Can’t slow down: PEAKS effort pedals on

Nathan Oster

It won’t be easy for supporters of the PEAKS to Conga fundraiser to top last year’s record-setting event, but you can bet they are going to try when the annual event unfolds Saturday, June 22.
The fully-supported, 66-mile bike ride from Cody to Shell and the “Shellebration” that follows are the primary fundraisers for the People Everywhere Are Kind and Sharing (PEAKS) organization, which helps Big Horn Basin cancer patients with their non-medical expenses.
Last year’s event topped everyone’s expectations. There were 167 registered cyclists, up from 152 the previous year, and with the silent auction that generated a record $8,598 and the 50/50 raffle that contributed another $4,630, the organization’s generated about $45,000 in revenue. After expenses, the net came to $35,000.
As of Tuesday, June 11, just shy of 100 cyclists had signed up, including some from Idaho, Montana, South Dakota and Colorado. Organizer Laurie Stoelk wasn’t sweating the low number. Dozens of people, many of them locals, have been known to sign up in the final 10 days or so of registration.
On the day of the event, cyclists will leave Cody at 7 a.m.
There will be a lot waiting for them in Shell — from food and drink to massages, yoga and live music.
The music lineup begins with J.D. Kunkel at 11 a.m. He will be followed by Adrian Melin at noon and Will and the Thrills from 2 to 4 p.m.  Rude Diary, which hails from Cody and features Rusty and Diane Ballard, will perform from 4 p.m. to close.
Three massage therapists will be in the park that afternoon, offering their services for $1 a minute.
The Shell Valley Fire Department Auxiliary and 307 Pizza will be selling food; the Shell Store will be open as well.  Cody Craft Brewing is planning a beer tent.
The silent auction opens at 11 a.m. and will feature, among other things, a fly-fishing trip, a wine-tasting trip to Argentina, a Blackstone grill, “some really nice art, high end jewelry and a lot of self-care items,” according to Stoelk.  It closes at 7 p.m.
Vendors will be set up in the park all afternoon.
Kelsea Chestnut will lead yoga sessions starting at 1 p.m.
A 50/50 raffle is planned, with the drawing to occur at 6:30 p.m.
If you would like to support the fundraiser, please bring cash or a check as there is no internet service in the park.
In a typical year, the PEAKS organization distributes between $30,000 and $32,000 to cancer patients living in Hot Springs, Washakie, Big Horn and Parks counties.  The aid typically takes the form of either a gas card or a Walmart gift card.
Where the money ends up in the four-county area changes from year to year.   
“Obviously, you can’t predict cancer,” said Stoelk.
Between January 2023 and September 2023, PEAKS approved 34 applications totaling $27,200.  A breakdown showed $8,000 going to recipients in Worland, $4,800 going to Cody and $4,000 going to Powell. The organization awarded $6,400 in aid to residents of Big Horn County, including $3,200 to  Basin and $800 to individuals in Burlington, Greybull, Lovell and Shell. The rest went to recipients in Thermopolis, Wapiti, Thermopolis, Ten Sleep and Shoshoni.
Each card was valued at $800.  “We increased the amount and will continue as long as we can afford to do so,” said Stoelk. “If we don’t make that money, we can’t give it away. We have a cushion of about $3,400, so if we skipped a year, we’d have that.  But we spend about $30,000 a year. That’s why we have to keep the fundraising going.”
The organization has already received a significant lift from cash donations, with $20,000 coming in so far. “That’s amazing — more than we’ve ever had at this point,” she said, crediting Big Horn REA and a new high-level supporter in Greybull High School.  The $2,000 that the high school donated was generated by last winter’s pink basketball games between the Buffs and visiting Burlington Huskies. The silent auction accounted for $1,500 of that, with the remaining $500 generated by T-shirt sales.
Sherri Wilkinson made it happen that night at Buff Gym, and she will be coordinating the PEAKS to Conga silent auction.  She’s been involved in every one of the fundraisers, admitting that as a breast cancer survivor whose ordeal was ending as the event was beginning, it’s a cause that’s very close to heart.