Colorado


Typically if you have a 2,000 mile road trip ahead of you, I would recommend making it further than 150 mile on day one. Unless you have a baby with you and there happens to be a cute town 150 miles away and you were still packing up your house until three o’clock even though you’d planned on being done by 9am at the latest.

However short that first day was, it set a good precedent for the rest of our Denver-San Francisco-Seattle trip. This wasn’t my first road trip with the baby, so I headed off already armed with my own traveling-solo-with-a-baby tips:

Don’t book ahead: Normally, it’s good to plan stops ahead of time. This allows you to book the best hotels online, search for fun restaurants and activities, and ensure that don’t inadvertently leave twenty hours of driving for the last day. But if you are traveling with an infant, you need some flexibility. Go ahead and make tentative plans (five hours of driving a day worked best for us) but definitely don’t book anything ahead of time. Suppose that the baby falls asleep right before you reach your planned destination for the night – you’re not going to want to waste that precious quiet time by waking up the kid to check into a hotel. Keep your foot on the accelerator and make it to the next town before nap time is over. On the flip side, be prepared to cut the driving short if that scream from the backseat isn’t going to end anytime soon.

When traveling from Denver to San Jose, I hit my intended destination about the half the time, stopping in Steamboat Springs as planned, just outside of Heber City (instead of Salt Lake City), Battle Mountain (past the intended Elko, Nevada), Reno, and then San Jose. After a week-long stop in the Bay Area, I managed to make it to Seattle in two days instead of the planned three to four, stopping for the night in Weed, CA.

Motels, not hotels: Even if you have a limitless budget (as most single parents do, you know), it is still a way better idea to stay in motels rather that hotels. If you stay at a hotel, than getting to your parked car involves traipsing down a hallway, past an office, and maybe even (heaven forbid) up or down an elevator. The genius motel design involves parking your car RIGHT OUTSIDE the door to your room. Even if you try to pack everything you and the baby will need in one bag (see tip below), you will fail at this task and be very happy that the car is right outside. I once had to wake up Aubrey so I could go get my contact solution from my car. Terrible.

In Steamboat Springs I stayed at the lovely Rabbit Ears Motel. It was much nicer than may hotels that I’ve frequented – pricier too, this being Steamboat Springs. Rabbit Ears is perfectly located, right on the edge of downtown, across from Old Town Hot Springs (the motel has discounted tickets, if you plan on going) and next to the river.

Rabbit Ears Motel
One hotel bag: It’s impossible to pack everything you’ll need for the night in one bag. Good luck.
Swimming and Fitness clubs: Stopping at every 24hour Fitness club on route was my best road-tripping discovery. I was worried about staying in shape while traveling because my jogging stroller didn’t fit in my car and even if it had I didn’t really want to take Aubrey out of her car-seat only to strap her into a stroller. So I mapped out all the 24hour fitness clubs and stopped at all of them. Since I pay for the all-month childcare (which is good nationwide), I could pull into a club and workout for two hours while Aubrey crawled around and checked out all the new toys. This was not only my key to staying in shape, but it was a perfect car break for the baby. She’d be ready for her second nap after all that playtime. Just be sure to double check the kid’s club/daycare hours. I stopped at the Salt Lake City club only to discover the daycare was closed Sundays.

Small towns are not known for having nationwide fitness clubs, but often they still have a YMCA or rec center with babysitting available. At Steamboat Springs I spent two hours swimming at the Old Town Hot Springs. I kept Aubrey with me (she loves swimming!), but there is a daycare option there during the daytime.

Old Town Hot Springs

Picnics, not restaurants: Again, crawling time is important. When you stop to eat at a restaurant your kid is subjected to being strapped into yet another seat. Pack a lunch and bring a big blanket. Most little towns have parks that are a lot nicer than rest areas.

Picnic at Hot Sulpher Springs

 

Think twice before camping: I had thrown my tent and sleeping bag in the trunk of my car more out of habit with any real plans to use them, but in the Wasatch foothills, I thought I had the perfect time to use them. We were twenty miles outside Heber City and there was no hope of reaching town with my eardrums still intact. Aubrey was DONE. I saw a camping sign with an arrow pointing to Strawberry Reservoir and made a quick left turn.

At first I thought that I had made a good decision. There were tons of families camping nearby. There was a general store selling ice cream and snacks that would work for my dinner. Aubrey loved crawling around in the tent, and nighttime temperatures for the nearby Salt Lake City were in the 60’s. However, temperatures dipped much lower in the mountains. At ten I changed Aubrey into her warmest pajamas, and at eleven I just decided to hold her for the night. Since infants aren’t supposed to sleep with blankets, camping even in slightly cold weather is tough. Also I was kind of cold but I didn’t want to go get an extra blanket in the car for fear of waking up Aubrey. To make matters worse, I felt bad when she woke up in the middle of the night crying because I’m sure all the other campers heard us. That’ll be my last camping experience for the year.

Camping

Have AAA roadside assistance: I would never survive without AAA. They’ve given me new batteries, unlocked my car (AAA guy: “What store are you in front of?” Me: “Um…the liquor store.”), and they have come especially in handy the numerous times I’ve needed a new tire. Miraculously, I haven’t needed a new tire in six months (a record!) and the last time one went out I was with two friends, one of whom (Fix-It-Tom) could actually change a tire! However, I usually travel alone, so until the baby learns how to change a tire I’ll keep my AAA membership.

Does this guy look like a hiker or WHAT?

Jay

That’s my brother. He should be the one living in Denver. My hikes so far have been limited to mile-long nature walks that could be done whilst several month pregnant: see Table Mountain and Mt. Falcon. I suspect this is why my brother waited until I was sufficiently back in shape before he came to visit.

So within three hours of his landing at DIA, we were making our way up Lookout Mountain in Golden (tip for those prone to altitude sickness: Going from Seattle to Denver to Golden to Lookout Mountain shouldn’t be attempted all in the same afternoon).
Taking the Chimney Gulch Trail up Lookout Mountain is one of those perfect quick hikes: Tons of great city views on one side and mountain/valley views on the other. A good three mile hike, but easy enough to run or bike up it if you are super in shape. People hang-glide off of it, there’s a big “M” on the side of it that lights up at night (M for the Colorado School of Mines), and I could see it from my driveway when I lived in Golden.

Lookout Mountain in the snow

To get to Lookout Mountain take Highway 58 from Denver to Golden and turn left onto 6th Ave. Then you’ve got some options. You can drive less than a mile and park right off 6th Ave in this makeshift parking lot…

Lookout Parking

…or you could keep driving for another minute and then turn right onto 19th street, which winds through a neighborhood and then becomes Lookout Mountain Rd (follow the signs) and park at the trailhead alongside the road, or you could just drive all the way to the top. It’s a switchback-y road that’s not very much fun to drive (unless you like that kind of thing), but it gets you to the top quicker.

View from Lookout

The next day we headed out to Eldorado Canyon State Park ($8 daily vehicle pass), which is just off Highway 93 between Golden and Boulder. My brother looked longingly at the rock climbers doting the canyon walls as I heaved the baby backpack on my shoulders and we started exploring.

Hiking with baby

There are numerous trail options at the State Park from the rim trail (which is stroller friendly) to technical boulder scrambles that lead to sheer rock faces. The hiking and scenery were great, but the best part of this park was definitely marveling at the rock climbers. I vividly remember my difficulties scaling the one and only (very, very small) cliff that I’ve ever faced, so I could only shake my head in amazement at the guys and gals dangling above me. How cool is must be to conquer something as imposing as a canyon wall.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

We were there Memorial Day weekend, so the trails were packed, as was the area near the visitor center where huge groups of families and friends were picnicking and barbequing alongside the South Boulder Creek (which looked like a full-blown river after all the snow we had last spring).

The next day we re-traced our route and this time made it all the way to Boulder. We parked the car at Chautaugua Park and set out towards the Flatirons. We walked along Bluebell road which was very boring at first. It starts out as a flat gravel trail between a grassy valley and a housing development. But once it hooked in with the Flatirons loop (briefly) and then the Royal Arch trail things got a lot more mountain-y. About half a mile away from the arch viewpoint there is a natural stopping place to sit on some rocks and eat lunch. I stopped here, opting not to go all the way to the arch because the trail got a little steep and I wasn’t comfortable doing it with a baby on my back.

The Royal Arch trail was cool, but my least favorite of the three hikes. It was just your basic hike. Nice, but nothing to blog about. The trail was super crowded and everyone kept giving my brother dirty looks because I the baby on my back and everyone assumed he was Aubrey’s dad, shirking his fatherly-hiking duties. I had to keep explaining that he was only my brother, shirking his uncle-hiking duties, which is a less grievous offense.
Oh, and there was a snake. It was big.

 

First race with babyI can finally run again!!! My daughter turned six months today, which means I can officially run with her in a jogging stroller without worrying about giving her shaken baby syndrome. Likewise, I can resume going to the gym as childcare is available for those exactly half a year old (and not a day sooner, as I discovered when I tried to sign her up yesterday).

Aubrey and I celebrated her half birthday by participating in the Hippity Hop Easter Trot 5k. As you can probably guess from the name of the race, this was a family friendly event. There were tons of kids running around on a search for Easter eggs prior to the race. The race itself featured a small army of oversized jogging strollers.

It wasn’t the most competitive run I’ve ever participated in. I spend the first mile cautiously jogging along, worrying simultaneously that my kid was too hot and that I’d accidently run into someone’s heel. Luckily Aubrey babbled happily for the 3.1 miles and I was fully enjoying my runners high by the end of the race, despite an embarrassing finish time that I’m not going to admit to on this blog.

The race was well organized. To me this means that there was a loudspeaker with music at the start/finish, ample parking (on the street), mile markers were obvious, results (via timing chip) were posted immediately, and there was good food at the finish. Yay breakfast burritos! It was not the most gorgeous run I’ve done in my life, but Denver’s Central Park was a nice enough venue.

Central Park, Denver

Central Park is in Stapleton, the area of Denver with a lot of new fancy sub-division houses (oh, that area). It is northeast of downtown, off of Martin Luther King Blvd and Central Park Blvd. Take the Quebec exit south off of I-70 and head east on MLK for a couple of miles. The park has a huge play area for kids including a big climbing rock that my brother would have loved when he was five. There are lots of good sledding hills too.

Subdivision heaven

Playground

Upon returning home I went on a shopping spree. My website of choice was my beloved www.runningintheusa.com. I am excited for the next few months!

April 6th: Jackalope 5K race in Laramie, WY. I emailed the race director who quickly responded in the affirmative that I could indeed run with a jogging stroller. Get ready Aubrey!

April 20th: 4-H Fun Run in Holdredge, NE. This is still a maybe, dependent on their stroller rules because I doubt I can convince anyone to travel to Holdredge with me. My affection for small town races is n0t shared by many.

May 27th: BoulderBOULDER 10K in Boulder, CO. I need to find a babysitter for this one because the huge race (50,000 participants, 90+ waves) doesn’t allow strollers. Family members: this would be an excellent weekend to visit.

June 17th: San Francisco Half Marathon. A fabulous coincidence: Aubrey’s Las Vegas dwelling father is originally from Oakland, and he’s anxious for her to meet his family that still lives there. He is a HUGE Oakland A’s fan, whereas I live and die for the Mariners. Naturally we made sure that Aubrey’s first trip to The Bay would be when the M’s are in town. (Bonus: this is also father’s day weekend) Last week I discovered that the SF Marathon would be held that same weekend. YAY!!! My best friend Denise is coming up for the weekend to and we’re doing the first half of the marathon. (She’d be in shape for the full…but I will most definitely NOT be).

June 29th: Ellsworth Wisconsin Cheese Curd run (10K? 8M?) This is another happy coincidence. My family will be celebrating my grandma’s 90th birthday the EXACT SAME weekend as the cheese curd festival. And man, do I love my cheese curds.

Fresh cheese curds

Sometime in August or September: A FULL MARATHON. I’m not sure where I’ll be living/working so I can’t commit to a specific one yet. Stay tuned

I was expecting Denver to be a lot prettier in the winter. It’s gorgeous here in the spring and fall, with tree leaves respectively budding white and pink and changing red and orange. But in the winter everything is just dead. I think I was expecting to live in a Thomas Kinkade winter scene: pine trees heavy with snow, kids skating on frozen ponds, white-capped mountains in the background… Nope. The weather here has a severe bi-polar personality disorder, which means it will be snowy and gorgeous for five minutes and then everything will melt and it will be fifty degrees the next day. Trees and parks will remain dead-looking until April.

Denver winter

Luckily there are antidotes to this excessive brownness. You can either

  • Head up to the mountains where it’s so cold that you eyeballs freeze, but the snow doesn’t melt. OR…
  • Find something tropic in Denver. And no, I’m not taking about fruity drinks with umbrellas. I hate Margaritaville. Thank goodness there isn’t one in Denver. I’m talking about the greenhouse at Denver Botanic Gardens and the indoor rainforest at Denver Zoo.The only picture I took at the zoo
  • Since only part of the zoo and gardens are tropical, I recommend not paying for your admission to these attractions, particularly if you go during the winter. Free 2013 zoo days this winter have already passed, but if you are into planning waaaay ahead, the zoo will be free again on November 4th, 15th, and 21st  The Botanic Gardens will again be free March 27th, April 22nd, July 9th, August 27th, and October 7th.

At the zoo last month I skipped the elephants, zebras and cheetahs and met my friends somewhere around Bird World and Lorikeet Adventure, where it was nice and warm. The Emerald Forest and Primate Panorama also feature inside viewing areas.

On the other side of the park is Tropical Discovery, an indoor rainforest. There are no dead looking brown trees here. Everything looks very lush….except the “temple ruin in the heart of the jungle.” It looks rather cheesy. But while in my fake rainforest, I enjoyed gazing at the fish and turtles, and my baby girl craned her neck to look at an exciting light coming through the water.

The zoo is located inside downtown Denver’s City Park (also very brown and dead looking this month). Being free day, the parking lot and garage was very crowded, and the line of cars piled up to get into the park was long. However the zoo itself didn’t feel very crowded. Maybe that’s because everyone was checking out the elephants and cooler outdoor animals.

Adult admission to the zoo is $12 during the winter and $15 in the summer. Winter hours are 10-4, summer hours are 9-5. Check out the zoo’s website here for more information.

Last week when my parents came to visit I suggested that we visit Denver’s Botanic Gardens, which shocked them because I hate botany. Botany 101/plant identification was the only class I failed in college, and I failed it twice. The first time with a 10%. And I was actually TRYING to pass. I’m sorry, it is just impossible to tell if a leaf is separated (in which you should turn to page 652 in your dichotomous key) or merely serrated (page 152 – an get ready for another equally impossible task). But my farmer father was an ag major, my mom loves gardening, it was free, and I had a baby to entertain me so off to the Botanic Gardens we went.

A flowerIt wasn’t so bad – mostly because I skipped the pools, outside gardens, and ornamental grasses. They didn’t look too interesting from afar (dead, brown, etc.). The greenhouse was kinda nice though. I stepped inside the garden, stepped back out, stripped my daughter of her pink fuzzy snowsuit, and re-entered. It was VERY hot and humid in there. The greenhouse is several stories (there is an elevator) of lush greenness. In addition to various plants that I don’t know the Latin names of (I left my dichotomous key at home, dang it!), the greenhouse has a water feature complete with ducks. I especially liked watching little kids run around with petri dishes, collecting various stuff. I don’t know if they were supposed to be doing this, but they looked very cute and earnest. I’m sure they’ll make good botany students in the future.

I conveniently got hungry an hour after our arrival at the gardens. (My dad said he could have spent NINE HOURS there. Oh, the horror.) If you, like me, don’t want to dine at a place called Offshoots at the Gardens, Three Lions, a soccer (football?) pub around the corner has great bar food. Denver Botanic Gardens are open from 9 -5, and if you don’t go on a free day, it’ll cost you $12.50 (more than the zoo? That’s absurd!) The gardens are downtown at 1007 York Street. Check them out here.  

Less than five weeks ‘til spring!

Spring!

Although I love living in Denver, a recent trip back to Sin City has forced me to admit that there are a cultural adjustments I haven’t even started to make yet. Here are a few:

The food:

Everywhere I go in Denver I am surrounded by people who don’t eat meat, cheese, milk, wheat, gluten products, butter, or anything else good. People apparently live off of produce from their gardens and endless trips to City O’ City (the “BBQ” there is dry rubbed tofu. Can someone from Kansas City come beat up the chef please?). To each his own and all that, but I love baking! It sucks to bring a batch of cookies to an event and have them go untouched. This would NEVER happen in Las Vegas. My friend just threw me a baby shower in Vegas and people gobbled up her cupcakes, artichoke dip, mozzarella/arugula/tomato skewers, cream cheese filled strawberries, and ice cream punch that looked like a baby bath.

There is no way that menu would fly in Denver. If she would have been limited to locally grown swiss chard “shakes” and mushroom “burgers,” she would have quit on the spot.

I should love that I live in the healthiest state in the union, and sometimes I do. The peer pressure here makes me eat better, which is technically a good thing, but sometimes I miss my Las Vegas friends who un-ironically ask me if I’m trying to lose weight because I only ordered one hamburger at the McDonald’s Drive-Thur (true story). The other problem is that I’m surrounded by skinny people and I therefore look fat in comparison. (Granted I’m nearly 8 months pregnant now, but this problem existed 8 months ago and will again be a problem in a few short weeks). In Vegas I had a backside that I loved. In Denver, I just have a fat ass.

The marijuana:

Seriously, I was driving ON THE FREEWAY and I got a whiff of weed. I can’t go on a run around the block without fearing a contact high. Do medical dispensaries really need to be on every corner? It’s not like nobody smokes in Vegas, but Denver is really excessive. I guess Coloradans have to make up for their lack of butter and meat somehow.

The music:

Everyone here is into really cool and edgy music. I like Taylor Swift and top 40 hits. This is a problem.

Proximity to lots of cool places:

If you are into weekend road trips, Las Vegas is a great place to live. You are less than six hours away from L.A., San Diego, Phoenix, Lake Tahoe, some of Utah’s best national parks (Bryce and Zion), and the Grand Canyon. Denver has a lot of great mountain towns to explore, and heading up north to South Dakota is pretty cool. However, a drive east will bring you twelve hours of nothing but corn and soybean fields.

The slightly trashy element:

People in Denver aren’t trashy. Gals in my workout class have color coordinated Lucy workout gear. Moms shopping in the Highlands near my house all are pushing their toddlers in top-of-the-line jogging strollers. I haven’t seen anyone grocery shopping in their pajama pants. Everyone wears Tom’s shoes in the summer and cute no-heel boots in the winter.

People in Las Vegas probably don’t even know about Tom’s shoes. (Can you buy them at Wal-Mart?) Trashy clothes are not only on the Strip, but everywhere in Las Vegas. I miss raising my eyebrows at people’s outfits, spending entertaining hours simply people watching, and talking trash about the trashy things people wear. Also, I’m sad that I can never wear pajama pants to the store here (not like I ever did it in Vegas, but it was good to know it was a viable option. Also, I can’t afford Lucy workout gear or Tom’s shoes.

Luckily Denver more than makes up for its shortcomings. With four sports teams, a different running club to train with every day of the week, tons of cute mountain towns, a (relatively) well-funded education system, and a vibrant downtown (with museums! The most popular museum in Vegas is the Mob Museum), I’m totally in love with Denver. However, sometimes I miss my trashy, gluttonous, pop music loving self that I could comfortably be in Las Vegas.

As someone who is still mildly afraid of driving in the snow, summer is the perfect time to check out the cute ski towns that pepper the mountains west of Denver. Plus, it’s currently 104 degrees in the city and my pregnant self doesn’t have air conditioning. To the mountains!

About an hour and a half west of Denver on I-70, just past the town of Frisco, is Copper Mountain Resort.  If you get a condo in Center Village, you’ll be able to easily walk all over town and to all the main summer attractions. The Copper Creek Golf Course (970-968-3333) is closer to the East Village, but it’s still just a quick ten minute jaunt away from the middle of town.

 The mountain resort is pretty quiet during the week in the summertime, without half of Denver’s REI clad-snowboard toting population up here, but there is still a lot to do. Hiking and mountain biking trails crisscross used-to-be ski trails all up and down the mountain. If you don’t feel like pedaling up at 9,000 feet, you can load your bike (rentals available at Gravitee and Peak Sports) onto a chair lift (for $10) and coast down. Before heading down, check out the BBQ joint at Solitude Station at the top of the American Eagle lift. Instead of biking or hiking, I took advantage of the paved running trail (Rec Path to Vail Pass. Pick it up just west of the Union Creek Parking Lot, west of Center Village) along the gorgeous West Ten Mile Creek. I did NOT run all the way to Vail, though that would have been cool. Maybe next year.

Back inside Center Village, there is an outdoor climbing wall, bumper boats on and zip lining across the tiny West Lake, a go-kart track, and a bungy trampoline. If you are into more serious activities (horseback riding, ATV tours, fly fishing, etc.), Copper Guest Services can hook you up (970-968-2318). Although the shopping and restaurant scene isn’t much to blog about, places are open year round. If you are really after fine dining and perusing art galleries, head west until you get to Vail. Back at Copper Mountain, there is a littlegrocery store, with to-be-expected high prices. Bring food from home or stop at Frisco on your way up to save a little money.      

If you want a little more action and excitement, head up to Copper on the weekends. Fri-Sat-Sun events going on all throughout the summer. This coming weekend (June 29th – July 1st, 2012) is a big one: It’s Copper Mountain’s 3 Ring Weekend, with free music, kids’ activities, a carnival, and the annual Copper Half Marathon and Trail 10K. Fireworks are also advertised, but that may be a no-go since all of Colorado seems to be currently burning down. Check out their summer schedule here.

Lodging can be booked through Copper Mountain’s website, which provides links to their own properties as well as condos to rent. We stayed in one of the Union Creek Townhomes, which was lovely. It had a garage parking, hot tub, kitchen stocked with staples and cooking gadgets, a porch that overlooked the creek, and comfy beds.

Not that I have anything against free beer tours with complimentary beverages along the way, but Golden has a lot more to offer than beer. Besides, I haven’t been on a Coors Tour, so I can’t write about it yet. Stay tuned.

Golden is one of those cute little small towns alongside a creek with a historic downtown and a backyard full of mountains. Plus, if you ever get bored, it’s only a 20 minute drive to downtown Denver. I’m thrilled to be moving to this spot of geographic perfection in August, so more Golden posts may be popping up here in the next few months.

But for now I’m still a Golden tourist, and any day in Golden has to either start or end with a hike. The most obvious choice is up North Table Mountain. This is an easy hike. (Easy means that I saw families with small children and grandmas on the trail. My five-months-pregnant self actually got a little bored and had to start running to work up a sweat.) It is just a few miles north of town on highway 93. You can’t miss the trailhead sign or parking lot on the left side of the road as you are heading north out of town. As the “Table” part of name suggests, this mountain is actually a large plateau. It’s a steep gravelly hike to the top, and then there are several flat loops to walk or bike through when you get to the top. This fact coupled with the lack of trees makes for not the most interesting hike in the world, but if you follow North Mesa trail there are great overlooks of the town of Golden. Plus, if the wind is blowing right, you can smell the beer from atop the mountain.

After your walk, hike, trailrun or bike ride, cooling off is a must. This can either be done with a refreshing dip in Clear Creek or by enjoying a cool beverage.

Clear Creek runs through downtown, with the most populated spots just north of downtown on Washington street.

A paved trail meanders along Clear Creek for miles in both directions. Walk along the south side to check out the historical stops near the trail. There are several spots alongside the trail in which you can easily step down to the creek to cool off and play in the water. If you are lucky you might even see a kayaker navigating the shallow waters (usually about a half mile or so up the trail, west of town).

If splashing in a creek isn’t your idea of “refreshing,” there are several places in town where you can grab a drink. Buffalo Rose has an outside patio bar if you’re a beer and bikers kinda person. Come back at night for live music and/or karaoke. On the other side of the drinking spectrum, there is patio seating at Grappa from which many enjoy glasses (or bottles) of wine.

Downtown Golden isn’t exactly Chicago’s Miracle Mile, but there are cute shops along Washington Ave and its side streets. My favorites is Silver Horse, where I drooled over $600 cowboy boots and long strands of turquoise jewelry. Rewind is another popular place, with antiques and secondhand clothes and furniture, organized thematically in different rooms.

There are a few places to stay in Golden. The Golden Hotel is the most centrally located, right on Washington Ave alongside Clear Creek. A few blocks north is Table Mountain Inn, with an abode façade that looks like it was airlifted from Santa Fe. Down alongside Clear Creek is a secluded RV park, shaded by trees – that’s where I would stay (they only have three tent sites though).

This post is somewhat of a teaser, Golden has tons more hikes, shops, restaurants, and museums for me to explore. Plus that Coors Factory. I can’t wait to get to know my soon-to-be-new home.

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