MA

The one with a Long Trail

July 8

14.1 miles, 1601.7 overall (Congdon shelter)
The plan is to get out of the house by 8 but Jeremy and Jeanette agree that if we aim for 8 we probably won’t get out until at least 8:15. That’s ok with me since I have a short day planned. I don’t want to overdo it coming off of two zeroes. I figure a 15 mile day is about right to get back into the swing of things, especially when I’m not starting at 6am. I get up around 7 and finish packing my last-minute items. I finish some quick writing and upload pictures to the blog. I’m ready to go just after 8 but we don’t get out of the house until around 8:30. On the way out I realize I forgot my trekking poles. While Jeanette fills the car with gas Jeremy runs back to the house to get them. Yes, he literally ran. Luckily for him Jeanette is confused by the gas pump which doesn’t clearly state which pump is regular gas versus super ultra premium and, in addition, the tank is almost empty. These two things allow Jeremy to almost make it back with my poles before the car is gassed up.

On the drive back to the trail we pick up some breakfast and I pick Jeanette’s brain a bit more about the names of new tree species that I don’t recognize. I doubt it will help, but I like to think something will stick. I wonder out loud who I will run into now that everyone I was hiking with is likely two to three days ahead.

When we arrive at the trailhead I immediately see hikers. One I don’t recognize is walking down the street while another is crossing who I do recognize – its Gumpy! I haven’t seen him and Peeper since Daleville, VA. As I get out of the car I say hi to him. I don’t think he recognizes me right away but he starts filling me in on who else is nearby. We don’t chat too long since I am sure to catch up to him in a few minutes.

Jeanette and Jeremy are fascinated with the trail. It is hard for them to believe that the trail simply crosses the road right here. I point out the blazes that mark the trail, hidden in plain sight. Jeremy has already shared how much it blows his mind that I essentially walked from GA to their house in MA. Although it is a little embarrassing because I don’t see it quite the same way, I really appreciate his admiration of my progress so far and it reminds me to take some time once in a while to get the right perspective on what I’ve already accomplished. We say our goodbyes and I start hiking while they try to come to grips with the fact that they are essentially leaving me on the side of the road. I get a kick out of seeing the whole thing from their point of view and it entertains my thoughts for the next hour or so. It won’t be the last time today I get to see my hike from a fresh perspective today.

The trail immediately climbs for about 2 miles. It isn’t a particularly steep climb and it isn’t incredibly hot out but I get soaked with sweat. I decide the culprit must be caffeine since I’ve already had a coffee and a large soda today. My breathing is a bit faster than normal, lending support to my hypothesis. Besides the intense sweat though I make it up ok, passing Gumpy on the way.

After a level ridge walk for a while a hiker catches up who recognizes me but doesn’t remember my name. I reintroduce myself and he realizes we met at the Stan Murray property in NJ. It’s Frenchy, a hiker I never really got a chance to talk to. I speed up to keep up with him and we talk for a few minutes until we reach a group of people. It’s Gumpy’s group and they are all slack packing today. They’ve stopped because they have reached the Vermont border which is also the beginning of The Long Trail, a long distance hiking trail that runs the length of Vermont all the way from the MA border to Canada and coincides with the AT for the first 100 miles or so.

Most of the group of slack packers continues on but one stays behind who looks incredibly familiar. I keep having trouble recognizing people partly because I haven’t seen them in so long, partly because their beards have grown, and sometimes because they’ve cut their hair. This time it is the beard growth and length of time since I saw him last. It is Blues Clues, and we both have trouble remembering where we last saw each other. He, Frenchy, and I get pictures with the sign that designates the state border crossing, then take a picture for a couple who are beginning the Long Trail before heading on. We hike together for a while until I spot Bandaid and Laces ahead and stop to say hi. It seems they didn’t get far while I was off the trail. They zeroed on the fourth, then slack packed for a few days. They are just now getting out of Dalton for good.

I hike alone for a bit until I reach the next shelter and find the entire slack packing group. Peeper and All Smiles are there this time so I get to say hi to them again. I also meet Hawk and Wiffleball for the first time. After a few minutes of getting caught up we push on but I essentially hike by myself the rest of the day. I forgot to put my earbuds in my pocket so I hike in silence but it is nice since I have some new stuff to think about after several days off trail. It is wonderful how a couple zeroes not only refresh the body but also refresh the mind! As I hike I pass several groups of hikers who appear to be starting the Long Trail. It reminds me of starting the AT in Georgia and I wonder if they have the same apprehensive excitement we had. I assume they will all end up at the shelter I’m heading toward which makes me glad that I’m faster than they are and that I plan to tent.

Just before I reach the shelter I pass a couple of streams and ponds with beaver activity. The first stream appears to have a new beaver around since there are several newly fallen trees that aren’t yet formed into a dam as well as one tree right next to the trail that he is in the process of gnawing through. Not even a mile later I pass a true beaver pond with a huge dam that has raised the level of the pond above the level of the trail by a few feet. We walk across planks just below the dam and I marvel at the product of these little ecosystem engineers! I pass by the beaver lodge and wonder if the beaver is enjoying the fruits of his labor or if he is outside somewhere still hard at work.

At the shelter I run into the slack packing group taking another break. I also see Sunroof and Yellowtail who are eating before moving on. Some campers are already set up in tents on one side of the shelter. I have to backtrack a bit in order to find a good tent spot. I set up the tent and then head to the shelter where nobody has claimed a space yet. I start working on first dinner to lighten my pack. By the time I’m done with both first and second dinners it is 7:30 and Bandaid and Laces have arrived along with lots of Long Trail hikers. The only social one is a woman named Mary from DC (originally Vermont though) who eats with us at the shelter.

I’m in my tent preparing for bed early, just how I like it. Although the group that was camped next to the shelter was a bit noisy during dinner they quiet down by 9. I am able to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, hopefully allowing me to wake up and get an early start tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: MA, VT | 2 Comments

The one with two zeros

July 6 & 7

0 miles, 1587.6 overall (Friend’s house)
My double zeros go beautifully well thanks to the great hosts. I’m able to clean out my tent a bit, wash my cook kit, catch up on writing, mail some postcards, and most of all I get to rest.

On the first zero I am up at 6:00, long before anyone else except the dog. I find myself something to eat and sit down to watch TV. When everyone else gets up I cook breakfast for them – eggs and bacon! It’s nice to cook in a kitchen again. By 10:00 I am tired and end up falling asleep to the Wimbledon semi-finals for about 2 hours. Afterward I get some lunch and then Jeanette and takes me to Shelburne Falls to see the glacial potholes there. We spend some time window shopping and then do a little grocery shopping before ending up at home again where Jeremy is smoking a chicken for dinner and has gotten the pool in their back yard clean so I go for a swim. It is weird swimming with a beard. It feels like there’s seaweed all over my face. That night we watch Thor which I find entertaining but entirely lacking in dialogue. I’m surprised there are so many good actors/actresses in it. I don’t get to bed until 10.

The next zero is a bit more productive. I’m up early again but I don’t nap today. I spend the morning getting caught up on writing. By the way, using the internet instead of my phone app allows me to see all kinds of stats on the blog. I saw that I have recently had visits to the blog from Brazil, Venezuela, the UK, and several other countries, so hello to all of the international visitors! After writing I walk the dog and clean out the inside of my tent. Then resupply begins. I open the box Christy sent and inventory it before we head to the grocery store to pick up remaining items like bagels and tortillas. I also pick up a pint of Ben and Jerry’s for the night – because I can. I organize everything, put it in the appropriate stuff sack for my backpack, and stage it for packing in the morning. After another swim I plan out the next few days of hiking while we watch some episodes of Big Bang Theory and 30 Rock. I also glue the treads on the bottom of my shoes. Christy is sending another pair ahead to me but I need to make this pair last almost another 100 miles before I’ll reach the new ones. In the meantime I’m going to call Vasque to try to get a replacement pair. I knew when I got these shoes that they wouldn’t last the entire trip but this pair only lasted about 200 miles before the treads started coming off. That’s a bit ridiculous. Finally we try to go see fireworks. The town scheduled them for the weekend instead of July 4th but they end up postponing them because of a chance of thunderstorms. It looks like this will be a firework-less year for me.

All in all it was a great visit. I ate well, got lots of rest, and in general recharged. I can’t thank Jeremy and Jeanette enough for hosting me. A few days ago I was really starting to feel worn out from all of the hiking without a break, but now my legs are fresh and I should be able to tackle Vermont without a problem! When they drop me off I will be only a few miles from the Vermont border, and a few miles after I cross the state border I will also reach the 1600 mile milestone on the Appalachian Trail!

Categories: MA | 4 Comments

The college compatriot convergence

July 5

9.6 miles, 1587.6 overall (MA 2, friend’s house)
In the morning I take my time leaving the shelter. I pack my tent and eat my breakfast while Instigator, Expeditor, and Scog all get underway. By the time I’m ready to leave around 7:30 Tipsy, Fetch, Broadsword, and Snakegirl are all up and moving. I say my goodbyes and head out up the rest of the mountain.

As I hike up the mountain the vegetation changes and I am surrounded by a sub-alpine environment with hemlocks, pines, and firs. It reminds me of Unaka Mountain way back in Tennessee because it smells like Christmas. I try to locate the trees that are the source of the Christmas smell but my nose isn’t good enough to isolate the smell to a particular tree. I continue up the mountain, figuring that if I get to the top fast enough that I’ll get a second breakfast at the lodge on top of the mountain. I figure that at the top of the mountain I’ll only have 6.3 miles left, so if I’m at the top by 9:00 I can squeeze in a breakfast and still be at the meeting point at 12 to meet my friend Jeanette. As it turns out I do make it to the top in time and I head into the lodge.

Inside I see Instigator, Expeditor, and Scog all sitting and eating already. I order an omelette with home fries and toast and sit down with them to sip some coffee while I wait for the food. We have some pleasant conversation while I wait, and I discover free wifi. I download some more audiobooks while my food arrives and I eat. Pretty soon I’m done and as I’m leaving I notice Brownie/Snakegirl eating on the other side of the room. I say a quick hi/bye to her and to Krispy Kreme/Broadsword who is waiting in the lobby. Apparently he doesn’t need a second breakfast.

On the way out I stop at the tower on top of Greylock. It was a foggy morning and I was worried that there wouldn’t be a view from the tower. However it appears the fog has lifted just enough while I ate breakfast and when I climb the stairs inside I am treated to great 360 views of the surrounding mountains. To the north are the Green Mountains of Vermont, my next destination.

I don’t stay in the tower long. I need to get down the mountain and the descent will be steep so I won’t make as good time as I might hope. On the way down I cruise, aided by the downhill slope and the lightness of my pack. I make great time except for a few places where it becomes so steep and rocky that I need to slow down to be safe. I pass Zil and Thunderstorm who stayed at a bunkhouse on top of Greylock last night. Zil is singing loudly something that I can’t quite make out. They allow me to pass and I leave them behind in no time. I stop briefly at a view and pause long enough to take it in. As I continue down I pass Jihad et al who are on their way up with slack packs. Apparently they stayed in Dalton yesterday and drank too much so they are struggling a bit. Bandaid and Laces aren’t far behind them, although I don’t find out how much they drank yesterday.

As I reach the bottom of the hill I have my phone turned on in case I get a phone call and I have the Find My Friends app running so I can be stalked. When I check my phone though I find a missed call just before 12. I am still about a half mile from the meeting point and figure Jeanette is there early. When I call though she is confused about where the parking lot is. I recommend she turn on the Find My Friends app on her phone so she can find me. She is having trouble downloading it, and I have to resort to trying to explain where I am despite being just out of the woods and on a road into a town that is foreign to me. It doesn’t work well.

I walk the half mile down a street and reach the road crossing where we are supposed to meet. Squidword, Fresh, Wonder, and Dora are all there. They just resupplied down the street and are taking their time getting moving again. I hang out with them while waiting for Jeanette to arrive. Eventually she is able to download the app and when she gets it running we discover she is 6 miles away from where I am. Apparently her directions took her to Phelps Road instead of Phelps Avenue. The confusion makes me thankful for modern technology and causes me to wonder how people were able to find each other when things like this happened 10 years ago on the trail. We obviously have it easier today in at least a few aspects.

A few minutes later the 6 miles have been covered and Jeanette arrives. I get to introduce her to the other hikers who still haven’t left yet and she is excited to meet the people she has been reading about. Then we leave, with the first priority being my lunch. We stop at a McDonald’s which is great because for some reason I have been craving it lately. Since we will be eating again soon I only get a Big Mac combo, large sized. An hour later we are back at her house. I get to see her husband Jeremy again and I quickly get started on getting myself clean. Laundry and shower commence, followed by some glorious sitting on their couch. For dinner we eat at a local brewery where I’m able to sample their oatmeal stout with a wonderful burrito and salad all made with fresh, local ingredients.

I’m excited to be here and get to spend time with some friends I haven’t seen in a while. They get a kick out of my beard since I’ve never had one before, as well as how much I am able to eat. I’m doubly excited about my double zero and the fact that I have nothing planned other than sitting around relaxing. However I am curious, as usual, who I will run into when I return in a few days to complete the last 600 miles on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: MA | 1 Comment

The fireworks fallacy

July 4

13.9 miles, 1578 overall (Mark Noepel shelter)
I sleep downstairs in the basement with Johannes, a hiker from Germany. Before going to sleep I ask him if its ok if I set an alarm. There aren’t any windows and I’m nervous I won’t wake up at a decent hour if I can’t see whether the sun is up yet. He is ok with it and I set my alarm for 6:15. When it goes off I get up but he doesn’t. I get dressed and fold the blanket I used, then head upstairs. I’m hoping Tom will be up so I can get some coffee and something to eat before leaving. However it appears I’m the first one up so I go about packing up. I’m considering whether I should leave a note for Tom thanking him for his hospitality when he appears from another room and says good morning to me. I decide to stick around while he makes coffee. Pretty soon he has laid out a spread of bagels, donuts, breakfast pastries, and coffee while other hikers have awoken and joined us in the kitchen. We have some good conversation over the food and before I know it it is already 7:30. It is time for me to get going. I fill up my water and thank Tom for everything. He reminds me to sign his register on the way out and I happily oblige.

I really enjoyed the laid back atmosphere at Tom’s, and the other hikers who were there made for good company. Besides Johannes there was also Manbearpig, Dudemanbro, Assrash, Nomad, and Dave the southbounder. We had tried to come up with a trail name for Dave but he is quiet and that makes it hard to get to know him well enough in one day to name him. I’m a bit disappointed that I’m not staying at Tom’s longer but I’m also excited because tomorrow I am meeting up with some college friends to stay at their place. I haven’t had a zero since PA so I’m planning to take a double zero with them. I have just over 20 miles to go to get to the meeting point by tomorrow at noon. The big question is how to incorporate fireworks since today is the 4th of July.

My plan is to hike up Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, watch the fireworks at the top, and then hike down to the shelter on the other side. That would leave about 4 miles to go in the morning before noon. The only bad thing about this plan is that it requires night hiking which I’m not a fan of, especially when going down a mountain. Knowing that I only have about 15 miles to go before 9pm I’m not in a hurry. On the way out of town the trail is a road walk for a full mile along a street full of quintessential New England houses. I take my time along this mile, looking at the houses as I go. Eventually the trail reenters the woods and I listen to some more Count of Monte Cristo on the way up the hill and down the other side.

On the way down the other side I run into a trail crew that is installing rocks in the trail for water routing. I’m surprised they’re working on a holiday but I suppose that is what they signed up for in joining a trail crew for the summer. They are working right next to a rock formation that I thought I had passed but they inform me it is just around the corner. It is called The Cobbles for the huge marble rocks that compose it and it provides an excellent view of the Hoosic River, Cheshire MA, and Mount Greylock. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.

At the bottom of the hill I enter the town of Cheshire. I stop for lunch at Diane’s Twist, a sandwich and ice cream shop directly on the trail. I order a meatball sandwich with a root beer. While the woman who I assume is Diane is preparing my food I realize that I didn’t check whether she takes credit cards. I only have a few dollars in cash left and it isn’t enough to pay for my food. I explain this to the woman and she says I can head to the ATM down the street and that I can go either before I eat or after. I appreciate her flexibility and sit down to eat before walking down to the bank which turns out to be about a half mile away. The detour is frustrating, but it is especially so because although the meatballs were good the bread on the sandwich was stale. Still it is better than anything in my pack.

On the way out of Cheshire I start having foot problems. The treads are peeling off the bottom of both of my shoes. I have tried gluing them and it tends to work for a day or so but then they peel off again. Gluing them isn’t an option now because the glue has to cure overnight, so for today I have to live with the treads flopping on the bottom of my shoes. It seems like this is causing my feet to hurt because they are hurting right where the tread should be. After thinking for a minute I decide to switch to my Five Fingers. They don’t have a tread problem and since I’m halfway done with the day I shouldn’t have a problem making it the rest of the way in them. I pause on the sidewalk to trade out the footwear and then start hiking again. Although the feet don’t get worse they still feel bad so although the Five Fingers are an improvement they haven’t solved everything.

The trail up Greylock isn’t too bad. I stop for water on the way up, not sure if I can get water at the top. In a short time I’ve reached the shelter on the south side of the Greylock summit. I stop in for a break but because of my feet I’m considering stopping for the night. I don’t know if I’ll be able to see fireworks from here, but I’m not excited about hiking 3 more miles to the summit and then 3 more down the other side in the dark with sore feet. When I get to the shelter there are two hikers there who I haven’t met before. One is named Thunderstorm and the other is named Zil (Liz backwards, no trail name yet). Zil is incredibly interesting. She’s a talker and spends the whole time until they leave about 30 minutes later talking to me about various things. She talks about how she loves walking barefoot and I realize the barefoot track I saw in the trail on the way up here was hers. She has a large external frame pack that doesn’t seem to fit her, and her clothes are similarly too big for her. It turns out a male hiker saw her hiking in cotton clothes, took pity on her, and gave her some of his clothes. As a result she reminds me of Huck Finn but she is a bit more accurate when she says she’s been told she looks like Bill Murray’s character in Caddyshack. She is considering Bill Murray as a trail name.

Thunderstorm and Zil eventually leave, but Instigator and Expeditor arrive soon after them. Tipsy and Fetch also arrive (which completes my decision to stay rather than move on) as well as Scog (Norwegian for forest) and two section hikers who turn out to be first year medical students trying to enjoy the last summer vacation they’ll ever have. We eat dinner and wonder aloud whether we’ll be able to see any fireworks from our vantage point on the southern side of the mountain. I stay up a little longer than normal to hang out with Tipsy and Fetch a bit longer. I won’t be seeing them for a while because of my double zero.

While we’re hanging out a hiker walks in who looks familiar and Fetch calls him Broadsword. The hiker knows me but I can’t remember ever meeting a Broadsword. I’m racking my brain trying to figure out how he knows me when Brownie walks into camp a few minutes later and I find out why I’m confused. Broadsword is actually Krispy Kreme and I didn’t recognize him because his beard is fuller now. They adopted new names since I last saw them at the southern end of Shenandoah. Brownie now goes by Snakegirl because of her rattlesnake-stepping-on incident. I’m really happy to see them again and end up staying up until 10 hanging out with them and Tipsy and Fetch. It is a great group with some great conversation and I wish we could all stick together for a while, but alas it is not meant to be. I’m getting off the trail tomorrow and Broadsword and Snakegirl are trying to finish the trail by August 8, almost 2 weeks before I think I’ll be finishing with my new 15 mile/day average. As a result I probably won’t see them again, which makes me even happier that they got in tonight before I left the trail and they passed me. We exchange info to keep in touch while we hear fireworks in the distance and can see the flashes of light behind Greylock. We head to bed without getting to see fireworks, but I’m still happy with the day. Tomorrow I get to see some old friends and take some time off before I begin the home stretch on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: MA | 3 Comments

The cookie procurement

July 3

20.6 miles, 1564.1 overall (Tom Levardi’s house, Dalton, MA)
I seem to be the first to get up in the cabin. I get dressed, gather my things, and take my stuff outside as quietly as I can do I can pack up on the porch downstairs. I am hoping the caretakers are up already and starting on the infamous pancake breakfast but my hopes are dashed. By the time I’m done packing I still haven’t seen them up yet. I start eating my typical bagel and peanut butter and preparing for a pancake-less day.

While I’m eating Instigator and Expeditor also get up, followed by other hikers and then the caretakers. Wendy sees me eating a bagel and reminds me that there are pancakes. I decide to wait around for them since I shouldn’t take too long. An hour later I have had a few pancakes and 2 cups of coffee and am ready to head out.

Since I’m planning a long day I start the audiobooks early. I’m the first out of the cabin and so I expect to get passed quickly by the faster hikers today. I make good time though and soon I’ve passed over I-90, hiked up a mountain, and hiked down the other side past a pond to get to the next shelter. I stop in for a break and find another great MA shelter. The state seems to have only the newer designs with two floors and each shelter has had a moldering privy (preferable for smells, impact, and maintenance) and a bear box. It makes it much easier to move on to the next shelter when you know that the one you’re heading to is t likely to turn out to be a huge disappointment compared to the one you’re at. While I’m breaking Jijad et al arrive and start cooking lunch. They are some of the few hikers I’ve seen who take the time to cook during the day.

Just a couple miles after I leave I reach a road on which the Cookie Lady lives. The Cookie Lady is a woman who apparently started giving hikers cookies years ago. Word travelled among the hikers and soon tons of them were stopping by. She has now become so well-known that she is in the data book. I take a quick detour down the road to see this fixture of the AT. As I approach I see a cute older house with all kinds of flowers out front. I notice a man working in the back but I’m not sure if he noticed me. I get to the porch and find a register and a paper with all the states on it. They’re asking hikers to mark the state they are from. It appears NY is most common but Virginia is one of several that are also popular. I expected by the time I finished the register that the Cookie Lady would probably notice me and come out but nobody comes. I ring the doorbell and almost immediately the man from the back arrives and says hi. He must have been on his way already. He asks if I’d like some cookies and I say yes, asking also for a Coke that they sell. He brings them all out and we talk for a few minutes while I eat. Turns out they have lived in this area for decades and they had a daughter that lived in Harrisonburg, Virginia for a while. Eventually he heads back in and I prepare to leave, filling up some water from their hose, when a car pulls up and I get to meet the actual Cookie Lady! She’s very pleasant and asks if I got some cookies. We talk for a minute before she heads into the house and I head back to the trail.

I had been aiming for the next shelter to make it a 17.6 mike day but I’m making such good time on the flat terrain that I decide to head into Dalton just past the shelter. The miles fly by and I even get some trail magic in the form of grape soda in a cooler next to the trail. While I’m there a southbound section hiker arrives and tells me about a place she stayed called the Birdcage in Dalton. She says it was really great and that the owner even enforced quiet hours, telling some hikers who were still up socializing and playing music at 11:30 that it was time for then to go to bed. Up to this point I was undecided on which place to go in Dalton. The hiker makes my mind up for me with the 11:30 comment. I set my sights on Tom Levardi’s house.

Dalton seems like another typical New England town. On the way in I cross railroad tracks and then walk down a street full of cute old houses. Near the end of the street I see hikers hanging out on a porch and know I’ve found Tom’s house. Tom himself is on the porch talking to them and I introduce myself. He gives me the rundown on his place – no shoes or packs inside, shower and laundry are available, etc. When I go inside the house I find it has been completely dedicated to serving as a hiker hotel. The chairs in the living room have protective coverings, all of the rooms seem to have mattresses in them for people to sleep on, and occasionally I find notes indicating what we should or should not be doing (eg, don’t spray water all over the bathroom walls). The place is amazing and Tom is one of the nicest, most generous people I’ve met yet on the trail. I head into town to get a few snacks for resupply and to grab a beer (Berkshire brewing coffee porter, not bad) and when I get back he has cooked us a dinner of pasta and salad. We eat outside on a picnic table and it is a perfect moment of what I expected the AT to be like.

After dinner I make sure I have everything packed for tomorrow and I find out where I’m sleeping. Others are planning on slack packing down Greylock tomorrow. I am tempted, especially since it would mean coming back to Tom’s for July 4, but can’t bring myself to slack pack this late in my hike. Once I have everything ready I find Tom and some others in the living room watching O Brother Where Art Thou. I grab a seat and watch the rest with them before I head to bed. It turns out to have been about as near to a perfect day as possible on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: MA | 1 Comment

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