Back in July, my wife, Robin, and I visited the city of my birth...Cumberland, Maryland...and spent some time riding on the C & O Tow Path. It was a really neat experience. I was born there and grew up thirty miles north in Bedford, Pennsylvania...but the extent of my time in Cumberland was limited to hanging out at the mall when I was a teenager. Robin and I had a great time...riding south out of Cumberland and then turning off of the C & O Tow Path, through Knobley Tunnel...straight into West Virginia and then crossing back into Maryland. Our ride got super nerdy when as we passed the spot of Fort Ohio and Fort Cumberland...both French and Indian War outposts...and then to an old wooden house that served as the headquarters for Colonel George Washington while he was stationed in Cumberland during the French and Indian War. Not far away, on the sight of what was once Fort Cumberland I paused for a photo with a statue of young Washington. It was a great experience...spending time with my wife...exploring new places...riding my bike...and just getting really nerdy.
Riding on the C & O Tow Path in Cumberland, Maryland with Robin. -- July 21, 2020
Knobley Tunnel...the border between Maryland & West Virginia. -- July 21, 2020
Recently, I've been thinking about those two rides in Cumberland with my wife. With the start of the new school year one of first things that I cover with my students is the exploits of young George Washington during the French and Indian War. Between 1754 and 1758, He made three separate journeys from Virginia into the wilderness of what we now call western Pennsylvania...but they then called, the Back Country...surviving harsh and freezing weather, unreliable guides, friendly fire, unpredictable terrain, even falling into the icy Allegheny River. This is not the image that most people have of our first president...but is is who he was....an athletic adventurer who physically was able to tolerate extreme conditions.
|While riding my bike in Cumberland, Maryland I found this ultra cool statue of young George Washington standing at the site of Fort Cumberland. -- July 21, 2020|
Mr. Washington isn't the only leader of the free world who understood the physical and mental benefits of exercise. Thomas Jefferson prescribed to the belief that a "vigorous body helped to create a vigorous mind." Each day, with no concern of the weather, he would walk or ride (a horse...not a bike).
"No less than two hours a day should be devoted to exercise, and the weather should be of little regard."
He actually believed that the colder and wetter the weather was, the better.
"A person not sick will not be injured by getting wet. It is but taking a cold bath, which never gives a cold to anyone. Brute animals are the most healthy, and they are exposed to all weather, and of men, those are healthiest who are the most exposed."
You may think Mr. Jefferson to be a little extreme, but exercise is important...especially if you are the leader of the free world. Here are a few ways that our presidents have kept themselves in shape...both physically and mentally.
President Clinton was an avid jogger. He was often seen jogging around Washington with his Secret Service.
President Trump isn't the only POTUS who finds comfort hitting the links. Golfing was the the activity of choice for President William Howard Taft.
President Eisenhower was also an avid golfer and had a putting green installed on the White House lawn. It has been said that he ordered Secret Service officers to shoot any squirrels that randomly wandered onto the green. There is a similar putting green right next to his farmhouse in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania...complete with a five-star flag. I took this picture on a visit to the Eisenhower National Historic Site. -- September 30, 2017.
Our sixth president, John Q. Adams, loved his daily exercise. He walked almost every day....no matter if it was in Washington, back home in Massachusetts, or while he was ambassador to both Great Britain and Russia. As a member of the Senate (and then later as a member of the House of Representatives) he would compete against himself and time his daily walk from his boarding house to the United States Capitol Building. John Quincy also famously skinny dipped every morning in the Potomac River. What a sight that would be today!
Abraham Lincoln's favorite sport was wrestling. His large, muscular body allowed him to excel at the sport. Lincoln wrestled a style of wrestling known as Catch-As-Catch-Can...where basically ALL holds were permitted.
Gerald Ford attended the University of Michigan and was a stand out on the football team...playing center, linebacker, and long snapper. Ford helped the Michigan Wolverines to two undefeated seasons and national titles in 1932 and 1933. In 1935, after graduating from the University of Michigan, he turned down offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers of the National Football League in order to enroll in Yale Law School. Gerald Ford remained interested in football for the rest of his life.
John F. Kennedy began sailing with his family at a young age. As a racer, John Kennedy won several events...including Nantucket Sound Star Class Championship Cup in 1936, and the MacMillan Cup and East Coast Collegiate Championships in 1938. As president, John F. Kennedy took time to sail in the waters off Hyannis, Palm Beach, and on the Potomac. Sailing proved to be a respite from the heavy burdens of the office of the presidency.
It would be hard for anyone to match the energy and intensity of Theodore Roosevelt. In his youth, Roosevelt was a very sickly child. As a young man he dedicated himself to making his body and mind stronger through intense exercise regiments...ranging from boxing, horseback riding, and hunting. After his presidency, Teddy Roosevelt nearly lost his life on an expedition of the River of Doubt deep in the Amazon basin. The river was eventually renamed Rio Roosevelt in honor of the former president.
Bicycles have a place in presidential history, too. More than one POTUS has been photographed either with, or on, a bike.
Any trip to watch the Washington Nationals play baseball includes an excitement packed presidential race...sometimes even on bicycles!
President Warren G. Harding greeting a group of Boy Scouts who made a bicycle trip to the White House from Columbus, Ohio. -- June 29, 1921
Richard Nixon loved bowling and famously had a bowling alley installed in the White House but as a new Congressman from California he could be seen touring Washington, D.C. on a bicycle.
Jimmy Carter has traveled the world on multiple humanitarian and environmental endeavors in the decades since he left the Oval Office. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't surprise anyone to see former President Carter making his way from point A to point B on a bicycle.
In between movie rolls and serving as the president of the Screen Actor's Guild, future 40th president, Ronald Reagan, could be seen pedaling around California on a tandem bike.
In the 1970s, our 41st President, George H.W. Bush, served as the head of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing, China. He, and his wife, Barbara, were often seen cycling on the streets of Beijing.
Bill Clinton using a bicycle to make his way around the White House.
Barack Obama seems a little more natural on the basketball court and wind sailing than he does on a bike...but it's still ultra cool to see him out there turning pedals!
Our 43rd President, George W. Bush is, like myself, a mountain bike enthusiast! I can remember, during his presidency, riding the trails in Michaux State Forest with my friends and discussing how cool it would be to have the president riding with us...possibly debating the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND law.
I've also tried to imagine what kind of bikes some of our Founding Fathers would have ridden if given chance. The bikes that we ride highlight our needs and personalities. With that in mind here is what I believe Mr. Franklin, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Madison, and Mr. Washington would have ridden if given the chance.
I know...Ben Franklin wasn't a president...but I just had to include him in this list. Benjamin Franklin, the author of POOR RICHARD'S ALMANAC, the inventor of bifocals, and statesman extraordinaire, is best known for his scientific exploits...especially his work with electricity. Considering that he spent the latter part of his life living like a celebrity and being carried around Philadelphia on a sedan chair...I believe the Dr. Franklin, if given the chance, would own and proudly ride an electric assist bike. It's the logical choice.