Note: This is not actually meant to be a method of judging people to be fit or unfit as hiking partners, it is just a slightly tongue-in-cheek idea I had after some conversations about What Makes a Good Hiking Buddy (an undefinable concept). It might be a good way to get to know people before you hike with them though?
I put my answers at the bottom for fun. Also if any of this seems oddly specific, it’s definitely in honor of one of my favorite hiking partners 🙂
Do you hike a lot?
A. I don’t remember the last time I went a whole week without hiking.
B. I hike when other people invite me or I am traveling.
C. I guess I’ll look at the Grand Canyon or something.
D. Ew, exercise?
How important is keeping up a quick pace to you?
A. I love to time myself and try to beat my best time.
B. I like to be able to hike fast enough to go farther and finish ambitious hikes.
C. I love me some extended breaks.
D. I literally couldn’t care less about speed.
E. I gotta take my time and “my time” is a lot of it.
Do you like bagels?
B. I can’t eat gluten or a bagel killed my family
C. Why does there need to be another option?
How do you feel about hiking in the rain?
A. I love rain, especially on certain types of hikes.
B. Maybe on occasion I’d choose to hike knowing it would rain.
C. I can deal with it, but I won’t be happy.
D. Why would you ever make me go outside in the rain?
How prepared are you for cold?
A. I know myself and own several warm layers.
B. I can make it work for a day.
C. I kind of hate the cold.
D. I might die if you take me somewhere it is snowing.
What happens if we end up hiking in the dark?
A. I love night hiking sometimes, even on purpose, as long as the terrain isn’t terrible.
B. Sounds like a scary but fun adventure.
C. Uh… I’d rather not.
D. I am legitimately terrified of the dark.
What kind of snacks do you like (select all that apply)?
A. Dark chocolate
B. Clif bars
C. Bread and cheese
E. Fruits (fresh or dried)
G. Elaborate homemade meals
H. I can carry cupcakes in my pack without smushing the icing
I. I exist entirely on performance foods for runners
How many hours can you hike in a day and still have fun?
E. What is a day? I really like to challenge how long I can go without sleep.
How much do you like to plan your hikes?
A. I’m awful at planning.
B. I’ll plan whatever is necessary for reasonable levels of safety.
C. I like to do a lot of research, even about things where there is little danger.
D. I will be pulling out some excel spreadsheets and maybe a powerpoint.
What do you do if you feel something is unsafe?
A. Macho man through it and say nothing
B. Have a conversation with my partner and try to change strategy
C. Let my partner carry on without me and go back
D. Complain and never hike with the person again
Which of the following skills do you bring to the table (select all that apply)?
A. Recognizing and treating hypothermia and heat exhaustion
B. Wilderness first aid
C. Basic navigation
D. Evaluating avalanche safety
E. Communicating with European tourists (or locals when you are a tourist) using an elaborate system of hand signals
F. Being self-sufficient on a backpacking trip
G. Cooking things at camp that taste good even when you haven’t walked 20+ miles
H. Actual mountaineering skills
I. Taming chipmunks
Do you like multi-day trips?
A. Let me live in the woods for months.
B. For a couple/few days.
C. I’ll camp by my car.
D. I like beds.
How do you feel about singing while hiking?
A. Bring on the sing-a-longs!
B. There’s a time and a place.
C. Ugh, shut up!
What kind of nature knowledge do you have?
A. I carry a magnifying glass so I can study moss.
B. I know the names of all the birds and flowers.
C. I can tell the difference between a false morel and a morel.
D. I can find a few edible plants and recognize poison ivy…?
E. What’s a squirrel?
How do you feel about dogs?
A. I only ever hike with my dog and my dog is perfect.
B. I like to bring a dog that gets me tangled in trees constantly.
C. I don’t have a dog, but BRING YOUR DOG I LOVE DOGS.
D. I’ll be happy for the company if it can keep up.
E. Kind of not that into dogs.
F. I am terrified of dogs.
What’s your biggest pet peeve in a hiking partner? ___________________________________________________
My answers are: 1. A 2. B 3. A 4. A 5. A 6. A 7. A,B,C,E 8. D 9. B 10. B 11. A,C,D,F,I (definitely not G) 12. A 13. A 14. D 15. D 16. People who can’t handle unexpected problems, tied with the smell of tuna
I’m super interested to see your answers, if you want to post them below!!
I have a pair of shoes. Basically just the one. I also have a couple of fun pairs from over the years that are totally impractical, climbing shoes, and a pair of mountaineering boots for when it’s really cold, but otherwise everything falls on my trusty single pair of shoes. I had a pair I loved. They were perfect. We did everything together. Over 1000 miles of movie montage moments: walking to work; hiking on rock, ice, snow and mud; carrying heavy exhibits and working in the shop; standing around at the crag; I even ran in them the approximately two times a year I pretend that I like running.
But they were wearing out. Chunks of foam were falling out– I ignored them. They looked gross, but I pretended not to notice. They developed a hole in the sole, and I even covered it with gaffe tape for a bit. But it was time for them to go. And the style had been discontinued a year ago. As someone who spends essentially all of my time on my feet, it was an emotional realization.
I expressed my pain to others. “My mom really likes this brand,” they would say. Meanwhile, another person owned shoes of that brand that wore out very quickly. “Don’t you want ankle support?” not realizing they were talking about the most important thing I owned. None of them understood that bond I have with my shoes. It just wasn’t as simple of a purchase as they were making it out to be!
Of course, when I went to REI, a couple of salespeople tried to convince me that I just couldn’t use one pair of shoes for everything.
“I want them to survive a little snow but not be waterproof, so they dry out,” I’d say.
“Sounds like you need different pairs of hiking shoes for different seasons,” they’d say, as if this was a reasonable approach that every sane person uses for their footwear decisions. “And why don’t you have different street shoes than hiking shoes?” It was like telling me to settle for a few casual acquaintances and surrender my best friend.
Eventually, I settled for a durable-looking set of trail runners, sticking stubbornly to the non-waterproof version that was only available online. I wore them 10+ miles every weekday on pavement, to the shop, on a rock climbing trip, to climb a mountain through a bunch of slush, and on a run in a local park.
Two weeks later, they were falling apart.
Two weeks! I returned them to REI.
“I hate to do this because I wear shoes so hard, but I just bought them and they’re peeling a bunch.”
“How long has it been?”
“I’m not sure, maybe two weeks?”
He obviously didn’t believe me, so he looked it up. “Good lord, it has only been two weeks, what did you do to them?!”
I walked, trusting and barefoot, to the shoe department to try again. Immediately a serene-looking man offered to help. He had a British accent and was angelically backlit. “What do you use your shoes for?” he asked, after I explained I’d just wrecked a pair far too quickly.
“Everything.” And he didn’t correct me.
After he suggested some refreshingly reasonable options which still just didn’t feel like The One, I noticed he was wearing sandals and hazarded, “do you just wear sandals all the time?”
Apparently he did. Also apparently we had all of the same foot problems and both loved walking barefoot. We had a really embarrassingly lame conversation about high arches and toe splay and stuff really no one cares about and he brought me some “minimalist” running shoes to try on since it would feel like walking barefoot.
“Can I really wear these all day, for everything?” I asked skeptically.
“I’ve run marathons in them,” he assured me, with a yoga teacher smile. “It’s like being a kid again, you can feel everything.”
They were so comfortable! I knew that these types of shoes caused some people a lot of pain. I knew that it was a big risk to buy these shoes and wear them to do literally everything immediately. But cults just have a way of sucking you in, and the minimalist footwear thing did just that to me, in that moment.
I walked outside and started focusing on walking mostly on the balls of my feet. It was different, but I was ready to get to know my new best friends (and cultlike footwear lifestyle).
A couple of months ago, I finally got a job where I can walk to work. Every day I walk about 3 miles each way through the beautiful downtown areas of Seattle. I struggled with writing about exactly what I love about walking to work, so I’ve just decided to share a list of ways it has significantly improved my quality of life.
Wake up (enough to wait a couple more hours for free coffee)
Remember what I am going to do that day
Catch up on people I meant to text and forgot, thoughts I meant to think and forgot
Call my parents
Get a little workout
Connect with my body by moving
Watch flowers bloom and die, sometimes see the sunrise
See concert posters for events I might be interested in
Have a spontaneous encounter with a friend, who walks with me for a while
Run errands, like buying groceries, without making a separate trip
Go places after work without having to worry about parking
Buy flowers for my partner on my way home
Process my feelings
Avoid sitting in traffic
Get to know my city and see its daily movements
Look at the super cute pink elephant car wash sign
Have at least a couple of dog encounters
Take a different route or hang out in a coffee shop I’ve never been to
Pick my partner up from work and walk home with him
Listen to music
Engage in some awkward dance-walking
See random moments in strangers’ lives
Calm down by spending time doing something interesting but not frustrating
The answers to this survey were so diverse and thoughtful, I put off writing this for a long time because I was trying to figure out a way to do it justice. The responses were surprisingly diverse, with people from every region of the US, an equal number of past thru-hikers and aspiring thru-hikers (20% of each), 40% people who don’t hike often, and a few people from Europe. An unexpected issue with the survey was the number of people who didn’t answer arbitrary numbers of multiple-choice questions (I expected this with the open-ended one but got more/better responses than I imagined), and because of this combined with the modest sample size I think the results are not going to be statistically super scientific. That being said, here are some of the things I noticed/my favorite responses.
Trail Maintenance Around 30% of respondents named at least one trail club. The most mentioned was WTA (only 4 mentions, one of which was me) and the rest of the answers were totally unique. People named big clubs, local park organizations, or said simply “there are none in central Kansas.” I think this is pretty good, considering only around half of respondents hike at least once per month. Only 40% of previous thru-hikers in the survey do trail maintenance, though. We can do better!
Beautiful Reasons for Hiking Spiritual reasons were the most often cited as reasons to hike, as well as getting away from other people, communing with nature, and mental clarity. Some of my favorite reasons mentioned were “chasing waterfalls” and “meeting people with dogs.”Sphagnum P.I. gave a good description of what you see when you are on foot and in nature: “There are endless discoveries waiting out there, whether they’re bugs, birds, plants, or people. The speed of walking to a destination allows chances to see everything in a detail we can’t get by any other mode of transport.”
Why We Walk For hiking, the most important factors among those listed were a good workout, an interesting destination, and a lack of crowds. This makes sense given the number of people who specifically mentioned that they hike to get away from people. Convenience of location and availability were surprisingly middle-ranked for most people; I thought they would be major factors. Three people put “the hike is close to my favorite pizza place” as the number one factor. I can get behind this.
For walks around town, the most important factors were that the walk took people somewhere useful and that it was less than five miles long. Weather and attractiveness of the route came next. Some of the least important factors were someone to walk with and walks less than a mile. I was encouraged by people’s willingness to walk more than one mile! Some people mentioned specific problems that kept them from walking, such as lack of trees and confusing intersections.
Walkability and Urban Planning On average, people rated their neighborhood 57% walkable, even though a lot of the respondents were from rural/suburban areas. Predictably, people in the northwest and northeast as well as Europe rated their neighborhoods most walkable, and the midwest did worse (except someone who loves walking around Columbus, Ohio! You go Columbus!)
A couple of people made the totally valid point that public transit and bike lanes/paths make a lot of difference in the navigability of the city. Of course, in order for buses to work, a city has to make it easy to walk to the bus stops, and bikes and pedestrians often share paths, so these things go hand-in-hand. They are just as important for making a city feel livable, for sure.
Several people mentioned a need to encourage making “walking a part of our culture again” (Mouse) and that cities tend to be “designed with cars in mind” (Kathy). Many felt that they had no idea how to advocate for walkability or that these concerns were largely ignored. Some people expressed excitement about new developments to aid in walkability or expressed specific concerns, such as a person in Spain who was distressed about the lack of available dog poop bags to help with a waste problem.
I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail earlier this year (2016). My dad thru-hiked back before it was really even much of a thing, in 1978. Obviously, a lot has changed about the trail in 40 years, but just how much? While we were on a little hiking trip on the AT in Georgia this holiday season, I asked him some questions to compile some comparisons between our hikes. (Note: I hiked northbound. My dad flip-flopped somewhere in Virginia and walked south from Katahdin. Also I didn’t record my dad speaking so I just paraphrased unless it’s in quotes.)
Was hiking the AT fun?
Me: Usually? It wasn’t always fun, but I definitely had some of the best days of my life. Not when I was so cold I started yelling nonsense at mountains or had poison ivy… but definitely when we were cresting the ridges in the whites or finding the hot tub in hot springs it was. Maybe in 40 years I’ll think it was always fun.
How many people did you see?
Dad: There was a big northbound bubble, and I saw it coming south. It didn’t last long, though. I saw about 60 hikers a day for about 2 days and then no one. When I was hiking north I sometimes saw 5 people in a day, but one time we fit 30 people in a shelter when it was raining.
Me: I thought it was super awful crowded in Georgia and the Smokies, then other times we would sometimes have around 20 people at a campsite or shelter, but never saw too many during the day. Somehow even with crowd problems in some places there were also days-long stretches we saw literally no one. It felt like when we got into town we suddenly had 50 friends. Everyone told us we were ahead of the bubble, and somewhere or other there were over 100 people in one place, but that’s impossible to confirm.
What was your trail name/did everyone have one?
Dad: Pretty much everyone had one. I started off with the name Semi, because I was slow going up hills and fast going down them. I don’t remember who gave that to me. Then I was Aznageel, because I wrote these stories in the shelter logs and that “seemed like a whimsical name” (it’s from a T.Rex song). They were the Snifforn Stories, some people I met would remember me by them. The best trail name was probably Ann and Al Weed, who called themselves the tumbleweeds. (When talking about people, he used their real names more often though.)
Me: Everyone except maybe 2 people I met used trail names, and I didn’t usually know their real name. I was Mishap, because a guy named ETA said “after all your mishaps, you’ll be the first one on Katahdin if you make it through.” We had probably 5 Tumbleweeds, and my favorite trail name was Sphagnum P.I., who spent a lot of time carefully inspecting mosses.
Where did you stay?
Dad: Hostels where we could, but there weren’t very many and they were usually something bare bones like an unstaffed bunkhouse. We stayed in The Place in Damascus (it’s still there but there are other hostels too now), and the Jesuit hostel in Hot Springs (pretty sure that’s the Laughing Heart now, also Elmer’s was founded the year my dad hiked but he didn’t know about it), and somewhere in Rangeley. We stayed in a lot of cheap motels and a BnB in Caratunk. The shelters were there, some of them still had wire bunks at the time and almost no privies.
Me: We stayed in tons of hostels (at least…8?), in someone’s RV, in some random people’s houses, in some cheap motels, in a very nice cabin in Shenandoah as a treat, and in our friend Elle’s parents’ house. A couple of times we paid more than I wish we did to go to a hotel and dry our clothes and not get trenchfoot when it rained for many days in a row. People in New York were offering their houses to us with a frequency we couldn’t accept, for some reason. (Thanks, people in New York!) Also, we obviously camped a lot, and toward the end I got over my aversion to shelters.
What did you eat?
Dad: So much macaroni and cheese. Sometimes we put MnMs in it because we were desperate. Oatmeal, peanut butter, always a block of cheese. One time when my dad visited he brought these “Mormon dehydrated eggs” because, you know, Mormons have to dehydrate a certain amount of food to store just in case. It was the best thing ever after oatmeal for so many days. Also we picked so many berries we started carrying bags to put them in.
Me: My parents sent me boxes with dehydrated meals that were either homemade or Backpacker’s Pantry/Good-to-go meals. I think they were all actually really good. We ate a lot of tortillas and almonds, and I hate them now. We didn’t bother to cook oatmeal anymore after a while, and ate granola with powder milk. I ate so many snickers I think I kept them in business. I think Wade ate a 1lb block of cheese all at once at some point. I picked blueberries a lot, and put them in our granola. We also ate ramps in the south.
What did you carry?
Dad: When we started, my pack probably weighed 90 pounds, but I had to go back and rethink some things. My pack was military surplus. I carried a “crappy, no-name sleeping bag” and a wool blanket. It was not great when it was cold, it was definitely a summer bag. I had a Svea stove, some kind of old boy scout pot, a net hammock from K-Mart, a foam insulite pad, Georgia brand boots (with nails to hold the sole on). For clothes I had a thin wool sweater and a windbreaker, and a single shirt and pair of shorts that I would just throw away and replace occasionally.
Me: At the start, my pack probably weighed 30lb, and Wade’s maybe 38. They got probably 5 lbs lighter. My pack was an 8-year-old Kelty 40L thing I couldn’t part with, and I had a nice 20 degree sleeping bag with a liner. I had a homemade alcohol stove that weighs nothing and started with a tiny, one-person pot for both of us, which we traded for something a guy at an outfitter gave us for free because he didn’t need it anymore. I started with an air mattress, but it was about 3 times as big as me and I just got a 3/4-length thermarest instead. I carried a down jacket, 2 shirts, shorts, a hat, and 3 pairs of underwear. At some points I also had another thin jacket and long underwear, but I am more cold-natured and also started much earlier in the year.
Who were your friends? What did they do in real life?
Dad: I don’t remember many. There was Lucinda and her dog Sunshine. I almost didn’t remember her name, only the dog’s… There was a blind girl thru-hiking, who made us feel really bad when we took the easy way up Albert Mountain and we saw her coming up the steep side with her seeing-eye dog. Helen and Jerry were some grad students, and Helen and I wrote a few times after the trail. I met Allen, who was a chef, in Maine. He smoked so much pot. I specifically remember someone I met who was hiking north when I was hiking south, and we called ourselves the “thru-hiking slugs.” I think we could have hiked together.
Me: We met a lot of other engineers, some retirees, some people who owned their own businesses and took time away, some people with seasonal jobs like a farmer and someone who packed boxes for Amazon. We met a couple of people who just finished high school and some people who were about to go to grad school. I don’t want to list a bunch of people’s names because I’m not sure if any of them would mind, plus there are so many! We met so many wonderful people. We hiked with some of them for a day here and there, saw some randomly throughout the whole trail, and stayed with some on purpose for weeks at a time.
Did people think you were weird?
Dad: Absolutely. Most people knew what the AT was but had no idea how or why we were thru-hiking. There was not trail magic.
Me: In so many places we felt expected, but random passerby would still ask us 1000 questions sometimes, and you would occasionally find someone who had no idea what you were doing. A lot of businesses were geared toward thru-hikers, though, and people went out of their way to give us free stuff, almost like we were travelling monks.
Do you think hikers followed Leave No Trace principles?
Dad: As far as I know, no, because it wasn’t even a thing at the time. I just thought about not leaving an impact like based on the boy scout motto. Most people didn’t carry cathole shovels because they were heavy, and there was always a decent amount of trash at shelters.
Me: So many hikers picked up a ton of other people’s trash, but because of the trail being so popular there was still sometimes trash at shelters. I think most people tried to follow LNT, but there were some people who just didn’t care, and quite a few people got really lazy about bear bags, even in areas with a lot of bears. There were a lot of bear problems this year.
What was your favorite thing about hiking the trail?
Dad: The exercise. I had a lot of solitude and I liked that. I also miss the smells. There was a hail storm in the middle of a bunch of hemlock trees, and it smelled like Christmas. I remember it to this day. And earthy smells, even the smell of wet dog.
Me: I think I liked the simplicity of goals and routines, and the fact that everyone around you was doing the same thing. Also I miss chipmunks, newts, and tiny snakes. And my friends.
I also found some things that were still there after all of these years. I ate at the same restaurant my dad did in Rangeley, Maine. He also always told a story about seeing a sign for pancakes that were free if you broke the pancake-eating record (which of course he did), right off the trail in Maine. It’s not owned by the same person, but I’m fairly sure it was what is now Harrison’s Pierce Pond Camps. I also had pancakes there, but only twelve. If you have any more questions, let me know. 🙂 My dad is just a call away.
While on a walk in downtown Seattle, I saw a cart that said, in bright red decal letters, “equal and unconditional love for all our fellow creatures” and “I am walking across the world. I do not have any money and do not want any. I just need food and water.” I wondered whose it was and wished they were with their cart so I could ask them about it. We kept on walking.
Eventually, we saw the owner of the cart ahead of us, pulling the heavy-looking green monstrosity behind him. We asked him if he needed any food. He said, “actually I am not hungry right now, but I can talk.” He said he was walking across the world to encourage people to love each other and find peace, and that this was the only way to “get out.” (He never actually said explicitly what we are getting out of, but I’m sure there are many things we can all agree we as a society need to escape.)
Despite my immense respect for the original Peace Pilgrim (actually also part of Appalachian Trail lore as well), I had cynically wondered if this guy would just be an incoherent crazy person, or someone making up a story to get attention. In fact, he was a clean, cheerful former aerospace engineer with a Canadian citizenship and Chinese accent who was very passionate and cogent about what he was doing, but who admittedly made it hard to get a word in edgewise. His name was Bing Bing Lee.
“Sometimes, I play music. Sometimes I sing. I’m not very good at playing music, but I have these maracas. Everyone can play maracas.”
He had actually just started two weeks before, maybe 200 miles away in Washington. He said he had originally wanted to start in China because it was his home, but he was afraid of “disappearing” if he disagreed with the status quo in China. He said “America is the best country in the world, despite so many problems” and that he thought it would be easiest to spread his message here first and go to China last and live there.
His big plan was for 35 years, but he had planned only the first 5 years in detail, going down the west coast, then up the middle, then down the east coast. “I won’t go to Maine,” he allowed. “I need to spread my message to as many people as possible and there just aren’t many people in Maine.” After he finished with the Americas, he was hoping he would have enough exposure that someone would lend him a sailboat. It couldn’t be another kind of boat because he wouldn’t want to create any pollution.
The beautiful thing about his message is that, even if he only gives his spiel about how much better humankind was without money or how a silicon valley career isn’t the path to happiness to a few people in every city, his actions really do perfectly describe his message without many words. He is giving up everything material, except his clothes and tent and maracas, to give himself to the world and live off of the kindness of others, with no expectation. Of course he isn’t the first one to set out to do this, but this does not lessen the degree of commitment required.
It’s impossible to say whether Bing will actually make it around the world, but I hope I can find out what does happen to him. As far as I can tell, he is fully committed to his journey and really doesn’t have a backup plan. “If I die because I have no money, I guess that is just what will happen.” I hope that the world continues to feed and house him as it seems to have been doing so far, and that he has a chance to share his story.
(This guy did give me permission to share his photo and story.)
I just went snowshoeing this weekend, and after seeing this article about the practical benefits of snowshoeing, I thought I’d add my own, less objective reasons to snowshoe. I think it’s one of the most underrated activities out there, maybe because it seems like hard work (which it is, but it’s fun work!)
It’s cheap and low-commitment. The Just Trails article covers this. Snowshoes are not expensive, easy to learn to use, and not super huge, so it’s easy to try out snowshoeing or have it as a minor hobby without expending a ton of effort on it.
You’ll see parts of nature you wouldn’t otherwise see. On this short hike, we saw bunny tracks going into holes! We also saw some hardy birds and perfect snowflakes that looked just like miniature versions of the paper ones we made as children. It’s another side of nature that comes out at winter, it’s quieter and pristine (and sparkly).
You can also build snowmen or have snowball fights! If you live somewhere like Seattle where it doesn’t snow much in your city but there’s snow nearby, snowshoeing can be a great excuse to get out and do those things you want to do in the snow. Make a snow angel, try to build an igloo, or build a weird animal out of snow! We made a snow chipmunk.
It’s a great workout. Seriously. If you want to sweat the most you ever have on a hike, find some fresh powder and try to walk on it. Even in snowshoes, your feet will sink over a foot. It’s a little like trying to walk in a swimming pool. Sure, you won’t go as far, but you’ll feel like you did!
It’s build-your-own-adventure! Often, there is no trail. You need to be careful of water or tree wells, and unless you are somewhere very popular (which is cool too) you will need a GPS, but you are more free than ever to explore the landscape because defined trails aren’t as necessary when deep snow is protecting all of the life from your impact. Also, in many places you will see few to no other snowshoers, so it’ll feel like following your own path instead of a groomed trail. It is important to follow rules from the place you are snowshoeing regarding where you can go, heed avalanche warnings, and follow reasonable safety procedures as detailed here.
But it also doesn’t have to be! If you’re a beginner or have kids, you can snowshoe on super-well-established trails where you will see tons of people and have no danger of getting lost or caught in an avalanche. A lot of cross-country skiing locations also have snowshoeing. There is something with the right level of adventure for anyone.
It’s super meditative. This is my favorite reason of them all. Snowshoeing is more relaxing than hiking because the landscape becomes so visually simple and clean. You hear so much less in the winter (so you really notice what you do hear) and you smell only that strange clean smell of snow. And you are almost always alone. Moving slowly through an entirely white landscape is a great way to clear your head and reconnect with your body.
Do you have any other reasons you love snowshoeing? I hope you get out in the snow this season!
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