Fred Birchmore’s Amazing Bicycle Trip Around the World- page 2 | History | Smithsonian
Current Issue
July / August 2014  magazine cover

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

(Maura McCarthy)

Fred Birchmore’s Amazing Bicycle Trip Around the World

The American cyclist crossed paths with Sonja Henje and Adolf Hitler as he transversed the globe on Bucephalus, his trusty bike

While traveling along the Grand Trunk Road in India, Birchmore was struck by the number of 100-year-olds he encountered. “No wonder Indians who escape cholera and tuberculosis live so long,” he wrote. “They eat sparingly only twice a day and average fifteen hours of sleep.” (He added: “Americans eat too much, sleep too little, work too hard, and travel too fast to live to a ripe old age.”)

Birchmore’s travails culminated that summer in the dense jungles of Southeast Asia, where he tangled with tigers and cobras and came away with a hide from each species. But a mosquito got the better of him: after collapsing in the jungle, he awoke to find himself abed with a malarial fever in a Catholic missionary hospital in the village of Moglin, Burma.

After riding through Thailand and Vietnam, Birchman boarded on a rice boat to Manila with Bucephalus in tow. In early September, he set sail for San Pedro, California, aboard the SS Hanover. He expected to cycle the 3,000 miles back home to Athens, but he found his anxious parents on the dock to greet him. He and Bucephalus returned to Georgia in the family station wagon.

Nevertheless, Birchmore looked back on his trip with supreme satisfaction, feeling enriched by his exposure to so many people and lands. “Surely one can love his own country without becoming hopelessly lost in an all-consuming flame of narrow-minded nationalism,” he wrote.

Still restless, Birchmore had a hard time concentrating on legal matters. In 1939, he took a 12,000-mile bicycle tour around North America with a pal. He married Willa Deane later that year, and they honeymooned aboard a tandem bike, covering 4,500 miles in Latin America. After serving as a Navy gunner in World War II, he opened a real estate agency. He and Willa Deane raised four children, and he immersed himself in community affairs.

After he retired, in 1973, he embarked on a 4,000-mile bicycle ride through Europe with Danny, the youngest of his children. Two years later, they hiked the 2,000 miles of the Appalachian Trail. While in his 70s, he hand-built a massive stone wall around Happy Hollow. He cycled into his 90s, and he still rides a stationary bike at the local Y. A few years ago, he told a journalist, “For me, the great purposes in life are to have as many adventures as possible, to brighten the lives of as many as possible, and to leave this old world a little bit better place.”


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus