Ever wondered what it would be like to walk out of the office, take off the tie and make riding a full-time job? Andy McKenna is one of the few who’ve had the bottle to do just that.
“My life’s always been based in the outdoors so this just feels like a natural next step,” he says. In 2009 he sacked in the office, and all that went with a busy career in marketing, and started Go-Where.
His company offers everything from simple transfers to custom-built mountain bike experiences all over Scotland. Whether it’s the granite slabs of Kirroughtree or the high speed thrills of FortBill, if you want to ride in Scotland, Andy can get you there.
While he’s at it, he can also get you somewhere to eat and sleep, and take care of all the hassles that can detract from any riding trip. He has all the local knowledge to ensure you squeeze every last drop from your holiday. Andy is approaching forty but you wouldn’t know it. He’s stocky, with a rider’s build and a dark beard. The Glaswegian accent has stuck and his conversation revolves solely around bikes.
From the confines of his new ‘office’ – the front seat of a silver Volkswagen Transporter – the beautiful backdrop of the Scottish Borders fizzes by. Even the Burt Bacharach on the stereo can’t spoil the atmosphere. “I tell people to bring their own music,” laughs Andy. “Otherwise they run a high risk of having to listen to Burt!”
Andy’s story begins over 30 years ago just outside Glasgow. Like many young lads, he and his mates spent most of their time messing around on bikes. “We used to drag our crappy old BMXs up and down the hills at the back of my house,” he recalls, smiling. “We were always pretending we were motocrossers. I think I always knew BMX was just a painful phase that I’d better get over before I ended up with a permanent injury.”
It wasn’t until a trip to Canada in the late 1980s that Andy got hooked on big wheels. “My first real bike was my precious Scott Boulder,” he says, getting a bit misty eyed. “All those gears, cantilever brakes, Axo pony boots and I even had a [Girvin] Flexstem! We were always off exploring as far as our bikes could carry us.
“Once somebody got their driving license that was it! I was totally liberated. Loch Lomond, Kinlochleven, Inverary … The bug to explore further and further afield really kicked in.” With age came responsibility, however, and after university Andy started working in marketing, at first in publishing and then in education.
“I don’t think I was ever cut out for working in an office,” he says. “I used to work in Glasgow and just turn up wearing all these odd clothes like a dinner shirt with motocross pants and stuff like that! I thought I was pure cutting edge but I must’ve looked mental!” He went on to get involved in some work for clients in bike tourism and economic regeneration, and this started the cogs whirring.
“You always dabble with the idea of starting a business around the things you really enjoy, and that you imagine others will too,” he says. “I’ve always been a bit of a map fiend. I’m mad for sussing out the tastiest trails throughout Scotland, and have been building up a pretty comprehensive knowledge of the riding for ages. During that time you get to know the best and worst routes, places to stay, the things that make a trip really special.
“My wife and I started to wonder whether there’d be a market for sharing that kind of ‘local’ knowledge with everyone else. At that stage we’d been running Innerhaven, which is our self-catering accommodation for bikers in Innerleithen, for quite a bit. Just from talking to lots of our guests and finding out what they wanted most from a trip, we started to think that a service taking care of all the behind-the-scenes organising could be a great idea.
“We wanted to offer a service that would show people Scotland’s finest riding and cater to them in a fun and relaxing, roadtrip kind of way. When an opportunity arrived to leave my day job, the time felt right to go for it and Go-Where was born.” The matter-of-factness of Andy quitting his job is striking and I suggest that it couldn’t have been that easy a decision to make. To swap the world of suits and water-coolers for the rolling hills of the Scottish outdoors may sound appealing but the realities of making it support day-to-day life must have been terrifying.
“Life’s too short to get too stressed,” Andy says. “Probably one of the biggest weights off my shoulders was when I stopped thinking about leaving my job and went ahead and submitted my resignation! It was weird. It was liberating and terrifying, and to be honest it still is. To leave behind the office politics and to take charge of your own destiny is a real buzz. Even more so when your clients are blown away by the places you take them to.
“Mainly though, it’s terrifying, because it’s a fledgling business and I’ve left behind the security of a steady income. I love all the logistics and the planning though – that’s my favourite part. All the linking one amazing trail into another and then another. I guess seeing other people having a great time riding in places that you’ve recommended keeps it all very fresh for me. It helps to make up for all the stress of running your own business.”
So what does the future hold for Andy and Go-Where? “Ideally within five years we’d have lots of happy clients from all over the world!” Andy says. “We’ll have built lots of sustainable partnerships with businesses in Scotland, the UK and internationally. We want to show people not just the great riding on offer but also offer them the very best of Scottish hospitality and culture at the same time. I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
We arrive at our riding spot and slowly crunch our way through the gravel carpark. Andy is one of the good guys; he’s passionate about riding and knows what goes into making a fantastic weekend’s riding. Go-Where may be a small company but its chocked full of good ideas and with someone as committed and in love with riding as Andy at the helm, we’d back it to go all the way.