‘Blood Road’ is a mountain bike excursion along the Ho Chi Minh Trail

On June 12, Red Bull Media House will premiere its new full-length mountain biking documentary “Blood Road” in Los Angeles.

The film isn’t like your typical mountain biking flick. It doesn’t feature riders sending it off of huge kickers or pinning it down terrifying, steep lines. In fact, the film focuses less on the technical aspects of mountain biking than on the prospect of using a mountain bike as a tool for personal exploration and as a way to foster understanding.

“Blood Road” follows endurance mountain biker Rebecca Rusch on her quest to bike the entirety of the 1,120-mile Ho Chi Minh Trail through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the hopes of finding the crash site of her father — Capt. Steven Rusch — who was shot down in the Vietnam War and died when she was three years old.

We got on the phone with Rusch to talk about what she learned through the journey and how it felt to make the first-ever full length film produced entirely in-house by Red Bull.

rebecca rusch blood road ho chi minh trail

Rusch said she was shocked at how warm of a response she received on the trail. Photo: Courtesy of Josh Letchworth/Red Bull

So how did the idea for “Blood Road” come about?

I didn’t set out to make a film, I just set out to go on a ride and a personal journey. Really, I think the evolution of my career has been towards expeditions. I’ve always kind of been an explorer. Truthfully, my [ultra-endurance mountain bike racing] was a bit of a departure from that exploratory nature.

So, in 2007 when they found my father’s remains in Vietnam, it started brewing in my mind. That was the first time we knew my father died in his plane crash. And in the years just prior to his remains being found, I was in a race in the jungle and I kept thinking about what it must have been like for him during the war. And at one point, my guide pointed out the Ho Chi Minh Trail. And it just started brewing in my mind, and it was a slow burn to get to this point.

rebecca rusch blood road ho chi minh trail

Captain Stephen Rusch of the U.S. Air Force, seen here in an archival photo. Photo: Courtesy of Rebecca Rusch

This isn’t like most mountain biking films though, was it hard to get Red Bull behind it?

Not at all. Red Bull always pushes its athletes to do what we want and to pitch our own ideas. I thought, “What could I do that’s different?” And I figured we should make a movie that actually told a story. And it just started small.

Originally, it was supposed to be a short film based on my desire to just find out where the old Ho Chi Minh Trail went since it hasn’t been used in so long. But then it became something larger than my initial plan, and when we got home we had so much footage that Red Bull decided to turn it into a full-length documentary.

This film was a big departure and risk for them to really dive into my personal story and produce a movie where the bike wasn’t the main character in the film, and I respect them for doing so.

rebecca rusch blood road ho chi minh trail

Rebecca Rusch and her riding partner Huyen Nguyen biked roughly 1,200 miles but say the hardest part was just staying healthy. Photo: Courtesy of Josh Letchworth/Red Bull

So what was the hardest part about completing the Ho Chi Minh Trail, both physically and mentally?

We biked about 1,200 miles and spent almost a month on the trail, but the riding wasn’t really that hard as I’m used to it being an endurance athlete. The hardest part was staying healthy in the jungle. You’re dealing with questionable food and water quality, trekking through mud which often has parasites in it. Knowing that if you get sick you’re going to have to fly home is exhausting.

I think mentally, the hardest part of it was having so many variables that were out of my control while trying to coordinate such a big film crew. We had all these people following our lead, and we didn’t know if we would even find his crash site or what the trail held for us.

There were parts where we had to machete through a jungle where a trail was or cross a river where a bridge had washed out. And despite that, we had a schedule to keep in filming. So that was exhausting.

rebecca rusch blood road ho chi minh trail

Rusch said that learning of the unexploded ordnances in Vietnam has given her a new passion and purpose in life. Photo: Courtesy of Josh Letchworth/Red Bull

What part of this journey made the biggest impact on you?

I had two big takeaways. The first is that despite difference in opinions, we need to accept we’re all human in this world. Coming to a country the United States was in conflict with, we didn’t know how we would be received. But in the villages we went to, people were so friendly and welcoming. We’d bike into a village and people would run up to us singing to receive us.

The second thing I took from my ride, is the surprising fact that there are still unexploded bombs from the war all throughout Vietnam. There are still people who are dying today from the Vietnam War. That was heartbreaking for me. So after the trip was over I came back on a mission with the Mines Advisory Group to help find and remove those unexploded ordnances.

I think we have to strive for forgiveness between cultures. I plan on returning back to Vietnam at least once a year with the Mines Advisory Group to continue removing ordnances. I want to be a part of helping to heal these villages and help solve this dire problem that, in some way, my father helped cause.

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