Monday, October 3, 2016

Rochelle, Illinois

After crossing the Mississippi from the once thriving, but now diminishing city of Clinton, Iowa, to the smaller, but healthier town of Fulton, Illinois, I came upon the first Clinton lawn sign of these travels and then another and another.  Illinois is a Clinton state even outside of Chicago.  It is also a state, at least in its small towns, that ardently supports its high school football team. There were more signs supporting the "Riverboats"  in Fulton than Clinton signs.  Milledgeville abounded with signs exhorting its team, the "Missils."  Other towns expressed their high school football fervor with TP'ed trees and shop windows with exhortations.

For the first time in four states I was coming upon towns that had an appeal, that had some character and offered a mild enticement to linger for a few hours or days or even to disappear for a few months to see what life was like in them or to take up a new life as Edward Norton considered in Spike Lee's masterpiece, "The 25th Hour." Maybe it was because my trip was drawing to a close and I didn't want it to end.  But that wasn't entirely true, as Janina, as usual, was drawing me like a strong beacon.  I had hoped to be home by the first of October, making it a three-week ride, but had been delayed by my injury, but only by two days.

After my return I'll be eager to load our bikes in her car and return to Polo, a town of 2,000, thirty miles from the Mississippi  and one hundred from Chicago.  Not only did it have a pristine Carnegie with a simple "Carnegie" above its entrance,  it was near enough the stunning White Pines State Park to call itself "The Gateway to the Pines."  Polo also distinguished itself with an Islamic Center across the street from the Carnegie, not a sight one often comes upon in rural America.  I was there Sunday morning and there was no one to ask how it came to be there.

It's Carnegie had a small, addition that blended in to its backside to provide an entrance for the handicapped.  The Carnegie in Fulton had done the same thing.  It's gray brick exterior was so well-maintained I wouldn't have guessed it was over one hundred years old except for its 1909 cornerstone.

My final Carnegie and thirty-second of this ride came in Rochelle, a city of 9,500, seventeen miles west of  DeKalb and Northern Illinois University.  It had long ago outgrown its Carnegie, but still utilized it with a large addition that fully matched the original, including ornate decorations below the roofline around the entire building.  It maintained its prominence as the most distuished building in Rochelle--a temple and a shrine as epitomize the majority of Carnegies.

My last campsite of the trip was through a soybean field to a dilapidated barn.  As with nearly every campsite once I left the mountains of Colorado, I was regularly woken through the night by freight trains blasting their horns as they approached an intersection.  Freight trains are thriving.  At times as many as three would pass in an hour.  Their engineers must love to toot their horns, as they would occasionally acknowledge me when they'd pass on a lonely road with no traffic for miles.  

I braced myself for the heavy traffic of Chicago's sprawl that extends for thirty miles or more in three directions, all by to the east and Lake Michigan.  I am so accustomed to it, that I fully accepted what I was in for, just as I have been with my bruised shoulder, having endured such an injury three times before.  I glad it didn't deter me from finishing off my ride, which has become a virtual commute I have done it so many times before.  But unlike the normal commute, there is an inordinate amount of variety and satisfaction in each.  I am already looking forward to next year's that will take me to the lone Carnegie I have yet to visit in the southeast corner of Colorado and then a ride across Kansas rather than Nebraska.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Clinton, Iowa

My days on the bike are defined by any number of events--the Carnegies along the way, something I might find along the road, my camp site, a food treat, a conversation, an extraordinary site or happenstance.  The past ten days have had the added spector of the healing process of my shoulder.  Every day has shown improvement as my shoulder regains strength and mobility, allowing me to do some simple task I couldn't do before. 

It was heartening to be able to open doors or to even carry something with my left hand.  I could gauge my progress by the amount of weight I could lift, starting with my sleeping pad and now finally able to manage a full rear pannier.  It is a joy to be able to lift my tent in the morning and shake out the debris before dismantling it.  It is a relief to be able to pull on my socks with both hands and to reach over with my left arm to unzip the tent.  I was happy to be able to push my bike up a steep embankment in the morning after camping in a cornfield without hardly a grimace.  It's nice to once again be able to reach back to a rear pannier while still straddling the bike.  

It wasn't until last night though that I was brave enough to attempt to pull my sweater over my head and wriggle my arms into it.  I didn't have much choice as I was cold and wet.  I was prepared to stay in a motel for the second time if one had presented itself, or, better yet, an old-time rooming house, as some of these small towns still offer.  But I had no such luck, camping once again behind a closed down service station.  I could have wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and hoped that would warm me up, but first I attempted my sweater. Lo and behold, it went on with only just minor wincing, not even a grimace.  That's the best news of all, as I have been starting my days chilled in forty degree temperatures, letting exertion warm me up.  Now I can put my sweater to use and a long sleeve t-shirt if it's really cold.  The final test will be if I can push Janina's lawn mower when I return.

Despite my rapid recovery, I'm riding with a cloud of wariness that is somewhat distracting.  I don't want to fall on my tender shoulder or gimpy knee.  Any fracture in the pavement raises an alarm that I might catch a tire and go tumbling.  The gravel shoulder is a constant reminder of my fall and warning to be alert.  When the wind is strong from any direction, a passing 18-wheeler can redirect a blast of it at me, threatening to blow me off the road.  I wouldn't stay upright long dashed into the thick  quagmire of gravel beside the pavement.  Route 30 across the state has too much traffic, and especially big trucks, to recommend it to cycling, but with its string of fifteen Carnegies, it was a route I had to take. Not everyone was happy about it.  All too many motorists have blasted their horns at me.  One would think cyclists weren't welcome in this state.  

A genuine ogre of a farmer ordered me off his property in a rage when I tried to camp behind a couple of his silos.  I was caught by dark and was desperate for a place to camp, as the corn fields had had no gaps in them for miles.  I thought the silos, which were surrounded by heavy farm equipment, were far enough from his home that I wouldn't be noticed or minded.  But his wife happened to be looking out as I approached them and sicced her hulk of a husband on me.  He was big enough that he didn't need to come with a rifle.  "What are you doing?" he demanded, just as I was beginning to set up my tent.  

"I was caught by the dark and needed a place to pitch my tent.  I didn't want to startle you and ask if it was okay.  I'm just passing through.  I'll be gone by first light."

"I want you gone right now.  You scared the shit out of my wife.  I don't care which way you're going, I just want you off my property."

There was no debate to the issue, so I quickly packed up and headed down the road in the dark.  Half a mile away I came to a cleared lane through a soybean field that was perfect.  I pushed my bike up over a rise so I wouldn't be seen from the road and celebrated this quiet, idyllic spot.  Ten minutes later, just as I finished putting all my gear into the tent, a pair of headlights closed in on me.  I figured it was a farmer crossing his field, but as the car approached the driver flicked on a revolving red light on his dashboard to signify he was a cop.  A young man hopped out with a badge in his hand.  By the time he reached me, a large pick-up truck pulled up behind him and out emerged the ogre.  

The officer was soft-spoken and kindly.  He could tell I was no threat, but he had to do this guy's bidding even though I was no longer on his property.  He apologized that people around here are very suspicious of strangers and that even though I wasn't doing any harm and would be gone without this farmer knowing I had been there, I couldn't stay.  He said he'd drive me to the next town a couple miles away where I could camp in its town park.  As I took down my tent, we had a friendly, neighborly conversation while the ogre silently glared in the background.   I told him about my Carnegie quest and that there were over one hundred Carnegies in Iowa including the first one Carnegie funded west of the Mississiippi.  The only Carnegie he knew was the motivational speaker.  He told me about taking a church group of twenty teens to Europe and how they had roughed it camping at churches.  

As we drove to the town of State Center he offered to stop at a Casey's service station and buy me some food.  I told him I had plenty.  After he dropped me off he shook my hand and said it was nice to meet me.  His kindness though did little to blunt the hostility of the farmer.  He really had it in for me to have known where I had disappeared to and to have called this officer, who was off-duty and a neighbor of his.  I didn't know whether to be more upset by his animosity or his fear that I might be a threat, one of them terrorists.  He was another example, like the many motorists who take umbrage at my presence, that RAGBRAI has not fully endeared cyclists to all in Iowa.  The officer confirmed that the rowdiness of many of the thousands of riders, many of whom come from out-of-state,  antagonizes the conservative side of many Iowans.  And it is a Trump state after all.

My lift to State Center got me close enough to Marshalltown and its Carnegie that I arrived in time for breakfast at a downtown diner--two of the biggest pancakes I have ever encountered.  They were enough for breakfast and lunch and filled me so well I didn't need to nibble on the nuts and raisins in my handlebar bag.

It's Carnegie too was a grand edifice, a two-story white-stoned building with a corner entrance, above which was "Gift of Andrew Carnegie."  It now serves as offices for the local government.

Twenty miles away Tama's much smaller Carnegie had also been retired.  It was on a corner lot in a residential neighborhood with no room for expansion.  There was no interest in purchasing it for enterprise.  When no buyer came forth when it was replaced sixteen years ago, the next door neighbors purchased it and used it for a woodworking shop and for a spell as a day care center.  They have done little to maintain it.  The front entrance is overgrown by bushes and the side that adjoins the owners is cluttered with cars.  But it still exudes a glow of nobility.

Then came the longest stretch on 30 between Carnegies, over fifty miles to Cedar Rapids, the second largest city in Iowa with a population of 130,000.  It was recovering from the second worst flood in its history.  The low-lying downtown along the Cedar River was closed off.  School had been out all week. The flood waters had receded and with the blocked roads not being vigilantly attended I was able to cross the still swollen Cedar on the 2nd Avenue bridge and reach the Carnegie on 3rd Avenue.  On the way I passed the still sandbagged Paramount Theater.  It had cost $35 million to restore it in 2008 after the city's worst flood.  There was enough warning for this year's flood to remove all its seats and take them to the second floor.

Just four blocks away there were no sandbags around the former Carnegie, now part of the city's large Art Museum.  It's roofline bore the names of the usual (Dante, Homer, Virgil, Shakeapeare, Irving, Goethe) and one surprise (Komensky).

The adjoining town of Marion also had a Carnegie, though it too had been replaced.  It now offered religious services for the First United Methodist Church, though it's entrance was still graced with "Carnegie Library, Free to the People."

I angled back to route 30 and Mount Vernon to Cornell College and the library funded for the school that also served as the town library.  It faced onto the quad of similar red brick buildings and was now the Norton Geology Center and Anderson Museum.  The new library also served the college and town in this pleasantly wholesome small town.

The Carnegie in DeWitt was being renovated by its new owners to host special events.  It was in the center of the town half a block from a diner that was packed on Saturday morning serving breakfast.  It's three-stack was modest enough that it was a rare hotcakes meal I could finish.

It gave me more than enough energy to reach Clinton, sixteen miles away, without having to nibble.  It's majestic Carnegie was the first since Ames, six Carnegies ago, that still functioned as a library, and was large enough that it hadn't been added on to.  It was the first building visitors saw when they crossed the Mississiippi from Illinois.  Seven of the fifteen on my route across Iowa still served as libraries.  It was a spectacular finale.  I have three that I have yet to visit on my remaining 150 miles  across Illinois beginning with one in Fulton, just across the river.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ames, Iowa

At the first cafe I stopped at in Iowa I was startled by a burst of laughter coming from a table of two elderly couples and the almost joyous exuberance of their conversation.  That wasn't something I had encountered in Nebraska.  The Nebraskans weren't necessarily repressed and downtrodden, but their economy certainly seemed so, as reflected by the sorry state of most of their towns and their Carnegie Libraries, and that couldn't help but be reflected in the demeanor of its people.  In comparison with those in Iowa, they seemed to be more coping with life than enjoying it.

The towns in Iowa were pulsing with life and weren't run down as were those in Nebraska.  The grass was green and the paint wasn't peeling and faded. Vacant store fronts were a rarity.   Small towns had coffee shops and other non-essential businesses, such as florists, that implied a healthy economy.  And the Carnegie libraries had a shine to them.  Most had had an addition to cater to the growth of the towns, while those in Nebraska hadn't had that need.  The people aren't so much to blame, but rather one state having rich and productive soil and the other not so much so. Even iowa's late fall withering brown corn stalks were much hardier than those of Nebraska.

With folk seemingly scraping by in Nebraska, as if they're just trying to hold on clinging to a frontier-mentality, people have a common bond and look out for one another. When I had one final flat tire late in the afternoon as I neared the Iowa border, two motorists stopped to offer help.  One even offered a Subway sandwich he had just bought.  A few days earlier someone else asked if I needed money as I sat eating a peanut butter sandwich under a tree. He was astounded I was bicycling to Chicago.  He didn't think such a thing was possible.  

My flat tire was an exclamation point on the bad luck that has dogged me on this trip.  I thought my slow-leak woes were behind me when I put one of the three brand new tubes that I had bought at Walmart a couple of hours before in my rear tire. It wasn't totally necessarily, as I had been nursing a super-slow leak for several days that only required a small amount of pumping at the start of the day and then again mid-afternoon.  But during a rest break I decided to replace the tube and be done with this extra pumping that was a strain on my injured shoulder. Two miles down the road I could feel the tire going soft.  When I took out the tube and reinflated it to find the puncture, I discovered the tube had a blemish in it and I hold been sold a tube with a hole in it.  

I should have been wary, as when I opened the box the tube came in, I could see that someone had already opened it and ineptly stuffed the tube back into the box.  I assumed that whoever had bought it hadn't meant to buy a presta valve tube and had returned it.  Instead, they returned it after either discovering it had a hole or puncturing it themselves.  "Only at Walmart," one might say.  And only on this trip with so much I'll-fortune starting with a brake pad wearing out on a long steep descent and even worse snapping a brake cable on another long descentand the frustration of following Interstate 70 and being detoured onto 80 and pulled over for it and then nearly breaking my collarbone and continually pricking by tires with goat heads and having my tent crumbled by violent winds and rain.  Ah, the joy of bike touring.  Yes, it is a joy despite all the adversity.  Pedaling a bike for hours and hours out in the hinterlands is always revitalizing and knowing that the planet is my campground equally so. Biking long distances is an emphatic Declaration of Independence that never grows old.  Even if I didn't have Carnegie Libraries to search out, I'd still be at it.

The first I came to in Missouri Valley after crossing the Missouri River into Iowa had a huge addition with the original entrance turned into a garden emphasizing its grandeur.  It's not an uncommon redesign of a Carnegie ensuring that patrons will use the new, stairless, handicap-accessible entrance.

To the right of the circulation desk above a coffee-maker offering a cup for one dollar hung an original portrait of Carnegie without identifying him.

The Carnegie in Logan twenty miles away had the standard portrait that the Carnegie Foundation offered to all the Libraries in 1835 on the one hundredth anniversary of his birth hanging in its entry.  Its addition in 1989 matched the original brick of the library and wasn't detectable looking at it straight on.
Cupcakes and cookies and lemonade filled a table to honor the departure of one of the librarians, further accentuating its neighborly feel.

Continuing in route 30 another twenty miles took me to the distinctive Carnegie in Woodbine with an addition to its side in 2001. 

Unlike Logan, which had Carnegie chiseled over its entry, Woodbine identified itself with a CPL emblem just under its roofline.  A plaque beside the door announced the building was on the National Register of Historic Places.

Further down 30 in Dunlap was the first Carnegie without an addition and that no long served as a library.  The Word of Life church now held services there.  

They had let it fall into disrepair. It was on its way to becoming a ruin with crumbling bricks and peeling paint and missing light fixtures, one missing even a bulb.

Denison was back to a Carnegie with full dignity.  One could look upon it without realizing it had a large addition behind it.

The Carnegie in Carroll was addition-free, but it was now the Carroll County Historical Museum.  It's facade on three sides was adorned with authors--Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Milton, Longfellow, Virgil, Dickens, Goethe, Plutarch, Irving, Emerson, Eliot.

Below the windows was a little extra ornamentation of carved books with  a "CL" for Carnegie Library.

Continuing on 30 I came to the magnificent Jefferson Carnegie with a large modern addition attached to its side.

On its backside were five banners promoting reading.

At about the half-way point across the state in the college town of Ames was another temple of a Carnegie with a large glassy addition.

Even in this college town I saw no Clinton posters.  I haven't seen a one in over a thousand miles, just ones for Trump, though not much more than one or two a day.  I was camping in a cornfield and missed the debate.  When I asked a librarian the next morning who won, she said, "No one.  We're in big trouble."

Monday, September 26, 2016

Blair, Nebraska

My left shoulder remains sore and painful and has limited use, but it's improving by increments every day. I can now raise my arm to my ear when I need to reinsert an ear plug and I can drop to my bar end shifter without having to inch my fingers down the handlebar to reach it.  Bumps in the road no longer send jolts of pain to my shoulder and I can lift small amounts of weight with my bum arm. 

It is still a semi-excruciating struggle to thread my arm into my jacket or even my vest.  It would be nearly impossible to put on my sweater or a t-shirt.  But all of that is incidental since it's not preventing me from riding the bike and finishing off this 1,500 mile trek from Telluride to Chicago.  I can't stand on the pedals, as it puts too much weight on the arm, nor can I pull with it.  Fortuntately, the terrain is mostly flat, so that's no great handicap.  

Sleeping can be painful, as I forget I have an injured arm and move it without thinking and receive a jolt of pain for my mistake.  I haven't had a good night's sleep since my crash.  I had my worst night's sleep of the trip two nights ago when a strong wind whipped the rain fly into the tent all night and at times buckled the tent poles against me.  It just wouldn't quit.  Just before dawn the gusts turned violent and unleashed a torrent of rain.  With the tent suddenly a sieve and threatening to collapse on me I had to put on my Goretex jacket while trying to hold the poles upright as rain trickled in soaking my sleeping bag.  It rained some more during the day.  The sun never appeared, so I was unable to dry my sleeping bag or sleeping pad or tent.  It forced me into a motel for the first time in fifteen nights since leaving Telluride.  It was in David City, a town with a Carnegie.  It was my third of the day, the most of this trip.  Only one still functioned as a library, my first of the day in Clarks.

It was another basic red-brick building, but unlike the Carnegie in Ravenna, there were steps up to the entrance, the symbolic rising up to knowledge, and it was framed by a pair of faux in-set pillars, lending it a modicum of majesty.  It stood on the corner of the main intersection of this small, barely-gasping, town. Like just about every small agricultural town I have passed through in Nebraska, it was withering on the vine.  None offered much of an inducement to linger other than their Carnegie or if I were a sociologist studying what induced people to stay.  There were no hours posted for this Carnegie, just one of those clock-signs in the window of the door indicating it would reopen at one.

A couple hours later I had to drop down four miles from the highway I was following at this point across the state to check out the Carnegie in the slightly larger and healthier town of Stromsberg.  It forced me into a strong south wind, the same one that had blown all night.  Knowing I'd have it at my back on my return to my east-west artery made it somewhat tolerable.  But shortly after I arrived in Stromsberg, while I shopped at the local supermarket largely staffed by high schoolers, a storm hit, and when it calmed after half an hour, so did the wind.

I waited out the storm under an awning, as the library wasn't open on Saturday.  It had replaced the Carnegie a few years ago.  The Carnegie had stood vacant since. A local had finally come forth and  was presently converted it into a book store and a bakery.

Like every one of the nine Carnegies I had visited so far on this ride across Nebraska, it was pretty much in its orginal state without an addition other than an air conditioner.

By the time I left Stromsberg, there was a hint of a breeze from the south, giving me a little assistance, but not the turbo-charge I had been counting on.  After a couple of hours I had the option of turning north to the large city of Columbus for its Carnegie and the guarantee of a motel for the night or continuing east to the town of David City and its Carnegie, but taking a chance on finding accommodation.  I opted for the smaller town, saving the tail wind to Columbus for the next day, rather than having to push into it back to David City.  I thought I made the right decision when I found a small Indian run motel in David City that gave me a discount for paying cash.  But the wind switched during the night and I had a strong headwind for twenty-five miles to start my day.  A frolicsome hour-and-a-half ride became a brutal three-hour forced march. I'm not one to say that it always seems like I have a headwind, but I had been cursed by ill-winds for a couple days that seemed to be purposely turning on me.

At least the Carnegie in David City broke the trend of red-brick boxes.  It was still red-brick, but it had large windows and an ornamental entrance and a distinguished roof.  It houses Immunotec, a company that sells wellness products. It had the Ten Commandments on its new glass door.

I spent over an hour in the motel repairing punctured tubes.  All four of my spares needed patches, as many as three or four thanks to the insidious and unavoidable goatheads.  It wasn't even save to push my bike through the grass in small parks, as they could pick up an array of those prickly bastards.  I awoke one morning to both tires flat and the tires sprinkled with the heads I had picked up merely pushing my bike down a dirt road with small patches of weeds that were mined with them.

I had to cut some of my patches in half to complete the job.  Columbus would be the first city large enough since Denver with a store where I could buy tubes and patches--a  Walmart.  Before I tackled the tubes, I took my first shower since Telluride.  I forgot about my injury and squeezed shampoo into my left palm, which I couldn't lift to the top of my head.  I had to transfer it to my right hand.

The Carnegie in Columbus was the third of those I'd visited in Nebraska that was now law offices, though the building was for sale.It had been red brick, but had been painted white. 

Sixteen miles east of Columbus in Schulyler was the eleventh and final Carnegie of the Nebraska sector of this ride.  And it was the saddest--vacant and with broken windows.  A musty smell oozed out of the broken front windows.

As I sat in the shade and finished off a two-pound container of Walmart's Amish macaroni salad I watched a non-stop parade of Hispanics, mostly in family groups, flocking to a Hispanic grocery store. At least fifty per cent of those shopping at the Walmart in Columbus were also Hispanics.

I had been intending to cross the Missouri River into Iowa at Omaha to visit a Carnegie in Council Bluffs on the other side of the river and also to seek out an Apple Store to try to regain access to my yahoo email.  That would have been a detour of forty miles, more than I cared to make since the miles haven't been coming so easily thanks to the wind and my injury.  Instead I continued due east to Blair, whose Carnegie burned down in 1971.

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 were 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 three 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.