Monday, December 11, 2017

"The First Tour de France," Peter Cossins

Peter Cossins justifiably argues that the inaugural Tour de France in 1903 was one of the greatest sporting events in history in his latest book on bicycle racing, "The First Tour de France, Sixty Cyclists and Nineteen Days on the Road to Paris."

Despite months of promotion, not many people came out for its departure just outside of Paris.  Among the spectators was an amateur racer apprenticing as a locksmith who went on to become one of the most storied racers of The Tour never to have won it--Eugene Christophe.  He noted in his diary that there were so few in attendance that it looked like an amateur race.  But by the second stage all the media attention on what a handful of cyclists were attempting attracted huge crowds along the race route. For the rest of the way they rode through corridors of fans through every town and village, even at night. 

The national frenzy The Race generated far exceeded the expectations of all, creating an instant phenomenon that continues to this day.  The race was inaugurated by the daily sports newspaper "L'Auto" in its circulation battle with the more-established "Le Vélo."  The year before "L'Auto" had sponsored a one-day race from Marseilles to Paris, longer than the older Bordeaux to Paris race, but shorter than the more prominent Paris-Brest-Paris race, the only one of the three that is still contested, though not as an annual event.  The success of the Marseilles race inspired "L'Auto" to top it.  There is a plaque at the restaurant in Paris where the idea for The Tour was conceived.

Unlike all previous races, this Tour de France was broken up into stages--just six for the first edition that covered 1,509 miles without venturing into the Alps or Pyrenees. The high mountains wouldn't be added until 1910, first the Pyrenees and then a year later the Alps. With all but one stage over 230 miles, the riders started in the afternoon or even later and rode through the night, arriving the afternoon of the next day.  For all but one, the riders had two or more days between stages, allowing them time to rest and recover.  Only after the shortest fourth stage of 167 miles from Tourlouse to Bordeaux did the racers have to set out right away on the next stage, as the organizers didn't want them sitting idle on the country's great national holiday July 14.

Cossins' highly detailed account of each stage relies on newspaper coverage of the time, not only that of "L'Auto" and "Le Vélo," but other newspapers as well.  He even quotes the "New York Herald," showing how it had drawn attention on the other side of the Atlantic.  It captured such national interest in France, it was front page news.  Such a huge throng was expected to greet the racers at the finish in Paris, the organizers delayed the start of the final stage in Nantes, 293 miles away, by an hour, knowing a strong tailwind would make them arrive earlier than anticipated.  

One of the pleasures of the book is the frequent doses of the flowery prose of "L'Auto's" editor and director of the race Henri Desgrange and his assistant Géo Lefèvre, who is credited with coming up with the idea for the race.  Desgrange exalted the riders as heroic figures who were doing the impossible.  He elevated the race beyond a sporting event to an opportunity to enhance the image of  France and to prove the capacity of man to exceed his limitations. Desgrange feared France was stagnating, if not becoming moribund.  He hoped the deeds of the racers would inspire the masses to revitalize themselves. Before the riders set out, he wrote in his typical hyperbolic style, "They will encounter the useless, the inactive and the lazy, on whom a gigantic battle is going to be declared to rouse them from their torpor, a battle during which they will become ashamed of allowing their muscles to atrophy and be embarrassed at having such a large paunch."  

By the time the race concluded, he couldn't have been prouder.  His circulation had skyrocketed and the event was lauded all round.  He had been a racer himself and was the first to set the hour record, but this stood out as his greatest achievement.  "I've had plenty of sporting dreams in my life," he wrote, "but I never imagined this could turn out to be reality.  To send these men out across the whole of France, to remember through their feats the joyous feelings that the bike can and must provide, to awaken hundreds of kilometers of the country what was in an inactive physical slumber, to show those who have become numbed, indifferent or fearful that cycle sport is still thriving, that it is still capable of astonishing us, of sparking the desire for emulation, energy and passion is what the Tour de France needed to do, and that is what it has essentially achieved."

Cossins was a lucky man ploughing through edition after edition of "L'Auto" entertained by such lyricism and pomposity.  One of the biggest challenges of writing the book had to be deciding what lofty prose to include.  There had to be enough to warrant a book of the zesty writing of Desgrange alone. There is a near bottomless reservoir, as Desgrange oversaw the race for more than thirty years up to 1936.  Not only was he a man of strong opinions, he was also a tyrannical taskmaster, a DeGaullian figure before there was a DeGaulle.  

Desgrange spent most of the race in Paris.  Lefèvre was the man on the scene following the race mostly by train, but also by bike and occasionally by car.  The roads were so abominable, only one reporter is known to have stuck to a car the entire race.

The favorite, Maurice Garin, led from start to finish, ending the race a national hero. At the victory celebration in Paris, many in the crowd were in tears. Garin acknowledged tears of his own on at least one stage, the going was so difficult.  And then he no doubt cried again a year later when he won the race a second time but was stripped of the title for cheating, taking a train, as did the top four finishers.

There was suspicion of cheating in the first edition as well, even of Garin attacking a fellow rider. Race officials rarely had access to reliable motor vehicles to monitor the competitors.  They were on their honor to play fair, "which of course they seldom did," according to Cossins.  There were innumerable tales of riders being knocked from their bikes by other racers or fans.  Tacks were sprinkled on the road by riders and fans.  Of the sixty who started, only twenty-one finished.  The field was thinned down to thirty-seven after the first stage.  

One of the bonuses of the book was the mention of several obscure cycling plaques and monuments around the country further emphasizing The Tour's elevated stature in the eyes of the French.  They were in addition to the well-known monument to Desgrange on the Galibier and the plaque on the Cafe de Madrid in Paris where Lefévre proposed the idea of The Tour to Desgrange, that Cossins also mentions.  The second placed finisher, Lucien Pothier, has a square named for him in Cuy. A monument to the eleventh placed finisher, Jean Dargassies, stands in the town of Grisolles, where he worked as a blacksmith.  And there is a plaque to Theodore Joyeux in Tonneius honoring his ride around France in 1895, the first known such tour.  It includes a tribute from Desgrange.  They will all be on my itinerary for my ride around France next summer.

Monday, November 27, 2017

"Draft Animals," by Phil Gaimon

Those who appreciate unrestrained frankness on the world of cycling, unbound by what may or may not be supported by fact, will find great pleasure in Phil Gaimon's third book on his life as a pro cyclist, "Draft Animals: Living the Pro Cycling Dream (Once in a While)."  The recently published book about his final three years as a pro cyclist has already stirred attention on both sides of the Atlantic for Gaimon putting into print the old, much-discussed rumor that Fabian Cancellera had a motor in his bike in 2010 when he seemingly effortlessly rode away from everyone in the Tour of Flanders. 

He offers up no additional proof other than that he heard that Cancellera had his own mechanic and that his bike was kept separate.  That is enough for him to conclude, "That fucker probably did have a motor."  He doesn't slip this in until page 120 of the 352-page book, but it sets the locker room tone of the many unsubstantiated accusations and flimsy grievances that fill the book that is broken up into 59 chapters, some as short as two pages.  Rather than the word "allegedly" he hopes to keep the lawyers at bay here and elsewhere with the word "probably."

Prior to mentioning Cancellera's "motor" he wrote he was "pretty sure" the Operation Puerto blood bags labeled "Luigi" belonged to Cancellera. That is another rumor that has been floating around for years that is too juicy for him to ignore even though later on in a footnote he says that Thomas Dekker, his former teammate on Garmin and confessed doper, who Gaimon likes, told him that he was "Luigi."  

He also uses "probably" to surmise that Lance Armstrong's coach Chris Carmichael "made his name on the wrong side of the rules," just throwing that in as an aside as if it is a personal grudge.  The book oozes with gossipy innuendos about those who displeased him, including his girl friend  who left dirty dishes in the sink and her clothes all over the floor.  He drops in the mention of a woman friend who tells him that Armstrong messaged her on Twitter and then drove more than two hours to have sex with.  

He has it in for fan-favorites Chris Horner and Jens Voigt, disbelieving that they were clean considering the era they rode in and the teams they rode on and the results they produced. He finds Voigt particularly irritating.  He says that the two riders he would most dread being in a battle with on a climb are Nairo Quintana, because he is the best, and Voigt, because he would talk his ear off.  He repeats the rumor that Horner was "Rider 15" in USADA's case against Armstrong.  Gaimon was thrilled to beat Horner at the 2016 Redlands Tour in California, the second time he'd won it, as Horner entered the race cocky, actually calling it The Chris Horner Classic having won it four times.  Gaimon wrote, "As much as I hated him, I appreciated that Chris was riding so badly this year, because it meant he was clean."  

He quotes Horner as saying he would have won the Tour of Utah if the UCI had let him use his asthma inhaler.  Asthma TUEs (the very hazy Therapeutic Use Exemptions) are one of the great hypocrises of the sport.  Nearly a third of World Tour racers have prescriptions for asthma inhalers, what he refers to as "a semi-legal performance enhancer." In his book "Pro Cycling on Ten Dollars a Day" he told that when he signed to ride for the Jelly Belly team the team doctor encouraged him to complain of asthma symptoms so he could qualify for an inhaler. This issue should receive as much clamor as Cancellera having a motor.  Caffeine suppositories also fall in the gray area.  He quotes a teammate as saying a team he had previously ridden for matter-of-factory used them for time trials and had no second thoughts about the matter.

One rumor that Gaimon refuses to endorse is that his teammate Ryder Hesjedal had a motor in his bike at the 2014 Vuelta.  When Hesjedal crashed and his rear wheel continued to spin like mad, many thought that was incriminating evidence.  Gaimon wrote that even though he didn't really like Hesjedal he wouldn't accuse him of having a motor, especially since he'd had such a lousy year not winning a race.  It's not the only potshot he takes at him.  At an early season training camp when Gaimon had a better time on a climb than Hesjedal, the former Giro winner refused to acknowledge that Gaimon was stronger than him on this day, giving the lame excuse that his water bottles were heavier than Gaimon's.  He also revealed that Hesjedal, as well as Dekker, both former dopers, liked to use chewing tobacco, a stimulant of a sort and remnant of the doping era.  Others too indulge, another of the many insider itdbits he reveals that one doesn't come across in cycling publications.

Gaimon also mentions the not widely known fact that Hesjedal received a one million dollar bonus from Garmin for winning the Giro in 2012 without saying if he shared any of it with his teammates. He's very open about money matters.  He earned the minimum of $50,000 his first year with Garmin-Sharp in 2014. When the team combined with Cannondale the next year there was no place on the team for Gaimon, so he returned to a US domestic team.  He rode well enough to be invited back to Garmin at a salary of $70,000, though when the contract arrived in the mail it was only for $65,000.  He was infuriated, saynf he'd never forgive the team director Jonathan Vaughters for this outrage. He had no choice but to accept it.  He didn't get to race much that final year, increasing his fury with Vaughters.  

He lashes into Vaughters calling him an "evil hypocrite" and doubted that he had any "real friends."  He accuses him of staying in $800 a night hotels while nickel and dimng his riders.   He doesn't trust anything Vaughters says, even that he doesn't drink coffee when he declines an invitation from Gaimon to meet for a cup.  He said a popular t-shirt among those who have ridden for him reads "Friends don't let friends ride for Garmin."  All this is highly inflammatory, sullying the general high regard accorded Vaughters, who pals around with former Secretary of State and presidential candidate John Kerry. It will stun many of those who ponied up a few dollars to support Vaughters a few months ago when his team lost a prime sponsor and looked as if it was going to be dissolved. The fan support of over a half million dollars was quite remarkable, and helped encourage a new sponsor to come forth with millions to save the team.

Another t-shirt Gaimon liked was one worn by his teammate Lachlan Morton that had a likeness of Armstrong's face and the words "So Dope," implying it pays off.  Gaimon once sold t-shirts, including one that read "Liveclean," that he had to discontinue when confronted by Armstrong's lawyers. Morton was a free-spirit who Gaimon said was "screwed" by Vaughters.  He left racing for a year, but Gaimon said Morton came from wealth so he didn't need to scrape to get by as he did when he left the World Tour.  

Another who had rich parents was Caleb Fairly, who Gaimon reveals was only on the Garmin team because his parents were pseudo-sponsors contributing a hefty sum to it, more than covering his salary. When Gaimon was seeking a team to ride for in 2015, he tried to recruit sponsors to contribute to his salary so a team could afford him, not an uncommon practice.  Another of his juicy insider tidbits that may or not have violated a personal relationship is that his friend Dekker had no monetary concerns, as he had a billionaire girl friend he lived with in LA.  Gaimon goes further with the revelation that one wouldn't find in the cycling press that Dekker has a gargantuan foreskin.

Gaimon tosses a few petty barbs at Dave Ziebriskie, an older teammate he didn't know very well.  He says he wasn't friendly the first time they met.  After he bought his car in Girona he discovered ketchup packets from McDonald's and Burger King in the glove compartment.  Zabriskie claimed to be the first vegan to ride The Tour de France. Those packets could have been left by anyone, but Gaimon wishes to imply that Zabriskie may be a meat-eater and patronizer of American fast food franchises in Spain.  He can understand though why the homesick can descend to going to McDonald's, as he has done it himself.    Gaimon gives credit to Zabriskie for pointing out one could see up women's dresses at the Barcelona airport when they walked by a reflective marble surface.

Andrew Talansky takes a hit for sending him back to the team car in a race for his favorite energy bar, refusing the extra that Gaimon had.  Taylor Phinney is taken to task for offering money to riders, but not him, to help him win the national championship race where he suffered a near career-ending crash. Gaimon also accuses him of being at fault in the crash for not knowing the course as well as he did.  He refers to Rohan Dennis as a "kind of a jerk" and is suspicious of how he managed to lose ten pounds and become a standout--"he either had a good nutritionist or a doctor with cortisone."  Regarding Bradley Wiggins he writes "marginal gains my ass," believing his Tour win tainted.  He vilifies the Schleck brothers as well, saying they somehow managed to slide under the radar when the dopers confessed, and have had no significant results in the post-EPO era.  He refers to Frank as a "washed-up doper."

He does have kind words for Dan Martin.  He acknowledges that he is a Real Talent, and one of the few riders who are genuinely better than him, but only because of genetics.  He uses a baseball analogy to explain his greatness, saying he was born on third base, but unlike many who are born lucky, he doesn't pretend he got to third by hitting a triple. Martin is humble about his good fortune.  Gaimon's genetics aren't so bad either.  Vaughters made him take a lab test before he would sign him. The person administering it told him his twenty-minute power-to-weight ratio was "probably" among the top fifty in the world.

Gaimon also has praise for Tom Danielson, even though he wanted to despise him for being a doper.  It was Danielson who recommended Gaimon to Vaughters after not being able to drop him on a long strenuous climb.  He invited him to train with him.  He was such a nice guy he took his clothes out of the drier and left them folded on his bed, even his underware.  Danielson gave up his own aspirations to contend for the season-opening Tour of San Luis in Artentina in 2014 to serve Gaimon when Gaimon surprised everyone and won the first stage after getting in an early breakaway.  It was Gaimon's first race with Garmin and a storybook start.    He ended up finishing second overall to Quintana, still a great accomplishment.  

At the end of one mountain stage, where Danielson was instrumental in helping him preserve his standing, they collapsed into each other's arms in tears.  Later he tells of Danielson jumping off the podium to give him a big hug "with a tear in his eye" for his help to take the lead at the Tour of Utah.  Much as he likes Danielson, he quotes two of Danielson's teammates who were with him when he was dirty as saying, "Even the Spaniards thought Tom was 'abusing the medicine.'"

Gaimon cites other examples of the great gratification riders get from sacrificing for another.  At the Tour of Colorado, shortly after Gaimon had buried himself to help Alex Howes, Gaimon is rewarded with a hug and a kiss and a chorus of "thank yous" as Howe gushes tears.  Gaimon said he was crying too and is crying once again as he writes of it.  That is much more the essence of the sport than all the pettiness he inserts.  The editor of VeloNews, Fred Dreier, who knows Gaimon well and has worked with him, said he was glad he wasn't asked to edit the book.  It would have been a nightmare because as a responsible journalist he would have had to cut out an awful lot that Gaimon felt the need to include.  He no doubt would have rephrased Gaimon's discription of the books by Tyler Hamilton and George Hincapie as "ghost-written piece-of-shit" books, and his description of David Millar's book as a "flimsy effort to justify his doping."  He'd probably question if he truly thought it funny to comment,"fuck broccoli, or at least cover it in cheese"?  He surely would have deleted his irrelevant comments calling Dennis a jerk,  Zabriskie unfriendly, that he didn't really like Hesjedal and on and on.

He is too good of a writer to insert such juvenile asides.  He does score occasionally in his efforts to crack wise or contrive a colorful metaphor.  He deserves commendation for his comparison of tissues in a hospital waiting room to hay bales on race courses. His father is terminally ill from cancer.  When Gaimon visits him in the hospital, he's as relieved at the site of tissues as he is for the hay bales that cover dangerous objects when he's racing.  "Those fuckers know we're going to cry here," he writes.

He scores points too for referring to Henry David Thoreau as his favorite "poet/philosopher," but then loses a few for never quoting him.




Monday, November 6, 2017

The Home Stretch


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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




 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Gas City, Indiana


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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













Thursday, November 2, 2017

Alexandria, Indiana


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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












Tuesday, October 31, 2017

DeLand, Illinois


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, October 30, 2017

Tuscola, Illinois


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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


My favorite of the murals though was bike-related.


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


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


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

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


The town was brightened with seasonal decorations.


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

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

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