Thursday, October 21, 2010

Recommended read: The Lost Cyclist

The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance
by David V. Herlihy
NEW 796.6 HER
Find it in the catalog!

The title of this book refers to Frank Lenz, a 25 year-old from Pittsburgh who embarked on a cycling tour around the world in May 1892. A clerk at a brass factory, he had previously entered different races before deciding to try touring full-time. His tour proposal, in which Lenz estimated a two yearlong bicycling tour through North America, Asia, and Europe, was accepted by Outing magazine. Lenz acted as their correspondent, writing about his journeys and providing his own photographs (he was an amateur photographer) to accompany the articles. He started in the United States before crossing the Pacific by ship, then traveled through China before continuing on through Burma and India before his death in Turkey in 1894. When they didn't hear from Lenz for several weeks, family and friends worried about what happened to him, and Outing (after lying about his safety) eventually sent another cyclist, Will Sachtleban, to discover the truth behind what happened to Lenz in Turkey.

Will Sachtleban (from Alton, IL) and Thomas Allen were college friends who completed their own bicycling world tour. Their tour lasted three years in duration, and they came home just as Lentz was starting his way through China. The first part of the narrative goes back and forth between following Lenz for a chapter and then Sachtleban and Allen. The second part describes Sachtleban's struggle to get the truth about Lenz's death and his slow progress toward a trial. Because of the tension in Turkey between the Kurds and Armenians, Sachtleban encountered problems getting people to talk to him and then stick to their stories.

The Lost Cyclist is a really fascinating read, and not just because of the mystery surrounding the fate of Lenz, who insisted on traveling through Turkey even after others recommending he go through Russia. I couldn't believe the long distances that cyclists like Lenz, Sachtleban, and Allen traveled--they had to carry all their supplies with them (including bulky cameras), and encountered curiosity and even animosity when visiting foreign countries where it was a rarity to see white people, let alone white people riding odd machines like bicycles. Lenz was sometimes greeted with cries of "foreign devil," with stones and other objects thrown at him. This sort of reaction was the opposite to what cyclists experienced across the United States, where cycling clubs, journalists, and friends held dinners and parties for them. The book also includes many black and white photographs taken by Lenz during his journeys.

If you are interested in this topic you may also want to read the article "The Last Ride of Frank Lenz" by Geof Koss from Adventure Cyclist.