When I drive to new places, I usually scrutinize a map and memorize most of the details. If I need help, I’ll load Maps on my iPhone. Car directions are usually pretty simple. According to Google maps, there are exactly 10 turns between my house and the Sturbridge Host Hotel (where the PMC starts) by car. That includes the roads out of my town. So there are really only 6. I can handle 6 turns!
However, the bike directions Google suggests have 64 turns. Sixty four! I can figure out which way I’m going if I know what time it is and where the sun is, but I can’t memorize 64 turns. And roads bend so knowing N-E-S-W doesn’t help me a lot their either. I need directions!
I hear what you’re saying, “Why do you need direction with so many people around, RANDY?!”. First, just calm down over there, captain. Second, I’m talking about the “Day Zero” ride. The biking portion of the PMC starts Saturday in Sturbridge Massachusetts. But I don’t live in Sturbridge. I need to get there. So I ride my bike on Friday. It’s about 55 miles from my house. 53.4 according to Strava.
Last year I tried to simply head in the direction of Sturbridge and figure the rest out as I went. We all know how that turned out.
Since this is my 5th PMC anniversary, and the 5th anniversary gift is “technology” (don’t look it up), I decided to let technology guide me this year! Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Google Maps or Apple Maps?!?! What were your criteria in choosing one over the other!?!?” Settle down over there, big fella. I picked Google Maps on my iPhone for no other reason than I knew it could do turn by turn voice navigation. Not my voice. The computer lady voice. Keep up.
For the impatient out there, my knee is OK. But I do encounter some interesting mishaps along the way. So let’s get into it!
I’d love to let you believe that I ride day zero because I am super strong and determined. The truth is that if I didn’t ride, I’d probably forget to bring my bike. Or some important piece of it, anyway. As it happens, an important piece did decide it would depart with the rest of my bike about 65 miles in day one.
I packed my bag Thursday evening with all the important doo-dads: Tent, sleeping bag, batteries, and Vaseline. All of the really important stuff would come with me on Friday: bike, bike shorts, bike shoes, wallet, phone, gummy bears, and ibuprofen.
Since my knee hurt, I wrapped it up pretty well, then decided to do some wheelies uphill for the camera to counter those efforts before setting off.
What you can’t see is that I have my iPhone and gummy bears in my shirt pocket. With earphones in, of course. I wouldn’t want to be distracted by any strange noises, like cars or moose or lightning strikes.
Betty (that’s who I’m called the google maps voice lady) wanted me to go North. I decided to throw her a curve ball and take a shortcut through the woods. She was a little mad, and got back at me later. In hindsight, I should probably have listened to her. It had rained all night and left quite a few large puddles on the trails. I came out on the other side with soaking wet shoes and feet. Only 50 miles to go though.
Alright Betty, where to next?
+00:00 – Turn right onto Main Street
+00:01 – Make a U-Turn
+00:02 – Continue on Main Street
+00:03 – Turn left onto Main Street
+00:04 – Make a U-Turn
I’m a smart guy. I knew Betty was just having a little trouble with her satellites and laser beam connections. If I pressed on, we’d shake the cobwebs loose together.
+05:31 – Make a U-Turn
+05:31.001 – Make a U-Turn
+05:31.001001 – Make a U-Turn
+05:31.001001001 – Make a U-Turn
+05:31.001001001001 – Make a U-Turn
+05:32 – In 400 Feet…
… “Yes, Betty? What?!?!”
+09:57 – Make a U-Turn
I apologized to Betty for trekking through the woods. We kissed, made up and she relented. We carried on our merry way together, as a team. She eventually got me there and didn’t even kill my battery. We had a picnic together in the park. We ate gummy bears and did hand stands together (she’s upside down in my shirt pocket. It counts).
As you can see, I had three bottles of fancy blue water, not taken from a toilet bowl, thank you very much. I was down to about one and a half bottles, so I must be half way there! Right? Who knows. Ask Betty.
After our snack, Betty and I set off again.
Betty only failed me once that I can see and it really wasn’t so bad. We got back on track pretty fast, her and I. I see big things for us in the future.
(Do you know what’s in North Oxford? Neither do I.)
I tried to schedule my ride so I would arrive around the time that the bus arrived with my bag. That didn’t quite work out, but my super intellect prepared me for the situation as well. Instead of wearing those clunky road-bike shoes, which are essentially ice skates that have been repeatedly smashed with a rock, I wore my mountain bike shoes that have recessed cleats. They provide a stable and sure footing to even the clumsiest of riders, off the bike. I could hold my head up high and walk with confidence in super tight, ball exposing, shorts that wouldn’t be socially acceptable on most U.S. beaches.
Hey. Let’s not forget. We are here to ride bikes, drink beer, and make some money. The fundraising never stops. We even solicit funds from out fellow riders. Seems weird, I know. But sometimes they bring family and friends with them. Those people have money too. Our team of professional tattoo artists is ready and willing to plaster them with our logo.
The rest of Friday contained lots of food, sun, beer, chatter, and a late night ice cream run. The bus was to leave the hotel at 4:00AM Saturday morning. Which brings us to…
We all made it on the buses on time. I was back in my biking gear. However, there were no gummy bears in my shirt pockets because we would have support today. Water stops with food and a “lunch” stop with most of the same food as the water stops but also chairs.
The ride begins at 5:30AM, after Billy Starr makes a little speech and someone sings the national anthem. I forget who (or maybe whom). What’s really bananas is that we all wear the same shirt. Throw a helmet and sunglasses on everyone and take away their height by putting them on a bike and well, you get something like this.
That’s me. Right there. There! THERE! In the middle. That’s right.
Did I forget to mention my knee?
Things were great in that camp. I wrapped it well, stretched it well, downed many ibuprofen well (it takes practice). I felt good. We rode like we always do. I rode like I have for the last five years. Our small group stopped around mile 25 at the first water stop to fill up quickly and continued on. At stop number two, we stayed for a while longer to hang out with families that came to visit. Things were going great. The weather was perfect. Dry air, overcast skies. What more could we ask for?
A few miles before lunch and about 65 miles into Day One, I encountered a small mechanical issue when my rear shifter decided to eject all of it’s parts onto the road. It was my fault, really. A few seconds before the incident, I lost the ability to downshift. Instead of pulling over and examining the issue at hand, I decided that clicking away like crazy might change things. It did. Things were different now. I had no more rear shifter.
Let me remind you, there are probably 25 people very close behind me going in excess of 18 MPH. I didn’t stop. There was no way I’d find those tiny pieces anyway. Most of them probably bounced into the woods. But we were close to lunch and Landry’s bike shop would be there! I could get them to fix it!
I mean no ill will toward Landry’s. They are great and they deserve a tremendous amount of praise for the support they provide to the PMC. But, they didn’t bring any mountain bike shifters with them. No worries. It’s only lunch! The shop setup at Bourne will have some. It’s only 45 miles from here!
I borrowed a screw driver and adjusted things a bit so I’d have 3 decent gears using my front derailleur. One for hills, one for flats, and one for downhill.
Off we went!
I spent a little more time staring at my gears in those 45 miles and noticed another small problem. My chain was drooping into my spokes whenever I stopped pedaling. No problem, I just wouldn’t stop pedaling! Maybe Betty was still angry with me.
A couple of stops later and we were there. The mechanical issues let my mind focus on something other than why we were all there riding and I was grateful for that. The Day One ride was done and I needed to get through my checklist:
- Park bike
- Pickup bag
- Get a beer
- Setup tent
- Sign up for a massage
- Get another beer
- Eat a pizza
- Get another beer
- Fix my bike!
It was raining a little bit and very windy, so I decided to setup my tent under a tree, just in case the rain became heavier. The tree would keep the ground from flooding, hopefully. I found a perfect spot next to these clowns, who had clearly never been camping before.
Next on the agenda, fixing my bike. Landry’s had a fixit tent in Bourne that was much better equipped. Unfortunately, they too did not have a shifter for me. They did, however, know how to fix my droopy chain. The problem was dirt. My bike was super dirty and the freewheel wasn’t an exception. A nice gentleman cleaned it right up and refused to accept my tip money for all of his hard work. Makes me want to shop at Landry’s. Smart people.
I had a decision to make. Three speeds and 81 miles to go.
Why couldn’t I ride with three gears? I just did it for 45 miles. It wasn’t so bad. And I had a super clean freewheel now, so that’s good, right?
It was decided then. There was nothing else to be done about the bike. I put it to bed for the night and headed back to our little village for more food. We were hitting the road at 5:00AM the next day and it’s very important to eat brownies before such a long ride. Or any ride. Or for any reason. Or for no reason at all. Brownies. With M&Ms in them.
Eventually it was late enough that getting 8 hours of sleep before 3:30AM was impossible. Worrying about sleeping turns into worrying about waking and more thoughts of why we are here. I shut that all off until the next day and tucked in to my little tent and sleeping bag. I think I managed to sleep for about 4 hours before my alarm woke me up.
It was still dark but there were things to do. First, coffee.
You may know that Cape Cod is technically and island. But only as of 1914.
Because of this, we start the morning by climbing over the Bourne bridge.
I hate this part. The bridge is narrow and tall with a very high curb. It’s windy and the backside ends in a fairly sharp turn at the end of long downhill that hundreds of riders all packed together are trying to get around. There was a crash in front of me going up the start of the bridge. They were fine, but they took up space in the road and things got a bit dicey for a few minutes. Luckily, no such events occurred on the downhill side.
Day two, for me, is the start of the post-PMC depression. We have worked hard for this weekend all year long in both fitness and fundraising. When day two begins, we are already more than half way through it. The end is only 81 miles away, I’ve done the route before and it’s becoming routine. Day two is better spent riding together, with your teammates and with all other members of the PMC. After all, It’s not a race.
If it were a race, I’d most certainly lose. Or at least, not win. My guess is I’d rank somewhere in the middle of the pack, in terms of speed. But I take pride in the fact that all of these people are great in many other ways that can’t be measured. Probably more so than myself. But they still let me join in with them anyway.
We rode on.
A woman riding up the first major hill was struggling to make it to the top. I didn’t know her, but we put our name tags on the back of our respective bikes, so I could see this was her first year. She didn’t know what was coming next. There were more hills. I wanted to see her make it.
Looking back, I feel terrible for not doing more. I could have slowed an blocked the wind for her for a while. Maybe she wouldn’t want me to. Maybe she would.
Instead of passing her as fast as I could, which can be horribly discouraging – I’ve been on the other end and I know – I slowed to give her a few words. “You’re almost to the top, but there are more. The elevation goes down, but their are several long rolling hills. Put some power into it and you’ll get through them with less struggle.”
She said, “OK, I’m trusting you!”
Jeebus. Why would anyone trust me?
Then I took off. Partially because I was elated to enter these rolling hills. They are a tremendous amount of fun if you know what you’re getting yourself into. If you carry your speed down the hill (40MPH+) you can carry most of it up and over the next hill. If you don’t hit the downhills fast, you’ll lose your momentum fast and spend more time climbing.
(See the big climb, then lots of bumps and super high average speeds? Yes.)
There is more I could have done to get her through that and I feel terrible for that.
She trusted me.
I hope the rest of her day went well.
I’m happy to report that the rest of my day went well. No major knee problems. My three gears served me well enough to get through it unscathed. I never saw the woman from the hill again, but I assume she made it OK. Our team pushed on to the finish together and crossed two-by-two just like every year. And I tried to help pull people through the windy section as best as I could.
At the finish, we loaded our bikes onto a truck that would drive back to Boston and drop them off where our boat will dock later that day. Our bags were there as well. We need to pick them up and put them on another truck which follows the bikes.
After showering with about 100 other naked men in dangerously close proximity, I hit the food tent with the team. We spent some time eating brownies before crossing town to the catch the boat. On the way to the boat, we stopped at a bar for mojitos. I don’t really know why. But we always do, so we always do. Tradition.
The boat ride was a good party on flat seas. The band was loud and a teammate happened to bring ear plugs. Those were quite helpful. Thank you, George.
Our support team was awesome as always. They loaded all the bikes onto our truck, had pizza and drinks waiting for us, and drove all of use back to Acton. So awesome.
Around 8:00PM Sunday night the weekend was really over. The PMC was over. I won’t see many of my riding teammates for another year. I won’t have a bike ride without stop signs for another year. I wont get to eat brownies with M&Ms for another year.
Training for PMC 2014 begins tomorrow.
But first I need to fix my bike.