Skip to main content

Let's Drive Out West.

In 2009 my best bud, Tom, made the decision to move to Thailand. Upon this move there were some things that needed to be taken care of, one of those things was to drive across county and live in Tahoe City for a couple months. Mrs. Betty (Tom’s Mom) was telling me over a glass of vino during Christmas break, 2008 that it would be some kind of wonderful if I would drive with him. She was a little concerned with him making the drive alone. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity. Now, all I had to do was ask the boss man for 6 work days off. I would be gone for 10 days total. Soon after I climbed aboard the “Let’s Drive Out West” bus, I was having a convo with our friend Emily Wyatt. Over, yet, another glass of vino, we had our 3rd musketeer.

Tom mapped our trip out for us… We would have free places to stay along the way, which sounded wonderful. Emily and I did not ask many questions. In a nut shell this is how we got from East Side to West Side:

Tom drove from New Bern, NC to Raleigh to meet the two Emily’s.
We drive from Raleigh to Nashville to stay with Tom’s friend Sarah.
We drive from Nashville to Boulder to stay with Tom’s cousin
We drive from Boulder to  Telluride to stay with my friend Caroline Scott and her friend
We drive from Telluride to Tahoe to stay with Hunter (Hunter is a friend to us all)
We drive from Tahoe to San Fran to stay with Josh (Friend of Tom and I’s from NB)

When I say “We”, what I really mean is Wyatt and I. Tom was conveniently to hung-over to drive… The entire time. Oddly enough when we reached Colorado and drove from Boulder to Telluride, he perked up. It may have been the backdrop.

I think that if at all possible, everyone should drive across county at least once in their life. You can learn a lot about yourself, whoever you are with, your limits, your country, your life, your desires, your dreams. Stories are created that you will never forget (some that you will never tell). Your eyes lay upon things that are jaw dropping, surreal, and mind-blowing. Finally, you get a better appreciation for what it means when people say “This is God’s country”.

Anyone that knows Tom Cannon knows to expect the unexpected and to plan on having a blast. This is the same Tom that while on our way to ATL for New Years, decided to take a “pit stop” in Charleston to see our friend John Manning and stop in at Vickery’s eat some of the “best clam chowder ever”. Look at a map. Charleston is NOT on the way to ATL from Raleigh. Driving across county was no exception to a ‘Tom Cannon’ trip. When Tom arrived at my house to pick Emily and I up, it was a little daunting to think that we would actually be in this 4Runner ( it is packed to the rim, with just one little spot for Tom who was sitting in the back) for more hours than we would be out of it. But, that is the point of “driving cross country”, right?! We knew things were going to be fun when we got to Chapel Hill and we realized we had left the 100 cd case of mine back in Raleigh. Not to worry, Tom assured us he had back up tunes… ipods (yes plural) and his computer. Then of course, we had the radio. Radio stations are good… until you reach Middle America.

The Girls at FooBar

Inside FooBar

DJ at FooBar
Love Boat #1, his name can not be recalled.
Connect 4!
We arrived at Sarah’s in Nashville in time for cocktail hour and appetizers. Upon arriving Tom and Wyatt had both been talking about friends they HAD to meet up with, once we got to Sarah’s we – ok they, figured out Wyatt’s friends knew Sarah and Tom knew Wyatt’s friends. One Happy family we were that night. After several bottles of wine and oohhh-ing and ahhh-ing over Sarah’s art work, we decided to hit up one of Sarah’s favorite dive bars… Foobar, in East Nashville. It is no secret that I heart meeting new boys in new places. I’ll talk to anyone that has a story to tell. There are lots of boys with stories to tell in Nashville and a handful of them were at Foobar that night. The interior of this bar was, for lack of a better word- special. Brick and cement walls, lots of different shades of painted walls. Tattooed bodies were swarming. Old pool tables with nasty green felt lined the back room and the tops of cocktail tables were sticky. On a good note, Mr. DJ was transitioning into tunes that started a dance party. And we, well we were nestled in the front corner of area #2 in a L-shaped cushioned bench tipping up whiskey and playing connect 4 (with the occasional dance on the way to the bar to re-fill). After looking at as many cute hipsters as possible and playing a gazillion games of connect 4, we drug ourselves home. We did, after all, have a long drive from Nashville to Boulder the next morning.

Tom told us the drive was about 18ish hours, it was 22. I know you are thinking, at that point, what is an 4extra hours?! Trust me, at that point, 4 extra hours seems like an eternity.  We drove all the way through- again, we as in Wyatt and I. Wyatt drove us to Kansas City. Then her driving privileges were revoked, by me and almost a nice police officer.

Two incidents led to this punishment. Incident one: St. Louis, upon stopping to get gas and a snack, Wyatt attempts to get back on the hwy. One would think after driving 10 plus years you know to yield when approaching the ramp, when other cars are clearly trying to get to the same place as you. Wyatt was reminded of this rule by the officer who pulled her on the ramp…insert mini traffic jam.

Side Note: In NC officers never ask for your insurance, unless you are in an accident. I know this to be true, b/c my driving record is 2 pages long ( this is not an exaggeration, Charles Cushman informed me of it’s length just this morning)  I’ve never been asked for insurance, unless a honest and true accident was involved. In St. Louis, they ask for your insurance. We did not have that on hand… so then we explained that we were driving cross country (officer peeps head in back seat to view the proof) and we were really sorry, just not familiar with area and he tells us to get familiar with common sense. Ha. We all said yes sir and we were on our way.

Incident two: Kansas City is the next big stop. I looked at the map – wait did we have a map? Or just scribble from Tom? Either way, I look at the form of directions we had and asked Wyatt to just drive straight and stay on 70West. Don’t turn. Anywhere. Wyatt is not the best with directions. Lawd, she calls me every time on the way to my house for directions. Tom and I get back to our zzzzzzz’s and then I got woken up to a tap “Ballard, I need your help. I think we are lost” Wyatt was parked in the middle of downtown Kansas City in a hospital parking lot that boarders the “not good part of town”. I was so confused. I laughed and asked what in the world happened to STAY STRAIGHT. DO NOT TURN!?! She had no answers, just a look of shame. I kicked her to the passenger side and put my game face on. Don’t worry Tom is still sleeping in the back seats. He woke up minutes later asked what was going on and then went back to sleep.

The punishment was actually on me… driving through Kansas is NOT fun. It is flat, remote, and dismal. I think it was even worse since it was winter when we were trucking through. Good thing we filled up in Kansas City, because not shortly after I got behind the wheel, we saw a sign: NEXT GAS STATION 120 miles. It was then we knew we were in Middle America. With all our electronic tunes dead and not coming back to life with AA batteries, we turned the radio on. Not many options but we found an OK radio station. Wyatt and I could not listen to MGMT one more time. “Kids” is forever imbedded in our soul. .  Fast forward to the middle of the night, at this point we have exhausted all conversations to be had between the 2 (sometimes 3 of us) and so we start calling friends. It is Saturday night- ok Sunday morning about 4 am… None answered. Next up, my mom. I knew if I called enough times, she would eventually answer and she did. We told her we were in pure states of delirium and needed her to sing “Betsy the Heifer” to us. She graciously obliged ( my mom sings it better ).

As the sun rose, we realized we are almost there... to Boulder. Tom joins us in our mini car celebratory dance. "Kids" was again playing and extra loud. It is at this point Tom tells us his cousin that we are staying with, lives in a Frat House. Yep, as in a University of Denver, Boulder Frat House. All Wyatt and I could do at this point was laugh and demand details. Tom assured us it would not be "that bad" as it was MLK weekend and "most" of the guys were out of town skiing. There was nothing to be done at this point, so us gals, we grinned and bared it. We arrive and it is just how I recalled frat houses from college to be: large, not clean, every surface sticky, cheap beer boxes and cans everywhere, mixed matched furniture, posters, a smell you just could not put your finger on and boys with a slight attitude. Luckily for us there were only about 7 of these fellas in the house! We were directed to the basement into a "study room". We slept on top of couch cushions in our sleeping bags. Please see below for further explanation, the shower was so disturbing we didn't even take a picture!

After we unloaded, we needed food. Stat. Tom's cousin takes us to a "famous" am eatery spot right in town. . The line was out the door but we waited and glad we did. It was delicious! At this point we were past sleeping. Cousin took us "up the mountain" for some sight seeing. It was striking.
Wyatt, Tom, Ballard on rocks.

Rest was now more of a need than a want. We knew we wanted to explore the night life of Boulder and in order to do so, we needed to rest. We got as cozy as possible in our sleeping arrangements and caught some shut eye. Several house later Wyatt and I woke to Tom and the boys on the roof hanging out and talking about our trip and options for the night.
Tom relaxing at the frat house

It was decided we would check out Pearl Street. Wyatt had some friends from Denver (about 30 min away) that came to meet us at a local saloon. We was underground and reasonably full. Sure enough minutes after sitting down, MGMT's "Kids" start to play. As our mouths opened & laughs bellowed out.

The next night Cousin invited us to a house party. We hang out in his room drinking before hand. It was Rush Week so we were not allowed to drink in "public". At one point I was even asked to hide my JD because there would be a huge fine attached if we got caught. Ha. Cousin's fridge is full of cheap beer and Arbor Mist. The cheap beer I could have let go, but not the Arbor Mist. This had to be addressed. Cousin explains that this girl he was hanging out with "loves that shit" so being the nice gentleman he was, he made sure to always have a bottle on hand for when she came over. House party time was now upon us. Tom, Wyatt and I stuck our like sore thumbs. We were dressed nothing like these 20 year old and they did not welcome us with open arms. We had 5plus years on them and it got quiet when we walked in. Several awkward moments later we collectively decide it's time to bounce around by our selves. We bar hoped, got some late night food and saw a local band before heading back to the frat house to sleep it off.

It doesn't look THAT broken, right?!

The Em's outside Allred's, Telluride
Inside Allred's, Telluride
Telluride or "To Hell Your Ride" was next up. We were all very exited about this. A real house.  Real beds. Real homemade food. People our age. Beauty like we were yet to have seen. Until a few years ago and maybe so even now Telluride was America's best kept secret. The drive down alone was enought to get pumped about.,_Colorado . You know you are heading to a unique place when the likes of Ralph Lauren, Oprah, Jerry Seinfeld and Tom & Katie have humble abodes there. However, Telluride is one of those places you only visit if you have friends to stay with, as it's very expensive.

Outside our house in Mountain Village, Telluride
Happy on Snowmobile (before the accident)
Emily and Rous in Telluride

View from front porch of our House in Telluride
New Sheridan Bar
Telluride has "Puppy Parking"!
For several years I helped out with the Uwharrie Mountain Run in the near Troy, NC. One of the 40 milers Geoff Scott has been a runner for longer than I’ve been alive and this is one of his favorite races. He’s also close with the then director and my friend, Sally. Geoff and I became friends over the 4 years that I helped out with the race. During an email exchange I told him about my trip to drive across the country. When I mentioned that we would be in Boulder he told us Telluride was a must do. That was followed up with “We’ve rented a house for several months and you must go stay”. Well anyone that knows me knows that I am not shy and I graciously took him up on the offer. He “warned” us that his wife and her girlfriend were going to be there the week we would be coming through and if we didn’t mind that minor detail, we were welcomed to stay. Uhm, hello, of course we did not mind. After a 7 hour drive from Boulder, we arrived. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. We pull up to a gorgeous log cabin hidden between trees and snow. Once Caroline Scott and her friend saw our headlights, they greeted us out front. We walked into to warm & cozy house. We all agreed we were happy we didn’t go to Telluride first, THEN have to stay at the frat house. These pleasant women had even cooked us dinner. A real home cooked dinner. It had been weeks since we had one, literally, since Christmas.  Lasagna, salad, bread and red vino filled the supper table. Letting our food babies have a nap we huddled in the living room to watch Obama speak. It was just announced he had been elected as 44th President of the United States. We were watching in ahhh.We decided that we needed to hop in the hot tub for a bit, and then took our wrinkled bodies to bed. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and we had a big day ahead of us, so we were sure not to miss it.

On the drive down to Telluride I had spoken with our friend Rouslan Haracherev who used to live in Raleigh now resides in Telluride. We were asking about things to do, sights to see and what night we would meet up. Rous told us a friend of his friend owned a snowmobile company and we could get a “deal” on the price for a half day trip. It seems like we paid $90 instead of $150 for the half day. That seemed reasonable. After getting the most important meal of the day in us, we headed to the pick up spot. Our group was small, maybe 12 of us. Our van drove about 30 min to a trailer in the snowy woods off the main road. After we all got out, we had to sign waivers, one of which was either accepting or declining to pay the $100.00 insurance. Of course the three of us declined that part, because “we didn’t need the $100 insurance”.


We got geared up and then were given a 5 min tutorial on how the day would go. Soon enough, we were off. I was  toward the front and my new red beauty was treating me right. We would stop along the way for true stories, photo opps and to have a drink. There was a strict rule to not take pictures while driving. I followed this rule even though I so badly did not want to.

Our first stop was great first stop. Buried miner’s houses buried in the snow, water streams and huge mountains everywhere we looked. It was here that we learned that Telluride was the 1st city in the world (Not Paris!) to have electricity running through its city. Nickola Tesla was apart of this, as he is the one who helped create Alternating Current (AC).  The world’s first power plant was also in Telluride. A few photogs later we move on.

At this point the guide told me I was doing such a great job driving, that I could leave the group and pointed in the direction for me to go. After navigating us though the wooded trail we are in a massive open field and are free to mobile around! A couple hours later we were headed back to home base when the “$1,000.00 accident” happened. As we were turning the corner around a wooden fenced farm my right ski went off the padded down trail and into a few inches of fresh, soft, powdered snow. Not good. I hydroplaned into the fence. Thankfully, I was ok, but my Mr. Red was not. Still able to drive it back to the home base, I didn’t think the damage could be that bad. Ok, actually I drove the instructor’s mobile back and he drove mine. Keep in mind, home base was in sight. Once back at home base the head guy comes out and says, “You are going to wish you had bought the $100.00 insurance. This was a brand new machine. First week she’s been out”. We’ll I knew that was not good news. I had prepared my self for about at $500.00 damage cost. They told us that the snow mobile would have to be taken into town the next morning and he would call and let me know how much the damage would be after it was looked at by the mechanics.

 That was that, there was nothing left to do… but continue on with our plans. Plans were: Go to Allred’s meet Caroline and her friend for a glass of red while we watched the sun go night night behind the mountains. Then we were to meet Rous, attend a house party and go out.  If you are ever lucky enough to be in Telluride, watching the sunset from Allred’s should be on your list of things to do. After the sun was fully sleeping, we headed to the only public transportation of its kind in North America: The free gondola that takes you from the two towns: Mountain Village and Telluride. Rous and Molly Sanchez are waiting for us at the bottom. We have a little walk through town popping into a couple bars then head over to his friend’s house for wine, cheese, tunes and dancing. Then we headed out to the New Sheridan Bar...
As the clock strikes closing time we hop back on our new favorite form of free public transportation back up the mountain to Mountain Village for sleep time.

Welcome to Gunnison County
Caroline, Wyatt and Tom before dinner
LOOK! Tom's driving!
Heading down from Mountain Village to Telluride
Before we leave Telluride, here are some facts:
-         1878 was the start of it’s existence
-         The village is 9,078 feet above sea level
-         Telluride Regional Airport  is the highest commercial airport in North America
-         Telluride Ski Resort is rated in the top 10 in North America
-         Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank in Telluride, on June 24, 1889 and walked away (well ran away) with $24k.
-         There are no chain restaurants or shops in Telluride
-         The nearest stop light is 45 miles away

Lake Tahoe is the next stop of our cross country adventure. We asked several people the best route, and we got several answers. We opted for this portion of the trip we would take the scenic route, not the Google Maps major highway route. Telluride to Tahoe took about 14 hours, but it was a drive non other like the rest of the trip. The slogan for this portion became " Who knew Utah was so beautiful"?! We sure did not. 

We stopped in Moab for lunch and then kept on going. It is really hard to grasp the actual size of the canyons that we were driving through. We stopped several times, just to stand, think, look at what our eyes were seeing, all for the first time.

Reno was the next big city that we would be looking for. Reno is also one of those cities, you can not miss, you know it when you get there. Coming to Reno meant we were getting close to Tahoe. Hunter, our friend who was putting us up for a couple days, was already at the bar. Knowing Wyatt and I not dare ask him to leave the bar and meet us at the house to freshen up, We tell Tom he has to keep driving as we get ourselves together.

Side Note: Tom now decides he likes to drive now that we were in pretty driving areas. 

Tahoe is not that big of place. There are a handful of places to eat and water holes. We popped into the bar and drinks were waiting for us! We hugged hunter and met all his friends. The idea of bouncing back to Reno was floating around, since our watering hole would be closing soon, and Reno never closes. I'm thankful, they didn't see that through.  One of the main reasons we didn't go is because Wyatt left her wallet out and before we knew it was gone, the wallet was gone. We'll discuss how much of a pain in the ass not having your ID is when we reach departure day in San Fran. Meanwhile,  Hunter's house was one street back on the lake. I could not hardly wait for morning time to come so I could see Lake Tahoe! Sure enough when I opened my eyes and stood on the back deck freezing, there she was. As we head to lunch I get a phone call from the snowmobile boys in Telluride. I was dreading this phone call, because I knew the news was not going to be good. However, I didn't know it was going to be as bad as it was. Get ready, shew.... my snowmobile accident cost me a grand. Yes, $1,000.00. They had my card  # and by me signing the waiver saying I would not pay the $100.00 for insurance I was also signing that I would cover any and all damage to the snowmobile up to $2,000.00. Sucks, huh? What sucks even more, is that fact that we had just arrived to Tahoe and still had to check out San Fran... basically I had 5 days of my trip left. The only thing to do was call Moma Bear. Explain and ask for some cash flow to be deposited into my account!

Emily, Hunter, Emily at Jake's 

The next day we went to Squaw Valley. . Getting their was a little tricky. The Tahoe area had just been dumped on by a snow storm so the road conditions were not great. But once we got there, it was worth it! The village looked like something out of a story book: Unique shops, bars, gas lanterns, people in ski gear and the snow was falling and falling hard. We popped into an Irish Pub for lunch and drinks before heading back to Tahoe. That night we had a nice dinner at Jakes. If you were cool, you worked at Jake's. So of course, Hunter had worked there for a couple years. The entire back wall was windows therefore provided an incredible view of the Lake. When the weather is nice you can enjoy your meal outside on the deck! It is here where I feel in like for the second time on our cross country trip, played barkeep and blacked out for the first time... in my entire life. 

Side note: Blacking out is not fun. If this were to happen each and every time I drank, trust me, I would not drink and I would be in a lot better shape because of it. But I don't so I continue to indulge.

View of Lake Tahoe from Hunter's porch

Love Boat #2- his  name can be recalled: Bodie.
Montana and Bodie were the bartenders while we were visiting. Bodie told us we 'had' to have a Snowshoe Shot. I am not a fan of shots, but figured, why not!? Big Mistake. Things went very down here from here. Where as I appeared to have it together, I learned the next morning, I did not. My nice friends told me how I was behind the bar, confessing my love for Bodie, and down right mean to Emily #3 who apparently tried to come home with us for late night and I told her " just to stay in the cab, because it was not happening, you are not coming with us". Ha, what does that even mean?! When I say I had no reconciliation, I mean it. Like zero of anything past taking those shots. Would could accuse me of saying such a thing due to my behavior, but believe me, I would have rather have remembered it than not. 

San Fran was our next stop and Hunter is joining us. In San Fran we had some plans: Dinner at, see Katie Troxler, stay with Josh Davis and check out the Sketch Fest Comedy Festival. Tom and I had let Josh know that he and I would be staying, but Tom forgot to mention that Emily and Hunter would be with us too. This put us in a bit of a situation. Josh and his roomie both had friends in town as well. The other parties were not set to leave until the next day. Soooo, this meant, 8 people in Josh's not large San Fran apartment and Wyatt and Hunter at Hunter's favorite hotel. After showers and getting read for a night on the town off to Sushi Bistro we go. The wait was about an hour and half, but Josh informed us we must wait and that we would not be disappointed (people kept taking us to places that we must check out and all of them had a must wait policy). With our buzzer in hand we walked next door to a trendy Asian fusion bar. Saki and red vino was poured. Our buzzer finally went off so we hopped back next door. I'm in love right away. Cool art work covered the walls. Indy artist are coming through the speakers and the wait staff are all one of a kind. It was like no other sushi place I have ever been in. They must have known we were from out of town, because we got the best table in the house, right by the front window ... perfect view for one of my favorite pastimes, people watching. After dinner, Josh went to a party he was to be present at and we had tickets to attend a viewing of Wet Hot American Summer and have a Q&A with the cast. I was badly hoping my dream boat, Paul Rudd would be there, but he wasn't. Nonetheless we still had a great time. The night was still fairly young  so the four of us found a bar the split ways. Tom and I back to Josh's and Hunter and Emily to their cozy hotel.

Cast of Red Hot American Summer

The Group at Cha Cha Cha

Guess who?!

Alcatraz in the background.

Exploring is Tom and I's goal for the next day. We wandered the Golden Gate Park and found live music, a perfect spot for a pinic and photo opps. Took a trolley ride, viewed Lombard Street, and made our way to the Wharf. It is here we saw street acts, had a bread bowl of hot clam chowder that was so good you didn't even feel bad for the little clams, and watched seals slumber on decks. Oh yeah, we also sat in front of Bubba Gump's Shrimp House. 

It was Hunter's birthday and Josh's friend so we all went to on the Wharf for dinner. Afterwards we were were feeling sassy from the cocktails at dinner so Josh suggested we head over to Cha Cha Cha It's was fun and funky and the sangria was some of the best I'd ever had. From there we hit up a couple other local bars in the area.

The next morning was our departure day. We grabbed some breakfast down the street at a corner cafe and heading to SFO. Our cross country trip had come to an end. Since Wyatt had her wallet stolen she had no form of identification. We were not sure how this was going to work flying out of SFO, post 9/11. After a few phone calls, extensive search of every single thing Wyatt had, and a long talk with security.... she was able to board. We pretty much slept the entire flight only discussing the trip when I eyes were not shut due to being extremly heavy.

After arriving home we slept and slept and slept until Monday morning caught up with us.

-Emily Ballard


Popular posts from this blog


We might as well tell you some cool stuff about where we live (well, I live here, and its basically Brooke's second home). Little background of Raleigh, NC: 1771- Wake Co was created 1788- Raleigh was named the State Capital .... previously it was New Bern, NC (my home town). The Capitol was moved to Raleigh to centralize it. 1792- Raleigh was officially "established" The City's location ( g'ment stuff) was chosen because of a local tavern called Issac Hunters. Members of the commission were fond of a little pub called Isaac Hunter’s Tavern (located in the vicinity of where Old Wake Forest Road is today), and tasked with resolving this controversial issue, the commissioners gathered at Isaac Hunter's in March of 1792 to work. Ten days later after enjoying the hospitality of the tavern and the nearby home of State Senator Joel Lane, they reported back to the legislature their decision that the new capital should definitely be with

Wild Wild West

Last September I had the pleasure, a rare pleasure, to stay at Bar TT Ranch outside Dillon, Montana. Before arriving at the ranch, we made stops in Jackson and Yellowstone! Ten of us stayed on the ranch, women from all walks of life in Raleigh. However, since it was my birthday, 4 of us flew out a few days early to explore Jackson and Yellowstone! I could not have asked for a better way to turn 35. Sally , Alice and Sharon are all living & working in Raleigh to create, build and give back to our community. All three of them have inspired me to not only be better but to do better! We flew into Jackson with the Grand Tetons greeting us with their jagged points. We popped in Liberty Burger for beers and burgers before walking the town to shop. I purchased an ornament and the best sunscreen, Trilipiderm . It's fresh smelling, not sticking and very light! To get a better view of the range, we went to Teton Village for a gondola ride. Gondola rides to the top were official


Richmond hasn't ever really been on my mind as a place to visit, but this past weekend I met two of my best girls there and we had the best time!  We stayed at the Quirk hotel and it was colorful, spunky, chill vibes and good customer service. We loved the high ceilings throughout, all the artwork in the rooms and murals in the elevator. There was grand lobby, with the most adorable courtyard with string lights and vines of jasmine with lots of potted flowers... it smelled devine!  Quick also has an onsite art gallery + pretty snazzy gift shop. There faux floral designs throughout the lobby were like works of art!  Brie's cousin and his husband live in RVA, so we have our own private tour guides! Friday afternoon we wandered around VA Museum of Fine Art and saw work from Beauford Delaney, Julie Mehretu, Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Sari, Dienes, Dorothy Gillespie, Roy Lichtenstein, Henrique Oliveira, Dale Chihuly and so many others!  Much to our delight,