Rachel Ruhlen and her dad, David Ruhlen, are going on a little bike ride to some of Missouri’s prettiest places.
Throughout May, the Ruhlens will be on a 1,500-mile ride that will take them to 40 state parks. They plan to camp at 34 of the parks, and return to Rachel’s home in Columbia around June 15.
“Missouri has so many parks, and they’re placed so close together, it’s possible to bike from park to park,” Rachel said. “And there’s a certain consistency we can count on, certain amenities we can rely on being there.”
The Ruhlen’s itinerary includes an occasional day of rest, especially after a long’s day ride, to explore the park they are visiting. Many of the parks feature lakes or rivers, and David is packing his foldable fishing rod.
“We want to experience the park, not just sleep in it,” Rachel said.
Both of the Ruhlens are long-distance riders who have trained for the adventure. They plan to post their daily totals on the Governor’s 100 Missouri Miles Challenge at 100missourimiles.com.
Rachel, who will celebrate her 40th birthday during the trip, is a research professor who started biking in 2004 when she and her husband, Iain Davis, became a one-car family.
“I loved biking, and loved not having a car payment, so we never got a second car,” she said. “I started biking whenever I could and lost 25 pounds. I wasn’t on any kind of diet, just biking to work and to do errands.”
In 2009, Rachel biked from Columbia to Omaha, Neb., and back, a total of 744 miles, or about half of the upcoming “40 Missouri State Parks” odyssey. The initial trip was an experience, not all of it good.
“I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “I was trying to do too many miles a day and it was exhausting. I ended up with an injury.”
She had done most of the trip alone, riding and camping solo, and that worried her parents.
“When I announced I was going to bike to the 40 state parks, my dad kind of looked at my mom and went out and bought a bike,” Rachel said. “Some people believe I’m twisting his arm into going, but I’m really not. Dad and I really like to do things that are active.”
Longest Stretch is 70 miles
David Ruhlen, who is 65 and a retired social worker, said he had been looking for ways to exercise. A former jogger, he had given up running because of knee problems and his weight had ballooned to 249 pounds.
“I was carrying at least 70 pounds extra,” he said. “I started biking and in 2011 biked 500 miles across Kansas. It was so much fun, I did it again with Rachel. I’m now down to 191 pounds, and I’ll probably take it down to 180.”
Rachel will blog about the ride as it continues, describing where they are and where they are headed. The two will average about 41.3 miles a day, with their longest stretch a 70-mile stint from Stockton to Bennett Spring state parks.
“The stretch that really worries me is 54 miles from Washington State Park to Onondaga,” she said. “It’s one of those areas in southeast Missouri that is really hilly.”
The public can follow their progress by visiting crazyguyonabike.com. The two are welcoming company along the way.
“Absolutely,” Rachel said. “We would love to have people bike with us, or come to the park and camp with us - especially if they bring food.”
Reservations Suggested in Peak Season
Missouri State Parks offers camping in 40 state parks and historic sites. With almost 3,600 campsites, there is one perfect for everyone, whether you are in a tent or a recreational vehicle.
The park system’s basic camping sites have a parking pad, picnic table, fire ring with grill and lantern post with access to showers and restrooms. Parks also offer sites with electric, electric and water, and electric, water and sewer for recreational vehicles.
Traditional campsites can accommodate up to six people. For those looking for a bit more space, there are 23 parks that offer family campsites. These campsites offer two tables, grills, lantern posts and hookups and can accommodate up to 12 people. Meramec State Park offers camping sites for groups of up to 50 people.
For those wanting a camping experience without bringing a tent, camper cabins are offered at Stockton, Mark Twain, Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Lake Wappapello state parks, and Outpost cabins at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Yurts, which are round frames covered in fabric, are offered at Lake of the Ozarks and Pomme de Terre state parks. These facilities include electricity, heating and cooling as well as access to showers and restrooms.
For campers seeking more privacy, walk-in sites are offered at Cuivre River, Hawn, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Long Branch, Stockton, Taum Sauk Mountain and Wallace state parks.
There are two ways to camp in Missouri state parks. Most campgrounds offer first-come, first-served campsites, or you can reserve a site in advance by taking advantage of the reservation system. During peak season, especially on weekends, reservations are encouraged to make sure you have the campsite you want.
Visit mostateparks.com to learn about the camping amenities at the various parks. Call 877-ICampMo (877-422-6766) or visit the website to make reservations.