"Bad beginning, bad beginning" - Across America - 70 years ago - CycleBlaze

"Bad beginning, bad beginning"

AFTER ten years of active life in England, a country where bicycles are as commonly used as chairs and tables, I never got over a feeling of unreality when living in the States, for in the big cities there is practically no utilitarian cycling, and club life as we know it simple does not exist.

In "the sticks" or "the long grass", as mid-Western and far-Western states are contemptuously referred to by the natives of motor-ridden cities like New York, bicycles - of a sort - are seen in great numbers, and their heaviness, absurd imitation motor-cycle tanks

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and struts, have been commented on in The Bicycle on numerous occasions. My lightweight bicycle, which cost me double its original value in transport fees from Liverpool to Ellis Island, with a dozen spare covers and tubes, was an eye-opener to my American workmates, and I could have sold the machine many times over for any sum from two dollars to two hundred.

I spent three happy years in the pleasant country surrounding the Quebec-Maine border, and rode many hundreds of miles in Quebec Province, mostly along the southern shore of the St Lawrence river, on Canadian Highway Ten, with less ambitious day runs round Nôtre Dame du Lac and other enclosed waterways.

Living at Fort Kent, near a headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I was well known to the officials at this port of entry between Canada and the U.S., and my crossings to and fro were trouble-free, an illuminating contrast to the formalities generally encountered at European frontiers in pre-war days.

Fort Kent is the start (or end, whichever way you look at it) of America's most important road: National Highway Number One. Even the famous "Coast to Coast" road, joining the Atlantic to the Pacific, takes second place to the wonder-way connecting the Quebec-New Brunswick boundary with the southernmost State of Florida.

My firm (British, with ten branches in North and South America) called for a volunteer to transfer to the company's demonstration workshops in the Everglades of Florida, and as a month's lave with pay was to be granted to the chosen applicant, to take effect immediately, I "put in" for the transfer and was accepted.

My decision to cycle the whole distance was no lightning impulse. By road, along Highway One, the distance was close on two thousand miles, and an average of sixty-five miles each and every day was called for. Could I do it, and in the time at my disposal?

I felt confident I could, for I was super-fit, with a bicycle I could depend upon to carry me day after day without complaint, and it was the start of the beautiful summer season that the eastern cost of America enjoys each year. I confided my ambition to my chief who, after exclaiming that he had never heard anything so "daffy" in his life, agreed that I should receive my railroad fare just as if I were making the trip by train, and could start away at once, actually thirty-three days ahead of the hour when I should be expected to report for duty at Miami.

My start was made at noon on the thirteenth of the month. A crowd gathered to watch my departure, including a cat that walked before my front wheel before I had pedalled a dozen yards, and as I fell to the ground with a crash there was much shakings of head and prophesying.

"Bad beginning, bad beginning," growled our chief engineer, a Scotsman and a cyclist of the 1890s. "Five gets you ten that you will never ride all the day. If some jalopy [old car] don't get you in the back, you'll fall sick. Anyway, I'll be driving down to the Carolinas later in the month, and I'll stop over in Raleigh to inquire which hospital you were carried to, if you ever get as far as Raleigh, of course."

Down a familiar road I sped, for the first hundred miles were positively humdrum through the number of times I had cycled them, and I had driven in the firm's trucks almost to the State line on the New Hampshire boundary, close on four hundred miles.

French names abound un this district, and Notre Dame (pronounced "Daim" and never "Darm") lies on Route 1. Dutch influence is apparent at Van Buren, and Indians were responsible for the musical name of Caribou. It is this amiable blending of national characteristics into one indivisible unity that makes me regard North America with affection.

Extensive road works (reminding me of the Brighton road during a busy summer season!) nearly diverted me to Highway Two within a few miles of leaving Fort Kent, but I squeezed through the difficult places and ended the day with sixty-two miles to my credit, a total quite satisfactory considering I had not started until well past midday.

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