wanderlust is not something i find myself afflicted with. if truth be known, i am more than happy with the roads around the island, even though none provide more than the fleeting challenge of wandering sheep, cattle grids and the occasional gravel deposit. this closet-like manner is only ever of consequence if tied in conversation with a cyclist of far greater international repute and wide-ranging geographical wanderings. otherwise, who's to know?
this insularity, however, is no obstacle to reading books and articles regarding those of a more exploratory nature, for i would imagine that such are aimed at folks just like me. if we were all of this 'i love to go a wandering' state of mind, the impress would be considerably lessened.
with the dawning realisation that the world is becoming an ever smaller place, due in part to the interweb, e-mail, skype and other associated means of communication. it takes mere seconds to find out the nature of events on the other side of the world, and even in the insignificant institution that is thewashingmachinepost, i have been known to carry on complete conversations with folks across the pond over the course of an evening. but in the days long before any such notions; indeed in the days when those opting for the pneumatic tyred safety bicycle over the ordinary or penny farthing, were all but considered heretics, days when little was known about those in the next american state let alone strange countries across the seven seas; even then, there were those afflicted by their own wanderlust.
the motor car was in the very early stages of development, and the bicycle had taken over, in many strains of life, from the horse. its aptitude for carrying its own engine and substantial additional luggage to far flung places, without the need for daily feeding made the bicycle the ideal vehicle on which to explore the world, and there were those eager to take advantage.
william sachtleben, along with a college associate, thomas g allen jr., much taken with the benefits and joys of the safety bicycle, completed a round the world pedal in the year 1893, having gone from west to east over the course of 'a three year, fifteen-thousand-mile romp across europe, asia and north america. the duo had eclipsed an earlier similar journey by thomas stevens atop a high-wheeler. it shows not only the propensity for world exploration of sorts, but the continual rapid development of the bicycle, and the eagerness for which the nouveau cyclist was wont to adopt these changes.
george lenz was one given to the excitement of cycle racing, competing in many races during the late 1880s as a member of the allegheny cyclers; lenz was an aficionado of the high-wheeler and won many events from such altitude, but in the course of his sport, transferred his allegiance to the safety as a more pragmatic alternative. not content with a modicum of success as a racer, frank lenz hoped to distinguish himself further amongst the company of so many others from pennsylvania who had done so before him, though in fields other than that of the bicycle. having read of the exploits of other travellers and explorers in the pages of outing magazine, he resolved to undertake his own circumnavigation of the globe, but conversely to that of sachtleben and allen, his would be from east to west. and in order to make this journey more attractive to potential sponsors, he intended to carry a wood and brass camera, considerably more bulky than the compact digitals of today, to supersede the paintings and drawings of a more recent navigator.
so comprehensive a discourse is that of david v herlihy, author of the award winning bicycle: the history, that i can but offer a brief precis of his work here. lenz never made it home from his cycle trip, perishing under mysterious and unconfirmed circumstances in the region of turkey. it is presumed he was murdered. such an outcry was raised at his disappearance, that his sponsor, james henry worman, owner of outing magazine, was compelled to engage the services of the previously mentioned cycling explorer, will sachtleben, to travel to the area of lenz' disappearance, ascertain just exactly what had happened to him, and hopefully bring home his bones to an ageing and fretting mother.
if you will allow me to place this story in context, these were days of continued unrest in the middle east (nothing much has changed), but also days of incredibly slow communications in comparison with modern times. much was accomplished, if such is an appropriate term, by means of letter; and the written missive most certainly isn't e-mail. the events took place across a number of years at the end of the 19th century, almost 120 years ago, and the lost cyclist is a marvellous testament to not only the research, tenacity and historical skills of mr herlihy, but also to his narrative expertise. for this is one of those can't put it down books that is even more enthralling for its being a true story. granted, the part the bicycle plays in its disbursement is that of supporting act, but the early chapters provide an accurate insight into the last days of the penny-farthing bicycle, its replacement by the pneumatic tyred safety bicycle, and the degree of heretical accusations that accompanied the transition.
it is a book that transcends its subject matter, which we, as insular obsessives, will blinkeredly accept as being that of the bicycle. would it be that we would have it any other way? however, such is not truly the case, and those, such as mrs washingmachinepost, would likely find the narrative just as intriguing and enjoyable. for this, i can only offer my respect to the author.
but, much as i would hate to engender a reputation as a reviewer given to picky trivialities, though i fear this may already be one that has some merit, when recounting the initial cycling explorations of sachtleben and allen across britain and ireland there is this:
'...passing through the famous giant's causeway, where rows of basalt columns meet the north sea...
if mr herlihy will permit just a small criticism of such an extensive work, unless the giant's causeway has been recently moved, that would be the atlantic ocean. the north sea meets scotland's east coast. as i said, a triviality, though perhaps not to those such as myself, who are bordered by the misrepresented body of water.
an important addition to the panoply of cycling literature, both for its historical context, sense of adventure and for being a damn good read.
posted monday 6 september 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................