The Snowball Effect

The photos spread through this post are comparison shots from when I bought the car on November 4, 2008 and present day photos from November 4, 2017. I typically do a post recreating these photos each year and felt they sort of fit in with the overall vibe of this post, so I decided to include them.

This car can stress me out to no end if I let it. When you care about the little details of something like a car, one nagging issue easily snowballs into 100 if you decide to try to tackle it and do it properly. When you zero in on something that needs to be addressed, you quickly realize that no perfect solution comes without a host of new problems to solve.

Feeling this way about a project car can completely ruin the enjoyment of a build and prevent you from driving your car at all. I know this because it happened to me. I was so embarrassed and frustrated with the state of my engine compartment back in October of 2011 that I tore the car down and completely shaved the engine bay. While the end result was definitely nice, I found myself back in the same place the following year- plagued by small issues with the car, many of them I had created myself. It didn’t seem possible or practical to achieve perfection, so I instead decided to give up completely and part out the car.

As you’ll quickly learn from doing something like that, it’s better to have a car that’s imperfect than to not have it at all. As a little under two years passed, I realized what I had. Sure, the paint wasn’t perfect and the car had a host of issues, but it was the car that defined me in this hobby. I started to realize that my S13 was the car I really wanted, whether I had the means to make it perfect or not.

I decided to write about this a bit today because I find myself slipping back into the same trap I fell into when I parted out my car in 2012. I’ve more or less left my car unchanged from May 2016 to now (aside from subtle wheel and seat changes) to help reinforce the fact that I simply do not NEED to change anything anymore. As much as I absolutely crave the build process, I have done it enough times now to know what I like; to know when to call it quits and enjoy the simplicity. I can still enjoy tinkering with the car and maintaining it, but the large modifications and constant changes of past iterations have come to a close- largely due to the lack of resources like time and money that come with my current stage of life, but also because I need to train myself to be content.

The discovery of water in my headliner while washing the car back in September has thrown me for a bit of a mental loop. This caused me to really focus on the state of the chassis itself and finally begin to look at the worn out seals and rust that has been present on the chassis for years, despite my best efforts to ignore it. For someone like me, when you stop and look at something in detail, it creates a sense of panic and urgency in the flaws you notice. I’ve poured everything into this car for the better part of a decade, so finding things like rust immediately makes me stress about it. As everyone knows, rust is not something that is going to stop until it has been completely removed and corrected.

These discoveries quickly snowballed into the thinking that I must replace every OEM seal, molding, and piece of weather stripping on the car. Tear it down to a bare shell, strip everything, and have the car completely repainted. And while this probably is the right answer, I’ve forced myself to stop and think about the repercussions of this. Far too many builds fall prey to this mentality. People are praised for perfection, and everyone wants to receive that praise to some extent. It’s too easy for people to fall victim to this mindset. So many S-chassis cars are stripped down to nothing with this goal in mind, only to never be driven again. It takes a tremendous amount of time, money, and effort to build a car from the ground up with a goal of perfection- and let’s face it, most of us simply do not have the means to do it.

So sure, I could sell most of the aftermarket parts on my car to fund new seals and a paint job. I would essentially have a simplified and largely bare-bones version of my car with flawless paint. But where would that leave me? I would likely be afraid to drive the car because of the time and money invested to make it perfect. It would need to stay in the garage to be preserved- but for what? It’s unlikely that this car will mean anything to my three daughters when they are older, other than the fact that it was important to their father. Will gasoline cars even be legal by the time I have grandchildren? I would be proud of the finished product, but do I really want to spend my years staring at the car and not enjoying it to achieve this?

I’m rambling at this point now, but here’s the point: enjoy your car. Don’t get lost in trying to achieve perfection or having everything. Sure, that full paint job or crazy engine swap setup would probably be neat to have, but do you want to give up years of enjoyment to obtain it (possibly only to fail and never drive the car again?) It’s cheesy to say, but we don’t really know how much time we have on this planet. To put forth so much time and mental energy into something like a car is certainly silly, but I know more than anyone how much fun it can be. I guess I’m writing this to remind myself that chasing perfection is a fruitless venture. Put your best foot forward with the resources you have available, but also take time to enjoy what you have. Sometimes simplicity is the best formula.

Yes, my car has less than perfect paint. It has rust in a few places that will likely spread if not tended to. I’m not going to ignore these issues, but I will pace myself with addressing them as life allows me to. As long as I am grateful and enjoy what I have while doing these things, I think I’ll be able to look back on this journey someday without feeling regret. The car doesn’t need to be a perfectly restored museum piece to be enjoyed- and arguably, I’ll probably enjoy it more if it isn’t perfect.

It’s good to be passionate and want to put your best effort into building a car. Just remember to enjoy it while you can along the way and accept the bad with the good. Perfection isn’t obtainable- so don’t let the pursuit of it consume you.

Damon

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Season’s End

About a week or so ago, my wife and I drove the S13 up to Petoskey, Michigan to see the fall colors and have a little bit of time away from our three daughters. This was our first time leaving our youngest Alexi which is always a little tricky, but luckily it was a quick trip.

My fender braces arrives from GoodRide Garage on Friday after work, so I decided to lift the car and install those quickly while the girls were playing outside. Kevin and Roy have created a really nice product in these braces which are must beefier than the factory pieces (which are now missing on most S13s, including mine. The front fenders and bumper feel extremely solid with these in place now and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they even fit with my OEM fender liners.

My friends Kevin and Roy of GoodRide included some candy for my kids- they were pretty pumped!

My bumper was mounted fairly well thanks to the OEM brackets, but this adds a lot more stability to my fenders and fender extensions. Pretty trick!

While I had the car in the air for the install, I realized that my right front wheel bearing was bad. I had become suspicious of it after my trip to Shawano for Final Bout III, but had been to lazy to check it until now. Feeling a bit anxious about driving the car over 500 miles on it, I posted on the local 240SX Facebook page to see if anyone happened to have some hubs for sale.

I ended up finding a pair of front hubs not too far away and picked them up on Saturday. Of course, when I went to install it, I stripped one of the nuts on my front spacer in the process. This prompted a trip to harbor freight to purchase a grinder to cut the wheel stud and stripped nut out, allowing me to free the broke rotor. It’s always frustrating when things don’t go smoothly and take far longer than they should, but once the stripped nut was removed things went pretty quickly.

One of the many quick breaks in the clouds on the way up North.

We began our drive North on Sunday morning just as a large cold front and rain storm was passing through. This caused me a fair bit of anxiety on the way up as the rain was very heavy at times and we discovered that the carpeting was once again wet in the driver’s and passenger’s footwell areas. The holes from my former roll cage have been sealed for a while now since this happened leaving Final Bout II, but there must be other holes I have not properly sealed. This combined with all of the leaky window seals and a lack of heat in the car were stressing me out a bit, but I did my best to ignore it and enjoy the trip.

A rainbow and a peek of sun greeted us when we arrived at the hotel (The white and red building on the right of the photo)

How you have to dress to ride in my car in October.

One of the main attractions that brought us to Northern Michigan was M-119, also known as The Tunnel of Trees. This is a winding 45 MPH road that snakes along the coast of Lake Michigan through a heavily wooded area. There are numerous tight turns and elevation changes that make it a blast to drive. While the road is technically suited for two-way traffic, there is no center line and things get fairly tight at times. Most of the traffic is comprised of people putzing along to admire the fall colors, so you do get stuck from time to time- but it’s a lot of fun when you get a clear shot. My car bottomed out constantly due to some bumps and the crown in the road, dragging the skid plate and exhaust for much of the drive- but it was still a blast.



The Devil’s Elbow- apparently you can hear spirits here at night… or is that just squealing tires?

It was really cool to see the large waves in the Little Traverse Bay at the hotel on Sunday due to the high winds from the system moving through. We ended up making the best of the cold and often rainy weather and really enjoyed the trip and decided to make one last rip through The Tunnel of Trees on Monday afternoon before heading home. Unfortunately, my other front wheel bearing began to fail on the way home, causing an ear-shattering hum for the entire drive home.

The Little Traverse Bay seen just down the road from the hotel.

By the time I got the car home and in the garage on Monday night, I was feeling pretty drained and discouraged. The car was the filthiest I had ever seen it and almost felt like a lost cause. I took a couple days off from driving it and ended up washing the exterior on Wednesday which helped lift my spirits a bit. I then removed the carpet to dry in the sun and replaced the other failed wheel bearing. Even with no passenger seat or carpet in place, it was great to drive it to work on Friday to take advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures.

Unfortunately, a pair of large rain systems are currently moving through Michigan, bringing with them temperatures more in line with our seasonal average for late October. I’ll probably sneak in a couple more quick drives before the snow flies and the roads get salted, but this definitely feels like the end for 2017. This off season will likely not bring any new modifications to the car, but I hope to accomplish some restoration work to solve some of the issues we faced on this most recent trip. It’s time to focus on details that have been overlooked or ignored during my ownership. Hopefully it comes out of hibernation better than ever.

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Preservation vs. Modification

If you’re one of the few that has managed to follow the story of my S13 from the beginning in 2008, it’s probably pretty obvious that things have slowed down a bit in my garage over the past couple years. When I first bought the car, I was finishing my last semester in college, eventually starting my career a couple months later. Despite what I may have thought back then, I had the time and disposable income to dive into a very involved and in-depth build. The car was essentially a blank canvas that required a massive amount of improvement so there was plenty to do.

Fast forward nine years and things look a bit different. I’m married with three beautiful daughters and a mortgage payment. We decided it would be best for my wife to stay home after our third was born, so I am now the sole source of income for the household. Time and money are no longer things I have an abundance of, but fortunately my passion for the car has not faded. Not to mention the fact that I feel like I can finally say that I have the car more or less where I want it. Swapping out different parts numerous times during the years has allowed me to assemble what I feel is a great culmination of the different stages of the car. There are always things that would be nice to have, but additional major modifications aren’t really a part of the plan at this stage in life.

So, what to do? While pondering this and washing the car one night a couple weeks back, I discovered that the headliner near the windshield on the passenger side was wet. I knew there were a few spots of rust on the roof and A pillars that have been there since I bought the car, but I did not realize how bad the rust along the windshield has gotten. Upon further inspection, I could see that the rust along the reveal molding is likely causing the leak.

I’ve got to admit, this discovery got me pretty bummed out. At this stage, virtually every pane of glass on the car leaks in some way, but this one felt a bit more serious. It would need to be addressed soon to avoid my 180SX headliner being destroyed from the water. One thing I love about this car is the fact that I can always drive it, rain or shine. Driving in the rain can be a little bit of a hassle at times without heat or AC in the car, but I always manage to enjoy it- even despite the leaky windows.

The weekend rolled around and I payed my longtime friend Tim a visit to help him work on assembling his recently painted S13 chassis. He had purchased all new seals and moldings, removing the glass to properly spray the entire car. I began to research which OEM Nissan items are still available and was pleased to find that there’s more out there than I had expected.

All of this further fueled a shift in my mindset that has been brewing in the past few weeks- a shift from modification to restoration. The new found feeling of contentment this summer with the way the car looks has allowed me to see that it is time to focus on the details- the little things about my car that have been nagging at me for the last several years that I often ignore or brush aside in favor of more exciting projects.

My first instinct when hanging out with Tim and his painter (who was there cutting and buffing his freshly painted car) was to sell parts off of my car in order to fund a full paint job. Surely if I let go of some of the “bonus” parts like the seats, cross bar, and mirrors I could afford to have the car completely worked over and repainted. While that would accomplish something I have wanted to do since I bought the car, it would also destroy the feeling of contentment I have finally managed to obtain. I’d essentially be taking two steps back with a freshly painted car.

The other issue is my current life situation. Stroll past my garage on any given night of the week, and you’re likely to see my car getting hit with a Tinkerbell umbrella, grazed by a pair of training wheels, or covered in greasy hand prints. While I like to believe I could further train my kids to respect the car, kids are just that- kids. I try not to be too high strung about it, but these things happening to a car I just had completely worked over would surely turn any brown hair I have left to gray. Having this car fully painted is something I have wanted since I bought it- and it’s something I only plan to do once. That being said, that’s something that needs to wait until my kids are a bit older.

For now, the plan is to have the windshield removed this spring when the weather warms up. Tim’s painter TJ is going to repair all of the rust and dings on the roof. My hope is to replace the majority of the moldings and weather stripping on the car to stop all of the leaks I am experiencing in the rain so that I don’t need to worry about it anymore. I’m undecided if I want to install the moldings or hoard them until I paint the entire car one day, but that could be a long ways off- probably best to install them now and seal everything up.

The new door strikers were the first piece of the restoration puzzle. It’s fun to do something so simple and inexpensive that can provide so much satisfaction. The doors make a completely different sound when they close now and the gaps make a big difference in the appearance of the car. Last night, I spent a couple hours in the garage wiring up the rear window defroster. The original hatch on the car had numerous rust holes and wiper on it, so I swapped it out many years ago for a wingless and wiperless version. In doing so, I wired the third brake light but never bothered to wire up the defroster. I did some driving in the rain this week and the back window quickly fogged over like it always does. I decided to do some research and spend the time to wire it back up properly.

My wife and I will be driving the car a few hours North this weekend for a quick getaway- the first we have had since having our third daughter. There’s some rain in the forecast, so that will be a good test to see if the defroster wiring fix worked or not. After this trip, the car will probably be out for just a couple more weeks before the temps really drop off and the threat of snow and road salt looms. I’m looking forward to going over the car a bit this winter and attempting to restore many of the aspects that have been neglected for the last nine years.

Thanks for stopping by- have a great weekend!

Damon

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Mind the Gap

One thing that has bothered me since I bought my car in 2008 is the door strikers. The original owner had taped some cut up refrigerator magnets to the driver’s door in an effort to ensure that the dome light turned off when the door was closed. I tried to adjust the door strikers to pull the door in further, but ultimately turned the dome light completely off so that I didn’t need to worry about draining my battery when the car is parked. Not only that, but the doors never lined up with the rear quarter panels. It was a subtle issue, but one that bothered me.

Nine years later, I have finally solved the issue with a pair of new OEM door strikers from NissanParts.cc. The plastic/rubber bushing on the strikers wears and develops play over time, which prevents your door from closing properly. It’s fairly straightforward to swap them out with a phillips screw driver, unless you manage to strip one of them like I did. I ended up having to drill one screw out on the passenger side and replace it.

The worn out bushing on my original door strikers.

New striker installed.

It takes a bit of adjustment to make the door close smoothly and ensure the door lines up with the quarter panel, but this is a cheap and easy part to replace to help your S13 feel like new again. Thanks to Ron at RestoMod for the recent inspiration to tackle little details on my car like this.

Before & after comparison of the door gap with old strikers vs. new.

Aside from that, there isn’t much to report. It’s been in the low 90s here in Michigan for the last few days, but it appears temps should begin to feel a bit more like fall again beginning tomorrow. It’s nearly time to start thinking about putting the car away, but I’ll try to keep it on the road until the first time they salt the roads. It’s going to be tough to park the car this year after driving it nearly every day- I’m very grateful for how well it has held up this season!

I’ve got one more trip planned for the car in the coming weeks that I’ll be sure to write about sometime in October. Here’s to hoping the good luck continues!

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Story Time With Papa Hsu

I was chatting with my good friend Benson Hsu of Sileighty Mania fame today when he sent this photo to me:

This is a photo of his wife Nadine’s S13 circa 2003. Just look at that car- it still looks incredible, even fourteen years later. The beautiful piece of plastic you see on the ground in front of it is the first kouki 180SX front lip spoiler imported into the USA. Benson used his issue of Doriten with a “Kouki 180 Mania” story in it to figure out the part numbers for the OEM Japanese front bumper, fender extensions, brackets, lights, and optional front lip. He convinced his parts guy at Nissan to order the items despite the fact that they couldn’t see any diagrams to know what they were ordering. Needless to say, Benson and Nadine were pretty hyped when the items arrived.

Nissan Motorsports used to receive all items from Nissan Japan that were shipped to the USA at the time, and apparently they snooped in the boxes to see what the items were before they were sent on to Benson’s dealership. A short while later, those items were listed for sale on their website.

It’s crazy to think about how much our community owes to people like Benson and Nadine. I think I had just learned what an S14 was as a junior in high school when they were getting a hold of this stuff- pretty wild!

Benson and Nadine are a very special couple and I am beyond grateful to have met them thanks to Final Bout. Anyway, I just thought the photo Benson shared with me was awesome. Cute 180, Nadine!

Have an excellent weekend everyone.

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The Final Bout

My apologies for the lapse in posts here for the last week and a half or so. Not only have I been recovering from my trip to Final Bout III in Shawano, Wisconsin during Labor Day weekend, but my oldest daughter Kinsey started kindergarten last week. The transition from two to three kids quickly followed by transitioning into her starting school has been wild to say the least, but I am pleased to report that all of us seem to be adapting to the new routine fairly well. Life is never without its surprises!

The journey begins.

So, back to my road trip for the year in the S13. As I mentioned previously, my youngest daughter Alexi was due to be born on August 25th, one week before Final Bout was going to take place. Knowing this, I had no thoughts of being able to attend Final Bout this year. But as fate would have it, she arrived early on August 7th and my wonderful wife asked me if I would like to make a quick solo trip out there. I was really bummed that she couldn’t come with me, but beyond appreciative that she was so willing to allow me to go despite all of the changes to our life and routine in the past month.

Rest Stop along the way.

My office closed early on Friday for Labor Day weekend, so I hit the road around 1:30 PM or so. After gassing up and grabbing some cash from the bank, I was on the road to my first destination in Munster, Indiana to meet up with my friend Tony for the second leg of the journey. The temperature was perfect for the drive this year- not too hot and not too cold. I managed to get stuck in some nasty construction traffic in Indiana, resulting in driving about 15 miles in an hour and a half span. This was a bummer, but it was nearing rush hour after all. Finally, I made it to Tony’s house.

After chatting for a bit and filling my water bottle, we cruised around town to get gas and air up Tony’s tires. We jumped on 290 to swing West around much of the Chicago rush hour traffic, though we still had our issues. After a short while we pulled off at the last Oasis on the way out of town to grab some dinner and crank my headlights up for some night driving through rural Wisconsin.

We took our time on the way up and eventually arrived at the Longhorn Saloon in Shawano, Wisconsin: a small local bar that all of the Final Bout gang completely inundates with our of towners each year at around 10:30 PM, gaining an hour due to the time zone change on the way. I was pretty exhausted from the trip but running on pure adrenaline. It was amazing to see all of my friends from all over the world, many of which I had not seen in years. Most notable was my very good friend Jimmy and crew from Houston. I was beyond excited to see these guys considering the fact that they narrowly escaped Hurricane Harvey down in Texas to make it up to Chicago. I am so grateful that they were able to make it! I’m not sure what time we finally went to sleep, but it was a pretty wild night- and I don’t even drink. Jimmy was kind enough to let me crash in his hotel room for the weekend as I had not made a reservation due to baby Alexi, so I’m indebted to him for helping me out.

We eventually made our way to the track at some point on Saturday morning to find that it was cloudy and a bit brisk outside. After being sent to the infamous grass parking area once again by my good friend and US Air track operator Pat, it began to rain- a lot. A fairly large system was moving through the area, bringing wind and driving rain. Fortunately I had packed my umbrella, winter coat, and trusty Lions knit cap to keep me warm. I felt stupid for packing them, but I was so glad I did. Chob was nice enough to allow us to take shelter in one of the pit buildings where we hung out for a couple hours and allowed the storm to pass.

My favorite car at the event- Bosstown Shane

Always great to see Chob, the GS King of USA.

Much of the day on Saturday was a blur. I watched the competition during the late afternoon with my friend Cody from Idaho. To be completely honest, a lot of the driving was less than stellar during the competition, but the comp is also the last reason I attend Final Bout anyway. It was still fun to watch and to listen to my friends Mark, Benson, and Nadine on the mic. After the competition, I managed to escape the flooded and muddy parking lot without any issues. I guess my car is too high off the ground or something. We went back to the hotel for a bit before going to our usual Chinese spot in town. I’m not sure if the food is actually all that amazing or if I am always on the edge of death when I eat there, but I sure do enjoy it.

Escape the mud pit 2017.

One new addition to Final Bout this year was a session of night driving under the lights. After being in the cold rain all day at the track, a part of me didn’t really even want to go back, but I was very glad we did. The driving during the night session was amazing- a very cool thing to see! It had also gotten a bit warmer at night for whatever reason, so things were much more comfortable. We watched some really close tandem driving and even a couple of crashes- which, of course, are always a bummer- but are also really exciting to watch. We ended the evening once again at Longhorn, albeit with a much smaller group than the first night. The boys tried their best to reluctantly sip their pitchers, but I could tell their hearts just weren’t in it. Several nights of partying with friends from all over the world were beginning to take a toll on them. I happily sipped my Twiggs Root Beer, bottled locally in Shawano, as the bartender would remind me.

With my pal King Jake

With my Houston BFF Jimmy

Texas, Cali, and Idaho at the bar in Wisconsin. Thanks internet!

We didn’t stay up quite as late on Saturday night and slept in a bit later. We were greeted by plentiful sunshine upon exiting the hotel to head to the track on Sunday. The weather had decided to pull a complete 180, and there were points during the day that I was actually hot at the track- what a contrast! Sunday felt like a total blur as I tried to soak up the last few hours with my friends before needing to leave. The highlight of the day was watching Liam do a few runs on the Advanced course in his R34. We were all pretty hyped when he scraped the wall with his rear bumper on the first run, knocking one of his tail lights loose. On the next run, he spun on the blind transition up the hill and knocked the front bumper and side skirts off. What can I say? This boy is a maniac. Liam threw down some clean runs after that and managed to tape the aero up for his long journey home to Toronto.

Michael Douglass and his impressive fleet- my daughters’ favorite car, lol.

Revgasm and his new D machine looking GOOD.

The aftermath of King Kirby going HAM.

Love this 180- so good!

After saying many goodbyes far too soon, my friend LA and I set out for Chicago. We didn’t make any stops until we hit the city and I dropped him off at his place, so we made pretty good time. Shortly after departing and heading for Michigan, LA called me and realized he had left his wallet in the glove box of my car. Thankfully I was right by Tony’s exit in Indiana at the time, so I was able to pull off and hang with him for a bit while I waited for LA to drive out and retrieve it. This allowed me to gas up, grab some dinner, and visit with Tony for just a bit longer before completing my journey home. I think I pulled into my driveway just before 2 AM on Monday morning, very thankful that my car had made the trip to and from Final Bout once again without a single hiccup.

A nice 180 on LMGT4s that we cruised for a while with on the way home.

As most of the internet has heard by now, this was the last Final Bout event. I had heard rumblings about this, so it was good to hear some clarification about it at the track. While I am super bummed out to hear this news, I can also understand where Ilia and Simba are coming from. I can only imagine the amount of effort that goes into putting on an event like this. I can’t thank these guys enough for putting on these events over the last four years. I was fortunate enough to attend all of the Final Bout series at the home track in Shawano, and the experiences and friends I have gained from doing so will last a lifetime. For a guy that doesn’t even drift, I have to say that is quite a feat. There are too many amazing people to list, but I am grateful for each and every one of you. It truly feels like being a part of a great big family that’s physically spread out across the world, but when we come together in real life it’s really something special.

Just a few of the many people I am fortunate enough to call friends.

Thank you for all of the memories, Final Bout! I look forward to meeting up with as many people as possible at one of the Club FR events next season- this time with Alicia in tow. Hopefully the tradition is able to continue so that we can all see each other again soon!

Damon

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Flyby

My good friend Liam stopped by yesterday on his way from Toronto to Chicago in his beautiful URAS R34. Needless to say I was pretty geeked to hear this thing rolling up to my office.

We gassed up his car, grabbed some lunch, and went back to my house to hang out for a little bit during my lunch break. A new roof was being installed on my home so unfortunately we couldn’t take any photos in my driveway like we had hoped, but at least we still have proof that Liam was here with his car.

My daughters were waiting for “Uncle Liam” with custom coloring pages in tow. It was cool to be able to hang out for a bit and get a bit of the pre-Final Bout feels going as I was not going to be departing until the following afternoon.

I am going bonkers looking forward to this trip! Just a few short hours and I will be on the road. I want to take one more moment to thank my incredible wife for watching our three daughters (and one annoying dog) for the weekend, especially right before our oldest starts kindergarten next week. You’re amazing for allowing me to do this!

I’ll be on the road soon- come find me at Final Bout III and say hello! Back next week with a recap of the trip. Have a safe and fun long weekend!

Damon

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