Pan Mass Challenge 2006

This is my annual Pan Mass Challenge trip report for the ride that took place Saturday and Sunday August 5 & 6 2006. The ride for me was not quite what I had planned for but that’s just the way it goes. The theme of basically dealing with a situation as it presents itself is fitting for the Pan Mass ride when you think of what we’re riding for.

In spite of the weather I managed to get in 1900 miles of training during the season preparing for the ride. I felt ready. The week before the ride I did back to back rides of around 60 miles each and felt strong and ready to roll. I was psyched for a great Pan Mass ride. All the riding was done, all my sponsors came through for me (thank you), my bike was ready to roll, everything was set for a great ride. All we needed was decent weather and the rest would be fun. Well, that was the plan anyway.

Friday morning, Aug 4, the day I head out to Sturbridge for pre-ride
festivities arrived. All my equipment and clothes were packed and ready to load up. I had a Pan Mass support van in my driveway that I was going to use to get out to Sturbridge meaning I would not need to ask anyone for a ride or deal with logistics of what to do with a car. Perfect situation.

I ran a couple last minute errands and was walking into the house when the tone would change. I turned to look at something while on the bottom step in my garage and slipped off and rolled my ankle. Anyone that’s ever done this knows what this feels like. Let’s just say I “felt something crack”. I could not believe this. In a split second I went from feeling great to complete disbelief and thinking, “I just broke my foot, I’m not going to be able to ride.” Well, my friends Dave and Mark that were driving with me out to Sturbridge showed up soon after. I was in the house with ice on my foot. They came in and said “ready to go”? I said, “yup, to the hospital.” I explained what had happened, we loaded the van and off to the Framingham Union hospital we went. I was so upset I couldn’t speak. We got to the hospital, I checked in, and waited to go in for an x-ray. Not quite what I had planned for the day. I was not supposed to be there. I was supposed to be on the way to Sturbridge to check in, have some lunch, get a massage, and just relax and enjoy the day.

Nancy came to meet me at the hospital. I decided that I better get my bike and luggage off the truck as it looked like I was not going to ride. I sent Dave and Mark off to Sturbridge and I sat in the waiting room quite depressed not knowing what the x-rays would show. Time passed very slow as I sat and waited in a very crowded waiting room. Almost 3 hours after I got there the doctor came in with the results of the x-ray. She said “good news, nothing is broken but it looks like you stretched out some ligaments and you chipped a bone in your foot.” Stunned I looked at her and said “that’s good news”? She then said “you will need to rest for about 48 hours as it’s going to be very sore and walking will be difficult. I’m going to put on an air cast and you’ll need some crutches for a bit.” Still stunned from the news I heard Nancy ask “he’s got a big bike ride this weekend, can he ride it?” The doctor said “well, it all depends on his tolerance for pain. He may be able to ride but the foot is going to swell up overnight and even if he rides it is probably going to be much more aggravated after the end of the first day. He won’t injure it any more if he rides but will set his healing back a couple days. Other than that he won’t do any permanent damage.”

Well, after hearing the news I still didn’t know if I was going to ride or
not. I knew I wanted to get out to Sturbridge and check-in, get my rider materials and attend the opening ceremonies. I figured I would at least go out there and take my bag and make sure someone got it on a truck. I figured if I couldn’t ride the event I’d at least get to the Maritime academy and volunteer and enjoy the event. My friend Jim’s wife was heading to Sturbridge and offered to give me a ride out.

Off to Sturbridge I went with my luggage, foot in an air cast, and crutches in tow. Not quite the picture of health I was in the morning when I got up. Bill and Steve at info desk

(Me and Steve Hauser at the info desk in Sturbridge Friday)

After much explaining to all I met I attended the opening ceremonies. They were quite good this year. American Idol finalist Ayla Brown opened with a song to kick off the show. There were some incredibly inspirational speeches and performances. There was one that got to me. It was about a woman from Holliston (my town) that lost her battle and how her 15 year old son (my daughter’s friend) and husband and a team from town would be riding in her memory. This was tough to watch. She was a really great person. I remembered her battle and it was a courageous one. Two years ago we were both on a local access cable TV program and interviewed about the Pan Mass. When the interviewer got to her he said “I know you have a special story and reason for riding this year. Would you like to tell us about it?” She just replied, “well personally I am hoping they find a cure real soon.” That was all she said. She did not let on that cancer had come back and spread all over her body. She knew this was her last stand but she chose to meet it with courage and more dignity than almost anyone I ever saw. She did complete the ride that year and passed away the following December.

Opening ceremonies concluded, my luggage was with my friend Tony so it would make it on to the truck to the Mass Maritime Academy and for the first time in 18 years I left Sturbridge on Friday night and went home. This was very hard for me to do. I had no idea how I’d feel in the morning. My foot was in a bit of pain and I was slightly depressed at the thought of not starting with the 2500 others leaving in the morning. I love the mass start. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to start with over 2500 other bikes all at once. That would not be in the cards for me this year.

I went home, got a good night’s sleep and got up at 5am with the rest of my family. They were all leaving at 5:30 to go to Franklin, the second water stop at the 40 mile mark, and work as Pan Mass volunteers. I told them I was going to get dressed and ride to Franklin and see how I felt. They never even questioned it. I said if I felt ok when I got to Franklin I was going to ride the rest of the way. They left and I flipped on NECN at 6am to watch the start of the ride. Seeing it on TV was tough but it made me even more determined to get out there and ride.

The ride to Franklin was about 15 miles from home. It was a very strange and reflective ride. I was happy I was able to fit my cycling shoe over the cast but the way I felt I knew I would not be able to stand in the pedals on any tough climbs. I figured I was in good enough shape that I’d just take the hills as they came and be able to handle them seated. That was what I convinced myself of anyway. I had missed the hardest hills of the ride not starting in Sturbridge and that was a smart thing. I made it to Franklin in about 45 minutes. I was really happy to see the entrance to the water stop. It was a pretty emotional thing for me to have made it here. I thought I timed it so the first riders from Sturbridge would have come in already and I’d slip into the water stop under the radar. Well, I sort of miscalculated and guess who the first rider into the stop was? Yup, it was me. Before I knew it there was cheering, cameras snapping photos, and the announcer saying “and here comes the first rider. And he’s wearing a cast…” I just put my head down thinking “oh man, I’m the PMC Rosie Ruiz”. Nancy set them all straight soon by saying “he cheated, he rode from home”. This made me laugh. I did not want to be in the paper or highlighted. I just wanted to ride.

Bill riding into the Franklin Waterstop

My left engine.

I waited in Franklin for some of my friends to show up as I felt I could do the ride. At least I believed I could do day 1. I’d figure the rest out as it came. I left Franklin at 8:30 with my friends Mark and John. We were off and within minutes were flying along in a paceline. I felt good. I was happy. I was riding in my 18th Pan Mass.

Me waiting for my friends.

I mostly pedaled with my right leg. The left was basically clipped in and along for the ride. I could spin but could not put a lot of pressure on it. That was ok. I was riding. We got to the lunch stop about 27 miles away from Franklin and I felt great. We were making great time. I ate, and was back on the road about 15 minutes later. This time my old friend Bob joined us leaving lunch. Bob and I go back a lot of years and it was great to see him again and ride with him.

We cranked to the next stop, filled a bottle, grabbed some food, and were on our way. The miles were flying by. We were doing great until we entered the final stretch in Wareham. We turned a corner and my left leg cramped up entirely. I yelled, “ouch, stopping… cramp” Very eloquent. It was all I could get out. I pulled to the curb and could not get my left foot out of the pedal. My leg would not move. I forced down a bottle of water and some gu and worked the cramp out. Bob stayed with me. He asked if I wanted to get the sag wagon. I would not do that. I was going to ride into the Mass Maritime Academy if I had to walk the bike there. We were 6 miles and I wasn’t giving up now. We rolled out…

More than ever I just wanted to get to the Maritime academy. The remaining miles passed quickly and thank heaven without incident.

I pulled into the Maritime academy at approximately 12:55. This was one of my earlier finishes. My average speed for the day was 18.1 mph which I was very pleased with. I’m happy when I can do this with two good legs.

I parked my bike, signed up for my massage, took a shower, and could not have been happier to be in Bourne. It was a beautiful day. I had no crutches and was able to get around with the walking cast on.

My cousins Len, Elaine, and Michelle were all working at MMA and enjoying themselves. Dave Winthrop’s dad Walter (a 7 year volunteer) was there working the salad bar . They all thought I was slightly nuts for riding like this but I like to think of it as determined. This was a temporary pain and not unbearable. I think what cancer patients go through with their battle and the discomfort I had was nothing. If anything it made me appreciate the event even more.

I spent the day catching up with friends, explaining what happened, and enjoying the day. We had our annual dinner at the Beechmoor to end the day and as usual it was a feast fit for kings. The owner, Rita, went out of her way as usual for our team. We always feel like royalty when we arrive at the Beechmoor. They couldn’t be nicer to us. We have a loyal following that always meets up with us there. It’s always a good time.

Dinner at the Beechmoor

Dinner came and went and it was back to the MMA to sleep. Bedtime was at 8pm for me that day. I got to my dorm room and my roomates Dave and Joel were already in bed. I was a little uncomfortable and did not know if I’d ride in the morning. I decided I’d figure that out when I woke up. I did.

Sunday morning came quickly. I got out of bed at 4am. My foot hurt a bit. I was still not sure I’d be able to ride. It was much more swollen than it was the day before. I figured if I could get my cycling shoe back on that I’d give it a shot. The “shoe fit” so I cleaned up and decided I would dress to ride.

A breakfast of biker buns (english muffin, egg, cheese, and bacon), fruit, and Dunkin Donuts coffee hit the spot. I figured I’d give day 2 a try and see how I felt. I figured I’d take it easy and if I didn’t feel up to it I’d take a sag wagon into P-town. Not something I wanted to do but I’d figure that out if and when I couldn’t ride.

I met up with friends and headed out on the road at 5:45am.

The Sunday ride starts going over the Bourne Bridge. This is dangerous. They close off one lane but it is filled with riders of all skill levels. This is the one time on the ride that I felt unsafe. Understand that both my feet are clipped into my pedals with cleats like a ski binding. They are made so you can clip out but my left foot being injured I could not clip out that easy. Some riders decided to get off their bikes in the middle of the bridge because the climb (the bridge is a steep hill) was too much. This brought the group to a screeching halt and almost caused a large pileup. I could not clip out quick enough so I jumped out into the traffic lane and passed the group on the bridge. This was not a show of testosterone, it was survival. I was chastised by a couple women but I really didn’t care. The last thing I wanted was another story to tell…

Once over the bridge I rode along the canal with Dave Winthrop. We stayed together the 5 miles along the canal. Leaving the canal you begin a slight climb that takes you to the access road that parallels route 6 known as “the rollers”. It’s aptly named as it is a very long road made up of rolling hills. It is one of my favorite sections of the ride. Once you get in the rhythm of the rollers you can fly. I did. I was passing a lot of people to most of their amazement. Unfortunately I lost Dave when I picked up the pace. I was riding by myself which was ok. I was with hundreds of fellow riders that were all very friendly and helpful. Well, I wasn’t riding alone for long. My friends Steve Kohalmi, Steve Hauser and his fiance Kathleen Rider came along. They spotted me and said “let’s go, get on our wheel and we’ll pull you along”. To the uninitiated, the phrase “pull you along” means they will lead the way and I would draft off them. Drafting is great when you have strong riders to ride behind. I did. These are some of the strongest riders I know. Steve and Kathleen ride a tandem and drafting off a tandem is like riding behind a truck (i.e. it blocks the wind making it easier to ride). You can ride very fast with approximately 20% less effort. This is an absolute blast. Fly we did. I hooked on to their line a couple miles from the first waterstop at the 20 mile mark. My average speed was 18 MPH which I was happy with considering I rode most of it alone. Well, I rode with my new tandem engine to the next water stop about 20 miles away in Brewster. My average when I pulled into the second stop went up to 19.8 MPH. That’s really fast for me. My average went up almost 2 miles per hour meaning we were probably averaging over 22 the entire 20 miles. Fast was good for me as I wanted to get to Provincetown and rest my foot.

The foot...

Bill and Kathleen

In and out of the second water stop quickly we were back on the road in about 5 minutes. I managed to stay with them for about another 10 miles till the hills of Wellfleet came. Yes, contrary to popular belief the cape has a lot of hills. It is not flat. I could not stand on the pedals to get extra power on some of the tougher hills so I told them to go on. I didn’t want to slow them up. Again, I wasn’t really alone. I started talking with some other riders going along at my pace and rolled into the third and final water stop of the day at 9am. This was pretty good. I stopped at the “ice couch” (a couch made up of bags of ice and a blanket covering), cooled off, got a gatorade martini (gatorade served in plastic martini glasses), grabbed some food, and filled my water bottles to head out on the final 20 mile stretch to P-Town! I met up with my friends Wayne and Eric and started the final stretch with them. This didn’t last long as I lost them in the hills where my speed drops. Alone again but this was ok. I was in a zone focused on one thing, finishing and getting off the bike. Drive and determination kept me pedalling. I made it through the tough part of Truro quickly and then on to route 6 for the final push to race point.

The miles along route 6 are extremely tough. You’re physically and mentally exhausted when you get to this section of the ride. Route 6 is exposed with no shade and usually has a nice cross wind, and a lot of hills. I started out and before long a couple of riders passed me. I yelled out, “mind if I draft off you”. They said “sure, no problem.” These were not even PMC riders but were gracious enough and willing to help me out. I drafted off them all the way down route 6 to the entrance to race point in Provincetown, the final stretch before the finish line. Race point is made up of a series of hills (yes, several more miles of hills, do you see a theme here) that go through the dunes of Provincetown. I just cranked over them. Sheer adrenaline was driving me at this point. I knew how close I was to finishing. I made it through race point and onto the final stretch to the finish line at the Provincetown Inn. Seeing the finish line after such a gruelling ride is indescribable. I just stated turning the cranks as fast as I could. I crossed the finish line around 10:15am. Total riding time on Sunday was 4 hours, 2 minutes. Average speed: 19.3 mph Wow… I impressed myself with that one. It was so emotional crossing the finish line after such a difficult trek.

I checked in at the finish line and proceeded to get off the bike. Someone came up and offered me an ice cold bottle of water which I gladly accepted. I no sooner started drinking it when my friend Debra, a volunteer in P-town, spotted me and came over to congratulate me. She had heard I was riding with a bum leg and an air cast and I don’t think she believed it till she saw me pull in. We chatted a bit but it was time for me to get rid of the bike, find my bag, and head to our day room for a shower. The PMC provides shower tents supplied by the national guard where most of the riders clean up after the ride. A bunch of friends and I opt to get a day room at the Provincetown Inn. This is money well spent. This is even better when you’re one of the first ones to the room. Clean towels and a clean shower! I cleaned up and the bed looked so good that I decided to lay down, put my foot up and ice it down before heading down to begin the day’s festivities. Took a nice half hour power nap till the next rider showed up and woke me up. This was just what I needed.

Now it was time to get some nourishment. PMC puts on a great feast after the ride. You just can’t beat it. Everything from fresh roll-ups, Legal Seafood clam chowder, hamburgs, hot dogs, sausages, beer, veggie burgers, chicken, etc. No going hungry for this crowd. With all the calories we burn over the course of the two days you don’t see people watching what they eat all that much.


(me and Dave chowing down in P-Town)

After some food it was time to head into town to meet up with some friends at the “Governor Bradford”, our yearly meeting spot for a drink before getting on the ferry to head home. Always a good time catching up with Matt and the crew before the boat ride home. We leave the Governor to head to the boat around 3 but I’m still hungry. Time to stop for pizza 🙂 Yup, more food… Now I’m good for the ride home.

Weather for the ride back was absolutely perfect. Calm seas, cool breeze, clear skies, and smooth sailing for the 3 and a half hour ride home. You couldn’t ask for any better weather. The pictures probably don’t do justice to convey the party atmosphere on the ferry on the ride home. The band plays almost the whole way back and most of the people are up and dancing showing no signs that they just rode 192 miles in most cases. This is one of the highlights of the weekend for all of us. It’s by far one of the best parties I’ll go to all year. How can it not be? After 18 years I have made a lot of friends that I only get to see on this weekend. It’s just a great bunch of people. You seem to pick up where you left off last year. I do manage to see some of them during the year which is great. We keep in touch by email and see each other at PMC events but nothing compares to the ferry party.

Ferry Party!

The hours seem to pass in a flash. We see the dock in Boston harbor filled with people there to greet the returning riders. I can only imagine how cool it must look to everyone when that boat comes gliding into the slip with the band playing and everyone up partying and cheering. The party seems to continue for a bit after we dock. Nobody wants it to end. However, end it must as we need to go home and back to our lives. We say our goodbyes and off we go till the next year.

This year was a really tough one for me but it was also one great ride too. I’m sure some of you are asking why I would ride after injuring my foot and having a cast put on the day before. Most people would think, heck, I’m not riding, I’m done. Well, to be honest, that’s a thought that crossed my mind and I was more depressed at the thought of not riding than I can explain. I had decided that if the doctor came back and said I had broken bones and advised me not to ride that I would listen to her. It was not something I wanted to hear but I also was not going to ride and risk doing permanent damage. Well, when she came in with the x-ray results and delivered the initial news saying “well, the good news is you did not fracture any bones. The bad news is that you stretched a bunch of ligaments and chipped a bone in your foot. You will be sore and it will be very tough to stand and walk on it.” A soon as I heard this I knew I would make it one way or another.

That’s really what the ride is all about. It’s called the Pan Mass Challenge and not the “Pan Mass Race”. Ok, so this was a bit more challenging for me than usual. Big deal. That’s two days of the year. Nothing compared to what cancer patients go through while being treated and battling to survive.

Last year I rode with my friend Jen that had finished radiation treatment less than 6 weeks before the ride. This meant she trained less and faced a very tough ride after having her body beaten down by the treatment. This year my friend Maryellen rode two days from Srurbridge to P-town after her battle with breast cancer last year. She was to head into the Dana Farber the following Monday morning for follow-up treatment. She told us very matter of factly as if it was just another day. This is how she faced the disease every day during the gruelling treatment. I don’t think I ever heard either of these women complain. They just smiled and were happy to be out there. So, when you think of this and put it in perspective my ride was relatively easy. It’s not about winning a race. It’s not about any prize money (there is none). The ride is about facing adversity and dealing with it the best way you can. Cancer patients do this every day. Riding is nothing compared to this. Even riding with a cast can’t compare. The heroes of this event are the survivors and those battling the disease. As a rider we’re all in awe of them. Riding
and raising money is our way of fighting back.

Another year down and after it’s all said and done it was a great year. Thank you for letting me ride on your behalf. As always it was an honor and a privilege and I will be out there doing it all again next year. Hopefully this time with no pre-ride injuries.

Best regards to all,

– Bill

3 Responses to “Pan Mass Challenge 2006”

  1. arleen sanders says:

    hi bill, what a great story. congrats on finishing the race with an injured foot. you are just such an inspiration, and i loved your long and short stories. thanks for all you do. how is your leg feeling now. hope you are better. love to your family

  2. Rich Newman says:

    Great work.

    I understand perfectly your desire to push on. Not crazy at all. Or at least no crazier then doing the ride in the first place.

  3. Barbara Martinez says:

    Bill — Since receiving the “teaser” e-mail that your ride was more challenging this year, I have been awaiting your annual rider report…of course, I read the long version. WOW what a ride and what determination! I can just hear Nancy in the ER telling the doc you had a big ride that weekend! : D CLEARLY, your winter spinning training, as well as all of your road training paid off and had you in great shape to handle even this added challenge.

    Reading your report makes me almost want to start training myself! However, I think I’ll leave it to you and the other riders I support, and keep doing my three hour Spin for Hope each winter. As if we need any more reminders, last weekend, I attended two wakes and two funerals for men who lost courageous battles with cancer — one at 77 and one at 52. Both “beat the clock” for longer than anyone expected thanks to great care at Dana Farber and other facilities. Keep up the great work — it is giving many precious extra days/months and years with their loved ones!