On Fear: Mount Mitchell

Wooooow, I’m late! I’ve been MIA for the past month or so, but I needed to take some time to find some balance as there is sooooo much transition coming in the next few months for my family. Aside from that, I also wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with this post… but as I sit here today, I think I’ve finally got it figured out.

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About 5 weeks ago, I started taking Zoloft (Sertraline) for serious anxiety and panic disorder that I’ve battled (mostly silently) for years. To say I was scared would be a vast understatement. I was absolutely terrified – the first day on the medicine, I sat there with the tiny pill in my hand, staring at it and wondering, “What is this little tiny piece of condensed powder going to do to me?” I’ve heard all the horror stories… But I also know that our brain and our body works together to react to fear, and often, that’s what causes panic attacks (for me). I put that fear aside and put my trust in my psychiatrist. The last 5 weeks have been full of change in my brain and the way I process things. I feel like this medicine is working for me and I’m able to enjoy the little things, that much more.

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3 weeks ago, the first weekend in December, Tyler and I packed the car and headed to Asheville, North Carolina where we planned on climbing Mount Mitchell. It is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, standing at 6,684 feet. I found the cutest little tiny house (eeek!) on AirBNB, just an hour from the trailhead. We were lucky enough to stop along the route at a dear friend’s house and see her family. Her little one is a firecracker, to say the least!

On Friday night, we googled top dinner spots in Asheville and set out for the “Edison Kitchen”… little to our knowledge, we were pulling into the Omni Grove Park Inn, greeted by a valet and being ushered into the most grand hotel I’ve ever been in. I’ve always thought of an “Inn” as a small, quaint place… The Grove Park Inn was far from small, and the kind of resort hotel that I’ve always dreamed of planning weddings at.

In the atrium, Tyler immediately had his heart set on fresh hot cocoa (it was pouring rain). As we waited in line, I realized the ‘hot coca stand’ was actually a GIANT gingerbread house. You guys… they used 400 POUNDS OF BREAD FLOUR and 440 POUNDS OF POWDERED SUGAR (+ close to 1,000 lbs total of other ingredients). Total, this gingerbread house took the staff 784 hours to complete. And people were standing in it, serving me hot coca?!?

We retired to our tiny house and slept soooo peacefully with the sounds of nature just outside the walls of our tiny cocoon (LINK here to book this amazing little place). The next morning, we woke up early, packed our gear and prayed the rain would stay at bay for this hike… Do bears hibernate on the east coast? Is that a dumb question? Should I have brought the gun or bear spray? It was -4 and covered in snow on Mt. Mitchell 3 days ago, so I shouldn’t worry……… all thoughts spinning in circles through my brain.6391FDEB-E0C3-46E2-BFB6-4913423A6F4C.JPG

BAM, dead bear on the side of the road on the way there. I guess they’re still awake, so that’s cool.

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We pulled into the trailhead and saw another Subaru with two gentlemen, donning fishing gear. It was sprinkling, but nothing unmanageable. They gave us some trail tips, and almost immediately after we set foot on the trail, a torrential downpour rolled in. Like, rain drops running down my face, I might as well go swimming in a lake, kind of downpour. The brush was thick, visibility was poor and I looked at Tyler and said “is this a bad idea?”

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Honestly, in that moment, I was scared. Scared because the bears were awake and scared because we were completely alone on that mountain. There was not another soul on the trail and that was abundantly clear from the silence. I was looking for Tyler to justify turning around and attempting this hike again in the spring…

 
The entire hike, about 6.5 miles from the parking lot to the summit, was full of riveting conversation and an excellent opportunity to connect with my hubby, doing what we love. The trail was challenging, not because of the terrain, but because of the elevation gain and the changing climate. When we first started, amidst the torrential downpour, I was sweating bullets. As we climbed higher, it only got colder.IMG_2248

A close friend was supposed to be meeting us at the summit (you can drive up there, too) to take our Christmas card photos and document this climb because helloooo, highest peak on the east coast! We got to the top and there was no sign of Cynthia. We met two guys (wow, there are other people up here?!) who noticed our microspikes and sparked a conversation. Turns out, he’s climbed Denali (one failed attempt and one completed) and a few of the other major peaks around the world. He was on top of Mitchell scoping out boulders, as he wanted to buy 2,000 lbs of rock to boulder in his backyard. People buy some crazy shit, but that one is definitely on top of the list.

I was frozen. It was near-sleeting at the summit, 30+mph winds and we had stopped moving to wait for Cynthia. The visibility was deteriorating even further. I saw the lights of her jeep come around the corner and I basically threw myself in her car, in front of her heaters, to warm up.  We took some pictures, but froze even more for the 10ish minutes we were outside, and as the conditions got worse… We made a safety call and jumped into her jeep and rode back down to our car. We stopped to take some great shots in these amazing tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but truly couldn’t see more than 50ft in front of the jeep while driving. If you’re in the Asheville area, head over to Cynthia Gilbraith Photography for amazing work with a beautiful soul.

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Some would say we quit or didn’t finish this hike and to that, I say: YES. We absolutely did. My feet carried me 6.7 miles and 3,701 feet up at a 31:41 pace. We didn’t quit, we made a safety call. Cynthia saw a bear run across the road on her way up and we didn’t have any bear spray and we could hardly see. We were sopping wet and completely frozen… so we made a safety call and I’d make the same call time and time again.

I was scared at first. Annnnd for most of the hike, to be honest. But I do this because fighting my fears is important to me. If I just lived in a bubble that protected me from all of the things I was afraid of, I probably wouldn’t ever leave my house. I do this because looking down at where we started is so, so relatable. It reminds me that everyone starts somewhere and there is ALWAYS going to be a climb. We aren’t handed anything.

In the next 68 days, Tyler and I will be transitioning from our home for the last 3 ½ years to a new home in Alaska. Ty will be heading to Texas for 3 months of training (in his dream job!) and I’ll be road-tripping back to Alaska with my dad and two dogs (+sedatives for the dogs and maybe dad, too) to start my career. It’s not going to be easy, but everything we’ve been through the past 3 years together, in this year alone, and right now, has prepared us for THIS climb.IMG_2324

Fear is relative. Our brain is trained to interpret perceived threats and process them into what is a real threat and what isn’t – Let your brain do what it is meant to do, let it process and understand when danger is real. And when it’s not, slow down and enjoy the beauty that is LIVING.

Stay Wild

XOXO//Dylan

Fighting Fears and Finding Beauty: Dragon’s Tooth

This weekend was full of not one, two or even three adventures… but four. I felt quite a bit of sadness as this three-day weekend came to a close. The adventures I went on this weekend were incredible. The people I went on these adventures with turned incredible to out-of-this-world.Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

I’m usually pretty good about putting words on paper the same day of an adventure, or at least the next day. To be completely honest with you… it was hard this week. I usually turn to writing when I’m feeling down or anxious but this week has all been a little too much. I needed to breathe.

On Wednesday I went in for a colonoscopy and endoscopy (yuck) so of course, that meant my Tuesday was shot and consisted of nothing more than green jell-o, water and some god-awful chicken stock… annnnnnd the bowel prep. I started writing then, but I just couldn’t make it happen. My mind felt foggy and I was feeling truly sad that the momentum from the weekend of adventures had come to such a screeching halt. My doctor found a polyp in my colon, which he removed and is sending it off to test for pre-cancerous cells.

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Pre-cancerous…what? I’m 23, dammit. A close family friend lost a battle to colon cancer a few years back and that is the FIRST thing that came to my mind. While my doctor seems optimistic since I am otherwise completely healthy, the word ‘cancerous’ sent my emotions and any grip I had on my anxiety spiraling. I remembered Suzanne and all of the adventures she had before she was diagnosed, and then those she had after. The life in that woman radiated over the tops of the mountains, past the ozone layer and on to the moon and the stars…

 

SO here I am. Writing this. Because this is what makes my heart sing.

We set out on a near 4-hour drive to tackle Dragon’s Tooth. Tyler and I jumped in the car with one person I only knew from work and another we had met five minutes prior. Riveting conversation made the ride itself an adventure. Shit, what else are you going to do with 4 hours in the car?

Both “be brave” and “fearless” are tattooed on my skin because while fearless is a quality I resonate with, sometimes I also need a reminder to be brave. There are a few things in this world that I can say with certainty I am afraid of: trains (I’ll write about this one day), the dark, serial killer animals, failure, lack of control… When we got to the top of Dragon’s Tooth in Jefferson National Forest, I confronted both failure and lack of control all in one. I literally said to Tyler, “do you think I could survive this fall?” He laughed. I was kind of serious.

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But nonetheless, I made it up there. THEN IT WAS TIME TO GO DOWN. As I calculated my route down from a literal tooth-shaped rock in the sky, I looked deep into my soul and said “who is this girl? Why are you up on this rock where you could probably fall to your death if made one wrong move?”

I was on that rock because I felt SO alive. Because I looked at the people around me, and I couldn’t think of a place, in that moment, that I would rather be.

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Don’t get it twisted, I was completely fucking terrified. Tyler was trying to coach me down and it was stressing me out, so I told him I had it. I’m not kidding, within five seconds I said “babe, how do I get down?”

He looked at me and said, “I literally was just trying to tell you…” God bless this man who loves me and my backwards mind so fiercely.

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I spent most of the way down getting to know another new friend, Chelsea and found so much comfort in a like-minded soul. I felt like we’d known each other for years and in reality, it hadn’t been more than 6 hours. We even lost Tyler and Jon on the way down because they were so caught up in conversation, they forgot to keep walking? Who knows.

Either way, these two people felt like family and when we got back to the car that was accidentally parked on only 3 wheels and halfway in a ditch (oops), we set out on another adventure to find the Hanging Rock Overlook. We ended up at the end of a dirt road in a small trail-head parking lot with a literal bag of (what looked like) human shit hanging in a tree. I’m not kidding. I guess someone really had to go… It was only half a mile to the overlook, so we climbed down to the bottom of the ‘hanging rock’ and then back up just for the hell of it. We snapped this gem even though it took a million tries (shoutout to iPhone self-timers, but could we add a 15 second one?)!

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The ride home was beautiful, spiraling through the mountains as the sun was setting. There were moments where the car was silent, and I thought about how much I will miss these people when we leave. The military gives you friendships in places you’d never expect but often has an uncanny ability to rip it away from you just as quickly as it was formed. I sincerely hope that these friendships last a lifetime (K2, we’re comin’ for you someday).

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I write all this to remind you that there is beauty everywhere you go. Sometimes the beauty is in the simple conversation that connects people from all different walks of life. There is beauty in looking one (or many) of your fears in the face and then saying, “I fucking did it.” For so long, I convinced myself that Virginia isn’t Alaska, thus it isn’t beautiful. It is. Maybe it is a different kind of beautiful…But over the last few months I have learned that it comes in the most unexpected places and simply pausing for a moment to appreciate the adventure is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I hated the fact that I had to drive 2 hours for a decent view, but in just one weekend I spent close to 12 hours in the car with my life partner and 4 friends I wouldn’t trade for the world AND some of the best conversation came from the open road.

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EMRACE IT, people. Your heart will thank you. Your soul with thank you. Learning that the adventure isn’t always the climb has been hard, but SO rewarding for me.

This one is for you Suzanne, for all your adventures and for all the love you poured into our world… We miss you.suzie 2

XOXO/Dylan

Trail Family… And Everyone Else: Old Rag, Round Two

As my second trip to Old Rag, I must say that I am overwhelmingly grateful that my first journey up this mountain was early-morning on a random Tuesday (read about my first solo hike here). For the first time in my life, I experienced outdoor tourism at its finest and it reminded me that I’m just not built for the east coast. In 6 months, I’ll be packing the car, heading home to Alaska and never looking back (can’t wait to write about THAT adventure!!). I remember my mom telling me of some of her past hikes before she moved to Alaska being other-than-awesome simply because of the literal line up the mountain…

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see all those people?!

Today, I experienced that line. The first 3.5 miles, we powered through, passing the masses of loud music, obnoxious, cell-phone obsessed ‘hikers’ and those constantly shedding layers as they were geared for Everest on a fall hike in Virginia. It was finally quiet, and I felt like I could start to connect with nature…. theeeeeennnnn, it all came to a screeching halt as we rounded a corner only to find a LINE. A damn line.

As much as I tried not to be frustrated with the less-experienced, I was. In all honestly, it was killing the hike for me. You guys, there were older teenagers literally holding up 10-15 people for selfies and an Instagram story boomerang. I am endlessly thankful for good company (+ a new friend) to keep me sane! Today, I needed that.

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There were a few of us (outside of those I hiked with) that seemed to be covertly expressing the same sentiments. They are what I’d call trail family. The peaceful solitude of quiet nature wasn’t an option. But, we made the best of it until my loud mouth half-politely asked the selfie-taking teenagers to please let us pass. Tyler took this smooshed-face, semi-candid natural of me at the summit, trying not to blow off the rock in the piercing wind.

 

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend from my time in Italy and was overjoyed to introduce him (finally) to my husband. There’s something about reconnecting after some time and being able to see the growth in a person a little more clearly that floods me with joy.  Nick brought his friend, Sean, who I was delighted to meet. He shared stories of his travels through Norway and his first experience with the Northern Lights as the four of us bonded over agonizing tourists and exciting boulder scrambling. Solo hiking has been wonderful for me but aside from the (seriously completely annoying and ill-equipped for bouldering) tourists and selfie-taking kids, today was one for the books. Processed with VSCO with fp4 preset

The drive home was full of riveting conversation about the qualms of artificial intelligence and the role it plays in our world and I was once again reminded of just how small we are in this big universe. We even talked about the virtual reality theory and the concept that we are all just pawns in someone’s game… if that is the case, shout-out to my game-player for giving me the best life a girl could ask for (and some pretty badass adventures). But could ya please hit the button to slooooow down global climate change?!

We stopped by 2 Silos Brewing on the way home for an adult beverage (and some added mac ‘n cheese) and I was able to exhale and be truly grateful for the cards we were dealt today because at the very least hundreds of people were outside on the trail and at the Brewery, enjoying a crisp fall day surrounded by family and friends.

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Cheers to reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. 

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Stay wild//Dylan

Solo Hiking and Why You Need it in Your Life

First and foremost, I want to preface this by telling you that I didn’t want to do this hike today and this post is not going to be about how cool this hike was. My mind was saying no, no, no, noooooooooooo! at every decision point today. I was up early because I had to go into work for an hour. One hour was enough to send my mood spiraling and remind me of this panic-inducing sense that I don’t belong…

After arguing with myself the whole way home, my brain was telling me I was still tired. So I opted for a nap and settled for spending the day doing laundry, cleaning the house and prepping to drag myself to 36 hours of work over the next 3 days.

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Does this person look tired?! NO!

2 hours later, I was done with all of the chores and was excruciatingly bored, watching tv… Tyler called and asked why I didn’t hike today and I immediately felt panic deep in my chest. WHY didn’t I hike?!?! For a few minutes, I let it consume me… I was nearly hysteric with hate for living here, in this “awful” place where I feel like I don’t belong, and where any type of decent hike is 60+ minutes away.

This week has been really, really hard on me. Since I came back from Alaska, the part of my brain that holds the on/off buttons for anxiety/panic has felt broken. I’ve been feeling like I’ve lost control of, well…my ability to control it. On Monday (at work, unfortunately), I had a full-blown, blackout panic attack for no apparent reason. On Tuesday, I came scary-close to another panic attack when I was put in a situation that triggered memories of horror. Panic attacks, for me, leave me feeling like I have nothing left. I was running on empty.

But dammit, my (incredible) husband was right. WHY DIDN’T I HIKE?!

So I got up, put the panic away and I left.

The second my feet hit the ground and my heart rate began to rise, all of the panic that had been brewing inside me this week seemed to dissipate.

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I realized that while my brain said “go home, take a nap, prep for work”, my heart wanted the mountains. And I desperately needed them. I am so grateful for the silence that is nature for giving me a chance to reconnect with my body.

Taking care of your body is important but you guys, taking care of your MIND needs to come first.

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Raven Rocks

While this is only my second solo hike and I fought it every step of the way, I truly feel like hiking alone has changed me. It gives me this incredible outlet to connect my mind to my body in ways I didn’t think were possible. I feel like I belong, even though I’m completely solo. Instead of the usual sense of impending doom that comes with the night before going back to a job I despise, I feel as if this hike gave me enough mountain air to keep breathing steadily through the next few days of work until I can get back out there. Enough mountain air to pull in when I feel that sense of panic in my chest…

For those of you who are on the edge about a solo hike… I implore you to take a leap of faith, trust your heart AND your mind, and do the damn thing!

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A favorite quote of mine reads, “into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” Sometimes, I think we need just that. To find (and re-connect with) our soul. It’s painfully easy to lose that in a world that holds such unfounded societal expectations of humans, let alone young women.

We are ORGANIC, we break just like any other organic material. Finding a way to put those pieces back together and connect the feelings in our heart with those in our brain is when we can truly see clearly.

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Stay wild/xoxo– Dylan

A Weekend in the Woods: Why I Will ALWAYS Choose the Mountains

My favorite part about this weekend was seeing the pure excitement in my husband’s eyes at even the smallest moment. Getting out the camp stove, pouring fresh hot chocolate while we sat in the dark watching the dogs play, climbing a few boulders, watching me fall in a stream, exploring new trails – all things that lit up his eyes in a way that made my heart sing. Especially when he said “I feel like I’m galloping like a cantaloupe.” Not-so-obviously meaning antelope… the animal…

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Being from Alaska, having hot cocoa from the boiling water on the camp stove or climbing some boulders is a relatively normal thing. Weeklong camping trips were a bi-annual (at least) event in my family. My heart feels at home in the woods.
Seeing Tyler find that sense of “home” in his heart at almost 27 years old showed me a sense of child-like wonder in him that I’d only seen on our first trip to Alaska, as he watched an immature female bald eagle on the beach in Ninilchik, for hours.

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We started at Little Stony Man, mile 39.1 of Skyline Drive. The fog was thick, the air was wet and the dogs were even more wet. We came across quite a few viewpoints, all of which were blanketed with fog. I was disappointed in the lack of view for the first few seconds then I thought…

If I go stand on top of that rock, I’ll be able to look out and imagine my OWN view.

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While it was a little difficult to imagine a view where I couldn’t see so much as the edge of the granite rock-face as I stood on top of a slippery rock, I was uncontrollably happy up there. The view on the horizon was a blanket of fog, but the view on the other side was much, much better. My (perfect) husband and the two most annoying, only sometimes well-behaved, mud-covered, cool fur-covered babies.

AND, those three beings in the mountains with me?! I couldn’t be luckier.

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The past few months have been hard for me. I was sexually harassed for the second time in ONE year at work. It smacked me in the face and reminded me of how much I don’t want to be here (my current workplace/the military as a whole). I’ve struggled with feeling like I don’t belong. For so long, I’ve felt like my personality—the fire in my soul, has been smothered by work. I feel like I can’t be “me” when I’m there.

When I came across this small waterfall on our first hike of the weekend, I was reminded of a time when my mom and I jumped into an icy waterfall. It was May 28, 2011 and I had just learned of the passing of a close friend. We came across the waterfall on a bike trip and we jumped in. Why? Because we are ALIVE and sometimes, I think we need a reminder.

This dampened version of myself has been taking over my happiness for too long… jumping in THIS waterfall felt like a hard reset that I desperately needed to remind myself that I was put on this planet to LIVE my damn life and nothing and no one can take that from me.

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I was cold and wet… the air was cold and wet. But I wasn’t done. The mountains give me this incredible sense of adventure that I didn’t know I had. There was this incredible granite face near the end of the trail. Once again, I looked up and thought to myself “wow, I want to be there.” I handed Kaya’s leash to Tyler and said, “I’m going up.”

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I got about halfway to where I wanted to be and started to talk myself out of it. These rocks are slippery, the algae growing on them is making them even more slick… oh, and how the fuck am I going to get down?!?! In the mountains, I’m reminded that I have the strength to push PAST my limits. I only went up a few more steps and didn’t get to the shelf I wanted to be at but… dammit, I made it up further than I would have a month ago.  A month ago, I wouldn’t have tried at all.

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Tyler and I completed a second hike that evening, sans puppies, to give Kaya’s leg (for those of you who don’t know, she has Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy in her leg) some rest. Bearfence Mountain was a short, 1-mile roundtrip with a few fun boulder scrambles. Again, no view… but I was perfectly content.

 

 

Back at our cabin, we made a cheese board (freaking YUM!!!) and attempted to play Monopoly, Cheaters Edition! But, clearly… Kaya had other plans.

Brats and baked beans on the camp stove, followed by Hot Cocoa and Apple Cider on the lawn while the Kaya played and Oakley walked around peeing on bushes.

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In the morning, we had bagels and coffee while the sun came up. We packed for our next hike and headed out. I took a long look at Hemlock cabin before we drove away because this little cabin will always hold a place in my heart as the first weekend camping/cabin trip for my little family.

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Little Devil Stairs (5.6-mile loop) was an AWESOME hike. The entire first portion climbed up the path of the creek through the valley. It was… quite literally, devilish granite stairs. There wasn’t a “top” viewpoint, but the granite walls throughout the valley were beautiful. Snapped this awesome shot of my incredibly-handsome hubby!

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Kaya’s confidence was tested on a few water crossings, but she made it to the top all the same! Oakley might as well be a rock-climbin’ dog (who always manages to find himself covered in ticks). All in all, this weekend was the best we’ve had in a long time.

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I will choose mountains for the rest of my life because they show me a version of myself that is increasingly confident and craves adventure. The mountains have showed me the “me” who is unapologetically true to herself.

XOXO/Dylan

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