Krasnoyarsk, Russia to Novosibirsk, Russia – Day 32

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Tuesday, 28 August 2012  Krasnoyarsk, Russia to Novosibirsk, Russia (525 miles) Total Trip Miles – 8626. 11 hours riding

Weather Temperature for the first part of day in the upper 40′s changing to mostly sunny in the upper 60′s later with several periods of light rain

Today was a welcomed surprise with a significant change in the road conditions – for the first time since leaving Vladivostok, there were no gravel, dirt or muddy roads – only roads that would rival any two-lane highways anywhere in the world…it made for quite an enjoyable day for riding and a needed rest from the grind of the last several days.

Finally was able to get my GPS dialed in to find the hotels that I book…the issue I had were the English translations from Russian; since sometimes that would vary between what the GPS would recognize.  Anyhow, I have been able to locate the last two hotels, but did have some issues today with finding the Tikhaya Plosad Hotel – while the GPS got me to within a couple of blocks, the hotel was hidden behind the main building.  As Brad, American cyclist on the streets of Novosibirsk, I was asking if anyone knew English and did find a guy who worked with me for about 30 minutes…his wife and young daughter even lent a hand.  I called the hotel and passed the phone over to him and even then, he had difficulty trying to determine its location.

If a Russian to a Russian can’t figure it out, what do the think the odds of me remotely coming up with the spot.  Finally, one of the girls from the hotel met us on the street – she still wasn’t quite sure how to get he bike over to the hotel – they did advertise free parking.  In the end.  I can only imagine what the hundreds of people walking down the streets of Novosibirsk this afternoon thought about this big guy wearing a helmet & filthy riding suit.  A funny thing…a young couple did approach us thinking that the man trying to lend me some assistance was somehow up to something less than admirable intentions – she asked me if I needed any help and was I OK since she probably saw me flayling my arms and being a bit dramatic…you know what I mean!

The boutique hotel is very nice; however the surroundings send some red flags…graffiti, unkept streets, folks hanging out of windows from large apartment buildings…kind of a large city alley feel.  I did remove all my gear, but all I could think was some green spray paint on my bike in the morning or even worse.  Late tonight I did go outside to check my ending mileage and the manager in broken English kept saying something about my motorcycle and “the box”.  I though he meant the side pannier boxes mounted on the bike should be brought in, but he grabbed a flash light and huge key and pointed for me to follow.  We walked down the dark streets to huge entrance under the building that had this wide aisle of nothing but plated steel doors down both sides – probably a hundred about the size of a one-car garage door.  I was sold on idea and moved the bike – thanks Alexander!

Regarding the images posted imagine the motorcycle with three older men riding, no helmets and horrible blue smoke streaming from the tailpipe – I have seen that same scenario countless times over the last several days.  The second is typical of most city entrances and the last is to say TEXAS even exists in Siberia!  What’s funny is that is actually spelled using the Russian alphabet…they use the letter “C” and their “S”.  Oh…I did start to notice that the out houses are starting to look a bit more modern as I go farther west.

A note regarding fuel stops…now keep in mind this took some trial and error given the language barriers, but you pull up, insert the knozzle into the tank with your desired gas type, walk over to the small pay window that has a primitive slide tray that you give them the estimated dollar amount (they all have them and most times you can’t see the person behind the glass and if you can it’s throught the small window opening) and pump your gas.  If you gave them 500 rubles and the total was 424 for example, you walk back over to the window and change is provided in the sliding tray…if you hit the 500 ruble mark the pump stops…your decision is to just go with that or give them more money.  Culturally I find Russians expect payment in hand first, then the service – for the most part without exception.

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

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Irkutsk, Russia to Krasnoyarsk, Russia – Day 31

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Sunday, 27 August 2012 Irkutsk, Russia to Krasnoyarsk, Russia (708 miles) Total Trip Miles – 8103. 15 hours riding

Weather Temperature for the first part of day in the upper 40’s changing to mostly sunny in the upper 60’s later changing to cold rain & wind with temps in the 50’s approaching Krasnoyarsk

Wow…what a long and challenging day on this journey around the world…the day started off as usual with an alarm at 5 am allowing me time to prepare for the days ride – book a hotel in Krasnoyarsk, write my blog and prepare my gear for the day.  Most recently the days have been long and grueling with 4-5 hours sleep…arriving in each city late in the evening and up early to do it all over again in a city near you.

This day started out like all others and for the most of the day, the weather was sunny & warm – perfect riding conditions.  Around 6 pm as I was just outside of Kansk, I pulled over to tighten up my gear for the weather clouds I saw ahead in the northwestern skies – additionally, my brother Tye had updated the weather forecast on Facebook and I was prepared for a wet last few hours on the road.

The highways are oftern confusing and the M 53 through Kansk didn’t let me down – typically as this main road passes through a city, it winds right through the town seemingly on every little backstreet, back yards and you name it making very little sense given the volume of traffic including huge over-the-road trucks.  Today’s trip though Kansk weaved me along a 4.5 mile road of mud, pot holes & rocks that seemed like an eternity to navigate.  But I made it and continued towards Krasnoyarsk in a drving rain & wind for the next 5 hours with temps in the mid 50’s.

Folks, there is no such thing as weather-proof gear under these types of conditions and slowly rain begain to creep into every corner of my gear – first my sleeves, riding boots and eventually a bit of dampness in just about every spot.  As darkness fell, visibility became difficutl with the rain, fog and glare from oncoming traffic.  Found myself a rabbit, in this case a large dump truck, and just focused in on his talilights  I also was reminded by my clock I keep from my home time zone that during these final hours of my rided I reminded myself that most of my family and friends were having coffee & breakfast and starting their days…it can certainly be tuuuuuf out here in Siberia for this poor fella from North Carolina!

Anyhow, fortunately I have a GPS and I made my way through the streets of Krasnoyarsk eventually arriving at the hotel – I absolutely must have looked like one of those fishermen on the seas around Alaska after long day onboard ship working the crab boxes.   The Dom Hotel is extremely nice with secure parking in their courtyard and I had a 12:15 am dinner at their restaurant – meatballs, mash potatoes and a Coke – a perfect ending to my day!

Earlier in the day, I passed several, what I beleive to be, canola fields that expanded well off to the horizon and I snapped a picture for you of the typical bathroom accomodations at my gas stops.  That’s right, every fuel stop I’ve made comes complete with an outhouse that has a carefully constructed hole in the wooden floor with two blocks to postion you feet…ladies – welcome to Siberia!

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Chita, Russia to Irkutsk, Russia – Day 30

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Sunday, 26 August 2012 Chita, Russia to Irkutsk (771 miles) Total Trip Miles – 7395. 15 hours riding

Weather Temperature in the first part of day in the upper 40’s changing to mostly sunny in the upper 60’s later changing to cold rain in the 50’s approaching Irkutsk

Up at 6am and prepared trip maps and gear for the trip to Irkutsk departing Chita at 8am only to get turned around trying to get out of the city onto the M55…Chita was extremely difficult to navigate within, but I finally got on the right track heading again on my westward journey.  While the first part of the day started off a bit cool, it quickly warmed as the sun rose in the sky.  Couldn’t help but notice the grand expanse of the region with small towns/villages scattering the landscape.  All the house looked similar of wood with colorful window treatments (teals, blues and the like) and fenced – gardens – women were often seen along the roadside dressed in very colorful dresses.

Today was was to bring a few roadside stops to make minor repairs…while bouncing along one of the gravel roads, I noticed the dash on the bike start to shake as if a mounting bracket was loose or broken.  After a brief inspection, I notice 2 mounting bolts had loosened – it took 2 attempts today to finally remedy the problem.  To add to my anxiety, the drive chain continues to be an issue getting loose and it went a step further as it began making a grinding noise.  If you recall, TSA took my canned chain lube and I was foreced to search for a replacement in Dong Hae – the only product even close was WD-40…I know, I know what was I thinking!  Hey, while standing in the aisle, I looked up the WD-40 website and found one of the 2000+ uses was as a motorcycle chain lube. Being an aircraft mechanic for many years, something kept telling me this made no sense, but hey, they published it.  I decided to use some 10-40 motor oil instead (recommended in the Suzuki shop manual as a chain lube) and it took care of the noise problem.

Tye, my brother, had just called me as I got back on the road to listen to my crazyiness as I described what had taken place…Tye keep up the weather forecast posts on FB – very helpful to me in my day planning.

I did notice one thing while moving more and more into the heart of Siberia – the heart and soul of the area was starting to come out – these rural villages and especially Ulan Ude which looks like one of the smaller villages on a much, much larger scale.  Just at the gas stop there, the young lady assisting with the fill up was very pleasant – I was just noticing a change in the people…something I started to embrace and get more comfortable.  Even during my last fuel stop outside of Irkutsk, an entire family hopped out of their van to pose for a picture with me…spoke no English, but we were able to communicate.

The day was littered with many road construction projects…gravel and dirt roads that often became very difficult to manage given the load and street tires on the bike.  That quickly turned to rain and mud the last 5 hours or so of my day with conditions getting even more treacherous – probably the closest I have come on the entire trip to losing control and the bike going down.

To help increase my speeds I did learn quickly to find a local that was running at a speed I was comfortable with and follow…it served a couple of purposes:  First, I ccan watch the movements of their vehicle for to help avoid pot holes and road dips or rollers.  Rollers have become my biggest challenge since they have caused my bike to bottom out a few times adding to my chain issue.  Secondly, I probably wouldn’t run at the speeds if I was alone to avoid any issues with local law enforcement…we call them rabbits in Tennessee and you probably do as well.

As I passed Lake Baikal, which incidently is the largest & deepest, fresh-water lake in the world making up 20% of the world’s unfrozen fresh water, I saw two cyclists on dual sport bikes like mine pass me as I was getting fuel only later to pass them farther up the road and waving.  As I was climbing the mountain about 75 miles outside of Irkutsk, they came up from behind to pass and for the next 75 miles I ran third the entire time – I wouldn’t have driven as agressively solo, but hey, to local rabbits and I’m gonna go.  Just outside Irkutsk, they pulled over and I decided to do the same and introduce myself.  Both were from Irkutsk speaking no English and had just completed the Irkutsk to Vladivostok round trip.  Asking them where my hotel was in my best Russian, the younger biker pointed to himself to follow…keep in mind, they had been on a 7-10 day trip and just returning home and he takes me directly to the hotel at 11pm at night!  We exchanged no names although we did pose for a picture together – these are the moments that make this trip so very special to me!

I was absolutely exhausted when I finally got to my hotel room – took a quick shower and crashed for the night.  Hotel staff there spoke English and I ordered soom room service – I has hongry!…a great ending to this long day.

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Vladivostok, Russia to Khabarovsk, Russia – Day 27

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Thursday, 23 August 2012 Vladivostok, Russia to Khabarovsk, Russia (496 miles) Total Trip Miles – 5219. 11 hours riding

Weather Temperature in the upper 50’s & mid 70’s with mostly sunny skies

News Flash Finally found the hotel in Khabarvosk about midnight after an 11hr ride…tough pulling into a remote Russian city at that hour searching for the hotel. Believe me, there are no hotel signs or beacons in the night showing you the way.

After passing two Russian police officers along the side of the road, I decided go ask them if they could direct me to the Chiata Hotel; we were having a bit of a difficult time communicating, when one tapped on the car and pointed indicating for me to follow him. We went a couple of kilometers down the M60 Highway and they just pulled over pointing ahead. After riding further and finding nothing, I pulled into a gas station asking anyone that would listen, “Chiata Hotel” in my best Russian accent.

Finally a guy who spoke a little English, offered some help by calling a friend that spoke very good English. While explaining my desire to find the hotel, two ladies overheard and said just to follow them – they would lead me to the hotel. I absolutely would have never found the the hotel without their help…still be riding around by daybreak!

Woke up this morning quite early…about 4:30 am and I guess all the anticipation of starting the ride across Siberia got the best of me. Met Svetlana at the port terminal along with Julian & Lorena to get the bikes released from customs…took a bit longer than I had hoped since I needed to get on the road if I wanted to get to Khabarovsk at a reasonable time.

When I first cranked the bike, it would only run for a few seconds and die…just what I needed to start this day! I knew the fuel level was extremely low due to shipping requirements and I thought that may be the problem. As luck would have it, it started to run well after a few minutes and I followed Svetlana to the neairest gas station to fill up. I then headed back to the hotel to load the gear on the bike…pulled out of the hotel parking lot right about noon.

The trip out of Vladivostok was hectic with all the cars & traffic jams and with one-way streets it took awhile to reach the M60. For the first 20 miles or so, the roads were good.

Road conditions to Khabarovsk were treacherous at best…Tons of gravel, dust, pot holes and road workers became the theme of the day. It was the Alaska Highway on steroids and add all the traffic including the big trucks, it was a wild rodeo. During the entire trip, made just 2 quick fuel stops and ended the day with the bike, gear and myself covered in dust & grime.

The scenery reminded me early in the day of the Texas hill country and gradually changed to a look of Alaska….hope today to snap a few pictures.

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Vladivostok, Russia – Day 26

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Wednesday, 22 August 2012 Vladivostok, Russia (0 miles) Total Trip Miles – 4723. 0 hours riding

Weather Temperature in the upper 50’s & lower 60’s with driving wind and rain

NOTE Expect to be back on the road tomorrow following the Siberian Railroad route to Moscow…good possibility I’ll have some limited access to phone & internet services over the next 2 weeks. Please continue to check my blog daily for all updates.

Expected Schedule
23 August – Khabarovsk
24/25 August – Skovorodino
26 August – Chita
27 August – Irkutsk
28 August – Krasnoyarsk
29 August – Novosibirsk
30 August – Omsk
31 August – Tyumen
1 September – Ufa
2 September – Novgorod
3 September – Moscow
3/4 September – Russian/Latvian Border

Awakened this morning by driving heavy rains & winds – sounds like a train going by outside my hotel room…decided to just relax most of the day and prepare my gear for the bike.

After finishing lunch at the hotel cafe, I walked down to the train station to snap a few pictures of the Siberian Railroad train and pose in front of the monument marking the end of the line for the historic train in Vladivostok – 9288 kilometers and the basic route I’ll be taking beginning tomorrow. I met a couple from Australia, Malcolm & Jan, the evening before that had just completed the Moscow to Vladivostok trip and mentioned the monument – just had to get my picture at that historic spot…of course I did!

Just after 3pm, Svetlana with Links, Ltd stopped by the hotel to pick me up for our appointment with the customs office…she also said she needed to swing by the ferry terminal and pick two people for the same purpose. After arriving at the customs office, I introduced myself and learned they were from Argentina – their names are Julian & Lorena along with their riding partner, Trico, who they picked up in Spain 9 years ago. Trico even carries a passport from Spain – there are countries like Japan that require a 6 month quarantine period and he is forced to live with relatives from time to time…you just can’t make this stuff up!

Together, they have been on the road for about 10 years working from country to country…some 80 plus often camping or staying with people they meet along their journey.

The customs process took about 3 hours…seems just about everything takes about 3 hours in Russia!

For dinner I had traditional Siberian dumplings & a Jack on the rocks to help commemorate the beginning of a ride I have dreamed about & planned for several years…many hours of thought, sweat, money now comes down to the next few weeks…I’m excited and blessed to have family, friends and co-workers supporting me – without them, I would not be at this place in time. Can’t help but think of an old song from the 80’s by Phil Collins that sums things up, “In the Air Tonight”…I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life.

Tomorrow morning I am meeting Svetlana at the terminal to pick up the bike, pay my customs & port fees and hit the road bound for Kharabovsk…this is for Isabel, Adrianna, Amelia and all kids struggling in this fight against cancer…Rally On!

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Vladivostok, Russia – Day 25

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Tuesday, 21 August 2012 Vladivostok, Russia (0 miles) Total Trip Miles – 4723. 0 hours riding

Weather Temperature in the low 80’s and humid with heavy fog in the morning and clearing to party cloudy skies

First night in Vladivostok went fine even with the interesting accomodations…no A/C and a bit humid with the bed at an all time best for hardness!  Anyhow, Shanon made a great suggestion that I just add my camping mattress to the bed…that sure beats sleeping on the ground somewhere!  Also, I was updating my blog last night in the hall of the 8th floor near the salon and the mosquitoes were having a field day on my legs – enough so that I went back to the room for some insect repellent…I may also need to pitch the tent on the ajoining twin bed for added mosquito protection – you just can’t make this stuff up!

The salon was still open for business late last night past 11 pm with their TV blasting & folks enjoying their favorite cigarettes…like a late night gathering spot.  Most people on the floor left their doors open for venilation playing games, listening the the TV & drinking…college dorm living at its best seems to most accurately describe the evening.

Culturally a number of things are a bit different in this part of the world and one is the hotel entertainment spot  – just off the restaurant entrance, is a hotel club with neon lights: Billiards, Karaoke, Strip Club, Sauna & Casino…guess that bout covers it – every vice in one tightly wrapped package!

Was up about 5:30 this morning and had breakfast at the hotel restaurant Summit…the meal is included in the hotel stay and the place was quite busy with guests…the buckwheat, porage oats & diced hot dogs were to die for – probably going to have a difficult time sleeping tonight with all the anticipation on what’s instore for the next mornings dining experience.

Decided to get out & about and tour the city and its best to described Vladivostok as a port city with a strong European flare.  People are neatly dressed in contemporary attire for the most part; not unlike what you might find in the US…the city is thriving and going through quite a bit of urban renewal with the upcoming APEC Summit in just under a month; the city is also putting the finishing touches on what will be the largest suspension bridge in the world  The city of about 600,000 & founded in 1860 is a huge naval port for the Russian navy supporting its Pacific fleet and is the largest port of entry for a wide range of goods from around the world on the Russian east coast.

I also made a trip back to the ship passenger terminal hoping to get a glimpse of my bike in the customs yard, but instead, watched a bit as they unloaded excavator after excavator and car after car from the DBS Ferry…quite incredible how many vehicles were transported in the bottom of that vessel – some 70 cars, 20 containers and an untold number of excavators.

Decided to have an early dinner just above the port and below the hotel at a patio restaurant and, unfortunately, I was unable to translate the Russian letters…the manager did pronounce it for me a couple of time, but I just couldn’t quite connect.  I have to say it was one of the better meals I’ve had since leaving on my  trip and being that it was also outside overlooking the city and water, it was more to my taste.  It was a contemporary spot with modern music and a broad menu.  I decided on the Greek salad, pork rib, sauteed vegetables, sliced potatoes broiled with parmasean cheese & spices and all topped off with a 0.5L draft beer.

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Dong Hae, South Korea to Vladivostok, Russia – Day 24

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Monday, 20 August 2012 Dong Hae, South Korea to Vladivostok, Russia (0 miles) Total Trip Miles – 4723. 0 hours riding

Weather Temperature in the low 80’s and humid with clouds & rain

While underway on the DBS Ferry, I met two Russians at the bar: Alexey, who sells used cars in a city about 100km from Vladivostok and was in Korea buying Hyundai’s, KIA’s and other cars speaking some English and Victor, who’s in his early 20’s with a masters degree in sociology and speaks good English – great having someone to translate. We talked about just about everything including American politics – unbelievable how much people from other parts of the globe know about the US.

It had been a long day for all of us and we each decided to turn in for the evening.

Finally met my roomate after calling it a night at about 10 pm…since the DBS Ferry only provides one key per room & I was batting second, I had to go to the information desk several times to get a crew member to let me in – no sign of him…no bags although he was checked in and had the key.

About an hour after I got settled in the room, I heard the door open and this Russian man who looked to be in his mid 50’s & neatly dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, stepped inside turning the light on. I immediately popped up to introduce myself & asked if he spoke English.

“Very little”, he said with a strong Russian accent and that pretty much ended things for the night although I did ask his name…”Alexander”, he said. Even with a bit of uneasiness sleeping only a couple of feet from someone I knew so little about, I did manage to sleep pretty well…keep in mind I was in 1st Class with 2nd & 3rd Class offering 8 in a room & 72 in a room respectively.

At about 6 am I heard him stir and leave the room…after about 15 minutes or so, I got up for another one of my sponge baths since the men’s shower room was on the second deck and at the other end of the ship…one night without a shower didn’t make much difference to me.

For breakfast, I went to the bar and ordered the “American-style” breakfast…one egg over easy, quartered bread not toasted, some kind of SPAM-type meat lightly fried and lettuce & tomatoes – not quite sure where you might find that kind of breakfast in the US – surely not Waffle House, but it worked being I was out in the East Sea several thousand miles from Nashville.

Headed to a seating area on third deck and saw Alexander with a couple of Korean-Russians and asked if I could join them. Ends up that Alexander has been a truck driver for his entire life making many trips across the Siberian route – he was a huge source of information even with the language barrier. He dis keep smiling and giving me a thumbs up when we talked about my trek across Russia on the bike…I wasn’t sure whether that was a good or bad sign.

The ferry arrived promptly in port at 2 pm local time…I’m now 16 hours ahead of the central time zone by the way. I couldn’t help but think about one of my good friends from home, Chuck, when it came time to disembark the ferry…a mere 3 hours of aggravation to say the least. Given the language barrier and ship security only allowing people off in groups of about 25, it was shear agony. I couldn’t help but to question what I’d gotten myself into with this trip – I absolutely must have been smoking some Dutch Cleanser I thought to myself!

While standing in line, I gave Yuri Melnikov with Links, Ltd a call asking about my next steps on clearing the bike through customs over the next few days…he said he’d have his assistant meet me at the DBS Ferry office once I cleared customs.  Yuri Melnikov can be reached at Links, Ltd at +7-423-222-0887, +7-902-524-3447(mobile) or ymelnik@links-ltd.com

After finding the office and peeking my head inside, a young woman said, “You must be Brad Thompson”, in very good English – and she told me her name was Svetlana. She started by asking a couple of questions and first recommended that I cancel my hotel reservation for one much closer to the docks making it easier to collect the bike especially since she needed to pick me up to visit the customs office on Wednesday afternoon allowing me to complete the necessary documents & payments so I can get the bike on Thursday morning. She also arranged the hotel booking with the Azimut Hotel and drove me and my gear there to check in….are you kidding me, this all would be virtually impossible with their assistance!

Once checking into the hotel, I just sat in the crazy, busy lobby to just unwind…what a day it had been.

Ended up having dinner at the hotel…a buffet-style affair that wasn’t very impressive, but hey, I was hongry and didn’t have to leave the hotel.

Details on my deluxe, economy accommodations tomorrow…yeah, deluxe alright!

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!