Category Archives: Journeys

Victorian pictorial delights

If I were in London tomorrow night, an event that I’d definitely have on my calendar would be a presentation by two bicycle historians at an Islington bike shop.
The event, called “Hug an Historian: A night of Victorian pictorial delights,” will feature Carlton Reid and David Herlihy, both of whom I’ve written about in this blog.
Herlihy, a friend and author of Bicycle: The History and The Lost Cyclist, is planning to show newly digitized photographs of and by pioneer round-the-world American cyclists Thomas Allen and William Sachtleben.
Hug_an_Historian_posterThe pair embarked on a globe-girdling trip on British “safety” bicycles in 1891, and both figure in The Lost Cyclist, a 2010 book about the search for another round-the-world cyclist, Frank Lenz, who went missing in a turbulent part of eastern Turkey. (See March 26, 2010, blog post, “The search for the lost cyclist.”)
The photos, which David discussed with me during a stay at our house in Fort Worth in March, were scanned from circular Kodak plates that had ended up in the archives of the University of California at Los Angeles. They include images shot by Allen and Sachtleben in Greece, Turkey and Persia.
Reid is author of an upcoming book called Roads Were Not Built for Cars, which tells the story of how bicyclists became a powerful special-interest group in the United States and Britain during that turn-of-the-century period of transition from horse-powered transport to motorized vehicles. (See Feb. 9, 2012, blog post, “How’s that for a thank-you.”)
Reid’s book is due to be published in August after he raised 17,000 pounds sterling (about $25,700) on Kickstarter from more than 600 backers.
So, if you’re lucky enough to be in London Thursday night and have a fancy for bicycles, it would be well worth your while to stop in at the Look Mum No Hands bike shop at has 49 Old St., EC1V 9HX. The program begins at 7 p.m.


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Globe-girdling cyclist honored in hometown, Pittsburgh

I’ve written several times in this blog about Frank Lenz, a round-the-world cyclist who went missing in 1894, and about David V. Herlihy, the author who chronicled Lenz’s ill-fated journey and the quest to find him in a 2010 book The Lost Cyclist.
David, who passed through Fort Worth last month and spent a night at our house, told me of his efforts to have Lenz honored in his hometown, Pittsburgh.

Logo for Lenz's series in Outing magazine

Logo for Lenz’s series in Outing magazine

The other day, he sent me a copy of an informational sign about Lenz that is to be placed on Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Heritage Trail, 24 miles of pedestrian and biking trail along both sides of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers.
“On My 15, 1892, thronged by an adoring public,” the sign says of Lenz, “he left his home on Webster Avenue to circle the globe on a 57-pound Victor ‘safety’ with inflatable tires (the prototype of the present-day bicycle).
“Two years later, after pedaling some 15,000 miles on two continents, he vanished mysteriously in Turkey, just as he was nearing Europe for his last leg. Although his life was cut short, he helped spark a great bicycle boom and to establish the bicycle’s enduring utility and appeal.”
Sign honoring Lenz to be placed on Three Rivers Heritage Trail

Sign honoring Lenz to be placed on Three Rivers Heritage Trail

Another bit of cycling news that emerged from David’s visit:
The man who was dispatched by Outing magazine to find out what had happened to Lenz, the magazine’s correspondent, was Will Sachtleben, who was from Alton, Ill., which is also my hometown.
Sachtleben had already completed a globe-girdling bicycling trip with Thomas Allen Jr., so he was a logical choice to search for Lenz.
During their own trip, Sachtleben and Allen had carried with them a newly introduced Kodak film camera, with which they chronicled their travels.
Allen and Sachtleben in London in 1890

Allen and Sachtleben in London in 1890

Some 400 nitrate negatives that they shot ended up at UCLA, which has been scanning the negatives for eventual publication or display.
David reports that the UCLA technicians have nearly completed the scanning project and that the Hayner Public Library in Alton, which David visited after Fort Worth, “is very keen about putting up an exhibition of the UCLA images.”
I’m hoping to post a selection of the newly scanned images in this blog as soon as they become available.
Stay tuned.


Filed under Americana, Cool stuff, History, Journeys, Travels

That period of autumnal madness

In Texas this Labor Day weekend, we began that season of football frenzy, played out under stadium lights in towns big and small all across the state, from Alpine in the west to Navasota in the east.
I wrote about high school football on this blog in advance of my bicycle ride across the United States in the fall of 2009 because our route across America’s southern tier of states would take us through many of those towns during the height of football season.
Last week, when I was working part-time on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s editorial board as a retired “on call” editor, I had a chance to reprise that 2009 piece on that autumnal period in many a small town where a high school football game is the highlight of the week.
You can read the story that appeared on the Star-Telegram’s op-page on Friday by clicking on the link in this sentence.

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Filed under Americana, Journeys, Texana, Travels

A hometown hero, long forgotten

Little did I know, until I made the acquaintance of author David Herlihy, that one of the pioneers of long-distance bicycling was from my hometown, Alton, Ill.

David Herlihy

Although I fancy myself a history buff, I had never heard of William Sachtleben as I was growing up in Alton, on the Mississippi River just upstream from St. Louis.
Herlihy wrote about Sachtleben in his 2010 book, The Lost Cyclist, which takes its name from the mysterious case of Frank Lenz. Lenz, of Pittsburgh, was bicycling around the world east to west when he went missing in 1894 in a lawless area of eastern Turkey.
Sachtleben, who had just completed a round-the-world cycling trip in the opposite direction with Thomas Allen Jr., was dispatched on an unsuccessful mission to find Lenz by Outing magazine, which had been publishing reports from Lenz on his journey.
Now, Herlihy has written a magazine piece bout the globe-girdling trip of Sachtleben and Allen, fellow graduates of Washington University in St. Louis who became national heroes just as the “golden age” of cycling in America was about to begin.
“The day after graduation, in June 1890, the men boarded a train to New York City, and thence a steamer to Liverpool, England, where they promptly purchased a pair of Singer safeties, with hard tires,” Herlihy writes in the August issue of Washington, the magazine of Washington University.
“They intended merely to spend the summer tooling around the British Isles. But they enjoyed that experience so much that they resolved to continue pedaling eastward, taking ships only when necessary, until they had completed a global circuit.”
The most arduous leg of that trip was the passage across Siberia and northern China, including a trek through the Gobi Desert. The journey was chronicled in their book Across Asia on a Bicycle: The journey of two American students from Constantinople to Peking.
The pair had with them a newly introduced Kodak film camera, with which they chronicled their travels photographically. David said in a message exchange today that UCLA is scanning some 400 nitrate negatives shot by Sachtleben and Allen and hopes to have the results in about a month. I’ll certainly post some of the best.
Sachtleben and Allen, unfortunately, are little remembered today in their hometowns.
Allen, who lived in the St. Louis suburbs of Ferguson and Kirkwood, became an engineer. Sachtleben eventually settled in Houston, where he was the longtime manager of the Majestic Theater.
The house of Sachtleben’s youth still stands in Alton, on the corner of Seventh and Langdon Streets in an old neighborhood dotted with beautifully restored Victorian homes that the town is noted for.
Born in Alton on March 29, 1866, of German parentage, Sachtleben graduated from Alton High School, the cross-town rival of my alma mater, Marquette High School. His house, which I photographed on a recent visit, was only a few blocks from St. Mary’s Catholic Church, which was called “the German church” when my paternal grandparents were married there in 1907.
Both Alton and St. Louis had thriving communities of German immigrants at the time.
Shortly before his death in 1953, Sachtleben paid a visit to his old hometown and stopped in at the Alton Evening Telegraph on Oct. 28, 1952, for a chat with editor Paul Cousley, whose family still owned the newspaper when I worked there part-time as a college student in the 1960s.

The Sachtleben house, Alton, Ill.

“‘I have often thought of Alton,’ the eighty-six-year-old confided to Cousley, Herlihy wrote in the prologue to The Lost Cyclist. ‘Of my loving mother, also born here, who left us children so early in life, and of my self-sacrificing father, who said to me as we walked down the hill to the Chicago & Alton railroad station the day after my graduation from Washington College: “Well, son, stay away until you get your fill.” Added the aged adventurer with a sly smile: ‘I reckon I did just that.’”
In Sachtleben’s youth, the exploits of globe-trotting bicyclists were much like those of pioneer aviators in later generations. They were national figures on a par with a Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart.
But when the aging Sachtleben dropped in to visit Cousley in 1952, he was largely forgotten, even in the town where he was born and raised.
“Time was when Will Sachtleben was a popular hero in Alton, known to everyone,” the editor wrote in his newspaper with a tinge of nostalgia the day after his meeting with Sachtleben. “His fame was nationwide, and wider still, because of his daring deeds.”


Filed under Americana, History, Journeys, Literary musings, Travels

Not for the faint of heart

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — The climb up 14,265-foot Mount Evans on the highest paved road in North America has got to be one of the toughest bike rides in the United States.

At the top of Mount Evans

I drove up Mount Evans on Thursday in my 2000 Subaru Forester and watched in awe as hard-core cyclists chugged up the winding, narrow road chiseled out of the side of the mountain near Idaho Springs.
I gave the cyclists as wide a berth as I could on the road, with its hairpin turns and precipitous drop-offs.
The road, which has no barriers on its outer edge to impede a plunge into oblivion, climbs about 14 miles from Idaho Springs, which is at an altitude of 8,700 feet, to a U.S Forest Service station where cyclists pay a fee of $3 and motor vehicles $10.

John and his bike atop Mount Evans

The first four miles out of Idaho Springs on Colorado 103 are relatively flat, followed by grades of 4 to 6 percent to the Forest Service station.
The next 14 miles from the entrance station to the top is not a journey for the faint of heart — whether on a bicycle or in a car.
The last five miles have grades of 2 to 5 percent, says a website about Mount Evans, but because you are above 12,000 feet it will feel like a 10-15 percent grade to the top. At 14,000 feet, there is one-half the amount of oxygen in the air as at sea level.
At the parking lot just below the summit, which has to be reached on foot, my wife, Mary Ellen, and I talked to a couple of local cyclists who had made it to the top.

Mike and his bike atop Mount Evans

Although it was sunny and warm in Idaho Springs about 5,500 feet below, storm clouds were gathering on Mount Evans, the temperature was in the low 40s and freezing rain called “gropple” was beginning to fall.
Cyclist John, a teacher in the Denver school system, had set out from Denver that morning and rode 65 miles to the summit of Mount Evans. We probably talked longer than we should have because John had to get down off the mountain and back to Denver, making the ride a roundtrip of 130 miles. He later e-mailed to say he had arrived home safely and attached a photo he had taken of me, my wife and our dog, Bailey, at the summit.
The other cyclist, Mike, had set out from Idaho Springs and would finish the day with a total of about 60 miles.

Posing with John’s bike atop Mount Evans

I’ve ridden in the annual Bicycle Tour of Colorado five times and climbed over many of Colorado’s highest passes, but I don’t recall a climb quite as daunting as Mount Evans.
The highest I’ve ever been on a bicycle was 12,095 feet at Independence Pass above Aspen.
So on Thursday I relived my Colorado climbs vicariously through John and Mike and wondered if my aging body would still be up to such a challenge.


Filed under Cool stuff, Journeys, Travels

The sad end of ‘Ollie’s Wild Ride’

I never met Ollie Scheideman. But I admire his spirit and his tenacity. And I’m sorry that he’s no longer with us.
In 2009, the retired dentist from Chico, in northern California, was several weeks into an 82-day cross-country bicycle ride when he crashed on a downhill descent near Rosedale, Va., according to a June 16, 2009, article in the Appeal-Democrat, a newspaper near Scheideman’s hometown.
He spent 12 days in a trauma center for 10 broken ribs, a concussion and a separated right shoulder.

Ollie Scheideman

But for Scheideman, a bicycle ride across the United States would be the fulfillment of a long-held dream. So he was giving it another try this year. He was riding with an Adventure Cycling Association group, which left Williamsburg, Va., on May 21 bound for Florence, Ore.
On June 4, the group was traveling along Kentucky 3445 near Gray Hawk, in Jackson County. Scheideman “sped ahead of the others and crested a hill … when he likely suffered a heart attack that caused him to fall and damage two vertebrae at the base of the neck,” the Chico Enterprise-Record reported.
Scheideman was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in London, Ky., and then flown to the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center in Lexington, where he remained unconscious for three days until he died on June 7 of complications from spinal fractures, said Miles White, chief deputy coroner of Fayette County.
Scheideman, 71, had been a dentist in Yuba City, Calif., for four decades before retiring around 2007.
He had been chronicling his latest effort to bicycle across the United States in a blog called “Ollie’s Wild Ride.” His last post, on June 2, was about a 51-mile ride through a coal-mining area of eastern Kentucky.
The motto on his blog profile is: “Eat, live, love, ride, and give back.” Perhaps another motto, on a “Welcome to Kentucky” sign in a photo from Scheideman’s blog, best sums up his attitude toward life: “Unbridled spirit.”


Filed under Americana, Cycling across America, Journeys, Travels

Two splendid adventures

Some readers of this blog may have noticed an absence of posts from Feb. 10 to March 17. The reason: I was editing a book.
The book isn’t by me or about bicycling. But it has a direct bearing on this blog. It chronicles an adventure that I wrote about in Jim’s Bike Blog several times because it overlapped to some extent with my bicycle ride across the United States in the autumn of 2009, and because it was undertaken by a friend.
The book, by Neal Moore and Cindy Lovell, is about Neal’s solo canoe trip down the Mississippi River, from the headwaters of the river at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to New Orleans.
In the spring of 2009, as I was preparing for my bike trip from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla., my oldest son, Ben, who teaches English in Taiwan, told me of Neal, a fellow teacher who also was planning an extended journey through America.
Two splendid adventures, two unlikely dreams, I thought, coming to fruition at about the same time!
A line from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden has stuck with me since high school: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Thoreau may have overstated the condition of his fellow New Englanders in his musings about a sojourn in a one-room cabin at Walden Pond in Massachusetts from 1845 to 1847.
But it is probably true that relatively few people get to live their dreams, especially if the dream is, in the view of some, a bit eccentric, bizarre or just plain crazy.

The infant Mississippi at the outset of Neal's journey. Photo by Neal Moore

For some, the chance may come late in life, as with my post-retirement bicycle ride across the United States. For others, it comes earlier, as was the case with Neal.
In a succession of emails, Neal told me of his plans to canoe the Mississippi – a journey that he estimated would take about 150 days, from early July to late November or early December of 2009.
I was born and grew up on the Mississippi River, in Alton, Ill., just upstream from St. Louis. My own childhood fantasies about making my way down the river by raft or towboat never materialized. And as I grew older, I came to understand how dangerous the river can be, especially for a traveler in a small craft.
Jonathan Raban, an Englishman who journeyed down the Mississippi in 1980, described some of the dangers in a wonderful book called Old Glory: An American Voyage. I suggested to Neal that he read that book before he set out, thinking — maybe hoping — that he might reconsider.
Even in an aluminum 16-foot motorized johnboat, Raban faced such dangers as severe turbulence caused by the collision of a downstream current with an upstream wind; partially submerged jetties called wing dams that jut out from the banks to guide water into the main channel; waterlogged tree trunks barely floating just below the surface; huge boils, or domes of water, that swell up from the depths of the river; vicious whirlpools that form in eddies at bends in the river; and, of course, the wakes of monster towboats pushing acres of barges loaded with such cargoes as grain, iron ore, coal or gravel.
By comparison, a bicycle ride across the United States seemed like a safe and simple undertaking.
As plans for our adventures progressed, we realized that our journeys would overlap for a time in the fall of 2009. What a bit of serendipity if we should meet!
We began to entertain the fanciful notion that, with the concurrence of the river and road gods, we might cross paths at St. Francisville in southeastern Louisiana.
St. Francisville, a jewel of a town in West Feliciana Parish, was the place where my fellow cyclists and I would cross the Mississippi River on our transcontinental journey along the southern tier of the United States. Neal, of course, would have to paddle past St. Francisville on his way to the Big Easy.
But our rendezvous on the river didn’t take place at the time and place we had hoped for.
When my bicycling companions and I reached the Mississippi on Nov. 4, 2009, Neal was still further up the river in Mississippi doing video stories as an iReporter for CNN and for his blog, Flash River Safari.
We took a ferry across the Mississippi, a major milestone in our cross-country trek. I thought of Neal that day as we waited on the western bank for the ferry to take us across to St. Francisville.
The Mississippi, probably a mile wide at that point, is in the final stages of its 2,300-mile odyssey across the midsection of the United States. It has gathered water from 31 states and two Canadian provinces from the Rockies to the Appalachians, all funneling into feeder rivers along the way – the Wisconsin, the Illinois, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Arkansas and myriad others – and is rushing full bore to the sea.
For good reason, the Mississippi is called the Father of Waters.
After heavy rains upstream, the Mississippi was running high and fast that day, and two men in a canoe were riding the swift current downriver. Their craft seemed so frail on that mighty, mercurial river. I marveled at their skill and courage and was struck anew by the audacity of Neal’s solo journey.

Neal Moore at Tom Sawyer's fence in Hannibal

Although our rendezvous didn’t occur when and where Neal and I had hoped for, when it did happen it was in a town very fitting for two people who have a deep association with and affection for the Mississippi: Hannibal, Mo., Mark Twain’s boyhood home.
The graduation of a family friend from the University of Missouri at Columbia in May 2010 prompted a trip to Missouri. After the graduation, I drove to Hannibal.
Neal had been working on this book in Oxford, Miss., but he had decamped to Hannibal to tap the expertise of Cindy Lovell, executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. Cindy’s main role in the book project was to cull the works of Twain for passages relevant to Neal’s journey and to place them strategically throughout the narrative.
“Dr. Moore, I presume,” I said when I found Neal in the Java Jive coffee shop on Hannibal’s Main Street. He had been hunched over his laptop working on his book amid the couches and easy chairs at the back of the shop.
Through Neal’s good offices and Cindy’s hospitality, I lodged in the Becky Thatcher Room at Cindy’s rambling 1890s home filled with Twain memorabilia.
Cindy, a self-described “Twainiac” with encyclopedic knowledge of Twain and his times, has hung her favorite Twain quote above the door leading from the living room into the kitchen: “Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”
During my brief visit to Hannibal, Neal and I walked along the waterfront as the rising Mississippi, swollen by seasonal flooding, crept up the brick-paved landing where steamboats once put in. We toured Twain’s boyhood home and the nearby home of Tom Blankenship, son of the town drunk and an outcast from polite society who was the model for Huckleberry Finn.
We signed the whitewashed fence immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and talked Twain with museum curator Henry Sweets.

Hannibal ambassador Alex Addison as Tom Sawyer. Photo by Neal Moore

We tramped through the cave where young Sam Clemens played and where Tom and Becky got lost.
That evening, we sat on Cindy’s front porch swapping mostly true tales about our respective adventures, drank some robust but flat stout that I had schlepped in a growler from a brew pub in Columbia and watched as a large, well-fed raccoon repeatedly raided the bowls of food that Cindy had set out for the neighborhood cats.
As the book project progressed, Neal and Cindy asked if I would write the introduction – part of which is recycled for this blog post – and then asked if I would edit the manuscript. I also got to help with the cover design and to edit Neal’s photos for the book.
The book is now in the final stages of publication. It will be the first book published by the Mark Twain Museum Press and is to be launched in Hannibal on July 28.
Neal will soon leave Taiwan for an extended visit to the United States before taking up residence in Cape Town, South Africa. On July 24, he plans to fly from Houston to Dallas, where I will pick up him at Dallas Love Field. After a night in Fort Worth, we plan to drive up to Hannibal for the launch event.
I was proud to be a part of the project and hope the book does well. As I followed Neal’s adventure from inception to completion, I never imagined that I’d have the opportunity to help shape it into a book. Thanks, Neal and Cindy. It’s been a pleasure.


Filed under Americana, Blogging on the road, Cool stuff, Cycling across America, History, Journeys