On Sunday Jen, Owen and I travelled up to the Peak District to cycle the Monsal Trail with our friends Ali and Jaymi. It was meant to be a bigger crew, but some people dropped out with flimsy excuses. They really missed out though, it was a fun afternoon. The cycling was a polar opposite to Llandegla last weekend, even riding at my slowest (with Owen on the back of my bike) I was the one stopping and waiting for the others to catch up. There was plenty of time to chat whilst riding along and Owen seemed to like having people to interact with. He also enjoyed the tunnels, he was clapping as we cycled through them. The time lapse doesn’t do the views justice, the scenery on both sides of the trail was stunning – with cliffs, rivers, hills and old buildings to pull your eyes away from the trail. Naturally, the ride ended with a cafe stop at Hassop Station, for burgers and bakewell pudding.
Last weekend I took a trip up to Llandegla, for what was probably my toughest day on a mountain bike. Llandegla is the nearest Welsh trail centre to Coventry, and had been top of my list of places to ride for a while. It also meant I could tick off one of my 2017 goals.
I left a grey and rainy Coventry, hoping that the forecast for sun in North Wales would be correct. Fortunately it was, with the rain clearing before I got to the end of the M54. I met my friend Andrew and his friend James at the visitor centre. We set off up the five kilometre climb, which is the start to all the trails at Llandegla. It is a fairly gentle climb, but felt relentless. My legs, and lungs, are used to much shorter climbs, so I struggled, eventually catching up with the guys at the top.
The ride down the hill was almost as punishing, mountain bike trails are graded like ski pistes: green, blue, red and black, increasing in difficulty. We took the red trail, but included one of the black loops off the main trail – my first time riding a black trail. After the long climb I was expecting it to be downhill all the way back to the trailhead, but the trail was peppered with steep climbs. The downhill sections didn’t offer much chance to recover, they were rough and bumpy, with raised wooden sections and plenty of jumps. I was struggling due to being at my limits of fitness and bike handling skills. The guys had to wait for me to catch up quite a few times, but I eventually made it to the end in one piece, still buzzing from the ride down. As it was such a lovely afternoon we chilled out on the terrace outside the amazing cafe and I really felt like I’d earned my bacon sandwich and slice of cake.
Suitably refuelled and aware that I needed to work on my fitness, I decided to do a solo loop of the blue trail. I took my time on the climb, with a few stops to catch my breath and take photos. I made it to the top without having to push the bike, despite it actually taking longer than the same climb in the morning. Dropping in to the blue trail I was back in my comfort zone, the trail was much smoother and only had a few gentle climbs as it twisted back down the hill. It was also much quieter, I only saw a handful of other riders. After struggling on the red/black loop in the morning, the blue felt like the perfect place to concentrate on my technique and have some fun.
Both loops were enjoyable in their own ways. The red/black trails challenged both my skill and fitness, but the whole point of a sport like mountain biking is to push yourself. The blue trail was easier and flattered my riding. I was glad I went back to the top again. At two hours door to door, Llandegla won’t be replacing Cannock Chase as my usual trail centre – it is a full day out, rather than just a morning. However, I am looking forward to a return visit, hopefully my fitness will have improved by then too!
I’ve been a fan of GMBN since it started and have had many attempts to get my bike included in their Bike Vault feature. Finally it happened, and with a “Super nice rating to boot. I had to use my secret weapon – Owen, I had a feeling his cuteness would work. It was especially apt as the theme of the show was “mountain bikers of the future”. I’ve embedded the full episode at the bottom of this post, or click here to go straight to Owen at 19m35s.
The photo was taken at Kingsbury Waterpark, whilst Jen was doing Parkrun there – something we are trying to do more together – like our ride around Draycote Water last weekend. We have also got a few more family rides planned over the next few weeks.
We had a fun family trip to Draycote Water at the weekend. Jen is training for a 10km running race, so we thought that the 5 mile tarmac path would be ideal for her to run round whilst Owen and I rode round on my bike. I figured that Owen and I would be able to do two laps in the same time as Jen could run one – so we had a bit of a race!
Team Bike were caught napping, literally – Owen had fallen asleep in the car on the drive over. Jen was able to get a good head start, whilst I got the bike and child seat ready and waited for Owen to wake up. When we got going I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to catch up with Jen, but we made good progress along the first dam thanks to a decent tail wind. However, when we hit the north shore the pace dropped, I’d forgotten how hilly the route was, the fact that I’d done a hilly 35km ride the previous day and was carrying an extra 15kg made the hills feel harder. I was still expecting to see Jen around each corner, but we eventually caught her up around the halfway point, and had a quick stop to have a drink and fuss over Owen.
Leaving Jen, we continued our lap now into a headwind on the west dam I pointed out the wildlife to Owen, we saw geese, swans, rabbits and even a heron! On completing the first lap, we stopped for some photos, and to look at a swan and her cygnets by the dam. The second lap felt quicker, but taking a break had been a mistake, Jen was waiting for us at the end. As Owen had been such a good boy sat on the back of my bike, we took him to the playground, where he particularly enjoyed “driving” the jeep on springs.
At the start of the year I posted my goals for 2017, as we are halfway through the year I thought I’d follow up on them and post my progress.
Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there
My weight has been under 90kg for most of 2017 so far, I actually reset my goal to 87kg. However we went on holiday to Croyde and too much holiday food was enjoyed, so I crept back over 90kg, but I am back under now and still aiming for under 87kg.
Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2
I’ve failed on this one so far, I did a track session at Silverstone, but since then I haven’t done much with it. It really needs a suspension refresh, so I am a bit reluctant to go on track before that is done. I will see what happens over the next few months though.
Ride my bike at a new trail centre
Most of my riding has been local so far in 2017, with only a couple of trail centre visits. I went to the Leisure Lakes Demo Day at Cannock Chase in March, I also took my new bike there last weekend. I have got plans to ride at Llandegla trail centre in Wales in a few weeks time, so not too worried about missing this goal. What I have rediscovered this year is cross country riding on unknown trails, I had a really good ride from my Mum and Dad’s house, exploring the Cotswolds and tried out a fairly local route, which in future I may build into a longer ride from home. Riding on natural terrain on bridleways has opened up a whole new area of mountain biking for me, one which I should be delving into more over the coming months.
Ride the full Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase in one ride
Not yet! Although I’m pretty sure I could have done it last weekend, except I was running late. My excuse is that Owen slept in and didn’t wake me up. I’m sure I’ll get back to Cannock later in the year and complete the loop.
Get out on my bike with my camera
I have been taking my pocket camera – a Canon S90, with me on my bike recently. I am interested to see how photos from the old camera compare to my iPhone 7, which I will probably go into on a future blog post. I still have plenty of time left to get out with my DSLR though, ideally early one morning for some landscape photography.
Make yoga a part of my weekly routine
I’m going to claim a partial success on this one! I went for a yoga class with Jean a couple of weeks ago, and have been doing some yoga most days since. I just need to keep it going! I have also found an interesting yoga series on Pinkbike, one of the biggest mountain bike websites, so I intend to work through some of those exercises.
Overall I think I’m pretty much on track, with the exception of actually getting my MR2 out on track! The main thing is that I am doing well on the fitness ones, which are usually the new year goals that go out of the window first.
After almost four and a half thousand kilometers on the cheap hardtail bike I bought back in 2014, I have treated myself to a much better bike – an Orange Four Pro. In my post about trying one out earlier in the year, that I said the Orange Four was my dream bike, but I couldn’t afford one. In the three months since posting that I applied some man maths, working on the basis that it was worth paying a bit more for a bike hand built in the UK. In the end I found a really good deal from Sunset Cycles, the only downside is that I was restricted on colour, so ended up with my third choice colour. A fresh factory order would have been built just for me, but cost significantly more and would have taken a month or two to arrive. Even I am not fussy enough to have gone for that option! It is a similar situation to when I bought my MR2, the best deal had metalic grey paint, so I just went with it, despite it not being my first choice. At least with an Orange bike it is easy to send it back to the factory for a repaint.
The Four is the baby of the Orange full suspension range, but perfect for the type of riding I do – more cross country exploring with the odd trail centre visit, than extreme gravity riding. It is a big jump up from my old bike, which I will be keeping for riding around with Owen on the back, or running errands into town etc. The upgrade is of a similar magnitude to when I went from my Rover Metro to my first MX-5. Although in that case the Metro went to the scrap yard. Since ordering, I have discovered that there is a whole commintiy of Orange fans out there, on Facebook and on the trails. I’ve even had other Orange riders chatting to me about it!
A massive box got delivered on Friday, whilst I was at home looking after Owen. I was like a kid before Christmas waiting to open it and get the bike built, however I had to wait until Owen was in bed. By the time I got the bike built I only had enough light left for a very short shakedown round the block, which was enough to tell me that there was an awesome bike a few small set up changes away.
On Saturday, after fiddling with the suspension settings, I managed a blast round my urban woodland loop. These are trails that I know well, including a short test loop I use in Plants Hill Wood, which packs a lot of varied terrain into 500 metres. A rooty downhill section, which smooths out to a twisty flat section then a short technical climb back to the start – perfect for comparing different suspesion settings. After the ride I did some fine tuning to the suspension and cockpit setup, but I was pleased overall. I even stopped to take some photos, including the one at the top of this post. The only problem I encountered on the ride, was that handlebars are wider than on my old bike and don’t fit through some of the anti-motorbike gates on the trails. I do have the option to cut them down, but I want to ride with them as they are for the time being, as cutting them is permanent.
The shakedown and local test ride were needed as I was taking the Four to Cannock Chase on Sunday morning, the trails there are much more challenging than the urban woodland loop. I did a lap and a bit of the Follow the Dog trail, I didn’t have enough time for a lap of the Monkey trail as my cute alarm clock (Owen) decided to have a Sunday lie in, so I slept in too. I was a bit reluctant through the first section, “twist and shout”, as it twists between trees and I was concious of the wider bars – it is only 2cm extra on each side, but some of the gaps are pretty tight! I was feeling much more confident when I got to “cardiac hill” – my nemesis. The Four has lower gearing than my old bike and I was able to make it all the way to the top, without stopping and even overtaking someone on the way up. I felt broken at the top, but I still consider it a victory and had some celebratory jelly babies. What goes up must come down – and the Four was brilliant on the next downhill section, much more composed than my old bike, the dropper post meant I could throw my weight around to control the bike better too. I now fully realise why dropper posts are widely claimed to be the best invention in mountain biking. The next section had been remodelled since last time I rode it, cutting out a fireroad climb, which I consider to be a result. The next section, over toward the campsite was perfect for the Four, gently undulating terrain with rock gardens and the odd raised wooden section, I enjoyed it so much I looped back to ride it again! The last section from the campsite back to the car park was where I demo’d the Hope Four earlier in the year. My Four felt just as good as I remembered the uber high spec one I’d tested, which I am pleased about. With a few more small suspension tweaks, tidier routing of the cables and some thicker grips it will be perfect!
Despite the title of this post, I didn’t go back to work on Monday morning. I had booked Monday and Tuesday off work as annual leave, due to Owen’s birthday being on the Tuesday and wanting to wait until after his birthday to return to work. This because the parental leave allocation is 52 weeks, rather than a full year. I was determined to go for a drive in the MR2 on our last day off together, even if it was raining. We drove down to Chipping Norton, with the roof up, to see my Mum and Dad. Owen had a huge lunch, then a long nap, fortunately we’d left his travel cot there from his sleepover last week. He really seems to feel at home at my Mum and Dad’s house, crawling everywhere like he owns the place! I didn’t get the roof down blast in the MR2 I’d hoped for, but we both had a good day out.
Tuesday was Owen’s birthday, I’m not sure he knew exactly what was going on, but did seem to like all the presents – he is a very lucky little boy! Later in the morning we met my Mum and Dad at the Transport Museum. I’m not sure that Owen was as interested in the old cars as I was though. We all had a big lunch at home with Jen’s Mum and sister too, then Owen’s birthday cake. After the cake my family left and more of Jen’s family arrived – with more presents (and cake). It was a busy day, but Owen seemed to enjoy himself, which is the main thing.
Wednesday was also a big day – Owen had his first full day at nursery and I was back to work. Owen had obviously recognised the nursery from his settling in session last week, as he started crying as soon as we walked through the door. Probably realising that we were going to abandon him. It was hard leaving him, especialy as he was so upset, but I had to get to work. Sitting back at my desk felt natural – I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. The only indication that I had been off for two months was a bulging inbox, which I spent most of the day sorting through. When Jen picked Owen up from nursery we were told that he’d been fine most of the day, and had enjoyed playing with the sit in toy car they have there. Hopefully over the next few Wednesdays he will begin to realise that nursery is actually a fun place and not get quite so upset when we drop him off.
I was back at work on Thursday, but it was Jen’s day off to look after Owen. They went swimming, then to buggy workout – which sounded better than being stuck in an office all day! In the new regime Fridays are my day off to look after Owen, so at least I only had two days in the office this week. Our day wasn’t as exciting as Thursday – I think Owen must have picked up a cold at nursery, he had a runny nose and didn’t seem to be his usual cheeky self. So we mostly hung out at home, playing with Owen’s birthday presents. We did have one trip out, to the supermarket where Owen was his usual cute self, gaining even more admirers.
We had a relativly quiet weekend, as none of us were feeling 100% – I guess this is how things will be now that Owen is going to nursery. Jen still felt well enough to do Parkrun, so Owen and I went to the park to cheer her on and have a play in the sandpit. We spent the rest of the morning in town, grabbing lunch at the food festival. Owen had a taste of my chimichanga and Jen’s paneer wrap, seeming to like both. Sunday was another important day in Owen’s childhood – his first trip to a racetrack! We went to the British GT/Formula 3 meeting at Silverstone, as part of the Pistonhead Sunday Service. Owen did have a look at all the cars, but equally enjoyed having breakfast in the paddock cafe and crawling around on the grass banking on the inside of Copse corner. We spent the afternoon back at home in the garden, Jen cracked on with jobs, whilst I played with Owen. Even though we had brought his toys out with us, Owen was most interested in playing with the fresh topsoil I’d put down, mostly trying to eat it. He was filthy when we finished, but he’d had a fun afternoon!
As my parental leave has finished and I’m now back at work, I will bring this series of blogs to an end. I feel like I have gained a lot from spending all of this quality time with Owen. I certainly feel much more in tune with him than in week 1 – when I was impressed that he could go from his belly to sitting up. Now he is trying to climb anything that he can reach and crawls behind me when I move from room to room. Hopefully Owen has benefitted from having his Dad around, I can tell that he has enjoyed it. I did miss Owen the two days I was back in the office, so I am glad that I will be having Fridays off to look after him, which I am sure will be the highlight of my week.
As it was Owen’s first birthday this week I thought I would throwback to the 8th of June last year, when he was only a few days old and still in hospital. Look how small he is! These days he’d be standing on my legs and either trying to climb over my shoulder, or stealing my glasses.
Today was Owen’s first birthday. We have spent a lovely day celebrating with family – Owen has recieved loads of presents, eaten lots of cake and done loads of cute giggling. So I’ll class that as a success.
I find it hard to believe that a year has passed since this cheeky monkey surprised us by arriving six weeks early. It has been amazing seeing him grow from a tiny little baby in an incubator to a strong little boy who knows what he wants and can crawl around the house to get it! Spending the last year with him has been great, especially the last few months whilst I have been on parental leave.
The downside to Owen being one is that I am back off to work tomorrow and Owen is off to nursery.
Another bank holiday Monday! I’m getting poor value on my nine weeks off, as they include so many days that I would have off anyway. Having said that, this is my last week of parental leave, the nine weeks have flown by! As is traditional on bank holidays I had to fit some DIY in, more painting on veranda bits for the garden project. However the main activity for the day was a wedding reception in the evening, which meant we had to drop Owen off with my Mum and Dad – for the night! We drove down to Chipping Norton for lunch, then stayed with Owen to make sure he was settled in, not that it was a problem, as he is used to visiting them. We snuck off whilst he was having his afternoon nap…
We both had a lie in on Tuesday! The first one in almost a year! Jen had the day off, as it was an extra holiday for civil servants and I didn’t have Owen to wake me up. We were just about up and about when the builders arrived to continue work on the garden – in our defence they did get here earlier than expected. What did we do with our new found freedom? We cleaned. We cleaned the house from top to bottom, sorted out the clothes that Owen has grown out of and, after 4 years living here, I finally hung some photos on my office walls (mainly to get them off the floor so I could vacuum). Who says that having children changes people? Owen got home late morning, having enjoyed his Cotswold mini break with his grandma, grandpa and great auntie by all accounts. I was relieved that he seemed happy to see Jen and I when he got back though. We had an indoor picnic, which Owen enjoyed, as from his little chair he could drop his food on the floor, then pick it up again (and repeat…). In the afternoon we had some errands to run, collecting the last few bits for Owen going to nursery. Jen took Owen shopping with her, which I think he found a bit boring as he did a lot of screaming. I got my bits done quickly so I could get out on my bike. As Jen was off work the evening was relaxed, we both had a good play with Owen. We had chilli for dinner and, as seems to be the way these days, Owen wanted to try it. He seemed to like it, as he kept coming back for more!
Owen woke me up at 4:30 on Wednesday morning, but I didn’t hear from him again until after Jen’s alarm clock had gone off! Naturally, Owen’s lie in coincided with him needing to be at nursery for the first of his settling in sessions at 9:00. I can tell that he will be trouble as a teenager, he seems to have inherited my sense of urgency for this sort of thing. He seemed happy to be back at nursery, until he realised that Jen and I wouldn’t be staying with him this time. He had a bit of a cry, but we were told that he was fine almost straight away. Whilst Owen was busy exploring his new surroundings, playing with toy cars and throwing balls out of the ball pit, what did I do? More cleaning, this time in the kitchen. Owen was asleep when I collected him from nursery, so he wasn’t too impressed at being woken up and had a little cry. He was happy enough by the time we got home. After his lunch I continued his Scottish food training with some Tunnocks Teacake, which went down very well! When Owen woke up after his nap, we had a frustrating afternoon, with Owen doing a lot of screaming. If he was in his high chair, I tried leaving the room for a bit and waiting for him to calm down. He seems to be getting the message, as he calms down much quicker now, but it is still frustrating. I think it will get easier when he can articulate his frustrations. When Jen got back from work we all had quick dinners, then I went climbing, at the new climbing wall in the city centre.
On Thursday morning I risked letting Owen feed himself Nutella on toast, it didn’t turn out to be the chocolate coated disaster I was kind of expecting. Owen didn’t even finish it, possibly because he’d scavenged too much of our breakfasts. There was no swimming, due to the school holidays, so I gave Owen a bath, so he could still have his Thursday morning splash. This must have tired him out, as he had a long nap, allowing me to crack on with some jobs. Jen had the afternoon off to go to buggy workout, so I took the opportunity to get out on my bike.
Owen had another settling in session at nursery on Friday morning. He obviously remembered it from Wednesday, as he realised that I was going to leave him and he had a little cry. While he was at nursery I cleaned the inside of the BMW, as it was full of mud and sand from our holiday. I had planned to clean all three of the cars, inside and out while I was on parental leave, but only managed to clean the outside of the 500 and the inside of the BMW. The guys finished the landscaping, so I sorted a few things out in the garden before collecting Owen. He was tired and grumpy when I collected him, but I was told that he’d had a good time, especially in the jumperoo. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he didn’t eat his lunch, but had eaten cake and custard for pudding! We spent the rest of the day preparing for the main event…
Saturday was Owen’s first birthday party! We started the day off with a trip to Costco to get supplies. Owen was his usual cute self and had people fussing over him. He was absolutely in his element being wheeled around the shop, especially as they were doing tastings of his two favourite foods – avocado on toast and cake! Owen seemed a bit confused when people started arriving for the party, he wasn’t used to seeing so many people at home, but he was soon crawling around seeing everyone. All the fuss must have tired him out, as he needed to have a nap – skillfully avoiding the bit of the party where both his girlfriends were there! After his nap we sang happy birthday to him, which he didn’t seem too bothered by, but certainly looked like he enjoyed the cake that Jen had made him! Towards the end of the party all of the remaining children (aged 9 months to 7 years) gathered in the tent on the lawn – it was good to see them all playing together so nicely. Some of our friends had travelled down from York with their children for the party, so we spent the rest of evening with them, visiting the city centre to catch the end of Motofest, then having a takeaway. Owen seemed much happier with a smaller group and stayed up with us well past his usual bedtime.
After a busy week and getting up at 6:00 with Owen everyday I was glad to have a Sunday lie-in! I also got out on my bike again, taking my total distance for the week over 90km! After playing with the older children at his party, Owen has gained confidence, he is exploring around the house and climbing more, this has meant a few knocks, but it is interesting to see. While he was crying after one of his falls I spotted that he’s now got a fifth tooth! As Jen had over-catered for the party, we all had party food leftovers for lunch. I think the fact that we were all eating the same things made Owen try a few new foods, although some of them ended up on the floor. We had planned to go back into town for Motofest in the afternoon, but it was raining, so we all ended up having naps. It was good to have a day of doing nothing, it is so rare for us.
This is now my paternity leave over, I’m not quite back to work yet though, so I’ll be concluding this series of posts next week.