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Wilderness Adventures - July, Week 1/2006

Normally about the Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake region of the West Chilcotin, this summer Wilderness Adventures will include the Alaska Journel for 2006 since that's where I'll be!.
You can search this site for a subject of interest to you at the bottom of this page. Check out the Picture of the Day.

7/7/2006 9:15 PM

Back To The Alaska Trail

Had a little sidetrack to update everyone on the forest fire situation in Anahim and Nimpo Lake, so today I'll try to catch up on the Alaska stuff.
We pulled into Fairbanks yesterday evening into one heck of a nice RV Park on the Chena River that has all the good stuff, including free showers and free WI-FI!!! Unlike the place in Palmer, there was no deliberately misleading advertising regarding Internet access.
Yesterday evening we went down to Pioneer Park in Fairbanks to the 'Alaska Salmon Bake'. That's just another one of those must do things. There was prime rib done to perfection, battered halibut, battered and deepfried deep sea cod that was better than anything I have ever tasted in a fish and chips place, and marinated and grilled King Salmon. All four meats were so generously heaped on our platter that there was little room for a visit to the huge salad bar with buns, baked beans, and all the condiments. Melt in your mouth desserts and refreshments were included with the meal. At $28 USD it was a bit of a hefty price, but it was all you could eat so if you had a big appetite, it was well worth it and if you had a discerning appetite, it was worth even more. I had never been to a 'Salmon Bake' before, although they're advertised all over the Yukon and Alaska and wasn't sure what to expect. It seems that it's just a huge buffet that often includes entertainment with your meal.
We wandered around Pioneer Park and looked at some of the awesome old steam driven machinery and we'll be going back tomorrow to take pictures and check out the air museum.
Today we went on a 3.5 hour ride on the paddle wheeler Riverboat Discovery. Sadly, it was very tourist oriented with a seating capacity of 900 people on all the decks but it was still worth it with the Tour Saver ticket. They had a floatplane take off and land next to the riverboat as we cruised down the Chena River, then we arrived at Susan Butcher's place where Jesse Royer gave a demonstration with Susan's team of sled dogs. It was well worth seeing. She put the dogs in harness in front of a large fourwheeler with brakes on full and barely held those dogs back until she was ready to go. Several were jumping wildly into the air while the rest were sunk in hock deep at the rear and surging forward at the front ready to put all their might into a fast takeoff and fast it was! Too fast for me to get on a movie going out through the gate but I did get her coming back in so if I ever figure out how to convert my digital movies for use on the web, I'll post the movie here. That's probably not going to happen tonite..
We saw a traditional Athabascan Indian emcampment and toured that for an hour. Jesse and the dogs were there too so we got to see them up close and hear another talk on the animals. Saw a dog salmon (Chum, usually dried for the sled dogs because it isn't considered premium for human consumption) being filleted as a demonstration and then hung to smoke. On closer inspection it looked like a pretty careless fillet job to us because the bones were still intact but I guess the dogs don't care and Andy and I are probably the only people that would notice that sort of thing..
Especially interesting were two fish weirs we saw in action. I've read of them and seen rough diagrams, but it's much easier to see how they work in reality. They're pretty ingenious really and I could see that they would be extremely time saving and efficient for catching large numbers of salmon. Basically the water turns a woven basket made of spruce saplings of which there are two on a pivot, picks up the fish that then falls into a slanted trough. When the basket turns up to a certain point, the fish falls out of the trough into a box outside of the weir. There they stay caged in water until the natives come by with a boat and spear them out of the box and onto their boat or canoe.
We were also shown some beautiful museum quality ceremonial clothing and a fur coat made from hides, furs and beads created by members of one of the area tribes. The coat was spectacular and I can easily believe it when the maker said it would fetch $16,000 on the open market. Made of muskrat, caribou, wolf, wolverine and ermine inside and out, it would be warm no matter what the temperature dropped to. They also showed us how the colored beadwork (traditionally this part would be done by tying off the caribou fur into rosettes, dyeing them, and then shaving the tops,) would be done in such a manner both on front and back of the coat that no matter where the wearer went, everyone would know what tribe she came from.
Although 'touristy' to say the least, the trip was worth it and although a lot of the demonstrations and displays I have seen before or live with out in our country, I can understand the fascination for many of the people on the tour that are not familiar with lots of that stuff.
Our native guides came from one of five distinct groups made up of 11 Alaskan Native cultures which lent a realistic air to the displays and a couple of them seemed to have pretty deep roots back to their heritage while the rest probably don't have a clue. Most of them are in University but at least they're trying to teach others about their own culture even if calling, "Here moosy, moosy..." through a birch bark funnel is not exactly what I would call a traditional or particularly effective moose call. But hey, it was funny. I think we might be done with the tours though even if we had planned to go on the Eldorado Gold Mine Tour. It's now owned by the same company that runs the riverboat tour and although I would very much like to see some of the stuff listed, the company is just too 'touristy' for me and for Andy as well, so we'll see.

7/6/2006 11:21 PM

Anahim Lake Nimpo Lake Forest Fires?

We finally accessed our cell phone messages yesterday only to find out that friends had left worried and inquiring messages about the state of the forest fires in the Anahim and Nimpo Lake areas. You can understand of course that this kind of freaked us out. So Andy was on the phone steady last night trying to ascertain just what the forest fire danger to our region was. We were definitely reassured about our own place when we reached our housesitter's sister. His family had come up to visit him over the long weekend and hadn't seen much of him because he was off fighting forest fires, but she assured us that everything around our place had been watered down so much that there wasn't a chance of a fire starting there. Good to go!
We contacted neighbours more familiar with the area to try and get a handle on what was going on and got a general consensus that there was a lot of lightning strike caused fires in the area but that they were generally under control. There were a couple of huge fires to the north of Anahim Lake that could get bad but so far forestry was 'containing' them. The impression we got, and that has been reinforced for me tonite upon reading my emails is that the Cariboo Fire Center may have blown the seriousness of the fires up a bit to the extent that important events such as the Anahim Lake Stampede was cancelled and many people entering Highway 20 West were turned back at Williams Lake with the news that the highway was closed. Unfortunate because it wasn't at all true. Apparently many of the resorts in our area have suffered unnecessary cancellations because of misinformation. Doesn't help our tourism industry much, that's for sure!
My mother and her partner raced back at breakneck speed from the south without sleep for two days, worried about their place, hangars and airplanes, all based on wrong information. Most people in the Chilcotin were pretty nonchalant about the fire danger when we called them so there are probably no worries.
Apparently there was quite a large fire to the north of Anahim Lake but a few miles away. It has since rained and Forestry was going to do a back burn today because it was so calm, so I expect things are under control.
Unlike the damp weather we have had while in Alaska, Anahim Lake and Nimpo Lake have been experiencing high temperatures and little rainfall since we left in early June. It was a joke between us that it would get hot and dry where we live and that we would experience record rainfalls in Alaska while here. Sadly, the joke is on us because it's become all too true.
Personally, as far as I am concerned, our communities need to get together with the forest service with the following proposal based on the serious danger posed by our massive mountain pine beetle kill. In spring when the chances of a forest fire getting out of control are much less, burn a wide swath several miles wide around the communities of Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake, and Charlotte Lake to protect us from the hundreds of miles of explosive beetle kill waiting to catch on fire from every lightning strike.Then all we would have to worry about is the dead wood inside that perimeter. Unfortunately, I'm reasonably sure that the plan would be far too logical for the forest service to accept!

7/5/2006 11:21 PM

Parks Highway

Heading north out of Talkeetna after visiting the cool little town one last time. I really liked some of the gift stores. They were unique and most of the log buildings that housed the stores in Talkeetna were original, right down to the slanting floors, even if they had been moved in from the bush or elsewhere. I think that's why I have to disagree with the 'tourist trap' theory. This just isn't your usual tourist joint. It's locals making a living in the best way they can with what they have. Nearly every gift shop also offered bookings for flying or rafting services. Planes took off and tried to gain altitude overhead every few minutes, taking people flightseeing over Denali and landing them on glaciers, as well as flying in mountain climbers and their supplies. My guess was that the wives of owners of the flying companies and their pilots ran shops while their husbands did the flying, although there were a couple of guys running shops so maybe their wives did the flying. Who knows? All you knew was that it was a pretty tight community, even if they did probably all hate each other by mid winter!
We had fast footed it down to the rocky beach on the Susitna at the end of town to try and catch a picture from the outside of the boat of the Mahay jet boat doing its rugged 180 degree turn.
We waited and waited like a couple of dumb...ss tourists cameras and video recorders at ready until eventually a trailride went past us, rugged old cowboy in lead, and I concluded that there is no possible way that Mahay would upset dudes on horses with his violent water maneuver. We packed 'er up and headed back up town and toward our trailer. We passed the sign giving times for the jet boat ride we had been on and realized we had both misread the sign or the morning time had been changed, because the sign showed the boat would have come down the river near our beach about five minutes after we left it. Sure enough, the Mahay bus from their docking station on the Susitna came across the tracks in front of us, passengers happy with the same ride we had experienced the night before. Such a bummer! I was really looking forward to posting that footage here.
One thing to note here. Prices on many tourist type items, including Alaskan handcrafted jewelry, furs and carvings was cheaper in Talkeetna than it was in Anchorage, so keep that in mind. Also...big also...!!! We were parked next to the tracks in the RV park and the passenger trains that came in there were absolutely magnificent! They were dome cars, looked very luxurious, and everyone offloading looked pretty happy. I've also read some writeups, and had we not had the dogs with us, we would definitely have taken the train from Anchorage to Denali National Park, Talkeetna to Fairbanks or some such trip. It looked awesome and we may come back in winter for the northern lights one day and a train trip, if it's running, will be first on the agenda.
Another also....Remember those paved bike/hiking trails I mentioned below? Well, one ran clear from the Parks Highway into Talkeetna the full 14 miles and it looked like a lot of people utilized it. Man, why did I not bring my rollerblades...?
One thing interesting to note about Talkeetna is that it actually is a town in the true sense of the word. We're all used to towns, communities, municipalties, etc. being in one location, right? Not in Alaska! Most places are simply spread along the road, sometimes for miles. Coming up through Willow we came on the Independence Day parade. Willow's firetrucks blocked off the Parks Highway so that the parade could go the half mile up the highway from Station Road to the Community Centre on the other side of the highway. Why? Because they don't have a Main street so why not?
We are staying in the Grizzly RV Park just past the Denali Park Entrance in a wooded park. Wooded ain't the word for it! Just about every tree has been barked by a vehicle or trailer in years gone by because they're spaced so close to the site pull in. It probably wouldn't be so bad but the people booking the sites don't have a clue how long a trailer is or what it takes to get it into a site. Fortunately, we didn't have a problem because Andy is a truck driver, but many did. I realize it seems contradictory to complain of gravel pit sardine can parking on the one hand, and sites that are too treed on the other, but you would think that the people that build these sites would actually pull a motorhome into them themselves, and get the experience their poor, bloody patrons are. Nah, that smacks of a conscientious business person, and you just don't see too many of those anymore. Especially here. I'm sorry, but this is the worst place I've ever seen for people having their hand out at every turn waiting for you to cross their palm with some money. One fellow tried to tell me that Florida was worse, but I've been to Florida and no, it's not worse. Not by a long shot! You would think that a few natural treasures created by the Creator, or God, or Aliens, or whoever, that requires no upkeep, would also not require admission to enter. But in Alaska, it looks like everything requires admission. Even Alaskans must realize that because we actually saw a sign on the city park that underlined how no admission was required!!! Duh, really? You'd think someone would be embarrassed!
Just so you know, more than one article is being uploaded at a time because Internet connection is not something to be relied on. So make sure you check out all of the titles for articles on a page.!
7/5/2006 9:49 PM

Talkeetna!

Now that's quite the place! We met a fellow at the park in Palmer that stated, "Talkeetna! Now that's a tourist trap!"
Well, that's probably true but it sure is a neat one. Kind of a cross between 'Bush', Redneck, Hillbilly and 'Quaint'. Considering that there's very little present day purpose for Talkeetna's existence other than to cater to the tourists, you can hardly blame the locals for taking advantage of the only possible income available and making it work for them. After all, they only have to put up with the overbearing, demanding crowds for about four months, and then they can go back to living their own eccentric lives for the other eight. I suspect the tradeoff is a shattering of their peace and quiet but it must be worth it for them.
There's some individuals there, let me tell you! We sat with a couple of 'locals' at a pub July 4th evening and got a little local flavor. It was fun and educational.
We arrived in Talkeetna the afternoon of Independence Day after leaving Palmer that morning and got a spot in a pretty decent sardine can type park close to town. It at least meant we could keep the truck hooked up to the trailer and walk everywhere.
We walked toward 'downtown' and almost the first building we came across was Mahay's River Trips, something that we wanted to go on. We got a place on the 50 passenger boat for 6:30 that evening and the jet boat pulled away from the dock to take a short trip down river on the Talkeetna River, which meets the Susitna made muddy by spring runoff. Our captain, Israel Mahay was actually the son of the folks that started the business 30 years ago. In fact, they came to the area in 1972 to homestead and trap in the bush, which is what they did for five years until she became pregnant with Israel.
Our young Captain took us down the Susitna River just far enough to turn around and show us Denali, otherwise known as Mount McKinley. We could only see the glistening white peak rearing above the clouds and the base, but our guide told us that only about 30% of the people that came to that part of Alaska to see Denali actually got to see it, so we considered ourselves fortunate. Since the boat had been turned around and pointed upriver to see the mountain, we could watch it for some time while the guide spoke to us. Finally we continued on up the river past a point where the Chulitna River joins it, past banks of huge fiddle head ferns, birches and thick, green underbrush, making the shoreline look like something out of Jurassic Park.
Exposed and shifting gravel bars and huge trees uprooted by the high water required a good knowledge and careful negotiation of the river. I'm not a swimmer and not keen on boats but I watched Israel's body language and saw he was carefully alert to everything the wide river was doing.
On the way up the guide pointed out where a bald eagle nest used to be high up in a Cottonwood tree next to the river and had been for thirty years. Earlier this spring on a trip up the river just as the Captain and guide went to point out the nest to the passengers, the nest and two baby eaglets within fell into the river. Apparently a beaver had cut through a tree nearby that fell onto the nesting tree and dislodged the nest. Disconcerting for the passengers I'm sure and really hard on the riverboat company who had relied on these dependable creatures to be there year after year. Now they are hoping that the bald eagles, who return year after year for their lifetime to the same nest, will rebuild in the same area.
We arrived at a dock in the jungle along the river where the guide slung a shotgun over his shoulder. (Protection in case of a bear charge on the group. Highly unlikely with a large group like ours.) He had us follow him up the trail to where a native encampment had been built true to journal records of the past written by the first white man to see this tribe. Here there was a lean-to, fire pit, fish drying racks and fish storage pit as well as authentic bone weapon tips found in archeological digs elsewhere.
Another trail took us to an accurate representation of a line cabin used by a trapper complete with meat cache high on stilts, sod roof on the low cabin, and furs. The talk was a good one and I did learn a few things, but for the most part, the Nimpo Lake and Anahim Lake in the Chilcotin are not that far away from the same background, so most was nothing new to me. The city slickers on the boat enjoyed the interpretive walk a lot though, so that was good.
We returned to the boat and downriver, and the whole time I watched behind me for a glimpse of Denali. Then our Captain, Isreal, asked us if we would like to do a quick G-force 180 turn in the jet boat. No one was too sure what was going to happen but everyone agreed and he told us to hang on as tightly as we could. Well, it was a good thing we did!!! He gunned the three 400 hundred horse 454 Chevy engines, jammed the wheel around and turned that big boat right on its head in a tight 180 turn and just as you thought the thing was going to go over, he jammed it into reverse, taking the "G" out of the "force" while water came roaring up over the front and sides of the boat. It was absolutely unbelievable! Of course, like a bunch of kids on a rollercoaster, everyone yells for an encore. Isreal agreed and told us that after he negotiated some tight narrow braids in the river, he would be doing a 180 roll in the opposite direction but it would be tighter and harder. I'm going,"Er...Huh???" And yep we did, and yep it was something! Water sucked out from under the boat on my side like we were in a space vacuum, sank the other side like it was a submarine, and washed up huge waves right over the front while your brain and gut tried to slide back into place after the turn. It was really awesome and I give credit to that 28 year old kid at the wheel. He knew what he was doing and you knew that he was probably raised on that river, knew its moods every step of the way and could read it like a book.
This was a great trip and worth the money for those fantastic two 180 degree turns if nothing else. Certainly one I would recommend to anyone and everyone, especially if you used the Trip Saver coupon as we did. That made it especially worth it all. So did seeing Denali from the river.

7/3/2006 12:18 PM

Wasilla And Willow

The area that we're in now is quite nice with one heck of a view and we woke up to sunshine. Yesterday was chore day. Yep, we've gotta do our laundry, even on a holiday folks! Once done around here, we took a drive along the old Glenn Highway to see what it was like. It follows along the base of the mountains that we look directly at from our campground. I believe the one mountain is called Pioneer Peak and it's a beauty. The old Glenn Highway was a pleasant Sunday drive and the pavement was in excellent condition. Along it we came on the Eklutna Tailrace where lots of people were sitting and fishing along the small beach there. Apparently it's stocked with salmon and this small lake helps to provide power for the Matanuska valley and Anchorage.
At both ends of the highway you cross huge rivers that are snaking the last couple of miles to the sea and people were camped on the beaches at both places both for fishing and sunning. This seems to be quite a recreational state where people really get out and use the outdoors. We've been particularly impressed with miles and miles of paved biking/hiking trails that follow all the major highways near the towns. Next to those are usually motorbike/fourwheeler trails. It's kind of neat because it means you never have to walk on the highway itself making it much safer for everyone.
Andy called a fellow that he met in Nimpo Lake this winter at Chilcotin's Gate Restaurant. He'd seen the Alaska plates on the guy's RV and introduced himself. They had a great conversation and the guy invited us to stop in and visit when we got around Willow. We went up to his place yesterday afternoon and had a great visit. He lives on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by lakes and since he has a sizeable acreage that borders on State Park, no one can build anywhere near him. Aside from the lake, the fellow has a view of Denali, or Mt. McKinley. We could see it peaking through the clouds and when he told us it was about 150 air miles away, you start to realize what a huge mountain it is. I can't wait to see it up close!
Our host had friends visiting when we arrived that had flown in on a floatplane. The property is ideal because it has lots of privacy but you can fly in or out on the lakes. You are only 30 miles from major shopping in Wasilla and yet once out by Willow, you wouldn't know that a fast growing city is nearby. We sat on his pontoon boat for hours talking and finding out information about the area until it got late.
So...another day shot.
The fellow has quite a few lake properties for sale so if anyone is interested in buying in the area, just contact me through this site for his name.
I have been enjoying sitting up late and reading by a campfire every night. Even though we are now past the summer solstice, I could still read comfortably until 1:00 a.m. last night but was squinting by 1:30. I tried to get a fantastic shot of an orange half moon going down on the horizon while there was still the pale yellow of a sunset in the sky, but the digital just won't record stuff like that very well.
I have to admit, everywhere you look around here, you can either see mountain peaks, rivers, ocean or all three at the same time. It definitely has fantastic views where ever you go and if you look at the two sunset peak pics on the right you'll see that we have great views from our camp. Even around Palmer and Wasilla though, it's still jungle green so you know there's lots of coastal influence in this area. Although it's rained very little since we've been here, even if we did have a couple of gray days, it must have rained quite a bit this spring. Everything is thick and lush, and all the little lakes and swamps are full to overflowing.
This particular area reminds me a lot of the Hope/Fraser Valley region and that may make it easier for people from British Columbia to relate to the climate and country.
Oh, and incredibly, we haven't run into an area in Alaska yet where we didn't have excellent cell service. I would never have thought that possible! Maybe it's because we've been following roads but everywhere we look, there's a cell tower. Alaska definitely has a far more advanced communications system than British Columbia and there is no excuse for that! Even worse than British Columbia is the Yukon. Neither Cantel or Telus works anywhere in the territory so we could only assume that the communications systems there do not have a working agreement with those from another province.

7/1/2006 9:38 PM

Hatcher Pass

This is definitely not to be missed! Since we're parked at Palmer for so many days waiting out the holiday weekend, we thought we would make a day trip through Hatcher Pass. You can go up on one end from Palmer or Wasilla and come out the other end at Willow just a few miles north of Wasilla so it makes a really nice circle route. There are miles of well marked alpine hiking trails before and throughout the valley.
The day started out with a pretty low ceiling and grey rain clouds so we weren't sure how far we would actually go. I did not want to miss really nice country just because we couldn't see it so we thought we could always go as far as the Independence Mine, tour it, then come back 'home'.
Part way up we came on a pull out next to the really pretty Little Susitna River, fast flowing and gold bearing. This entire area that we're in now had a goldrush of its own after prospectors found gold in many of the creeks and rivers here. That resulted in guys coming in and setting up hard rock mines of which there are many from days gone by in Hatcher's Pass.
At the turnoff to the Independence Mine, we started seeing glimpses of blue sky up in the mountains so instead of stopping down where it was dreary and grey, we thought we would see if we could climb above the cloud layer. You go off of pavement at that point and the road is quite steep and winding, but it wasn't long before we broke out of the cloud and the valley lay before us in sunshine. This Pass is absolutely breathtaking! I don't know how else to describe it. The hills that slope down to valley center are covered in low alpine bushes and flowers because you're above treeline. Above them stand craggy rock cliffs with snow that feeds loads of little waterfalls. It is a wonderous, magical place. It just has good vibes!
When we drove through the first pass we came out above a little emerald lake called Summit Lake where a few people were parked and a couple of paragliders soared above us. I'm sure it would be a perfect place for paragliding. All you would have to do is step off of the road and you'd have a lot of air dropping away beneath you. The two we saw played around aloft for some time with ease probably because there was a slight wind, a lot of drop off and there were probably some terrific updrafts. In fact it looked like they had a lot more problem landing and getting their parachutes to collapse than they ever did to keep them flying.

We continued winding down to the valley floor and took a road a short distance up another valley that has a still operating gold mine at its head. We stopped on a small creek for some lunch and to give the dogs a break. I now realize that it was probably the headwaters of the Willow River which becomes quite a wide river at the other end of the pass.
We pulled out our goldpans, sat on the banks of the creek in the sun and panned the gravel for gold while the dogs lay in the grass next to us. It was a lot of fun and we each got color in our pans but you lose track of time when you're panning and we had to go way sooner than I wanted to. As it turned out, had we gone a little further down the road, there was an even better place for gold panning and a guy was fishing the creek for trout. Successfully, I might add. We could have gotten two birds with one stone.
We continued driving and as we got closer to Willow the road improved because it had been pretty washboardy and potholey. We also started seeing a lot of campers parked along what had now become a fast flowing river with all the streams entering it up the valley. Most of the people looked to be locals, and since this was a long holiday weekend for them, a hidden place like this was probably a lot more logical place to get away from tourists like us. Of course the salmon runs have just begun in the area and like the Kenai and Russia Rivers, the Willow River is particularly prolific.
We topped out on a high ridge above Willow late in the afternoon and through the trees you could glimpse a huge valley and high mountains in the distance but since we weren't sure of our direction, I'm not sure what mountain range we were looking at. In any case, we managed to use up another day and it was a very enjoyable one. Just a note to anyone considering taking the same drive. The MilePost recommends strongly that you not take an RV over Hatcher Pass. I would have to insist that you would be crazy to. The road has some tight corners, is very steep and narrow in places and the road bed itself would be very rough on a travel trailer or motorhome. But if you have a passenger vehicle or even a fourwheeler, the 49 mile trip through the valley is a must see in my books and only about 10 miles or less on the Palmer side of the Pass is really poor for RV's.
Last but not least, you've probably noticed that this is the start of a new week so last week's articles are at June Week Four . There is an article on that page that is only now being posted so you might want to read it. Or you might not....Oh, and Happy Canada Day!!

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The purpose of this web site is to draw attention to a remote area of west central British Columbia. It is a beautiful area that relies heavily on tourism. The search engines don't know much about the West Chilcotin, Anahim Lake, Nimpo Lake or any of the other small communities in the region and I hope to change that! Even as large as this site will eventually be, there just isn't enough room or time in the day to fully describe this incredible country but I am going to try scraping away at the tip of the iceberg, so join me!


Follow the links, and see what the West Chilcotin is really like!
Basket fish weir.
 
Alaskan winter coat.
 
Talkeetna Cafe.
 
Log cabin.
 
Sunset over peaks.
 
Pink peak with snow.
 
Creek in valley bottom.
 
Snow melt.
 
Road in Hatcher Pass.
 
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