american journeys   


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

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NARRATIVE OF THE 1887 TRANSCONTINENTAL JOURNEY

Day 1, May 24
Herkimer, New York to Canastota, New York.  46 miles, 8 hours
At six minutes past six o'clock on the morning of May 24th, two wheelmen might have been seen pedaling out of Herkimer, N.Y., on a mission that will bring one of them at least to the land of the Golden Gate. The writer, astride of a fifty-two inch full nickeled Expert Columbia, and C. P. Avery of Herkimer also riding a Columbia, composed the members of this little cavalcade [two other riders accompanied them a short distance].

An overclouded sky obscured the rising sun and rendered riding a pleasure indeed. The first town we passed was Mohawk, a mile from home, whose denizens had not yet been clasped from the arms of morpheus. Two miles farther and Ilion, the seat of the famous Remington Armory flitted by, to give place in turn to Frankfort, three miles further on. Here the first dismount was made and thirty-five minutes were consumed in the six miles. Pushing on, we reached Utica, the 'pent up' city of Oneida county, at 9:15, with a cyclometer register of seventeen miles. Under the guidance of Charlie Metz, that princely wheelman and sprinter of Utica, we bowled out of the city at a lively rate and reined in our steeds at Clark's Mills, eight miles away. Here we bid adieu, and with the parting good wishes of our conductor, rode away to Vernon, seven miles, four of which were unridable and barely passable. While passing a little farm house, two miles from town, we were suddenly hailed with an invitation to cider. We went down the cellar. Two glasses also went down cellar. Had we inbibed any more we would most probably [have] laid down cellar. But we didn't.

From Vernon to Oneida Castle good roads prevailed, although the country is far from inviting. Dinner struck us in the shape of another farm house and our pockets in the shape of forty cents. We anticipated taking dinner at Canastota. But we didn't. We struck a big wind about s'teen miles from there and gave it up - the dinner. But that wind was immense. It blew Poker [Avery] into the ditch all at once.

Leaving Oneida Castle with a mileage of nearly forty, we sallied forth over some of the finest roads of the day. But for that strong gale this ride would have ranked way up. Five miles more and the beautiful village of Canastota appeared in view from a distant knoll. Proceeding into town, we met a jovial cyclist in the person of C. H. Wolf. It was now 3:30 p.m., and, while being introduced to several other cycling brethren, a big shower suddenly appeared and made our acquaintance without undue formalities. Well, this put an end to record breaking for that day, so we accepted the situation and a berth at Canastota with as good grace as possible.

 
Day 2, May 25
 Canastota, New York
Canastota proved to be a lively burgh, and we tarried, there one day, owing to mud, rain, etc.

 
 Day 3, May 26
Canastota, New York to Auburn, New York.  51 miles, 8 hours
We started forth at 7 a.m. in two to three inches of mud. The run to Chittenango, seven miles, was made in one hour, Fayetteville 9 miles farther we reached at 10 o'clock, and wheeled into Syracuse in time for dinner, covering 25 miles in the forenoon. At 12:30 we remounted and sped over some elegant roads out of the saline city. Eight miles were left behind in short order, and upon emerging from around a bend in the road one of the grandest rural scenes imaginable burst upon our enchanted vision. For miles the undulating landscape revealed many neat farm houses surrounded by smooth lawns and meadows formed a picture grand in the extreme. Further on could be seen the little village of Camillus, resting among all this wealth of rural beauty. With many an admiring gaze we sprang in the saddle and after a coast of one-half mile down the gradually sloping hill, rushed into the village. We had progressed but five miles when a very preemptory halt was called in the interest of a glorious hail storm. This we took in from the verandah of a handy farm house - without invitation. For an hour the icy crystals made music on the stony pavement and we kept time to the patter by jokes and jestings. Three more miles brought us to Elbridge, and to a realization that muddy roads are far from funny, even tho' a hail storm be thrown in gratis. Stopping at a roadside barn Poker resolved himself into a special artist and sketched a cow. I went into a committee of the whole on appropriations and succeeded in confiscating two eggs.

The little hamlet of Senet [Sennett] we espied at 5:30 and rolled into Auburn, the convict city at 6 p.m. Through the kindness of an uncle of mine, we were given a view of the wicked side of Auburn prison. Four convicts came forth and we eyed them in mingled awe and admiration. They looked upon us with scorn and sarcasm.

 
 Day 4, May 27
Auburn, New York to East Bloomfield, New York.  51 miles, 9 hours
Fate was against us Friday morning and we soon found it in the shape of three or more inches of clayey mud, just beginning to dry, and lumpy, like cobble stones. Twenty-four miles of this kind of highway were passed by noon. Cayuga was the first place we struck and ran almost into Cayuga Lake. A row boat soon buoyed us over and dropped us two miles from Seneca Falls. Waterloo four miles further, came and went and left us still plodding the weary way known only to mud struck cyclists. Our real estate possessions were being enhanced at an enormous rate and with difficulty could a clean part of our dirt dabbled wheels be seen. Geneva, 24 miles from Auburn, came into view with 12 o'clock and a raving desire for dinner. This is the garden city of Ontario country, and for miles can be seen the industries carried on in the floral world. Nurseries abound on every hand and the air is filled with a thousand delicate scents. This coupled with its location upon Seneca Lake renders the place a perfect haven of health and unending pleasure.

From Geneva the roads were fine. More delightful roads could not be desired; smooth, level, macadamized, devoid of stones and requiring little effort on the pedals. A run of 17 miles brought us to Canandaigua at 3:30 p.m. Here a sudden transition from dry to muddy roads took place and but nine miles were covered from four to six o'clock. This brought us to East Bloomfield and here we resolved to stop.
(Macadamized roads consisted of firmly packed layers of rock and gravel.  They were not paved with asphalt or cement.)
 
 Day 5, May 28
 East Bloomfield, New York to Medina, New York.  70 miles, 11 hours
At seven o'clock Saturday morning we awoke in the midst of a dream and a dense fog. After waiting an hour we concluded to venture forth and pointed for West Bloomfield, five miles away. We passed through West Bloomfield, Lima, Avon and Caledonia, where we had dinner. But, ah, ye gods! What a feast was in store for us. Seventeen miles to Batavia and the road smooth as a floor. Away we went, passed Le Roy, seven miles in 35 minutes and finished at Batavia. At this place we met several genial wheelmen and acting on their advice, proceeded to Albion. As luck would have it, we happened upon the remains of a dinner party at a fine country residence and the lady of the house would have it no other way than to treat us as her especial guests. Lucky the wheelmen who fall into the hands of Mrs. W.H.P. of Albion. A repast fit for regal palate spiced by the brilliant conversation of our generous hostess put us chaps in exceedingly fine spirits. From thence to Medina, where we put up for the night.

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