Never ride the route of a ride planned for a Sunday morning when it’s a Thursday lunchtime

Never have I encountered so many lorries, buses and impatient drivers as during a recent ride with my sister. She was due to take on the Trowbridge Triathlon and wanted to get an idea of the route before the day. So, as she works nights, and I work for myself a mere half a mile from my house, we decided to go out along the route on the Thursday lunchtime, a few days before the triathlon (which was on the Sunday). The first half of the ride was a nightmare as the A361 was heaving and angry, people squeezing past, dangerous overtaking and in some cases almost pushing us off the road.

Turning off the A36 was a relief, and it went well on the backroads around Dilton Marsh, until my sister failed to unclip from her SPDs at a junction, but still stopped. Crash Clatter Ouch!

We arrived back at Trowbridge sport centre 16 miles after setting off on the loop and met our stepmother, who took a photo.

After the nervewracking ride down the A361 in heavy traffic

After the nerve-wracking ride down the A361 in heavy traffic

Still it must have helped because my sister did not come last in the triathlon.

Published in: on August 9, 2009 at 6:58 pm  Comments (4)  
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I been riding – just not blogging

Hello to all. I am somewhat behind in the blogging side of things though I have been getting in a few rides, despite the weather.

First I took my car for its MOT and service – electing to use the Brompton to get back to the studio rather than a borrowed car.It was a good opportunity to use the little stretch of cycle path between Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge. In common with many cycle paths this is a really nice smooth path that unfortunately dumps you back into traffic at the exact point where a cycle path would be most useful. Still it made for a pleasant ride up the hill.

SDC16705

The Brompton is getting on a bit now. The folding pedal is starting to get a bit of rust on it, and there are some squeaks as I’m riding along.

Interestingly, if my Lemond Etape squeaks I’ll be trying to get it fixed within minutes of a rogue noise being detected. the slightest knock, grind, or high pitched emission from that bike is enough to have me out of the saddle and on the verge anxiously examining the cranks. With the Brompton I don’t mind at all, indeed it’s quite pleasant to have a squeak coming out as the Brompton trundles along the back lanes. The Brompton is a beautiful bike for Slow Cycling, although it can race along at 17-18mph with a bit of effort,  but then, why would you want to?

Tuesday Ride XII – The fine art of getting lost

Last Tuesday, John turned up for the evening ride on his own. The distinct lack of Brad to relentlessly drive us on meant that it was a mere fifteen minutes before we were ringing around people we knew en-route who might put the kettle on for us or even offer us some cake. However everyone was rather thoughtlessly not at home, so by the time we go to Westbury, distinctly lacking in the tea and cake department, and no safe port available, we decided that perhaps we ought to do some cycling. John led me out along the road beneath the giant chalk horse carved into the hillside, but we quickly became fed up with motorists attempting risky overtakes or squeezing past us and forcing us into the verge. We turned left, racing downhill and I was quickly off my mental map and into uncharted territory. John’s curse is that he knows the backroads and lanes so well, even by name, that it’s very difficult for him to enjoy the simple pleasure of getting lost a mere few miles from home. However, once we had turned across ourselves a few times, double backed and taken some decidedly narrow lanes (at one point meeting a denim clad grey-haired hippy in a volvo head-on, he had a beard like an old testament prophet and some big aviators on. Without hesitation he put his car onto the verge to let us past on the road), even John wasn’t sure where we were. We found a hill that just took us down, down, down, and John started snapping pics on his phone as we drifted round the forgotten roads. This was blissful, our internal compasses were spinning wildly in the no-man’s land of the wiltshire backroads. Strewn with gravel and flood tidemarks, verges overgrown with grass overhanging the road, bending inwards to the grey, chalk-mud and dust smothered tarmac, these lanes sucked us deep into the landscape. These were old, old routes, cut deep into the Wiltshire soil by generations of feet, hooves, cartwheels and finally capped with tarmac. The road wound its way up again, passing skewed telephone poles and a distant church tower hoved into view. Sadly John now knew where we were.

Me on the lanes

Your author, lost in the lanes - one hand on his hip, freewheeling, bliss.

We crossed a busy road, the traffic seemed shockingly loud and abrasive after the calm of the lanes, then headed for Trowbridge. John and I parted at the pub near his house and I made my way home. As I wheeled the bike down the path at the side of the house, scimitar shapes raced between the gaps in the houses. Swifts diving and screeching at gutter height – beaks open as they hurtled through clouds of near invisible insects before wheeling away and climbing up and up, higher than any of their avian brethren dare climb.

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Getting the miles in

I am currently three rides behind on the blog – it’s 00:01 on Saturday morning here in the UK, and the computer is on, so I’ll make a start on rectifying the situation.

Chippenham 18 mph

On Tuesday I worked right up until the bell, before getting the bike ready at the last minute. John and Brad arrived outside the front gate in a squeal of brakes, sending a small spray of chippings into the wooden fence. At the time, I was adjusting the panniers on the bike, they looked on in disbelief “What have you got those on for?” “Are you joining the CTC?” etc. etc. I wheeled the bike out to more mockery this time directed at my plus fours, Brad and John were of course lycra’d up from head to toe, clipless pedals, energy drink branded bidons, shades, the works. “Meh” is pretty much my response to that sort of attire. The mocking being completed we saddled up and rolled out to the A36 heading for Bath. The road was now open to traffic, fresh tarmac slipped easily under the tyres and we took control of the road on the descent into Limpley Stoke, with the speed limit on forty no one was going to overtake us on the hill. We took the corners fast and wide and arrived on the viaduct with big grins and verbal high-fives.

Unfortunately the unrepaired stretch of the road to Bathampton was a nightmare of frost-smashed chippings, potholes and cracks that jarred our hands and arms and sucked the life out of the wheels. Hurtling towards Bath on the downslope put me in mind of an old bomber command style war film, flack exploding around a Lancaster Bomber as it heads for the target, the pilot desperately trying to keep the plane pointing in the right direction as the fuselage is breached and the air is wracked with turbulence. The bike threatened to bounce off its line or suffer a buckled wheel, smashed on the anvil of the A36, it was a relief when the tarmac became smooth again. Rounding a switchback corner I saw a  Jay rise from its perch on a fence on top of the bank, a brilliant flash of colour from the wings as it took to the air. Across the toll bridge, riding behind Brad, I noticed him standing on the level cranks to deal with the crumbling road and slewed across to draw level with him.

“You can always tell a mountainbiker, level cranks on the rough stuff” I shouted into the wind of our forward motion. Then a cross voice sounded from just behind me:

“You can always tell a roadie, because they cut you up” – exclaimed John. I had thought him a good five metres behind when I drifted across the road, instead I had moved clean across his path as he was about to race in between Brad and myself. Whoops, bad road etiquette.

We cranked out the miles towards Box, entering the village then turning up a long, long hill. Not steep, just long, almost two miles long. On the way up I slipped in behind John and changed gear whenever he did. The hill was long enough, and shallow enough to generate a reverie as I spun the cranks and concentrated on maintaining my distance to John’s back wheel.

It occurred to me how easy it is to change gear on a road bike now. A motion of the thumb or finger, barely lifted from the bars, an imperceptible movement only given away by the whirr and clunk of the chain moving over. How different it is from the cycling of my youth with the original Highway Cycling Group. Then, a gear change was a measured decision, involving the hand dropping to the down tube, a leaning forward and, eyes still on the road, the easing of the lever until the grating sounded and the chain went over. Maybe, if it had been a hastily snatched imperfect change on a steep hill, desperately hurried as every millisecond with a hand off the bar meant the bike was barely in control, the hand may need to return to the lever for some micro-adjustment to stop the chain rubbing or the deraileur ‘ticking’. I used to like making the change slowly; waiting for the moment when the chain would start to move over, which could be felt through the bike before it could be heard. I also used to love the feeling of cranking out the power and moving the hand down to change up, sometimes keeping my hand on the lever as the cadence increased, ready for the next change. I remember on the Highway Common, riding the length of it at speed, going up through all the gears until the bike skimmed over the chippings, and it was both hands on the drops and head right down; panting with the exertion, calves aching as I approached the ninety degree bend at the end at what seemed like an impossibly fast pace in top gear. Now it’s all so instant, indexed gearing means a single push and the gear changes immediately, the effort required somehow seems less than the physical effect achieved.

Still, I was glad that it was easy to change gear up and down willy-nilly on Box hill. It seemed to go all the way to Corsham. Brad was of course way out in front, both feet off the pedals, legs stretched out backwards superman style, clowning about. We were going at a cracking pace, helped by the steep drop into the back end of Chippenham. We turned for Melksham and more bad roads via Lacock. Heavy freight revved horribly close to us, drenching us in diesel fumes and blasts of hot engine air, the road throbbed with the weight of HGVs, the air pulsed with the sound of their gear changes as they overtook us. A moped whined past John and myself with an engine that sounded like an angry bee caught in the greaseproof liner of a cereal packet. I shouted to John “This’ll be good, watch Brad!” Sure enough as the moped drew level Brad stood on the cranks and applied the power, staying level as the moped rider tried to increase his speed. Point made, Brad slacked off and dropped back, then continued at his usual pace.

On arrival back at Trowbridge John offered me a cuppa and I gladly accepted, much in need of a rest before the final ride home. We sat outside in the gathering dusk with steaming cups of tea and talked bikes and bikeshops. Twenty minutes later I saddled up again, bid John farewell, and meandered home.

37.5 miles at an average speed of 16.4 mph, not bad considering we only managed 8-10mph on Box hill.

The Simple Pleasures of a bike-train-bike commute

I woke too late to bike commute the whole way into Salisbury, so I hauled myself into the shower, got into some trousers so enormous it was like wearing a tent, and prepared the Brompton for a sprint down the A361 to Trowbridge station. Still yawning, I wove up the hill, crested, and put the bikes hubs to the test on a fast descent down the other side. The Brompton is a skittish ride at the best of times, at 30+ mph downhill it’s a study in terror, yet somehow I made it to the junction in one piece. Then it was simply a case of pointing the front of the bike down the road and turning the pedals. On arrival at the station (terrific skid up the ramp and onto the platform – no mean feat with brompton brakes), I discovered I’d missed one train and had forty minutes to wait for the next one. The bike took me into the town centre and located a coffee shop for me. Soon I was ensconced at an outside table drinking a latte and reading a book. This seemed mighty civilized, and it was a great shame to have to knock back the coffee and zip back to the station.

I thought that with the current high fuel prices it would be more economical to go the 31 miles by train, but no, I discovered that the price of the journey had gone up 33% in the last seven months, incredible!

The beauty of the journey soon erased the price from my memory, this is the same route I cycled when I rode to Salisbury a couple of weeks ago. The road crosses and dives under the track all the way to Wilton, sometimes mere feet from the track, other times it moves away, dipping behind an embankment or veering off to visit a lonely farm before rejoining its symbiotic partner, the railway track. I sat back and imagined my doppelganger riding at a speeded up pace level with the train. All those little milestones on the journey compressed into a blur of memories, the train moving too quickly to allow the mind to dwell on things like the toad crossing sign, the concrete bridge, the post office, the ox-eye daisies in the hedges, the constant pedal freewheel pedal freewheel rhythm of the rolling lanes. Train journeys seem to be a kind of time travel, you sit down, there is constant noise, but the feeling of motion is barely perceived. Very quickly (hopefully) you arrive at your destination. Strange, yet completely normal.

Cycling through Salisbury was a joy, apart from the fool who stopped on the bikes only bit at the traffic lights on Fisherton Street.

Wednesday Ride III – against the zephyrs

I was pushed all the way to John’s house in Trowbridge by an insistent tailwind, this did not bode well for this week’s Wednesday Ride. I dismounted and pushed the bike past the wheelie bin in the narrow alley leading to John’s secret garden. Not long after I arrived, the sound of someone squeezing past that same bin announced Brad’s arrival. He had been suffering from a ‘dodgy tum’ for the whole week, it was my secret hope that this would scrub some speed from the super-fit whippet, of course I would barely notice any dip in performance as his form is lightyears ahead of mine.

We set off in a row into some fierce winds, but on turning towards Melksham the wind moved behind us and sent us speeding down the road with considerable urgency. Then into Melksham itself, via the bikes and buses only route, which as it was devoid of traffic, saw us cycling three abreast. This fine stretch of tarmac is crying out for some bike activities under the cover of darkness, something like Sprint Club in Richmond Virginia.

Past the Waney Edge Cafe and over the roundabout, we hurtled through the outer edge of Melksham, until we pulled over to await another of John’s friends, Damian, who arrived almost as soon as we pulled up. The new addition duly linked into the chain, we set off again towards Seend and Devizes. I led off the front, pulling 21mph into a headwind. This proved to be utterly foolish, I was expecting Brad to come hurtling past and take over pulling at any second, but he never came. Then, even worse, we hung a right and smacked straight into a hell of a hill. I sat on the back behind John and just pushed and pulled my way through it, coming up a long time after the others. From then on in, it was a war of attrition with the wind. Damian was proving that he could keep up with Brad no trouble, and as usual it was up to John and myself to keep nightwatchman on the rear of the group. Then we turned directly into the headwind and the group started to break up. Brad was on the front and I hung onto his wheel for a few minutes, then fell off, unable to sustain 19-20mph uphill and into the wind (even with the shelter Brad was providing as I drafted him). I sat up to take a drink and Damian shot past, I watched them disappear around the first of many torturous switchbacks and double bends, before clamping down and digging in. My concentration was split between two things, maintaining an even, steady cadence and keeping breathing. The road got narrower and narrower, winding it’s way through tiny hamlets and villages. The verges became grassy, unfenced areas of common land, strewn with wildflowers, single cottages with beautifully looked after gardens unfolded from around blind corners. Eventually I stopped seeing glimpses of the two out front in the distance, and I was left alone with the roar of the wind and the sound of my own ragged panting.

The final straw came as the rain spattered down and I met a bus in the lane, the compulsory sudden stop as it squeezed past me, left my legs shocked into paralysis and I could barely turn the cranks. Luckily there was a junction for the main road and Brad and Damian were waiting there. Also luckily, John was a way behind and experiencing an enforced stop of his own with the bus, a white van and an old lady who had to reverse down the lane to allow the bus past.

All of this gave me time to recover and watch a Eurofighter screaming repeatedly overhead. John soon arrived, and we all took a bit of a rest and had a chat before stringing out again on the road into Westbury. One more stop at Westbury and I was wrongfooted, or wrongwheeled. When John caught up he just sailed past and the others shot off in hot pursuit. As I was the only one without clipless pedals, it took me a while to get clipped up, then there was a seemingly endless stream of traffic. By the time I got onto the road I had lost sight of them and took a wrong turn towards the Trowbridge road. Immediately I knew I had gone the wrong way as there was a long straight stretch down which I couldn’t see any cyclists. Cursing, I spun back round the mini roundabout and headed towards Westbury Leigh. This time they were waiting for me.

Finally, we got some tailwind as we turned towards Brokerswood at Dilton Marsh, the going became much easier from then on in, but the rain was starting to become a little more serious. Up through Rudge, I managed to bounce my foot out of a clip during a too fast gear change, leaving me pedalling slowly up the hill, with the odd scraping of metal on tarmac as the inverted clip hit the road. I was off the back again, and only caught up as we turned towards the village.

We bid each other farewell and I rode back to the house, the others rode the tailwind back to Trowbridge and Melksham. Total mileage 32 miles, soaked up the back, and legs pummeled into jelly. Now, in retrospect at 23:54, I say it was a good ride. It didn’t feel that way at first.

wet roads

Friday Ride – bike troubles

Folly LaneI don’t know what it is about John, every time he says “Do you mind if I bring a mate along?” it turns out to be a super-fit individual who leaves us puffing and panting in his wake. Friday 6th was no exception, John’s friend Andy joined the illustrious list of riders who have helped up our average speed. We met at the pub on the A361 then headed out towards Rudge and Dilton. Almost immediately Andy was complaining of a knocking from the pedal area which seemed to be going through his foot, but it was John who forced the first stop of the day in a routine that is becoming a regular on our rides, his spokes pinged out. Actually, Andy didn’t really drive us too hard, it had been a while since he and John had met up so we ambled along the lanes at a reasonable, though not stupid pace. As we headed past the trout farm by Dilton Marsh, we saw a weasel dart out in front of us, I say we, John missed it, he was looking at a dead squirrel.

The glorious sound of three chainsets working in unison was rather ruined by some creaking from the front end of my bike. Having just come up the Hollow (me at the back) the bike was protesting alarmingly. John suggested tightening the handlebars – which seemed to do the trick. We took the ghost road from Upton Scudamore to the outskirts of Warminster, effectively shaving off a corner of B-road and also saving us some pretty nasty traffic interaction. Zipping round the outskirts of Warminster, I had to stop when a client phoned, the others waited up ahead. Business taken care of we set off again, this time for the Wylye Valley. As Andy and John used to work in the same bike shop, they regaled and entertained me with various stories and bits of bike wisdom during the ride. It wasn’t long before we swung a ride into Five Ash Lane. Ah, now this was bicycling! This quiet wooded road was alive with bird song and festooned with gorgeous wildflowers. The forest perhaps once was a solid commercial venture, a plantation, but careful forestry work and management have broken the monotony of lines of timber trees. This woodland was alive in every sense, plenty of undergrowth, a variety of trees, airy space. Huge, lush green ferns and flowering rhododendrons lined the verge and the sun sparkled off the myriad leaves and dappled the tarmac with shade as we rode down the lane. Then suddenly the road dropped away and we were hurtling downwards, just missing some seriously bad potholes, we were disgorged onto a main road. A plan to head back via Chapmanslade was ruined by John puncturing. As we stopped at Folly Lane, I took the now standard picture of John repairing his wheel. Note also Andy examining his pedals.

Andy adjusts his pedals, John repairs his wheel and tyre - as usual

With time now very much of the essence (I needed to get back to the village to pick up the children) we abandoned the Chapmanslade plan and headed for the A36. The stretch towards the beginning of the Warminster bypass was dealt with quickly and at speed, we caned up to 28mph and that was going slightly uphill! Next, Black Dog and some pretty serious downward hurtling. Finally, the long, slow drag up to Beckington, and this was were I very much came off the back. Staying up all night on Wednesday to launch The Prince’s Rainforests Project website suddenly caught up with me, as did the lack of quality nutrition and energy in my garage bought lunch. I just slipped into a lower gear and pedaled through it. Andy had gone on way ahead and I didn’t see him until I finally caught up with John and we arrived back at the pub carpark we had set out from. For me it was 24 miles and a good ending to what had been a massively mixed week. We pledged to make this a regular thing of a Friday and parted ways, the others heading back to Trowbridge and me to pick up the kids, crucially, on time.

The Tuesday Ride is Dead, Long live the Wednesday Ride!

Yes, it’s official, having sent an email to John after months without contact (“The days are getting longer, I’m not getting any thinner. Let’s ride!”) we were on the open road again. Occasionally Brad kept us company, but a lot of the time he was off the front, a mere speck in the distance that John and I worked in a chain gang to try and catch up with. Tuesdays are now off the menu, so it looks like we’ll be going out Wednesdays, and probably a little earlier than we have been. This will allow me to put in 25-30 miles and still get back to the house to help put the kids to bed.

This week, John and Brad led me all over the backroads around Trowbridge, Devizes and Melksham. We paused only to watch a Hercules fly slowly over Keevil airfield and drop a box onto the runway. One thing was made absolutely clear to me, I am still not that fit yet. Hopefully, with the discipline of a regular ride in company, that will change. Last year the Tuesday rides started to improve my metabolism and my breathing – especially when we went out with the human greyhound that is Brad.

John (foreground) and Brad (in front) sign at speed, West Wilts

It felt great to be out on the bike in company again, for me it’s a lot of what cycling is all about. We varied the pace, sometimes gliding along chatting away, other times drafting and pedaling hard (usually to try and catch up with Brad), sometimes we’d just be merrily trundling along, then suddenly someone would change up a gear and start sprinting, provoking a sudden burst of speed in us all, then we’d wind down again and go back to the chat. That lovely melodic sound of three chainsets whirring in unison was a pleasure to hear, as was the drone of three pairs of tyres over the tarmac.

Left John and Brad in Trowbridge and cycled back to the village solo, no energy by the time I hit the Wingfield straight, on the verge of The Bonk. Arrived back at the house with 33 miles on the clock for the evening.

Hopefully there will be many rides like this throughout the coming summer.

Cycling through a gale in search of a cup of tea


A distinct lack of teabags in the house saw me venturing out in the high winds in search of the magic leaves for a brew-up. The fact that I was freewheeling uphill suggested to me that the return trip, into the wind, might be a little difficult. I hurtled out of the village with a whirlwind of leaves, grass and twigs blowing around the road, onto the Wingfield Straight with the wind pushing against my left side. Luckily I presented a thin profile to the raging gusts and I kept my line on the road. Turning right at the shrine, I had the wind behind me and was blown along the road to Trowbridge itself. I raced past the roundabout for Broadmead and continued to where the Bradford road joins up, going all the way round the church that sits on a traffic island. My right pedal grounded slightly with an audible scraping sound as I leant hard into the bend, still pedalling. I cut across a no through road and took a hard left onto the bike path. Over another main road, avoiding the massive roundabout by the large Tesco’s, now I was in the backstreets.

Here the wind was less steady, less predictable; gargantuan gusts howled round corners of 1930s red brick houses. Frequent patches of waste ground spewed out clumps of dried, white, grass which skittered and raced about the hammered tarmac, Wiltshire tumbleweed. A scally crested the railway bridge in front of me on a full-sus mtb, his eyes alert, looking round intently, for what? Escape routes? Opportunities? On seeing me he looked down, spitting hard onto the ground  and rose from his saddle to pump the cranks before passing, eyes flicking up once, wolfish, then he was round the corner and away.

The bridge was in poor repair, crushed kerbstones and chipped caps that spoke of wide loads and tight-squeezes, back a bit, left hand down, steady, woah woah WOAAH! On the other side the road just gave up, disintegrating into gravel and bramble. Lamposts leant into the wind, which sang its banshee cry through sagging telephone wires. By the side of the tracks a trolley was choked in brambles, obviously it had been there much longer than the brand new, spike-tipped, galvenized steel fence dividing the walkway from the trainline. No one had thought to pull the trolley out while putting the fence up. An avenue of stunted blackthorns festooned with ripped plastic bags; tattered fruits, noisily flapping, funneled me into the maze of roads backing onto Tesco’s. White paint was splashed over the asphalt, a decorator’s accident, now etched into the surface of the road, white tyre prints radiated out thirty yards or so before fading to grey.

Into the relative calm of the store, emptier than usual. I had the Brompton and  the front bag in the trolley together, no need for a bike lock. Pretty soon I was back outside, the bag laden with groceries including some excellent quality tea. The return journey promised to be hard work, I spent as much time as possible weaving through the backstreets and houses while the wind probed at me where it could.

Finally, Trowbridge spat me out onto the A361 to face the gale, now at last the wind had me where it wanted me. Three miles of agonisingly pushing the pedals, moving forward slowly, almost down to walking pace. I kept with it, a steaming hot mug of tea appearing in my mind’s eye like some sort of grailquest vision. I guess I am a hardcore cyclist, not in the traditional sense of putting in lots of hours or miles on the bike, but I am hardcore in the sense that I will take on the A361 in a force 7-8 gale. The light over the fields appeared silvery where the grass was blown flat in waves, exposing the pale underleaves momentarily so that the landscape appeared liminal, even unreal. It kept my mind from over-thinking the sluglike pace I was crawling home at. Indeed, it seemed that soon I was slipping into the lowest gear and trickling steadily up Rode Hill.

You can be certain that the first thing I did on arrival back at base, was to switch on the kettle. Never, and I mean never, did a cup of tea taste so damn good.

Published in: on March 11, 2008 at 11:31 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Thursday Broadmead by Brompton

On Thursday, I rode four miles into Broadmead, Trowbridge on the Brompton, hitting the Tesco Express to pick up some lunchtime supplies and have a screen break. I happened to take my camera and grabbed a little bit of lo-res video footage which I have assembled here.

It was a pleasant little ride, a Brompton takes away all the urgency from a journey. Nice also to see Roger Brunt here, a local driving instructor who taught my wife to drive over sixteen years ago, see how he gives me plenty of room when he overtakes. The music on the video is, believe it or not, actually a section of agricultural jigs featured on the soundtrack from Bagpuss.

Published in: on March 9, 2008 at 8:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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