Ian Rear 'gets on his bike'...
On the face of it, with a headline like that, this sounds irrelevant to this site! Except that the quest wasn't just to do it, but to have as many locomotive hauled miles positioning it as possible, and further to that, being self employed that I'd be taking single days off midweek, and hunting down bargain fares (therefore booking months in advance if necessary), returning home as required in between.
Based in Warrington / Manchester, the initial legs were going to be difficult, I refuse point blank to travel on 'Voyager' stock, and regard Pendolinos as disgusting objects acceptable for short distances only, and preferably whilst they are being dragged. This would cause some difficulties particularly in the North-West to Scottish Borders section, and since I was traveling before Wrexham and Shropshire started their operation (which prior to the appearance of DVT's could be difficult for conveying bikes), traveling in the Winter 2007/8 timetable, there were only three options to reach Cornwall by rail. Either abandon the principles, drive vast distances, or travel via London.
At this point, I'd initially concluded the last of these would be too expensive. However, New Year's Eve 2007/8 proved me wrong with some rather cheap fares available online, I booked myself for 12th and 19th March, and concluded I'd just have to hope I'd been realistic about how far I could pedal in a day? Playing very safe, I'd booked the first trip outward and return from Penzance, and the second similarly to/from St Austell. The to/from London legs were accomplished via National Express East Coast traveling from Doncaster, using a train from Glasgow to Kings Cross and vice versa which duly produced its booked Class 91. Once the tickets had arrived, I then had to go into Manchester and obtain cycle reservations just to be on the safe side. I then spent quite a lot of my limited free time over the next two and a bit months practicing cycling, building distances, and covering anywhere up to 40 miles in the day. Although this was a start, once I was doing the ride for real, the distances would have to increase!
So on the evening of Tuesday 11th March 2008, I left work about two hours early, bike in the boot, pannier, small rucksack, and a carrier bag in tow (containing my evening meal), and drove to Doncaster! Here I manhandled the bike out of the multi-storey, via some lifts and escalators through a shopping centre (!), and presented myself on the platform to ensure I'd get the DVT opened to receive a bike. How things have changed since Mark 1 BG's, and early Mark 2 BSO's! 91122 does the honours tonight, and what can I say about a journey down the East Coast in the dark? It did the job anyway, and following a short ride across London between Kings Cross and Paddington, I duly presented myself for the 'Night Riviera', nowadays six Mark 3's, comprising three sleepers, a TRUB and two day coaches. Right at the front, a cupboard with three bike spaces accommodates my charge, which I duly installed, and sat myself down to enjoy 57602 from Paddington to Penzance! Admittedly I did sleep quite a lot of the way, but once past Liskeard, the timing pad comes out, and I'm trying not to be too concerned about high winds, adverse weather, lots of rain, and the weather warning that's been going on for the last few days.
On arrival at Penzance, I fought the wind for ten miles to Lands End, didn't wait for the visitor centre to open at 10am, and set off back again this time with the wind behind me, and the quest was simply as far as possible, Gunnislake preferably! That was a bit too far, but I did manage to make Liskeard, in spite of the evil hills which Cornwall is full of, and not only that, but I'm sufficiently early to finish the move with the following:
Liskeard to Penzance, 57602 Penzance to Paddington, then cycle to Kings Cross.
91108 Kings Cross to Doncaster (0730 the following morning), and then straight to work, admittedly about half an hour late!
I did all this in the name of fun?
Well yes actually, and the following week there was more of the same. It starts exactly the same way, even 91122 drops on the Doncaster to Kings Cross leg, I cycle to Paddington, and then have 57604 on the Night Riviera! This time though, I alight at Liskeard, and conclude the day had best get underway early as if anything, the trip will be even tougher this time!
In all honesty, the repeated valleys through Cornwall aren't too bad compared to what I had to take on today. As far as Callington the climbs and dips are evil, from there past Gunnislake, its easier, but to Tavistock there are some bad climbs, and thats before getting near to Dartmoor. Past Mary Tavy, and to the start of the Granite Way there is a lengthy climb, and just to make matters worse, once I did get onto the cycleway, I managed to dislodge the chain so the next few miles were with extremely oily hands! Past Okehampton, and its then onto the old A30, diving northwards past Yeoford to Crediton (the Barnstaple line is buses today due to 'engineering'), so I cant escape, and instead take the hilly road towards Tiverton. Here I encounter a hill so evil that..... Well I cant describe it, suffice to say its two miles of solid climb, and having already done over 50 miles....
However, passing over the top, and dropping down, things are then much better, and in fact between Tiverton and Sampford Peverell, its actually relatively easy. I'm actually finished early enough to reach Camborne for the 'Riviera' back to Paddington. In fact had I been on 'open' tickets, I could have actually got back to Doncaster that night. In the event, the move was as follows:
43130/010 Tiverton Parkway to Plymouth, 43005/128 Plymouth to Camborne, 57604 Camborne to Paddington, cycle to Kings Cross, 91132 Kings Cross to Doncaster (0730 following day). Then of course drive to work, and start about 30 minutes late. Just as well I work for myself then!
Having somehow managed to cycle through Devon and Cornwall, the following weekend was Easter, cue no work on Sunday for a change, and therefore enter the second type of trip, i.e. One with a ridiculous amount of driving mileage, i.e. Warrington to Westbury (Wilts). Notwithstanding this, I still managed to be in Westbury early on Easter Sunday morning to load my bike onto the 0830 Paddington to Penzance from there to Tiverton Parkway. An almost empty train, weather uncertain, but the much later departure meant a reduction in mileage today, so I only reached Bristol. Sadly it was Temple Meads not Parkway as well, but it was dark, I was worn out, and a short journey on a plastic back to Westbury had to suffice. Here 67016 and 67021 sat atop a long set of Mark 2's ready for some shuttles the following day. Meanwhile I just had to settle for a long drive home again!
What next? Well it would get worse before it got better. At least driving to Colwall is only 130 miles each way compared with about 200 to Westbury. I also have the bonus of free parking, and an almost empty '125' at least when I joined it on the 0542 Hereford to Paddington. Today I have to reach Bristol, avoiding plastic, and in the event its 43098/003 Colwall to Oxford, then 43017/078 Oxford to Didcot (on an Oxford to Paddington shuttle!), and then 43022/092 from Didcot to Bristol Temple Meads. Again I'm setting off later than I'd have really liked, but as I'm only aiming for Evesham today, there's plenty of time. In fact so much so I even have an opportunity to call in unannounced on my parents! Now that really did cause a surprise, it had after all been about twenty years since I last arrived at their house in this manner!
On arrival at Evesham its 43002/171 to Colwall (1712 Padd to Hereford), and then the drive home. Here we have the substitute of the 0300 departure from home to drive lots of miles to catch a train instead of spending the whole night on the train, or most of the night before and after on the motorway. Is it getting any easier yet?
Apparently not, the following week, I started the trip exactly the same way with a drive to Colwall. At least this did mean I'd get a 125 at the start of the day in case I didn't get anything later! (As it happens, I did).
Drive Warrington to Colwall, 43143/035 Colwall to Evesham (0542 Hereford to Paddington). Now a rather curious tale relates to taking the bike on this move. At Colwall, it has to go in the 'van' at the back, but as the train stops with the front in the platform at Evesham, half way along the journey at Worcester Shrub Hill, I had to move it from there to the middle coach, blocking one of the exit doors (well its not my fault the guard told me to do just that). I was left feeling it was just as well I'd been on the same train the week before, or I'd not have known quite what the procedure was going to be from a viewpoint of how to ensure the bike can be loaded / unloaded between stations where there is a different part of it on the platform!
I then have a horrendous ride up the 'Ridgeway' through Redditch including a dodgy ride through the enclosed bus station (it only said no cars and motorcycles), before heading through Birmingham. I did speculate about riding through some of the tunnels on the 'Queensway' which some twenty years earlier I'd cycled through, and whether its more illegal now than it had been then to cycle through them, but in the event I content myself with reaching New Street, cycling through the centre of town, and out past Snow Hill picking up the A34 to Perry Barr. The kind person who set the burglar alarm off at work when I was doing this, thanks! The middle lane of three on a roundabout comprising seven roads, each one feeding lots of fast moving traffic is just the place to be when you need to give out the security code to turn it off!
Eventually much wear and tear later, I manage to stagger past Lichfield, including a particularly dangerous few miles on the A38, through the Western side of Burton, and into Derby. Commendably early, I manage to reach the station, and then look for non '22x' moves back to Worcester then Colwall. Thankfully the following produced:
170110 Derby to Birmingham, 170511 Birmingham to Worcester SH. Thanks to 'inadvertently not leaving' the train at Droitwich, and 'not realising' if I'd cycled from Shrub Hill to Foregate Street (and notwithstanding a lot of steps to carry the bike up there), I could have reached Colwall quite a lot earlier. As in fact I hadn't, I ended up spending an hour on the platform at Shrub Hill to await the 1712 Padd to Hereford back to Colwall with 43041/130.
Here I decided enough was enough, there had been too much driving through the night, and for the next trip, I was going to leave the car at home! (Would I ever learn any sense?)!
Which meant I'd have to start the day cycling five miles to Birchwood station (the nearest to home with a credible service level), and to guarantee Manchester commuter wedge-out wasnt a problem, it had best be the 0649 service as well. Today I'd have to reach Derby to carry on from where I left off last time. Easy enough, apart from of course having to wait over an hour at Sheffield until the 0900 deadline passed, and sensible walk-on fares became the order of the day!
Todays outward move was as follows:
185146/134 Birchwood to Man Picc, 185144 Man Picc to Sheffield, 43073/075 Sheffield to Derby.
I then spend the next few hours cycling to Ashbourne, along the Tissington Trail past Parsley Hay to near Hindlow, and then up the A515 to Buxton, and the A6 to Stockport, ensuring that I headed straight for work once in the vicinity. Here my staff greeted me with the most amazing comment! 'You haven't cycled here from home have you?'! Now that would have been a mere 20 miles, and I'd done that several times before, and a lot more since on Sundays for 'light training'. Therefore the reply was 'Indirectly, yes. I cycled from home to the station, and then got a train to Derby. Its taken me about five and a half hours for the sixty miles from there with a few short-ish stops'!!!
In fact I cycled into Manchester as well later, and then had 156479 to Glazebrook before cycling home from there. I wasn't sure if I'd have been quicker cycling throughout!
So having reached the Manchester area, and managing to be 'loco hauled', or at least using '125 sets', what on earth could I do to get further north?
The quest for a 'loco hauled' service train on the route between Manchester and Carlisle, sleeper excepted is a virtual impossibility in 2008. However, on Sundays in the early part of the year, the Settle and Carlisle diversions were on. This meant I could position the car in Carlisle the day before, and get the train back to Preston, then Warrington and home. It would mean swallowing my pride having my first Pendolino, but the majority of the journey would be dragged, and it would be handy later with the reverse leg of the journey.
So on Sunday, instead of working, I parked my wife on my reception desk, and drove to Carlisle, having 57313 Carlisle to Preston before having to ignore my principles, having 390019 under power from Preston to Warrington. For a bit of bonus obscurity, I then had a WBT bus home (novel positioning for a bike ride I'm sure)! The following morning, it was the inevitable cycle to Birchwood, the 0649 to Manchester, and then call in at work well before opening time. 185101/112 produce on the 0649, and 323227 on the 0722 from Piccadilly to Heaton Chapel. A short ride to work follows (coffee and light overhaul) before turning round and heading north.
Oddly enough its not too bad today, through Manchester, out to and past Bury, then Accrington, Clitheroe, Settle, and the start of the serious climb. As its familiar ground it seems easy though, and past Horton, a brief stop at Ribblehead, and then the dramatic finale for the day. The Hawes road for a few miles, drop down into Dentdale (good views of both Dent Head, and Arten Gill viaducts, and being downhill quite easy too). Now for the torture, up and over past Dent Station, continuing along the 'Coal Road' up to around 1800 feet before a short stretch of flat road, and then an incredibly steep descent to Garsdale station. I'm not sure if it was the gradient, or the coating of the road with loose stones that made my arrival at Garsdale without falling off all the more incredible mind!
The day rounds off with 158901 to Carlisle, and driving home! Its going to get worse before it gets better again!!! That said the following week, as Wrexham and Shropshire had started operations, I spent the day chasing 67013/4/5/26/9. This had at least been an opportunity to recover any lost ground if necessary. However in the event, my progress has been good, so it wasn't needed!
I then follow this by spending a day driving to Lockerbie, but dropping my bike off at Carlisle whilst en-route. I may actually have over-reacted regarding services through the borders, at least some of these being '185' worked which as they are neither Pendolino nor Voyager must be acceptable? (Well no, they'd really need to be Mark 2, or Mark 3 to be acceptable wouldnt they)... An enjoyable bus move (!) from Lockerbie to Carlisle follows, before an hour-ish wait for 158860 from Carlisle to Garsdale produces, and then its time to pedal north again.
More familiar territory again, the Moorcock, Ais Gill, and I even conclude that the hills either side are dud as well, i.e. Wild Boar Fell, Swarth Fell, Baugh Fell, Great Shunner Fell, etc... So much do I enjoy myself I keep going past Kirkby Stephen, pause briefly in Warcop, and then head on past Appleby, and on the back road to Penrith. Unfortunately about three miles before Penrith, disaster strikes, and I have a puncture. Now on an old fashioned bike, its bad. On a 2008 Carrera Subway, riding is profoundly uncomfortable, inflation even short term doesn't work, and in the end, I conclude rather than trying to fix it, I'll limp into Penrith, and see if anywhere is open that will do it for me. Full marks to Arragons of Penrith who not only fixed the puncture, but also oiled the chain, serviced the gears, fixed the rack on better than before, and wished me well in my quest to make Lockerbie later that day. Back on the road 30 minutes later, and straight up the A6 to Carlisle isn't too bad. The closure of the A74 to cyclists is vindictive causing me to have to route through Longtown before reaching Gretna. However, I coped with it, pausing briefly for fluid once into Scotland, and then enjoying the B7076 for many miles up to Lockerbie before retrieving the car, and driving home. Thankfully I was now far enough from home long distance driving was over!
Sunday 11th May 2008 – Drive to Preston after work, the football results on the radio are most amusing, listening to Manchester United playing Wigan was bad enough, however, the ongoing saga of Manchester City against Middlesborough was just hilarious. Once it went to Seven Nil it had become quite academic what else happened in the game... I arrived at Preston at the same time as a horrendous shower to soak me. However, I was in good time for my Pendolino to Lockerbie via Settle! Right on cue, 390047 rolls in, with me in the back coach, bike in the luggage area behind me, and 57310 on the front. I have a pleasant ride the scenic route with the timing pad out to record the stagger, and about three hours later the train arrives at Carlisle, the 'Thunderbird' comes off the front, and its R/A Lockerbie. Prior to arrival, I'd alerted the Senior Conductor about the bike to come off, and even passed a few words on the platform about 'Last time I was here, it was Mark 2's, none of this fancy automatic door stuff'. Apparently that 'Must have been a long time ago, there arent any left now'! Clearly what I traveled south on the following night must have been a figment of the imagination!
2205 hours, I set off cycling along the B7076, i.e. The A74M alternative, destination Annandale. On arrival at the MOTORWAY SERVICE AREA, I free-wheeled across the car park, and walked into the travellodge for my pre-booked nights accommodation. Curiously the first thing the receptionist asked me after I'd given my name was 'Can I have your car registration please?'! I don't quite think she was prepared for the reply of 'You can if you want, but its on the station car park at Preston!'.
The following morning, I had a good breakfast, and then hit the road, destination Larkhall. After all heading so close, it would have been rude not to have ridden the new line to Hamilton, wouldn't it? Much pedalling, a few stops, rough road in places, strange junctions in others, but all in all, a great route through the borders, and then its 334015 from Larkhall to Hamilton, and 318262 back. I then continue, Uddingston, Bargeddie, and then picking up the A80 manage to find the most frightening junction possible a cyclist could have to negotiate. Its where the M73 merges in from the left, I suddenly find myself in the middle of two converging streams of traffic doing 70mph (plus?). Remember a bike with one pannier isn't too steady from a viewpoint of looking round.
Once past here, its then into Cumbernauld (I wasn't staying on a road so dangerous any longer), before successfully getting lost and finding a long route into Stirling. However, it was only 2000-ish when I'd reached the station, and there was ample time to have 170426 to Perth, pedal into town, demolish a Pizza, and then await the sleeper!
Here its 67011 Perth to Edinburgh, and 90018 Edinburgh to Preston. Oh, and riding in 9808 which by all accounts is currently a Mark 2 BSO! (No doubt someone can tell me what its previous number was?). However, these aren't quite the easiest vehicles to load bikes into on accounts of the small luggage area which has lots of boxed fish heading south out of Inverness, and there are some tight-ish clearances to deal with anyway. At least heading south to Preston on this train, I wasn't late for work the following day!
Now I've reached the Central Belt, I can use the sleeper for my travels in both directions. The next trip saw me drive to/from Crewe, and then do the following move:
90024 Crewe to Edinburgh, 67011 Edinburgh to Gleneagles, 170393 Gleneagles to Stirling. On the face of it, this is an odd move. However, arriving at Stirling at 0500 is a little early to start cycling, continuing to Perth meant an 0649 arrival back to Stirling, and doing the Gleneagles move allowed enough time to go and do the Alloa if I'd wanted in its first week of operation. In the event, fine glorious weather aborted this plan! After all if I wanted to do the Alloa line, there would be a perfectly good railtour covering all the track from Dunfermline running in August!
Instead, I set off cycling at 0600, destination Callander, up Glen Ogle (the infamous stretch of line which had the landslide in 1965), through Killin, a torturous stretch alongside Loch Tay, and then northwards past Tummel Bridge, and northwards to Dalnaspidal. Here I join the A9 which has a parallel cycleway, and as far as Drumochter, its pure torture with evil climbs, uneven surface, and worse zig-zagging route.
However, having passed the summit, the wind is behind me, and I cycle at breakneck speed to Dalwhinnie which causes a problem as I'm only booked from here on tonight's sleeper. In the event, its easy to decide what to do next, there is nowhere to eat, buy food, nowhere comfortable to sit on the station, and almost four hours is a bit too long to wait. So I set off for Kingussie! Arriving there at 2005 was more reasonable, and here I get food, there is a much longer platform at the station so there wont be the riot about trying to walk a bike through four coaches when the train arrives, plus its more miles on the 'skip' as well. The conductor understood when I said about problems trying to put the bike on the train at Dalwhinnie thanks to the short platform, whereas Kingussie was much easier, and predictably the move back was 67011 Kingussie to Edinburgh, 90024 Edinburgh to Crewe!
Then comes the 'easy' trip, again driving to/from Crewe, its 90029 Crewe to Edinburgh, 67007 Edinburgh to Kingussie. Here I have another early-ish start, and with what's to come, its just as well. The morning ride is easy, the old A9 to Aviemore (with a brief photo-stop for the NXEC 125), a brief pause, onwards to Boat of Garten, and having ascertained its only an industrial on their train today, continue north ASAP. Here I make the mistake of taking a 'Sustrans' route which is noted for being traffic free, but also its full of hills, the surface is either bad or appalling, and the distance is best calculated by following a drunken sheep!
Having reached Carrbridge, I know what's coming next. Slochd. Tough for the trains, but even worse for cyclists. The next four miles or so are steadily uphill, and at least to my credit, I managed to keep going. In fact pausing at Slochd Summit for a summit picture with the bike, I feel proud one of the best known summits has been attained, and its going to be easy for a bit now. In fact even easier than I'd realised. Its downhill almost all the way to Inverness, and before I realise what I'm going, I'm on the cycleway on the bridge to the Black Isle having not stopped in Inverness which as such is 'not on route', and then continue on to Tore roundabout before having the briefest of stops.
Im now on a mission to reach Invergordon before the 1532 back to Inverness. This train wont need obligatory cycle reservations, suffice to say I made it, its easy enough on the 'stilts' across the Cromarty Firth, the old A9 through Evanton and Alness causes few problems, and by then its only about three miles to go. The move back is 158727 Invergordon to Inverness. I then pause for about four hours debating what to do next. I cycle around town for a bit, discover there's nothing on shed at Inverness. It starts raining by 1730 which leads me to head onto the station concourse, and sit it out until its time to go South on the sleepers. Cue helpful platform staff member!
are you going to?'.
'How about that Glasgow train, and change there?'
'What you mean the one that arrives after anything going south has left, when I've an Apex, and cycle reservation for the sleeper!'
'That's not leaving for about three hours'
'Yes, but its dry on the concourse here!'
I could also have said, do you really expect me to go on some rancid plastic when there's a perfectly good loco going south tonight? Anyway, the appointed hour eventually arrives, and I proceed predictably with the following:
67007 Inverness to Edinburgh, 90029 Edinburgh to Crewe.
Which then leaves just the finale. Two day trip, to/from work on the bike, and just to make sure its going to be fit to ride, I resurrect the old bike for Monday morning, having left the new one at the salon the previous day. Now this is an experience, no gears, poor suspension, cracked saddle, but for all that, it still (following oiling) rides reasonably well, and the train move from Birchwood maybe wasn't necessary.
Monday 14th July 2008:
|Cycle||Culcheth to Birchwood|
|156440||Birchwood to Oxford Road (0900)|
|156489||Oxford Road to Man Picc (0933) – Buxton service|
|323239||Man Picc to Heaton Chapel (0951)|
|Cycle||Heaton Chapel to Salon|
|Spend day at work|
|Cycle||Salon to Heaton Chapel – Having swapped to 'new' bike|
|323225||Heaton Chapel to Stockport (Does help if you check the train times first!).|
|323229||Stockport to Crewe|
|90020||Crewe to Edinburgh|
Tuesday 15th July 2008
|67007||Edinburgh to Inverness|
|158723||Inverness to Invergordon (0915)|
Now for the fun, cycling to Wick! In fact its not as bad as it sounds, the old A9 produces for the first few miles, then with me on a roll, I take the Tain by-pass before having a brief stop by the Dornoch bridge. Onwards and upwards for a bit before dropping down, passing the Mound, and then its on through Golspie, a brief stop for dinner in Brora, and then another quick stop in Helmsdale.
The convulsions as the road climbs uphill out of here have been tamed since 2001 when I ran Lands End to John O Groats this way (as opposed to in 2002/3 when I'd run via Forsinard instead) ##, but the climb remains evil, and if that wasn't enough, Berriedale Brae is even worse, i.e. Down at breakneck speed, and then upwards walking! Hereafter the route to Wick is much as I've remembered, but much more bearable on a bike.
After a night in Wick, its the seventeen miles twice for the finale. I'm out early-ish. The villages all fly by, Keiss, Nybster, Freswick, its obviously the first day for some relay runners heading southwards but they are obviously cheating as they have support crew, hi-vis clothing, etc... I catch up with two cyclists who are about to do the epic ride southwards starting imminently, and one way or another, the up and overs are surmounted, and the ride down from three miles away is easily accomplished. This time there was a photographer to record the occasion, and at 1045 hours on 16th July 2008, I reached John O Groats on my bike two days short of 24 years since I'd done so previously, albeit behind 26035/4 from Inverness, and 26038/2 back from Georgemas the following day!
Strong Westerly winds put paid to any idea of reaching Dunnet Head today, so in the event, it was only about forty minutes after I arrived that I started the ride back to Wick which was mostly Ok, but lead me to conclude my fitness maybe didn't extend to vast mileages day after day, and after a brief stop in Tesco, Wick its time to return home, this time via the following:
|158706||Wick – Thurso – Inverness|
|67007||Inverness – Edinburgh|
|90019||Edinburgh – Crewe|
Crewe – Heaton Chapel
|Cycle||Heaton Chapel to Salon|
|Day at work|
|Cycle||Salon to Heaton Chapel|
|323231||Heaton Chapel to Man Picc|
|185138||Man Picc to Birchwood|
|Cycle||Birchwood to Culcheth|
All in all, a succesful campaign. However, I'm minded to do it again in 2009. Why?
Wrexham and Shropshire will be operating which will provide another route to
reach London, and the Night Riviera.
Secondly I can take a route geared around where its been pleasant, and there are a few places to avoid as they are very dangerous (however memorable).
Thirdly there are places I'd like to have included on this traverse, but for one reason or another couldn't.
Fourthly, as long as the sleepers survive, its a second reason to do them, and avoiding the all too common problem of 'What do I do during the daytime'!
none of the traction has been 'that remarkable' for the current time, the
following points maybe should be borne in mind when analysing the 'moves' to
I've cleared my first 67 (007) which I've only had on either 1S25 or 1M16, specifically between Edinburgh and Inverness (and nowhere else).
I've cleared a few 90's, with almost all the mileage being on the sleepers south of Edinburgh.
Doing this trip has built a wealth of knowledge and experience which would be reapplied as appropriate if doing it again in 2009.
Ian Rear, August 2008.
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