2021 Cannonball 550 - Day 1: Intact cheekbones not required to ride

 It's 6:55 A.M. on September 24th, and I am standing outside the Granada Theater in Emporia with 20 other cyclists...and I have to pee. But, of course, the coffee shop next door isn't open yet. A friend that is there to send us off suggests I run across the street and go behind a huge hedge in the lawn of the Presbyterian church. I give him the side-eye - but he is "connected" in the religious community - so I prop my bike against the building, set down my Red Bull, run across the street, and hop the fence. Two minutes later, I am back, smiling and taking a group picture with everyone. 

(Not all riders pictured)

And then we are off...

I am busy making last-minute adjustments in typical Peggy fashion, so I start a couple of minutes behind everyone. That's fine - I knew I wasn't out to break any records. The goal for the day was to get through the Flint Hills without any significant mishaps. I wanted to just settle in and log as many miles as possible while my legs were still fresh. 

The first few miles rolling out of Emporia were beautiful. The sunrise was gorgeous, and I was in a great mood. Since I upgraded my phone that week, I had decided that I would do a better job of recording my adventure than I had in the past. I knew that this was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done physically - but if I stopped to take pictures and to record my journey - it would help me get out of my head. It would also be something I could look back on as I take on more significant challenges and become a stronger rider. So, I started documenting right away. 

Around mile 6 (or so) - as the sun was rising.

Within the first 10 miles, the fronts of my knees started hurting. This is not common on my Cutthroat, so I figured that I didn't get the position right when I swapped seats earlier in the week. I had to stop a few times to make minor adjustments to get the pain to subside. This started the clock on my stop time - and it continued to be a pattern (it always is). 

Around mile 15 or 20 - I hit a water crossing. I remembered this section from the Incredibly Socially Distanced Midsouth route we did in March (back then, it was raining, cold, and muddy - so this time, it didn't seem as bad). I didn't feel like riding with wet socks and shoes all day - so I took my time. 

A few miles after the water crossing is where the Flint Hills actually started. Unfortunately - this is also when the wind decided to take it up a few notches. It became apparent to me that it would be one of those days where I had to dig deep. Getting through the Flint Hills is hard enough. Doing it with a 20 mph headwind with 30 mph gusts is a whole other animal. 

About 2 miles after I recorded that video, I got to the base of Texaco hill. The last time I was on this hill, it was muddy, cold, and I was riding a single speed (Midsouth route, again). I made it up to the second tier before I had to start walking that day in March. I made it the same point with my fully loaded Cutthroat. There was no point in trying to ride the entire thing. I didn't have anything to prove, and I was only at mile 32. I met Connell R. halfway up the hill, taking a break under a tree. Connell was the youngest rider on the course. Nice kid. We walked the rest of the hill together and chatted a bit. Then we started the descent together. 

The backside of the hill is where you really see the flint rock for what it is. Jagged chunks are sticking out of the road. There are some minor ledges that you have to navigate. But, mostly, there are just big, loose, broken-up rocks all over the road. This can be a little sketchy to ride when you are bombing downhill - especially on a bike that weighs 40+ lbs. I noticed that my bike was bouncing around a lot. So I stopped to let out some tire pressure. Connell rode ahead. The lower psi helped with the bouncing - so I felt better about the descent. Maybe a little too confident with the wind was gusting like it was. 

I can't tell you exactly what happened - because I honestly don't remember the sequence of events. All I know is that I was going downhill (reasonably fast) and trying to stay upright against the wind. I am pretty sure that I hit a chunk of rock that bounced my front wheel. I was descending up off my seat, and I don't think I had my butt back far enough. Because the next thing I knew, I was hitting that hard flint rock face first. Not helmet. Face. And the sound that came out of me must have sounded like a dying animal. I remember sitting on the ground screaming the words, "I'm hurt. That hurt. Oh my god." I touched my face, and it was bleeding and hot to the touch. It hurt to just place my fingers on it. My knee was banged up, my hip was bruised, and my left palm was bruised - but my face felt broken. My bike was lying to the side and a little behind me. I reached in my feed bag and grabbed my phone. I tried to think of who to call. I knew if I called my husband at work that it would just worry him. So, I called Tiffany - my coach. And this was the exact right thing to do. 

I told Tiffany what had happened. She calmed me down. She made me get up and walk around. She told me to take my helmet off and inspect it. She went through the concussion protocols with me. I still remember the three words she had me repeat to her - cat, bike, and health club (I even remember her saying that she knew that health club was technically 2 words - but she didn't care.). She asked if I had a first aid kit. I told her yes. And then she said - "so can you ride?" And I paused. In my head, all I could think was this was the event I had trained so hard for. This was the event I stressed over for months. And here I was at mile 33 - could I really drop? So, I answered, "Yes. I can ride." So we came up with a plan. (Apologies for the video sound - the wind was terrible.)

The swelling from the front

The swelling from the side

The next 30 miles into Cassoday were slow (I couldn't do math after my wreck). The wind was still horrible. I was running out of food and water around mile 50 - I had used some of my water to clean off my cuts. I was hurting. I didn't know if there was still anyone behind me. I checked the Trackleaders board and could see that there were 4 or 5 guys a few miles back. I sat at the top of a hill and waited. I wasn't sure I could make it another 13 miles without help. Bill N., Jerry B., and Jeremy W. rode up after a bit. Bill had plenty of water, as he had packed a Sawyer filter and had recently filled his bottles. He filled one of my bottles and completely saved my bacon. 

I could forget about the pain for a bit and have some fun riding the rest of the rollers going out of the Flint Hills and making my way to Cassoday. There I got a bacon cheeseburger, washed my face with actual soap and water, looked at the route, and relaxed a bit. I talked to the guys who had just helped me and got to know them a little. It really lifted my spirits. After I had eaten and refilled all my bottles. I decided it was time to roll out. I didn't want to stop on day one at mile 64. I needed to at least get to El Dorado. So, I mounted the lights and took off down the road. I left Cassoday right as the sun was setting.

Heading out of Cassoday

The sunset outside Cassoday

The night riding into El Dorado was terrific. I no longer had to deal with the flint rock. There were even some short stretches of pavement. I got to the campgrounds at El Dorado Lake around 10 P.M. However, there wasn't a gas station until you went into town. Which was about two miles past the campgrounds. I was also in quite a bit of pain and wasn't sure I wanted to sleep on the ground that night. I thought it might be a good idea to take a shower, get clean, and take care of my wounds. So, I kept riding into El Dorado. I stopped at the Casey's and got dinner and other supplies. Then I rode across the street to the Stardust Motel. 

Dinner in El Dorado

When I got there, the woman at the desk informed me she only had one room left and that she had already promised it to another cyclist that said he would be rolling into town around midnight. The guys I had been with at Cassoday were all camping there for the night - so the only person she could have been talking about was Josh S. Josh started 7 hours behind all of us after driving up from Texas - and was now catching me in El Dorado. Such respect for powering through that day like he did. I sat on the sidewalk, a little crushed. I didn't know Josh - but at that point, I was willing to ask him to share a room or at least ask him if I could use his shower and then roll on. After about 20 minutes of sitting there - the woman came back across the street (the Stardust had rooms on both sides of the road - it was a super classy joint) and said she did have one other room - but it didn't have cable. I told her I didn't care if it had a door at this point - I just needed a shower and a bed. So she rented me the room, and I could get clean and rest for a few hours. 

While sitting in my room - Josh rolled in and messaged me on social media to check to make sure I got a room. Reading that message cemented to me what I had already learned earlier that day. Even though I was doing a self-supported event - we were all there to help each other succeed. 

Day 1 was in the books. Only 90 miles down. Not what I wanted. But I wasn't out. 

Onto Day 2...


  1. That is already a challenging 90 mile stretch. You turned it up to eleven. Can't wait for day two.


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