Mike and AJ McNulty are living the dream, clearly. Happily married (with a darling Laborador puppy named Timmy), this dynamic pair spend their summers on the European boogie circuit under our purple tent. Lucky us! We couldn’t be happier that they’re our CYPRES teammates; Mike and AJ are as kind and generous of spirit as they are knowledgeable, savvy and downright fun.
If you’re keen to take a few long, warm weeks and chase them from boogie to boogie across Europe, you might be wondering how to pull it off. Don’t worry: they have some great advice for you. Here are some of the tips and tricks they use to make life on the road more comfortable, sustainable and memorable.
As in any epic endeavor, solid teamwork makes a jaunt on the boogie circuit decidedly easier. Mike cheekily describes himself as “the brawn” and AJ as “the brains,” but the truth is that they’ve nailed the art of the mutually respectful division of responsibilities.
AJ takes on the trip planning, the balance sheets and the general behind-the-scenes orchestration. Mike parses over the Facebook presences for each event, connecting with the event- and load organizers to get the skinny on each boogie’s unique details. Mike also drives the couple’s vehicle–a converted long-wheel-base van, named “Doris”–and powers through the setup and take-down of the tents, tables and equipment.
Once everything is set up, AJ is the customer-facing queen of the tent. Mike helps out with suit measuring (they rep Vertical Suits, too), rigging, organizing and expertise-lending. Mike roams the event’s land and skies with his camera, snapping away; AJ takes those photos and posts them on CYPRES’ Facebook page for the world to see. The balance has worked beautifully so far and shows no signs of slowing.
For your own planning purposes: Choose boogie buddies whose talents supplement your own, then determine the smartest way to split up your trip’s many responsibilities.
Don’t let a good road trip end early when the funds run out. Especially when you’re anteing up for jump tickets, you’ll need to watch your pennies along the way.
To make their own boogie circuit economically feasible, Mike and AJ work hard to reduce costs wherever they can while keeping the trip fun. They eschew planes and hotels in favor of traveling in their own van conversion and staying in simple campsites–free ones, wherever possible. They dine out as little as they can get away with–which often requires planning a trip to the supermarket on each trip back from the dropzone to camp. They even take their black lab puppy, Timmy, along for the ride (which saves on costly kennel fees).
To optimize your own trip, bust out that spreadsheet and plan ahead. Before you set out, write up a thorough budget. Include jump tickets, registrations, camping fees, food, drink and fuel. (Throw in a repack for extra credit.) Knowing how much you’re going to be spending will help you economize along the way.
As with any road trip, it’s a good idea to start your boogie circuit in a familiar place. Choose one where you’re confident enough of the variables that you can problem-solve easily, following the example set by AJ and Mike.
Usually, the couple soft-launch their tour in April in their native UK in April, posting up at low-stress events like the Bodyflight Challenge and first warm weekends at Nottingham’s Langar dropzone. There, they set about the business of road-testing their vehicle and setup in low-key environments they know well. Only after that warm-up do they start locking in to the more taxing events out in mainland Europe.
As a parachute-lugging road-tripper, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on Google Maps. Try to avoid the “trap of the shortest distance.” It’ll save you some money on gas, sure–but you won’t get the most out of your journey.
“We take a look at how the events link up in some sort of flowing fashion,” Mike says.
“Taking all the dates into account. Then we calculate how many total days and hours the entire trip is estimated to take, driving consecutively. From there, we look at how long it will take us to get from A to B, add in the setup time, the time for the event itself, and the time it will take to get everything down and packed away and set off on the road again and so on. We look for places we could have a break.”
As it turns out, those breaks are key–and that’s according to the most knowledgeable resources in the biz: Al and Pixie Hodgson. Mike and AJ credit much of the most useful boogie advice in their arsenal to Al and Pixie: that much-beloved married freestyle team who, as well as racking up more than their share of shiny medals, have been beloved fixtures on the boogie circuit for quite a few seasons. Al and Pixie been quite generous with that hard-earned wisdom, and Mike and AJ have benefited much from it.
“I think the most important piece of advice Pixie gave to us,” AJ relates, “Was to go off the path a little. They told us that, while we’re moving about, we shouldn’t just go from dropzone to dropzone. We should build a couple of spaces in between so we can go and see things; otherwise, we’d end up going to all these countries with rich cultures and never see anything.”
“The last one we did was Amsterdam,” she continues. “Neither of us had been there before, so we decided before we headed back on the ferry that we would stay in Amsterdam for a couple of days to enjoy the history and the canals. It was great fun.”
Now that you have a map in front of you, you can nail down some important details.
“Get to know the rules of the road in the countries you are going to be driving through,” Mike says. “Are there toll passes you need? Are there particular things you have to carry? A few people have fallen foul of those sorts of rules and regretted it.”
One of the secret weapons of the McNulty campervan is its kitchen.
“I have got all of the cooking gear,” AJ smiles, “and it is amazing what you can make on two gas burners if you’re willing to apply your imagination. Simple, healthy food isn’t that difficult.”
“Eating out all the time would be a very easy trap to fall into,” she muses, “Spending a fortune, drinking too much. You’ve got to be quite disciplined not to get constantly involved in the party at the dropzone. There’s a reasonable amount of adulting to say, ‘okay, we’ll have a drink on Saturday night. but we’ll go back and cook and go to bed at a reasonable time because we have got to be up working in the morning.”
“When you’re vending, your smile is on first thing in the morning,” AJ grins. “As soon as the skydivers are up, so is your smile.”
The same is true for any boogie denizen. Save up your big nights so you can enjoy the heck out of those first loads. You’ll be glad you did.
A big part of Mike and AJ’s work on the boogie circuit has to do with education–especially of the newer-skydiver set.
“We work hard to encourage people to come and talk to us,” AJ says. “This work involves a lot of talking to people; of market research. It’s very interesting to hear why skydivers buy the equipment they do. We feed all that info back to CYPRES.”
Mike and AJ are both very aware of the fact that the most important side of the work is less about selling and more about helping. When they see instances of a lack of education, they can supplement that education in-person.
“Part of the vendor tour is that we are continually educating,” Mike explains. “Every dropzone we go to, we meet new students coming through that have only just qualified. So it is a never-ending cycle of continual education. They aren’t going to know very much about any particular product, how it came to be, why it is important, and how it works and what it does. We try to reach out to them.”
“For example,” he continues, “There are people who think their AADs will do certain things that they won’t do. Or they just don’t understand the specifications. Some people have been very misinformed. It is the whole ‘fake news’ thing, really: it’s common these days that people don’t do research themselves, read the manufacturer’s material or see the designs. We step in and clarify the facts.”
As an experienced skydiver, whether or not you have a vendor tent over your head, the same sort of responsibilities extend to you. Embrace them. Set a great example for newer jumpers of safety, thoroughness and communication. Engage with misinformation when you notice it. And never hesitate to offer an encouraging word–boogies can be stressful for newbies. Help ‘em out.
Does all that seem like a tall order? Don’t worry. According to AJ, it’s not as hard as you might think to knock a summer on the boogie circuit out of the part.
“Do your homework, plan, enjoy the little things while you are there,” she smiles, “and enjoy each other. That’s about it.”