Chris Spear's 2005 Pan Mass Challenge

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Dining in the deluge

Dining tent during heavy downpour When you are planning to ride a bike for two days, you become obsessed with the weather forecast.  Rain or shine?  Cold or hot? Dry or steamy?  Typical New England weekends in August have lots of the latter.  Several riders prefer to bike to the starting line in Sturbridge on Friday to add more distance to the challenge, covering 80 miles from Boston or 200 miles from the Canadian border.   Me, I took an air conditioned bus to escape the 90 degree steam bath.  (Jon, Mo, Ben and I decided than riding 200 miles from Sturbridge to Provincetown was sufficient.) The day was saved when the thunderclouds rolled through as dinner started.  The skies opened up with 20 minutes of continuous thunder and lightning.  I was stuck under the dining tent with my compadres on our second plate of pasta, watching the three foot swells on the nearby lake, and the other riders who were unable to get to the food tent because of the intervening storm.  

After the storm

Parking lot after storm Friday night's pyrotechnics left the air cool and dry, even if the parking lot had 2 feet of water.  On Saturday morning I joined the 2500 riders who left the Sturbridge Host hotel at 6am, headed for Cape Cod.  (Another 1500 departed from Babson College in Wellesley at 7am.) This was my 17th PMC, and I've learned to avoid the lead groups who fly across the hills of central Mass.  Unlike last year when I trained in the Rocky Mountains, this year's practice rides were more restrained.  I rode for 72 miles before stopping for "lunch" at 9:30am.

Bridges to the Cape

MMA and bridges It was a shame to miss all the helpful volunteers working the myriad of water-stops but there was just one person on my mind - the physical therapists who give up their Saturday to knead and prod our tired muscles.  The PMC is not a race, but the sooner you finish, the shorter the lines for showers and massages.  I was a little slower this year, with 30 riders coming in before me, some up to an hour.  On Saturday afternoon the riders eat and relax at the Mass Maritime Academy in Bourne, recuperating for the next day.  Check out the photo on the left where you can see the railroad bridge in the background, and the curved car bridge behind it (the image is a link, click to expand).   The beer tent and band shut down at 7pm and by 9pm most of us are snoring away in dorms, tents, and a cargo ship.

Sunrise stretch

Sunrise along Cape Cod Canal Reveille is at 4:15am on Sunday morning to encourage us to complete our ride before the tourist traffic floods the roads of Cape Cod.  Volunteers had worked through the night to prepare breakfast.  I hit the road at 4:40am when most people were still in the food line.  The first challenge of the morning is the Bourne Bridge which looks almost flat from the side, but is painfully steep when your legs are sore from the previous day.  The first few rays of the sun peeked through the clouds above the Cape Cod Canal, while tug boats lumbered against the tide.  I like to treat Sunday as an 80 mile time trial, just me against the clock.  This requires balancing water consumption against rest stops and on-bike eating against bonking.

Enjoying lunch
after a long ride I passed over a dozen riders in the first half of the ride, but could not find the few cyclists that the volunteers said were just ahead.  After 70 miles I entered Provincetown, crossing a long flat section of road where I could not see anyone ahead in the 2 mile stretch.  Where are those guys?  Worse yet, another rider appeared in my mirror, slowly gaining on me.  I pushed harder, not wanting to get passed.  A quick glance showed that the rider was closer.  Even though I gave all I had left, he caught up with me a few minutes later.  But wait, he had no helmet - he was just a guy out for a morning ride from a hotel down the road! We rode together for few miles until the PMC route split off across the Provincelands dunes.  I don't know what happened to the mysterious riders I had been chasine, because I finished first, for the third year in a row.  On the obligatory TV interview I dedicated the ride to my high school prom date, Zebby, who was successfully treated for breast cancer. The Cable News station used an excerpt where I described losing my cousin, grandmother, father and uncle to cancer in a 4 month period in 1995.  One of the many reasons of why I ride.

Over the last 26 years, the PMC has raised over $123 million, which allows Dana Farber researchers to create new treatments, new cures for cancer.  The World Champion Boston Red Sox sponsor the ride, thus covering much of the overhead for the ride.  This means that even more of your donation (over 97%) will go to directly to research! Thanks!

Read my 2005 fundraising letter
Return to Chris Spear's PMC Page
Additional photos by John Kowaleski.