A Hixson High School alum who cut his teeth cycling on the trails near the Ocoee River recently had the fastest time at the 2017 Trans North Georgia Adventure bikepacking event in August.
Sean Mailen, whose family still lives in Soddy-Daisy, came down from Minneapolis, Minn., to compete in the 350-plus-mile endurance course that winds through the hills of the Appalachian Mountains. Mailen managed to finish the course in a blistering 51 hours, racing night and day and only getting four hours of sleep throughout the entire race.
"It's honestly a bit crazy," he laughed.
He estimated the second-fastest finisher came in about an hour behind him, but the point of the event is just to finish, so times aren't officially kept, he said.
Mailen is no stranger to endurance races such as this. He's finished the Tour Divide, a bike trek along the Continental Divide that spans thousands of miles, as well as the Colorado Trail, which traverses over 500 miles of the Rocky Mountains.
He first found his love of cycling as a child, biking to and from his friends' houses via the wooded trails behind his house in Hixson. Once he hit high school, he started exploring the Ocoee River area, and by the time he'd reached college at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, he was confident he wanted to make cycling a permanent part of his life.
It's now not only a hobby, but a career for Mailen.
"My dad was an engineer at TVA all those years, and once I started looking at suspensions and the designs of bikes, I knew that's what I wanted to do," he said.
Mailen is a veteran engineer with Salsa Cycles in Minnesota, but he still manages to find time to abandon the chilly winters to stop by his old hometown. And events like the North Georgia Adventure sweeten the pot.
The race itself was grueling, but an adrenaline rush the entire time, he said.
"I was pretty excited to do it. I'd have to sleep right off the trail, get half-hour naps here and there to keep going," said Mailen. "Really, the worst part was right after you got up, your body is almost asking you, 'Hey, what are you doing? You just fell asleep.'"
The course featured a combination of trail and road. Mailen trained for months in preparation, cycling dozens of miles at a time on the road to get his body accustomed to the intense workout.
Even though he'd competed in extreme races before, that didn't make this one easy.
"There was a 40-mile stretch near the end that was pretty clear, but you're already 320 miles in, so it was all you could do to hold a steady pace," he said. "It's ultimately you versus the course. I was fortunate to end up cycling with a few guys along the way, and we kept each other going."
As for what's next, Mailen said he isn't sure, although he is intrigued by newer bikepacking races out west. The sport has grown tremendously in the last several years, he said, and he's eager to see where it goes.