Owen’s Third Birthday Weekend Including Monster Jam

I can hardly believe it has been three years since Owen was born unexpectedly early, but it was his third birthday last week and we had an extra long weekend celebrating it!

On his birthday he rushed into our bedroom first thing in the morning to remind us that it was his birthday and ask if he had any presents! Fortunately “Henry” had bought him a Playmobil Mountain Biker, which kept him entertained for a while. I find it cute how Owen still refers to it as “the bike that Henry got me”. Then we came downstairs and Owen discovered the big pile of presents, which he unwrapped over breakfast. By far his favourite were the Playdoh Wheels sets – one of the only things he has asked for after seeing it on an advert. But Playdoh and construction vehicles is pretty much heaven for Owen, so I can understand why! Unfortunately he had to go to nursery in the morning, so had to leave his new toys. He did ride his bike to nursery though – it is only a kilometre away, so even Owen riding is quicker than driving, despite me carrying Henry in his baby carrier, meaning I could not really run after Owen. While Owen was at nursery, Jen and I got the house ready for his party, then I snuck off to the pump track for a few laps.

Owen had a good morning at nursery and was excited to see that his Grandma and Grandpa had joined us to collect him. I was proud that when Owen realised both Jen and I were there without Henry, who was waiting with my parents, his first thought was to ask where his little brother was. Of course, when we got home there were even more presents from Grandma and Grandpa! Later in the afternoon his guests arrived for the party, it was only a small affair, with both sets of grandparents and Owen’s best friend, Cara. Owen and Cara had fun playing together with Owen’s new toys. Then it was time for the cake – Jen had excelled herself here, the chocolate “construction site” themed cake looked amazing and tasted even better!

Friday is Owen’s swimming day, so I took him to his lesson as usual. He has been doing really well recently, but did particularly well this week, putting his face in the water, jumping in and insisting on swimming on his own when the pool noodles were given out. He was swimming lengths of the pool on his own with his arms over the noodle. After swimming Jen’s friend came round with her little boy, so Owen had another fun afternoon playing. For dinner we went to Owen’s favourite restaurant – “McDonald’s with the softplay”, which is right at the other side of the city, but Owen always asks to go there. Incidentally, the last time Jen and I were there was about ninety minutes before Henry was born. Owen ate his dinner like a good boy, then was let loose on the softplay! It was interesting watching him, as he has obviously grown so much in confidence since our last visit at the start of the year. Usually he just does laps of the same section, but this time he went exploring – right to the top of the softplay structure! Maybe it is time to try taking him climbing again?

Owen’s usual Ready Steady Riders session was cancelled on the Saturday, due to the poor weather, so we just had a quiet morning at home – because in the afternoon we were going to Monster Jam! Monster Jam is a huge touring monster truck show, and Owen loves monster trucks almost as much as diggers. So when I heard it would be coming to the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Owen’s birthday weekend I knew we had to go! Monster trucks are too loud for Henry (Jen had an excuse not to come), so my Dad joined us – we have talked for years about the three generations watching motorsport together, so this was a good opportunity. As soon as we got to the arena we saw the monster trucks in the pits, along with some construction vehicles that made the track – Owen’s day was already made!

Once in the stadium the first of the monster truck events was a series of head to head races – Owen loved it! He was cheering on the trucks and clapping excitedly at the end of the races! I was glad that he was wearing his ear defenders, as even quite high up in the stadium the trucks were really loud. Owen was less excited by the next event, the donut competition. He was upset that the monster trucks were not jumping! I enjoyed the donut competition, especially as most of the trucks did their donuts at our end of the stadium. I also liked that the scores were voted for by the fans in the stadium on a special website. After the donuts the trucks went back to the pits and the construction equipment came out to redo the track and prepare it for the freestyle motocross riders – which Owen enjoyed almost as much as the monster trucks! The freestyle motocross riders were as impressive as ever and hopefully Owen did not take too much inspiration.

When the monster trucks came back out they had a two wheel skills competition, which was not that impressive, possibly because the track was so slippery due to the rain meaning most of the trucks failed to do their stunts. One truck, Max-D, ended up on its roof – which prompted lots of questions from Owen. “Why is it upside down? Why did it land on its roof? Why did the stunt go wrong?” etc. However the final event, the freestyle competition was by far the highlight of the show. The trucks each had two minutes to perform stunts on as many of the obstacles in the arena as possible. There were huge jumps, donuts and even a backflip – right in front of us (albeit with the truck landing on its roof)! It was a great afternoon out for all three generations of Craik and I would certainly go again.

After the excitement of Monster Jam on Saturday, we had a quieter Sunday. I dropped Jen and the boys off at Jen’s friend’s house in Nuneaton, then went for a bike ride at Pooley Country Park, near Tamworth (and even used my GoPro for one of the runs). Jen and the boys had gone for a walk/bike ride to the park when I got back to Nuneaton, so I rode to meet them and rode back with Owen for lunch. We had a few errands to run on the way home, including stopping at Jen’s parent’s house for tea and cake, which was a nice way to wind down after a busy weekend. Next weekend is also going to be exciting as we are going to the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival, where Owen will be racing dual slalom on his balance bike! Does anyone know how to explain slalom to a three year old…

Pistonheads Sunday Service at Aston Martin

Owen and I had a great morning visiting the Aston Martin factory in Gaydon for the Pistonheads Sunday Service. Owen has been to a few Pistonheads events before, but only as a baby in a pushchair, this would be our first one just the two of us in the MR2. My parents were also going, so I knew I would have back up if needed.

One of my favourite parts of Sunday Services is the convoy down with my friends from the Pistonheads Midlands forum, it was Owen’s first time experiencing this. He was made to feel very welcome, and enjoyed checking out the ten or so cars assembled before we set off. Once back in the MR2 it became clear that Owen had a favourite car – he was asking about “the fast version of Grandpa’s car” (a Jaguar Project 8) all the way to Gaydon! He definitely has good taste in cars!

At Gaydon I was going to park next to a group of Toyota GT86s, but at the last moment spotted a space next to a 1920s “Blower” Bentley – as much as a line of sporty Toyotas would have been cool, Bentleys are way cooler! As we were checking out the Toyotas (I decided not to tell Owen one was actually a Subaru – two identical looking cars being made by different companies would have caused a flood of “whys”), my parents turned up in their Porsche. So I suggested to Owen we had a look at a cool Porsche I had spotted. He was happy to see his grandparents and excitedly told them about the cars we had seen. As we walked past the Jaguar Project 8 he told my Dad that it had a big wing and big brakes. We then looked at a lovely yellow Triumph TR6 – exactly the same as the one my Dad had when I was a toddler!

Inside the Aston Martin HQ/factory Owen was most excited about the model cars in the gift shop, but with prices starting at £180, he left empty handed. As we walked from the entrance to the cafe to grab some breakfast, there was a display of Aston Martin cars from 1905 through to the current day, which we all enjoyed. My favourite was the DB5 “Superleggera” – I have not even dared to check how much they are worth though! Aston Martin had loads of staff on hand to help people and had obviously put a lot of effort in to hosting the event. When Owen started to get into a grump as we were leaving, straight away an employee came to offer him a sticker, which cheered him up. Owen proudly wore his Aston Martin sticker for the rest of the day!

With so many new Aston Martin cars about, on display and in the car park, the main thing that struck me was just how big they are, with the exception of the Valkyrie. Maybe it is because I am used to my little MR2 Roadster, but they all looked huge! My Dad and I agreed that the previous generation Vantage looked perfect though.

Every time I visit the Aston Martin part of Gaydon (they share the site with Jaguar Land Rover) I leave thinking “this would be a great place to work!” – I have been keeping an eye on their job postings, but have yet to see anything that would suit me… Owen seemed to really enjoy his morning, other than the one almost-tantrum he was on his best behaviour, but the excitement was obviously too much for him, as he fell asleep on the way home, despite the roof being down in the MR2.

Owen’s Strider Progress: May 2019

It has been almost a year since I last blogged about Owen’s progress on his Strider balance bike and according to my Instagram “Memories” exactly a year since he started riding it. A lot has changed, mostly in the last couple of months.

Since last summer Owen loved riding his Strider, especially on pump tracks. We have become regulars at Ready Steady Riders and it is the highlight of his week. If you live in the West Midlands and have kids under 6 who love bikes, you should really check them out! Like crawling, and to some extent walking, Owen had his own way of doing things (straddling the bike and walking with it, not putting his bum on the seat) which he was happy with, so carried on doing it, rather that making the final step to riding properly. I expect this will be a pattern for other skills he is yet to learn. Despite this, Owen was really enjoying himself and that is the most important thing.

Since the start of this year he started making really good progress, I could tell he was getting more confidence. Then he started sitting on the seat and one Ready Steady Riders session I noticed his feet coming up off the ground, within a few weeks this became a proper balance bike glide – after eleven months he had really cracked it! Like with crawling/walking there was no stopping him!

He had a great Ready Steady Riders session on Easter Saturday. It was a low turnout due to the bank holiday, so for the last part of the session Coach Kazzi asked if the riders would like to sample the “big track” – a full UCI championship spec Adult BMX track. Owen did not need to be asked twice, he was straight round to the big track! The riders sessioned the last part of the final straight, which was bigger than any pump track I have ever ridden. Owen needed help on the very steepest section, but had the rest nailed. He was so pleased with himself every time he rode under the finish gantry. Ever since he has been telling me that he is “big and tough and can ride on the big track”. Last week Owen also had a good Ready Steady Riders session, watched by Jen and Henry, and sporting a new helmet. The session ended with Owen being awarded a medal for being “Rider on the week”! Yet another proud Dad moment!

He has also been using his Strider around our local area, riding to the shops, or to nursery etc. He has been great at staying on the pavement, stopping at crossings and looking out for cars. On Bank Holiday Monday, Jen suggested that Owen should ride his Strider to Earlsdon Festival, by far his longest ride. It did not start well, Owen seemed to be struggling with riding and talking at the same time – a real problem for a chatterbox like Owen! He was stopping every few metres to tell me something, or ask a question (he has reached the “why” phase). I ended up having to carry the bike for a bit, in any case he would not have been able to ride through the festival crowds. But after an ice cream, he was back on the bike for the ride home. We went back through our local woods, on a rooty trail we had ridden on the Mac Ride the day before. Owen enjoyed this and seemed to get a second wind. Then we got to his favourite ramp in the woods – a feature we always visit when we’re in the woods. He had to hit it multiple times before even considering riding back home. Even though I carried the bike for a lot of the time, it was still easily double the longest ride he had done with me.

This afternoon, after a ride to town on the Mac Ride, Owen asked me to go for a ride round to the woods with him. After his success last week, I risked taking my own bike along too. After we had ridden over Owen’s favourite ramp, he asked if we could go to the cycle speedway track further along Hearsall Common. The shortest way to the cycle speedway was along the rooty singletrack from last week – our first singletrack ride together. Owen loved the cycle speedway track, I had said he could do five laps, but I had to practically drag him away screaming after fifteen! The ride back home showed that Owen has got the bike skills, but is still lacking a bit of the discipline needed to be able to come out on bike rides.

Owen has got the hang of his Strider just in time – next month he has two races: at the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival and the Strider Cup at Kingsbury Water Park. Unfortunately these are both just after his birthday, so he will be the youngest racer in the three year old class. Hopefully his ability to follow instructions has improved as much as his riding, after his performance last year. Once the racing is out of the way, we will try some more sessions on the big track and possibly even start looking for a bike with pedals…

Mac Ride: Initial Impressions

Owen has got too big and heavy for his rear mounted bike seat. This came to a head a few months ago when we over balanced negotiating a tricky manoeuvre, at in the lane behind our house. I ended up bashing my head on a concrete fence post, necessitating a new helmet for me and leaving with a headache for two weeks. Fortunately Owen was OK, but I knew it was the last time we would use that seat.

From reading the Little Rippers Facebook group and The Bike Dads website I knew that a Mac Ride would be Owen’s next seat. They have recently started shipping them from the UK, which avoids import duties and handling fees for the customer. As you may have spotted on my Instagram, I have bought one!

The Mac Ride attaches to the steerer tube with a special headset spacer, then clamps onto the seat post. As my hardtail was due a service, I was cleaning/greasing the headset anyway, fitting the spacer was easy. I also had to remove my grips, brake levers and shifter to fit some small grips for Owen and also pump up my fork to account for the extra 16kg. As my hardtail is mainly used for commuting and pump track I can live with the forks being hard when I’m riding without Owen. Owen always enjoys helping me work on bikes, but was even keener as he knew we were fitting a seat for him!

After fitting the Mac Ride we only had a short amount of time for a test ride before heading out for Easter festivities. Owen was a bit scared when it came to getting on the bike, but within a few pedal strokes he was loving it. He said the view was much better than his old rear mounted seat, meaning he could spot all the dogs in the woods and cars with lions (Peugeots). To me it felt like he was more involved in the ride, rather than just being a passenger. I also felt the balance of the bike was significantly better than with a rear seat, the only downside is that in my normal position my knees catch Owen’s bum when pedalling, so I need to spread my knees out slightly.

We tried some rooty single track in the woods, which was bumpy, especially for Owen, as he wanted to stay sat down. To make the most of the Mac Ride he will need to learn to stand up on the foot pegs, but as he is being encouraged to keep his bum on the seat of his balance bike at the moment, standing up can wait! The bike felt heavier to me, but still balanced. I think I will struggle to lift the front wheel with the extra weight, so no jumps or drop offs for us!

I can see that Owen and I are going to have a lot of fun adventures this summer (and maybe next), I have already been scoping out building sites so I can take him to watch diggers, and Little Rippers are run Mac Ride rideouts, which I am sure Owen will enjoy. Then of course in a few years, it will be Henry’s turn!

Bikes are Great

I have been feeling a bit down recently, with an overwhelming feeling of “What is the point?”. It is probably a combination of being busy at work, lack of sleep from doing the late shift with Henry and not having time for my usual coping mechanisms – yoga, coding projects and riding my bike. However I am feeling much better after a day of bikes in the sun. Getting out on my bike is always something that lifts my mood, it must be the combination of exercise, fresh air and adventure! Whatever it is, I really needed it today!

In the morning I took Owen to his usual #supersaturday Ready Steady Riders session at the Birmingham BMX track. Owen was riding really well. In the last few weeks he has really got the hang of his Strider balance bike, taking his feet off the ground and well, balancing! He is also gaining in confidence on the bike and really enjoying himself. With the nice weather we have been having I was expecting the session to be busy, but it was really quiet. So towards he end of the session Coach Kazzi asked if the riders wanted to go on to the “big track”. The big track is a full sized UCI spec BMX track – the sort of thing you may have seen at the Olympics, as opposed to the mini “Strider track” that Owen usually rides. They were only using the last part of the finish straight, but even so it was a big moment for Owen. He needed help on the steepest section – it was big enough and steep enough that I would think twice about it on my bike with brakes, but he aced the rest, which was still much bigger than the Strider track. Owen seemed so happy each time he passed under he big “Finish” banner. It was a morning full of proud Dad moments.

In the afternoon I joined my friend Partho for a ride around Sutton Park – his local trails, which I had not ridden before. It was just a gentle ride, as Partho is recovering from being knocked off his road bike earlier in the year and I tweaked my knee going over the bars on the way home from work earlier in the week. When we first arrived at the park it was extremely busy – to be expected on a sunny bank holiday weekend. By the time we climbed the steep hill to the top of the park we had the trails to ourselves though. On the climb I noticed that my heart rate monitor (a Wahoo Tickr, linked to my Apple Watch) was showing “2..”, which I assume means heart rate over 200 beats per minute. In any case my heart rate was higher than could be displayed. I later found out that the hill is known as “Cardiac Hill”, which figures. We followed some fun single track back down the hill, stopping for some photos before climbing back up “Cardiac Hill”. At the top the trail was blocked by two wild Exmoor Ponies. I had seen warning signs dotted around, but expected it to be like the bear signs in Yosemite National Park, where we did not see any hint of a bear. This time we took a mellower route down the hill, past more wild ponies, which unfortunately did not want their photo taken. The trail culminated in either a steep up and over bridge or a ford. Both looked like fun, but as it was such a warm day I opted for the ford, which was just that little bit too deep to keep my feet dry. We finished the ride with a gentle cruise back to Partho’s house, stopping for an ice cream before we left the park. What a great way to spend an afternoon!

When I got home, Owen helped me clean my hardtail, as we had a special delivery, which we need to fit to the bike tomorrow – watch this space…

 

Temporarily Switching Back to Canon

Last year I blogged about switching from my Canon 5D DSLR to a Fuji X-T2 mirrorless system (and also my experience one month on). Rarely in these situations do you get to switch back, however due to the struggles of trying to get a newborn and a toddler out the house (Henry needs loads of stuff and Owen is a typically stubborn two year old) I forgot to put my camera bag in the car when we visited my parents for Mother’s Day. I knew my Dad had his 5D tucked away, so I asked if I could borrow it, along with his 85mm f1.8 prime lens.

After trading in my Canon kit, getting to use an almost identical kit was a rare opportunity to compare the systems again. My first thoughts were “this is huge” and “how do I turn it on?”. Even after ten years shooting Canon, my muscle memory has switched to Fuji after only a few months – fear of learning a new system should not be a barrier to changing!

When I started shooting, the fact I was using an optical viewfinder passed me by. This surprised me, as seeing the result before pressing the shutter is one of my favourite things about mirrorless cameras. Maybe the X-T2 electronic viewfinder is good enough to be indistinguishable from an optical viewfinder? The biggest difference was the autofocus – it is rubbish on the 5D! It is slow, and the nine focus points are clustered around the centre of the frame – the Fuji is able to focus anywhere in the frame. Not having it set up to my liking with back button focus also hindered me – especially for photos like the one above, where I wanted to have the foreground sharp, but frame the shot to include some background interest.

Despite the points I made above the 5D still produces great images! Fuji are known for their colour science, but files from the 5D also seem to have a special quality to them. The shallow depth of field from the full frame sensor and fast prime lens is the one area I have had to compromise as I switched to Fuji – it is simply down to physics and camera/lens size is more important to me at the moment.

I have been asked to take some headshots for work in a few weeks, and after borrowing my Dad’s 5D I will be asking to borrow it again for the headshots. I am unsure if this would still be the case if I owned a decent Fuji portrait lens, such as the 56mm f1.2 or the 50mm f2, but given the kit I have access to the Fuji loses out this time.

Top Five from 2018

As is now customary, the PistonHeads.com Photography Forum had a thread to share your top five photos from the previous year, in this case 2018. As I had selected my five photos I also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done for 2017, 2016 and 2012.

I was surprised to open the curtains in Owen’s bedroom on morning to see a partridge perched on our fence (annoyingly nowhere near our pear tree). I grabbed my camera, opened the window and took a few shots before it flew off. The was the only photo I took with my old Canon 70-200mm lens last year – I love the quality of the image, but the fact that the lens did not even leave the house was part of my reason for part exchanging it towards my Fuji kit.

Jen and I love the Sandleigh National Trust Tea Room in Croyde, their cream tea is the best I have had! With an inquisitive toddler, the fact it is in a walled garden is great, Owen could explore on his own, still in the safety of the garden. The was one of the first portraits I took with my Fuji X-T2 (using the kit lens) and I was really pleased with how it came out.

Another shot from our trip to Croyde, although this was taken from the Capstone Parade in Ilfracombe. It was the first real landscape shot I took with my X-T2 – and ideal for trying out the Velvia film simulation.

Since swapping my heavy Canon camera gear for a lighter Fuji set up, I am more likely to have my camera with me. In the past I would not have taken my camera for an excursion to the playground, but the little Fuji is great for this sort of trip out and means I can get photos like this one of Owen! He was playing hide and seek in this little cabin, so I set up the shot and waited for him to pop his head out. I really feel that Owen’s personality is captured here.

I posted this photo from the Trent and Mersey Canal just after taking it, but it made my top 5 because I like the colours and the reflections.

2019

Happy New Year!

2019 is going to be an exciting year for us – Owen will be getting a little brother! Baby Craik is due in March, hopefully he will wait a bit longer than Owen did before coming out! Owen seems to be excited about being a big brother, he has already been shopping with us to pick out a special toy for his new brother – he was very decisive and chose an elephant soother – hopefully it will be loved as much as Owen’s blue rabbit toy! We are currently busy preparing for Baby Craik’s arrival, my office is being relocated to the dining room (meaning a lot of sorting/decluttering in both rooms) and Owen is being promoted from cot to proper bed. I’m sure that wrangling two little boys is going to take up most of our attention this year, but we do have a few other exciting things planned!

June is going to be especially busy, with Coventry Motofest, Monster Jam in Coventry, Malverns Classic MTB festival (including Strider racing for Owen) and Owen will be racing again at the Strider Cup at Kingsbury Water Park. In September we’re planning on going away for a week, somewhere in the UK, ideally near a beach – but for the first time in ten years, not Croyde! Pembrokeshire is looking favourite, but if you know anywhere good to holiday with two small boys, please let me know!

We saw in 2019 with our friends in York, which was really nice. Especially as Owen is now big enough to play with the other children. Owen loved having access to lots of toys, and a few slightly older friends to play with. This meant the adults could have a good catch up. I really hope Owen is as good with his baby brother as William, Billy, Violet and Catherine were with him! New Years Day continued in the same style, albeit at a different house. The kids had a hotdog party and the adults had a burger party – my sort of party! Owen slept through most of the long drive home, but it gave Jen and I plenty of time to reflect on how much we always enjoy seeing our friends in York and also to discuss our goals for the year ahead.

As in 2017 and 2018, I have set myself some goals, stating them publicly gives me more motivation to get them done. Having said that, I had a few fails last year.

Get my weight down to 85kg

This is carried over from last year, as I ended the year weighing 88kg. I got close to 85kg in the spring, but got carried away with too much nice food in Spain.

Reinstate my mid week cardio session

I used to get out on my bike, or go for a swim pretty much every Wednesday evening, but I have slacked off over the last few months. I need to get back on it. I also want to start climbing, after my taster in 2017.

Do a strength workout at least once a week

Jen bought me some resistance bands for my birthday, I am ashamed to say that four weeks later they are still in the packaging. There is also a new gym opening next to my office. I have no excuses for not fitting in at least one workout a week!

Ride at the pumptrack at least once a month

After riding at the pumptrack last month, and realising what a good workout it is, I want to make sure I do more of it in 2019. My plan for 2018 had been to ride at the pumptrack with Owen, but it didn’t quite work out, as he still isn’t confident enough to ride without me following close behind. Hopefully 2019 will be the year we can ride together at the pumptrack. As a stretch goal, I would like to be able clear some tabletop jumps and/or manual through some rollers.

Ride at a bike park

I used to think that downhills had to be earned, but after doing some van assisted riding in Spain with Basque MTB last year my opinion changed. Not killing yourself on the climb gives you the energy to focus on the downhill, and doing laps of the same trail really allows you to hone your skills, so I can now see the benefits of doing an uplift day at a bike park. 417 Bike Park is an hour’s drive from Coventry (about the same as Cannock Chase), so I will be booking a day there fairly soon! I hear they also have good trails for kids, so maybe Owen will get to ride there too.

Clock over 100 active hours on Strava

I have added this goal mainly because I “only” clocked 99 active hours in 2018 and it seems a good target to aim for.

New blog server

I have been dabbling with AWS for a few years now, and have identified a few ways that I can improve the server set up I have for this blog. I would also like to move it to blog to WordPress 5.0 and write a new custom theme. All geeky stuff, but as my day job is getting more and more project management based I like to keep my technical skills sharp.

Take control of my open tabs in Safari

I have been thinking for a while that I have too many open tabs in Safari across my two Macs and iPhone. I counted (well used the “Bookmarks” menu on the Macs and “Close all tabs” button on iOS) almost 400 open tabs, so need to work through and close them. I am sure that there are some duplicates and ones that I opened for something i was researching, but never got around to implementing. I am going to try and close a few each time I use Safari.

Replace my ageing iMac

I have been thinking that I would do this the last few years, but keep stretching it out for “one more year”. However, now that it will not run the latest version on macOS, is running out of space on the hard disk and is incredibly slow, the time has come. There are two things making this difficult – deciding between an iMac, Mac Mini or MacBook Pro and saving up for it!

Do some night photography

I always look at astrophotography in awe, and enjoyed doing some night landscape photography when I lived in Rugby, but haven’t done any in ages. Now that I have switched camera systems to Fuji, and I am more interested in photography again I would like to get out and try some night photography. Hopefully I will be able to get my Dad to join me…

Detail my MR2

I took the MR2 out for a quick spin on Sunday and realised that I last washed it in 2016! After the Peak District hoon, I know I have not driven it much, but it deserves better! I bought some special Japanese car wax for Jen’s Yaris, I think it would also work well on the MR2.

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

I actually set this goal after its last MOT, when it had 57,239 miles on the clock and I was disappointed that it had done less than 2,000 miles in the previous year. Unfortunately I forgot to check the milage last time I drove it, so have no idea how likely I am to meet my goal.

Drink more whisky

A strange resolution I know! I am not a big drinker, but do enjoy the occasional wee dram of single malt whisky. However people have latched on to this and I am being bought whisky faster than I drink it! I currently have ten bottles (plus one miniature), with six that haven’t even been opened. I am still yet to finish the Tomatin twelve year old that I bought when we visited the distillery in 2014!

I got this off to a good start by seeing in the new year drinking a dram of Tasmanian whisky, that our host Will had been given as a gift. As a Scotsman I usually only drink Scottish whisky, but I doubt I will have another chance to try Tasmanian whisky, so I gave it a go. Now to make a dent in my own collection…

A look back at 2018

2018 has been an exciting year! Owen got a new bike (and had his first bike race), Jen got a new car and I got a new camera, which has encouraged me to take more photos.

I We had a great holiday in Spain, with our friends Nicki and Mat, where I managed to squeeze in a day mountain biking with Basque MTB. We also had our first family European roadtrip, to visit my family in France and a rainy week in Croyde!

Aside from all the adventures we have had some fun family time without straying too far away from home, making the most of the glorious weather we had this summer. We spent a lot of time visiting zoos. We had annual passes to Twycross, where the photo at the top of this post was taken (by Jen), in the “Lorikeet Landing” enclosure. Our pass also got us into other zoos, including Chester Zoo, which combined with visits to Chester Ice Cream Farm and our friends Richard and Anna made for a great weekend away! My little brother also treated us to a trip to London Zoo, which was both Owen’s first trip on the fast train and to the centre of London (having only visited Hackney, by car, previously). As much as we enjoyed, and would recommend, the zoo pass, we have not renewed it. We will take a few years off to visit other attractions, and maybe get another one when Owen is a little bit older, so will be able to experience the zoo through new eyes.

At the start of the year Owen was only just taking his first steps, now he is running around, exploring everywhere. Except where you want him to go, in typical toddler fashion. He has also developed his own interests – he still likes cars and bikes, but what he really loves are construction vehicles. I have no idea where he gets that from! His personality is really coming through – he knows what he wants and can be quite stubborn about getting it. He is also very chatty, and still a charmer. This year Owen has moved through two classes at nursery and made some friends. The teachers have been very pleased with his development – I think they were a bit surprised when he was able to recite the whole of his favourite book to them. Sometimes I think he is getting too clever, like when we visited the Apple Store a few weeks ago and within second of walking in, he asked me for a new iPad!

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

Get my weight down to 85kg

Fail! My weight seems to have hovered around 87kg, it did spend a while nearer to 86kg, but after a good Christmas it was back up to 88kg this morning. What has happened though is that I have had to buy a load of new clothes, as none of my old ones fit any more. That has to be a good sign, right?

Get my fitness back to where it was in October

Up until the end of November I really felt like I was the fittest I have ever been. However, I had a cold for what felt like the whole of December, and took my foot of the gas a bit. My first proper rides back I really struggled, especially at the pumptrack. I have been following MTB Fitness and Matt has really helped with my motivation. I’m sure I’ll be back to where I was, and hopefully fitter by the spring.

Improve my MTB skills

I went on an MTB skills course, which was a good start, however I haven’t really followed it up. I am defiantly better at manuals and track stands, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Where I do feel that I have improved is at riding technical trails, which is probably more useful than the showy trials skills I wanted to learn.

Conquer the Tom, Dick and Harry section at Cannock Chase

Fail! This should have been easy! My excuse for not checking this is down to not getting there, rather than still being scared of it. I have ridden far more technical trails this year, including on my hardtail whilst on holiday in Devon. There have also been a lot of diversions on the Monkey Trail, which features Tom, Dick and Harry, so I have tended to avoid it when I have been at Cannock. I did make it down the Devil’s Stair case for the first time last week, admittedly helped by the tricky step being removed, but I am still going to claim it.

Ride at a new trail centre

I am going to have to count the ride I did at Lady Cannings in Sheffield for this. Even though I’m not sure that can be classed as a trail centre. I had planned a trip to Scotland with my friend Ali, but life seems to have got in the way. I was also planning to ride at 417 Bike Park for my birthday, but had a cold, so didn’t feel like I would make the most of it. I’ve also been concentrating more on riding natural terrain…

Ride more natural terrain

Yes! I can certainly check this goal off! My ride at the Long Mynd with Andy feels like ages ago. The day I did with BasqueMTB in Spain was one of the highlights of the year, even if I was a bit out of my depth on the steep rocky trails. They did however set me up well for the loop I rode around Lady Bower Reservoir in the Peak District at the end of the summer. I felt that it was fitness holding me back there, rather than my bike skills. When I unexpectedly found some technical trails in Croyde, I managed to ride them, even though I was on my hardtail, which wasn’t really the best bike for it. As fun as trail centres are, getting out into the hills is my favourite part of mountain biking!

Do some trail maintenance

Yes! I have done a bit of trail maintenance around my local trails in Coventry, ranging from small bits of tidying on a ride, to helping some local lads make a jump track. I also spent a day with Chase Trails at Cannock Chase, working on their new Snake and Adders section. Now that I’ve done a full day with them, I’ll be making more effort to stop and lend a hand for a while when I am over there riding on a Sunday.

Drive the MR2 more

This is a hard one to quantify. I have been making more effort to drive the MR2, and I have really enjoyed to occasions where I’ve been able to go for a fun drive in it. Such as a pointless Sunday drive earlier in the year, or when I used it to run an errand to Staffordshire, stopping off to do some photography on the way back. I did manage a track session at Silverstone, but now that I am working reduced hours, I can’t justify the cost of a full trackday.

Take more photographs on my DSLR

At the start of the year I couldn’t see myself selling my DSLR, however switching to a Fuji mirrorless camera has invigorated my photography. I have probably taken more photographs in the last three months than the rest of the year! Being able to take it with me on bike rides too is a real game changer for me. There also seems to be a good community around the Fuji cameras, which has helped with both learning the new system and motivation. I also mentioned that I would like to get my Orange Four into the GMBN Bike Vault, which I did.

Learn to juggle

Fail! Juggling well and truly fell by the wayside after about March. I’ve only recently found my juggling balls after Owen hid them for a few months.

Looking at my Strava statistics, through the handy Veloviewer graphic below, I beat my active days from last year, although I think that if I ignored commuting I would be way down. I matched 2017 for elevation, but I have a feeling Strava counted the elevation from the Basque MTB uplift van, even though I paused Strava whilst in the van. Just missing out on 100 active hours was annoying, I must admit I did consider sneaking in another ride to get a round number, but I will have to leave it as a goal for 2019.

Even with all the crap that has been happening in the news, 2018 has been a pretty good year for me. 2017 was always going to be a tough year to follow, but work, personal projects, mountain biking, photography and of course Owen have kept me busy and on my toes! Having the last few weeks at home with Jen and Owen, to relax and catch up on some jobs has been very welcome. Now we are up in York spending New Years Eve with some of our friends.

Softplay Portrait

I grabbed this photo of Owen in the softplay at Rock Up in Birmingham. Jen and I had taken him there so that he could show Jen his climbing skills. However, knowing that there was softplay and toy trucks that he could be playing with, Owen didn’t want to do any climbing and spent the session in the softplay.

At first Owen was the only child in the softplay so I took the opportunity to join him in the ball pit with my camera. This resulted in the photo above, which is one of my favourite portraits. I would love to say that I set up the lighting and coordinated Owen’s t-shirt to the walls, but once I had spotted the shot I just had to quickly crank the ISO up on my camera, as it was pretty dark, and capture the best expression from Owen.

Shot with: Fuji X-T2 and 18-55mm lens at 1/40s, f4.0 at ISO 3200, processed in Lightroom CC Classic.