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On a Bicycle in Beltsville, Blissfully Unaware

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 12, 2005

When the state of red alert was declared yesterday, the vice president was evacuated from the White House and the first lady was whisked to a secure location. But no precautions were needed for President Bush.

He was out at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Beltsville, riding his bicycle -- at noon on a Wednesday -- blissfully unaware. "The decision was made to inform the president upon conclusion of his bike ride," Bush press secretary Scott McClellan said later.

It was not the first time a crisis has focused uninvited attention on the Bush fitness routine. On a weekday morning in February 2001, when a gun-wielding man was shot outside the White House, it quickly emerged that Vice President Cheney was working in his office, while Bush was exercising in his residence.

Bush opponents have tried -- to no avail -- to profit politically from the president's leisure activities. Anti-Bush filmmaker Michael Moore poked fun at Bush's long vacation in Texas before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and his admonition on the golf course to "watch this drive" after commenting on Middle East violence.

But the president, while scaling back the golf outings, has made little effort to conceal his more cardiovascular activities -- inviting reporters on occasion to go running with him and, after his knees worsened, to go mountain biking.

Bush told Runner's World magazine in 2002 that his running times "have become faster right after the war began." He added: "For me, the psychological benefit is enormous. You tend to forget everything that's going on in your mind and just concentrate on the time, distance or the sweat."

Still, McClellan couched his explanation of Bush's activity yesterday carefully, reminding listeners of Bush's trip to Europe.

"First of all, as you all are aware, the president was off-site, getting in a bike ride after returning from a four-day trip overseas," he said.

The small group of reporters who escorted Bush to Beltsville reported that they heard nothing of the plane scare until after it was over.

In follow-up answers e-mailed to reporters late in the day, McClellan said that Bush's Secret Service detail was informed soon after the incident began but that they chose not to disturb the perspiring president. After an hour and 24 minutes on the trails, Bush went back to work.

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