Near Willow Island I come within a trifle of stepping on a belligerent rattlesnake, and in a moment his deadly fangs are hooked to one of the thick canvas gaiters I am wearing. Were my exquisitely outlined calves encased in cycling stockings only, I should have had a "heap sick foot" to amuse myself with for the next three weeks, though there is little danger of being "snuffed out" entirely by a rattlesnake favor these days; an all-potent remedy is to drink plenty of whiskey as quickly as possible after being bitten, and whiskey is one of the easiest things to obtain in the West. Giving his snakeship to understand that I don't appreciate his ''good intentions " by vigorously shaking him off, I turn my "barker "loose on him, and quickly convert him into a "goody-good snake; " for if "the only good Indian is a dead one," surely the same terse remark applies with much greater force to the vicious and deadly rattler.
As I progress eastward, sod-houses and dug-outs become less frequent, and at long intervals frame school-houses appear to remind me that I am passing through a civilized country. Stretches of sand alternate with ridable roads all down the Platte. Often I have to ticklishly wobble along a narrow space between two yawning ruts, over ground that is anything but smooth. I consider it a lucky day that passes without adding one or more to my long and eventful list of headers, and to-day I am fairly "unhorsed" by a squall of wind that-taking me unawares-blows me and the bicycle fairly over.
East of Plum Creek a greater proportion of ridable road is encountered, but they still continue to be nothing more than well-worn wagon-trails across the prairie, and when teams are met en route westward one has to give and the other take, in order to pass. It is doubtless owing to misunderstanding a cycler's capacities, rather than ill-nature, that makes these Western teamsters oblivious to the precept, "It is better to give than to receive;" and if ignorance is bliss, an outfit I meet to-day ought to comprise the happiest mortals in existence.
Near Elm Creek I meet a train of "schooners," whose drivers fail to recognize my right to one of the two wheel-tracks; and in my endeavor to ride past them on the uneven greensward, I am rewarded by an inglorious header. A dozen freckled Arkansawish faces are watching my movements with undisguised astonishment; and when my crest - alien self is spread out on the prairie, these faces - one and all - resolve into expansive grins, and a squeaking female voice from out nearest wagon, pipes: "La me! that's a right smart chance of a travelling machine, but, if that's the way they stop 'em, I wonder they don't break every blessed bone in their body." But all sorts of people are mingled promiscuously here, for, soon after this incident, two young men come running across the prairie from a semi-dug-out, who prove to be college graduates from "the Hub," who are rooting prairie here in Nebraska, preferring the free, independent life of a Western farmer to the restraints of a position at an Eastern desk. They are more conversant with cycling affairs than myself, and, having heard of my tour, have been on the lookout, expecting I would pass this way.
At Kearney Junction the roads are excellent, and everything is satisfactory; but an hour's ride east of that city I am shocked at the gross misconduct of a vigorous and vociferous young mule who is confined alone in a pasture, presumably to be weaned. He evidently mistakes the picturesque combination of man and machine for his mother, as, on seeing us approach, he assumes a thirsty, anxious expression, raises his unmusical, undignified voice, and endeavors to jump the fence. He follows along the whole length of the pasture, and when he gets to the end, and realizes that I am drawing away from him, perhaps forever, he bawls out in an agony of grief and anxiety, and, recklessly bursting through the fence, comes tearing down the road, filling the air with the unmelodious notes of his soul- harrowing music. The road is excellent for a piece, and I lead him a lively chase, but he finally overtakes me, and, when I slow up, he jogs along behind quite contentedly.
East of Kearney the sod-houses disappear entirely, and the improvements are of a more substantial character. At "Wood River I "make my bow" to the first growth of natural timber since leaving the mountains, which indicates my gradual advance off the vast timberless plains. Passing through Grand Island, Central City, and other towns, I find myself anchored Saturday evening, June 14th, at Duncan - a settlement of Polackers - an honest-hearted set of folks, who seem to thoroughly understand a cycler's digestive capacity, though understanding nothing whatever about the uses of the machine. Resuming my journey next morning, I find the roads fair.
After crossing the Loup River, and passing through Columbus, I reach-about 11 A.M.- a country school-house, with a gathering of farmers hanging around outside, awaiting the arrival of the parson to open the meeting. Alighting, I am engaged in answering forty questions or thereabouts to the minute when that pious individual canters up, and, dismounting from his nag, comes forward and joins in the conversation. He invites me to stop over and hear the sermon; and when I beg to be excused because desirous of pushing ahead while the weather is favorable His Reverence solemnly warns me against desecrating the Sabbath by going farther than the prescribed "Sabbath-day's journey."
At Premont I bid farewell to the Platte - which turns south and joins the Missouri River at Plattsmouth - and follow the old military road through the Elkhorn Valley to Omaha. "Military road" sounds like music in a cycler's ear - suggestive of a well-kept and well-graded highway; but this particular military road between Fremont and Omaha fails to awaken any blithesome sensations to-day, for it is almost one continuous mud-hole. It is called a military road simply from being the route formerly traversed by troops and supply trains bound for the Western forts.
Resting a day in Omaha, I obtain a permit to trundle my wheel across the Union Pacific Bridge that spans the Missouri River - the "Big Muddy," toward which I have been travelling so long - between Omaha and Council Bluffs; I bid farewell to Nebraska, and cross over to Iowa. Heretofore I have omitted mentioning the tremendously hot weather I have encountered lately, because of my inability to produce legally tangible evidence; but to-day, while eating dinner at a farm-house, I leave the bicycle standing against the fence, and old Sol ruthlessly unsticks the tire, so that, when I mount, it comes off, and gives me a gymnastic lesson all unnecessary. My first day's experience in the great "Hawkeye State" speaks volumes for the hospitality of the people, there being quite a rivalry between two neighboring farmers about which should take me in to dinner. A compromise is finally made, by which I am to eat dinner at one place, and be "turned loose" in a cherry orchard afterward at the other, to which happy arrangement I, of course, enter no objections. In striking contrast to these friendly advances is my own unpardonable conduct the same evening in conversation with an honest old farmer.
"I see you are taking notes. I suppose you keep track of the crops as you travel along?" says the H. O. F. "Certainly, I take more notice of the crops than anything; I'm a natural born agriculturist myself." "Well," continues the farmer, "right here where we stand is Carson Township." "Ah! indeed. Is it possible that I have at last arrived at Carson Township." "You have heard of the township before, then, eh." "Heard of it! why, man alive, Carson Township is all the talk out in the Rockies; in fact, it is known all over the world as the finest Township for corn in Iowa." This sort of conduct is, I admit, unwarrantable in the extreme; but cycling is responsible for it all. If continuous cycling is productive of a superfluity of exhilaration, and said exhilaration bubbles over occasionally, plainly the bicycle is to blame. So forcibly does this latter fact intrude upon me as I shake hands with the farmer, and congratulate him on his rare good fortune in belonging to Carson Township that I mount, and with a view of taking a little of the shine out of it, ride down the long, steep hill leading to the bridge across the Nishnebotene River at a tremendous pace. The machine "kicks" against this treatment, however, and, when about half wray down, it strikes a hole and sends me spinning and gyrating through space; and when I finally strike terra firma, it thumps me unmercifully in the ribs ere it lets me up.
"Variable" is the word descriptive of the Iowa roads; for seventy-five miles due east of Omaha the prairie rolls like a heavy Atlantic swell, and during a day's journey I pass through a dozen alternate stretches of muddy and dusky road; for like a huge watering-pot do the rain-clouds pass to and fro over this great garden of the West, that is practically one continuous fertile farm from the Missouri to the Mississippi. Passing through Des Moines on the 23d, muddy roads and hot, thunder-showery weather characterize my journey through Central Iowa, aggravated by the inevitable question, "Why don't you ride?" one Solomon-visaged individual asking me if the railway company wouldn't permit me to ride along one of the rails. No base, unworthy suspicions of a cycler's inability to ride on a two-inch rail finds lodgement in the mind of this wiseacre; but his compassionate heart is moved with tender solicitude as to whether the soulless "company" will, or will not, permit it. Hurrying timorously through Grinnell - the city that was badly demolished and scattered all over the surrounding country by a cyclone in 1882 - I pause at Victor, where I find the inhabitants highly elated over the prospect of building a new jail with the fines nightly inflicted on graders employed on a new railroad near by, who come to town and "hilare" every evening. " What kind of a place do you call this." I inquire, on arriving at a queer-looking town twenty-five miles west of Iowa City.
Table of contents
Adapted from Thomas Stevens, Around the World on a Bicycle