I feel like I haven't been at home at all recently. Two weeks in Taiwan, four days hiking Whitney, and now a two-day work-week before I leave Thursday for Houston - only to fly right into Oregon for another weekend of camping and hiking at Smith Rock.
Went to the doctor today to have him look at my mystery wound. Y'know, every time I go to the doctor I'm in and out in like 30sec. I always feel so dumb for even going. I walk in, wait for 15min in the reception area reading Field and Stream, follow the nurse who called my name while she weighs me and directs me to wait in another room. The doctor comes in, reads off the chart, "So you got bit by a spider eh?" "I dunno," I reply, "I think so, but that's what I'm here to find out." So I show him the bite, he pokes and prods it with his finger and declares, "Yeah, looks like you got a spider bite." I'm paying for this? WebMD coulda told me that, ya quack.
Tomorrow night is the Killers show at the Boardwalk, it's like my Hollywood-life never slows down y'allz. I don't intend to live like a rockstar, it just kinda happens. Flying around the world to this place and that, hiking up mountains, going to see concerts, freebasing with naked supermodels - it's just old hat for me. So all y'all sit back and hear me now? I'm finna talk right to ya and bring Whitney, Part II. It's another long one, you ret? Damn right you are, lemme at 'em.
With the Ford now drivable, our attentions switched back to dinner. Sometime earlier, Anthony and I had informed the rest of the crew of the toilet situation on the trail - and let them know that we'd be expected to pack out any "waste" we were responsible for creating. Needless to say, the girls weren't too happy to hear the news. The over-pizza conversation consisted largely of the logistics of mountain pooping. If you're unfamiliar with the whole concept of no-trace hiking, it's simple to explain - you leave nothing behind, it's as if you were never there.
Pooping while hiking or climbing involves using a "crap bag," which is nothing more than a plastic bag that has some dry kitty-litter stuff in the bottom to absorb odor and capture liquids. The kit comes with that actual crap bag, some toilet paper, another resealable bag to put the crap bag in when you're done, and a little antibacterial handy-wipe. You can get them at the beginning of the trail and they're also located at the two on-trail campsites. If you're hardcore, you carry a sort of big PVC pipe-looking thing with caps on each end. This oversized pipe-bomb-looking apparatus serves as both a "toilet" (you stretch the bag over the opening and sit down on it), as well as an airtight waste transportater. If you're low-tech, you just carry around a bag filled with your own poo.
We all tired our best to make use of the facilities at the pizza place, in the hopes that we could stave off the urge for the rest of the weekend. I tried my best, but the bathroom was right off the mini-arcade room, which was teeming with kids and full of loud blips, bloops, and pinball noises. The door lock didn't really convince me, and the commode was such that if the door did open - I'd be aimed front and center towards the arcade room. All those factors, and the fact that nature just wasn't ready, meant I'd have to wait. There were functioning toilets at Whitney Portal, but nothing above the hike's start the next morning. I think it was this development that gave Anthony his second major idea of the trip. Since his first idea: the paperclip fuse, worked so well - he floated idea #2 to the group: Imodium AD. I mean, I've taken Imodium before - and it works. It's like a bowel-cork in pill form. Anthony figured we could all take some Imodium, and not have to worry about pooping for a few days. I theory, it was a brilliant idea.
Of course, questions were asked: Where does it all go? Is it safe to hike around for four days with all that just "stored" up in there? Think there'll be any adverse effects? But, in the end, we all overcame our fears and decided we'd do it. We'd pick up some on Saturday morning before hitting the trail, when we'd come back down into town for our send-off breakfast and fuse-replacing errand. With that settled, we drove back to camp and crashed for the evening. The night was uneventful. No bears, no nothing. Just the sound of the day hikers beginning their treks around 3am. Marching upward towards summit with headlamps lighting their way until the sun came out. We all slept fine.
We woke up shortly after sunrise the next morning and broke camp right away. We packed all our gear and loaded up the car. It was Saturday morning, the morning we were going to hit the trail. We drove the few miles back into Lone Pine and arrived at the cafe here we'd be breakfasting around 8am. Coffee, omelets, and gravy-soaked biscuits once again littered the table. Recognizing us for hikers, a man asked if we were "coming down or going up?" There must be a huge transient population of hikers in that town, "going up" and "coming down" are as ubiquitous to conversation and understood as "please" and "thank you."
Once again, we all gave our best effort to the local facilities - but all came up short. A quick trip to the Napa auto parts store and we had the replacement fuse for the truck, and one extra just in case. Next stop was the local market, where Anthony scored a box of Imodium with enough pills to dose the entire crew. Happy, full-bellied, and excited, we made the drive up to Whitney Portal one more time - this time with the luxury of having the windows down thanks to the new 30A fuse.
Back at Whitney Portal, we took care of the final details before saddling our packs: we rented two bear canisters (small plastic barrel things that you store all food items and smelly toiletries in, bears can get into them), put all non-essential food/toiletry items in one of the available bear lockers, and made sure the car was clean. We filled all our water containers from a potable faucet for last time, and all used a gulp or two to wash down a couple Imodiums each. After bungeeing the then-empty bear cans to Anthony and Ben's packs, we put our burdens on our backs and headed towards the trailhead. For a lark, we used a scale at the trailhead to weigh Anthony and Ben's packs - they wanted to see who's was heaviest. Anthony's clocked in right under 50lbs while Ben's was a measly 40lbs. No one else bothered to weigh, but I know my pack was significantly lighter.
Day one's hike consisted of getting from Portal, around 8800ft, to Trail Camp, about 12000ft. The distance we needed to cover was about 7mi, over which we'd be gaining roughly 3000ft in altitude. The Whitney trail is extremely well-maintained, and really easy to follow. The first 2mi or so are still well below the tree-line, so you're hiking up surrounded by trees and plants and brush, crossing a couple streams along the way. The initial ascent is a bunch of switchbacks, which criss-cross you up the mountainside. About 4mi up the trail the land levels out and you find yourself in a valley of some sorts, with a stream running through. We stopped to pump some fresh water from the stream and relax a bit. We'd hit the trail at about 11am and were making pretty good time. The initial switchbacks were, for the most part, tame - and not too taxing.
Shortly after the land levels out, you actually descend a bit into the first camping area - Outpost Camp. Still below the treeline, there are nice green bushes and fresh water running through the camping area, and some non-functioning solar toilets as well. Our camp, however, was still another 3mi up the trail at 12000ft, so we kept on rolling right past the pitched tents and shady trees. Having come 4mi already, I was feeling pretty OK. The trail hadn't been to steep or too demanding of me yet, and although I was definitely the slowest member of our crew, I didn't feel like I had been holding everyone up too much. That changed.
After you leave Outpost Camp, the trail changes. You leave behind the sandy, gradually inclined switchbacks and move onto some of the steepest hewn-rock staircases of the whole hike. Meandering and switching back and forth through the rocks, you gain a lot of elevation pretty quickly. The trees and green plants start to thin out and everything becomes the dull grayish-white of rock. Soon you're taking massive steps up tall rock stairs, walking on crunchy shards of broken rock, and out of the protection of any shade-offering foliage. A few minutes of this and I was beat. I was stopping to rest much more frequently, holding up our whole procession. Pretty soon it was bad enough that Anthony suggested we all take a break for lunch at a "meadow" which was "just up around the bend." Feeling pretty beat down, I walk-rested the remainder of the way up the rock trail.
Eventually, the trail mellowed a bit and we found ourselves in Anthony's meadow. Not really much of a meadow, but at least a welcomed green spot with a stream running through. There were some nice flat grassy areas and we picked on to squat on. Unshoudlering our packs, I took off my shoes and kicked back with some beef jerky and a Cliff Bar. Anthony told the story of is first visit to the meadow, back when he attempted the Whitney day hike and was taken out by AMS. He'd gotten sick somewhere around 13000ft and hiked back out to this point, where he attempted to sleep off the sickness for a couple hours. At something probably around 11000ft, some of us decided to take a nap as well.
I dozed for about 20min and woke with some new energy. Leaving the meadow it was back to the now familiar rock-staircase climbing up to Trail Camp. My power-nap, however, gave me the stamina to push ahead with a relatively acceptable number of breaks, at least in comparison to the pre-nap frequency. By the time we hit Trail Camp, it was around 6pm. Melissa was feeling pretty lousy, the altitude was getting to her. I remember coming up on Trail Camp and really being able to tell we weren't at sea-level anymore. I didn't have a headache or dizziness or nausea or anything like that, I could just tell I was getting winded a lot faster than normal (I know, I had to bust out a stopwatch). Anthony and Melissa both immediately setup camp and crashed for a while. Sharaun and I scouted for a nice campsite with some shelter from the wind, and eventually ended up with one up a hill a tad from where Ben pitched his tent. Anthony and Melissa had chosen a site closer to the water.
Trail Camp is a pretty desolate place, not what you'd typically think of when you talk about going "camping." You pitch your tent among the rocks, on a small dirt "pad." Around a few of the sites, people have stacked rocks high to form wind-barriers - since the temperatures can get pretty frigid at that elevation. There's a large snow-fed lake that serves as a source for fresh water, and a pair of non-functioning solar toilets to match the ones 3mi below at Outpost. Rocks suddenly become everything to the imaginative backpacker: tables, chairs, beds, shelves, etc. You eat your food off of a rock while sitting on a rock and looking at rocks.
Luckily, our weather this weekend turns out to be perfect - nothing less than stellar. The temps at Trail Camp that first night are enough to make us bust out fleeces, gloves, and beanies, but nothing unbearable. Soon all the tents are pitched and we've pumped some fresh water from the lake for dinner. Anthony and Melissa are back up and about, and Melissa seemed to be feeling a little better. Sharaun and Ben are both complaining of headaches but so far I feel fine. It feels great just to "be" somewhere. To have no pack on my back, to not have to walk uphill anymore for a few hours, to just sit.
Sometime during those exhausted twilight hours, Anthony began boiling water for dinner. Remember the menu? First night at camp was our chicken and rice meal. Anthony poured half the ziplock bag of rice into the not-yet-boiling water (remember, we're at 12000ft here - and if you've never taken physics, there's some kinda fancy axiom or principle that says it's harder to boil water the higher up you are). Anyway, the rice never did get soft and the bullion just wasn't strong enough to impart much of a chicken flavor to the whole thing. On top of that, the pouch-chicken wasn't exactly farm-fresh either. Dinner was welcomed by all though, I think. Five trail-weary hikers huddled around one steaming pot, all picking and eating with individual spoons and forks - like a Chinese family-style dinner (always wanna minimize the dishwashing when you can, y'know).
After dinner Ben and Anthony cleaned up while I lounged on my favorite recliner (big rock). Around 8pm it became apparent that there is nothing to do at Trail Camp. When it gets dark, it gets cold, and we were all beat anyway. So around 8pm I was the first to announce my intentions of retiring. At first I got a few protests from those who wanted to play a round of cards by headlamp-light, but soon all were following my lead to their tents. After some tooth-brushing, and bear-canister securing and placement (100ft from your tent) - we were all ready to hit the hay. I took out my contacts and placed them on the bedside table (rock outside the tent), and got ready to outfit the tent for our two night stay.
Our tent is decked out in pretty nice, a small backpacker model that comfortably sleeps two adults. Two Thermarest self-inflating air mattresses cushion our sleep while helping us not lose all our heat into the cold ground. I pitched the tent with the rain fly, as it offers some extra heat retention overnight and gives you a nice covered place to put your shoes when climbing in. Inside we've got enough room to stash our packs and gear at the foot-end, and lay our mats and bags out. Both our bags are pretty compressible, down, and light. Sometime last year I bought us a couple of Cocoon liners, like big fabric condoms for your body, that you pull over yourself before getting in your bag. Not only do they offer a few degrees more insulation, they protect the bag from a dirty camp-ass and are easily washable. Mesh pockets on either side of the head-end conveniently hold all loose items like sunglasses, watch, headlamp, beanie, etc. Finally, a small mesh canopy at the peak of the tent holds a headlamp for overhead light while bedtime preparations are made - and makes a nice contact-lens case holder overnight.
That first night, every move I made found me out of breath. I was extremely cold from the minute I got in the tent, and my face felt very flushed. Touching my forehead, Sharaun said it felt like I had a fever - and indeed a fever is exactly what I felt like I had. I pulled my Cocoon over me, but was still freezing, so I snuggled into my bag and mummy'd it up around my face. Strange, since Sharaun wasn't even all the way in her bag - I'm usually the hot one. I woke up only a few hours later chilled to the bone and still feeling very hot-in-the-face. Recognizing this for a true fever, I undid my bag and took a couple Excedrin I'd packed with me before falling back asleep. A couple hours later I awoke drenched in sweat, having obviously broken my fever. Odd, I'm not sure if I just overexerted myself - or if it may have had something to do with my spider bite. I lean more towards overexertion because I've experience the exact same thing on a Half Dome hike before - so perhaps I'm susceptible to it. Anyway, whatever it was it was gone by morning and I was good to go.
Sunday. Summit day. We awoke early with the morning light and popped out of our tents into the chilly alpine-glow. After a cinnamon-raison bagel and some instant coffee, I realized my Imodium must've called in sick - so I headed down to the busted solar toilets to poop in a bag. The whole "bag" thing is way overhyped? I found it not at all uncomfortable or unnatural to poop into a bag of kitty litter. The whole thing is totally hygienic and clean, so it didn't bother me at all. Returning to camp, I triumphantly announced my feat to the crew - who were all somewhat proud and amazed that I had dared brave the poop bag (OK, not really, but it sounds funny). After a brief discussion, Anthony decided to bring a couple poo-bags along for the summit hike. A decision that, in hindsight, seems nearly a foretelling? but we'll get to that.
Let me lay out the day's task: The Whitney Trail goes right through the heart of Trail Camp, 2.2mi on up the hillside to a point called Trail Crest. The portion of the trail between Trail Camp and Trail Crest is all switchbacks. So famous are these switchbacks, that they are lovingly called the "ninety-seven switchbacks" by Whitney hikers. It's about a 1600ft elevation gain over the course of the 97 switchbacks to Trail Crest. At Trail Crest, the trail switches over to the "backside" of the Whitney range. From this point it's a mere 1.9mi to the Whitney summit - 1.9mi of 13000ft+ tumbled-rock trail, climbing all the while to the eventual apex at the summit. This was our task for the day. 4.2mi and approximately 2500ft of elevation gain, all at pretty extreme elevations.
I had heard tell about the 97 switchbacks, and we trudged up to them around 8am Sunday morning. Packed light, only Ben had a full pack - and it was stuffed mostly with some warm clothes in case the summit temperatures were frigid. We all carried some water, but I got the lightest load of all (not coincidence I'm sure, I had some very thoughtful companions who knew I was probably the least-likely to succeed simply based on my being out-of-shape). I hand carried two one-liter Nalgene bottles of fresh water, both which would serve to quench my seemingly unending thirst. Everyone else had fanny-packs with water and some snacks. Again, the temperatures were perfect and there wasn't a cloud in the sky - we struck out in shorts and t-shirts.
For all the hype, the switchbacks weren't nearly as bad as I had expected. Sure, they were steep, and repetitive, but I didn't feel like they kicked my butt too bad. I mean, I was even kinda proud of my pace and endurance over the first 2/3 or so. To keep Whitney honest, and keep us busy, we decided to count off each switchback as we rounded the corner to the next. Somewhere in the twenties Sharaun started counting in Spanish, which didn't work out too well. We reverted to English and pushed ahead. Passing other hikers with the obligatory "good morning" and "how's it going?"
Right around number thirty-something, we heard a loud, deep, rumbling sound, not unlike a jet passing overhead. However, the sound was familiar as we'd heard it the night before - and it was too short in duration to actually be a jet. What we were hearing was a rockslide, the mountains were actually shifting and changing before our eyes. Rounding the next switchback, we were presented with an awesome view of the aftermath. Huge voluminous plumes of dust were spilling out into the valley below, all but clouding over one of the two lakes near our campsites. We watched in awe as the dust moved in slow motion, covering more ground and growing fatter and taller all the while. Snapping some pictures, we were bummed that we weren't one or two switchbacks higher, where we may have been able to actually see the slide.
Switchback after switchback, we continued onward and upward. The dust eventually reached us, dirtying the air somewhat before finally dispersing. Somewhere around the nineties, I started getting tired. Ninety-seven was, of course, the longest switchback of them all - stretching on for what seemed forever before topping out at Trail Crest. Finally, we'd beaten the switchbacks. At Trail Crest you can finally see the backside of the Whitney range. Far below you stretches the Sequoia National Park and King's Canyon. And not much farther down the Whitney trail the John Muir Trail winds it's way up from King's Canyon, ending a 211mi run from it's beginnings in Yosemite by t-boning into the Whitney Trail somewhere between Trail Crest and summit. From here it's only 1.9mi to summit, but Lord? it's hard.
I actually felt semi-OK upon reaching Trail Crest. The views on every side were breathtaking, and I wasn't too beat up. From what I could see, the trail continued around the backside of the mountain range, and out of my view where I knew it must wind its way up to the Whitney summit. I think it took us just about three hours to complete the switchbacks, or less than one mile per hour. After a brief rest and some celebratory pictures, we were off again.
The backside trail to the summit, the final two miles, is different from any other part of the trail thus far. The rocks are redder, if that even makes sense, and the whole thing is just "harder," period. Remember, you're at 13600ft at Trail Crest, and that's damn high folks. Things just aren't as easy anymore. I thought I needed to rest a lot the day before, but it was nothing to those final two miles. With probably a mile left to summit, I began seriously considering giving up. By now we had rounded a crucial bend and could actually see the summit and it's most distinguishing feature, a little tin-roof "hut" right on top. That damn hut looked a million miles away, and somehow it wasn't getting any closer no matter how far I walked. You'd think being able to see the summit would hearten you, but not then and not there. It's like the carrot dangling ever-in-front of the rabbit? leading him on and on into an eternity of futility.
By now my resting-to-walking ratio was seriously ridiculous. I would literally walk 20ft and need a rest, out of breath and heartbeat thumping in my head. We were still climbing with each step, but my need for rest was crippling the group's pace and morale. Anthony was ready to forge ahead, and although he hadn't said anything he later admitted he was already feeling the beginnings of AMS, my frequent stopping not helping him at all. After a short rest, and some serious pep-talking from Ben - I arose and just started walking.
All I remember is just trying to keep walking. I tried my best to regulate my breathing so I could keep going. It wasn't my muscles that were protesting, it was my lungs. Somehow, I just kept going. I must have walked for 5min or more, maybe 10 but then again maybe I'm remembering too much. The fact that everyone kept up as I led in my spurt reinforcing to me the fact that I was only holding everyone else back. What's worse, time was beginning to be a real issue - we couldn't afford to get stuck on the mountain if it got dark. We had figured we had to be heading off the summit by 2pm to give us plenty of time to get down before dark, and my slowness was putting that into question.
Not wanting to ruin anyone else's trip, and now getting measurably closer and closer to the summit, I powered through another 10min commercial-free push. By now we were somewhere on the back ridge of Whitney itself. When I rounded the last real "turn" in the trail, I could see people headed up the back of Whitney herself - and my spirits sank. I was spent, utterly and completely, and here before me was another trail? another climb? it looked unending, people disappearing over a horizon where my brain imagined yet another stretch of never-gonna-get-there climbing. It was the second time I gave thought to quitting, to sitting down and giving up.
I kept going, one step at a time. Soon I was on Whitney's back, climbing up that ridge. About then it had become obvious that we were all probably going to make it to the summit, and the rules changed. It became every man for himself, those who were previously holding back for my sake forged ahead over the last few hundred yards, leaving Ben and I back on the trail. I didn't mind, I would have done the same thing. Honestly, I was amazed I had even made it this far at all. I just remember cussing, and talking to Ben, saying things like "Oh man Ben," and "Damnit Ben." I would watch my feet take a few steps, lift my head upward and try to assess and forward progress, and repeat.
Ben stayed with me the whole time. The day before, he had said "If you don't make it Dave, I don't make it." There was also a standing ultimatum that those who didn't summit didn't get any mac-'n'-cheese that night, not that that was much motivation to me in my current state - but it did help to have Ben there. Ben later confided that he never once felt out of breath or taxed, not at any point during the trip. Which makes me all the more grateful for his role in championing me up the mountain. I guess he could see it on me though, less than 200yds from the summit I was beat-down. He suggested we take a short rest, which looking back now is pretty absurd considering how close we were. I crashed on a rock for 15min while Ben just sat there.
When I got up, we crested the horizon and we were there. I asked, "Is this it?," to which Ben replied "Yup." "Dang, we were close." I sauntered up past the little tin-roof hut, seeing Sharaun and Melissa among the few other summiteers on top. I walked right to the little plaque bolted to a rock that proclaims Whitney the highest place in the states - and almost busted out crying. Maybe it was the mountain-sickness, maybe I was just tore-up, but I swear I nearly broke down sobbing. I made it! I climbed the highest mountain in the "lower 48" states. Awesome.
Despite being bone-tired, I felt great. I didn't have the first sign of AMS, no headache, no nausea, no nothing. Anthony, however, was not feeling too hot and was ready to get down. Sharaun, was also not feeling too hot - her stomach giving her some unmistakable warning signs that her Imodium may have also gone fishing instead of standing guard that day. It may sound funny, but the Whitney climb is a very "gassy" one. The gasses in your body are changing shape as the elevation changes, and it provides for a lot of burping and farting - or as Ben calls it: offgassing. I thought Sharaun was experiencing something like that, since I had been dropping bombs all the way up the trail - but apparently hers was worse.
Here we were, on top of Mt. Whitney - and the Lord was telling her she needed to do something you don't even like to do at a friend's house? how terrible. Flashback to four hours earlier back at camp, when Anthony fortuitously packed a couple poo-bags, "just in case." And you guessed it folks - Sharaun had to take a dump on top of the world. Thankfully, the little tin-roof hut we'd had in our sights for the last mile-and-a-half has a small room with a door. There is apparently no reason for this room, there's nothing inside of it at all. Not able to wait, she took the bag from Anthony and headed inside - posting Melissa as a sentinel guarding the door from the outside.
Now, when I used the crap-bag earlier in the day - I was able to stretch it around a normal toilet seat and sit on it, making the whole thing very familiar and quite easy. But like I said, there was absolutely nothing at all in this little hut (yeah I know the real name is the Smithsonian Hut or whatever, I don't care), so she had nothing. I can only imagine the wall-sit position and precarious balancing that must have gone down. She came out saying she was "mortified," and carrying a not-too-discrete white bag marked "human waste."
We stayed at the top for maybe 20min before heading back down. It was 2pm and we wanted to be off the mountain and back at camp before dark. While leaving, a small plane flew over and started circling the peak - it was amazing. Banking and turning circles around the people on the summit. I think it was probably Ben's wet dream come true or something. On top of a mountain watching a plane fly around? I mean what could be better, maybe an Olsen twin on each arm at the same time? No wait, that's my fantasy. Either way it was awesome to see this guy do some Whitney fly-bys.
On the way back down to camp, Ben ended up carrying Sharaun's poop in his pack so she could better navigate the trail, Anthony lost his lunch several times, and we all got a bit delirious on the 97 switchbacks. They are never-ending in both directions, let me tell you. Mac-'n'-cheese was a fitting reward for our ~9hr summit trip, and we ate like kings (even though the "ham" smelled suspiciously of tuna and looked like cat food). One more night's sleep and a 6mi hike downhill later - my toes throbbed as I realized just how badly I need new hiking shoes. A quick stop in town to buy a bottle of wine and "thank you" card for the ranger responsible for the whole trip - we headed over to the pass-pickup ranger station and Anthony dropped it off for her in appreciation of our last-minute passes. The whole thing seemed so very chivalrous and nice to me, that Anthony's one class act y'all. Six more hours on the road, and we were back.
Whitney was hard, but it was worth it. When I signed the logbook on top, I wrote "You almost beat me Whitney? but not today." And that's for real.
That's it, I'm done. It's nearly midnight again, Tuesday this time - and I've been writing since I got home - no joke. I did nothing tonight but write and eat dinner, that's it. Seems I've also fallen into the late-day blogging again, which I don't like. I'll have to double-up to try and get on a better schedule again.
Re-re-re-reading yesterday's entry, I think I've corrected more than a few of the grammatical and syntactical errors. I'm sure though, that this new one will have just as many, if not more. So give me a break if it sounds a 5th grade and whatnot, OK? And by the way, I think I'm going to lose the toenails on each of my big toes. They are all black and loose - I really need some new hiking shoes. But really, what are a couple toenails in exchange for this story to tell? That's what I thought.
I'm not really planning on posting pictures of the whole Whitney thing, I spent all my time writing the novel that spans this and yesterday's entries. Thankfully, however, Ben has already erected a beautiful pictorial shrine to our pilgrimage over at his fine site. It's where I've been getting all the nice links to punctuate my story. If you're the visual type, head on over and match his pictures with my words - go on, it's fun. Don't be scared.
A "talent for the written word" eh? Your hear that? That's sixteen pages in Word. Dave out.