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Hanging out in Western Australia

It has been an inordinately long time since I have posted anything on this blog.  And I have been feeling guilty about it for a while now!  I can’t even claim that I’ve been too busy because those that are in the know while know that I blog almost every week.  Just not here.  I started a research blog as part of my new job in Melbourne to document the work that I do.  And then I started a Wildlife Wednesday tradition where every Wednesday I post a photograph of some interesting critter that I seen and write a little story about its ecology (mostly paraphrased from Wikipedia as they are often things I know nothing about).  Which means that I spend a lot of time writing blog posts.  Which means that I feel less inclined to post things over here.

But I thought I’d better at least let you know I’m alive and kicking and getting out and about.  So here is a slideshow of photos from my recent trip to Western Australia over Easter  It was largely spent camping and tramping and sitting at the top or bottom of crags watching people climb, along with some funky wildlife (read all about western spotted frogs and weird marsupials over at my research blog).

Hopefully I’ll be back again soon!

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32 things – a recap

So another birthday has come and gone and it’s time to reflect on the year of 32 things.

1. Bike the Great Divide
So, the grand plan was to take 4-5 months off work and bike the ~4500 km with the boy along the length of the Rockies.  But life kinda got in the way and it all got a bit complicated and I couldn’t get enough time off work to make the trip worthwhile.  But I did buy the book.  Surely that has to count for something, right?!  This trip looks like an amazing mission and is definitely still on the to do list.  It might just need to wait a couple of years until we can both have the time to cycle off into the sunset.

2. Compete in the 12 hour Spring Challenge
So the Mighty Midgets had done the 6 hour Spring Challenge a couple of times and, despite being super-scared, we decided it was time we sprung up to the challenge of the 2011 12 hour event. We trained hard all winter and had some awesome missions.  We were fairly nervous but confident we would survive as the morning of the race dawned.  It was an amazing day, with a nice smattering of rafting, mountain biking, bushbashing and rogaining to keep us occupied.  We had a fabulous support crew (thanks Ash, Nomes & Graham) who fed and watered us and even tied our shoelaces.  It’s not very often that we push ourselves to see what we can achieve but the Spring Challenge is an excellent opportunity to do this and it was extremely satisfying to cross the finish line after 15 hours and still be smiling.  In fact, we could have kept going for longer, which might imply that we didn’t go hard enough!  Thanks to the Miniest Mighty Midget Michelle and the Mightiest Mighty Midget Maaike for being awesome team mates!

3. Put my clipless pedals back on my mountain bike
Ok, so they are on there.  But it doesn’t mean i like them!  I’m still a wimp and bought pedals that are flat on one side, so I can indulge my wimpiness but they are technically on my bike.  Now I just need to ride the thing.

4. Run 500 km
So I just went back and looked at the excuse that I wrote for not completing this on the list of 31 things and it was pretty lame.  Unfortunately I think this year’s excuse is probably even worse and I’m pretty sure that I didn’t even run as far as I did last year.  I kinda lost my running mojo this year but I’ve just bought a new pair of shoes (although I’m not entirely sure how I wore out the old pair!).  And this spring weather is making me more enthused about the whole running idea, so maybe next  year.  Although I feel I may need to scale down the distance somewhat!

5. Compete in a triathlon
Similar problem to item 4.  A combination of laziness and a distinct lack of triathlons after my return from the ice.  Oh well….

6. Photograph a snow petrel
These funky little birds hang out in Antarctica and are snow white and very cool.  I would love to get a picture of one, only they don’t really hang about for very long during the season and, when they are actually there, you get a 30 second glimpse of them as they glide past.  This year I think I saw one for about 20 seconds.  Not even enough time to register in my brain that I should grab my camera before it was gone again.  Maybe next season??

7. Publish the remaining whio papers
I seem to be writing up a list of excuses!  There really isn’t any excuse for not having done these.  I did do a bit of work when I was in Perth but it’s hard to find the motivation to do work when I’ve already spent 8 hours at work doing maths.  But it would be really helpful to have these papers out there, so I really just need to pull finger and do them!

8. Complete a half marathon
Refer to item 4.

9. Go cycle touring
I didn’t really go cycle touring per se but we did do an overnight mountain bike trip which I like to refer to as tramping with bikes.  So not really cycle touring at all since there was very little cycling actually done.  But entertaining nonetheless.

10. Make Albert Monkey
Finally something I can cross off! Albert Monkey came into being in October and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.  First to Auckland where he took in the sites of the rugby world cup.  Then off to Raoul Island.  He must have had a fabulous time and been super busy because he never even sent a postcard.

11. Publish an Antarctic paper
It’s close.  Well the finishing of the analysis and the writing of the paper bit.  The actual publishing bit will be totally dependent on whether the third reviewer is having a nice day when they read it.

12. Compete in a road bike race
I bought a new road bike this year and it seemed like it was time to actually do a race.  So a group of us headed up to do the Grape Ride, a 101km race from Blenheim to Picton and around the bays.  It was a little on the damp side and super windy, which made the Blenheim to Picton leg less than fun.  But the return trip was awesome.  I rode with my sister’s future father-in-law for a while before he had a mechanical and our team of girly awesomeness left him behind to lament his poor bike maintenance record.  We were pretty awesome as we flew along the road, passing people up the hills and being passed by a dude with panniers on the downhill.  We rolled across the line in just over four hours which made for three happy and tired girls, having each just completed the longest ride of our lives.

13. Knit/crochet a jersey
So I started a knitted vest when we got stuck by snow in Queenstown last year and nearly had it finished when, true to form, I decided I didn’t really like it and I frogged the entire thing.  The wool then languished in the stash for quite some time until I found a pattern for a felted crocheted vest with crazy  multi-coloured stripes.  This seemed more my style, so I’ve been busy crocheting away and it is nearly done.  I don’t think this one will get unravelled but I don’t have a good record for keeping jerseys intact (all four knitted thus far have been unravelled), so I had better felt it soon before I get the chance!

14. Compete in a mountain bike race
Every mountain bike race that I wanted to do seemed to be on a weekend when I had something else on.  At least, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

15. Climb a grade 17
I did it once.  And have never managed it again.  I am enjoying climbing though, even if it is only inside – there being a distinct lack of outdoor rock to climb in Christchurch, what with it all being shaken of the hillsides and all.  Hopefully I will be able to climb something real in the coming year.

16. Buy a macro lens
I didn’t buy a macro lens but I did accidentally buy a new camera.  So maybe they cancel each other out.

17. Ride a century in a day
Refer to item 12

18. Spend a night at the Sign of the Packhorse
This has to be the longest standing item on the list, having started out on the original list in 2007.  But it finally fell this year with an excellent election weekend escape with some friendly resident poms.

19. Sew an item of clothing
In a fit of sewing crazy, I constructed an infinity dress, a reversible hooded dress and a reversible skirt, all without the benefit of a proper pattern or in some cases any pattern at all.  In hindsight, patterns may have been a good idea.  To date, there have been limited outings of the fore-mentioned items, so a distinct lack of photographs.  But there is a hint of spring in the air and a slightly mad scheme afoot that will see this predominantly trouser-clad lass breaking out the skirts, so hopefully you will get a peek soon.  More on this in the list of 33 things….

20. Organise a clothes swap party
It is completely coincidental that this follows on from item 19!  To be honest, I’m not sure there would have been many takers either.  But I have now been to two clothes swap parties which have been an excellent way of cleaning out the closest and gaining a few new items.  I’m now planning a stuff swap to clean out the rest of the crap that I’ve accumulated over the past 6 years.

21. Present a paper at ICCB 2011
Four mins of petrels and I was outta there.  Easiest conference talk ever.  And not a bad conference either, even without my organising committee hat on.

22. Empty out my storage shed of crap
When I went to Antarctica in 2010, I moved out of our house of 4.5 years and put all of my crap in storage.  Then I came back and got out a few boxes and the rest languished in storage for a ridiculously long time, costing me a ridiculous amount of money, because I was too lazy to move it and I didn’t really have anywhere to put it at the new house.  I slowly managed to pawn a lot of it off onto unsuspecting friends until I was left with a couple of boxes of unknown contents, a desk, washing machine and a broken rat trap and little motivation to actually shift it.  But the storage shed o’ crap has finally been emptied, the stuff sort of sorted and I’m working on ways to hide in the back of various family member’s garages as I get ready to set off on another adventure (more on that soon).

23. Buy knee-high boots
They are red.  and awesome.

24. Make bagels
Antarctica is a good place for experimental bread making, given that we are given a bag of flour and some yeast and we have plenty of time.  The rising conditions for yeast are less than ideal but it is possible.  This year we feasted on a wide variety of breads, including bagels, naan and beer bread.  I swear I had a picture of the bagels somewhere but you will have to make do with some bread instead

25. Go back to Antarctica
A second stint in Antarctica was calling and so I set off to pester some more penguins with Dad in tow as my field assistant.  Many people expressed some concern about being cooped up with my Father in a confined space for eight weeks. Indeed, it could have gone horribly wrong.  But we happily spent our time poking penguins with needles, baking bread, swimming at Christmas (in Santa hats), excitedly examining comb jellies and sitting about reading the dictionary without too much drama. Good times.

26. Have a hot pool party
We tried.  This was the infamous tramping with bikes expedition where the tramping part took so long that people who were sans bike were faster than we were.  Which meant we ended up staying at a different hut from the one we intended and never made it to the Hope hot pools.  I realise that this was in October and there has been plenty of opportunity to try again but (here come the excuses) it never quite happened.

27. Apply for a post-doc position
I applied for a post-doc.  In Brisbane.  I went to Brisbane for a day for an interview.  It seemed like a nice place.  So nice I spent an extra day there (not voluntarily.  Never fly with me to Australia – I think I am cursed).  I didn’t get the job.  But they put me in touch with a guy in Melbourne.  He offered me a job.  Which apparently, I learnt today from the lady who needs to order me a computer, starts on October 1.  Although I haven’t seen a contract yet, so not counting chickens just yet.  But, yup, hopefully moving to Melbourne.  In a month.  Boy, have I got some stuff to do between now and then. (Hence the blog updating and other sundry procrastinatory activities).

28. Publish the shrub paper
It’s on that list of things to do before the end of September.

29. Lecture in a university course
Three riveting lectures in Biology 112 on things ecological, courtesy of my PhD supervisor swanning off somewhere exciting.  This year I didn’t get in trouble for showing Green Porno videos.  Bonus.

30. Do some volunteer work
Allegedly I did this – I crossed it off on my list on the desktop of my computer.  But I do remember it being somewhat tenuous at the time and I have absolutely no idea what it might have been, so I’m leaving this unchecked.  Slacker.

31. Learn to jugular bleed penguins
How to have fun with needles and penguins – stick them in them blindly in the jugular.  While it sounds horrific, and seems awful the first few times you do it, it is by the far the fastest way to extract blood from a penguin.  And is infinitely more “fun” than trying to bleed them from the foot.  Definitely my preferred vampire method.

32. Go on an outdoor adventure at least once a month (SONDJFMAMJJA)
Lots of outdoor trips this year, although the term adventure is perhaps somewhat debatable for some of them.  We started out with a hiss and a roar with the Spring Challenge in September, then tramping with bikes up the Hope in October, November was up Sign of the Packhorse, followed by two months in Antarctica.  February scraped in with a camping trip to Lake Taylor while March and April were spent camping in the wilds of Western Australia.  May just caught a quick blast up Scott’s Saddle, while June was ice climbing and other adventuring at Fox Glacier. July hosted Laura’s annual birthday tramp to Lake Daniell’s, while August was graced by a short jaunt up Mt Oxford (& hopefully cross-country skiing this weekend).

and other fun stuff

33. Sleep in my new tent
It’s light and small and you need to be short.  And a little on the damp side, being a single skin and all.  And clearly pitched outside a perfectly good hut but it was full of children.  Now I just need to make sure I get in the right one!

34. Buy a new road bike
It’s light and small and you need to be short.  But it’s carbon and fast and a really nice ride.  I just need to actually ride it more.

35. Go on a Western Australia roadtrip
South-western Australia has been given a cursory go over and places to revisit properly have been duly noted.  Middlish western Australia also revisited.  It was good times.

So all in all, not a bad year.  There are a few lingering things on the list that should really have been crossed off (but they are mostly the boring work-related things).  The list of 33 things is currently under construction but should be ready for general release soon.

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Sign of the Packhorse

Way back in 2007 I wrote a list of list of 27 things to do. I think I was having a rough time and was looking for some inspiring things to do to get me out of the rut. It seems to have been a good idea because I’m now on to a list of 32 things and I get the feeling that the lists will be around for a while yet.

But I’ve had quite a few repeat offenders on the lists over the years that have never been crossed off. One in particular was to spend a night at the Sign of the Packhorse. Now, for those that are not familiar with the Port Hills in Canterbury, there is a series of old stone lodges that were used back in the days when it took a long time to ride your horse from Akaroa to Christchurch. These days, Sign of the Takahe is a fancy restaurant (or was before it was closed with earthquake damage), Sign of the Kiwi is a café, Sign of the Bellbird is a cute ruin and Sign of the Packhorse is a Department of Conservation hut. Every year I’ve thought “I should really get around to spending a night at the Sign of the Packhorse” but it’s never eventuated. Until this year, when I was dragged out by two local Poms to escape the election craziness.

After doing our civic duty and voting, we set off into the sunshine.  Dropping a car at Diamond Harbour, we wound our way through the countryside to Kaituna Valley.  We then shouldered heavy packs and set off up the hill.  Now, one of the reasons I’ve never done this trip is that it really isn’t very far and there haven always been more exciting places to go.  I mean, a two hour stroll up a hill amongst the sheep in the paddocks doesn’t really inspire excitement when you live so close to the Southern Alps.  But it was a pleasant wander and we saw plenty of interesting things, even if the poms spent most of the time photographing weeds like foxgloves and gorse.  Given that we had such a short walk, we had loaded our packs up with ridiculous things and they were a lot heavy than was strictly necessary.  Which required a considerable number of stops.  Which resulted in a considerable number of photographs of somewhat random things. But they were pretty.

Tents had been loaded into our packs in anticipation of the eight bunk hut being full of children.  And sure enough, we were greeted by whoops of childish delight as we crested the ridge, so the tents were gratefully unpack and set up in the wind.  Luckily my list had stated Spend a night at Sign of the Packhorse not in.  

The cooker was unpacked for an obligatory cup of tea and then dinner of spicy noodles and wine soon followed.  Then the evening was wiled away beating Giles and Alex the Younger at cards.  And trying to ignore the obnoxious guy who knew everything about everything and insisted telling us about it.  More annoying were the constant updates about the election results which we had specifically gone bush to escape.  Sigh…..
A somewhat blustery night awoke to bring a glorious day, and after a full English breakfast, we set off up the hill towards Mount Herbertand beyond to Diamond Harbour.  After winding through some nice regenerating bush, we came out into the gorse and the heat and the steep.  But pleasant views out over Lyttelon Harbourand Banks Peninsula.  A quick lunch was had at the Mount Herbert Shelter and then it was downhill towards Diamond Harbour.
It was quite satisfying to catch up with and pass the annoying guy who had left the hut obnoxiously early to rush off and catch the ferry, which he distinctly missed by at least 5 hours.  And then onwards and downwards in the heat, across the hard grassy paddocks, towards the ice creams calling us from the Diamond Harbour dairy.  Those last few steps seemed to take hours out there in the baking Canterburyheat.  But the ice cream was definitely worked for. 

Did this expedition live up to the five years of anticipation?  I think so.  But I shouldn’t really let things linger on the list for that long unless there is a really good reason.  And laziness isn’t a good reason!  Hopefully that won’t happen again!

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Tramping with bikes

With the memory of a successful mountain bike mission to hotpools freshly in our minds, it was decreed that Labour weekend would be an excellent time for another expedition by bike.  More hotpools were high on the priority list, so we decided to venture one valley north and head up the Hope River in search of the hotpools above Top Hope hut.
Now, before you do a trip, you should always do some research, right?  Make sure you understand the lay of the land, how far it is and how long it might take.  So, being good young technologically-savvy folk, we googled the expedition.  And found Patrick’s blog.  Now the title of his blog post Mountain B-Walking to Hot Pools should perhaps have been a warning about the suitability of the track for biking.  But it was only 3 or so hours of pushing bikes.  How hard can it be?!  And besides, Steve assured us that is would be fine*.  So four intrepid adventurers set off for a long weekend of biking and hotpools.

The first challenge was taking the bikes across a swingbridge.  Now I’m quite happy to stroll across a swingbridge, pack on my back and admiring the scenery.  But taking a bike across a swingbridge is a completely different story! The easiest way is to flip the bike up on its back wheel and push it across while holding the handelbars.  Sounds all nice and happy, yeah?  In theory, this isn’t bad.  Except you now have no hands available for holding onto the bridge and, inevitably, your handlebars are wider than the supports on the bridge, which means that every metre or so you have to do a complicated wiggle of the bike to make it fit through the gap.  This leads to a greater swinging of the bridge than before, the back wheel of the bike ending up in some awkward position, and a terrible buckling of the knees as the whole thing becomes way to much for the brain to cope with.  This feeling of complete and utter terror intensifies with every step until you finally reach the far side and sink into the solid ground with great relief.  And then remember that, in order to get back to the car at the end of the trip, you’re going to have to do it all again!  Argh!

The grin is not happiness but more a terrified grimace and relief at almost being at the end of the bridge ordeal

After a few minutes to steady the nerves on the other side, we set off along a nice piece of 4WD road.  It climbed up a couple of steep-ish terraces out in the open and we made pretty good progress.  And then we got to the bush edge.  Now I guess that I should acknowledge that the track along the northern bank of the Hope River is a tramping track.  It was never designed for biking.  And it’s not really suitable for biking.  It started out okay.  A few tree roots here and there, the odd treefall, that sort of thing but you could easily go several hundred metres at a time before having to get off to get past an obstacle.  And then it slowly deteriorated.  A nice clear section of track would reveal a fallen tree 10m around the corner.  A rooty but bike-able section would end in a gnarled tangle of roots that were dificult to walk over, let alone ride.  A tinkling stream would be nestled in a steepy, slippery gorge that threatened to suck you and your bike into a dark abyss.  Now, we had done our homework and were mentally prepared for some sections that were unrideable.  You simply get off your bike and haul it up a bank, throw it over a tree or push it over the nasty, rooty, muddy bit.  A bit of a hassle but part of the fun of mountain biking.

This type of riding inevitably leads to some spills, with the best fall of the trip once again being awarded to Steve, who ended upside down still attached to his bike.  This had unfortunate consequences for the yogurt!

After MANY hours of pushing bikes interspersed with the odd bit of riding, we reached an excellent spot for a late lunch.  I think by this point we’d been going about 4 hours and were a little weary of the bike pushing.  But a quick consultation of the map suggested that we had another 1.5 km or so of nasty track before we hit the river flats and easy riding.

Well, I reckon that that was the longest 1.5km of my life!  There were giant river boulders, nasty gutty creeks, steep banks, enormous roots, tangled treefalls and much mud.  But it did eventually end and spit us out onto a nice grassy riverbank with only the odd matagouri bush and cow to contend with.  A couple of kms of sweet, beautiful uninterupted riding.  And then another swingbridge.  Thankfully this one was on the shorter side, so didn’t generate quite the same terrifying swing. But was still terrifying.  It was quickly over though and after a quick push up a nasty slimy cliff, it was back to nice riding along a 4WD track again.  Yay for nice riding.  A few kms on and we reached Saint Jacobs hut.  We stopped for a breather, were immediately mobbed by sandflies, and set about deciding what to do next.  The Top Hope hut, our intended destination, was another 7km of, theoretically, nice riding up the valley, with the hotpools another 40 mins walk beyond.  It was about 6pm and there was plenty enough light to get there but enthusiasm was on the thin side.  After much umming and ahhing and slapping of sandflies, it was decided to stay the night where we were and make a quick dash upstream in the morning to check out the hotpools.  Bikes were dropped, gear unpacked and de-yogurted, bodies washed and feet, aching much more than they should have been, put up.  A quick chat with a resident tramper confirmed that walking the track would have been far more sensible than biking it when it turned out that she had walked it an hour faster than we had “biked” it.

I had recently bought a new tent, so shunned the hut in favour of more salubrious accommodation outside under nylon.  Dinner was an extravagant affair of tomato (slightly yogurty) couscous, washed down with port.  And was followed by an excellent (if not slightly damp in my slightly condensatory tent) night’s sleep.

The morning dawned bright and clear but still with little enthusiasm for biking up to the hotpools.  Admittedly, there was little enthusiasm for “biking” home again as well. Now, there is a farm track along the southern bank of the river but, having not asked permission to use it, we were reluctant to take the easy route home.  But we were more reluctant to take the hard route home.  So we cheated.  And we got caught.  And were made to go back the way we came.  But, oh the glorious non-stop riding we did before we got caught.  The farmer was very courteous and we were very apologetic and he did say that we could ride the track when he didn’t have cows in the paddock but we had better ask permission first.  So, when there are no cows and we are allowed, we plan to bike this glorious piece of rideable farm track and zoom into the hotpools in a ridiculously short period of time.  It shall be fabulous.

But it was with heavy hearts that we crossed back across the river (by foot, not terrifying swingbridge) and set off back along the track.  There was more frustrating pushing of bikes but it did seem a little easier on the way out, perhaps because it was slightly downhill and therefore easier to ride.  It did still take forever and end in a swingbridge.  But wasn’t entirely an unpleasant day.

Now, it may seem that I have made this out to be a horrendous trip.   I must admit that it wasn’t an ideal place to take mountain bikes, particularly if this is your first mountain bike trip as it was for poor Elizabeth.  Luckily, she has yet to learn fear, so rode things that I was sceptical about.  But overall, it was a fun trip.  However, do not believe anyone who tells you it will be a nice ride.  It might be a nice tramp but is better if you leave your bike in the shed.  Consider this a cautionary tale.

Sunday night was spent consuming enormous burgers and watching NZ narrowly beat France to win the Rugby World Cup in a random pub in Hanmer.  That is, we were in a random pub, not the All Blacks.  And then a quick blat around the mountain bike tracks in Hanmer on Monday.  Oh what a novelty to be able to ride more than 100m before being forced off by some obstacle.  It was fabulous.  Then back to Christchurch for a superb dinner of experimental homemade pizza with Patrick and Maaike.

*We talked to the third member of Patrick and Steve’s trip and his response was “Why would you want to go there?  It was horrible!”. Interesting how different people remember trips.  

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Cannibal Gorge

The start of July saw a trip up to Cannibal Gorge Hut on the St James Walkway to celebrate a friend’s birthday.

in a larger map

The track starts at Lewis Pass and winds its way above the Maruia River. Not a particularly scenic walk but nice forest with some interesting wildlife encounters.

Including this kaka high up in the tree tops. And a stoat attacking a possum. That was a weird one.

The hut was surrounded by a nice dusting of snow, making for a pretty scene. But the chilly weather had created a new form of entertainment – the indoor ice skating rink. A pipe had burst, leaving about an inch of ice across the floor of the hut. Luckily we had a keen and innovative team and the ice was quickly cleaned out and the fire stoked up. This was followed by a game of rounders out the front of the hut, made more challenging by playing with a white ball in snow! Then a stunning dinner of venison curry, venison stew, fresh roti made on the fire. And topped off with chocolate pudding and home-made ice cream for dessert. Then the HHH entertainment band set up and the remainder of the evening was passed in a sing-along.

A leisurely stroll out in the morning ended another pleasant trip into the hills.

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Otehake hot springs

An impromptu tramping trip up to the Otehake hot springs over the weekend provided the second outdoor adventure for June. More about the first later.
A late start didn’t see us leaving the start of the track until 4:30pm, which meant 3 of our 4 hours of strolling was in the dark. This would ordinarily be a bit of a drag but our walk was punctuated by sightings of kiwi (well, the butt thereof) and kiwi calls to keep us entertained. After much traipsing over roots and crossing of rivers, we finally made it to the campsite and hotpools at 9pm, just in time for dinner and a soak. Chocolate and port make good friends in a hot pool.

After a sound sleep not interrupted by earthquakes, we woke to another stunning day. A short soak over breakfast fortified the souls (and soles) for the walk out.

A friendly robin who dropped in for lunch on our way home. Another successful trip out into the wilds.