International Ride MTB Day 2019

International Ride MTB Day did not start with a mountain bike ride, nor did it start with our usual trip to Birmingham BMX Track for Ready Steady Riders #supersaturday. Instead Jen ran Coventry Parkrun, and I took the boys to spectate. The previous evening Owen and I had fitted new wheels to his balance bike, so he had to do a few laps of the skatepark to test them out – all was good! So good that whilst waiting for Jen at the end of her run, Owen learned a new skill – riding down hills with his feet on the footpegs.

After we got home I was planning where to ride my bike, and I asked my best friend Partho if he fancied joining me. He did! Due to injuries (his) and babies (mine) this would only be our third ride together this year, we were slightly restricted for time, so arranged for a quick blast around Sutton Park.

I usually ride on my own, or with Owen, so it was great to catch up with Partho on the ride from his house to the park, it certainly made the road section and the cimb up to Four Oaks Gate fly by. From there we dropped into a fun chute, bringing us back out at the bottom of the steepest part of the climb. Repeating climbing sections sucks, but this piece of trail is well worth it. Rainwater has carved gullies in the trail, so you have to pick a line and commit to it. There are also some small drops and tree stumps to hop over, a really fun section of trail.

After climbing back up the hill, Partho took me for a tour of the trails around the perimeter of the park. On our previous ride there, we only covered a small corner of the park, so it was interesting to see more. I was surprised at just how different the scenery looked when we crossed under the railway, the south side seemed much more open. It was also hillier than I expected, although the trails were not as exciting as the first section down from Four Oaks. I started to struggle on some of the climbs, I am unsure if it was the bike (I still need to fettle the suspension), not having eaten enough lunch, or simply that Partho is faster than me, but nonetheless is was a great way to spend the afternoon! Bike riding is fun, but it is even more fun with friends.

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…

 

Cyprus: Part Two – The Wedding

Photo by my good friend Richard Long, as I was too busy being best man to take any photos.

After a busy build up, this was the day we had come to Cyprus for – Partho and Marilena’s wedding! I had been told that my services would not be needed until 13:00, so we had a relaxing morning, swimming with Owen. The outdoor pool was too cold for him, but the hotel had a heated indoor pool, which was perfect for Owen. It was also empty, so he could splash and squeal in delight as much as he wanted! I was going to take him in the sea, but had been told it would be better to wait until we got to Protaras for that, as the sea in Limassol is “cold” – this was from a Cypriot, who obviously hasn’t surfed in the English Channel in February!

I had been told to report to Partho’s hotel at 13:00 for the ritual shaving, a Cypriot tradition where the best man shaves the groom. Although these days it is mainly symbolic and for the photographers. Partho must have wimped out, as I merely had to help him get dressed, button up his shirt, tie his tie etc, again, all for the photographers.

After the photos we had an hour or so to kill, so we thought we would get Owen lunch, which turned into a rushed affair, with both Jen and I getting stressed that we’d be late for the ceremony. Partho actually thought I was doing it on purpose as Marilena was so late to our wedding she missed the ceremony! After the quickest outfit change for all three of us, we made it to the hotel lobby a mere six minutes late. Only to be told that the bride was behind schedule – panic over. Owen looked so smart in his blue trousers, white shirt and blue bowtie, especially as he was matching Partho and I.

At the church I didn’t realise what was going on – I’m not too au fait with British weddings, let alone Greek Orthodox ones, and all the logistics of who needed to be where etc were in Greek. Rather than the groom waiting at the alter, the bride and groom meet outside and walk down the aisle together. I eventually got the right place, next to Partho at the alter, then realised that I hadn’t been given the rings! Fortunately the best man isn’t responsible for the rings at a Cypriot wedding and the priest had them.

The ceremony was a bit of a blur, the priest did explain some bits in English to Partho, so I had a vague idea of what was going on. My best man duties were swapping the rings between Partho and Marilena’s fingers twice. I had been told I needed to do it three times, so was a bit confused there. As I was when I didn’t need to swap their “crowns” (beaded head pieces, which are tied together) – I had been told that I would need to swap them three times, and that if they were dropped the wedding had to be postponed! I also had to hold a napkin under Partho’s chin in case he dribbled when eating the holy bread and drinking the holy wine. Partho joked that I was best qualified for this as I’d had plenty of practice with Owen. One thing that surprised me about the ceremony was that the photographers and videographers where free to work during the service, even posing Partho and Marilena when the priest was talking to them. They had lights and camera dollies set up behind the alter and at points it felt more like I was in a film about a wedding, than at an actual wedding.

The wedding reception was back at our hotel, with canap├ęs on the lawn. This was a good opportunity to try some typical Cypriot food, which was all very tasty. Even Owen ate plenty of it! As best man I was sat on the top table for dinner, but hadn’t been expecting Jen and Owen to be up there with me. Having a tired little boy on the top table was a risky strategy, but Owen seemed to take it in his stride, making friends with Partho’s sister.

I found my speech more difficult than when I was best man at my little brother’s wedding in 2015, despite Partho giving me so much material to work with over the years. The language barrier and the fact speeches aren’t usually part of a Cypriot wedding didn’t help, but Partho had decided I wasn’t getting away with not doing one. I did get a few laughs at the key moments and didn’t upset Partho, or Marilena, with my stories, so I’ll class that as a success!

After the speeches a short wedding highlights video was shown, with both Partho and Marilena getting ready, and some shots from the ceremony and reception. As a photographer I was impressed at how quickly they turned the video around. I’m also looking forward to the full wedding video and photographs, as there was much more focus on capturing the day than at a typical British wedding. I don’t envy Partho and Marilena having to choose the images they want for their album!

After the wedding we spent a few days relaxing in Protaras.