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.