Surviving Rome to Riva
Riva del Garda, Trento, Italy: Rebecca Rusch says her fingers are still a bit numb. Considering that she’s now been done racing a mountain bike, self supported, from Rome to Riva del Garda (850 kilometers), for just a few short days, numb fingers are a small penalty to pay for what could have been.
For four days, Rusch followed a GPS route that took her, and fellow Italy Divide competitors, on all kinds of terrain, through the dark of night and to the absolutely brink of exhaustion. Her sub-20-lb hardtail mountain bike was packed with an extra 20 pounds of gear. She pedaled nearly non-stop, sleeping only about an hour or so per day. She battled fatigue and self doubt — she admits calling her husband along the way and wanting to quit — but she successfully crossed the finish line and now even thinks about a next time, numb fingers and all.
Also known as The Queen of Pain, Rebecca Rusch is no stranger to pushing the limits of what body and mind can endure. Hers is an athletic career synonymous with adventure racing, endurance events like the Leadville Trail 100 and, more recently, gravel racing. A big bike-packing event like the Italy Divide offered an opportunity to try something new. Halfway into the race, however, she regretted her decision to give it a try. Next-level fatigue and sleep deprivation lead to mistakes she wasn’t used to — new terrain for the Queen. Still, she pushed on.
The end was nearly in sight, but she kept missing turns by a hundred meters or so, and kept having to backtrack each time to rejoin the trail. Admittedly lacking advanced technical skills, exhausted almost beyond repair, numb and cold to the point where her lightweight puffy jacket and emergency blanket were no match for the elements, Rebecca honed in on a house with a light on. It was the middle of the night — two o’clock or something — and she was so cold. She peered in the window to see a couch beckoning. She knocked softly, the kind of knock that says, “ Please, don’t answer.” Carefully, she crept inside and, without removing the first article of clothing, not even her helmet, buried herself in the warmth of that couch.
Rebecca nodded off for bits at a time, the kind of sleep you get when you know you have to be somewhere soon. She was going to allow herself only the bare minimum, but the couch had slightly different plans. She woke up — somewhere around 4:00 a.m. — and tried to sneak out, but the dog, who had been sleeping so soundly earlier, was now awake and on duty.
A woman appeared, still in her underwear. Rebecca, to tired to be terrified, stood there, apologetic, begging the woman for forgiveness in whatever broken version of verbal and visual language she could muster at the time, as she tried to explain just what was going on. “ Would you like a coffee?” the woman asked. Rebecca nodded in the affirmative, and then pulled out her phone and typed “ you are my angel” into the translator. “ Sei il mio angelo.”
The Bike Rebecca Rusch chose for the Italy Divide a Niner Air 9 RDO. She opted for a hardtail in order to accommodate frame bags, so that she could forego wearing a backpack.
She says she was lucky to be able to ride the new SRAM XX1 Eagle™ drivetrain (with a 34-tooth chainring), because the climbs in the Italy Divide were some of the steepest she’s ever seen, and yet there were long, fast road descents where she wanted some extra top-end range. Her bike was also equipped with SRAM Guide Ultimate brakes, and SRAM RISE 60 wheels. Up front, she chose a RockShox RS-1 to smooth out the bumps.