By Wendy Jo Corr, Cowboy State Daily
On a breezy morning in Cody, the first full day of summer, more than 100 people of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities wheeled away for a common cause.
The ninth annual PEAKS to Conga bicycle ride got underway shortly after 7 a.m. on Saturday when 100-plus bicycles hit Highway 14/16/20 east of Cody on a 66-mile journey to the tiny town of Shell as part of a fundraiser to assist cancer patients in the Bighorn Basin.
The ride is meant to be fun and non-competitive, according to organizer Laurie Stoelk, and is fully supported – meaning designated vehicles running the route were available to pick anyone up who didn’t want to ride the entire 66-mile stretch.
The participants ranged in age from young adults to senior citizens, and while many of the riders were decked out in cycle gear, many were less experienced.
Rayna Wortham, a Cody police officer, was one of the participants. Although she’s not a competitive bike rider, as part of her fitness routine she regularly rides the North Fork Highway between Cody and Yellowstone National Park. Her trusty dog, Macy, rode along with her this year in a bike basket.
Stoelk says the fundraiser began after a group of local bicyclists befriended a gang of lady motorcycle riders 10 years ago who were taking part in a cross-country “Conga” journey in honor of a friend who was battling cancer.
Stoelk, a nurse at the Cody Regional Health Cancer Center in Cody, began organizing what would eventually become the PEAKS to Conga ride. PEAKS (which stands for People Everywhere Are Kind and Sharing) provides short-term gas, grocery and other non-medical expense assistance to Cody cancer patients who are experiencing financial hardship.
Stoelk noted that over the past several years, the annual bike ride has raised more than $100,000 to help cancer patients from all over the Bighorn Basin. And this year’s turnout was the biggest in the event’s history, with 130 people registered.
The route isn’t easy – from Cody, there are a few hills as riders begin, and a steep incline to the top of Eagle Pass, about 13 miles east of town. It’s mostly downhill for the next 30 miles or so, but quite hilly between Greybull and Shell.
At the end of the line, though, is the reward – the park in Shell each year is taken over by massage tables, yoga practitioners, food vendors and musicians as a celebration (or rather, a “Shell-abration”) for those who participate in the event. Riders’ registration fees include dinner and dancing to live music. Many participants choose to camp out in Shell overnight.
And for those who would rather not straddle a bicycle for 66 miles, Stoelk points out that there are other ways to contribute to their cause. PEAKS is sponsored by the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation in Billings, Montana, and donations can be made directly to the Foundation.