I started riding in the Pan Mass Challenge (a 200-mile two-day bike ride in Massachusetts, USA that raises funds for the fight against cancer) because I had gotten back into biking after a long hiatus, I had friends who were doing it, and because I was now in my 50s and thinking more about how to give back to people rather than getting for myself. Apparently that happens to men of a certain age. Less concern and worry about their place in the universe and more concern about how to help others.
The thinking also went: “I’m going to be out there biking because I like doing it and I like how it makes me feel and how it makes me fit and since I’m putting in all these miles (and time), I might as well see if there’s a way to somehow be helping someone simultaneously.” Enter Pan Mass Challenge. Perfect fit, really.
Then reality sets in. You’ve got to be in pretty good shape to ride back-to-back centuries. (A century in bike parlance is a 100-mile ride.) As a result you have to ride a lot to get in shape for that weekend. You end up riding more than you would otherwise ride just to stay in shape. Which is good. On the one hand. On the other, you end up putting in more time in the saddle than you otherwise might want to. Other things don’t happen or don’t get done. There’s only so much time in a day. As I get older, this is more and more apparent to me. (As I tick off only 3 of the 7 items on my to-do list.) Either I’m slowing down at getting things done, or I just have wildly unrealistic expectations. Or: combination of the two.
But you ride for the cause. Money raised goes to fight cancer. You don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer in some way. Think about that. No one. Everyone you know and everyone that all of the people you know knows doesn’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer. Follow that geometric progression out. As far as causes go, it’s a no-brainer.
But really, the main reason I continue to ride is my presence on the road. And not just my presence. But all those bicyclists out there training every day, every weekend. People see them. Pedestrians see them. Drivers see them. These folks who see the bicyclists–and many of the bicyclists wear Pan Mass Challenge jerseys from past years–will think of the Pan Mass Challenge and the cause it supports and they might think about someone they know who is currently undergoing treatment for one kind of cancer or another. Moreover, people have told me how people undergoing cancer treatments see each of these bicyclists as a ray of hope. Why? Because they care. They care enough to go out and ride their bike and ask colleagues, friends, and neighbors for money to help find a cure for cancer. Person on bike = hope. It’s physical, it’s visceral, it’s emotional. It’s helpful.
There are those Saturday mornings when I’m waking up and thinking, “oh, I’d like to sleep a while longer,” but there’s a group going out at 8 a.m. I want to ride with. So you get up. And as the summer progresses, the rides get longer and longer. Here’s the thing: by the time you get to the first weekend in August and you’re going to ride nearly 200 miles over the course of that Saturday and Sunday, you want a couple of similar weekends under your butt. So you go out and ride 80 miles on a Saturday and then go out again and ride 80 miles on Sunday. And somewhere in there you do a century ride or two as well. Then you’re ready. (Though I’m pretty certain a lot of riders go into the weekend not nearly well enough prepared. But you know, their hearts are in the right place and you hope it hope it isn’t too hot and that they don’t stress their bodies too much.)
Then there are the systems. The PMC has great systems. It’s easy for people to donate online. It’s easy for me to set up. I keep the same link year after year. When someone donates, I get an email right away. (This is a recent development.) Meaning the PMC team is constantly working at improving their website and how it works and how money gets funneled to the cause. (Sidebar: I donated money to a friend who participated in a 2-day cancer walk. Never heard from her. But knew she was the kind of person who would send a thank you note. When I asked her about it, she said she had sent a thank you note via the fundraising website. I never got that email. Bad system. Life’s too short to work with causes that don’t have good systems in place.
One last thing. It’s the people who come out to cheer you on. They are the best fans. Lining the road, clapping. And the best part, the folks who say “Good job!” or “You’re doing great work!” You know, this is the kind of encouragement you never get at work. But that you should get at work. It’s a good lesson, really, for everyone. Encourage the folks you work with. Tell them–out loud!–what a great job they’re doing. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you’re great. Tell everyone else first. Who doesn’t want to participate in something when you know you’ll get positive feedback from everyone. Everyone! I’ve been thinking about this aspect of the ride for a while now. Maybe this encouragement from the roadside fans has more of an impact on why I sign up each year than I’m willing to acknowledge?
Every year during the hot days of mid July when I’m out there pushing my bike (and my body, 210 lbs!) up a steep hill, I ask myself “Why am I doing this?” A couple weeks later I get the answer when I’m standing in a parking lot in Sturbridge, MA with a few thousand other cyclists and we’re waiting for a State Police officer to sing the National Anthem at 5:45 a.m. and you look around at all the people and think of all their stories and why they ride and, well, it’s a great feeling. A lot of people making a difference in the world.
Then when January of the next year rolls around and it’s time to decide whether to sign up for the Pan Mass Challenge again, it’s always that first weekend in August that you remember, not the months leading up to it. Sign up again? Sure.
You can support my ride at this link: