Leisure Lakes Demo Day 2016

Orange P7
As I had such a good time at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day last year, I made sure that I would be attending this year too! When I got there I went straight to the Orange stand, hoping to try a Four – seemingly along with everyone else! When I got the front of the queue all they had in my size was a Crush, keen to get out I took it for a spin. I enjoyed the bike and seemed to get a lot of PRs on Strava, although looking at the trace when I got home it seemed a bit fishy, skipping a few sections out. Dropping the Crush back I clocked a nice looking P7, which I didn’t realise Orange had brought back.

The next bike I wanted to try was a fat bike, I’d noticed Cube had some, but the person in front of me took the last one out. Gutted. I settled for a Stereo 140 Race, which is a potential next bike. The spec was good, full XT 2 x11 and a dropper post – my next bike will have one of those! This being only the second time I’ve ridden a full suss bike, it was a lot smoother than the hardtails, especially on braking bumps. There was one section, into and out of a dip where the Cube was the only bike I didn’t lose traction on and made it up the other side. The bad point was all the pedal strikes, I was on slightly chunky DMR V8 pedals, but the pedals were striking way too often. I didn’t notice strikes with the other bikes.

I headed back to Orange to try my luck getting a Four, but settled on the P7 I’d spied earlier. Not having ridden a steel framed bike before, it was interesting to test one with almost the same geometry as the Crush I’d ridden earlier. The spec on the P7 was better though, SRAM 1×11 with Pikes and a dropper post. The SRAM shifter took some getting used to, but not enough that I’d rule out a bike because it had SRAM. The P7 felt more fun than the Crush and even had me thinking that an expensive hardtail would be a better bet than a cheap full suss for my next bike. It was also the only bike I took a picture of.

The event seemed better organised than last year, especially signing on. The route was better too, with less fire road, although the long rooty section was particularly energy sapping. I’m not any clearer on what my next bike should be an I didn’t intend on writing that much, but it was a fun day out.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 7: Driving to 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 early on is that you need to make a reservation for the popular dinner spots. 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.

Honeymoon Roadtrip Day 5: Los Angeles

Santa Monica Ferris wheel selfie

Our last morning in Santa Barbara started with a light breakfast and a walk along the harbour. The reason for the light breakfast was that we had planned to call at In-n-Out burger for lunch. We’d chosen the In-n-Out burger on Sunset Boulevard, but also a diversion along Mulholland Drive. After a few wrong turns we eventually got the right road, which was suitably twisty with great views from between the mansions and our first glimpse of the famous Hollywood sign.

After our Double Double burgers, which were good, but I thought didn’t quite live up to the hype, we drove via Hollywood Boulevard to the Griffith Observatory for more views over Los Angeles, including the Hollywood sign. From this vantage point you can really see just how big the city is – we couldn’t even see the ocean, yet the city stretched out all around us.

By this point it was mid afternoon, and wary of the notorious Los Angeles traffic we set off for Santa Monica and the Georgian Hotel on the sea front. En-route we passed or drove on famous streets such as Santa Monica Boulevard, Wilshire and Rodeo Drive. Upon checking in we were told that our room had been upgraded to a suite after I’d tweeted the hotel letting them know it is our honeymoon – I will have to try that at other hotels!

We spent the evening hanging out around the hotel, Santa Monica pier is only a couple of blocks away and felt more like the piers I’m used to from the UK with arcades and amusements. We went on the big wheel for a view down the coast to Venice Beach and beyond.

We watched the sunset from the veranda at the hotel, drinking cocktails- a great way to end the day.

MR2 Roadtrip Day 6: To Scarborough

MR2 on the North York Moors

Before we loaded up the MR2 for the first leg of our journey south, Jen wanted to take part in the Perth park run, a timed 5km race around the North Inch park, next to the River Tay. I went along to watch, and Jen put in a decent time.

After all that running (and watching) a treat was required, so our first stop was at S Luca’s ice cream parlour in Musselburgh- a favourite of my Dad from his youth, which is still great today! As ever, the detour was worth it!

Jen drive the second stint from Musselburgh, down the east coast on the A1 and across the border to England. This part of the country is often skipped by more direct routes, but looked absolutely stunning in the sunshine. I then took over for a double stint to get us to Scarborough, via the Tyne Tunnel, Teeside and the North York Moors, where the photo above was taken. Although not quite as impressive as the Scottish Moors, it was great to see the moors in the glorious weather we had yesterday. Much better than our previous visit in the MR2, where we could just about see the end of the bonnet. It was slightly disconcerting to see the sheer drop to the side of the road, which we hadn’t been able to see in the fog last time!

In Scarborough we met up with Jen’s family and celebrated her cousin’s 50th birthday at the local cricket club.

Distance so far: 1182 miles.

MR2 Roadtrip days 4 and 5: Back to Perth

Falkirk Wheel

After breakfast on day four we packed up the MR2 to return to Perth, on our way out of Wester Ross we stopped at Plockton, which despite being on the west of Scotland faces east, the sheltered location actually means that palm trees can grow and there were quite a few dotted around the village.

From Plockton we joined the A87 then A82, which we followed down to the Nevis Range near Fort William, the only Scottish ski hill I’d not previously visited. I was very impressed with the mountain bike facilities they offer, the lift served, red graded XC trail sounded particularly interesting – I need to bring my bike to Scotland in the future!

Next we met one of Jen’s friends for lunch before hitting the so called Scotsburgring around Loch Leven. The road around the loch used to be the main road, but has now been bypassed by a bridge, so I practically had the twisty road to myself. I was enjoying the road so much I didn’t get a chance to stop for a photo, somehow Jen managed to sleep through most of the lap too. If you’re even on the A82 between Glencoe and Fort William it is well worth taking the old road around the loch, if you enjoy driving you won’t be disappointed!

The traffic gods were on our side for the next bit of road, up Glencoe and over Rannoch Moor, we had a clear road and stunning views in front of us. We seemed to have used up all our luck with the traffic on the prettiest bit of road, as when we turned onto the A85 towards Perth we got stuck behind a succession of slow moving vehicles all the way to Perth, which was especially agonising as we knew there was a haggis supper waiting for us on arrival! It had been a long day on the road, and I’d even managed to get sunburnt, in Scotland, in April, but the haggis supper, washed down with a can of Irn Bru was a perfect end to the day!

Day five was a rest day in Perth, to spend time with my parents. The morning was pretty chilled out, we had a mooch around town, with tea and cakes at a new cafe in a furniture shop – much better than it sounds. After lunch, which was smoked salmon we’d brought back from Shieldaig, we all got into my Dad’s Mercedes convertible and went to a trip to the Falkirk Wheel. At least the MR2 was having a rest! The Falkirk Wheel was worth the journey, it is a rotating boat lift, linking two canals, which were previously linked with a flight of eleven locks. The structure itself is an impressive feat of engineering, standing 35m tall, meeting an aqueduct jutting out from the hillside. The land around the basin at the bottom of the lift has also benefited from redevelopment and was full of people enjoying the sunshine. Of course, they were offering boat trips to experience the lift and as we’d gone all the way there it would have been rude not to go on one! Going up the lift was good, but on the return journey it was surreal to be going along the aqueduct into what looked like thin air! Fortunately we didn’t sail over the edge and the lift deposited us safely back in the lower basin.

Total (MR2) distance: 920 miles.

MR2 Roadtrip Day 3: Applecross 

MR2 on the Bealach Na Ba

After a tasty breakfast we dropped the roof on the MR2 and set off towards Applecross via the Bealach Na Ba, the road with the greatest climb in the UK – sea level to 2,053ft. By the time we’d got to the bottom of the pass we’d already stopped to put the roof back up as it was raining. This set the scene for the day, I lost count of how many times the roof went up or down. As we climbed up the pass, the rain turned to snow, not what we were expecting!

By the time we reached Applecross the sun was out again, we went for a light lunch at the walled garden, before exploring the grounds of Applecross House on foot. From Applecross we followed the coast road round to Shieldaig, briefly interrupted by some highland cows in the road. Again, we managed to time our arrival to Shieldaig with a gap in the weather, we sat outside the new Nanny’s shop having an ice cream in the sun – perfect!

We returned to Applecross, via the Bealach Na Ba in much nicer weather, for dinner at the famous Applecross Inn. It was good to see that so many of the items on the menu were sourced from around the village. I can confirm that the local scallops are very tasty. We retuned to our chalet in Lochcarron, but this trip over the pass had an audience – the local stag population were lining the road, much to Jen’s excitement.

Distance so far: 678 miles. 

MR2 Roadtrip Day 2: Old Military Road

MR2 on the Old Military Road

Our first proper day in the highlands started off very much like our 2012 trip, along the A93 and A939, past Glenshee and The Lecht ski hills. This is the route Evo magazine made a film about, and although I didn’t have an Aston Martin, I really enjoyed the drive – the MR2 was made for roads like these!

After the excitement of The Old Military Road, we stopped in Grantown on Spey for lunch, I went for that finest of Scottish delicacies – the macaroni pie! Tasty. Our next stop was at the Tomatin distillery, just off the A9. The plan has been just to pop into the shop, but we ended up on a very surreal tour with a coach load of French tourists, then a separate private tour/tasting and a sample of their 1988 malt to take away with us (which I’m enjoying as I type). The remaining boot space in the MR2 was also filled with purchases from the gift shop.

By this time we were running late, so drove past Loch Ness to our overnight stop at Lochcarron. The drive past Loch Ness and on towards Kyle of Lochalsh, then round Loch Carron would have been better without the rain, hopefully our return journey will be better. For those interested, we didn’t see Nessie, which I’m also going to blame on the rain, even the hardiest of Scottish mythical monsters wouldn’t have wanted to be out in it!

Total distance: 569 miles.

MR2 Roadtrip Day 1: The long drive north

MR2 Roadtrip selfie

The first day of a Scottish roadtrip is always the long slog up the M6, fortunately the traffic was good today and we made it up in under 6 hours including stops. 

As our itinerary for the week includes some of the best driving roads in the country (and possibly the world) I’m particularly excited to be driving the MR2, it isn’t the most refined car, but should come alive on the highland roads. On the other hand, Jen doesn’t really understand why “we are going on holiday to a country where it rains all the time, in a car she can’t fit all her luggage in”…

Total distance: 347 miles (at 41.46mpg a new record). 

Tokyo Tower and Odaiba

Odaiba from Rainbow Bridge

I originally wrote this post on a flight back from Japan a few weeks back, but didn’t get round to posting it with the excitement of being back home. I’ve just found it in the drafts folder, so thought I’d press publish!

I have been over in Japan for business again and had a weekend free in Tokyo with my boss and his boss.

On Saturday we visited Tokyo Tower – which looks like the Eiffel Tower, but white and red. We went to the highest observatory, at 250m and had a great view over Tokyo. We got to the top just as it was getting dark and the city’s lights were turning on – perfect timing! The best light show of the evening was over the rainbow bridge on the artificial island of Odaiba – so we decided to spend our Sunday there.

Our first stop on Odaiba was Tokyo Megaweb, although we got there a bit early, so killed time by going on the big wheel next to it. That is the big wheel on the photo at the top of this post. This was actually a good move, as the big wheel is one of the tallest structures on Odaiba, we had a good view of not only the local buildings, such as the Fuji TV building, but also over the rainbow bridge to the main areas of Tokyo. We had gone up in a clear capsule, which was great for all round visibility, but slightly too hazy to be worth taking photographs out of – so all I can do is recommend that you check it out if you’re ever in Tokyo!

By the time we’d been round on the big wheel Mega Web was open, we had a look at the new Toyotas, before going to the classic garage at the other side of the shopping centre. I was surprised to see that the exhibits had been rearranged since my visit earlier in the year. A Ferrari Dino 248 had been added, which was one of my highlights, along with the Toyota AE86, Lotus Élan and Fiat 500.

After spending the morning looking at cars we had lunch, before walking to the rainbow bridge, via the Statue of Liberty and the beach! The mile long walk over rainbow bridge is another great way to get a view of the Tokyo skyline, especially as it is free! We decided we would walk over the bridge and back so we could see from both sides, we went via the south side, with views over Odaiba and the bay and returned on the north side, which faces the city. The photo at the top of this post is from the way out, looking back towards Odaiba, the building on the right of the shot is the Fuji TV building – apparently the ball is another observatory, which I will visit on my next trip to Japan.

Garage build – preparation done

Where the garage will goThe preparation for the garage build is complete, over the last few weeks since my last post, we have been busy – two skips have been filled with the garage and its contents, one run to the tip, cleared the route for a trench (for the electrics), built a raised bed and filled it with topsoil from the old vegetable plot (which will become a path when the new garage is built). The biggest job was building the raised bed, although I did get some help from Jen: Jen building the raised bed We used a custom kit from Woodblocx, which consists of pre cut and drilled treated sleepers and plastic pegs to hold them together. I was really impressed with them, although it wasn’t quite as easy as building with Lego, as I had been expecting – the pegs took a fair amount of hammering to fit, then the next layer of wood also needed a lot of hammering to fit into the pegs, but the end result is solid. We filled the bed with ten wheelbarrows of soil from the old vegetable plot at the top of the garden, which we sieved before adding to the bed. We replanted the strawberries, rosemary and thyme, which were in the old bed and added oregano, three different varieties of chilli plant and leeks, which I’ve grown from seed.

Raised bed complete

The builders and electrician are arriving at 08:30 tomorrow to start work, of course I’ll regularly update the blog with progress.