Saturday, April 30, 2016

Prunay-le-Gilln, France


With yellow synonymous with The Tour de France, it was fitting that the dominant crop as I closed in on Prunay-le-Gillon was the bright yellow rapeseed.  Henri Cornet, the winner of the second Tour  in 1904, was buried in Prunay.  He never wore the Yellow Jersey though, as it wasn't introduced to The Tour until 1919.   But even if it had been the vestment of The Race leader in 1904, Cornet never would have worn it, as he wasn't declared the winner until a couple months after The Race, when the first four finishers, among them the winner of the first Tour, Maurice Garin, were disqualified for cheating.  They weren't caught using drugs, as drugs didn't become illegal for years, but for jumping on trains  and getting pulled by automobiles.

No yellow adorned Cornet's grave, though the yellow rapeseed formed a background beyond the cemetery and also lay at the end of the street in Prunay named for Cornet.


His modest grave was just to the left after one entered the cemetery with a plaque featuring him astride his bike on the wall behind it.


I didn't know the precise location of his grave and made the mistake of circling the cemetery counter-clockwise, rather than adhering to the clockwise direction The Tour de France followed its first few years.  When I hadn't found it I began to be worried that this small town might have another cemetery, especially since this one was barely half-filled, unlike most French small-town cemeteries that are nearly fully crammed.  Les Woodland, the English cycling writer who is an aficionado of Tour graves, had told me he was buried in his family grave under a different name.  I didn't remember the name and hadn't gone back to the email he sent me to remind me, thinking his name or some cycling emblem would catch my eye.  At least I was right about that.


He cut such a youthful figure, as the youngest winner of The Tour, not even twenty at the time, that he was a rarity among riders of the time without a grandiose mustache.  

The street named for him was just a block long on the opposite end of town from the cemetery, on its outskirts, with just a dozen newer homes.  There was just one lone street sign, and, as with others in the town named for someone, didn't offer any explanation of who he was.


On the way to Prunay, which resides twenty-five miles east of Chartres, I passed through Wissous, a southern suburb of Paris where the 1947 Tour winner Jean Robic is buried.  I had already paid him my respects.  I would have gladly done so again, but night was closing in and the delayed fatigue from my overnight flight was beginning to set in.  My initial energy rush of excitement of being back in France had begun to wane after thirty plus miles of biking through the sprawl of Paris from DeGaulle airport. 

I didn't get as early a start from the airport as I had hoped as my flight was delayed by demonstrations in Paris and only one customs official was on duty stamping passports.  I still took time to ask at the tourist desk if they could find the burial sites of a couple early Tour winners who had died in Paris.  I hadn't been able to track down their graves, nor did Woodland know.  It was a question they had never been asked.  It was a slow day so they were happy to put in the energy to find them, but came up empty.  

Despite my late start I didn't feel any sense of urgency, nor frustration when I would have to stop to consult my map to find my way.  I could have availed myself of a fringe of forest along Orly airport beyond Robic's grave, but the lure of rural France was too strong to resist, even though I knew it would require another hour of pedaling to reach it.

And I found just the quiet forest that I know so well shortly after exiting from the commuter clogged National Route 20, a main artery in and out of Paris.  I was hungrier than I realized and since I dread waking up from a gnawing in my stomach kept eating despite my exhaustion.  I actually nodded off mid-chew. After I assumed the prone position in my sleeping bag I slept solid for twelve hours, awaking just once from the cold, having to put on a sweater, my summer sleeping bag not adequate for the unseasonable forty degree temperatures. 

It was thirty-six miles of tranquil roads through the incomparable French countryside to Cornet's grave. I shone with delight at the usual amenities that every enlightened society ought to offer and are so common in France--picnic tables and random benches offering an invitation to plop down and enjoy.  I was in no hurry and with a strong, cold headwind out of the west, was happy to avail myself of them. 


The regular pockets of forest that communities have been preserved for generations are another of France's attractions.


Well-kept small villages of stone houses that go back hundreds of years were no more than five or six miles apart.  If one didn't have a bakery and a church, the next or the next would.  This was civilization and cycling at its best.  It was great to know this will once again be my domain for the next three months. Now if it will only warm up so I can shed my tights and jacket and gloves, I'll be as happy a camper as could be. 







Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Classic Cycling Race Routes" by Chris Sidwells

Although this book is largely intended for a British audience with 24 of the 52 rides it profiles in the UK and Ireland, and the rest in Europe, I felt compelled to read it.  I wasn't so much searching for roads to ride, but to have my knowledge expanded on those legendary routes that I have ridden of the Classics and  in the Alps and Pyrenees. Chris Sidwells is a cycling authority.  He's written a handful of books on racing, including a biography of his uncle, Tom Simpson. I felt assured he'd sprinkle in insights and stories that would make this a worthwhile read.

There was less of that than I hoped for and all too much simplistic advice, as the book is more catered to the neophyte than the experienced rider, even giving advice on how to buy a bike and how to repair a puncture.  But my patience with his at times children's book tone was rewarded by his chapter on Mont Ventoux.  It bore testimony to how cyclists are drawn to challenges and can expand them to the
point of absurdity.

For some it's not enough to simply ride to the summit of this beast of a mountain that claimed the life of his uncle. Better yet is to ride up all three paved routes in one day and claim a certificate to hang on one's wall for accomplishing the feat. One must acquire a control card from the Club des Cinglès du Mont-Ventoux and have it stamped at the tourist office in the three towns where climbs commence and then at the souvenir shop at the top.  Then one earns the designation of a Cinglè, French for crazy.  

Since 1988 when the challenge was established, more than 5,000 people have accomplished the feat.  One can join the even more elite group of Bicinglettes by doing all three routes twice in one day.  One can also become a "Galèrien" (Galley Slave) by biking up a dirt road along with the three paved roads in one day.  But even that's not enough for some.  Jean-Pascal Roux, a supreme crazy, made eleven ascents in 24-hours in 2006 putting him in a class all his own.

The roads up Ventoux are littered with discarded wrappings of energy gels and bars.  When I made my first of several ascents, though never more than one in a day,  before I realized how many there would be, I stopped to pick them up, partially as a good deed, but also as a chance for a brief respite and also to make a study of what potion was most popular and which nationality was the worst litterer.  There were packs in French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and languages I wasn't sure of.  The higher I climbed the thicker the packets became, too thick to continue picking up.  I was running out of space for all of them and time to reach the summit, I was stopping so often. Sidwells advises that one should always wear a helmet, but he says nothing about littering.  Even The Tour de France now has specific zones for riders to discard their litter. 

The editors of the book don't even abide by Sidwells' helmet edict, including a photo of a rider without a helmet six pages after Sidwells calls helmets an "essential."  He also advises lights and reflectors for tunnels, even when they are lit.  He's against fruit juices, "as they can cause gastric stress," and thinks it's a good idea to set one's watch to beep every twenty minutes as a reminder to drink.  He adds that one can drink between these twenty-minute intervals.  If one has spare water, it's a good idea to pour it over your head and on to your legs to reduce sweat and the amount of blood one's body uses to shift heat to one's skin, allowing it to get on with its primary task of transporting oxygen and fuel to one's  muscles.

When replicating the Paris-Tours Classic he thinks one will need a support vehicle to supply food and drink, even though there are ample stores along the route.  One continually wonders at his logic and how inept and I'll-informed he thinks his readers are.  It's almost as if a team of lawyers demanded he add all sorts of extra advice in case the publishers were sued by cyclists who attempted these routes and suffered some adversity.

The book may be padded with unnecessary and almost insulting advice, but there is less prose than photos and maps.  Most rides are illustrated with multiple, often full-page, photos.  The maps and altitude charts usually fill a page as well.  The book lacks though an overview map showing where the routes are in relation to one another.  Nor does the Ventoux map show the dirt road up the mountain.

I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from purchasing such a good-looking book with some useful information, but I wouldn't say it is a necessity.  It is one of those books that had me thinking I ought to be out riding and it needn't be any place special as this might make you think is a priority.  It was almost a surprise there wasn't a box at the end of each chapter for one to check after one had ridden the route.  This could have carried the title of  "The Cyclist's Bucket List."  He twice uses the term to describe addendums to the fifty-two rides listed.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Back Home

With a favorable breeze I had already biked eighty miles when I reached the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at four in the afternoon.  I had initially planned on making that my campsite for the night, putting me within fifty miles of home.  But with four hours of light left and the riding going so good, I couldn't resist pushing on home, giving full confirmation that my legs were ready for France in less than two weeks.  I knew I'd have to ride the final hour in the dark, but it would be on illuminated roads that I knew well.  It was hard to forgo one final night in my tent, but the lure of returning to Janina a day early won out.

I stopped at a MacDonald's just beyond the Dunes to take advantage of its WIFI to alert her of my early arrival.  She said she'd cook up a chicken for a late dinner. This was after I'd already ordered a McChicken sandwich, but that was fine.  What wasn't so fine was this was a rare MacDonald's that did not offer self-service on its drinks, preventing me from filling my water bottle with ice.  It was too close to Gary for it to trust patrons from taking advantage of all the soft drinks it had on offer.

I had ridden through Gary to or from Chicago many a time, so it had no surprises for me nor caused me any concern.  The first time was forty years ago, my first tour, a ride from Chicago to Detroit to visit my grandmother as a trial ride before going coast-to-coast the following year.  The biggest lesson I learned was that I needed more teeth on my freewheel than what came on my Peugeot PX-10 racing bike.

I had no Carnegies to stop at on my home stretch, as I'd previously visited the one in Whiting and Hammond's had been torn down. I had visited three more earlier in the day bringing my total to thirty-two for my eight-day 556-mile trip.  Only fourteen still served as libraries, but whether library or not, they were all historic and significant and stirring, if not breathtaking, buildings.

A case in point was the stately Carnegie in Niles, my final of eight in Michigan before crossing into Indiana.


It is now the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce, but the limestone above its entry still bears the words "Free to the People" and "Donated by Andrew Carnegie," two rarely seen inscriptions. 



It was just the second of the Carnegies on this trip to use the world "Free."  The other was the Broadway Branch in Cleveland.  That is the usual percentage, less than ten per cent, but it is a reminder that when Carnegie began building libraries it wasn't a given that they were free.  The more common manner of letting the public know though that it was welcome and need not pay was to identify the library as "Public Library," as at least a dozen of the thirty-two on this trip did.  The Niles Library may be the first of the close to five hundred Carnegies I have visited to use the phrase "Free to the People." Generally the phrase is "Free to the Public" or the more simple "Free Library."  

The Chamber of Commerce sign referred to Niles as the "City of Four Flags."  The flags are those of Spain, France, Great Britain and the United States, the four countries that at one time made this region their territory. It is just twelve miles north of South Bend in Indiana.  There was no Carnegie there, but I had the pleasure of passing through it on my way to Mishawaka and its Carnegie.  

It was my first time in South Bend since 1970 when I served as a manager for Northwestern's football team and was on the sidelines for a close loss to the Fighting Irish.  It was our final game before our Big Ten schedule.  It gave the team the confidence to win six of its seven conference games and to finish second behind the Ohio State team of Jack Tatum, John Brockington and Rex Kern, coached by the legendary Woody Hayes, and considered at the time one of the greatest college teams ever. 

We were actually leading the Buckeyes 10-3 at halftime in Columbus.  All were chanting Rose Bowl in the locker room, but Mike Adamle, who went on to be the Big Ten's MVP, fumbled the second half kick-off, and the Buckeyes went on to prevail.  I had no memory of South Bend other than its football stadium and dingy visiting locker room, so I felt as if I was getting to know it for the first time.  One of its more splendid offerings was its minor league baseball stadium, home of the Class A Chicago Cubs.  It looked like a fine place to watch a game.  Billboards throughout the town linked businesses to the team.


Mishawaka was just east of South Bend along the St. Joseph River that intersects both.  The Carnegie in Mishawaka on Hill Street overlooking the river was the lone Carnegie on this trip that is now a private residence.  A mailbox and a snow shovel flanked its front door.  The lucky people living there get to walk through four pillars and under the inscription "Public Library" whenever they enter their cavernous home.




Highway 20 west of South Bend to New Carlisle and its Carnegie included two round-abouts.  I'd had the pleasure of negotiating just one other in over four hundred miles, just west of Marshall, Michigan.  I'll probably average three an hour while I'm in France other than when I'm in the Alps and Pyrenees.  Before I reached New Carlisle a forty-year old man jumped out of his car and waved me down.  I was moving along at a good clip and was already contemplating the possibility of making it all the way home, so wasn't all that eager to stop.  But not wishing to antagonize a motorist who could come after me, I obliged him and stopped.

His first words were, "What are you riding on this road for?  There are county roads that are much nicer."  The traffic wasn't bothering me, but I just told him I was headed to New Carlisle, just a couple miles up the road.

"What do you want to go there for?"

He was headed to the town's new library to use its Internet and didn't realize there was a Carnegie in the small town.  Of course it turned out he was a cyclist who had some touring experiences to share. He'd just returned from Costa Rica where he keeps a bike.  He flies there every so often for dental work.  He was also a Warm Showers host, but had hosted only three cyclists in seven years as he only checks email a couple times a week and by the time he does, cyclists find another of the ten or so hosts in the South Bend area.  He was a gregarious fellow.  We could have talked indefinitely if I hadn't had a wind to take advantage of and a goal to get home a day early.

The New Carlisle Carnegie was right on Highway 20 and was now the Town Hall.  It had no markings or plaques acknowledging its past.  A plaque on the lawn in front was solely devoted to the history of Highway 20, an early transcontinental automobile route known as the Lincoln Highway established in 1913.  The Carnegie came four years later, towards the end of Carnegie's library giving.




I didn't seek out the town's new library, not wishing to be reambushed or to lose any time.  I continued speeding along at a steady pace to Gary and into Chicago.  It was dark by the time I reached Midway Airport and had jets passing over me.  I still had ten miles to go to Janina in Countryside.  This was my first US tour in several years that I hadn't been pulled over by a police officer wishing to run a check on me to see if I was wanted for something or if I posed a danger.  Even though I had lights on my bike, there was still a chance I might be stopped, even if to warn me I was riding through a dangerous part of the city.  But I broke that string.  

I arrived at Janina's a little later than anticipated.  She was about to go to bed, figuring I must have stopped to camp, as I told her was a possibility if I ran out of energy or if I were halted by darkness if I had chosen the slightly shorter, unlit route through forested terrain. That would have certainly been my choice if I'd been further ahead of the dark.  I was still going strong when I arrived.  It was such a pleasant evening I didn't want to stop riding and invited Janina to join me for a ride through the neighborhood.  But then I realized I was famished, having not eaten anything except the last of my fig bars and halva the last five hours.  I feasted on roasted chicken and vegetables and rice and conversation for better than an hour before fatigue hit.  Still it was hard to sleep after an extra exhilarating day on the bike. 





Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cassopolis, Michigan

Battle Creek, otherwise known as Cereal City thanks to its being the headquarters for Kellogg's, Post and Ralston, boasts a Carnegie-era library dating to 1905.  It bears the name of Charles Willard, who donated $75,000 for its construction. Willard's family had vast agricultural holdings and owned the local newspaper.  The library's brief biography of Willard made no mention of his being inspired by Carnegie or if he provided the funds after the city failed to win a contribution from Carnegie or if local sentiment against Carnegie blocked it from making a request of him.  Jackson, Lansing, Ann Arbor and other nearby towns all built Carnegie-funded libraries at this time.  None of the young librarians had an answer, nor even knew who Willard was, having to resort to their computers to fill me in.



Though Battle Creek's library bore a semblance to a Carnegie with pillars and fine brick and granite construction, it lacked that mysterious dash of elegance and warmth and quiet grace that characterize Carnegies. How Carnegies attained such a quality is difficult to explain.  It can't necessarily be attributed to their architects, as they no set design and just the barest of instructions from Carnegie.  Whether the libraries exuded their special dignified aura upon completion or if it was something they acquired over the years is another mystery.  It might be argued that generations of pleased patrons lent the libraries their rarefied air.  It is a sense that touches me at every Carnegie I visit, as if they are a soulful vortex, and that I may well transport from Carnegie to Carnegie. 

I was conveying an extra strong degree of well-being after an evening in Battle Creek visiting Kirk, a long-time compatriot and cinephile extraordinaire from Chicago who had moved back to the home he grew up in last summer.  Kirk had overseen the pair of cinemas of Facets Multimedia for a couple of decades.  He was much beloved by the many who served under him selling tickets and concessions at the box office.  It was a very sad day when his tenure came to an end several years ago.  It tore the hearts out of all us volunteers.  Facets hasn't been the same since. Whether the movie being screened was good or bad, it was always a fine evening when one could spend some time with Kirk.

It was well worth a detour to visit him at his home five hilly miles north of downtown Battle Creek.  I had heard much over the years of his youth on his thirty acre homestead, especially his entrepreneurship as a teen planting several acres with sweet corn, enlisting a crew to help, and then selling his crop.  It was a pleasure to at last see where it had all transpired, though it was now overgrown with trees and grasses.  As we wandered his property his young boxer Digby romped about.  A pack of coyotes inhabited the brush now.  Their howls in the night would send Digby rushing to safety.


I've had many a conversation with Kirk after a movie or an evening of cards that would go on and on, though none as long as this evening.  I arrived at his house before four and we were still talking cinema and sports and this and that at one a.m., well beyond my bed-time when on tour, but such is the captivation of talking with Kirk.  We sat most of the time at his kitchen table, where we dined on pork chops he cooked on his outdoor grill.  

I was happy to learn that he wasn't suffering from a deprivation of thought-proving cinema, as just thirty minutes away in Kalamazoo, a two-university town, there was a ten-screen theater with free parking that offered independent and foreign fare similar to what he thrived on in Chicago.  He also tracked the art cinema offerings in Ann Arbor, less than an hour away and Detroit thirty minutes further.  For Hollywood fare he had three multiplexes in  Battle Creek, one of which he worked at as a projectionist in his early days. Two were presently closed and undergoing renovation.  One had posted an ad for staff, including managers.  Kirk had just applied, hoping he might be accepted as a part-timer, providing him with a little diversion from his retirement.  They would certainly be lucky to have him.

When we resumed our conversation in the morning I didn't think I'd ever leave, not that that would be a bad thing.  Fortunately there wasn't a glut of movies we needed to see, otherwise we might have headed to a multiplex for the day as we used to do in Chicago.  We wouldn't always see the same four or five movies, but we were always interested in each other's assessments of what we had seen.  Kirk is always the one I turn to when I have a question regarding cinema.  His years as a projectionist, especially at Facets, seeing films over and over, has given him a keen insight into the art form.  Disney has been holding a screenplay of his for years, waiting for the right time to produce it.

One of the reasons Kirk had moved back to Battle Creek was to facilitate the selling of his family home.  It has been on and off the market, as the economy has brightened and dimmed, since his father died several years ago.  The news that he might move back to Chicago after he makes the sale was too good to be true, though he said he could buy a two-bedroom condo in Battle Creek for about the tenth of what it would cost in Chicago.  Battle Creek didn't look as depressed as some of the automotive towns of Michigan, but Kellogg's has reduced its workforce from 5,000 to 500.

The pedaling 36 miles south and west to Mendon was nearly effortless with a slight tailwind and the revery of my evening with Kirk.  Then I was rewarded with a near-pristine small-town Carnegie.  The library's copy of "Carnegie Libraries Across America" included a photo of it.  Some one had stuck a stick 'em on the page and written "Coolest Carnegie Library of them all."



It came near to being leveled twenty years ago, having fallen into disrepair. But sanity prevailed and funds were raised and a restoration effort returned it to its original state.  The wooden floors and book shelves and circulation desk all shone with splendor.  And the card catalog too, even though it was no longer used, replaced by the computer.  There was a shortage of space for new books, but the librarian refused to replace the card catalogue with much-needed shelving.

I was greeted with more splendor in Three Rivers by a Carnegie constructed of colorful granite.  It was now an Arts Center and Museum with a glassy attachment, but still a pleasure to behold. 



The thriving town had a block-long Main Street lined with interesting shops including a book store with free books out front.



Just thirteen miles down the road in Cassopolis was another small-town Carnegie without an addition that stood nobly and inviting to all.  It's somewhat narrow and extended front side hinted that it might be a place of worship, as might be said of them all.



I knew it would be easy camping as the countryside was more forested than developed.  When I headed down a dirt road to a corn field at dusk I scared off a cluster of deer, who came sniffing around my tent later in the dark. 











Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Albion, Michigan




As I approached Toledo I found myself thinking about Hanoi, not that any of my surroundings bore a resemblance to Vietnam, but that as with Hanoi, Toledo had a strong set of connotations and was a place that I never imagined myself at upon my bike.  I had days of anticipation as I neared Hanoi.  It has left a strong impression.  Toledo, as a minor industrial city, had no seeming appeal, but thanks to a trio of Carnegies, there I was about to make its acquaintance.

I wasn't entering Toledo along Lake Erie as I would have preferred, as I had been diverted from the Lake Coastal Route by the Sundusky Bay.  There is a long bridge across it, but bicycles, and even motorcycles, are prohibited from crossing it as it is prone to such high winds that trucks get blown over on it.  The long detour around the bay made it much shorter to head directly into Toledo from the interior rather than returning to the coast.

As I became swallowed up in Toledo's sprawl riding past closed-down malls and empty lots and vacant stores I was suddenly waved down by an older guy who had jumped out of his car as if to warn me to turn back.  

"I'm a touring cyclist too," he excitedly blurted.  "I've ridden across the country ten times.  I couldn't help but stop to ask you where you're headed."

When I explained I was doing a short four hundred mile from Cleveland to Chicago with a detour up to Battle Creek to visit a friend and I was passing through Toledo to see its Carnegie Libraries, he burst with even more glee.  "My daughter lives in Dunfermline.  I've been to the small house where Carnegie was born.  I've got a photo of it on my phone."

"Carnegie's first library grant was to Dunfermline," I said.  "How did your daughter end up there?"

"She's a Baptist missionary."

"In Scotland? Why isn't she in Africa?"

"Scotland is full of pagans."

With that I switched the conversation to Carnegies, asking if I understood correctly that I had to turn at a mile up to the Locke Branch.  He said he would be happy to lead me there and that he'd wait at the intersection by a U-Haul rental place. From there is was another mile.  When we arrived he pointed down the block to a house where his father was born in 1919.  He too grew up in the neighborhood and had many fond, fond memories of time spent at the library.  He hadn't been back in years and was surprised how run-down the neighborhood was and the library too.  It was closed down and some of the Windows boarded up.  There was  a large For Sale sign out front.  He took a photo to send to his sister.



I wanted to know more about his cross country rides.  His first was in 1967, ten years before mine.  He went with a group of college friends with a sag wagon carrying all their gear.  This was well before touring bikes and quality panniers.  He rode a Schwinn Paramount with just ten speeds, similar to the Puegeot PX-10 I rode, top-of-the-line racing bikes at the time.  All his rides were west to east.  His nest ride will be in a year-and-a-half when he turns seventy.  He would have led me to the next Carnegie three miles away, but he had an engagement he had to get to.

I had to cross a high bridge over the Maumee River.  It put me on to Broadway lined with murals of a African American theme including portraits of King and Mandela. South Branch Library was large and grand enough to be the city's Main Library.  Unfortunately it was closed.  Preservationists far and wide ought to be keeping their eye on it and trying to put it to some use.



I followed the river four miles north through Toledo's downtown lined with one closed storefront after another to the Jermaine Branch, another stately building.  It was now a Baptist Church.



As on three of the four days of my ride so far I had been inflicted by off-and-on precipitation all day.  It wasn't cold enough for it to be snow.  Since it was helping to melt the snow, I was hoping to find a clear patch in a forest to camp, but when the rain intensified at evening approached I resigned myself to another night in a motel.  I found a string of them on the north side of the city near a race track, even cheaper than the night before.  

With a TV to watch I had a first hand view of Jordan Speith's calamitous Masters.  But no station made a mention of Tom Boonen's almost equally devastating day coming within inches of becoming the first to win Paris-Roubaix for a fourth time.  That would have been the biggest sports story all over Europe, but not even ESPN bothered to mention it.

My early morning departure was delayed waiting for someone to show up at the office so I could reclaim my key deposit.  Only the cheapest of motels still use keys rather than cards.  The day began with a misty drizzle that finally ended by the time I crossed into Michigan.  It was thirty miles to the Carnegie in Adrian.  It was now the Lewanee County Historical Museum with a statue of the ardent abolitionist Laura Smith Haveland who had lived nearby.



The Jackson Carnegie also honored a local woman with a plaque in one of its large, high-ceilinged rooms--the cornetist Anna Teresa Berger Lynch, 1863-1925.  The wooden floors of the library and softly painted walls made it an exceptionally warm and comfortable place to linger.  It had had only one small addition over the years.



On the way to Jackson I passed the Tecumseh Carnegie on the four-lane wide Chicago Boulevard lined with mini-mansions.  The library was now the Carnegie Preservation League and had a cluster of statues guarding it under a large tree.



Beyond Jackson I found a perfect place to camp in a soft pine forest that had fully absorbed all the precipitation of the past few days and had my best sleep of the trip.  It was too nice to want to go to sleep and too nice to leave in the morning, but I wanted to make it to Kirk in Battle Creek early enough in the afternoon to spend some time exploring with him before dark.  On the way I had the early morning treat of the Carnegie in Albion as the sun rose behind it.  A sign on the door said its new hours were noon until eight, so I could only enjoy its exterior.









Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sandusky, Ohio


Sometime in the middle of the night I was awoken by the thud of a heavy object falling upon my tent.  I was camped under a large tree in a fruit tree orchard and assumed a limb had fallen upon me.  When I opened my tent to remove the object I discovered I was buried in snow and what had fallen upon me was the gathered snow on the rain fly,  finally collapsing.  

It was raining when I'd stopped to camp at seven p.m., but I didn't realize that it would turn to snow during the night.  All the snow was a big surprise. Six inches had already accumulated and it was still coming down when I broke camp.  The highway had been plowed, but the road was less than clear.  I kept my speed at a minimum as my rear brake was frozen.  I had already taken a leak when I made that discovery, so couldn't do what racers do in extreme conditions when their hands become too cold to function.

I was only six miles from Milan, the birth place of Thomas Edison, and its Carnegie.  If it hadn't been raining the night before I would have pushed on to make it my fourth for the day.  This was a rare occasion when I could celebrate an addition to a Carnegie, as it included a double-doored entry that I could slip my bike into and allow the brakes to thaw.  The snow concealed the red tile Spanish roof, but did not diminish its grandeur.




I took a good long break allowing my gloves and booties to dry.  It was a quiet day at the library.  The librarians said hardly any of their Saturday regulars were stopping in.  This was the biggest snow storm of the year, more than all of December and January combined.  If it had hit in October, the librarians said they would have felt crushed, fearful that it was the harbinger of a long, hard winter.  But the winter had been so mild they didn't mind this one, especially with 60 degree temperatures in the forecast for the coming week.

It was six miles south to the next Carnegie in Norwalk.  




I had actually visited it two years ago on my spring ride that began in Pittsburgh.  I was happy to renew acquaintances with its spectacular green stained glass rotunda.  It had been cleaned since my last visit and was gleaming with extra luster.



The painting on the far wall is a quite stunning portrait of an exalted-looking young man of local renown who drowned while trying to save a woman in 1910. He had been a star athlete and student, the valedictorian of the local high school in 1905, who earned a scholarship at a nearby college and returned home to teach at the high school.  He also happened to be the first person to check a book out of the library when it opened in 1906.  The artist, Charles Courtney Curran, had a local connection and went on to have a significant career with works, mostly of women in pastoral setting, in museums all over the country.

Hanging on a wall of the Carnegie in Amherst, the "Sandstone Center of the World," was a photograph of its first librarian, Maude Neiding, who served from 1906 until 1948.  Many small town libraries have similar photos.  A town's librarian was often an a preeminent figure in the community. A collection of their stories would make a compelling book that no doubt would receive an endorsement from Oprah, making it an instant best seller. 



The library was of course built of sandstone.



 It was the final of my trio of Carnegies the day before the snow hit.  The first hardly counted as the only remnant from the original Lakewood Carnegie, a suburb of Cleveland, was a far wall.  None of the interiors had been preserved.  Its new front strained for gallantry without achieving what the Carnegies so effortlessly exude.  There was no acknowledgement anywhere of the library's past.



Not so with the majestic Carnegie in Lorain a pleasant twenty-five mile ride from Lakewood along the Lake Erie coastline dotted with small parks providing access to the water.  The non-Carnegie Domankas library had a premium spot right on the lake beside a put-in for boats.  Lorain was on the lake, but it's Carnegie was a mile inland sitting in a block it had all to itself. "Public Library" was chiseled into the stone just below its roof line, but it was now known as the Carnegie Center and was home to the local Historical Society.



My day in the wet, wind-blown snow not only caked me in white, but also the signs along the road.



I was semi-blinded by the driving snow that became a blizzard for a brief spell when I turned north into the wind for twelve miles up to Sandusky, back on the lake.  A couple in a pick-up slowed to offer me a ride.  Not a chance.  "Are you sure?," they asked twice after my polite decline.  I would have if my front tire slow leak had required filling more than every couple of miles.  I had hit a camouflaged pot hole ten miles from Sandusky.  I was relieved that it didn't cause an instant blow-out and that only my front tire suffered a pinch.  It would have been worthy of a scene in "Revenant" if I'd had to replace two tubes in the snow.  Fortunately it could wait until I found a motel.

Signs advertised a ferry to several islands, one of which is Canadian.  There is actually a Canadian customs office in Sandusky.  But I had made this detour for its Carnegie, one of the first in the state built in 1901 with a hefty $50,000 grant.  It was large and grand enough to last until this century before needing an addition. It incorporated the town jail, built in a similar local limestone, though the rest of the addition was all modern brick and glass.




The large amusement park Cedar Point, established in 1870 making it the second oldest in the US,  resides on the outskirts of town.  It has seventeen roller-coasters with another set to open this year.  It is the most visited amusement park in the country.  With an abundance of motels nearby and it being the off-season, I didn't take too hard of a hit to the pocketbook for a place to dry out my frozen tent and damp sleeping bag and my outerwear.  





Friday, April 8, 2016

The Fourteen Carnegies of Cleveland

Thanks to the persistence of William Howard Brett, the head of Cleveland's library from 1884 until his death in 1918, Cleveland can boast of having more Carnegies than any city other than New York with 65 and Philadelphia with 25.  Carnegie provided an initial grant for seven in 1903 and then succumbed to the hounding of Brett to add seven more, telling him that he would surely make it to heaven for his efforts.  He couldn't get Carnegie though to give a larger hunk for a main library, as Carnegie clung to the philosophy that it was better to sprinkle libraries in neighborhoods, making them more easily accessible.

Thirteen of the fourteen libraries still stand, the only loss the Woodland Branch to fire in 1957.  Five still function as libraries, four serve as office space for organizations that provide community social services, three are boarded up and closed and one is an African American Museum seeking funds to renovate and reopen. I had a fine day bicycling nearly fifty miles from one to another under a cold drippy sky.

I began my rounds at the Amtrak station at seven a.m. after seven-and-half hours aboard the Lake Shore Limited across Indiana and Ohio.  I had a seat to myself, so was able to sprawl out and get some sleep.  The train station is just across a main highway from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which has a prominent spot on Lake Erie blaring rock and roll from speakers around the clock in its large plaza.  A plaque out front explains that the term "Rock and Roll" was originated by a local disc jockey, Alan Freed, in 1951 to describe the up tempo black rhythm and blues records he played on his nightly "Moon Dog House Rock and Roll Party" show.


From the museum I headed to the eastern end of the city and into East Cleveland for a bonus Carnegie for the day, making up for the one that burned down.  Its grandeur was somewhat undermined by a large glassy addition to its left called the Debra Ann November Learning Center.  At least "Carnegie Library" remained above the original majesterial entrance.



The traffic was tame and not excessive all day long, maybe thanks to the extra-long state-of-the-art buses, some of whom had fast lanes all to their own, such as Chicago's traffic commissioner has been trying to introduce on Ashland Avenue.  But the minimal traffic was probably mostly due to the declining population of the city and profusion of abandoned buildings and empty lots, epitomized by the saddest Carneige I've ever come upon--the Superior Branch, that at one point had been rechristened as a "Learning Bank."  It was one of three of Cleveland's Carnegies designed by Carnegie's son-in-law, Henry Whitfield.  It was the last built in the city in 1920.



The others he designed had more flair.  The presently closed South Branch had the look of a castle.



The Quincy Branch was more recognizable as a Carnegie.  It has been renamed the Langsten Hughes Center and houses a clinic and health and education center and had an expansion to accommodate them.




Several of the Carnegies were basic, almost bunker-like, buildings.  The only distinguishing feature of the East 79th Branch were its large windows, but they had their luster diminished by a thick metal grating to protect this present Alcohol Rehabilitation Center.



The post WWI Brooklyn and Jefferson Branches, among the last Carnegie bequeathed, were near clones, designed to be turned into turned factories if they were no longer needed as libraries.  



But they had both thrived and were buzzing with patrons in the early afternoon even before school let out.



One of the librarians at the Brooklyn Branch, Laura, was a great Carnegie enthusiast and bubbled over at my quest and that I had traveled via Amtrak with my bike, something she has been eager to undertake.   She was ecstatic that I had already seen nine of Cleveland's Carnegies and was equally enthusiastic describing the four that awaited me.  She hovered by the window where I left my unlocked bike concerned that it might disappear, a common occurrence at the library. I hadn't bothered to lock it figuring I'd be in and out in a couple of minutes and that bike thieves wouldn't be lurking in the rain nor likely to try to ride off on my overloaded bike.  When she took me to see a back room with a fireplace, she asked one of her cohearts to keep an eye on it.  No one I have asked has been able to explain the circumstances of a main artery through the city being named for Carnegie, whether it was due to his library benevolence or if he had business interests here.   Laura didn't know either, but she gave me the name of the history librarian at the Main Library who could well know or find out.

Carnegie Street passes within a block of the Sterling Branch, which still functions as a library and a "Safe House."



The Lorraine Branch, built in Greek Revival style, also had a sign in its window designating it as a "Safe Place."



The West Branch had even more architectural flair.  It's hint of a wedding cake gave me a double wow.  First upon sighting it and then when I entered and saw its commodious central room.  It had a bike book pertinent to the region--"Pedaling to Lunch--Bike Rides and Bites in Northeast Ohio."



The Miles Park Branch, sitting on a slight hill with a long promenade through a park leading to it, was perhaps the most distuished of the day's Carnegies.  



Even though it no longer served as a library, but rather for housing and economic development, it's original circulation desk remained in its stunning rotunda.



When it closed as a library in 1987 it was briefly a museum, which the Hough Branch has become, though it is presently closed as it seeks funds to reopen.  It was one of the first African American Museums in the country.  The once magnificent building from 1907 was in sorry shape with boarded up and broken windows.



The St. Clair Branch was a monstrous two-storied red brick building with some ornamentation along its  roof line.  It is now the Goodrich Gannetg Neighborhood Centef.




The Broadway Branch is a unique ten-sided building with a large rotunda. It's location where St. Clair Avenue angles into 55th Street allowed it to have gallant entrances from both streets.  Unfortunately, it is presently vacant after once being a restaurant and I could only peer in at its spacious interior.



I finished my rounds at the huge downtown library that any city could be proud of.  Laura's friend Terry didn't have an answer for how a main thoroughfare through the city came to be known as Carnegie, but he did tell me about a book the library had by Mary Ellen Armentrout on the state's 111 Carnegies.
The library also had a wealth of books on bicycling, included two I had been trying to track down and several others I didn't know of but would have kept me in town for several days of I'd had the time. Perhaps the greatest discovery was  "A Year in the Saddle" by Giles Belbin that listed a significant bike event for every day of the year.  There was also a bike memoir by the very literate Tour de France chronicler Graeme Fife, "The Beautiful Machine," that I didn't know about.  None by Les Woodland  though, the prolific writer on cycling lore, who I've been trying to contact for years, as he frequently mentions grave sites of Tour champions.  Just this past week I connected with him and thus has begun a wonderful correspondence.  He told me where the second Tour winner is buried.  It is on my way to Cannes.