Why I PMC - Bryan Cote - Falling Down

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Bill Alfano

Why I PMC - Bryan Cote - Falling Down

Guest blog by Bryan Cote

July 1980: Mom and Dad sprung for a new Huffy bike today. It’s so awesome: red and blue, with a HUFFY logo on the banana seat, a case on the front bar to keep my Bazooka gum, and two giant pedals with built-in orange reflectors. I am going to ride it to Bobby’s right after lunch.

I rode my Huffy until dusk that day, until the chain was coated with grease, my hands black from gripping the bars and my sweaty green Umbro shorts all but stuck to the seat.

The Huffy was a right of passage for kids of my generation. Before skateboards and 10-speeds, there was this dirt bike that made you feel like you were on Fonzi’s motorcycle. Having it even for a summer meant you were cool and that your parents were cool for getting it. Sure, I may have had a bowl haircut, polyester bell bottoms, and the beginnings of a 5 o’clock shadow which is rare and awkward for an eight year old, but that bike gave me street cred. Bobby Lynch and Ben Elleck, both a year older and 10 inches taller, were suddenly looking up to me. Even Bobby’s older brother Mike stopped teasing. “That yours?” he’d say gruffily. Then he’d nod his head, almost to say, “You’re okay Cote.” I decorated my Huffy for the July 4th “horribles” parade around Archie Lane that year, decked it out with cray paper and signs made from oak tag scraps held together with 5-layers of scotch tape. I rode in the center up-front position, Bobby and Ben flanking me, all of us holding red, white and blue popsicles. I put a lot of miles on my Huffy, at least a hundred that summer I bet, rode it through the back woods with a walk-man hooked to my shorts, playing track 1 from my Survivor cassette tape (“I Can’t Hold Back” for those who don’t follow the best band ever). We set up jumps over quick sand Mom told us to avoid, crashed into dirt piles, dusted off our cuts and scrapes and got right back on. I went everywhere on that bike.

July 2012: I bought a new road bike today. It’s a sleek, deep blue Trek model with a pair of silver water bottle holders, a shift gauge, and a black case under the seat for some electrolyte bars. I am going to ride it right after lunch.

I take the Trek out of the backseat and rest it in the garage–my 8-year old’s jaw drops. He loves the spokes and my 6-year old daughter’s eyes widen over the colors.

My 4-year-old thinks it’s too tall and needs stickers and some “puffed handle cushioners,” whatever those are. But what does he know anyway?

Say this, it doesn’t have any orange reflectors and I’m pretty sure my friends will label me all sorts of things if I decorate it with cray paper, but I like it. I admired it for a whole day until my wife said, “You going to ride it sometime or just let it collect dust?”

I’ll admit I haven’t owned much less operated a bike with any regularity since those days on my Huffy so this feels a little strange seeing the Trek in my garage–the contrast of shiny new toy against a backdrop of cement and dust and power tools I don’t know how to use.

The Trek represents opportunity, for peace from screaming kids and poop stains, a sort of flashback to those days riding in the backwoods by Archie Lane.

Some people buy a new car or a new set of irons when they turn 40. I bought a road bike.

In 3 weeks, me and the Trek go north for the Pan-Mass Challenge, a 100-mile ride through southeastern Massachusetts to raise money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I borrowed a friend’s bike to ride in my first Pan-Mass last year, surviving the 6 hours on a seat the size of a slice of pizza. I didn’t fall once which was somewhat miraculous because (a) I usually trip and fall inside my home once a day and (b) I was a rookie, often boxed in among 15 other riders, climbing a hill, my calves locked,  legs burning, my brain yelling: “Don’t fall you idiot!”

Enroute to the car in a parking lot in Bourne, Massachusetts after the ride, with my friends nearby and my butt sore as hell, I came to a stop and I couldn’t unlock my shoes fast enough from the pedals.

Falling isn’t so bad if you’re so lost on the ride that no one can see you or you’re leaning on grass or on pavement, because then you know what to expect. I was awkwardly positioned between pavement, curb grass and several people when I started to timber. Time seemed to stop and I started to think that I’m in a whole lot of trouble. “Oh boy” is all I could muster or maybe I used some other word. Rob looked on, useless, probably laughing inside. He’d been there, most riders have. More awkward than the fall itself was my landing: somehow I bounced off the curb making bizarre shrieking sounds. Hopeful no one heard them, I landed on some stones scattered on the pavement. I was a comedy of errors. I bruised several bones, convinced myself that I had broken at least one of them and noticed all sorts of blood. At least that’s the story I told my wife hours later. It took me several minutes to recover and get back on.

My ego wasn’t really hurt in that moment because you get to a certain point, particularly after riding 100 miles and seeing streams of people lining the streets–some with cancer, some who’ve lost family to cancer–and you realize that the hurt isn’t so bad. Kids line the streets holding thank you signs, cray paper streams from trees and lamp posts, cheers echo so wild you feel as though you’re being lifted to the finish line. One 9-year-old stepped off the curb to hand me a popsicle as I passed by. I slowed down just enough to grab it.

It’s just one of those moments, you know. You are free, motivated, carried forward by something other than your aching legs and blistered feet. It’s a reason I had to buy that Trek bike today. I clearly don’t have a bond with it yet but maybe after 100 miles this year through the crowds at the Pan-Mass, maybe then, that will change. Maybe I’ll start riding my Trek everywhere.

It will probably take me 10 hours to finish this year. Not for lack of trying, but for lack of training. I will hang back in the pack for most of the ride and flank everyone like Bobby and Ben did when we were 9. That was my strategy last year, let other riders do the pulling because I’m a little slow and still unsure of myself on the roadway.

I am sure though about why I’m riding.

To contribute to Dana Farber and support my Pan Mass Challenge ride, go to:http://www.pmc.org/profile/BC0195