In June, 1890, one day after throwing their caps in the air at Washington University, Thomas Allen Jr. and William Sachtleben boarded a steamer to England. In London, they purchased a pair of bicycles in the latest, most durable style – and concocted a plan to see the world.
Almost as soon as they crossed the border from Siberia into Xinjiang, in western China, they were met by flabbergasted crowds.
The arrival of foreigners in itself gave plenty of reasons for excitement. “Our garments were minutely scrutinized, especially the buttons,” they wrote. “Our caps were taken from our heads, and passed around for each to try on in turn, amid much laughter.”
As they moved deeper into China, the crowds only increased. Soon, the two developed a system for arriving in new towns: “On entering a Chinese city, we always made it a rule to run rapidly through until we came to an inn, and then lock up our wheels before the crowd could collect.”