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If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, there are probably some repeats. But there are some new ones, too. Sorry for the delay between posts; we just get wrapped up in whatever we’re doing and forget to write about it.

So, our contractor has to be done with everything this week. We let him know that last week, and he has been faster-than-usual in replying to emails–go figure. We are planning to move forward with replacing the furnace and water heater, assuming he can provide some kind of satisfactory explanation of why it could possibly take four days to do. (Seriously, his email said his furnace guy would be here Tuesday, and we’d have no heat or hot water until Friday.) Maybe he is planning to install a second zone, in the basement? That would be great, I guess, but we see that as more of a “future enhancement” than anything we need done right now; more than half of the basement is technically unheated, which we’ll need to fix when/if we finish it. We could probably do the second zone then. In the meantime, a small electric heater in the craft room will more than suffice. So if it’s a multi-zone thing, we’ll just talk him out of that.

But let’s say he convinces us that it really does legitimately need to be four days of work. The average temperature this January has been just a tad above two degrees, with lows in the -10 range. I see from my weather widget that it might get up to 26 later this week, which is great, but weather widgets lie. Either way, it’s awfully cold to leave our house unheated. We don’t know if that will damage our TV, for instance, or other LCD-containing electronics. It’s a leaky enough house (did we tell you about the icicle we had, indoors? true story) that the outdoor temp and the indoor temp won’t be wildly different. He says he has two electric heaters he’s planning to lend us while the work is done. Also, he says that our hot water will be off, but we assume he means all the water will be off? Otherwise, what makes him think the pipes won’t all freeze? 

Anyway, we have a plan for the birds, the plants, and the chinchilla: we can heat the two bedrooms and split them all between those. Or if the heaters are big enough, we can heat one bedroom and the living room, which would keep our plants alive and TV safe–we like that plan. As for us, we’ll either share the bedrooms with the pets, and I’ll shower at work, and Dale will… we don’t know? Or else we’ll get a motel room. We’d take the pets with us, but that limits our hotel options and, more importantly, it’s just too cold to risk taking the birds outside, even if only to put them in the car. I’m nervous about leaving them here with electric heaters, too, though. So I don’t really know.

Since we have friends who’ve had their furnaces and water heaters replaced, in a matter of hours, I am really hopeful that this is all misunderstanding and pointless worry. We won’t know until the contractor gets in touch with us, though.

 

In related, but inconveniently timed news, we made it through the waiting list on the Energy Rebate program. We’re waiting for a rater to make an appointment to check out our house. Odds are NOT good that the rater will be available Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, so I guess we’re going to make further improvements, rather than relying on the furnace/water heater replacement to count. It’s not really a problem: we have 18 months, and the rater will give us a list of likely projects to improve our energy rating. (There’s a minimum rating you have to get, to get reimbursed for any of it.) I suspect insulation in the walls and below the arctic entry and kitchen will be major parts of it. Possibly window replacements. Maybe there’s something clever we can do with the basement? Anyway, we’ll do, or pay someone to do, a lot of those projects in the summer, depending on our cash flow. It’ll be good.

 

In totally unrelated news, we had some moose come through our yard! They were here while I was at work on Saturday morning (I should never have agreed to switch shifts!), but, luckily, they were still in the neighborhood when I got home, too. And Dale got photos! While we were watching (from the car–you can see the ice on the inside of our windshield in one or two of the photos), one of them walked behind a neighbor’s car (convenient for scale), while the other moseyed down the sidewalk to munch on some trees. And Dale hadn’t noticed right away, but they apparently also found the pumpkin we left in our yard, by the compost bin; there are no traces of pumpkin, but there’s a large squashed area of snow and a moose nose print in one of the snowbanks! Also, we took a picture of the tracks they made through our yard, because we giggle every time we see them. 

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Today was my “birthday–observed.” I always pick the weekend before or after my birthday to hold a party, because, you know, the middle of the week is kind of ehh. (Also? I still usually take my actual birthday off work, and Dale usually takes me out to dinner. :))

Dale made me tasty pancakes for breakfast this morning, and then we drove to the Wildlife Conservation Center, because we’ve never been there in winter. We were actually just going to go to Potter Marsh, but it was super pretty out, and we had some time… Anyway, the musk oxen were up and moving around! In the summer, they just kind of lie there, so that was exciting. They are ridiculously short and hairy, which I think makes them cute. And the bison were eating—they just kept switching back and forth between their two hay piles, really, but, again, it was cool to see them up and moving. Speaking of hay, there was a tractor carrying a big bale, and the elk all kind of chased it… a little lackadaisically, yes, but they all went, which made for some great elk-viewing. And there were caribou (also active), a moose (just standing there, but he was right by the fence), a pair of sleeping lynx, two wide awake owls, and an eagle. There were three or four magpies who took turns trying to eat the eagle’s salmon, which we think was frozen, because they all attacked it like woodpeckers. The eagle didn’t seem to mind, really. (Dale took video. We’ll post it eventually.)

On our way back to Anchorage, I saw some dall sheep standing right beside the road (which I might have shouted excitedly about), and we drove up to the next turnaround to… well, to turn around. Some climbers were there, climbing up an ice waterfall (icefall?) a couple hundred feet from the road, and when we tried to drive around their parked car, into the turnaround, we found ourselves in surprisingly deep snow. We couldn’t actually get the car out ourselves—I mean, we would probably have eventually have made it, since we had a small shovel and a bucket of gravel, but it would have taken forever. One of the people with the climbing party came to help us with a rope tow, which I thought was really nice. People can be pretty great, up here.

Anyway, we got turned around and totally made it back to the sheep before they wandered off. The pull-off was across the road from them, but we still got close enough that we could hear their hooves on the rocks. (Still across the road, though.) It was awesome!

And then? We went to Snow Goose (local brewery with a small side room they’ll let groups reserve) and played Mafia with a bunch of friends for a few hours! That’s, like, my favorite game in the world (though, funnily, I’m not great at it :)), and people were hilarious and devious. I had so much fun! (I had extra fun, because I didn’t have to worry about setting it up—Dale did all that work—or hosting, which I enjoy, but which is also a little stressful, because I hate to host in a messy house, and then there’s cleanup, and… You know.) It seemed like everyone had a good time, which makes me happy. And the wait staff were pretty cool about it all, considering we were sitting around with our eyes closed, half the time, and talking about whom to kill, the other half. :D

Anyway, I’m pleased to have found a fun activity for my winter birthday. (Yeah, I’m SO planning to do birthday-Mafia again next year. :)) And I’m extra-pleased to have been able to spend the evening with such great people!

It was a great day. :)

We had a nice Thanksgiving this year. I had a nice one last year, when my coworker and his wife invited me along to dinner with her family (who were really fun!), but I admit, it was still kind of sad to get home to my apartment… and no Dale. So, you know, that was a definite improvement this year. For his part, Dale seems to have enjoyed his first Thanksgiving in Alaska.

It snowed, for one. Big, puffy snow that stuck to the trees and made everything pretty! The only down side was the three days of freezing rain before the snow–the roads were a little unpredictable.

We were going to just do our own thing–have our first holiday entirely by ourselves, ever–but we found out the Unitarian church was having a potluck (with turkey! and ham!). We’ve been to a couple of UU events–one or two services, too–and we like the people there really well. So we braved the roads and ended up having a really nice time. And amazing food. (We brought fruit salad. People seemed to like it fairly well, though we have some leftovers.)

Little bonus: a moose walked through the yard this morning. She’d have stayed longer, but the dog upstairs caught sight of her and started barking. So she ran off. But it was nice to have that quick Thanksgiving visit!

Tomorrow we’re having an anti-Black Friday game day, with make-at-home pizzas. More people have RSVPed than will technically fit in our apartment all at once, I think, but I’m betting there will be people in and out throughout the day. As far as feeding them goes, I have enough dough for six pizzas; hopefully, that’ll cover it. :) Dale’s looking forward to playing the Battlestar Galactica boardgame. I’m much more excited about Why Did the Chicken?

I’m hoping people’s uninhibited capitalism will have died down a bit by Saturday: I’d like to stop by the spice shop and natural foods store and then go see Harry Potter.

Anyway, we had a nice holiday and anticipate having a nice Christmas–maybe the UUs do something then too? But, like last year, it felt a little weird to call both families (or, well, parts of both families–neither of us caught up with everyone) from far away. Maybe that’s going to keep feeling weird, or maybe we’ll get into our own groove here. Although our vacation lines up nicely for flying home over the holidays, the prices of the flights and the number of other travelers will tend to make us visit at other times of year, instead. (Even when we lived on the east coast, traveling over the holidays wasn’t so fun–though it was usually just weather and other drivers we had to contend with. Flying is worse in a lot of ways. Bleh.) Next year we’ll see everyone in October–that’s pretty good! Confidentially, though: I’m not sure if this “living across a continent AND way north from everyone we grew up with” thing is going to get OK or if it’s going to result in us deciding to move a little closer, in a few years. If we left Alaska, I think it would be to get closer to family and friends in the Lower 48, not, most likely, because we couldn’t hack the dark, cold winters and long, bright summers. And, of course, we’d be leaving behind friends up here, too, so there’s no perfect answer.

Except a teleporter. That would rock.

I like it when my Monday off (OK, first off, I like doing the flex time thing so I can have every other Monday off) is punctuated by awesomeness! I rode in to work with Dale this morning, so I could have the car. We couldn’t go the normal way because a school bus was stalled/spun out/something in the middle of the steep hill on our road (no signs of anyone being injured, or kids even still being there—the relief bus must already have come), so we went the back way. And saw two moose, down the street from our house. Which was pretty neat and exciting. They were heading toward our house as we drove away, but I admit, I forgot to look for them when the car and I got home.

Fast forward two hours, I look out the back door, and there they are! They were not eating the pumpkin I left for them, but, you know, you can’t win ’em all.

Photos:

Also, you’ll notice there’s a ton of snow out there. Winter is well and truly here. This was the first day with LOTS of snow, and people are driving like they’ve never seen this crazy white stuff before. Seriously, I’m amazed that people in a place with 8-9 months of snow can’t function when it starts back up again. That’s not that much time to forget how to drive! How? How do they do it?

I think maybe not everybody who is going to get studs on their tires has done so yet, so it may get a little better. Less sliding around. … Right?

I admit, I thought the holidays would be really tough; I’ve spent Thanksgivings away from family, but never Christmases. However, to my surprise (and happiness), they really haven’t been that difficult. I got to spend Thanksgiving with a really nice family, and I’ve spent at least part of every day of the Christmas 4-day weekend with friends. I also Skyped with Connecticut family for almost 3 hours on Christmas morning, which made me really feel like a part of their holiday celebrations. (Then I took a nap. Then I went to my friends’ place for, though I don’t think anyone called it that, an “orphans’ Christmas dinner.” That is, those of us not going anywhere for Christmas got together.)

Actually, the problem I’m running into is that I need to spend more time at home, to clean and organize for Dale’s arrival. (I’ll see him in 19 days! And we’ll fly back here in 28. But there’s no apartment-cleaning time in between those dates, obviously, so I should get on that cleaning thing.) I was a good bird-mom and cleaned the bottoms of both the cockatiel and parakeet cages, today (then turned the air filter on high and took a long shower). A more thorough cleaning will be in order, eventually, but they seem happy to have at least that done. Or maybe they don’t care, but I feel better about it. I’m hoping to get a good deal more of the housework before me done, next weekend.

In winter news, I’m still sleepy all the time, and I’ve noticed I’m unusually quick to get grumpy. It’s not depression, but it’s not normal, either. I’ll up the vitamin D and use a full-spectrum light (instead of a blue light), to see if I can improve that at all. I’m actually sitting in front of one, now, while I write this, in hopes of staying awake through the movie I’m going to see tonight. Also, some coworkers talked me into renting cross-country skis, so hopefully I’ll try that out this week. I know my body wants exercise, because I feel much better just from an outdoor walk across [part of] campus. It’ll be nice to have Dale up here to go geocaching on a whim and walk some of the trails with me; it’s not going to help that much with the wildlife, honestly, but it still feels safer to have another person with me when I go out.

It’s still really pretty up here–why, yes, we did have a white Christmas, why do you ask? :)–despite some above 32 degree temperatures. Some of the roads are pretty much clear, while others have thick enough snow/slush to cause trouble. The plows have been through, at least on most streets and parking lots, making some impressive mountains of snow; I’ll try to get pictures that show the scale of it.

Anyway, I’d been stressing about the holidays, and, like so much of what I stress about, there was no need. I missed people, definitely–still do–but I wasn’t left to feel lonely. It was all OK. Good, even.

I had a fairly eventful weekend. Friday night was spent baking up a storm (and washing my cheese grater after several incidents–this, by the way, is why I claim to need a Cuisinart), Saturday was spent celebrating a friend’s birthday (the carrot cake and macaroni & cheese were both well liked [and Coral-free]), and Sunday was spent alternately cleaning the kitchen and nursing a headache. (I wasn’t irresponsible on Saturday night, beyond staying out way too late. But I’m too old to stay out way too late and not pay for it the following day[s].)

In a very Alaskan turn of events, I pulled up in front of my friends’ house on Saturday and was about to get out of the car when I saw a moose! I called them, and they said to pull down into the driveway and come in the back door, which I did. I was not really that far from her, in the driveway, but she didn’t seem particularly upset at me. She kept an eye out, sure, but neither of us felt like we were in any great danger, I guess.

Anyway, Ms. Moose proceeded to stand right in front of the picture window, eating leftover Halloween pumpkins, for the next 20 minutes or so. Pictures were taken; I’ll post them when I have them. :) It was pretty excellent. And my friends felt validated, since they’d told me moose eat leftover pumpkins, and here I was witnessing it.

She wandered down the street, later, nibbling on the neighbors’ trees.

Alaskan wildlife facts: Moose mating season is in the fall–that’s a bad time to run into a male moose. The calves are born in the spring–anywhere from 1 to 4, though more than 2 is apparently (understandably) uncommon–so the spring is a bad time to run into female moose. One of the local hospitals has problems with moose calves wandering in through their automatic doors, and staff have to kind of herd them back out. Moose bulls drop their horns every year. Besides pumpkins (:)), moose also eat bark in the winter. You can tell how tough a winter it’s been by which kinds of trees are missing bark; some don’t really have any nutrients for a moose, but they’re filling. Moose have long legs so they can stand in muck–marshy areas, high snow, whatever.

In less immediately exciting (to you) news, the PA registration for the Subaru finally came. It’s on its way to me, now, and then I will be able to get Alaskan plates. Maybe I’m imagining that people are giving me space when following in winter: the PA plates have a really similar color scheme to one of the popular AK plates. I keep doing double takes at other cars, thinking “why is anyone else from PA up here?” :)

I like my iPhone OK–email everywhere is a wondrous thing–though I still hate the lack of keyboard. I’ve been assured that I’ll get over it. Dale’s phone is in Pittsburgh, albeit not with him yet. If you have numbers for either of us that start in 412, they’re only good until the end of the week. And since I haven’t turned my Verizon phone on in almost a week, I guess mine’s really not all that good now. If you call it, my new number is in the message.

Lessons learned: I found out that campus police are wonderful, and Subarus are hard to break into. I started the car and got out to scrape the windows–ironically, it was this weird, unscrapable ice that would have been better removed with the windshield sprayer–and shut the driver’s side door behind me. You see where this is going, but, you might recall, I’d tried to lock myself out (with the spare key in hand), in order to keep the car on and temperate for the birds, during the trip. I’d learned that you can’t lock the door, except with another key. Hitting the door button doesn’t lock it, nor does hitting the “lock” button on the remote. So imagine my surprise when I couldn’t get back into the car, that night. In my panic, I blamed myself, figuring I must have managed to lock myself out, despite knowing that’s impossible. I called campus police (figuring they’d be faster than Subaru roadside assistance), but the officer had a lot of trouble getting the door open. He finally had to use the unlocking tool to force the passenger side window down, so I could unlock and open the passenger side door. Even then, when I’d confirmed the driver’s side door was unlocked, he couldn’t open it from outside. I had to open it with the inside handle. Sadly, there are some scratches on the paint around the frame of the door, and I swear the door edge doesn’t sit quite as flush as it used to. (In the meantime, while all that was happening, I was wearing thin, unsuitable-for-winter shoes, so I had to come home and take a bath, to warm my feet. Dale’s sending me the brown boots I forgot, in this shipment. They’ll look stupid with skirts, but I don’t actually care.)

That car door thing was weird. And unsettling. So I unlock all the doors before I get out to clean the windows, now. Not that I’ve had to, the last couple of days! It’s been a balmy 30+ degrees out! It got above freezing today! Though I keep hearing rumors of rain/snow mix tonight; we’ll see.

I’ve got some pictures on the camera; I’ll do another post soon with those–and hopefully Ms. Moose’s picture, as well! I’ve got some Thanksgiving plans, which is nice. And it’s a short work week, which is also nice. (I like my job, yes, but I also like not going to it, from time to time. Nothing wrong with that. :))

I’m halfway through my bottle of beer (Alaskan Oatmeal Stout–not a bad brew), so I’d best stop writing now, while I’m ahead. And start drinking faster–it’s almost 11!

“As I am an honest Puck… goodnight unto you all.”

That’s how many more miles I have to go. (I’m quoting the windshield repair guy. And I’m getting ahead of myself.) Today was, as expected, full of mountains and rivers and wildlife. I saw enough buffalo that I don’t even get excited about the baby ones anymore. Only one individual out of the 3-4 herds I passed was thinking of heading into the road, and it seemed to believe (rightly) that the Subaru was bigger than it was. I suspect it crossed pretty soon after I was gone, though. I also spotted some caribou–one crossing the road and a few along it, including one right on the edge of the road at a slow point, so I got a good look at him. I kept my word about not trying to photograph wildlife; the temptation to do something risky would be too high, and, frankly, you can go look at pictures of caribou and bison yourself. :D

On a sad note, the birds along the Alaskan Highway are either really stupid or really brave. I clocked a raven who wouldn’t get out of the road, even when all of the other ravens (eventually) did–I couldn’t stop in time, so I tried to position the wheels so they wouldn’t hit him, but he was still awfully tall and definitely clunked his head, at a minimum–though he walked away afterward. Something was definitely wrong with him before I came along, but I still feel really guilty. And there were all of these smaller birds that were always so slow to get out of the way; my own birds were getting pissed at me, for all the breaking I was doing. It’s possible that I hit at least one, though I’m really hoping I didn’t–I didn’t hear any hit, anyway. Even a stupid seagull took its time getting out of my way, though he did fly off in time. Is there really not enough traffic to keep these birds with it enough to fly away when they ought to?

On my way up the first mountain, a speeding truck kicked gravel up at me. This wasn’t the first speeding truck, and it may not have been the first gravel (well, it definitely wasn’t, since I heard two or three separate hits from that one truck), but it was a good hit, catching the windshield right near the edge, so that a really nice crack could form. It grew throughout the day, to the point where it was really freaking me out. And, by all [two] reports [from people at stops along the way], Watson Lake is singular among all my many stops in that it does not have a windshield repair place. (Let’s not even joke about a Subaru dealer, either.) It’s tiny. But I asked at the tire place–tire repairs are a big thing along the Alaskan Highway, of course–and the lady said there’d be someone at the hardware store who could point me in the right direction. Two stops later (one to get better directions to the hardware store), I pulled into a lumber yard, and an older gentleman–friendly, just like about everyone else up here–explained to me that he could drill a tiny hole right at the end of the crack, to relieve pressure, and that this procedure often lasts people a year or two. Apparently, there’s a layer of plastic between two layers of glass in a windshield. I had spent the whole day worried that another gravel–or, far more likely, a bird–would shatter the whole thing, and I was happy to find I’d been wrong.

While the gentleman with the drill and the lady at the tire place both agreed that it was better to do something than not, nobody seemed to believe there was any real danger from it. It turns out, people up here drive around with cracked windshields far worse than mine, and it goes OK for them. “Can you see OK?” the lady at Coal Creek asked, and when I answered in the affirmative, she said “Well, there you go, eh?” It seems very probable that I’d have made it to Anchorage OK even without doing anything–and that I’ll still do so, even if this drilling thing doesn’t stop the crack–but I feel a little better, having done something. Whitehorse has a Subaru dealer, so if it’s still growing tomorrow, I’ll stop in there for their opinion. And if it seems all good tomorrow, well, like I said, only 1000 miles more to go. Haines Junction tomorrow (a longish drive–planning to start early and take a long stop in Whitehorse), Tok the next day, and Anchorage the next! Anchorage definitely has a Subaru dealer.

I’m in the Yukon Territory now, but I think the official point where the Alaskan Highway really says “you’re there, for good, this time,” isn’t until sometime tomorrow–there is a lot of weaving back and forth between BC and YT, first.

There was a bit of rain today and a bit of fog. Even with that–and even with the worry about the windshield–I enjoyed the trip. The views were amazing. I only bothered getting pictures for you from roadside stopping places, rather than trying to take them through the bug-stained windows (stained, I tell you! even with 2+ days of rain and a washing every time I get gas, there are visible smears).

Er, one of those is sideways. Sorry.

Also, I’ll get you a picture of the window crack now, after a day of growing and a drill bit, … uh, later. The camera was full (because I didn’t buy the memory stick), and I’m sleepy. :)

The phone really is dead. I turned it off until I get past the American border.

Playlist: Chamber of Secrets–it’s much better, post-whomping willow. And the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.

Today was the prettiest drive yet. Enough trees and mountains for anybody!

There were some rough patches of pavement, several areas with construction taking the road down to one lane, a few steep grades (and when they say “80km maximum,” whoa do they mean it!). My planned second gas stop was out of gas, so the last 100 miles made me a little nervous. That’s just because I’m paranoid, though; I was above half a tank. I pulled into Fort Nelson at just over 1/4 tank. Things were fine. I guess I figured there’d be mountains and construction, or something. But I’ve definitely learned my lesson. I have all of tomorrow’s gas stops listed out, with the two I like best highlighted and plenty of backup plans, in case they’re out. (Not sure they’re the cheapest, but one has the word “toad” in it, and the other claims to have tasty buffalo burgers.) Since I paid $1.25 a liter, just now, the whole concept of “cheap gas” is kind of foreign. I hear it gets less expensive from here on; we shall see.

My first stop, today, at Fort St. John, was nice, as promised. Aaand… that was my only stop. I’m not sure why I decided “They don’t have gas” meant I couldn’t get out of the car, but I did. That’s a definite way to make even one of the shorter days of the drive seem long–having learned that lesson, I made myself a list of pull-offs with nice views and even one with a .6 mile hike, for tomorrow. It may be too cold to leave the birds, honestly–I have it on good authority that it snowed a couple of days ago in one of the areas I drive through tomorrow, though odds are it’s already melted.

I’m a little nervous about tomorrow’s drive. It’s one of the more mountainy days. And at roughly 320 miles, it isn’t precisely short. But I’m planning to start early and take my time, so it should go fine. The Milepost makes it sound like sheep just stand around on the roadside to be gawked at, along with buffalo, caribou, moose, and bears. We’ll see. I’m not going to try to take wildlife pictures, unless something walks out of the woods while I’m already at a pull-off. But I’ll keep my eyes open, both for things in the road and for things along it.

There are still a fair number of people on the road, even though it’s the tail end of the tourist season. It’s not what you’d call congested, but there’s a reasonable number of cars. And RVs. And gas trucks. The signs claim there are log trucks, but I haven’t seen them.

I tried to listen to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets today, but it was too painful. I hate Lockhart, and I hate Dobby, and I hate that whole bit with taking the flying car to Hogwarts. It’s my least favorite of the books. (Sorry, if any of you are fans. I agree that the ending is pretty fantastic.) I may start it back up tomorrow, or I may stick entirely to music. Today, I filled in with lots of Cake, the Joss Whedon musicals, and the Spiffy CD (CMU AB Tech’s sound check CD, which is … eclectic).

And now, pictures!

The first two [if it ordered them right this time] are from a pull-off half-way down this insane curvy grade thing. I thought the bridge looked neat. I don’t know how many details of it you can see, but there’s a gas processing facility there. The striped “bridge” next to the blue bridge is a pipeline. (Dale, if you zoom in on the picture, full size, all the way to the right (above the branches) are two of those “towers with fire at the top” I was talking about. Anybody: what purpose do those serve? Why would gas places want to burn anything off?) The next is a cliff I thought was pretty, though it got a little washed out in the photo. The next really didn’t come out the way I’d hoped–very few of my in-car pictures do, since I’m looking at the road, not at what the camera’s showing–but I thought it was probably worth sharing, just so you could see what I was trying to do. :) And the last is one of the mountains I saw, early on. Rumor has it I drive through that range tomorrow.

Wish me luck!