Sunday, October 22, 2017

Macomb, Illinois

Not only is an October bicycle ride invigorated by Halloween decorations, 

it is also spiced with a variety of displays celebrating autumn.  

Pumpkins are a centerpiece of most.

The Carnegie town of Aledo commemorated the fall season at every intersection of its business district with a classic or vintage bicycle of some sort accompanied by a homemade doll and some fall accoutrement.

Someone in this small town had a bicycling consciousness, as the bike theme was reflected in its bike racks as well, not only in front of the library, but throughout the town.  

Even though the library was built in 1915 towards the end of the Carnegie bequests, by the time he had doubled the number of public libraries in the country to over 3,000, it still identified itself as a "Free Public Library."  Not only was civic pride on display in Aledo, so was pride in being a librarian with a "Librarians are heroes" poster above a book shelf.  Though the library hadn't been expanded since it was built, the town had grown large enough to attract a MacDonald's and a Walmart.  I haven't seen too many lately, so I actually felt a jolt of pleasure at seeing them, remembering occasions on this trip when they provided me with provisions or an ice-filled drink or WIFI when I was in need.  It came as a surprise that these monolithic franchises could give me a positive reaction when I had been conditioned to feel otherwise.  The warmth they triggered was not strong enough to lure me in.

Aledo further distinguished itself with a statue of Teddy Roosevelt on a horse, as the town was home to the Roosevelt  Military Academy from 1924 to 1973.  It was my second encounter with Roosevelt this week, as he had been to Freeport in 1903 to dedicate a monument to the Lincoln-Douglas debate there. The town also puts on a rhubarb festival in June and an antiques festival in September.  It was refreshing to come upon a town with such vitality, as all too many are on the wane.  I had hoped to fuel up on hotcakes the morning after Aledo in either Biggsville or Stronghurst, both within twenty miles of where I had camped in a forest, but neither had retained a morning dining establishment. 

Biggsville was big enough to have a bank and a Horse and Carriage Museum, but no diner.  I thought I was in luck in Stronghurst, but the cafe had a "Closed" sign on it, and not just for that morning, but for good.  An old-timer told me it had closed eight months ago.  "These small towns are drying up," he lamented. "We used to have five grocery stores and five gas stations, now we just have one of each."  When I told him I had been hoping for some hotcakes, he said he'd invite me to his house and have his wife cook me some, but they just got back from visiting a daughter in Virginia and didn't have all the ingredients food in the house.  Then he asked if I had heard that Bobby Knight had given a speech to a booster group over on the other side of the Mississippi in Burlington, Iowa the evening before.  There was a story on it in the morning newspaper. "Did he say anything about Trump?" I asked.

"The paper didn't say, but it did quote him as saying that if any of his players had knelt during the national anthem, he would have kicked them off the team.  He also said he had stopped watching the NFL because of it."

I asked him what paper the story was in, as I was headed to the library in La Harpe, seventeen miles away, and would read it there.  We were talking outside the lone grocery store as I was eating some cornflakes.  He said if I were going to be around for a few minutes he'd go home and get me the paper.  When he returned, I offered him three black rubber cords that truckers use to secure loads that I had picked up along the road to redistribute.  I had already given one to a woman who had been friendly.   He gladly accepted them all.

A strong south wind had kept the temperature above sixty during the night, For the first time in nearly a week I didn't have to begin the day with tights and gloves and a wool cap.  But I had to ride into that wind.  My legs have the strength now to keep at it with vigor in stints of over an hour.  I was keeping at the pedals for even longer spells to try to make it to La Harpe before one in case it had an early Saturday closing time as libraries had a week ago.  I arrived five minutes before one as a guy was lugging a container of books up the steps of the small library.  "Are you about to close?" I asked.  

"The library ordinarily closes at noon today," he said, "but I'm doing some extra work.  You're welcome to come in."

After I took a photograph of the library he said, "The next time you come around, that Douglas Fir won't be here. It's dying and we've got to cut it down.  We don't know how old it is, so I going to have a contest to guess its age.  I know it's not as old as the library, but it's mighty old."

He asked if I'd noticed the books on the sign in front of the library.  Two of the books were among the top five most banned books--"Catcher in the Rye" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

We sat and talked for nearly an hour as he narrated his life story, which included time in Galena and Freeport and other places I had recently visited.  He had been the director of the library for a little over a year after working in academic book stores in Lincoln, Nebraska and Evanston and then at DePaul in Chicago.  "I was one of those evil guys who bought used textbooks for two or three dollars and then sold them for a lot more," he said.  He was eventually driven out of business by schools allying with Barnes and Noble.  He had moved to this area to be with family and had been working at the local Casey's when the job at the library opened up. His sister is the librarian at a nearby town and has been his mentor.  It pays a bit more than Casey's, but he is only paid for 24 hours a week, though he puts in a lot more time.  He supplements his pay with social security and a few lawn jobs, but voiced no complaints other than not being so well-treated by Casey's.  The library he likes a lot.

As we talked, the director of the local history museum stopped in, drawn by my bike, to invite me to the museum.  It had some Lincoln memorabilia, as he had family that lived in the area, including a relative by the name of Abraham Lincoln, who is buried in a nearby cemetery.  The town has two plaques relating to Lincoln, one at the site of a church where he gave a speech after one of his debates with Douglas and another at the house where he spent the night.  

The museum had the marble top from the Methodist Episcopal church pulpit that Lincoln had stood before.  "You can put your hands where Lincoln's hands rested," he enticed.  Before I left the library I asked to fill my water bottle.  "You don't want to use the water from the faucet," the librarian warned,   "We occasionally have boil orders."  He pointed towards a cooler with cold water and then offered me some chocolate chip cookies he'd make himself.  "You look like you could use the calories," he said.

The historian was even more talkative than the librarian.  He engages in Civil War reenactments and also doubles as Lincoln reciting the Gettsyburgh address.  I asked if the town had a French heritage, not only based on its name but also by the historian's lush mustache that are common in France. The town came to be known as La Harpe simply by happenstance.  It's original name was Franklin, but when it applied for a post office learned there was already a Franklin in Illinois, so it had to choose another name.  Whoever was filling out the papers at the time came up with Le Harpe.

He went on and on with one fascinating  tale of local lore after another.  After a spell he asked me to sign the register.  The last person signed it five days before and was from Alaska.  Even though I was under pressure to get to the Carnegie  in Macomb twenty-two miles away by five, and didn't want to trigger another prolonged dissertation, I couldn't help but ask about the Alaskans.  And off he went  on another commendatory that might not have had an end if I hadn't curtailed it.  It included the historian's two trips up the Alaskan Highway, once with his dad and another with his two teen-aged daughters and his wife and how he paid $20 so they could all shower after going without for three or four days.  I would have been happy to have him regale me with even more if I hadn't had two more hours of hard riding ahead of me into a strong wind, racing to beat closing time and then sunset time.

On my way to Macomb I passed a display of pumpkins and ghords for sale on the honor system, my second of the day.  The first had a secured box with a lock on it for people to put money in.  

This one just had a plastic jar and also no prices on anything, allowing people to pay whatever they wished.

Macomb is a university town, home of Western Illinois.  I passed it as I entered the city of 20,000 residents from the north the north climbing a couple of steep hills after being on flat terrain much of the day.  I made it to the Carnegie, a block past the town center, just before five, with an hour to spare it turned out.   It was two stories high and hadn't had a significant addition until three years ago, attached to its side.  It had had a smaller addition twenty years before to increase the children's section.  The interior of the library had been fully modernized, not even retaining the standard Carnegie portrait, so it offered no sense of going back in time as most Carnegies do. At least its exterior fully captured the Carnegie aura and honored its benefactor with a simple "CARNEGIE" in the facade over the door under the much higher ""Macomb Public Library" under the roofline.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Moline, Illinois

This has become a ride without an end, just as I always long for.  Any inveterate traveler who looks upon a map can't help but see somewhere else to go.  My map of Illinois with the 111 towns with a Carnegie circled continually urges me to seek out those without a check beside them.  One hundred miles, a good day's ride, is not too far to ride to get to another.  And so after finishing off the 56 Carnegies in the northern third of the state in Freeport, rather than returning to Chicago I headed southwest back to the Mississippi and down to Aledo one hundred miles away.  From there I could cross the state hopping from Carnegie to Carnegie in another corridor I had yet to visit, picking off nine of the remaining twenty without a check.  At a certain point in that circuit I know I will face the dilemma of heading another hundred miles south all the way to the bottom of the state and then zig-zag from Carnegie to Carnegie to complete the slate.  What a day that will be. I hadn't anticipated it happening for several more years until I began extending and extending this ride.

The Carnegie in Freeport would have been a worthy finale to this Carnegie ride, as it was the first built in the state in 1901.  It was early in Carnegie's program, when he had funded less than one hundred libraries, a number that would eventually exceed 2,500.  The city was so honored that "Gift of Andrew Carnegie" was chiseled above the entry to this palace of a building that now serves as the city's town hall.

The new library overlooks Debate Park where the second Lincoln-Douglas debate took place.  As in Ottawa, it is highlighted by a sculpture of the two orators with Lincoln sitting in this one so he wouldn't tower over Douglas.

There were seven debates during their Senatorial race in 1858, which Douglas went on to win.  I checked to see if I could include the five other sites into my route.  I didn't realize that the fourth debate took place in Charleston, where I visited a Carnegie on my way to Bloomington three weeks ago.   Four of the debate towns had a Carnegie.  I had been to the one in Alton, across the river from St. Louis a few years ago.  And I had been to Galesburg on another trip, not realizing its Carnegie had burned down in 1958.  As with Charleston, I hadn't noticed any signs of tribute to the debates in either Alton or Galesburg.  The two other debate sites, Jonesboro in the south of the state, and Quincy on the Mississippi, unfortunately don't fit into these travels, though I, of course, could make them if I really wanted and if the imminence of colder weather wasn't an issue.

I followed the Stagecoach Trail for over fifty miles out of Galena to the Carnegie in the small town  of Warren, just south of the Wiscoson border,  and then down to Freeport a veritable city with lots of stoplights.  It was the first interracial city I had passed through in Illinois since East St. Louis.  It was settled by German immigrants in the 1850s.  One of the first significant industries was a pretzel bakery, earning the city the nickname of "Pretzel City."  Its legacy lives on with the pretzel the mascot of the high school.

Between Warren and Galena stands the highest natural point in Illinois, Charles Mound at 1,235 feet.  The Wills Tower in Chicago is the actual highest at 1,450 feet, plus the 594 feet of Chicago's elevation.  The Willis Tower was once the tallest building the world.  There are those who make a quest of climbing the highest point in each state.  I didn't notice anyone attempting this one.

The Carnegie in Warren, with a population of 1,428, had limited hours.  It wasn't open when I stopped by even after a breakfast of hotcakes where I was able to charge my iPad--no WIFI though, which its waitress didn't realize.  When I asked her if there was WIFI, she said, "I don't know.  People do their Facebook here, so maybe."

My long jump from Freeport to Aledo felt like a lenghty transfer between Ville Ètapes at The Tour de France.  There were three Carnegies though on the way that I had previously visited.  It had been a Sunday last year when I stopped by the one in Polo, so I was happy for the opportune to give its inside a look.  It's portrait of Carnegie was mounted in a special frame over its fire place.  To the right was the portrait of a local woman who had donated a significant sum to the library.  The librarian said it allowed them to have longer opening hours than they otherwise would.  She was excited to hear of some of the nearby Carnegies I had visited that she hadn't gotten to.  Her ambition was to visit all the presidential libraries, though she doubted she would.

I also stopped by the Carnegie in Fulton that I had visited last year on my way back from Telluride. From there I began a forty mile ride along the Mississippi on a most tranquil bike trail that took me by a gigantic bike sculpture in Port Byron and on to Moline.  I camped at the Fisherman's Corner campground overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers that looked out towards a dam eight miles before Moline.  There were a couple dozen over-sized RVs taking advantage of its last few days before closing for the winter on Sunday.  I was the only one in a tent.

There were just a couple other cyclists on the trail taking advantage of the sunny, warm fall temperatures, but none with panniers.  Stores along the way reflected the prominence of the river culture--Booze and Bait, Pedal and Paddle.  The campground host said they'd only had two or three cyclists all summer.  It may seem that the touring cyclist is an endangered species, but I have several friends who are presently breathing some life into the breed--David from Telluride is on a long ride to visit his mother in New Jersey retracing some of my route across Kansas and Missouri, Ralph is back riding in the South of France approaching Digne where Janina and I met up with him this past summer and Nicolas of gypsybytrade is presently touring in Eastern Europe and writing most eloquently of it.  Another cycling friend I'm in regular contact with, Léo, just completed a five-day ride from his home to Bordeaux and back.  He reported meeting two Argentines riding from Copenhagen to Barcelona. And I am happy to report that Vincent of Melbourne is recently back from a weeks ride into the Outback, where summer is approaching.

Its a different story in our hemisphere, where I can feel the chill of winter in the early morning, breaking camp with the temperature not even fifty.  I start the day bundled up knowing though that over the next few hours I will be able to shed first my jacket, then sweater and vest and tights and gloves and wool cap.  By noon it will be seventy and almost summerish.  I have to remind myself to drink, as I realized one morning when I was startled by a bright yellow stream of urine.  I've already had hepatitis, so I didn't have to worry about that.  I didn't think it was from anything I ate, though I'd had a couple of avocados I'd rescued from an Aldis dumpster the day before along with a loaf of bread and bananas and yogurt and apple juice, my first score of these travels thanks to the cool weather.  I did check my eyes at the next mirror I encountered to see if they had turned yellow.  That was how I was diagnosed by my dentist of having brought hepatitis back with me from India.  They had no yellow tint this time. 

Another symptom is extreme weariness.  I feel none of that, as after a couple of thousand miles I am fit enough for The Tour, which announced its route for 2018 this past week.  It starts with a nine-day swipe across the top of the country from west to east and then has a long transfer to the Alps where it will begin an eleven-stage swipe across the bottom of the country before flying back for the final ceremonial stage into Paris.  There are not too many new Ville Ètapes, but it will still make for a fabulous summer ride. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Galena, Illinois

Galena, up in the northwest corner of Illinois, is an authentic tourist town regularly making lists of top ten charming small towns in the US.  I was barraged by the most billboards of these travels as I approached this town of 3,500 advertising hotels and restaurants and even Segway tours.  It's Main Street was several blocks of glitzy dining establishments and boutiques selling all manner of touristy items from candles to fudge.  Just when I thought I had come to the end of the gauntlet a sign promised "More shopping and dining" ahead.  Much of the town is listed as a National Historic Site. The town got its start as a mining town for galena, a lead ore.  It sparked the first major mineral rush in the US in the 1820s.  The town's population exploded to over 10,000 rivaling Chicago as the largest city in the state.  By 1845 it was producing 80 per cent of the country's lead ore.  When the demand for lead declined in the early 1900s, so did the town.  

Though the Mississippi River is nearby, the town is on its tributary, the Galena River, as the land around their confluence is too marshy to build on.  The surrounding terrain is hilly enough to have a ski resort, Chestnut Mountain.  Along with its quaintness, another of its allures is the home of Ulysses S. Grant.  What enticed me though was its Carnegie Library, a classic beauty of limestone hauled all the way from Indiana.  It resides on Bench Street, one steep block up from Main Street.  A local businessman doubled Carnegie's contribution of $12,500 to make it a little more grand than the standard $10,000 libraries he funded.  It filled its lot, so there were no additions.  

I had been biking for over one hundred miles on a road long known as the Galena Highway that brought prospective miners to the town.  I picked it up in Dixon, the home town of Ronald Reagan.  His boyhood home, which one could tour, was on the same street as its library, five blocks away.  

Though it wasn't a Carnegie, it was built in the same era and could be mistaken for one.  It had a brochure listing the 125 books it held on Reagan.  My trek between these two presidential towns also included a connection to the most famous of the presidents Illinois provided the nation--Abraham Lincoln.  A plaque announced he had camped along the road as a private in the army during the Black Hawk War in 1832.  It gave the exact days of June 8 and 12.  The day before in Ottawa I lunched on a bench in its main plaza as Lincoln and Douglas gazed down on me.  It was there, in front of 10,000 people, they held the first of their debates throughout the state.

Before I reached the Galena Highway I passed another plaque near the site of one of the worst train crashes in US history.

The quiet town of Mount Carroll was full of plaques outside historic homes and its Carnegie Library and Shimer College.  It's entire historic district had also been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Most of it, including the library, was on a brick road.  A bed and breakfast on the street advertised itself with a bicycle.

Even amongst all the historic homes, the library stood out as the most magnifcent building in the town.   Carnegie was chiseled into its facade and his portrait was the first thing one saw upon entering gazing down from above a book shelf.

It's Shimer College was founded in 1853 and affiliated itself with the University of Chicago.  It moved to Waukegan in 1978, then to Chicago in 2006.   Mount Carroll is also noteworthy for being one of the coldest places in Illinois.  Up to 1999 it held the record for having the coldest temperature in the state--minus 35 in 1930.  Congerville beat it out by one degree.

I discovered an even greater oddity when I stopped at the Carnegie in Savana nine miles away, where a bridge spans the Mississippi to Iowa. I was told the town had the only stoplight in the county.  It's not because the county was full of roundabouts, but simply that in small town America there isn't much need of stoplights.  Rather than the more common temple design, the Savana Carnegie had adopted the rare fortress motif.  It's accoutrements out front reflected its militaristic bearing with three panels listing all the residents who had served in WWII and below the flag the Gettysburg address scrawled into a stone in its entirety.

Even over one hundred miles away from Chicago "W" flags are an occasional site, some of the home made variety.  

I haven't seen any on cars though.  They were a common site last year in Chicago during the playoffs not only on cars but on the roadside as well broken off from their window mounts.  I was hoping another Cubs World Series appearance would spark a second outbreak of car flags and another scavenging treat, but it doesn't look like it will be after they fell to the Dodgers again last night, now needing to become just the second major league team ever to come back from a 3-0 deficit.  

With no prospective flag harvest, I am feeling less inclined to hurry back. I'm already checking mileage to how far south I'd have to ride to reach the next cluster of Carnegies after finishing off the last two up here in the northwest corner of the state.  The riding is too good to stop.  If I continue on to the twenty that I have yet to get to I could make this a 3,000 mile ride.  Then 4,000 by making a clean sweep of Indiana.  Yes, I am a bicycle addict.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Streator, Illinois

For twenty minutes I was treated to a spectacular thunder and lightning show a little past dark as I sat in my tent trying to listen to the Cubs game over all the commotion.  I was camped in a thirty-foot wide corridor of grass between two fields of withered corn.  They were the highest structure around, just a couple feet higher than my tent and bike.  I didn't know what the lightening crackling all around me might be drawn to, but I did toss my metal water bottle outside my tent as bait.

The noise escalated with a barrage of rain and a wind that threatened to uproot my rain fly tugging at its four stakes and bashing it into the sides of my tent, totally drowning out the ball game.  At least it put an end to the pyrotechnics.  The ground around me was soft, so I was confident it could absorb the rain.  I was beginning to regret that I hadn't taken advantage of a motel a couple miles back that had tempted me for the opportunity to watch the ball game.  I knew that this predicted front would plummet the temperatures into the forties and would make for a high of just 55 the next day.  A cool night didn't concern me, but it would be easier to bundle up in the morning in a motel room, than in my tent.  But as John Muir preached, one can't underestimate the pleasure of being out experiencing the elements.  If I had given in to the lure of the motel, I would have been regretting not being out in the storm. When it's fury finally abated after a few minutes, I could resume listening to the Cubs' struggles in their first game against the Dodgers, eventually losing 5-2.

If I were still in an area of wind turbines, as I was when I crossed into Illinois, the lightning would have had plenty of targets.  I might have blamed the turbines for creating the lightning storm. The turbines aren't welcome by all. One of the strongest arguments against them is that people don't want to look at them.  That is especially true when a tree is in their midst, totally upstaging them.  It's obvious what one would prefer looking upon.

Those who regard the turbines as an eyesore will be even more incensed when the purveyors of solar panels begin covering acres and acres of farmland with their panels.

Wind turbines are often front page news in the small-town newspapers I glance at during my library stops.   The biggest news though at the Sheldon Carnegie, my first after crossing back into Illinois, was  its new air conditioner, making it all the more popular this past summer.  It was still a classic one-room library, much as it was when it was built one hundred years ago, other than the additon of the air conditioner and an elevator.  The remodeling moved the circ desk from the middle of the room to the side, diminishing its majesty.

Only one of the 111 Carnegies in Illinois received a grant after Sheldon, the one in Gilman twenty miles to the west.  It had been replaced and has sat vacant for years.  A "for sale" sits out front.

As I circled around it in the dusk, happy to note that it hadn't had an addition, a car pulled up.  Before I glanced at it I thought I might finally be having my first encounter with a police officer on this trip, but the car contained two middle-aged women, one wearing a Cubs jersey.  The woman in the passenger seat eagerly asked, "Have you come to see our Carnegie?"

To my "yes," she said, "That's what we thought when we saw you down the road."

"Do you know what it is selling for."

"No, but I could look it up on my phone.  I'm curious too."  

"Don't bother.  It's getting dark and I need to find a place to camp.  Is there any place to camp around here?"

I thought they might get into an argument about whose back yard would be more preferable and I could instill a bidding war, but neither was brave enough to bring me home.  Instead, I found a weedy patch of bushes and trees along the railroad tracks on the outskirts of the town.  I couldn't go too far down the road as the next Carnegie was in Onarga, five miles to the south.  If I had though I could have camped in Onarga's semi-forested cemetery, something I have yet to do on this trip.  

The Onarga Carnegie  was built ten years before the one in Gilman, perhaps inspiring those in Gilman to acquire one of their own.  Onarga was still using theirs as is, or at least from what I could see from the outside, as I arrived a couple hours before it opened.  The "Carnegie" in capital letters chiseled over its entry below "Public Library" added to its stature.

I spent the rest of the day pushing into a strong wind to the next Carnegie in El Paso, fifty miles down the road.  I was able to ride on county roads much of the way paralleling highway 24, just ducking into Fairbury for food.  If I were Jane and Michael Stern, who have been writing books and columns on road food since the '70s, I would have dined at the "Lost in Time Restaurant and Bakery," that boasted "Made from Scratch," but I didn't have the time to spare for a sit-down meal if I wished to make it to the El Paso library before closing time.  

I had been reading the Stern's memoir, "Two for the Road," published in 2006, two years before their divorce.  It was a travel book as much as a food book.  It recounted how they met in graduate school at Yale and bonded over food and married in 1970.  When neither could find a job in their fields, both receiving MFAs in Art, they got an advance on a book about truck-stop food and hit the road.  They drove hundreds of miles across the country eating up to twelve meals a day in search of exceptional meat loaf and macaroni and cheese and other American standards.  They'd eat as much as they could, now wishing to upset their waitresses.  Michael would run to burn calories, but not his wife.  I thought of them too when I spotted the "Farmer's Table" restaurant in Boswell, "Hub of the Universe," wondering if they had been.

I ducked into the library at Fairbury to avoid a sudden downpour.  It closed at one. As I stood under its entry after being evicted, putting on my rain gear, an older woman asked about my ride and if I was visiting family.  

"No, just friends."

"Have you ever ridden your bike so far before?"

"Many times."


"I like to ride my bike.  Not enough other people do, so I'm trying to make up for them."

"Well, I don't suppose you're doing any harm."

"That's the point.  Driving more ways than most realize."

"I better get going.  It was nice talking to you."

I made it to El Paso by 4:30 but it's library had closed at one as well.  It was a twin-turreted beauty, sitting in a large park, with a large addition to its side with stone similar to the original.  A banner on a pole out front pronounced what all libraries could--"Where friends meet."  I rested at one of the eighteen picnic tables behind the library under two open-sided coverings.  It too looked like a popular community gathering spot.

The next day after my July Fourth extravaganza in my tent it was on to Streator along the Vermilion River for its Carnegie.  On the way into this larger town I passed a cul de sac named for Rhett Butler.  I could spot its grand edifice of a Carnegie from more than a block away.  Out front along the street a planter advised "Read a Book."

Then I had the decision of heading northeast back to Chicago one hundred miles away or going northwest one hundred miles towards the Mississippi and a cluster of five more Carnegies up in the corner of the state, the only ones in the north of the state I had yet to visit.  I have felt very remiss for neglecting them.  With those five I would have gotten to all fifty-eight of the Carnegies in Illinois north of Peoria.  All that remained were twenty of the 111 in the state.  It might be too soon to pull the plug on this fabulous fall ride, but I probably will have to put off those others for another time.  

But it would be tempting to keep going all the way to the bottom of the state and the Carnegie in Metropolis on the Ohio River.  As always, the longer the ride the better it gets, especially after 2,000 miles, which I passed a couple of days ago.   Even at 1,000 I only feel as if I'm just getting started.   It has been nice to be lately riding without the pressure of reaching a distant destination by a certain time.  The past week has been biking as it was meant to be--riding and riding, luxuriating in the moment, unconcerned with being somewhere.  After a month the road begins to feel like home.  The other home has less and less of a lure.  The best part of getting back, other than seeing Janina, is leaving on the next trip.  Don Jaime has proposed meeting up in the Azores.  How could I say no to that?


Friday, October 13, 2017

Boswell, Indiana--"Hub of the Universe"

I could read the first two words of Boswell's slogan ("Hub of") on its freshly-painted water tower near the center of town and tried to guess the rest of it as I circled around it.  It came as a great shock that this sad, tiny forlorn town of dilapidated and vacant buildings considered itself the hub of "THE UNIVERSE" of all things.  Boswell was so far gone there weren't even "for rent" signs in any of the closed down businesses on its main street.

Town slogans are prone to exaggeration, but never as outlandish as this.   Even when it was at its peak population of 998 residents, 220 more than the latest census, it was impossible to imagine that it was the hub of anything.  Train tracks ran through the town, long in disuse, Illinois was ten miles to the west and Chicago one hundred miles due north on highway 41, not a single factor worthy enough to make it superior to any of the surrounding communities.  It's most distinguishing feature was its Carnegie Library.  That can certainly stir civic pride, but not to the heavens.

I had to wait an hour for its noon opening to take advantage of its wifi, as it required a password.  Even if I could have guessed it, I wouldn't have been able to use it, as it wasn't turned on.  The library isn't open on Saturday or Sunday, but for an hour each day its wifi is turned on via an automatic timer for locals in need.  The librarian didn't live in town, so she didn't know how many people take advantage of it, though there has been no demand to extend the hours.   The town may not have grown significantly since the Carnegie was built, but there was hubris enough in the town to have raised the funds for an addition doubling its size and adding an elevator.

I had crossed the Wabash River for the second time on this trip twenty miles back where I visited Carnegies in Attica and Williamsport,  three miles apart, straddling the river that further south forms the border between Indiana and Illinois.  I could have camped along its forested banks, but there was too much traffic to discreetly leave the road and disappear, so I found a patch of forest a mile away on a less travelled road.  It was my fourth night in a row since leaving Bloomington that I had found a forest to camp in, as I most often do in France, but rarely in the US, especially in the flatlands.

I had visited the gallant Carnegie in Attica on a previous trip and was happy to renew my acquaintance.  It sits on a rise looking towards a park along the Wabash, but one can't actually see the river, just a MacDonald's before the bend in the road that hides it.  It has a large addition to its rear that does nothing to mar its integrity.

Williamsport is Attica's lesser twin.  Rather than expanding its Carnegie it built a new library.  A lucky resident, who has a furniture business, now lives in the Carnegie and proudly maintains it.  He even had an open house for its one hundredth anniversary.  It was tastefully adorned with pumpkins and other non-scarey Halloween decorations.

I had ridden on quiet county roads with anti-wind turbine signs for over twenty miles from Colfax.  It was part of a trio of Carnegies within twenty miles who all had had additions to their sides that now provided the entrance to the library, with the former entrance up a set of stairs no longer in use, defeating the Carnegie notion of going upwards to gain knowledge.

Part of the Colfax additon served as the local museum.  It was packed with photographs and uniforms from residents who had served in the military and a selection of the school athletic uniforms from over the years.  A portrait of the first librarian, Maude Rosenberger, who served from 1917 to 1954, hung on the wall.  At the entry was a list of all thirteen librarians, all women, and most preceded by a "Mrs.," though not Maude. The present librarian, Brenda Kingston, who grew up in Colfax, didn't realize she was the thirteenth.  

A plaque acknowledged the library was on the Register of National Historic Places.  So too was the Rosenberger general store, Brenda told me. She was the second librarian in two days who had told me of a local building with such a designation.  That sent me to Wikipedia, where I discovered that Indiana has 1,884 buildings on the Register, listed by county, of which Indiana has 92.  I could add them to my quest along with the Carnegies.   That could keep me busy until the end of my days.  There are 91,882 across the country and counting.  Seventeen states have more than Indiana. New York leads all with 5,908.  Massachusetts is next with 4,269.  

There are quite a few Carnegies on the list, but there is no easy way to determine how many as some of the Carnegies on the list are merely designated as a library.  Such was the case with the library in Thornton, nine miles south of Colfax. It's addition to its side didn't disqualify it from the list.  It too had had a recent hundredth anniversary. The celebration included a play written by a school girl about the founding of the library.

Since crossing into Indiana the scenery has been augmented by sermon titles on message boards outside churches.  One in Thornton couldn't have been more topical. 

No less so was this shortly after crossing into Indiana, as if announcing I had entered the Bible Belt. 

Darlington had the least compatible addition to its Carnegie of about any I've come upon, just marginally attached and sitting hunched below the majestic original, not even warranting a photograph.

After Boswell I'll cross into Illinois where a string of five Carnegies await me before I turn north to Chicago.  With such fine fall cycling I'm in no hurry to end these travels.  I might even head up to the northwest corner of the state where there are another five Carnegies that have eluded me, including one in Galena.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Waveland, Indiana

I was hoping it was a good omen to be visiting the Carnegie Library in Waveland just hours before the Cubs would be taking on the Nationals at Wrigley Field in game four of their five-game playoff series holding a two games to one advantage. Waveland is as significant to Cub fans as the W flag, as the bleacher entrance to the hallowed shrine is at Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. I  have been at that intersection hundreds of times, including for all 81 home games of the 1975 season, fulfilling one of my dream ambitions of spending a summer in the bleachers of Wrigley.  But the omen carried no weight as the Cubs fell 5-0, forcing a fifth game in the nation's capital.

The entire town of Waveland wouldn't fill the left field bleachers, even at its peak population of 676 when the Carnegie was built in 1914.  It has dwindled to 420, so there has been no issue of expanding the library, as is the case in most communities. When I asked the librarian if there was anything distinctive or unique about the library, she pointed to a landscape painting over the faux fireplace and said, "We have a T. C. Steele.  He used to live here."

She didn't know when.  "My one hundred year old mother would know," she said.  "She probably told me, but such things pass in one ear and out the next."  She led me to a table and picked up a biography of Steele and said, "This will tell you all about him."  Steele's family moved to Waveland in 1852 when he was five years old.  He lived there until he went to college.  He painted up to his death in 1926 and is considered the "father of the Hoosier school of painters." His boyhood home is on the National Register of Historic Places.  There is another local home on the Register, but not the Carnegie, though it well could be, as many are.

I'd just had a nice fifteen-mile ride from Roachdale, a slightly larger town with a similar-sized Carnegie in its original state other than the additon of a side entrance to accommodate those who couldn't handle its steps.  The standard portrait of Carnegie likewise welcomed those entering from the front accompanied by a plaque.  The library was further adorned with a pair of classy light fixtures outside its entry.  Sitting at one of its original wooden tables was another pleasant trip back in time.

Preceding these two small-town Carnegies I passed a quartet of suburban Carnegies to the west of Indianapolis.  Only the one in Danville still served as a library, though it had had a pair of additions to its backside nearly quadrupling its size.  Looking head-on, one wouldn't know.

A plaque out front acknowledged its heritage.

The Carnegie in Mooresville had been acquired by the bank next door and had been attached to become a very unSiaemese-like twin.  It's orginal entrance was now blocked and its identity as a library buffed off its facade. Only a plaque inside on the outside wall that now connected with the rest of the bank revealed its orginal identiy.  

The Carnegie in Plainfield was now the national headquarters for the Triangle Fraternity, one of two collegiate fraternities not identified by Greek letters.  There are only thirty-five chapters of this fratnerity of engineers, architects and scientists.  With such an association this was a Carnegie that was as pristine as the day it was built.

The Carnegie in Brownsburg had also been taken over by an organization on the technological side--Hendricks County Solid Waste Mangement District--and was likewise a glory to behold.

A bench out front demonstrated what it did.

All six of these Carnegies were solid, distinguished buildings still serving and pleasing their communities. As I hopped from one to another, first through suburbia and then past cornfields and forests, I imagined the era when they were built over a century ago when there were more bicycles than automobiles on these roads.  I was now the lone cyclist, my example of these many years having no effect.