Saturday, February 1, 2014

Two Wheels North: Bicycling the West Coast in 1909 - Book Review

Two Wheels North: Bicycling the West Coast in 1909Two Wheels North: Bicycling the West Coast in 1909 by Evelyn McDaniel Gibb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a blog about cycling history and although my main interest is the 1890s, this book about two young men traveling up the west coast from Santa Rosa California to Seattle to visit the Alaska-Yukon Exposition in 1909 was both enjoyable to read and informative in its providing some sense of the obstacles to this kind of long distance cycling at that time.

The text is a first-person narrative written by the daughter of one of the two men, based on her father's description of the trip as well as post cards sent both home and to a newspaper that published updates about their travels. This historian's blog post gives a good summary of the book's contents.

As someone interested in cycling history, I was pleased to read a book that included enough description of the bicycle-related aspects of their trip. For example, they paid to have someone weld racks much like those used to hold panniers on cycles today to their bike frames in order to carry some of their baggage - although generally they traveled very light. One understands quickly why their trip was considered so unusual - the road conditions were varied but often very poor, and they ended up walking about 200 of the 1,000 miles they traveled (measured by an odometer fixed to one of the bikes). While there were macadam roads in some towns, most roads were dirt or gravel (which might be rolled gravel which was better but often not) and "corduroy" log roads and even a road made from corn stalks. Long distance travel in this part of the world was supported at this time by the railroads, not the road system.

At first it seemed surprising that they felt pressed for time when they had six weeks to go only 1,000 miles, but this was not a bike trip where there were any 100 mile days, given the road conditions in particular. In addition, they stopped from time to time to take on day jobs to earn more money to continue their trip, since they left with only about five dollars cash - apparently at this time it was generally not a problem to find such work.

One might wonder about the attraction of the Alaska-Yukon Exposition for two fellows in California - apparently the publicity across the U.S. was very well organized, and it was expected to include what would then have been exotic exhibits from Hawaii, Japan, and Alaska (among others). The site of the exhibit and some of the buildings then became the main campus of the University of Washington (where I went to school). A number of photograph books of the exhibit were published and are available today online, such as Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition or this Souvenir Guide for visitors.

View all my cycling book reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment