2013: Throw Off The Bowlines

2013 Cities

New Year’s Eve, 2012

I’m preparing for an adventure on another continent, having never travelled beyond my own country’s borders. I have my Osprey backpack, my hiking shoes, and my ukulele. I’ve read all the advice about what to pack (lay everything out, then take away 1/3 of it) but is five pairs of underwear really enough? What if I get bored, lonely, or homesick? Visas are squared away, travel insurance purchased, plane ticket to Sydney and the first week’s accommodation are booked. This is really gonna happen.

Only one thing left to do: quit my job. Can I really walk away from 13 years of a steady salary, 401k, health insurance, even a pension? Not to mention the daily interaction with co-workers who were truly good friends. What will future hiring managers think about this gap in my work history? Few people would characterize me up to this point as a risk-taker, but as I get older something compels me to jump into new things with both feet. The following quote gives me inspiration:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

January 18, 2013

Having said goodbye to family, friends, and co-workers, I was now boarding a plane from LAX to Sydney, Australia. Fourteen hours in a metal tube, trading an American winter for an Australian summer. Monday I was skiing in Utah; two days later I was soaking up the sun on a beach in Sydney. The trepidation about quitting my job was starting to fade…

With no set plans for six weeks in Australia I began to settle in to a traveller’s lifestyle, which involves a lot of internet searching on where to go, how to get there, where to stay, and what to do. It can be exhausting when you’re trying to do it on the cheap (use Hostelworld, HelpX, Airbnb, and Rome2rio). An extended HelpX stay with a great Aussie couple convinced me to add another month to my trip, which allowed for five weeks in New Zealand. People often ask which of the two countries I preferred. I loved the unique wildlife in Australia and the jaw-dropping beauty of New Zealand so I say quit your job and do both. 🙂

October, 2013

Fast forward to October— after having a great summer in my home town and a month of exploring Colorado I pondered what to do next. Grow up and get another full-time job? How about Europe? How about yeah?! Of course the latter choice won out and I’ve recently returned from two awesome months of impressive sightseeing, beautiful landscapes, and wonderful new friends.

New Year’s Eve, 2013

So now we’ve come full circle. Looking back on the past year, did I make the right decision to quit my job, with all of its perks, and step into the unknown? Without a doubt!

I’ve made friends from all over the world, explored deserts in Utah, hiked rain forests in Australia, learned Scottish dancing in (wait for it…) Scotland, drank Guinness in Dublin, sang Christmas songs in England, gazed at the most beautiful mountains in Switzerland, rode bikes all over the place, skied/boarded in the Rockies, reconnected with friends, read books, played music…

Many people have said to me: “Oh I could never travel by myself.” My response is always “Well I couldn’t either a few years ago.” Some people are raised with the travel bug, others get it after college, and some of us do our gap year 20 years later. What’s important is to continually challenge your comfort zone, even if only incrementally.

My decision to get off the corporate hamster wheel for a while and travel has paid off in immeasurable ways, so I say bring on 2014!


The Occasional Travel Blogger

When I told family and friends about my idea to finish out the year in Europe many of them asked if I’d be starting up my blog again. My stock answer was “If I feel inspired to write then I’ll write.” I enjoyed blogging during my last trip, but I quickly realized after returning home that I wasn’t interested in being a “lifestyle blogger”. I’m a dude, and I don’t think any other dudes care to read about the cute boots I bought or see selfies of my new hair color. If you kept up with my previous blogging attempts then you may have noticed that I’ve been a lot less prolific this go-round. In my downtime I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Here are a few reasons why this trip hasn’t been quite as inspiring as my last.

I bit off more than I could chew

I don’t like planning things. Call it procrastination or laziness but I prefer the positive spin of calling it spontaneity. I like to plan trips in a big-picture style. So with two things in mind: 1) my cousin is in Rome and 2) “it’d be cool to see friends in England”, I booked an outbound flight 1500 miles from my inbound flight, with two months for the journey. That was dumb. Now a month in I feel less like a traveler and more like a tourist, checking off cities like to-do list items. I hop off a train in a city, spend two days taking photos of all the sights, hop on another train, repeat. The fact that I locked myself into a far-away departure point means I can’t be very spontaneous (multiple travelers have told me not to miss Berlin and Prague, for instance).


  • Plan your trips to allow for getting the feel of a place. Two months in the UK would have made more sense.
  • I don’t travel to shop

    Most of the cities I’ve been through are all about two things: museums and shopping. I don’t mind a bit of shopping—I feel good in new clothes just like anyone else—but I’m willfully unemployed and there’s room in neither the budget nor the backpack for more clothes. I’ve walked the streets of shopping districts in Florence, Cologne, and Amsterdam that would make a fashionista’s heart skip a beat but I’d prefer to be hiking up a mountain. I do like architecture, however, and you can’t beat European cities for stunning cathedrals and top-notch museums (save these for the rainy days).


  • Plan your trips around activities that excite you. I like a mix of cultural exploring and wilderness exploring.
  • I picked the wrong time of year

    Related to the above; I like to be outside. I don’t mind being in the cold, preferably in the snow, but I like trips that allow me to hike, explore an area by bike, take a surfing lesson, go caving, swim in the ocean. It’s tough to lazily stroll around a city or read under a tree when temps are 0C (that’s 32F for the Americans). Thankfully Italy was warmer than expected but it’s getting colder as I head north later in the year (funny how that works).


  • Plan your trips so the weather cooperates.
  • And finally, not really a lesson here, but blogging takes time. If I’m blogging a lot then I’m probably in a boring place or not being very social with my fellow travelers. I’ve met some great people on this trip: a couple from Barcelona with whom I shared two dinners, wine, and gelato in Florence, traveling duos from Mexico, South Africa, Australia, and some new mates from the UK who I’ll see again in about a week.

    I regret not having done any work exchange on this trip (HelpX, WWOOFing). I tried in Switzerland but the guy got back to me after I had already hopped a train to Germany. It’s a great way to meet locals, get out of the tourist grind, and save a few bucks, or euros, or swiss francs, or pounds.

    Some absolutely inspiring moments while biking around Lake Brienz, a surprise waterfall, and a few shots from the hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland…

    Making Lemonade

    Back home in Kentucky, as I began to plan my trip to Europe, I decided that “Ski the Swiss Alps” was definitely a bucket list item. Now I’ve never really been one to have a bucket list; in fact, I can’t even think of another item on it. I did my homework and learned that three mountains would be open around the time I’d arrive in early November. Sure, there’d be limited lifts open and the conditions wouldn’t be ideal but I’d take what I could get. It’s the Swiss Alps! After my surprisingly warm visit to Italy I chose Lucerne as my jump off point because it’s a short train ride to the Engelberg Titlis ski resort, and they were open for business. I got super psyched because they also have the highest suspension bridge in Europe at 1500 feet (you’re already in the mountains upwards of 10,000 feet) AND they have a rotating gondola! With my train to Lucerne booked, five-night hostel stay squared away, and ski resort determined, I was set. Except for a little detail that Engeblerg shuts down for maintenance the first two weeks of November. There will be no skiing the Alps on this trip.


    Surprises will come up when traveling without much of an itinerary and you just have to roll with it. You’ll pick a boring city or hostel full of teenagers or miss your train. Don’t sweat it. You’re still doing what many people only dream of.

    So now I find myself in Lucerne with a little more time to kill than I expected. It’s a nice city centered around a beautiful lake, reliable public transport, and incredible, beckoning mountains within sight. This is Switzerland, don’t forget, so things can be a bit pricey. A Burger King Whopper meal will set you back nearly $15 USD. The pace of the city is nothing like Rome or Florence. Hardly any scooters and very few honking horns; I’d feel comfortable driving here. Bicycles are everywhere and it’s quite a sight to see hundreds of them lined up in custom bike parking corrals.

    Day one I just strolled around the city, which is what I pretty much do in every new city. I don’t like to have a set itinerary on the first day. I prefer to get the feel of the place at my own pace. My favorite way to explore a city is by bike but I’ve found it difficult to find a place to rent one. I guess everyone has theirs already. The city reminds me a bit of Queenstown, as both are on a beautiful lake with mountains in the distance, though Lucerne is much bigger.

    One of Lucerne’s most popular sights is the “Lion of Lucerne”, carved in 1820 to commemorate the massacre of Swiss Guards during the French Revolution.

    After confirming with a staff member at the hostel that I wouldn’t be able to reach Engelberg he suggested that I check out Pilatus Klum, which is a mountain just a $10 train ride away. The draw to this place, besides the incredible views, is that you can go up the mountain via something called a cogwheel train, which was new to me. It kind of looks like a regular train car set at an angle, and it rides along tracks with gears that grab a toothed track in the center. Google it. 🙂 The end result of all this is that you can go up crazy steep grades, the Pilatus Klum journey being the steepest cogwheel track in the world.

    The train and the view from near the bottom (sunny and green):

    Ascending through low-lying clouds and starting to see snow on the mountain:

    The payoff… spectacular views from around 7000 feet:

    I almost forgot to mention the couple I met on the train ride from Lucerne. She was a Doctor in Dentistry, he was a lawyer, both from India and living in Dubai, practicing Muslims and as warm and friendly as could be. We marveled at the mountains on the cogwheel train ride up, took photos for one another up top, snacked on dried fruit they had brought and just had a really good time.

    If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know that my favorite aspect of travel is probably the people I meet. My own stereotypes get challenged, my world expands, and (hopefully) I represent my country in a humble and respectable way.

    On to Interlaken next!

    Guten Tag

    What a day I had yesterday.

    It began at 9:00 AM with a shuttle to the La Spezia train station in Italy and ended around 10:00 PM at my hostel in Lucerne, Switzerland. The first leg of the trip- a train ride to Milan- went smoothly enough but I had only 20 minutes after arriving to catch the 2nd leg to Arth-Goldau in Switzerland, and I hadn’t pre-booked my ticket for fear of arriving late. As it turns out, my 2nd leg is a pretty popular route and both the next departure and the one after that were fully booked. Great. Now I have a 3+ hour layover and I get to pay 50 extra dollars for the privilege. Overall I spent more than $160 USD on the trip by train so I’ll check cheap flights next time. Luckily the Milano Centrale train station is an incredible structure so I killed some time just walking around admiring this monstrosity.

    It’s interesting to travel between countries by rail; a first for me. In Italy you hear Italian and in Switzerland it’s all German, but on inter-country journeys you hear mixtures of both, sometimes from the same person.

    But I digress. As the train for my 2nd leg pulled into the Arth-Goldau station there was an announcement that a train waiting at Track 5 was bound for Lucerne, my final destination. Now, when you arrive in a new country, whether by bus, train, or airplane, it takes a bit to get your bearings. People are pouring out of the train and rushing every which way, you can’t read the signs, and you don’t yet know how to purchase tickets. Time was of the essence though, so I hurried around a corner and spotted the train on Track 5. Great! Now how the hell do I get a ticket?!? Ah, there’s a self-service kiosk (these were so easy in Italy). It’s all in German! Where is the little British flag for me to click!?! Hurry! A couple of young guys come up behind me and I let them go ahead because they appear to need the same ticket and I’m clueless. I try following the blur of the guy’s fingers but there is no hope. I don’t recall what I said but he offered to help even though I could see the apprehension on his face as the train will pull away in a matter of seconds (Swiss and German transportation doesn’t mess around). He guides me until the payment section and then runs off toward the train. Hurry up machine! Print the ticket! I grab my ticket and lumber toward the train, as fast as my back and frontpacks will allow. The attendant is yelling something in German to my blonde-haired savior as he is fighting against the train door, looking at me, preventing it from closing. I board the train and thank him profusely.


    If only that were the end of my day. I had printed walking directions from the Lucerne train station to my hostel and it looked like a pretty easy mile or so. Near the hostel I heard a live band playing from behind a wall, crowd cheering, Eddie Van Halen-like guitar solo. “This’ll be a cool area”, I thought to myself. I arrived at the hostel, thrilled to drop my pack on the floor and ready for a hot shower after a long day. The receptionist had no record of my reservation and we soon figured out that I had walked to the wrong hostel; mine was across town. She became my second angel of the evening by going out of her way to give me bus info and solace as I donned my packs once again and headed back to the train station. This time the band was playing a cover of AC/DCs Highway to Hell, which seemed appropriate and put a smile on my face.

    Finally reaching the correct hostel by bus from the train station, I checked in 10 minutes before reception closed for the evening. I have no idea what plan B would have been had I shown up late.

    So that was yesterday. I still haven’t told you about Florence and how I liked it better than Rome, nor about the nearly vertical hiking trails in Cinque Terre that are to blame for my sore calves two days later. Hopefully I’ll get time to put up some images instead of all these words!

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    Finishing up Rome

    Since our last exciting episode I spent another full day in Rome checking out the Colosseum (awesome), had dinner at an Irish pub with a Kiwi hostel bud, hopped a train to Florence, and walked for miles and miles. It can be hard to find the time (and energy) to write a blog post but it’s good for me to journal thoughts and impressions that will surely fade.

    Every major Italian attraction has an admission fee and usually a very long line. This even includes the cathedrals, cappellas (small churches), and lavish houses and their gardens. I’m typically opposed to lines and fees so, unless I really want to see something from the inside I’ll just check it out from afar. In hindsight I probably should have bit the bullet and paid to get the full experience more often but I really can’t complain about all that I’ve seen in just one week.

    There are a couple ways to save a bit of cash and time by either a) booking online for a reserved entrance, b) taking advantage of a guided tour for usually five euro more which gets you to the front of the line, or c) buying a card that gets you into multiple attractions. The latter costs 72 euro in Florence and gets you into 60 sites, but is only good for three days. That’d be some serious speed-museuming.

    On my last day in Rome I took an easy, cheap (1.50 euro) train ride to the Colosseum because it’s just one of those must-sees. Unfortunately I was there on a Saturday so the place was packed. It’s really a pretty stunning sight and would have been cool to walk around in. The only smear on the experience, and much of Rome, are the roving guys pedaling crap on the plaza. No, I don’t want a crappy lucite replica of the Colosseum or a scarf printed with the Last Supper. Oh, you just walked 10 feet, maybe you changed your mind on the crappy lucite replica? Yes? No!!!

    Other Random Thoughts On Italy

    It’s probably just a tourist-city thing, but the locals won’t acknowledge you when passing them on the street. This is a bit unsettling to me. I typically nod or smile or say hello to strangers but here they look and you with no expression at all. It’s hard to get a read on the people of a city when you’re an outsider and you mostly interact with the service industry (who, regrettably, are dealing with us dumb tourists).

    Speaking of the service industry- expect to wait a while for menus, ordering food, and you will most definitely not get a water refill without asking. None of this is a big deal, just different than what Americans are used to. Some Londoners I met said they actually didn’t mind the tipping culture in the States because the wait staff is friendly and right there anytime you need something. It’s all a matter of perspective I guess.

    It’s really nice to be in a city where public transportation is readily available and relatively cheap. I can hop on an intercity bus for $2 or go an hour outside of town for about $20 on a bus that runs about every 30 minutes. I understand that the Italian train union is well-known for occasionally going on strike but luckily I haven’t run into any problems. Also, it seems that validating your bus ticket is based on the honor system, as I haven’t seen a drive check anyone. I would be the one to get caught, I’m sure.

    Lastly, Rome has lots of water fountains around the city for the public to use. They’re a bit different from what I’m used to though; more like a constantly-running spigot that you stick your bottle, mouth, or finger in (to make it shoot out the top like a fountain). I think it’s a bit gross and didn’t use one but they seemed pretty popular. What do you think?



    It’s been so long that I’ve almost forgotten how to blog. After my trip to Australia/New Zealand I came home, learned how to program Android apps, visited Colorado and Oregon, played around in Louisville and now I’m in Italy. I figured why not make my sabbatical a true year-long deal? The plan is Rome to Dublin over two months. And……. go!

    I’ve never been to Europe. I’ve never been to a country whose primary language was something other than English (Aussies and Kiwis don’t count). This will be a challenge. That’s the point.

    I landed in Rome at 8:30 AM, which is EST 2:30 AM, with no sleep. There’s a six hour time difference between Louisville and Rome but I wasn’t about to lose daylight in a hostel room. When my head finally hit the pillow I’d been up for 37 hours with a one hour nap. Blame the fun-loving folks I met at the hostel (two Brits, an Aussie, a Kiwi, and a Korean).

    First Impressions of Rome

    I’m only in Rome for three days and then it’s off to Florence so I’ll be the typical tourist doing typically touristy things. Riding into the city on an airport shuttle you see what appear to be remains of huge city walls and I thought to myself… These are probably the oldest man-made structures I’ve ever seen. Not a lot of 1,000 year old buildings in the US.

    The next thing you’ll notice is the traffic. It’s a perfectly orchestrated symphony of madness. Tiny little cars merging, honking, scooters zipping around pedestrians, busses, each other, and not a single accident that I have seen. It’s like they’re all plugged into The Matrix. If you should find yourself in Rome, be acutely aware that crosswalks are mostly for show. This isn’t Portland, kid, and no one will stop just because you’re standing there looking pitiful. Locals saunter across, gazing into the drivers’ eyes or putting up their non-cigarette hand in defiance, but that takes guts.

    The best advice I can give for surviving Rome is to be aggressive. It runs counter to American sensibilities but it’s kill or be killed here. There are no lines or queues: when the bus/train pulls up you just shove your way on, little old ladies be damned. I assume that if you’re comfortable with the flow of NYC or similar then you’ll do just fine.

    Days One & Two

    The hostel is within easy walking distance of lots of interesting things as well as the main transit terminal so getting around is a breeze. Day one was spent checking out the Trevi Fountain, the stunning Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs, and just generally checking out this buzzing metropolis.

    Day two started with a bit of a panic thinking that a hostelmate had checked out with my phone in his possession but it was later found behind the dresser. A real-world reminder about the importance of security is necessary every now and then.

    After this life lesson I hopped on the subway and spent the day at the Vatican. I knew the Vatican was an independent city-state but I didn’t expect it to look like a fortress with 30-foot surrounding walls. It was both impressive and imposing. The museum was definitely worth it even though I don’t go nuts over the visual arts. I wish I had taken better pics!

    I leave you with the first two photos of my new collection: Asian Couples Who Dress Alike. Aren’t they cute?

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    Favorite New Zealand Photos

    I tend to be a little long-winded so I’ll keep it short and let you get to the photos. There are so many wonderful photo ops in New Zealand. Here are a few of my favorites from the six weeks I enjoyed in this beautiful country.


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    Kentucky Fried Home Improvement

    New Feature! My home and the pain I endure to improve it. The blog was feeling a bit neglected since I’m not traveling at the moment so I’ve decided to branch out.

    I bought my home about twelve years ago. It’s a cute little three-bedroom, one-bath abode that was built around 1905. 100-year-old houses, like 100-year old humans, sometimes show their age. They creak and groan, they complain about being too hot or too cold, and sometimes they leak. But we love them anyway, right? Luckily, with a little TLC and some elbow grease, these old timers can be beautiful again. I’ve always had this weird belief that inanimate objects appreciate kindness and will return it to the owner, like when you wash and vacuum your car and could swear that it runs better. Could be just me.

    On to the current project. For a while now I’ve been trying to decide what to do with the floor of my eat-in kitchen. It had that typical 90s-era yellowing vinyl flooring that was well past its prime. Having all but decided to be lazy and slap sticky tiles over top of the whole mess and call it a day, a conversation with my friend Amy got me thinking about a different approach. Years ago my parents painted the laundry room floor in their old house and it turned out nicely. Decision made: every bit of the old flooring would have to come out.

    With a renewed sense of excitement I started pulling up the old vinyl, which was barely held down with adhesive. No sweat… I’ll be done by lunchtime. Ha! This is an old house, dummy; there are no easy projects! I knew the vinyl was glued to 1/4″ luan, but what I didn’t anticipate what that the luan was affixed to the floor with nails every six inches. The room is 8′ x 14′. That’s over 500 nails. I wouldn’t be done by lunchtime.

    Luan likes to explode if you put any force on it with a crow bar so I adopted a technique of working down an edge and inching further in, until you eventually can’t go any further and have to snap it. At some point my brain decided to participate and I realized it would be cleaner if I scored the piece with a circular saw at the snap line. To pop larger pieces loose I used a shovel as a lever. So now I had a system and everything was groovy until… wait, what’s that? Another layer of vinyl tile glued to the original wood floor?

    Whoever glued down the original vinyl intended for it to survive Armageddon. I’ve scraped it, soaked it, pleaded with it, swore at it, and eventually took a heat gun to it, which has been the only successful approach. The paper lining underneath the vinyl almost certainly contains asbestos so I’ll be wearing a respirator but will forego the full-on hazmat suit and plastic lining. At this point I have all of the luan removed, along with those damn nails (if you don’t get them with the crowbar you will certainly find them with your bare feet). I’ve discovered a few more surprises where old vent registers were filled in with blanks that I’ll have to deal with. Hopefully piecing in those sections with similar wood will suffice since it only has to be paint quality.

    Is all of this worth it? Maybe not, but I’m never content to “put lipstick on a pig”, as they say. When I finish a project I need to feel that I gave it my best effort. I just hope it turns out as well as I expect!

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    Favorite Australia Photos

    I’ve been home for a couple of weeks now and have had time to go through many of the pics and videos I took while on my trip abroad (over 1,000… 15GB worth!). What follows are some of my favorite pics from my brief stay in Australia. Stay tuned for more from New Zealand!

    All of these pics were taken with a Canon S100 in P mode, usually with Vivid mode on. I adjusted exposure on the fly based on the scene.

    – The sunrise pic has special meaning for me because it was taken on the flight toward Sydney. It kind of signifies a new chapter.

    – The obligatory Sydney Opera House shot. Being a novice photographer, I learned a lot on this trip about how lighting can make or break a photo.

    – The pic of the Joker was taken at the corner of Hosier Ln and Flinders St in Melbourne. I honestly thought I had posted a bunch of pics from the incredible graffiti in the area but I can’t find a post in my archives. Hmm, maybe I’ll have to fix that.



    Aside from meeting lots of wonderful people, the wildlife was my favorite part about Australia. I’ve told friends that I didn’t realize how infatuated I was with wildlife until I found myself in a place where everything was foreign. I was very ADD… I’d hear a sound, drop what I was doing, and run toward it with my camera.

    The sleepy koala pic was taken at the Taronga Zoo. The turtle, fish, and jellyfish were taken at the Melbourne Aquarium. Those little turtles move fast! I must’ve taken 20 shots before I got a decent one.

    One of the coolest critters I saw was this wolf spider. At first I thought it was covered in hair, but when the hair moved and I realized this was a mamma with babies clinging to her! I’d encourage you to click for the full-size image but I take no responsibility for any nightmares that may result.

    Wolf spider with babies

    Dorrigo National Park

    My awesome Bellingen HelpX host, Kevin, offered to take me on a hike to a nearby rainforest. I had no idea that rainforests existed in Australia, let alone 60 minutes from the coast. The hike was one of the highlights of my trip, but if you go be aware of leaches!

    Oftentimes the things we appreciate most in life are experiences that were difficult or took some effort to achieve. The following photo of a simple little flower is an example of this and is probably my favorite of the entire trip. Kevin and I were walking along the trail and I happened to spot this flower, about the size of my pinky fingernail, dangling from a single spider web thread about five feet off the ground. The web was attached to a branch which was swaying with the wind, causing the flower to spin in circles but I was determined to get the shot. Thank God for digital cameras. If you check out the full-size version you can faintly see the single strand.

    Flower suspended by spiderweb strand

    And finally…

    While hanging out at the Bondi hostel on my last day in Sydney these two gorgeous Rainbow Lorikeets decided to pay a visit to our picnic table. I’d only seen these guys in a zoo back home and here there were 10 of them in the trees nearby. I remembered from the zoo that lorikeets love nectar so I mixed up a bit of sugar water, which they happily lapped up from a tablespoon I was holding. 🙂

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    Week 10 Costs

    Week 10. The end of my wonderful adventure to Australia and New Zealand. I left Kentucky naïve and inexperienced, having never traveled outside of the US. I returned with more great memories than I can even recall, a bunch of new friends from all over the globe, and an underlying confidence that everything is possible.

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