Across Asia On A Bicycle
Allen and William Lewis Sachtleben
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In 1890, two American college graduates set out to travel around the world on a then-new invention, the bicycle. In 1893 they returned, having covered over 15,000 miles, at that time the 'longest continuous land journey ever made around the world'. This is their account of the trip across Turkey, Persia, Turkestan and northern China.
This book has 182 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1894.
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Excerpt from 'Across Asia On A Bicycle'
On a morning early in April the little steamer conveying us across from Stamboul touched the wharf at Haider Pasha. Amid the rabble of Greeks, Armenians, Turks, and Italians we trundled our bicycles across the gang-plank, which for us was the threshold of Asia, the beginning of an inland journey of seven thousand miles from the Bosporus to the Pacific. Through the morning fog which enveloped the shipping in the Golden Horn, the “stars and stripes” at a single masthead were waving farewell to two American students fresh from college who had nerved themselves for nearly two years of separation from the comforts of western civilization.
Our guide to the road to Ismid was the little twelve-year-old son of an Armenian doctor, whose guests we had been during our sojourn in Stamboul. He trotted for some distance by our side, and then, pressing our hands in both of his, he said with childlike sincerity: “I hope God will take care of you”; for he was possessed with the thought popular among Armenians, of pillages and massacres by marauding brigands.
The idea of a trip around the world had been conceived by us as a practical finish to a theoretical education; and the bicycle feature was adopted merely as a means to that end. On reaching London we had formed the plan of penetrating the heart of the Asiatic continent, instead of skirting its more civilized coast-line. For a passport and other credentials necessary in journeying through Russia and Central Asia we had been advised to make application to the Czar’s representative on our arrival at Teheran, as we would enter the Russian dominions from Persia; and to that end the Russian minister in London had provided us with a letter of introduction. In London the secretary of the Chinese legation, a Scotchman, had assisted us in mapping out a possible route across the Celestial empire, although he endeavored, from the very start, to dissuade us from our purpose. Application had then been made to the Chinese minister himself for the necessary passport. The reply we received, though courteous, smacked strongly of reproof. “Western China,” he said, “is overrun with lawless bands, and the people themselves are very much averse to foreigners. Your extraordinary mode of locomotion would subject you to annoyance, if not to positive danger, at the hands of a people who are naturally curious and superstitious. However,” he added, after some reflection, “if your minister makes a request for a passport we will see what can be done. The most I can do will be to ask for you the protection and assistance of the officials only; for the people themselves I cannot answer. If you go into that country you do so at your own risk.” Minister Lincoln was sitting in his private office when we called the next morning at the American legation. He listened to the recital of our plans, got down the huge atlas from his bookcase, and went over with us the route we proposed to follow. He did not regard the undertaking as feasible, and apprehended that, if he should give his official assistance, he would, in a measure, be responsible for the result if it should prove unhappy. When assured of the consent of our parents, and of our determination to make the attempt at all hazards, he picked up his pen and began a letter to the Chinese minister, remarking as he finished reading it to us, “I would much rather not have written it.” The documents received from the Chinese minister in response to Mr. Lincoln’s letter proved to be indispensable when, a year and a half later, we left the last outpost of western civilization and plunged into the Gobi desert. When we had paid a final visit to the Persian minister in London, who had asked to see our bicycles and their baggage equipments, he signified his intention of writing in our behalf to friends in Teheran; and to that capital, after cycling through Europe, we were now actually en route.
Since the opening of the Trans-Bosporus Railway, the wagon-road to Ismid, and even the Angora military highway beyond, have fallen rapidly into disrepair. In April they were almost impassable for the wheel, so that for the greater part of the way we were obliged to take to the track. Like the railway skirting the Italian Riviera, and the Patras-Athens line along the Saronic Gulf, this Trans-Bosporus road for a great distance scarps and tunnels the cliffs along the Gulf of Ismid, and sometimes runs so close to the water’s edge that the puffing of the kara vapor or “land steamer,” as the Turks call it, is drowned by the roaring breakers. The country between Scutari and Ismid surpasses in agricultural advantages any part of Asiatic Turkey through which we passed. Its fertile soil, and the luxuriant vegetation it supports, are, as we afterward learned, in striking contrast with the sterile plateaus and mountains of the interior, many parts of which are as desolate as the deserts of Arabia. In area, Asia Minor equals France, but the water-supply of its rivers is only one third.