Howdy all. Several years ago, I had the time of my life at my publisher’s retreat at the Silver Spur Ranch in Bandera, Texas. It was here I met fellow author Stacey Coverstone. Despite living on opposite coasts, we have been in touch ever since, with our love of horses and grandkids. However, when I searched through my files for a picture of us in Bandera, I discovered that my photos ran mostly with the ranch’s “pet” Longhorns.
But I digress: a few months ago, Stacey invited me to be part of an anthology of romances based on the modes of transportation in the Wild West, and JOURNEY OF THE HEART was born. The multi-author collection released a few days ago, and I’m giving one PDF copy away, so don’t forget to leave a comment and check back tomorrow. Each of the stories takes you on a wonderful ride through the West! I picked the bicycle.
Anyway, next time you go for a bike ride, remind yourself of one more battle our foremothers fought for us. All over America in the 1890’s, bicycle sales boomed, bike trails were blazed, and “wheelmen clubs” sprouted up everywhere. (In fact, two brothers who owned a bike shop in Dayton Ohio started fiddling around with the technology for another project. Orville and Wilbur Wright)
But notice I wrote “wheelMEN.” Indeed, early bicycles were nearly impossible for women to ride, with pedals attached to front wheels as large as five feet in diameter.
But the “safety bicycles” of the late 1870’s bloomed with possibility. The two wheels were the same size, and a chain drive connected the rear wheel with pedal power.
Of course “real” wheelmen snorted that the new design was for old men and women.
Well, little did they know.
The Safety bicycle helped women assert themselves. Because now, they could get out of the house and around town on their own, manage their own routes and travels. They didn’t need the expense of a horse, or the complication of a buggy. Bicycles became nicknamed “freedom machines” because a woman could leave her own neighborhood easily and all by herself. Oh, the humanity.
In 1896, Susan B. Anthony proclaimed that cycling had done more to emancipate woman than anything else, ever.
So…the scandals began. Not only was the status quo threatened with women broadening their horizons, but they also left their restrictive Victorian garb behind. For shame! Their elaborate clothing—tight corsets, long layers of petticoats and skirts not to mention the occasional hoop, high necks and tight sleeves impeded freedom and movement. So—gasp, “bifurcated” garments and bloomers (loose trousery things gathered at the ankle) burst forth.
But the threat to prim, proper Victorian appearance wasn’t scandal enough. Bicycle riding became virtually immoral. Not only were woman shedding their proscribed roles of dignified femininity, but also, bike riding—gasp—meant spreading the female legs to straddle a saddle (seat). Of course, stimulation and arousal had to be inevitable, men claimed, bringing about a woman’s complete depravity. She would far too easily be led into infidelity or prostitution. As for “maidens,” any peritoneal stimulation (blush) would be painful and cause debilitating “polypoid growths.”
The solution, prescribed by doctors: the “hygienic saddle” with no padding and plenty of open spaces, to prohibit the womanly zone making contact and thereby thwarting orgasm. Furthermore, tall upright handlebars were designed to reduce the angle of her sitting, for the same reason.
The howls of masculine protest didn’t stop there. Rough roads would also damage kidneys and livers, male doctors claimed. Without any doubt (or proof), damp weather and chilly temperatures would most certainly result in miserable and off-kilter menses.
Finally in 1895, the Mississippi Valley Medical Congress caved, and approved cycling as an excellent form of exercise for both genders. The hold-up now—the all-male delegation refused to approve bifurcated garments, although no medical reason could be found.
All of this lent itself well to my rebellious heroine, Sarah, who had been nicknamed Sorry as a child. (Hence the title “Sorry.”) Raised by her dour minister-uncle and his obedient wife, Sarah has no choice but to search for freedom all her own. Taking on a temporary job in Truckee, California, as a bicycle-riding “messenger boy” for the telegraph office lands her into deep scandal. As well as the arms of our handsome hero Zaccheus, himself a reluctant preacher on a course he didn’t choose.
How about you? What is the most scandalous thing you’ve ever done? Are you a bike rider? When did you get your first bike? Let me hear from you today.
Many thanks to Stacey and the other authors, Anne Carrole (our visitor last weekend), Melissa Lynne Blue, Debora Dennis, Karen J. Hasley, Linda LaRoque (whom I also met in Bandera) and Jacqui Nelson. We all hope you enjoy our romp through the West.
Here’s the excerpt when Sarah meets Zac.
Her breath came swift from hot lungs as her legs pedaled far and away. Sinews stretched, bones strengthened against the ruts in the road. She was flying, free as a bird. A woman on the loose wearing trousers and earning a respectable wage while doing it. Mercy, she was the luckiest woman alive. Bicycles weren’t nicknamed ‘freedom machines” for nothing!
Even with the looming threat of another Waldo Dellgood lecture, she laughed like a naughty child, Sierra wind on her teeth. Would her uncle even dare use words like virginity? So enraptured was she with freedom, with nature, with dreaming up polite ways to annoy her uncle that she didn’t notice the man in front of her on the road, walking his horse toward the trail to the Donners’ legendary camp. Until it was almost too late.
Oh, dear heavens! Her heart pounded, and nerves thrashed beneath her skin. Would they collide? With a squeal, she jammed her right hand lever to set the spoon brakes, skidded through a generous pile of gravel, screeched to a halt with barely three feet to spare before smacking into him.
Her eyes closed both in relief and mortification as she hopped off her bicycle and caught her breath. “I’m sorry,” she breathed into the wind around them, raised her eyes to his face. A very fine-looking face, truth be told.
“I’m Zac,” he said with a grin and touched the brim of his Stetson.
Confusion rumbled through her. “I meant I’m sorry for nearly colliding with you.”
His mouth opened to reveal a set of startlingly white teeth. For that matter, his face was startlingly handsome. Dark hair, a ruche of curls across his shoulders. Her breath hitched again, but she settled herself. Sarah Rittenhouse did not need a man and would not be turned by a fetching masculine visage.
He held out his hand, and because Mama, Aunt Min, and even the disagreeable Uncle Waldo had drilled good manners into her, she placed hers in it. And sparked to her toes.
His grin widened further. “And I meant that I know you’re Sorry. Sorry the Messenger Boy. I’ve heard of you.”
Anger pounded through her. “Boy? I’m a messenger girl. Woman, thank you very much. And an honorably employed one.” She ground her teeth, eyed him from top to toe and up again. Her heart pittered and she gulped, then flapped the notion away with angry hands at her split skirt. “And you’re a gossipmonger like all the rest. Simply because I’m a female on a bicycle. Which every woman should be allowed to ride free and clear. There is absolutely no threat to my, to my nethers. To think I regretted almost running you down. Good day to you, Zac!”
He gave her a slow smile.
Her breath hitched. When you see him, you’ll know.
With a flounce, Sarah stepped aboard her bicycle, so atremble she nearly lost her balance, and headed to work a full thirty minutes early.