To all of our donors, supporters, family and friends, this is for you.
This was my 7th consecutive year riding in the Pan Mass Challenge and Julie’s 2nd. I’m glad she has joined me and I hope we can both continue to ride for as long as we are able.
Because my recounting of the event may become repetitive, I’d like to wrap it with a bit of a life update. Not unlike a holiday letter.
Here it is.
A very very short summary for those that are time constrained.
- Julie and I thank you loads and loads for your support.
- I enjoyed riding the bike I built this summer.
- We rode 3 days and about 260 miles in amazing weather.
- Immediately following the PMC, we spent another week riding bikes to/from the beach.
- I will continue riding to work all year round.
- A contest winner will be picked September 1st!
This year was perfect. It didn’t rain, and a bee didn’t sting my face1.
Total to date: $57,267.75
That’s a pretty decent blow, if you ask me. We’ll keep riding.
My employment at KAYAK has brought me plenty of joy and continues to provide the perfect (for me) bike commuting experience. There are at least three distinct routes that I may take on any given day depending on how hard I’d like to work or how late I am, winter, spring, summer and fall. As the PMC approaches, I will choose the longer and harder routes more often and push to beat my times from the previous days.
In 2014 I tracked 320 hours of biking. Some were easy, of course, and it’s nothing like the accomplishments of the “Iron Cowboy”, but it’s a crap load of biking. The only way I could fit that in without sacrificing family time is to replace something I already had to do, like commuting.
Max, my son, who is now 7, enjoys riding anywhere he can. We bike to soccer practice, baseball, basketball, and everywhere else possible. Soccer and baseball were on the same morning this year and quite far apart. We had to run out of soccer, jump on the bikes, and ride fast to the next town to make baseball2.
Molly will be 4 in October and is not far behind. She was pedaling her own bike just after her 3rd birthday. It’s possible that I’ve given Molly less incremental instruction because, well, she’s the second child. She gets dragged up to the level Max is. She is still younger than Max was when he first pedaled and she is improving rapidly. But I’d like to spend more time with her building her confidence and skill.
More than anything else, I commute. Like the rest of you schlubs, I work five days a week. Instead of spending 20 minutes in the car, I spend 45-60 minutes on my bike. Every day. Each way. All year. And I love it. Sun, rain, snow, lightning, and all.
In addition to training muscles, I figured I’d also try shifting my sleep schedule this year. Wake up time is about 3:30AM Saturday and Sunday. So, a week or so before the ride, I started setting my alarm3. Each day, I shifted it 15 minutes earlier until I was waking up at about 5:00AM by Thursday. This was close enough, I didn’t want to actually get up at 3:30AM and get ready for work. Did it work? Maybe. I’m not sure. I think so. I couldn’t really tell, but I’ll try it again next year anyway.
I’ve started writing this to you from my in-laws house on Martha’s Vineyard, following the PMC4.
Last year I woke up the morning after the PMC and rode right to work, leaving Julie at home with the kids to recover from an awesome, but rainy, PMC weekend. Well, neither of us liked that abrupt transition back to reality. So this year, and forever after, we’ve decided that vacation begins immediately after the PMC.
This is relevant both in regards to the “holiday letter” aspect of my update, and the fact that we ride bikes through the entire vacation. Martha’s Vineyard is covered in bike paths that are terrific compared to the nothing that’s available most everywhere else, but mediocre compared to the infrastructure available, say, in the Netherlands. I’ll take what I can get.
The ferry to Martha’s Vineyard can be difficult by car. During the busy summer hours, most boats are already sold out. But they will let bicycles onto any boat.
The trails make the island very accessible by bike and we like the added adventure. The only issue is getting all of the luggage from the parked car to the boat and to the house. Next year, I may need to acquire a larger trailer to accommodate the increasing load. We brought my niece, Carly, and her cousin (from the other side) with us. That added two extra bags and two extra bikes. It’s all in there though. Including a large tent, sleeping pads/bags, skateboard, Molly’s bike, lacrosse sticks, baseball gloves, cameras, laptop, and many other vacation accessories.
One major problem with this idea: I had to do bike checkups/tune ups on all of them before the PMC, in addition to the PMC bikes! With work during the week, a Friday departure, packing to do, and kids to wrangle, it was tough to squeeze in. But, it all worked out.
Here it is, vacation, in a nutshell.
Our house has no garage. The basement is full of Julie’s woodworking things and the ceiling is too low for me anyway. So, last summer, we set out to build a new shed (to replace the old one) that could serve as storage for our bikes and yard things as well as a little bike shop so I could keep up with fixing the many bikes we have accumulated.
As of now, our inventory looks like this:
- Julie’s mountain bike – mostly for towing the kids and/or riding around town.
- Julie’s road bike – mostly for the PMC and long distances.
- Randy’s commuter bike – just a Trek mountain bike with lights and such.
- Randy’s “fat tire” bike (a Pugsley!) – because… I like it and it’s awesome.
- Randy’s old road bike that’s too small and doesn’t get used (I need to fix and sell it).
- Randy’s “pump track” bike re-built from old parts.
- Randy’s BRAND NEW SHINY ROAD BIKE!
- Max’s red bike – he only has the one.
- Molly’s pink bike – Used to be Max’s blue bike.
- Molly’s red bike – $20 on craigslist.org. We’ll be getting rid of it soon.
- Molly’s balance bike – which is now actually under the butt of another young friend5.
- The kid’s trail-a-bike.
- Chariot “cougar 2” trailer – for towing the kids
- An old Burley trailer for towing luggage or groceries or whatever.
In the winter, #3 and #4 get studded tires. I like having two working bikes for all seasons just in case something breaks. Bikes are not built like cars. They break far more often because parts are more exposed to the elements and built to reduce weight and such. I can fix it, but I don’t always want to that day and I still need to get to work the next day. So I try to keep two ready at all times.
Bike #7 is the new edition to the stable that was only possible because of the new shed space. In most of the past PMCs I have ridden the Trek mountain bike. With smooth tires it does just fine. But I thought it was about time I had a bike that was setup more specifically for road riding. That translates to: no front shock, different riding position, dropped handlebars, higher gearing, and skinnier tires (though, not much skinnier).
I ordered a Surly Disc Trucker frameset (frame and fork) and all the parts individually. The fork arrives uncut, the spokes need to be woven onto the hubs and rims, and handlebar tape only works once, which is kind of silly. For those that are interested, here is the complete parts list. I wouldn’t recommend copying it. The wheels are overkill and very heavy. I wanted strong wheels that could support my weight, handle dirt, and carry luggage outside of the PMC. I’m not super fat, but I broke 3 road wheels in the past so I’m a bit nervous about riding something so insubstantial as the wheels you see on road bikes today. Call me a luddite if you must.
- 60cm Surly Disc Trucker frameset.
- 700c Velocity Chukker rims. 36 hole.
- Schwalbe Marathon Plus – 700c x 38mm
- Avid BB7 Disc Calipers (front and rear brakes).
- Shimano 105 STI shifter/brakes (where the shifter are in the brake levers)
- Some other very ordinary parts – seat, cables, quick releases, etc…
- Lots of time.
There are several pictures of it below, so read on!
PMC Day #-1
The PMC ride officially starts Saturday, which would be day #1. Day #0 is obviously the day before, which would be Friday. But, even before that, there is the Thursday night party.
One of our team captains, Dave Christmas, hosts a “pasta party” every year, the Thursday before PMC. The team comes, we eat a lot, swim a little, and maybe have some beer. I had spent the last 6 weeks not drinking just to be a little more tuned up for the PMC. This is probably the worst idea I’ve ever had in my life, but I stuck with it and skipped the beer during the party.
Probably since last year was so rainy, many of us were checking the weather repeatedly. Things were looking hot and I’m a sweaty dude. So, in addition to the not-drinking-beer approach, I put an extra effort in drinking lots of water. I loaded myself up on water with about 4 full bike bottles and many other assorted not-beers Thursday evening.
The other benefit of the party is that we can leave our gear for the weekend on the team’s bus and it will arrive in Sturbridge safe and sound on Friday. The only drawback is that we have to pack it before Thursday and be sure we didn’t forget anything.
There is no biking Thursday, but my nerves start to creep in. I never know if I’m really ready. My longest ride this year was only 80 miles and I didn’t stick to the training schedule.
I try to slow myself down, drink more water, rest, breathe, relax, and just mentally prepare.
Day Zero. It’s the day before day 1, as we’ve discussed. Not officially part of the ride, but Julie and I like to ride from Maynard to Sturbridge. It’s about 70 miles from Maynard to Sturbridge.
Since we have all day, there’s no need to rush, so we usually depart around 9:00AM. But before that, I pounded another 3 bottles of water. Large ones. They are 24 ounces, I looked.
You may be wondering what we did with the kids. We arranged to have my parents watch them for the weekend, but somehow we didn’t arrange for Thursday night. So, we had them Friday morning, which was probably a mistake. For those of you with children, you’ll understand that biking 260 miles can be like a glorious vacation, as long as you don’t have to bring the kids with you.
So, it went like this. Julie and got ourselves dressed up in our fancy bike clothes6. Then slathered sunscreen and vaseline in various places. Filled our water bottles with our favorite mixtures of a juice-like drink .7 Helmets, glasses, shoes, everything on. Then, finally, lots of food into our shirt pockets. We don’t wear backpacks or anything, that’d be nuts. And we could by food along the way, which we actually did, but we also carried several things too.
My mother arrived around 8AM to hang out with Molly, but the boy8 had soccer camp at 9:00AM.9 Remember, kids make life complex. So, the three of us walked to Max’s school to drop him off at soccer camp. Him with his soccer gear in a backpack and us pushing our bikes 100% decked out in our ridiculous clothes. I even had this crazy mirror on my helmet.10
The boy was kind enough to take our picture before we left and that was it. We were off. He ran off to play soccer and we road west into what would have been the sunset, if it wasn’t morning.
I have tried several routes to Sturbridge over the years. And now, I believe we’ve found a winner in the go-west-go-south route. It has all of the elements of an enjoyable long ride.
- Very few major roads/car conflict.
- Lots of overhanging trees and shade.
- Beautiful bike trails.
- An old mill town in the middle of nowhere with a store and park to serve as a lunch stop.
We deliberately went straight for Rutland State Park and the rail trail that passes through it. It is a super cool gravel packed trail that is slightly out of our way, but who cares. We’re already riding for the sake of riding, why take shortcuts?
That right there is part of the trail. That is not a road where we are about to be smashed by an 18-wheeler. It’s packed gravel, but smooth and fast. It cuts through some beautiful scenery of lakes and hills and forests and all that pretty stuff. It was very sad when we got to the end and had to return to a major road in the bright sun. A shady bike ride can be a wonderful thing.
Around 12:30 we stopped for lunch in a quaint (used to be) little mill town called South Barre.11 The was a grimy little convenience store and a moderately green common, so we bought some gatorade12 and some snacks and had a nice little lunch.
After lunch we passed a lovely store next to a beautifully lush green common and I made a mental note for next year.
Several hours and a few wrong turns later, we arrived in Sturbridge. My phone lost all cell coverage in South Barre, but I memorized the important stuff before we left. In the middle of nowhere, there aren’t that many roads to make mistakes on. Well, big mistakes anyway.
Another couple hours south and we rolled into the party at the starting line!
Now that we’re here, it’s time to tattoo people and stuff ourselves until bed.
THE ALARM IS GOING OFF AT 3:30 IN THE FREAKING AM!
Holy crap, this is the worst – and the best.
We have 30 minutes to be dressed, out of the hotel room, and on the bus to the starting line. I took someone’s advice this year and packed each section of the event into 1-gallon ziplock bags. Friday afternoon’s clothes in a bag. Saturday’s ride clothes, in a bag. Saturday afternoon’s clothes, in a bag. Sunday’s ride, Sunday afternoon, you get the idea.
This made it super easy to get ready and be sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. Friday night, I removed the Saturday ride bag and laid out my riding clothes. Everything else went right back into our backpack.
Before breakfast, we line up our bikes on the ground to secure a nice spot. It’s really not that important what order we start in, but the bikes have to go somewhere and the parking area we depart from is only so big.
Breakfast itself is always chaos and I’m constantly checking the time, despite thousands of other people patiently eating and drinking the time away. Even after 7 years, I’m afraid that I’ll forget something, or eat too much, or not eat enough, or have to poop at a bad time13.
Pretty soon, it’s 5:00AM and we need to line up outside. The national anthem is sung around 5:15AM and we are off at 5:30AM.
The start is a bit anticlimactic as so many people are trying to squeeze out a single exit that we have to walk about a 1/4 mile anyway.
I’m just going to tell you this, because there is no use trying to explain around it. I lost Julie right from the start. I mean immediately from the starting line, I lost track of her. Since we’re all wearing the same shirt, and there were plenty of other people for her to ride with, so I didn’t exactly look very hard.
… 6.5 hours later …
The finish line!
I’m sorry, I don’t have a great story to tell about Saturday’s ride. It’s basically a lot of pedaling. I’m not sure how to relay the experience unless you’re already familiar with it. But, I did get in pretty earlier. So I used the time to get the tent setup, shower, and have a beer.
That’s right! I promised myself I could break my beer fast after day #1. Glorious.
Then, I raced back over to the finish line to meet Julie as she came in14. Look at her. Not even a little bit tired. She’s ready to do it again.
And then, after lots more food, and lots more beer, it was time to put the bikes and ourselves to sleep for the night.
We had day #0 together, that’s something, right? Listen, it’s really really hard to stay together. There are so many friggin’ people15.
I lost her again. But, not for the entire day this time. Day #2 is supposed to be lots of togetherness fun. We take the day in intervals, riding, then regrouping at water stops. Our team is all wearing the team shirts. All 100+ of us. It’s easy to find team riders, but still a bit hard to find my wife. And I want to be 100% clear about this, I am not trying to imply that she is slow. In fact, at one point, she stopped to see her mother whom I had passed by accident16. I stopped to wait for her after I realized my mistake. A few minutes later, she flew right by me and waved, but didn’t slow.
I figured, OK, maybe she’ll slow and wait up ahead a bit, so I hopped back on my bike and rode after her. Faster and faster, passing many people, including a large portion of my own team, there was no sign of her. She didn’t wait!
Eventually, I caught her. I asked her what she thought I was doing on the side of the road and she said, “I thought you were waiting for someone else.”
So, there you have it folks. There is no need to concern yourself with whether or not the James family is riding together. We are a couple of totally independent spirits that can manage just fine on our own. Next year, I think she may actually try to race me.
The weather, camaraderie, and love of this cause brought us to the finish line well before noon. We had several hours to kill before the boat would depart to bring us back to Boston. It went, as it always does, a little something like this.
We were home again the next day and I had some extra team tattoos. Molly is a big fan, despite her current mood here.
That’s it for PMC 2015.
It would be easy to quit, to let next year just slide by without registering. And the year after that. To buy a car and drive to work when it’s raining or cold or I just didn’t feel like riding. Not one of you would fault me for it, I know. Everyone understands how hard it is to ask people for their hard earned money year after year, and how easy it is to give yourself a “cheat” day or just skip a workout for any reason.
PMC 2016 registration opens in 5 months and I will be first in line.
Seven years participating in an event that I enjoy so much but wish didn’t need to exist. Each year holds a special set of memories that I try to record here for you an me.
2009 – The year Meg was diagnosed. I registered and rode alone.
2010 – The first year my father rode.
2011 – My first year riding with Team Lick.
2012 – We lost Meg on July 4th, a month before the ride.
2013 – My knee hurt quite a bit, and my bike broke, leaving me with 3 gears.
2014 – My wife rode for the first time, a bee stung my face, and it rained the whole weekend.
2015 – Built a road bike to ride, instead of my mountain bike. Absolutely perfect weather.
I owe these experiences to you, my supporters, donors, family and friends. Without you, I could not be a part of this great event.
Thank you so super duper much, with all my heart.
Until next year.
We haven’t forgotten! In just a few days, I will have a computer program randomly pick a winner from our combined list of donors and we’ll be in touch!
- Last year a bee did, indeed, sting my face [↩]
- We never made it on time. [↩]
- I don’t use an alarm normally. [↩]
- But it’s taking me forever because I can’t stay focused. [↩]
- She complains all the time that she wants it back, so I ordered her a larger one [↩]
- We both wore our matching 2014 PMC jerseys (shirts) as you do on day #0 [↩]
- The water purists are cringing. [↩]
- His name is Max. [↩]
- Or maybe it was 9:30AM, I can’t remember [↩]
- The mirror is super helpful in large packs of riders and so I can the things coming up behind me: wife, cars, trucks, deer, bears, etc. [↩]
- Someone told me it’s pronounced Barry [↩]
- Suck it water purists! [↩]
- The morning bathroom lines are horrible. [↩]
- I was a tad late. [↩]
- Super great people, I mean. They are all awesome people. [↩]
- Sorry, mom, really. [↩]