In 1972, the father of four-time world champion mountain biker Rebecca Rusch died when his plane was shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War. She was three years old at the time. More than 40 years later, Rusch decided to set out on the 1,200-mile Ho Chi Minh Trail in search of her father’s crash site. Accompanied by Vietnamese cycling champion Huyen Nguyen, a small support team, and a film crew from Red Bull Media House (they’ll release a film this summer), Rusch and Nguyen traveled through villages, jungle, and rugged terrain for just under a month in the spring of 2015.
We caught up with Rusch, who lives in Idaho, to give us a preview of the upcoming film, Blood Road.
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Photo: Rebecca Rusch and Huyen Nguyen pedal the Ho Chi Minh Trail through the rice fields of Vietnam. During the war, the trail acted as a pathway of support, materials, and military personnel, stretching from the northern part of the country through Laos, Cambodia, and into southern Vietnam. Rusch and Nguyen began their ride in Hanoi.
“One of the hardest parts of our whole trip was piecing together the most historically accurate route,” says Rusch. She gives a lot of the history and navigation credit to an expat she befriended named Don Duvall, who has dedicated years to mapping and studying the trail. He helped the team navigate through complex and unmarked regions.
The entire expedition was timed in hopes of arriving at the crash site of Rusch’s father on March 7, the day he went down in 1972. Rusch can’t tell us exactly what happened on her journey until the film comes out, but she did admit she “found a lot more than I was looking for.”
During the ride, they camped and stayed in hotels and locals’ homes.
Rusch’s husband and a bike mechanic joined the support team and followed in cars where they could. For many sections, Rusch and Nguyen rode solo through jungle terrain, and the support team would meet them at the end of each day.
Rusch chose a full-suspension Niner Jet RDO as her ride, while Nguyen chose a Niner Air RDO hardtail. “She was bummed,” says Rusch. Due to the length and varied terrain, a full-suspension setup turned out to be the better choice.
Rusch used a combination of old paper maps, GPS, and her friend Duvall’s trail knowledge to plan and navigate the team’s route. The Rusch family also had access to crash coordinates and other reports from the military. But navigation still wasn’t easy. “Bridges got washed out, and the rainy season can change the trail every day,” says Rusch. “There were plenty of sections that were just hike-a-bike.”
Red Bull Media House’s small production crew also had to endure the elements and changing landscape. For much of the time, they road enduro motorbikes with cameras and gear strapped on.