So You're Hiking? What Do You Eat?
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2017-04-11 18:43 by Karl Denninger
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So You're Hiking? What Do You Eat?
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It's amusing being keto-adapted and going out in the woods for a few days.

When actually hiking it's not impossible to burn up 4,000 calories in a day.  It's utterly trivial to burn up 3,000.  This of course leads to a problem; if you wish to be "isocaloric" (don't gain or lose body mass) you need to carry that much in calories with you.

Walk into any "hiking store" and you will find a ton of carb-heavy crap.

But there's a dirty little secret, you see: Fat has 9 calories/gm while both protein and carbs have 4.

And every single one of those grams you get to haul until you eat it.

It's obvious what choice you should make simply on the fact that hauling mass sucks. It's unavoidable to haul some mass of course but doing so unnecessarily, especially when there's no price penalty is flat-out insane.  This is the one place when it comes to backpacking where you can get rid of carried mass at no additional cost.

There is also a size issue.  Most of the so-called "trail foods" allegedly "fix this" by being sold dehydrated.  Well, that is both good and bad.  The good is that it really does make the size smaller.  The bad is that it does nothing for the caloric density problem that carbohydrates have to start with and it comes with a severe (I'd call it ridiculous) price penalty too.  When you look at the total calories in these packages on a per-dollar spent basis they're outrageously expensive.  The size issue becomes an issue if you hike in places that require a bear canister (or simply want to use one as I usually do as while hanging a bag, if you're intelligent about it, works for bears it does exactly zero to keep critters like mice out of your rations); the smaller canisters, if you don't optimize for caloric density will leave you with a hell of a problem in that you will rapidly find you have a conflict with time between resupply stops and how much fits in the canister, especially if you prefer the smaller size canisters because you don't carry a monster backpack to begin with.

By the way, water masses 8lbs/gallon and nothing can be done about that so using water to "rehydrate" food just means you haul even more mass in the form of water to do that with instead of just drinking it (of course whether the water is in your food or consumed "neat" it still counts toward what you need to remain alive and well.)  On the AT carrying ~3ltrs of water across a couple of containers (never, ever in only one if in the backcountry -- a puncture leaves you in a world of hurt and those sorts of things do happen!) is fairly sane since water sources are generally plentiful but that's still 6lbs.  In places where water is harder to come by or the conditions are nastier (hot and dry + lots of elevation gain, for example) you might need to carry double that or even more to have a reasonable margin of safety.  And don't forget your "make water safe" device(s) -- there are multiple options with my favorite being the Sawyer + Chlorine dioxide drops as that hits a reasonably sweet spot for filtering efficiency, biological kill capability equal to municipal supply since that's what they use (waterborne illness sucks) along with reasonable size and mass.  Just be aware that this approach, like most, will not get rid of chemical contamination (as opposed to biological.)

So what do I eat on the trail?  Two things, mostly: These little sausages made by Dukes that I've found available both at Truck stops (expensive) and, believe it or not, at WalMart (not so expensive), which have no "added chemicals" and rather than being low-fat monstrosities overloaded with protein are intentionally high fat.  There's roughly 700 cals in a 5oz bag, which is very close to optimum.  The only "gotcha" is that the bag itself is larger than it needs to be due to what appears to be an inert gas fill and you can't open them and squeeze it out because without preservatives once oxygen gets to them you have to either refrigerate or eat the contents.  Being pork-based they have a decent amount of protein too, which is important when you're working hard.

The rest?  Nuts.  Pick a type other than peanuts and do not eschew the salt -- you need it to replace that which is lost by sweating as electrolyte imbalance can be severely debilitating or even kill you.  An 8oz "can" (which is to be immediately discarded and the contents decanted into a sandwich or ziplock bag) contains a whopping 1280 calories.  They'll remain safe for a reasonable period between resupply stops once transferred (~4-5 days) and they can be eaten while moving.

So for roughly 1.5lbs I can have right near 3,000 calories, which on a "light" day is isocaloric.  For 2lbs I can be isocaloric at 4,000 calories.  Those who insist on putting carbs in their food are carrying at least another pound a day between resupply stops to have the same caloric content on-trail!  This means that when I have "off trail" days I don't have to gorge myself.  I typically eat my sausage in the early afternoon and eat nothing after about 3pm.  If you do 3 day "small section" hikes that 3lbs doesn't sound like a lot but it's damn close to half a gallon of water in terms of weight and believe me you will notice it.

This comes with another advantage -- other than for coffee, if you want it in the morning (and I do) you don't need cooking gear!  That in turn means you get to leave more mass and volume out of your pack.  Even a tiny folding butane stove, can of fuel and a small pot is going to put at least a pound in the pack and many cooksets are double that.  Just don't ever leave the last two ways (yes, I said two) of making a fire behind -- ever.

If you thru-hike you're going to run into a problem getting those nice little Duke's sausages however -- the gnarly gas station or little IGA in some random town will not have them.  You might get stuck with nut products (including peanut butter, and the "commercial" brands that are available everywhere are loaded with processed oil that's on my personal avoid list.)  But when you can get 'em they're saweet, and for section hiking availability isn't a problem since there's a Wallyworld damn near everywhere these days.

BTW there's another advantage to eating low-carb, high-fat: Your need to do a #2 goes down quite materially as well and that means fewer catholes to dig.  (Here's a hint if you've never done that in the woods before: Put your pants around your knees, both lower and upper parts.  This makes it nearly impossible to **** on your clothing while doing the deed.  You're welcome.)

For those who say this is "crazy restrictive" on food I counter with this: I've never seen anyone, even on a hard-core through-hike, that didn't take "zero days" and stops for resupply and similar; this usually means sleeping in a motel or hostel once a week or so where you can launder your (quite) stinky clothes and remove the stink from you with a shower.  You can't evade this because you need to stop and get more consumables along with dealing with personal hygiene.  So if you crave variety, and some people do, eat the variety then -- and make sure you include something high in vitamin C (e.g. broccoli, etc.)

Incidentally in the last few days I have passed (and been passed coming the other way) several people who were quite-severely out-of-shape obviously attempting a thru-hike on the AT.  I applaud them; they didn't look like they were digging it, especially the ones I saw on severe elevation grabbing sections of the trail, but they were doing it.  If I had actually had time to talk with them for any length of time, and learned that part of why they decided to do it had to do with fitness, I'd tell them straight-up to eat a high-fat, moderate-protein combination of those sausages (approximately one bag) and roughly one tin of nuts daily, showing them what was in my bear can, chawing down on broccoli and similar during their "off" days so as to get the requisite Vitamin C.  By the time they got to Katahdin, assuming they made it, they would have had the "unfortunate" experience of their pants falling off several times over, need at least two new hip belts for their pack (in a smaller size, of course) and no longer be overweight at all.  They'd also have a lifestyle that would keep them in good shape for the rest of their life if they kept with it and after that much time they'd be fully acclimated to not being hungry until noon on top of everything else.

What's not to like about that?

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User Info So You're Hiking? What Do You Eat? in forum [Market-Ticker]
Trinityalpsgal
Posts: 25
Incept: 2017-03-30

Weaverville, CA
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Happy to hear that you are out in Nature backpacking! One of my favorite things to do. There is something transformative about multiple nights out on the trail. Even the preparation is a blast. Have not been on the AT. Only the mighty PCT and JMT, plus Yosemite, Sierras, and R2R trips at the Grand Canyon.

What to eat? Since water availability, weather conditions (especially heat), distance, weight and time (between resupply) are always factors youve gotta make hard choices. I keep it simple and repetitive.

LARABAR is my top pick for trail food. These bars are delicious, nutritious, and power-packed. Plus they are portable and lightweight and wont melt in the heat. I will eat several per day. Lots of nuts too walnuts and almonds. Plus there are yummie single serving nut butters in packets. In addition, I like to cook up a warm evening meal. One pot and a spork (both titanium) plus my little single burner power stove make it happen. Boil quinoa or quinoa pasta and add vac-packed tuna or salmon. Eat every possible scrap. Be sure to lick your pot and the tuna bag so the bears dont get ya! Of course if H2O is plentiful, wash and go. I leave my coffee behind when backpacking (cause I love my half&half) and stick to organic green chai tea. Always have organic peppermint and organic ginger tea bags on hand as they also work as medicine.

Good hydration is the key to success. I like the ElectroMix packets (by Emergen-C) but there are numerous other choices. One pack per day.

By the way, what is your trail handle? If you dont have one no worries as one will find you!

Enjoy every minute.
Trinityalpsgal
Posts: 25
Incept: 2017-03-30

Weaverville, CA
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One more note on the food.

My recommendations apply to those who are doing moderate (not extreme) hiking. For example, I am rarely out over 5 consecutive days. Depending on my location and the weather, I might blow off my tent - less weight = more of something else. I usually bring extra food - just in case - so my pack is never going to be ultra light!

Thru-hikers who are attempting long mileage journeys over several weeks and months - and are keeping a designated mileage/time targets - have special dietary needs. The successful ones are quite impressive. It is art and science.
Tickerguy
Posts: 148485
Incept: 2007-06-26
A True American Patriot!
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LARABARs sound nice and kitchy. They're also nutrient-poor on balance for the mass carried and are full of sugar. One of those things is only good for 200 calories -- if your metabolic requirement is 3,000 kcal/day, and it is for a light-exertion day, exactly how many of those do you intend to carry and eat?

The other day I covered roughly 15 miles and 3,000' of elevation gain across them. That was approximately 2,300 kcal expended beyond my base metabolic demand which is in the 1,800 kcal area -- in other words, 4,000 kcal total. You can safely run a 1,000 kcal/day deficit for quite a while (you'll lose weight like cray-cray) but if you start trying to run a 2,000 kcal/day deficit you'll be hating life FAST.

Yes, it's science. I have the science on my wrist in the form of a nice Garmin watch that has OHR in it. It was expensive but it's a backup navigation tool as well as a means of data logging. Woodscraft is all fine and well (and yes, I carry a traditional compass, printed topo map and know how to use both) but when it comes down to actually going out and doing it I like to be grinning the whole time instead of ridiculously tired, worn out and undernourished.

There are plenty of people who like to hike and just don't give a **** about the economy of their movement, they're day hiking (where you can refill the energy stores at night in a restaurant) or they're only out for an overnight -- where it obviously matters a lot less.

Quinoa is another example of how to carry 50-70% more mass than I do for a given number of days. Its about 100 calories/oz, nearly all carbohydrate.

The packets of salmon and similar are ok but the packaging is a problem since it has to be carried out. This is true for anything of course but with "liquidy" things it can get quite messy and if it does -- especially on your clothing -- you can have problems of the bruin sort in the middle of the night. Pass.

My target is 150cal/oz of carried mass and the only way to get there is by carrying high-fat foods. Since I eschew PUFAs to the extent possible this means saturated fats, and in things that don't require refrigeration the list of acceptable items gets sparse. Those Dukes' sausages were an accidental find a few years ago when on a car trip at a Love's Travel Stop, but they're frightfully expensive in those places. Finding that WallyWorld carries them was like striking gold as they have a quite-decent shelf life unopened.

Oh, and the "organic" and "non-GMO" thing? Spare me. Waste your money if you'd like but I assure you that every so-called "organic" thing has fertilizers and pesticides used -- they're just so-called "organic"! In fact some of the worst pesticides in terms of actual activity are organic molecules; if you think about it for 30 seconds or so you'll understand why, since the entire point of such a substance is to disrupt the target species' metabolic systems. Organic molecules are typically more efficient in that regard.

I have (and carry) a tiny pocketable butane stove that screws on the small gas canisters. In many places open fires (or use of wood as a fuel) is prohibited entirely, usually due to local fire conditions, so if you want to heat anything you need to bring your own fuel and burning device. That also counts as one of my emergency fire sources (always have two!) The Aeropress I bring with me is light but relatively bulky; it's saving grace is that nearly all of it is hollow so it can have other things stuffed in it, and as such the volume is not so much a penalty.

One of the more-amusing things that happens on the AT is that people start at Springer and then a few days later come through Neel's Gap -- the trail goes literally through (ok, "under" if you want to be technical about it) a trail store. It's a cool place and a large percentage of people wind up dropping hundreds of dollars both sending home all sorts of crap that weighs too much and does too little, and replacing stupid-heavy with much-lighter and more-functional.

It's possible to do the no-tent thing around here (hammock and bag or tarp-shelter) but there are issues -- one of the more-serious ones being bug protection. The biting flies are not fun. My answer to that while hiking is either insect-shield clothing (which incidentally works exceptionally well; not one bite or tick on me after a few days out this time around) or home-made equivalents (soak clothing in 0.5% permethrin solution, hang to dry and you're good to go -- but it doesn't last as long as the pressure-infused treatment in the commercial stuff.) The other interesting thing is that chosen well you don't stink NEARLY as much as you would otherwise; two or three days hiking in jeans or "conventional" shorts and anyone within 50 feet of you is going to be terrified, where I took off my hiking clothes last night, showered, and when I got out (now all nice and clean) they had only a slight detectable odor to them.

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Jazen
Posts: 3588
Incept: 2007-07-17

****cago
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Nuts with chocolate in them, beef jerky, water, whatever fish I catch and ova easy eggs. I also bring tuna/salmon not in a can in case I don't catch any fish.

You will not be constipated.

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Tickerguy
Posts: 148485
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Jerky is ridiculously protein-rich and thus for the mass carried has the caloric density problem; in addition you do NOT need that sort of protein level (ever, no matter what you're doing.) Now if you are somewhere you can catch fish, well, that works real nicely -- no need to hump anything that way.

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Jazen
Posts: 3588
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****cago
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Oh and those G8 electrolyte packets, help with the leg cramps from extreme elevation gain. The jerky is much needed for my hikes, esp. when the cold comes in unexpectedly.

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Jazen
Posts: 3588
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****cago
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Actually I think they are called G2 packets, by Gatorade.
And ibuprofen for the altitude gains to help me sleep.

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Tickerguy
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I've never needed either -- but the sausages and nuts both have a ****-ton of salt in them (intentionally.) I DO carry some ibuprofin but have yet to need it.

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Sean
Posts: 2883
Incept: 2009-04-21

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Quote:
If I had actually had time to talk with them for any length of time, and learned that part of why they decided to do it had to do with fitness, I'd tell them straight-up to eat a high-fat, moderate-protein


I often think of doing this to people I see who are fat but I NEVER, NEVER, NEVER do (anymore - anymore being the last several years).

Karl, as you have found out over the years PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO HEAR THE TRUTH ABOUT ANYTHING!

-Sean

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GEN 5:32,GEN 7:6, 6/17/1689, 6/17/1789, 10/13/1917, 10/13/2017 (???)
Randyvw
Posts: 107
Incept: 2012-05-31

hesperia ca
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i just found dukes sausages in a BIG bag at costco. i tried a few, and i plan to try the "hot and spicy". definitely good taste, but i prefer spicy. i told my son when i started eating them "oh, these are really good", but after i ate the second one, i said "no, i think i like those tillamook pepperonis better". and THEY are packed in 3 and a half ounce packages. buying this stuff in so cal at a reasonable price is difficult if you won't go into a walmart, but i have found good prices at winco, smart-and-final too. i'm fat, but bicycling several miles a day to get down to fightin' weight this summer. one thing about cramping. with ME, i've noticed i get very bad leg cramps when i don't drink enough water while hiking or doing a couple dozen or more miles on a bike. many thanks to you, the smartest patriot i know of, karl.

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Remember what Mark Twain said...If you don't read the internet, you're uninformed. If you DO read the internet, you're MISINFORMED.
Quik49
Posts: 3875
Incept: 2007-12-11

ut
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Sausages and nuts....in my pack every time I go skiing.....
but there is that little flask thing too....just for safety of course.

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Long Vaseline....

Tickerguy
Posts: 148485
Incept: 2007-06-26
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Trust me -- if you're out on the AT, obviously thru-hiking (it's very obvious from the kit you have on if you're intending more than a couple of days out there) and you have a roll over your waist belt you're NOT doing it just for "****s and grins." I can tell you with utter certainty that sticking a dozen miles underfoot on that terrain for days straight when I massed 210 would have been a ****ing nightmare, and I've seen people WAY more overweight than I ever was out there.

Everyone doing it has a story, and some of them are sad. The highest probability to actually have more than a minute-long conversation is when you're either filling water (takes a while to filter/treat/etc and where it's available, it's available) or stopping to eat. I had one couple I saw ask about my bear can when I was sitting on a log having lunch (I carry it on top between the main pack and "brain", so it's quite visible) and I explained my view of the trade-offs -- they seemed to find it worth consideration for the future...

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Tickerguy
Posts: 148485
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Leg cramps: Insufficient salt (specifically, it's potassium:sodium imbalance), dehydration or BOTH.

Both are BAD NEWS and an early warning that you need to pay attention to.

If you ain't pissing you ain't drinking enough; by the time you actually feel thirsty you're behind the curve.

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Dennisglover
Posts: 597
Incept: 2012-12-05

Huntsville, AL
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I checked out the Dukes' website, learning that about 25 places within 25 km sell one or more of their products. The site also provides full nutritional information and ingredients lists, so that makes it a high-information site for me. I'll be stopping at the nearby Kroger today to try some of these! https://dukesmeats.com/


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Burya_rubenstein
Posts: 1225
Incept: 2007-08-08

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How about carrying (mostly) sticks of butter? It has the maximum possible (or damn near) ratio of Fat calories to everything else, and has been reliably available at Aldi for $2.80 a pound (it's on sale this week for $1.99). Only issue is keeping it cold for the duration. But would even that be necessary on a hike?

BTW: According to EMU48, 4000 kcal per day equals 193.83 watts - and human metabolism according to Google search results is only 20 to 25 percent efficient. So you have less than 50 watts continuous available to you. (I've personally measured just over 100 watts being required to keep a bicycle moving at 15 miles per hour.)
Apotheoun
Posts: 3577
Incept: 2009-08-14

MN
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Pepperoni!!!

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Preparing to go fishing.

I can't take the level of theft any longer.
Tickerguy
Posts: 148485
Incept: 2007-06-26
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Well you have to be willing to eat it too I like butter on things like but not straight up

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Apotheoun
Posts: 3577
Incept: 2009-08-14

MN
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If you get some decent butter, the taste is way better. Usually it comes with cost though. I can get some amazing butter for very cheap at restaurants depot, but I have to buy 36 pounds at a time. Having a large family makes that pallitable.

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Preparing to go fishing.

I can't take the level of theft any longer.
1crzydmnd
Posts: 2827
Incept: 2008-03-26

Bizarro World
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36 pounds? And I thought I had a large cache of the stuff.

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Hstella
Posts: 688
Incept: 2009-08-18

Colorado
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I found Duke's at Costco once, but they're not on Costco.com
Their website has a very good infographic on hidden sugar in so many of these foods - I normally skip commercial jerky because of the carb content, but I never realized it was as much as a DONUT!
https://dukesmeats.com/pages/flavor-not-sugar
http://www.larabar.com/our-products/lara....
Larabar's cherry pie bar has 23g of sugar
Marquiri
Posts: 20
Incept: 2015-02-24

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Karl,

This was a timely article, as I'll be spending 10 days in the Yellowstone Thorofare backcountry this July/August. I've been thinking about what I'll be doing for food. Looking forward to checking out the Dukes product you mentioned.
Goldmanssack
Posts: 1735
Incept: 2009-07-08

38320 / 07849
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I really enjoyed this article. Thank you. I'll be looking for Dukes sausage too. I also prefer spicy, so hoping the local walmart will have it.

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"There's a signpost on the corner and it keeps everybody safe. We were all made in the shade." Greg Graffin, The Defense
Drifter
Posts: 98
Incept: 2016-02-11

Pacific Northwest
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This has been on my mind. I used to haul mre's, but they are mostly carbs.

Depending on the trip, sometimes i'll vacume pack a steak, breakfast sausage, and deli meat (seperately), put a slab of dry ice on them and wrap with newspaper, then cram it inside a sweater in my pack.

Its a little extra weight in the beginning, but it sublimates and really deep freezes the meat.

Another thing i have done is take a can of tuna, which gives a meal, and the can becomes an alcohol stove.

I have a few pounds of beef fat in my freezer. I am going to experiment using some of that with jerky to see if i could make something more nutritionally balanced and edible... maybe soup or something. I imagine that the fat will be fine for four or five days before it goes rancid.

Hflc... life is freakin' awesome without belly fat.
Dennisglover
Posts: 597
Incept: 2012-12-05

Huntsville, AL
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Update on Duke's sausage.

smiley

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