Update: Dec 3 with the final update from Andy Lightle and Mark De Ponzi

The Bend Conspiracy Round 2
Mark DePonzi

From 1977 up until this last trip with the Boys from MTBR, I have been going to Bend to visit my grandparents as many as 2-3 times a year, every year. So you might say I know a few things about Bend over the past 30 years. Well maybe not! In October, I hear that MTBR is headed back to Bend for Round 2. I put the word out to Francis, that I want in! A few weeks later I get an email that says I'm in. Oh yeah! It can't get much better than a bike trip in Oregon. For me personally, there was a big difference between the 2011 trip and 2012 trip. This time I was with the group driving up and back and staying with them in the house in downtown Bend. We were a tight group. It ended up that we were one bedroom short, so I offered to stay with my family so every rider could have their own room. I was told that the group is staying together and we want you to stay here. For the 2011 Bend trip I rode the trails with the group, but stayed with my family. Why do I share all the above with you? What blew me away about this trip was not how great the trails are. Let me take that back the trails are incredible and maybe the best in the country. In the past 30 years of going to Bend I felt like this was my first true Bend vacation. Why? A big thanks to Cog Wild and the guides and volunteers for showing me what I been missing.

What I was realizing after every epic ride was an appreciation for the time Cog Wild was sharing with us OFF THE BIKE! I have been to a few nice restaurants in Bend but nothing like what Melanie Fisher put together for us. I was blown away! Ok, you get the picture I am not talking about bikes and incredible single track trails everywhere, I am talking awesome food, breweries, ice cream parlors and swanky river house markets that serve incredible beer, great burgers... where you can be a bit rowdy and feel like your home.

After those endless single track rides, there are chips, fresh salsa and Deschutes beer waiting for you at the end of the trail. I almost forgot to mention that lunch is provided and made by this bakery called Nancy P's, these sandwiches are to die for! We had one day of good old Oregon weather it rained from the time we stepped out of the van until we got home. You could imagine how muddy you get on a day like this. We didn't really notice the rain so much because the forest we rode through had the feeling like it was plugged into 220 volts of electricity and was like a Christmas tree of colors. I have never seen colors so vibrant in a forest. After hours of insane trails we end the ride and we our all standing there soaked with mud and its cold. I am thinking to myself, there is no way we can all load back in the van this muddy. What are we going to do? Melanie Fisher (co-owner of Cog) is the God of planning! We proceed to walk down this paved road to a Hot Springs where we were all able to take showers and soak in the springs and put our warm clothes on and drive home. This was one of the many highlights of the trip.

On a final note, the guides or volunteers that lead you, I never felt that they were guides, but instead it was more like they were just a part of our group, they fit in like one of us. Of course they know where to go and you never worry about being lost or finding the best trails. What I like about everyone of them was I felt like I was riding with one of my good friends at home and afterwards when it came time to eat and drink the guides joined us and I felt once again they were just one of us hanging out wanting to connect and have fun.

Cog Wild will show you the best trails in the area, no doubt about it. The curve ball for me was what Cog Wild knows and shares with you off the bike and how much fun they are to hang out with. My appreciation for the times off the bike is what I noticed was increasing over my trip and created a great experience. After 30 years of visiting Bend it was like a new city for me. Thanks Cog Wild and everyone who made this trip remarkable.

The Bend Experience
By Andy Lightle

While prep'ing for our trip, I had concerns; would four days of travel be worth four days of riding? What clothes should I bring? Do I have the right bike? I had several conversations with Melanie from Cog Wild www.cogwild.com. She is co-owner and a master planner. Knowing of my 16 hour drive, Mel looked up low priced flights and sent them to me. She let me know this would allow me two additional days of riding. While I was extremely grateful, I declined the offer. Others might jump at the chance, but sometimes getting there is half the fun, and riding up with the MTBR crew is no exception. She let me know there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. I brought everything a SoCal guy has for bad weather. I brought board shorts, flip flops and a hoodie. Oh, I also brought the rain gear, extra gloves, shoe covers and beanies. :) As far as the bike goes, I have the right bike! Niner's Jet 9 Carbon. I couldn't have asked for more!

Cog Wild has set the bar and raised it for any adventure tour company as far as I am concerned. If I were to fly in, I could have shipped my bike to a local bike shop and have them assemble it for me (suggested by Cog Wild.) Another option would be to use one of their many demo/rental bikes. There are too many to list but some of the major players include Santa Cruz, Ibis, Specialized and Rocky Mountain.

Lev and Mel (co-owners of Cog Wild) had planned out our four days of riding the fabulous trails of Bend. Not only that, they made suggestions for places to stay-provide a budget and they give you options. We stayed in a house close to town. It was a beautiful rental called the Alpenglow house, with four bedrooms that sleeps ten. It has a private front and backyard and is within walking distance to some of the downtown scene. We even left our bikes out at night. This is something I would never do back home. :)

What sets Cog Wild apart? We aren't clients, we are family. Not only do they take us on amazing rides every day, they inform us about the Bend scene. Melanie was sure to let us know about must see sights. For this MTBR crew that included breweries, food and sights. We hit all the local lesser-known breweries; 10 Barrel, Crux and Boneyard to list a few. Hell, we even got hooked up! Finding out Wednesday's are growler days at Boneyard was a H.U.G.E. plus! Riverside Market is a lesser known market/deli with local beers on tap! They have the best sweet potato tater tots around. Broken Top Bottle Shop is newer place with, not only great tasting food, but also copious amounts of locally bottled beers. We couldn't have asked for more, but we got it anyway. While loading our bikes on the van for the shuttle ride on the McKenzie River Trail we were informed to bring our bathing suits. :) After the ride, we were shown another unknown jewel-Belknap Hot Springs. This is a lovely hotel with an outdoor pool that is filled naturally with a local hot spring. After hours on the bike, in the rain, nothing was better. We paid a small fee for the pool and in we went. Heaven!

We were so grateful for everything Cog Wild did, we hosted dinner for them one night. We asked Lev and Melanie to get all the guides and their families and bring them over to the house. We were hosting dinner. Now how often do you hear about that happening? My job today is to inform you about Cog Wild. I'm to let you know about the good, the bad and the ugly. Its so easy to write about the good stuff, about the amazing sandwiches we were provided during the rides-monster thanks to Nancy P's Bakery. Writing about the stoke we got during the rides and the stoke from the guides as we flowed through the aspens following the line of the rider in front of you. The smiles are almost as memorable as the foliage. It's difficult to write about the bad. Maybe that the company vans were not limo's? How about the fact that I had to unwrap my own sandwich when I wanted to eat? I know, how about having guides that never seem to be tired! What's with that?! Can you please get that ****-eating grin off your faces and show some exhaustion?! I don't know, just thinking about this trip brings a smile to my face. Now for the ugly, oh thats easy! There is no ugly in Bend. The views are amazing, the river beautiful, the breweries flowing, the people giving, the riding outrageous and Cog Wild was unbelievable. I know I will do my best to always stay in contact with Melanie and Lev. I have invited them to my hometown anytime they want. I don't know why they would leave, but if they do, they have a place to stay.

The obvious question is, "Then why haven't you moved there?" While I don't have Hero Dirt, Pliny Killer or natural hot springs around my trails, I do have family. Can I leave it at that?

Update: Nov 29 with story from the great Andrew Lazenby

A Cog Wild Experience in Bend, Oregon
By Andrew Lazenby

Picture this. Carving autumn-rich trails-from wooded roller coasters to volcanic rock, from streams to waterfalls, from canopy-covered singletrack to vast viewpoints-this was our mountain bike themed weekend in Bend, Oregon, courtesy of Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours. Having never been to Bend myself, I had only heard of the incredible riding near and around town. With only a few days to explore, it was a relief to know we had such seasoned guides on our team to help us navigate through a seemingly endless assortment of trails. We followed and let it flow, without a worry in the world whether we missed a scenic point or made a wrong turn. Our Cog Wild guides delivered. And I want to go back for more.

Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours has been around since 1999, and recently taken over by Melanie Fisher and Lev Stryker in 2006. They currently employ upwards of 20 guides, depending on the season, and have a fleet of vans ready to carry bikes, gear, riders and beer (courtesy of Deschutes Brewery) to trails near and around Bend. Single and multi-day guided or shuttle packages are available. Cog Wild operates year-round (weather permitting) and their guides carefully select the day's route based on rider ability, group size and weather conditions in the mountains. During the colder months when the trails to the west succumb to the snow and ice, the trails to the east of Bend come into play.

Cog Wild caters to all riding abilities and to those with very specific bike needs. Near Bend and around Central Oregon, it was clear there are hundreds of trails to chose from-from beginner stretches down a riverbank to advanced technical riding near Smith Rock. Also, being such a premier tour company, Cog Wild maintains close relationships with bike shops in Bend. If you aren't able to fly or drive into town with your own wheels, Cog Wild can make some calls and have your perfect steed already loaded on the van and ready to roll when you arrive.

Although we were lucky enough to be picked up each morning at our rental home for the weekend, we did stop by the Cog Wild headquarters to take a glimpse of how the business works. Walls covered in maps? Check. Fleet of their own rental bicycles tuned and ready to ride? Check. Beer? Check. Large tables to spread out maps and get stoked for the next day's adventure? Check. A wall full of merchandise to bring home and show off how awesome your weekend was? Check.

The Cog Wild team is local to Bend. They make their livings in and around town and are part of what seems to be a very small-town sense of community. Being locals, the Cog Wild team can help piece together a truly fun weekend in and around Bend. We were so grateful to have a touring company that treated us like long-time neighbors-from gear lists to make sure we could handle an assortment of weather to recommending a great spot for viewing the sunset over a pint. In my opinion, this is the essence of a touring company. We never felt we simply purchased a lift to the next trailhead. The whole time, it it seems like Melanie and Lev are processing data: how fast we climb, what kind of descents we like, what style of food and beer we prefer, what the next morning precipitation will bring. They take all this live data and adjust our itinerary for the next hour or for the next day. The owners and guides wanted us to share the same passion that they have for their trails and the amenities in town.

Cog Wild's plans for the company are vast, and for good reason. It's quite apparent that the crew wants to extend the sense of community from the town of Bend into the mountains. This year, there are plans to begin offering a camping week for families with planned rides and hikes from camp. When asked what the catalyst for this endeavor was, Melanie noted, "It's just spreading the word that mountain biking is not scary." Bend bicycle shops better start stocking up with small-wheeled bikes.

Our MTBR crew managed to muster for four epic days of riding. Between rides, we spent time relaxing in our incredible home provided by Victoria at Alpenglow rentals. We spent time walking into town to eat at incredible restaurants and hydrate at breweries that all served up a tasty IPA. Rather than spending pages recounting our rides and adventures in town, a brief summary of our activities follows below. Feel free to copy into your own itinerary and let the good times roll!
  • Day 1: Ride Lookout Mountain in the Ochoco range, located about 1:15 from Bend. Grab groceries at Ray's, fill up growlers at local breweries, and serve up Alaskan caught halibut enchiladas at the house for our crew, guides and guests.
  • Day 2: Ride the McKenzie River Trail, located about 45 minutes from town. Post-ride de-mud and warm up at the Belknap Hot Springs Resort. Dinner at the Broken Top Bottle Shop in town.
  • Day 3: Ride local Bend trails (Swampy, South Fork, Whoops and Bend Trail). Sunset pint at the Crux Fermentation Project and dinner at the Riverside Market.
  • Day 4: Quick morning ride on more local Bend trails (Tiddlywinks, Larsen Trail, new Tyler's Traverse Trail, and end on the River Trail. Lunch at the Parilla Grill. Caffeine stop at Backporch Coffee Roasters. Final tasting at Boneyard Brewery. Begin our journey home. Start planning for next trip to Bend.
Mountain bikers in Bend really do share a passion for their trails. The Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) recently finished a day long trail building project that we were lucky enough to ride not very long after (Tyler's Traverse). Riders come together, put in a hard day's work, finish with a party, and maintain a sense of pride in their trails that visitors reap the benefits from. Here's an example. While riding the quintessential Whoops Trail on our third day, we had three or four riders in our group note that the trail was in poor condition due to a full summer of use and a sustained dry period that rendered trail maintenance out of the question. We almost skipped it and thank goodness we didn't! After riding out of the final banked turn, I rode up to our guides and asked if they were joking about the trail conditions! In my mind, the trail was in perfect condition. This goes to show the pride that the riders in Bend have for their trails.

As we drove away from Bend for our long journey back home to Northern and Southern California, there was plenty of time for reflection of our fun-packed weekend. Our exposure to the trails near and around Bend, our introduction to old and new breweries around town, our new friends and journals filled with places we would visit or trails we would ride on our next trip, were all courtesy of Cog Wild Mountain Bike Tours. Being a planner by nature, I like to plan my long weekend bike trips, down to the trails and a list of things to do and places to see. This time, without planning a single step, our adventure in Bend is a favorite I will remember for a long time. That is, until I book my next Cog Wild weekend. Cheers.

The Bend Conspiracy
Written by Kyle Maxwell

Electric yellow. That's the only way to describe it. It happened so quickly. A few swooping turns, riding along the west edge of the lake, through ancient lava flows in a light mist of rain. We broke into the forest of deep green cedar and moss. Moss everywhere. The dirt was wet, but the tires were still clean. Evidence of a loamy, forest trail. As we rounded the corner, we lifted our eyes and found ourselves in the most amazing display of fall foliage I've ever seen. Intensely illuminated yellow leaves contrasting starkly with the rich, vibrant greens of the lush McKenzie River Trail, unfurled before us. It was eye candy overload. A cathedral of color, bursting at its seams. I looked back just in time to see Sonya's face, frozen in the same OMG expression as my own. We were awestruck. The forest was revealing its magic.

Let's rewind a bit. It's September and the summer riding season in the Bay Area is slowly fading. An email is sent out, half-jokingly discussing another fall trip to Bend, Oregon. The plan: to hook up with Cog Wild Tours and ride the extensive Central Oregon trail system for 4 days, while eating and drinking our way across the vast beer-centric culinary landscape. It didn't take long to get serious and settle on a date. Bright and early on October 17, seven MTBR members would depart San Jose, CA for a 9-hour haul up to Oregon's outdoor playground. We'd be given the keys to a 4-bedroom vacation home in the trendy NW neighborhood, just a few blocks from the picturesque Deschutes River and downtown Bend. What's more, we'd be joined by Sonya Looney, an ultra-endurance pro racer, riding for Team Topeak-Ergon. To top it off, my good friend a photog phenom, Steve Potwin would join us with an arsenal of lights and lenses to capture it in all its high-res beauty.

The morning of the trip found us in my driveway at 6am, working to get the huge Packasport cargo box bolted down to the racks on the 2012 Lexus SUV. After 45 minutes of wrenching and bag tossing, the behemoth SUV and the trailing Prius were loaded and ready to roll. The plan was to get into Bend early enough to meet with Lev Stryker of Cog Wild and hit the trail for an easy afternoon ride. As we approached Oregon though, another alternate plan was carving its way into the day...a visit to Boneyard Brewery. Boneyard is one of the newest members of Bend's beer family, but has quickly risen to the ranks of cult-like status, with their famous Pliny killer, the High RPM IPA. It didn't take long to convince the group to the change of plans.

After a healthy array of samplers and a few growler fills, we settled in to the charming craftsman-style home and within minutes, Lev showed up at the front door with a warm welcome. After quick introductions, we got right to business: discussing ride plans. Tomorrow's ride would begin sharply at 8am. We'd drive over an hour out of Bend to the Ochocos National Forest, a remote and under-utilized riding area. After a few beers, we turned in for the night, eager for a great day of riding.

Bright and early, the house was buzzing with ride prepping. I had the task of brewing up cups of americanos on the espresso machine, since the coffee maker decided to go on the fritz. Halfway through a solid pour, a neatly dressed brunette walked into the kitchen, greeting us with a glowing grin. "Are you serving coffee?" she asked. "Of course. You want one?", I replied. I was into my fourth pull at this point and had it down to a science. I handed her a cup and introduced myself. At 29, Sonya's accomplishments are pretty impressive. Originally a solar designer, Sonya dove into the world of competitive cycling in 2006, riding for Cannondale, then switched over to Topeak Ergon in 2009. Since then, she was selected to the USA Marathon World Championships team for both 2010 and 2011 and represented the US in Germany in 2010. Not to mention, two wins at the Breck Epic and 3rd in the coed duo category with teammate, Jeff Kerkove, in the Brasil Stage Race.

Let's just say, we were in good company.

We were picked up promptly at 8am. Lev pulled up in front of the house in the 15-passenger Cog Wild van. Within 20 minutes, they had a dozen bikes loaded on the roof. We piled in and we were off. To our delight, the first stop would be at the ever-popular Nancy P's bakery for pastries, coffee, and a big bag of trail sandwiches. (These life-sustaining morsels are a mainstay with the Cog Wild rides. I look forward to lunch whenever they're involved.) Fueled up, we made the 90-minute drive through rural ranch land to Lookout Mountain, deep in the Ochocos Forest. In typical Cog Wild fashion, there's always a lead trail guide and a sweep. Lev made his way to the back several time to make sure everyone was okay. After a strenuous 10-mile climb, we reached the peak, a treeless, windblown ridgetop that afforded expansive views of Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, and a handful of other Presidents. At 7,000 feet, we were ready for the 4,000 foot descent through lava beds, over rolling hills with sweeping views, and finally into sinewy trails through some of the most amazingly smooth singletrack I have ever ridden. All the while, Sonya was out in front and hard to catch. And believe me, I tried. This girl has some serious horsepower. I finally caught her wheel on the final descent to the road. She was railing her Canyon hardtail 29er, fully kitted out in Ergon black and green, and looking strong. We hooted and hollered our way down the screaming descent, leaving it all out on the trail. A quick regroup on the roadside and it was a swift, 2-mile pedal back to the van. Within a few minutes a cooler emerged and ice-cold bottles of Deschutes beers were being shared. High fives were passed around as we recalled an amazing ride.

That evening, we opted to venture out and try a local establishment, 10 Barrel Brewery. Ten Barrel is blessed with a great location, an outdoor fire pit and beer garden. I decided I'd try their double IPA,aptly named Dub and served in a tulip glass. At 10%, this beer did not disappoint. While the consensus on the 10 Barrel line up would be met with mixed reviews for the remainder of the night, I was convinced that I'd made the right choice. After two of these, I was ready to call it a night and prepare for another day of riding.

"There are no bad days in Oregon. Only bad gear choice." Melanie's simple statement rattled around in my head, three hours into our soggy ride along the McKenzie River Trail. I'm glad I heeded her subtle warning and went out the week prior to the trip to pick up some rain booties, and a better pair of winter-centric bib knickers. These two articles of riding gear, along with a good winter riding jacket, would prove to be the difference between soaking wet, and soaking wet and miserable. I've ridden quite a bit in wet weather, but this was October in Oregon and anything can happen. As they say, if you don't like the weather here, wait 15 minutes. Today, we'd need to wait much, much longer. The storm forecast for the day had come in wetter than anticipated and covered the entire central Oregon landscape with a significant cloud cover that promised a full day of wet riding. But that didn't put the damper on the day. The call was made by the Cog Wild crew to send the ride west, into the Willamette Forest and onto the famous river trail, knowing that it would be drier by the simple fact that we'd be under a heavy canopy of trees. This is the level of knowledge that comes into every ride...a keen awareness of the weather conditions, the terrain, and the factors that make for a great day, or lousy one. (They care, they're riding, too.) The kicker: this diversion of plans meant that our 20-ish mile ride would end at the luxurious Belknap Hot Springs, a resort and lodge centered around an Olympic-sized swimming pool, filled with Oregon's finest mineral water at a muscle-relaxing 104º. If that wasn't enough to keep the pedals turning, I'm not sure that anything would.

We were joined by Patrick, Ryan, Matt, and Melanie of Cog Wild. Since the area we were in was state forest, where guide companies are forbidden to run services, they were simply there for the ride. Which says a lot about the trail. Even though they had to option to sit this one out, they were up for the sloshfest. These guys just love to ride. We made our way through lush groves of intense fall foliage, over jagged lava beds, between old-growth cedars a thousand years of age, and along a river that plummeted over several majestic waterfalls before suddenly disappearing for a few miles. It's not noticeable when it happens, but there's a creeping sense that it has become much quieter in the forest. That's when the true, zen moment of the ride kicked in. I was no longer fighting the elements. I was immersed in them, and vice versa. As Patrick stated so eloquently, "This is the real world. Everything else is manufactured." Fewer words could be truer at this moment.

The sound of rushing water snapped me back into my senses as I approached the Blue Pool, a mind-boggingly pure-blue chasm that marks the river's flow onto the surface again. We regrouped at this spot for a quick lunch and then stepped up the pace since we had another 10 miles before we reached our destination. The trail was a river of water, but it didn't slow down the group. We railed every turn like it was a summer day, hammering out every climb and powering through the rolling terrain. We were motivated to finish this ride. During one regroup, we laughed at how incredibly mud-spattered our faces had become. You could wipe away the mud, but the smiles were permanent.

The conditions and the cold were beginning to take a toll on the group, when Ryan mentioned that we had just a few miles remaining. At that point, it was game on to get to the Cog Wild van. Less for the dry clothing, and more for the cooler of beer waiting inside! What can we say, we're mountain bikers. The first half of the group made it back and we celebrated with a round of Chainbreaker IPAs. Soon though, with our core temperatures beginning to drop, we decided to make a beeline to the resort, just a short walk down the road. Muddy and dripping wet, seven shivering mountain bikers walked into the clean lobby and each handed $7 to the smiling receptionist who cheerfully directly us toward the locker room. In what can only be described as forced ingenuity, seven mountain bikers walked straight into the showers, fully clothed, and proceeded to rinse 20 miles of McKenzie River Trail down the drain. I can't say it was the most environmental act of the trip, but we came out clean and ready for a hot soak in the pool.

Bliss doesn't quite capture it, but it comes close. Leaning my sore body against the side of the pool wall, I reveled in the hot water, watching the rising steam meet the light falling rain. Looking around, I was amazed by the caliber of riders that had gathered for such an adventure. Sonya from Boulder, Andy and Drew from Orange County, the Bend crew, and the rest of us from the Bay Area. Despite such diverse backgrounds, the group was singularly united by one common thread: challenging our limits and enjoying the company of others who do the same. At the end of the day, it wasn't about the bike, the miles ridden, or the elevation climbed, but about the experience shared with others. It was about being in the present, at the most tangible level. There would be other rides, other trips, other distractions to put our thoughts in those faraway places, but right now, this was it. Just being here and taking it all in.

On the ride back to Bend through a steady rain, the collective contentment in the van was palpable. It was like a giant, unspoken high-five. I flashed back a brief memory of that initial email that went out, the question of whether we could really pull it off again, the speculative date planning, then the growing excitement as we counted down the days to the trip. I thought about how easy it was, once we all set our minds to it, to create the window of opportunity to make a trip like this happen. Once the wheels were set in motion, all the pieces just fell into place. The truth was that we owed it to ourselves to dream big, to step outside our circles of familiarity and get out there, where new experiences can happen. Where rides can turn into adventures that create lasting memories and lifelong friends. For us, it was in Bend.

About this trip report:
The Bend Experiment

What would happen if you took seven of the most stoked members of mtbr on a bike and beer adventure in Bend, Oregon - one vehicle, one house, one schedule. Would there be fun to be had? Would they still talk to each other after the trip?

Mtbr sent a few emails and within a few days, the trip was set. Members were selected not only for their riding skills and beer tasting ability but mostly for their enthusiasm for riding and life in general. And our Colorado sister, Sonya Looney heard about our adventure and joined in on the festivities. On the roster were:
  • Kyle Maxwell - San Jose, Graphic Designer, Downieville Gathering organizer
  • Andy Lightle - Corona, CA, Bike Ambassador, Downieville Gathering organizer
  • Steve Potwin - San Jose, Skater, Photographer
  • Peter Tsang - SF, Custom bike nerd, Beer Expert
  • Mark De Ponzi - San Jose, Endurance Rider, Hot springs expert
  • Andrew Lazenby - Orange County, Engineer, Fast dude but slow drinker
  • Sonya Looney - Beer taster.
Commissioned for our activities were Cog Wild Tours for all rides, Alpenglow Vacation Rentals for housing, Toyota Lexus for the test vehicle and Boneyard Beer for IPA. All services were provided to us for free.

Road trips are a big part of the mountain bike lifestyle. Day trips or week-long trips define us and our appreciation for life and our sport. Read on and share in our adventures called the Bend Experiment.

We'll publish three articles on this adventure. The lodging and city of Bend, Cog Wild and the riding, COTA and the trail building efforts. Enjoy!

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