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Dead man walking: Thunder Rolls part 2

**Editor’s note: if you haven’t read part 1 yet, go get caught up. It’s ok…we’ll wait….Ready? This race report was written by Kate with commentary by Luke in red, Bob in green, Robby in purple, and Travis in orange. Any of my replies are in blue.**

It was a subdued group that left the ascending area. Remember that because this is an expedition-style race, a team’s last consecutive CP determines their score (as long as they beat the cutoff). The rules stated that everyone must ascend. Since neither Bob nor Travis (who’d stayed with him) had done so, we knew there was a possibility that their race, standings-wise, was already over. Regardless, we were almost certainly in last place at this point, but none of us cared. Our only concern was for our friend. Bob was exhausted and shivering, even bundled in his jacket, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be inside his head at that point. “Demoralized” would be putting a positive spin on his mental state. He wanted nothing so much as to quit, which, of course, is why we couldn’t let him.

Robby: Don’t I just feel like an ass for doing the ascend! I knew Travis was taking care of Bob and he is far more experienced with patient care than I am. Just to be clear that right after I ascended, I rushed to Bob’s side.

Luke: I was happy to see that Robby ascended. How often do you get the opportunity to ascend a huge cliff at 2:00 AM? Bob was in good hands.

Travis: Robby did the right thing by going ahead with the ascend. I just was doing what comes naturally to me and that was taking care of the man that was down.

Bob: I wouldn’t have known or cared either way. I’ve never been so happy to be laying on a pile of rocks in all my life.

Bob has this line that has stuck with me through a lot of difficult times: “Just remember how good the story wouldn’t be if it ended ‘It got hard and then we quit.'” I’m sure he appreciated having it turned against him, but to quit now would mean that the failed ascent was the story of the race, not just one bad chapter. Things looked bleak to be sure, but 24 hours is a long time, and anything can happen.

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Bob bundled up and heading into the water.

Bob: I needed an attitude adjustment pretty bad. Going balls-deep in a cold creek wasn’t exactly the cure, but it was an excellent distraction.

Looking to avoid bigger climbs while Bob recharged, we spent a lot of time walking in the river. That’s ok, we were starting our coasteering leg early. Walking hills might have made it easier for Bob to warm up, though. The night had cooled off, and every time we paused for a map check his shivering went up a notch. He looked miserable.

CP 6 was in a cave. The guys ahead of me seemed to climb up the wet rocks with no problem, but I kept slipping back until Bob put his knee up for me to use as a step. This year the CP was tucked in a side channel instead of way at the back of the cave like last year. One by one we ducked bats and squeezed through the narrow passageway to punch our wristbands and then slipped back out into the water.

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Travis, Robby, and Luke

Robby: This was an AWESOME CP. I started to explore the cave further by myself, but my light started blinking low battery. This freaked me out going back by myself while others punched their wristbands, so I only went back 100 ft or so. Still, TOTALLY AWESOME!

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I have this same smile on my face in so many pictures. I loved this race SO much.

It seemed like we spent a lot of time in the water on our way to CP 7, and that was because we’d missed it.

Travis: The entrance to the reentrant was none too obvious, but with Luke and I both watching our maps we probably should not have walked right by it the first time. Of course right around this time there was another team that passed us. I wonder where they went because it seems that they went up on the bank across from CP 8.

We realized our mistake right near CP8, which was up a cool, slippery rock creek bed. CP 7 was up (in a Gerry race, almost everything is UP) a re-entrant jammed with fallen tree trunks and branches. This section reminded me of a jungle gym, and I had a blast climbing my way up. I had so much fun that I climbed down that way too, while the guys opted for a steep downhill instead.

Robby: I really struggled on the felled-tree-climbing-uphill-jungle-gym. Kate flew through the tree and I could hear the smile on her face. I was sweating and out of breath. I was glad to get to the top in one piece and coming down was a blast. It was very VERY steep and I basically slid down the hill on my wet ass.

robby cp7 hill

We looped back again, passed the turn for CP8, and were now officially in the coasteering section. Since we’d spent much of the last couple hours in the water, it wasn’t much of a change. Walking in a river at night is always tricky, but I didn’t think it was nearly as bad as last year when the water was deeper, the submerged rocks made the footing fairly treacherous, and almost all of us fell into the water more than once. This year seemed smoother. Still, after a couple hours we were all sick of walking in water and especially of having our shoes full of sand and rocks. I was starting to get a headache, so I was relieved when the sky lightened just enough that I could take off my headlamp. In fact, I was still holding it in my hand when I fell.

ch2 coasteering

I just tripped really, but I haven’t had much range of motion in my left knee since falling in Kansas last year and my knee bent all the way closed. Wow, did it hurt. I tried to stand up quickly but fell back into the water. Luke, who was closest, ran back to help me out of the water. We all just stood there for a minute until I realized that my knee, though sore, could still bear weight. I took some ibuprofen and we got going again.  My pace definitely dropped here because I was limping and afraid of tripping again.  The guys offered to carry my pack, but I felt better holding onto the straps. Still, there were quite a few times I gladly accepted one of their arms to steady me, even if I did me feel like a grandma being helped across the street by a boy scout.

Robby: All I heard was “Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!!!!” and when I turned around Kate was in the water. She really tried standing, but fell back in and just laid there till Luke came to her aid.

Luke: I saw Kage fall, and when she hopped right back up only to have her knee buckle under her, I thought our race was over. Good thing she’s been taking calcium supplements.

Travis: Just prior to Kate falling was also when Bob took a misstep and tumbled down the edge of the bank. Once I saw Kate go down all I could think was ” What else could go wrong?” It seemed that we were doomed for something  to end our race.

We were all happy to get to CP9, where we could finally get out of the water. After taking some time to get some food we had a mile or so to go to the canoe put-in. It was flat road, and originally I had envisioned jogging between points. I now hoped no one else had that brilliant idea. Since they didn’t, we had a nice sunrise stroll between fields and a discussion about what corn silk looks like with a nice visual from Luke.

Robby: I got really cold through this section. Thanks to Bob for letting me wear his arm warmers.

ch2 on way to canoe

Luke, Robby, Kate, Travis.

ch2 corn silk

Luke: At least the carpet matched the drapes. 🙂

WTFAR’s Brian was volunteering at the canoes, and since he’s twelve feet tall we could see him in the distance and waved wildly. As we neared, his bell-like voice rang out in the morning air: “Where the hell have you been????” His confirmation that we were, in fact, in last place was a little demoralizing, but the double-stuffed oreos in his hand perked us up, as did the opportunity to dump all the crap out of our shoes. We ate, grabbed one of the 7-ton canoes, and put in to the Plum River.

Luke: It was really great to see Brian’s smiling face. And it was even greater when he handed me not double-stuff Oreos, but MEGA STUF Oreos! Sooooo damn good!

Travis: It was amazing how seeing Brian’s big dumb face could somehow brighten all of our spirits. LOL.

ch2 canoe put in

For once, the picture actually makes it look steeper than it was.

We turned around to have a good view of Bob, Robby, and Travis as they tipped their canoe, but they totally let us down with an incident-free launch.

Luke: Very disappointing indeed. Brian could have gotten some great shots of them dumping their canoe.

Travis: With our combined experience there was no way we were dumping our boat, especially not in front of everyone.

Bob: I’m still amazed at our paddling success.

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We had been warned that we’d hate the canoe leg and had envisioned dragging our boat for miles through rocky water. Instead, the paddle was delightful.

Luke: After the coasteering section where the river was very low, I was absolutely dreading the paddling leg. No offense to Kage, but her upper body strength isn’t exactly one of her, well…strengths. (So true.) I figured I’d be dragging the canoe for 9 miles by myself. I was stoked to see a floatable river.

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Plum River…wider than a mile…

There were all kinds of branches, snags, and trees down in the water, so I imagine navigating these obstacles was a bit trickier at night. For us it was downright fun and broke up the monotony of the three-hour tour. Approaching the first big tangle, we paused to consider our options. The first of the twelve-hour teams passed us at this point, one opting to portage (getting their boat over the steep bank looked way hard) and the other attempting to get into the water to push their boat through…and discovering it was fairly deep. Neither alternative looked particularly appealing, so we opted to plow through and actually ended up beating the portage team to the other side. Score one for laziness!

ch2 canoes

Luke and I paddled on, expecting the three guys in our other canoe to easily catch us, but we didn’t take into account that their fully loaded canoe wasn’t going to skim over some of the blockages like ours. Though we occasionally got updates on them from passing canoes (all of them 12-hour racers), we never saw them again until the take-out. We soldiered on, Luke deftly steering our canoe around obstacles despite my less than clear and decisive directions: “…um…left?….um…there’s a….log?…on our….oops, sorry…yeah, that was it…”

Luke: The more we paddled, the more confident Kate became calling out directions, and even though we were paddling at a nice, leisurely pace, we became a pretty efficient team.

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Neither of us was having any fun at all.

The longer we paddled, the more determined we became not to get out of our canoe until the end of the leg, a sentiment bolstered by the development of our “seated portage” technique…basically taking obstacles at speed, scooting over them using synchronized hip thrusting, and pushing or clawing our way forward when necessary. We laughed a lot. Eventually, however, the seated portage met a logjam it couldn’t overcome.

Luke: Kate originally called our hip-thrust-and-push-and-claw-maneuver a “self portage.” When I pointed out that all portages in an adventure race are in fact done by ourselves, we decided to go with the more accurate “seated portage.” Our seated portage worked wonderfully. That is until we hit this:

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Though it doesn’t show in the picture, a lot of teams portaged along the bank to the left. The bank was sloped, with shin-deep mud and a tree over which the canoe would have to be lifted. Seems like I’m always the vote against portaging, and this was no exception. A team in front of us tried climbing out of their boat to push it through the tangle of downed trees and promptly sank in past their shoulders. Another team managed to get their canoe across by standing on some of the logs, and this is the strategy that got my vote.

Luke wasn’t sure about the wisdom of this plan, but despite his clear doubt my teammate was willing to give it a try. I had no idea how we’d actually do it without tipping and couldn’t have gotten out of the canoe without Luke steadying it, but we both managed to climb onto the log pile. Then it was just a matter of picking our way across floating logs, standing on the stable ones and steadying ourselves on branches as we pushed and dragged the canoe over the blockage. It was ridiculously fun, and we were ridiculously proud of ourselves as we paddled away without capsizing. This goes down as my favorite canoe leg of any adventure race.

Luke: I would have voted to portage around it, but I am easily swayed. Going through the trees instead of around definitely sounded more fun, and it didn’t disappoint. Some logs would sink when we stepped on them, others would spin. It was a blast!

Travis: Our paddling leg was definitely not as enjoyable as Luke and Kate’s. After they slid through the first big log jam we attempted to take the same route only to discover that our boat was running a little lower in the water than theirs. Bob jumped out to help guide us and discovered that the water was about chest deep. Bob seemed to instantly feel rejuvenated after entering the water and happily pulled us through as well as another boat of 12-hour racers, they eventually went on to win their division and set a new course record.  Bob then climbed back in for a while, but the rest of paddle involved him getting out a few more times, and our boat getting hung up on what seemed to be every log in the river. We couldn’t seem to float over anything without getting stuck. While our portage was not as cool as our team mates at this biggest log jam of all, we did successfully avoid the majority of the mud while sliding our boat over the logs.  Pretty much every corner after this Bob would say ” Hey I think I see a bridge, no never mind I guess not,” and so forth.

Bob: There was just something about that river water that got my head turned back around. Pushing and pulling boats through the logjams was a total blast, but it was not without its dangers. More than once, my feet would get tangled in the branches under the water. I bet I was in and out out of the boat half a dozen times, but we never tipped. There were a few times we probably should have, though…we were doing some pretty stupid shit out there.

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Almost through

That’s not to say I didn’t spend the last hour of the paddle watching for the take-out, and Brian’s smiling face waiting for us was a sight for sore eyes.

ch2 canoe takeout

Who says chivalry is dead?

We lugged our ridiculously heavy canoe up to the road, drank some cold Monster, ate, changed into shorts (and dry socks!! So glorious after 11 hours of wet feet) for the bike leg, and waited for the rest of our team. They didn’t look too cheerful when they arrived. “You guys shouldn’t have waited for us,” Travis told me as they carried their canoe, and my heart sank a little. I wanted them to be having as much fun as I was.

Luke: The other guys definitely looked a little worse for wear. Like Kage, I had hoped their paddle was as fun as ours was, but it obviously wasn’t. Having 3 guys in one canoe makes for a rough paddling leg.

Travis: I was anything but happy at this point. Aside from Bob and Robby’s company that paddle leg was a suckfest on a shit river of logs and mud!  I think the three of us knew at this point that Luke and Kate were feeling much stronger and could probably make much better progress through the course without us, but they didn’t care. Team Virtus sticks together and that is what I love about this team.  In retrospect I also now know that I was already well into a downward spiral, making a critical mistake that continued throughout the day.

Bob: A quick sidenote for future portagers of yellow canoes: With a 2-piece paddle, Robby and I put the paddle-shaft through the pull handle and were able to share the weight of the boat. Also, dried mangoes are frickin’ delicious.

ch2 at canoe takeout

Luke may have had one Monster drink too many…

And I was having a blast. Sitting at the TA visiting and relaxing, I asked what time it was. Hearing it was 11-something I was delighted. “We still have over twelve hours of the race left!” I was dead serious, but Robby looked at me like I was a little crazy and Travis looked like he was considering which knife to use on me first.

Travis: I assure you, I am not a violent person, but for some reason my team thinks that I might just kill one of them someday.

People hear “24-hour race” and they think oh my gosh, that’s such a long time…and it is, but it really isn’t even the half of it. With Gerry’s races starting at midnight, you’ve probably been awake since five or six the previous morning. After getting to camp, there’s ropes practice and bike drops. Then there’s dinner and a pre-race meeting, maps and routes to figure out and gear to organize. If you’re lucky you might get to lie down for an hour, but basically by the time you’re finished with a 24-hour race, you’ve probably been going for nearly 44 hours straight. So while we were “only” about 12 hours into the race, we’d all been awake for much longer.

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“Go ahead Gerry…make my day…”

The bike leg was pretty uneventful other than missing a turn and riding a mile or two out of our way, but at least the day was beautiful, if warm, and before long we were pulling into Mississippi Palisades State Park and having a little pow-wow to discuss the remainder of the race.

Luke: I apologize for missing the turn. It looked like a driveway instead of a road to me, and we just blew by it.

Travis: I felt terrible when we realized we had missed a turn, mostly because I saw the road when we went by it and remembered that our turn should not be too far out of town. But I was too busy having my own little pity party to be following along on my map like I should have been.

ch2 at palisades

What to do, what to do…

Luke asked what everyone was wanting to do. I think Travis and Robby were ready for whatever but were leaning towards “whatever” not being a super long time. I wanted to hit the finish line at 11:59, knowing we’d done everything we could. I think this was the first time the possibility of splitting up was mentioned, but we opted to do a loop of CPs and then re-evaluate how everyone was feeling.

Travis: I was feeling very poorly at this point, but nobody ever wants to be the one that says lets just head on in and call it a day.

Kate: And I’m totally the pot calling the kettle black here, because I do the same thing, but we all need to be better about communicating with each other when we aren’t feeling well so that the team can help out whoever’s down.

We rode further into the park, left our bikes at a picnic area, explained adventure racing to a couple hanging out there, and then Bob took over on the maps. The topsoil in the park is so soft and loose that the many teams who’d already passed that way had created trails towards the CP. Determined to do his own navigation rather than follow in others’ footsteps, Bob took alternate paths where possible. I wasn’t a big fan of walking through nettle just on principle, but that’s why Bob’s navigation improves with each outing and I’m still lost on an orienteering map. Robby was following along on a map too and seemed to have a pretty good handle on where we were going. Me, I just followed my teammates like a lost puppy.

Luke: Robby is definitely getting a handle on navigation. It won’t be long before he’s our lead navigator. Bob rocked this section of the O-course.

Travis: Yes Robby definitely  seemed to be understanding more about the navigation. I am glad I gave him the maps so he could follow along. And yes Bob rocked this section, though I think he was a little disappointed at the amount of traffic that had already been through the woods.

Bob: There had definitely been too many people through there for me to assume any kind of credit for finding those flags..except for the last one. That was all me, baby. 

Kate: This team definitely loves the word definitely.

I think we found 5 CPs together in this section, with no navigational problems that I can remember but a lot of steep hills. By the last of these CPs, we were running low on water, and I’d been waiting a long time to use a real bathroom. Looking down the hillside we could see the park road and had hopes of facilities waiting at the bottom. While the guys waited in the shade, I jogged to a nearby pavilion to find the holy grail trifecta: flush toilets, air conditioned bathrooms, and cold water. As I filled my camelbak after using the facilities, a team I’d met at registration showed up. These guys had only recently heard of adventure racing; this was their first AR ever, and they were in for the 24 hour. Jumping in with two feet…our kind of people. 🙂 I talked to them for a little bit, and they gave me some pointers on the hard-to-find CP 17.

ch2 before split

The guys were waiting impatiently for me when I got back.

Our two teams decided to split at this point. Robby’s extra batteries resurrected my camera, we all filled up on water and wished each other well, and then we were off. As we turned away, Luke whispered, “Let’s run,” and we dashed across the field laughing our asses off as our teammates’ groans and calls of “Assholes!” rang in our ears.

Luke: I think this was pretty much the only running we did, but it still makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Travis: It was kinda a show off move of running when leaving us behind, but at that point the three of us were just glad we weren’t the ones doing it.

Luke: It was completely a show-off move, and I assure you it was only for dramatic effect.  We stopped running as soon as we were out of sight.

Will Luke and Kate clear the o-course and stage a come-from-behind victory? What will Bob, Robby, and Travis do after the two teams separate? Will Kate and Luke’s dick move of running away cause Travis to finally snap and make a skin suit out of Bob? Did anyone on the team get watermelon at CP34? Tune in next time for answers to these and other burning questions.

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Pushing Onward – The LBL Challenge Adventure Race Report Part 3

***NOTE: This race report was written by Luke and is presented in black text.  Casey added some comments and are presented to you in Red, Bob’s comments are in Green, and Kage’s comments are in Navy Blue.  Luke added a response or two in Purple.  If you need to get caught up, you can read part 1 here and part 2 here.***

Paddle Leg #1 – 1:13 PM Saturday Afternoon – 5 Hours 43 Minutes Racing

Somehow, through all the mistakes and mishaps, we managed to make it to the TA at CP8.  We ditched the bikes and our bike gear, and we readied ourselves for the paddling leg.  We all grabbed a bite to eat as we donned our PFD’s and put our paddles together.  We only had 3 kayak paddles, and since Kage had little to no experience using one, we decided we’d let her just use a canoe paddle.

Transition to Paddle at LBL Challenge Adventure Race

Even with the not-so-perfect start to the race, we were still smiling and having the time of our lives, and THAT'S what is important.

After a fairly quick transition (although we could have been faster), we carried the canoes down to the lake.  Kage got stuck in a canoe with me, and Bob and Casey filled up another one (Bob: Is this a fat reference?).  With storms in the forecast and clouds in the sky, we were a little worried that the water was going to be pretty rough.  We were pleasantly surprised when we shoved off and headed out on a silky smooth lake.  This was going to be easy.

Paddling at LBL Challenge

We were so happy that we weren't in those yellow, tippy POS canoes!

On this paddling leg, we had to get 3 CP’s (9, 10, & 11) in any order before heading back to the TA.  We decided to get CP10 first since it was closest, and then we would either portage the canoes across a peninsula to get CP11 before getting CP9 on an island OR we would paddle around the peninsula to get CP9 followed by CP11 if the portage looked too gnarly.

The paddling was easy and we made good time… until we left the bay.  Once we were out of the shelter of the bay, the lake was much rougher.  It wasn’t the worst I’ve paddled on, but it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk either.

Bob: The pictures do absolutely no justice to the size of the waves. Coming back to the canoe takeout, Casey and I had several waves crash right over the front and sides of the boat. I was soaked to my ass….balls first.

Casey and Bob paddling at LBL

Rougher waters and dark clouds

We stayed close to the coast and found CP10 easily.  There was a team here, “For the Run of It” I believe, that was convinced this was CP11.  I was 99.99% sure that we were at CP10, but a small seed of doubt had been planted in my brain.  With the rocky start to the race and several navigational blunders, I started to second guess myself.   We couldn’t afford another mistake.

We decided to paddle on and not portage the canoes since the brush and trees looked pretty thick.  I also knew that Kage was dreading portaging a canoe, but I’m sure she would have done just fine.  I mean, we all know that she has more upper body strength than Bob does, but then again, that’s not saying much.

Bob: Wow.

Kage happy in the boat at LBL Adventure Race

"Yesss! No portage!"

Anyway, we decided to paddle to the island to get CP9.  On the way to the small island, I kept looking toward the coast.  The little seed of doubt about CP10 began to grow.  Did we somehow paddle too far and miss CP10?  Was that actually CP11 instead?  I looked at the map, and I tried to convince myself that there was no possible way that could have happened.  There was, however, a bit of doubt remaining in my mind.

The water was getting more choppy and the wind picked up as we made it to the island.  It looked like it was raining to our east, but other than a few errant raindrops, we had managed to avoid the inclement weather.  We beached the canoes and Bob punched the passport.

Bob with sealskinz socks standing in water

Bob pretended his e-Fuel was whiskey so he'd be sure to drink enough.

Bob: Actually, I was just trying to look like Scott Fredrickson. If he had a beard, we’d look exactly alike.

We paddled into the small bay to get CP11, and I was once again worried that I had led our team astray since that other team was so sure that what we thought was CP10 was CP11.  I was still 99% sure I knew where we were, but it was a huge relief when we paddled right to the CP and confirmed that we had indeed gotten it right.

At this point, we could have portaged across the peninsula or paddled around it again.  I know Bob really wanted to portage, but the rest of us voted to paddle around it.  In hindsight, I think it would have been faster to portage, but I guess we’ll never know.

Kate: In retrospect, I feel bad that I argued against portaging.  Wimpy move, especially since we didn’t have bikes in the canoes or anything.  Next time, tell me to man up.

Casey:  I was on the fence and would have been fine with the portage.  It didn’t look too far but I think we made the right decision.  I have a feeling the portage would have taken us longer.

Bob: I think it would’ve been faster. By the time we would’ve gotten there, the trail would have already been blazed.

Luke: Like I said, we’ll never know.

As we paddled around the peninsula, the waves seemed to have gotten MUCH bigger.  It was really rough out there.  It was so rough, in fact, that we had to make sure we didn’t get sideways to the waves.  We had to hit the waves straight on or risk being tipped.  Hitting the waves head-on was a rough ride, though, and Bob said that several times they took on water over the bow of the canoe as they came crashing down over each wave.

Kate: I was definitely nervous during this part of the paddle, especially being as someone had already almost tipped the canoe in calm water. 

Bob: I’m so glad Luke lost the bet.

Kate: Still stinging from that upper body strength comment, huh?

Casey:  It was pretty rough out there.  Bob and I had a hard time not pulling away from the other canoe (we had 2 kayak paddles) with the rough waters.  We’d try to coast and wait for them, and we’d get tossed around and had to paddle to keep our bow into the waves.  We eventually decided to paddle a little ahead and get into the cove and wait for them there.  We kept an eye on them and hoped they’d join us safely in a few minutes. 

We eventually made it back to the TA after roughly 2 hours of paddling, but the last half of that paddling leg wasn’t exactly fun.  Well, that’s not true.  It was actually a lot of fun… now that it’s over.  We were definitely glad to be getting off the lake without tipping.

Canoe take-out at LBL Challenge AR

See? Kage is carrying the canoe better than Bob in this photo, isn't she?

Kate: Thanks for putting in that really flattering picture of me.  Now I’ll never be selected for America’s Next Top Model.  Jerk.

Luke: Kage, there can’t be a more flattering shot than a woman carrying a canoe in the middle of a 24+ hour adventure race.  Right?

Casey:  I guess we didn’t get any pictures when it was really rough, we were too busy trying to survive.  The pictures we have don’t do it justice.  However, according to people who raced LBL last year, it was nowhere near as rough as it was last year.  Last year, they cut the paddle short because it was too rough and too many people were dumping their canoes (they were the yellow P.O.S. canoes, however).

We transitioned to the bikes for a short ride (roughly 2 miles) to the big orienteering leg of the race.  We were really looking forward to getting to our first food drop, too.  As we pulled up to CP13 and the start of the O-course, we were shocked that there were so many bikes still there.

Food Drop #1 / CP 13 – 3:56 PM Saturday Afternoon – 8 Hours 26 Minutes Racing

As we rode down the gravel road to the manned-checkpoint, we could see a team of four getting ready to get back on the bikes.  It turned out to be Team Tecnu, one of the best teams in the country.  Oh, crap!  If it took a team of their caliber that long to finish the O-course, it must be pretty damn tough.  We dropped our bikes, swapped our bike shoes for trail shoes, and started to go through our food bag as Tecnu took off on their bikes.

Then another team came out of the woods.  It was Wedali.  Double crap!  Another top team was just now finishing the orienteering section.  And then as we were going through our food, switching from biking gear to trekking gear, and just taking way too long at the TA, another team came out of the woods: One of the two Bushwhacker teams.  What… the… hell?!?!

Transitoin Area with Drop Bags at LBL Challenge Adventure Race

Casey:  Thanks for putting in that really flattering picture of Bob and me.  Now we’ll never be selected for America’s Next Top Model.  Jerk!

Luke: Casey, there can’t be a more flattering of two husky dudes with half-beards. Right?

Clearly, this orienteering leg was a big, fat female dog, if you know what I mean.  As we ate some food, restocked our packs, and got ready for the O-course, I studied the map.  It was pretty clear that we were not going to clear the course.  So the question then became how many CP’s we should try to get before the 9:00 PM (?) cutoff.  Should we use all of that time to get as many CP’s as we can?  Or should we just grab a couple of the close ones in the daylight and come back to the bikes and hope we can use that time to get more CP’s later in the race?

Since the top teams obviously had some issues with the orienteering course, I figured we just might have some issues as well – especially once it got dark.  So I wanted to get 3 or 4 CP’s, skip the rest, and make our way back to the bikes before dark and hope that saving a couple of hours would help us later in the race.  Casey disagreed.  He’s the kind of guy that never wants to concede anything until absolutely necessary, and he always wants to push the envelope, for better or worse.  So we planned on getting a couple of CP’s and then we would reevaluate.

Bob: You forgot to mention that he does it all with a million-dollar smile, dazzling facial hair and an endless supply of mind-bending flatus.

Casey:  I think you should use all the time you have to get as many CP’s as possible, especially if you don’t know what is coming later in the race.  I don’t like to ASS -U-ME anything.  You know you have these CP’s to get and can’t assume there will be more later (undisclosed at this time).  I would hate to leave early, saving time for later, only to find out that there were no more CP’s and finish with time to spare and CP’s left un-punched.  Hell, I want to get all the CP’s every race.

Luke:  Every team needs a guy like you, Casey.  You always push us to do more than we think we can, and that’s a very good thing.  Sometimes, however, it’s better to skip CP’s early to get more later.  It’s a tough decision sometimes, though, because (like you said), you just don’t know what the rest of the race has in store for you.

As we were finishing up our (way too long) transition, the other Team Bushwhacker came out of the woods, our friends Scott and Frederick.  We asked how it was out there, and they said it was pretty rough.  That’s not what we wanted to hear.  We said good-bye and good luck, and then headed into the woods.  A few minutes later, we crossed paths with Team Alpine Shop, another top contender, as they were just finishing the orienteering leg.

Man, it was going to be a rough O-course.

To Be Continued…

Just for Fun Friday – The Flood is Coming Edition

As Bob and I were running on the Katy Trail this morning (although Bob was a half an hour late because he “sent me an email changing the time to 6:30 instead of 6:00” that I never received), we talked about how the Katy may be underwater within the next few weeks as the Missouri River rises.  We then discussed how we should paddle on the Katy Trail if it does indeed become flooded.  Bob even came up with a great name for the event: “Rails to Sails.”  Pretty good, huh?

Talking about paddling during the impending flood made me think of the time we had way too much fun paddling a flooded Cedar Creek.  In case you missed it, below is the video. Check it out:

 

 

The last time we paddled Cedar Creek, we ended up walking a few extra miles since we (Bob) left the keys at the canoe put-in.  To read all about it, you can go here (seriously, it’s worth a read).  It was an incredibly fun day (even with the mishap regarding the keys), and we really need to get back out there for some more paddling fun.  And Robby has promised us that he would join us next time, and NOTHING will stop him.

Until next time, Toot-a-Loo.

Mistake or Miracle in the Boundary Waters

***NOTE*** This is a guest post by our friend Susy Stephens from the adventure racing team, The Golden Girls.  She graciously agreed to let us post it here for all of you to enjoy.  It’s a fantastic story.  Thanks, Susy!

Camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) is an incredible wilderness experience, or so we had been told. Our group of five set-off to celebrate the 60th birthday of the Twins, Sandy and myself, and discover what camping away from people, cell phones, television, internet, running water, air conditioning, furnaces, beds, all of the conveniences we take for granted. The chance to see nature in its most pure state, the call of the loon, soaring bald eagles, clear water lakes, huge fish, and maybe a moose were part of our dreams. The lure of an area restricting large groups of people with no noise pollution from motor boats or people was so intriguing we were determined to overcome some obstacles.

The difficulty of the “portage” was something we greatly respected (feared) and almost took the option of a tow to a much easier to reach area. However, we mustered up all the courage we use to tackle other events not commonly done by people of our age group and gender, such as adventure racing, and told our Seagull Outfitters we wanted to go for it. The two day easier trip became a six day stay in the wilderness, with several options on route choice, credit given to our very wise and able outfitter. We pumped ourselves up, disregarded the first option for a base camp not even in the BWCA, and told ourselves we could go deep into the wilderness. We can do it!

Departure morning we got a first glimpse of all the gear in one place, six Duluth bags(monster frameless back packs), a huge bear barrel, a large food pack, our fishing tackle, and Go-Lite packs to carry our rain gear, cameras, and water bottles all looked like enough to sink a large boat, let alone a two person and three person canoe with five women! Chris, our routing engineer, assured us all would be fine and loaded us up in our canoes and pointed the direction to our first portage. You have to wonder if the outfitters hang around to witness the beginners on their first portage for laughs. We could have had them howling with laughter.

Golden Girls Paddling the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

We paddled confidently off in the pointed direction until we hit a dead-end. What??? It didn’t have any “No Outlet” signs, now what. We turned around to ask our buddies if they had seen the portage we must have passed and started to retrace our route, paddling back to where we had come. Realizing that wasn’t going to work we went back to our initial first stop and realized the portage was right in front of us, we just didn’t know what to look for. So off we went on our first portage of 150 rods. Rods??? We just figured it was about the length of a canoe and thought “150 canoe lengths” to give us a good idea of the distance. One of the stronger younger women, Angie, was able to hoist the two person canoe over her head and onto her shoulders and away she went down the trail. Wow! Three of us in our lack of wisdom decided to carry the three person canoe. We ended up fighting each other all the way down the trail and had the most miserable canoe carrying experience I will ever have. After three more trips, we had all of our gear ready for the next lake. Whew! It was really only 50 rods, but seemed like 150.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area

That first portage really put us in our place, so when we cruised into Ham Lake and saw the first Base Camp Option, it was indeed very tempting. However, it was not in the BWCA, so we would have to go further to really be in the BWCA. On we paddled to the next portage; we were considerably more “experienced” at this point after practicing on the previous two portages. This time we were smart enough to let Angie carry both canoes, while we trudged along with all the Duluth Bags and our varied assortment of gear. The next lake, Cross Bay Lake, contained Base Camp Option 2 and by this time we were really hoping that site would be available. All sites are on a first come basis. Once we spotted it with no tell tale signs of campers we sent Missy on shore to check it out. She scurried up the trail and was back in no time…”This is good!” Oh, yes, we were all pleased to have found home for at least the next two nights. After getting everything hauled into the camp site and put up, it was looking like home for more than two nights. We set about the business of preparing to live on this rocky point. Connie and Missy went out in the canoe to filter water, but were being blown around so much, I decided to stabilize the front end of their canoe from my seemingly stable sloping rock so they could continue to filter water at a deeper spot than from shore. Well, it seemed like a good idea. It was the first night out and I was already in my second and last outfit. Thank goodness all the clothes dried quickly including my newly acquired buff, so I could pretend to be like a Survivor contestant.

drying clothes at the BWCA

We settled into life in the wilderness, fishing, paddling out to see if we could catch sight of a moose, relaxing around camp, and enjoying all the fantastic meals Seagull Outfitters had packed for us. We decided pretty early that this camp was home for the next 5 nights and we would day trip from there. We found portaging to be so much easier without our well supplied kitchen, and tents complete with sleeping bags and Thermarest pads. Comfy camp living does not lend itself to multiple moves into the wilderness. We were content and happy to have the option not to do an entire loop, thanks again to our wise outfitter.

We gained in confidence how to live in the wilderness, knowing that waiting to make smores at dark would bring out the mosquitoes. And so it was, one evening, we had finished up dinner early, had the dishes washed and were ready to dive into the tents before the bugs were out. But we heard an unexpected noise at the portage site. Someone was coming through very late for heading anywhere on the lake. So we all popped up to our rocky vantage point to see what braves souls were still traveling late in the evening. Two canoes moved indirectly toward us, piquing our curiousity even more. One wave from them…a reply wave from us…then a very quiet tired voice…”Would you have some room (at the inn) for a tired family?” Four of us mid-westerners were present at the time, we grew up watching our family and neighbors pitch in when another faced tragedy or hardship. We glanced at each other and said, “Sure, we can put you over on the hill.” As they get closer, we can see it is a family with a teenage son and daughter. The father and mother begin to tell their story of getting delayed by rain, not being able to find a portage, and fatigue. We could hear the deep, deep fatigue in their voices. As they approached our landing the Floridian of our group, Connie, joined us to see what was going on. She took one look at the youngest child and asked if they had eaten. All little Emily could do was shake her head…not even a whisper. Proving caring for those in need, is not exclusive to the mid-westerners, Connie bids our weary travelers to set-up their camp while we fix their supper. By that time the sincere, complete, abundant, and deep gratitude radiating from these folks really almost shined. If you have ever heard the song “Does the Light Still Shine?” sang by Ray Boltz you will know what I am talking about. It is about a person that regularly visits an old-timer in the nursing home, and each time the old man wants to know if the light of the cross on the mission he used to run was still shining. Though the mission had long closed, if you take the time to listen to the song, you will find out how the light still shines.

So we all sprang into action…doing what we do around our camp. Missy who has a daughter the age of Emily, the youngest child found out they did not have water filtered for the evening and morning. Most folks do not carry water on the portages, so they had wisely waited. Missy’s motherly instincts kicked in and away she scooted down our hill and up theirs to gather their jug and water bottles for her and Angie to fill, while Connie started rummaging through our food to find something to warm their souls. Sandy and I assisted while Connie put together a Chicken and Rice meal that made Chris the teen-age son proclaim, “I feel so much better now.” Even Emily managed a smile when we ask for their family photo.

Helping out at the Boundary Waters

But that is not the end of the story…my sister, Sandy, came to me…”You know how we always say what goes around comes around? Well, I think these folks just received a little kindness they give to others all the time. It was their turn.” That was quite a testament to how this family came across to us.

Connie came to me…she had been the main chef of our group and kept track of what our outfitters had planned for us. Having an odd number in our group, we sometimes had extra food, since most was packed for even numbers…not to mention the generous proportions. So Connie looked for that one sack of Chicken And Rice that had been leftover from our previous meal, knowing that would probably feed two of them. “Something happened,” she said. “I knew there was only one sack of Chicken and Rice…but I found TWO. Something happened.” So on our rocky “mount” you tell me…did Connie make a Mistake… or did we have a small Miracle?

canoeing at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

Sometimes you are not sure can do something… so you don’t. Not the Shroeders…they never hesitated to tackle the long loop set up by their outfitter…and they did it! “In over their heads?” Not even close. As they paddled off the next morning to complete their trip, I couldn’t help but admire and respect their tremendous accomplishment. They taught us how in giving you really receive so much more. Thanks to the Shroeders for stopping in at our little rocky “mount.”

A couple days later we paddled back to our take-out point. On the way, in the middle of a lake it began to rain. We really didn’t have much of a chance to get our rain gear on. But it was a warm rain, so we kept moving, hoping to avoid a real storm. Seagull Outfitters were fast to meet us, even though we looked like drowned rats and probably smelled worse. The storm blew in with a fierce wind and a heavy down pour, just after we arrived at Seagull. They had warm towels, hot cocoa, hot coffee and amazingly clean showers with warm water. Oh yes…that definitely felt like a miracle! Thanks, Connie, for getting with Seagull Outfitters to make that incredible boundary waters trip of my dreams.

mostly happy campers at the BWCA

The “Keys” to a Perfect Day of Paddling

Once again, hello to all of you Virtusites, the best fans a team could ask for (We love you both). As some of you may know, Bob and I had plans of laying waste to all who dared stand against us at the Alpine Shop’s Meramec River Marathon canoe race this Sunday. Well, plans changed. The race was canceled due to high water. Why a canoe race can be canceled due to high water is anyone’s guess, but I digress…

Undaunted by Mama Nature’s attempt to ruin our Sunday, we made plans to do some “local” paddling. Bob, already in St. Louis for the Meramec Marathon, came back to Jefferson City. Since I already had the canoe loaded up onto my Cadillac Escalade (okay, it’s actually a minivan), we made arrangements to hit Cedar Creek.

Bob had previously scouted Cedar Creek in a pack raft (read how that went right here), so he already had a plan in place – sort of.  He knew where to put in and where we would take out. All I had to do was show up with the canoe, paddles and PFD’s (not to be confused with PDF’s).  He told me, and I quote, “All you’ll really need is a bottle of water and maybe an energy bar.”

So, we headed out on some nice gravel roads.  We dropped Bob’s truck off at the take-out, and as he climbed in my van I asked him if he had his keys.  He said he had them right in the cup holder of the van.  Perfect.  We had everything we needed and we were ready to go.  All we could hope for now was for the water to be high enough.

We got to the put-in at the end of Englewood Road, and there was no doubt about the water… There was plenty, and it was fast.  We met a chain-smoking biker couple sitting on the foot bridge over Cedar Creek.  When they realized we were planning on paddling the creek, they both whipped out their cell phones to record us.  Well, I normally hate to disappoint anyone, but we did not put on a show for them.  There were no mishaps… yet.

Putting in at Cedar Creek

Doesn't it look like we're at some Amazonian ruins... Sort of?

Only 100 yards or so down stream, we hit some faster moving water with a few riffles. It had been awhile since I’d paddled in a canoe, and I’ve only used a kayak paddle in a canoe one other time (in fact, I think I was holding the paddle incorrectly). So, I was a little apprehensive at first. Bob was kind of jittery as we hit the faster water too, but there were no major problems.

As soon as we made it through the riffle, we saw a cave up ahead. It’s a Missouri state law (section 1.130) that you have to stop and explore a cave when the opportunity presents itself – look it up.  So, we  pulled over for some “spelunking.” The cave was terrific – nice and cool, and it was actually fairly deep. We didn’t have any lights (since I “Only needed a bottle of water and an energy bar”), but I think we made it almost all of the way to the back of the cave.  Next time I’ll bring a light to explore more thoroughly.

Cave at Cedar Creek

Looking into the cave

Cedar Creek Cave - Rayden

Looking out of the cave... Bob or Rayden?

After killing 20 minutes or so at the cave, we were ready to once again embark on our journey.  We hit a few more fast sections of rapids with no problems, and we were getting much more comfortable in the canoe as a team.  The next couple of miles was peaceful and relaxing (other than the stupid horseflies) as we were treated to some beautiful scenery. If you look closely below, you’ll see a wake of vultures (yes, a group of vultures is called a wake… kind of like a pride of lions,  a murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, a troop of baboons, a school of fish, a pod of dolphins, or a clutch of Virtusites… okay, I made that last one up) trying to cool off with their wings spread on top of a gorgeous, cliff-side house:

Wake of Vultures

Must be a nice view... Minus the vulture poop.

Here you can see what used to be a bridge.  I’m not sure what road used to run across here, but it clearly no longer exists:

Old Bridge at Cedar Creek

Our arms weren't long enough for these monkey bars

We came around the bend, and the glare was blinding with the sun directly in front of us.  Bob’s huge melon and hat blocked a good portion of the glare from my eyes, so I could pretty much see where to take us.  I knew that Bob was ready to have some fun, so I slowly guided us directly toward some of the rougher water.  I kept waiting for him to yell out a change of direction, but he simply couldn’t see where we were going.

We were merely a few feet away from a slew of holes and hydraulics before Bob yelled out, “Hole!!  Hole!! Big fucking hole!”  The bow of the canoe raised up and over the first wave and then came crashing down into the next one with a loud Thwack! Bob got douched with water as a wave crested over the front of the canoe. “Another one!!  Another one!! Big Fucking Hole!!”  The same thing happened, and Bob was once again baptized as the water nearly filled the canoe.  We hit a few more smaller holes and  took on a bit  more water before paddling out of the last stretch of the rapids.

We had taken on a lot of water, but it was a blast!  We were both laughing about it, but then we realized that we had another rough patch of water ahead.  So we got ready to make our way through the next run of rapids.  Now, paddling a canoe full of water is kind of like steering a kiddie car at the carvial – You can steer all you want, but the ride is gonna take you where it wants you to go.  When you add the weight of our fat asses to the additional water in the canoe, it was almost impossible to control the boat as we were sitting so low in the water.  We did as good as we could, but we took on some more water as we made our way through the rapids.  We soon wound up getting tipping a little as all of the water shifted to one side.  We both leaned the other way, and we saved it… almost.  Just as I thought we were about to pull out of it, another wave hit us and our canoe completely submerged.

So, we didn’t actually tip the canoe.  We just sunk it. Literally.  For the next 10 to 20 yards, we actually stayed in the submerged canoe as we made our way down the creek.  It must have looked hilarious to see the two of us “paddling” down the river with only our upper torsos showing.  We finally gave it up and hopped out of the boat.  Our Gatorade bottles were floating away from us, so Bob went after them as I took the canoe to the bank.  I definitely got the easier job since Bob had to hike back upstream for awhile after retrieving the two bottles.

Bob Hiking Upstream at Cedar Creek

Harder than it looks

Submerged Canoe

It's hard to paddle a canoe full of water

It was at this point that I killed my Gatorade and began to wonder if we were going to be finished before dark.  Bob and I joked that we should have brought a headlamp, you know… Just in case.  We unswamped the canoe, and we were soon on our way again.  After the previous mile of rougher water, we were much more relaxed in the canoe which was a good thing… especially since this is what was ahead of us:

haystack of water on Cedar Creek

The photo is disappointing. It was way scarier in the canoe.

I’m not sure if that is called a hole, a hydraulic, a standing wave or a haystack, but I’m positive that you can call it pure fun.  Photos never do justice to the stuff we see out there, and this thing was a lot scarier than it looks in the picture.  We actually heard it before we saw it.  We rounded the corner as it came into view, and at first we were going to go to the side of it.  Then Bob, with his newfound confidence said, “What the hell?  There’s only one of them, so let’s do it.”  Who could argue with that logic?

So, we headed straight for it.  It was awesome!  As we hit the haystack (yeah, that’s what I’m going to call it – a haystack)… Anyway, as we hit it the haystack, the bow of the canoe rose, and it looked like Bob was a good two feet above me.  Then, as we crested the wave, I was looking down on Bob from above.  I thought we were going to sink the boat as a huge wave hit Bob in the chest and filled the boat.  We managed to get over it and through the rest of the rapids without trouble (other than quite a bit of water in the canoe).  It was fantastic!  We learned our lesson from the last time, though, and we decided to pull over and empty the boat again before moving on.

We hiked back up the creek to get the photo above, hoping to capture how cool this thing was.  Then we realized that a photo wasn’t going to cut it, so we took a video of the creek to show the haystack.  Here it is:

As you can see, we didn’t think the video of the creek was good enough, so I thought I’d swim it to give you a better idea of the swiftness and power of the water.  After seeing that I didn’t die and hearing that I didn’t hit any rocks or anything at all, Bob decided to give it a go, too.  It was a lot of fun.

At this point it was getting kind of late.  I tried to call my wife (my phone stayed nice and dry in my aloksak bag), but I had no service.  Since we had not yet reached the bridge at highway Y, we were beginning to realize that maybe we really should have brought a light.  That would have taken forethought and planning, though – two things in which Bob and I are lacking.

We hopped back in the canoe and took off again with smiles on our faces. Not too far down the creek, we ran into an obstacle that even we, Team Virtus, decided not to paddle.  A tree was laying across the entire width of the creek, and the water was really moving.

Strainer at Cedar Creek

This is what you would call a strainer

We were tempted to try it, but we thought better of it.  We pulled over, and Bob carefully scouted it out.  We had made a good decision.  The two of us carefully walked the canoe up to the tree.  I climbed over and through the tree to the other side before Bob passed the canoe through to me.  Then we got cocky.  I climbed into the canoe as Bob held onto it.  We were now facing backwards as Bob tried to climb in.  He made it, but we shot straight back into another branch which turned us sideways.  The power of the water did the rest, and we tipped.

We unswamped again and headed back out.  It wasn’t too much longer before we reached the bridge at Hwy Y, so we knew we were going to make it before dark.  A couple more miles of slightly slower water lead us to our take-out at Burnett School Rd, and we still had an hour of daylight left.

Burnett School Rd Bridge at Cedar Creek

The Take-Out Bridge

It was a terrific paddle, and we had a lot of fun.  I still had no cell phone service, but we could drive back to civilization where I could then call my wife to let her know I was still alive. That is… if Bob actually had his keys.  Um… Yeah… His keys were still in my van which was only 15 miles away or so. Now do you get why the word “Keys” is in quotation marks in the title of this blog post?  See what I did there?

Bob looking for keys

Bob frantically, and futilely, looking for keys

After paddling a little over 11 miles in 90 degree heat and ridiculous humidity with only one Gatorade, you know, because that’s “all I’d need”, we now had to embark on a trek.

Perfect.  Just Perfect.

As we started walking, my phone quit working.  Seriously.  I’m not kidding.  It just stopped working and wouldn’t do anything.  I thought we were going to have to walk the whole way back to the van.  It was not looking good.  I took my phone apart several times with no luck.  After the 5th or 6th time, it miraculously started working again.  I still had no signal though, so we kept walking towards Hwy Y as the sun was starting to set.

Bob and Luke Hiking for Keys

Shouldn't I be the one that's mad?

After 45 minutes of walking, my phone alerted me of three voice mails… One from my brother (sorry I didn’t call you back, Casey) and the other two from my wife.  The first one from my beautiful, understanding wife was just to see if I was going to be home for dinner.  Uh… Nope.  The second one was to see if I was still alive. Yup… for now.  I called her to fill her in on what was going on.  She called us idiots (although I’m not sure why I got lumped into that category – well, maybe it’s because I’ve done stuff like this MANY times before).  Bob then called his girlfriend to sweet-talk her into coming to get us. It didn’t take any sweet-talking, though. In fact, it was almost as if Cara expected this call. We hiked all the way to Hwy Y as it got dark while getting feasted on by horseflies, and thankfully, we only had to wait a few minutes for Cara.

Looking back, I think Bob left his keys in my van on purpose.  It turned into a perfect training session for adventure racing.  We were tired, wet, out of food and water, and we had to hike on a gravel road with no end in sight, not knowing when we were going to be done.  Thanks for that Bob.  Thanks a lot.  In all seriousness, though, a big THANKS goes out to Cara for picking us up.  And another big THANKS goes out to my wife, Becca, for putting up with this Dynamic Duo time after time.  Baby, you’re the greatest.

It was a truly great day.  We had a lot of fun, and we got better in the canoe fo’ sho’.  I can’t wait to do it again… But next time I’ll hold on to the keys.  For anyone that knows me personally, you know it’s pretty bad when I’m the responsible one.

And eventually… Just maybe… there could be a Team Virtus Non-Race in the works.  And when that happens, your ass had better be there. That’s why we’re doing all this you know, to give you an awesome non-race. Not for our own entertainment.

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