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South California mountain passes in winter

Old 10-11-17, 03:56 PM
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panta
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South California mountain passes in winter

Hello there, wondering how the condition of some road mountain passes are in winter (December-January), such as Big Bear, Mt Baldy, etc. I'm guessing Mt Palomar and Palm Spring area mountains are open. I might be in Carlsbad area in Xmas, and would love to do some road biking, if possible mountains included. I've checked the PJAMM site and it shows some interesting options, most of them require some driving from what I see.
Any recommendations in the area? I am open to drive. How about joshua tree area? Interesting and picturesque riding out there? Thanks in advance.
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Old 10-11-17, 04:16 PM
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It really depends in the weather. I've ridden Big Bear in December/January during dry years where it's been no problem, and not ridden times when it's been pretty icy/ mushy.
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Old 10-11-17, 05:09 PM
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Yes - it really does depend a lot on the recent weather and which mountain pass. I've ridden Baldy on Jan 1 when it was clean but windy, and probably plenty of times in the winter when it was dry. If it's a wet year you might need chains to get past Baldy Village with a car, and have a hard time going up (and very unpleasant time going down) on a bike.

I haven't ridden Big Bear.

I've seen Sunrise Highway (much lower than Baldy, and much further south) be either unrideable or sort of rideable but a really bad idea due to snow and ice many times in the past 20 years.
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Old 10-11-17, 05:10 PM
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Yes, what doubravsky said. GMR, Crystal Lake, Big Bear (up 38 from Redlands), Oak Glen, Palomar. They could all be ridable in Dec and Jan - or not. Really anytime between Nov and early May the local mountains CAN get snow, but often do not.
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Old 10-12-17, 12:42 AM
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you can ride to top of Palomar Mt from Carlsbad, it will be around 105 miles with 8000ft of climb pending which way you go home.

Palomar Airport turns into San Marcos blvd
Right on Mission
Right on El Norte
Left on Valley Parkway
Right on Lake Wolford
Right on Valley Parkway/Rincon Rd
Right on 76
Left at fork after 5-6miles of climbing.
Another 6-7 miles of steady 6-8% to the top
Left at stop sign and store is 100yards away, refill, stuff a news paper down your vest and go back down
Follow 76 past the taco shop 2-3 miles and make Left on Cole grade (steeper way out but way less cars then Rincon in the middle of the day plus alot of RVs go up Rincon)
Right on Valley Parkway off Cole after all the climbing
3 miles later is the downhill grade to Escondido, if your legs are dead, take Valley Parkway (flat) another 4 miles and the Bus/Sprinter train station is just after Center City Parkway on your right. Train will take you back to Oceanside Pier and limp the 5-7miles back to where you started unless it on El Camino then your just hosed with more climbing.
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Old 10-12-17, 03:27 AM
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as mentioned previously, very hit or miss for snow/ice in the mountains above 4,500 feet that time of year.
the good news is that caltrans tends to clear the through mountain roads fairly quickly given the amount of
traffic/population. snow below 6,000 in most of the southern california mountains tends not to last very long-
usually no more than 3 to 4 days in direct sunlight, a week in the shade, a day on the road with 2-3 days on the roadside.

from the south (san diego county) to the north (la/san bernardino counties) some considerations:

east county-there is an area about a 30 minute drive east of downtown/mission valley san diego that is bordered
by the 8 fwy to the north, ca hwy 94 to the south, the towns of el cajon/crest/jamul to the west and
japatul/lyons valley/honey springs rds to the east. relatively low traffic (except on the 94). no snow
considerations except for the biggest coldest winter storm of the year. elevation roughly from 800-3,800 feet.
roads decent but very little shoulder/bike paths. some big climbs. some hard climbs. roads to know: japatul rd,
harbison canyon rd, honey springs rd, lyons valley rd, tavern rd, dehesa rd, skyline truck trail (all paved!), hwy
94 and frances/mountain view/la cresta up to/down from the town of crest. kind of a poor man's santa monica
mountains but more on those later. enough roads and support (around the edges) to make into a hard century
a difficult 50 miler or a quick 30 mile hump buster. about a hour's drive from carlsbad.

laguna mtns-big warm desert interface to the east combined with a less dense forest, skinny range and lower
elevations (4,000-6,300 feet) = almost always ridable two days after a snow. melts pretty quickly up there.
i've found the biggest problem in the lagunas that time of year can be a ferocious wind. the three roadie roads
up there are kitchen creek (closed to cars for 5 or so miles on the climb), pine creek (serious pain) and the main
road-sunrise hwy (s1). little more than an hour's drive from carlsbad. shoulders/bike lanes non-existent.

cuyamacas-adjacent to the lagunas and roughly the same characteristics (esp after the big 2003 fire). nearby to
connect with the lagunas on a 50 mile loop ride which is prob my fave sd county ride counter clockwise (8 fwy/
ca hwy 79 junction parking lot-north on 79-then hwy 80 thru guatay/pine valley-left on s1/sunrise hwy once out
of pine valley-climb up to hamlet of mount laguna-(mostly) descending to s1/hwy 79 intersection-left onto hwy
79 and head south mostly flat/downhill thru cuyamaca rancho state park to start. i find sunrise hwy carries
about a fifth of the traffic that this stretch of hwy 79 does, hence the counter clockwise recommendation. main
roads are hwy 79 and engineers/boulder creek rds but it's relatively easy to get lost on engineers/boulder creek
so i'd stick with hwy 79 first time there. a little more than an hour's drive from carlsbad. very little in terms of bike shoulders.

palomar mtn-another 4,000-6,000 feet range in the county. really only 2 roads to speak of: south grade and east
grade. they both join together at a little junction where you can resupply and then carry on up to the road to the
observatory. south grade has all the switchbacks and bragging rights since it's harder but also carries a majority
of the traffic and is one of those "proving" spots for crotch rocket riders. east grade has all the views and none of
the traffic. still a decent workout. a caution on both decents: south grade has some deceptively difficult curves
whilst descending while possible to descend east grade without using your brakes if you ride it properly. main
issue on east grade is the road quality so pick your lines well. snow will not linger on the east grade because
of its "openess" but it will on the south grade which is well shaded on the upper half. you could combine roads
on palomar mtn with riding montezuma grade to/from anza-borrego desert state park or either the
lagunas/cuyamacas but it would make any of those options a century (or nearly) ride. there is nearby mesa
grande rd. which is super-low traffic and a fun country road just a few miles east of east grade road off hwy 76.
about a 30 minute drive from carlsbad. really no riding shoulders to speak of.

de luz/fallbrook area-lower elevation but rolling/winding and always uphill or downhill. just west of the town of
temecula, north of the town of fallbrook and east of usmc camp pendleton. low traffic and a challenging area.
underrated and about a 20 minute drive from carlsbad. zero snow considerations but that cold air sink in some
of the shaded canyons bites just as badly. roads to know: clinton keith rd, de luz rd, sandia crest rd, carancho
rd and rancho california rd. road quality okay but little to no shoulder for much of it.

santa ana mountains-get up to 5,900 feet but road riding tops out waay lower than that. really just ca hwy 74
cutting through (not recommended) with santiago canyon rd (at the base on the west side-recommended!)
if you ride any of the de luz area, you'll be hitting the edges of the range. the eastern side ascent of ca hwy
74 from lake elsinore up to the summit is a steady, fun climb and the descent is a blast. there's a little store
just downhill past the summit if you need to celebrate. zero to little shoulder on the ascent tho so beware.
the ascent from san juan capistrano is loong and heavily trafficked and really not worth doing other than
just checking it off a list. would rather descend it to complete a century loop vs ascending it to complete said
loop. either east or west side about a 35 minute drive from carlsbad.

san jacinto mountains-get up to 10,800 feet but the main road tops out under 6,000 if i remember correctly.
main road is ca hwy 243 and snow can linger since it's decently forested and coolish. road quality okay but very
little to no shoulder. ca hwy 74 (again!) to the south is better quality but still little shoulder. hwy 74 a little above
the 4,000 foot range so even the biggest storms wouldn't prevent riding 2-3 days later. hwy 74 is a blast to ride
from the town of hemet up to the hamlet of mountain center (and the pass a little farther up hwy 74). it is even
better to descend. prob my fave descent in all southern california. great pavement. decent amount of traffic on
both these roads since the gorgeous town of idyllwild lies within. sunny palm springs lies in the eastern side
shadow but that heat doesn't affect the west side where you'd be riding. the mountain range is slender but too
tall. 1.5-1.75 hour drive from carlsbad.

joshua tree national park-gets up to just under 6,000 feet but the road tops out around 5,200 feet at keys view.
most of the best scenery is visible in the hidden valley area after you enter through the west entrance off park
blvd from the town of joshua tree. definitely worth riding from the west entrance. the northern entrance from the
town of 29 palms is more of a slog and the southern entrance is relatively boring-even for this desert rat. snow
is only a consideration a few days/hours a year as it won't stay long on the main paved road running thru the
national park. the main concern up there is wind as it can get really really windy up there. about a 2.25 hour
drive from carlsbad. road quality better than average.

san bernardino mountains-fairly unexciting to hike but some decent road riding (mtn biking is king here).
these are the "thickest" of the southern california mtn ranges and where snow will linger the longest. they rise to
11,500 feet but most of the forested mtns are 5,000-7,500 feet. well forested on the west end and higher on the
east end. bordered by high desert on 2 sides and semi-desert on one side. some fun roads but also a decent
amount of traffic, whether seasonal or year-round, as the largest concentration of "mountain" towns are found
here. less-trafficked entry roads are hwy 138 (from the west), hwy 173 (from the north), hwy 18 from the north
and hwy 38 from the farther south side. hwys 18 (south side) and 330 (also south side) get much of the traffic
being the most direct from the los angeles masses. a ride around big bear lake or to/from lake arrowhead and
big bear lake is awesome. likely to be pretty chilly tho. your best bet may be to nibble from the edge and ride
from yucaipa or mentone area up hwy 38 to forest falls. pluses? super wide shoulder most of the way with great
sightlines (for passing cars) and running water to your right to distract you on the interminable ascent. minuses?
did i mention the interminable ascent to forest falls? it's known as "damnation alley." at least it's a steady grade.
if you decide to make the right turn to the hamlet of forest falls, the road ramps up and bucks quite considerably.
mostly canopied at this point. the descent is fast and difficult thru forest falls. once back to hwy 38, the steady
ascent becomes the steady descent. most of the starting points a 1.75 hour drive from carlsbad. road quality mixed.

san gabriel mountains/angeles national forest-used both names since many people i've come across just know
these mtns as "angeles." more slender than the san bernardinos ("berdoos") but equally lengthy. rise to just
above 10,000 feet with much of them in the 4,000-7,800 range. snow will linger above 6,500 feet. when riding in
these mtns, more worried about rockfall on the road vs snow/ice because these mtns are geologically ripped all
to hades. decent amount of vehicular traffic given the proximity to the los angeles metropolis. the western end
(town of santa clarita east to mt. wilson/big tujunga rd) is lower and warmer so late fall-early spring is the best
season to hit it. summer is ovenesque. you can also hit the range from the north side (big pines rd) or the south
side (glendora mountain/glendora ridge rds). you can also drill into the core of it via hwy 39 all the way past
crystal lake to hwy 2. roads to know: sand canyon rd, little tujunga canyon rd, big tujunga canyon rd, hwy 2,
soledad canyon rd, "fh 59," aliso canyon rd, mt. emma rd, big pines rd, lone pine canyon rd (but only if you
really really hate yourself), lytle creek rd, mt. baldy rd (for a really challenge at the top), hwy 39, glendora
mountain rd (gmr) and glendora ridge rd (grr). any combination of gmr/grr/hwy 39 to the hamlet of mt. baldy
(whether to the ski-lifts or not) and back is arguably the #1 mountain road must-do in southern california. most
of the starting points a 1.5 hour drive from carlsbad. the north side points (mt. emma/big pines) closer to 2.25
hrs. road quality/shoulders highly mixed.

palos verdes peninsula-no snow issues. rises to nearly 1,500 feet. right on the water. easy to imagine yourself
somewhere other than california. lots of winding roads and more shortish (1-2.5 mile climbs) than you can shake
a stick at. perfect for a hard 50 miler with lots of climbing or a mellow, semi-flattish 25 miles cruise around the
peninsula. 2 hour drive from carlsbad. roads to know: anything that starts with "pv drive" because there is east,
west, north and south. via del monte, via valmonte, via zurita, via coronel, via fernandez, via colinita, crenshaw
rd, hawthorne dr, paseo del mar, paseo del sol, crest rd. road quality is good. shoulders/bike lanes hit and miss.

santa monica mountains-saved the best for last. tops out at the mid-3,000 foot range. no snow issues. views for days.
cruise pacific coast highway (pch) thru malibu if you're not feeling the hills. attack a dozen + climbs if you wanna everest.
mix and match to your heart's content. the beauty of the area is that the climbs are challenging but not uber-long like in
the san gabriels or san bernardinos and you can always drop back down to the ocean (or the valley) to rest the legs.
biggest weather issue is rain and mud/rocks on the road if recent storm. traffic varies from busy (pch, malibu canyon/las virgines,
topanga cyn/hwy 27) to quiet (deer creek, latigo, piuma, encinal, stunt). such a varied network of roads to mix and
match depending on fitness, time or desire. they're all scenic and worthy. there's no "bad" choice. 2.25 hour drive from carlsbad.
roads to know: deer creek rd, yerba buena rd, mulholland dr, encinal canyon rd, latigo canyon, fernwood rd, stunt rd, piuma, rd, old topanga
canyon rd, topanga canyon rd/ca hwy 27, las virgenes rd, malibu canyon rd, pacific coast highway (pch), decker rd/westlake blvd/hwy 23,
saddle peak rd, tuna canyon rd. road quality is good but few shoulders available. these lower elevation mountains are big on oak trees but few
other trees. just too dry and low for conifers.

Last edited by ooga-booga; 10-12-17 at 04:00 AM.
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Old 10-12-17, 10:24 AM
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Wow ooga-booga that's a great, comprehensive description. Makes me want to go ride a mountain right now!
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Old 10-12-17, 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by doubravsky View Post
Wow ooga-booga that's a great, comprehensive description. Makes me want to go ride a mountain right now!
me too. reminds me just how much i need to get offa my rumpus and get on my rumpus.

from carlsbad, the no driving necessary rides are plentiful but either flattish/coastal (gorgeous tho), rolling/small hills (nearby escondido,
rancho santa fe) or a combo of both. you can ride north thru the usmc base of camp pendleton enroute to orange county (and back) but hafta register with them first. there's a thread or two about it with the necessary link in this southern california forum. so even if time/
circumstances don't allow for a drive, you still have plenty of worthy cycling options around/staging from carlsbad.

if you do make it to some of the mountain areas, you'll probably want at least a 27 as a bailout gear.

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Old 10-12-17, 02:48 PM
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Well, thank you so much for all the great info!!! I'm overwhelmed!!! (in a positive way) Im from the basque country and we have plenty of mountains up here, that's why I was asking about it. I rode my bike in the sf bay area as well while I lived there, and I'm familiar with the mountains up in the north. Never ridden in SoCal tho. Been to some sierra passes such as Sonora Pass, Ebetts Pass, and rode in Inyo County too. Im missing the SoCal. Im sure it's great there too, probably acompannied by sunny weather.
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Old 10-12-17, 03:27 PM
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Im sure I would do some rides without taking the car, such as coastline rides, escondido, and other routes. Is riding in Joshua Park worth it scenery wise? Is it safe?
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Old 10-12-17, 05:34 PM
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Joshua Tree is a great place to ride.... but I'd be careful to check the weather before going.... the wind can get pretty intense there in the winter. Couple that with cold weather and it would not be much fun....
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Old 10-13-17, 01:04 AM
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So, maybe start from Park Blvd like yoga-booga said, and ride...how long? 30 miles one way and turn around? Any places to visit or ride particulary in the area?
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Old 10-13-17, 03:10 AM
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Originally Posted by panta View Post
Well, thank you so much for all the great info!!! I'm overwhelmed!!! (in a positive way) Im from the basque country and we have plenty of mountains up here, that's why I was asking about it. I rode my bike in the sf bay area as well while I lived there, and I'm familiar with the mountains up in the north. Never ridden in SoCal tho. Been to some sierra passes such as Sonora Pass, Ebetts Pass, and rode in Inyo County too. Im missing the SoCal. Im sure it's great there too, probably acompannied by sunny weather.
if you've ridden the pyrenees and the northern sierra passes like ebbets and sonora, you'll be just fine.
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Old 10-13-17, 03:31 AM
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Originally Posted by panta View Post
So, maybe start from Park Blvd like yoga-booga said, and ride...how long? 30 miles one way and turn around? Any places to visit or ride particulary in the area?
you can park near the intersection of hwy 62/park blvd in the town of joshua tree if you both want a warmup
(of 5 uphill miles) before entering jtnp proper and want to save a little $$. i think the current charge to enter
is $20 by car and $6 by bike. went into the park two weeks ago on monday and tuesday late afternoons and
there was no ranger there to collect the fee. personally, if i hadn't been there before? try to hit the park on a
monday-thursday via the west entrance. there is a small parking area just inside the west entrance. leave the
car there and set off on a gradual 2 mile climb up to the false flat of hidden valley. you'll get a little warmup
and appreciate the change in scenery more. once it flattens out, it gets really pretty. i think your most scenic
ride will be to the jumbo rocks campground area and back-about a 35 mile round trip. very little shoulder but
the sightlines are generally pretty good. mostly a false flat ride but no big hills/ramps. i'd rock a rear blinkie light
or two on the bike if you have them even in midday. couldn't hurt. take your fully charged phone/camera. dawn and
dusk are spectacular. stargazing is spectacular too if you can hunker down post-ride in the evening.

there is also a fun 20 mile loop to/from the nearby town of yucca valley that incorporates a manufactured western
town called pioneertown. scenic as well with a decent climb/descent and lots of rolling terrain and scenery.
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Old 10-13-17, 08:36 AM
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Cool, ooga-booga, I'm taking notes! Those 2 rides are on my notes now. Other than biking along the Joshua Tree Park, anything else interesting? I'm guessing hiking and enjoying the scenery... .
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Old 10-13-17, 01:55 PM
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i've always found the established hikes-except the shortish one to barker dam-kinda boring and have always
enjoyed parking and just going where the senses beckon. climbing a fun granite rock grouping or two or three is almost irresistable.
if you're into photography, you'll wanna be there at sunrise and/or sunset. there is the aforementioned stargazing. riding on the route
i described earlier is like doing a longer ride since the scenery always looks different on the way back up there.

there is that side ride/trip to nearby pioneertown and perhaps a stop at pappy & harriets.

Pappy + Harriet's

they are closed tues/wed. fun backcountry diner/bar. some solid musical acts roll thru there if that's your thing.
some guy nicknamed "macca" rolled thru there last year...

'This can't be real': Fans shed tears to see Paul McCartney at the tiny Pappy and Harriet's - LA Times

this is also semi-nearby:

https://integratron.com/
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/...tegratron.html
https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/integratron

you could incorporate a little sampler ride in the de luz/fallbrook area or the forest falls area of the san bernardino mtns on the way back
-legs and time willing-since both areas are along the 15/215 freeway corridor.

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Old 10-17-17, 12:56 PM
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Thank you! Im really looking forward to all those routes.
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Old 10-17-17, 04:02 PM
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let us know how it goes
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Old 02-23-18, 11:18 AM
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Hello,
Thanks to those people that suggested some of the rides in the area and the detailed info from Ooga-Booga. I did Joshua tree, GMR to Baldy, Palomar and then some coastal rides. Weather was great and rides were beautiful, no snow so all was rideable in those mountains. Really amazing GMR to Baldy, no cars, nice weather... Tacos at the bottom of Palomar was great too.
Hope to do it again in the future.
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Old 02-23-18, 11:54 AM
  #20  
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the weather was unbelievably consistently perfect for roughly 9 weeks...all of dec/jan and first week of feb. low to upper 70's for nearly that whole stretch. most mild winter here that i can ever remember (and i've got a few winters under my belt). sounds like you enjoyed. gmr/grr to baldy is always spectacular.
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Old 02-26-18, 05:31 PM
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I just road the entire route form Mt High to Redbox Sunday and although the roads were clear all the way through it was mighty cold! Some but not lots of snows on the north facing slopes.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1426510784
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Old 02-26-18, 08:43 PM
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^saw that and threw you a kudos on strava. fab ride. thanks for the road intel. looks like tuesday may add some white stuff to the higher elevations.
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