Birchmore Fred Agnew (w1713)

  • Alias-Pseudonimo-Pseudonyme: -
  • Nationality-Nazionalità-Nationalité: USA
  • Birth/death-Nascita/morte-Naissance/mort: -
  • Means of transport-Mezzo di trasporto-Moyen de transport: Bike, tricycle, Bicicletta, triciclo, Vélo, tricycle
  • Geographical description-Riferimento geografico-Référence géographique: Around the World, Giro del mondo, Tour du monde
  • Internet: Visit Website
  • Additional references-Riferimenti complementari-Références complémentaires: Birchmore F. A., Around the world on a bicycle, Cucumber Island Storytellers, 1996.

Fred Birchmore’s Amazing Bicycle Trip Around the World. The American cyclist crossed paths with Sonja Henje and Adolf Hitler as he transversed the globe on Bucephalus, his trusty bike

Fred Birchmore of Athens, Georgia, belongs to an exclusive club: he’s a round-the-world cyclist. The club’s charter member, Thomas Stevens, pedaled his high-wheeler some 15,000 miles across North America, Europe and Asia between 1884 and 1887. Mark Beaumont of Scotland set the current world record in 2007-08, covering almost 18,300 miles in 194 days and 17 hours.

Birchmore finished his epic two-year, 25,000-mile crossing of Eurasia 75 years ago this October. (North America came later.) And unlike the American Frank Lenz, who became famous after he disappeared in Turkey while trying to top Stevens’ feat in 1894, Birchmore lived to tell of his journey. He will turn 100 on November 29.

Birchmore got his first look at Europe from a bicycle seat in the summer of 1935, shortly after he earned a law degree from the University of Georgia. He was on his way to the University of Cologne to study international law when he stopped in central Germany and bought a bicycle: a one-speed, 42-pound Reinhardt. (It is in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.) He named it Bucephalus, after Alexander the Great’s horse. Before his classes started, he toured northern Europe with a German friend and Italy, France and Britain by himself.

“I had some wonderful experiences that had nothing to do with the bicycle,” Birchmore recalled in a recent interview at Happy Hollow, his Athens home, which he shares with his wife of 72 years, Willa Deane Birchmore. He cited his climb up the Matterhorn, his swim in the Blue Grotto off Capri, and his brush with the Norwegian Olympic skater and future Hollywood actress Sonja Henie. “I just happened to ice skate on the same lake where she practiced,” he said. “Well, I never had skated. I figured, ‘I’m going to break my neck.’ She came over and gave me a few pointers. Beautiful girl.”

Back in Cologne, he attended a student rally—and came face to face with Adolf Hitler. Working up the crowd, Hitler demanded to know if any Americans were present; Birchmore’s friends pushed him forward. “He nearly hit me in the eye with his ‘Heil, Hitler,’ ” the cyclist recalled. “I thought, ‘Why you little.…’ He was wild-eyed, made himself believe he was a gift from the gods.” But Birchmore kept his cool. “I looked over and there were about 25 or 30 brown-shirted guys with bayonets stuck on the end of their rifles. He gave a little speech and tried to convert me then and there.” The Führer failed.

Although he enjoyed a comfortable life as the guest of a prominent local family, Birchmore was increasingly disturbed by Nazi Germany. From his bicycle, he saw firsthand the signs of a growing militarism. “I was constantly passing soldiers, tanks, giant air fleets and artillery,” he wrote in his memoir, Around the World on a Bicycle.

In February 1936, after completing his first semester, Birchmore cycled through Yugoslavia and Greece and sailed to Cairo. After he reached Suez that March, disaster struck: while he slept on a beach, thieves made off with his cash and passport. Birchmore had to sell off some of his few possessions to pay for a third-class train ticket back to Cairo. On board, he marveled at how “great reservoirs of kindness lay hidden even in the hearts of the poorest,” he wrote. “When word passed around that I was not really one of those brain-cracked millionaires, ‘roughing it’ for the novelty, but broke like them, I was immediately showered with sincere sympathies and offers of material gifts.”

Six weeks passed before he received a new passport. He had already missed the start of the new semester. Having little incentive to return to Cologne, he decided to keep going east as far as his bike would take him. He set off for Damascus and then on to Baghdad, crossing the scorching Syrian desert in six days.

By the time he reached Tehran, he was in a bad way. An American missionary, William Miller, was shocked to find the young cyclist at the mission’s hospital, a gigantic boil on his leg. “He had lived on chocolate and had eaten no proper food so as not to make his load too heavy,” Miller marveled in his memoir, My Persian Pilgrimage. “I brought him to my house. What luxury it was to him to be able to sleep in a bed again! And when we gave him some spinach for dinner he said it was the most delicious food he had ever tasted. To the children of the mission, Fred was a great hero.”

In Afghanistan Birchmore traversed 500 rugged miles, from Herat to Bamian to Kabul, on a course largely of his own charting. Once he had to track down a village blacksmith to repair a broken pedal. “Occasionally, he passed caravans of city merchants, guarded front and rear by armed soldiers,” National Geographic would report. “Signs of automobile tire treads in the sands mystified him, until he observed that many of the shoes were soled with pieces of old rubber tires.”

While traveling along the Grand Trunk Road in India, Birchmore was struck by the number of 100-year-olds he encountered. “No wonder Indians who escape cholera and tuberculosis live so long,” he wrote. “They eat sparingly only twice a day and average fifteen hours of sleep.” (He added: “Americans eat too much, sleep too little, work too hard, and travel too fast to live to a ripe old age.”)

Birchmore’s travails culminated that summer in the dense jungles of Southeast Asia, where he tangled with tigers and cobras and came away with a hide from each species. But a mosquito got the better of him: after collapsing in the jungle, he awoke to find himself abed with a malarial fever in a Catholic missionary hospital in the village of Moglin, Burma.

After riding through Thailand and Vietnam, Birchman boarded on a rice boat to Manila with Bucephalus in tow. In early September, he set sail for San Pedro, California, aboard the SS Hanover. He expected to cycle the 3,000 miles back home to Athens, but he found his anxious parents on the dock to greet him. He and Bucephalus returned to Georgia in the family station wagon.

Nevertheless, Birchmore looked back on his trip with supreme satisfaction, feeling enriched by his exposure to so many people and lands. “Surely one can love his own country without becoming hopelessly lost in an all-consuming flame of narrow-minded nationalism,” he wrote.

Still restless, Birchmore had a hard time concentrating on legal matters. In 1939, he took a 12,000-mile bicycle tour around North America with a pal. He married Willa Deane later that year, and they honeymooned aboard a tandem bike, covering 4,500 miles in Latin America. After serving as a Navy gunner in World War II, he opened a real estate agency. He and Willa Deane raised four children, and he immersed himself in community affairs.

After he retired, in 1973, he embarked on a 4,000-mile bicycle ride through Europe with Danny, the youngest of his children. Two years later, they hiked the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail. While in his 70s, he hand-built a massive stone wall around Happy Hollow. He cycled into his 90s, and he still rides a stationary bike at the local Y. A few years ago, he told a journalist, “For me, the great purposes in life are to have as many adventures as possible, to brighten the lives of as many as possible, and to leave this old world a little bit better place.”


Bird Isabella Lucy (w1714)

  • Alias-Pseudonimo-Pseudonyme: -
  • Nationality-Nazionalità-Nationalité: UK, Inglese, Anglais
  • Birth/death-Nascita/morte-Naissance/mort: 1831-1904
  • Means of transport-Mezzo di trasporto-Moyen de transport: Various, Diversi, Différents
  • Geographical description-Riferimento geografico-Référence géographique: Various, Diversi, Différents
  • Internet: Visit Website
  • Wikidata: Visit Website
  • Additional references-Riferimenti complementari-Références complémentaires: Bird I., Isabella Bird, Una lady nel West : tra pionieri, serpenti e banditi sulle Montagne Rocciose, EDT, 1998. Scatamacchia C., Nellie Bly: Un'avventurosa giornalista e viaggiatrice americana dell'Ottocento, Perugia : Morlacchi Editore, 2002.

Life of a Victorian adventuress: Incredible story of clergyman's daughter who braved malaria, floods and wars to trek across China
At a time when few women would leave their houses alone, Isabella Bird braved war, floods and male scorn to complete arduous solo journeys in America and the Far East.
From 1894 to 1897 the Victorian explorer trekked across China while it was with war with Japan, documenting the lives of the men and women she met through detailed written accounts and a collection of vivid photographs.
Some of her incredible journeys, published in her 1899 work in The Yangtze and Beyond, are now the subject of a new book by Deborah Ireland.
'She was the most incredible woman, and a true role model for women today,' Ireland told MailOnline Travel.
'Isabella didn't become famous as a travel writer until she was 44 - at that time women just didn't have careers as writers. And it wasn't until she was 60 that she discovered photography. She broke the mould.'
In her book, Ireland charts Bird's three years spent travelling in China and reprints her stunning photographs of Chinese daily life gradually being infiltrated by European clothing and customs.
Isabella Bird turned to writing as a way to make money for her and her unmarried sister
Born in 1831 the daughter of a clergyman, as Ireland writes: 'The adventuress who travelled and rode in all weathers, exploring remote and dangerous regions, was writing about a life in sharp contrast to the one originally envisaged for her.'
The intrepid Yorkshire woman started writing in 1854 when she travelled to America to mend a broken heart. But it wasn't until 1875 that she found fame with an account of her experiences in Hawaii.
Bird was on her way home from an ill-fated trip to Australia when she fell in love with the islands. She initially wrote extensive accounts of her escapades to her sister, and decided that writing would provide a much-needed income for the unmarried pair.
On her return, Bird embarked on her publishing career and her candid accounts of her travel became instant bes-sellers, and she hasn't been out of print since.
Ireland writes: 'As a respected international traveller her views were sought by prime ministers, ambassadors and the newspaper men of the day.
'Her books were engaging, accessible and entertaining and she opened up a world of travel to the armchair explorer.'
Despite saying she was too old for arduous journeys, Bird travelled 8,000 miles during an extended trip to China, travelling on horseback and in carts, by boat and in a sedan chair, using her newly acquired camera and photographic skills to document her journey.
She traversed the country, from Hangchow (Hangzhou) to Hong Kong and from one end of the River Yangtze to the other as well as venturing into Korea and Japan.
In 1894 she set off from Liverpool to the Far East unaware she was travelling into the First Sino-Japanese War between China and Japan over control of Korea.
She was deported from Korea on a Japanese steamer with no money and luggage and only the clothes on her back and was forced to take refuge in China.
There she experienced a flood on the Manchurian Plain and risked her life helping drowning villagers in terrific storms before succumbing to malaria. She then broke her arm when the cart she was travelling in overturned just miles from the house of the missionary who was to take her in.
Confined to the town of Mukden (Shenyang) by her injuries, she spent time getting to know the missionary doctors and photographing their patients, many of whom suffered from leprosy or the effects of opium addiction.
Her photographs of this time show pagodas and palaces as well as the mean back streets and the ravaged faces of disese sufferers.
While travelling in the Chinese interior she managed to avoid the plagues of rats and other vermin by suspending her clothes and boots on the tripod of her camera.
She adopted Chinese dress as the tight fitting, tailored clothes she was used to were considered offensive by the local population.
However she did not quite escape the curiosity or hostility of the locals who were not used to seeing a foreigner, let alone a foreign woman, travelling.
Ireland writes: 'Overnight halts were a problem because of the stir she created by her arrival. This could range from curiosity to extreme hostility – from holes drilled through the walls of her room followed by whispering and giggling, to a full-blown riot with shouts of "Foreign devil", "Child eater".'
She also received the scorn of her countrymen, with archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard writing to her publisher's son: 'I must say I think the woman must be devoid of all delicacy and modesty who could travel as she did, without a female attendant among a crowd of dirty Persian muleteers and others.'
However Bird's account of her travels was hailed by one reviewer at the time as 'one of the most thoroughly documented accounts of late nineteenth century China ever written.'
In response to Sir Austen criticism, Ireland writes: 'Not bad for an account of a journey "undertaken for recreation an interest solely" or "but to satisfy her curiosity and love of travel".'
And what about Bird's legacy? 'Never give up! And don't think you're ever too old to do anything,' Ireland tells us. 'If you want, it's possible to have a new career at 60. She certainly did.'



Birtles Francis Edwin (w1716)

  • Alias-Pseudonimo-Pseudonyme: -
  • Nationality-Nazionalità-Nationalité: Australia
  • Birth/death-Nascita/morte-Naissance/mort: 1881-1941
  • Means of transport-Mezzo di trasporto-Moyen de transport: Various, Diversi, Différents
  • Geographical description-Riferimento geografico-Référence géographique: Around the World, Giro del mondo, Tour du monde
  • Internet: Visit Website
  • Wikidata: Visit Website


Across Australia Records

Perth > Melbourne       
1937; Hubert Opperman: 11 giorni

Perth > Sydney
1896; Arthur Richardson: 31 giorni
1899; Donald Mackay: 40 giorni
1911; Francis Birtles: 31 giorni
1937; Hubert Opperman: 13 giorni
1981; Gabrielle Smith: 84 giorni

Around Australia       
Febbraio 1900; Arthur Richardson: 243 giorni
Marzo 1900; Donald Mackay: 240 giorni

Bisland Wetmore Elizabeth (w1717)

  • Alias-Pseudonimo-Pseudonyme: B.L.R. Dane
  • Nationality-Nazionalità-Nationalité: USA
  • Birth/death-Nascita/morte-Naissance/mort: 1861-1929
  • Means of transport-Mezzo di trasporto-Moyen de transport: Various, Diversi, Différents
  • Geographical description-Riferimento geografico-Référence géographique: Around the World, Giro del mondo, Tour du monde
  • Internet: Visit Website
  • Wikidata: Visit Website
  • Additional references-Riferimenti complementari-Références complémentaires: Bisland E., A Flying Trip Around The World, 1891. Marks J., Around the World in 72 Days: The race between Pulitzer's Nellie Bly and Cosmopolitan's Elizabeth Bisland, Gemittarius Press, 1993.

A Flying Trip around the world

IF, on the 13th of November, 1889, some amateur prophet had foretold that I should spend Christmas Day of that year in the Indian Ocean, I hope I should not by any open and insulting incredulity have added new burdens to the trials of a hard-working soothsayer – I hope I should, with the gentleness due a severe case of aberrated predictiveness, have merely called his attention to that passage in the Koran in which it is written, "The Lord loveth a cheerful liar" – and bid him go in peace. Yet I did spend the 25th day of December steaming through the waters that wash the shores of the Indian Empire, and did do other things equally preposterous, of which I would not have believed myself capable if forewarned of them. I can only claim in excuse that these vagaries were unpremeditated, for the prophets neglected their opportunity and I received no augury.

On the 14th of November of the aforementioned year, I was awakened at eight o'clock as usual by the maid with the breakfast tray – which also contained the morning papers and a neat pile of notes and letters. Among these latter were acceptances of invitations I had sent to half a dozen agreeable folk to come and drink five-o'clock tea with me on the 15th, the usual communications from one's friends on casual subjects; an invitation to dinner; a bill; and a notice from my tailor that I might some time during the day have the final fitting of a gown in process of construction. All as pleasantly commonplace as the most mild-mannered individual could expect or desire.

I read the papers leisurely, made a calm and uneventful toilet, and the very first intimation I received of the coming thunderbolt out of the serene sky of my existence was a hurried and mysterious request, at half-past ten o'clock, that I would come as soon as possible to the office of the magazine of which I was one of the editors. My appetite for mystery at that hour of the day is always lamentably feeble, and it was nearly eleven before I found time to go and investigate this one, although the office in question was only a few minutes' walk from my residence. On arriving, the editor and owner of the magazine asked if I would leave New York that evening for San Francisco and continue from there around the world, endeavoring to complete the journey in some absurdly inadequate space of time.

If my appetite for mystery at that hour is not strong, my appetite at eleven in the morning for even the most excruciatingly funny jokes may be said to actually not exist, and this one, I remember, bored me more than most. But in the course of half an hour I had become convinced that the editor really wished me to make the attempt, and I had earnestly endeavored to convince him that I meant to do nothing of the sort. To begin with, I didn't wish to. In the second place, guests were coming to my house to tea on the following day; thirdly, I was not prepared in the matter of appropriate garments for such an abrupt departure, and lastly, but most weightily, I foresaw the notoriety that an effort to outdo the feat of Jules Verne's hero was likely to bring upon me, and to this notoriety I most earnestly objected. Though for some years I had been more or less connected with journalism, I had appeared in the papers only as the contributor of unsigned articles, and the amount of distress I experienced when I first saw my name in a head line was so far beyond even my anticipations that I then and there registered a vow – Throughout this voyage I had cause to owe much gratitude to journalists for all manner of aid and civility, but I resolved in the future to so endeavor to conduct myself that they would never have reason to put my name in a head line again.

The editor and I having passed the better part of an hour going over this matter, substantial arguments were finally advanced by him which persuaded me to make the experiment of lowering the circumnavigatory record. I then took a cab and drove to my tailor for the appointed fitting and for a vigorous interview in which he was ultimately convinced that I could wear that gown at six o'clock in the evening.

The next few hours were busy ones.

To the masculine mind there appears to be something strangely exhilarating in the thought of a woman being abruptly torn from her home without sufficient time to put her wardrobe in order, and to all the men responsible for this voyage the most delightful feature apparently of the whole affair was the fact that I should be forced to get ready in five hours for a seventy-five days' voyage around the world. – Why this should be so a woman cannot easily divine. It fails utterly to appeal to her sense of humor. It is one of those hopeless warps in the male mind that my sex no longer attempt to comprehend or to straighten, and, finding it incurable, have learned to bear with and ignore it as far as possible.

I finally managed to get all absolute necessaries of travel into a good-sized steamer trunk, a large Gladstone bag and a shawl-strap, but found, by experience, that my progress would have been in no degree retarded, and my comfort and happiness far better served, by carrying a second and larger box with everything I could possibly have required. I managed the trip on two cloth gowns, half a dozen light bodices, and an evening silk, but might quite as well have carried my entire winter and a large part of my summer wardrobe. Happily I took the precaution of carrying plenty of pins and hair-pins. I had had some previous experience with their vicious ways, and well knew that in critical moments in foreign parts they would get up playful little games of hide-and-seek that would tend to undermine my temper, and the only sure preventive was to have geologic layers of them all through the trunk, so that a shaft might be hastily sunk through one's belongings at any moment with a serene certainty of striking rich deposits of both necessities of female existence.

. . . To wake up in the morning to one's usual daily duties and find one's self at night voyaging round the world is an experience calculated to surprise even a mind as composed as that of Pet Marjorie's historically placid fowl; and looking back now over the time of my departure I find that, though to outward seeming I also was
". . . most exceeding ca'm,"
in reality I was practically stupefied with astonishment for at least two days.

I remember thinking rapidly on all manner of subjects; telling myself warningly that it would not do to forget anything or make any mistakes, as they could not be rectified. . . . I remember thinking that my new gown fitted very well, and that, though my face was drawn and white with the excitement and fatigues of the day, my new hat was distinctly becoming. . . . Then there were cabs and hurry – kisses – last directions – the bumping of the box on the stair – a big bunch of pink roses (which I felt was a nice complimentary touch to my travelling ensemble) – everybody talking at once and giving different advice and directions – the glare of lights – the coffin-like smell of a sleeping-car – and I was off for seventy-five days' travel round the globe.

. . . Then no more distinct impressions until Chicago suddenly steps across my twenty-five-thousand-mile path and it is necessary to change cars.

. . . Even this is vague. I remember that through some mistake there was no one there to meet me as had been arranged – that I wandered about a vast, gloomy, and rather empty station in the care of a friendly conductor – that I sat on a high stool at a counter and quenched internal cravings, caused by lack of dinner, with tea and ham; every mouthful regarded with wan interest by the person who officiated in the echoing lunch hall – that the conductor having bidden me a commiserating adieu, I slid away into the night, very homesick, very cross, and haunted by the bitterest suspicions of the happy results of a tea-and-ham dinner.

But with that night's sleep I slept away my stupefaction of amazement, and awoke at daybreak in my right mind, and, pulling up my window curtain, found the sun almost ready to rise.

I have never permitted a vulgar familiarity to dull my keen delight in the ever-varying pageant of the breaking of day; so that, consequently, on the rare occasions when I assist at this function, my pleasure has all the enthusiasm of novelty.

Now the lifted curtain showed me a New Jerusalem. . . . As if to one who should rise to pray at the moment when God gave his great daily fiat of "Let there be light," there should be vouchsafed a white, luminous foreshadowing of that which it hath not entered into the heart of man to understand. . . . Not the strangely narrow and urban vision of Patmos; no streets or walls, but a limitless Land of Pearl!

. . . Soft undulations, full and tender as the bosom of a sleeping mother, rose and fell far beyond the eye's reach, and melted into the sky. No tree or thicket broke the suave outlines, but where the thin silver veins of the streams slipped through the curves of the plain, slim, leafless willows hung, like glistening fringes. . . . In the night a hoar frost had fallen that was to snow as sleep is to death; and the pale reaped fields, the sere meadows, and silent uplands were transfigured by the first gleam of day to a mystery and glory of silver and pearl. As the light grew, nacreous tints of milky blue and rose flushed the argent pallor of the land, and when the yellow disk rolled up over the horizon's edge I travelled for some brief space in a world of intolerable splendor, where innumerable billions of frost crystals flashed back to the sun the reflection of his shining face. Even the engine-driver was moved, I fancy, by this marvellous morning vision, for though we were far from any stopping-place, there suddenly thrilled through the silence a long, keen, triumphant blast, and we trailed as we flew floating golden plumes of steam. . . .

As I passed in my swift circle about the great ball plunging along its planetary paths, many mighty and glorious visions of the coming and passing of light were revealed to me; but none more fair than this with that radiance of youth, whose vast, sweet nature-shadow and simulacrum the dawning is. . . . Eternally renewed, through all ages. . . still, with the white peace of innocence . . . joyous in unwasted strength and untried powers . . . rosy with promise and potentialities, gilding all the commonplaceness of the landscape with golden glamours and fantasies . . . an Eden created out of the hollow void of night, in which to rest for one dewy, enchanted moment of purity and love before the sun with his flaming sword drives us forth to the toil and heat of the day!

. . . In developing my mental Kodak roll after returning, I found that during this period of the journey most of the views are landscapes, seeing that I was afflicted with peculiarly uninteresting fellow-travellers who made poor subjects for snap shots. Across the aisle from me was a pair of ancient little lovers who numbered some hundred or more years between them, I fancy. They had nested long since; all their fledglings were flown, and, left alone together once more, they were on their way to Los Angeles to spend a second honeymoon among the winter orange blossoms: a pretty pale afterglow of love. But though their quaint, antiquated billing and cooing was a pleasing enough thing to watch, it is notorious that even in these second bridal journeys the outsider is very much outside, and I was driven back perforce to my window.

. . . "A perfect day," the record says. . . . More undulant fields clothed in the yellow stubble of the gathered harvest. Here and there black loam broken for winter sowing – a square of jet set in the pale amber – and over all a faint, turquoise sky. . . .

That night we were in Council Bluffs, Omaha, and by chance got passage on the new fast mail-train, which had been put on as an experiment in time across the continent, and was carrying but one sleeper and the General Manager's private car.

The pace was tremendous from the start. . . . We began to climb the Great Divide. Trees and shrubs grew rare and more rare, and finally vanished altogether.

. . . Great gray plains lay all about us, covered thinly with a withered, ashen-colored plant; the bitter results of an unequal struggle for existence, and strangely resembling in miniature the gnarled, writhen cedars that cling to wind-scourged coasts. Settlements were few and far between. Scrawny horses picked up a scant living in the desolate upland meadows; and an occasional yellow cur that came out and barked at us as we went by was the only other form of animal life to be seen. From time to time we passed a dwelling, a square cabin of gray unpainted boards, always tightly closed and the dwellers always absent somewhere on business. The only distinct proof I ever saw of the human habitance of these silent, lonely homes was a tiny pair of butternut trousers fluttering on the clothes-line. The minute American citizen who should have occupied these trousers was invisible, and I greatly fear they were perhaps his only pair.

. . . We climbed and climbed; always at tremendous speed, and always the land growing more desolate, and wildly drear, like the cursed site of some prehistoric Sodom, sown with salt. The air shone with a luminous clearness undreamable in coast countries, and at night the stars were huge and fierce: not the soft-gleaming palpitant planets of tropic nights, but keen and scintillant as swords. . . . There was something hideous and brutal in the doom laid upon this unhappy territory, as of a Prometheus chained on the mountain-tops; its blood dried to dust in its veins, and lifting a scarred face of gray despair to the rainless sky.

From time to time we crossed a feeble, trickling stream; but no verdure marked the course of its waters bitter and fruitless as tears. During the night our way lay through that still more desolate portion of this dry region named, with simple and expressive literalness, the Bad Lands; and here again I saw a most wonderful coming of the light. The moon, wan with the dawn, hung directly in the zenith, and on the eastern rim of the ghostly gray plain, under the quivering jewel of the morning star, burned the first vague flush of day. Slowly a dusky amethyst radiance filled the sapphire bowl of the sky, quenching the stars one by one as it rose, and when the sun showed over the world's edge the cup was brimmed, and the pale moon shone faintly in its depths, like the drowned pearl of the Egyptian queen. There was no eye but mine to see, yet in the midst of unpeopled desolation the majestic ceremonies of the sky were fulfilled with the same slow pomp and splendor as if all the worshippers of the Sun knelt in awed wonder to see the Bridegroom come forth of his chamber.

. . . Our speed through this part of the country was terrible. Five hours away from Ogden we were two hours and a half behind the time set for our arrival there. Some three quarters of a million hung upon our arriving promptly and getting the track clear for ourselves beyond, not to mention many other important considerations that could scarcely be reckoned in figures; for a great government contract for mails would be either lost or won by morning. A certain engineer, whose name was Foley – or words to that effect – was telegraphed to meet us at the next stop. He was a gentleman of Irish extraction who labored under an entire absence of physical timidity, and who remarked with jovial determination, as he climbed into the cab, that he would "get us to Ogden – or hell, on time." Several times during that five hours' ride the betting stood ten to one on the latter goal, and Hades was hot favorite. The grade at this part of the road has a descent of 93 feet in a mile, and the track corkscrewed through gorges and cañons with but small margin between us and destruction. To these considerations Mr. Foley was cheerfully indifferent, and pulling out the throttle he let the engine have her head at the rate of sixty-five miles an hour. The train rocked like a ship at sea, and sleepers held to their berths in terror, the more nervous actually succumbing to mal de mer. The plunge of the engine, that now and again whimpered affrightedly in the darkness, could be felt through the whole train, as one feels beneath one the fierce play of the loins of a runaway horse. From the rear car the tracks were two lines of fire in the night. The telegraph pole reeled backwards from our course and the land fled from under us with horrible nightmare weirdness. The officers of the train became alarmed and ordered speed slackened; but Mr. Foley, consulting his watch, regretted with great firmness that he could not oblige them. One man rolled in an anguish of terror on the floor; and the General Manager, engaged in a late game of whist, regarding the sufferer with sympathetic interest as he took the odd trick with the thirteenth trump, remarked that it was such episodes as this in American life that made us a nation of youthful gray-heads.

We arrived in Ogden on time.

Mr. Foley dismounted with alacrity from his cab, remarked that these night rides were prone to give a man cold, and went in pursuit of an antidote behind a swinging Venetian door on the corner, and we saw him no more.

From here the vast, desolate uplands, 8000 feet high in the keen dry air, showed no further sign of human habitation between the stations, and were ornamented only with the frequent jack rabbit, the occasional coyote, and now and then an arrangement of tepees. Indians crowded about the train at every stop; those of the female sex who were blessed with offspring permitting us to view the living contents of the corded parcels they carried on their backs in exchange for small current coin. The pappoose, I discovered, is the original Baby Bunting. He slumbers with stoical composure in a nest of rabbit skins – presumably those for which "papa went a-hunting" – that line a portable wooden cradle into which he is strapped, and from which, I am told, he rarely emerges during infancy. The girls and boys from six to sixteen I found very pretty, with smooth red skins, glittering teeth and eyes, and black Vandyked locks. Those whom years had overtaken were indescribably wrinkled and parched. Old squaws squatted in the dust huddled in blankets, and were as impassive as ancient worm-eaten idols. A coin dropped into their hands brought a mumble and a glance from their rusted eyes; but indifference did not wound them, neither did the fast train or any of its passengers excite their curiosity – the vagaries of the white man were so numerous that nervous prostration would be a sure consequence of any attempt to interest themselves in his doings, and peace and composure lay only in entirely ignoring him.

All through this country the air had a delicious dry perfume, like the smell of parching vegetation, that was stimulating and wholesome as the resinous incense of pines.

The night before reaching San Francisco we found our first trees again, at a little wayside eating station, where a long row of poplars stood up stiffly in the dusk near our path, and a tiny fountain plashed with an enchanting, cool melodiousness. . . . The air was soft and spring-like and the moist darkness pleasant with a smell as of white clover. It could not, of course, in November, have been really the sweet early flowers of the grass, yet I know nothing else that gives out the same clean, delicate perfume; nor can I guess from what that pure vernal fragrance did arise, that was like the first breath from a promised land after long wandering in a country of wilderness and drought.

Sacramento stopped us for a moment at daylight, and here we found rich, juicy verdure, watery marshes, and the first outer edges of that yellow wave from China which has broken upon the Pacific coasts. Still there were no trees. Only grassy, rounded hills, with white sea-mists trailing among them. A country much like that about Newport, but without that icy breath always in the air of the upper Atlantic coast. There was a certain genial tenderness in this atmosphere that even in the hottest day of August the eastern coast never knows.

. . . At fifteen minutes past nine the nose of the ferry-boat from Oakland touches the San Francisco wharf. We have crossed the continent in four days and twenty hours – thanks to Mr. Foley – and the distance between New York and the Western metropolis is reduced by a whole day. A great achievement! There are crowds of reporters waiting to interview everybody; General Manager, engineer, conductor – even me. We splash cheerfully through the warm rain and oozing mud – the wet season began two days ago – with pleased faces that our tremendous journey is over, walking with free strides and swinging arms because of the long, cramping confinement.

To my eyes, accustomed to the soaring loftiness of New York architecture, this city seems astonishly low. Three or four stories at the most the average is. Because of earthquake they say; but latterly these have almost entirely ceased to occur, as if the land had grown to realize that civilization would not tolerate such impulsive ways, and had gradually abandoned them shamefacedly, as being in extremely bad taste. Consequently a few of the more recent buildings have begun to climb, Babel-like, into the dripping skies.

One gets a remarkable impression of newness here such as a Londoner might on his first landing in New York. Every one tells you, "I have been here a year – six months – three months – three years." One begins to believe that no one was ever born here. All the buildings look new and fresh, and the whole atmosphere of the place is charged with a vigorous, disrespectful sort of youth.

The city, or at least the Spanish part of it, was founded in the year of the Declaration of Independence, but the American town is only forty or fifty years old. The hotel at which I stop was erected in 1875. It is a huge caravansary, built around a square and enclosing a vast asphalted court adorned with palms and ferns. There is an arcade within this court where the typical American hotel frequenter tips back his chair, reads the papers, and smokes. On the outer side of the arcade are shops of every description, so that one may purchase all the ordinary needs of life without leaving one's lodging-place.

I find here that my progress must be arrested for two days, as the arrangements for hurrying the departure of the ship have fallen through; and I do not altogether grieve, for this tremendous pace for thousands of miles across the country has told upon my nerves to an absurd degree, and I wonder, as I shiver with exhaustion and tremble with nameless, undefined apprehensions, how the coming generation that is to travel a hundred and a hundred and fifty miles an hour will bear the strain of it. Some process of adaption to a nerve-destroying environment will take place doubtless, humanity being so elastic in such matters.

Meantime there is some space to investigate this first one of the many great cities I must pass through. The editors of the San Francisco "Examiner," who have shown me every courtesy from the moment of my arrival, invite me to luncheon at the Cliff House, which stands on the very western edge of the continent, upon one of the pillars of the Golden Gate.

There is still a soft, warm rain falling when we start. Roses climb around the porches of the residences and hang heavy-drenched blossoms amid their shining wet leaves, perfuming the damp city streets with delicious garden odors. Should I shut my eyes to the hills I mount and descend, the warmth, the humidity, and the rose odors would make me believe myself in New Orleans again. . . . In that far distant city I might be going on just such an expedition as this to Spanish Fort on the Lakeside. It gives me a sense of nostalgia, not for the people and city I have but just left, but for an earlier home, where I would have found just such carelessly happy geniality as among these witty, good-looking men who regard the delays of a train with amiable indifference, and see their day slip from them with the carelessness of a spendthrift.

The train crawls along the edge of the harbor shut in between the grassy, treeless hills. We wind around their flanks in perilous fashion for some space, for the harbor juts deeply into the land, and as we cling to their steep sides we hear the waves dashing beneath. There is a sudden turn at last, and before us lies spread the Western Ocean! . . . There is a joyous shock of astonishment in the sight. . . . A sense of discovery, of splendid vastness, of a rich new experience seized and dominated. For one keen instant not he who stood
"Silent upon a peak in Darien"
felt a more magnificent dilation of spirit than I.

We lunch, jovially and sumptuously, upon the sea's edge. Already the day is declining as we finish. The rain has ceased, and in the west the curtain of cloud lifts. On a balcony that overhangs the water we watch the sunset. Three great crags stand up sharply two hundred yards away – Seal Rocks – covered with grumbling, barking sea lions, the city's pets, whom the law protects. They look much like fat pigs from this distance. At the last moment the sun flames out gloriously; reddens all the heavens, and gilds a rippling road for me across the waterly world I must traverse. It is a sign of promise, they tell me.

The ride home in the cable car is a curious experience. The streets are of the most astonishing steepness still, though millions have been spend in grading the hills. On each of the cars is a small open space in front where one may sit if one likes and enjoy the sensation of plunging down the most startling inclines and yet see the car stop short at perilous points to allow a traveller to leisurely dismount. The road leads past the famous Nob Hill, where the bonanza kings have their residences – huge wooden palaces of the most rococo designs. It is said that these half-dozen residences cost $9,000,000 to build. James C. Flood's house is of brown stone, the only dwelling of that material in the state, all of the stone having been imported from the East at prodigious expense. One of these palaces – the property of a bonanza relict – is of a curious lead color, which, with its overwhelmingly ornate decorations, gives it an odd resemblance to a gigantic hot-air stove.

There were beautiful public gardens, great public buildings, and many relics of the ancient Spanish domination to be seen in this charming city, but my flight was too rapid to pause for these. That night I saw the quarter known locally as China Town, peeped into some of the huge, splendid theatres and restaurants, and then, at three o'clock the next day, set sail for Japan.

Blais Killian (w1718)

  • Alias-Pseudonimo-Pseudonyme: -
  • Nationality-Nazionalità-Nationalité: France, Francia
  • Birth/death-Nascita/morte-Naissance/mort: -
  • Means of transport-Mezzo di trasporto-Moyen de transport: On foot, A piedi, A pied
  • Geographical description-Riferimento geografico-Référence géographique: Around the World, Giro del mondo, Tour du monde
  • Internet: Visit Website

Two Frenchmen quit the rat race for a life-changing global trek

Around the world in six interesting years.

If you happen to see two backpack-toting white men doing some serious walking, chances are they are the globe-trotting French guys who have been walking for the past six years in a journey of a lifetime through many countries that has now brought them to Malaysia.

Killian Blais, 30, and Thierry Montaner, 37, were complete strangers who first set out on this adventure not knowing what to expect – except for their shared idea of a world walk. They are not the first people to embark on such an epic journey. But to walk – and stick together over the past six years through thick and thin – is quite a sensational feat in itself.

It’s been 16 countries and counting, through a host of cities and countless streets since they took off from the town of Valence, France, in mid-2008. Among countries they have set foot in are Italy, Croatia, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, China, Vietnam, and Thailand.

They had originally embarked as a team of eight – six men and two women – reveals Blais in an e-mail interview.

“None of us knew each other prior to the trip; we had met online through forums and social networking. The idea (to do this walk) eventually brewed among our group, and it took us about a year to plan for the trip,” he recalls.

Romance on the road

“We determined the best route and itinerary based on factors like visas, security, climate conditions and everyone’s interests. In the few months leading up to the trip, we organised a test trek in the French Alps during winter, as the tough surroundings would enable us to learn more about each other and see who was really motivated to do the trip,” says Blais. (At the time of writing, they had passed Teluk Intan, Perak.)

He reveals that love found its way into the team, as the two women quickly formed romantic bonds with two other men. Four months into the walk, the two couples eventually headed off in their own direction via hitchhiking.

Around the same time, another guy headed back home as planned, which left them with a party of three. After the first year of travelling, another fellow decided to continue alone and is currently living in South America – that makes Blais and Montaner the two remaining members today.

“The experience from these six years of walking has been invaluable! Walking was a way for us to slow down our daily pace, in an age and society where we are always competing either to be the fastest or the first,” shares Blais.

“It feels like we are always running out of time, and that time is taking and leading us in a way that we are living an autopilot mode, forbidding us to think and gain control of ourselves again. Philosophical this may be, but walking has helped us see the world in a genuine experience like no other and enabled us to inspect the world and reflect upon it.

“The memories we have built are things we will always treasure, though of course, there are other aspects that we miss during our time away like our family and friends, French food, and women,” he adds in jest.

Back home, he works as a computer programmer while Montaner is a theatre technician. The long working hours and time spent inside public transportation (over 10 hours a week) began to take a toll on him, eroding the purpose and meaning of how life should be lived.

“Little by little, it became clear that there were differences with what we expected of ourselves and the expectations demanded by society. I told myself that I had enough of all the consumerism that engulfs us and it’s time to take stock of my life and lend more meaning to it,” continues Blais.

“In fact, we are both not the outdoorsy sportsmen type but rather sedentary. Thierry was weighing 100kg prior to this trip, but we reckoned that like anything else, it’s a matter of adapting.”

When asked about the challenges they had faced through the six long years, there are plenty of tales. Crossing the High Tibetan Plateau in Western China was an indelible moment, says Blais, as they continuously walked for 28 days without coming across any village.

“During this vast landscape crossing, we saw more wildlife than I ever did in my entire life. Then, when we finally encountered people, they hosted us for one night, shared their meals with us, and kindly gave us advice on how we should proceed with our route, or what to look out for.

“And of course, walking without any other transportation is a challenge in itself. But it wasn’t for the sake of making or breaking a record. The upside is that it can be flattering for the ego when you have people following you, supporting you, and being featured on television too.

“In Kazakhstan, we actually stayed in Almaty for four months trying to get our Chinese visas – it was the longest stay in the same place! So, where before we would walk an average of 20km a day and 500km a month, we had to intensify our walking distance double-fold to about 40km per day in order to complete China before our visas expired. This we did every single day, for two months,” he reminisces.

RM8.40 a day

And what about the “unimaginable” fact that they are surviving on a budget of just two euros (RM8.40) a day? Blais lightly brushes off the seeming impossibility, stating that they would always choose cheap street food for meals. And there were always tents or other kinds of free accomodation.

“Since we could not plan for years of accommodation and expenses, there were big improvisations and adaptations made along the way. But having been in a country after a while, it became pretty easy to know what the odds are (of finding) good places you could put up at.”

Blais reveals however that they have overshot the original timeline that had been set for the entire trip, which was five years. They have only reached Malaysia after six years, and still have the islands of Indonesia, plus Australia and America to complete their world tour.

Essentially, it drives home the point that things don’t always go quite according to plan, or that you can’t really plan for what’s in store over the next few years.

“Just several months into the trip, our original schedule was already blown away. I guess it was a case of allowing ourselves to take the time to live according to our instincts, where you naturally tend to slow down and enjoy the places you are in.

“That’s how we ended up settling down for several weeks or sometimes months in some places. After this, we will have to take boats to Indonesia, Australia and America which will considerably accelerate the travel time, so we are estimating that it will take three more years for us to come full circle to where we started i.e. France,” says Blais.

He hopes to be able to inspire people to do what they have done.

“We learnt later on during the trip that a lot of Americans have done this, but with the help of sponsors and big logistics teams behind them. And we realise that we have done way too much preparation in advance, like visas for countries that we were to cross only a few years later.

“However, immigration laws change very quickly, so by the time we reached a particular border, we had to recheck all the information anyway. These accumulated experiences only serve to shape us into wiser persons. It’s life-changing,” says Blais.

Florence Blenkiron and Theresa Wallach posing with their Panther motorcycle before departing on their historic journey from London to Cape Town. The women are both wearing trousers, button-down shirts, and wide-brimmed tin helmets. The Daily Sun-Times, Owen Sound, Ontario, 17 Dec 1934

Blenkiron Florence (w3002)

  • Alias-Pseudonimo-Pseudonyme: -
  • Nationality-Nazionalità-Nationalité: UK, Inglese, Anglais
  • Birth/death-Nascita/morte-Naissance/mort: 1904-1991
  • Means of transport-Mezzo di trasporto-Moyen de transport: Motorbike-moped, Motocicletta-motorino, Moto-cyclomoteur
  • Geographical description-Riferimento geografico-Référence géographique: Africa
  • Internet: Visit Website
  • Wikidata: Visit Website
  • Additional references-Riferimenti complementari-Références complémentaires: Wallach, Teresa. The Rugged Road : Due Donne E Una Moto, Da Londra a Città Del Capo. Roma: Ultra, 2014

On 11 December 1934, Florence Blenkiron and Theresa Wallach set out from Crown House, Aldwych in London to Cape Town, South Africa, on their 600cc single-cylinder Panther motorcycle named "Venture" with sidecar and trailer, seen off by a crowd which included Lady Astor, the first woman MP, and the High Commissioner of what was then South Rhodesia. The event was widely reported in the press, as was their progress on the journey.

In June 1935 the Woman Engineer journal reported "Miss Wallach and Miss Blenkiron are now heading for Nairobi on their motorcycle combination; some of their more unpleasant adventures have included four nights in a tropical jungle without food or shelter, and capture by Tourags in the desert".

The route they had planned took them through FolkestoneBoulogneParisMarseillesAlgiers to GhardaiaIn Salah to Tamanrassat then via In Guezzam to Agadez. Leaving there on 4 March 1935, then travelled through to Katsina by 11 March then to Kano, and to Fort Archambault by 19 April. From there they travelled to Ekibondo by 30 April, passing Mt Ruwenzori to Kampala, then Nairobi arriving in Arusha by 5 June. They travelled past Mt Kilimanjaro, reaching Iringa by 11 June, then via Victoria Falls, through Bulawayo reaching Beitbridge by 11 July.

They finally arrived in Cape Town on 29 July 1935, having recorded snippets of their journey on film and still photographs.