Setting off on a bicycle trip

by DRM

These young men are waving goodbye as they start the 1000 mile trek from Pittsburg to New Orleans. They’ll skirt the Allegheny Mountains, pass into Tennessee and pick up the Jackson Military Road for the final 400 mile descent to the Mississippi Delta and the bayous and great swamps surrounding New Orleans.

They are following the inspiration of the Englishman Thomas Stevens, who set out from San Francisco in 1884 on his high bicycle one Spring morning and arrived in Boston four months later. Stevens ended up traveling around the world on his bicycle and writing a book about his travels that described the remarkable beauties, intriguing characters and thrilling dangers that he encountered.

The moon has risen; it is two-thirds full, and a more beautiful sight than the one that now greets my exit from the bunk-house it is scarcely possible to conceive. Only those who have been in this inter-mountain country can have any idea of a glorious moonlight night in the clear atmosphere of this dry, elevated region. It is almost as light as day, and one can see to ride quite well wherever the road is ridable. The pale moon seems to fill the whole broad valley with a flood of soft, silvery light; the peaks of many snowy mountains loom up white and spectral; the stilly air is broken by the excited yelping of a pack of coyotes noisily baying the pale-yellow author of all this loveliness, and the wild, unearthly scream of an unknown bird or animal coming from some mysterious, undefinable quarter completes an ideal Western picture, a poem, a dream, that fully compensates for the discomforts of the preceding hour.

I imagine the young men in the train traveling back to their lives in Pittsburgh. They’ve walked, ridden, been sodden and baked. They’ve experienced the hospitality and hostility of the countryside. In New Orleans, they have sold their bicycles, objects of great curiosity.

Now they are sprawled across the train car, dining sumptuously. The 19th century is drawing to a close. The grand adventures are narrowing. They tell and retell their stories, practice for the dinners and parties across the cold winter months. They will come back with their slice of experience, the sore muscles and edgy frustrations forgotten.