2008 Pan Mass Challenge from a Rookie's Perspective
Day 1 Sturbridge Ma. to Bourne 111 Miles.
2008 was my first year riding in the Pan Mass Challenge. I had trained for the ride over the course of 4 months or so and felt that I was physically ready for the ride. I spent the week prior to the ride in Jamaica at my little sister's wedding. We left the hotel in Jamaica at 3am and had a miserable day of travel. I was due to arrive back in Boston on Friday August 1st at 4pm, the day before the ride. Long story short , our plane was late, we missed our connecting flight and ended up landing in Boston at 8:30pm instead. I still had to get home, get my bike and gear and drive to Sturbridge to get to my hotel. I ended up getting to sleep around 12:30 am and had to be up at 4am. 3.5 hours sleep is NOT how I wanted to go into this ride but I didn't have a choice.
As I mentioned this was my first year riding in this event and I had no idea what to expect. The opening morning ceremony was impressive to say the least. I knew there would be 3800 cyclists starting in Sturbridge but I had no idea what 3800 cyclists looked like. The size of the crowd was amazing. Free water, food, NECN was there broadcasting live. Just a great atmosphere, very positive and energetic. I was ready to ride and couldn't wait to get started. My only mistake was lining up 10 feet from the porta-jons. I was trapped in the crowd and couldn't move. Every time someone would open the door I'd get a big blast of nasty porta-potty odor and I couldn't move to get away from it!
At 6am, after the singing of the star-spangled banner the ride got under way. Riding in a group of hundreds of people was pretty interesting and something I wasn't used to. It was very apparent to me that if one person screwed up 25 would go down. Thankfully that didn't happen. After a few miles the large packs of bikes broke up into smaller groups and I could ride more comfortably. The first 40 miles out of Sturbridge we very hilly. Long gradual climbs with fast descents. The course winded it's way through main streets and back roads and through some very scenic rural areas. Most of the streets along the way had been completely shut down for the ride so there wasn't much traffic to worry about.
One thing that caught me by surprise was the support from people on the course. There were people sitting in their front yards, on the sides of the road, at intersections all cheering us on. They had huge signs, they dressed up in goofy outfits and every other group was passing out water and sports drinks to the riders. There was squads of cheerleaders doing cheers, people playing musical instruments, people ringing cowbells. I'm not talking about a few hundred people either, I'm talking THOUSANDS of people. Entire blocks of people tailgating in their driveways, groups of kids screaming "Thank You". There were State Troopers working details, blocking intersections for us that were giving high-fives to the riders and even smiling! which I'm pretty sure is against department policy. There was memorials with pictures of cancer patients that had died all over the road and thank your signs from their families. Somewhere around the Mendon area there was an elderly couple sitting at the base of their driveway with a sign that read "Two cancer survivors live here, Can't thank you enough!" I found this all very motivating to say the least.
Around the 45 mile mark I started to feel lousy. I had pinched nerves in my shoulders, my hamstrings hurt and I didn't have much energy. This lasted until the water stop at the Dighton-Rehoboth High School (60 mile mark?). Here I ate some pasta, slurped down some powerade/some energy gels, popped a couple Advil and got my second wind. I left this school rejuvenated. From there it was about 20 miles to the next water stop at Apponaquet High School in Lakeville. About 1/4 mile before I got there I started to see big posters with pictures of kids (cancer patients) from Dana Farber on the side of the road. These were all young kids and they were bald from chemo treatments. I didn't realize it but most of these kids were waiting to support the riders at this water stop. When I got to the parking lot I came face to face with these kids. They were all smiling and all wearing cycling jerseys to support their riders. I wasn't ready for this at all. I spoke with the mother of a little girl that was wearing the same jersey as me. This was my team's "pedal partner". Her name is Kayleigh. Keyleigh's Mom thanked me for riding and I just mumbled something like an idiot. As I walked away I could barely keep it together. I had done the training, raised the funds but I hadn't come face to face with the reason I was riding until that moment and it was tough for me to deal with. Trying to keep my composure I left the water stop and continued on.
From that point on I never felt another pain. I made it to the Maritime Academy around 1pm where my loving wife and son were waiting for me to cross the finish line. I was both physically and mentally exhausted. I scoffed down some food and drove home to get some rest.
Day 2 Bourne to Provincetown 80 Miles?
After a good night's sleep I awoke at 4am Sunday morning feeling good. I slurped down a large ice coffee, a gatorade, ate two powerbars on my drive to Bourne and was ready to rock. As I got to the Bourne rotary I was shocked to see riders on bikes already going over the bridge in the dark. I thought the start time was at 6am but I was wrong. I parked my truck, jumped on my bike and started cranking. Coming up over the Bourne bridge there was groups of people on the bridge holding signs and cheering us on. As I got closer to the top I could hear music and then realized that it was a guy playing the bagpipes at the top of the bridge. We were in a very heavy fog, no wind and no vehicle traffic at all and all you could hear was this guy's bagpipes cranking. It was very cool. We then rode along the canal to the East end. I could see mackerel making wakes in the calm water every so often. Just like the previous day there were thousands of people sitting along the route cheering us on, handing out water and even spraying us down with hoses.
Back in June I did a training ride with a group of people that basically followed the same route that I was riding today. On that ride there was an old man standing at a stop sign in Eastham that threatened to "kick my ass" and called me an asshole for not coming to a complete stop at the stop sign. As I rolled through that same stop sign today there was 50 people there cheering me on and holding signs with pictures of cancer victims. After that I started to realize just how awesome this ride had been. Over the course of two days I had encountered thousands of people that all had one thing in common- they were all smiling, every single one of them. It was like everyone left their bad attitudes at home for the day. I felt like the same people that beeped, swore and flipped me off while I was training were now pulling up alongside me with the kids hanging out the windows of their suv screaming words of encouragement.
I continued on through the dunes of the lower cape and along the ocean and eventually crossed the finish line in Provincetown at 10am. Once again my wife, my son and even my mother were there awaiting my arrival. That meant a lot to me.
During the training rides that I did in preparation for this event I had a lot of time to think about what it would feel like to cross the finish line and complete this ride. When the moment of truth arrived I felt only one thing - fortunate. Fortunate that I am physically able to participate in such an event. Fortunate that I have a great family that supported me throughout the ride and waited for me at the finish line. Fortunate that I have great friends that also supported me and donated to my fundraising campaign.
I saw 3 crashes during the course of the ride. The first one was very strange. I was in a pack of about 10 riders in Attleboro (I think). We were climbing a moderate hill and going pretty slow when the guy in front of me just fell over sideways for no apparent reason. It looked like he fell asleep in mid-stride. Hit hit the pavement, clipped out of his shoes then got back on and kept riding like it never happened.
The second crash was a bit more severe. We were in Rochester, directly in front of Old Colony High School when the guy's front tire went off the side of the pavement and into the sand. He lost control and fell to the right and ended up landing directly on a guardrail cable (in a strange coincidence I have a picture of this guardrail cable, it can be seen in this picture http://www.batguys.com/images/wildlifephotos/rhsdeer.jpg. This was a hard crash and I thought for sure this guy would be injured. I stopped to help. After some stretching and cleaning up some blood he told me that he was ok and to keep going. I imagine he continued on with the ride.
The third crash was bad. I was about 5 miles from the finish line on rt 6 in Truro (I think) when a team of about a dozen riders passed me. It wasn't 5 minutes later that I saw a bunch of commotion about 1/2 mile ahead. When I got up to them I saw a guy laying on his back in the road and he wasn't moving at all. I can only guess that they got tangled up with one another as they were riding very tight when they passed me. I stopped but there was already 20 people there and half of them were on cell phones so they didn't need my help. I watched them pick up this guy and drag him out of the road and onto the sand. He looked like he was in bad shape. The ambulance passed me going to pick him up about 5 minutes later. I hope he made out ok.
The water stops on the ride were very impressive. At almost all of the stops there was huge tents, cranking sound systems, medical tents, massage booths, bike shop tents, bathrooms and all the free food and drinks you could want.
I was shocked at the size of this event. I can't imagine all the time and coordination that went into planning everything. There were thousands upon thousands of volunteers all along the way. At some of the water stops it almost looked like the volunteers outnumbered the riders. On the road there were mobile support vehicles all over the place. If you needed anything all you had to do was call them. Cops blocked all the intersections, volunteers would get you anything you asked for. Most of these people do all the fundraising and then show up to lug ice, cases of water, cook, setup tents, work on bikes etc etc. As a rider I got to take part in the glory- the ride. The volunteers (some of them raised more $$ than me) just do the work and don't get any of the glory. I was quick to realize this during the course of the ride and was grateful for their efforts.
I can't say enough about this great event. I am honored to have participated. It was one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of.
2008 PMC Participant