A “girdle around the earth” Thomas Gaskell Allen and William Sachtleben set out to describe the day after they graduated from Washington University. For three years they peddled their bicycles from “Normandy to Paris,” across “the lowlands of western France to Bordeaux,” straining over the Lesser Alps to Marseilles and “along the Riviera into Italy.” Even the seductive climes of the Mediterranean could not waylay them on their journey; after wintering in Athens, they stowed their bikes aboard a sailboat headed for Constantinople.
Some 2,500 photographs bear witness to Allen and Sachtleben’s odyssey. Yet boys weren’t the only ones peddling for glory. In 1896 Elizabeth Robins Pennell became the first woman to bike the Alps, a feat which she subsequently downplayed. “I did not think I was very original, when I set out deliberately to make a record,” she writes in Over the Alps on a Bicycle, her account of her efforts. Indeed, men and women had been riding to strange places for at least a decade before Pennell. In 1887 the 10,000 miles Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg logged on his bicycle he distilled into an 800-page memoir entitled, appropriately enough, Ten Thousand Miles on a Bicycle, which he dedicated to Curl, his beloved bulldog. Like Pennell, Bagg did not have record breaking in mind when he commenced his trek. His chronicle in published form exists “avowedly for no other reason than that [the reader’s] coin may help fill the yawning chasm” of his bank account.
The bicycle owes its existence to an inquisitive German baron, who invented a vehicle he dubbed a Laufmaschine (“running machine”), a contraption by no means easy to operate. Astride a wooden frame supported by two large in-line wheels, the rider pushed his Laufmaschine with his feet and steered it with his hands. Subsequent improvements on the German baron’s design were made by a Scottish blacksmith, who himself made bicycle history by committing the first bicycle-related traffic offense when he knocked over a little girl while riding his “velocipede … of ingenious design” around Glasgow. A fine of five shillings set things to rights.
It wasn’t until 1888, however, that the bicycle came into its own. Another Scotsman added to the design the pneumatic tire. And that same year also added was the rear freewheel, which allowed the rider to coast. These innovations vaulted bicycling into the first rank of weekend pastimes. Clubs devoted to the sport sprang up on both sides of the Atlantic.
These intrepid cyclists’ tales of treks from the Alps to Asia Minor, from Cannes to Constantinople, contain few details as to provisions. Perhaps their sustenance came in the form of marmalade sandwiches and stuffed eggs, a recipe for which appears in a 1911 edition of Suburban Life.
Stuffed Eggs for a Picnic
Stuffed eggs should be wrapped separately in paraffin paper, and then packed in a box. A delicious manner of fixing the stuffed eggs is to mash the yolks of hardboiled eggs, add mustard, salt and pepper to taste, with enough vinegar to make the mixture moist and, lastly, a little chopped meat. Roll this into balls, and return to the cavity in the whites of the eggs. To vary this, add grated cheese instead of meat, and mayonnaise instead of vinegar.