Suzuki Media Day 2018

On the 21st June 2018, I somehow managed to wrangle a spot at Suzuki’s Media Day, an event held at Bruntingthrope Aerodrome and Proving Ground.

For those who have never been, Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome and Proving Ground is a privately owned airport near the village of Bruntingthorpe, Leicestershire.

I arrived to see a line up of 10 models from Suzuki’s 2018 range standing there before me. A stunning line up of bikes combined with an open pit lane on an airfield on a beautifully sunny day could only mean one thing… a day filled with spring boarding onto different bikes and riding flat out!

Excuse the hair… It was windy!

When we rocked up, we had some breakfast (fruit and pastries) and a brew, because can you really start the day right without a brew? No, absolutely not!

As more bloggers, social media hustlers, photographers and journalists arrived, you could feel the excitement building, especially when we were all told to gather round for the morning brief.

We were informed that the bikes we would be riding were:

Hayabusa

GSX-R1000R

GSX-S1000

GSX-S1000F

GSX-S750

SV650X

V-Strom 1000XT

GSX-S125

GSX-R125

Burgman 650

 

The line up in all its glory!

And that our day was to consist of the following:

Morning Mugshots (so the photographer could identify who was who)

Sighting lap in the race van (Race van that was actually just a normal van with a nutter driving it!)

Morning Riding (open pit lane style, jumping on and off the bikes and swapping and changing with the other riders)

Lunch break

Afternoon riding (same format as the morning)

 

The day was designed to be laid back, no pressure, no super strict regime – just jump on the machines and enjoy!

From 125cc all the way up to 1300cc!

The first bike that I rode was the GSX-S 125, whilst my partner in crime Jen took out the GSX-R 125.

The GSX-S is the naked version with flat bars and a striped down look, where as the GSX-R is the sporty version with clips ons and fairing.

The 125’s got their very own playground, a go cart track offset from the main air strip, so that’s where we took em!

I had some fun chasing Jen on there, who was dragging her knee everywhere.

Follow her on Instagram @biker_jen

When we rocked back up to the main area, some bikes were already out on track being ridden, so I jumped on what was available and gave it a whirl!

There was a nice GSX-S1000 free so I decided to ride it!

My first impression of the GSX-S1000, was that it felt extremely flick-able and agile. The riding position was extremely comfortable.

The only thing I slightly struggled with was not having a screen when doing speeds in excess of 120 mph, as I’m only a small creature – so clinging on for dear life was a bit of a challenge!

On a normal days riding where the max speed limit on a motorway is 70 mph (Mr officer)… the lack of screen wouldn’t have been an issue for me I’m sure!

Stealth mode activated!

I then took out the GSX-S750…

Naturally, it isn’t as powerful as its big brother that i’d just jumped off but DAMN, I will say the throttle is responsive (maybe a little too responsive for my taste!)

The front brake is extremely keen, which caught me off guard as I wasn’t expecting it to be keener than the GSX-S1000’s front brake.

Overall, I was really impressed with the GSX-S range and I’d love to try them out on the roads as well as a track environment.

GSX-S750

 

GSX-S750 holding its own through the chicanes

I was starting to get a feel for this jumping on new bikes malarkey so I thought next, I’d give the Hayabusa a try!

When I saw the Busa at the start of the day, I had big dreams to gain entry into the elite 200 mph club, however that dream was short lived; as the stretch of straight track wasn’t long enough to achieve this mission!

Not to mention modern bikes are usually limited to 189 mph by manufacturers. Still, I managed to hit 160 mph a few times on the Busa but couldn’t go any quicker as you lose your bottle when you approach the next corner at eye watering speed!

Hayabusa in action

Visually, everything about this bike is old school. If you were to put a 1999 Hayabusa next to this one, you’ll see only slight changes, but that all contributes to its charm.

Feature wise, there have been advancements with Brembo calipers for ultimate stopping power, lightweight ABS and more horses, what’s not to love?

As you can see from the above chest cam image, the dash is still extremely retro, the Hayabusa’s dash remains analog whilst the GSX-R1000R got a fancy, new, multi functional LCD dash for 2018.

I’m not mad about this, as it’s all in-keeping with the heritage of Suzuki’s Hayabusa.

Despite its stocky build, it isn’t afraid to be banked over

Obviously I didn’t ride these bikes enough to give you a full review, these are just my initial thoughts, what I will say about the Busa though, is that it feels like a rocket propelled couch. Its super comfy which i’d imagine would be pleasant for touring but with heaps of power and the brakes necessary to stop it, it’s also an absolute weapon.

I must say, I thought it stopped exceptionally well for the speeds it was doing! Which is always reassuring.

It was the bike that surprised me the most with how planted and stable yet agile it felt, and it ended up being one of my favourite bikes of the day!

The next bike I decided to play on was the GSX-R1000R.

I had been excited for this since the early morning but it was an extremely popular choice for riders on the day and there was 2 of them to share between 15 of us.

The GSX-R1000R is a beautiful machine, packed with electronics such as motion track brake system, motion track traction control, Suzuki drive mode selector, Launch control and a Bi-directional quick shift system (that’s a quickshifter and autoblipper to me and you!)

The quick shifter up and down is as smooth as slug snot. I was impressed.

The only thing I found a little odd at first was there was no definite clunk when your foot alters the gear shifter. Most people wouldn’t have an issue you with this and find it completely normal, which it is! I am just used to a agricultural ‘clunk’ from the shifter so I know it has changed gear.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to feel a seamless response from the engine but I like tangible feedback from the shifter, which I found soft and unsure if i’d shifted.

From the look of the standard exhaust, you would not expect it to sound aggressive like it did! It sounded dirty shifting through the box!

Yea, yea, yea we’ve seen the reviews on this bike, we’ve read the mainly negative opinions about the looks of the exhaust, but if you have a bike and dont upgrade your exhaust instantly, are you even a biker? HA.

It’s the same with a standard reg plate hanger as well, everyone has their grumbles about them but as soon as they get home, they stick a tail tidy straight in their online basket!

As you can see by the chest cam shot above, the LCD dash is quite nice!

It’s not as fancy as some TFT dashes I’ve seen, HOWEVER everything is clear to view including your speed, gear, revs, traction control setting and it’s pleasant to look at.

After I’d got my sports bike thrills, I thought to myself, “Right, time to try something you’re not used to”

This is when I stepped onto the mighty Burgman 650. A gaint, comfy rev and rip automatic scoot (that does have a manual mode whereby you can change gears via a switch on the bars).

Out of all the bikes available, I was most nervous to try this machine! Why? The last time I rode a scooter was 11 years ago.

After giving myself an extra moment to remember DO NOT GRAB A HAND FULL OF CLUTCH, as its a brake, I was good to go!

The Burgman 650 has a power mode believe it or not so you can release its inner beast. It also has a hand brake, heaps of under seat storage, an adjustable screen, heated seats and electric mirrors, to me it felt like the ultimate commute scoot.

Taking it on the track was quite funny as you can hit lean angles that you wouldn’t normally attempt on the roads.

I will tell you, you can lean it quite a bit before the centre stand scrapes!

It felt a little strange riding a Burgman in one piece leathers and a Shoei race lid!

Moving on to the second bike that I was a little anxious to try… The V-Strom 1000XT.

Why? I’ve never ridden an adventure bike before. They’re so tall so it always put me off – being 5’4 and 9 stone wet through.

As soon as I set off, all my worries were left behind.

Its comfy, quick and very smooth. I really enjoyed it. I even managed to do a GSX-R1000R on the outside, which left me smiling inside my lid and impressed with the power of the motorised armchair I was sat upon!

After riding every bike I could (except the GSX-S1000F as it was the end of the day and there was no fuel left for it), the day was finished off in the most spectacular way!

I got to have a pilly ride with Suzuki Team Rider Richard Cooper (who had been playing around and showing off on the track with us all day!)

He was on the GSX-R1000R with nothing but a ratchet strap tied around his waist.

So I clung on and tried not to fall off!

3.59pm on a Sunday when you’ve ran out of milk

 

All in all, I had a fantastic day!

I got to broaden my horizons and ride different bikes other than what I am used to and I met a whole bunch of amazing people in the process.

 

Thank you Suzuki UK for letting me attend!

 

https://bikes.suzuki.co.uk/bikes/

https://www.instagram.com/suzukibikesuk/

https://www.instagram.com/coopes47

 

A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING MOTORCYCLE FINANCE – HP VS PCP

Motorcycle finance… not the most glamorous of topics !

However as a Sales Person in the Motorcycle industry, I want to use this platform as a way to inform fellow riders on this subject and help them to understand the main differences between the two types of motorcycle finance – HP finance and PCP finance.

Selling bikes to customers on the daily, I hear many things from customers about finance that are just plain nonsense, when I ask them where they heard that information… I usually hear ‘a friend told me’.

I just want to set the record straight and answer any questions you guys may have.

Before I delve into this subject matter, much of this information is provided by Black Horse as well as my own knowledge and experience and I aim to debunk some myths and common misconceptions associated with motorcycle finance.

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Okay, lets get into it.

We can understand what Motorcycle Finance is with Black Horse’s official definition:

Motorcycle finance helps to spread the cost of a new or used motorcycle. Instead of paying the full amount upfront,
you can pay monthly with interest.

Fairly simple right? Well, there are a few options that people buying motorcycles on finance are presented with, which gives the customer a few different avenues as to how they can manage their spending efficiently and in the best way for their circumstances.

The two types of finance that will be discussed are HP finance and PCP finance.

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What is HP finance?

HP finance is referred to many people as ‘standard finance’ and stands for ‘Hire Purchase’.

Simply put, with this method you will put down a deposit, the higher the deposit you can put down, the lower the monthly payments will be. Once you pay your final monthly instalment, you then own your bike instead of the finance company.

You can agree to make repayments from 12 months to 60 months.

Paying off the bike in 12 months will come with higher monthly payments but you will own the bike much quicker than if you pay the lowest monthly payment possible over 5 years.

With a 5 year agreement, payments will be exceptionally low however you will end up paying much more interest on the bike over the span of the agreement.

The maximum age of the bike at the end of the agreement is 14 years old. So if the bike is 12 years old, you could take finance out on it with a two year agreement, but no longer.

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What is PCP finance?

PCP finance stands for Personal Contact Purchase. With PCP, you put down a deposit, keep your monthly repayments lower than you would on HP finance by deferring a significant proportion of the amount of credit at the final payment at the end of the agreement. In easy terms you pay a deposit, pay lower monthly payments but have a large final payment at the end.

You need to agree an initial deposit, how many miles you are likely to ride each year and how long you want the agreement to run for and the dealer will then calculate the Guaranteed Future Value (GFV) of your motorcycle and confirm your monthly repayment.

What is the Guaranteed Future Value you ask? According to creditplus.co.uk, a GFV is a figure on which a balloon payment is based. GFV is calculated based on predicted residual value of a vehicle, which in turn is calculated according to information from trade guides and takes factors such as depreciation, mileage and condition into account.

At the end of a PCP agreement, you have a few options. You can either:

1. Pay off the final payment in a lump sum.

2. Further finance the final payment if you wish to keep the bike but cant afford a big ole payment

3. Use the positive equity in the current bike as a deposit for a brand new model of bike

4. Hand the bike back to the finance company and have nothing further to pay (but with this option, you must adhere to your mileage allowance and keep it in         decent nick – else you’ll get hit with mileage and/or condition charges)

________________________________________________________

During HP & PCP Finance:

1) You can change your repayment date during the first 30 days of your agreement free of charge. A loss of interest charge is payable after the first 30 days.
2) You will have fixed monthly repayments with a fixed interest rate for the term of your agreement.
3) You can make additional lump sum repayments to reduce your balance or settle your agreement at any time. We will provide you with a settlement quotation
on request.
4)  You can part exchange your motorcycle at any time subject to settling the outstanding finance. New finance agreements are subject to status.
5) If the goods are not of satisfactory quality, you will have rights against the finance company you went with.

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DEBUNKED MYTHS:

1) YOU NEVER OWN IT ON PCP – Wrong! It’s a purchase plan , you own it when you make the final payment just like HP.

2) YOU HAVE TO PAY IF YOU GO OVER THE MILEAGE ON PCP – Correct but ONLY if you return the bike to the finance company, it doesn’t apply if you trade it in to a dealer. 99% of customers don’t return it to the finance company… The mileage charge is only 6p a mile for the first 5000 miles over, so 5000 miles over your contract would be £300 – the bike would devalue more than that in CAP with a 5000 mile adjustment. Basically, if you dont intend to hand it back to a dealer, you could in theory, pay a lesser monthly payment (through doing less miles a year) and you wont incur a penalty at the end of the agreement if you trade it in with a dealer. However if the worse case scenario happens and you have to give it back to the finance company, if you selected low miles and massively exceed them, it could be quite costly.

3) YOU CAN’T PUT EXTRAS ON IF YOUR BIKE IS ON A PCP – You can put all the customisation parts on it you like and either leave them on at trade in or take them off and re-sell separately. Just if you do wish to remove them, if you cant do it yourself or it requires  engine mapping (or example if you were putting on a standard exhaust) consider potential labour costs.

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If you require anymore information, I recommend you check out this really useful PDF:  file:///C:/Users/keffi/Downloads/blackhorseebook%20(3).pdf

I would like to thank David Rothwell at Black Horse for providing me with the above information and assisting in making this post happen.

Hope this was of some use to you guys and will benefit you when you next decide to buy a bike on finance.

If you have any questions – please ask in the comments box!

 

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Jamie Whitham’s Motorcycle Track Training

On Wednesday 9th August 2017, I was fortunate enough to attend Jamie Whitham’s Track Training School at Mallory Park.

Having previously done only a few track days and never any where I had received top quality coaching by some really high profile, big characters in the racing world, I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that I was excited, borderline nervous and aiming to improve my track riding!

The first bit of track time starts at 9am, so we were expected to be there for 8.15am for signing on and briefing. Everybody has to attend the safety briefing in the morning, which is compulsory. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a track veteran or a complete newby, no one is exempt.

The safety briefing is led by James Whitham and Paul Drinkwater, and for those who have been living under a rock, Jamie is an Ex British Super Bike and World Super Bike rider as well as a Motorcycling racing commentator who can usually be found in Paddocks nationwide interviewing riders for us to watch on T.V. Paul Drinkwater aka Drinkie is the brains behind the school, who noticed a gap in the market for a low numbers/ high quality track tuition day and is responsible for approaching Jamie, making a plan, making it a reality and the success it is today.

In the briefing, it is here you’re taught track etiquette, what the different coloured flags mean, how long you get on track, what groups are available for us to ride in (novice, intermediate or fast) and who our allocated instructor/s would be.

Jamie asked if the instructors had a preference on which groups they’d like to coach for the day and they all picked between themselves who they would like to mentor.

I put myself in the novice group as it was my second time riding my new CBR600RR (well, new to me!)  around a track, and having never owned or ridden a proper sportsbike before, riding this bike is taking some getting used to!

The mentors that decided they were going to coach the novices were Steve Brogan and Jake Dixon.

Ste Brogan has had much success in British Supersport, Superstock and Superbikes and he was champion in the BSB EVO class in 2010 as well as taking the National Superstock 1000 championship title in 2008. He also raced in numerous European Superstock and World Supersport races between 1999 and 2004, so the man has a wealth of experience and knowledge that he is ready and willing to share with JW Track Training attendees.

Jake Dixon on the other hand, is a regular rider on the BSB scene racing for Lee Hardy Racing and this year, debuted in Moto2 for Dynavolt Intact GP, stepping in for an injuried German rider Marcel Schrötter and showing the world that he could hold his own at Silverstone in the MotoGP. I was fortunate enough to attend that round and everyone was rooting for him! Jake is quite a personality and you can follow his shenanigans on his instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jake_dixon.7

After briefing, we all left the building and walked over to our bikes, it was absolutely bucketing down! It filled me with dread as I’d never ridden on track in the wet before, particularly on Pirelli Supercorsas, which I was quite concerned about as i’d heard horror stories about how they perform in the rain. Don’t get me wrong, I cannot fault them in dry conditions, especially when teamed with tyre warmers! I run a V1 Supercorsa SC1 on the front and a V1 Supercorsa SC2 on the rear and in truth, I don’t think i’ll chose a different tyre when it’s time to change as they give me that much confidence in the dry.

The weather forecast said it should be drying up in the afternoon, so I decided to wait it out until it had dried up a little! At first I was concerned that if I sat out the morning and replaced practical with theory, I would miss out on those important sighting laps however I was reassured by Jamie that for those who wanted to rejoin the group on track when the weather had dried up a bit more, we would be taken round with an instructor behind us to do some sighting laps before getting stuck in.

Whilst the people who were happy to ride in the rain went out, we went up the main tower building for some classroom sessions. Up here, you are situated right in the middle of the track, so you can almost see every corner there is! It was good to watch the brave rip it round the course with the spray flinging up from their rear tyres!

In the classroom based session, it is Jamie Whitham that leads the class. He is prepared and has a list of topics that he discusses with you, for example braking points, body position, counter steering, corner entry and exit, throttle control and racing lines, along with lots of other things. He asks you if there are any specific things you would like to know and opens it up to the students. You can leave or join these sessions at anytime.

As dinner time arrived, it was looking a lot drier out on the track, although it was still a little damp. You could see that the most used lines were drying up a little quicker than the parts of the track that didn’t get much use. It was now or never so I decided to put on my big girl pants, man up and get out there. It was the first time out there for me and a few others, so we were led round the track by Jake Dixon for the first sighting laps.

Not going to lie, I started off terribly! On the sighting laps, it was apparent that when going quick, this track was going to be far more technical and physically demanding than Anglesey was! With the notorious hairpin, chicanes, s bend and bus stop! After the sighting laps, off we went! I just felt like I couldn’t get to grips with the track in the first session and I rode around bolt upright, which doesn’t really help you get round bends! Thankfully, it wasn’t just me who had a terrible first session as when all the novices came in, Ste Brogan savagely dressed us down.

“Guys, guys, guys… you know what you’re doing wrong. You’re all stiff and rigid on the bike! None of youse’ are hanging off the bike in the slightest, if you don’t hang off, you’ll not get the pace you need and if anything it’s quite dangerous to not hang off!”

So at the thought of hanging off around such a tight track, I was pretty apprehensive but I am a massive over thinker. I remembered that when I went to Anglesey, I thought I was hanging off like Rossi himself. Then I looked at the pictures and it was embarrassing! My lean angle was decent but it didn’t even look like my bum left the seat!

I approached Jake Dixon before we were set to go on track and I asked him for advice, his words of advice were “Hang off and when you think you’re hanging off as much as you can, exaggerate it even more” with that in mind, I joined the line up for the track.

Off I went, putting what I had been told into practice. Hanging off felt a bit unnatural at first but it became obvious that it was allowing me to get round the chicanes in a much more flowing and fluid manner. The hardest bit for me out of the whole track was the hairpin. I just hate the damn things. On my road bike, a naked KTM Duke 690, throw a hairpin my way and i”ll be smiling the whole way round. Throw a hairpin my way on a Sports bike, where my body position feels horizontal and I literally feel like i’m just gonna lie the bike down mid way round. I just cant get a smooth throttle to save my life and it makes it really hard work. To the point, when i’m riding around the track, my mind is distracted because i’m thinking, oh my god i’m coming up to the damned hairpin again!

When I exited the track after 20 minutes (you get 20 minutes on, then 40 minutes of discussing your riding with an instructor whilst the two other groups get their 20 minute track sessions in), we put our bikes in the garage and all grouped around the instructors. Jake and Ste would talk about some general observations to the group and then after this, you can approach them and ask them for help on anything you need.

I spoke to Ste who had noticed my hate/hate relationship with the hairpin. He recommended I tried it in first gear as I was clearly struggling with second gear. I took that approach on the next session and it did help. I just think the only thing that will get me better at hairpins is increased track time and practice. The beauty of Mallory park is that to us novices, a whole lap is roughly 1.15 mins, so you can learn the track very quickly.

After speaking with Ste, I spoke with Jake. Jake said he would observe me and ride behind me, then he would get in front of me, tap the back of his bike and I was to follow his lines.

It’s an amazing feeling chasing a BSB rider around a track and doing your best to stick to their tail! It made me laugh actually because on Gerrards (one of the longest right hand bends in the UK), he nonchalantly turned around to see where I was and he didn’t expect me to be right there behind him, he seemed shocked and picked the pace up, which was obviously nothing to him but meant I had to up my game!

After this session, Jake took his lid off, walked up to me and said ‘THAT WAS F**KING AWESOME”, I was so happy, it was the highlight of my day! Because it meant I must have made progress for him to say that to me! He did say to me at one point in the day however, that I transform into a completely different rider when i’m on the hairpin, and I agreed with him because I just cant gel with it! More time on the track with the bike and it’ll click i’m sure!

At the end of the day, you could feel that the atmosphere was a positive one, with everyone sharing anecdotes of things that had happened in their day on track and there was a real nice, team spirited vibe. I think the general consensus was that we all felt like we had improved and made some progress. On the final session, it felt like a mini race between everyone on track as we were all pushing hard with it being the final session.

To summarise my experience at the Jamie Whitham Track Training School, I would say that it was an incredibly fun and informative day. I left extremely satisfied and feeling good! I felt as though the tuition helped massively with my confidence and I ended up loving a track that I wasn’t keen on at all when I first went out on the sighting laps. I love the fact that if for whatever reason you decide not to go out for a track session, you can still learn some theory in the classroom, and you are learning from the best.

I also think it’s really good how unlike normal track days, the maximum number of riders on track at any one point is 20, meaning plenty of space on the track to focus on your personal development instead of worrying about being cut up or undertaken by a hoard of riders etc.

Jamie hosts these Track Training Schools at other locations too, so as well as Mallory, other locations across the UK include Anglesey, Knockhill and Croft. Obviously, certain instructors may or may not be available for the dates that  they run these events, but Jamie has a wealth of World Class Riders in his team, so if Ste and Jake cant attend, I’m sure the likes of Christian Iddon, Jenny Tinmouth, Dan Linfoot, Ian Hutchinson, Davo Johnson, Dean Harrison, Richard Cooper, Taylor Mackenzie and Lee Johnston will be able to help you on your journey to improvement!

Although I haven’t been on any other track tuition days, what I will say is that for the level of tuition you receive combined with the amount of track time you get, it is extremely good value for money.

For more information on these track training events, visit:

http://www.jameswhitham.com/

Photos courtesy of Stephen Dobson:

https://www.facebook.com/stephen.dobson.982/photos_albums?pnref=lhc

If you have any question, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments box below.

Thank you Metzeler and Pirelli for allowing me this amazing opportunity!

Epic adventures have to start somewhere right?

Whether you’re browsing through MCN, looking on social media or having a beer with your mates down the pub, inspiration for an incredible bike trip can hit you with a ‘EUREKA’ moment at any time.

In July 2016, I wanted to arrange a European motorcycle trip with my partner Mike, who had never been to Europe on the bike before. The trip itself was incredible, which we tackled on our Suzuki SV 650s, but we were left a little let down by the weather, with torrential rain every day, bar one! We were loaded up to the hilt with luggage as you can see below:

Sat down one evening eating a takeaway, Mike looked at me and said, “I wanna do a trip this year on the bikes, better than last year! I want to do the Swiss Passes, the Stelvio and the Nürburgring if we have time”. I swallowed my onion bhaji, looked at him and said, “Sounds good to me!”

This is where the planning and prepping started, google maps open on the laptop, Swiss campsite reviews and Channel Tunnel crossing times open on multiple tabs. The research had begun.

Our aim was to fit in as much fun stuff as we could in our limited time frame whilst keeping costs as low as possible. We concluded that in order to most comfortably and efficiently get from A to B, taking the bikes in the van would be the smartest option. Covering many countries in a 7 day window on the bike would lead to numb bums, a hatred of fuel stations and weary souls, given the amount of riding that would be required in all weathers, good and bad. At least with a van, you can cover the long slogs in the dry and comfort, with your favourite road trip songs playing, all whilst getting decent miles to the gallon. This also meant that we would be fresh and switched on for our daily excursions to the passes on the bikes.

When we had a rough idea of what we were doing and a provisional route planned, it was time to get everything together. As we were going for low cost, low maintenance holidaying, we decided that we would try and use campsites instead of hotels, where we could to keep costs minimal. I took a trip to Sports Direct and bought some supplies including a self-inflating bed and disposable BBQs, then I moved onto B&M Bargains to buy lots and lots of water, Lucozade and snacks in general to keep us going.

We heard Switzerland was pretty expensive (this proved true), so we bought some meat from the Supermarket and kept it in a cool box that we bought especially for the trip. Mike laid some carpet in the van so that the air bed was less likely to burst on any rouge shrapnel that evaded the cleaning process.

So, we loaded the bikes into the van, we had a wheel chock in each corner, tie downs and ratchet straps. Then in went everything else around them, including leathers, textiles, helmets, boots, gloves, food, stoves, the bed, clothes and electrics.

As we were running a Go Pro Session each and a Canon Powershot G7x camera, we took a laptop so we could upload our footage straight onto it and not worry about running out of space on the SD cards. Now can you see how incorporating a van into your journey has many advantages? More space to carry stuff, shared driving, you’re your own recovery vehicle if anything should go wrong with the bike, a dry shelter on the rainy days, driving in comfort and you can do hundreds of miles without stopping – allowing you to get to your destination quicker and consequently leaving more bike time at the places where you actually want to ride. Winner winner.

So, on Monday 28th August, the alarm sounded at 4.30am. At 5 am, armed with pillows and a quilt (as the back of the van was full), we jumped in the front of the van and began our road trip to Folkstone. Halfway to Folkstone, we switched drivers so Mike could get some quick shut-eye before he took on the absolute monster of a drive into the heart of the Black Forest in Germany (a whopping 7 hours 37 mins from Calais)

We drove into the channel tunnel, parked up and waited to be transported to Calais. The tunnel crossing was quick, it only took what seemed like 30 mins. Once we arrived, it was nice to see that the sun was there to welcome us into France.

After a long drive through France and a bit of Belgium, we reached our destination at Simonswald in the Black Forest, Germany. We had reserved a space at a campsite for the first night, but as we arrived so late, we couldn’t be bothered dragging out the bikes and sorting out the air bed, electrics and food for the night, so mid route, I reserved a Gasthaus (German for guesthouse/ b&b), note: you may see them referred to as a Ferienwohnung, this means holiday home and is a similar thing if you need somewhere to stay. I reserved the Gasthaus via booking.com, who allowed us to reserve without deposit. We stayed at the Landgasthaus Grüner Baum and it was 79 Euros for the both of us. The Gasthaus was basic but with lovely views from the balcony and a nice simple room set up with WIFI. It was clean and the breakfast was your typical continental breakfast but it was somewhere for us to get our heads down before the drive to the Swiss passes the next day.

The next day, we woke up, sorted ourselves out and went down for breakfast. After that, we jumped in the van and typed our next destination into Google maps (the joys of modern technology – a global map at the touch of a button on your mobile)

Our next destination was in Switzerland, if you are travelling by motorway in Switzerland at any point, you will need to pick up a Vignette. Without this you can get stopped and incur big fines. It’s a tax that must be paid. You display it in your vehicle, if a van, on the windscreen, if a bike, on the screen or front, however I have seen some stuck on the under-tray of the bike (although i’m unsure of this method’s legality!)

The journey to the campsite was 3.5 hours from Simonswald and we were staying at he Gotthard Camping Platz in Andermatt. To get to Andermatt, we had to travel over the Gotthard Pass in the van. With the altitude and all the weight, combined with miles of roadworks, it was the slowest ascent up the pass before finally reaching the campsite.

Upon arrival at the Campsite, on one side of the road, there was camping for tents on grass, and on the other side of the road, there was a big gravel space for campervans, caravans and vans in general. We got a pass to go through the barriers and we were in. There were ports for electric and good showering/ toilet facilities less than a minutes’ walk from the campsite. The views of the mountains were stunning and colourful flags adorned the main stretch of the small alpine town, which was full of places to eat.


On the first day there, Mike lit the disposable BBQ and he threw on some burgers and cheese from the cool box. As we’d arrived in the afternoon, after dragging the bikes out the van and getting the inflatable bed blown up, we decided to take the bikes over the Oberalp Pass.

We stopped along the way for scenic pictures but mainly just went chasing the twisty alpine roads. Mike decided to lead me up a side road which was a pretty steep gradient that climbed up and onward, it was quite gravelly and laden with hairpins. I was so annoyed that my Go Pro didn’t record the monstrous tipping point wheelie Mike did up that road (it wasn’t the Go Pro’s fault, it was user error). After climbing up, hair pin after hair pin, we got quite high up the side of a mountain, sadly the road led to a dead end, so we went back down, our obnoxiously noisy bikes singing in the valley.  When we got to the dead end, I had to turn my tall bike around on gravel which I always find daunting. Then mike showed me how it was done, wheel spinning it around on the spot!

We pulled over and took a few pictures, then we decided to go back to the campsite, have a shower, chill out and relax at the van ready for a full, packed day of riding as many passes as we could the next day!

Sat in the van at night (which looked like one of the tech vans from Mission Impossible), we had everything plugged in charging, the camera, Go Pros, phones and the laptop. We uploaded all our footage onto the laptop and formatted the SD cards so we had room on them for all the brilliant footage we were hopefully going to get the next day.

Throughout the trip, I’d been uploading pictures to my social media account on Instagram. I got a direct message from a guy on the social media platform, whose username was ‘Jamwheel’. The conversation went as below:


Mine and Mikes initial reaction was… we don’t know this guy! what if he is a psycho? then we thought, you know what? let’s have an open mind… and we agreed. Let’s just say we are glad we did, because this guy enhanced our day riding the passes when we rode with him, which I shall expand on later.

After further communication in the morning to firm up our plans, we headed out to the Café at the start of the Grimsel Pass to meet up with ‘Jamwheel’. In order to get to the Café, we had to ride through the Furka Pass to get to our destination. On the Furka en route to Jamwheel, Mike pulled into a layby, which had a metal signpost on it. It read ‘James Bond Strasse’ meaning James Bond Street. There was an information plaque next to the sign. Apparently, this was the street where filmmakers shot the iconic scenes in James Bond, Goldfinger, where the Aston and Ford have an epic car chase.

After riding the Furka for a while, it transitioned to the start of the Grimsel Pass. It was here, at the Hotel Alpinerosli that we waited for Jamwheel. We sat down with a very expensive Latte that overlooked Totensee, a beautiful lake directly opposite the Alpinerosli.

After about 20 minutes, Jamwheel aka ‘Stealth Rider’ rocked up on his equally stealthy Yamaha MT10. After brief introductions, we agreed to follow Jamwheel through the Grimsel Pass, onto the Susten Pass, as he seemed to have a better idea of how to get there then we did. First impressions were spot on, at least he didn’t look like a serial killer…

So off Jamwheel went, like a Shepard leading his sheep, only these sheep were training for some kind of race because they weren’t hanging about!

As we set off on the main road from the Alpinerosli, we were instantly hit with flowy, smooth tarmac, beautiful hairpins and tunnels that take you through the side of the mountains. On this road, to your left is the Dam of the Grimselsee reservoir, it is spectacular and monumental in size.

After miles and miles of riding, without a bad view in sight, we eventually took a right turn at Innerkirchen, which put us on the course of the Susten Pass. The Susten Pass was my favourite pass. We arrived at the Berggasthaus Hospiz, right near the Susten Pass sign (where everyone gets a picture stood next to it). We pulled up, had an ice cream and took the chance to take in the scenery around us.

Next to the Berggasthaus Hospiz, there is a long mountain tunnel called the Scheiteltunnel. We sat at the Café, basking in the glorious sunshine, guessing the vehicles coming through the tunnel by their engine note. This was pretty fun, especially when beautiful super cars like Porsche’s and Ferrari’s took to the tunnel, as well as exotic motorcycles like Ducati Panigales and MV Augusta F4s, screaming as loudly as they could. It was total ear porn! After relaxing for a short while, we took a short walk away from our bikes that were parked up in the car park, as Jamwheel wanted to capture some panoramic shots on his camera, away from the cars and the Café.

As we all stood there, taking in the scenery, we noticed a wonderful looking road that climbed quite high into the ice-covered mountains. We could see that there were cars parked up there. We all decided we wanted to go and see what it was all about, so we geared up, hopped on the bikes and followed our noses until we arrived at the foot of the road we’d been admiring. After consulting Google Maps after we had been up, we discovered the place was called the Stein Glacier at Steingletscher. If you are travelling along the Susten Pass, I would highly recommend travelling up to the glacier. It was incredible. Once at the top, you park up on the gravel car park and there are beautiful views as far as the eye can see. You are surrounded by mountains and the Stein glacier itself.

There are cows there, cow bells swinging in the alpine breeze and filling the mountain air with their percussive symphony.

The sights were simply stunning.

Travelling back down, we passed an incredible waterfall and a lake. At the lake, Jamwheel took to the waterside and dunked his neck scarf in the glacial water to try and cool off, as the weather was on our side.

At the side of the lake, there was a nice gravel car park, where Mike obviously had to have a play on his Ducati Hypermotard 821, drifting it around the car park, with the sound of the limiter echoing off the mountain walls.

From here, we all agreed to head back to the Hotel Belvédère at the Furka and visit the Glacier behind the Café there. On the way back to the Furka, we got to ride some of the most beautiful and flowy roads that Switzerland has to offer. I will always remember them.

On the way to the Grimsel earlier in the day, before we met up with Jamwheel, we stopped here to take pictures of the iconic hotel, however we were completely unaware there was a Glacier behind the Cafe that was in front of the hotel (directly behind me when I took this photo) that you could pay 9 euros to walk around inside! So that was the plan, and off we went.

Once we arrived there, we parked up, paid our money and went inside the Glacier. It was lovely to walk through and incredible to look at the layers of ice that had formed over the years. It was also lovely and cold walking through it, as we had been baking in our leathers.

After we had finished looking around the Glacier, we went back to the bikes and bid our farewell to Jamwheel. He was honestly such a lovely guy and he set a really good pace around the passes. A pace that was fun, but not out of our comfort zones. He likes to remain Anonymous on all social media, so the picture below is the best picture you will get of him!

You can follow him on his Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/jamwheel/

 

At this point, I was so tired, physically and mentally, so me and mike decided we would have a chilled ride back to Andermatt, where the campsite was. This unfortunately went out the window when we spotted a Ducati Monster in the distance being ridden by a woman. She had a Swiss reg on and you could tell she was local as she was flying down the Furka Pass. I was so exhausted, I thought here we go, as I knew Mike would want to play. I was pushing hard to keep with them but with sheer drops at the base of the hairpins, I decided to let the children play and hung back a bit. Mike was told, this is the only time you’re allowed to chase other women. He just laughed down the intercom.

When we arrived back at the campsite, we parked the bikes up, got out of our bike gear and headed to a bike friendly restaurant across the road called Hotel Aurora. We knew it was biker friendly as it had many bikes parked up outside of it and looked quite busy with bikers. Now, I mentioned that Switzerland is expensive. We ordered a Goulash soup, a Bratwurst and a Hash brown, along with 2 Colas and it came to 43 Swiss francs, the equivalent of £38… for a soup, sausage and hash brown!

As it didn’t fill us up, we went to the local Co-op and bought lamb chops, which we cooked on our disposable BBQ back at the van and ate the meat off the bone like the savages we are.

After tea, we both showered and got ready for the night. In the distance, we could see black clouds coming in over the mountains and if any of you have been to the alps before, you know that it can go from beautiful weather to extreme downpour in 0.089574 seconds.

We pushed stuff that we didn’t want to get wet under the van (like fold-away chairs) and everything else came in the van with us. Then the downpour came. We both jumped in the van and slammed the doors shut. I dried my hair in the van with my hair dryer as I’d just had a shower and let’s just say it got pretty warm inside the van! As we went to sleep, the rain was relentless and hammered down on the roof all night until the morning. It was kind of therapeutic, but did make us need the loo! There was no way, however, that we were wading through an alpine storm to get to the toilets. It was torrential that night.

In the morning, we woke up, opened the van doors, looked at our poor bikes that had weathered the storm. We decided we wanted to leave as early as possible so we could get to our next destination earlier and still have some decent daylight to ride in… so off to a small town called Nauders we went. We chose this town as it was in Southern Austria and close to the Italian border and we wanted to stay in Austria for a night. Here, we were only 1 hour away from the Stelvio, and the road to it seemed fairly decent on google maps.

It took us roughly 4 hours to get to our hotel in Nauders, Hotel Bergblick. Once there, we knew from the forecast that later in the day, it was supposed to rain, and this was our only allocated day to do the Stelvio Pass, before heading up to Germany for the final stretch of the holiday. As we arrived at the stunning Hotel Bergblick, and believe me it was the best hotel we’d stayed in, I went to check in as Mike unloaded the bikes. Upon opening the van doors, it became obvious that my bike was as tired as me, and decided to take a little nap! The tie down had failed and ripped the wooden panel out the van meaning my KTM Duke 690 had fallen onto Mike’s Ducati. Mike took the bikes out and there was no damage… thankfully!!!

As soon as the bikes were out and we were checked into the hotel, we didn’t even have a look at our room, we just threw on our bike gear and off out we went!

On the way, we crossed the Italian border, and got down poured on, but this didn’t dishearten us as we were excited to begin the Stelvio pass. As soon as we got there, the roads got twistier, and it was drying up nicely. Mike was behind me on at the beginning of the pass, but I much prefer to follow, especially in something as technical as the Stelvio. I feel instantly more comfortable as Mike took the lead. I wouldn’t recommend this road to the inexperienced, or people that aren’t fully comfortable with their bike. Mike didn’t struggle in the slightest, but it took a lot of concentration from me. Especially as the hair pins are incredibly tight and steep. As you go around right handers, you have to go completely on the wrong side of the road or else you aren’t making it round the bend, as they’re that sharp. As you are constantly climbing up higher, it’s hard to turn your head to see whether anything is approaching that will come around the hairpin on their side of the road, so you have to be as vigilant as possible. Thankfully on that day, there was hardly any traffic on the pass, as you hear stories about the Stelvio being chockablock in Summer with cars, bikes, vans and even buses (not that I’ll ever understand how they get those buses around those hairpins!) Along the way, we stopped at various laybys and viewpoints for pictures before carrying on to the top.

At the top, we pulled up at the Tibet Panoramic Café, just in time to be pelted with violent hail stone. We parked the bikes up as quickly as possible and ran to the Café to seek shelter. At the top, we waited for the hail to clear, whilst drinking a less expensive latte and admiring the view from the comfort of the warmth.

I was bricking it, as this pass was quite challenging for me in the damp, never mind in the hail stone! After we drank our lattes and had a quick toilet stop, we jumped back on our bikes and headed back down. Only this time, we went down the other side of the Stelvio, the back road and let me tell you, it is just as fun! Plenty of hairpins and challenging roads but surrounded mostly by forestry. Also on the way back down, there was lots of painted graffiti on the roads, in pastel colours, almost like there had been a race there at some point or a celebration had taken place there one time. On the way back, we got absolutely drenched as it bucketed it down. It was a nice time to test my Metzeler M7RRs as I hadn’t ridden with them in the wet before, especially putting them through hairpin after hairpin, chicane after chicane. They held up amazingly well and they allowed for a decent pace on the way back down as I had full confidence in them.

When we got back, we loaded the bikes back up in the rain, took our electrics, clothes and wash bags out of the van and trudged to our hotel room. Wow was all I could say. The room was beautiful, pine furniture and walls, a lovely tartan carpet and a stunning modern wet room. It was heaven! This room cost 88 Euros for 2 people and again, we booked it on the journey into Austria via Booking.com. Our balcony view was incredible, just a shame the weather wasn’t on our side.

After a relaxing night and watching a film on the laptop, we went to sleep. We were up for breakfast at around 8.30am and checked out at 10am ready for the most soul-destroying trip of the journey so far!

Today was the day we started making an effort to get a bit closer to Calais for when it was time to head back. So, we decided to go to Germany, the home of the notorious Nürburgring. I contacted some German friends who live in Sankt Augustin, to see if we could crash at their house for a few nights, and thankfully they said yes. As Mike punched their address into Google maps on his phone, the duration of the journey was showing as 7 hours 19 mins. However, a few hours into this trip, it was clear it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing. Brake lights for miles and miles and miles. That is all we could see. It was horrendous. It started raining so hard and we felt sorry for the bikers filtering through the traffic and battling the torrential rain… all from the shelter of the van…. whilst we munched on Haribo’s.  The drive, with delays, ended up lasting 10. 5 hours and we arrived at Bernard and Gabi’s house quite late.  We’d stopped off for a Burger King on route so thankfully we didn’t need to eat on arrival but we were welcomed, as always with a nice, warm coffee.

Alarms sounded the next morning and we decided to check the weather app. To Nürburgring or not to Nürburgring? That was the question… but the weather looked shocking for the day, so we decided to visit a massive indoor swimming complex 45 mins away from where we were staying. It was called Aqualand in Koln and at first glance, the place looked a little trippy! Inside however, it was epic with massive swimming pools with currents that pulled you around. The complex was filled with giant slides and slides where they sealed you into a vertical slide and the floor dropped from underneath you, causing your stomach to do somersaults! There were saunas, hot tubs with bubbles, a large, heated smooth rock where you could just lie down and relax and many other attractions. If you hadn’t brought swimming gear, you could buy it there, and it was actually quite stylish! The choice of food there was brilliant as well! You could buy half chicken and chips, massive pizzas, schnitzels, the lot.

After we’d spent a good few hours here, we went back to Sankt Augustin. Here, we spent the evening with Gabi and  we enjoyed telling her about the trials and tribulations of our trip via google translate audio… the miracles of technology aye?

In truth, we had both fallen asleep by 8pm so when the morning came around, it meant one thing and one thing only… Nürburgring time. The weather app showed dry with cloud (we could live with that) so we packed up our belongings, said our goodbyes and hit the road.

The Nürburgring is only around 45 mins from Sankt Augustin so we drove to a supermarket car park in the next town to the Nürburgring and began to unload the bikes, put our mirrors back on ready to ride to the spot where you sign on for the Ring!

Mike got our Green Hell Cards (a plastic card with a sensor to get you through the barriers – with rather apt name…) as I pulled forward on my bike to scan myself through the barriers, a crazy Dutch man ran towards me and said, ‘be careful out there, it’s very, very wet, take it slowly’ – just before going onto the Ring was not the point I needed to find out that the weather app had lied! It was cloudy and there was no rain yet, but as soon as mike ragged it off in front of me on the track, the spray off his rear wheel was a wake-up call that I needed to be very careful, and the Dutch guy was right for telling me to take it easy, as there are parts that were slippy as hell!!! So, after feeling the rear of the bike slipping slightly a few times, you can imagine how disheartened I was when the heavens opened mid track. We only did half a lap and decided to wait for it to dry out. So, we came off at the exit/entrance to the ring that was on the other side. Note there are 2 entrance points to the ring and where we paid to get on, we paid for 1.5 laps, as that side takes you round to the main track entrance, where you can continue to do a full lap.

After a few closures due to crashes and waiting around, we decided to wait until the track had dried out a bit. That day, we spent 260 Euros on 8 laps in total, 4 laps each. I guess you can’t take it with you can you! And you only live once…

I felt more and more confident as the laps went on, the Nürburgring is something like 13 miles long, so it’s not like doing 3 laps around Mallory Park in the UK and then you know the track. There are many things to consider on the ring. If you’re on a road bike, and you’re just a normal Joe blog like us, you’ll probably shift a bit if you go on there, but you won’t be breaking any records. The cars on there are scarily fast, glance in your mirrors… super car, glance again super car… wonder what’s flying up behind you? You’ve guessed it, SUPER CAR. So, whilst you may feel you’re pushing on a bit, you can’t play the track warrior, because in reality, you’re a tiny fish, in an ocean full of sharks, and they’re coming for you! Many die hard car attendees argue that bikes shouldn’t be allowed around the Nürburgring, claiming bikers slow them down and present a danger to everyone. But, it is what it is and a milk float can go round there if it’s road worthy. The way I see it, I’m helping them with their observation skills!

I only really had a few wobbles when the track was wet. Mike had a few squeaky bum moments, but he was going a lot faster than me! Thing is, it really isn’t worth crashing there, as these are the fines that will cost you dearly if you crash:

Circuit closure: €1,350 per hour

Recovery truck: €500 (inc VAT)

Base fee for attendance of armco truck: €150

Replacement armco: €31/metre (x2 or x3 for double/triple height)

Removing damaged armco: €10/metre (x2 or x3 or x4 for multiple-height sections)

Removing damaged armco posts: €5.10 each

Replacing armco post: €39 each

Safety car attendance: €82 per 30 mins (car + 2 people)

My KTM 690 Duke performed well, single cylinder screaming its knackers off. It has a full Akrapovic exhaust system on it so it sounds well when giving it the beans.

On one lap, Mike had zoomed off into the distance and I was under the assumption that he had paid for 1.5 laps. He had only paid for 1. So he came off the track and I was unaware he had as he wasn’t in my sights. I carried on, but obviously I couldn’t get through the barrier as Mike had our Green Hell Cards in his zipped pockets! As I soared past the exit, I glanced to my right and looked through the fence to the parking where everyone goes when they exit the track. I caught a glimpse of Mike who was laughing and waving at me. He probably thought ‘Yes! I can leave her here now!’

After realising my error, I told the marshal that I had made a mistake and he told me to spin my bike round and ride back against the flow of traffic to the pits, as carefully as I could. The cars aren’t going fast around this area thankfully. As I came off the track, Mike and some English guys just stood there with big smiles, laughing at me. Typical Kate.

We came off the track after 3 laps, satisfied and happy. Mike said, ‘Right, time to go back to the van!’ I said, ‘Yeah I guess!’ so off we headed back. On the way, back we stopped at the Cockpit Bistro which is a Café right outside the lesser used entrance to the Ring, where we originally entered the Nürburgring and where the crazy Dutch guy flagged me down. We got a burger at this Café and munched it with the sun shining on us. It had turned into a really beautiful day.

That’s when Mike looked at me at me and said, ‘Do you wanna go on again?’

I thought, hmm are we pushing our luck by doing our 4th lap of the trip? Is this gonna break my bank? or maybe my bones? or my bike? but then I thought about the last lap I did and how excited I was once on there and thought… Sod it! So off we rode, back to the main entrance for a final, farewell lap.

As we went on track for the last time, Mike just wheelied off into the distance chasing an M3, so I thought, go on Kate, push yourself a bit but don’t kill yourself! It turned out to be my fastest lap at 11.35 mins. Mike had to wait for me to rock up as he was doing a sub 10-minute lap but I was proud of my riding. When I came to the pits and to the car park, one of the English guys Mike had befriended said ‘Did you get lost?’ because only 40 minutes ago we had told them that we were packing up and heading to France. We just smirked, we couldn’t help ourselves!!!

We headed to the van and actually made it back this time!

We looked at the clock and it was 5pm. We had planned to leave Germany and get a hotel closer to Calais for 2pm, but we clearly got carried away.

I found a hotel in Dunkirk, called Quality Hotel Dunkerque. Again, Booking.com was the saviour of the day and I reserved our room. On Google Maps, from the Nürburgring, the journey’s duration was showing 4 hours and 40 mins. We arrived at our Hotel close to 10pm and we immediately checked in and then rushed right out again to get a Burger King as it was the only eating outlet open in the local area. It was roughly our 4th one of the trip and I LOVE Burger King but they were starting to become a little tedious! After we got back to the hotel, we showered and slept, ready for our Channel Tunnel departure the next day. We were only 45 minutes away from the tunnel, so the next day we had a little lie in and then went down for breakfast, which was quite nice.

The room we stayed in was clean and extremely basic but it was cheap so we couldn’t complain. We loaded the van with our clothes and wash bags and hit the road. We knew we would arrive at the Channel Tunnel early but we were hoping to get on an early crossing, which we managed.

We got stopped by border control at the Channel Tunnel and asked by the lady on the security podium what we had in the van. Mike said ‘Motorbikes’, to which she replied… ‘PORCUPINES?’ she was clearly a little hard of hearing! We laughed and said ‘No, Motorbikes!’, she laughed and said ‘Well that makes more sense!’.

She said the weirdest thing she’d inspected in a van was a Crocodile, which was being transported from one zoo to another!

After getting swabbed for drugs as well and the results coming back clean, we were allowed on our way. After getting back in the UK, and bearing in mind Mike had done ALL the van driving through Europe, I decided to help him out and drive home to Manchester, so he could get some shut eye.

After a good 6 hour journey, we arrived at Home. Unpacked everything, threw a wash on and sat down with a nice kebab to watch some Go Pro footage from the most epic adventure we’d ever had!

7 days, 7 countries, 2 bikes and 1 couple. Mission accomplished.

We had the time of our lives! Here’s to the next adventure!