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Sunday, PMC Stage 2: MMA to Provincetown

Sunday, August 3, 2003

Ugh, Again

Riding starts at 5:00 this morning, an hour earlier than yesterday. My reaction to the alarm at 4:00 was the same, though: Ugh!

By 4:30 AM we were on the road from the hotel back to the MMA, and were there by 5:00. We were seeing riders as early as 4:45, which is just nuts.

We parked in the guest parking lot. Corinne waited while I brought my bag to the truck for delivery in Provincetown, retrieved my bike from lockup, and wolfed down some breakfast. I saw Steve on the way in (he was heading out already, at 5:00), and said we hoped to see each other again in P-town.

I tried to find out if there was any way I could get a ride from Provincetown back to Sturbridge, but I had told them when I registered that I would make my own arrangements for departure, and there were no exceptions. The bus was fully booked. That meant Corinne had to drive back to Middleboro (30 minutes), try to sleep a little, pack up the room and check out, drive to Provincetown (two hours), pick me up and drive home (three and a half hours). If I could have had a ride to Sturbridge, she'd have saved almost four hours of driving and slept a lot more. Happy anniversary...!?

I stopped by the truck on the way out again to deliver the bad news -- which she was expecting -- and she took it without complaint. All she had done for the last half hour (while waiting for me) was watch people go in and out of the port-a-potties, but she was still being supportive and accepting. I think I'm in love!

First Leg

Finally I was off, at a little after 5:30. The muscles were a little sore, but not too bad. It wasn't raining today, but it was warmer and oppresively humid.

First we had to cross the massive Bourne Bridge. I wasn't in front of the ride today, since I'd started 30 minutes late: more like the early middle section. At the bridge's apex, there was a line of riders two people wide for as far as I could see both ahead and behind. Again, the scale of this event struck me as awesome.

After the bridge, we entered a park with a long bike path along (what I think was) the Cape Cod Canal. Like yesterday, I was feeling very strong and turned on the juice: I didn't want to finish in the middle of the pack, and I didn't want to get to all of the watering stops amidst huge crowds. Also to my advantage was the fact that this paved bike path was almost perfectly flat: I'm like a car with a big flywheel: rev me up on the flats and I can go for a long, long time.

I passed, probably, 1,000 riders there in the park. After the park, we were back out on the road, and entered a section I heard some refer to as the "roller coaster." Short rolling hills that were really a lot of fun to ride: I'd go as fast as I could down one side, then coast almost to the top of the next one, and repeat. Again, I was passing almost everybody.

Today's ride was very different than yesterday's. It was only 80 miles, instead of 112. There were more pacelines, and more stragglers. Those who ride a lot were doing well, those who ride only for special events like this were clearly suffering even before they clipped in. (But the real point is that we were all doing it, and not for ourselves.)

Everybody's So Polite

Just like yesterday, though, people were amazingly nice. The police stopped the cars at almost every intersection so that the riders never had to slow down, and at least a third of us thanked the officers as we whizzed past. Early in the day they'd return a "thank you for riding!" or just a "you're welcome." By the end of the day, we were lucky to get a nod. ;-) Volunteers still rushed up to the riders as we entered the rest areas, and did anything they could to help.

Canteloupe For Lunch!

I felt pretty good after the first couple hours. I stopped at all of the water stops this time, but the first one only for three minutes. By the second stop (mile 45, supposedly), I was ready for more food, and happened to try some canteloupe. OH MY WORD!!! It was packed in ice, and incredibly juicy, and I thought I was tasting some miracle food direct from heaven. I must have eaten at least an entire canteloupe piece-by-piece in fifteen minutes, plus a PBJ sandwich, some orange slices, a full bottle of Gatorade, and whatever else I felt like grazing on at the time.

That's not as crazy as it sounds. Canteloupe is mostly water and natural sugars, so it's more like "eating a beverage" than a meal.

My friend from yesterday, the other clydesdale, showed up and said hi. Still didn't get his name! The guy he'd been waiting for at lunch yesterday was there with him, and we chatted while eating.

It was crowded, much more so than I had experienced yesterday, so I didn't stay too long. His friend doesn't ride much and was scared of pacelines, so they were riding slowly today and didn't want to hook onto my train. ;-)


After leaving the lunch stop (um, it was only 8:00 AM when I left... lunch?), there was another short bike trail through a park. Just as I left, another very tall guy (6' 6") passed me and I started drafting. We chatted, and he asked if the pace was OK. We traded back and forth for ten miles, but then I bonked hard. I told him to go ahead, I could barely make the pedals go around.

Last Water Stop: Inspiration and Caffeine!

Things improved a little after a few miles, and then I climbed the very steep, short hill to the water stop at mile 61. My chain had been sounding very raspy since the last stop, and my brakes were squealing so loudly that I was startling the other riders. Every water stop had professional mechanical services that would fix or replace virtually any problem with your bike short of structural damage, totally for free. So, I asked them to take a look at it. They cleaned up the gears, told me that my chain was badly stretched and the whole drive train needed to be replaced due to wear (but would certainly last the rest of the day with no problem), lubed everything up to eliminate that raspy sound, and cocked my brakes to stop the squeal. Unfortunately, this took more than a half hour.

While the mechanic was working on my bike, two things happened that are worth noting.

First, I talked to another rider, perhaps 40 years old, who was getting ready to leave the stop. "I don't understand how you do it," I said. "The balance isn't as bad as you'd think, your mind and body learn to compensate," he replied. "No, I mean I really don't understand How you do it. You got here ahead of me, and don't seem to be suffering as much as I am." You see, this rider only had one leg. The other was amputated at the hip, he didn't even have a prosthetic. (They told us on Friday night that the oldest rider in the PMC this year is 79, and has one good and one prosthetic leg. They monitor his progress very carefully. This guy was riding with one leg only. Though he was half the eldest rider's age, I still can't understand how he could do it.) I asked him how, for example, he could climb that hill to get to the rest stop where we were speaking. "That is the hardest part. I can't stand up at all, so I just have to struggle through it."

Second -- and this is far less significant overall -- I ate a Power Gel that I'd been saving for my first serious bonk. Double caffeine. Mystic Cycle said that if I was in trouble it might help to get me moving again.

Nineteen miles to go. That didn't sound so bad, and when I left I started counting the miles down, one by one, all the way to the finish.

All Cylinders Firing

Whether it was the inspiration from talking to the rider with only one leg, or eating the double-caffeinated Power Gel (and another 'regular' Power Gel a few minutes later), or just knowing that I was almost done, I'll never know. Regardless, I was fully recovered and on fire for those last nineteen miles. I didn't even need or want any more pacelines. I tried riding in a few, but soon found that I felt good enough to pass them. I offered to lead, but they didn't want to pick up the pace at all. For the last ten miles, through the huge sand dunes at the tip of Cape Cod, I rode alone and as fast as I could.

One paceline used me as a target (and called me "big dog" on the way by, something I heard a dozen or more times this weekend), and caught me on one of the climbs, but burned themselves out in the process and ended up falling behind just a mile from the finish.

Don't get the wrong idea, I'm not saying that I turned into some super-cyclist for the last twenty miles. My night's sleep had certainly been better than almost anyone else's, and there were still hundreds of riders ahead of me who probably could have left me choking on sand if I had tried to break away from their paceline. All I am saying is that I felt really good on that last leg, compared to how I'd felt before, and the only way I know how to describe my performance is by comparing it to the riders around me.

Finish Line

The sun finally came out, for the first time in two days, just ten miles from the finish. (Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we rode out of the cloudy weather and into sunshine.)

I reached the finish line alone, and experienced something I'll never forget.

All the stage finishes at the Tour de France have huge crowds who clap and stomp and cheer the riders as they arrive. That's what this was like (though I've only seen it on TV). There weren't many thousands of people in this crowd like at the Tour, but it was still a very big crowd. They lined the street for a couple hundred yards, rang bells and played their noisemakers, cheered and clapped and just made more happy noise than I've ever heard before. It was like riding through a tunnel of noise and celebration. I finished the PMC with a truly huge (silly?) smile on my face.

I did it. We all did it. 192 miles in two days, not for ourselves but to raise awareness of the Jimmy Fund. I felt -- I still feel -- really great.

Page last updated: 7/22/2004

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