In Print: Blessed Be Bag Balm

Editor’s note: This feature originally appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #31. Order one here, or best of all, order a subscription and never miss an issue.


By Ann K. Howley. Illustrations by Stephen Haynes.

It was only day one of our five-day, 275-mile bike trip from Connellsville, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C., via the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Towpath trails. My husband, son, stepson, stepdaughter and I had only gone 17 miles and already the kids’ butts hurt.

“I don’t think big guys like me are supposed to sit on little bike seats,” my burly teenage son, who played high school football, said miserably. With his wide shoulders leaning forward and bulky torso perched atop a narrow bike seat that looked like a perfect fit for a toddler, he did look a bit precarious as he pedaled down the tree-lined trail.

“Don’t be silly! You can do it! You’ll be fine!” I said, sounding more like a bubbly cheerleader than a rational mother.

I feared this would happen.

I knew they were going to suffer, just like our friend’s young son, who was so proud that he rode his bike 10 miles with his daddy, but came back walking like a bowlegged cowboy and confessed to his mother that his ‘private balls hurt.’

My husband and I had hoped that buying them hybrid bikes for Christmas would give them plenty of time to train and acclimate to their bike seats before our planned ride to Washington, DC in the summer, but apparently “riding bike” wasn’t on anyone’s list of Important-Things-To-Do-Before-Riding-Bike-275-Miles.

I knew they were going to suffer, just like our friend’s young son, who was so proud that he rode his bike 10 miles with his daddy, but came back walking like a bowlegged cowboy and confessed to his mother that his ‘private balls hurt.’ When his mother heard that we were going to ride 275 miles, I thought she was going to accuse us of child abuse.

But our kids aren’t children. Aged 18 to 22, they all had the intelligence, ability, time and warning to prepare, but, like most normal young people between the ages of 18 and 22, figured they could wing it. What they didn’t understand is that nothing can produce more unrelenting and agonizing pain in your nether region than a saddle sore — except childbirth.

Trust me. I’ve experienced both.

So a week before our trip and sensing impending doom, I conducted a frantic Internet search to find a way to figuratively and literally save the kids’ hides. I scoured the Web for advice, only to be reminded that the number one recommendation to toughen your bottom is to “build up miles slowly.”

Too late for that.

Although I haven’t the slightest clue what a “caked bag” is, I was sold.  My husband and I drove to the pharmacy and bought a little green tin.

Bag Balm

Then I read about a product called Bag Balm, sold in pharmacies, which various cycling websites and blogs suggested as an effective lubricant to help prevent chafing. This is what I read on the Company website:

For CATTLE: Helps soothe small injuries, rash chapping; massage on caked bag.

Although I haven’t the slightest clue what a “caked bag” is, I was sold.  My husband and I drove to the pharmacy and bought a little green tin.

On the morning of our departure, as everyone was securing their panniers and sleeping bags onto their bikes, I held up the green tin and suggested that everyone use it before we started riding. The kids didn’t even have a chance to crack a butt joke before my hygiene-conscious husband hastily blurted, “Wait! We need to set ground rules.”

He then described, in remarkably well-thought-out detail, what he viewed as the only proper and acceptable methodology with respect to the application and reapplication of Bag Balm, which basically boiled down to this: NO DOUBLE DIPPING.

It didn’t surprise me. My husband can kiss me full on the lips, but pass on the buffalo dip if he suspects I got a speck of slobber in it. Despite the fact that they had all lubed up prior to starting, the kids had sore bums by the time we made our first official stop for lunch.

“There is no way I’m going to be able to ride 76 miles,” my unhappy son predicted, referring to our fourth day of riding, which was supposed to be our longest.

But now when the kids complained, I said, “Hey, you guys accepted the challenge. You’re committed.” I no longer sounded like a cheerleader.

But even my husband and I, who were the only ones who attempted to train ahead of time, were saddle sore. The heat didn’t help. Forecasters had predicted it was going to be the hottest week of the summer — 95 degrees with 100 percent humidity. Even though the canopy of trees along the trail sheltered us from the direct sun, we still couldn’t escape the heat and humidity. When pedaling for hours, the sweat, salt and road grime must have been fermenting like a wicked witch’s brew in our private parts.

“Start at ‘A’ and go through the alphabet and try to think of different alliterative names for Bag Balm,” he said.

bagbalm1

I began to think that Bag Balm was the only thing that was going to save us from taking an early ride home on Amtrak. I don’t know if the rest of my family was thinking that too, but everyone was digging frequently into that little tin and Bag Balm became a bit of an obsession for us.

My husband playfully suggested a game to pass the time as we rode in the afternoon heat.

“Start at ‘A’ and go through the alphabet and try to think of different alliterative names for Bag Balm,” he said.

This was exactly the kind of mind activity that would appeal to our brainy, witty kids, who, recognizing the potential hilarity of it, jumped eagerly on the suggestion.

I always rode in the rear of the pack, heeding my maternal instinct to be able to help if anyone had trouble. (I’m also just slower.) But on that day, I must have felt particularly tired because as my family pulled out ahead of me, enthusiastically rattling off substitute names for Bag Balm, my brain process went something like this:

“Ass Aid …Bottom Balsam… Can Comfort… Derriere Dip…End Elixir…”

That was it. My mind went blank and for the next several hours not a single thought crossed into my consciousness. My autonomic nervous system must have taken over because my legs still moved the pedals and I apparently made forward movement in the stifling heat. But it wasn’t until I caught up to my husband and kids at a rest stop and drank some water, that I snapped out of my semi-vegetative state and remembered that we were trying to think of names for Bag Balm.

“Hey, did you guys get something for F yet?” I asked.

My stepson looked at me. “F? We already got to Z,” he said.

bagbalm2

“What?! Even Z?” I asked, flabbergasted.

“Yeah. Zipper Zapper… we cheated a little on that one,” he said. I was too exhausted to ask any more questions.

On the fourth day, the “long” day we had all been dreading, a minor miracle happened.  Having successfully completed 142 miles in the prior three days, the kids must have felt stronger and better and even though their bums still hurt, they toughed it out… without whining.  On that day, we laughed a lot as we fixed a flat tire and played a 60-mile game of Tag with 32 Boy Scouts.

Though riding 76 miles may not be a mark of distinction in the cycling world, for us newbies, it felt momentous and we celebrated by having dinner at a nice restaurant in Brunswick, Maryland. With only one more day of riding, we knew we were going to make it to the Mile 0 signpost in Washington DC, and we couldn’t wait to whoop and holler and snap lots of obligatory pictures to prove it.

We all agreed that we couldn’t have come this far without Bag Balm… the Fanny Fixer.

Feeling exhilarated, I was swigging my beer and enjoying a delicious meal when I took a deep, relaxing breath. Suddenly I realized that while it was okay for the five of us to ride our bikes and camp outside in the wide open world, maybe it wasn’t a good idea for us to sit in an enclosed public place where people were eating dinner. Our collective stench appalled me.

I’m pretty sure we smelled like a herd of cattle with caked bags.

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Bicycle Times Issue #31 is here – Take a peek inside

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Bicycle Times Issue #31 has mailed to subscribers and will be available on newsstands soon. As always, if you want to make sure you see it first and never miss an issue, order a subscription!

This is our family-themed issue, chock full of features, featurettes and product reviews all geared toward the active family (and those young couples planning on riding with their future offspring). There’s something for everyone in Issue #31, including: a reminder to ride like you did when you were a kid, what it takes to keep adult children happy on a family tour, taking a toddler on a bike tour of Chile, and what one large family has contributed to the world of American frame manufacturing in Tennessee since 1986.

There's plenty for the family this issue, plus a tale of being kidnapped in Bangkok.

There’s plenty for the family this issue, plus a tale of being kidnapped in Bangkok.

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Our Provisions product review section includes a few humdingers, including an electric-assist cargo bike, plus a few recommended “For Your Consideration” products.

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Does this scene look familiar? Reminds me of my bike room 15 years ago.

Does this scene look familiar? Reminds me of my bike room 15 years ago.

Finally, our Parting Shot captures the essence of all-surface riding with two old timers who could easily kick your ass if they weren’t so nice, plus a short tribute to the late cyclist, actor and comedian Robin Williams.

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All this and more, now available on iTunes. Print subscribers should start receiving their copies next week. You can always visit better book stores and bike shops to buy a copy too!

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