Will Loevner is a name that's quickly becoming well known in the ultra endurance community. Just under 6 weeks before finishing second at UNBOUND Gravel XL, Will tackled what we consider an even crazier challenge. The Wilderness 101 has been a staple event in the National Ultra Endurance Series for nearly 20 years. Due to COVID-19, the event was canceled in 2020, and Will decided to ride the 101-mile loop two times in a row. While finishing the second lap, Will and his friend joked about going for a third. Fast forward to 2021 and he was fully commited to the idea. Will teamed up with Brad Fey of Dronediculous to capture the effort. We'll let the video speak for itself, but Will's grit to grind out the 30+ hour ride is nothing short of insane. We're pumped that our Crest MK4 wheelset featuring the new M-pulse hubs was able to help make this ride happen.
Video and images provided by Dronediculous
Stan's NoTubes: Most people would find completing the Wilderness 101 to be a challenge. What possibly inspired you to ride it three times in a row?
Will Loevner: My inspiration to do the Wilderness 303 started with race cancelations in 2020 that forced me to focus on other biking objectives. I had already done the course twice in a row, taking 18 hours to complete, in the fall of 2020. When I finished the ride I thought maybe another lap could be possible. I went back and forth on whether it was something I could do or wanted to do, but eventually I knew there was only one way to find out. I think that what really inspires me to take on a big goal like the 303 is to push myself and learn about myself when I get deep into the ride.
SNT: Brad, Will was riding for 30+ hours, but you were awake and driving around for almost the same amount of time. How hard was it to stay focused on the filming and support side of the project?
Brad Fey: I'm terrible at staying up late and driving, but also knew I needed someone to drive so I could film from the car. I recruited my friend Chris McGuire to assist me with driving. He's a night owl and I knew if anyone could drive around this long it would be him. With all the things to do and the excitement of it all, it was actually easier than I thought to stay awake and keep focused. I knew the course and the forest, so I just had to tell Chris where to go. Eventually Chris became a second camera operator as each shot we get is one take.. so if I was flying the drone, Chris was running the other camera. Will had plenty of food and water stashed at different locations, but we had emergency food and water in our car too. It wasn't planned but we ended up just evolving into Will's support crew as well by refilling water, getting food out for him, getting different clothing out, and anything else that Will would ask for. We couldn't just stand there and watch him. We just jumped in and started helping him, and on the 2nd lap you could tell that Will was enjoying that.
SNT: We heard you had some bike trouble during your ride. What exactly went wrong and how did you stay in it mentally to push through?
WL: Going into a ride like the Wilderness 303 I knew that I was almost guaranteed to have some sort of mechanicals. Since I was already in this mindset going in, I knew that no matter what, I would try to deal with the problems that were thrown at me and find a way to continue. Both mechanical issues happened on the first lap. First I crashed 40 miles in and broke the grip on my bike. Fortunately, I had brought a backup grip so on the next lap at mile 130, Drew Esherick from Stan's was able to put it on for me. The other issue was I blew out my rear shock and it began to leak oil out of its seal. I noticed when I started to bottom out the shock, but pumped it up firmer than usual and was able to continue without too much problem. Overall I was amazed to not get a single flat tire during the 303 miles. I still can’t believe how well the Crest MK4 wheels held up over what must have been a million rocks by the end of the ride.
SNT: At any point did you think that Will was not going to complete the three laps?
BF: I've filmed Will do an "everest" on singletrack in Rothrock before and I knew that was insane. I knew he had ridden this course twice the year previously, so 200 miles was also insane in our Rothrock State Forest. It seems strange to say, but I honestly never had a doubt. Riding with him for a few laps on his Everest to film him showed me how insanely tenacious he is. He will not stop, period. So unless he had something mechanical or an injury I didn't doubt his ability or "will" to finish. The one time I did have a little fear and doubt and it was only for a few seconds was when I saw his caller ID on my phone on lap 3 and my heart sank. He never called me one other time and I thought, "Oh man this is bad, he wouldn't call me unless there was real trouble." I thought he wrecked or had a major mechanical, but it was nothing like that. It was still crazy but you'll have to watch the documentary to see what happened. Will is a crazy beast with Navy Seal level grit and drive. I don't doubt anything he says he wants to do and I hope to keep documenting his journeys.
SNT: At any point did you think that you were not going to complete the three laps?
WL: There were a couple points during the ride where I really didn't know how I would finish, but also knew that I wasn't going to quit. Going into the ride I had the strange realization that I was going to hit rock bottom at some point and was excited, but also scared, to see how I would react.
At about mile 150, 16 hours in, I was completely destroyed by the duration and technicality of the riding. It had just gotten dark as I was about to enter one of the most technical and remote parts of the lap and It seemed almost impossible to me to do what I had just done again, especially considering that I was fatigued and would have to ride the next 8 hours in the dark with temperatures in the low 30s. I was amazed during the night that I started to feel better and began to stay in the moment since I could only see the 20 feet of trail lit up in front of me, rather than thinking about what was far ahead.
The other point in the ride where I couldn't imagine going on was when I was falling asleep descending a double track trail at mile 220, right before sunrise. When I got to the bottom of the descent I started walking up the fire road. I called Brad and told him that I would need to take a nap and then would continue. I got back on my bike and pedaled to a pulloff where Brad met me. I remember getting in the warm car and telling him to wake me up in 10 minutes, but I couldn't fathom still riding for another 9 plus hours over some of the rockiest trails in Rothrock. After 10 minutes I got up from the nap and continued on, telling myself that I could always take one more pedal stroke. I’m so happy I didn't quit because those last 9 hours were some of the most amazing miles of my life.
SNT: For everyone who wasn't there, what was the most impressive thing about Will's ride?
BF: I can name 100 things that impressed me most about his ride for people that weren't there. I'll name a few. First, he cleared 3 bridges rock garden on all 3 laps. That's insane. it's a menacing rock garden that's big spectator area in the Wilderness 101 because everyone wants to see who can clear it. Will pre-rode that rock garden a bunch prior and he had it down, but to clear that each time after 40 miles, 140, and 240, when you are completely exhausted was really impressive. I think the camera being there gave Will that boost for sure.
The other thing that I'm super impressed by is when he rode in the dark by himself for 8 hours or so. Think about that: 160 miles in and you have to start an 8 hour night ride, solo in some of the most brutal rocky trails around. That's when he had to ride Sassafras, Beautiful Trail and No Name and then climb Steelhouse and then do a 3 hour death march back to Coburn with hike a bike sections, sketchy bridge crossings. All in the dark. He said he saw a bear. No way, not for me, even if I could.
SNT: Would you ever attempt anything even longer than this 303-mile ride?
WL: Yes, about a month after the Wilderness 303 I rode Unbound XL in Kansas, which is a 350 mile self supported gravel race. I finished the race in second after having a serious wreck 200 miles in and breaking my left hand. This race posed the same mental challenge as the 303 in very different circumstances. I believe that accomplishing my goal riding the 303 allowed me to push through mentally when I was faced with the seemingly impossible task of riding the last 150 miles of gnarly gravel roads in Kansas one handed.
After every long ride where I really challenge myself to achieve a goal that scares me I can look back and learn a lot about what drives me to keep pushing when it gets hard. This is what keeps me wanting to go further and faster. The endless possibilities in the sport of ultra riding are exciting. I’m looking forward to doing multiple day routes like the Tour Divide and Colorado Trail.
SNT: Do you think it would be possible for Will to complete anything longer than his 303-mile ride?
BF: I definitely think he could go longer than 303. We talked about it and laughed. Will said he would have to go point to point to go further and not lap the Wilderness 4 times or he might go insane. I would agree. I also think that it would start to get really dangerous on the rugged terrain here. You need to be alert and aware to prevent a major wreck, especially on the fast descents. I don't think it would be a good idea. After the filming of the Wilderness 303 , we've seen how far he can go.