With more springlike weather finally reaching much of the United States, the RedState Department of History’s thoughts turn to exercise. Thoughts more than action, but then perhaps that’s due to the effects of a long winter that have given it a bit of a paunch.
One man embarked on one of the most remarkable pieces of exercise in history on this date in 1884, and his feat was truly extraordinary.
His name was Thomas Stevens, and he was the first person to ride a bicycle around the world.
Born in 1854 in England, Stevens started his journey across North America on April 22, 1884. 103 days later, taking 20 days off for bad weather, he arrived in Boston after having to walk about one-third of the distance.
His feat was the more remarkable because he rode what was known as a “penny-farthing” bicycle. You’ve seen pictures of them — they’re the bicycles with the huge front wheel and the tiny back wheel. It was a lot different (naturally) from the bicycles of today, or even of the early 20th Century.
It should be noted that Stevens didn’t really go all the way around the world — what with oceans being what they are and all — but what he actually accomplished was amazing enough.
He cycled across England, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slavonia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey on the first leg of his journey, which took him most of 1885. When he arrived in Constantinople, Stevens got himself a better pistol (there were reports of bandits about) and rested up before moving across Anatolia, Armenia, Kurdistan, Iraq and Iran.
He wintered with the Shah in 1885 before starting out in Spring 1886 only to find he would not be allowed to cycle across Siberia (no great loss, that), causing a change in plans.
When attempting to enter Afghanistan, he was turned back by the police, so Stevens took a steamer southward, eventually cycling across Pakistan and India. He took a steamer around most of Southeast Asia to Hong Kong, where he then rode across southeast China, a daunting task since he rode alone and neither spoke nor understood Chinese.
Stevens eventually wound up cycling across Japan, ending his trip in Yokohama on December 17, 1886 with about 13,500 miles passing beneath his wheels since he had left San Francisco.
Much of Stevens’ journey took place on either primitive roads or places where no roads existed at all – a remarkable feat even in the modern age.
Upon completion of his trip, Stevens compiled his notes into a two-volume book called “Around the World on a Bicycle“. It can be found at the Project Gutenberg e-book website as a free download and as an audio book.
As for Stevens’ bicycle – it was kept until World War II, at which time it donated as part of a scrap metal drive.
After his excursion, Stevens was asked by the New York World to lead a search for East African explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who had not been heard from in thirteen months. Accomplishing that feat, Stevens wrote “Scouting for Stanley in East Africa” to recount his trip, during which he also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Frankly, it’s people like Thomas Stevens who make me realize how little I’ve accomplished! Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread.