|When mountain-biking sensation John Stamstad set out last August to treat himself to a grueling dose of backcountry speed-biking on the remote 2,465-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, he knew he was in for some extraordinary discomfort. Surprisingly, however, his biggest source of torment came not from his blistering 135-mile-a-day pace. Nor the endless number of lung-searing climbs he had to endure. Nor the bleary-eyed fatigue that set in sometime after the 13th day. No, Stamstad's biggest problems centered on the resident insect life. "Giant clouds of mosquitoes chased me when I stopped to fix flats," he groans. "I had to jog and patch at the same time."
Stamstad, 34, is a three-time winner of Alaska's 320-mile Iditasport Extreme race (not to be confused with its predecessor, the 160-mile Iditabike race—which, by the way, he won four times). We last profiled him in these pages in 1996 ("That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger"), and as his Great Divide odyssey makes clear, he's as impressive as ever: He managed to polish off the journey from northern Montana to the Mexico border in a mere 18 days and five hours. "Normal people take 70 days to do the ride," says Kevin Condit, spokesman for the Adventure Cycling Association, which finished putting together the route in the spring of 1998 after four years of negotiating access, splicing maps, and meticulously patching together a network of existing single-track, BLM trails, and Forest Service roads.
To achieve his time, Stamstad barreled along the spine of the Rockies with little more than a sleeping bag and some water, purchasing junk food at the occasional grocery store and logging a measly four or five hours of sleep each night. This month, he contemplates continuing his extended affair with jaw-dropping endurance quests by riding across Africa for the Travel Channel. "I'll have to miss 24 Hours of Moab," the soon-to-be cable star concedes. "But I'd just like something a bit more adventurous."
ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE
The world's longest continuous off-road bike route begins in Port of Roosville, Montana, and ends at Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The Missoula-based Adventure Cycling Association offers detailed maps of the entire Great Divide Mountain Bike Route (they'll set you back $37.50 if you're an ACA member, $55.50 for a nonmember), plus advice on campsites and bike shops along the way. Riders who are appalled by the notion of adopting Stamstad's approach and are looking for a guided trek can sign on to ACA's annual 75-day, end-to-end tour, which wheels out of Port of Roosville in mid-June ($2,800 per person). Trips ranging from six to ten days along choice segments of the trail are also in the works for summer 2000. For more information, contact the ACA at 800-755-2453.