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.

No foine

Spending an hour looking over the magnificent Capitol building at Albany, I cross the Hudson, and proceed to ride eastward between the two tracks of the Boston & Albany Railroad, finding the riding very fair. From the elevated road-bed I cast a longing, lingering look down the Hudson Valley, that stretches away southward like a heaven-born dream, and sigh at the impossibility of going two ways at once. "There's 50 fine for riding a bicycle along the B. & A. Railroad," I am informed at Albany, but risk it to Schodack, where I make inquiries of a section foreman. "No; there's no foine; but av yeez are run over an' git killed, it'll be useless for yeez to inther suit agin the company for damages," is the reassuring reply; and the unpleasant visions of bankrupting fines dissolve in a smile at this characteristic Milesian explanation.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 31st Jul 1884 (17:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Mohawk Valley

At Rome I enter the famous and beautiful Mohawk Valley, a place long looked forward to with much pleasurable anticipation, from having heard so often of its natural beauties and its interesting historical associations. "It's the garden spot of the world; and travellers who have been all over Europe and everywhere, say there's nothing in the world to equal the quiet landscape beauty of the Mohawk Valley," enthusiastically remarks an old gentelman in spectacles, whom I chance to encounter on the heights east of Herkimer. Of the first assertion I have nothing to say, having passed through a dozen "garden spots of the world" on this tour across America; but there is no gainsaying the fact that the Mohawk Valley, as viewed from this vantage spot, is wonderfully beautiful. I think it must have been on this spot that the poet received inspiration to compose the beautiful song that is sung alike in the quiet homes of the valley itself and in the trapper's and hunter's tent on the far off Yellowstone - "Fair is the vale where the Mohawk gently glides, On its clear, shining way to the sea." The valley ia one of the natural gateways of commerce, for, at Little Falls - where it contracts to a mere pass between the hills - one can almost throw a stone across six railway tracks, the Erie Canal and the Mohawk River.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 30th Jul 1884 (14:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Unspeakable mule

Over good roads to Syracuse, and from thence my route leads down the Erie Canal, alternately riding down the canal tow-path, the wagon-roads, and between the tracks of the New York Central Railway. On the former, the greatest drawback to peaceful cycling is the towing-mule and his unwarrantable animosity toward the bicycle, and the awful, unmentionable profanity engendered thereby in the utterances of the boatmen. Sometimes the burden of this sulphurous profanity is aimed at me, sometimes at the inoffensive bicycle, or both of us collectively, but oftener is it directed at the unspeakable mule, who is really the only party to blame. A mule scares, not because he is really afraid, but because he feels skittishly inclined to turn back, or to make trouble between his enemies - the boatmen, his task-master, and the cycler, an intruder on his exclusive domain, the Erie tow-path. A span of mules will pretend to scare, whirl around, and jerk loose from the driver, and go "scooting" back down the tow-path in a manner indicating that nothing less than a stone wall would stop them; but, exactly in the nick of time to prevent the tow-line jerking them sidewise into the canal, they stop. Trust a mule for never losing his head when he runs away, as does his hot-headed relative, the horse; who never once allows surrounding circumstances to occupy his thoughts to an extent detrimental to his own self-preservative interests. The Erie Canal mule's first mission in life is to engender profanity and strife between boatmen and cyclists, and the second is to work and chew hay, which brings him out about even with the world all round.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 28th Jul 1884 (14:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Sparkling stream

"Down a romantic Swiss glen, where scores of sylvan nooks and rippling rills invite one to cast about for fairies and sprites," is the word descriptive of my route from Marcellus next morning. Once again, on nearing the Camillus outlet from the narrow vale, I hear the sound of Sunday bells, and after the church-bell-less Western wilds, it seems to me that their notes have visited me amid beautiful scenes, strangely often of late. Arriving at Camillus, I ask the name of the sparkling little stream that dances along this fairy glen like a child at play, absorbing the sun-rays and coquettishly reflecting them in the faces of the venerable oaks that bend over it like loving guardians protecting it from evil. My ears are prepared to hear a musical Indian name - "Laughing-Waters" at least; but, like a week's washing ruthlessly intruding upon love's young dream, falls on my waiting ears the unpoetic misnomer, "Nine-Mile Creek."

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 27th Jul 1884 (14:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Seneca Falls

Nine o'clock next morning I reach fair Geneva, so beautifully situated on Seneca's silvery lake, passing the State agricultural farm en route; continuing on up the Seneca River, passing-through Waterloo and Seneca Falls to Cayuga, and from thence to Auburn and Skaneateles, where I heave a sigh at the thoughts of leaving the last - I cannot say the loveliest, for all are equally lovely - of that beautiful chain of lakes that transforms this part of New York State into a vast and delightful summer resort.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 26th Jul 1884 (14:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Lost in the darkness

Stopping over night at Le Roy, in company with the president and captain of the LeRoy Club, I visit the State fish-hatchery at Mumford next morning, and ride on through the Genesee Valley, finding fair roads through the valley, though somewhat hilly and stony toward Canandaigua. Inquiring the best road to Geneva I am advised of the superiority of the one leading past the poor-house. Finding them somewhat intricate, and being too super-sensitive to stop people and ask them the road to the poor-house, I deservedly get lost, and am wandering erratically eastward through the darkness, when I fortunately meet a wheelman in a buggy, who directs me to his mother's farm-house near by, with instructions to that most excellent lady to accommodate me for the night.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Friday 25th Jul 1884 (23:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Batavia Wheelmen

Leaving Buffalo next morning I pass through Batavia, where the wheelmen have a most aesthetic little club-room. Besides being jovial and whole-souled fellows, they are awfully aesthetic; and the sweetest little Japanese curios and bric-a-brac decorate the walls and tables.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 24th Jul 1884 (11:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Policeman's Whistle

Leaving the bicycle at "Isham's " - who volunteers some slight repairs - I take a flying visit by rail to see Niagara Falls, returning the same evening to enjoy the proffered hospitality of a genial member of the Buffalo Bicycle Club. Seated on the piazza of his residence, on Delaware Avenue, this evening, the symphonious voice of the club-whistle is cast adrift whenever the glowing orb of a cycle-lamp heaves in sight through the darkness, and several members of the club are thus rounded up and their hearts captured by the witchery of a smile - a " smile" in Buffalo, I hasten to explain, is no kin whatever to a Rocky Mountain "smile" - far be it from it. This club-whistle of the Buffalo Bicycle Club happens to sing the same melodious song as the police - whistle at Washington, D.C.; and the Buffalo cyclers who graced the national league - meet at the Capital with their presence took a folio of club music along. A small but frolicsome party of them on top of the Washington monument, "heaved a sigh" from their whistles, at a comrade passing along the street below, when a corpulent policeman, naturally mistaking it for a signal from a brother "cop," hastened to climb the five hundred feet or thereabouts of ascent up the monument. When he arrived, puffing and perspiring, to the summit, and discovered his mistake, the wheelmen say he made such awful use of the Queen's English that the atmosphere had a blue, sulphurous tinge about it for some time after.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 23rd Jul 1884 (22:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Road-rights

Stopping over night at Angola I proceed to Buffalo next morning, catching the first glimpse of that important "seaport of the lakes," where, fifteen miles across the bay, the wagon-road is almost licked by the swashing waves; and entering the city over a "misfit" plank-road, off which I am almost upset by the most audaciously indifferent woman in the world. A market woman homeward bound with her empty truck-wagon, recognizes my road-rights to the extent of barely room to squeeze past between her wagon and the ditch; and holds her long, stiff buggy-whip so that it "swipes" me viciously across the face, knocks my helmet off into the mud ditch, and well-nigh upsets me into the same. The woman - a crimson-crested blonde - jogs serenely along without even deigning to turn her head.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Wednesday 23rd Jul 1884 (12:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

The Empire State

Twenty-four hours after entering Pennsylvania I make my exit across the boundary into the Empire State. The roads continue good, and after dinner I reach Westfield, six miles from the famous Lake Chautauqua, which beautiful hill and forest embowered sheet of water is popularly believed by many of its numerous local admirers to be the highest navigable lake in the world. If so, however, Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains comes next, as it is about six thousand feet above the level of the sea, and has three steamers plying on its waters. At Fredonia I am shown through the celebrated watch-movement factory here, by the captain of the Fredonia Club, who accompanies me to Silver Creek, where we call on another enthusiastic wheelman - a physician who uses the wheel in preference to a horse, in making professional calls throughout the surround-in' country. Taking supper with the genial "Doc.," they both accompany me to the summit of a steep hill leading up out of the creek bottom. No wheelman has ever yet rode up this hill, save the muscular and gritty captain of the Fredonia Club, though several have attempted the feat. From the top my road ahead is plainly visible for miles, leading through the broad and smiling Cattaraugus Valley that is spread out like a vast garden below, through which Cattaraugus Creek slowly winds its tortuous way.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 22nd Jul 1884 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Passing through Pennsylvania

Near Conneaut I whirl the dust of the Buckeye State from my tire and cross over into Pennsylvania, where, from the little hamlet of Springfield, the roads become good, then better, and finally best at Girard - the home of the veteran showman, Dan Rice, the beautifying works of whose generous hand are everywhere visible in his native town. Splendid is the road and delightful the country coming east from Girard; even the red brick school-houses are embowered amid leafy groves; and so it continues with ever-varying, ever-pleasing beauty to Erie, after which the highway becomes hardly so good.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 21st Jul 1884 (21:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

The Garfield homestead

Following the ridge road leading along the shore of Lake Erie to Buffalo, I ride through a most beautiful farming country, passing through Willoughby and Mentor - Garfield's old home. Splendidly kept roads pass between avenues of stately maples, that cast a grateful shade athwart the highway, both sides of which are lined with magnificent farms, whose fields and meadows fairly groan beneath their wealth of produce, whose fructiferous orchards arc marvels of productiveness, and whose barns and stables would be veritable palaces to the sod-housed homesteaders on Nebraska's frontier prairies. Prominent among them stands the old Garfield homestead - a fine farm of one hundred and sixty-five acres, at present managed by Mrs. Garfield's brother. Smiling villages nestling amid stately groves, rearing white church-spires from out their green, bowery surroundings, dot the low, broad, fertile shore-land to the left; the gleaming waters of Lake Erie here and there glisten like burnished steel through the distant interspaces, and away beyond stretches northward, like a vast mirror, to kiss the blue Canadian skies.

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

Brush with the law

The roads are found rather sandy east of the pike, and the roadful of wagons going to the circus, which exhibits to-day at Norwalk, causes considerable annoyance. Erie County, through which I am now passing, is one of the finest fruit countries in the world, and many of the farmers keep open orchard.

Staying at Ridgeville overnight, I roll into Cleveland, and into the out-stretched arms of a policeman, at 10 o'clock, next morning. "He was violating the city ordinance by riding on the sidewalk," the arresting policeman informs the captain. "Ah! he was, hey!" thunders the captain, in a hoarse, bass voice that causes my knees to knock together with fear and trembling; and the captain's eye seems to look clear through my trembling form. "P-l-e-a-s-e, s-i-r, I d-i-d-n't t-r-y t-o d-o i-t," I falter, in a weak, gasping voice that brings tears to the eyes of the assembled officers and melts the captain's heart, so that he is already wavering between justice and mercy when a local wheelman comes gallantly to the rescue, and explains my natural ignorance of Cleveland's city laws, and I breathe the joyous air of freedom once again.

Three members of the Cleveland Bicycle Club and a visiting wheelman accompany me ten miles out, riding down far-famed Euclid Avenue, and calling at Lake View Cemetery to pay a visit to Garfleld's tomb. I bid them farewell at Euclid village.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 20th Jul 1884 (14:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Buckeye yell

From Napoleon my route leads up the Maumee River and canal, first trying the tow-path of the latter, and then relinquishing it for the very fair wagon-road. The Maumee River, winding through its splendid rich valley, seems to possess a peculiar beauty all its own, and my mind, unbidden, mentally compares it with our old friend, the Humboldt. The latter stream traverses dreary plains, where almost nothing but sagebrush grows; the Maumee waters a smiling valley, where orchards, fields, and meadows alternate with sugar-maple groves, and in its fair bosom reflects beautiful landscape views, that are changed and rebeautified by the master-hand of the sun every hour of the day, and doubly embellished at night by the moon.

It is whispered that during "the late unpleasantness" the Ohio regiments could out-yell the Louisiana tigers, or any other Confederate troops, two to one. Who has not heard the "Ohio yell?" Most people are magnanimously inclined to regard this rumor as simply a "gag" on the Buckeye boys; but it isn't. The Ohioans are to the manner born; the "Buckeye yell" is a tangible fact. All along the Maumee it resounds in my ears; nearly every man or boy, who from the fields, far or near, sees me bowling along the road, straightway delivers himself of a yell, pure and simple. At Perrysburg, I strike the famous "Maumee pike" - forty miles of stone road, almost a dead level. The western half is kept in rather poor repair these days; but from Fremont eastward it is splendid wheeling.

The atmosphere of Bellevue is blue with politics, and myself and another innocent, unsuspecting individual, hailing from New York, are enticed into a political meeting by a wily politician, and dexterously made to pose before the assembled company as two gentlemen who have come - one from the Atlantic, the other from the Pacific - to witness the overwhelming success of the only honest, horny-handed, double-breasted patriots - the... party.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Friday 18th Jul 1884 (22:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Pumpkin cradle

I sup this same evening with a family of Germans, who have been settled here forty years, and scarcely know a word of English yet. A fat, phlegmatic-looking baby is peacefully reposing in a cradle, which is simply half a monster pumpkin scooped out and dried; it is the most intensely rustic cradle in the world. Surely, this youngster's head ought to be level on agricultural affairs, when he grows up, if anybody's ought.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 17th Jul 1884 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Drought in Ohio

At ten o'clock in the morning, July 17th, I bowl across the boundary line into Ohio. Following the Merchants' and Bankers' Telegraph road to Napoleon, I pass through a district where the rain has overlooked them for two months; the rear wheel of the bicycle is half buried in hot dust; the blackberries are dead on the bushes, and the long-suffering corn looks as though afflicted with the yellow jaundice.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Thursday 17th Jul 1884 (10:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Wheeling in the gloaming

At Wawaka I find a corpulent 300-pound cycler, who, being afraid to trust his jumbolean proportions on an ordinary machine, has had an extra stout bone-shaker made to order, and goes out on short runs with a couple of neighbor wheelmen, who, being about fifty per cent, less bulky, ride regulation wheels. "Jumbo" goes all right when mounted, but, being unable to mount without aid, he seldom ventures abroad by himself for fear of having to foot it back. Ninety-five degrees in the shade characterizes the weather these days, and I generally make a few miles in the gloaming - not, of course, because it is cooler, but because the "gloaming" is so delightfully romantic.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 15th Jul 1884 (16:00 +0000) | 1 Comment | Permalink

Goshen

Splendid gravel roads lead from Crum's Point to South Bend, and on through Mishawaka, alternating with sandy stretches to Goshen, which town is said - by the Goshenites - to be the prettiest in Indiana; but there seems to be considerable pride of locality in the great Hoosier State, and I venture there are scores of "prettiest towns in Indiana." Nevertheless, Goshen is certainly a very handsome place, with unusually broad, well-shaded streets; the centre of a magnificent farming country, it is romantically situated on the banks of the beautiful Elkhart River.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 14th Jul 1884 (19:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Cram's Point for breakfast

Traversing several miles of corduroy road, through huckleberry swamps, next morning, I reach Cram's Point for breakfast. A remnant of some Indian tribe still lingers around here and gathers huckleberries for the market, two squaws being in the village purchasing supplies for their camp in the swamps. "What's the name of these Indians here?" I ask.. "One of em's Blinkie, and t'other's Seven-up," is the reply, in a voice that implies such profound knowledge of the subject that I forbear to investigate further.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Monday 14th Jul 1884 (09:00 +0000) | 1 Comment | Permalink

Chesterton

This place is enough to give one the yellow-edged blues: nothing but swamps, sand, sad-eyed turtles, and ruthless, relentless mosquitoes. At Chesterton the roads improve, but still enough sand remains to break the force of headers, which, notwithstanding my long experience on the road, I still manage to execute with undesirable frequency. To-day I take one, and while unravelling myself and congratulating my lucky stars at being in a lonely spot where none can witness my discomfiture, a gruff, sarcastic "haw-haw" falls like a funeral knell on my ear, and a lanky "Hoosier" rides up on a diminutive pumpkin-colored mule that looks a veritable pygmy between his hoop-pole legs. It is but justice to explain that this latter incident did not occur in "Posey County."

At La Porte the roads improve for some distance, but once again I am benighted, and sleep under a wheat-shock.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Sunday 13th Jul 1884 (21:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Lake Michigan

Fifteen miles of good riding and three of tough trundling, through deep sand, brings me into Indiana, which for the first thirty-five miles around the southern shore of Lake Michigan is "simply and solely sand." Finding it next to impossible to traverse the wagon-roads, I trundle around the water's edge, where the sand is firmer because wet. After twenty miles of this I have to shoulder the bicycle and scale the huge sand-dunes that border the lake here, and after wandering for an hour through a bewildering wilderness of swamps, sand-hills, and hickory thickets, I finally reach Miller Station for the night.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Saturday 12th Jul 1884 (20:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Democratic Convention in Chicago

On the morning of July 4th I roll into Chicago, where, having persuaded myself that I deserve a few days' rest, I remain till the Democratic Convention winds up on the 13th.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Friday 04th Jul 1884 (09:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

Mit dot

At Yorkville a stout German, on being informed that I am going to ride to Chicago, replies, "What. Ghigago mit dot. Why, mine dear Yellow, Ghi-gago's more as vorty miles; you gan't ride mit dot to Ghigago;" and the old fellow's eyes fairly bulge with astonishment at the bare idea of riding forty miles "mit dot." I considerately refrain from telling him of my already 2,500-mile jaunt "mit dot," lest an apoplectic fit should waft his Teutonic soul to realms of sauer-kraut bliss and Limburger happiness forever.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Tuesday 01st Jul 1884 (12:00 +0000) | Add a comment | Permalink

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