What It’s Like to Ride in the Pan-Mass Challenge

A first-person account of the bike-a-thon fundraiser.

PMC start line

The Pan-Mass Challenge starting line. Photo by Liz Varner

If biking more than 80 miles a day, sleeping on a cot in a cramped dorm, and pledging to personally raise $5,500 sounds like your kind of fundraiser, the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) may be for you. It’s definitely for me, considering this is my third time participating in the two-day, 192-mile ride from Sturbridge to P-town, which raises money for research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This year, I opted for an 84-mile journey from Wellesley to Bourne.

Over the years, I’ve heard the stories of 18-year-olds and 70-year-olds, first-time riders and 25-year riders. There is a shared excitement, a bubble that surrounds all 6,000 riders and propels them forward. Last year, I biked in the pouring rain for eight hours; this year, I sweated it out in 90-degree heat.

“Three, two, one, go!” The cheers rang loud as 6,000 people mounted their bikes at Babson College in Wellesley to begin the event. Then it was just pedal, pedal, pedal, until my dad and I pulled over at mile 14 in Medfield, our hometown, to greet our cheering family and friends. Amidst a flurry of awkward hugs from the saddle, our neighbor, Regina, the inspiration for our ride, stepped up to embrace us and thank us for our commitment. Regina was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, and as soon as I heard, I knew I would ride for her.


Pulling into the halfway point at Dighton-Rehoboth High School, I saw a young girl with her family, cheering and holding a sign that read: “I’m a Survivor.” I smiled as I pedaled past her, thankful that my sunglasses hid the tears pooled in my eyes. The young girl stayed in my mind for the rest of my ride, proof that the millions of dollars the PMC donates to Dana-Farber really can save lives.

In line for the bathroom after lunch, I turned around and recognized the woman—sporting a bright pink jersey and tutu—behind me, realizing she had stood behind me in line that morning. She recognized my orange and purple jersey, and said we were destined to be “potty partners.” Although we did not exchange names, we shared our reasons for riding. She rides in memory of a girl named Meghan, who passed away from brain cancer after her senior year of high school. To uphold Meghan’s lifelong goal of volunteering with the Jimmy Fund, my “potty partner” and her teammates ride to make Meghan’s dream a reality.

The road leading to the third rest stop is what sticks with most riders. Along the right side were photos of Pedal Partners, children battling cancer at Dana-Farber who are paired with a specific PMC team. Some of these children stand next to their photo, living proof that they have fought their cancer for years or have overcome it. The mile-long stretch of young faces is as heartbreaking as it is encouraging.

The last 24 miles mirror the 60 before them, conversing with cyclists as we pass each other. The PMC is filled with biking lingo and hand signals, countless police officers holding traffic for us, and catching up with teammates and strangers throughout the day.

Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer, but deciding to ride 80 miles next to complete strangers somehow makes it a shared burden. You feel that together, you can make a difference. The burning sun, dehydration, cramped muscles, and way-too-small “seat” are nothing compared to what your loved ones with cancer suffer through.

I completed my third PMC this year, and my dad completed his fifth; we both know we’re already in for next year’s ride.

Finishing line

The author crossing the finish line.