A Head Rusch On Ice
More Snow and Isolation, Please
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
While millions around the world have been adjusting to the isolation that global pandemic shutdowns have imposed upon their lives, and businesses, others have seen it differently.
Point in case, internationally renowned adventurist Rebecca Rusch, who bookended the year-long Coronavirus crisis with her own form of quarantine: a 350-mile, multi-day, self-supported fat bike race across the icy Alaskan tundra! In March 2020 as the world went into shutdown, Rusch ventured out into the frozen wilderness. That year – her second – the Iditarod Trail Invitational saw some of the worst conditions, creating a competition where only 30 of the 200 starters crossed the finish line. But by then, Rusch was already hooked.
“I had raced Iditarod for the first time in 2019 and it had scared me. Although I had survived it – and technically won the women’s category – I was physically at my end when I crossed the finish line. It had taken me three days, during which I had slept a total of 10 hours. I was crying, blubbering… emotionally and physically drained. It was the hardest thing I had ever done.” © REBECCA RUSCH
The Alaskan Frozen Wilderness
Now, the phrase “the hardest thing,” is a pretty high threshold for a professional athlete known as The Queen of Pain. This, from a cyclist who not only claims the most Leadville Trail 100 women’s wins, but a 4x-time champion who also has a husband-built trophy case filled with medals, medallions, and awards from podiums conquered around the world. This, from a woman who made international history on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, an adventure that played out on movie screens across the globe in her Emmy Award-Winning documentary Blood Road. This, from a world-class champion who rose to the COVID-challenge, transitioning her Rebecca’s Private Idaho to virtual racing like no. one. else. did. during the restricted 2020 race season.
So, of course, Rusch went back and did “the hardest thing I had ever done” again. She took the top podium spot – again – for the 2020 Iditarod Trail Invitational, and then earlier this month for a trifecta, as reported by race officials:
“At 10:17 p.m. on March 5, Rebecca Rusch finished first at the 2021 edition of the 350-Mile Iditarod Trail Invitational in Alaska, winning both the women’s and the inaugural self-supported category—which meant she did not receive any of the meals, indoor recovery, or other outside support athletes in the general class typically benefit from.”
“Riding self-sufficient was a big and scary commitment,” said Rusch. “And I’m proud of how we executed the ride. Winning was icing on the cake, but I went in with a mentality to execute a strong, safe expedition, and this accomplishment is one of my proudest achievements to date.” © REBECCA RUSCH.The victory quote from 2021 is an example of a peak, juxtaposed to how the prior year’s valley panned out. In fact, while it’s hard to believe, during Rusch’s 2020 Iditarod attempt the trailblazer got lost! What?! In her own words, from the 2020 ITI ride:
So now, after taking the wrong turn, I was really pissed. I went through the stages of grief – ‘You suck,’ ‘What the f*** did you do?’ ‘Like, how could you do this?’ And then I was just really sad.
It started to get dark and to snow. The trail condition got worse. I was pushing my bike and sinking in up to my knees.
I was like, ‘Okay, now this has turned into serious survival. Forget your ego. Forget what place you’re going to be in the race – you have to get yourself safely through the night. You can decide in the morning if you’re going to quit, but you have to get to the first checkpoint.’
It was like Mother Nature slapped me in the face and said: ‘What are you going to do about it?’
I finished with the pity party and ploughed on.
Later, two dog sled teams came towards me. They were mushers. I was like, ‘There’s people! Oh my gosh, maybe I’m getting out to the better part of the trail?’ They seemed like angels coming through the darkness towards me and I started to cry. I realized I wasn’t alone. They stopped and encouraged me to keep going. There was this connection with the trail. They gave me hope. I was thinking, ‘This is why you came. The trail does go somewhere, you’re not lost, you’re just going a different way – you took the harder path.’
After that, I trudged my bike through the snow all night until I re-joined the course.
“You can’t stop, or you will die” © REBECCA RUSCH.
A Head Rusch on Ice
Performers achieving goals at this caliber are simply cut from a different block of ice. And at 52 when most pro-athletes have been coaching from the couch for at least a few years, Rusch is still out looking for her next adventure. And these days, she’s not letting any water freeze under her feet as she has takes on the globe’s more unforgiving forever-winter landscapes. Within a couple of weeks of returning from her Alaskan Iditarod trifecta, Rusch announced her next undertaking. In fact, she’s already there – Iceland!
Leadville Today checked in with the 4x Leadville Champ last weekend as the month set aside to celebrate women’s accomplishments and achievements was slowly coming to the end of its 31-day stretch. This time the conversation would be held from another snowy location – Iceland! And as if Mother Nature heard about Rusch’s arrival, the Land of Fire and Ice fired up its legendary light show with the eruption of Iceland’s Fagradalsfjall volcano.
Rusch’s Iceland crew sets out on their inland route journey tomorrow, April 1. The team includes cycling legend Jay Petervary, as well as accomplished visual artists Chris Burkard Photography and Angus Morton. They plan to cross the entire interior of the island nation – on bikes – of Iceland! Beginning in Akureyri and cutting a direct route south through the rugged glacial interior to Vik in the south, the team plans to traverse some of the most remote, beautiful, and difficult terrain the country has to offer.
It is another historic milestone for Rusch, one that was duly noted by a fan on her Facebook Page: I went there in 2017! Drove around the whole country, but obviously didn’t go through the center since most people don’t… except you. This will be amazing! Have fun and tell the reindeer hello!
And while it’s true that Women’s History Month officially closes out today, March 31, it seems only fitting that Rusch would be breaking the boundaries of herstory in more ways than one.
“We will be undertaking a fat bike first-traverse across the roadless Iceland interior in the grueling winter months aimed at highlighting the natural beauty of the world, the inspirational power of physical journey and the joy of witnessing something that’s never been done by human beings before.”
See you at the end of the trail, My Rebecca Rusch.
Colorado Journalist Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a media company located in Leadville, Colorado that publishes Leadville Today and Saguache Today. She may be reached at email@example.com.
How to Make a Head Rusch
How cool would it be to have a cocktail named after you? You could decide what would be in it, and how to make it – shaken or stirred? What garnish would top off your luscious libation? While most will never be afforded the opportunity outside their own home-bar, that was the challenge presented to Rebecca Rusch during her 2017 international movie tour for Her Emmy-Award-winning film Blood Road.
Her long-time Red Bull sponsor partnered with her longtime RPI race sponsor Patron Tequila and the result is a concoction that has kept cyclists coming back for more at the end of the trail. So, if you’re looking for something to celebrate with, or to kick back while watching Rusch’s inspiring documentary, Blood Road then mix yourself up a Head Rusch – on ice! It’s enough to make you say cheers – in EVERY language!
Veterans Memorial Inscription Deadline: March 31
It might seem a little out of the ordinary to be talking about Memorial Day in March, but there’s good reason for it. Today, March 31 is the deadline to submit an application for engraving on the memorial in order to be complete by the 2021 Memorial Day Weekend Services.
This is an opportunity to honor those who served with a name engraving on the Lake County Veterans Memorial granite plaque. Families from Leadville, Lake County and across the United States can add the name of any veteran deceased or living to the south plaque.
In order to have the plaque readied by Memorial Day 2021, applications and fees ($75 per name) must be received by March 31, 2021. Please consider an engraving or a simple, straight-up donation by contacting Mabel Bogeart at 719-486-0259 or mailing a check to Lake County Veteran Memorial, PO Box 952, Leadville, CO 80461. To download an application: CLICK.