2021 Cannonball 550 - Day 4: The Land of Oz

I began day four of the Cannonball 550 at the Motel 6 in Junction City, KS. I had finally fallen asleep around 6 a.m. and slept for about 3 hours. When I woke up, I packed everything up and rolled over to the truck stop next door. I stocked up on food and beverages for the next stretch. Alma was approximately 60 miles away. I sat behind the truck stop, ate my breakfast, and recorded my updates. I was feeling optimistic about the day. 

Prepping cue sheets for the next stretch

After I recorded my updates, I got everything situated on my bike and made sure that I was mentally and physically prepared for what was ahead. The next 60 miles were going to be very hot, with very little shade and a lot of climbing. I ensured I had extra water, as there was no place to stop between Junction City and Alma. Heat and hills are the two things that I struggle with most, and I had to be on top of things to get through the next few hours. 

To get into the right frame of mind, I decided to think of the stretch into Alma in terms of cue sheet flips. It was 4 flips of the cue sheets, and I was done with the hills. That's all. I could handle that. 

I rolled out of the truck stop at 11:30 a.m., got across the highway, and got back on course. Once back on course, I immediately hit the first massive hill on J Hill Rd. This road is paved, but it is a mile-long steady climb with an approximate 4% grade. It is tough unloaded - but fully loaded - it is a bear. Nevertheless, I hammered through it, one pedal stroke at a time. After J Hill, the route turned back into gravel, and the next 17 miles were brutal. I walked one huge hill after getting about 1/4 of the way up and deciding it wasn't worth burning my legs out this early in the day. The others I rode in my easiest gear, still feeling like I was grinding out every pedal stroke. 

On the path to the J Hill Hell segment

It was hot. The heat index was in the mid-90s, so I took plenty of breaks to avoid overheating. I drank a ton of fluids, not worrying about running out. If I ran out, I would address it then. So, I just kept moving forward, looking for the next cue sheet flip. 

I didn't have mobile phone service for a lot of this stretch; there was a glitch with my phone. This was a blessing. I focused on the task at hand and did not communicate with anyone for long stretches or spend time on social media. This also made me more aware that I had to take care of myself, as I didn't have a way to alert people if something went wrong besides the emergency button on my tracker. 

As the heat of the day hit its peak, the water I was carrying was heating up, making it very hard to drink. I would try to drink, but the hot liquid would raise my core temperature and make me feel nauseous. I decided to stop at a farmhouse and see if someone would let me use their hose to get cold water. The first house I picked didn't pan out. I was thwarted by their dog that came out from under the car parked in the driveway that wasn't too happy about me being on the property. So, I backed up and kept riding down the road. When I got to the house on the corner, a man was taking out his trash. I got his attention and asked him if I could use his hose. I explained to him what I was doing and that I needed some cold water. He introduced himself as Craig and led me over to his pump that had a hose attached. He told me to help myself. He then went inside and got me a bottle of ice-cold water from his fridge. I drank the bottle in two gulps while we stood there talking about sports and the weather. He had taken the day off work because he had been in the heat the day before, and it had made him feel ill. I thanked Craig for his help and kindness and rolled on, feeling refreshed.

A cow that I talked to, halfway to Alma.

I got through the worst of the hills, and then came the super sketchy descents. I was grateful that I was riding these in the daylight, as I don't believe I would have been able to navigate them in the dark. This was the most technical riding for me on the course, only made worse by the day's fatigue. But, I rode them all without falling. I was very proud of myself, as I had confidence issues with bike handling after the crash on Day 1. 

I rode out onto the flats that led into Alma and came upon a truck in the road. A man was standing next to it that appeared to be waiting for me. I was cautious after my experience in Abilene the night before. As I got closer, the man introduced himself as Erik Eyestone, my friend Linzi's husband. They had been helping Cannonball riders, and he came out to see if I needed anything. It was awesome. He put air in my back tire (below 20 PSI at the time) and gave me some snacks. I talked with him and his youngest daughter for a bit and then kept making my way toward Alma. 

Pitstop with Erik and his daughter outside Alma

I got to Alma just as the sun was setting. I found the C-Store and sat on the curb, and called my husband. I then went inside, loaded up on food, and made myself comfortable in a booth in the corner of the store. I called Tiffany and let her know that my plan was to find a place to sleep for a couple of hours in Alma, as the heat had taken a lot out of me. My goal was to rest for a bit and then wake up and ride through the night. 

As I sat and ate my sammich and drank my coke, it occurred to me that I didn't actually feel all that tired. I felt pretty good. So, I finished my dinner, checked in with everyone I needed to, went outside, got out layers for night riding, and got changed. I called Tiffany back and told her that I wouldn't sleep in Alma, as I wasn't tired enough. There was no point in sitting there awake if I could be riding. So, I packed up my bike, filled my bottles, called my husband back to tell him that I was pushing on, and rolled out. My next stop was Wamego, 18 miles away. 

I was told that the hills were over after I got to Alma. I was lied to. Climbing out of Alma was tough. What was supposed to be hero gravel was rough and graded. So, by the time I got to Wamego, I was ready to rest. 

Downtown Wamego - Wizard of Oz Museum

I got to Wamego right before midnight. I had never been there before, so I had no idea that this town was all about The Wizard of Oz. So, it was really eery to roll into town at night, when there were no cars on the street, and come upon the Oz Museum. I am pretty sure that the entire city of Wamego goes to bed at 10 p.m., as there was no one out. So, I rode around town until I found the City Park. The Wamego City Park is beautiful. It has multiple pavilions, a community building, a pool, and other amenities. It isn't the kind of park that you would find "squatters." I rode through the park, looking for a dark place where no one could see me from the street. I tried a couple of different places but finally decided on a spot across from the restrooms under a huge tree. There were a lot of shadows, and I felt reasonably hidden. I got out my air mattress and quilt and decided I would try to sleep for an hour. 

As I was lying there, the heat from the day caught up with me. My body was itchy and uncomfortable. I felt like I wanted to crawl out of my skin. I tried to get comfortable - but I couldn't. My bibs, drenched in sweat from days of heat and climbing, were starting to become very uncomfortable. Risking indecent exposure, I very carefully stripped off my clothes under my quilt and laid on top of my cold air mattress for about 30 minutes. Then, terrified that someone would come into the park (and noticing that there were what appeared to be cameras mounted to the building across the way), I decided I should probably move on. I took out a shower cloth and got as much sweat off my body as I could, then carefully got redressed under my quilt. I sat and ate a snack and then brushed my teeth using water from my bottle. I then went about packing everything up. I would have to figure out sleep in the next town. 

Squatting in Wamego City Park

As I was rolling out of Wamego, I found a 24-hour C-Store. I stopped and got some fruit and a Red Bull. I also used the bathroom and washed my face. I had a friendly conversation with the woman that worked there. She had just moved to Kansas from Louisiana. We talked about Cajun food, and I told her that she needed to come up to Kansas City and eat at Jazz. The conversation made me really hungry for Chicken A la Mer and crawfish. I went outside and ate my breakfast, and recorded my update.

I rolled out of Wamego a little before 4 a.m. St. Marys was 19 miles away. I was tired, but I had to keep moving until I couldn't anymore. If I tried to sleep before I was ready, the itchiness and uncomfortableness got unbearable. 

The stretch between Wamego and St. Mary's was much smoother. The massive hills were behind me, and the roads were packed. I rolled up on the Oregon Trail Nature Park as the sun was coming up. At first, I rolled past it, but then I noticed that the gates were open. So, I turned around and pulled in. Technically the park was closed and didn't open until 8 a.m. But, the gates were wide open, so I took advantage of this. I pulled my bike up into the concrete shelter and then sat on the steps and watched the sun come up. I then took out my quilt, laid flat on the cold concrete, and fell asleep for an hour and a half. I had finally reached the point of exhaustion where I could sleep anywhere - and it just happened to be on a cold, concrete slab with nothing underneath me. It felt amazing. 

The sunrise outside St. Marys

I left the nature park around 7:15, as I didn't want a park worker to catch me sleeping there when they came to work. I felt better now that I had actually slept soundly, if only for an hour and a half. So, I made my way toward town to refuel. 

Things were about to get super awkward...

(NOTE: If you know me, you know that I am a little bit of an over-sharer. The next installment will have some of that. I will keep it cordial - but I just want to warn you. 😀)

  • Running total for 4 days = approx. 395 miles 
    • Note - I stopped my computer the first three days. So, each of those days is logged as a separate ride. Then, for the last 2 1/2 days (252 miles) - I let my computer run. 


Popular Posts