OVER THE SIERRAS NEVADAS.The beauties of nature are scattered with a more lavish hand across the country lying between the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the shores where the surf romps and rolls over the auriferous sands of the Pacific, in Golden Gate Park, than in a journey of the same length in any other part of the world. Such, at least, is the verdict of many whose fortune it has been to traverse that favored stretch of country. Nothing but the limited power of man's eyes prevents him from standing on the top of the mountains and surveying, at a glance, the whole glorious panorama that stretches away for more than two hundred miles to the west, terminating in the gleaming waters of the Pacific Ocean. Could he do this, he would behold, for the first seventy-five or eighty miles, a vast, billowy sea of foot-hills, clothed with forests of sombre pine and bright, evergreen oaks; and, lower down, dense patches of white-blossomed chaparral, looking in the enchanted distance like irregular banks of snow. Then the world-renowned valley of the Sacramento River, with its level plains of dark, rich soil, its matchless fields of ripening grain, traversed here and there by streams that, emerging from the shadowy depths of the foot-hills, wind their way, like gleaming threads of silver, across the fertile plain and join the Sacramento, which receives them, one and all, in her matronly bosom and hurries with them øn to the sea.
Towns and villages, with white church-spires, irregularly sprinkled over hill and vale, although sown like seeds from the giant hand of a mighty husbandman, would be seen nestling snugly amid groves of waving shade and semi-tropical fruit trees. Beyond all this the lower coast-range, where, toward San Francisco, Mount Diablo and Mount Tamalpais - grim sentinels of the Golden Gate - rear their shaggy heads skyward, and seem to look down with a patronizing air upon the less pretentious hills that border the coast and reflect their shadows in the blue water of San Francisco Bay. Upon the sloping sides of these hills sweet, nutritious grasses grow, upon which peacefully graze the cows that supply San Francisco with milk and butter.
Various attempts have been made from time to time, by ambitious cyclers, to wheel across America from ocean to ocean; but - "Around the World!"
"The impracticable scheme of a visionary," was the most charitable verdict one could reasonably have expected.
The first essential element of success, however, is to have sufficient confidence in one's self to brave the criticisms - to say nothing of the witticisms - of a sceptical public. So eight o'clock on the morning of April 22, 1884, finds me and my fifty-inch machine on the deck of the Alameda, one of the splendid ferry-boats plying between San Francisco and Oakland, and a ride of four miles over the sparkling waters of the bay lands us, twenty-eight minutes later, on the Oakland pier, that juts far enough out to allow the big ferries to enter the slip in deep water. On the beauties of San Francisco Bay it is, perhaps, needless to dwell, as everybody has heard or read of this magnificent sheet of water, its surface flecked with snowy sails, and surrounded by a beautiful framework of evergreen hills; its only outlet to the ocean the famous Golden Gate - a narrow channel through which come and go the ships of all nations.
With the hearty well-wishing of a small group of Oakland and 'Frisco cyclers who have come, out of curiosity, to see the start, I mount and ride away to the east, down San Pablo Avenue, toward the village of the same Spanish name, some sixteen miles distant. The first seven miles are a sort of half-macadamized road, and I bowl briskly along.
The past winter has been the rainiest since 1857, and the continuous pelting rains had not beaten down upon the last half of this imperfect macadam in vain; for it has left it a surface of wave-like undulations, from out of which the frequent bowlder protrudes its unwelcome head, as if ambitiously striving to soar above its lowly surroundings. But this one don't mind, and I am perfectly willing to put up with the bowlders for the sake of the undulations. The sensation of riding a small boat over "the gently-heaving waves of the murmuring sea" is, I think, one of the pleasures of life; and the next thing to it is riding a bicycle over the last three miles of the San Pablo Avenue macadam as I found it on that April morning.
The wave-like macadam abruptly terminates, and I find myself on a common dirt road. It is a fair road, however, and I have plenty of time to look about and admire whatever bits of scenery happen to come in view. There are few spots in the "Golden State" from which views of more or less beauty are not to be obtained; and ere I am a baker's dozen of miles from Oakland pier I find myself within an ace of taking an undesirable header into a ditch of water by the road-side, while looking upon a scene that for the moment completely wins me from my immediate surroundings. There is nothing particularly grand or imposing in the outlook here; but the late rains have clothed the whole smiling face of nature with a bright, refreshing green, that fails not to awaken a thrill of pleasure in the breast of one fresh from the verdureless streets of a large sea- port city. Broad fields of pale-green, thrifty-looking young wheat, and darker-hued meads, stretch away on either side of the road; and away beyond to the left, through an opening in the hills, can be seen, as through a window, the placid waters of the bay, over whose glittering, sunlit surface white-winged, aristocratic yachts and the plebeian smacks of Greek and Italian fishermen swiftly glide, and fairly vie with each other in giving the finishing touches to a picture.
So far, the road continues level and fairly good; and, notwithstanding the seductive pleasures of the ride over the bounding billows of the gently heaving macadam, the dalliance with the scenery, and the all too frequent dismounts in deference to the objections of phantom-eyed roadsters, I pulled up at San Pablo at ten o'clock, having covered the sixteen miles in one hour and thirty-two minutes; though, of course, there is nothing speedy about this - to which desirable qualification, indeed, I lay no claim.
Soon after leaving San Pablo the country gets somewhat "choppy," and the road a succession of short-hills, at the bottom of which modest-looking mud-holes patiently await an opportunity to make one's acquaintance, or scraggy-looking, latitudinous washouts are awaiting their chance to commit a murder, or to make the unwary cycler who should venture to "coast," think he had wheeled over the tail of an earthquake. One never minds a hilly road where one can reach the bottom with an impetus that sends him spinning half-way up the next; but where mud-holes or washouts resolutely "hold the fort" in every depression, it is different, and the progress of the cycler is necessarily slow. I have set upon reaching Suisun, a point fifty miles along the Central Pacific Railway, to-night; but the roads after leaving San Pablo are anything but good, and the day is warm, so six P.M. finds me trudging along an unridable piece of road through the low tuile swamps that border Suisun Bay. "Tuile" is the name given to a species of tall rank grass, or rather rush, that grows to the height of eight or ten feet, and so thick in places that it is difficult to pass through, in the low, swampy grounds in this part of California. These tuile swamps are traversed by a net-work of small, sluggish streams and sloughs, that fairly swarm with wild ducks and geese, and justly entitle them to their local title of "the duck-hunters' paradise." Ere I am through this swamp, the shades of night gather ominously around and settle down like a pall over the half-flooded flats; the road is full of mud-holes and pools of water, through which it is difficult to navigate, and I am in something of a quandary. I am sweeping along at the irresistible velocity of a mile an hour, and wondering how far it is to the other end of the swampy road, when thrice welcome succor appears from a strange and altogether unexpected source. I had noticed a small fire, twinkling through the darkness away off in the swamp; and now the wind rises and the flames of the small fire spread to the thick patches of dead tuile. In a short time the whole country, including my road, is lit up by the fierce glare of the blaze; so that I am enabled to proceed with little trouble. These tuiles often catch on fire in the fall and early winter, when everything is comparatively dry, and fairly rival the prairie fires of the Western plains in the fierceness of the flames.
The next morning I start off in a drizzling rain, and, after going sixteen miles, I have to remain for the day at Elmira. Here, among other items of interest, I learn that twenty miles farther ahead the Sacramento River is flooding the country, and the only way I can hope to get through is to take to the Central Pacific track and cross over the six miles of open trestle-work that spans the Sacramento River and its broad bottom-lands, that are subject to the annual spring overflow. From Elmira my way leads through a fruit and farming country that is called second to none in the world. Magnificent farms line the road; at short intervals appear large well-kept vineyards, in which gangs of Chinese coolies are hoeing and pulling weeds, and otherwise keeping trim. A profusion of peach, pear, and almond orchards enlivens the landscape with a wealth of pink and white blossoms, and fills the balmy spring air with a subtle, sensuous perfume that savors of a tropical clime.
Already I realize that there is going to be as much "foot-riding" as anything for the first part of my journey; so, while halting for dinner at the village of Davisville, I deliver my rather slight shoes over to the tender mercies of an Irish cobbler of the old school, with carte blanche instructions to fit them out for hard service. While diligently hammering away at the shoes, the old cobbler grows communicative, and in almost unintelligible brogue tells a complicated tale of Irish life, out of which I can make neither head, tail, nor tale; though nodding and assenting to it all, to the great satisfaction of the loquacious manipulator of the last, who in an hour hands over the shoes with the proud assertion, "They'll last yez, be jabbers, to Omaha."
Reaching the overflowed country, I have to take to the trestle-work and begin the tedious process of trundling along that aggravating roadway, where, to the music of rushing waters, I have to step from tie to tie, and bump, bump, bump, my machine along for six weary miles. The Sacramento River is the outlet for the tremendous volumes of water caused every spring by the melting snows on the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and these long stretches of open trestle have been found necessary to allow the water to pass beneath. Nothing but trains are expected to cross this trestle-work, and of course no provision is made for pedestrians. The engineer of an approaching train sets his locomotive to tooting for all she is worth as he sees a "strayed or stolen" cycler, slowly bumping along ahead of his train. But he has no need to slow up, for occasional cross-beams stick out far enough to admit of standing out of reach, and when he comes up alongside, he and the fireman look out of the window of the cab and see me squatting on the end of one of these handy beams, and letting the bicycle hang over.
That night I stay in Sacramento, the beautiful capital of the Golden State, whose well-shaded streets and blooming, almost tropical gardens combine to form a city of quiet, dignified beauty, of which Californians feel justly proud. Three and a half miles east of Sacramento, the high trestle bridge spanning the main stream of the American River has to be crossed, and from this bridge is obtained a remarkably fine view of the snow-capped Sierras, the great barrier that separates the fertile valleys and glorious climate of California, from the bleak and barren sage-brush plains, rugged mountains, and forbidding wastes of sand and alkali, that, from the summit of the Sierras, stretch away to the eastward for over a thousand miles. The view from the American River bridge is grand and imposing, encompassing the whole foot-hill country, which rolls in broken, irregular billows of forest-crowned hill and charming vale, upward and onward to the east, gradually getting more rugged, rocky, and immense, the hills changing to mountains, the vales to ca€ons, until they terminate in bald, hoary peaks whose white rugged pinnacles seem to penetrate the sky, and stand out in ghostly, shadowy outline against the azure depths of space beyond.
After crossing the American River the character of the country changes, and I enjoy a ten-mile ride over a fair road, through one of those splendid sheep-ranches that are only found in California, and which have long challenged the admiration of the world. Sixty thousand acres, I am informed, is the extent of this pasture, all within one fence. The soft, velvety greensward is half-shaded by the wide-spreading branches of evergreen oaks that singly and in small groups are scattered at irregular intervals from one end of the pasture to the other, giving it the appearance of one of the old ancestral parks of England. As I bowl pleasantly along I involuntarily look about me, half expecting to see some grand, stately old mansion peeping from among some one of the splendid oak-groves; and when a jack-rabbit hops out and halts at twenty paces from my road, I half hesitate to fire at him, lest the noise of the report should bring out the vigilant and lynx-eyed game-keeper, and get me "summoned" for poaching. I remember the pleasant ten-mile ride through this park-like pasture as one of the brightest spots of the whole journey across America. But "every rose conceals a thorn," and pleasant paths often load astray; when I emerge from the pasture I find myself several miles off the right road and have to make my unhappy way across lots, through numberless gates and small ranches, to the road again.
There seems to be quite a sprinkling of Spanish or Mexican rancheros through here, and after partaking of the welcome noon-tide hospitality of one of the ranches, I find myself, before I realize it, illustrating the bicycle and its uses, to a group of sombrero-decked rancheros and darked-eyed se€oritas, by riding the machine round and round on their own ranch-lawn. It is a novel position, to say the least; and often afterward, wending my solitary way across some dreary Nevada desert, with no company but my own uncanny shadow, sharply outlined on the white alkali by the glaring rays of the sun, my untrammelled thoughts would wander back to this scene, and I would grow "hot and cold by turns," in my uncertainty as to whether the bewitching smiles of the se€oritas were smiles of admiration, or whether they were simply "grinning" at the figure I cut. While not conscious of having cut a sorrier figure than usual on that occasion, somehow I cannot rid myself of an unhappy, ban- owing suspicion, that the latter comes nearer the truth than the former.
The ground is gradually getting more broken; huge rocks intrude themselves upon the landscape. At the town of Rocklin we are supposed to enter the foot-hill country proper. Much of the road in these lower foot-hills is excellent, being of a hard, stony character, and proof against the winter rains. Everybody who writes anything about the Golden State is expected to say something complimentary - or otherwise, as his experience may seem to dictate - about the "glorious climate of California;" or else render an account of himself for the slight, should he ever return, which he is very liable to do. For, no matter what he may say about it, the "glorious climate" generally manages to make one, ever after, somewhat dissatisfied with the extremes of heat and cold met with in less genial regions. This fact of having to pay my measure of tribute to the climate forces itself on my notice prominently here at Rocklin, because, in- directly, the "climate" was instrumental in bringing about a slight accident, which, in turn, brought about the - to me - serious calamity of sending me to bed without any supper. Rocklin is celebrated - and by certain bad people, ridiculed - all over this part of the foot-hills for the superabundance of its juvenile population. If one makes any inquisitive remarks about this fact, the Rocklinite addressed will either blush or grin, according to his temperament, and say, "It's the glorious climate." A bicycle is a decided novelty up here, and, of course, the multitudinous youth turn out in droves to see it. The bewildering swarms of these small mountaineers distract my attention and cause me to take a header that temporarily disables the machine. The result is, that, in order to reach the village where I wish to stay over night, I have to "foot it" over four miles of the best road I have found since leaving San Pablo, and lose my supper into the bargain, by procrastinating at the village smithy, so as to have my machine in trim, ready for an early start next morning. If the "glorious climate of California " is responsible for the exceedingly hopeful prospects of Rocklin's future census reports, and the said lively outlook, materialized, is responsible for my mishap, then plainly the said "G. C. of C." is the responsible element in the case. I hope this compliment to the climate will strike the Californians as about the correct thing; but, if it should happen to work the other way, I beg of them at once to pour out the vials of their wrath on the heads of the 'Frisco Bicycle Club, in order that their fury may be spent ere I again set foot on their auriferous soil.
"What'll you do when you hit the snow?" is now a frequent question asked by the people hereabouts, who seem to be more conversant with affairs pertaining to the mountains than they are of what is going on in the valleys below. This remark, of course, has reference to the deep snow that, toward the summits of the mountains, covers the ground to the depth of ten feet on the level, and from that to almost any depth where it has drifted and accumulated. I have not started out on this greatest of all bicycle tours without looking into these difficulties, and I remind them that the long snow-sheds of the Central Pacific Railway make it possible for one to cross over, no matter how deep the snow may lie on the ground outside. Some speak cheerfully of the prospects for getting over, but many shake their heads ominously and say, "You'll never be able to make it through."
Rougher and more hilly become the roads as we gradually penetrate farther and farther into the foot-hills. We are now in far-famed Placer County, and the evidences of the hardy gold diggers' work in pioneer days are all about us. In every gulch and ravine are to be seen broken and decaying sluice-boxes. Bare, whitish-looking patches of washed-out gravel show where a "claim " has been worked over and abandoned. In every direction are old water-ditches, heaps of gravel, and abandoned shafts - all telling, in language more eloquent than word or pen, of the palmy days of '49, and succeeding years; when, in these deep gulches, and on these yellow hills, thousands of bronzed, red-shirted miners dug and delved, and "rocked the cradle" for the precious yellow dust and nuggets. But all is now changed, and where were hundreds before, now only a few "old timers " roam the foot-hills, prospecting, and working over the old claims; but "dust," "nuggets," and "pockets " still form the burden of conversation in the village barroom or the cross-roads saloon. Now and then a "strike " is made by some lucky - or perhaps it turns out, unlucky - prospector. This for a few days kindles anew the slumbering spark of "gold fever" that lingers in the veins of the people here, ever ready to kindle into a flame at every bit of exciting news, in the way of a lucky "find" near home, or new gold-fields in some distant land. These occasions never fail to have their legitimate effect upon the business of the bar where the "old-timers" congregate to learn the news; and, between drinks, yarns of the good old days of '49 and '50, of "streaks of luck," of "big nuggets," and "wild times," are spun over and over again. Although the palmy days of the "diggin's" are no more, yet the finder of a "pocket" these days seems not a whit wiser than in the days when "pockets" more frequently rewarded the patient prospector than they do now; and at Newcastle - a station near the old-time mining camps of Ophir and Gold Hill - I hear of a man who lately struck a "pocket," out of which he dug forty thousand dollars; and forthwith proceeded to imitate his reckless predecessors by going down to 'Frisco and entering upon a career of protracted sprees and debauchery that cut short his earthly career in less than six months, and wafted his riotous spirit to where there are no more forty thousand dollar pockets, and no more 'Friscos in which to squander it. In this instance the "find" was clearly an unlucky one. Not quite so bad was the case of two others who, but a few days before my arrival, took out twelve hundred dollars; they simply, in the language of the gold fields "turned themselves loose," "made things hum," and "whooped 'em up" around the bar-room of their village for exactly three days; when, "dead broke," they took to the gulches again, to search for more. "Yer oughter hev happened through here with that instrumint of yourn about that time, young fellow; yer might hev kept as full as a tick till they war busted," remarked a slouchy-looking old fellow whose purple-tinted nose plainly indicated that he had devoted a good part of his existence to the business of getting himself "full as a tick" every time he ran across the chance.
Quite a different picture is presented by an industrious old Mexican, whom I happen to see away down in the bottom of a deep ravine, along which swiftly hurries a tiny stream. He is diligently shovelling dirt into a rude sluice-box which he has constructed in the bed of the stream at a point where the water rushes swiftly down a declivity. Setting my bicycle up against a rock, I clamber down the steep bank to investigate. In tones that savor of anything but satisfaction with the result of his labor, he informs me that he has to work "most infernal hard" to pan out two dollars' worth of "dust" a day. "I have had to work over all that pile of gravel you see yonder to clean up seventeen dollars' worth of dust," further volunteered the old "greaser," as I picked up a spare shovel and helped him remove a couple of bowlders that he was trying to roll out of his war. I condole with him at the low grade of the gravel he is working, hope he may "strike it rich " one of these days, and take my departure.
Up here I find it preferable to keep the railway track, alongside of which there are occasionally ridable side-paths; while on the wagon roads little or no riding can be done on account of the hills, and the sticky nature of the red, clayey soil. From the railway track near Newcastle is obtained a magnificent view of the lower country, traversed during the last three days, with the Sacramento River winding its way through its broad valley to the sea. Deep cuts and high embankments follow each other in succession, as the road-bed is now broken through a hill, now carried across a deep gulch, and anon winds around the next hill and over another ravine. Before reaching Auburn I pass through "Bloomer Cut," where perpendicular walls of bowlders loom up on both sides of the track looking as if the slightest touch or jar would unloose them and send them bounding and crashing on the top of the passing train as it glides along, or drop down on the stray cycler who might venture through. On the way past Auburn, and on up to Clipper Gap, the dry, yellow dirt under the overhanging rocks, and in the crevices, is so suggestive of " dust," that I take a small prospecting glass, which I have in my tool-bag, and do a little prospecting; without, however, finding sufficient "color" to induce me to abandon my journey and go to digging.
Before reaching Clipper Gap it begins to rain; while I am taking dinner at that place it quits raining and begins to come down by buckets full, so that I have to lie over for the remainder of the day. The hills around Clipper Gap are gay and white with chaparral blossom, which gives the whole landscape a pleasant, gala-day appearance. It rains all the evening, and at night turns to heavy, damp snow, which clings to the trees and bushes. In the morning the landscape, which a few hours before was white with chaparral bloom, is now even more white with the bloom of the snow. My hostelry at Clipper Gap is a kind of half ranch, half roadside inn, down in a small valley near the railway; and mine host, a jovial Irish blade of the good old "Donnybrook Fair" variety, who came here in 1851, during the great rush to the gold fields, and, failing to make his fortune in the "diggings," wisely decided to send for his family and settle down quietly on a piece of land, in preference to returning to the "ould sod."He turns out to be a "bit av a sphort meself," and, after showing me a number of minor pets and favorites, such as game chickens, Brahma geese, and a litter of young bull pups, he proudly leads the way to the barn to show me "Barney," his greatest pet of all, whom he at present keeps securely tied up for safe-keeping. More than one evil-minded person has a hankering after Barney's gore since his last battle for the championship of Placer County, he explains, in which he inflicted severe punishment on his adversary and resolutely refused to give in; although his opponent on this important occasion was an imported dog, brought into the county by Barney's enemies, who hoped to fill their pockets by betting against the local champion. But Barney, who is a medium-sized, ferocious-looking bull terrier, "scooped"the crowd backing the imported dog, to the extent of their "pile," by "walking all round" his adversary; and thereby stirring up the enmity of said crowd against himself, who - so says Barney's master - have never yet been able to scare up a dog able to "down" Barney. As we stand in the barn-door Barney eyes me suspiciously, and then looks at his master; but luckily for me his master fails to give the word. Noticing that the dog is scarred and seamed all over, I inquire the reason, and am told that he has been fighting wild boars in the chaparral, of which gentle pastime he is extremely fond. "Yes, and he'll tackle a cougar too, of which there are plenty of them around here, if that cowardly animal would only keep out of the trees," admiringly continues mine host, as he orders Barney into his empty salt-barrel again.
To day is Sunday, and it rains and snows with little interruption, so that I am compelled to stay over till Monday morning. While it is raining at Clipper Gap, it is snowing higher up in the mountains, and a railway employee 'volunteers the cheering information that, during the winter, the snow has drifted and accumulated in the sheds, so that a train can barely squeeze through, leaving no room for a person to stand to one side. I have my own ideas of whether this state of affairs is probable or not, however, and determine to pay no heed to any of these rumors, but to push ahead. So I pull out on Monday morning and take to the railway-track again, which is the only passable road since the tremendous downpour of the last two days.
The first thing I come across is a tunnel burrowing through a hill. This tunnel was originally built the proper size, but, after being walled up, there were indications of a general cave-in; so the company had to go to work and build another thick rock-wall inside the other, which leaves barely room for the trains to pass through without touching the sides. It is anything but an inviting path around the hill; but it is far the safer of the two. Once my foot slips, and I unceremoniously sit down and slide around in the soft yellow clay, in my frantic endeavors to keep from slipping down the hill. This hardly enhances my personal appearance; but it doesn't matter much, as I am where no one can see, and a clay- besmeared individual is worth a dozen dead ones. Soon I am on the track again, briskly trudging up the steep grade toward the snow-line, which I can plainly see, at no great distance ahead, through the windings around the mountains.
All through here the only riding to be done is along occasional short stretches of difficult path beside the track, where it happens to be a hard surface; and on the plank platforms of the stations, where I generally take a turn or two to satisfy the consuming curiosity of the miners, who can't imagine how anybody can ride a thing that won't stand alone; at the same time arguing among themselves as to whether I ride along on one of the rails, or bump along over the protruding ties.
This morning I follow the railway track around the famous "Cape Horn," a place that never fails to photograph itself permanently upon the memory of all who once see it. For scenery that is magnificently grand and picturesque, the view from where the railroad track curves around Cape Horn is probably without a peer on the American continent.
When the Central Pacific Railway company started to grade their road-bed around here, men were first swung over this precipice from above with ropes, until they made standing room for themselves; and then a narrow ledge was cut on the almost perpendicular side of the rocky mountain, around which the railway now winds.
Standing on this ledge, the rocks tower skyward on one side of the track so close as almost to touch the passing train; and on the other is a sheer precipice of two thousand five hundred feet, where one can stand on the edge and see, far below, the north fork of the American River, which looks like a thread of silver laid along the narrow valley, and sends up a far-away, scarcely perceptible roar, as it rushes and rumbles along over its rocky bed. The railroad track is carefully looked after at this point, and I was able, by turning round and taking the down grade, to experience the novelty of a short ride, the memory of which will be ever welcome should one live to be as old as "the oldest inhabitant." The scenery for the next few miles is glorious; the grand and imposing mountains are partially covered with stately pines down to their bases, around which winds the turbulent American River, receiving on its boisterous march down the mountains tribute from hundreds of smaller streams and rivulets, which come splashing and dashing out of the dark ca€ons and crevasses of the mighty hills.
The weather is capricious, and by the time I reach Dutch Flat, ten miles east of Cape Horn, the floodgates of heaven are thrown open again, and less than an hour succeeds in impressing Dutch Flat upon my memory as a place where there is literally "water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to -;" no, I cannot finish the quotation. What is the use of lying'. There is plenty to drink at Dutch Flat; plenty of everything.
But there is no joke about the water; it is pouring in torrents from above; the streets are shallow streams; and from scores of ditches and gullies comes the merry music of swiftly rushing waters, while, to crown all, scores of monster streams are rushing with a hissing sound from the mouths of huge pipes or nozzles, and playing against the surrounding hills; for Dutch Flat and neighboring camps are the great centre of hydraulic mining operations in California at the present day. Streams of water, higher lip the mountains, are taken from their channels and conducted hither through miles of wooden flumes and iron piping; and from the mouths of huge nozzles are thrown with tremendous force against the hills, literally mowing them down. The rain stops as abruptly as it began. The sun shines out clear and warm, and I push ahead once more.
Gradually I have been getting up into the snow, and ever and anon a muffled roar comes booming and echoing over the mountains like the sound of distant artillery. It is the sullen noise of monster snow-slides among the deep, dark ca€ons of the mountains, though a wicked person at Gold Run winked at another man and tried to make me believe it was the grizzlies "going about the mountains like roaring lions, seeking whom they might devour." The giant voices of nature, the imposing scenery, the gloomy pine forests which have now taken the place of the gay chaparral, combine to impress one who, all alone, looks and listens with a realizing sense of his own littleness. What a change has come over the whole face of nature in a few days' travel. But four days ago I was in the semi-tropical Sacramento Valley; now gaunt winter reigns supreme, and the only vegetation is the hardy pine.
This afternoon I pass a small camp of Digger Indians, to whom my bicycle is as much a mystery as was the first locomotive; yet they scarcely turn their uncovered heads to look; and my cheery greeting of "How," scarce elicits a grunt and a stare in reply. Long years of chronic hunger and wretchedness have well-nigh eradicated what little energy these Diggers ever possessed. The discovery of gold among their native mountains has been their bane; the only antidote the rude grave beneath the pine and the happy hunting-grounds beyond.
The next morning finds me briskly trundling through the great, gloomy snow-sheds that extend with but few breaks for the next forty miles. When I emerge from them on the other end I shall be over the summit and well down the eastern slope of the mountains. These huge sheds have been built at great expense to protect the track from the vast quantities of snow that fall every winter on these mountains. They wind around the mountain-sides, their roofs built so slanting that the mighty avalanche of rock and snow that comes thundering down from above glides harmlessly over, and down the chasm on the other side, while the train glides along unharmed beneath them. The section-houses, the water-tanks, stations, and everything along here are all under the gloomy but friendly shelter of the great protecting sheds. Fortunately I find the difficulties of getting through much less than I had been led by rumors to anticipate; and although no riding can be done in the sheds, I make very good progress, and trudge merrily along, thankful of a chance to get over the mountains without having to wait a month or six weeks for the snow outside to disappear. At intervals short breaks occur in the sheds, where the track runs over deep gulch or ravine, and at one of these openings the sinuous structure can be traced for quite a long distance, winding its tortuous way around the rugged mountain sides, and through the gloomy pine forest, all but buried under the snow. It requires no great effort of the mind to imagine it to be some wonderful relic of a past civilization, when a venturesome race of men thus dared to invade these vast wintry solitudes and burrow their way through the deep snow, like moles burrowing through the loose earth. Not a living thing is in sight, and the only sounds the occasional roar of a distant snow-slide, and the mournful sighing of the breeze as it plays a weird, melancholy dirge through the gently swaying branches of the tall, sombre pines, whose stately trunks are half buried in the omnipresent snow. To-night I stay at the Summit Hotel, seven thousand and seventeen feet above the level of the sea. The "Summit" is nothing if not snowy, and I am told that thirty feet on the level is no unusual thing up here. Indeed, it looks as if snow-balling on the " Glorious Fourth" were no great luxury at the Summit House; yet notwithstanding the decidedly wintry aspect of the Sierras, the low temperature of the Rockies farther east is unknown; and although there is snow to the right, snow to the left, snow all around, and ice under foot, I travel all through the gloomy sheds in my shirt-sleeves, with but a gossamer rubber coat thrown over my shoulders to keep off the snow- water which is constantly melting and dripping through the roof, making it almost like going through a shower of rain. Often, when it is warm and balmy outside, it is cold and frosty under the sheds, and the dripping water, falling among the rocks and timbers, freezes into all manner of fantastic shapes. Whole menageries of ice animals, birds and all imaginable objects, are here reproduced in clear crystal ice, while in many places the ground is covered with an irregular coating of the same, that often has to be chipped away from the rails.
East of the summit is a succession of short tunnels, the space between being covered with snow-shed; and when I came through, the openings and crevices through which the smoke from the engines is wont to make its escape, and through which a few rays of light penetrate the gloomy interior, are blocked up with snow, so that it is both dark and smoky; and groping one's way with a bicycle over the rough surface is anything but pleasant going. But there is nothing so bad, it seems, but that it can get a great deal worse; and before getting far, I hear an approaching train and forthwith proceed to occupy as small an amount of space as possible against the side, while three laboriously puffing engines, tugging a long, heavy freight train up the steep grade, go past. These three puffing, smoke-emitting monsters fill every nook and corner of the tunnel with dense smoke, which creates a darkness by the side of which the natural darkness of the tunnel is daylight in comparison. Here is a darkness that can be felt; I have to grope my way forward, inch by inch; afraid to set my foot down until I have felt the place, for fear of blundering into a culvert; at the same time never knowing whether there is room, just where I am, to get out of the way of a train. A cyclometer wouldn't have to exert itself much through here to keep tally of the revolutions; for, besides advancing with extreme caution, I pause every few steps to listen; as in the oppressive darkness and equally oppressive silence the senses are so keenly on the alert that the gentle rattle of the bicycle over the uneven surface seems to make a noise that would prevent me hearing an approaching train. This finally comes to am end; and at the opening in the sheds I climb up into a pine-tree to obtain a view of Donner Lake, called the "Gem of the Sierras." It is a lovely little lake, and amid the pines, and on its shores occurred one of the most pathetically tragic events of the old emigrant days. Briefly related : A small party of emigrants became snowed in while camped at the lake, and when, toward spring, a rescuing party reached the spot, the last survivor of the partly, crazed with the fearful suffering he had under- gone, was sitting on a log, savagely gnawing away at a human arm, the last remnant of his companions in misery, off whose emaciated carcasses he had for some time been living!
My road now follows the course of the Truckee River down the eastern slope of the Sierras, and across the boundary line into Nevada. The Truckee is a rapid, rollicking stream from one end to the other, and affords dam-sites and mill-sites without limit. There is little ridable road down the Truckee ca€on; but before reaching "Verdi, a station a few miles over the Nevada line, I find good road, and ride up and dismount at the door of the little hotel as coolly as if I had rode without a dismount all the way from 'Frisco. Here at Verdi is a camp of Washoe Indians, who at once showed their superiority to the Diggers by clustering around and examining; the bicycle with great curiosity. Verdi is less than forty miles from the summit of the Sierras, and from the porch of the hotel I can see the snow-storm still fiercely raging up in the place where I stood a few hours ago; yet one can feel that he is already in a dryer and altogether different climate. The great masses of clouds, travelling inward from the coast with their burdens of moisture, like messengers of peace with presents to a far country, being unable to surmount the great mountain barrier that towers skyward across their path, unload their precious cargoes on the mountains; and the parched plains of Nevada open their thirsty mouths in vain. At Verdi I bid good-by to the Golden State and follow the course of the sparkling Truckee toward the Forty-mile Desert.
Text, code and images © Ray Schumacher 2005