american journeys   


To The Golden Gate
George Nellis' 1887 Wheel Across The Continent

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REPORTING THE JOURNEY
Nellis did take the initiative arranging to send back separate periodic day by day accounts of his ride to each of the two newspapers in the village, the Herkimer Citizen and the Herkimer Democrat. There was also an agreement to supply the Wheel and Recreation bicycle paper published in New York City with periodic reports. Even the Little Falls Journal and Courier was promised one brief account of the trip. The amount of compensation he received for these reports is not known, but it may have covered much or all of the estimated $300-cost of the journey (equivalent to $5,677.70 in 2001).

The reports sent to the first three papers were not identical, but they were consistent in terms of dates, mileage data, names of towns he visited, and places he secured lodging. They were somewhat different in length, language, and incidents mentioned. The twelve-part account carried in the Citizen was the longest, with almost 18,000 words. The Democrat's seven-part narrative had about 11,000 words plus fifteen short telegrams sent by Nellis from locations in the west. The Wheel's seven-part account was the shortest, but it gave more attention to bicycle matters such as wheelmen he encountered, bicycle merchants, and accommodations for riders. Writing a total of almost 40,000 words during a  taxing trip that required eight to twelve hours of riding most days was a major accomplishment. His reports were sent from twenty-four cities. Only on five occasions were reports to two papers sent from the same location and reports to all three papers only came from San Francisco. There is no evidence that he kept a diary or journal during the ride, but it seems likely that daily notes were made to help him prepare his reports to the newspapers.

The narrative of the journey that appears in this article is drawn from all three newspaper accounts in an effort to provide the reader with an interesting and accurate description of the 72-day journey to the Golden Gate. A strict chronological order has been maintained. All events took place in the order and on the day indicated. Editorial notations within the narrative are designated by brackets.

The spelling, grammar, punctuation, and language used by Nellis have been retained. Consistent with the times, Nellis used the word dinner for the midday meal and supper for the evening meal. The use of "we" throughout the narrative was used by Nellis in the editorial sense to avoid the use of "I." Only on a few occasions after Charles Avery left him at Niagara Falls did Nellis briefly have riding companions (on days 14, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25). He had a walking companion on Day 59. He did of course have the constant companionship of his bicycle that was never given a proper name.

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