From 5th Grade to 50 States: Couple Achieves 70-Year Biking Dream

Posted 02/09/15 by Laura Stark in America's Trails, Trail Use

Jeannette and Jack Ralston after achieving their 50-state biking dream | Photo courtesy Jack Ralston

This story was originally printed in the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of Rails to TrailsAs you’ll soon find out, the Ralstons have truly shared a bike-trail romance of a lifetime. 

Bicycling in every state is an admirable accomplishment for anyone. Meeting that goal at 82 is something really special.

Jeannette Ralston on the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail in Alabama | Photo courtesy Jack Ralston

In a letter that appeared in the Fall 2012 Rails to Trails, octogenarians Jack and Jeannette Ralston shared the news that they achieved their dream of pedaling in all 50 states, and that they’d used Rails to Trails to help find trails for their “cycling the nation” endeavor.

Married 60-plus years, the Kingsport, Tenn., couple met in fifth grade, riding to and from school in a suburb of Chicago. That childhood bike riding made Illinois the first state to be checked off their 50-state list. More than 70 years later, New Mexico became their last, when they rode the Paseo del Bosque Trail, a 16-mile route along the Rio Grande River in Albuquerque. “Once we got Hawaii and Alaska out of the way, the rest was easy!” Jeannette says.

They first got serious about the 50-state plan in 2002, when Jack started keeping track of the trails and states they visited. “I traveled to New England to play golf with my brother,” he says. One of his brother’s ambitions was to golf in every state. “While we were in Vermont, we saw the Burlington trail that runs along Lake Champlain. We thought, ‘We’ve got to come back and do that.’”

Jack Ralston on the Riverfront Trail in Billings, Mont. | Photo courtesy Jack Ralston

Years later, they did ride that trail, called the Island Line Rail Trail, as part of their own “bucket list” goal—riding trails in every state rather than playing golf courses.

“It’s a fun bucket list to have because every state is different,” says Jeannette. Their favorite destination was the Virginia Creeper National Recreation Trail, a 34-mile rail-trail that winds through scenic woodlands and charming towns in southern Virginia. The Ralstons continue to visit the Virginia Creeper several times a year.

Although they’ve both had hip replacements and Jack has had a knee replacement, the Ralstons credit trail riding with keeping them healthy and fit. Jack quips, “We’re bionic now!” Jeannette laughs, and says, “Short of a casket, nothing’s going to stop us!”

“The phone rang right after we got our copy [of the magazine containing the letter],” says Jeannette. The caller was a woman in New Jersey, who said, “My friend and I want to do this, too, and all our friends think we’re crazy.”

Jeannette told her to go for it.

Update - Feb. 13, 2015: We recently heard from Jack and Jeannette, and they're still going strong!  In their words:  85 and still biking!  Way to go, Ralstons.

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