Riding Toward Change
Charity bike events offer many incredible benefits, not the least of which is bringing people together towards a common goal: making a difference. No matter how you choose to get involved, the Cape offers plenty of opportunities and the perfect scenic backdrop for affecting change.
There’s just something special about riding a bike. It’s a shared memory so many people have: that first day the training wheels came off…how you were scared but someone was there to catch you. Your first pedal strokes propelling you forward into a world of freedom you hadn’t experienced before, the wind in your hair and miles to go in front of you. It’s hard to stop, harder still to forget those sweet seconds of pure independence and uninhibited exhilaration. Even if you can’t put it into words, even if you’ve never been on a bike yourself, it’s a feeling that is just innate. Now, riding for a cause? Pedaling towards a purpose? That’s something.
Charity bike rides present so many incredible benefits, for riders, volunteers, and beneficiaries alike, and what better location for such an event than Cape Cod? There’s a reason that the region has become famous for its coastal serenity; beautiful beaches and sprawling sand dunes abound, and vacationers certainly find no shortage of reasons to visit. Enjoying that natural splendor by bike seems like a no brainer—with the added benefit of dodging summer traffic. There are plenty of meaningful ways to get involved—maybe even to make a life-saving difference—and enjoy a little slice of Cape Cod while you’re at it.
“I think my favorite part is the starting line. Everyone’s happy; you can’t go 55 miles with a bad attitude,” says Aimee Guthinger, events and marketing manager for the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce and ride manager for The Gasp: Bike, Bake ‘N Boat, an annual charity biking event produced by the Barnstable Charitable Foundation. The fall event was originally known as The Last Gasp in honor of “The Last Gasp” hill in Truro. “It’s pretty steep,” notes Guthinger. “Everyone has a different strategy for how to take the turn and make it up the hill.” Founded by Bill Murphy, The Gasp, now in its 29th year, is an annual ride from Sandwich to Provincetown supporting a number of local charities. Participants in this charity bike ride enjoy a scenic trip down Route 6A and the Cape Cod Rail Trail that culminates in a lobster boil in Provincetown and a harbor cruise back to Sandwich.
“For us, it’s really about how The Gasp has transformed over the last few years,” says Guthinger. “In 2019, we had over 100 volunteers, 175 participants, and $173,072 in donations for eight beneficiaries and four alliance partners.”
The Gasp operates an alliance program. “Nonprofit organizations are welcome to join The Gasp in one of two ways,” explains Guthinger, “as a primary beneficiary or as an alliance partner. These are usually organizations that may not have the resources to put together a full team in their first years. They essentially piggyback the primary beneficiary. This allows us to open up the opportunity to organizations of all sizes.” Primary beneficiaries collect 100 percent of their proceeds. Alliance partners collect 70 percent of their proceeds and their primary beneficiary is given the extra 30 percent, giving the primary beneficiary incentive to support their partner as well as the opportunity to raise more funds. “The Gasp is a much larger event than any one organization would be able to handle,” explains Guthinger. “So, through collaborative partners, we’ve created an event that can support everybody.” 2020 beneficiaries include WE CAN, Latham Centers, Champ Homes, Barnstable Charitable Foundation, Cape Cod Literacy Council, and Community Development Partnership, among others. The Gasp has also been pleased to welcome several corporate teams throughout the years. In 2019, Team Cape Cod Five and Team COOP supported the ride while creating a stronger team at work too.
“Tens of thousands of local Cape Cod residents are indirectly impacted by the funds raised in The Gasp,” says Guthinger. “In consulting with our beneficiaries we have determined that roughly 650 of those people directly benefited in 2019 because of this ride.” Teams and individual riders can choose the organizations they would like to support, or spread their fundraising out amongst all of the beneficiaries. The event began allowing e-assist bikes in 2019, which provide electronic momentum, giving those who need it an extra boost. Additionally, “Baker” tickets give participants the opportunity to build a team around non-riders. “It’s a ride for everybody and every body,” says Guthinger.
“In some ways the ride mimics a networking event,” remarks Guthinger. “It’s about team building and bringing together members of the nonprofit community. It’s really important that we’re all working together. Everyone is competing for what often feels like the same dollars, but at the same time, there’s lots of opportunities for everyone to get the support they need. It’s not just about fundraising, it’s also about awareness.”
“My efforts are all about making this event as comfortable as possible for the riders. If they’re not rolling, we’re not rolling,” says Guthinger, who is passionate herself about cycling. “My nickname is actually ‘the gasp’ because when I first started training I would huff and puff my way up the hills.” Since those initial rides though, Guthinger has found her balance and become a passionate advocate for all of the health benefits that cycling has to offer. “This past year, an individual with Parkinson’s participated in the ride. What a personal accomplishment! When you start looking at the benefits, you cannot help but be inspired to participate in activities to help your community. So, it all comes full circle. There are so many reasons to ride, you just have to get out and try because I promise, you can do it,” she says. The amazing benefits of a charity bike ride are evident as well—fitness, camaraderie, a sense of accomplishment, fundraising, of course, and making a difference in a community. That’s something everyone can relate to, and The Gasp does an incredible job of giving each of those benefits the appropriate attention in an environment that is inclusive and supportive. “The cycling community in general is one of the most supportive I’ve encountered,” says Guthinger. “It’s a ride, not a race, and that means that it’s all about people supporting one another and having a great day. The only race aspect is from the finish line to the party.”
“My goals for the future of The Gasp have as many moving parts as the event itself,” says Guthinger. “I want this to become a signature fall event, and I would love to see people come from all over to ride and watch. While that’s happening I want to see attendees supporting local organizations so that both sides of our community, the profit and nonprofit, are being supported—at a perfect time of year. And, hopefully those people decide to keep coming back to the Cape during all seasons. I want to see the ride become a driver for the economy in every aspect.”
When talking about charity bike events, it’s only natural to give a (huge) nod to the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC). Since its founding in 1980, the PMC has raised more money for charity than any other single charity athletic event in the U.S., benefiting the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Cancer is unfortunately something that almost everyone can relate to, something that has touched peoples’ lives in some way. “I designed the PMC to be an inspirational, as well as challenging, event. Whether you’ve battled cancer yourself or ride in honor of a loved one, it’s our shared experiences that bring us together with a common goal of making a difference,” says PMC founder and executive director Billy Starr. “The main goal of the PMC is to fund life-saving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Over the last 40 years, we’ve contributed more than $717 million to do just that.”
The PMC, presented by the Red Sox Foundation, runs through 47 towns across Massachusetts, encompassing 12 separate routes ranging from 25 to 192 miles. From beginners to professional athletes, the PMC caters to every level of rider and even has implemented the PMC Winter Cycle—an indoor spin event at Fenway Park—as well as a number of other short bike-a-thons for children to participate in, known as PMC Kids Rides. The PMC has become the largest single contributor to Dana-Farber; in 2019, the PMC’s donation was a record-breaking $63 million dollars, making it the largest financial gift in the institute’s history. The list of accomplishments goes on, masterfully demonstrating just how impactful an event like this can be; the PMC remains the shining example that charity athletic events strive to replicate, and we are lucky enough that the event calls Massachusetts home.
“I was already familiar with cycling on Cape Cod, specifically in Provincetown,” explains Starr. “In 1980, I rallied a group of 35 friends for what would be the first PMC; it was an obvious choice to end our cross-state ride in P-town. My instincts then have been confirmed by more than 40 years of ‘seeing the world’—our natural resources in Massachusetts, and Cape Cod in particular, stand up to anything else out there.”
The Cape has become an integral element of the PMC, and both riders and volunteers enjoy the singular camaraderie that comes with pedaling over the Bourne Bridge and finally seeing that iconic “Cape Cod” emblazoned in the hedges or cresting a hill in Wellfleet and seeing the sparkling national seashore span out ahead. Visitors to this special region know that feeling intimately—it’s iconic; sharing it with others as everyone fights together, laying their hearts (and legs) on the line and sweating for a cause…it is an indescribable type of high—one that can only be accomplished with the Cape as the backdrop. “It just wouldn’t be the same anywhere else,” says Starr.
“I started riding 12 years ago, and now I’m hooked,” says Roger Forman, owner of Marathon Company and summer resident of Falmouth. “It’s such an unbelievable event, and it has become the focal point of my summer.” Over the years, Forman has joined different teams, but two things are always constant: he always rides, and he always raises the money.
“It’s an incredibly well-run event, and it has literally moved the needle for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, raising over 717 million dollars since it started,” says Forman, who usually does a two-day ride, totaling around 165 to 175 miles. The first day ends at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where many of the riders spend the night after listening to live music and enjoying a hot meal. The next morning is the ride to Provincetown. “There’s just people everywhere, cheering you on along the way or volunteering at rest stops, especially on the Cape,” explains Forman. “All of a sudden you’ll say, ‘You’re kidding, I’ve already done 50 miles. That’s how electric the energy is.”
Forman explains that his favorite stop along the way is in Lakeville at the PMC Pedal Partner water stop. Pedal Partners are children being treated for cancer that have been paired with different riders and teams. “They line the stop with pictures of all of the pediatric patients, and it goes on for like a mile. Then when you’re at the stop you can meet a lot of the kids and their families. It just reminds you, ‘There’s a reason I’m out here.’ It’s so re-energizing.”
Over years of training for and riding the event, Forman has realized how much the PMC means to him and how truly affecting it is: “After awhile, you realize that it’s about all of the people and less about the physical aspects of the day. There’s nothing like it in terms of scale and how supremely well-organized it is.” Forman describes treasured moments riding down the Cape, the sun shining off all of the bikes, the ocean off in the distance, the dunes sprawling along beside the riders. “What a place to ride a bike,” he muses. “The second day just feels different—because you’re on the Cape. It’s such a wonderful event that supports something really important, and we are really lucky to have the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute here in Massachusetts. People come from all over to be able to get treated here, and it can be easy to take it for granted until you have a problem. We don’t ride for self-serving reasons, but it is important to recognize how fortunate we are to have this kind of medical community in our backyard. If we can support it, we should.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes, “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” In a world where just a single pedal stroke has the power to make a difference, there is nothing more hopeful, more brave, more comforting than riding a bike.
Thinking about riding in a charity bike ride? Make sure to check out our Best Of lists for our reader voted Best Bike Stores!