Friday, June 11, 2021

Hickory, North Carolina


 Thanks to meeting up with Lyndon and his twelve-year old son Sullivan, my legs got a much-needed afternoon off.  They were particularly drained coping with the throngs of traffic for hours after Charlotte, constantly forced to sprint to driveways or side roads to pull off before 18-wheelers coming up from behind me could overtake me and blow me off the road, having little room to pass.  My thighs felt the burn for the first time in 2,000 miles since I set out from Memphis a month ago.


The traffic was nearly non-stop, bumper-to-bumper from both directions for miles and miles.  The lone salvation was no rumble strips and a shoulder that generally gave me a little breathing room.  The din and intensity of traffic was comparable to California. This part of North Carolina was reaching a population density beyond reason.  Where could all these people possibly be going and whatever happened to everyone staying at home to work?

I was hoping I wasn’t too shell-shocked to enjoy Lyndon’s company, a long-time linchpin of the Telluride Film Festival who’s everyone’s favorite uncle involved with the festival, from Ken Burns to the most anonymous ticket-checker.   He goes back over thirty years with the festival, slightly longer than me.  It was always a privilege when I was assigned to the same condo as he was during our month in Telluride.  As King of the Free Box, he was everybody’s best buddy, as he would constantly return from The Box with an item one would ask him to keep at eye out for and find items that one never knew they needed.  He lives to please.   His southern sensibilities charm all, and was just what I needed. 


We hadn’t seen each other in a few years, but we picked up as if we had seen each other last week.   It was Sullivan’s first day of summer vacation. He hadn’t set foot in a classroom in eighteen months.  He and Lyndon had fully adjusted to home-schooling and were inclined to stick to it.  Lyndon’s vocation of installing work at various museums and galleries around Winston-Salem had dried up as had much of his handy-man projects, but ever the survivor with countless tricks up his sleeve, he was surviving.  I am reminded of Lyndon every morning when I strap down my sleeping bag and tent on the back of my bike, as Lyndon taught me the trick of tying knots in bungee cords if they’re not tight enough, as I’d done with the pair I’m presently using.  

We met up in Hickory, where I broke a string of three Carnegies on college campuses.  Hickory’s was vacant and was a mere facsimile of a Carnegie with recessed columns and none of the grandeur that grace most Carnegies.  Still it conveyed that unmistakable Carnegie dignity and was a pleasure to behold.  Never once have I felt even a hint of disappointment after biking miles and miles for a Carnegie.


The previous three on college campuses were all hum-dingers, standing out even on campuses full of distinguished works of architecture.  The first at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina was an extravaganza with a dome and a pair of grand entrances, thanks to Carnegie consenting to the college president’s request to up his more than usual initial grant of $20,000 to $30,000.  It was very common for recipients of his grants to ask for more.  Generally Carnegie declined,  but in this case he consented if the college would offer a degree in library sciences. It now houses a couple of galleries and is known as Rutledge Hall.


Just a few blocks from the Carnegie was a bike shop.  I stopped in to see if it had a 700x28 tire, as my front needed replacing.  It didn’t, but this was a rare medium-sized city with two bike shops.  The other was at the Riverwalk development with a BMX park and a relatively new velodrome of Olympic proportions, one of the few in the country.  It is not getting as much use as was anticipated and there are fears the developers will tear it down and build homes on the site as they have all around it.  This shop had the tire I was looking for, sparing me the chore of searching out bike shops in Charlotte, twenty-five miles north.


All I had to find in Charlotte was the Carnegie on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University, a Black Presbyterian University founded in 1867.  When the Carnegie was built  it was known as Biddle University,  but was renamed in 1923 for the man whose wife donated a considerable sum to the university.  The Carnegie was in the center of campus and stood out like a sparkling gem.   It still bore the name of Carnegie and now houses various administrative offices.


I was subjected to twenty-five miles of mind-numbing traffic to Davidson College in Davidson.  It’s Carnegie had been converted into a Guest House, which almost looked as if it could have been its intended use.


It was post rush-hour but the traffic hadn’t relented.  I had thought I was going to be out on the sticks beyond Davidson, but the development continued.  There was such a labor shortage, a McDonald’s was offering a $500 signing bonus.


For the first time in these travels I resorted to the property of an abandoned house with overgrown vegetation as my campsite, bounded by palatial estates on either side.


The morning’s rush hour traffic was akin to that of any big city.  But at least I had Lyndon and Sullivan to look forward to.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

York, South Carolina

 



For only the second time in twenty-nine days of these travels I was rained upon as I pedaled along.  The first time in Mississippi it was an all-day light rain that forced me into a motel. Yesterday in South Carolina it was just a sudden downpour that lasted less than half an hour.  I was able to pull into a shelter, an open car port along the road, before it began to really pelt down and hardly had to ride in the rain at all.  Just as it relented and I began gathering up the food I had been eating, a car pulled up and a teen-aged boy hopped out of the passenger door with a bag of chips and a banana for me, as if I had placed an order.

I had a little less southern hospitality the next day when the librarian in the Blacksburg library called the police because she didn’t like the looks of me and a similarly scruffy woman sitting on the concrete like a couple of ne’er-do-wells near the entrance of the library using its WiFi, even though she gave me the password (the name of the local book store) and told me  I’d have to sit outside to use it, as the library was only open for browsing, not sitting.  


The semi-homeless woman was sitting outside the library when I arrived, more for the outlet to charge her phone, than for the WiFi.  She had a couple of plastic bags of her stuff around the corner from her.  Evidently the librarian wasn’t aware of the woman, and when she noticed the two of us that was too much for her.  She came out and told us we’d have to move, as we were too close to the entry of the library, and she told the woman she couldn’t use the electric outlet.  I moved further from the entry, but remained in the shade.  

After the librarian went back inside, the woman said her tax dollars paid for the library’s electricity and there was no reason why she couldn’t couldn’t use it, so she didn’t move. Not too long afterwards, a very portly, unmenacing white-haired police officer showed up. The woman immediately scampered away.  He went inside the library and when he came out, somewhat apologetically told me I’d have to leave. He didn’t want to know what I was doing in his small town or where I was going, just letting me be, unlike two officers who somewhat hostilely grilled me last year when I sat outside a small-town library in southern Georgia.  This officer did pass me a few minutes later, maybe making sure the sun wasn’t going to set on me within his jurisdiction. 

I hadn’t really needed the library’s  WiFi.  I was more interested in getting out of the heat for a spell.  Simply sitting in the shade doesn’t really cool me down that much.  Even half an hour of semi-refrigeration makes a huge difference.  An ice-laden drink helps a lot, cooling me off from the inside out.  I fill a 32-ounce cup with almost more ice than fluid at the self-help service station/convenience store outlets.  I’ll drink a quarter of it and put the rest in my insulated water bottle.  It can last for better than an hour.  No sound is more soothing in these times than the rattle of ice in the bottle when I raise it to my mouth.  Ice is such a prized commodity in these parts, self-service vending machines dot the landscape. They dispense ice in larger quantities than I can manage, but they still are a reassuring site.


I crossed over the Savannah River, just below the massive Hartwell Dam, into South Carolina from Georgia.  It was less than twenty miles to the first Carnegie in Anderson, now the Anderson County Art Center.  A very faint “Carnegie Library” remained etched in stone over the entry.  The vast new library was just a couple blocks away. It was fully open, with no restrictions on how long one could stay, as some libraries have.  Masks though were required.  




The traffic picked up considerably beyond Anderson as I encroached upon the sprawl of Greenville. New cloned homes in clusters of developments made camping the most challenging so far.  I feared I’d have to camp behind some monstrosity under construction and make a pre-dawn departure, but I found a small pocket of forest, though I had to clear fallen limbs that had been placed to block entry to it.  The rain resumed shortly after I set up my tent and continued for several hours.  I welcomed it, as it would keep dog-walkers and evening strollers, who might have glimpsed me, within their homes.

I stayed south of Greenville to the vibrant city of Spartanburg dotted with murals and public art and a Main Street blocked to traffic and filled with tables for dining. 



On the east side of the city I had to search for the former Carnegie Library on the campus of Converse College, a college of 1,350 students founded in 1890 and named for a local textile manufacturer, Dexter Converse.  I had to ask three people before I located the regal, domed building that still bore the name of Carnegie.  It now is home to various administrative offices.



The Carnegie in Gaffney, twenty miles to the east, was a much more modest edifice had also been converted to an office building, this for the city.  “Carnegie Free Library” adorned its facade.


A plaque out front gave its history.  


Another plaque on the front of the building, placed in 1922, honored locals who had died in WWI, the first such plaque I’ve seen on a Carnegie.  Below the list of thirty-six names were another twelve, identified as “Colored.”


One more Carnegie in South Carolina, then north. 

Monday, June 7, 2021

Lavonia, Georgia

 

I completed my slate of Carnegies in Georgia with a dandy in Lavonia.  It gave me my first spontaneous “wow” of the trip when I came around a bend and spotted this multi-tiered original facing the road heading southeast out of this quiet town towards South Carolina.  It was a Sunday, so I didn’t have the pleasure of luxuriating in its interior, but its exterior was so satisfyingly distinctive it hardly mattered.  The only disappointment was its WiFi required a password, so I couldn’t sit in its presence and catch up with the world.


Lavonia’s was the sixteenth of the twenty-three Carnegies still standing in the state that I visited on this trip. I’d gotten to five others on previous trips, leaving me two short of visiting them all.  They two missing are both in Savannah on the coast.  They would have required a considerable e detour.  I left them for a future trip when I gather the remaining Carnegies I’ve missed in Florida north of Orlando along the coast.  

The Lavonia Carnegie was my second of the day.  The first came in Athens, home of the University of Georgia.  The Carnegie was on a satellite campus on the outskirts of town. It was built in 1905 for the Georgia State Normal School, which was taken over by the US Naval Supply Corps to train officers in the 1950s.  When the school relocated in 2011, it morphed into the campus for the University of Georgia Health Sciences.  


For a spell the Carnegie served as  the US Naval Supply Corps Museum, but is now the Carnegie Library Learning Center.  I have another correction to make on Wikipedia, which gave its address as 1401 Prince Street, the main street running along one side of the Campus, though the library is well within the campus on Fox Road.  There was no one about to ask its whereabouts.  It didn’t take me long though to spot it among the small cluster of buildings comprising the campus.

As I entered Athens a motorist stopped and gestured for me to stop before I sought out the library.  He was a fellow touring cyclist and invited me to pitch my tent in his yard.  It wasn’t even noon, way to early to curtail my riding.  But he was able to direct me to Prince Street and the campus, saving me several miles, as I had intended on continuing on into the heart of the city before going over to Prince.  If I had, I would have had to backtrack aways.  

He was the second person of the day to flag me down.  The first was a state trooper who turned on his siren when I went through a red light after I had come to a complete stop and all the traffic had passed.  I told him I thought Georgia had adopted the Idaho Stop, that several states have, allowing cyclists to regard stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs.  He said, “No, no, no.  Bicyclists have to observe the same traffic laws as motorists in Georgia.”

He was cordial, pulling me over more to check me out than to give me a ticket, though he did call in my drivers license.  He could hardly believe I was biking all the way to Athens, thirty miles away.  I could hardly believe he was the first officer to pull me over, as a year ago when I was cycling from Miami to New Orleans, I was stopped twice in four days in Georgia.  I had been in the state this time nearly two weeks before being checked out.

Thankfully the officer wasn’t as surly as a cashier in a Circle K service station later in the day.  She kept me waiting for a couple minutes at the counter to pay for my 79 cent  fountain drink as she tidied up a stand nearby.  Then she charged me 89 cents for it though a sign clearly stated it was 79 cents.  She refused to relent, nor would she leave the counter to see the display labeling the prices for the cups, saying it was only ten cents difference.  I had already drunk enough of it while she kept me waiting to be satisfied, so I left the rest of the drink on the counter and walked out.  

When I returned to my bike a young man approached me and asked if I’d like his Big Mac.  He was sipping a soda and said he realized he didn’t really want the hamburger.  He was a husky guy who could stand to lose a few pounds, so he may have been like the woman who earlier in the trip gave me a bag of cookies that she felt guilty about buying.

The ride from Athens to Lavonia was as fine as any in the state on a lightly traveled road through forested terrain.  It was a welcome contrast to the bustling, mind-numbing traffic in the sprawl of Atlanta that took half a day to escape the day before.  It was all recent development with one mini-mall after another with the seemingly infinite franchise iterations from Waffle Houses and O’Reilly Auto Parts that are a blight on the land.  The Atlanta economy is certainly thriving, especially compared to destitute rural Georgia.



The ride was also enhanced by an overcast sky, blunting the sun.  The temperature was still near ninety, but not as draining as it would have been with the sun beating on me.  Early in the trip when the temperatures were cooler, I was averaging over eighty miles a day.  When it turned ovenish, that fell by ten miles and more.  I didn’t want to stop riding even when I surpassed eighty miles for the first time in a while.  Early in the trip Strava congratulated me for having personal bests since I joined this world-side club of cyclists sharing the data from their rides.  The first was a 94-mile day and then a 98-mile day a couple days later. That was encouraging me for my next Strava personal best, but haven’t even come close since that first week.  Hopefully that will come soon as I head north and the terrain flattens.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Atlanta, Georgia


I missed my high school’s 50th reunion two years ago, but I learned from the directory of my classmates, that our class president, Jim Siwy, was now living north of Atlanta.  I hadn't seen Jim in over fifty years, but had thought about him from time to time, as the weekly dispatches he sent to our local weekly newspaper about a bike trip he’d taken with three others to Mexico in 1973 while on hiatus from Harvard, had been one of the impetuses in making me a touring cyclist.  I’d long wanted to hear his reminisces of that trip.   Knowing that I’d eventually be making a circuit of Georgia tracking down its twenty-three remaining Carnegie Libraries, I noted his location in Roswell so I could drop in on him and learn if that trip had turned him into a bicycling fiend as my first trip did to me

I was aware at the time of Jim’s trip of the legendary English cyclist Ian Hibbel and a few others, but here was someone I knew, who had actually gone and done such a thing when it was still a novelty.  Our lives had gone separate paths, but we had enough of a shared past that we were far from strangers to one another and would easily reconnect. 

As I closed in on Atlanta, I emailed Jim with a heading of “Jim Plunkett, as the last time we had seen each other was at the Orrington Hotel in Evanston where the College All-Star football team was staying as they prepared to play the previous year’s Super Bowl champion in the first game of the new football season.  I was a student manager for Northwestern’s football team, and since the All-Stars would be using Northwestern’s practice facilities, I was able to serve the All-Stars in a similar capacity during the three weeks they prepared for the game. Plunkett, that year’s Heisman trophy winner from Stanford, was the team’s quarterback.  I happened to be preparing to drive him to practice when my friend Jim happened to drop by.  I introduced him to Plunkett, as “my friend who attends the Stanford of the east.”

Jim said my email invoking Plunkett and that I’d like to drop by to talk biking was one of the most unusual he had ever received, and would be glad to get together.  He was presently working out of his home as a clinical psychologist and would be free after four.  He knew the traffic in Atlanta, twenty miles south, could be horrendous and offered to drive in and bring me back.  I could have none of that.  I had two Carnegies to visit before heading up to Roswell.

There had been six including the palatial main library built in 1898.  It had been the first in Carnegie’s giving outside of Pennsylvania.  It had been torn down in 1970 but its location, where the new library stands across from Margaret Mitchell Plaza, is marked by a street sign acknowledging Carnegie.  

Only one of the three branch libraries, also dating to 1898, still stands.  It is now a bank.



Less than half a mile away on the Georgia Tech campus is another Carnegie, a most distinguished building now serving as the office of the president.  The sixth Carnegie in Atlanta was on the Atlanta University campus and is no more.


Atlanta also offered up a Statue of Liberty, one of two in the state, with the other in Rome.  


This gazed up the grand golden-dome state capital building in Liberty Park.  It was accompanied by the standard plaque explaining its connection to the 40th anniversary of the Boy Scouts.


Just a couple blocks from the capital was a row of domed tents along the sidewalk inhabited by the homeless, the first I’d seen since Memphis on Day One of these travels.


Jim was right about the traffic in Atlanta.  It was particularly hectic in the evening rush hour.  I was forced on to the sidewalk for some stretches.  The ride was made even more arduous by a non-stop succession of steep climbs, adding up to the most vertical feet I had gained on  this trip in one day by almost one thousand feet—over four thousand feet in seventy-five miles.  But now on day twenty-five of these travels, the legs are nearly fully-conditioned and only felt a minimum of strain.  It was a surprise how developed and built-up Atlanta was all the way out to Jim’s house.

When I emailed Jim I asked if he’d be available for a chat or a bike ride.  He replied that he no longer had a bike, so he’d avoided the addiction that befell me.  When I biked coast-to-coast on my first noteworthy trip, four years after Jim’s ride, I alternated between thinking I’d throw my bike into the Pacific and never want to ride a bike again or being committed to the bike for life.  We know how that turned out. 

It wasn’t anything like that for Jim.  When he ended his trip in Guatemala he sent his bike home and continued to use it while in college, but never to travel.  He actually aborted his trip a little early.  He and his three traveling companions had intended to bike to the Panama Canal, but the roads deteriorated to such a degree in Guatemala, and the truck traffic heightened on the Pan-American Highway, they all agreed to end it there.

They’d had a most satisfying 4,000 mile trip, the first for all of them.  It had been the brainchild of Andy Baldwin, another classmate of ours who died a few years ago.  Andy edged out Jim as the salutatorian of our class.  I happened to mention the valedictorian, who went to Harvard with Jim, in a previous blog post. He was the one whose mother took him to Selma in 1965 when he was thirteen to march with Martin Luther King. 

Andy went to Stanford and happened to meet the legendary two couples profiled by National Geographic as they were engaged in a “Hemistour” biking from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, the Burdens and Siples, who went on to found Bikecentennial (now Adventure Cycling) and the seminal first bike route across the US for the Bicentennial in 1976 and who I’ve also met in my travels.  Andy recruited Jim and two others to try to meet up with them along the way.  Jim didn’t even have a bike when Andy threw out the idea, but he went and got himself a Gitane racing bike and a week later met up with Andy and two others in Mississippi to begin their chase, even though they had little means of tracking the Siples and Burdens as they headed down Baja and the Pacific coast and never did meet up. 

After one day on the ride everyone had to replace their wheels, as they’d all shown up on high quality bikes with tubular tires, meant for racing.  They’d each suffered a flat and discovered how difficult it is to patch a sew-up tire.  I’d made the same mistake on my initial warm-up ride to Detroit, as there was little advice to be found on touring back in those days. After that they had no major issues, other than one of the group needing his rear rack welded and also getting hit by a truck deep into Mexico.

I was able to supplement Jim’s fond recollections with rereading his dispatches later that night complete with photos of the Jim I recognized still looking like the star of our high school football and basketball teams that I wrote about for the school newspaper.  He’d lost none of his easy-going, ever-positive personality.  And his wife Janet, who he met when getting his PhD at Florida, a retired high school English teacher, was a prefect complement.  We had as pleasant of an evening as if we were lifelong next door neighbors.  

Jim said that Andy, who went on to be an emergency room doctor in Louisiana, redirected his urge for adventure from cycling to rafting rivers all over the world.  Jim never joined him, as he committed his life to family and career and church, though he enjoyed the reports he sent complete with photos.

Jim remains an ardent sports fan and was delighted to have recently attended a Braves baseball game with Janet, also an ardent fan, in a packed stadium with no one wearing masks.  He’s eager to reopen his office and start seeing patients again face-to-face.  It’s been so easy to do it via zoom and over the phone, he hasn’t quite done it.  He may be seventy, but he’s not slowing down at all.

I have two Carnegies left in Georgia, then it’s on to South Carolina.  The day before Atlanta I had the opportunity to spend time in a Carnegie still functioning as a library for the fiat time in Georgia, as the other two Georgia Carnegies still serving as libraries I’d gone by on this trip hadn’t been open. 


The Eatonton Carnegie had had a large addition to its backside, but its front, despite no longer being its entrance, conveyed that welcoming Carnegie aura.  There was no Carnegie portrait on display, but it still hummed with his presence.


 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Barnesville, Georgia

 




I’ve stopped by eleven Carnegies so far in Georgia on this trip and I had yet to gain entry to one until Barnesville, thanks to the great warmth of the couple who have made it their home for the past thirty years. They feel privileged to live in such a historic and majestic building and are happy to share it with others.

Cara, an artist and poet, makes it her studio as well, with large-paneled murals of lush vegetation on display, reflecting the garden where I found her tending to her flowers.  They consider the building a community asset and try to have gatherings there as often as possible, whether to share art or have readings or philosophical discussions. 

The interior was as magnificent as the exterior, with columns and wooden floor and in-set book cases and wooden staircase to the second floor.  The extensive garden extending a hundred feet in front of the house adds to its luster.  It has been featured in Southern Living Magazine and Georgia Journal and PBS.  Cara’s dazzling work can be seen at carastudios.com.

They were fascinated by my quest and were happy to learn I’ve come upon a few others Carnegies that are lived in.  They’d very much like to connect with other such lucky souls and hear what their experience has been living in a building with such a vibrant and rich past, having been the center of a community for decades and reverberating with the fondest of memories of thousands who have grown up with it.

There might be another Georgia Carnegie available for habitation as the one in Dublin, seventy-five miles to the east, is empty, despite being in the center of the town in a plaza featuring a towering statue of a Confederate soldier and a movie theater. 


There has been a minimum of such monuments.  It’s not like France where nearly every town, regardless of size, has a similar such monument acknowledging those who fought in the First World War.  This one in Dublin was “In memorium of our heroes 1861-1865.”  And it added, “Your sons and daughters will forever guard the memory of your brave deeds.”


Dublin isn’t the only one of the twenty-three cities in Georgia with a Carnegie Library to have adopted the name of a great European city.  There are also Carnegies in the Georgia cities of Rome and Athens.  And there is also one in Macon, the namesake of a city in France that is an occasional Ville √Čtape during The Tour de France and that I know well. 

When I passed through Macon in Georgia for its Carnegie on the campus of Mercer University, I had to be mindful of my pronunciation avoiding the French soft “a” and turning the “c” into an “s.”  In Georgia it is “Macon as in bacon,“ rather than “Ma-sone” as in “bone,” as I’ve become accustomed to pronouncing it from my time in France.  The library is now Hartman Hall and houses the Fine Art Department, though library is still engraved on the top of the building mostly hidden by the trees. 


My route from Macon to Barnesville took me through a small town with a tiny post office open all hours for residents to access their postal boxes as it had someone on duty just a few hours a week.  It was a perfect oasis for me with a water spigot on its backside and an electric outlet inside. It was even air-conditioned.

I’ve been successful in coming upon a service station/convenience store most every evening within an hour of my ending my ride so I could fill my two insulated water bottles with ice and have the great luxury of cold/cold drinking in my tent.  Last night as I was waiting behind a guy to pay for my fifty cent large cup of ice, the gentleman said to the cashier, “I’ll get his ice too.”  Such gestures always make my day.



Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Little Ocmulgee State Park

 

I’ve  got a dozen new tiny holes in the bottom of my tent thanks to an assault of a Napoleonesque army of ants.  They were more relentless than the scissor ants of Brazil that left gaping holes in my tent, as these got into everything, even attracted by the scent of the strong detergent a pair of shorts I just bought at a resale shop had been washed in.  The shorts were deep in a pannier.  When I pulled them out, along with everything else in the pannier to rid it of the invasion of ants, an entire battalion or two of ants clung to every inch of its fabric.


I was awoken by the ants at midnight when I could feel something nipping me.  I saw they were everywhere and in everything.  I emptied the tent of all its contents except my sleeping bag and water bottle and what passes as a pillow.  I then smashed every ant remaining, mostly of the micro size, some so small they were barely visible. Then it was back to sleep.  Two hours later I awoke again to some more nipping and discovered more swarms of ants all over.  

Since there was no defeating them, I took down the tent and moved it from the forest to a nearby clearing where two trailers for 18-wheelers had been abandoned. It was well from the road, on the other side of some train tracks I had to lift my bike over to reach, so I was still well secluded. I was quickly back to sleep, but then awoke again at 3:30 by more of the same ants.  I had earlier seen their main entry point at a seam in the corner of the tent.  I doused it with mosquito repellent, but they just chewed their way in through tiny holes all over.  In this corner of the tent the four pinpricks of white are some of their entry points.




These were a new breed of ant, maybe adapting to all the pesticides used on the nearby pecan orchards. Super ants created by pesticides had been the explanation for the voracity of the ants of Brazil, the most treacherous I’d ever encountered.  I’d never had an issue with ants in the US and rarely elsewhere, just once by quite vicious red ants in Laos and once in a peach orchard in France by ants that chewed their way into my tent.

There weren’t as many ants in this third wave, so I crushed them all and was able to sleep until it started getting light at 6:30 as a fourth wave of ants began to make their presence known.

After arising I spent half an hour making a thorough elimination of ants from my gear.  I discovered they had eaten their way into a pack of ramen.  Who would have thought ramen exuded an odor.  Me, as Janina’s cats have been known to rip into any stray bag of ramen they can get their paws on.  I discovered ants in the groove on the top of my peanut butter jar and also trying to get into a jar of honey-roasted peanuts. As I brushed them off clothes, some would cling to my hand and arm and leave a sting from their bites.  During the night when I took a swig of water from my water bottle, I discovered a few had lodged into the nozzle of the bottle and bit my lip and the inside of my mouth when I squeezed the water into my mouth. 

It wasn’t the best start of the day, though it got me going a little earlier than usual.  I had reason to celebrate though when, an hour down the road, I came upon the first open diner at the breakfast hour of the trip. Before I committed to it I asked if it served hot cakes and had WiFi and a booth with an eclectic outlet.  Yes on all counts.  All through the meal ants trickled out of my handlebar bag onto the table.

I had more good fortune further down the road when I came upon an Indian-run service station/convenience store that advertised “all fountain drinks 79 cents.”  While I sat drinking a 32-ouncer and eating the ramen I had removed several hundred ants from, a teen-aged girl stepped out of the passenger door of a car facing me and said she was going to buy me something.  I told her that wasn’t necessary,  but she was fulfilling an assignment from her mother sitting behind the steering wheel.  She came back with a cold bottle of orange juice and a bag of chips.  

That was the first act of generosity in six days in Georgia, other than the Gatorade and water I was given as I repaired a flat tire along the highway through Fort Benning.  Georgia was way behind Mississippi and Alabama.  But it was fast catching up when a husky young man got out of his pickup truck and asked, “Do you travel much?”  

I told him “a bit.”  Before I could elaborate, he handed me a wad of bills and said “put this in your pocket.”  It was eight singles, just what I need for my daily drinks, sparing stores from having to break larger bills.  Once when all I had was a ten for a cup of ice, the cashier told me I could have it for free.  The only change I had was a nickel, so I left that in the penny tray.

The Jefferson Davis Highway took me to Fitzgerald and it’s Carnegie Library on Lee Street.  It was now the Carnegie Center with Carnegie Library still over both its front and side entries.  The gallery on its first floor can be rented to host events, as has been the case in several of Georgia’s old Carnegies.  The second floor has been given over to office  space and classrooms in this still vital buildings dating to 1915.



As striking as the library and contrary to the roads named for preeminent Confederates was a mural in a courtyard behind the library.


I took a partial rest day on Memorial Day at Little Ocmulgee State Park sitting in the shade at a picnic table besides a lake reading “Doctor Pascal,” the twentieth and final volume of Zola’s Rougan-Macquort series on my iPad thanks to the Gutenberg Project. Reading the series was one of my pandemic endeavors.  It had been a long slog reading these novels mostly of despair and misery about an extended family’s struggles in 1860s France.  One of the highlights though of immersing myself in Zola was discovering the Warner Brothers film “The Life of Zola” that won the best picture Oscar in 1937.

Though it was relatively cool in the shade I took a periodic dip in the 256-acre lake at its lone beach by a dam constructed in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Signs warned of alligators, though fellow swimmers said they are usually only seen early or late in the day, also when the fishing is best.  I had the lone picnic table in the shade. After a couple of hours a family asked if they could share it.  They came with a passel of kids all under ten who went charging into the water shouting, “Let’s play.”  They tried to entice their mother in but she said, “I’m not ready to get wet.  I’m going to wait until tomorrow.”


She and her husband loaded the table with food and drink.  They took advantage of a nearby barbecue to cook up a couple plates of hot dogs and sausages, which they shared, though not their cooler of beer.  


They had yet to be vaccinated. “We’ve got lots of kin who have,” the wife said.  “We’re still considering it.”  There’d been few cases of the virus in their small county, so they didn’t feel vulnerable.   They weren’t inquisitive at all about me, probably never encountering a white man traveling by bike, and didn’t know where to begin.  I might have camped at the park, but it was easier to bike down the road to a forest I could have all to myself and not to have to fill out some paperwork and fork over $25.


No ants came visiting through the forest bed of thick pine needles.  The forest was so quiet I slept eleven hours, making up for my disjointed sleep of the night before.



Sunday, May 30, 2021

Valdosta, Georgia





If I were restricting my purchase of ice-filled self-serve drinks at service stations to only the 79 or 99 cent specials, as I’m able to do on some trips, I wouldn’t be drinking many such beverages, as those once common specials are virtually no more. Stores are no longer willing to entice customers with such bargains, or else they don’t need to with people seeming to be willing to pay anything for such drinks when the heat soars into the nineties.   Some stores don’t even post the prices of their drinks knowing that people are willing to pay anything.   

Early on I asked the cost of a 32-ouncer at one such mom-and-pop store that didn’t post their drink prices.  The woman at the register said she didn’t know, she just pressed a key on the cash register for such drinks.  I said I was hoping it might be 99 cents.  She checked the price and said it was $1.39, but that I could have it for $1.09.  I no longer ask.  I just pay whatever they’re charging, as, when the heat is ovenish, price doesn’t matter.  I sometimes just pay for a cup filled with ice, especially when one of the tap options is water that comes out ice cold.

Yesterday in the small town of Boston, I felt like I was going back in time when I saw a sign on a local service station/convenience store adverting “all fountain drinks 99 cents.”  And it got even better when one of its selections was Gatorade.  I drank some of the 32 ounces and then poured the rest into one of my insulated water bottles and headed over to the Carnegie Library where I planned to finish it off while I luxuriated in its air-conditioning and its centuries old ambiance.  


But I had to settle for the shade of one of its surrounding trees, as it was only open four days a week and for just four-and-a-half hours at a time, and not on Saturdays. There were no electric outlets, but there was a water spigot, under which I was able to douse my head and soak my shirt.

Then it was east to Valdosta on a four-lane highway for thirty-five miles just north of the Florida border to the next Carnegie.  I had to regularly dodge fragments of tires on the shoulder, each a flat-tire hazard from their tiny wire slivers that could be scattered far and wide.  Such a sliver caused my flat four days ago and caused many many more during my time in Senegal and Mali.  Blown tires were strewn everywhere there and their remnants were hard to avoid.  Every tire fragment now triggers memories of that trip in sub-Sahara Africa. I don’t entirely mind, as other than the flats, the memories are something to savor, whether all the colorful fragments of fabric I gathered or the many friendly encounters I had with the locals or the pleasure of riding along the fringe of the Sahara.

Even though I have a new rear tire, it isn’t as heavy-duty as I’d prefer.  The lone bike shop in Albany had no 700-28s. All it had were 35s, which was too wide, and 26s,  a little narrow, but acceptable.  It is a new size, a tad wider than 25, in response to the popularity of gravel bikes and their need to have a slightly wider tire than 25.  If I had been obstinate about having a 28, it was sixty miles to the nearest bike shop, a sorry testament to the status of bicycles these days.  It’d been thirty years, the shop owner said, since there’d been another bike shop in this city of 72,000, the eighth largest in the state. 

It had long ago outgrown it’s Carnegie, which now serves as the quarters for the local art council.  I’d actually visited it a year ago on my ride from Miami to New Orleans and was happy to see it again thanks to needing to come to Albany for its bike shop.


Albany also provided me with my first collectible mask.  I hadn’t seen any masks along the road other than an occasional generic blue-throwaway, much fewer than around Chicago.  My find in Albany was a bright blue Walmart mask that it’s employees wear.  I’ll be happy to add it my collection of notable masks I’ve gathered the past year.  One of the most distinguished was an Indianapolis Colts mask highlighted by its hoof emblem that I found in Bloomington last month when I visited Dwight.  I was eager to expand my collection on this trip, but so far the pickings have been slim.

Now that I’m near the Florida border an RV passed me for the first time.  I can’t say with certainty that it was the first, but it did make enough of an impression on me that I realized it could well have been the first, as my instant reaction to seeing it coming towards me was to look in its windshield to see if there was a Tour de France course marker perched on the dashboard, an indication that my subconscious has me in France, as that is how I have been conditioned to respond when I’m at The Tour, wondering if the RV, or “camper van,” as they are known in France, is a fellow Tour follower. 

It is always a joy to behold a Tour marker, whether tied to a post indicating The Tour route or as a souvenir in the front or back window of a Tour follower.  It had me smiling to have such memories stirred and made me wonder if such recollections of France are subtle urgings from The Tour to come on over.  It starts in four weeks, a week earlier than usual to accommodate riders who wish to compete in the Olympics as well as The Tour.  But France has not opened up to Americans just yet.  That is supposed to happen June 9, but that is no certainty.   With the three-week Giro (Tour of Italy) going on and wrapping up today, that too has been reminding me how nice it is to immerse one in a Grand Tour for three weeks.

The Valdosta Carnegie, as with just about all the Carnegies so far in Georgia, was boldly branded with Carnegie on its facade, though it is now the county historical society and museum.

The Carnegie in Moultrie, south of Albany, has been the lone one bereft of any Carnegie identity.  It is now a law office.  It bears a plaque identifying it as being on the National Registry of Historical Places, but did not state its heritage. 


It has been difficult to fully appreciate the Carnegies in this post-pandemic period when towns haven’t fully come back to life.  The lack of activity lends the feel of ghost town and abandonment, making the Carnegies feel unused and unappreciated. They seem to be bystanders rather than instigators, more comatose than alive as they slowly emerge from hibernation.  The libraries that are open are hardly being taken advantage of.  I’m often the lone person there.