Category Archives: Oregon

Beyond Yellowbottom

Distance: 55.5-mile out-and-back
Elevation gain: 5680 ft

A couple of people wrote to me about the Quartzville Road ride saying, “You stop the ride just when it starts to get good.” So I checked it out. My judgment: Yes and no.

Beyond the Yellowbottom campground, which is the turn-around point of the Quartzville ride, the road changes dramatically, and which ride you prefer depends on what you like and what mood you’re in. The new ride is on a road that’s smaller, less developed, less lush (but still pretty), much more isolated (3 cars in 32 miles), and much more up and down. Usually that’s exactly Bestrides’ cup of tea, but there is one downside: the road contour. For a skinny mountain road, it’s surprisingly straight—so straight that both the climbing and the descending lack a certain drama. So, because it’s prettier and swoopier, I’d still do Quartzville first. But this one’s very good too.

First, a disclaimer: I only rode to the summit and back, 16 miles each way. But I’m assured the rest of the road is also good, so I’ve mapped it all and am recommending it all.

Begin at Yellowbottom campground. There is plenty of turn-out parking along the road. At the large “Yellowbottom” sign on the creek side of the road is a pretty little trail that will take you down to the water—either a little falls or a large swimming hole just downstream—if you want to cool off after the ride.

The first mile or two of the route is exactly like the road you just drove on to get there, a wide, developed two-lane road through gorgeous Oregon canopy. Soon you cross a large bridge over the creek and the road forks, both forks looking equally good, just like Robert Frost said they would. Go R, onto FS 11 (it’s signed).

Somebody doesn’t want anyone using FS 11, because there is a fair amount of “All hope abandon”-type signage, all of it lies. First a sign reading “One lane with turn-outs.” Not really. There is no centerline, but the road is plenty wide enough for two cars. The next sign reads “Rough road ahead 25 miles.” I guess Oregonians are a pampered lot. In fact, the surface is flawless save a few cracks here and there, which run lengthways on the road and are easily avoided. Any road with a surface this good in Butte or Sonoma County would be celebrated in story and song. Then you get to a spot where someone has written “BAD BUMP” on the roadway. It marks a pimple in the road so minor you would never notice it if someone hadn’t drawn your attention to it. Don’t let any of this deter you—it’s a sweet, smooth, unthreatening ride, at least as far as I got. Streetview suggests things may get a little more frayed further down the road, but still nothing worrisome.

At first the surrounding foliage is just like Quartzville Road—stunning mossy maple forest, with a nice, noisy creek beside you whose constant rush is guaranteed to mellow out your wa. But as you climb above the creek the landscape gets drier and you’re into alders, ferny walls, and rocky outcroppings—pretty, but different. Finally near the summit you’re in the solid green of conifers (less interesting).

There is some weird stuff on this road. For instance, there are mileage markers painted neatly on the route, but they were done by someone who was insane, had OCD, or had an agenda invisible to me, because they mark mileages like “24.76” and “32.99” (see photo). Almost never are they round numbers. Sometimes the markings are 1/100th or 2/100ths of a mile apart, so you’ll get to answer that question that plagues all cyclists: What’s your time in the 1/100th-of-a-mile sprint?

Weirder still, at one of the many bridges crossing the creek you’re following you’ll see what appears to be a section of freeway, cast aside and lying on the far bank of the creek (see photo). Anyone who has any idea what it’s doing there, or how it got there, let me know.

Mid-ride, it gets rockier

Just before the summit (at mile 15.6 for me), there’s an unexpect-ed fork with no signage at all and each branch looking equally good. It’s only a momentary worry—the R fork turns to gravel almost immediately, so go L.

If you go to the intersection with Hwy 22 you’ll probably want to ride north on Hwy 22 the few miles to Marion Forks to resupply for the ride back. 

The psycho mileage markers

Mapmyride’s elevation profile is useless. Be sure to use RWGPS’s to plan your workout. The first miles are almost flat, climbing at a pitch so mellow that when the first stair steps, around 5%, appear you welcome them as a diversion. But the steps get steeper and longer, until the final 6 miles are work, with regular pitches of 7-8%.

Shortening the route: Ride to the summit, as I did. If you want still shorter, ride until the scenery or pitch fails to please and turn around. It’s only going to get harder.

Adding miles: Ride Quartzville Road, the ride this is a continuation of.

The mystery freeway

Siuslaw River Road

Distance: 35 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 2450 ft

(This ride is discussed as part of a much larger loop in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon: the Best Road Biking Routes from Mountaineers Books.)

The network of roads southwest of Eugene are an amazing cycling resource. Anywhere south of Hwy 126, west of Hwy 5, almost every road is good riding.

It’s all pretty much the same sort of thing: rolling gently through open, postcard-pretty meadows and ranch-dotted valleys, along wooded streams, and over mellow hills, on moderate-sized, relatively untrafficked roads with excellent pavement. Not an ugly mile to be found. No killer climbs. Few busy highways to avoid. Courteous drivers. No litter. No broken glass. Good road surfaces.

It’s all very nice, and very lacking in high drama. If you want something more intense, ride Siuslaw River Road. Bestrides actually has another ride on the same river, North Fork Siuslaw Road, but that one’s on the coast where the river, now much larger, meets the sea. This one is inland, near Hwy 5. Whereas the rest of the area is merely fine, Siuslaw River Road is great. It’s through a canopied riparian cedar/mossy maple/fern forest that is as pretty as anything Oregon has to offer, which means as pretty as Earth gets. I think you’ll see two houses. The road surface is glass. The contour for the first half of the ride is not-quite-flat—constantly rising and falling at 1-3%—and always meandering back and forth, so it offers constant effortless variety. The contour for the second half is a series of short climbs and descents, 5-7%, never seriously taxing or lasting long enough to lose the novelty. The descents are just at that pitch where you can carry some speed without having to ride the brakes, and the curves are sweetly shaped so you feel like a champ. There is no traffic—on my last ride, midday on a Tuesday in August, on the ride out I encountered 0 vehicles (3 on the way back). A basically perfect ride.

(RidewithGPS’s elevation profile is much more revealing.)

Begin in Lorane, which is an intersection with a convenience store. Ride Siuslaw (pronounced “sigh-OOH-slaw”) River Road (always signed Siuslaw Road, but called SRR on maps) to its intersection with Wolf Creek Road, then ride back.

The miles from Lorane to Letz Creek Rd are merely fine, and if you are only interested in out-standing you can skip them.

The first miles of the route meander along the river, but it’s a river in name only—it’s a big stream where it meets the sea but here it’s a mere trickle in late summer. The water itself isn’t pretty, and you can almost not see it even though it’s right beside you. The foliage varies from good to breath-taking, from Forest Primeval to clear-cuts and tree farms. Sun lights up the maples, which is nice, but I’ve done the ride in overcast and it’s still stunning.

You ride past Fire Rd., which made me wonder if there was a road named Logging Rd. or Dirt Rd. nearby. A short way into the ride you pass Siuslaw Falls County Park. It’s pretty lame—just water passing over a low shelf—but the half-mile ride in is pretty and fun.

After you hit the first real hill it’s pretty constantly up and down to the turn-around. The workload isn’t burdensome—2450 ft of gain in 35 miles isn’t nothing but it isn’t a lot—and you could keep the effort down to near zero if you’re on a recovery day by turning around when the road first turns up. But I encourage you not to—the woods in the last couple of miles before the turn-around are exceptionally beautiful.

Shortening the route: Start at Letz Creek Road. This saves 10 miles of pleasant but fairly domesticated riding. There is no turn-out on Siuslaw River Rd. but there is shoulder parking on LCR if you look for it.

Adding miles: Literally, just go anywhere. Siuslaw River Road continues west from our turn-around, all the way to Hwy 126, which was a traffic nightmare the last time I saw it. At our turn-around point you’re actually on the route of our Gardiner to Eugene ride, which will let you ride west all the way to the sea if you ride it backwards. Wolf Creek Road heads north back into the Southwest o’ Eugene road network from our turn-around, so take it if you’re looking for a loop.

Siuslaw River Road

The obvious loop is Wolf Creek to Territorial Hwy back to Lorane. If you’ve got more legs, keep going north when Wolf Creek dead-ends at Territorial Hwy by jogging over to Crow and working your way east by any number of routes, then come south on Lorane Hwy.

I actually don’t recommend that you follow that route, because I think Wolf Creek, Crow, and the roads immediately surrounding them are fairly dull. Instead, I recommend you ride Siuslaw Rd. out and back, then follow this prettier route from Lorane north:

Whatever your route, try to incorporate McBeth Rd. and Fox Hollow Rd. north to south, a beautiful climb (up McBeth) and ripping descent (down Fox Hollow) that will be the high point of your loop.

Even on the side of the road away from the maples, the Siuslaw River woods are beautiful

Burnt Mountain Road/Tioga Creek Road

Distance: 49 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6640 ft

This ride is very much a matter of taste. It may be one of your favorite rides, ever. You may hate it. It all depends on how much you value isolation, pristine forest, sketchy road surface, and serious elevation gain. It’s one of the hardest rides in Bestrides—roughly 12 miles of tough climbing, not counting the rollers, and a total vert of 6640 ft.

This ride is for people who like to get off the grid. As in, no cell service. No road signs, at all, of any kind. No people, no buildings, no fences, no foot paths, no trail heads, no no trespassing signs, no private property signs, not even turn-outs. I encountered vehicles 4 times in 48 miles. If it weren’t for the pavement under you, you’d swear no one had ever been there. Needless to say, there is no opportunity for reprovisioning. So be self-sufficient, and tell someone where you’re riding.

Burnt Mountain Road is small

It’s 48 miles of basically one-lane road through dense woods varying from pretty to stunning, punctuated by a couple of clear-cuts you will welcome for the vistas they provide. The pavement is OK to poor—never terrible but always noticeable—which is the ride’s Achilles heel. Expect to ride slowly, savoring the solitude and the beauty and picking your way around the problem spots. It’s not a pain at slow speeds, but you can’t bomb the descents. This isn’t a “whee” sort of ride. You need a hiking mentality.

And remember, Oregon back back roads are there to facilitate logging. Oregon didn’t get the memo about how the logging industry is dead. There is the occasional clear-cut on this ride, and those clear-cut logs have to get down that road somehow. They are either actively logging in the area or they aren’t. They weren’t when I was there, and the place was as unpopulated as the moon. If they are logging, obviously it’s different.

Even finding the ride is an adventure. Drive to the intersection of Coos Bay Wagon Road (see, it’s adventuresome already) and Reston Rd. Continue west on CBWR for 1.5 miles to the first paved road to the R, which has no signage at all—not even a forest service number. That is Burnt Mountain Road. It will change its name halfway through the ride to Burnt Ridge Road, but it won’t matter because there are no signs. But there is only one paved road and you can’t get lost (ignore the route “option” in the map–it’s a glitch).

You’d never get vistas if it weren’t for the few clear-cuts

The profile is simple: you begin by climbing vigorously for 4 miles. If you don’t, you’re on the wrong road. From a kind of summit you roll up and down to about mile 12 and another kind of summit. You might well consider turning around here, which would give you 24 miles and a noticeable workout, because if you continue, the climb back up is major. But if you turn around you will miss the high point of the ride: the idyllic 6 miles along Tioga Creek.

Tioga Creek Road

Continuing on from Mile 12, you descend steeply to mile 19, where the road forks, the L fork crosses a small but unmissable bridge and the R fork (completely unsigned, of course) follows Tioga Creek (unmarked) for six of the sweetest, most beautiful miles I’ve ever done on a bike, at the end of which the pavement ends and you T into South Coos River Road. SCRR looks sweet on the map but it is in fact private lumber company property with large No Trespassing signs (the only signs on the ride) and it has a road surface that is particularly gnarly gravel you wouldn’t want to ride even on a gravel bike. So ride to SCRR, then return to Burnt Ridge Road.

Tioga Creek Road

Tioga Creek Road is basically flat, which is good because you’re looking at about 8 miles of significantly hard climbing back to the top. The only way to avoid it is to cross the bridge when you get back to it and continue on Burnt Ridge and make a loop of it, riding Middle Creek Road (which BCR becomes) to McKinley, then riding through Dora and Sitkum on what finally becomes Coos Bay Wagon Road and back to your car. It’s only a bit longer and more climbing that going out and back (63 miles, 7125 ft.), but I haven’t seen it. Assuming you’re following my route, do the climb, enjoy the rollers, and descent the last 4 miles to your car. Remember, don’t expect the descent to be exhilarating.

Adding Miles: You could spend a summer riding the good roads in this area of Oregon, none of which I’ve done yet. The obvious addition is the loop described in the ride description above. Beyond that, this area is simply thick with delicious-looking small roads. Every tiny town—McKinley, Gravelford, Dora, Fairview, Myrtle Point—has two or three back roads heading out of it and begging to be explored.

The land west of Roseburg and Winston offers the usual endless miles of PPO (Perfectly Pleasant Oregon) riding—just pick any road that looks small and non-straight on the map.

Tioga Creek Road

Marys Peak Road

Distance: 21 miles out and back
Elevation gain:3860 ft

This is a pure climb—10 miles up, 10 miles down—whose prime virtue is the spectacular view of the Willamette Valley at the top. The climbing is mostly moderate and steady, and the descent is fast and tons of fun without white-knuckle thrills, so it’s a great ride if you’re timid about descending at speed but want to give it a try. The first 8 miles are in that gorgeous west Oregon forest I love.

It’s a lot like the McKenzie Pass ride, so how do they compare? McKenzie is longer, the forest is lusher, the view at the top of McKenzie is level moonscape whereas the view at the top of Marys is valley far beneath you, Marys has less traffic, the McKenzie descent is curvier, better banked, and more thrilling. McKenzie is one of the best rides in the world, whereas MPR is merely excellent.

Since a large part of the appeal here is the vista from the summit, try to do the ride on a day with clear weather or high cloud cover only.

This road is favored by sports cars playing race car on weekends. There’s plenty of room, so they won’t endanger you. Riding on a weekday should cut down on the sports cars but may just trade one irritant for another—on my Saturday ride there were no trucks but signs of active logging (in August, 2019). As I say, there is room.

There is a serious question about where to start this ride. If you ride from Philomath (fuh LO muth) on Hwy 34, the scenery is excellent and the two miles before the Alsea Mountain Summit, where Marys Peak Rd starts, are fabulous—challenging, steep esses through forest prettier than MPR itself. The only drawback is traffic—Hwy 34 can be very busy, there is no shoulder, there are no sight lines, and there is no room for you at all. Unless you can catch the road at a time of slack traffic, it’s unpleasant and dangerous. Without cars, it’s a dream, especially descending. When I was there, on a summer Saturday, at noon the road was constant cars; at 5:30 it was deserted. It’s your call. Because I can’t guarantee your safety, I’ve mapped the ride from Alsea Mt. Summit. I wouldn’t ride up to Alsea Mt. Summit from the south side—it’s a pedestrian slog.

Eight miles of the usual West Oregon gorgeousness

Park at the beginning of Marys (no apostrophe) Peak Road. There is a nice paved parking area. You get a half mile of mild climbing before the work starts, but if you need more warm-up you’ll have to ride back and forth on Hwy 34 around the summit and on the first half mile of Marys, because everything else is steeply up and down.

Soon the road tips up, and it stays fairly steep for the next 2.5 miles—around 8%, with moments of 10-12%. It’s just across the line between fun and work, and it’s the steepest leg of the ride. When you reach an unexpected mile of quick descending, the hard work is over and it’s moderate to the summit. The pitch is unvaried and the road surface is a bit chattery throughout—not broken surface or chip seal, just cheap road building. Enough to reward bigger tires or lower tire pressure.

The view from the summit, looking northeast

As you ascend, appreciate how the microclimate keeps changing. You move through belts of madrone, alder, fireweed, foxglove, and, near the top, a big, imposing pine we don’t see in California.

Around 8 miles in the forest starts to thin out. You pass through a small saddle and get the first panoramic vista, a stunning view of the land to the south (on your R—see photo below). Don’t assume it will get better, because this is the only view to the south you will get on the ride. The view from the end of the road looks east.

The view from the summit looking east over the Willamette Valley

Continue to the top, which is a parking lot with picnic tables, outhouses, and hiking trailheads. The view to the east is one of the grandest in my experience. You can see 50 miles or more. It’s on a par with the grandest vistas in Bestrides: Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Constitution (in the Washington section of Rides by Region), and the Golden Gate Bridge ride. To the south of the parking lot is a small hill blocking your view to the south, so to see the entire panorama you’ll have to do a little hike, easy if you’ve brought walking shoes and a bike lock.

The descent is fast, bendy, and fun without ever being scary or technical. You’ll do little braking, even though you’ll be doing 30+ mph much of the time, because the pitch is never extreme and the curves are big and gentle, and the road is roomy enough that traffic is never a concern. In short, a piece of cake. The chattery road surface is the only slight damper on your pleasure.

Shortening the route: Since the goal here is the vista from the summit, start as far up the road as will allow you to get to the top.

Adding miles: As discussed in the ride description, Hwy 34, which goes by the foot of Marys Peak Road, is a long, dull ascent/descent on the south side and a marvelous but dangerously trafficky serpentine on the north side. A few miles to the south via 34 is the turn-around point of our Alpine to Alsea ride. The Corvallis area offers endless PPO riding (Perfectly Pleasant Oregon) among the farms and ranches along the edge of the Willamette Valley.

Marys Peak Road: looking south from the saddle mid-ride

Shotgun Creek Road

Distance: 29-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2670 ft

This ride may not be for everyone.   It’s a rough and tough little loop with one hard climb, pavement that is consistently poor, a descent so steep you have to brake constantly, and 15 miles of shoulder riding.  It’s more work than the elevation numbers suggest, because most of the 2670 ft of gain is in one 3-mile climb, and the lone descent is so jarring that it beats you up.  Still, it has its merits.  The back road half is often beautifully wooded, the isolation is remarkable (on my last ride, a lovely midday in August, I saw one human being of any sort from the beginning of Shotgun Creek Road to Brush Creek Road), and even the shoulder riding is through lovely scenery.  At points the road is so narrow and the solitude so extreme that you’re as close to trail hiking as you can get on a road bike.  So it’s a ride where it’s less about the riding and more about being in this extraordinary place.  It’s a good ride for a gravel bike, because the fat tires will smooth out the road surface and the disc brakes will make the descent less stressful.

Navigation is in one sense easy, because there are few ways to go wrong, but in another sense challenging because there’s no cell service (so no Googlemaps) and several unmarked forks, and many of the roads are unnamed or confusingly named on maps.  So I’m going to be particularly specific about directions.  Of all the maps I’ve seen, RidewithGPS is by far the clearest as to road names, and I’ll be referring to it in my ride directions.

The Shotgun Creek area is a hotbed of OHV recreation.  You’ll see signs and staging areas from the beginning of Shotgun Creek Rd. all the way to the Seely Creek Rd. summit, including signs reading “Watch for OHV traffic on the road.”  I have done this ride twice and never seen an OHV, perhaps because the area is closed to OHV’s during times of high fire danger.  If you’re doing this ride any time but late summer, I’d find out if the OHV’s are active first.  There’s a ranger station in Marcola that can tell you.

I continue to wonder if the ride would be better in the other direction.  RidewithGPS says the big climb is even steeper this way, but there would be two benefits: you’d be experiencing the best of the woods at a slower speed, so you could appreciate them more; and you’d have the swimming hole at the Rec Area nearly at the end of the ride, when you could use it.

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North Fork Siuslaw Road

Distance: c. 45 miles out and back
Elevation gain: c. 2830 ft

This is another ride leaving Hwy 101 and following an Oregon river upstream.  It’s different from our others (Gardiner to Eugene, Elk River Road) because the North Fork of the Siuslaw River is big, and the land around it is that wide, open flat marsh/meadow unique to big Oregon river mouths.  So for the first half of the ride you aren’t in forest or canopy—you’re in full sun, with trees on your L and the marsh/meadow on your R.  After 12 miles, you leave the river and the ride becomes conventional, lovely western  coastal Oregon forest.  Like our other Oregon coastal river routes, it’s an easy ride—in the first 12 miles you’ll climb 350 ft.  Not a life-changing ride but a very pleasant,  charming day on the bike.

By the way, Bestrides has another ride on the same river, but way upstream on another fork: the Siuslaw River Road ride.

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Elk River Road

Distance:38 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1790 ft

This, like many of the Oregon rides, was suggested by Friend of Bestrides Don.

Is there such a thing as a perfect ride?  Elk River Road is as close as it gets—a beautiful, essentially flat out-and-back roll through my beloved Southwest Oregon coastal rain forest on a good road surface with little traffic and just enough pitch to make the return ride a brisk romp.  Add a spritely rock creek along the entire length, an optional ride to a lighthouse for character, and free snacks in the form of wild blackberries.  Most of the road is on National Forest land, and the road turns to dirt at our turn-around point, which means there aren’t many people up there except campers in the undeveloped campsites along the road.  Once into the Forest, I met 5 cars on the ride in (in 12 miles), on a lovely August Saturday at midday.  The only drawback is…nope, can’t think of any.

This ride is a lot like the first 40 miles of our Gardener to Eugene ride—both gorgeous, canopied forest on a basically flat road along a pretty river—so which should you do if you can’t do both?  GTE is longer, it’s flatter (so there’s no sense of downhill if you ride back downstream) and straighter, it doesn’t turn to dirt (so you can through-ride it), it’s not in National Forest so it’s a little more developed, and the scenery has less variety.  The Elk River canyon is narrower and steeper, and thus the river does more tumbling that the Smith does.  Overall, Elk River Rd is a more dramatic, more intense ride.

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Brice Creek Road

Distance: 52 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 6490 ft

A longer version of this ride is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).

The Dorena Lake/Cottage Grove area is one of the richest troves of cycling roads in Oregon.  You could spend a couple of weeks here and ride a different good road every day.  See Adding Miles for suggestions.  This ride is just the best of them.

Our route is half of the legendary ride from Dorena Lake to Oakridge.  It’s a good ride all the way to Oakridge, if you can figure out a way back (iron men ride to Oakridge and back in a day, exactly 100 miles), but this route just goes to the summit and returns.  It’s the prettier (lusher) side of the divide.  The appeal here is scenery: some of Oregon’s prettiest rainforest, and a very pretty creek alongside you much of the way.

This route used to be plagued by gravel sections and tricky to navigate, but both problems are history—I saw one short gravel section, and it’s impossible to get lost if you stay on the pavement.  That being said, the upper reaches of this ride are remote and wooly, so come prepared for solitude and self-sufficiency, especially on a weekday.

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Quartzville Road

Distance:  44-mile out and back
Elevation gain:  2880 ft (RWGPS)

This is one of the Oregon rides that is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).

There is very little to say about this simple, perfect ride.  It has no grand vistas, no exhilarating descents, no craggy monoliths—no breath-taking features of any kind.  It’s just 22 miles of lovely, pleasantly meandering, gently rising and falling two-lane road through the faery Western Oregon rain forest, then back.  It follows Quartzville Creek, which for 10 miles of our route is widened by Green Peter Dam into Green Peter Lake.  There is in fact 50 miles of Quartzville Road (or Quartzville Drive on some maps), which is officially the Quartzville Road Back Country Byway (though I saw no evidence of this along the route), and runs from Sweet Home on Hwy 20 to its dead end at Hwy 22.  The other 25 miles of Hwy 22 are chronicled in the Beyond Yellowbottom ride, which has a very different character.

This is one of the easier rides in Bestrides.  The road is rarely flat, but the pitch is often so mellow you can’t be sure if you’re climbing or descending, and it’s never enough to make you break a sweat.

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McKenzie Pass

Distance: 44 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 4100 ft

(A Best of the Best ride)

This is one of the Oregon rides that is expertly covered in Jim Moore’s 75 Classic Rides Oregon (see the “Oregon” section in Rides by Region).

This ride is the greatest climb and descent in Oregon.  ‘Nuff said.  And in addition, you get class-A Oregon forest and an enormous lava “moonscape” you’ll never forget.

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