Week 15 – Delaware Water Gap to Port Clinton, PA
We start this week’s adventure in the nice, comfortable, warmth of my Dad’s home, surrounded by those we love. Shortly, we will have to say goodbye, and we will hit the trail once more. Before we know it, we’ll be hitting Rocksylvania (aka Pennsylvania)! The temperatures are giving us a run for our money. Let the fun begin!
Day 99 (time – never ending, 0 miles, nice and toasty degrees)
Since this is our last weekend together, we have nothing planned! I woke this morning, after snuggling with my love a bit first of course, and made my way downstairs for a cup of coffee. The kittens are now at a shelter where, soon, they will have their forever homes. So there’s no kittens to watch outside (even though I found myself frequently checking the back porch). So, with nothing else to do, I plopped myself down by the TV and vegged.
The rest of the family joined us, as we chatted and spent valuable time together, for the remainder of the day. I helped my dad cover up the pool for the season, then we all went out for a nice family dinner. After a nice day together, we ended with a hockey game on TV.
Sometimes, it’s nice just to sit back and be with those you love. Sometimes, you don’t need anything else to entertain yourself. Sometimes you just need those days to relax and recharge. Tomorrow we will run a few errands, but until then, today, I will just BE. Wrapped in the arms of the man I love most, warm, safe, and at home, I will sleep sound tonight.
Day 100 (time – running out, 0 miles, warm enough degrees)
Today is another relaxing day. But first, we have a mission! Ratatouille just got a new pack in the mail and she has to drop her old one off at an REI. So off we go!
I had never been to an REI before. What a store! While Ratatouille took care of business, my parents, Frankie and I strolled around the store. I chatted with one of the sales people for a while about the trail. He, too, had done the trail a few years ago. How cool! He was VERY excited to meet us and hear about our adventures as well!
After walking around a bit, we head home. I had an old friend that was planning on swinging by to say hi! Time for a flashback. . .
The fog clears and an image of a little girl with long, blondish/brown hair, running and playing in her backyard, emerges into view. Giggling, she runs to a fence along the back third of her yard. What’s that? The little four year old curiously approaches the fence as a little boy, close to the same year in age, wanders up to the fence in his yard. Their eyes meet as they peer at each other through the fence. And thus, a lifelong friendship is born. . .
Jump ahead several years . . . Those two best of friends spend every waking hour of every day playing baseball, basketball, football and any other sport together. They are joined by two other boys in the neighborhood, brothers Wyton and Shamar, who grow to be equally as good of friends. The four children grow together for years, depending on each other, loving each other like brothers (I say brothers because I was one of the guys back then, and to this day, still am)! But the two children, myself and Charlie, they remain the closest. . .
Present day . . . Only a few months ago, a name popped up on my Facebook notifications. Who is this? I check out their page and, to my astonishment, it’s my old childhood friend Charlie!! Barely able to contain my excitement, I click the yes button on the screen, accepting his friend request, so hard I thought I may have broken my mouse! I have been wanting to reach out to him for YEARS but never had a way to! Thank God he found me! Now, today, he is coming over with his wife, after not seeing him for MANY years!!!! I CAN’T WAIT!
So we got home and relaxed in the living room, watching TV as I eagerly awaited the doorbell. I watched the minutes tic by, closer and closer to the time he would arrive. I felt like that excited and curious little girl all over again. What will he look like now? I hope his wife accepts me! Has he changed? It’s been so long, will we still be as close?
All those questions raced through my head. My mom got up for a minute. “He’s here!” She hollered back from the hallway. I shot off the couch and ran to the door. As I opened it, there was Charlie!! I lept at him, giving him the biggest hug ever and he laughed and returned that hug equally as strong! Finally reunited with my all time best friend! So excited to finally see him again, after our embrace, I quickly hugged his wife, Jessica, a woman I had never seen in my life. I was so grateful she was comfortable with him coming over to see me, I just had to hug her too. In a way, I was thanking her just as much as I was him for our reunitement!
Luckily for me, she turned out to be an AWESOME person! For several hours we chatted, Charlie and I laughed about the old days, sharing stories from our youth, Charlie and Jessica got to meet Frankie and Ratatouille, and we got to hear all about their life and their children. With the question burning in my mind, as it has been for years, I asked Charlie, “How Is Wyton doing? Do you ever see him?”
This has been a question on my mind since I left my old stomping grounds, 14 years ago! I had seen Shamar more recently over the years, but I had not seen or heard from Wyton since I left for college. My heart begged to know he was ok. He, too, is one of my dearest friends from my youth. To this day, Charlie, Wyton, and Shamar are responsible for making me the person I am today! Without them, I may not be such a huge athlete or have the street smarts I do!
“He’s doing ok. I get to see him every once and awhile,” Charlie replied. I then learned Wyton was also on Facebook. I quickly looked him up and found him! I am so thankful to be able to catch up with him again too!
After a long night of chatting and laughing, feeling like this was a dream, Charlie and Jessica had to return home. I was sorry to see them go, but SO happy to have finally met Jessica and BEYOND happy to have seen my old friend at last! Never again will it be that long before we see each other or talk! I hope they get to come visit us up in Rochester sometime when I’m done with this little adventure! They will ALWAYS be welcome!
I once again hugged them both, this time feeling as though I had known Jessica all my life, and bid them farewell! Thank you, Jessica, for being such a wonderful woman! I consider you part of the family as much as I do Charlie! You know how to reach me if you ever need to chat!
With that, we all retired for the evening. I’m so grateful Frankie was able to meet a key person in my life. Someone I have shared stories about for years! It is about time!
Day 101 (1:53 – 5pm, 7.7 miles)
Today will be one of the most difficult days I will have on the trail. I hope I am strong enough to get through it! Today, I have to say goodbye to my love, Frankie, one last time until I see him again in Georgia! I KNOW there will be tears!
I woke this morning, next to my love for the last time for a while. As we snuggled together, I ignored the urge to get up for the day, and simply enjoyed staying in his arms. The minutes raced by entirely too quickly, and we began to hear the rest of the household moving around. It was time. We had to get up and get ready for the day.
We all gathered and went to breakfast, one last time. We enjoyed a well cooked meal and chatted at the table for a while. Eventually, it was time. We had to leave and Ratatouille and I had to pack. We packed our bags and placed them in Frankie’s car. Centaur, Flicker, and the Madhatter were all waiting for us at the shelter. We had to get on our way.
I hugged my Mom and Dad one last time, thanking them for all their help and everything they’ve done for us along the way, and waved goodbye as we drove off towards Pennsylvania. As we drove along, I did my best not to think about what was to come; a long, sorrowful, parting from my lifeline and companion. My heart ached with the thought of it.
As we arrived at the parking lot where we were last picked up, I climbed from the car and started to get my gear. There was a storm rolling in, so I pulled my rain gear from my pack and put it on. It was time. I had to say goodbye. My face wrinkled as I fought to hold back the tears welling in my eyes. As I hugged Frankie goodbye, cherishing his touch and and the feel of his arms around me, I lightly sobbed into his shoulder. Once I felt strong enough, I let go, only to kiss him goodbye and crumble back into his arms in tears once more. After several rotations of this emotional parting, I finally felt somewhat strong enough and I let go for the last time. I had to be strong! I had to go on! I AM going to finish this trail!
After saying our goodbyes, I silently turned and walked away, placing one foot in front of the other, tears rolling down my cheeks, as I turned to look for his car driving away. The goodbyes are always the toughest. But the next time I see him, it will be at Springer Mountain in Georgia! With that thought, the last tear rolled off my cheek and tumbled to the ground and the dark cloud above my head turned to grey, then lifted. The next time I see him will be in Georgia! At Springer Mountain!
With a pep in my step, and my goal set, off we went! We hiked across the bridge, now entering a new state; Pennsylvania! 7 states down, 7 more to go!
The sun was shining and the weather was great, but the clouds were rolling in! Were we going to make it before the rain hit? It didn’t look like it. But we were ready.
We climbed and climbed up the mountain on the other side of the ravine. The light started to fade. But it’s not even close to sunset yet! The clouds above were darkening the skies. The winds kicked up. It’s go time!
Ratatouille and I dropped pack as fast as we could and pulled on our rain gear, just as the raindrops started to fall. We pulled our rain covers over our packs as the drops got bigger and more frequent. Suddenly, we were in a torrential downpour! We pulled our packs back on, and took off down the trail.
On and on we trudged through the rain. There were dark clouds all around us, but my spirits did not drop! I will see him again at Springer Mountain! Eventually, we caught up with our old trail friends, Centaur, Flicker, and Madhatter, and snuggled into the Kirkridge Shelter for the night. Tomorrow, we all hike off together and head for Port Clinton, Centaur’s ending point of his thru hike! Until then, let the laughter commence!
Day 102 (9am – 5:30pm, 17.2 miles)
We woke this morning and got ready to hit the trail. But we weren’t in a rush. We had plenty of time to traverse the miles we had to go today. So I took a minute to inspect an interesting sign that hung nearby on a tree.
Apparently, years ago, someone had died up here. This was a little homage to his life. With a quick respectful silent moment, I turned and started to gather my gear.
Just before I left my Dad’s house, I had received some disheartening news from the groups of southbounders a few days ahead of us. Not to long ago, between Delaware Water Gap and Port Clinton, they had been stopped by a ranger. Apparently, there was someone running around in the woods dressed as the grim reaper, and this person was harassing hikers and destroying their tents with his scythe. Great! That’s one more thing to worry about. So for this stent, I carried my knife on me, instead of in my waist belt. Mind you, I had no intention of outwardly using this knife. It was merely for my protection and the protection of my fellow hikers if need be. Flicker had the same idea!
We laughed and joked, the two of us showing our rugged backgrounds, as the rest of our crew began to feel a little more comfortable, knowing they were safe with us! They had their two bouncers; Dori and Flicker! Haha!
Off we went! On towards Port Clinton! One more day closer to the end for Centaur! At times we hiked alone, others we were together, joking and laughing, sharing stories and enjoying each others company. And the weather was beautiful, adding to our chipper moods.
We stopped for a few breaks along the way. Looking at the guidebook, Centaur brought up a great idea. “So there’s a guy that can pick us up at the Smiths Gap road and take us to his house,” Centaur informed us. “He lets people stay in his garage. That’d at least give us somewhere warm to stay.”
With the temperatures getting cold at night, this sounded like a great idea! We also wanted to stay with Centaur, knowing this is the last week we would get to see and spend time with him for a long time. This being Halloween night, we could see trick-or-treaters as well! And no grim reaper! Let’s do it!
With our resting point in mind, off we went again. Somewhere along the way, we caught up with Captain Planet and Rainbow Mama! But where was Library? We chatted and caught up with our old friends, learning the Library had taken an injury that landed him off trail. We were sorry to hear our old friend was done. The last we had seen these three was at Carter Notch Hut where we did our first work-for-stay scrubbing pans with them. At least we’d get to hike with them for a short while again!
As we continued on our path, Rocksylvania started to live up to its name! The rocks were plentiful and uneven, some not even solidly on the ground. Each step was tricky, unsure if the rock below your feet would remain there, or run for cover, causing your foot to move and you ankle to compensate by bending as far as it possibly could before breaking. Let’s just say, it was a blessing and a curse that my ankles are so flexible! I spent half my time walking on the sides of my feet!
But it was not all that bad. Besides, we had been through MUCH worse in Maine. The good part with starting with the hardest section of the entire AT is that nothing can ever be as bad as that again! Eventually, the trail did smooth out. It was not ALL rocks.
So on we all went until we neared our pick up location. We waited for Flicker, then Centaur made the call for the pick up. Mechanical Man arrived with his van and graciously gave us a ride to town where we could get some food and drink for the night. All the town’s children were running around dressed as Elsa or Spider-Man, a princess or a Ninja Turtle. Halloween is my favorite holiday, so I was happy getting the chance to see all the kids having fun!
With that, we all piled back into the van and head for his home. That night, we showered and had a nice warm place to stay. Thank you, Mechanical Man, for your wonderful hospitality and opening your home to us! Tonight we don’t freeze and we are well fed! Thank you!
Day 103 (9:31am – 5pm, 13.2 miles, 40 degrees)
After a nice warm night, we all slowly woke from our sleeping bags and started to get ourselves ready for the day. We each went through our individual daily routines and filled our water bottles until we were ready to hit the trail. We said goodby to Mechanical Man’s two wonderful Doberman dogs and piled back into his van, heading for the trail. Today was another chilly morning, but we were ready to get going.
Mechanical Man dropped us back at the trail head and wished us luck as the four of us started down the trail. Not long into our hike, we came upon Captain Planet and Rainbow Mama. We chatted and hiked with them for a while, hiking on and off with them for the day. At times, they would pass us by. Then later we would catch up and pass them. All day, we played hopscotch with these two!
Our hike was relatively simple today until we reached the dreaded Lehigh Gap! I say dreaded because SO many people have warned us about this section. Yes, it was treacherous! But not undoable! We took our time, and made it safely through this section. Quite honestly, I enjoyed the brief challenge!
Once we were down the challenging area, we only had a short while to go before we reached the George W Outerbridge Shelter, where the four of us planned to stay that night. We made it down the mountain and crossed a long bridge across a river, then had a short walk up a mountain to the shelter.
Along the way, we met another SOBO named Long John Skipper. We chatted with him for a bit, then continued along our way. He was planning on stealth camping somewhere after the shelter. I’m sure we’ll see him again soon.
Centaur made it to the shelter long before Ratatouille and I. Then Flicker arrived a little later. Her knee was feeling better, but she was still nursing some injuries. Don’t worry Flicker! It’ll get better!
We all set up our sleeping bags and got ready for the night. With the jokes and laughter rolling, each of us slowly quieted down and, one by one, we dropped into silence as sleep took us. Centaur and I were the last two to succumb to the sleep. Centaur kept chatting as my eyes slowly started to close. I could hear his voice trailing off into the distance as sleep dragged me down into the darkness. I struggled to stay awake, trying to stay engaged as I recognized my friend was still awake and looking for a companion to chat with. But eventually, sleep won that battle and off I drifted to the world of dreams. Sorry Centaur.
Day 104 (9:20am – 5:10pm, 16.8 miles, 50 degrees)
Once again, we each woke with the morning sun. We started to pack our gear silently, trying our best not to wake Flicker. Our routine over the past few weeks has been for the three of us to wake roughly at the same time, begin to pack our gear, have breakfast, then Flicker starts to stir and wakes up. Eventually, we are ready to break camp and she is just getting breakfast going. That being said, she typically gets on the trail after we leave camp. But we always see her at our destination, and then laughing and joking commences. So it all works out in the end.
Today was no different. We broke camp and left Flicker to enjoy her breakfast in peace as off we trudged up the remainder of the mountain we started yesterday. I was feeling particularly groggy this morning, so for the first time EVER on trail, I pulled out the music! Today, I needed Lamb of God to help me get up this mountain!
With heavy metal blasting in my ears, I could feel the adrenaline rush begin. Wow! I wanted to fly up this mountain! I could picture myself flying as fast as I could, skating around a hockey rink, getting ready for a big, important hockey game. But out here, there was only so fast my tiny little legs could carry me! So the adrenaline built as I tried to climb as fast as I could, never quite attaining the desired speed to release this building energy.
As we reached the top, I pulled the earbuds out of my ears and returned to the peaceful land I was engulfed in. Centaur and Ratatouille had been chatting the entire time, so I silently hiked behind them, enjoying simply listening to their stories, not feeling the need to interrupt or engage.
Once on top of this mountain, we simply had ridge walking to go for the rest of the day. The elevation gain and loss in our AWOL Guidebook was a flat line, indicating, what we thought, to be a simple day ahead. But what that line does not show is the terrain! Yea, our hike was flat, but it was along some jagged, slippery rocks! Today, we crossed knifes edge. And aptly named it was! But the views were stupendous!
Centaur, Ratatouille, and myself stopped in the middle of our climb to enjoy one of those views and take a snack break. Centaur arrived there first, followed by Ratatouille, then I brought up the rear. As I arrived, Centaur was ready to go. So off he went. Ratatouille was quick to follow. I stayed behind to finish my snack, but then, I, too, was back on my way.
As Ratatouille was leaving, she stopped mid tracks. “Dori!” She called out. “You have to come take a look at this!”
“I’m packing up right now. What is it?” I asked.
“There’s a huge praying mantis over here! You gotta see this.”
I hurried to finish packing my gear before I donned my pack to take a look. But by the time I got there, Ratatouille had moved on. I guess she got tired of waiting for me. No big deal. The praying mantis was still there, dead middle of the trail, waiting for me!
After the brief photo shoot, I slowly worked my way around the creature. As I passed him by, he quickly spun around, ready to attack at a given notice. I ignored his aggressive behavior and continued on my way. Don’t worry little guy. I’m not going to bother you.
I walked along, by myself for a while, rocking on to various metal bands such as Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and Lamb of God. Eventually, I passed Centaur, who had stopped for a brief break. In continued along my way as my pace quickened. I could see Ratatouille in the distance. I was catching up! I kept on chugging along until there was only a mile and change to go. My feet were aching and I was growing tired. My spirit was starting to wane. As I kept plodding along, alone but gaining ground, I saw a log on the side of the trail. Forget it! I’m taking a break!
I stopped dead in my tracks, pulled the earbuds from my ears, dropped pack and flopped onto the log. There I sat, comfortable, just enjoying sitting. Not long after, I saw Centaur approach.
“Wanna take a break?” I asked as he approached.
“Heck ye I do! Skoot over!” He dropped pack and plopped down next to me as the two of us just stared off into the distance. Both of us were feeling the long day. Our feet hurt. Our bodies were tired. We were, mentally, near done for the day!
We sat there chatting lightly, and occasionally just sitting in silence, until we were ready to get going once more. While he was not a metal conoscere, I shared some of my music with him, giving him examples of the music my band played when I was in college. On we hiked the remainder of our miles together, as I regailed him with tales from my days of performing with my metal band. He humored me the whole way! Thanks Centaur!
As the sun started to drop below the tree line, we neared our end point. Finally, just through the trees, we saw the shelter and turned for it. But there were no signs marking the way! Good thing we saw the shelter or we would have blown right past it!
Ratatouille was already there setting up her sleeping bag. Centaur and I dropped pack and started to do the same. Suddenly, As Ratatouille was blowing up her sleeping bag, she twisted slightly to her left and came to a screeching halt. Without moving she hollered, “Shoot! Dori! I think I just threw out my back!”
Oh no! I told her to stay calm and had her lye down on the ground, trying to get the muscles in her back to relax. I had a fairly good idea of what happened, having seen every move she made in that instance, and started to walk her through a progression of exercises that would begin to help her heal. The remainder of the night, she walked around like the Tin Man; partially due to pain, partially because I wouldn’t let her move without engaging her core muscles first!
She fixed herself dinner after I assessed her back a bit, then retired early for the evening, trying some of the suggestions I had given her. As the sun dropped, and night arrived, we began to see a head lamp in the distance. It was Flicker! We hollered and shouted until we saw the head lamp coming our way.
“I’m so glad I heard you guys!” She said as she arrived, dropping her pack on the way in. “I never would have seen the sign for this shelter!”
She was right! The sign was hidden from obvious view, placed high up on a tree. Centaur and I certainly never saw it! We saw the shelter itself and simply walked right to it! In the dark, though, we could imagine how easy it would be to walk right past it!
But we were all together once more; one big happy trail family! We have one more night together before we say goodbye to Centaur. I stayed up for a while, watching Centaur reminisce about his journey by looking back through the Awol Guidebook. He was like a kid sharing their favorite toy with a family member they haven’t seen in a long time! With every turn of the page, he had new information and memories to share with me about shelters, hostels, and beautiful views we just “couldn’t miss”! I tried with all my might to make a mental note of everything he was saying, but there was just too much information coming at me way to quickly!
Eventually, I simply smiled at him and said, “Centaur. You realize who you are taking to right?”
He paused and smiled back. “I know Dori. You won’t remember this. But it’s ok. I’m having fun telling you anyways”
So I propped my head on my hand and simply enjoyed hearing his tales. Hopefully, something will stick and I’ll remember some of this. But if not, they’re still good stories! It was fun to watch him relive his adventures!
When he flipped to the very last page, and his story was done, my eyes could barely stay opened. It was time to turn in for the evening. We said goodnight and I slipped into my sleeping bag. Sleep greeted me quickly, like an old friend, and I was off to dreamland.
Day 105 (8:21am – 4:27pm, 16.9 miles, 60 degrees)
Ratatouille was the first one awake this morning. I watched her climb out of her bunk, watching how she moved. She was still moving like the Tin Man this morning. I was worried she would have a hard time sleeping last night, and by the way she was moving this morning, I was worried about her trying to hike with a pack on today.
As the rest of us started to rise, I asked her how her pain was. It was a little better today, but like I feared, she did not get much sleep and it still bothered her significantly. I tried to coach her on what she could do to make it feel better. She tried some of my suggestions but also had to get ready for the day.
“If you need,” Centaur and I offered, “we could take some of your gear.”
“No that’s ok. Thanks though. I’ll just take my time.”
I was less convinced but hoped for the best, trusting her to listen to her body and make the right decision for herself. Eventually, Centaur and I were ready to go. We tried one last time to offer our assistance, but Ratatouille insisted she was ok.
“If you have any problems at all, please let me know!” I gently insisted as we turned to leave for the trail. I have hiked with Ratatouille long enough to know that she needs her space and time in scenarios like this. She is a strong hiker, and a strong person, and I have to trust she will make it to the destination and be ok. But it’s still hard not to worry.
The sun was shining this morning, but it wouldn’t be for long. There was a threat of a storm rolling in for the afternoon, but the weather should hold for a while. Centaur and I started off down the trail, chatting a little here and there, but for the most part, hiking our own hike. The colors in the forest this morning were stunning, so I found myself dropping behind him as I took some photos along the way.
On I hiked, now alone, with Centaur somewhere ahead of me and Flicker and Ratatouille somewhere behind me. The silence in the woods was welcoming and peaceful. I enjoyed my hike through the woods and eventually caught up with Centaur having lunch at the Eckville Shelter. Ratatouille was quick to catch us and the three of us were, once more, united on the trail. Her back felt MUCH better, to my great relief, and she was back to hiking at her normal pace. After lunch, we hiked on, meeting once more at the top of a mountain with some beautiful views.
We stopped there for a snack break and to take in the beauty that surrounded us. As we head back towards the trail, we could not help but stop and admire a giant pile of rocks! Well, who wouldn’t! It was pretty impressive after all!
Off down the trail Ratatouille and Centaur pranced, chatting and laughing along the way. I brought up the rear once more, enjoying my time alone in the woods. They took off into the distance and it was a while before I caught them once more at another view. I looked out onto the horizon as Centaur sat for a break and to take in the view. As I scanned, I saw DARK clouds rolling in. Any minute now we were going to get hit by a storm!
“Uh, I think we should get going!” I stated. “Those are some dark clouds and I think we’re gonna get wet!” I turned and took off down the trail, keeping my pace up as fast as I could. The skies were going to unleash any minute now!
Ratatouille and Centaur were quickly behind me as the wind kicked up. We only had a mile or so to go. Could we make it?
The leaves flipped over and the wind sped up, the sky darkening even more. I dropped pack quickly and threw on my rain gear and rain cover over my pack as Ratatouille and Centaur sped by. I was shortly behind them. Just as I pulled on my pack, the skies opened and the rain came down in buckets! I trudged through the rain, racing as fast and safely as my little legs could carry me, until we all reached the Windsor Furnace Shelter. Our outer layers were wet, but underneath, we remained dry.
We hung our gear to dry and set up camp for the night. Not long after, Flicker arrived and the skies once more became bright and sunny. Thank you Flicker for bringing the sun with you!
Tonight is our last night together. Tomorrow, Centaur will end his thru-hike in Port Clinton. He was so excited about completing his journey, he was having a hard time settling for the night. We chatted about where we would eat as a group once in town, what he would do after, and so on and so forth.
“I’m thinking Five Guys may be a good place for food tomorrow,” Centaur pondered. “What about you guys?”
“Five Guys!” I answered. “You have GOT to see this video!”
With that, we all started to laugh and the jokes started to roll once more. All night long someone would blurt out part of the song and we would all start giggling again. What a great way to end our last night together! Not a bad song to have stuck in your head either!
We are about to part with a good friend we have made on the trail, but we are incredibly happy to have the opportunity to celebrate with him at the end! The friendships we make along the way last longer than the trail. We all have a common goal, a common dream, a mission, giving us a bond that we can relate to no matter where we are in life; to finish the Appalachian Trail as thru-hikers! No matter what direction we go, we all understand what it’s like to spend day and night on the trail. We all share in the adventure, even though each of our adventures may be different. So as we say goodbye and celebrate with our good friend, Centaur, in the next episode, we will continue along our journey and be led to new friendships and new portions of our adventure. Until then my friends . . .
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