A one-legged bike ride from Edinburgh to London

As he bicycled across Great Britain, twenty-four year old Winfred E. Garrison had to make a decision. He had four and a half days to make it to London when a crank arm broke. The replacement sent in response to his urgent request wouldn’t fit. The next day, when he got one that would work, one of his pedals broke. Of course, he could have taken a train the rest of the trip, but to do so went against his principles.

So what did he do? He bicycled one-leggedly most of the way. On two of the days thus impaired he still was able to do full century rides–100 miles per day. Furthermore, he still had time to do some sightseeing in some of the most interesting ancient buildings anywhere on his 3,000 mile excursion. Who among us could come close to matching his achievement?

Garrison lived to be 94 years of age. Because of health challenges when he was thirty-one years of age, he moved to New Mexico and took up horseback riding. I don’t know if he abandoned bicycles during the southwestern period of his life. The portrait shown above comes from the later years of his life as religious historian.

The one-legged narrative is part of the last chapter in Garrison’s account of his 3,000 mile trip through England, Scotland, and Wales. Here’s how the chapter begins:

“It had long ago been decided that London should be the terminus of this bicycle trip, and Friday noon had been fixed upon as the last possible moment for reaching that goal. Leaving Edinburgh with four hundred and forty miles to go and four days and a half in which to do it, this final section of the tour necessarily degenerated into something of a race against time. But if one must hurry, this is the best place in England to do it, for the roads are level and, although it is an interesting ride, there are comparatively few points of picturesque or historic interest which absolutely demand that the traveler shall linger long in contemplation.

“Perhaps the most attractive spot on the route is that bit of Scottish borderland which contains, within a few miles, the galaxy of Abbottsford, Melrose and Dryburgh Abbey. The present proprietors of Walter Scott’s home, Abbottsford, have devised a most ingenious system for exhibiting to the visitor just those few rooms which they care to exhibit and shooting him out again into the road, admiring but dissatisfied. But at Melrose one may pause and muse and meditate to his heart’s content upon the most beautiful ruin in Scotland.”

Read more: The East Side of England

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2 Responses to A one-legged bike ride from Edinburgh to London

  1. Rodney Allen Reeves says:

    Thanks for sharing portions of a young Winfred Ernest Garrison’s summer of 1898 cycling 3,018 miles in 66 days through England, Scotland & Wales. This last chapter, The East Side of England, brings home what an indomitable resourceful man he was pedaling so far with one leg. Amazing.

    The Upper Northeast (Northumberland & Durham) and the Lower Southwest (Cornwall & Devon) portion of England are the two major portions of that historic land I never visited, so for that reason I also read with particular interest his observations on The East Side of England.

    I look for to your series of blog posts later in the Spring on Garrison’s bicycle trip to the mainland of Europe.

    • Garrison’s book deserves to be reissued because it provides such a coherent exposition of how quickly the bicycle became a means for serious travel. Garrison tells us just enough about the nuts, bolts, grease, and sweat that we can sense the physicality of cycling, but more important are the insights he gives to the way that cycling provided freedom and adventurous achievement. I plan to continue my project of scanning the book so that a modern republication would be possible. What I need is a publisher. Thanks for your comments about the chapters I’ve posted.

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