On the heels of her fastest (and first!) known time traversing Arkansas’ 1,000-mile High Country Route, Rebecca Rusch shares her thoughts from 8 days in the saddle.
Anyone who tackles the entire 1,041-mile High Country Route bike trail will literally be following in Rebecca Rusch’s tracks and no one else’s — yet.
That’s because last week, the 50-year-old multisport adventure athlete became the first person to ride the newly minted trail. Logging 107 hours in the saddle, Rusch crushed more than 84,000 feet of climb — roughly the equivalent of riding up Everest three times.
And now, the first time to beat for the High Country Route stands at 8 days, 3 hours, 33 minutes. We caught up with Rusch to see what she took away from her longest ride ever.
Rebecca Rusch: High Country Route FKT
GearJunkie: What tips would you give anyone who plans to tackle the High Country Route?
Rebecca Rusch: First, get the Adventure Cycling Association maps and app for the Arkansas High Country Route. Even if you are only doing a section of the route, you still want the most updated maps that are specific to this ride. Tackle the whole thing or take it in segments.
Second, dial in your gear! Ultraendurance cycling is a great way to see and experience a place, but keep in mind your bike is your essential mode of transportation. Facilities along sections of this route are few and far between.
- Be sure to have the right bike repair gear, clothing for inclement weather, the capacity to carry food, water, and even water purification or a water filter.
- Make sure your bike is comfy and ready for the long haul and long days in the saddle.
- Plan for extra items like chargers for electronics, like a Garmin navigation device. And plan to be fairly self-sufficient with very little cell coverage or opportunity to call for someone to come get you.
It’s a remote and exciting adventure, so just be sure you are prepared with the right planning, the right equipment, and the right frame of mind. All of the best things are found off the beaten path, so don’t be scared. The Adventure Cycling Association information is set up to help you plan a great adventure before you take your first pedal stroke.
What stood out about the new High Country Route?
- The very hilly nature of Arkansas! I’m from a mountain town out west and envisioned Arkansas to be pretty flat. I was wrong! My ride was over 80,000 feet of uphill riding! Equivalent to pedaling up Everest three times!
- The incredibly friendly nature of the people. Everyone welcomed me, wanted to help me, wish me a safe journey, and just said hello.
- The diverse beauty of the different mountains of Arkansas.
Did anything surprise you about this ride?
I was really pushed to my limit, but also really surprised at how my body held up and how I felt like I was getting stronger. I’ve done so many endurance events, but this is the longest amount of time and distance I’ve ever covered in 8 days.
I was nervous about that kind of time in the saddle and how I’d hold up. But I was amazed at what the human body can do. I hope other people will get outside their comfort zone and try some of the longer sections, too.
Were there any low points on your ride?
The weather on Days 2 to 4 was really a beatdown for my bike, my body, and my psyche.
The torrential rain combined with cold weather really added another element that made everything harder for me. Not only did it take away the beautiful views and put me in a bit of a tunnel vision, but it also made the riding really challenging with mud and raging rivers. And it made the reality of finding shelter more daunting since I didn’t have camping equipment with me. Worst of all, it slowed my pace, so I had longer-than-planned days in the saddle.
But it also made it pretty special when the sun finally did come out!
What was the first meal you had after you finished?
I actually had a salad! I know that sounds weird because I was so hungry, but I was also craving fresh crunchy vegetables!
You’ve had so many accomplishments and you remain so busy. Why did you choose this ride?
This project interested me because it checked so many boxes for me and was in alignment with my motivation as an athlete.
But it also met my desire to use my bike as a vehicle for change and evolution. The Arkansas High Country Route (ARHC) was a great endurance challenge in a place that I had never ridden much before. It was the opportunity to be the first to try this route and tackle the longest ride I’ve ever done. It was also a very amazing collaboration between Arkansas Parks and Rec, Arkansas’ cycling community, and businesses in the state who all wanted to showcase the beauty of this state in a very special way.
It’s also in line with my Be Good Foundation mission to use the bicycle as a catalyst for enriching communities and connecting people.
You burned approximately 38,000 calories. How did you stay ahead of your nutrition over 8-plus days?
Staying fueled for a ride of this length was one of the biggest challenges. Stores and services were often more than 150 miles apart, and often things would be closed when I’d arrive or the selection wasn’t the best. For the first day of the ride, I carried my own tried-and-true ride nutrition consisting mostly of Red Bull and GU Nutrition.
Because the ride was 8 days and I was self-supported, I couldn’t carry that many days’ worth of food. So I had to plan ahead with the Adventure Cycling Association maps to know when I would be riding through the next town to resupply with food. During resupply, I’d plan how many hours of food I needed, and, after shopping, it all packed away into my frame bag and backpack.
Some of the food choices at convenience stores were things like turkey jerky, nuts, bananas, Red Bull, string cheese, and granola bars. In other places, there were cafes with homemade sandwiches or burritos ,and I’d buy a couple and eat one there and take the other with me. Plus, I did have to hit a couple of fast food places, including McDonald’s and Subway.
I also carried a few supplements with me and took them daily to help with recovery. GU Nutrition Magnesium, Electrolyte, and Probiotic capsules were part of the morning and evening routine. I also took CBD capsules to help with inflammation for the long days on the bike. The bottom line is you make the best choices you can for the most nutritious food that can also be eaten on a bike.
Anything else on your bike “bucket list”?
Yes! So many things! My riding has been evolving to do more expedition-type rides like ARHC. I have been working on some similar bikepacking routes in Idaho to showcase my backyard as well.
Like Arkansas, Idaho has miles and miles of undeveloped land connected by trails and roads. I’ll be spending some time in my home state and will use my experience on the ARHC and the collaboration there as a template to showcase the trails and routes that are out there just waiting to be explored.
I also have other projects in mind to tackle more of the iconic and historic trails around the world. I’ve already ridden the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Iditarod Trail. So I have others like that in mind to ride myself and also tell the stories of the trail along the way.