But who was the first woman to accomplish the feat?
Let me introduce you to Annie Londonderry, a Bostonian in her early 20s who undertook the journey 10 years later in 1894. Credited with accomplishing the bicycle journey by Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and countless other newspapers at the time, her story is one of high adventure and extreme risk for a woman travelling alone in the late 19th century.
Her stories involve run-ins with bandits, nights spent sleeping in barns or open fields, visiting the front of the China-Japan war where she was wounded and taken prisoner, accidents out on the road, and tiger hunts in the jungle from atop an elephant. She did it all to win a bet that a woman could bicycle around the world.
But a word of caution. I just completed the recent book about her travels — “Around the World on Two Wheels; Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride” — that suggests that maybe all was not as it seems; Annie never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.
Widely celebrated as well as castigated in her time, her story was quickly shrouded by the mists of history and soon had dropped from bicycling lore until 2003 when Boston-area author Peter Zheutlin began delving into the monumental trip by this woman, his great-grand aunt.
What he discovered in her scrapbooks and countless clippings from newspaper morgues along her route has become an entertaining book about bicycling and hucksterism in a bygone era. For instance:
There's a lot in Zheutlin's book for those who enjoy reading about bicycle adventure, or about the New Women's movement, or about the state of the world at the turn of the previous century. I highly recommend it.
But was Annie the first woman to ride around the planet? I'll let you decide after you read the book. If you decide she doesn't deserve the honor, you'll have to admit that this woman had a lot of chutzpah and helped change people's perceptions about what women could accomplish.
Tomorrow, read an interview with the author Peter Zheutlin and learn about an upcoming documentary on her journey