The Advantage Survival Podcast

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Snow Camping Trip Part 1 Preparation

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Nothing beats the sound of snow... I spend a butt-load of time commuting from Puyallup to Seattle everyday for work - drive sucks. Good thing is I get to catch up on some of the best podcasts out there. The reality is I only want to see Seattle from the top of some mountain peak as I listen to the sound of snow falling. Nothing drops my blood pressure more than that experience and I don't do it enough.

Winter's here and I want to plan a snow camping trip just to get out and decompress from my daily workload. I've got a few days coming up and there's no better time to take advantage of it. By putting this planning exercise to pen, the hope is to give you some insight on my Systems of Survival (SOS) and how I plan a trip. I call this planning my workflow and that flow will differ depending on the plan but what will not differ is making sure I've got my Systems of Survival covered.

To that end here is my snow camping prep as I patiently wait for more snow to stack up in the Cascades. The first question I ask myself is where am I going? For the sake of this rambling let's say... somewhere near Mt. Rainier on the southwest side just because it's easy for me to get to. A place like High Hut in the South District Ski Trails. This should provide me cover if I need it and some good views of the mountain if the weather is clear.

I know I want to go in on snowshoes so I need to pack accordingly. Is this an overnighter? I think yes. Am I going alone or taking someone with me? For the sake of safety I'll bring along a friend this time. Now I'm going to list out my mission goals.

Get home alive.

2 Decompress

3 Create an awesome overnight winter campsite where I can chill; pardon the pun.

4 Test out gear for Advantage Survival and generate some good podcasting content you'll enjoy.

5 Eat well. Comfort food will be a priority on this trip.

6 Sleep warm. I'm testing out some winter hammock sleeping techniques. Risky I know but I have some innovative ideas.

7 Not overheat on the hike up or down by managing my Clothing System efficiently.

8 Practice fire building techniques on snow.

9 And 2 other things I can't remember right now.

Next up.....gear up. Time to pull out the big pack and my snow gear. If you're like me pack choice will be hard due to the fact I have too many. But I'll settle for the Mountain Hardware. It's proven and durable and should haul the load just fine. Snowshoes will be the tried and true MRS' Ascent and depending on the weather, snow condition, pack weight and my weight (yes I could stand to drop 10) I'll make the call whether to bring the float attachments. I always roll with my body recovery device... I mean my avalanche transceiver with whistle attached, my probe poles and a snow shovel all purchased thru Survival On The Snow.  I will also take a small repair kit that will have an extra binding strap for the shoes, switch key for the transceiver, duct tape and so on.

Now it's time to dial in those Systems of Survival that I'll be taking up the hill. The above covered #13 Gear Carry & Gear Repair and #16 Backcountry Winter Travel. I wanted to get the big bulky stuff out of the way first. Now let's move to the top of the list.

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Systems of Survival

1 Shelter: For this trip I'm going to go out on a limb and take my Hennessy Hammock Expedition Asym Classic. I know it's risky. I could freeze my bum off or get pummeled by chunks of snow falling off the tree branched but.... I'm going to try something new that should keep me nice and toasty and revolutionize winter Hammock camping for the masses. Ok, bold statement but it may spawn some new sleeping techniques to try. I do have a couple of backup plans, 1 snow cave, 2 snow trench tarp-top style. More on those shelters in a future rambling. Now that I'm all over the board listing out my SOS; a solid set of breathable rainwear top and bottoms (to be named later) will be my first line of defense in my shelter system. Lastly, a Grabber Outdoors Hooded All Weather Blanket as an emergency backup and maybe incorporated into #2 snow trench shelter.

2 Water: This trip is only an overnighter so I'm taking my water with me in a CamelBak 100oz Antidote Reservoir - if and when I need more I will melt snow in a water generator by the campfire and run it thru my McNett Aquamira Frontier Pro Ultralight Water Filter. Depending on temps I may sleep with the extra water and filter to keep it from freezing.

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3 Fire: So I'm taken my tried and true standard fire kit. I don't expect any issue getting a fire started, the question is what type of fire will I construct? Depending on my camp location and hammock setup and what that looks like will be a driving factor in my overall warmth during the night.

4 Tools: I'm taking four tools on this trip and it's what I take on every trip. Oh yes! Silky Saw, the best in my opinion. Ka-Bar Large Heavy Bowie. I want a chopper because I know I'll be processing a fair amount of firewood for the night and morning. Next an EESE Izula for quick meat cutting and a Victorinox Swiss Army Dual Pro X for around camp tasks. My standard toolbox.

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5 Communications & Signaling: iPhone with the Spot Connect App and my Spot Connect device. Part of me wants to leave it all at home but knowing what I know it wouldn't be very irresponsible of me plus it does help put my wife and kids at ease knowing that I'm doing OK. My kids think the custom "goodnight" messages are pretty cool too. For some other signaling capabilities my headlamp has strobe functions my compass has a mirror, one glow stick with 5' of bank-line wrapped around it so I can swing it around my head in a big-ass circle. That's it on this trip.

6 Navigation: Only taking a topographical map of the area in a Ziploc bag and my Brunton 15 TDCL Compass. As a backup my iPhone has GPS Topo apps and downloaded map tiles however I don't plan to use them. I know the area pretty well and I see no need to stray from the path. In the perfect world right? The Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx is staying home.

7 Lighting: Fenix HP10 7 Level 225 Lumen LED Headlamp. The best headlamp I've ever owned! I'll be sporting the red lens for early morning and night hiking to preserve my night vision. In camp I'm using a Fenix LD20 with the white cone attachment for lantern effect. Also a glow stick for backup.

8 Outdoor Clothing: In addition to the rainwear mentioned above clothing management is a goal on this trip. It's one of the things that is hard for me to manage consistently. Not sure why, maybe I'm not planning my burn rate very well. I tend to be a little random in my energy usage. Anyway, layering is the key and having the ability to vent is another factor in my clothing choices. Let's start with my base layer. Synthetic underwear. Over that a thin set of two piece Cabela's Hollow-Core Heat Base Layer. This layer has been proven on many search and rescue missions. Next, I've become a huge fan of a Polartec® 200 Fleece one piece medium layer. Top looks like a vest and the whole thing fits snug against the body. It has zips all over the thing. Legs, butt and front. Knees are reinforced and it's warm, a very nice piece of kit. I'll have either a wool or fleece jacket that has some type of wind stopping technology. Pants will be a synthetic hiking type, rain bottoms or both. Now all of this is subject to adjustment depending on weather conditions. That's the hard part and I will get it figured out once I'm at the trail head. Whatever I decide on I know I'll have my Outdoor Research Expedition Crocodile® gaiters on. If weather is good they'll go over my hiking pants if it snowing they'll slide under my rain pants for the shingling effect. Feet and hands; I like smart wool type socks and only one layer. I will have Gore-Tex® boots not sure which ones yet but the boots will be insulated. For my hands I'll need to layer there too by starting off with a Burton Gore-Tex® Glove with a fleece liner glove. At camp I'm using a lightly oiled leather glove for the firewood possessing. OK time to cover the head with a fleece skullcap from Mountain Hardware. If the weather turns I'll use the hood attached to my rain jacket over that and I sleep with that hat on as well. I know clothing is a very complicated system and very individualized. There are so many types and styles to consider. One thing that I won't have with me is anything that's cotton. Extra stuff in my pack will be a down jacket for camp warmth, one extra pair of smart wool socks and a neck gator. I will also have two survival gear items I'll show off soon.

9 Security: Beretta 9mm. Why? Cuz I can. Mainly for Zombie protection or rouge puddy-tats. Not sure if Sasquatch will gimme me any guff. Also back in the tool department that Ka-Bar Large Heavy Bowie can be a wicked implement.

10 First-Aid: A very lightweight basic kit with one Israeli Battle Dressing. Nothing crazy here, it's about risk management for me.

11 Essentials: For the trip at hand... sunglasses, trekking poles with snow baskets and snow goggles. If it's really cold freezing an eyeball would suck.

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12 Cooking & Food: As one of my mission goals comfort food will be a priority. Now I know what your thinking so stop. I'm bringing some marinated stakes and bakers for the camp fire. I'm saving pack weight by not packing the refrigerator. This is after all a recreational trip for me. That's dinner. Lunch will be Mountain House. Trail food will be my own gorp mix. Breakfast, Mountain House. Yes I need coffee. Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Colombian Medium Roast. Not a huge Starbucks fanboy but find me a good alternative.

My cooking kit will consist of a campfire, a MSR Pocket Rocket Stove for boiling water fast. A one cup aluminum pot that I have no idea where I got it. I hate sporks so a spoon for me please. If your wondering how I'm going to cut the steak... I'm eating it like a Neanderthal, potato too. Oh, I almost forgot, a 8"x 8"x1/4" piece of plywood as a flat base for my stove to sit on, this will keep it from melting into the snow.

14 Power Management: A Goal Zero Guide 10 4AA Battery Recharger with 4 Sanyo Eneloop AA batteries. Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA 8x Batteries the 4 Pack and a USB plug for my iPhone to charge it up if needed.

15 Sleep Systems: Well I've alluded to the fact that I'm hammock camping and the details I'll share with you after the trip in part 2 or a podcast. I am taking a Hennessy Hammock Expedition Asym Classic, an inflatable matters pad and a 20 degree synthetic filled sleeping bag.

17 Personnel Hygiene: Hand sanitizer but I will need to be careful using this in freezing conditions. I don't want any cold injuries. Other items include a toothbrush and toilet paper.

18 Riding Gear: Not taking a snowmobile or tracked ATV on this trip so no need for riding gear.

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The Plan

Before leaving I'll put together a detailed trip plan for my wife and a copy of the exact map we'll have with us. I'll update my Spot profile on the website adding my tag-a-longs info and test the Spot Connect. I usually rotate the lithium batteries out to my headlamp and put new lithium's in the Spot. I do the same with my transceiver. Researching weather and avalanche conditions is next on the list. This will be the deciding factor on whether the trip is a go-no-go.

So my plan is get to the insertion point early, at about daybreak. That sounds tactical... I love this time of the morning anyway and weather permitting it should make for an awesome sunrise in the wilderness. The drive in will be about an hour and a half from my house where I'll meet my tag-a-long, load up and head out.

At the trail head we'll get our clothing, boots and snowshoes on, do a pack check to make sure we have our SOS, secure the truck and hit the trail. We're going in about 3 miles and in the snow this will be slow going - that's OK, we're in no hurry. I really want to not overheat so managing my pit-zips and other zips, layering system will be a key goal of mine. I think it's critical not to sweat in cold conditions for obvious reasons. The cool thing is if we don't make it to our intended destination it's not a big deal we can camp anywhere along the way and be just fine.

This is getting long winded so I think I'll stop for now. Stay tuned for Part 2 and I hope my diatribe helps you plan your next trip and find the sound of snow.

Captivate The Heat

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On one of my many adventures alone (I know bad idea), I was snowshoeing in the Glacier View Wilderness west of Mount Rainier. I was doing a quick overnighter and planned to stay the night camped near a stream right at the timberline. Temperatures were hovering around 22º F and I was cooling down from the trek, I needed a fire. I was able to find plenty of wood to burn and against my better judgment I built a fire in a hurry (I know bad idea #2). As I was blowing into the infant flame a little voice inside said “captivate the heat, captivate the heat.” I took another breath and let it out slowly. I looked at my fire only to readjust the wood to help me captivate the heat. I nursed it along like I was preforming microsurgery and it paid off. I now had a sustainable fire that just needed maintenance thru the night.

There are a few ways I use to captivate the heat. In my fire kit I keep a 10”x10” square piece of aluminum foil. I use this foil on top of my base then construct the fire on top of it. Bigger is better but in my small pocket fire kit there are some tradeoffs for space. The foil does a few things for me. It reflects heat up to help dry the wood above. It also gives me a good dry hearth to set my tinder on and light. This step may not be necessary in all conditions but here in the Pacific Northwest - we get rain.

How you construct your fire will make a difference too. We’ve seen so many ways to build a fire on TV survival shows, books and YouTube it’s almost overwhelming. One of the key points in my mind is to pick a fire building technique and perfect it. Practice, practice, practice. Get good at building it in all weather conditions then, try another fire style.

One technique I've perfected is the tee-pee method. I construct it in the shape of a half moon allowing me to captivate the heat in the early stages, drying the wood out if needed and allowing me to feed the fire from the open side. It works for me.

Now that I've captivated the heat to turn my fire into an life saving inferno, it’s time to captivate the heat around you. It’s vitally important to have some means to reflect the heat back at you. You can do this by building a reflector that will bounce the heat to you. You can also achieve this by building your fire close to a rock wall or some other naturally accruing feature but be safe about it. You don’t want to burn your shelter down. I'm going to take a short detour here to tell you a story of another way to captivate the heat. I worked with a guy once who is an avid hunter. Every hunting season, he gets the fever bad and to say hunting is a lifestyle for him and his family is putting it mildly.

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We were bs'ing around the water cooler talking about... hunting. He had some great stories about getting lost but always kept a cool head and reasoned his way out of things. Of course I gave him my “have The Advantage Survival - be prepared” speech, but I'm digressing. He told me he always hunts and scouts alone. He’ll spend hours sitting on a hillside glassing for elk or deer or whatever’s going to be in season, soon we get on the subject of fire. I asked him how he keeps warm in sometimes inclement weather. His reply was surprising to me. He said, and I paraphrase here, “aw hell that’s easy. I just sit on ma-pack, pull a wool blanket around me and over ma-head; than I light a can of Sterno and set it on the ground next to my feet. The damn thing will burn fer hours and I - stay - warm.” I thought to myself....that’s an innovative way to stay warm as long as you get some “fresh air." My point here is to get you thinking of other ways to captivate the heat. A wool blanket wrapped around your core and head is a good start. Don’t let this precious commodity escape you when it’s all about keeping your core temperature at 98.6º F. Keep this thought with you and reflect on it every time you start a fire or need to pack gear items like the Grabber Outdoors Hooded All Weather Blanket. I love this thing because it has more than one use in the wild. I'll review this blanket and other ways to "captivate the heat" in another post... Stay tuned and stay warm.

Advantage Survival’s Systems of Survival

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Advantage Survival's Systems of Survival

Having primitive outdoor skills is an amazing ability. The time and energy spent perfecting those skills is admirable to say the least. If you can, you should learn everything that will give you the advantage in a survival situation.

Part of what I teach at Advantage Survival are my Systems of Survival. This is not a shortcut to primitive skills but a different philosophy altogether. A philosophy that teaches you how to be prepared every chance you get. Have the means with you to construct a shelter in minutes, not hours. Craft a sustainable fire with minimal energy spent. Procure clean drinking water without boiling. Most of us know when we want to head off into the great unknown wilderness but a lot of us just don't plan for the "shit happens" scenario. Most of you (and be honest) are not proficient in primitive outdoor skills at least not enough to have the advantage. You know the story; It won't happen to me. Believe it or not in a lot of cases it doesn't. For the chosen few however it will and I'm not smart enough to know if that's me or not.

I've dedicated a great deal of my free-time life to Search and Rescue, about 25 years worth and during that time I've been involved in a lot of life and death situation. Long enough to know that sometimes, "subjects" have bad days. In most bad day situations I can't stop but think that if only the subject had some basic survival gear and the knowledge to implement it, they would be around to see another sunrise. You would be amazed....it can be as simple as putting on your rain gear before you get wet and die 3 hours later. I think people cheat death unknowingly and this phenomenon can create a false sense of security. Let me explain. Outdoor technology has put a lot of good synthetic clothing on the market. Hunters buy it because it has the camo pattern that fits the need of the hunt. By default it's not cotton thus giving them the advantage. Another example is the GPS unit, a powerful piece of technology if you learn how to operate it proficiently. Most units have a great user interface and it gets folks back to their rig safely and I get a good nights sleep not having to respond to a search and rescue mission.

In my opinion, with outdoor gear technology what it is today it seem that there should be no excuse for not having something with you that could save your ass. I hope my Systems of Survival will get you thinking about your next trip and compile the things you need to help you if the SHTF. I should also state the firm grasp of the obvious; no amount of gear will save you if you don't practice with and have the confidence in its ability to enhance your survival situation.

Below is a list of my Systems of Survival (SOS) in the order of what I think are priority. Also note that I've added another system (Security.) By no means am I an "expert" I'm just a guy who's spent a lot of time figuring this out and I want to share and learn with you.

1 Emergency Shelter

2 Clean Drinking Water

3 Fire Kit

4 Tools

5 Communications & Signaling

6 Navigation

7 Lighting

8 Outdoor Clothing

9 Security

10 First-Aid

11 Essentials

12 Cooking & Food

13 Gear Carry & Gear Repair

14 Power Management

15 Sleep Systems

16 Backcountry Winter Travel

17 Personnel Hygiene

18 Riding Gear

Before your next outdoor adventure review this list and make piles of gear on your living-room floor that correspond to each system. If you only do that you'll be a hell-of-a -lot more prepared than most; if you pack it and take it with you. This advantage will go a long way even if you only take systems 1 thru 8 with you.

Let me be clear, my Systems of Survival are not a survival kit, the 10 essentials or something you put in a coat pocket. It's a mindset, a way of thinking that looks at systems and gear as a whole and integrates them into an everyday gear carry that is useful even if your not in a survival situation. It's a way of knowing you have the skill-set to endure adverse conditions and live to tell your story. Its being self sufficient, responsible enough to initiate and implement self rescue. As my podcast disclaimer notes "When venturing into the wilderness or into cold conditions it is your responsibility to learn the latest information and be prepared." Well, do it!

Ok enough of the tuff love. I recently responded to a SAR mission at Evans Creek ORV Park just outside the westside of Mount Rainier National Park. We were looking for a guy who managed to call 911 to report he had overturned his truck on the ORV road system and was injured. He reportedly was cutting firewood when on his way down he lost control and flipped. Darkness fell and temperatures dropped so the sense of urgency on our part was heightened. We arrived on scene and immediately deployed on search assignments with ATV's. A few hours went by with no luck in finding the lost and injured subject but as time passed the SAR Coordinators were starting to question the validity of the initial report. It seems that the subject's story was falling apart and his wife was no longer willing to speak on his behalf when interviewed. Her parting words were in-effect that he may have faked the whole thing. Nice. We cleared the search area and called the search off about 4:00 AM with no sign of the future ass-clown. (The mission was a hoax.)

What does the above story have to do with my Systems of Survival? Well the mission wasn't a complete waste of time. During the search assignment teams discovered a couple of single track dirt bike riders who had lost their way. One of the bikes they were riding was disabled forcing the female rider to abandon it and walk for hours behind the other trying to find their way out. The couple were new to the area and this was their first time in the ORV Park. They had the riding gear and looked the part very well but when I queried them about the gear they had they gave me the "Oh shit, I knew I should have brought that survival kit and map of the area" look - they only had CamelBaks with water. They drank up all the water hours before with no way of procuring clean water. The couple had no shelter, no way to start and sustain a survival fire and so on. If we would not have stumbled upon them things may have been very different for them. They had a "good day" and the weather gods were on their side. The feeling I got when talking with them back a base camp is that they knew they should've had survival gear with them but they didn't think anything bad could happen to them.  They were intelligent individuals, the female was an MD. So what is the disconnect? I'm still searching for the answer. I guess just keep putting it out there and hope folks get it.

My EDC

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This is the gear that really mattered to me today.

Everyday carry is a hot topic these days as people realize the importance and the need to be more prepared in their everyday lives. No one has the same EDC, what people carry is as unique as fingerprints.  What I carry is what works for me and may not work for you. It is very dynamic as my situation dictates. I can give you a list of the items in my pockets now but tomorrow it will likely vary. Well don't fret, I'm going to list some of the stuff I like to have on my body most days.

I think we can safely say that one item that most people have is a knife, multi-tool or both. So let's have a look at mine. I carry a Victorinox Swiss Army Dual Pro X Knife. Why? Not sure. It just feels right. It fills the tool needs that I may encounter on any given day at work or at home while I dice up some green onions for my baked potato. Yeah, my wife Kelly thinks I'm nuts. I know the next cool knife that comes along may take its place but for now it's my go-to EDC.

Next up is a 550 paracord bracelet. I just like having some cordage with me if I ever need it. Even if it's only to fix a bootlace. By the way, I was wearing it when having one wasn't cool. I have an iPhone 4 that allows me to get critical information be it weather alerts, Search and Rescue callouts, pickup dinner on the way home and a ton of other useful apps, I even use it as a phone. There are lots of good navigation apps as well.

I carry a wallet, old school style with ID, CCW, cash, debit card. Most days I have a leather belt that I can use to sharpen my knife. I take a Swiss Army watch analog style for my timepiece. I hate pocket change and tip it away as fast as I can. My gun of choice is a Pietro Beretta Mod. 92FS 9mm.

I always feel like I should carry more, it's in the back of my mind but it seems I'm never far away from my packs. At work in the big bad city I keep a "Get Home" backpack in my truck or car (more on the contents of that later) and I try my best not to park in parking garages in case they collapse in a earthquake; a concern here in western Washington. Did I mention I hate the big bad city. A necessary evil for now. To many zombies. At home I have a butt-load of SAR gear that's never far away from my family and me.

The message I would like you to take away from this Advantage Survival diatribe is: Keep a solid EDC base, think about what you carry and adapt as needed. As I put this rambling to bed one last thing....practice your situational awareness. Having this skill will help you immensely as you define your EDC. Good luck and I hope this gives YOU "The Advantage."

Episode 016 Looking for a MULE, got a HAWG

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SHOW NOTES:

This is the gear that really mattered to me today. I'm not an impulse buyer but sometimes it's OK to do it every once in a while or at least that's what I keep telling myself.  No, I do not have buyer's remorse, what I do have is a new piece of gear that will enhance my Systems of Survival.  I was looking for a Mule, got a HAWG. Let me explain.

In my never-ending search for the perfect "kit" I thought it would be a good idea to reevaluate my current gear carry system. This sometimes can be a long process for me. I like to think through every piece of equipment I want to carry and what I really need to carry.  I begin by asking lots of questions of myself like; where will I use the equipment? In what capacity will I be using it - Search and Rescue or personal? Do I really need it or will something I already have fill the need? What is "The Survival Advantage" of having this new equipment? All of these questions and more are racing through my head as I evaluate the prospect of new gear.

I wanted a new pack that was small, reasonably light, had a good build quality and not priced off the charts. Believe it or not there was not a lot of choices in my want/need mindset that fit the bill. I looked at Maxpedition Monsoon Gearslinger because I had one already and it's the bomb, but I wanted smaller. I also wanted to manage water better than I have with other packs. This lead me to reevaluate hydration systems and in walks the MULE by CamelBak. I didn't know it at the time but what I wanted was a HAWG.

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LINKS FROM TODAY'S SHOW:

More Photos of the HAWG

Systems of Survival (SOS)

AS Gear Shop

CamelBak 2011 HAWG NV

CamelBak 2011 Mule NV

Maxpedition Monsoon Gearsling

AdvantageSurvival.com

Stay Tuned

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Thanks everybody for your patience and support over the last several months. Here's a quick update. Advantage Survival plans to do more podcasts and we're also looking at producing an extensive YouTube video selection.
As winner rapidly approaches, we plan to do some really cool videos and podcasts from the field as the snow starts to fly. Will give you an in-depth look at snow camping in the backcountry as well as what I think are some good backcountry survival and snow camping tips.
Next up I review the 2011 Camelbak H.A.W.G. NV backpack/hydration pack. I'll also go over the gear I carry in it and how I use it on day trips and overnight trips in the wild.

This should be an exciting series of podcasts and videos so thanks again and stay tuned.