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Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride

Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride

Written by Peter Zheutlin

Narrated by Barrett Whitener


Around the World on Two Wheels: Annie Londonderry's Extraordinary Ride

Written by Peter Zheutlin

Narrated by Barrett Whitener

ratings:
4/5 (2 ratings)
Length:
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Dec 3, 2007
ISBN:
9781400175475
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Until 1894 there were no female sport stars, no product endorsement deals, and no young mothers with the chutzpah to circle the globe on a bicycle. Annie Kopchovsky changed all of that.



Annie was a Jewish immigrant and working mother of three living in a Boston tenement with her husband, a peddler. This was as close to the American dream as she was likely to get-until she became part of what one newspaper called "one of the most novel wagers ever made": a high-stakes bet between two wealthy merchants that a woman could not ride around the world on a bicycle, as Thomas Stevens had a few years before. Annie rose to the challenge, pledging to finish her fifteen-month trip with a staggering $5,000 earned by selling advertising space on her bike and her clothing, making personal appearances in stores and at bicycle races, and lecturing about her adventures along the way. When the Londonderry Lithia Springs Water Company of New Hampshire offered to become the first of her many sponsors, Annie Kopchovsky became Annie Londonderry, and a legend was born. So began one of the greatest escapades-and publicity stunts-of the Victorian Age.



In this marvelously written book, author Peter Zheutlin vividly recounts the story of the audacious woman who turned every Victorian notion of female propriety on its ear. When Annie left Boston in June 1894, she was a brash young lady with a 42-pound bicycle, a revolver, a change of underwear, and a dream of freedom. The epic journey that followed-from a frigid ride through France to an encounter with outlaw John Wesley Hardin in El Paso-took the connection between athletics and commercialism to dizzying new heights and turned Annie into a symbol of sexual equality.



A beguiling true story of a bold spirit who reinvented herself against all odds, Around the World on Two Wheels blends social history and high adventure into an unforgettable portrait of courage, imagination, and tenacity.
Publisher:
Released:
Dec 3, 2007
ISBN:
9781400175475
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Peter Zheutlin is the author of the New York Times bestseller Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs and a Million Miles on the Lost Hope Highway; Rescued: What Second-Chance Dogs Teach Us About Living with Purpose, Loving with Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things; and The Dog Went Over the Mountain: Travels With Albie—An American Journey (also available from Pegasus Books), a Lowell Thomas/Societ of American Travel Writers Award winner. Peter lives in Massachusetts with his wife, author Judy Gelman.


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  • (3/5)
    I listened to this book as a download from my library. Annie Londonderry (not her real name) was a wife and mother living in Boston in the 1890's. She answered a challenge that a woman would not be able to ride a bicycle around the world in a set period of time. Or at least she said there was a challenge. Peter Zheutlin thought that she made it up and just decided to try the trip for adventure and financial gain. Starting from Boston in skirt and jacket she soon discovered that she could not ride like that. She adopted bloomers which outraged many people. Her trip from Boston to New York City and then Chicago took so long that she realized she would not be able to cross the rest of continental USA before winter. So she decided to go back to New York and take a boat to France. She was feted in France and was accompanied on most legs of her journey from Le Havre to Paris to Marseille. In Marseille she took another boat and made her way through the Suez Canal, the Indian Ocean and around to Japan. There she caught another ship across the Pacific Ocean ending up in San Francisco. Since she didn't have any money herself she financed the trip by giving speeches and carrying advertising.Annie did make her way back to Chicago within 15 months of her departure from Boston but it's pretty clear she didn't ride her bicycle anywhere close to around the world.At the end of her bicycle tour I was rather disappointed in this tale. However it picked up from there as Peter Zheutlin described Annie's remaining life and how he became interested in her. Annie was definitely an extraordinary woman for her times and her tour, even with its shortcomings, did much to advance women's equality.
  • (5/5)
    In 1894 Annie Kapchowsky, a Jewish-American mother of three little children who had never ridden a bicycle in her life, announced that she would ride one around the world. It looks like she really only rode the bicycle over, perhaps, half of the USA and half of France, taking trains or steamers the rest of the way, but this fact doesn’t make her story or this book any less interesting. First of all there's a fascinating background the era, as Zheutlin attempts to answer the question: What might have given his great-grandaunt such an extraordinary idea, even by contemporary standards? Apparently this was the time of a bicycle boom both in America and in Europe, as this new means of transportation had been invented and made available to the general population which had theretofore not known any way of getting around that didn't involve animals or walking on their own two feet. It’s hard to imagine how revolutionary, librating and futuristic riding a bicycle appeared to people back then. Every American and French town Kapchowsky passed through had at least one and often several wheelman's associations, cyclists' clubs, and the like, which would organize a grand reception for her and several of whose members would accompany her to the next town. (She did ride some stretches of her route alone, but this was the exception rather than the rule.) Zheutlin also discusses how women found bicycling particularly liberating and how it was widely endorsed by various women's rights organizations. Not only did it allow women to go wherever they wished, even long-distance, without having to ask for physical assistance, horses, carts or carriages, or money, but it also advanced the cause of dress reform. Annie Kapchowsky's case illustrates the matter quite well: she started her journey in traditional Victorian dress, switched to bloomers and then to a fully male attire in a matter of two months, having found any other alternative impractical. And there were enough female bicyclists at the time for many cities to have special ladies' cyclist clubs just for them.This explains how a woman who had never ridden a bicycle or shown any interest in women's movement could conceive of such an idea as going around the world on a bicycle – bicycling, its liberating power, especially for women, and round-the-world trips of every type were very popular notions at the time, and, in a sense, Kapchowsky was a prime candidate for such a scheme, despite her lack of cycling experience. Her family immigrated to the USA from Latvia when she was a child. When she was 17 or 18, both her parents died. She got married a year later and had three children in four years. This was a typical woman's life at the time, but apparently Annie Kapchowsky was not a typical sort of person to accept her society's views on life. For instance, although her husband was a peddler of secondhand clothes, she herself worked for a newspaper, selling its advertising space to companies – quite a step-up in comparison, especially impressive if one considers the demands of her family. Thus it is, perhaps, not very surprising that she found frequent pregnancies, child care and the domestic chores too much of a burden and decided to escape from it all, at least temporarily, by taking a round-the-world trip.Some journalists made a big deal out of the fact that she didn't ride for most of it, especially since she told them lots of made up stories of her adventures in places she had barely passed through on a ship, but others were perfectly willing to close their eyes to her tendency to fictionalize her story for the sake of better entertainment and higher commercial value of her enterprise. True, fact-checking was more complicated at the previous turn of the century, but considering the time it took Kapchowsky to cross Asia, the truth lay on the surface. However, as Zheutlin explains, newspapers back then generally weren’t in the business of providing the population with facts – they were striving to entertain it, with whatever material would sell as many copies as possible. So, in a sense, Annie Kapchowsky and the vast majority of the journalists she met were in the same business. She could attract more people to come to her lectures or to buy her autographed pictures at the hotel and more businesses to pay her to carry their banners on her bike (her primary means of supporting herself on her trip), if she claimed to be riding around the world on a bicycle and told exciting stories of her adventures while doing so. This also allowed journalists to sell more copies of their periodicals. So I think it’s hardly surprising that the few journalists who dared expose the truth behind the sham often found themselves mercilessly attacked by their own brethren, so that the enterprising globetrotter hardly needed to lift a finger in her own defense. And what about the people who flocked to her lectures, bought her pictures or devoured her stories in the newspapers? Well, again, it had to be obvious that she couldn’t have done much riding around the globe in the amount of time it took her to circumnavigate it, especially to all the habitual long-distance bikers she met at the cyclists' clubs in all the American and French towns she passed through, and although it's entirely possible that a fair number of provincial folks were duped, somehow I suspect that most of her audiences also came for the entertainment, not enlightenment. And entertainment she gave aplenty. By all accounts, Annie Kapchowsky had a great sense of what would appeal to an audience, and she knew how to tell a story, and it appears that in these pre-cinema days her lectures were worth every cent. I, on the other hand, found myself more captivated by the story of a woman who'd have the audacity to depart on her own on such a trip without any backer or even a constant companion of any sort, meaning that she had nobody, but herself to rely upon, in any sense. It's also impressive that although she'd never ridden a bike before her trip, by its end she was so proficient she could outrace any man who took up her challenge. I also found the author’s description of the culture of the time, particularly relating to bicyclists and women's liberation, very interesting. However, I wouldn't recommend this book as a round-the-world travel book: the only descriptions there are are those of the USA and France, since these were the only countries Kapchowsky actually traveled through; the rest she merely passed by on steamers with a few brief stops, and unlike Nellie Bly, who wrote and told real accounts of the places she had visited, and so had to do quite a bit of sightseeing, Annie Kapchowsky relied on her imagination to tell her stories, and so she either just perused the local newspapers on board her ships for inspiration, or if she did look around and explore, she didn't find the reality interesting enough to talk about it later. What is interesting is that she managed to persuade her husband to look after their children, the eldest of whom was five, by himself for a year while she was on her trip – something a man in any time would have almost taken for granted, but most women would have found very difficult to arrange, even today. Zheutlin writes that she posed as single on her trip, because otherwise the question of children would have inevitably come up, and that at that age she would have been subjected to censure for leaving them for a year, and by some, also for leaving her husband, but actually I'm not sure the same wouldn't have happened today as well. She also rode under the surname Londonderry, which was the name of one of the companies with whom she'd made an advertising deal, which, besides bringing her some money, allowed her to conceal the fact that she was Jewish, and sadly, there are places today where she'd have had to make similar "accommodations." And, of course, a real bicycle trip around the world by a sole woman in her early twenties would have been as impossible today as it was back then. So in many ways her story felt surprisingly topical. On the other hand, I personally was rather disappointed to learn in the epilogue that after her return, Annie Kapchowsky and her husband had sent all their (soon four) children to boarding schools as early as possible, which affected them (the children) for the rest of their lives. Overall, however, I very much enjoyed this book.