Friday, April 10, 2009

Double Down and the Return to Duke Camp

Unlike the previous year, my Ironman for 2009 is much earlier in the season. My main hope in doing this, apart from the separate destination, is to avoid much of the hot summer weather needed for training. That means the training needs to come earlier, and that meant lots of biking in February and March. To help facilitate this, I noted that several of my friends who raced in Idaho last year participated in Double Down, which is the brainchild of Bicycle Sport owner Ilan Paltrow. This exercise is stupidity involves biking from Charlotte to Charleston the day before the massive Cooper River Bridge Run 10K, then participating in that run the following Saturday.

The extent of my long rides have of course been the two 112 mile Ironman flavors in California and Wisconsin. Finishing this endeavor, and well enough to keep up with the group and then run the following day, would take a lot of preparation. I had hoped to get at least three century rides in, and maybe do two of them back to back one weekend. That was my hope. Reality did not work that way, but I did get three quality weekends of riding in.

The weekend of March 7th and 8th I began with a 50 mile ride from the Conservancy's Wildflower Glen after a forestry talk I gave to some Scouts. Then the following day I rode the 60 mile Spamerton route with a group and has some serious issues with my right knee. The following weekend I wasn't able to ride at all. That was obviously a cause for concern, so on the 22nd I came out with my first century of the year, a CW solo loop from the Wexford compound into Gaston, York, Lancaster, Union, and back into Mecklenburg. I definitely misfired on my nutrition plan and entered Waxhaw starving and massively hurt. I wolfed down a Triple Whopper there, and the 2000+ calorie meal was enough to get me back home!

For the following Sunday I went out again, trying a route with a lot of unfamiliar roads. It was basically a CW loop heading east out through Mint Hill, along Brief Road, then down to Marshville, swinging SW through to Waxhaw and back in. Since it had rained hard the previous night, the first few hours featured some wet roads. My trusty steed Holman quickly became caked with earthworm guts. It was so bad I had to stop and spend ten minutes removing the guts from the critical components. From there the sun came out and dried the rest of 'em! But it wasn't the sun that killed me; immediately upon heading SW towards Marshville I fought some of the nastiest headwinds of my life for the next 60 miles. Even worse was with the new territory (and a basic cue sheet) I was at the mercy of street signs. At first a twisted street sign sent me down Russell Pope. Then after mile 62 the sign for Tom Williams road was missing, so I plummeted southbound all the way to Landsford Road before the little directional man inside me told me I was in big trouble. Running off the sun, I continued until it crossed into South Carolina. Along the way pitch after pitch tacked into my reserves. Thankfully there I recognized a route # that I could hit further north. So instead of doing 100 miles for the ride, 100 miles put me in Waxhaw. Thankfully I hit my nutrition well this time, anything less would have been a big disaster. The actual route put me in at 123 miles. One final note about the ride to other Charlotte cyclists out there - never ride from Mineral Springs to Waxhaw on Highway 75. Big mistake. The Old Waxhaw Monroe Road is your friend!!!

So for the week leading up to Double Down I did not exercise at all, no running into work, swimming on Tuesdays, lunch running on Wednesday, or group run Thursday night. The anxiety crept into my throat and slowly throttled me. Naturally I watched the forecast like a hawk, and once again winds, and some early rain, were threatening. I made myself a huge pot of spaghetti and fretted how to get all the gear I would need for the trip on me. In the end I decided to wear my CamelBak. I believe I was in bed shortly after 9PM.

Then came 3:33 AM. I rise for the work of man. I had an exact detail of how to prep during the time, including having a big plate of biscuits and gravy. The rain and wind were apparent and perhaps the strongest moment of the day was when I forced myself out the door. Shortly after 4AM my journey had begun. I headed in an easterly direction through my Madison Park neighborhood towards Bicycle Sport, which added a couple of extra miles. At the end of the day, I surmised it would be some serious pocket change!! The thoughts of big disaster were on my mind as I climbed up Brandywine.

Since the email sent out by Ilan in March was BCC'ed, I had no idea who would be participating in this foolish adventure. There were some guys in the shop when I arrived. Apart from Ilan, I did not know the other seven guys who had followed through. It was apparent most of them did know each other, so that was definitely going to be a struggling thing for me, although it is always great to meet new people out on rides. Unfortunately when cyclists ride side to side and chat, they tend to partner with someone they know so they can talk. And of course the odd number meant I was going to be that ninth wheel.

Even though I had technically started, I should now unveil the actual route that I took that Friday. From the shop we coasted down Selwyn and picked up Park Road and headed south. We did have two cars pass us northbound who felt like sharing with us. The first was a guy who yelled out "FREAKS!!!" What, us? Pedaling to Charleston in the dark, at 4AM, with the rain? What's so abnormal about that?!? Another must have been someone known to the group as they said something of the cheering variety. Slowly as we passed Ballantyne the drops ceased, but it was still wet roads. Several of the guys had put on fenders to stop the rooster tails. Off the bat I did not shirk in my duty get my fair share of pulling (leading). For those non-cyclists out there, riding in a group is much more efficient when looking at wind resistance. The hardest job is to be out front and break the wind (not that type of breaking the wind, although several members did not hesitate to break that other type of wind later on). When done, the rider pulling swings off, usually to the left, and lets the train pass. The second hardest job is being in the rear. That's usually when you are the most tired and most likely to be dropped. Naturally that was the HUGE fear of mine for this ride, the weather was just another annoyance.

Since it was still dark, we all took a group pee break on the side of the road around Mile 20 (the mileage I reference here is my mileage, so to get mileages from Bicycle Sport subtract about 2). Look at all of us, pretending like we're a part of the Tour de France!! Ilan was merciless about his short breaks strategy, so it was then back on to Highway 521. My least favorite section of Hwy 521 (that I had known about) is the tough pitch right after the Highway 75 (to Waxhaw) intersection. It was only about three miles following that I was truly venturing into new territory. As we came into Lancaster there was definitely enough light, and shortly after we made our first stop at a "Quick Mart." There we took off most our lights and raingear, and had some nice conversations with a delivery guy. I personally didn't need to get anything in the store. Shortly after our re-committment to the cause we veered off 521 and apart from jumping back on near Heath Springs stayed on local roads until Camden, SC around Mile 70. It was clear by this point we would be blessed with a nice, mostly sunny and just warm enough day. The winds were noticeable, but they were mainly coming out of the WSW so for the journey mostly due south it was more of a soft help than hindrance.

Outside Camden we made another stop at a more "cookie cutter" Quick Mart, all nice and polished like you see around any urban area. There I was able to phone home to the support crew and let her know things were going well. A few days before I had reached enough of a panic that I had planned to quite the ride at Mile 133. I excitedly told Julie that my little man was telling me to go for it, this was my special shot and doing something incredible. After crossing I-20 we veered off on Route 261 and encountered some crap pavement. There were some cool swamps.

I think we passed this swamp around this point
Photo totally stolen from Ilan

Around this time I started to feel quite depleted, which caused some concern, but thankfully I was able to get back into my groove and continue the journey. My gears were starting to mildly squeak, and I was called out on this. That was indeed a gross mistake on my part, as when I last washed Holman off I forgot to relube the chain. Our rag-tag band continued our plunge south, biking through areas becoming more and more rural. The piedmont rollers slowly fell away, although there was one gorgeous climb with Spanish moss hanging off the oaks. After crossing 378 we came closer and closer to hitting the first century mark. Relatively speaking, I did not feel all that bad. The group was keeping a solid pace. Coming out of 521 I noticed my average speed of 15 mph had to be wrong. I guessed there might be something wrong with my bike computer as the cadence was not picking up. It turned out this had to do with the rain, because the cadence did jump back in and the average speed did make more sense. Instead of my standard bike ride where after getting out of town (slower speeds) I ramp up my average then it slowly declines. This ride was nearly the opposite, the group generally increased the speeds the entire way down to Isle of Palms. After that century mark, right before the railroad tracks, we stopped at a very rural Quick Mart. Once again we helped the delivery people get their wares in. We had a discussion about all the beer going in, then it was remarked it was Friday after all. They have to be stocked and ready!

At this point it was clear that my shoulders and arms were beginning to ache and hurt at a much more accelerated rate than my legs. About ten miles down the road we veered off 261 and headed down a very barren stretch showcasing a rural America very few people get to see. I personally knew we were riding alongside of Lake Marion, but we obviously could not see it. Like my comrades in legs, my thoughts were pretty focused on the lunch break in Santee. We then swung around to the NW. Here at Mile 125 Ilan set us out on a packed sand road that was miserable to cycle on. I was worried about Holman's components and the endless fish-tailing in sections that weren't exactly meant to be ridden on a road bike! I did have to get off the bike once, but then I got my groove back and arrived at pavement exhausted! That was about 1.5 miles off road and it really sapped me.

The absolute toughest part of the ride was next, facing stout headwinds for about four miles and then an absolute nightmare crossing Lake Marion straight into the wind. We road adjacent to I-95 on an abandoned bridge/road that was obviously there way before the big interstate. Especially with the climb at the end, I was down into single digits hanging on to threads, dreaming of lunch and rest. Finally we hit downtown Santee, SC and Old Highway 6. There immediately off to the left was the designated lunch location, Wendy's. Oh Wendy, how I LOVE YOU!!!

As massive as the effort was, I tried hard not to quite emulate the massive face-stuffing that was the super large Triple Whopper combo meal at the Waxhaw Burger King several weeks ago. That actually hurt me for the next half hour! With what I felt was some of my last bit of energies I opted for a large chicken club combo. I was then lambasted for my excessive number of small ketchup containers, most of which were indeed wasted. The lunch and rest definitely hit the spot and almost made me feel like a real person again. I did have time to call in with Julie and then send a quick Facebook status update. There were two riders, Paul and Riley, who were apparently over 60 years old, on this ride. Folks were mentioning how Paul definitely danced to his own drum, for some reason he was sitting outside not taking part in lunch. I then was doled out some drugs from the ride doctor. Oh yeah, and before leaving lent out some udder cream and used a fair amount myself. Things weren't exactly super great down there, but hardly in miserable pain either.

Our little band then continued the death march in a general SE direction. We cruised along Old Highway 6 for a little bit then veered off onto Camden Road. Only because we passed an old farmer on his rig going 10 mph down the road was Ilan able to subject us to a second sand road (there was no sign - sound familiar?). This one, Gemini, was not quite as bad, but definitely longer, almost 3 miles. If I may subject my gentle readers to a little more TMI, I was quite concerned at this point, that I had not been able to go #2. I almost thought about stopping on this rural stretch and trying (line was too long at Wendy's for one stall). But I did not. Once again I arrived at pavement (Branchdale Highway) exhausted for all the work that entailed. We then continued on the part of Gemini Road that was paved! From Couch Road we eventually worked our way down to Highway 176.

This is a highway that is deeply ingrained in my soul. During the summer of 2001 I lived several miles down the road while I interned with a GIS group that had spun off from MeadWestvaco. More important than the work, this is when/where I adopted Winston. I will detail my return to Duke Camp later on in this post. Unfortunately we did not stay on Highway 176 long enough to pass the intersection. About 2-3 miles down the road we turned on Highway 311. Ilan was quick to note we made the turn at 3:11PM - how eerie is that?!?

This section was the most maddening part of the experience. There was some serious tailwind action. I quickly lept to the front and was pushing out speeds close to 30MPH. The section turned out to be about 9 miles long though. Not long I was doing 26MPH and realized this wasn't going to cut it. The group then dropped me. I was able to sustain 22-23MPH and keep them in sight. Near the intersection of Old Highway 6 they dropped down so I could rejoin. I was asked if everything was okay. I won't lie, I was kind of pissed off. Here I was putting out the ride of my life, way past 150 miles and 22-26MPH wasn't cutting it?!? I refused to acknowledge there was something "wrong" with me. The next section to Monck's Corner was by far the most depressing. The road was riddled with potholes, the volumes were high, and everyone must have been hurting from that hammer fest. The view was the same and it just kept going on and on. Around Mile 173 and Cooper River Store Rd, the group pleaded to stop. So there we laid next to all the other dead people in the cemetery. Even with my two bottles and CamelBak, I was virtually out of water. About a mile down the way we stopped at the El Cheapo Quick Mart. This was the most lively stop of the bunch, tons of people loitering around. I bought a huge thing of water. It was really rushed though, I still didn't have time to use the bathroom or call in to Julie.

The last 45 miles was the silent death march of Double Down. It wasn't necessarily hard though. I was in the back most of the way. After passing the Huddle House in Monck's Corner that I had made famous in 2001 (for no reason at all), we hopped on 402 and then 41. It was mostly easy riding through/near Francis Marion National Forest. Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox... Keep pedaling. Just keep pedaling. My arms and shoulders hurt like hell. Around Mile 195 or Mile 200 (didn't matter at that point) we stopped somewhere deemed "the middle of nowhere" by AT&T (that is, not worth covering with a cell tower). Route 41 then slowly became more and more urban, especially after crossing the bridge. I momentarily felt like I was in Rhode Island. But thankfully I was much closer to Isle of Palms.

When we got on to the super busy Highway 17, I remarked to Ilan the headwinds we had feared were not coming to pass. That of course, was the kiss of death. Damn you! I had originally thought about just going straight on Highway 17 to Greg's apartment in Mt. Pleasant, but instead I hung a left on the IOP. Riley appeared to be the most hurt of the group, or maybe others were better at lying. I was in a state of "I don't care" at that point. The rise in the bridge was no laughing matter, but the utter sweet smell of the finish line was so close. We made the ceremonial pass by the Windjammer on Ocean Blvd, which would no doubt later play in the week before turning right onto 10th street. There at 10 tenth a small crowd had unrolled some toilet paper as the official finish line. I didn't really know anyone except Colleen and Chris. It was nice to see them and rid myself of this event! Chris had done the ride last year and asked if it was an easy as he thought it was. Really, it was. I believe our local arrival time was 7:15PM'ish, so about fifteen hours total. My computer distance was 217 miles at 12 hours, 42 minutes of cycling. We had finished with a 17.1 MPH average. As Darth Vader would say - "Impressive. Most impressive." The hell with Darth Vader, I wanted a beer. Boy that tasted good!

For some odd reason I thought we would arrive around 9:30, so Julie was in downtown Charleston having dinner with her sister and Will. While I waited I got to meet Redmond's little bundle joy. During the wait I could not seem to locate a copy of the book "Everybody Poops." I then went out to flag down my beautiful driver! We stopped at a Burger King where I wolfed down some more food. We then drove down into Mt. Pleasant the Hibben Ferry Apartments. There we met my friend Greg who was going to host the two of us for the weekend. I first met Greg when we drove down for the Cooper River Bridge run I think in 2005. He is a retired firefighter living in Concord. A couple of years ago he and his wife got this apartment since they enjoy it down here so much!

I definitely felt better than I imagined I would be at this point, but I also knew most of that feeling might indeed be temporary. Did I mention my shoulders and arms were in a lot of pain?!? Ouch. After a good rub that was enough for me to aid in losing consciousness. Ah, soft bed...

Of course, there is no Double Down without the other "half!" On Saturday the alarm clock went off a whole two hours later! I didn't exactly need a lot of time to prep for this one! I was very excited about "finishing the deal." I was feeling okay, but still unsure whether my legs would be able to turn. I was thinking it would probably be acceptable to take an hour for this 10K. Normally a 9:39 pace for this distance would be wholly unacceptable, but c'mon give me a break! Right? We get those? The three of us then drove around Shem Creek and found a nice sidestreet quite close to the Piggly Wiggly on Coleman Blvd. This is about where we waited during the downpour of 2005. At least it stopped around the start...

This is a BIG run. About 40,000 sign up and I would guess about 33,000 start with about 31,000 finishing. Most walk. It has been dominated by the Kenyans of late who have been putting in 28 and change to finish (4:30 pace!!!). In 2005 I ran the last Run on the old bridge, then in 2006 the first edition of the stunning new Cooper River Bridge. My PR for this 10K is 46:43 set in 2006. We made our way to the Starbucks, which was throbbing with thousands of customers. That was our spot to meet up with Will and Emily. After a little waiting that happened. We got some shots, then Greg and I left to find our way to our respective corrals. I'm sorry, but this race is the biggest clusterf&%k. Unless you are toeing the line it's impossible to run well, even for someone like me who chooses the fastest corral that doesn't require proof that you're a dynamo runner. My anger is totally directed at the thousands of people in my corral who have no business being there. I stood in my respective 1'x1' square waiting about twenty minutes. Damn, let's get this business over with!

It apparently took me 2:49 to cross the plane of the start line, and from there it was the usual zig-zagging, literally past thousands of people. I'm sure 200 later came back to pass me, but I never notice that... The most amusing thing I saw were two older guys dressed in red dresses, one of which specifically chose underwear that showed off as much cheek as possible. Two young ladies behind them were giggling and in my only audible phrase of the race told them to take a good look. The nice warm sunshine (race temp was probably 53 degrees) was near ridiculously perfect. I had my hat on but no sunglasses. I was churning nicely before I hit the big incline of the Arthur "Don't mistake me for my son the state treasurer and cocaine distributor" Ravenel, Jr Bridge. Actually, if I may digress that tool of a scion is nothing compared to the raving lunatic who now serves as SC governor, Mark Sanford. That self-serving deluded moron thinks he's making a name for his 2012 Presidential bid by screwing a state that desperately needs stimulus money. Well, I guess he is.

Okay, back to a nice day on a bridge. What a wondrous site to slowly crest up so high on the coast and see Charleston off to the left! The second mile pace on the climb was about 8:20, and then on the crest down I pulled out a 8:11. Once I was around the bend and down on Meeting Street I could feel the burn and my body starting to cry out to slow down. The ride yesterday had not stopped the legs from churning and so it went. Glanced frequently at my pace, I suddenly realized I had a shot at getting an 8:00 minute pace. For the last several miles I pushed around a 7:30 pace. I hung on for dear life and crossed at 49:41, a nearly perfect 8:00 minute mile pace. I couldn't believe I had broken 50 minutes!! More importantly, I was now officially a Double Downer. YEAH!!!! I also barely made the cutoff for not being a hypocrite, since my corral's upper bounds was 49:59.

I then slowly made my way to our next meeting spot, which was the tall statue of John C. Calhoun. Okay, here is another South Carolina politician that I completely dislike. This guy honestly believed slavery was a positive thing, elevating himself about the somewhat apologetic "necessary evil" crowd. He is more better known as the advocate of state's rights who had no regard for the federal government. He totally was a major instigator to the secession that led to the Civil War (he didn't live to the actual war though). Although Jackson himself was not perfect, his forceful handling of this 19th century tool in the Nullification Crisis (and the fight against the Second Bank of the United States) are the reasons Jackson rates one of my "Fave Five" Presidents. Does that lingo make me sound hip enough?

As I laid down on the grass and rested, these things floated across my mind. Slowly more and more people showed up, this obviously being the most un-original meetup place in Charleston following the race. I did meet and chat with a guy Jay from Beaufort who is also doing Couer d'Alene this June! I then started to circle around. The first face I recognized was Lat's. He congratulated me on finishing Double Down (he participated last year). Shortly after I was stunned to see Julie and Emily. They had said they were going to walk the 10K, but instead ran almost the whole way. How awesome was that!?!? I circled around to find Greg, then we found Will at the corner talking with some of Emily and Julie's other friends. Eventually the three of us got to relive Elementary School by taking a school bus back over the bridge to Mt. Pleasant. I had to keep Julie from pulling the hair of the girl in front of her (just kidding!). Greg was behind us, being his usual friendly self and striking up a conversation with a young man from Asheville.

Post race with Julie the surprise runner in Mt. Pleasant

Back at the casa I wolfed down my lunch purchased from the Pig then had a nap, shower, etc. That afternoon we drove down to where Will and Emily were staying. We picked them up and then headed to the Charlotte-away-from-Charlotte post CRBR party at the Windjammer. Just like previous years, it was jammed with hard drinking runners trying to relive their college days. I have to admit, it was a blast hanging out with my Charlotte running peeps - Chris, Colleen, Rebecca, Corbett, Lamperski, Darren S, Kathy, etc.. Looked like Chris was well on his way to repeating his 2005 performance. I did want to take a moment to give a big THUMBS DOWN to Lori H. She may not know me, but I know her (she is a fantastic masters runner in Charlotte) who constantly and viciously attacked me for the shirt I was wearing (light checkered grey dress shirt). WTF?!? I guess I should be happy she referred to me as a nerd (I am) but she thought I was some sad pathetic loaner because of it. Thankfully at one point later on my totally hot girlfriend Julie sat down next to me and shut her up (at least for a minute). The other equally fun part was hanging out downstairs with Julie, Emily, Greg, Will, and their friends Brian and Karen. Later on we hung out near the beach.

How cool is this shot!?! On the IOP beach outside the Windjammer
Emily and Greg in the background. Note my awesome shirt!

I think the band was starting up when our merry band of five left in search of some good food. Although in reality I've been to relatively few Charleston-area seafood restaurants, we landed at my current favorite, The Wreck. It's located in a old seafood processing facility off Shem Creek.

The Wreck - the best dump with the best seafood!

No direction signs, not located on any major street. It's a hole-in-the-wall that serves awesome seafood. We did have to wait quite some time. And I do need to give a shout-out to the weird dude in the pith helmet who was also waiting. When we finally got our table, I went for the same full order of friend shrimp that I got back in 2001. It was tres-stupendous and Will wholeheartedly agreed! After dinner Greg showed us the old part of Mt. Pleasant which I would have never known existed. It was quite an impressive show! From there the Ballantyners were dropped off and we went back to Hibben Ferry. Greg was obviously the most interested in watching the UNC basketball game. Obviously my interest was totally waning, as it wasn't even a good game. I was way more excited about the prospect of that soft bed once again!!

We didn't sleep in all that late, maybe as compared to Friday morning, but still that was a nice break. Before the brunch at the apartment, the three of us went to Sullivan's Island for a lovely morning walk. We then came back and ate poolside. I definitely had my fill of food. I would later estimate I burnt upwards to 14,000 calories on Friday and another 1,000 yesterday running, so it would probably help the cause. We then said farewell to our gracious host, who was headed directly back to Concord. We then drove into town and found a parking spot near the Expo. From there we walked along East Bay down to the Noisy Oyster, where Will and Emily were having brunch/lunch. From there we picked up some chewing gum then walked up the Historic Market.
Normally I don't chew gum but this was too good to pass up!

I found a flag shop and leafed through some potential adds for my house. After doing that we came back down N. Market. Our first stop was the Life is Good store. I looked around, then sat in a chair and randomly decided to impress a bunch of ladies about my feat.

Four very impressed women leaving the Life is Good store

From there we had dessert at Kaminsky's. I just could not finish my Butterfinger cake - way too rich for my blood! The chai tea was nice though!!! From there we got back on East Bay and walked down to Rainbow Row, a row of very colorful homes from the 1700s. I understand the coloring was of the 20th century, but it was still nice. We then swung through White Point Gardens, where the no-see-ums were out in full force. The route then took us up Meeting Street. Very lovely houses, a hiding/sleeping cat, the big house where Mr. "slavery is awesome" used to live, then a jaunt through St. Michael's Churchyard Cemetery. Two of the Pinckneys were buried there, along with Rutledge. Back at the market we parted ways, only to meet again so the wonder twins could stock up on their favorite drinks.

It was around 4PM when we got back the car. Thankfully Holman was safe and sound inside. I was excited about this next leg. I got on I-26 and started telling Julie about my summer here in 2001. Part of the "tour" was to get off at Jedburg Road and head up 176 to where Duke Camp (technically called Duke's Camp, not affiliated with the University) was located. Let me say it's in the middle of nowhere, although since 2001 there is a cell tower not too far south, so if I lived there today then I would actually get cell phone reception.

This is a very special place for me, mainly because this is where I was brought together with Winston in July 2001. I should at this juncture thank the Kelly, the woman who was also living at the camp then, as without her this wonderful union would not have been possible.

2001 - A very young Winston chewing a corn cob at Duke Camp

2001 - Kelly holding Winston's sister Kaya, and of course a young Winston
The other dog is Vega, Kelly's dog

2001- My living quarters after a typical Winston tear

It was a super rush to see the place again. It's still out there, with nothing more than electricity coming in. It used to be a prisoner of war camp during WWII for German and Italian officers. They apparently were made to cut wood. If you live out here during the summer you may actually believe that fate would be worse than Guantanamo. Nowadays MeadWestvaco just tortures their interns there. At least it was free.

2009- Scott outside his old #6 quarters at Duke Camp

Once out of the camp we continued up 176 and onto I-26. The advance scout party (Emily and Will) reported some heavy traffic, so we took an interesting side route on Highway 2 through Orangeburg. We were able to get back on I-26 and then I-77 with little trouble after that, arriving home in Charlotte shortly before 9PM. What a long and amazing weekend!

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