First paddle with the Motionize Edge

I bought a Motionize Paddle Edge, a combination of hardware and software (iPhone app) that is supposed to analyze your paddling stroke and give you real time feedback. Unfortunately it came the day before I left for my western vacation, so I didn’t get a chance to try it out. But I’m back now, and so today was the first chance to try it out. We were heading out to the bay for an interval session, which is probably not the best place to try this out, because the boat wakes make it hard to maintain any sort of consistency in your paddling.

Setting it up was very easy, except for one thing: I couldn’t get it to see my Wahoo TIKR heart rate strap. Wahoo Fitness sees it, and so does Apple Health, but the Motionize App couldn’t. I tried a few things they suggested to no avail. Spoiler alert: at the end of the session, I tried again and it seemed to pair. I’ll let you know if I get heart rate info next time. In the app, I had to tell it information about me, about my boat, and about my paddle (including length and offset). I also went in and configured it so that two of the fields are showing different information than the default – I wanted my heart rate and stroke rate to be on there, although, like I said, I didn’t get heart rate actually working this time. Hopefully next time. I wish there was an option to have a second screen of data, because I would have liked additional data.

Boat setup

The hardware consists of a sensor that goes on your paddle (that putty colored box just to the right of the center) and a sensor that goes on your boat (a similar putty colored box that goes close to the centerline in front of the cockpit). Both of those attach to mounts that stick on with double sided tape. There is also a RAM universal mount, which I’ve attached just below the bungees. The Motionize comes with two leashes with small carabiners, one a extra security for the boat sensor, and one for your phone case. You can see my Epic Gooper case is tied in but not in the RAM mount because I was using my phone to take the picture. The paddle sensor doesn’t have a leash, it has a built-in rubber band that acts as the secondary security for that.

So once you’re ready to paddle, you go into the app and select which boat and paddle profile you want (you can store multiple – you can probably buy extra mounts for your other boats and paddles) and start the workout. The orange buttons on the paddle sensor can be used to switch between screens in the app and pause and end the session. I didn’t try using it to start the session, but it would a really good thing if it did have that ability.

Ok, first thing that happens is I get this graph that is a little hard to understand, but it’s telling me that my paddle strokes are around 1.3-1.5 meters long (don’t worry, Americans, it starts off in non-metric units, I switched it) and that I’m getting around 2.1 meters of boat travel per stroke. Also, when I’m not working too hard, my stroke rate is around 60 strokes per minute. Also, if I hit the button on the paddle, I can get a live top view of where my paddle is entering and exiting the water. It’s displaying the actual optimal zones for where you want that to occur, and mostly my entries are in the good zone but my exits are a bit too far back. That’s something obvious to work on. One thing I noticed is that if you’re on a big side wave and your paddle enters the water up above the nominal water line of the boat, it doesn’t seem to record that as an entry until the wave passes far enough that your blade is now below the nominal waterline of the boat. Not sure if that’s an error or not.

The second thing that I notice is that in bright sunlight it’s often really hard to see my screen, especially when we were heading north up the Bay. Mike suggested I rig up some sort of shade over the phone – or maybe there’s some anti-glare screen cover? I don’t know, I’ll need to experiment. Later on when we turned in a different direction I had no problems reading it.

10 minutes or so into the warm up, the app completely froze up. I had to go back to the dock and kill the app and restart it, and it lost all the workout. But I’m keeping in mind that this is early days with the app, and hopefully they’ll fix whatever caused that soon.

But it recorded the rest of the workout just fine. During intervals, I discovered that my stroke isn’t changing much, which is good, although my stroke rate is going up to nearly 80. Still getting 2.1 meters of boat travel per stroke, which seems like good news to me.

At one point during the workout, the app flashed up a coaching screen that said to keep my eyes forward instead of down. Ok, first, how did they know? And second, of course my eyes were down, I was trying to see what this app was telling me! Also at the very end, on the workout summary, it said “Catch water with a full blade”, along with a little diagram that appears to diagramming pushing the blade down into the water on the catch.

One slightly concerning thing is that I started the workout with a fully charged phone, and a few minutes before the end my phone popped up the “20% battery, should I go into low power mode” dialog. Hopefully whatever is causing the app to suck down battery life like that will be fixed soon, or it was just an anomaly caused by the freeze-up. We’ll see.

SessionScreenshot

After the workout, you can see the aforementioned “Catch water with a full blade” coaching tip. I think they mean to make sure I’m really burying the blade before I start to pull, which is something I’ve worked on for years. The other thing it is telling me is that I need to get the blade out of the water quicker. Again, that’s not news. What is news is that I seem to be planting the left catch a tiny bit further forward than the right catch. I can see this sort of thing being really useful doing drills on flat water. Further down, the map has some colour coding on my route that I’m not sure about. On the app, as opposed to on this screenshot which is sends when you tell it to share your workout, the map has a bar at the bottom showing a color bar that goes from green to red, but it says “Fastest: 36.00 mph” on the green side and “Slowest: 0.21 mph” on the red side. I guarantee you that I never went 36.00 mph – Garmin Connect says my top speed was 12.0 km/hr. Also I can’t really match up the green or the red parts of the line with the fast parts of my graph from my Garmin. But I do want to highlight that one place where they are displaying things in miles per hour as a bug to be fixed.

Not related to Motionize, but I’m really sore from my trip. I don’t know if I’ll go do a technique session tomorrow or just rest, but I’m definitely not going to do the Wednesday Night time trials.

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Gorge Downwind Championships, Race Day

I’m writing this the day after race day because I was too demoralized and tired to write it on the day.

Friday was declared to be race day. The race organizer described the predicted wind conditions as “nuclear” and far bigger than anything we’d seen so far. I had signed up for the long 14 mile race back when I actually had confidence in my abilities, and I briefly considered changing to the 8 mile short course after evaluating my pathetic abilities and the forecast, but as Carter Johnson the race organizer said when I wondered if it would be too “gnarly” for me to do the full race, the “gnar” actually starts after the short course start.

Driving out to the start, it was cool and overcast, which are not conducive to making big waves, but what I saw on the river was already pretty gnarly. Not just in the famous “Swell City”, but also in the early parts of the race.

Brief note about geography here. All the runs I’ve done all week have started at Viento on the Oregon side of the river. Viento is pretty close to the top of Swell City, which is mostly on the Washington side. It’s also at a bend in the river – that’s probably what spawns Swell City as the wind goes around the bend. The short course race started on the Washington side of the river at Drano Lake, which is less than a kilometer downwind from Viento, but at the top of Swell City. The long race started at Home Valley, also on the Washington side. Conventional wisdom is that the Oregon side is more benign, especially from Viento to the finish.

At the start, we had to head out perpendicular to the river flow to a hot spot buoy that was most of the way to the Oregon side. I didn’t start hard, and by the time I reached the hot spot I was already nearly in last place. There were some faces I recognized near me and I kept thinking I could catch them and stay with them, but it never happened.

After the turn, I was catching some big stuff. I still don’t understand why but even when I was catching runs I just couldn’t seem to close the gap on anybody. It was discouraging. But worse was that every time I stalled out on a wave with water pouring into my cockpit, yet another person would come cruising by. And as I went on I seemed to be spending more time stalled or bracing for my life and less time linking runs. That’s not to say I wasn’t. There were some memorable long links that almost made it fun. At one point I was on this gigantic wave and I was braking with all my might, but I couldn’t help it and my bow slammed into the wave in front. I was thinking “I hope my camera caught that look of fear just before the camera bent down”, but reviewing the footage afterwards revealed that the camera had already bent on a previous wave so it didn’t catch anything. It was also while I was in that wave that I saw a guy remounting his boat. You’re supposed to offer aid in a situation like that, but I was barely keeping myself upright and I wasn’t going to be any help to anybody else.

So now I’m sore, I’m not having fun and I’m pretty sure that if it continues on this way I’m going to be too tired and miss strokes and fall in a bunch. I’m also pretty sure I’m in last place with the possible exception of the guy who fell in, although the sweep boat isn’t in my peripheral vision. Bailing out at Drano is looking like a good option. There is a bus waiting at Drano to pick up stragglers and as a consolation prize Carter had announced that anybody who abandoned at Drano would receive five beer tickets as a consolation. 

But just before Viento there is a large channel marker in the water, and right there the water calmed down considerably. I’m paddling fine, catching small runs and cruising along nicely. And I’m presented with a dilemma. I can see that it’s still pretty gnarly in the middle of the river, and I have no way to know what’s going to happen when the river bends at Viento. If it stays like what I’m in now, I have a chance of finishing and maybe even clawing my way out of last place. If what I’m seeing in the middle is what I’m going to be in around the bend, I’m going to be in trouble – there is really no place to abandon other than Drano. Abandoning at Viento would be easier, but there is no bus waiting there and I’d have to hitch hike back to the finish in soaking wet clothes.

So I made the hard decision and left the benign easy waves on the Oregon shore and headed diagonally across the waves towards Drano. And man I was glad for all the time I’ve spent in Irondequoit Bay this year because it was pretty confused in there. Big waves coming from two or three angles – I attempted to catch runs on some of the ones that were headed in the right direction, with some small success. It was hard going, but not as hard as earlier. The decision to abandon was getting both harder and easier. As I got near the entrance to the lake, the sweep boat came along side and asked if I was ok. I told him what I was doing. I didn’t realize until I was nearly at the boat ramp that he’d followed me in. He yelled to the bus driver who came down to help me carry the boat that I was the last one, and he could leave. But then he came back and said that there was one more. But that guy came in through the entrance to the lake, landed on the shore some distance before the boat ramp, and then paddled back out. I think he was approached by a fishing boat during that. I heard afterwards from one of the paddlers I met last week that he’d seen somebody on the course who was having trouble with the lock on his paddle – maybe he just needed a wrench or some duct tape to secure it?

So the bus took me (and only me – it’s pretty discouraging to realize you’re the only abandoner in the whole race) back to the start, I retrieved my car and headed to the finish. Driving down I could only see four or five boats still on the course. I retrieved my five beer tickets and proceeded to drown my sorrows (actually I had two or three and attempted to give away the rest, but only got one taker – you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find out that many top paddlers don’t drink, and I was so late to the show that most people had already hit their limit). 

At the finish, everybody was complaining – not about the big stuff that knocked the shit out of me, but about the fact that the wind died and the stuff I liked around Viento continued all the way to the finish. “Just a long up river grind” as one person described it. But I’m good at long grinds – it’s one of my strengths. If only I’d known.

So here I am, sore, tired and very discouraged. The thought that maybe I’m not cut out to be a real surfskier is high in my mind. On the other hand, most of the people I talked to there are far more experienced on waves than I am. I tend to think that because I’ve gone to Tarifa and had clinics with top names that I’m hot shit, but there really isn’t any substitute for experience. The way I see it, either I need to accept my limitations and stick with what I’m good at, or somehow get more experience in this big stuff. I wonder how Vicki would feel about retiring to North Vancouver?

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Gorge Downwind Championships, Day 4

Today was supposed to be the biggest day we’ve seen so far this week, although tomorrow is supposed to be even better. Today I was scheduled to do another run in a double ski, this time with American legendary paddler Carter Johnson. If you don’t recognize the name, check out Joe Glickman’s movie about the US Surfski Championships a few years ago where he points out Carter as being top American. It was Carter’s videos in the Gorge that convinced me to come here. I’m not sure what insane level of organizational skill you need to have to organize a week long event for 300 paddlers and still have time to go out for paddles with people like me, but Carter has it.

The forecast was for it to really start ripping by 3pm. We were scheduled to paddle at 12:30, but the wind actually picked up pretty strongly by the time we got on the water. Carter was understandably in a hurry, so we rushed a bit at the put-in and I forgot to hit start on my GPS, so I don’t know exactly when we got going, but I think it was around 1:15 or so. Also unfortunately, my problems with my GoPro continued so while I thought I’d gotten it started, it actually didn’t record anything. Which is really too bad, because Carter gave a ton of good advice and instruction that I wish I had a record of.

As we were walking down to the beach, he emphasized that we were going to let a lot of waves go – unlike the guys like Dawid and Jasper Mocke or Sean Rice who train 25+ hours a week, we have other jobs and so we have to economize on our paddling and only go for the waves that we can get on easily, not the ones that you have to really dig for. But by picking the right waves, we’d keep our boat speed up and get good rides. And he wasn’t lying – we ended up on huge waves, with Carter holding his paddle and arms up triumphantly over his head while I tried to catch my breath and get a look around.

As we started out, once again I noticed that twitchiness I mentioned yesterday, even before he got in. He tried to calm me down and relax me, and we paddled out at a warm up pace. But then suddenly he would give a signal and we’d sprint like hell, and 4 or 5 strokes later we’d be up on a wave and recovering. His sprints are amazingly fast, and it often took me a couple of strokes to get synced up with him and sometimes I’d barely get one or two strokes in before it was time to stop paddling. He’d point out a wave on our left or right that we were heading to next – unfortunately I relied on my GoPro catching all this stuff, so I’d just make sure my head turned that way with an eye to review it later, and not always taking it all into my consciousness. Carter keep up a complete monologue of what he was looking at and what he was doing. I just wish more of it had sunk in.

We went into Swell City, and it was even more amazing than yesterday. He warned me ahead of time that things looked a little hairy and he might not be able to talk all the time, but for me to watch his body language and try to match him when he needed power or when he needed me to stop paddling. He also reassured me that even if I blew my balance or leaned the wrong way, that I wouldn’t put him off because he could easily overpower me. Well, it turned out that I don’t think anything stopped his monologue. I blew my contribution a number of times when he was putting in huge amounts of power very quickly – sometimes all I could do was try to keep my paddle from dragging and just watch what he was doing. At least this time I didn’t clonk him on the back of the head like I’d done with Ryan yesterday – today I was a lot more cognisant that when you’re bracing down a wave front, your up hand needs to be forward rather than equal with the down hand. That’s a lesson I vaguely remember from Tarifa but it had never really been a problem until yesterday (and now today). I’m not even sure how that prevents you from catching a blade so well, but it does.

I spent a lot of time with a bucket full of water. This is especially true when trying going across the waves. Towards the bottom of Swell City, Carter said that the waves were driving us towards the left shore, but we needed to move right. I assumed that was so we could exit the big stuff near the end of the sand spit. But after crossing a few wave fronts and moving right, we seemed to be moving left again. I wanted to ask why we were doing that, but never got a chance. We were so close to the left shore I felt I could have thrown something onto shore. But then we got even further down – almost level with the sand spit. And now we in smaller choppier waves, and we were moving right almost perpendicular to them. We crossed behind the spit and were now in flat water and perpendicular to the wind, and it was suddenly obvious just how strong the wind is – it felt like it would have taken my hat if not for the (unfortunately useless) GoPro head strap. We paddled at what Carter considers a warm-down and what I would call a moderate cruise, and finished in the shallow water of the channel.

Tomorrow is the race day, and the winds are supposed to be strong again. I’m thoroughly intimidated by what Swell City looks like in big wind conditions. They say that there are less intimidating conditions to the right side of the river. The other factor is that after a 7 mile downwind run, I’ve ended up sore and tired and was actually wishing for the end before it came. The long race is 13 miles, but only the last 8 miles is through or beside Swell City. There is also an 8 mile race, but the start line is almost exactly in the entrance to Swell City, on the left side of the river. I could switch to the short race, but it seems like I’d have to go right through at least the early part of Swell City to get to the more benign part of the river. But on the other hand, I’d at least not be tired for that part of the river. I guess I’ll have to make that decision tomorrow morning.

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Gorge Downwind Championships, Day 3

Wednesday was forecast to not be a huge wind day. Thursday and Friday are, but more about that later. But even a “non huge” day in the Gorge is bigger than 90% of what I’ve ever done before. Today was my day to paddle in a double with Ryan Taj Paroz. I was really looking forward to this – I’d get to sit right behind a very skilled downwind paddler and see what he was looking at and get some insights on what he looks for.

Actually getting out in the boat was a bit of a comedy of errors. Kenny, the Epic dealer for San Francisco, supposedly had at least one V10 Double. He pointed out one, and we set it up – we tied in our leashes, adjusted our foot braces, taped on wave deflectors on the front and a big wave shield on the back (my) cockpit, and were ready to go when somebody came along and said “that’s my boat” and we had to take all our stuff off. So Kenny pointed out another double and said “that’s the one”. We set it up, and even got it tied on the rack on the bus out to the put in, and Ryan headed off to change into his paddling clothes when we saw somebody taking it off the rack. We ran over and found that the person taking it off had recognized the boat, texted the owner, and determined that the owner had not authorized us to take it. Finally, a friend of Ryan’s had his own V10 Double and said we could take it. Once again we got this one set up (and it gets faster after you’ve done it a few times – although this guy had a lot of customization that he happily ripped out for us) and on the rack. It was now about an hour and a half later than we’d originally planned, which wasn’t a bad thing because the wind had been building a bit while we faffed around setting up boats.

Unfortunately the heat seemed to have done something horrible to my GoPro and it died a few minutes after we started paddling.

I’ve never been in a double before, and it was a bit strange. At first I had that same sort of shaky reaction like I often do when first starting out in a less stable boat – I think it’s just the visceral reaction to the fact that the boat isn’t just reacting to me, it’s also reacting to Ryan. I think I settled down and relaxed pretty soon after we started paddling, though.

For much of the paddle, I was intensely focused on trying to match Ryan’s stroke. Many times I just couldn’t, though. Part of that is because he’s just a fast paddler, or because I missed the queue that he was about to ramp up the speed and it would take a stroke or two before I was in sync. But one of the things I’d been warned about and which happened a fair number of times is we’d be on a wave, and being in the back I’d be pretty much sinking into the crest of the wave, with water pouring into my cockpit. I had to keep my scupper drain fully open the whole time, and even so I probably had dry feet for 20% of the time. Once or twice I ended up with water almost up to my armpits, and it’s hard to paddle like that, which less match somebody else’s stroke. I’d been warned that I might have to hook my feet in the straps to keep from getting sucked out, but that didn’t really happen.

When we were in sync and I was paddling, I tried my hardest to actually contribute. I didn’t want to just be a passenger. So it was hard work. Ryan was doing a pretty good job at pointing out what “hole” he was aiming for, or where he could see one building to one side or the other. I have to confess that once or twice I thought I saw a “hole” and started paddling, only for Ryan to tell me to wait – I think I was seeing stuff that would have been big enough for a single boat but he was looking for waves long enough to fit a double on. I also worried that I might be leaning into things where it might have been appropriate if it was just me heading for a wave, but maybe not when it was two of us. Ryan didn’t seem to have any problem handling what I was doing, so maybe it wasn’t so bad.

At the end, you pass this sand spit and paddle through a very shallow channel. As we were in the calm water, we were paddling at what I considered a pretty brisk rate. Just as we were finishing up, Ryan asked if I wanted to try a finish sprint. First I said “you mean, this wasn’t it”, and then I said “sure”. He gave us a count down and then just poured on the power. After about three strokes he was moving too fast for me to keep up. He was just a blur. Man I wish I had that on GoPro. He said “that’s what I’ll be doing off the line at the race on Friday”. Wow.

One slight aside: In Tarifa, Boyan taught going for waves by looking at the back face of the wave in front of you. But most other paddlers talk about “nose in the hole”, looking for the trough. Really, it’s not that different. But another difference is that Boyan taught to start accelerating while you’re still nose up on the back of the wave in front of you, but Ryan and most other paddlers say to wait until you feel the tail lift on the front face of the wave behind you. I wonder if that’s just the difference between how strong an acceleration Ryan has versus my weak-ass acceleration.

The conditions were supposedly “not big” – Greg Barton remarked afterwards “I don’t know why I bothered”. But Ryan took me through “Swell City” and the conditions looked plenty big to me. I’m not sure I could have handled it alone. And my muscles are still pretty sore. I’m actually a bit worried about Thursday and Friday – the winds are supposed to be huge. To quote an email from the organization: “Thursday has the potential to get “Nuclear” from 3 to 5 pm out east but with possible lighter winds in the AM when the race would need to start at Home Valley (west). Regardless, Thursday after 3pm is forecasted to be Scary big in most all the Gorge.” and also “Both Thursday and Friday are forecasted to be bigger than anything we have seen this week.” Thursday I’m going to do another double run, this time with Carter Johnson, and we’re going to be done before 3pm. Friday is race day. I suspect that race day I’m going to have to be cautious and stay to the Oregon side of the river.

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Gorge Downwind Championships, Day 2

Early on Day 2, I got an email from the organization saying that the wind seemed to be arriving late, so they were extending the shuttle hours to 5pm. But they were still starting the shuttles at 11am. I contacted Hong, the guy I’d paddled with yesterday to see what his thoughts were – he said he was going to show up at the event site somewhere between 11:30 and 12:00, and we could play it by ear then.

I showed up at exactly 11:30. It was almost dead calm, except very suddenly at about 11:40, the wind started to pick up. Hong showed up, and we were going to go on the next shuttle and hope that it would build by the time we got to the put in, or at least would build as we paddled. But as we were discussing this, Carter came up and said to Hong that if he wanted to on that paddle with him in a double, he was available right at that moment but they’d have to go immediately, right after Carter patched a small problem with the rudder on his double. Ok, I can’t complain about that. so I needed to make alternate arrangements. Bob had already hooked up with another paddler, Jim from Rhode Island, but they agreed to let me tag along.

By the time we got to the put-in, the wind had actually picked up quite a bit. Maybe low by Gorge standards, but certainly conditions that in Rochester we’d be happy to do a downwinder in. And it was obviously building, so it would get bigger and better as we went along. As usual, I had problems with my video gear – the GoPro on my head had an odd display, and pressing the record button did nothing. I didn’t want to spend any time diagnosing the problem, so I just threw it back on my head. At least the GeekPro camera on the front of the boat would work, even if it sucked. As long as the suction mount didn’t wash away.

We started off, and we were catching some good runs. Bob was lagging behind, for some reason, but Jim was well ahead. Jim would wait at regular intervals and things seemed to be working fine. I wouldn’t stop when I caught up to Jim because it was obvious Jim could catch and pass me quite quickly after he started paddling again.

A few minutes after starting, I could see Carter and Hong heading almost perpendicular to the waves towards the nearest shore – I can only assume the patch hadn’t quite worked and they were heading to shore to fix it. Some time later they can charging through and I could hear Carter giving Hung some good instruction.

It was probably 45 minutes into it that Bob managed to work his way off to the left into the biggest stuff and was finally getting ahead of me like he had yesterday. Which means that Jim was waiting for me, not for both of us. I was trying to follow them out to the left, but it was getting to the limit of my ability.

It was about an hour into it that I’d decided that I was right on the edge of my ability, being past the point of fun and into the zone of “I can stay upright, but I’m not enjoying it this much”, and next time they waited for me I was going to ask them if they minded if I moved right into the gentler stuff. But instead, what happened was I ran into a HUGE mat of weeds – it practically stopped me dead. The waves stripped most of the weeds off the bow, but I think I had some on my rudder because suddenly I was broaching on everything. It was terrible, and I was out of control. I was wondering how you clear your rudder when every wave is throwing you sideways and making you brace for your life, when I suddenly fell in. That fixed that problem of the weeds on the rudder – the rudder cleared itself as it ended up out of the water.

But after I remounted, my two “buddies” were way ahead, and way off to the left. There was no way I was going even further into the big stuff just to be able to tell them than I was uncomfortable in that big stuff, so I headed to the smaller stuff on the right. After a bit of time in the smaller stuff, catching some rides and generally putting my mind and body back together, I could have headed into a bit bigger stuff towards the middle, but there’s no way I could do that without a buddy. So I stayed further right than I needed to, paddling in stuff that would have been a highlight on a Baycreek downwind but which seemed light by Gorge standards. I passed a guy and a girl in Think Eze boats who didn’t seem to be catching anything even though there were some waves to catch.

Rather than moving out far enough to go around the sandbar, I just portaged over it. That actually saved about a kilometer of paddling compared to yesterday.

So once again I’ve done only one run, but my muscles are sore. I’m not feeling up to doing a second.

While I was hanging around the finish area, I talked to somebody who said that the Wildeside Relay had finally gone off today, which means that Ryan’s schedule has finally cleared up. I’m hopeful that means we’re going to do our double run tomorrow (Wednesday). The same person said he thinks the actual World Cup race is going to happen on Thursday. I’m hoping that means I get my double run with Carter on Friday or Saturday. Whatever single runs I’m going to do in that time period, hopefully I can do them with Hong or a paddler of similar abilities rather than with buddies who are too fast for me.

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