With exactly one week till take off, I just stumbled upon New Zealand Tourism's "Top 10 Instagram spots in 2017."
Which ones are already on OUR itinerary?
Full disclosure: I'm trying to like Instagram. I have an account I use now and then, but as a travel writer I can't help but feel it undermines my chosen field. A click is a click is a click, I suppose, but when you get paid by the word the power of digital photography becomes highly disconcerting. Then again, 375 million active users can't be wrong, and many of the posts I come across are pretty damn cool. That must be why Instagram is making me feel so optimistic about my family's upcoming trip to New Zealand.
With exactly one week till take off, I just stumbled upon New Zealand Tourism's "Top 10 Instagram spots in 2017."
Which ones are already on OUR itinerary?
On the northeastern flank of British Columbia's 2,408-metre Terminator Peak, a group of 10 skiers, some with avalanche transceivers in hand, charge into a small stand of pines.
"Over here!" shouts Martha Handford of Canmore, Alta., as soon as her beeping device locates a buried target. Her Australian rescue partner, Scott Burley, immediately deploys an extendable probe and begins stabbing it into the snow in a spiral pattern. A direct hit is made in less than a minute, prompting the pair to start digging like crazy.
It's a scene that would send chills down the spine of any back-country veteran; thankfully, this isn't a real rescue. There are no physical signs of an avalanche and two ski patrollers in red jackets shout instructions from a groomed trail nearby. If any doubt remains, it evaporates when a member of the group pauses to snap a selfie.
The skiers are in the midst of a weekend-long avalanche skills training (AST) course run by Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. The six men and four women, from the ages of 23 to 63, aren't locals or staff. All of them are here on vacation.
Until quite recently, most resorts did little or nothing to educate visitors about avalanche avoidance and survival. Ski areas such as Kicking Horse spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on snow-safety measures such as forecasting, signage, fencing and ballistics, but they aren't technically responsible for the terrain outside their boundaries or for lift-ticket holders who choose to enter it. So safety training for guests was typically left to third-party outfitters and alpine organizations.
What has changed? Back-country skiing has exploded in popularity in the past decade, so now many of the resorts that tacitly enable the inherently risky activity are working harder to educate resort skiers on back-country safety. Most of British Columbia's big resorts – Kicking Horse, Revelstoke, Whitewater, Sun Peaks and Whistler Blackcomb, to name a few – have all been expanding their snow-safety education programs in recent years.
"We're at the start of a shift in resort mentality," says Sean Nyilassy, a member of Kicking Horse's mountain safety department who leads the weekend-long programs. "From our boundaries, you can instantly enter uncontrolled back-country terrain, where inexperienced or uneducated skiers can run into trouble. We still see a lot of people out of bounds without the proper equipment, and for every 10 we see there are 100 who get away with it. This puts our guests and our rescue personnel at risk. But with the proper education, the risk goes down."
Snow-safety education got a shot in the arm in 2004 when Avalanche Canada's headquarters opened in the town of Revelstoke, B.C., 150 kilometres west of Kicking Horse down the TransCanada Highway, the aptly nicknamed "Powder Highway." Among much else, the NGO issues daily avalanche forecasts for Canada's most popular back-country regions via its website and smartphone app – both of which are invaluable AST tools – and shapes AST curriculum. Revelstoke is a fitting home for the centre, given that snow safety is such an inescapable fact of life in this part of the world. A few blocks away, the Land of Thundering Snow exhibit at the Revelstoke Museum & Archives explores avalanche research and snow science, with an online component that focuses on skier safety both in and out of bounds.
Ten years after Revelstoke hosted its first course, a variety of AST programming occupies just about every weekend from December to March. A day-long companion rescue skills course, meanwhile, is designed to refresh rusty skiers and educate time-crunched visitors.
Then there's the "Avalanche Ranch," which Revelstoke unveiled in 2014. The wireless transceiver training area, the first of its kind in Canada, occupies a hockey rink-size basin at the top of the resort's busiest lift and allows skiers to hone their transceiver and probe skills. "This is as much about awareness as it is about ability," explains avalanche forecaster Chad Hemphill. "It gets the seriousness of back-country safety across more effectively than a bunch of signs."
Hidden under the snow blanketing the Ranch are eight targets. Each is toggled on or off at a junction box, and when each is struck the box emits a loud beep. Hemphill's demonstration draws the attention of several youngsters, who shout encouragement to the target-seeking travel writer struggling through waist-deep snow.
Young skiers such as these, and their worried parents, are the focus of other resort-based programs such as Whitewater's month-spanning "Avalanche Awareness Beyond the Boundaries" – a free course now in its seventh year – and Sun Peaks' All Mountain Skills weekend camp, which launched in 2014.
"What do kids want to do? They want to duck the rope and ski out of bounds. And I would say the vast majority of them are unprepared," says Bodie Shandro, who runs Sun Peaks' camp. "Kids show up and say, 'I'm here because my dad says I have to be here,' but by the end of the day, they're totally into it."
READ THE REST OF THE STORY IN THE GLOBE AND MAIL (AND FIND OUT WHERE YOU CAN TAKE AN AST COURSE)
Second marriages, second winds, second chances, split-second miscalculations — if I had to ascribe a theme to the last few months of 2017, it would be "The Summer of Other People's Babies."
Being an uncle, both formally and informally, offers the best of both worlds when it comes to infant exposure: All the fun and cuteness with none of the diaper-changing and Pack N’ Play deployment.
If there's one aspect of early fatherhood I do not miss, it is the late-night set-up of the latter. Indeed, it seems like only yesterday that I placed this (entirely fictional) call to Graco's (entirely fictional) help line:
• Welcome to Pack N’ Play customer support! For help deploying your folding crib, press “1” or say “deploy.”
• For help extracting your Pack N’ Play from the overstuffed trunk of your car, press “2” or buy a minivan already.
• If your Pack N’ Play is sitting in a twisted heap in the middle of your in-laws’ spare bedroom, press “3” or swear loudly.
(Sound of “1” being pressed)
• Crib deployment. Before you begin, remove any sharp or dangerous objects — or heckling in-laws — from the room. Also, good luck deploying your Pack N’ Play while holding a phone.
• Remove the Pack N’ Play’s nylon cover (assuming you haven’t lost it) and stand the crib on one end. Then remove the mattress pad by releasing the Velcro tabs. If you’re having trouble this early on, you should probably give up and put junior to bed in the bathtub.
• Next, splay the four legs. Even though it’s jutting up into your face, resist the temptation to push down on the centre of the crib. If you do, you’re screwed.
• Snap the four side bars into place by alternately twisting, pulling, shaking and bashing the central button thingy. Then push down on the (badly damaged) central button thingy until the crib is fully unfolded.
• Put the mattress pad in the bottom of the crib with the “soft” side facing up, and place the fitted sheet over the mattress pad. What fitted sheet, you ask? Don’t worry, the bare pad isn’t nearly as uncomfortable as it looks. To continue, press “pound.”
(Sound of “pound” being pressed)
Congratulations on deploying your Pack N’ Play! Don’t forget to put a child in there at some point.
If, however, you have become trapped inside the Pack N’ Play, please hang up and call 911.
How much wetness and/or wildness does $25 million get you? That’s the amount Oklahoma-based Premier Parks spent on upgrading the former Wild Water Kingdom in Brampton.
The answer: A lot. In addition to renaming and revamping its three blackout rides and two high-speed slides — both of which deliver seven-storey drops — the recently reopened and renamed Wet ‘N’ Wild Toronto has added a host of new pools and rides.
The towering “Bear Footin' Bay” play structure, for instance, is festooned with sprayers, slides and a giant tipping bucket. My daughters were nimble enough to avoid being soaked by the latter, and could not have been happier when my own nimbleness fell short. However, their gleeful mockery would only sweeten my inevitable revenge.
This watery intro also primed us for "Hurricane" and "Typhoon," a pair of tandem-tube slides that quickened our pulses and whetted our appetites for two of the main attractions: "Krazy Kanuck" and "Caribbean Chaos," which rise together over the former site of a mini-golf course.
Krazy Kanuck was relatively tame, taking as many as five inner-tube riders down back-to-back curves, drops and vortex loops. We tried it a few times, and soon determined that whizzing down backwards increased the fear factor substantially.
Once the girls had built up their nerve, we took the other staircase up to Caribbean Chaos. This slide builds anticipation with an enormous scream-reflecting wall that looms over the entrance to the waterpark. It proved to be just as thrilling as it looked, especially for my daughters who, at my subtle request, were sent down backwards by the ride attendant. As we rocketed up the watery wall and felt gravity loosen its grip, their wide eyes and delighted screams made me grin triumphantly. Revenge was sweet indeed!
A few of the new attractions were still under construction during our visit: Oh Canada!, a free-fall slide with a 360-degree loop; and Klondike Express, side-by-side racing tunnels that loop and drop. The new Wet 'n' Wild Jr. play area, meanwhile, was shunned as being “for babies,” although I did like the look of the shady deck chairs. Thankfully, dozens more were arrayed around the half-million-gallon "Big Surf" wave pool, which is surrounded by the "Muskoka Soakah" lazy river.
For GTA-based families who want to combine watery refreshment with watery excitement, Wet ‘N’ Wild fits the bill nicely as the only good-sized standalone waterpark in the area. Just remember to beware the bucket!
WHERE TO STAY
The new Courtyard Toronto Mississauga/West is less than 15 minutes by car from Wet 'N' Wild, and features a full-service restaurant and lounge where you can refuel post-waterpark.
Travel elicits many emotions, from awe to anger and from upgrade ecstasy to gift-shop remorse. But over the course of my Canadian wanderings there’s something more: Pride. That's what this daily series is all about: Sharing my proud perspective on the places and experiences that make my country the greatest on Earth. Some of my selections are world-famous, others are little-known, a few are acquired tastes, and this one is a shout-out to my distant simian ancestors.
As I lunge into thin air on Blue Mountain’s new Timber Challenge high ropes course, I can’t help but wish I was back on my Segway.
A few hours earlier, I took a 90-minute Mountaintop Segway Tour, another of the Collingwood resort’s new summer diversions. Since June of 2012, a small fleet of the two-wheeled, self-balancing oddities — fitted with knobby tires for off-road rides — has been whisking visitors along gravel paths and forest trails atop the Niagara Escarpment.
These quirky excursions, along with an 18-hole mini-putt course carved into Blue’s ski slopes and the child-friendly Woodlot low ropes course, represent the biggest expansion in summer activities at the resort since the Monterra golf course opened in 1989.
By Hole 7 of the Cascade Putting Course, my two year old daughter finally learns not to run ahead on every hole, pick up all the golf balls, and deposit them in the various water hazards. For the remaining holes she agrees to tee off with our family foursome, but swings her putter with such abandon that it makes contact not once, not twice, but thrice, with my groin.
The Segway tour is much less stressful. Apart from some good-natured ribbing by passing mountain bikers — “Dude, you lost your pedals!” — it is a serene, near-effortless experience punctuated by the occasional need to steer around a tree root or wedding photo shoot.
“It’s something most people have never tried before, and just about anyone can do,” says Blake Beauchamp, my enthusiastic 20-year-old guide who, after just a few weeks on the job, has honed his Segway skills to the point where he can navigate the entire 7-kilometre route “with no hands.”
The high ropes, however, require the full use of my extremities. After another twenty-something shows me how to buckle my safety harness and use a pair of carabiner-style clips to stay secured to safety cables, I set out on the confidence-boosting wooden catwalks of a beginner course, one of seven increasingly difficult routes, graded green, blue and black, that serve up more than 75 aerial obstacles.
To move up to the blue level, I must complete at least one green track, which, once I get into the Zen-like rhythm of clipping and unclipping, is a fun yet easily surmountable challenge. I consider trying another green course but, with my family freshly arrived to cheer me on, I whiz down the concluding zip line and head straight for Blue No. 1.
Read the rest of the story in the Toronto Star.
Travel elicits many emotions, from awe to anger and from upgrade ecstasy to gift-shop remorse. But over the course of my Canadian wanderings there’s something more: Pride. That's what this daily series is all about: Sharing my proud perspective on the places and experiences that make my country the greatest on Earth. Some of my selections are world-famous, others are little-known, a few are acquired tastes, and this one is once again home to some of the finest milkshakes on the planet.
As I approached the summit, one final hurdle lay ahead. It wasn't the steep, crumbling slope under my feet. Nor was it the blazing midday sun. No — as I climbed the dune in Eastern Ontario's Sandbanks Provincial Park, my greatest challenge was the all-dressed bacon cheeseburger, onion rings and chocolate milkshake I had just devoured outside the snack bar.
Just as mountaineers acclimatize to altitude, I stopped and waited for the grease rush to subside. Then, heartened by what awaited beyond the dune's 10-metre peak, I scrambled up the sandy mound, paperback in one hand, towel in the other.
I had seen the view from atop the dunes dozens of times before, either on a sand-seeking expedition out of Toronto, or on "Picton Day," the June exodus of class-cutting teens from my former hometown of Kingston. On this perfect summer Saturday, it encompassed blue skies, calm Lake Ontario waters and white sands framed by stands of eastern cottonwood trees, a picture that solidified Sandbanks as my favourite Canadian beach. The sand and scenery of some East and West Coast beaches may compare — PEI's Cavendish and Vancouver's English Bay spring to mind — but Sandbanks' summer is reliably hot and sunny, and the water is fresh, calm and surprisingly warm. If, like me, you often crave a splashy game of paddle ball — that free-form, co-ed pursuit of the Frisbee-fatigued — you'll only be up to your waist in water more than 100 metres offshore, owing to the three beaches' gentle, child-friendly slope out of East Lake (which is actually a bay).
Unlike much of surrounding Prince Edward County, which has seen a spate of development in recent years, little has changed at Sandbanks since I first arrived here in someone else's parent's minivan more than 25 years ago. The drive past the main entrance still winds pleasantly through thick maple forest. The aforementioned snack bar still serves up the thickest milkshakes around thanks to the staff's perennial lack of blender-awareness. And on a prime summer weekend, the park's Outlet, Sandbanks and Campers beaches are still busy, but not maddeningly so. After all, there's plenty of real estate: The 11 kilometres of beaches and dunes form two of the largest freshwater bay-mouth sandbars in the world.
Arriving at noon, it was easy to find a sunny spot devoid of errant Frisbees and sand-encrusted toddlers. Spreading out mats and towels, and unfolding lounge chairs — my wife Angela and I are confessed beach-accoutrement addicts — we settled into an afternoon of doing very, very little.
Once again, I noticed that time and sound perform strange tricks when one is prostrate on the beach. A lively conversation among a group of nearby teenagers — "Dude, man, my wakeboard is sick!" — soon became a melodious trickle interspersed with the noise of splashing kids and squawking gulls. This was followed by an irresistible snooze, a groggy awakening and feigned surprise that two hours had passed in what felt like five minutes.
Read the rest of the story in the Globe and Mail.
WHERE TO STAY
If camping or B&Bs aren't your thing, the TownePlace Suites Belleville is 45 minutes away by car and features suites with full kitchens, an indoor pool and hot tub, and free Wi-Fi and breakfast.
Travel elicits many emotions, from awe to anger and from upgrade ecstasy to gift-shop remorse. But over the course of my Canadian wanderings there’s something more: Pride. That's what this daily series is all about: Sharing my proud perspective on the places and experiences that make my country the greatest on Earth. Some of my selections are world-famous, others are little-known, a few are acquired tastes, and this one celebrates spots that are literally out of this world.
I dream of venturing into space one day, but unless my script for Mostly Amazing: The Movie gets picked up it doesn’t seem likely to happen.
The next best thing: Gazing deep into the cosmos through a powerful telescope in Jasper National Park. Jasper isn't the world's largest dark sky preserve anymore — having lost the title to nearby Wood Buffalo National Park in 2013 — but it's still one of the most compelling places to stargaze thanks to dozens of designated observation sites that are both free of light pollution and jaw-droppingly scenic.
I had a chance to visit with Ryan Bray, Jasper’s digital media specialist, in April of 2014, and was enthralled by his demonstrations of time-lapse and astronomical photography. (I mean, just look at the photos by Bray and his colleagues displayed above.)
Bray is among the interpreters at the 2017 Jasper Dark Sky Festival. Now in its ninth year, the nine-day fest kicks off on Oct. 13 and typially includes an astronomer-led tour of the gargantuan Columbia Icefield, as well as free and ticketed events encompassing live orchestral music, themed dinners, and plenty of organized astronomy and photography.
Another compelling nighttime option: The Maligne Canyon Icewalk (pictured below). I have already picked my way across the frozen river at the bottom of the 20-metre-deep limestone chasm with a Jasper Adventure Centre guide, and was struck by the countless spring-fed icefalls and caves formed by warm air vents. It was gorgeous in daylight, so I can only imagine how it would look under a full moon with a headlamp illuminating the icy canyon walls.
WHERE TO STAY
Out-of-province visitors to Jasper will likely pass through Edmonton, where the upscale Delta Hotels Edmonton Centre Suites offers a “Best Rate Guarantee” for Marriott Rewards members.
Travel elicits many emotions, from awe to anger and from upgrade ecstasy to gift-shop remorse. But over the course of my Canadian wanderings there’s something more: Pride. That's what this daily series is all about: Sharing my proud perspective on the places and experiences that make my country the greatest on Earth. Some of my selections are world-famous, others are little-known, a few are acquired tastes, and this one celebrates reason No. 87 why we should all celebrate the bicentennial of the bicycle’s invention...
High atop the Niagara Escarpment, the Brock Monument seemed as lofty and enchanting as Shangri-La when the rain clouds parted and it came into view. The cycle path was mercifully gentle as we started climbing toward the 19th-century stone column, but then again, we were hauling a pair of bike trailers containing two infants, their overnight paraphernalia, our luggage, and the spoils of visits to various tasting rooms. And we were running late for our Sunday afternoon train. This Niagara wine tour was turning into quite the adventure.
Fact is, the words "adventure" and "Niagara wine tour" rarely appear in the same sentence. These jaunts typically involve leisurely drives or bicycle rides between the peninsula's bucolic vineyards (often book-ended by gruelling journeys along the infamously busy Queen Elizabeth Way). But it's amazing what the presence of two eight-month-olds - and the Bike Train service from Toronto - can do.
On Saturday morning, Michael, Allana and Olive Lagimodière pulled up in front of Union Station just as my wife, Angela, was extricating Ava from her car seat. Since we knew we'd be carting all our gear around by bike, there were no Jolly Jumpers or Electro-Magnetic Baby Hypnotizers in the satisfyingly small pile of luggage taking shape on the sidewalk. Just one backpack and bicycle per person, along with a plastic-wrapped, unassembled tandem bike trailer from Mountain Equipment Co-op. (We planned to rent another one from Zoom Leisure in Niagara-on-the-Lake.)
After checking in, we proceeded to Platform One, where our ride - a 56-passenger Via Rail car - was being boarded by Spandex-clad keeners and more casual cyclists such as ourselves. A few toddlers could be spotted milling about, but Ava and Olive were definitely the youngest passengers.
The Bike Train differs from Via's usual Toronto-Niagara Falls run in that it includes a luggage car fitted with bike racks. It's the brain child of Justin Lafontaine, who came up with the idea during a cycle tour of Niagara in April, 2006. At that time, Lafontaine found there was no convenient way for car-less cyclists to transport bikes to the region from the Toronto area. After forging partnerships with the City of Toronto, Government of Ontario, Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce and Via, the Bike Train made its first, sold-out run in the summer of 2007.
Read the rest of the story in the Globe and Mail
WHERE TO STAY
NOTL is an ideal day trip from the hotel, gaming and sightseeing hub of Niagara Falls, where the Courtyard Niagara Falls is walking distance from the famous falls and from and both casinos.
Dear Moment Factory,
First of all, congratulations on Aura. Your new sound-and-light show in Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica is the trippiest thing I’ve seen since the Division Bell Tour. To be fair, that ‘93 Floyd show was, ahem, enhanced somewhat, so Aura may well be the most mind-boggling spectacle I’ve ever witnessed. And I went to Kosmic three times in the nineties!
Aura was spellbinding in the same way that The Exorcist is terrifying. I’m not a religious person, but by augmenting the Basilica’s abundant Christian iconography with your nifty projectors you established a suitably reverent tone. I mean, Christ’s radiant heart was striking enough in an oil painting, but when it started glowing, and then beating — complete with audio effects — I started looking around for a crucifix to brandish during the 20-minute introductory walk-through. When I couldn’t find one, I asked for directions to the chill-out room.
As with any visit to the Basilica, my gaze kept returning to the illuminated high altar, choir stalls and altarpiece, what with all the saintly statues, decorative woodwork and soaring vault festooned with angels and stars.
But all this was nothing — nothing — compared with what followed. After taking a seat in the pews, my attention was directed to the ornate sanctuary in front of me where, basically, the Basilica went off.
It started quietly enough, with spotlights falling on various works of art and animating the statues. As the orchestral music swelled, the vault suddenly morphed into a giant glass dome through which falling leaves and dancing snowflakes could be seen. The rain, thunder and lightening of spring dramatically concluded the seasonal second act, with rising waters appearing to inundate the Basilica — rather presciently, it turns out — and then shatter the virtual glass high above. My head felt like it was on a swivel, à la Linda Blair, when dozens of laser beams shot out from near the altar toward the back of the nave, where the 32-foot-tall Casavant Frères organ dutifully unleashed its 7,000 pipes upon me.
Honestly, I’m feeling a bit buzzed just writing about it! As you’ve already done with the Atlantic City Boardwalk and the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona — and, more recently, with the wintry Lumina Borealis in Kingston — you really hit this one out of the park.
Trust me, I’m not trying to flatter you. Aura was a sensory treat I’ll never forget. So, on that note, I have a favour to ask: Can you help with my Halloween decorations this year?
Think of it as a challenge. Aura was impressive, sure, but the Basilica gave you plenty to work with. Now, imagine how you could transform the plain brick facade of an outrageously overpriced Toronto semi!
Aura’s widely venerated setting probably prevented you from doing everything you wanted. (I can only imagine the conference calls with the Archdiocese.) At my place, however, you’ll have full creative license to traumatize young and old as you please! Why stop at a roof-shattering flood when sharks, zombies or even shark-riding zombies could come pouring in? Throw in a couple of orange-haired vampire presidents, and...
Sorry for getting ahead of myself. I’m sure you have your hands full with your upcoming $39.5-million illumination of Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge, so I don’t expect an immediate reply. And if you’re somehow unable to complete our project by Oct. 31, please don't worry: My saggy inflatable Santa could use your help, too.
Adam “Roland Doe” Bisby
The unlimited waffles and climate-controlled pool decks of airport hotels — the subject of March Break Hacks, Part 1 — can only sustain a family getaway for so long. Sooner or later, the brood will want a change of scenery. That’s where a road trip comes in.
Not a long road trip, mind you. Glance out a window in Toronto today, and a lengthy drive seems about as appealing as watching all four Highlander sequels. If we’re going to continue our theme of frugal, fun and stress-free March Breaks, I suggest hitting the highway for no longer than 2.5 hours. (This, by the way, is exactly how long it takes to play “I Spy” a dozen times, debate the relative merits of seven different superpowers — invisibility all the way, right? — and solve 14 riddles, including my new fave: “One night, a king and a queen went into a castle. There was nobody in the castle, and no one else went in or out. But in the morning, three people came out of the castle. Who were they?” NB: The correct answer has nothing to do with childbirth or an unusually short gestation period.)
Two-and-a-half hours also happens to be the exact duration of the drive between the Hilton Garden Inn Toronto Airport West Mississauga and our second March Break stop: The Residence Inn by Marriott Kingston Water's Edge.
If the brood wanted a change of scenery, they got it. While the Hilton Garden Inn is conveniently close to Pearson International Airport — and is therefore bereft of any geographical charm — our seventh-floor corner suite at the K-Town Marriott scenically overlooked Battery Park (pictured above), Kingston Harbour, the Royal Military College of Canada, the Fort Henry National Historic Site and, in the distance, the strikingly surreal turbines of the Wolfe Island Wind Farm.
As I reported in the Globe and Mail, Fort Henry is now home to the enchanting “Lumina Borealis” sound and light show (see video below), which has been deservedly extended by nearly a month to March 18. Indeed, the only thing preventing a second visit to the fort was the ridiculous subzero weather. Thankfully, as in Mississauga, that’s where the hotel’s saltwater pool, hot tub and saunas came in. Then, when we started to resemble raisins, my folks rolled into town to provide a kid-free night out: Some refreshing shopping along Princess Street, a leisurely dinner at Chez Piggy, and cocktails and tunes at Tango Nuevo.
Now that’s what I call a family getaway...
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