2021 Cannonball 550 - Day 5: Industrial Hand Dryers, AA Meetings, & Trail Angels

(Note to readers - this entry is going to discuss things of a personal nature. I won't get graphic - but if you are a total prude, go ahead and peace out now.)

I started the official Day 5 of the Cannonball 550 rolling out Oregon Trail Nature Park outside St. Mary's. I had just woken up from an hour and a half of glorious sleep on the hard concrete in the shelter at the park. I felt better now that I rested, but the itchiness that set in back in Wamego was increasing in intensity. And it was a targeted itch. 

Let me take a minute to explain something to those that haven't bike packed or participated in ultra-endurance cycling. During these events, you are wearing the same clothes every day. Unfortunately, you don't have an opportunity to get yourself or your clothes very clean, most of the time. This is especially problematic in the summer when you are wearing bibs that have a giant sponge essentially in the crotch. So, you spend ALL DAY sitting on that sponge sweating and grinding against a bicycle seat. THEN you add chamois cream to the mix, and things get really fun. Because chamois cream breaks down into lotion/oil, soaks into the chamois, and mixes with your sweat. So, when you finally stop to take a break - there is never enough time for your chamois to fully dry out. So, your bathing suit area stays saturated in sweat and chamois cream for however long you are out there. The longer you are out there, the worse it gets. So, it pays to be quick if you have sensitive skin or are prone to infections. It also pays (as I learned the hard way) to train yourself to ride without chamois cream. (Now you know why I was lying under my quilt without my bibs on in Wamego, risking indecent exposure...) And now that you have this background...back to the story...

I am back on my bike, but it is very uncomfortable. But, I know that there are services in St. Marys, so I start formulating a plan. My first thought is to go to a laundromat and throw both my bibs in a dryer and get them fully dry. I can see on Google Maps a couple of laundromats in town right off the route. However, I still need to get hydration and nutrition for the next stretch, and I need to be efficient. So, I keep riding through town, and I see a grocery store. I know, logically, that my bibs being dry will not entirely stop the discomfort. The last two days of excessive heat and seated climbing in damp bibs have culminated in what is likely now an unpleasant infection (I will just leave it at that). So, I go inside the grocery store and look for things to help calm down my situation. I found some medicated cloths, baby powder, donuts, and two bottles of Rev Honey. (The donuts and Rev Honey were to help lift my spirits, not help my itchy hoo-ha. I do not suggest putting donuts down your bibs. But, if that is your jam, you do you.) I then go outside and sit against the side of the building and call some friends to get support. It was an awkward conversation, to put it mildly. I remember crying into FaceTime to them, saying, "People saw me break my face and struggle through 4 days of this race, and I am going to have to tell them I quit because my crotch was itchy." After my friends finished their pep talk, I decided that I had come too far to let this discomfort take me out. So, I packed up my stuff, adjusted my seat to take some pressure off, and soldiered on. 

The Kansas River by Maple Hill (this is how wet my bibs felt)

Just 10 miles down the road in Maple Hill, I came to a sizeable 24-hour truck stop. I decided to stop (even though I hadn't been riding for very long) on the off chance that this was a fancy-pants truck stop that had bidets. I figured if I couldn't take a full shower - I might as well go for the next best thing. Unfortunately, no dice - but they did have super high-powered industrial hand dryers. So, without any shame - I stood in front of the hand dryer, holding my bibs open, drying out as much of my chamois and downstairs as I could. I didn't even stop when a Mennonite woman and her young daughter came into the bathroom. I just looked her dead in the eye and nodded. Nothing to see here - just drying out my crotch. 

I was at mile 411 with 140 miles to go. I could do this. 

My goal for the day was to get to Pomona Lake and rest and then finish the last 55 miles. But, it was going to be a slow day. It would be hot again, and I needed to keep my mind off how my body felt and try to enjoy being on the bike. This was a lot to ask.  

The outskirts of Topeka were about 30 miles away, and it was early afternoon. The temperature was rising, and I needed to get going. So, I put in headphones, and instead of listening to music, I listened to Jeremy Irons read my favorite book, The Alchemist. I was handling things reasonably well until the hottest part of the day hit. The fatigue and calorie deficiency over the last few days were catching up to me. I called Tiffany because I couldn't think straight and needed to strategize. Matt was with her, and he was familiar with where I was on the course. So, they directed me to go off-course and ride to Auburn and get food and rest. I fought this strategy because it took me 3 miles off-course, and I was not in the mood to ride an extra 6 miles - but I knew that if I didn't do what they said, I would risk heat exhaustion. 

Right before my detour into Auburn

So, I rode into Auburn and stopped at the Dollar General. I got beef jerky, a drumstick ice cream, orange Fanta, a protein cookie, and some Gatorade. I also used their bathroom and left a cloud of baby powder in my wake. I looked on Google Maps and saw that there was a city park. I decided that I would try to rest there. As I crossed the street to ride toward the park, I saw a church with a lovely lawn. It was Tuesday, so no one was there. I rode my bike around back and found a strip of lush grass shaded against the building. This was the perfect place to rest. 

I sat down, ate my snacks, and drank my soda. Then I pulled out my quilt and laid on top of it. I used my stuff sack with my tent as my pillow. I didn't figure I would be asleep long (I assumed 30 minutes at most) - so I didn't set the alarm. It was about 3:30 or 4 p.m. When I woke up, a man was standing over me, asking me if I was ok. It startled me. Partly because I was embarrassed that someone caught me sleeping on a church lawn and partly because I had slept far longer than intended (it was 5:30 p.m.). I told him that I was ok and explained what I was doing.

I could see that the lights were on in the room inside the church and that he was setting up for something. I told him that I would be more than happy to move if they had an event, that the only reason I was sleeping there was that it was a Tuesday, and I didn't expect anyone to be at the church. He explained that he was setting up for their 6 p.m. meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I immediately got emotional. I told him that I was in recovery and that I had been sober for 23 years. He asked if I would like to come to their meeting. I told him that I would love to - but I really needed to get on the road again. Then he asked if I would at least go and meet some of the group and introduce myself. I said, of course. So, I met and talked with this beautiful group of people for a while. They let me use the bathroom, gave me a coffee (even though I don't drink coffee, I drank theirs), gave me a handful of candy, and even offered me a cupcake (one of the members was celebrating another year sober). 

Since this is a blog about the Cannonball, I won't get into this too much, but the bike is not just a tool to stay physically fit for me. The bike is a tool to help me stay sober and to deal with my sick brain. And I was losing sight of that therapeutic side of riding throughout parts of the Cannonball. So, while I hate the whole "everything happens for a reason" bullshit - I do believe that my detour to Auburn, then ending up on that church lawn and crashing an AA meeting, wasn't a coincidence. It was my higher power reminding me that I wasn't out there alone. 

Just as I was packing up to leave, a car drove up. It was a woman that I had never met - but she introduced herself as Shelli Shipps. She and her husband are local cyclists and had been out on the course assisting the Cannonball riders. She had tracked me down using the trackleaders board and came to bring me snacks and water. We sat and talked for a bit, and I even got to play with her dog. She made me laugh and got me excited to get rolling again. I left Auburn right as the sun was going down. 

The next stretch going into Topeka was smooth sailing. There were stretches of pavement that were fast-rolling, and it was pretty flat. The temperature had started to cool off, and I was feeling a little better. I got past Topeka around 10 p.m. At 11:30 p.m., I officially had less than 100 miles to go to the finish.

About 5 miles outside Clinton Lake

I got to Clinton Lake around midnight. I had 38 miles to get to Pomona Lake. One mile at a time. Today was going much slower than I had hoped. But I was still in it. Keep moving forward. 

The following 38 miles were SLOW. I was tired, itchy, and wanted to be done. Around mile 480, outside of Overbrook, I was literally falling asleep on the bike. I decided that I would just pull over and sleep on the side of the road. I didn't even look for a nice spot. I just stopped where I was, laid my bike down in the ditch (so if a car came, it wouldn't get run over), took my tent out, crawled inside it, and laid down on the rocks. I used my tent like a sleeping bag and zipped it around me to protect myself from bugs and other animals. I then turned on my little speaker and put it next to my head. I put Ben Nichols' album Last Pale Light in the West (mellow and primarily instrumental) on repeat to drown out any animal noise and went to sleep. I think the album played 3 total times before I finally got up. 

My ditch bed

I finally got back on the bike and started down the road. What I soon found out was that my legs no longer wanted to climb even the slightest hill. So, now I was reduced to walking up hills that I should have had no problem riding. When I got to the next turn in the road (walking), I stopped and sat on a concrete barrier for water runoff and sobbed. I literally ugly cried for about 5 minutes. Then I told myself to "knock that shit off and get back on my bike." So, I sucked it up, put my bike in my granny gear, and rode on. About a 1/4 mile up the road, there was a truck stopped. I found this odd at 5 a.m., so I approached cautiously. There was a man next to the truck that started to walk towards me.  Then I hear him say, "Peggy - it's Matt Battiston. I didn't want to scare you. I have breakfast if you are hungry." (I was so grateful he hadn't seen me being a sniveling lunatic just a few minutes before.)

Matt had finished the race two days ago - but was out supporting the riders still out on the course. He opened the side door of his truck, and it was like a rolling c-store. He had a hot Casey's breakfast sandwich (I was so hungry for real food, this sandwich tasted like a Michelin Starred chef had created it), pickles, Gatorade, and anything else I could ever have wanted. I had watched Matt kick ass on the course on the trackleaders board, and now this dude was sitting here on his way to work supporting and feeding me. He had never met me outside the brief "hellos" at the start line. I was amazed by his kindness and generosity. We talked about bottom brackets and bikey stuff (we have the same bike), and then he sent me on my way. 

I rolled up to Pomona Lake as the sun was coming up. With my detours, I had logged a little over 500 miles in 5 days. I had hoped to be done in 4. But, at least I hadn't quit. 

Sunrise over Pomona Lake

It was fitting that I listened to The Alchemist that day.

"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it." - Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.


  1. Well written Peggy. Thanks for talking about distance and other things i wasn't able to do at the '21 run. Next year will meet experience...and a conspiring universe

  2. Peggy, thanks for sharing your story, itchy bits and all. You remind me that I don’t need to go fast, just keep going. I can’t wait for your next blog.


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