Great Ride, Frenchy

At Camp David there are only three ways to get around: golf carts, bikes or your feet. The bikes are the standard Huffy run-of-the-mill variety, made for flat ground cruising around camp, not climbing mountains. So the naïve yet eager colonel hopped on the Huffy, wearing his running shorts and lacking a bottle of water, and pedaled over to go ride with the man who had his finger on the button.

“Immediately I looked around and noticed they have very different gear than I do,” says L’Heureux, smiling at the memory. “The president walks up to me and says, ‘They call you Frenchy,’ and I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ So he says, ‘Well, I’m gonna call ya Frenchman.’


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Ray L’Heureux. Photo by Nathalie Walker

“Then he looked at my bike and how I was dressed and asked, ‘Have you done this before?’ I told him no, but I was a pretty good athlete, how hard could it be? He just started chuckling and then he put a mouthguard in. I filed that. I was told later that his express intent was to dog me and make me drop.”

The president had converted some of Reagan’s old horseback trails into mountain biking trails, and they were what they call in the biking world “technical trails,” involving lots of maneuvering and maximum effort. He rides with a group assembled from his friends, aides and Secret Service called “Peloton One.” Never before had the president invited along his pilot.

Quickly L’Heureux realized what a mistake he had made, as he was drenched in sweat with no water to replenish himself, his running shorts had turned into saws on his thighs and the chain kept slipping off the gears, causing him to cut up his calves and more than once pitch himself over the handlebars. To a casual onlooker it would have appeared the president was about to accomplish his goal, but that would be selling the Marine colonel short.

“I vowed I was gonna die on that trail before I would give up. I carried that bike up some of the hills,” recalls L’Heureux.

They came to the last stretch: a steep, single-track uphill ride that the president assured him would “work out his quads.” Up they went, the rest of Peloton One on their high-end, carbon fiber framed mountain-eating machines and L’Heureux on his Huffy, and slowly, one by one, the others began to drop out to push their bikes up the hill. Finally, all who were left were the president and L’Heureux.

“He says back to me, ‘Frenchman, you sweating yet?’ and that point I was delirious, and I said, ‘F*** yeah, I’m sweating,'” says L’Heureux, thinking he had just ruined his career by swearing at the president. “I didn’t think he could hear me because he had earbuds in, but you could always tell when he was laughing ’cause he had that chuckle (L’Heureux demonstrates with his shoulders bucking as if he were riding a cantering horse).

“We got to the top, everyone else is pushing their bikes up to them, and the president offers me his camelback (hydration device) to suckle off of, and he looked at me and said, ‘Frenchman, you did pretty good for a piece of s*** bike,’ and he looked at his aides and said, ‘Get him a better bike for next time.'”

That’s just one of the stories you will find in this book, along with a healthy reminder that just because you don’t fulfill your childhood aspirations, it doesn’t mean that your dreams can’t still come true.