2004 Pan-Mass Challenge Ride Report

Ornoth makes his way through the crowd at the start.
Ornoth makes his way through the crowd at the start.
Tony, Ornoth, and the Quad Cycles crew.
Tony, Ornoth, and the Quad Cycles crew.
Ornoth's Lifetime PMC Fundraising
Ornoth's Lifetime PMC Fundraising

I’m afraid my ride reports tend to be a lot more detailed than most people are interested in, so I’ve actually included a shorter “Executive Summary” in this one. If you want more detail than that, there’s plenty to follow! And if that isn’t enough, I’ve included several links to specific detailed entries in my Cycling Journal.

In addition, if you’d like to stay abreast of my cycling exploits in a more timely fashion, my Cycling Journal’s main page is regularly updated throughout the year with stories, pictures, and the occasianal rant.

One last thing to mention: Despite being a writer, I find it almost impossible to convey in words the actual experience of cycling, so you actually won’t see much description of the actual ride itself here. It’s too abstract, too serendipitous, too non-linear, too emotional. The only works I’ve seen that come remotely close are Paul Fournel’s excellent “Need for the Bike” and Tim Krabbé’s “The Rider”. Perhaps someday I’ll make a concerted effort to describe a ride as a writing exercise, but I suspect that will come out very different from a ride report like this, where I am trying to capture the ride—and all the events surrounding it—in great detail.

Executive Summary

This year, I rode more training miles than ever before, including both my first non-PMC century and riding around Oregon’s Mt. Hood as part of a personal record 273-mile week. However, leading up to the PMC, I also had a bunch of problems: another paceline crash, poison oak, pulled muscles in my shoulder and ankle, and a ludicrous $330 “tune up” that resulted in the unnecessary replacement of most of my drive train. But by PMC weekend, I was confident and ready to ride, albeit at a more conservative pace than last year, when I crashed out of the event on the second day.

Friday afternoon my friend and longtime supporter Jeanie arrived from Texas, and we drove out to Sturbridge in the SUV she had rented. The weekend forecast was for scattered showers, a developing wind, and temperatures 10-15 degrees below normal. I signed in at the PMC starting area, we checked into our hotel, and had dinner at Piccadilly Pub, where I had four different kinds of chicken. Then back to the hotel to watch opening ceremonies on television before hitting the sack shortly after 9pm.

Saturday we were up before 5am and off to the starting area, along with 2,181 other riders. In no time the mass start began, and at 6:02am I hit Route 20. The first six miles are a gradual downhill, and it was an absolutely frigid 51° (10°C). At one point, I had to slow down because my wheel was wobbling like crazy, but I quickly figured out that the source of the wobble was my violent shivering. Not fun, but at least it wasn’t raining!

Soon enough, the route turned onto the back roads of Central Massachusetts’ hills and woodland. I skipped the first water stop at 20 miles in order to make my way toward the front of the immense group. Even at the subsequent stops, I limited myself to no more than five minutes, except at the lunch stop in Dighton, where I took the opportunity to stiffen up while resting. There are always tons of supporters lining the roads, but Cherry Street in Wrentham, 50 miles into the ride, was its usual uniquely inspiring example. Between Cherry Street and the lunch stop was a 16-mile section where the route had changed from previous years. By then I was riding alone and was a bit concerned about getting off course, but it was very well signed, and there are volunteers and cops at just about every major turn.

By the “lunch” stop—where I arrived at 10:10am—the temperature had made its way up to 67°, and the sky was mostly cloudless. After months on my restrictive training diet, topped off with several days of carb-loading and hydration, I was some happy to be in the ride and therefore officially off the diet, snarfing down forbidden treats like potato chips, Oreos, and Swiss cheese… in quantity! But the real feast would come at the end of the day in Bourne.

Leaving the lunch stop, I shifted down and increased my cadence in an effort to reduce stress on my right knee, which I’d abused a bit by mashing a high gear over the hills of Central Mass. Now the route flattened out and became more populous as we skirted the edge of Rhode Island on the way to the sea. Just shy of the last water stop in Wareham, my energy finally began to fail. I had no real aches or pains, but my legs lacked the power that had carried me the first 100 miles from Sturbridge. I plodded into the checkpoint for a brief rest, but didn’t stay long, as Wareham’s a mere nine miles from the finish line.

I sucked wheel for that last leg, arriving at Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne at 1:09pm, having covered 112 miles in six and a third hours.

My time at MMA was pretty structured: luggage, shower, massage, ice cream, stretch, food, rest, meet up with some folks, and ride out to the hotel I’d be staying at in Sandwich. The massage was good, but I really didn’t have anything specific to complain about other than a mildly sore trapezius. The food was ample, but ice cream and broiled corn on the cob were the headliners. The afternoon in Bourne, with Buzzards Bay on one side and the Cape Cod Canal at the other, was delightfully restful, but several volunteers came up to me at different times to ask if I was okay, because in truth I was awfully tired (apparently visibly so).

After briefly meeting up with some folks from my Quad Cycles training rides, I hopped back on the bike for another 15 miles out to the hotel. As usual, the solo ride over the Bourne Bridge and up the Cape Cod Canal bike path was nice, and put me 15 miles further up Sunday’s ride route, allowing me to get an hour more sleep than the other riders. I pulled into the motel with 127 miles on the odo. Jeanie and I found a place for dinner, and again crashed pretty early.

Sunday morning I awoke to find my milk, OJ, and Gatorade all frozen solid in the room’s fridge, so I set off at 6:30 on an empty stomach. Although it was only 55°, I wasn’t as cold as the day before, probably due to the mile-long climb from the hotel to join the ride route. Half an hour later, I skipped the first water stop at Cape Cod Community College, then held my breath as I rode carefully past the site of the painful crash that had sent me to the hospital and ended my ride last year. After a lengthy ride down narrow and busy Route 6A, we passed the Cape Cod Sea Camps in Brewster, where hundreds of kids lined a 100 foot-long hedge, screaming their lungs out. That’s always an incredibly moving experience. Then, after another quick water stop, came the 2-mile section we ride on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, which was an awful bone-rattler since it’s in such terrible condition.

The temperature was climbing, and the terrain changed to short, steep rolling hills over sand dunes as we crossed back and forth over the spine of the cape, finally getting our first inspiring glimpse of the sea from Le Count Hollow in Wellfleet. The last leg of the ride, however, is truly cruel. It begins with an interminable 8-mile slog up Route 6 which is all uphill and provided absolutely no cover from the sun or the stiff, uninterrupted headwind. Then, when you’re only a third of a mile from downtown Provincetown and the Pilgrim Monument that’s been your focus for the past hour, you experience the joy of turning directly away from town while volunteers happily tell you there’s only five more miles to go! It’s a heartbreaker the first time you do it, and it was still a bit disheartening for me, even though I knew what to expect.

However, after circumnavigating the town by taking a side trip through the scrubby dunes of the Provincelands, the Provincetown Inn suddenly appeared in front of me and I rode into the finish at 10:31am, having covered 194 miles through 31 towns at a surprisingly fast average speed of nearly 18 mph.

At the finish, I showered, had a brief massage, and piled some more food in before riding a half mile or so to meet Jeanie at the “family finish”. From there, we wandered around town a bit before spending a couple hours at Race Point Beach and then heading back to Boston, where I was pleasantly suprised by a large donation I’d been expecting that would virtually assure that I’d be able to reach the fundraising minimum this year.

In my fundraising letters, I had committed to two goals: reaching 10,000 miles on the bike, and $10,000 in fundraising over my four years’ riding the Pan-Mass. I surpassed the former back in June, and will actually have 12,000 miles before my cycling year ends in October. And thanks to the people who have sponsored me, I have also exceeded my financial goal, and will have similarly raised over $12,000 for the Jimmy Fund by the time 2004’s fundraising closes in mid-October.

If my first Pan-Mass ride was all about learning from my mistakes, the second was all about pain, and last year’s crash taught me humility, 2004’s ride was the first one where I simply took it easy and really enjoyed the ride, rather than pushing myself. Even the weather contributed to that result, providing the first rain-free year since I began doing the ride in 2001. My training ensured that I was physically prepared, and I made it through the ride with no physical complaints and no mechanical issues from the bike. And even the fundraising was looking strong! For the first time, everything went perfectly. It was a wonderful ride, I’m delighted that everything went so well, and I’m proud to be able to say that I’ve raised over $12,000 for cancer research and prevention at Dana-Farber.
 
Read on for the full story…

Preparation

After last year’s disappointing crash, which you can read about in my 2003 PMC Ride Report, I had my doubts about participating again in 2004. However, I really didn’t want to leave the event on a low note, and I knew that this year would be the 25th anniversary of the PMC. With those factors in mind, I went ahead and signed up to ride when registration opened in January.

The lead-up to this year’s ride was a bit of a mixed bag. From May onward, I began increasing my riding up to about 150 miles per week. I rode 235 miles in the month of April, then 400 in May, 525 in June, and a personal record of 650 miles in July. By the time of the PMC, I had nearly 3000 miles under my belt. That is about the same as 2001, when I was preparing for my first Pan-Mass ride. That year, I started getting sick and tired of riding; however, there was no sign of overtraining this year, and I really felt like I was peaking at just the right time. One of my two primary goals for the year was to reach 10,000 miles on the bike. That was easily accomplished by mid-June, as I described in this journal entry.

July proved to be a very mixed month, though. It began, disturbingly enough, with another crash, which appeared in this journal entry. Having fallen while drafting during last year’s PMC, I’d gotten a bit skittish about pacelines, but was trying to rebuild my confidence by riding with familiar people during the weekend club rides I do with the folks from Quad Cycles in Arlington Heights. Unfortunately, on one ride we had a couple newbies with us who had no drafting experience, and one of them—the one directly in front of me—was daydreaming and touched wheels with the person in front of him and went down. With absolutely no warning, I had nowhere to go but over him, flying over my handlebars in the process. The guy behind me was caught up in it, as well. Fortunately, I only had some road rash on my knee and hip, in just about the same places where I’d been injured during my PMC crash. It wasn’t too bad, but the 25-mile ride home was a bit of a pain.

The very next weekend I was back, doing a 90-mile Quad Cycles ride on Saturday, and another on Sunday. In addition, on Sunday I hung around and biked out to a party in Lexington, which brought my day’s mileage above 100 miles. It was only my third “century”, and the first one that hadn’t been part of the Pan-Mass. I was pretty satisfied with that, as there’s not much better proof that you’re ready for a two-day, 190-mile ride than doing 190 miles over two days! There’s a full witeup here.

Later that week, just two weeks prior to the PMC, I flew out to Oregon for my magazine’s 2004 Writers’ Summit. I went out a couple days early, specifically to rent a bike and do some riding. Our cabin was on the lower slopes of 11,235-foot Mt. Hood, and I thought it would make an ideal opportunity to do some larger climbs than I could find around Boston. I specifically planned to cover most of the course of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, a five-day stage race that actually was based at the resort we were staying at. It was a bit unnerving riding a road bike, as opposed to my hybrid, but I really enjoyed the area. However, it wasn’t without its adventures, as I flatted in the middle of the woods, and also missed an unmarked turn that shortened my planned ride by about 20 miles and 4,000 feet of climbing. And then I also picked up some poison oak along the way, but it was pretty mild, and dissipated just in time for the PMC ride. The full writeup and some photos are in this journal entry.

Still, between the 190-miles of QC rides and 70 miles at Mt. Hood, I logged a total of 273 miles in 19 hours in the saddle that week, setting more personal records.

During my trip to Oregon, I had left my bike at the shop for a tune-up. Although it was working perfectly, I’d crashed it twice since it was last looked at, and I wanted someone to check it out and replace the brakes and cables before the Pan-Mass. I’ll spare you the full story, which you can find in this cycling journal entry if you’re really interested, but the upshot is this: in order to get my bike working as well as it was when I brought it into the shop, I had to take the bike to two separate shops three different times; replace most of the drive train, including the chain, rear cassette, front cranks, chainrings, and bottom bracket; pay $330; and argue with the mechanics to get them to find some parts that they just decided to take off my bike and throw away for no apparent reason.

I also managed to acquire some additional aches and pains during the week before the ride. At some point, I strained a muscle in my right shoulder that ached so badly that it interfered with my sleep. On top of that, I also pulled a muscle while stretching my right ankle, and I spent the days before the PMC resting and icing it. Fortunately, these two injuries, like my road rash and poison oak, had just enough time to heal before I had to leave for the ride.

Other than riding more, my preparation was about the same as in previous years. The only major change was that for the first time in my life, I began applying sunscreen before most rides. While the amount of exposure I have to the sun ensures that I don’t burn, I’ve begun to take the risk of skin cancer seriously.

But despite all the little obstacles and adversities, I was both looking forward to the ride, and absolutely confident of my physical readiness. And after last year’s crash, I wasn’t going to try to set any speed records. Instead, I planned to take it easy, avoid pacelining, and simply take my time and enjoy the ride.

Friday, 6 August 2004

Every year that I’ve done the Pan-Mass, I’ve had logistic support from my friend Jeanie. Without her help, I might well never have done the PMC ride at all. Although she sponsors me each year and has helped me find additional contributors, she considers being there for me as her way to do something more for a cause that’s very close to her. Her dedication was demonstrated once again this year. Right after last year’s ride, she moved from Boston to Austin, Texas, but flew back to Boston this year specifically to help me one more time. Over the years, she’s done this for me despite being preoccupied with moving, while recovering from major surgery, and picked me up and cared for me after my crash. Without Jeanie’s help, I would not have been able to do the ride at all, nor would I have raised any money to support cancer research and treatment. I’m in her debt for her help, and I hope that being able to share the fun and joy of the PMC weekends has been rewarding for her.

Jeanie landed at Boston’s Logan airport, picked up the SUV she had rented, and arrived at my house shortly before 2pm. We loaded my stuff into the white Ford Escape. As usual, I had separated my stuff into several different bags: things I’d need in Sturbridge, at Bourne, leaving Bourne, in Provincetown, and various points along the way. The bike fit into the back of the truck without even taking off the wheels, obviating the need for the bike rack that I’d borrowed from my friend Inna.

I jumped behind the wheel as Jeanie dialed into a conference call relating to the large convention that she runs each year a couple weeks after the Pan-Mass. As I adjusted the seat, Jeanie noticed that I was pushing against the bike’s front wheel, so I backed off. No sense breaking the bike before the ride even began!

The morning had been unsettled, and the weatherman promised scattered showers all weekend and a strong wind from Saturday evening on. I was having flashbacks to previous years, when that had meant certain rain; however, at a roadside bathroom stop it seemed like it was going to stay sunny for the foreseeable future. The only lingering concern was that the forecast was for weather 10-15 degrees cooler than normal, which meant a very cold start. Some people don’t like riding when it’s hot, but I actually prefer it. The rain is my bane, and so far it had rained at least part of the time during every Pan-Mass I’d participated in.

We arrived at Sturbridge shortly after 3pm and stopped at the host hotel, the Sturbridge Host Hotel, where I signed in and picked up my jersey and rider’s packet. In the parking lot, I tried my jersey on, to be sure that it fit, and then we were off to our hotel.

I had booked us into the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center, an old converted mill that is about ten miles east of Sturbridge, which Jeanie and I had used two years before. There are closer hotels and motels, but Southbridge is big and always has rooms, and it’s a little quieter. Across from the hotel, a wedding was taking place on the town green. We checked in and went up to our second-floor room, which oddly enough was directly over the checkin desk, with a view of the lobby.

After a bit of getting settled, we debated dinner options and wound up returning once more to the Piccadilly Pub in Sturbridge, which is just passable family food, reminiscent of a Ground Round. In a last fit of sensible eating, I skipped the beer and had four different kinds of chicken: buffalo, barbecue, and breaded in our appetizer, and teriyaki for my entree.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a Brooks Pharmacy to pick up some milk and orange juice that I’d have before starting the ride in the morning.

At the hotel, we learned that the wedding’s reception was taking place just outside our room. Fortunately, they weren’t loud, and didn’t disturb us. Jeanie, after a long day on very little sleep, crashed before 8pm, while I “stayed up” to watch the PMC’s opening ceremonies, which were televised on NECN. But when they ended at 9pm, I decided to get to bed at an early hour, as well.

Saturday, 7 August 2004

Saturday morning I was up before 5am, had a breakfast of cereal and OJ, and then we hit the road, arriving at the starting area at about 5:40. It wasn’t just a little bit cold that morning: it was frigid. The temperature had dropped to just 51° (10°C) overnight, and I was feeling it through the thin cycling jersey. I was very thankful that I’d packed my arm warmers this year!

I took the bag containing the things I’d need at Bourne and tossed it onto the luggage truck, got the bike out of the SUV, went over my final checklist, said goodbye to Jeanie, and went to the staging area. Jeanie said that she wanted to get away before the start, but apparently she stayed to see the riders off; unfortunately, I wasn’t looking for her and wouldn’t see or hear her on the way out.

In the get-ready area, this year I tried to line up in one of the faster sections, but all the sections were filled to overflowing, so I wound up being at the absolute back. Furthermore, because they let everyone go at once, rather than staging them by speed, I began the ride about two-thirds of the way toward the back of the 2,182-person field. We left Sturbridge at 6:02am.

At the start, the riders go about six miles down Route 20, taking up the two eastbound lanes. Those six miles are a gentle downhill requiring little effort, which compounded the cold, just as it had at the beginning of my long ride on the Oregon trip. As I rode, I noticed my front wheel was wobbling significantly enough that I had to slow down and be more careful. At first, I thought that I must have managed to warp the wheel in the van while driving out, but then I realized that the wobble was just because I was shivering so violently. As we left Route 20 and rode through the rural woods and sparse little villages of Central Massachusetts, we passed ponds and streams with a thin mist rising from their surfaces, and you could see the riders’ breath. While the rest of the weekend’s weather would be perfect for cycling, Saturday morning was far, far too cold, and very unpleasant.

The first leg was pretty crowded as I made my way up through the massive pack of riders. Along the way, I thought about professional cyclists, who often race on closed roads in a peloton that might reach, at most, 200 riders. The Pan-Mass doesn’t close any roads along its route, and we started in an immense group of 2,182 riders that would swell to 3,749 when we met up with the other riders who had opted to start in Wellesley, rather than Sturbridge. It’s very difficult to grasp the size of the event unless you are at or near the start; it’s just a huge sea of riders, all of whom have raised an average of $4,500 for the Jimmy Fund.

The first water stop is in Sutton, 20 miles into the ride. Last year I’d intentionally rode right by it, looking to save time and arrive earlier at the day’s finish in Bourne. This year I did the exact same thing. There was no need to stop so early, and by riding on, I passed a lot of people. After that, the road was much more open and I was able to relax and set my own pace.

The first two legs of the ride are pretty hilly, and I found myself frustrated by guys who would zoom past me on descents, only to literally stop dead in their tracks when the road subsequently turned upward. I can climb pretty well, since I go out of my way to train on hills, and I passed a lot of riders on the ascents. I’ve always been a chicken descender, however, and between reduced confidence in my bike and not wanting to repeat my crash, I didn’t push myself. In fact, on the ride’s best downhill, at Purgatory Chasm, I only managed a mediocre 40.3 mph, after hitting 44.9 there during the rain last year.

By the second, 40-mile waterstop in Franklin, my lower back was just starting to ache a bit, but I was doing well and had continued to pass a bunch of people. Thinking back to the 2002 ride, when a traffic accident had held us up in Franklin for over an hour, I contemplated skipping the stop completely, but decided to grab a quick banana and add some ice to my bottle of Gatorade. I also put my arm warmers away; it now being 8:30, the temperature had risen to 59°. That was still very chilly, but the hills had warmed me up, and I didn’t want to start sweating inside the arm warmers. Setting the trend for the ride, I was out of the water stop and back on the road again before five minutes were up.

Right after the rest stop is Cherry Street in Wrentham, which is famous for its residents’ enthusiasm in cheering on the PMC. The entire PMC route is always lined with well-wishers and inspirational messages of thanks, but Cherry Street has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best. And coming 50 miles into the ride, Cherry Street is always a great lift for the riders. Now riding alone, I tried to greet everyone as I passed. I sat up and mocked drumming as we passed a family with a kid banging on some drums. Then I passed a group of people with a banner proclaiming “Pam’s Ass Challenge”. When I pointed at the woman in the group and asked if that was Pam, they yelled back that Pam was a rider.

This year there was a 16-mile section of new route that began a few miles past Cherry Street. As I rode along by myself, I got a little concerned that I might miss a turn, but they’re all well marked with arrows and signs, plus there are often volunteers at intersections pointing out the turns, and cops stopping traffic for you.

By now it had finally warmed up to a fine 67°. The sky was clear and cloudless, although the forecast promised increasing cloudiness during the afternoon. There was an intermittent wind, but I hadn’t noticed it too much, and I arrived at the new Dighton/Rehoboth Regional High School “lunch” stop at 10:10am, after four hours and 72 miles at a very speedy average of 18 mph. That surprised me, because I was indeed taking it easy, hadn’t drafted, and there was no tailwind (other cyclists will know that there’s *never* a tailwind).

I usually don’t eat much at the lunch stop, both in order to keep from cooling off as well as the fact that I’m not a cold sandwich person, and that’s usually all they have. However, this year I stopped long enough for a quick half a turkey sandwich and some snacks. Of more interest to me were the sour hamburger pickle slices, which taste marvelous after a long ride. But it was heaven after eight months of a restrictive training diet to be able to indulge myself in things like a half-dozen slices of Swiss cheese and a handful of Oreo cookies! Now that the ride was underway, all dietary restrictions were waived, and I was really looking forward to my post-ride rewards, when I’d indulge in long-forbidden delights such as ice cream, cheese, eggs, potato and corn chips, sausage, bacon, donuts, nuts, and cola. After my carb-loading regimen leading up to the ride, I was more than ready to join those ridiculous Atkins drones and swear off carbs for a long time to come!

As I downed my lunch, I sat on a grandstand (backwards, facing the incoming riders), enjoying the weather. It was still a little chilly on the bike, but it was warm enough to sit and stretch for a few extra minutes. I left after having rested for about half an hour, with three sections left to ride.

Despite the mild ache in my lower back, I really hadn’t felt any signs of physical stress thus far. However, having cooled off at lunch, I definitely felt stiff when I got back onto the road, and took some time to warm back up again. In particular, I began keeping an eye on my right knee. Through the hilly part of the course, I’d been mashing, putting all my force into the down stroke, rather than spinning in a uniform, circular motion. I didn’t want a repeat of 2002, when my knees had given me a lot of problems in the ride up to Provincetown, so I began going a gear easier than I thought necessary and upped my cadence in order to reduce the strain on my knees, although I have a very high cadence to begin with.

Having come down out of the hills, the woods gave way to farmland, the route became flat and more populous, and the miles less distinct. I spent a quick five minutes at the Lakeville water stop and kept on going. Only one more long leg before Wareham: the last water stop, only nine miles from the finish line. However, a few miles short of Wareham I definitely hit the wall. I still didn’t have any specific aches, but my legs were clearly losing power. Of course, in previous years at this time, my neck and wrists and butt had been so sore that I hadn’t really paid much attention to my performance, so in that sense, I was actually doing much better than usual. Still, I staggered into the Wareham stop and lay on the grass for a few minutes, stretching my neck. I felt like I took some extra time there, but in truth I was only there for 7 minutes. I opted not to avail myself of the little hose/shower that the volunteers had set up there.

I was definitely looking forward to the end of those last 9 miles between Wareham and Bourne, and went heads-down and drafted a couple people through Onset. They paced me just a bit faster than I would have done on my own, which helped a lot. They didn’t know it, but they really were towing me home. Finally, the turn into Mass Maritime Academy came, and we arrived to cheers, noisemakers, and lots of thanks. It was 1:09pm and I’d done 112 miles in 6 hours and 22 minutes on the bike (7 hours’ clock time) at an average speed of 17.8 mph. Those are all personal bests, despite my taking it easier and not drafting this year. It was 72° with a light wind and partly cloudy skies.

An early arrival and efficiently moving through a choreographed schedule in Bourne is key, because it means hot water in the showers, no wait for the massage tables, and ice cream before it sells out. I found my luggage with no problem and paused only briefly to begin tearing into the sour cream and onion potato chips that I’d packed as an arrival treat; I find that I usually crave salt more than anything after a ride.

From there, I headed directly to the showers and was, to my amazement, the only person in an open shower area that usually features a score or more riders at a time. I discovered that my one packing error was that I hadn’t brought a washcloth, so I washed quickly and changed.

Then I walked directly to the massage tent and signed up. Like last year, I was immediately admitted because I had arrived earlier than the bulk of the riders. I went to my assigned table just as someone else was lying down on it, and as I stood there perplexed, the guy running the show came up and told me to go to the next table down. The masseuse and I chatted while she worked on my right trapezius, which always seems to be my most painful muscle after a long ride. All too soon, my ten minutes were up, and I thanked the woman and moved on.

Then it was food and drink time. Last year I missed out on having any ice cream at all because the vendor had only brought a small amount and ran out before I had finished my first trip through the food tent. This year I wasn’t going to make the same error, going straight to the ice cream booth and grabbing two Hoodsie-sized cups: one vanilla, the other a blackberry that was palatable but not particularly refreshing after a long ride. I snarfed them down and only then, after my shower, massage, and ice cream, did I feel like I had the time to go through my standard post-ride stretching routine.

Although I’d left her voice mail after I arrived, Jeanie called me back to let me know that she’d successfully checked into the hotel we’d be staying at that night, and we planned to have dinner together after I rode from MMA out to the hotel. She didn’t hang out at Mass Maritime because non-riders aren’t allowed within the grounds and there’s only a very small area where spectators can welcome riders as they arrive.

My second trip through the food tent provided me with a cheeseburger, two ears of corn, a bottle of water, and another dozen or so hamburger dill slices. My third trip: two more ice creams (vanilla only this time). Then two more ears of corn. Then another ice cream and another bottle of water. And another little package of Oreo cookies.

I went and sat over on the rocks at the head of Buzzards Bay and stretched my legs. As the clouds came in from the west, they seemed to dissipate just as they got to the coast, so it was still mostly sunny, but as promised a very strong wind began kicking up. There was a stage where a couple bands played intermittently during the afternoon, but between bands they had one of Steel Pulse’s reggae albums on the speakers, which suited me much better than the live acts.

I had several interesting conversations with people. While I was sitting by the bay, an older volunteer saw me resting my head against the empty water bottle in my hand and asked if it was helping me, and we talked for a bit. After one of my trips to the food tent, I put my head down on the table and a young volunteer asked me if I was okay. I also walked along the Cape Cod Canal, where I talked to a couple other riders who had noticed the sandals I ride in. One of them was a 14-year rider, and we talked about my staying offsite and the advantages and drawbacks of that.

At 5pm, Tony, one of the guys from Quad Cycles had arranged for his friends to meet up, and I was the first one to find him. Over the next fifteen minutes, several other folks whom I’d seen on QC rides this spring joined us. But I needed to get out to the motel to have dinner with Jeanie, so I bowed out after a short visit.

I went back to my bike and swapped out the things I wanted to have with me and the things I wouldn’t need until Provincetown, and left my bag at the information desk, where they were collecting Provincetown-bound luggage from riders staying off campus. Then at 5:25pm I hopped back onto the bike for my additional 15-mile bonus ride out to East Sandwich.

The approach to the Bourne Bridge was absolutely jammed with cars, and I passed hundreds along the way before the road became so narrow that they blocked it completely. It's really annoying that automobile drivers think they have the right to block traffic like that. After being delayed by the cars, I made it up and over the bridge, which is quite an experience, since its deck is more than 135 feet above the Cape Cod Canal that it spans.

Once officially upon Cape Cod, I continued to follow the ride route, picking up the canal bike path for the ride up to Sandwich, in the process riding beneath the Sagamore Bridge, nearly a twin to the one in Bourne, and the only other land route onto the cape. At the end of the path, I went through Sandwich itself, passing the two motels where I’d stayed in previous years. This year, I was even further along the ride route. I picked up the rolling service road that runs parallel to Route 6, the main highway that runs the length of the cape. A few miles later, I left the ride route, took a mile-long descent into East Sandwich, and rolled into the hotel, the Spring Hill Motor Lodge, at 6:30. My one-day mileage now peaked at 127 miles, another one-day record.

Jeanie gave me a few minutes to rest and we debated where to eat. After quite a bit of research and then a lengthy scouting drive in the truck, we settled on dinner at the Bee Hive Tavern. Afterward, we returned to the hotel, where I had a second shower before we turned in again.

Sunday, 8 August 2004

Sunday morning didn’t start as auspiciously as I’d hoped. Saturday afternoon, Jeanie had very thoughtfully picked up some milk and OJ for my breakfast, and turned up the little dorm fridge in the room. Unfortunately, overnight the OJ, milk, and my Gatorade had all frozen completely solid! I gave breakfast a pass, but Jeanie very wisely suggested that I thaw the Gatorade in hot water in the bathroom sink, which did the trick. I wasn’t awake enough to figure that out for myself, as was underscored when I discovered that I’d put the batteries for my GPS in backwards!

I left at 6:30am, having slept an hour later than the poor folks who had stayed at MMA. It was 55°: a little better than Saturday, but not much. At least I had that mile-long climb out to the service road, followed by a bunch of rolling hills, to warm me up.

Just half an hour later, I passed the Barnstable water stop at Cape Cod Community College, opting again not to stop. However, just beyond the water stop was the point on Route 6A where I’d crashed last year, which I wasn’t particularly looking forward to visiting. As I came down the hill to the site, I noted that the sun is right directly in the riders’ eyes, although that probably wasn’t a factor on last year’s misty morning.

I really didn’t like the lengthy ride down Route 6A, the smaller, older road that also parallels the Route 6 highway. It’s narrow and has no shoulder, there’s a lot of traffic, and this year there were several pacelines that crowded me toward the edge of the road. I finally settled with a couple guys I could work with.

By that time, we were approaching the Cape Cod Sea Camps, which are one of the real highlights of the ride. Picture a hedge by the side of the road, running a hundred feet or so, with kids lined up two or three deep the entire length, all screaming encouragement as you pass. It was a loud and tremendous show of support that is inspiring each year.

In addition to well-wishers, people along the route also sometimes set up ad hoc rest stops. On Saturday, I recall passing one guy who was giving out Krispy Kreme donuts. On Sunday, I passed someone giving out bananas, and there was an unmanned table with some beer on it at another point, in addition to the almost ubiquitous people handing out water.

Sunday’s ride has only three water stops, and I arrived at the second stop in Brewster at 8am. I only stayed long enough to refill my Gatorade, but at 62°, it was just barely warm enough to put the arm warmers away once again. That stop is at the Nickerson State Forest, and the next mile and a half is on the narrow Cape Cod Rail Trail. The trail is in horrid condition: not quite impassable, but definitely wrist-numbingly bumpy. As I dictated into my microcassette recorder while being repeatedly jarred by bumps: "Cape Cod Rail Trail: not conducive to high speed riding!"

After yesterday’s woods, farmland, and cranberry bogs, the terrain on the Cape is quite different. The cape is almost entirely made up of sand dunes, so although it lacks any big hills, there are just tons of short, steep “rollers”. They’re especially noticeable if you cross the spine of the cape, which we did three or four times. The predicted wind wasn’t noticeable at all, unless you tried to head west, in which case it was, as I worded it in my dictation, “death on a stick”.

Another inspiring moment is always seeing the ocean for the first time from the bluff above Le Count Hollow and Cahoon Hollow in Wellfleet. That makes those crossings from one side of the cape to the other worth bearing. Oddly, you don't get much of a view of the ocean (or the bay) riding up the cape. Soon thereafter came the final water stop, where in anticipation of a hot day, the volunteers had piled the dozens of bags of ice into the shape of a couch which riders could sit on! As usual, I was in and out in no time.

After a quick stop, the route flirted with Route 6 a couple times, crossing to the east and west sides of the cape—now less than three miles wide—a couple more times before finally dumping us onto Route 6 for the final eight-mile section. This last leg becomes quite a nasty little slog, as it’s all uphill, there’s always a stiff wind against you, and now that you’re at the sandy tip of the cape, there’s not a shred of cover in any form. Along the way you traverse places with names like Peters Hill, Pilgrim Heights, Mayflower Heights, Mt. Ararat, Mt. Gilboa, and Millers Hill, while at the same time passing the seemingly endless shore of Pilgrim Lake, where there isn’t a structure or even a tree within miles to offer shelter from the sun and wind.

The first time I rode into Provincetown, the 90-degree turn out to Race Point came as a surprise. Imagine, after a 190-mile ride, being only a third of a mile from the 250-foot Pilgrim Monument in the center of Provincetown, when the route turns directly away from town while people at the side of the road are yelling “Just five more miles to go!” This year I knew about that final insult, and was anxiously awaiting it, but it took its time coming as I crawled up that endless eight-mile stretch of Route 6. This was where my knees had been screaming back in 2002, but there was no sign of that pain this year (that ride report is here).

Finally, we made our way out into the scrubby sand dunes of Race Point and the Provincelands. I zipped up my jersey in anticipation of the inevitable photographer, and pumped over the last few hillocks, arriving at the Provincetown Inn at 10:31am in 70-degree weather. In the end, I’d ridden 194 miles in 11 hours and seven minutes in the saddle at a 17.68 mph average speed. Through Sturbridge, Charlton, Oxford, Sutton, Northbridge, Uxbridge, Mendon, Bellingham, Franklin, Wrentham, Plainville, North Attleboro, Attleboro, Rehoboth, Dighton, Berkley, Freetown, Lakeville, Rochester, Wareham, Bourne, Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, and Provincetown.

After parking my bike, I went and found my bag and had some more sour cream and onion chips as a reward. Then I decided that since I had arrived in Provincetown earlier than most, and I wouldn’t be meeting up with Jeanie for a bit, and we didn’t have a hotel room where I could shower, I’d try something different and actually shower and have a massage there at the inn.

The PMC’s temporary shower facility was a large tent with two antechambers and then a single long military tent with a pipe down each side with spigots every eight feet or so. Set up atop the blacktop of the inn’s parking lot, the runoff soaks into the ground or goes down storm drains, and special biodegradable soap was provided. It didn’t take me long to get in and out of there, although I had to change back into the cycling gear I’d worn. Note for next year: put clean clothes in the P’town bag.

Then I went over to the massage tent, where I waited just a couple minutes for a free chair. Unlike MMA, at P’town you don’t take your shoes or shirt off, and instead of a massage table, you sit in lawn furniture while they work your shoulders; they weren’t even touching people’s legs! Very odd.

After a very brief rubdown, I made my way to the food tent where I started off with a salad, but also jammed my jersey pockets full of little bags of Cape Cod potato chips. I had some horribly dry barbecued chicken, but mostly I just ate chips. While eating, I had yet another girl come up to me and tell me that I looked stunned, and this time I went on to explain my theory about the “runner’s high”. Glycogen is your muscles’ preferred energy source, so endurance events completely deplete your body’s glycogen stores. While your muscles can also use protein and fat, your brain can only work on glycogen. Because it’s starved for fuel, it’s quite normal for people to act punchy and/or fall asleep after a long ride, since that’s the body’s way of shutting the brain off. You can read the full explanation in this journal entry.

After a lengthy rest and more eating than needs to be described here, I went back to the bike, got everything together, and made my way out of the P’town Inn. Jeanie and I had planned to meet up at 12:30 at the “family finish”, which is about a mile from the P’town Inn, in an area with ample parking and close enough to Route 6 to make it convenient for visitors and pick-ups.

I had a general idea where it was, but took a few extra minutes finding the place. When I arrived and called Jeanie, she was just approaching, having been tied up in extremely heavy traffic in Wellfleet. As it happened, we arrived at the meetup within five minutes of one another.

From there, we found a place to park and spent a couple hours walking around P’town. First, we went back to the P’town Inn to get Jeanie an event tee shirt, and happened across the PMC’s founder, Billy Starr, whose hand I shook. Then we had lunch at a place called Bubula (I had a burger), and walked out the length of MacMillan Pier. After two large meals, I actually had to decline having ice cream from the shop there on Commercial Street!

We went back to the car and drove out to Race Point Beach, which has always been my preferred way to spend the post-ride afternoon. The temperature worked its way up to 75°, and there was a steady wind from the southwest. I got into the water, floating around amongst some great swells, but I went out so far that one of the lifeguards yelled at me. After a couple wonderful hours there, we piled into the truck for the lengthy Sunday evening drive back home to Boston.

In the past, Jeanie and I had booked a hotel room to use as a home base and stayed in P’town Sunday night, but Jeanie had delayed making a reservation, and then there were no places available that didn’t require two- or even three-night stays. In the end, it wasn’t a big deal, but in the future I’d like to take more advantage of the opportunity to stay out on the cape longer.

The final item to note appeared in my mailbox when we got back to Boston: a donation from one of my writers, Liam Donahue. Starting in 2003, he has been a very generous contributor, and the company he works for doesn’t just match his contribution, but they double-match it, making his donations triply beneficial. With his check and his company’s match, I would be assured of making this year’s minimum fundraising. That took a huge amount of pressure off me, and made a wonderful way to end the ride.

Conclusion

Looking back on my four-year involvement with the Pan-Mass Challenge, I think there’s been a very logical progression each year. 2001, when I rode Wellesley-Bourne-Wellesley, was both my first PMC as well as my first long-distance event, and as such was a huge learning experience, both in terms of how to prepare and do the ride as well as getting an idea what my fundraising capability is. 2002 was my first Sturbridge to Provincetown ride, and I learned the importance of good form after all the pain I had to endure that year. Last year’s crash taught me humility: the PMC is not a race; it’s to be enjoyed, not blown through as quickly as humanly possible.

After three years of hard-won lessons, 2004 was finally the year that they all paid off. I did very little drafting and stayed away from pacelines. I rode within myself, at a comfortable pace that didn’t cause problems in my wrists, knees, back, or neck. The weather was fine, and I really enjoyed the ride, suffering absolutely no substantial physical problems, even despite all the nagging injuries I had coming into the event. In fact, I finished strong enough to do a 15-mile recovery ride Monday morning. The bike had no mechanical issues whatsoever, save for a couple spokes that needed to be tightened a bit. This year, everything worked—mentally, physically, mechanically, and even atmospherically—and it was just the kind of positive experience I needed after three very challenging years.

In more tactical terms, one of the things I tried on this year’s ride was putting foam inside my GPS’ battery compartment. In previous years, my GPS had a very annoying tendency of shutting off anytime I rode over a bump, and there are plenty of bumps along 192 miles of Massachusetts’ infamously horrid back roads (not to mention the Cape Cod Rail Trail). The foam worked nicely at first, but as the day wore on, it got less effective because it conformed to the shape of the compartment and provided less shock absorbance. This is something to continue to work on.

Earlier this year, the Lance Armstrong Foundation began their “LiveStrong/Wear Yellow” campaign, selling yellow rubber bracelets as a symbol of unity against cancer. I bought a set of ten quite early, and wore mine in public often. Several people asked what they were, and that opened a conversational door for me to talk about my involvement in the PMC, which is a potential way to meet new contributors. I didn’t make enough use of this opportunity this year, though.

This year I also seem to have seen more event photographers along the route. I’ve been disappointed in past years that I haven’t been in any of the pictures. This year I again seem to have been missed, except for a number of shots at the mass start in Sturbridge. Still, remember to zip up your jersey like the pros do before they cross the finish line!

The lack of a hotel in P’town was only a minor inconvenience Sunday afternoon, but it altered Saturday significantly. In previous years, I got a motel room near Bourne, while Jeanie took a separate room in Provincetown; this year, with no room in P’town, Jeanie and I stayed together in Sandwich. That worked out a bit better than usual in a couple ways. If I was alone, I’d only have cycling clothes, I would have no transportation other than the bike, and I could only bring things that I would be willing to throw away or carry on the bike all the way to Provincetown. With Jeanie having the truck there, I had access to pretty much everything I had brought, including street clothes. Instead of a dinner of dried fruit and granola bars, Jeanie could take me out to a real restaurant, and we could share the events of the day. And instead of a breakfast of more dried fruit and granola bars, I could have OJ and a bowl of cereal—even if that didn’t work out properly for me this year. That’s another lesson learned: don’t freeze the refridgerables!

After last year’s crash and the continual substantial increases in the minimum fundraising requirement, I made no secret that I considered giving up on the PMC. Even this year, I’ve told people that the value of the ride for me goes down as each year the ride itself becomes less and less challenging, while the fundraising becomes increasingly difficult. After last year’s crash, I said that cancer research and prevention is by far the most worthy cause out there, and I find riding in the PMC very personally gratifying. It is possibly the only substantially philanthropic thing I have ever done. Will I return and ride the PMC again in 2005? So long as I have the support of my sponsors and the confidence that I can raise at least the minimum to ride, I think you can rely on it; however, I cannot reliably predict how much longer I’ll be able to reach that goal.

All PMC Ride Reports:
   2001   2002   2003   2004
   2005   2006   2007   2008
   2009   2010   2011   2012
   2013   2014

On the other hand, I easily surpassed both of the goals I set myself for 2004. My first goal was to surpass 10,000 miles on my bike since I bought it four years ago. I achieved that in June, and by the bike’s fourth birthday I’ll have actually gone beyond the 12,000-mile mark. I hoped to end the same four-year period having raised over $10,000 for cancer research and prevention, and it looks like I will surpass that by exactly the same amount, bringing my lifetime fundraising for the PMC to $12,000. I am extremely proud of both of those achievements, and that’s what the PMC is all about.

 
 
datetowntime intime outhourstempmilesavgmaxnotesaudio reports
satSturbridge 6:02 am     Initial mileage on departure 
satSutton7:17 am7:17 am1:14:53 20.216.835.9Skipped first rest stop 
satFranklin8:35 am8:40 am2:32:36 44.417.840.3  
satDighton10:10 am10:37 am4:02:44 72.118.040.3"Lunch" stop amidst changed route 
satLakeville11:26 am11:31 am4:51:05 86.318.040.3  
satWareham12:28 pm12:35 pm5:48:18 103.017.940.3Legs just staring to wear out 
satBourne1:09 pm5:25 pm6:22:31 112.317.840.3Arrival at MMA in record time! 
satE. Sandwich6:28 pm 7:19:37 127.517.640.3Solo ride to hotel 
sunE. Sandwich 6:28 am7:19:37 127.517.640.3Left hotel 
sunBarnstable6:59 am6:59 am7:51:42 137.117.740.3Skipped first rest stop 
sunBrewster8:04 am8:08 am8:52:41 156.117.840.3Past crash site, 6A to rail trail 
sunWellfleet9:09 am9:17 am9:54:10 173.917.840.3Saw the ocean, heading onto 6 
sunProvincetown10:31 am 11:07:00 194.217.740.3Arrival in Provincetown!