2010 Pan-Mass Challenge Ride Report

In this video, Ornoth talks about his goals for 2010: 40 percent more miles and 40 percent more sponsors!
In this video, Ornoth talks about his goals for 2010: 40 percent more miles and 40 percent more sponsors!
Cooperation between cyclists in a paceline was the basis for one of my fundraising videos.
Cooperation between cyclists in a paceline was the basis for one of my fundraising videos.
Paul, Ornoth, and Jay ready to roll at the New York state border.
Paul, Ornoth, and Jay ready to roll at the New York state border.
Ornoth pulls Jay and Paul as they approach the 8-mile ascent of Jacob's Ladder.
Ornoth pulls Jay and Paul as they approach the 8-mile ascent of Jacob's Ladder.
Former coworker Dave Katz taking a breather at the top of Jacob's Ladder.
Former coworker Dave Katz taking a breather at the top of Jacob's Ladder.
Paul's all smiles while descending from Jacob's Ladder.
Paul's all smiles while descending from Jacob's Ladder.
Jay, Lynda, Ornoth, and Paul pose for a group shot shortly after finishing the 93-mile Day 0 ride from the NY border.
Jay, Lynda, Ornoth, and Paul pose for a group shot shortly after finishing the 93-mile Day 0 ride from the NY border.
Wouldn't you make use of a handy lake after a very hilly 93-mile ride?
Wouldn't you make use of a handy lake after a very hilly 93-mile ride?
A 30-minute video of the PMC Opening Ceremonies program as broadcast by NECN Friday night.
A 30-minute video of the PMC Opening Ceremonies program as broadcast by NECN Friday night.
Ornoth's video report of Friday's pre-PMC ride from West Stockbridge to Sturbridge with Jay & Paul.
Ornoth's video report of Friday's pre-PMC ride from West Stockbridge to Sturbridge with Jay & Paul.
Ornoth's traditional photo before Saturday's 5:30am PMC roll-out.
Ornoth's traditional photo before Saturday's 5:30am PMC roll-out.
Jay didn't ride the PMC, but he volunteered and prepared riders' breakfast on Saturday morning.
Jay didn't ride the PMC, but he volunteered and prepared riders' breakfast on Saturday morning.
Ornoth interviews Paul in Sturbridge while they are lined up prior to the 5:30am start.
Ornoth interviews Paul in Sturbridge while they are lined up prior to the 5:30am start.
We started in the dark, but the sunrise was on the horizon as we cruised down Route 20.
We started in the dark, but the sunrise was on the horizon as we cruised down Route 20.
Noah from NECN joined Paul and I for the leg between Franklin and Dighton's lunch stop.
Noah from NECN joined Paul and I for the leg between Franklin and Dighton's lunch stop.
I met up with Adrian and rode with him from the Lakeville stop to Bourne.
I met up with Adrian and rode with him from the Lakeville stop to Bourne.
After 190 miles in the saddle, you'd be this excited about peanut butter & Fluff, too!
After 190 miles in the saddle, you'd be this excited about peanut butter & Fluff, too!
Interviews with Team NECN riders, including my friends Helen, Noah, Paul, and Danielle.
Interviews with Team NECN riders, including my friends Helen, Noah, Paul, and Danielle.
Ornoth's video ride report from Saturday's 120-mile PMC Day 1, featuring fellow riders Paul & Adrian.
Ornoth's video ride report from Saturday's 120-mile PMC Day 1, featuring fellow riders Paul & Adrian.
Ornoth taping his Sunday morning arrival at the Brewster water stop.
Ornoth taping his Sunday morning arrival at the Brewster water stop.
I met Jack O'Riordan for the first time at the Nickerson State Park water stop.
I met Jack O'Riordan for the first time at the Nickerson State Park water stop.
A PMC event photographer captured this great image of Ornoth riding through the Orleans marsh.
A PMC event photographer captured this great image of Ornoth riding through the Orleans marsh.
A photographer caught Ornoth in the act of taping his arrival in Provincetown at the end of the ride.
A photographer caught Ornoth in the act of taping his arrival in Provincetown at the end of the ride.
Three days and 280 miles? Damned right I'm gonna celebrate!
Three days and 280 miles? Damned right I'm gonna celebrate!
Ornoth's video of the final day of his successful 10th PMC and 3-day ride across Massachusetts.
Ornoth's video of the final day of his successful 10th PMC and 3-day ride across Massachusetts.
New England Cable News' PMC page with much of their video coverage of the event.
New England Cable News' PMC page with much of their video coverage of the event.
Ornoth poses at Fenway Park with the ceremonial $33 million check to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Ornoth poses at Fenway Park with the ceremonial $33 million check to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino's intro at the Fenway Park check presentation ceremony.
Red Sox President & CEO Larry Lucchino's intro at the Fenway Park check presentation ceremony.
PMC Pres Billy Starr and Dana-Farber Pres Dr. Ed Benz's speeches at the Fenway check presentation ceremony.
PMC Pres Billy Starr and Dana-Farber Pres Dr. Ed Benz's speeches at the Fenway check presentation ceremony.
Ornoth doubled his previous record number of sponsors!
Ornoth doubled his previous record number of sponsors!
Ornoth's lifetime PMC fundraising.
Ornoth's lifetime PMC fundraising.
The 2010 Pan-Mass Challenge Yearbook
The 2010 Pan-Mass Challenge Yearbook

For a shorter summary of this year’s ride report, skip down to the Epilogue, below.

Prologue

Even before it began, 2010 promised to be a special year; it was going to be my tenth Pan-Mass Challenge.

To do something as challenging as the PMC for ten years in a row, it really has to mean something to you. Although I was originally drawn to the event for the athletic achievement, I quickly became devoted to the mission of raising money for cancer research, treatment, and prevention at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

So during the off-season, when I thought about what I could do to celebrate a decade of riding, I decided upon two goals: one athletic, and one fundraising-related.

Having ridden the traditional 192-mile route from Sturbridge to Provincetown eight times already, it had begun to feel routine. I had to do something more challenging. The answer was obvious. Several groups of riders have taken the name “Pan-Massachusetts Challenge” literally, riding 93 miles from the New York border to Sturbridge on the day before the traditional PMC start, since the regular PMC only goes two-thirds of the way across the state. Since I was unemployed, I had the opportunity to do the training necessary to ready myself for that 3-day, 280-mile adventure. Talk about “going the extra mile”! So that was to be my first big goal.

My other goal wasn’t so obvious. In 2009, my goal had been to surpass $50,000 in lifetime fundraising, so there were no nice, round numbers to shoot for. Instead, I decided to change tactics: instead of targeting a particular dollar figure, I’d aim for a particular number of donors. This made sense to me, because after a record 71 sponsors in 2007, I’d only had 60 in 2008, and 52 in 2009. In order to stem that trend and reinvigorate my former supporters, I decided to set an ambitious goal of 100 sponsors for my tenth ride. I’d have to recruit 40 percent more donors than I had in my record year, and 85 percent more sponsors than I had just last year! That wasn’t going to be an easy task!


Ironically, when 2010 began, I made a conscious decision to train less. When January rolled around, I didn’t immediately jump onto the indoor trainer, but waited six more weeks, hoping that I wouldn’t burn myself out by the time August came around. I cut my total amount of indoor training in half. (details)

But that didn’t seem to impact my fitness once the roads were clear enough for riding. My first three outdoor rides took place in mid-March, and covered 70, 65, and 75 miles; normally I’d be exhausted after just 30 or 35 miles! Apparently I’d somehow retained a lot of the fitness I had at the end of the 2009 season, despite doing less winter training.

But before that first ride, I had to do some work on the bike, including two repairs I’d never done before: installing a new chain, and wrapping new bar tape around my handlebars. I rode the bike over a couple hills to make sure the chain wasn’t going to break, and was returning via the Charles River Bike Path when another cyclist plowed into me head-on. You can read the full account in my journal, but the upshot is that I had to spend $300 replacing a brake/shift lever, spent weeks dealing with painful rib and knee injuries, and have a permanent scar on my left hand. Not an auspicious beginning to the year…

Another disappointment came from my attempt to expand our circle of riders. My riding buddies Paul Demers and Jay Dolan and I had formed a solid pack in 2009, and we wanted to add a couple other people to the group. My idea was to hold a pre-season dinner in March to build some enthusiasm and go over the 2010 cycling calendar. Although I started with a list of nine people, then added four more, ultimately only one other person joined us for the dinner. This was to prove typical of the response we’d get all year from our friends, and the three of us would remain the only reliable participants in the group. (details)

As spring unfolded, we did several major training rides, including my first Charles River Wheelmen’s Spring Century (details and video), my first 130-mile Outriders ride from Boston to Provincetown (details and video), a Fourth of July Quad Cycles century out to Harvard (details), and our usual pre-PMC tune-up: the Charles River Wheelmen’s Climb to the Clouds up Mt. Wachusett (details and video). I also started doing Tuesday night hard rides out of Cleveland Circle with Green Line Velo. And I spent many of my rest days in a kayak on the Charles River, courtesy of my first season pass to Charles River Canoe & Kayak.

By August, I’d already logged over 3,000 miles, making 2010 my most prolific cycling year yet. I’d ridden 200 miles in each of the previous six weeks, setting new mileage records for the key training months of June and July. If I was ever going to be ready for the full ride across Massachusetts, this would be it.


And suddenly it was fundraising season, and I had to get on the ball and produce a video or two and start sending out emails. I did produce two decent fundraising videos: one where I talked about my two major goals for the year (video), and another which compared cyclists working together in a paceline to the communal effort necessary to eradicate cancer (video). I was pretty pleased with them, although they didn’t exactly “go viral” as much as I hoped after I announced them.

Three days after I began sending out my fundraising emails, I learned that my cousin Michael Bolduc was in the hospital and losing his two-year battle with lung cancer. He died only a few days later. Although we weren’t close as adults, Mike had been a childhood friend, so I have many memories of times spent together. Although I’d ridden in the past in honor of friends battling cancer, this was the first time cancer had taken the life of someone I was close with since I began riding in 2001. So the final piece of this year’s puzzle fell into place with my decision to dedicate my tenth Pan-Mass Challenge ride to my cousin Mike’s memory.

As time went by, people seemed to respond to both my 100-sponsor goal and my adding more miles to the ride route. I unexpectedly got a whole slew of first-time sponsors. In some cases, these were people who only learned of my ride through friends using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. I also suspect that there were a number of people who in past years didn’t want to give a large amount, but who gave nothing because they felt self-conscious giving a small amount; by emphasizing that I only needed a $5 donation from someone to count them against my 100-sponsor goal, I made it okay for people to feel good about making small donations. In the end, although my average donation size went way down, I raised more money as my number of sponsors skyrocketed.

As PMC weekend approached, I quickly passed a number of secondary fundraising milestones that I hadn’t publicized: the $4,200 fundraising minimum, and the $6,300 Heavy Hitter level, becoming a Heavy Hitter for the fifth year in a row. I also surpassed the $7,343 that would enable me to pass $60,000 in lifetime fundraising and increase my average fundraising to over $6,000 per year, and eclipsed last year’s total fundraising of $8,266.

And by the time PMC weekend rolled around, I was only a handful of donations shy of meeting my 100-sponsor challenge. With numerous promised donations still outstanding, it was very likely that I’d actually fulfill my fundraising goal sometime during the PMC weekend itself!

Thursday

Thursday morning I posted my usual pre-ride Facebook and Twitter updates, and sent out my customary email, which included my current number of sponsors (92), a weather report (ideal) as well as my first announcement that I was riding in Mike’s memory. I also reminded people that they could visit my LiveJournal to listen to periodic audio reports that I’d be posting from the road.

The rest of the morning was spent packing up, and at 2:30pm my loyal support person, Sheeri Cabral, pulled up outside my condo for this year’s drive out to West Stockbridge. Although Thursday had been a partly cloudy and very humid day, a sudden downpour meant I got pretty soaked as we packed my bike and numerous bags into the car. Within minutes, however, the storm had passed and we were westbound on the Mass Pike. My tenth PMC weekend was officially under way!

That downpour, and others we drove through, heralded a cold front that would wipe away the heat and humidity of the previous week. By the time we stopped in Sturbridge for gas and snacks, the front had passed, and we enjoyed bright sunshine the rest of the afternoon.

Sturbridge is the starting place for the PMC, and this year it was also the finishing point of our 93-mile Friday ride that would begin at the New York border. Although I’d already downloaded the GPS data for the route most people take for that pre-PMC ride, I hadn’t been able to scout the route myself, so I convinced Sheeri that, since we had time to kill, we should follow the ride route (albeit going west, rather than east) to drive out to West Stockbridge. She agreed.

Other than noting places where we’d make turns, my main goal was to see for myself the two big climbs we’d face coming through the Berkshires. The first hill, on Route 20, is called Jacob’s Ladder, and is somewhat infamous. However, when we scouted it, I learned that, although at 1,800 feet it’s a very high hill, it has a very long, stair-stepped approach, so I didn’t think it’d be too difficult. More importantly, I learned that the “smaller” 1,200-foot hill, on Route 66 just west of Northampton, was a very steep climb with an almost monotonic grade. It was going to be a huge trial. Both climbs came within the first half of the ride, and were really the only noteworthy hills, except for one short but very steep spiker just after our lunch stop at Atkins Farm in Amherst.

We also learned that Huckleberry’s, the bakery that is the usual first rest stop, and which lent its name to one group of PMC’ers who do that New York ride, had closed. For us, that meant finding another rest stop, and we learned that there really aren’t that many convenience stores on the back roads of western Mass!


Finally we arrived in Pittsfield, checked into the Ramada Limited hotel, and went to find supper. On the way out, we noticed another group of hotel guests unloading a bunch of bicycles: clearly more PMC’ers. I was surprised to note that one of them had the exact same bike as my own: a 2006 Specialized Roubaix Expert.

Dinner was at Patrick’s Pub in Pittsfield. I had a salad, an open-face turkey and gravy sandwich, and I substituted fresh fruit for the French fries. Gotta stay away from fats during the pre-ride carbo-loading regime!

We returned to the hotel and were soon joined by my riding buddies Paul and Jay, who had been driven out from Boston separately by Jay’s sister Jess. We soon learned that Jay had forgotten his wallet at home, including his ID, credit cards, and driver’s license. I secretly hoped that he hadn’t also forgotten his cycling shoes, as happened during one of our training rides…

I posted my first audio update of the weekend, reporting that we’d made it out to western Mass, and turned in for the night.

Friday

My goal was for us to be on the road at 7am, so that we’d finish in Sturbridge by 3pm. The difficulty was that when Jay negotiated a ride out to Pittsfield, his plans had failed to include the 12-mile ride from the hotel to the starting line. Because of that, Sheeri was going to have to make two separate trips in the morning to shuttle us between hotel and start, first taking Paul and two bikes, than one bike with Jay and I. And because of that, we had to set the alarm for 5:45am, despite being able to name our own start time.

Because of the confusion and the guys dragging their heels, we actually weren’t transported, assembled, and ready to start the ride until after 8am, by which time several other large groups of riders had already departed. After readying ourselves in a small business’ parking lot right at the state line, and making my morning voice post, we gathered around the “Welcome to New York” sign while Sheeri snapped a few pictures.

While that was going on, another group of about a dozen riders showed up, including Dave Katz, a PMC rider and former coworker. So we chatted with him briefly before taking off on our own. We might have waited, but I was antsy that we were already more than an hour behind schedule.

The weather that morning was absolutely ideal, and would remain that way for the remainder of the weekend. That cold front that swept through the previous afternoon had cleared out the muggy heat, leaving moderate temperatures and a clear blue sky punctuated with occasional fluffy clouds. It also conveniently provided us with a nice tailwind that we would enjoy throughout the day, so we were eager to roll out.


The first twelve miles were relatively flat, on Route 102 through the towns of West Stockbridge and Stockbridge. The 10-mile ascent up Jacob’s Ladder began at the corner where we turned onto Route 20, where I stopped to take a picture of the “Jacob’s Ladder Scenic Byway” sign. While I was doing that, Jay and Paul called a bathroom break.

Less than two miles later, on one of the first gradual uphills, I noticed my front tire softening up and called out to the guys, “Gentlemen, I am flat!” After 3,000 training miles without any flats, I had punctured a mere 14 miles into my 280-mile trek. Surprisingly, within a minute of stopping, we were joined by Carlos, the guy who was driving the support van for Dave Katz’s group. Their group rode by while Carlos assisted me in changing inner tubes. His floor pump was a very welcome help, because I wouldn’t have wanted to have faced the coming high-speed descents on a soft tire!

One of the things you should always do when changing a tube is to examine the tube and tire to determine the cause of the flat, lest you put in a new tube only to have it also go flat. I looked over my tire and immediately felt a sharp object poking through the inner casing: I’d picked up a tiny metal spring. At least we had an obvious culprit, and I wouldn’t have to worry about further unexplained flats! I used one of my Where’s George dollar bills as a tire boot, and we were back on the road.

The rest of Jacob’s Ladder passed uneventfully, unless you count passing the Katz group having their pictures taken with a giant inflatable roadside beaver, or the lovely scenery as we passed Greenwater Pond in Becket. The sparsely-populated terrain consisted of tall, wooded ridges and narrow river valleys, punctuated with lakes, farms, and little towns.

By the time we crested the 1,800-foot hill (having climbed 900 feet from its 900-foot base) it was 9:42am and we were at mile 22.5. We stopped at the rock monument at the summit to chat briefly with Dave’s group, and gratefully accepted Carlos’ gracious offer to top off our water bottles. Comparing notes, we all thought Jacob’s Ladder, although a long climb, was completely doable, at least from the west side. We felt pretty good about knocking off the first major climb of the day, although we remained cautious after my vociferous warnings about the upcoming hill on Route 66.


The far side of Jacob's Ladder dropped 1,100 feet in 7 miles. I pretty much coasted for the next fifteen minutes, averaging over 30 mph and topping out at about 40, at which point we pulled into the very friendly convenience store in Chester that served as our first planned stop. There we spent 15 minutes chatting with some other riders from New York City while Jay filled his jersey pockets with gummi bears. I tried to post a voice update but was unable to get any cell phone signal out there in the back woods.

The descent gradually continued parallel to the Westfield River for another five miles, and we enjoyed an incredibly smooth ride on some freshly-laid asphalt until we reached the town of Huntington, the site of the former Huckleberrys bakery. We rode on, passing the Katz group as they regrouped at a different convenience store. We crossed the Westfield River twice during a short stint on Route 112 before making the long-anticipated left turn onto Route 66.

I’ve already said that although it’s not as high as Jacob’s Ladder, the hill on Route 66 was much more formidable. While Jacob’s Ladder had ascended 900 feet over 10 miles, Route 66 gained nearly the same elevation—800 feet—in just 3 miles. Figure it’s about three times as steep, averaging over 5 percent grade, with long stretches in the 8 percent range. In layman’s terms, it was one big, steep mutha of a hill.

On the other hand, its brutality made it pretty simple to deal with: just throw it in your lowest gear and keep turning the cranks until you’re done, which is exactly what we did. Jay gapped Paul and me pretty quickly, and although Paul pulled ahead of me, I gradually hauled him back. I was hoping to pull up next to him and videotape an interview with him as he climbed, but when he heard me coming he got a second wind and left me cursing him as I struggled to follow. However, I passed him as he stopped to get water from Carlos’ support van, and eventually I got video of him reaching the summit.

We regrouped at the top of the 1250-foot ridge at mile 45 at 10:59am, happy and a little surprised to still be ahead of Dave’s group, whom we’d passed back in Huntington. We all had a lot of respect for this road, which had presented us with a much longer climb than Mile Hill Road on Mt. Wachusett. Jay was so drained that he actually coughed up a half-chewed gummi bear. We were proud that we’d conquered the hill, and happy to have our second major obstacle behind us.


And equally happy to have another long descent ahead of us! We descended nearly 1,100 feet, taking about half an hour to cover the next 10 miles. I averaged about 23 miles per hour, but maxed out at over 46 mph, close to a personal record. Sadly, we decided to blow right by the Outlook Farm Country Store in Westhampton; we’d heard rumors of its ice cream offerings, but the descent called to us, and we decided that we’d already had enough of stopping and waiting around.

In no time we found ourselves riding into the quaint but busy little college town of Northampton, where in-town traffic really picked up. I led the group through the one confusing bit of road on our route, eventually crossing over the Connecticut River—the largest river in New England—at 11:38 and onto Bay Road in Amherst, which brought us back out into the countryside.

By then we were all starting to flag, and it was with great anticipation that we pulled into our lunch stop, Atkins Farm, at 11:57am, after 60 miles in the saddle . (voice post)

Dave Katz and company showed up shortly after we’d parked at Atkins, and we also overlapped with a couple of those other groups of pre-PMC riders who had started out from West Stockbridge before us. I grabbed a pastrami and swiss, a banana, and a cola, and we ate in the store’s sit-down dine-in area before going back outside to stretch and prepare ourselves for the remaining 35 miles.

At this point, the sky had clouded over and Jay even imagined he felt a raindrop or two, although there was zero chance of rain. The cloud cover did help in keeping the temperature down, although it would soon clear off and warm right back up again.

I hadn’t forgotten the little “spiker” that came right after our lunch stop, and it indeed would have been a little demoralizing, had we not known that it was the last meaningful climb of the day. From Bay Road we made our way onto 181 for the run south into Palmer, where we’d hook back up with Route 20 for the final run into Sturbridge.

With no major landmarks or issues, Route 181 proved singularly unmemorable until we got into Palmer, where we were briefly re-routed around some construction I’d noticed on the trip out. It didn’t slow us down any, and we cheered when the road merged with Route 20: the last segment of the ride!


At this point, Route 20 had transformed from the country road that we’d left back in western Mass into a busy commercial highway. It was ugly riding, at least until we passed the Brimfield State Forest and Brimfield Reservoir, when things quieted down a bit.

Unfortunately, that was when the route sprung a surprise on us: a final hill that—at mile 82—rose 400 feet in two miles, providing one last challenge for our tired legs as we crossed into Sturbridge. I called Sheeri to let her know we were almost there, and also called our fellow PMC rider Lynda Beaulieu, who had promised to come out and cheer for us as we pulled into the Sturbridge Host Hotel parking lot where PMC registration is held.

Very suddenly, we turned a couple corners and found ourselves right in the middle of Sturbridge, and made the left through traffic into the hotel, where Lynda and her fiancée greeted us enthusiastically. We met Sheeri and while the guys stowed their bikes on Jay’s truck, I strode across the parking lot and straight into Cedar Pond, a lake behind the hotel, splashing the sweat and grime off my legs, arms, and face with gloriously cool water.

We had logged 93 miles in 6 hours and 30 minutes, incurring 3,860 feet of climbing, with a moving average of 17.7 miles per hour and arriving at 2:40pm.

PMC Day 0 was done, and done well; the next item on the agenda was recovering and getting ready for the next day’s 120-mile ride.


We went into the hotel and got water and cola from vending machines. Since Paul used to work for New England Cable News (the PMC’s media sponsor), he had a hotel room right there, so Jay and Paul got in the long line to check into his hotel room and shower. Meanwhile, Sheeri and I went to the auditorium so I could go through the PMC’s rider check-in process. We went separate ways, but planned to meet up for dinner at Thai Place and then watch the PMC opening ceremonies.

At check-in I received my identifying wristband, my event jersey, and an under-seat saddle bag as a premium. We quickly checked out the vendor tables but found nothing of interest, but we did briefly run into my Quad Cycles buddy Tony Holowitz, who was riding his ninth PMC. I went into the bathroom and confirmed that the jersey fit me, and then we were outta there. But not without another stop by the pond for another quick head-splashing cool-down. I still hadn’t showered yet, after all.

While Sheeri made a brief stop at a local yarn store, I called LiveJournal to record a voice post summarizing the ride. We also made a quick stop at CVS for water and a Milky Way Dark, plus Gatorade, milk, and orange juice for tomorrow. From there, we were off to the familiar Southbridge Hotel, where we checked in and lugged our stuff up to the room. I showered while Sheeri pawed over the bag of stuff I’d gotten when I signed into the ride.

In the shower, I noted some tenderness in my juicy bits, which was not unexpected, as I’d had occasional issues like that in the preceding weeks. It wasn’t bad, but it had been my primary physical concern coming into PMC weekend, and this recurrence did nothing to assuage that concern. However, it was a fear that wouldn’t materialize, as I was fine for the rest of the weekend. Although I used a little chamois cream Saturday and Sunday, just to be sure.

After the shower, we rested for a bit. Checking email, I learned that Friday—the day before the official PMC, and the day I rode the extra 93 miles from the New York border to SturbridgeI’d received my 100th donation, from a friend of a friend, someone I didn’t even know. So between that 100th donation and doing the pre-PMC ride, all my 2010 goals were coming to fruition right at that very moment!


After a while, we called the boys to arrange a meeting for dinner. Well, no. We learned that Paul had gotten Jay and himself tickets to the free on-site dinner for riders, leaving Sheeri and I to eat alone at my standard pre-PMC restaurant: Thai Place.

While we were on the way to the restaurant, Paul called to let me know that although Jay’s phone was dead, we were to meet him in the hotel lobby at 6:50, and he’d join us to watch the opening ceremonies telecast in the outdoor overflow area, while Paul would be inside the auditorium viewing it live with his buddies at NECN. Lynda also called and said that she would meet us at the overflow area and also watch the opening ceremonies with us.

After dinner (I had Panang curry), Sheeri and I walked over to the hotel and waited around for Jay, who never showed up. It was only after we texted Paul that he decided to let us know that Jay had snuck into the auditorium and wouldn’t be meeting us, after all. Thanks for letting us know! We hoofed it over to the overflow area and caught the show partway through the beginning.

I looked around for Lynda, and eventually texted her, asking where she was. Oh, she’d decided to go back to her hotel and watch it on NECN, and wouldn’t be joining us, either! Between being stood up for dinner, then stood up twice (without any notice) at the opening ceremonies, you can understand why I was frustrated with my friends’ behavior.

This year’s kickoff show was also something of a disappointment. Usually event founder Billy Starr gives an inspirational speech during the half hour before the opening ceremonies program goes live on NECN. This year his speech did not appear to have been telecast into the overflow area. On top of that, this year NECN (thanks to new owner Comcast) cut the opening ceremonies program from 60 minutes to 30. While the program was very inspirational (video), Comcast’s shortsighted cost-cutting at the expense of this charitable cause is woefully misguided. I think it’s time for the PMC to say goodbye to this underfunded regional station and hello to a committed media partner who has the resources and the willingness to bring the largest athletic fundraising event in the world to a national and international audience.

So, after the brief opening ceremonies, Sheeri and I walked back to the car and drove back to our hotel in Southbridge, where I readied the bike for Saturday morning’s painfully early start.


Day 0’s Video Ride Report

Saturday

Getting up before 4am on Saturday morning sucks, even if you sleep well, but I had slept very fitfully, and woke up for the last time at 3am, well before my alarm went off. However, that gave me time to stretch, get dressed, and quickly down a breakfast of cold cereal and orange juice.

The room was cold because we’d left the air conditioning on, and the walk through the hotel halls was just as bad. Outdoors it was no better, as overnight the temperature had fallen to 54 degrees. I was shivering like crazy during the drive to Sturbridge, until the car’s heater warmed up.

We arrived back at the Host Hotel at 5am and I began putting the bike together for the day’s ride. I took my drop bag over to the proper truck, and returned to the car to warm up and make my customary pre-ride audio post to my journal. However, when I input my password, the voice posting system didn’t respond; after several tries, I concluded that it just wasn’t going to work, and went to line up for the 5:30 start.

Like last year, I lined up in the “fast” group, and shortly thereafter Paul walked right by me. He and the NECN riders, including my friend Helen Partridge, were returning to their bikes, so I followed them toward the front of the fast group, where we milled about for a few minutes before the National Anthem and Billy Starr’s signal to depart.

As a fellow PMC rider, Paul was undertaking the same challenge I was: biking all the way across the state as part of his PMC ride. Jay, on the other hand, was not a PMC rider, and had only come along for Friday’s ride for the fun of it. However, he’d decided to volunteer for the PMC, and had gotten up earlier than early in order to help provide breakfast for the riders. I hadn’t seen Jay since he and Paul checked into the hotel Friday afternoon, but I hoped that he would be able to see us depart, because 2,500 identically-dressed cyclists taking off is quite an impressive sight.


After the usual awkward roll-out, Paul and I clipped in and were again rolling down old friend Route 20, this time in the dark with the sunrise ahead of us, but with both eastbound lanes shut down for us. We rode for a while with Helen and NECN meteorologist Danielle Niles, but we wound up losing them fairly quickly in the huge crowd of riders that surrounded us.

Unfortunately, the first ten miles of the ride are downhill, and despite having arm warmers I was shaking uncontrollably due to the cold. I was very glad to see the first hills, because the exertion of climbing them would warm me up a little, although the worst hills on the PMC route are absolutely nothing when compared to the ones we’d covered the day before.

As we went through Sutton, we rode briefly with Tony, our Quad Cycles companion, overcame a few hills, passed Manchaug and Whitins Ponds, and arrived at the first water stop at 25 miles in Whitinsville, where I was recognized by Tim Rosa from Team Kermit, a guy I’d finished last year’s ride with, in 2009. I attempted to file an audio report, but once again, LiveJournal’s system wasn’t working.

After passing the old mill in Whitinsville, the next segment was pretty uneventful, save for all the crowds who had come out to cheer us. As I pass, I usually acknowledge them with a hearty, “Thank you for coming out!” because their presence really does add a lot of meaning and perspective to the event.

Fortunately, the sun was now up and the temperature had climbed to 66 degrees by the time we reached the 43-mile stop in Franklin at 8:10, warm enough for me to stuff the arm warmers into my seat pack. My legs felt fine, but Paul and I were setting a moderate pace, averaging 16.7 miles per hour. Since voice posts were still not working, I sent a quick text post to LiveJournal before we grabbed some food and headed out again.

As we were leaving the water stop, Paul spied his Team NECN buddies and exchanged greetings. The strongest of their bunch is a guy named Noah Leavitt, who was doing his first PMC, and he decided to join Paul and me for the next leg of the ride.

After Franklin comes Cherry Street in Wrentham, famous for its enthusiastic and vociferous support of the riders after the residents of this tiny side-street learned how much they had in common in their struggles with cancer. Their efforts include banners, costumes, refreshments, a live band, and this year kids from the Colonial Pipers Bagpipe Band, who hopefully didn’t get run down, as they took up half the width of the road!

Actually, on the topic of accidents, Paul and I had several close calls with both drivers and other riders that frustrated us. Even though we were toward the front of the pack, the route was still insanely crowded, and it was made all that much worse when we Sturbridge riders were joined by another thousand or so riders who had set out on a different route from Wellesley.


When we finally arrived at the Dighton “lunch” stop at 9:58, I was frustrated after having to deal with the huge groups of riders on the road. Since Paul and Noah were going to wait for the rest of their NECN team to show up, I only stopped in Dighton long enough to hit the porta-potties and was right back on the road, in an effort to get ahead of the majority of the pack. That might sound surprising, given that I was over 70 miles in, my legs were getting a little heavy, my tender bits were a bit more tender than usual, and I was 15 minutes ahead of my planned schedule; but that should give you an idea how tense it can be riding in a large, squirrelly pack.

As soon as I left Dighton, I was struck by how open the road was. There were so few riders that I would chat for a few minutes with each one that I passed. I’m glad I took those opportunities, because this would be the only segment of Saturday’s ride when I wouldn’t be accompanied by friends.

By now the countryside had transitioned from woods and rolling hills to flat farmland, cranberry bogs, and long, straight roads with sun-baked and sometimes broken pavement. We passed by the old Berkley-Dighton Bridge on a separate temporary bridge; sadly, the old bridge is about to be demolished and replaced.

Having skipped taking on any food in Dighton, I tossed a couple apple slices in my jersey pockets at the 85-mile stop in Lakeville, where, since voice posts still weren’t working, I mailed in a very short text post.

Before I left, I also ran into fellow Quad Cycles rider Adrian Wheelock, who was also enjoying his first PMC. We’d ride nearly all of the remaining 35 miles together, until he zipped off and dropped me a few miles short of the finish. Thankfully, I remembered to eat those two apple slices while we were on the road.

Adrian paced me pretty well, at around 18 miles per hour, and it’s really amazing how riding with a friend completely distracts you from all the little aches you might have. For my part, I was happy to escort him into the Wareham water stop at 12:04pm, which was his first time completing a full 100-mile “century” ride. My century time was 6 hours and 33 minutes, which is just about average for me. The weather remained ideal: mostly sunny with a few puffy clouds and a bit of a tailwind, and hovering around 80 degrees.

We had just nine miles left to ride, and I was still ten minutes ahead of schedule. Earlier, Adrian had asked why they bothered having a water stop nine miles from the finish, but I think by the time he got there, he understood that after a hundred miles, every opportunity to rest is a welcome one. I was also glad to learn along the way that he was as disappointed in the ride’s official cycling shorts as I was.

While browsing the food tables at the Wareham stop, I noticed the presence of peanut butter and Marshmallow Fluff sandwiches and grabbed one. That’s pretty much what I ate all through grammar school, and it went down a treat. So did the next one. And the next! For some reason those were the perfect thing.

As I downed another one, I finally got through to LiveJournal’s voice posting system. I managed to ad lib a very short voice post summary of the day before Adrian started looking impatient, since he’d already put up with my repeatedly returning to fetch more sandwiches. So I cut it short and we were back on the road, on the final leg to Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne.

After Wareham, the scenery changes again, and you find yourself riding along the coast of Buzzards Bay and through the little seaport village of Onset before being unceremoniously dumped onto the heavy commercial highway that is Route 6, the second longest highway in the United States. At the coast, the wind picked up quite a bit, but it wasn’t a full-on headwind, so it didn’t really interfere with my progress.

At 12:50pm I pulled into MMA’s campus, completing the standard PMC Day 1 route of 111 miles, for a two-day total of 203 miles. I'd completed the course in 7 hours and 19 minutes, which equalled last year's record pace for the current route.


As usual, getting a massage appointment was my top priority, but that need was more immediate this year, with the added workout of PMC Day 0. Physically, my primary complaint on Saturday was my quads, which atypically ached like crazy, thanks to the heavy climbing workout they’d received the day before. My calves and butt ached, as well, but those were more typical, familiar pains.

But getting a massage appointment requires showering first, and showering requires picking up my bag from the bag drop. Fortunately, off-campus bags are unloaded right near the finish line, so I quickly grabbed mine and headed into the showers, where I scrubbed the road grime off and changed into street clothes.

From there, it was straight to the massage appointments and into the standby line, where I didn’t even have time to sit down before the next group was called. I found a table, began emptying my pockets, and took off my shirt, then happily discovered that I’d have two massage techs working on me simultaneously, which is always a huge bonus.

On top of that, they were quite skilled, so I got a great workout, starting with my traps, but focusing mostly on my calves, quads, and IT band. I also got pointers on foam rollers and even the name of a reputable MT back home on Newbury Street. The massage went a long way toward rejuvenating my tired legs.

When that was done, I took a few minutes to call Sheeri and file another audio report that summarized the day, including the absolutely perfect weather I was enjoying at Mass Maritime.

With those important tasks out of the way, I was free to wander over to the food tent and begin the task of replenishing myself for the next day’s ride. I began with two cheeseburgers, two ears of corn, pickles, a banana, potato chips, a sugar cookie, peanuts, two colas, and water.

As is my usual preference, I spent most of the afternoon lounging along the tugboat mooring that faces the Cape Cod Canal. It’s a nice, secluded area that keeps me away from the crowd, and the buildings at my back block out the annoying music from the live bands they have as “entertainment”.

However, at one point I decided to wander down to a beach area behind the academy, where I spent a few minutes wading in the frigid ocean water. At one point I found my friend Tony and chatted briefly with him. Although I didn’t synch up with many of my friends at MMA, I didn’t really mind, as I’d spent a lot of time socializing during the ride.

In the middle of the common area, large, colorful banners had been set up with the captions “We Ride For” and “We Volunteer For”, with permanent markers so that people could write their own answers. I usually don’t bother with them myself, but with my cousin Michael’s death so fresh in my mind, I added a big “Michael Bolduc” to one of the banners.

But for the most part, I just hung out at the tugboat dock, resting and enjoying the sun, the water, and the wind, and the feeling of accomplishment of being very close to fulfilling all my goals for this year’s ride.


However, time kept on ticking, and eventually it was time for me to leave MMA and continue another nine miles further up the ride route to my hotel in Sandwich. I quickly changed back into riding gear and left MMA at 5:15pm. I wound my way through the ever-jammed Route 6 rotary, and then slowly rode on the sidewalk up the improbably-high Bourne Bridge over the canal and onto Cape Cod, fighting the gusting winds to stay upright.

Upon coming down from the bridge, I hooked up with the bike path that runs along the full length of the canal, right along the riprap. This is always the most relaxing part of the ride, when I have the bike path all to myself, in the cool of late afternoon, with no reason to hurry.

Of course, it comes to an end pretty quickly, and I pulled into our hotel just 45 minutes after leaving MMA, just before 6pm. I logged a total of 120 miles on Saturday, which brought my two-day total to 212.


At the hotel, I filed a voice post, unpacked and got everything ready for Sunday morning, then Sheeri and I went over to the British Beer Company for supper. That was a bit of a surprise to me, as I’d understood we were going to try a different place that she’d suggested the year before—Bobby Byrne’s—but apparently she’d forgotten it and booked us into the usual BBC, which is right next to the hotel.

At BBC Sheeri had a mediocre burger, and I had a pulled pork pizza with added jalapenos, which seemed to hit the spot, although after eating all afternoon it took me a while to poke it all in.

By this time I’d noticed that my throat was sore. Throughout the weekend, I attributed this to the amount of yelling I’d done while trying to talk with other riders. Fortunately, it wasn’t until I got home that the head cold I was incubating really took hold; for now, I just dismissed it.

After dinner, Sheeri passed out after having walked 7 miles on the canal path earlier in the day, while I fought to stay awake until 10pm in hopes that I would be able to sleep through the night.


Day 1’s Video Ride Report

Sunday

Contrary to my hopes, my sleep was interrupted several times by what sounded like children running around upstairs and jumping up and down all night long. What we discovered was that our room was directly underneath the stairway, and I was woken every time someone went up- or downstairs. Finally, at 5:35am I gave up and started getting ready for a planned 6am departure.

It wasn’t quite as cold as it had been in Sturbridge the previous morning. As I left the hotel, I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, and picked up the other riders en route a mere block from the hotel.

Since my hotel is already nine miles down the road from MMA, it’s only 14 miles from my hotel to the first water stop, but half of those are along the Route 6 Service Road, which is a long series of rolling sand dunes, constantly going up and down. They’re a bit of a challenge if you coast on them, but they’re just right for shooting down one side and rolling up the next. My legs didn’t like it one bit, but along the way I passed many, many riders before we turned onto Route 6A.

I arrived in Barnstable at 6:51, only to find the water stop overrun with riders. With flashbacks to the crowded streets of the prior morning, I filed a quick audio report and got back on the road.

Days later, I discovered that there were reports of tacks spread across Route 6A in Barnstable. I didn’t notice or experience any, but there have been similar reports in that area in previous years. 6A is a bit of a chameleon, serving as the local main road, alternating between a narrow country road and a busy commercial thoroughfare, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there were people who took exception to our use of the road early on a Sunday morning.

During this segment, I hooked up with two veterans: one Kevin Sareault, and a former rider named Charlie who happened to ride part of the route with us. They pulled our little paceline at a great pace—perfectly comfortable, but moving right along—but eventually we dropped Kevin, and a little later on I dropped my chain on one of the tiny hills along its length and let Charlie go. A few miles later, I passed the always-rowdy Cape Cod Sea Camps hedge and turned into the Nickerson State Park water stop in Brewster at 7:46am.

I followed my customary Brewster protocol of grabbing two ice pops, then tried something I’d never done before. There’s a young man named Jack O’Riordan who is one of the famous personalities of the Pan-Mass Challenge. When he was one year old, Jack underwent several surgeries and 30 months of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with a pediatric kidney cancer. Ever since, Jack has appeared at the Nickerson State Park water stop, bearing a sign that reads “I’m 4 (or 5, or this year 14) thanks to you!”

Jack’s sign and smiling face has inspired hundreds of PMC riders for a dozen years. I’d never spoken to him, but on this, my tenth year, I took the opportunity to say hello and shake his hand. It was just another way that this was an extra-special ride for me.


Leaving Brewster after completing another voice post, the landscape changed again. The soil became sandy, and I crossed several salt marshes and tidal estuaries. Not long after, we joined the Cape Cod Rail Trail, a beautiful 22-mile stretch of scenic riding that passes straight up the spine of the cape, although we’re only on the trail for its last three miles.

Usually the narrow trail makes this a pretty crowded stretch of the ride, but this year it worked out just perfectly. I found myself in the middle of a group of about a dozen riders who formed a solid paceline. The boys in front didn’t trade any pulls, so our order in line was static, but they pulled us along at a solid 21 miles per hour. Surprisingly, we didn’t pass many other riders, nor did anyone pass us. In fact, we didn’t even encounter much traffic going in the opposite direction, either, which made for a wonderful little run. Ironically, as soon as we left the trail, our paceline splintered.

From there, we had a short ride up Ocean View Drive, which provided our first real view of the ocean, and then a few swooping, rolling hills past the Wellfleet cheering section and up to the final water stop at Wellfleet Elementary School at 8:55am, where I grabbed another peanut butter and Fluff sandwich. So far I had added 60 miles to my total, which now stood at 260.

The Wellfleet stop is always bittersweet for me, because, as the last stop before the finish, it’s where I realize that the PMC is almost over. Part of the reason why I chose to ride an extra day this year was to hopefully wear myself out to the point where I welcomed the end of the ride. But that strategy didn’t work, mostly because my connection to the PMC isn’t physical, but emotional, and that poured out very unexpectedly in my audio update from Wellfleet, which I encourage you to listen to.

Sure, part of it is that I really enjoy biking; part of it is that I really love the cape; but the thing that makes the PMC such a moving experience is the mission.

Throughout the ride, you are constantly reminded of why we ride, whether by the pictures of kids undergoing treatment at Dana-Farber, the stories you hear from your fellow riders and volunteers, or the signs and the hundreds of people lining the route who are eager to thank you for riding.

For two days each year, you are immersed amongst thousands and thousands of people who all share the same feelings and the same purpose. It has quite an emotional impact, and it’s really tough to see that end when PMC weekend comes to a close and we all go our separate ways, back to our regular lives.

I guess it’s just a feeling I’ll have to get used to. I love the ride, but I don’t think I’ll ever actually look forward to that finish line in Provincetown, where each year’s ride must finally come to an end.


Of course, I still had a tough 20 miles still to go, so I saddled back up again to tackle the tough hills of Truro. For a while, I was riding alone and had the opportunity to savor the fleeting final moments of the ride. Then I was back into the hills, which didn’t seem very imposing after riding through the Berkshires.

And, as always, waiting for me at the crest of Corn Hill, Truro’ worst hill, was another of the PMC’s personalities: the Over-the-Hill Cheerleaders. 77 year old Evelyn Wisnosky and her 66 year old sister Brenda Hebert have been donning outrageous costumes and cheering riders on for over 20 years. As with Jack O’Riordan, I’d never bothered to stop and meet them, but with no other riders around, and this being my tenth year, I stopped and offered them hugs and thanks. Ironically, one of the two sisters had been replaced with another woman, but I spoke briefly with the other sister before someone else came up, and I rode on.

After a swooping high-speed turn across yet another vast salt marsh, I emerged onto Route 6, the major highway that runs the length of the cape to Provincetown. As I coasted down out of Truro, I was rewarded with my first view of Provincetown and the hundred year old Pilgrim Monument.

It was then that I realized that I’d done it: I’d successfully biked from one end of Massachusetts to the other, all the way from the New York state line! It had been quite a long haul, but my legs had risen to the task, and it felt very rewarding.

The wind had picked up, but it was from my left, so it didn’t slow me down as I cruised along toward the sandy exposed flats of Pilgrim Lake. However, it was strong enough to produce a dramatic effect when I rounded the corner and saw eight or ten huge, colorful banners flying high above the roadway, flapping in the wind: the “Why We Ride” banners that had been at Mass Maritime the day before. Another one of those moving moments that remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. Then we passed the “Welcome to Provincetown sign and turned right for the extra spur out to Race Point.

While I’ve bemoaned those challenging, hilly extra eight miles in previous years, I’ve come to terms with them now. By going out into the high sand dunes and back into town from the opposite side, riders are given a little extra time to compose their thoughts and emotions upon reaching the end of the ride. After leaving the busy commercial highway with its demands on our attention, the empty desolation of the dunes and scrub grass serve as a prompt and an opportunity for the rider to look inward and reflect, to find whatever it is that he or she will take away from the event.

Then one rounds a turn and, almost out of nowhere, the finish line is in sight. One rolls past the cheering crowds, lets the friendly volunteer scan the bar code on one’s bike, and suddenly it’s over. You’re not a hero anymore; you go back to being just another guy, standing around with his bicycle. Crossing the finish line is the first of a half dozen events that mark the end of PMC weekend for me, and each one comes with its own brand of melancholy.

The final numbers: I arrived at 10:17am, beating my previous best time for Sunday’s ride by half an hour. I’d ridden 280 miles from the New York border at an average speed of 17.6 miles per hour. My legs still felt strong; I was still passing other riders even on the hills out by Race Point. On the other hand, I really didn’t feel like I needed to spend any more time on the bike, so it was nice to climb off and call it a day! I was, after all, looking forward to a nice meal and a trip to the beach!


After having a volunteer take my picture, I dropped my bike in the bike line behind the Provincetown Inn and got my bag and headed straight into the shower, a military-tent style affair set up in the inn’s parking lot. I was early enough that, once dressed, an unoccupied massage tech (!!!) was just waiting for me. When I replied with an enthusiastic, “Awesome!” the young girl who was giving out massage appointment numbers gave me a sticker from a sheet she had that showed a smiling sun and the caption “Awesome!” I got a pretty good upper body workout; I’ve never understood why they don’t do lower body massages at Provincetown

I made a final voice update, which was sadly only about 50 percent audible thanks to Provincetown’s lousy cell phone reception, then headed over toward the food tent, where I inhaled two salads. Although I hadn’t ridden with anyone I knew on Sunday, I met Adrian in the food tent and we chatted until it was time for me to leave the site to meet up with Sheeri, my support person. It’s unfortunate that Adrian is moving to New Mexico, because he really enjoyed his first PMC, and he’d make a great addition to the team.

I went back to the bike line and grabbed my bike and bag, but couldn’t get a cell phone signal to get in touch with Sheeri. So I walked out into the parking lot and tried again there. While I was talking to her, I saw my buddy Paul and yelled for him to wait a second. After I finished with Sherri, Paul and I congratulated one another on completing the full 280-mile ride across the state. It really gave me a sense of closure to be able to debrief with Paul, after sharing so much of Day 1’s ride, as well as the whole Day 0 ride from West Stockbridge, over the Berkshires, to Sturbridge. It was just the right note to end the weekend on.


After saying goodbye to Paul, I experienced the second marker of the end of the PMC: leaving the finish line and the PMC hub site at the Provincetown Inn.

I climbed back on the bike (very painfully, I might add) and rode to where Sheeri had parked the car. We stowed the bike and walked back into town for our customary lunch at the Squealing Pig, where I had a chicken sandwich and fries.

The balance of the day was spent at White Crest Beach, which featured frigid water (I still got in, briefly) and windblown sand. Then we returned to Provincetown for dinner at Bayside Betsy’s, where I had chicken alfredo: which would have been a major violation of my pre-PMC training diet. After dinner, we drove back to our hotel in Sandwich; leaving Provincetown for the last time is my third marker of the passage of PMC weekend. Arriving back in Sandwich, we stopped for ice cream and saw a skunk wandering around the area, and then I filed my final voice post of the year.


Day 2’s Video Ride Report

Monday

Sunday night I slept reasonably well, and Monday we packed up and drove across the Bourne Bridge, leaving Cape Cod, which is the fourth event that marks the end of my Pan-Mass Challenge. On the other hand, we were driving to Onset for a three-hour Hy-Line boat cruise up and down the Cape Cod Canal. It was interesting seeing that area—Mass Maritime, the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, and the canal bike path—from a different vantage point, and of course I enjoyed being on the water for a while.

We had lunch at a local pizza joint called Marc Anthony’s and then headed home to Boston, since Sheeri had to return early to deal with apartment-hunting issues. Being dropped off at home and saying goodbye to Sheeri is another marker for the passage of PMC weekend. However, at least I got a very enthusiastic welcome home from Grady the Cat!

It might sound strange, but I have never taken my PMC identification wristband off after I finished the ride on Sunday. In fact, I always continue to wear it throughout Monday, and only take it off after I’ve gotten home. I delay cutting it off because I see it as the final act that separates me from PMC weekend. It’s my final admission that yes, this year’s ride is over and gone forever. And this year, even more than ever, I wanted to retain that connection as long as I could, having had what was probably my best and most rewarding PMC experience in the ten years I’ve participated in the event.

Lessons Learned

Every year, I make new mistakes and learn new ways of making the ride better. Here’s what I’ve got from this year…

Obviously, the first thing I learned is that the Day 0 Friday ride from West Stockbridge is completely doable. Not that I want to do that every year, but it can be done, and can be a rewarding experience. I’ll save more analysis of that for the Epilogue, below.

Another major lesson from this year is that sharing the ride with friends really does make the ride. This year I shared portions of the ride with Paul, Jay, Adrian, Noah, Dave Katz, Helen, and Danielle, and ran into Tony, Lynda and Tim from Team Kermit. Their presence made the ride much more fun, more memorable, and more meaningful. I only wish I’d run into other folks I know, like Nick Caramello and Steve Ricci; or former riders like Charlie Stuart-King, Jeff and Julie Ichikawa, Scott Joy, and Abe Shenker.

From reading this writeup, I guess you’d have to conclude that one of my biggest lessons is how important it is to stay ahead of the main pack by keeping water stops really short. When there are so many riders that conditions get cramped, the ride becomes tense and dangerous. Finding a way to get to the front isn’t just a matter of establishing one’s athletic prowess, but is an important part of keeping the ride pleasant, relaxed, and safe.

This being my second painfully cold start, I must remind myself to bring a warm jacket for use on the drive from the hotel over to Sturbridge, if not during the first segment of the ride itself. Starting the day shivering sucks, and takes a lot of the enjoyment out of the grand départ.

In 2009, I brought less food than normal, and still thought I carried too much. In 2010, I brought even less, and again only ate a fraction of it. In general, each day I brought one snack baggie of dried fruit, another baggie of corn nuts, two dried fruit leathers, one Payday miniature candy bar, and maybe a Rice Krispies bar. That’s maybe a good amount for an unsupported ride like Day 0, but it’s still too much for the actual PMC. It’s probably not necessary to carry both fruit leathers and dried fruit, and the candies probably aren’t necessary, either. Of course, if I’m going to keep skipping water stops in the interest of getting ahead of the pack, it might make sense to carry a little extra…

This year, I carried only one 24-ounce water bottle, and that was exactly enough. I don’t need to carry a second bottle for hydration purposes, although I might want a second bottle on long, unsupported rides like Day 0. I had considered carrying a second bottle in a jersey pocket, to carry water to pour over my head, but this year the weather didn’t make that necessary, so I didn’t bother. I could see doing that on a really hot day, but there’s a balance to be struck between keeping the bottle small enough to fit comfortably in a jersey pocket and it having a large enough opening to accept ice, as well as water.

This year, for the first time, I tested adding SaltStick electrolyte gelcaps as a supplement, mostly in an effort to control postride muscle cramps. The pills are very easy to carry and ingest, even while riding, and provide essential sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and Vitamin D. So far, all I can say with confidence is that they don’t seem to have any negative effect. I didn’t cramp up during or after this year’s PMC, but both the heat and my pace were moderate, so I can’t say definitively whether these helped or not. But they certainly didn’t hurt.

This year was my first year capturing video during the ride itself. Over the course of the weekend, I took over 230 video clips which I have assembled into three separate installments: Day 0’s Video Ride Report, Day 1’s Video Ride Report, and Day 2’s Video Ride Report. I think it was pretty successful, although I think there’s room for improvement in terms of what and how much I capture. I took less than 2GB of footage, and had batteries and storage capacity for a great deal more. For safety reasons, it was particularly difficult to use the camera on high-speed descents, on the steepest climbs, or in the middle of a pack of riders. At speed, it’s also difficult to recognize something you want to capture, get the camera out, power it up, and start shooting before you’ve gone by it. And I would have liked to have had my friends hold the camera and interview me at times, too. But as a first effort, I really do consider the videocam a success, although I might revise that opinion after I get into the bowels of editing and assembling a final product.

When we were assigned a handicapped room at our Sandwich hotel two years ago, I considered it a win, because we had a ground-level entrance and plenty of room to spread out. However, the noise that comes with being directly under the stairway has led me to reconsider that position. Perhaps next year I’ll ask for a different room, since being directly under the stairs does not make for optimal rest and recovery.

Finally, another “Duh!” moment came when I reviewed the heartfelt voice post I posted from Provincetown and discovered that more than half of it had been lost due to bad cell phone transmission. I’ve known for years and years that Provincetown has horrible cell phone service, and yet each year I assume that my recording gets through as long as the connection isn’t dropped. Well, it’s time to stop being an idiot and remember that I have the ability to play a voice post back to myself before it gets posted to my journal. In Provincetown, especially, I should be re-playing my voice posts to confirm that the message was recorded successfully, without gaps, static, or garbled audio.

Epilogue 

My unstated goal for my tenth Pan-Mass Challenge was to make this a special year. My primary strategy for that was evident in my two stated goals: putting the athletic challenge back into the ride by devoting an extra day to riding the 93 miles from the New York border to Sturbridge the Friday before the official PMC ride, and challenging myself and my supporters to shatter my previous record of 71 sponsors by shooting for an unfathomable 100 sponsors for this year’s ride.

Riding across the state wasn’t easy. The mileage alone was daunting, requiring additional training on my part. The Berkshire hills also provided a formidable obstacle, but one that—once conquered—provided an equally lofty sense of accomplishment. I was very glad to share that memorable day with my two most loyal cycling buddies. And crossing the state also added a new sense of achievement to my arrival in Provincetown, as well. Was it worth it? Absolutely. But I don’t feel any need to duplicate that feat in future years, at least not right now.

I’ve always said the fundraising is more difficult than the cycling, and all year I wondered whether I’d be able to muster 100 sponsors. While I did benefit from a number of former donors returning to the fold, I was absolutely flabbergasted by the number of people who donated to my ride for the first time. I have received donations from more than 60 new, first-time sponsors, which simply floors me. By the end of PMC weekend, I had 106 donations, which not only crushes my old record of 71, it actually represents more than twice as many donations as I received last year, in 2009. Each and every one of you have my most heartfelt thanks, not only for helping me surpass my own record, and not only for helping make it possible for me to participate in such an inspiring and moving event, but also for the lifesaving work your donations will make possible. Thank you!

2010 was special in other, smaller ways as well. The sunny and temperate weather was an absolute gift. I had the pleasure of riding with good friends all day Friday and Saturday. I took the time to chat with PMC personalities Jack O’Riordan and the Over-the-Hill Cheerleaders. And even after the ride, I enjoyed a marvelous boat cruise up and down the Cape Cod Canal.

I’d hoped that my tenth Pan-Mass Challenge would be a special one. It was. This year’s ride was unquestionably one of the best and most memorable rides of my life.


But it all pales in comparison to the mission: to raise money for life-saving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. As I stated in my very emotional audio report from the Wellfleet water stop, throughout the weekend I saw the faces of children who are in treatment at DFCI, heard the stories of my fellow riders and volunteers, and received the thanks of thousands of supporters who line the entire route.

As if that wasn’t enough of a reminder of why I do this ride, this year I added the memory of my cousin and childhood friend Michael Bolduc, who, after a two-year battle with lung cancer, passed away a week after I sent out my first fundraising letters. That, too, made 2010 special, in that it reinforced my connection to the mission: eradicating this pervasive and pernicious family of diseases.

I hope you’ll forgive me for appropriating the words of one of our most articulate and inspirational Presidents. Sure, biking 280 miles in three days is hard. Yes, working one’s contacts and gathering a hundred donations totaling nearly $10,000 is hard. Eradicating cancer is arguably one of the hardest things mankind could undertake. But:

We choose to [do these] things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills. Because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

That very spirit is embodied by the Pan-Mass Challenge.

Check Presentation

My tenth Pan-Mass Challenge ride is long over, but I can’t close the books on 2010 without a final report following our formal check presentation to the Jimmy Fund, held November 12th at Fenway Park.

You already know that I fulfilled one of my goals by extending the ride and cycling all the way across Massachusetts. I completed the 3-day, 280-mile expedition easily and had a terrific time, and recorded those memories in a series of video ride reports.

And you may remember that on August 6th, while I was riding those extra miles, I completed my other major goal by obtaining a donation from my 100th sponsor. A few days later, I had twice as many sponsors I’d had the year before. I was delighted that so many more people had contributed to my ride.

But it didn’t stop there… Donations kept coming in. By the end of September an unbelievable 142 people had sponsored me! That doubled my previous record number of sponsors (71 in 2007), making my original 100-sponsor goal seem ridiculously low.

In the spring, when I first set that goal, my hope was that it would solicit donations from some of my former sponsors. But what I didn’t anticipate was a flood of 84 first-time donors. A full 60 percent of this year’s sponsors were first-timers! So if you’re one of those first-time donors, you have my effusive thanks, because you really made this year’s ride for me.

In dollars and cents, this year I raised $10,550 for cancer research, treatment, and prevention, surpassing last year by $2,300 and making 2010 my second-best year ever. I also reached the PMC’s elite “Heavy Hitter” level of fundraising for the 5th consecutive year.

And that brings my 10-year total fundraising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to $63,207… which gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

The event as a whole raised an astonishing $33 million, bringing the PMC’s 31-year total to $303 million.

The PMC’s 5,000 riders are supported by 3,000 volunteers, and a quarter million individual donors like you. We are the largest athletic fundraiser in the world, and 100 percent of the money donated goes to the Jimmy Fund.

This year, the PMC accounted for 60 percent of the Jimmy Fund’s total revenue, and much of that money is used to fund cutting edge research that is too speculative to receive government grants. At the check presentation, Dana-Farber’s President, Dr. Ed Benz, repeated his annual statement that, “When they write the book about how cancer was cured, the PMC will be in chapter one.”

But a much more concrete result of those donations is visible on Dana-Farber’s Boston campus: the state-of-the-art Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, a new 14-story care center that will be opening in January.

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

My tenth anniversary ride one of the best experiences I’ve had. And I hope my sponsors will take a moment to appreciate that their donation, along with those of hundreds of thousands of other contributors, will save lives and make an invaluable difference in the battle against cancer.

And I hope you’ll be able to join me again next summer, as I look forward to my 11th Pan-Mass Challenge.


PMC elevation profile
 
 
datetowntime intime outhourstempmilesavgmaxnotesaudio reports
thuPittsfield       Drove the route backwards.audio
FriW. Stockbridge  8:09 am 76   Ideal weather. Had hoped for a 7am start.audio
FriChester 9:58 am10:11 am 1:378029.218.139.5Flat on Jacob's Ladder. Ascent was no problem. Nice descent!audio
FriAmherst11:57 am12:42 pm 3:208760.518.145.6Rte 66 ascent was a beast but the descent into Noho was good.audio
FriSturbridge 2:40 pm  5:169194.117.945.6Surprisingly long hill on Route 20 up to Sturbridge.audio
SatSturbridge  5:30 am 55   Lined up w/Paul. Cold! Jay made breakfasts. Voice posting down! 
SatWhitinsville 6:57 am 7:07 am 6:4858119.517.645.6Rode w/Paul. Cold! Saw Tony & Tim Rosa. 
SatFranklin 8:09 am 8:22 am 7:5066137.617.645.6Rode w/Paul. Warming up a little. 
SatDighton 9:54 am10:03 am 9:2480165.317.645.6Rode w/Paul & Noah. VERY crowded still. 
SatLakeville10:51 am11:06 am10:1276179.317.645.6Skipped Dighton to get ahead of pack. Rode solo. 
SatWareham12:04 pm12:16 pm11:1282196.217.545.6Rode w/Adrian. PB & Fluff! Voice posting's back!audio
SatBourne12:50 pm 5:16 pm11:4585205.317.545.6Rode w/Adrian. Equalled my course record. Great massage!audio
SatSandwich 5:56 pm 12:2475214.517.345.6Slow, quiet solo ride to my hotel.audio
SunSandwich  6:04 am     Lousy sleep again. 
SunBarnstable 6:51 am 6:54 am13:1269229.217.445.6Stop overrun w/riders, so I skipped it to get ahead.audio
SunBrewster 7:46 am 7:59 am14:0375245.517.545.6Good pull by strangers. Met Jack O'Riordan.audio
SunWellfleet 8:55 am 9:06 am15:0078263.317.645.6Nice paceline on CCRT. Got emotional in my voice post.audio
SunProvincetown10:13 am 16:0685283.617.645.6Met OTH Cheerleaders. Banners on Rte 6. Crossed Mass!audio
SunSandwich       P-town, beach, P-town, ice cream, hotel. Canal cruise & home!audio