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.

Little Shanty

I find it occupied. I am all right now for the night. Hold on, though! not so fast. "There is many a slip," etc. The little shanty, with a few acres of rather rocky ground, on the bank of the Truckee, is presided over by a lonely bachelor of German extraction, who eyes me with evident suspicion, as, leaning on my bicycle in front of his rude cabin door I ask to be accommodated for the night. Were it a man on horseback, or a man with a team, this hermit-like rancher could satisfy himself to some extent as to the character of his visitor, for he sees men on horseback or men in wagons, on an average, perhaps, once a week during the summer, and can see plenty of them any day by going to Reno. But me and the bicycle he cannot "size up" so readily. He never saw the like of us before, and we are beyond his Teutonic frontier-like comprehension. He gives us up; he fails to solve the puzzle; he knows not how to unravel the mystery; and, with characteristic Teutonic bluntness, he advises us to push on through fifteen miles of rocks, sand, and darkness, to Wadsworth. The prospect of worrying my way, hungry and weary, through fifteen miles of rough, unknown country, after dark, looms up as rather a formidable task. So summoning my reserve stock of persuasive eloquence, backed up by sundry significant movements, such as setting the bicycle up against his cabin-wall, and sitting down on a block of wood under the window, I finally prevail upon him to accommodate me with a blanket on the floor of the shanty. He has just finished supper, and the remnants of the frugal repast are still on the table; but he says nothing about any supper for me: he scarcely feels satisfied with himself yet: he feels that I have, in some mysterious manner, gained an unfair advantage over him, and obtained a foothold in his shanty against his own wish-jumped his claim, so to speak. Not that I think the man really inhospitable at heart; but he has been so habitually alone, away from his fellowmen so much, that the presence of a stranger in his cabin makes him feel uneasy; and when that stranger is accompanied by a queer-looking piece of machinery that cannot stand alone, but which he nevertheless says he rides on, our lonely rancher is perhaps not so much to be wondered at, after all, for his absent-mindedness in regard to my supper. His mind is occupied with other thoughts. "You couldn't accommodate a fellow with a bite to eat, could you." I timidly venture, after devouring what eatables are in sight, over and over again, with my eyes. "I have plenty of money to pay for any accommodation I get," I think it policy to add, by way of cornering him up and giving him as little chance to refuse as possible, for I am decidedly hungry, and if money or diplomacy, or both, will produce supper, I don't propose to go to bed supperless. I am not much surprised to see him bear out my faith in his innate hospitality by apologizing for not thinking of my supper before, and insisting, against my expressed wishes, on lighting the fire and getting me a warm meal of fried ham and coffee, for which I beg leave to withdraw any unfavorable impressions in regard to him which my previous remarks may possibly have made on the reader's mind.

After supper he thaws out a little, and I wheedle out of him a part of his history. He settled on this spot of semi-cultivable land during the flush times on the Comstock, and used to prosper very well by raising vegetables, with the aid of Truckee-River water, and hauling them to the mining-camps; but the palmy days of the Comstock have departed and with them our lonely rancher's prosperity. Mine host has barely blankets enough for his own narrow bunk, and it is really an act of generosity on his part when he takes a blanket off his bed and invites me to extract what comfort I can get out of it for the night. Snowy mountains are round about, and curled up on the floor of the shanty, like a kitten under a stove in mid-winter, I shiver the long hours away, and endeavor to feel thankful that it is no worse.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 01st May 1884 (22:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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