by Rose-Mary Rumbley
You know you're old when you remember getting your first bicycle! I was ten years old and I wanted freedom, and I knew this freedom would come in the form of a bicycle. My mother told me that I could bike anywhere in the neighborhood. "Just be very careful!" she warned. Freedom!
But, alas, World War II was raging and no bicycles were being manufactured. My father didn't want to disappoint me, so he found a used bike and worked hard to make it look new! So, it had a few dents in it--so what! I was thrilled! I was free to ride around the block!
Bicycles were first made in China. Then in 1534, a student of Leonardo de Vinci created a bike in Italy, and then in 1817, a German, Baron Carl von Drais, built a bicycle for himself. But, the bicycle story that has always captured my attention is the story of Annie Londonderry, a woman who didn't ride around the block, but biked around the world! Now, that's true freedom.
Her grand and glorious story is told in a "mostly true" novel, SPIN by Peter Zheutlin. As she takes this phenomenal ride, she meets the most famous people of the day and finds love and adventure in every mile.
Just who was Annie Londonderry? She captured the popular imagination with her daring world trip on two wheels. The New York World, October, 1895, declared her adventure was "the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman."
Londonderry was really Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, a young, Jewish mother of three small children, who climbed onto a 42 pound Columbia bicycle and peddled away into history.
It was reported that she started this whole escapade with a wager between two wealthy Boston merchants. The bet required Annie not only to circle the earth by bicycle in 15 months, but to earn $5,000 en route, as well. This was no mere test of a woman's physical endurance and mental fortitude. It was a test of a woman's ability to fend for herself in the world.
Because she wore a man's riding suit, she turned every Victorian notion of female propriety on its head. Not only did she abandon, temporarily, her role of wife and mother (scandalous in 1890's), she earned her way selling photographs of herself, appearing as an attraction in stores, and by turning herself into a mobile billboard. Annie didn't run away to join the circus, she became the circus, a colorful spectacle on wheels.
She had boundless courage! In a time when women could not vote and very seldom worked out of the home, she showed herself to be a skillful self-promoter.
She does come home and lives a fairly normal life. Her kids "turn out good!" as my mother would say.
Meanwhile, I'm happily peddling in the neighborhood!
Fast forward--I am married and have two Baby Boomer children, who want bicycles! Their father bought two 10 Speeds! I could never forget that moment when, they got these super-duper bikes! Off they went! Happy! Happy! Happy! As they rode off, I thought of the used bike my father managed to get for me!
The bicycle has always been part of my life. As an "old" women in my 60's I went on several great bicycle tours. First, I went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina--flattest part of the country. I biked by the Wright Brothers monument! It was on these Outer Banks the brothers flew their first plane on very level land with lots of wind.
Then I went to the White Mountains of Vermont! I made it! In fact, I was so inspired, that the next summer I went to England and biked the Cotswold Mountains. They are really just hills!
The next summer I biked in Denmark! I went to Hans Christian Andersen's birthday party. You must remember, I'm a speaker who is always looking for a new topic!
In 1992, I went to Spain in honor of Columbus, 500 years--1492-1992. Spain has lots of flat land along the coast where Columbus set sail. The hard tour was in France--Lyon to Marseille! I biked that scene in 5 days, skirting the Alps!
I'm so thrilled I biked when I could. Today--I creep along--very slowly! But I have these great memories and I gladly share them with you!