Massachusetts has 351 cities and towns. Last weekend, the 352nd Massachusetts municipality came together for a brief, shining moment, and then disappeared again, gone for another year. It was, of course, the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, the annual bicycle fundraiser for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute's Jimmy Fund. If it's the first weekend in August, that's where you'll find me. This year, there were 5500 riders and 3100 volunteers — not to mention untold numbers of friends, family members, neighbors and strangers — who formed this remarkable village on wheels.
Every year from 2004 through 2011, I've biked 200 miles in two days, from Sturbridge to Provincetown, to raise money for the cause, and each year I've experienced it in a different way — as a novice cyclist, I was just focused on finishing the ride; another year, I was focused on my own good fortune in being diagnosed and successfully treated for cancer in the heart of Boston's Longwood Medical Area, home of the Harvard teaching hospitals, ten years before I started riding the PMC; in yet another year, I remember reveling in the delight of doing nothing but bike for two days, with the luxury of having all my needs attended to by volunteers who serve up peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, "Gatorade-a-tinis" and more, and being cheered at every turn by some of the hundreds, or thousands, of people lined up along the PMC's route. Every year, though, the bottom line is the singular focus that this village on wheels brings to the fight against cancer; the villagers greet each other: "Thanks for riding," "Thanks for coming out," "Thanks for volunteering." In 2012, our little village is on track to raise $36 million for the Dana Farber Cancer Center.
This year I wasn't able to ride, due to a back injury. It's been a real loss for me, not just on the PMC weekend, but all season: cycling has become more than exercise for me: it's a meditative retreat, a therapeutic source of mental health achieved through pedaling and camaraderie. Nevertheless, I've done my part on the fundraising front, and I thank all of you who have contributed to support my ride — or, rather, virtual ride — this time around. (Every year, I give the PMC my credit card in January, and then it's up to me to raise, or pay, the minimum ….) For the first time, my 15-year-old son (known to my Twitter followers as Son No. 2) registered to ride; and I was disappointed that I couldn't ride with him on his first PMC. I've enjoyed hearing his stories from the road over the past couple of days, though (he recognizes his need for more adjectives, since he just keeps saying everything about the PMC was incredible or awesome), and I've really enjoyed seeing the PMC through the eyes of someone who's just moved into the village. He rode one day this year, Wellesley to Bourne, 85 miles, with no training (15-year-olds can do anything for one day, I suppose); next year, we plan to ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown together.
The PMC had special meaning for my family this year. My mother-in-law, who lived with — and battled — melanoma for the past year, died in late July. She did her best to continue living her life, on her terms, for most of the past year — despite being dealt a bleak prognosis. She was fully engaged with friends and family, remained just about as active as ever, continued piano lessons and pursued her other interests — including offering emotional and other support to friends, family and her counseling clients — until just shortly before her death. In the face of this devastation, we are trying to regroup, and we are remembering the good times. And there were plenty of good times.
To read more about why we ride, to read vignettes from earlier rides, and to see photos and videos from the PMC in past years, please see my PMC profile and my son's PMC profile. Thanks again to all for the support we've gotten to date — and it's not too late to support the cause before the books close on PMC 2012.
Thanks, and see you on the road.