The Spirit Of Adventure (Part Seven)

That night on night watch I wanted to tell my family what I had done.

How I had conquered my fears, but I couldn’t. So instead, as the clock ticked quietly, I started to write in the scribble book. I wrote until my hand cramped. I wrote until I felt like I all the tears I had been wanting to cry had found their way onto the page through my pen.

Then I started to write about the ship.

And that was the first time I recognized the ship swaying on the swell as her heartbeat. The hum of the engine as her breath. And that night after my night watch hour was up, I went to bed and I snuggled into her wall and I felt safe in her belly. 

The next day was Trainee Day. Trainee Day is pretty self explanatory. It’s the day when all the trainees take over the ship. 

Before our elections I was talking to the Captain about the coming day, and he offered advice that I will never forget. 

It was very simple: Back yourself. 

This advice applies to many contexts and should be put into action frequently. In this case he was talking about the fact that in a few hours, we would be electing our Trainee Day Captain. 

‘Back yourself. Nominate yourself for whatever position you want, then don’t be afraid to vote for yourself as well. Don’t ever be afraid to back yourself up and to be invested in your own success.’ He said to me as I was taking a turn steering the ship. 

That night, I nominated myself for Captain. And then I voted for myself. There were plenty of other candidates who deserved my vote, and I didn’t win, but I got to experience putting myself forward for something and then validating that action myself, for myself. 

Our Captain was elected and I was voted First Mate, another position that I nominated myself for.  

Trainee Day rolled around and I found that I was completely in my element. Who would have thought that the little girl who was told she was bossy and a control freak, would then be congratulated for those very same traits ten years later. 

All the trainees pulled together and we worked so well as a team, managing to put the sails up, stop off at an island for a few hours and still get to our destination before the deadline!  

Then it was the last night. I climbed out to the very front of the ship to put covers on the front sails. My nose didn’t run and my legs didn’t shake as I waltzed along the rigging coming to sit at the very point of the bowsprit. I sat there, watching the sun set on the outline of Auckland city and thought about my voyage.

The ship had thrown every challenge I had not yet faced at me and torn me apart. She had exposed all of my weaknesses and vulnerabilities in one way or another, but instead of leaving me in pieces on the floor, or up a mast, she had rebuilt me. Or at least, helped me to rebuild myself.

When I stepped off the ship and onto the dock the next day I felt different. I walked differently and I thought differently.

Anxiety no longer haunts my mind holds tightly to my heart. I learned true resilience. Fear no longer dictates what I do. I’ve done things that terrify me beyond my own existence and I won the fight. I know now that I can win. 

So naturally, as I was sitting in a posh cafe, basking in the glory of a mango smoothie and contact with my family I wrote down that feeling.

CARE

I no longer care about social media

Who has the most likes or what somebodies food looks like

I no longer care if my body doesn’t quite fit into societies box 

My body is stronger than I thought and now my most trusted friend 

It won’t let me fall instead it pushes me higher than my fear

I no longer care about my clothes, the latest trends or if I look pretty in a shop window reflections

If my clothing keeps me warm and comfy I’ll be happy

My clothing is not what people should judge my worth on and if they do they aren’t worth my time

I no longer care about the latest hot actor, his face pasted like an obscene painting over every billboard you can see

I no longer care about makeup

I don’t want to spend my time, that's ticking,  decorating my face with products

I no longer care about the noise

I don’t want to have to be on Pinterest to poop

Surely my mind is allowed to be quiet for a few moments, at the very least while using the bathroom

I no longer care about societies preconceptions of my life path 

I’ll go where I want and enjoy however long it takes to get there. 

 

I care about the people that surround me.

I care about what someone’s hug feels like and how their laugh makes me feel.

I care if their smile makes me warm and their jokes make me giggle. 

I care about sandy feet, salty hair and smoothies. 

I care about fresh fruit, climbing high, cold water and hiking. 

I care about homemade food and helping the hands that make it. 

I care about the sea and the sky and chasing the line in-between 

I care about homemade music, mixing melodies with my voice and fingers. 

I care about good books, on rainy days with hot cups of tea. 

I care about maps, driving and the mountains.

I care about dirty fingernails and bare feet with ankle bracelets. 

I care about chasing stories. 

I care about all the right things now. 

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And check out my video of the trip below as always, thanks for reading..!

 

The Spirit Of Adventure (Part Six)

That experience of failure on the mast haunted me into the next couple of days when I had to face one of the biggest challenges on the ship. I started to really miss my family.

We weren’t allowed our phones with us on the ship, so I had absolutely no contact with my family. I’d lived away from home before and hadn’t really suffered to badly then but I’d been able to text them whenever I liked. So, for the first time in my life, I got a taste of what homesickness felt like. 

Homesickness is a bad label for it. I didn't miss my physical house at all. I missed my little brother and how he takes over every conversation. My sister and how encouraging and kind she is. My parents who are so supportive and I think quite possibly, my best friends. 

I wanted to tell them about waking up in great barrier island and feeling a complete sense of awe and peace. I wanted to tell them about paddling to the nearby shore in rafts, with my teammates. I wanted to tell them about the bonfire and the hiking, and my new friends, but I couldn’t.

Then came the experience I will probably carry with me forever. 

We were back on mid ships. We had four sails that we were going to put up.

I had dreaded this day.

Nobody was going to force me to climb, so I could stay on the ground if I wanted to, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to be able to climb the rigging and not freak out. I wanted to be able to come back as a trainee. 

To this day, I don’t know how I did it, I think I said yes so fast my brain didn’t have time to process what I’d done but when they asked for climbers to prep the sails, I was practically already in a harness.  

This time we weren't going to the second sail up, we were going to prep all the sails which meant going all the way to the top. I somehow managed to say yes to going to the top and to the edge, again, probably before my brain could stop me.

This time the shaking and runny nose started before I had even touched the rigging. Never the less, I launched myself at the rigging and started climbing. My brain was shouting at me to stop and I could feel the panic simmering so I started to climb faster.

I figured, if I could get all the way to the top before the full panic set in then I'll have no choice but to stick around and finish the job.

I was just clipping on to the starboard side royal which is the topsail on the right side of the ship when my brain caught up. Again, I started leaking tears and the shaking was so bad I was scared I would lose my footing on the skinny rope.

But then instead of freezing up, something else took over. I can only describe it as a stubborn fire.

My fear and panic were still there but it was like it had been pushed aside. My mind went blank again but this time not with fear, with something else. A stubbornness.

I launched myself onto the beam and inched my way to the end in fury. I yanked at the rope and pulled it off allowing the sail to fall a little way. The helping hand that was supposed to be beside me, had just caught up and taking in the snot and tears cautiously asked me if I was okay.

I practically yelled back that I was and determinedly started undoing gaskets. Allowing the sail to come free.

Then I was back at the mast. I had made it.

We were faster than the other side so we had to stop and wait for them to catch up, and for the first time, I stopped to admire the view. The ship's deck looked small beneath me and the clouds closer than the sea.

When I made it to the bottom I collapsed once again, but this time instead of the slow dull presence of disappointment, I felt victory.

Later that day, when it came time to take in the sails, I gleefully rejoiced in the fact that because I had already climbed I wouldn’t have to be involved in stowing the sails.

But some of my teammates were feeling queasy, so due to my sturdy sea legs, I was to go up to the royal again.

I harnessed up waiting for the fear to sink in. I started climbing, waiting for her to scream in my ears that I was going to fall. To take control of my limbs and stop them from moving. But the scream never came. I felt it simmer in my stomach but it never left that area.

I got out to the edge of the beam, I yanked the rope over and I started pulling in the sail. My nose was dry and I wasn’t shaking. Instead, I was smiling.

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The Spirit Of Adventure (Part Five)

It was the third day that we saw the dolphins. I had seen dolphins in the movies swimming next to the ships. I think they made an appearance in the film about the Titanic, another sea related movie I was unhealthily obsessed with as a young girl.

The dolphins were bouncing in and out of the waves, and I was standing on deck and they were only a few meters away from me, racing the ship towards our destination on the waves. We were crossing a wide expanse of water, the ship was so small on the sea but I didn’t feel alone. Because we weren't. They were everywhere on both sides.

The pattern of, at first feeling alone then being shown that I really wasn’t, became a trend throughout the voyage.

That day we were stationed on midships which meant we had the four sails on the biggest mast to put up. The morning went fine I managed to avoid climbing up to the middle one to prep it. I've never been fond of unsafe situations and dangling from a rope twenty meters up in the air classified it'self as an unsafe situation in my mind. 

Then the end of the day came, and it was time to strike the sails. Striking the sails means taking them down. Because I hadn’t climbed in the morning it was implied that I should give it a go.

I walked over to the harness box and started harnessing myself up just like for the up and over with Quentin. There were three other trainees who were also going up from my group. They seemed to be completely unaware of what I could only say were the severe health and safety risks coming.

(The Spirit probably has the safest rigging to climb in the history of rigging, I had nothing to worry about.)

Fear was starting to boil in my stomach and it was practically choking me by the time I was climbing the lower rigging. I made it to the first platform, the one I had been to before, then it came time to climb to the next.

The ship was sailing and with the motion of the waves, the mast was swaying from side to side. I had to climb a ladder to the next platform and because the mast was leaning back slightly with the wind, I wondered if my arms would even have the strength to pull me up. But I managed and I got to the sail I needed to stow.

I clipped on to the thin wire that ran the length of the sail’s beam, it was supposed to support my weight if I fell, and stepped onto the black rope that was meant to be my footing. It wobbled under my weight. I inched my way out to the end of the beam. My arms already ached from holding onto the metal bar so tightly from fear and my legs were waltzing in and out on the rope beneath me, striking pain into my abdomen from the amount of core strength it was taking to stand.

At the end of the beam, there was a rope that you were supposed to pull up over the beam before you could start stowing the sail. I tugged at it, wondering how I was supposed to hold onto the metal bar with both hands and still pull on the rope.

I realized that they probably wanted you to let go of the metal bar with one hand, letting go, the footrope beneath me swung wildly and I wondered if today was the day I died. I tuggged at the rope. It didn’t move. Tugging again the panic that had been waiting not so paitently in my throat flooded my mind. I tugged again and again frantically, all sense and tactic had gone from my mind.

I wanted the whole ordeal to be over so that I could be back on solid ground again. Well, as solid as a ship is. I somehow managed to pull the rope over the beam and by now my nose was running freely and the panic that was flooding my mind was causing my eyes to leak silent tears.

The snot from my nose was running down my face and onto my hands and the metal bar I was gripping onto, making it slippery and hard to hold. I started to freeze up, every muscle in my body felt like it was contracting, I couldn’t move, not even to get back to the mast.

I would like to mention that most climbs the trainees are accompanied by an experienced crew member in between each trainee. We had the third mate watching from the middle and I was quite safe looking back on it. 

Then the last person I expected, came to my rescue. I’m not really someone who likes the idea of being ‘rescued’ especially by a guy, especially because of my own weakness and vulnerability. Anyone who knows me can confirm I resist the idea greatly.

However, I can say with complete confidence that if he hadn’t stepped in I don’t know what would have happened on that mast.

He was next to me on the sail and noticed that I was freaking out. I don’t know how he would have ever been able to tell, maybe it was the look of terror on my face, the snot, the shaking (that was so bad that it may have been contributing to the swaying of the mast) or the tears that were also adding to the slipperiness of the metal bar, but he inched out along the bar beside me.

Calmly starting to walk me through stowing the rest of the sail. I was out the far end, there was no way we could switch over or anything, it was something that I just had to do, I just couldn’t do it alone.

I pulled up the end of the sail somehow, even though I didn't think my arms had literally any strength left in them. He didn’t stop talking, nor did he draw attention to the fact I was literally breaking down in front of him. Instead, he commented on the view and made a few jokes, which I laughed at weakly, glad of the distraction.

Sense started to find it's way back into my mind which until then had been blank with panic. I stopped crying although my nose was still running quite drastically and I was shaking so much he nervously told me to stop because he might lose his footing. 

I was still twenty meters up in the air, out on the end of a beam, on a windy day, on a mast that was bouncing with the waves and a thin metal wire connected to my harness was the only thing that would keep me alive if my arms gave way. I just was no longer alone. It was one of those little moments in life that restore all faith in humanities kindness and goodness.

We made our way back, tying up the sail as we went and somehow I made it back down to the deck of the ship. Collapsing to the ground, my body too weak to hold me up. We laughed and skipped briskly over the fact he’d completely saved my bacon, but it was one of those moments that I’ll always remember and be grateful for.  

The fact that I’d not been as successful as I would have liked haunted me for the next few days. Up until then, I’d been enjoying the trip enough to have been considering coming back as a helping hand. But I woefully dismissed the idea, due to the fact that helping hands had to be able to climb the rigging to help trainees.

That night as our group debriefed we had an exercise to write ourselves a private goal for the voyage. I stared at my piece of paper for a long time, debating the day. Then, I quietly wrote ‘Say yes to every opportunity, no matter how scary.’ And folded it up...

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The Spirit Of Adventure (Part Four)

After the swim, I would get dressed as quickly as possible and make my way to the aft cabin for breakfast. Breakfast was usually something on toast with the side option of porridge. I'd have whatever was going, knowing I'd need the carbs to survive the coming day. Then I would eat my morning peanut butter and jam sandwich. 

The sandwich wasn’t as unnecessary as it sounds.

Usually, I eat vegetarian and as plant-based as I can convince my family to put up with. But on the ship, I went into survival mode. Which I’m proud of my body for being able to do. I’d eat whatever was being served, while trying to stay away from foods I know make me feel a little sick, such as potatoes and lots of sugary things for dessert.

But in the mornings, I knew that after the rope ladder if I could make it to the aft cabin I could get a P&J. A sugar-kick reward. 

I swear it’s what subconsciously helped me through the ordeal of getting changed every morning. 

After breakfast, we would make our way to the aft deck where we held colors. At colors, we would all line up in our groups and someone would raise the flag and ring the ball eight times. Then someone would read us the weather forecast for the day. After that, we would have ‘commercials’. Anyone who had lost anything would sheepishly raise their hand and state their cause.

When we had gotten that out of the way Steve the second mate would explain the weather forecast that had just been read. Steve was every ‘boating dad’ ever with those snazzy sunglasses and a casual but self-assured approach to teaching.

I don’t think he ever said anything mildly grumpy at all throughout the entire voyage. Which, believe me, when you’re dealing with nearly forty teenagers who have no idea what they are doing, is quite an achievement.

After Steve had explained the weather Pat would come forward with a ‘Pat Fact’. Thinking back on it I can’t decide if these were actual facts downloaded off Facebook or if he was just making random stuff up and enjoying the fact we had so much respect for him we would all just nod and agree no matter what he told us.

Pat was the engineer and I didn’t see much of him but he had a blue sky tye-dye sweater, a little earring in one ear that always glinted in the sun and I think he was a fireman or ex-fireman. 

After Pat's Fact, someone would step forward and read a thought for the day. These were quotes you would see on a teenage girls Pinterest board, but I found them very comforting and they tended to stick with me throughout the day.

After that Tamati, the third mate, would step forward and tell us the “plan’.

Tamati was the person charged with dealing with us the most. He was the one who planned the day's activities and usually accompanied us when we went off to do them. He had black curly hair and I don't think I ever saw him wear shoes except for the day we went hiking. 

The first activity in the plan would always be cleaning.

As soon as colors ended we would all jump into action, scrubbing down whatever part of the ship our watch group was currently assigned. Cleaning actually became one of my favorite daily experiences, because of the familiarity of it. I knew how to clean toilets and I knew how to scrub floors. And when I was cleaning I felt like I was giving back to the ship that was protecting me from the sea.

Then after cleaning the day would kick into action. Usually there would be some more sail putting up. It was always hectic because every day we would go be at a new sail station. And have to relearn the process entirely for that sail. But, there’s nothing more satisfying than gazing up at the billowing white sail that you and your team put up, nearly on our own.

It must have been the second or so day that the spectacular things started happening. The entire voyage was a phenomenal experience but there are a few events that stood out to me and hopefully always will.

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The Spirit Of Adventure (Part Three)

Every morning at six thirty somebody would wake us up and turn on the lights. The first morning it happened, from sleeps foggy haze, I couldn’t understand why somebody had turned the sun on.

I would then roll out of bed, trying to not step on the girl sleeping beneath me and trying not to bash my head against the back of the girl sleeping above me. I slept with my togs on as my base layer, it made peeing a bit difficult but put me at an extreme advantage in the morning.

I would hurriedly pull off the seven layers of merino I wore to keep warm, and stuff them into my sleeping bag. That way I could guarantee at least one dry change of clothing to slip into at the end of the day.

I would then hustle upstairs through the door directly in front of me, always nervous everyone would already be waiting for me. But no one ever was, and I’m proud to say that I maintained the title of the first trainee up on deck throughout the entire voyage.

I would pace the length of the ship, trying to soothe the shivering and ignore the ache in my feet from the cold deck. Eventually, everyone else slowly trickled onto the deck and joined me in my pacing. 

The pacing became a daily ritual of mindfulness for me. When it was just me, pacing in the dark on a ship in the middle of the ocean, I could take a few moments just for myself. Just me and the sky and the sea. One of the biggest struggles on The Spirit for me was constantly being exposed to everyone. So, I relished those quiet dark moments before everyone else got up. 

I've never been very good at mindfulness, getting distracted easily when trying to meditate. But because there was literally nothing else going on around me I found myself practicing my breathing and focusing my mind on the day ahead. 

It helped that I was being motivated to find calmness by the fact I was on a ship in the middle of the ocean, with the constantly changing weather. Nearly forty other teenagers, with constantly changing moods and a day of activities that I knew I would be unskilled and unprepared for. 

When everyone else was up on deck someone would gather us near the front of the ship and take us through a warm-up. We would jump and sprint and shake our hands and legs until at least some warmth came creeping back into our bones. Then we would line up for the jump.

I make it sound ominous because for me it was.

We would line up behind one and other, which is hard when nobody wants to be in front. Then when it came to our turn we would clamber onto the handrail that ran around the ship’s deck.

When you’re standing up there it’s as though everything seems to zoom in. You can feel the cold rail under your feet and you wonder if you’re going to fall back, but you know you won’t because you’re gripping the rope to your left so tightly you wonder if you’ll be able to let go.

Then you look down. You can see the cold, dark ocean lying only two meters below you. Is that a fish or a shark you can see moving? Of course, it’s a fish. The fear screws your stomach up into a ball and slides into your throat choking you.

Then you take a deep breath, close your eyes and jump.

The world seems to stand still for a few seconds because you did it, you jumped. Then the water hits you, and it’s not as bad as you expected but it is still cold and hurts your chest. The life vest propels you to the surface and you start swimming for the rope ladder.

Every single morning started like that for me. I don’t think it ever got less scary, but after a few mornings, I started to look forward to the rope ladder at the end of it.

Because as I was pulling myself out of the cold water that felt like it was clinging to my skin, I could say that I’d won.

Even if for the rest of the day, I did nothing spectacular, I could say that I had already faced my fears and won the fight because I had jumped. 

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The Spirit Of Adventure (Part Two)

I remember watching Auckland slipping away from my grasp, and being painfully aware of how far out of my comfort zone I actually was. I had never been a ‘ship person’. When I was younger I’d had an unhealthy obsession with Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, but that was the extent of my exposure to the high seas.

The panic was overwhelming, it slid up through my stomach to my throat and sat there as I smiled and cheered with the other trainees.

Then Auckland was out of sight and it was lunchtime. I wondered how I would handle eating food with the swaying motion of the ship pushing my stomach around. But after lining up, collecting my food and finding a seat amongst the faces that seemed the most recognizable to me I realized that I wasn’t suffering as much as I had first estimated. After a few moments, I was scoffing down my meal in delight. I don’t think I had eaten since six thirty that morning.

Throughout the entire voyage I never once got seasick, so I must have a little more Jack Sparrow in me than I thought. 

After lunch, they kicked this whole 'sailing experience' off with getting some sails up. My group was assigned the sails at the front of the ship. I was following them to go find our sails when I was whisked aside by one of the volunteer watch assistants. His name was Quentin, he was Scottish and I dare you to find anyone who you’d want to mess with less, but who has a kinder heart sitting underneath all the briskness.

He asked me if I’d done the rigging up and over yet. And I replied with a cautious no, wondering what rigging was and why I was going up and over it. Did they catapult you over the sails from one end of the ship to the other? On this ship, it didn't seem to far fetched of an idea. 

In a few minutes I was harnessing up, for what I still was unsure of. And in a few more minutes I was very slowly following Quentin up the starboard side rigging, clipping my oversized carabiners one above the other. The ship was moving and the rigging was moving with the ship's motion, or I was shaking, probably both.  

We got to the first platform, one of three, and I sighed in relief as we started to make our way down again on the other side. When I got to the bottom, Quentin slapped my back encouragingly and then left me to go rejoin my watch. So that was an up and over.

Having been fueled with boldness after not dying on the rigging, I overconfidently volunteered to be the group leader. The spectacle that followed would have entertained even the driest sense of humor.

Imagine a blind, deaf, chimpanzee trying to teach a group of humans advanced, nuclear, chemical science. I’m not even sure if that's a thing, but that's what it felt like.

Short of understanding that the white flappy things needed to be up in the air and that you did that by pulling some ropes, I was quite lost.

I combated this by waltzing around on deck telling my teammates to 'pull all the ropes'. When our watch assistant frantically interjected with a 'Noooooo, not that one.' I could eliminate that rope from our pulling options. 

It was a process of elimination learning strategy. 

Somehow we managed to get the sails up, although I suspect it may have been due to my teammate's competence a lot more, than to my leadership skills.

That night I settled into my fabric bunk, a little cold from the breeze the open door by my head was bringing in, wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself into.

Little did I know, I was going to walk away a completely different person from an experience I will always credit, in some part, for changing my life.

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The Spirit Of Adventure (Part One)

I had been on standby for the Spirit of Adventure just under a week when on a cold Sunday night my father received a call he almost didn’t pick up because it was the weekend. A position on the next voyage had become available and the ship was leaving Auckland harbor the next day at twelve.

I started packing my bag as Dad was still talking on the phone. Within an hour we had retrieved my sleeping bag from my grandparent's house, booked flights for early the next morning and my pack was bursting at the seams, waiting not so patiently by the door.

At nine the next morning I was on a plane to Auckland and by eleven I was on the ship.

I’ve never been one to fall in love with ships, boats, cars and things like that. And when I saw The Spirit for the first time I can't say I was particularly blown away. It was a boat. It had masts and a deck and sails. At the time I was more worried about getting on board and pretending like I hadn’t just arrived twenty minutes before the ship was to depart and three hours after everyone else had arrived.

I climbed cautiously down the steep steps into what was the girl's accommodation and was met with the sight of rows and rows of blue fold-out fabric bunks. My bunk was number three, right next to the door.

Caitlin, the female leading hand introduced herself with a smile and a wave. She took in the far too large bag that I had awkwardly draped over one sagging shoulder and directed me to a pull out drawer underneath my bunk, about the size of an A3 piece of paper. I emptied the contents of my backpack into the drawer, proud of the fact that my method of packing cells meant I had room to spare. We chucked my empty pack into one of the girl's showers to be taken down into the hull until the end of the voyage and she showed the way to the aft cabin where all the other trainees were gathered.

The aft cabin was like a common room. It was where we ate, played games and held meetings. There were tiered rows of thin tables and benches, like a university lecture theatre. I sat down as quickly as possible, taking the closest available seat and surveying the thirty-two other teens who were already talking and laughing together. Caitlin slid in next to me, for which I was grateful.

A few minutes later the crew came in and started what was our first official meeting as a voyage. They asked us if we really wanted to be here, checking that we hadn’t been blackmailed into it by an overbearing mother, or a father with high expectations. After checking that all the trainees were relatively eager, the third mate broke us into groups that were called ‘Watches’. I was in Port A and the cabin was filled with bustle as the trainee’s rearranged themselves to join their groups.

My group had four boys and four girls. Everyone was nervous so we all made an effort to talk to each other and after a few minutes or so we were all firm friends of circumstance. 

I can’t really remember what came next, I think the shock was starting to set in and everything just started to blur together. Somehow a few minutes later we made our way up on deck to watch the ship leave the docks.

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