Trans Iowa 7 Part One: Dang Good Steak

We continue our gravel-inspired series of posts in anticipation of the upcoming Dirty Kanza 200. Come along with Salsa engineer Sean Mailen as he saddles up for his second attempt at the beast known as Trans Iowa. -Kid

This year’s Trans Iowa still lingers in my mind. I guess it could be for a number of reasons:

I was happy to finish.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I can’t believe I did it.

My knee continues to hurt since the race.

I’m still trying to figure where we even went on that route.

And I know that I still need to clean my bike that hangs in my basement.

What a crazy event. 80 people riding off from a small town in Iowa at 4 AM to see if they can ride for 320-plus miles to the finish. That’s how it starts, and it always amazes me. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. I love how after about a mile, if you get a second to glance back at the peloton, it’s just a flowing stream of headlights and red blinkys. It looks like they are floating. I love that image. It’s exciting and ominous at the same time.

This was my second year at attempting this event and I was sometimes confident in why I signed up again and at other times questioning. I felt pretty good about my result last year, although I wish I had kept riding on from checkpoint 2. Instead I rode back to the hotel on the roads from What Cheer and got stuck riding in the most epic storm I had ever ridden in. I definitely knew this gave me good motivation to keep riding this year no matter the obstacle. I felt like I had gotten stronger since last year too. I wanted to test myself.

I was able to ride down to Grinnell, Iowa with Matt Leizinger and Charles Parsons. It was good to ride down with Charles because he is a TI vet, very strong, and knows what he is doing when it comes to ultra-endurance event. We arrived in Grinnell and arranged our sleeping situation. We ended up with an odd number of people so I elected to sleep on the floor with my sleeping bag and comfy POE mattress. We then headed out to socialize and spotted John Gorilla, or at least he spotted us. He was so excited. I couldn’t believe anybody could get this excited over Trans Iowa! Awesome.

Everybody stood around and chatted a bit. I also ran into Cory “Cornbread” Godfrey, a guy I had met last year and a very strong rider. I also liked that he was taller than me and I could actually get a draft off somebody. I told him I expected to see him at the front, and that he would be pulling me.

We soon headed over to the “Meat and Greet” at the Grinnell steakhouse. I had no idea that this would be a victory in itself. I have to pat myself on the back here and say I cooked one of the best steaks I had ever made here. It was tender, juicy, and very flavorful. I knew that I could now leave Grinnell a very happy man. I really feel my grilling skills are progressing, a foundation in manhood, don’t you think? Anyway, it was good to see familiar faces there though – Charlie Farrow, Tim Ek, John Gorilla, Guitar Ted, and others. I am lucky to know these guys and we had a great dinner and I got to meet some of their friends who were attempting the event this year. It was really interesting to hear the questions being asked by these rookies. I remember being in their seat last year and being just as nervous. We headed off to the hotel and everybody was trying to wind down even though it was only 7:30 at night. Getting up at 2:30 AM for a 4 AM start is rough, so we were trying to maximize our sleep.

As I was walking up to the room I said my goodnight to John Gorilla. He told me he expected me to be up at the front pulling. Pulling I thought? There were a lot of strong guys here, especially John Gorilla himself. He was born with that name and he has done it justice since he started riding two wheels. Oh man. What strategy was I going to take tomorrow? Would my competitive side kick in tomorrow forcing me to try and go with the front pack? Or would I try wisely riding for distance? Could they be one in the same? My number one goal was to finish but I knew that I can get in the way of myself sometimes and just want to push big gears.

I got in the hotel room and everybody was quietly working on their own little construction project. Bars here, water there, jacket in this, don’t leave that or forget this. I was confident in my setup and quickly got it packed and ready to go. Salsa La Cruz Ti frame, sweet frame bag (thanks Brett D), two bottles, Camelbak Antidote hydration pack (awesome bag with a host of features, but I’ll just say it worked incredibly well in every situation), seat bag, homemade map case, completely clothed in wool, chamois butter, and all the other essentials. I got everything packed and ready to go. It looked good and I was glad to have nothing on my back this year. Jordan, my rookie roommate, but very strong rider from Colorado, liked my setup. As I looked at my bike I started to look forward to tomorrow. It was going to be a good ride I thought. I called my beautiful fiancé in Dallas for a goodnight and then crawled into my sleeping bag a little before 9 PM. Wow, five hours of sleep I hoped, not bad I guess.


This post filed under topics: Dirty Kanza 200 Gravel Sean Mailen Trans Iowa Ultra Racing

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Sean 'Mailman' Mailen

Sean 'Mailman' Mailen

I was born and raised in the hills of Tennessee. I decided in high school I wanted to design the best bikes and parts possible; I’ve been following my dream ever since. I love about every possible mode of cycling, mountain biking is the most fun, but if I’m on two wheels I’m happy.


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MG | May 25th, 2011

Congratulations Sean—To finish T.I. is a great accomplishment, indeed.  When I did it in ‘09 the conditions were quite a bit better, and I came up 22-32 miles short this year (depending on who you ask), which is perhaps my most frustrating T.I. failure yet.  But it speaks to the enormity of your accomplishment.  You have every right to be proud.

Oh, and it was great to see you there too! :-)  Soon we’ll ride again, this time in the Flint Hills of Kansas—an event I’m very much looking forward to.


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