Utah with the Nikon Z7

We blast over the divide and into Utah for a long weekend and find a truly stunning camping spot overlooking a canyon just outside of Canyonlands National Park. We might end up just sitting here the whole weekend.


I was able to score a Nikon Z7 w/ Nikkor Z 24-70mm zoom lens to test for the weekend. All photos from this post are taken with that camera, and more detailed review follows (warning, I’m not a gear junkie, it’s more of an aesthetic review than a technical).

We do end up leaving the camp to do the Syncline Trail in Canyonlands NP. This trail is awesome. It circles the Upheaval Dome, the origin of which is unknown (cool). First we hike down into a canyon and along a riverbed, then up a boulder field and back to the start. It’s certainly my kind of hike: the trail isn’t always obvious, scrambling required, lots of up and down through amazing scenery and very few people.


The Devil’s Garden & Primitive Trail in Arches NP also has the scenery but is much more popular. The Devil’s Garden Trail is very busy, makes sense there are a ton of arches in a short span. For being a popular trail in a National Park I’m pleasantly surprised by the ruggedness of some sections, especially the ones walking on and over rock faces. Taking the Primitive Trail makes this hike a loop (yay!) and adds more of a challenge with steep rock climbs and less obvious trail. Despite the warnings of such our hike on this trail turns into more of a rescue mission. K pulls an 80 year old woman up a rock face (kudos to her for making it that far!), I guide a group of hikers down a steep section of rocks and we help a number of people re-find the trail. It’s kinda fun, makes me feel like I know what I’m doing.


One of the days we switch it up with a bit of 4WDing down the valley we are camped by and under a giant rock. We also explore Moab a bit - I found a $4 flannel shirt in a thrift shop, that’s my highlight from town.


On the way back to Boulder we stop to do the Professor Creek and Mary Jane Trail. The trail follows a creek up a deeper and deeper canyon and ends with a waterfall (we didn’t go that far, just to the canyon). It’s really fun to splash through the creek. There isn’t really a trail and we end up follow footprints in the sand to make sure we are going the correct way. It would be easy to get lost in these canyons and if it was raining a flash flood would be dangerous here. Getting back is easier, just follow the main branch of the creek back the way you came.

Using the Nikon Z7 for the weekend was a fun treat (my primary cameras for hiking & backpacking are the Sony A6000 or Sony A7R ii). I don’t often use zoom lenses so I had to retrain myself how to take photos. I don’t have to walk around to get different shots, I can zoom! As fun as the zoom is I really enjoy using prime lenses, I feel like they are more “natural” to how my eyes perceive the world. Due to habit most of the pictures in the post are taken at 24mm, the widest the lens goes, because I forgot the lens could zoom. The exceptions are the shot with the car which is at 38mm and the shot of the arch which is at 36mm.

The camera has a nice feel in the hand, the grip is more robust than the Sony’s, and has a nice look to it. I’m not fully dialed in with the Nikon control menus but I found it easy to navigate and use when I wanted to change settings. For the kit lens I found the Nikkor 24-70mm to take excellent pictures. The biggest con for me is the weight (why I love the Sonys so much), I think the Z7 would be good on day hikes but it would be too much for a longer trip.

If you go:


Winter Camping

I don’t winter camp. I love the idea in theory but in practice the long hours of darkness cooped up inside a tent just put me off it. Get me a hut with a woodburning stove and I’ll walk/ski/snowshoe miles back to it.

Living this close to the mountains it kills me that prime backpacking season is 3, maybe 4 months max. After a few weeks of coaxing I finally convinced K that we should try it. She’s from the desert, this is probably the last thing she ever saw herself doing.

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At the Moffat Tunnel trailhead , the gateway to the James Peak Wilderness, there are some camping options within a mile of the trailhead. Seems reasonable, close enough to escape if we can’t handle it but far enough away to make it feel worth it.

We headed in midday and found a nice spot between some pines and packed down a nice spot for the tent. After everything was all set up we snowshoed around the area and found a side trail leading up to a frozen waterfall.

About 4pm the sun set in our little valley and we got into the tent. Only 15 hours until the next ray of light…

The temps dropped to the teens and the wind howled through the trees but we stayed nice and cozy in the tent armed with books, crosswords and some warming stout.

I’d do it again, but I think I’d still take the hut and woodburning stove.

If you go:

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20 Hour Getaway

Its a busy Labor Day weekend for me but I have the itch to camp. 

After shooting photos for a client in the morning i grabb my pack and hastily shove my gear in. Luckily, in the spring I got on kick making a bunch of meals in anticipation of hiking season. I grab one of those and some oats and hop in the car. An hour later I’m at the Moffat Tunnel trailhead ready to hit the trail. The beauty of living in Boulder.

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I’ve been to James Peak Wilderness before and I know there are multiple lakes with awesome campsites within 3-4 miles of the trailhead. This time I’m headed to the Crater Lake area, about 3 miles from the car. 

It’s late afternoon by this point and most people I pass are headed back to the trailhead. After 2 miles of steady gradual incline I get to the turn off to crater lakes. From here the trail becomes more steep before eventually flattening out near the lakes.

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of activity around the lakes. On another weekend it could be a nice place to camp but for tonight I’m going another .5 mile and 400ft up to Upper Crater Lake. 

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This is the steepest part of the climb and at lake level it becomes more of a rock hopping experience than actual trail. Not a lot in the way of flat sites but I find a little spot for my tent near the east side of the lake just past the outflow. The bonus is no one else is up here camping. 

By the time I finish dinner it is already fairly dark and the Milky Way is starting to emerge. The job I was working this morning was using a Canon 5DS R with an 16-35mm zoom. Perfect for having a bit of fun messing around with long exposure shots while the sky is still moonless. This is a great camera, it’s completely impractical to bring into backcountry but, hey, what the hell.

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The next day I make it out early to get home. From door to door the whole trip was only 20 hours but was a great reset.

If you go:

Buffalo Peaks Wilderness Backpack

I wouldn’t call this loop challenging by any stretch of the imagination and the views are nice but not going to top any “best of” lists for Colorado. But when the more scenic trails are still covered in snow and you’re looking for an easy, pleasant weekend trip it does the trick. You could easily do this route as a day hike too.

The loop is 11.5 miles total with a net elevation gain of ~2,000ft and no steep climbs. It’s located just south of Fairplay, CO. Access is an easy 2WD gravel road.

We did the loop counter-clockwise starting from the Rich Creek trailhead. The trail is a steady uphill for the first 5 miles (most of the elevation gain for the hike) through aspen, pine and then a meadow: the high point of the hike.

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Just after the high point we started looking for camping spots. As you go downhill a small creek starts to form. I suspect as the season goes on this creek dries up. We chose a spot not too far off the trail here amongst the trees about 50 yards from the creek. Turns out there is a more popular (and flat) camping spot about a mile down the trail just before the Tumble Creek trail junction, but the privacy we had was worth it.

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On day 2 we spent the part of the morning looking for the Buffalo Ridge 1470 trail but we couldn’t find the access; it may have been partially under water as the marshy area was full with spring snowmelt. Regardless the area was fun, we saw turtles, beavers and many birds in and around the water.

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We followed the Tumble Creek trail for the rest of the loop back to the car getting nice views of east and west Buffalo peak along the way. I’d certainly recommend this loop if you’re looking to get away from the crowds and have a relaxing backpacking trip.  

If you go:

Rich Creek TH

Maps: Caltopo / Gaia

USFS Buffalo Peaks information

New Gear Testing

I did an easy two nights out to test a few new items I purchased to lighten my pack on solo trips. The first night was in a steep valley near a river approx 8,200 ft in elevation. Not normally an ideal place to camp given the cold air will sink to the valley floor, but I wanted to see how the gear performs in more humid conditions. Night 2 was above an alpine lake, approx 9,800 ft in elevation. Forecast was for lows near freezing on Night 1 and upper 30s on Night 2. Chance of rain was about 30% each night.

New gear tested:

-Enlightened Equipment Enigma 30F Short/Slim - $265

-Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad - REI $35

-Outdoor Research Helium II - $65, REI Garage Sale

Night 1

Night 1

Night 2

Night 2

Enlightened Equipment Enigma 30F Sleeping Quilt:

Those of you who know me know it’s pretty rare that I buy new items or drop serious coin on gear (patience is key to finding good deals). However, EE makes amazing gear and when I do buy new I like to support good folks. I love my 20F EE Accomplice for 2 person trips so it was a no brainer to go back to the well for my solo quilt. Night 1 was, as predicted, humid and just above freezing. With base layers and a hat on I was nice and toasty. Night 2 was in upper 30s and much less humid and I slept well without base layers.

For sizing I got the short/slim. The EE site says short is for “5’6” or under”, I’m 5’ 7 1/2” and I find the short to be the perfect size for me. My feet are snug in the footbox and the top of the quilt comes nicely to my chin. The slim size is for “50” or smaller”, I measure myself at 51”. I sleep in a corpse position and like to be essentially swaddled so this works great for me but it’s about the the smallest I’d go. If you’re the type of person who feels restricted in a mummy bag you’ll want a bigger size. The insulation value is in the loft, if the quilt is too tight around you it’s making the quilt less effective.

Fox friend at Lost Lake night 2

Fox friend at Lost Lake night 2

Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad:

Is it weird that over my many years of backpacking I’ve never used a closed cell foam pad? I’ve always had inflatable mattresses and only once over who knows how many nights have I had to deal with a leak. However, for $35 I figured it was worth a shot, especially since it weighs about the same as inflatables that cost $100 or more. While it’s not as comfortable as an inflatable I like a firm mattress and I slept pretty well. On a longer trip it’d probably get uncomfortable but for a week or less I think it’ll be fine. The best thing was the set up. Just throw it in the tent and you’re done. Amazing. Con was the bulk, I have to strap it to the outside of my pack, but for the cost savings I can deal.

Lost Lake in the morning

Lost Lake in the morning

Outdoor Research Helium II Raincoat:

This piece of gear makes its on to a lot of UL lists. I’ve been eyeing it for a while but at $150 retail you can about guarantee that I’m not going to buy it new. But when I saw one at an REI garage sale for $65 I figured it was time to go for it. On my scale the small weighs in at 5.7oz, a full 10.3oz lighter than my current raincoat (REI Crestrail). The 30% chance of rain never materialized so I didn’t get to put it through its paces but it did work nice as a windbreak layer in the evening.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

“Use the heater on the dash to warm up the turkey leftovers.” This is how our trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park started.

We had an unseasonably warm Thanksgiving weekend to get out and check out the dunes. The days are getting short, not much time left for hiking after a slow start and 4 hour drive from Boulder. Permits were easy to get, after talking with the ranger it seemed like we might be the only ones camping in the dunes tonight… Good sign? Bad sign? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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The basic backcountry instructions are to “go at least two ridges over from the visitor center, then camp wherever you want.” We took off from the parking area near the Medano Pass Road (which was closed) and hiked about 2 miles into the dunes before it started to get dark. The wind was intense but we managed to get the tent setup. I’m really glad we chose our heavier freestanding tent vs our Tarpent, which would have been near impossible to pitch in the dunes.

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Backpacking in the dunes is slow going, day 2 we made it a grand total of 5 miles. On top of the sand slowing us down we also were carrying all of our water for the day - there is no water in the dunes themselves and it was highly probable that we wouldn’t have water at the Aspen campsite either (there wasn’t).

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Early afternoon we exited the dunes and reached the Aspen campsite, aptly named as it is nestled in a grove of aspen trees with gorgeous views of the dunes and the mountains. It was much less windy here and with temps near 60 it was a great spot to lounge for the rest of the afternoon and enjoy the sunset.

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We headed out early in the morning, using the last of our water to eat our breakfast and coffee. Little Medano Creek, our nearest water source, is about 1.75 miles from Aspen and we had a long break there refilling water and basking in the early morning sun. From here back to the car it’s about 5.5 miles and for the most part the sandy trail parallels the dunes. The last mile we chose walk on the 4WD road. The views were similar, just less sand.

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To the Coast!

Time for a major switch. It seems like we’re getting stuck with every turn. The Jasper debacle was a few days ago and section C of the GDT is still on fire, we aren’t going there anymore. Smoke is everywhere and it’s hard to see anything let alone hike in it, so we’re bugging out of the Canadian Rockies.

Jasper to Seattle isn’t really close but it is doable in a (long) day’s drive. We have lots of friends in Seattle and magically, in the middle of summer, they are all in town. Seattle is also close to the Olympic Peninsula, so for our last week-ish we will be spending part in Seattle and part exploring Olympic.

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The weather in the Olympics is gorgeous. Sunny, warm and best of all no smoke! We end up spending most of our time on the coast (we’re moving to Colorado, the way we see it coast time will be precious, mountains less so). Backpacking on the coast poses some new challenges: dealing with tides, slippery rocks and sand. Cool!

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From Rialto Beach we walk about 1.5 miles to just before the “hole in the wall” (a giant hole in the rocks) and manage to find a campsite directly overlooking two large sea stacks. We set up for the night on a surprising flat spot and build a fire (it feels so weird to have a fire after seeing all the fires in Canada). In the night we are awoken by rustling and a pair of little raccoon paws slowing dragging away one of our packs (we are following the rules, there is no food in there). We shoo it away. Minutes later the paws are back and we see the pack begin the slide away. Ok everything into the tent then.

The next day we decide that our spot is too good to give up (even with the raccoons) and we leave our gear set up and wander up the coast playing in tide pools and enjoying the beach. We make it back to our site for another beautiful sunset.

Maybe it was meant to be. The seed for this journey started with a book on the Pacific Northwest Trail and here we are sitting on a beach, spending our last few days backpacking on the PNT itself.

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Great Divide Trail Section A

We begin our adventure on the GDT with a climb from Waterton to Alderson Lake, our first camp. It’s only 7.5 km (4mi) but it’s a nice way to ease into the trail.

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A contentious issue before we started the trip was the matter of camp shoes. I was staunchly against, K was in favor of a pair of cheap flip flops (7 ounces, insane!). It’s day 1 and we come back from cooking dinner to a missing flip flop. We hunt for it with no luck. I’m blamed. I swear it was a marmot (it was, honest).

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It rains overnight and we wake up to a misty morning. The trail to Carthew Lakes is clear until just before the last steep climb to the lake, here we encounter a ~6ish foot snow wall. We make it over by cutting in foot and hand holds and slowly making our way up. At the top we see the lake and tons of marmots hanging out on the rocks (which one of you is currently lining your burrow with a comfy stolen flip flop?). When we get to Cathrew Summit the fog has lifted and the views are jaw dropping. We are definitely take an early lunch break here.

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At Cameron Lake the sun is shining and it’s packed. We just left Waterton yesterday but it feels weird to see this many people especially since we only saw one other camper last night. From here we head down the road to the Akamina Trail and the Akamina Creek Campground. We make it to the campground by 4pm and enjoy the rest of the sunny day relaxing near the creek.

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Day 3 we head back out to the road and take it to the Tamarack Trailhead. We debated taking the Mt. Rowe-Sage Pass alt but it’s only day 3, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The trail up is mostly shaded, good cause it’s getting warm, and the wildflowers are everywhere. About 5km (3mi) from the start of the trail we reach an open meadow before we start up the ridge. From here the ridge looks impressive, and it is, there is 1,500ft of elevation gain in the next 1.5 miles.

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Walking up to the ridge we are going over snow patches, most are fine, a few are a little steep and deeper than I’d like. What makes me more nervous is the snow above us, it looks stable but it’s overhanging the edge. We hurry past this part of the bowl and just before the apex of Lineham Ridge there is one last lick of snow to cross. The ridge comes to a point and the trail goes up and over. To our left it’s steeper with deeper snow (see: slide back down the 1,500 ft we walked up), to our right a ~700ft drop off (see: death). There’s a big bear paw print in the snow, and the view past it is obstructed by a small rock pile we have to cross. From looking at either side of the snow in the small dip before the rockpile I come to the conclusion that it’s probably not a snow bridge. K really doesn’t like the “probably” qualifier. We brave it over and thankfully it’s not as bad as it looked once we get on it. Once we’re on the other side the entire ridge down is snow free with views for miles.

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The Tamarack Trail follows the northeast facing side of the valley and there is still snow (and snowmelt) here making it a slow slushy walk. We come across many bear prints and fresh-ish scat on this section of trail. I’m glad Lone Lake, our destination, is in another valley.

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Day 4 and another day of clear blue skies. I didn’t get very cold last night so I’m expecting today’s going to be a hot one. We head out toward Twin Lakes, no one else in sight. The trail into Twin Lakes is the same as into Lone Lake, snow covered and some postholing is required to get down. When we get to Twin Lake we stop and have our first major trail discussion of the trip.

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After yesterday's freaky snow experience on Lineham Ridge we’re not sure what the GDT primary route over Sage Pass will be like. We don’t have ice axes for snow travel and we know the next 2 days involve some very steep ridges. Could be dicey. The alternative is to take the Twin Lakes Trail down to (I think) the Avion Ridge Trail. Once the trail hits the border of the park we should be able to take an old fire road down to the South Castle River and then follow the road/ATV trails out to the road and rejoin the GDT at A31/Syncline Mountain Trail. It’s a big detour and it’s skips some great ridge walking, but much less risky.

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In the end we take the detour, I’d hate to come across a situation feel “obligated” to continue on a dangerous path. It’s a bummer but the route ends up being a fun journey through the castle river valley. Once we are at the edge of the park the trail stops but the fire road is obvious the whole way down. There are a few blowdowns but nothing too intense. When the trail levels out there are sections of brushy willows bushes over the trail, annoying more than difficult, but otherwise a clear trail. We camp about ⅓ of the way down the valley.

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Day 5 is mostly walking down the rest of the Castle River valley and then out to the 774 road. The walking goes fast, as we get closer to the developed road the trail changes to ATV to gravel road. We spend part of the afternoon “swimming” (more like running in and running out of the water before we freeze) in the Castle River, later we find an old campground near the river to stop for the night. The walking was easy, mentally it was tougher thinking about the ridge section we were skipping.

Day 6 We begin the day by hitting the 100km mark of the trail (although with our detour i’m not sure how far we’ve actually walked), then immediately onto a cutline straight up 1,000ft. After that we’re mostly on ATV roads for the rest of the day until we get to Willloughby Ridge and start to climb again. It’s windy and we end up camping on the east side of the ridge instead of the ridge itself to provide some shelter. The only flat-ish spot is the trail itself which is also covered with bear track (black bear I think/hope). Yikes.

Day 7 Walking Willloughby Ridge is beautiful and the weather is calm. We’re not in the mountains but the views of the mountains from here are stunning. After the ridge it’s 16km of ATV trails into Coleman. Section A complete!


Endless Summer - An Aussie Road Trip

One of the biggest perks of being married to an Australian is, you guessed it, having a great excuse to visit Australia. This time around given my work schedule and K writing up her thesis we’re setting off for over a month.

We spent the first few days in Melbourne and then headed off on a meandering road trip (our favorite kind) through the mountains and along the coast to Sydney.

As we drove north through the Yarra ranges we stumbled upon Cathedral Ranges State Park. I’m certainly happy we did: a great park with hiking, camping and backpacking options. We decided to head up Ned’s Gully to Ned’s Peak. About 5.5 miles round trip and Ned wasn’t messing around, his gully is pretty steep. I love when you get many different microclimates on a trail and this one did not disappoint. A thick fern forest in the gully, rock scrambling and dry eucalyptus forest in the middle and a view at the top. We didn’t have time to take the trail all the way up to Cathedral Peak and Razorback Ridge but that looked like some rock-hopping fun to be had.

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The next day we drove to Kosciuszko National Park to summit Mt. Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia at 7,310ft. I wasn’t expecting a hard hike but I wasn’t expecting it to be this easy. The trail is an old road, very flat and graded the whole way to the top. The views at the top were spectacular. Open alpine peaks with views in every direction.

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We camped just down the road from the trailhead and it was a clear, crisp night and the stars, which are normally phenomenal in Australia, were even more stunning than normal.

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For the next three days we poked up the coast towards Sydney. Lots of little places to camp along the many beaches. Australia, you know how to make a good beach.

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A Boundary Waters 4th of July

I love the Boundary Waters, the ~8hr drive is prohibitive, but definitely worth it. This will be my first time in the late spring early summer, a little nervous about the “horrific” populations of biting insects I’m supposedly going to encounter.

Our itinerary is pretty cruise-y, perfect for a group trip: lots of time at camp, lots of time for side explorations. Our garage sale canoe is definitely not the lightest for the portages, but hey, it beats paying for a rental. If I was doing a longer more demanding trip I’d for sure want something more lightweight but for this trip it fits the bill.

We put in at Round Lake just before lunch and began our paddle. The first night we stayed on an island on Snipe Lake (an island!). This is why I love the BWCA, you can stay on islands, which just feels cool.

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With all the time at camp I even managed to proof and bake a loaf of yeast bread paired with homemade raspberry jam. It. Was. Awesome. Good thing the island we’re on appears to be free of bears.

On night two we stayed on the skinny Cross Bay Lake. Our campsite was a short scramble up the rocks with a great swimming hole right out front.

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On night three at Ham Lake we got a great campsite on a rocky point in the middle of the lake.

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Every night around dusk we had turtles coming up the rocks towards our campsite and digging in the dirt. I’m assuming they are trying to lay eggs and we gave them as much privacy as possible.

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And the bugs that were supposedly going to carry me off? Didn’t happen. Sure there were bugs but other than 30 min before/after sunset they really weren’t a problem.

If you go: