Southern Cross 2015

These leg warmers were black four and half hours ago.


Handlebar tape was a nice ivory as well.


Quick notes: I ran 60/65 PSI and this was way too high. Try 45/55 next time. Seat needs to go down 5mm or so when the terrain is rough.


It makes the most sense to recollect this race into the following segements.

1. The beginning; pavement and rain: As is known, the first four miles are pavement, a neutral start with some rolling hills. I started right around the middle of the pack and spent this time moving up past the slower riders, fat bikes and SS MTBs. I probably should have been  a little more aggressive with my starting placement but some uncertainty with the weather caused me to lose my top 20 positioning to run back to the car for some additional gear. I didn’t use the items I retrieved but it was nice to have them.

2. Get in the pit; the shock of mud: Once the pack crossed the Etowah river there is a slight rise and then it’s straight onto the dirt/gravel roadway. This transition area was one of the most destroyed areas in the race. Huge puddles, deep mud and slippery conditions. I hit this section in a pack of four or five other riders and was blasted with muddy water instantly from both sides, it was pretty amazing. The rest of this section is rolling hills with slippery corners and medium depth mud. Sometime during this section my saddle bag come loose and hits the group with a loud thump. I stop and wracked with embarrassment, lose 10-11 places as I reattach. I get back underway and within a few miles we are delivered onto the first climb of the day. This is the intro section to Winding Stair and is fairly straight and only moderately steep. My heart explodes in my chest within the first thirty seconds. I am mentally prepared for this and take the climb steady and at the stop I immediately eat a gel with 50mg caffeine. I am also trying my best to drink as much as possible as often as possible. My bottles are covered with mud and I ingest quite a bit of mud, sand and road miscellany with each sip.

3. Death; climbing in purgatory: The most Sisyphean occurrence of my life thus far, the climb begins surrounded by a slight mist, though as I move with and eventually through the battlefield of broken riders our world becomes enshrouded in a thick blanket of gray nothingness. At some points I can barely see the riders a few yards ahead. All I can tell is that I am surrounded by the skeleton of forest and the road goes up, up,up for eternity. The road here is covered in the snakes of other rider’s tracks, each corner slick with mud but no hazard exists as we round the turns at less than 5 miles an hour. My heart is racing, but it is a steady, comforting pace. There is no reprieve from the relentless climb but all the same it does not choose to punish us more. It seems the climbing will not end but it will not become any more difficult. At one point earlier we had passed a runner, a man wrestling his own demons as he stomped through the Georgia Death Race. Near the mid point of the climb the man appears again, moving through the swaying train of riders like a lightning bolt. One foot in front of the other at a speed that seems incomprehensible to us as we grind away with our machines, barely turning the pedals over forty, fifty times a minute. He comes and goes so quickly there is murmuring of an apparition, no corporeal being could be so strong in the face of such a monster. Near the end of the climb the sound of human beings, unattached to two wheels, can be heard. The clanging of bells and the shouts of encouragement. It is here that the mountain tells the cruelest lie of all. The final section feels the steepest and most treacherous with slick rocks that jut from the road and rob our tires of traction, causing us to lurch forward like some mad half-man, half-machine horror. Just as soon as the road rears up and begins to crush our spirit in it’s maw it is beaten back and we are able to relent. Tents and men burst into view, the thick mist making them appear as if conjured from nothing. A man is reading the muddy number plates on each rider’s machine and shouting to his compatriot to retrieve our drop bags, ziplock bags containing the items we thought we might need to continue in the face of overwhelming adversity. I have none and the shouts of my number are met with a panicked look before I shake my head and quickly gasp that I have none, all the weapons I need are stowed on my person or strapped to my bike. Heavy as lead and covered in grit and mud. Several people dash around the aid station as I request a refill on one of my water bottles, gobble a small cup of soda and tumbler of chocolate covered peanuts. Riders are cresting the summit and pouring themselves left and right as they recover and perform the mental calculations needed to decide how to handle the next section.

4. Forgetfulness; false descents: In my nonchalance I had neglected to study the course map in any great detail and had thought the main descent came directly after the summit. This is not the case, there are more than seven miles of rolling ridgeline riding that will be done before we are required to blast downhill. I ride this section in a daze, my heartrate slowly lowers and I eat and drink as much as I dare, expecting the road to drop away around the next corner. I pass no one and am passed by no one during this section. The air is thick and gray and the passing trees and rain of mud from my front tire are the only indications of movement. I am no longer sure of my own existence.

5. Descending; down, down, down: After spending almost an hour expecting a hazardous descent I am stressed and exhausted when the road finally drops away and I accelerate with the ferocity that can only be caused by the weight of an entire planet. The actual descent lasts of less than a quarter of an hour but it feels like an eternity. The corners are filled with washboard ruts or off-camber mud puddles or rocks or automobiles. I am passed by four or five riders, each one blasting by at several times my speed. I want to be envious but my overactive sense of preservation locks down such emotion and I trudge down the mountain at a speed slightly better than walking. My hands cramp and grit fills my eyes but I do not crash and I  feel my spirit rejuvenated and ready for the next section.

6. No longer red, now gray: The road levels off as we ride a short section of pavement. I rejoin the riders that passed me on the descent and we enter the next gravel section together. Here the road is gray and smooth, at least for a few miles. I eat another gel with 50mg caffeine and slowly take stock of my compatriots. The climbs here feel short and each time the road angles up I surge ahead of the other riders, I feel good so I do not dally and continue at my own pace, dropping the other riders and slowly catching and passing several riders as we wind through the forest. We pass several campsites and near the middle of the climb more runners appear, they are heading down the mountain and seem in good spirits as we pass. This climb is an interesting juxtaposition of the first climb, it is almost twice as long by mileage but about half as steep by grade. As such it feels relaxed and much less traumatic. The company of the runner and other riders combined with this ease of grade allow hope to return and some sections even feel pleasurable. This climb is manageable and that brings joy.


Southern Cross 2015 Links:

Snowy Mountain Photography Gallery:
Lee Henson Facebook Gallery:


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