Best comment from a spectator (at about mile 70) along the route of the Pan-Mass Challenge: "Cold water -- and a chair if you want it."
As you ride along in an event like this, with several thousand people supporting cancer research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (by riding, by volunteering, by waving and applauding at the riders coming by, and by donating money), you have to wonder why it works. Many people have written about Americans being joiners, particularly where a philanthropic cause is involved. That might be part of the story, but I think there is something more here.
Anyone who has experienced cancer personally or through a friend or loved-one knows how pervasive an impact it has on the lives of both the patient and everyone around him or her. More than any disease, it seems to incite a team of people to become engaged in fighting it. And the team spreads beyond the immediate circle of friends and family to include other circles of friends and families.
As you ride, volunteer, attend, or donate in the PMC, you are swept into this amazingly large circle of people wanting to eliminate this disease. There is a cocoon-like feeling to the two days, as though the rest of the world has disappeared and you are surrounded by and absorbed into a close-knit group of thousands of close friends. Every rider you pass or passes you, and every spectator along the route, and every volunteer at a rest stop is part of a warm and thoughtful and caring group, supportive of one another, but seriously joined together as a intense phalanx against this disease.
The young boy at mile 70, and thousands of others en route, yell out "thank you" to the riders. That's what pushes these bicycles along. It's not the months of training before the ride or the gallons of Gatorade on a hot day in August. It's knowing that those people on the street have felt or seen cancer in their lives and that they view the folks on the bicycles as part of the forward line in hunting down this enemy.
Meanwhile, we know that dedicated scientists at DFCI and throughout Boston and the world are really doing the hard work. But for just a few hours, we all get to join with them.