When Margaret Valentine LeLong decided in 1897 to ride a bicycle, alone, from Chicago to her home in San Francisco, everyone implored her to reconsider. No woman had ever dared try such a thing. Dangers abounded: wildlife, marauders, injuries, dehydration. Bikes at the time were clunky one-speed bonebreakers. And the roads, which offered peril even to the ordinary automobile, often were full of mud, rocks, chuckholes, and planks.

There were no bike lanes. There were no sag wagons. There were no fast-food joints or convenience stores. There were no motel chains. And there were no cell phones.

So the odds were heavily stacked that year against Ms. Margaret Valentine LeLong.

***

Bicycles had been available in this country since about 1877, when they were first imported from England. Called “ordinary” bikes, they sported the huge front wheel and tiny rear wheel we’ve all seen in Victorian-era drawings. They were slow and difficult to ride, and both easy and painful to fall from. For all that, the cost was almost prohibitive, except for the wealthy; priced at $100, the bikes would set us back about $2,596.83 in today’s dollars.

“Ordinary” bike

But then came the “safety bike” at the end of the 1880s, and it was chock-full of innovations. The wheels were now the same size. A drive chain, a front fork, and a leather saddle became standard. Tires were pneumatic; rather than being constructed of sold rubber, they contained pressurized air, which made for a smoother (although far from luxurious) ride. Best of all, the price “plunged” to $60 – still outrageous, but at least more affordable.

Because of these changes, the number of bicyclists in the U.S. grew from 150,000 to up to 4 million between 1890 and 1896. It was an absolute explosion in the industry. Biking elicited a fervent passion among Americans; it enabled people to get away from their reliance on horses and offered an escape from increasing urbanization – while providing exercise and a good dose of the sun. And for women in particular, bicycling was a literal vehicle towards achieving freedom and independence.

1890s bicyclists

In San Francisco (where, frankly, “a good dose of the sun” was rarely applicable), allegedly 65,000 bicyclists (half the population!) filled the streets – dodging streetcars, horses, and pedestrians – during the 1890s. Bicycle clubs sprang up everywhere, and although most were for men only, a ladies’ group called The Falcon Bicycle Club (FBC) also got started. An 1895 photo remains of their clubhouse – an old horsecar – out on the dunes of Carville on the western edge of the city. Surely Margaret Valentine LeLong was a member.

By the way, the FBC often held dinner parties for local notables, newspapermen, socialites, and bohemians of all stripes. Among the hilarious satirical descriptions the club sent to the local press was this one from August of 1896:

“A most delightful banquet was given last Saturday evening by the FBC. . . . The following was the very unique menu:

Soups – Whalebone, Lampwick, Corncob and Lozenges.

Fish – Carp, Octopus, Catfish and Cartridges.

Game – Pedro, Oldmaid, Smut and Cribbage.

Entrees – Brown Beans, Baked Beans, Barnacles, Spidertoes, Froglegs and Frangipanni.

Vegetables – Bunions, Soft Corns and Halpruner.

Relishes and Booze – Mother-in-law Fried, Roasted, and Deviled; Ice Cream, Doorjamb and Vaseline; Sponge Pies and Leather Pies, with or without Buckles; Cream Coffee and Chocolate; Café au Lait and Rouge et Noir; Good-night Kiss and Dream of Grandmother.”

I wish I could have been at THAT party!

***

It isn’t readily apparent why Ms. LeLong decided to ride her bicycle thousands of miles alone, and my guess is that she would have been scornful of anyone who dared ask that question. San Franciscans in those days were an independent lot, she was visiting friends in Chicago, and according to the Chicago Tribune, she did it “purely for enjoyment.”

We don’t know much about her. None of the (very abbreviated) newspaper accounts mentioned her age at the time – perhaps it was considered uncouth. But the Tribune’s six-sentence mention of her feat did manage to include a description of her as a “slender little woman” who stood 5’2” tall and weighed 114 pounds. (Obviously those were crucial statistics.) It also referred to her as “Mrs.,” but her own account of her experience never mentioned a husband or family back home.

[By the way, her name was spelled “LeLong,” “Lelong,” or “Le Long” in the many resources I checked, and I’ve decided to use “LeLong,” just for consistency’s sake.]

Margaret Valentine LeLong

Ms. LeLong formulated her plans “[i]n spite of the opposition of every friend and relative who was on hand to register a protest (and those at a distance objected by mail),” she would later say. And although her loved ones’ opposition may have been related to the inherent dangers of her trip, resistance to the very notion of female bicyclists was quite strong. In some states it was altogether illegal for women to ride. Cycling was considered to be so challenging for the female constitution that it could lead to insomnia, depression, and heart problems. It could cause “bicycle eye,” which occurred when a rider had to look forward too long while her neck was bent. Worst of all, it could bring ruin to “the feminine organs of matrimonial necessity.” The Woman’s Rescue League of Washington, D.C., apparently claimed that bicycling prevented women from having children. Another charge was that the “friction between a woman and her saddle caused illicit sexual arousal.”

Ah! No wonder women flocked to bicycling in droves!

Then there was the matter of attire. Women had been accustomed to wearing skirts while riding side-saddle on horses. But some female cyclists thought that long, flowing garments could get caught in bicycles’ moving parts, so they chose bloomers instead of skirts. Bloomers were loose, harem-style pants, some of which fastened – gasp! – under the knee. Oh, the scandal!

Bloomers

A huge backlash ensued. One mayor condemned the new pants for being a “menace to the peace and good morals of the male residents.” In 1895 three bloomer-wearing female teachers were prohibited from riding bicycles to their school in Flushing, Long Island (New York). The scandalous pants had come to represent women’s rights and freedom, and people were simply outraged!

Margaret rode a “drop-frame” safety bicycle (with a low, curved cross-support) because the standard cross-bar used by men would get in the way of her skirt. Yes, despite everything I’ve just said about women’s liberation and bloomers, Margaret preferred skirts.

Drop-frame bicycle

In any case, she climbed onto her bike in Chicago on May 20, 1897, dressed in her skirt and her leather shoes – laced to the knee – that she had had modified with heavier soles. Bicycles were yet to come equipped with baskets, so she brought only some extra underwear, some toiletries, a handkerchief, and a tool bag – all of which she somehow managed to strap onto the handlebars. In her tool bag was her final essential item – a pistol.

***

“And so one morning in May I started,” wrote Ms. LeLong in the journal Outing in 1898, “midst a chorus of prophecies of broken limbs, starvation, death from thirst, abduction by cowboys, and scalping by Indians.”

The Illinois roads at first proved to be rider-friendly, for they were generally smooth and level. But from the get-go the headwinds were a formidable demon, and even Margaret’s attempts to get up before the chickens were fruitless. “Let none flatter themselves they can get up before an Illinois wind,” she noted wryly, “for it blows all day, and it blows all night, and it always blows straight in your face.”

On one occasion, the combination of wind, mud, hills, bogs, and swirling sand convinced her to stop early in the day at a hotel in a small Iowa town called Homestead, where she would “spend the rest of the day expressing my opinion about the League map of Iowa, which is a snare and a delusion.” She would also spend the day trying to comprehend the norms of the town’s denizens.

In the mid-1800s, Homestead had been purchased by the Amana Colonies, a group of German Pietists who were originally members of the Lutheran Church but were persecuted in Germany by both the government and the Church. They’d relocated to the United States – first to New York and then to Iowa – in search of some seclusion and peace. The Colonies operated as truly a self-sufficient and communal settlement for 80 years, relying exclusively on their own farming and craftsmanship until they formed a for-profit organization during the Depression (and by the way, the Amana appliance cooperation was part of that organization).

“These are some of the things I learned,” she would later write. “The Amanna [sic] Society is co-operative in the fullest meaning of the term . . . . Everything is community property, and the man who joins the society with only the clothes on his back has the same rights and consideration as the man who puts in thousands. . . . Each male member receives thirty dollars per year spending money, in addition to his living; each female member, twenty dollars. This sum they are entitled to spend as and where they please, but permission to leave the settlement must be granted by the council.

Homestead, Iowa, around 1900

“All business of the Amanna Society is transacted by the council, and the purchase of even a sheep or a keg of beer is a task requiring much time and patience. One would think all that was necessary was the proper amount of greenbacks and negotiations with the head shepherd or brewer. These are but preliminary steps. It involves consulting every member of the council, from the shepherd to the president, and back again. . . .

“I am afraid their laws for the management of lovers would not find favor among our American youth. If a young man shows a more than brotherly interest in one of the pretty blonde mädchens [young girls], and she shows a disposition to be more than a sister to him, an investigation is immediately made, and if he declares his intentions serious – other things, such as parents, being propitious – he is allowed a farewell interview with the maiden, and then hustled away to one of the other settlements, there to stay one year [ed.’s note: whaaaat?] to prove the strength of his attachment. If his intentions are not serious, he is hustled off just the same, but without the farewell interview. Every May-day all the unappropriated maidens, dressed in their Sunday gowns, are loaded into gaily decorated wagons, and, blushing and giggling, are taken the rounds of the settlements for the inspection and selection of the unattached men.”

Ms. LeLong’s overnight stay in Homestead, although it yielded neither a suitor nor a gourmet meal (“beer soup” did not particularly appeal to LeLong’s San Francisco sensibilities), nevertheless was filled with the proprietor’s warmth and kindness, and her stays for the rest of the trip were similar. Despite the social mores of the age, her gender was never questioned, nor was she ever threatened by another human.

***

It was far from easy mechanically to ride a bicycle in those days. Balance was tricky. The coaster brake (which is engaged by backpedaling, and which many of us had as kids) was not invented until 1898, so Margaret’s bike likely was equipped with a heavy front “spoon brake” and nothing on the back wheel – always a recipe for taking a header over the handlebars. And the roads – well, they were like angry opponents. In San Francisco, the year before her trip, more than 5,000 bicyclists had marched down Market Street in a rally for decent streets. Paved asphalt was not yet the norm, and the country’s rutted and cratered roads – even in urban areas – were often nearly impassable. Someone with an eye for poetry once called them:

“Wholly unclassable
Almost impassable
Scarcely jackassable!”

***

Nebraska came next, and for a cyclist, Nebraska was more preferable for riding, even though the scenery in Iowa had been lovely. “Iowa is described in the guide-books as a ‘fine, rolling country,’ ” she wrote. “For the cycler this means that you roll your wheel up one side of a hill and down the other, with never a level spot between to rest the sole of your foot upon. This is especially true of the western part. If you can forget your grievances against the roads long enough to stop and admire, the scenery is beautiful beyond description. What a relief to a weary wheelman to cross the muddy Missouri and go skimming over the smooth gravel roads of Nebraska. In Iowa the road will go several miles out of its way to climb a hill; in Nebraska it makes some attempt to go around.”

Happy Jack Road, Wyoming

Wyoming, of course, brought mountains, trees, and stone, and the landscape toughened. As a result, one nearly regrettable decision resulted in a rather painful battering for Ms. LeLong. She’d decided to take the “Happy Jack” road between Cheyenne and Laramie, which was about 52 miles at the time and a bit shorter than the alternative. The road (what is now Highway 210) was named in the 1880s after a local rancher who, while transporting lumber and hay to Cheyenne, earned the nickname “Happy Jack” because he simply would not stop singing. But the Happy Jack Road did not, for Margaret, prove altogether happy. I’ll let her tell the tale in her own words, which are far more eloquent – and funnier – than mine:

“A two thousand foot rise in thirty miles, and a thousand foot drop in the other twenty-two miles is the record of the ‘Happy Jack’ road. For twenty miles the road is good, and the grade gradual, then trouble begins. Up and down, in and out, over rocks and through sand runs the Happy Jack road, and at every mile your breath comes harder and your knees grow weaker. . . . Numerous dents, bruises, and abrasions on myself and wheel mark the moments when I became lost in admiration of the wild grandeur of the scene, and forgot that I was riding a bucking bronco of a bicycle.”

At one point Margaret flew off of her bike at the bottom of a particularly unnavigable hill. Fortunately a log cabin sat at the bottom of the cliff.

“I landed at the bottom without breaking neck or wheel, though the two men who came out of the cabin seemed to think I ought not to have a whole bone in my body.

“I was not asked to dismount. I had already done that on all fours, with the wheel on top, but I was invited in to dinner, with true Wyoming hospitality. Mr. Shaw, the owner of the place, the famous ‘Cabin Under the Rocks,’ cooked the dinner, scolding all the time, in a good-natured way, because I had not arrived sooner, and there was nothing left but scraps. If that was a dinner of scraps, then may I always dine upon scraps. Fresh antelope steaks, mountain trout, caught in front of the door, and canned peaches from my beloved California, all washed down with milk that had never known the pump.”

But she still had to find lodging. I don’t know why she couldn’t stay at Mr. Shaw’s cabin, but propriety and a lack of a spare bed may have dictated the situation. Or perhaps it was too early in the day (late afternoon, I presume) to consider bedding down for the night. Her host advised her that halfway between the cabin and Laramie was a place called “Dirty Woman’s Ranch,” where she could stay.

On the way, of course, she took another tumble.

“A long, steep hill, with a barbed-wire gate strung across it half way down; a barrel-hoop in the middle of the road, and a badger hole at one side. Thirty seconds later add to the scene on one side of the road a woman, all of a heap; on the other a pea-green bicycle, and down by the gate a brown hat and white veil. I carefully wiggled around and found no bones were broken, then sat up and began to cry. Then I laughed, but the laugh had a hysterical sound, and I quit. There is no use having hysterics all alone, eight miles from the nearest house. I wonder what women would do without hairpins. I took one out of my hair and picked the gravel out of my knees, and cried some more; got up and straightened my handle-bar, put on my hat wrong side before, wiped my eyes and started again. I will confess that for several miles I saw the road through a mist of tears. Eight more miles I made somehow — just how I don’t know — then the house I had despaired of finding that night came in sight.”

But the Dirty Woman’s Ranch had no beds. (I know; I don’t understand, either.) It was after dark by then, and about 12 further miles to Laramie, with no houses in between. So a stranger, who happened to be milking his cow nearby, threw her in a wagon and set out for a house on another road altogether.

“Behind two bucking, half-broken broncos, in a wagon without springs away we went –  away we went over boulders that jolted me off the seat down on to my poor, lame knees, into the bottom of the wagon. Every time the driver slowed up, in response to my agonized plea for a moment’s rest, the broncos bucked. Down we went into canyons, black with shadows of night, through passes where the rocks seemed to meet over our heads; up over ridges, where we lost all trace of the road, and crashed along over sagebrush and boulders.

“Twinkling lights almost beneath us, the yelping of dogs, and a chorus of profanity, told us that our arrival had been noted at Cazorus’ cattle ranch. Down, down we went, I with both feet braced against the dashboard, and a silent prayer in my heart, the broncos kicking, and the driver swearing.”

But they made it, and Margaret was met with a meal, bandages, and a great deal of sympathy.

***

It was while she was still in Wyoming that Ms. LeLong’s revolver came in handy. She’d just finished wading through a marsh when she noticed that a nearby herd of cattle was starting to size her up. The prevailing wisdom for such a situation was, counterintuitively, to advance slowly towards the herd, shouting and waving one’s arms. “This sounds very simple sitting safely at home with your cattle before you in the form of roast beef,” she said. “It is a very different thing when facing a pawing, bellowing herd of cattle in the middle of a Wyoming cattle range, your knees knocking together, and your heart making quick trips from your head to your heels and back again; every nerve tingling with a wild desire to run and no place to run to. Not a tree, a bush, a rock, or even a telegraph-pole.”

So she drew her pistol and fired five shots in the air, “scattering handkerchief, curl-papers, and powder-box to the winds to get at the cartridges in the bottom of my chatelaine bag. I loaded as I ran.” Much to her relief, the noise prompted the cattle to first run in circles and then, thankfully, retreat.

***

Leaving Wyoming behind, Ms. LeLong was delighted to be traveling through the Weber Canyon in Utah – a place whose beauty she found to be “little short of Paradise.” Her only complaint was that the creeks were generally not bridged, and sloppy irrigation ditches resulted in standing water everywhere. On one occasion she was rescued “from a maze of creeks and mud-puddles” by two men returning from a fishing trip who immediately invited her to share their bounty – 400(!) trout. After they made camp and the men were preparing the fish, Margaret “was unanimously elected to make biscuit. Now I can make biscuit, but I want all the modern improvements in the way of utensils. Here I had neither mixing-board, rolling-pin, flour-sifter, nor biscuit-cutter, so I take credit to myself that those biscuits were eatable at all. We baked them in a Dutch oven, and many burnt fingers and much merriment resulted from trying to get them out.”

***

Unsurprisingly, Margaret’s journey across Nevada, through the Great American Desert, was anything but picturesque. But after the desert came the greatest payoff. “From Reno to San Francisco the roads are good, the scenery beautiful, and the water like wine after the alkali of the desert,” she wrote. “At every turn of the wheel I felt my spirits rise, and when I finally crossed the State line and stepped once more on California soil I wept a little weep for joy.

“You who have had only tantalizing glimpses through the cracks of the snow-sheds, know but little of the beauty of the scenery between Truckee and Blue Canyon. It amply repaid me for the many miles I had to walk and push my wheel up the long, steep hills. One day among the snow and rocks of the summit of the Sierras, the next spinning along through orchards of the Sacramento Valley where the trees were bending with their burden of fruit. Although the scenes around San Francisco bay had been familiar to me for years, they seemed wonderfully new and beautiful to me. The Oakland Mole seemed the entrance to Paradise, and San Francisco, Paradise itself.”

Truckee River

***

Margaret Valentine LeLong cruised into San Francisco on July 8, which was 50 days after she left Chicago. I’m going to guess that she covered 2,500 miles, because she certainly didn’t ride in a straight line, which means she averaged about 50 miles a day. Her record was 86 in one day, which impresses me greatly because I get tired just driving 86 miles.

The major newspapers of the day covered the end of her trip and granted the story a couple of sentences. The Hayward Daily Review was the most long-winded:

“She was on the road . . . without a puncture. She made the journey not to save expenses, for it cost twice as much as by rail, but for the sake of the adventure and the experience. . . . She did her own washing, had the good sense not to try for the record, and rested when she was tired. . . . On the way she lost eight pounds, made a detour from Ogden to Salt Lake, rode the railroad track for numberless rough and bumpety miles, and walked an average ten miles a day. She is muscular as few women are, and is as brown as the proverbial berry, for she even tanned her hands through her thick chamois gloves. But she is not the least bit footsore or weary, and she would do it again.”

***

Researching stories like these often leads me down divergent paths. An interesting coda to this tale is that a fairly well-known artist named Minnie Valentine LeLong lived in San Francisco at the time. She’d been born Minnie Valentine Cox in Iowa in 1863 (she married Charles LeLong), which would have made her 34 years old at the time of the bike ride. Could she have been our cyclist? Well, “Minnie” indeed can be a nickname for Margaret, and one illustration in the Outing article about her trip was attributed to “Le Long.” But in those days women were typically married by the age of 34 and probably would have been deemed much too old for cycling alone across the country.

Considering that her writing was so witty and creative, though, it is not a stretch for me to imagine Margaret as an artist. Besides, how many M. Valentine LeLongs could there have been in San Francisco in the late 1800s?

I just don’t know. I suppose it will remain a bit of a mystery.

In any case, whether she was a distinguished gallery artist or not, Margaret had much to be proud of. She was a fearless young woman, boldly progressive, pioneering in spirit, with strong legs, a quick wit, and unrelenting optimism.

“To men, the bicycle in the beginning was merely a new toy, another machine added to the long list of devices they knew in their work and play,” declared Munsey’s Magazine in 1896. “To women, it was a steed upon which they rode into a new world.”

Margaret Valentine LeLong happily rode her steed into the unknown, her face turned towards the sun. She was, I think, the best of America.

***

Due to popular demand, I am including, at the end of each blog post, the latest random diary entries that I’ve been posting on Facebook for “Throwback Thursday.” These are all taken absolutely verbatim from the lengthy diaries I kept between 1970 and 1987.

3/2/73 [age 17]:

“I worked the register at Rexall for awhile today and then got shown the “ring-out” procedure, which is how to count money and checks and get everything ready for the bank, which took an hour and a half of explanation and I don’t think I remember a thing. I am so stupid. My feet and body are tired, but cashiering was fun and I did work for three hours ($4.65); if I work 20 hours a week, I’ll make $31 (not clear), so maybe $100 a month clear. I like the cute little kids with all their change. The only strange part was walking the mile home in the pitch black and rain, but even that was nice. I whistled the entire second side of [the Simon & Garfunkel album] ‘Bookends’.”

3/7/73 [age 17]:

“I am disappointed that Joe did not show up last Friday. I do not want to remain an old maid forever. There are guys in my AJ [law enforcement] classes whom I like but they are either too old or not aware of my existence. I recall my old heartthrobs and how they slid by the wayside. But I can understand – I’m almost entirely devoid of personality.”

3/8/73 [age 17]:

“Mr. O’Neill died last Wednesday; I missed the rosary tonight because I was at work. Death puzzles me exceedingly – I wonder if people’s demise is caused by merely Fate or if God has a hand in it and people are somehow ‘chosen.’ If so, what would be the criteria? Last summer, I thought people died when they ‘perfected this level’; I was under the ridiculous assumption that I was nearing such a state, and that I would die within two years ([my sister] Janine said in summer of ‘74 she’s going to give me a ‘still alive’ party). Father Prindeville says God wants the person with Him in heaven. I don’t worry incessantly about death as Dad does, but I’m not exactly looking forward to it.”

3/10/73 [age 17]:

“Boy, was I embarrassed at work today. I was behind the counter with Mr. Jordahl and a guy came up and asked for some Trojans. I didn’t know what they were, so I yelled back to the pharmacy, ‘Mr. Jordahl, where are the Trojans?’ I guess the whole store could hear me. Well, Mr. Jordahl came scurrying out and told me he’d help the man. Afterwards he showed me where they were (down behind the counter on the right-hand side), although he gave me no instructions. I finally realized that they were rubbers! I just don’t know anything about them! And boy, was my face red!”

3/23/73 [age 17]:

“I had a two-hour break today at school and since, miraculously, my homework was all caught up I decided to wander. Priorities were 1) food, 2) books, and 3) records. Unfortunately since it is Friday, I was forced to eat a fishburger at McDonald’s. [Ed.’s note: no meat on Fridays!] I roamed around in a bookstore which professed to be cheap and as it was completely unorganized I became disillusioned and left. Finally, I looked up record stores in a telephone book and found Discorama, which turned out to be so wonderful that I am sure I will frequent it on many Fridays. They have used albums and I bought ‘Reflections’ by the one-and-only Johnny Rivers for 73¢.”

4/8/73 [age 17]:

“I am trying the carbohydrate diet, so after work today I had 13 pieces of chicken, counting dinner and after-dinner snacking.”

4/9/73 [age 17]:

“Mom went into Rexall this afternoon. And when she returned, she informed me of a conversation with Dorothy, the Post Office lady who works there. Apparently Dorothy commented on how mature (???) I was, and said that they all love me. Boy, does THAT shock me. I was getting really paranoid there for awhile; I mean, I AM awfully clumsy – last week I ran right smack into the big tall vitamin display and the next day knocked a metal coffeepot off the counter. Perhaps they pay much less attention to those things than I do. (I don’t even know if Mr. Jordahl noticed the coffeepot incident, yet I don’t see how he could help but hear the parts clanging all over the floor.) At any rate, it doesn’t appear that he has any intentions of firing me.”

4/10/73 [age 17]:

“[A friend] finally wrote to me and told me about her first sexual encounter and I am STILL A-1 confused about it all.”

4/13/73 [age 17]:

“I swear – I had a test in every one of my classes today and I did not study one moment last night. I really had intended to, but [my brother] Marc called me downstairs to play Password and Stadium Checkers with Joe and Morris and him, and I was so tired by the time we finished that I went straight to bed. I think this no-carbohydrate diet is contributing to my perpetual exhaustion. Still, I am greatly shirking my schoolwork. So I got up at six this morning and got to school by 7:30 so I’d have two hours to study for History. I did, but then I had no time to prepare for Philosophy. I’m sure I didn’t exactly pass with flying colors. I DID manage to get another “A” in Biology, though, which I studied for after I ate lunch and spent a bunch of time listening to the Stones in the listening rooms. I really should crack down on myself.”

4/15/73 [age 17]:

“Well, it happened again. I had intended to get so much schoolwork done today and I didn’t touch it for ONE SECOND. I went to the 10:30 mass and since it’s Palm Sunday it lasted until close to noon. When I returned I cleaned my shoes and did a few other jobs until I was invited to play poker with the four boys at Joe’s and could not resist. I won almost a dollar, which just about paid for my movie ticket tonight. We all went to the Serra and saw ‘Bless the Beasts and the Children’ and ‘Last Picture Show.’ The day didn’t end until midnight. I had no time whatsoever to study.”

4/18/73 [age 17]:

“This morning I was back home from school by 9:00, cooked myself a breakfast of four scrambled eggs and three slices of bacon, cleaned up the house, and let the dog run loose while I read endless pages of History in the garage. At 1:30 I began walking to work because Mr. Jordahl wanted me to come in at 2:00 to learn about some insurance work. I had had a lunch of five slices of Spam – two with cream cheese on top. I worked my seven hours. Now it’s 10:00 and I just finished my bath. My dinner will consists of tuna and cheddar cheese and root beer as [our neighbor] Mr. Morrow told me that ice cream and pie is awaiting me over there.”

4/19/73 [age 17]:

“Presenting ‘Another Rotten Thursday’ or ‘Paula the Klutz Does It Again.’ The day began well, with Jeanne’s overdue letter not arriving only a minor disappointment. At eleven or so I took off for Judy’s [on my bike]; I visited with Robin and her for awhile, then rode to the library to browse through the records and try to find a book on the physiology of emotions for my own interest, but could find none. Well and good. At 12:30 or so I set out for Sue’s. Upon arriving at Hostetter, I saw that the right lane was closed and I’d have to walk the bike through mud. I decided to continue down Capitol to Trimble or Landess. I put some air in the tires and nervously rode on because I hate chancing Capitol. The road narrowed; I waited for a clear space and then pedaled a mile a minute down the edge of the road. A truck was coming; I zipped on, my right front tire hit a 1/2-inch crack, and I was thrown out onto the road, bike on top of me, right in front of the truck. He screeched to a halt; I crawled out slowly from under the bike, people were stopping to ask if I was hurt, I dazily [sic] shook my head no (I was on half a hay fever pill), and trembled all the way to the Chevron station at Trimble. I was scared, now that it was over. I decided to call Sue to come get me; I was quaking when I discovered she wasn’t home. So I called Judy and she came. It was when I tried to put the bike in her car that I realized how sore my left hand was; it still is, and swollen too, so I guess I’ll have to tell the parents when they get home. O Lord, and how I used to disgustedly tell them, ‘Oh, I’m NOT going to get hurt!’ Robin came over later to help fix the bike (it was mostly just twisted) and to talk about life a little. That was nice and I appreciated it. Then when I went in to take my shower, I spilled Mom’s bath powder all over. I vacuumed it up and when I took the vacuum hose off in the sewing room, I spilled all the powder all over again! So I vacuumed it up again. I’m such a clod. Then Mr. Morrow took his family and me out for pizza and I blew my diet. Geez, what a day!”

May 2, 1973 [age 17]:

“I got trapped in a stall in the bathroom today and had to crawl out. The space between door and floor was minuscule and I was forced to slither out like a snake – a rather undignified position.”

May 9, 1973 [age 17]:

“I am actually going to have electives to take next semester, but the classes at [San Jose] State are just too general for me. My preferred four electives would be a whole class on Walt Whitman; one on rock music; one on the history of World War II; and one on parachuting.”

May 15, 1973 [age 17]:

“I just remembered that I used to pray FOR God: ‘God bless Mom and Dad, Marc and Paula, Janine and God.’ How absurd!”

May 20, 1973 [age 17]:

“Jeanne and I took off for San Francisco at 1:30 today to see Paul Simon. Mr. Schwegler had given us directions to the Opera House to pick up the tickets, and with me navigating it was a nightmare of confusion. Once we got to the City I think it took us another hour and a half to get there – our map is outdated and didn’t show all the one-way streets! At one point we even ended up coming on the freeway BACK towards San Jose! We decided to go to the museum in Golden Gate Park first to pass some time, and we finally got there at 4:30, only to discover, after we had paid, that it closes at five. Good grief! Getting to the Wharf to eat dinner was another example of poor navigation, and the Fish ‘N Chips I suggested when we finally got there were awful. After stopping on Van Ness to get a couple cans of Coke, four boxes of Milk Duds, and three packages of M&Ms, we made it to the Opera House with an hour to spare, but I spent all that time running up and down the streets of San Francisco trying to find a place to change into nice clothes. But Paul Simon more than made up for all our trials. Afterwards Jeanne and I stayed outside to wait for him and he came out and walked right by us (with Art Garfunkel!) and he is very short and I just can’t describe how wonderful it was.”

May 24, 1973 [age 17]:

“I forgot to tell about my Philosophy oral report last Friday. I had typed up a technical document of about six pages beforehand, but due to a total lack of rehearsal, the other three members of the group took too much time, leaving me only eight minutes. Realizing my lack of adequate time, I began skipping areas and then lost my head altogether, ad libbing about the soul and consciousness and ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’ – oh, I was classic. And do you know that I got an A on it? And I made everything up!”

May 26, 1973 [age 17]:

“Last Tuesday I went to see a counselor to talk about my woes concerning the generalness of school. I was hoping he would tell me about some unknown programs – maybe one where I could go to Paris for a year and study for free, or one where I could be transferred to another school and study ‘Law Enforcement in Vermont.’ Ah, but there was no such luck.”

May 28, 1973 [age 17]:

“I’m beginning to detest my appearance. First of all – my hair. I must be the only college student in the world with bangs. My hair is too thick and heavy, and now that the weather is hot I’m beginning to be annoyed by it. If I don’t chicken out, I may cut it all off this summer. Then, my face. Yecchh. All broken out. Mrs. Czarnecki claims that Harry and Judy were saved by Vitamin C, so I bought myself some chewable tablets and I’m beginning to take them every day. Thirdly, I’m obviously too fat – 135 pounds. My legs are like barrels. Fourthly, the upper half of me is so darned small. How humiliating. And finally I cannot get a tan and my skin is so white I look sick.”

June 7, 1973 [age 17]:

“I went with Jeanne to her Birth of a Poet class at Kresge College [UC Santa Cruz] today. Th teacher is William Everson, who used to be called Brother Antoninus and is a beat poet! I was so excited to see him, especially now that I’ve been reading ‘Visions of Cody,’ BUT the class was in a sweltering dome at a temperature of (no exaggeration) 110 degrees. There were a bunch of students with no shirts on who had painted themselves, and it was so hot that all the paint was running down their skin. They were like human watercolors! I’ve never seen anything like this and I would have appreciated it more but to tell you the truth I was just miserable in that heat. I wish I could have stayed overnight in the dorm but Dad would never have allowed me to sleep in the midst of a mob of ‘hippies.’ “

June 11, 1973 [age 17]:

“Sometimes I simply cannot understand my feelings towards human beings. Am I a humanitarian, or do I totally hate mankind?”

TBT, 1969 or 1970 [age 13 or 14]:

[NOTE: This is something I found in my files a few days ago. I have no recollection of it, but it appears that I was writing my future bio: tongue-in-cheek, but grounded in wishful thinking.]

“Bocciardi (Bo CHAR dee), Paula, 1955-. Great athlete, musician, comedienne, detective, intellectual, and politician. Plays on professional football, baseball, basketball, hockey, tennis, swimming, badminton, track, squash, soccer, lacrosse, equestrian, and sky-diving teams. Received highest awards in all sports. Took Gold medal in all events in 1972 Olympics. Set mile record – 3 min. 31 sec. High jump – 8 ft. 3 in. Pole vault 30 ft. 2-1/2 in. Long jump – same. Broad jump 11 ft. 9 inches. 50 yd. dash – 4 sec. Longest sky jump – she was dropped from a rocket. Better than Glen Campbell at the guitar, better than Liberace at the piano. Voted world’s best comedienne. Wrote 56 books – all million sellers. Ranked no. 1 detective. Apprehended criminals of all crimes since 1901. In 1970, shot 3 times in leg, 2 times in arm, 5 times in head, once in stomach, yet managed to bravely crawl away and handcuff the crook. Joined up with the Hardy Boys. I.Q. of 187. Able to outwit everyone, even Mr. Romero [my English teacher]. Was senator, governor, and finally – 1st woman President! A great person truly.”

June 16, 1973 [age 17]:

“Yesterday at work [at Rexall drugstore] a hippie-looking guy asked me, ‘Where are the (mumble mumble)?’ I couldn’t exactly understand him but it sounded like he said ‘breast bracelets.’ That seemed kind of repulsive to me but I figured it must be part of the new cult or something I walked over to Dorothy and said, ‘uh, could you help this man?’ She was busy at the post office and said, ‘Well, what does he want?’ I tried to act cool and said that he wanted some breast bracelets. She looked very puzzled but then he wandered over to the wall and we heard him say, ‘I found it!’ He came back with some Binaca. I guess he had actually said ‘breath sprays’!”

June 17, 1973 [age 17]:

“Last night Judy and I went to see ‘The Harrad Experiment’ and ‘Lovers and Other Strangers’ at the Meridian Quad theaters. For the first time in my life the people at the door were making everyone prove that they were 17, or maybe 18, I’m not sure. I’m not an ‘adult’ yet so I was kind of scared but either I look old or my CSUSJ student body card was indicative of my age ‘cause they let me in. I wondered why the rigamarole but I got my answer when I saw ‘The Harrad Experiment.’ Total frontal nudity, time and again, boys and girls! I was nauseated by the talk about how if you follow society’s conventions and want one faithful partner you’re being possessive and selfish! That’s just bull!”

8 thoughts on “A bike, some undies, and a gun

  1. You really know how to tell a story! Margaret’s bike ride is a pretty fascinating subject, but not everyone could make the journey so real and interesting. You didn’t have many facts to work with, but you still teased out a lot of Margaret’s personality and character. Thanks for rescuing her from oblivion. I’m so glad to know she existed. We can all be inspired by her and tantalized by the dearth of information about her, despite her amazing feat. Why wasn’t the media all over her? I love the photos you inserted and your excerpts from Margaret’s own account. My favorite phrase, which isn’t yours, is the quotation, “feminine organs of matrimonial necessity.” Huh?

    Maryl

    5/30/2021 8:34 PM, Monday Morning Rail wrote:

    > WordPress.com > Paula B posted: ” When Margaret Valentine LeLong decided in 1897 to > ride a bicycle, alone, from Chicago to her home in San Francisco, > everyone implored her to reconsider. No woman had ever dared try such > a thing. Dangers abounded: wildlife, marauders, injuries, de” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. really enjoyed this one, Paula. you got me interested in the mystery of Margaret versus Minnie, are they the same person. Looked around on line a bit but only found that there is a Lelong Art Gallery (offices in Paris and New York), did not see any Calif. connection. Both show an Iowa connection but that could be a coincidence, especially if what Margaret wrote about that part of her trip never mentioned being from there or having family from there.

    On Sun, May 30, 2021 at 11:34 PM Monday Morning Rail wrote:

    > Paula B posted: ” When Margaret Valentine LeLong decided in 1897 to ride a > bicycle, alone, from Chicago to her home in San Francisco, everyone > implored her to reconsider. No woman had ever dared try such a thing. > Dangers abounded: wildlife, marauders, injuries, de” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Lauren. I thought about the Iowa problem, too, and I’d even originally noted it in my blog but removed the reference when I started thinking about my mom, who was born in Wisconsin but traveled out west with her family when she was a mere baby. I suppose there’s a chance that could have been Minnie/Margaret’s story as well.

      Like

  3. Whew! What a story! I always love your ‘personal’ stories and how you managed to live so fully and still write them up is a mystery to me…but the bicycle story is in a world apart and deserves to be spread far and wide. Well done, Paula!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. She was amazing. And I never realized that bikes became so popular in the late 1800s because people wanted to be able to get around without using horses. Here’s a book you might like if you haven’t read it already: A Lady’s Life In The Rocky Mountains, by Isabella Bird.

    Liked by 1 person

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