling for sure. The stock front fender is way too heavy looking, so I’ll be looking at options for that. I might do something strange to frame the radiator – that top rad hose is a natty looking thing.
The only mechanical part I’m looking for is a very basic instrument gauge. I’ve been collecting ideas on Pinterest, so eventually I’ll come across the ideal piece and grab it.
I heard once that Axl Rose bought a new Harley and had it customized so it looked old by adding patina to it. Only a rich person would do something so asinine. The Concours has had a long, hard life; it comes by its patina honestly. What I love about the bike is that it’s mechanically very sound (now). Rebuilt carb, rear hub, bearings, brakes – it’s new in all the right places, but you couldn’t tell from looking at it.
It’s getting to the point where this thing is starting to look dangerously hipster cool; I might have to grow a beard.
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“Among richer families, youth sports participation is actually rising. Among the poorest households, it’s trending down. Just 34 percent of children from families earning less than $25,000 played a team sport at least one day in 2017, versus 69 percent from homes earning more than $100,000. In 2011, those numbers were roughly 42 percent and 66 percent, respectively.”
This isn’t a story about childhood; it’s about inequality.”
I used to love playing sports. Refereeing and coaching at summer hockey camps helped me feed myself in university and I’ve coached, time kept and ref’d soccer and hockey since I was 10 years old.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve found men’s leagues echo the pointlessly competitive nature of kid’s sports with ex-Junior players playing in D division men’s hockey just so they can score half a dozen goals each week and run up the score. It’s nearly impossible to find a men’s hockey league that isn’t populate by assholes.
Max used to love gymnastics, but he ended up getting chased out of it in his pre-teens because the only way to do it was competitively (being female was also increasingly a prerequisite because the entire sport, like all sports these days, orientates itself on the most likely competitive success).
Coaching at school was a way to stay in touch with sports, but that too went sour with student athletes (only the wealthy ones who could afford the time and money to play games and practice after school nearly every day) not showing up to practices and playing with that same pointless competitiveness even when they didn’t rate against the opposition.
I’m currently on a hiatus with sports, but I still miss them. I wish I could find a hockey league that wasn’t an excuse for men to work out their frustrations on each other. I wish my son could participate in sports for the shear joy of it rather than turning every physical activity into a competition. We’d all be much healthier and happier if we had access to financially accessible and for-the-joy-of-the-game sports.
It’s a shame how we’ve turned sports into an excuse for competitiveness – usually along with the pipe-dream that your kid will one day be made a millionaire for playing a game. Having coached at a competitive hockey camp, it’s a tragedy to watch those all or nothing kids not make the cut into professional sports – statistically speaking almost no one does.
Norway sounds like they’ve got this, like so many other things (they also nationalized their oil reserves and used them to pay off their national debt and offer free education to all its citizens), right.
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|Hipsters with their coiffed hair and well tended beards (even the women)
ride their Scramblers to interesting places
I’ve been reading the somewhat baffled traditional motorcycle media’s reviews of the new Ducati Scrambler. With few exceptions these articles are being written by Baby Boomers who find the idea of “hipsters‘ to be very mock-worthy. That Ducati is aiming the Scrambler at a younger audience really seems to get up the nose of Boomers who are used to everything being about them.
Being a Generation Xer I’m skeptical of any kind of social organization and assume nothing is ever about me, but I also find that I have more culturally in common with other people of my generation than I do with any other social distinction (race, class, education, religion, politics, citizenship…). When living in Japan the GenXers we met had so many shared experiences with us that we just fell in together; the times in which you find yourself define you. If you’re looking for a review of social organization by birth cohort (generation) then this piece by The Social Librarian will catch you up. See if it doesn’t do a decent job of describing your generation.
I’m not sure why people can’t treat generational differences in the same way they treat cultural differences. You’d be a big jerk if you decided to travel around the world and spent all your time talking about how every other culture is stupid compared to yours, yet people don’t seem to hesitate when doing that about other generations. That Baby Boomers, themselves once torn apart in the media because of their newness, are now having a go at hipsters shows just how bad their memories are getting as they age.
As a bald forty something who can’t grow a nice beard, I still find that I enjoy hipster bike media even though I could never pull off the look…
According to the urban dictionary, hipsters “value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.” What’s not to like about that? Unless you’re a cranky, old, conservative, Boomer motorcyclist who thinks that the pinnacle of motorcycle evolution is a Harley Fat Boy, you’d have to think it delightful.
Given a choice between hanging out with a bunch of Harley Boomers at a Tim Hortons or a group of Hipsters at an artisanal beer bar/gastro-pub, I know where I’d head.
I’m left thinking maybe motorcycle magazines need to diversify their writers instead of hiring all the guys they went to high school with in 1970. Maybe then anyone other than a Boomer might get a fair shake in print. In the meantime, go Ducati, go! A successful Scrambler means all those traditional, conservative motorcycle magazines will have to update their staff (maybe even hire someone born after 1965!), or face irrelevance.
The world moves on. Enjoy hipsters while they’re here, soon enough they’ll grow up and sell out like everyone else has (some first-class GenX skepticism there, eh?).
|The desperate attempt to pry motorcycles from the well manicured hands of the hipster is ongoing…|
It takes patience and a lot of photos, but catching a bird just right never gets old.
|A low light shot with lots of noise in it, but some photoshopping saved it.|
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|Elora to Ancaster and back again… about 160kms|
Another weekend another good ride, this time to Ancaster and back for an edcamp. One again the Concours impressed with its ability to cover miles with ease.
It was about 6°C when I left at 7:30 in the morning, and up in the high teens when I came back mid-afternoon. Both ways was comfortable though behind the fairings, and the new jacket is light-years beyond the old one in terms of both warming and cooling.
I had a moment riding when I was flying through the air on the back of the bike realizing that there is nothing about doing this that I don’t enjoy. It was a windy day, the roads post Canadian winter look like a war zone and it was cold, but even with all that I was still stringing perfect moments together as I flew down the road. I had a moment before the big trip last week when I was wondering if I’m not taking too many risks riding with my son. What finally put me right was realizing that driving a car can end you as well, but we do that much more often and usually while paying less attention. I looked back one time as we were winding our way through Beaver Valley and saw Max with his arms out and eyes closed flying through the air behind me. I would have hated myself if I’d have never given him that experience. Riding might be dangerous, but competence and attention can go a long way in mitigating those risks, and the rewards are impossible to find in any other mode of transport.
The more I ride the Concours the better the engine seems to get. On the way home I stuck the phone behind the windshield and got the video below where you can hear the Concour’s happy noise.
|Sulphur Springs Road – a better way in is on Mineral Springs Road, the top of Sulphur Springs is rough!|
|Mineral Springs Road on the way back, it’s still Ontario bumpy, but it ain’t dirt and it is twisty!|
|Back up in Centre Wellington, the Concours takes a break where I took the first road pic of my former bike|
I always thought that the Ninja was a delight to rev, but the throaty howl of the Concours in full song is hard not to fall in love with:
|Across the top of the Mediterranean over two weeks.|
This time of year always feels like about as far from a ride as I’ll get. It’s in the minus twenties outside and it’s been snowing for days straight. Time for some cost-no-object daydreaming…
If I jumped on a plane late in the evening on Friday, December 22nd at the beginning of our holiday break, it’s a long slog because there is no direct flight to Athens, but I would eventually get there on Saturday afternoon. A night in Athens and then I could begin a long ride in a warm climate across the north coast of the Mediterranean on Christmas Eve, passing through the heart of the Roman Empire on my way west to Lisbon for a flight in time to go back to work.
I have to be back at it on Monday, January 8th. There is a direct flight from Lisbon, Portugal back to Toronto on the Saturday before. Could I get from Athens to Lisbon in thirteen days?
It’s about four thousand kilometers through Greece, Italy, France and Spain to Portugal. That works out to an average of just over three hundred kilometres per day which means plenty of time to stop and see things or a big day of riding followed by a day off. Because it’s Europe there are always autostradas to make up time if needed. It appears Athens to Lisbon is a very doable two week ride.
Here’s a possible day by day breakdown with a couple of days off. All the maps are highway averse, looking for local roads and the time it takes to ride them. Should things get backed up, big highway miles could happen to make up lost time:
|Here’s a link to the spreadsheet with working links to maps.|
There are a couple of longer days in there, but there are also two days off completely and some short, half days of riding. There is plenty of time to stop and soak things in en-route to our western return point.
My weapon of choice for this trip would be the new Triumph Tiger Explorer I’m crushing on, in matt cobalt blue. Tall Tigers fit me well and this one is perhaps the best one ever made. As a cross countries mover there is little that can beat it, and that new blue is a lovely thing. I think I’d do a burnt orange on the engine guards and pannier logos. I’d also redo the badges in matching orange.
The new Tiger Explorer is 24 pounds lighter than the old one, gets better mileage and has a host of advanced features that make an already good long distance bike better. The big three that powers it would comfortably carry a passenger if I could convince anyone to do this with me. If we’re touring two up I’d luggage it up and make sure we could carry everything with us, but if I was solo I think I could just get by with the panniers and leave the back end looking less luggage-y.
Outfitting it with luggage and a few odds and ends from the extensive options catalogue is always fun. I only got myself into four thousand dollars of trouble there:
|The solo, lighter Tiger looks a treat.|
In a perfect world I’d get my Tiger shipped from my garage in my England house to the Triumph Dealer in Athens where I’d pick it up on December 23rd. I’d drop it off at the Triumph dealer in Lisbon on January 6th and either convince my cousin to ride it back to the UK or get it shipped back.
I’ve got the kit needed to do this now, but having a look at the latest European gear, I think I’d spring for a new helmet to do this ride with. The Roof Carbon is a piece of industrial art that gives me the benefits of a closed face when I need it and an open face when I’m in need of some wind. The iridium face shield would make this thing look like something out of battle of the planets.
Since it’s a daydream, it ain’t cheap. I’d fly business there and back, so flights are north of seven grand. Getting the bike delivered wouldn’t be cheap, assuming it was waiting for me in Europe to begin with. But hey, if you can’t daydream big, why daydream at all?
13 full days + 1/2 a day on each end
~4000kms – 307kms / day
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