Three and one half years ago, my brother’s daughter, Meg James, was diagnosed with Leukemia. I committed myself to the Pan-Mass Challenge soon after.
Meg passed away July 4th, 2012, one month before my fourth ride.
Needless to say, this ride was bitter sweet.
50 miles of shitty heat and ridiculous hills that I was not expecting.
True story: This is the first ride where I peed without getting off my bike. Why? I have no idea, I’m pretty sure I was losing my mind from heat exhaustion. However, if you have one of those bucket lists, I think you should add “pee from a moving bicycle to it”.
What the hell is Day Zero, you say? Well, the PMC ride doesn’t start until Saturday morning. Day zero started from my house on Friday and I rode to the start at the Sturbridge Host Hotel.
I made it there in one piece but had to hang out in my sweaty bike clothes until my bag arrived on the team bus. The PMC volunteers were setting things up and getting ready for the rest of the arrivals. There are opening ceremonies and meals to be had before everyone departs for their respective hotels to prepare themselves for Day 1.
To pass the time and earn another $2800 in cash for the team’s fundraising, we sold t-shirts and tattooed most everyone that wandered near the food tent. After tattooing almost 100% of the attendees, including a peculiar girl who wanted 40, I ate dinner. There wouldn’t be any boob and ass tattoos until the boat ride home Sunday. But we won’t be discussing those events here.
I ate another dinner. Biking 250 miles is a good excuse to over eat.
The ceremonies wrapped up by 8PM and we were off to the hotel with no staff on site where all the rooms have no keys and are standing open when we arrive. No one was murdered in their sleep.
After four years, you’d think that I’d see the wisdom of “getting plenty of sleep” before riding 192 miles (after riding 50). Of course, I wanted to sleep. The problem wasn’t actually that I was too excited to stay up. Put yourself in my shoes (or socks). It’s 9PM, you have to be up at 3AM to get dressed to ride while throwing your belongings on a truck that you can’t get to unless you ride the first 111 miles so you’d better not put your damn bike shoes in the bag! Instead of worrying too much, I decided to have a beer or two.
I slept for about 3 hours.
Bike shirts do serve a purpose and it’s not just to be super tight and look sexy. They have these giant pockets on the back where it’s comfortable to carry stuff, and I mean all kinds of stuff. You can fit some crazy crap back there and just forget about it. I own 5 bike shirts (or “jerseys” if you must), four PMC shirts and one for the team I ride with (Team Lick Cancer).
Time to get ready:
- Put all your bike crap on. Including the helmet. Why carry it?
- Put your ID and money input a ziploc bag and throw it in the big pocket.
- Put your PHONE in a ziploc bag and throw it in the big pocket.
- Throw some snacks in that big pocket too.
- Maybe your gloves too if you don’t want to look like a complete dork at breakfast.
I’m not advertising for ziploc. The amount of sweat I produce would destroy any phone.
It was 4AM and I was all loaded up and ready to go. I threw my bag on the bus and jumped in.
Twenty minutes on the bus in the dark before dawn. It was a good time to cry. Shit.
I had breakfast in a sea of people wearing the same clothes. The exact same clothes. The PMC gives us a new jersey every year (that we pay for) and it’s expected that we all where them on day one. It’s quite disorienting.
At around 5:00AM, we started. Or maybe it was 5:30. I wasn’t paying close attention.
The biking part is quite boring to describe. Hours and hours and hours of pedaling just about sums it up. We didn’t ride as a team on day one, but I did jump around with different groups of people from the team. You’re never alone because there are too many people. Also, everyone puts a name tag on their bike and the little bag under their seat so you know everyone’s name and where they are from. It’s great fun to ride up behind people and say things like, “How’s the fucking weather in Ithaca this time of year, Rutteger!” But only if their name is Rutteger.
Later in the ride, the woman I was riding next to said “Hello Gigi” to another and the other woman said… “It’s GIG!”. Her name was Gig. Like she had a rock show to perform. It wasn’t a typo. Great fun.
Did I mention It was hot. Very hot. In retrospect, I am certain that I missed passing out by mere inches by continually dousing myself with ice water at the stops. I’d ride in, finish the bottles on my bike, douse myself in ice water, refill the bottles and carry on my merry way. It was so hot, that if I slowed down going up a hill, the reduced wind would actually be a problem. So I didn’t slow down. Luckily, there were also plenty of kind residents spraying riders with their garden hoses. That was pure delight. Bless their souls.
And before you know it, we’re almost there!
I like to pound out the last few miles and this was no exception. I knew the end was near and the faster I covered the distance, well, the sooner I’d be there! I pushed faster and faster until I didn’t have much left. Then a car cut me off at the turn to the finish and I had to slow down. I cursed them for a few minutes, but got over it. Unfortunately, I think I also left some teammates behind without really saying goodbye.
I have another bucket list recommendation for you: Shower Truck. It’s a fascinating machine and was just about the most glorious sight I could imagine on that hot day (other than beer). I tried not to use all of the water, but realized later it was connected to a fire hydrant, so I could have stayed in longer.
After my shower, there were many hours to kill. First, I needed to snag a camping spot down by the water before they all filled up. Then I needed more food and more fluids. Then I would be off to find Meg.
BMW is a PMC sponsor. I think that they think that the people who ride are generally wealthy. They may be correct. A good portion of the riders seem to be doing pretty well. I’m not going to be buying one soon, or likely ever, but I see plenty of people oogling over the cars lined up around the event. BMW also setup this big tent with TVs and air conditioning and a very large mosaic of some bikers next to a car. The car is a a BMW, naturally.
Well, BMW requested riders upload photos so they could create this mosaic and at the time I received the email I was browsing and editing thousands of photos in preparation for Meg’s services. So I uploaded one of her, instead of a picture of “riders” as we were requested to. She loved that cat.
After finding the mosaic I thought I’d be smart and search on the left side THEN the right, just so I wouldn’t get caught scanning all the way across only to find she was on the right.
Turns out she was in the center.
I sat on the floor for a while looking up at her. Eventually, I went out of the tent to get more food and a massage. That’s right, the place is loaded with massage people! (I can’t spell masseuse).
After hanging out for a while, it was time for bed. After all, we had to be up at 3AM again.
Again, sleep didn’t come easy. And the disadvantage to sleeping in a tent by the water is that there is a party boat of sorts that comes out around 11PM playing loud music and put-puts around the bay. It’s way off shore, but the music carries and kept me awake.
I woke up at 2AM and had to pee, so I went and then walked around the campus. When I returned around 3AM, it was time to start packing up, day two was upon us!
Sunday is the second and final day of our 192 mile (+ 50) journey. On this day, we wear our team jerseys. At least now we only look like 70 other people and not 5500.
Despite my minimal sleep, I felt good. My bottles were filled and my coffee was hot. The Sun wouldn’t be up for almost an hour and we headed out over the Bourne bridge (they block a lane for us in the morning). I didn’t bring the coffee with me though.
Sunday, by far, has the best fans. No offense, other towns we passed through on Saturday.
We left as a team and stuck together until the hills broke us up. I regrouped with a handful of people at the first water stop and we spent most of the rest of the day together moving the 20 or so miles between each water stop together.
If you ever want to cry all day while riding a bike, I highly recommend reading the signs you pass on day two of the PMC. Children and adults alike holding signs that say things like:
“I’m 8 years old, thanks to you.”
I didn’t help that kid. But I do realize that we are helping future kids. And that while we’re all having fun biking, the individual riders I can see around me might total somewhere near half a million dollars in funds raised for Cancer research. If you stop by the side of the road, you can count in increments of $4-10 *thousand* dollars for each rider that passes you by.
The team regrouped again at the last water stop and we rode the last 25 miles to the finish. to cross together. Actually, they crossed without me because I was circling about back to pick up some stragglers, but that’s OK, I was having fun.
We did get a nice team photo:
And I also took a nice photo of myself holding my bike up, just to show that only my left arm was tired.
That’s it. We’re done. It’s over.
It was only a few more hours of eating and hanging out in Province Town before we boarded the party boat to head home.
Arriving in Boston, the team buses were there waiting for us.
I can’t thank TJ enough for driving, organizing, bringing pizza and having ALL of the bikes on the truck before we got off the boat.
I got home around 8PM. Max was asleep but I got to see Molly and Julie for a little bit.
I showered one last time and hit the bed hard.
Then, life goes on. Even in the most boring ways.
Until next year. Ride on, baby.