Friday, September 23, 2016

Fullerton, Nebraska

Having suffered a couple of broken collarbones as well as a severe contusion of a collarbone during my years as a bicycle messenger, I well know their piercing pain.  There isn't much difference.  So when I crashed on a surprise descent on a thickly gravelled road with my shoulder bearing the brunt of my fall and felt an explosion of pain in my left collarbone, I held out hope that I hadn't broken it, which would meant the end of this ride and weeks off the bike. 

I laid on my back in agony for several minutes trying to fathom how this could have happened.  I had just turned on to this unexpected stretch of gravel ten minutes before and was following a nice hard-packed lane as good as pavement, flying along assisted by a tailwind, when all of a sudden I came to a slight rise and then a descent that was thick with gravel.  I gained speed before I could brake and then was swerving out of control.  The pain in my shoulder was so sharp I didn't realize blood was oozing from my left knee and a golf-ball sized knob had popped up just below it.

It was dusk and there hadn't been any traffic on this road since I had turned on to it.  I didn't particularly wish to be rescued.  I just wanted to crawl off into the nearby cornfield and lick my wounds.  There is nothing a doctor can do for a broken collarbone other than give one a sling, and I could easily fashion one myself from all the bandanas I'd been finding along the road.

I had risen to a sitting position when I saw headlights approaching.  The driver had no choice but to stop. He was a 40-year old man in a pick-up truck wearing a reflective vest. "Are you all right?" he asked.  "Do you want me to call for help?"

"I think I'm okay," I replied.  "I just need help picking up my bike."  I knew there was no way I could manage that with just one arm.  I was already holding my damaged arm across my chest in the sling position.  I could see a clearing between cornfields a little ways away where I could set up my tent and start my recovery.

I hobbled along with a pronounced limp using the bike as a crutch.  The pain in my leg was a minor throb compared to the searing pain in my shoulder.  I pushed the bike a couple hundred feet through a grassy strip between fields and leaned it against a barbed wire fence.  Then began the challenge of setting up my tent with one arm.  Any jiggle of the bad arm had me whelping in pain.  I didn't care that I was visible from the road, as I would have welcomed a police officer, just to find out how far it was to the nearest motel in case I needed to lay up for a couple of days.

I managed to open a can of beans with one hand and added them to my ramen. There was no quick clapping to death of mosquitoes with only one hand at my disposal.  I could finally gain a slight measure of relaxation leaning back in my sleeping pad/camp chair.  I began experimenting with my bad arm and discovered I had a little range of movement giving me hope there wasn't a break.  The brightest glimmer of hope came when I laid down to sleep and after a few minutes on my back slowly eased over to my right side without any stabs of pain.  I couldn't have done that with a broken collar bone.  The weld on its previous break may have saved it.  My previous severe contusion kept me off work for two weeks.  Touring is much less demanding than measengering, so maybe I could start riding in a day or two.  Right now my arm was useless.  I couldn't lift a thing with it and any jarring of the shoulder was excruciating.

I slept solid and could keep sleeping with the dawn as clouds had moved in blunting the sun, not heating up the tent.  I slept till noon and considered sleeping the rest of the day, but I didn't have enough water for a second night.  It took nearly an hour to break camp and then an hour-and-a-half to push the bike three-and-a-half miles to the pavement, with a half hour rest break.  My leg was sore and my shoulder very tender.  Only three or four cars passed and a grader smoothing the gravel.  He was a day late.  None stopped.  

When I reached the pavement I warily threw my leg over the bike wondering if I dared attempt to ride it.  I gripped the handlebars with both hands and squeezed the brakes okay.  Leaning forward only caused minimal pain in my left shoulder.  I pushed off and I was happily, almost miraculously, back riding my bike.  It was two miles to the town of Dannebrog, population 345.  It wasn't big enough for a motel, but there was a small grocery store. The owner was wearing a "Don't Suck" t-shirt, motto of Cubs manager Joe Madden.  He was an ardent fan who makes a trip to Wrigley, 600 miles a way, nearly every year.  He said I could pitch my tent in the town park, a block away.  

It was tempting, but I couldn't resist giving my damaged left side a little more of a test.  Some might advise rest as the best healing agent.  I go with exercise, circulating the blood and moving stiff joints and lifting the spirit.  It seemed to be working.  I managed fifteen miles before dark, camping beyond the county fair grounds in St. Paul and within range of a slaughterhouse where the terrified squeals of hogs made my squeals of the evening before seem insignificant.  

It was another night of grimacing, but I was relieved that I wouldn't have to call Janina to come rescue me, as I knew she would gladly have done.  I was still done in and slept nearly twelve hours, but I could ride with a lot less pain in my leg, though the shoulder was a different story. Every bump in the road registered with it.  I didn't make it to Fullerton and its Carnegie, thirty-six miles away, until mid-afternoon.  The library had been retired nearly twenty-five years ago and was presently vacant.  Carnegie would have greatly applauded it as it had no ornamentation.  It was a purely functional two-story red brick building with no funds wasted on embellishments, though it did have "Carngie Pulbic Library" chiseled over the entrance.


It had more space than the slightly more distinguished Carnegie in Ravenna I visited a few hours before my calamity with the gravel.  The town had plans and the site for a new library, but not the funds.


A substitute librarian was on duty. It was a rare librarian that required a code for its WIFI.  She had to make a call to find out what it was--booksrfun.  I was there when school let out and its lone upstairs room was suddenly filled with kids wanting on to the computers.  There is no greater emblem of small town America than kids leaving their bikes unlocked and in disarray out front.


The Carnegie in Arcadia was only open four days a week for just three-and-a-half hours at a time.


The Carnegie in Loup City was now a law office that maintained its regal demeanor facing on to the town's main square where in 1934 there was a demonstration known as the "Loup City Riot."  



A historical plaque explained that women poultry workers wee threatening a strike over their wages.  Ela Reefe "Mother" Bloor of the American Communist Party and others came to tow to support their cause.  It resulted in a clash with local residents.  Bloor and others in her group were given jail sentences and fine, squashing "the attempt of the far left to organize farmers and workers in Nebraska."  Alexander Payne might have another Nebraska movie here, or John Sayles could have his first. 


 

 






Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Broken Bow, Nebraska

I can now add Nebraska to the ever-growing list of states where I have been stopped by a cop while on my bicycle.  It wasn't  totally unexpected as I was riding on Interstate 80, simply following the detour signs around some road construction on route 30, paralleling the Interstate.  

It was Sunday evening when I came upon the road construction.  Signs advised that the construction continued for twelve miles and also warned of $300 fines for anyone who continued on the road.  If I'd had more than half an hour of daylight remaining, I would have risked continuing on 30 with no road crews at work.  Instead I followed the detour signs for a mile to the Interstate, crossing the low Platte River on the way.  I didn't dare the Interstate in the dusk, setting up my tent behind an abandoned service station. I set my alarm for six a.m. to make an early dash on the Interstate not being fully confident that bicyclists were embraced by the detour.


My map showed the next exit was twelve miles away at Paxton.  If I didn't have a contrary wind, I could make it in less than an hour.  The air was calm as the sun rose in a clear sky dead center on the road ahead as I descended the long entry ramp to 80, a road I have driven many a time, but never biked.  The traffic was very light at this early hour, about half cars and half 18-wheelers.  The wide shoulder was nearly free of debris.  I passed up a couple of heavy black rubber bungee cords that only have minimal stretch that I rarely scavenge.  I also ignored a stray nickel, that might have been a slug. I wasn't going to stop for anything less than the extraordinary to get this over with as quickly as possible.  I kept my head mostly bowed to avoid looking into the sun, just occasionally glancing from side to side at the bland Interstate scenery of withered fields of corn and weedy pastures of grains.

The traffic gave me a wide berth, most moving on into the far land.  Only one trucker gave a less than friendly toot, protesting my presence.  With most cell phone equipped these days, anyone could dial 911 and alert the authorities of my encroachment.  Once I had gone six miles, half-way to the end of the detour, I relaxed a bit, thinking that if I were apprehended I'd simply be taken to the nearest exit.  I still rode hard, diminishing somewhat the pleasure of being on the bike.  I was coming off my first hundred mile day and would have slept a bit longer if I hadn't wanted an early start for my possible illegal incursion.

When I saw a billboard advertising a service station and cafe at the upcoming exit, two miles ahead, I breathed a sigh of relief.  But then moments later a squad car passed me with its overhead red light spinning and then pulled over.  Two officers hopped out.  They didn't need to gesture for me to stop.  Their first words were, "Don't you know it's illegal to ride your bicycle on the Interstate?"

"I was just following the detour."

"It doesn't apply to bicyclists."

"What was I supposed to do?"

"You could have kept riding on route 30.  I should be writing you a ticket right now and putting your bike in my car and taking you back to where you got on, but my trunk isn't big enough for your bike.  I'll let you continue to the exit.  It's just a couple miles further.  But be careful.  This is a dangerous road.  Six people have been killed along here.  We're headed to the shooting range.  I don't want to have to come back and clean up your body."

"Don't worry.  I'm not enjoying this at all. I'll be happy to get back on 30.  Did the Broncos win yesterday?"

"Yes they did, but I don't remember the score."

They must have been in a hurry, as they didn't asked to see my driver's license, as every other cop has so they could go sit in their car and keep my waiting while they called it in.  All they wanted to know is where I was from.  When I said Chicago, I asked, "Do you think the Bears can win tonight's Monday Night game against Philadelphia's rookie quarterback?"  They did not know.

I had braced myself for an encounter with the law two nights before when I camped by a high barbed wire fence surrounding a tower and some trap doors.  It was far enough from the road and near dark that I felt safe until I saw a sign on the fence that warned trespassers would be subject to armed force.  I didn't plan to trespass, but as I set up my tent I heard a whirring sound.  I looked up to see a surveillance camera scanning the premises.  I feared my motion might have triggered it.  But it went into action every fifteen minutes. Either no one was paying any attention to it or if someone was they recognized I was no threat, as no one came to apprehend me, as once happened in South Dakota when I camped alongside a similar enclosure.  Soldiers in full combat gear came by in the morning and told me I was camping beside a weapons cache, as this might have been.

That was my last night in Colorado on a lightly travelled road to Sidney, Nebraska, site of the first of the ten Carnegies on this year's route across Nebraska.  It was on Illinois, the main street through a city struggling to survive.  Though it still was emblazoned with "Carnegie Libary" above its entry, it was now the town's Chamber of Commerce identified by a large sign accompanied by the slogan "Keep Sidney Beautiful" and the initials "KSB."



A plaque on the still regal building said it had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The characterless, replacement library off on a side street will never earn such recognition.

Towns and Carnegies are few and far between in the western half of Nebraska.  It was more than 200 miles to the next in Broken Bow.  I felt fortunate to find a mini-cafe in the small town of Arnold with a population of less than 500, thirty-two miles from Broken Bow after camping in a cemetery sixteen miles away.  It catered to the elderly in the town who filled several tables chattering away.  I could only pick up fragments of their overlapping conversations as I ate a burrito since there were no hotcakes on the menu--"I saw her walk across the highway to get her mail," "I hear they're moving to Indiana," "I can't place that person though I know I should," "I was busy decorating cupcakes, three hundred of them," "I'll have to see what Bob says,""We're going to take Mildred to supper."

It was going to be another 90 degree day so I availed myself of a thirty-two ounce Dr. Pepper.  I had the wind at my back until I turned south on Route Two for nine miles down to Broken Bow, a town of 3,500, large enough to have outgrown its Carnegie.  It had been converted into the Carnegie Professional Buiilding with offices for a law firm, accountants, an auctioneer and a couple of socials services.  It was splendidly maintained complete with beds of flowers.


Around the corner a historical marker explained the town's name.  In 1882 when an early settler sought to name and establish a town on the spot of an earlier Indian encampment his first three choices were rejected as being too similar to other towns.  He'd seen a broken bow on the spot so offered that as a name.  There is no Native American presence in the town, though the town park is called Tomahawk and the high school sport teams are known as The Indians.  Shops had signs of Indian Power and Sink the Swedes, the nickname of a rival school.

The new generic library was three blocks away.  It was trying to raise funds to expand.  It had a display of books that had been made into movies with a sign saying "Never judge a book by its movie."

Broken Bow is ten miles from the geographic center of Nebraska.  I have forests ahead.  Broken Bow is known as the "Sod House Frontier," the beginning of terrain that the early settlers had to use sod to construct their homes, there not being much wood.


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Fort Morgan, Colorado

Unlike two years ago when I was caught by that "once in 500 years" deluge of twenty inches of rain in less than twenty-four hours in my crossing of Colorado, I have not had a drop of rain since I left Telluride a week ago.  But I was pelted by hail twice, both time as I neared the summits of high passes of over 11,000 feet--Fremont and Loveland.  

The hail on Loveland was brief and inconsequential, but on Fremont it persisted for fifteen minutes or more, wetting the road and ruining my descent.  I had to brake so steadily that I wore out one of my rear brake pads and was scraping metal on metal.  It sounded much worse than it was, as I still had adequate braking power and only slightly marred the rim.  I didn't stop to replace the pad until I had completed the descent and escaped the hail.  

The excessive braking from my daily steep descent in Telluride and five passes afterwards weakened my front brake cable enough that it snapped a day later shortly after I crested Loveland Pass, the highest of the six passes I crossed this year at just under twelve thousand feet right on the Continental Divide.  It could have been catastrophic, but I was fortunate I was well below peak speed and could halt myself with my rear brake and by putting down my left foot. It happened just before a sharp hairpin turn.  If I had been going much faster when it broke I could have catapulted over the restraining wall and lost my bike and more.  

I had no warning whatsoever that my cable was weakening.  I am always wary on descents, but still push my limits and let it fly.  Only once before have I broken a cable on a steep descent, also on the front, which provides the bulk of the braking power.  It was in France on a wet road as I neared the finish of a long descent in the Alps and was entering a town with a round-about up ahead.  My rear brake hardly slowed me at all. I was lucky on that occasion to have a grassy rise, like a truck run-off lane, to veer off into, stopping just before a wall.  I doubt I would have been able to negotiate that round-about at the speed I was going.

Traveling by bike is an act of faith in many ways, from knowing I'll always find a place to camp at the end of the day to knowing that the truck roaring up behind me isn't going to run me off the road.  My years and thousands of miles of touring have only reinforced that faith.  And I had to cling to the faith that I would find my way down to Denver after Fremont Pass when it ended at Interstate 70 in a tight canyon more than seventy miles from the metropolis that hugs the high mountains.  

I had word that there was a series of bike paths and frontage roads paralleling the Interstate, but I had no map and the route was not as well marked as it could have been. At least cyclists were accommodated in a fashion through this narrow gap in the mountains. There were only a couple of short stretches where cyclists were forced to ride on the shoulder of 70, but even those weren't marked.  One simply had to know.

I repeatedly had to ask the way, sometime after going the wrong way and having to double back. I spent nearly half an hour in the Frisco Tourist Office poring over paper and Google Maps with the young woman on duty trying to find a route from there to Idaho Springs and its Carnegie Library. Two of my options were going via Loveland Pass or a much lower pass that wasn't paved and included a complicated array of dirt roads through the back country.  We finally allowed Google's bike route option to make the decision, which was climbing Loveland Pass.

A frontage road took me the final few miles from Georgetown into the old mining town of Idaho Springs.  It's Carnegie, still in its original state, stood proudly in the middle of the town, looking as gallant as the day it opened in 1904.  It's front door was open, letting in the cool fresh air.  A couple of teen-aged boys were tossing a football in the expanse of grass to its side.  Every table inside was occupied by someone with a computer.  I had to sit on a stool by an outlet to take care of my business.


I asked the librarian if he knew anything about the Carnegies in Denver.  I had made a circuit of eight of them last fall, but since learned that I had missed one, the lone academic library Carnegie had funded in Colorado on the University of Denver campus. Wikipedia had failed to list it.  The librarian didn't have first hand knowledge of it, but was able to find its address and also that it had been replaced by a much larger library and had been converted into the Student Union. The information he found wasn't entirely up to date, as when I made a long detour to the south of Denver to find it, I discovered it had been torn down over a decade ago.  That was a disappointment, but it did enable me to spend some extra time in Denver, following the Platte River part of the way.

I made my final 1,600 foot plunge into Denver down Lookout Mountain Road, which took me pass the grave and museum of Buffalo Bill.  A steady stream of cyclists were climbing the road, more than I had seen since leaving Telluride.  Only one passed me on the descent, just as I was finishing it off.  We were caught my the same traffic light in Golden, northwest of Denver.  I asked the way from there to downtown Denver.  He led me for a mile to 32nd Street, which had a bike lane that would take me to the heart of the city.  It passed the sprawling Coors brewery.  A large crowd was awaiting a tour.

If I had known the University Carnegie had been torn down, I would have skipped Denver and headed directly to Fort Morgan to the north for my next Carnegie, saving me about four hours and quite a few miles of horrid urban traffic.  But I was in no rush, so didn't lament much.  

My route to Fort Morgan took me through the small town of Keenesburg.  A fellow touring cyclist I met last November at the School of Americas Vigil at Fort Benning in Georgia emailed with the news that he knew a cyclist who travels on a trike pulling a trailer who lived there.  He gave me his contact information including his Facebook page--Michaelonacycle.  When I arrived at his home, his garage door was open revealing his fabulously ornate trike adorned with all sorts of talismans and a huge solar panel forming a canopy over the cockpit that was packed with so many devices it might have been a 747.  


Michael is a tinkerer extraordinaire.  His bike has a music and lighting system worthy of a Rolling Stones concert.  His bike won the most creative award at the 2014 Recumbent Bike Rally in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.  He dropped in on it on during a six-month ride from his home in the Upper Peninsula to visit his mother in Keenesburg.  He had recently ended his marriage of twenty years and decided to divest himself of all he owned other than what he could carry on his bike.  He started out with over 300 pounds of gear lashed to his bike and on his trailer.  Even with a motor on his bike, that was a bit much and he pared down.  He eliminated one of his guitars, but not a mini that is made from a coffee can.  He also carries a harmonica.


Living on his bike he found that a small two-man tent was a bit confining, so he now carries a six-person tent he can stand up in.  He also carries a toilet he designed--an actual toilet seat attached to a bucket that has kitty litter in it.


It's not so easy to wildcamp with such a large contraption.  He often stays in Walmart parking lots.  He can drop curtains down around his cockpit and sleep there.  He is still fairly new to the touring life, but he is a full-fledged convert and wishes to make it his life, promoting solar energy and the simple life.  I couldn't get a photo of him in his cockpit as he'd recently taken a fall into his firepit and was too incapacitated to contort himself into that position, so I had to do it.  A tube tangles at his head to blow into for his horn.


It was a sunny, but cool day without the hint of a wind, ideal for cycling.  Unfortunately Michael was several days away from being able to ride his bike so he couldn't accompany me out into the wide open terrain.  But he did send me off with a bag of cherry tomatoes from his garden and some of his home-made beef jerky and a box of triscruits and some nuts and raisins.  I left him with a black pillow case I'd found along the road adorned with guitars, a perfect sack he said for some of his gear.

I didn't make it to Fort Morgan, over fifty miles away, until the next day.  The streets around the library were closed off and filled with old cars and old tractors.


The Carnegie though had been swallowed up by a huge addition.  It's original walls were indistinguishable from the new.  No remnants remained, not even in the museum that adjoined the library, just a photo of a gala celebration around the library.


It was a disappointing finish to this year's Colorado Carnegie quest of four libraries, two of which were still in fine shape.  I have now visited 29 of the 30 still standing Carnegies in the state.  There were 36.  The only one I have yet to get to is in Trinidad in the south east corner of the state.  I will make it my first destination next year after Telluride.  Colorado will then become the first state that I will have have visited all its Carnegies. 








Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Leadville, Colorado

I did a  little more cycling than usual during my month of tending to the Shipping Office for the Telluride Film Festival this year, thanks to being housed up in the resort Mountain Village rather than in the town of Telluride itself.  It is more luxurious up there, but not so convenient with a half hour rather than a five minute commute to the Shipping Office.  

It was a commute unlike any other. Janina and I had the choice of taking a pair of gondolas to work every morning or a seven-mile bike ride with a thousand-foot descent, quite a contrast to Janina's usual Metra commute from suburbia into Chicago.  It was slightly faster to ride the bike, and much more exhilarating.  Both were spectacularly scenic with 360-degree views of rugged high peaks including some of Colorado's fifty-eight 14ers, more than all the other states combined.  The back-half of our commute was the gondola, as it was always after dark.  

Biking back would have certainly kept my legs tuned, but what I was able to do was enough to minimize the strain my legs have felt in years past when I set out on my bike ride home to Chicago beginning with four passes before descending to the Plains--the Dallas Divide before Ridgeway, followed by Cerro Summit and Blue Mesa Pass out of Montrose, and then the killer, Monarch Pass after Gunnison.  Usually I make the ten-mile ascent of Monarch on the morning of my third day of riding.  This year I reached it before the end of Day Two enabling me to climb to within four miles of its summit, where I camped at ten thousand feet, slightly higher than what I had been sleeping at in Mountain Village.  

It was a cold night with temperatures near freezing, quite a contrast to the heat on the flats leading up to it.  I couldn't always keep my four water bottles filled as there were long stretches between services and not all the services had drinkable water.  One said its well water was suitable for watering plants and another said its water was so iron-laden most found it undrinkable.  Both had bottled water for sale though at inflated process--personifying the entrepreneurial spirit.

It was well that my legs had more vigor this year, as after descending Monarch, rather than continuing east towards the Plains, I turned north to climb up to Leadville at ten thousand feet to visit the highest of the 2,509 Carnegie Libraries scattered around the world. And then I had the Fremont and Loveland Passes to climb before descending to Denver.  It was a gradual climb of more than fifty miles to Leadville following the Arkansas River passing through Buena Vista where I used to go to summer camp FIFTY YEARS ago. The river was to my right dotted with one rafting outfit after another and to my left was an arcade of a dozen 14ers, among which were the Collegiate Peaks--Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia and Oxford.  Harvard was the highest.  At 14,420 feet it is the second highest of Colorado's mountains. 

I camped twelve miles shy of Leadville in a cluster of bushes between a barbed wire fence and railroad tracks.  Not a train passed all night nor during the day.  I passed motel after motel into and through 
Leadville, mostly small and locally-run with catchy names such as Avalanche.  This former boom-town, that had a gold rush in 1860 and then an even bigger silver rush in 1877, once boasted a population of 50,000, making it the second largest city in Colorado.  It's population now fluctuates between 3,000 and 5,000 depending on the tourist season.  It calls itself "Cloud City" and the "Roof-Top of the Nation." 

It was still going strong when it earned a grant from Carnegie in 1902 to build a two-story red-brick library at one end of its main street.


It served as it was intended until 1970.  When a new library was built several blocks away, it was converted into a Historical Museum, and continues in such a capacity.  A Mining Museum is nearby.

History was a theme of this year's Telluride Film Festival.  It began with Marcel Pagnol's Marseilles Trilogy, three films from the '30s--"Marius," "Fanny," and "César," each over two hours long and each by a different director, with the third by Pagnol.  There was a short wine and cheese break between each film.  Janina and I ducked out of the third film a little early so we could partake of the French-themed Opening Night Feed on Telluride's closed off Main Street.  Cassoulette was one of the dishes as well as more cheese and wine.

Our next film was another French classic, Louis Malle's "The Fire Within," from 1963.  It was one of the six selections by the guest director Volker Schlondorff.  He had served as Malle's assistant director, before returning to Germany to begin his own career as a director, which included the Oscar and Palm d'Or winning "Tin Drum."  Janina and I greeted Schlondorff at the Feed and told him we were looking forward to seeing all his films.  He said he was still thinking about what he would have to say about "ThenFire Within."  He began his introduction saying he was a little nervous seeing his good friend Werner Herzog in the audience.  Then he spoke for ten minutes about his long friendship with Malle,  living with him for a spell and accompanying him to Venice for the premiere of this film.

Not only is Telluride synonymous with exceptional cinema, both old and new (it has given the North American premiere of the film that went on to win the Oscar for best picture the last seven years), it is also about the intimacy between film-goer and film-makers.  Janina and I exchanged a few words with Isabelle Huppert during and after her Conversation in the Courthouse attended by only thirty others.  



We brushed shoulders with Clint Eastwood (on hand for the world premiere of "Sully" which he directed) while sharing Pierre Riessient's birthday cake just off the lobby of the small theater named for Pierre before the screening of the documentary "Gentleman Riessant," seventy-seven minutes of Riessant recounting his many discoveries and his role as one of the selectors for Cannes.  During the screening we sat behind Bertrand Tavernier, who kept turning to his companion with a smile of endorsement for a comment of Pierre's, including mention of both him and Eastwood.  Of Eastwood he said that when he first met him in 1970 he recognized that he wasn't a "fascist or a red-neck or a cowboy" as some thought, but a genuine auteur, though he never imagined that he would accomplish all that he did.  Later we saw Tavernier's magnificent three-hour personal documentary of his commentary on French cinema.

As always, Telluride was four days of incomparable cinema experiences that will last us a lifetime. They are too numerous to recount here.  Janina will do much better with her annual Telluride Journal at her website merelycirculating.com.  But it will be a spell before she has fully digested her Telluride experience and "put it all to paper."  She began the process on her train trip back to Chicago.  I am lucky to have three weeks on the bike to ponder and relive it.



Sunday, July 24, 2016

Stage Twenty-One




This was only the second time I've made it to Paris in time to ride the final stage into the city from one of its outlying suburbs, so I wasn't well versed in how eager the gendarmes would be to close down the course.  They could either be extra draconian or they could be very relaxed about it, not wanting to antagonize and strangle the urban traffic.  Not knowing, I was a little nervous when I got a belated start on the forty-mile ride from Chantilly, north of the city, to the Champs Elyées, where the peloton would make eight four-mile circuits of the cobbled boulevard.

There were quite a few other cyclists riding the course.  Most were MAMILs, but there was a fair representation of many of the other subsets of the cycling clan from kids to grandmothers.  Even though Chantilly was less than twenty-five miles from the center of Paris by a direct route, it was more of a distinct city than a suburb.  It had a chateau and was surrounded by a large forest and farmland.  The Tour route passed through a couple of other distinct towns before it entered the great Paris metropolis.  Once I reached the extended city I no longer feared being halted, as there were sidewalks to ride and parallel streets.  

With all the cyclists on the route I didn't have to be much concerned with going astray.  There is a greater chance that course markers will be prematurely appropriated by eager fans or delinquents in urban environments, but the markers seemed to be pretty much in place.  I did though come upon a cyclist in the act of stuffing a marker up the backside of his jersey.  He was stopped at a light and was accompanied by two women.  He asked them in English with an American accent, "Is it well enough hidden?"  He had put the yellow side facing out and it was just peaking above his jersey at his neck.  If he had been thinking, he would have put the bright, distinctive yellow side against his back and the bland white side facing out, but the women said it looked okay. 

I was appalled at this act of vandalism.  A course marker is a highly coveted object by all Tour followers, but there is a near universal sense of honor among them to leave them in place until after the peloton has passed. Then they are fair game. On those rare occasions when I come to an intersection that is missing a course marker, I feel a sense of rage that someone made off with it, and I felt rage towards this arrogant, affluent, entitled American.  I blurted, "That's contraband."  He seemed surprised to hear someone speaking English.  He smiled, as if I were joking and perhaps congratulating him on his theft of this prized momento, until I added with deadly seriousness, "It's a mortal sin to take one of those before the peloton has passed.  No one does such a thing."

"There was another nearby, so it wasn't really necessary," he replied, then continued, "These are worth a lot of money back home.  I tried to get one on another stage but failed."

"If you really want one, you can just stand by it until the peloton passes and then take it.  I knew a German guy who violated the code and took one early and he later broke the frame of his bike.  If you know what's good for you, you'd return that marker right now and beg the pardon of the cycling deities."  

He had no answer to that, but ignored my warning and headed down the road with his accomplices.  I saw no immediate retribution, but I knew he was doomed.   He had would be deprived of all the joy that would have been his whenever he gazed upon it in his den or office if he had come by it honorably.  He would now be haunted by it, whether he knew it or not.




The route continued to the Seine and then turned away from the Champs Elysées before crossing the river on the Pont de Suresnos.  Then it doubled back through the Bois de Boulogne. Portions of the route were already closed to motorized traffic, but we on bikes were still welcome. I was less than an hour ahead of the caravan at this point, but the gendarmes gave no hint of being itchy about closing down the course. They seemed casual and easy-going, enjoying this light duty and not bent on exerting their authority.  Few fans had gathered until I neared the Champs Elysées.  Fencing had been put up several blocks away from it and spectators were being funneled in through checkpoints where their bags were being searched.  The lines were long.  I knew there was little chance of me being allowed in with all the bags on my bike.  It would have taken half an hour anyway to examine everything in my many bags.

I plopped down at the Louvre, where the peloton would make a sharp turn.  The fencing set spectators so far from the route that when the caravan passed all it gave out were waves and smiles.  I knew I couldn't get near any of the large screens so I went in search of a small screen.  Swarms of people were still flocking to the course, but after I was several blocks away I would have had no awareness The Tour was in Paris.  The usual bustle of Paris continued unabated.  A guy on a fixie pedaled along with me for a couple of blocks asking about my travels and telling me he had just returned from a tour in Norway.  He had other things to do this day than to watch The Tour.

I continued on for several miles beyond the reach of all the popular trendy bars until I found a working-class neighborhood bar.  The bartender though still had the notorious Parisian demeanor of having little tolerance for tourists.  I had to ask him three times to turn on the television after he had served me my menthe á l'eau.  Then he pretended he couldn't find the channel broadcasting The Tour.  After he put down the remote control to serve someone else I picked it up and had no problem finding it.

The peloton still had six of its eight circuits of the Champs Elysées remaining.  The route had fewer fans along it than I had ever seen.  Kittel was off the back making a bike exchange.  He was expected to contend with his fellow German Greipel for the win with Cavendish having departed The Race before the Alps.  He did catch up, but evidently expended too much energy to be a factor.  It came down to Greipel and Kristoff and of course Sagan.  Greipel just nipped a fast-charging Sagan, finally winning a stage, and repeating his victory on the Champs Elysées last year.  That made it four years in a row that a German had won it after the years of Cavendish dominance--Kittel in 2013 and 2014 and now Greipel the past two years.  It also kept in tact Greipel's remarkable record of having won a stage in every Grand Tour he has ridden since 2008 (eleven of them), something Cavendish can't say.

The nine Sky riders crossed the line a minute later lined across the road no-handed with arms on each other's backs.  Froome was in the middle in yellow and the rest in a new uniform for the day with a yellow stripe across the chest.  Froome was greeted by his wife and young son.  The long-time, beloved host of the post- Race show was there with a microphone, but was shoved aside by a Sky minion even though Froome had given him a Yellow Jersey the day before in honor of his retirement.

The 174 riders who finished The Tour is the most ever, meaning the Lantern Rouge, Sam Bennett, had the lowest placing ever.  It would have been 175 had not Tony Martin abandoned with knee pain after one lap on the Champs.  No one finished The Tour more disappointed though than Mollema and his Trek teammates.  He ended up eleventh when he would have been second if he had not been so needlessly aggressive on the descent where Froome also fell.  He wasn't going to overtake Froome nor did he have to fear anyone overtaking him.  His team director was outspoken in his regret at Mollema's error in judgement. Besides the glory of the podium, a second place finish would have won his team 200,000 euros to split among everyone, 300,000 euros less than Sky.  Quintana can thank him for allowing him to slip onto the podium in third.  He would have been fourth otherwise.

It was twelve miles from the bar to my campsite in a forest beside Charles de Gaulle airport.  I nearly bonked and had to stop and make myself a sandwich.  When I reached the forest it was near dark, but the jets were still landing on the nearby runway.  There was another tent in the forest with a bicycle beside it, but also a clothes line and a chair, implying it didn't necessarily belong to a traveler.  There was no light coming from the tent.  With the non-stop roar of jets it was unlikely the inhabitant had heard me.  I penetrated deeper than I usually do well out of his range.  I did give Janina a call to tell her I was in the forest by the Concorde Memorial just in case I didn't survive the night.  If I had legitimate concerns I could have relocated to another forest, but it was near dark and I was hungry and fatigued and not all that wary.  

Nothing disturbed my sleep, real or imagined.  I had just a couple more hurdles and my trip would be complete.  Air France was still providing boxes for bikes, so I didn't have a last minute frantic search for an abandoned box from an arriving cyclist or have to rush off to a bike shop.  The pedals came off without effort and the box was large enough I didn't have to remove the front rack.  All good news.  The biggest hassle was standing in lines for nearly two hours to get the box, check in, have my passport stamped and then have my bags X-rayed. It was the longest I had been on my feet since standing in lines at Cannes.   Without much air conditioning I was close to passing out.  But I had allowed loads of time, so didn't have to fret.  

I saw an occasional passenger with a Tour souvenir, but no one else with a bike, just a few people with golf clubs.  One ticket agent asked if I had come for The Tour and was thrilled to learn that I had.  She had actually been on the Champs Elysées for the finish.  I'll have an even greater blast of heat and humidity when I return, but Janina and I will be leaving immediately for the North Woods and Michael Moore's film festival in Traverse City.  Our bikes will accompany us.  



Stage Twenty




As I sat outside the tourist office in the ski town of Flumet at the six-mile point in today's stage eating a second breakfast of yogurt, cereal and a banana beside an electrical outlet, biding my time until the arrival of the caravan, a fresh-faced, tousled-haired young man traveling by bicycle asked if I spoke English.  He was a Kiwi and he was dabbling in The Tour.  This would be his fifth stage.  Rather than trying to follow it from the start he had concentrated on the Alps where there was a cluster of three stages that one could stay put and see them all.  He'd been on the road over a month and was wild-camping most of the time, but with the congregation of all these stages he decided to base himself at a campground until he learned it would be 180 euros for four days--inflated Tour prices he was told.

He had approached me hoping I might know if cyclists could get thrrough the barricaded road several miles down the canyon.  It had nothing to do with The Tour route.  I had come up that way several days ago and had wondered the same thing, but was told in no uncertain terms that the road was impassable due to rock slides and fencing totally blocking the roadway.  But I could tell him the detour only amounted to a two-mile climb up to the ridge above the canyon and then a six-mile descent into Ugine.  He was glad that it was only a modest detour and even more glad to learn that the bathroom facilities attached to the tourist office in Ugine included free showers. 

Louie was on his first lengthy tour and loving it so much he thought he'd make it his life. He asked if I knew of Heinz Stucke, the German cyclist who left home fifty years ago and has yet to return.  I did indeed, and I could tell him that a friend in Chicago had just hosted him for two days and didn't much like him.   She said he was a "jerk," that he wouldn't stop talking and didn't take a shower and told her the seat height on her bike was wrong and that he needed a hip replacement but couldn't afford it Iand when he left he wrote in her guest book that he'd had a very uncomfortable time.  She couldn't wait for him to leave.  I knew he was an eccentric, but had never had a first hand report on the specifics.

Louie couldn't have been more different.  He was overflowing with youthful exuberance and positive energy.  His frustrations perplexed rather than enraged him.  He was exasperated by the gendarmes along The Tour route.  He said back home the police were helpful.  Here they only seemed to want to harass.  That is an easy conclusion to come to on The Tour route.  When the caravan finally made its appearance we were too caught up in conversation to do much scavenging, though we did nab a polka dot grocery bag and also a bottle of water.



After today's stage Louie intended to dip deeper into the Alps to ride some of the Tour's blue ribbon climbs (the Galibier and Izoard and L'Alpe d'Huez) and then over to the Pyrennes for more of the same.  I'd like to keep up with his travels, but he's not a blogger nor does he much use the Internet.  He pulled out his journal and said, "This is where I write."  

It would have been nice to stick around the ninety minutes until the peloton passed and continue our conversation, as we were both the first touring cyclist either of us had encountered, but I had a train to Paris to catch in Albertville at about the same time the stage would be ending. I wanted to arrive in ample time to watch the final fireworks of The Tour on the Beyond Category Col de Joux Plane just before the finish.  Unfortunately, there was more rain and the fireworks were washed out. As the day before, there were some heavy downpours.  The French are too devoted to their pets to call it "raining cats and dogs."  They say "it's raining ropes."   The much anticipated final climb was a non-event among the contenders.  It was almost as if the processional ceremonial final stage had begun a day early as Sky led them up the climb with nary an attack, everyone seeming to accept their final placements.  All the crashes of the day before may have been a contributing factor as well.  

At least there was some excitement up the road where Pantano, Alaphilippe, Nibali and Izagirre fought for the victory.  Alaphillippe seemed inspired by all the acclaim heaped on Bardet for his win yesterday to get another win for the French.  But he ran out of gas.  Nibali came from behind to overtake Pantani and Alalphillippe shortly before the summit and seemed  likely to take the stage, especially since he is a renowned great descender.  But he as the elder with wins of all three Grand Tours he didn't seem willing to risk as much on the wet, treacherous descent and came in third.  The surprise winner was Quintana's Movistar teammate Izagirre.  Froome could smile when he crossed the line several minutes later, having survived the day and wrapped up The Race.

I was nervously watching the time not wanting to be late for my train.  I was out of the bar by 5:15.  The TGV pulled in just after I arrived at the station.  I found my car and the conductor did not flinch at my bike.  Some TGV's required a bike to be in a bag.  I had been assured by the ticket agent that I didn't need one for this train, and he was right.  Mine was the only bike in the baggage compartment of my car, otherwise packed with large suitcases.  My next concern was that the train be on time in Paris--9:15, an hour before dark--as I needed all the light there was to get out of the city and find a place to camp.  As concerned as I was about it being on time, I didn't greatly appreciate the hundred plus miles an hour we were flying at rushing past all the scenery.  This was like eating at a MacDonald's.  And it didn't provide outlets for charging, a perpetual concern.

It was right on schedule, and suddenly I was immersed in a hot and steamy Paris on a Saturday with thronged sidewalks and outdoor cafes and plazas.  I passed through the familiar Place de Bastille and Place de Republic as I headed to St. Denis and then the hinterlands.  Not expectedly night fell before I had escaped the sprawl, but. street lights and headlights provided enough light, though I needed my flashlight to find a flat spot in a patch of high weeds by a factory to disappear into, fifteen miles from the start of the next day's stage.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Stage Nineteen


Both yesterday's time trial and today's stage included the Côte de Domancy, a steep climb up from the small village of Domancy.  Yesterday the riders went up it one by one and today they descended it in mass.  The climb was the key feature of the 1980 World Championship Race that Bernard Hinault won in dramatic fashion.  Before yesterday's stage a monument commemorating Hinault's win was unveiled in a round-about on the main highway leading into the city of Sallanches, just two miles from Domancy, that hosted the World Championships.  

Domancy had long ago erected a monument of its own to Hinault.  It welcomes one to the village.


The Côte de Dormancy added to its lore today when Froome slid out on the rain-slickened road on his descent, which could have ended The Tour for him. He wrecked his bike and tore gaping holes in the backside of his jersey exposing splotches of bloodied flesh scraped raw by the pavement.  He quickly appropriated the bike of his teammate Geraint Thomas and resumed riding, somewhat tentatively at first, but then back to nearly full capacity, despite being on a bike with a different set-up than he's accustomed to. Luckily his wounds seemed to be just scrapes.  It was less than ten miles to the finish, a six-mile Category One climb.  He was able to regain the group he was riding with as it began the climb.  Only at the very end did he waver and lose a few seconds to Quintana, but not to the second and third placed riders, Mollema and Yates, as they both had struggles of their own and fell off the podium, Mollema all the way to tenth and Yates to fourth, eleven seconds behind Quintana.

The rain caused havoc, with double stage winner Demoulin crashing out and others taking a tumble as well, including Mollema.  Porte was caught behind a crash and needed the help of his teammates to catch up.  Van Garderen wasn't one of them as he was more than half an hour back with the laggards just trying to make the time cut.  We'll find out tomorrow if he rode so woefully because he's depleted, or so he could go for the stage win on the last day in the mountains tomorrow.  Porte finished seventeen seconds behind Froome, but is still within fifty seconds of Quintana and the podium.  All will be on the line tomorrow.  The podium could undergo another complete overhaul.  Froome still has a four minute advantage, but how stiff will he be?  After the stage he said he'd be okay, but as he accepted his Yellow Jersey he had a wrap around his right knee to go along with his raw back.

The day's big winner was Bardet, who won the stage and jumped from fifth to second.  The French at last won a stage. And if Froome had crashed out, the French would have had the Yellow Jersey with just two stages to go, one of which is largely ceremonial.  The nation would have been in an uproar, what with it being over thirty years since Hinault was the last French winner.  When Bardet dropped his breakaway companion on the climb to the finish the crowd I was amongst watching it happen on a Big Screen in Mégeve's plaza erupted into applause.  


They applauded again as he approached the finish and then when he crossed the line.  He gave a smile of great satisfaction and sincerity, as if he was happy not only for himself and his team, but for all of France.  It wasn't one of those exuberant, self-indulgent smiles of extreme ecstasy, but a deep, genuine, somewhat abashed smile, tempered by a degree of modesty.  

Even though it leaves him just a heartbeat or a crash from the Yellow Jersey, he's keeping his ambition in check.  He wasn't so emboldened as to say this proves he can win The Race, rather saying that next year he hoped he could keep up his streak of winning a stage a year.  That's not an attitude that Hinault endorses, though he won't be around next year to encourage him to do better, as Hinault has announced that he will be retiring from his podium duties so he can spend more time with his grandchildren.  He retired prematurely from racing at 32, and is withdrawing from the whirlwind of The Tour when he looks to be as vibrant as ever.

I had planned to be at the finish of today's stage, just fifteen miles from Mégeve where I had camped for the second straight night, but the threat of rain deterred me.  I was kept in my tent until nine by the rain, almost preventing me from descending the Côte de Domancy to Sallanches to see the Hinault monuments, as I didn't want to do it on a wet road, plus I knew I had to be back to Mégeve by two before the roads were closed.  I could manage the climb in the rain, but I didn't want to continue to the stage finish, a six-mile climb with a nine per cent grade, and face the possibility of having to come back down in rain.  And this was before I saw all the carnage the rain later produced.

The morning rain was disheartening, as I really wanted to see the Hinault monuments. I had twice been thwarted in my efforts over the years to find the one in Domancy.  I was under the impression that it was in Sallanches, since it was the host city for the World Championships.  In two previous visits to Sallanches I couldn't find anyone who knew anything about a monument to Hinault.  And then when I met Himsult at the Critérium de Dauphine last month I forgot to ask him about it.  But with The Tour including the Côte de Domancy, there were articles about Hinault's World Championship win and what a crucial role the climb played in it, making it seem likely that's where some memorial would be placed.  I thought it might be a small plaque on a rock at the summit of the climb.  When it wasn't there I tried the town's plaza and found someone who pointed at it down the road.  

My ride down to Sallanches was also rewarded by a marvelous giant bicycle swing along the road by someone's home.  As I stood in the road taking a photo, someone shouted a warning of "voiture" from the second floor of the house, though I did hear the car coming.


There was also a tree of bicycles in a roundabout on the seven-mile climb back up from Sallanches.


If the day had been clear, enabling me to watch all the day's dramatics on the Giant Screen at the stage finish, I would have missed out on another dose of caravan frenzy.  It is actaully heartwarming to watch how happy it makes all those gathered along the road to get free stuff.   All await with great snticipation, as if it is Christmas Day, wondering what Santa will bring them.  Young and old are filled with glee when they get their hands on something, even without knowing what it is, and adding it to their stash of goodies.


People dive and scramble for whatever comes flying.


They quickly examine what they've grabbed and then rush to show it to whoever they're with and then get ready the next item.


No one was happier on this day, not even Bardet, than the little English girl who nabbed a water bottle flung by a rider when the peloton flew past.  I wasn't there to see it, but I saw her reenactment of running and grabbing it later in the town square.  She cradled the bottle as if it were a doll.  She let her slightly older brother clad in a Sky shirt hold it, but not for long.  For half an hour my attention was divided between watching all the excitement on the Bog Screen and this little girl's glee.  She kept showing it to her mother and her father, and fondled it as if nothing could be more valuable.  Seeing The Tour is a momentous occasion for any child, but even more so when one comes away with a rider's water bottle.