Harrogate couple set for 4,000-mile charity across USA
H arrogate staff nurse Andy Dennis is the most positive person I have ever met. Which is just as well. He does put himself in some extreme situations for the sake of helping others.
This staff nurse in Harrogate District Hospital’s endoscopy department does so mainly in the service of Medecins Sans Frontieres - or Doctors Without Borders to you and me.
In 2011 he walked 2,000 miles from Amsterdam to Barcelona via Geneva to fundraise for this network of volunteers who bring aid and support to victims of armed conflict, epidemics and other disasters anywhere they happen on this strife-torn planet.
His latest massive personal challenge will see the 49-year-old set off on a 4,000 miles bicycle ride across America in just a few weeks’ time in a self-funded and unsupported adventure.
Accompanying him on this epic coast-to-coast journey will be his girlfriend and fellow nurse Tracey Hill whom he first met when she was a student nurse in Harrogate Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
Awaiting the two of them is not only the challenge of the sheer distance involved but also the prospect of potential encounters with snakes, scorpions and, perhaps, the odd bear or two.
Not that the chirper Andy appears to be that worried.
He said: “Neither of us are experienced distance cyclists, but we soon will be! “We do both cycle a lot to get around town but, as things stand, the furthest Tracey has cycled is 60 miles and the furthest I’ve managed is 43 miles.
“I do expect to have a sore bottom by the end. But every single penny we get in donations will go directly to MSF.”
Andy has been behind other successful fundraising events for MSF in recent years in Harrogate, including art exhibitions and burlesque, even.
But his commitment to the cause involves more than money.
He has also volunteered with MSF several times, working in Uganda in 2005 and South Sudan in 2008.
His toughest mission, perhaps, came in 2013 when he spent five weeks in Sierra Leone helping combat the deadly Ebola virus.
Based at the Ebola Management Centre in Kailahun, such were the dangers at that time he spent much of the time getting in and out of one of those ghostly white protective suits readers will have seen in so many news bulletins of the time.
There were traumatic moments but positive ones, too.
He said: “It was my most emotional trip for sure. But I was desperate to go, I felt if I didn’t put myself forward I couldn’t live with myself.
“I have looked in to the eyes of desperate people and know that without MSF many of them would have died.”
The couple will set off from the UK on May 20 for their San Francisco to New York 4,000 Mile Challenge.
The aim is as big as the challenge - to raise £100,000 for MSF.
Andy estimates it will take himself and Tracey two to two-and-a-half months to complete this mighty trans-American trek.
Andy’s latest adventure would not be possible without the support of Harrogate District Hospital, he is keen to emphasise.
The route the couple are about to take will pass through the Nevada desert, over the Rocky Mountains, across the wide open plains of the mid-west, over the Appalachian mountains before arriving on the East Coast.
Readers can follow their exact progress on a special online map updated regularly at www.andy4msf.com
As well as the strain on bone and muscle, the intrepid couple envisage visiting some amazing places along the way.
And, if anyone can stay positive at all times, it’s Andy.
He said: “We will be riding through a total of 14 states. The walk from Amsterdam to Barcelona was difficult and we expect the USA cycle ride to be similarly so.
“It will be very different with different aches and pains but , ultimately, it will be the people that make the trip and we are looking forward to meeting many new friends and sharing the word about Medecins Sans Frontieres, which is such an important cause.”
If you would like to donate to Andy and Tracey's epic bike challenge, visit www.justgiving.com/