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.

Crossing the river

From Battle Mountain my route leads across a low alkali bottom, through which dozens of small streams are flowing to the Humboldt. Many of them are narrow enough to be jumped, but not with a bicycle on one's shoulder, for under such conditions there is always a disagreeable uncertainty that one may disastrously alight before he gets ready. But I am getting tired of partially undressing to ford streams that are little more than ditches, every little way, and so I hit upon the novel plan of using the machine for a vaulting-pole. Beaching it out into the centre of the stream, I place one hand on the head and the other on the saddle, and vault over, retaining my hold as I alight on the opposite shore. Pulling the bicycle out after me, the thing is done. There is no telling to what uses this two-wheeled "creature" could be put in case of necessity. Certainly the inventor never expected it to be used for a vaulting-pole in leaping across streams.

Twenty-five miles east of Battle Mountain the valley of the Humboldt widens into a plain of some size, through which the river meanders with many a horseshoe curve, and maps out the pot-hooks and hangers of our childhood days in mazy profusion. Amid these innumerable curves and counter-curves, clumps of willows and tall blue-joint reed grow thickly, and afford shelter to thousands of pelicans, that here make their homes far from the disturbing presence of man. All unconscious of impending difficulties, I follow the wagon trail leading through this valley until I find myself standing on the edge of the river, ruefully looking around for some avenue by which I can proceed on my way. I am in the bend of a horseshoe curve, and the only way to get out is to retrace my footsteps for several miles, which disagreeable performance I naturally feel somewhat opposed to doing. Casting about me I discover a couple of old fence-posts that have floated down from the Be-o-wa-we settlement above and lodged against the bank. I determine to try and utilize them in getting the machine across the river, which is not over thirty yards wide at this point. Swimming across with my clothes first, I tie the bicycle to the fence-posts, which barely keep it from sinking, and manage to navigate it successfully across. The village of Be-o-wa-we is full of cowboys, who are preparing for the annual spring round-up. Whites, Indians, and Mexicans compose the motley crowd. They look a wild lot, with their bear-skin chaparejos and semi-civilized trappings, galloping to and fro in and about the village. "I can't spare the time, or I would," is my slightly un-truthful answer to an invitation to stop over for the day and have some fun. Briefly told, this latter, with the cowboy, consists in getting hilariously drunk, and then turning his "pop" loose at anything that happens to strike his whiskey-bedevilled fancy as presenting a fitting target. Now a bicycle, above all things, would intrude itself upon the notice of a cowboy on a "tear" as a peculiar and conspicuous object, especially if it had a man on it; so after taking a "smile" with them for good-fellowship, and showing them the modus operandi of riding the wheel, I consider it wise to push on up the valley.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 07th May 1884 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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