Sunday, September 18, 2011

Is it the Journey or the Destination???

I often wonder if Ultra-Light backpacking prevents me from seeing all the wonders this world has to offer. Sometimes traveling 20+ miles a day. Do I really get to relish the beauty on the journey? Its why making sure there is a final destination that has lots of appeal to me. Otherwise I'd aimlessly wonder the earth; never noticing a damn thing.

I realize we all backpack, hike or just for that matter walk for many different reasons. Still "destination" has always been my reason to get my ass out of bed. Trekking miles with gear, having to come upon danger from time to time and eating dehydrated foods is not as cool as one thinks.  I'm often dismayed by individuals who seem to want to know all about my trips who have no intention of walking the walk so to speak. I get it but if you are just going to have me explain everything just to end up sitting at home; I've got little respect for ya.

Am I miserable about the Journey? Absolutely not but its not my reason to do what most people think is cool. It's the resting place that took me hours or even days to reach that holds my attention.

Being completely able to relax when I get there, no other human souls around, makes me feel empowered and allows me to reflect on life. So I'll suffer through the journey to get to my destination.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

So What the heck have I've been doing???

I'd say not much and that would be true lately. I did take a great walk/hike from Oro Valley to Marana via Dove Mountain then into Tucson. It was a haul but I had a handle on it.

I hope to be doing that again in the future or maybe Catalina then off to Mt. Lemmon. I was in a altercation last night (Being Chivalrous or stupid again) so taking a few days from doing much of anything. I'll keep you all posted and hope to have a new gear test post very soon.

Till then...Bangarang!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Self Induced Changes...

So if you have noticed, even f you haven't... I've tweaked the web site design and my plans once again. I was planning the five hikes in five days etc. However due to feeling under the weather and having a xtra long drinking session on Monday. That has changed too. In all fairness my not feeling well is not all self-inflected and just feeling "blah".

I have to get ready for my "Music on the Mountain" hike and only have so many days to do that. I promise to be ready here in the next 4-5 days. Just chilling till then.

BTW, Please vote on facebook for my picture (shown here) at the following link... CLICK HERE :-) You can vote once a day for it till the contest is over.

Till next time!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sack It! Bivy's.

Note...After this post we will be getting back to trips and adventures... I hope to be hiking a lot over the next month or so. Until then please read, catch up and perhaps click on one of the ads/sponsors as it would help. Thx...

Last time we talked about tents... I'm sure this section will be just as clicked on (LOL) as we enter the world of Bivy's. I posted this because I was shocked how many people were just clueless to what a bivy was. I will admit at first I was to. So lets dive in straight away.

Bivy's are basically (for those who have not heard of them) lightweight, weatherproof bags. The traditional version is just a sack that a sleeping bag will fit into. In recent times Bivy's have expanded into one or two pole structures that may apear to be a tent but really are a lot smaller and have little head room. People either love or hate bivy's. I know people that sleep outside in a bivy sack and despise tents because they block views or whatever. I also know people that feel very confined in a Bivy and hate them with equal passion. Both sides I can understand but "can't we just all get along". :-)

I personally could not get used to a sack and as I've mentioned before went with a Bivy that has a pole (See Review Here). My reason was simple and I find even a closed Mummy bags is just way too confining. So I went with what I was happy with. I tried a tent but the weight and the also the setup was just not what I was looking for. So this was the lightest option. Of course it reduces my chances of that romantic camp-out but hey I'll live.

I would say though I may one day go into just a Bivy sack; I'm working on dealing better with being closed in. The sacks I think are great, even for people who want to just be sleeping among the stars. No bugs or water or even snow to worry about. They are "Bomber" as we are prone to say about indestructible gear.

I will say this for just under $100 you can't go wrong with a bivy sack even for an emergency situation. You can end up paying as much as $250 for one. Just depends on the "options" that come with them. Hold that laughter because you would be surprised just how many bivy's have certain features that others don't. Zipper placement, stow away pockets, and face screens are just some options to name a few.

Condensation is also an issue that comes with bivy's. The collection of moisture over night can be a big detraction. However with new technology in waterproof sleeping bags this is becoming less of an issue. Bivy's are just one of the options to think about when you start bangaranging miles in the dessert; for me it happened to be the best way to go backpacking.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tents, Tarps and Bivys... TENTS !

Talking, comparing and ultimately bragging about what gear you have and use is quite common with backpackers. The banter only increases when you are talking to people who work at a shop, it goes way overboard when two Ultra-lighter's converse. I'll never forget the time I was selling an extra water reservoir to some guy and we started to compare gear notes. All that we failed to do was whip it out and measure penis size. I came away with two very profound thoughts after that. One, I'm glad I backpack alone after meeting this guy...Two, gear is about personal preference. What works for you may not work for someone else.

This thought holds true most of all for sleeping quarters. What you acquire and how you choose to bed down for the outdoors is just as personal as buying a house or bed. So today I'm going to focus on Tents and then my next post will be Tarps and Bivys. Really the best option is up to you, but trust me I'm going to cover things below you may not even have thought of.


Here despite what you or your friends might say...Size matters! I have a friend who shall we say is quite large. So when we hit the shops to find her a tent... A hell of a lot of smirking and laughter went on. The phrase "Yea, that's not going to happen" was uttered more times than I can count. What is now considered a large 2person tent holds at best 1 adult and 1 small kid. Head room is also something to really consider. I always see a ton of people unhappy because they have to really get low or can't even sit up without their head touching the mesh.

When looking for a tent always know what it's going to take to setup. How much time and how complex its going to be. Now a days it could vary from just a pole, to a pole with sleeves or be nightmare with poles, sleeves, guy-lines you name it. The amount of time and your patients in setup should determine if you like it. backpacking / camping should be enjoyable and not time wasted on tent setups.

This may sound strange but get a routine going in how you enter and exit a tent. It helps when you are in the dark or have to go to the bathroom at night. So practice this before a purchase if you can. Knowing if your routine will work with this tent will become important.

Tents are much heavier than the two other options and can be freestanding (No Stakes) or not. More often though, even freestanding tents you are going to be putting in stakes. So I wouldn't let this be the deciding factor in your choice. Do however consider overall weight before you carry something be it 1mile from the car or 20 miles a day in the back country.

Shop around and then do it all over again... It took me over 3 months to settle on a Mountain Hardwear tent and I loved it. Though I have to say I'm a fan of the bivy now and sold it off. Though that was because my needs and wants changed not because I was un-happy with the product. Still, take your time with the decision and try the least expensive options first.

Overall its the size, price, ease of setup and overall weight that should determine how and what you buy. Again its all about personal choice and not a penis contest. Hope you enjoyed, Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Leave a trace...Pay a price

Today I want to talk a bit about leaving traces of your hiking or backpacking experiences behind. I know their has been constant preaching about this matter on many websites, commercials and signage; time and time again. Yet people still do not seem to get or want the message. Though it stands as important today as it did 30 years ago the slogans "Pack it in, pack it out", "Leave No Trace" all seem to go un-noticed at times.

I have rarely walked or hiked even in the remote parts of the wilderness, without some piece of liter catching my eye. It's completely baffling to me how some people are careless or perhaps just so spiteful in there trail and camping manners. I'm also convinced that Dr. Pepper, Keystone and Bud Light drinkers are advertising their products though littering. (ha ha)

I don't care if your a border crosser, trail guide or just want to get away with friends to drink beer smoke dope and party it up... "CLEAN IT UP don't FUCK IT UP!" We all pay a price for not being diligent in how we conduct our self out on the trails. Be it though pollution, wildlife destruction or higher taxes; it affects everyone in a multitude of ways.

So if you go out there, bring certain things, think it through. Take something to put garbage in; I use an orange oder proof /waterproof stuff sack. It's completely washable and you can get one at Wal-mart. Don't leave things that can potentially fly away unattended. Use rocks to weigh down things if necessary. Try packing without using the plastic bag things come in. Above all make the effort that if you see liter, pick it up even if its not yours. Saying to yourself "its not my mess" is just a piss poor juvenile excuse for turning a blind eye to the situation.

We all have to do more... Help with keeping our dessert and environment clean. Not only for yourself but for the wildlife and yes...even mountain bikers, snowbirds and the dreaded family car camper :-)

Thx for reading.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ultra What?

Its called "ultralight" backpacking and while it sounds cool and catchy; according to backpacker magazine this month it only accounts for about 30% of backpackers. Simply put, we tend sacrifice typical camping methods and equipment for a lighter weight and more space in our pack. So in theory we can travel further and faster than most. Some backpackers carry 60lbs, others like me carry 25lbs or less into the same environment. I think "Ultralight" is really still being defined and as such its hard to put it in perspective. In my trips, I've encountered only a few other so called "Ultraighters". However I always meet people who usually ask for tips or even demo's on how to lighten the load. So today I thought I'd give a few tips of my own and dispel some myths along the way.

 First off I'll say I didn't really start out thinking, "Hey... I'll be an "ultralight" backpacker. Honestly it just started with my lazy ass style of thinking. What was the best way to avoid the pain of carrying weight? As a 40 something getting back to my backpacking roots I knew I could not do things the same as when I was 20. While its true the newer technology and gear meant less weight; you still go without. Below is the top five things I do not carry with me that a typical backpacker/camper would. Also I explain the alternatives that I use.

A look inside my Bivy...Behind me is mesh so I can see the stars.
1) Tent... Average weight is about 4-5lbs still for a so called 2 person version. The alternative for me was a "Bivy" which is typically a sack that is water and rain proof. However I went with more of a "Bivy" hybrid. It has a pole so I have room above my head. The weight is far less at 1lb 8oz is waterproof and can fit myself, pad, pack and that is about it. Some people use less and have a tarp or ground cloth but I prefer this method.

2) Food.... This can be a huge drag in the weight department. I now exclusively, say for some trail mix go with dehydrated foods. The weight of my food is a fraction of the typical camper/backpacker. They literally carry tons of stuff for the calories and I carry a lot less and do sometimes suffer with weight loss.Taste I could care less about and am always surprised how good dehydrated things taste now. Really when cooked right, there is not much difference. However it leads me to my next weight saving method...

3) Stove... Typical stove is any where from 5 to 7 lbs. My stove with kitchen gear is 10oz, the fuel is a separate matter but obviously I use a lot less. Water and coffee (Starbucks via packets) is the only thing I use it for. Then pour into my food pouch (never a plate) and I have a meal. It's that simple. Food to me is substance; not a damn thing more.

A normal setup for me
4) Pack... The average framed fully padded pack that is considered for multi-day backpacking weights 6+ lbs. I go with a less than 3lb pack that really works very well for me. It's not huge but still considered big at 61L. Do I suffer in pain? Nope not a bit because I've got less weight to begin with.

5) Hygiene products and clothes... I carry travel size things and do not use deodorant. This is mainly because of the bears and honestly I'm not trying to impress a woman out there. It's backpacking people not a dating scene. You go with what you need and can always clean up later. Do I smell my best? Nope. Do I stink to high heaven? Only after I'm running for my life but other times NO!

In the clothing department I may carry one or two changes of lightweight UV resistant clothing. and that is it. Maybe two changes of socks and this is all. It's an adjustment but again not a dating scene out here; its nature.

It is also very important to note that "Ultralighting" is as much about mentality as anything else. I don't need a shave until I get back home. I stay warm by moving and doing jumping jacks before I go to sleep at night. Not with heavy clothing though I do carry Military poly-lite thermals.

Not uncommon for me to sleep like this either
I have one last tip for people that may want to try this. Constantly revise your thinking and ways. Make a list of what you use and more importantly what you don't use. I found tons of useless things in my pack even after I thought I was carrying light. You don't have to buy the latest greatest stove. MSR's Pocket Rocket has been around for 30years and still out-performs most things on the market. Look on Craigslist and yard sales instead of REI or Summit Hut. Trust me they will get their fair share of your business but look around. I get some of my most lightweight stuff at Wal-Mart for a fraction of the cost it is at REI. Oh and by the way my "In the Bag" page will return later this month so you gain a better idea of what I and others carry. Till next time friends... Bangarang!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Next Adventures!

So what do I do now??? Mostly healed from my trip I was headed to Northern California and Sequoia and Kings Canyon national park; then the call of parenting intervened. It shouldn't be too much longer now but the "Lily sitting" has definitely taken me off my course. Though this is not viewed as a terrible change.

One thing I hope to do in the next few weeks is go upward from Sabino Canyon to Mount Lemmon. Coinciding it with one of the "Music on the Mountain" concerts held on the weekends; then return via Romero Canyon. When I have the dates I will post them. If any one wants to meet for the Music, they are welcome to let me know. There is something about doing a lot of hiking followed by drinking beer and listening to music that appeals to me.

The other main trip will be at the end of September (Weather Permitting) to Sequoia and Kings Canyon. This will be after the permit season and I can attempt the "High Sierra" trail and just maybe Mt. Whitney. Though I have to admit its really the trail that appeals to me more. I have never seen a finer sight then that of the Sequoia's. I've often compared other places I've been with that of Yosemite. Mainly because of those very guardian like trees standing tall in the forest.

While I know challenges will await me on these endeavors; it will never compare to the fire in the wilderness. At least, I hope it won't. Still, I can't wait to share them with you through writings and pictures. I've even devised more accessible way for my camera to be closer; in hopes of documenting future trips better. Below is also my Top 5 list in no set order of places to see (backpacking wise that is). Yes by the way the "Arizona Trail" is still on this list its was lack of rain and timing that held me back last time.. Until then I will be posting things about ultralight backpacking and training etc... Till next time; Bangarang!

Pete's Top 5 to go

1) Arizona Trail
      2) High Sierra Trail
    3) John Muir Trail
                     4) El Camino Real Pilgrimage
                      5) Appalachian Trail (All of it)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day 15... PTSD...Post Trail Stress Drinking

Slept right through my alarm and still clutching my prayer cross. I was stunned to see nothing but clear blue sky. Either the winds changed the direction of the smoke or...well...honestly I didn't care for an explanation of it. I just wanted to be safe and for the first time in more than 24hrs it seemed likely. Heading back south and west, continuing the plan that started from fear. To say this day started as a miracle would be a gross understatement.

My body had some issues but not many ill effects as I thought would be the case. I was not refreshed. Is any one after 14nights backpacking? Still, I could walk, there was water and I kept to my task. Following that canyon the main trail started to reappear. As it climbed slowly above the canyon I decided this had to be the way. South and west, it became the mantra of the morning; just has it was the entire day before.

Some people say I have a very annoying "smugness" about me. Today as I came across a trail head sign lets just say I was humble, contrite and believed in luck for maybe the first time in my life. I wanted adventure, in the worst way and that is what I obtained; far more than I wanted. At that moment no one, including myself, would have ever recognized me. At least by talking to me or judging my demeanor.

The last 15 to 20 miles of my journey was a mundane hike compared to the day before. Perhaps all future outings will be just as un-eventful. Hardly seems I should bother with any details of it. The very end of the Gila trail was Forest Service spotters. We had a brief discussion and off I went down FS-155.

On that long road headed to the Town of Gila three hunters gave me a lift to Silver City. Plenty of beer was offered and accepted. Their generosity allowed me to have a piece of mind for the night. The trip may have ceased but the process of what happened was just beginning. That being said convalescing in SC for the next 4 days seemed like the right thing to do.

I'd lost over 12lbs on this trip, felt excruciating pain that still exists, serving me reminders time to time. My first words uttered on the phone with someone who asked how my trip went were... "Remind me never to do this again." She exclaimed "Why bother? ...I know you will any how." Perhaps she's right :-)

Till the next entry... Bangarang

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Day 14 pt.3...Spirit not Broken but Wary

This being the longest day of my life as I previously stated. It took three parts but and will now try to just hit the highlights and move on as my trip nears its conclusion.

Slowly as the afternoon wore down, the wind picked up, gusting in my face. I marveled at the amount of ground I covered; all due to my adrenaline fear induced day. Physically I knew it was all adrenaline today with a terrible let down tomorrow. Mentally I explored all possibilities. Name a scenario and I promise you I thought of it. From would I let fire burn me or jump to my death. To who hotter... I won't name names here. I was confident but if I stopped or could see smoke, that confidence turned very quickly into despair.

Countless times as I said before; I would block out the thoughts of family and friends. This worked for most of the day but begun to seep in my every thought. The terrain was getting "lower" and "flatter" and that is the perfect description of my spirit. I did all I could to get distance, followed every bit knowledge I could draw on. Yet lower and flatter the two seemed. The canyon seemed to merge with another and clear trails that seemed to mark the way before, were now disappearing right before my eyes.

I had a. hour of light left when I reached this merger. A big decision loomed. Do I continue south and west? Or perhaps I'd be better suited going up this canyon that was flatter and had some outcrops and such for sleeping? I choose the latter option and found what to me could best be described as a large V-shaped area of rock. I climbed it, laid out just my mat, mummy bag and prayer cross and started looking at the sky turning to twilight and the thin layers of smoke crossing it. Needless to say I gripped the cross a little tighter that evening.

I went as far as I could in body and spirit. I really could not tell you if I had any thing left if that fire would have approached me again. If I would have seen a glow coming my way could I have kept going? I just thank God I will never know the answer to that question. No glow in sight and I passed out completely among the stars and smoke. The last thoughts I can remember were "what happens will happen and its out of my hands".

Day 15 just has to be better? Right?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day 14 Pt. 2...Cpt. Kirk, A Woman in High Heels Oh and Yea... FIRE

Thoughts outside the box is what makes me tick...So in a way when I'm faced with what seems like an impossible situation; it helps. This I can say in retrospect because during the moment I came close to a full on freak out. No pack, its down countless feet below me. No conventional way of getting down that I can see. No way to go forward and then backtrack, because that fire I guess is still coming my way. The eventual answer was looking right at me the whole time.

A tree, yep just a narrow tree that jetted up out of most of the canyon. Looking right at me the whole time. Two issues with this tree... One: Its going to take a leap that literally I have no clue if I can make it. Two: Trees have branches and this one is no exception. It did however possess another tree right next to it that had even fewer so I opted for that one. A quick second and third thought maybe even a fourth and off I went.

When I spiraled down and looked up I just yelled "That was awesome" then resumed my mode of getting out of there. I was in pain and scraped my leg, yet I know I had a smile on my face; because I realized something at that very moment... No matter how this ends up I'm going to know I gave myself every chance to get out of there. The "what ifs" don't matter because I'm doing everything I can to create distance and survivability.

We are about half way into the day now and really it was becoming like a normal hike for me. With the tiny exception of a fire somewhere behind me. I see white smoke but nothing else, I heard a helicopter once and while it sounded close it was not right on top of me; so that gave me some relief.

My thoughts were still of Kirk and random quotes, and then I started to make up different lists in my head of 5 things I would do. I also came to terms with that I'm just a sucker for women who wear stilettos and know how to walk in them. I kept my mind busy with anything but what was behind me or even ahead of me for that matter. I set my watch alarm to every 60 min to remind myself to look behind me. Though I will admit I looked back hundreds of times. I also used that alarm time to remind me to drink. That may sound strange but I didn't want to hike myself into exhaustion and dehydration.

The water in the canyon was flowing more and more so I must now be on or near the Gila itself and heading out the right way. As this day went on I realized that sleeping would be a wake up every hour to check the direction I last would see smoke. That I should prepare myself for a night hike and find higher ground, perhaps even a cave. After all, rock does not burn.

There was beauty all around me but I couldn't really stop and take notice like I did in Jordan Canyon.  I tried desperately not to think of family or friends. When I did it would just depress me and I didn't need that right now. Don't ask me why but I did think of things like arguments, sex and what turned me on. Yet even these trivial things bummed me out and I knew I was in for a rough afternoon and night...

Pt 3 Tomorrow

Day 14... Pt. 1 Here we go...Wait Where do we go?

Even my most wildest, "worst case scenario" didn't come up with this one. Day 14 was going to be at best life changing and at its worst...Well lets just say I would be telling lies in saying some old tough cliche like " It never crossed my mind". No it all crossed my mind in an instant. Death, serious injury and panic to name but a few; and that was just for starters. If I wasn't taking to myself on this trip... I was certainly doing it now.

It's dark and a little away from sunrise, no wind yet and that can only be an act of God; as it was windy this entire trip. I can see the glow but really have no grasp of the direction or speed of this fire. Not even sure how to even proceed. I'm now positive there is a book out there I forgot to read when it came to this. Just because this could not even be happening. Right?

The end results was a deep bruise down to the bone
I was going to go into a great painstaking dialog of what happened on this day. Then I thought how can I really put this into detail or perspective? Honestly it would take an entire novel worth of work just on this one day. What would be the point? After all you know the end result. I'm still alive and fully escaped injury except for my badly bruised leg that still hurts slightly after a long day of hiking or running.

So I'm going to try and explain it from my thoughts as oppose to actions. The actions are vague at best any how because I was literally on the run and being at one point as close to flames only a few football fields away. Fleeing for my life, not knowing most of the time exactly where the fire was or how I was going to get out of there. South and West was the safest route from my own observation and my encounter with a spotter plane. The Sun is finally up... I say finally because this was without any doubt; the slowest day of my entire life. Nothing happens fast enough today not my accelerated hiking, not the water running into my bottle. NOTHING at all.

A trek like this was common through out
As I admitted already panic was there at the start. However, there comes a point and for me or any one with experience and knowledge, when a calm replaces the initial fear. For me it all starts with a simple word I tell myself. Breathe. Really that is what its all about for me. When I felt today was getting worse or I made a wrong turn even had to backtrack a time or two. "Breathe", was all I told myself. When I knew I had to stop and eat or drink to keep my strength and when parts of my mind said RUN! Instead I would pause, and just take a breath.

No matter what heading I took, it seemed smoke was coming over my head. Not knowing at the time what exactly was going on was probably in retrospect a good thing. The "Miller Fire" was to last weeks and burned more than 88k acres, closed the ruins, NM 15 and countless trails. It drove me faster, further than I even thought possible. Still, where was I going? I had general ideas and made sure the canyon I followed below had water. I used my compass for direction but that was it. Always south and west. Circumstance caused me to take risks but also to "Take Care of Myself"; best I could.

Trail running was never my strong suit, however I am, if nothing, swift. The canyon I'm about to enter is entirely draped in shadow. If there was ever a more spooky, erie situation...I have not a recollection of  facing it. Not a soul but mine and God's. Every countless step I take is focused on leaving this fire way behind me. Realizing I have no choice but to lower my gear first then find a way down. I tie a rope and lower my pack. Still I cant seem to find a way into this damn thing, time is ticking and that fire is not standing still.

As I'm making my way down a second time my attempt fails once again. Either I leave my pack and continue or drop 4 to 5 story's down maybe more. Both options are unthinkable but you think it anyway. Almost at the point of despair and already exhausted. I have choices to make that to me are "No Win" choices. Talking it through, out loud to myself Captain Kirk's phrase from Star Trek 2 comes into my head. " I don't believe in the No Win scenario". Yea, I know crazy but tat is how the "Pete Mind" works. I come to realize I agree with "Jim". So now what??? Breathe I say.

Pt. 2 will post tonight or tomorrow.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Unlucky 13? Your Damn Right.

Realizing after a day of rest I was ready to leave the Gila for good. My ankle feeling worse by the day and swollen to the size of a baseball, the weather seeming to turn colder and my map basically torn to shreds thanks to windy conditions; all tell me its time to leave. When backpacking, to me at least, little things that are bothersome one day can possibly turn disastrous the next. Seemingly small mistakes become magnified and I'm not immune to these problems or mistakes for that matter.

So I leave on TR-160 once again and head south and plan for a two day trip out of the Gila. It's really more of a slow limping hike with spurts of a pain shooting though my ankle. The Gila is not a place to "Code W" and I'm far from that at this or any point on this trip. For those of you that don't know. "Code W" is forest service talk for people they help that really are just a "wimp out" by that hiker. Also their is no magical helicopter that is going to save you. No clicking your heels three times to go home. So onward I go down to Little Turkey Park for a rest.

No turkeys, just some stagnate water is waiting for me. Plus a camera with no batteries is a reminder that my trip is done and done. Continuing on to Miller Spring and seeing the old cabin I heard about. The way there becomes a bit of a trek I was not expecting... Steep trail climbs and some ugly dreaded Lava Rock. However I did find this little guy along the way.

The cabin at Miller Springs was nice but not nothing to say wow over. Honesty I'm in too much pain today to see anything as exciting even if it were. It just serves as vivid reminders of how much farther I have to go.

I say to myself... Hey I want to change course to be closer to running water. Even though it will take me miles away from my original destination point. This on the surface may seem odd. Yet my thinking is " If I have to stay here longer because I can't travel as far every day; at least I'll have water with food." So I divert myself west on Tr-155 and set camp up on a ridge for the night. Bushwacking a little off the path. At least I'll have running water the rest of the trip.

4:00am...The best way to describe what happens next is "POP" "POP" "crash" "POP" I awaken to what I thought was gunfire for some reason. Perhaps for about 15min I sit with my eyes open and hearing this on again off again "POP". I finally open my flap door and see a huge glow over a ridge a few miles away. This can only be one thing... FIRE !

I start to think Day 14 is not going to go well at all... Not well at all.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 11.. Jordan Springs Eternal?

After what was maybe the deepest sleep I encountered in years... I awoke hoping to find the "hot spring" in Jordan Canyon. After breaking camp and still a little stiff from the exhausting hike the previous day I set out around 10am. By 10:05am I realized I had to be right near the spring itself as I watched a small creek of running water against the current of the river. My suspicions were confirmed as I dipped my hand in to very warm water.

The spring was there alright, if I was any closer I would have hit it with my huge schnoz. So knowing there was hardly anyone out here this time of the week; I stripped down and felt the spring water wash over me. It was not as warm as the stream but good enough for me to realize two very important things while relaxing. One, I was very lucky with that bear but needed to keep my camera closer next time. Two, though my ankle had some pain in it I had no clue it was swollen up like a baseball was implanted on the top of it. The later was cause for concern as I was at least 12 miles and 25 river crossings away from help.

So needless to say it was a slow hiking day after my morning at the "spa". On the way back I started running into people of all types. So by the time I was 5 miles or so away from the spring I was meeting people quite frequently. More so than any other time on the trip. The trail you take literally ends up being a creek surrounded by 20ft. high rock, so if it rains...You won't be taking this trail for sure. However since I've only seen one cloud in over 10days; suffice to say its not a problem today.

I met two ultralight CDT-'ers, a very opposite backpacker with at least 60lbs on his back and a couple who later on I would meet again. "Ultralighters" are all the same...I can say that because I am one. We would go naked if it was acceptable just to save ounces :-) We look scruffy all the time and have a true adventurer spirit. Our razor and toothbrush either have the handle cut off or we drill holes in it.

"Regular backpackers" well they enjoy the finer things of camping along with their adventure. A chair, full size toothbrushes and razors. Extra shoes clothes and maybe even a pair of jeans to go out in. Oh and a tent that always looks to be able to fit a truck in as opposed to a person. Dan was a nice enough fellow and even gave me his card. I know that we all have different ways of getting to and in nature...but we share nature and that's the great thing about it.

Near the end of the day now and I've headed back to "Scorpion" to rest at least an extra day before heading out of the Gila. Should be a "piece of cake" (that is a quote from my journal). I should have known never to say that. It has all but assured my trek would become as dangerous as ever. Taking me through more of the Gila than I ever planned on seeing...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 10...Yogi, Boo Boo and His Bear Pals

Just the start of Jordan Canyon
(Warning a little bad language in this entry)

There is the famous line from the Wizard of Oz..."Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more." This would best describe the transformation into Jordan Canyon Tr-157. It was like I entered the Emerald City. Each step brought me even closer to deep, bright green ferns, trees and waste high bamboo shoots. On a hint from my friend David I also looked out for and could confirm lots of mint in the area. This along with the high canyon walls had me memorized.

So entranced I was with the beauty of this lush canyon... I failed to notice time, further surroundings or even great picture opportunities.  I can only tell you this canyon made the trip worth it and held some of the most wonderful breathtaking views these eyes have ever seen. I finally, fully got it! If people only came to this place they would have un-refutable proof of a God.

My description of this was just in the first few moments of being there. It only gets better as the stroll goes on. I say stroll and not hike because when you are in this canyon... The pack is no longer heavy, your legs feel fresh as if its the first mile and any notion of concern is lifted

This trail has to crisscross the Gila 25+ times because you will run out of trail on one side; leaving you with sheer rock formations that are impassable unless you cross to the other side. Not a problem when your lost in all this beauty. Here if I would have fallen in, I would have just laughed it off. Funny how surroundings change your feelings about a situation.

There is also a line from another movie, a Harry Potter movie in fact. " Yeah, take it away, Ernie! Fasten your safety belts, clench your buttocks! It's going be a bumpy ride!"... So as quick as my pleasure trip down this path was full of excitement it became shall we say a little more exciting.

I should explain that when in bear country one of the deterrents is a bell; that rings to alert and hopefully scares bears into the thought of leaving the area. You also make noise when you backpack alone. Clap, sing (yea sing) tap your stick on logs etc... just making general noise from time to time. Randomly making these noises really becomes second nature and is a must.

You go on many trips and never see any bears at all... However, sometimes, like on this late afternoon; you seem to encounter a sleuth or sloth of them. It was getting to be that time of day and hearing the rustling of the first two bears (They make a very distinguishable thud noise) leaving the scene without actually seeing them makes me feel like its going to be a bumpy ride. Because if I don't have them in my line of sight and they do decide "Hey...Lets have Pete for dinner"... I really can't defend myself...

With fish like these I wouldn't move either
The third bear just was too much in the open to hid from my sight. He or She was quite agile, more so than I would have thought from a bear. So, while it was scary and worrisome; at least I knew exactly where it was and if it decided to do an "about face" on me I could respond. So if we are keeping score at home its Pete 3 VS Bears 0. However I should have known it was oly a matter of time before their "clean up hitter" would be at the plate so to speak.

Sure enough, at a river crossing with the trail ending on my side... There he was, looking very intent. Almost sitting directly in the middle of the river, studying it. I can only assume this was his personal fishing spot and I was not going to be welcomed. Despite all my ringing leading up to this; it did not deter him from his trance. I froze still with my mind racing...He seemed not to flinch for what seemed like an hour. Then suddenly, he took off running. I'm happy to say to the other side of the Gila. I'm happy but still not out of danger as he slowed down, stopped 10 yards from the his bank and had his eyes on me as he did that river before.

Words that came to mind with out me uttering a sound went something like this... "Shit, oh shit...I can't believe...shit. Holy, Fuckin Shit! Think, shit, fuckin think, oh shit and so on. Now would be a good time to make some noise and see what is what I guess... I ring my bell, but we already know how that helped. I wave my stick and make indescribable noises. Since I found my voice, at this point I'm sure some of my previous thoughts were flying out. Still if an eye batted or a muscle twitched on his part; I couldn't tell. Finally I bang my already broken stick against a log and yell... "I am man dammit! Yes...that is what came to mind and mouth...I will never know if it was the stick breaking once again or my final shrill that made him head uphill and out of my way; but he did at last.

Allowing me a path to continue, I realize I have a pressing problem on my hands. Night is coming even faster than if I were on high ground and I better set up camp some where soon. My stroll is near a full out sprint as I want distance from the him but know that the light is disappearing; fast.

The penalty for my late setup is no dinner and a quick hang of my food plus anything else that may attract you know who. My shoes are just soaked and I leave them outside and am in a clearing that had been used by many before me. As I zip up for the night I once again hear the now familiar thuds of a bear's steps. I lay still as to hope this orange bivy of mine will act as a frighting protection. I hear sniffing of my shoes and the thuds slowly fade away; hopefully he's not going for my food bag. Surprisingly I fall asleep very fast and relatively sound for the night with my last thoughts being...You guessed it... "Shit, oh shit...I can't believe...shit. Holy, Fuckin Shit! Think, shit, fuckin think, oh shit

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 10...Pt.1...Uphill Climb to Paradise... The Meadows Fire

My morning started out un-eventful, as I broke camp and decided to start at Woody's Coral and TR-160 This took me quite a ways from my destination of  Jordan Canyon but put me in the direction of my Wolf encounter the previous night. I figured it would be a long shot to see one and I was right. Their was nothing on the path, just unnecessary miles to reach TR-28 via Tr-813.

The view from my fall on Tr-813
Along the Middle fork is EE Canyon and with that comes benign river crossings right before the start of TR-28. Benign that is unless your like me and ended up completely in the river as opposed to crossing it. Falling directly on my left side and being soaked was the direct result of indecision on how to cross water. I've always had the terrible habit of being very indecisive when confronting water. So now not only am I wet and sore, but very pissed off at myself and the situation.

The top of TR-28 shows its worth the climb.
The start of TR-28 looks to be a very daunting task. As I am about to find out, most of the 8+ miles of this trail is even more taxing... To say it was completely uphill would be an understatement. To be thankful to see a switchback only to find an even more imposing hill is deflating. Such is TR-28 and the likes I hope never to encounter again. Making it to TR-157 and the top of Jordan Canyon was a gut check, seeing the views was worth every excruciating step. For once taking the hard way paid off with cool weather and beautiful sights.

The Meadows after a recent fire
Before seeing Jordan Canyon and the springs I had to venture past the Meadows now burnt from blasted people that choose to build fires in the dessert. It's an eerie descent onto itself and the fallen, burnt trees in my path were no help. Also it made most of the wildlife vacant and you could hear a pin drop. I had an artist once depict a forest just after fire, the painting was brilliant, maybe his best piece ever. Yet the sadness seen in the piece made it unsellable but I had always wondered if it truly captured the moment. So going through this sad real life scene was able to answer the question I had for years. The answer is... Not so much. It's sad to see this is true but in it I found hope and not near as much destruction seen in that painting.

It seemed to already show some signs of new life and obviously the forest service did their job very well to contain it. I have nothing to compare this to, as I'd never even heard of the Meadows till a few days ago. Yet within this newly formed wasteland I got the feeling it was going to alright. On the edges the scars of the fire give way to wonderful waist high reeds and clear flowing water. This leg of the journey has finally taken me to Jordan Canyon...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 8...Rest...Day 9 Cliff Dwellings A sign of Enchantment.

Started my next day the way I ended it...More beer but I did visit the Cliff Dwellings. I came away with two observations 1) What a strategic advantage this was to live up here 2) Why so isolated and not more of them located in the area? It seems to me this was a very small clan and I'm not sure why there are not 1000 more of these dwellings. Then again who's to say there weren't more.

I'm going to post on here multiple pics of the Dwellings and really had an un-eventful day but interesting evening. I was enjoying more conversations with David before he left back to Silver City. I also met a father and son from TX who were very nice and we talked about ultralight backpacking.

As evening fell our conversations turned to New Mexico and how really I was not thrilled with my trip so far. While this was no doubt the wrong thing to say; it was sadly the truth. I had not seen one thing except the Dwellings that I could not see in AZ.

Then the conversation turned to Jordan Canyon, The Meadows (which had burned) and other points on the map. Though I wanted to go home at that point I decided considering these hikes over the next week or so. After all I had enough supplies to last me another 8-10days maybe longer. Still I was not sure of my next move. I wanted "WOW" and was getting none of it. I wanted "Serenity" and only got that briefly before the hell of the campgrounds broke loose. So I was very reluctant at this point to continue.

With David now gone and the others making dinner I went down to the river to see if I could spot some beavers who clearly built a dam nearby. No such luck but there were some deer and when they took off suddenly I was curious to why. Night was taking over fast and I looked across the river to see a very dark shadow figure with four legs. At first I just thought it was a baby doe, but soon realized he had two friends slightly lighter in color . I tried to take pictures but when the flash went off it was followed by a low almost grunting warning. These were three Mexican Grey Wolfs I believe. I was in no danger but felt a bit uneasy just to see their silhouettes. Crossing the nearby road back to camp I took this as an obvious sign to continue on.

That night in my bivy, I looked very hard over the map. I decided to start at Woody's coral and head a long way around TR-160 to see if I could confirm any Wolfs. I had no clue how the next two days would end up being the most tiresome and yet breath taking of my trip to date... Till tomorrow all... Bangarang!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 7... From Heaven to Hell...

Broke camp fairly early and on my way to Alum Canyon Trail. The strong winds I've encountered decided to take a break today. Reviewed my picture taking before I leaving camp and have come to the conclusion that so far they are awful. Alum trail is not that hard nor is it long only about 1 1/2miles down and you are in the Gila river.

Peaceable, Tranquil and exciting is how I describe my fist encounter with the river. Its flow is medium in stature but I can hear and see lots of birds and wildlife running around. I spend the morning right on the river with nobody around, purifying water to drink and just taking in the sounds and sights. The trail from here is only another 3miles and ends at the Gila Bridge / Grapevine campground. However it crosses the Gila about 11 times.

I'm in complete heaven for the most part. Taking in the river up to mid thigh levels. Bounding from side to side and really just enjoying all the sounds and sights it has to offer. I passed a hot spring but am really having fun crisscrossing the river and decide not to stop. I'm splashing like a little boy in a giant bathtub. My shoes may not be dry for days; and I don't care.

Feeling a very strange sensation across my face, I stop and take a picture just to make sure...Yep, its a smile. One that has not left my face since today started.

As I press further along I start running into people. At one crossing I yield to a equine group of mainly kids and a very scruffy looking trail dog. Another a friendly couple from Silver City looking for the hot spring finding it interesting that I walked here for my journey.

All to soon my trail ends directly into a campground. Filled with yapping dogs, tables cluttered with potential litter and the rambunctious family volleyball match. Its a wasteland of REI tent purchases and Igloo cooler chests. One tent that catches my eye in this recreational pig sty is a Mountain Hardwear EV-3 . A $750 alpine tent meant for Everest, certainly not some place like this. I doubt this perfectly sculpted tent as never even had a whiff of snow fall on it.

I'm disgusted and stay only long enough to have something to eat and head toward the cliff dwellings another 8miles away. A man asks me if I'd like a beer and a burger but since I just ate, I said "no thanks" and head out of the wasteland at best possible speed back on NM-15. Past another human commercialized site with RV's and tourist call "Gila Hot Springs"; all yours for just $6 a soak.

Lots of this going on near the Visitors Center
About 3:15pm I arrive at the Gila Visitors center and realize the dwellings close at 4. Looks like I'll be spending the night at Scorpion campground if I want to stay and see them. I will take this time to grab a little water, some pamphlets and check the reports. A place called "The Meadows" caught on fire and the trail is closed but the fire is fully contained. The water reports are not great but I've sen worse. Oh and its Jr. Ranger day there and tables are setup with displays for kids; makes me miss Lily even more so.

About an hour or so till sunset and I'm close to Scorpion Passing T.J's Corral. Meet a backpacker along the way who has so much equipment outside his pack... I wonder what on earth could he have in it? He is a nice enough fellow who went to the U of A. We talk a bit about what to see north of the dwellings but he seems more anxious to talk more about my backpack and its design than trail heads. This is not the first nor the last on this trip people seemed very curious about ultra-light packing and how it can be beneficial. However I want to head to Scorpion and say my exiting salutations.

At the campground right across from the river I'm very surprised to see only one truck there. It's like the people prefer the security of others instead of solitude. All except for me and this man who I can now call a friend. His name is David and I find his journey as fascinating as other people find mine. He sometimes goes with the wind, just like me. He has been out here over a week but just returned from a supply run in Silver City. We drink beer and discuss the Gila, ranchers and other topics too numerous to list. His intelligent conversation, knowledge and passion for the area makes the trip worth it as he enlightens me to the best places the Gila has to offer. Plus I have to take time to thank him in this blog for the beer :-)

Till tomorrow all...Bangarang!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 6... Trail goes Missing... I find the Gila

Woke up bright and early and instantly made a run to see if my food supply was safe. It was and I'm happy to also report that Marmot slogan is correct and "for life" is just not a line they use. I have no idea how my bivy survived with me tossing and turning on lava rocks all night but it did without a scar. Camp is broken pretty fast, I can break camp, eat breakfast and be on the trail in about 20min. This helps with letting me either take my time or getting in more miles.

Daryl and Daryl
Re-started out on Tr-96 which does head back to the dreaded NM-15 but not before topping off at 9400ft. I hope to find some good views there. However so far besides these two characters I call Daryl and Daryl its been peaceful morning. So I thought...

I can't tell you how it happens but more than once on this trip...The trail just gets lost or is suddenly no longer a viable option to take. Their seem to me no switchbacks or walk around; it just vanishes or ends with no carirns to guide you. This gets me in places I really don't want to go and you have to be very careful out here. Because being of track one moment could lead you to being lost forever and dead the next.

There is no doubt I am lost now but I took a heading last from the Daryl's so I can always backtrack and find their spot again. Plus when you prepare and have food and water that will last you days... You really don't care as much. I don't say that "lightly" but you do get a feeling of confidence when you have everything you need to last days as opposed to being without. So I continue where I think the trail should be and either I will find that or NM-15 the way I'm heading. I want to make clear this is not condoning "bush whacking" but it is sometimes the only thing to be done.

As I'm climbing a steep hill with no trail to try and gain an vantage point; my stick that Lily gave me seems to have broken about 1/3 of the way down. Of all the times a stick comes in handy this would be one of them. I vow to myself to keep the stick and to move upward and return it home to Lily. Looking to the south I see what appears to be a fence line and I head for there. Bush whacking goes much slower than hiking for obvious reasons and about 35 min later I find the fence line and the trail right along side of it. Total being lost time is almost 3hrs...

I'm now cruising along TR-96 but rest to write this note in my journal... "I think at one time this National Forest while having shown glimpses of beauty; could never hold J.M's (J.M refers to John Muir) love and does not hold mine.

The trail does end with this nice view of the mountains as I'm back to NM-15 to seek out Alum Canyon as my next destination. It has become the hottest day of my trip so far however  have a strong desire to see Alum and the Gila river itself. So after a snack break and some quick scanning of views; I hit the pavement once again.

Hours pass and it becomes later on in the afternoon. Before I hit Alum's trail head I see a little road that follows the power lines for maintenance. and I decide to take it to see if it will give me a shortcut from a steep hill. Sure enough it does that and more as it gives me the first glimpse of the Gila river. Finally the thoughts of running water and wilderness wildlife look like they could become reality. :-) There is a spot at the top of this road that offers a great view and good size flat clearing that I decide even though early I will rest here for the evening. Excited now and can't wait to get down there and see what its made of. The sky has a "bangarang" sunset.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 5 Pt. 2... Bear Concerns on a clear starry night

Me no like lava rock
Heading on 96 was not the most glorious trail but it had nice views compared to the road. It was a non-standard trail with all the ankle busting lava rock I could find. It really started with a tremendous hill but after that had some tricky moments on the first half. All those training trips from Sentential Peak to Tumamoc Hill seemed to prepare me nicely for lava rock. In case you haven't picked up on it... I hate lava rocks as they seem to slide, break and never ever have the ability to stay stable in the ground.

About 4 miles into the journey things level off and I see a very nice view of the lake Robert's. Its a good time just to look around and take in the views of what I've just sped past. So many times I'm rushing or focused on attacking a hill that I loose track of the views. I try and stop often but mainly that is because I'm a solo hiker and worry about mountain lions etc... There are many things I wanted out of this journey. To try and slow down was one of them, so far I have not done a good job of it. However I was proud of myself that I even noticed the lake below :-)

Coming upon evening very fast and wishing to set up camp at the half way point. A huge cairn greets me there; the only one on the entire trail. This will be my first bear bag hanging in a long long time. It took me a bit of time but was able to make it work before dark. It reminds me that just one hungry bear encounter that I'm not prepared for could ruin my entire trip. Just thinking about having to go back the way I came for a re-supply makes me feel very uneasy about the way I'm doing it. Still I'll take my chances and continue to improve my technique.

After setting up camp away from the bag I have general concerns. There is really nothing but lava rocks so will my bivy tear? Is the bear bag hung correctly enough? How cold will it be up here? These concerns are really just minor because being on the trail is just plain fun. Plus I am prepared for every thing that comes my way not only from my years as a boy scout (Thanks to scoutmaster Kris Fimbres) but in general via home testing equipment, reading and experience on shorter outings. Still until you actually can be out here doing it over and over again, you become a little concerned.

BTW...I refuse myself a campfire this entire trip because everything like in Arizona it is so damn dry and always windy. One of the benefits to that is stars look terrific up here; I spend hours watching them. The moon not near as powerful when my journey started; still rises with strong intentions of filling the sky with its light. It is only then I sleep in earnest, no longer mesmerized by the details of the Milky Way.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Day 5 pt. 1 ... Lake Roberts

Pre-dawn found me confronted with an eerie and most uncomfortable situation...Complete silence. I mean nothing not a single noise was present. For me this is interesting yet made me feel uneasy as I'm used to something, anything in the back round or even in the distance. Alas nothing heard for at least 45min and it kinda creep-ed me out. It was a relief when I started to hear the beginnings of morning.

Boot Bouquet
  The start of morning found me in much better spirits as I was cheered up by the sounds of wild turkeys. Wild turkeys are awesome looking birds and nothing like the ones you see on Thanksgiving calenders or in pictures. They are wonderful to gaze upon and only after seeing my first, did I understand the Benjamin Franklyn's reasoning in trying to make them our national symbol.

Only 4miles to Lake Roberts and not sweating the water situation. I started shortly after dawn and even though it was not my plan when starting out; decide to spend time at the lake. On the way passed ranches with the familiar "Keep out" signs. Then into a curious boot which I'd seen 5 years earlier on my drive past. Plus I did run across these funny looking guys. They seemed well versed in posing for a camera and tried not to disappoint. Of course the Jackass of the group did not want any part of this photo op.

My first view of the lake is less than stellar but I take time to pose for the pic and hopefully will get to send it to Lily via txt. She after all is part of the reason why I do these hikes. She is no doubt an adventurer at heart and I promised her we would do things like hike, camp and fish when she was old enough. It was shortly after that promise; I realized all my adventurers took place 20yr or more ago. That all the adventures/tasks I'd taken up since then were predicated on what horse race I won or how much art I sold. So needless to say "Dad 2.0" in effect was born so that I would hopefully see my kid at age 50 from the top of mountains instead of a lazy boy chair.

The lake view held no special meaning but I spent time relaxing and seeing wonderful birds and few butterfly. I rested and planned out my day while staying close to the water spout and re-hydrating. I can't explain how when you go ultralight you tax your body; not always having enough water and really pushing yourself to the next source sometimes happens. You run up hills instead of walk and always try to make better time, but it comes with a price... and today I'm paying for it. I may write a page on that so folks understand more on how it works.

Ran into a few homeless campers on there way to Texas for a job. There are more people I met out on this trip that this was there "home" so to speak and they respect the environment far more than the "REI Type" campers Ive met so far. I wanted to enquirer about the "campground host" position here at the lake but realize this lake would not hold my attention for more than a day. However I get to have two meals here and fully unfold my map for viewing. Thus finding a trail that reaches 9300ft and starts just up the road. TR-96 should be a bangarang 10 1/2mile vernight hike. :-) as its well past 3pm before I start out.

Day 4... Have I found great Wildlife or the Land of Dis-Enchantment ?

As morning broke I did a quick accent up 74 to see if there was and water to be found and the view etc. Nothing of interest, so I went down broke camp, and have chosen to continue on NM-15.

Back at Arrastra to encounter a table with three empty bottles of Stella beer. Now while I give these people high marks for their beer of choice; I'm sadden by the litter they have caused. I am truly heartbroken when I see trash on trails and campgrounds. It does more than irk me and makes me realize why I'm not the gun slinging type.

Taking in the sights and ended up having a meal at Ben Lily Memorial. This guy was truly an interesting big game hunter and his thirst for that led him to the Gila where he decided to stay the rest of his life. The Memorial was put in place by " His Friends" who obviously had high regards for this man. I don't expect a memorial at my passing any time soon. Then again you never know what part we hold in history until our last breath is taken.

View from Ben Lily
During my meal and sight seeing the best wildlife of all has shown up. Woman! A mountain biker who is from Australia working with a cycle team getting ready for the "Tour of the Gila". In short we have a nice conversation that I can't remember because I keep drooling over her fit beauty. Oh and I left my "pot gripper" walking down the memorial with her. She complemented me on my backpack and its efficiency and we go our separate ways back on 15.

Back on 15 and making miles now. However I don't understand the magic of the Gila and beginning to think that this is the land of "Dis-Enchantment". This has become my mantra as I pass mile and mile of the same scenery. When an Australian woman is the prettiest thing you see in three days; its time to re-evaluate your trip plans... I'm also facing a water issue as all I find along the way is "pond scum" type things. I am only 11 miles from Lake Roberts / 26 from the Cliff Dwellings, and know I can Re-up my water but night fall is coming fast. I make it down from the pines to where NM-15 and 35 meet and call it a day. About 20 miles in all today and while I feel good physically mental wise I'm convinced this trip is going to be dull and "Dis-Enchanting".  Little did I know what would be waiting for me over the next 10 days.


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