Presidential Peddling

Dozens ride in the fourth annual Mount Vernon to Mount Vernon Bike Tour.

October 15, 2009

Bikers riding bikes

By Menachem Wecker

Riding his bicycle back to the Mount Vernon Campus in September, sophomore Cameron Smither, who had just transferred to GW from the University of Louisville, saw someone biking in the other direction. At an event a few weeks later, Mr. Smither met the biker and learned his name was Elan Schnitzer.

Mr. Schnitzer, marketing coordinator for event and special services at Mount Vernon Campus Life, told Mr. Smither about the Mount Vernon to Mount Vernon Bike Tour – a 24-mile ride from GW’s Mount Vernon Campus to George Washington’s estate in Virginia – scheduled for Nov. 7. Mr. Smither remembers promising right then and there that he would attend.

“It’s events like this that not only make the Mount Vernon Campus an awesome and fun community, but also distinguish GW from most other schools around the country,” he says. “Other schools want to involve students too, but here faculty and staff know how to do it well.”

William Gillis was one of the staff members who participated. “The first of two pit stops was right on the approach to National Airport, which offered an amazing panorama of the D.C. cityscape combined with the thrill of being directly beneath the planes as they landed,” says Mr. Gillis, a reference and instruction librarian at Gelman Library. “The entire trail was beautiful, but south of Alexandria we entered the forests along the Potomac that, on such a crisp fall day, were stunning as we rode along under the canopy of different colored leaves.”

The bike tour, Mr. Gillis’ first, also marked the first time he had been to the Mount Vernon estate since he was a child. “I was sad to miss ‘Lady Washington,’ who I heard was doddering around talking to people and answering questions. But there’s always next year!”

Staff member Shaun Calcara recently became a bike officer for the GW Police Department. “I thought this would be a good way to for me to interact with the University’s students and staff in a laid back setting,” he says.

“The ride was a great length: not too short but not so long that when you get to the destination you are too tired to walk around,” he adds. “I thought the scenery along the way couldn’t have been better. You get to see so many fantastic sites that in everyday life can go forgotten when you spend so much time in the city.”

Jacqueline Abdalla, a senior who biked her fourth tour, also cited the tour’s “very scenic route,” as did Jenna Curtis, a junior studying interior design. Ms. Curtis, who has participated in the tour twice before on a borrowed bike, brought her own from Oregon this year.

“Nothing is more satisfying than rolling into the Mount Vernon estate knowing you conquered more than 20 miles on your bike, and that time just flew by,” she says. “Biking down there is a great incentive to stay a little longer and see what it was like to be George Washington. Too bad George never biked up to see our Mount Vernon!”

One of the goals of the tour, beyond providing an enjoyable and healthy activity, is to “connect the University with its namesake,” says Ashley Venneman, student activities coordinator.

This year’s ride was especially poignant because the faculty member who inspired the bike tour, George Stephens, professor of geography and geosciences, died earlier this month. “George loved the Mount Vernon Campus almost as much as he loved nature itself,” says Frederic Siegel, associate vice president and dean of freshmen.

“George always participated in the day and even this year several students asked where he was as the tour kicked off from the Mount Vernon Quad,” Mr. Siegel adds. “I will always remember the contributions of this great faculty member, who defines the word ‘gentleman.’”