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.

Railway tracks

So I pull out on Monday morning and take to the railway-track again, which is the only passable road since the tremendous downpour of the last two days.

The first thing I come across is a tunnel burrowing through a hill. This tunnel was originally built the proper size, but, after being walled up, there were indications of a general cave-in; so the company had to go to work and build another thick rock-wall inside the other, which leaves barely room for the trains to pass through without touching the sides. It is anything but an inviting path around the hill; but it is far the safer of the two. Once my foot slips, and I unceremoniously sit down and slide around in the soft yellow clay, in my frantic endeavors to keep from slipping down the hill. This hardly enhances my personal appearance; but it doesn't matter much, as I am where no one can see, and a clay-besmeared individual is worth a dozen dead ones. Soon I am on the track again, briskly trudging up the steep grade toward the snow-line, which I can plainly see, at no great distance ahead, through the windings around the mountains.

All through here the only riding to be done is along occasional short stretches of difficult path beside the track, where it happens to be a hard surface; and on the plank platforms of the stations, where I generally take a turn or two to satisfy the consuming curiosity of the miners, who can't imagine how anybody can ride a thing that won't stand alone; at the same time arguing among themselves as to whether I ride along on one of the rails, or bump along over the protruding ties.

This morning I follow the railway track around the famous "Cape Horn," a place that never fails to photograph itself permanently upon the memory of all who once see it. For scenery that is magnificently grand and picturesque, the view from where the railroad track curves around Cape Horn is probably without a peer on the American continent.

When the Central Pacific Railway company started to grade their road-bed around here, men were first swung over this precipice from above with ropes, until they made standing room for themselves; and then a narrow ledge was cut on the almost perpendicular side of the rocky mountain, around which the railway now winds.

Standing on this ledge, the rocks tower skyward on one side of the track so close as almost to touch the passing train; and on the other is a sheer precipice of two thousand five hundred feet, where one can stand on the edge and see, far below, the north fork of the American River, which looks like a thread of silver laid along the narrow valley, and sends up a far-away, scarcely perceptible roar, as it rushes and rumbles along over its rocky bed. The railroad track is carefully looked after at this point, and I was able, by turning round and taking the down grade, to experience the novelty of a short ride, the memory of which will be ever welcome should one live to be as old as "the oldest inhabitant." The scenery for the next few miles is glorious; the grand and imposing mountains are partially covered with stately pines down to their bases, around which winds the turbulent American River, receiving on its boisterous march down the mountains tribute from hundreds of smaller streams and rivulets, which come splashing and dashing out of the dark canyons and crevasses of the mighty hills.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 28th Apr 1884 (12:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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