Half-term Bike Rides with Owen

Owen has been off school this week, so I also took a few days off work, with the plan that we would get out to ride bikes together. We had planned to ride at Cannock, but the trails were closed due to fallen trees from the recent storms.

Hicks Lodge

Hicks Lodge, was actually our “Plan C”, after Cannock Chase and Snibston Colliery Park, which we drove to first, only to find the trails also closed. Hopefully, I will get to complete that trail one day! Fortunately, it is only a short drive from Snibston to Hicks Lodge, so Owen did not even bother to take his bike kit off. The route took us past the end of the road I lived on in the late 1980s, so we took a quick detour to see where I learned to ride a bike.

Hicks Lodge is a safe choice for riding with kids if a little tame for Owen now. The trail was a bit damp, but we were just glad to be riding. We only did one lap but repeated some of our favourite sections. Owen was taking it easy, so when we re-rode the last section I asked Owen to ride it at top speed and pretend it was an enduro stage – it worked, he rode much better and said that he enjoyed it more too!

417 Bikepark

The plan after this ride was to drop Owen off with my parents, so 417 Bikepark on the edge of the Cotswolds was the obvious choice. It is also Owen’s favourite place to ride. We started off in the “barn of dreams”, the indoor pumptrack. Owen was on his BMX, as his mountain bike was still muddy from Hicks Lodge. There was another little boy there on a BMX too, so it was nice watching them riding round together.

Before Owen tired himself out, I dragged him away to swap bikes and get goggles on to hit the downhill trails. We started off riding the lower portion of the blue graded “Cheese Roller” trail, which featured a steep corner that Owen was too nervous to ride on our previous visit. It was the same on his first run, but he walked around it and continued to the bottom of the trail, slowly. We pushed our bikes back up to the bottom of the steep corner, but this time I put Owen’s bike into a harder gear, which seemed to help him on the way down, as he was able to carry more speed, especially over the four big tabletop jumps at the end of the trail.

After pushing up it was time to let the bus take the strain, so we jumped onto the uplift bus to the top of the hill and rode back down the blue graded “Blue Racoon” trail – Owen’s favourite. He was going well until we came to a(nother) steep right-hand corner and pulled up to the side of the trail. I rode it first, then coaxed Owen down – he did so well. It must have given him a confidence boost as it took me a little while to catch him back up! Owen enjoyed the trail so much that we repeated the bottom section before stopping for lunch.

Fueled on confidence and tuna sandwich Owen was on fire after lunch – he rode the tricky corner on “Cheese Roller”, claiming he did not even realise that was the corner! He also rode the bottom section much quicker than in the morning. There was a queue for the uplift, so we pushed back up and rode the lower section of “Cheese Roller” again, but faster. Then we got another lift to the top – Owen was getting into the swing of it, waiting to hand his bike to the driver, then for me to put my bike on the trailer and collecting his bike at the top and going to the top of the trail whilst I unloaded my bike. His second full run on “Blue Racoon” was faster, and the scary corner was despatched with ease.

At this point, we had to buy more uplift tickets, before continuing down “Cheese Roller”. This was Owen’s fastest run – he even got the tiniest bit of air over one of the big jumps at the end of the trail. He was buzzing when we got to the bottom. Then we got in the uplift queue behind YouTuber Ben Deakin, who was doing some coaching. I gave Owen the choice of another run down “Blue Racoon” or attempting a full run of “Cheese Roller” – he chose “Blue Racoon” and set off quickly – looking so much more confident than he had in the morning! At one point he had a bit of a wobble out of a fast berm but managed to hold on to it and continued down to the bottom of the trail. After such a good run we decided to call it a day on the downhill trails as Owen wanted to do more laps of the pumptrack, although it had gotten busier.

I was so proud of Owen, especially how he conquered his nervousness about the steep corners and how well he rode after lunch. He was also by far the youngest rider on the downhill trails but rode (and behaved) sensibly – queuing for our last uplift he told me that it was “the best day ever”! I also had a great day, it did not matter that I was riding at Owen’s pace, it was just nice to be out on the bikes together. And after a wet and windy start to the year, it felt like Spring was starting to arrive – the sun was out and we even saw our first lambs of the year on the drive across the Cotswolds to drop Owen off with my parents.

Back on the Snowboard

Back in the days before I started blogging, snowboarding was my life. I rode loads but had reached a plateau and grown-up life took over. I then discovered mountain biking, which gave me the same buzz as snowboarding, but with much less hassle and that became my sort of choice, and I have only snowboarded a handful of times in the past ten years. Although I had made a point of watching all of the snowboard competitions at the Winter Olympics.

Part of the story behind me getting back on a snowboard was that Partho and I were booked on a mountain bike “jumps and drops” course with Skillsloop, which was cancelled due to Storm Eunice. So we happened to be at a loose end when Rich asked if we fancied going to the SnowDome with him – sometimes these things just come together! Fortunately, the snowboard fashion of the noughties was for baggy kit, so it still fitted!

Walking down the stairs to the changing area at the SnowDome felt familiar, but it was not until I was at the top of the travellator and ratcheting up my bindings that I was sure the muscle memory for snowboarding was still there. Dropping in for my first run, with a traverse on my toe edge into a heelside turn, felt completely natural. Like I had never been gone. You could say “like riding a bike”! I had a slightly nervous wait at the bottom of the slope waiting for Partho (on skis) and Rich (also on a snowboard) to finish their runs – but when they joined me we were all smiles. Partho was noticeably faster on his second run, beating me to the bottom, but ending up on the deck to avoid taking out someone at the bottom. Resisting the temptation to spray him with snow, I went back up the rope tow to try to meet Rich halfway up the slope, but he was also quicker on this run.

We spent the next few hours doing laps of the slope. If I got a clear run I would hit the small kicker ramp and try to get some air, but was generally taking it easy and just enjoying being back on a snowboard. Strangely it felt like some of the best riding I have ever done, maybe it was a combination of no expectations and a familiar slope or the fact that I am a lot fitter these days, thanks to regular mountain biking. I would be interested to see how I fare on a real mountain with much longer runs.

It was especially good to be riding with some of my oldest friends, in the old days snowboarding was something that I mainly did with my brother, so it was great to be able to chat with Partho and Rich on the lift or to watch them riding down. Afterwards, we also went out for lunch, which felt like an extra treat in the week!

I am certainly not going to leave it another five years before I get back on my snowboard, especially now that my best friends are keen to join me. Maybe it could even lead to a trip to the Alps, which is not something that I would have been expecting to write even just a few days ago…

Malverns Classic – Henry’s First Bike Race

On the way home from our holiday at Bluestone we called in at the Malverns Classic mountain bike festival. We had planned to go in 2019, but it was rained off, and then in 2020 it was cancelled due to Coronavirus, so I was pleased to eventually get there. In 2019 Owen was meant to be racing his balance bike, but he was too old this time and Henry got his first opportunity to race.

After seemingly always being late to Owen’s races, we made an extra effort to get to Henry’s race early. In the end, we were too early, but it did give us time to grab a bacon roll for breakfast and for the boys to get a ride on the pump track before we trekked up the hill for Henry to practice on the dual slalom course. Henry’s balance bike coach, Kazzi from Ready Steady Riders, was running the racing, which I had hoped would reassure Henry, but the first run down was very slow. I do not know if it was the grassy hill or the crowds, but Henry seemed really nervous. Fortunately, I was able to run down with him and coax him down. For his second and thirst practice runs, I convinced Henry to ride to each of the slalom poles and grab them, which got him to speed up a bit.

I was not sure what to expect by the time the racing started, Henry made a very reluctant start, but after the first corner, he picked up the pace and shot off down the track. However, as we were walking back up the track Henry was clapping and cheering for the other racers coming down, which made me proud – sportsmanship is way more important than winning! Unfortunately, I do not have any photos from the race, I was helping Henry the whole time, and the official photographer has not yet shared the images online.

After Henry’s race, we went back to the main event arena. My first priority was to go to the Schwalbe Tyres stand, as I had noticed a small defect on one of the tyres on Jen’s bike. I was expecting to be advised to replace the tyre, but they took the bike and swapped the tyre for us free of charge! Whilst that was happening we called by our friends at Little Rider Co, Henry took the opportunity to do some shopping and kept running up to us carrying various jerseys from their stall – eventually settling on one from their just launched “urban series”. Most of his kit is hand-me-downs from Owen, so I don’t mind buying him something new occasionally. There was a free funfair for the kids, so Jen took the boys there and I had a quick look around the rest of the trade stands.

On my tour, I had discovered the Strider area – to which Henry got VIP access as he was riding his Strider. The boys both got to have a ride around their small track – Owen loved this as other than a couple of laps of the pump track he had not been able to ride much. They were also given little Strider toys, like the one Owen got at his first bike race three years ago, which still gets played with regularly.

By this time the action was starting up on the Dirt Wars course, and knowing that Owen loves watching bike tricks on TV, we took him to see some for real. We sat on the grass, in the sun, for about an hour watching the riders doing all sorts of unfathomable stunts on the huge ramps. It was great to see all of the families and groups of friends enjoying the festival atmosphere, with bike racing/competitions happening all around, however, the boys seemed to have had enough, so we decided to quit whilst we were ahead and finish our journey home to Coventry.

I will certainly be going back to the Malverns Classic in 2022, but I am not yet sure if this will be a solo trip, with my friends, with one boy, or even as a whole family thing. Eight years after my last camping experience (Le Mans 2014) I could even be tempted to go for the whole weekend…

Bluestone 2021

After our trip to Bluestone in 2019, Owen regularly asked when we would be going back. It was a great holiday, so we booked a short break for May 2020, our last opportunity for a term-time holiday for a while. We all know how that ended! So we moved our booking to 2021, during Owen’s school summer holidays.

On our previous trip, we were in my BMW 120i, which was not at all suitable for a family holiday – packing was much easier with the van! We broke up the journey at Dare Valley Country Park, where we had a nice lunch outside in their courtyard. After lunch the boys checked out the adventure playground, then the new pump track – the reason that we were there! The pump track (and family-orientated downhill trail, with uplift service) only opened this month, but I had heard good things about it. I was impressed with the asphalt pump track, the only niggle I have with it is that there is not a natural exit point, without crossing the track. Both of the boys rode really well. Henry was not at all phased by the biggest rollers and berms he had ridden, despite all bigger kids whizzing around. Owen was in his element, just putting in lap after lap.

From our stop, it was another ninety minutes to Bluestone, which Henry slept for most of. In total on the way from Coventry to Bluestone we saw 124 VW Transporter leisure vans (only T5 or newer, not including panel van etc) – we only saw one MR2 Roadster.

We had the same type of cabin as our last visit – a detached “upside-down house”, just down the hill from last time. Inside it was almost identical, but with different views out of the windows, which I found a bit confusing. The house was nearer to the “village” centre, so we took the boys down in the evening to explore and burn off some energy on the playground. It only took Owen 76 seconds to run back to our front door!

Our first full day started with a three bike convoy (Henry on the Mac Ride on Jen’s bike) to “The Hive” a large soft play centre, which was new since our last trip. The boys loved it – Henry especially, as he has missed out on soft play sessions and this was his first proper exposure. We then moved on to the Serendome, an undercover, but just about outdoor, area with loads of activities for the kids. The “building” area, which was Owen’s favourite, had been replaced with an area for craft activities, but the disappointment was short-lived once the boys got to the sandpit, where they played happily until Owen’s “Wacky Racers” pedal car session. Owen had not been old enough for the pedal cars on our first trip and was very excited to drive his car, which he christened “The Crazy Giraffe”. After a brief slalom to test driving abilities, Owen led out the first drive down the hill, stopping to collect coloured discs at a few points down the hill, then full pelt into the crash-pad at the bottom. Next was a timed hill climb back to the start – Owen did particularly well on this. The last run down the hill was a test of smoothness, a small bucket of water was placed on the car, with instructions not to spill any. Owen managed to not spill any at all – which I was very proud of. The races finished with a couple of celebratory laps around the Serendome.

In the afternoon, we left Bluestone and headed to the beach – Freshwater West, as we had enjoyed our previous visit there. It is a big beach, with dunes at one end and rocks at the other. We were able to get parked at the rocky end and set up our base near the rock pools. The boys enjoyed digging and paddling, although Henry was not too keen on his hands getting sandy. Owen and I took a walk down to the sea, although as it was just after low tide it took a while! On our way back to the van we got ice cream from Cafe Mor. Just like in 2019 I wished we had been there when we were planning to eat – the burgers looked, and smelled, amazing! At least the pizzas we had delivered to our cabin when we got back to Bluestone were really nice!

On Wednesday morning I managed to escape for a solo bike ride in Canaston Woods, whilst Jen and the boys had breakfast. It was a shorter version of the loop that I did last time, as I chose to stay nearer to Bluestone and repeat a particular loop. It was good to get out and ride some longer and more technical trails that I am used to at home in Coventry.

After a quick shower to remove the muddy evidence of my bike ride, we all got on our bikes and rode up to the Blue Lagoon pool. Unfortunately, they did not have the wave machine working, but the boys still enjoyed the lazy river. Owen was not quite big enough to go on the water flumes, but did get a chance to show Jen how well he can swim on his own now, albeit with a float belt and pool noodle. It has been over a year of (interrupted) swimming lessons since Jen last saw him swim and he has made good progress! Henry seemed to be his usual happy self and particularly enjoyed splashing around in the baby pool. After swimming, we went to the “village” coffee shop for “Welsh cream tea”, which was a normal cream tea but with added Welsh cakes – something I can certainly get on board with!

In the afternoon we walked down the steep ravine to Camp Smokey, for BBQ food and s’mores. Henry could not wait for his marshmallows to be toasted, he just gobbled them up! After our meal we took the long way back to the house, along the nature trail – the boys did well, walking all the way, and they still had the energy to run around the playground for an hour! After a busy day, we retired to the cabin and watched a film and gave the boys a relatively early night.

Our last full day at Bluestone started with another trip to the Hive, then to the Serendome. Owen got to play in the water play area, which he was upset to have missed out on earlier in the week. From there we left Bluestone to explore Narbeth. On our last trip, Jen had a quick look around and had found a nice Spanish deli. Our plan had been to have lunch there, but we had chosen the day their cafe was closed. Instead, we found Oh Crumbs! where Henry ordered a huge plate of waffles with brownies and marshmallows. Fortunately, he needed some help to finish them!

The plan had been to head back to Bluestone, but Henry was sleepy and Owen was being difficult, so we decided a longer drive in the van and change of scenery may help. I had heard about Llys y Fran on the Little Rippers MTB FaceBook group. We did not really know what to expect as we followed the signs pointing us down increasingly smaller roads into what felt like the middle of nowhere. Then all of a sudden we pulled up in a big car park that was mostly full. As we drove around trying to find a space Owen spotted the pump track! Henry was asleep in his car seat until just as Owen and I were kitted up and ready to head to the pump track and a little voice piped up “Henry come too”. Unfortunately, we had not really come equipped for riding the pump track – we only had our bikes to ride from the cabin to the van, no kneepads or full-face helmets etc. So we decided to take it easy.

When we got to the pump track we discovered that it was not just one pump track, but two, and a skills area! The smallest pump track would have been great for Henry, Owen enjoyed the bigger, asphalt, track, but before long we pedalled up to the top of the skills area to see what the trails were like. The short green graded line was nice and flowy, Owen rode it well, so we went back to the start to hit what we thought was another green graded line, but turned out to be the first section of the main mountain bike trail around the reservoir. Again, it was nice and flowy, but we just had a longer pedal back than expected! Next, we tried the blue line in the skills area, Owen set off first, but failed to get over the bridge feature – which to be fair was pretty steep for a blue graded trail, especially as you came up to it blind. After some help, he completed the trail and went back to the pump track where he was happy looping around it. Jen joined us, with Henry on the Mac Ride on her bike, and after swapping the Mac Ride onto my bike, we decided to check out the mountain bike trail around the reservoir.

Owen set off first, having already ridden the first green section, he was confident and shot off into the distance. Jen struggled to keep up – at this point I should have realised that the green-graded (easy) trail was actually trickier than the blue-graded (medium) trails she had ridden previously. After his laps of the pump track earlier in the week, Henry had decided that he liked corners again, so he was giggling away as we brought up the rear of our train. The second section of the mountain bike trails was also graded green but notched up the difficulty again. Jen was not at all confident riding it, although Owen was fine. At this point, I suggested heading back to the van, but Jen decided to push on around the reservoir on the gravel road. There were plenty of other families riding and all seemed well. I had a look at the next mountain bike section as we rode past, noting that the grading had increased to blue, and it looked a lot more technical – too technical to ride with Henry on my bike and for Owen without his protective gear. A while later we crossed the stream and the head of the reservoir, I noticed that the sign indicated 2 miles back to the visitor centre via the route we had come, or 5.5 miles via the way we were going. As it had been an easy ride up until that point I thought nothing more of it. Then the steep climbs started! I just about managed to struggle up the climbs with the extra weight of Henry on my bike, but Owen needed to push (of course I had left the tow rope back at the cabin). Because what goes up must come down, we then came to some seriously steep descents. Steep enough that Owen and Jen opted to walk down them. I think Henry would have also preferred to walk, but I wanted to keep momentum up for the following climbs. This part of the ride felt never-ending – we had definitely bitten off more than we could chew. But we were not about to go back up the super steep hills we had just come down! We had to keep on going – especially as we had a dinner reservation to make! As we eventually neared the dam we stopped to talk to the ranger, who informed us that he speaks to a lot of people who think it will be a flat ride around the reservoir. He also broke the news that we would not be riding across the dam, but would be descending to the valley floor, then back up the other side. At least it was a gentle gradient on tarmac, rather than more steep gravel sections. Henry and I powered ahead, put my bike in the van, then walked back to meet Owen and Jen, so I could take their bikes back to the van whilst the boys had a brief play on the playground and we could take the selfie above – as I had not actually taken any photographs all ride!

Somehow, we just about managed to make our dinner reservation at the Bluestone Pub, where we enjoyed a well-earned meal! The boys still had enough energy left to finish our stay as it had started, with a charge around the playground on the way back to the cabin. It was good being back at Bluestone, and the boys are already asking when we can go back. However I do not feel like I am in a rush to go back, whilst it is a great place to holiday with children, as there is plenty to keep them occupied, I did not really feel like I had much of a rest. We were ferrying excitable children to various activities, then supervising them. I do really like the concept of a car-free “village” and I am sure that we will go back in a few years when the boys are older they will be able to partake in different activities, so it will be a new experience for them.

We were not going straight home from Bluestone – in 2019 we had called at the Forest of Dean and decided that we would like to spend more time in that area. Our first stop was for lunch and a bike ride at the Cannop Cycle Centre. After eating our takeaway lunch in the van we headed for the family cycle trail, with Henry on the Mac Ride, and his balance bike strapped to my back. The plan had been to do a short ride on the family cycle trail, but the boys were being difficult, so we went straight to the playground at Beechenhurst, the non-mountain biking Forestry England site in the Forest of Dean, which is just over a kilometre away from the cycle centre. Incidentally, I think having the split sites works really well, rather than the usual mix of hardcore mountain bikers and families going to the cafe/playground/GoApe. After a good run around the large play area, the boys seemed a bit happier, so we went back to the cycle centre to hit the pump track. The skills area at the Cannop Cycle Centre is perfect for families, and Owen got straight on with riding laps of the pump track with the other kids there. Henry was a bit more reluctant but ended up doing some great riding on his balance bike, starting higher and higher on the start ramp each time he went around. Unfortunately, Owen was in a foul mood again by the time we got back to the van, culminating in him refusing to drink any of his water, then dropping the bottle as soon as we had set off, then claiming he was about to die of thirst. Henry being the helpful little brother that he is kindly offered Owen his drink. Of course, this was not good enough for Owen, which Henry responded to with taunts of “drink it, Owen”. Sensibly, at this point, Owen realised that when a two-year-old is mocking your tantrum it is best to give up and stayed quiet for the rest of our journey (which was completed before he died of thirst).

Our next stop was at Ross-on-Wye, a town I had driven through on many occasions, but never visited. Tea and cake were first on the agenda, we went to The Ginger Nut Cafe, which had tasty looking homemade cakes in the window. Suitably refuelled, we had a short walk around town, well as much as you can with two small boys, before heading back to the van and our hotel. Opposite the hotel, there were two combine harvesters “eating the wheat” as Owen would put it, which were good to watch as we had our dinner. I am going to finish this post here because the next part of the trip deserves a post of its own. The boys loved being back at Bluestone and are already asking when we can go back…

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.

2021 Goals Update

So far 2021 has been another tricky year, especially with the lockdown and homeschooling at the start of the year. Overall I do not think I have made as much progress on my goals as I would have liked, other things have cropped up and I am also trying to factor in some downtime each day. The biggest excitement for me this year has been Henry turning from a baby into a little boy, especially over the last few weeks where he has began speaking more than just the odd word. He has also really taken to his balance bike. I must stop using selfies of us on my bike for these posts though – I have just noticed that I used similar photos on my 2021 post and my 2020 mid-year goals update.

Catch up on blogging

This is my nineteenth post of the year, but I do still have a bit of a backlog. I still have at least five posts in my drafts folder that I need to finish, and a few more post ideas in my head… I also need to do some blog maintenance and tidy up the structure of my posts.

Publish more of my software work

I have a few more repositories on my Github profile, including the Twitter Bot I blogged about. I have a few more projects to finish off and share too. Ideally, I need to combine this with the previous goal and blog about these projects.

Take a good wildlife photo

The only wild animals I have pointed my camera at are Owen and Henry! I have noticed plenty of robins and squirrels in my local woods, typically they only allow me to get close when I do not have a camera. We will also be signing up for membership at Twycross Zoo, so I am sure that I will at least get some animal photos.

Ride 1,000 miles

This is certainly one goal where I am overachieving, I am already past 500 miles so far and not too far off 600! It has definitely been a case of little and often, as I have not done any particularly big rides. Most of my rides have been with Owen and/or Henry, so less than 10km. However, all the riding probably explains why both of my bikes need a service. I am almost tempted to try and push for 2,021km, to beat my record from 2015. I am comfortably ahead of my friend Partho in our annual “who can ride their bike the furthest” challenge too.

Another cycling challenge that I would like to complete is the Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge route in less than one hour. There is now the added bonus of a Five Guys restaurant at the finish line on Broadgate in the city centre. I just need to do a brake overhaul on my hardtail bike and I will be good to go.

Ride somewhere new with Owen

Owen and I have done a lot of riding together. We rode at Snibston Colliery Country Park in our “week of bikes” at Easter, but that ride was cut short by mechanical problems on my bike. We have also ridden the new blue graded trail at Cannock Chase, including our “long weekend of bikes“. We have got a few trips planned later in the year where I am sure Owen and I will ride some more new trails.

Get on top of cleaning the cars

All three of the cars have had a wash this year – the MR2 before I had even started back at work! Unfortunately, both the MR2 and van could do with another wash though. The Worx Hydroshot (Amazon affiliate link) cordless pressure washer I bought has certainly made this easier, as I do not need to run power and water from/through the house.

Declutter/sell stuff

I have sold a few things on eBay/Facebook marketplace, but I still have a fair bit to go. We have also done a decent job of passing on baby bits that the boys have grown out of.

Does anybody want to buy a 24″ wheel kids bike? Or a camera bag? Or a tripod? Or a Lee DSLR filter kit?

Tidy my garage

It was tidy at one point! I even got some Topeak bike hooks (Amazon affiliate link) to tidy up the bikes. However, after rebuilding Owen’s new bike and a few other projects, it is back to being messy.

Get my weight down to 85kg

This is probably the goal I am doing worst at – after a good start, I have put on some weight on during the lockdown. There is still time to turn it around though.

Outside of my goals, I have spent a lot of time at my desk, either working at my day job or on various software development projects, which I hope to be able to share soon (see goal #1). After a quiet start to the year, due to the lockdown, we have lots of exciting plans for the summer and early part of the autumn, so I hope to have some exciting posts in the coming months.

A Long Weekend Of Bikes

I realise that this is similar to a recent post, but at the moment my life just seems to be work and wrangling the boys, with a bit of bike riding (or maintenance) to break it up! However last weekend was a bank holiday weekend in the UK, a rare one with good weather, so we made the most of it!

Friday – Cannock Chase

Friday was a normal working day for most of the country, however, I have Fridays off to look after Henry, and Owen’s school was closed for a teacher training day. I took the opportunity to take the boys to Cannock Chase, to try the recently opened blue graded mountain bike trail there.

As we pulled into the car park, I realised that my plan had worked – I have never seen it so quiet! We quickly got our kit on and set off – Henry on the Mac Ride on my Clockwork Evo hardtail and Owen on his bike. The trail started off familiar, “Twist and Shout”, which used to be the start of the red graded “Follow the Dog” trail had been opened up and smoothed out, but followed a similar line, finishing in a zig-zag of berms. It was perfect for Owen.

The rest of the trail continued in a similar fashion – smooth flowing singletrack. I found it more enjoyable than the red (difficult) graded trail. I cannot wait to revisit without a copilot on the front of my bike. The only section of the trail yet to be completed is a bridge over a stream, which meant a diversion through a ford. Owen took the sensible route over the stepping stones, but Henry and I blasted through the water – fortunately for me Henry acted as a mudguard protecting me from most of the spray. He was not so impressed. Owen rode well, even trying to stand in the “attack position” over some rougher sections of trail. Unfortunately, at one small rock garden where he did this without prompting, somehow he had a fairly spectacular crash. I cannot see what, if anything, he did wrong – I think it is just one of the perils of riding mountain bike trails on 16” wheels. Owen got up, brushed himself down and completed the ride like a champ.

After riding the blue trail, we returned to the van, grabbed Henry’s Strider and set off on the Gruffalo trail. I had read The Gruffalo to Henry the previous evening, so he was excited to meet “Gruff”. He was also excited to be back in his own bike, choosing to ride through all of the puddles. After our two rides, we had earned our picnic, which we ate sat in the back of the van. Then the boys had a good explore on the playground – it was a little bit busier than when we arrived but still quiet – I think we will be returning to Cannock Chase next time we have out of sync school holidays! To finish off the adventure we called into McDonald’s for ice creams on the way home.

Saturday – Sherwood Pines

On Saturday we met up with some old friends and their children at Sherwood Pines. It was more of a day out than a mountain bike trip, but the boys and I took our bikes anyway. A few of the others had brought bikes too, so we set off for a lap of the blue graded “Adventure Trail”, via the skills area. Unfortunately, one rider had a small crash on the skills area and our group was reduced to three, Owen and me, and our friends’ eleven-year-old son. Owen and I had ridden the trail a few weeks previously, so it was good to see how far he had progressed. I was particularly proud of how, without prompting, he was getting into attack position on the trickier sections of the trail. He was also carrying speed down hills to help him up the other side. The only bad thing was that at some point early in the ride I managed to break the remote for my dropper post. I could still just about get it to work, but not whilst riding, so my seat had to be either up or down. I had forgotten how tough it is to ride without a dropper post – another reason that Owen’s riding is impressive!

After the ride, we met up with the rest of the group, who had set up camp and started the picnic. It was nice to catch up after not having seen each other for such a long time. The children all played together, although I think Henry struggled to grasp the rules of cricket and just ran away with the ball. After the picnic, we went on another Gruffalo trail – this time we did it properly, buying the map from the gift shop – Owen had been disappointed that we did the trail backwards the previous day. However, the children were more excited about the numerous play areas around the trail and we had six tired children when it came to leaving. Henry did not even make it five miles down the road for dinner at the nearest McDonalds. After dinner they both slept for the rest of the drive home.

Sunday – Solo Ride

After two days riding with the boys, I managed to get out on my own on Sunday morning, for a quiet local ride. It was only a short loop on my local trails, but as much as I enjoy riding with the boys, it is nice to get out into the woods on my own! The only other bike activity was a bit of work on the bike I was preparing for Owen’s birthday. In the afternoon my parents came to to take the boys to stay with them for the night. Jen and I were able to head off in the MR2 to a country pub, for a civilised meal!

Monday – Ride with Jen

I had planned a ride with Jen along the Kenilworth Greenway, but without small children to wake us up at 6:00, we had a lie in and ran out of time for a long ride. So instead we just went on a short loop to the park, including a few bits of single track on the way. It is the first time that Jen and I have been able to ride together without the boys since she got her new bike. At the park we stopped for hot drinks, which we were able to enjoy uninterupted. It was not my usual sort of ride, but great to spend some quality time with Jen.

Bonus Pumptrack Session

As this post has taken me so long to publish, I thought that I would also skip ahead to the Friday, where we met up with Team Kostka, three young bike riding sisters and their mum, at Solihull Pumptrack. I was not riding for this trip, as I knew Henry would need a lot of support around the track – it is a big step up from the Ready Steady Riders track he is used to riding. What I had not bargained for was Henry falling asleep on the twenty minute drive to the track, only waking up as I was carrying both him and his bike to the track.

Once again, Owen rode well, after ignoring my suggestiong to start small, he dropped straight into the bigger jumps without any hesitation and rode them well. Although he was slower than the girls, he liked having friends to ride with. Despite being the smallest rider there, and the only one on a balance bike, Henry also did not want to start small! However he sensibly opted to ride down the grass next to the steep asphalt roll in, cutting back onto the track. He needed my help both up and down the big rollers on the first straight, but managed the rest of the track with only the occasional push up the steepest transitions. It is not really a track suited to balance bikes, but he had fun anyway.

As well as riding together it was great to see the children all playing together between laps, the boys have certainly caught the tree climbing bug! Fortunately when Henry started asking to go to the playground next door, everyone else was about ready too, so they all had a good play together, before returning to the track for more laps. It was a great afternoon, and it was another example of bike riding being even more fun when you do it with friends! There is a cool video of the afternoon on the Team Kostka Instagram.

RIP iPhone 7

My trusty iPhone 7 took a tumble onto the pavement whilst I was working on my van, and the screen shattered. I was already planning to replace it this year, so it was not the end of the world, but it was a sad end for what must be the best piece of technology I have ever purchased.

Since the iPhone 3G I had bought each major new iPhone on launch day – 3G, 4, 5, 6 and 7. To me, the iPhone 7 was the sweet spot, a good-sized screen, with TouchID and the build quality was a big step up from the iPhone 6. I was so happy with my iPhone 7 that after 2 years of ownership, I did not feel the need to upgrade to the iPhone XS, nor did I feel the need to upgrade to the iPhone 11 after 3 years – my phone had been fitted with a new battery and had a new lease of life. When the iPhone 12, in particular, the 12 Mini came out, I was swayed, but I had plans to buy a new Mac and did not want to buy both within the space of a few months. In any case, the iPhone was still working well, so I decided to stick with it for a fifth year.

Seeing as this is the longest I have kept a phone, I am pretty sure that it must also be the camera I have used the most. I had my Canon 5D for ten years, but I know I have taken many more photos on the device that is always in my pocket. Therefore I thought I would share some of my favourite photos taken on my iPhone 7.

Owen was only a few months old when I bought the iPhone 7, this was taken shortly afterwards on our first trip away as a family of three, and became my phone screen background.

Taking two months of parental leave before Owen’s first birthday provided lots of selfie opportunities. I especially liked the three generations one.

When Henry was born, the first photos of him were taken on my iPhone 7. I had bought my Fuji X-T2 by this point, but when wrangling a small baby an iPhone is much easier.

The first roof down drive in the MR2 was an important milestone for both the boys, so of course I had to take selfies!

Whilst on the subject of my MR2 Roadster this is my favourite picture of it taken on the iPhone 7.

Now that the boys are a bit bigger we can go on bike adventures – some of my favourite times with the boys. I am sure that there will be long lasting memories from these trips, but in case not, my trusty iPhone was in my pocket to capture it all.

Holidays are usually “big camera” time, but when you’re in a ball pit or having a van picnic the iPhone is less cumbersome.

This story has a happy ending as I bought an iPhone 12 Mini to replace it – the camera is a big step up, especially with portrait mode. So I am looking forward to more photos as the boys grow up, and we go on more bike adventures and hopefully on holidays!

Godiva Trail Riders Lockdown Challenge

In parallel to the HKT Winter Defiance Handbook challenges I have also been participating in another challenge over this third national lockdown. The local mountain bike club, the Godiva Trail Riders, set up a segment on Strava to see who could ride it the quickest. The route started and finished at the Lady Godiva statue in Broadgate in the city centre and followed the trails parallel to the Kenilworth Road as far as Gibbet Hill, then crossing over from the west side to the east side of the road and following those trails back to Lady Godiva. I regularly ride most of these trails, albeit heading into the city, so thought it would be a fun challenge.

My first ride, a week after the challenge was announced, was an eye opener – I had never seen the trails so muddy, or churned up! The wet winter and lack of anything else to do meant that the woods were getting a lot more traffic that usual, but I was most shocked by the amount of mountain bike tyre trails. I struggled through the mud to finish the ride, but decided to wait until the trails were a lot drier before tackling it again. Time: 1:19:21.

By the end of February the weather had improved, so I had another attempt at the lockdown challenge. The trails had not dried as much as I had expected, and I was not really in the right headspace, but I did manage to pull five minutes out of the time. Time: 1:14:43.

By this point I could see that plenty of other people had put in sub hour times, and that became my new target – I was pretty convinced that it was doable with drier trails, and less stops. I also had a think about bikes – both of my attempts so far had been on my Orange Four, a full suspension trail bike, which I have set up with quite aggressive tyres. I had chosen it due to the tyres, but really did not need the rear suspension and associated extra weight. The ideal set up would have been my Orange Clockwork Evo hardtail trail bike, but fitted with grippier tyres from the Four, however that was too much hassle. It did not escape me that the record had been set on a simple single speed bike, albeit ridden by somebody a lot fitter than I am!

I had planned to do my last attempt on the Clockwork Evo on 28th March – the last day of the “stay at home” lockdown. However due to a mechanical fail the previous weekend the Clockwork Evo was out of action, so I would be back on the full suspension bike. I was also getting over a cold. And it was windy. You can probably guess from the long list of excuses that I did not quite meet my target…

I started off too hard, I was already at my max heart rate before I got to the first off road section. I knew then that I was not going to be putting in a good time, so decided to ride smart, keep my heart rate down, and keep the wheels turning. By the time I got to the trails I was riding well, the trails were drying, but still boggy in places. Going up Gibbet Hill I was keeping pace with runners on the pavement, despite taking the windier muddier route, although they dropped me on the final kick. As I emerged from the woods at the top of the hill, I saw a couple of other riders drop into the Wainbody trail, one of my favourites in Coventry. I paused to check the elapsed time (less than expected) and create some space, which was completely unnecessary as they were long gone. This trail had been particularly muddy on my previous attempt, but was drying nicely, although someone had ridden a horse down it, so the surface was churned up. Who rides a horse on a bridleway in a city? The run from Wainbody Woods to the A45 felt like a big slog, but I kept going, at one point getting passed at speed by an e-biker. I had ridden the next section of trails along the War Memorial Park the weekend previously, so knew they were not too muddy, and buoyed by this I picked up speed, then stepped up another gear on the final leg from Spencer Park to Lady Godiva. As I pulled up in Broadgate I took a selfie with Lady Godiva (main picture for this post) and checked the elapsed time since setting off from home and thought it would be close to the hour mark for the challenge segment. I had not really left much on the table and struggled to ride up the hill to get home, especially given the strong headwind.

When I made it home there were two boys waiting for me with their bike gear on. I had told Owen that we could go for a ride when I got back, and Henry did not want to be left out! So I got back on my bike and did a lap of the woods with Owen, whilst Jen took Henry for a ride on his balance bike, meeting up with us in the woods. Henry’s riding is coming on leaps and bounds, to the point I think he may be ready for a pedal bike before the end of the year. When I had a chance to check my time for the earlier ride, I saw I had improved my time on the challenge segment, but was still over the hour mark. Given the wind and my cold I was not disappointed. Time: 1:06:30.

I am still convinced that I have a sub-hour time in me, when I am at full health and the trails are drier, however as lockdown eases I am going to try and get out in my van and ride some other trails, ideally with my friends. However I will have another shot at the challenge segment later in the year, maybe once the Five Guys restaurant opens up on Broadgate, which will definitely be an incentive waiting for me at the finish line!

HKT Winter Defiance Handbook

Five months of challenges to stay motivated, inspire others, have some fun and f*ck winter

Over the lockdown in 2020 I started listening to the HKT Podcast and really enjoyed the mountain bike chat, with a side helping of current affairs. Davi, the host, predicted that this past winter was going to be rubbish for a lot of people, with potential lockdowns on top of the usual winter weather – he was not wrong! So on World Mental Health Day he released a list of 250 challenges, to give the “podcast family” something to focus on over winter and keep them motivated. This sounded like a great idea to me, so I downloaded it as soon as it was available.

The challenges were split into the following groups:

  • Riding challenges (50) – I must admit that I took a look at the list of tricks and feats of endurance and thought “no chance”. However, without specifically trying, as I thought it was way out of reach, I did manage to complete the “ride 100 miles in November” challenge. The only other riding challenge I completed was to “organise a ride with an old friend” – Partho and I rode at Cannock Chase the day after the challenge started. I have known Partho for twenty years, so he must count as an old friend! We both also rode with Ali for my birthday and I have known him for even longer!
  • Fitness challenges (50) – again, I was not so keen on these, but thought that some of the smaller push up challenges would be doable – I made 10, but struggled to get to 25 although I did not do enough practice. I had also intended to dig out my trainers and go for a run to check off some of the shorter running goals, but with limited free time, the bike always won out.
  • Random challenges (50) – there were all sorts of challenges, from litter picking to writing a poem and even getting a tattoo! The challenge to “bake a cake from scratch” prompted me to bake Jen a carrot cake for her birthday – Jen makes the best cakes, so I felt pressure to deliver! The cake was a success, not as good as one of Jen’s, but definitely edible.
  • Podcasts to listen to (25) – I am a newcomer to podcasts, so liked the idea of recommendations for others to check out. I enjoyed the few that I listened to from the list, and have more saved for future listening, whilst working on bike in the garage or driving my van.
  • Books to read (25) – the only books I seem to read are bedtime stories to the boys! I started reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield Amazon affiliate link but have not finished it yet. I really should as there is a podcast episode to go with it.
  • Movie night (50, spilt between action sports and mainstream movies) – this was the group where I was able to tick off the most challenges, often helped by the boys. Even with Despicable Me 1, 2 and 3 being one challenge I could have ticked that off multiple times, as the boys, especially Henry love the minions. I watched a few films with Jen and also some new riding films, from which I added my favourite music from the soundtrack to my MTB music playlist on Apple Music.

The challenge I am proudest of is “spend fifty hours learning a language”, I chose PHP, and specifically the Laravel framework. I doubt a programming language was the idea of this challenge, but the real goal was taking the time to learn a complex subject. A decent chunk of the fifty hours was spent making a web application, running on my Mac through Docker, to track my progress on the challenges. I find that I learn best when I am working on a project and an updatable list of challenges seemed like an ideal project to learn on.

In the end I found that I had not completed as many challenges as I would have hoped – only 15 out of the 250, but although the challenge has officially finished, I will still refer back to the lists of moves/podcasts/books when I am looking for inspiration for something to watch/listen to/read. The main thing though was that it gave me something to focus on over the winter, other than work or homeschooling.