Riding Out My Anxiety

I write this piece having just had an anxiety attack. A kind man invited me to his eco-village and gave me a lift up into the mountains with the promise that he’d drive me back down again a day or two later. Being completely reliant on this other person, I soon felt trapped, and the feeling of distress was nearly overwhelming.

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Day 162

Earlier sunrises and hotter days the further north I go, so have started waking up at 5am. Cycled through the Glasshouse Mountains — remnants of old volcanic plugs — and climbed Mt Beerburrum on my way to Beerwah. A kind man Merv took me up into the mountains to the Crystal Waters Eco-Village, where Regine showed me her permaculture house and garden.

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Day 161

Wended my way through the northern suburbs of Brisbane and said farewell to the last state capital on my journey. A large causeway bridge took me across the water to Redcliffe, then along the mangroves of Deception Bay to a camp on a nearby horse farm. Winds howling through the night.

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Days 155-160

A week in the maelstrom of Brisbane, crisscrossing the city by bike, car, van and truck. I joined the pickup and delivery runs of two organisations rescuing food waste, and a third tackling food miles. I also visited two research institutes developing alternatives for liquid fuels: hydrogen from solar-powered electrolysis, and biofuels from algae.

Many thanks to my wonderful hosts, Trevor and Sue, who have the first registered solar power station in Qld on their roof, and Gemma, Enton and David.

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Days 153 & 154

Cycled through dry yellow farmland from the base of the mountains to Gleneagle, where I stayed with a fun character Ned. He gave me a bed in the same room as his own, in his half-built house made from old shipping containers. At the start of this journey I had such a huge need for personal space and wouldn’t have been open to this, but it seems I’ve come a long way. Then up the busy highway into Brisbane.

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Days 150-152

Joined environmental educator Lizz running ‘Plastic Free July’ classes in a kindergarten and primary schools around Beaudesert. Travelled to a high mountain ridge south of Rathdowney for three nights at the ‘earth education’ centre, Wild Mountains. Eucalypt forest with koalas on one side and lush rainforest with catbirds and lyrebirds on the other. Evenings around the fire and a hike to the QLD-NSW border.

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Days 148 & 149

Slipped over the border into Queensland without fanfare. No celebratory trumpets; not even a street sign telling me where the border was. Up to the Gold Coast then turned west, riding inland along winding hilly roads to Canungra where I camped by a small stream. Pedalled on through dry farmland to Beaudesert, to be crammed in to the caravan park. Have caught a cold somewhere.

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Days 146 & 147

A short cycle to Fingal Head to stay with an old friend Anna and her partner Michael for my last nights in NSW. Michael helped with work on my bike. I’ve been on the road for almost five months now — one more state to go.

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Day 145

Rain clouds loomed as I followed the beach north through Pottsville then cut back inland to the cane fields. Repaired a broken gear cable on the roadside. Slept in a dusty shed at a sugar cane farm, where the owner Robert has managed to increase the soil carbon content by 400%, sequestering an extra 15,000 tonnes of carbon. Watched them take soil samples, burn cane fields at dusk, and be interviewed by Landline.

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Day 144

The Northern Rivers seems to be a hotbed for sustainability initiatives, making it slow-going as I visit many of them. Cycled through the forest to Mullumbimby to check out a ‘library of stuff’ and explore yet another model for doing community renewable energy projects.

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Recipe for an Existential Crisis

It seems to be a recurring story with the environmentally-conscious people I’ve met on this journey, who describe their difficult transition.

They grew up with a clear path and purpose that society provided for them, but after ticking all of society’s boxes and it failing to deliver the happiness and fulfilment that it promised, they started to ask: what’s it all for? Learning about the environmental problems our world is facing, caused by our modern way of living, they realised that perhaps we’re doing it wrong.

No longer willing to follow the conventional path set out by society, and no longer able to derive meaning from it, they were set adrift, rudderless. Feeling lost, their life became a search for a new path, purpose and place in the world.

Some describe learning to accept that there is no intrinsic meaning or purpose in life except that which we create. Many talk about navigating their way through existential depression and finding new purpose in activism and environmental work; in being part of the solutions instead of part of the problem.

I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life searching for purpose, and coming up with projects and distractions to fill the gaps. Sometimes I wish I could take the ‘blue pill’ and go back to a life of blissful ignorance. But I recently heard someone describe this wave of existential crises as an important stage in our human evolution and the development of a global conscience — this is our generation waking up.

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Days 142 & 143

Stayed for the morning after Splendour to see the waste aftermath of the festival, then cycled back down the highway to Byron Bay, which seemed to be full of recovering festival-goers. Stayed in my first backpacker dorm room for the trip and spent a day visiting a community-owned energy retailer and the world’s first solar-powered train.

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Days 140 & 141

I’m not usually a fan of big festivals: the crowds, the extravagance, and the behaviour of some of the revellers. I think having an extra purpose for being at Splendour helped make it more meaningful and fun — plus having a media pass that let me go almost anywhere. Spent time with Dirt Girl and Scrap Boy as they did tree planting and performed their sustainability acts. I also tagged along with the Splendour Enviro Team to see the strategies they used to reduce the festival footprint.

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Day 139

Back to the coast and along the Pacific Hwy to ‘Splendour in the Grass’, Australia’s largest music festival. As part of the Dirt Girl World media team, I watched Dirt Girl perform for the kids at Little Splendour, joined them on the team bus and stayed at their accommodation with them. Thank you so much to their producer, Cate, for letting me be part of it all.

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Days 124-135

Time out house-sitting for a friend in Yamba. Walked the dog, binge-watched Netflix and read escapist fantasy novels. Took me a few days to stop myself from working, and over a week before I could face picking up a pen again. My Mum and brother come to visit, and I spent time with childhood friend Anna and partner Joe when they returned home.

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The Mug Movement

While in Sydney I cycled to Neutral Bay to visit Lain and her mobile cafe, Tonic Lane. Sitting on an upturned milk crate, she told me her story, and how she became concerned about disposable coffee cups.

About 60,000kg of plastic waste from coffee cups is directed to landfill each year. Due to their thick plastic lining, they can’t be recycled, and whilst they’re often put into the recycling bin with good intentions, this can cause the whole bin to be contaminated and sent to landfill.

Tonic Lane started charging customers for disposable coffee cups, and then in 2017 became the first cafe in Sydney to ban them altogether. With the help of supportive friends and customers they built up a mug library — customers can take a mug or keep-cup and bring it back later. Lain calls it ‘The Mug Movement’, and appeared on the ABC’s ‘War On Waste’ for it.

She’s now switched from her coffee shop to the mobile cafe bus, so she can spread the sustainability message further. There’s a basket by the door for customers to put dirty mugs in, and the customers I talk to seem to love it. As a next step she’s exploring switching her bus to run on biofuel and solar.

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Day 123

Followed the Clarence River downstream, past flat farmland and my first cane fields, all the way to the sea at Yamba. I’m housesitting here for a while, to take a break from all the riding and writing, and won’t be posting during this time. Hopefully I’ll come back recharged and ready for the road ahead.

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A Poor Judge

Something that surprised me on this trip is just how bad I am at discerning how tired I am. I’ll find myself asking, ‘Why am I even grumpier than usual?’, ‘Why am I now struggling with doubts and indecision?’ or ‘Why am I dreading having to do more writing?’

I suspect that being tired impairs my ability to judge that I’m tired, and it’s especially hard when it creeps up on me slowly. I’ll forget that I’ve only had snatch breaths of rest here and there over the last few weeks, and that fatigue accumulates.

But then, similar to the thinking around taking ‘just one more’ cookie from the cookie jar, I’ll push myself for just one more day, and then one more after that.

When giving a community talk recently, I was asked: ‘How do you know if you’re burning out? What are the early warning signs?’ Such a great question! I’ve seen plenty of answers to this online; lists like ‘Ten signs you’re fatigued/exhausted/burning out.’ But these all require that I first ask myself the question — and then am able to stop.

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Days 121 & 122

On to Coffs Harbour, then along an inland road through hills, farms and forest to the small town of Glenreagh, for a starry night and foggy morning. Rode on to the Grafton Regional Landfill to see how household food and garden waste from across the region is being turned into compost at a municipal scale.

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Day 120

Stayed in the forest with a hidden community founded in 1981. Having lunch with two of the original settlers, Bill and Janelle, in their off-grid mud-brick home, I was keen to understand: Are ‘intentional communities’ a pathway to more sustainable living, or are they just an alternative lifestyle choice? I’m still unsure.

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Day 119

Escaped the monotonous highway to explore the waterways and rock art of Nambucca Heads, before pedalling on to a nearby national park in search of a community hidden deep within the forest.

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Days 116-118

A rest day in Port Macquarie staying with lovely host Ali, a waste coordinator for the region. Pedalled on to Kempsey then Macksville, discovering the kindness of Visitor Centres: one let me camp behind their building, another arranged for me to use a council-run campsite for free.

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Day 115

Moments of joy on the highway, like having a fairy wren sit on my hand. Braced myself for a long day riding in the rain to Port Macquarie, but instead I had mostly sunshine and a tailwind.

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There was a scene in the movie ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ that made me cry. It took me by surprise, as it wasn’t a sad or emotional moment in the plot: the apes had escaped across the Golden Gate Bridge and reached the safety of the redwoods forest. I had previously read a book about the destruction of almost all of North America’s ancient redwoods — the largest and tallest trees in the world — and when I saw these beautiful towering giants on the screen, the tears suddenly started to flow. ‘What is wrong with me!?!’, I wondered. It was like an upwelling of some kind of suppressed ecological grief.

On this journey I have met numerous environmental activists who have shared similar stories with me, and tried to convey the distress and despair they feel over the size and urgency of the big environmental problems we face. It seems to add to their stress load and wears them down.

It’s hard to explain and there often doesn’t seem to be the words for it. Near Newcastle I met with environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, who pioneered the research field of ‘psychoterratic’, or earth-related mental health conditions. He introduced words into the literature like ‘Solastalgia’, meaning the mental or existential distress and melancholia caused by environmental degradation, locally or globally.

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Days 113 & 114

A day and a half sitting under a picnic shelter in Coopernook State Forest, waiting out the rain. Writing, reading, and watching the butcher birds.

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Days 111 & 112

Cycled past Smiths Lake and along the narrow strip of land between Wallis Lake and the sea. A sneaky overnight in a riverside park north of Forster, then on to Taree for an afternoon of writing in the library. Camped in a cow shed at the showgrounds, where luckily they’d recently put down fresh sawdust.

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Food, Water & Shelter

Arriving at a quiet and pretty campsite, perhaps amongst some trees or by a river, with some soft flat ground to pitch my tent on, can make a long day of pedalling all feel worthwhile. Finding a really nice spot, especially if I have it all to myself, is enough to make me cancel my plans and call it a day — maybe two.

I’ve stayed in some duds, such as where I’ve been wedged in amongst cars and campervans in a crowded paddock. I’ve also camped where I’m not supposed to and been chased off the land in the middle of the night, which isn’t fun.

A lot of my journey is thus determined by where I can camp legitimately (or at least confidently) for as cheaply as possible, as well as where I can stock up with food and water along the way. My route has become a giant connect-the-dots of grocery stores, public water taps and campsites.

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Day 110

The forestry track took me on a 20km short (long) cut through the forest of Myall Lakes National Park, coming out near Seal Rocks in time for lunch. Discovered the pretty Neranie Campground by Myall Lake — all for me. A chance for a skinny dip/wash in the cold lake.

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Day 109

Climbed Mt Yacaaba on the headland before breakfast, then set off through the shifting sand dunes and lakeside forest of Myall Lakes National Park. Determined to be alone, I took a forestry track and camped by Boolambayte Lake.

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Day 108

Riding north from Newcastle, I’m now on unfamiliar coastline; a blank area in my mental map of the state, the town names all sounding odd. Felt the roar of the low-flying fighter jets in my bones at Williamtown. Saw humpbacks by the rocks at Boat Harbour, pelicans everywhere, and a lone jabiru in the waterway at Tea Gardens.

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Days 106 & 107

A two day stopover to meet two interesting people: James Whelan, an experienced campaigner and director of The Change Agency, to discuss burnout and self-care within the environment movement; and Glenn Albrecht, a professor of sustainability and environmental philosopher who has grown the language of mental health conditions related to environmental destruction.

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Day 105

After pedalling up some big hills in the wrong direction, I finally found my way out of the Munmorah state forest and followed the Pacific Hwy past Lake Macquarie and through Swansea. Tired of the traffic, I was happy to discover the Fernleigh Track, a sealed rail trail for 15km through forest into Newcastle.

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Day 104

Cycling along the beaches and lakes of the Central Coast, past Tuggerah Lake, Budgewoi Lake and Lake Munmorah. Discovering that libraries will often let me eat inside while I charge my devices. A long day, followed by a cold night at Frazer Beach.

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Days 102 & 103

Locked myself out of my friend’s Sydney apartment with my bags still inside, so didn’t get going til midday. Rather than take the infamous Pacific Hwy, I followed the coast north to Palm Beach, racing to catch the late ferry across the Pittwater estuary. Had the pretty Putty Beach campsite to myself for two nights, just me and the brush turkeys.

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Navigating Cities

I arrive at the outskirts, the traffic thickens, and soon I’m swallowed up by the city. I look forward to resting in a warm house, away from the wind, the rain and the cold, and part of me just wants to curl up on a couch and binge-watch Netflix for a week.

But there’s lots to do, people to see and projects to visit. Sustainability projects tend to be clumped in the cities and so I’m busy organising heaps of site visits and places to stay for the duration.

My hosts are all very kind and generous, but I feel uneasy relying on the hospitality of others for so long, and it’s hard to truly relax when you’re a guest in someone else’s home.

I soon become restless, the open road beckons, and I yearn to be journeying on. At last, my visits all done, I load my bike and set off again. I slowly disentangle myself from the suburbs, dreaming of a quiet campsite in a forest or by a beach.

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Days 96-101

A week in Sydney, visiting old haunts, catching up with old friends and checking out several projects. Planted lettuces in a pocket city farm, stayed in one of the world’s most sustainable houses, toured Australia’s tallest timber office building and hung out at the cafe that banned disposable coffee cups and launched the Mug Movement.

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Day 95

Cycling in the rain: I’ve found the thought tends to be worse than the reality. Dramatic coastal roads, and then the misty forest of Royal National Park. Crossed on the ferry to Cronulla, followed the cycle paths around Botany Bay, and finally arrived with soggy wet shoes in Sydney.

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Finding My Balance

Trust a recovering workaholic like me to turn a therapeutic bike journey into a work trip. Living on the road, I lose track of the days and don’t take weekends off. Juggling the riding with the writing and organising and visiting projects — each is rewarding, but I push myself too hard and at times it’s all a bit overwhelming.

But I think maybe this is partly what this journey’s about. To shine a light on some of the behaviour patterns that make me more prone to burnout. To see that, with no master but myself, the expectations I feel on me are all in my head; the pressure to work hard is coming from me alone. To learn to not become overly fixated on imaginary goals, to let go, to forgive myself, and to give myself permission to stop.

I’m learning to deliberately slow down my journey, cycling shorter days, so that I have more time to rest and write. I’m learning to take the more scenic routes, even if they’re slower, and try to enjoy the sights along the way.

And when I get it right, I wake up looking forward to hitting the road, the projects I visit feel more inspiring, and I can’t imagine living any other way than from my bike.

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Days 92-94

A major challenge on this journey is managing my gut health. Some days malaise clouds my mind and the colour drains out of the world. Took a break from writing for a few days.

Cycled north past seaside towns and the Port Kembla steelworks to stay with my former manager and discuss burnout and self-care. Stayed in a micro cabin at an eco-home in Woonona while visiting a mattress recycling social enterprise, the Sustainable Building Research Centre, and an urban organic farm employing young refugees.

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Days 90 & 91

I’ve reached the sea! Many thanks to my kind hosts Tom and Evelyn in Shellharbour for giving me a quiet place to eat, sleep and write for a few days.

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Days 88 & 89

Sore hands from continually braking coming down the escarpment at Macquarie Pass, to camp at the bottom in a hidden clearing by a stream. A strong urge for some forest time, searching for lyrebirds and waterfalls, before finally pedalling on to Shellharbour.

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Days 85 & 86

Piercing cold winds riding up into wind farm country to visit Carl, a landholder of the Gullen Range Wind Farm. The next morning it was snowing, and maintenance workers asked if I needed psychiatric help when they found me cycling amongst the wind turbines in the snow. Ferocious winds had me riding at a slant to the massive Crookwell 2 Wind Farm, then on to a cold night’s camp by Pejar Dam.

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Another Way Of Living

I met Frank at the Bike Recyclery in Canberra, where he volunteers, and a few days later I cycled to his home outside the city to learn about his life there. After some intense years as activists, he and his partner Sam retreated to his parent’s bush property to start a new life — one that matched their values of environmental sustainability.

Living on very meagre incomes, they eat food they’ve either grown, gleaned or foraged. They maintain a vege garden and orchard, forage for edible wild plants, dumpster dive, eat roadkill meat (they explain to me how to know when roadkill is still fresh), and receive excess produce from bakers and farmers that would otherwise be thrown away, often in exchange for jams and preserves they’ve made.

They built a house out of recycled materials and have embraced intergenerational living. They’re trying holistic land management techniques to regenerate their property after years of overgrazing by kangaroos. They’re also turning their home into a community training space.

Frank and Sam call their place Another Way Of Living, or ‘AWOL’, and it was fascinating to learn about this alternative way of living lightly.

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Days 83 & 84

Back on the road and my bike feels great. My deepest thanks for all your donations to help me continue my journey. Cycled east to stay with a young couple trying an alternative approach to eco-friendly living. Heading north on the freeway I came across another couple who earn money picking up bottles on the roadside, each now worth 10cents. Camped by the dry plain of Lake George.

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Days 76-82

Time to rest and repair. A massive thank you to Katie for looking after me for so long, for the movie nights and fun adventures; and to Doug for spending many hours making my bike roadworthy again with a lot of care and attention. While in Canberra I investigated the new Container Deposit Scheme and met with groups at ANU doing nuclear fusion research. I also made use of the city’s recent public transport upgrades, including the bike racks on buses, and the new light rail.

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Stuck for Repairs

I broke my rear wheel rim coming over the Snowy Mountains, and my old worn out bike chain and gears have reached the end of their life. I’m now stuck in Canberra until I can get my bike repaired. Most bike shops turn their noses up at my old vintage rig, but fortunately Frank from the ‘Recyclery’ helped me out with a great secondhand rim, and I’ve found an excellent retired bike mechanic who can build me a new rear wheel and replace the chain, gear rings and rear cluster for a discounted $120. But I’m running out of funds. Can you help me continue this journey by chipping in or sharing ‘Pedalling Forwards’ with your friends and networks?

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Help Keep Me Pedalling Forwards

I’m incredibly fortunate to have had so many people donate to get me started on this journey — I wouldn’t have made it this far without your support!

I’ve seen many inspiring sustainability projects and learnt so much. I’ve also come a long way in terms of my own recovery, re-building my physical and mental resilience.

I feel there’s still a lot more for me to see and explore and write about in this space and I want to keep pedalling forwards. I’d love it if you could help make the next chapter of this journey happen.

Are you able to:
1. Donate to keep me pedalling,
2. Share my website or Facebook page with others, and/or
3. Connect me with funding sources who might be willing to support my journey?

Thank you so much to everyone for your amazing support!

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The Election

Cycled in to our nation’s capital in time to vote, and queued up at perhaps the busiest polling booth in the city at Old Parliament House. I’m so disconnected from politics while on the road, I’d almost prefer not to know the outcome. I’ve seen many incredible sustainability initiatives on this journey, and in each of them people are chipping away and making a difference despite the politics.

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Day 75

My face and eyeballs frozen and my fingers like popsicles, cycling through thick fog. Suddenly the fog cleared, as though I’d passed through a curtain into sunlight. A long ride up the Monaro Hwy to the south end of Canberra.

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Days 73 & 74

Tested the limits of my warm sleeping gear, shivering my way through the night camping by Lake Jindabyne, where it reached -3 degrees. Riding away from the Snowy Mountains and into rolling dry farmland, I camped the next night north of Cooma and was just comfortable at -2 degrees.

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