Montezuma Beach – Throwback Thursday

This photo, taken when we visited Montezuma in Costa Rica (ten years ago!), recently won third place in a “seascape” themed photography competition. So I took it as a good excuse to share it (again) on my blog.

It is crazy to think how much our lives have changed since we went to Costa Rica – shortly afterwards Jen and I started renovating the house where we now live with our two boys. And I have not been abroad for over three years, nor do we even have any foreign travel plans for the foreseeable future. Although it would be nice to take the boys over to Costa Rica…

Henry’s Third Birthday

The baby of the family is no longer a baby – Henry is a proper little boy now. Although he will insist that he is a “big boy”! We had a pretty quiet day today, with a trip to the zoo whilst Owen was at school. The main celebrations happened yesterday, with visits from grandparents and extended family. Henry loved seeing everyone and getting presents. Henry is an independent and resourceful little boy, so after the celebrations had stopped he snuck off upstairs to where he had already identified his main present to be hidden, then came downstairs with a big smile on his face and his new toy in his hands. Luckily for Henry, he manages to be incredibly cute when doing this sort of thing, so usually gets away with it.

Two has been a great age for Henry. Since his last birthday his speech has really come on, and he has become a right little chatterbox! He also has a great memory – remembering things that have been said to him weeks ago, or where things have been left. He is also great at recognising cars, especially Renaults (like Nanny’s). We seemed to mostly avoid the “terrible twos” with Henry – of course, there were a few tantrums, especially when he was tired, but he is generally good-natured and likes to be helpful. As I wrote in my recent post after our visit to Adrenaline Alley, Henry’s confidence has improved in the last few weeks – he is getting much more confident around other children. With all of the lockdowns over the last two years, he has missed a lot of the opportunities to socialise that Owen had, so it is good to see his social skills improving.

Henry showed some signs of turning into a “threenager”, but a lot of it was probably down to tiredness after a busy day, and me not understanding Henry’s vision for his outfit. Hopefully, he will continue to be his good-natured and loving self as he navigates being three. It should be an exciting year – moving to the pre-school at Owen’s school, potty training, holidays and hopefully learning to ride a pedal bike.

Henry and Daddy Day

Since changing jobs and working full time again, I have missed my Fridays off with Henry, but we ended up with a Saturday to ourselves and made the most of it! We started off with the Ready Steady Riders Super Saturday at Birmingham BMX track. It has been a while since Henry last went, and both his riding and attitude have improved considerably. He was happy to just keep doing laps of the balance bike track, the only wobble he had was when the bigger kids went for their session on the full-size BMX track – however, once we had agreed that he could do the big track session on our next visit he got on with riding the balance bike track. With only three other riders it was a good session and they all rode well together. Henry only stopped to pester me for snacks! At the end of the session, they were invited to join the group on the big track, who were being filmed for the Commonwealth Games, Henry looked a bit nervous at the top of the big ramp, but did not hesitate to drop in, in fact, he did not even wait for his name to be called! As the light was good I brought my camera kit along and got some nice photos.

After the bike track, we went to Sutton Park to meet my friend Partho, and his dog Otto. Otto is a miniature dachshund and Henry’s “favourite dog”. Henry often asks to see photos of Otto on my phone. Otto seems to like Henry too! Henry was so good holding Otto’s lead, they looked so cute together walking through the park – everyone walking past commented! After a solid hour of riding and a long walk, Henry was starting to flag towards the end and needed carrying, but it was nice to be out in the park. Then, having worked up an appetite we grabbed some lunch at the pub. Henry was flagging by this point and even got to the second stage of tired toddler – the mad half hour. Otto loved having an excitable Henry to play with and it was so cute watching them play together, however, I knew it was time to get Henry to the van for a nap. Before we left, Henry had just enough energy to get into Partho’s car, sitting next to Otto. He asks to do this every time he sees Otto in the car – Henry is a stickler for routines and sitting in the back of Partho’s car with Otto is another one of his favourite routines.

By the time we got out of Sutton Coldfield, Henry was fast asleep in his car seat after a very busy morning! It has only been two months since I started working full time, but he seems so much more grown-up than when we last had a Daddy and Henry day out. It is hard to believe that he will be three next week!

Top Five from 2021

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, 2021. As I had selected my five photos I also decided to share them on my blog, as I have done for 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2012.

Henry got a bubble machine for his second birthday, in March, and although not technically perfect, I love this photo of him experiencing it for the first time. He looks so babyish compared to the proper little boy that he is now, eleven months later.

Another shot from earlier in the year. Owen and I had a week of bikes during the Easter holidays. This was a lucky shot whilst Owen was riding the skatepark, but I really like the colours. It was my phone home screen for a while too.

Chesterton Windmill is a bit of a cliche for photographers in Coventry, however, I was yet to visit with the camera. I had planned a silhouette shot backlit by the sunset, but this shot was from an initial scouting trip, one summer evening when I just needed to get out of the house. I am sure that the sun would be better positioned for a dramatic sunset in winter, but the sails were removed for maintenance in the autumn, so I will have to try again another year.

An early morning blat to the Elan Valley with my friend Partho was one of my highlights of 2021. As well as the drive, we also spent some time taking photos of the cars and this was my favourite.

I love the colours of this lorikeet from one of our many visits to Twycross Zoo. I am especially impressed as I was with both of the boys at the time and this was a quick shot.

Henry’s Christmas Holiday 2021

At the end each term, Henry’s nursery set him (us) homework, to share a few photographs of what he has been up to over the holiday. Owen also had this homework when he was at nursery, but I did not think to share the photos on my blog. As it is a nice recap, I have decided to start sharing them.

On my last Friday “Daddy day” between finishing my old job and starting at the new one, Henry and I went to Cannock Chase. It was meant to be a Little Rippers Meet, but that did not quite work out. I thought that Henry would really enjoy the new play trail, but he had his own agenda. I did get him to do a few laps of the “Butterly loop”, including riding this skinny. Technically, the photo is not great, but I like his expression.

On New Year’s Day I took the boys for a welly walk in our local woods – it was so muddy, but we needed to get out of the house. Henry likes posing in this tree.

Henry enjoyed sitting at Jen’s piano, he would play us a tune (well, some random notes) and sing along. He is really starting to show what his particular interests are. Hopefully the piano/music is something that he will continue with.

Henry and I had a few rides out in my MR2 Roadster, he seems to be turning into a right little petrolhead at the moment and made a few requests to “go in the sportscar” and who was I to argue?

Belated Birthday Ride at Cannock Chase

Today I had a great bike ride at Cannock Chase, with my school fields Ali and Partho. After a similar ride at Hicks Lodge last year I hope this is going to become a tradition! As you can see from the photo, we had pretty decent weather for December, unlike last year, which was cold, wet and horrible. The last few weeks have also been cold, wet and horrible, so I dressed for that and ended too warm. Having received a winter jersey (from Partho) and some winter gloves (from my brother) for my birthday I was keen to try out my new kit – both are going to be good for riding through the rest of the winter.

We only had a few hours, so rode the first four sections of the blue graded “Perry’s Trail”, before switching to “Follow The Dog”, a red graded trail, at the bottom of “Cardiac Hill”. The last time I rode “Follow The Dog” with Ali, “Cardiac Hill” almost lived up to its name – but this time Ali made it all of the way to the top without any drama! Partho was also riding well and is definitely getting fast on the downhills, whilst still being faster than me uphill. I was also happy with my riding, the shorter loop than usual meant that my legs felt fresher so I could focus on technique, especially towards the end of the trail.

Cannock Chase is my local trail centre, but since “Perry’s Trail” opened earlier this year, I have been riding there more than ever, both with and without the kids. They have now also got a “bike play” trail, which will be perfect for Henry as he learns to ride his pedal bike next year.

Cannock Chase Ride on World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness of mental health issues. I have been struggling with my mental health this year, but I have found that getting out into nature for a bike ride helps to clear my head. Today was a perfect example.

With trips away planned for the coming weekends, today was going to be my last change to get out for a big solo bike ride in October, all I needed to do was fix my rear brake. But I had been having a rubbish week and could not drag myself out to the garage to work on my bike. That wrote off my plan to travel to Llandegla to ride the new trail there. Instead, if I was to get out, I had to fix my bike this morning and ride somewhere nearer to home. So, with fixed brakes, I drove to Cannock Chase. Even the drive there, in the cool sunshine, listening to the HKT Podcast started to make me feel better.

I was later than normal getting to Cannock Chase and had to park in the overflow parking – I had never seen it so busy! The first few sections of the “Follow The Dog” trail did not seem any busier than normal though. It was only when I cut across to section four of the blue trail, now officially known as “Perry’s Trail” that it seemed busy. Busy with families riding with kids, which I see as a good sort of busy! After all, Perry’s Trail is great with kids – Owen and I have been enjoying it all summer! I managed to wait and find a gap in the traffic, so got a good run through the jumps and berms, before continuing back onto the Follow The Dog and straight up “Cariac Hill”, the toughest climb on the trail. By now I was well in the zone and decided to ride all the way down to the railway crossing at the bottom of the hill, and up the other side to “Lower Cliff”. I probably could have done the full “Monkey Trail”, but I was out to enjoy myself and wanted to take in the views, as the forest was looking magical, with the autumnal colours bathed in bright October sunshine, so kept to a shorter ride.

At the top of Lower Cliff I stopped for a snack, and to take the mandatory photo (at the top of this post) before dropping in to the longest and fastest descent on my ride. A few seconds in I realised that I had not switched the clutch in my rear derailleur back on, after the bike maintenance this morning. I do not know why I did not notice it on the earlier trails, but maybe it was because I was trying to take in as much of the sights and sounds of this descent as possible…

Something else that I had never spotted on the trails at Cannock Chase were toadstools! As I was hurtling down Lower Cliff I started to notice them by the side of the trail. At first I thought they were plastic as they looked so bright and perfect, but I then noticed some damaged ones. Lower Cliff was not a sensible place to stop and admire the flora, so I carried on back to the railway crossing, glad that my chain stayed on (and remembering to switch on the clutch at the bottom of the trail). On the slow climb back up “Kitbag Hill” I also took the opportunity to appreciate how the light was coming though the tall, straight pine trees. Checking my watch at the top, I realised that if I got a shift on I would have time for a bonus lap of Perry’s Trail before my car parking ticket expired.

I rode the next few sections really well, riding as one aboard my trusty Orange Four. I later learned that I had set quite a few Strava PRs on this part of the ride. I also started noticing more toadstools by the trail, and felt like I was getting a Super Mario style speed boost each time I passed one. Just after “Hugh’s Bridge”, a section of trail I helped build, I spotted some particularly photogenic toadstools at a sensible place to stop, so pulled off the trail to grab some photos.

I was three minutes past my target time to go for a bonus lap. But went anyway, on the basis that it was probably my photo stop that delayed me. I had a fun lap of Perry’s Trail, although I did have to reign myself in at one point, as it is easy to carry too much speed. Interestingly, by the time I got back to the van, albeit a few minutes after the two hours parking I had paid for, all the other cars around me had gone. The forest is such a great place to spend time in nature, especially on a glorious autumnal afternoon that I could help but maximise my time there and bank those happy feelings and views to help me through darker days.

Henry’s Summer Holiday 2021

At the end of each term, Henry’s nursery set him (us) homework, to share a few photographs of what he has been up to over the holiday. As it is a nice recap, I have decided to start sharing them on my blog.

On the first day of Owen’s school holidays, the boys and I grabbed our cameras and went for a walk in our local woods. Henry walked so well. I chose this photo as we had lots of walks in the woods – it is great having them just at the top of our road.

This photo has already appeared in Spot the Difference – Cannock Chase Water Splash. Henry and I were at Cannock Chase for a Little Rippers MTB x Ready Steady Riders ride. Owen was meant to be with us, but he had to self isolate due to one of his classmates having COVID on the last day of term. It was good to get out for a group ride with just Henry – I managed to convince him to ride into the river to recreate a photo I had taken of Owen when Henry was only three months old.

Henry loved our trip to Bluestone in Wales! This was not my favourite photo from the trip, but it gave the best context of what Henry did on holiday – he loved playing in the sandpit in the Serendome.

A Special Bike Ride Behind the Hospital

Just over five years ago I remember looking out of the window of the neonatal “Transitional Care Unit” at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, holding a very small, and slightly yellow, baby Owen. I said to him “one day we will ride the trails out there” – today was that day!

He was probably ready to ride the trails a while ago, but we had never got around to it. I decided that it would be good to do it before the weather turned and it got too muddy. We started from Binely woods, taking the bridleway across to Combe Abbey Country Park – partly to avoid paying for parking, but mostly because it is a nice ride through the woods. Jen and Henry even joined us for this part of the ride but stopped off at Combe Abbey for the playground. Owen and I carried on past the hotel, through the woods and out the back of the park. For some reason I have it in my head that the bridleway out the back of Combe Abbey is really steep, I had even brought the tow rope to help Owen, but it was not needed. He climbed the hill with ease. From the top of the hill, we were able to look down over the hospital. I told Owen how small he was, how he had been in hospital for almost three weeks and that I had told him we would ride up there together. He did not seem to bothered by it all but humoured me with a selfie with the hospital in the background before we rode back to join Jen and Henry at the playground for ice cream.

We ended up having a lovely family afternoon out – the boys were on good form and the weather was lovely. It is hard to believe that it will be October next week! I would not normally consider 9km, on easy trails, to be a special ride, but I had been looking forward to this for most of Owen’s life, so it was nice to get it checked off.

Another Attempt at the Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge

During the lockdown at the start of 2021 the local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders created a challenge segment on Strava to encourage local riders to get out and push themselves during the lockdown. I had three attempts, and as mentioned in my post about it, my goal had been to complete the 13km, mostly off-road, loop in less than one hour, but only got down to 1:06:30 before the lockdown ended.

I was confident that with drier trails, riding my hardtail and the lure of a Five Guys burger (from their recently opened restaurant by the finish line) at the end I could beat my target time. However, life got in the way and it was only in September that I was able to have another attempt. The first part of the loop, out of the city centre, felt busier than earlier in the year, but I think that helped me pace myself, rather than setting off too quickly like my previous attempt. I also took the slightly longer route up the ramp from the tunnel under the ring road. On my previous attempts, I had ridden up the stairs, arguably more impressive, but ultimately slower. I was feeling in much better shape as I rode over the railway and through Spencer Park. However, the place I noticed the difference the most was riding up the Fletchamstead Highway towards the Kenilworth Road – I expect that the choice of bike, and tyre, that helped the most here.

Heading into the second quarter of the loop, which is arguably the hardest, I knew that there was a slight change to the trail, which cuts out the boggiest section. Unfortunately for my normal riding, it is also the most fun section, but for this ride, speed was the priority. At the top of Gibbet Hill, the halfway point of the ride, a quick time check showed I was five minutes ahead of my goal. So I allowed myself a minute resting before dropping into the fastest, most technical section, down the hill towards Wainbody Wood. This is probably my favourite trail in Coventry, there are a series of small jumps, a “north shore” raised wooden section. I was particularly proud of myself on the lap of Wainbody Wood, as rather than slowing down and riding around a tree stump on the trail, I hopped over it without slowing down. I noticed that this, mostly off-road, middle section of the loop was much quieter than during lockdown – I barely saw anyone.

With time in hand I was feeling confident until I popped out of the woods by the A45 and saw that the next bit of pavement that I needed to ride on was closed for roadworks, this was annoying for me, but would have been much worse for a wheelchair user, or someone walking with small children! I had to deviate from the route and join the main carriageway of the Kenilworth Road. I think the roadie next to me at the traffic lights was surprised to see a mountain biker shoot off so fast when the light turned green. Annoyingly he sat right behind me, which combined with the queue of traffic, due to the roadworks, meant I could not turn on to the trail I needed, and took a detour via the Coat of Arms Bridge Road to rejoin the trail and carry on the final push to the city centre.

When I got back to Lady Godiva, I checked my watch to see that I had taken roughly fifty minutes to complete the loop, seventeen less than in March and well under my target of an hour. It was time to get that burger!

I had left my bike lock locked to the bike rack, so ordered my food on the app and popped into the restaurant to collect my reward! I could not have been in there for more than ten minutes, but when I came out I noticed that the rear tyre on my bike was completely flat. Not wanting to let my burger get cold, I sat on a bench overlooking the bike rack and enjoyed my celebratory lunch, whilst pondering how my tyre could have lost all the air. After my burger, I noticed the end of the valve stem on the floor, and as I was pondering if I could have knocked it when I locked up the bike, a group of students came over and said that they had seen someone with a metal bar levering at my bike! My only guess is that they hoped that by immobilising my bike I would leave it there until town quietened down. Rather than risk that happening I pushed my bike all the way home. I had thought about buying a tube in town but figured that I could probably walk home quicker than fixing my bike.

After that disappointing end to my ride, the final kick in the teeth was that Strava did not recognise that I had completed the segment! After comparing the GPS traces, it was within the first 16% of the segment – before any of the diversions. My only assumption is that it was down to worse GPS coverage with leaves on the trees. However, working on the basis that the time for the official competition had lapsed and that I know I beat my target with plenty of time to spare I am going to call it a success. I also set nine “PRs” on Strava, so in addition to my celebratory burger, I am treating my bike to some swanky Muc-Off tyre valves Amazon affiliate link, to replace the broken one.