By Bruce Ewert
Multiple endurance-event champion Rebecca Rusch has written a great book about her successful forays into adventure racing and mountain bike racing. What is really nice is that she includes a lot of details about equipment, planning and preparation for races. For this reason alone this book a must-read for aspiring bike racers, as it will greatly increase their knowledge of all the details that go into a successful performance, not just the race itself.
Starting as a runner on the cross-country team at her high school in Downers Grove, Illinois, Rusch earned an academic scholarship to the University of Illinois where she expected to continue a successful track and cross country career. Instead an overbearing coach led her to quit track. Her mother had fully supported the family after her father was shot down over North Vietnam when Rusch was very young, supporting her and her sister through multiple jobs. Rusch grew to love the discipline and self improvement she gained through participating in organized athletics.
Rusch drifted into multiple outdoor adventure sports, including climbing, whitewater rafting and kayaking, cycling and became adept at many of them. The craziest thing she ever did was paddle a river board down the length of the Grand Canyon with two other women, unsupported, in the dead of winter. Nobody else has ever done it, before or since.
While working at a climbing gym Rusch met several adventure racers who came to her to learn how to use ropes to rappel down cliffs. She became involved in rigging ropes and planning safety for the climbing portions of several adventure races.Eventually she was talked into entering a race herself as the required female on a 4-person team at a 24 hour race. She needed to ride a mountain bike in a portion of the race, something she had never done before. So she tried it out, found out she was a terrible bike handler but was otherwise very strong. Her team ended up winning the race, her first ever adventure race.
The prize for winning was a trip to the week-long Australian Eco-Challenge. This was a race her team would not finish after two of them were injured. But she had caught the adventure racing bug and decided it was time to get serious. This was in the late ‘ 90’s when adventure racing was booming, even being televised on major networks. She quit her job at Rockreation, moved into her Bronco, and traveled the west staying with friends. For almost ten years she traveled and raced in 15 different countries, using her marketing degree to pursue and obtain sponsorship for a team she handpicked, a team of three women and one man.
The descriptions of doing expedition length adventure races are brutal. Going without sleep, navigating unfamiliar terrain, while carrying all the gear and supplies you will need on your back is a tough, tough way to go. Through forests, jungles, over mountains, through all kinds of weather. Then she watched a fellow racer get killed by rockfall in a race in Washington, a life-altering event. Then she lost a main sponsor when the company was sold, and another sponsor, Red Bull, told her to find something else amazing to do as she had a year left on her contract.
At this time Rusch had settled in Ketchum, Idaho, a place she fell in love with. There are many mountain bikers and hundreds of miles of dirt road and trails in and around Ketchum. A fellow adventure racer suggested she make use of her strong endurance background and try 24-hour mountain bike races. She had also taken the six month long firefighters training course while she was still living in Los Angeles and ended up joining the Ketchum Fire Department, which she says is the perfect part-time job..
She entered a 100-mile group mountain ride to see how she would do, and she was fine with the distance. And during the ride she met Greg Martin, an experienced endurance mountain bike racer. He became her boyfriend and tutor in endurance mountain bike racing, with a successful womens team entry into the 24 Hours of Moab in 2005. At Greg's urging she decided to start racing solo, and had immediate success, taking first in the first solo race she entered. The next two races she entered were the US National Championship, which she won, and the World Championship, where she placed second. All within her first few months of solo racing, at 38 years old. She also lived in Moab for several years, had a Utah drivers license, and licensed her truck Betty Bronco here in Utah.
Now she had picked up Specialized as a sponsor and was learning from the likes of Dave Wiens and Ned Overend. And she entered what would become her favorite race–the Leadville Trail 100. She ended up winning it four years in a row. She also started the SRAM Gold Rusch Tour, all-women cycling camps, and Rebecca’s Private Idaho, a large group ride based in Ketchum. And she set a course record for the Kokopelli Trail. She is planning to ride the full length of the 800-mile Ho Chi Minh Trail in Viet Nam, the same place her fathers plane was shot down. The last few pages are a long list of palmares. At 45 years old, Busch is riding faster than she ever has, and has a bright future ahead of her.
I highly recommend “Rusch To Glory.” It is well written, and even more importantly, includes a lot of good information, especially if you are an inexperienced cyclist, that would otherwise take years to learn on your own. Rusch displays the absolute fortitude, the refusal to quit, and the willpower you need to be successful at competitive cycling.
Rusch to Glory: Adventure, Risk & Triumph on the Path Less Traveled by Rebecca Rusch with Selene Yeager. Velopress, Boulder, Colorado, 2014.