Bound together by purpose, and woven with a common thread.
Ponca City will soon see the first ever mountain bike race held on the shores of Lake Ponca, with the Ponca City Mountain Bike Society teaming with the Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship to bring the inaugural “Boulder Bash” to town.
The race will be sixth round of the Oklahoma State “Tour De Dirt” series. It will take place in Ponca on Sunday, May 21, with over 150 racers and their families and friends expected to spend the weekend in the area.
In preparation for the event, we gathered four guys — a prominent local businessman, a civic minded Parks and Recreation board member, a representative of the sanctioning organization, and a master trail builder — instrumental in the group effort that is responsible for bringing to race to town and moreover part of the driving community effort that saw the installation of a 6-mile trail section in just three years on a previously unused and overgrown area just off of Snake Road.
We asked them just what they’ve been doing out in those woods, and why.
And what mountain bike riding and racing might bring to Ponca City.
We wanted to see if we could find the thru-line — the common thread — in why these four men are all avid mountain bike riders.
Cue Roy Pemberton, prominent Ponca City businessman, proprietor of Pemberton Chevrolet, mountain bike enthusiast:
“Well, to give you an idea, they just held the Red Dirt Rendezvous, the fifth round of the series, and drew 159 racers,” Pemberton says. “Now, this is not why I do it — I do it because I love riding my bike, and building trails, and it’s a great group of guys just to hang out with — but when you can bring a hundred or two hundred racers along with their friends and families into town, it can only benefit the community. There will
be people staying in hotels, eating at resturaunts, buying their supplies at local stores… and if any of them happens to be shopping for a new pickup truck, well that’s all right too!”
Introducing John Shears, prominent Oklahoma City Attorney, board member with the Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship, and former Ponca City resident operating a law firm based in Edmond. And mountain bike enthusiast.
“Oh, I wish there had been trails like this when I grew up in Ponca, that’s for sure,” Shears says. “I don’t remember exactly, but I think I came across a Facebook page about the Ponca City Mountain Bike Society and was really excited to see that, to see that kind of activity going on in my hometown. It was great to see that there were people interested in getting outside and being active and improving their health.”
Attraction to Location?
Let’s hear from Ken Shelton, mountain bike enthusiast and master trail builder from Stillwater.
“The trails are great, they have a lot to offer,” Shelton says. “But the other thing that really impresses me though, probably more than how fun the trial itself, is the community spirit that has led to it being open. From the core guys of the Ponca City mountain bike club that have done the heavy lifting and built most of the trails to the city itself, with the City Commission voting to make the land available to be improved. The guys have done a ton of work on the trail, and it’s just in such a great area – accessible to the town, right beside the lake, it’s a great spot to ride a bike, or to take your family or friends with you to an event. I just couldn’t oversell the community aspect. They seem to want to have cyclists, the city has done a lot, from what I understand, to make this possible. And it really shows.”
Bring in Parks
and Recreation’s Aaron Reynolds, chair of the Recreation Committee. And mountain bike enthusiast.
“We want people to think of recreation and recreational opportunities when they think of Ponca City, or consider Ponca as a place to live,” Reynolds says. “There’s been a lot of effort put in by a lot of people to clean up that area and make it something the city and community can be really proud of.”
So then, how do the trails compare to others in the state of Oklahoma, or adjoining states?
Pemberton: “Well, there are some great great trails to ride in northwest Arkansas. We didn’t have anything like that over here. So a group of us guys, like seven or eight core guys, decided we needed to do something about that. And it’s just grown from then. We went from no trails three years ago to what we have now, which is 6.1 miles of trail.”
Reynolds: “It’s a challenge right now. We’ve had so darn much rain. The lake is so high that it’s over the bank and over our trail in some spots. So we’ll see. There is higher ground. When we were working on the trail today, there were several people walking, one couple with a stroller, just on the road because they know they don’t have to worry about cars or being run over. If the weather holds off I think people who haven’t been here to ride before are going to be really surprised at how good the trails are. And then they’ll spread the word around.”
Shelton: “What makes it special is a lot of different terrain in a small area. There are parts of it that are really rocky and technical, which I really like, and those sections remind me of other places that I like to go. And then there is a section less than a mile away that is flat and fast and flowing and on
top of a plateau that is like a lot of other trails elsewhere. There’s tight technical sections, fast open sections, and everything in between… it just really combines a lot of other elements of other trails into one really fun loop.”
Shears: “We first started working on some trails out by Kaw Lake, but when we found out there might be an opportunity to build closer to town we jumped on that. And it’s been some work, but there is great land around Lake Ponca for mountain biking. There are a lot of rocks, climbs, drops, quick elevation changes that are pretty rare in the state of Oklahoma. There are a few areas that have that kind of riding, around Keystone and some other places, but for instance we don’t have anything like that in the city. It’s all flat land riding. In fact, there are a lot of great gravel roads around Ponca City, and we know there are more and more people riding some of those roads. We’re encouraged to see people interested in a healthier lifestyle.”
Of course, there’s a lot of ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle. So what’s the common thread? There are many.
Pemberton: “About four years ago or so I noticed that I was beginning to get really out of shape. So I began bicycling. And as I got more and more into it, racing. But on my 60th birthday I entered a big road race and midway through it, I almost got ran over by a guy driving a truck. That I didn’t enjoy. So that’s when I got my first mountain bike, and began riding on trails. That way, if I get hurt, it’s because of something I do, not something someone else does. And since riding, I’ve just met a great group of people, a community of riders, who enjoy getting out in and being active and involved in what
they do. I’ve met people from all over the state, and a lot of guys from out of state. I just enjoy it, and I’m having fun without even noticing that I happen to be exercising.”
Shears: “It all started for me after I was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident when I was in high school — tib fib fractures, ligament tears, the works. And then my parents bought me a mountain bike as a form of rehabilitation. Then, while I was going to OSU, I worked in a local bicycle shop and kept on doing that clear through grad school. Then I kind of got out of it a little bit but about 8 or 10 years ago I started riding again, met some folks, and eventually began doing some races. Now I race all over Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado.”
Reynolds: “It’s a great community of people, mountain bikers. And we’re excited to have so many that will be coming to Ponca City. The folks over at Elk City had their first race, and they had over 150 riders. So we hope to have at least that many. I know there’s a lot of good word of mouth about the trails here, we’ve already had visitors from all over the state, and from other states. There will be racers who will come and pre-ride the course, sometimes several times. They bring their friends, their families. It’s a lot of people who will be spending time in Ponca City. For the race we should see overnight stays, people eating out and buying supplies… and then at the race on Sunday we’ll have a food truck, we’re going to raffle off a mountain bike, there’s custom-made trophies for the racers.. it’s going to be a really big time and I hope our local community of citizens will come out too and see what it’s all about and what we’ve done with the land out there.”