My Fortieth Birthday

I only usually do birthday posts for the boys, but it was a big one for me today! The last few months have been pretty stressful, for various reasons, and plans for the day got changed, not to mention a birthday weekend away being cancelled. But in the end, it was just nice to have a day off work and spend time with family and friends.

After presents and cards with Jen and the boys, we got soaked walking to school. And then got home to a broken washing machine – it had sounded poorly for a while, so at least we already have a new one on order to be delivered later in the week! With the bad luck out of the way, the fun stuff could start – we took the MR2 to meet Partho for breakfast at The Barn At Berryfields. Given the poor weather, I had not been expecting to drive the MR2, but I figured that all of the rain overnight would have washed the salt off the road. It was good to get out with Jen in the MR2, even if it was just a short trip, with the roof up. Breakfast was tasty (as always at Berryfields) and not too big. It was great to catch up with Partho – he had made a card for me with photos spanning our 25 years of friendship, which was a really nice touch.

After breakfast, I packed the van and went to Leamington Spa to ride the new mountain bike trails on Newbold Comyn. It was cold and rainy, and my kit was still wet from yesterday’s even wetter ride, but I was not going to miss out on one of the few things that was able to go to plan. Even if my shopping trip to Leamington was scuppered by a too-good-to-miss Cyber Monday deal last week, and my Clockwork Evo, which I had hoped to ride, still being in bits in the garage. Jen had also hoped to do some shopping in Leamington, but her trip was replaced with a trip to her parent’s house to sort out the half-washed load of washing. I had a short but fun ride on the excellent trails – which were holding up surprisingly well given the recent weather. I can confirm that being forty is no barrier to jumping your bike and having fun in the mud!

By the time I got home and cleaned up, it was time to pick up the boys from school and meet my parents at Hickory’s restaurant for some BBQ food with my mum and dad. Dad convinced me to share the BBQ platter with him (I did not take much convincing) – it has been quite a few years since I last had the platter, so it was good to try the latest version, as it has all of the main things from the menu, which has been subtly updated in the years we have been going there. I will certainly be ordering some of the newer dishes on future visits. We came back home – to our newly refurbished living room(!) for birthday cake. Jen had asked me what I wanted, and I said “Devil’s Food Cake”, but it turned out that my mum has a unique take on Devil’s Food Cake, so Jen asked her to make it instead. It was a lovely cake, Henry also seemed to enjoy it, asking for a second helping. I am very lucky that both my wife and my mum make great cakes!

With the boys in bed, I ended the day with a wee dram of single malt, building the Lego Porsche that Jen bought me and thinking that as birthdays go, this has been a pretty good one!

Summer 2023 Road Trip: Part 3 – Saltburn-by-the-Sea

This is the third post in the series about our summer 2023 road trip, where we stayed in the Lake District, the Tweed Valley and Saltburn-by-the-Sea (this post).

After picking up cakes from the bakery in Peebles, we started the drive south, back to England. After enjoying our visit to Birdoswald Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall on the way to Peebles, we decided to stop at Corbridge Roman Town just across the English border. We had not checked that there would be a cafe – so it was a good job that we had picked up some cakes before we left! We ate our “lunch” sat amongst the ruins of the Roman town. The boys loved clambering over the ruins as they played hide and seek. I much prefer this sort of historic attraction to one that is all roped off. What struck me about the town was how well-engineered things were, with buildings with raised platforms for storing grain, and water systems. And of course that these were still visible two thousand years later! From Corbridge we carried on south, skirting around Newcastle and catching a glimpse of the Angel of the North, and as we got nearer to Saltburn, eventually arriving on roads familiar from our trip to Staithes last year.

We arrived in Saltburn too early to check in to our Airbnb, but we were able to park on the street outside, and went straight down to the beach – the boys had been looking forward to it all holiday! The tide was in, so there was no space to build sandcastles, but it was great for jumping in the waves. When we visited Saltburn last year we had fish and chips at The Seaview Restaurant, however, it had been featured on a BBC food programme, so is now super popular, and we could not get a table. Last year, we spotted Tomahawk Steakhouse across the road, so we booked into there instead. It was a good move – the food was great, and we had a nice sea view. Whilst we were waiting for our food we saw a fire on the headland in the distance, which started to get bigger. By the time we had finished our main courses, the fire brigade had arrived to put it out.

As we finished our dinner, it became clear that there was going to be an epic sunset, so I rushed back to the flat to grab my camera and tripod, for a photography session on the beach. Saltburn is one of the few places on the east coast of England where the sun sets into the sea, as the town faces north, so I was hoping for some epic photos. I was probably a few minutes too late for the best, golden, light, but stuck around on the beach for another hour or so and was rewarded with a lovely pink and purple sunset. I mainly shot around the pier, and my favourite composition was directly under it, with a neutral density filter on my lens to give a longer shutter time to blur the water. But when I got the pictures onto my laptop, I preferred the one at the top of this post, looking back at the pier and the pink sky, again with a neutral density filter to blur the water. As I wanted to move quickly, I had only taken my camera, with standard zoom, tripod and filters with me – which I regretted as I climbed the steps up from the beach to be met by a crowd lined up to photograph the “Super Blue Moon” over the headland, which had earlier been on fire. Nonetheless, it was probably my best photography session of the year.

The plan for the last full day of our holiday had been to have a beach day – but the weather did not agree with our plan! As it was a bit grey and windy, we had a quiet morning at the flat before trying to get a table for lunch at the Sea View Restaurant, again our plans were scuppered, this time by an extremely long queue. So we went for a round of mini-golf, to see if the queue went down at all. It did not. After our round of mini-golf, which I won, the queue was even bigger! Instead, we got a takeaway, and sat on the beach to eat it – the fish and chips were good, even if the boys did not really appreciate them. We also managed to avoid any seagull attacks. In the afternoon we returned to the beach. It was cold, but the boys still managed to do some digging, whilst Jen and I wrapped ourselves up against the wind. The boys and I also had a windy game of frisbee. As the beach at Saltburn is lower than the town, there are a lot of steps to climb back up. Fortunately, there is also a Victorian cliff railway to take you back to the town – we made use of this to get back to our Airbnb. Walking back, we noticed that the corner shop at the top of our road had a great butcher/deli/cake counter, so we picked up some things for a light dinner and some cakes for afternoon tea. Although it was not the beach day that we had hoped for, it was nice to have a relaxing day. In the evening Owen and I went out for a walk with our cameras. The light was not as good as the previous evening, but it was still nice to get out together.

Before setting off for home, we had another little walk around Saltburn stopping to pick up breakfast at another little bakery, where their “meal deal” meant it was cheaper for us to also pick up some cakes! We ate our breakfast (but not the cakes) on a bench overlooking the sea, which was a really nice way to end our time in Saltburn. We broke up our journey home with another English Heritage stop – at Brodsworth Hall and Gardens, chosen because it had a playground and cafe, and only added a few minutes to our route. It was nice to explore the gardens and stretch our legs, but I think we were all quite keen to get back home by this point, so did not stay for too long.

I feel like this whole road trip has been one of our best family holidays. Heading north for our main summer holiday was always going to be a risk, but other than our planned beach day, the weather was mostly pretty good, in particular the days we were in Scotland. The multiple-stop road trip is my favourite type of holiday, but not always easy with small children, now that the boys are older it worked really well. We managed to keep all the drives below two hours so the boy did not get too bored. Despite it being our longest trip with the boys, and also having bikes and kit for all of us, we managed to pack sensibly and did not have to perform much “van Jenga”. We packed smaller cases for both the Lake District and Saltburn, only emptying the van fully when we were in Peebles. We wanted to try a UK road trip as a trial run for a future European road trip, and other than the longer distances involved I think that it will work well. As we were driving home, one of my main takeaways from the holidays was how much I enjoyed visiting all the small bakeries. The thing is, that we actually have a really nice bakery near our house, so we are going to make an effort to go there more and keep the holiday feelings going.

2023 Goals Update

I usually like to check in on my goals for the year at the end of June, but due to the issues with my blog server, I have reviewed them two-thirds through the year, rather than halfway through. You would have thought that would have given me more chance to check off goals, but we will see…

Pass the AWS Certified Developer Associate exam

Done! I cannot be too smug though, as it was a carryover goal from last year. Given how much time this took in the spring, I am not sure why I have committed to doing another certification, AWS Certified Security – Specialty in the Autumn.

Rebuild my Orange Four

Also done! Again, a recycled 2023 goal, but it has been great being back on the Four, especially at the Golfie earlier this week. I have been riding it so much that it needs a service now. The Clockwork Evo is also due a big rebuild – it was a good job I got the Four finished when I did. Fortunately, I now have Maurice, my new-to-me urban bike, for running errands around town, as the Four is too valuable to leave locked up outside shops. Currently, I have a commuter bike in the work stand for Jen, it was a freebie from a friend, but is taking a bit of time to rebuild, as I am not used to a lot of the road bike/SRAM components and everything needs a thorough clean.

Refresh my photography portfolio website

Not yet, but this is a good project for when the weather is rubbish.

Photograph more bike races

Another goal that I have achieved – I photographed the Cannock Chase Winter Classic cross country race in February, which I did not get around to blogging about, and the Racer’s Guild Downhill at Stile Cop in May. I hope to shoot a couple more races in the autumn too. Henry has joined the local cycle speedway club, so I expect that I will also shoot some cycle speedway races.

Take a wildlife photo I am happy with

I am not sure that this photo of a bee on a sunflower in our garden really counts… I have got better at spotting wildlife, both small ones in the garden, like the bee, or bigger ones when out and about, including a couple of herons and a buzzard.

Complete at least three 50km bike rides

This one is going to be a big fail – I have not even done one, nor am I sure when I will do one. I feel like I have been riding more often though, fitting shorter rides into my week. My longest ride of the year so far did not even reach 30km and that was on the 8th January. The Clockwork Evo is a better bet for long rides than the Four, so really should get that back on the trails again and see what I can do before the trails get too muddy again.

Ride 20km with Owen

Another fail, we have done a couple of 17km rides, at Llandegla and Sherwood Pines, but the full 20km has eluded us. It is getting increasingly difficult to get Owen out on the bike, although he enjoys it when we do get out. I am sure that he could do a 20km ride if he wanted to though.

Ride at Bike Park Wales with Owen

The plan was to go to Bike Park Wales in the summer holidays, but by the time I should have booked it, Owen had only done 2 MTB rides and I was not sure that he would have been able to safely ride downhill trails, so I had to give up on that idea. He has asked to go to 417 Bike Park though, which we may do between Christmas and the new year, as he will have a new bike to try out.

Ride at Bwlch Nant yr Arian

Not yet, but still on my radar. Partho and I had a trip planned earlier this month, but the planned full day trip turned into a brief trip to Cannock Chase, then we cancelled as the weather was rubbish

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

At the start of the year Partho we doing well at getting out for monthly rides together, but life has started to get in the way. The closest I can claim to riding any of the “10 best XC trails in the UK” are riding some of the Glentress Blue trail earlier this week, and a few rides at Cannock Chase, including a full lap myself, and most of a full lap with Partho.

Tidy my office

Well it must have been tidy at some point, as I treated myself to a new keyboard and desk mat. It has got messy again though.

Tidy my garage

With all the ongoing projects this has not happened, nor have the 3 extra bikes to squeeze in to the garage. Although a tidy garage may help with the projects, so I should probably crack on with this…

MR2 jobs

The poor MR2 has been a bit neglected this year, at the bear minimum it needs a good wash.

Van upgrades

The van interior was insulated and carpeted earlier in the year. I also fitted a Loaded Bikes rail with fork mounts in the back, which makes transporting bikes easier. I also bought an awning. We have had some good roat trips, but other than testing the awning with the boys at Mallory Park, we have not had any day trips to set up the van and have a barbeque or picnic.

Monthly blog posts

Given that my blog was officle of the best part of two months, this is obviously a big fail!

Flagged emails

I had been making good progress on getting through my flagged emails, but currently I am on 595 (up from 536 at the start of the year), but my excuse for that is that I am on holiday from work and have recently been flagging a lot of emails to deal with on my return to work.

Get my weight down to 85kg

I think this is going to be a tough ask, I think I will be happy to get under 90kg by the end of the year! The trend of the year is downwards, but my last weigh in was before setting off on holiday and eating out a lot…

Life just generally seems to be busier this year, especially as the boys are getting more into their own things. Later bed times for the boys, and often having to work/study in the evenings after collecting the boys from school are reducing available free time, so next year I may need to slim down my goals accordingly.

Llandegla with Owen

Owen and I were meant to go for a long ride at Sherwood Pines today, as Owen’s goal for 2023 was to better his previous longest ride (16km). We had decided that Sherwood Pines would be the sweet spot of fun, but without too many hills. However, plans changed, and I needed to collect a Facebook Marketplace purchase from near Stafford, which is in the opposite direction for us, we could have gone to Cannock Chase, but fancied somewhere new for Owen, so we decided to continue northwest to Llandegla. After a long drive we arrived at Llandegla around lunch time, so had a quick ride around the skills area, green trail and pump track before getting lunch at their excellent cafe – bacon sandwich for Owen and a burger for me.

Photo: Owen Craik

The real fun started after lunch – we headed back up the climb past the skills area, and where we had turned off for the green trail. As Llandegla starts with a long climb, we took it easy with plenty of stops, to admire the view and take photos, such as the one above that Owen took on my iPhone. A highlight was when we were able to watch a forester machine chopping down trees and cutting the logs to size – the impressiveness of the machine was only surpassed by the obvious skill of the operator, stacking the logs by size as they went. Each giant tree took no more than a couple of minutes to cut, process and stack. What really struck me on the climb was how different everything looked from my last visit in 2019, it is a working forest, so some areas of trees had been felled, and in others, the trees had grown loads, it gave the ride a completely different feel.

At the top of the climb (519 metres above sea level, having started at around 350 metres above sea level) we treated ourselves to Creme Eggs – we had earned them! However they were quite hard to eat, as although it was sunny, it was a cold day and they had gone hard in my bag. Then we dropped in to the “Rollercoaster” traverse, which is shared with the main red-graded trail, before turning off down “True Blue”, what was already one of my favourite bits of trail anywhere was further improved by being lined with “Christmas trees”, Owen said it felt like we were in a video! It is safe to say that he also enjoyed this section of trail!

I felt a bit guilty after the next few sections of trail, as I had forgotten that there were more climbs, after the long initial climb – I always get caught out by this when visiting Llandegla, but Owen coped really well. As we made our way back to the van it felt like we were climbing more than descending, but as we were drinking our hot chocolates at the cafe after our ride, Owen told me that it was one of his favourite days on the bike ever! I was so proud of how he had ridden, not only on the climbs, but also on the fairly rocky downhill sections, which could not have been east on 20” wheels. As a bonus, it was also his first 18km ride, even though we had not set out for him to do his longest ride, and despite the climbing, he smashed his 2023 cycling goal!

Little Rippers Christmas Ride

Yesterday was the Little Rippers Christmas Ride at Cannock Chase, and also my birthday. I love riding with the Little Rippers crew, so that was my birthday plans sorted! And after a tasty breakfast, we loaded up the van and set off for Cannock Chase.

The rain just about held off for the ride, but it was cold, so I was surprised to see such a good turnout. Henry seemed excited to ride with the group, but realistically the planned route would be too difficult for him, so he went for a more leisurely ride with Jen. Owen and I went on the group ride, although at the start the kids set off together and I barely saw Owen for the whole ride, just catching the occasional glimpse of him in the distance. We rode Perry’s Trail, which Owen knows well, so I was happy for him to head off with his friends, and I enjoyed a leisurely ride at the back of the group with the other parents.

After the ride, we all gathered near the car park, ramps were set up for the kids (and some bigger kids) to jump, which gave me a chance to catch up with friends I had not seen for a while, and got a ribbing for being old.

Jen and Henry joined us, and Hen even had a go at hitting the ramps. As Henry seemed happier riding with me and Owen, so we rode up to the “Pedal and Play” trail. Henry enjoyed followed Owen around, and looked so pleased with himself when he managed to sneak ahead of him. He coped really well, considering it was his first time at Cannock Chase on his pedal bike. He hit his first rockgardens, although he was disapointed that the bell at the end of the trail has been removed. Unfortunately the fun came to an end when Henry’s front wheel slipped on a wet wooden skinny and he went down fairly hard. He was OK though, other than the shock and a small nosebleed, so we rejoined the group. The boys were given goodie bags, which was a great surprise. We spent the rest of the day relaxing by the fire at home.

Hopefully, next year Henry will be able to ride “Perry’s Trail” and Owen will be able to ride the red-graded “Follow the Dog” trail, although after having a season pass for Cannock Chase in 2022, we will make more of an effort to visit other trail centres in 2023.

Checking Out Northampton Bike Park with Owen

My old hometown of Northampton is more famous for motorsport than mountain biking, so I was surprised when I heard rumours that a disused golf course was going to be turned into a bike park. Naturally, once it had opened I had to check it out!

I decided to skip the opening weekend as I thought it would be too busy, so I rode at Cannock Chase instead. I had a great ride, checking out some new and resurfaced sections of trail, but I also noticed some crunching noises from my bike. Given that I have only been riding my Clockwork Evo this year, and focusing my workshop time on rebuilding my Four, some wear and tear was inevitable. The reason I am covering this will become apparent soon…

I knew the chain was worn but was sure that the noises were not down to the chain. Stripping the bike down revealed the problem – the pawls on the freehub were decidedly worn. This was not a huge surprise as these were the original wheels that had come fitted to my Orange Four in 2017, and have probably covered the best part of 5,000km. Unfortunately, even the guys at Albany Cycles could not source spares, nor was it worth replacing the hub on what are fairly cheap rims, so it was time for a new wheel. In a reversal of fortunes, I had recently built up a suitable wheel (DT Swiss XM 481 on a Hope hub) to go on my Four rebuild, so I built the Clockwork Evo back up with that, as well as a new chain and gear cable. At lunchtime, on the day I had promised Owen that we would ride at Northampton Bike Park…

I got the bike sort of working, with minimal brake rub and gears very roughly indexed, loaded up the van and set off for Northampton with Owen. Pulling up to a golf course, I was concerned that the sat nav had got the location wrong, but eventually, we saw a load of VW Transporters and people wearing Fox Racing kit at the far end of the car park – we were in the right place. Looking around it was very easy to tell who was there to ride bikes and who was there to play golf – it was a bit surreal. We quickly got kitted up and rode through the tunnel at the back right of the car park to the trails.

We started on the easier “Eastside” trails, which we pretty much had to ourselves. It was only a short climb up to the trailhead, and we dropped straight into “Uncle Fester”, a flowy blue trail that spat us back out at the base of the climb, ready for another lap. After stopping for a selfie, Owen set off down “PDQ”. I let him get past the first few berms, then followed, only just catching him by the bottom of the short trail. Next, we rode over to the dual slalom track, which upped the difficulty with bigger berms and jumps to negotiate. It was fun being able to race each other down the parallel trails – on the first few runs I gave Owen too much of a head start, so on our third run down we started together and it felt like I finished further ahead of him than I had been giving him for a headstart. Maybe it is easier to be the leader, rather than the chaser…

After the dual slalom, we went to the “Westside” trails – the main attraction. These trails were busier, with a constant stream of riders on the push-up trail, although Owen held his own mixing with all the big riders, looking the part with all his kit on. After waiting for our turn, we pushed up the top of the roll-in and set off down the “Blue Nun” trail. It started off pretty flat, then a short climb, before left and right berms dropped us into the main field – at this point, a huge smile spread across my face, as all I could see were mountain bike trails, with people having fun on them. “Blue Nun” was another step up in technicality from the dual slalom trail, but Owen coped well and really enjoyed it, to the point he just wanted to go straight back up for another run. However, before we went up we did a lap of the skills area, as we passed it on the way up.

We rode back up to the top of the trail and decided to ride the “Mother Superior” jump line, which forks off from “Blue Nun”. Owen was ready before me and raring to go – he dropped in whilst I was still faffing. And that was where it all went wrong. I dropped in down the roll-in and got on the pedals hard to catch him up. My chain slipped, which threw me off balance on a big pedal stroke and I hit the ground. Hard. Fortunately, nothing seemed to be broken, but Owen was riding off into the distance – so I had to shout for him to stop before I could check myself and my bike over. Of course, all of this happened in front of a big crowd waiting to drop in. I asked the next riders down to let Owen know that I would be down in a few minutes and checked my bike over. The chain was stuck between the cassette and the frame – limit screws not set correctly? Or hub spacer missing? The rear brake lever had also shifted around, but I was able to ride to Owen, and down the rest of the trail.

I let Owen do some more laps of the skills area whilst I sorted my brake lever and gave the rest of the bike a more thorough check. Owen loved doing laps on his own, chatting to people in the queue, probably telling them about his dad crashing… We did a few more laps, although I took it easy, as I did not want to risk putting too much power through the pedals. Owen had a close call on one of the “Mother Superior” jumps, the lip was steeper than anything he had ridden before, and Owen came down on his front wheel – I thought that he was going to go over the bars, but he managed to ride it out.

Owen had said that he wanted to try the “A45” red-graded trail, but after our incidents on the blue trails, he sensibly decided that we would save it for our next visit. And there will be a next visit, as despite my fall, we both had a great time and really enjoyed the trails.

Malverns Classic 2022

Over the bank holiday weekend, Owen and I went to the Malverns Classic – a mountain bike festival at Eastnor Deer Park in Herefordshire. Last year, we went as a family, on the way back from our holiday, for Henry’s first bike race, but this year Owen and I just went for the day. We did not have any races planned but did have a rough plan of attack to make the most of our day.

Our first stop was the Steel City Rippers skills area, to get Owen booked in for a skills session, as he was disappointed to have missed out last year. Fortunately, we were able to get him in for the 15:00 slot. From there we went to the pumptrack, bumping into some of our Little Rippers MTB friends in the queue. In a change from last year, pumptrack riders needed a number board, so I had to rush to the signing-on tent to get one for Owen, making it back before he got to the front of the queue. Owen rode well and got faster with each lap.

After the pumptrack, it was time for the highlight of the day – watching Danny MacAskill’s Drop and Roll show. Owen has been a fan of “Danny” since he was a baby, so to be able to see him riding in real life was incredibly exciting! He managed to get a spot right at the barrier, which he was only just able to see over… The show lived up to our expectations, with great riding and playing to the crowd. We were in the prime position for the drops off the van and the end-of-show “banger” – a backflip ending right in front of us.

After the excitement, we had a look around the trade stands, trying unsuccessfully to find Owen some new kneepads, but it was nice to catch up with our friends at Little Rider Co. We also saw Kazzi and Sophie from Ready Steady Riders (Owen and Henry’s balance bike coaches) in the pizza queue, so it was great to catch up with them. The pizza was good too!

Owen had been keen to do some riding, so we set off on the new-for-2022 “Fun Loop” – a singletrack loop up to the obelisk and back to the arena. It was a tough climb up, alongside the downhill trails, but the descent was more than worth it! It felt like we were riding an enduro stage – as the fresh, natural trail was taped like a race trail. There were a few bits that were too tricky for Owen, but he was looking far enough down the trail to realise this and stop, then walk down them. Which I would much rather than him just hucking off everything.

The ride and the hot sun had tired Owen out, so we ended up chilling out in the shade before Owen’s skills session. We watched the dirt jumpers practising their tricks on the huge jumps, and the livestream of the downhill world championships on the big screen. It was probably good to have some downtime, as Owen rode so well in the skills session – conquering each new feature as it was added to the loop. I was particularly impressed with how he handled the “skinny seesaw” – of the riders in his group, only Owen and an older girl managed it the first time without any help, and Owen hit it at a decent speed too (although I think they may have been told to ride up it slowly).

Owen seemed rejuvenated after his skills session, so we decided to watch the Drop and Roll show again. This time the crowd was bigger, but Owen managed to squeeze to the front. I was a few people back in the crowd, but I have never known Owen to wait for anything so patiently, especially as the show was late starting because everyone was glued to the climax of the world championships. We had chosen one of the corners of the arena where the riders congregated between runs, so Owen was really close to his heroes. The show was mostly a rerun of the morning show, but Danny did get out his gym ball, for one of his signature stunts, and the other riders added some new tricks.

We took a leisurely drive back to Coventry, stopping for a KFC, and Owen almost made it home without falling asleep! He said he had an amazing day, with the ride down from the obelisk being his highlight. My highlight was seeing all of the mountain biking families – the future of mountain biking seems to be in safe hands! The event is not exclusively aimed at families, but the organisers have made such a big effort to ensure kids are welcomed and entertained. It was even better than last year, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for 2023, because I will definitely be going!

2022 Goals Update

So far 2022 has flown by – how are we already halfway through the year? I have been keeping busy, with a new job, some personal projects, a bike build and two boys to wrangle! As with previous years, at this halfway point of the year, I like to check how I am getting on with the goals that I set myself at the start of the year.

Get settled at my new job

I can happily say that I am settled in my new job, and indeed new industry. I have found my place in the team as “the thorough tester”, which makes sense, as that was what I was doing for the last ten years in my previous role. I have also enjoyed working on other areas of the software development process – especially coding new features. It can be difficult, as I am still learning both the technologies and the project, but it is especially satisfying when something I have worked on gets deployed to production.

Pass the AWS Certified Developer Associate exam

At the start of the year, I was able to dedicate a lot of time studying for this as part of my job, however as I got more involved with project work I had less time to spend on it. I am planning to take the exam in the next few weeks though, as I want to get it out of the way before we go on holiday.

Redo my homepage

I made a good start on migrating my homepage to Next.js but got distracted by redoing my mum’s website, as I thought she would be losing access to it. That issue has gone away, so I need to get back on with my website.

Rebuild my Orange Four

I had hoped to have my Four built back up by now, but I was slow with the strip down – I caught Covid in April and used the enforced downtime to strip the frame down. However, the project has passed the halfway mark, with parts being refitted. However, I am not rebuilding my old frame, Orange noticed an issue with the frame and replaced it under warranty. I have built up the wheels, sourced most of the components I think I need and hopefully the build will be finished before the end of the summer. For now, the colour is being kept secret, hence the black and white image.

Ride 2,022km

I was a bit behind schedule on this, albeit with some big rides planned. Then I tweaked my knee and had to take a few weeks off the bike, so there is no way I will achieve this goal – June is usually the month to get lots of big rides in, but all I have been doing are the school and nursery runs. My knee feels a bit better now, but the calendar is already looking pretty full for July, without any riding planned.

Get my weight down to 85kg

This one is going even worse than riding 2,022km! Somehow I have managed to put on weight, although I am getting it back down slowly.

Outside of my goals, I have been working on some other software development projects and have been doing more photography. I seem to be riding less with Owen, but when we ride together it tends to be a bigger trip – we have had a couple of days at 417 Bike Park and have some new localish trails in Bedworth. Hopefully Henry will be riding his pedal bike by the nd of the summer too – he is ready, but just needs to realise himself. Going to Llangollen for the BDS and a weekend away with Jen in Devon have been a highlights, however, we have got lots of exciting plans coming up over the next couple of months over the summer…

Hatton Locks Cake Ride

I have been trying to do some longer cross-country bike rides this year, as training for a planned ride from Coventry to and around Draycote Water. A few weeks ago I did a ride in the Cotswolds and had a silly little crash, which aggravated an old knee injury. After some rest, and a successful day at 417 Bikepark, I thought I would be OK for another easy long ride. I decided to head south, to Hatton Locks, near Warwick, a route which I have not ridden for a few years. I had arranged to meet Jen and the boys at the cafe there.

The ride there was fine, although I had forgotten just how many locks there were on the canal from Warwick Parkway to Hatton Locks. With locks came short sharp climbs, and then the knee pain…

Jen and the boys beat me to the cafe, and already had a hot chocolate and an amazing triple chocolate cake – which I ate before I could remember to get a photograph! It was nice to see the boys mid-ride, and good for them to get out of the house. I was impressed that Henry knew how locks work, even if he has learned it from Peppa Pig!

Even though the sun had come back out, the return ride was not quite so fun, with pain in my left knee whenever I needed to put down any power through the pedals. Having experienced this before, I knew that keeping going was the only option, as it gets a lot worse once I have stopped moving. Unfortunately, I think I will need to have a few weeks off the bike – not ideal in the summer, especially with a target of 2,022km to hit this year! At least it will give me a chance to make some more progress on the rebuild of my Four, and catch up on blogging too!

Jubilee Trip to 417 Bikepark

On Wednesdays, during Owen’s school holidays, Henry is at nursery, so I try to get a bike day with Owen. 417 Bikepark, on the edge of the Cotswolds, is our favourite place to go. We had this trip planned for a while and had planned to meet some friends from the Little Rippers MTB Facebook group, when it was announced that 417 would be running a “Little Senders Club” coaching session in the afternoon. I signed Owen up right away, as I thought he could benefit from some coaching. as he listens to coaches better than he listens to me. It also meant that I could get some solo laps in too!

Unfortunately, we failed at the first hurdle – the van had a flat battery and would not start (punishment for not having driven it for a while?), and the battery on my jumpstart pack was also flat. So we had to empty the van, empty Jen’s Yaris, disassemble my bike, move Owen’s seat to the passenger seat of the Yaris and cram all the bike kit into the back of the Yaris. Miraculously it all fitted! With all of the faffing, we were a few hours late getting to the bikepark but did still manage to get a few laps of the pumptrack before lunch and catching up with our friends.

The Little Senders Club seemed well organised and the coach, Laurence, seemed really nice, and we could tell that the kids would have a good time! It seemed like a laid back session, that was more about fun, than serious coaching, but I think Owen responds best to that sort of stealth coaching. With the boys off doing skids, Sam, one of the other dads, and I went off to do some laps of the bikepark!

I have not ridden there without Owen for a few years and the trails had changed slightly, I am glad to say that my riding seems to have improved too! Or maybe it was that I was riding with someone faster than me… The biggest changes were on the red graded trails, with more drops, rock gardens and even a 270º berm. As my full suspension Four is still undergoing a rebuild, I was riding my Clockwork Evo hardtail and felt somewhat under-biked on the red trails.

The best bit of the day was that after each lap we would see the boys somewhere else in the bike park – they were covering some distance! Especially given that they were pushing up, rather than riding in the uplift van. They seemed to be having so much fun that they did not even notice us waving at them. The three boys all seemed to be at a similar level of riding, although Owen, being the youngest, appeared to be flagging a bit at the end. I did still need to drag him off the pumptrack when it was time to go home though.

Owen said he enjoyed himself and would like to do it again – which is great because it also worked well for me. Next time it would be good to get there a bit earlier so that we could do some laps of the blue trails together – Owen would like to ride the “Cheese Roller” trails from the top of the hill. Hopefully, we will be able to fit one in during the summer holidays!