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John Stamstad: A Record-Setting Ride
on the Continental Divide

The Course
August 1999: High Noon-Port of Roosville, Montana, border of US and Canada
John Stamstad mounts his trusty steed, an Airborne Titanium hardtail, and points it due south toward Mexico. He has checked and rechecked his gear, food, and water supplies for the journey, an epic mountain biking endeavor, a record-setting attempt on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail.

The best-ever time for this route is six weeks. Stamstad is shooting for two weeks in a self-supported race against the elements, sleep-deprivation, physical and mental fatigue, and ungodly elevation gains. If all goes well he will navigate his bike through Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico, arriving finally at a little border town called Antelope Wells. He faces somewhere between 150,000 to 200,000 feet of climbing over about 2500 miles.

Stamstad pedals off in the shadow of a small contingent of onlookers. Chris Carrington and Dave Theis of Teton Films will document the attempt from start to finish, leap-frogging their way down the course, shooting Stamstad when they can catch up with him. Three others, members of another production company producing a show for National Geographic, clap and hoot as the taut tendon of a man rides off.

The Ride
Stamstad is no mere mortal on a bike. His exploits and accomplishments are legend in endurance cycling circles, and the broader population has heard about him from his many wins at races like the fabled Iditasport. He has logged multiple 24 hour race victories in Canada and the U.S, including the 24 Hours of Moab and numerous 24 Hours of Adrenaline. In endurance mountain biking, Stamstad is The Dude.

But Stamstad is quick to point out the distinction between an organized race and a self-supported expedition like the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail. "My roots are in expeditions. The spirit of mountain biking is in the experience, not just a race. I like to get out into wilderness, which is why I do these things." (He has also mountain biked across Australia, and there are rumors of an attempt at Africa).

" I broke three spokes in rear wheels at different times, and had five flats total, but four of them were on one day for some reason..."

Stamstad noted that is was very difficult to speculate how long it might take him to complete the Divide Trail. "Paved roads make it easy to estimate progress, but when you have variable terrain, fire roads, singletrack, plus soft dirt, it's very difficult to estimate how far you might go in a day. I had never done a solo timed event of this length, so it was uncharted territory."

Uncharted or not, the man rode like only he can, averaging approximately 135 miles a day on a trail that was 80% dirt, 10% singletrack, and 10% paved. He pedaled between 13-21 hours a day, with no days off. He got into a rhythm, riding either from about 5am until late evening, and then sleeping, or riding later into the night and sleeping later.

The Man
Said Stamstad, "I was lucky and planned to hit towns as much as possible to have comfortable sleep and food access. I'm not an expert navigator but I do fairly well because I keep a clear head even when I'm tired. Everyone makes mistakes, but if you can catch them quickly it isn't so bad."

He did make a few mistakes, getting lost a number of times. "The Adventure Cycling Association Maps I was using were not completely accurate, and I took many wrong turns — I probably cycled an extra hundred miles or so." Still he pressed on, encountering only minor mechanical and physical difficulties.

"I broke three spokes in rear wheels at different times, and had five flats total, but four of them were on one day for some reason," he said.

Stamstad suffered a bad Achilles tendon for much of the ride. "But after day 10 it got significantly better. My knees experienced normal aching, that's to be expected."

"My future in the sport really depends on how long I can take it mentally — you have to do this for the passion — no amount of money is enough for this kind of difficulty..."

Despite a lot of rain, which slows progress by adding resistance (it rained, at least some, all but three days), just 18 days and five hours after he began, Stamstad pulled into Antelope Wells, New Mexico, a custom gate 50 miles from the nearest town. Breaking a banner the guys of Teton Films had put up, he rode into Mexico, passing a stern looking customs guard with his arms crossed. Then he quickly returned to the States.

Asked if he was glad it was over, Stamstad mused, "I was ready for it to be over in Montana." In all, he had traveled 2,465 miles, averaging more than a century per day while climbing the equivalent of about six Everests.

This time, Stamstad even managed to impress himself. "It was in some ways the hardest thing I have ever done," he said. Then he added, "I love what I am doing. It's a hard sport and a hard profession. Luckily, I have had good support recently from Chevy Trucks. My future in the sport really depends on how long I can take it mentally — you have to do this for the passion — no amount of money is enough for this kind of difficulty."

Not one to sit idle for long, Stamstad is already planning some exploits for next year.

"I'm interested in promoting a race on that course," he said. "Also, the Iditasport Extreme might go the full distance of the Iditarod course, which would be very interesting, one of the greatest possible human-powered endeavors."

You can bet that John Stamstad will be on the starting line, all eyes on him.

Buddy Levy, MountainZone.com Correspondent

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