Subway Sandwich Bags, Duct Tape, and Vaseline

Sub zero temps. Thick heavy snow. Running with 3 car tires dragging behind on a harness. Feet wrapped in Subway sandwich bags, slathered in vaseline, and rag wool socks. Cheeks and nose covered in duct tape to keep off the frost. John Stamstad knew how to train. He knew that if he could suffer longer than the competition, without cracking, he could win. Stamstad entered 24 hour races as a solo racer, before that was even a sanctioned class. He tried to enter as a solo rider, was rejected, and used four different versions of his name to re-register. His career was based on simple solutions to problems that dealt fatal logistical blows to other riders.

Stamstad after winning a 24 hour Solo race

Need calories on the Continental Divide race? Cheese Wiz, straight up. Or veggie oil. Grab, gulp, go. He often rode bikes that others thought were woefully inadequate for the task at hand. Crossed the Austrialian outback in a 3500 mile mountain bike race on a Bridgestone XO-1. Not, by any means, a mountain bike. He rode simple, unmodified mountain bikes for endurance snow races. He made due. Pushed through. Dominated for years. “Whatever I do, I like to travel lightly and have as little support as possible. I like to keep it simple and pure – just me, the trail, and the wilderness.”

Some numbers: Won the Idiatabike from 1993 to 2000. Missed victory just one of those years. That’s a 350 plus mile race across the Alaskan wilderness on unplowed snow mobile trails. Today, there are dozens of bikes that can take fat tires, disc brakes, internal gearing to keep the snow and ice at bay. At the time, there were none. His record for miles ridden off road in 24 hours was 352 miles. Stamstad completed the Iditabike race in 5 days and 5 hours, a testament to how hard the race is.

Stamstad won dozens of solo 24 hour race victories. He often beat more than half of four man teams, let alone solo riders. Then Trek decided it was going to train a man specifically to beat Stamstad’s stranglehold on 24 hour solo victories.

Stamstad pushing it during an Iditabike

Stamstad lacked a coach, had a basic grassroots bike sponsorship, rejected magic foods. Roland Green trained for a few seasons. Had gobs of support. The lightest latest greatest mountain bikes. Coaches. Scientists. Engineers. All behind him. He eventually won. John Stamstad became John Henry. The legend of Roland Green is non-existent. The legend of John Stamstad will live through the annuals of cycling.

“I am a normal guy who thinks that doing ‘extreme’ things is actually a normal human activity to do. If you look at the last few thousand years, going for an all day trail run is more normal than say, drinking beer and watching football (though I do that too). Deep down I think we all feel the need to explore and generally when I explore the physical word it leads to an emotional adventure as well.”  -John Stamstad


A decade ago I was a dirty, poor art student, I looked up to John Stamstad as an alternative cycling hero.  I couldn’t afford tights, snow tires, warm socks, winter shoes, good gloves, a balaclava.  I had jeans, sneakers, a wool hat, and not much else.  Cotton waffle baselayers.  I read Stamstad’s advice, his mantra, get out and do it.  Suffering makes you stronger.  I slathered vaseline on my toes, covered them in sandwich bags, stuffed them in cotton socks and went riding.  In jeans, with homemade studded tires that had 1 1/4 dry wall screws.  A box for two tires.  They weighed a ton.

A fresh snow fell, just in time.  We saddled up, and went for a ride, planning for the worst.  Studded tires do nothing in deep snow.  Except weigh you down.  They are good for crusty snow, or ice.  Or commuting on icy roads.  However, mine were agressively studded.  Real studded tires are super minimal, studs maybe an eighth of an inch long.  These bad boys had screw that were sticking out almost an inch.  So my jeans got caught on the spikes.  They were thin, old, threadbare.  They ripped off.  I suddenly had half a pair of pants on.  No long underwear.

the current snow rig. a far cry from my old rockhopper with handmade studded tires.

Just me, half a pair of pants, and some boxers.  Did I mention this was a night ride?  No lights, just the moon on the snow.  Soon after this, we did a stream crossing.  Our bikes smashed though the ice and were covered in frigid water.  Which froze to our rims and derailleurs.  Braking?  Gone.  Shifting?  Gone.  The hairspray we had covered our rims with did nothing to keep the ice off.  We stopped, lit a fire, and thawed our brakes out with burning embers.  We hung soaked socks on sticks.  We shivered profusely.

There is something fantastic about being underprepared.  Having everything never leads to good stories, or good memories.  I have vague, nondescript memories of riding in good clothing, with good tires, in the winter.  They all blend together, memories of relative comfort and ease.  They disappear like morning fog, never to return.

Get out there and ride.  The worst that is going to happen is that you will get cold, wet, and temporarily miserable.  But that makes a good watercooler story, right?


This bit is a repost, just a reminder about the xmas lights ride. If you want in on it, email us, so we look for you.  Its not a hard and fast commitment, but more like a, ‘I am pretty sure I am gunna go’ thing.  bikedrfrederick (at) gmail (dot) com.

Frederick is a great city to check out some Christmas lights in. The best way to do it, clearly, is on a cold bicycle, with a thermos full of cider and perhaps something else. On the 14th, which is a Wednesday, we are going to do a shop Christmas lights ride. I figure a Wednesday, because the weekends are filled with parties, and family. We’ll leave from the Bell Tower at 8:30 pm sharp. Figure on riding about an hour around town, getting really cold, and then repairing to a warm place of spirit, and drinking Hot Toddies with extra lemon. Super casual pace. Possibility of Brandon singing carols in German: High. If you wanna come, awesome. Just bring a front and rear lights, and hopefully a bell and a lock, so we can make lots of noise when we see people. Again, we’ll leave at 8:30 sharp, so be on time. That basically means a little early. No one likes standing in the cold waiting for someone because they forgot their X or Y.  Meet at the Bell Tower, downtown Frederick.


Lastly:  the ride schedule.

Tuesday: 8 am mixed surface road ride leaving from the 7th street Starbucks.  70ish miles.  Basically an all day thing, ya know.

Thursday: 7am quickie from starbucks.  40 miles, coffee stop in the middle.  done by 11:30ish.



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