Pro mountain biker Rebecca Rusch and full-time adventurer Patrick Sweeney will ride to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, beginning Sunday to raise funds and awareness for World Bicycle Relief.
The feat will mark only the third time that the Tanzania Park Authority has allowed bicycles onto the mountain.
Rusch and Sweeney will be riding, carrying and pushing their bikes to the summit at 19,341 feet, then braving the dangerous journey back down.
“This trip will be combing both my expedition skills and cycling skills,” Rusch said. “This will be the highest elevation I’ve ever been to. I’ve also never carried and pushed my bike up a mountain that big or ridden down one like this before.”
Sweeney – the full-time adventurer – was the first person to officially mountain bike to Everest Base Camp, and just a few months later a 7.8-magnitude earthquake decimated Nepal. He then launched a nonprofit campaign to raise 1,000 tents in 100 days for victims of the Nepal earthquake.
Kilimanjaro is part of Sweeney’s attempt at riding a mountain bike as high up each of the tallest mountains on the seven continents as possible then climbing them. He is also a competitive acrobatic pilot, master diver and expert climber.
“This grand adventure is part of my ‘Cycling the Seven Summits’ challenge that only a handful of people have ever even attempted,” Sweeney said. “And World Bicycle Relief is a big charity changing the future of so many people in Africa – I can’t think of a better combination. I just hope Rebecca doesn’t hurt me too badly on the way up.”
Rusch, who is known as the “Queen of Pain” in mountain biking, has amassed national victories across multiple off-road formats and set records at ultra endurance races like the Leadville Trail 100, Dirty Kanza 200 and 24 Hour MTB World Championships and the 142-mile Kokopelli Trail, coming in more than an hour and a half faster than the previous champion.
She also holds a cache of national and world titles in whitewater rafting, adventure racing, orienteering and cross-country skiing.
Once the ride is complete, the two will head to Kisumu, a town in Kenya with a World Bicycle Relief office to see bikes being built and those benefitting from bikes as transportation.
World Bicycle Relief designs, manufactures and distributes high quality bicycles that withstand terrain and conditions in rural, developing areas. Its goal is to help entrepreneurs increase productivity and profits, students attend class more regularly and health-care workers visit more patients in less time. World Bicycle Relief has delivered more than 275,000 bicycles, according to its website statistics.
Clipped In talked with Rusch about the duo’s game plan to both put the hurt on themselves and bring relief to the people of Africa through bicycles.
CI: At 19,341 feet and the tallest mountain in Africa, how will this compare to the endurance events you have done in the past in terms of difficulty?
RR: This will be my first time to Kilimanjaro and to Tanzania and Kenya! Only one other team has done this expedition before. I’ve competed in many ultra endurance events before like Eco Challenge. I’ve focused primarily on cycling for the last 10 years, but I certainly have multi-day expedition experience, so this trip will be combing both my expedition skills and cycling skills. This will be the highest elevation I’ve ever been to. I’ve also never carried and pushed my bike up a mountain that big (or ridden down one like this) before.
CI: What is your plan of attack?
RR: We are going up and down the Marangu route. Our guide helped us pick this route because it’s the least technical hiking route, and we can take advantage of the hut system for sleeping and recovering on the way up. Our plan is to take our time going up to allow proper acclimatization. We have planned four days for the ascent and more if needed and two days to descend. We’ll carry, push, ride our bikes up.
CI: What distance will you be riding and how long do you estimate this will take you and Patrick?
RR: It’s approximately 35 kilometers from the start point at 6,100 ft and the summit at 19,340.
CI: What will the journey back down the mountain be like for you in terms of technical descents and difficulty?
RR: This is one of the big unknowns. The route is a hiking trail, so from what I understand it’s very rocky and technical in places, at least for a bike. There will be other places where we’re flying down as the terrain allows.
CI: Are you prepared for this or have you been doing any special training to get ready for this?
RR: I’ve altered my training to include a lot more hiking and running than usual. My dog is pretty happy about that. I also do a fair bit of backcountry skiing in the winter, so I’m used to carrying a pack and going uphill. I’ve also done some specific altitude training in the High Altitude Training Center at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Patrick’s also been doing specific training at his home in Chamonix. He’s been hiking up hills, stairs and spending time in the mountains too. We’re both lucky to live in mountain towns so we have access to this type of training.
CI: What’s the dynamic like with you and Patrick and how do you think you will be able to help each other through this?
RR: Patrick and I know each other from other endurance races like Leadville and he’s also attended my [World Bicycle Relief] event, Rebecca’s Private Idaho. We’ve been talking about teaming up for an adventure and this one fell into place. This will be our first trip together, but I’m confident we’re on the same page as far as goals to summit and to give back in the process.
Patrick and I set our fundraising goal at $19,341 (which is about 143 bikes) and is the same altitude as the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We wanted to tie our trip and summit together with World Bicycle Relief in a meaningful way, so hopefully every 134 feet we climb will earn the $134 for another World Bicycle Relief bike for another individual.
I also know from his resume and his previous expeditions that he has the skill and experience for something like this. Even though we don’t know each other really well, you can tell a lot by a person by what they’ve done in the past.
CI: Why did you decide to work with World Bicycle Relief?
RR: I’ve been aligned with them for a few years because I really do believe in the “Power of Bicycles” and that a bike can change a life. Their work is so amazing because they don’t just give a hand out; they really enable communities and individuals to thrive and take control. This trip to Africa will be an adventure for me to climb and bike Kilimanjaro, but also a second and just as inspiring part of the trip will be a site visit to a World Bicycle Relief assembly facility in Kenya and then a personal visit to a remote village to see the World Bicycle Relief work in action and meet some of the people who are benefiting from this work.