Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Forest Fires and Burning Muscles, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     After taking my time at the N.O.C. to enjoy a cup of coffee and another shower, I said my goodbyes to fellow thruhikers who shall remain there to nurse injuries, and began up the trail.
     With a late start and tough miles ahead, I figured I wouldn't go too far today. It wouldn't be an issue anyways, since my maildrop to Fontana Dam will likely be a little late.
     Tough miles it was, almost completely uphill. Going from an elevation of 1700 to over 5000 was no joke. I breathed heavy, and I hurt, and I loved it.
     Yes, I am beginning to really enjoy the burn. Give me rough days and tough miles, and I take it on as a challenge. How long can I push uphill before I need to take a break? How much can I take before it becomes too much?
     The best part is, the further north I go, the better I become. I can already see and feel the difference. I am able to go faster and farther, pushing myself up those hills easier and easier. It feels great!
     I climbed the long, hard Cheoah Bald Mountain today, and met some government forest workers at the top. As I made conversation, a roaring controlled forest fire was billowing smoke just a few miles away! Helicopters were dropping flaming hay bales into the selected area of forest, and these men were assigned to this mountaintop to ensure control was kept. It was an interesting experience to say the least!
     I made it to a shelter over 15 miles from N.O.C. and I won't lie, the last hill brought me to exhaustion. I pushed myself all day, almost making a game out of it. Of course, the shelter was full, and I saw no good tent sites.
     So onward I went, just another mile or two to a gap where I found a perfect little tent site near a little spring. It was perfect.
     I relaxed for a bit, ate my dinner and did my chores, and watched as the western sky turned orange, then pink, and faded to black.
     One nice benefit to those long, hard climbs is that I will sleep very well tonight. I will write in my journal, then slip into a deep, dream-filled sleep. I love it here.

N.O.C., A.T. Thruhike 2012

     I woke up yesterday morning to faint morning light. I sat, still wrapped in my sleeping bag, and watched the sunrise, in all its glory, from start to finish. It was absolutely beautiful.
     I thought to myself, I honestly can't remember the last time I just sat and watched a sunrise! I remember rushing to work, and saying "what a pretty sky"... But I cannot recall just sitting there, and enjoying something so simple yet so grand.
     I am realizing all these little things I have been taking for granted. We are all in this big hurry, as life slips right by.
     I put in some hard, rooty miles yesterday. I got to enjoy the views from yet another tower, high atop a mountain. I also witnessed a forest fire, in the distance. I am not sure if it was controlled, or a wild one.
     I was starting to get sore, from all the roots and rocks. No injuries, just pretty sore.
     I came to a bit of civilization, nestled between mountains. The Nantahala Outdoor Center stood before me, like an omen. The timing couldn't be more perfect.
     I resupplied on fuel at the Outfitters. Bought myself a much deserved Mr. Pibb, and reserved a bunk bed at the hostel.
     It was a nice, cheap way to recoup. I took a hot shower (two actually), did some laundry, and then joined some fellow thruhikers, Runner and Saint, at the restaurant for a huge burger and an ice cold beer. Boy was it a nice reward!
     I slept well, and am all packed and refreshed, ready to begin north once again. I have some really big climbs just ahead. I am going to force myself to take it easy the next two days, so I don't arrive before my maildrop does. My maildrop is a box containing the food I intend to carry through the Great Smokey Mountains. I can't wait to experience them.

Monday, March 26, 2012

North Carolina, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     I keep on walking these hills, rain or shine. North Carolina is certainly different than hiking Georgia... The elevation is higher, but there are less dips. So basically, there is more flat miles, but steeper and bigger climbs.
     And more rewarding climbs, at that! I climbed a steep section yesterday to the top of Albert Mountain, which had nice views and even a tower to climb. It also marked my 100th mile on the A.T.!
     Today I climbed several nice mountains, including a couple I had to take a side trail to the summit. Siler Bald, for example, required a steep climb off the A.T. but was so very worth it! At around 5,250 ft it offered 360 degree views.
     Wayah Bald was a long, continuous climb! The top housed the John B. Byrne Memorial Tower. I had an amazing view of mountains I have climbed, as well as the Great Smokies where I am headed! I could even make out Clingmans Dome, the tallest point on the A.T.!
     I have become separated from Coffee2go and Kdoe, and have been hiking alone mostly. Although I did run into them recently, we are camped in the same area tonight, and I am glad to see my friends are ok and moving right along in great spirits!
     I have also run into a couple other friends who started the trail before me, and I didn't think I would see. Trail named "Maps" and "Devining Rod", they look like they are doing well and having fun! It was nice running into them.
     It's been such a nice experience so far, doing the trail. A dream come true really. It is challenging, and is certainly not for everyone. But on a night like tonight, as I stargazed from my ridge, I feel like I am right where I am supposed to be.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Welcome To North Carolina! A.T. Thruhike 3/24/12

      After a nice breakfast included in our stay in the small countryside of Northern Georgia, we packed up our gear and food to begin heading back to the trail. The weather called for severe storms, but Coffee2go, Kdoe and I did not come here to dwell in town.
     My pack was on the heavy side, with a good supply of food. But overall I am using very lightweight gear so a little extra food does not hurt, and will allow me to push a little farther without needing to leave the trail for resupplying.
     We got a hitch almost immediately from a very friendly young girl with a strong southern accent, named Tex. It was a pleasure to get a ride from such an interesting character. She was an art student, and the car was filled with nice paintings! She had a knack for painting mushrooms and planets. Unfortunately her school does not consider it to be art, but it all looked nice to me!
     Back on the trail, we took some pictures at Dicks Creek Gap, then proceeded to climb.
     It was rainy and windy. Honestly, I very much enjoyed trudging through mud and puddles today! It added a sense of ruggedness and adventure that I can never fully saturate.
     We felt so energetic and refreshed that we pushed right along the trail. It felt like my first day, full of energy and a smile you couldn't slap off my face.
     After a lunch break at one of the shelters, we pushed up and over several good humps. No real large climbs, but several smaller ones in succession.

     And then it came...

     Standing before me, a crooked tree in the middle of a clearing... I made it to North Carolina! I have officially completed the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail...
     I cannot begin to express the excitement. In less than a week, including the Approach Trail, I have made it through the first state.
     I have dreamed of this moment. I have seen the pictures of the tree, and read of it in countless books. And here it was.
     A tear came to my eye and I leaped in the air, letting out a yelp. Not because I ever questioned my ability. No, it was because I have imagined this moment for the longest time! I still can not believe I am out here, doing this.
    After posing for some pictures and laughing it up with new friends, we decided to set up camp there near Bly Gap.
It was such an amazing, epic moment, that it just made sense to stay and take it all in. Besides, the forecast called for storms, and it was clear for the time.
     We ate our dinners, and it began to downpour hard. I was very thankful to have my tent set up! 
     The rain let up close to sunset, and a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky.
     Goodbye, Georgia. It was a great journey, and I would love to return someday. But for now, I have a trail to walk.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Dicks Creek Gap, AT Thruhike

So I have made it to Dicks Creek Gap here on the Appalachian Trail. 70 miles in, 80 miles from my start on the approach. I have been hiking without a day off for almost a week. I started in pouring rain, then marched on through humid and hot, been met with pure fog, then back to rain. And I wouldn't have it any other way. After a lot of great climbs over a few days, it was great to have my friend Brent join for a while. He and I got to summit Blood Mountain, which was an enjoyable climb. A tall mountain with great views, and a very cool and old stone shelter on top! The weather was just so absolutely beautiful. We descended steeply into Neels Gap, and I fed on a burrito and enjoyed an easy fill of water. While some hikers choose to stay in the hostel or cabins located here, I felt it was to early in the trip for such luxeries, and I felt eager to camp. So we pressed on to a nice tentsite just a mile or two past. I awoke that morning to the sound of yelling and the banging of pots. I emerged quickly to discover a bear in our camp! It had come close, and was not the least bit afraid of us at first! I began assisting in scaring it away, and with myself and a few other neighboring campers, we managed to drive it from our camp. I managed to snap a quick photo as well of the amazing creature. Brent and I had a lazy morning, which was nice since we hadn't hung out much in a while. It was fun to just stick around camp for an extra hour or two, take time with breakfast and whatnot. We enjoyed some pine tea, and shared some laughs. We had a great day of hiking, and at Tesnatee Gap, I watched him take a hitch into town. I continued on to a campsite near Low Gap Shelter. It was the largest concentration of campers I had seen yet. I enjoyed socializing with many new people. The next day it was foggy and moist. I much appreciated the break from the sun! I easily put in over 15 miles in this enjoyable weather. It was soothing on my sun burned skin. I woke to rain the following morning. It was nice to lay in my tent, listening to the water hitting my tent. Rather soothing in a way. Eventually I emerged, quickly packing my gear, and just using my tarp to sit and enjoy my breakfast. I was low on food. Thankfully, I just had 11 miles or so to a gap that would bring me to town to resupply. I got to hike with a few other thruhikers I had met, "Coffee-To-Go", a friendly medical student from Germany, and "KDoe", an interesting Ohio man who is using the trail to find himself. It was an exhausting day, climbing a couple peaks in full rain gear, with cold wind blowing. I had to push hard to keep up with my hikers friends who hungered for town. We had agreed to all share a room in town, so that we could refresh on the cheap. After a few hard, fast paced miles of foggy and rainy trail, we came to Dicks Creek Gap. We took a ride into town from a woman named Sally. Kind, she told us a lot about life in Northern Georgia. The people around here have proven to be of the friendliest thus far! Eventually we arrived in Hiawassee, and it was a great time. I showered for the first time since my start, resupplied in a real grocery store, ate a wonderful meal, and even soaked in a hot tub! I also threw my clothes in the laundry, and aired out all my gear. I really enjoyed getting to know these guys today. After meeting many various hikers, it was nice to disperse in a small group to make some genuine friends. I look forward to walking with them at points down the trail! With our gear sprawled across the floor, we are about to sleep, with a busy morning of packing and hitting the trail. After a nice breakfast of course! It is supposed to rain for the next few days, followed by some nice weather. Tomorrow is supposed to be pretty nasty in particular. Fingers crossed it doesn't slow me down.

On Tray Mountain... 3/21/12

So it has been just so surreal thus far. I still can't believe I am really out here! Tonight I am camped in my tent near Tray Mountain Shelter, around 4200'.
     Everything has been going very well. I feel great, and believe it or not no blisters! I have witnessed a few other hikers removing their shoes, revealing mounds of tape and band aids. The only pain I am suffering from is a bit of sunburn. I received a little "trail magic" when some folks decided to give me a bottle of sun block... So kind!
     A very large black bear came into my camp the other night near Neels Gap! My friend Brent and two other hikers had to chase it off! It didn't seem to be very afraid of us!
     I must keep this post short and sweet, but will probably update tomorrow night, as I will be in the town of Hiawasee, sharing a room with a couple other hikers. One is a guy from Germany, with the trail name "Coffee-To-Go".
     A few peaks tomorrow and then my first chance to recharge the batteries, do some laundry, and take a shower! Then its back on the trail!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Woody Gap!

     So far so very good on the Appalachian Trail! Having the time of my life! It's hard climbs and brutal weather at times, sure, but there is nothing I want to do more right now than exactly this! As I push through Georgia, I am met with some very breathtaking views and some awesome hiking! The woods here are very unique, with tall hardwoods, red clay and waxy green leaves.
     The Approach Trail was so worthwhile, and I am very glad I did it. It was pouring out, but I had rain gear on and you couldn't wipe the smile off my face! The climb was steep up the falls but very impressive to look at. Making it to the top was one of many small accomplishments.
     Eventually, I made it to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the A.T.!!! My excitement could not be contained as I signed the book, and took my first steps past the very first white blaze... I was walking into a dream come true...
     As I walked, I was almost in tears with excitement and I daydreamed about the many amazing people in history who have walked this very dirt. I am actually doing it!
     I had planned out an itinerary prior to the trip to ease my anxiety. As soon as I made it to the first shelter I intended to camp at, that itinerary was crumpled and became fire starter. When I got there it was only 2 pm! And I felt great! So, I kept walking north...
     Eventually I came to a beautiful campsite that looked like something out of a painting. Babbling brook, beautiful flora, the works. So that is where I spent my first night.
     Three fellows joined me at my spot. They are hiking for a week or two, and were really friendly. One of them, dubbed "Hot Wing", had previously attempted the trail in 2009. He dropped out from drinking bad water though. I could tell from his eyes a part of him was not going to want to get off trail in 2 weeks...
     The next day, today, was full of interesting characters. I met a couple guys, "Big Brother and Little Brother" from Australia. I met a woman from Germany. I walked with a young man from North Carolina for some time.
     One of the most interesting one was somebody I met on the Approach Trail, only a few miles in. "Meandering Snail" was his name... It took home 4 days to get just a couple miles in!
     I past many interesting folk, and loved talking to them, getting their story. It is sad that many of them I may not see.   again.
     I am making good time. Much faster than I expected! My original plan was to go slow the first few days, but I loved the hike so much I kept going! Today I put in 17.5 miles! I am a little sore, but not bad at all and loving this so much.
     I made it to Woody Gap today, and am camped just a little past it. I am very excited, because a good friend is coming here to meet me and hike with me for a few days! He is coming tonight and tomorrow I climb Blood Mountain, a tall one I am really looking forward to, and then I will be hitting Neels Gap, a big milestone early on! I am hoping to push right to there, to avoid camping in the area before it which has some serious problem bears.
     To cap off tonight, I just want to say again that I am truly loving this experience and I love all my friends and family who without them I could not be here!
     Signing off and proceeding to enjoy camp!

Friday, March 16, 2012

A.T. Weather App

Check out "ATSheltercast"
     So a fellow 2012 thruhiker has turned me on to this nice little weather app designed specifically for the trail. After playing around with it, I think this will be a go-to app for quick weather updates. Very simple and to the point, I simply enter in my mileage, or what shelter I am near, and I will get the forcasted weather for that spot. This will prove handy for quick and easy weather without burning up my battery.
     Thank you Shutter for putting this together!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hello from Atlanta, Georgia!

     So here it is, I have traveled to Georgia. There is no turning back now...
     I arrived this afternoon via plane to Atlanta. I was immediately greeted by nice warm weather. Taking the train gave me a quick tour of the city. It seems exciting and fresh to me!
     I had a chance to walk around a bit today, and to soak in some of Atlanta. I figure I might as well make the most of the city while I am here. Soon I will be seeing very little pavement or billboards. Before I know it I will be taking a long, long walk through the "green tunnel".
     I have the privilege of staying with an awesome and generous friend here in Atlanta. I look forward to seeing him when he has some free time from work. He may even walk the first couple days with me on the trail!
     At the least, he has offered me a place to stay, and even a ride to the trail. It means a lot to me, I can't think of a better way to start off than with a friend.
     I did a little research, and I see that there is a good outfitters not more than a 40 minute walk from here, and a few grocery choices just minutes away. At some point I will probably hit these up for fuel, supply, and first couple days of food.
     My gear should arrive soon, either today or tomorrow. I shipped it through UPS, because it was cheaper and also easier than bringing it on the plane. Hopefully it all arrives in one piece!
     So, I have to say, I have all sorts of mixed feelings right now. It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone in Maine, and just a few days later, to loved ones in Mass. I know what I am in for, this will be a very testing journey. It just all seems to be hitting me now. I have dreamed of this chance for many years. And that chance has come.
     No matter how far I make it, or what happens, this is a privilege I will not take for granted. I will walk the trail as best I can, and the trail will in turn give me a journey I will not soon forget.
     For now, I am looking forward to seeing a good friend and hopefully checking out Atlanta a bit. Live life to the fullest, because today only happens once!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Franconia Ridge, 3/10/12-3/11/12

"Final warm up before the Appalachian Trail..."

     Saying goodbye to loved ones, celebrating my new chapter of life, packing away my belongings, and handing over the keys to my everything... The reality that I am soon to be embarking on a very long and difficult journey has begun setting in.
     In all my preparations, one has stood out in importance; Hiking. I have been trying to walk and hike as often as possible, to prepare myself for my longest trek to date. I admit that it isn't always convenient. I have managed to push myself to walk to work early mornings, and I take up almost any opportunity to walk trails with friends.
     This past weekend I had the opportunity to do one final hike before the big one. My friend and I took on a strenuous hike up Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains. A steep and challenging hike as is, our trip was made much more challenging by sub-zero temps, deep snow and slick ice.
     After a scenic drive to the trail head, my good friend Shawn and I begin our steady climb. I equipped myself with only the gear I will be starting out with on my thruhike. The only exceptions to this are my boots, since I am using trail runners for most of my thruhike; And snowshoes, as they were necessary for this trip but won't be for the thruhike. I am figuring that if my gear will work for me in this weather and environment, then it shall work just fine for anything the AT will throw at me.
     The climb begins at a moderate but consistent incline. It is cold on the first day, but we barely notice it with our high level of activity. In fact, I was sweating and hot, and stripped down to base layers for the initial stretch. We were making good time, until the grade became significantly steeper and very slick. I was forced to strap on the snowshoes in order to grip the ice. The increasing difficulty of the terrain began paying off with breathtaking views almost immediately however. Seeing the tall mountains we were heading towards pushed us on.
     After passing the AMC Greenleaf Hut, We begin on the Greenleaf Trail. First we dip into the trees, then begin climbing sharply out of the treeline and into the alpine zone. Emerging from the trees, we are greeted with stinging winds. I quickly layer up to face the winds. Dark clouds in the distance signal incoming fog and possible precipitation, so we attempt to climb a little faster.
     Climbing Mount Lafayette is a steep and strenuous undertaking on any day. Today it is made that much more difficult by the icy windswept conditions. One area in particular, a clean sheet of ice at a very steep incline, requires my most careful attention as I slowly climb. One slip and it could be a long time before I stop.
     With my legs screaming, and my lungs still adjusting to the thinned air, we reach the summit of Mount Lafayette! At 5,249 feet in elevation, We feel as if we are at the absolute top of the world! The views are breathtaking, overlooking the vast green and white blanket that is the White Mountains in Winter.
Shawn and I on the summit of Mount Lafayette
Views from Lafayette
     With temperatures below 0 and very high winds, we couldn't stand still to soak it all up for long. We begin descending the opposite side of the mountain to find cover from the wind. Still in shock from the unquestionable beauty, we consult our map and watch and decide we must press on in order to make our destination before sunset. We snack, layer, and begin walking along the sharp ridge line.
Franconia Ridge
     The ridge line follows along several peaks, and consistently keeps us in an alpine zone, which essentially means we are high enough in elevation where it is to windy for trees or other tall plants to exist. This special climate makes one feel as if they are walking in another world, or hiking in an arctic place.
     Aside from the high winds and cold, and the burning sensation in my legs, I am in absolute bliss to be hiking along this ridge! The sense of accomplishment, the views, the unique terrain... this is why I love to hike.
     We continue along the ridge, eventually bagging Mount Lincoln. The ridge trail proceeds past, and we partake in a climb to the top of Mount Haystack. Our third peak of the trip, one we will ascend a second time before our trip is finished.
Summiting Haystack
     The sun is getting low in the sky, and our intended destination is a tent site on the side of the next peak along the ridge, Mount Liberty. Without haste, we begin towards Liberty, this time dipping back within the treeline.
Mount Liberty
     In some ways, I would say this was the hardest part of the trip. The trail leading off of Haystack was difficult. Steep and deep with snow, it meandered through low sharp branches that hung in the trail under the weight of snow and ice.
     We were also pretty exhausted at this point. Cold, hungry, and tired, we hiked this difficult stretch that felt it went on forever. Eventually we did emerge to the sign that pointed to our trail, Liberty Springs. We were so glad to see it! We scrambled down the steep path, and immediately set up camp.
Sunset from our camp
     With the sun setting and temperatures dropping, we waste little time setting up. We began cooking our dinner, but began to feel cold, so we took our hot meals to our sleeping bags and enjoyed refueling with hot beef stew and buttery potatoes.
cooking dinner
     A very cold night it was, our breath would freeze moments after leaving our mouths. We stayed warm though, thanks to layering and remaining in our toasty sleeping bags.
     The next morning we had our hot oatmeal and packed up camp. We proceeded towards Mount Liberty. About halfway there, we stop to warm ourselves with some hot tea. We then slack packed to the summit of Mount Liberty. Emerging once again from the trees, we are graced with yet another stunning peak with rewarding views beyond imagination.
the view toward Flume Mountain
     We spot Mount Washington in the distance. At 6,288 feet, Washington is the tallest mountain in the Northeast. It's pure white top, ringed with clouds, towers over all in the region.
Washington in the distance
     After loading up our packs, we make the long hard climb back to Haystack, enjoying the warming sun. The coming warmth of the day softens the snow considerably, and at one point my hiking partner fell through the crust. He was waist deep before he was able to stop himself!
     Enjoying the views one last time from this peak, we then proceed down Rolling Waters Trail. A long trot down the mountain side, following alongside a ravine and frozen waterfalls. At times, the only reasonable way to navigate our way down was to sit and slide down the slick ice! Usually this went well, and was actually fun.

     In the end and looking back, this hike was more than enough preparation for the Appalachian Trail. It was physically demanding, and certainly colder than anything I would actually expect to see on my thruhike. If I could handle this, I can handle the A.T.... Then again, it is going to be a unique challenge in that I will have to wake up, and do it again. And then again. And so on...
     I feel I am ready. It will be difficult, and I think the biggest challenge will be missing people. The destination is the journey, though, and I intend on enjoying my long hike. Hopefully, I will make it as far as this ridge, so I can climb to it once more. Just going to keep following the white blazes north....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hiking the Appalachian Trail This Year! -2012-

     So let it be known, this shall be a year I will not soon forget. I will soon be setting forth on a long and challenging adventure. This will surely be one of the most challenging, yet also most rewarding, things I will have ever done.
     In just a few short weeks, I will be making an attempt at thruhiking the Appalachian Trail. I will be starting on Springer Mountain in Georgia, and heading northbound, following the white-blazed Appalachian Trail all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
     This journey will have me walking over 2,184 miles of trail, not including the approach to the start, descent from the end, nor the miles of side trails I may decide to embark. 
     By the end of the trip, I will have taken over 5 million steps. This journey may take me 4 to 7 months to complete. I have a deadline, so I will be attempting to complete the trail in under 6 months.
     In the course of this trip, I will hike through the following states:
GEORGIA 75 miles
TENNESSEE 71 miles
VIRGINIA 550 miles
MARYLAND 41 miles
NEW JERSEY 72 miles
NEW YORK 88 miles
VERMONT 150 miles
NEW HAMPSHIRE 161 miles 
MAINE 281 miles

     The trail itself is a strenuous one in most places. Following the Appalachian Mountain Range, the trail ascends and descends many major peaks over very steep and rocky terrain. 
     The demands of the trail will include the physical, mental, and emotional challenges. Physically, the trail may prove to be very brutal at times. I expect many difficulties, since it will require great stamina and will. There is also the risk of injury. I expect my feet to take a beating, but I will do my best to take extra preventive care. There is also risk of stress to ankles, knees, back, and other areas. I am taking a very light load to help prevent this.
     Mentally, I feel I am prepared. This has been a dream of mine for some time, and I am well aware of the rigors involved. However, it will certainly be a huge undertaking, and should I succeed in maintaining that focus on my goals, I will prove my abilities to myself in the face of adversities.
     The trail will also present emotional challenges. There is no denying that my enthusiasm may suffer to a degree when I am faced with being cold, dealing with days and days of bad weather, being sore, and so on. There will be bad days. I must accept this, but hopefully I can remain positive, and never lose faith in my own abilities.
      I will also face homesickness, I am sure. I love my friends and family. There are many things I am going to miss out on while on the trail. Granted, I will not be alone in a sense. For one, it is a popular trail. I will see many other hikers, and probably meet some really great characters out there. I also have good friends who hope to join me on the trail here and there. But, there will be long stretches of hiking where I will be alone, and while that sounds inviting to an extent, I will miss those I care about and that will pose yet another challenge I must overcome.
     I do intend on updating this site from time to time, so feel free to follow along. I feel this will be an adventure like no other I have experienced, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts and experiences here!
     This will be my longest, hardest challenge to date. It is a dream come true. At the end of next week, I will leave my home in Maine. A few days later, and I will be checking out Atlanta. Soon after that, I will begin walking, one foot in front of the other, all the way to Maine.

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