Dear friends, donors, countrymen: I more than survived the Pan Mass Challenge this weekend, and I'm already looking forward to doing it again next year. The experience brought together so many strands. Let's start with the notion of community and common purpose in our incredibly divided country, personified by Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown flanking Lance Armstrong on the starting line:
As I've written before, cancer, for all of its evils and heartaches, creates this sort of community. I'll remember the crowds who lined the roads, ringing cowbells, yelling thank you to me hundreds of times, putting up photos of loved ones who are fighting cancer and photos of remembrance for those who were left behind. Here are a few images caught by my friend Lauren Hefferon, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing the road for the first 10 miles or so on Sunday:
For those of you not following my exploits on Facebook, my day started at 3:45 Saturday morning. Kath and I woke up, although in my case, I really didn't sleep at all because I was so wired. We were in the car and on the road to Sturbridge by 4:15. I drank a bottle of liquid yogurt to load up on carbs and protein in an easily digestible form, and we arrived in the parking lot of the Super 8 in Sturbridge at 5:00. I quickly put on sunscreen, loaded up my bike with four 24-ounce bottles of HEED, filled my pockets with food and spare headsweats. By 5:25, I was on the road, hopping onto the back of the lead pack as they swept past the hotel entrance onto Rt. 20 and the hills of central Mass.
The first 10 miles did feature a few climbs, but honestly, they weren't nearly as tough as they were made out to be, and the way the course worked, we were doing far more descending than ascending. My only concern was hitting speeds in excess of 45 mph on some of the downhills with other riders just a foot off of either wheel. I love going fast down the hills, but I prefer to do it without company. At any rate, by the time we hit the first rest stop, about 22 miles into the ride, I was averaging a stunning 20 mph, about 2 mph faster than my goal for the day. My main fear was that I'd burn all of my candles going out too fast and have nothing for the last stretch. I settled down into a nice rhythm for the next 45 miles or so, riding in pacelines with 15 or 20 other riders so that we could draft off of each other and take turns pulling up front. Even riding what I thought was a more conservative pace, I was still topping 19 mph when we pulled into the rest area at Dighton-Rehoboth H.S. at about mile 75.
The last 35 miles were ridden mostly on adrenaline, fueled by the free Del's Lemonade handed out at the Dighton-Rehoboth rest stop, and a determination to just be done with the ride. I got in with a great group of riders, and we pulled each other nearly to the end. A few got dropped as we hit brutal headwinds the last 5 miles into Bourne, where a steady southwest wind of over 20 knots hit us. By 1:15, I was happily greeting Kathleen and Lucy, who were waiting at the finish line. Final time 5:40:37 over 108.5 miles for an average speed of 19 mph.
I could get used to courses that start at 1,000 feet and finish at sea level. A quick, ill-advised hamburger and sip of beer, and I was on my way to my inlaws in Falmouth for a wonderful dinner with friends and a much better night's sleep than Friday night.
It rained cats and dogs Saturday night, and I felt badly for my fellow riders sleeping in tents at Mass Maritime. I heard that the sound of wind howling over the campus kept most of the folks up all night,except perhaps those who had overindulged in the free Harpoon Beer. Being the Boy Scout that I am, I was prepared for the change in weather and switched to my rain bike, which is slightly heavier, but not nearly as valuable, for Sunday's ride, so I didn't worry about trashing the drive train. I attached a lightweight fender to the seatpost to keep water off of my butt for the ride, put neoprene "booties" over my cycling shoes, a gortex cover on my helmet, and a neon yellow cycling jacket, and I was ready to go.
I met the riders coming off the MMA campus at the Bourne rotary, and we followed a course up the Cape Cod Canal before cutting east, up the Cape Cod Bay side of the Cape, from Sandwich to Barnstable, Dennis, Yarmouth, Brewster and so forth. Miraculously, the rain cut out almost immediately after we hit the canal, and I rolled up my jacket and helmet cover and stuffed them into my shirt pockets. The roads were slick, and I was happy for the fender on my back wheel and not to be obsessing about ruining my good bike. Unfortunately, there were a lot of crashes on the road, mostly behind me among the less experienced riders. Here's a laconic medical report from PMC Founder Billy Starr in an email today:
Medical Report: Weekend hospital visits: 21
Saturday: 9 riders plus 2 volunteers - all released on Saturday
. 7 bike collisions
. 1 heart evaluation
. 1 dehydration
Sunday 10 riders
. 1 transfer to Boston for hip fracture
. 7 bike falls - all released
. 2 concussions - both released
I was very happy to see Kathleen and Lucy (our dog) waiting for me with friends Geraldine and Christophe from France at mile 32 in Brewster. It's great to see friends waiting for you at the finish, but seeing them along the route is even better.
Our French friends were very moved by the experience, and Christophe is making noises about coming back from France next year to ride with me. Allez!
Their son (and Kathleen's godson), Auguste, got to be part of a fabulous group of spectators at Cape Cod Sea Camps who form a cheering section known to the riders as "The Hedge," about 250 kids screaming and holding placards along a hedgerow on the side of Rt. 6A in Brewster. Wonderful stuff.
So we had a powerful tailwind when we turned the corner at the elbow of the Cape around Nickerson State Park and flew up to Provincetown with nary a sidelong glance at the ocean views in Wellfleet. Once again, the headwinds came up with a vengeance for the last five miles and we limped into Provincetown a bit the worse for wear. Final stats for day two: 73.63 miles in 3:59:31 for an average speed of 18.4 mph--not too shabby for a second long-distance day in the weather conditions we encountered. By 10:15, I was done and eating some Legal Seafoods chowder while I waited for poor Kathleen to find some parking anywhere in Provincetown. Luckily, she was driving my car, which as many of you know, is blessed with "Parking Karma," and she found a metered spot right in the middle of town.
Lance Armstrong wrote about his cancer experience that "It's Not About The Bike," and that is mostly true. My big memories of this weekend will be the incredible support, the moving images of people touched by this disease like the father who rode all 192 miles on a tandem with an empty backseat in memory of his son, and the sense of community and camaraderie that these events create. We could use a lot more of that in our world today.
But for me personally, it IS about the bike too. Two and half years ago, I was in an isolation ward on the 14th floor of the Ellison Building at Mass General riding an in-room exercise bike and winded by the slightest exertion. To be able to meet the challenge of the Pan Mass, and if I do say so myself, KICK ITS BUTT, is a testimony to what all this research is for--so that cancer doesn't have to be a terminal diagnosis, but a challenge to face and overcome so that we can turn our attention back to the challenges of living rather than the challenges of dying.
Thank you one and all for your generosity of spirit and of purse. Your support was felt every mile and every turn of the pedals. Together we raised over $5,000 for cancer research. You each were part of the victory of finishing in Provincetown.