Monday, November 6, 2017

The Home Stretch


The fold of my Indiana map happened to cut across Mount Vernon on the index portion of the map, so I didn't notice there were two Mount Vernons in the state.  It was my misfortune that the Mount Vernon I circled on the map wasn't the one with a Carnegie.  It was so small, it adjoined the equally small town of Somerset and even their combined populations wasn't large enough to warrant a library.  The Mount Vernon with a Carnegie was all the way at the bottom of the state, over two hundred and fiftymiles away, so it would have to wait for another Carnegie crusade.

Even though the faux Mount Vernon took me twenty miles out of my way, it led to a truly idyllic campsite in a forest overlooking the damned Mississinewa River.  And it also led to some county roads that I had all to myself, though I wasn't particularly happy when one turned into gravel for several miles.  Gravel has become a fad for some, but not for me, though I accepted it as preparation for the unpaved roads I'll be riding in Africa this winter when I visit an old messenger friend who is presently teaching African history at a college in Liberia.

It was another heavily overcast day, but at least the wind was minimal.  My county road riding ended at the town of Walten and its Carnegie on Highway 35 that cut right through the middle of the small town, thus carrying the name of Main Street.  It had a recent addition to its side, which became the new entrance, with the old entrance barricaded.


Heading north up 35 I passed two Carnegies that I had visited in 2012 when I took a ride to the Marion library, as it was the only library in the Midwest with Samuel Abt's book "A Season in Turmoil" about the 1994 bicycle racing season, Greg LeMond's last and the the year Lance Armstrong wore the rainbow jersey of the World Champion.  I was on a Samuel Abt quest at the time, searching out his eleven books, which I completed there at Marion.  That was early in my Carnegie quest when they were secondary to other reasons for my rides.   Still, I made a point of searching out the Carnegie shrines.  The one in Royal Center was unique back then, as entrenched in its roots as any, having no WIFI.  It wasn't open this Saturday afternoon, so I can't report if it has joined the Internet age.


The Carnegie in Winemac had closed at four, before I reached it, but three teen-aged boys were sitting under the porch of its addition out of the rain all using the WIFI.  I overheard one say, "My mother and I are both on parole for that shoplifting we got caught at."  


The rain that had them under cover was just a light drizzle, but after an hour in it I was dripping wet and my tights were saturated.  There was no hope of any sun penetrating the day-long murk.  Camping wouldn't be much fun this night.  When I saw I motel on the outskirts of Winemac I thought it might be a mirage, too good to be true.  I ducked into a Dollar Store for some beans and chocolate milk.  An older guy asked where I was headed.  I told him Chicago, but thought I'd spend the night at the town motel.  He gave me the surprise news that there was another motel fourteen miles up the road in Knox.  There was a state forest along this stretch that attracted visitors, explaining the presence of motels.  I was delighted to be able to get fourteen miles closer to Chicago.  I was hoping to make it home the next day, and if I stopped in Winemac I'd be over a hundred miles away, which I'd managed only once on this ride.

A couple miles before Knox I saw a motel, but there was no sign for it nor an office.  A woman was exiting the unit at one end, which I presumed was the office.  She said this was no longer a motel, that the units just rented by the month.  My heart sank, but then she added, "What you're looking for is further up the road.  You'll see an expensive chain motel first, but you wouldn't want to stay there.  Keep going and you'll find what you're looking for."

Knox was a multiple-traffic light town, much bigger than Winemac.  It was nearly dark when I passed the swank two story inn.  After two lights when I hadn't found the cheaper motel, I stopped at a restaurant and asked about it.  "It's past the BP gas station," the receptionist told me, "but you wouldn't want to stay there.  You're better off going back to the nicer hotel."

The parking lot of the cheap motel was packed, but there was a "vacancy" sign on the office.  The hefty, tattooed woman who answered the door told me they were all filled up.  I wasn't sure if she was telling me the truth or if she didn't want a scruffy, dripping wet cyclist sullying one of her no so luxurious units.  She told me to try the other hotel, which had had just one car out front.  I told her it was beyond my budget and asked if it was possible to pitch my tent behind the motel.  She said it'd be okay to camp in the forest behind it.  I'd grabbed a discarded newspaper from a trash can earlier in the day in case I needed it to dry my shoes. The rain had stopped so I had begun to dry a bit.  It would have been somewhat ignominious to spend my last night of this two-month ride in a motel, so I took more than a little satisfaction to be defying the elements once again.  I had been reminding myself during these dreary, rainy stretches of the coda of May and Lloyd Anderson, founders of REI--"Life is better when you spend it outside."

And the next day as I rode through more rain, including several hard downpours, the words of Will Rogers, who I'd heard Keith Carradine quote, echoed through my mind--"Being on a horse is the best thing for the insides of a man," knowing that it is actually being on a bike.  I rode without pausing for a break the final fifty miles from Crown Point through Hammond and one suburb after another to Janina's house, making it right at dark.  I had very mixed feelings, happy to be getting home, but feeling suffocated by all the traffic and build-up after two months of tranquil rural, small-town settings.  After 3,600 miles my legs were legs romped along, not needing a rest during my four-hour non-stop home stretch run, feeling as if they could do another fifty miles if need be.  It had been another noteworthy ride and by far my biggest Carnegie haul ever, with seventy new ones in five states to go along with a dozen or so I had previously visited.  I had also finished off two states--Colorado and Illinois.  I could exalt in riding more than twice the distance I had intended.  It is a temptation I always feel and don't often get to execute.




 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Gas City, Indiana


I didn't have to go hunting for a laundromat after my cold, rain-drenched night of camping to dry my gear, as the temperature sky-rocketed twenty degrees to sixty the next day and there was even a couple hour window in the afternoon of sunshine.  I draped my sleeping bag over my boke while I was in one library and used the handlebars as a clothes line for socks and other garb.  

Well before nightfall thick, grey, ominous clouds moved back in and so low in the sky rain seemed imminent again.  Even though it was nearly an hour until dark I was taking no chances of getting soaked again, so when I came upon a forest with a cable across an entry point, I knew I would have it to myself and unhesitatingly slipped around the barrier and pushed deep into the wooded sanctuary, grateful for the luxury of a trail, not having to wend my way over and around fallen trees and prickly bushes as is the customary wild camping procedure.

The temperature remained close to sixty, so for the first time in days I didn't have to put on my wool cap and pull the hood of my sweat shirt over my head or drape my sleeping bag over my legs and add a couple more layers to my torso.  I could lean back in my campchair with nary a worry in the world.  The only sound was a baseball-sized walnut dropping once or twice.  Indiana could well be called the Walnut State, they are so ubiquitous.  Towns recognize their prominence, frequently naming one of their main streets Walnut.  Three Carnegie Libraires in the state are on a Walnut Street.  Main Street is by far the most popular address for a Carnegie, with thirty-five.  Otherwise, only Washington Street with five, registers more times than Walnut.  Presidents are more popular than trees with Jefferrson, Jackson, Madison and Van Buren, and only by coincidence, Clinton.  Maple, Poplar and Locust are the other tree-named streets with a Carnegie

The Carnegie in the large city of Muncie on Jackson Street was very presidential and almost pompous with six grand columns and the Latin inscription "bvilt anno dominin 1902" just below "This building the gift of Andrew Carnegie"  with "Law Science Prose" to one side and "Art Poetry Mvsic" to the other.


One had to go around the back to enter.  It is now a research library, primarily genealogy, and only open three days a week. The city's two branch libraries have regular hours and are in the lending business. The city's largest bike store was just down the street.  My front tire is wearing thin, but since it didn't have the heavy-duty touring tire I prefer in stock, I passed on their lighter weight racing tires, trusting  my tire  had two hundred miles left in it, about what I have left to ride before returning home.  I had replaced the rear tire a month ago in Bloomington before the Hilly Hundred.  No flats though in over 3,000 miles.  The only mechanical has been breaking a rear derailleur cable, easily replaced on the spot.

From Muncie I headed north to a cluster of six towns with Carnegies in the heart of the Indiana Gas Boom of 1887, where the largest deposit of natural gas until then was discovered along with the first giant oil reserve in the country.  The gas was found by coal miners, who at first didn't realize what it was.  The boom didn't last much more than two decades, but the soil was so agriculturally rich, the region continued to thrive.  

The still vibrant Gas City, with a huge Walmart distribution center on one side of the city and a large Dollar Store distribution center on another, pays tribute to its heritage with streets signs mounted on top of mini-oil derricts for over a mile on its Main Street and also out front of its Carnegie on Main Street.  It had an addition to its side.  Among the messages flashed on its message board out front was "Libraries lift lives."


Marion, on the Mississinewa River, one letter longer than Mississippi, is the largest city in the area and had earned a $50,000 grant for its Carnegie, as had Muncie and Anderson. Their architect rendered a bland, uninspired design, especially compared to the spectacular beauty of the other two.  The best part of the library is the contents of the museum that now resides within it.  The new library is attached to its backside, where one enters both the library and the museum devoted to the history of the region.  
A sign on the door and a sign on the circulation desk offered locks to bicyclists, implying this was a city caught between small-town and big-town sensibilities.  "Pvblic Library" was spelled out in puny letters over the entry to the original library, while high above in much larger lettering was "Art Literatvre Mvsic" with the old style "v" rather than "u."


Hartford City was a genuine small town of less than a thousand despite its name.  There is another Hartford in the state, so it had to add "city" to its name if it didn't wish to change it to something entirely different.  It's Carnegie was an unaltered basic model.  It distinguished itself with the grave to a cat that had abided in it for years.


The Converse Carnegie is also in "As Was" condition, so much so that a sign out front with the wheelchair emblem on it offered a phone number to call if one needed help to use the facility.  Plaques on either side of the entry state the library was built on the site of the first house in Converse in 1847 and that the library is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Montpelier, like Gas City and Muncie, had a speedway on its outskirts.  Indiana with its world-famous speedway in Indianapolis could just as easily be known as the Speedway State as the Walnut State, rather than the Hoosier State.  The Montpelier Carnegie was another unaltered large single room library with high ceilings, solid wood tables and book shelves and circulation desk that took one back in time.


The local church had posted a notice on the bulletin board offering free bread on Thursdays from 3:30 to 5.   The town bank had the distinction of having been robbed by John Dillinger in 1933, a year before he was gunned down by federal agents outside the Biograoh Theater in Chicago at the age of 31.

The distinguished Hartford City Carnegie had an addition hidden from those entering its front door to its backside.  It's front had the extra ornamentation of a pair of bundles of grains and an open book in its stained glass window.  A sign on the elevator door in the addition read, "You must be 18 or have a disability to use."


It maintained a small memorial to Carnegie with his portrait over a fireplace flanked by flags.  The mantle contained two framed postcards of the library dating to its opening and several leather-bound books.  One could sit in a comfortable chair with a book-designed fabric and put one's legs up a footstool of the same fabric.  It was hard to part from such ambiance. 


There are another dozen Carnegies in the northeast corner of the state awaiting me, but I'll save them for an Illinois-style completion of all the Carnegies that have eluded me along the eastern border of the state down to the Ohio River.  That will make a fine three-week ride as I just completed in Illinois.  Now is the time to end this two-month ride that began in Telluride and ended up being twice as long as I thought it would be, making it all the more glorious.













Thursday, November 2, 2017

Alexandria, Indiana


My last campsite in Illinois before crossing back into Indiana was just outside of Danville, a couple of miles before the border.  Dark was imminent.  I resisted a couple of possible forested campsites, as they were too close to civilization and the possibility of dogs being disturbed by my presence.  I knew I had found a spot when I spotted  "Keep Out!" painted on a concrete barrier a little ways in front of an abandoned several story building. I regarded it as a "Welcome" sign.  It is much more emphatic and more inviting than the usual "No Trespassing" sign.  I knew I'd be left alone, especially with the near freezing tempatures.  

I had no int rest whatsoever in the abandoned building.  I followed a trail past it into a semi-forested mini-wilderness thick with overgrown weeds.  I found a somewhat clear patch of ground under a bush.


I exalted at another fine campsite and also over my decision to continue on to Indiana rather than turn north to Chicago.  It is the third or fourth time I have extended this ride.  Not wanting to stop has been a hallmark of my touring life going all the way back to my first Big Ride in 1977 across the US.  When I reached the Pacific in Oregon after 4,000 miles, I turned left and kept going another thousand miles as if it were a victory lap.  

When I biked up the Alaskan Highway four years later, I kept riding after I reached reached Fairbanks continuing on to Anchorage and then out to Homer, as far as one could go, then back to Anchorage and down to Haines.  My lengthiest extension came in South America.  Rather than flying home after riding 7,000 miles from Costa Rica to the Straits of Magellan at the bottom of the continent, I rode an extra 3,000 miles from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro. I would have continued to the Amazon if I hadn't found a bargain flight.  I had been gone six months and was in no hurry to return.  And so it is on this trip, though the increasingly nasty weather is telling me maybe I ought to.  

Two nights after Danville after a day of riding in dank, misty air rain began in earnest less than an hour before dark.  I was forced to a premature campsite in a clump of trees in the middle of a cornfield before my shoes and tights were too saturated.  I had spotted another abandoned building down a side road, but there were residences nearby by, so I slipped into the trees across the road. Evidently someone saw me and called the police.  They didn't show up until well after dark.  I was camouflaged enough that they couldn't see me.  Not wanting to come searching for me in the cold pelting rain, an officer addressed me on an amplified speaker, "We had a report of someone in the woods here.  If you'd like to come out we can find a place for you to spend the night."  He repeated the message twice more before leaving me in peace.  

Since he didn't sound overly threatening nor said anything of coming out with my hands up, I felt okay ignoring him.  Maybe if it weren't still raining I would have taken them up on their offer, but I had no desire to walk back to the road in the rain and then have to take down my tent, getting further soaked, even if it meant a dry place for the night, whether it be at a shelter or a jail cell or someone's home and the possibility of watching Game Seven of the World Series.  Instead, I had another peaceable, most satisfying night in my tent, using my candle for the first time to try to dry some of my gear.

My route into Indiana intersected with the Potawatomi Trail of Death, a forced march of the last 859 members of the tribe from Indiana to Kansas in 1838, sanctioned by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.   Forty members of the group died, mostly women and children.  That paled compared to the more than 4,000 who died on the much better known Trail of Tears further south, but those deaths were spread out over nearly twenty years of forced relocations of multiple tribes in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and other southern states. 

It was nice to be back in Indiana with all its Carnegies and round-abouts and witty church message boards--"Heaven Is No Trick, Hell Is No Treat."  My first one hundred miles included three Carnegies I had previously visited--Covingon in 2012 on a spring ride to visit Dwight, Thorntown last month and Sheridan in 2014 on a November ride to Georgia for the School of the Americas vigil.  It was nice to see the majestic Covington Carnegie framed by fall foliage. I was chagrined that it didn't open until ten, until I realized I hadn't changed my watch and it was exactly ten when I arrived.


It wasn't until I had circled around to the east of Indianapolis that I reached a Carengie new to me in the quiet town of Fortville.  It had outgrown its Carnegie, now owned by the Gateway Community Church, which uses it as an outpost to distribute food to the needy and for a weekly free Sunday evening meal.  Food pantries are not an uncommon site in small town America.  Even Telluride has one.  The church also hosted a Halloween "Trunk or Treat," a feature I had seen in other towns for people who live in isolated areas to congregate in one spot and dispense candy to trick-or-treaters out of the trunk of their car.  


From Fortville it was a quick seven miles to the Carnegie in Pendleton.  It had been taken over by the school district and was now the "Carnegie Learnimg Center" providing classes for those with learning disabilities.  


I continued north another eight miles on the same busy four-lane highway to the large city of Anderson and its monumental, domed Carnegie, now the Anderson Fine Arts Center since 1998.  A generous  grant of $50,000, five times the normal amount, made this a genuine stunner with a breathtaking rotunda under its dome.


I followed this string of Carnegies another eleven miles to Alexandria, whose Czrnegie was the first of this lot still functioning as a library.  It's addition to its size almost looked as if it was part of the original design, lending it a unique beauty.


If the rain hadn't started as I left I might have made it to Muncie and a motel before dark.  Or if the rain had started earlier I could have taken advantage of a $35 motel on the outskirts of Anderson.  Alexandria had none to offer.  But now the trip is complete with an encounter with the law.












Tuesday, October 31, 2017

DeLand, Illinois


No matter which of the still standing 93 of the 111 Carnegie Libraries built in Illinois happened to be the last one that I got to, it would have been a fitting finale.  And so it was with the presently vacant library in the virtual ghost town of DeLand, population just 428, about one hundred less than when the library was built in 1911.  Though it may not be in use, it still stands gallantly in this small farming community near the center of the state between the capital, Springfield, and the large university town of Champaign-Urbana.  It is a town of empty stores, the lone hold out an antique shop, plus one of those ubiquitous Casey's General Stores outside of town on highway 10 that leads to Champaign-Urbana, twenty-two miles away.

The Carnegie faced a large park.  It wasn't in the grand edifice school of Carnegies, such as the domed one in Paxton forty-five miles to the north that is on the cover of the book on the Carnegies of Illinois, but an example of the more common simple dignified block model with a pair of pillars, high windows, steps up to the entrance and a light fixture symbolizing enlightenment. It had the added flourish of a half-domed stained glass window over the entry featuring an open book promising worlds of knowledge within.  It was constructed of red brick.  High above the entry Carnegie Library was spelled out in bold capital letters.  It exuded no less majesty than any other.

It has been a glorious quest over the years visiting all the Carnegies in the state. This final push seeking out the last 35 in the past month was an unexpected bonus bike ride, something I happened to stumble into after biking 1,700 miles from Telluride to Bloomongton, Indiana.  I only intended to drop in on the nine Carnegies on my route across the state from St. Louis to Bloomington. But then the irresistible fall weather enticed me to continue riding around the state, literally up to the top of the state in Galena and then four hundred miles south down to Metropolis via all the Carnegies I had missed in previous trips.  October is such a fine month for cycling it should be renamed Biketober.  This has been such a fabulous ride around the state I will have to make this an annual Biketober event in other states.  Illinois may not be known for its fall foliage, but communities had pumpkins and their cousins on prominent display adding flourish to the season.


This ride has been so exhilarating, it is impossible to give it up, even if the semi-wintry weather is trying to tell me to be done with it.  Rather than heading home in glory, I'll extend my ride another five hundred miles or so over to Indiana and put a final bow on it with the possibility of another twenty-five or so Carnegies in the northern part of the state.  With fifty more Carnegies than Illinois in a smaller area (Illinois is the 25th largest state, Indiana 38th) they are much more densely packed.  And then maybe next October I'll circle around Indiana finishing off the rest.

Having cycled over fifteen hundred miles around Illinois on this trip, I have seen a lot of corn.  The road has been sprinkled with kernels that have fallen out of trucks transporting it to the silos where it is stored, sometimes piling it in towering pyramids awaiting its fate.


Much as Illinois produces, it only ranks fourth among the states.  Iowa is number one, followed by Minnesota and then Nebraska, the Cornhusker State.

Illinois is truly the Land of Lincoln.  Streets are named for him and statues erected and plaques mounted noting his having practiced law or given a speech or visited a place.  Outside the town of Monticello, eight miles south of DeLand, a plaque stated that Lincoln and Douglas had met there to arrange their series of debates.  Monticello had no need of funds from Carnegie for a library, as a local businessman had donated money for a library before Carnegie began his epic philanthropic endeavor.  It had recently been replaced by a large library a couple miles out of town in a suburban-style housing development.  When I asked where it was a guy in a pickup truck said it was too complicated to explain and to follow him.

The town was plastered with signs exhorting the Sages, as the high school teams are known.  Their actual mascot is the owl, but Sages is their preferred nickname. That was as original as the Pretzels of Freeport and Missils of Milledgeville, other towns whose acquaintance I had made in my circuit of the state.  Though I have crossed the state numerous times at the beginning or end of a tour, this has been my deepest and most satisfying immersion. I will have to do it again.  

Though it is just one fifth the size of France, there is much to see.  Just as I never tire of France, I can say the same of prowling around my home state. As with France, it is always a happy occasion to return to a place I've been before to get to know it a little better and to remember my previous visit.  Unlike France, there is not much climbing in Illinois.  There is only a 955 foot difference between its highest point up along the Wisconson border near Galena and its lowest point at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, both of which I came near to on this ride.   Only six states have a smaller differential--Indiana with 937 feet, Rhode Island 811, Mississippi 807, Louisiana 543, Delaware 447 and Florida 345.   

I have been delighted by all sorts of fascinating local lore, particularly the pride a town takes in the visit of someone of note, whether Abraham Lincoln or one of the Beatles.  It has been interesting to learn of albino squirrels and Statues of Liberty donated by the Boy Scouts and early industries of pretzels and candy and more on the Lincoln-Douglas debates and the hometown of Superman. I'm ever wondering what oddity I will come upon next, whether it be a sculpture honoring hippies or a statute of Ronald Reagan with a palm-full of corn. 

But I am mostly reveling in the anticipation of the next Carnegie, knowing its majesty will send my spirit soaring.  I am grateful to each for leading me along the roads I have followed.  My ever-present over-riding satisfaction though is the undiluted pleasure of pedalling for hours and hours gazing on the ever unraveling countryside.  I am ever feeling supremely privileged that I discovered this as my calling and that I am not quarantined in some room, even if it were with an exceptional book or immersed in an exemplary movie.  I want to be out and about.  I am a physical being and don't wish to be sedentary.

I don't mind though, in fact look forward to, my end of the day quarantine in my cozy cacoon of a tent.   I always feel a thrill when I have found my nook for the night and begin setting up my tent and can settle in for an evening of digesting food and my glorious day.  Two nights ago I thought I would be camping behind an isolated barn, but as I began to erect my abode for the night I discovered there was a nearby side road that I could be seen from.  I didn't feel remorse or frustration, but rather the confidence that something even better awaited me.  I went down the road another couple miles after the sun had dipped below the horizon until I came to a small warehouse beside a train tracks that I could camp behind.  As the dark settled and I retreated within, I could well have been in some isolated wilderness.




Monday, October 30, 2017

Tuscola, Illinois


The town of Olney was well-decorated for Halloween with a dazzling array of straw-stuffed characters, or so I thought. They weren't meant for Halloween, but were scarecrows left over from the town's September Harvest Festival.  It was a competitive event.  Businesses and residences all through town contributed a creation.  There wasn't a bird to be seen.  The winner was a State Farm Insurance office borrowing from "The Wizard of Oz" with four of its stars and an added exclamation of "Customer service that will blow you away" alongside a mini-tornado.

A framing store paid homage to the farming community with a replica of Grant Wood's "American Gothic."


The shop's name, "White Squirrel Shoppe," was in reference to the colony of albino squirrels the town is famous for.  They first appeared in 1902 and have been protected as a civic treasure ever since.  A brochure includes a map of the best places and times to see them. In the winter months, as it was for me with the temperature just forty degrees and ominously overcast, it was between dawn and noon.  It was already afternoon.  The only squirrels I noticed off White Squirrel Drive through the sprawling City Park on the outskirts of town were a couple of standard grays.


The scarecrows and white squirrels were all a bonus, as for me the town's great treasure was its Carnegie Library, a fine specimen with Carnegie Library uniquely spelled out in red up high below its roof line for all to see. Even though it is no longer a library, it continues to serve the community as a museum from its prominent position on Main Street.


I passed through Charleston once again as I headed north to the next Carnegie in Arcola.  I had visited the Charleston Carnegie a month ago on my way to the Hilly Hundred.  I hadn't realized at the time that the fourth of the seven Linoln-Douglas debates had been held there.  I hadn't explored the city enough on that visit to continue on to its magnificent main plaza with a monumental court house, otherwise I would have learned from its "Looking for Lincoln" placard that the day of the debate, September 18, 1858, was "perhaps the most historically significant day in the history of Charleston."  The sign didn't indicate that the debate had taken place in the plaza.  There were statues at three of its four corners, but none of Lincoln and Douglas, as I had seen in Ottawa and Freeport.  

There were three bookstores in this university town around the plaza, but none were open, nor any other store this Sunday morning.  No one was out and about in the cold.  I noticed the police station a block away.  An officer was sitting in his squad car.  He told me the debate site was out of town at the county fair grounds and included a small museum.  He added that one of the buildings on the Eastern Illinois campus was named for Douglas, but there was a movement to rename it since Douglas defended slavery.

The statues outside the museum were life-size, Lincoln 6'4" and Douglas nearly a foot shorter.  The museum was open but unattended. A small auditorium showed a movie of a reenactment from 1994 of the debate.  Even the people sprawled in the grass dressed in the period.  One couldn't tell if it attracted as many people as the original--10,000. The Lincoln impersonator wasn't fully authentic, as he declined to shave his beard, saving it for performances of the later, bearded Lincoln.  One could also listen to snippets from each of the seven debates and read quotes from the various debates trying to guess who they came from.  Visitors could compare their hand and  foot prints to those of the over-sized Lincoln.  The museum was worth worth seeking out.  Someone in the guestbook had written, "Only one more to go."  I have four.  


The next Carnegie in Arcola, as I closed in on Champaigne, was even more exemplary than the one in Olney, highlighted with a dome.  It had had a significant addition to its side, but unlike many Carnegies, one could still enter through its front, original entrance, mounting the set of steps symbolizing being elevated to knowledge.


Arcola also had other attractions, enough to have a tourist office despite a population of just 3,000.  Mini-murals throughout its business district paid homage to the town's past.  One remembered Ella Fitzgerald and her entourage stopping at a local restaurant and being served by a young man who went on to be a WWII hero.  Many of the locals, including the owner of the restaurant, weren't pleased at all that African Americans had dined there.  This was a time when small towns in the area had ordinances prohibiting African Americans from being on the streets after sundown.


Another acknowledged John Barton Gruelle, creator of the Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy dolls and storybook characters, who was born there.  There monuments by the tourist office to him and the dolls. 


My favorite of the murals though was bike-related.


The most amazing monument was a sculpture paying tribute to the Hippies, said to be the only one in the world.  It was sixty-two feet long, one foot for each year of the life of its creator, Bob Moonaw, who died in 1996.  It included a WOODSTC license plate.  The middle upraised section are the hippie years, when people could stand tall, but then drops with the advent of the Reagan era and the return of "small-mindedness."  Though he regretted he wasn't a hippie, he greatly admired their freedom of spirit, rebelling against oppression and repression and giving people "room to breathe."  


When the monument was dedicated after his death his wife gave a most stirring speech explaining the sculpture and his thinking.  A transcription of her speech was mounted beside the monument.  His basic philosophy was that "Hippies changed the world for the good."  He most appreciated they made it acceptable for him to no longer have to conform.


In a Chicago Tribune interview before his death he described his life as "one long dental appointment."  Even back then he observed, "America, you're turning into a nation of minimum wage hamburger-flippers.  Rebel.  Think for yourself."  The largest Amish community in the state lives nearby and has a shop in town.  They would no doubt concur with many of his observations.

Continuing north eight miles to Tuscola brought me to another Carnegie, still a library and as it has been for over a hundred years other than a small additon tacked on to its side providing a street level entrance.  The addition was of the same noble limestone matching the rest of the library.


The town was brightened with seasonal decorations.


It was another day with the temperature hovering around forty, but at least the sun could be seen.  I could sit and absorb its rays and warm up freed of the wind chill I create as a pedal along.  But the road is looking after me, as if it is encouraging me to keep riding, to go on to Indiana where a cluster of Carnegies in the northeast corner of the state beckons.  The day before it provided a hooded sweat shirt that I was able to wash at the motel I stayed at.  I put it on at the Lincoln-Douglas museum when even after twenty miles of riding I hadn't fully warmed up.  That extra heavy layer finally put an end to the chill I had been feeling the last couple of days.  A week ago, before I needed it, the road offered up a right-handed, middle-weight glove.  I had developed a hole in the forefinger of the glove I wear on my right hand.  It was no problem until the temperature fell below fifty.  Then I'd have to curl my hand into a fist to keep the wind from numbing my exposed finger tip.  

After I left the museum a car with a woman and two young girls in their Sunday best stopped and waved me over.  One of the girls in the back seat rolled down her window and presented me with a two-pack of hand-warmers, just what I'll need if I have to ride in a cold rain again.  The instructions say they will provide warmth for ten hours.  A bit later my eyes caught sight of a pair of heavy-duty, high-tech robin's egg blue Nike socks that go calf-high and are labeled right and left.  The semi-tourist town of Arcola had a public restroom with hot water, where I was able to give them a good wash.  

A couple days earlier the road was extra beneficent, presenting me with a coin purse containing two twenties, a ten, two singles and change totaling $54.45, which was slightly more than the cost of my motel.  The only ID in it was two sales receipts from a Walmart in Tennessee.  All I need now are a pair of jeans to provide a better windbreak than my summer-weight tights.  I am losing a lot of body heat through my legs.  There have been plenty of resale stores along the way,  but none lately.  I'll no doubt have a choice when I swing over to Champaign.  I'll be in a great celebratory mood, as I'll have completed the slate of Carnegies in Illinois.  Only one awaits me in DeLand to the west of Champaign.  It will be hard to turn north to Chicago and bring these travels to an end.  I might just keep heading east for a few Carnegies north of Indianapolis and then along the eastern border of the state up to Michigan for a bunch more, almost as many as the twenty-six I have gathered since leaving Bloomington three weeks ago.


 


Friday, October 27, 2017

Grayville, Illinois


In no way does the the sleepy river town of Metropolis, Illinois with a population of 6,000 bare a resemblance to the huge sky-scraper laden fictional city in the northeast of the same name that was the hometown of Superman, but since it is the only real town in the US named Metropolis, it has laid claim to being the home of the caped wonder.  The Illinois State Legislature even proclaimed it as such with a special resolution in 1972.  A later book in the series of comic books entitled "Massacre in Metropolis"  paid homage to the Illinois town sending a villain in search of Superman there, confusing the two cities.  He attacks a security guard and threatens various citizens until they reveal the true home of Superman.

A fifteen-foot tall painted bronze statue of the Man of Steel stands in the guise of a no-nonsense guardian in front of the county courthouse.  A block away is a souvenir shop and museum crammed with mementoes of Superman.  It has aisles and aisles of costumes and trinkets, including Clark Kent glasses for $4.95 that claim to be UV compliant.  Superman wrote for the Daily Planet.  The Metropolis newspaper is the Metropolis Planet.  The town holds an annual Superman celebration in June with panel discussions and a costume contest.  I had to wait several minutes to take a photo of the statue while others posed in front of it.  Illinois can claim a connection to a pair of the most renowned comic book characters.  The town of Chester on the Mississippi, sixty miles south of St. Louis, is the home of the creator of Popeye.  The town reflects Metropolis with statues of Popeye and his cohearts as well as a souvenir shop and plenty of other connections.


The Carnegie Library that had brought me to Metropolis was three blocks away within site of a casino that is the prime lifeblood of the town.


I was joined outside the library waiting for it to open at ten by an older gent from Tennessee who regularly brings his wife to Metropolis so she can play the slots. While she gambles, he hangs out at the library and explores the environs.  My bike had him wishing he had such a contrivance for getting around, even though he hadn't been on one in years.  He wasn't sure what to make of me.  He asked if my pedals were broken, never having seen the mere rod of a clip-in pedal.  He wantedto see the bottom of my shoes to see how they worked.  He could recognize that my panniers weren't simply bags lashed to the bike, but were likewise high-tech items.  He worked in a factory and could appreciate good engineering.  After a few minutes he said, "You talk like you have a college education.  A lot of the men I work with have been to college."

He said he liked to read "Mother Earth" magazine, making sure that I didn't think he meant "Mother Jones," of the left.  He only reads it at the library because a subscription costs too much.  He didn't object to his wife's gambling because it makes her happy, and allows them a relatively free vacation, as the casino gives them free lodging and food.  She got hooked on the slots when she went to New Orleans with a friend and tried it for the first time. She had a $700 jackpot, and there was no turning back.

He didn't realize the significance of this library, though he could appreciate its grandeur with its two added wings.  He asked if there were any Carnegies in Tennessee.  I knew there were a few, as I had been to some, but I couldn't remember how many.  He recommended going to the old fort down by the river.  It was about a mile away on my route out of town.  It was initially established by Spaniards in the 1500s.  The French took possession in 1702, then the English in 1764 until the Revolution. In 1908 it became the first state park in Illinois. A plaque gave credit to J. C. Blair, a 37-year old professor at the University of Illinois, calling him the "Father of the Illinois State Park System."  It extended for nearly a mile along the river and then even further inland. It was heavily forested and most scenic and peaceful with rebuilt buildings and a visitor center.

A couple miles out of town I turned north back to Chicago, that is if I'm not tempted to swing over to Indiana for some more Czrnegies after I finish off Illinois about halfway up the state.  If my next Carnegie had been further along the Ohio River I could have stopped in at the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, five miles away across the river in Kentucky.  It was nearly fifty miles with some climbing largely through the Shawnee National Forest to the Carnegie in Harrisburg.  The sun was shining and the wind was at my back and all was well with my world.  The continually unraveling pastoral scenery becomes more and more comforting the longer this now 3,000 mile ride goes.  This is as good as any antidote to these acrimonious times.  It is no wonder my every impulse is to keep riding.  

The Harrisburg Carnegie was the first in a while to no longer serve as a library.  It resides on Church Street and has become a church--Episcopal--complete with a cross where Library had once been engraved.  Across the street is the Harvest Deliverance Center Church, aptly named for an agricultural community.


The four-lane highway out of Harrisburg was lined with fences guarding corn fields and small patches of forests and occssional farmsteads. After ten miles with dark descending I settled on a road construction site with piles of gravel and rock as my campsite shielding me from the road.


I was half way to Carmi, 24-miles away, the next morning when the air became filled with a mist then a light drizzle.  It didn't let up while I warmed up at the new Carmi library, a few blocks from its Carnegie, also on a Church Street.  It's not a church though, but the genealogy branch of the library.  A plaque tracing the library's roots concluded with "Not for self, but for all." The forecast was for rain all day and for the temperatures to fall.  It was only 41 and I was still damp and chilled even after an hour at the library.  I was resigned to spending a night in a motel.  They aren't all that common these days in small town America.  Carmi was big enough to have a motel.  I feared it might be the last one for the day.  The next Carnegie was fifteen miles away in Grayville.  The genealogy librarian told me it was smaller than Carmi but had two motels outside of town along the interstate.  "The Best Western has gone downhill," she said, "so I'd recommend the Super Eight."


So I set out in the rain getting wetter and colder. Halfway to Grayville my feet and hands were soaked and near frigid.  By the time I reached its Carnegie I could barely remove my glove or get my fingers to function.  I couldn't warm up in the Carnegie as it was now a vacant building.


The librarian in the new building several blocks away said it was so structurally unsound that it wasn't even on the market.  In a town of empty stores, there was no demand for it.  It had been built over a cistern and had been collapsing.  It had remained the library until 2011 even though when 18-wheelers would pass by on the highway a block away they would occasionally rattle books off the shelves.  The librarian told me of a campground a couple blocks away along the Wabash River that had been a CCC campsite, but it had no place for me to warm up or to spread out my gear to dry.  With frost warnings my shoes wouldn't dry in my tent, so I definitely had to retreat to one of the motels back a mile on Interstate 64.  She confirmed the reputation of the Best Western as not being so clean.  The library had a table full of free books and magazines.  I asked if there might be any free newspapers, as wadded up newspaper soaks the moisture out of wet shoes.  She had several in her recycling bin.


Like Bunker Hill the town was decorated with painted bikes, twenty-seven of them I was told by the woman responsible for the project.  She owns an antique and knickknacks store embellished with a few decorated bikes which are not for sale.


She got the idea from Mount Vernon in Indiana on the other side of the river.  She wasn't a bicyclist, but appreciated the pallet they provided for her art.  



Though I haven't seen many people riding bikes on this trip, it has been pleasing to see bikes considered as objects of art, unless this is an indication that they are now being regarded as objects whose time is past, and that they are going the way of the dinosaur.



 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Vienna, Illinois


As I meandered around the Centralia Carnegie Library, I was stunned to hear the comment, "I hear it might snow tonight."  The north wind of the past two days had kept the temperature from rising above fifty and had forced me to wear my wool hat all day for the first time on these travels, but sub-freezing temperatures didn't seem imminent.  It was late in the afternoon, so the ridiculously cheap, potentially lice-laden $19.95 motel I had seen entering town suddenly became attractive.  But only for a flicker, until I reminded myself there were two hours of light left and I had a tailwind that could not be ignored.  I've camped in the snow before. There is hardly a more soothing sound than the soft caress of snow flakes upon one's tent.  "Let it snow," I thought.

I didn't linger in this stately Carnegie longer than it took to explore the two wings that had been added to its sides and also the much larger addition to its backside.  The brick wings matched the orginal brick, so they hardly seemed to be an addition, and the backside expansion couldn't be seen from the front, so the library maintained its majesty.  It was set back in a large park two blocks from the main avenue that ran through town.  The sprawling grounds with a scattering of towering trees had the feel of an English commons. The inscription over the library's entry of "Free to the people" rather than the usual "Free to the public," when a community deemed it necessary to use the word "free" to describe its library, seemed more personal and inclusive, adding to its warmth.


It was my second Carnegie of the day.  The first had been in Belleville, fifty miles to the west, in the thick of the spillover of fhe St. Louis metropolis into Illinois. The sprawl went on for over twenty miles north to south from Edwardsville, whose Carnegie I had visited three weeks ago.  I was lucky to find a place to camp the night before ten miles before Belleville amongst all the development in a thicket on the fringe of a housing development.  Belleville with 42,000 people was not only the largest of the towns in the beltway, it is the largest town in Illinois south of Springfield and the eighth most populous city in the state outside the Chicago metropolitan area.  It has been a city of prominence since its founding.  It established the state's first public library in 1836.  The grant of $45,000 from Carnegie in 1913 to build a much more significant library was the sixth largest in the state, behind $75,000 to Springfield, $65,000 to Danville, $60,000 to Decatur and $50,000 to Evanston and Galesburg.  Of those only Danville's still stands, though as a museum.  The Belleville library had an expansion to one side that one could pretend wasn't there.


Among Belleville's early industries was the Herman Goelitz Candy Company that later took on the much snappier name of Jelly Belly in recognition of its most popular candy--jelly beans.  In 2000 it began sponsorship of a bicycle racing team that continues to this day--the longest running domestic team by far.  It's long-time director is the Olympian Danny Van Haute from Chicago.  Unfortunately I couldn't convey my thanks to its corporate honchos, as the company has relocated to California, though it does maintain an Illinois presence with a factory in North Chicago.  Before entering the world of bicycle racing, Jelly Belly was best known for being the supplier of Ronald Reagan's favorite candy.  He took to jelly beans when he stopped smoking and would commence meetings by munching on them and passing around a bowl to all in attendance.  A large bowl stood prominently on his desk in the Oval Office.

As I headed down the road out of Centralia wondering if snow was in my future, I was happy for the refrigeration the cool temperatures provided.  Upon entering Centralia I paid a quick visit to an Aldi's dumpster, something I can not resist, especially since there have been so few of them on this trip.  I was in no need of food, but I was happy to stock up on several pints of chocolate milk, yogurt, strawberries, tomatoes and bananas. It is always a lark to swoop in and grab a load of food in a fraction of the time expended by all those pushing carts up and down aisles and then have to wait in a line to fork over a wad of cash for their purchases.  Besides the perishables, I also scored a couple of packages of mini-donuts and dented cans of beans and fruit cocktail. And I filled two of my water bottles with orange juice   My panniers were bugling with a couple day's worth of food.  

I had a wonderful feast in my tent in a thick forest without any concern of lice or bed-bugs.  I had pushed down a path so I was well from the road and had a perfectly quiet night as if I were back in the times of Daniel Boone.  The temperature in my tent never fell below forty,  and neither rain nor snow made a visit.  As I packed up in the morning, I dined right royally on cornflakes with chocolate milk and strawberries. It was just five miles to the Carnegie in Mount Vernon, another statuesque red-brick monument with wings added to its side set in a large park.  As I entered this sizeable town, I passed a scattering of sculptures in the 90-acre expanse of the Cedarhurst Art Center, another of those many attractions I have come upon that warrant a return.  I  arrived at the library well before it opened, so I didn't need to be concerned about the sign on its door that  warned "Bicycle parking at your own risk."  Another notice advertised that rather than giving out candy for Halloween the library would be doing a "Books for Treats."


Before the next Carnegie in Marion, known for its federal penitentiary, I passed by the euphemistically titled Big Muddy Correctional Center that looked like a prison with high walls topped with barbed wire and towering guard posts at each of its four corners.  I also passed through West Frankfort, whose motto is "Work--Live--Dream."  I skipped the Cozy Table restaurant in Benton, as my corn flakes and strawberries had yet to wear off, stopping instead at its non-Carnegie library to warm up with the temperature just 43 degrees.  There I learned that George Harrison had spent two weeks in Benton with his older sister in 1963, a year before the Beatles made their triumphant first tour in the States.  She was living there with her Scottish husband who was an engineer in the coal industry.  They lived there just a short time, but her house where George stayed had been turned into a Bed and Breakfast called a Hard Day's Night.   

During his visit he bought a Rickenbecker guitar at a music shop in Mount Vernon.  They were hard to come by in England.  It was auctioned off in 2014 for $657,000.  It wasn't the first time I had crossed paths with the Beatles on a bike tour.  During a ride through the Ozarks a few years ago, I passed through Walnut Ridge in Arkansas where their private plane had landed in 1964.  I met a woman who had touched George Harrison.  And I also passed through Liverpool, where there are plaques galore honoring the lads.  

A replica of the Statue of Liberty, one-nineteenth the size of the original, stood in front of the library.  A brochure celebrating the centennial of the library system in Benton in 2016, which has had four buildings serving as the library over the years, told the story of the statue.  It was donated to the city in 1950 by its mayor in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, who were celebrating their fortieth anniversary, making available to any community the statue for $300 plus shipping to promote liberty, a program not unlike Carnegie's library-giving. A total of 208 statues were erected in 38 states, possessions and territories.  At the unveiling in Benton, attended by over a thousand people, the mayor said, almost in Trumpian rhetoric during the advent of the McCarthy era, "In these tense times and questionable loyalties, I thought it would be proper and timely to erect one of these statues in our beloved home town of Benton."

I don't recall coming upon any of the other 207 statues in my years of traveling the US.  They would make another interesting quest once I complete this Carnegie-conquest.  Each would have a fascinating back-story.  The question is would the Boy Scouts have records of them or is this a totally forgotten story.

The Carnegie in Marion had a large addition to its backside, which is now its frontside, as the orginal entrance has been closed. The new entrance to the side replicates the oringal entrance with "Carnegie" spelled out in an arch above "Library."  The smaller original library now includes a snack counter called "Carnegie Commons."  Two older ladies were chatting away.  One commented that the apartment she had moved into was so small that she had to go outside to change her mind. 


I was spared seeing the penitentiary, which is seven miles to the south of Marion, on a road different from what I took to Vienna.  I had been meaning to take a ride to it from Chicago a few years ago when a messenger friend of mine ended up there for a drug and violence offense, but he was transferred to another prison and then released before I had a chance to.

I had visited the Carnegie in Vienna a few years ago with Janina when we drove down to southern Illinois on her spring break to camp and hike and bike in Shawnee Forest, so was happy to fully consecrate my visit to it by arriving via bike. A sign along the main highway through the small withering town pointed to "Carnegie Library."  And "Carnegie" was prominent on the library itself, including on the addition of a canopy.


Now it's on to Metropolis and the bottom of the state, twenty-one miles away. The forecast is for warmer weather so I may have a tailwind when I begin my ride north to Chicago, three hundred and fifty miles away.