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.

Roll, Jordan, Roll

Fine roads continue, and between Gaillon and Vernon one can see the splendid highway, smooth, straight, and broad, stretching ahead for miles between rows of stately poplars, forming magnificent avenues that add not a little to the natural loveliness of the country. Noble chateaus appear here and there, oftentimes situated upon the bluffs of the Seine, and forming the background to a long avenue of chestnuts, maples, or poplars, running at right angles to the main road and principal avenue. The well-known thriftiness of the French peasantry is noticeable on every hand, and particularly away off to the left yonder, where their small, well-cultivated farms make the sloping bluffs resemble huge log-cabin quilts in the distance. Another glaring and unmistakable evidence of the Normandy peasants' thriftiness is the remarkable number of patches they manage to distribute over the surface of their pantaloons, every peasant hereabouts averaging twenty patches, more or less, of all shapes and sizes. When the British or United States Governments impose any additional taxation on the people, the people gruinblingly declare they won't put up with it, and then go ahead and pay it; but when the Chamber of Deputies at Paris turns on the financial thumb-screw a little tighter, the French peasant simply puts yet another patch on the seat of his pantaloons, and smilingly hands over the difference between the patch and the new pair he intended to purchase!

Huge cavalry barracks mark the entrance to Vernon, and, as I watch with interest the manoauvring of the troops going through their morning drill, I cannot help thinking that with such splendid loads as France possesses she might take many a less practical measure for home defence than to mount a few regiments of light infantry on bicycles; infantry travelling toward the front at the late of seventy-five or a hundred miles a day would be something of an improvement, one would naturally think. Every few miles my road leads through the long, straggling street of a village, every building in which is of solid stone, and looks at least a thousand years old; while at many cross-roads among the fields, and in all manner of unexpected nooks and corners of the villages, crucifixes are erected to accommodate the devotionally inclined. Most of the streets of these interior villages are paved with square stones which the wear and tear of centuries have generally rendered too rough for the bicycle; but occasionally one is ridable, and the astonishment of the inhabitants as I wheel leisurely through, whistling the solemn strains of "Roll, Jordan, roll," is really quite amusing. Every village of any size boasts a church that, for fineness of architecture and apparent costliness of construction, looks out of all proportion to the straggling street of shapeless structures that it overtops. Everything here seems built as though intended to last forever, it being no unusual sight to see a ridiculously small piece of ground surrounded by a stone wall built as though to resist a bombardment; an enclosure that must have cost more to erect than fifty crops off the enclosed space could repay. The important town of Mantes is reached early in the evening, and a good inn found for the night.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 12th May 1885 (23:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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