On the 130th anniversary, I recreated part of the journey of the first person to cycle around the world on a bicycle. Taking it one day at a time. View the archive.


By Stuart Lowe on

About 10 years ago my dad told me about a book he found in a charity shop. It was about the first person to cycle around the world - Thomas Stevens. Stevens had done this amazing feat in 1884 on a Penny Farthing (known as an "Ordinary" at the time). He had set off from San Francisco with not much more than a revolver and a large coat with the aim to be the first person to cycle across the United States. The story - particularly the US leg - caught my imagination and I decided I'd like to do it some day.

Last year, with my job contract coming to an end, I finally had the time and savings to be more serious about it. I realised that 2014 was the 130th year and, as it happens, every day of the week falls on the same day of the month as they did in 1884. That meant I too could set off on the morning of Tuesday 22nd April. The timing felt right so I started planning.

I read the book again and geo-coded all the places in the US that Stevens mentions. I started getting kit together and told people I was doing it. I downloaded the raw OpenStreetMap data for the 13 states Stevens went through, put it in a form that would go on a Garmin eTrex 20 satnav, and drew up a route that followed Stevens as closely as I could. It was no longer a vague wish; it was going to happen.

As I write this I'm sat in Half Moon Bay south of San Francisco with less than 2 days to go before I set off on the 5600+ km (more than 3000 mile) trip from San Francisco to Boston. It is a daunting task and I've had second thoughts but I know that Stevens did it on a Penny Farthing with no gears, no breaks and little in the way of luggage so I'm sure I can rise to the challenge.

During the journey I hope to compare the places and people Stevens met in 1884 with the world today. Some things will have changed beyond recognition but others may be just the same. I hope to meet some great people along the way. If you happen to live along the route, please let me know and it would be great to say hi. I'll be trying to keep this blog and Twitter updated as often as is possible.

I'm also trying to help raise some money for Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders so if you feel inspired by my attempt please donate to them.