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 Forty-mile Desert

For a short distance, next morning, the road is ridable, but nearing Wadsworth it gets sandy, and "sandy," in Nevada means deep, loose sand, in which one sinks almost to his ankles at every step, and where the possession of a bicycle fails to awaken that degree of enthusiasm that it does on a smooth, hard road. At Wadsworth I have to bid farewell to the Truckee River, and start across the Forty-mile Desert, which lies between the Truckee and Humboldt Rivers. Standing on a sand-hill and looking eastward across the dreary, desolate waste of sand, rocks, and alkali, it is with positive regret that I think of leaving the cool, sparkling stream that has been my almost constant companion for nearly a hundred miles. It has always been at hand to quench my thirst or furnish a refreshing bath. More than once have I beguiled the tedium of some uninteresting part of the journey by racing with some trifling object hurried along on its rippling surface. I shall miss the murmuring music of its dancing waters as one would miss the conversation of a companion.

This Forty-mile Desert is the place that was so much dreaded by the emigrants en route to the gold-fields of California, there being not a blade of grass nor drop of water for the whole forty miles; nothing but a dreary waste of sand and rocks that reflects the heat of the sun, and renders the desert a veritable furnace in midsummer; and the stock of the emigrants, worn out by the long journey from the States, would succumb by the score in crossing. Though much of the trail is totally unfit for cycling, there are occasional alkali flats that are smooth and hard enough to play croquet on; and this afternoon, while riding with careless ease across one of these places, I am struck with the novelty of the situation. I am in the midst of the dreariest, deadest-looking country imaginable. Whirlwinds of sand, looking at a distance like huge columns of smoke, are wandering erratically over the plains in all directions. The blazing sun casts, with startling vividness on the smooth white alkali, that awful scraggy, straggling shadow that, like a vengeful fate, always accompanies the cycler on a sunny day, and which is the bane of a sensitive wheelman's life. The only representative of animated nature hereabouts is a species of small gray lizard that scuttles over the bare ground with astonishing rapidity. Not even a bird is seen in the air. All living things seem instinctively to avoid this dread spot save the lizard. A desert forty miles wide is not a particularly large one; but when one is in the middle of it, it might as well be as extensive as Sahara itself, for anything he can see to the contrary, and away off to the right I behold as perfect a mirage as one could wish to see. A person can scarce help believing his own eyes, and did one not have some knowledge of these strange and wondrous phenomena, one's orbs of vision would indeed open with astonishment; for seemingly but a few miles away is a beautiful lake, whose shores are fringed with wavy foliage, and whose cool waters seem to leave the burning desert sands at its edge.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Friday 02nd May 1884 (16:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Tiny strudel logo strudel.org.uk