2021 Cannonball 550: How I ended up there.

I started riding (for real) in late August of 2019. A few months before that, I had purchased a Cannondale cyclocross bike - but it didn't fit me correctly, and riding was painful. I named that bike "The Punisher" and very rarely rode it. (There were less than 100 miles on it when I sold it.) Finally, friends convinced me that I should buy a gravel bike (which at the time sounded just as painful) and start riding with them. So, that is what I did. I bought myself a nice used Niner RLT 9 RDO and did my first gravel event on Sept 7, 2019. It was the 70-mile course of the Pony Express Gravel Dash in Marysville, KS. I had no idea what I was getting into - but ignorance is bliss, as they say. I didn't know what an MMR or B Road was. I didn't think you were allowed to get off and walk hills (so I rode every single one). I didn't know that the Flint Hills was even a thing. And I ended up having a fantastic time! I have been chasing that same feeling of excitement and terror ever since. 

At the finish of my first Pony Express Gravel Dash

Fast forward to 2020. Friends convinced me to ride the MidSouth. I made it to Perkins. My first DNF. Then came Open Range. The heat index was over 100 that day. I suffered heat exhaustion while on the private ranch land, and they pulled me from the race around mile 55. This crushed me. In the parking lot, as I was loading my bike and finding a hotel to stay in that night - I saw a woman that I was familiar with from the area. I knew she coached some other athletes. I stood in the parking lot with her and told her how I had DNF'ed that day and in Stillwater in March. I told her that I didn't know what I was doing - but I wanted to finish long races and probably needed some help. I got back home. I got busy with work. I got lazy about actually following up. I bought a new bike - thinking a new bike that fit me correctly (my Niner didn't fit well either) would change things. (I purchased my 2020 Cutthroat and have zero regrets. I love that bike.) And then finally - at the end of the summer, I hired Tiffany Burris from DarkEarly to be my coach. 

Tiffany & Me at the finish of the Solstice 100

Tiffany has been through a million different iterations of goal setting with me. I change my mind constantly about what I want from the bike and my riding. In the beginning - I was unrealistic and would write down that I wanted to podium in my category (at races where no way in hell was this going to happen). Then when I convinced myself that I was okay with being slow - I would change my goals to say that I just wanted to find happiness in the back of the pack and be content with finishing. There was always a theme to what I wrote down or talked about - I wanted to push myself outside my comfort zone. I eventually wanted to do amazing, stupid, and scary things. I was watching docs on ultra-endurance events and started thinking to myself - I think this is maybe what I want to try. 

So, it started with Desert Gravel in Fruita, CO. I was signed up for the 125 - but the date kept getting pushed back because of Covid. Finally - when they announced that it would be in late May, I sent an impulsive email immediately back to the race director and asked him to switch me to the 190-mile category. Before I realized the mistake I had just made - Morgan had emailed me back and told me the transfer was complete. Oops. Let the stupidity begin.

So, I talked to Tiffany about what this was all leading up to. And I floated to her that maybe I would take a shot at the Cannonball 550. The first two races would be a good test to see if I could handle long distances in the saddle in varying conditions. Mind you - the Solstice 100 in September of 2020 was the first 100-mile gravel race I finished. I had never ridden more than 110 miles on a bike in a day - and it took me all frickin day! (And I was angry about it at the end.) But, I grew up backpacking in the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. I knew what it was like to be out on your own and have to carry all your gear. I understood having to problem solve at the moment (much of my career is doing precisely this). So, it seemed like something I could handle logistically. She agreed to help me train for all this stupidity. And so it began. 

Desert Gravel (Co2Ut) didn't end as I wanted. Another DNF. I dropped at mile 161 - 24 miles from the finish. I already did a race write-up on this - so I won't bore you with the details. But, I will say that this DNF stung more than any other. I wanted so badly to finish this race. But, I left everything I had out there on that course. And I learned a ton. I also increased my longest distance on the bike to over 160 miles. That's progress.

On the course of Desert Gravel (Co2Ut)

When the DAMn came on Aug 15 - I was terrified. I was lining up alone and knew that I would be in my head for 20-24 hours on that course by myself. The day didn't go completely smooth, but I finished with some time to spare in the end. More importantly - I learned that I could ride for very long periods by myself while fatigued. Knowing this was vital, heading into Cannonball. 

At the finish of The DAMn

When I got home from the DAMn - I was tired. I didn't feel like riding very much. So, I didn't. Instead - I started prepping for Cannonball in other ways. First, I made sure I had all my gear in order. Packing and repacking things until I figured out how I liked the way it felt on the bike. I am obsessive - it's a problem. So, I picked apart the course and created a spreadsheet with places to get food/supplies and camp/sleep. I printed and laminated all the cue sheets. I asked questions on the forums. Then, I did some group rides and shorter solo rides. I also went back to Marysville for my 3rd Pony Express Gravel Dash (where it all began). This was the second year they had a bikepacking category - so I got to test out my equipment and have a mellow overnight with fabulous people. (And I got first place in the women's bikepacking for the second year - sharing the podium with two amazing women.)    

Me in 1st, Karen Dill in 2nd, Carrie McGill in 3rd

And then, on Sept 23 - I drove to Emporia. There was no going back. I was going to do this - ready or not. 


  1. Peggy, it’s great to get to know about your background and entry into cycling. I’m glad I had an opportunity to going you at some of the stupidity along your journey. Looking forward to your cannonball write up.

  2. Reading! Looking forward to more posts - especially on how you got from starting out to doing 5 centuries in a row!

  3. Wow Peggy, you descibed many of the challenges and demons I've faced. The first step is finishing, and the second is finishing better. Can't wait to hear more!

  4. Love this! I will be watching for more posts. Inspiring!

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  6. It's has been a great ride!! I cannot wait to hear more and join in on the adventures that follow!!

  7. Keep Riding and Writing. Keep the Wind at your Back.


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