ANDY McKENNA | THE GUIDE
Andy McKenna is a mountain biker and ‘mountain man’ through and through...
Andy McKenna is a mountain biker and ‘mountain man’ through and through. He runs Go–Where (www.go-where.co.uk), a Scottish based holiday/trip company that can cater for you, whatever your needs are (he organised and guided our Bothy Biking trip in Dirt 125). He’s a ball of energy, always happy to help and just high on the biking life.
DIRT ISSUE 128 - OCTOBER 2012
Words by Mike Rose. Photo by Andy Lloyd
Without sounding too ‘Braveheart’ about it, I'm always blown away knowing that people want to come here from all over the world (and even from within Scotland too) to ride with us, and that they're smitten by the whole experience – the riding, the landscapes...and I think the whisky helps too.
My old life of a marketing desk–jockey by day was always getting in the way of my need to be immersed in the mountains...I never looked that good in a business suit anyway.
I guess I've been mountain biking so long, and I’ve always had the bug for exploring (and I’m a bit of a map nerd), and putting trips together for friends it just seemed right. And many of our guests (at our biker’s lodge Innerhaven) were always asking about riding beyond Glentress. So that was the catalyst. I got all my guiding tickets, insurances, etc. to make it a professional tour operation. Overall, it seemed like a pretty natural progression to me.
I’m happiest when I tell my clients that all the punchy climbs will be worth it for the epic descent that will end the day...and when, with a beer in hand, they all agree.
When I am out riding in the mountains I can’t live without my bike (a Santa Cruz Blur LTc). It still makes me giggle every time I ride it. It’s an awesome tool for my kind of job; light, strong and nice and meaty with a set of 36s on the front. And talking of tools, I’d be lost without my Gerber Suspension multitool – that thing’s saved my, and my client’s, day more than once.
In the mountains my favourite food is 'trail wraps', wraps stuffed with chorizo, emmental cheese and Nando’s Hot Sauce! I’ve got Steve Peat to thank for that one. Beats boring old sandwiches any day. And for desert? Haribo. There’s nothing quite like a fruity sugar hit when you need a wee lift.
My life kind of revolves around the weather. Checking it several times each day or night; watching the sky as it evolves during the ride, looking for signs of fronts moving in, judging the likely effects of wind when we’re up high, or on clients’ stamina, dehydration and the sun (I know it’s Scotland but believe me, it gets pretty damn hot!). It’s all part of being a guide – planning and adjusting our routes around the weather. We can get snow at almost anytime in the Scottish Highlands, or a heavy downpour can be the difference between a safe river crossing and a complete change of route.
I give it total respect, and I have a love of how dramatic our climate can be. Scotland’s weather adds to the overall sense of adventure, but occasional hatred if it scuppers a tasty descent because things get a little too treacherous.
I think you’re either in the wrong job or you’ve not done enough forward planning if something scares you as a guide. But it can be a bit alarming when somebody’s pushing too hard and they start taking too many risks on a remote trail – accidents unfortunately do happen, but part of my job is to help clients appreciate they’re not in a trail centre environment. Yeah, have an awesome ride, but keep plenty in reserve because if someone nails themselves out in the wilds then they don’t just risk injury to themselves but to the others in the group too.
Being a guide is a balancing act. Making sure everyone’s getting what they want from a ride, but also making sure everybody comes back smiling.
Touch wood, most of my experiences have been positive...except for when I forgot the Haribos one time!
I’m a big fan of the riding in the Northwest Highlands. I haven’t met a single person who hasn’t been utterly blown away by the riding, the unique terrain and the feeling of complete wilderness.
The best thing about guiding people is that you get to ride awesome bikes in incredible places and meet people from all walks of life from all over the world. Most folk that want to come riding in Scotland with us bring a real spirit of adventure, so we have a load of fun in the mountains. What’s not to like?
I’ve shared the best of times with Russians, Swedes, Norwegians, Scots, Welsh, South Africans, English...the bottom line is that most of the riders who choose to come to Scotland are looking for something different from anywhere else. Anyone up for an adventure and lots of laughs is good in my book.
My favourite time of day is ‘beer o’clock’, with a buzzing, tired group of riders.
Biking's been my life for 26 years but it took me until 2009 to realise that I could combine my passion and make a living from it. Every time I’m out with clients and we stop for a breather and a chat, maybe there’s a wee pause and I see that expression on their faces…that makes it the best job in the world.