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.

Into Nevada

East of the summit is a succession of short tunnels, the space between being covered with snow-shed; and when I came through, the openings and crevices through which the smoke from the engines is wont to make its escape, and through which a few rays of light penetrate the gloomy interior, are blocked up with snow, so that it is both dark and smoky; and groping one's way with a bicycle over the rough surface is anything but pleasant going. But there is nothing so bad, it seems, but that it can get a great deal worse; and before getting far, I hear an approaching train and forthwith proceed to occupy as small an amount of space as possible against the side, while three laboriously puffing engines, tugging a long, heavy freight train up the steep grade, go past. These three puffing, smoke-emitting monsters fill every nook and corner of the tunnel with dense smoke, which creates a darkness by the side of which the natural darkness of the tunnel is daylight in comparison. Here is a darkness that can be felt; I have to grope my way forward, inch by inch; afraid to set my foot down until I have felt the place, for fear of blundering into a culvert; at the same time never knowing whether there is room, just where I am, to get out of the way of a train. A cyclometer wouldn't have to exert itself much through here to keep tally of the revolutions; for, besides advancing with extreme caution, I pause every few steps to listen; as in the oppressive darkness and equally oppressive silence the senses are so keenly on the alert that the gentle rattle of the bicycle over the uneven surface seems to make a noise that would prevent me hearing an approaching train. This finally comes to am end; and at the opening in the sheds I climb up into a pine-tree to obtain a view of Donner Lake, called the "Gem of the Sierras." It is a lovely little lake, and amid the pines, and on its shores occurred one of the most pathetically tragic events of the old emigrant days. Briefly related: A small party of emigrants became snowed in while camped at the lake, and when, toward spring, a rescuing party reached the spot, the last survivor of the party, crazed with the fearful suffering he had under-gone, was sitting on a log, savagely gnawing away at a human arm, the last remnant of his companions in misery, off whose emaciated carcasses he had for some time been living!

My road now follows the course of the Truckee River down the eastern slope of the Sierras, and across the boundary line into Nevada. The Truckee is a rapid, rollicking stream from one end to the other, and affords dam-sites and mill-sites without limit. There is little ridable road down the Truckee canyon; but before reaching "Verdi, a station a few miles over the Nevada line, I find good road, and ride up and dismount at the door of the little hotel as coolly as if I had rode without a dismount all the way from 'Frisco. Here at Verdi is a camp of Washoe Indians, who at once showed their superiority to the Diggers by clustering around and examining; the bicycle with great curiosity. Verdi is less than forty miles from the summit of the Sierras, and from the porch of the hotel I can see the snow-storm still fiercely raging up in the place where I stood a few hours ago; yet one can feel that he is already in a dryer and altogether different climate. The great masses of clouds, travelling inward from the coast with their burdens of moisture, like messengers of peace with presents to a far country, being unable to surmount the great mountain barrier that towers skyward across their path, unload their precious cargoes on the mountains; and the parched plains of Nevada open their thirsty mouths in vain. At Verdi I bid good-by to the Golden State and follow the course of the sparkling Truckee toward the Forty-mile Desert.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 30th Apr 1884 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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