I had come off of a long stint pretending to be superdad while my wife had a pretty exciting ten days of her own vacation and a business trip to Italy. I somehow managed to eke in the prescribed hours in the saddle to stay in relative fitness to tackle on another endeavor brought on by sheer randomness with kindred souls willing to drive down south. Way down south. A robot powered by love and a petite victoire invited me to travel with them into the mountains of North American ore mining, perhaps in our own foolish search for mettle early in the season. I couldn’t have been happier to have started off 2012 with such a challenge that gave me equal thrill as it did kinship.

The Southern Cross in Dahlonega, Georgia was the first and last stop of the Ultra CX Endurance Series. The terrain was extraordinary for the flatlander and the weather couldn’t have been more welcoming after a twelve hour jaunt down picturesque windy farm roads. The subtle growl of the car engine revving it’s way up gradients was a reminder of what was to await us the next day – the constant shifts, throttle, and compressive braking were all an indication of what our bodies would be put through. It was a welcome feeling as I sat calmly in the backseat, soaking in the twilight twinkling of a southern sky beaming through the passenger window out into the darkness of the Chattahoochee Forest. I knew it was a race beyond my leg capability in February – but it wasn’t to be a ride that was beyond my lust for dirt.

We arrived in the cover of darkness to a slumbering military college town unaware of exactly what awaited us. The brisk morning gave light to the apparent mountains we couldn’t see in the dark arrival to our quarters. The parking lot was littered with visiting randonneurs of the fat tire and knobbie ilk. They seemed more prepared than our ambitious trio, if by anything due to the geography laid out by the license plates we saw – Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina – then ours, Michigan. We deserved the compassionate stares we received when we pulled up to the race front at the winery entrance to this 55 mile cross race. The familiar course tape laid out on the grounds to what already appeared to be greater climbs and challenge of a CX course than we normally would have seen in the Chicago Cross Cup, and that was just the beginning.

There was plenty of time to hash out thoughts for the year, what with the hour long climb that presented itself after the first fifteen minutes from the start. I had unintentionally left the cycling computer at home, leaving fate at the mercy of the foothills. I was unsure of where I was but felt inspired and secured in a rhythm that was paced by the sound of the crackle beneath my tread. I maintained my motion, pushing towards what seemed a neverending trajectory to a mountain top that almost never arrived – and then hunkered down in a battle of bouncing tires against loose gravely descents of near thirty percent grade of roller coast fun. While I can’t say that I was suffering fully and perhaps due to a lack of racing capability, I can say that I couldn’t have found a greater appreciation for being on a bike than following nature’s flow, even when it humbled my attempts to climb faster up her spine. She was kind to return a display of natural beauty through ridges lined with century old trees, creeks that sparkled against a peeking sun, and a wind that refreshed my city-exhausted lungs. Indeed, I didn’t suffer – how could I? It was nothing but a privilege to be amongst the mountains.

I can’t call what I did a race – it was the most fun I had turning cranks in a very long time, and in spite of whatever effort I gave out, it was the best I could give and I arrived to the finish line with legs completely wasted on my love of the woods. The effort was tremendous and the racers around me all shared in quiet suffering, lost in our own thoughts as we completed what culminated to 6,500 feet of climbing in approximately 55 miles. I admired the friends with whom I traveled who seemed to split the mountains with their soulful riding; breaking their own fears, or their own misplaced assumptions that they may not have had a place amongst the mountains of Dahlonega. They shattered their expectations, and as a result were refreshed to see 2012 with new possibilities, and perhaps with greater vigor.

That evening after the race I celebrated with my friends among a harmonious acoustic set presented by a quiet restaurant, it’s delicious meal, and a couple well-deserved bottles of wine. The smiles and conversations after what happened earlier that morning – an incredible challenge to take on the mountains – were what made the day all worth it. People who see inspiration from the unpaved roads less traveled are usually the ones that inspire an entire season. Make sure you listen to your friends who want to take you out on the dirt path – or better yet, be the one to take them out for a ride. Your season will thank you kindly in return.

  1. Nevada Dave Norton on Wednesday 29, 2012

    Pleasure to read….. Sounds like a great way to start out 2012 !!

  2. […] traveled down back to Southern Cross this past February with the same friend who introduced the spectacle last year. I had the course memorized and the challenge well calculated in my head. I had the extra […]