2021 Pan Mass Challenge – The Long Version

PMC 2021 – Wow, great weekend “our way”

My ride for PMC 2021 is in the books. It’ll go down as one of my best for many reasons. Sadly, it’s still not what I call a “real PMC” thanks to the pandemic.

2021 was certainly better than 2020 and for that I think we’re all grateful. My usual ride is from Sturbridge to Provincetown, what I call the “true PMC”. Everything else pales by comparison in my opinion. Why? My true PMC (yes, I’m going to make this about me) is like a yearly family reunion where I get to reconnect with people I might only see once a year. It starts in Sturbridge on Friday afternoon at the registration desk and goes on all weekend. I get the privilege of going “into the PMC world” and leaving the world of politics, divisiveness, and pandemic behind. One place where everyone is there united against a common enemy, Cancer. The PMC community is unique and when you get this group of thousands of people together the world just seems like a better place. The reunion aspect was still lacking in the PMC due to Covid protocols. There were no big gatherings before, during, or after. I’m hoping we get to go back to that next year. Yes, it was the right thing to do but still a big let down.

That said, the 2021 PMC was incredible. I started my weekend on Friday by loading my boat with supplies and taking it from its slip in Falmouth over to a slip in Onset with the help of friends. This would be our transportation back home after day 1. We’d usually finish at the Mass Maritime Academy with a big celebration. The tent with all the food, the Harpoon Beer truck, the food trucks, the music, and the party atmosphere would not be there this year. Instead of riding into the MMA to the cheers of the spectators and crossing the finish line with lots of riders, we would finish at the Onset Bay Marina. This would be different but it would be special. I’m grateful for the help from Steve and Sonny making this work.

After making my way back home from Onset, Nancy and I drove up to Cambridge to stay with Eric and Meaghan since we’d be starting from Wellesley in the morning instead of Sturbridge due to logistics. We went to Parla in the North End for a great dinner and some amazing deserts from Modern Bakery. It was the first time I’d been back in Boston since the beginning of the pandemic with crowds, albeit smaller than typical, but it felt good to be closer to normal. Saturday morning we were dropped off at Babson College and 7 of us started our ride together. It was a bit anticlimactic compared to a mass start with over 3000 cyclists going off the starting line. It was fun though. It was great seeing other riders on the road as well as spectators out there at dawn cheering us all on. It was phenomenal to have the support of the Mass State Police as well as those from local departments. This was sorely missed last year when we did our own PMC with 4 of us riding together and seeing no spectators, having no police support at intersections, and seeing almost no riders at all. It’s easy to take for granted what you have till it’s gone.

I created our own route that would take us away from the official Wellesley route and route us over to Franklin (to the Sturbridge route) where Nancy and Nicole were volunteering. Our group of 7 went to 4 when 3 took the traditional Wellesley route instead of adding on the 8 miles I worked in. I hadn’t realized how much was missing from the PMC till I got to the water stop and saw them serving riders, the DJ blasting music, and announcers cheering us in. It really hit me that I was finally back “in the PMC” after 2 years. Till that point it just felt like a 25 mile ride. It was emotional and empowering. I was back doing what I love and sharing that with Eric for his 3rd ride. That’s a gift and an honor I can’t describe.

We left Franklin and continued our 91 mile journey that ended in Onset, 2.5 miles from the Mass Maritime Academy, the official finish for me for the past 32 years. This was certainly different but it was fun to change it up. To quote George Costanza from Seinfeld, the “seas were angry that day my friend” for our 8 mile ride back to Falmouth but we had fun.

Sunday morning we rolled out at 5:30 on our 85 mile journey to Provincetown. It was raining lightly and we didn’t mind. Thankfully it never rained hard. It was 10 miles to the canal for us to get on the PMC route. While riding along the canal I was passing a cyclist and noticed his tag said he was a first year rider. I said “welcome and congratulations on your first PMC. Hope it’s going well for you.” He replied to me “well, it’s not really my first PMC. I’ve ridden a couple of the PMC kids rides.” That just cracked me up. You have to understand, a PMC Kids ride usually involves a route that’s a few miles. This kid was taking on almost 80 miles for the second day. The fact that he thought this was not new to him just made me smile for many reasons, not the least of which is seeing the next generation stepping up.

We had a shout out from a teammate on the canal taking pictures for the PMC. That was fun but the canal was fairly empty, a bit eerie when you’re used to hundreds of bikes around you. Still, we had a blast cruising through “the rollers”, the service road that parallels route 6. It was really nice to see one of the Monday night group I ride with out there with a sign cheering us on. We cruised to our first stop in Barnstable at 30 miles in.

After a quick break we were off to our second stop in Brewster, 45 miles into our day, around 8am. It was during this leg where I realized how Eric had really progressed. I was at the front of what started as a small line of 4 of us and before I knew it there were over 20 bikes behind me in our pace-line for about 5 miles. I noticed my speed at over 22 mph and thought, damn, I probably dropped Eric. Nope, much to my surprise he was right on my wheel with me riding strong. He had become a cyclist. He had figured out how to use the draft to go faster with less effort. It was a proud moment but I wondered if I hadn’t made a mistake and possibly burned him out going to hard. Time would tell. We rolled in and took a selfie at the water stop. Eric liked the fact that this looked almost like it should, albeit with far fewer people. You have to understand that the water stops are like a party filled with people, music cranking, food, and just fun. This year the stops were barely 25% capacity. Again, the right thing to do but still different.

We were leaving the stop after refueling and someone shouted out “PHAT Tuesday”. I didn’t recognize him but it turned out he rode with some of my team’s Virginia residents. We ended up riding with him for a good part of the rest of our day. Within a few miles it was like we were old friends that had ridden together for years. This is kind of the magic of the PMC, that common bond that unites us all. While we were riding up a long hill in Wellfleet along the coast he says to me, “I want to share something that happened this morning. My daughter’s best friend passed away from leukemia. She was 17. She was diagnosed 2 years ago. She was like my second daughter. We thought she was going to pass last week but she just hung on. I told my wife to not hide it if it happened. The message came up on my Garmin (bike computer) not long before we ran into you.” Wow, I barely knew how to respond to that other than to ask about her and he shared what an amazing young woman she was. How unfair it was that she was barely starting her life and that she’d never get to experience all that lay ahead of her. He talked about her parents and I just kept turning the pedals and listened. All I could think of is, this is why we ride and that hopefully one day no child would suffer. No parent would have to go through the loss of a child due to cancer. It was a very sobering moment to say the least.

We rolled into the Wellfleet stop averaging over 17mph. This was very good and I think one of Eric’s best rides. I’d set a target of 16mph for him and he was beating that. The next leg is one of the tougher sections through Wellfleet and the dunes of Truro and into Provincetown. It’s gotten the best of me many times over the years. I was wondering how Eric would fare there and he crushed it. There was one road we turned on in Truro and someone had written “Go Bill and Eric!”. It was awesome and we had no idea who would’ve done that for us. We later found out it was one of our friends working as a PMC photographer. That simple little chalk message on the road not only propelled us but we had so many people come up to us and say “hey, did you see the sign on the road in Truro?” Fun. We got out of the hills of Truro and onto route 6 for 10 miles heading into Provincetown. I looked back and realized Eric had dropped back so I pulled over for a bit till he caught up. He was still riding strong. He got on my wheel and we rode into the final hills of race point. There’s a choice to go an easy flat 1 mile to the finish or take 5 miles of grueling hills. Eric chose the hills and we hit em hard. We rolled into the finish at 11:30 as planned finishing our 2-day total of 175 miles.

I could not have been more proud of Eric and how he rode this weekend. The same goes for his fundraising. I think he’s been bitten by the PMC bug. I love that this isn’t just “my ride” but it’s something we can do together and each have our own ride experience. I love that Nancy and Nicole have their PMC volunteer experience and making it all work for us. Words can’t express it.

We spent the afternoon in Provincetown and had a great lunch with Eric, Meaghan, and Tony. Nancy and I drove back to Falmouth after seeing Tony off on the ferry to Boston. PMC 2021 was over. It was a great weekend in spite of it not being a “true PMC”. At the end of the day it’s all about the funds raised and we’re raising a lot… The final numbers aren’t in yet but they’re looking great. Stay tuned and I’ll send them out when they’re finished. Personally however, I crossed $19,000 for the year and Eric looks like he’s going to pass $9,000 to bring him to Heavy Hitter level once again, very impressive.

I can’t thank you all enough for allowing me to ride on your behalf. Till next year…

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