Pan Mass Challenge 2009 – The Full Report

The 2009 Pan Mass Challenge took place on August 1st and 2nd. This was my 21st time riding this event from Sturbridge to Provincetown, the long route. PMC 21 was just as enjoyable as all the rest.

I had a great season of training in spite of all the rain. Somehow I managed to put in over 2000 miles before rolling off the starting line. I trained with my PHAT Tuesday team as well as many others. We put in some great miles around New England from Western Mass to Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Training is hard work but I’m very lucky to have such great people to ride with.

PMC weekend came up very fast this year. I typically began the weekend traveling to Sturbridge with my friends Dave and Mark. Mark and the rest of my old team did not ride this year and Dave started in Wellesley. This year I took a bus from Babson College to Sturbridge. The PMC is very organized. It takes quite a bit of logistics to move 5000+ people across the state during PMC weekend. Well, it’s no surprise that the transportation arranged to bring those of us that opt for it to Sturbridge is top notch. Our bikes were taken out there by truck and we all rode in luxury busses.

Friday was a very rainy day. Why not? It was par for the summer. However, I’d much rather have it raining on Friday than over the weekend. Historically if it rains Friday we are spared from it over the weekend. This year was no difference.

I got out to Sturbridge early Friday afternoon, checked into my hotel room, picked up my registration packet and began the weekend. If you’ve read past reports from me you know that Friday is kind of like a family reunion. Some of the best people I know I’ve met through the PMC. Sadly I only see most of them once a year. It’s always great catching up.

My old team, the B-Czar B-Stees, were absent from the event this year. This was the first time in 20 years they did not ride and they were missed. Everyone kept asking me where they were and why the team car was not in its usual spot. The team car was a huge hit with the riders and their families. Kids used to stop and marvel at it as well as get their temporary tattoos. Adults stopped for a beer from the taps installed on the side. Even the police used to come by and hang out with us. I did miss not having the car and the old team there. I’d have to say that part of the weekend was the only disappointment.

The afternoon went by in a flash. We prepped our bikes and gear for the next morning and were in bed by 10. Wakeup call was 4am.

Up at 4 we dressed and placed our bikes at the starting line. Inside for a quick breakfast, back to the room to close up, grab our luggage and load it on the trucks.

I was walking to my bike when I ran into my neighbor, an anchor at New England Cable News. Leslie asked if I wanted to do a quick interview. I was happy to do it. Funny thing is that they got my name wrong. The caption read “Phil Snapper”. I got a kick out of it. Leslie told me later that she phoned in the info and made sure they knew how to spell “Snapper”. They clearly didn’t hear “Bill” so I became “Phil”. Anything for the Jimmy Fund and the Dana Farber. Even funnier is that my team, “PHAT Tuesday” has this thing where every word that starts with the letter “F” ends up being spelled “PH”, family becomes phamily, fun becomes phun, etc. So, I guess anything for my team too 🙂

Click to see Phil Snapper interview at the start…

We were all assembled and ready to roll out by 5:30 am. They held us back due to fog. The start went off at 5:40 am. It never gets old riding off the starting line with over 2200 people. It’s quite a rush. My group always starts up at the front. We learned years ago that it’s safer up there. This year as in years past I rode out with my friend Marc Mann. We were right up there with the police motorcycle escorts. It was very cool. This is our “Tour De France”.

Marc and I were cranking along when someone yelled out “hey, PHAT Tuesday, can I ride with you”? This was our new friend Jamie Buckley. We’d met Jamie during the training season. He knew one of our team and joined us a couple times. He noticed us because of our Mardi Gras helmet accouterment.

This was Jamie’s first PMC. Marc and I were happy to have him along and to be able to show him the PMC as well as to be able to see it through his eyes.

Jamie’s a strong rider. We were cranking along at a VERY fast pace. Typical of how I go out on the PMC. Somehow I manage ride at a level higher than I can every ride the rest of the time. I call it the “PMC Magic”. It’s the combination of training, adrenaline, and this effect the ride has on me, on all of us. We were averaging over 20mph. This kept up for the first 40+ miles till we pulled into the second water stop in Franklin, our home turf. I looked at the speedometer and said to Marc, “we need to cut the pace back. There’s another 70 miles to go.” So we cut back to a much saner pace and that was still challenging but had we kept is up at 20+ I would likely have not made it to the finish line on the bike unless someone towed me.

We rolled into the lunch stop at the 70 mile mark around 9:30. This was pretty good. We were feeling great and had been efficient at keeping our prior two stops to less than 10 minutes each. Lunch would be around a 20 minute stop. I know it sounds funny to have lunch at 9:30 am. Remember that we had breakfast at 4 and had just ridden 70 miles and it doesn’t sound so strange after all.

We met up with some of our friends that rode out of Wellesley. They came with us when we rolled out for the final 40 miles of the day. 40 miles, that’s a piece of cake considering what we’d already ridden. The terrain is much easier which is really nice. We rolled out with our trio plus our friends Donna, Wayne, and Eric, all very strong riders. We covered the next 30 miles in a very short time. The final water stop is 10 miles from the finish. By this time we’re all feeling it. I wanted to get to the finish and off the bike. We were all surprisingly still riding strong. It was hot and I thought I had been drinking enough and eating. It’s tricky to make sure you keep the right ratio of water to drink supplement to food. Hot days with serious physical exertion like this means downing at least 40 ounces of liquid every hour or so. In addition to this I was taking e-caps, a concentrated electrolyte tablet intended to help keep balance and stave off the dreaded leg cramps.

Off we go on the final leg of the day. I made it about 4 miles when my legs both cramped at once. This is not fun. Nothing you can do but keep calm, coast, and hope you can work it out or get to the side of the road and off the bike without crashing. I yelled out “I’m done, you guys go on without me. I’ll finish it.” Well, Marc and Jamie came back for me. The other 3 slowed up a bit to see if I could recover and catch up to them. I downed almost an entire 20 ounce bottle with drink mix very fast along with about 5 e-caps. Within minutes (and I mean less than 5) I was back up to speed and cranking to the finish. We worked together to catch the other 3 and we did catch them in Onset center. At this point I’m going on sheer determination and adrenaline. There was no way I wasn’t going to cross the finish line on my own accord. I slowed the pace just a little and was able to crank it through. We crossed the finish around 12:40pm. Our goal was 12:30 and that was based on a 5:30am start. Considering we got off at 5:40, we made it! It was very cool crossing the finish with Marc and Jamie. Bringing Jamie across for his first finish was awesome.

We parked our bikes and headed in to make our massage appointments and hit the dorms for a very welcome shower and clean clothes. This year was a significant milestone for me as it was the first that my wife and daughter were at the finish line at the Maritime Academy. They were working there as volunteers and it meant a lot to me to have them there. You don’t have to ride to be part of the PMC and the volunteers are a very important part of the event. We riders couldn’t do it without them and we’re all very appreciative.

Showered, massaged, and fed it was time for a beer. Harpoon supplies the beer for the afternoon’s festivities. I went back into the tent to get out of the sun where I ran into Jamie. He introduced me to his wife and son. Jamie was telling them how Marc and I helped him through day 1 and how he couldn’t have done it without our help. It was very humbling and flattering but we honestly didn’t do much. We really enjoyed showing him the ropes and he ended up helping me at the end of the day. I see it as a true team effort.

The afternoon at MMA passed quickly. I honestly don’t know where the hours went. My cousins were working at MMA too cooking and serving us all. I barely got to spend time enough to say thank you to them. So I’m saying it now, thanks to all of you. I hope you enjoyed the day as much as we appreciate having you all there and all you did.

This year was another first for me. This year I would NOT be staying in the hot uncomfortable dorm! Nancy took me and a couple friends back to our house in Falmouth. I cooked up a meal for all and slept in my own bed with air conditioning! You have no idea what a luxury this was compared to years past. We had a cab pick us up the following morning at 4:20 AM. It took us to the MMA where we grabbed some breakfast and connected with the team to ride day 2.

Day 2 we ride as a complete team. PHAT Tuesday had 17 people riding both days. We had a few others join us as well. Riding with the whole team is a lot of fun. We kept a good pace but because there were so many of us we were able to benefit from pacelining. Riding in a paceline is phenomenal when you know how to do it. In short, you can ride about 20% faster than riding alone. The draft effect carries you along. People rotate through their turn at the front and with a long line that means you’re up there much less so you ride hard for about a minute or two and then enjoy riding in the draft till it’s your turn again.

We ride over the Bourne Bridge staying together as best as we can and then regroup when we enter the bike path along the Cape Cod Canal.

The first section water stop is at 24 miles. We get there quick. I was feeling it in my knees. Nothing a little ibuprofen couldn’t take care of. I got my drugs, water, some food and off we go toward our second stop of the day at Nickerson State Park in Brewster at the 40 mile mark. This is one of the fastest legs of the day as it’s very flat. Contrary to popular belief the Cape is not flat. This 16 mile section however IS flat and fun. Just about a mile before the water stop we come upon what is known to the riders as “Da Hedge”. This is a section of trees at the Cape Cod Sea Camp. There is nothing like this anywhere on the two day route. All the campers and counselors are out there cheering us on. There has to be hundreds of screaming kids out there. The cheers nearly lift us off the saddle. It’s very hard to describe and do it justice. Here’s a couple pictures of what it looks like.

We pull into the Nickerson stop as a team to throngs of cheering supporters. It’s a party. It’s barely 8am and we’ve got a big party going on. So much fun. We find our friend Jack to take our annual photo.

Jack is a staple of the event. He became famous when he was out there years ago holding a sign up that read “Thank you riders. I’m 4 because of you!” This photo got so much publicity that everyone knew who Jack was. Jack and his family have been out there every year since. This year he’s 13, cancer free, and growing big. He’s such a great kid. We used to bring him a little toy when he was younger. Now he’s out there handing out Mardi Gras beads which for our team is a perfect match. We trade beads, say our farewell, and are on our way toward the third and final water stop in Wellfleet.

This next leg is 17 miles long. It takes us along some of the bike path on the outer cape. It also takes us along the coast along some very pretty and hilly terrain by the Beach Comer. We all rode strong along this section. The weather was cooperating so well that day. It was overcast the entire way which kept us cool. It was not windy either, making the journey much more pleasant, especially along the beaches where crosswinds can really make the ride tough.

We pull into the final stop around 9am. This is the another party stop. It’s theme is like a Jimmy Buffett concert for those familiar with that. There’s music blaring, good a plenty, and the biggest attraction and favorite feature of mine, the “Ice Couch”. The people make a couch out of bags of ice. Believe me when I say that sitting on this couch is awesome. It is so refreshing you just want to sit a while but we know the longer we’re there the stiffer our legs become and we know we’re within 20 miles of the finish. So off we go on the final 20 miles of day 2.

We covered this section quick. It takes us through Wellfleet and into Truro where we are dumped out onto Route 6 for about 5 miles. This is when it got very fast and the group split into a few groups. Why? Well we were with Eric, a friend that joined us the entire day and he kicked up the pace to about 23mph. This was going up hill! We all got behind him and just enjoyed the pull. Before we knew it we were up to 27-28 mph and working as hard as we could to just keep up with him. I was having a hard time keeping on the line and started to drop when this guy passed me and yelled “get on my wheel and I’ll pull you up”. This meant for me to get as close to his rear wheel so I could use the draft to my advantage. It worked. We caught the line. I could see the “Entering Provincetown” sign ahead. I was riding WAY beyond my comfort zone but knew I could make it to the town line. I decided I’d make it to the line and then drop. I made it and I did drop my pace to 20mph. 20! This is still fast but slow relative to that group that I watched pull away from me. I was OK with that. I met my goal and knew we’d regroup up the road ahead in about 2 miles. We did regroup. The entire team got back together and we worked the final miles through Race Point in P-Town toward the finish line. We crossed the finish line as a complete team at 10:30am.

Finishing with the team was very cool. Everyone worked very hard. We finished day 2 with an average speed of 18.2 mph for the day. Not a bad speed considering there were over 20 of us that stayed together the entire way.

I had my day room at the P-Town inn for my shower. It sure beats showering in the tents. Several friends used the room as well. It’s a nice way to finish and relax before heading down for the afternoon festivities. Marc and I toasted the ride with Kettel One on the rocks. That was a great start to ease the aching muscles of the weekend. I had ridden over 190 miles but Marc rode almost 300 as he rode in from the New York border Friday of the weekend adding almost another 100 miles to his journey to make it a “true Pan Mass”. Me, I’m good with the 190+ miles. Their Friday ride sounds like fun but with no official support and the downpour they were caught in somehow I can contain my enthusiasm from signing up for that next year 🙂

The tent at the finish line has plenty of food. I think I tried one of everything, possibly two. Cheeseburgers, Sausages, Clam Chowder, salad, and a little bit of everything else. Today the beers flowed freely. I was not planning to get up the next day and ride. It was a celebration. We hung out with friends eating, drinking, telling stories of the weekend and in some cases saying our goodbyes till next year. Not everyone takes the party ferry back. We do. I can’t see going home any other way after such a tremendous weekend.

So we head out of the P-Town Inn and walk into town to the docks. And yes, I stopped to get some more food along the way. I can’t pass by the pizza stand at the dock without grabbing at least one slice. So I got two 🙂

We ran into the oldest cheerleaders in P-Town. Let me explain. These are a couple women that have been out there every year I’ve ridden the Pan Mass that have given themselves the name “the oldest cheerleaders”. They’re out there both days cheering us on where we need it most. Day 1 they have a new costume every year. This year they were leprechauns. Day 2 they’re dressed as cheerleaders.

Brenda and Evelyn lost their brother to cancer years ago and this is their way to give back and connect with the event. Anyway, they were talking with my friend Marc. One of them sees me and says “you look familiar. I know I know you.” I said “that’s possible, I’ve ridden this event the last 21 years and we’ve met.” This is when the other sister yells out “he’s a B-Stee! Where’s the rest of your team”? She knew me as being associated with my old team. They were well known to all. It was very funny to hear both of them talking about the team car, the beer taps, the contra water stops (ring dings, slim jims, twinkees, coca-cola, etc). I guess you had to be there but it still cracks me up remembering the encounter. It was a fine conclusion to our afternoon in Provincetown.

The ferry departed on time. A great band was playing. A group of us were talking and another one of our team mentioned Jamie, the guy Marc and I rode day 1 with. They said Jamie was raving about his ride and how grateful he was for our help. He also told them that he was 1 year cancer free that day. Wow! Neither of us knew. We were stunned and totally blown away. Talk about someone that epitomized the PMC. I’ve ridden with survivors before but the fact he never let on was just amazing. All he talked about was how proud he was to ride and be able to help all those people battling cancer. I was speechless then and am still now as I write this note.

The boat ride always seems to pass by too fast. Lots of stories but I’ve already taken enough of your ti
me. Suffice it to say it was a stellar weekend.

I say it every year but I assure you I do mean it. It was an honor and a privilege riding on your behalf.

Till 2010, adieu…

Comments are closed.