Cleaning sunglasses

Ohboyohboyohboy.

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.

When the going gets tough

Tomorrow morning at 5:30 I will clip my shoes into my pedals and head toward the sea. For my third and final time, I will take the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge and wheel my bike across Massachusetts to raise money for cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

When I finish the first day’s 110 miles, I will be spent. When I get on the bike at dark the next morning, the outline of the seat will be excruciating for the first several miles until the sharp pain becomes bearable. When I approach the finish in Provincetown, the wind will try to push me backward to where I started. When I crest the last hill and approach the 190th mile, I will choke back tears. The commitment, the effort, and the adventure will overwhelm me.

As I sit in my bed just hours before the ride begins, I already know these things. After all, I’ve done this twice before. I know it will be hard. I know it will be overwhelming. Most of all, I know it will make a difference.

Tonight at the opening ceremonies, I listened to story after story about cancer survivors. Sometimes they were the people stricken with the disease; sometimes they were the people left behind. Everyone suffers, and everyone deserves a fighting chance.

I also listened to the president of Dana Farber speak about all the ways the more than $330 million donated over the lifetime of this ride has helped move the research forward. Real ways. Very specific ways. Drugs that came to market specifically because of the funding provided by this ride. Doctors who were able to explore innovative therapies because these donations kept their labs in operation.

In the crowd, I saw a man missing a leg. I saw men and women who had beaten cancer. I saw parents who had lost children. I saw fighters who didn’t know what the results of their next PET scan would show. I saw a man fighting for a friend. I saw a woman whose son had survived but his father hadn’t. Every one of them will ride with me tomorrow. Every one of them has suffered in ways I can’t begin to imagine and hope I never have to. Every one of them is stronger than me.

That’s why I ride. That’s why I can’t quit when the going gets tough.

Ride, baby, ride

If you read the recap of my 2011 PMC ride, you know that last year’s ride was tough for me–and I wasn’t convinced I was ready to do it again. If you read my year-end reflections, you know that I did, indeed, decide to give it a go once more. If you’re new to my blog, you’re likely confused.

For the benefit of the latter group, I’ll explain.

PMC stands for Pan-Massachusetts Challenge. It’s an annual event, a two-day, 190-mile bicycle trek that winds its way through half of Massachusetts, from Sturbridge (about mid-state) to Provincetown (the tip of the curlicue). As if the thrill of the physical challenge weren’t enough, this 5000-rider event serves as a cancer fundraiser, donating 100% of all rider-raised proceeds to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It’s a big deal. Last year alone, the PMC presented a check for $35 million to DFCI. Yes, those are MILLIONS.

It’s tough. In fact, it’s grueling. Physically, I don’t think I’ve ever undertaken anything more challenging for that sustained period of time. I almost gave up last year.

It’s also rewarding. Everyone who rides, everyone who lines the route to cheer and encourage has been touched in some way by this daunting illness. Some are survivors. Some are fighting now. Some have lost loved ones. Some are supporting people close to them in their fight. Everyone has a story.

In my most tired, run-down moments during the ride, I only have to turn my head for inspiration. The man riding a tandem bicycle alone, his wife’s photo affixed to her empty seat. The people on the roadside shouting thank you. The couple with both their tiny daughters’ photos pinned to their backs, memorialized for this ride. The kids being treated at DFCI who wait to meet their pedal partners at one of the rest stops. The man with one leg, spinning his wheels faster than I can with two. The signs along the route that say Thanks for giving my mom a second chance.

I also think about the people who’ve sponsored me, who are counting on me to hold up my end of the deal and make it to the end. Many, many of those people have lost someone dear or have survived their own fight. Riding a bike for two days is nothing. Nothing at all.

So here I go again.

This year’s PMC will be my last hurrah, but I am going to do it again; I’ve already signed up. It’s for Frank, Howard, Betty, Roy, Rachael, Rebecca, Linda, Bernice, Jason, John, Sherri, Chanda, Bill, Nonda, Ebony, Carly, and so, so many others. Really, it’s for everyone.

If you want to know more about the PMC, visit www.pmc.org. If you would consider sponsoring me financially, click here to donate. If you want to share a personal story, please do. I would be honored and humbled to ride in honor or memory of someone special to you. I also need lots of encouragement, both during my training phase and the ride itself. Drop me a note, an email, or a text message if you can.

Thanks.

Yes, this post is a bit of a departure from my communicating and connecting theme, but it’s my way of staying accountable to my promise. I think that’s a key component to both of those topics.