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.

Stranded in the wilderness

By Stuart Lowe on

As I left the graveyard it started spitting and I put on my waterproofs.


Heading into wilderness

The road wasn't paved but it was good for a couple of miles. Then it left the company of the railroad and started to climb. It also started to deteriorate. I passed some small caves and convinced myself that they were the dens of mountain lions. I'd been told that mountain lions tended to hunt at dusk and dawn because their eyes were adapted for the lower light levels. I'd also heard that running away from them would trigger their chase mode. Even if there were cougars I was now in no danger of triggering a chase mode because I was now going uphill with my heavy bike and the surface had turned into the worst possible.

The track became a mixture of mud, sand and pebbles that stuck solidly to my tyres and then the frame. My speed was limited to under one mile an hour. Seriously. I had to keep stopping every few metres to claw out the mud to let my wheels turn. Part way up the hill I had to take my panniers off, walk them up the hill a bit and then go back and try to push my bike up. My feet started to get covered in the same mud. It was like walking through molasses. It was sapping the energy from me. I tried pushing my bike over the woody sage brush but that had a tendency to grab hold of the frame and get me stuck. It was probably only about 3pm but I realised I had a minimum of three miles to go to any form of civilization. That was if the tracks that had been on Google Maps even existed. I was now well out of cell phone signal. It would get dark before I'd get anywhere and I didn't want to be exposed at cougar hunting time.

I thought of the railroad. I'd left it a while back and it was somewhere to the north. I struck out away from the nightmare track over the sage brush to find it. I then realised that I'd ascended about 800ft and was at the top of a hill with the railroad in the valley below along with the Humboldt River. The railroad was the closest thing I was going to get to feeling safe.

12 mile canyon

If this had been the Lake District or North Wales there would have been a sheep track or footpath to follow down into the valley. Out here few creatures roamed so there were no clues to a safe way down. The way I picked was down a gulley. It wasn't great but then I'm not sure any other route would have been better. At one point near the top I had to down-climb a bit of vertical rock. In fact I had to do that three times as I had to do one trip with my bike and two more with pannier bags and the Ikea bag. Even once off the vertical part it was still too steep to have the bags on the bicycle and and had to keep doing 50 metre sections taking one thing at a time. Half way down I was knackered and decided the priority was to get camped. So, apologetically, I left my bike behind and continued down with the bags. I promised it I'd be back in the morning if I survived the night.

The ~800ft gulley I descended. I abandoned my bike about half way down.

At the bottom I realised that the Humboldt river was between me and the railroad. Glad of my waterproof Ortleib panniers I forded the river. I was soaked up to my chest. Being bike less I couldn't use it as a vaulting pole like Stevens. Up the bank on the other side I found a six foot barbed wire fence between me and the raised railroad. I decided my best bet was pitching my tent between the two so that the railroad and the fence afforded me some protection from wild animals. After all, it wasn't just cougars out there. There could be bears too. Up and over the fence I went. I pitched my tent. I then covered it in pulled up dead branches of sage brush. This was partially to hide it and partially to provide a bit more of a barrier than a thin tent wall. I cooked up some dehydrated packet food which tasted wonderful given what I'd been through. I changed out of the wet clothes into my spare merino top and my thermal trousers and bedded down for the night. I took out my camp knife and the can of mace to be ready.

It was probably only about 5pm but I wasn't going to be 'outside' as dusk fell so I got in my sleeping bag and closed my tent. I made sure to write in my journal about what had happened. I also added a "next of kin" address into the front of it in case I was eaten during the night. I tried to get some sleep.