Solo Hill Walking – Why I choose to walk alone

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This image pretty well sums up why a lot of people choose to walk alone in the hills and mountains.  If, like me, you have a fairly head-on job , it is great to have that moment of isolationism where there are no distractions to break the solitude.

But solitude is not the only reason that I walk alone.  Everyone will have their own reasons to walk alone as on the whole it is a very personal thing.  But hopefully, if by reading this you think that you could benefit from solo walking then please – just give it ago.

Whilst, in the main, these are not in any particular order, there is one that is top of the list:

YOU decide what YOU want to DO – there is no one telling you what route to do, when you should stop for a break, why you can’t change your mind and go on a slight detour (because it takes your fancy).  You are left to make all the decisions yourself.  Now hopefully you are not indecisive!  but even if you are turn it to your advantage and flick a coin to make a decision.  What I am getting at is no one can or will dictate your course of action.

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Coupled with the last reason is – you can go at your own pace.  Have you ever been on one of those organised walks where a couple of people just stroll along at their own pace chatting and generally ignoring the rest of the group.  Are you frustrated with having to stop every 15 minutes to let the rest of the group catch up.  Or conversely – been that one holding the rest of the group up because you chose to walk with a group of racing wippets!  Fear not – if you walk alone you walk at your pace, whether that be fast or slow.

I know that many walkers enjoy supplementing their walk with other activities such as bird watching, geo-caching or photography.  In my case I an a radio amateur and enjoy operating my portable radio equipment from the summits.  This can be very frustrating to fellow walkers who don’t share your other interests.  Walking alone allows you to spend as much time as you wish indulging in whatever takes your fancy!

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We all live fairly hectic lives which are constantly creating more problems than we care for.  I personally find that walking alone allows me to mull things over without distraction and maybe even resolve some of my personal issues.  After a couple of hours in the hills all the worries of the world lift and I feel refreshed and ready to take on life again.

If you are naturally a shy person then walking with others will have its own issues and anxieties.  Walking alone removes all those worries and as you walk further and higher your own self-confidence will grow.  After a while you will be a new person and you start to notice a new confidence at work and in life generally.

There will be many more reasons and benefits to walking alone than I can cover here.  If you have your own experiences then please let me know and I will add them to the list.solo walker.jpg

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Solo Hill Walking – safety

Many years ago it was drummed into me that you should never go hill-walking alone.  Back in the day the recommended minimum number for any ‘adventurous’ activity was four.  The rationale behind this was that if one became incapacitated then one would remain with the casualty and the other two would go for help.  At the time this probably made a lot of sense as, for those of you who are under 25 years old, we did not have mobile phones, pagers or satcoms.  So what has changed to make it now acceptable to go it alone?

The quick answer is communication.  We live in a world of amazing mobile communicationwoman texting technology.  It is very rare to find anyone on the hills without a mobile phone. Now whilst this does not guarantee reliable communications’ the coverage is constantly improving and the majority of the country, with the exception of some of the more remote parts of Scotland, have reasonable coverage.

For the more affluent hill-walkers there are satellite phones.  Many companies provide phones and access to the satellite networks and with the number of satellites in orbit you are virtually guaranteed contact.  However, the down side is the cost of the both the phones and the tariffs to use the satellites.  There are however, numerous plans available and competition will eventually drive prices down.

I am neither rich nor have access to someone elses satellite phone so how do I improve my chances of communication and rescue if all goes wrong?

Whilst it may not always be possible to make a voice phone call it is often the case that sms messages will get through.  In order to use this facility to its best there are several apps that ca be downloaded.

  1. From the OS is the excellent ‘OS Locate‘ app.  Apart from giving you your position it also displays your altitude and heading.  This information can be shared via sms with a text message about whats wrong.
  2. Similar to the OS Locate app is the ‘LocSMS‘ app.  This sends your positional data via sms along with a text message.
  3. In order to use both of these apps effectively the information should be sent to the emergency services via 112 or 999.  However, in order to send sms message to 999 you first need to register your mobile number.  Just go to http://www.emergencysms.org.uk/

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Unlike the majority of hill-walkers, I am a Radio Amateur (radio ham) and I specialise in portable operations from hill tops.  As a result I carry HF and VHF radios with me all the time giving my UK and European communication capabilities.  In addition I have a GPS connected to a VHF radio which constantly transmits and updates my position using Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS).  This facility also allows me to send messages as well.
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Not withstanding all this amazing technology, the best way to ensure you will be found if something happens is to leave a route safety card.  There are numerous ones available on the internet but I prefer to use the one produced by the OS download as pdf. The key information must include:

  1. Your route, including start and finish points and any escape routes planned.
  2. Who is in the party, including details of cars and where they will be parked.
  3. Details of survival/safety equipment carried plus details of any known medical conditions.
  4. The time you plan to finish and, more importantly, what time you plan to ‘check-in’ with your safety card holder.

Always designate a responsible person to hold the route safety card and ensure they know not to call 999 until one hour AFTER your latest ‘check-in time’.  When they call 999 ask for Police and tell them you require Mountain Rescue.
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Coming Soon:   Solo Hill-Walking – Why I choose to walk alone

Five things to do AFTER you turn 60

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I asked several older friends of mine what they had wanted to do once they turned sixty.  Many of their suggests were unprintable hear!  But I was able to come up with a TOP 5 things to do and my thoughts on how they could achieve these:

  1. Do something new
    This, for me, was the easiest one to answer.  Take up hill-walking.  “But we haven’t walked very far in years!”  In that case start with a few gentle walks around the neighbourhood slowly increasing the distance and length of time spent outside.  When you feel comfortable look for your local hill and walk to the top.  Again, slowly increase the height of the hills you walk up and before you know it you will be heading for the higher hills and the longer walks.
  2. Get fitter
    This pretty well links in with the previous answer.  However, the one who suggested this had spent all his life either sat in his car or behind a desk – he was very unfit.  I had suggested nice short walks along the river on a sunny Sunday afternoon, even a long walk to a pub – but all to no avail.  Until his Grandson said he was doing a walk with his Beaver Colony and wanted Grandad to come along as well.  Inspired by his Grandson’s wish to walk he went and thoroughly enjoyed himself.  Now he walks for pleasure – so if you are that unfit and need inspiration look no further than your Grand Children.
  3. Go backwoods camping
    At an age when one would expect to stay in a 5 star hotel, or at the very least a Caravan, this was a surprise.  For the benefit of the younger generation backwoods camping is what we called wild camping back in the day.  I was brought up camping and have done it all my life.  So the response was straight forward – get yourself along to the local camping shop and buy a tent and a sleeping bag.  However, do not head for the hills on your first night, instead spend a night at a local campsite or even the back garden.  You never know your mind may have happy memories of camping but reality has changed – in which case donate the tent and sleeping bag to your Grand Children!
  4. Act like a child
    This was a difficult one to respond to as its been a long time since I was a child!  But it was during a recent walk that the inspiration for this one came to me.  I watched a couple of parents with a youngster, maybe 4-5 years old.  They were all having a lovely walk, the parents were talking and enjoying the scenery whilst their daughter was ahead of them jumping into every puddle she could find.  As I passed them I said “she’s enjoying herself” and the response was “it’s what children do”.  So my response to my elder statesmen is look at kids and copy them – but most importantly, have fun.
  5. Travel around Britain
    My colleagues, like many other people in the UK spend their summer holidays jetting off to hotter and more exotic locations.  They never give a thought to the beauty and splendour of the British Isles.  Yet this wonderful group of islands perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean has some of the best places in the world to visit.  Apart from our great and well preserved heritage there are the 15 majestic National Parks – Britain’s breathing spaces.  Stay in your 5 star hotels, but spend your days exploring, driving, walking, sailing, doing whatever you fancy in one of these great national treasures.

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To be perfectly honest these five things apply to all age groups, not just the over 60’s.  We are a nation where a quarter of the British public won’t walk anywhere that takes more than 15 minutes and three quarters of us won’t walk to work or the shops.  We are an unfit nation with figures showing that 11.3 million people do less than 30 minutes’ activity a week.

Be inspired, be determined, be active – GetOutside and enjoy this wonderful land we call home.

Spending Time Outside With The Grandchildren

I am delighted to be able to introduce fellow Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champion Sarah Whiting, of Craft Invaders, who has used her child related crafty skills to produce a great guest post for our blog.   With half term coming very soon followed by the usual gambit of school holidays, this contribution is perfect for those Grand Parents on ‘child-sitting‘ duties and stuck for something to do outdoors .craft_invaders

Spending Time Outside With The Grandchildren by Sarah Whiting

 If you have ever watched your grandchildren and wondered if there is any reason for all their running, spinning and climbing, then the quick answer is yes there is – research now shows that all that rushing about, and spinning in particular is actually crucial for their brain development. Research is all well and good, but sometimes we don’t want kids running and dancing around our home, treating it like a giant adventure playground, so here are some simple ideas for getting kids outside and keeping them entertained.
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In my experience, suggesting ‘a really long walk to tire you out’ is not the best way to entice children outside, even if that is your ultimate aim. Going on a Nature Treasure Hunt sounds much more exciting, and there are plenty of resources online that can be printed off and used. We particularly love the fabulous range of Spotter Sheets on the Wildlife Trusts website that covers everything from a Wild Picnic Spotter to being a Spiky Wildlife Detective. Children do still love the simple childhood activities that we all did as kids, such as playing pooh sticks, messing about in streams, searching for insects and climbing trees.

Kids love being creative, so using natural materials to create art is a great way to get them exploring and using their imagination. Try making natural paintbrushes out of twigs, stick double-sided tape on to card and use it to make a mosaic picture out of flower petals, or explore a tree by taking bark rubbings and making leaf imprints.  You can even make your art outside and leave it for others to find – Use twigs, bark and leaves to make a giant picture, make a pebble sculpture on a beach, or use chalk to draw on a pavement.
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Foraging for food is another fabulous way to spend time outside with your grandchildren. Foraging is simply searching for, and collecting wild food. There are many good reasons to forage; wild foods are far more nutrient dense than commercially produced crops, the foods in our hedgerows are what our ancestors evolved to eat, and foraging with children allows us to pass on the knowledge that we learned when we were young, as well as giving
us all a closer connection with the natural world around us. There is nothing nicer than sitting down to a crumble made from fruit you collected yourself, or why not collect Dandelions and make some fabulous biscuits.
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There is no doubt that fresh air and exercise is beneficial to us all, but spending time outside with children gives us so much more. It reminds us of how the world looks through a child’s eyes, and brings back those precious memories of spending time playing outside
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Sarah Photo cropped.jpgSarah Whiting is passionate about both children and adults spending more time outside exploring, learning and getting creative.  Sarah loves nothing more than to pass on her knowledge to anyone who asks, so why not visit her on Twitter.

It was this passion that led her to create the Craft Invaders blog with her family, where she shares family orientated craft tutorials (which have a strong focus on nature-based and recycled craft), recipes, foraging, wildlife, and their visits to UK wildlife and historic sites.

You can find out about Sarah and her family’s adventures at http://craftinvaders.co.uk

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Lets Go Trig-Point Hunting

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Back in the beginning of December 2016 I blogged about using other interests coupled with walking as a form of motivation to get outside. Well as a follow on from that blog I am looking at the pastime of Trig-point ‘bagging’.

If you have not come across Trig-points before, they are the common name for “triangulation pillars”. These are concrete pillars, about 4′ tall, which were used by the Ordnance Survey in order to determine the layout of the country and create accurate maps. They are generally found on the highest bit of ground in the area, so that there is a direct line of sight from one pillar to the next. By placing a theodolite on the top of the pillar, accurate angles between pairs of nearby trig-points could be measured in a process known as Triangulation.
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There are over 6000 trig-points scattered across the UK from the north of Scotland to the west of Wales, wherever you go you will not be very far from one.  However, if you are not able to travel far from home then that is not a problem.

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I have shown Hampshire as an example – the dots represents each of the 100’s of trig-points in the county. Although they tend to be placed on ‘high ground’ many are easily accessible from roads without too much climbing or scrambling. As an example – I have 12 trig-points within 7 miles of my quiet village location.

Not sure where to start?  That is the easy bit – visit trigpointing.uk where you can create your own account see where the nearest trig-points are to you and start ‘bagging’. They also provide an easy to use smartphone App which, at a glance, shows you the nearest trig-points, wherever you are.
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Take the Grand Children with you and make it into an adventure, they will love the fact that they can use their smartphones and the app to go hunting outdoors in the fresh air. Some of them are hidden under vegetation (the trig-points, not the Grand Children) so may require a little more searching for, thereby increasing the anticipation and fun to be had.

Still not convinced? Then have a look at the website of my colleague and fellow Ordnance Survey GetOutside Champion Tracy Purnell – mynyddblaidd.weebly.com You just can’t help but love Tracy and her two beautiful dogs, Asher & Marley. They are the epitome of trig-point bagging.

On a personal note – I am able to couple 3 different activities together when I visit trig-points.  As a Radio Amateur I communicate with other ‘Radio Hams’ from the trig-points as part of an award scheme.  So I can walk, talk & trig bag all at the same time (and they said men couldn’t multi-task!).

For further details about trig-points see the OS history of the trig

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Review: Neckwarmer Windproof Buff


Review: Mountain Bits Blue/Printed Neckwarmer Windproof Buff

 I was recently approached by @kitshack to see if I would review one of the Buff’s from their Autumn/Winter collection . Having been a fan of Buff’s for many years I was interested to see how the device had changed since I last bought one. The one that I have used for years is the standard Buff which is great at keeping your neck and head warm providing there is no cold wind blowing. So to my surprise I noted that they now did a neckwarmer windproof Buff – exactly what I was looking for!

The specification looked impressive but would that prove to be true in the wild.  A cold day in February was chosen to try out the Buff in the Brecon Beacon’s, South Wales with an air temperature of minus 1C and wind chill of -4C, perfect conditions.
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The Buff fitted very comfortably, I like the shape at the front which allows it to work perfectly with my base layer leaving no skin uncovered. The walk I had chosen started with a very steep climb for 30 minutes allowing enough time to generate a lot of heat. The Buff handled this well, dissipating heat and moisture so that I never felt uncomfortable or too hot around the neck.

On approaching the exposed ridge, where the cold wind really picked up, I pulled the microfibre panel over my mouth and nose. I was impressed at how easy it was to breathe through the material without leaving it damp and uncomfortable, a criticism I had of my earlier Buff’s.
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On completing the walk I was surprised at how warm, dry and comfortable the Buff still remained despite having worked up a good sweat on the trip.

Verdict

Buff’s have come a long way from their early days. This one does exactly what it says on the packet. It protected me from a cold Welsh wind whilst keeping my neck comfortably warm and wicking away any moisture. I was very impressed and will certainly be wearing it on all my winter trips. I may also add the the matching wind-proof hat in the future.

Disclaimer: I was given a Mountain Bits Blue/Printed [Neckwarmer Windproof Buff] by Kit Shack for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.

The ‘Alternate’ Three Peaks Challenge

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When considering a challenge for 2017 several different activities went through my mind.  Most I had to eliminate because of the amount of time I could get off work, especially as I was starting a new job at the end of February.  Friends suggested the Three Peaks Challenge, the Yorkshire Three Peaks and the Welsh Three Peaks.  All of which were very good but only really entail a weekend for each, and the Welsh Three Peaks was already on the agenda for later in the year.  No I needed something that would challenge me throughout the year!

Well the answer was simple – it was the Three Peaks Challenge! – but not the Three Peaks as you know it.

My challenge for 2017 is to:

“Walk hills/mountains whose total height equals, or exceeds, the combined heights of the three highest mountains in the world”.

Everest – 8848m

K2 – 8611m

Kangchenjunga – 8586m

Total Height – 26045m

Or 2171 metres per month

So, what will this challenge achieve – well nothing except to prove that age or ailment is no barrier to getting outside and up those hills.  If I can do at 60 with severe back pain and arthritis then YOU can do it.  In addition I will also be carrying all of my radio equipment and communicating with other Radio Amateurs from each summit.

Give it a go and surprise yourself, you will certainly feel the benefits very quickly.

Remember

It is better to be on the hill than over the hill

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Beacon Hill/Old Winchester Hill

Someone stopped me the other day and queried the fact that I do most of my hill-walking in South Wales.  Their concern was that if they wanted to take up hill-walking would they have to travel 3 hours each way to and from Wales for a day in the hills?  A large number of us will probably not have a large range of hills on our door step.  Is this going to hamper us in any way?  NO, of course not that are plenty of hills to walk wherever you live – unless you live in East Anglia where you may have a slight problem.  Most people however, will have some hills within a half hours drive or bus ride.

So, to put my money where my mouth is, I planned a route to take in couple of hills and a decent walking distance within a 10 minute drive of my home.  The route predominantly follows the South Downs Way and the Monarch’s Way and is circular with an excellent pub at the end of it.

Distance – 8.7 miles; Ascent – 1093 feet; Time Taken – 4 hours
Difficulty – Leisurely; Surface – Grass, Gravel & Tarmac

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I chose to start my walk in Exton and parked just around the corner from the village pub.  Parking is not easy in Exton especially in the height of the summer or at weekends, so you could start the walk from anywhere on the route.  Do not be tempted to park in the pub car park unless you wish to suffer the wrath of the Landlord.

Follow the South Downs Way (Temporary Route) signs out of the village heading towards Beacon Hill.  This takes you up a narrow country lane at a nice gentle gradient, just right to get those leg muscles warmed up.  Take time to look at the verge area which is protected as a wild flower zone.  As you reach the top of the hill you will see the  Beacon pillar in the field to your right.dscn0197

Shortly after the beacon pillar take the sign posted track to the summit of Beacon Hill.dscn0198

A short 200m walk up the path brings you to the summit of Beacon Hill and the Trig Pillar.DSCN0201.JPG

From here the footpath heads west to a car parking area before picking up the Monarch’s Way.  Head north-east and descend to the road below.  Turn right a line the road to Warnford.  As you approach the T-junction look to the right for the water cress beds before turning left along the main A32 for 50 metres.dscn0208

Walk past The George and Falcon public house to the right hand turn sign-posted for Old Winchester Hill.DSCN0210.JPG

This is a long steady climb up to the top of Old Winchester Hill.  At the top of the hill follow the track away from the road towards the Iron Age Hill Fort.  This is an interesting section of path as it has been split into two distinct and well signed paths.  The left hand one is for walkers and wheel chair users whilst the one on the right is for bikers and horse riders.  As you approach the Hill Fort do not take the obvious path to the left but go past the Natural England display board and follow this path into the Hill Fort itself.DSCN0218.JPG

Take time to explore the explore the Bronze Age and Iron settlements, ditches and ramparts as you work you way through the hill fort finally culminating at the trig point and observation plate.DSCN0220.JPG

Take the path out of the western end of the hill fort and follow all the way down the hill back to the main A32.  Cross the road and proceed along the road into Exton and back to the start point.DSCN0224.JPG

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5 Simple Safety Rules

sar-mrtIf you are thinking of starting hill walking or returning to the hills after a long break then it is important that we discus the boring stuff like safety.  I know in the modern world we constantly harp on about Health & Safety and the ‘Nanny State’.  But safety is there for a reason and none more so than when you are on the hills.  We are not necessarily talking about going off piste and climbing Snowdon, Scafell Pike or Ben Nevis, you could be just going for a walk along the South Downs Way or similar footpath.  Wherever you go the same rules apply.

If I were to sit down with a group of my OS Get Outside colleagues and start a list of safety rules it would probably run to tens of items.  All would be valid but we have to be a little more practicable or you will hide away and never venture out of the front door.  Therefore I am producing here what I think are the 5 most important and basic rules relating to safety on the hills.

Plan your trip – Make sure you plan your route meticulously, use a route sheet to calculate leg lengths and height gain/loss.  Plan escape routes and highlight any danger zones that you may encounter.  Highly recommend OS Maps – a brilliant tool and well worth the money.  Always (and I mean always) carry a map and compass and know how to use them.  The planning is pointless otherwise. Check the weather before you leave at The Met Office, if there is any doubt that the weather may be unsuitable then there is No Doubt – Don’t Go.

Tell Someone– It is very important that you tell a responsible person about your. They need to know where you are going, route details, party size, where your cars are parked and what time you are due off the hill.  The responsible person also needs to know when and how to raise the alarm – One Hour Overdue, call 999 ask for Police, tell them you need Mountain Rescue.  I use a route safety card specifically designed for the purpose by the OS.

Carry the right kit – your kit will vary depending on the time of year and where you are walking but as a minimum you should always carry spare warm clothing, waterproofs, spare socks, basic survival bag, whistle, torch/head lamp and spare batteries, fire lighter, first aid kit, high energy food (mint cake), water.  During the winter you may well wish to add a bothy bag, crampons, ice axe, quilted jacket.

Allow plenty of time – having done all of the planning don’t be tempted to leave home at a leisurely time.  During the winter the light fads very early and quickly and you do not want to be caught out on the hills in the dark.  If your planning says your route will take 5 hours then ensure you start the walk at least 6 hours before dusk so that you will to return an hour before darkness.  Do not forget to factor in the time for food or rest you plan to take.

Know your limits – this is very important both for yourself and any others you may be walking with.  Tiredness and fatigue can come on you very quickly especially on a cold, damp winters day.  If there is any sign that you or a member of your team is suffering from fatigue, is unwell, or injured – then turn back or follow one of your pre-planned escape routes off of the hill.  The hill will still be there next week.

One of the most important things to remember is:

Getting to the top is optional – getting home safely is mandatory!

We Need You!

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Are you over 60, plan to be over 60 or know someone who is over 60 – then please read on.

We at Hill Walking For The Over 60’s would like to invite, encourage or coerce you to take an active part in this blog/website.  If you have any stories, anecdotes or amusing situations that you are prepared to share then please contact us via the Contacts Page.

We don’t mind what it is providing it relates to hill walking for the older generation, and is, of course, re-printable!

Maybe you are thinking of taking up hill-walking now that you are approaching, or have reached, retirement age.  Not sure where to start and have a whole host of questions that you need answering.

We don’t necessarily need a huge essay.  Just a few words or some photos will suffice.  However, if you have something approaching a tome then we will still be interested in reading it.

Still interested?  Then go to our Contact Us page and fill in the form. Or drop us an email at glyn({@})60plus-hillwalking.co.uk  if you are on Twitter contact me at @G4CFS

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