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WHW - The Adventures of a Wo[a]ndering Academic(s)

WHW - The Adventures of a Wo[a]ndering Academic(s)

Postby LucieK » Fri Jul 26, 2019 6:00 pm

Route description: West Highland Way

Date walked: 26/06/2019

Time taken: 7 days

Distance: 152 km

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WEST HIGHLAND WAY, June 26th – July 2nd, 2019

This was my first multi-day hiking trip in a long time. I’ve been thinking about them for a while and last year decided to finally make it happen. First I tested myself on day hikes – first on was Ben Lomond and continued to train throughout the year. And finally, summer 2019 came and with it the West Highland Way. I was joined by Sonja, a friend and a colleague currently living in Scotland, for part of the way. We’ve met wonderful people along the way, say breathtaking scenery, experienced the ever-changing weather and loved every minute of it. It was an incredible journey.

For those interested, here are some highlights from the adventures of the wo[a]ndering academic(s) (because we wonder as we wander and we are one historian and one anthropologist):

Day 1, June 26th, Milngavie to Drymen: an easy walk among pastures as an introduction to the Way and the weight of our backpacks. Sunny and warm day, maybe little too warm – despite using sunscreen, I think my recent sunburn got little brighter again. We made a quick stop at the Glengoyne Distillery. We didn’t go on the tour, just straight to their shop where we got two miniatures to celebrate the start of our journey. But we still got to taste the 12 year old whiskey (the same stuff people on the tour get), which made us excited about opening our mini bottles in the evening even more. Originally we planned to walk as far as the Garadhban Forest for wild camping (we checked with the national park about the restriction zones), but decided to stop at the Drymen campsite, not to exert ourselves on the first day, as we both had to get used to the walking and the weights on our backs. It was a good decision – after pitching our tents and cooking dinner, we headed to Drymen for a beer with few fellow hikers from the campsite. We would keep meeting up with some of them for the rest of the Way, and even hike a section together.

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And off we are.

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sunset in Drymen

Day 2, June 27th, Drymen to Millarochy: another sunny and warm day (again, little too much). Today we also got our introduction to the midges on Conic Hill. They were curious and friendly, but not biting (yet). But after seeing their “clouds,” I was quite glad, I had a head net in my pack. On a descent, Sonja busted her knee and an old injury let her know it still existed. While we were addressing the issue, a group of four hikers from Israel we were regularly meeting and passing that day stopped when they saw us and offered an ointment and a bandage stronger that the one I had in my first aid kit. We both were truly grateful for their help and I’d like to shout out THANK YOU to them here. Hiker’s solidarity is a real thing! We slowed down and took a long break in Balmaha, where Sonja also got trekking poles to help her along. We stopped in Millarochy campsite that day, to make sure the knee would get plenty of rest. We originally planned to wild camp in the designated area past Sallochy, for which we had a permit, but health and safety come first. Here it was also where we truly started to experience the plague called midges – I pulled out my head net and Smidge for the first time and would use them every morning and evening basically until the end of my vacation. Later that day two hikers from my country, Julie and Kristýna, arrived at the campsite and pitched near us. We shared the nearby table and chatted quite a bit. Sometime later a Czech couple traveling through Scotland on a motorcycle arrived. I started noticing, how many people from my country were in Scotland (and walking the WHW) in the next few days – it felt like there were more Czechs than in our own capital city!

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a garden around the last honesty box / house at the end of Drymen

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Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

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Thank you to these hikers from Israel for stopping and offering their help!

Day 3, June 28th, Millarochy to Beinglas Farms: while Sonja nursed her knee and took a day off, enjoying the cold waters of Loch Lomond, I made my way along the loch. The plan was for Sonja to rest and take a bus the next day to re-join me at Beinglas Farms, so I would try to get as close to BF as possible. I didn’t think I could get all the way there… Doune bothy looked like a possibility for the night or some wild camping between the bothy and BF. At least that was the plan.

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Realizing I was eating way less calories than I burned, I stopped at the Rowardennan Hotel for a sizable serving of a burger and fries (and to dress hotspots developing on my feet). Later that day, I was grateful for the decision and the calorie load I got for lunch. I planned on taking the high road, but in the critical moment I didn’t think ahead and just followed the sings and found myself on the low one. I knew it was going to be a challenging day, but hoped to ease it up a little… oh well, you have to pay for your stupidity (or lack of attention to your map). Up and down, around, under, and over trees and sizable stones, up steep steps to reach narrow bridges along the loch. Exciting, but at the same time tiring with a fully loaded backpack and scourging sun. At least the trees provided some shade.

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along Loch Lomond

Around 6 pm I made it to Inversnaid, where I caught up with Jeremy and Nick, two hikers from our first day in Drymen, who were heading to Beinglas Farms. We chatted briefly, I wished them best of luck with the rest of the hike and they were off. I took a nice hour-long break, aired my boots and socks and enjoyed some cold tonic and refilled my camel back with fresh water. While I was enjoying the sun and having my pack off for a while, three hikers I passed shortly after Rowardennan pier approached me asking if I lost my sunglasses. I glanced at my backpack, where I tied them up earlier that day, and nothing. I didn’t even notice they were gone. These guys found them and carried them all the way here in case they saw me! People can be amazing! Thank you!

As I was getting ready to leave the hotel, Julie showed up. We met in the morning at Rowardennan Hotel, discussing their plans as her friend Kristýna was having allergic reactions to the midges and grasses, not feeling well. I suggested taking day off and making up the distance and time by bus. They decided Julie would press on along the loch and Kristýna would meet her in two days in Tyndrum. Since they shared a tent and Kristýna kept it, Julie had to make it to the Doune bothy that evening. Seeing how tired she was and knowing what terrain laid ahead, I waited for another 30 min for her to rest a little and get something to drink, so she wouldn’t walk the section alone. Around 7 pm we were off for the last stretch along Loch Lomond. We reached the Doune bothy around 9:30 pm only to find out it was closed. With only one single-person tent between us, we decided to press on to Beinglas Farms, as I thought we would have a better chance to figure out sleeping arrangements there. I also reached out to Jeremy and told him of our situation. His reply: offering a place in his two-person tent to Julie for the night. Hikers’ solidarity is truly amazing! A crazy dash through the remaining 5 or so km in slowly fading daylight issued. We made it to the campsite around 11 pm. I was praising my decision to stop at the Rowardennan Hotel for lunch that day, as the large burger and fries sustained me throughout the day (with few snacks) and into the next morning. I had enough energy to only pitch a tent, take a shower and crawl into my sleeping bag by that point.

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the path after Inversnaid

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approaching the closed Doune bothy

Day 4, June 29th, Beinglas Farms to Tyndrum: Taking the morning off as we all waited for Sonja to join us was tremendously helpful to my feet, as the dash along Loch Lomond (an unplanned 35 km day) left some blisters on them. While we waited, we sampled some local – highland whiskeys, sipped tea and watched the clouds closing in, starting to release their load. Now I’m not a big drinker and I can’t say I know my whiskeys, but I definitely liked what I drank (I think I had Oban, though not quite sure about it).

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sampling local whiskeys for breakfast

Sonja’s bus was slightly delayed, but she finally got in, grabbed a quick bite to eat and shortly after 2 pm we – Nick, Jeremy, Julie, Sonja, and I, headed out toward Tyndrum, as a storm moved in. Thunder and lightning sounded and looked impressive, though they also made us concerned a little bit as we knew at some point we’ll be on an exposed hillsides of Craw Knowe and Kirk Craig. But by the time we reached them, the thunder and lightning stopped and only the rain remain, with occasional dry breaks. The scenery of the glens and mountains, with low lying clouds and occasional sun rays were marvelous. After the crossroads for Crianlarich, we dived back into the forest, with occasional views of the surrounding glens, enjoying the quiet stillness and countless shades of green. At this point, Julie experienced an asthma attack. Since no one had anything for asthma in their first aid kits, the only thing we could do was to stop and wait for Julie to get her breathing under control. Since Nick and Jeremy had a baggage transfer and had to make it to By the Way campsite by 8 pm the latest, we told them to go ahead, once it was clear Julie was getting her breathing under control. Sonja and I stayed behind and, once possible, continued at slower pace until we came close to a road from where Julie caught a ride to the campsite. After that Sonja and I picked up our pace – with all the rain, a hot shower in a campsite looked more inviting than wild camping, so we decided to try to make it to the By the Way camp that night as well.

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Glen Falloch

Out of the forest and into the pastures, with glimpses of the late afternoon sun in between the low lying clouds – it made the place look mysterious. We made it to the campsite 20 minutes after 8 pm, the reception closing time. But the guy running the camp was still there, waiting for us – Nick told him about the asthma attack and our delay and so he waited! Again, Scottish hospitality and hikers’ solidarity ruled the day! And we were truly grateful to him. Especially, since there was one last free hiker’s hut that evening and, being soaked and not really feeling like pitching tents in the rain, we opted for a nice dry room with a toiled and comfortable beds.

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sunset from the By the Way campsite

Julie made it safely to the campsite by 8pm and rejoined her friend Kristýna. After I turned on my phone, I found a message from Chantal, another hiker we met the first day in Drymen, informing me she met her and she was OK. Shortly after that, I spotted Chantal’s tent and we chatted for a bit, before heading to our hut to dry off and enjoy the luxuries of civilization.

Day 5, June 30th, Tyndrum to Inveroran: Facing another day full of rain, we opted for a breakfast at TJ’s Diner, while the elements raged outside. Nick and Jeremy were taking a day off, as Jeremy’s feet were blistered beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Kristýna and Julie opted for baggage transfer for the day and were planning to take a bus to Bridge of Orchy and walk to Kingshouse. Later that day I was glad to learn that they opted for a train all the way to Kingshouse. So we said our goodbyes and after a quick stop at a store (mostly blister stuff), Sonja and I headed out. The plan was for wild camping at Inveroran, though the torrential rain made it look less and less inviting.

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68 km to go...

The glen and monroes, waterfalls along the way looked amazing though – the clouds, the rain were adding moodiness to the whole scene. At times the rain changed into drizzle only and even the wind took a break once in a while for us to fully enjoy the surrounding area. But Sonja’s shoes started to signal they were not going to deal with the water well. They started to take water the day before and we hoped a duct tape fix would be enough. It held for a while, but the water started getting in. We found a semi-dry spot under a tree (unbelievable in the weather!) for Sonja to change her socks and duct tape the dry ones. It would have probably worked, if we didn’t run out of the duct tape half way through the second sock (the fully duct-taped one kept her foot dry). We made it to Bridge of Orchy and took a refuge in the Bridge of Orchy hotel. We got pot of hot tea to warm us and a lot of paper towels from the barman to try to dry out. Considering Sonja’s and the weather conditions, we started to make new plans. By this point I received message from Julie that they were in Kingshouse and had a “hobbit hut” there and Sonja was welcomed to stay with them. That sounded like a reasonable plan – she would wait there for me to meet her the following day, while I continue to fight the elements and camp at Inveroran. She would miss the Rannoch Moor, which she was looking forward to, but she will get some rest and a chance to dry.

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battered by wind and rain

So after 4 pm, I set out again, into the rain. The forecast promised a break in the rain between 5 and 6 pm, so my plan was to make it to the wild camping at Inveroran by then to preferably pitch my tent before it started raining again. The wild camping area at Bridge of Orchy was soaked wet, which didn’t make me hopeful, but who knows, how Inveroran will look like. The wind was vicious, trying to tear off my backpack rain cover, driving the rain where ever it possibly could. I paused briefly at Mam Carraigh to look at Loch Tulla (completely covered by clouds) and hurried off again. Half way to Inveroran I realized that Sonja still had the gas! Oh crap. Well, there’s the Inveroran Hotel, so I guess I’ll have a dinner there and energy bars for breakfast. The rain stopped as I neared the hotel and even the sun made a brief and shy appearance. Pass the hotel I met a couple on their way there for a drink. They stopped and asked where I was planning to camp. When I told them, Eve decided to go back with me to help me pitch my tent as the wind remained quite strong. Again, hikers’ solidarity at its best! I was truly glad, as it was truly a two people job to put the tent up with the wind strength. Right after I was done setting up for the night, I headed to the hotel to join Eve and Eric for a bite to eat and Oban whiskey tasting. About the same time, I received a message from Sonja – she took the brace off her knee and realized the knee was turning blue. That was it for her – the injury might be more serious that it led on and so she would head back home the next day. I was sad that she would miss the Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe, since she was looking to these parts especially. But health and safety comes first and this was the right decision.

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Bridge of Orchy and Loch Tulla

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Day 6, July 1st, Inveroran to Kinlochleven: I was up quite early today – around 6 am. Brushed my teeth, but since the rain kept on coming I went back to my tent and checked the forecast. It promised a break in the rain right around 8 am, so I took a nap and got up again an hour later to start packing – whatever I could in my tent to be ready for the promised break in the rain. The break truly came and it gave me a chance to pack my tent in some relative dryness. A quick stop at the Inveroran Hotel to refill my camel bag and off toward the Rannoch Moor. After leaving the forest (past Forest Lodge) I caught up with Eve and Eric, shared some snacks and chatted for a while and was off again on the road, getting into the more open space of the moor. The sun came and went, the rain stopped, the cold wind became a constant companion. I pulled out my gloves for the first time (though I could have used them the day before as well if I remembered where they were in my pack). Despite the constant cold wind, I enjoyed every minute of my walk through the remote moor with its countless shades of green, wild ranging streams, and rugged mountains. The cloudy and windy weather was home here and only added to the atmosphere of the place. But I was still very glad I didn’t have to cross it in the torrential rain of the previous day!

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River Ba (I think)

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Rannoch Moor

Shortly before 2 pm the mountains of Glen Coe came to view – majestic! Soon I was sitting in Kingshouse, enjoying Scottish game broth and dark bread. Since it was only 2 pm, I didn’t feel like stopping for the day just yet, even though that was the original plan. I gave myself an hour to rest and to see how I would feel. Meanwhile Jeremy and Nick made their way from Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse as well, prompting me to continue to Kinlochleven. Since Jeremy and I have been planning on hiking Ben Nevis together from day 1 (if we made it to Fort William on the same day), it gave me another reason to consider and ultimately decide to add another 14 km to the day and brave the Devil’s Staricase (making it another 30 km day) and go all the way to Kinlochleven. I only hoped my feet would not hate me for it the next day (they mercifully waited until the end of the next day). By 3:30 pm I was on the road again, heading for the Devils’ Staircase, enjoying the exceptionally beautiful mountains around me. The sun poking through the clouds here and there brought dramatic light to the scene. Glen Coe certainly warrants a full day of hiking and exploring it – definitely a reason to come back and spend more time here.

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mountains of Glencoe and Kingshouse

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along the edge of Glen Coe and up the Devil's Staircase

The Devils’ Staircase sound worse than it actually is. Yes, it is a steep ascent, but not a hard one. At least I didn’t think so. And it offers great views back at Glen Coe and its mountains. And of course the view forward to Blackwater Reservoir and the Mamores. The clouds started to move in again, covering the mountains as I started the descent to Kinlochleven. That’s when my feet started to protest – they really don’t like descents on forest – utility roads. Right before Kinlochleven a Czech couple I first saw at Drymen and then again at Inveroran and Kingshouse, where they originally planned to stay, caught up with me and together we headed to the MacDonald campsite, where I met up with Chantal again. It was truly nice to enjoy an evening drink with her, as the following day was her last day and she had to catch the evening train from Fort William back to Glasgow. It was also fortunate, since she no longer needed her gas and I hadn’t had a chance to buy a new one.

Day 7, July 2nd, Kinlochleven to Fort William: Got up early enough to say final goodbye to Chantal as she was off by 8 am, since she needed to catch the afternoon train from Fort William back to Glasgow to make her flight the following day back home. I’m really glad I got to meet this fearless woman who just spent 6 months solo traveling the world! A quick breakfast, few pictures of the head of Loch Leven, wish a good day to the Czech couple, and I was off by 9 am. The ascent that starts basically right after the campsite wasn’t that bad, even though it was a long one. The top offered beautiful view back to Kinlochleven and Loch Leven, before heading into the glen on the other side of Beinn na Cailich. Soon I saw and walked past the famous farm ruins at Tigh-na-sleubhaich – of course I snapped few pictures, and continued my walk, enjoying the clouds of various shades of gray and the numerous green variations of the Allt Nathrach glen, interrupted once in a while by blooming wild flowers.

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Kinlochleven and Loch Leven

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the ruins

A quick lunch with a view of Lochan Lunn Da-Bhra. The nature changed a little bit here with more trees, but also forest cuts and decaying leftover trees. The walk was easy and soon Ben Nevis, shyly hiding its top in the clouds, came to view and put a smile on my face – tomorrow, I’ll hike it! The final descent to Fort William again killed my feet. I don’t mind steep ascends, but descends, however gradual, usually kill my feet. Also the path changed into a hard road, which didn’t help either. Feeling my toes mostly, I came to the original end of the WHW, snapped a quick picture and continued to the official end – it can’t be far, right? It is not, but by this point I was ready to be done and the final walk through the lovely park and High Street of Fort William just felt endless. I was only thinking “where is that …. statue?!?!?! I can’t make another step!” At 16:02 / 4:02 pm British time I finally stopped in front of the man with sore feet. I MADE IT! And for a moment I was just me and few locals enjoying the afternoon, reading books. A quiet time, fitting for some retrospection, if only I wasn’t so darn tired. Shortly after that, other hikers, some of whom I’ve repeatedly met on the path today, came. We took pictures of each other with the statue and then I was off again, retracing part of the final few km to reach the campsite outside of the city.

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Ben Nevis hiding in the clouds

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at the end of the road

Looking back, after having some time to reflect, I’m only now starting to realize what I’ve actually done. I had my doubts about doing 20 km a day with a full backpack the whole time I was preparing for this trip. The first day showed me it was doable, but could I do it 8 days in a row? And then came the third day along Loch Lomond and 35 km later I realized, I can do this. Our minds and bodies are amazing and would get us through almost anything (we might pay for it later, but we will get through what we need to). I did the WHW in 7 days, instead of 8 as the original plan was.

The beautiful, breathtaking nature of the Scottish Highlands is an ointment for a soul, so to speak. This trip was my way of dealing with a complete burned out I’ve experienced for the last three years – a chance to get away for a while, to catch my breath and relax. I love mountains and the Highlands with its ruggedness and wildness were just what I needed, including the ever changing weather. Somehow I enjoyed getting drenched by the rains and battered by the cold winds, it just belongs to the place and if you pause, you can appreciate the energy and power of nature in all its elements. It was invigorating and revitalizing, at least for me.

But what I cherished most on this trip, was the hospitality of locals and hikers’ solidarity my friend Sonja and I encountered. All the people we met along the road – other hikers, some of whom became new friends, all the locals who would pause and chat with us, offer advice or interesting bits of information. Without these people, the journey would still be absolutely great, but they made it extraordinary. Thank you.
Last edited by LucieK on Mon Aug 05, 2019 11:27 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: WHW - The Adventures of a Wo[a]ndering Academic(s)

Postby Alteknacker » Sun Jul 28, 2019 9:48 pm

A really quite inspiring story of walker solidarity. Most enjoyable :clap: :clap: :clap: .

Well done for doing this: I once walked the 7 km or so along the old military road on the way back to Lochleven after walking the Mamores, and found it so awful with all the large stones and no easy way in many places to get on to the grass, that I vowed there and then never to do it!

For the future, to help avoid blisters you might want to try 1000 mile socks. I've never had blister since starting to wear them a few years ago, even when walking whole days with soaking wet feet.
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Re: WHW - The Adventures of a Wo[a]ndering Academic(s)

Postby nick70 » Mon Jul 29, 2019 10:05 am

Congratulations on completing :clap: :clap: :clap: .

I hope your friend has managed to recover. I have completed the WHW twice now and like yourself I find the camaraderie with your fellow walker truly inspiring.

I'm also pleased that you encountered a lot of your fellow countrymen. I seem to recall one time when I done it there were so many Germans and so many other nationalities. It truly does have a global feel to it now. I can't actually recall meeting many fellow Scots lol.

Once again many congratulations on achieving. Did you manage Ben Nevis at the end? To my frustration this is still something I have missed out on :( . I will get it sometime I'm sure.

Re: WHW - The Adventures of a Wo[a]ndering Academic(s)

Postby LucieK » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:27 pm

Alteknacker wrote: For the future, to help avoid blisters you might want to try 1000 mile socks. I've never had blister since starting to wear them a few years ago, even when walking whole days with soaking wet feet.

Thanks for the sock recommendation! I’m using Bridgedale merino ones, have been for over a year, and never had a problem with them. I think part of the hot spots and blisters problem is the way my feet are shaped and where I put pressure on. With fallen arches, I’m also putting pressure where it shouldn’t be, which wasn’t a problem during single day hikes, but the multi-day and weight of my backpack it seems like it became one. So I might need to figure out some inserts to take care of it. But I’ll keep an eye on those socks you mentioned as well.

Parts of the old military road and especially the parts before Kinlochleven and Fort William are hard on the feet, easy going, but feet killers. So I can understand why you wowed never to do it. :wink:
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Re: WHW - The Adventures of a Wo[a]ndering Academic(s)

Postby LucieK » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:37 pm

nick70 wrote:Congratulations on completing :clap: :clap: :clap: .

Thank you Nick.

Yes, Sonja is much better now. Thanks for asking! The doctor said it was a case of a very bad sprain. As I said, she’s much better now and already training for next summer. We are thinking the Alps…

I was little bit surprised that most of the hikers we met were foreigners. It seems like WHW more popular with foreigners these days? I did meet some English walkers on the last two sections of the Way.

And yes, I did hike Ben Nevis the day after I finished the WHW. With Jeremy, the hiker from Finland we met on our first day. We both wanted to do the CMD arête, but the weather wasn’t good and we both were really tired after the WHW, so we opted for the tourist path. No views from the top, as it was all in clouds and with only 5C temperature and cold strong winds, we didn’t stay long on the summit. But it was an amazing experience none the less. Still, I’m hoping I’ll be able to go back and do the CMD one day. Now, I just need to find the time to write that report and post it here….
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