If you need it short & sweet, skip down to the Epilogue, below. But don’t miss the photos & videos in the sidebar!
In 2012, I announced that I would quit riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge in two more years, when I expected to achieve my lifetime goal of raising over $100,000 for cancer research. Then my sponsors unexpectedly got me past that threshold in 2013, in my 13th Pan-Mass Challenge. Although I’d surpassed my goal, I’d already committed to ride one last time in 2014, but with no pressure to fundraise, I figured it would be a nice, painless victory lap.
I even planned to ride an extra hundred miles the day before the PMC, from the New York border to the official start in Sturbridge, in order to make it a true ride across Massachusetts: something I’d done once before, back in 2010, to celebrate my tenth PMC.
The new year started out brightly. I registered for my final PMC, and late in January I received a small box in the mail: the silver pin that the PMC gives riders as a lifetime achievement award for raising $100,000. I felt pretty good about myself.
Six weeks later, I learned that Bobby Mac—my charity ride mentor, longtime riding partner, and inspiration—had gone into the hospital and been diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Two weeks later, he became one of the 7.6 million people who will die of cancer this year.
Every Saturday and Sunday, Bobby had run the training rides out of Quad Cycles in Arlington. I’d ridden with him for 13 years, and he had taken me from a complete neophyte to a seasoned roadie. He was boisterous, charismatic, irascible, supportive, and deeply loved by a widespread cycling community.
But this isn’t the place to eulogize him. If you want to know more about this wonderful man, I hope you’ll read my blog post about Bobby. It says far more than I could possibly include in this ride report.
I was very glad that I had the chance to visit Bobby in the hospital and show him that lifetime achievement award I’d received. I wanted to remind him that he had singlehandedly inspired so many people to achieve so much good in the world.
This year’s training was a mixed bag. Although I was between jobs and had plenty of time to ride, my training was delayed by an abnormally cold, wet spring.
But things finally got serious in May and June, when I completed a solo 100-mile Cape Ann ride, the ECV Tour d’Essex County century with my riding buddy Paul, another solo century to Dunstable and Nashua NH, and the 130-mile Outriders ride from Boston to Provincetown.
Things were looking good, but that was where fate intervened a second time. After the Outriders ride, I took the last ferry back from Provincetown, which arrived in Boston late at night. As I rode the mile and a half from Long Wharf to my house, I rode at speed straight into an unseen median and crashed hard, head-first.
Although I destroyed my helmet and lost consciousness, the ER doctor pronounced my concussion “mild” and sent me home. But not before one of the nurses bungled sticking me for an IV. Over the next few days, an immense hematoma turned my entire arm as livid purple as an eggplant, from the wrist to the bicep. I was in a lot of pain and unable to extend my elbow any straighter than 90 degrees.
I left the ER in much worse shape than when I’d arrived, and just six weeks before the PMC, riding a bicycle was out of the question.
I spent the next two weeks off the bike completely. My first long ride after the accident was over the Fourth of July weekend. Before the crash, I had planned to do another solo century over the holiday, but that was impossible. Instead I nursed a fatigued arm through a painful 60-mile ride.
Two weeks later—four weeks after the accident and two weeks before the PMC—came the real test. I’d already registered for the Mt. Washington Century: 109 miles, with 6,300 feet of climbing (and descending) over three passes in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Fortunately, by then I was able to flex my elbow, and my arm was getting slowly but steadily better. Overcoming the difficulty of the hilly course gave me confidence that I could handle my planned 3-day, 290-mile PMC ride.
On the positive side, the accident did give me a solid block to time to send out my fundraising emails. For a second year in a row, challenges cropped up when Gmail decided that both my email accounts were spammers and sent all my fundraising messages to people’s spam folders. But I guess enough of them got through, because donations did start coming in.
With no fundraising goal other than making the $4,300 ride minimum, I took the fundraising lightly, as did my sponsors. Many of my biggest supporters dialed back their contributions. However, as the ride approached, I had already surpassed the $6,900 Heavy Hitter level for my ninth consecutive year.
So while 2014 isn’t going to set any fundraising records, it has wound up being yet another very satisfying, solid year.
The value of that was reinforced for me during my final training ride, a week before the PMC. On my way out to a Quad Cycles ride, I passed a utility cyclist who caught up to me at the next light. Having seen my PMC jersey, she asked if I was riding this year. She thanked me for riding, and shared that she had been treated at Dana-Farber ten years before. Her effusive praise of their work was very inspiring, and is echoed by so many people I talk to. During my Quad ride, I saw lots of old PMC jerseys on the roads, and was cheered on by a pedestrian who saw my jersey as I made my way home later that day. The appreciation in the community for Dana-Farber and the PMC is really remarkable.
Since I was planning to ride the extra hundred miles of “Day 0” on Friday with my buddies Jay & Paul, I had to leave Boston on Thursday to drive out to western Massachusetts.
Six weeks after my emergency room fiasco, my arm was nearly healed, with the hematoma reduced to a single area of purple about the size of a silver dollar.
Less promising, however, was the weather forecast. Friday we’d have to dodge afternoon thunderstorms, but that evening an offshore front would back up over southern New England and remain stationary, providing rain both Saturday and Sunday. It looked like my last PMC would mirror my first PMC in 2001, the only other time I’ve had steady rain throughout the event.
The weekend officially kicked off when I attached my silver lifetime achievement pin to the saddle bag of my bike, and adorned my wrist with the blue rubber bracelet that I got in our first Tour de Mac, the ride we’d organized back in June of 2006 to celebrate Bobby’s leadership.
My longtime (and long-suffering) support person, Sheeri, returned for her tenth year, and she and I left Boston at 1:30, arriving in the western Massachusetts city of Pittsfield at 4pm. Before we went to the hotel, we quickly scouted a side road that I could take the next morning to get from the hotel to the state line, where my buddies and I had started our ride back in 2010.
We checked in and were shortly met by Paul and Jay (who had ridden Day 0 with me back in 2010), and Jay’s wife Kelly. Jay had convinced Paul to ride the first twenty miles of our trek with him on his tandem. In the hotel parking lot, there followed a lengthy exercise in figuring out how to swap Paul’s pedals from his road bike onto the tandem.
Once that was figured out, we carpooled to dinner, which was held at Patrick’s Pub in Pittsfield, the same place we’d eaten in 2010. There we met Jay’s father John and his wife Debra, who would be sharing Friday’s support duties with Kelly.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel with a plan to be ready to hit the road at 6:45am.
Not surprisingly, it rained overnight, so it was wet and misty when we woke up early Friday morning. We had a brief (but thankfully hot) breakfast provided by the hotel before hitting the parking lot to get the bikes ready for the day’s hundred-mile journey to Sturbridge.
I took a few moments to set up the live tracking system I’d announced to my supporters. I had created a web site at whereis.ornoth.com which redirected visitors to a utility called Glympse, which would record and display my location and speed in real time. My pre-ride email had instructed my supporters to visit my site throughout the weekend to track my progress across the state. Having tested it during the Outriders and Mt. Washington Century rides, it worked really well, and I hoped that my sponsors would find it interesting.
Meanwhile, the guys had to run back and forth to their rooms, followed by the predictable sequence of repeated bathroom runs. Then they had to ride around the parking lot to make sure Paul was comfortable riding the tandem. Finally, just as we were about to leave, Jay realized that he still had his car keys, which he had to go back and hand off to Kelly for the day, since she was going to (roughly) follow us in the car.
All this took time. I’d originally wanted to roll out at 6:30am, but had been willing to postpone until 6:45, so that we could hit the hotel breakfast once it opened. But it wasn’t until 7:10 that we pedaled out of the hotel parking lot, headed toward the New York state line. So like 2010, I was feeling time-pressured before we even left!
Four years earlier, Sheeri had been forced to take two trips to ferry the riders to the state line, which had taken precious time, and we’d finished the day with 93 miles. This year, I figured riding from the hotel to the state line would actually be faster, plus the extra ten miles would give us an even century, which I admitted was probably important only to me.
The short first leg of southbound riding was damp but very scenic. A dense fog coated the wooded hillsides of the Berkshires, with silvery lakes peeking through the folded, rolling farmland.
Half an hour later, we pulled up at the state line, where we ran into the Huckleberries, a large team of PMC riders who (back in the day) were among the first groups to undertake the unofficial and unsanctioned extra day of riding from the state line.
Since they weren’t riding, Jay’s wife, father, and his wife were in our two support cars. We’d planned to meet them at the state line to take photos, but they were nowhere in evidence, and we decided not to waste more time waiting for them to show up. We took a few selfie pictures and rolled out again, this time on Route 102: heading east, toward Sturbridge, the PMC start, and eventually (for me alone) Cape Cod and Provincetown.
The next item in our plan was to meet the cars about 20 miles in, where Route 102 met Route 20, so that Jay and Paul could ditch the tandem and hop onto their road bikes before the beginning of Jacob’s Ladder, the first of two major climbs before lunch.
However, as we pedaled through the town of Lee, Kelly’s Prius passed us going in the other direction. Jay called a halt, assuming she was just going to turn around and they could swap the tandem right there. But as the minutes passed and Kelly didn’t appear, we reverted to the original plan and pushed on toward Route 20.
It wasn’t more than a couple miles before we reached Route 20 to happily find both cars waiting for us on the side of the road. Jay and Paul spent 15 minutes swapping Paul’s pedals back, putting the tandem on the roof, and getting their road bikes ready to ride. Oh, and pausing for another series of bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, with the fog burning off and the temperature and humidity high, I stripped off my arm warmers and the clip-on plastic fender I was using and threw them in the back of Jay’s car. Then we were ready to ride.
Following Route 20, Jacob’s Ladder rises about 1,000 feet in two distinct sections, separated by a flattish bit in the middle. We told the cars that we’d meet them at the top, but they stopped at the crest of the first rise, a mere four miles down the road. I was already sniping about how much time we’d wasted and how many stops we’d made, so we pushed on, leaving our support staff to figure it out on their own.
The climb wasn’t bad, although I was uncharacteristically sweating a lot in the humidity. I was very glad I’d done some hill repeats in training, as well as the Mt. Washington Century two weeks before. Jay, who has lived in Florida for the past two years, hadn’t had any opportunity to train for the hills, and he gamely hung on through most of the ascent.
The 13-mile descent that followed was quite an experience. Fortunately, the sky had turned partly cloudy and the roads had dried. Still, I took the descent very gingerly. I felt tentative because of my recent crash, especially since I had suffered a concussion only six weeks before. I was also using an old front wheel and tire that I didn’t fully trust, having trashed the good one in my crash. So I let the kids ride on, while I rode the brake much of the way down, maxing out at 35 mph where four years ago I’d easily done 40 to 45.
At 9:50am we pulled into the tiny Chester Village Market for a breather and a refill of our bottles. Ten minutes later, we pulled out. We passed Jay’s father parked at the side of the road a couple blocks later, but we’d already stopped too many times, and kept pushing on. After all, they were there to meet our needs, and our need was to ride. A few minutes later, he rolled up next to us and we told him our next turn was in the town of Huntington, about seven miles away.
As we approached Huntington, as navigator I took the point in order to make sure we made the correct turn north onto Route 112 and over the Westfield River. Going through town, we saw the two support cars parked at a store on the other side of the road. We briefly debated pulling over, but at that moment there were cars passing us in both directions, and I was sick and tired of stopping, so I led us straight through. They had cars; they could catch up to us.
Riding alongside the rocky mountain river was scenic and cool, but that lasted only three miles before we turned east again onto the road we all dreaded: Route 66, the second and more challenging climb of the day. It gains about 800 feet over a steady four-mile rise at eight percent grade, with a brief respite just before a short final kick. While our memories were all short on specifics, we all remembered the pain it had provided during our 2010 ride.
The incline immediately provided us with “ground truth” of our fitness: Jay fell off the back immediately, while Paul just powered away from me at about the same rate. Pedal, pedal, pedal. While it’s certainly shorter, both Paul and I felt that the grade on Route 66 was steep enough to put it on par with anything thrown at us in the Mt. Washington Century.
When I reached the top at 11am, Paul had apparently continued on and Jay was nowhere in sight, so I stopped for a short breather. I didn’t mention it to him, but I was sorta happy to see Jay struggle. Seventeen years my junior, both he and Paul have always been stronger than me, and on nearly every long ride they would wind up having to wait at the rest stops for me to catch up. So it felt really good to be ahead of him and have to wait for him for a change!
After a few minutes, Jay slowly made his way up to me, then Paul came back to us after having briefly scouted the road ahead. Jay called the cars and learned that they were still in Huntington, not having seen us ride by. Everyone was feeling a little impatient by then, so Jay told them to drive on and just meet us at our planned lunch stop, which was still another 18 miles ahead of us.
Fortunately, more than half of that was another full-bore descent into the quaint but substantial college town of Northampton. Again, I fell back and rode my brakes while Jay and Paul went ahead at full throttle, but we eventually synched back up again to navigate the crowded and chaotic streets of NoHo.
After crossing the huge Connecticut River into Amherst, we had a surprisingly difficult final five-mile slog through flat farmland under a scorching sun before I led a very weary and hot group into our lunch stop at Atkins Farm at exactly noontime.
Atkins is like a country grocery store and deli, but super-sized, and is the clear favorite stop for riders doing the pre-PMC ride on Friday. We walked in and immediately fell into a close-order formation directly under one of the air conditioning vents before eventually moving on to the deli, where we found Kelly, Jay’s dad, and his wife, and learned that on their way, they had picked up and rescued another rider whom they’d found curled up in a ball at the side of the road! Whoah!
The deli, sadly, was swamped. It was a good thing they had a numbering system, because they had taken over forty orders that hadn’t come out yet. We eventually got our food, but it was a ridiculous wait.
The store was full of cyclists, all of whom were wearing various years’ PMC jerseys or jerseys for PMC teams. At one point, a local asked Paul what we were raising money for, then gave him two bucks he’d gotten as change. Paul, who isn’t riding the PMC this year, turned it over to me to add to my fundraising.
After another unnecessarily lengthy wait at the solitary cashier, I discovered that our group had split into two, with some folks indoors and some outside. I sat indoors and ate half a pastrami sandwich, but I needed fluid more than dry foods. After posting a voice entry to my blog, I went outside to join the others, where I dug into the remains of the slab of watermelon that Jay had bought.
By this time, we had been off the bikes for an hour and a quarter. That might have been good for our weary muscles, but it wasn’t getting us any closer to Sturbridge. With only thirty miles left to ride, Jay told the support cars to forget about us and just meet us in Sturbridge.
While getting ready to saddle up, we heard several thunderclaps and felt a few sprinkles. The thunderheads were definitely gathering, and we rolled back out in a light sprinkle, carrying with us a lot of concern about the weather.
Thankfully, that shower passed and the weather continued to be hot and humid. Turning south on Route 181, the riding got ugly. The road surface, which had been great all day, suddenly went to absolute shit. Furthermore, the more lumpy countryside was taking its toll on Jay, who lagged behind us every time the road went upward.
With bottles empty, we hit another convenience store in Bondsville, where we came to the unanimous decision to buy an entire bagful of ice. After filling our bottles, we had plenty of ice left over, and debated the wisdom of putting some down our shorts. However, with burning legs, I decided to stuff a few cubes underneath the elasticized hem of the legs, which would hold the ice against my thighs. It felt good enough that Paul and Jay both followed suit, and we rode on that way until the ice melted. And I have to say, it wasn’t bad! We might have started a new trend…
A couple miles later, we rode through Palmer for the final turn in our route: east onto Route 20. Though we still had one brief directional mix-up due to an overpass that had been built since our 2010 ride (which I was using for directions).
Then we climbed the final obstacle: A two-mile, 350-foot kicker on the divided road just west of Sturbridge. As had become common, Paul went ahead and Jay fell behind, while I just kept turning the pedals over. Paul met the support group toward the top, but I was in the zone and just pedaled through, while Jay eventually caught me.
Then we went into Brimfield, through a state forest, and along a lake. Since I had really wanted the day to count as a century, I counted down the last few tenths of a mile and announced one hundred just as a series of big, wet raindrops started pelting us. It almost felt like hail, because the drops were infrequent but very large, but in no time we were well soaked. But there were only two miles left, and to be honest, it actually didn’t feel bad at the time. And it passed just as quickly as it had arrived.
While stopped at a traffic light just blocks from the finish, I took a moment to thank the guys for the ride. Although we’ve ridden together for years, Jay’s move to Florida means we almost never get together anymore. And with the likelihood of my moving soon, I was pretty sure that it’d be our last big ride together.
After we parked the bikes, the guys went directly to the pond next to the hotel and walked in. Since I’d have to go into the hotel to actually check in to the PMC, I figured I’d do that before I got all wet. So I went in and grabbed my rider packet, tried on my jersey, and grabbed a cola. Along the way I ran into Jay’s wife Kelly, who was also checking in, as well as my friend Tony from Quad Cycles.
When I got back to the pond, Paul and Jay were drying off, but I dove in anyways, still wearing my cycling bib shorts. It was unquestionably delicious.
Afterward, I texted Sheeri, who had run into traffic on the road and was just driving up. When Sheeri arrived, I quickly said goodbye to Jay and Paul. Paul wasn’t involved in the actual PMC, so that was the last I saw of him for the weekend.
I had asked Sheeri to pull through the hotel drop-off point, but the PMC volunteer who was charged with that area insisted that she park directly behind a car that was unloading (and re-assembling) a number of bikes, which blocked her from coming through to pick me up.
So I walked over to where she was and loaded my bike into the car and piled in. When the car next to her pulled out, it looked like we would be able to move laterally and follow them out. However, Mr. Helpful Volunteer immediately stood in our way and flagged another car to come occupy the spot next to us. Then he came directly over to Sheeri’s window, shot off, “You’re not getting out now!” and walked off. Fortunately, very few PMC volunteers are the complete asshole that this guy was.
After more waiting for the people in front of us to finish, we finally got out of the Host Hotel and drove to Southbridge. There we checked into our usual hotel and I took a nice post-ride shower. Having fallen behind on time, we then went directly to dinner at our usual spot: Thai Place, which is just across from the Host Hotel.
Dinner was fast and easy, which allowed us to walk across Route 20 to the overflow seating area behind the hotel to catch ride founder Billy Starr’s preliminary address to the riders, during which I got to stand when he called out all 10+ year riders. That was followed by the official, televised opening ceremony. Both programs were inspiring, and Sheeri and I were delighted to see that the PMC’s new media sponsor, WBZ, did an excellent job putting on the televised show.
After that, we headed back to Southbridge, grabbed drinks at CVS, and went to bed.
Contrary to what one might expect after a long day in the saddle, I had a not-very-restful sleep. I was up before 4am, determined not to have a repeat of last year’s oversleeping problem. I set up my live tracking application for the day, and slipped on the 2014 ride jersey. For the first time in fourteen years, I carried a laminated photo on my back, as evidence that I’d devoted the ride to someone special to me.
We’d been led to expect a cold night, but it was a surprisingly tolerable 62 degrees when we left the hotel. I was thankful for that, because if it had been any colder, I would have missed the arm warmers that I’d accidentally forgotten after leaving them in Jay’s car. And although the roads were wet, it was only sprinkling, which meant I could probably survive without my rear fender, too. The real rain wasn’t supposed to arrive until later, which would hopefully be after the second water stop, when I’d pick my things up from Jay, who was volunteering that day in Franklin.
However, I made one key decision. Of the three pockets in my cycling jersey, I had always devoted one to carrying food to eat on the road between water stops. Deciding it was of lesser importance, I chose to leave my food behind, utilizing that pocket to carry my rain jacket instead. There’d be plenty of food to be had along the way.
We returned to the Host Hotel a little after 5am and went through the usual routine: assemble the bike, check tire pressure, verify brakes and shifting, throw overnight bag in the proper truck bound for the Day 1 finish in Bourne, post another blog message, say goodbye to Sheeri, grab the bike and find myself a place to line up in the “fast” departure area.
At half past, after a brief wait for the National Anthem, we were off, or at least as “off” as one can be while 3,500 riders file slowly through a 20-foot-wide ceremonial arch. Fortunately, one photographer captured an image just as I was passing through.
Soon enough, we were back on Route 20 as riders sorted their groups out and found their initial pace. I narrowly avoided disaster when a girl riding in front of me absent-mindedly dropped an unopened packet of energy gel that landed directly under my front wheel, which fortunately didn’t skid out from under me.
The first couple segments featured a steady sprinkle and roads that were wet and slick, so I took the descents extremely gingerly. For a while I got to ride with Paul Legere, whom I’ve gotten to know through Twitter, before we separated at the first water stop.
I pulled into that Whitinsville stop at 7am, having still made pretty good speed. Having had nothing for breakfast, I grabbed a couple cookies and a banana, and also spoke briefly with my friend Tony from Quad before pressing on. I was in the middle of a huge pack of riders, rather than my preferred position near the front. A steady rain started falling, and I spent many miles eating the wet rooster-tails thrown up by other riders. However, I did swing by the side of the road to accept a plastic-flower lei from one group of supporters.
After another hour and a half, I was 40 miles into the ride and passing the entrance to the Franklin water stop when I saw a guy holding a sign: “Have you peed yet today?” The guy called my name, and sure enough, it was Jay, doing his volunteer work for the day by greeting riders. He walked me back to his car, where I happily took delivery of my arm warmers (which I stored) and fender (which I immediately attached to my bike). I showed him my laminated photo of Bobby Mac, and he snapped a photo before hurriedly returning to his volunteer position.
While I filed another voice post to my blog, I noticed someone I thought I knew. It was Shaileen (Shay), a woman I’d worked with briefly at Sapient, nearly twenty years ago. It was her second PMC, and she’d discovered my website when looking for PMC hints and tips, but we hadn’t met again until now. We shared a brief exchange before going our separate ways. I downed another banana and hit a porta-potty before resuming the ride.
Speaking of my website, over the course of the ride I’d receive three or four positive comments from riders who had seen my blog. It was really encouraging to hear that other people have read my stuff and found value in it.
Right after the water stop, we passed down Cherry Street in Wrentham, which has been known for years for the loud and incredibly enthusiastic supporters who line the street to cheer riders on. Although I had been too busy worrying about the wet conditions to reflect on my final PMC ride, I definitely choked up as I rode through, realizing that I’d never enjoy another Cherry Street reception like that. It’s one of many elements of the ride that have become iconic that one looks forward to each year, and it brought home hard the fact that this was my last.
After Franklin, the rain intensified a little but then tapered off. I began to tire toward the end of the long segment that followed. I consoled myself with the thought that I’d already ridden 175 miles in two days, which was nearly a full PMC ride already! I had a right to be tired!
I pulled into the Dighton “lunch” stop at 10am, having covered 70 out of 110 miles. Thanks to the wet conditions, I was already about 30 minutes behind my normal schedule. Normally I’d only stop briefly, but having eaten nothing but a couple cookies and bananas, I decided to grab a bit of a snack. And I’m glad I did, because everything I touched really hit the spot. I had a handful of pickles, a brownie, and a couple sandwiches made out of sliced turkey on a wheat tortilla and rolled up into a cigar shape. I can’t explain it, but it was delicious!
One of the things I hate about Dighton is the DJ. Actually it’s not so much the DJ as the volume the PAs are set at. It makes talking or making cell phone calls nearly impossible. I didn’t notice it at the time, but before I rode out, one of the songs he played was the old R&B classic “Mustang Sally”, which features the lyric, “All you wanna do is ride around, Sally; ride, Sally, ride”. That planted a seed in my mind that would lay dormant until the next day.
Pushing on, we came to the temporary bridge over the Taunton River, which is always a bit of an adventure. This year, it was made more fun thanks to a quarter mile of the approaching road reduced to dirt and gravel, caking us and our bikes with muddy grit. The light rain continued, a slight headwind kicked up, and the temperature dropped below 60°. I was still behind schedule and worried about getting a massage appointment that wasn’t too late. At the same time, my strength was a little reduced, keeping me at an aerobic pace, and my neck was aching (possibly from too much time in the handlebar drops).
With twenty miles left, I spent fifteen minutes at the Lakeville stop. Foregoing Gatorade, I filled my bottle with a lemon Italian ice, which wound up being a stupid idea. The slush didn’t melt in the cold weather, so on the road I couldn’t coax anything to drink from my water bottle! The weather continued to worsen too, with the rain becoming solid and steady, and my neck wasn’t very happy with all the miles I’d put in.
At 12:15 I pulled into the final water stop in Wareham. I’d surpassed a hundred miles for the second day in a row, and there were only eight miles left to the Day 1 finish in Bourne. That was when the headwind kicked up and the skies opened up and dumped on us. That last segment was spent dodging street flooding in the kind of downpour that is so miserble that it actually becomes fun in a stupid, ridiculous, self-abusive way. What kept me going forward was the thought of the warm shower and massage that were waiting for me when I arrived at Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne.
Which I finally did at exactly 1pm, after 109.6 miles, or a two-day total of 212. Although I should get double credit for that last hour of riding!
I was able to find my bag pretty quickly, since the offsite bags are under a tent near the finish line. And fortunately, I’d thought to stuff the water-repellant seat cover that was in my swag bag into the overnight bag, so I threw that on my bike saddle before heading to the showers.
Entering the gymnasium building, I was flagged down by Jay’s father and his wife, who were manning the volunteer check-in table. Then it was off for a delicious hot shower and dry clothes, including my blue tee shirt from that first Tour de Mac. More little remembrances of Bobby.
Sadly, the warmth and dryness were kind of pointless, only lasting until I exited the gym for the long walk in the pouring rain to the food tents. I supplemented my cargo shorts and tee shirt with the rain jacket I’d carried from Sturbridge and lurched out into the deluge.
As always, my first stop was the massage sign-up. After being moved from one line to another, I was given a 1:45pm ticket. I asked if people were still allowed to go standby, in case there were any free tables, but was told no; but it didn’t matter anyways, because when I checked my phone I realized that it was already 1:42. I only had to wait three minutes for my scheduled appointment!
A young woman did a fabulous job loosening up my very painful neck muscles. Despite the 212 miles in them, I discouraged her from even looking at my legs! While working on me, her first question was, “Why are you riding?”, which caused me to go through the whole explanation of Bobby again.
When that was done, I hit the food tent, where crowds packed the chili and chowder tables: the first time I’d ever seen that! I picked up a salad and a chicken sandwich and found a seat. It was absolutely pouring, and people weren’t moving from whatever shelter they could find. I’d planned to pin one of my laminated pictures of Bobby to one of the big banners they provided for people to write messages about who they were riding for, but I was discouraged and the rain was so heavy as to be prohibitive. I was so out of it that I even forgot to find any ice cream or corn on the cob, which should flabbergast anyone who knows me.
I walked around briefly, trying to figure out anything to do other than get wet. I camped out in the comparative comfort and dryness of a porta-potty and tried to think it through. I didn’t want to get very wet, because these were the same clothes I’d have to put on the next day, at the end of the ride in Provincetown. I’d hoped to meet up with Jay and Kelly, who would arrive later, since they wouldn’t be riding on to Provincetown with me, but she was probably still on the road, and would be for some time.
I could ask Sheeri to pick me up and drive me to our hotel, ten miles away in Sandwich, but that would be a huge pain in the ass due to the PMC traffic jam on top the of the usual cape traffic. Plus, then I wouldn’t have ridden all the way across the state! I could ride out to meet her in a more accessible location for her, but just getting there I’d get soaked through anyways, so why not just ride the whole way?
In the end, that made the most sense: grit my teeth and endure another ten miles of riding in the rain. It made no sense to hang around MMA doing nothing, and the sooner I got to the hotel the more time I would have for a nice long soak in their hot tub! That beat sitting around in the rain all afternoon, shivering.
So that was the plan, but putting the plan into action wasn’t fun at all. I had to trudge all the way back to the gym to change into spare (mostly dry) cycling gear (including both my rain jacket and arm warmers), then trudge all the way back to the food tent to drop off my overnight bag, then trudge all the way back to the finish line to grab my bike and head out; all of it in a driving rainstorm.
Still, all that got accomplished, and I pedaled away from the MMA campus at 3:15pm, nearly three hours earlier than I normally would. I made my way up and over the high Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal, followed the looping route that riders would follow the next morning, and picked up the bike path that runs for ten miles alongside the canal.
The rain dwindled to a sprinkle, but the headwind picked up velocity as I went. I passed several dozen fishermen—many more than usual—and recollected that the town had just finished celebrating the canal’s 100th anniversary.
Finally at 4pm I arrived at our Sandwich hotel and immediately jumped into the shower. We had dinner next door at the British Beer Company, then returned to spend some quality time with the hotel’s hot tub. Before turning in, I applied fresh lube to the bike’s chain, which was disconcertingly crunchy after being inundated with water, dirt, and grit.
I wasn’t looking forward to another day of riding in the rain.
After a second night of surprisingly poor sleep, I found it really difficult to get up on Sunday morning. My throat hurt, my legs were stiff and ached a lot, and the wet, heavy overcast and still colder temperatures didn’t help. It sure didn’t feel anything like August!
The one thing that was different on Sunday was my focus. All day Saturday, my mind had been preoccupied with the weather conditions and riding; I’d spent very little time thinking about my cross-state trek, my final PMC, or remembering Bobby. I expected that to be different today, as the sun “rose” (in a very abstract, theoretical sense) on my final day.
I set out from the hotel at 6am, and once I was on the bike my body began to warm up and easily fell back into the familiar pedaling motion. Although my legs and butt complained, I seemed to have ample strength to pass the bulk of riders along the roller-coaster hills of the Route 6 access road. 45 minutes later, I rolled into the first water stop—Barnstable—having kept a surprisingly brisk pace.
From there, the route hopped off and onto Route 6A, which is one of my least favorite parts of the ride. It’s narrow and busy and commercial, but on a rainy Sunday morning there were thankfully few cars on the road. That was good, because I was still in the middle of a vast pack of riders. I really didn’t like having so many riders around me, but at the same time, hiding in the peloton allowed me to average well above 18 mph for these segments.
Not long afterward, I passed the bit of road where I had crashed out of the event back in 2003, the only time I wasn’t able to finish the ride. On that Sunday morning, my wheels had come out from under me on wet roads, in conditions very similar to the ones I found myself in now.
By 8am I had reached the Brewster stop, already nearly halfway to Provincetown. Despite the cold, I grabbed my customary two orange ice pops, and also downed a couple slices of cold deli ham. Walking past the medical table, I stuck my head under their awning long enough to ask them to give me a new pair of legs.
As I returned to my bike, I again heard the refrain of “Mustang Sally”, and thought of Bobby Mac. It struck me as exactly the kind of classic song he would have sung to us during the many Quad rides he led. It was just so like him, which caused me to tear up for a few moments.
From then onward, the riders were more sparse, which gave me more time alone with my thoughts & feelings, both of Bobby and of my final Pan-Mass Challenge. Those thoughts followed me up the Cape Cod bike path; along Ocean View Drive, where I got my first, long-awaited views of the Atlantic; and through the swooping curves and hills near Long Pond.
I was disappointed that the usual Wellfleet town cheering station was absent, but happy to pull into the Wellfleet water stop at 9am. I was 50 (that is: 270) miles in, with a mere twenty miles left. Although I was tired, I was still going stronger than many riders.
Wellfleet is the last stop before the PMC finish, so I was in a reflective mood when I filed my voice post. It was finally sinking in that this was the end of my road: the end of my cross-state trek, the end of my ride in honor of Bobby, and the end of my fourteen years as a PMC rider. I was feeling it both physically and emotionally.
I found some apples and stuffed those down my throat, and then greeted my friend Tony. A longtime Quad rider, who has done the PMC only one fewer times than I, it was important for me to show him the photo of Bobby on my back. He told me to be sure to enjoy my final miles.
Cape Cod saves some of its hardest challenges for its last two towns—Truro and Provincetown—and of course that was no different this year. Topping Corn Hill in Truro—probably the steepest pitch in the entire PMC route—I passed the old Over The Hill Cheerleaders, whom I’ve seen at that spot so many times. I gave them low-fives as I ambled past, carrying heavy thoughts about the many icons and the culture that has grown up around the Pan-Mass Challenge, all of which I will miss.
Emerging out onto busy Route 6, I pulled a whole peloton behind me, then rolled off and sheltered in their slipstream for the long, exposed final drag past Pilgrim Lake and into Provincetown.
That ad hoc group split up when we reached the inevitable right turn away from town and out toward Race Point, but one of the riders spoke up to me. He’d known Bobby Mac and how much he’d meant to the cycling community, and expressed his condolences. With only a couple miles left, it seemed a very fitting way to end my ride: talking with someone else who knew how much Bobby had meant to us.
We went up and down the big dunes that led back toward town, and my pedal strokes slowed. After nearly 290 miles (that’s 466 km), my body was ready to stop, but my heart didn’t want things to end. It wanted to keep riding: to keep riding in honor of my hero, and to keep riding until we have eradicated the disease that took him from us.
But all too soon, I turned the final corner and saw the crowds gathered around the finish line. I sat up and rode no-handed, clapping and pointing at the crowds on either side, in thanks for all the years of support I’ve received. Then I dropped my hands back down to the bars, feathered my brakes, and pulled up to be checked in at the completion of my ride, job done.
I later learned that one of the PMC event photographers got a picture of me just as I stopped at the finish line and a volunteer checked me in. I think it’s astoundingly fitting that on my last ride, PMC photographers had taken shots of me both exactly as I passed under the banner at the Sturbridge starting line on Saturday morning, and exactly as I passed under the banner at the finish line in Provincetown on Sunday. Start to finish: very poetic!
I rode in at 10:30am. Another 68 miles on Sunday gave me the expected three-day total of 290 miles, from the New York border to the extreme tip of Cape Cod.
The first thing I wanted after finishing was a photo: a particular photo. Throughout his years as a charity rider, and any time his Quaddies got together for a group photo, Bobby would lift his bike overhead in his traditional victory pose.
I’ve never done that; that level of exuberance just isn’t a feature of my personality. But this year in particular, I wanted to get a photo of me in Bobby’s signature pose, as a way of showing that I remember him and honor what kind of man he was in this world.
This year, the PMC had a temporary archway set up right behind the finish line, with volunteers taking pictures of riders with that and Provincetown’s salt marsh as a backdrop. I immediately stepped up into queue and had my picture taken. Like many such opportunities through PMC weekend, it was just a very simple thing that few people would take note of, but it meant the world to me. For months, it had lingered in my mind as the most important part of this year ride.
Having dispatched that important task, my arrival returned to its normal routine. I threw my bike over the fence at the bike parking line, found my bag, and headed for the shower.
But that’s where “normal” came to a screeching halt, because there was no hot water to be had. I had a very brief, expletive-filled shower before changing back into my cargo shorts and Tour de Mac tee shirt. The cause—a broken generator—would be found and fixed, and the hot water would resume about ten minutes later, but that was after I was already waiting in queue for a massage. I got a massage from a girl who was just a walk-on (as opposed to a massage therapist), but it still helped loosen up my neck.
Then—following the same routine I’ve grown tired of—it was on to the food tent, where I finally found my appetite, shoving down a salad, a sausage sandwich, a cheeseburger, a brownie, some mac & cheese, a bag of peanuts, and a cola. I sat with my old co-worker Shay—who was so hungry that she had stormed the food tent without stopping to find her bag, shower, or change into street clothes!—and we exchanged stories about our experiences. It was a real pleasure reconnecting with her after so many years.
Without going into details, I’ll also share my discovery that you know you’ve won the PMC when you go into a porta-potty and discover that all the rolls of toilet paper are as yet unopened; you’ve found a virgin stall!
I took a few minutes for a short breather inside the Provincetown Inn, which hosts the finish line, trying to figure out how I felt about heading out. Each year, I find this to be one of the most emotional events: getting up and leaving the celebration at the finish line. For me, it usually signals the conceptual end of the event: walking out of the communal group context and heading home for another year. Only this year, I wouldn’t be coming back. There will be no more PMC finish line celebrations, so I took a few minutes to reflect on that beforehand.
Then I grabbed my bike and my bag and headed down Bradford Street, meeting Sheeri where she’d parked the car. I loaded the bike into the back and changed footwear, and we walked across the street to a convenience store. I got an ice cream bar and a chocolate milk, and we sat together for a while in the park at the foot of the Pilgrim Monument.
We spent the afternoon wandering around Provincetown, which is a typical touristy seaside community, supplemented by an additional staunchly gay culture. We had burritos for lunch while a brief rainstorm passed by, but then decided to head back to the hotel in Sandwich. It definitely wasn’t a beach day, and the logic of getting home early in order to enjoy the hot tub weighted our calculations. And my PMC: it was over.
We drove back up cape to our hotel in Sandwich, where my day had started. I took another shower: with lots of blessedly hot water this time! Neither Sheeri nor I were very hungry, so we walked over to the local ice cream shop, then back to the hotel for that long-anticipated post-ride jacuzzi.
Monday began as another damp day, so we planned to do some minimal local activities (having already done Provincetown on Sunday) and then hit the road back to Boston. After a very satisfying sausage, egg, & cheese croissant at Dunkies, we went to explore the Sandwich boardwalk.
The boardwalk spans a large salt marsh and was recently rebuilt following a devastating storm. We started at the beach end and walked across to the mainland, then back. Then briefly along the verge of the ocean (Massachusetts Bay), which was even colder than usual due to the chilly spring we’d had. Aside from the achingly frigid water, it was surprisingly beautiful.
After returning to the hotel long enough to check out, we hit the Sandwich Glass Museum, since there used to be a world-renowned glasserie in town. I’ve had several friends who have done glasswork, including one whose husband currently runs the glass lab at MIT. The museum included a demo of an artist blowing two classic designs: a swan, and a pumpkin. I found the latter especially interesting, having attended last year’s glass pumpkin sale at MIT. I found the double overlay cut glass pieces especially impressive.
After a lengthy visit, we were done. I was feeling a little headachey, thanks to the prominent smell of bleach in the museum, and I didn’t want a repeat of last year’s post-ride illness, so we decided to promptly nose the car straight back toward Boston.
After a surprisingly quick ride, Sheeri dropped me at home, where my highly-localized feline infestation provided a greeting that matched the enthusiasm of any PMC supporter I’d passed on the road. My head felt better after some aspirin and a solid nap. From then on, life returned to normal, save for my body’s slow recovery from the exertions of the weekend.
In my fourteenth year, there aren’t a ton of stunning new revelations to share. I’ll point out just a couple.
Our hotel in Sandwich was a mixed blessing this year. The hot tub and the proximity to both the pub and the ice cream shop are huge plusses. On the other hand, the only place you could log into their WiFi to access the Internet was in the lobby, which is ridiculous. That was the first time we have had that problem, despite having stayed there for many years in the past.
But my biggest lesson derived from the one major enhancement that I offered my supporters this year: my live GPS tracking. I set up a convenient URL, evaluated tracking systems, and repeatedly tested my setup on long rides to make sure that it would work well. I thought it would be an interesting way to involve people in my ride as it unfolded.
I published the URL in my pre-ride email, and then no one came. Literally the only person who ever visited the site was the person who had helped me test the system on my prior long rides. I had clearly overestimated the level of interest people had in following my progress. Oh well!
That’s really all the specific lessons I have to add this year.
With so many major milestones being observed, the job of summarizing this year’s ride is a difficult one. I guess that, like anything else, breaking it down into its constituent parts will make it easier.
There are, of course, the basic ones. This was the PMC’s 35th ride and my 14th, and there’s a certain amount of surprise that I’ve been a rider for 40 percent of the organization’s storied history. It was my ninth year as a “Heavy Hitter”, and the tenth year that my loyal friend Sheeri happily undertook the often tedious role of support person.
And no summary can exclude the rain, which was a major feature of the ride. Sixty people were treated at PMC water stops for symptoms of hypothermia, and ride founder Billy Starr described it as “the coldest sustained rain in our 35-year history”. For me it was discouraging and caused a lot of wear and tear on both bike and body, but it seemed somehow poetic that I would have twelve years of mostly sunny rides bookended by a waterlogged first ride in 2001 and an equally moist final one in 2014.
Taking an extra day and crossing the entirety of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was an ambitious goal, but wound up being very rewarding. I’d done that once before, to celebrate my tenth PMC ride, and it felt very appropriate to repeat that feat for my final PMC. This year’s “Day 0” Friday was a really nice day of riding, not least of all because the weather cooperated for that one day.
But it was also special because of the company: my longtime and closest riding buddies Jay and Paul. With Jay now in Florida, both of them building families, and me looking to move, it was probably our last big ride together, and it was a very meaningful pleasure to share the road with them once more. Especially since Jay hadn’t been able to do any hill training, so I got to drop him any time the road tilted upward! That alone was worth riding an extra hundred miles!
As to my feelings about this being my last year as a PMC rider, the inevitable sense of melancholy was pretty easily managed. The PMC has allowed me to connect with many people—both other riders as well as old friends I’d lost contact with—and raising so much money to support the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s lifesaving mission has given me a real sense of meaning, accomplishment, and satisfaction in a job well done. Still, there were several times that I choked up while riding past some familiar, cherished part of the ride that I’ll never get to experience again.
At the same time, now is the right time for me to step away. I feel like I’ve completed what I needed to do, and I don’t feel any compelling reason to continue. In short, I’m done! As I told people who asked if this was “really” my last PMC: I thought it through two years ago, before I announced my plan to retire. I wouldn’t have announced it if I hadn’t been sure back then that it was the right thing for me. So today, having stayed with the event for two more years after that announcement, I have no doubt that I am doing the right thing.
Sure, it’ll be strange not signing up as soon as registration opens in January, not structuring my whole summer around fundraising, and finding something else to do during the first weekend of August. But I have no doubt I’ll find other ways to profitably utilize that time.
More poignant to me than my final PMC was the experience of riding in honor of my mentor and hero Bobby Mac. Grief is experienced in periodic waves, and it was good to take this time to let my feelings resurface after just carrying on as usual for the past couple months. It was proper to devote this ride to celebrating his cherished memory. Although it evoked a number of painful moments throughout the weekend, it was also emotionally cathartic. Letting go of such an heroic presence is a matter of riding those waves of grief until they gradually begin to settle.
Those are the major individual elements that made up my 2014 Pan-Mass Challenge, but the cliché is true that the whole is more than merely the sum of these parts, and it’s the whole experience—and all the emotions that go with them—which is most difficult to communicate in words.
I guess the overall theme for this year has been “closure”. I’m satisfied with this year and its many challenges, including riding an extra hundred miles and dealing with the weather. I feel like I honored the closing of several different chapters of my life: riding with Jay & Paul for the last time, enjoying Sheeri’s last year supporting me, surpassing my lifetime fundraising goal of $100,000, and of course my last ride as a PMC’er. Although I’ll never adequately close the book on Bobby’s presence—and now absence—in my life, riding in his memory was another big step in that direction.
I suppose it’s appropriate that my last PMC would provide a sense of closure in so many ways. And when I look inside myself, I’m pretty confident that I can be happy with that, and move on to whatever life has in store for me next.
In this, my final year as a Pan-Mass Challenge rider, the PMC raised $41 million, setting another new record as the largest sum ever contributed to a charity by any athletic fundraising event anywhere in the world.
With your help, this year I added another $10,750 to my fundraising total. That makes this the sixth year that I’ve raised more than $10,000, and the ninth year in a row that I’ve qualified for the PMC’s “Heavy Hitter” status.
That means that after riding for fourteen years, I will close my PMC account having raised a total of (tah-daah!) exactly $111,222 for cancer research and treatment. All that thanks to the 850 donations I received from 280 different sponsors.
It’s a point of amusement for me to be able to say that in 14 years I have raised more money than the entire Pan-Mass Challenge did in its first three years (from 1980 to 1982, 120 riders raised $110,800).
I have ridden 2,800 miles on PMC weekends, which represents about one million turns of the pedals. But if you include all my training rides, I biked over 45,000 miles over those years. That’s the equivalent of riding from New York to San Francisco… sixteen times!
Looking back, I have to say that I spent an awful lot of time training and fundraising. But in the end, the reward was worth it: the knowledge that the research we funded saved lives and materially improved the state of cancer treatment for now and forever.
While I take a lot of pride in what I’ve accomplished, the truth of the matter is that I have a lot of people to thank. I’ll try to keep it brief, but I feel obliged to mention a number of people by name.
Top recognition goes to the people I rode for, or in memory of. Becky in 2001; Nicole in 2006; my cousin Mike in 2010; my friend Ken and his wife Christine in 2007, 2008, and 2011. And finally my good friend Bobby Mac, who was my mentor and inspiration for my entire cycling career.
I also need to express my profound thanks to the two women who devoted a lot of their time to driving me around and doing whatever was needed to help me through the PMC. Jeanie was my support person for my first four years, even flying in from Austin in 2004 after she’d moved across country. And Sheeri patiently ferried me around for ten long years. I could not have done any of this without their selfless assistance and patient understanding.
Naturally I owe huge thanks to all of my sponsors, but there are two groups I want to recognize for their uncommon dedication.
First are the top ten people who have given the most money. By far my most profound and profuse thanks are due to my angel sponsor, Liam, whom I know from the fiction magazine I used to run. Without his (and his employer, Johnson & Johnson’s) breathtakingly generous support, I could only have achieved a fraction of what I have.
The remaining fundraising podium spots are filled by Dita and Eric G., both former coworkers. In 2008 I made a rash challenge to personally match every donation made by my coworkers, which led to my actually becoming my own fourth-biggest sponsor! The balance of my most generous sponsors includes my support person Sheeri, old friend Mark from Maine and Japan (whose 2013 donation put me over my big $100,000 goal), my brother, former coworker Darrel, fellow writer Rena, and old UMaine and Boston friend Sean.
While big donations are good, having people who predictably make even small donations every single year are just as important. There are nine dedicated people who have sponsored every one of my fourteen rides: my mother, two aunts, and brother; old friends Mark and Sean; former coworkers Eric G. and Monnette; and fellow writer Jim O. Your loyalty and constancy made every year’s fundraising easier and more predictable.
Of course, the PMC experience isn’t just about money. Another set of people who made each year special were my fellow PMC riders. It was always a pleasure to ride with friends like Tony Holowitz, Steve Ricci, Dave Katz, Lynda Beaulieu, and Charlie Stuart-King… most of whom also used to ride with Bobby Mac and I out of Quad Cycles in Arlington.
But particularly heartfelt thanks must be extended to my two most loyal cycling buddies: Jay Dolan and Paul Demers. We shared several PMCs, both of my pre-PMC “Day Zero” rides from the New York border, and so many other wonderful centuries, expeditions, and training rides. It was always an honor and a pleasure to roll in your slipstream.
While I really don’t know them personally, another group I’m thankful for are the PMC staff. It has been very important to me that the ride stay ethical, meaningful, and loyal to its original mission, so that it would always be something I could be proud to contribute to. I hope you will keep it that way for the benefit of everyone who has ridden in the past, and for all the riders who follow.
If you have supported my ride in any way—as a sponsor, fellow rider, volunteer, cheering spectator, or in any other capacity—thank you! You have my gratitude. Every bit of assistance—small or large—has been a gift to me, and a great blessing for current and future cancer patients and their families.
And finally I owe my thanks—and probably a lengthy apology!—to everyone who has read my unbelievably long-winded ride reports! I guess for me a hundred thousand dollars warrants a hundred thousand words!
Any retrospective inevitably includes a question about the memories that stand out or the things that you’ll miss. For me, these fall into two categories: elements that are part of every PMC, and things I remember from a particular year.
The PMC is an annual ritual, and there are lots of things that are meaningful simply because they happen every year: taking in the incredibly inspiring stories that are shared during Friday’s opening ceremonies; navigating the chaotic din to sign in at ride registration; leaving the starting area in the chilly pre-dawn, usually accompanied by the U2 song “Beautiful Day”; arrival at the finish line to cheers and a strange sense of reluctantly finishing something you were in the middle of enjoying; the post-ride food tents; and finally the trip home.
Although they often went by quickly, there were so many parts of the ride itself that evoked affection: passing little lakes and streams that have become familiar; boisterous Cherry Street in Wrentham; the perpetually temporary bridge over the Taunton River in Dighton; the posters of kids currently undergoing treatment at Dana-Farber that line the approach to the Pedal Parter tent in Lakeville; the pretty seaside village of Onset; crossing the Cape Cod Canal and rolling up the canal bike path; the ridiculous rolling hills of the Route 6 access road; the boisterous welcome at the Cape Cod Sea Camps; catching sight of the Atlantic at aptly-named Ocean View Drive in Wellfleet; being met by the Over the Hill Cheerleaders in Truro; the inevitable dunes of Race Point heralding arrival in Provincetown.
Although the faces and shouts of individual supporters go by in a blur, the thousands of people lining the miles and miles of our route are a constant presence, all yelling “Thank you for riding!” over and over until their voices give out. Cyclists never get such a heartfelt and demonstrative welcome, and you cannot begin to imagine how powerful and moving that is until you’ve experienced it for yourself.
Since they’re always present for every rider, those things might sound like an impersonal backdrop for all the special events that happened to me in particular years, but they’re also what’s constant; these are the things that make riding in the PMC the irreproduceable experience that it is, and the things that all PMC riders share as their common experience.
And then there are my individual memories from specific years.
My first Pan-Mass Challenge was in 2001. It was also the only time I did a route other than the classic Sturbridge to Bourne to Provincetown route; instead, I rode from Wellesley to Bourne and back. Having no idea what I was doing, I wore a tee shirt and cargo shorts, which soaked up water like a sponge when it rained throughout Saturday’s ride and into Sunday. But my most poignant memory from 2001 was being driven to the start not by my support person Jeanie, who had just undergone abdominal surgery, but by the woman I was riding for: Jeanie’s sister Becky, who had just finished her chemo treatments for breast cancer, which had taken her mother just a few years before.
2002 was my first year starting in Sturbridge and finishing in Provincetown, rather than the Wellesley loop. I was stopped for an hour at the Franklin rest area due to a motor vehicle accident on a nearby highway. That Saturday was the first time I’d ever done a 100-mile ride (a “century” in cycling terms). I benefited hugely from all the lessons I’d learned in my first PMC, but the much hillier route and additional 35 miles really strained my body. It was a successful ride, but really challenging.
2003 was my bad year, my one DNF (“Did Not Finish”). Not far into Sunday’s ride up Cape Cod, I jumped onto the end of a paceline that went by me at a pretty fast clip. With limited visibility while drafting, I hit a pothole on narrow Route 6A and my rear wheel went out from under me on pavement made slick by morning mist. A van brought me back to the previous rest stop, and then I hopped an ambulance to the local hospital, where I received stitches for a deep puncture in my elbow. I was very disappointed as Jeanie drove me all the way up to Provincetown to pick up the bike that had been transported by van from the rest stop to the finish.
In 2006, I visited my friend Nicole during one of her chemo treatments before riding in her honor. It also was the first year I surpassed the PMC’s “Heavy Hitter” threshold as an outstanding fundraiser.
That trend continued in my seventh ride, when I raised more than $10,000 for the first time.
I surpassed that again the very next year by raising a record $11,776 in 2008. Nearly $2,400 of that came from my own pocket, though. Hoping to shame my employer into offering to match my coworkers’ donations, I offered to match every Optaros employee’s donation myself. Naturally, I followed through, even though my employer chose not to participate.
In 2009 I surpassed $50,000 lifetime fundraising. It had taken me nine years to reach that point, but I would only take four more years to double that amount.
2010 was a big anniversary—my tenth PMC ride—and I wanted to make it special. I began by riding an extra day and an extra hundred miles the day before the official PMC, starting out at the New York border to make it a true ride all the way across Massachusetts, accompanied by my longtime riding buddies Jay and Paul. Along the way, I made sure to meet and get a photo with PMC poster boy Jack O’riordan at the Brewster water stop. I also tried to set a new record of 100 sponsors, but wound up with an all-time high of 142, which more than doubled my previous record.
If 2010 was big, 2011 was just extraordinary. I attended the opening of the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care, the first new building at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in decades. I would also attend a windswept official dedication of the “PMC Plaza” which serves as the building’s main entrance, a very visible manifestation of the ride’s success and the importance of the PMC in the Dana-Farber’s mission of advancing the state of cancer research and treatment. After years of verbal support, Lance Armstrong finally made the time to participate, although his reputation was already tarnished and his admission of a career of doping just months away. The year ended with an immense surprise: having my photograph grace over a hundred area newspapers in a large Thanksgiving ad purchased by Dana-Farber to thank all the PMC riders for their work. I felt an immense pride in the new Yawkey Center and in the selection of my photograph to represent the organization. What an honor!
2013 held another big surprise. After announcing my plan to ride two more years, in order to surpass $100,000 raised before retiring from the event, my sponsors went batshit crazy and shattered my old fundraising record from 2008. My new high-water mark was $16,460, which pushed me over my $100,000 lifetime goal a year earlier than I had planned!
And if you’ve read the whole account above, you’ll already know how 2014 went. Shortly after I received the silver pin celebrating my lifetime fundraising achievement, my longtime cycling mentor and hero Bobby Mac lost his life to pancreatic cancer. It was an honor to dedicate my final ride to the memory of such an inspiring friend. Like 2010, Jay and Paul joined me in repeating the extra hundred miles to ride from the New York state line to the PMC start in Sturbridge. And although I’d nearly always had good weather, my last year, like my very first PMC, featured lots of rain.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with a few choice words about the PMC and its mission, and what it has meant to me. You’ve probably read much of this before, but I’d like to save and share these thoughts one final time.
First, I want to echo something that’s been on my PMC rider profile page for many years. For many riders like myself, the Pan-Mass Challenge isn’t just about raising money. Cycling 192 miles takes stamina, strength of will, and the ability to overcome pain: the very same attributes that are demanded of cancer victims and their families. By riding in the PMC, I and thousands of other riders have demonstrated our willingness to lend our strength to those who are in need of it. If there’s one thing the phenomenal success of the PMC has taught me, it’s that none of us are ever alone in our fight against this complex and stubborn family of diseases.
Since I began riding in the PMC, there has been quite a lot of progress in combating cancer. That progress has been incremental and sometimes frustratingly hard to see, but it has been steady. Many more people are surviving cancer or living longer as a result of new treatments, many of which were pioneered by researchers and clinicians at Dana-Farber.
Since I started riding in 2001, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has tripled in size, largely due to the unprecedented money the PMC generates. A whopping sixty percent of the money raised by the Dana-Farber’s famous Jimmy Fund charity comes from PMC riders, and the most obvious evidence of that is the new Yawkey Center building and the elegant PMC Plaza that fronts it.
But it’s also manifested in the hospital’s culture. I’ve often cited Dr. Ed Benz, the Dana-Farber’s President, when he has said that, “When they write the book on how cancer was cured, the PMC will be in chapter one.” But at the 2014 PMC’s opening ceremonies he said two other things that I’d like to share. The first is this: “Our relationship with the PMC and the PMC’s dedication to us is just unique; there’s nothing like it.”
The other was even more succinct. What does the President of one of the most prestigious and respected cancer research centers in the world think about the PMC?
This: “If there were no Pan-Mass Challenge, there would be no Dana-Farber research.” Dana-Farber has been recognized for years as one of the best cancer research and treatment facilities in the world, thanks largely because of the people who ride and support the Pan-Mass Challenge. Thank you!
Because the PMC happens every year, you might think that my retirement from the event represents the end of our impact on the fight against cancer. But that would be incorrect.
Cancer research is an incremental process, with results that might rely on work done years if not decades earlier. The research we did in the 1990s informed the research that was done in the 2000s, and what we learned in the 2000s informs the research we’re doing today, in 2014.
Similarly, the breakthroughs that we can expect to see in the next two decades will be a direct result of the research that you and I funded during my tenure as a PMC rider from 2001 through 2014. Even though I’m done soliciting donations from my friends, the work that was funded by the money we gave will continue to have a big effect, not just this year, but also in the years and decades that follow.
So even though we haven’t completely eradicated cancer yet, huge progress has been made, and the biggest breakthroughs in the fight against cancer in the next few years will rely on the foundation we have built together over the past fourteen years.
Or to put that into an old cycling metaphor: we haven’t spent these fourteen years just spinning our wheels.
Thank you for supporting what will always be one of the most meaningful and memorable experiences of my life. It has been an honor to have your support.
|date||town||time in||time out||hours||temp||miles||avg||max||notes||audio reports|
|Fri||Pittsfield||7:09 am||57||Left hotel, headed to NY border|
|Fri||NY/MA border||7:39 am||7:53 am||0:32:31||57||9.7||17.9||30.6||Photo stop at the MA/NY border|
|Fri||Bike swap||8:40 am||8:54 am||1:13:57||64||22.2||18.0||31.7||Jay & Paul swap tandem for real bikes|
|Fri||Chester||9:51 am||10:02 am||2:08:49||70||38.4||17.9||34.9||Snack stop after Jacob's Ladder ascent & descent|
|Fri||Amherst||12:03 pm||1:15 pm||3:58:28||81||69.4||17.5||35.9||Long lunch stop after Route 66 ascent & descent||audio|
|Fri||Bondsville||2:16 pm||2:30 pm||4:59:14||81||85.3||17.1||35.9||Quick replenishment for final leg at convenience store|
|Fri||Sturbridge||3:38 pm||6:06:31||73||102.5||16.8||35.9||Arrived happily after a brief downpour||audio|
|Sat||Sturbridge||5:28 am||6:06:31||61||102.5||16.8||35.9||Official PMC start: cool & sprinkly||audio|
|Sat||Whitinsville||6:56 am||7:06 am||7:32:17||61||127.3||16.9||35.9||First leg, sprinkling & slick||audio|
|Sat||Franklin||8:08 am||8:26 am||8:32:05||63||145.0||17.0||35.9||Met up w/Jay & ran into Shay||audio|
|Sat||Dighton||9:58 am||10:15 am||10:07:00||64||172.7||17.1||35.9||A bit of lunch before pressing on||audio|
|Sat||Lakeville||11:05 am||11:18 am||10:57:43||59||186.6||17.0||35.9||Sprinkling, starting to tire||audio|
|Sat||Wareham||12:14 pm||12:22 pm||11:52:56||59||204.1||17.2||35.9||Steady soaking rain & street flooding||audio|
|Sat||Bourne||12:58 pm||3:19 pm||12:27:25||57||212.1||17.0||35.9||Torrential rain, but Day 1 is (almost) over||audio|
|Sat||Sandwich||4:01 pm||13:08:17||55||221.2||16.8||35.9||Showery shivering solo slog to Sandwich|
|Sun||Sandwich||6:02 am||13:08:17||55||221.2||16.8||35.9||Another cold, wet August morning||audio|
|Sun||Barnstable||6:51 am||6:58 am||13:55:56||57||235.9||16.9||36.6||Have some strength left after 200+ miles||audio|
|Sun||Brewster||7:51 am||8:06 am||14:49:57||61||252.0||17.0||36.6||Intermittent rain, riding in the pack||audio|
|Sun||Wellfleet||9:06 am||9:19 am||15:49:29||61||269.7||17.0||36.6||Final PMC segment, but thinking about Bobby Mac||audio|
|Sun||Provincetown||10:28 am||16:54:09||61||289.7||17.1||36.6||Talked about Bobby & finished my last PMC ride||audio|