Around the World on a Bicycle

In 1884, the 29 year old Thomas Stevens set out from San Fransisco on the 'modern mechanical invention' of the Penny Farthing to circumnavigate the globe on his 'big wheel'. His book - "Around the World on a Bicycle" - was published in 1888 and his writings are presented here in blog form. Read more in the archive.

Dogs and ditches

My road, on leaving Haag, is hilly, and the snowy heights of the Nördliche Kalkalpen (North Chalk Mountains), a range of the Austrian Alps, loom up ahead at an uncertain distance. To-day is what Americans call a "scorcher," and climbing hills among pine-woods, that shut out every passing breeze, is anything but exhilarating exercise with the thermometer hovering in the vicinity of one hundred degrees. The peasants are abroad in their fields as usual, but a goodly proportion are reclining beneath the trees. Reclining is, I think, a favorite pastime with the Austrian. The teamster, who happens to be wide awake and sees me approaching, knows instinctively that his team is going to scare at the bicycle, yet he makes no precautionary movements whatever, neither does he arouse himself from his lolling position until the horses or oxen begin to swerve around. As a usual thing the teamster is filling his pipe, which has a large, ungainly-looking, porcelain bowl, a long, straight wooden stem, and a crooked mouth-piece. Almost every Austrian peasant from sixteen years old upward carries one of these uncomely pipes.

The men here seem to be dull, uninteresting mortals, dressed in tight- fitting, and yet, somehow, ill-fitting, pantaloons, usually about three sizes too short, a small apron of blue ducking-an unbecoming garment that can only be described as a cross between a short jacket and a waistcoat - and a narrow-rimmed, prosy-looking billycock hat. The peasant women are the poetry of Austria, as of any other European country, and in their short red dresses and broad-brimmed, gypsy hats, they look picturesque and interesting in spite of homely faces and ungraceful figures. Riding into Lambach this morning, I am about wheeling past a horse and drag that, careless and Austrian-like, has been left untied and unwatched in the middle of the street, when the horse suddenly scares, swerves around just in front of me, and dashes, helter-skelter, down the street. The horse circles around the market square and finally stops of his own accord without doing any damage. Runaways, other misfortunes, it seems, never come singly, and ere I have left Lambach an hour I am the innocent cause of yet another one; this time it is a large, powerful work-dog, who becomes excited upon meeting me along the road, and upsets things in the most lively manner. Small carts pulled by dogs are common vehicles here and this one is met coming up an incline, the man considerately giving the animal a lift. A life of drudgery breaks the spirit of these work-dogs and makes them cowardly and cringing. At my approach this one howls, and swerves suddenly around with a rush that upsets both man and cart, topsy-turvy, into the ditch, and the last glimpse of the rumpus obtained, as I sweep past and down the hill beyond, is the man pawing the air with his naked feet and the dog struggling to free himself from the entangling harness.

Posted in stevens blog by Thomas Stevens on Friday 29th May 1885 (17:00 +0200) | Add a comment | Permalink

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