Distinguishing Reality from Delusion, Hoberg Thaws Tuscobia

Will this be just another delusion encountered on the Tuscobia Trail: A sub-40 hour finish at 2018’s 160-mile foot race? Maybe not. Scott Hoberg amazingly peeled 3 hours 10 minutes off his 2016 course record and tantalizingly lowered the bar to 41:34. Busting 40 hours posed just 95 minutes away in 2017. On Tuscobia’s mesmerizing miles, though, minutes tick like an eternity of reality so such milestones, as Ringo Starr sang long ago, “… Don’t come easy.”

“Josh Thiemann went out hard and led after the start,” said Jeff Rock, who later had a big surprise awaiting him. “I briefly passed Scott at about mile two. He quickly passed me right back.” Arriving Ojibwa heading out, the first and only aid station between Tuscobia’s endpoints, Hoberg had gained nearly two hours on Thiemann. He never looked back.

Jeff Rock surprises himself with a 2nd-overall in the 160-foot race. [Photo courtesy Jeff Rock]

Rock continued, “After his turnaround (in Park Falls), Scott was already at mile six when we crossed paths for the last time. That means he was 12 miles and a break ahead of me by the time I got to Park Falls.”

Hoberg cleared the St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School aid station six hours ahead of Thiemann, now Saturday morning 18 minutes past midnight. He then made the Ojibwa station on the way in at 8:55 a.m. Leaving that checkpoint 25 minutes later, 9:20, Hoberg became the first—and it was no apparition—to book a Saturday finish in this behemoth of distance, notching the historic time at 11:38 p.m.

Young 80-mile female bike winner Paula Carley in 15:03 finishing along with Jon and Mark Schnorr.

Explained Rock, “As for Thiemann,  he was still at the checkpoint in Park Falls when I got there. He left Park Falls ahead of me, but I never thought I would be able to catch him, so I let him go. I was basically just trying to hold on to third place. Sandor made a quicker turnaround (leaving at 8:14 a.m.), so I quickly headed out after him (four minutes later). Once I caught up we hung out a bit; then he let me go. At the final Ojibwa checkpoint, Thiemann was still there when I arrived” having checked-in more than two hours earlier at 5:23 p.m. Second place Thiemann left for medical help, dropping out of the event.

“I was in complete shock,” said Rock, “and now in a hurry to get going because I was now in second. The only problem was that by the second night I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I must have pulled over and bivvied four times. By the last time, I figured I had been passed by half the field while I slept. At that point, I was just trying to hold on to a finish. I was pretty pleased to get to the finish and find out I won the silver finish.”

Scott Hoberg’s daughter a while ago practicing her winter endurance smile.[Courtesy Scott Hoberg]

The trail became a record breaker’s friend as the snow had days to pack, meaning no fresh snow trail-breaking duties, though the starting temperature hovered around a real chilly minus 20 F. In a way, such cold helps because warmer snow makes tugging survival gear in a trailing sled harder. Saturday found daytime numbers reaching in the single digits with some wind while lows dipped into double digits below zero. Sunday mirrored that weather.

Women’s 160 winner Alex Eichmann shows the relief of finally finishing

Hoberg soft-pedaled the possibility of his poking through the 40-hour barrier. “I’m not going to be breaking 40 hours next year; I know that much. I thought I could have this year, but my feet were suffering the last section from Ojibwa to the finish. Conditions were ideal for a fast race this year. It’s hard to think conditions could be substantially better in future years.” In addition to ideal conditions, what needs to fall into place for a sub-40 finish becoming a reality? Hoberg offered this key: “I would think under-40 hours is very possible. The flat course makes it easy to hold consistent pacing, but someone would need high motivation or competition.

Hoberg makes good use of his Duluth home by nailing four finishes in this decade on the quad-killer Superior 100-Mile along Lake Superior’s rugged coast, each quicker than his earlier attempts. He carries both 2013 Leadville 100 and 2014 Western States 100 buckles with finishes sub-24 hours. He won the 2014 Arrowhead 135 on foot, the granddaddy of the winter endurance events, and took second overall in 2016’s race.

How inviting the aid stations are . . . How hard it can be to leave [photo courtesy Jeff Rock]

Rock sealed the possible second place mantle leaving Ojibwa at 8:33 Saturday night to work toward his finish. He collected his silver podium win 19 hours, 26 minutes later (4:09 p.m. Sunday) in 57 hours 35 minutes. He described in his blog  an incident with an unexpected pacer. Pacers are cause for disqualification from the race.

“Just after leaving Birchwood I did pick up a pacer: a little Basset Hound. It was interesting how my mind used this event to help pass the time. Knowing pacers are not allowed I would make up stories about how I am not to blame for the outside help of my new little friend. I gave her a full piece of pizza thinking maybe it would give me time to get away while she ate. Yes, I carried pizza. Nothing doing, though. She scarfed it down and was soon right there with me. As I watched her tracking animals, I gave her the name Tracker. Every deer or rabbit trail she came to, she would pick up the scent of that animal and stand there on the trail hoping to note movement. After about two hours I did manage to lose her.”

Edward Sandor (with his wife Alicia) happy he’s finally at the finish. Free Oreos for everyone? [photo courtesy Tuscobia Winter Ultra]

Edward Sandor rocketed back from a bum leg DNF in 2016 to gather a sub-60 hour finish for the third male finisher on the podium. He commented, “It went super well. I was, however, extremely disappointed to find, unpacking my bags, that I forgot to eat an entire Kind Bar and a 500-calorie sleeve of Oreos. [A list of his supplies] My sled weighed 22 pounds. Water was good. Hydration was good. Calories adequate. Feet were perfect: Desitin for lubrication, Drymax Cold Weather Socks, and properly sized shoes.

Sleepiness was restricted to the second night. I likely only lost an hour to standing-in-place while accidentally sleeping on the trail this year, which, in contrast to years past, was kind of nice. The only thing I wouldn’t do again was to “screw” my shoes (a technique to offer traction). I’ve never had that bother me before. I was worried about icy hills. By 40 hours on my feet, I could feel where the screws were located.”

Rocking the women’s class, Alex Eichman won in 58:29,  placing third overall.

She led Sandor leaving Ojibwa, going out, by 15 minutes. He passed her before the Park Falls turnaround. Sandor, leaving that checkpoint 32 minutes ahead at 8:14 a.m., relinquished that place before they returned to Ojibwa going in some 27 hours later.

At that point, Eichman led by 24 minutes. However, Sandor ambitiously got out the door first, heading to the finish now with a five-minute lead.

Alex Eichman approaches the finish-shelter of the 160-mile Tuscobia race. [Courtesy Tim Lupfer]

The contest for third overall continued as not-so-long after leaving Ojibwa on the way in for the Rice Lake finish, Sandor and Eichman were back racing together.

A mystery of these long endurance events to the uninitiated: the unhinged visions and Daffy thoughts one experiences. Eichman shared, “The icy stillness of the overnights, the bright starry night sky, the solitude, the wild hallucinations and overwhelming Déjà Vu… I’m sorry to anyone I told stories to in the last 16 miles. Please disregard them.”

She noted, “… Thanks [Edward Sandor] for sleepwalking and hallucinating with me into the wee hours of Sunday morning. I’m so glad we were together to protect one another from the dragon wearing green lights ready to attack us—animated Christmas lights—and the man with a murderous look in his eye at the Radisson post office—a wreath.” Remember, Al Capone owned a summer ranch not all that far from this post office, so there might be validity here.

A rare photo of Carla Goulart, winner of the women’s 80-mile and 3rd overall, just standing still. Usually one only sees her side as she passes.

Eichman provided more thoughts on her delirium. “As morning approached I falsely assumed that the intensity of the hallucinations would fade with the shadows. I was wrong. The 80-mile race began at 10:03 a.m. on day two of the 160-mile race. I spent Saturday being passed by energetic and enthusiastic runners. This was initially energizing though soon I started to feel more and more depleted with each person that walked past me. I would watch them fade into the distance. Wait, why are they coming back? What are they yelling? Why did they turn around? They are moving so fast. So many are turning off the trail. Where did they go? Wait, they just turned around. Where did their sled go? Why am I moving backward? I drifted in and out of a sleepy stupor as watching racers dodge forward, back, and off the trail felt overwhelming to me.”

The Bangles sang Manic Monday with the lyrics, “I wish it was Sunday ’cause that’s my fun day, my I don’t have to run day . . . .” Not for Eichman, not for a host of other competitors, too, not yet. Tuscobia dues still needed paying.

She said “The last day was filled with an overpowering sense of déjà vu. Everything felt familiar and predictable. Oh, I remember getting to this point. I had never gotten to this point before. Last year when I did this I felt the same. I was unable to distinguish reality from my delusions. I convinced myself that I knew what was going to happen next. And then it did. Or so I thought. When I shared my experience with a passing 80-mile runner, I received an amused, sympathetic smile.

From that point forward, I kept them to myself.

The moon was casting the trees in long, dark shadows across the trail. ‘Ugh, another one.’ I would reluctantly take an over-exaggerated step over each one of these invisible hurdles, tripping as I tried to also pull my pulk up and over each imagined fallen tree and its branches. ‘I hope this isn’t going to break my sled,’ I mumbled to no one. 

As the night wore on, I began to notice that the sides of the pathway became a junkyard of deserted old cars–think Ford T-Models–and furniture. This, of course, was not true ‘I wonder why all of these cars have been left right off the trail. How long have they been here? Why would someone leave their old couch on the trail?’  Objects would swell as I drew near. I would reach out my trekking pole to touch a few of the objects only to find that there was nothing there.

While at South Lake Cycle, Excelsior, MN, Paula Carley flashes a big smile over her win at Tuscobia’s 80-mile bike race.

As Edward and I sleepily willed ourselves forward, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Something green. It was moving slowly in a chaotic, dizzy pattern. The motion was making me feel ill. The fear became overwhelming as I quickly tried to think of a way to escape. It was coming toward us. ‘What is that? Edward, what is that? I believe we need to stop.’ As we got closer, the object grew, and it began to take shape. It’s an enormous creature. It is coming toward us! It wasn’t. It was a projection of animated holiday lights onto someone’s garage.”

At the KOC finish, Eichmann crossed 27 minutes ahead of Sandor at 5:13 Sunday afternoon, keeping her memories but letting the visions stay behind.

Check out Joe Osterberg’s pulk. See if you can find anything missing or offer suggestions. Email those to me phillip@ultrasuperior.com. I’ll pass them along to him. Does R.I.P. means “run in place?”

Later, she offered an overview of the mental challenges spawned by physical ones: “Tuscobia was so wonderful. Then it was awful. Then it was wonderful. Then it was even more awful. And then it just pretty much stayed awful with occasionally even more awful moments mixed in with the awful,” a condition one overcomes by making a friend of misery.

Postrace, in recovery mode, what thoughts dominate her psyche? “Now I miss it.” Only at Tuscobia.

Only at Tuscobia….

One big fan of hers, Sandor, couldn’t have been happier that it was she who finished ahead of him. Why? Had a man finished there, Sandor would have fallen to fourth place male, losing his bronze finish. Sandor expressed his gratitude, “Thanks for being a girl, Alex, so that I could win this sweet award.”

Popular crafts made and donated by Chad Weberg for the race raffle. He raced the 80-mile foot distance.

Kari Gibbons captured the women’s 160-run silver with a finish on Sunday, 8:45 p.m., the longest distance she had ever completed. Racing her first 80-mile in 2016, Gibbons earned an impressive second in class, now following it up with an even more impressive title. She noted another oddity of the Tuscobia Trails that racers must contend: “The flats continue to be psychotropic. Tuscobia is just such a wonderful and mind-melting event.”

Her sentiment regarding the Scotch’s, co-race directors and ultra winter endurance athletes themselves, no doubt is shared by other competitors.  “I got to see Chris and Helen at (2017’s) Arrowhead (following Tuscobia’s race). They are so super-cool and positive people.”

Scott Kummer who completed the 160 on foot Sunday night at 9:25 (remember he started Friday morning at 6:04 a.m.) offered this advice: “I haven’t slept in three days (during the race), and I can’t even begin to think about it.  I thought about my massive failures at this event. Let’s just say the Tuscobia 160-Mile Race happened. The only reason I finished was through learning from that failure. So don’t be afraid to go try something hard and fail.” More on learning through failure here.

Jorden Wakeley with some wind-chill factor as he biked to a course record: 13 hours 20 minutes.

Of the 30 who started Tuscobia’s 160 on foot, 14 finished. Six women toed the start along with 24 men. Anyone brave enough to make a start at the Tuscobia 160 wins in my book where Donny Clark, longtime Midwest endurance athlete, comments on this bravery. Particularly note the determination demonstrated by Timothy Kruse whose finish ended 2017’s Tuscobia Winter Ultras 11:15 Sunday night.

One 160-foot entrant to whom competitors owe a special debt of gratitude shows in the registration of Tim Roe, Winter, WI, the founder of the Tuscobia Winter Ultras.

Jorden Wakeley led the 160 Bike event from its start time at 6:03 a.m. Saturday, increasing his distance at each checkpoint while setting a course record in 13 hours 20 minutes. He adeptly handled the cold.  “Almost 50 degrees colder (than earlier in the week) plus a windchill factor: If you don’t mind, it don’t matter. The course was awesome, very hard packed. I took off by myself about 15 miles in and never really looked back. I spent very little time at the aid stations, only enough to fill my hydration pack and stuff a few cookies in my mouth. I only had one low point in the race, about 120 miles in that lasted about 30 minutes. I felt sick and weak, and then I was okay. I got some pretty good frostbite on my toes that required a visit to the doc when I got back to Michigan. The race was a blast. I hope to be back in 2018.”

Consider Wakeley’s insight for your use: “If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

Matthew Lee and Dan Lockery (3rd M 2016) tied for second. The pair arrived at Park Falls simultaneously for the turnaround, then finished side-by-side in 15 hours, 47 minutes at 9:50 p.m. Saturday.

Kari Gibbons making way on the Tuscobia Trail with her 2nd place in the women’s class brightly announced with visible colors.

Setting a new women’s course record, Kate Coward (finished 2016 75m) donned the crown for the class 160-bike. Her gold 21:52 also earned an overall top ten finish. Tuscobia legend Sue Lucas (3rd F 2016) parked her bike with the silver secured in 26 hours 30 minutes, 8:33 Sunday morning as veteran J.B Barnhouse timed his finish with her. Lucas won the overall 2015 Tuscobia race on foot (second overall in 2013) by setting the then women’s record. See that article: Manitoba’s Sue Lucas Tames Tumultuous Tuscobia 150-Mile Trek.

Other bike entrants who finished together seemingly planned to do so at Ojibwa’s aid station, headed in, or before. Dallas Wynne and Klaus Weber both crossed at a 22:09 clock as did Luke Kocher and Angus Morison with a 23:54, the last finishers under 24-hours.

Thomas Ehlman, Kenny Young, and KC Turczak made it a trio at 31:36, or 1:39 p.m. Sunday.

The most-senior finisher, 60-year-old Thomas Woods, closed out the 160 bike finishers in 35 hours, 10 minutes.

A popular finish in the 160-mile foot race: Scott Kummer (Chicago) collects his payback on 3rd-times-charm Tuscobia

22 finished the 160 bike class of the 34 starting. The most interesting note on the results sheet for those not finishing appeared for Iowa city resident, Steve McGuire. His journey took him too far north on the Wild Rivers State Trail after the start. Approaching the Tuscobia intersection he “missed the turn and headed five miles” further up Wild Rivers. He posted about how some things all went wrong that morning, “So, I decided it would be a training ride.” The Tuscobia racer tracking sheet indicates, after backtracking to the intersection, he “then traveled to Birchwood for breakfast” at Ed’s Pit Stop “my favorite gas station in the world.” While there, McGuire “slammed down free cocoa and ate a chocolate chip muffin.” He turned and rode back to Rice Lake’s start with a unique 47-mile training route under his belt.

Kari Gibbons pulk layout. Note the Pringles occupy a prime spot. “My sled is a Black River racing toboggan; I got many a compliment this week on how well she rides downhill.” [photo courtesy Kari Gibbons]

In the 80-mile straight-shot run from Park Falls to the Rice Lake KOC, Joe Osterberg struck gold under 20 hours (19:46).  First in the class, finishing well before sunrise Sunday, all great signs for a Tuscobia novice. He said “There were plenty of surprises, mostly due to me being a bit underprepared from a gear perspective, being this was my first winter ultra. I got some frostbite on my nose, and it was peeling for a week. But other than that, I survived.”

He plans on racing the 2018 edition. “I run a wedding DJ business for a living [Day One DJ Hudson, WI], and I just turned down a big event on the off-chance the Tuscobia Winter Ultras fall on the New Years weekend, so yeah, I’m definitely committed. I plan to enter the 160 at this point.”

From the 10:03 a.m. Saturday start, he passed under the Tuscobia banner at 5:49 Sunday morning. At 7:12 a.m. Gary Winters bagged his silver finish in 21:09.  Jeff Leuwerke took bronze 14 minutes later with an elapsed time of 21.23.

A favorite photo of this race: Jeff Rock ends with wood stick ski poles after his set disappeared outside a store. Or did Capone “requisition” them?

Just missing a class podium position by 18 minutes, Joe Lang wrote of his experience “facing demons at the Superior 100” trail race, one of the country’s toughest. He tweeted at Tuscobia’s dawn Sunday, nearing his 21:41 80-mile finish, those demons also enjoy winter.

Additionally, Lang penned “The last ten miles or so have pretty much been a death march. It’s been pretty rough, cold, slow-moving. My legs hurt, my feet don’t feel too bad, (but) my shins are killing me on both legs.” Overcoming those ailments, demonstrating the optimism driving endurance competitors, exclaiming “But we’ll finish,” Lang then captures a dreamy survey of the area: “It’s really pretty out.”

Endurance star Carla Goulart won the women’s race for the 80-mile foot event in 21:23 along with earning third overall at 7:26 Sunday morning. Bonnie Busch collected silver later at 2:49 that afternoon with an elapsed time of 28 hours, 46 minutes. Sara Lovett, finishing with Joseph Lovett 31 minutes later, secured her bronze finish in under 30 hours.

The 80-mile run winner, Joe Osterberg, at the finish line. Note the headstone on his sled, a Halloween R.I.P. foam decoration, “that blew into my yard on Christmas Day. I came across it again when packing and decided to bring it for fun. It started a lot of conversations.” Well, there are graveyards along and near the trail.

The 70 percent finish rate for the 80-mile bikes, starting at 10:03 Saturday, led all other classes and distances. Both women racing in this distance finished, paced by Paula Carley in 15 hours 3 minutes. Amanda Rockwood overcame a 2016 DNF to win silver at 4:05 a.m. Saturday in 18:02. Paul Rockwood crossed by her side, the last two who pedaled 80-mile bikes across the finish.

Carley’s first distance race shows a bright future for the 27-year-old, youngest finisher in the 80-mile distance on either foot or bike. I asked how it feels as a new ambassador for the sport.

“I hope to be another link in the chain of inspiration for others in their journeys of adventure, growth, discovery, and pushing it while finding joy. This was my first Tuscobia and my first ultra period. Before signing up, the longest I had ridden any bike in one length was 60 miles. I trained a lot and spent a ton of time planning and preparing gear. I did long training rides fully loaded, including one 80-mile ride. In planning for next year, I most certainly will add more long and fully-loaded rides, as I could tell my leg strength dwindled past the 60-mile mark. I pretty much grew up on the bike trail, being pulled behind my mom or dad until old enough to ride on my own. I also love trail running and hiking, and I teach art part time. A lot of my artwork is inspired by nature and my experiences in the outdoors.”

Fully loaded fat tire bike comfortably resting on the Tuscobia Trail [photo courtesy Paula Carley]

Inquiring the circumstances of discovering Tuscobia and finishing with the Schnorr brothers [second photo at the top of this article] led to answers that explain a lot.

“I work at Excelsior’s (MN) South Lake Cycle and wear many hats in all areas of the business. We’re in our third year as a shop. Mark Schnorr opened the store, and I started working at the shop a few months later. It was his brother, Jon, living in Oregon, who cooked up the idea to do Tuscobia. Mark mentioned it to me, and I was like ‘Yeah, I’ll think about it.’ Before I had really decided, he’d signed me up. Sometimes things work out like that, and it’s a good thing they do. It was a lot of fun training and preparing in the months and days leading up to Tuscobia. My family got into it with me. They offered their opinions on gear, food, mental preparation, and were gracious to listen as I tested and talked about the results.”

A way-too-close photo of Joe Osterberg’s nose. Actually, it’s the frostbite that’s the subject of the picture, reminding us to provide extra cover to those and other little extremities. [courtesy Joe Osterberg]

Carley shared her Tuscobia experience along with thoughts about Tuscobia 2018. “There is something amazingly cozy about riding a loaded fat bike through winter’s sub-zero woods for miles and hours. Even when the sun went down, and nighttime laid its dark blanket over everything, I felt tucked-in. Self-sufficient. Prepared. Exhilarated. It’s similar to the feeling I have on a mountain with my backpack strapped around my waist and chest. Everything I need is in the bag on my back. So, with my hood cinched tight, I walk into the wild wind. On Tuscobia, everything I need is strapped to my bike, which itself has become a part of me. So with my head bowed, feet rotated with the pedals, I moved forward for 80 beautiful miles.

Of course, cozy certainly doesn’t describe the whole thing. Straight into the wind where temperatures hung below zero for most of the race, I experienced a great range of physical and emotional life zones. I got scared, I was tired, my knees began to hurt, and it was cold. But, I was also determined, prepared, and super happy to be out there.”

She relates a story of hospitality by racers on Tuscobia. The three make a stop 19 miles after the start of the 80 miles from St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and School.  At Loretta/Draper, the little twin cities of the trail, “We pulled into a wonderful local business Wendy and Joe’s Steakhouse [Hwy 70 and the GG road intersection]. I was just so excited to be participating in the event. I enjoyed meeting the many interesting, awesome, and inspiring racers. Warming by a wood stove, there were these really kind racers, maybe six or so coming and going. We got to chatting, especially with three of them. They commented on my demeanor, saying ‘You’re so happy!’ I felt compelled to share the truth of where my joy comes from, so I replied, ‘Jesus loves me. And that’s true no matter how cold it is!’ And, it was so cold. As we left I said, ‘Jesus loves you, too.'”

Chad Selberg comes to Tuscobia from Brooklyn, NY, and takes home first place in the 80-mile bike event for 2017

Chad Selberg nearly broke in the seven-hour territory as he clicked the overall win in the 80-mile bike class in 8 hours, 5 minutes, putting his 2016 DNF out to pasture. David McCloud gave chase, within striking distance when entering Ojibwa’s checkpoint. He secured his silver placement in 9:11, the last of the class to break ten hours. Mike Stattelman booked his third place bronze at 8:07 p.m. Saturday night.

Ladislaus Strzok won ski gold in 19:02, the first finisher in the 80-mile run or ski. Tyler Firkus took second place. The finish rate for the 80-mile run/ski tallied 22 of the 41 starters.

So, what became of Tracker, the little Basset Hound who became a pizza fan when sharing Rock’s supply? “I found out later the pup had quite the adventure. It ended up hooking up with Randy Kottke after leaving me. He brought her to the Ojibwa aid station. The pup became the Tuscobia mascot for the weekend. They even brought Tracker to the finish. On the way back in, I tracked her prints to where she belonged. I passed the info on to Chris and Helen so they could get Tracker home after this great little adventure.

Kottke followed Gibbons across the 160-mile line ten minutes later with his race done at 8:55 p.m. Sunday.

The Tuscobia Winter Ultras open registration August 1, 2017. It’ll be here before you know it. Then you may have the opportunity, as did Jeff Rock, to text your spouse when a little past Birchwood while on the way to finishing the 160, “16 more miles to go. Kill me now!”

Write Phillip@ultrasuperior.com


About the author

Phillip Gary Smith

Phillip Gary Smith, Senior Editor, published "The 300-Mile Man" about Roberto Marron's historic doubling of the Tuscobia 150 mile endurance snow run. He publishes "iHarmonizing Competition" on various forms of competition, including drag racing, his favorite motorsport. Earlier, he wrote "HARMONIZING: Keys to Living in the Song of Life" as a manual for life with chapters such as Winning by Losing, Can God Pay Your Visa Bill?, and a young classic story, The Year I Met a Christmas Angel. His book, "Ultra Superior," is the first written on the Superior Trail ultra-distance events. He mixes writing with his profession--the venture capital world--a dying art. He is a creator of CUBE Speakers, a group espousing themes in "HARMONIZING: Keys" in a unique way. Currently, he has two books in the works.
Write to him at Phillip@ultrasuperior.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook @iHarmonizing.

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