CHAPTER I. OVER THE SIERRAS NEVADAS.
The beauties of nature are scattered with a more lavish hand across the country lying between the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the shores where the surf romps and rolls over the auriferous sands of the Pacific, in Golden Gate Park, than in a journey of the same length in any other part of the world. Such, at least, is the verdict of many whose fortune it has been to traverse that favored stretch of country. Nothing but the limited power of man's eyes prevents him from standing on the top of the mountains and surveying, at a glance, the whole glorious panorama that stretches away for more than two hundred miles to the west, terminating in the gleaming waters of the Pacific Ocean. Could he do this, he would behold, for the first seventy-five or eighty miles, a vast, billowy sea of foot-hills, clothed with forests of sombre pine and bright, evergreen oaks; and, lower down, dense patches of white-blossomed chaparral, looking in the enchanted distance like irregular banks of snow. Then the world-renowned valley of the Sacramento River, with its level plains of dark, rich soil, its matchless fields of ripening grain, traversed here and there by streams that, emerging from the shadowy depths of the foot-hills, wind their way, like gleaming threads of silver, across the fertile plain and join the Sacramento, which receives them, one and all, in her matronly bosom and hurries with them øn to the sea.
Towns and villages, with white church-spires, irregularly sprinkled over hill and vale, although sown like seeds from the giant hand of a mighty husbandman, would be seen nestling snugly amid groves of waving shade and semi-tropical fruit trees. Beyond all this the lower coast-range, where, toward San Francisco, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais - grim sentinels of the Golden Gate - rear their shaggy heads skyward, and seem to look down with a patronizing air upon the less pretentious hills that border the coast and reflect their shadows in the blue water of San Francisco Bay. Upon the sloping sides of these hills sweet, nutritious grasses grow, upon which peacefully graze the cows that supply San Francisco with milk and butter.
Various attempts have been made from time to time, by ambitious cyclers, to wheel across America from ocean to ocean; but - "Around the World!"
"The impracticable scheme of a visionary," was the most charitable verdict one could reasonably have expected.
The first essential element of success, however, is to have sufficient confidence in one's self to brave the criticisms - to say nothing of the witticisms - of a sceptical public. So eight o'clock on the morning of April 22, 1884, finds me and my fifty-inch machine on the deck of the Alameda, one of the splendid ferry-boats plying between San Francisco and Oakland, and a ride of four miles over the sparkling waters of the bay lands us, twenty-eight minutes later, on the Oakland pier, that juts far enough out to allow the big ferries to enter the slip in deep water. On the beauties of San Francisco Bay it is, perhaps, needless to dwell, as everybody has heard or read of this magnificent sheet of water, its surface flecked with snowy sails, and surrounded by a beautiful framework of evergreen hills; its only outlet to the ocean the famous Golden Gate - a narrow channel through which come and go the ships of all nations.
With the hearty well-wishing of a small group of Oakland and 'Frisco cyclers who have come, out of curiosity, to see the start, I mount and ride away to the east, down San Pablo Avenue, toward the village of the same Spanish name, some sixteen miles distant. The first seven miles are a sort of half-macadamized road, and I bowl briskly along.
The past winter has been the rainiest since 1857, and the continuous pelting rains had not beaten down upon the last half of this imperfect macadam in vain; for it has left it a surface of wave-like undulations, from out of which the frequent bowlder protrudes its unwelcome head, as if ambitiously striving to soar above its lowly surroundings. But this one don't mind, and I am perfectly willing to put up with the bowlders for the sake of the undulations. The sensation of riding a small boat over "the gently-heaving waves of the murmuring sea" is, I think, one of the pleasures of life; and the next thing to it is riding a bicycle over the last three miles of the San Pablo Avenue macadam as I found it on that April morning.
The wave-like macadam abruptly terminates, and I find myself on a common dirt road. It is a fair road, however, and I have plenty of time to look about and admire whatever bits of scenery happen to come in view. There are few spots in the "Golden State" from which views of more or less beauty are not to be obtained; and ere I am a baker's dozen of miles from Oakland pier I find myself within an ace of taking an undesirable header into a ditch of water by the road-side, while looking upon a scene that for the moment completely wins me from my immediate surroundings. There is nothing particularly grand or imposing in the outlook here; but the late rains have clothed the whole smiling face of nature with a bright, refreshing green, that fails not to awaken a thrill of pleasure in the breast of one fresh from the verdureless streets of a large sea- port city. Broad fields of pale-green, thrifty-looking young wheat, and darker-hued meads, stretch away on either side of the road; and away beyond to the left, through an opening in the hills, can be seen, as through a window, the placid waters of the bay, over whose glittering, sunlit surface white-winged, aristocratic yachts and the plebeian smacks of Greek and Italian fishermen swiftly glide, and fairly vie with each other in giving the finishing touches to a picture.