PEAKS event sets new records

Stan Flitner and Jane Bell dance to the music of Emily Nenni and her band during Saturday evening’s PEAKS to Conga event in Shell. (PHOTO BY LISA KUNKEL)

by nathan oster

PEAKS to Conga showed no signs of letting up in its ninth year, setting records for the number of bicyclists making the long trek from Cody to Shell as well as in money generated by this year’s fundraiser

Organizer Laurie Stoelk said 127 cyclists participated in the fully-supported ride, that there were no issues of any kind on the highway and that she expects the event to clear about $33,000 after all expenses are paid.

“It just keeps getting better,” Stoelk said.

Outside of the ride itself, Shell was the epicenter of all the activities.

Yoga sessions and massages were offered in the park.

Food trucks lined the streets, offering pizza and Mexican food.

For the kids, there was a petting zoo. And face painting.

Dinner was served by the Shell Community Hall, which was raising money for operations and maintenance.  Afterward attendees cut a rug, dancing to the music of Emily Nenni and her band who had made the trip from Nashville.

Stoelk said she was pleased with the turnout and offered kudos to a number of agencies for their help with the bike ride. She said WYDOT cleaned the road beforehand and put up signs warning motorist that there were bikers on the road; the Greybull Police Department spent the morning directing cyclists on the north end of town, directing cyclists to the walk path; the Wyoming Highway Patrol and the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office assigned officers to the route and an ambulance from Cody Regional Health followed the cyclists all the way to Shell.

“It was so great to have all that support,” she said.

Stoelk said there are special stories that come out of the ride every year.

Jimmy Butz, a native of Basin now residing in Cody, finished the ride again this year. One of the nation’s “wounded warriors,” he has an artificial leg and his determination to complete what he starts and overcome obstacles is an inspiration riders and spectators alike.

Stoelk said the first rider to reach Shell on Saturday morning spent no time celebrating his achievement.  He simply turned his bike around and began his journey back to Cody. “Pretty hardcore,” she laughed, speculating that he may be training for a marathon.

The generosity of the community continues to make all the difference for PEAKS.  The Eagles donated $10,000 to the cause. Several people in the Greybull and Shell areas made significant contributions as well. Peter DeCabooter of The Hideout donated all of the money that was generated by the yard sale that day in the Shell Store and paid the entry fee for several of his employees to participate in the ride and enjoy the dinner and concert.

Stoelk said there are riders every year who share stories about what the event means to them. One particularly touching one this year came from Tara Kuipers of Cody. It was the eighth year she’s participated — but the first since she lost her father to cancer this past March.

“For seven years, my reason for doing the ride wasn’t about cancer; it was about the recreation, the challenge, and the fun,” she wrote this week in a Facebook post. “Raising funds for patients and families impacted by cancer was a nice feel-good side benefit, but it wasn’t my main motivation.”

“I’ve known plenty of people impacted by cancer over the years; we all have. But this year it hit home for me – literally. Over Christmas, my father was sick with what we thought and hoped was pneumonia. In early January he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer that had already spread to his lymph system, liver and bones. In February, after several radiation treatments, he entered hospice care. In early March, he lost his battle with this awful disease. 

“For seven years, I’ve pedaled these 68 miles taking in the scenery, sharing time with other riders along the way, stopping for breaks at the aid stations, and feeling the pride of accomplishment when I reached the end. 

“This year, the miles were the same but my perspective was entirely new. I rode every one of those 68 miles with my dad on my mind, and on my heart. I thought about his love, his wit and his overwhelmingly kind heart. I thought about the way he lived and, sadly, the way he died. I thought about all the ways my family has been supported and loved and lifted up over the past several months. 

“And, I thought about the promise and possibility of actually, truly “Kicking Cancer to the Curb” — it motivates me and inspires me more than I ever thought it could.

Stoelk said the date has already been set for PEAKS to Conga X:  June 20, 2020.