Top Five from 2023

The PistonHeads.com Photography Forum had a thread to share your favourite photos from the previous year, in this case, 2023. As it is usually your “top five” photos, I chose five and also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done in previous years.

This was my favourite photo of Henry, taken when we were in Peebles on our Summer Road Trip. Owen had not been feeling very well and did not want to go out, so I took Henry for a walk to the park. The colours on this rocket worked well with Henry’s t-shirt.

I could not have a favourite photo of Henry without one of Owen too. I took this one at a friend’s barbeque in the summer, whilstt is not technically perfect, I liked how the colours of the bubbles work with Owen’s shirt and draw your eye through the image.

I do not do much “street” photography, but enjoyed the Coventry Photography Meetup group photo walk at the War Memorial Park. This was the only photo I was happy with from the morning, but I am still really happy with it and it made it worth it. Even the 5:30 alarm!

Another photo from our summer road trip, this time from our final stop in Saltburn-by-the-Sea. As we were finishing up our dinner, I could tell that it was going to be a good sunset, so I rushed back to the flat we were staying in, grabbed my camera kit and headed back down to the beach. This was my favourite photo from that evening – and I took a lot! It was almost totally dark by this point, but that meant I could use a long shutter speed to blur the sea.

I managed to shoot more mountain biking last year, including three downhill races at Stile Cop, this was my pick of the images that I shot at the most recent race, in December. It was the first outing for my Fujinon XF 50-140mm f2.8 lens, and it was a good job I had it, as my old lens would have really struggled in the woods on a rainy December afternoon. Of all the shots I got during the race, this was my favourite, you can tell that the rider is fast, and their red kt stands out from the dull background.

Bike Check – Owen’s Vitus Nucleus 24

Owen has outgrown his trusty Orbea MX-20, at least it has lasted two and a half years, unlike his previous bikes which only lasted twelve and five months respectively. Owen got the Orbea for his fifth birthday, so Henry should be upgrading to it soon.

We wanted a hardtail for Owen’s next bike, and I got a good deal on this Vitus, which is the smaller version of the bike I started my MTB journey with, in 2014. I swapped on Owen’s SDG saddle and pedals but figured that the bars that came fitted to the Vitus would fit him. I also moved his mudguard and bottle cage across. I did try to set up the Maxxis Snyper tyres tubeless, but they did not hold air, so I have left the tubes in. Owen was excited to have Maxxis tyre, like me and Brandon Semenuk, mostly Brandon Semenuk though. The tyres are not particularly grippy either, so we will likely swap them to the classic Minon DHF and DHRII combo, which I run on my Four. Hopefully, we will be able to set them up tubeless. The other main upgrade we have planned, once Owen has done some growing, is to fit a dropper post. We will also have to see how the Clarke brakes and Box drivetrain fare, I usually only fit Shimano.

Owen got the bike for Christmas but has only been on a few rides so far, as he needs to take it easy for a few months. We had a good ride at Hicks Lodge on New Year’s Day, and he seems to be getting on well with it – including conquering his fear of riding up kerbs. We are looking forward to more bike adventures later in the year.

2024

Happy New Year!

Owen and I started 2024 as we mean to go on – riding mountain bikes! We saw in the new year at home, my best friend Partho, his wife Marilena and their two sausage dogs, Otto and Leo, who came round to our house for a dinner party. We had Pastitio, a Cypriot meat, pasta and b├ęchamel sauce dish, similar to lasagne. Jen was going to make it, but Partho and Marilena offered to make it and bring it with them, as they had the correct pasta from Cyprus. Instead, Jen made a “Burnt Basque Cheesecake” for dessert. It was one of the tastiest dinners of the year. It was a low key evening, but really nice to spend some time together. Henry did not quite manage to stay up until midnight, but Owen did, just. He was flagging by 23:30, but we kept him going.

Thanks to their late night, the boys gave us a lie in this morning. After a late breakfast, Owen and I loaded up the van to drive to Hicks Lodge, for a first proper ride on his new bike. Everyone else had the same idea, so it took us a while to get parked up. When we eventually got to the trails they were wet, but still running well. Owen seemed to take well to his new bike – I need to stop giving him such long head starts, as I struggled to catch up with him on a few sections. He has lost some fitness whilst recovering from his recent illness, and could not keep up his initial pace, and we only managed one lap. It was great to be back out together though. Hopefully we will be doing much more riding together later in the year – one of his new years resolutions is “not to say no, to going for bike rides”.

We have not got any riding trips planned yet, as Owen still needs to take things easy. However he is looking forward to our trip to Manchester for the “Bricktastic” Lego show. We have a few other trips planned: Jen and I will be going to York in a few weeks, we hope to repeat our trip to Weston-Super-Mare for Cruise to the Prom and we will be joining my parents, brother, sister-in-law and new niece, for a week on the South Coast, near Brighton, in the summer holidays. Jen and I also have a trip to Rome to rebook. Hopefully we will also be able to squeeze in a few more trips.

As in previous years, I have set myself some goals for the year ahead:

Spend more time with my friends

Life always seems to get in the way, but this year I am going to make a more concerted effort to spend time with my friends. I saw a couple of my best friends, separately, yesterday and it was really nice to spend time with them. We all just need to be a bit more organised, especially as the lads all have big birthdays coming up, which we should probably celebrate.

Make my blog more robust

My blog went offline for a few months last year, and the replacement I deployed has not been great either. Last year I focussed on making what I had more robust, e.g. failing health checks triggering an AWS Lambda script to reboot the server, but I think I need to start from scratch and get something more reliable.

Refresh my photography portfolio website

A goal carried over from last year. My original plan to do customise the skin I’m using in Adobe Portfolio failed, because that option is not available. So all I need to do is choose some new images, hopefully it will not be a big job.

Photograph a rally

Rallying is my favourite form of motorsport, and it has been over ten years since I last saw one live. So I would really like to get to a forest and see some rally cars sliding around on gravel roads. My dad has also said we should go to a rally this year.

Complete a 50km bike ride

My goal last year was to do three 50km rides, I did not even manage to do one. This year I have set myself a more achievable target. Fitness wise, I am sure I could do three long rides, but it is more having the time in the summer, and what else I would have to miss.

Ride 25km with Owen

Like last year, this is more Owen’s goal, as he wants to beat his longest ride to date, which stands at 20km – his goal last year. I will have to think of somewhere we can do a long ride, without too much climbing. Sherwood Pines was a good bet last year, but it would be better to ride somewhere else this time.

Ride at Bike Park Wales with Owen

Another goal carried over from last year. We had booked on to the Little Rippers Halloween ride at Bike Park Wales, but had to cancel, as Owen was in hospital. He needs to get his bike fitness back before a big day at a bike park.

Ride at 417 Bike Park with Henry

I had completely forgotten that we rode the pump track at 417 Bike Park last year, Henry had been keen to ride the bike park trails, but we had not paid for that and I promised him that we would come back. Henry must also have forgotten about it, because usually he would keep reminding me. This will likely be one for later in the year when Henry has moved on to Owen’s old Orbea.

Ride at Bwlch Nant yr Arian

Another goal carried over from 2023, Bwlch Nant yr Arian in Mid Wales has some great looking trails, and is also known for their daily Red Kite feeding – which is enough of an excuse for me to go for a ride. It also seems like somewhere that might be worth visiting with Jen and the boys as part of a Mid Wales trip.

Ride one more of the “10 of the best XC trails in the UK” with Partho

In 2022, Partho shared an article with me called “10 of the best XC trails in the UK“. I have ridden a couple of the trails, and parts of a few more, last year we planned to try and ride a few more together, but it did not happen. We discussed it last night and decided we would aim for a more realistic “ride one of the trails”.

Sort out the boys toys

Last year we redecorated our lounge, and have kept it mostly free from toys, and it is lovely. There is so much more space. The downside is that the toys are piled up in their room, so we need to sort them out – ideally maintaining the nice “grown up” lounge. We need to sort out some storage and to be be ruthless, as realistically there are only a few toys that they play with regularly.

Tidy my garage

I did not get around to this last year, if anything, the garage got messier, as more bikes arrived. A thorough sort out is needed and I also need to be ruthless.

MR2 jobs

Last year marked ten years since I bought my MR2 Roadster, for the most part it has been cheap motoring, and very reliable. Last year I planned to tackle those little jobs that will prolong it’s life, things like cleaning the drain holes. The wheels could also do with a thorough clean and a good coat of wax. However, I’ll need to get the garage tidied first… There are also a few blemishes on the paintwork that I would like to get addressed.

Make sure that my pensions and investments are working for me

When I changed jobs a few years ago, I made sure I could access my old work pension, but other than that have just left it sitting there. I had a work pension with my new job, and set up a SIPP to boost my work pension, but other than paying in to it monthly I have not checked how it is getting on. I think some sort of of “health check” is needed, and maybe some consolidation. It is a boring job, but one that keeps getting put off, having it written down as a goal should mean I am more likely to do it.

Get my weight down to 90kg

For the last ten years, at least, my goal has been to get my weight down to 85kg, which has clearly not happened. 90kg is more achievable, but if I get there, I will try to keep going to 85kg. My plan is more riding and less pizza.

Hopefully 2024 will be a better year than 2023, it has got off to a good start, so I will do my best to carry on with these positive vibes…