Graham McGregor-Smith has his sights set on his US Coast to Coast challenge
We never cease to be amazed by the grit and determination our supporters display when it comes to taking on gruelling fundraising challenges.
Meet Graham McGregor-Smith; the 54-year-old from Ascot, Berkshire who has been helping Action for the last decade and is currently training for the ‘Bay 2 Hudson’ cycle ride across the USA. He’ll set off from San Francisco on 29 July and aims to arrive in New York – 3,200 miles away – on 28 August! He hopes to raise £10,000 for us.
We sat down with Graham to find out where he got the idea from, how his training is going and why he wants to help Action…
OK, this sounds quite a monumental challenge… Let’s start at the beginning – when did you first get interested in cycling?
I grew up in the Worcestershire countryside so the only way to hang out with friends during the summer holidays was by cruising around on a bike. We mainly bombed around the local lanes but would occasionally cycle to Stratford-upon-Avon or Stow-on-the-Wold. These trips opened my eyes to the possibilities of cycling longer distances. Then on passing my driving test at the age of 17, cycling was superseded as a means of transport by access to my mother’s car, and I didn’t take up cycling again until I looked in the mirror one day in the early 90’s. I was in my thirties by that stage, and I really didn’t like what I saw! So I bought a mountain bike and a second-hand road bike in an effort to get fit.
How did the idea to take on the US challenge come about?
Well, in 2014 I had an amazing time riding around 1,000 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats. The following year I was looking for a fresh challenge when a good friend of mine cycled the Tour de France route one day ahead of the pro-peloton (about 2,200 miles). I was mightily impressed, but secretly vowed to one day beat him!
During that time, Chris Armishaw (a long-time supporter of Action), rode from Washington DC to San Francisco in 15 days – which is an average of 200 miles a day – and this amazing feat got me thinking…
Co-incidentally San Francisco to New York is pretty well 1,000 miles further than the TdF distance, and that seemed to be a big enough gap to allow me to re-assert my position in my friendship group as the predominant distance rider!
Glad to see your competitive spirit is alive and well! Training for something like this must be tough – what does an average week look like for you?
At the moment I’m gradually ramping up the mileage on a weekly basis so that by mid-July I’ll have done a couple of 350-400 mile weeks in the saddle. A typical week would involve: a 2-3 hour hill session in the Surrey Hills; drive out to Ryka’s, ride up Box Hill as a warm-up then head over to White Down and do multiple climbs of that; a couple of solo long-rides, typically of 50-70 miles in duration; and then a longer 100 mile ride too. I can’t stress how important it has been to have friends to cycle with - the miles pass so much easier when you’re riding with someone else… so how I’ll manage cycling on my own is going to be a major part of the challenge crossing the US.
Why did you choose Action Medical Research as one of the charities to raise money for?
I first came across Action through your cycling related events on the inaugural Chiltern Challenge, in 2008 I think. A couple of years later I was invited to the inaugural Champions’ of CycleSport Dinner in November 2010. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve hosted my own table every year since.
When my son was three weeks old he spent five days in an oxygen tent with an acute bout of Bronchiolitis. This was a very fraught time for my wife and I, so we identify very much with the work that Action does.
What are you looking forward to most on the challenge?
Many of the landscapes I cycle through will be spectacular - the Rockies in Colorado, the Sierra Nevada in California and the deserts of Nevada. From a previous visit, I know that Utah in particular is – geologically – simply astounding, so I’m very excited to be returning there. Hopefully we’ll see some amazing birdlife too… (I’ll be happy not to meet any bears) and I’m looking forward to meeting lots of different people along the way.
What are you least looking forward to?!
Three things: the heat - it’ll be 30+ degrees every day; the urban traffic particularly around Indianapolis and through New Jersey; and the trucks that I’ll be sharing the roads with while riding through the empty centre.
No doubt this will be an incredibly memorable adventure; what’s been your biggest cycling highlight to date?
I have had plenty of joyous experiences on the bike, and many dark moments too, particularly on my first LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’ Groats) for which I simply hadn’t done enough training.
Of course, Action has been instrumental in some of my most memorable experiences - at various times in the last 10 years I’ve cycled with Chris Boardman, Nicole Cook, Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift and spent a weekend cycling in Girona with David Millar: these are all cycling memories that I treasure.
Graham sets of from San Francisco Bay Area, California on 29 July and will arrive in Battery Park, Manhattan on Monday, 28 August.
Follow Graham on Twitter @bay2hudson and Instagram bay2hudson.