Spring in the Eastern Sierras

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by Laurence2537, May 2, 2021.

  1. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    A couple of weeks ago my boss had let me know that work was going to be slowing down and we'd likely have a bit of down-time. As an apprentice stone mason working for a small business, that's just the way it goes, and as it had coincided with the perfect time for a roadtrip up highway 395, I really wasn't bothered at all. Brian (@Warebear) and I had been wanting to make this trip for a while, and the short window for desert-riding was quickly closing, so we made some plans to make our way up from the Ventura/Santa Barbara area.

    On a calm Wednesday morning Brian met me at my apartment in Ventura and we headed inland on highway 126. From there we took San Francisquito Canyon, avoiding the chaos and busy freeways of the Santa Clarita area. Those roads are miserable enough in a car, let alone my old DR350. The canyon was pretty, with little traffic, and we cruised on through until we got to the edge of Palmdale, where we took backroads until we got onto highway 14 at Rosamond, safely out of the traffic of the Palmdale/Lancaster area.

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    Brian was comfortable enough on his KTM Super Adventure 1290 to even take photos of me struggling on the 350 through the desert winds.

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    We had planned to stop at the Jawbone Station for lunch, but when we got there it was closed. It was lucky we stopped. The screw for the side plastic on the exhaust side of my bike had fallen out and the plastic was melting against the muffler, which was melting the side of my saddle bags. I quickly shoved an old beer can between the plastic and the muffler to prevent any more damage.

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    It turned out to be my lucky day, because somehow the 1 spare bolt I had in my tool kit was the right size for the side plastic mount. Alas, I still needed a washer.

    At this point I'd like to both thank and apologize to the owners of Jawbone Station, who very kindly let me 'borrow' a washer from a sign that was the perfect size for my side plastic. Without it I would have just burnt my saddle bags until there was nothing left of them.

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    We continued along the 395, pushing to get to Lone Pine where we'd stop for lunch and some parts to make sure my saddlebags would be safe to keep riding. Luckily we got there with no further dramas.

    After stopping for lunch and a beer in town, we rode on into Alabama Hills, where we were planning to spend the night. The area was crowded for a Wednesday night, and it was hard to find a good spot to camp without being right next to someone. We did end up finding a spot, just as the wood we had bought in town almost fell off my bike. Brian clearly found it funny how the 350 was carrying all the wood, instead of his lightly packed 1290.

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    We set up our tents and unloaded our bikes so we could spend the rest of the afternoon exploring.

    Once unloaded, we rode on down Movie Road, before turning off onto a side road to climb a small yet rocky mountain. The top had a great view of the Owens Valley before us, looking north towards Bishop.

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    The next stop was this old mine, close to the hill we had just climbed.

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    On the opposite side of the canyon there was another mine. We rode down to check it out, but it was gated off about 15 feet from the entrance.

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    After we were done checking out this area we rode across the valley towards the base of Mt. Whitney. The foothills of the mountains would make for great camping, and there was no one there, but it was dark and much colder than the camping spots along Movie road.
    #1
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  2. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    From the base of Mt. Whitney we made our way back to camp, tired and satisfied with riding for the day. We got the fire going and settled in to make some dinner.

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    Alabama Hills is noted for its geological contrasts. The stone most commonly found in Alabama Hills, appearing in the large, smooth boulders is biotite monzogranite. It is essentially magma in its final form, and is also the same stone that forms the brutal, jagged peak of Mt. Whitney: the tallest mountain in mainland USA.

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    The Sierra Nevada mountain range is the result of a gigantic fault that starts just north of Los Angeles and continues to the northern border of California. The western side of the range is more of a gentle slope and much more habitable. The eastern side on the other hand, is a sharp descent which runs down into some of the least habitable regions of the USA. An easy way to understand how this fault has formed is to imagine a trapdoor that is just barely opening out of the floor. The western side of the range is the top of the trapdoor, while the eastern side of the range is the side of the trapdoor that is forming an almost 90 degree angle with the floor.

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    As the sun crept behind the Sierras the temperature dropped. We cooked and ate our gourmet dinner - pasta with dry salami, onion, garlic and parmesan cheese. It's my go-to for camping, and Brian doesn't seem to mind it either.

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    We kept the fire going for a couple of hours, sipping on the essential bottle of bourbon we'd packed, before eventually crawling into our tents and trying to get some sleep.

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    #2
  3. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    It turned out that pitching my tent between two large boulders just created a wind tunnel, and it was a mostly sleepness night. It didn't help either that it was a full moon, or it at least felt like it. I got out of my tent at around 5:30, thinking it was probably later than that, but it turned out to be a combination of a sunrise and a 'moonset'. The moon was bright enough that the valley was already well lit. It was pretty incredible to say the least, watching the sun slowly casting the first light onto the Sierras as the moon sank behind them.

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    We were wide awake by the time the sun came out, so we packed up quickly, snapped a few shots, then got on the road.

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    We rolled through the hills, taking our time exploring some of the roads that turn off Movie Road.

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    After about an hour of exploring we could already feel the heat. The temperatures for Lone Pine were predicted to be in the 90s that day, so we decided to quit messing around before it got too hot and get back on highway 395.

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    I'd noticed my rear brake was feeling weak on the first day, and when I checked it on the first night I realised that the pads only had about 20% left. I knew there was a motorsports store in Bishop, and was banking on them having a set for my DR350. It seemed unlikely, but somehow, out of the maybe 4 sets of brake pads they had on the wall, they had a set for my bike. Another lucky occurrence. I never ended up having to use them on this trip, but it felt much better having a spare set in my tool kit, in case they wore through to the metal on the middle of a steep trail.

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    Attached Files:

    #3
  4. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    We got to Mammoth, and cruised on into the first restaurant we saw for a late breakfast/early lunch.

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    It turned out to be probably the best food we had on the trip. Massive servings of calorie-dense comfort food and good prices.

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    Fueled up from the Breakfast club, we started searching for a place to camp for the next couple of nights. We wanted a spot where we could safely set up our tent and leave our gear for the next couple of nights so we could ride the trails without the added weight. After riding around Mammoth for a little while and checking our Twin Lakes (which was unfortunately closed to camping) we decided to head a little further north to check out June Lake.

    Riding along the highway, we could see that there was no shortage of trails running parallel to us, so we decided to get on one and try ride to June Lake in the dirt. We were going fine at first, managing the sandy whoops with all our gear, until Brian came unstuck on this sandy hill. It was steeper and sandier than it looks, and he hit an extra deep sandy section and swerved off to the side, managing to sink his bike down to the frame while being sideways on this hill.

    I rode past him, taking an easier line, and kept on going up the trail. After about 10 minutes of riding, I realised Brian wasn't behind me. He was usually right on my heels any time I was leading, so I stopped for a few minutes to wait. I turned around, and found him trying to lift the loaded down 500lb bike right out of the sand. I had barely thought anything of him being stuck like that because I'm so used to falling off my bike that I somehow didn't consider that getting a 1290 out of the sand might be a bit more difficult than my 350.

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    We dragged his bike out of the sand, then rolled it back to get to a section hard enough to actually launch from. And then we rolled back some more, because this deep sand went on for a long time. The pictures really don't do it justice, and a bike being as heavy as that doesn't help either. He got some momentum going, then hit the hill at full speed, almost losing his front end but somehow pulling it through.

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    We kept on going towards June Lake, probably making it about halfway there in the dirt. Unfortunatley I hit my foot on a rock while going up a hill climb. I didn't fall off, but hitting my foot kind of tweaked my knee and I didn't really feel confident riding the rest of the way with my knee aching, so we got back on the highway for the rest of the ride and cruised into June Lake.

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    We stopped in at the first campground we saw, which was called Oh! Ridge campground. It turned out to be the best in the area, in our opinion. As soon as we'd set up our tents, we went straight down to the beach of June Lake. We were hot and exhausted from riding in the sand, and jumping in the icy waters of the lake was actually refreshing.

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    Riding the Sierras, Australian style.

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    After a quick nap in the sun at the beach we rode to the June Lake brewery for a beer.

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    #4
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  5. BrockEvan

    BrockEvan Brock Warwick Supporter

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    I'm in, keep it coming.
    #5
  6. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    On the way back to the campground we saw some roads heading towards the mountains. We decided to ride them for a little bit, just to see where they go.

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    Plenty of wildlife around. This mob of deer were standing right in the middle of the trail and Brian almost ran into them. Oh well, no venison burgers for us.

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    I was following Brian, and I watched as he attempted this hill climb. As I watched him from the bottom, I realised that it was actually very steep, especially the section right at the top. It was sandy too. I watched as he charged up it, then launched himself into the side of the trail. I ran up to where he was, worried that he'd been under the bike as it fell, but it was all smiles.

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    We rolled the bike down the hill and then headed up towards the mountain.

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    I don't know what this mountain is called, only that it's somewhere below Reversed Peak.

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    The trail going up this mountain was super fun, but going down was even funner. We were in a rhythm and the trail had few rocks but plenty of flow.

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    Attached Files:

    #6
  7. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    After coming down the mountain, we rode back to camp. It was Thursday night and there was barely anyone there. We built a fire, had some dinner, then went to bed. It had been another great day of riding.

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    #7
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  8. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    The next morning we took it easy, waking up slowly and even getting the fire going to warm up and cook our breakfast of oats. We decided we were going to try and ride from our campground in June Lake to the next town up, which was Lee Vining, where we could see Mono Lake.

    The trail was mostly straight, with some good whoops and sandy sections. Brian really pushes his 1290 to the limit, riding it like it's a dirtbike.

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    #8
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  9. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    We weren't far from the town, probably only about a mile away. But the closer we got to Mono Lake, the sandier the terrain was getting. We came across one gully which had a small streaming running through it at the bottom, and then a sandy hill climb. We decided I'd try it first, because if I got stuck the DR350 would be easier to deal with than the 1290.

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    A better rider could have surely made it up this easily, and I'm sure I would have made it on the second try, but it was sandier than it looks and at this point we felt we were just wasting our time on a trail that wasn't that interesting. About two thirds of the way up the side of the gully there was a diversion that ended up taking us to the highway, so after Brian had made it up to the diversion we wheeled my bike down and then rode out to the highway to head to Lee Vining.

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    We rode the short distance to Lee Vining, then decided to try and ride up Tioga Pass, towards Yosemite, taking the turn offs for any trails we saw. There weren't many and the ones that we did ride were short, but the area was spectacular. The little black speck in the photo below is Brian, riding through this gorgeous valley.

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    We got to the Yosemite national park gate, which was closed. It was still worth it, as it was a spectacular ride and the road was twisty and well maintained. Brian had a snow nap, then we headed back down the pass.

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    At the bottom of the pass we took a turn off to check out some of the campgrounds in this valley. The mountain streams were flowing with beautiful, clear water, and we dunked our heads in.

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    #9
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  10. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    There's no photos to prove it, but we both actually went for a swim in this little bend here. And by a 'swim' I mean that we jumped in, then got out as fast as our bodies let us because the water was probably barely above freezing temperature.

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    We headed down Tioga Pass and into Lee Vining, both set on eating BBQ for lunch, hoping we'd find a bbq joint in town. There was one... but it was closed, so we settled for an average meal at Nicely's cafe, before heading back towards June Lake. We took a turn off on highway 158, to see the many lakes of the area, then headed back to camp and rested for a bit.

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    #10
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  11. mamawarebear

    mamawarebear n00b

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    Great pics and comments! Looks like a great time!
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  12. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    After another nap on the beach, we had regained the energy to keep riding. We made plans to head into the town of Mammoth for dinner, and ride some trails along the way. The first trail we came across was on a turnoff for the 'Obsidian Dome'. This definitely sparked our interest, and the shade of the forest was a welcome relief from the hot sun.

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    It's kind of hard to explain this 'Obsidian Dome'. From certain points it just looked like a giant pile of rubble, like something the city would dump in the middle of nowhere to hide. But all of these stones were pieces of obsidian. It was pretty incredible.

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    It was really big too. REALLY big. Like about the size of a hectare, but 100ft high. So obviously, we climbed on top of it, being careful not to trigger a landslide.

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    I've since learnt that the Obsidian dome was likely formed when a spout of magma hit a lake or some other body of water on its way to the surface. This cleared things up a lot. I couldn't wrap my head around how a massive pile like that would somehow form in the middle of nowhere.

    The trail just looped around this massive pile of obsidian. It was a fun road; nothing serious and lots of shade from the trees.

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    By the time we finished riding around the Obsidian dome it was about 5:45pm, so we headed into the town to grab some food and a beer at the Mammoth Brewing Company. It's a busy place, with great food and beer.

    Afterwards we rode back to camp, packed up a roaring fire with the last of our firewood and sipped some Jamo. The campground had filled up a lot since we had been gone and with the addition of neighbours who thought bringing a couch and speakers to the campground was a sensible idea, we decided we'd get out of there tomorrow. We were originally going to try and camp at Kennedy Meadows on the way home, but it was becoming obvious that any campground between here and Ventura would likely be packed, and the weather was predicting high winds so we weren't very keen on trying our luck with boondock desert camping. We'd just ride all the way home from Mammoth to Ventura/Santa Barbara.

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    #12
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  13. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    We got up before the sun in the morning, and headed to the valley below Mammoth to see if we could get a hot spring to ourselves before we rode home. We were in luck, and we ended up getting one of the lesser-known hot springs all to ourselves for about half an hour.

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    Another guy did end up joining us, but he was nice enough that we didn't mind at all. It was the perfect end to our trip to mammoth.

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    He even took our photo after we'd gotten out of the pool.

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    The ride home was, to be honest, harrowing. Riding from Mammoth to Ventura in a day is long enough, but we also took the long route which crosses through Sequoia National Forest, down into Bakersfield and then to the coast via highway 33. It was a solid 12 hours of riding, and we didn't stop to take many pictures. Here are the photos I did take:

    Looking up at the Sierras, just north of Bishop.

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    We took the 178 west, hoping to get out of the wind that was battering us in the desert. It seemed like it was coming from all directions. But alas, the wind was just as bad in the canyons, only now we were battling the wind on a twisty road instead of a straight highway.

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    Regardless, highway 178 is beautiful, and seeing the Kern river flowing made it worth it. If we'd had more time we would have gone in for a swim, but we just pushed on. This is the final picture I took on the trip - a piss-break somewhere just west of Bakersfield. Not much to look at out there.

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    We stopped at The Place in Ventucopa for a quick drink and a rest break, then headed down highway 33 to the coast. I wish I had stopped to take pictures, because it's a beautiful road, especially in the late afternoon light. It would have been a much more picturesque end to this ride report than the bleak desert of Bakersfield. But the flow was too good to stop as we rode through the canyons, and even after 12 hours of riding I felt totally in tune with my bike. We parted ways where highway 33 meets highway 101, and Brian rode on through to Santa Barbara while I was home in Ventura.

    And that's it, I hope you've enjoyed reading the report and seeing the photos we took. We'll have more ride reports to come in the future.
    #13
  14. Grasshopper's Ride

    Grasshopper's Ride Adventurer

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    Great ride report and some beautiful photos! :-)
    #14
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  15. Chillis

    Chillis Long timer Supporter

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    Awesome report.

    That area is great too. Glad you fought the wind and brought back the report to be read. And on the DR350!

    What speeds were you traveling on it on the highway?
    #15
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  16. Warebear

    Warebear Been here awhile

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    He just changed sprockets so we could hold 65-70 comfortably, except in the heavy winds.
    #16
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  17. Laurence2537

    Laurence2537 Adventurer

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    Yeah, as Brian said I put a 15 tooth front sprocket on there and in good conditions I can cruise at 70mph on the freeway while getting about 60mpg.
    #17
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  18. Chillis

    Chillis Long timer Supporter

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    The DR350 was my first dual sport, 22 years ago. Modded the heck out of it with big bore, cam, flat slide Mikuni, ported head with stock valves, oil cooler. Ran like an animal and was still anvil reliable.

    Love seeing them in action.
    #18
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  19. Bonnie & Clyde

    Bonnie & Clyde Wishing I was riding RTW

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    Good stuff!
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  20. SCPancho

    SCPancho Old farts riding club. Supporter

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    Great report and pictures! Thanks!
    #20
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