Sunday, March 3, 2019

Southern Cross

Check it out...

My Number Plate

This past weekend, for the first time in like 6 years, there was a number plate in the trunk of my truck.

And it wasn't just lying there. It was associated with a registration, my registration, for an actual race.

I'd signed up a month or more ago, but it was still kind-of surreal checking in at Montaluce the night before. Not just because of how long it's been, though. I'd wound around on some obscure backroads to get to the property, navigated some even twistier, pitch black, roads on the property, parked in the middle of nowhere, and trudged up an unlit hill, drawn to the dim glow emanating from a tent near the top, and found Kathleen Tokuda and Lisa Randall just hanging out all casual behind a table.

All right then.

"David Muse..."

(scrawl scrawl scrawl pack)

Bam! I had a bag full of swag and a number plate.

It was startling. Like deja vu. Like I was reliving a memory from a past life.

I'd be racing the next day. Or so it would appear. Still didn't seem real.

But, I went home, got some rest, got up the next morning, grabbed some Waffle House, made the mistake of having half a glass of coke with it, drove up to Dahlonega, and followed a much more direct route to the winery.

The weirdness was even more striking that morning. I knew like half the guys volunteering. Hadn't seen most of them in 6 or 8 years. The sun was still low, and the temps were steadily rising. I was a little excited. It was familiar, but not too familiar. Like a repressed memory.

So weird.

But that wasn't the only strange thing. The Southern Cross is a strange event. It's not a mountain bike race. It's not a cyclocross race. It's not a gravel grinder. Not exactly, at least. I mean, it is all of those things, but it's not really any one of them. It's kind of a gravel grinder, but it predates the term, and most of those are held on comparatively flat courses. This one boasts 6000 feet of climbing. The fair-weather route contains some singletrack, but only a mile or two, and that's like 4% of the total distance. So, it's not a mountain bike race, per se, but about half of the field rides it on a mountain bike. It's definitely not a cyclocross race, but the other half of the field rides it on a cross bike, or on a gravel bike, which is also a thing now. In years past, there was a run up at the start, with barriers, but they're mostly gone now...

Whatever it is, I was signed up, and it was race day, and I'd better get ready.

I ran by the start/finish to see if there was any day-of stuff that I needed to do.

Finish Line

Nope. Just a riders meeting at 9:30, and the start at 10:00.

I ran into Mark Baldwin a few minutes later. He was spinning around, starting to get warmed up. As I followed suit, I met the guys parked to either side of me. One was from Anderson South Carolina. The other was somehow involved in organizing, coaching, etc. of the Piedmont College mountain bike team, as well as the local NICA team. He and his son were both racing, and his son was apparently really damn strong.

Baldwin introduced me to two of his friends from Cartecay Bikes. One was named Jeff Harris, and the other's name I have forgotten because I'm really bad with names.

Spinning around, warming up, I ran into Joe Urbanowicz, who I'd never met in person before. He'd emailed me with some questions about my trails site, and I'd emailed him back. This happened a few times. Then we both apparently heard stuff about each other through mutual friends, and were both rather excited to finally meet in person. 15 minutes later I ran into Scott Hanson, who was spinning around with Joe. I could describe our pre-exsiting relationship in almost the exact same way, and it was equally cool to meet him too.

We all assembled for the riders meeting...

Riders Meeting

...and it got really warm standing around, so I quick, last-minute shed my base layer and knee warmers.

I had to pee real-quick before getting lined up for the start.

The Start

And then two or three agonizing minutes ticked by before it was time to get moving.

Again, the deja vu... This vague memory of some weird experience leading up to the start came to mind. And then it struck me, automatically - some kind of involuntary focus. My wandering thoughts retreated. The only kinds of thoughts I could sustain were about the road I was standing on and the people around me. If you could call them thoughts at all. I'd forgotten about how that happens, and it was amazing to get hit by it out of nowhere like that.


The roll out was neutral-ish. Lisa led us out in her truck, but we were moving. The pace was pretty quick and little bridge groups kept forming to try to keep from getting too split. I was putting in more effort than I really wanted to that early in the ride. But that's how it is. ORAMM was always like that too. There's not much you can do but try to keep from getting dropped or split, and if you have to push harder than you want, then that's just what you have to do.

Fortunately, there are some good descents on 28-1. I managed to keep from blowing up before hitting them, recovered, and actually felt really good as we started to climb Winding Stair.

A couple of cars passed us in both directions.

At one point, a very strange thing happened. I didn't notice at first, but then I did, and triple-checked, just to be sure. There were four of us in a row, all on Litespeeds! What are the odds?

A couple of us orbited each other most of the way up the climb, and steadily caught and passed other riders. I actually felt really good at the top, but wondered if I'd put in too much effort, too early in the race. I was following my instincts, but they were admittedly rusty.

At SAG 1, I grabbed a banana and a Clif Bar and I don't think I even clipped out.

The rollers across the Springer Mountain Ridge felt a lot better than they had a month or two ago, whenever it was that I was last up there. One guy behind me was joking about "We just came through a gap, how can we still be climbing?" Actually I wasn't sure if he was joking or not, but I didn't have the energy to explain it. Not sure how he had the energy to ask.

Toward the end of the Winding Stair climb, I'd picked up Jeff Harris (Mark's buddy that he'd introduced me to earlier) and we leapfrogged all the way across the ridge. It wasn't exactly friendly sparring either, there were tactics. We had plenty of legs for the terrain, and were legitimately trying to defeat one another. Ha ha! I was totally getting my money's worth!

I also got my money's worth bombing down off of Springer. My God! It had rained all week, but it was dryish the day before, and all night. The road was firm and dry, but not dusty. Perfect tread. Couldn't have been better. With no leaves on the trees, there were long lines of sight too. Barely feathered the brakes. Terminal velocity. All the way to Doublehead Gap. I don't even want to know how fast I was going. I can pretty confidently say that, on that bike, I could not have gone faster.

Again, Jeff and I leapfrogged most of the way down. Shred, shred, shred.

I managed to catch him on the pavement over to FS58 and drop him and some other riders on the rollers before climbing Noontootla.

It was in there that the bad decision to drink part of a coke that morning finally caught up to me. I'm super sensitive to caffeine, I'd been having to pee over and over pre-race, and kind-of having to go since just after SAG 1. It was getting pretty bad about then, and less than a mile up Noontootla, I had to stop and relieve myself for real. Probably only lost 2 or 3 minutes, but it seemed like forever and it took me the rest of the climb just to catch one of the guys in the group I'd been in, and he'd fallen off of the back.

I felt a little weak climbing Noontootla. It was still a tempo climb, but I've definitely felt better, even when it's not the first climb of the day. Not long after my nature break, a mildly overweight guy caught up and managed to stay with me for like 2 miles. At some point I started wondering if he was on an e-bike. He was just amazingly strong for how he looked. I did manage to pull away, but not nearly as quickly as I expected.

Another guy in a black and orange kit, I think on a Specialized, was back and forth with me most of the way up too. He dropped me on one of those last three kicks before the top. The second one hurt and my calves even started twinging.

I grabbed another banana and Clif bar at the SAG and spun over the rollers to Coppermine. From there on, I almost only passed people. Like 20 people. But there was this one lady I'd passed bombing down to Hightower that came flying by at the quarry and dropped me so fast that it was upsetting.

The descent off of Cooper Gap was almost as much shred as the descent off of Springer. The apex of every turn was a little worn in by all of the riders ahead of me, and you could really rail it. I did hit the brakes a few times, but again, I doubt that I could have ridden it any faster, on that bike.

I passed 5 or 6 guys on cross bikes, but there was this one guy about 100 yards up, also on a cross bike, that there was nothing I could do to close the gap on. I was amazed how well he handled the descent on that bike.

It's rollers to Hightower Church Road, and then you're just on pavement back to Montaluce. My 30-11 was weak on the pavement. There were a lot of times when I was completely spun out on flat, and just couldn't go any faster. I was actually happy whenever I could see a little climb coming.

I guess happy might not be the right way to put it. I had that long, slow burn going. That "body screaming for you to stop" kind of feeling, but where you actually do have plenty of legs, you just have to ignore the urge to not use them. It had been a long time since I'd felt that. I'd forgotten even what it takes to get to that point.

We entered the Montaluce property on some little side trail, dropped down to a creek, which I actually dismounted to cross, and ran up the other side. Not just in the spirit of cross, but because though the creek looked totally rideable, the other side was a mess of footprints and screamed "dismount!"

There was also a single barrier on the last climb.


Just one. And it was kind-of flat leading up to it. I really felt like I could have hopped that one, but dismounted anyway, this time just in the spirit of cross. The guy manning the table offered me a shot of beer to finish with, but that just sounded like a terrible idea, and I declined, hopefully politely.

And that was it.


My calves, in particular, were killing me, for some reason. Probably a bike-fit issue, but I had the bike fit, years ago. I haven't gotten any taller. My seat post hasn't moved, according to the sticker. I'm riding the same pedals. My shoes are from the same manufacturer. It's possible that the seat itself has collapsed. Who knows?

At any rate, I spun around for a few minutes just to be sure my legs wouldn't cramp, before collapsing on the grass for an indeterminate amount of time.

Mark showed up at some point. He'd been done for like 20 minutes when I finished. Jeff finished a few minutes after me. He'd started cramping after the descent off of Springer and never totally recovered. Turned out it was moot that we were pushing each other, we were in different age groups. Dangit. I'd forgotten all about that.

Mark and Jeff

(Mark on left, Jeff with his back to me, Mike Palmeri to the right of him)

I was filthy, but there were somehow guys in mostly-white kits with no dirt anywhere on them. Like 6 or 8 different guys. I can't imagine how they managed that. Mark was even joking that they'd changed kits.

No idea.

How'd I do? Oh yeah, there are iPads on a table, under a tent, with near-real time timing on them these days. No waiting around for times to be posted. Ha!


50th out of 77 in my class. 166th out of 284 overall. Not even top half. Mark did finish 20 minutes earlier.

Damn. That's embarrassing.

Well, maybe. First race in 6 years. First race of the season. Mountain bike (with a 30-11) on a gravel/road course. Maybe not technically embarrassing, but it definitely stunk up the place.

Moe's was catering, so I grabbed a taco/fajita thing, and Mark brought me a coke. The taco thing was delicious. The coke tasted like chemicals, but I still craved it like it was crack cocaine or something.

I didn't stick around for long after the podiums, and other than divining my way out to 400, had an incident-free drive home. I did have to lie on the couch for a couple of hours before my legs quit burning, but even that wasn't too bad.

I'll have to think a bit about what I could do to improve things. Hydration, nutrition, preparation, and sleep... I'm sure there are plenty of things to tweak. I'm not sure what the next event is, but I'm already looking forward to it. I hope it's soon.

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