2017-2: George Washington rides through Traverse City on Michigander Bike Tour, leaves cherry trees standing


By Ron Campbell
July 16, 2017

TRAVERSE CITY — I met George Washington here in Traverse City on the 2017 Michigander Bicycle Tour, and even got the scoop on cherry trees.

Truth be told, our chance meeting in the Grand Traverse County Civic Center parking lot reinforced my belief that the highlight of this annual trail-based ride is not the invigorating bicycling, even though it is fun, readily-accessible exercise on a tour that Bicycling Magazine calls “one of the Top 10 multi-day rides in America.”

It is not the state-of- the-art trails, even though they are part of the Great Lakes State’s nation-leading, non-motorized, interconnected trail network of over 3,000 miles.

It is not even the spectacular scenery along the way, even though this year’s route is taking us through the quintessential Up North vacation spot of Traverse City and the nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which ABC’s “Good Morning America” cited as “the most beautiful place in America.”

The highlight of what most participants — including me, a 20-time veteran — consider a yearly “family reunion on wheels” is the people. Always the incredibly diverse, adventurous, accomplished, live-life-to-the-fullest people who are drawn to this unique, life-affirming event every July.

The salt-and-pepper-haired Detroiter who shares his name with the Father of His Country said he was drawn to the Traverse City-based 2-Day version of this year’s ‘Gander partly because of past visits to the iconic “Up North” town. We became fast friends just minutes after I arrived for the start of the event at the Civic Center on Saturday morning, July 15.

The 59-year-old quality manager for Fiat, Chrysler Automobiles was accompanied on this, his second 2-Day Michigander, by his wife Lanying Brown, 55, a physician at Detroit’s VA Medical Center and their 12-year-old son, Nolan, who will be entering the 7th grade at University Preparatory Science & Math Middle School in Detroit this September.

The irony of meeting George Washington in the resort town known as the Cherry Capital was not lost on me.

“Do you, by any chance, carry a hatchet in your bike bag?” I asked him, desperately trying to be clever. “You cannot tell a lie, George.”

The Michigander’s very own George Washington is a gregarious gentleman, and he handled my silly question with admirable aplomb. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that he didn’t answer it.

“When you grow up with a name like George Washington,” he said, “you can either have fun with it, or you’re constantly fighting.”

Fortunately for me, Washington likes to have fun, and he and his wife and son had a lot of it on the ‘Gander.

“We’re having an absolutely fantastic time,” he told me in the Civic Center parking lot on Saturday night before heading to downtown Traverse City with his family for ice cream at Milk & Honey, a repeat of their Friday night visit, when they also enjoyed dinner at Red Ginger. “This is a very scenic route.”

George, Lanying and Nolan each racked up 26 miles on Saturday, the first day of the 2-Day route, and 16 miles on Sunday. They are casual cyclists, George said, and had “just got their bikes out of the basement” for the first time in four years, specifically to ride the 26th annual Michigander.

“Downtown Traverse City is very nice, very eclectic and has a very hip small-town feel,” said Brown. “We’re building memories for Nolan, trying to inspire him to stay active and appreciate Michigan’s natural beauty. Growing up in the city of Detroit, you don’t really know how pretty Michigan is until you come to the northwest part of the state. Nolan couldn’t believe how clear the water is, riding along the TART trail.”

The family veered off their intended course a bit on Sunday and ending up on the VASA trail — and somehow climbing Bunker Hill.

Which, to me, begged the question: Which is tougher, crossing the Delaware River or riding a bike up that hill?

George Washington didn’t hesitate. “Bunker Hill!” he said, laughing his big, infectious laugh. “But it was easy coming down.”

“He was huffing and puffing when we got to the top of that hill,” added Brown, who rode a folding black Hummer Montague military-grade mountain bike.

I asked Brown, who is no stranger to famous names herself, how she felt after she rolled underneath the “MICHIGANDER XXVI FINISH LINE” banner at the Civic Center on Sunday, completing her second 2-Day version of the tour. It is worth pointing out that the last name of the last name of the Michigander veteran waving checkered flags there is Kennedy, but alas, his first name is not John. (It is, of course, Sam.) That would have been a little too much.

“I feel wonderful,” she said on this picture-prefect sunny, 72-degree day, about ten degrees cooler than Saturday. “I feel good!”

Of course she did. Her father’s name, believe it or not, is James Brown.

“It was a great success,” Michigander Ride Director Mary McGuire-Slevin said of the 2-Day 2017 Michigander, which drew in 875 riders. “Everyone loved Traverse City and their great trail system. We’ll be back here in a few years; it’s a beautiful region.”

The Michigander is run by, and the primary fundraiser for, the Lansing-based, nonprofit Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance (MTGA). The MTGA is an affiliate of the Michigan Fitness Foundation.

Before I bade George and his family farewell, I had to take one more crack at the inevitable question.

“Did you chop down any cherry trees in Traverse City?”

He turned his head both ways to make sure no one was eavesdropping and lowered his voice to a stage whisper.

“Not on this trip,” he said with a sly smile.

— Detroit-based freelance writer and 20-time Michigander veteran Ron Campbell can be reached at roncamp22@wowway.com. To see his articles about past Michiganders, log on to ronsmichiganderblog.wordpress.com.

— For more information about the Michigander Bicycle Tour and Michigan Trails & Greenways Alliance, please log on to michigantrails.org or michigander.bike.


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