Tag Archives: biking

Why I ride in the Pan Mass Challenge

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:


Shake it for the PMC, the video

I made a short video about Andrew Steinhouse’s Pan Mass Challenge fundraiser at b.good in Brookline, MA.

Pan Mass Challenge 2009

My plea email for the Pan Mass Challenge this year:

I’m participating in the Pan Mass Challenge for the fourth time this summer. Last year’s event raised $35 million (!!!) for the Jimmy Fund, which in turn supports cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. $35 million is more than twice the amount ever raised for a charity by an athletic fundraising event in the country. It is the single largest contribution made to the Jimmy Fund, representing almost 50 percent of the charity’s annual revenue.

The Pan Mass Challenge is a 2-day, 192-mile bike ride (not a race!) from Sturbridge, MA to Provincetown, MA, that takes place the first weekend in August each year. While it is in fact an individual athletic event, it is in spirit a huge community gathering. More than 5,500 riders will participate this year. They are helped on their way by 2,800 volunteers. And all the PMC folks are in turn cheered on and supported by citizens, many of them cancer survivors, who line the route across Massachusetts to cheer on everyone. Of course we’re also supported by all the folks who donate money to the cause. I hope I can count on you to help me further the fight against cancer this year.

To donate online, go to this address:

My donor ID is EH0050.

Thank you for your generosity. (100 percent of your donation is tax deductible.)

If you prefer to donate by check, please make it out to Jimmy Fund or PMC and mail it to me at the address below. If you’ve got other questions, please feel free to call or email me:
erik [at] erikhansen [dot] com

You can get more information about the Pan Mass Challenge at this web address: www.pmc.org

My photos from the 2007 ride can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/5zue8p
I didn’t bring my camera last year, but I’ll be sure to bring one along on this year’s ride.

Thank you again for your support.


Erik Hansen

Biking the Boston Marathon route (Patriots’ Day Ride)

Monday, April 20, 2009. (Patriots’ Day) Up at 4:45 a.m. Tempted to stay in bed, of course. Still dark. Cold outside. Convinced myself it would be fun once I got going. It always is, but it’s always a struggle to get those feet out from under the covers and onto the floor. Ate a banana and a bowl of oatmeal. Drank a cup of coffee. Three layers of clothing on top. Leggings and neoprene booties over the shoes. Two water bottles. Bike prepped the night before and so ready to go. (Short prayer to the ‘blowout’ Gods that I not get a flat.)

Out the door and down the driveway. Feels warm here between my house and the neighbor’s. (We’re close; we share a driveway.) The red shakes on our house still holding heat from Sunday’s sunshine? Deceptive. Once out on the road, the real cold will hit. Probably 38 degrees.  As I come down the driveway, I hear someone going by, talking loudly to another bicyclist. It’s a guy I know who’s doing this same ride. He’s always talking. I eventually catch up with them. We’re on our way to meet all the other riders at the Newton Town Hall, about a 20-minute ride from my house.

Once there I see my friend Lee. Don’t know the others but most of them are part of a club, the Crack o’ Dawn riders. They regularly meet at 5:45 a.m., as we’re doing now, for a morning ride before going to work. This is waaaay too early. How they do this regularly is beyond me. The loud guy is talking, telling a story about getting into a fight in a bar. I listen to this story, bemused. Not at all surprised someone would want to hit loud guy. He is obnoxious. A good rider, but he talks too much.

Then we’re off. Always concerned about being left behind by these folks. They’re spending a lot more time on their bikes than I am on mine, so there’s no reason I ought to be able to keep up with them, but then, this isn’t a normal ride. Doing the Marathon Route is more of a scenic tour than a hard-charging training ride. I think. Because I keep up with them.

As always, good to be riding with a group of bicyclists. Perhaps it’s the single-mindedness. Everyone moving in the same direction, same goal, and helping each other simply by being lined up behind one another. Some people talk. I just look at the rear wheel of the bicyclist in front of me and concentrate on my breathing. And concentrate on my pedal stroke: push down, pull up. Over and over again.

We go down the hills of Newton, which we’ll be going up again on our way back. The last one coming back is the infamous Heartbreak Hill and while it isn’t steep or particularly long, it comes at the end of a series of three hills and is at around mile 20 of a 26-mile race. The runners’ legs are tired. So this hill can be a killer.

Then out through Wellesley. A favorite with the runners, well, with the male runners, because the road is lined with all the Wellesley co-eds. Screaming, encouraging co-eds. Enough to get anyone’s heart beating better.

This comment from a first-time runner (who otherwise hated the Boston Marathon for a whole host of reasons):

The only good thing I could say about doing Boston is the cheering from
the girls at Wellesley College was awesome and the best part of the
course. And it was great that the pasta dinner was free.

Then it happens, someone yells “flat!” and people up and down the line of bicyclists yell out, “flat!” I slow down and my friend Lee slows down, but most of the other folks keep going. The unwritten rule is, when someone gets a flat, everyone stops and waits while the tire is fixed. But not this time. So Lee and I are stopped a couple hundred yards ahead of the person with the flat. We won’t go back, but we’ll wait here until they show up. We’re beside Fiske Pond. There’s a mist moving over the water. Lee asks, “Does that mean that the air is colder than the water or the other way around.” I don’t think I’ve had enough coffee this morning to answer that question and then we both see a white swan gliding across the water. It seems almost imaginary it is so other-worldly. Neither one of us has a camera. Oh well. We saw it. We saw it because we stopped to wait.

You really don’t see that much when you’re on a bike. You’re watching the road. You’re watching the bike ahead, if there is one. One decent sized pothole can ruin your day. A drainage grate lined up parallel to your direction of travel can ruin your day. (It actually happens.) But really, it’s only when you stop that you really see things. So, we were lucky to have been stopped at the pond, with its mist and its quiet and the swan moving as if being pulled by an underwater rope.

The guy with the flat and 3 others show up and we stay together. The rest of the riders, 20 or more, are long gone. The road is definitely less scenic here, a light industrial area, truck repair shops, feed stores, lumber yards. We ride through Natick, into Framingham, a long flat stretch.

As we get out towards Wayland the road begins to rise. Our destination, Hopkinton, the start point of the Boston Marathon, is at around 400 feet. And where we began in Newton, is 100 feet above sea level. (I’ve done this ride before; it sure feels like you’re climbing more than 300 feet.) Then we begin to see the soldiers walking into town. I debate yelling out “Hooah!” then decide not to. These guys walk/march the 26-mile route. For kicks? As part of the Patriots’ Day celebation? Many of them carry full backpacks. That can’t be fun, but then, that’s what they do.

The closer we get to Hopkinton, the more evident are the pre-race preparations: water stations are being set up, Poland Spring trucks line the road, off-loading 5 gallon bottles of water. Volunteers in bright yellow windbreakers scurry back and forth. Water for 26,000 runners!

Then we’re climbing up the last sharp uphill into Hopkinton. (This downhill for the wheelchair races must be kind of wooly.) We pull over and lay our bikes down. The rest of the riders are already lined up for a group photo. Lee and I jump in. Then I head over to the port-a-potties and take a leak and as I’m walking back, someone yells out, “hurry up!” The group is already headed back in. I pull a snack bar out of a rear pocket and stick it in my mouth as I remount my bike.

And we’re off again. 26 miles and 385 yards to the finish line. Downhill a lot of the way. I shift into my top gear, tuck my body down and start flying by people. It’s daylight now, but overcast, and still cool. My windbreaker flaps away.

I catch up with the folks who left ahead of me and pass by them. I’m not a light person, so I really roll on the downhills. Of course, most of them pass me on the uphills where my weight is a serious disadvantage. I’m always wondering if I gain more on the downhills than I lose on the uphills. I think not.

We pass by the soldiers we saw on the way out. We pass more Poland Spring trucks offloading their water. Then we’re into Framingham, best know (at least from a bicyclist’s point of view) as the town with the tracks that run at an oblique angle across the road. You want to cross tracks at a 90 degree angle. It’s the kind of hazard that can grab your front tire and dump you onto the road in no time. It happened one year, so everyone is particularly cautious.

We all manage to get over the tracks without incident. A lot of traffic lights ahead. Last year I got left at one of the lights and I never saw the pack again. Won’t let that happen this year.

Past the pond, past Wellesley College (no girls out there cheering yet) through Wellesley and then down the hill that crosses over the Charles and then it’s up again as the road passes over Rte 128. No one ever talks about this hill, but it is a significant climb from the bridge over the river up to the rise near Newton Wellesley Hospital. In fact, one of the race organizers says this:

While the three hills on Commonwealth Avenue (Route 30) are better known, a preceding hill on Washington Street (Route 16), climbing from the Charles River crossing at 16 miles, is regarded by Dave McGillivray, the 2007 race director, as the course’s most difficult challenge.[6][7]
This hill, which follows a 150 foot drop over the course of one
half-mile, forces many lesser-trained runners to a walking pace. (from Wikipedia)

Then there’s the sharp right turn from Washington Street on to Commonwealth Avenue and the first of the Newton Hills. We pick up a couple more riders here. Now everyone passes me on the uphill.  Then the next hill near Newton Town Hall, and then Heartbreak itself.  Not too many people pass me. Then another down hill by Boston College and picking up the terminus of the B line train. There’s a red light and no traffic and everyone is itching to go but there are a dozen policemen hanging around, security for the race that will pass by here in a couple hours. Then there’s this stretch which I had never thought about and then it was pointed out by one of the commentators later when I was watching the marathon on TV. There’s a graveyard on the right and so no one ever hangs out here during the race. For the runners, then, it’s this moment of quiet. Eerie, even, since they’ve just come through Newton where the road is lined with cheering spectators all the way.

Shortly though, the runners hit Cleveland Circle and from here until the end of the race, the roadway is lined with people. (A TV commentator also noted that in the old days there were no portable railings set up between the racers and the spectators and so the fans were crowded near the road and the runners could feed off the energy of the crowd. In fact, it was pointed out that the American hope, Kara Goucher, was running as close to the side of the road as she could, for just that reason. To grab energy from the cheering throngs.)

We, on our bikes well ahead of the race, don’t have the cheering throngs, but you see people putting out chairs, marking their spot, claiming their territory for the race to come. And we keep going. Through Brookline, past the cutoff to my street, down the hill, and now I’m racing with some of these guys, really pushing hard on the pedals. It’s three miles to the finish here.

Then we’re there. The cops won’t let us actually cross over the finish line. We used to do that, but I guess things have gotten too crowded. So we turn around and walk our bikes back up Boylston Street to a Starbucks, where we grab coffee and a snack and go into the men’s room where loud guy is talking loudly in the toilet while taking a piss. He does nothing quietly. I do want to tell him to shut up, but don’t. Too tired, perhaps. Then I head outside to sit on the sidewalk, in the sun, out of the wind and relax.

Later, at home, I watch the race on TV and say to myself periodically, “hey, I was there earlier today.” (52 miles on the bike. A good start to the day.) I find myself cheering madly for Kara Goucher, whose name I didn’t know before this morning. She runs a great race, but probably ends up taking the lead too early and so doesn’t have enough kick at the end to prevent two other women from beating her to the line. And she’s so devastated in the post-race interview. She’s worked her ass off for this. Your heart really goes out to her.

But hey, there’s always next year. We’ll be out there, too.