american journeys   


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

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 Day 11, June 3
Leamington, Ontario to Dearborn, Michigan.  45 miles, 7½ hours
Friday morning rain again greeted me, but at 8:45 I pushed out in ankle mud and wheeled through Ruthven to Olinda, six and one-half miles. At Essex Center I had dinner, and rode into Windsor at two p.m. Taking passage on the steamer “Victoria,” I was soon gliding peacefully over to Detroit. On landing a big fellow waltzed me over to the custom house and went through a series of evolutions concerning my importation of a Columbia Expert Bicycle.

“Great Scott, man, what in the great name of Jehovah could attempt me to import a Canadian bicycle? Why we can make three American wheels for what it costs to get one in your confounded old Canada.” I hauled papers before that official’s eyes by the score and talked bicycle till his hair stood on end. “That’s enough, get out o’ this with your velocipede, you’re all right.”

Passing through the smoke and turmoil of Detroit, I wheeled to Recreation Park and resolved to take in a ball game between the Chicagos and Detroits of the National League. My card [press] was sufficient to gain admittance, and leaving wheel and baggage in charge of the gate keeper, I proceeded to the reserved grand stand, was ushered in gratis, as usual, and walking up the aisle, took a conspicuous seat amid great applause and clapping of hands. Modestly I arise to acknowledge the honor, when loud cries of “down in front” greeted injured vanity. Looking out, I observed a big fellow in center field making a brilliant catch, and this is the cause of all the racket. Oh, for Jonah’s big whale to swallow me up! The way Clarkson twirled the sphere for the next hour was a caution to stolid Detroiters, but they heeded it not and came out second best.

Leaving the scene of base glory I came in contact with Messrs. Irwin and Gage, of the Detroit Cyclists, and am shown through the halls of wheeling fame. Royal palaces of pleasure these genial boys possess, and with reluctance I wheel out after supper in the company with a half dozen Detroiters to Dearborn, seven miles away. Next morning I attempt to liquidate my lodging with a five dollar Canadian bill – but it won’t pass.

 
Day 12, June 4
 Dearborn, Michigan to Adrian, Michigan.  57 miles, 9 ½ hours
Saturday is warm, yes, in the language of Jericho, it is hot. A few miles out of Dearborn we passed the Wayne County Poor Asylum and stopped for a closer look. One superior feature lay in the separation of the insane from rational patients, male from female, etc., in entirely different buildings. At Poline we have an ample dinner and push on at 2 p.m. to Macon, ten miles away.  Shortly after a school picnic comes into view and we take that in, of course. About a dozen little girls and half as many boys get up in succession and with their little piece, while their parents, and cousins and aunts, sit in the sun and try to look wise. Signs of relief are heard when the plume and ribbon bedecked school marm announces a retreat for refreshments. We joined the retreat and took ours with several huge slices of cake, big bumpers of lemonade, etc. This picnic was a grand success far as we were concerned. Push on to Tecumseh, 16 miles for supper and with fine roads before us we bowl away to Adrian. As I ride into town appears a cluster of prison-like buildings which I afterwards learn is the Adrian Reform School for Girls. Here our wayward lasses of America are cloistered and taught to chew gum in the most approved fashion and free from the evils which surround the inmates of Vassar.

A little inquiry and we are grasping the paw of that prince of good fellows, Irving H. Finch, and receiving a cordial welcome at the same time. Under his direction we are stalled at the Central Hotel, taking a good bath and soon afterward being introduced to the Adrian Bicycle Club. Without exception these Adriance wheelmen are as genial and whole hearted a lot of cyclists as have yet been thrown in our way. They possess a club room replete with all modern appliances for comfort and enjoyment, elegant parlors, etc. [Nellis had met two Adrian wheelmen the preceding year when they stopped in Herkimer while on a ride to New York City].

 
 Day 13, June 5
Adrian, Michigan.
A run is planned for Sunday afternoon, but rain comes down in torrents and puts a stop to cycling for that day. Various occupations conspire to pass the time however. One of the pleasantest and most picturesque cemeteries extant we saw in Oakwood and a walk thro’ its various paths and winding avenues was not the least pleasure we participated in. Sunday evening we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. E. I. Waldby, a native of Cooperstown, New York [near Herkimer]. Mr. Waldby gave us some exceedingly interesting accounts of former central New York events.

 
 Day 14, June 6
Adrian, Michigan to Allen, Michigan.  46 miles, 7 ½ hours
Monday morning we pushed out in the mud and endured it for 19 miles to Hudson, reaching there at 4 p.m. Hardly a bright spot was visible on our Expert, but a thorough force pump bath and rubbing down restored it to its native luster, and weight, and we pushed on to Osseo, Hillsdale, and halted at Allen. Not a bad day’s work after all. But saints preserve us from those 19 miles of mud again. The farmers had just made their annual road improvements and this accounted for it. They scrape all the gutter mud into the middle of the road and let it quietly drift back. That is how Michigan roads are made, when made at all.

 
 Day 15, June 7
 Allen, Michigan to Sturgis, Michigan.  43 miles, 6½ hours
Tuesday morning we start out with great promise of sand - and find it. We reach Quincy and Coldwater. Messrs. Conover, Starr and Johnson of cycling fame, here claim our attention and are bound to keep us here over dinner. Why don’t you stop with us a while? was the burden of their song. At 12:30 we mount and ride away to Matteson and from there to Bronson. From here we go direct to Sturgis, instead of following the teachings of our L.A.W. road book and go thro’ Burr Oaks 3 miles further. This L.A.W. road guide has foolished us on other occasions. At Sturgis we met very poor hotel accommodations and worse than all the landlord demanded a fee of $1.50 for lodging and breakfast. Did we settle? Well no, hardly not. Therefore he came down one-half and was glad to get that.

 
 Day 16, June 8
 Sturgis, Michigan to Mishawaka, Indiana.  49 miles, 8 hours
Wednesday, Klinger Lake, White Pigeon and Mottville are entered and left behind and 22 miles away I cross into Hoosierdom. Three miles and Bristol, Indiana, captures me for dinner. Sorry, indeed was the aspect of Bristol’s only hotel. From a mental vision of cold pork, soggy potatoes, bad coffee and musty bread I was suddenly awakened to the reality of a dinner fit for an epicure, and that fellow was I. A nicely broiled steak, mashed potatoes, elegant coffee, milk, lettuce, cabbage, peas, tomatoes, corn, fine bread, pie, cake and a whole saucer of strawberries to top off with caught me that time, and more astonishing than all, twenty-five cents footed the bill. At 1:30 I mounted my Expert and wheeled south to Elkhart, twelve miles away, over very fine roads. Reach Osceola, 6 miles further, at 4 o’clock. A big rain stops navigation here and for a time nearly paralyzes us. No hotel in the place and six miles to Mishawaka, raining like blixen – and no prospect of stopping. No supper either so we repair to the corner grocery. Glory! A stem of bananas. Glorious! Some molasses cookies. “Cookies 8 cents a dozen, and I’ll give you all the bananas you can eat for 25 cents.” I take six bananas and a dozen cookies. Five minutes later I want six more bananas and in ten minutes later I want six more bananas. The proprietor begins to quail, I begin to eat. Bananas are going down fast. Extraordinary demand and two dozen have been laid away. “Here, take your quarter and get out of this.” I took pity on the poor fellow and desist. He won’t pick up any more hungry bicyclists by the wrong ear again, that’s certain. The rain presently abated and at six o’clock we were able to go out, two inches of soft mud cover the roadway, but we prefer this to sleeping out doors, and so run on to Mishawaka. At 7:30 I was ensconced in the best hotel the place afforded.

 

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