american journeys   


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

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 Day 6, May 29
Herkimer, New York to Canastota, New York.  46 miles, 8 hours
Passing through Middleport, Gasport and Lockport, we reached Niagara Falls at 5 p.m. Here we register at the Falls Hotel and after supper sauntered out to see the place. Soon we were standing in the presence of that great and magnificent cataract pouring down into the awful depths below. A faintly glistening moon sent silver messengers on the tiny dancing waves below and shrouded the foaming billows in a halo of shimmering light. At 10 p.m. we turned in, determined to make a thorough exploration on the morrow.

 
Day 7, May 30
 Niagara Falls, New York to Atincliff, Ontario.  36 miles, 4 hours
Monday, Decoration Day, was bright and breezy. After breakfast we visited the Falls, the inclined railway, took passage on the "Maid of the Mist" and went bobbing around almost directly under the mighty torrent of water, and through a shower of mist and spray to the Canadian side. Here parks, museum, Falls, etc., drew our attention, and returning a big hour late we visited Goat Island, taking in the three sides, the Cave of the Winds, precipice heights, etc. Twelve o'clock saw us back in the hotel with a ravenous appetite. The landlord took charge of this to his everlasting regret. Bicyclists alone know how those viands disappeared with lighting-like celerity.  Two hours later we oiled our wheels, adjusted our 'bearings,' and at three p.m. said a last sorrowful adieu to Poker, our boon companion for a week. Riding out over Suspension Bridge, we (we and us now used by Nellis to refer to himself) turned southward and struck Welland, Ontario at 5:30. Supper over, we wheel away to Wellandport and reach Atincliff at 8:30. Here we stop for the night.

 
 Day 8, May 31
Atincliff, Ontario to St. Thomas, Ontario.  77 miles, 12 hours
A hard clayey road, fairly ridable, meets us nearly all day, and we push on through Camboro [Canborough], Canfield, Cayuga, Nellis Corners, and Hagerville, where we take dinner, two miles out of town, with a generous farmer. From here we go to Waterford and run eleven miles on the Michigan Central railroad tracks, meeting with good success. Leaving that, we pedal on, through Corinth, Springfield, and Yarmouth, reaching St. Thomas at eight p.m. Copious indulgences of milk were features of the day, and I may say of every other day. At no time has this favor been denied us.

 
 Day 9, June 1
St. Thomas, Ontario to Blenheim, Ontario.  48 miles, 6 hours
A heavy rain meets me at St. Thomas, and Wednesday morning the roads are intolerable. We put in time seeing the boys and the city. The place has three daily papers and several weeklies. One of the pleasantest bicycle men I had the good fortune to meet was C. H. Hefinstall, a gentlemen of no ordinary affability. At 3 p.m. however, I venture out and acting on the advice of a brother cyclist proceed to Fingal, Tyrcoville, Wallacetown, and Clairville, where supper is procured and at 6:30 I remount and ride away to Palmyra, Morpeth and Blenheim, reaching there at 9 p.m. My wheel was pretty thoroughly coated with mud however, and a force pump is called into requisition, followed by a good rubbing down.

 
 Day 10, June 2
 Blenheim, Ontario to Leamington, Ontario.  39 miles, 6 hours
Thursday morning I struck mud in vast quantities. At 9:30, I set out and rode through Buckhorn and Dealtown to Romeny, twenty-four miles, when a farm house was resorted to for dinner. No moral suasion could alter his determination not to be paid. What Canadian people lack in roads they make up in generosity, yes more so. Ask for a drink of water and they will bring out milk or cider every time.

Shortly after Lake Erie appears to the left, and all the afternoon as far as the eye can see there stretches away for miles an interminable waste of water. Romeny is passed after 12 miles of scrabbling over clay roads through Canadian forests and lovely wilderness, only dotted here and there by the sturdy settler's log hut. I rode into Wheatley, and was stopped by rain until after supper, when a seven-mile run brought me to Leamington, making but thirty-nine miles for the day, sixteen of these were made on foot, ten were fairly ridable, and the rest were good. All kinds of fruit adapted to temperate zones grow here, and dairy and farm products in great abundance. While farming is a great business here, the lumber interests are immense. [Nellis expressed his feelings about Canadian roads in a poem written several days after he left that country.]
 


A cyclist sat by the roadside fence,
Sighing whither, ah whither, oh whither?
Is a passable path ever going to commence-
Yes, whither, ah whither, oh whither?
Here I've labored and pushed till I'm dusty
And sad,
And never a rest or a top have I had;
Still this 'ere road is so horribly bad,
I could lay down and perish and wither.


The country it looks like a barren desert,
This desert-filled, barren old country.
Like a man who's minus both stockings and shirt,
This cold, bleak, and barren old country;
I've tramped all the way from Bingen to Bot,
With the sun a scorching so terrible hot,
And never a rod of good wheeling I've got,
In this craven, confounded old country.

After scrambling and panting way up that big hill-
Such scrambling and panting and scrambling!
Only sad desolation awarded by skill,-
My scrambling, and panting, and scrambling.
For when at the top, 'mid grunting and groans,
I found the road covered with big cobblestones,
Then vowed by a mountain of "Nick's" saintly bones,
No more to go rambling.

My wheel is enameled an inch with this "sile"-
This mud-dabbled stony old highway;
While my breeches are nearly quite "done up in ile,"-
With trying to ride on this highway,
My "bearings" are lost, wherever I look,
The same lonesome landscape looms up like a spook,
As I plod 'long this boggy lone highway.

 

I was startled way back with a consumptive like bark-
A squeaky, disjointed, low howling,
Of a dog which had surely come out of the ark,
And ever since kept up his growling.
He looked at me once, then he laid down and sighed,
Such a sight he had evidently never espied,
And it injured his dogship's ancestral pride,
For such specimens wild to be prowling.

I know that I'm in a sorrowful plight,
Heavy laden with dirt and with sorrow,
With nothing to eat, and no one in sight,
But my cycle, too, weighed down with sorrow,
Oh what will become of me and my bi.
In vain for a supper and a bed do I sigh,
But nothing, not even a small piece of pie,
Will cheer up my soul till the morrow.

Alone in the desolate desert I'm stuck-
And here I keep sticking and sticking,
With a wee stock of patience, and much less of pluck-
I'm bulling the market on sticking.
My financial condition's a sorrowful plight.
In fact, all has vanished in meteor-like flight,
And busted I am, up higher'n a kite,
While my stomach is empty and kicking.

Oh, the beauties of cycling are surely untold,
There's lots to be written, be written,
A tale to harrow thy soul I'd unfold.
On the beauties that yet are unwritten.
With this wonderful pastime there really is naught
That can safely compare with this heroic sport;
Oh, give me a bicycle, rugged and taut,
With its form most truly I'm smitten.

 

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