The events portrayed in the book Two Wheels North could have been possible. A quick consult of any edition of a Rand McNally atlas reveals the cities and geographic features described by Evelyn McDaniel Gibb are arranged in the order in which they appear in the book. The tale seems somewhat novel, but by the end you believe it truly happened.
Browsing the local library I came across the title Two Wheels North – Bicycling the West Coast in 1909 and was terribly intrigued. I flipped the unit over and on the back saw a black and white photo of two young men standing behind laden bicycles. I didn't bother reading the back cover synopsis. I just checked the book out.
Written by Evelyn McDaniel Gibb, the daughter of one of those two teenagers in the photo, the book is a sort of fictionalized biography of the author's father. Vic McDaniel and his best friend Ray Francisco strike out from Santa Rosa, California late in 1909 heading north over uncertain roads in a quest to reach the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, Washington over 1,000 miles away.
The story is told from Vic's point of view as the boys pedal their wheels north toward small town notoriety and a $25 prize offered by the local news paper if they succeed in reaching the expo before a predetermined date. "Two wheels" is not a reference to the construction of the bicycle itself, but to the lost usage of the phrase. A "wheel" in those days referred to an entire bicycle.
They face wilderness, heartbreaking mechanical failures, saddle sores and rough characters along the way as they experience a coming of age adventure in a time when the conveniences modern bicycle adventurers take for granted were hard to come by on a moment's notice.
Mrs. Gibb retells the story of her father's journey in a poignant, honest and humble manner. Its an amazing tale that follows the boys through a world most of us alive today have never seen, a world sparse on cars and paved roads, lacking a continuous network of connections between cities and still rich with adventure and pristine beauty.
I'd never heard of the book before finding it at the library, but despite its obscurity in the typical cycling bibliography this is a great read. It inspires you to think about where you could go, far and wide, on your bike.
Oregon State University Press