I haven’t been able to write for a week, not for lack of time or topic, but because I haven’t been able to sort out the jumble of thoughts in my head following my PMC ride. (In case you’ve forgotten what that is, click HERE for the facts, or HERE and HERE for the inspiration.) I’m finally able to eke something out, but I suspect this topic will be sneaking into my posts for some time to come.

I had planned for this to be my last PMC ride. The fundraising commitment is incredibly steep and the hours of long, lonely training rides have taken their toll on my psyche. I wanted to go out on a high note–one last, good ride–and I accomplished that. I had a great ride, both mentally and physically. I finished feeling full.

By the time I boarded the party boat, er, ferry back to Boston, I started having second thoughts. What if…what if I came back again?

So far, I’ve been able to rein myself in and withhold commitment until I come down from the endorphin high. It has gotten me thinking, though. Why, exactly, do I feel drawn to this ride? What keeps me and so many others coming back year after year?

For one thing, it is extremely well-organized. The staff has identified every possible rider need and takes pains to address each one. From road signs to police support to food and water to porta-johns to icy hot to music to dorm space to luggage transfer to beer at the finish, it magically gets done. As a rider, I don’t even give it a thought; that’s pretty amazing.

Then there are the volunteers. More than 3000 people work their you-know-whats off to keep us riding, and they’re just as committed as the riders. At one water stop, I saw an older man with limited mobility sitting between tables of fruit and power bars. When I moved closer, I heard him telling people to bring their sunglasses to him; he would clean them. And trust me, he was. He may not have been able to lug jugs of water or move boxes of yogurt, so he found the thing he COULD do and made his contribution; the amazing thing is that he’s not unique among his fellow volunteers. I find that kind of commitment overwhelming.

Finally, the spectators play a huge role in keeping people committed. From Sturbridge to Provincetown, the cacophony of sound rarely ceases. Cowbells, cheers, clapping, boomboxes, bagpipes, drums, whistles, and the ubiquitous thank-yous keep those pedals turning. This year, I again saw many signs that read I’m alive today because of you! I’m a survivor! and My daughter is 14 today because of you! (The latter was painted on the back window of an imposing black SUV that cruised part of the route to make sure we saw it.) Kids lined up to give us high fives as we rode, and the full complement of campers at the Cape Cod Sea Camp (Da Hedge) came out in force and greeted us with deafening cheers as we rode by. With “Thank you for riding!” bombarding me for 190 miles, I finished feeling like a rock star. Riders keep coming back because we’re left somehow believing we’ll let these people down if we don’t.

What finally became clear to me is that everyone has a role to play. This event would not be so successful without each of these groups of people. We all do what we can, and that’s what makes it great.

I don’t know if I’ll ride again next year, but I’m pretty sure my involvement with the PMC is not over. I have visions of renting a vacation house on the Cape during PMC weekend just so my kids and I can set up camp along US 6 and scream our support. Or maybe I’ll mix Gatorade in Wellfleet. Or direct traffic in Wareham. Or pass out ibuprofen in Bourne.

One person can make a difference. Look at what thousands of them together can do. Never underestimate your contribution to a cause, even if all you can do is clean sunglasses.