BootsnAll Travel Network

End of Antarctic Season and Travels

May 4th, 2008

Mt Paterson Summit

Italy. Friends and family keep asking about my blog and why I haven’t posted lately so here is a brief explanation.  We had an immensely busy Antarctic season during which we had very poor communications. After we finished the ITASE Traverse to South Pole Luci and I packed up all the equipment to ship back to McMurdo and eventually we ourselves hopped on a LC130H back to Town. But not before taking victory in the annual South Pole round the world race in the heavy equipment division with our Cat Challenger55 forks.   No sooner did we arrive back at McMurdo were we swept up in the excitement and confusion of an aircraft recovery mission. About the same time we were driving the last few KMs to the South Pole on the other side of the continent, a Basler DC-3 had just finished a botched take-off procedure which rendered the plane useless but with no injury to the plane-load of scientist and crew on board. It was decided to send down a team of mechanics to try to get the plane to fly north before the end of the summer season.  In order to accomplish this task they needed to have someone organize a camp to work out of. This, of course, is where Luci and I come in.    

Since, at the time, it was semi-secret I didn’t want to publish anything about it and when we finally got camp set up we were plagued by the same Iridium data problems that have dogged me at other camps. By the time we got back to McMurdo it was old news and my mind was already in NZ. Luci and I bought a van in NZ back in September and were looking forward to enjoying the last days of summer. We bought little inflatable pack-rafts and were eagerly awaiting spending some time on a couple of NZ’s amazing rivers. But, as luck would have it there were problems with shipping and the boats arrived only a few days before we were scheduled to fly to Australia. Just enough time to give them a go on the Rakaia River and the scare the pants off of Luci and on Lake Rotoroa where she had a painful encounter with a wasp…make that five wasps. So now she gets anxiety just thinking about them.

At this point I had already gotten out of the habit of writing blog entries.  I have never properly learned to use the software that my host site uses as a blogging platform and uploading photos was becoming very time consuming.  Luci loses patience with me immediately at public internet cafes and since I was still trying to sooth her frazzled nerves from the Rakaia trip, I let her have her wish.  While she went up to the North Island to hang out with some of  her Yoga friends I stayed south and spent my time boating, kiting and climbing on my own. I had one of my most memorable times in NZ in a campsite frequented by a very diverse group of on-the-cheap, world-traveler, outdoors people near Aurthur’s pass.

After getting the van stored and our NZ affairs sorted out I met Luci at the Auckland airport and we flew to Australia where we were hosted by a good friend of ours from our days at the WAIS Divide camp in Antarctica and his wife. He is an American and she a Kiwi. They met in Antarctica and now live in Launceston, Tasmania.  She is a world class chef and he is working on a career in commercial diving.  We had the most relaxing time during our stay which consisted mostly of visiting local sites, doing a bit of boating and diving, and talking about the future.  We also spent a considerable amount of time sorting out some of our travel details for our up coming trip to Thailand.

Our next stop was a long weekend in Hong Kong to visit another couple of friends. She was a high school classmate of Luci’s who we coincidently ran into in the queue to board the daily LHR LIN city hopper that has become the staple of our jet-set lifestyle. Apparently it has become a part of hers as well.  She was returning from HKG on an apartment hunting mission and was preparing for marriage in the coming months. He husband is another Italian who is in the petro-chemical industry. They moved permanently to HKG after they got married last May. We had a great weekend of dining and absorbing the massivity of Hong Kong.  They were excellent hosts and by some miracle I was able to speak the most fluent Italian right-off the plane (sometimes it takes me a bit to get back into the habit).

After these friendly visits we were on our own in SE Asia.  The original idea was to do a bunch of floating on the Mekong river but after Luci’s adverse reaction to moving bodies of water, this plan was later modified.  The new plan found Luci studying more placid forms of art in the discipline of Thai Massage.  I, on the other hand, rented a motorcycle and tore off across the northern Thai landscape in search of good rivers and good times. Being the end of the dry season the rivers were not at their best and, since I am crazy but not stupid, I decided not to brave what I did find solo.  I did have a couple of genuine village experiences after getting lost about 70kms down a dirt road on what I though would be a short-cut. We had a very enjoyable time around Chiang Mai in which we made many friends and which culminated in a two-day float down the Mae Kok river in our pack-rafts which did nothing to boost Luci’s confidence in moving bodies of water but floating past bathing elephants definitely has its allure.

After very long deliberation we chose to go south to Thailand’s southern beaches instead of to Laos and the Mekong river.  We went to Railey Beach near Krabi. As usual, the beach didn’t do much for me, but the rock formations and the islands were stunning.  We spent a week in a bungalow with another diverse community of on-the-cheap, world-traveler, outdoors people. In fact it was the ones in NZ who recommended this place to me. Luci got to try some flat water in her Yak after a few days of coaxing and I think she realized that it is a lot more work than floating down river.

So now that vacation is over, it is back to work…oh, right we quit our jobs here last summer.  Last summer we opened Rifugio Boccalatte and then turned it over to a friend/colleague for the indefinite future.  I can’t say that I don’t miss it but Luci certainly doesn’t. And, since I am on a “make-Luci-happy-and-you’ll-be-happy” campaign, I feel great about dropping seven summers of my life in the lap of someone else…I guess.  Anyway, last summer I spent my spare time working on my motorcycle which somehow blossomed into getting paid to work on other people’s motorcycles and to lend clout by virtue of my Americaness to Milan’s only custom Harley Davidson shop. I found myself spending my days elbow deep in Softtails and Fatbobs contemplating the many meanings of the words “Golden Rod”  through a line of acquaintances which ultimately finish once again at an old high school friend of Luci’s. The job didn’t pay well but I enjoyed the come and go as you wish schedule they allowed me and the opportunity to learn a more colloquial Italian language. I was looking forward getting my mind off of my alpine days under the fairings of iron horses only to discover upon our grand reentry to Milan that there had been chaos in the shop culminating in the departure of the head mechanic. Ironically, I was offered to come back at a better pay-rate even though the lead mechanic was my guide to the world of motorcycle mechanics.

I still go in to work most days but the shop feels about as guided as a headless horseman. I enjoy the work but there is an air of impending crisis and I don’t feel great about getting too tied to the business end of this muzzleloader. So what do we see on our horizon? Well here are the certainties: we are going back to the Antarctic as usual in October.  We will be working directly with a research grant associated with the ANDRILL project in McMurdo Sound. This contract will only take us to the beginning of December but we are presently trying to link up another contract with Raytheon to finish the season.  At the moment we are making all of our medical and dental visits in order to physically qualify for deployment. A couple of very good friends of ours are getting married in the middle of July and we have been invited so we are planning on being in the States at the beginning of July. It could be my first 4th in the USA in over 10 years and it would be Luci’s first in her lifetime. As my grand-pap might remind me, I could soon be enjoying my first fifth on the fourth in ten.

And what of our immediate future…? In lieu of our current employment situation we are considering doing what we do best: keep moving.  I recently bought the Lonely Planet-Western Balkans Guide with the idea of riding the motorcycle down to Greece to the WRC race.  If this pans out I will try to keep you posted. 

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ITASE Arrives at South Pole

December 31st, 2007

Luke at The South Pole

We finally rolled into South Pole Station at about 09:30 on Christmas Eve; just in time for Christmas dinner. The whole expedition went quite smoothly.  Luci and I have been here all week parked out back packing up the all the equipment to ship back to McMurdo. 

I just realized that the link to the Offical ITASE Logbook I posted in my last entry was incorrect. This link is the correct one if you are interested in the day by day activities of our traverse group. I regret not being able to keep my own log up but it has been an exceptionally bad season for Iridium Comms.  Even here at Pole there is ony a small window early in the morning.  I hope to get a few more pictures up when I get back to McMurdo next week.

Happy New Year to all.


November 15th, 2007

Here we are back in our second home, Antarctica. We are about to get underway after a laborious “put-in”. We will be driving to the South Pole with the International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition. We have the same sub-par internet connection via satellite we had at Siple Dome but due to the sensitivity of some of the scientific equipment we’ll be carrying we won’t be able to use our comms to often when underway.

Therefore I will not be updating too often. Perhaps a picture every-so-often. But, you can follow our progress on the ITASE website at I hope to contribute some text and photos when I can.

Whole Way Home

September 24th, 2007

Sailing the Chesapeake

I began heading back north after a beautiful afternoon of sailing out of Gloucester Point, Virginia with Sasha.  Perfect winds, perfect seas. I had planned to make the long haul to Philly but couldn’t get in touch with my friend there.  Good thing because I was waylaid with bike troubles.  After a lunch in a glass and debris-strewn park in southeast Maryland I suffered a flat which effectively put an end to my plans for a long day.
It was a slow leak and I didn’t notice it until I was about 20 miles or so down the road and It started to ride like I was in a sand trap. I pulled over at a school bus depot where the employees went out of their way to help me. One of the bus drivers is an avid rider and once hit all the lower 48 in a six-month trip. I was impressed.  I made a few calls and located a tube and a shop that would put it on.  Byron the bus driver gave me a lift after he got out of work at five.
By the time I got back on the road it was nearly dark. Because of my paranoia with riding at night, I got a hotel.  My first and only on the trip. I left at first light the next day to get to Brooklyn.  It was a long day.  I took the ferry across Delaware Bay and planned to ride up the Jersey Shore.  That lasted about ten miles.  Too many lights and strong winds.  I opted for the State Forests a few miles inland.  It was nice but still doesn’t touch northern Jersey for riding terrain.  I got to Brooklyn with no problems and minimal traffic. I visited with my old high-school friend Jen and was back on the road to VT in the morning. 
I always tell myself I am going to take it easy and try to enjoy CT but I am always so close to home that I just blast through it.  I was in a hurry to meet my brother Jesse who gave me a lift from Vermont to Maine after I abandoned the bike with its rightful owner,  my brother Isaac. The Merit Parkway is still nice though. 
Jesse and I had an eventful drive east to Maine that I am not even going to get into.  We made it to the Maine coast  for some fishing with my brother Asa and niece Abby.  On Saturday I drove up to the Commonground Fair in Unity, Maine with Asa and family and my sister-in-law (Isaac’s wife).  I always run into a ton of people from many different contexts of my life there. But, with Luci not around (she is still up in Montreal) I just seem to blend in with the crowd. I did run into an old COA friend, Ed, who I haven’t seen in years which was nice.
Jesse managed to land a contract on the Ice at the last minute and had to do his medical in a rush.  He found out that he is leaving on Tuesday sometime last week. So, we’ll both be in Denver and Christchurch at the same time.    


Halfway Home

September 16th, 2007

Diner NY

Here I am at the southern most extent of my short trip down the east coast. I have made many modifications to my original travel plan. Have a look at my
Halfway Home Updated Map to see where I have been and my proposed route home.

When I left my brothers’ in Brattleboro, I rode out through the Berkshires in western Mass and across the Catskills and spent the night camping on the Delaware Water Gap. My opinion of New Jersey has changed after making this trip. I had an amazing ride down the Delaware. The towns are nothing special but the river runs are great fun on a bike. I hit the hottest weather of the trip in traffic and school bus stops in the western suburbs of Philly but I am determined to avoid Interstates as much as possible. I arrived in Baltimore in time for the weekend with some old friends from COA. It was Brice’s birthday and we had a traditional Chesapeake Crab Feast (hammers and all). They have a really dynamic group of friends who took me out for late summer good times involving music and good food.

Riding around Baltimore, the bike started to overheat (750 air-cooled engines in 90+ tend to do this) so I had to make some minor adjustments and haven’t had any problems since. My charging problems haven’t been holding me up since I put a switch on the headlight and cleaned up one of the indicator sockets.

I had a short ride to another COA friend’s in Vienna, VA and moments before arriving I had a big scare. The bike just sputtered to a stop. It was obviously electrical because none of the dummy lights were on. I quickly found that the main fuse wire had a loose connection. I had it back together in a couple of minutes and soon found my friend’s house (by memory after being there once five years ago).

Ethan also has a bike (BMW 650 GS) for which he has fabricated some very original accessories. We talked a lot about my overheating and electrical problems but performed no major surgeries. Good thing because I haven’t had any problems since. It rained most of the time I was there but we enjoyed tenderloin, king crab, and a 10-cent $150 wine provided by his lovely girlfriend.

After the weather passed, I headed west to the Shenandoah to take in the last days of summer. I met a couple of Germans on an Africa Twin and another 650 GS. They are doing a grand tour of N. America. They have been having problems with the GS (surprisingly) and seemed a bit in the dumps (but Germans don’t often wear their emotions on their sleeves).

I camped up on the skyline drive and wore all my clothes at night to stay warm. I took a detour on my way to my brother Joel’s. I went down a piece of the Blue Ridge Parkway which I enjoyed much more than the Skyline Drive. The 35mph speed limit on the Skyline drive makes it perhaps the most boring scenic drive in America. It is amazing what just 10mph can do.

I cut back eastward along the upper reaches of the James River and reached the Twin Oaks Intentional Community in the afternoon. I spend a rainy couple of days visiting my brother and meeting his new friends. Interesting place. I enjoyed my stay much more than I thought I would. I am sure I would be kicked out in a heartbeat. Here is a link to a Washington post cover story on Twin Oaks. I found it very moving but perhaps because I have been there.

After leaving Twin Oaks I continued down the James River to Historic Jamestown and along the Colonial Parkway to Yorktown and over the bridge to another friend’s in Gloucester Point. I know Sasha from Antarctica. He has done research on the Nathanial B. Palmer and been to McMurdo where we met. He is from Naples, Italy. I have a hard time understanding southern Italian accents because I learned Italian in the north so we speak English of which he has a much greater mastery of than I do of Italian anyway.

It has been really great seeing old friends I haven’t seen for years and meeting new people. On Tuesday I have to start heading back north. A week from Tuesday I will begin my fifth Antarctic adventure and hence a new blog category: Antarctica 2007-2008. Since I will be the weather observer for ITASE (among my other duties) I have the first of many trainings next week in Denver. I will meet Luci at the Denver Airport after the training and we will fly together to New Zealand.


Home and away

August 31st, 2007

Back in the US. Planning to take another Moto trip starting next week. Here is a rough sketch of the plan.

Appalachia Motorcycle Trip

If you live on or near my projected route (or know someone who does) and would like to host me for the night, drop me a comment.



August 7th, 2007

Luke & Luci

Finally the Antarctica Blog is back in action from a four-month vacation. So much has happened in these four months since we got back to Italy. This year’s Italian chapter started with a lot of employment drama followed by sporting drama and has ended with an exclamation point of family drama (!). Italians do drama like no other. By the end of this week we’ll be back in Maine for Luci’s first August in the US and my first in eight years and first ever (it seems) unemployed.
Upon arrival in Italy, Luci and I were eager to sort out our next Antarctic adventure. We had been in brief contact with our employer about a forthcoming contract and were expecting to have one at any moment. In the meantime we took what is turning out to be our annual motorcycle trip to Sardinia to see the World Rally Competition. We rode down through Tuscany and fit in a trip to the Island of Elba before arriving on the Island of Sardinia. This year we convinced Luci’s parents to meet us there for the race and to spend a couple of days on the beach. Here are some highlights:

Castello Voltoio? WRCPandolfus Aquaticus

The employment drama began as soon as we got back. As I think I may have mentioned in earlier posts, we are not managing Rifugio Boccalatte this summer. An opportunity arose for us to get a break from the hut with the idea of picking it up again next summer. But, in the end, after a lot of thought we have decided not to return to our home on the Grandes Jorasses again next year. It was the bureaucracy that finally drove us over the edge. Every year the regional government comes up with some new regulation that must be adhered to. This year they decided that all hut keepers in the region must take a course to learn how to do the job they have been doing, in some cases, for decades. And, of course, they are offering the 48-hour course over six weeks starting in November…no exceptions. It seemed like a sign.
But, that didn’t stop us from opening the hut and training our replacements which we did in the middle of June. We are very interested in some sort of continuity since we have dedicated the last 6 summers of our life to the place. At the same time we were opening the hut we were still eagerly awaiting news about Antarctic contracts. They left us hanging for a long time only to let us down with a thump when we were told there would be no place for us in the program this season. It was an emotional time. No sooner had we effectively quit our summer job did we lose our winter one.
Since we had no desire to start trawling the bottom of the HR barrel for contracts Luci and I resigned ourselves (for a second season in a row) to the fact that we would be spending a winter in New England. Which is not an altogether bad scenario. In fact, we were quite looking forward to a long overdue winter on the slopes. But we figured it couldn’t hurt to make one more try for an Antarctic contract. We had heard that the International Trans-Antarctic Scientific Expedition based out of the University of Maine was looking to hire their own support staff for the upcoming season. We did a little research to find some contact information and shot them our resumes. In a weeks time we were on our way back to the Ice; I as a light mechanic and Luci as cook on their 1200km heavy traverse to the south pole.
Over the next couple of weeks we did our dental and medical exams to get physically qualified for deployment and prepared for our return, first to the States and later to the great southern continent. We had our last appointment the day my parents arrived for their second visit to Italy. This time they were here a bit longer than the last and were here in July instead of April. We did some hiking in Valle d’Aosta and visited the “Art Cities” of Tuscany as well as just relaxing on the terrace here in Milan. Here are some highlights:

Luci and Parents Modena Firenze Siena Parma

After my parents left, Luci went to Greece with her parents on vacation. I had been working on and off in a friend’s motorcycle shop since we got back in April and decided to stay behind to work. It is a custom Harley Davidson shop (a rarity in Italy) and to have a real, live American hanging around the shop is a boon to business. I am definitely more of an enduro-sport rider myself but I really enjoyed helping out translating manuals and placing parts orders to the states as well as learning everything there is to know about HDs. My friend is really a motorcycle genius and it shows in his work. They have placed well in pan-European contests and won first place at the biggest biker festival in Italy for their newest bike. Here are a couple of the bikes that they have built this year:

Di Luca Golden Rod di Toni Fontana

Both our arrival and departure was punctuated by family strife. The day after our arrival Luci’s grandmother broke her femur. It is the second femur she has broken in the past year. The day Luci and her parents got back from Greece (last Monday) she broke her wrist. The day after, when Luci’s parents were up checking on her grandmother, her grandfather had a stroke which put him in the hospital. He died yesterday. He would have been 96in September. The funeral is tomorrow and Thursday we’ll be back in the States. The end of a very eventful summer season in Italy.


Round and Around

May 27th, 2007

Hard to believe that it has been since Luang Prabang that I wrote last. I kept telling everyone I was going to write when I got back to Italy.  As soon as I got back I got a job working at a friend’s custom motorcycle shop.  When I wasn’t working I was either battling Italian bureaurocracy or preparing for our next motorcycle trip (which we have just returned from).

I have decided that the best way to catch up is just to post a ton of pictures with long captions.  I am going to start before we arrived in Southeast Asia with some pictures of Japan


In Tokyo we Stayed in Asakusa, one of the older parts of the City.


Down Tokyo 

Tokyo really exemplifies the Japanese ability to integrate the traditional withthe modern.



We had a Japan Rail pass which we used to take the Shinkansen (known to the west as the Bullet Train) up to Hokaido.  We slept and ate in this awesome little ski lodge in Niseko.  Every night they organized a trip to a different Onsen (hotspring). It snowed like crazy while we were there but was considered and overall light snow year. 


Nagano Luci

We also spent a couple of days in a traditional Ryokan near Nagano and went skiing on the Olympic Ski slopes…


DSC00443 (Large) (Custom).JPG 

And went to see the monkeys that live near a hotspring near Utuoshi. But, after four months in the Antarctic winter in Japan got old quickly…



And we welcomed the heat and chaos of Southeast Asia. We flew into Bangkok but only spent enough time there to organize our train tickets and visa for Laos. In a couple of days we were in the capitol of Vientianne.   


Baja Luke 

Though I failed to mention this to most of my family for fear of worrying them, we travelled by motorcycle.  We rented a Honda XR 250 Baja; a super bike for the terrain.  A buit uncomfortable on the cheeks but we never felt a lack of power.  Since lodging and food is so cheap, there is never a need to carry camping gear which, in addition to the wife, can make a small bike like the Baja a bit hard to manage.


Offroad Luci 

There are many nice roads being build by the Chinese in Laos at the moment but the majority of the roads are still in pretty rough shape. 


Udom Xai 

Even some of the larger towns have only dirt roads in them.


The Open Road Laos

Traffic is a relative rarity but the traffic that there is tends to be either very small (motorcycle) or very large (truck).  What I found to be more dangerous than other motor traffic was livestock and people in the roads.  The main thoroughfares are lined for miles and miles by little villages and there are always dogs, chickens, pigs, cows, and water buffalo crossing the roadway in apparent oblivion to motorists.  Even the villagers don’t seem to consider motor traffic too much of a threat and are often seen lounging in the middle of the road or laying out stuff to dry on the asphalt.   


Hot Springs 

Having the motorcycle gave us a level of freedom that backpackers simply cannot obtain on public forms of transportation.  We were able to get to places where there was no public transport like this hot spring.  Having the bike really allowed us to see a great deal of the wilder parts of Laos in a short amount of time with a minimum of logistical nightmares.


Stupa Luangnamtha   

But like many parts of SE Asia, it lived for the most part of the last century under the bomb. This stupa in Luang Numtha was toppled during the Indochin wars. Laos became the most bombed country in the history of the world during the Vietman Era when the US waged the “secret war” against the Pathet Lao.  There still remains tons of unexploded ordinance all over the countryside which makes exploration of places off established paths unadvisable. So for the most part we stuck to the main roads.



It was the hot, dry, smokey season in Laos while we were there as you can see from this picture of the Mekong River in Luang Prabang. 


Nam Tha 

And this one of the Nam La. 


Vang Vieng  

Desipte a nightmareish modern history, the Lao (like the Thai) are some of the nicest people I have ever met.  Unfortunately, I usually take mostly land scape shots (like this one in Vang Vieng) and don’t have many pictures of the village life in Laos. 


Baja Luke and Luci

The rainy season finally arrived during the last two days of our trip. We had to scurry around the markets looking for rain gear. We had a couple of days of very cold and wet riding but we made it back to Vientianne and finally Bangkok in time for the annual water festival Song Kran where people throw water at each other in the streets. 

But the middle of April we were back in Italy…But I’ll save that story for another chapter.

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Luang Prabang

March 28th, 2007

Wat Maha That

We are approaching the end of our stay here at this World Heritage Site.  We have been relaxing from some long days on the road from the Laos capital of Vientiane.  This is a beautiful place with more temples per square meter than any place I have ever been to.  I guess there are a lot at Palenque in Mexico but they are not active ones.  This place is really alive despite the lingering still and smoky air of the dry season which threatens to block out the sun at times. 

I should have more pictures up of this place once I get back to Italy in a couple of weeks.  I have been having some camera problems but I should be able to salvage some pictures for the blog.     

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Same Same (only different)

March 22nd, 2007

We have traveled many miles since I last wrote. I tried writing from Japan but luci got impatient with me as usual. I got some pictures edited but I didn’t manage to get them posted. I’ll get them up later. I also came up against a wall trying to write about Japan. Such an unusual place. I found it very difficult to sum up my thoughts about the place. A couple of things that definitely stand out are 1) that it doesn’t actually cost as much as people say it does and 2) things are really expensive there. Yeah, I know a contradiction but this is really my impression of the place. I have the utmost respect for the Japanese and the flawlessness with which they run their country but at the same time that is what bugged me the most about the place. I come to the conclusion that Japan is an awesome place but simply not the place for Luke Wagner. I give more specifics about our trip north and skiing/snowboarding when I can get some pictures up.

Now, concerning more current events…we have just come from the bustling and chaos of Bangkok, Thailand one of my favorite cities. Such contrasts of inconvenience and comfort here in SE Asia. We flew in on Monday and spent a few days running errands in town preparing for our trip up to Laos. We got our visas and booked an overnight train to the NE of Thailand where yesterday morning we crossed the border to Vientiane the capital of Laos. What an amazing place! I was just mentioning to Luci this morning over baguettes and café au lait that this is the first former French colony that I have visited. I thing the French had the right idea. Despite the fact that this is Laos biggest city it still maintains a big-town charm and to make things even better you can eat really well here. Last night we ate Laos style sukiyaki (charcoal heated hot pot that you dip your own fresh meat and vegetables in to cook) along the banks of the Mekong river. Today we found this very authentic Northern Italian restaurant where we plan to celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary. We tried in Bangkok but we failed in the attempt to get to the Supatra Riverhouse because of intense traffic.

We’ll be here for a couple of days before heading north to Luang Prabang one of SE Asia’s premier World Heritage Sites. Hopefully I’ll get some time to post pictures and stories of our trip north before too much time passes.

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