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Monday - July 7, 2003
I am on my way back. I owe you the story of the climb, the time that I spent in Anchorage and I will see if Nancy can post the one about the events leading up to the wedding, and the wedding itself. For some reason, there has been so much more going on leading up to the return trip and during, that I have been running out of time for the task at hand. Then when I tried to improve the matters by investing in a laptop, I ended up in front of the public terminal that I am using right now with so many restrictions that I cannot place the order online. I will have to wait for the next opportunity to do so... Excuses, excuses ;-)
So far I have covered 443 miles since the Forks Roadhouse. I put the same odometer on that read 2683.3 miles back then, now it reads 3,126.8 miles - I loved it when it turned from 2999.9 to 3000! You can see a picture of it when it turned 2000 miles at: Media Photos
I have been seeing so much more variety in wild flowers and birds that I have to remind myself that I am on Alaska time now, that I should slow down, stop and enjoy. Even so, I have been covering 60 miles a day without much pain as my body has not lost much of its conditioning for riding. The start in February was much more stressful, and I had to take more time for rests. This time, I have been able to push four days in a row with one day rests. Eight days of riding brought me to Tok. In another two weeks, I will start pushing for 80-100 mile days.
Initially I went to Cantwell to the western terminal of the Denali Highway. This is a dirt road which ends at Paxson some 130 miles away. It used to be the only way to get to the Denali Park before the Parks Highway from Fairbanks to Wasilla was built. It was rough, tore up one of my tires that I had to replace and slowed me down in general. Yet I was treated to great views of the Alaska Range to the north and to unique geological features visible only on this patch of highway.
Consider the road riding on top of a continous rib of gravel that has either two lakes on its sides, or just green wild flowers and grass descending on its flanks. You may be tempted to say, "well they piled that to build the road on top." That is not so since these are called "eskers," a geological formation caused by rivers that used to flow under the glaciers which used to cover that entire valley through which I was riding. The rivers were confined by ice on either side, so the gravel and silt carried by the rivers piled up in meandering patterns. When the ice retreated, the piles were left behind. Convenient - because the water drains so far below the road surface, the problem of frost heave is resolved by placing the road on top of the eskers. Frost heave is a common problem in the northern latitudes due to ice which uplifts the pavement when the water that gets under the road freezes.
Then consider a huge round pit that may or may not have water at its base which looks like a meteor crater. Well that would be the hole left behind when a chunk of ice left behind by the retreating glaciers that used to be covered by moraine melted out. They called those: "kettles."
Such features were in addition to the views of glaciers and the birds. I saw trumpeter swans with their brood in the ponds, a say's phoebe nest with two chicks in it and got to befriend sand pipers of different kinds pacing me while screaming their unique calls, then landing in front of me repeatedly as if to lure me away from their nests close by. I would be riding so close to lilly ponds and marshes that it was obvious that their nests would be right there somewhere. The birds will be plentiful as this is their breeding grounds, with the Tetlin Wildlife Reserve right on my way to Canada that should be teeming with life.
At the McLaren River Lodge where I stayed for two nights, I got the opportunity to spend time with Bill Nance the proprietor who took me up the river about seven miles to his favorite fishing hole for graylings. We saw beavers in the stream, beaver lodges on the banks and had to jump a beaver dam to access the pond where the fish congregated. In two tries with a lure, Bill was able to pull out one grayling and we had to run back out of there for the mosquitos were relentless.
The only complaint that I have so far are the mosquitos that really give one no respite. When I slow down on uphills and have to get off the bike to push, they find me. In especially hot and muggy days, they can be unbearable. I apply mosquito spray to keep them at bay from my legs, and when I camp at night, I have a hat with netting on it that flows around my face, protecting me. At least that way they are not driving me crazy, imagine me slapping myself ad nauseum... What a sight that would be ;-)
At the camp sites, I set up a tent (1) to keep the bugs out, (2) to serve as a camouflage during a potential bear encounter. I am careful to separate food from the camp, to keep odors under check which include toothpaste, gum, gasoline, to not wipe my hands on my pants after I eat (mom says I am not supposed to anyway), to not spill food on myself all of which would track the odors into the tent with me.
I already had one scare on the Denali Highway when I heard a russle behind the bush next to which was my bike and all the food. My tent was about 50 yards back in the middle of the open area to avoid surprises. I called out talking to whatever it was. I saw this big brown snout first, then the snout got longer and longer after which I saw this skittish look on one eye looking at me sideways. It was a young moose with no antlers - it looked at me as if wanting permission to cross over to the road on the other side. When I lowered my shotgun and took a couple steps back to give it space, it bounced off on its lanky legs and reached the other side of the road to feed on fresh leaves. Currently the moose and caribou populations are being decimated by the overwhelming numbers of bears and wolves in the area, so there is open season on hunting them year round to balance the numbers.
On July 3rd, I met Don Love from Anchorage REI store and his family at the Paxson Lakes Campground. They had given me something to look forward to during the push on the Denali Highway. I even broke a speed record on the paved hillside road descending into Paxson: 45 mph! Across the valley I could spot the Trans Alaska Pipeline that carries oil to Valdez from the northern slopes.
It is interesting to cover the same terrain in the summer that I crossed in the cold of March. On July 4th day, I turned due northeast on the Tok Cutoff (Rt 1) and had dinner at the historical Gakona Roadhouse. The fireworks that night were pretty pale since there is still daylight around even at midnight!!! I could hear some around, but really no one was trying to put up a show...
I camp in RV parks, on grass, alongside the highway. My REI Roadster tent is just the size that I need, serving me well. The lodging costs on the return will be much less if I keep this up. At Midway Services halfway between Glennallen and Tok, I was offered a huge canopy. I rolled my bike inside and laid the sleeping bag next to a couple mosquito coils that I burned. The owners Jay and Debbie made me feel comfortable there. I shopped my groceries in their store, bought me a paddie of hamburger, and barbequed it with two families from Anchorage who were there to visit. Jay Capps guides for big game hunting as well as for fishing in the area and he is a wonderful source for such information.
I pulled into Tok yesterday after stopping by at the Mentasta Lodge to say "hi" to Crystal McEuen who had donated us her tip. Familiar faces to look forward to. I had to find Eric Kemp and Cathy Irons in Tok. Eric had shared with me his best lasagna, and Cathy had met me way back in Canada at Destruction Bay along the Kluane Lake. I found both of them at work today...
As slowly as I move on the highway, I notice more details. One example is the abundance of the dragon flies. They hover around the road, they get hit by passing cars and lay on the road. As far back as I can remember as a child, I used to think of helicopters when I saw the dragon flies buzzing around, and I used to call them "helicopter bugs." So when I saw an intact one laying on its feet on the pavement, I turned the bike around to take a close up picture. Well, I reached for it, held it by the wing and as I picked it up, its head came off, stuck on the pavement! I reached down to carefully pick that up too, and to my amazement, I saw a mosquito still in its jaws. The dragon fly had just grabbed its last meal when it got knocked out of the air by a passing vehicle. Now that is detail for you, that you would not otherwise have seen unless you were riding a bike along with me. AND, you would have had to be going as slowly as I was because I am pulling a load ;-)
I will post more as I go, since now my only focus is the trip.
Wednesday - July 16, 2003
I am older now everyone! I celebrated my 42nd birthday with Nancy over the phone while standing in front of a payphone, slapping the mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Needless to say that can be like trying to keep a serious conversation going at home with one's spouse while watching CNN at the same time by the corner of an eye. Fortunately Nancy was understanding of my plight ;-)
It is indeed a small world. I am typing this update in the small internet cafe that Wanda Jackel has opened in Whitehorse since July 1. Wanda moved to Whitehorse with Roland Stuart from Liard Hot Springs where I had met them on the way up. It was funny today to run into Roland when both of us knew each other but could not place the location. Meeting in Whitehorse threw us off for a while, then we figured it out...
While in Whitehorse, I tended to business a bit today. My bicycle went into a bike shop for routine maintenance and clean up. Allan, the same technician who had replaced my rear wheel and rear cassette in late March worked on it again this time. I had a haircut when the barber asked me if I had heard of the guy who rode his bike all the way from the tip of South America on his way to Prudhoe bay, only to quit when he was chased by a bear short of Whitehorse - "that's it, I cannot continue," he had said. I also interviewed with the Yukon News publication for a follow up story which I will post under Media Coverage when it is available. Tomorrow I will be in for a live interview with CBC Yukon Radio.
We have started to seriously pursue the boat at this point, trying to arrive at a make or buy decision. That was another point that I had to research while in Whitehorse. To build the boat, we would need a blueprint for starters. Dave Engle has located a boat builder who is willing to then customize the design from that blueprint based on our needs. There are two boats of interest that are on the Ocean Rowing Society web site that may provide fine examples to what we are trying to accomplish. One boat that we may consider buying is available at 35,000 British Pounds ($56,000 US). I had estimated $40-70k, so we are in the ball park on the estimate. We are hoping that if we build the boat, then cost could be considerably less and we may be able to accommodate the bike, the trailer and the climbing gear as well in it.
I left Tok on the 8th after taking a day of rest. Along the way, I was treated to openings among the trees adorned by dense populations of fireweeds. The fireweeds were plentiful where a fire had passed through. Those I asked were not sure if the name fireweed is because the flowers are red, or because they do well after a fire passes through a forested area.
Soon after that, I came to a road cut that had been blasted through a rocky hill. The steep sides were perhaps 150 feet high. I heard the call of birds from the top of the trees above the cliff. They were two birds of prey, they did not like my slow moving presence through the gap and they let me know. When I saw them, of course, I had to stop and zoom in with the camera. That got them even more agitated, sending them on to me swooping overhead in circles, landing on a small shelf on the cliffside. Then they would take off again for the tree tops. We kept repeating this pattern for a while as their screaming continued. They had to have had their nest on that cliff side... I later looked up their color patterns to find out that they were peregrine falcons.
The ground is glacial silt in many places covered with a thin layer of topsoil. This makes some road cuts appear as though we were passing through a sand dune. On the side of one such road cut, there were swallow nests dug into the soft sand, giving it a swiss-cheese-like appearance. The swallows were overhead chasing horseflies in a confusing dance of circles. There had to be at least 150 swallows in the chase that would periodically swoop down to the precise hole where their respective nests were to feed their chicks.
I later stopped at the junction of the road to Northway, an airport that was part of the Northwest Staging Route during World War Two. I had a bite to eat there, then decided to stay at their camp site instead of another one 7 miles down the road that I had originally planned. I was treated to a model airplane show later that evening using the Alaska Highway as the runway. A young girl who seemed perhaps 15 years old was on the controls of one plane and she had a five year old hanging on to her coat tail, craning his neck in trying to keep up with the whining plane overhead. The propeller driven plane ran on a liquid fuel mixture that supplied the one piston engine. Landing the plane took mastery. She was entirely skilled in judging the right amount of speed versus the wind that blew across the highway. She also had to figure in the passing vehicles of various sizes to be avoided, all of which added to our excitement and to the number of fly-by's. Never a dull moment on the AK Hwy.
The trip beyond the junction took me into Canada. On the way I saw the roadside ramp where I had camped that was by now overgrown with weeds. This gives me a funny sense of belonging in this foreign place. It is hard to explain. It is not any different than running into people that know me from the trip up. A fine example of this was that the first person to greet me into Canada in Beaver Creek knew me - very telling of the nature of my trip. Customs officer Marc Sylop took a look at me as I wrestled with my heavy rig to park it for a hands free stance, then said: "You look familiar..." He was the one who had advised me on bear behavior and on shotgun regulations to bring one into Canada. After the obligatory questions on whether I carried any weapons other than the shotgun, we filled in the paperwork for the shotgun. All the while, we caught up on my trip and the additional training that he had received since the last time we saw each other at the end of March. He was expecting his mother for a visit to stay with him, and I told him that my parents were about to arrive and that I was in a hurry to welcome my parents to Seattle in August. We all have so much in common if we only look for the similarities... By the time I set up my tent after dinner in a mosquito infested campground, it was 1:00 am and it had been a three flat tire day.
In Beaver Creek, I found Carmen at Buckshot Betty's. Constable Ray Warner had been transferred to the Whitehorse RCMP, so I would look for him later. I tried a different strategy between Beaver Creek and Kluane Wilderness Village: I would start late, then continue to ride as the sun descended near the horizon. The cool of the evening would be better for my riding performance, so I thought. I had to cover 84 miles that day. I did not calculate into the equation that the bugs like the cool as well. They all came out from under the weeds and bushes where they were hiding to feed on me and the poor wildlife that also took advantage of the cool to forage. I saw one black bear on the road side as well as a moose before I pulled into my destination at 01:00 in the morning. Carl Green greeted me, giving me all the scoop about the goings on since I passed through in March. I slept in until 11:00, then found John Trout and Scully, two old wise men who define that location in my mind. It was rewarding to spend time with them again, leaving with promises to bring Nancy in an RV the next time up this way...
On the way to Destruction Bay, I passed through road construction with gravel sections. Huge work engines were on the road with wheels taller than me. I felt puny little next to these behemoths. The long push the day before had taken its tall, so in Destruction Bay I decided to camp. I found a small patch of grass right next to the Kluane Lake and went to sleep to the sounds of water lapping on the shore.
There was more construction beyond Destruction Bay where they were also putting in a giant culvert, the biggest one in this section of the highway they said. As I approached the construction site, the flagger, a young lady turned her signal from SLOW to STOP just at the last moment. "I thought you could make it, but I guess not," she said as a giant dumper truck crossed the road behind her. "Well, in that case, I want a picture of me and my rig next to one of those," I said as I pointed at the truck as it sped toward the construction. She hesitated, then relented. I set my bike near the path of the passing trucks and waited for one to return while she held the camera. The driver knew exactly what we were trying to do, bringing the front wheel of the truck near my rig to pose from his high perch. It looked as if the wheel taller than me would squish my bike to a pancake, "don't run over my bike" I whimpered...
I raced on along the Kluane Lake to cross the bridge over the Slims River. The road was adorned by wild flowers along the edges, perhaps due to the salt and chemicals from the winter road treatments creating a special soil environment for them. I did not see any Dall sheep on the Sheep Mountain as this is the season for them to climb to higher pastures. In March, I had seen them on the slopes of the mountain.
Beyond the "No Sheep" Mountain, I encountered a bigger nastier kind of mosquitoes that had a brownish color to their wings and were not striped on their bellies like those in Alaska. Perhaps I was imagining this, but they became pests like you would not believe! They were swarming all over me despite the DEET that I had sprayed on my exposed skin. I was now rising on the road away from the lake toward the Bear Creek Summit. The hill was a slow burner on the legs - I wanted to get off and walk the bike, but if I got off the mosquitoes settled down. If I kept riding at the mile or two an hour faster pace than my walking pace, then they swarmed around, but they did not land on me as often. So I killed myself up the hill, sweating profusely, becoming ever more attractive to the bugs...
During my fight with the bugs while climbing, I noticed work crews on the road with me. These trucks were belly dumpers, of the 18 wheeler type. They sped along the dirt road with me for perhaps 10 miles or so. About the time I started wondering where they were heading, I came to another flagger. She told me that I would have to get on the pilot car that would take me through the couple miles of construction. "I am on a human powered journey, pilot car is cheating," I said. "We did not let any of you through, we are not starting now," she said curtly. I grumbled and started taking the bags off the bike when all of a sudden I got a bright idea. I walked back to her to ask when they would quit. "I think I can wait till you quit. I would rather ride through it that's OK," I said. "seven-thirty" she said, "you got two hours." So there I was, updating my journal, then reading the second half of Mitchener's Alaska (I had torn and passed the first half to Jeremy on the mountain once I had read it). Needless to say, there was a lot of self slapping in between short conversations with Barb, the flagger, and the driver of the pilot car each time she returned with another queue of RV's from the other side...
I cruised down the other side of Bear Creek Summit for over five miles at an average of 35-40 mph. This was the same hill that had taken me hours to climb while pushing my bike up when I left Haines Junction back in March. I stopped at the Bear Creek Lodge that "Big Jim," a truck driver from Alaska had recommended to me earlier. I camped there in a tent for two nights to rest. I had pushed for five days in a row.
In the short distance of five miles from the lodge to Haines Junction, I saw a coyote, and a beaver swimming in a creek that went under the highway. The beaver slipped down the beaver dam it had built toward the lodge in the middle of the pond that it had created. I started seeing young and mature bald eagles as well... The proprietor of the Glacier View Inn recognized me when I stopped in to use their phone, telling me that I was famous since everyone read the article in the Yukon News. She sent me off with a giant oatmeal-raisin cookie.
Two miles out of Haines Junction, I ran into Dick and Els, a Dutch couple that had been on the road, I think they said, for three years. It was interesting that when I told them of our trip up to Denali and back, they brought up Göran, comparing me to him. I told them the rest of the story describing the tribute and the non-profit. Dick gave me the name and address of a veterinarian in the town of Los Andes just east of Santiago, Chile. "All bicyclists worth their salt stop there and stay there" he said, calling the place "la casa de cyclista (sp?)"
The stretch to Whitehorse from Haines Junction was an especially dry one, with no service stations. After 28 miles, I stopped at the last available RV Camp to shower, calling it the day. The next day, I would fill up my 10 liter water sack on the trailer as well as the 3 liter bladder in the backpack. I also took along three bottles of energy drinks. I went through the whole lot of them, leaving only a little in the 10 liter sack. I had covered 76 miles by the time I pulled into the Airport Chalet. I checked in for two nights for I needed a place to stash my rig while taking care of business.
I had been riding with short sleeves in a head wind. My eyes were feeling swollen, and arms sunburned. The cool water soothing my hot skin in the shower felt like a treat.
Tomorrow, I will take off after the CBC interview, and I will ride about 40 miles to Jake's Corner. There I should take a long break, feed and cool down. Then I can push another 35 miles or so to Johnson's Crossing to set up my tent in the RV facility there. Johnson's Crossing is at the western end of Teslin Lake where I had seen the first of the migrating trumpeter swans on their way up the Northern Flyway...
I expect to be in Watson Lake in 5 days, after which I will drop south on the Cassiar Highway. My next post may be at the southern terminus of the Cassiar, in Telkwa where Karen Neff and her husband John run a bicycle camp. Another example that this is a small world: I met Karen on my way to Prince George early on the trip in February. She told me of their camp on the Highway 16 after listening to my story, staying in touch since. I am looking forward to seeing her and meeting her husband in another two-three weeks.
So, making progress toward home: I covered 840 miles so far, more to follow...
Best from Whitehorse,
Tuesday - July 22, 2003
I am in Watson Lake now. Tomorrow, I will start riding down the Cassiar Hwy (Rt-37) due south. Then I will turn due east on Yellowhead Hwy (Rt-16) toward Prince George where I will anticipate arriving in another 10-12 days.
Since Whitehorse, I have been riding along with two young canadian men from Ontario, Julian and Brendan, who started their journey in Whitehorse. They are heading for Prince Rupert, so I will have company on the Cassiar if I can keep up with them -- I have a loaded trailer, remember? ;-)
Yesterday, we camped in the woods across from an RV park half a mile short of the junction of the Cassiar Hwy and the Alaska Hwy. In the morning, we stacked the excess weight including the loaded trailer and the panniers out of sight behind a tree in the woods, then took an unburdened bike into town - such a freedom to be moving fast. Watson Lake is another 13 miles due east of the junction.
Beyond Whitehorse, I have been making good time on the road. I stopped a few miles out of Whitehorse to look for Ed Lockington, the plow operator who had taken me into his bunkhouse near Contact Creek east of Watson Lake in the dead of the winter. I found him, and met his family, finding out that Ed had gone to school with the son of John Trout from Kluane Wilderness Village. Small world...
I made it to Jake's Corner easily to find J. Lee, the proprietor of the restaurant there. He sent me off the next morning with a bottle of Gatorade and a loaf of banana walnut bread, promising to post the Yukon News article in his kitchen when it would come out.
Arriving at Johnson's Crossing was easy where I had a late lunch on their shaded porch that was surprisingly bug free. I had views of the long narrow bridge with low barriers on its sides that was so dizzyingly high when I had crossed it back in March. This one crosses the Teslin River where I had seen first of the migrating trumpeter swans along the breaking ice. This time I cruised over it without hesitation... Perhaps it had to do with the lack of ice or snow on the bridge top, and the contrast of the blue water beneath. Back then, it was a white bridge top with white frozen river below, which totally had screwed with my depth perception giving me the willies of vertigo as I rode my bike.
In Teslin, I found Ron and Cheryl Lockert at the Yukon Motel and RV Park. We caught up on my journey and the wedding. Cheryl was especially interested in the wedding pictures and wanted to see them while being pulled in all directions by other customer requests in their busy restaurant. They offered me a free camping site at this heavenly corner of the Alaska Hwy where the Nisutlin River meets the Teslin Lake. They live in a beautiful log home next to the Teslin Bridge, the longest steel span bridge on the Alaska Hwy. As I finished my dinner, I evesdropped on their home improvement project and I volunteered my help. It was a way to be useful, and also to have fun using different muscles, including the ones in one's brain!
The project was to get into the living room without damaging the lawn, nor the wooden floors, a three foot high and about 5 feet across slice of a cedar trunk that was to serve as a "coffee table." In the evening, we could not budge the solid chunk of wood even with its crate and with four men. In the morning, Ron and Cheryl somehow had pushed the crate onto smaller round logs that rolled easily under the crate. "The Egyptians moved tons of rock for their pyramids this way, we surely can move this piece of wood, why not," would say Ron. So on we went with the careful process of laying planks under the logs in order not to damage the lawn and to keep them easily rolling. Soon we had built a ramp to the side door of the living room, from which we pushed the log onto blankets that provided the gliding action across the polished wood floor. A few more jussling efforts got the blanket out from under the log and there it was: a perfectly uneven geometry of a cross section of a cedar log, displaying all its rings in glorious colors, fitting nicely into the ambiance of the room and adding character to it. A well chosen heavy addition that probably was not going to move from its place often! By then it was two in the afternoon; Ron gave me a cold can of pop, then sent me on my way with a donation.
I intended to get to Swift River, a distance of 60 miles that day, but I stopped around 6:00 pm next to a lake at about 30 miles. The best of the water front that one would like to enjoy, only to be driven into the tent because of the bugs. The black flies are starting to come out as well which are just annoying more than anything else, as they are persistent little pests that get in my eyes and my ears. Imagine looking ahead through your sunglasses when a fly finds its way inside your glasses, and starts to walk around on the inside of the glass right in your field of vision. Now THAT is annoying as hell, which requires me to stop what I am doing, reach in to crush the little bugger.
Talking of bugs, how would you like to have a wasp fly down the neck of your shirt as you are cruising downhill at 35 mph? Well, the wasp that was minding its own business buzzing along was probably as shocked as I was when suddenly a sweaty chest slammed into him broadside. In its panic, it stung the intruding chest, then it got shaken off the shirt to fall a little deeper down near the nipple of its host. The wasp probably thought "I am still furious by this rude intrusion into my peaceful existence," and stuck again. By then I had slammed the brakes coming to a stop with no way of avoiding the stings, pulled the shirt away from my chest while leaning forward where the wasp dropped away from my chest and I pinched it to stop it from stinging again... The two stung spots are still smarting when I rub them.
The next day, I arrived at Swift River at mid afternoon, asking for Nick Urban, the rock shop owner, whose wife managed the restaurant there. Nick had hung the Yukon News article from March in his room, and was looking forward to the news from my trip. He had received my postcard, and would look forward to the next article in the paper. He called ahead to Rancheria another 23 miles up the road to reserve me a camp site telling them to bill him. A fine gesture of contribution to the journey in addition to the meal for which he would not take money. I did not make it to Rancheria that evening when the headwinds came at me furiously mixed with heavy rain as I rolled past the Continental Divide - all waters on this side would now flow into the McKenzie River basin heading to the Arctic Ocean, not the Yukon River heading for the Bering Sea. When I arrived at an RV park called Walker's Continental Divide 11 miles short of Rancheria, their flags were fluttering stiff toward the west defying gravity. It was time to set up my tent to stay out of the weather...
A 72 mile push from there brought Julian, Brendan and me to our present spot. We had lunch on the driveway of the same relay tower under which I had bivied on the way up bringing back memories... We also ran into a bicyclist from Colorado who was riding up to Anchorage and in 25 days, averaging 100 miles a day, he had come this far north. Good pace, besides he was carrying his cat with him in a little cage tied on the top of his load behind him!
I have a little project for tonight. I bought letter stencils, a thin wood plank and a permanent marker to write AROUND-N-OVER.ORG on two pieces of planks. I would tie these on either side of the trailer, then I can point people to it instead of trying to spell the web site. I should have chosen an easier site name perhaps???
Best from Watson Lake,
Archive of Dispatches:
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