Friday, October 26, 2018

The Best Little Ride In The Ozarks: Pedestal Rocks Road Ride and Lick Fork Gravel Grind

Saturday, October 20

What began a few years ago as the Pedestal Rocks 40 road ride from Witts Springs to Pedestal Rocks has expanded and evolved to include multiple road distances and several challenging gravel routes. Starting last Friday afternoon, riders from around the region gathered at the Witts Springs Community Center to pick up packets or register for this unique cycling experience. 
At 9:00 Saturday morning, all riders shared the same start at the Witts Springs Fire Department, with road riders turning right and gravel riders turning left at the intersection with Highway 16 a few yards away. It was apparent at the split that the gravel ride has outgrown the road aspect of the event. Even though last year's ride was held in a foggy drizzle there seemed to have been more road riders then.

Saturday was perfect for a ride, with many of us scurrying back and forth from the start to dump unneeded layers as the sun warmed things up from the morning chill. 

 Riders gather under blue skies for the start at the Witts Springs Fire Department.
Gravel and road riders all roll out together. The vibe is mellow so the groups sort themselves out easily. 

I'll state right here that I chose the 40-mile road ride which, even with its 3600 feet of climbing is one of the easier options available. I'm a roadie at heart and this little-traveled stretch of Highway 16 is a fine place to ride in the fall. 
There were relatively few of us and there were no really large groups, so I was happy just rolling along at my own pace, stopping from time to time to get a photo. Though there were no road closures or traffic control, I was probably passed by no more than a dozen cars and a couple of small packs of motorcyclists over the course of forty miles. Some of the road riders elected to ride the 50 or 68 mile course, further thinning out the riders along the road. 
 The open road was almost all ours.
 There was virtually no traffic on the Hwy 16. The only time I was startled was when a couple of tandems blew past me on a downhill. 

The gravel (respectfully poached from Missy Vail's Facebook post). 

I can’t speak directly to the gravel experience but it gets 100% positive feedback from every rider that I heard from. It’s not easy—the popular 40 mile option has about 4600’ for climbing, while the 68 miler has a whopping 7400 feet—but the scenery is remarkable and the support is outstanding.  It seems that the entire Searcy County community turns out to play some role, whether that means making food for the rest stops and post-ride potluck or running the roads in pickups and ATVs in support of the riders. 

Friday Rain

Rain all day on Friday may have put a damper on the plans of some riders who had planned to camp overnight, but our hosts make it easy for everyone to sleep in the dry. The community center was open to those who wanted warmth and a roof overhead.

 The weather for my drive up on Friday was less than ideal, but the Ozarks' beauty comes through in all conditions.

 I chose my usual GMC Portable Ghetto mode of camping and I was quite cozy.
Several folks decided against trying to set up their tent in the steady rain. There was plenty of room in the Community Center gym for everyone to have their own space.

The Community

Witts Springs' proximity to Richland Creek means that it is a familiar place to many of us who are boaters. I am dating myself, but when I first started kayaking Richland Creek back in the early 80's, a stretch of Highway 16 between Witts Springs and Ben Hur was still unpaved, and I've dealt with road blockages due to washouts and fallen trees way back in the day. I've driven from the creek to what is now Cindy's store to use a pay phone or to supplement camp chow and get warm. I always felt like a bit of a foreigner, but no more.
After all of those years, I now feel like I have a connection to this small mountain community and, according to feedback from event organizer Dirk Merle, that feeling goes both ways. The folks around Witts Springs love having cyclists come up and we have gained a great appreciation for the unfettered hospitality offered by them. On top of the ride support and the big ol' post-ride potluck, individuals reached out to make sure everyone had what they needed. As some late arrivals set up their tent in the rain on Friday, a family pulled up to offer their nearby barn as a camping alternative. "We're right over there and you're more than welcome...".

The Swag
The swag bag is itself cool, and it comes stuffed with actual useful stuff like a T-shirt, sunscreen, Biofreeze, a coupon for a free frozen pizza, a home baked chocolate bar that is worth trading for, and a lot more. 
Better than the average rider bag.

I'm not sure where they come up with all of the sponsors, and I regret that I didn't get photos of the potluck and the door prize tables. EVERY RIDER is a winner. Really. They had tables covered with cool stuff and all you had to do is match your bib number to a prize to claim it. Last year, I got a cool coffee cup and a flat kit. This year, I scored big with a $79.00 Patagonia shirt. It's really pretty amazing. I found myself throwing money in the Community Center fundraising jar multiple times to assuage my slight pangs of guilt for getting so much more value than my $40.00 entry fee. The desserts I ate were probably worth half the fee. 

Next Year- October 19, 2019

Put it on your calendar now so that you don't have to make excuses. And don't feel like you have to wait until then to visit Searcy County and its surrounds.
It is worth the two hour drive to see nearby Falling Water Falls after a rain or to take a hike at Pedestal Rocks. 

Side Trails

I've become, for better or worse, less obsessed with riding over the last couple of years. 2017 included retirement, a mountain bike injury, surgery and long rehab, and a divorce, all of which likely contributed to a shift in my focus to a broader range of activities. While I was off the bike with the shoulder injury, I would gather the dogs for long walks in the woods. Those miles helped me maintain some of my fitness and peace of mind while renewing my love for the pace of walking and the observations that such a pace allows. 
I took advantage of my weekend in the area to do a couple of hikes at the Pedestal Rocks area. The King's Bluff and Pedestal Rocks loops share the same trailhead.

King's Bluff

The parking lot was empty and I had the King's Bluff Loop to myself on Friday. The steady rain was not much of a bother and it fed the waterfall.

Pedestal Rocks

I've been wanting to check this out for years, and might have been a bit disappointed in the tree-obscured view of Pedestal Rock were it not for a chance meeting with friend Tina Chwalinski on the hike in. She advised me not to miss the caves present below the bluff line. Wow! She was right.
Happy trails. I love walking in the woods, especially now that the chiggers are somewhat subdued. 
When I encounter folks with dogs, I tend to focus on the dogs rather than the people they are walking. I was surprised to look up and see Tina attached to these leashes. She turned me on to the caves that were the best part of this short 2-3 mile hike.

Fall color is just starting to show. 

 There is an extensive system of bluff shelters and shallow caves at Pedestal Rocks. I doubt that I found them all--I went in half a dozen or so-- but I'll explore more on my next trip.

Get out. Ride your bike. Walk Your dogs. Put on your hiking shoes and head for the woods. It looks to be an outstanding fall in Arkansas.

No comments: