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Santa Rosa to Seattle by bike in 1909

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Seattle has been a destination for the long-distance bicyclists for a long time — 106 years to be exact.

Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco with their bikes  in 1909

Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco with their bikes in 1909

That’s how long it has been since Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco mounted their second-hand bicycles in Santa Rosa, CA, and rode north to the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle.

There was no Northern Tier Bicycle Route nor Pacific Coast Bicycle Route they could follow to get close to Seattle, as there is today. They merely followed the paths alongside railroad tracks that headed north out of Santa Rosa.

The two recent high school graduates reported their adventures via letters to the hometown newspaper — Santa Rosa Press Democrat — and postcards to their friends and family.

Fortunately for us, Vic’s daughter grew up to become an author (she wrote stories for “Chicken Soup for the Soul” among other pieces). Intrigued by her father’s stories of his trip, she took his letters and personal recollections and fashioned them into a book — “Two Wheels North: Bicycling the West Coast in 1909.”

The work took Gibb, who is now 91, 20 years of research and writing. The book, published by Oregon State University Press in 2000, is in its 7th printing.

The author was interviewed recently by the Federal Way Mirror. She says her father and his friend rode their bikes 800 miles in 52 days — about 15 miles a day. That’s not bad considering the abysmal condition of the Northwest’s roads — mostly non-existent.

“They decided they wanted to be explorers. It was the age of adventure and dreams.”




A blacksmith welded racks and kickstands to the second-hand bikes, and the two set off with $5.65 between them in their pockets. They fished and hunted along the way and farm families often shared a home-cooked meal and a place to stay.

The railroad tracks they followed took them over high trestles and through dark tunnels. They ran across pickpockets and thieves, but also found many kind people and even had time for romance. When they arrived in Seattle, they received $25 from the Seattle Post Intelligencer and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. They used to money to buy train tickets for home.

“Two Wheels North: Bicycling the West Coast in 1909” shows how much long-distance bicycle touring has changed in the past century, and how much it has stayed the same. It’s definitely an interesting read for anyone who’s planning for such an adventure.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bikingbis.com/2015/08/31/santa-rosa-to-seattle-by-bike-in-1909/

1 comment

  1. Johnny White

    My gratitude for sharing the story of Vic McDaniel and Ray Francisco, truly inspiring.

    Just goes to show how biking can transcend supposed physical limitations and obstacles! I can just imagine how the roads, how the trails were back then, if there were.

    And look how far we’ve gone! Thanks in part to these trail blazers.

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