Image above: Hawksbill Crag in the Buffalo River National Park, near Ponca, AR.
Gravel Ride in Ponca, AR
The idea of doing a community group ride of Moots owners and gravel enthusiast in the spring of 2019, really began in late fall of 2017. The idea began simple of enough when Brent Whittington, owner of Moots, asked Bill Dillard and me (Frank Lawrence) to join him at the Dirty Kanza 2018. Now know, that Bill and I are just average general purpose athletes. We are generally good a lot of different things, and not very good at any. Most importantly, neither of us had gravel ridden, we had only one minimal mountain biking and some road biking. Our bike riding consisted of doing 20-50 miles a week in the summers, and maybe doing an occasionally 100K Fondo. By no regards were we experienced gravel riders, nor able to a 100 or 200 mile event.
15 riders gathered for 3 days of fantastic gravel riding in the Ozark mountains
Bill and I do have an unspoken rule to most things, “not allowed to say no, so must say yes”. Thus we committed to do the Kanza in June 2018. Now, we needed to think about purchasing a gravel bike. Considering the owner of the best gravel bike ever made asked us, our search of which gravel bike became pretty narrow. So by December of
2018, Bill and I became proud Moots owners.
Now that we made the investment, and the commitment, we needed to ride!! We decided to do a ride from Little Rock to my father’s cabin in Yell County, AR, near Mount Nebo State Park. This ride would be a Friday and Saturday ride, about 80% gravel. Each direction was about 100 miles. We decided to do this adventure late March of 2019.
“This is more fun than any kid should be
allowed to have!” –BILL DILLARD
We asked another good friend, Chad Crank to join us, and then asked my dad, Dr Frank, to support us. One of Bill’s famous quotes, usually on a weekly basis but especially on bigger adventures–“this is more fun than any kid should be allowed to have!”
It was a memorable trip, and after the first day’s ride we began discussing, how cool it would be to do this again next year. At the moment, “Gravel Ride in Ponca” was created!!
The finest gravel bike, Handmade in the Rockies—Moots!
Frank Lawrence, (right image) in the middle of the flooded road along Petit Jean River, on a ride from Little Rock to Yell Country, AR, -spring 2018.
Day 1 in Ponca, AR
Brent put together an incredible group of Moots owners, and gravel enthusiast. There were guys there that had just started riding gravel, and guys there that were world caliber bikers. I will just tell you it was incredible intimidating to ride with some of these guys that I had admired from afar, and guys that I had not met before or did not have a close relationship with. Further in the group were some guys I did “life” with like Bill Dillard, and that allowed to at least have the confidence to show up! Lastly, Dr Frank quickly volunteered to ride support for us, and be the ever positive, ever lost, and ever funny guy that he is all the time. He may have had more fun than anyone!!
We arrived at Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca at noon on Thursday the 18th. The weather was awful and perfect at the same time. Raining, Cold (50 +/-), and the forecast for the rest of the day was no different. After a quick bite to eat. We all met at the cabin at 1:00 to begin a 48-50
mile .ride. Surprisingly, no one said NO! We all put on all the clothes we had, rain gear, and pushed off!
Adventure in the Ozarks 3
Now, if you know anything about the Ozarks there are basically two key things about all the roads in the area- they go UP and they go DOWN!! Day 1 was exactly that.
Shortly have starting we hit the the first gravel road. It was muddy, slick, and basically fantastic!! Then, we went down, and down and down!! Quickly, my forearms were on fire dealing with the brake pumping while descending the steep, slick roads. Then because of the water, and grit, my brakes were soon detonating. All this was fun, and the group was having a blast!
Once you reach the bottom of some these very long and steep hills, you are assured to reach a creek bottom. Some decide to carry, some decide to ride.
Because to the cold, wet, and tricky conditions, we were actually glad to have some accents. With those climbs, even the clouds, we had some great views.
The Buffalo River, near Jasper, AR. Part of the group. There rest were repeating worn brakes and flats, just out of the camera’s view.
The end of day one ended with 20 miles of pavement, fantastic! WRONG!!! That 20 miles was actually may have been the worse. There was one section that was basically a 5-7 mile climb! And then the ride ended with a 2-3 mile climb. We were all glad to get back to the cabin, take hot showers and get dry. We were all very pleased with day 1, 48 +/- miles with 5823 +/- feet of climbing.
Day 2 Ponca
After a great night of eating, drinking and telling great stories with new friends, we awoke to no rain and sunshine. Well sort of great, it was still 50 +/- and 20-30 mph winds. Nevertheless, we were all ready to roll at 7:00 am!!
Day 2 was meant to 100 miles ( it ended with most doing 60-80). Pretty quickly the large group of 15 split to 3 groups. Group one were comprised for 4 strong cyclist, who had a great day hammering away at the route. Group two consisted of 5 guys that did the same, at just a slightly slower pace. And Group 3 consisted of me and Bill and 4 others that rode hard, but also decide to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and feeling of the route, versus just hammering.
Our group made two significant stops. First at Kings Rivers Falls to explore the creek and the falls.
Group 3 after hiking to King Rivers Fall
Frank Lawrence and Bill Dillard at the Falls
After stopping at Kings River, we hit the gravel again and enjoyed many great climbs and ascents. In the process. Oh, one key funny note to share was that before the groups split, early in the ride, Bill’s Di2 failed. So he ended up as a single speed rider for 50ish of our 60 mile ride. Actually the best he has ever, ever ridden.
Another fantastic stop we made was at the Whitaker Point. This is home to the most icon picture in Arkansas of a rocky crag, called Hawksbill Crag.
The picture at the beginning of this article is of the the 6 of use standing on the Crag. It was thrill for to see it. Only a a few of us had been then, and several of the guys had never been to this icon spot.
Day 2 ended for us, with the trickiest decent of the trip down a the steepest, curviest gravel road of the trip. It got the arms pumping and the heart pumping. And don’t forget, most of had metal on metal brakes or no brakes. It was AWESOME (only because we all made it).
As we finished the ride in the most beautiful valley in the country, Boxley Valley, we ran up on a herd of elk.
Day 2 ended with great sunset, great drink and great food.
Day 3 Ponca
Day 3 begins with a beautiful sunrise in an Ozark Mountain Valley.
Most were ready to head home relatively early, so several groups formed for different distances of riding. One group left early 7:00 am and hit a 25 mile route to complete there trip, and another group was planning to do the planned 50ish mile loop at 9:00, and our group hit the road for a point to point ride of 20ish miles. We heard an elk bulging on the ride as rode to bottom of a valley. And the ride ended with an absolutely flowing 3 mile descent into the town of Kingston, AR.
Dr. Frank waiting with the support vehicle, he was trying to read, but the warm sun put him to sleep!
Dr. Frank sporting his Moots t-shirt!
Adventure in the Ozarks April 18-21, 2019
There are many stories, many twist, many turns, many ups and many downs that could shared in these pages and pictures. But the goal of this document is to really give you a quick flavor for what a fantastic trip this was for all us. The other thing you need to know about and about Bill, is this is not unique for us. “Doing Life” and inviting people to do it with us is what we are all about. We always talk about the one foundations of life is relationships, and at the end of the day, it is ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS. Now the reasons, or the platform for such a trip is constantly varied for us. Gravel Riding is now, just another arrow in our quiver to bring people together to “do life”.
It was an impactful 3 days of riding, and those times will not be forgotten. But what will mostly be remembered is the deepening of relationships with new and old friends. I cannot wait to do again next spring!
Frank Lawrence is a retired banker that lives in Little Rock, AR. Frank is currently CEO of Little Rock Athletic Centers in Central AR. The Centers are comprised of 4 Multipurpose Health clubs that serve approximately 17000 members and 400 employees. Frank’s manifesto is this: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”
Bill Dillard III is executive at Dillard’s Department Stores. He resides in Little Rock, AR. He and Frank met over 16 years ago when Frank moved next door to where Bill had recently moved months earlier. Since that moment, they have played together and have done life together.