Fatigue Limit begins to take shape

Beautiful painting from the 1890s.

In the throes of writing my next novel (it’s painful), I’ve got the introduction I’m looking for. The story takes place in 1889, culminating in the seven-day bike race held at the Mechanics’ Pavilion in San Francisco.

1  . Origins

Halfway through the twentieth century my time on life’s stage nears the final act. It is for that reason I, Tab Huntsman, have an imperative — tell a story that cannot wait any longer. What follows commemorates in words the cyclist’s life at the turn of the century when everything about transportation revolved around the bicycle. I will describe the technology, the people, our motivations, and the racing. But my recounting of bicycle lore is much more than that. It’s a revelation and a warning: Life is not fair. The more noble aspects of humanity do battle with dark, sinister forces in our thoughts. We lie, cheat, steal, and fight one another to get what we want, to make our dreams whole. In the course of these activities people suffer; their hopes are trampled, and reputations ruined. There is no fairy-tale ending to my story. I lied and cheated and fought for my place in the world. I was no different. Now I harbor regrets that weigh me down. Given the opportunity, I would turn back the clock to change the course of events as they transpired. I often dream about discovering a time machine and making things right: Conjure up a happy ending. Perhaps by reading my story you can avoid repeating my mistakes, free yourself of a guilty conscience. My actions dashed hopes that once filled me with breathless anticipation for a future only I could imagine.

At the very least, as you read you can revel in an age without cars when the bicycle reigned supreme. Oh what a time it was! We rode through the Bay Area hills with nary a care, full of life, the wind at our backs, and the fragrant aroma of fruit orchards blossoming in the spring. We rode over mountains with abandon. No distance was too far. If you find an inner-tube’s-worth of enjoyment from this brief interlude, my work is not in vain.

As it did for so many then, cycling changed my life, steering me to a career in journalism. At least that was my dream. The road to that high plateau of accomplishment had its share of potholes. I started peddling small-town newspapers, including the Mayfield Enterprise, with hopes of one day reporting for the San Francisco newspapers. I faced fierce competition for a seat at the editor’s desk. I had little chance of making it. I was not the best student, nor the best writer. I had no connections, nor the wizard’s wand, that would magically open doors of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Examiner, or The Morning Call. I needed something remarkable on my job application to make an impression. This is a tale of how I embellished my resume to become a writer for the San Francisco Examiner. Everything is true as I remember it, and I can confirm everything that is written.

Little did I realize such a break would come thanks to my passion for cycling. The sport kept me on the narrow path and, even though I knew it might not lead to a better life, it became my Gibraltar, a reliable way to feel good when times got tough. My saga starts on a warm spring day in the bucolic farming community of Mayfield (Palo Alto) in the year 1889…

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