For a shorter summary of this year’s ride report, skip down to the Epilogue, below.
2010 was all about celebrating my tenth anniversary Pan-Mass Challenge charity ride. The books were barely closed on that chapter when, in mid-December, I learned why I’d be riding again in 2011: my friend Ken, in whose honor I had dedicated my 2007 and 2008 rides, had lost his tortuous six-year battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
It would be impossible to relate to you how much Ken suffered. I listed the litany of his setbacks in my 2011 fundraising video, but that cannot begin to communicate the reality of what he went through. By riding again, I planned to raise meaningful funds for cancer research, so that others wouldn’t have to endure what he went through.
However, 2011 proved to be a year of stark contrasts. The sad news about Ken’s death was followed by amazingly good news. In February, the new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care opened. The Pan-Mass Challenge’s $183 million contribution was the lead gift in the construction of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s first new clinical building in 35 years.
At a time when Ken’s death underscored how far we have to go in curing cancer and making its treatment more humane, this was arguably the biggest, most visible evidence of how much good the PMC does.
As I related in my 2011 fundraising video, Dana-Farber even dedicated the main entrance as “PMC Plaza” in honor of our role in their lifesaving work. Although I had to sneak into the dedication ceremony, which was officially limited to 20-year riders, I couldn’t possibly miss it. That was one of the proudest moments of my life (writeup).
But as I mentioned, this year every high point came with a corresponding low. That same night that I sneaked into the PMC Plaza dedication, a tornado ripped through Sturbridge, very close to the PMC start, and completely destroyed the Days Inn that my friend Jeanie and I had stayed in before my 2003 ride. When my support person Sheeri and I arrived in Sturbridge for this year’s ride, we drove through the tornado’s swath, which looked just like a clear-cut.
With Ken’s passing and the opening of the Yawkey Center as a backdrop, this year’s ride wasn’t going to be just a quiet denouement after my big 10th anniversary ride; unexpectedly, 2011 suddenly had a story and a purpose.
My preparation for this year’s ride began with attending the banquet for last year’s Heavy Hitters, which was very motivating (writeup). It was the first time I’d attended it, despite having been a Heavy Hitter the past five years in a row.
As spring progressed, I completely revamped my cycling charts page. I also made a bit of a splash on the net by posting a 10-part series of hints and tips for PMC riders, and by having a training-related question printed in the RoadBikeRider online magazine (here).
This was an odd year for training, though. May and June were both rainy, and then my good friend Jay and I drove up to Vermont for a ride over Jay Peak (no relation) in the rain (writeup). Then in July we roasted in a brutal heat wave that lasted through the traditional pre-PMC warmup ride: the Charles River Wheelmen’s Climb to the Clouds (writeup).
But there were good points, too. I began commuting by bike to my new job in Quincy. I did a complete overhaul of the Plastic Bullet and bought a long-desired Garmin Edge 800 GPS cyclo-computer. I rode from Portland to Augusta again (writeup), and really enjoyed my second one-day, 130-mile Outriders ride from Boston to Provincetown (writeup).
This year’s bad luck wasn’t limited to me, but also extended to several of my friends. My PMC buddy Paul bought a brand new bike and a couple days later (while I was doing the Outriders ride) he was on the way to the biggest event of his year when our friend Jay drove his truck over the bike, crushing it. The same ride they also had a flat and fell behind the main group, then got lost, and eventually got sagged partway. Inauspicious!
For my part, I guess the worst thing I suffered was a head cold that kept me off the bike for the entire Fourth of July weekend. But it wasn’t my only mishap…
Five days before the PMC, I rolled my ankle really badly. I don’t know why, but I always seem to incur some minor injury the week before the PMC. I really didn’t expect to injure myself meditating, tho! Fortunately, my ankle had mostly returned to normal by the time the ride came around.
Then, just three days before the ride, I discovered a major problem when I was cleaning my bike: a large crack in the rim of my rear wheel. The likelihood of my getting a replacement was low, so for the time being I figured I’d just ride on it and pray that it wouldn’t fail, much the same as I’d done earlier, nursing a broken wheel through my 2009 ride. But at the last minute I’d revisit that decision…
With all those problems as a backdrop, I felt some mounting tension as PMC weekend approached. Although many of my usual companions weren’t riding (Paul, Noah, Lynda, Charlie, Adrian), my buddy Jay (the same guy who rode Jay Peak and who crushed Paul’s new bike) would be doing his first PMC, and I was looking forward to riding with him and showing him the ropes.
And a few days before, I read a tweet from my old friend Scott Joy, who indicated that Lance Armstrong would be riding the PMC this year. Actually, I think Scott was the second person to mention this, after another PMC rider who had directly asked Lance about participating via a tweet. That made my reply the third tweet to announce his participation, and after that the posts started flooding out. It was fun being one of the folks breaking that story.
Lance originally promised to ride the PMC after his first Tour de France win, back in 1999, but had yet to deliver; however, this was going to be the year he came to take part in our ride, which generated a whole lot of publicity.
But going into PMC weekend I was concerned about how much of a media circus it was likely to be. Fortunately, my fears were mostly ungrounded, as I never was inconvenienced nor even noticed his presence, which I consider an optimal outcome.
Friday morning I took the Plastic Bullet for a quick shakedown cruise down to UMass Boston, across to Castle Island, and then back via the climb up to Dorchester Heights (GPS log).
After packing and having lunch, I reexamined my cracked wheel rim and decided that before we left town I was going to bring the bike to the shop and see if they could do anything for me. When my loyal support person Sheeri showed up, we went to Back Bay Bikes to find out what could be done at the last minute.
Long story short, one of the mechanics loaned me his personal wheel, a Bontrager. I was going to do the unthinkable: set out to ride the 192-mile Pan-Mass Challenge on a wheel I had never ridden on before. But that’s what happens when you wait til the last second to do a repair.
As for my own wheel, I left it at the bike shop for them to rebuild. Sadly, it was only two months past its 2-year warranty date, and thus the fix would be on my dime. Astute readers might recall that I had a warranty replacement of that very wheel after my 2009 PMC ride (writeup).
While the mechanics swapped out my tire, tube, and cassette, I also went to pick up the new cycling sandals I’d ordered from the shop. However, I immediately noticed that they’d ordered size 43-44, rather than the 45-46 I’d asked for over the phone. I tried them on, but there was no way they were going to fit. So they were going to have to reorder them.
When he found out, the lead mechanic threw a little hissy fit and accused me of giving him the wrong numbers. He even showed me his notes, which read “44-45”, which isn’t even a valid size. Had I given him incorrect numbers, seeing that there was no such sizing, he should have asked me for a correction, rather than randomly picking a different size to order.
And this isn’t the first time I’ve had trouble with this guy. Last year I scheduled a repair for a Tuesday, and declined when he offered to try to fit me in on the weekend before; then, when I brought the bike in on Tuesday he both sent me away and tried to charge me a fee for missing the weekend appointment he’d scheduled (writeup). The guy clearly has a listening problem.
As a final trial, when I got my bike back from the mechanic, he’d ripped apart the Velcro closure that attaches my seat pack to the bike. Rather than bitch and moan at them, I just walked away (later using a zip-tie to jerry-rig it). This is typical of the kind of work I experience at all the bike shops in the area, and why I therefore don’t feel bad about ordering bike stuff online.
On the other hand, they only charged me $15 for a loaner wheel, completely saving my ass in a situation I should never have let happen. So in keeping with this year’s good-and-bad theme, sometimes they’re lifesavers, and sometimes they’re complete morons. But in this case, at least they delivered on the really important part: saving my PMC ride at the last possible second.
Between Sheeri getting stuck in traffic and my bike shop adventure, we didn’t leave Boston until 3:45pm, which is a lot later than I prefer. That meant we arrived at the Sturbridge start a little after 5pm to check in to the event, which would throw our usual schedule off.
Since parking at the starting hotel was full, Sheeri was directed to the satellite lot at Old Sturbridge Village. However, as she exited through a liquor store’s lot, she decided to park there, contrary to both my suggestion and how she’d been directed. As we walked toward the hotel, one of the attendants confronted her and asked her to move the car. So I went ahead and checked in while she took care of the car. I later teased her about exhibiting the same sense of entitlement she’d criticized earlier in the day, when she’d seen a car sneaking ahead in a crowded merge by driving in the breakdown lane.
Despite being so late in the day, checkin to the event was surprisingly fast, and after a quick trip through the merch tables, I called Sheeri and we agreed to meet up just down the road at Thai Place, our usual Friday night dinner spot, where she had conveniently left the car.
In previous years we’ve always had time to drive 20 minutes to our hotel and back before dinner, but this year we simply grabbed some takeout and brought it with us to the opening ceremonies, which actually worked out really well. While the techs struggled to tweak the ridiculously loud speakers, we munched on Thai food in the outdoor tent, waiting for the pre-ride festivities to begin.
Each year, the PMC’s opening ceremonies are televised live. However, just before that, riders gather in the auditorium at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and in a tent outside the hotel to listen to a pre-ceremony speech by ride founder Billy Starr. This year’s speech featured an interview with first-time rider Lance Armstrong, and an incredibly inspiring speech by Tym Rourke, father of a young boy named Declan who was treated at Dana-Farber for an extremely rare cancer when he was only 18 months old (video).
Then came the televised opening ceremonies program, which this year was produced by new media sponsor WCVB, who took over from NECN after Comcast, who purchased NECN last year, slashed coverage of the event. So this year’s program was much anticipated.
And they did a reasonable job with it. They of course varied the format from that which NECN had used, and there were the usual live television on-air gaffes, but I think they did a good job introducing the event. On the other hand, I do wish they’d carried Tym Rourke’s amazing speech, and I also wonder whether we have increased or decreased our reach by going with a local ABC affiliate versus an unaffiliated regional network. But overall, I’m happy with the new coverage, and look forward to further improvements in years to come (video parts 1 2 3 4 5).
After the show, Sheeri and I walked back to the car, then drove out to the hotel. Along the way, we passed by some of the damage caused by a series of tornados that passed through the area the same night as the dedication of the new Yawkey Center’s PMC Plaza. The area looked for all the world like someone had clear-cut a swath through the forest. That same tornado completely destroyed the underwhelming Days Inn motel that Jeanie and I had stayed in the night before my 2003 ride.
We made our usual stop at CVS for drinks and checked into the hotel. I went back down to the car and made some last-minute tweaks to the bike, then rode around the parking lot to make sure that the loaner wheel was okay, and that my GPS cycle-computer was working properly with it.
Having done everything I could to ensure that the bike was in good shape, I went back to our room and tried to relax. After so much worrying and rushing around, I was looking forward to finally being able to set those concerns aside and just ride the bike, for good or ill.
I set the alarm for 4:10am and turned in.
I managed to sleep passably, and was pleased that in the morning the temperature hadn’t fallen below 70 degrees. We drove in to Sturbridge and I put the bike together, said goodbye to Sheeri, and made my way toward my proper place: the front of the starting area.
I tried to contact my friend Jay, who was riding his first PMC, but he was running behind schedule. Although I didn’t know it at the time, he’d driven out from Waltham that morning and still had to check in and get ready. While he was doing that, the rest of the riders filed out through the starting gate, and when he finally saddled up, he was 20 minutes behind me and literally the last rider on the route.
The first couple segments of the ride are hilly, which is where I demonstrated the benefit of the two weeks of hill repeat training I’d done before the ride, easily spinning up ascents that slowed most riders to a crawl.
I rode the brakes down the first descents because I was hesitant to rely on that loaner wheel; however, my confidence grew and I gave the bike enough free rein to surpass 40 mph in places.
With more descents than climbs, that hilly first segment is always a fast one, and I pulled into the first rest stop in Whitinsville, 25 miles into the ride, with an average speed of 19.6 mph.
As usual, I did my best to minimize the time I spent at rest stops. I spent no more than 10 minutes stretching and grabbing a bit of food, ice, and Gatorade, so that I could get ahead of the crowded main pack of riders.
The first couple legs of the ride were nice. It was a bit cool and misty, but comfortable at speed on the bike; it was only when I stopped moving that the humidity caught up with me and I suddenly found myself bathed in sweat.
I did have one freak problem, though. As I pedaled along, I munched on some dried fruit that I’d brought, but I dropped a dried blueberry which somehow wedged itself between my ankle and the strap of the cycling sandals I wear. I wiggled my foot around and did my best to work it loose.
When I pulled into the Franklin waterstop, 40 miles in, my eyes just happened to catch one woman in a sea of spectators with open tears just streaming down her face. The PMC is like that: some of the time you go along thinking it’s just another bike ride, but every so often it’ll smack you hard with the reality of how important the mission is and how much people value what we do.
I passed the halfway point of the ride at 8:33am. After 55 fast and hilly miles, I was well ahead of the pack and my legs were starting to give warnings that they were going to cramp up if I didn’t back off. The ample space between riders gave me the opportunity to ride alone for a while and reflect on my friend Ken’s struggle with cancer, the reality of how much the ride’s spectators value our work, and of course the support and stories of the friends and family who have sponsored my ride. It really brought home the immense difference between a regular bike ride for fun and a bike ride that means something.
I always have a laugh when I reach the Dighton “lunch” stop. I just can’t get used to having “lunch” at 9:23 in the morning! In this case, lunch consisted of a very welcome lemon-flavored Italian ice.
While I was there, I reached down to scratch an itch on my ankle and made a gruesome discovery. That dried blueberry I thought I’d shaken out of my sandal? It was still there, now smeared all over my ankle and fingers. Oops! Well, at least it would add a little color to my ride report…
Just as I was about to leave Dighton, I heard someone calling my name. It was my friend Jeff, a former PMC and Quad Cycles rider who moved to California years ago. He was in town to cheer on other riders from his former team, and it was great catching up with him.
After a quick chat, I got back on the road. Although my legs were tired, I continued to feel strong. I was already 20 minutes ahead of my previous record, and the water stops kept arriving earlier than I expected them. It was a wonderful feeling, given that I was 85 miles into the ride!
Unfortunately, I must have jinxed myself, because the penultimate section was a lot more difficult. As the day got hotter, my heart rate went up, my power went down, and my neck muscles started bothering me. However, I arrived in Wareham at 11:41, which gave me a (100 mile) century time of 6 hours and 13 minutes. Pretty impressive for a guy who is a bit past his physical peak!
After taking a luxurious 12-minute rest, I saddled up for the final 8-mile leg to the day one finish line at Mass Maritime Academy. My weakness passed, but I was slowed by a fierce wind blowing up Buzzards Bay that got stronger and stronger as I approached MMA.
I finally arrived at the finish just before 12:30pm. For the first time, I finished the 110-mile first day in less than 7 hours, averaging 18.1 mph and beating my previous record time by 20 minutes. While I had begun the ride nervous and stressed about using a replacement wheel, I finished the first day strong, happy, and in record form (GPS log).
Once I hopped off the bike, I followed my standard procedure for getting an early massage. I quickly found my luggage and made my way to the auditorium locker room to take a shower.
But when I stepped into the locker room, which is usually crowded with other riders, I found it empty save for one other guy. In my desire to get ahead of the pack, apparently I’d gotten ahead of just about everyone! I went into the communal shower room and had the whole place to myself for about 15 minutes.
After putting on street clothes I made my way to sign up for a massage appointment, where I was told to just go right to the staging area. No lines, no waiting! A couple minutes later, I went into the massage hall and picked a masseuse at random. I didn’t know at the time that this was the same woman who had treated me during last year’s ride. Pretty unlikely, given there are at least four or five dozen tables.
What I also didn’t know was that she had brought two of her students with her. Normally only one massage therapist works at a table, but sometimes you’re lucky and get a table with two that will work on you simultaneously. But somehow I’d completely lucked out and had three young women working on me throughout my 15-minute session! Apparently I was also their first customer of the day, which was another ego boost for having ridden so well. By the end of my session, I was beaming.
Next on the agenda was food, and I plowed through the immense food tent, picking up a salad, pickles, a burger, a chicken sandwich, and a cola, which I brought over to “my spot”: the tugboat dock that fronts on the beautiful Cape Cod Canal. The wind was fierce, which reminded me of the importance of eating with one’s mouth closed when it blew a potato chip right out of my mouth!
I also finally heard from Jay, who despite trying to catch me had finished 20 minutes behind me. That was another ego boost: I’d kept Jay—17 years younger and a much stronger rider—20 minutes in arrears throughout the entire 7-hour, 110-mile ride.
Jay still had to shower and get his massage, so we arranged to meet up after that; however, he missed his massage appointment after misplacing his ticket, so we met up in the food tent. We both grabbed some food (seconds for me) and then I hauled him over to my spot by the canal. We sat and rested (he fell asleep) and talked about the ride, and watched as a huge marine crane made its way under the Bourne railroad bridge. Over the next few hours, I showed him around MMA. We hit the little beach area behind the dorms, where we stuck our toes in the water; the road along the canal; and I added Ken’s name to one of the huge “We ride for…” banners.
It was great sharing the afternoon with Jay, but I really missed some of our buddies who didn’t make this year’s ride, notably Paul, Lynda, and Noah. It would have been one hell of a party if we’d all been there together.
Although he’d arranged to sleep in a tent on-site, Jay hadn’t brought any bedding or any warm clothes. With a howling wind and heavy rains forecast overnight, we stopped by the PMC merch table where he at least picked up a long-sleeved shirt. In case you haven’t noticed yet, lack of preparation was a major theme of Jay’s weekend.
When 5pm rolled around, I changed into clean cycling kit, dropped my bag in the “To Provincetown” pile, and finalized plans to meet up with Jay in the morning. I was concerned about leaving him unprepared to face the overnight rains, but I couldn’t do any more for him; that’s why I’ve always booked a hotel room well in advance.
After promising to meet up with Jay at the end of the canal bike path the next morning, I got back on the bike and made my way to the Bourne Bridge. The wind was whipping so strong that I not only walked the bike up to the apex of the bridge, but also the whole way down the other side. Fortunately, the wind was out of the south, which made for a very zippy trip up the bike path to my hotel (GPS log).
I pulled off the path and right up to the hotel room Sheeri had checked into. I changed into street clothes and attended to a blister I was cultivating on my small toe. Then Sheeri and I walked over to Bobby Byrne’s Pub for dinner. We hadn’t tried this place before; the food was okay but a bit pricey. However, the air conditioning made the place feel like a walk-in freezer, so we were happy to get the check and dash back out into the warm, humid summer evening. We were even happier to hit the hotel’s hot tub briefly before turning in.
I woke up around 5am and immediately went to look outside. The promised rains had indeed come, but the storm had stopped an hour earlier, leaving the ground soaking wet. The radar indicated that we were in the lull between two big storms, so I expected that the day was going to be a washout. I pulled on my plastic rain jacket and hopped onto the bike at 5:40am.
A block from the hotel, I paused at the end of the bike path to wait for Jay, who had begun making his way up from Bourne right as the rain had ended. While I waited, I recognized one of the volunteers directing traffic. My friend Lynda had opted not to ride this year’s PMC, having planned to do Paris-Brest-Paris and spend her honeymoon in France; however, she had signed up as a volunteer, and was out doing her part as road crew at 5:40am. We exchanged greetings, and ten minutes later, Jay showed up, grumpy and completely soaked.
Jay related the story of his sleepless, rain-soaked night while we made our way through Sandwich and up to the series of rolling hills on the Route 6 access road. Six miles later, a paceline swung past us at high speed and Jay jumped onto the back. That was the last I saw of him until Provincetown.
I rode on at my own pace, warming up and gradually putting the aches and stiffness in my legs behind me. One hour (fifteen miles) later, I pulled into the Barnstable water stop. With no rain and the ground slowly drying, I opted to shed my rain jacket, because I was getting wetter from sweating inside it than from road spray.
Aside from being coated with road grime, the next segments were actually pretty pleasant. My legs continued to feel strong, although my neck pain resumed.
Passing the Cape Cod Sea Camps, where hundreds of kids always turn out to cheer us on, is always a highlight, but this was my first opportunity to ride by with no other riders or cars on the road. I got a huge, rousing cheer just for me, which was pretty awesome.
On the other side of the equation, I passed by two accident scenes where riders were being carried off on stretchers by EMTs. The rain had slickened the roads, so there were a number of falls. When added to one injury I’d witnessed the day before, it started feeling like a very accident-prone year. That’s one of the main reasons why I try to get ahead of the main pack of riders: because it’s much safer riding alone or in smaller groups.
After passing through the Brewster water stop, I left the road in favor of the Cape Cod Rail Trail with a group of guys setting a moderate pace. I felt a brief sprinkle of rain as we left the bike path, but it passed as quickly as it had started. I nicknamed this group of riders the “Old Guard”, because they were all wearing jerseys from previous PMCs. One of them, a 24-year rider, exchanged words with me as we tooled up Ocean View Drive.
I still felt pretty strong negotiating the swooping, wooded curves as we crossed the spine of the cape, although I wasn’t anywhere near as fast as I’d been earlier. Passing Long Pond reminded me of the delirium-induced chants of “Oh, Long Pond!” that had kept me going two months ago on the 125-mile Outriders ride (writeup).
Although I was 50 miles into Sunday’s ride, it had yet to reach 9am when I pulled into a reconfigured Wellfleet water stop and happily threw a donut down my gullet. As is my habit, I took a few extra moments to post a more heartfelt voice post to my blog, talking about my friend Ken, the new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, and my perpetual message about the riders’ willingness to share our strength with those in need.
The final leg featured a quick stop to exchange words with the perpetually peppy Over The Hill Cheerleaders. These two old ladies always dress up and take up a position about three-quarters of the way up the steepest hill in Truro, so I teased them that they weren’t actually *over* the hill.
As I took off from there, another rider pulled up next to me and got my attention. “You don’t know me, but I read your ride reports and really appreciated them. I even took the JFK quote from your 2010 writeup and used it in my own fundraising.”
That was kind of cool, having a first-year rider seek me out to thank me for putting information about the PMC online for others to see. Between that, helping Jay through his first ride, and the feedback I got from my 10-part series of tips and pointers for riders, this year I really got the feeling that, for the first time, I was doing something effective to mentor new PMC riders. So that too provided one of those unexpected poignant moments that the PMC can spring on you.
The rider, Patrick Rondeau, pulled me along for several miles until we got back onto busy Route 6 for the last time, when I let him go. I wound up all alone on the windy, exposed section of road that goes by Pilgrim Lake, but I was still strong and capable of pulling through a wicked crosswind and an occasional sprinkle at a 22 mph clip.
And then came my old friend and nemesis Race Point. All day long as we traveled north we’d had a howling wind at our backs. But Race Point is basically an 8-mile circle around town, which turned us back around into the wind for the final 3-mile pull to the finish. I plodded over the sand dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore and fought a hellish wind all the way to the finishing line, which I crossed at 10:06am (GPS log). Although my aches and pains accompanied me, I still felt pretty strong, and it was gratifying to have completed the ride without encountering any real rain.
My arrival routine in Provincetown is also pretty standard. First, I ditched the Plastic Bullet in their “bike line”, which was remarkably empty… but this *had* been my earliest finish yet.
Then I went and grabbed my bag, which was something of an excavation project, since the volunteers had dumped riders’ bags in five foot high piles. I wound up having to tunnel down to the bottom of one pile to find mine, while other volunteers helpfully tossed more bags atop the pile. But I finally found my bag and yanked it free.
… and discovered that somewhere between Bourne and Provincetown, some helpful PMC volunteer had stripped my bag of all its tags. For ten years, I’ve kept my old PMC luggage tags on that bag, adding a new one each year. I took a lot of pride in having a bag that showed at a glance my commitment to the PMC. I even had a photo with my bag taken at the end of my 2007 ride.
Well, after ten years with no trouble, this year someone decided that wasn’t acceptable. Rather than leave a note asking that the tags be removed; and rather than removing them and then leaving them in the bag; instead, they just ripped them all off and threw them in the garbage. They left only the dozen empty zip-ties that will forever remind me of how unnecessarily petty and mean-spirited some people can be, even while volunteering at the PMC. After so many highs and lows, this was a really sour way to conclude this year’s ride.
The showers in Provincetown were nearly as empty as those in Bourne, which was also a pleasure, as was the lack of a line at the massage area. Then I made a real quick voice post, since phone reception in Provincetown was typically bad.
Having finished those basic requisites, I tracked down Jay (who had finished much earlier) in the food tent and wolfed down two bowls of salad and a couple colas. We chatted and greeted another rider, our former coworker Dave Katz, who had ridden the unofficial three-day route all the way across the state, which I’d done the year before.
On her way to pick me up, Sheeri was stuck in cape traffic, so Jay and I went over to the finish line to cheer for incoming riders, but when a steady rain finally came, we retired to a couple leather chairs in the Provincetown Inn, where Jay promptly fell asleep.
When Sheeri texted me to let me know that she’d found parking, I roused Jay and we extricated our bikes and rode to the car. As we made our way slowly down crowded Commercial Street, two gay teens on beach cruisers were behind us, and one of them rammed right into the back of my bike. I shrugged it off and kept going while they giggled about it.
We loaded both bikes into Sheeri’s car, then made our way to my traditional lunch spot: the Squealing Pig pub. There was a short wait, but we wound up getting a table right next to the window, which was great. While I gnawed through a burger, the skies absolutely opened up with the long-promised thunderous rainstorm. When we finished our meals, I ordered another cola, expecting that we’d just hang out there for the afternoon, but somehow Jay and Sheeri didn’t get the memo. They requested the check, and suddenly we were heading out into the driving rain with no plan or destination in mind. Of the three of us, at least I’d had the foresight to bring an umbrella.
I shouldn’t say that we had no plan. Sheeri wanted to find one of those souvenir penny-squishing machines, and Jay wanted to find a massage parlor. He mentioned visions of Asian women working him over, which didn’t seem very likely in an almost exclusively gay mecca. After walking a block and getting completely soaked (even me with the umbrella), we stopped at a tourist shop so Jay could buy a cheap poncho. Sheeri smooshed her penny, and when we found the nearest massage parlor, Jay decided that heterosexual discretion was better than homosexual valor.
Before they gave up, we checked one final option: another massage shop that had closed for the day. At least it was in a partially-enclosed mall called Whaler’s Wharf, where we found some benches in the open-air atrium and grabbed a seat. Jay was just as unprepared for rain in Provincetown as he’d been in Bourne, and he still had five hours to wait for his ferry ride back to Boston. And aside from passing the time sipping drinks in a warm pub (like the one we’d left earlier), there’s really nothing to do in Provincetown when it rains. We did grab ice cream at the mall’s shop, but other than that we just sat around all afternoon, each wishing we were elsewhere.
Again I found myself feeling sad for Jay, but there was little we could do for him. We sat with him until 4:30pm, when a temporary break in the rainstorm allowed us to scoot back to the car. We let Jay spend ten or fifteen minutes warming up inside the car before we sent him back to Commercial Street and Sheeri and I made our way out of town.
Route 6 was a parking lot, possibly because that day there had also been a celebration of the 50th anniversary of JFK signing the bill that created the Cape Cod National Seashore national park. We were still far enough down the cape that there were no side roads that went for more than a mile before dead-ending or returning to Route 6. Of course, that didn’t stop Sheeri from taking three or four of them, to no real benefit.
But eventually we got back to Sandwich and picked up some food at the grocery store for supper. Then, after sitting around in a cold rain all afternoon followed by the long car ride home, we headed straight for the hot tub, which would have been heavenly but for the ten year-old kid who suddenly latched onto me as his best friend. Then it was time for some blissful post-ride sleep!
Unfortunately, my sleep patterns are very hard to break. I was awake at 5am, and since I wasn’t going to get any more sleep, and Sheeri desperately needed some, I grabbed my computer and went down to the lobby to catch up on things and start this ride report.
When 9am finally rolled around, we packed up and headed out. It was another mostly cloudy day, so the beach wasn’t an option, and Provincetown didn’t hold particular appeal, so we settled on some random errands. We went up to Eastham, where we stopped to pick up money at Seamen’s Bank, bought a patch from the local fire station, and some pendants from a junk shop called Buddha & Beads. Then we headed back up cape to check out the factory tour at Cape Cod Potato Chips in Hyannis.
That was the sort of thing that was either going to be really cool or really lame. It sadly fell toward the latter end of the spectrum. I think the most interesting thing I learned was how tiny a factory can produce such a prodigious amount of product. Still, it’s one of those things that you don’t know whether it’s worth doing until you’ve done it, and it was a good thing to do on a day when the beach wasn’t an option.
By then it was getting toward lunchtime, so we set course for the Friendly’s just off the Sagamore Bridge. The sun had finally burned through the clouds, so after an adequate meal, we took our ice cream and walked down to the bike path that runs next to the Cape Cod Canal. It wasn’t exactly a beach excursion, but we managed to salvage a little bit of sunshine and water in our last few minutes before returning back to the city.
On the road to Boston we passed through another major downpour, but it was dry again by the time we unloaded the car, which kind of put a cap on the whole weekend’s experience of narrowly avoiding getting caught in the rain.
Another PMC weekend was in the books. Although it had started rough and the weather had wreaked havoc with some of our plans, I somehow escaped without getting rained on while riding. The ride itself was wonderful. I set personal bests and felt strong all weekend long, and I reconnected with the importance and meaning of its mission. It felt good, but it also felt good to step back into my condo, receive an enthusiastic greeting from my cat, and flop down on my familiar bed.
It doesn’t matter how many times I ride the PMC, I’m always looking for ways to make it better. Here’s some of the key things I learned this year.
Let’s start with the sublime. I can’t say I have any firsthand knowledge, but apparently duct tape works really well to protect chafed nipples. This knowledge is brought to you by a certain first-time PMC rider who knows who he is.
On a more serious note, the next time I book the hotel room in Sandwich, I want to get room 102, 104, or 106. We’ve had room 100 for the past four years or so.
For two weeks before this year’s PMC, I took one of the two weekend days to concentrate on hill work, doing six trips up and down Eastern Ave. in Arlington each day. Between that, the Climb to the Clouds, and our trip to Jay Peak, I was really strong on the hills this year. Do this!
Don’t wait until the final pre-event cleaning to inspect the bike. Do a careful inspection a week or two earlier, in case you find something unexpected, like this year’s cracked wheel rim.
Don’t drop dried berries and let them lodge in your sandals. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.
This year I didn’t bring a separate camera, just my smartphone. For that reason, I didn’t think to take many pictures this year, including my traditional shots before the start and at the hotel at the end of day one. If you’re not going to bring a camera, make a special effort to remember to take pictures.
The Friendly’s restaurant at the end of the Sagamore Bridge is a great place to stop Monday afternoon, on the way back to Boston. You can get ice cream and walk down to the canal for one last farewell to the cape, and it also breaks up a potentially long and tiring car ride from the lower cape to Boston.
Given that 2011 was all about highs and lows, it makes a lot of sense to look at this year’s ride in those terms. Let’s start with the low points…
Obviously, the biggest downer and the event that set the whole tone for this year’s ride was the loss of my friend Ken to Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The week before the ride, I turned my ankle and (more seriously) discovered a crack in my rear wheel that required me to borrow a loaner wheel from my bike shop the day before the ride. I’m not sure why, but these kind of annoyances never seem to happen except right before (and sometimes during) the PMC.
Although my buddy Jay was doing his first PMC, we only actually rode together for a total of 6 out of 192 miles. Although he rode well and enjoyed the event, his lack of planning really detracted from the experience for him and saddened me.
Someone stripped ten years worth of luggage tags from my bag and threw them out; they’d been something I valued as a record of my history with the event.
So yeah, there were some real disappointments this year.
Fortunately, there were also a lot of highlights, some of which took place well before the actual ride. Those included attending my first Heavy Hitters banquet and the opening of the new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, which was built largely with funds raised by the PMC.
As PMC weekend rolled around, I helped break the story that Lance Armstrong would finally fulfill his promise to ride his first PMC, which earned us a lot of free publicity. But Lance’s interview at the opening ceremonies was upstaged by an incredibly inspirational speech given by Tym Rourke, father of a young boy named Declan who was treated at Dana-Farber for an extremely rare cancer when he was only 18 months old.
When Saturday dawned, I rode as strong as I’ve ever ridden. I set a new record pace, and managed to keep my friend Jay—a stronger rider and 17 years younger—20 minutes behind me for the entire 110 mile route on day one.
Because of that, I also enjoyed a long shower, having the entire auditorium changing room to myself, and a stunning massage with three young women working on me simultaneously!
Along the way, I was surprised when one random rider spoke with me about how he’d read and appreciated my online write-ups and even utilized some quotes from them in his own fundraising appeal. That was another really gratifying event that I’ll remember for a long time.
And I was somehow fortunate enough to dodge the scattered rainstorms, which did their unpleasant business before I woke up Sunday morning, and resumed in force only after I’d finished the ride on Sunday.
But a huge and unexpected delight came days after I’d returned to Boston. After the ride, the PMC assembles a montage of the best photos taken by their official event photographers and puts it on the home page. With the memories of PMC weekend fading, one of my buddies posted a message to Facebook to go check out the PMC home page.
With 5,300 riders, it’s rare enough to have one’s picture taken by one of the few event photographers. This year I was very fortunate and had a number of great photos taken on both Saturday and Sunday (see the sidebar).
Out of around 5,000 photographs, only 350 make the cut to be added to the event’s “Highlights” collection. Of those, only 21 were included in the montage that summarized the event on the PMC’s home page. And of those, that photo of me got more real estate than any other, even ones with Lance Armstrong and Senator John Kerry. It was both an unbelievable honor and a ridiculously amusing surprise.
As if that wasn’t notoriety enough, on Thanksgiving Day a friend told me he’d seen a photo of me in an ad in the Lexington newspaper. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute had run the ad as a thank-you message to PMC riders. They’d used the same photo of me that had been on the home page, and placed the quarter-page ad in a hundred and five Massachusetts newspapers (image)!
Suddenly I had become the PMC’s poster boy! What a thrill and an honor!
But of course the real measure of the event is the fundraising. This year I surpassed the Heavy Hitter level for the sixth consecutive year, and will probably finish up just shy of $10,000.
In a year that began with extreme ups (the opening of the Yawkey Center and the dedication of the PMC Plaza) and tremendous downs (losing my friend Ken), I’m proud to have done what I can to ensure that no one else has to endure the kind of suffering that he went through. We ride to share our strength with every person who ever finds themselves in the position of having to walk through the door of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the new Yawkey Center for Cancer Care.
The organizers will tell you that the bike ride is the candy: the payoff for the fundraising work that you do.
What they don’t tell you, though, is that raising money to eradicate cancer comes with a feeling of satisfaction and achievement that dwarfs any mere bike ride, no matter how far. The magic of the PMC is that I get to spend a whole weekend celebrating that achievement with ten thousand people—some of them good friends—who share that same purpose, level of dedication, and resulting sense of accomplishment.
|Left Boston late after getting a loaner rear wheel
|Nice but misty morning, and no Jay
|Loaner wheel survived the hills. Still humid.
|Ahead of the pack and making record time.
|Found Jeff and a crushed blueberry in my shoe.
|Still strong, hardly need to stop!
|Okay, that segment hurt.
|Record arrival, and three-timed at the massage table!
|Saw Jay at MMA. Worried about rain on Sunday.
|It's wet out, but not raining. Meeting up with Jay.
|Only 6 miles with Jay. Lose the rain jacket.
|Solo cheers at the Hedge. Jack O. is riding!
|Ken, Yawkey Center, and sharing our strength.
|Brief finish line update.
|Long wrapup: Wind, rain in P-town, thank you for a great ride!