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Insane efforts, amazing success and tragic death - all this was in the life of Onisim Pankratov, the first Russian to travel around the world on two wheels.
Not knowing a single foreign language, not having any weapons or diplomatic passport with him, Onisim Pankratov traveled through dozens of countries, was in prisons and hospitals, but still achieved his goal - he circled the globe on a bicycle. Pankratov's next goal was to fly around the Earth in an airplane - but his life was interrupted by the First World War. And the very idea of traveling around the world was suggested to Onesim by his father. Perhaps, he did not even suggest, but imposed it.
Onisim Pankratov was born in the Penza province in 1888. He did not come from the poorest peasants, as he received a gymnasium education. In 1896, while Onisim was still studying, his father, Peter Pankratov, read in the newspapers that the International Cycling Federation had promised a diamond palm branch to the first cyclist to travel around Europe along the route proposed by the federation. Peter was a fan of sports, a fan of the strongman Ivan Poddubny, and from childhood he instilled in his son a love of physical exercise. However, the dream of traveling was still a long way off.
In 1908, the Pankratov family moved to Harbin - it is not known why this happened. However, in Harbin, already very physically powerful Onisim, as the newspaper Utro Rossii wrote about him, “stood at the head of all local sports organizations and became especially famous as the brave leader of the Harbin free-style fire brigade”.
By 1911, having saved money for his own "light-road" bicycle "Gritsner", Pankratov, who by that time was already engaged in cycling on the Harbin track, set out on a round-the-world bicycle trip. Initially, this was not planned as a solo trip - the names of three cyclists who left Harbin in the direction of Moscow on July 10, 1911, together with Pankratov, were preserved: Voroninov, Sorokin and Zeiberg. But they all quickly "fell off" due to unsatisfactory physical fitness. Starting from Chita, Pankratov continued his journey alone.
Cycling from dogs and robbers
Approximate route of Onisim Pankratov. (Irina Baranova)
“While I was driving through Mongolia and Manchuria,” Pankratov's “Morning of Russia” quoted him, “I had to meet the most cordial attitude from the local population, mainly Buryats and Mongols. They fed me splendidly, and if it were not for the lack of bread, which can only be obtained with difficulty in these places, then the passage through the Chinese possessions would have been exceptionally pleasant in all respects. But it was enough for me to enter the borders of my homeland, as my travel life was filled with all kinds of adventures and difficult trials."
Pankratov had a travel journal with him, where he entered notes about the trip. Among Siberian peasants, any literate person, and even on some kind of bicycle, in principle aroused suspicion. Only official stamps and seals with two-headed eagles scared off the natives. Pankratov asked to put these marks in his journal of any officials whom he met along the way and to whom he explained the essence of his trip. And nevertheless, several times Pankratov was almost killed.
Onisim Pankratov during the years of service in aviation, with the rank of warrant officer (Archival photo)
According to him, some hunters decided to use him as a live target; he was lightly wounded in the back. In the Krasnoyarsk Territory, robbers attacked him, but they let him go, since Pankratov had no money with him, and at that time there was no one to sell his bicycle to anyone.Due to the lack of roads in some parts of Siberia, Pankratov often had to follow the railway tracks, but from there he was driven by road workers, so he often had to continue his journey at night.
Despite all this, Onisim Pankratov was already in Moscow by mid-November, where Moscow cyclists organized a ceremonial meeting for him, provided him with food, medical treatment, and even raised money for a further trip.
Eight for Europe
Through Petersburg, Onisim Pankratov went to Königsberg and from there to Berlin. He crossed the border of the Russian Empire on December 12, 1912. In Europe, Onesim discovered that the route proposed in the newspapers in 1896 had long been completed by other cyclists. Nevertheless, Pankratov drove through Europe, and not through and through, but, obviously, repeating the "competitive" route: Switzerland, Italy, Serbia, Turkey, Greece, again Turkey, Italy, France, Southern Spain, Portugal, Northern Spain and again France; from there - by steamer to England, where, in order to save money for a ticket to the USA, Pankratov worked as a port loader.
Onisim Pankratov on the day of his arrival in Harbin on August 10, 1913 (Archival photo)
The European voyage was also not easy - in Turkey he "rested" in the police, who mistook him for a Russian spy, and in Italy he fell ill with malaria. There, in Italy, Pankratov took advantage of the help of Ekaterina Peshkova, the official wife of Maxim Gorky, who was then living there - she, apparently, brought him together with Russian emigrants in England, who helped Pankratov not to perish from hunger. It is known that in England he took part in cycling competitions and wrestling matches - of course, not for free. As a result, Pankratov and his "Gritsner" boarded a steamer to America.
Very little is known about Pankratov's stay in the United States; there is only his words that the traveler was even more uncomfortable there than in Russia: "You are driving along the road, approaching some farm, you want to rest, and you are met with a gun at the ready and loaded with Colts …"
From San Francisco, Pankratov goes to Japan, from there to China, and on August 10, 1913, after 2 years and 18 days, he finishes in Harbin. During the trip, he changed 52 tires, 36 tubes, 9 chains, 8 pedals, 4 saddles, 2 handlebars, many lights, bells and other parts on his bike.
Death in the air
Onisim Pankratov's plane (Archival photo)
Of course, after completing his journey, Pankratov became a star on a Russian scale. Newspapers and magazines wrote about him, and material need receded. But Onisim's craving for exploits did not recede - according to archival documents, in June 1914 Pankratov entered the Military Aviation School in Gatchina. Already in August, he received the right to fly the Farman aircraft and was assigned to the 12th corps aviation detachment - the First World War was going on …
Onisim Pankratov (seated in the front row, center) in a group photo of the heroes of the aviation of the Russian Empire (Archival photo)
Amazingly, Pankratov's rare success accompanied him in the sky. In those days, when the planes were unreliable, and the experience of the pilots and their trainers was small, Pankratov moved from one aviation detachment to another, changed 4 duty stations, and in November 1914 his plane was shot down and crashed, but Pankratov remained alive. While not yet an officer, Pankratov was awarded the St. George Soldier's Crosses of the 4th, 3rd and 2nd degrees and the St. George Medal - such awards were given to soldiers for exceptional bravery in battle. In 1915 Pankratov was promoted to ensign.
In July 1916, he becomes a member of the fighter squad. But a month later, in the Dvinsk region, making a combat flight, this time as a gunner in the plane of the French pilot Henri Laurent, he died - their plane was shot down and crashed.
Onisim Pankratov in the uniform of the 12th corps squadron, with three St.George soldier's crosses on his chest (Archival photo)
Obviously, Onisim Pankratov was a very famous person in the army - even in the 12th corps air squadron, he got into the newspapers as one of the "heroes of the air fleet." And posthumously, Onisim was awarded the Order of St. George, 4th degree, and the next year, also posthumously, Pankratov was awarded the Orders of St. Anna, 4th degree (January 3, 1917) and St. Stanislaus, 3rd degree with swords and a bow (May 12, 1917). However, in the memory of the Russians, he remained primarily not for military, but for sporting feats - as the first Russian round-the-world traveler on a two-wheeled transport.