The Long Way Home: The Nitty Gritty, Three Weeks in the Making Version

Despite our stay lasting a mere two months, packing up from our stint in California was quite the feat.

We had moved upwards of 10 times while in the good ‘ol CA, from house sitting to housesitting to our RV in one place, then moving it to another place, then to out of our RV due to a major mold takeover (and my health gone with it), to housesitting, to staying with parents, to visiting parents, to visiting friends, to housesitting to staying in our friends’ awesome Airstream to parents once again. We were packing fiends. Packing, unpacking, repeat and repeat and repeat. In and out of place after place. The funniest part of it all was that most of our time in California we were living with less amenities than we have in the woods. Especially in the RV we didn’t have hot water or a stove or showers or toilets or even phone service. All this way from the woods and we were taking steps backwards? We had to laugh at the irony.

Two weeks before we left CA we took one last spin in the RV, caravan style and headed down South to The Chief’s parents’ house.

 

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Cinda Jones and the birthday plant I stole from my mama, riding shotgun. Thanks, DCG!

 

After three days out in the beautiful foothills it was time to batten down the hatches and bid adieu to both family and our trusty (musty) RV home.

 

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Perhaps the Summer will bake out the mold? Mmmm, tasty.

 

Upon our return up North, we reached my parents’ house. It would be our last move and last place to call Home for our last week in CA before starting our journey to our Home Home in Alaska.

That last week was a constant manipulation of time and energy. Tidying up little loose ends took, as usual, longer than planned and so instead of spending quality time with my Mama, we spent most of the time maniacally running around amidst the holiday shoppers, checking things off lists upon lists. We organized the storage unit (and one day I trapped myself in a corner by accidentally encircling myself by ominous mountains of boxes…whoops!). We packed and re-packed again and again (I was determined to be under the bag weight limit this year) and tried to decipher what should come.

You see, when we left Alaska this Fall, it was still Summer in California and so we had packed for three seasons in California: Summer (hot, hot, hot), Fall (crisp but often still hot) and Winter (damp “get in your bones” rainy time). Now, we really only needed Winter apparel, and Winter in Alaska apparel at that, none of which we had in California (it was all waiting for us in our truck in AK). But what was to be done with all the other seasonal clothing? To take or leave? I found myself asking “Do I wear tank tops in the Winter?” Of course not, but in reality? I actually do. Our house ends up getting to 70-80 degrees on the daily due to my fire feeding habits. And so, the field of what to bring grew larger as my bags seemingly shrunk before my eyes (they do that, right?) Plus, come Summer in Alaska I would need all my California Summer & Fall & Winter clothes (since the weather ranges in a day what California ranges in months) but between key storage finds (real cloth napkins?!) We were getting fancy in the woods this Winter) and things (read:books) we had acquired over the two months of our stay plus the three seasons worth of clothes we had already brought, my suitcases were bulging.

Finally, the bags zipped for the last time as the week came to a speedy end. I visited the Ocean and hiked the hills one last time and said “goodbye” to a land and people whom I love, for now.

It was time to go.

After some serious packing, stacking and securing maneuvers we five (Cinda, my parents, The Chief and myself) plus four suitcases, two carry-ons and an XL dog crate were off to our night flight from San Francisco.

We made it with time to spare and spent a foggy-eyed few minutes hugging and kissing our way to goodbye. I feel lucky to say that no matter how old I am, I always miss my Mama. We hollered teary “Love you”‘s as they drove away and the now three of us navigated our way inside with our luggage brigade precariously placed all atop one cart.

Cinda was immediately on alert.

She

Is

Not

A

Fan.

She knew the inevitable squish into the kennel was coming and I could feel her anxiety surge as we entered the bustling SFO.

Since we had so much time before our flight and since our last-minute zippering up of bags had taken the whole day which meant Cinda Lou hadn’t gotten a walk, we decided I should walk her around and find the elusive “Pet Relief” area. I had looked it up on the website on our way down and could not, for the life of me, figure out where it was. We approached the Information Booth and the man said he “could try to explain it” but that it was “best to just walk diagonally across the entire terminal to the next Information Booth and ask there”. From there we would be closer.

Hmm.

Cinda and I headed out and 5 minutes later arrived to a new man with a new map with the same puzzled look on his face.

“I think, if you head down these escalators and then make a few weird turns you’ll eventually see the paw prints” he said after making us wait another five minutes while helping others with what he called “easier” questions.

What were we getting ourselves into? Some kind of underground pet society? Would we face an initiation? At this point, we were going either way.

Finally we spotted the paw prints which led us out and around and under and finally to the mysterious Pet Relief Area.

 

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And she was relieved.

 

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Panic no more Jones, we found it.

 

 

You know when you have to use the bathroom, but only a little yet as you head towards it and realize it’s occupied you suddenly have to use the bathroom a lot a lot a lot? The look in Cinda’s eyes as we went further and further into the depths of SFO with no end in sight told the same story.

But we had made it in time. All was good. We sang “follow the white puppy prints” (sung to the tune of “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, of course) all the way to the pen.

At this point we had been gone almost 40 minutes so after a few chases around the pen and ear scratches, it was time to go. We raced back just in time to get in the suddenly multiplying line.

Then we saw it: Delayed.

Our layover in Seattle was 41 minutes, a flight we had chosen and raved about because of the shorter overall time Cinda would be cooped up in her cage. We were such good parents.

Right?

By the time we reached the kiosk there had been another delay. At this point we would have 10 minutes to reach our connecting flight.

“What were you even thinking booking a flight with such a short connection time?” the woman at the desk asked us.

I guess being morons, apparently. Good Parent Award out the window. We weren’t going to make our connection, she assured us.

Great!

But, there was some good news, she promised. She could (hopefully) put us on the next flight out of Seattle. With the delay as it stood we should be just fine and the overall time wouldn’t be extended. We just had to “make sure we caught that flight since it was the last one of the night” she warned us.

Just then, we saw another alert: another delay to our already twice delayed plane. My heart sunk. We’d already been on our way for weeks now, ever since we dropped off the RV and now, so close to the finish line and we might not even make it today?

Stay calm.

We put our bags on the scales and…I hadn’t made it. I was four pounds over the limit. But, just then, our luck puffed up again as the bag handler, a buff man no taller than me who could probably lift three of me, looked at me, looked at the scale, looked at the lady booking our flights, smiled and nodded.

No charge.

Booyah!

Things were looking up.

For Cinda, however, they were looking grim.

We headed over to the Oversize Baggage area with the Muscle Man himself and proceeded to, as gently as possible, shove little Lou into her cage. There was no bribing her in there or coaxing her to comply, it was sheer (gentle) force. Thank goodness we had Mr. Muscles there for backup. In the shuffle of getting in the kennel, Miss Lou knocked over her water from her “no-spill” water bowl but it was too late, apparently. The zip ties were already on the cage and Muscles was already carting her away.

“She’s like our child!” we called after him like the animal loving, over-protective lunatic parents we are as we stood there watching her roll away. There’s a panic that sets in when flying your furry loved one in the cargo of the plane, and as we realized we no longer had control over the situation we turned in for a hug.

Hugs help.

And so, dogchild-less, it was time for security. Easy-peasy. Just remove all of your humanity, put it into these tiny boxes and try not to forget anything as you rush through like a herd of cattle.

The plane was boarding by the time we made it through but we’d had nothing to eat so The Chief stopped quickly to grab us dinner. In the midst of paying he realized his ID was gone.

The food was ready, the plane on second boarding and there I stood waiting anxiously as The Chief ran all the way back to Security.

It had to be there. If not, we weren’t getting on in Seattle. A second possible derailment of our journey loomed overhead but minutes later, I saw The Chief smiling and running back to me.

Phew!

We got on the plane at Last Call and they were all buckled up and ready to go. Except when we got to our row our seats were taken by a family. They said they could move if we really wanted them to but the stewards and stewardesses were hurrying so we just plopped down in their seats (I still never quite understood why they had done the switcheroo in the first place since they knew they weren’t in their seats but hey, it matters none, I guess). Everything was a Go except for one small detail: our Lou.

When you have a dog in Cargo the airline is required to provide proof that the dog is on board via a ticket stub attached to her kennel by her parents. No ticket no go.

No ticket.

“Ready for takeoff” we heard over the loudspeakers.

Before I could even ring the stewardess button The Chief was on it. They assured us that she was on board.

No, that’s not going to work for us.

Minutes later another stewardess flashed what could have been just a blank piece of paper at us from the front of the plane and mouthed (I think) “I got it” and immediately again “Ready for takeoff” came on over the loudspeakers.

Nope. Not good enough.

I ran to the front of the plane, chased after by another stewardess who seemed to appear out of nowhere who hissed at me “Do not run!” in the quietest yell one can muster. I didn’t care. We needed that ticket.

I finished my jog and saw that the paper she held was indeed our ticket (thank goodness) and walked back, a bit embarrassed but glad to know our pooch was in tow, with the angry stewardess following closely behind. Geez.

We taxied to the runway and with that…

we waited.

The plane was delayed. Again.

 

Please, please let us make the last Seattle plane to Alaska.

Please.

 

Thankfully, we did.

 

Of course, we landed on the complete opposite side of the airport from our gate at the not so small SeaTac, but two tram stops and a run later and we panted our way onto the already boarded plane.

The flight was packed and…

when we had been re-routed by the agent at SFO we were no longer sitting next to one another. This was the last leg of the night flight. The “I’m so glad I’m sitting next to my significant other right now since I’m drooling on the person next to me and the person next to me is thankfully him.”

Don’t pretend you don’t drool too. You do, right?

No, we were rows away from one another for the sleepiest, longest leg of the journey. Good luck unknowing stranger next to me.

Again we went through the rigmarole of getting our tags for Lou. They assured us she was down below but couldn’t produce the tag. I thought The Chief was going to turn into a taller version of Mr. Muscles as he flexed his Daddy Love in the face of their oppositions.

“Sir, it’s fine, she’s almost definitely on board.”

Almost + Definitely =nope, not going to work.

Despite all eyes of the plane (again) on us we stood strong until they finally found the tag.

GEEEEEEEZ!

I had a quick flashback in that moment to a time when my Grandfather was thrown off a plane not so long ago for being obstinate (I guess it runs in the family) and crossed my fingers we would all three make the flight home.

Home. It seemed so unattainable.

As we prepared to take off yet again I texted our friend who had offered to pick us up at the airport in Anchorage, even though our original flight had us landing at 2am and told him not to worry, that we would get a cab to their house.

He, being the trooper that he is, wouldn’t hear of it and so, hours later we three and our six bags greeted a welcome familiar face.

And Lou greeted the snow.

 

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Pup Snow Angels

 

 

I felt like I could breathe again.

Sure, we still had days to go before we would actually be home but finally, finally, we had made it onto Alaskan soil. It had felt like an impossibility.

We settled in for the night at our sweet friend’s house and succeeded in only waking up 1/3 of the sleeping inhabitants.

Success!?

The next day The Chief had a sinus check-up which he thankfully passed with flying colors after which we took a cab to the garage where the fire truck was being serviced.

With a set of wheels again we were all set to finally get to shopping but by then it was already 6pm. The sun had set hours before and there was no sense in starting our food shopping since we obviously wouldn’t be able to get it done in time to leave the next morning. We shopped, unsuccessfully, until everything closed, for new Winter boots for me (since my feet had apparently decided to grow since last year) and then gave in for the day. And so, we settled in for the night, planning to do all of our errands, to buy all of our supplies for the next three months, tomorrow.

After a night of reunions with our hosting friends the next day didn’t exactly get off to an early start, but start it did.

But not before a little walk to the park.

 

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Snow. I never thought I’d miss snow.

 

 

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This was just too much for me not to record. Back to Alaska but not quite back to the wild.

 

Let the shopping begin.

Oh wait, first let me forget my wallet at home so that we have to carve out 45 minutes of our day driving back and forth and then…

Let the shopping begin.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Vegas but if you have, and if you’ve gone in without a budget in mind, you can relate. Before half the day had gone by I was sickened by spending money. It was overwhelming. It always is.

But, we rallied together, trading off having little melt downs and saying words of encouragement to one another to get through the day. It’s funny the phases you hit.

  1. Excitement and Optimism (read: caffeine): “We are doing great!” and “It probably won’t even take the whole day!” and “I made detailed lists for each store” are phrases often naively expressed.
  2. The First Big Expenditure: “Dang, that was more than I thought it would be” is often uttered, accompanied by a lowering of enthusiasm. But still, you must push on.
  3. Fatigue: “Do we really need this?” is uttered while staring zombie-like at toilet paper and other necessities. Yes. Yes, you need that. Buckle up, buttercup, the day isn’t even halfway over.
  4. Minor Meltdown: Realize you haven’t eaten. Eat.
  5. The Fuck-Its: Sorry for the swear but it’s the best way to describe it. “We missed the milk, should I go back and get it?” someone asks while already in line. “Fuck it” the other replies. Or, “Should I get lemons? Will we have enough warm space?” followed up by a “Fuck it” said to yourself as you grab not one, but two bags. Fuck it.
  6. The Check-Out: “Oh man, you guys must be hungry!” says the checker as everyone in line behind you wishes they’d picked a better line. We organize our carts (yes, carts plural) according to freezable and non-freezable items so they can be boxed up as such. So needless to say, checking out takes a loooooooong time.
  7. The panic: We service the fire truck when we go to Town and it has a beyond tiny area to house all of our non-perishables which must all fit behind bench seat (it’s not an extended cab and there is no backseat so basically it’s a six-inch wide stacking situation. How are we going to fit everything? But, at this point it’s not a how as in, can we fit everything? The deal is done, it’s about how to fit everything. Let the Tetris games begin.
  8. The Return Home or to the Hotel and The Unpack: Just when you are beyond tired from an entire day of navigating through frozen streets and angry drivers and you finally arrive home and want nothing more than to zonk out, that’s when the next rounds of Tetris begin. Bringing round after round of all of the non-perishables inside (and subsequently taking over our friends’ house), covering all freezables that will be left, unsecured, in the truck over night and crossing your fingers they’ll be there when you wake up.
  9. You Think You’re Done but You’re Not: You’re inside, warm, maybe even eating something delicious but your mind is elsewhere. You’re planning tomorrow full of unrealistic timings and to-dos: wake up at 6am, re-pack everything (plus luggage and a dog crate and two humans and a dog) in ten minutes, shop before heading to the Department of Human Services (I had gotten lost in the system and since they wouldn’t answer their phone, the only solution was a visit and the only chance I had to visit was on our leaving day) and get out of town by 10 am at the latest. Cute, very cute.

And so our Town Run went something like that. We forgot things, were gawked at in Costco, had minor meltdowns and build-ups, spent more money in a day than feels civil and returned exhausted and on high alert. But, we did it.

 

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Carts 1&2 out of 3

 

 

The next morning we were off!

Sort of.

We did wake at 6am, according to plan (high-five, self!) but re-packing a truck in the freezing dark of the morning takes more than 10 minutes. You know that, I knew that but did I budget the time for it? Naw.

Finally, after nearly suffocating the entire household with the fumes from the backed-up-as-close-to-the-house-as-possible-to-prevent-theft truck we were on our way. Sure, it was already 8:45am and we certainly weren’t going to fit in shopping before the DHS but, oh well. We were moving, nonetheless. We waved goodbye to our now polluted-by-our-fumes-friends and off we went.

 

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You’re not mad at us, are you TheRon?

 

The mechanic had mentioned that the heater wasn’t working but we already knew that. I mean, it worked, a little, or at least enough last year in the Winter to get us home. Plus, as he mentioned, it’s mainly a Summer vehicle.

Yea?

It turns out it had worsened since we had last experienced it and temperatures were much lower than they had been last year (in the 20’s) and so we shivered our way to the government building.

“I’ll be back in just a bit, babe!” I said as I jumped out of the truck, paperwork in hand. I was in the first phase of errands again, excited and optimistic.

An hour plus later, paperwork still in hand with no telling how much longer it would be, I moved out of Stage One all the way to the Fuck It Stage. It didn’t matter if I had healthcare, right? I’m sure I would eventually get hold of someone on the phone eventually if I called enough from home. I was wasting daylight, we should just leave.

A text from The Chief (he was out running odds and ends errands) was perfectly timed, telling me to take all the time I needed and he would be handling things until I was done.

Yea, I love him.

Finally, my name was called. After 45 minutes and jumping through plenty of bureaucratic loops, I walked out triumphant.

Now, we were on the road!

We decided to drive out of Town to the next town (and last stop for a mainstream (think, has anything and will actually be open) grocery store) so we could feel like we were at least making progress.

As we were just about to hit the freeway we noticed a car had run up over a snow bank. In California, I can honestly (though still with shame) say that I’ve seen people on the side of the road with a stopped car and not stopped. They just seemed to have it handled already and it’s not that I don’t care, it’s just not as much the culture. Alaska brings out the best in me in that way because here people truly need to help one another, and so they do. By the time we had pulled over (we had simultaneously said “We should stop”. Jinx!) two other groups of people had stopped to help too. Three different groups of people came together and the car was out in a jiffy. The wife was so grateful that she hugged us as she said “Thank you”.

 

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I love Alaska.

An hour later we arrived at our destination town. All we had to do was grab a short list of groceries, fill up two 55-gallon drums with gasoline, fill up the truck’s two tanks and we were done and on our way for real (clearly, we were back in good ‘ol Stage One)!

Halfway through the produce section, we knew behind the seat wasn’t going to cut it and so, loving a girl who loves vegetables, The Chief came up with a plan. We would unpack the truck to get to our clothing, buy a tote in the store, line it with the clothes, fill up a water bottle with hot water to fight off the ever-dropping temperatures outside, fill the next layer of the tote with perishables, followed by another layer of clothing. He’s a smarty.

By the time we were finished shopping Cinda needed to get out and stretch her bones and so I walked the pooch while The Chief played a whole new level of Tetris. I returned to fetch the water bottle and headed inside to see if the coffee shop would fill it. 10 minutes later I returned.

“Did you get my text?”

Sure didn’t.

We had forgotten ratchet straps inside and so, The Chief and I traded and he went in this time to collect the last of the forgottens and to use the restroom.

I distracted myself from how late we were by plucking Cinda’s undercoat out and making it into a toupee.

 

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She was not amused, but she let me do it anyways.

 

By the time he came back I now had to use the restroom.

One more trip inside.

Now that the whole family had used the facilities, the truck was once again reconfigured and my veggies were on board, all we had left was to pump gas and we were done.

Oh and try to fix the heater.

The Chief fashioned a block against cold air going into the radiator via cardboard and we hoped for the best. That first hour’s drive had been a very cold one. The heater blew only cold air, so cold that we couldn’t tell if it was actually any warmer than the air outside. Well, fingers crossed for the magic of cardboard.

Now gas and gone!

150 gallons of gas (two 55-gallon barrels and two 20-gallon tanks on the truck) takes so much more time than I ever allow for.

Two hours from when we had arrived in the last town for a “quick stop for last-minute essentials” we were on our way.

 

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So much trust in four simple straps.

 

 

Except, wait.

It was Winter now and lunchtime and once we left this town it would be 5 hours before anything we saw another store or anything edible. All of the very few stops the Summer months have to offer are closed in the Winter. So, despite being beyond ready to leave, we had to stop once more for food.

Ok, now, now we are on our way.

And finally, we were.

 

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About an hour into the drive, we decided that the cardboard was in fact taking the edge off but that we were still slowly turning into human ice sculptures. I wiggled my toes incessantly in my boots to try to heat them but they were numb within minutes from the cold. I get cold. The Chief on the other hand rarely succumbs to that human reality. Yet, as I looked over at him as we scaled the roads through the mountains and the cold air blew, I could see he felt it too.

I remembered Grandma Jane had given me hand warmers last year that I had stashed in my suitcase again this year, just in case, for this exact kind of occasion.

But in which exact suitcase and where exactly they were, I hadn’t the faintest clue.

We decided to try a search anyways and pulled over. The winds were whipping and instantly my hands were frozen. Again, we had to re-tetris the load so that I could access my bags in the hopes that I had placed them in an outside zipper. I wedged my hand in between the freezing metal of the truck and the zipper of my bag.

No luck.

I tried each zipper on both bags but I couldn’t reach the far recesses of one and by then we were both frozen to the core.

We decided to give in to our frosty ride and just grin and bare it. I was about to jump off the truck when I realized my pink robe was accessible. I grabbed it and an accessible sweater, jumped out of the bed, spent a few minutes standing directly in front of the exhaust to take off the chill and jumped into what now felt like a warm truck by comparison to outside.

The Chief looked at the robe and giggled at me.

An hour later, after I had found yet another layer stashed away in the cab of the truck to cover myself, I pushed him to take the robe. I could tell he was freezing.

He looked glorious.

Hours later we made it to the last town before the turn-off. We gassed up, bought hand warmers and hot drinks at the small market, took Lou on a little jaunt where she made snow angel upon snow angel and then packed back into the truck.

No more stops.

Next stop: Home.

It was so close I could feel it.

All the stress, all the travel, all the uncertainty and endlessness of it all suddenly wrapped up into a paper ball which I sunk into an imaginary trash can. I could relax.

We were almost home.

By “almost home” I mean we still had four plus hours left but it didn’t matter. We were over the halfway mark.

Two hours later, we turned onto The Road, our 60 mile driveway, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Road glaciers beware, we were determined to make it home.

 

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We stopped to celebrate the start of the road and stepped out to the fresh prints of a lynx.

 

The Road was in surprisingly good condition and after only a few hairy moments of sliding downhill while pointed uphill driving over road glaciers, we approached the turn for our house. Five minutes and a seriously bumpy 4-wheeling time down the driveway and we had made it.

We were finally home.

We hooted and hollered and hugged and kissed our way into the house.

We were welcomed not only via signage but also by a house well above the freezing temperatures outside (45 degrees inside!). Our lovely neighbors had spent the day building and then checking and adding to a fire in our wood stove. Had they not, that cold ride home would have paled in comparison to the cold night ahead of us. We felt so lucky. (Thank you S&A!)

 

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It said “Welcome”, I swear. Excited photography blooper.

 

 

We spent the rest of the night carrying in necessities and exclaiming how we still couldn’t believe we had made it and how, at the same time, it felt like we had never left.

Finally, exhausted from months of packing and unpacking and being in a state of constant vigilance not to forget anything or leave anything behind, I settled in for the night. The Chief was still on a high from making it home and needed to wind down with some tunes, but me? I was toast.

As the first one into bed, I became the official Bed Defroster. It was still hard as a rock. The surfaces of the room were shiny with ice crystals and the windows had frost coming through every nook and cranny it could find.

 

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I suited up for my defrosting mission: long johns followed by fleece pants, wool socks, sweatshirt, hat and as many blankets as I could find. I jumped onto the bed (it’s quite high and I’m well, not) and landed with a resounding “thud”, reminding me again of my defrosting mission. I crawled under the covers and did a little dance to get a semblance of heat going. And I did. And thankfully once I get going I am a little heater. And so, by the time The Chief crawled in a few hours later we had an almost cozy place to rest our heads.

And rest we did.

Until the chores called and all the packing up of the cabin we’d done in the Fall needed to be un-done.

But that was for the morning. Our three-week journey home had ended.

 

We were home.

 

Sweet dreams.

 

With love,

from Alaska.

 

 

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