RIDING WITH TWO COULD-BE PRESIDENTS

RIDING WITH TWO COULD-BE PRESIDENTS

Richard J. Cunningham


?OK Mister Vice President,? I laughed, ?you can take your secret servicemen along, but please choose a couple that have some cycling skills.? Al Gore, dressed in a navy blue Fila jogging suit and white cross training shoes, was preparing for a mountain bike ride in the Utah canyon lands to show his support for non-motorized recreational use of the national park system.
?I’d feel a lot better about this mountain bike ride if Governor Bush wasn?t invited,? Al Gore said. He looked somewhat disappointed. ?I don?t want this to turn into an ad-hoc debate over the present administrations land-use policies.?
?No trouble at all, Al,? I said. Just then, Governor George Bush Jr. rode up to the group on a yellow Cannondale Jekyll. ?We are here to ride mountain bikes, not exchange rhetoric, right?? Governor Bush chose traditional cycling gear: Black Azonic Lycra shorts; earth-tone, Nike hiking shoes; and a black T-shirt under a yellow Cannondale sleeveless vest. Both candidates and their bodyguards wore red Specialized helmets–possibly to confuse would-be attackers.
?All right. Lets get this show on the road,? I barked. The logistics of hosting two presidential hopefuls on a mountain bike ride had consumed every drop of patience that I could muster. My day began at 6:30 AM when I met a group of volunteers and secret service personnel at the trailhead to clear the route. The group navigated the loop of double tracks and jeep roads with hand-held GPS units, posting observers at vantage points along the way. The Candidates arrived in military Hummers at about 11.45–almost two hours late. I had no idea if, or how well, the governor of Texas or the vice president could ride a mountain bike. Circumnavigating the eight-mile loop could last an hour, or it might take three. It was almost noon–I was anxious to get moving.
This was not to be a full-blown media event, I was invited as a mountain bike spokesperson: No cameras, video apparatus, or other recording devices… warned the invitation. In the distance, however, you could make out the colored clothing, or catch the reflection of press photographers staked out in the Pinion Pines. I clicked into my spuds as the entourage of about 18 cyclists threaded its way between the wooden posts that marked the beginning of the Kokopelli trail.
Supposedly, the candidates were briefed on mountain bike basics, but it became apparent the moment we hit the first descent that neither had done their homework. Bush was the first to hit the dirt, skidding into a small rut on the far left of the doubletrack. Gore didn?t fare much better. The vice president ham-handed the front brake of his GT i-Drive 1000, washed out his front wheel and piled into a sandy berm.
?Down they go,?I quipped to a female volunteer who was riding alongside me, ?a new crop of foolish bicycle safety legislation is born.?
?Don?t take it so seriously–it’s Jenny,?the middle-aged mountain biker introduced herself, ?they may be stuffy presidential candidates, but there has to be a teenage boy hidden somewhere inside them. It?ll be interesting to see how far they go with this thing.?
?I’m all right everyone.? Al Gore straddled his GT and raised a triumphant fist, ?Lets hit the trail.?
Like all first-timers, the two candidates laughed off their mistakes, fussed with their gears and balked at tiny technical sections that wouldn?t even register on a seasoned mountain biker’s brain waves. We stopped in the shady sandstone cataracts to view Anasazi pictoglyphs of big-horn sheep , stylized human figures and, of course, a self portrait of Kokopelli–the enigmatic native artist who is the trails namesake.
Lunch, if you can believe that you?d have to eat halfway around an eight-mile loop, was served on the edge of a three-hundred-foot cliff, overlooking the emerald-green Colorado River. We expected a couple of boring speeches from the two powerful men over our meal of catered sandwiches, potato salad and sparkling mineral water. Instead, Vice president Gore and Governor Bush were content to hang out, taking in the spectacular view and making small talk with the volunteers. There is something magic about the Southwestern desert landscape that puts the frailty of human existence in its proper perspective.
On the return trip, both the vice president and the governor of Texas had become far better bike handlers. As it usually happens, the group began to rally behind their favorite candidates. Cheering echoed off the red walls when one cleaned a technical section that the other failed to negotiate. Near the rides end, most agreed that George Bush Jr. had the edge over Al Gore in the handling department.
We made better time that I had expected. The grade was mild and when the climb did get steep, both men were more than happy to see that all mountain bikers get off and push every once and a while. The vice president and the governor of Texas made brief thank you speeches, shook everyone’s hand and posed for an official photo. Then, only two hours and twelve minutes after we set off on Kokopellis trail, the candidates and their entourage–were loaded up into the Hummers and gone.
?I wonder if it will make a difference, Jenny?? I asked. ?What do you think??
?Who can say–it’s politics.? She laughed. ?I do know that they?ll be bald-faced liars if they say they didn?t enjoy themselves. You can?t ride a mountain bike in a place like this without having one heck of a good time. Lets go for another lap!?   

 

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