The Observation Deck: Be Patient With Those Cyclists, They Just Might Be Life-Savers

Traffic. In Sandwich we plan our lives around it. And talk about it. A lot. A standard greeting in town is not “Hello,” but rather, “How was traffic?” 

On many a Sunday, my husband has checked the transfer station camera, looked at the pile of blue bags under the deck and gambled with our olfactory senses until Wednesday, just to avoid the backup onto Route 130.
Living off of 6A, we travel the roads as little as possible on weekends. 

Cars alone are bad enough, but then add bicycles to the traffic mix and it becomes a truly white-knuckle ordeal to drive some of our narrow, twisty roads.

I could never understand why anyone would want to risk life and limb to ride along 6A when there are perfectly good rail trails and bike paths all over the Cape.

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Sure, the scenery on Old King’s Highway through our picturesque villages and marshes is unique, but the Canal Bike Path offers nonstop entertainment with boat traffic and a cast of characters along its banks. The Shining Sea Bikeway and Cape Cod Rail Trail take cyclists through vistas that can’t be seen from a car. So what is the purpose of cycling along narrow winding roads like 6A?

This weekend, cyclists will converge on Sandwich with a great purpose, to participate in a fight against something that has affected just as many of us as traffic has. Cancer.

The Pan-Mass Challenge, now in its 35th year, has raised $414 million for cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Originally a 190-mile race from Sturbridge to Provincetown, today the PMC has 11 different routes that vary not only in length but difficulty. With starting points in Wellesley, Sturbridge and Bourne, and finish lines in Wellesley, Foxboro, Bourne and Provincetown, cyclists from 38 states and five countries will ride 25 to 190 miles to support the cause. In 2013, PMC was Dana-Farber’s single largest contributor and generated 50 percent of the Jimmy Fund’s annual revenue with a donation of $39 million. This year the bar has been raised and PMC cyclists have set their goal at $40 million.

The two-day event is run by thousands of volunteers who man medical tents, comfort stations and water stops. Volunteers also assist in mapping routes, performing on-the-spot bicycle repairs and transporting cyclists’ luggage to their stops and finish line. It is a massive undertaking but riders and volunteers alike embody the PMC philosophy of success: “Those who commit themselves in full are those who achieve success.”

On Saturday, the quad at Massachusetts Maritime Academy  will be transformed into a commune where participants can rest and reflect on the first 90 to 110 miles of cycling. Food, music, showers, a change of clothes, massages and a sense of shared purpose bond riders together. Many have been personally touched by cancer. Cyclists who have spent the night, along with those just starting their journey, depart MMA Sunday at 5:30 AM and cross the Bourne Bridge. For you early risers, expect to see cyclists as they ride along the canal into Sandwich. If you are out for an early morning coffee run, look for them heading through the village as their route takes them from Freezer Road to Tupper, along Main Street to Water Street and onto Service Road into West Barnstable. By early afternoon, they will arrive in Provincetown to a heroes’ welcome. 

And heroes they are. No matter what route they choose, cyclists must commit to raising $500 to $5,000 individually to be eligible. Most exceed the minimum requirement and remarkably, 100 percent of money raised by the riders is channeled to the Jimmy Fund. 

The cyclists and volunteers for PMC often have personal experience with cancer. And like traffic, when you mention cancer, everyone has a story. It is an insidious disease that does not discriminate. The very existence of the Mugar Davenport Cancer Center at Cape Cod Hospital and Clark Cancer Center at Falmouth Hospital address the need for quality cancer care on Cape Cod. Both centers share a clinical partnership with DFCI and have taken part in clinical trials with Dana-Farber. Any money that helps DFCI helps the centers in our back yard.

So the next time you encounter a traffic snarl caused by a group of cyclists on 6A, consider this: Some may be here to enjoy the beauty of our community, but there are also many who are training for a ride that has a purpose. For those who ride for PMC, they are riding for a cause that, in part, enables residents to receive quality care on Cape Cod without fighting the traffic into Boston for life-saving treatment.

Now, isn’t that worth the minor inconvenience of a few cyclists on 6A?

Ms. Caristi is a small business owner and a former member of the Sandwich High School PTSA and school council. She is now adjusting to life as an empty nester with her husband Jason in East Sandwich .

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