2021 Cannonball 550 - Day 2: Beach Please!

It's 4 A.M., and my alarm is going off. In three hours, it will officially be day two of the Cannonball 550. I am lying in bed at the Stardust Motel in El Dorado. If I was going to write a Yelp review of this hotel, I would keep it brief. It would say, "The shower was nicely tiled. There were towels, a bed, and a door. The staff was pleasant."  Day one was rough. I am hoping that today will fair better. I hit snooze. 

I carried this book with reminders with me.

I finally get up about 20 minutes later. I start the process of loading everything up on the bike and getting ready. I take my time. Everything hurts. When I finally leave the hotel room - it is already 5:30 A.M. I was hoping to get rolling by 5. I still need to go get something to eat. I head over to Casey's.

I look at the weather and the route while I eat my breakfast. It is going to be a gorgeous day - perfect weather for riding. The wind won't be blowing, and the temps in the high 70s or lower 80s. In my head, I set a lofty goal of riding 160 miles. I would like to make up for the mileage I didn't log on day one. I roll out of Casey's a little after 7.

Riding out of El Dorado was smooth. It is 25 miles to Potwin (the next town). Because of how day one went - I have switched my mindset to think of things in smaller chunks. If I just ride from town to town - it is more manageable and seems more doable. If I think about the entire 550-mile route or riding 150 miles at a time, it becomes too easy to get defeated when things don't go my way. It is all about the small wins now. 

Outside El Dorado, I came across my FAVORITE road. SHUMWAY RD! Shumway Road was part of a couple of the Rage Against the Chainring routes earlier in the year, and every time I rode it, I would take a picture of the sign. If you are a child of the 80s & 90s, you know ALF's real name is Gordon Shumway. And I loved the show ALF growing up. So, seeing this sign always makes me smile. Too bad I didn't have a cat to bring, Mr. Shumway...

Shumway Road! I love you, ALF!

I made it to Potwin in reasonably good time. I hurt - but the roads weren't terribly rough, and this wasn't a hilly stretch. I was grateful for this, as my body needed time to loosen up. 

Taking a quick snack break in Potwin

In Potwin, I stopped outside the Public Library to eat a snack and sit for a minute. While sitting there, the world's chattiest child rode up to me on his bike. He began the game of "ask the tired cyclist 1 million questions." As a woman that doesn't have children of her own, I grew tired of this game very quickly. However, I did my best to be nice. At one point, the young boy even offered to go to his house to get me money to get a soda from a vending machine - I don't think he understood what I was doing. I'm pretty sure he thought I was homeless. When the boy finally got on my last nerve, I decided it was time to roll on. (Note to self - in the future, if I want to cut down my stop time, have inquisitive young children follow me around and ask me questions every time I stop.) The next stop is Newton, 27 miles away. 

The weather and road conditions riding to Newton were perfect. I kept on pants and jacket the entire way. The sun was out, but it was cool. There was a light breeze. The gravel was fast. I even came across a group of wild turkeys in the middle of the road at one point and got to chase them! My body was still in a lot of pain, but I was having fun. It was a complete 180-degree turn from the day before. All I could hope was that the entire day and night would continue like this. 

I rolled into Newton around 12:30 P.M. I stopped to take a couple of pictures and rolled by a street fair. I rode by a taco truck that smelled like heaven on earth. It pained me not to stop. But, I didn't want to tempt fate by eating food truck tacos going into a potential 70-mile stretch without services. So, I went to the grocery store instead. Tacos would have to wait until I got back to Emporia. 

Beatles mural in Newton

So, a few things about this video update. First, I was in a good mood and not crying. This is progress. Second, I was a little confused and could not read the mileage between the towns correctly - even though I practically had that spreadsheet memorized. Goessel was not 53 miles away - it was 17 miles away. Third, I was overly optimistic about my goal setting for the day. This would come back to haunt me later on. 

I sat and ate my lunch and took (too long) a break at the Dillon's in Newton, then rolled out towards Goessel around 2 P.M. It was starting to get hot, and the aching in my body from the day before was setting in. I was slowing down. Goessel was only 17 miles away, but that distance seemed like 50 miles. I also didn't realize that Goessel wasn't on the official route. You had to go about 2.5 - 3 miles off course to get into town. By the time I realized this, I had passed the turn and had to double back. A helpful farmer gave me directions and even offered to fill my water. I thanked him but declined and headed toward town.

I got to Goessel around 3:45 P.M. and picked up some Gatorade and beef jerky. After that, I sat in the small city park and ate. A lovely woman that was walking to the grocery came by and chatted with me for a bit. The people in Goessel are all delightful. I left there around 4:20 P.M. and headed back towards the route. This added about 6 miles to my ride, but it was worth it. 

The Goessel sign is accurate.

It was about 4:30 P.M., and Lindsborg was 53 miles away. So, if I kept my current pace, my math put me there around 10:30 P.M. However, some riders ahead warned me there was a giant sandpit outside Lindsborg. I hoped to get to this before dark and then ride into town after the sun went down. 

I was making decent time. Not breaking records, but I felt good about how things were going. As the miles ticked by, it became evident that I wouldn't hit the fabled sandpit before sunset. So, I settled in and kept plugging away. At one point, I turned onto the most fantastic road. It was a little after 6 P.M., and the cue sheet said to progress onto Alamo Road. Alamo Road was a stretch of double-track that looked like it went to the end of the earth. It was perfect. The road surface was packed dirt, just wet enough to make it fast. The field on the right had sunflowers blooming. On the left were a beautiful green field and a view of the valley. I recorded a video to look at later to remind myself how it felt to ride there. 

A few miles past Alamo Road is McPherson Lake. The road around the lake is pretty sandy. There was a 2-mile stretch that was ridable, but the sand was a little thick. I smiled to myself and thought, was that it? Was that the horrible sandpit that they were talking about? What is wrong with these guys? Coming down from McPherson Lake, there is a fast downhill. It was getting dark, so I decided to be a little cautious. Here is where my day got interesting...

At the bottom of the hill, there was what could best be described as a sandbox. I'm talking about fine sand, 6 inches deep. I got off my bike and walked through this, glad that I didn't completely bomb the downhill. After this, the road was ridable again. But, there were patches of the horrible sand that you had to get off and walk, and they were starting to get closer together.

It was now dark. I had been riding more challenging terrain than I had been all day, I hadn't eaten enough, my mouth was continually dry, and I had a new pain in my inner left thigh. And at 9 P.M., I broke. I sat on the side of the road, and for the first time, doubted if I could do this. I was at mile 190 and had 20 miles to get to Lindsborg. I couldn't wrap my brain around going another 20 miles.

I found a flattened area heading into a field, pulled out my tent, and laid it on the ground. I sat on it and ate a snack. I found my battery pack and plugged in my phone and computer. Then I pulled out my quilt and tried to sleep for a bit. I didn't set up my tent; I just laid on top of it (like a tarp) because I needed just enough sleep to calm down. However, there was a critter in the trees about 15 ft away moving around. All I could think was how I had a wrapper from a peanut butter rice krispie treat in my pocket and that I was going to get mauled by a wild animal because I smelled like chocolate and peanut butter. So, sleep didn't come. I packed up my things, said deuces to the mystery critter, and continued on towards Lindsborg.

I traveled about 2 miles and made the turn onto Wells Fargo Road. I will say this right here and now - if I never see Wells Fargo Road again, it will be too soon. I had now reached the actual sandpit everyone warned me about. I'm not talking about just a little sand - I am talking about 7 mile stretch of road where the only tire tracks were from massive off-road tires. Regular cars couldn't drive on this sand - it would be like taking your minivan for a nice drive on the beach at the ocean. 

Wells Fargo Road sandpit

I can honestly say that between 10 P.M. and 1:45 A.M., I experienced the full range of emotions. I laughed, cried, screamed - I even danced to my favorite Logic song (I had my speaker turned up loud) while sitting in the middle of the road emptying out my shoes for the millionth time. Finally, I decided to quit emptying out my shoes and socks and just changed into my Teva's - because I wasn't riding anyway. 

After about 5 miles of this nonsense, I stopped to look at the map. My left leg was in a lot of pain. I already had problems with it before I got to this section, and walking through all of the sand made it exponentially worse. When looking at the route, I saw a turnoff that created a little loop that brought you into Lindsborg. But, if you kept going straight, Wells Fargo Rd turned into a blacktop that led you straight into town. I had a decision to make. 

I knew that I was close to the end of my rope. I was having problems walking, and I needed to get to a place where I could rest. Cannonball is supposed to be Tour Divide rules. So, you aren't supposed to leave the course - and if you do - you have to enter it back exactly where you left. So, if I cut the course to get to town - I would need to come back and ride the 6 or 7 miles from that loop that I would be cutting out. I also knew that I had already ridden extra that day - so I wouldn't be shorting myself mileage - but that wasn't the point. I made an executive decision. 

I knew that to stay in the race, I needed to get to a place where I could rest. My body was breaking down, and my mind wasn't far behind. So finally, I got to the end of the sand and rode straight into town. I would decide to go back and ride the little loop I missed when I woke up in the morning - but the immediate need was to stop the pain and to get some rest. 

I got to the Viking Motel at 1:30 A.M. The woman there was so incredibly nice. We talked about the Swedish festival they have in October, and I showed her the Swedish folk art I have tattooed on the backs of my legs. I got to my room and got cleaned up. I talked to Tiffany for a bit and let her know why I went off course. She helped me come to terms with the guilt of not riding the loop to get to town. Then I fell asleep in one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. 

Room 215 at the Viking Motel

Two days. 209 miles. Day 3 has to get better...


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