Friday, July 10, 2020


Just as in Indiana and New York earlier in these travels, so too in Pennsylvania, the Boy Scouts of America commemorative Statue of Liberties came in a pair. Of the five Statutes scattered around Pennsylvania two were within ten miles of each other in the communities of New Castle and Ellwood City near the border with Ohio. As frequently happens with Carnegie Libraries with one town inspired to acquire one after a neighboring community has, the Statues also had that effect.

The eight-foot tall Statue of Liberty in New Castle was dedicated in 1955, four years after the one in Ellwood City.  Most were erected between 1950, the fortieth anniversary of the Scouts and the inauguration of the program, and 1952.  New Castle’s was belatedly acquired as part of a small island of a park constructed at a significant intersection along the Nashannock Creek honoring Owen Penfield Fox for “making the park program of the city a beneficent reality.”  There was no mention on the plaque, or anywhere on the monument, of it’s link to the Boy Scouts.

The Statue in Ellwood City had the standard plaque and was mounted on brick pedestal similar to that of New Castle. Even though I had seen another less than an hour before, it still brought an instant surge of delight, almost of shocked surprise of “What the hell is that doing here?” even though I had been gazing ahead searching for it hoping it was where it was supposed to be. It resided in front of the high school in a large expanse of grass.  It made me want to keep riding around Pennsylvania searching out more for that orgiastic moment of discovery.

But after three successive days of biking in temperatures pushing one hundred degrees and a solid week more in the forecast, I decided I’d had enough of cycling in a furnace and that it was time to bring this six-week, 2,500 mile ride to a close.  I would gather the remaining ten Carnegies of western Pennsylvania, mostly in and around Pittsburgh, then hop on the train.  I had many enticements luring me back to Chicago.  I had yet to experience Janina’s garden in full summer glory, always having been in France, so didn’t want to miss that opportunity.  It also felt the time to seek out fellow cyclists out in suburbia and join in on some rides with a club that I had so far neglected other than one winter meeting when a friend was a guest lecturer. 

I began the countdown of the final ten Carnegies of this trip in Butler, about thirty miles from the metropolis.  It was a bustling small city whose Carnegie had been rendered unrecognizable as an historic, centuries old building by its large addition, disposing its original entrance and whatever classic features it might have had.  I arrived after seven, well after it had closed.  An older guy with a vintage Raleigh ten-speed as a companion sat on a bench with his head buried in his phone taking advantage of the WiFi.  I asked if he knew anything of the library’s history.  He got up and was happy to point out the window that had once been the entrance.  He was well informed, but he was unaware the library had been funded by Carnegie, which he knew enough to pronounce the Scottish way—Car-NAY-gie.  

“Not everyone around here likes him because he didn’t pay his workers well,” he said.  He asked if I would be visiting the library in Braddock before I reached Pittsburgh, as that was the first he had funded.  I told him I’d seen it several years ago when I sought out the most prominent of his libraries around the city, but hadn’t had time to get to all of them, which I would be doing this time. 

He proceeded to tell me more about Butler, that it had produced the first Jeep during World War II, but didn’t have a factory that could turn out more than fifty a day, so the bulk were manufactured in Ohio.  The designer of the Brooklyn Bridge was from Butler and a Hollywood actress from the ‘30s, whose name he couldn’t remember, had lived in the house across the street. And the town was the home of the Biddly Brothers who were featured in a Hollywood film.  He went on and on, making it all the more remarkable that he didn’t know we were in the midst of a Carnegie, and that the library didn’t have his portrait or any plaque acknowledging him.

That wasn’t the case with the nine libraries awaiting me in and around Pittsburgh, as each acknowledged Carnegie in some way, often multiple times such as the affluent suburb of Oakmont with Carnegie above the original and out front of the addition. The architect of the addition made no attempt to match the peaked roof of the side of the original building around the corner from its original entrance.  

None of the Pittsburgh libraries had reopened, other than providing curbside pickups.  I regretted the opportunity for a break from the heat and the chance to see the interiors, but it was for the best if I wished to get to all nine libraries in one day and catch the midnight train to Chicago.  I knew I couldn’t take any prolonged breaks if I wished to succeed, especially with the extremely hilly terrain, not only slowing my speed but making it frustratingly impossible more often than not to make a direct route from one library to the next. 

I followed the Allegheny for a few miles one last time to the Homewood Branch, turning at the zoo along the river to head inland to the library three miles away.  The Allegheny continued for a few miles further, ending its 325-mile journey through New York and Pennsylvania to unite with the Monongahela to form the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh besides its football stadium.  As with all the Branch libraries this one was quite imposing and spacious and without addition. The not-too-clear script high above the door spelled out “Carnegie Library Homewood.”

It was a fairly straightforward two-and-a-half miles to the suburb of Edgewood and it’s Carnegie named for C.C. Mellor on Pennwood Avenue running parallel to train tracks.  It was dominated by the promotion of its curbside pickup program.  Along the way I passed a two-block long line of idling cars.  There were no Golden Arches ahead so I knew it was a virus-testing line leading up to a large RV and a cluster of nurses administering the test.

The Swissvale Carnegie was even less of a jaunt, though it required a circuitous route. It was a suburban library, not a branch of Pittsburgh’s system, but it was a clone of the Homewood Branch, other than being identified as a “Carnegie Free Library.”

After two short hops between libraries I had a long haul to the next, including a detour that was longer than either of those hops.  The detour sign came just after a fire station, so I asked about the detour at the station and if I might be able to get through and need not make the detour. Neither of the two guys on duty knew, but they didn’t discourage me from trying. They hadn’t seen it lately, as a mile away the road was blocked by a high fence that there was no getting around. At least the detour led me down a nice boulevard, Forbes, with a bike lane, the only one I was to enjoy in all my meandering around the city.

After nearly an hour I reached the boarded-up Hazelwood Branch.  The homes across the street in the quiet residential neighborhood didn’t look much healthier than the library.

I kept hoping to come upon a 7/Eleven and a 49 cent Big Gulp.  It was mid-afternoon and I hadn’t had ice in my water bottle all day. The thermometer on my Garmin had been over one hundred for hours.  It didn’t seem as scorching as out in the countryside with buildings providing shade and opportunity to escape the sun whenever I chose.  

I had stopped at a couple of gas stations over the hours hoping for a soft drink machine dispensing Gatorade and ice, but had had no luck.  I finally came upon one after I crossed the Monongahela.  Ice cold fluid down my throat radiating back to the surface brought instant bliss.  I didn’t care the price, I was happy to pay it.  

I thought I was going to have an easy ride to the Mount Washington Branch on Grandview, but it necessitated a two-mile steep climb that went on and on through a forest to reach the Mount.  This was totally unanticipated.  It did give a spectacular view of the city. 

There was a viewpoint right across from the Carnegie, fenced in and under renovation.  I was caught by a downpour on the climb.  The temperature dropped twenty-five degrees and stayed there the rest of the day.  It was beginning to cool anyway with the hour approaching six.  

It was so tricky connecting to the West End Branch that I had to unload my bike and lift it over two barricades to escape the highway I found myself on.  It was the only Carnegie of the day with columns and a classic small town temple style. It adjoined  a park that a pack of teens was walking through and by my parked bike.  “What’s all that stuff on your bike,” a girl asked.  Before I could answer another asked, “Does it make it go slow?”   As they kept walking a boy chimed in, “How much horse power does it have?”

I was able to get to a road along the river and to a bridge with a wide sidewalk I had seen bikes taking.  I had a final two Carnegies within eight miles and could then head to the Amtrak station.  I had yet to buy my ticket, to make sure I could complete this mission, and also because when I had tried earlier on line I couldn’t determine if the train offered bike space allowing me to roll it on or if I’d have to box it.

Less than two miles from downtown was a Carnegie that had been converted to a mosque.  I’d been to Carnegies that had become churches but never a mosque.  It was at the summit of a climb and gave no indication of being a mosque other than the vinyl sign covering the Carnegie Library inscription.  It was too much to hope that a service might being conducted or even that the building would be open at this late hour to see its transformation.  Of all the libraries I didn’t get into on this trip, this one was probably the most disappointing.

It was no easy ride the three miles to the final Carnegie of the day and the past month-and-a-half with a few hills to contend with and a hodgepodge of roads to navigate.  The final stretch was down a steep residential street.  Pittsburgh was vying with San Francisco for the most climbing of any Carnegie town.  My altimeter recorded over 4,000 feet of climbing for the day, the most of the trip.  The Lawrenceville Branch was another mammoth building that had needed no addition.  It had a little more decorative stone and brick work around its entry than any of the others.

I at last had a direct and flat route to my next and ultimate destination.  Liberty Avenue took me straight to the Amtrak Station.  I arrived with four hours to spare.  But I couldn’t put my legs up just yet.  The station’s computers were down so the agent couldn’t sell me a ticket.  Nor did it have WiFi so I had to go to a Starbucks a couple blocks away.  It was closed but there was some WiFi from a nearby source with a strong enough signal that I could use my iPad phone to call Amtrak.  All was going well with the animated system until it couldn’t decipher my name.  An agent came to the rescue and with the great news that I could roll on my bike.  

The only issue came when I received the email confirmation of my ticket and it misspelled my last name “ianson”  rather than “ensen,” missing on two counts.  There had been a warning to make sure the name on one’s ticket matched one’s identification.  But no worries, as no one ever looked at my ticket, either to board the train or once I took my seat.  

I expected a seat to myself, but that was no guarantee.  Masks were required at all times, but capacity was not being limited to one person per seat.  I could well end up sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with another for ten hours.  It wasn’t so full to require that.  I had a seat to myself, as did everyone who seemed to be traveling along.  The train left right on time, a minute to midnight.  Within moments I was in a deep sleep laying on my sleeping pad on the floor behind my seat at the rear of the car.  

And thus ends my Corona Virus Tour.  With seventy-eight Carnegies, fifty-three in Ohio, ten in New York and fifteen in Pennsylvania, it was my second largest haul ever, only exceeded by the eighty-three in California and Arizona a year ago.  But there had been no Statue of Liberties on that trip, with but one in California and out of my way.  The six on this trip gives a combined total of eighty-four libraries and Statues, a new record.  

I may be headed home, but I’m not done with my tent, as it will be my abode for the  next two weeks in Janina’s back yard as I undergo a modified quarantine.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Grove City, PA

That four-hour post-hot cakes nap on Friday turned out not to be enough. I was still feeling so run-down that evening when I come upon a motel, rather than continuing on for a forest, I seized upon it, the first of these travels, and proceeded to sleep for nearly thirty-six hours straight.  I presumed it to simply be a case of extreme exhaustion as I didn’t have an elevated temperature or nausea or diarrhea or loss of smell or taste, what I understood the symptoms of the corona virus to be, just the loss of hunger.  

I should have been starving, but had no desire to eat and had to force down a spoonful of peanut butter from time to time and bite of banana.   I had been negligent in not taking a single rest day in nearly forty days of cycling, considering a fifty-mile day a respite of a sort, and was finally paying the price.  Or maybe it was Tour de France withdrawal.  The day would have been the start of week two of The Tour and it’s foray into the Pyrenees.  It had been the focus of my July for years, even before I started riding it in 2004 and I was missing it.

When I mustered the energy to go fetch the motel’s meager complimentary breakfast, a paper bag with a cup of juice, a cup of yogurt and a granola bar, I was startled to hear just behind me a loud thunk and then a thud.  I turned to see a young woman with a low-cut blouse, and what the French would admiringly call “a full balcony,” laying crumbled on the floor with a hulk of a guy hovering over her. “Holy shit,” I thought. “An actual assault right here in the lobby.  The world truly is in a downward spiral.”  The woman who had just handed me my breakfast screamed, “Get out.  I’m calling the police.”  The young woman moaned, “That’s okay.  My parents are coming to get me.”

That further inclined me to avoid turning on the television and it’s window into the chaos of current affairs. I still felt exhausted after my thirty-six hour marathon and slept most of the next day too, just taking time to do some much-needed wash and repair a broken pannier and find microscopic punctures in two tubes and eat some potato salad and hummus and apple sauce.  Three nights in a motel was enough, though I wasn’t sure if my body could use more down-time.  

I felt instantly rejuvenated when I began pedaling and knew I’d made the correct decision. The legs were full of pep. The northwest corner of Pennsylvania continued to provide superlative cycling on lightly traveled roads through thick forests and small towns with lots of Trump signs.  The bicycle is the curative force.  It was forty-two miles to the next Carnegie in Oil City, founded in the 1860s when oil was discovered nearby and it became the center of oil production in the country.  It’s Carnegie, built in 1902, was as opulent as a boomtown Opera House with an abundance of ornamentation and extra columns flanking windows rather than the entry, a genuine stunner of a building.

It was my good fortune to have my arrival delayed by my spell of Rip Van Winkel time as I arrived on the day when it reopened.  There were “Welcome back” signs plastered all over the library.  The interior had been fully modernized to match the large addition to its backside, so whatever ostentation may have graced it was long gone.  There were much fewer than the maximum of ten visitors allowed at a time, so the thirty minute maximum stay wasn’t being enforced.  It was my first opportunity to linger and relax in a library in weeks.  It hardly mattered that it didn’t have the intimate warmth of a Carnegie nor the glow of a Carnegie portrait to sit under.  A further bonus was a drinking fountain with ultra-cold water, just what I needed to fill my bottles before camping in less than an hour.

A respectable gent was sitting on a bench beside my bike when I exited, interested in my travels.  His daughter was a lawyer in Chicago.  He recommended a bike bath along the Allegheny that would take me to Franklin seven miles away, sparing me a four-lane highway.  It was popular with joggers in the evening hour.  There were relic oil wells here and there.  

Rather than continuing to Franklin I was able to disappear into the forest halfway there not far from another well. I could hear an occasional vessel on the river but the dominant sound were deer snorting not too distant.

It was a couple mile steep out of Franklin away from the river and quite a bit more climbing before reaching Grove City thirty miles away and the next Carnegie on the campus of Grove City College founded in 1876 with the Carnegie added in 1900.  It was now the Alumni Center though it was still engraved with Carnegie Music Hall.  The modern town library was just a block away and had reopened the day before.  As in Oil City it was only allowing stays of thirty minutes.  I was handed a timer when I arrived though I was able to prolong my stay as half an hour was hardly enough time to recover from hours in the ninety degree heat.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Corry PA

While Chris was one hundred and fifty miles northeast enjoying the much-hyped Finger Lakes of central New York, I was enjoying the perfectly fine Kinzus Beach at the confluence of the Allegheny River and Kinzu Creek across the border into Pennsylvania. It was a lake thanks to the Kinzu Dam three miles down river. It was a perfect day for the first swim of these travels with the temperature reaching 90 for the first time since I set out over five weeks ago.

I had to make do with the refreshing water of the lake to cool me as the rest rooms and drinking fountain were not operating.  But I was rescued by a young man from Toledo traveling with his wife and two children who had water to spare.  I had to step daintily on the pebbles into the
lake, as there was no sand, not even in the lake.  It had actually been given a concrete base that was slimy and slick.  The beach came at about the half way point of a fifty-mile stretch between Carnegies in Bradford and Corry, through the Allegency State Forest.  It could have been state forests of the west, particularly with a steep two-mike climb up to a somewhat cool 2,200 foot plateau.  

It was backcountry cycling with long stretches between amenities.  I stopped at an antique store with a sign saying everything sixty per cent off hoping it might have some cold drinks.  No luck, but I could at least sit on the porch in the shade on a bench from a one-room schoolhouse.  The proprietor, an older woman who’d started the business in 1967 and was trying to sell it, joined me.  She apologized for not wearing a mask, saying it was too hot and if we kept our distance we’d been fine.  There’d only been fifteen cases of the virus in the county so she felt save.

My final miles in New York had been equally rustic and western, providing deluxe forest camping.  I pitched my tent near a lagoon.  The mosquitoes weren’t a factor but the frogs croaked all night, finally letting up with the dawn.  A couple ticks found there way into the tent.  I had been spared them with Chris,  as he is a tick-magnet, finding a few nearly every night.  One attached himself to the back of my arm.  I had to wait until I found a restroom mirror to grab him with my tweezers.  When I opened my shirt a giant one was crawling on the front side of my arm, easily flicked away.

My final Carnegie in New York, in Salamanca, was vacant and on its way to being a ruin.  It was vacated in 1967, replaced by a featureless building that had been a grocery store. The books had been transported in a large community effort by a battalion of shopping carts the mile from the old library to the new including crossing over the Allegheny River.  It may be the only Carnegie on an Indian Reservation.  About twenty per cent Salamanca’s six thousand residents are Native American.  Everyone rents from the tribe, including the library.

The new library had a sign saying it was open from eleven to one and three to seven.  I arrived at 2:30.  I was down to fifteen per cent on my iPad, so was in need of at least an hour of charging, preferably two.  I sought out the Carnegie and some chocolate milk at the Sav-A-Lot and got back to the library shortly after it reopened.  All the chairs were upside down on the tables and the librarian said there was no lingering, a bust.  

At least the local MacDonald’s had indoor dining, she said, and I should be able to charge there. That was a success, but I learned from Joel the next day that was my last chance to sit inside at a MacDonald’s, as it’s restaurants were going to withdraw dining in for at least three weeks, a big bummer especially with it getting hot. So it may be Burger King henceforth, if it doesn’t follow suit.  I much prefer Macdonald’s, as it is a Chicago-based company, while Burger King is Canadien joining up with Tim Horton in 2014.  Plus MacDonald’s has better WiFi and a cheaper chicken sandwich, though the same four hundred calories.  My favor for Macdonald’s was rewarded a few days ago when I found a MacDonald’s credit card along the road with fifteen dollars on it—two weeks worth of McChickens. 

The Carnegie in Franklinville, still in New York preceding the one in Salamanca, bore the name of Blount, but had all the dignity of a Carnegie.  It was only offering curbside pickup at its rear addition.

The first Carnegie back in Pennsylvania in Bradford, gloriously identified itself as a Carnegie Public  Library and Free to All in bold large letters.  It had been turned into a restaurant and was adorned with two large flags.

Corry too fifty miles west had transformed its Carnegie into a restaurant.  It was hopping with activity when I arrived in the early evening.

It was more of a diner than Bradford’s with people on the porch and inside among the stacks of books. Yesterday’s heat and climbing had sapped my energy.  I took a break in the shade under a tree and slept for four hours, something I don’t ever recall doing. I was across the street from a convenience store and thought someone might come over and check and me, but evidently my bike and the tree shielded me. A stack of hot cakes was partially to blame for my lethargy, a much needed hearty meal.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Olean, New York

With the Fourth of July imminent I’m not sure if I want to be in rural New York for the occasion.  In one community after another vendors of fireworks have set up tents selling their merchandise with the enticement of “Buy one, get one free.”  I’ve already heard quite a few being tested.  Chris and I were barraged by what we thought was a series of gun shots our first night together, but were actually fireworks.

I had somewhat set a goal of cycling around New York until I found a license plate, hoping I would succeed while I picked off the fourteen Carnegies in the western end of the state.  I have just two remaining and have yet to find one.  I would like to drop down to Pennsylvania after the final Carnegie in this part of the state and start in on the sixteen Carnegies in its west including six branches in Pittsburgh that I didn’t have time for on a previous visit.  I may just have to forego that New York license plate as it would be over one hundred miles across the bottom of the state to the next Carnegie in Elmira.

Along with all the fireworks for sale is a lot of firewood.  There are regular stands along the road with bundles going for three or four or five dollars, all on the honor system.  The town of Alfred had an honor system cabinet full of books and clothes and knick knacks.  At first I thought it was a mini-version of Telluride’s legendary Free Box, but It was accompanied by an explanation that it was a fundraiser for homeless cats and dogs started in 1973.

An even larger cabinet solely of books outside the Carnegie in Hornell was a version of a Little Free Library.  It didn’t want books in exchange or even books returned.  It was primarily filled with books discarded from the library.  Two little girls were avidly perusing what it had to offer, as the library behind wasn’t open.  

I caught the director of the library leaving and asked where the addition to the library began as the bricks were so evenly matched.  She pointed it out and said it was done thirty years ago and increased the size of the library by 2,000 square feet from 600.  She confirmed that Carnegie’s portrait was on display,  but offered no invitation to give it a peek.  Not a single librarian has been willing to give me a quick look at their closed library even with a neckerchief around my face, or maybe because of it.

The Hornell Carnegie was the only one in a series of six that did not have a Main Street address.  It was on Genesee, a Seneca word meaning “beautiful valley.”  I’ve been cycling through a series of them, some separated by strenuous climbs of a mile or more.  There are two Seneca reservations in the area.  Chris and I passed through one along the coast before Buffalo with the usual casino.

The small town of Perry felt no more inclined to open its Carnegie than Hornell.  It had a long gentle ramp added to its side leading to the front entry, which was barred by yellow tape leaving no doubt that it was closed

The former Carnegie Library on the campus of Alfred University was on the fringe of the campus on Main Street.  It retained the Carnegie name as Carnegie Hall and was now an administration building.  The long building was distinguished by a gorgeous set of interlocking bricks and hadn’t been added on to. The campus had a ceramics museum to go along with a ceramics major.  

I had a long, steep climb over a high ridge to another beautiful valley and the small town of Andover and it’s Carnegie.  There was a small park across the street with several benches including two under cover with a nearby electric socket.  I would have sat on the steps of the library for at least a few minutes but one needed a password for its WiFi even though signs advertised that its WiFi was available. If I had been desperate for WiFi I would have ducked into the post office or the nearby shops asking if anyone knew the password.  That would have been a fun exercise.

It was another pretty ride through forested terrain to Bolivar and it’s Carnegie.  My eyes caught the word “Open” on a sign out front on the sidewalk and I had a quick surge of hope until I read the rest of the sign—“for curbside pickups.”  It’s WiFi demanded a password too.  A sign on the door said to ring the bell for pickups.  I rang it and asked the librarian for the password—bolivarlib.  She verified that Carnegie’s portrait was on display and that the library hadn’t had an addition in its 110 years.  It was identified by simply “Library” over the door flanked by a nineteen and a ten.  A National Register of Historic Places plaque was to the right of the door. 

 Out front was a stack of saltine crackers with a sign reading “Free, take what you need.”  No one came by while I was there.  

The Carnegie in Olean, a much larger city, was in the very center of the city next to an equally grand post office beside a large roundabout.  The library was now “The Old Library Restaurant.”  Even though it had a dozen tables out front in a lovely garden setting, it wasn’t open.  Next door to the restaurant was a Bed and Breakfast seemingly affiliated with it bearing the name of the Library Inn.  

I’ve come upon at least two other Carnegies converted to restaurants, one in Denver and another in a small town north of Indianapolis.  And if Wikipedia is to be trusted I have two more to come in Pennsylvania.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see the bookish natures of their interiors.

This part of New York is the domain of 7/11s.  I am happy for each, not only as a reminder of their sponsorship of a Tour de France team in the ‘80s, but because they are offering Big Gulps for the unbeatable price of 49 cents.  The weather doesn’t overly demand them, as it’s been refreshingly mild, hovering around 80, but a 32-ounce cup of flavored fluid with as much ice as one wants at that price is hard to resist.  Along with the sodas on tap, they have Powerade, but just the standard blue-colored one, unfortunately not the mango that Circle K has on tap.  I won’t mind at all paying the Circle K price of 69 cents when I return to Pennsylvania.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Warsaw, New York

The first set of Carnegies in New York as we biked along Lake Erie came in pairs, two south of Buffalo and two north.  There were just forty-four constructed around the state, four of which are no more, but a great bounty of sixty-six in the five boroughs of New York City with all but eight remaining, making New York one of six states to have had more than one hundred along with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio and California. I was starting virtually from scratch with New York, as I’d only been to two, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, while I’d been to virtually all of the others in the century club.

The first on our route along thickly forested Lake Erie came in Dunkirk forty miles south of Buffalo.  It still served as a library though it wasn’t allowing anyone to use it in these times.  It was more on the grand scale, dating to 1904, early in Carnegie’s library-giving when that was the trend. Not being able to soak up the typically luscious wooden interiors of these century old libraries is becoming more and more of a letdown.

Our ride north continued to give us glimpses of the lake and it’s rugged shoreline.  Beaches were few and paltry.  The beach at the Erie State Park was closed due to high waters.  The only one we spotted further on was just a sliver and more rocky than sandy.  Before we reached the next Carnegie in Lackawanna, just south of Buffalo, Chris suffered the first of four flat tires on the day, all on his well-worn rear tire.  

After another at the Lackawanna library we knew it was time to find a bike shop.  The Lackawanna Carnegie had reopened on a limited basis, but unfortunately our Friday afternoon visit was at a time it was closed.  It was nestled in a pleasant green space with room for a small addition to its rear.  If we had gone in and lingered, we would have been extra perturbed to come out to a flat tire.  Instead, Chris realized it right away after we had circled the building finding a water faucet, but not an electric outlet.  

It was three miles to the nearest bike shop on the south side of Buffalo.  It had only been in business two years and wasn’t carrying any of the better brands of tires.  They recommended Rick’s Bike Shop on the north side of the city six miles away.  Chris bought a tube, which he needed two miles later when he punctured the tube I loaned him.  It started as a slow leak but after the second time we stopped to in inflate it, it went entirely flat. We were getting a little worried about making it to the shop before it closed at six.  But that was the last flat of the day, so we made it with thirty minutes to spare.  

We instantly knew Rick’s was the place, as there were dozen of tires hanging from the ceiling and rows of bikes and a couple boxes of old bike parts on a bench by the counter.  Rick’s is an institution, founded in 1898,  the second oldest bike shop in the country.  This wasn’t its original location, but it still reeked of history and had a staff of bike diehards who were most welcoming.  We were lucky to have had all those flats to bring us here, just as we were lucky for the flat that led to us camping with Andrew.

The shop didn’t have a Schwable in Chris’ size that we were hoping for, as the one on his front wheel still had plenty of wear remaining even after 9,000 miles, but it had the heavy duty Vittoria Radonneur I had purchased in Columbus.  And it also had a first-rate Topeak mini-pump, much better than the mini Chris had been struggling with.  It took so much effort we had been using my pump for the six flats he’d had the past two days.

Even though the shop was bulging with bikes, it had only two new ones for sale, as all the rest were repairs, along with a handful of used bikes.  It’s stock was depleted because they are selling bikes fast and unable to buy new ones with production slowed down in China and Taiwan, where most bikes are manufactured these days.  They started the year with 200 used bikes in their basement and only had about a dozen left.  They are continually monitoring Craig’s List and other internet outlets for bikes, but they are usually gobbled up as soon as they are posted.  

We asked about the possibility of camping in any of the state parks north of the city.  No one knew of any that offered camping or even forested areas for stealth camping.  All advised us to be careful, as bad dudes might get us or cops on the alert for undesirables.  They clearly didn’t have a touring cyclist’s mentality, as Chris found a fabulous forested area with his various google map searches fifteen miles away.  

But first we stopped at the Carnegie in North Tonawanda, now the Carnegie Arts Center.  It was a modest design, set in a residential neighborhood with an expanse of grass around it.  Back on the four-lane road along Lake Erie a guy in a pickup somewhat gruffly told us there was a bike path on the other side of the road.  We gratefully thanked him, but he still called us “assholes.”

Along with doing all the navigation finding bike amenable streets and roads with little traffic, Chris also monitors the weather.  It was supposed to start raining at two a.m. and continue most of the next day.  The guys at the bike shop said not to trust any weather forecast for the area, as the wind patterns fluctuate over the nearby lakes Erie and Ontario, making predicting the weather impossible.  Still, we made a point of pitching our tents on high ground.  The rain did come at two, but it was just a light rain and stopped at 7:30, our usual departure time.

It was ten miles to Niagara Falls, the town and the cataract, where another Carnegie awaited us.  The Falls came first.  A sprawling state park connects a pair of falls, the lesser American Falls and the mighty Niagara.  We were happy to be on our bikes as there was a lot of distance to cover in the park.  If it weren’t for the virus it would have been mobbed, so we could easily navigate the paths on our bikes.  The few visitors were mostly foreigners, though no Chinese.

A hearty wind blew the spray of the cascading water at us.  The best vantage is from Canada, but with the border closed, we had to settle for what we had.  The closed border also denied us a Carnegie Library in Canada’s town of Niagara Falls as well as a hundred others in Ontario.  I had hoped to return to Chicago via Ontario, and Chris too wanted to continue on through Canada, but there are no plans to open the border until at least the middle of July.  

The Carnegie in the US town of Niagara Falls was just a mile away on Main Street.  It stood alone in silent majesty with no other buildings nearby.  It was now the Department of Community Development.  It was large enough to serve the community as a library until 1995 without any alteration.

The building’s heritage was acknowledged with a portrait of a smiling Carnegie out front, using the word “great” to describe him. His official portrait and all others convey a similar gentle look of contentment.  The caption exaggerated the number of libraries he built in the US, giving a figure of 2,500, which is the number he funded worldwide. 

In a small park by the bridge connecting the US and Canada we were delighted to discover one of those Strengthen the Arm of Liberty replica Statue of Liberties that the Boy Scouts made available to communities in 1950. It was the first I’d come upon with a golden torch.  I had neglected to check to see where they might be in Pennsylvania and New York after starting my trip with two in Indiana.  There being none in Ohio, I had forgotten about them.  

While Chris and I had the rare opportunity to eat in a restaurant at a Burger King a couple blocks from the Carnegie, I checked Wikipedia for other mini-Statue of Liberties   in the state of the original.  There were five more, including one in Le Roy fifty miles away near the next cluster of Carnegies.  Great News. And two more in western Pennsylvania also on my route.

I wouldn’t be enjoying them with Chris as he was heading north to Maine along Lake Ontario while I would drop South a bit and head East.  We’d had a fabulous eight days together, as fine a companion as I’ve had, of which there’re been many, from the great Aussies Vincent and Sydney to Ingo the German, and Don Jaime and Janina and Waydell and Crissy and Laurie and Craig and Tomas and David in Turkey, Dwight in Cuba, Stephen in China and many more. It was a great pleasure to be recalling them all as I rode with Chris.   

Chris was exceptional in being happy to spend as many hours a day riding as he could with early starts and late finishes and enjoyed striking up conversations with people we met along the way and had plenty to say himself.  He was always in a good mood, as anyone should be on the bike.  Hopefully he has many tours to come, though he has professional talents that will be hard not to put to use.

It was very tempting to continue on to Maine and it’s eighteen Carnegies with Chris, but my jaw needed a break from our near non-stop talk.  It was almost becoming too sore to eat at day’s end. We could well meet up again in a couple of months in Michigan or Minnesota if I’m not out in Telluride or somewhere else in the world in the years to come.

I bequeathed him a black bandanna, a badge akin to a Boy Scout earning his Eagle Scout neckerchief.  I told him he could use it to wipe clean the Tupperware bowl he had acquired a couple days ago to join the ramen cold water club and also to emulate my eating of cereal and chocolate milk.

The Statue of Liberty in Le Roy was along Oatka Creek across from the library.  It was the first I’ve come upon without a plaque identifying its origins.  While I lingered a parade of fifty or more cars passed with the graduates of the local high school.  They were led by a squadron of five fire trucks with sirens blazing.  Graduates have been celebrated in many towns I’ve passed through with their photos on small posters mounted in front of their homes or lining a few blocks of the town center or hung from lamp posts.  It could be virus-related since they’ve been denied the typical graduation ceremony.  

The Carnegie in Warsaw twenty miles south through a belt of corn fields and more forest was swallowed in trees.  I had to look close at the slightly different colored bricks to notice the addition to its side and rear.  The most obvious evidence of the addition was the street level entrance through a single glass door on the side.  The double front door had a sign reading “The library is closed until further notice.”  Curbside pickups had started a month ago.

The Warsaw MacDonald’s was the first I had come to since Youngstown with coins scattered by the pay and pickup windows, including quite a few silver coins, among them a quarter, my third of the day. The few drive-up lanes at various franchises I had checked since then had all been bereft of coins. I was beginning to think the handfuls of coins I gathered in Youngstown had been an aberration and that there was no need to continue this study.  So now it is back on.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Lake Erie State Park, New York

My final stretch of Carnegies in Ohio came along Lake Erie east of Cleveland beginning in Willoughby, the first of the last five that would complete this quest to get to all of Ohio’s 103 still standing Carnegies. We biked right past it, as it had been greatly altered and was unrecognizable as a Carnegie or even a library.  It’s original entrance facing a grassy square with a cannon had been turned into a window.  The other larger windows of the red-bricked building were laced with narrow cross-pieces giving it the resemblance of a penitentiary.  It’s new entrance was behind the building through a large addition adjoining a vast parking lot.

We were way early for its opening at 11:30.  We were ready for a break so plopped down on a bench by the entrance.  We had just settled in when an older guy came by and asked about our travels, then told us he had hitchhiked around the country in 1969 for three months with a fifty-pound backpack right after he graduated from high school and before his induction into the army.  He said he had a great time getting picked up by all sorts of amazing people.  “Things were way better back then than they are now,” he said.  “You couldn’t do anything like that these days.  It was the era of the hippies and the Beatles.”  Then he turned to Chris and asked if he’d heard of the Beatles.

He was barely started.  On and on he went.  There was no stopping him.  He said he was a retired cop and postal worker and that the world was in the biggest mess ever, but if we thought it was bad now, it would be nothing compared to how it would be “if Sleepy Joe got elected.”

“At least we don’t have to worry about that commie Bernie Sanders,” I said.  He didn’t take my bait, but instead expressed concern for Chris, wanting to know how much money Chris had been earning before he lost his job and if he had enough to get by. Instead of complaining that he didn’t get a $1,200 check from Trump because he earned more than the dividing point, he told him he’d been given a severance package of three months pay, so was fine.  The guy offered anyway to take us to lunch, so happy he was for an audience, but we declined as we had four more Carnegies to get to, and probably would have even if we didn’t.

The next in Geneva was almost as nondescript as the one in Willoughby and was another disappointment.  It wasn’t much more than a red brick cell block only enhanced by its light fixtures and the large windows.  It had recently transitioned from the town’s library to it’s historical society.

As I took a photo of the next Carnegie in Geneva an older guy passing by exclaimed, “You don’t want to take a picture of that.  I hate that place.  I liked it as a library, but not anymore.”  It was now a court house, which he evidently had appeared in.  Unlike the previous two it conveyed some majesty with columns and high ceilings and steps leading to its entrance and a plaque, though not related to the library but to some local who developed a system of handwriting. 

Although these towns were all along Lake Erie, they were set inland enough that we only occasionally could catch a glimpse of its inviting turquoise waters.  When we approached the Carnegie in Ashtabula in a vast park we could celebrate at last a Carnegie of stature.  The library was in fine form with a large addition but the city was in some decline with rooms at a nearby motel going for $119 a week.  “That’s about what I was paying per day for my last apartment,” Chris commented.  

The library was open through the new entrance in the addition behind it.   Masks were required and sitting and lingering not permitted.  The library had suffered a fire in the late 1990s before the addition, causing considerable damage including the portrait of Carnegie.

Then it was on to the final Carnegie of this quest in Conneaut three miles before the border with Pennsylvania.  It would have been a stunner in its day, but had clearly fallen on hard times.  It was tattered and decayed, but still retained a great majesty and grace.  A dreary “No Trespassing” sign on its door was a shameful indignity.  This great relic desperately needed to be restored.  It’s stripped interior gave hope that might be in the works.

We were able to celebrate and gaze upon it a little longer from a MacDonald’s across the street, the first we’d been to that had indoor seating, though very minimally with just three tables with signs saying they were available  Ten minutes after we sat down we were politely told the walk-in service was closing, as it was seven p.m. and we’d have to leave.  Chris was just finishing his ice cream cone and I was happy to save the rest of my McChicken for dinner in my tent.  

We had our eyes set on a vast green patch on our GPS identified as State Game Land abutting the lake.  We were hoping to camp overlooking the lake with the sound of lapping waves.  We were able to follow a path right to a cliff overlooking the lake but it was too visible for camping nor could we find any other site, so we headed down a gravel road back into the forest.  

We saw a clearing that looked promising but a car was parked there and a dog came charging at us.  The owner, a gruff, disheveled guy, called him off.  They were just leaving, so we pedaled back down the road a bit and thought we’d return after they cleared out.  We paused along the road pretending to look at Chris’ phone.  The guy pulled up and said, “It doesn’t look like you boys are from around here.  Are you lookin’ for a place to camp?”  He was a sinister, somewhat  threatening “Deliverance” character, not friendly or helpful at all.  We didn’t like his tone nor his look, so said we were looking at our map for a hotel.  He was smart enough to know that was a bunch of hokum, but offered no suggestions and went on his way, hopefully for good.  

We returned to the clearing and an overgrown Jeep trail into the woods.  It was a little too soggy for us so we retreated to the road and as we did the guy drove slowly past us again.  I kept my head bowed but Chris said he stared him straight in the eye. There was plenty of other forest to disappear into.  We just hoped the dog hadn’t caught a scent of us and might be able to track us down. After we got deep into the forest a quarter mile away and had our tents set up we could hear the sound of a barking dog.  Chris hadn’t seen “Deliverance,” so if there had been the sound of a banjo he wouldn’t have been further creeped out.   The barking dog was unsettling enough, but it didn’t come any closer.  It soon gave up, allowing us another fine night in the forest.  

We had a long stretch along the coast through Pennsylvania and into New York before the next Carnegie.  Our only library for the day was on the outskirts of the large city of Erie, PA, one of its branches.  We were enticed by a large banner mounted on posts along the road advertising free WiFi.  Even better than the WiFi was the most electrical outlets we had ever seen dotted around the outside of a library.  We were as delighted as a mushroomer coming about a huge patch of chanterelles.  

We each took a socket on either side of the front door.  Before we had a chance to sit down and connect to the WiFi a masked librarian came out and said we were welcome to use the WiFi but she had to call and see what the library system’s policy was on using its outdoor sockets.  “If the library was open,” she said, “you’d be welcome to come in and use the electricity, so maybe it would be okay.”  

All was well though once we engaged Colleen in conversation, and she learned of our travels.  We talked enthusiastically for nearly half an hour, charging all the while, interrupted every few minutes when someone drove up to pick up or drop off books.  She told us she had taken a course in college on bicycling taught by a woman who had biked coast-to-coast.  What she most remembered of the woman’s ride was that she ate heaps of pancakes and had clean clothes shipped to her at points on her route a week apart.

I wanted to applaud a college with a course on cycling.  She said it was a small religious college outside of Philadelphia.  She was there in the mid-‘90s and was a Swedenbourgian.  I told her there was a small Swedenbourgian community where I grew up in Glenview.  She knew it, the second Glenview connection of the week.  

She told us of a local woman who had written an article for the “Erie Reader” on visiting libraries in the area, then went in and got us a couple samples of the bi-weekly, though not of that story as it was from last November, which I was able to find on line looking up articles by Liz Allen in the paper.  It included the mention of a Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh.  She also sent us off with several patches promoting the library.  Our only wish for her was that we hoped we might inspire her to ride her bike to work.  We were certain that if she did it once she’d want to do it all the time.

We fell six miles short of reaching the Carnegie in Dunkirk, partially because Chris had a flat tire and then another half a mile down the road when the patch didn’t hold on his thorn-resistant tube.  While he was engaged in the first repair a touring cyclist came by, the first I’d seen in a month on the road.  He was on a little less than three hundred mile ride from Cleveland to Buffalo for his father’s retirement party, who didn’t know he would be arriving by bike.  He had a campsite reserved in the Lake Erie State Park thirty miles up the road.  We thought we might stay there too but hadn’t gotten a site yet and asked if we could share his.  

He’s a Warmshowers host, so naturally said yes.  We arrived at 6:15 half an hour after him.  It was the earliest we had stopped to camp by over an hour in the week we’ve been together.  Chris likes to ride late to minimize the chance of being spotted.  Our host Andrew was a lawyer and hadn’t had the time for any epic trips, but had spent two weeks bicycling Iceland last year.  He had actually been to Iceland twice as there was a super cheap fare from Cleveland.

He muttered an “Ugh” when I mentioned I was surprised to learn Columbus was more populous than Cleveland. “That’s just a technicality,” he said.  

Chris and I had seen a spurt of Biden signs after seeing none until the day before.  Andrew said he had been making a survey of Trump versus Biden signs on his ride and it had been three to one Trump, but that could mean anything.

He was as ardent a Buffalo Bills fan as cyclist, a season ticket-holder who makes the three-and-a-half drive to Buffalo, where he grew up, for every game. He’s greatly anticipating this year with Tom Brady out of the division.  It looks to be the best Bills team since their Super Bowl team of 1999.  He attended that Super Bowl in Jacksonville, though he didn’t bike there as I did to New Orleans in 1986 for the Bears Super Bowl, perhaps my most audacious ride leaving Chicago with the temperature 14 degrees and eleven days to bike 900 miles with it getting dark by five each night.

It was nice to be able to talk some sports even though there is no sports going on.  Chris and Andrew were happy to learn they are both on Strava so they call follow each other’s rides.  Andrew is in competition with a group to see who can ride the most miles.  He was in the lead even before this trip, so he’s jumping way ahead.  His mileage will continue to improve now that he can start going in to work again and make the fifteen mile round trip commute on his bike.  He couldn’t have been happier to be off on his bike, just like Chris and I.