Black Desert Training – Wales

With some basic skills under my belt for off roading I decided that considering we were going to be tackling some pretty hardcore routes on our around the world travels on motorbikes it’d probably be wise to have another session of training to practice them and learn some more!

After chatting with a number of good friends they mentioned to us that Tamsin and Craig of Black Desert Training in Wales are just *the* stupendous at off road motorbike training.  With a bit of research I quickly discovered that Tamsin had recently conquered the Dakar and is a major rally rider… naturally I was super impressed and so we booked up a day for some inspirational one-to-one training with the lady herself!

Despite all sorts of weather warnings, flood risks and gale force winds concerned, heading over to Black Desert was looovely – just a right amount of sunshine and fluffy clouds.  With newly fitted MT21′s tyres, I was not only excited about off road awesomeness but too excited about having more grip and half a chance on rocky roads and slidey paths!

On arrival Tamsin and Craigs waved us up on the drive where they were working on various bikes and looking as we generally do… part kitted up, tools at the ready, cuppa not too far away and big grins!  With introductions, tea and chatters it was a nice break into the morning which smoothly glided into some explanations of general riding skills and tips for the bike.  Posture and positioning was demonstrated and after whipping off our wing mirrors we threw on some kit and made our way out into the stunning folds of the Welsh Valleys.

To begin with I followed Tamsin for a good 30mins over all sorts of terrains so to settle into the riding, make sure the posture was good and to become loose and relaxed.  This included various wiggling exercises, legs held out to the side whilst riding, a couple of hills to loosely ride up and some mud and puddles too!  I did notice our new tyres were pretty awesome in comparison to the originals although I was still a bit squirmy over gravel!  With some tips from Tamsin and also some letting down of the rear wheel tyres things just started to really click… I had grip!  My wee little KTM 690 Enduro R Hobbes was loving it without squiggling about everywhere!

Tamsin then ran through cornering with me and with some awesome demonstrations had me practising again and again until I managed to get my bum in the right direction and weight on the right pegs (all I needed to be told was to shove my bum in Sam’s direction and I was sorted!  I just need to imagine him standing on the outside edge of every corner I come to in the future!)  The funny thing was I was a little nervous about the whole practising whizzing around the gravel corner… but not half as much as I was with turning the bike around on the moors to come back round and do it again!  My tight turns are something which requires a little mastering and more guts ;D

After getting grips with that we then found some ruts… my favourite… or not! ;)  Fortunately it looks like I’m not alone here as it would seem most bikers (including Tamsin and Sam!) absolutely despise the buggers.  These ones were nicely surrounded by soft puffy grass… all perfectly positioned for a nice few loving hugs from myself!  Tamsin demonstrated paddling the bike through, one leg riding through and then standing.  Being the pro that she is she made it all look rather pip-squeak!  My turn came round and paddling I was fine at… not much of a problem!  One legged I was alright at too… bit more wibbly but yeh okay.  Standing though?  I am quite simply PANTS at it!  We all decided that it’s because I’m a little jumpy with the steering so if the front tyre bounces the side of the rut I then try and adjust the angle, over compensate and wheeeee the ground gets some loving from me!  By the end I managed it once or twice but yeh… something I need to practice at.  IMO… I’m going to do my up most to avoid them whilst I’m away!  Haha!  Although when we’re out before we leave I will throw myself into them as practice as much as possible!

A few more loops round some stunning scenery (of which I tried to enjoy as much as possible but I was frequently doing my squinty concentration face which means much of it is just a blur ;)) we headed back to Tamsins for some lunch and nibbles so awesomely made up by Craig!

Rehydrated and om nommed out, we then headed off for some hill riding experience!  After a short road ride we took a little road off and headed up this on going incline… that just kept going and going… and going…. and then going some more… past a stunning herd of horses… up and up… and up.  After my recent experiences with our local Hill of Doom our long ascent into the clouds was paralleled with a sinking feeling in my belly at the thought of the kind of hills and terrains we would be attempting at the top!  Fortunately, before nerves could build too much, I was distracted by how utterly breath taking the view was.  Rolling valleys, woodlands and fluffy grass as far as the eye could see with the odd dappling of rock formations.  Tamsin pointed out how much of a shame it was that there was so much fly tipping in the area… I have no idea why people do this… it’s awful.

Before conquering any hills Tamsin runs through various breaking techniques.  She explains how I am going to do a nice big back wheel lock up creating a good old skid… of which she would demonstrate firstly slowly then secondly with a bit of RARGh!  So off she whizzes and within seconds she is flying past us doing a brilliant lock and creating a nice long skid.  At this point I turned to Sam and was like “I thought Tamsin said she’d do the slow skid first?”…. by which point Tamsin had circled round and then accelerated to lightening speed, breaking awesomely and creating the most STUPENDOUSLY awesome massive skid in the universe!  As you can probably tell… I was mightily impressed!  It must have been nearing a hundred yards!  My turn up, I wasn’t so sure I could be so speedy buuuuut as I came round I thought “bugger it, the worst that can happen I’ll come off on bouncy grass” and although I didn’t cane it as much as speed demon Tamsin I did open up more than I would have and produced a lush skid I was SUPER chuffed of!

Another attempt and I manage about the same… we then did a few front braking exercises and then… it was hill time!  Hidden in plain sight was a beaut of a hill… quite a short little  blighter but steep and with loose stones, chunks of rocks and grass!  Nice!  Tamsin goes straight on up and taking a big breath I manage to trundle up behind followed swiftly by Sam.  She then runs through the descent… first time round in first (no clutch or brakes), second with front brakes, third with front and back brakes and fourth with front brakes but the engine off and paddling!  As always, going down a steep hill in first letting the engine brake for itself never fails to put the right jitters up me!  I managed it though (forgot to breathe but managed it!) and made my way back up… going up the hill now seemed like nothing in comparison to going down!  Front braking wise, Tamsin said I could do it seated if I liked but considering I had Sam in the background making gestures suggesting whether I had the balls I decided standing… and voila!  The others went well (have to admit much prefer rolling down a hill with the engine on though) – no offs just lots of wheeees and nervous laughter!

Dead chuffed with myself we go off for a ride to put into practice all that has been learned .  Trundling back down I weaved after Tamsin as she took a more grass zig zag route through sheep and horses, over rocks and through ruts.  Eventually she turns off up a GIGANTIC long rolling loose rocky hill with ruts… testing!  With a wibble and wobble, a bit of paddling but constant throttle I skid on up, back end kicking out and front end desperately trying to avoid hefty rocks!  I make it though and am greeted by a grinning Tamsin at the top!  So proud I was!  We bundle off through some heather where I stall and fall off… and then continue stalling.  Worried something’s wrong with my bike I stop a tick and mention it to Sam only to realise I’ve been a complete twit and had been pulling off in second.  Numpty!  After a lovely ride we head back on the road and arrive home to Tamsin and Craig!  We were presented with freshly baked cakes too (don’t mind if we do!) and after a good hour of chatting about bikes, riding, rallys, design and all sorts we decide to head off home.

Stupendously awesomely great day had by me!  Once again I have learned so much doing off road training… I cannot say enough how I think every bike rider should take a day out to do such a course!  Not only is it amazing fun, but it also changes how you ride even on the roads and for the better.  As expected, Tamsin was truly superb and incredibly inspirational, her riding is second to none.  Having started learning in her twenties too it brought a smile to my face thinking that some day in the future I have a chance of being near to her skill in riding if I keep up the practice!

Big thank you again to Tasmin and Craig at Black Desert Training as well as to Sam for being there and supporting me all along!

So… up next… Return of the Hill of Doom.  Time to put in practice my skills and beat the doomyness!

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Hill of DOOM

July 1, 2012 / My category, Training / 0 Comments /

Having had the pants news of delaying the trip a few months due to the potential of an op, my knee being a complete bugger, lack of sleep and an insane amount of work I was feeling a wee bit crushed.  We therefore figured with our off road training skills we had gained the week prior, it would be a mega idea to try out our new skills with some light green laning as a cheer me up!  Searching about on the local maps we discover a mile long byway not too far off our favourite picnic spot.  With the sunshining after a rainy night we kit up and hop on the bikes excited…

Rain rain go away…

All was beautiful and sunny until about 5 mins from the lane when it started to bucket down.  “Meh, it’ll pass” we figured… and although it calmed as we approached it was still drizzling. There was evidence it had been raining most of the day in Blagdon too as we sploshed through mini road rivers and passed half drowned, muddy huddled groups of long faced Duke of Edinburgh’s students.  This didn’t deter us though, I mean common, what’s a bit of rain!?…

What’s around the corner…

We arrive and can see a steady incline sweeping round the corner with a couple of shallow ruts either side and some loose rock and mud… easy!  With Sam in front we start making our way along the path… and up… and up… and then round a corner where the small ruts suddenly dip into mini trenches with flowing rain and mud pouring over large smooth rocks and a slidey muddy mound in the centre.  The slight incline sneaked away and before we knew it we faced a steep slope of doom.  Behind, I watched in horror Sam’s back end flying out left, right and centre as he struggled up and up.   With the original tyres on we discovered quickly they were really not appropriate and were giving us both a heck of an ice rink style fight.  For some foolish reason it never crossed our minds to let them down a bit.  Hindsight eh?!

Hesitant and nervous I try to follow up behind the never ending hill and after a couple of falls, I struggle back up and am starting to doubt myself and am feeling super gutted.  I try again, wheel spin out of a rut then 100 yards later the front end washes out and the bike slams down heavy on my leg.  At this point, Sam had managed to ride up around a corner with the momentum so was out of site.  Slipping up trying to get the bike up I end up getting upset and feel useless.  Sam stumbles and slides down to me and a bit broken I am grumpy.  We pull the bike up and have to bend the back brake back round.  I try again but fail.

Half way up…

Now, when you’re half way up a steep, slidy, muddy incline of doom the best choice you have is to continue up… down would have been a death trap!  Sam asks what I would prefer to do and all upset I say I have no choice.  Spotting how washed I was feeling (mentally I was pooped that day as it was) he suggests he rides Hobbes up.  Gutted I let him jump on and on the way up I help tug Hobbes out of wheel spin ruts.

Let there be light!!

Eventually we reach a point where it smooths out and I manage to hop back on.  Sam cheers me up by letting me know he managed to drop his bike too and that the hill was incredibly difficult… he was proud and impressed with what I did achieve.

We get to the end of the lane and choose to head to a local pub to reflect and chill.  Starving but with it past kitchen hours we chill out at the bar, nomming crisps, head to toe in mud!

I’ll be back…

So yes.  I felt pretty naff at the beginning of the day and really mentally I didn’t feel I was “there” to take on something so tough.  It really wasn’t like me to get as frustrated and upset as I did which I’m guessing was all the strain of everything else coming through… normally I just laugh and let it wash over me!  Sam has reminded me again and again I did supremely well considering but in the back of my head I do feel a bit defeated by the Hill of Doom.

I can laugh now looking back even though I really did struggle.  I think part of my upset was because I thought “jeez if I can’t handle this what will I be like on the trip?”.  Thing is… practice makes perfect.  I had a hard day and what I did was impressive!  I will be back in the future once we have the tyres sorted and I have managed to put a bit more practice in.  I will not be defeated!  Oh no!  Mister Hill of Doom, I will manage you and your muddy rocky ruts of goo!  Oh yes! Watch this space people… ;)

Big thank you to Sam for helping me so much that day and the week before and after when things just seemed to be falling apart a bit!  He picked me up and glued me back together and I am now running about happy as Larry once again! HUZZAH!

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Wicked Weekend with Charles!

This weekend Sam and I popped up to Suffolk to meet up with our superbly awesome biker enthusiast friend Charles.  With the BBC being all dramatic about the weather (well we are British don’t you know) and flood warnings ahoy we decide it’s not the best of ideas to take the bikes and whilst we have the luxury (and choice!) we pop up in our little car.

After arriving, we lap down a great cuppa over a lovely chin wag and are all pretty chuffed that Sam and I had left the manky weather behind in Weston! The sun was shining and the sky was blue with little puffs of cotton wool clouds bobbing about.  Charles, Sam and I have had various conversations about the odds and sods we are planning on taking on the trip and knowing Charles is stupendously well travelled and a frequent participant in adventure riding we were keen to know his tips!  With regards to the cold Charles informs us that he swears by his heated jacket and it would be something he wouldn’t go without! Considering it’s a lovely enough day he invites us to go for a bit of a bimble on his bikes to show us a few green lanes and the sights of Suffolk and to give me the opportunity to try out this awesome heated coat!

Suited and booted we head out to the garage and I plonk on Charles’ KTM 690, Sam on a KTM 990 and Charles on a Suzuki DRZ 400.  I have to admit, at this point I am bricking it as having never green laned before and only ridden a total of 16 odd times (including my tests!) I feared dropping and breaking our friends bike!  But Charles is super loooooooovely and very reassuring that all will be fine!  So with heated jacket on and at the ready, we head on out and bop down a couple of roads and then wheeeeeeeee onto a green lane!

With Charles in front already making way down the green lane and Sam behind I just squinted painfully beyond my helmet (because that will save me from the terror of muddy pot holes, gravel and sand) shake my head in a “nono nnononoo can’t quite believe I’m going to do this waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” way and follow onwards…. and after a few minutes of bouncing, squealing, blasting and wibbling I begin to laugh inanely and start thoroughly enjoying myself!  The heated jacket by that point had really kicked in and I was sweltering but there was no way in hell I was going to let go (or stop) to turn it off until I was on some kind of stable footed grounds!

When Charles eventually came to a halt and we were back on the road I think I took my first proper breath in for the past 5minutes and just beamed ear to ear!  Green laning is truly AWESOME! Ahahaaa!  I quickly flick off the jacket (truly amazing bit of kit… super impressed) and after gathering myself back up and taking heed of a few handy hints from Charles we’re off again bouncing through the countryside.

I cannot express how much fun Sam and I had that afternoon.  Bopping along I am so so desperately concentrating on the terrain I almost feel a little sad as I can see a world of beauty whizzing past in my peripheral vision, but in fear of missing a beat I keep my eyes firmly fixated forwards at the rolling lane!  We do stop off at this stunning spot which over looks the mouth of a river.  Charles pointed out the North Sea in the distance too… you wouldn’t believe how incredibly pancake flat the landscape is there!  You can see forever and a day!  Charles explains how prone the area is to flooding thus the wall works going on down the banks.  Quite a difference from the rolling hills folded through Somerset!

We take a few small roads through some divinely quaint and chocolate box villages, strewn with thatches and beautiful character cottages laced with ivy, wisterias, wild flowers and mouth watering vegetable patches all backed on to fields and wooded areas.  There are pig farms all about too and after taking a turn into a field we find ourselves riding alongside sheep, herding in bounds through thick grasses.  I cannot help but laugh and smile!  Not only that but hares duck out of the way, deer leap into the nearby thickets and bushes and a farrow of piglets come to greet us as we glide pass.  It’s truly a magical ride leaving both Sam and I flabberghasted and in awe of its beauty!

I did manage to drop the bike though – as usual when stopped!  I eased off too quickly on the throttle when going through a gate and started tipping right into a dip!  What a plank!  Other than that the whole ride went rather fantastically for my first time green laning!  Granted I stayed seated the majority of the time but did proudly brave a quick stand up when winding past the leaping lambs… however upon spotting a rather large hole ahead I couldn’t avoid decided that standing meant I had further to fall if I did so promptly plonked down again!

When we arrived back to Charles’ home we both were super grinning!  My cheeks actually hurt from smiling so much!  The bikes were washed down and exasperated with such a lovely afternoon we all headed in for an evening of much fun, chatting and a glass or two of wine and whiskey until the early hours!  Perfect!

The next morning held some lovely relaxed conversations and then after some breakky we popped out for a ride in Charles’ Unimog!  Now… this thing is a BEAST!  It’s truly mega, we didn’t have the camera with us but we’re hoping to pop up before we’re off and will be sure to take a snap when we do!  I was in the top of the Unimog and when reversing out I remember thinking “Blimey, I’m so high up I could step out to on top of the barn roof if I wanted to!”!  It’s not often you drive past at eye levels to roofs and something that amused me was the fact that the clumps of moss on tops of them often resemble a cluster of miniature curled up hedgehogs!  That made me smile!

Rumbling through these quaint villages in a unimog was hilarious though!  It made so many people smile though and wave at you!  Considering we drive a Toyota Yaris we’re not too used to people waving at us as we’re driving about so it was kind of amusing and strange (and meant I presented the locals and tourists with my awful floppy inability to wave properly back!)!  What made Sam laugh the most though was a couple of well polished and expensive cars whizzing round the corner in the middle of the country lanes only to be presented with a transformer sized monster of a unimog!  They quickly made way for us as we pummelled through!

A fantastic experience and so much fun too!  We had such a glorious time and were so super sad we had to head home!  Charles is just a superb person to be around, so incredibly lovely and an amazing rider too!  Being in his early 70’s and still participating in rallies and adventure riding he is a truly inspirational friend to have!

Big thank you again to Charles for being amazing and his wonderful hospitality!  We could have easily stayed up a few more nights chatting them away, it was such good fun!  Hope to see you in the next few weeks and again at the Dakar and in Africa!

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Wheeldon Off-Road Training Day

June 19, 2012 / My category, Training / 0 Comments /

Mud, gravel, snow, ice, sand dunes, rocks, river crossings, hills, mountains, dirt tracks are just a few of the kinds of terrains we are to be encountering with our Round the World motorcycle trip.  Despite having the most excellent on road training, the last time Sam rumbled over anything other than a smooth road was well over a couple of years ago and having only really passing my test a couple of months ago my only experience has been that of the world of tarmac.  We were in need of some serious off road training!

Fortunately, Wheeldon Off-road Adventure Training Centre in Devon kindly took it upon themselves to help us both out for a day of bespoke training.  Waking up to the day of training it dawned that I was about to endure a rather steep learning curve… unbeknown to me quite literally too…

Wheeldon Offroad Training

Based in the rolling hills of Devon, Totnes we both had a beautiful sunny trip down, happily bumbling along stunning and curvaceous country roads to the main centre itself.  When we rocked up, we were welcomed with great big smiles and waves from the whole family including the waggling pooch!  Before long we had a cuppa tea in our hands and we were wondering around the indoor motocross change (right next to a rather fab indoor skate ramp!), checking out the kit area, kitchen, changing rooms, bikes and gorgeous views!  The set up here is really something quite heavenly!  With a nestle of nearby cottages for weekend overnighters, the school aims to cater for all the family and those of all abilities and ages.

After introductions and a grand tour we then hooked up with Jim who suitably booted and suited us and gave us a run down of the Husquarvarnas we would be riding that day!

Evaluation of our Riding

With bikes a ready and us prepped Jim looped us around the indoor motocross track so he could establish our skills (or lack of in my case ;)).  Wearing new Rally boots meant discovering the clutch pedal was proving a bit hit and miss but I wibbled and stalled away and eventually made it around the track with Sam whizzing by and rambling along with relative ease.  After a few laps we pulled up and topping us up with water Jim gave us our evaluation.

Sam = a little rusty with a few standing corrections and tweaking to be made.

Me = lacking in some core skills and confidence but overall good considering it was my 13th time on a bike!

Evaluation time with Jim!

Sam’s main riding error was his seated and standing position.  Due to mainly being used to sand riding Sam had a tendency to sit and lean further back on the bike than what was ideal with most riding.  For me, although I had flukily managed to get my feet in the right place, my legs were too bent when standing and I was quite rigid in my movement!  Jim therefore spent some time explaining and showing us how to improve our skills.  With the clear and visual explanations we were all ready to get back on track and put it all into practice

Monkey See Monkey Do

Second time around the track Jim had us both imitating his riding in, as he put it, a Monkey See Monkey Do fashion.  This time with Jim’s tuition in mind and the copycat in motion it was a million times easier!  After 15minutes we were both whizzing round, Sam getting air and me kicking out around corners.  I tell you what though, it wasn’t half fun but incredibly exhausting and required muchos concentration on my behalf.  This inevitably meant lots of yabbering away in my helmet followed by cackly belly laughs and wheeeee’s!

Uphill Climb… to infinity and beyond!

After a good hour and half of playing on the motocross arena and training we stop for some refreshment then hop back on the bikes for a trip to a local hill.  Now… when I say hill… to me it was nearing a mountain!  It was a steep grassy beast with what looked like wee sticks fluffed up with green clumps waaaay at the bottom… but in fact were fully grown oaks.  With reassurance, guidance and lots of laughing (nervous giggles in my case) Jim informs us we’re to have a race down… last one wins!  First time down the bikes are switched off, plonked into neutral with us tickling the front brake to keep us at a steady speed!  Knees a knocking I manage it and thanks to the whining of the brakes my oo’s and eee’s and aiiieee’s are muted!

Jim then gets us swiveled round and demonstrates a perfect ascent with awesome explanation behind do’s and don’ts!  I stall a few times but end up bumbling up and even manage to stand!  Go go me!  Sam too stalls (phew, not just me!) but pulls off an awesome ride up!

With engines back on we then spent a good hour being led through riding down in gear, looping, zig zagging and how to pick up a toppled bike on a steep gradient (typically I dropped it whilst at a stand still!)!  Once again the Monkey See Monkey Do teaching seemed to work wonders on me as I wiggled and wobbled my way down as much in time to Sam’s or Jim’s perfectly timed swaying buttocks!

Out Door Track

After some lunch, reflection and banter we’re back out down to an out door track which is a nice long curvy dirt track with puddles, loose dirt, bumps, humps and a few 180’s thrown in for fun times!  Jim leads the way and we ride round being shown the how-to-do and awkward sections. A couple of loops later and we are let loose to hone our learned skills of the day!  With Sam flying past (literally) and Jim sweeping sideways around corners I am soon getting the idea and laughing my socks off as I sweep around!  A couple of offs are made (me being a plonk and just generally tiring and Sam just checking if the ground was okay where I fell off) but there are plenty of laughs and pointers to keep us going!

Exhausted but in a great way we end up taking time out to run through the events of the day and lessons learned.  Exasperated and just overwhelmed with the amount I managed to do, I rode back to the centre beaming!

Sam flying! Wheeee!

 

Big Thank You!

 

We had such a fantastic day!  Despite being achy and exhausted, we both were amazed at how Jim managed to tailor a day suitable for both our skills which are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum!  Having learned so much we have put it in to practice a fair amount since and my road riding has even improved greatly, becoming much more fluid.

Without this training I just do not know how I would have coped when I first hit a patch of rough road riding!  I am now much more confident as is Sam… we both cannot emphasize how utterly valuable this kind of course is to those who are planning to do any form of off roading!  Even if you’re not planning a big trip or perhaps you just like mucking about on a bike, be a complete newbie or a pro, Wheeldon can offer you a spectacularly fantastic day, leaving you with skills you can apply to all riding!

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Update: Sam’s Bikes Final Kaputt!

As a follow on from our post “Stop, Hammer Time!” the next morning we hopped on our KTM 690 Enduro R 2012 bikes and although Sam’s did stutter a little to begin with as soon as we were at the end of the road it was running smoothly as can be!

Up to Fowlers we tootled, no problems what so ever.  Upon arriving the technician Jason popped out to have another look, hooked the bike up to their computer and nada errors came up from Sam’s stalling incident the day before.

With nothing other than our word we were advised to keep riding it in the meantime but to ping an email over detailing all the problems and requesting a new bike.  No problemo.  I pick up Hobbes – he’s dandy – the oil pressure valve was just being a bit sticky!  After expressing our thanks we go to ride out of the car park annnnd the following occurs:

 


 

*POP*!  The throttle body doesn’t completely detach it’s just been shunted back but Sam’s bikes is not happy and despite being a royal pain in the arse that it’s duffed up again we’re relieved that a) it’s happened in Fowlers Car Park and one of their staff heard it happen from indoors and b) we caught it on camera!

The bike is rolled back in!  It’s a week later now and all along Fowlers have been brilliant and helpful in trying to secure us a brand new bike!  KTM are keen to know what the problem is and I think there was some time delay due to them wanting to look at it but Fowlers have been super understanding in our time pressured circumstances and to save us waiting around for… well… however long it will take to find a fault… they have sourced and sorted a new bike for us which will be arriving Wednesday next week!

A big big big BIG extended thank you to Fowlers, particularly Sara, Jason, Danni, Colin and Rod who have all been incredibly helpful and provided top notch customer service!  They haven’t had to do half of what they have so we’re incredibly appreciative!

So… we’re now just waiting for the new bike and WEHEY!  Time to start upgrading them!

And breeaaathe!

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