XC Ski question

12:57 p.m. on October 27, 2010 (EDT)
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I was given a set of No-Wax XC skis with the three-pin bindings with matching boots.  I am not a skier but I am curious, what kind of slopes can I safely decend with these things?  I know XC skiers do a different style of turns on hills but I also know that all XC skis are not equal.  There is nothing keeping the boots attached to the skis except those three little pins. There, all of my XC ski knowledge.  Can anyone in the group lend their experience?  I like the idea of snoww hiking with these and saving energy over my usual "post holeing"

1:30 p.m. on October 27, 2010 (EDT)
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First of all, "no-wax" skis actually should be waxed for best performance. They work ok without wax, but the proper wax for the snow and temperature conditions will make a big difference. You can go uphill on the no-wax skis (that's what the "fishscale" section on the ski bottom is for), but the steepness of the slope you can go up is limited. A proper climbing wax will get you up steeper slopes. Yes, you can herringbone or side step, but being able to go straight up is more fun. And you could always get skins if you are going to do much uphill.

3-pin bindings are great for prepared tracks and for moderate slopes. Depending on the brand and model, you may be able to add a cable, which will improve control and avoid the dreaded "3-hole tear-out". Nothing like doing some vigorous turns and having the pins pull through the rubber on the sole somewhere way out. You then have to kind of hobble back to the trailhead. Actually, I used nothing but 3-pin for XC skiing for many years (the 3-pin binding is the source of the term "pinhead" for telemark skiers, even though the 3-pin bindings are mostly used on track).

One question - do the skis have metal edges? If not, you probably should stick to prepared tracks that have the twin tracks groomed into the snow until you develop a fair amount of skill. If they do have metal edges, you can do all the turns that downhill, lock-down skiers do and more, much more. Downhillers can't do a proper telemark turn. Yeah, with AT (aka "randonee") bindings, you can do a fake sort of tele turn when you unlock the heel, but it lacks the grace and real power of a true telemark turn. The true tele turn involves a bended knee posture (actually genuflecting to the Snow Gods, particularly Ullr).

The thing with the metal edges is that they help in carving turns on hard snow or ice. You can do all the turns (snowplow, wedge, stem christy, full christy aka "parallel") that downhillers do in powder or soft snow, as well as the telemark family of turns. But without metal edges, you don't have the "bite" on hardpack or ice (of course, if your metal edges aren't sharpened properly, you don't have the "bite" either).

Welcome to the world of Real Skiing! Remember, EARN YOUR TURNS - none of this yo-yo nonsense where you get hauled up the hill in a mechanical device. There is nothing in resort skiing to equal the beauty of XC skis through the woods in a fresh snowfall, as you lay fresh tracks breaking your own trail. It's faster and more fun than snowshoes as well.

2:52 p.m. on October 27, 2010 (EDT)
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I always appreciate when I can elicit a response from The OGBO. 

I hope I am correct: No steel edges = pretty much trails and not down hill turning.  These are the trailwalkers of the ski family.  Edged skis are the mountainboots of the clan. 

These skis have no steel edges.  Please rest assured, I have no plans to ride a lift to ski.  To me it will be a means rather than an end.  I plan on using these to extend my hiking season into the soft snow months. 

I am intrigued about the cable idea though, I need to research that one.  I am vaguely familiar with the XC skier obsession with proper waxes for each varying condition, again more learning required here. 

3:18 p.m. on October 27, 2010 (EDT)
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These sound to me like track skis. You probably don't want to use cables on them.  My skis, which I sold this Spring, were Atomic Rainier metal edged skis with 3 pin cable bindings on Voile release plates and I had skins for them.  What all this means is that these were backcountry skis with a releaseable binding system that I could use with a plastic bc boot.  I never learned to do so, but that setup could be used for telemark skiing on moderate slopes. Even though I had no wax skis, the climbing skins (full length Black Diamond skins) are the equivalent of tire chains and far more effective for traction than the no wax pattern.

My skis were 160, 88-68-78, meaning they were a parabolic design, not nearly as wide as a fat tele ski, but much wider than a track ski, and wide enough for most off track conditions except really fluffy stuff.

For a good introduction, if somewhat dated, to all this-check out this site-

http://home.comcast.net/~pinnah/DirtbagPinner/dirtbag.html

5:37 p.m. on October 28, 2010 (EDT)
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The skis you describe would be best classified as “light” touring skis.  They are designed for traveling over level and gently contoured terrain, both on groomed trails as well as breaking your own trail.  If you plan to go into more mountainous terrain you will find this equipment may lack the level of control you desire.

 

In any case, get a book about cross country skiing, specifically one describing the shuffle step, the step turn, the stem turn, how to herring bone step, traverse step, and how to reverse direction (switch back) using the kick turn.  Such a book should also describe waxing technique, and may even discuss the use of climbing skins.

 

If you find yourself hooked, inevitably you will desire equipment that can take you up and down steeper terrain.  Herein is where telemark skiing technique and equipment come into play.  A good book will help you learn, but people often may need a lesson from an instructor to jumpstart their learning curve.  You will find it is faster to learn telemarking technique at alpine ski area, where the lifts and groomed snow allow you more down hill mileage per hour, and permits you to save your energy for perfecting your skills.  A piece of safety equipment that is required in all lift serviced ski areas is runaway straps, which prevent your skis from becoming snow bound missiles and injuring bystanders, should your boots come out of the binding.  Basic telemarking skills to learn include the telemark turn, the parallel turn, the reverse paralell turn, stem christy, and snow plow. 

 

While you can use climbing skins with waxless skis, you may have trouble with the skins coming loose when snow and moisture work their way between the ski base and the skins.  In fact I would advise not purchasing waxless ski, if for no other reason, the edges on the traction pattern cut into the ski base will wear down relatively quickly, thus this kind of ski has a short useful life span.

 

You do not need metal edges to enjoy skiing in unbroken snow.  If you limit your descents to slopes no steeper than most road grades you will be ok.  But you will find even these grades require some confidence and  competent step turn and stem turn techniques.  You can have a lot of fun at this level, and won’t need to invest a lot of money or time to get there.

 

When you find yourself attempting steeper downhill, and can’t maintain adequate control, regardless how coordinated you get at stemming and stepping through turns, it is time to get more rugged equipment; enter the metal edged ski and stiffer boots.  The key to better control of telemark skis and boots lies in the geometry of the ski and torsional stiffness of the boot.  The primary feature that endows a ski with control is called side cut.  Track skis are fattest at the middle of the ski when viewed from above, while light touring skis are fattest at the tip, less fat at the tail and narrowest at the mid section (waist).  Telemark skis are simular to light touring skis except they are generally wider overall, and the waist is proportionally more narrow, lending telemark skis a more hour glass-like silhouette (side cut) when viewed from above.  The reason an hourglass side cut provides control becomes apparent when you visualize what happens when you set the ski on one edge and apply force where the binding mounts.  This force will bend the ski until the edge contacts the floor along its entire length. Notice the edge forms an arc along the ground: this arc is the line you ski will track along, allowing you to turn.  This arc is the reason a telemark ski is easier to turn – you can’t create this arc with a track ski.  Getting the telemark ski to turn require you to apply forces using your boot.  Boots designed for track skis are very soft, totally incapable of applying the forces necessary to turn a ski up on edge and get it carving.  Touring boots are somewhat stiffer, but still lack the torsional stiffness to crank a hard turn.  Tidemark boots are stiff as heavy duty hiking boots, and often even more stiff.  Thus the combination of the side cut on the ski and stiffness of the boot are the primary features that provide control on downhill descents.

 

As with most of life, there are tradeoffs selecting cross country ski equipment.  Heavier skis and boots provide better control, but sacrifice gliding efficiency, relative comfort, and require more effort to drag that weight up hill.  Lighter equipment is more enjoyable on level and gentle sloping tracts because the track and light touring skis glide better, but you will find these skis hard to control going down anything steeper than a gentle grade.  The “kick and glide” or “skating” techniques used with light equipment are easier to gain competency than the various downhill telemark techniques, but you need telemark skill and equipment to fully enjoy traveling highly contoured terrain.  Lastly track and light touring skis and boots cost a fraction of the cost of telemark equipment.

 

The kind of equipment you select should consider your intended use.  If you want to glide or skate along a groomed trail, select light weight skis and shoes.  If you want to travel into the woods and meadows along minimal inclines, light touring gear will do nicely.  If you intend to go into the mountains, break trail through deep snow, or shoulder an overnight pack, telemark or wide heavy touring equipment will best suit your needs.  Keep in mind however, heavier isn’t always better in this regard.  Bill mentioned he prefers using a cable binding; many skiers forego this option for weight considerations.  A cable binding more than doubles the weight of the binding, and also adds weight to your repair kit (always bring along a repair kit that includes spare binding parts when going into the backcountry).  A cable binding does allow better control, but so does better technical skills.  While most of the skiers featured in the links (below) use cable bindings, do note most” people avoid skiing “no falls” gonzo terrain.  A reasonably skilled telemark skier can ski most double diamond lift serviced runs without cable bindings.  If you intend to go trekking into the backwoods, also consider one should probably avoid pressing their luck on extreme terrain anyway, since inaccessibility compounds the gravity of any serious injury.  Thus I personally see no reason to use a cable binding while snow camping.  But to each their own.

 

Lastly Bill mentions randonee equipment.  Randonee is a hybrid concept, combining the uphill mobility of cross country skis with the downhill control of alpine skis.  Randonee skis are usually heavier than telemark skis, uses a heavier binding system that allows the heal to be locked down when not in “walking” mode, and usually uses a alpine ski boot, however, equipment manufacturers are now producing boots specifically for this niche sport.  Like Bill I am skeptical of randonee.  I personally think this equipment is best suited for out of bounds skiing, proximal to lift serviced ski areas, where your shuffle is a relatively short distance to the run.  When I have been on camping trips with people using this equipment it was my impression they struggled harder, lugging around this heavier equipment over level and uphill tracts.

 

This link and this link demonstrates there is virtually no limits to what one can telemark ski down.

 

This link describes the difference between the basic three pin binding and the cable binding.

 

This link summarizes the differences between light and heavy boots.

 

And this link I included mainly to help understand what skins are.

Ed

8:06 p.m. on October 28, 2010 (EDT)
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Ed,

That was a bit overwhelming, like drinking from a firehose! More so than my posts, by far! And I already know all that stuff!

8:21 p.m. on October 28, 2010 (EDT)
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If that was a firehose, bring it on. :)

It is wonderful to get condensed but accurate and focused information. I am nowhere close to financially or geographically near being able to get into such skiing, but I have an appetite for anything that will broaden my outdoor related knowledge!

7:33 a.m. on October 29, 2010 (EDT)
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Ed,

That was a bit overwhelming, like drinking from a firehose! More so than my posts, by far! And I already know all that stuff!

Sorry Grant,  I did get kind of carried away. 

But to the point, your skis should be suitable for tooling along a groomed trail, or romping cross country through gentle terrain on a day hike.  They may even be suitable for overnight touring, hauling a heavier pack.  The best way to determine your potential and gear limitations is get out there, taking it a little at a time, and seeing how well your skis float on different kinds of snow, and how stable you feel given various snow conditions, terrain contours,  and weights hauled in a pack.   One thing is certain; any ski will provide better floatation in the snow than boots, and most skis float better than snow shoes. The good thing is the skis were free to you.  Your first day putting around on gentle terrain will tell you if this is your cup of tea.  You can always invest in more robust equipment later, should the day come where you are confident in your shuffle skills and wish to carve turns or negotiate steeper terrain.

I got into the sport for the very reasons you cite.  My first cross country skis were literally shaped wooden boards with tar bases, and boots about as comfy and stiff as bedroom slippers.  There isn't much terrain you can ski in Southern California with such a set up; nevertheless I fell hard for the sport; forty years and several equipment upgrades later I consider it the best way to visit the backcountry.  Those flimsy boards and boots were the damn best equipment investment I ever made.

 

Ed

8:04 a.m. on October 29, 2010 (EDT)
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.. I am nowhere close to financially or geographically near being able to get into such skiing...

 Caleb:

You would be amazed how cheap you can get used equipment, literally pennies on the dollar.  Good stuff too.  Being a starving artist put the bum into my sking as a youth.  As for distance, well not much can be done about that.

11:37 a.m. on November 1, 2010 (EDT)
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I appreciate everyone's experienced responses. 

I will enjoy trying these babies out this fall/winter/spring and learning their best uses and limitations.  Besides the price was right.  However I fear that, like many hobbies, I will eventually yearn for more and these free skis will turn into a really fun, possibly pricy, activity. 

It seems like there are always three things at every yard sale around here (E Washington) baby clothes, exercise equipment and skis. 

11:28 a.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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I only add to the great info above because I am such a big fan of cross country skiing.

When I first started, three pins were all that was available, but my friends laughed when I showed up with a pair of waxless that had two long thin strips of mohair.  But while they were messing around with the rituals of waxing, I was out skiing.  

Instead of snowshoeing around in the woods, I went skiing.  Some form of snowplowing was about the only way to stop other than just falling over, but an instruction book I had actually suggested "grabbing on to a small sapling"!

Skiing around in the Vermont winter woods on the coldest of winter days with only a minimum of winter clothes needed because one warms up so quickly was just a wonderful relief from standing around freezing in long lift lines at alpine ski areas.

My wife and friends would pack a lunch and be gone all day.  Wonderful.  Eventually we even skied with kids in the back carriers. But, then we got back into alpine skiing as the kids got older and needed the thrill of downhill.

Now, we do mostly downhill alpine, but by 3PM we often head for the groomed trails for cross country skiing, not so much in the woods anymore.

Binding, boots and skiis now have new looks, but waxless is still the way we go.

It is just easier, less time consuming and just as much fun.

Skate-skiing has become more popular, but groomed tracks are needed for that.

Other areas for good cross country are golf courses, no need to always get in the mountains.  I am sure on good snow days, one would find skiers in Central Park in the middle of NYC.

In short, it is fun, good exercise, and a terrific way to enjoy being outdoors in winter.  If you can walk, you can cross country ski.

12:23 p.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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I was ready to be done with this thread but you bring up a good point.  So, I might be able to stop by snowplowing ( i have an idea of what that is) but otherwise the only other option is grabbing onto someone/thing and using them or falling?  This means that I need be very careful of my forward speed while going downhill on logging roads! 

Thanks again for all the helpful sharing.  I am praying for snow and, since I heard we are in a La Nina winter, I might get it. 

1:05 p.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Dragging your poles between your legs is another traditional way to stop; likewise just step turning out of the fall line is another stopping method when using trad equipment.  Get a book, read about the techniques, you have options.

Ed

1:43 p.m. on November 4, 2010 (EDT)
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Stopping techniques on XC skis -

1. Sit down (you usually aren't going all that fast, but do the "sit" to one side or the other, since if you sit on the skis, you will go faster; Please fill in your "sitzmark" - there used to be signs at all ski resorts saying that). I personally am an expert in plants - butt plants, side plants, and (ahem!) face plants.

2. Drag your poles. This works even better if you ride the poles (like witches ride their brooms) or squat holding the poles near the baskets with the top of the pole against the back of your shoulder (basically just slide your hands down the poles, without your hands in the straps, of course).

3. Step turn - do a series of quick, small steps turning across the slope or toward the side of the trail - this is a good beginner turn technique that works for experts as well in powder or mushy snow.

4. snow plow - this works better in soft snow and, on packed and groomed snow, with metal edges. It takes a bit of practice to master if you have never been on skis before. When teaching kids to ski, it is also referred to as a "wedge" or "pizza-slice" turn. Your skis are angled into a "V". Keep the tips together and don't let one ski cross the other (if you do a face plant with crossed skis, you may mess up your goggles... or something else).

5. stem turn - this is a "half-snowplow", where you just "wedge" out the ski you intend as the outside of the turn. Just remember to keep the ski tips together (see "snow plow" above)

6. Stem christy - the introduction to the Christiana, a turn in which the skis are "edged" (tilt your ankles) and slide around the turn, but in a stem-turn position

7. Christy (for the old folks, the full Christiana turn), aka "parallel turn" - this is the one you see all the "pros" using in the Olympics, with the skis parallel to each other, spraying lots of snow on hapless bystanders. This is also what snowboarders do, because their feet are locked immovably to the board, so they have to brute-force the surfboard, er, I mean snowboard sideways.

8. "Hockey stop" - just like ice skaters come to a stop - force the skis parallel completely sideways and fully on their edges, spraying huge amounts of snow on your buddies, while laughing wildly at how much fun this is. Often used by macho adolescents to impress cute adolescent girls (who usually scream and giggle, followed by hilarious laughter when the macho adolescent missed the mark and goes head over heels, losing the skis in the process).

9. Tele turn ("telemark turn" is the full name, aka "free-heel") - by far the most elegant and graceful of turns. Done by a skilled and accomplished pinhead on a 45 degree slope of fresh powder, this astounds one and all (especially the telemarker if s/he makes it down the entire slope without falling). The motto of telemarkers is "Free the heel, and free the soul (sole)".  It should be noted that learning to telemark is a challenge - if telemark were easy, it would be called snowboarding. Telemarkers subscribe to the philosophy of "earn your turns".

Historical note - the christiana and telemark turns were introduced by Sondre Norheim in a ski race in Christiana (now named Oslo), Norway, which is in the Telemark region of Norway. Competitors felt that this style of easier and faster turn than the old step turn was unfair and tried to get it banned in races. However the tele and christy are so much more efficient that they took over.

5:01 a.m. on November 5, 2010 (EDT)
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... in Christiana (now named Oslo), Norway, which is in the Telemark region of Norway...

Not quite. The Telemark district (fylke, #8 in the map below) is a ways east of Oslo (#3), so Norheim had to travel away from home to get to the competition. I think that there was some surprise when a country bumpkin came down out of the hills and blew everyone away. Kind of like what Bill Koch did to Nordic skiing, eh?

Here's a pretty good web site on Norheim:

http://www.sondrenorheim.com/

regions-de-norvege.png

12:28 p.m. on November 5, 2010 (EDT)
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Hmmm, several books and websites, that I have read about the early history of skiing, say that Christiana was in Telemark. I wonder if the district boundaries got shifted around or divided (or is it that some of the books are perpetuating an error from some earlier book. Anyway, Norheim (born as Sondre Auverson and later change his name to the place he was living at the time) made a lot more contributions to skiing. Apparently he also added a heel strap to the leather toe tie-down for the binding and added sidecut and camber to his skis. In his later years, he moved to the US, eventually ending up in North Dakota, where he is buried.

I don't remember when the 3-pin binding was introduced, but it was an addition to the metal rat-trap that had become popular, replacing the leather toe fastening. The brand-name Rottefella means "rat trap" in Norwegian, if I recall rightly. "Ski" and "slalom" also derive from Scandinavian words. Though I found out when Barb and I were on a bike tour of Scandinavia that "ski" is pronounced "she" there.

2:08 a.m. on November 6, 2010 (EDT)
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I have no idea how you gracefully stop skis without metal edges. My one and only experience on skinny skis showed me that what I wanted were metal edged skis and those are what I have in my photo. Atomic Rainiers.

9:15 a.m. on November 6, 2010 (EDT)
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It's not so much the edges as the shape, at least on any reasonably soft snow surface. Yet another of Norheim's breakthroughs was to introduce sidecut (skis that are narrower under foot than at tip and tail), which is what really makes a ski want to turn and ultimately developed into today's shapely downhill and telemark skis that practically turn themselves. I have a pair of Garmont Belugas, cheaply made, 160 cm, edgeless skis, fat for their time (105 mm at the tip) that I picked up at a ski swap for $35 with bindings. These  were my favorite powder skis for several seasons in the VT woods, until I moved to Norway where it's hard to find pure powder. No edges, but they were nicely shaped and, being short, very quick edge to edge. I used to say they were good for just two things -- wigglin' and gigglin'.

I can also recall doing parallel turns and  hockey stops on easy terrain on my old, straight-sided wooden Madshus Birkebeiners and under-the-ankle 75 mm touring shoes back in the 70s. I started out telemarking on those until I broke one, and then used some el-cheapo straight-sided fiberglass Trak touring skis until I delaminated those (all in one season) and finally scraped together enough money to buy a pair of steel-edged Rossignol Randonees with all of about 8mm of sidecut (broke, replaced under warranty, broke again, replaced with a different model).

Anyway, with good telemark or really strong parallel technique it's possible to pull a graceful turn or stop on reluctant skis, at least in forgiving snow, but the margin of error -- and fun -- gets bigger as you get into more responsive gear. (But the margin of enjoyment on the uphills and flats decreases as the gear gets stiffer and heavier, there are definite tradeoffs...)

1:59 p.m. on November 6, 2010 (EDT)
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To add to the confusion, skate skis (XC skis intended for skating on prpared tracks) also come with what you might refer to as a "negative sidecut". That is, they are wider at the mid-section than at the toe and back, plus some even have a kind of "S" or "wave" sidecut. I have taken to doing skating for my ski orienteering, since it is so much faster than "kick and glide" in the prepared parallel tracks (still can't skate decently up any kind of hills, though - I get passed by the experts on the uphills faster than I skate downhill).

As BigRed says, with a strong tele technique, you can do a "hockey stop" with XC skis that have no edges (or the hardened non-metal edges for which I have forgotten the name, something like lignite, except that is a kind of coal, so wrong name).

3:45 p.m. on November 6, 2010 (EDT)
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"Lignostone", some kind of hardened wood, darker than the rest of the ski base. Us old-timers remember and love the smell of the pine tar we used to warm into our wooden ski bases so they would hold wax. I know and run into a few people that still prefer woodies, but fiberglass skis are much faster and more durable. I have an antique pair of old Northland skis, 215 cm long and downhill ski width, each a single piece of hickory, no edges, hanging in the barn back in VT. I found them in an old house in NH that my father bought, completely refinished them, and skied them a couple of times at the Mad River telemark fest -- absolutely humbling to think that Dick Durrance and Toni Matt schussed the headwall at Tuckerman Ravine on similar monsters.

That takes us pretty far off the original thread, but, what the hay?

7:10 p.m. on November 6, 2010 (EDT)
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...That takes us pretty far off the original thread, but, what the hay?

Not really. I think it is important that people new to the sport (or various aspects of the outdoors) get some appreciation for the history and traditions of the activity. It says something about why we have sidecut, camber, and various types of bindings, and how and why the techniques developed.

Barb and I still use our lignostone skis from time to time, mostly on set tracks, but sometimes in fresh snow (preferably powder).

3:34 p.m. on November 8, 2010 (EST)
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Barb and I still use our lignostone skis from time to time, mostly on set tracks, but sometimes in fresh snow (preferably powder).

Yea, my old Bonna 1800s are wonderful for kick and glides along snowed-in logging and NPS roads.  Where do you get your tar?  I am down to my last drops.

Ed

October 25, 2014
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