New film ‘Relentless Ride’ captures intensity of 1,037-mile Arkansas High Country Race

( Nate Friend)

A new film by two Arkansas filmmakers that documents one of the most grueling endurance races in the world is now available to watch online. That race, as it happens, also takes place right here in the Natural State.

The film, called Relentless Ride documents two years of the Arkansas High Country Race, the 1,037-mile race that makes its way through some of the toughest terrain on gravel roads throughout some of the most remote areas of the state.

The race got its start in 2019 with a course that follows a loop through areas of the northwest corner of the state into west-central Arkansas on roughly half paved and half gravel/dirt surfaces. The idea behind the event is to test the limits of what the human body can endure, and according to the website, less than half of those who start the race are able to finish it.

Local filmmakers Brian Hill and Adam Harbottle of Kombi Creative got the idea for the documentary after the 2020 event. The start line for the race that year had been moved from Little Rock to Fayetteville, and former WorldTour cyclist Ted King entered the field adding intrigue to the event.

“Adam and I are always looking for unique opportunities to use our cameras and see what kind of project comes from it,” Hill said. So Adam came to me and said he either wanted to film the race in 2021 or ride the race. Without hesitation, I knew the people that took on this challenge had to have interesting backstories.”

( Nate Friend)

Relentless Ride follows male and female riders competing in the 2021 race, documenting the athletes before, during, and after the competition. To begin, they contacted race director Chuck Campbell to get his blessing, and to discuss the parameters of dos and don’ts for covering the race. After getting the go-ahead from Craig, they began to seek out athletes to follow.

“With (Campbell’s) blessing and the blessing of Experience Fayetteville, we contacted every athlete that registered via email and asked if we could do a Zoom call with them to learn about their story,” Hill said. “We knew none of the athletes beforehand. Hours and hours of calls later, we started picking up our cameras and traveling to athletes to get their backstories.”

( Nate Friend)

The race itself is brutal. Competitors ride at their own pace over the course of several days, covering as much mileage as they can while also managing their supplies, sleeping when they can wherever they can, often in a ditch on the side of the road for just a few hours at a time.

In addition to those challenges, the course includes over 80,000 feet of climbing on dirt roads, through wooded areas filled with wildlife and the occasional less-than-friendly dog. Wind, rain, storms, and other elements factor in as well. Delirium due to lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, and loneliness also comes into play.

Covering the race was also extremely challenging, Hill said.

Hill and associate producer Nate Friend were in one car, and Harbottle and his (then pregnant) wife Star were in the second vehicle following the riders.

( Nate Friend)

“Each athlete had a GPS tracker that gave us a general idea of where they were located and we did our homework over the course of three months leading up to the race to know where the best intercept points would be located,” Hill said. “But it’s a race. The cyclists wanted to keep moving. So even getting a single shot proved difficult.

“Gas stations, community centers and small town restaurants quickly became our best hope of capturing the story but we went five days with sleeping no more than a few hours each night in our cars on inflatable mattresses,” he said. “The course is a circle and the athletes could choose to go either direction so at any given moment there would be a noteworthy event happening in Marshall, Eureka Springs, Hot Springs or Little Rock all at the same time. We did our best with only two cars.”

One of the central figures in the film, Spencer Ralston, almost didn’t consent to be filmed for the documentary.

“He was coming to town to break the record and didn’t want a film crew ruining it,” HIll said. “He changed his mind before race day but didn’t tell us. After three days of jumping in front of the camera and talking to us nonstop we just kept the cameras rolling and hoped for the best. The film would be nothing without his story.”

The film took a little less than a year to finish. Last month, the final cut premiered at the San Luis Obipso Film Festival in California, and last week, it was placed online for the public to rent for the first time.

“After the festival we decided to release the film to rent through the Vimeo On Demand platform because it is by far the most filmmaker-friendly option in terms of percent paid back to the creator of the content,” Hill said.

Hill and Harbottle self-financed the film through their creative agency, Kombi Creative.

For now, it’s only available via the Vimeo site, but that could change in the future.

“Our goal from here is to continue to learn and explore more distribution options to hopefully reach the broadest audience possible,” Hill said. “We truly believe these cyclist stories will inspire people to want to better themselves.”

Watch the trailer for ‘Relentless Ride’

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit