Shakespeare says, in All's Well that Ends Well, that "a good traveller is something at the latter end of a dinner;" and I never was more struck with the truth of this than when I heard Mr. Thomas Stevens, after the dinner given in his honor by the Massachusetts Bicycle Club, make a brief, off-hand report of his adventures. He seemed like Jules Verne, telling his own wonderful performances, or like a contemporary Sinbad the Sailor. We found that modern mechanical invention, instead of disenchanting the universe, had really afforded the means of exploring its marvels the more surely. Instead of going round the world with a rifle, for the purpose of killing something, - or with a bundle of tracts, in order to convert somebody, - this bold youth simply went round the globe to see the people who were on it; and since he always had something to show them as interesting as anything that they could show him, he made his way among all nations.
What he had to show them was not merely a man perched on a lofty wheel, as if riding on a soap-bubble; but he was also a perpetual object-lesson in what Holmes calls "genuine, solid old Teutonic pluck." When the soldier rides into danger he has comrades by his side, his country's cause to defend, his uniform to vindicate, and the bugle to cheer him on; but this solitary rider had neither military station, nor an oath of allegiance, nor comrades, nor bugle; and he went among men of unknown languages, alien habits and hostile faith with only his own tact and courage to help him through. They proved sufficient, for he returned alive.
I have only read specimen chapters of this book, but find in them the same simple and manly quality which attracted us all when Mr. Stevens told his story in person. It is pleasant to know that while peace reigns in America, a young man can always find an opportunity to take his life in his hand and originate some exploit as good as those of the much-wandering Ulysses. In the German story "Titan," Jean Paul describes a manly youth who "longed for an adventure for his idle bravery;" and it is pleasant to read the narrative of one who has quietly gone to work, in an honest way, to satisfy this longing.
THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON.
CAMBRIDGE, MASS., April 10, 1887.
Stevens' Route in California
Baldwin's Hotel and Theatre, San Francisco, California
OVER THE SIERRAS NEVADAS.
The beauties of nature are scattered with a more lavish hand across the country lying between the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the shores where the surf romps and rolls over the auriferous sands of the Pacific, in Golden Gate Park, than in a journey of the same length in any other part of the world.
Such, at least, is the verdict of many whose fortune it has been to traverse that favored stretch of country. Nothing but the limited power of man's eyes prevents him from standing on the top of the mountains and surveying, at a glance, the whole glorious panorama that stretches away for more than two hundred miles to the west, terminating in the gleaming waters of the Pacific Ocean. Could he do this, he would behold, for the first seventy-five or eighty miles, a vast, billowy sea of foot-hills, clothed with forests of sombre pine and bright, evergreen oaks; and, lower down, dense patches of white-blossomed chaparral, looking in the enchanted distance like irregular banks of snow. Then the world-renowned valley of the Sacramento River, with its level plains of dark, rich soil, its matchless fields of ripening grain, traversed here and there by streams that, emerging from the shadowy depths of the foot-hills, wind their way, like gleaming threads of silver, across the fertile plain and join the Sacramento, which receives them, one and all, in her matronly bosom and hurries with them on to the sea.
Towns and villages, with white church-spires, irregularly sprinkled over hill and vale, although sown like seeds from the giant hand of a mighty husbandman, would be seen nestling snugly amid groves of waving shade and semi-tropical fruit trees. Beyond all this the lower coast-range, where, toward San Francisco, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais - grim sentinels of the Golden Gate - rear their shaggy heads skyward, and seem to look down with a patronizing air upon the less pretentious hills that border the coast and reflect their shadows in the blue water of San Francisco Bay. Upon the sloping sides of these hills sweet, nutritious grasses grow, upon which peacefully graze the cows that supply San Francisco with milk and butter.
Various attempts have been made from time to time, by ambitious cyclers, to wheel across America from ocean to ocean; but - "Around the World!"
"The impracticable scheme of a visionary," was the most charitable verdict one could reasonably have expected.
The first essential element of success, however, is to have sufficient confidence in one's self to brave the criticisms - to say nothing of the witticisms - of a sceptical public. So eight o'clock on the morning of April 22, 1884, finds me and my fifty-inch machine on the deck of the Alameda, one of the splendid ferry-boats plying between San Francisco and Oakland, and a ride of four miles over the sparkling waters of the bay lands us, twenty-eight minutes later, on the Oakland pier, that juts far enough out to allow the big ferries to enter the slip in deep water. On the beauties of San Francisco Bay it is, perhaps, needless to dwell, as everybody has heard or read of this magnificent sheet of water, its surface flecked with snowy sails, and surrounded by a beautiful framework of evergreen hills; its only outlet to the ocean the famous Golden Gate - a narrow channel through which come and go the ships of all nations.
With the hearty well-wishing of a small group of Oakland and 'Frisco cyclers who have come, out of curiosity, to see the start, I mount and ride away to the east, down San Pablo Avenue, toward the village of the same Spanish name, some sixteen miles distant. The first seven miles are a sort of half-macadamized road, and I bowl briskly along.
The past winter has been the rainiest since 1857, and the continuous pelting rains had not beaten down upon the last half of this imperfect macadam in vain; for it has left it a surface of wave-like undulations, from out of which the frequent bowlder protrudes its unwelcome head, as if ambitiously striving to soar above its lowly surroundings. But this one don't mind, and I am perfectly willing to put up with the bowlders for the sake of the undulations. The sensation of riding a small boat over "the gently-heaving waves of the murmuring sea" is, I think, one of the pleasures of life; and the next thing to it is riding a bicycle over the last three miles of the San Pablo Avenue macadam as I found it on that April morning.
San Francisco, The Golden Gate
The wave-like macadam abruptly terminates, and I find myself on a common dirt road. It is a fair road, however, and I have plenty of time to look about and admire whatever bits of scenery happen to come in view. There are few spots in the "Golden State" from which views of more or less beauty are not to be obtained; and ere I am a baker's dozen of miles from Oakland pier I find myself within an ace of taking an undesirable header into a ditch of water by the road-side, while looking upon a scene that for the moment completely wins me from my immediate surroundings. There is nothing particularly grand or imposing in the outlook here; but the late rains have clothed the whole smiling face of nature with a bright, refreshing green, that fails not to awaken a thrill of pleasure in the breast of one fresh from the verdureless streets of a large sea- port city. Broad fields of pale-green, thrifty-looking young wheat, and darker-hued meads, stretch away on either side of the road; and away beyond to the left, through an opening in the hills, can be seen, as through a window, the placid waters of the bay, over whose glittering, sunlit surface white-winged, aristocratic yachts and the plebeian smacks of Greek and Italian fishermen swiftly glide, and fairly vie with each other in giving the finishing touches to a picture.
So far, the road continues level and fairly good; and, notwithstanding the seductive pleasures of the ride over the bounding billows of the gently heaving macadam, the dalliance with the scenery, and the all too frequent dismounts in deference to the objections of phantom-eyed roadsters, I pulled up at San Pablo at ten o'clock, having covered the sixteen miles in one hour and thirty-two minutes; though, of course, there is nothing speedy about this - to which desirable qualification, indeed, I lay no claim.
Soon after leaving San Pablo the country gets somewhat "choppy," and the road a succession of short-hills, at the bottom of which modest-looking mud-holes patiently await an opportunity to make one's acquaintance, or scraggy-looking, latitudinous washouts are awaiting their chance to commit a murder, or to make the unwary cycler who should venture to "coast," think he had wheeled over the tail of an earthquake. One never minds a hilly road where one can reach the bottom with an impetus that sends him spinning half-way up the next; but where mud-holes or washouts resolutely "hold the fort" in every depression, it is different, and the progress of the cycler is necessarily slow.
I have set upon reaching Suisun, a point fifty miles along the Central Pacific Railway, to-night; but the roads after leaving San Pablo are anything but good, and the day is warm, so six P.M. finds me trudging along an unridable piece of road through the low tuile swamps that border Suisun Bay. "Tuile" is the name given to a species of tall rank grass, or rather rush, that grows to the height of eight or ten feet, and so thick in places that it is difficult to pass through, in the low, swampy grounds in this part of California. These tuile swamps are traversed by a net-work of small, sluggish streams and sloughs, that fairly swarm with wild ducks and geese, and justly entitle them to their local title of "the duck-hunters' paradise." Ere I am through this swamp, the shades of night gather ominously around and settle down like a pall over the half-flooded flats; the road is full of mud-holes and pools of water, through which it is difficult to navigate, and I am in something of a quandary. I am sweeping along at the irresistible velocity of a mile an hour, and wondering how far it is to the other end of the swampy road, when thrice welcome succor appears from a strange and altogether unexpected source. I had noticed a small fire, twinkling through the darkness away off in the swamp; and now the wind rises and the flames of the small fire spread to the thick patches of dead tuile. In a short time the whole country, including my road, is lit up by the fierce glare of the blaze; so that I am enabled to proceed with little trouble. These tuiles often catch on fire in the fall and early winter, when everything is comparatively dry, and fairly rival the prairie fires of the Western plains in the fierceness of the flames.
The next morning I start off in a drizzling rain, and, after going sixteen miles, I have to remain for the day at Elmira. Here, among other items of interest, I learn that twenty miles farther ahead the Sacramento River is flooding the country, and the only way I can hope to get through is to take to the Central Pacific track and cross over the six miles of open trestle-work that spans the Sacramento River and its broad bottom-lands, that are subject to the annual spring overflow. From Elmira my way leads through a fruit and farming country that is called second to none in the world. Magnificent farms line the road; at short intervals appear large well-kept vineyards, in which gangs of Chinese coolies are hoeing and pulling weeds, and otherwise keeping trim. A profusion of peach, pear, and almond orchards enlivens the landscape with a wealth of pink and white blossoms, and fills the balmy spring air with a subtle, sensuous perfume that savors of a tropical clime.
Already I realize that there is going to be as much "foot-riding" as anything for the first part of my journey; so, while halting for dinner at the village of Davisville, I deliver my rather slight shoes over to the tender mercies of an Irish cobbler of the old school, with carte blanche instructions to fit them out for hard service. While diligently hammering away at the shoes, the old cobbler grows communicative, and in almost unintelligible brogue tells a complicated tale of Irish life, out of which I can make neither head, tail, nor tale; though nodding and assenting to it all, to the great satisfaction of the loquacious manipulator of the last, who in an hour hands over the shoes with the proud assertion, "They'll last yez, be jabbers, to Omaha."
State Capitol, Sacramento, California
Reaching the overflowed country, I have to take to the trestle-work and begin the tedious process of trundling along that aggravating roadway, where, to the music of rushing waters, I have to step from tie to tie, and bump, bump, bump, my machine along for six weary miles. The Sacramento River is the outlet for the tremendous volumes of water caused every spring by the melting snows on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and these long stretches of open trestle have been found necessary to allow the water to pass beneath. Nothing but trains are expected to cross this trestle-work, and of course no provision is made for pedestrians. The engineer of an approaching train sets his locomotive to tooting for all she is worth as he sees a "strayed or stolen" cycler, slowly bumping along ahead of his train. But he has no need to slow up, for occasional cross-beams stick out far enough to admit of standing out of reach, and when he comes up alongside, he and the fireman look out of the window of the cab and see me squatting on the end of one of these handy beams, and letting the bicycle hang over.
That night I stay in Sacramento, the beautiful capital of the Golden State, whose well-shaded streets and blooming, almost tropical gardens combine to form a city of quiet, dignified beauty, of which Californians feel justly proud. Three and a half miles east of Sacramento, the high trestle bridge spanning the main stream of the American River has to be crossed, and from this bridge is obtained a remarkably fine view of the snow-capped Sierras, the great barrier that separates the fertile valleys and glorious climate of California, from the bleak and barren sage-brush plains, rugged mountains, and forbidding wastes of sand and alkali, that, from the summit of the Sierras, stretch away to the eastward for over a thousand miles. The view from the American River bridge is grand and imposing, encompassing the whole foot-hill country, which rolls in broken, irregular billows of forest-crowned hill and charming vale, upward and onward to the east, gradually getting more rugged, rocky, and immense, the hills changing to mountains, the vales to canyons, until they terminate in bald, hoary peaks whose white rugged pinnacles seem to penetrate the sky, and stand out in ghostly, shadowy outline against the azure depths of space beyond.
After crossing the American River the character of the country changes, and I enjoy a ten-mile ride over a fair road, through one of those splendid sheep-ranches that are only found in California, and which have long challenged the admiration of the world. Sixty thousand acres, I am informed, is the extent of this pasture, all within one fence. The soft, velvety greensward is half-shaded by the wide-spreading branches of evergreen oaks that singly and in small groups are scattered at irregular intervals from one end of the pasture to the other, giving it the appearance of one of the old ancestral parks of England. As I bowl pleasantly along I involuntarily look about me, half expecting to see some grand, stately old mansion peeping from among some one of the splendid oak-groves; and when a jack-rabbit hops out and halts at twenty paces from my road, I half hesitate to fire at him, lest the noise of the report should bring out the vigilant and lynx-eyed game-keeper, and get me "summoned" for poaching. I remember the pleasant ten-mile ride through this park-like pasture as one of the brightest spots of the whole journey across America. But "every rose conceals a thorn," and pleasant paths often load astray; when I emerge from the pasture I find myself several miles off the right road and have to make my unhappy way across lots, through numberless gates and small ranches, to the road again.
There seems to be quite a sprinkling of Spanish or Mexican rancheros through here, and after partaking of the welcome noon-tide hospitality of one of the ranches, I find myself, before I realize it, illustrating the bicycle and its uses, to a group of sombrero-decked rancheros and darked-eyed señoritas, by riding the machine round and round on their own ranch-lawn. It is a novel position, to say the least; and often afterward, wending my solitary way across some dreary Nevada desert, with no company but my own uncanny shadow, sharply outlined on the white alkali by the glaring rays of the sun, my untrammelled thoughts would wander back to this scene, and I would grow "hot and cold by turns," in my uncertainty as to whether the bewitching smiles of the señoritas were smiles of admiration, or whether they were simply "grinning" at the figure I cut. While not conscious of having cut a sorrier figure than usual on that occasion, somehow I cannot rid myself of an unhappy, ban- owing suspicion, that the latter comes nearer the truth than the former.