Snow shoeing poles

10:48 p.m. on December 8, 2010 (EST)
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I'm considering a set of poles to use when snow shoeing.  In the past I've done without them and was fine.  However over Thanksgiving weekend I went snowshoeing on new snow up near Tahoe, and really discovered why I need poles.  Anyone following in my tracks might have wondered what creature left hand-prints in the snow along the trail :).  The combination of new snow plus some significant grades (compared to previous more moderate terrain) really made it clear that poles would be a huge plus.

So I gather from my research that 3-section poles are best (most compact).  That makes sense.

How about carbon fiber vs aluminum?  Naturally the CF ones are lighter.  But one review mentioned one breaking under weight while breaking a fall.  Yet others report bent and otherwise damaged aluminum poles.

I have also pretty-much decided on Black Diamond poles, for their "flick lock" rather than "twist" style locks.

But the question remains - CF vs Alum.

I turn to you-all for your thoughts - what do you recommend?

TIA (Thanks In Advance) :)


11:14 p.m. on December 8, 2010 (EST)
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I was snowshoeing in the high sierra above Yosemite in the winter of 1980. I never used hiking poles and once fell after tripping by stepping on one of my snowshoes. I fell into 4 feet of heavy Sierra Cement, what they call snow in the area. It took me about a half hour to swim my way to standing up again.

So I can say having poles to hike with on snowshoes makes sense.

9:21 p.m. on December 9, 2010 (EST)
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Thanks Gary.  Actually I'm sold on the idea of poles, at least when in deep/fresh snow and/or on significant slopes, just trying to decide whether to go with Aluminum or Carbon Fiber.

12:22 a.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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Carbon Fiber would be warmer to the touch, tho with standard handles your sometimes bare hands probably would rarely touch the frostbiten shafts. Not sure which is lighter or durable?

Do you have metal or wooden snowshoes. I used long wooden Yukons in Yosemite in that winter in 1980. Tubbs brand. Generally I was packing about 90 lbs with gear,food,crampons,Crosscountry skiis and water.


On a frozen lake in the Sierra Nevada mtns.

4:23 a.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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Gary is right in saying that carbon fibre is warmer to the touch, but in winter you generally have gloves on and regardless grab the pole by the handle.  Either cf. or al. the handle material is the same so personally I don't see why that would factor into your decision (as Gary lead into later).

Aluminium is less prone that carbon fibre to crack or God forbid snap on you while you are in the field.  It is also important to note that you can in fact repair aluminium but NOT carbon fibre.  Sure Aluminium is slightly heavier (slightly) but everything generally is when you participating in any winter activity.

I have both.  When I'm out in below 0 temperatures (quite often where I live in Canada) I personally 'feel' more confident using my aluminium ones.

However, buyer beware and really test a set out at your local gear shop.  I made the mistake of shopping strictly for the lightest pole I could find.  I bought the lightest pair of poles that LEKI made (in aluminium).  For my weight and the amount of gear I carry on average, the poles bend and flex way too much for my liking.  I also have two other sets of aluminium poles and although they are not as light, they do not flex at all! 

I already had a set of Black Diamond (BD) carbon fibre poles.  Not to derail this thread but BD use a clip-lock system and is better than the traditional twist-lock system, especially in winter IMO.  You can easily adjust your poles with the flick of a switch with the BD's and it does save time and the odd hassle you get at times with twist-locking mechanisms.

The cost is generally lower when comparing apples to apples when buying Aluminums.  If you ever get the chance, ask your gear shop for The LEKI mini-DVD on trekking poles...yes there is actually a friggin' DVD that illustrates how to properly use the trekking pole in various conditions ie: up hill as opposed to down or just trekking on a flat surface...there is individual technique for everything.  The mini- DVD also goes into when to use Aluminium or Carbon fibre and the ideal conditions for both.

FYI, I searched Youtube for the video I am making referance to but to no avail.  Although there are loads of 'Leki' videos, the mini-DVD I am referring to blows those videos I see on Youtube out of the water.  It is a professional production and worth watching. 

I own the mini-DVD, I'm gonna try to get it posted on Youtube your you...bear with me, I've never done that before.  As soon as I get it loaded I'll come back here and let you know yo.



4:33 a.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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^ lol

Gary, I have two sets of snowshoes...neither metal or wood and are both different in materials.

go figure !

2:10 p.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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I started snowshoe trekking in 1958 and have done a lot of oftimes solo winter camping in the mountains of BC with them; I have used various poles and also worked doing forestry without poles and in deep snow and sub-zero temps., this is down to about -20*F.

I will never snowshoe, especially alone, without poles again and I have given up my carbon fiber poles for aluminum ones, Black Diamond's highend model. I now keep my Komperdell C3s for walking poles in steep urban park trail training, but, after almost killing myself when one collapsed under me on a tricky bit of trail, I do not trust them if carrying a pack.

I really prefer my ancient aluminum Kerma downhill poles I bought in about 1976 for snowshoe use and they have lots of hard miles on them and just keep on truckin'. I also have some 1980 vintage crosscountry fiberglass poles, one piece, huge baskets and tough as railway spikes, very good for deep snow and rugged ground.

I do not adjust my poles and just adapt to varying conditions and this seems to work for me. I have 1975-vintage Sherpa showshoes, 1990-vintage Cole's and recently bought a pair of Crescent"Gold" series expedition shoes  and like these far more than the many wooden-framed-babiche-filled models I used for years.

If, you want traditional shoes, the best are Fabers made in Canada and they are not overly expensive, the long narrow "Ojibway" style will still out-perform any synthetic shoes in very cold, deep snow and moderate terrain. I used to just boogie with my old Chestnut Canoe 11-56s of this type on old mining trails in the Kootenays and in 8-12 ft. of snow at -10-20*F.....lots of fun and NOTHING gets you into "shape" like this!

6:04 p.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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I just use the poles I have for my X-country skis.  They work fine for me.  My first winter trip into the Tetons was on snowshoes because I hadn't learned how to ski yet.  I carried camping and climbing gear up to base camp at almost 11,000 feet.  Regular old ski poles worked fine then, so I never considered anything else.  Is there anything else?  :-)

6:28 p.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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Dewey, Wow, 1958? I was 2 years old then. Are you in your 70s?

11:03 p.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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I am 64 and started snowshoing at age 12; I was born and raised in a small mountain town  in BC and hiking, fishing, snowshoes, hunting and other such outdoor activities were a regular part of daily life.

I started working in  the BC Forest Service not long after high school, April, 1965 and we usually worked on snowshoes all winter.

10:38 p.m. on December 15, 2010 (EST)
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I have a pr of REI carbon twist lock trekking poles by Komperdell, bought switchable snow baskets. Used once with snowshoes, I also wouldn't go showshoeing without poles. The poles have come unlocked on occasion and can be re-locked when they just spin (there is a short spot at the ends of sections with smaller inside diameter, pull out and adjust there just right to get the drag going to re-lock). But can't get replacement parts, so may take the poles back for refund though otherwise they are great. Meanwhile, got a pair of Komperdell carbon ski poles for peanuts, they are great for backpacking, slightly heavier than the twist lock poles, and can't easily switch the baskets, don't know why they don't have the same tips as on the trekking poles so you could switch.

6:59 a.m. on December 16, 2010 (EST)
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I currently have Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles, and I absolutely love them. They come with the standard small trail basket, and a larger 3in? one for snow. I have never broken any pole but have seen many a hikers damage or break theirs. I attribute damaged or broken poles to not falling properly. Yes, there is a correct way to fall.

Sadly to say I fall probally 2-3 a trip if not more, mainly in the winter or fall when leaves are everywhere. I have a 4 legged puller that can make going down a steep slippery descent somewhat more perilus(she is always on leash which is the cause of said falls).

Now, unless your pole is inbetween a large rock crevace when you fall you probally wont break it. When a fall starts just let it happen and go with it. You get hurt when you try to stop it or break the fall with your hands or poles.

So yes poles help in preventing falls and are great for traction and balance, but should never be used to stop a fall in progress. They are designed with straight downward pressure in mind and are very weak side to side. So if you plant your pole trying to stop the fall, when you do fall the result can be a damaged or broken pole.

My best advice would be to learn how to properly use poles and learn how to fall properly. (there is a whole lot of technique to falling properly)

2:51 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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..I have never broken any pole but have seen many a hikers damage or break theirs. I attribute damaged or broken poles to not falling properly. Yes, there is a correct way to fall...

Perhaps there is a proper way to fall, but you can’t always manage to fall correctly.  Anyone who skis, boards, or skateboards will acknowledge it is only a mater of time before you sustain an uncontrolled fall.  The worst (non climbing) fall I ever sustained was puttering along on a cat track between runs at Alta, going about 5mph.  I fell so fast I couldn’t even attempt break my fall, resulting in a separated shoulder.  I know of a summer hiker impaling himself to death on a broken trekking pole in the vicinity of high Sierra trail leading past either the Second or Third Recess Canyons, below Mono Pass in the 1990s. 

Sorry if I digress.


3:52 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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Seeing as how the topic is about snow shoeing poles, we are not refering to sking, snowboarding etc. And yes, you can always manage to fall correctly, it just takes alot of practice. Practicing falling correctly is not something the average person has experience with.

If your walking, then you are not going anywhere near 5mph. and if your using poles when going that fast (other than skiing etc) then you are creating a recipie for a bad situation anyways.

If you manage to impale yourself on a broken hiking pole then one of two things probally happened, 1) you tried to break your fall with your pole or 2) it was a freak accident/natural selection/your time to go.

It has nothing to do with how fast the fall took place, or the speed of the fall, but in your muscle memory of the proper techniques to employ in a given situation. It's not something you think about, your body has to just be able to do it naturally. And that only comes after lots and lots of training and practice. You can still get hurt even if you fall 100% corectly, but I assure you it is much less damage than could have been done otherwise. Falling correctly can eliminate anywhere from 50-90% of a falls force depending on the type of fall and the area of impact(side/ part of body).

6:18 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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..If you manage to impale yourself on a broken hiking pole then .. .. it was a freak accident...

Maybe its just me, but your two opinions seem to preclude each other. 

Call them freak accidents or whatever, uncontrollable falls do occur.  All the sports I mentioned also profess to learning a proper way to fall.  Speed traveled along the earth is not the vital factor that makes many falls uncontrolled; however, the force gravity draws you toward the earth always is a factor and remains constant regardless of how fast you are traveling along the earth.  It is the lack of time to respond that makes many falls unmanageable.  This means you potentially have only a fraction of a second to react if your feet slip out from under you, or the snow bank collapses.  Time may run out sooner if you collide with an object, but it always runs out the moment you collide against the earth.  Since your brain requires time to sense then react to a situation, the time it takes to fall and smack the ground may be insufficient even for the reflexive-like reaction to protect your face with your hands, let alone a response that requires practice to master.


8:53 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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Interesting comments and I can add my mite to this as I have had some experience learning to fall as in martial arts from four different trainers. It certainly CAN help with injury prevention and so forth, however, when loaded with a heavy pack, 75 lbs. and more and on an unfamiliar trail, tired, in the dusk and hurrying back to camp before dark, VERY FEW trained people will always be able to fall correctly when a pack suddenly shifts or your footing gives way unexpectedly.

When my Komperdell C3 pole suddenly failed due to the friction lock, I almost fell 30 feet straight down into a large mountain creek in full spate and coming off a glacier. This would have killed me and the other pole helped me maintain my footing and avoid an unpleasant death.

I just went back to my longttime use of solid poles and also trust the BD Flicklock as a friend of mine, from Georgia, hunting in Canada's Northwest Territories bent one into a "C" shape, when he slipped on the steep trail above the Caribou Cry River and almost went down 50 ft. into that frigid water, wearing a pack heavy enough to have fractured his cervical spine.....that says a lot to me.

I also find that my severely mangled right leg, due to a drunk running me over at 13 and a surgeon who should have apprenticed as a meatcutter, gives me far less pain and the sudden nervous trembling it is prone to from the trauma, is much less when using poles, espcially on steep downhills.

Each to his/her own, but, I have a lot of hard mountain miles, am an old geezer and I ain't about to quit yet and poles help me keep on truckin', as we who remember "the Dead" are wont to say.

11:13 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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A "split second/ fraction of a second" is way more than enough time for your brain to tell your muscles to react. There is no such thing as an uncontrollable fall. There are only falls which you do not yet know how to properly control. You can control any fall if you know what your doing, that's all I am saying. And that takes lots and lots of practice that the average person doesn't get. There are a lot of steps to falling correctly, and even if you only manage to do a few of them you are better off. It doesn't matter if your falling 3 inches or 30 feet, you react the same way.

As far as my statement in my previous post that you so kindly partially quoted, you have to read it all and put it into context.

IF you fall correctly, then your not going to impale yourself on a hiking pole. Because, you wouldn't be trying to stop the fall with it, which is a big no no. They are GREAT for PREVENTing a fall, but should NEVER be used to stop a fall in progress, that is how you will get seriously hurt. That is also why you should NEVER reach to stop yourself from falling with your arms/hands, that is how you get seriously injured.

Like I said, the only way you should ever find yourself impaled by an object you were carrying(pole or something else) is if you tryed to stop your fall with it(which you shouldn't be doing!) or, it fell from your grasp during the fall and ended up sticking in the mud a few feet below you and you fall on top of it (there's your freak accident). Nothing you can really do about the later, if something like that's going to happen then it was just your time to go. But on the otherhand if you try to stop your fall with your pole and it breaks and impales you and you die a slow painful death....well, you should've read the safety instructions that came from the manufacturer of your poles because they clearly state that they should never be used to stop a fall and are for stabilizing and traction aid purposes only.

Not trying to start a big argument here, I am just trying to point out that there are a few very easy steps that anyone can take to avoid alot of injury by learning at least the basics to how to fall safely/correctly.

1)Never reach to stop a fall

2) Tuck your chin to your chest, and turn your head slightly to either side.

3) Exhale sharply

4) move fluidly with the force of the fall to distribute the impact force over a larger area of your body(this takes alot of practice)

If you can follow at least the first 3, and preferably the 4th at least to some extent then you will always reduce the amount of injury from a fall.

And yes, it is a totally different animal while wearing a pack. It takes practice. Unless you were a paratrooper, or did a lot of other military training you probally have never purposefully fallen with a pack on.

Now lets get back on topic and talk about show shoeing poles!

1:55 a.m. on December 18, 2010 (EST)
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It occurs to me that stopping a fall with my ice axe as I have done several times in a "self arrest" MIGHT be considered improper by those who write instructions; I don't know, but, I once arrested at the top of a huge frozen gulley when if I had not done so, I would be crow food on the boulders 1500 ft. below. I was about ten miles into the mountains near my hometown of Nelson, BC and alone, it was beginning to get dark and snow like hell and this was in July....I am still here and so, it worked.

I also very often practiced falling and arresting wearing a full size pack and on ths same glacier; this was a major reason why I switched to internal frame packs as they became available back in the '70s.

Here, in BC, a fall on snowhoes can trigger an avalanche that can bury and/or kill you very dead, most unpleasant. Several very skilled and experienced friends and colleagues of mine have died this way and it is very risky for others to go in on a retrieval, as one of my brothers has done several times as a "paramedic".....especially, when it is a childhood friend frozen into that lump.

Sooo, if I fall and have my old Kermas, I have and will stop said fall with them as I have been in enough tight spots in my 54 years of active mountain trekking and have no desire for more. YMMV,  of course.

2:16 a.m. on December 18, 2010 (EST)
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I’d like to think we are debating – a battle between ideas, not people.   Also, I referred to you statements in abstraction merely to give others a prompt to what post I am responding to. I had no intention to reinterpret what I saw as the intent of your prose.  In any case those following this thread have easy access to the entire conversation, so it is unlikely any attempt to spin your words will have much affect.

Like Dewey, I too came from an action sports background.  I assume you do too, Ken.  A twisted ankle is a very short fall (unless it cascades into a tumble to the ground).  It involves some luck in addition to a coordinated effort to avoid injury when this occurs.  Still, many athletes more gifted than any of us sprain their ankle.  Practice and expertise can go only so far; even well trained climbers get impaled by their equipment when a fall on a slope evolves into a tumble, despite practicing management of such falls while wearing a pack.  Most who have experienced a protracted fall will tell you any advice and practice has limited value after the first couple of bounces.  Falls by their very nature are acts of chaos.  Most who have spent a lifetime involved with sports, such as Dewy and I, will attest management of falls (or any form of chaos) is an unperfected practice at best.

Perhaps Ken I misunderstood you all along.  I originally interpreted your application of the term managed fall to construe a methodology that will preclude injury, but I note in your latest post you imply it may only reduce the severity of a potential injury.  In the end managing a fall is similar to a boxer receiving a punch on the chin.  World class boxers frequently blunt the effects of a smack on the jaw, but still knockouts are commonplace because they simply lack sufficient time to react and mange the event, resorted to an inappropriate response, simply got caught off guard, or the event was beyond any human intervention.  (Note any boxer will attest a split second is not always sufficient time to muster an appropriate response.)  If a boxer can be knocked out in a sport where alertness, quick reactions, muscle memory, and avoiding such fate lays at the very core of the sport, why does it seem unreasonable to state not every fall is manageable and many eventually experience an unmanageable fall?


12:21 p.m. on December 18, 2010 (EST)
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Nope, I am not an athlete, never have been, just did some MA and spent mucho time in the mountains, working and enjoying being there as I was born in mountain country.

I practiced self-arrests so that I could safely traverse moun tain situations when solo trekking that I should have had protection for and a partner. No biggie, just what has worked for me during my time in the mountains.

1:34 p.m. on December 18, 2010 (EST)
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An Ice axe is designed for self arrests though, that is the big difference. A trekking pole is not, and hence why it can be dangerous to use it in such a manner.

Practicing a self arrest is the same principle as practicing falling. If you don't practice, you may not be able to react in time or efficiently if you are faced with that kind of situation.

4:42 p.m. on December 18, 2010 (EST)
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No question, but, falling into a BC river at full spate is a greater risk and more likely to result in your demise than stopping your fall with a hiking pole is likely to be.

This kinda reminds me of the "bear spray" threads that go on here and on other hiking forums; I do not doubt your skills and expertise, I simply comment on what I have done for well over a half century in western and northern Canada. There are currently ice axes rigged as hiking poles and this is potentially a useful tool, IMO, each to his own.

8:25 p.m. on December 19, 2010 (EST)
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Good reading fellas...there are a lot of educated opinions expressed in this thread! 

and Merry Christmas Dewey, Rambler and whomeworry.  I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday!


10:07 a.m. on December 28, 2010 (EST)
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Hello - I hope this hasn't been asked yet but I have searched and have not found the answer -- What is the difference between using a snowshoe pole vs. a trekking pole with a snow basket?  Nothing I've read explains what makes a snowshoe pole different.

10:31 p.m. on January 1, 2011 (EST)
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Hmmm wow.  This has been fascinating reading ... but "should I buy carbon fiber or aluminum poles"?  :-) :-)

Do any of you have thoughts on the relative merits of each, so I can make a decision more informed than "these seem nice" when I got to the store? :)

Thanks again!

7:35 a.m. on January 2, 2011 (EST)
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Bheiser1, the real big difference is weight. Carbon fiber poles are much lighter. About the only other difference is aluminum poles are a little more robust/rugged in regards to taking a beating. Mind you I put my current BD alpine carbon cork poles through the ringer and then use them for my tent poles every night.

But, I have heard that carbon fiber can break a little easier, ONLY regarding horizontal/side to side torque. They can also crack supposedly if hit really hard on the side. My poles get banged on rocks and tossed above/below me all the time and have plenty of dings and scratches and no signs of any cracking. So I think you would really have to put some man juice behind trying to break/crack one.

BD says them will replace them if they crack or break, so they must have some faith in their strength. Carbon fiber is much strong than alluminum with vertical forces, it's just the horizontal that supposedly has an issue. I have no idea how much truth there is to, if it's overblown, or just a little tiny risk. ymmv

12:03 a.m. on January 15, 2011 (EST)
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Thanks, everyone, for all your feedback.  I just bought a pair of Black Diamond Trail poles (  They're aluminum.

These were the deciding factors after reading all the reviews + considering you'all's feedback:

- Black Diamond ... no question... because the "flick locks" seem to be widely viewed as better than the twist locks found on others.

- 3 section ... as opposed to the longer 2-section poles out there (better packability)

- aluminum ... while the weight factor is important to me, the stories about broken poles gave me visions of me falling, one of the poles breaking, and me landing on the jagged lower part sticking up from the snow, with the pole section impaling me, puncturing a lung or other internal organ.  I'd then have to use my DeLorme PN-60w SPOT to summons an emergency rescue, and lay shivering in the snow while I awaited their arrival.  Then I'd be transported to the nearest hospital (probably at least 50 miles away), where I'd be treated (or die a slow agonizing death).

OK, that was dramatic :D, but seriously... aluminum it is.  I'll deal with the extra weight.

One feature I particularly like about these is that the foam handgrips extend about halfway down the upper pole section.  So that makes it less likely that I'll need to handle the cold aluminum directly.

Now to get out there and try 'em out! :)...

OH, and while I was there, I picked up some "Grabber" Toe Warmers... no more cold feet for me! :)

3:33 p.m. on January 15, 2011 (EST)
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bheiser, to confirm your purchase, I have two pairs of BD aluminum adjustable poles and love them.  See my product review. Parts are available from BD if you ever need them and they don't cost "an arm and a leg".lol

A "friend" used them once with out permission and bent a bottom section. I replaced it for about $10.  I have xc skied and fallen in deep snow several times with zero problems. I ususally take a 20-30 lbs backpack.

We have the same last name. Wonder where they cross lines?  I have a sister who lives in Pleasanton Ca, (near Hayward) so maybe we can meet some day. I don't go to see her very often. 

10:41 p.m. on January 21, 2011 (EST)
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skyboyrob, thanks for the feedback.  Sorry this is so late, somehow your message slipped by.  I appreciate the reassurance that I made the right decision :)

I don't have any relatives that I know of in CA ... I'm originally from New England.

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