Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

The beginning

The beauties of nature are scattered with a more lavish hand across the country lying between the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the shores where the surf romps and rolls over the auriferous sands of the Pacific, in Golden Gate Park, than in a journey of the same length in any other part of the world. Such, at least, is the verdict of many whose fortune it has been to traverse that favored stretch of country. Nothing but the limited power of man's eyes prevents him from standing on the top of the mountains and surveying, at a glance, the whole glorious panorama that stretches away for more than two hundred miles to the west, terminating in the gleaming waters of the Pacific Ocean. Could he do this, he would behold, for the first seventy-five or eighty miles, a vast, billowy sea of foot-hills, clothed with forests of sombre pine and bright, evergreen oaks; and, lower down, dense patches of white-blossomed chaparral, looking in the enchanted distance like irregular banks of snow. Then the world-renowned valley of the Sacramento River, with its level plains of dark, rich soil, its matchless fields of ripening grain, traversed here and there by streams that, emerging from the shadowy depths of the foot-hills, wind their way, like gleaming threads of silver, across the fertile plain and join the Sacramento, which receives them, one and all, in her matronly bosom and hurries with them on to the sea.

Towns and villages, with white church-spires, irregularly sprinkled over hill and vale, although sown like seeds from the giant hand of a mighty husbandman, would be seen nestling snugly amid groves of waving shade and semi-tropical fruit trees. Beyond all this the lower coast-range, where, toward San Francisco, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais - grim sentinels of the Golden Gate - rear their shaggy heads skyward, and seem to look down with a patronizing air upon the less pretentious hills that border the coast and reflect their shadows in the blue water of San Francisco Bay. Upon the sloping sides of these hills sweet, nutritious grasses grow, upon which peacefully graze the cows that supply San Francisco with milk and butter.

Various attempts have been made from time to time, by ambitious cyclers, to wheel across America from ocean to ocean; but - "Around the World!"

"The impracticable scheme of a visionary," was the most charitable verdict one could reasonably have expected.

The first essential element of success, however, is to have sufficient confidence in one's self to brave the criticisms - to say nothing of the witticisms - of a sceptical public. So eight o'clock on the morning of April 22, 1884, finds me and my fifty-inch machine on the deck of the Alameda, one of the splendid ferry-boats plying between San Francisco and Oakland, and a ride of four miles over the sparkling waters of the bay lands us, twenty-eight minutes later, on the Oakland pier, that juts far enough out to allow the big ferries to enter the slip in deep water. On the beauties of San Francisco Bay it is, perhaps, needless to dwell, as everybody has heard or read of this magnificent sheet of water, its surface flecked with snowy sails, and surrounded by a beautiful framework of evergreen hills; its only outlet to the ocean the famous Golden Gate - a narrow channel through which come and go the ships of all nations.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 22nd Apr 1884 (08:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Tiny strudel logo strudel.org.uk