I’ve been reading more lately, and finished another book the other day. This was a book that a friend loaned me after telling me a little bit about it. The book, Bold Spirit, by Linda Lawrence Hunt, is based on the true story of a woman and her daughter, Helga and Clara Estby, who walked across the United States in 1896. They were offered a prize of $10,000 if they made the trip within 7 months, wore a new style of bicycling skirt that didn’t touch the ground, and collected signatures of governors and other political notables they met along the way to prove that they had visited specific cities. They could accept rides on non-train transportation, as long as the ride was freely offered and they did not pay for it.
Their motivation? Helga Estby was a mother of eight whose husband had been injured in an accident while working, and was unable to support the family as a result of the injury. Their farm was heavily mortgaged and they were at risk of losing it. She decided to take a wild risk in order to earn the prize money that would ensure that they would be freed from their financial troubles.
The downside? The prize was being offered by an anonymous benefactor, who did not want to be revealed. If anybody ever knew who this anonymous person was, the identity has been lost to history. The conditions of the journey were extremely challenging. Helga and Clara were obligated to reach New York City from Spokane, Washington within 7 months. They were allowed additional days only if they could not travel due to illness. They had to stop along the way to work to earn money to continue their journey, as they were only allowed to leave Spokane with $5 each. They had to walk in all weather conditions, from snowstorms while crossing mountain passes, to a journey through parched Midwest grasslands in scorching temperatures. In order to reach their destination in time, each day of travel had to average more than the distance of a marathon. And, last but certainly not least, they were subjected to the harsh judgment of the Norwegian community in which they lived, and the disapproval of their own family.
There’s a lot the reader doesn’t get to know, because after the trip the manuscript that Helga Estby wrote was destroyed. Information on the story comes from newspaper accounts of the trip at the time, which unfortunately don’t reveal the true feelings and experiences of Helga and Clara Estby. The author weaves together a believable story on what Helga and Clara likely felt and experienced along the way. It is well researched and well-written, and offers a story of an everyday woman that otherwise would have been lost to history. The book is a fascinating account of a woman’s courage and strength in the face of adversity, as well as her desperate attempt to save her family’s farm. They face tragedy that no one should have to go through. And, you want to know – did she win the prize? You’ll have to read the book to find out!