I pulled into a water stop, wolfed down a few bites of peanut butter and fluff, topped off my water bottle, and turned to jump back on my bike when Linda – my wife of 28 years and my “domestique” for 13 – pulled me back for some advice… “Put on your rain jacket – it looks wet out there.” As soon as I got back on the road, it began pouring so hard that I could barely lines, PMC signs, or the dreaded potholes. At some point I thought I heard a siren in the distance, then a cop car appeared and informed me I was going the wrong way. At his suggestion I followed the car back to the right track, chuckling at how it all works out in the end.
Then began the true ordeal. The rain started pelting down twice as hard in all directions, bouncing off of me and my bike until rims and Garmin Edge 20 were too wet to be any good – and next to go were the brakes. From then on, it might as well have been a Braille ride; all I could do was keep pedaling, praying not to skid out or “taco” my front wheel by driving it into a hole. Every time I tried to breathe, rain water filled my mouth until I had to spit it out. At one point there were 3 or 4 other riders with me, but one by one they disappeared, each picked up by support vans or friends who’d decided on their behalf to call it a day.
5 miles to the lunch stop, a bike van came up alongside me. As the passenger window lowered a man’s voice yelled, “WHAT are you doing?!” I told him I was trying to get dry; he did not appreciate my joke and insisted on giving me a ride. And in retrospect I can’t believe it, but I declined, and watched in a daze as the van sped off. Somehow I’d survived 22 miles, and I guess some part of me was determined to tough out 5 more.
I wasn’t just riding through an amazing storm, but a ferocious head wind that made for extra slow going. Even the road guides fled their posts for cover, leaving crucial turns to chance. As I passed a house, another window opened and I faintly heard someone yell: “GO LEFT – THE SIGN IS DOWN!” As I did, the image of myself as Santa oddly popped into my head: “threw up the sash and up, up and away…” Wrong season, but I sure could have used some reindeer.
After that, time melted into a blur… it was a long 5 miles, and I was totally alone. And what felt like hours later, I saw what was sure to be a mirage: a tiny, lone figure in the distance, standing under an umbrella, trembling as the wind and rain raged on. As I got closer, she got clearer, and my domestique collapsed her umbrella, ran to me and gave me a huge hug of relief.
Last week, the Pan-Mass Challenge presented Dana Farber with its biggest check to date: $56 million. The story of my ride is only one of 6,400 riders and 4,000 volunteers – I think we can all say “closer by the mile” has never meant more. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this journey to a cure.