A look back at 2015

Signing the register

©Richard Long 2015

2015 has been a great year – possibly the best yet!

January and February were fairly quiet, I think we were mostly planning the wedding, which was a good move as from March things started getting a lot busier! Starting with my first trackday of the year on the Silverstone National Circuit, then the Leisure Lakes Demo Day at Cannock Chase, where I got to try some expensive bikes. We also went to London to see Frank Turner at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust’s series of gigs – a great gig in an amazing venue, all for a worthy cause.

In April we went on our first road trip of the year – to Scotland in the MR2, also calling in at Scarborough and York on the way home. In May we started the redecoration of our front bedroom, the aim being to have it ready for us to move into after the wedding. We also went to Prescott Hillclimb to see the La Vie en Bleu French themed event.

June and July were both busy, in June I only had one weekend at home for DIY with a day out to Matlock Bath to meet our friends from York, my little brother’s stag do in London, then a weekend mountain biking in Wales, which was allegedly my stag do, but thanks to my best man Partho turned into a Welsh A&E tour. After the madness of Wales with the lads a relaxing long weekend in Croyde with Jen was just what was needed. The next weekend we went to a wedding, then the weekend after I flew to Japan. After a mammoth 42 hour journey home the weekend after and a trackday at Donington Park (which I really should have blogged about) it was already August!

August started with a Segwaying adventure for my friend Richard’s birthday (Richard took the photo at the top of this post). Also in August was Jen’s hen do, I took this opportunity to go mountain biking at the Forest of Dean with Jen’s cousin Richard. At the end of the month we were back up to Scotland for my little brother’s wedding – I was best man, so no pressure there! It was also the first time I got to wear my kilt and good practice for the main event in September!

Of course the highlight of the year was marrying Jen, having all our family and close friends there to share the day with us made it even more special. We are still humbled by all the kind messages and gifts we received from everyone. After the wedding comes the honeymoon – in our case a California road trip, a trip we had been talking about since we first got together in 2010. The trip was all we expected and more – I’ve still got the last few photos to sort out, but will be updating the blog posts in the next few weeks, as they were quickly posted whilst we were there.

Since getting back from California the last few months have flown by, I did another trackday at Silverstone, with Jen driving a session too, actually getting more laps in than I did. I got out on my snowboard a few times, bought a sensible car, spent my birthday weekend in London and completed my 2,015km in 2015 mountain biking challenge. We are going to see out 2015 with our friends in York.

Thanks to everyone who made 2015 such a special year!

2,015km in 2015

Mountain biking in Wales

At the start of 2015 I challenged myself to cycle 2,015km by the end of the year – this morning I completed the challenge!

Today was meant to be a day off the bike, but I knew a short local ride would take me over my target for the year, and the weather was nice. I’d done most of the work yesterday, with a hard, muddy 37km ride south of Kenilworth.

The challenge worked out to be at the perfect level, I had to push myself to ride a few times every week, but I knew the goal was doable as long as I kept that up. I had a few weeks off the bike due to picking up a cold, or traveling, so some weeks I really had to put the effort in. The fact that I only accomplished the challenge with two days left of 2015 shows how tight it was!

The photo at the top of this post is one of the few pictures of me actually on a bike and was taken by my friend Ali, who is one of the many people I’ve ridden with this year. Mountain biking a social sport and it is good to have friends to ride with. Jen even came out for a few rides with me, including one evening where we were meant to be going out for a meal, but ended up cycling to Kenilworth for dinner and a few rides when we were on honeymoon! Jen has also been very tolerant of me spending a lot of time on the bike this year – it took me 185 hours, over 150 rides to get to 2,015km.

I have already been asked if I am going to go for 2,016km (or even miles) in 2016, but now that I have got cycling into my routine, I don’t think I’ll need the extra motivation to get out – if the weather is good and I’m not busy, I’ll be out on my bike!

BMW 120i

BMW 120i

Now that I’m a married man I thought it was the right time in my life to buy a sensible car – don’t worry, the MR2 isn’t going anywhere – it is safely tucked up in the garage and will still be used regularly.

The main reason for buying the BMW is that I can put my mountain bike in the back, allowing me to explore more exciting terrain than I can cycle to from Coventry. It also has the benefit of not needing to use Jen’s 500 as much, which I’m sure helped with Jen getting on board with this scheme.

I chose a BMW as the roads around the best mountain biking terrain are good for driving too – think Scotland and North Wales, I’m still a car guy and driving those roads in a boring car would really get to me. After driving grey cars for the last 10 years I was happy to find a suitable car in a bright colour – especially as everybody knows that red cars are faster…

Long Weekend In San Francisco

After dropping the Dodge off at San Francisco airport we got the metro into town, checked into the wonderful Triton hotel, but we headed straight out again – we had a baseball game to go to!

We hadn’t managed to get to a sporting event when we were in New York in 2013, so a ball game was high on the list for this trip. The AT&T stadium has got a great view over the bay and some tasty fast food options – we got to have our first corndogs. The game was a bit boring – at one stage they went well over an hour without anyone hitting the ball, but the atmosphere made the experience worthwhile.

The next morning we had an early start – Jen was doing Parkrun, a 5km run that happens at 9am on Saturday mornings in parks all over the world. The San Francisco Parkrun is a lot smaller than Jen’s regular Coventry Parkrun, it is also the furthest west, so the last one in the world. The run was held at Chrissy Fields, a large park alongside the bay, from the city to the Golden Gate Bridge, so whilst Jen was running I was taking my first photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island. Jen finished 29th – technically her highest ever finishing position, but also the last in the world that day! We had breakfast with some of the other runners at Chrissy Fields, then walked along the bay to Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the main touristy areas of San Francisco. From there we took the old-school tram to the Ferry Building, which is now a hipster food market, where we had a tasty Mexican lunch. After lunch we had our first experience of the famous San Francisco Trolley Cars. We rode from Market Street, up California Street as far as China Town, then walked back to the hotel. After such a busy morning, we had a relaxing afternoon, a spot of shopping on Market Street and wine at the hotel (the hotel provides complimentary wine in reception from 5-6pm) before heading out to a highly recommended restaurant for dinner. The speciality at the Stinking Rose is garlic, but that didn’t seem to put people off, they were queuing out the door – even with a reservation we had to wait a while for our table. The food was worth the wait, we shared a sort of garlic fondue to start, then for main I had garlic meatloaf and Jen had forty clove garlic chicken.

Our second full day in San Francisco was a very touristy day, starting with a ride on the cable car to the top of Lombard Street. We walked down the iconic windy road and from there back to Fisherman’s Wharf where we boarded a boat for a cruise around the bay. We hadn’t been able to book on a tour of Alcatraz, but the cruise around the bay was a good alternative – we had a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge and learned a lot about the bay area. A highlight for me was seeing pelicans skimming across the water in tight formation. Later we had lunch at an amazing bakery; I had a pizza, although I think Jen’s chowder in a sourdough loaf looked like a better choice. After lunch we went to see the famous Pier 39 Sea Lions, they felt more like a tourist attraction than the sea lions in Monterey. Pier 39 was the closest we saw to a British seaside town. From Fisherman’s Wharf we got the restored 1930’s tram to Market Street, then transferred onto a modern tram across town to Golden Gate Park. The park was a lot calmer than either the touristy Fisherman’s Wharf or the hustle and bustle of Market Street, although when we got to the bottom of the park we stumbled across a music festival. My favourite part was the Japanese garden, which felt a lot like ones I have listed in Japan. To refuel after a long day of sightseeing we went to Mikkeller Bar, where we had food with beer pairings – very similar to when we were in Copenhagen a few years previously.

Monday started with a traditional diner breakfast – we needed the fuel, as we were off on a bike over the Golden Gate Bridge! After breakfast we got back on the cable car, all the way to Fishermans Wharf, where we collected our bikes for the day. We retraced our steps from Saturday to Chrissy Fields, and continued along the coast to Fort Point, an old military fort, pretty much underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort overlooked the narrow entrance to the bay – you could see why it was such a strategic point and why there would have been hundreds of cannons pointing out towards the water. From the fort it was a steep climb up to the Golden Gate viewing point, where we stopped for some photos before crossing the bridge. After climbing up the hill, riding across the bridge and down into Sausalito was easy. It was only when we got to Sausalito that we realised just how many people had cycled over the bridge – the town was full of bikes! We had a nice lunch in a deli and some drinks by the bay, before catching the ferry back to San Francisco. Just a word of warning for anyone doing this in future – the ride to Sausalito is either off road, or on quiet roads, but the ride back from the ferry to Fishermans Wharf is on the city roads – including tramlines. After freshening up at the hotel, we got the cable car back to Fisherman’s Wharf for another wine tasting. The wine tasting was even better than in Santa Barbara. I’m not a wine connoisseur, I rarely drink it, but even I could taste how good some of it was – we bought a zinfandel, which was by far the best wine I’ve ever tasted. We spent so long wine tasting that the restaurants on Fisherman’s Wharf  were pretty empty, but we managed to get our last clam chowder in a sourdough bowl of the trip.

We didn’t have anything planned for the last day of our honeymoon, our flight wasn’t until the late afternoon, so we had another walk around the shops on Market Street and Union Square. Following many recommendations from friends at home, we went to the Cheesecake Factory for our last meal in California. I tried to be healthy by having a salad, but even that was massive. I still had room left for a huge slice of Oreo Cheesecake, but only just.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 12: To San Francisco

Our last day with the Dodge Challenger started with another run up the CA-41 to Yosemite, then west along the CA-120 back towards San Francisco. There was a section of road west of Groveland which was a series of hairpin bends descending thousands of feet into the valley which I really enjoyed. So much for America only having straight roads!

We dropped the Challenger off at San Francisco airport having added 1677 miles onto the clock – it had been a great car for the trip. With the road trip done it was time to start the second part of our honeymoon, a long weekend in San Francisco.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 11: Yosemite

Our plan for today was to explore Yosemite. We decided to start at the visitor centre at Yosemite valley, which meant driving the CA41 – possibly my new favourite road, in 30 miles there is only one straight and that is through a tunnel! When we got to the visitor centre we discovered that they were celebrating 125 years since the park opened, complete with overhung star spangled banner and “America is great” speeches – so we left to hike up to another waterfall.

The hike to Vernal falls was classed as strenuous, so we wimped out and stopped at the viewing platform lower down the valley, which proved to be a good move. After seeing Vernal falls we walked to Mirror Lake (which isn’t actually a lake nor did it give any reflections) about halfway to the “lake” the heavens opened – we were soaked through. We finished the hike and went straight to the cafe for emergency hot chocolate and cookies. By the time we had finished those the rain had stopped, and although we were still damp, we were not keen to get any wetter so we decided to resume sightseeing from the car.

We retraced our route down CA41 as far as the Glacier Point turn off, which is a 17 mile road, again with lots of corners and gradient changes, ending at Glacier Point (no glacier to be seen). Glacier Point overlooks the whole Yosemite valley, so we were able to see Vernal falls and Mirror Lake, where we had been previously, as well as a great view of Half Dome mountain, one of the most famous peaks in the park. As a bonus, standing on windy cliff top managed to dry out our clothes from the rain earlier.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 10: Mammoth Lakes

Rainbow FallsMammoth is the only place we were staying for one night, so we had to get our exploring done before lunch. I had hoped to hire mountain bikes to try out the world famous bike park at Mammoth Mountain, but it had closed for 2015 the previous weekend – annoying. Instead we took the car up the mountain, first calling in at the earthquake fault, which isn’t an earthquake fault, but just a fissure in the earth’s surface – still impressive though. At 9,000 feet above sea level we struggled with walking in the thin air. Our next stop was Devil’s Postpile, a geological formation of basalt columns, thankfully lower down in the valley as there was a half mile hike in from the car park. A further two miles down the trail is Rainbow Falls, pictured above, which we continued on to. The forest is still recovering from a fire in 1992, so there was plenty of young growth on the ground – perfect for chipmunks to scurry around in, we enjoyed watching them as we walked through the forest.

Hiking done, we returned to Mammoth for more Mexican food at the Good Life Cafe before getting in the car and driving to Yosemite. Our route took us over the Tioga Pass, at 9,945 feet above sea level, with stunning views from each corner. The beautiful scenery and great roads continued all the way to our hotel at Wawona at the south end of Yosemite national park.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 9: Death Valley

Death Valley

This was our longest day on the road, from Las Vegas, through Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes. Before we set off we had breakfast at the Hexx restaurant at our hotel. As the terrace was in the shade we decided to sit outside, over looking the strip – perfect for people watching. The restaurant specialises in creative combinations, so I had their carrot cake pancakes, which were good, if a little big, and Jen had their take on eggs benedict.

Suitably fuelled, both us and the car, we set off to Death Valley. Even before we got into the national park the scenery was beautiful but it got even better inside the park, with multicoloured mountains rising either side of us. At Furnace Creek we took a diversion to Badwater – at 280 feet below sea level it is the lowest place in America. It was also bloody hot – 41°c, so we only stopped briefly for a few photos and a quick walk onto the salt flat. We returned to Furnace Creek via Artists Drive, a one way scenic road showing off the multi coloured mountains.

The next part of the drive along the Death Valley Scenic Byway (CA190) was one of the best roads I’ve driven, with dips, twists and hairpins. It reminded me of the old military road in Scotland, but obviously a lot warmer! The remaining slog up to our overnight stop at Mammoth Lakes seemed to take forever – it was 8 hours in the car in total, and the sun was setting as we arrived in town.

Tired from the drive, and the after effects of a few days in Las Vegas, we just took a stroll down the road to Roberto’s Mexican Cantina for what turned out to be a lovely, but very filling Mexican meal.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 8: Las Vegas

Las Vegas from above

Today was meant to be a chill out day in Las Vegas, but it isn’t really a place for chilling out, everything is so full on! We started our day at the breakfast buffet at the Bellagio. It was the most decadent self service restaurant I’ve ever seen, carrying on with the Italian theme from the rest of the casino. Pretty much all food groups were covered, but my highlight were the pancakes with caramelised peaches – surprisingly my first pancakes this trip. Breakfast was followed by a quick go on the fruit machines, then a walk round the miracle mile shops and sorting out tickets for a show in the evening.

By this time we needed to relax for a bit and cool off, so we went to the pool at our hotel, it was quite surreal swimming in the pool and looking up at the Eiffel Tower, I’ll admit that I preferred the view from swimming in Santa Barbara though. Suitably cooled down we took a trip up the Eiffel Tower for a great panoramic view of Las Vegas, unfortunately we’d timed it badly as we were too early to see the Bellagio fountains, which start at three o’clock. Next we braved the heat and madness of the strip to check out the Venetian hotel, complete with canal for gondola rides and replica of St Mark’s square – I imagine that this is the only time that the original would be madder than the Las Vegas recreation. We crossed the strip to return to our hotel, but ended up getting lost in the shops under Caesar’s Palace.

When we eventually made it back to our hotel we both felt like we needed to chill out for a while before heading back out. Before long it was time to walk back up the strip for our dinner reservation at St Mark’s square, where we enjoyed pizzas sat “outside” on the terrace, being serenaded by a band and watching all the tour groups coming past. After dinner we crossed the strip to the Mirage for roulette and cocktails before the show. We saw Cirque du Soleil’s Love, which is based on the Beatles music and was easily my highlight of Las Vegas, the choreography and acrobatics were amazing. We finished off our day in Las Vegas with sore feet – we walked over 23,000 steps – but happy watching the last performance of the Bellagio fountains from our suite.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 7: Driving to Las Vegas

Paris Las Vegas

This was another long day on the road, from Santa Monica, by the Pacific Ocean to Las Vegas in the Nevada desert. After a light breakfast I drove the first stint through Los Angeles and onto the i15. Leaving Los Angeles on Sunday morning worked well, the traffic on the freeway was flowing nicely and we reached our lunch stop near Barstow in about two and a half hours.

Barstow seemed like one of these forgotten desert towns, but I’d heard that Peggy Sue’s 50’s Diner was the best place to stop and it certainly lived up to its reputation. The food was good and it has also turned itself into a tourist attraction in its own right with a diner-saur park and gift shop.

After lunch Jen took over driving duties and got us across the state line to Nevada, where I resumed driving and took us on a detour to see Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam – which meant we also crossed into Arizona, so 3 states in one day!

Driving back from the dam towards Las Vegas we got more and more excited as each of the landmarks became visible on the horizon, but it was only when we turned onto the strip that we got the full effect and realised just how crazy this city is. We checked into our hotel – Paris – and decided to upgrade to a suite, it was expensive but the views over the Eiffel Tower and Bellagio fountains were worth it. I’m slightly concerned that Jen is getting a taste for hotel suites though!

One thing we learned fairly early on is that reservations are needed for the popular dinner spots, so we ended up doing an impromptu tour of the strip looking for somewhere to have dinner, eventually ending up at Gallagher’s in the New York New York casino. It was worth the walk – we both had huge steaks which were delicious.