It all started with... by Andy Baggaley

Andy Baggaley

Andy Baggaley

It all started with being given a diagnosis of MS, a debilitating illness that can take over your life. I was lucky; told that I have what’s called relapsing remitting MS. The best kind, I suppose, if you have to have it.

MS affects your stamina and I was told that I would not have as much as I used to, and they were right.  For years especially in summer time I would be like I’d just been unplugged, no energy whatsoever and it wasn’t getting any better. I was rather fed up with it, so I decided to try to do something.  So I bought a bike, a mountain bike.

Work was a ten mile trip one way, and so I thought I would start there. It took me nearly an hour to get to work and I was absolutely shattered and pouring with sweat, but I did it.  After a ten-hour shift (nights) I had to pedal back, I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement as well as being knackered.  Some said I was mad but I hope I inspired many others, as later that year three or four blokes from work bought bikes through the cycle to work scheme, and started doing the same.

Not everyone kept it up, going back to their cars after the first attempt.  Giving up more like because they were unfit and it was hard work at first, but perseverance pays off -keeping at it made each time easier.  I didn’t do every day to start with, maybe two or three times a week.  But every time seemed to get easier.

This is now a regular commute for me and friend Tony, who I meet up with on the way and we cycle together to work.  I was beginning to enjoy it wanting more and more, so much I found the local leisure rides run by Sustrans volunteer Mike Barr.  I took my daughter on them too, and they were great. Not only are they very social, but they show you all the cycle network around the city. It was very interesting to know where you can get from or to not ever touching a main road. It really opened my eyes, and Mike is an encyclopedia of local knowledge.

I got to know Mike quite well and was hungry for more miles.  He told me of a group he was in called North Staffs Cycling, and told me they went on longer rides on a Wednesday and Sunday.  Well, Wednesday was my regular day off so we arranged to meet for a ride, and I bought my friend Tony from work with me.

Now these guys were not young, most retired some in their late sixties.  They were all on road or race bikes, and we were on heavy mountain bikes.  We went on a seventy-four mile ride with these guys and it was great, except for the route back which went through Hanchurch woods.  This is quite hilly with some good climbs, and we did struggle.  We were both knackered and we just wanted it to stop, and the two guys who were going our way just left us young studs in the dust and waited for us at the end of the road.  Being out-ridden by guys twenty years older than us. I was flabbergasted by their stamina and strength to carry on as they did.  They did say we did well to do that kind of mileage on our mountain bikes, and we did enjoy it. So much so that I talked my Mrs around to letting me get a road bike, and I would regularly join them on a Wednesday for a ride. Oh yes, it is a lot easier on a road bike than a mountain bike.

I now go out with friends from work, and my family for rides.  Three of us from work went out last month, John, Tony and myself.  It was suggested by John that we ride all along the canal towpaths to Liverpool, and that’s exactly what we did.  But on the way up I was in front riding along a non-existent towpath, (it was just a narrow strip of grass), and all I heard from behind was “Arrrrrooooo” SPLASH!  I spun my head around just in time to see John climbing out of the water with his bike above his head, just like he was holding Excalibur. Yep, John had gone forward somersault into the canal. He didn’t see the concrete block in the grass and, well, it was funny, especially when a woman who had heard his screams from across the road came across and offered him a towel and some dry shorts.  He kindly refused as they were … pink! 

We did get to Liverpool, well Runcorn just outside Liverpool, and we caught the train back. Bloody expensive: you really need to book in advance to get the cheaper rates.

I try to get out as much as I can, with my mates John and Tony from work. We did Ashbourne, Buxton and Leek one glorious sunny day this year, remember the one We like to do charity rides through the year, including the Dougie Mac Llangollen ride which is about 110 miles. I did this ride the first time in 2015 with John and Tony. I rode it for my father who had died a couple of months previously from cancer and Alzheimer’s. It was the furthest any of us had ridden.  We collected nearly seven hundred pounds between us that year.

This year Mike joined us - and another friend from work, Richard, who had only ever done sixty miles once.  He did really well, and yep he made it all the way.

Next year I will only be doing the fifty mile ride, as my fifteen-year-old daughter wants to have a go so I said I would take her.  She’s not quite ready for the 110 yet so, we agreed on the fifty mile.

Andy and his daughter Hannah, Dougie Mac Ride 2015

Andy and his daughter Hannah, Dougie Mac Ride 2015

Maybe the year after perhaps, you never know.

Cycling has improved my fitness and my stamina, I can easily get to work in less than thirty minutes now (my record is twenty-eight). I enjoy long rides with plenty of climbs, I just look at every ride as a challenge and one that I’m going to win! I have even tried the killer mile at Mow Cop, which is a VERY steep climb. I had looked at the record for the killer mile on Strava, a cycling app. It shows you the best times on different segments of road. The record was around five minutes, but it was only a mile.

It took me over twenty minutes to get up that one bloody hill, but I did it where many have failed.  I’m going to do it again, and hopefully beat my own record.  But I think the overall record is safe for now.

Tony, Mike, Andy, John and Rich: Dougie Mac Ride 2016

Tony, Mike, Andy, John and Rich: Dougie Mac Ride 2016

Cycling has made me fitter, faster and stronger, (up yours MS!) It also creates a good social life; making new friends and meeting other cyclists, who just seem to enjoy sharing experiences.  They all seem very friendly.  Coffee stops are a must. It’s a lot better than social media sites, and more personal.

At the end of the day even illness doesn’t have to hold you back.  You can take over it, before it takes over you, by getting on yer bike!