Llandegla on the First Day of Spring

After what felt like weeks of snow and horrible weather, spring finally decided to show its face, as the UK changed our clocks to British Summer Time. Fortunately this coincided with a day I’d set aside for mountain biking. Llandegla was a last minute decision, mainly based on having a good weather forecast and the cafe posting some tasty looking burgers on their social media. With the clocks changing, and my usual faffing at home it was 10:00 before I set off (I really need to get better at getting out the house!), meaning I didn’t arrive in North Wales until lunchtime.

I didn’t hang around getting onto the trails, as I wanted to get a lap of the red trail done before lunch, although I did find time to buy some new gloves from the shop. Without even realising it, I made it most of the way up the 5km long first climb that I’d struggled with last summer, and my legs still felt fine! I continued to the top of the trail, barely believing how much my fitness had improved since last summer!

The first section of the trail was pretty muddy – when I stopped at the end to tweak my suspension, I was covered head to toe in mud including my 30 minute old gloves. Whilst I was stopped I had a chat with a couple of other riders, it turned out one of them lives less than a mile from me in Coventry.

Happier with my suspension settings, I carried on down the trail to the Snowdon viewpoint. I remember having to stop for a breather a couple of times on this section on my last visit, as even though it was down hill, it was still tough going. However this time, I was able to keep going and faster than before too. As it was a clear day I had a good view of Snowdon, which had a dusting of snow on the top. It was at this point I went to get some jelly babies from my bag, annoyingly they had vanished – possibly a sign that I need to buy a new bag, rather than taping up the holes with gaffer tape…

There was a diversion on the next section, I was hoping that it would miss out the Double Steep Climb section, unfortunately it didn’t. After feeling good about my fitness, the short but steep climb put me back in my place – I had to get off and push. The next section was fast and downhill up to the decision point to B Line, there were only a few other riders on the trail, and I was seriously enjoying myself. There had been a lot of forestry work since my last visit, so even though I’d ridden the trail before it all felt new.

I decided against riding B Line, as I’d ridden it on my previous visit, it was at the top of my abilities and I wanted to ride the full red trail. This section of trail had a few line choices, with various jumps and drop offs, I wasn’t expecting to have to choose obstacles, but made my way through without any mishaps. I like the idea of different lines that don’t necessarily increase in difficulty. Back on the main trail I joined a group of ten or so riders and felt like both myself and my bike were coping well with the steep, rough downhill sections, but in the back of my mind was the brutal climb back up to the reservoir. The whole group seemed to be riding at roughly the same pace, and struggling on the same climbs, so I didn’t feel so bad on the few occasions where I had to get off and push – as I wasn’t on my own.

For some reason I had forgotten about the climb after the reservoir on Julia’s Trail, I was expecting it to be all downhill from there – it probably didn’t help that I was getting hungry by this point! I also managed to get caught behind an e-biker, she was able to pull away from me on the climbs, but held me up on the downhills, until she eventually let me past. It reminded me a bit of the “fast car” on a trackday scenario – my little MR2 is slow on the straights, but can carry a lot of speed through the corners, so I am sometimes held up in corners, but not fast enough to pass on the straights. Without anyone in front of me, the ride back to the trailhead – and my lunch – was fast and fun!

The special burger that had been shared on social media wasn’t on the menu, but after a tough ride the standard burger went down well, washed down with a can of Irn Bru. As the sun was out, it was nice to be able to sit outside to eat my lunch.

With a full belly, I set off back up the hill to ride the blue trail, once again making it up to the top of the hill in in one hit. The blue trail is much flowier, with smoother trails and fewer climbs it is so much fun to ride! The blue trail starts after the muddy section of the red trail, with a bermed hairpin sending you back through a cleared part of the forest, which is quite an eerie landscape. The only problem is that this part of the trail is too fun for photo stops! I finally pulled up at the end of the section for the photo at the top of this post.

I followed the blue trail back down the hill, mostly on my own, other than passing a few dads out with their boys, which made me miss Owen, and look forward to being able to ride with him one day. Close to the bottom of the hill I took a diversion off the trail to visit the pump track. I did a few laps, alternating with a little boy, probably only a few months older than Owen, on his balance bike and his Dad. They were having so much fun, going round the trail together – that should be me and Owen by the end of the summer and I can’t wait!

I hadn’t ridden the last section of the blue trail from the pump track to the car park previously and it has so much fun, a perfect end to the ride!


Top Five from 2017

At the start of each year the photography forum on PistonHeads.com encourages users to share their top five photos from the previous year. It is a good opportunity to revisit my photos and share some that may not otherwise have made it into a blog post.

Here are my top five from 2017:

Owen looked so cute in the Woody outfit, it was when he was just starting to crawl and he thought the game was to crawl towards me and grab the camera.

When we were in Croyde I had a free morning where I was able to sneak out for some photography. This panorama was taken from the spot where I proposed to Jen, and is my favourite view anywhere. Click through to Flickr to see a larger version.

This was taken on the front camera of my iPhone, so won’t win any best photograph awards, but I love having a photo capturing all three generations. I know Owen likes it too, as my parents have a print of it in their house and he always points at it, exclaiming “Daddy” and “Papa” – he hasn’t learned to say grandpa yet, so calls my dad Papa.

Taken with my GoPro on holiday in Cyprus, I love the colours on the underwater part.

I just happened to have my camera in my hand when Gill brought Jen’s birthday cake into the room, so was really pleased that I managed to capture this.

I have also posted my top five from 2012 and top five from 2016.

2018

Happy new year! 2018 started quietly for us, at home with Jen’s best friend, whilst Owen slept upstairs. It wasn’t a wild night, I knew that I would need to get up with Owen in the morning. I’ve always been more excited about New Year’s Day than New Year’s Eve. I prefer getting outside and doing something to an expensive and overhyped night out.

Owen let me have a relative lie in – until 7:30, although later would have been nice. Jen had a slightly longer lie in, but had to get up for park run. After porridge for breakfast, we all set off for Kingsbury Waterpark, for Jen to do Parkrun. Owen fell asleep in the car on the way, which wasn’t ideal. When he woke up we had a walk around the waterpark to cheer Jen on at various points on her run – well, I pushed Owen in his pushchair. I had some proud dad moments, as Owen seemed to get excited whenever he saw someone on a bike – pointing at them and shouting “bike” excitedly. We had planned on going to the playground, and I’d brought my camera along to take some cute photographs of Owen but it started raining and it was cold, so we came straight home. Typically, the weather had improved by the time we got home.

I took advantage of the nicer weather to get out on my bike – just a local ride around my urban woodland loop. It was hard work as the trails were particularly muddy and I really felt like I’d ridden more than 16km by the time I got home. A cup of tea and slice of Jen’s Christmas cake was very welcome after I’d removed the covering of mud from both my bike and myself. We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Owen. A great start to 2018!

Last year will be a tough act to follow, but there is still plenty to look forward to: a trip to France with my family, our usual visit to Croyde and a weekend in Chester to visit the zoo. Most excitingly we will be going to San Sebastian in Spain to meet up with our friends Nicki and Mat, who we haven’t seen since our wedding in 2015, as they live in Australia. Jen and I visited San Sebastian on our first holiday together, in 2010, and have been wanting to return ever since. We loved the food and the atmosphere in the town, it just felt like our sort of place. The main beach is in a sheltered bay, but there is also a surfing beach across the river – a great set up for a family holiday. I’m also planning a mountain biking trip to Scotland with my friend Ali. We have done some groundwork for most of these trips, but we will have the excitement of finalising plans over the next few weeks. Aside from all of these trips away I’m heading back to work after the Christmas break with some exciting projects to get my teeth into, although I will still be having Fridays off to hang out with Owen – which is usually the highlight of my week.

At this time last year I set myself some goals for 2017, which gave me focus for the year, so thought I’d do the same for 2018:

Get my weight down to 85kg

I made good progress in 2017, so I want to continue and get to the weight I was when I was 18. I think it is doable, as I’ve been losing weight consistently over the last six months. Jen got me some Withings (now Nokia) connected scales for my birthday in 2016 and they have been a great motivator to losing weight.

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

This is a difficult one to quantify, but when I got back on my bike after six weeks off I could feel that my fitness level had dropped. Hopefully it won’t take too long to get back to where I was. I kept up my training schedule while I was injured, replacing my usual exercises with knee strengthening exercises, so I’ve already cleared the first hurdle.

Improve my MTB skills

2017 was the year of improving my fitness, I want 2018 to be the year of improving my bike skills. I’d like to learn wheelies, manuals, endos, bunnyhops and other trials type skills that can carry over to trail riding. Owen will be getting a balance bike in the summer, so hopefully I’ll be taking him to the pump track/skatepark – a good opportunity for me to improve my riding too! I had intended on getting some skills training three years ago, but felt I didn’t have the fitness to back it up – I do now!

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

The “Harry” rock garden is where I had the crash that injured my knee. I’ve never felt like I can ride that section confidently, and it has now replaced “Cardiac Hill” as my nemesis. Hopefully the skills training mentioned above will help with this.

Ride at a new trail centre

I liked this goal from last year, so added it again. My trip to Scotland with Ali should give allow me to complete this goal.

Ride more natural terrain

In 2017 I enjoyed my rides in the Cotswolds and the North York Moors, and I know there is even better natural terrain in places like the Peak District and the Long Mynd. Both are nearer to Coventry than a lot of trail centres too.

Do some trail maintenance

I’ve enjoyed riding my mountain bike for the last few years, but aside from removing the odd fallen tree I haven’t put much back in for everyone else. Whilst I’m not up to full riding fitness I’m going to join a trail maintenance session at Cannock Chase – the trails there are all maintained by volunteers! I’ll also have a few rides locally where I focus on improving the trails.

Drive the MR2 more

Last year the MR2 took a bit of a backseat, when I had any free time I was out on my bike.  This needs to change in 2018 – even if it does mean riding my bike less. Last year I wanted to do a track day at a new track, but I think just doing a track day will be difficult enough, hopefully I can squeeze one in.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

My iPhone takes decent photos, but whenever I use my DSLR I’m reminded just how much better the picture quality is! Last year it was mostly used for taking pictures of Owen, but I’d like to take it out with me on a bike ride to take some landscape shots.

I would like to get some photos of myself riding – I’ve only got one, from 2015. It would also be nice to get my Orange Four in the GMBN Bike Vault, along with my Vitus (and Owen).

Learn to juggle

I’ve noticed that both Nino Schurter and Jolanda Neff use juggling as part of their training – so if it is good enough for Mountain Bike XC world champions…

There is also the showing off aspect, I’m sure Owen would be very impressed if I could juggle! He bought me some juggling balls for Christmas, so I’ve already made a start on this goal. I’m at the stage of throwing one ball from my right hand to my left hand, and back again – with my eyes closed. It is a lot harder than it sounds! However, I’m sure juggling is the sort of thing where it is important to get the fundamentals right – such as accurate repeatable throws.

A Look Back at 2017

2017 is going to be a tough year to top! The main highlight was taking 9 weeks parental leave to spend with Owen – I’m not sure I’ll get another chance to take such a long break from work again and it was great bonding time with the wee man at such a key point in his development. If any fathers to be are reading this and are considering taking shared parental leave I’d seriously recommend it, and also checking out the series of blog posts I did documenting my time off!

The first few months of the year, before my paternity leave started were fairly standard, I took the MR2 to a few Pistonheads events – a visit to Prodrive and took it on track at Silverstone. I also had my annual trip to the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, which proved to be quite a key day for me.

The spring was by far the best time of year – I was on paternity leave and in addition to spending every day with Owen I managed to fit in a wedding, some climbing, a big bike ride in the Cotswolds, project managing a garden renovation, a holiday in Croyde all culminating with Owen’s first birthday party! I think it is pretty safe to say that I made the most of my paternity leave!

Summer was all about mountain biking – starting off with buying my dream bike! 15 year old Lewis would have been very excited at having an Orange mountain bike, a full suspension Orange mountain bike would have seemed other worldly! I hadn’t planned on buying one, but after demoing one at the Leisure Lakes Demo Day, I had to have one. This meant my old bike could be fitted with a child seat for Owen, and he seemed to like his rides round Draycote Water and along the Monsal Trail. Owen even managed to sneak into the GMBN Bike Vault! We also had a fun trip to North Yorkshire for Jen to run the York 10km race, me to ride my bike on the North York Moors and Owen to share his stomach bug with everyone we met. I also started to settle into my new four day week at work. It has meant a pay cut, which isn’t ideal, but getting to spend the extra time with Owen has been worth it. Fridays usually start off with mountain bike videos, then Owen’s swimming lesson followed by a nap. Then lunch, a walk to the butchers and/or the park before waiting for Jen to get back from work.

The main event in autumn was our trip to Cyprus for my best friend Partho’s wedding, after the initial stress of getting there, we had a great time, both at the wedding in Limassol and relaxing in Protaras afterwards. There were so many firsts for Owen, the big one being his first flight on aeroplane, and he coped well with all of the new experiences. After getting back from Cyprus I had my best bike ride ever, a loop of the Monkey Trail at Cannock Chase where everything just clicked. Unfortunately I had a really bad ride back at Cannock Chase a few weeks later. I came off my bike on a tricky section of trail, aggravating an old knee injury. This happened at the top of a hill, at the furthest point of the trail from the car park. I managed to gently ride back to the car, mostly annoyed that I’d done all the hard work climbing, but missed out on the fun descents. However, when I got out of the car at home my knee had swollen up and I was in a fair bit of pain. It took about a month, and a lot of exercises from the physio to get the full range of motion back, but it is on the mend now.

At least my injury coincided with the bad weather, so I didn’t feel too bad about spending my evenings at home at my computer, working on websites and generally being a geek. We also won a new project at work which has been keeping me occupied, so I’ve not missed mountain biking as much as I thought I would. I did manage to take a trip to the Ferrari exhibition at the Design Museum in London with my Dad. Christmas was an extra special time now that Owen can appreciate what is going on, I don’t think he understood exactly what was happening, but he certainly liked having an advent calendar, the brightly coloured tree in our living room and seeing Santa Claus in the run up to Christmas. He also enjoyed being the centre of attention throughout the festive period, spending time with his aunts and uncle and especially all the new toys that arrived for him! I’m sure next year will be even more special again, as Owen starts to understand what is going on. After Christmas I was able to get back on my bike for a short local ride but mostly enjoyed spending time at home with Jen and Owen.

At the start of the year I set myself six goals on my look ahead to 2017 blog post, I feel like I’ve done pretty well in meeting them:

Get my weight under 90kg – and keep it there

I currently weigh 87kg and have been under 90kg for over six months. When I reviewed my goals in June I set a stretch goal to keep my weight below 87.5kg, which I have just about managed.

Do a trackday at a new track in the MR2

Must try harder in 2018! I’ve barely driven the MR2, and only did one track session at Silverstone.

Ride my bike at a new trail centre

Llandegla was hard but awesome, I’m looking forward to a return trip.

Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase in one ride

Yes. I also had some good rides in the Cotswolds on natural terrain.

Get out on my bike with my camera

I took my compact camera out with me on a few rides, but what I really wanted to do was a proper photography mission on my bike, which I didn’t get around to. Another one to carry over to 2018!

Make yoga a part of my weekly routine

I wouldn’t say yoga is part of my weekly routine yet, but it is getting there. I did have a few months of practicing yoga two or three times a week, but when I injured my knee at the beginning of November I let the yoga slip, as I just didn’t have the required mobility in my leg. Yoga has been replaced by knee exercises from the physio, along with some upper body weight training, but I’ll be looking to phase the yoga back in over the next few weeks.

Aside from the goals I laid out at the start of the year I feel like I have accomplished a fair amount, especially as I’ve had to balance work, family life, training and personal projects, which was an accomplishment in itself. I’m most proud of how much my fitness had improved over the first ten months of the year, I seem to notice it most at places I ride my bike occasionally, such as Cannock Chase, I found myself riding straight past places where I would have normally had to stop for a breather. Hopefully six weeks off the bike hasn’t undone all of that good work! At the start of the year I said I wanted to clock 100 active days, do at least 1x Everest climbing and log more kilometres on the bike that my best friend Partho. Even with six weeks off the bike I managed 100 active days, although two off them were swims, 1.8x Everest of climbing and most importably rode over 400km more than Partho. Up until my knee injury I had ridden my bike at least once a week from the second week of the year, which probably had a lot to do with my improved fitness.

I have been trying to expand my technical skillset, from front end developer to full stack developer, this blog has been moved to an AWS EC2 instance, which has taught me a lot about running a web server and has lead to a few other interesting projects. I have also been brushing up my PHP and MySQL skills, which I hadn’t used since graduating from university in 2007, at the moment I’ve only been using it for a small personal project, but it is something that could expand one day…

I also feel like I’ve shared in Owen’s many accomplishments this year – he has said his first words, taken his first steps, been on his first bike rides and charmed every person he has met. He is also turning into a little petrolhead, “car” seems to be his word for anything he likes and he could happily play with cars all day. I wonder where he gets that from…

Back on the Bike

I came off my bike at Cannock Chase last month, aggravating an old knee injury (ruptured ACL), which has kept me off the bike for six weeks. I kept myself busy with some geeky projects, exercises from the physio and servicing my old hardtail, but what I really wanted to be doing was blasting down some single track on my bike. I had decided that I would wait for the OK from the medical professionals before restarting any exercise, unless it dragged on past Christmas…

With the festivities out of the way, and no update on even when I’d get the results from my MRI, I decided to head out for a gentle local ride. The only slight problem was that snow from the day before was still on the ground and there had been a hard frost. However, it was a lovely sunny winter day and it would have been a shame to waste it by staying inside. Usually I would have taken my old hardtail for this sort of local ride, but despite having had six weeks to work on it, it was still in bits in the garage, awaiting some spares – but that is a whole other story. In any case my Orange Four was probably more suitable for this particular ride, with suspension to reduce the stress on my knee and knobblier tyres for the muddy trails. Who cares if I was totally over-biked for a gentle ride around the city!

It felt good to be back in the saddle, even just riding along the lane behind my house, crunching through frozen puddles. However, I knew the first real test would be the climb up the bridleway next to the Co-op, known as “Dog Poo Alley”. As I got into the climb I could feel a slight reminder from my knee that it wasn’t right, but I wouldn’t describe it as pain. I was more concerned by my legs and lungs! A combination of six weeks off the bike, freezing temperatures and lack of warm up before a climb meant that both my legs and lungs were burning – on a climb I usually breeze up! The low winter light coming through the trees in Hearsall Woods necessitated a stop for photos – I still need to get my Four into the GMBN Bike Vault with my Vitus hardtail. I then had the brilliant idea to check out a clearing in the woods, which I hoped would still be covered in snow – as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, I was in luck! Riding away from the clearing I found a fun bit of trail with roots and berms – I couldn’t believe that I’d been missing out this section for years.

The next section of my ride was uneventful. At Canley Ford I opted to miss out the “Milkbar trail”, as it is quite rooty and twisty, so I stuck to the tarmac lane. My plan had been to ride round the Memorial Park, as an easy way to add some distance to the ride. When I got there the perimeter path looked like an ice rink, so I decided that the muddy trail through the woods would be safer. I haven’t had much luck with this section of woods this year – a tree fell onto the main trail in the spring and thus far I haven’t found a way through without having to get off the bike and climb over fallen branches – this ride was no different.

After crossing the Kenilworth Road, I resisted the temptation of the dirt jumps and followed the trail to Earlsdon Avenue South, where I had to stop for a breather. I was really feeling the six weeks I’d had off the bike. From there it was road to Hearsall Common, where I had fun breaking through the ice on some frozen puddles – something that never gets old. Then back through Hearsall Woods and down Dog Poo Alley. As I was near the end of my ride, I decided to drop my seat and really push on the pedals to see how my knee would react. It coped, but it wasn’t happy about it, most of the ride my knee felt fine, but when I was standing on the pedals it didn’t feel right. It didn’t hurt, but it was more a reminder to not push things too quickly.

I rolled back home, covered in mud, but happy that my knee had held up and that I’d survived the icy conditions. It is also good to know that my knee is recovering, I won’t be heading back to Cannock Chase to conquer the rock garden that caused the injury for a little while, but hopefully I should be able to get out and rack up some base miles to get my fitness back to where it was at the start of November.

Ferrari: Under the Skin at the Design Museum

The Design Museum, now in Kensington, currently has an exhibition called Ferrari: Under the Skin, all about the brand and most importantly – their cars. So when my Dad suggest a trip to London to see it, I didn’t take much convincing – especially as he’d planned it to coincide with Porsche night at the Ace Cafe!

The journey to the Design Museum took in car (Porsche of course), tube and bus. Whenever I’m in London I’m reminded how lucky I am to live in Coventry, walking/cycling distance from most places I need to go – getting round London is a faff. A very slow faff. I was impressed that I could travel on the tube and bus, just by waving my iPhone at the machine though.

The Design Museum’s new location is impressive in itself and much bigger than the old site near the Tower of London, that I visited with Jen in 2015, for their bike exhibition. We were on a tight schedule, so unfortunately only had time to look at the Ferrari exhibition. The first few sections were about Enzo Ferrari and the background to the formation and early years of his most famous racing team. I particularly liked the original design drawings from the 1950’s. I work with automotive CAD at work, so seeing similar drawings done by hand was very impressive. The next section – about the design/construction of Ferraris, as an automotive geek I was in heaven. There were wooden, wireframe and clay styling bucks from over the years, a rolling chassis from a 250 GT and various bits of engines, paired up as rough castings and finished parts. I love seeing how cars are put together!

The rest of the exhibition was cars, first road cars, including the gorgeous 275 GTB4 (the blue one in the photo), which was my favourite. Then race cars, on a large banking, starting with the Ferrari 500 F2, which Alberto Ascari drove to victory at the F1 championships in 1952 and 1953 to the Ferrari F1-2000 driven by Michael Schumacher, which also won a world championship. The F1 cars were impressive, but I liked how close to the road cars the GT cars were, including one which Stirling Moss won the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, whilst listening to the race commentary on the radio! The final part of the exhibition was “the future” and the star car was a white LaFerrari Aperta – one of only 200, this one owned by chef Gordon Ramsay.

The car that made me smile the most though, and grab my phone to get a photo, was the little Fiat 500 driving up Kensington High Street, at rush hour, in the rain. I love seeing classic cars being used, but after having driven one I had even more respect for the driver – it was difficult enough to drive on empty country roads, London rush hour in a Fiat 500 would be way too stressful for me!

From the Design Museum, we were back on the bus/tube/car to the Ace Cafe, taking about twice as long as the way there, due to London rush hour. We were still one of the first Porsches there, so grabbed a burger whilst waiting for more to arrive. I’d forgotten just how good a flat six Porsche engine sounds, hearing them all pulling up had me thinking that it may be good to have one in the garage instead of the MR2…

Unfortunately we had to leave before it got really busy, we had a long drive ahead and my Mum was babysitting Owen whilst Dad and I were out looking at nice cars. I can’t wait until we can bring Owen along on our automotive adventures!

Cannock Chase Ride

One of my goals for 2017 had been to “Ride the full Follow The Dog and Monkey Trail loops at Cannock Chase”. I’ve ridden them before, but skipped sections out and/or pushed my bike up the hills. Last Friday I managed to do the almost impossible – align my time off, Owen’s childcare, the weather and permission to escape for a day out on my bike. It was to be the day I tackled the full loop at Cannock Chase.

I almost fell at the first hurdle, I was feeling full of cold when I woke up and considered staying in bed. I was so glad I didn’t though, as it was a lovely autumnal day – perfect for mountain biking! Still unsure if I was going to do the full loop, I paced myself for the first few sections to see how my legs and lungs felt. Although I could have done with some more speed over the new rock garden, as once you stop it is difficult to get going again. Just over two kilometres into the ride is “Cardiac Hill” – my nemesis. I have managed to ride all the way up it a couple of times previously, but it was always really difficult, with a particularly cruel increase in gradient right at the top. This time I feel like I conquered it, my legs were still burning and I needed a rest at the top, but felt in much better shape than I had before – probably a combination of stronger legs from my midweek rides and having lost some weight! At this point I knew I was going to do the full loop!

Crossing the railway and road onto the Monkey Trail felt much more remote, and I had a few more breaks to take in the view, watch the wildlife and consider how lucky I was to be there on my bike. The best view was at the top of “Over The Rainbow”, where the photo at the top of this post is from. By now I felt like I was riding the best I have ever ridden and hadn’t even noticed that I’d missed lunchtime! I managed to stay on my bike down the “Tom, Dick and Harry” rockgardens, which was better than my attempt a few years ago, when I went over the bars. At the bottom of “Upper Cliff” I managed to take a wrong turn, which resulted in some unnecessary climbing, before having to descend again to join the trail for the “Insidious Incline”, which leads to “Lower Cliff” – regarded as the best piece of trail at Cannock Chase. I’d never actually ridden this trail before, as it had either been closed, or I’d been put off by the extra climb. I had been missing out – the climb wasn’t all that bad and the descent was amazing. It felt more exposed than other trails at Cannock, Chase as the trees have been felled in that area, and there was lots of loose gravel waiting to catch out an unwary rider, but that all added to the fun! I even caught up to an other rider during the descent, not something that has happened to me before.

Crossing the road and railway again, back onto the “Follow The Dog” trail, I was faced with a long climb up “Kitbag Hill”, another section I’d never ridden before, having just gone up the fireroad on previous visits. My legs were starting to tire by the top of the climb, but I knew I was on the home straight and took things easy. By the time I’d got to “Son of Chainslapper” my legs felt much better and I could attack the last few sections of trail. This is the part of Cannock Chase I’ve ridden the most, mainly on the Leisure Lakes Demo Days, which use these last few sections of “Follow The Dog” as the demo loop. I found myself whizzing past places I would usually have stopped for a breather, which was another indication that my fitness has improved significantly over the summer. The very last section of trail is closed for renovation, but knowing how my legs felt and that I’ve ridden that trail loads, it wouldn’t have posed a problem. So I’m claiming a full loop of “Follow The Dog” and “The Monkey Trail” and ticking it off my list of goals for 2017!

I was still buzzing when I rolled into the car park, not only had I achieved a personal goal, it had been the best day I’ve had on a bike. To celebrate, and because I’d missed lunch, I treated myself to a Burger King on the way home, still smiling to myself at how much fun I’d had on my bike.

Llandegla

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!

Parental Leave: Back to work

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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.