Pan-Mass Challenge– Why I Ride

 I’m posting something I wrote three years ago when Cindy and I first rode in the PMC.  For those of you who don’t know –the Pan Mass Challenge is a 2-day 192 mile ride to find a cure for cancer.  Beneficiaries are Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Jimmy Fun.  One hundred per cent of money raised goes directly to cancer research.  One hundred per cent.  Three years ago, we lost Jay and Gran Gran.  This past year, we watched our friend Brian battle non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  We watched Brian and Jason go through a year that no one should have to go through — the chemo treatments, the infections, all the back and forth to the hospital for Brian’s treatments.  Luckily, Brian is healthy now and they are new homeowners!  But for too many, the battle continues.  And until we find a cure, I’d like to do something about it.  And I can ride.  Read on to see what the experience was like three years ago:

How to describe this experience?  Maybe I should start at the beginning — waking  at 3:30 so we could catch the first shuttle to the  start line.  No real breakfast, grabbed a cinnamon roll (great fuel for riding 111 miles don’t you think?) and coffee…ate a few bites of bagel with peanut butter, a banana, but really, who is all that hungry at 4 a.m.? 

The view at the start was incredible — cyclists as far as the eye could see, all waiting, all wearing the PMC 2010 jersey.  Five thousand of us.  A couple announcements were made — I was too nervous to listen — and then a young woman sang the National Anthem, her voice clear and sharp in the cool morning air.  The sun was just beginning to rise and we were off!

An endless line of cyclists in front, an endless line behind.  What a sight we must have been to the hearty people who stood in their sweatshirts or wrapped in blankets to watch us go by — five thousand cyclists pedalling into the sunrise.  At least in the beginning we might have resembled our own kind of peloton. 

The spectators waited by the roadside in Sturbridge, in Charlton, in Franklin. They waited in Bellingham, in Wrentham, in Attleboro. They waited on the Cape.  They cheered us on and said, “thanks for riding.”  They were small children clapping: “Go cyclists!” the little ones yelled.  “Keep it up!”  THey were older people.  They were cancer survivors holding signs: “I’m ten years old because of you!” People held parties to cheer on the PMC riders.  Or they sat alone in a folding chair at the edge of the driveway.  Or they held their children. They sat in their p.js. and drank coffee.  The spectators handed out bottles of water.  Baggies of grapes.  They high fived the riders.  They always said, “Thank you for riding!” 

I was touched.  THey’re thanking me.  But I’m the one having the amazing experience. 

 Al the policemen at the intersections holding up traffic: “Thank you for riding,” they said.  “Be safe.” 

“Thank you,” I said.  Did they know how much more pleasant they were making our ride?  Did all those spectators know just how much they were helping us as they cheered and blew whistles and rang bells?  Did they know how much easier a hill can feel when you are serenaded with bagpipes (not kidding)?  How much you stop complaining about being tired and sore when you see a young girl holding a sign that says “I”m a survivor?” 

 I was overwhelmed by the kindness.  By the obvious appreciation.  And yet — wasn’t I benefitting too?  Wasn’t I getting as much, if not more, out of this ride?  

I knew that I was a bit undertrained, but the first day went pretty well over all.  I was riding slowly, that’s for sure — probably pretty near the back of the pack.  But the hills felt OK – I felt OK — and Cindy was riding strong too. Still — 111 miles makes for a long day in the saddle when you’re not a speedy rider.  And the ride was hilly.  But you stop complaining pretty quickly when  the guy with one leg pedals past you. Or you overhear a conversation between two riders in front of you and one guy admits, “Today is my 78th birthday.”  And you crest another hill, you see another spectator wearing a sign that says “survivor,” you think of the people you’re riding for in the first place — Jay, Gran Gran, Emyl, Barbara — and you push on.  You think climbing this hill is nothing compared to a cancer diagnosis.  You think I can do this. 

Day  Two started a tiny bit later — we woke at 4:15, climbed on the bikes and pedalled off by 5:30, the sun rising as we made our way over the Bourne Bridge and then along the Cape Cod canal. I was tired, hadn’t slept well at all.  My neck and shoulder were already achey and I couldn’t get comfortable on the bike.  But for a while the terrain was flat and I wanted to enjoy that.  You might think most of Cape Cod is flat — but you’d be wrong.  It’s very rolling– and though in many cases the downhills can help propel you up the next ascent, there were plenty of flat-out climbs left as well (and horrible headwinds, but they were much later). 

Cindy’s knee had started hurting about halfway through Day One, so we knew we’d have to take it slowly.  She iced her knee at the rest stops and swallowed ibuprofen.  She was determined to continue on, to pedal the entire course, and refused the offer from one PMC van driver to get her just to P-town where she could then climb back on the bike and ride to the finish line.  I was worried for her but so incredibly proud of her too — really, she had just started cycling in the spring (May?) and here she was, tackling the Pan Mass Challenge, a tough two day ride that challenges even experienced riders.  Her determination was fierce.  And I was thrilled to be sharing this experience with her. 

I should say, too, that our friends Mary and Carrie were part of our “team,” and they were riding so well, far ahead of us!  They had two great days on the bike, riding strong.  We saw them each day at the first rest stop, but that was it until the day’s end where they greeted us with big smiles (and cold beers).  Our goal is to be able to keep up with them in future rides 

The last few miles of the PMC were brutal — fierce headwinds, the lonley, barren landscape of the dunes.  You think: aren’t I done yet?  You think: really, I made it to Provincetown; can’t I just get off my bike now?

Along Route 6, there were no more spectators.  Just cars whizzing past at 60 mph.  And the dunes. 

But then there were the banners.  “We Ride For…” and all the names added by all the riders.  “We Are the PMC…”  Banners in bright colors flapping in the wind.  I smiled as I rode past them.  Yes, always a reminder why we are doing this in the first place (you mean this isn’t just for me?  Not just a crazy ploy for getting into shape.

We did it.  Mary, Carrie, Cindy and I finally rode in the Pan Mass Challenge.  We were among five thousand riders who raised (so far) over 21 million dollars for cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institue.  I think it’s safe to say that we had the ride of our lives.  Cindy’s knee is still causing lots of pain, so we have to check that out — but she has no regrets about riding.  And the next time — because there probably WILL be a next time though maybe not next year — we’ll be even more ready to tackle those hills — with a bit more speed and strength. 

This year, I’m riding again with three friends.  If you’d like to donate to my 2013 ride (each rides must raise $4300 in order to ride — I’m 20% there — ), go to and search for rider PS0170.  Any amount is appreciated!  Image


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