Posted by: Jack Spratt | April 30, 2010

Discovering Covered Bridges in Connecticut

My first real encounter with a covered bridge in New England was in Woodstock, Vermont. I’m sure I had passed them by before but not done any belly-to-belly dialogue with one.

Then a trip to Connecticut bought me through the town of West Cornwall and the covered bridge you go through on route 128 over the Housatonic River in Litchfield County. Here was a working bridge and a chance to stop and look at one of these beauties up close and personal as they say.

Like art, I know what I like, even if I can’t explain the connections, and I came to appreciate these once functional devices for the heritage and the workmanship that went into building and marinating them.

The covered bridge in West Cornwall is a much photographed bridge and one of just a few in Connecticut – Vermont has the most covered bridges in New England – but I recommend you take a stop when in the area to admire it. Park in the town and walk back to the bridge.

The West Cornwall Bridge is a lattice design, which apparently was popular design for the era it was built in – 1841.

There’s been much written about why covered bridges were built at all, after all it seems like a lot of extra work to do just for a bridge. The most plausible reason I’ve read is protection. Apparently by covering a bridge it protected the main structure from the harsh extremes of weather in New England and the bridges survived longer and with less maintenance.

Of course today we don’t worry about that aspect when we build bridges. But there again we don’t tend to stop and admire the handiwork of the latest steel and concrete bridges being built these days. At least I don’t.

If you’re interested in learning about the history of Covered Bridges in New England then check out the article here:

Of course the area of West Cornwall is picturesque for other reasons than the covered bridge, in fact there’s another covered bridge a short distance away at the Kent Falls State Park. It’s a small one and modern in the sense it was built in 1974, but the park is great to visit anyways to see the falls and walk the paths and trails and rest for a picnic.

If you’re more adventurous, and visiting during summer months then you can take a rafting or kayak ride along some of the challenging rapids in the area at Bulls Bridge – I’m told experts only on this section!

Jack Spratt

Posted by: Jack Spratt | March 3, 2010

My Tent Camping Vacations in New England

After graduation I got bitten by the camping bug and spent a number of New England vacations in a tent. Summer never was so sweet and endless.

For the price of a few bucks I could pitch a tent a few steps away from the ocean or a lake, or even a mountain, and feel at peace with nature.

I even camped out in a baseball stadium with my kids one year. But that’s another story for another day.

Yes, I did get washed out a few times. And there is nothing more miserable than tent camping in the pouring rain and watching the water level rise on the tent exterior. Packing up in the rain is even more depressing.

My favorite spots to camp were on Cape Cod and in Maine.

The Cape I loved because a short walk or bike ride and you were at some of the best white sand beaches in New England. Maine immersed you on glorious scenery and a simpler life.

There are many great tent camping sites on Cape Cod but over the years I kept returning to two and their both still there – Atlantic Oaks Campground in Eastham and North of Highland in Truro. They are both a whisker from Cape Cod National Seashore beaches.

Alas, Atlantic Oaks now caters more for RV’s than tents. North of Highland only allows tent camping and during peak summer months there is a 6-night minimum stay. But it’s a short walk to the Head of Meadow Beach. I remember one summer we went down to the beach at night and away from all the light pollution we gazed up and saw the Milky Way as everybody should experience it. There were so many stars you couldn’t find the usual ones you would see in your backyard because they were overpowered by this dazzling display of stars.

Another popular camping spot on the Cape is Nickerson State Park in Brewster. But I haven’t stayed there myself – just heard good things about it. Being a state park it’s less expensive than the privately-owned sites but also harder to get a site because of its popularity.

The Maine coast and lakes have a plethora of tent campgrounds but you’ll find most accommodate pop-ups and vehicle campers as well – economics factor into the equation. However, we always managed to dig and find some tent campgrounds only and these made for more natural surroundings.

My most memorable trips to Acadia National Park were spent in the campgrounds at Backwoods and Seawall. These are immensely popular camping sites and if you’re thinking of going this year, you’d better be booking them now. Both these sites are within a few minutes walk of the ocean and some of the most beautiful coastline in New England. And if you know Arcadia at all then you’ll know you’re in for a treat.

Bar Harbor – the nearest community – also has private campgrounds if you can’t get into the park sites.

I also stayed on camping sites in the Boothbay Harbor region but I can’t remember the name of the sites. I can only tease you by saying it was right on the ocean and beautiful. But you’re unlikely to go wrong in this area.

The Maine Camping Guide is a great resource for finding a campground to suit your needs.

Another resource to consider if you’re looking for a Large Camping Tent is the Rugged Camping Tents site which you can find at: www.RuggedCampingTents.com

Writing this post has me itching to go check out my old camping gear and see if my wife and kids are up to spending some time this summer getting closer to nature with me. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Jack Spratt

Posted by: Jack Spratt | February 26, 2010

Quick Trip Through My New England Ski Resorts

Watching the skiing at the Vancouver Winter Olympics for the last two weeks has my mind wandering back to my early days of skiing in New England.

I was introduced to skiing at Pat’s Peak in New Hampshire by a friend. It was my first winter in New England and he decided I should be introduced to the sport and he would teach me – bad move.

I can’t remember what grade slope he took me on to learn – but it was long and steep, and I came down it mostly in a horizontal position. I figured it took me over an hour to come down. He took me up again and on my second run I was determined to get down quicker.

I did – it was probably less than a minute. I just pointed the skis straight down and let it rip. Totally “out of control” and a hazard to everybody else on the slope nonetheless I beat him down. I had no time for the slow turns where I kept falling down on the first run.

He then introduced me to the second activity when going skiing – “the lodge.”

I felt I could get used to “the lodge” experience. A warm fire and drink and food on a cold snowy day seemed like a better place to be than on a steep slope wearing heavy stiff unforgiving boots attached to long planks of fiberglass.

My Pat’s Peak experience luckily didn’t “scar me for life” and a few years’ later I took lessons at Wachusett Mountain in Princeton, Massachusetts and had a much better experience. Wachusett is probably Massachusetts largest ski area and has a thriving night time skiing program.

Wachusett Mountain caters well for beginners and intermediate skiers and it’s as good as many of the facilities in Vermont and New Hampshire. I’ve even tried cross country skiing there as well.

Subsequent years saw my skiing trips extend beyond Massachusetts as I took in Killington in Vermont, and Bretton Woods and Attitash in New Hampshire. I found the winter scenery of these resorts breathtaking and it became as much a thrill to stop and admire the mountains and surrounding valleys as actually do the run. Bretton Woods in the Mount Washington Valley area particularly became a favorite as it had plenty of easy slopes, great atmosphere, and a wonderful lodge with a central roaring fire.

Over the years as I had kids and took them skiing as well we visited a whole bunch more of New England ski resorts, including: Stowe, Vermont, Cranmore in North Conway, Wildcat in Pinkham Notch, and Loon and Gunstock in New Hampshire.

I’ve probably missed mentioning a few ski areas I’ve visited and we seem to have lost plenty of ski resorts in New England since I started skiing here. Winter in New England can be tough and long and I’ve found that getting out on the slopes helps me get through the worst of the weather, and enjoy our beautiful views and mountain air.

As I finish writing this post it’s time to watch how the U.S. team is doing on speed skating and bobsleigh – two sports that somehow make the strange apparatus we use for skiing seem “normal”… and even sane.

Enjoy what remains of the Winter Olympics and the New England Winter.

Jack Spratt

Posted by: Jack Spratt | January 11, 2010

2010 Winter Activities of the Massachusetts Audubon Society

Many people in New England think nature reserves are dead places of activities in the winter. But this is far from the truth.

Get off the couch, put on some snowshoes, follow some tracks and you’ll quickly realize that even in our harsh winters in New England wildlife abounds – you just have to know where to look – or know somebody that does.

This is a slight detour for me in my blog as normally I write about places I’ve seen and loved in the area – and I must admit my ideal winter excursion is bringing in wood from the piles on the deck to fuel our stove and keep everybody warm and happy. I’m also known among my friends as a bit of a wise ass. Today I won’t be – or not much.

As the first blog entry of 2010 I want to acknowledge the outstanding work the people of the Audubon Society do for people in keeping conservation alive in Massachusetts and provide some wonderful destinations for kids and adults.

Over the years I’ve reaped benefit from their work and recently came across a catalog of their winter activities for 2010. I’ve pulled a few interesting ones out to share and suggest you extract yourself out of your cabin for a few hours one weekend and go enjoy nature bringing harmony to our winter.

In Search of Bald Eagles at Quabbin Reservoir:

Quabbin Reservoir is one of my favorite walking and hiking places in central Massachusetts. It has an abundance of paths and wildlife. In fact it’s been said that today this area of Massachusetts is wilder than it was 100-years ago.

The reservoir, built for a thirsty and growing Boston, has had the impact of turning the clock back and many types of wildlife have taken the opportunity to return.

One of these is the Bald Eagle. There are about 30 eagles who find enough food to winter at the reservoir. And on Saturday January 23, and Sunday February 28, 8:30am-4:00pm you can go with a guide in search of these magnificent birds of prey.

Quabbin Reservoir also is winter home to other wildlife you may spot such as ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, porcupines, and coyotes. And if you have snowshoes bring them along to take some walks – or they’ll be provided for you. There’s a fee of $20 for nonmembers. Contact the Berkshire Wildlife Sanctuary main office in Lenox at 413-637-0320.

Winter Birding Trip to Plum Island:

For those of us that enjoy the summer beaches on Plum Island but failed to recognize it also houses one the gems in the Massachusetts wildlife refuge collection then we can be forgiven. But now there’s a chance to explore the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge out of season and discover one of the most important bird areas along the Massachusetts coast and Atlantic Flyway.

On Saturday, January 23 from 9:00am-5:00pm you can join a party of folks leaving from the Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester to check out the refuge for yourself and discover the abundance of water fowl that winters there, and also shrikes, snowy owls and snow buntings.

There’s also a stop at the Joppa Flats Education Center. Price is $37 for nonmembers and you can reserve a spot by calling 508-753-6087.

Ducks in the Connecticut River Valley:

Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary is in the Pioneer Valley region of Massachusetts in the town of Easthampton, and carved out over thousands of years by the Connecticut River.

As the winter lessens its grip on the region and March comes around then the ice melts and temperature rises welcoming the ducks and other birds back to the area. The first to see will be mergansers, black ducks, wood ducks, and mallards.

Spend 4 hours on Saturday March 13 from 10:00am-2:00pm at the Sanctuary welcoming the return of the birds as well.  Fee $20 nonmembers and call main office at 413-584-3009 to reserve a spot.

Let me know how you make out, and maybe you’ll see me there. I’ll be the one with the dark glasses and trying to keep my identity under wraps!

Jack “the bird” Spratt

Posted by: Jack Spratt | November 19, 2009

The Ugly, Good, and Bad of New England – And Hub Pages

Just a ramble today about the ugly, the good, and the bad of New England and Hub Pages – but hoping you’ll find it amusing.

The Ugly:

Saw a hub page from a mid-westerner today ranting about New England and how it ruins everything. I’d link to it but he doesn’t deserve it. The dude has obviously got some huge chip on his shoulder and decided to share it with the world. He lists out 100 items including Dunkin Donuts, Tom Brady, Red Sox – yes, it was undergraduate humor stuff.

That’s one of the major problems with Web 2.0 properties and people that use it like that – it just adds noise to the Internet and no value.

Anyway, this isn’t about hub pages and freedom of speech but I’ll keep on topic about New England. The rant took me down the path of everything to be grateful for the region rather than negatives.

The Good:

A report released recently of best states to live in the U.S. listed all six New England states in the top ten – Vermont was top. Criteria used were percentage of kids that graduated high school, health coverage and a host of other criteria too long to list.

Another recent list by Forbes of the prettiest towns in the USA had three from New England in the top ten. These were: Burlington, Vermont; Rockport, Maine; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

National Geographic Traveler magazine consistently identifies Cape Cod and Islands, Berkshires and Acadia National Park as top destinations in USA. And… well I could go on but you get the point.

The Bad:

Does that mean everything is right with the region? No, it doesn’t.

I’m continually embarrassed by the actions of our politicians in New England and those that represent us. And despite the affluence of southern New England, making a living is almost impossible in the northern states of New Hampshire and Maine.

I hate that friends and family have to move away to be able to afford to rent or buy a house and Boston cab drivers are so rude. My own personal beef is it remains too cold for too long but not as long as the Mid-west. Sorry couldn’t resist a final dig.

So throw your comments at me I’m thick-skinned I can take it. And I promise to return to writing about things I know something about for my next posts and hope that writers on Hub Pages follow my lead.

But I’m not holding my breath!

Jack Spratt

Posted by: Jack Spratt | October 28, 2009

Getting Lost in Rangeley Lakes in Maine and Enjoying it

Can you picture a place where getting there and around takes just a little longer that elsewhere and the local folks just like it that way? Where the outdoors is King and what you sleep on and eats isn’t exactly shoddy but is basic and no frills. And you wonder if any other place in Maine away from the coast can be as scenic with the mountains and lakes as a backdrop.

If you wonder all this when arriving at your destination then there’s a good chance you’ve landed at Rangeley Lakes in the western mountains region of Maine. This place is no secret to hikers and fly fisherman who’ve been enjoying this scenic region for years. But for a Massachusetts town boy like me it can be refreshingly startling.

A friend told me about the rustic charm of the area a few years ago and while it took awhile to get there I made a trip during last summer and I can’t wait to go back.

If you’re the kind of person who gets excited at visiting places where the “wild” in “wildlife” really means trekking through overgrown trails and stepping on “bear scat” and taking a refreshing dip in cool pristine water then Rangeley Lakes is for you.

If I’ve made Rangeley sound like a place where civilization took a hike and visit only if you want to sleep and lounge in a hammock because there’s not much else to do then listen up – the activity list is deep.

While I certainly didn’t have enough time to do everything you can – and some things I don’t do – here’s what’s in store if you want an active summer vacation in addition to sleeping in: fishing, bird watching – this is big in Maine – boating, camping – and I mean tent my buddy – canoeing and kayaking, golfing, hiking, horseback riding, moose watching, mountain biking – this is getting big in the region – swimming – well there’s all those lakes – tennis, and whitewater rafting.

And in the winter there’s plenty of opportunity for downhill and cross country skiing, snowmobiling and dog sledding – I’ve never tried this either.

I’m told in spring the area streams are a magnet for fly fishermen seeking Salmon and Brook Trout and in the fall hunting season the game is good. Neither of these are my scene but evidence of both abounds at every nook and cranny.

The largest towns in the region are Rangeley and Oquossoc. This is where folks go for supplies and where a lot of the comfort accommodation such as hotels, inns, and bed and breakfast are located. Realty places can also help with rental cabins and cottages on the lakes. Rangeley also has the usual selection of restaurants offering pizza and lobster dinners.

Allow about 2 and ½ hours from Portland to get to the region.

I did find out though why the roads are slow and why it takes so long to get to anywhere from anywhere – direction and signs can be sparse, but more of a slowdown is because the scenery is so beautiful you just have to keep stopping. It’s like being on one endless scenic drive!

I probably have not done justice to Rangeley Lakes but here is a resource that provides a lot more details for you: http://www.rangeley-maine.com/

Jack ” humbled by Rangeley” Spratt

Posted by: Jack Spratt | October 12, 2009

Messing About Around Essex on the Connecticut River

I adore the Connecticut River – its New England’s longest at 407-miles – and it’s the state boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire. The source of this great river is in the Connecticut Lakes Region in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods.

On its journey south past Vermont it winds its way through western Massachusetts and through Hartford Connecticut and ends its journey by draining into Long Island Sound near Old Saybrook.

Over the years I’ve been to a number of locations along its route but none more memorable than in Essex Connecticut just a few miles before it meets the Ocean. The town of Essex is not at first glance what you’d highlight as a vacation or getaway destination.

But you’d be wrong.

Uncrowded and full of interesting destinations and excursions, if you’re looking for something away from the glitz of Foxwoods and the touristy Mystic, then Essex may be just the spot for you.

In Essex the river is the focal point and the Connecticut River Museum whets the appetite with its three floors of exhibits and boat house. You can also book and cruise the river in a schooner during the summer and fall season. While I didn’t get on a schooner cruise at Essex Station you can pick up the popular combined Essex Steam Train and Steamboat Ride that is a great way of seeing the river as well. And I love train rides so this one was right up my street – in the fall seats on this excursion are as hard to find as play-off tickets for a Sox and Yankees game. Hint: book ahead, like well ahead!

So what else is there to do Jack?

Well, back on land I enjoy walking trails and there’s a bunch of them over at the Gillette Castle estate on the banks of the river. I can’t say the castle is much to my liking – some Shakespearian actor had the castle built in the likeness of who knows what. But the grounds have outstanding walking views.

On the opposite side of the Connecticut River from the museum are East Haddam and the cultural haven of Goodspeed Opera House. If opera is not your scene don’t worry they produce mostly musicals.

I’ve returned to Mystic on a number of occasions under family pressure for activities but send me packing to this area on my own and I’ll head straight for Essex and enjoy my day messing about on the Connecticut River.

Jack Spratt

Posted by: Jack Spratt | September 26, 2009

Memories of Whitefield in the North Woods of New Hampshire

It’s a splendid time to visit and explore the White Mountains of New Hampshire as the fall foliage in the Great North Woods is stunning. This is a quieter area than around the Mount Washington valley but every bit as scenic.

My personal memories of destinations in this area extend further north and to the west – Whitefield in Coos County. Here you’ll find lakes and woods and resorts such as the Mountain View Grand and Inns such as the Barron Brook Inn who have a list on their web site of places to explore in Whitefield.

The village of Whitefield is classic New England with small shops and friendly country folk willing to take time out to talk. There is nothing rushed here and the crisp mountain air in the fall invites hikes to catch the foliage in New Hampshire’s Great North Woods.

Easy walks from the surrounding towns range from the 5-minutes treks to the waterfall at Pond Brook Falls in village of Stark to a 1.5-mile wildlife viewing trail at the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson. For the more adventurous there is the 6.7-mile loop trail at North Percy Peak on the doorstep of Whitefield.

Whitefield is still within striking distance of attractions such as Cannon Mountain and the Flume Gorge and Bretton Woods where you can take the cog railway to the top of the Presidential Range. But my advice is to save those for another trip and instead relax and do your touring around Coos County.

While I don’t ride horses or play golf I understand both these activities are available at the Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa, and for things unusual then you can take a Moose Tour at Dan’s Scenic Tours or let Summit Scenic Flights in Lancaster fly you through the notches.

To me the Great North Woods of New Hampshire is all about getting back to nature and so when I visited I spent my time exploring this section of the White Mountains and with Dixville Notch and the Berlin are available you really can get “lost” in this area. If you’re into wildlife then this article covers locations for best bird watching in New Hampshire in this area and the area has some great fishing spots as well.

If you decide to visit the North woods then you can find more information here: www.northnh.com

You can tell them Jack sent you but they won’t know who the heck you’re talking about but I love confusing people don’t you?

Jack “the Spratt” Boy

Posted by: Jack Spratt | September 19, 2009

Six Favorite Spots to Spend a New England Fall

I took August off to do some traveling and add to my journals but time has flown by and here we are staring at another New England fall season. There are lots of traditions around the fall – the Big E out at Springfield, harvest of the cranberries down in the Cape Cod region, and scenic drives through the villages and towns to see the fall foliage color.

It’s tough to write about just one spot in New England from my journals to share with you during this season. So instead I’ll give you my favorites from each state – well it’s my journal and I get to do whatever I want.

Connecticut: The Litchfield Hills in Northwestern Connecticut offers color and scenes. Tour the historic town of Litchfield itself and then visit the White Memorial Foundation Center and then tour in the car the wonderful back roads to Kent State Park and the covered bridge in West Cornwall.

Maine: I have to be honest as even though my heart wants to spend time in the north woods of Maine and visit Baxter State Park; I haven’t made it there yet. So my favorite spot so far in Maine has to be Acadia National Park in the fall. It has a rich mixture of environments and color. Taking in the foliage view on top of Mount Cadillac overlooking Frenchman Bay is as close to a religious moment you can get without bursting into a hymn, or whatever is appropriate for your faith.

Massachusetts: Cape Cod is quiet and beautiful in the fall but for color I have to pick the Berkshires. Ideal time to visit is around Columbus Day – second Monday of month – when peak foliage has arrived or is close to the rolling hills of this area. Consider the hike or drive up to Mount Greylock and the surrounding area of North Adams. See my recent post on the Berkshires here.

New Hampshire: The Mount Washington Valley in the White Mountains region competes head-to-head with areas of Vermont for the best foliage show in town. And it’s difficult to find a better place in New Hampshire to view the fall foliage than in the Jackson area. Jackson is a beautiful mountain village anyway with its Inns and covered bridge but it close to outstanding drives and walks in the National forest to take your breath away with the views. North Conway is close by where you can take the scenic train through the notches and valleys in autumn as well – if you can get a seat on the train. See this article on Jackson Getaways here from Jed.

Rhode Island: Because of its southern location in New England, peak foliage comes late to Rhode Island compared to the higher elevations of the northern states, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t color. Consider taking in some of Rhode Island coastal refuge locations to kill two birds with one… oops sorry, bad choice of words. What I meant to say was see the fall and see the wildlife in one location. Locations to consider are: Emilie Ruecker Wildlife Refuge in Tiverton and Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in South Kingstown. More details on these two Rhode Island fall destinations here.

Vermont: Darn, so many to choose from. And I’ll pick… Woodstock, because it’s central, I know the colors are magnificent and there’s plenty to do. Woodstock is one of those villages that capture everything about Vermont. Village green with a river running through town and a covered bridge, museums and parks, and hiking trails that take you to outstanding foliage views of the surrounding countryside. Woodstock is also within striking distance of Killington which operates its gondola to the summit in the fall, where you get to see the Green Mountains in all its autumn glory – gives me goose-pimples just thinking about it. See this other article from Jed on Woodstock Vermont here.

I’ve run out of space and time for the week so do your research and pick a few spots to visit this fall season and enjoy the show as it won’t be back in town for another year.

Jack Spratt.

Posted by: Jack Spratt | July 23, 2009

Discover Newfound Lake in New Hampshire

Newfound Lake in New Hampshire though part of the Lakes Region is lesser known than its more popular cousins Lake Winnipesaukee, Sunapee and Squam Lakes. And most locals would prefer it to stay that way.

However, it is considered one of the cleanest lakes in New England and has a state park, walking trails, and is away from the tourist and busy vacation centers in central New Hampshire.

I stumbled upon Newfound Lake while taking a family vacation in the region a few years ago. We had spent a pleasant morning at a spot known as “Sculptured Rocks” which are a collection of interesting rock formations and swimming holes sculptured into shapes after thousands of years of river flow. We had spent the morning scrambling over these rocks and plunging into the holes all morning, and then went back into the town of Hebron to grab a sandwich at the general store where we learnt about Newfound Lake.

Well, I suppose I had heard about it before having read up on the Lakes in the region and this did pop up on the radar screen but because we were staying on Lake Winnipesaukee and had visited Squam lakes as well it really didn’t occur to me to go visit yet another lake.

But after chatting with a local in between lunch bites we were convinced to check it out, and what the heck we’re on vacation and no promises to keep and it was just a few miles away. “Take West Shore Road out of the town,” they told us, “and you’ll hit the beach and state park.”

The road out of Hebron did indeed take us on a scenic route around the lake towards our destination of Wellington Beach and State Park. It is an imposing lake surrounded by tall pines and small peaks and well-known by the locals and others that have discovered it, as a great swimming spot. Facilities at the beach include picnic area, pavilions, bathhouses, restrooms and a playground.

We were told that the views of Newfound Lake from Little Sugarloaf Mt. were worth the 1-mile hike to the top. So we looked for Elwell Trail across from the state park and just followed the blazes to stay on the hiking trail. The locals were not wrong about the views from the top – well worth the effort – and it was an easy hike – one that even small children could do.

The trail led on towards Big Sugarloaf Mt. as it saddles the two peaks. I did not have time to do this trail but reputation suggests you get a much broader perspective of the Newfound Lake region and the higher peaks to the northeast – in my notebook of things to do on next visit.

If you’re attracted to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire and think you’ve done it because you did the Lake Winnipesaukee thingy – then think again. And think Newfound Lake. It’s different and if you’re looking for a place to stay in the area check out the Inn at Newfound Lake –it slips right in with the atmosphere.

Spratt “boy” Jack

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