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.


Soon after leaving San Pablo the country gets somewhat "choppy," and the road a succession of short-hills, at the bottom of which modest-looking mud-holes patiently await an opportunity to make one's acquaintance, or scraggy-looking, latitudinous washouts are awaiting their chance to commit a murder, or to make the unwary cycler who should venture to "coast," think he had wheeled over the tail of an earthquake. One never minds a hilly road where one can reach the bottom with an impetus that sends him spinning half-way up the next; but where mud-holes or washouts resolutely "hold the fort" in every depression, it is different, and the progress of the cycler is necessarily slow. I have set upon reaching Suisun, a point fifty miles along the Central Pacific Railway, to-night; but the roads after leaving San Pablo are anything but good, and the day is warm, so six P.M. finds me trudging along an unridable piece of road through the low tuile swamps that border Suisun Bay. "Tuile" is the name given to a species of tall rank grass, or rather rush, that grows to the height of eight or ten feet, and so thick in places that it is difficult to pass through, in the low, swampy grounds in this part of California. These tuile swamps are traversed by a net-work of small, sluggish streams and sloughs, that fairly swarm with wild ducks and geese, and justly entitle them to their local title of "the duck-hunters' paradise." Ere I am through this swamp, the shades of night gather ominously around and settle down like a pall over the half-flooded flats; the road is full of mud-holes and pools of water, through which it is difficult to navigate, and I am in something of a quandary. I am sweeping along at the irresistible velocity of a mile an hour, and wondering how far it is to the other end of the swampy road, when thrice welcome succor appears from a strange and altogether unexpected source. I had noticed a small fire, twinkling through the darkness away off in the swamp; and now the wind rises and the flames of the small fire spread to the thick patches of dead tuile. In a short time the whole country, including my road, is lit up by the fierce glare of the blaze; so that I am enabled to proceed with little trouble. These tuiles often catch on fire in the fall and early winter, when everything is comparatively dry, and fairly rival the prairie fires of the Western plains in the fierceness of the flames.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 22nd Apr 1884 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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