At the end of last year’s riding season, I finally bought myself a new road bike—a Specialized Roubaix—to replace my aging steel hybrid. It’s an all-carbon fiber frame, and so I’ve nicknamed it “The Plastic Bullet” after a lyric in the Shriekback song “Go Bang”. It’s been an absolutely great ride, and by the time the 2006 Pan-Mass Challenge came around, I’d already put 2,250 miles on it and was anxiously looking forward to taking it on its first PMC.
At the end of February, my consulting job moved me from one client’s site to another. Throughout the winter, I’d enjoyed a 2-mile commute from Boston to Cambridge, but now, just as the weather was turning springlike, I was riding 14 miles twice a day. That adds up to a solid 140 miles per week, which is a lot of training miles!
And in May I felt strong enough to make my first attempt to ride the Boston Brevet Series 200k. Brevets are real endurance events, ranging from 125 to 750 miles. I’ve never before felt like I’d trained enough for such a long ride in early May, but this year I decided to go for it, and completed the 200k in eight and a half hours, then rode another 25 miles home from the finish!
Between the 200k and the commute, I rode much more than usual this spring. In fact, during the three-month period from March through May I usually ride about 650 miles, but this year I rode 1,350 miles: more than double my usual! So I felt pretty strong going into June.
Unfortunately, in June Boston received record-shattering amounts of rainfall, so I could only ride 425 miles that month: a very average amount. Then July presented me with three weeks of travel for work; I only biked 365 miles in July, as opposed to my average of 525. With the ride coming right up, I was going to have to take it on faith that I’d be able to complete the ride based on my early season training, because very little training happened in June or July.
All that travel also made it difficult to get started on my fundraising. I usually send my first fundraising letters out at the end of May, but this year I didn’t get started until the Fourth of July. I started to question whether I’d be able to make the $3,300 minimum, much less my personal goal of raising a personal record of $4,000, which would bring my lifetime fundraising to an amazing $20,000.
However, my sponsors really were very generous, and by the time of the ride, I’d already fulfilled both the minimum as well as my $4,000 personal goal. On top of that, I had promised contributions for another $1,000 and another dozen people who’d promised donations. So by the time fundraising ends in October, I’ll be very close to the $6,000 mark, which the PMC defines as their “heavy hitter” level, something I’ve never even dreamed of achieving!
Although my commute left me with neither the energy or the need to go on weekend rides with my buddies out at Quad Cycles this year, I did make it out there a couple times, and on one of those occasions I was approached by one of my riding buddies, David, who said he wanted to sponsor me. Now, nearly all of the QC riders do charity rides, so I never ask them for donations, so I was a bit surprised at first, until David told me that his mother was losing her battle with liver cancer and he wanted to make a donation in her honor. Unfortunately, she passed away just four days before the ride, but she and David were both in my mind as I pushed the pedals the following weekend.
I’ve always been deeply committed to the PMC’s goal of eradicating cancer, but this was the first year where my life has been been actively touched by cancer. Closer to home but with a happier ending, my friend Nicole went through preventative chemotherapy after a five year long personal battle with cancer that has affected her entire family. Here’s her story in her own words:
My mother died of a brain tumor when I was 21. It was 11 days before my wedding. It wasn’t unexpected, she had been diagnosed 7 years earlier but it still sucked.
When I was 23 I was diagnosed with a genetic condition that had turned my large intestine into a pre-cancerous playground. Without total removal I had a 100% chance of getting colon cancer. Byebye colon. Incidentally my dad had the same surgery 7 days after I did. Complications in my surgery left me with a permanent ileostomy. Not so pretty BUT I get to see what life would have been like through my dad and I gotta say, I think I got the better deal.
When I was 26 I got divorced.
Later that year I also developed a massive cyst (small watermelon and why is it always compared to fruit sizes) in my ovaries which was surgically removed successfully once, leaving me with one ovary. It recurred a month after surgery and I spent the next year trying to do anything I possibly could to avoid another surgery and the inevitable hysterectomy that would come with it. Finally caved and had another surgery in November 2005. Good news was the cyst was TOTALLY removed with virtually no chance to return. Bad news (of course) so was the other ovary and they found some ovarian cancer cells. Crap.
I used to work with Nicole, and she is one of the most vivacious, irrepressible, positive, and energetic people I’ve ever met. No one—certainly no 28 year-old—should have to endure such an unbelievable amount of pain, fear, and loss as Nicole has endured over the past five years.
I was able to visit Nicole during one of her six chemotherapy treatments, and it really brought home to me the human toll this disease exacts, both from the individuals who have to deal with it and from society as a whole. So I made a vow to dedicate this year’s ride to Nicole, to honor her and the tremendous spirit she’s shown in fighting such a terrible disease.
Before I knew it, the PMC weekend had arrived. Friday was a pretty typical PMC prep day. I got up and ate and drank as much as I could, then hoofed it down to the bike store to pick up some cleaning supplies. Along the way, I noticed that the sky suddenly got very dark, and I figured it’d be a sprint to outrun the rain home. Within seconds of entering the bike shop, the skies opened up in a tropical downpour. Fortunately, it passed, and I was able to trot home with minimal dampness. Aside from that Friday morning shower, the forecast was for a beautiful and absolutely unblemished weekend.
I spent the balance of the morning cleaning and lubing the Plastic Bullet, then took it on a short shakedown ride out to the Watertown dam and back. I also posted an update to my cycling journal, and emails to all my contributors. I kept one eye on my donations, as I had already set a personal record and was on the verge of fulfilling my $4,000 personal goal. By the time I shut down the computer, I knew my fundraising was going to far exceed my wildest hopes, which was a wonderful feeling to have on the eve of the ride.
As she’d done last year, my friend Sheeri had agreed to be my support person, driving me around and taking care of everything I might need. She and I left Boston at 4pm and drove out to Sturbridge, where I quickly signed in at the starting line.
Then we went to check into our hotel in Southbridge. I was very thankful for that room, because the hotel had been completely sold out when I first called them back in March. I’d been put onto a waiting list, but had eventually gotten a callback in July when a room freed up. You can bet that problem won’t happen again! After unloading, we opted for an early dinner at the Piccadilly Pub, a convenient but underwhelming spot I’ve been to in previous years. I guess after six years it’s time to branch out and find some better food in the Sturbridge area.
After Piccadilly, we briefly met up with my Quad Cycles buddy Charlie. He’s a Brit, and with a name like Charles Stuart-King, you have to admit that the English do have a sense of humor! Sheeri and I made a quick stop at a CVS to pick up some perishables before catching the PMC’s opening ceremonies on television in the hotel room. And then to bed, and then to bed…
Probably the worst part of the PMC is getting up at 4:35am to get to the start. Fooey on that!
After we drove to the Sturbridge start, I gave the bike a quick check-out and put together everything I’d need with me: seat pack, snacks, sunglasses, water bottles. Somehow I did manage to forget my air pump, tho.
I said goodbye to Sheeri and tiptoed my way through a parking lot strewn with 2,500 bikes and an even larger number of riders and volunteers milling around. I made my way to where I’d agreed to meet Charlie, who was again riding with a group called Team Kermit who ride in honor of Jared Branfman, a 23 year old who died last September of cranial and spinal tumors. I found them and we got ready for the 6am start. It was about 65 degrees, which is pretty comfortable, as compared to 2004’s 51°!
After the customary star-spangled variation of “To Anacreon in Heav’n”, three-time Tour de France winner and first-time PMC rider Greg LeMond gave the starting signal, and we were off. I waved to Sheeri on the way past, and she got a photo as I rode out of the parking lot and onto Route 20. The ride was under way!
Charlie and I rode together for a bit, but just four miles into it, his chain unshipped and we had to stop. After taking a minute or two to put it back on, we found ourselves toward the back of the huge pack. However, we stayed more or less together until we got to the first water stop in Sutton, twenty miles and an hour and a quarter later.
I’ve never liked spending time at rest stops, and I usually skip the first stop entirely, but I decided I’d stop long enough to record the statistics from my cyclometer. But by the time I’d done so, I’d lost Charlie, and went on by myself. The second leg went well, although my chain came off twice while climbing hills within four miles of the next water stop.
I only stopped for five minutes in Franklin, and five more at the Dighton “lunch” stop (anyone who thinks 10:05am is “lunch” is in the wrong time zone). Between my short stops and my average speed of 17.2 mph, I now found myself well ahead of most of the other riders. Although I must admit that I didn’t quite set a land speed record on the Plastic Bullet, which logged a speed of 45.5 mph on Purgatory Road, while my record is 46.4.
After Dighton, most of the time I rode alone, which is significantly more difficult than riding in a pack. Because of that and the stress of pushing myself, I started having a lot of nagging pains. On long rides, I often experience a lot of neck, back, and hand pain, and this was no exception. Although I was well-hydrated, the day was turning hot, and I felt it, so I started carrying water to pour over my head as I rode.
On top of all those incipient problems, I hadn’t eaten much: neither at the rest stops nor much of the snacks I carried. After six hours, with 100 miles done and only 10 more to go, I stopped at the Wareham rest stop utterly exhausted. I took a precious 16 minute break to massage my neck and lie on the grass. That proved to be a mistake, because I later was bitten in the back by some ants from a colony I’d disturbed. The Wareham stop also had an ad hoc shower set up, which I walked through no less than four separate times in an effort to lower my body temperature.
I took that last leg to Bourne more easy, and arrived at Mass Maritime Academy at 1:12pm, just three minutes off my personal best time from 2004.
So overall, Saturday was kind of a funny day. I actually didn’t ride very long with anyone I knew, and spent a majority of my time all alone. But one benefit of riding alone was that as I rode by the PMC photographers, I usually got my picture taken, so I’m expecting some awesome action shots as soon as they’ve posted them to the web site. [Ed: Nope, I wasn't in any of them!]
But, as usually happens when I ride alone, I probably pushed myself a bit too hard, and wound up paying for it in exhaustion in the latter third of the ride. It was still an enjoyable and very moving experience, but not quite the casual, relaxing, social ride I’d expected.
However, by hoofing it so diligently, I did achieve one of my goals: getting to Bourne early in the afternoon, before most of the other riders. I immediately got my bag, had a nice shower, and immediately got my massage at 1:45. My left thigh had cramped a bit on the road, and it redoubled that performance during my massage, but I really think it was more due to muscle fatigue than dehydration.
Then it was time for food and relaxation. Unlike last year, there was ample ice cream to be had, and I stepped up and downed no less than seven cups of Brigham’s “Just Jimmies”, along with a hot dog, a big handful of pickles, some chips, and three ears of not particularly savory corn on the cob.
I spent much of the afternoon lounging by the Cape Cod Canal, which is a special pleasure. There’s always both a strong current and a cool, refreshing breeze coming off the water. The Bourne Bridge and the railroad bridge are beautiful landmarks, and the shipping traffic in the canal is fascinating. At one point I laughed at a bit of cultural dissonance when the naval clock rang two bells; I had subconsciously expected a third bell, because the only time I hear bells is at the end of a meditation session, when they always ring thrice. I fired off my end-of-day voice post to my LiveJournal, to keep all my supporters informed of my progress, and went off in search of my friends.
I eventually tracked down several Quad Cycles riders, including my friends Charlie and Tony. The afternoon at MMA is always a special time, with tons of free food, and old friends recounting their day’s adventures. Charlie and I made plans to meet up the next morning and ride nice and easy up to Provincetown. That made sense to me for two reasons: first, I was beat after Saturday’s ride and needed a slower pace; and second, unless I rode slower, I’d get into Provincetown at 11am, and there was no need to get there so early. I’d much prefer taking my time and enjoying the sights of Cape Cod, even if that meant not finishing until noontime.
Eventually 6pm came around, and I had to go meet Sheeri at our hotel for dinner. I put my bag in the “to Provincetown” pile and made my way out of MMA before I realized that I’d left my sunglasses in my bag! I wasn’t about to ride 80 miles the next day without eye protection, so I rode back in through the arrival gate a bit sheepishly, as there was still a crowd of people there to cheer me on as if I was only just finishing! I apologized for having actually finished five hours earlier, went and got my sunglasses, and made my way back out.
After an easy, refreshing ride up the Cape Cod Canal bike path, I reached our hotel, which this year was back at the Sandwich Motor Lodge, which I’d stayed at back in 2003 and which was a major improvement over last year’s motel. After getting a fine bit of a massage from my personal soigneur, we had a hearty dinner (shepherd’s pie) at the pub next door, the British Beer Company. I’d refused free beer at Mass Maritime, pleading dehydration, but I just couldn’t resist a Belhaven on tap.
After that, it was back to the room for some well-earned shut-eye. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way, because there was a wedding party and a reunion, both of them going on until 3:30am! I actually slept through a fair portion of it, but it wasn’t very restful for Sheeri, I’m afraid.
Despite my encouraging Charlie to sleep in, he was adamant about riding with his team, who left Bourne at 5:30 in the morning. Fortunately, by riding to my hotel the night before, I was able to sleep a bit later, but I still left the hotel at 5:50. I rode down to the end of the canal bike path and met up with Charlie, who was sporting his Union Jack jersey. As usual, I wore my 2001 PMC jersey, which signifies the first year I did the ride.
We rode along with several of the women from Team Kermit: Susan, Ellen, and Emily. Their pace was just about right for a relaxing ride, and I enjoyed the opportunity to socialize a bit. I also got to play tour guide, as Ellen, Susan, and Emily were first-time riders, and Charlie hadn’t ever done the Provincetown route before. We also took a whole lot of time at each of the rest stops, which was okay because there were only three of them, and they were quite widely spaced along the route.
After the Brewster water stop came a brief stint on the Cape Cod Rail Trail, but as soon as we got back onto the road, Charlie broke a spoke, and we sent the girls on ahead while we worked on it. I did what I could to true his wheel, but his spokes were so tight that it was impossible to do without stripping his nipples. We rode on a bit gingerly until we found a service van directing riders back onto the rail trail at a new section of the ride. Charlie and I took over signaling duties while the guy from the van replaced Charlie’s spoke. We were back on the road at 9:30.
The next section of the ride brought us from Eastham up to Cahoon Hollow in Wellfleet, using a newly re-done section of the Cape Cod Rail Trail. It was a nice, quiet ride, although Charlie was anxious to catch up with the girls. We did meet up with them a few miles later at the final rest stop, along with Quad Cycles riders Abe, Jeff, and Julie.
After a lengthy rest there, the five of us continued on. Charlie and I played sheepdogs, herding Susan, Ellen, and Emily along Route 6 into Provincetown and then through the dunes of Race Point. We brought them back together and set the first time riders up to lead us over the finish line, only to find an ambulance blocking the route mere yards from the finish. We were stopped and detoured up into a motel parking lot to get around the ambulance, but then the ambulance backed up into the exit of the parking lot, trapping us again! Eventually, we picked our way around the obstacles and across the finish line at 12:15pm, successfully completing this year’s ride.
Sunday’s ride was definitely more pleasant, if less challenging. I got to meet and ride with some cool new friends, and had the time to enjoy the landscape as it went by. The weather, again, was absolutely ideal, lacking the usual painful headwind on the run into Provincetown on Route 6. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.
Along with the new bike, I had a new bike computer, which gave me a bit more data that I can share with you. For example, along the route we climbed approximately 4900 feet and descended 5725. The average ascent was 5%, with a maximum of 13%. And my average power output bounced between 100 and 120 watts (with a max of 340), depending on how strong I was feeling. The more usual ride data appears at the bottom of this page.
The moment I checked in at the finish, my phone rang; it was Sheeri, calling to let me know she’d arrived in Provincetown. I told her we’d synch up in an hour, during which time I showered, got a quick massage, and ate two salads, a Coke, and a bag of Smartfood. I only saw my friends briefly in Provincetown, as I was focused on not keeping Sheeri waiting, but I got to sit with Tony for a bit, and Ellen made sure to seek me out to thank me for helping her make it to the end, and to invite me to join Team Kermit next year.
Leaving the PMC compound at the Provincetown Inn, I met up with Sheeri and spent the afternoon wandering around town. After loading up on drinks and snacks at a convenience store, we made the now traditional trip out to Race Point Beach, where we spent the rest of the day lying in the sun and floating in the ocean before driving back to the hotel in Sandwich, where we had another swim in their indoor pool and relaxed in the hot tub. Dinner was buffalo fingers at British Beer Company, and another Belhaven, of course. Fortunately, there were no wedding parties or reunions Sunday night, and we finally got one good night’s sleep.
Monday: the ride is over, and it’s time to go back to Boston and real life. Sheeri and I packed up the car, then went down to the canal bike path for a short walk and some quiet time alone before the drive back to town.
It gave me a rare opportunity to reflect on the weekend. It had been physical, exhausting, exhilarating, and made me feel wonderful, but also melancholy that it was over for another year. I’m amazingly proud of the increase in money I raised this year, as well as the likelihood that I’ll end the year having raised around $22,000 for the Jimmy Fund during my six rides. I’m also deeply moved by the generosity of my friends and family, who have given so much.
But it all pales in comparison to what the Dana-Farber does. They directly treat hundreds of thousands of patients, and the research they do impacts the lives of millions. More important than the numbers, though, is the realization that every one of those patients is a heart-rending story like those of Nicole and her parents, and my friend David’s mother, and Team Kermit’s patron Jared Branfman. Those stories inspire me and my fellow riders to keep raising more money to combat this disease.
Half a million Americans die of cancer each year, and one in three of us will contract it during our lifetimes unless we as a society pull together and devote the resources needed to eradicate it. One event—the PMC—generates half of the Jimmy Fund’s annual budget. Dr. Edward Benz, the President of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, has said that “when they write the book about how cancer was cured, the PMC will be in chapter one”.
I want to thank you for being part of that mission, and for giving me the ability to say that I’ve raised $22,000 for cancer research, treatment, and prevention. It means the world to me, and to people like Nicole and David who have had to face it.
I hope I’ll see you again next year…
|65°, rode w/Charlie
|Lost Charlie, but carried on
|Lost my chain a couple times
|Lunch? At 10am?
|Rode alone, but things got painful on this section
|More pain, but a good rest and a lovely shower at the rest stop
|Happy near-record arrival at MMA!
|And on to the hotel in the evening
|On the road before 6am? About 62°
|Met up with Ellen, Susan, & Emily
|Just after the rest stop, Charlie broke a spoke
|Caught up with the girls for the last leg
|And shepherded them home to Provincetown!