After completing my gathering of Carnegies, I extended my 1,200 mile ride around Michigan by swinging over to Buchanan on the St. Joseph River having learned from Randy of the Warren Podcast and Everesting fame that it had just been named the “nicest place” in the US by the “Reader’s Digest.” He grew up nearby and recommended a visit.
It was so nice that this quiet, four-stoplight town of 4,500 wasn’t even bragging about its designation. There were no banners or signs proclaiming the honor, nor had anyone bothered to update the town’s Wikipedia page. That could be in keeping with its namesake, the most obscure of US presidents, Lincoln’s predecessor. There are fewer places in the US (towns, counties, roads, parks) named for Buchanan than any president.
It seemed to be a closely-knit community with a huge American flag dangling over its Main Street, lined with stuffed scarecrows promoting local businesses. The lamp poles all featured a photograph of a local who had served in the armed forces.
A local school teacher nominated Buchanan, one of nearly 1,200 submissions, the most ever for the “Reader’s Digest” annual competition. The nominations came from every state, enough that the magazine named a nicest place for every state along with the letter extolling it’s virtues. Collinsville earned the honor for Illinois.
Buchanan won out for having a spontaneous racial justice parade a week after the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis, despite having its Memorial Day Parade cancelled due to Covid-19. With a population of only eight per cent black, the large gathering, including the police chief, was mostly white. They marched down the Main Street carrying signs and chanting slogans, stopping at the police station where they paused for those infamous eight minutes and forty-six seconds that the police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck.
Unlike Three Oaks, twenty miles away and a little closer to Lake Michigan, the town was not tainted with quaint shops and boutiques and restaurants catering to tourists. It only gussied itself up to please its residents, not to attract outsiders. There was no pretension in its decorations, nor any effort to be anything but true to itself. The “Reader’s Digest” made a fine choice in naming it the nicest place in America, and coincidentally on the day the story of a militia plotting to kidnap the state’s governor broke.
I was further gladdened to have made the effort to go over to Buchanan, as it brought me back through Three Oaks, a bicycling mecca of a sort, having hosted one of the nation’s preeminent annual cycling events, the Apple Cider Century, established in 1974. A bicycle sculpture greets visitors when they turn off the highway to enter the town center. The Visitor Center contains a bicycle museum, which was unfortunately closed due to the virus.
A similar sculpture resides in front of the library in New Buffalo further down the road along Lake Michigan. The library too had been closed for months.
The sculptures were a welcome antidote to all the political signs that took over the landscape throughout the state. Halloween decorations provided some relief too.
And all the innovative pumpkin displays.
I greatly look forward to my next ride post-election when hopefully these divisive distractions will be history. They couldn’t help but undermine the usual escapism that going off on one’s bike provides.
I could somewhat preoccupy myself with various podcasts. I had fallen behind during The Tour de France when my podcast-listening was dominated by those devoted to The Tour. There are quite a few. I had limited myself to four of those offering daily stage reports during The Tour—those of Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, Johan Bruyneel and another featuring two English and a French journalist, supplemented by Randy’s weekly podcast.
While I cycled around Michigan I went back to the Cycling Tips daily Tour podcast, allowing me to relive The Tour and gain another perspective on The Race. Among its five voices was a Dutch woman who gave a distinct female perspective. She surmised that last year’s Tour winner, the young Colombian Egan Bernal, may have been struggling this year because he had recently broken up with his girl friend of five years, a fact that no one else had brought up.
During a post-Tour podcast on the World Championships, won in dramatic fashion by the French rider Julian Alaphilippe, this Dutch journalist said she had been watching the French broadcast, where Alaphilippe’s girl friend, Marion Rouse, a former French national champion, was a commentator. Rouse was so overcome by emotion she couldn’t speak during the final three miles of the race as her boy friend tried to hold off the chasers. The journalist kept hoping she’d hear Rouse yelling encouragement or erupting in glee at his victory, but she couldn’t bring herself to utter a word.
Though many called this year’s Tour one of the most exciting ever, the Cycling Tips website had far fewer hits this year compared to last year when Alaphalippe animated The Race on a daily basis. That is until this year’s dramatic time trial on the penultimate stage when its numbers exploded, with the cycling community wanting to read about Pogcar’s spectacular and unanticipated seizing of the Yellow Jersey from Roglic.
Though I needed to replace my rear tire during my ride around Michigan, I didn’t suffer a single flat or any mechanical malfunction. I went three weeks without a drink with ice, a marked contrast to my June ride when I’d stop two or three times a day at a service station or convenience store to avail myself of their self-serve soda and ice machines. Not once did I stop at such a store for any reason this fall, not even to fill my water bottles or take a break. That may be why only twice did someone offer me money this time in contrast to a dozen or more on my June ride.
The second came a couple days ago when I was kneeling beside my bike outside a Walmart making room for provisions. A young Hispanic woman snuck up on me and tried to give me a five dollar bill. That I could decline, unlike the bag I didn’t realize contained a stash of coins that someone presented me earlier in the trip. Some cyclists bemoan the hostility they bring out in motorists. I prefer to dwell upon the goodwill I draw from those I encounter. I can almost use that as justification for these meanderings—to bring out the good in others. I’m not sure when I’ll have the next opportunity in these times of the Covid, but it won’t be soon enough.