Category Archives: Spain

Time for a rest

Firstly, Jen and I both hope that all have experienced a wonderfully relaxing Christmas and New Year and we sincerely hope that you are as excited about the year ahead as we are.

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So it’s been a while since we last posted an update but we didn’t want to intrude on our valued friends Christmas and New Year celebrations with incoherent ramblings from the other side of the Globe!

I hear you scoffing at that little white lie! It’s true – I’ve been pretty slack!

Or maybe it was a case of writers block as has been suggested to me in a pleasant email that I just received! Thanks for that Bec… Just the motivation I needed!

It was time to leave Morocco behind and begin the journey toward the UK for a rest and refresh before the next leg!

A quick check of the ferry timetable and the decision was taken to make an early start for the final 100km’s back to Tanger Med Port for the 11am departure! Arriving on time it was nice to hear that the 11am ferry would not be running providing us with plenty of time to relax in the car park before the 2pm ferry –Yaaaayh!

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European Mainland within Sight!

The rock of Gibraltar really is quite striking as you approach from the straights!

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Off the ferry and firmly back on European soil in Algeciras, it was only a short drive around the coast to where our Camper Contact App (best €6 we’ve ever spent!) once again provided us with a great location to park up for the night.

View by Night

View by Night

View at Dawn

View at Dawn

The following day, we found ourselves wandering across a border and airstrip into what really is an unusual little enclave that has remained firmly in the possession of the United Kingdom for decades – Gibraltar. Even someone completely devoid of any knowledge of military tactics would, I’m sure, with one gaze across the narrow straight separating Europe from Africa, realise why being in possession of the Rock of Gibraltar is such an obvious tactical coup.

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The small community south of the Spanish border really does provide the illusion that your back in Britain with numerous little English pubs displaying lunch boards with that ubiquitous English favourite, Fish and Chips!

Gibraltar Main Street

Main Street, Gibraltar

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Moorish Castle

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Wandering amongst heritage buildings bordered by a lovely waterfront that sports apartments, restaurants and hotels all sitting snuggly with the backdrop of the white sandstone rock, the whole area does have a nice vibe about it. Certainly not for the budgeting traveller however, it was easy to see why there is an exodus north into Spain for anything from accommodation to food once you start noticing the prices!

Floating Hotel

Floating Hotel

An example for you! – There was a Burger King sign displaying a special XXL Bacon Cheese burger with fries and a drink for the very XXL tariff of £8 .10 which for those Aussies on the slipping $AUD equates to just under $17! Ouch… The same billboard a couple of hundred metres to the north back in Spain provided the same Burger King meal for €7.15 or $11AUD…..

Beautiful Coastal Vistas

Beautiful Coastal Vistas

Through numerous towns and small roads we wandered north-enjoying Spanish highlights such as Seville, with its lovely historic buildings set amongst swathe’s of lovely parklands. It’s rapidly back to tourist reality however, with strings of huge tour coaches and people moving in every direction like ants! I’d have to admit I wasn’t all that sorry to see it in the rear view mirror!

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We made a detour west in order to have a little taste of Portugal along with the fact that your allowed to free camp alongside reservoirs in Portugal – numerous opportunities were presenting on the map and, along with our handy Camper Contact App, we found ourselves relaxing on the shores of a pretty lake with that lovely feeling of being far away from the pressures of life. Had it not been for the ever-present time limit attached to the Schengen zone we ‘d have stayed a lot longer – Alas…

Nature camping at its best

Nature camping at its best

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Friendly Dutchman Emile and his trusty travelling companion

Friendly Dutchman Emile and his trusty travelling companion

We spent a couple more days wandering north via Portugal before heading back into Spain.

Harvested Cork Tree

Harvested Cork Tree

Small Portuguese villages

Small Portuguese villages

Not the recommended way to level your camper!!!

Not the recommended way to level your camper!!!

Camped beneath the castle walls in Bragança, Portugal

Camped beneath the castle walls in Bragança, Portugal

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We endeavoured to find the largest Carrefour shopping centre that we could in order to load up on drinks priced in Euro’s rather than Pounds for our upcoming stay back in England. We have never seen duty free alcohol limits the likes of the UK!!! (with the caveat of “Personal Use Only”)a pallet load of Alcohol (I’m exaggerating of course) loaded into the Patrol, we boarded the Ferry from Santander late in the afternoon for an overnight sailing to Portsmouth!

Yes - that's Litres!!!!

Yes – that’s Litres!!!!

Departing Santander

Departing Santander

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Sunset on board...

Sunset on board…

The cruise was quite relaxing with a mix of entertainment on board but it did become quite rough during the wee hours to the point where we began to wonder if our vehicle would still be where we left it when we went down to retrieve it at journeys end!

Portsmouth

Portsmouth

Arriving back in Littlehampton was strangely like returning home! Familiar faces and another stint enjoying the fantastic house we’ve been lucky to ride out 2 winters in to date! Jen wandered into a local bookshop that we’d patronized the previous year and was recognized immediately – “you’re the Australian girl staying here in Littlehampton!” Followed by an invite to join them after hours along with some of their other select customers to enjoy some pre-Christmas snacks, drinks and live music! We might even miss Littlehampton…!!

Justin And Gerry

Justin And Gerry

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Another couple of local stalwarts, Gerry and Margaret, kindly offered us a space where we would be able park the Patrol on the hardstand at the rear of there home, which was eagerly accepted!

Parking around the UK is a real nightmare. The moment you drive off, your street parking space is gone and you end up lapping the neighborhood numerous times in the hunt for a new one. So with off street parking sorted, we’ve been able to start preparing the Patrol for it’s next sojourn.

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We have spent quite a few hours high pressure spraying and cleaning the vehicle and camper in preparation for a customs and quarantine inspection upon its arrival into North America. Removing the seats and much of the interior ended up being part of the process. Dead bugs, grass and dirt seems to find its way into every nook and cranny, but we are now confident that we’ve managed to clean it to an acceptable standard.

Another important task on our to do list was to apply for our US Visa’s. As we plan to stay in the US longer than 90 days, we needed to apply for a full B1/B2 non-resident tourist visa instead of the usual electronic authorisation.

Getting Visa Photos

Getting Visa Photos – No Smiling

After filling out the requisite forms with our life and financial history, and of course paying the required fee, we needed to schedule an interview appointment at the nearest US Embassy, which of course was in London! After shipping and flights, visas would have to be one of the most expensive parts of this sort of travel!

It had been 10years since our last visit to London so we were due a visit to refresh our memory. 

After 2 hours inside the US Embassy, (along with hundreds of other hopefuls), we left with the knowledge that our visa’s had been approved and it was on to sightseeing before our return to Littlehampton. Surprisingly, we had better weather this time in winter than we did on our last visit in the middle of summer! Who can pick the British weather…

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A greater armed presence…

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Number 10 Downing Street

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Picadilly Circus

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Big Ben

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Houses of Parliament, Westminster

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Christmas Eve heralded the arrival of some travelling companions that we were keen to catch up with. Land Cruiser packed, Erik and Mieke departed Holland after 1pm with half a days work already behind them and after several hours driving and a ferry ride that, according to Erik, was something akin to a Rollercoaster, they arrived at 10pm to enjoy Christmas with us.

Erik and Justin

Erik and Justin

Mieke and Jen

Mieke and Jen

We weren’t surprised by the description of the ferry crossing as the sea had been a boiling mess of windy white-capped fury all day from our balcony view…

We enjoyed a festive week of drinking, cooking and eating.  Not just simple cooking either – Eric basted and cooked Peking Duck on one occasion and Jen cooked the full Traditional Christmas Dinner – examples of the tuff times that we had to endure over the Christmas period.

Christmas Feast

Christmas Feast

Highlights of our time with them included freezing walks along the coast, a day trip to both Arundel and Brighton and a couple of days rest in the middle (allowing our swollen livers to resume normal function) whilst our guests ventured into London for their own memory refresher.

Brighton Royal Pavillion

Brighton Royal Pavillion – Could be forgiven for thinking you were in India!

Not really the weather for swimming!

Not really the weather for swimming!

Another highlight was our own personal sky-show! Unlike our home island where you have to protect stupid people from themselves, it does seem the Brits are considerably more liberal in this regard.

And I have to say that $60 AUD worth of exploding pyrotechnics that lasted about 2 minutes would have to be some of the best fun I’ve had in a long time.

I will really miss setting off rockets!

In the coming weeks, we will depart Littlehampton heading for Belgium where we will drop off our trusty Patrol for it’s cruise across the Atlantic! We will spend some time back in Holland before departing Europe one last time for Orlando in Florida.

A week later, which will be roughly the end of March, we should be reunited with our vehicle and begin our North American adventures.

Stay with us as we journey across, up and down the Americas and hopefully tick off our own version of the Pan-American drive….

Cheers

Justin

Onward We Go!

Keeping posts coming with the regularity that you, our valued readers, deserve can be quite difficult at times. In my defense (Rebecca), we’ve been on the road consistently for the last few weeks and have been drinking and relaxing on the Med with friends, which is quite taxing! As such, the rigors of travel haven’t provided me with the space and time needed to dictate my thoughts and hence this post will be a long one to get things up to date! But I have included an intermission!!

Boo Hoo I hear you say!! Swanning around Europe and can’t find the time to keep your extended family of followers in the loop! Fair comment – but Jen takes an awful lot of looking after! So here goes….

We were keen on spending some time travelling west through the Alps but first on the list was a stop at Berchtesgaden – the home of Hitler’s “Eagles Nest” and it afforded us a lovely drive into these incredible mountains.

Hitler’s 50th Birthday present was built in 3 years atop a mountain precipice with jaw dropping views across the Alps and, on a clear day, as far as Salzburg.

Eagles Nest

Eagles Nest

Left untouched by the Allied bombing campaign, the only real damage was inflicted by the troops liberating the country after the fall of the Nazi Regime. Chunks of a red marble fireplace installed in the building as a gift from megalomaniac Mussolini to his megalomaniac associate were popular souvenirs.

Mussolini"s Marble Fireplace

Mussolini”s Marble Fireplace

It’s a rather simple almost unimpressive structure not exuding the level of grandeur you might expect. Certainly an incredible feat of engineering, the building now finds itself purposed as a restaurant and although I’d expected more of a museum experience with the usual dissection of Nazi ideals, the structure has been given a new life beyond it’s dark reasons for existing which in many ways have saved it from being another example of tyranny.

The 80mtr tunnel to the Brass Elevator

The 80mtr tunnel to the Brass Elevator

Hitler"s Brass Elevator

Hitler”s Brass Elevator

Eagles Nest Restaurant

Eagles Nest Restaurant

Making west, it’s easy to find your jaw hurting a little as every road and km really provides splendid jaw dropping scenery.

Lovely Alpine Architecture

Lovely Alpine Architecture

Crossing into Italy, the Dolomites made an appearance on the GPS screen and I expected to see a continuation of the same type of mountain topography as that throughout Austria. Singularly unique, the Dolomites certainly have their very own character – colours, formations and appeal, placing themselves well apart from the Alps in character almost as if they want to be different.

Dolomites Scenery

Dolomites Scenery

Dolomites Driving

Dolomites Driving

Dolomites Pass

Dolomites Pass

This whole region is as visually stunning as anywhere else that I’ve had the fortune to visit. An autumn visit also has it’s positives – great hiking trails and a lack of closed roads along with the missing tourists that would no doubt patronise this area during ski season.

The Stelvio Pass is a mandatory drive with its 48 hairpin turns up and 40 hairpin turns down depending on your direction of travel. You can share the drive with Ferrari’s and Porsche’s and every kind of motorbike sporting want-to-be Casey Stoners perched on them. Some of them may have actually been stoners given their lack of adherence to any form of road rules. They seem to feel a sense of entitlement when on these powerful machines and get angry at the fact they have to share the road! Following a heavy Nissan Patrol wasn’t what they had in mind when they plastered on their saddle cream and strapped on their leathers in anticipation of a record fast ascent to boast about over a pizza and beer later that day.

48 Switchbacks up...

48 Switchbacks up…

And 40 Switchbacks down

And 40 Switchbacks down

Beer and Pizza

Pizza and Beer!

Let’s also not forget the supercars that hammer up the straights only to find they need to take the hairpin corners slower than we do! When the hairpins are close together as with Stelvio, it would seem that “made in Japan” and a top speed of 140km an hour down hill with a tail wind is just as fast on hill climbs as all of those stallions!!

That Patrol is still behind me!!!!

That Patrol is still behind me!!!!

I found it all rather amusing really!

Out of Italy and through Saint Moritz in Switzerland, it was the first time we’d encountered a re-activated border checkpoint within the Eurozone. Later we discovered that most Schengen borders were now, once again, manned in an attempt to stem the Syrian Refugee flow, along with the sudden exodus of people from Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and so on, in search of a slice of Germany’s economic generosity whilst Mrs. Merkel remains at the helm and in charge of the cheque book.

Back into Italy and a look at the famous Lake Como but unfortunately it rained incessantly all day. Views of the lake were still lovely but gloomy and with a distinct lack of visibility and complete loss of vibrancy.

Lake Como

Lake Como

The wet theme continued as we travelled via Lake Lugano, venturing back into Switzerland before once again entering Italy on our way to France. You’ll need a map to follow that lot!

Lugano, Switzerland

Lugano, Switzerland

Trippy Tunnel!!

Trippy Tunnel!!

 

Bormio, Italy

Bormio, Italy

Beautiful Bormio by night

Beautiful Bormio by night

Montiglio Monferrato

Montiglio Monferrato, Italy

San Lorenzo Church dating from the 12 century

San Lorenzo Church dating from the 12 century

Village Scenery enroute

Village Scenery enroute

A night spent in the French town of Sospel deserves a mention – a classic example of a French village, as the pictures will display. Nestled amongst large mountains and sporting beautiful scenery along with character loaded buildings hundreds of years old, it’s affordable and a real taste of village life in France, yet your only 20km from Monaco!

Sospel

Sospel

 

Historic Bridge in Sospel

Historic Bridge in Sospel

More Sospel

More Sospel

We’d had a date booked in for some time to meet up with friends from Perth who were staying near Saint Tropez as guests for a wedding.

So onward through Nice, as we thought it would be good to have a look at the area and see if any memories were jogged as we’d stayed there in 2005. In the end, it was worth the detour but the traffic was diabolical and slowed us down to a snails pace. We managed our rendezvous  though, after submitting to the use of French toll roads in order to pick up the pace.

Friends Mick and Sue met us as we entered the village of Cogolin and Sue’s brother Chris led us out of the town via small roads and tracks to the place he calls home with wife Julie.

One minute you’re in the hustle and bustle that is life on the Med and a mere 10 minutes later, it’s peace and quite amongst vineyards and cork trees interspersed with sporadic dwellings – such a contrast.

St Tropez - Home of the Beautiful People!!

St Tropez – Home of the Plastic People!!

St Tropez

St Tropez

St Tropez Boats v Buildings

St Tropez Boats v Buildings

With such a relaxing, peaceful location away from the hustle and bustle but with such convenient access to the sparkle and glitter of Saint Tropez and the beautiful haven of Port Grimaud, it was easy to see the appeal.

Market Day, Port Grimaud

Market Day, Port Grimaud

Ample supplies of beer and wine left over from Chris and Julie’s daughter’s wedding just days earlier, made our stay even more enjoyable! The stun juice flowed endlessly and it seemed a shame to let it go to waste!

Drinks with old and new friends!

Drinks with old and new friends!

With Chris displaying exemplary skills in both fire making and BBQ techniques combined with Julie’s continuous supply of tasty treats we left indebted to these great people and hope to see them again should our paths cross.

Chris's Swedish Candle?

Chris’s Swedish Candle?

Catching up With Mick and Sue was a great distraction from life on the road. So nice to meet up with friends from home and speak some Australian for a few days.

Intermission – Time to grab a coffee or go back to work!!

Pernes les Fontaines was the town in our sights now after an invitation arrived in our inbox from Philip and Bianca (whom we’d been so fortunate to spend time with in Germany) to join them for dinner. On offer was a restaurant with a highly regarded menu of quality produce, a waiting list for reservations and overnight camper van parking! “Would we be able to join them as a space could be made available for us?”

Well, we like our food and it can be a real challenge finding a venue that will live up to your expectations and budget when you have very limited language skills. Wow! It was worth the effort! Outstanding food along with emotive and full-bodied conversation, we’d had yet another sensational interlude with 2 of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. It was over all too quickly for my liking. The following morning with hopeful plans of future interludes in place, we departed in opposite directions.

Pont du Gard, Avignon, France

Pont du Gard, Avignon, France

Sommieres

Sommieres

Sommieres Architecture

Sommieres Architecture

Sommieres River

Sommieres River

A poignant reminder...

A poignant reminder…

Roman ruins and ancient villages rolling by, we found our way a few days later to Narbonne in the South of France. Back in Turkey, we’d met some avid travellers who had invited us to visit en-route to Morocco along with offering the use of their factory should we need to perform any maintenance. Not just a factory, but a 4×4 specialist camper building facility! Being on the same page as these guys made life very easy for me.

Globe Camper

Globe Camper

Mecca Engineering and Globe Camper combine to build custom camper units along with all of the upgrades to the 4×4 that you could ever require. Skander and Dave have one of those unique working relationships that just works, not to mention Skander’s wife Veronique TIG welding in the background whilst Dave’s wife Monica fits a Webasto heater and plumbs it up. 2 great couples combining to build high quality campers ready for Morocco’s High Atlas or anywhere else you’d like to venture sums these dynamos up.

Skander and Veronique at work

Skander and Veronique at work

From the moment we entered the factory it was like being with family! Nothing was too much trouble and work was instantly put on hold to provide us with what ever we needed.

First on the agenda were replacement tyres! At the end of this post there is a little more about the tyre situation for those who are interested.

With tyres ordered, I now had time to service the Patrol whilst Jen tinted the passenger’s side window! The replacement window that I’d fitted after it was shot with an air rifle in the UK wasn’t tinted and she was complaining of getting burnt – the little petal!

Over the next couple of days we ticked off numerous other little jobs that we hadn’t had the time or a suitable venue to sort out. It was incredibly nice having a fully functioning factory to perform such tasks as opposed to what had become the standard – a paddock or car park! I cannot over-emphasise how grateful we were to have unlimited use of their factory, equipment and knowledge.  Big THANKS guys!!!

Being treated to a lovely Tapas lunch in Narbonne was totally unexpected especially since we knew these guys were under pressure to get a camper delivered in a couple of days but still they made time to ensure our stay was outstanding.

We did eventually leave them to get back on with their lives but not before they’d made sure we had track files for the Pyrenees and Morocco and anything else we required had been taken care of. Cant’ thank them enough! Hopefully we can convince them to join us for a tour of WA sometime in the future.

Our friends at Globe Campers and Mecca Engineering

Our friends at Globe Campers and Mecca Engineering

With days slipping by it was into the Pyrenees via the unusual little country of Andorra with its tax-free cigarettes and alcohol along with much cheaper fuel. It is an odd little place full of fancy ski resorts and not overly appealing other than the standard mountain views that are always welcome. It does however have some great off road trails meandering thorough its countryside.

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Carcassone, France, enroute to Andorra

Andorra

Andorra

We managed to depart Andorra via a well-known trail aptly called the Smuggler’s Route due to the trafficking of tax-free goods over the mountains and into Spain. It must be fact, as after a long low range descent and now finding ourselves within Spain’s’ borders, we were stopped for a cursory check and questioning as to whether we were carrying any of those cheap Andorran products via the local Police! Another visit to the Pyrenees without the time pressure of a dwindling Schengen Visa would be welcome as without doubt these lovely mountains offer some great camping and off road driving.

Smuggler's Route Terrain

Smuggler’s Route Terrain

Great Pyrenees Scenery

Great Pyrenees Scenery

We pretty much hit the highway at this point and put in 1100km over the next 2 days. We did manage a few side detours and interesting visits along the way however, probably one of the most notable being Toledo.

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Jen had visited previously and remembered it to be worth the effort! It all went a bit pear shaped as we decided that we would break our own rule and drive near to the centre rather than a long walk, as time was an issue.

Passing the maximum width 2m sign, I already knew I’d made a mistake. I’ve been caught before but it would seem I’m a slow learner. (PS. We are exactly 2 mtrs wide!)

Well about 20 minutes of extremely stressful navigation amongst throngs of goggle eyed tourists along cobbled very narrow lane ways ensued! Wing mirrors grazing buildings as you idle by and tourists gasping as you just miss historic brickwork in order to make ridiculously tight corners is a give away that you shouldn’t be there! I even had to park up for a while after it was all over to settle the nerves! But the town was pretty nice!!!

Anyway it’s all on the car camera so I’ll see how it looks and put it up for all to see and as a warning to others! PARK OUTSIDE the CENTRE and walk in rather than thinking it’ll be OK!

The Spanish countryside along the South East is rather dull and uninteresting with km after km of flat and uninteresting terrain reminiscent of central Queensland I thought. The odd visit to a village made the journey seem less rushed and broke the monotony of the highway.

Castles and windmills in Spain

Castles and windmills in Spain

Gibraltar appeared and we arranged our ferry tickets from an agent in Algeciras recommended by Dave from Globe Camper. Good thing too as it was much cheaper than the internet and others!! A quick stock up with shopping including a reasonable selection of alcoholic beverages and it was onto the ferry. We hit the North African coast at the port of Tanger Med.

Ferry to Morocco

Ferry to Morocco

Stay tuned for the next instalment!

Cheers – Justin.

Tyre Update for those interested.

We’ve had a few problems with the Cooper ST MAXX tyres as some of you may know but were hopeful of continuing on the current set through to the USA as Cooper Australia had indicated to me some time ago that they may be able to sort something out with Cooper Head Office in the USA for our onward journey – an offer of which I am very appreciative.

As such, with intermittent visits to tire shops for rebalancing as best they could and one tyre losing air via splitting around the bead I was left with only 1 reliable spare but I’d still persisted with the vision of stretching their lifespan a little longer.

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It had come to the point however that I felt the possibility of a blowout or other high-speed incident was likely with really bad splits developing around the beads and a lot of delamination between the white lettering and black rubber.

Delamination

Delamination

The prospect of thousands of kms of harsh terrain in Morocco made the decision for me – they had to come off.

I’ve had numerous sets of Cooper STT’s prior to this version and found them to be a thoroughly reliable tyre, albeit with a low km lifespan as expected from a mud profile tyre. The ST MAXX’s have now travelled an admirable 56000km with plenty of tread remaining and if it weren’t for the presence of these faults, would have met the task required of them and fulfilled their life expectancy.

Still plenty of tread

Still plenty of tread

Uneven wear

Uneven wear

Vertical splits on the sidewall and lateral splitting around the bead however, of which there are many reports on the Internet, would seem to be an issue with this version. Maybe they’ve sorted it out with newer models but I can only go on my own experience. With 2 complete failures and all the others indicating similar areas of concern, it was an easy decision.

Vertical Sidewall split replaced in Russia

Vertical Sidewall split replaced in Russia

 

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Reluctant to find myself in the same situation again, I replaced them with BFG Ko2’s, which are BFGoodrich’s latest offering and competitor to the Cooper ST MAXX. I’ll see how these go over the next months and hopefully report back with all positives.

New Boots!

New Boots!