At midnight on April 27 in Moab, Utah, mountain biker Rebecca Rusch will start a ride on the Kokopelli Trail that -- with luck -- will end 15 hours later in Fruita, Colorado, in yet another record.
A longtime competitive paddler, runner, and adventure racing champion, in 2006 Rusch started racing mountain bikes and hasn’t looked back, winning three 24-hour Solo Mountain Bike World Championships and last summer setting the course record for the Leadville Trail 100.
Recently the aptly-named “Queen of Pain” sat down with us to discuss midnight rides, water filters, and what happens when snowmelt meets sand.
The Kokopelli takes most experienced bikers four days and you’re going to attempt it in 15 hours.
Why are you doing that?
Because it’s inspiring. I like racing, obviously, but what inspires me more is adventure. A journey. Just going somewhere. We wanted to do a project that was more personal and more outside the racing community. We chose the Kokopelli Trail because it's such a classic route and that area of the desert's such an amazing place to ride.
In endurance races, you find out what you’re made of. It strips away the physical and all that’s left is the mental challenge.
How is riding on a desert trail different than, say, an alpine trail?
Well, in this part of Utah and Colorado, the landscape is like the moon. There’s a lot of slick rock and sand. And rocks can be amazing to ride on, but sand can be really deep to where it almost feels like surfing. And there’s a certain kind of sand in the La Sal Mountains around Moab that turns to clay in the snowmelt, which swallows your tires.
How’s the trail look? Have you done a pre-ride?
I’ve never seen the trail before, so it’s a bit of a blind date. I won’t know what’s around the next corner. And it’s going to be a challenge because to break the record I also need to do it nonstop without support, which means carry all of my tools and food, and filter my own water. It’ll also be dark, so I’ll need a light.
You’ll mostly be in the desert. So where will you get the water?
There’s some water along the way, in springs and crossing the Colorado River but it’s going to be full of silt and sand.
You’ve been a successfully competitive cross county skier, paddler, distance runner, and adventure racing champion. What draws you to races like these?
In endurance races, you find out what you’re made of. After a few hours, or a few days, everything’s stripped away and you’re just in that moment. You’re who you are as an athlete and not worried about getting back, paying the mortgage, going to work. It strips away the physical and all that’s left is the mental challenge. It’s more pure.
Both endurance sports and mountain biking seem male-dominated. What’s it like being a top female contender?
There’s definitely more male participation, but everyone competes together at endurance events. So if some guy’s ahead, that’s a rabbit for me to chase. But there are a lot more women becoming involved. We’re good at endurance. I think it’s in our DNA.
After Rebecca's record attempt, she's challenging amateur riders to take on their own 142-mile challenge. Special prizes will be awarded based on a combination of stories and photos shared, as well as the time it took to complete the journey. More info to come.