In the following post you are going to see a lot of pictures of my ridiculous face and maybe attempt to understand my flavor of humor.
Please try to keep in mind that this event brings me to tears every chance it gets.
I push it all to my legs.
In 2008, my niece, Meg, was diagnosed with Leukemia. That was the year of my first Pan-Mass Challenge. I have ridden since and plan to ride forever more. My wife registered for her first PMC three years ago, doubling our efforts and support of the cause.
No one could blame her for not registering earlier, we’ve had two children and two lost pregnancies since 2008. Our youngest, Molly, was about 2 1/2 when Julie started training for her first PMC. Training and fundraising consumes much of our free time so we’ve integrated both into our lives.
Biking For Transportation and Sometimes Training
Most of you know, I ride where I need to go. That doesn’t mean I’m always riding fast, but I think it helps me hold a reasonable baseline of fitness. I will spend 30 minutes on a bike instead of 15 in a car every single chance I get day or night, rain or shine. The time savings is not a benefit when you weigh all the other factors. My life is “busy”, just like everyone’s and perhaps riding to work and the grocery store are the only opportunities I’ll have to “work out”. I feel good and get to enjoy the outdoors1.
At the risk of sounding preachy2, you should consider getting where you need to go by foot or bike. Short trips3 for a gallon of milk don’t need to involve also bringing a 4,000 pound steel box with you. Get some bags or a back pack, pedal slow, and get yourself there. You’ll feel good, remove some poison from the air, reduce ‘traffic’ for fellow drivers, save a parking space, and maybe… just maybe you’ll inspire an on-looker to do the same. Before you know it we’ll all be high-fiving each other from our bikes instead of flipping the bird and honking from our cars.4
While all of this riding keeps me feeling good, it’s not really enough to get me ready for PMC. I still need to fill out the rest of my training with some longer and more challenging rides. Usually this means I extend my work commute to 60 minutes or so, add some hills, and push as hard as I can. But it also means some long organized road rides.
- 70 miles (round trip) – Friday rides to Cambridge (for work) – about 7 times.
- 50 miles of crazy hills – Braveheart Memorial ride
- We also ride to/from Braveheart because why would I drive to a bike ride?
- 100 miles of hills – Climb to The Clouds – CRW
- 60 miles of hills – Kancamagus Highway, which is usually 80+
- We had a major bike failure in the middle. Not mine.
NOTE: If you’re reading this on magnetbeans.com and you see some pathetic 4.5 rides in the right hand column and you’re thinking to yourself, “Self, that’s pathetic. I thought he rode his bike far. I could do THAT.”, please e-mail me at RandyJames@magnetbeans.com to ridicule my lazy commuter routine and I will gladly ride to your house and remove the valve cores from the tires on your car.
Day #-1 – Thursday
Every year, weather permitting, our Team’s Captain, Dave Christmas, hosts a party. He has a pool and the kids love it. However, Max loved it a bit too much and somehow sprained his ankle. So, with hours before we were to drop him off at his grandparents for the weekend and days before we all left for a biking vacation6 around Martha’s Vineyard, he was in an air cast. Kids.
My only worry was that he wouldn’t be able to ride around Martha’s Vineyard the following Tuesday. However, we put those worries aside for Monday as there was really nothing to be done. I was certain there would be some complaining right before or after playing in the ocean all day. My prediction turned out to be very accurate.
Speaking of the children, we needed to find a home for them since Julie and I are riding together for the entire weekend. As this is only our third year, we are still improving our strategy in this regard. Last year we kept them (the kids) until Friday morning. That was a bit of a mistake. This year, in a stroke of genius, we opted to be rid of them Thursday evening. It was glorious.
I was working Thursday, so I didn’t get see the kids off, but we FaceTime’d later just to make bed time that much more difficult for the grandparents.
Then, at 8PM, I started packing like a maniac in a race against the clock. The idea was to get to bed by 10PM because sleep is difficult to come by PMC weekend. I was unsuccessful.
Logistically, we pack our bags and send them down to Sturbridge with team members. It’s crucial this process is not messed up or we’ll be stuck carrying tons of stuff on our bikes Friday. Worse would be to pack some crucial piece of biking equipment, like our shoes, and be stuck without them.
We didn’t mess it up.
It’s also worth noting that I acquired an awesome rack bag that just clicks right on. It’s super cool and carries a reasonable amount of stuff. I brought it with us on Friday. I’m considering bringing with me Saturday and Sunday next year. I can imaging carrying a big battery and a bluetooth speaker to play some music all day. Perhaps a tad annoying to nearby riders. That would really be determined by the playlist.
Kids Bob 34
Today is the day we ride from Maynard to Sturbridge. Something different this year, we had a third join us for the journey. George, a fellow Team Lick teammate, was planning to ride down from Acton and wanted to come along. Why not.
With my extra special shiny new bike bag available and no official support for us should something go wrong, I decided to pack it full of supplies. Something like this:
- Socket set
- Allen keys
- Cable(s) (for brakes and shifters. They are different)
- Brake pads (both disc and regular)
- A brake rotor (the disc kind)
- Many different length spokes
- First aid kit
- Tape (electrical and medical)
- Chain tool
- Extra derailleur
- Big battery for recharging phones
- Lunch & snacks
- And… a change of clothes for each of us because we’d beat our bags to Sturbridge
I may have left something out. We didn’t end up needing any of it, which is good. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry, right? I was a Boy Scout after all. Be prepared, we’d say. That always seemed a bit too broad. A person could become pretty paranoid about being prepared for every possible situation. I’d feel so much less stress if we could change it to, “Bring Water”.
George arrived at our house around 9AM and we headed out to no great fanfare.
About 30 miles in, we danced with catastrophe when Julie took a spill. In the hunt of a special path we ventured down a less than smooth road. I watched as Julie hit, not one, but several dozen large dips in the road then veered off toward what could only be called a large concrete block of doom. As Julie vaulted the handlebars and cartwheeled over the block, my mind ran rapidly through the inventory of my awesome new bag wondering if I would have all the parts and tools to repair the damage being done before my eyes.
Out loud I say, “Are you alright!?”
Then, “Don’t move the bike. I need to inspect the damage.”
Julie was fine. Mostly.
Part of me was interested to see how fast I could replace a broken spoke and re-true a wheel. Most of me really wasn’t. But you never know if you’re really prepared until that moment arrives. I had plenty of water though.
It turned out, over the next few days, Julie had tweaked her neck muscles quite a bit. I’m not a doctor, but I think it was when she flew over the bars and rolled through the grass.
Good news. The bike was OK. We ventured on.
And this, my friends, is where the pictures begin.
You see, the “rear facing” camera on my iPhone seems to have stopped focusing. So, I decided the only way I could reliably capture the weekend’s experience would be to use the “front facing” camera to take fantastic selfies throughout the weekend.
It is about 50 miles to our lunch stop in Barre and only 20 before Sturbridge. We should maybe make lunch a bit earlier but there really is nothing before Barre. That is to say, no civilization. No stores for getting more water or food.
And, with only 20 miles to go after lunch it’s an easy push to the finish (start)!
Finishing the ride for Day #1 doesn’t mean the day is over. There’s no time to rest! It’s already 2PM (or thereabouts) and we have plenty more to do. Mostly eating, but also registering, tagging the bikes, and also lots more fundraising. The team sells temporary tattoos to the other riders and they are happy to pay because we’re all in this together and all the cash goes to the same place (Dana Farber, people. Keep up).
Here’s the rest of the day, in pictures.
Crazy, right? You’ve read this far and we haven’t even started the actual PMC.
I am getting really good at this packing for this stuff though. Granted, I took ideas from other people, but I tell you, using ziplock bags to organize clothes is a brilliant scheme. We wake up at 3:30AM and the bus leaves the hotel at 4AM. This gives us just about an hour to put our luggage on the trucks (that go to Bourne), find our bikes and line it up in a nice starting spot, eat breakfast, try to poop, and return to the bikes for the national anthem and the official start at 5:30AM. The bags help save time and unnecessary anxiety.
Oh, OH! I almost forgot.
This Pan-Mass Challenge has been brought to you by Tile™
Tile™ is basically this 1 inch square keychain looking gizmo that people usually put on their keychain. If you lose your keys you can tap a few buttons on your phone and the tile will beep. If you lose your phone, but have your keys, you can push a button on your tile to find your phone!
Well, I don’t actually have any keys so I don’t have use for a keychain. And I only have a Tile™ because my employer thought they would make a nice employee gift.
Guess where I put it. Guess. Guess.
That’s right! My bike, of course. It fit snugly under my seat for one purpose and one purpose only: to help me find my bike in the sea of other bikes Saturday and Sunday morning. I will tell you now that this worked swimmingly. I didn’t even bother trying to remember the row/aisle/slot/area/color I left my bike in. I simply used my phone and Tile™ to beep my way right to my bike. This may sound ridiculous but it’s amazing how many people lose their bikes in the morning darkness.
Bike in hand and under foot, we headed out to great fanfare.
I find the beginning of day one a bit claustrophobic. There are so many riders, it takes an hour or so before we have spread out sufficiently to have some wiggle room. From the starting line we are easily three or four people across and taking up all of route 20. But that’s also why we leave at 5:30 and have police escorts and such.
I don’t like being all bunched up. I get anxious. I can’t pace myself. I want to pedal away from the group and I did. The excitement got the best of me and I scooted my way past the packs setting a pace that I couldn’t really maintain for the entire day.
I did leave Julie behind, again, but she wasn’t alone. I was alone. I pushed too hard and wore myself out by the lunch stop. I was riding too fast to drink enough. There were always people right on my wheel and I never wanted to break pace to drink so I didn’t do it enough. In addition, I skipped the first water stop in favor of making some time.
My plan was to get to Bourne early to pick out a good tent spot but it didn’t work out. When I stopped for lunch I was so tired and dehydrated that it took me 30 minutes to drink and eat enough before I felt better. And by that time, many other riders had come in, including Julie! So, I used that opportunity to rest and recover more and waited for her to finish eating.
We left lunch together and crossed the finish line together. There really was no reason for me to speed away in the first place. Turns out.
It was a beautiful day. No rain, a bit hot, but very enjoyable. We parked our bikes, grabbed our bags from the pile and hiked the 1/4 mile to where we would setup camp and get some more food. The walk, while short, is a bit of added torture for those still in bike shoes with the slippery toe clips.
I setup the tent and took a shower in the dormitories. Usually I shower in the shower trucks. This was a change of routine for me but a shower is a shower.
I met a new team member this year. Young guy, maybe 22. Compared to the usual 67+, he’s pretty young. He had a really nice, really old bike that I can’t remember the make of. Big pedal cages on it and tennis shoes on his feet. Tennis shoes! It was fantastic. Didn’t slow him down.
Well, he was camping too and setup his tent near ours. I made a note of which tent was his as things started to fill in so I could be sure he was awake the next morning. Knowing who and who not to wake up is a risky game to play at 3:30AM
Ryan is his name.
3:50AM – Ryan wasn’t awake.
The rest of us up, dressed and almost done packing. I was getting worried. But it’s dark and I was second guessing myself about which tent was his! I *thought* I had it right and crept in for a closer look.
A tiny little one man tent. I poked my head inside. “ryyyyyaaaaaan.”, I whispered.
“Ryyyyyaaaan.”, a bit louder. Still nothing.
“RYAN! BREAKFAST!”, I almost shouted. Nothing. Amazing.
What do I do? It seems really rude to wake someone up at 3:45AM on a Sunday. I know I’d be pissed. On the other hand, he wasn’t here to sleep. But it was his first year and he might be a bit grumpy.
“RYAN, THE GINGERBREAD MAN IS HERE TO SEE YOU!”, I shouted right over his face.
“YES, I’M HERE! HELLO!”, he awoke. I scooted back to avoid becoming the victim in a potentially bad situation of disgruntled waking and/or unintentional head smashing.
Turns out he had earplugs in. But now he was up, so off to breakfast we went while he dealt with his disorientation and packed his bags.
I met a man, a different man, Sunday morning. He needed help finding his bike.
“I put it right here,on the end of Purple 4!”, he says.
“There are a several Purple 4s.”, I say, “Did you try the others?”
“This is where I left it! Someone moved it!”, he says. With a bit of a tone.
“If you say so.”, I said as I used my Tile™ to make my bike chirp loudly. “Since I have my bike now, and some time, why don’t I help you find yours. What’s it look like?”
“Blue Cannondale with a red stripe.”, he says.
“This one? On the end of THIS Purple 4 aisle?”, I said.
He needs a Tile™.
Sunday’s ride up Cape Cod is nothing short of amazing. We start on the canal and enjoy endless scenery as the sun rises. Then we turn east and head toward Rte 6. Next to Rte 6 is a road called “Service Road” that is one of the many highlights of our weekend adventure. It’s miles and miles of rolling hills that would be daunting to the uninitiated. We leave it all on the those hills and put it back in at the first water stop where we regroup for more.
Julie and I met up with her mother who was on the side of the road cheering on us and all the other riders. No time to dawdle too long… we carried on.
The official photographers actually picked up Julie and I together. From behind, but together. I think they could have made my butt look a little smaller in post processing. Maybe added some sweet muscle tone. A little skin color. Speed lines.
At the very last water stop, we got this pretty cool team picture. It’s not everyone because there are officially somewhere around 125 of us. But they put me up front because, well, you know.
And then, before long, we were in p-town enjoying the fruits of our labor. Two hundred sixty or so miles later and the fun was only just getting started. Ahead of us lay some army tent showers, a party boat ride, and a bus ride all the way back home. I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t you just bike home? If we had more time, I suppose we could. Perhaps one of these year, Julie and I stay the night in p-town, then ride back around the cape and home again. It might take another two days and we wouldn’t have all those awesome volunteers shoving fluffernutter sandwiches into our mouths every 20 miles or so but I think it could be fun.
Another option might be to ride home from Boston after getting off the boat. To do that right, we would need to take an earlier, faster, boat from p-town to Boston to allow enough before dark. It’s only only 35 miles from Boston to home.
Something to think about.
Post PMC Vacation
It’s becoming tradition to vacation right after the PMC. We arrived home late Sunday night without the kids. Monday morning I drove to my parents’ house to pickup our kids and then on to pickup my niece and her cousin. The people moving trip took until about 2PM and we arrived back at our house to pack the car to the tippy top with bags, tent, bikes, skateboards, etc. Tippy tippy top. Monday we pack and rest. Tuesday we leave.
The car stay on the mainland. We park it in Woods Hole and put everything on the bikes, ride to the ferry, take the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and ride off to a week or biking and beaches.
Instead of rambling on about every little detail, I’ll leave you here with our picture album.
Thank You Thank You Thank You
The date is already set for PMC 2017.
Julie and I owe this experience to all of our family, friends, and supporters. We couldn’t do it without you. Thank you so much for supporting us and the fight against Cancer.
As I write this, the PMC is $39 million dollars toward our $46 million goal for 2016.
The ride is done for now but the fight continues. If you so desire, there is still time to contribute.
Until next year, ride on baby.
- Enjoyment of “the outdoors” is usually ruined when a driver attempts to kill me and/or spews a lot of exhaust into the air I’m breathing. [↩]
- I have definitely been accused of this before [↩]
- How short? That depends on you, really. Under 5 miles should not be an issue. [↩]
- I’m an idealist, maybe. [↩]
- I track almost every ride. I usually leave the grocery runs out. [↩]
- “Biking Vacation” means on bikes, not a vacation from. [↩]