“Since its founding in 1980, the PMC has successfully melded support from committed cyclists, volunteers, corporate sponsors and individual contributors. All are essential to the PMC’s goal and model: to attain maximum fundraising efficiency while increasing its annual gift. Our hope and aspiration is to provide Dana-Farber’s doctors and researchers with the necessary resources to discover cures for all cancers”
That’s what it says on their website.
We are here to raise money and then ride bikes. Not the other way around. In fact, we make a commitment to PMC to raise a minimum of $4,300 each! (They’ll take the difference if we don’t make it!) Serious charity and serious riding.
As such, when my wife registered to ride PMC 2014 with me, we were both a bit nervous about reaching the financial commitment. After a bit of discussion, we both registered. Her first and my 6th PMC. What had we done.
Before I go on, I’m happy to tell you that we did make it and we owe it all to you. And you. You. And that other guy over there.
Thank you so much for your support. You’ve done good1 and ensured our ticket to ride.
And now, on with our story…
Monday morning, after completing the PMC, I carefully removed a single strand of spider silk from the front tire of my “fat bike” and pulled it out of our temporary shed2. After apologizing to the spider, I rode it into work along the shorter of my two favorite commuting routes. Five days later, on Saturday morning, my wife rode almost 50 miles, for fun, with many of our team members. I restated my regret to that spider each morning for the rest of the week, after he or she had rebuilt the previous night. Perhaps I should park the bike in another spot.
The point is, training for PMC is a year-round endeavor. That is, if you want to enjoy it. Many people ride with very little preparation, but they will and do have a miserable time, sustain an injury, fail to finish, or all of the above. A training schedule is provided by PMC to help new riders prepare and, as you can see, it’s a bit nuts. They suggest 3-4 “medium” rides during the week in addition to “long” rides every weekend for the 12 weeks leading up to PMC. Most first year riders, myself included, try very hard to stick with this schedule. Then, realizing that 20 hours a week of riding requires some additional hours of recovery which builds into disgruntled spouses and missed appointments, we cut back a bit and gauge our own fitness levels against previous years.
Personally, the majority of my training came in the form of getting back and forth to work. I had to get there anyway and since driving is like being trapped in a rolling metal tomb surrounded by anonymous, narcissistic strangers that would sooner see you spun into a ditch than pay head to your right of way… riding seemed like a nice alternative. I keep to the trails to avoid those same vehicles.
Most days the ride is about 40 minutes each way, but always challenging. This, plus a handful of extended commutes and some long weekend rides thrown in turned out to be enough. I was happy with my strength and endurance during PMC and came away no worse for the wear. In fact, pay close attention to the number of times I mention my knee in this post. This is it. This is the only time. It wasn’t a problem at all. I think because I kept up on my stretching for the duration of the weekend. Whatever it was, things worked and I was as happy as I could be.
As for the “off-road” part of my commute, a picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth some number higher than that. I suppose maybe 24 x 1000 x the numbers of seconds in the video… a bit over 5 million words. Since I’m not going to write that many here, you’ll just have to imagine them while you watch. I strapped on a (borrowed) go-pro camera and made this video, just for you.
Looking back on the year, I’ve had some adventures, to say the least. In 2014, so far, I’ve ridden 2,539 miles in 216 hours (mostly off road), crashed at least a dozen times, bent my iPhone with my hip, and broke one bike frame with my head (though, it was likely about to break before it hit me in the head).
Then, about 6 days before PMC, while on my last long ride, a bee stung may face at 20MPH.
Thankfully, the bee venom worked its way through my brain and out again before Day Zero. I could have done just fine without the incredible headaches that came with it, however.
Enough about me, this was Julie’s first PMC. As such, she exhibited some of the typical “first year jitters” I mentioned earlier. “Should I follow the training schedule exactly?”, “More?”, “Less?”, “I need a new bike!”
Actually, she did need a new bike. At registration time she owned only a mountain bike and, despite my example to the contrary, did not want to ride it 2503 miles. So now we had another task that needed completing before PMC time. Julie did a fantastic job scouring Craig’s List and pulled through with an awesome bike at a fantastic price.
As for her physical readiness, she loves biking and rides when she can, but she knew it was going to take more. With two kids, we had a bit of a time issue on our hands. Riding together was almost completely out of the question. Julie went for long rides most weekend mornings by herself or with the team. Only once did we get to ride together before the PMC. We rode 75 miles over Mt. Wachussett and she had me worried that I was the one who hadn’t been training enough. Later I realized why she had an advantage riding up hill: our 80 pound weight difference. So I filled the hollow tubes of her bike with molten lead to even things out a bit.
I shouldn’t have been so hard on Betty4 last year. Despite her narrow minded confusion, she served a purpose and served it well. Getting to Sturbridge from Maynard by bike includes about 47 million turns. Unlike a car, it’s not convenient to follow visual navigation queues from a device. Betty’s sweet voice was the perfect solution. I am not sure why I thought I could make it without her this year, and I came to regret it.
Julie and I got about half way through our 65 mile jaunt to the start and took a break to have a snack. There were so many ways to get lost between here and there. After finding at least 7 of those ways, I decided to give Betty another shot. A nearby gas station has some $10 headphones and just like that, Betty and I were reacquainted again. There was no doubt that she had matured in the last year. My heart leapt a little when she began whispering those sweet directions in my ear. However, she still refuses to tell me how much farther we have to go, answer any of my questions, or look me in the eyes when I told her how much I love her.
Julie: “What’s she saying now”
Me: “To go left.”
Julie: “Then what?”
Me: “Betty, what’s next?”
Me: “She won’t answer my questions.”
Julie: “How much farther?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Julie: “What’s Betty saying?”
Me: “She only tells me when to turn.”
Me: “Turn right.”
WHOA, I almost left out the best part. Betty thinks bike paths are fair game, as they should be. But sometimes her handlers don’t give her all of the information she needs to make an informed decision.
Betty: “In 600 feet, turn left.”
Me: “Betty, WTF, there is no road there.”
Betty: “In 200 feet, turn left.”
Better: “Turn left.”
It was a bike trail! Better still, it was a packed gravel, wooded, quiet and long bike trail. Julie’s road bike may not have been precisely the right tool, but she made it just fine.
Thanks so much, Betty. That really made our day.
We arrived in Sturbridge not long after and enjoyed the festivities, ate, then headed back to our hotel to prepare for the weekend ahead.
Before we tucked in for the night, I showed the rookie the ropes. The next morning, there is a critical turning point where our bags go on a truck not to be seen again until we’ve followed it 112 miles to Bourne. The best approach is to pack the bag the night before. Layout your riding clothes, shoes, under carriage lube, and water bottles. Everything else goes in the bag. In the morning, you simply get dressed and go. This includes the helmet. There is no point in carrying around something that already fits nicely over your dome.
A little preparation goes a long way in preventing something small but catastrophic. Like throwing your bag on the truck with your bike shoes in it. Which I’m sure has happened. Not to me.
One last thing before bed. Julie had the fine idea of using pips cleaners5 to add some decoration to her helmet. I followed suit, but made one larger and more robust, of course.
Goodness. Getting up at 3:30AM doesn’t really feel like actual sleep ever occurred. I let Betty sleep in. We weren’t going to need her today and she had earned a break after her splendid display of navigation half a day prior. Julie and I slid into our sexy riding gear and headed out in the dark to wait for the bus along side our hotel, and team, mates.
At breakfast (4:30AM), the room was littered with people chattering about the weather. Would it rain? What are the chances? 10%? 20%? 80%? Does it matter? What kind of damage could a little bit of water do?
By the second water stop, many people had been hauled away and treated for hypothermia. Apparently cold rain can do quite a bit of damage. Some accidents happened. They always do, but none for us. We rode on.
Julie and I only had two days to practice riding together and on neither of them were we surrounded by 5498 other cyclists. As I wove my way around some of the slower riders, Julie would get caught in a group. After finding a clearing in the masses, I would slow up my pace and wait for her to find her way through. We got better at it and the crowd thinned out as the day went on. It’s not a race. We didn’t have anywhere in particular to be. Why not enjoy the ride? Still, there is something to speeding as fast as you can around roads free from vehicular traffic and it’s hard to beat down the competitive urge to catch the person in front of you.
It rained, as we discussed. Sometimes hard. To avoid becoming one of the hypothermic, I began to jog around the water stops while waiting for teammates to arrive, have a snack, and depart again. You might think it would be colder in the wind on the road, but this was not the case. The heat we generated from powering through the miles more than compensated for the difference. I thought this experience provided as nice example as to why people get wrapped up in those thermo blankets after finishing a marathon.
Six hours of riding later, we pulled into Mass Maritime academy. Julie was teetering on the edge of freezing, so we needed to do something about that. Unfortunately, I didn’t know there were hot, indoor, showers just inside the building near the finish (they haven’t been open before). Instead, we trudged through the cold rain a quarter mile to the campsite and tried to get setup. Again, bad decision. Setting up a large tent in the rain is a terrible chore that usually results in a tent full of water.
Julie was shivering quite a bit more, so we abandoned that effort and found her a hot shower in the dorm and a place to change. Then a beer.
I was a bit upset about the continued rain preventing the setup of our accommodations. What should have been an afternoon of eating and drinking and general merriment turned into a continuous search for another place to reside. Many other people had the same idea, to abandon their tent plans and the dormitories filled up fast. They packed four people to a room that normally hold only two. This was going to be terrible.
Defeated, I gave up on the tent setup for the time being and decided to sit and eat and drink and fuel up for the next day. I was still in my bike clothes and needed to shower and change. Thinking back now, I don’t think I ever did shower. The rain rinsed me pretty well.
Finally, at around 4:45PM, there was a break in the rain. After checking the weather radar map, I realized that the break should last at least 20 minutes or so. Plenty of time to get the tent setup! Sometimes, it’s these little things that make all the difference in the world. Our tent home was so welcoming and comfortable and dry and I was happy. What was turning out to be a miserable afternoon had quickly turned around.
As it happened, the rain did not come back with any significant force.
Near bed time, we packed our back again as we did the night before, set the alarm for 3:30AM, and tucked in for the night. Julie (and our two tent mates) went out like normal people, but I couldn’t sleep. After wandering around the campus for a while and listening to a book for a while, I finally settled in around midnight for a gloriously refreshing 3.5 hours of sleep.
The MMA campus is big. Our bikes are parked near the entrance, but the activities and accommodations about a quarter mile south, closer to the ocean. Every single year, I think that there are places to fill your water bottles near where the bikes are parked. Maybe this is because some years there has been. This year there was not.
After breakfast we put our bags on the truck and headed out front to fill up our bottles and grab the bikes.
No water. It was almost time to depart. Frustrating.
Looking back, we probably didn’t need it anyway. It was cool and we had just had breakfast. The first water stop was only 26 (or so) miles in. I don’t recall drinking from mine before the first water stop.
We split up. I went to get the bikes and Julie went to get water. This was a bad idea. I couldn’t find her bike in the dark with the lights shining in my eyes. I thought she had said “green 3” when in fact she had said “purple 3”. They don’t sound the same, I know. Eventually I found her bike, then I couldn’t find her.
The team left without us, but only moments before. It didn’t matter. We had the whole day to catch them. In the end, it only took about 20 minutes. They always stop at the end of the canal to take a picture with some old man and no one understands why.
The weather Sunday was nice. Overcast with a few showers here and there but nothing sustained. I don’t wish for sunny skies on these weekends. Five to seven hours of pedaling in the sun is not good. Not good at all. This was almost ideal. My only concern was the potential for winds chopping the seas and making our boat ride home nauseating.
Some time after the last water stop, but before the finish, what I believe was the worst crash of the day occurred very nearly in front of me. A man swerved erratically, possibly after hitting the rider in front of him, and ended up on his back in the road in front of a motor home. Thankfully, the motor home stopped in time. A member of our team, who happens to be an EMT, was right there stabilizing him and ordering onlookers to call 911. We found out later that he escaped with a concussion and probably some scrapes.
Sadly, this alumni rider returned this year because he is currently undergoing chemotherapy for what his doctors consider and incurable brain tumor. We wish him the best.
While Ben, the man with the brain tumor, was on the ground waiting for an ambulance, we had to move on. He was being taken care of and about 4,000 riders were stacking up behind us so it was time to go. We pressed on slowly at first then, after some miles, back to normal pace. We really had no idea, at the time, how bad off he was, but he wasn’t moving, that was clear enough. It’s impossible to shake that off without any residual feelings.
The finish comes up fast and it’s all over. There is a mad rush to get your bags and shower in, what amounts to, a tent stolen from the set of M.A.S.H. with dozens of other naked men.6 At least they are all athletic.
Then it’s another mad rush to get the bags packed correctly again. This time, for “civilian” wear. Street clothes. From the time we crossed the finish line to the time we had showered and loaded the bikes and bags on the truck, only about 30 minutes had passed. We were on foot again, like normal people. Several hours lay ahead of us before the “party boat” would leave Provincetown with us on board. In the mean time, we ate, drank, then strolled through town making our way closer to the pier.
Many people, much smarter than us, had booked accommodations in Provincetown and were beginning a long vacation on the spot. “Duh.”, I hear your saying. “Of course. That’s just obvious.” Thank you. Yes. Next year, perhaps.
But no, not this year. Instead, I had just ridden over 250 miles, slept as many hours as I had consumed beers and in less than 18 hours I would be on my bike again pedaling into the office. Reality was crashing back down on me at full speed. But I have experienced it before and was ready for the post-PMC depression to set it.
The ride was awesome. Our team was awesome. All of the riders and volunteers are awesome.
And you, our supporters, are awesome. You bought our ticket to this awesome adventure and did good for the fight against cancer at the same time. For that, I thank you very much.
Until next year, enjoy the ride.
p.s. – I did find a few pictures of me actually riding. Don’t yell at me for not knowing where Julie is. I’m sure she was somewhere having fun.
- In the benevolent sense, not the ungrammatical where well should have been used instead. [↩]
- Parkinson’s Law of Triviality had to use the details of a bike shed as an example of something too trivial to warrant concern. At least when compared to planning a nuclear reactor. Nevertheless, we are building a bike shed and will let no detail go unscrutinized. As such, it has been many months since the previous shed was torn down and will be many more before the new one is complete. Our temporary shed is a tent. A giant spider is making quite the living in it. [↩]
- I may interchange 192 and 250 here and there. 192 is the official mileage, but we added 65 when we rode to the start the day before. [↩]
- Betty is the lady that gives you turn by turn directions in google maps. Yes, that IS her official name, don’t try to look it up. [↩]
- I had never cleaned a pipe with these tiny colorful wire thingies, have you? [↩]
- Women in the women tent, obviously. Though co-ed wouldn’t be such a bad idea. [↩]