U.S. champion cyclist Rebecca Rusch’s father was reported missing in action during the Vietnam War in 1975. He served in the U.S. Air Force and wrote letters to home often. She was 3 years old when they lost touch with him. 40 years later, dental records proved his body was discovered at a crash site in Laos along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was a relief to the family to finally have closure around Steven Rusch’s disappearance, but Rebecca knew this was only the beginning for her. She wanted to visit Laos and find her father's crash site in order to learn more about the circumstances of his death. And naturally, she would travel by mountain bike.
She knew this challenge was real and serious. She would need a riding mate, support team, and expert guide to navigate her way thru the jungles, mountains, and caves of the Ho Chi Mihn trail, also known as “Blood Road” to the locals. The overgrown trail spans 1200 miles long with many different paths crossing the borders of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. She would need help with communication, local customs, the route, and eventually with the exact location of where her father was found and laid to rest.
Rebecca met her riding mate, Vietnamese champion cyclist Huyen Nguyen, in Vietnam on the celebratory evening of Tết Nguyên Đán, Vietnamese New Year. They spoke very little to each other during their first meeting, due to their language barrier. In the morning, they would embark on a life changing adventure together. It's interesting to consider that Huyen's family was a part of the U.S. opposition to the war. The team ran into several anticipated roadblocks, such as spending over 6 hours at the Laos border, and deciding to row themselves through a dark cave for 9 hours.
When the time came for Rebecca to visit the exact site where her father's airplane was found, she was met with great kindness by the local people of Laos. She learned that his body received a burial under a strong, old tree that still stands today. This gave her a great sense of forgiveness, and she saw that others were able to forgive her father, too, all of those years ago.
Blood Road is must be see documentary directed by Nicholas Schrunk. It captures an important part of U.S. history, shows the scars and torment that war leaves behind, promotes forgiveness, and shows how badass women are.
I strongly recommend it - it's available for purchase or rent. Donations and proceeds go directly to the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) through Rebecca Rusch's work, in honor of her father Stephen Rusch.
Top photo: Rebecca Rusch and Huyen Nguyen pedal the Ho Chi Minh trail through the rice fields of Vietnam, February 24, 2015. Photo by Josh Letchworth/Red Bull Content Pool
More from BUST