The Cycling Community

Pan-Mass Challenge 2014


It’s hard to remember a time when I wasn’t head over heels for cycling.
Pulled by a sense of freedom and adventure dating back to my youth and
strengthened through the years, my passion has never been enriched like it
was recently over 192 inspirational, cold, and wet miles.

I approached my 4th Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) with much anticipation and
emotion. My association with PMC started in typical fashion. It was always
meant to be a bucket-list event. But after one year I was hooked, and its
mission brought me back the next year to ride with my daughter as part of
her bat mitzvah project and to share the roads with Lance (pre Oprah).
This year, our company’s Team Flo was made up of 44 vintage and
newly-minted cyclists all to support The Dana Farber Cancer Institute’s
research activities to find potential therapies for those living with
cancer.

Team Flo was united not only by the commitment to help find a cure, but
also to the company I had just announced my retirement from after 18 years.
Past that, our team was as diverse as they come. In our ranks we had a Cat
2 rocket and those who just recently invested in a bike, shoes, helmet, and
other gear. We had an exuberant teenager and cyclists in their late 50s
with the wisdom that only time in the saddle provides. We had the “I got
this” and “I’m nervous and I’m not sure if I can do this”, and everyone in
between.

Since this was going to be one of my last corporate activities after 18
years, I had a vision for PMC 2014. It was going to be sunny, but not too
hot, with low humidity, and we would be assisted by a gentle tailwind. Our
team would come prepared. We would all be fit and road mechanicals would be
something others would worry about. In essence, I wanted a low-maintenance
easy ride. Well, we all got something completely different, and it
enhanced my love for, and hooked others on our sport.

Helmet ornaments, at PMC, are a common practice. They serve as a micro link
to teammates within the 5,800 cyclists that comprise the PMC peloton. Our
mascot happens to be a duck which turned out to be apropos. Let’s start
with the weather. Remember that wish of sun, low humidity, and cool
temperatures? Well, we got 1 out 3 which isn’t bad if you play for the Red
Sox. Cool temperatures and rain, better measured with buckets than inches,
was the forecast.

At Friday night’s opening ceremonies the energetic and inspirational Billy
Star, PMC Founder, was confident that we would get wet. As we gathered in
Sturbridge, MA for our 109 miles on Saturday, we spent as much time looking
up at the sky as we did doing our final inspection of the tires, gears, and
brakes, and debating the value of starting with rain gear or not. The
optimists were convinced that the rain would come at the end of the day.
This was not to be. It started as a drizzle as soon as we turned up the
road and headed towards our first rest stop, but Mother Nature was kind
enough to give us a period of dryness mid-way through our trek to Bourne,
MA. However, her kindness was short lived as the skies soon opened up to
produce many bike-swallowing puddles, and the coldest, wettest PMC on
record. And although our ducks served as our co-pilots, we were not
prepared for this as few train in this type of weather. The ride officially
became difficult. That easy, low maintenance ride was quickly turning into
a ride of persistence, grit, and hypothermic worry.

But as things grew more difficult, the positive attributes of our flock
emerged. Being that cyclists, volunteers, and contributors, were all
stronger together. In a world of solo morning training rides, individual
commutes by bike, competitive timed grand fondo sections, and the myopic
leaderboard mentality of common training tools; it’s easy to lose
perspective that cycling is a sport of community. It takes cooperation
with motorists who share the road, with family and friends who support our
training, and with other members of our peloton who inspire us to continue.
Cycling is not a solo endeavor. This year’s PMC unscored the value of
community, and that some of our greatest gifts come from our hardest rides.

Saturday was an epic day for all who rode, and for some of our team
members, along with other PMC cyclists, it was possibly the greatest
physical and emotional accomplishment in their life. Many rode right
passed “I don’t know if I can” into “I have this” while ignoring the
whispers of the sag wagon “you’ve done well, it’s been a tough day, get in
the van” to deliver gritty and determined rides. But for most, we were not
done. Sunday’s start was just a few hours away.

Our 4 a.m. alarm was the first test as we assessed soreness and the weather
outside. We woke to gray skies and a hint of rain. With basics of BFC
(i.e., bagels, fruit and coffee) onboard we approached our first climb, the
Bourne Bridge, which would take us onto Cape Cod and the rest of our
70-plus miles. The bridge was blanketed by early morning fog and mist. In
spite of this beautiful sight, it couldn’t be totally appreciated because
Saturday was already taking a toll on some of our team members. Today was
going to be hard. Like our ducks, we would navigate together.

As we drifted out of rest stops #1 and #2, the day’s dampness eased and
there were moments of sun which started to give strength to the “I know I
can. I got this” voice and began to silence the “I’m not strong enough”
voice that we all hear from time to time. However, we still had 30 plus
miles to ride which included more rolling hills and the potential winds
that usually welcome riders as we enter Provincetown.

In much the same way that can’t predict when our hills, dips, and turns
appear in life. A course only reveals itself once it’s been ridden. As we
rode the question “Is this the last hill?” became a refrain, and it was a
question best not answered for fear of erring and providing a false sense
of relief. As our miles rolled by, the cresting of each hill, as little or
as big as perceived, was an illustration of what is possible when the mind
is stronger than the body.

Over those miles, the best cycling event volunteers, the supporters lining
the road, the motorists on Route 6 thanking us for riding, the support of
our fellow peloton members, the group flat fixing efforts, and the
figurative and literal assistance up those final climbs, reinforced the
strength of community. In the end, all members of Team Flo finished with
smiles on their faces. Tired? Yes. And together we accomplished something
that couldn’t have been done alone.

This year’s PMC certainly didn’t follow the script, but sometimes the best
rides and life events don’t. The unexpected can be more joyous and
rewarding. Individually my passion for our sport was deepened. Together we
experienced the potential hidden inside all of us through community.

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