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Those things physical

As I have aged over the past fifty or so years, I look back at the varying physical challenges that I have overcome. Many of my friends, Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and other special forces share these memories. For me, those physical challenges included Marathons, Half Marathons, working in the fishing industry, Tough Mudders, even basic training in the US Marines. All of them had their own unique obstacles and all had some blocking point that had to be overcome. As I look back, probably the most challenging of them was the UNQ platoon in basic training for the US Marines. This isn’t part of the normal training within boot camp. This was, well, unique to a small band of schmucks that couldn’t qualify with the M16 on qualification day.

I was in second phase of Marine boot camp, snapping in at Camp Pendleton when I caught pneumonia for the second time during several “pit calls” (we will get to that in a minute). While in the Navy hospital at Camp Pendleton, I had some young Marines warn me that I may get recycled, but if they offered me the “UNQ platoon” which is short for “Unqualified” that I would be better off getting recycled, and under no circumstances should I pick that platoon. They didn’t say why, but the impression that I had was that the UNQ platoon was a “super bad” place to end up at for any period of time. One of the thoughts that echoed quietly in the back of my head was that “First and foremost, all Marines are basic riflemen, and the Corps takes great pride in that”. That alone should have been a red flag. To discredit the Corps by not being able to do something as simple as shoot a rifle was about as bad as it could get.

snapping-in

I returned to the rifle range, to be greeted by one of my own Drill Instructors, Sgt. Rovenek, the “good DI” who was now the Senior DI for this “UNQ Platoon”. These were recruits that couldn’t qualify with the M16-A1 rifle during qualification day. So, instead of going on to Mess and Maintenance, the Marines instead created a platoon for the “non-hackers”. Sgt. Rovenek told me I had a choice, get recycled (again, due to pneumonia) or stay with him and the UNQ platoon and I could catch up with my regular platoon during ITS (Infantry Training School).

Hell that was an EASY call; I told him I would go with the “UNQ platoon”. I had already been in boot camp for three weeks longer than I wanted to be due to two weeks in Balboa hospital with bi-lateral pneumonia and I had NO intent of staying any longer, much less getting recycled to another platoon.

I am not sure if he smiled or frowned, but either way, the decision was made. Sgt Rovenek assembled the platoon of “unqualifying f****” on the first day and in his normally loud voice he pronounced that we owed him one hundred bends and thrusts at his cadence, and if we failed to deliver on that? We would owe him two hundred bends and thrusts, and each time we fail, it would be one hundred more on top of whatever we owed him. I knew that we could bust out one hundred easily, so no worry about that issue.

Over the two days of shooting, I noticed that ALL the DI’s were very reserved in their treatment of us “unqualified f****”. I qualified the first day, high expert, and most did, a few did not. However two days into it, we all qualified. Sgt Rovenek, true to his word, marched us to the “pit” at the snapping in range. This Pit sucked. It was about four maybe five inches deep of very fine powdery dirt. It was kind of like what women’s make up is made of; very fine, very light, goes everywhere you don’t want it to go. We assembled our weapons outside the pit and marched into this “dirt circle”.

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We began with bends and thrusts. Hands go down, feet go out, feet come back up, and the body goes up. “One Two Three Four, I love the Marine Corps”, along with other entertaining chants, and this went on to the count of about ninety something when somebody screwed up. Now? Two hundred bends and thrusts. All the while the other two junior Drill Instructors are in your face, screaming, yelling and doing very well at just pissing us off.

We were about 45 minutes into this “thrashing” when Sgt. Rovenek uttered the words “STOP!”  “SIR STOP! AYE AYE SIR!” was our response. He had us run to the ladder-well (stairs) going down to the .45 caliber pistol range, beating each other with our covers (hats) to knock the dirt off.

We then ran across the .45 range, twenty yards or so, up the other ladder-well, went into the concrete head (bathroom) that was 50 feet from the stairs, washed ourselves off as best we could, used the head if you had to, and get into formation outside the head. We were so relieved; it was OVER! Holy crud, that was a tough thrashing! “Forward march” were the words, and then?

“Column left” and right back into the pit. And we went at it again. DI’s yelling, screaming, and kicking dirt in your face, pushing you down with a boot on the back. Recruits scream, some started crying, others just getting angrier, many in a pretty serious daze. Another 45 minutes goes by, we are up to about 500 bends and thrusts when we do the same thing again, run to the ladder-well, hitting each other with our covers, across, back up, into the head, out into formation and then? “Forward march” then? “Column left” and back into the pit we went.

This was repeated over and over from about 0700 until chow time around 1100, at that point? We were mud-caked, sore, beat, angry, tired, and owed who knew how many bends and thrusts to Sgt. Rovenek. But we were thrilled, the thrashing was over. We chowed hard, seriously starving after that kind of beating and as I got into my second mouthful of that outstanding noon chow it dawned on me… We had nothing, absolutely NOTHING to do for the next three days. NOTHING.

I stopped eating and put my fork down. I realized what was about to happen to us for the next three days and the rest of today, we were going to thrash. And that is ALL we were going to do. I quit eating, and focused on drinking water… and not too much, I had seen what happened if you puked in the pit, you got to cover it up with dirt, and then? Put it in your pockets.

Been there, seen that. And no thanks. I nudged one of the guys I had made friends with, and told him what I thought. He said “No way” they won’t do that. I said ok, but I wasn’t taking chances. When we finished chow, most of the guys were fat and happy at that point, in mud caked utilities and covered from head to foot in half inch deep cracked mud. Our faces were grime streaked from sweat and fine powdery filth. The other recruits were content, chow was had, and they had survived a serious thrashing. We began marching back to the pit, and one by one, I saw the lights come on. Every recruit there had an epiphany. We had just been introduced to WHY you don’t go to the UNQ platoon.

For the next three days we spent close to 6 hours  a day or better in that pit, bends and thrusts, grenade drills, push-ups, side straddle hops, or being cockroaches that bury themselves when they die. Grenade drills involved running as hard as you could across the pit, and when the DI screamed GRENADE! You dropped like a rock into the dirt. Then when he yelled CLEAR you got up and started running again, full tilt boogie. I saw recruits puke, cry, pass out, get revived and start again. That was a thrashing that is probably the worst the military has to offer including Hell Week from the Seals or any other elite force.

By the end of the week, almost all of us were barely able to get out of the rack, and our utilities stood in the corner by themselves. I don’t know that the dirt ever came out of those “cammies”. The “UNQ Platoon” was a serious motivator…. And Sgt. Rovenek motivated the hell out of that entire platoon. It took me days to recover from that kind of beating. I didn’t know it was possible to exercise that hard, and still keep moving. Shortly after we left the rifle range, we caught up with our platoon for ITS. Infantry Training  School.

ITS was the Marine equivalent of the Navy Seals “Hell Week”.  By far, the UNQ platoon had been my “Crucible”. Today, the Marines have changed ITS into the “Crucible” where you are given little sleep, little to eat, and pushed to your limits physically, mentally and emotionally. Many times in that pit I questioned what in the hell I had got myself into, but? Quitting was never an option. Giving up was never an option. This is what separates the recruit from becoming a Marine.

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Musings on a ski lift

My wife and I just recently enjoyed Christmas with my family in Salida Colorado. This is something we do our best and pulling off each year, with the Carpenter clan getting back to enjoy each others company once again.

We are spread across the US, from my nephew in Oklahoma, my sister in Texas, the other in New Mexico, and my brother in Alaska, where I used to live. I learned to ski in Alaska, and while that may sound dramatic? to some degree, it is. But let me jump back some time before I moved to Alaska, and therein describe my love for the hobby of skiing. I say that lightly, I have never been an “expert” and my form leaves much to be desired, but? I can get down most mountains without breaking parts and pieces.

My brother, for my birthday, gave me the present of a trip to Santa Fe and to learn to ski. I was fresh out of the Marines, and was home at the time, so I said, sure? why not? Danny and his girlfriend, Rikki, showed up in Roswell, New Mexico in an early 70s or 80’s VW wagon that was held together by bailing wire, bondo, and gum. I was impressed. We hopped into the van and slid the door shut… twice. nope, three times before she would latch. Bang, and off we go. I note that both of them already have blankets out in front two seats. there are no seats in the back, just bags, clothes, and other odds and ends. But there was a piece of plywood, stretched across the back for their bed.

I sat in between the seats and blanket on and coffee in hand, we were off to Santa Fe. First gear, grind, second gear, grind, third gear, smoothly in.. finally got it in final gear on flat ground and we were moving on down the road. The only thing that was missing was a fatty and a lighter, and we would have given “Up in smoke” a run for their money. Here I was, the pretty brainwashed uptight Marine, and here is my brother and his girlfriend who lean as hard left as one can without falling off the planet. and I loved them both for it.

We pulled into Santa Fe and were at the hill at first rise of sun. I was so excited I was humming in high gear. Danny helped me pick out the first set of skis and bindings. the minute the guy saw “beginner”? He set them to release on a fart alone. and damn glad he did. I had no idea of what I was doing. I had never been on skis before, closes thing to it was inline roller skates on which I sucked, or the 10 minutes I owned a skateboard until I flew 15 feet into the air because of a pebble stopping my fat wide wheel like hitting a brick wall, wheel high, now I know why they have “skinny tires” today. and minus a few bruises and road rash.

Regardless, I am now coming up to my first chairlift experience. I manage to figure it out, albeit a bit intimated somehow. I kept seeing myself getting clobbered by the ski chair or falling out right as the lift goes out and gets up about 8 or 9 feet. (I have seen this happen) for some reason, right about that height, some people get the overwhelming urge to lean forward.. waaaaay forward and out they go. straight down for 8 or 9 feet, face first. skis explode, knees and legs get twisted in some really bad ways, and that skier is done for the season, if not forever.

However, it was a bluebird day, had snow a couple of days ago, and they had groomed green runs. those were for me, figure out how to point skis downhill and control them while have a great time in the mountains of Santa Fe. I get to the top and launch off of the lift to the snow and down the little hill.. about half way down the easy part, i catch and edge and down we go. I note other people that had gone down and I noticed how much trouble they were having getting back up.

I figured out, very rapidly, that pointing your skis down the hill and trying to stand on them is not possible in any physics related theories that you can successfully stand up on a set of skis that appear to be magnetically repelled to you or any part of your body. The skis will flee your company with gusto, leaving you poorly connected to the ski(s), or just one of them. sometimes neither. Just depends on how hard the snow gods want to laugh. In my case, they were getting started with a good chuckle

I managed to get my skis beneath me, horizontal to the mountain, with the right food on the downard edge and the left above that, now? All i had to do was push on the poles and “walla!” I would have upright stance, while all these people coming off the lift ski around me. in the middle of the ramp. I finally get up and start moving again. towards the tree line as i should be heading. put pressure on inside tow of right foot and I should start turning right…. about now.. now… now… crap.

Down again, this time? In a tree well. Ever see a tree try to eat a human? Climb into a tree well, where the snow is all but impossible to get out of. pop skis, use poles in thirty ways, toss skis up on trail, and climb.. kick, push, but climb. at the end of it? you are a frozen popsicle that just made it out of the freezer. Then the only thing you really want to do is cut the ******ing tree down and burn it to use its body to warm yours.

tree-well

In 2001 I had my most spectacular day of skiing and my most spectacular yard sale. I was skiing in June of 2001, a beautiful bluebird day in Alyeska, on top of a black diamond run that met with a nice green run, that went down, over a slight rise, then cut to the left at a slow angle. Perfect for a day of skiing in shorts, T-shirt and backpack. It simply did not get any better. I had my tunes jamming in my ears, ZZ-Top, “Pincushion” and I was flying.  That is the only way I can describe skiing, it is as if you are 6 inches off the ground and just flying… I went down the black diamond, steep, but not crazy, did my side to side motions, cutting speed to warp factor 3, and I was free. I came down, then was going over the slight rise, a gentle thing, just a slow rise to the turn coming up the song just got to “I’m a pincushion” and….

WTF?

I am upside down, my skis and boots in the air over my head, I am still moving at about 50 mph and seeing blue sky instead of snow, and I have absolutely no idea how I got there. The next thought I had? This is going to hurt. and WHAM! I land on the rough corned up snow, skis fly into the void, poles dig into the ground and instantly get yanked out of my hands and I am going ass over teakettle down the hill, then sliding on my left side trying to get some traction to stop, all to no avail. When I stop? I look back up this gentle rise and I am seeing stars….

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Eventually I get up, note that one side has a great run of bloody road rash running down my arm, side and leg, with ice crystals and rock embedded in my skin, and my skis and poles? nowhere to be found. I climb up the hill in my boots, still dazed a bit, and still trying to figure out what happened.. but I am at a complete loss. I chalk it up to who knows what, find my skis and poles, and finish the run to the bottom where I load up my gear and call it a season. Next day? after screaming like a banshee as I scrubbed the ice and dirt out of my skin, I was black and blue from top to bottom on my left side, and guess what?

Still wasn’t a bad run.

But I digress, as I sit on the chairlift, I often reflect on life. I note that each time I do that, I can reflect on an earlier time in a different chairlift and create a link of sorts across time. Usually those links are poignant, reflective in just how good my life has been, both good and bad, with the good usually outweighing the bad. I think back on experiences on the ski hills I have encountered, white outs, falls, GREAT runs, really magnificent “yard sales” where you wipe out so badly that you are tempted to sell all your gear at a yard sale (provided you can even find your gear after such a legendary explosion)

I think back on the painful items, losing my Connie, and how skiing 6 days a week gave me an outlet for a kind of pain that just doesn’t go away. It may lessen, or get packed away really well, but skiing did much to help me adjust to it in 2001. It also goes back to the highlight of 2004 where on a mountain in Squaw Valley, I dropped to one knee and proposed to Lynda, my high school sweetheart. Truly a great point in my life.

Or when we reconnected and tried to ski every hill we could find as we traveled from Alaska to San Diego by way of Key West. and we found a LOT of mountains to ski down as we went through Canada, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado.. Each one having a unique mountain to ski on, and ski we did. and on each of those mountains, I took each chair ride as an opportunity to enjoy the company, and to reflect on the past, and hope for the future. But what I found more than anything else on those lifts?

Peace, happiness, and hope for the future.

Join me there, when you can, look back, reflect, enjoy the company you are with, and look to the future with a skiers heart, a skier’s point of view. and that view?

That there are no bad runs.

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Grenade… How quaint

You know, I just saw a quick cut of a movie called “The Faults in Our Stars” about a young girl with cancer and her life story. (I have avoided it like the plague as I don’t need any more emotional roller coaster rides from hell than I already have, thank-you-very-much)

She explains to someone that she is a “grenade”, and that, my friends is a pretty good descriptor. What she missed is, that she is a faulty grenade, as the pin is pulled the the timer?

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has a mind of its own

Anyone who has had the word “cancer” and their name used in the same sentence understands exactly what I mean. When someone does that to you, suddenly you become a grenade. A faulty one. You may go off, you may not. The pin may get reset, or you may stand there for years, staring at that fucking pin and that damn grenade and wonder, “Exactly when are you going to explode”?

Then the clock starts. You don’t know how much time you  have. Nor does anyone else. But a lot of them step away from you pretty quick or hide behind life avoiding the blast if they can. At least limit the damage they will experience. Tick tick tick.. fucking life’s clock just keeps on going. In the meantime? You stand there staring at the pin trying to figure out exactly why it got pulled and whether or not you can put it back in.

Then the circus begins.. A true three ringed circus, clowns and all. The doctors that are looking at another grenade, working to slow the timer. Nurses poking and jabbing, they too, doing what they know how to do to slow the tick tick tick of that fucking grenade. Then you begin to wonder, what can I do? what can my spouse do? what can anyone do? and in the background of life you hear that god damned timer still ticking.

You research, study, learn things about health and life that you really wish you hadn’t. and not sure exactly what to believe as half the shit on the internet is someone trying to make a dime, and statistics are made up 73% of the time on the spot. The deeper you dig the more confusing it gets. You hope for something, anything to help silence that ticking sound that is scratching at your brain like a splinter in your hand that you can’t get out. It is maddening. And still you hold that fucking grenade and pin…

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Slowly, if you are that lucky, you realize a couple of things. While you are driving yourself mad trying to stop  that fucking ticking sound, you can forget the single most important thing that you should be doing…

Living

Each tick is a moment wasted if you aren’t doing what you truly love. Each tick is something you cannot get back. Time is a commodity that you cannot trade or earn, you get what you get. So for those of you out there reading this? If you think cancer patients are the only folks holding a grenade in their hand waiting for that horrific moment that it decides to go off?

They aren’t the only ones.. You might want to look in your hands and see that each of us have pulled that pin, and time, for all of us is winding down. Cancer patients may have a shorter run of it, they may not. After you read this, you might want to re-examine where you are and what you are doing. If you aren’t doing what you love to do and who you love to do it with?

You might wanna change that before that fricking grenade in your hands goes off.

crater

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Sleepless in Anchorage

Last night Lynda and I decided to have a snuggle night and with my tv (she won’t claim to own one) we decided on “Sleepless in Seattle”. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.. Innocent enough, and Lynda mentioned she had never seen it.

For those of you that have not seen it, the story is about loss and renewal. The story is of a husband who loses his soul mate to some undefined disease. The opening scene is from a graveside service with the boy and the dad standing at the grave site and his dad is trying to explain to his son that there didn’t seem to be any specific reason for his wife dying, that it was simply life being random in its selection of those it takes. and even more so: “If we start asking why, we’ll go crazy”.. I quit asking why her very, very quickly. Anger is an emotion that can spin out of control.

While Lynda and I lie on the couch, the year 2001 came roaring back in vivid color. My emotions, while under some sense of control, was given the reminder of what it means to lose a soul-mate. Something, even as I write can cause my eyes to leak. The movie went on that since his loss, “Sam” the person that Tom Hanks plays, cannot sleep. I remember that well. At the very best,  I could catch 1/2 hour cat naps once or twice during the day. And for those that know my penchant for sleeping at the drop of a hat, that is a big statement.

At that point in time, as far as I was concerned, my married days were over.  Sure, I would date, but the idea of finding another soul mate in this life time was zero. I had my time in the sunshine, Connie was my girl and she was gone, much like Sam’s in the movie. Eventually I became functional, but the words that Tom Hanks uttered hit home harder than I expected.. he was quoting me… “Wake up, take a breath, remember to breathe out, take another step”.. repeat. and remember to breathe in.. and take another step.

It was if “Sam” and I had walked in the same shoes down the same dark trail. Scary indeed. Lynda checked in with me a couple of times, but I was determined to watch the movie through. I can remember doing much like the character, lying on a couch talking to Connie as if she were standing right there. that was my new normal.

At some point in the movie there was a part where Sam was about to get mixed up with the wrong person, and his son fixed it for him. I can remember coming dangerously close to the same thing. Someone I was dating was looking for much more than I was willing to give. But in the end that ended well.

As the movie progressed it told of “fate”. of “knowing” when you have met someone that you have no doubt you will love for the rest of your life. That you have “found home” even knowing you had never seen it before, that this was where you were meant to be.

To quote Sam: “I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like… magic”

When Lynda and I reconnected, I was nervous.. scared. Worried that again, I was making a mistake in reaching out to someone, but the funny part? I knew it deep in my bones that Lynda was the only one on the planet that had a chance of pulling me out of the world I had grown into.

When we met at the airport, that world began to melt away, the darkness, the loss, the hurt suddenly began to dissipate, evaporate. The passion was there, but there was something else. Like with Connie, when I heard her laugh at that restaraunt, I knew something was about to happen, and when I laid eyes on her, I knew.. I knew in my heart, that she was going to be my wife.

Lynda and I left airport terminal and went out to my truck. We hopped in and I started the engine. I reached over and took Lynda’s hand and the world stopped. I mean it stopped cold. That touch, that hand hold, took both our breaths away. At that point, I realized two things.

One.

I had judged every hand I had ever held based on that very same hand that I held from my high school days. With no doubt, every girl I dated, every female I had ever held hands with, that hand, Lynda’s hand, was what I judged every woman on, for better or worse. It was one of the most wonderful epiphanies I have ever had

Two

I had just become the luckiest guy in the universe. I had found what I deemed impossible, a second soul mate. I mean that. When you meet someone, that one person, you know it. There is, and was, no doubt, that Lynda and I would spend the rest of our days together, however long those days would be.  I describe it as the world suddenly “clicking” into place and the hands of fate had come full circle.

The movie helped me to remember that sometimes, when you lose something special, that in that moment, the universe is by far the most cruel thing there is. And in the next moment, when you find yourself staring at a magical place in time, that you use that memory to reach out instead of hide.. take that leap of faith and see what may be.

There is magic in this world, just remember to keep your eyes open to it. Sometimes it is something as easy as an email to someone you haven’t seen in 22 years.

May your new year be just that, a new year, full of excitement, adventure, fun, and love. Keep those that you care about close to you, never let them doubt how you feel, and live with a sense of urgency… Live the life that you dream of, and keep your eyes open.. The universe is stranger than fiction.

 

 

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The Christmas that shouldn’t be

I look at that title of this post. and I re-read it again. It has been four years since Lynda and I were hit with the cold hard fact that her cancer had spread. and without Lynda in the room, I asked Dr. Sinclair the question that would bounce around in my head in more ways than I could ever imagine it would.

How long?

How do you spit that question out? How do you wrap your head around that kind of a question? My tongue was numb, hell, I was numb. I was in probably the deepest state of shock I had ever been in, but also I had known from the first PET scan that Lynda, my second wife was in trouble. Just like I knew Connie , my first wife, was in trouble when the words “pancreatic cancer” rolled out of that surgeons mouth in 2001. I knew that the likelihood of Connie making it for any period of time was nil.

Now, there I sat, with my second wife and now this ugly beast had reared its head in the dark and turned our way. Staring into the eyes of a dragon is a life changing event.

Dr. Sinclair, who I considered to be an excellent oncologist prefaced his statement with “We don’t know”. It could be… and at that point I tuned everything out. As I watched his lips move, I was rocketed back to the days with Connie. Spending days in the hospital bed, cuddled up next to her realizing that time was getting shorter with every passing day. And I was so wrapped up in losing her that I couldn’t figure out how to live… for those last few weeks, it was as if I was sitting around an empty coffin, just a matter of time before I found it filled.

I came back to the conversation finding Dr. Sinclair looking down at the floor, we both realized that this diagnosis was as dire as any that I had ever heard. Lynda and I left the office that day, and went for a walk, trying to talk about what we thought was coming. The options, any ideas? What in the hell do we do now? It was crushing. We talked, we cried, and we sucked it up and determined that we would do everything we could to beat this dragon.

As it progressed I think a light bulb went off in our heads. We are all going to die at some point, the end is never the destination, the journey is. Life is the journey, and it is what you make it. I remember a line from the “Shawshank Redemption”

Get busy living or get busy dying

Damn straight.

Lynda and I have always lived full tilt boogie, ask any of our friends. We don’t take life lightly. We decided to up that a notch, and go for the gusto. The road trip, Belize, getting in touch with old friends, making sure our family knew how we felt about them, then re-confirming all that once again.

Lake Harmony

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erick and Lynda bristlecones

Over two years later, and that dragon that had turned to us in that rough night is now sleeping. It rustles every so often, but does no damage other than remind us that life is uncertain, an ending is forever possible, and at some point, inevitable. But we think we found the secret to life. Live it. Run it as hard as you can, you won’t get a second chance, unless you get lucky like we did. We are in our second chance now. And it is good.

Us in Guatemala

Me and my wife

Me and my wife

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What has cancer done for us? Our sister in law has often asked “How can serve you” (can cer v u). and it has in more ways that I can count. This disease has made me appreciate every day I have with my wife and friends. It has made me a better man. And together, it has made us a much closer couple. Lynda is healthier now than she has ever been. As am I. Mentally we are tough enough to deal with anything that life has to offer, and perhaps a bit more.

Then there is the Christmas time of the year. This was Connie’s favorite time of the year as it is Lynda’s. For me it has always been tough as I get nostalgic remembering the Christmases of my past. The Charlie Brown Christmas tree with Connie. Connie and I decided to cut our own Christmas tree in Alaska, and found what we thought was the area to cut a tree, found one in Chugach National Forest and proceeded to cut it down, waist deep in snow.

We loaded it up in my little Dodge D50 pickup truck and off we went back to our happy little trailer in Anchorage. We  put it in a tree holder and filled the tree stand with water. A couple of days went by and it began to turn brown. I kept wondering what was going on? I looked at the water level and it hadn’t changed. added a bit more water and watched. Slowly over the next couple of weeks, the needles fell out and we were left with a bare tree with all its decorations about it. A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. Then I realized that the stump was bout a quarter inch or so above the water line. We laughed about that for years.

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There fun we had as kids with my mom, never realizing just how little money we had, yet Christmas was such fun. The Pinatas, friends coming over, the smell of turkey in the air. I can remember the squeal of delight from my younger sisters as the threw themselves at the wrapped toys under the tree. I took great delight in that. Knowing that my brother Danny and I had spent a lot of the evening, wrapping those same presents. My mom in her chair at the dining table looking down with a worn but happy smile. those were magic times.

I realize now that the conversation with Dr Sinclair hung in the back of my mind for all this time. Lynda should not be here. Based on patient history of  those whose cancer that has spread, she should be gone, and I should be a widower yet again. and had this scenario played out, I am at a loss as to where I would be. and that thought chills my bones to the core. However, I am humbled by this Christmas that shouldn’t be.

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It is by far one of the greatest gifts that the universe could have ever bestowed on me. And my promise? I won’t squander it, and instead of being “Grinchy” I opt more for the “It’s a wonderful life” attitude. This is indeed the Christmas that shouldn’t be.  And may there be many more, not only for us, but for all of you who read this post as well.

Merry Christmas to all  and a quote from “It’s a wonderful life”

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he”?

Here is to the lack of holes in your world.

Merry Christmas to all

Note*** And especially to Regina, who just lost her husband, I truly know the loss, and if ever we can be of help, reach out, we are here.

 

Erick and Lynda Carpenter

 

 

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Cancer, Downhill Skiing, Family, Hiking, Hot Tubbing!, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, RV Travel, Scuba, Ski, Spiritual, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

This time of the year

I find myself more reflective than normal. While I always try to remember where I am, and where I am going, I find myself melancholy this time of the year. Memories come and go, with the ebb and the flow of tide of the day. I have quick flashes of truly delightful Christmases with my siblings back in the day.

I gleefully remember waiting for my younger sisters going to sleep so my brother and I could put their presents under the tree that we had all worked so hard on. Stringing popcorn and cranberries, along with my brother and I trying to figure out which bulb was burnt out so we could get the lights going again and hung up on the tree.

I remember laughing quietly as we went through the wee hours of the night trying to make it all look good. I know my mom who was at work at the bars being either a waitress or a bar tender while teaching school during the day would come home to a worn smile, knowing that she didn’t have to do it all herself. I realized I probably received more happiness from that alone than almost anything else.

My younger sisters would bound out of bed early on, only to squeal in delight as they opened the hard earned presents that my mom had bought with her tip money or had put on layaway the equivalent of a credit card back in the day. On one hand the delight my sisters and I got out of the gifts almost outweighed the underlying guilt I felt that my mom had worked her butt off so hard only to spend it on us kids.

However, my mom, long black hair and her stunning indian features would sit in the dining room of our trailer and look down on us with such a bright smile. It was a moment that I know she treasured. We bought her gifts as well, nothing quite so grand, but we all did what we could do to either make them or buy them to present to her as kids do.

Some of the gifts, long since faded into history, were hand made. Nothing wild, but often it was clothes or some type of plaything that we enjoyed for awhile. During those times I learned that all things, as fun and as enjoyable as they are, fade over the years. The clothes become tattered and eventually discarded. But the emotion, the memories, have stood the test of time.

I often have coffee at home, and sitting at the kitchen table, the memories flood back of my mom sitting there with  her smokes, laughing, chatting about the events at the bar or at school, and at the time, they were amusing. I loved sitting at that table at christmas time, the white octagonal table that we spent so many years rushing in and out of the home, but somehow seemed to find the time to sit, have coffee, and enjoy each others stories.

Those memories remind me that life can be fleeting, but can also be relived over and over as the years go by. and the enjoyment often grows over time. I sit here in our home in Colorado, and I have a small kitchen table where I can pour a cup of coffee and sit back to remember those days. What a true delight it is.

To those that are just beginning families, or have families that are growing, do you and your family a favor, put the electronics away when you come home, turn off the TV, start a cup of tea, a cup of coffee, and have a conversation if even for only a little while. In the years to follow, those will follow you and your children for a lifetime, and in that, provide you memories that last for generations.

Mom? I feel your presence to this day, here in our home.

Merry Christmas.

 

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Cancer, Downhill Skiing, Family, Hiking, Hot Tubbing!, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, RV Travel, Scuba, Ski, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Ccccchanges… think that is a song…

Well, the fun part about this road trip for a lifetime is that we are fluid. Like the blades of glass in the wind, we know when to bend with the wind, and let go that of being as a tree that can often be broken in the gale force of a storm.

Lynda has taken on a masters degree in complimentary and alternative medicine. She and I have spent the last, what, 8 years researching alternative methods for treating cancer, as the standard therapies just didn’t sound all that good. And truth be told we will never truly know what was the better of two choices, alternative or standard, except that against all odds, she is still alive and very very healthy.

I am quoting statistics here, and for those fighting this disease, please PLEASE skip this paragraph, you do NOT need the following information rattling around in your noodle. Based on standard medicine’s therapies, once a cancer metastasizes to another place, it is referred to as stage IV. and that is considered to be terminal. Just a matter of time. The best they can do is just that, maybe, is buy you time.

There are, however, many people that have gone on to survive and for whatever reason, live on quite well, with no signs of cancer. Everyone that has survived has a different story. Some claim it was God, while others claim science, and still others claim a mixture of all of it. Lynda and I feel that what works for one person, may or may not work for another. We remain of the same opinion that while cancer is a devastating word to hear in the same sentence with your own name, it is seldom a health emergency.

Your doctor, depending on who that person is, may feel differently, and that for their own reasons. Our opinion is this, try the alternative therapies first. Those that promote healing, a healthy environment that cancer has a hard time growing in, and boosting your immune system as well as you can. Become your own advocate, research, listen, ask questions on EVERYTHING… and at the end of the day if these less invasive procedures don’t work?

Go give the western medicine a roll of dice and see what you get. If nothing else you may be in better shape to deal with chemo and radiation. It may fix you if the other did not… but remember, it is toxic, it is physically devastating, and may or may not work, that is something that you, unfortunately (or fortunately) have to find out on your own. But long and the short of it, you are on a path that is scary, full of trials and tribulations and will rock your world forever, regardless of outcome.

Yet, in that, for the first time in years, Lynda and I are truly planning on a future. I mean that. This road trip? It was the result of having a conversation with my younger sister, Daonne, while I was dealing with Lynda’s cancer having resurfaced. Lynda had some blockage, her intestine swelled shut. No reason why, just did. They finally agreed on surgery after a few days in the hospital. Turns out she had a single cell of cancer called a “strand” in the lining of her intestine.  Not on the outside, not on the inside but actually inside the wall of the intestine, just a single cell, but enough to piss off her intestine to the point of closing.

The surgeon that did the work said he had never seen anything like that before. And Lynda has heard that statement more times than we care to admit. So while I was home pretty much freaking out about all this as I had true flashbacks of watching my first wife, Connie die from cancer, my younger sister asked me what I was going to do if I lost Lynda.

Stopped me in my tracks. Cold. Never once, even during my freaking out did I truly think that was possible. I never let my mind go down that path. Ever. But, there I was, finally having to face my absolute worst fear. I spit out something to the effect of “Disappear” “Vanish” go on a permanent walkabout, travel the US, go skiing, go backpacking, but leave people alone for awhile…

I knew that if that happened, my world would be gone.. Just as it had done when Connie died. That was the day my world ended. and it started back up again when Lynda walked back into my life. and to be honest, if that happened, that would be it.. There is no other “Lynda” in my life..

Little sister processed that… not sure how or when, but later on, Lynda approached me and asked me if that is what I said. I told her “Yes, without you, I have no world to be in”. She said, “Well, if you would do that without me, why not do it WITH me”? and so our road trip for a lifetime began. Short spurts, buying the rig, living in it while we figured out what we could do or not do, and it came together. At the same time, we went for another PET scan to see what more damage had been done. The last time we ran one, we found four spots total. the original on her shoulder, two spots on her spine and one in her hips.

We were prepared for the worst. Lynda and I had finally tried out last shot, Lynda did a regimen of baking soda and black strap molasses for 3 weeks or so. She started off with one tsp of baking soda mixed with 1tsp of black strap molasses once a day, then three times a day, then 2tsp three times a day until she was up to something like 8 tsp of each a day… she started getting a bit loopy, so she came back down to 1tsp a day and started taking milk thistle as well as the baking soda made her liver feel “weird”…

We went into the PET scan with the expectations of “holy shit batman” it is worse. Dr. Sinclair gave us the results. two spots were dead. two were seriously fading and no signs anywhere else… Whatever you are doing? Keep doing it. Lynda took him up on that and began adding other items in. Raw Veganism, supplements that fight cancer without being toxic, boosting the immune system and removing every possible toxin she can from her system and from what she is exposed to.

So, for the first time in over two years? We are truly planning a future beyond next month. She is pursuing her degree. We are trying to buy a house in Grand Junction. I am interviewing for a position with Mesa county. We are looking at a timeline beyond next month. The road trip? I think for both of us, maybe subconsciously, was to avoid thinking too hard about next month or next year. Instead, focus on the now, the present, the journey, and that is still our focus, but for the first time in a while?

It looks like the journey might just be a bit longer than we imagined. Will see.

Thank you all for sharing our trip with us, as it will continue. We may settle in Grand Junction, we may not. It truly depends on a myriad of “things” coming together. We may not be able to get a loan for the home, and in that case, we will keep doing what we do.. The name of the game? Stay fluid, and enjoy the ride.

Hippiness

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Cancer, Downhill Skiing, Family, Hiking, Hot Tubbing!, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, RV Travel, Scuba, Ski, Spiritual, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Dash

I once heard from a guy or read in a book, I don’t remember which, that a guy was standing at a grave site and looking at the headstone. On that headstone was two dates. And he was staring very intently at those two dates. Someone standing next to him made a comment about the end date.. and how final it was. The guy looked over and said that those two dates had no significance, instead it was the “dash”. The point in between the two dates. “We are all born, and we all die, but the dash is the important part, how you live your life”. Then he turned and walked away from the stone.

That, among many things I have heard or read over the years had an impact on how we live. Lines that I often quote are some from “The Shawshank Redemption”…

Get busy living or get busy dying.

Lynda and I chose the former. When faced with some really shitty news, or given a dire diagnosis, everyone gets to make a choice. Sometimes that choice is to do nothing and let life take its course. One is to fight tooth and nail for every moment, and use every tool available to scratch out what is hopefully another minute of life. Another still is to choose a different path. Let the diagnosis do whatever it may, but instead of focusing on treating the disease, make the best educated choices you can, and then?

Get busy living.

So since Lynda’s dire diagnosis, Lynda chose to educate herself as well as she could, use the tools, but instead of just focusing on survival, to get busy living a life that is as packed full of stories that we could load into a lifetime, be it just a day away or fifty years away. We focus on the here and now, and keep an eye on the future. What people don’t seem to understand is…… that we get it.

Yesterday is a cashed check, tomorrow is a promissory note, today is ready cash… Spend it wisely.

With that frame of mind, we are packing as much as we possibly can into this life, hoping for a future, but not willing to bet our lives on it. Instead bet on here and now, as that is our “dash” our important part. Our plans or our “bucket list” grows daily. And what shakes out is what shakes out. But that current list goes something like this:

  • Tibet – Being on part of a medical team to help the folks there, backpacking from town to town
  • Africa – A photo safari of the migrations there
  • British Virgin Islands – An island hopping trip for 10-14 days with close friends
  • Alaska – Road trip in our RV so Lynda can see all the majesty that I have seen
  • Europe – Greece, Italy, backpacking through Europe on a European Tran Pass and see Europe first hand
  • Diving in Palau
  • Diving in Australia
  • Visit New Zealand
  • Backpack on the Appalachian Trail
  • Backpack through the Black Hills
  • More backpacking in Alaska

Just a start, with Lynda doing her Masters, it may be a bit before the major push on this list. The Masters in complimentary and alternative medicine is another bucket list item for Lynda, and that is underway. However, while she works on this bucket list item, I can work on mine. What I will ask from each of you that follows this blog, take some time and make a bucket list. Day dream, play fantasy, and write down the things in life you would truly like to do… Then pick the top three.

Then make plans to do that bucket list item. What will that item take? How will you do that adventure? and plan your goal out. plan for the time off from work. plan for the expenses. Make that adventure your goal. Tell your friends about what that “bucket list item” is. Everyone lives in the thought of “I have time”. and I am sure that those people who went to work on 9/11 in New York thought the exact same thing. And it truly sucks to have your life cut short with no warning. And folks? That is usually the way it works. You are there one minute. And gone in the next.

So do Lynda and myself a favor. Let us inspire your “dash”. Let our adventures inspire you to reach yours. Use your passion, your imagination and your dreams to be your guide. Time is no ones friend. It is the one thing you cannot get more of nor can you get it back once it is spent. But you can make the most of what you have. Do that for us. Do that for you.

Make your dash count…

 

erick and Lynda bristlecones  2013 NOLS ELLE B

E&L IMG_2274

Erick Lynda Garrett -2 Table Rock Jungle Erick and Lynda

20131107_103749  IMG_3965

Namaste

 

 

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Downhill Skiing, Family, Hiking, Hot Tubbing!, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Religious, RV Travel, Scuba, Ski, Spiritual, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Plans of Mice and Men… and US!

Well, we are here in Lake Harmony RV resort in Georgia, an inexpensive pleasant RV park where you can listen to the rain fall, the lighting boom, and the crickets and frogs sing at night. Truly peaceful and relaxing.. Zzzz wait, what?

Lake Harmony 2

Lake Harmony

We have enjoyed our almost one year road trip, learning as we go down the road. This time? That ammonia smell that comes from the fridge? This is not a good thing. Means a new fridge! So, about 5 grand later, we should have a new fridge with a 5 year warranty. They can repair the damaged coolant system for about 300 dollars less and a 90 day warranty. So we are opting for new and 5 years.

Then as we sit here, we  are planning out our next adventures that will span the state of Florida with some scuba diving, a visit to the VA hospital, some DISNEY time, and then a return to Colorado for the ski season. We are still looking at purchasing property in Florida, but it is no longer a high priority deal. Instead, we have another priority. Lynda remains concerned that some small amount of cancer could rear its ugly head and wreak havoc on our lives again. Her concern is another ride on the roller coaster from hell. YAY we have good markers. BOO we have bad markers. YAY she feels good! BOO she has a tweak in her left toe. Things like that can seriously rock your world once your name and cancer are mentioned in the same sentence. So far, she remains clear, but the uncertainty rocks her world regularly.

With that being out there, our intent is to attack any cancer that may be lurking with a two prong approach. The first is to use baking soda the way we have in the past to fight it directly. That has worked. The other is to use “Cannabis Oil”. This treatment, now legal in Colorado, has a 70% or thereabout cure rate for advanced cancers. So we intend on using both. Essentially pulling in the nukes.

Downside? The cannabis oil packs a punch. tends to knock the patient out for the evening. But we will adapt and overcome. In the meantime, I am taking classes on how to grow it, as Florida is beginning to look at medical marijuana, and if I can get in on the ground level, grow this stuff and produce something that kills cancer and I can earn a living from it?

I am all over it.

So will see how it all pans out, but that has my interest. We will probably have her on it come September when we return to Colorado. We are looking into the various ski pass opportunities, Epic Local Pass or just a pass to Arapahoe Basin as we truly enjoyed it. Will see. I have a lot of options while Lynda pursues her Masters degree in complimentary and alternative medicine… And building a health coaching business while running her regular coaching business… (Can I say “Over Achiever” now?)
But we are rocking and rolling in the rig, having a wonderful time and enjoying life. To all those out there sharing this ride with us in whatever fashion you have, thank you. I cannot thank you all enough for following our adventures. I hope that you have enjoyed our ride thus far.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

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Guatemala

Lynda and I spent the day going from the Table Rock Jungle Lodge to Tikal in Guatemala. This takes a guide from Guatemala, a driver from Belize and a driver from Guatemala.  So to take two tourists from the US to Tikal takes 3 more people.. Unless of course you choose to go at it on your own. And we have met folks who are backpacking their way through Central and South America. Way wilder than we are. But again, I digress.

Tour Guides

The ride from San Ignacio was without event, but the rain and the countryside were fabulous. The free roaming dogs and pigs are fun to watch, and a comment was made about them as we drove. The driver did quite the zig-zag around a chicken… I mean a serious “holy shit” move. And then he explained that if you hit a pig or a chicken?

You had better keep going, or it will be the most expensive animal you ever ran over. The owner (and everyone knows who the owner is, as these are very small villages) will try to get you to pay for all the eggs the chicken would have ever hatched, and the food it would have produced. Same with the pig, all the piglets they would have ever had and the food they would have produced… So if you smack one? Keep on trucking.

We met our Guatemalan guides at the border, and they all knew each other. Good team to have if you are bouncing through Central America for your first time. And we are as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rockers. I mean when I heard about Guatemala, it was always about corrupt police that would drag you off into the jungle and shoot you, or drug lords lurking at every corner, or something else.

We were commenting on the road to Tikal that for the most part, was paved and in good shape. Our Guatemalan guide explained that in a couple years past, the road was unpaved and took 3-3 ½ hours to travel. Now? Only 2 hours to get through. We came onto a military checkpoint, my hackles rise, Lynda gets a bit closer to me, and guess what? The driver waves, the soldier waves, they smile and we go on.. Slowly learning about paranoid US tourists… us.

The biggest crime in Belize and Guatemala? Human trafficking. Running Chinese from Belize or Guatemala to the US. Or bike theft which is the second largest crime. So drugs are not what the people in the US think, by any means. I find it quite interesting how the media and the government in the US makes so much ado about nothing.

Hugo, our guide, was very informative he talked much about the Mayan culture and its rise and fall. We spent the majority of our time on the road asking questions about the locals, learning about their government and it’s issues, then about the local ecology. Central America is far beyond the US in preserving their ecology. Or at least appear to be. Recycle, use and re-use, some due to the very nature of being a third world country, but also realizing the connection between man and the world… Screw up the world? And you don’t have a chance. However there is still an inordinate amount of garbage all around… not good.

More Tikal with Guide

There is a large lake the guides take us by, and I have long since given up the ability to pronounce it, that the locals use quite a bit, including laundry places where the ladies will spend the day washing clothes for the family. I mean standing waist deep in the water with shelving all around and mashing, squeezing, thrashing and rinsing the laundry. This same lake, every 3 months or so, gives off a sulfur purge that the locals say smells quite bad.

My theory is that it is on a volcanic vent that “belches” every so often and creates the smell. It may also be that the bottom of the lake has a methane deposit that releases periodically as well. It would be an interesting study. We were also shown how some villagers are using old plastic bottles and concrete to build walls in their homes and insulate against the cold here. (Cold being a very relative thing) but the plastic bottles that reduce the amount of concrete used, keep insulation value, and actually provide light into the house versus using costly windows. Clever people here in Central America.

The trip also had a stop at a local shopping store that donates an amount of purchases to local charities; thereby the entire tourist guides tend to stop there. The food is good, the pico-de-gallo is HOT, habanero hot, but enjoyable. The final stop in Tikal at the actual site is well maintained and for us, fairly slow tourist wise. Our guide, Hugo, was again very informative about the site, and was able to show us highlights that if we had been on our own, would likely have missed. Hugo also told us where to get the best angles for photos at, and what we were photographing and the history behind each area. We took off around the central Mayan ruins area, peeking in on areas that while have been seen by many, gave us a rough glimpse into the past of the location and its people. I will say that looking around and the locals had performed realizing that the local community was about 128,000 people, a LOT of work.

Tikal center

Then the realization hit that they had zero machinery, and it was all done by hand and by animals. They flattened large areas for building their temples and astrological viewpoints from, knew enough about stars to align the buildings perfectly, and were able to raise these buildings without help of any mechanical assistance.

Pretty damn crazy.

And to both of us who had seen pictures of these ruins in our books in school? Even more astounding was that two kids from Roswell had made it here to see this human accomplishment. I think this was a surprising discovery that somehow, two kids from a pretty humble start in life had found their way to Guatemala and were standing in some ruins dating back to 700AD. Not a bad start for a road trip for a lifetime.

Us in Guatemala

When we finally finished the tour of the Tikal site, we returned to the Table Rock Jungle Lodge with little or no issue, muddy, tired and very happy. We spent the evening talking to travelers, who were staying here, and wild tales were shared, contact information swapped, and tired eyes took us to bed. Then Lynda had a surprise visitor. Something she ate caused a blockage in her intestine, which catapulted us, right back into the wide world of cancer.

Jungle Boogie

Jungle Boogie

Lynda and I had hoped that those days were behind us, that the days of swollen intestines closing off food processing were over. And apparently they are not. The larger issue with this problem is that there is not a lot of medical help available here, so Lynda, being the incredibly “insightful” person she is, made it a point to bring pain killers and stool softeners on the trip. After about 2 hours of intense pain and discomfort, the blockage either broke down and passed or came up, or both. Welcome to the roller coaster from hell. One-minute life is good, and in a split second it can be questioned how much you have left.

Now, instead of freaking out and collapsing into a bowl of emotional jelly, which was my gut reaction, we have both determined that path is not for us. While quite scary and disconcerting there is another angle to look at this incident. The angle we take is a way to make something positive out of something that is as spooky as it gets.

Getting the shit scared out of you reminds you how tenuous your hold on life can be, and that in a moment, your life can be wrested away from any plans you may have had. So we live in the moment, with these reminders to do just that. Planning ahead is fine, but make the plan for the immediate future your priority, your drive.

Life is a short run thing, no matter how long you have. And with that, make the most of what you have while you have it… Surprises, both good and bad come your way every day. So make the best of every moment you have. This is how “cancer” or “can-serve” affects our lives. We make it a better life by the drive this disease gives us.

Lynda may live to be one hundred, I may live to be one hundred, or we may not. We live as if we may not. We live as if today might very well be the last, and with that point of view it makes life more energetic, fun, passionate, scary, exciting. Pick one. Pick them all, but don’t stand around trying to figure out which one to pick… Get busy living, Or get busy dying. We choose the former.

On that note, we have begun building our bucket lists again, working on which adventure should be next, and in that, we have had shifts in our comfort zones, at least I certainly have. Earlier I had said the couple that were backpacking through central America and south America were wilder than us? Maybe not anymore. Although we are not likely to grab a pack and give central America a go, we are not against it either.

Categories: Adventure, Adventure Travel, Backpacking, Camping, Family, Hiking, Living Passionately, Love, Reconnection, Spiritual, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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