A few months ago, I wrote a short blog post here about Fred Birchmore, the mid-1930s bicycle traveler from Georgia. He may have been the first “Fred” — now a mocking term for a bicycling enthusiast.
At the time, “Bicycle: The History” author David V. Herlihy was working on a piece about Birchmore for the current issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine, the publication of Adventure Cycling Association.
As is so often the case in Herlihy’s writing, he found connections between Birchmore and the world at large that makes the story of this “Fred” so much more interesting.
As he began his research last year about Birchmore and his part-time traveling companion, Harry Espenscheid, he discovered that both were still alive. Unfortunately, Herlihy was unable to get them together as Espenscheid suffered Alzheimer’s and died at age 98. Birchmore passed away at his home in Athens, Georgia, on April 15 at age 100.
Although they were both from the United States, they didn’t meet each other until they were in Germany. Espenscheid was a Dartmouth graduate from the Northeast, and Birchmore held a law degree from the University of Georgia. Still, they were “kindred spirits” and traveled well together.
They both experienced the rise of Nazism in Germany under Adolph Hitler on their travels, with Birchmore actually coming face to face with him. Together, they were arrested by Mussolini Fascists in Italy where they were accused of spying after a harrowing journey through the mountains in the dead of winter.
Years later, after they had returned home to become family men, they enlisted separately in the Navy during World War II and fought the tyranny they had seen growing in Europe the previous decade.
Herlihy also writes about other adventures Birchmore and Espenscheid had together, and separately, as they traveled the world.
In addition to “The Bicycle,” Herlihy also wrote “The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and his Mysterious Disappearance.” He’s currently researching the tragic life of Octave Lapize, an early Tour de France winner who also plays a role in the early history of flight.
Books by David V. Herlihy: