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Across Asia on a Bicycle: The Journey of Two…

Across Asia on a Bicycle: The Journey of Two American Students from… (1894)

by Thomas Gaskell Allen, William Lewis Sachtleben

Other authors: Michael W. Perry (Editor)

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In the 1890s, Thomas Gaskell Allen and William Lewis Sachtleben, upon their graduation from Wash U. in St. Louis, biked around the world. They wrote this fascinating book about the 1-year-long Asian leg (Istanbul-Peking) of their journey. Everywhere they went both bicycles and Americans were totally unknown. This proves that young men back then are crazy as those today. Circumnavigation was not enough, so they also ascended Mt. Ararat. This book abounds in interesting details. They wintered in Tashkent, which had no supplies to repair their bikes, so Sachtleben went back to London to get them. It took him 16 days.
  rameau | Aug 3, 2011 |
What a fun read. I ran across a reference to this work in David Herlihy's new book, "The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance" and being a sucker for primary source materials I searched Archive.org to see if they had a copy: the book was first published in 1894 so it's out from under copyright. Ended up they had several but unfortunately all the pdf's had somehow been fouled: so to Googlebooks I went.

Once you get past all the Google back-patting and information, what you will find is copy of the 1903 reprint by The Century Company. This particular book came from a New York library and while it's interesting to note that, it's unfortunate that in at least one place, the city's imprint of ownership was placed over a photo.

In general, this pdf is like most others of old books, except that it is copy-protected. A rather annoying feature if you'd like to give an example of text. But thus is Google-ware.

The only other thing I noticed was that the pictures -- which are black and white, of course -- are frequently muddy. Without looking at the original book it's impossible to say whether the lack of quality is inherent in the original photographs or if it was caused by bad copying practices. That aside, there are many photographs and etchings that just fabulous.

From the Preface::: (I could describe what is covered, but I might as well let Allen and William speak for themselves)

This volume is made up of a series of sketches describing the most interesting part of a bicycle journey around the world--our ride across Asia. We were actuated by no desire to make a "record" in bicycle travel, although we covered 15,044 miles on the wheel, the longest continuous land journey every made around the world.

The day after we were graduated at Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., we left for New York. Thence we sailed for Liverpool on June 23, 1890. Just three years afterward, lacking twenty days, we rolled into New York on our wheels, having "put a girdle around the earth."

Our bicycling experience began at Liverpool. After following many of the beaten lines of travel in the British Isles we arrived in London, where we formed our plans for traveling across Europe, Asia and America. The most dangerous regions to be traversed in such a journey, we were told, were western China, the Desert of Gobi, and central China. Never since the days of Marco Polo had a European traveler succeeded in crossing the Chinese empire from the west to Peking.

Crossing the channel, we rode through Normandy to Paris, across the lowlands of western France to Bordeaux, eastward over the Lesser Alps to Marseilles, and along the Riviera into Italy. After visiting every important city on the peninsula, we left Italy at Brindisi on the last day of 1890 for Corfu, in Greece. Thence we traveled to Patras, proceeding along the Corinthian Gulf to Athens, where we passed the winter. We went to Constantinople by vessel in the spring, crossed the Bosporus in April, and began the long journey described in the following pages. When we had finally completed our travels in the Flowery Kingdom, we sailed from Shanghai for Japan. Thence we voyaged to San Francisco, where we arrived on Christmas night, 1892. Three weeks later we resumed our bicycles and wheeled by way of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to New York.

During all of this journey we never employed the services of guides or interpreters. We were compelled, therefore, to learn a little of the language of every country through which we passed. Our independence in this regard increased, perhaps, the hardships of the journey, but certainly contributed much toward the object we sought—a close acquaintance with strange peoples.

During our travels we took more than two thousand five hundred pictures, selections from which are reproduced in the illustrations to this volume.

Thomas Gaskell Allen, Jr. and William Lewis Sachtleben

My Impressions
This was a marvelous little journal that affords some insight not only into a distant time and place, but American attitudes, education, and tenacity at the brink of the 20th Century. There were politics, peoples, and wars I had never heard of before, and the authors managed, quite well, to put them into their proper setting.

It was as interesting to read about the peoples reactions to the bicycles as it was young Tom's and Will's reactions to these different cultures. Literally everywhere they went they were swamped with attention. In France and England, fellow enthusiasts of the new self-propelled apparatus regaled them. In the Middle East and Asia, men, who were at once intrigued and frightened, followed them around, crowded them, left the inns at which they slept a shambles. And they nearly always demanded a show.

This is not a long book, so I should note that the author's notations of the early segments of their travel are not extensively detailed. They note for example that they spoke to Abraham Lincoln's son in London and had to convince him to write a letter of recommendation for them. (The ambassador feared for their lives. In fact, everyone along the way feared for their lives and tried to convince them to stop.) They mention various 'arrangements' for money and travel, luncheons and meetings, and then they are off to France.

In outlook, I'd have to say that they certainly must have glossed over some of the unpleasantness and frustration that must have accompanied such an amazing trip. For example, while they mention getting typhus and cholera, they didn't mention personally suffering from flees, lice and diarrhea. These latter topics I assume weren't considered 'correct' topics for publication. However, it would be amazing that they wouldn't suffer from these ills considering where they were sleeping, and what they were eating. Having read diaries from travelers crossing the U.S. in the mid-1800s, who were eating their own food, I'd have to assume that they weren't immune to food gone bad. In any case, I only mention it in order to let others know that to a noticeable degree, "Across Asia On a Bicycle" is 'sanitized' for polite readers.

HIGHLY Recommend.

Pam T~
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  ThePam | Jun 9, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas Gaskell Allenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Sachtleben, William Lewismain authorall editionsconfirmed
Perry, Michael W.Editorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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