Instagram Best Nine 2019

I enjoyed doing my Instagram Best Nine 2018 post earlier this year, so thought I would do one for 2019 too. Like last year I used the bestnine.net app to rank my Instagram posts from the year by likes.

Here are the individual posts with some more detail:

My best friend, Partho, finally bought himself a mountain bike, so we took our bikes over to Cannock Chase, to give it a shakedown. I love riding my bike, but riding it with a friend is even better!

I went to Llandegla on the May bank holiday. It is one of my favourite trail centres and worth driving for an hour past Cannock Chase! I fitted some purple parts to my Orange Four for 2019 and really like the new look.

Baby Henry was always going to be a popular post! He looks so small in these photos!

Ten days after Henry was born Owen and I were meant to go for a Little Rippers  MTB Facebook group ride at Hicks Lodge, but Owen struggled, so we came home and I went out on my bike. And fell off – on a drop off that I have ridden loads. I guess my Instagram followers liked me falling off!

We were more prepared for this Little Rippers MTB Facebook group ride at Cannock Chase – I had the Mac Ride fitted to my hardtail and Owen had new wheels, with pneumatic tyres, fitted to his Strider! Jen and Henry came along with their running buggy. I really enjoyed the day, and I’m sure Owen did too. He rode really well, trying some tricky sections of trail on his balance bike. My lasting memory from the day is when I was tucking Owen into bed that evening he told me he was going to dream about having a pedal bike.

Owen loves his #supersaturday sessions with Ready Steady Riders, and sometimes I bring my Fuji camera kit along to shoot some photos of him. This week the light was particularly good and Owen was riding well!

This was the first day when Owen used his Strider as transport, rather than just on a bike track – it was by far his longest ride at the time. I rode some of those trails yesterday and they are so muddy and flooded in places – definitely not passable for a balance bike!

I love photos of me and Owen riding together! My Mum came along to the pump track to wrangle Owen, so that I could ride too. She was surprised at how fast Owen was riding, but managed to grab these photos of us riding together.

This post ends the same way it started – with a photo of Partho on his mountain bike! This time at Sutton Park, his local trails. Being able to get out on the mountain bikes with Partho has made for my favourite rides of the year – we have already agreed to get out more together in 2020!

A look back at 2019

The main thing that happened this year was that Henry was born – going from a family of three to a family of four was a pretty significant change to our lives! Fortunately Henry has mostly been a chilled out baby, with lots of smiling and letting us deal with his big brother, as he went through the issues of being a “threenager”. However in the last few weeks, since Henry has learned to crawl/climb, his cheeky side is coming out – he is always up to something!

Our year started off quietly, getting the house ready for a baby – relocating my office into the dining room to make room for a nursery etc. Then when Henry was born I was either wrangling Henry, or Owen – my theory that two little boys actually means four times as much trouble has been proved right! My day job has also been really busy, so personal projects took a back seat, although I did start to get involved with Coventry Bloggers – the first event I did with them being the opening of MOD Pizza in Broadgate.

When I have had to opportunity I have tried to focus on improving my AWS skills and learning iOS development with Swift. I am partiularly proud of the workflow I set up to push Git updates to my AWS S3 web hosting. Away from my desk I also learned to wakeboard.

Photography wise I have continued to enjoy my Fuji kit, adding a new lens in the last few days (blog post coming soon!). More often than not I have taken the camera with me on days out, or even bike rides, meaning that I have captured more images in recent years. Two of my school friends, Partho and Rich, have also bought/upgraded their cameras and a few weeks ago we met up in the Peak District for a photography session. I messed up on the location, so we missed the best light, but we all enjoyed getting outside together.

My 2019 best nine on Instagram gives the impression of a year of bikes with my boys – including my friend Partho, who snuck into two of the shots. Like last year, I will do a separate post with more background to each of the nine photos.

Owen on the podium

Whilst Henry is the headline, Owen has also had a great year – getting a little brother was obviously a big change for him, as he was no longer the centre of our attention. He seemed to cope with it really well though – we have had some great adventures together, on the Mac Ride (which was definitely my best purchase of the year) and on his Strider. His highlight of the year was our holiday to Bluestone in Wales, including the stops at Flyup 417 Bike Park and Pedalabikeaway in the Forest of Dean. He has well and truly mastered his balance bike, even if he may not be cut out to be a racer and is now starting to get the hang of his new pedal bike.

At the start of the year I set some goals, I also did a mid year update back in June, but here are the final results:

Get my weight down to 85kg

Massive fail! – I have actually ended the year heavier than I started. I have been eating too much nice food, especially over the Christmas period.

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

Fail! – This was probably a bit optimistic with a newborn and a massive project at work. I did get out for a few mid week rides, and in the summer a few Friday rides, with Owen on the Mac Ride, but neither were a regular thing. I also managed to commute to work by bike at least once most weeks. The flip side is that I learned more programming skills than I was expecting to.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Fail! – I probably only used my weights about ten times and my resistance bands a handful of times. I did manage to do yoga most weeks. Again, this was probably optimistic with a newborn. I suspect this could be why my dodgy knee has been giving me gyp the last few weeks.

Ride at the pumptrack at least once a month

Yes! –  This was probably the easiest goal to achieve! Especially as towards the end of the year Owen could join me. In addition to our local pump tracks we also had good sessions at Flyup 417 Bike Park’s indoor pump track (which I have dubbed “the barn of dreams”), the pump track at the Forest of Dean and Leeds Urban Bike Park, which was awesome – we met our friends from York there and had a great day! I was so busy riding and wrangling Owen that I barely took any photos – hence the lack of blog post. I did not make my stretch goal of clearing any tabletop jumps or manualling through rollers. My jumping has improved, but I still cannot hold a good manual – I had to stop practising when I was riding with Owen as he was trying to copy me on his balance bike.

Ride at a bike park

Yes! – Twice in fact! Flyup 417 Bike Park is my new favourite place to ride. I have been twice now, both times were midweek and I was lucky enough to have both the bike park and the uplift service to myself. There are only a few trails, but it is great for focusing on technique – which is something I need to do!

Clock over 100 active hours on Strava

Fail! – The final tally is 94h 17m. On reflection expecting to clock more hours than last year with a newborn was not realistic. I am actually surprised that at the halfway point of the year I was over 50 hours! Maybe I am being unfair to Henry using him as a scapegoat, when it has actually been the last month or so, when the weather has been terrible that has done the damage.

However, on the Strava based goal that really counts – I managed to comprehensively beat my best friend Partho, by logging 1,223km to his 955km in our annual Strava challenge.

New blog server

Fail! – I was over confident in this, and planning on doing it at the last minute, but I ran out of time. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it off this week.

Take control of my open tabs in Safari

Yes! – Well I am going to claim it as pass, I am down to under 100 open tabs across my three Apple devices.

Replace my ageing iMac

I am not quite going to call this a fail, as I have decided what I want – a new iMac. I am just waiting for Apple to release one! I ruled the MacBook Pro out as I can buy a well specced iMac AND a MacBook Air for the price of a well specced MacBook Pro and monitor.

Do some night photography

Yes, but only just! – I had a few shots planned, and even read up on astrophotography, but generally, by the time the boys are in bed I am too tired to think about heading out to take photos. Especially when I expect to be woken up early in the morning. I did get out to take a photograph of the Hearsall Star – a local festive season landmark.

Detail my MR2

Yes!I ticked this one off early in the year. However, it could probably do with another wash again, but is at the back of the queue behind my BMW and Jen’s Yaris.

Get my MR2 to 60,000 miles by its MOT in April

Fail! – Just like the MOT… Fortunately after a good Italian tune up the MR2 was able to pass the emissions test. It passed 60,000 towards the end of the summer. Embarrassingly I cannot actually remember the last time I drove it…

Drink more whisky

I have certainly drank more whisky than previous years, so did not fail in that regard, however I only emptied one bottle, which was then replaced at Christmas, so not sure I can claim success either. At least Jen’s gin collection is catching my whisky collection…

2019 feels like it has been a year of change, Henry being the biggest, but best change to our lives. Owen has also grown up – at the start of the year he was sleeping in a cot and wearing nappies – now he sleeps in a proper bed and takes himself to the toilet when he needs to! It was also the first year since 2008 that I did not visit Croyde in North Devon, nor did I leave the UK – I cannot remember the last time that happened!

Highlights from the last ten years

I will post my usual year in review post tomorrow, but as we are at the end of a decade, I thought I would look back at key points of what has been an amazing ten years. Of course being me, the key points are cars, cameras, bikes and holidays in addition to the big life events!

To set the scene, I started 2010 single, living in my bachelor pad in Rugby. My life pretty much revolved around cars and photography, especially car photography. At work I was in the middle of a big product launch that went on to set a sales record for our company.

2010

The most significant thing that happened in 2010 is that I went for a date with a girl called Jen – and that pretty much set the course for the rest of the decade! We had a great holiday to the Basque Country and at the end of the season I gave up motorsport photography.

2011

Jen moved into my flat in Rugby, and we had some great trips – to Barcelona and Cyprus. Sadly my old MX-5 turned to rust and I had to replace it, of course I went for a new silver MX-5!

2012

Jen and I had some great holidays – Costa Rica was definitly the holiday of a lifetime, but Croyde with our friends and a roadtrip round the Outer Hebrides were both pretty special too. We also decided to buy a house together and the 119 project started!

2013

We moved into 119 – albeit with a lot of renovation still to do! Fortunately we were still able to get away for a few city breaks – Paris in the snow in March and New York in the snow to celebrate our thirtieth birthdays. My new MX-5 went back to the lease company, and now that we were living less than a mile from my office I could not justify another new car, so bought my MR2 Roadster!

2014

2014 was a quiet year for trips – Jen and I had a long weekend in Copenhagen, I also went to Le Mans with my Dad and on our annual trip to Croyde I proposed to Jen! The big project for the year was building my garage, but the thing that made the biggest change to my life was buying a mountain bike!

2015

Jen and I got married!!! We had an awesome honeymoon cruising round California in a Dodge Challenger. After ten years of daily driving sports cars, it was time for me to buy a sensible car. I also achieved my goal of cycling 2,015km in the year.

2016

 

The first part of the year was pretty quiet, we had a trip to Croyde in the MR2. Then on the sixth of June our lives changed forever – Owen was born!

2017

2017 was a special year – I got to take two months off work for parental leave, hanging out with my little wingman! We had our first family holiday abroad – to Cyprus to celebrate my best friend getting married. I also bought my dream bike!

2018

It was Owen’s turn to get a bike! We had a great holiday to San Sebastian with our friends Nicki and Mat! We also went to France and Croyde with my family. Jen bought her Toyota Yaris – which replaced the FIAT 500 she had since before we met. And after more than ten years shooting with Canon cameras I moved to a Fuji system.

2019

We became a family of four when Henry was born! I will post a more detailed year in review post tomorrow, but the key points are that I started working with Coventry Bloggers and we had a great holiday to Bluestone in Wales.

What a decade it has been! From living on my own in Rugby, we are now a family of four, living in the house we renovated (well have almost finished renovating), in Coventry. Photography and cars are still important parts of my life, but have been joined by mountain biking and two small boys! At work, I am still working for the same company, on another big project. I do not know what the next decade will have in store, but I doubt my life will change as much as it has in the last ten years.

Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding at Pier 52

Photo © Richard Long 2019

For years my main sport was snowboarding, although I also dabbled in other board sports such as surfing, skateboarding, mountainboarding, kite boarding and kite surfing. Wakeboarding had been on my radar, but I had never had the opportunity to try it – until this year!

The first opportunity was on a rainy weekend in August with my closest friends on Ali’s stag do. I knew that Ali also wanted to try wakeboarding, so we decided to book at Sheffield Cable Wake Park, and planned a big night out in Sheffield afterwards. Unfortunately our booking was cancelled at the last minute, due to algae or something. So we ended up at Pier 52 near Cannock, which ended up being a blessing in disguise, as their two pier set up is better suited to beginners than the larger set up in Sheffield.

We had exclusive hire of the cable for an hour, between four of us, with the cable operator also acting as instructor. None of us knew what to expect, but Richard stepped up (down?) and got into the water first. The three of us on the dock were pleased to see him standing up on the board and getting to the end of the cable fairly quickly. However it did look like it was hard work!

After Rich it was my turn to lower myself into the cold reservoir, lie on my back with my arms stretched out and hold on for dear life! On my first attempt I went straight over on my face. The second attempt went better and I was up on the board, heading towards the pylon at the end of the cable. Once I was up on the board it felt like riding a snowboard on a bumpy piste, I could move the board left or right and adopted a kite boarding position, to the left of the cable. Then I realised that I did not know what to do at the end of the cable, so when the cable stopped I dropped down into the water and floundered about in the water trying to turn round, whilst my feet are attached to a board and without dropping the wooden handle – all whilst quite a way from the shore! After getting back to the pier, I was given some pointers – to stay under the cable – and dragged back out to the middle of the lake for another dunking. This all makes it sounds bad, but when I was up on the board with the spray on my face it felt great! Towards the end of my first session the instructor tried to explain what I needed to do at the end of each run to turn around, however I was too tired, from being dragged around the water, to understand it. Partho and Ali went out after me, with similar results – after our session we were all tired, but in a good way! We compared notes, and watched some other riders, and all went into our second session feeling more confident!

We switched over to the longer “Bay cable” for the second session. Rich went first again and made good progress – I think he got the best turn out of the four of us. I was up next and liked starting sat on the dock, rather than lying in the water. The water felt choppier on this side of the pier, but the longer cable felt faster and therefore better! The best bit was on the first run, when I was still dry from the dock start – it felt like I knew what I was doing, until getting another dunking at the end of the cable. I got quite close to making turns, particularly at the pier end of the cable, but as I slowed down the board sank into the water slightly too much. By the end of the session I knew exactly what I needed to do, but lacked the energy/strength in my legs to complete the turn. Ali went out and had a good session, but Partho had a stinker – with the biggest and most spectacular slam of the day, which marked the end of our session. After getting dried off and warmed up we drove up to Sheffield for the night out part of the stag do! We have all vowed to have another wakeboarding session, as it was so much fun and we all left with unfinished business – nailing those turns.

My next opportunity to get on a wakeboard came the next month when I was on holiday at Bluestone in Wales. Pembrokeshire Wake Park snared me with their clever targeted advertising on Facebook – pointing out that they were located right next to the Bluestone resort. As much as I wanted my next wakeboarding session to be with my mates, I was right next to what looked like a decent wake park, the weather was lovely and it felt like too good an opportunity to miss! After the success of the previous trip, I booked two sessions, thinking it would be a case of one to remember how to do it and one to nail the turns.

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I cycled round to the wake park, I thought this would be a good warm up, and less hassle than taking the car. The wake park seemed perfect – a chalet with a cafe and changing rooms next to a purpose built lake with two tow-pier cable wakeboarding set ups with the Serendome at Bluestone, where Jen and the boys were spending the afternoon, visible past the end of the lake! The sun was out and the water was flat calm (I later learned that this was due to the island in the lake spearating the two cable runs) – the complete opposite to the conditions on Ali’s stag do.

I explained to the instructor that I wanted to work on turns and that I thought I knew what to do, but struggled to actually do it. I strapped the board to my feet and assumed the position, lying on my back in the water. When the cable started to pull me along, I managed to stand up and was whizzing down the lake, towards the Serendome in the distance. When I passed the last obstacle on the left, I dug my heel edge into the water and carved towards the bank, the cable sped up, then when it slowed down again I rolled to my toe edge and all of a sudden I was heading back towards the dock. I had nailed a turn on my first run – I could barely believe it! Then I repeated the turn at the dock end and again at the Serendome end. I was stoked, feeling like I had wakeboading nailed! I went to do another turn at the dock end, but the instructor put the brakes on my fun, stopping the cable, pointing out that I had obviously nailed turns and should work on something else!

I spent the remainder of the session working on riding switch (swapping from left foot forwards to right foot forwards) – the idea was that I would ride towards the Serendome end, turn, try to ride back switch then swap back to left foot forwards before turning and doing it again. It was easier said than done! Pretty much each attempt at riding switch ended up with a spectacular slam, initially on the swap to right foot forwards, then riding right foot forwards, then on swapping back. I probably managed it sucessfully once, but I ended my session happy!

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I had a short break to recharge before my second session, and it was lovely sitting by the lake in the sun! For the second session the instructor suggested trying ollies – getting some air between the board and the water! Again I was to ride towards the Serendome end, turn then try the ollie on the way back towards the dock. I found it hard to get the board out of the water – it is the same technique as on a snowboard, but the action needs to be exaggerated. On the times I did get the board out of the water I had to be careful on landing – if the front of the board dips too far into the water you are going to get dunked! I felt shattered by the end of the session, but I had just about managed a half decent ollie – and landed it. I was most pleased by the fact I had nailed all of the turns at the Serendome end, although I struggled to understand how it was so much easier than at Pier 52!

For the ride back, the guys at Pembrokeshire Wake Park told me about an offroad “shortcut” back to Bluestone, except that I must have missed a turn, I ended up dropping a lot of vertical and having to climb back up to Bluestone – not an easy feat after a couple of wakeboarding sessions! Then I ended up going for another long ride, with Owen on the Mac Ride – I slept well that night!

I am really hoping that I can get out for another wakeboarding session in 2020, ideally with the lads! I want to get ollies and riding switch nailed!

Forest of Dean Pump Track


After the success of our stop at the Flyup 417 Bike Park pump track on our way to Bluestone in Wales, we decided to have another pump track stop on the way home – at the Cannop Cycle Centre in the Forest of Dean, which is one of my favourite places to ride. We got there in time for lunch at Pedalabikeaway – their wild boar burgers are amazing! We also had a look around the shop, which has a great range of kids MTB kit.

After lunch Jen and Henry went for a walk, whilst Owen and I had a quick session on the pump track. To get to the skills area where the pump track is located meant riding along the first section of the blue Verderers trail – which was Owen’s first time on a proper mountain bike trail! It is only a tame section of trail, but Owen coped well on his tiny Strider bike.

At the pump track Owen got stuck in straight away, lapping the track, only stopping to ask me to chase after him – I found that if I gave him a half lap head start I would just about catch him up by the last corner. We had the track mostly to ourselves, but occasionally people would join us and Owen got quite a few compliments on his riding.

At one point Owen got a bit too cocky and had a big crash going in to the first berm, so we decided that it would be a good time to progress to the jump line in the skills area, well the bottom part of it anyway, which was just one table top into a berm. Owen enjoyed this line, as it was slightly bigger than the pump track, but still within his ability.

After a few laps of the jump line it was time to head back to the car – which was via a red graded trail – a level of difficulty up from the blue trail we had ridden to get to the skills area. The first section was flat, but quite rooty and rocky – easy on a full size mountain bike, but not on a balance bike with 12″ wheels! After I had coached Owen through this section, which he handled really well, we pulled over to let another rider past – it was @pinkmtbr, who I follow on Instagram. She stopped to give Owen a high five for his great riding, which was really nice! The last few sections of the trail were quite steep, but short descents. I rode ahead and waited at the bottom each decent so I could direct Owen down the smoothest lines – he coped brilliantly and was so pleased with himself having made it to the bottom!

As with Flyup 417 Bike Park, the Cannop Cycle Centre is a great place to stop for lunch and a pump track session to break up a journey. Owen and I have watched a few GMBN videos filmed there, and Owen always recognises it and asks when we will be able to go back. He is really going to love it when he can start to explore the trails as well as the pump track.

Bluestone Wales

I have been visiting Croyde in North Devon annually for ten years, but last year felt different. Jen and I decided that in 2019 we would like to try somewhere new for our family holiday. As we would be travelling with a six month old baby, we also wanted to go somewhere that would be easy, with lots to occupy the boys, especially if the weather was bad! A few people had recommended Bluestone in Pembrokeshire, a part of Wales I had never visited. It seemed to have plenty of onsite activities and was fairly close to the seaside – so we booked up!

The drive from Coventry to Pembrookshire is about three and a half hours, roughly the same as to Croyde – easily the longest car journey of Henry’s life. I planned our first stop at Flyup 417 Bikepark, as I had been wanting to take Owen to the indoor pump track there for a while, which I covered on another post. The rest of the drive went well, with a brief McPitstop to coincide with Henry’s next feed, and we arrived at Bluestone late afternoon, in time to settle into our little upside down house (bedrooms downstairs/living area upstairs), check out the resort and get fish and chips for dinner.

Our first full day in Wales looked like it would have the best weather, so we headed to the beach! Barafundle Bay had been recommended, but when we got there both boys were asleep and we thought that the long walk from the car park may have been a struggle, so we drove to Freshwater West, a surfing beach, instead. Owen had a great time paddling in the sea and building sandcastles, while Henry hid out in our beach tent and tried to eat sand. We finished the afternoon sat in the dunes over looking the beach eating ice cream sundaes from Cafe Mor (I would love to go back and have lunch there).

On Sunday morning I managed to sneak out for my usual Sunday morning bike ride, but Canaston Woods, next to Bluestone, was more fun than my usual trails in Coventry! Even better, I met Jen and the boys in the Bluestone village for a post-ride milkshake. The afternoon set the tone for the rest of the holiday – we visited the Serendome, Bluestone’s large undercover activity area. Owen absolutely loved both the sand play and the building blocks area – we spent a lot of time in the Serendome, filling buckets of sand or building assault courses, robots and dens with the building blocks!

The other main attractions at Bluestone were the Adventure Centre, which had a couple of softplay areas, including one for babies, which Henry enjoyed, and the Blue Lagoon waterpark, which we visited a couple of times. There are a selection of restaurants in the village, but my favourite was Camp Smokey, a Wild West themed shack at the bottom of a ravine specialising in BBQ food and with a fire pit for toasting marshmallows. The best thing about the resort was that, other than checking in/out, it was car free! You can hire golf buggies but we just walked or cycled everywhere – with Owen either on his Strider or on the MacRide. There was an autumnal theme to the resort when we were there (mid September), with Halloween themed scarecrows around the resort – with a challenge to find them all – Owen particularly enjoyed this. I think there was also a festival/parade linked in to it too. Pembrokeshire Wakepark is right next door to Bluestone, so I managed to fit in a wakeboarding lesson, which I will write about in another post soon!

We could easily have spent the whole week without leaving the resort, however it would have been a shame to visit Pembrokeshire, which is a really beautiful part of the world, and not explore further! So, on our last day we visted Tenby. The weather was lovely, so after exploring the old town, we grabbed some food from The Stowaway – a funky underground cafe/takeaway, and sat on Castle Hill for a picnic with a seaview. Then we went to the beach for more paddling in the sea, digging in the sand and eating ice cream bought from a Land Rover ice cream van! We all had a great time in Tenby and it is definitly somewhere we would like to visit again! On the way back to Bluestone we stopped in Narbeth, however the boys were both asleep, so I stayed in the car with them whilst Jen had a quick explore.

We had such a great time that it was disapointing to leave. To lessen the blow I had planned an exciting stop on the way home – at the Forest of Dean, which I have already posted about. We also took the “Head of the Valleys” road, rather than the motorway – not much longer, but far more interesting. Henry was not pleased to be heading home, it felt like he was screaming most of the way back from Ross-on-Wye.

I am a bit late publishing this post – life has been busy! However it has given me a chance to reflect on the holiday more than if I had blogged whilst I was away. It was great being able to spend time together as a family of four, with very little planned, nor needed to be planned. Travelling with two young children can hard, so I am glad that we had plenty of options, even if the weather was bad, mostly within a five minute cycle! Jen and I also had a good time, the boys being occupied goes a long way to achieving that, but we also got to do some exploring, fit in some training and ate some nice food. After wrangling the boys all day I was happy to chill out in our little upside down house in the evenings, sorting through my photos from the day etc before turning in for an early night.

I think this will be the first holiday that Owen remembers – he had such a great time, and regularly asks when we will be going back to “our holiday house with the sand play”. At six months old Henry just went with the flow, he did hit one developmental milestone while we away though – he rolled over for the first time, then quickly realised that he could link rolls together to traverse a room! It will be good to go back to Bluestone again when the boys are slightly bigger and can do more of the activites, I think Owen will also like the familiarity of it. There is also a lot more that I would like to see in Pembrokeshire, so I have a feeling we will be returning…

417 Bike Park Pump Track

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Since my first visit to 417 Bike Park I have wanted to bring Owen to their pump track barn. I decided that it would make a good pitstop enroute to our family holiday in Wales, Owen and I could burn off some energy and Henry could have some milk, get out of his car seat and spectate.

The pump track is a full asphalt Velosolutions track – pretty much the best you can get! It is also under cover in a barn, with steet art on the walls and a bike shop above – I find it hard to imagine a better pump track!

I led Owen round his first few laps, to make sure he knew where to go, the only section he struggled with was getting the line into the big bowl/180º berm. He was taking the correct line out of the previous (right hand) corner, which was putting him into the centre of the bowl, when he should have been over to the right to take the high line.  He got there with some coaching though.

With Owen sorted, it was time to get on to my bike. I had never ridden a proper looping pump track before, only BMX style ones, which have a defined start/finish. However on this track once you get going you can keep going round and round – until your legs turn to jelly, or you catch up with your tiny riding partner! Fortunately Owen and I had the track to ourselves so we could go at our own respective paces. I felt like I was getting good speed out of the main berm, along the full length of the barn to the first lefthander, which I could then carry through the next few turns, before needing to brake for the fourth corner. The next two corners were righthanders, with the first almost immediately after the previous lefthander, with a hump in the middle – this was the section I found trickiest. Timing pumping and changing direction correctly takes more coordination than I have on the bike!

All of these back-to-back laps was also hard work, at least for me – Owen was fine! Every time I stopped for a breather, or to take photos, he would shout “Daddy, follow me!” Each time I started with Owen, it would take me two or three laps to catch him back up, athough passing was difficult with the back-to-back corners and Owen’s unpredictable lines through them. About halfway through our hour-long session, Jen and Henry returned from the cafe to watch – I took the opportunity to grab some snacks from the car to refuel and rest my legs, for a final twenty minutes on the track!

As the end of our session was approaching I challenged Owen to another race – except that when I caught him, that would be the end of our session. However, he was enjoying himself so much he snuck in an extra few laps! I have no idea where he gets the energy from, as I was shattered! Even Jen thought that the pump track looked fun, which is good because before long I am sure that Henry will be riding too and it would be great if we could all ride together!

Before we left the bike park, Owen insisted on being taken to the bike shop – what have I created? It did mean I got to see how the smallest Fox Racing gear would fit him, unfortunately for him, but not my wallet, he still has a bit of growing to do! I was also able to show him part of the Blue Racoon trail, which hopefully he will be able to try out once he has mastered riding a bike with brakes. In all, 417 Bike Park was the perfect place to break up our journey and burn off some energy – Owen slept like a log for most of the rest of our drive to Pembrokshire. It worked so well that we planned a pump track stop on the way home too…

Whenever I mention going to a pump track Owen always asks if it is “the indoor one” or “the one we went to on holiday”, so when a Little Rippers MTB Facebook group meetup at Flyup 417 Bike Park was suggested, Owen and I got our names down. In the end it was just us and one other little boy, on a pedal bike rather than a balance bike (his parents were there, but not riding), but Owen had a great time whizzing round the track again, especially with someone nearer to his speed to chase! Once again it was difficult to get Owen to leave the track after our session was up, especially as there was another rider on the track who did not have to stop yet. Eventually I convinced him that we needed to look for some new gloves in the bike shop. Owen loved being at the bike park, saying hello to everyone (and telling anyone who would listen about his new wheels), looking at all the bikes and watching people riding in the dirt jump barn. An hour each way in the car seems slighly exessive to ride at a pump track, but it is an extremely good pump track and Owen absolutely loves it! I am sure we will be back over the winter – in fact I have just mentioned to Owen that I am writing about “the pump track barn” and he said “we have been two times, can we go again?”

Throwback Thursday: New York

Yellow Cab

This time six years ago Jen and I were in New York, as a treat to ourselves for our thirtieth birthdays. For some unknown reason the photos from the trip stayed unprocessed in my Lightroom catalogue – until last week! So I decided to do a #throwbackthursday post. Neither of us had been to New York before, the closest being dashing through Newark airport on the way back from Costa Rica – it was also my first time staying in the USA, rather than just transiting through the airport.

I distinctly remember two things from our shuttle journey from the airport – seeing the huge pick up trucks on the road and that first glimpse of the iconic Manhattan skyline! After checking in to our hotel, the Library Hotel, we went straight to Times Square, which was as mad as we expected – a good introduction to NYC, but a bit much to take in after a long day travelling! Especially given that two days prior I had woken up in Tokyo. For dinner we decided to walk to Grand Central Station. We were pretty tired so we just grabbed some burgers from Shakeshack – to this day still one of the best burgers I have ever tasted! I liked Grand Central station, it seemed a lot calmer that similar large stations in London for example and I feel that it balanced the retail/restaurants better than its newer namesake in Birmingham.

Sea Lion in Central Park

After breakfast at the hotel, we spent most of our first full day in New York exploring Central Park, including the Zoo, which disappointingly did not feature Alex the Lion from the “Madagascar” film. As zoos go it was pretty small, but I particularly like that I could photograph sea lions with skyscrapers in the background. We barely scratched the surface of Central Park, but it was good to spend the day walking around, after a long flight the previous day.

Statue of Liberty

The only fixed plan we had for our trip was visiting the Statue of Liberty, as we had to prebook our trip a few months in advance – it was worth it though! On our way to catch the boat we passed the site of the World Trade Center. At the time the new One World Trade Center was still under construction, but still looked suitably impressive. Exploring the statue and Liberty Island was one of the highlights of the trip, the views back across to Manhattan were impressive, but unfortunately did not photograph well, coming out very hazy (even the new dehaze tool in Lightroom could not rescue the photos). Certainly a view that I am glad to have seen though! I also enjoyed the stop at Ellis island on the way back to Manhattan, where we learned about the history of immigration to New York. On the way back to the hotel we walked through China Town and Little Italy, stopping for a pizza – it was not a typical New York pizza, but it was still good! In the evening we visited Korea Town, which is just behind the Empire State Building, for a Korean BBQ. I was glad to be able to take Jen, as the Korean BBQ in Iwaki City is one of my favourite places to eat when I am on business trips to Japan, and until recently they haven’t been easy to find in the UK. We now have one in Coventry though!

Top of the Rock Panorama

The main plan we had for my birthday was visiting the Top of the Rock – the observation area at the top of the Rockerfeller Center. We had been advised to go up before dusk, to be able to enjoy the view in daylight and by night, so we spent the morning exploring Fifth Avenue before heading to the Rockefeller Center mid afternoon. it seemed a bit busy as we went in, but we thought nothing of it as we went up the lifts to the observation area. The views were suitably impressive, both to the north over Cental Park and to the south past the Empire State building, especially as night fell and the lights lit up. We had planned to have dinner at the Rockefeller Center, but when we came down the lift everything seemed to be on shutdown, with huge crowds everywhere. We later learned that it was because the Christmas lights were being switched on, which is a big deal in the US – it is televised nationally and they even had Mariah Carey singing! We ended up having dinner at the hotel restaurant, which turned out to be really nice.

We started our last full day in New York with a walk across Brooklyn Bridge to check out Brooklyn, I was surprised that such an old bridge (construction started in 1869) was still in daily use! I was not too taken by Brooklyn, but I expect that we did not find the cool spots, so we got the subway back to Manhattan, and ended up having lunch at a diner in Chelsea. After our lunch we discovered Chelsea Market, which had an array of interesting looking places to eat, and then the High Line – a disused elevated subway line which had been turned into a linear park/walkway. Both were great, and completely unexpected finds. In the evening we walked past the Rockefeller Center to check out the lights that had caused all the fuss the previous evening. As we were in New York it would be rude not to take in a Broadway show – we manage to get seats for the Lion King, I vaguely remembered the story, and songs, from watching the Disney Movie as a child, but I really enjoyed the show.

We had left visiting the Empire State Building until our last morning, which turned out to be a mistake – the clouds had come in, we could barely see the ground from the top! However it was interesting looking at the architecture, especially considering it was built the same year as our house! When we got to the observation deck on the 86th floor it was sleeting! Despite the weather, we still went up to the 102nd floor, which we had almost to ourselves. After the Empire State Building, the last thing we did in New York was have lunch at the Relais de Venise – we had been to the original in Paris earlier in the year, and thought it would be interesting to check out some of the British/American clones. The New York restaurant was much bigger than the Paris one, but the food was similar. We still haven’t got round to checking out any of the British restaurants…

Overall, I thought New York was a great city to visit, with a bit of everything to see and do. A lot of it felt familiar from films and TV, but as it was my first real trip to America I picked up a lot of subtle differences from European cities. We ate really well, breakfasts at the hotel, street food lunches, snacks, cheese and wine at the hotel, then some nice restaurants in the evenings! We did a lot of walking around to burn it off though! I would love to go back to New York, probably when the boys are old enough to appreciate it and ideally in the spring/summer, as it was really cold when we were there!