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Thread: Experience, Skill Level and River Miles

  1. #1

    Default Experience, Skill Level and River Miles

    So I was thinking over last September's float hunt, and I recalled a thought I had as I was about 10 miles from finishing my 100 mile float hunt. I wondered how many river miles I had logged on my raft in the 3 years since I began float hunting. I remember that I came up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 miles. Now I know that doesn't sound like much. And I don't want this thread to turn into a bragging thread. I am sure some guys on here like Strahan and Bartlett probably have thousands if not tens of thousands of miles logged.

    But my next thought was this. At what point, does someone progress from the beginner stage, to the intermediate, and advanced stage of experience. Again, this is not intended to be an ego boost or something like that, but rather I am curious to see if anyone has ever established some baseline data/info on this topic. It would be nice to know, when hunt planning etc. What would be your typical experience level required if you were going to attempt let's say an intermediate/advanced river? What would be required for lets say a float hunt that is remote and class III-IV? These are questions that probably should be addressed.

    So what would you say the minimum numbers would be? Anybody want to share their thoughts on the topic.

  2. #2
    Member danattherock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bushwhack Jack View Post

    At what point, does someone progress from the beginner stage, to the intermediate, and advanced stage of experience.

    I think beginner's ask questions, intermediate folks answer them, and advanced folks do neither


    Great question though man and worthy of discussion. I will look forward to hearing what other folks have to say. One comment, big difference in floating a class III river and floating it with a raft loaded with moose quarters. I would want several class III/IV trips under my belt before taking a hunt that required it. I don't find it accidental that most of the rivers folks float hunt are class I/II. The remoteness of the river, the weather/trip timing, and the water classification all must be in line with the skills of the hunter/oarsman.

    I tend to error on the side of caution when picking remote floats. Being that I take my wife on all trips adds a degree of concern. With floating remote rivers, I have no problem logging miles on rivers beneath my skill level. In doing so, my skill level goes up and nobody becomes a CNN footnote. Proceed with caution is my mindset with remote rivers. They ain't going anywhere man.

    You are a skilled floater in my estimation. I consider myself the same. But I always listen to my gut when picking a river. If I sit up at night thinking about it, there is a reason for it. That is what prevented me from doing the Kongakut last June. As skills go up, so does confidence. Over time it is my goal to float some more challenging rivers, but as I said, they ain't going anywhere.



    -Dan
    The two loudest sounds known to man: a gun that goes bang when it is supposed to go click and a gun that goes click when it is supposed to go bang.

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    Member Gerberman's Avatar
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    I think the best way to get experience is to have a float friend that has a better skill level than you, go behind them, and listen to them when they explain the river. Soon you will be able to lead and then go solo with confidence. How many miles???? If the miles are class IIIand IV one right after another, maybe only 50 miles will teach you. Learning to read the river takes time, listen to the old oars, they get to there by experience. Have fun and float free.

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    Good points, thoughts and comments Dan and Gerber. Thanks for sharing.

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    Member AlaskaTrueAdventure's Avatar
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    Just a quick note that your 500 river miles is actually a bunch. It is more than many have here on the forum, regardless of their claims.
    That would be about 166 upper Kenai River trips on the "miracle three miles". That would be about 30 Upper Kenai River trip, lake to lake.
    That would be about 12 Gulkana River floats. And 12 of the float hunts that I do twice every September with client-hunters.
    500 river miles is a 500 great and grand miles of inner peace.......with more in the future. Congrats.
    dennis

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default "Good judgment comes from experience"

    "Experience comes from bad judgment".

    More is better no doubt, but Dan has a good point too, that some float miles in challenging conditions probably teach different lessons. I never have thought about experience in terms of river miles, but more in terms of the situations encountered. Of course in 500 miles, you're bound to have seen a LOT.

    Jeff Varvil told a hilarious story ("I Never Saw It Coming" in the Forums magazine section at: http://outdoorsdirectory.com/magazin...-it-coming.htm), in which one lesson is that even the most experienced "Jedi" rafters can't anticipate everything - for instance, "We had clipped a low hanging wasp nest...". But river time and miles are the dues one pays for becoming experienced. In 500 miles I expect you've learned there's a lot you can handle alright. Funny read when you have time.

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    Member Rock_skipper's Avatar
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    My first float was when I was 18, and we got dropped off 7 miles from the river. It was downhill all the way to the river and it was a 50 mile float.
    Well there was 4 of us and we each had a 130# packs. Being as there was a creek we were following, and looked deep enough, my brain took over, ( not the sharpest tool in the shed) Aired up my 6-man ( each one us had one, the yellow ones at the time) and made my way down the creek with my stuff and another guys stuff.

    To make a long story short, by the time we hit the river the bottom was toast, looked liked somebody shot it with a shotgun.

    HMmmmm! Well the only way I could keep my ***** dry was to flip it over and ride it upside down, this was probably one of the best things I found out about rafts. The bottoms will wear out way before the tubes do, and I made 6 trips with that raft, for a price of 250.00, but that was awhile ago.

    The river did have one spot that could be a class 3 for about a half mile and it was man the oar/pad lol, or go into the water. I guess when you are young you just can't help wanting to feel the rush.

    Everybody these days want to have the best that is around, and I can't blame them. But I know I sure had fun on those trips and brought out 4 moose out of the 6 trips.

    I will say the gear was dropped out of the plane after the first year. But we all still used the same rafts upside down, lol

    (Point being is if the bottom gets a leak flip it over, it makes a concave for you to sit in above the water)

    What makes a good rafter? Experiance. When you encounter a shute with big rocks, go with the flow, most times you will just go with the water unless you fight it, if you fight it you might be wishing you were at home at the time. lol

    I'm not the most experaniced floater, but have done some, so take my words with a grain of salt. Just don't be afraid to jump in to the sport.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bushwhack Jack View Post
    So I was thinking over last September's float hunt, and I recalled a thought I had as I was about 10 miles from finishing my 100 mile float hunt. I wondered how many river miles I had logged on my raft in the 3 years since I began float hunting. I remember that I came up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 miles. Now I know that doesn't sound like much. And I don't want this thread to turn into a bragging thread. I am sure some guys on here like Strahan and Bartlett probably have thousands if not tens of thousands of miles logged.

    But my next thought was this. At what point, does someone progress from the beginner stage, to the intermediate, and advanced stage of experience. Again, this is not intended to be an ego boost or something like that, but rather I am curious to see if anyone has ever established some baseline data/info on this topic. It would be nice to know, when hunt planning etc. What would be your typical experience level required if you were going to attempt let's say an intermediate/advanced river? What would be required for lets say a float hunt that is remote and class III-IV? These are questions that probably should be addressed.

    So what would you say the minimum numbers would be? Anybody want to share their thoughts on the topic.
    Hello Bushwhack,

    Good question and topic for discussion -


    I'd put this in terms of car-talk.... a ton of miles perfecting 'easy-street' is unrealistic preparation (judgment, instruction, skill, outlook of confidence, navigability, etc.) jumping to rugged back-roads, slippery mud and snow, poor visibility, rush hour in the big city, parallel parking with inches to spare, changin' tires, plus mechanical break downs along the way. Guessing a get my drift?

    Now - when we were young, we figured grab the wheel and get 'er done. Nevertheless, hindsight we realize (some of us anyway) that there is/was a process, a progression, obtaining skills/vision/judgment, eventually rollin' it solo (w/ learning likely not stopping there).

    Yes - trial & error can be a teacher... but often it's not the best. Pin-ballin' and bustin' out the bottoms of boats is certainly not.

    We learn in so many ways... naturally - some are hands on, others are visual, many will hear or read it.


    I completely disagree that advanced boaters and highly experienced professionals of their trade would not ask or answer questions --- that's not the case.


    I will also relate however, there is an over-abundance of inexperience often shared (no matter the intentions) --- leading to info nearly off-putting as all-too-common deceptive advertising or politicking.


    The essence of your question (the part that struck me as answerable to a degree) was the fact that much class I & II rafting is reasonably easy... particularly with the proper heads up wits and today's gear. The challenges per your description and for folks on the same oar strokes so far are the wilderness experiences, starting at put-in (A) camping along the way, whatever other activities, then making the take-out Point (B).


    The Answer:
    What really changes, moving to class III is subjectivity for the most part. Truly with no generalization, Class III is a classification meaning 'difficult'. The next step is class IV defined as 'very difficult'.


    The difficult part of what determines a real class III is that frequent waves have gone from regular <3' to numerous irregular >3'. Easily recognizable navigable goes to complexity with necessitating maneuvering. This subjectivity (in my opinion) brings 'proficiency' to the oars or paddles!!! Proficiency is the word we are looking for in your inquiry.


    Class IV is regarded as 'very difficult'. Proficiency now becomes mandatory!


    While much of river physics (river force vectors & boat angles) stay more or less same no matter how big the water gets... I'll relate that when classifications go up, intensity of potentially dangerous conditions adds up more exponential than many perceive. This is why Class III will be perceived so subjectively... also reason it is cause for essentially so much river carnage.


    When are you personally ready to tackle the Class III-IV multi-day trip? Cannot say!


    What I will voice is the importance to be conservative in Alaska, not over-extending when at all possible. Plan accordingly for the weather and water conditions that can make drastic changes for better or worse.


    I encourage getting on-water instruction as #1.


    This way you take part in the process, a progression, lesson-building, skill-development, gaining vision (scouting + read & run) find value in critique/evaluation/debrief, obtain good judgment + habits....... eventually rollin' it solo (w/ learning hopefully not stopping there).

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    Great info. Thanks a lot. Keep it coming.

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    Member BlueMoose's Avatar
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    Very well put Brian. I will second the notion of getting into a Swift Water Rescue class or as a min get with a someone like Brian and obtain some lessons you will not regret it. Chuck at Nova has SWR every year either on the Mat. or 6 mile. Jim at Denali Rafting Adventures normally puts one together as well. If you are truely heading into a more difficult float you should without hesitation consider SWR this Spring.

    Another class I would recommend is wilderness survival, and wilderness first aide IMO they are a must if you do plan on taking the next step to do something crazy like run Clas IV on a hunt. Yes there is a ton of modern equipment out there but Education, Education and Education. There is a lot that can be done to at least set your-self up for sucess versus failure.

    Great Thread enjoy the Rep point.

    Richard "Moose" Mousseau

  11. #11

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    Hey thanks. I will look into that. Do you guys have any contact info for them, or should I just google them online? I would be interested in a class.

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    Member akguy454's Avatar
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    i lack experience and skill but here is my take
    I would not float hunt a IV. too dangerous to handle if I was loaded with game (for me)
    but you could float a I-II every year and be considered an experienced float hunter. And no one can bless you off so to say as being able to float a III-IV unless you have done it. Kind of like climbing a rock face. You don't know unless you climbed it. The difference between rocks and water is that you can second someone that is leading the route and have some safety measures, in a boat it is up to you to ride it out. I float hunt to get away from it all. I don't float hunt to push my rafting skills since I have none. One thing to think about is can you do it loaded with game or not. Great question. these are just my thoughts...
    thanks

    robbie

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    Member Heg's Avatar
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    Good thread…the below zero weather today has me thinking about rafting too. Nice work on the mileage this summer! I was a self-taught rafter for about fifteen years, having good times, floating lots of class III/III+ miles and being pretty safe; then, a few years ago, like you, I decided to step it up. I took some classes and read books, helping me get the right mind set. Most importantly, I sought out people with lots of whitewater experience and listened to them and followed them down rivers, observing the way they handled their boats and attitudes in gnarly situations.

    Be careful with getting caught up in the ratings. When paddling and discussing roadside rivers with a person from Idaho this summer, they thought all our rivers were inflated (they had no experience on remote AK rivers). There is a big difference in roadside class IV and a remote class IV. Throw in a dead animal and all the hunting gear required for your expedition and it is a completely different story. I read an article about a rating formula some time ago that helped me clarify the ratings, giving me a better idea of what rivers I was comfortable with. I don’t remember exactly how it went, but it was something like this…

    Consider the consequences of a missed line. Will you be able to recover your boat, gear and friends in a big open pool after your scew-up? Or, are boats and/or bodies going to disappear?

    Also, the remoteness is big issue. If the ‘it does hit the fan, will you be able to walk out to the road? Or, are you out in the sticks, where even with the best technology, the weather might not allow rescue for days.

    Finally, you need to think about your ability to set safety. Is there an easy spot for your trained partner(s) to set safety. Or, are you running solo, maybe even with other boats, through a canyon (or whatever) where it is not possible to set safety.

    Good luck and enjoy those miles,
    Josh

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    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Or a reminder: "Yer still a rookie!"

    Quote Originally Posted by Heg View Post
    Good thread…the below zero weather today has me thinking about rafting too. Nice work on the mileage this summer! I was a self-taught rafter for about fifteen years, having good times, floating lots of class III/III+ miles and being pretty safe; then, a few years ago, like you, I decided to step it up. I took some classes and read books, helping me get the right mind set. Most importantly, I sought out people with lots of whitewater experience and listened to them and followed them down rivers, observing the way they handled their boats and attitudes in gnarly situations.

    Be careful with getting caught up in the ratings. When paddling and discussing roadside rivers with a person from Idaho this summer, they thought all our rivers were inflated (they had no experience on remote AK rivers). There is a big difference in roadside class IV and a remote class IV. Throw in a dead animal and all the hunting gear required for your expedition and it is a completely different story. I read an article about a rating formula some time ago that helped me clarify the ratings, giving me a better idea of what rivers I was comfortable with. I don’t remember exactly how it went, but it was something like this…

    Consider the consequences of a missed line. Will you be able to recover your boat, gear and friends in a big open pool after your scew-up? Or, are boats and/or bodies going to disappear?

    Also, the remoteness is big issue. If the ‘it does hit the fan, will you be able to walk out to the road? Or, are you out in the sticks, where even with the best technology, the weather might not allow rescue for days.

    Finally, you need to think about your ability to set safety. Is there an easy spot for your trained partner(s) to set safety. Or, are you running solo, maybe even with other boats, through a canyon (or whatever) where it is not possible to set safety.

    Good luck and enjoy those miles,
    Josh
    Those sound like great points to me, along with others' wisdom in this thread. So many variables in the "degree of difficulty" when it comes to learning value of some river miles versus others. Like most others learning, I've been deliberate about choosing rivers within my abilities. But Josh's (and others') points seem like good ones to frame one's approach to planning those future floats.

    But something else occurred to me: one very useful and usually accurate point of totaling one's river miles: on the low end of 500, "you're probably still a rookie, Rookie!" Ha. And that would definitely be me. [The Bushwhack Jack River-Cheechako (Rookie?) Index (BJRCI)...Bushwhack Jack River-Jedi Index (BJRJI): 1-5 with 1 being 100 river miles, 2 being 200 miles, etc - fudged up or down depending on conditions at the time floated... hmmmm].

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    Quote Originally Posted by 6XLeech View Post
    Those sound like great points to me, along with others' wisdom in this thread. So many variables in the "degree of difficulty" when it comes to learning value of some river miles versus others. Like most others learning, I've been deliberate about choosing rivers within my abilities. But Josh's (and others') points seem like good ones to frame one's approach to planning those future floats.

    But something else occurred to me: one very useful and usually accurate point of totaling one's river miles: on the low end of 500, "you're probably still a rookie, Rookie!" Ha. And that would definitely be me. [The Bushwhack Jack River-Cheechako (Rookie?) Index (BJRCI)...Bushwhack Jack River-Jedi Index (BJRJI): 1-5 with 1 being 100 river miles, 2 being 200 miles, etc - fudged up or down depending on conditions at the time floated... hmmmm].
    What are you saying? I don't get it. It went over my head sorry. What's the Bushwhack Jack River Index?

  16. #16
    Member 6XLeech's Avatar
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    Default Wasn't clear at all, sorry about that...

    Sorry Bushwhack, that post isn't clear.
    Your thread has been a good one - making several of us think about how experience can be measured. A lot of members commented along the same lines and in a helpful way - a lot like sitting around the campfire is how I think of it. Most of the comments were toward how you'd know you were becoming jedi of rivers, sort of.

    A lot of river miles, probably means a lot of situations faced and solved. The more situations solved, probably the wiser/more capable the rafter. Five hundred miles seems like a lot to me. Well when I added my personal river miles up, something I'd never even thought of doing before- it was 150 miles - so it dawned on me that while a lot of river miles means more experience and probably predicts more expertise, fewer river miles like me then equals less experience, less expertise. On a scale from 1 to 5, I'd be on the 1-end and someone with 500 river miles on the more experienced, 5-end. Five is good. One is rookie.

    Also in this thread, is the point that not all river miles are equal. But trying to compare rivers by ratings makes things complicated. Andy Embick I think floated 79 rivers - not hunting of course - but significant paddle challenges - in a different class altogether. He racked up some river miles. He commented (in Fast & Cold) that when it comes to comparing rivers, rating systems gets complicated for some, but he thought veterans could agree anyway on which rivers were tougher. That's fine and good for veterans, but to me, what's appealing about just rating experience in terms of river miles is the simplicity - and it works on both ends of the experience spectrum.

    It was funny to me to see just how much a rookie I still am in this way. I didn't realize how low on the rookie mileage end my experience would rate. I thought it was funny that mileage-wise I am still so green. Thinking back to stories other rafters have told me though, it's probably accurate and appropriate. Up here it's not tough to find guys/ladies who float a 60 or 100 mile river most years. Some -busy guides maybe- might do multiple long floats each year. Amazing to me to imagine how experienced some are.

    Mileage seemed useful enough to make up a rating scale - named after the OP. Or not. That was just a poke at humor... hmmm. Maybe around a campfire, someone would have passed me the rum at that point. Good thread, Bushwhack.

  17. #17

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    Thanks for the comments 6Xleech. Based on your river knowledge, I wouldn't say your a rookie at all. I just didn't understand your thread. Now I do. Thanks for the clarification.

  18. #18

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    Interesting question about how quickly one progresses the ranks from beginner to intermediate to expert rafter.

    The answer lies perhaps in ones ability to observe ones skill level and adjust fire to improve deficient technique. This might be after 100 miles or after 1000 miles.

    One analogy that comes to mind is a hunter who hunts for 20 years using the same techniques and never shoots a moose, compared to another hunter who hunts for 5 years and shoots 4 moose using new skills developed through careful observation and note taking.

    If you're the type of guy who refuses to see his own mistakes and doesn't evolve quickly, it might take you 1000 miles to become fluid with technical river character; but a guy who learns quickly and pushes his skill level to challenge application of new skill sets, you might begin to feel confident in progressively more difficult river scenarios within a few dozen miles.

    The key is to take calculated risks on rivers with difficulty...near home or near road systems where self rescue is possible. Make a few wrong turns and learn why your boat handled a certain way. before long, you'll feel more cofident with taking risks on new river characters away from the road system where self rescue is without a doubt, safer and more rewarding.

    I agree with most of brian Richardson has stated, too. River character is a matter of interpretation and correct application on the water. Suddenly, without your own awareness, you will become a better boater with good river savvy...but only if you push yourself to learn bigger, scarrier water from time to time.

    Floating a 1000 miles of class I will not provide advanced knowledge of river character, but floating 10 miles of Class III will make you a proficient Class I-II boater.

  19. #19
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    I bought an outfitter II 2 years ago from Moose at Blue Moose Rafting. Up to that point I had only piddled with canoes on calm rivers and lakes. He suggested it would be a good boat for the application that I described to him, which would be pleasure and hunting. Since then Ive hiked that thing 20+ miles on my back through mountain passes and blinding blizzards, it has been on rivers as calm as the Chena in town and as rough as Black Rapids on the Richardson. Also into some remote areas of the Brookes range. I floated the upper Chena in preparation for a remote float down the Atigun Gorge and out the Sag. I tried to float as much as possible at high water times to get a feel for the way it might handle in rough water. When we made our way up the Dalton Highway the first time to float the Atigun I was nervous. We left one truck at the pull out and got all set for the float. The wind was in our faces strong enough that to move we had to paddle down river for a half mile. I remember thinking thinking that this was going to be a boreing trip. Then we rounded the first big corner and could hear the rumble and see the white caps of the rapids. Believe you me i was nervous. The cameras went into storage and the helmets came out and were strapped on tight! I remember thinking that everything I had read about the river was that it had lots of class III rapids and as i headed out of town my brother told me he had read rumors of a couple of class 4's on there somewhere. I think my learning curve was about vertical on that trip. We made it ok with no major incidents. It was tons of fun actually. Since that trip Ive been back up there,I would make it a tradition but my wife won't float big water with me. I think the key to experience is practice. Get out there and have some fun. I personally wont do a float hunt with class 4 rapids again, but with the right gear and experience class III's aren't nearly as daunting as they once were, even loaded with gear and game. I probably have somewhere in the 300 to 400 hundred river miles on my boat and i wouldnt trade them for time anywhere else. Its just tons of fun. I definately wouldnt call myself much more than a beginner as there are tons of things that I dont know but I sure look forward to learning them.

  20. #20
    webmaster Michael Strahan's Avatar
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    Jack,

    You give me way more credit than I'm due... I put my waders on one leg at a time just like you do.

    I agree with the comments about experience developing naturally as a function of testing yourself and floating with others who know more than you do. Most of what I've learned came to me this way, and believe me, there are plenty of folks out there who know WAY more about it than yours truly.

    Anytime I start to think I know something, my mind tends to drift to thoughts about Jack Mosby. The man was floating rivers professionally while I was still in grade school, and now at somewhere north of 65 years of age, last I heard he was still canoeing about 1,000 miles a year here in Alaska. Maybe my info is old, but that's the story last time I heard it. For me, that sorta puts things into perspective.

    A little closer to home for our community here in the forums is our very own Jim Strutz; a modest, unassuming man with considerable experience on the sticks, and one who is more than happy to lend a hand to someone willing to learn. I think he's still floating the Colorado right now, but if you're looking to broaden your horizons, he's your man. Listen, when a man like that tosses the bucket down in the well of his own experience, it comes up full every time. Good stuff.

    Regards,

    -Mike
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