A Life-Altering Ride 6

Lucie Hasek Describes her Unforgettable Journey Through the Jungles of Laos

Rarely do we get the chance to have a life-altering experience. They are not handed out on silver platters like lunch at the country club. These experiences are searched for and sought out like an endangered animal living in the fissures of snow-laden mountainsides.

I found mine in the jungles of Laos five months ago.

I am the picture of the American dream. I moved from Czechoslovakia to the United States when I was 15, spoke no English and was thrust into American culture without any warning or guidance. My survivor instinct kicked in, and I made my way in America. I now am blessed in life. I have a family. I have operated a successful remodeling business, Creative Elements, for the last 20 years.

However, recently, I felt a growing void. I felt something was missing that was much bigger than myself. Some would say I was experiencing a “calling” for something that would change my life. Until recently, all my years were spent raising my three children and running my business. Every day was exactly the same. But I knew I wanted to experience something more.

One of my passions is being outdoors and riding my mountain bike. One Saturday in October, I diverted from my usual long training ride to ride a trail with my friend Kathy, an avid local cyclist. She was training for a ride in Laos with a team of 15, led by seven-time world champion Rebecca Rusch. It was to be a massive 500-mile, 32,000-feet-of-climbing adventure. As we rode that day, I kept thinking to myself, “You could do this too. You too could train and do something amazing!” I realized this was what I needed to fill the void.

I had read Rebecca Rusch’s book and watched her movie Blood Road. I knew the inspiration behind this ride and knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

Kathy encouraged me to apply, but I second-guessed my ability.

“You are stronger than you think,” she told me.

So I took a leap of faith and applied for a spot on the team. I didn’t tell anyone because I doubted my ability to do this. I had been an athlete all of my life but had only been riding my mountain bike for five years. Was I crazy?

One week later, I received a text from Rebecca Rusch who informed me the 15 positions on the team had been filled, but she wanted me to go, as well.

For the next six weeks, I trained six days a week and lifted weights twice a week. I purchased the long list of must-have items, staged packing, practiced portioning food and nutrition intake for each day and learned how to disassemble and reassemble my bike. Numerous times. I did all of this while running my business and being a mom.

All of the training was fueled by my need to fill the void. I knew I needed something. Something that would empower me. Something more than just a weekend ride. Something that I have never done before. I wanted it to be difficult, and I wanted to conquer it.

I arrived in Laos after 24 hours of travel on Dec. 4. It was shocking to see the hammer and sickle flying. I never expected to see that again. I had escaped that way of life years ago, and I thought the world had moved on, but it hadn’t.

Laos is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia bordered by Thailand, Myanmar, China and Vietnam. It is rugged countryside and not for the faint of heart. I soon learned this the hard way.

Day 1 started with a 1,700-foot climb, then a 50-kilometer ride to our destination. As it turned out, this was just a warm-up. That night, in our team meeting, Rebecca reminded us how dangerous the ride could be. If we got hurt, there were no hospitals. If we got lost, there were no search parties. If we got sick, there was nothing that could be done. Though I had knots in my stomach, I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

The expedition was a 10-day trip through the jungles of Laos and the historic Ho Chi Minh Trail. The scenery was amazing—giant palms, bamboo and banana trees—but very rugged.

To say it was a grueling ride does not begin to describe it. Our daily climbs averaged anywhere from 3,500 to 6,200 feet per day. My legs were trashed daily! Each night I would communicate with my boyfriend, Philip, and give him updates. He continued to ask me about my physical condition. On Day 4, I didn’t think my legs could recover in time for the next day’s ride, but through grit and determination, you mentally overcome the physical challenges. Philip would remind me, “Pain is temporary; regret is forever.” That was my inspiration.

During the ride, I met villagers who kissed my hands, crossed bridges that were rickety and made of bamboo, crossed swollen rivers that should have swept us away. I grew close to my fellow teammates, and we grew stronger together. I experienced life.

Our final day was bittersweet. I was sad and happy at the same time. I missed my family, however, I knew I would miss the camaraderie my team had built. We were strangers 10 days earlier, but we finished the journey as a family. We had overcome our own obstacles, pain and suffering. And, when it was over, we laughed together and celebrated.

Everyone had gone there to find something. Everyone found something, but it wasn’t what they had expected to find.

I found that I COULD.

My mantra was to surprise myself. And I did.

To read a more detailed, day-by-day account of Lucie’s Laos journey, visit CreativeElementsByLucie.com/about/lucies-blog.

To learn more about Rebecca Rusch, who hosts the Laos ride annually, read Rusch to Glory: Adventure, Risk & Triumph on the Path Less Traveled and watch the documentary Blood Road.