Review: Around the World on Two Wheels
by Peter Zheutlin
The late 1800s were heady years, with discoveries and inventions making headlines practically every day. With their usual enthusiasm for new things, Americans embraced each discovery with gusto, determined to be the first to speed on a motorcycle or the first to ride a train across the country.
Most of the early adopters and explorers during that time were, of course, men. But a few intrepid women, usually in the company of husbands or fathers, took adventurous turns in epic car tours or hiked up previously unattainable peaks.
In late 1894, Annie Londonderry joined the ranks of early extreme sports enthusiasts with an around-the-world trip on a bicycle. She wasn't the first woman to journey long distances on the new-fangled bikes, but she was the first to go solo, making her both a heroine and a pariah.
Annie was an unlikely candidate to take on such a difficult task - she was an immigrant, she was poor, and she was a married mother to three children. The last fact was something she knew would not endear her to many on her journey, so she presented herself as an intrepid single "new woman."
She was different in one other way as well. Unlike the other women before her, Annie wasn't just riding for the adventure of it. She was on a search for money, fame, and freedom.
Annie Londonderry was an unusually savvy marketer and PR pro. There is still some dispute about whether she invented the story of a wager between two men that prompted her trip, or whether there was perhaps a bet at some point, but she did tell all of the newspapers who began to follow her story that two rich men had a stake riding on her. If she made it back to her hometown of Boston in 15 months, so her story went, Annie would receive a large sum of money. But she was not allowed to take any money with her, and was required to earn her way around the world.
To accomplish that, Annie designed an early sports endorsement program, adorning her bicycle and clothing with signs, ribbons, and cards, all touting corporate sponsors and products. She also sold autographed photos of herself and gave lectures as she traveled, cannily alerting the press of her arrival before every stop. And she proved to be fashion-forward, putting aside the cumbersome dresses and layers of the day for a split skirt, and later for scandalous bloomer pants.
Along her journey, Annie claimed to break speed records and win races, and that she was attacked by natives or "bad men." True or not, they made great press reports and she soon had readers and reporters clamoring for her adventurous tales.
Traveling around the world required some trips by ship or train, of course, when roads were unavailable. And though there were some grumblings about how often Annie actually rode her bicycle, no one could deny that she was a brave woman to set out on her own without money or a chaperone.
As compelling as her global trip, however, is what happened to Annie when she returned. Once she transformed into an adventurous "new woman" who had seen China and Africa, how Annie readjusted to her tenement home with her family in Boston is, as they say, the rest of the story. (2008 - Kensington Publishing Company)
Recipe: Ginger Crinkles
This recipe has been handed down by the unforgettable women in my family, and it is one of my favorite treats. Spicy and sweet, the cookies have an old-fashioned flavor and a nice round shape that just happens to look like a bicycle's wheel.
2/3 cup vegetable oil 1 cup sugar
1 egg 4 Tbs. molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour 2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt 1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar for dipping 1 tsp. ginger
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix oil and sugar thoroughly. Add egg and beat well. Stir in molasses, then add dry ingredients. Drop teaspoons of dough into sugar and form into balls coated with sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 3 inches apart (cookies will flatten and crinkle). Bake for 10-15 minutes. (Recipe from my mother's collection)