On August 3-4 2002 I rode in the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge (PMC), a bike ride to support the cancer treatment and research undertaken by the Jimmy Fund and Boston's world-renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The PMC is the Jimmy Fund's single largest contributor. Last year the PMC's donation to the Jimmy Fund was $14 million, bringing the event's total contribution over its 22-year history to nearly $70 million. This year's goal is $15 million, and the final check will be presented on November 10th.
As you probably know, last year was my first experience with the PMC, when I rode 160 miles through 21 towns on the way from Wellesley to Bourne and back over a two day period. Last year I was able to raise $2590 for cancer research.
The decision to ride again in 2002 wasn't difficult. In part, I was motivated by a desire to do the longer, 190-mile "classic" PMC route from Sturbridge to Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod. But more importantly, through the support and the stories I heard from my friends, I came to appreciate how painful and how pervasive cancer is. Although preparing and participating in such an event takes a lot of time and energy, and charitable contributions are down because of the economy and other reasons, the reason for my ride -- prevalence of cancer -- hasn't diminished. For more details about why I wanted to ride again, read the following excerpt.
Why am I doing the Pan-Mass Challenge again?
So I've done it, right? Why do I need to do it again? Well, I'll tell ya...
The Little Reasons:
I'll start by talking about the little things. One of the things I enjoyed about doing the ride last year was having a goal that got me outside and on the bike. And having a long-distance ride as a goal made me work myself harder than just recreational cycling would. I enjoyed feeling like an athlete, and having the opportunity to cover most of central New England, and the health effects that come with regular exercise. Besides, last year's ride was overcast and rainy, and I'd really like to give it a try in the sun!
The Intermediate Reasons:
Another big reason I want to do the ride again is because in 2001, the "classic" route was sold out, and I wound up doing a shorter and less challenging route. I'd really like to try the longer ride, which starts in Sturbridge and ends 188 miles later, at the end of Cape Cod in Provincetown, where I'd really like to visit again.
Also, one of the unexpected benefits of my fundraising last year was that I was able to get in touch with a number of old friends whom I hadn't heard from in years. That's something I'd like to be able to repeat!
The Major Reason:
Another unexpected motivator is that through last year's fundraising, I really came to believe in the Dana-Farber's mission. In addition to my own family stories, two of my writers, two of my coworkers, and one of my best friends all had very moving personal tales about how cancer affected them or people very close to them. Although I really didn't find the ride itself to be a transcendent experience, it still ranks as one of the most meaningful things I've done in a long time, considering how many people are diagnosed with cancer annually.
There are a number of challenges to my fundraising this year. To begin with, the fundraising minimum has increase this year from $1800 to $2000. Under normal circumstances, that wouldn't be worth mentioning, since I raised $2590 last year; but these aren't normal circumstances.
Of course, this is my second year asking people for donations, and I suspect that people may be less forthcoming when asked for money a second time. That may not be the case, and I hope people surprise me again, but I don't think I can count on it.
The third challenge is that many people devoted their charity funds to the Red Cross and other relief agencies as a result of the September 11th terrorist attacks. My understanding is that many traditional charities have suffered significant reductions in donations, which I might also encounter; although I hope that enough time will have passed that it won't be as problematic as it might.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, in the twelve months since last year's ride, the economy has gone, as a former coworker was fond of saying, "into the shitter". More than ¼ of the people who sponsored me last year are in a reduced financial situation today, myself included. While last year I was able to raise a good amount more money than the minimum required to ride, I fear that fundraising in 2002 is going to be a much more difficult challenge than it was in 2001.
At the time of this year's ride, I had raised $2375, and I expect to reach and eclipse last year's mark. If you haven't donated yet and wish to, you have until October 26th 2002 to contribute by visiting http://users.rcn.com/ornoth/pmc.
My preparation for this year's ride was much more relaxed than last year's. Although I still biked through the winter, I took it easy well into the spring season, and didn't really begin training in earnest until about eight weeks before the ride. By doing this, I didn't get so sick of riding, and yet I still peaked at just the right time, about a week before the ride.
Friday I had to get myself out to Sturbridge, a good 60 miles west of Boston. I began the day by cleaning, lubing, and fixing up my bike, then taking it out on a brief 10-mile shakedown ride in the hot sun. Oddly, the week before I'd felt incredibly strong riding, but this week I really felt a little weaker. At 3:30pm I biked over to my friend Jeanie's office, where we loaded our bikes onto her car and headed out. Jeanie was going to both drop me off in Sturbridge as well as pick me up in Provincetown after the ride.
We stopped briefly at my house to pick up my bags, then hopped the Mass Pike westbound. As soon as we did, the summertime thunderstorm began. All the way out we had to fight Friday afternoon traffic as well as the rain, which soaked my bike; fortunately, at least I'd brought extra lube with me.
We eventually found the starting hotel in Sturbridge and I stepped inside to quickly check-in and pick up the rider tag for my bike and this year's rider's jersey. This is a typical cycling jersey that the PMC gives out to every rider. Each year it has a different design, and riders are generally expected to wear this official event jersey on Saturday, the first day of the ride. This year's design was a floral motif.
After I checked in, Jeanie and I tried to go to our hotel, only to discover that a six-car pileup had closed the road we needed to follow! We wound up calling the hotel for alterante directions, and going about 20 miles out of our way to get there.
After taking a while to unpack the car at the hotel, a converted mill, we checked in. As I pulled our stuff into the room, I accidentally dragged Jeanie's bag over my foot. Wearing sandals, I managed to painfully cut open the nail on my left big toe. Between that and the rain and the accident and the traffic, it was turning out to be a very frustrating evening; it was perversely familiar to the downpour and lack of sleep I suffered the evening before last year's ride.
After performing a little first aid on myself, we went down to the bar and had some dinner (I had a burger and a Bass) and shot a couple games of pool (we both lost by scratching on the eight) before going back upstairs at 10pm. On the way up, I noted that we'd beat the rush, as about a dozen people with bikes were in line to check in at the front desk.
Woke up at 4am to damp roads, but no more rain. We had brought our bikes up into the room in order to dry them out, and needed to get them downstairs and re-attached to the bike rack on Jeanie's car. I'd also brought most of my luggage into the room in order to sort out what was going on the bike, what was going into the bag that would go on the PMC truck to Bourne for Saturday night, and what was staying in the car with Jeanie until she met me in Provincetown on Sunday. Then we had to check out, bring everything down to the car, and drive to the starting hotel. Fortunately, the road was open and there were no remnants of the pileup from the previous night.
We arrived at the hotel at 5:45am, and I spent the next 15 minutes setting up my bike, lubing it, putting my luggage on the Bourne-bound truck, and saying goodbye to Jeanie, who wisely wanted to get out before the bikers took over the road. And there were a *lot* of riders, filling the entire parking lot, shoulder to shoulder. As we waited, I talked for a few minutes with a woman who was a triathlete. I also noticed a girl I'd met the previous weekend at a training ride organized by Quad Cycles, but didn't say hello. At 6am, about 2200 riders started out from Sturbridge, filling the two eastbound lanes of Route 20. Another 1300 riders would start out from Wellesley an hour later, as I had last year. The weather began a little misty and foggy, but that quickly burned off, giving us a very sunny and pretty warm day (83 degrees, with a pretty muggy 71 degree dewpoint).
There were a number of highlights to Saturday's ride. Of course, one of them was the bagpiper who always positions himself at the summit of one of the first hills on the route. At one point, we rode past Purgatory Chasm in Sutton, which has always been a favorite place of mine; I discovered that it also happens to be the site of a very long and memorable downhill. Later, at 8:49am I was at our second rest stop (Franklin, MA) 45 miles into the ride, when we were told that we couldn't leave because there'd been a double-fatality pileup on I-95, and that the traffic from the interstate had been temporarily diverted onto the small side roads that we typically use. We were held for 50 minutes before being allowed to continue on at 9:35am. Right after that we went down Cherry Street in Wrentham, which has become well-known for the supporters who line the road; for them, the PMC provided a way for them to meet their neighbors and bring their community together.
My biggest fear coming into the event had been the hills of central Mass, but really there were very few that were any more fearsome than the mile-long slope of Park Avenue in Arlington, where I'd trained. I was pleased that the ascents went so well, and a little surprised that I was able to air it out on the descents enough to get up to 42 miles per hour.
The next rest area was our lunch stop, where I picked up chips, pickles, the inevitable banana, and some Dunkin Munchkins donut holes, which I stuffed into my jersey pocket. This wound up being a pretty bad idea, because they got crushed and left crumbs everywhere. There's a lesson learned for ya!
Five miles past the lunch stop, while I was having a conversation with another guy that began with him noticing my sandals, I heard the telltale SPANNG! of a broken spoke. I'd actually been anticipating that, because my rear wheel is warped and desperately needs to be rebuilt; unfortunately, when I'd taken it into my local bike shop to have that done weeks before the ride, all they'd done was replace one broken spoke, which did absolutely nothing to fix the problem. Fortunately, not far down the road, I came across one of the vans that sweep the route between the rest stops, offering basic medical and mechanical support, and so I was able to get a quick hand-truing of my wheel. That enabled me to limp along to the next rest stop. Each water stop features lots of food, Gatorade and water, shade and shelter, medical and mechanical support, and encouraging spectators and volunteers. A mechanic quickly and pleasantly replaced my spoke in less time than it took me to stand in line to fill my water bottle! Actually, spokes and flats seemed to be the most popular mechanical failure, from what I saw.
In the end, I pulled into the Mass Maritime Academy campus at 2:30pm after 112 miles through 22 towns. That was my first "century" ride, and really it wasn't so bad as one might think. I think the worst part was simply the amount of time it took to cover that much ground!
At MMA I picked up the bag I'd put on the PMC truck, showered (enjoying actual hot water, unlike 2001's ride), changed into the cycling clothes I'd planned to wear the next day, and immediately reserved my 15-minute block of time in the massage tent. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, the earliest slot was 5:30pm, so I had plenty of time to hang around.
The scene at MMA is quite a party. There's an immense pavillion that shades the volunteers preparing food: pizza, burgers, salads, chowder, beer, roasted corn, and much, much more. Also under the pavillion are lines and lines of tables, where riders gather to eat. Then there's a handful of vendors outside, giving away drinks, ice cream, and so forth. A sound system pumps out music either by a DJ or a live band. There's medical facilities, an information booth, a PMC memorabilia stand, and of course the 70-table massage tent.
I took shelter from the boiling hot sun in the pavillion, and downed as much food as I felt comfortable with, including two burgers, four ears of roasted corn, and two dishes of ice cream, then tried to figure out how to get to the hotel I would be staying at. I must have been dead tired, because I'd forgotten that I'd packed my directions in my bike's seat bag, and wound up calling both Jeanie and Information to get the hotel's number and street address; this was made more dramatic because my cell phone was on the verge of running out of power. But I figured everything out, then headed off for my massage.
After the massage, I went back to hop on my bike to ride onward to my hotel, since I had accidentally backed myself into staying off-campus this year, rather than sharing one of the MMA dorm rooms. At the place where I had parked it, I discovered a woman lying on her back mere inches away from my bike, while EMTs and firemen interrogated her. In the end, she had only mild symptoms of heat exhaustion, and was fine after resting for a while, but it was a kind of odd thing to have happen right in front of you. At the same time, an immense oil tanker was gliding rapidly past the school, less than fifty feet from the road. That, too, was a pretty strange sight!
One of the oddities of staying off-campus was that I had to leave my baggage behind, so that it would be loaded onto the Provincetown-bound truck in the morning. I could only bring to my hotel as much stuff as I was willing to carry on the bike all the way to Provincetown. So I took this opportunity to sort through my things, pack some snacks for the evening, and then leave just about everything else behind on the Provincetown truck.
At 6pm I left MMA and improbably rode another dozen miles further along the next day's route to my hotel in Sandwich, bringing the day's total to a nice, round 125 miles. That short ride was interesting in that it ran along a bike path on the edge of the Cape Cod canal; between the water and the now lowering sun. The evening was turning nice and cool, and the wind off the water was wonderful. It was made more pleasant because for the first time I wasn't riding with other people, nor worrying about automotive traffic. I missed my turn off the Cape Cod Canal bike path, but asked a woman for directions and had no trouble getting back on track and checking into the Dan'l Webster Inn, something of a glorified motor inn. Although by staying in Sandwich I had to give up the opportunity of seeing the sunrise from atop a bike on the high Bourne Bridge, I got the consolation of seeing the sunset behind it Saturday night, and Sunday morning I got to sleep in just a little later because I was already a dozen miles ahead of everyone else!
Riders often want to leave Mass Maritime early in order to be among the first to arrive in Provincetown; however, they're discouraged from leaving before 5:15am because that's when the vans that sweep the route begin work. Most riders do leave before 6am, but this year I had the luxury of not even waking up until 5:20, since I was already twelve miles ahead of them! Between the warm shower, the regular bed, and the extra sleep, the hotel room was a major improvement over 2001. But I still checked out and was on the road shortly before 6am. Since the ride passed within a few hundred feet of the hotel, I was able to immediately join up with a group of riders who had started out from MMA perhaps 45 minutes earlier. My legs were tight, but not too bad; I just felt kind of blah, but that passed as I warmed up on the road. The guy at the hotel's front desk said there was a big hill just up the road, but I didn't find any evidence of it.
The ride up the cape was very different from the previous day's ride. Where central Mass had been wooded and featured long, large hills, the cape is sandy, comparatively barren, and has a lot of frequent, rolling sand dunes. To be honest, I found the latter more difficult, although perhaps that's also because my legs were already tired. The ride itself was comparatively brief, a mere 70 more miles through ten towns over four hours, with nothing really of note except the steep rolling hills that just wouldn't stop. But it was another scorcher, and there was less cover to shield us from the sun.
Along the way we spent just a little time on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, but stayed mostly to the roads. I talked with a woman from Framingham for a while, then hooked up with another guy as we passed the well-known "Over the Hill Cheerleaders". As time went on, I began to recognize parts of the cape that I'd seen with Inna two years before: the Marconi Station, the area where the bike path breaks in Orleans, the place where we rented our bikes in Wellfleet, and the first view of Provincetown's unforgettable Pilgrim Tower in the distance from Truro.
But perhaps the most moving part of the ride came as we passed the Cape Cod Sea Camps, a summer camp for kids on 6A in Brewster. The camp has a long hedge that borders the road, and several hundred kids were gathered along it, cheering us on. In truth, the route was frequently lined with well-wishers, which really made the ride for me. When you're on the bike sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the pain and stress of what you're doing, but the enthusiastic adults and kids at the side of the road really brought back to me that I've actually raised a lot of money and done something that touches a lot of people. It always takes me a little by surprise that so many people care very strongly about what I've done, and are sincere in the strength of their gratitude.
On the other hand, the cruelest part of the ride followed shortly thereafter, as we approached the end of the ride. Just as you reach Provincetown and see the Pilgrim Tower and know that the finish line is just on the far side of it, the route turns directly *away* from town, heading east across the spine of the cape toward Race Point Beach. In fact, rather than going through any of central Provincetown, the route circumnavigates the entire town and Province Lands before approaching town from the far side. I found that pretty discouraging, particularly since my knees were finally starting to complain, but the end was in sight, and I just kept pushing through the featureless sand dunes and scrub. Finally I rounded a big dune to suddenly find myself on the final straight, a few hundred feet in front of the Provincetown Inn and the causeway out to Wood End. I pushed with everything I had to go over the line with strength and resolve at 10:12am. The final two-day tally: 196 miles in under 11 hours, through 32 towns, averaging 17.9 mph.
The Provincetown finish, like MMA in Bourne, is a huge party, featuring music, television coverage of the event by New England Cable News, massages, showers, and as much food as you can stuff into your body. I was one of the first people to arrive, and I bypassed the showers and massage tent, so I was one of the first people to arrive at the food tent. As I rested, I ate a couple barbecued chicken breasts, some watermelon, and some pickles, and kept trying to call Jeanie, who was supposed to meet me at the finish. Unfortunately, P'town is notorious for its lousy cellular coverage, and I was only able to leave her a couple voicemails after several dozen attempts. However, I walked up and down the finishing straight and finally met up with her around 11am. We wandered back to the car and stopped at a convenience store so that I could stock up on Gatorade and junk food. Back at our hotel, I noshed, showered, and we both napped for about an hour before heading back into Provincetown (by car, of course) to wander around. We got ice cream and walked out to the end of the pier. Then we went out to Race Point Beach and swam in the surf and enjoyed the rest of the afternoon. We returned to Provincetown (after my third shower in 24 hours) for dinner at Cafe Blase (pasta) and a little more shopping. We loaded up the car and returned to Boston early Monday morning.
Last year's lessons were all about surviving the ride, and they were all put into use and verified this year. This year I got rid of the messenger bag and most of the stuff I'd carried, replacing it with a wedge bag that goes under my seat. I also am happy to report that cycling shorts were another big improvement over last year's street shorts. I still packed way too much food, although it was nice to have some with me in the hotel room Saturday night.
This year's lessons are mostly about comfort. I think all three hotels (before the start, Saturday night, and after the ride in Provincetown) were major improvements to be repeated in the future. The same could be said of using the off-campus showers in the MMA gymnasium, which actually had hot water. Another good idea is to actually use the water bottles given out by the PMC; they have wide mouths which allow you to stuff ice into the water bottle, which will keep your liquid cool longer while you're on the road. Unlike last year, my GPS was of no value, but that was mostly because the Internet site I'd gotten ride coordinates from had stopped giving out longitude and latitude information, so I was unable to plot the route beforehand.
In general, the ride was an awful lot more comfortable than last year. It was pretty hot, but I was able to survive two days' worth of direct sunlight without sunscreen and without burning due to my days outside training; although I did get a nice tan, and commensurate tan lines. My cycling sandals worked admirably. The worst physical ailment I suffered, other than my self-injured toe which really didn't bother me too much, was that my wrists irritated me somewhat, but not unmanageably so. I had some cramps in my legs throughout the spring, and that's something I'll have to figure out how to address next year.
My only mechanical issue was the broken spoke, which was predictable. We did some drafting again this year, but I wasn't as firmly glued onto someone's wheel so much as I was before, although perhaps part of that is because there were more riders on this year's route. However, I think it may finally be time to retire the hybrid and indulge myself by buying a road bike for next year's ride. I'm sure the difference will be pretty substantial.
The PMC is an amazing organization, and a great group of people who do some pretty amazing things, both on the road as athletes as well as off the road, as people who give of their time, money, and energy to combat man's most prolific and persistent disease.
Like everyone who participates, my role as a PMC rider has those same two components. Off the road, I hope that my efforts to raise money for the Dana-Farber will enable them to develop more effective treatments for cancer, and more quickly find a true cure. On the road, I'm not just out there to have fun and ride around. Riding 200 miles in two days takes stamina, endurance, bravery, strength of will, and the ability to overcome pain. But those same attributes are demanded in much greater quantities by cancer victims and their families in order to fight and overcome this disease. By riding in the PMC, I and every other rider are expressing our willingness to share that burden and lend our strength to those who are very much in need of strength.
Thank you for your role in making my ride possible, and for being part of this immense endeavour to pull together and combat cancer.
|Stopped until 9:35 for incident on I-95
|Lunch stop; out at 10:43 am
|Out at 12:41 after spoke repair and & long water line
|Arrival at MMA! Out 6pm
|Slow ride to hotel; out 5:50am Sun
|Arrival in Provincetown!