Howdy from Hanover

Well my friends, we are nearly 2 states down and 440 miles in.  We camped just outside of Hanover last night and have been doing the usual errands in town today, although instead of a normal grocery store (or convenient store, as is sometimes the case) we did most of our resupplying at Hanover’s food co-op.  Pretty cool place, lots of bulk dry goods, very few instant mashed potatoes though so that was disappointing.  Most exciting about it was dehydrated refried bean flakes, which I read about in Backpacker mag, but the ones they advertised were a little pricy and had to be ordered.  These were in bulk and just take a little hot water to prepare, so we’ll be eating some bean wraps for lunch this next week interspersed with our usual PB and dried fruit wraps.  New menu item, woohoo!

But I should probably talk about what we’ve actually done so far.  In Lincoln we were staying at the home of a guy named Chet, fairly well known among thru-hikers due to his unofficial hostel being the only one in the middle of the Whites, between Gorham to the north and Glencliff to the south.  Chet has lived in Lincoln, has been a member of the hiking community all of his life, and knows the Whites better than anyone we’ve met, but is unable to hike due to a camp stove explosion in his home that burned a large part of his body, left him legally but not totally blind, and put him in a coma that led to other complications.  Anyway, now Chet takes thru hikers into his home in exchange for barter, donation, or work, and he loves to talk with everyone who comes through. You know he hears the same stuff every time someone tells him about the rain and mud in Maine or how point the rocks are in Pennsylvania, but he just sits there and listens and says “right on” with a smile.

The hiking community really is extraordinary.  Two nights ago Dad and I camped in the backyard/croquet field of a man named Bill Ackerly, known along the trail as the Ice Cream Man.  Bill’s house is about 20 yards off the trail, and he’s put a sign on the trail inviting all hikers to stop by for free water, ice cream, and a game of croquet.  He looks to be about 80 years old but apparently croquet skill only increases with age.  When I walked up at the end of the day, he was officiating a game involving his sister and 3 other hikers; he said later that he likes to just watch sometimes to give other people a chance to win.  Then he laughed and admitted he doesn’t always win.  When I arrived, he shook my hand and, rather than letting go, pulled me along to his porch, saying “Take off your pack, sign the red book, then come back around to the screened porch and get an ice cream.” Let me tell you, that orange cream popsicle was delicious after 18.5 miles.   A very polite man, Bill will talk about pretty much anything when the conversation goes dry but is a great listener too.  He told us about bluebird nesting habits, the origins of croquet, and the Tibetan belief that prayers are carried up through the cosmos by “wind horses” (his whole porch is adorned with prayer flags).  He sat and talked with us on his porch until it was time for bed, and offered that if it started raining too hard just to come in and sleep on his living room floor.  He even has a porta-john in his backyard specifically for hikers.  In the morning, as Dad and I were eating breakfast, he came outside and got the paper, read us the weather forecast, and offered us some coffee, which we gratefully accepted.  Bills sons are hikers and were the inspiration for his incredible kindness.  The hiking community was good to them, so he wants to return the favor.  Plus he gets an endless stream of friends stopping by on summer afternoons, just for the price of some popsicles and water.

Myself and the wonderful AT ice cream man, Bill Ackerly

Myself and the wonderful AT ice cream man, Bill Ackerly, in front of his croquet wickets

Upon arriving at the Hanover food co-op, complete with backpacks and sweat, we were greeted by another customer just outside the door.  He asked if we were going north or south, and said that he had a friend going north somewhere in Pennsylvania now.  Just before he left he said, “Do me a favor,” pulling a twenty dollar bill out of his wallet, ” and go get yourselves some cold local brews.”  And let me tell you, we did just that.  We each got a free slice of pizza for thru-hikers from the local from the local joint, and then chased those down with a 16 inch pizza and a couple of salads and some cold brews.  This is truly that thing that people refer to as “the dream.”

Other than that, the trail has calmed down quite a bit.  We left our Maine trail mates behind in the Whites and, since leaving those, haved upped our mileage again to an average 17 a day since Lincoln.  Mt. Moosilauke was the last 4000 ft. peak we’ll get on the trail until somewhere in Virginia, so it’s we’ll really be cranking up the pace as long as the sun stays out an dries up some of the famous Vermont mud.  We had 7 days of no rain in a row up until today! That’s a record for the trip so far.

Last one of these 4000's we'll get for a while.

Last one of these 4000’s we’ll get for a while.

Looking back at the summit of Moosilauke and bidding a bittersweet goodbye-for-now to the Whites

Looking back at the summit of Moosilauke and bidding a bittersweet goodbye-for-now to the Whites.

In the past few days the flora and fauna changed dramatically.  Wildflowers suddenly sprung up as we passed through our first fields, and we finally found some blueberries and raspberries ripe enough to eat.  I only got a small handful, but man they made for a great PB wrap.

Hanover is interesting, because it’s a college town but it’s a super classy college town.  The only fast food restaurant is a Subway, and as I mentioned before the only grocery is the co-op.  It’s the first town we’ve passed through where the trail actually goes down the sidewalk, and so of course it was the first town we got lost in.  Sidewalks are confusing after 5 weeks in the woods, where there is pretty much 1 obvious path and everything else is trees and bushes.  But we found our way to the Dartmouth Outing Club HQ, where I am currently typing this blog.  The club manages the 53 miles we just covered from Lincoln as well as some in Vermont, I’m not sure how much.  We’ll be sleeping in a Vermont shelter tonight about 5 miles away.  Which leads me to our schedule – a few people have asked about it, so I am going to throw out some rough dates of when we’ll be resupplying in certain towns.

Saturday, 7/11 – Killington, VT
Tuesday, 7/14 – Rutland, VT
Sunday, 7/19 – Bennington, VT
Tuesday, 7/21 – Cheshire, MA

I think a state away is as far as I’ll estimate. It was a lot easier to know where we’d resupply in Maine and New Hampshire, because there were so few options, but now that towns are more frequent it gets a little dicier to plan.  Not to mention that when Vanilla Thunder starts thinking about town food, all previous plans go out the window.  Anyway, Killington and Cheshire we’ll definitely be passing through because they’re so close.

Thanks again for reading and even more for commenting.  I love hearing your comments and answering questions, so if there’s anything you want to read definitely throw it out. Now that I’ve gotten to use a computer, here are more pictures that weren’t taken with a phone.

Presidential ridge from Mt. Moriah, a couple hours before sunset

Presidential ridge from Mt. Moriah, a couple hours before sunset

Vanilla Thunder ascending into his cloudy domain.  Just kidding it was Mt. Madison.

Vanilla Thunder ascending into his cloudy domain. Just kidding it was Mt. Madison.

Here's an old one, to commemorate our 2 week stint in NH.

Here’s an old one, to commemorate our 2 week stint in NH.

Well, the weather kind of comes with the territory I guess.

Well the weather kind of comes with the territory, I guess.

The next morning was better though.

The next morning was better though.

Like way better.  Finally saw where we had been walking all the day before.

Like way better. Finally saw where we had been walking all the day before.  That’s the cog railway and auto road up to Mt. Washington’s summit.

But this is why they call them the Whites, right?

But this is why they call them the Whites, right?

Franconia RIdge (Mt. Lafayette, Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln) later that day

Franconia Ridge (Mt. Lafayette, Little Haystack, Mt. Lincoln) later that day.

The man, the legend, Vanilla Thunder.

The man, the legend, Vanilla Thunder.

Sorry if some of the pictures are a little hazy.  With a wet pack and camera it gets hard to get that little lens dry.  Anyway, have a good weekend and look for another post next week!

A-town

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Hi from Lincoln, NH

Howdy everyone. Just wanted to check in and say we’ve just about made it through the Whites. All I can say is, indescribable. I will definitely be coming back here. Plus I haven’t gotten to try McDonald’s lobster roll yet so if I don’t manage to do that, well that’s just another reason to return to NH.

The AMC hut system was also a fun experience. We met so many people in the Whites, as popular as they are, and many were staying at these little chalets along the trail that house and cook for hikers. If you reserve and pay. We thru hikers don’t typically pay to sleep on the trail. But, the hut staff are really nice about throwing us leftover scraps or allowing us to sleep there if we do a little work. When you’re hiking, cold who-knows-how-old black bean enchilada filling really hits the spot.

Unfortunately, though, I am again computer-less and now wifi-less, and doing this on the phone is already giving me fits. So I’m cutting it short but trying to respond to some comments instead.  Tomorrow morning we’re heading out for 53 miles to Hanover, where we’ll be partying with the Dartmouth kids on Wednesday.  Thanks for reading and happy 4th! Here’s a pic.

Looking northeast from Mt. Lincoln. Lafayette at the far left, Garfield to the right of that. Then a bunch o mountains I'd never heard of.

Looking northeast from Mt. Lincoln. Lafayette at the far left, Garfield to the right of that. Then a bunch o mountains I’d never heard of.

One more note I forgot to put in the last post. I had an alternative trail name suggested to me instead of A-Town: Denice, because Dad is always asking me where his stuff is. “Have you seen the butter?” “Where’d I put my spork?” etc. But I didn’t want to encourage that behavior, so I’m sticking with A-Town.

Hello from Gorham, NH

Sorry about the delay everyone!  We actually made it to Gorham in good time last Thursday night and were off the trail for about 24 and a half hours. So we cleaned and sorted our gear, resupplied – at Wal-Mart, oh man it was like Supermarket Sweep – showered, ate ourselves silly, picked up some much needed mail drops, went to an awesome hardware/sporting goods store for some new gear, ate more, slept, and hit the trail again Friday afternoon. Not necessarily in that order. So I didn’t really have time for the respectable blog post that you faithful readers deserve.

So we set out again, reaching Pinkham Notch on Saturday afternoon. We saw more people on Carter Dome and Wildcat Mountain that Saturday than we saw in 3 weeks in Maine, since there is a gondola going up Wildcat, a massive visitor center in Pinkham Notch, and because after Pinkham the trail ascends into the Presidentials. So there were scores of day hikers, every one bearing the same ill news: rain all day Sunday. Rather than being caught in the potential fury of Mt. Washington (a mountain home to 3 weather fronts, hurricane force winds, snow every month of the year, and a cafeteria), we called a rain check and rested up all day today in Gorham again.

Besides, rainy trails in New England tend to just be creeks.

Besides, rainy trails in New England tend to just be creeks.

I had a lot of questions and I’m going to try to address them as best I can. At the end I’ll even reveal the origins of Vanilla Thunder. Some say he was in a hair band that opened for Warrant. We’ll soon find out.

Gorham was such a welcome sight; it was to Maine what Monson was to the 100 mile wilderness.  After losing the first pair of socks in a puddle, I burned a hole in my other pair trying to dry them out. Wet feet for 4 days will make a guy do stupid things. Luckily I had picked up a pair of sock liners in Monson, which mitigated the potential foot damage I could have incurred when I walked the next 150 miles with no sole in one of my socks. So, getting new ones in the mail in Gorham was pretty exciting.  We also got a belt for Vanilla Thunder so he didn’t have to tie his pants up with a string anymore.

They were loose when we started though and we haven’t lost that much weight. If the scales can be believed, he’s lost about 5 lbs and I’ve lost about 14. Despite the butter we’ve been eating. We put it in oatmeal, grits, instant coffee, mashed potatoes, stove top stuffing, and the classic Knorr Rice and Pasta Sides. Anything that could use a little extra creaminess.  But it’s ok, losing 14 lbs took away any reservations I may have had about gorging myself on cravings in town, such as making good on my resolution from week 1 to eat at the first buffet we found. It happened to be Dynasty Buffet, a Chinese place here in Gorham.  You’d think after college and hiking that I’d be tired of peanut butter, but their peanut butter chicken was delicious.

Now that I’ve mentioned a few foods I’ll run through the menu. Breakfast is usually pop-tarts, oatmeal, or cereal – granola cereal with powdered milk and brown sugar mixed which we mix and bag in town and then add water to. It’s really almost like the real thing, except I haven’t mastered drinking the milk out of the bag quite like drinking it out of a bowl. But none of these stick with us after a couple of hours, so we have a snack of trail mix, Chex Mix, Fritos, Snyder’s pretzel pieces, or whatever else is laying around. One time we just ate a bag of uncooked instant oatmeal. Kinda like a no bake cookie. Kinda.

Our next snack, or “lunch,” is a couple of tortillas with either PB and some dried fruit (coconut, dates, banana chips) or pepperoni/salami and shaky parmesan cheese from a can (repackaged into a bag). We also put the shaky cheese in a lot of our dinners, which I mentioned earlier: one package for each of us of either Knorr sides, ramen, instant potatoes, or stove top stuffing, which is delicious with craisins dropped in it.

The best thing is the unexpected food, which we sometimes get from other people who understand the hunger associated with long distance hiking. A couple of day hikers have given us spare granola bars. Once I picked up a shopping bag I thought someone had carelessly tossed and I found a full size Snickers inside.  In Grafton State Park we found a cooler of trail magic, some cokes that someone left for the hikers.  We hid from the rain under the roof of the map kiosk, drank our cokes and fixed lunch while talking to Roaming Gnome, a former long distance hiker. She got in her car and left, only to return 5 minutes later with bananas, tea bags, and some apple cider mix. On a rain-soaked day when we were wet from the time we left our lean-to to the time we got in our tents, this was like a burst of sunlight.

Have a coke and a smile, and an indescribable view from an observation tower atop a 4000 footer

Have a coke and a smile, and an indescribable view from an observation tower atop a 4000 footer

We’re still working on different food set ups, but no matter what I still crave random things during the day.  When I get home I am going to wreck some Zaxby’s and CFA, some Publix subs, a big pile of spaghetti, enough PB&J’s to feed all of Gwinnett County schools for a day, and the Mayfield plant in Braselton.  The one thing I crave that I won’t be able to get anymore is a whoopie pie, which seems to be New England’s best kept secret.  It’s more or less a glorified Hostess thing but man it’s good.

Other than food, I do get songs stuck in my head as well. There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to them but I just write them down anyway, usually a couple per day.  On The Road To Find Out, River of Dreams, Extreme Ways (and thought of you D Mort), The Eagle and the Hawk (we saw a bald eagle from on top of a mountain that day), Dying Day, and Waiting On A Friend have all gotten plenty of airtime, but the most common song is Dixie. Go figure.

One of my favorite days so far was last Wednesday, our last day in Maine.  We had camped just north of the Mahoosuc Notch, known as the most difficult mile on the trail, and tackled it early that morning.  Then we got to climb Goose Eye Mountain on a sunny, breezy day.  I sat up on the rocky summit alone for a little bit and looked at Baldpate, Old Speck, and Maine behind them on one side; and on the other side loomed the Whites and New Hampshire. Maine was incredibly tough and it wasn’t easy to stay positive, but I don’t hold it against the place.  That ruggedness is what protects it’s beauty. That first 280 miles taught me that I can survive a lot more than I think I can when I am at home, where everything is so convenient.  Things can get a lot worse and still get better. It just takes patience and will.

The trail up to Goose Eye

The trail between peaks on Goose Eye

Goodbye Maine!

Goodbye Maine!

Hello New Hampshah, huh

Hello New Hampshah, huh

A couple miles later we encountered 3 NOBOs taking pictures with the sign on the ME-NH border. “Can you tell we’re glad to be out of this state?” one of them asked. Vanilla Thunder replied “We’re glad to be out of Maine!” And then we laughed at them, knowing what they had in store. We’re already becoming trail snobs, on top of being water snobs. Does this stream drain the beaver pond we passed a mile back?… yeah, I think I’ll just go thirsty 6 miles to the next spring.

So I’m A-Town now, thanks to my hat and telling people I’m from Atlanta, but what about Vanilla Thunder? Well legend has it that back in his college days, Dad was a bit of a baller.  He needed a good basketball to shoot around with, but they were all endorsed by the big names from the NBA in the 80’s and were too expensive. So after much grumbling he settled on what must have been the cheapest ball, a Chocolate Thunder signature model. His vet school friends decided to make it his own and get rid of the fancy endorsement, so they crossed out Chocolate and wrote Vanilla, and a new legend was born. No, he never wrestled Stone Cold Steve Austin.

It’s super late now. This thing took me hours to write on my phone because there is no computer in the barn where we are sleeping tonight. Well it is a hostel in a barn, called the Barn, but the point is my thumbs are tired so sorry about typos and enjoy these pictures. We’re heading up Mt.Madison and Washington, etc., tomorrow, through the Whites, and resupplying in Lincoln at thd end of the week.Thanks for reading.

Volunteer trail crews have been hard at work in ME this month straighting up the blow downs

Volunteer trail crews have been hard at work in ME this month straighting up the blow downs

Crawl-through in the Mahoosuc Notch

Crawl-through in the Mahoosuc Notch. There’s a white blaze in there somewhere.

Fancy double-decker Appalachian Mountain Club shelter at Gentian Pond, complete with bear box and mice

Fancy double-decker Appalachian Mountain Club shelter at Gentian Pond, complete with bear box and mice

Can't beat the view from the front door, either.

Can’t beat the view from the front door, either.

Horn Pond, directly below the North and South Horn in the Bigelows

Horn Pond, directly below the North and South Horn in the Bigelows

The Bigelow Range: flat topped Little Bigelow to the right, the 2 peaks of Bigelow in the center, the South Horn off to the left, almost all completed in a day

The Bigelow Range: flat topped Little Bigelow to the right, the 2 peaks of Bigelow in the center, the South Horn off to the left, almost all completed in a day

Bless you, Yolo. This is what I came for.

Bless you, YOLO. This is what I came for.

Hi from Andover, ME

So as you can see, this is just a hi instead of hello. It’ll be a shorter post since im doing it from my phone, but if you’re reading this then I was successful.

We’ve approximately doubled our mileage since the last post, being at 246 now, which means 2 things: less than 2000 miles to go now, and this is our last resupply in ME. We’ll be in New Hampshire in about 3 days, which is super exciting.  The Whites, y’all! Burger King! Fewer mosquitos, so we can ditch our head nets and frequent recoatings of deet!

We’re still healthy and well fed, and thanks to all that have been praying for us. In fact, we are probably the best fed people on the trail right now, according to a SOBO we met who is completing his triple crown ( having hiked the Pacific Crest and Continetal Divide in the 2 past consecutice years) and who eats about half as much as us on any given night. This is mostly because Dad insists on carrying a pound of butter in his pack to put in everything, so we are representing Georgia well and might be the first thru hikers to actually gain weight on the trail. I’ll detail our diet a little more in the next, hopefully longer post, for those interested.

This last section has contained the prettiest hikes and most miserable ones – like doing 18 miles, half in the rain, over Bigelow Mtn. But that’s part of the trail, and we just wait for the sun to come out and dry us off. It’s worth it for this view from Saddleback Mtn.

Thanks for all the comments and I promise I’ll do a better job addressing them in the next post. Especially the mysterious history of Vanilla Thunder.  Just wanted to let you know where we are. Also, more pictures to come.

0619151505A-Town

Hello from Monson, ME!

I don’t even know where to start with this.

We made it through the 100-Mile Wilderness, only slightly worse for wear, but with food to spare, which is good.  I set a PR for longest time without a shower.  By day 4 I was realizing how accustomed I was to civilization, and how strange it was not to be around it.  Whenever I heard the distant sound of a motor I would snap out of my walking trance, which is nothing but feet pounding and whatever song happens to be stuck in my head that day.  And when a song gets stuck in your head in the middle of the woods in Maine, there isn’t much to get it out.  So even sitting here alone in the Monson Public Library, which is in the back of the combined town hall and volunteer fire station, feels almost like I am back in Atlanta.

Katahdin was an amazing way to start the trail, and I understand why it is so popular to end there.  Having also been to Springer Mountain I can easily say there is just no comparison.  Being a bit of a nerd, of course I couldn’t help being reminded of the Lonely Mountain, the way it looms over the surrounding area and tiny nearby town of Millinocket. Plus, we kept getting these scenic views of it for days as we walked away – it’s really quite a buildup for the NOBOs.

IMG_0823

Katahdin from Abol Bridge, 10 miles down the trail. Darn time stamp.

We postponed our climb a day so that we wouldn’t be caught in freezing rain on top, and though it was overcast in Baxter State Park when we began, we soon climbed through the clouds and were getting a sunburn on Katahdin’s tablelands. It took about 3 and a half hours to climb the 5 miles up to the summit, up stone stairs, scrambling over rocks, jumping over puddles and endangered tundra grasses, and trudging through snow, but Dad was practically running up the trail.  My fears were coming true as I panted to keep up.  Of course the 5 miles down just wore us completely out.  We set up our tents at the trailhead, the first of many times, and Dad was snoring by 7:15.

IMG_0814

5 miles in, and NOW the hike begins.

I had no idea what I was going to see going from there, but if I could sum up the Wilderness in one word, it would be wet.  Maine is wet.  For the first half of the week we patiently hopped from root to rock to root and balanced on rotten old log bridges, but eventually there was just no getting around the wet boots.  We had to learn to embrace it.  My boots have been wet for the last 4 days.  You know what else embraces a lot of wetness? Mosquitos.  Holy smokes I have never seen so many mosquitos in my life.  Dad stops to look for fish in a river, and I just have to keep walking or else I get attacked.  I guess the mud and mosquitos are the price of the pristine beauty of the beaver ponds and crystal clear rivers nestled between cedar-clad mountains.

We all ready met lots of interesting people, many of whom are from Georgia, and none of the people I know have quit yet. On the second day I ran into Steven from the Atlanta REI as I was coming out of the privy, but he’s such a nice guy he shook my hand anyway.  1 Step from Marietta, Little Miss Sunshine from Ohio, No Rush from New Hampshire, an L.L. Bean trail crew – all very unique and lots of fun to talk to.  Aaron, who we’ve been hiking with a lot, told me he wanted to do the trail to meet people.  I have since adopted that as one of my reasons for doing it too.  There are a lot of amazing people out here, and they are all doing what they love, and it shows.  We met a ridge runner, paid by the Maine Appalachian Trail Club to hike the trail, and she told me I was going to have a beautiful day of hiking right before I slogged through 11 miles of mud and rain.  But she honestly loves just being on the trail.  I hope I can develop that unquenchable hiker optimism out here.

The rest of the 100-Mile has had quite a variety of terrain, from bogs to bald mountains to rolling hills and slate ridges. We hopped across a couple of beaver dams, climbed halfway up an old fire-tower before chickening out, and slept shoulder to shoulder with 5 other guys and a dog in a lean-to.  And we made it out in about 8 days.

IMG_0838

In case you ever wondered, “hey, what does the place where I get all my lobsters and horror novels look like?”

So I’m going to wrap this up because it is lunch time, and I also need to go soak my feet in some Epsom salt.  They were on fire yesterday.  It makes fording rivers one of my favorite things, because the 50 degree water feels awesome on my feet.  Dad doesn’t like fording because it slows us down, and one time he tried to throw his boots across the river and got them stuck in a tree.

IMG_0839

Oh yesssss, that feels good.

Other than that he’s doing great – no blisters, strains, anything.  Which leads me to the last section:

Injury Report
Seth (no trail name yet):
-2 feet full of blisters
-2 strained knees (swelled up on day 3, man it has been a tough week)
-broken spork
-bent trekking pole
-lost sock

Vanilla Thunder:
-some black fly bites
-stove clogged with powdered milk (that was my fault)

Feel free to ask questions or suggest what you want to read in future posts.  I won’t be updating very often since I am, after all, in the woods most of the time, but I should have something up every week and half or so.  Thanks for reading!  Next resupply: Stratton, ME, next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Hello from my couch.

No, I haven’t seen a bear yet.  This is just the first post, and I showered in the past 12 hours.  My pack is packed and sitting by the door, we’ve stocked up on instant grits and potatoes, noodles, and granola (among other things), and the goodbye-for-nows have been said.  On Monday, Dad and I are flying up to Maine, and starting Tuesday we’ll be walking home.

We backpacked for the first time together about 8 years ago on the southernmost 30 miles of Appalachian Trail. Ever since then we said that if the other one ever wanted to do the whole thing, we’d both do it.  So, with my college graduation and imminent freedom approaching, I called his bluff, and in February we started planning.

I spent the last five years living in downtown Atlanta and spent the last five months eating regularly at the new Cookout around the corner from my house, so I’m basically as prepared as I can get.

Seriously though, I am incredibly thankful to get to do this, especially with my dad.  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime for me.  It seems ludicrous to some, but maybe this blog will shed a little light on why we wanted to do it.  I’ve never written a blog before, and most of my contributions to the online world are limited to 140 characters, but I’m going to do my best here and let the trail do the rest.

Not sure when the next post from the actual trail will be.  Our first resupply will be in Monson, Maine, 114 miles into the trail, right after the aptly-named “100 Mile Wilderness.”  We aim to be there around the 10th.  I’m off to bed.  See you all in 6 months.