Camping with Phyllis the Rat

“How did you guys sleep last night?”

“Fine, how about you?”

“We’re not sleeping in there again tonight,” complained the girls. “In there,” referred to a small cabin.

The cabin was nestled in a valley called the Strein River Valley. Located in the lower-half of British Columbia, and surrounded by majestic mountains and fields of wildflowers, this cabin provided an ideal location for hikers to stay. During the day, we could explore the many beautiful, little trails that wound through the woods and up the mountainsides. At night, we had all the comforts of home—from a cook stove and table, to a roof and beds.

Being courteous, we (the guys) offered to let the girls sleep in the cabin, while we all slept in tents by the river about 40 feet away. After the first night, however, it was obvious that our gesture hadn’t been appreciated. So we switched places—the guys would sleep in the cabin, and the girls got the tents.

I suppose I should at least explain why the girls refused to spend another night in the cabin. The cabin was not vacant. Someone named Phyllis lived there—or perhaps I should say something. Phyllis is a rat. And Phyllis has lived comfortably in this little cabin for a number of years. The proof of this is seen in the carvings of her name left on the walls by previous campers, chronicled in log books written by other adventurers, and brought to mind by the big steel bins which are the only safe place to store your food.

This cabin was quite the find for Phyllis. Campers are often careless, leaving food out where she could steal it. They’d build a fire in the wood stove, making the cabin cozy and warm. And in case she was discovered, there were dozens of little holes and crevices offering her shelter that she could dodge in and out of.

Being nocturnal, Phyllis had made her presence known shortly after the girls had gone to bed the previous night. Someone had felt something brush their leg, and turning their light on found themselves face-to-face with Phyllis—who they claimed was huge! Since this wasn’t the only time they had this experience, it made for quite a long night for the girls.

Now, this isn’t just another rodent story—and what sets this story apart from all the others is Evan. Evan was one of the four guys on this trip.

We were an adventurous group—all in our early twenties and thirties. Evan was about 22, and had an interest in Joni, one of the girls now refusing to sleep in the cabin. A computer nerd through and through, one would not initially expect to find Evan at home in the great outdoors. But there was a side of Evan that would come to life when not in front of his Mac, and this side was fond of the outdoors.

After a full day of hiking and a hearty meal, we were more than ready to crawl into our warm sleeping bags. Though it was early summer, the valley in which we were staying would get quite chilly at night—cold enough that we could see our breath. The tents didn’t offer much protection from the cold, so we weren’t disappointed to be in the warm cabin that night.

Before laying out our bags, we discussed who should sleep where. There was a small loft space about 7 feet above the floor on one side of the cabin with room for two people to sleep. Below, the table would double as a bed where there was room for two more.

One of the guys decided to sleep in the shelter just outside the main cabin. That left three of us inside. Not wanting to be bothered in the middle of the night by a rodent, I choose to sleep in the loft. Evan and Jesse both choose to sleep on the table.

Just before turning off the lights, Evan grabbed a large, cast-iron skillet.

“What’s that for?” Jesse asked a bit hesitantly.

“In case Phyllis shows up.” Evan responded.

“Is there room up there in the loft?” Jesse asked.

“Yep,” I responded.

Not wanting to get hit in the middle of the night by Evan’s cast-iron skillet as he was swinging it at Phyllis, Jesse decided to move up into the loft. Upon seeing Jesse moving to the loft, Evan began to get anxious about being the only one left down below where Phyllis roamed.

“Don’t worry, Evan,” we assured him, “if you kill Phyllis with the skillet, you’ll be the girls’ hero.”

This seemed to reassure Evan, so we turned out the lights and went to sleep…well, almost.

A couple of moments after the lights went out, we heard Evan:

“Uh, guys…there’s something big, and it’s staring in my face….”

Jesse turned on his headlamp and looked over the edge of the loft to see a rat, almost twelve inches long sitting at the foot of Evan’s bed.

“Just before you turned that light on, that thing was about four inches from my face!” evan exclaimed.

“Well, if it comes back, use your skillet,” Jesse said as he turned off the light.

Just as we were drifting off to sleep, there was an obnoxiously loud crash—it was the sound of Evan’s cast-iron frying pan colliding with the wood pile directly below the loft. Jesse leaned over the edge and turned on his headlamp.

“Did you get it,” we asked.

“I don’t think so,” Evan responded.

Phyllis was nowhere to be seen.

He crawled out of his sleeping bag, picked up his skillet, and after making his way back to the table, crawled into his sleeping bag. Jesse turned off his light again.

About two minutes later, we heard it again—WHAM!

Again, Jesse turned on his light. Again, there was no Phyllis. Again, Evan crawled out of bed to recover the skillet. Again, Jesse turned off his light, and I drifted off to sleep.

Apparently I sleep like a log, because that was the last I heard that night. The rest of the night I slept peacefully. The next morning I awoke to find a very tired Evan, his nearly destroyed cast-iron skillet, and no Phyllis.

Turns out that Jesse hardly slept either. He said that about every 10 minutes or so there was a loud crash as Evan’s cast-iron skillet missed Phyllis and crashed into some other object in the cabin.

After passing about half the night chucking a skillet at a very nimble rat, Evan realized Phyllis was faster than he was.

We stayed there for about a week. I think that night was the only one that Evan chucked his skillet at Phyllis—the next night he slept out in the shelter with Greg.

Perhaps one of these days, I’ll return to the cabin with this story, and leave it there for other campers to read—and to explain why one of the cast-iron skillets is mangled. If I decide to spend the night, I’ll sleep in the loft.

Paper Buckets

“Could you get paper buckets for the offering on Sabbath?” was the question.

“Yes” seemed like such a simple answer—and I suppose it was—but let me tell you, there was absolutely nothing simple about going from “yes” to actually having the buckets.

I knew nothing about paper buckets, so I did what I always do when I know nothing about something—I turned to Google.

“Paper Bucket Supplier in San Jose”—0 matches found.

“Bulk Paper Supplier in San Jose”—lots of matches and aside from a Central Cash and Carry, most were large paper suppliers—jackpot!

So I called a paper company that, for their sake, shall remain unnamed (I actually just can’t remember their name…) They were a bulk supplier of paper products for the San Jose area.

“Do you carry paper buckets?”

“What are paper buckets?”

What is this, a trivia question? I thought I was calling the experts here… “Um… They’re like buckets … made out of … uh… paper…”

“If I knew what a paper bucket was, I could tell you whether or not we have it.”

At that point, I was tempted to ask him to just list their entire stock over the phone and I could tell him if they carried paper buckets, but I restrained myself.

I think it’s a safe assumption that if he doesn’t know what it is, he likely doesn’t have it. So I called another company.

“Do you carry paper buckets?”

“What size?”


“Are you there?”

“Can I call you back?”

Perhaps I should have thought about the size before trying to place the order… So I did some research on paper bucket sizes.

When you go to someplace like Starbucks, you have 3 choices—small, medium, and large. And I had enough trouble with that (because they don’t call them ‘small, medium, and large’, but that’s another rant). As it turns out, unlike many products, paper buckets do not seem to have standard sizes (i.e. small, medium, large). They range anywhere from 8 ounces (I always called these paper cups, but what do I know…) to 180 ounces. The obvious question is “how big is an ounce?”

Is a 180-ounce paper bucket big enough? How much is 180 ounces? Maybe 180 ounces is how much the paper bucket weighs. Now I’m all for acting in faith that God will bless, but passing a 180-ounce bucket almost seems to be presumption. And how practical is that? 180 ounces is over 11 pounds …empty. What happens to the poor people at the back who have to pass it when it’s full? I guess nobody could sneak out with it…

Back to google: “180 oz paper bucket measurements”

Lots of results, and most weren’t related, but I was able to find measurements from which I concluded that the paper bucket didn’t weigh 11 pounds (it’s only 7 in. high). So I called up a paper supplier again:

“Do you carry 180-ounce paper buckets?”

“We have paper buckets—they’re about the size of KFC buckets.”

“uh… ok. How big is a KFC bucket?” I asked.

Ok, I know that sounds really dumb, but I’m a vegetarian, I’ve never been to KFC in my life. I have no idea how big a KFC bucket is…

I actually don’t remember what he said. I just remember feeling really foolish and thinking, “That’s such a dumb question.” He probably met with his coworkers at lunch where they compare stories of dumb customer questions—I have no doubt he won that day. I do remember that they had what I was looking for—FINALLY!

“But we don’t have any distributors in the San Jose area. You’ll have to order online through this website.”

“Actually, I found you through that website—I need these within a week, and I don’t trust UPS to deliver them in time.”

At this point, we both observed a moment of silence. I wasn’t about to hang up after getting this close. Eventually the rep. said, “Let me take down your number and I’ll see if I can have one of our distributors contact you.”

I didn’t hear back from them that day—I began to think they didn’t take me seriously. After all, what kind of fool doesn’t know how big a KFC bucket is? But the following day I got a call notifying me that there was, in fact, a local distributor that not only knew what paper buckets were, they had them in stock. The name was “Central Cash and Carry”—ya, the same place that showed up when I first Googled paper suppliers, and it’s only 3 blocks from the convention center…

Now I just needed to figure out how many paper buckets we’d need.

Things in evangelism aren’t always well-coordinated. Okay, maybe that’s stretching it—they’re almost never well-coordinated. I called the head of my department to get an estimate on numbers. They didn’t know, so they contacted someone else. So through a series of calls, messages, e-mails, and possibly smoke-signals at some point, I was told we’d need 2,000.

“Okay, 2000…” …2000?!”


That seemed a little off to me—especially since we’d only had 4,000 people register. 2,000 is enough for every-other person to have their very own paper bucket! This is GYC, not ASI—two college kids can’t fill a 180-ounce paper bucket with money.

Instead, I made some wild guess based upon seating configurations I’d seen at ASI and GYC previous years. 300 sounded like a reasonable number, so I called up Central Cash and Carry and asked them if they stocked 300 paper buckets.


“Could you hold them until I can pick them up next Wednesday?”


It was that simple—well, almost… The following Tuesday I arrived in San Jose. One of the first things on my list of to-dos was to get an official count of rows so I could estimate the number of buckets we’d need. It was higher than I expected—we’d need somewhere around 500. So I went to pick up the buckets. Turns out 180 ounces is awfully big. So I asked to see the next size down. It was perfect. “I need 500.”

“They’re 100 to a box.”


The guy ran out to the warehouse and got 5 boxes. The total was approximately $550. That’s about $1 per paper bucket. It seemed expensive, and the boxes seemed a bit big, but I was just glad to have paper buckets. So I paid for the buckets and loaded the boxes into the car.

When I arrived at the convention center, I unloaded the boxes at the valet parking and left them there while I parked the car. As I walked back, I found a couple of people I knew and recruited them to help move the boxes to the storage room. And just when I thought it was all done someone asked…

“Why’d you get 1,000 paper buckets?”

Sigh, the joys of evangelism. We now have enough paper buckets to cover GYC’s future growth. And if we decide to gather that faith-offering—there’s enough buckets for that too. I just know I don’t ever want to go in search of paper buckets again.

Farewell My Friend

Only twice in my life has something died in my arms.

I was in Cincinnati, OH at Youth for Jesus in 2004. We were just getting ready to start that evening’s meetings, but most of the youth were missing. Since they were staying at the church school behind the church for the summer, I was asked to run down to the school to fetch them.

When I got to the school I saw most of the kids huddled over by one corner of the building. I approached them to let them know that it was time for the meetings to start. When they saw me, the informed me that a small bird had hit the window. Some of them wanted to help the poor little thing but didn’t know what to do. I sent them all up to the meetings and got a towel. I carefully picked the bird up off the ground and took him inside the school.

He was gasping and twitching a bit. I didn’t expect him to live, but I got a drop of water on the tip of my finger and put it to his beak. He drank a little this way and settled down a bit. He lay there, his tiny chest heaving for two or three minutes. Not knowing what to do I just held him and prayed. A few moments later his breathing stopped.

Today, my parents and I drove up to our house just outside Woodland Park, CO with my German Shepherd, Shadow. We have 40 acres there in the Rocky Mountains. The property is beautiful with rocks, trees and meadows. Every time we bring Shadow here he loves it. There’s plenty of land on which he can run and play. This was his home. This is where he grew up. This is where he lived. This is the place he loved.

We helped him get out of the truck. His back legs have been nearly paralyzed as a result of a condition called Spondylosis which causes his lower spine to deteriorate, eventually paralyzing his hind legs. It’s so bad he could hardly climb the 3 stairs to get on the porch. But once we let him out of the truck and he realizes he’s home, he gets excited and runs all over. Sometimes limping, sometimes just dragging his back legs. He’s lived four years like this which is more than twice what most dogs survive, yet he still acts like a puppy when he comes home.

After letting him run around for a bit, I took him for a walk out across the meadow toward a small, quiet, aspen grove on the other side of the property. That walk brought back a lot of memories. When he was younger, we would kick Shadow’s basketball (his favorite toy) across that meadow and he’d go thundering after it—at 110lbs, you could hear his feet striking the ground as he raced across the meadow. Today it was a slow and laborious trip for him. Sometimes his legs would give out, but if we didn’t stop, he wouldn’t either. So we took several breaks to let him rest.

About the time we got to the aspen grove, the vet arrived. I took Shadow over to the Aspen trees. The vet came over and talked with us a bit. Shadow was excited by the presence of new people and wanted to be up moving around but I told him to lay down, which he did very obediently, and I sat down next to him.. I sat there for a while in the dry, parched grass just petting Shadow and thinking—he grunted and talked to me as he has since he the day I brought him home twelve years ago.

“Let’s do this.” I finally said.

The vet shaved a small spot on Shadow’s back leg and inserted a syringe.

I hugged him as the vet began the injection. Shadow didn’t know what was happening, and as he has since he was a puppy, he squirmed and talked to me as I hugged him. I start to cry. That moment seemed to linger. Thoughts and feelings too intense to make sense of flooded over me. All I could think of was the finality of that moment—the immutability of what was happening. I held Shadow tightly, not wanting to let him go. I remember feeling him relax in my arms. When I petted him he didn’t talk—he always talked—I knew it was over. I sat there on the ground, just squeezing him tightly and sobbing.

I saw the darker side of the world today. I said goodbye to my most faithful friend. I tell myself over and over again that this was the best thing for him, but part of me feels like I betrayed him. He’s been a part of my life for the past 12 years and I can’t believe he’s gone.

We buried Shadow there in that grove under a beautiful Aspen tree. His collar hangs on a branch above his grave.

I thank God for the time I had with such a precious gift, and I pray that I might learn someday to be as selflessly loving and faithful as Shadow.

If dogs go to heaven, surely I will see you there, but until then—goodbye my faithful friend.

My First Trip To Bath & Body Works

I am a man. I am proud to say that I went to Bath & Body Works today—more on this in a moment.

It was raining again today. I was a bit bummed by the weather but I didn’t let it keep me indoors all day. After moping around the house for a few hours in the morning, I grabbed Andre (my Norwegian roommate) and we headed for the hills. Our plan was to go hiking in the rain—and we were prepared for it, GORE-TEX and all.

We were following some sketchy directions up into the woods somewhere along a logging trail. We stopped to ask some workers what time the gate would close—they told us they were closing it in about 15 minutes. We spent 12 of those minutes driving further up the mountain, and the following 3 minutes racing back down. We made it back before the gate closed.  But we hadn’t had enough, so we started off on another adventure.

This time we drove up to an overlook somewhere outside of Mission, BC. I was looking forward to this hike because it would be nearly 2,000 feet vertical, which is much more of a hike than anything I’ve seen in a while. However, my anticipation was to be short-lived. As we were nearing our destination I remembered that I was supposed to go to Bath & Body Works…

Okay, so I’m a pushover. The girls found out on Saturday that I was planning on going into the States on Monday and they started talking about Bath & Body Works. To be honest (and yes, I’m being perfectly honest) this was the first time I’d heard of Bath & Body Works. I don’t feel bad about this because I am sure that about 70% of the guys I know have never heard of it either.

Well, it turns out that this Monday wasn’t the same as any other Monday. No, this Monday was special—it was the Bath & Body Works sale, and some holiday for a president or something…. And since I was going to the States, they asked me if I’d be willing to pick up some things from Bath & Body Works for them. I resisted for a while, but to no avail. I finally gave in and agreed.

“Okay, just let me know what you want, and I’ll pick it up.”

The list was six pages long….

I was supposed to purchase items like Anti-Bacterial Deep Cleansing Hand Soap, in Warm Vanilla Sugar “if they don’t have Cotton Blossom.”

“Be sure you get the Moisturizing Hand Soap, not the Gentle Foaming Hand Soap,” Alicia said.

“Right—of course.”

“Also get the Aromatherapy Body Wash, Relax—Eucalyptus Spearmint if it’s $5. It should be $5, but if it’s not, don’t get it.”


“These items here are for me. I just want one of each, and they’re all the Moisturizing Hand Soap.  Season and I each want one of these, so that’s two.  And Season wanted four of the Gentle Foaming Hand Soap, but I don’t want any of those.  Oh, and Season wanted an Odwalla Vanilla Almondo juice.  Got that?”


Okay, so that was a lie, but I figured that between the list and my cell phone I should be able to get this figured out. I went and grabbed my passport. On my way out the door, I remembered something fairly important.

“Season,…” I hollered down the hall toward their room. “Where is Bath & Body Works?”

So, off I went to the States. I was thinking to myself, “What do I say to the immigration officer when he asks my reason for going to the US? He’ll never believe me. He’s never heard of Bath & Body Works—I’m gonna get locked up!”  Fortunately, the only question he asked was what year my truck was, and if I liked it….

Upon entering the store I was greeted by a variety of expressions ranging from shock to sympathy. Some of the customers looked at me as if to ask if I were lost, or if I knew which store I was in. The clerks looked very sympathetic. I decided to see how many items I could find without drawing too much attention to myself by asking for help.

The walls were all covered with hundreds upon hundreds of pastel-colored bottles.  I looked at the list and began searching for what I needed by shape—“square bottle with a pump on top…square bottle, square bottle….” Then I spotted the square bottles—they were about 1/2-way into the store. But I wasn’t comfortable going that far into this store yet, so I decided to find the round bottle first—they were closer to the exit.

According to my list, whatever was in the round bottle was called Aromatherapy-something, so I started searching for round bottles that said Aromatherapy. After some time of searching, I came to the conclusion that all round bottles in the store said Aromatherapy. I then began searching for which round Aromatherapy bottle contained Body Wash. It didn’t take me as long this time to realize that all round Aromatherapy bottles in Bath & Body Works were Body Wash. I decided to try and find which Aromatherapy Body Wash bottle was Relax—Eucalyptus Spearmint. This time I found what I was looking for. Although I double-checked the name, and it matched perfectly, there was a little voice in my head telling me that this wasn’t what Alicia had asked for.

The next item on the list was a square bottle with a pump on top…. Feeling confident with my success thus far, I walked further into the store to the square bottles. Anti-Bacterial Moisturizing Hand Soap, Pink Grapefruit was first on the list. I figured it was safe to assume that all square bottles with a pump on top were Anti-Bacterial. Once I confirmed that these were Moisturizing Hand Soap, I began searching for Pink Grapefruit. After searching for several minutes, I determined that either Pink Grapefruit wasn’t pink, or they didn’t have it. Then I decided to try reading them. Sure enough, the third one I read said it was Pink Grapefruit. For those of you looking for Anti-Bacterial Moisturizing Hand Soap, Pink Grapefruit, it’s orange—small detail.

Out of the corner of my eye I recognized a shape I’d seen on the list. It was an up-side-down squeeze-bottle. “That might be one of the items,” I thought to myself. I quickly flipped through the list to locate the item, then I compared them. Anti-Bacterial, “yup.”  Moisturizing Lotion, “yep.” Coconut Lime Verbena. “What on earth is Verbena?

“Wait a minute—this is Moisturizing Hand Lotion. The list said Moisturizing Lotion. I’m sure they’re the same…but what if they’re not? I’d better check—I’ll get that later.”

Anti-Bacterial Moisturizing Hand Soap, Warm Vanilla Sugar (ONLY IF COTTON BLOSSOM IS UNAVAILABLE) was the next item. Thus far, I had two items in my hand.

Fortunately one of the clerks took notice of this pitiful sight.

“Can I help you?”

The words came to my ears like water to the thirsty, like food to the hungry, like hope to the despondent, like…. Well, you get the point.

“YES!” I replied almost before she finished the question.

I showed her the list, and she quickly gathered the items. I was quite impressed at how well she knew the products. I think I better understand how girls feel when I’m talking about computer components and technology. Though, if I had to choose, I’d rather understand technology than lotion—even if it is Exotic Coconut.

“I suppose this happens quite often—you get guys in here that are totally out of their league.”

“Oh, yes, guys come in here all the time with lists.”

So, I want to make this point known to all the girls out there. You are loved! I know you don’t understand how it could be so difficult for a guy to do something like this. I’m not sure I understand, but for some reason it is. I don’t know any guy that would do this for me. I don’t want any guy to do this for me….

They didn’t have a couple of the “flavors,” so I called back to the house and worked out some acceptable replacements. I purchased the items and walked out to my truck. The bag loudly proclaimed Bath & Body Works across the side. I was not embarrassed—I was proud that I had been victorious—I mean, successful.

Season and Alicia called me back shortly thereafter. “Thank you so much! We just wanted to let you know that we appreciated this so much that we wanted you to take the leftover money and buy yourself a Soy Steamer.”

Who could have ever convinced me that one day I would be living such an extraordinary life? Does everyone think life is so extraordinary? Will life ever lose it’s mystery and surprise? How much longer will I be doing Bible work? Should I go back to college? Should I plan my future? Would that make my life ordinary? And what is Verbena? For right now, I’m not sure. For right now, I’ll just have to wonder.

Crusty Beans

“NOOOOOOO” exclaimed Jeffrey.

He was sitting in the passenger’s seat next to me, and we were on Hwy. 1 headed home from outreach. He was staring at me like only Jeffrey does—about 16 inches away from my face, his eyes fixed on me, his face downward just enough to look mischievous (those of you who know him know what I’m talking about). I didn’t have to turn my head to know what was happening. His melodramatic gestures were easily distinguishable from my peripheral vision.

“Crusty Beans!” were the next words out of his mouth. He used that whiny tone of voice that probably hasn’t changed since he was six—though it’s probably gotten louder. “This is disgusting,” he said, “look at this.”

“Ohhh, that’s nasty,” I said, looking at the burrito he was holding for me to see. “At least mine isn’t that dry,” I thought to myself. Then I took another bite.

“EEEEEWWW.” Jeffrey declared, looking at my burrito. “Yours is just as nasty.” And it was…

I thought I’d ordered four Seven Layer Burritos. Apparently, they misunderstood the order, because they gave us four Crusty Bean Burritos.

I’ve had a pretty good luck eating at Taco Bell—or at least not any really bad ones. The worst experience I can remember was two Seven Layer Burritos I got at a Taco Bell in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was eating as I was driving home when I noticed the burrito was leaking a bit. I adjusted the wrapping so it would catch the drips and kept eating. About two bites later I got a mouthful of bean soup. It seems they scraped the lettuce from the bottom of the pan. When they did, they got some of that green water that’s lingered there since Taco Bell opened. I tried to finish the burritos—I really did—but the bean soup was rebelling. Every bite I took added to the number of insurgents inside my stomach.

“Freedom!!” was their cry.

It was clearly audible most of the night. I expected, at any moment, that one of their suicide bombers would detonate himself, causing wide-spread chaos. It was all I could do to maintain control and suppress them. We were eventually able to come to terms, and they quieted down and left the next day…. I didn’t eat at Taco Bell for almost a year after that.

That was three years ago. Tonight I was wishing they’d dug a little deeper in the lettuce pan—these beans could have used a little moisture…. I found that if I let each bite linger long enough in my mouth, the beans would re-hydrate enough to swallow. But I feared if I didn’t swallow them soon enough, their predecessors might try and join them. I was finally able to finish off one of the two Seven Layer Burritos. The second one is sitting in the fridge.

In the States, Taco Bell is imitation Mexican food. Here in Canada, Taco Bell is imitation Taco Bell—it’s like a copy of a copy. We were once informed that they were out of beans…. I have no idea why they were still there. If Taco Bell runs out of bean, you might as well lock up and go home.

Furthermore, every time I eat there I’m appalled at the price—$17 for four Crusty Bean Burritos. More than once we’ve driven all the way down to the US and crossed the border, just to get real Taco Bell.

So I’ve decided to take drastic measures. I’m boycotting Imitation Taco bell now. I’m not spending $4 on an empty tortilla (or one filled with crusty beans) in Canada anymore—and certainly not at the location we ordered from tonight!

And just so I don’t forget, I think I’ll frame the remaining Crusty Bean Burrito and hang it on my wall as a reminder—it’s already been dried so it should keep just fine.

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