Short film ‘Unknown Country,’ featuring Vail-area cyclist Jake Wells, showing in Edwards Nov. 14 | VailDaily.com

Short film ‘Unknown Country,’ featuring Vail-area cyclist Jake Wells, showing in Edwards Nov. 14

"Unknown Country" charts Avon cyclist Jake Wells on his journey to the Dirty Kanza XL, a 350 mile self supported bike race. The short film makes its local debut Nov. 14 at the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards.
Unknown Country | Mixed Media Machine

EDWARDS – Local cyclist Jake Wells did pretty well the first time he tried an ultra-endurance gravel race.

The 200-mile Dirty Kanza has come to be regarded as one of the top tests of stamina available in North America — certainly in our region — and Wells passed the test with ease, finishing second of 828 competitors in 2017.

The next year, the Dirty Kanza introduced a new format, a 350-mile race known as the Dirty Kanza XL.

“You’re doing 200 miles, and you’re thinking this is the worst you’ve ever felt or the biggest event you’ve ever done, and then you see these guys doing almost double what you’re doing,” Wells said.

After seeing it in 2018, Wells set out to train for and complete the DKXL in 2019. Filmmaker Justin Balog, a National Geographic award-winning photographer, captured the experience in his new film, “Unknown Country.”

“The idea behind the project is exploring human limits and what that means to a person, individually, and hopefully sharing a wider perspective for people who are watching it,” Balog said.

‘So much going on’

Wells said the race most definitely tested his limits.

“I learned a lot about myself in that scenario that I don’t think you can simulate,” Wells said. “Unless you put yourself in that place, there’s no way to know how your body is going to react, and how your mind is going to react, and what are the tricks to pull yourself out of that place.”

The film is about 30 minutes and debuted on Oct. 11 in Bentonville, Arkansas. It has also played in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Colorado.

“The screenings have gone really well,” Balog said. “It’s a different type of event — at a normal cinematic event, you go, you watch a movie, you leave — but in certain places now, it turns into a whole evening. You have the film and then you have a Q&A with the filmmaker or with the people who were in the film, so it makes it a totally different kind of experience.”

Wells said the first few showings have included great audience interaction components, and he expects the Nov. 14 showing in Edwards will be no different.

“There’s so much going on in the film,” Wells said. “So there’s people who are interested in the equipment and the gear that you’re using, and there’s people who are interested in the endurance part of it and the training, and then a lot of people want to know about the mental places that you go during those types of events.”

Local support

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Fjellbarn Fund — a local organization founded by Sylvan Ellefson, Kjell Ellefson and John Cummins — which provides financial assistance for aspiring athletes.

“At each one of the screenings so far we’ve tried to connect with a local nonprofit,” Wells said. “And the idea with this film is it’s about more than just cycling or gear or endurance, it’s about pushing boundaries and hopefully inspiring people to push their boundaries. … So we connected with the Fjellbarn Fund because it’s not just for cyclists; it’s open to anyone who’s an athlete that’s based here and is trying to get to the next level.”

The doors will open at 6 p.m. and the screening will start at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, at the Riverwalk Theater in Edwards. For more information visit mixedmediamachine.com/unknowncountry.