Monday, September 28, 2020

Tour de France welcomes First Native American racer in 117 years

Friends of the Pacific Electric Trail

In recognition of a “first” we want to acknowledge Neilson Powless as the 1st First Nation entry into the Tour de France. Since its’ inception 117 years ago the tour has been dominated by a few dozen countries and cultures, but as Americans we take great pride in this Native son of Wisconsin’s Oneida tribe. This race for Neilson, as well as all participants, a personal effort and achievement. But on his narrow shoulders he carries his tribal culture, his states representation, and all our hopes for success in his future efforts. Thank you, Neilson!



LE PECQ, France (AP) — A late draft to the Tour de France, Neilson Powless didn’t have time to scramble together a turtle necklace, the spirit animal of his Native American tribe, or paint one of their wampum bead belts on the frame of the bike that he’s ridden for three punishing weeks, over 3,300 kilometers (2,000 miles) of roads.  Unable to carry the Oneida Tribe’s symbols with him, the Tour rookie has become a powerful symbol himself as the first tribally recognized Native North American to have raced in the 117-year-old event.


Not only has Powless survived cycling’s greatest and most grueling race, he distinguished himself in a crop of exciting young talents who helped set this Tour alight. Crossing the finish in Paris on Sunday will, he hopes, resonate on reservations back in the United States.   His main hope is that he can be a positive role model for young indigenous kids who have a lot going against them.  Powless, who turned 24 during the race, told The Associated Press, “I think finishing the Tour de France is a testament to years of hard work and dedication to a lifelong dream. Hopefully, I can help drive kids to setting their mind to a goal and going after it.”


It must make it a lot easier when you can see somebody else who is doing it, or has done it, he adds. Even during a pandemic, he did not falter or give up on his dreams.  Word of Powless’ feats in France has already filtered back to the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin. The tribal chairman, Tehassi Hill, shared that the first ever Native American cyclist is blazing a trail of journey, hope and inspiration.  Whenever one of our own, from the Oneida community, are in the spotlight, it definitely does not go unnoticed. Neilson’s journey and accomplishments, I’m sure are spoken of at many gatherings here in Oneida,” Hill told JOHN LEICESTER at the AP.


Tour de France for many is a tradition that has stood the test of time.  Seasoned cyclists gather from around the world to compete in the 117-year-old race.  I was truly inspired to discover this story of determination from a native-born son and the path that he is charting for future generations.  Powless has the same kind of inner strength that reminds me of my Grandfather, who never missed an opportunity to share stories of courage, determination, and hard work with me when I was a little boy.  My grandfather’s stories were always exciting and full of adventure and their meaning always stuck with me.  Powless reminds me of those hero’s my grandfather spoke of so many years ago.


The Tour confirms he is its first Native North American competitor. The cyclist has not made a fuss of his heritage. Powless learned he is one-quarter Oneida from from his father just days before he took the Tour start on Aug. 29, 2020.  Powless proudly points out that he has a tribal ID recognizing him as one of the 16,500 Oneida Nation members.  The tribe has helped him financially with schooling and has family on the reservation. “It’s not that I just had a blood test one day and decided ‘Oh, I guess I’m Native American.”  It is something I have, like, sort of grown up with and it has been part of my whole life and the tribe recognizes that as well.

Told just days before the Tour that he was on the team, Powless says he did not have time to discreetly decorate his bike or source a replacement for the turtle necklace he broke last year.  Still, based on his performances, he will surely be back and able to fix that at future Tours. “Normally I would have a painting of the Oneida bead belt, the wampum belt, somewhere on my bike, my garment, my shoe,” he said. “Just something small, most people wouldn’t even really see it. It’s just something that I have always tried to keep close to me.”


Cycling is an important part of my life because it fulfills both exercise and fun and never disappoints, why do you cycle, please comment below.

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Dennis Jones Friend of the Pacific Electric Trail
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Monday, September 14, 2020



Friends of the Pacific Electric Trail

The beloved bicycle has transformed transportation since the early 1800’s beginning with the penny farthing, a two wheeled contraption in 1817 that was wooden and didn’t even include a bike chain, brakes or pedals.  It was heavy (50 pounds) and riders would have to propel the heavy frame forward by pushing off from the ground with their feet.  Finally, things changed in 1885 when Englishman John Starley perfected a “safety bicycle” design that featured equal-sized wheels and a chain drive.  The bicycle promises a splendid extension of personal power and freedom.  Several years later, Anne Cohen Kopchovsky decides to prove that bicycles aren’t only designed for men, she instinctively knew that a woman could ride as far as a man. She entered into a bet to ride her bicycle around the world, and the rest they say is history.



I am always delighted and surprised when I uncover an inspiring bit of history that tells the story of cycling and in this case from the woman’s perspective.  Anne is my new Shero, for having the vision and tenacity to prove to herself and the world that the bicycle can be enjoyed by everyone.



First woman to cycle the globe begins journey  -  June 25, 1894



Her adventure began with a bet. In 1894, a gentleman in Boston bet another gentleman, $20,000 against $10,000, that no woman could travel around the world by bicycle, a feat that had been completed for the first time by a man in 1885. Although it is not clear why she was chosen, Annie Cohen Kopchovsky set out from Boston on June 25, 1894, to attempt the journey. Married and a mother of three children under age six, she was an unlikely choice but a good example of the ways that the bicycle was transforming women's lives. Besides providing women with a respectable form of independent transportation, the popularity of the bicycle led to changes in women's dress, for example, as bloomers replaced unwieldy and inconvenient full skirts.

Under the terms of the bet, Kopchovsky, who had ridden a bicycle for the first time only days before her departure from Boston, was supposed to begin her journey penniless, earn $5,000 above her expenses along the way, and finish her trip in fifteen months. Her resourcefulness was in evidence from the first day. On her way out of Boston, she hung a placard advertising Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company from her bicycle and accepted $100 from the company's representative in return. In addition, she agreed to be known as Annie Londonderry.


Kopchovsky, alias Londonderry, reached Chicago in September, and there she nearly gave up the trip altogether. Ultimately, however, she traded in her 42-pound ladies' bicycle for a men's model that weighed half as much, and set out again in the opposite direction, headed back east. She sailed from New York for France in November. In France, Kopchovsky earned money by carrying advertising on her clothing and her bicycle as she rode the main streets of Marseilles and other cities. Later in her trip, she would give lectures in which she embellished her story with lurid details of accidents, near-death experiences, and dangers narrowly averted.


Because the terms of the bet did not specify how many miles she had to ride, Kopchovsky sailed from Marseilles all the way to East Asia, with brief stops in Egypt, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. After a tour through China, she was in Japan by March. On March 23, she arrived back in the United States through San Francisco Bay's Golden Gate. Over the next six months, she bicycled across the southwest, great plains, and Midwest, reaching Chicago on September 12, 1895, just under fifteen months from her original departure from Boston, and only ten months after her re-departure from Chicago.

She had done what the Boston gentleman had bet $20,000 no woman could do. Not only had she circumnavigated the globe by bicycle, an astounding athletic feat, but she had done it alone, proving that a woman could make her own way in what was still very much a man's world. Bucking the entrenched gender norms of her day, she had fended for herself and survived physical injury, mechanical problems with her bicycle, and the scrutiny of the press. In Chicago, Kopchovsky collected her $10,000 prize and then rejoined her family. After a move to New York, she wrote sensational features for the New York World for a time, including an account of her trip. She seems to have then retreated to family life, raising her three children, and largely disappearing from the historical record. She died in 1947.

Sources: Peter Zheutlin, "Chasing Annie," Bicycling, May 2005;

Anne inspired me to set new goals for riding my bike, what inspires you to make bicycling a regular part of your exercise and fun factor?  Please comment below.


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