CS Clancy Centenary Ride: After 18,000 miles the adventurer’s boots come home

It felt like we had gone through an entire lifetime in three short months


By this stage 100 years ago, Carl Stearns Clancy – the first round the world biker whose route we were retracing – was on the scent of home.

Visiting his brother in Beloit, Wisconsin, he made the front page lead in the local paper, then was brought down to earth yet again by a crash 20 miles from Chicago which bent his rear wheel.

Riding on carefully, he came on two bikers repairing a puncture who regaled him with thrilling tales from their 200-mile adventure, then guided him to the Henderson branch factory on Michigan Avenue.

There, he had a hero’s welcome: they placed his battered Henderson in the front window and entertained him royally for two days before sending him on his way to the main factory in Detroit, where he was feted even more, while the brand new Hendersons coming off the production line looked at what he fondly imagined was mute admiration of their older and wiser brother.

We were now in the last few days of our own grand adventure, and when I looked back through the pages of our daily schedule, it felt like we had gone through an entire lifetime in just three short months, with events like leaving Belfast in the snow, sitting on the boat to Tunisia, riding through Sri Lanka in monsoon rain and marvelling at our first sight of Hong Kong bay or the skyscrapers of Shanghai like something we had done years ago, when we were young.

Clancy had one last mission before his triumphant return to New York, and that was a surprise visit to his parents in their large, rambling home in the wooded Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.

How his senses must have been filled to the brim, with the warm sun on his face and the smell of pine in his nose, as he waved to the astonished neighbours at the green mansion, then rode down the hill and turned right into his parents’ drive past the leaning pine and the ancient oak.

Pride and love
How his heart must have swelled with pride and love as he pulled up on the Henderson, with his collar stiff and his tie knotted just so, to see his mother look out from the kitchen, and his father come to the front door from the study, and to see the same pride and love reflected in their faces at the return of their prodigal son after his incredible adventure.

To see Carl Stearns Clancy, at just that moment a young man with his whole life in front of him, filled with boundless hope and optimism for a future in which, having conquered the world, he could do anything.

We stopped near the same green mansion to check our way, only for a neighbour to tell us that the old Clancy house had become a boys’ home, then burned down mysteriously 10 years ago.

And when we got there, and turned right into the drive past the leaning pine and the ancient oak, all that we found were the stone foundations of the old place in a grassy glade bright with wild poppies and buttercups.

As I stood at the end of the drive, where I imagined Clancy had climbed off his Henderson for a hug from his mother and a firm handshake from the old man, a small white butterfly rested briefly on my boot, then fluttered off into the woods, leaving only the whisper of the breeze in the leaves of the ancient oak and the call of a bluebird hoping for love.

After saying farewell to his parents at this very spot, Clancy rode into New York State and rolled in splendid happiness along the finest roads of the entire trip, and on the morning of August 27th, 1913, a moving picture camera captured his triumphant return into Manhattan at the end of an 11-month, 18,000-mile odyssey which had tested him countless times to the limit and taught him lessons he would remember for the rest of his long life.

And so, having left Belfast on its coldest day of the year, we rode into New York City on its hottest day of the year, pulling up at Penn Station to see Clancy’s great-niece, Lynda Clancy, standing there with a broad smile on her face.

“I am so proud of you all,” she said as I handed her the replica of Clancy’s Around the World pennant which we had carried from Dublin.

“Our family has all been ministers, professors and the like, and Uncle Carl broke the mould by becoming an adventurer.

“You and Dr Frazier are not only men in the same mould, but probably know more about Uncle Carl than any of us and you have honoured him by recreating his incredible journey with one just as incredible. Thank you.”

Clancy’s boots
And so, having carried Clancy’s boots around the world, armed with his twin mottos that you should never believe what you hear, or take anything for granted, we handed them over at last to Dr Gregory Frazier with respect and pride at having followed in the tyre tracks of such a fine man.

I hoped, as I handed them to Dr G, that they had had the time of their lives for the second time.

If boots could talk, I think they’d be very pleased indeed, and I hoped that we had made a pair of old boots very happy.

In Clancy’s Boots, Geoff Hill’s book on the epic recreation of Clancy’s journey, will be published on October 23th by Blackstaff Press