Tuesday, August 23, 2011

PMC 2011: Wipe Outs, Hills, and Flat Tires - Oh My!

It's been exactly 16 days since I completed my first Pan Mass Challenge. Over those 16 days, I've had time to ponder, remember, laugh, and cringe over those 8 long hours on my road bike. The one thing I can say, without a doubt, is that the Pan Mass Challenge is most definitely a challenge. Not only is it a physical challenge, but it is also a mental, and dare I say emotional, challenge. Regardless, it is a challenge I am willing to take on again despite the numerous roadblocks (no pun intended) we encountered on our journey. 

August 7, 2011 - The Wickham Family Takes On the PanMass Challenge

3:30AM: My alarm, the annoyance equivalent of an ambulance siren at that ungodly hour, temporarily brought out my mexican jumping bean. After realizing a) what time it was, b) that today was the day I would ride 65 miles on a bicycle with minimal training, and c) that it was raining outside, I can't say I was completely excited about this 65 mile venture through the bays, bogs and hills of Massachusetts. After putting on my super cool PMC biking gear and actually feeling like cyclist, those feelings began to melt away. 

5:30AM: My Uncle Jeff, my two cousins, and my Dad and I arrive at the Bourne starting line. At this point, all feelings of dread are gone. The crowds of supporters, riders and volunteers who have rolled out of bed to be a part of this event blow me away. Every single person in attendance has been affected by the horrendous disease we call cancer. But you wouldn't know it. Cheers, laughter and excited chit-chatter can be heard throughout the parking lot of the Mass Maritime Academy. Riders, adorned with funky/crazy/funny helmet ornaments, are riding out by the hundreds. Their family members and friends, there to see them off, are cheering, waving, clapping, and showing no sign that they are affected by the rain, wind and early morning fatigue. We set off on our bikes in hopes of a smooth, dry and relatively easy ride. 

7:00AM: After a scenic ride through the villages along Buzzards Bay, we enter cranberry bog country. The rain has stopped, but the clouds remain above us, providing cooler, more comfortable temperatures for what could have been a ride in the blazing heat of summer. 

8:00AM: We have our first incident. My cousin, who accidentally ran his bike off the road, narrowly misses a major wipe out by inches. Although he is okay, the scrapes on his legs are bleeding profusely. We wait for help for what seems like forever, but finally the PMC road crew spots us - we are saved! My cousin, being the trooper that he is, puts on some bandages and hops right back on his bike. Onward! 

8:30AM: We arrive at the first water stop in Middleboro. 24 miles down. I have never in my life been more happy to see water, bananas, cheese sticks, bagels, you name it - they had it - I wanted it. I tried not to overdo it, but I literally felt famished. After about twenty minutes of relaxation, some chit chats with the volunteers, and (of course) some Dunkin coffee, we head back out on the treacherous trail completely not expecting what was to come. 

Middleboro Waterstop. Source: pmc.org

10:00AM: We know we are so close to the next waterstop. We are getting tired, but have surpassed the halfway mark, giving us an extra boost of motivation. My Dad, being the experienced biker that he is, decides that he would like to ride ahead, you know, push it a little, see what he's really got while he's not waiting for his slowpoke daughter to catch up. We ride along, my Dad in sight, disappointed that the rain has started again. Suddenly, he's gone! My immediate thought was that he was going so fast he was able to get out of our sight quickly. Assuming that was case, we ride and ride and ride along a hilly, straight path for what seems like forever, hoping that at any moment, we will stumble upon our waterstop. We reach an intersection, and oddly, there is no crossing guard like there had been at every other intersection on the PMC route. I knew, almost immediately, that we were lost. After talking to a gas station clerk, we discover that not only are we off route, but we also have a long uphill battle to get back on said route. No wonder we thought my Dad had channeled his inner Lance Armstrong - he had taken the correct turn and rode right out of our sight! 

10:30AM: Biking becomes especially hard. We are going uphill, but still, this feels unusually difficult. After pushing and pushing, and whining in my head, I asked my Uncle Jeff to look at my tires to see if either of them are flat. And guess what. The back tire was! Just our luck. This was an especially tricky situation considering we were not back on the official PMC route quite yet - hence, it would be more difficult for the road crew to locate us to provide a quick fix. Thankfully, my Uncle Jeff is skilled in the art of fixing a flat tire and knew exactly what to do. 

11:30AM: After a flat tire and getting lost, we are back on route and very close to the next waterstop. At this point, it is POURING. Finally, we arrive at the Sharon waterstop, where my dad has been waiting for us to deal with our fiascos and finish the last leg of the challenge. We ride in to the tune of cheers, upbeat music and encouraging words. We are officially the last group of riders because others have opted to not continue their ride due to the rain. But not us. We hop back on those bikes in what is now major pain all around and focus on the task at hand. 18 miles to go. 

1:00PM: HILLS. Up until this point, yes, there have been hills. But none of them monstrous and none of them soaking in the pouring rain. I want to cry. The hills are huge and many. My legs are jello and exhausted. I admit - I get off my bike twice because it is faster and easier to walk my bike up the hills than to work as hard as I physically can and still move at a snail pace. This is where the challenge became more mental. We are all exhausted. We are tired. We are hungry. We are in pain. But we are determined. And we will finish this challenge, despite the roadblocks. 

2:00PM: The finish line is just minutes away. The pouring rain has not let up. I have never wanted to be done with one task so badly. Ever. In my whole life. Finally, we reach Babson College in Wellesley, where the finish line is located. Being sadly, but understandably, the last riders to arrive, we are welcomed with hoots and hollers galore. Everyone is so excited, so proud, and so surprised that we persevered through the nasty conditions. We are done. 

The Finish Line - Babson College, Wellesley. Source: Carrie Kuempel

The Pan Mass Challenge was the experience of a lifetime. Although at times on that rainy day, I felt I would never do this again, my Mom helped put things into perspective with some encouraging, and frightfully true words: "The Pan Mass Challenge is like having a baby. You swear you'll never do it again, but once you forget about the pain and misery you had to go through, you'll be ready to do it all over again before you know it." Thanks for the disturbing, yet oddly true insight, Mom! Despite all of the challenges we faced, I really do want to continue the tradition of raising awareness and funds for such an important cause even if it means 8 hours of misery - except next year, you better bet I'm going to start training a little bit earlier than say...oh....3 weeks ahead of time.  

PS - I would just like to give a BIG thank you to everyone who donated to my ride. Not only did I meet my goal of raising $1,000 - I exceeded it! Thank you so much! 

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