Thursday, September 30, 2010

1970's Relic VW

The 1971 VW I just drove from New Mexico to South Carolina, launching this bike trip.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shelbyville, Kentucky

Friends: Shelbyville is another of a series of agreeably-sized Kentucky towns with enough of an allure to make me wish to settle in for a few weeks. I've been reading Jonathon Raban's quite good "Hunting Mister Heartbreak," one of a series of travel books this former English professor of literature has written on America. He spent a couple of months in several America cities while writing this book trying to understand the immigrant experience. He spent time in Manhattan, Seattle, the Florida Keys and Guntersville, Alabama, where he acquired a dog and joined the Optimist's Club to fully fit in.

Shelbyville is dotted with historical markers as well as a plaque designating itself a "Preserve America City." Its historic district includes a Carnegie library built in 1903. It was greatly expanded in 1997, but without diminishing its grandeur. The librarian said, "We are quite proud to be one of the few Carnegie libraries in Kentucky still serving as a library." It was built on the site of a former church that had burned down.

The other two Carnegies I've visited in Kentucky have been replaced by much larger county libraries, though the originals still stand. The Carnegie in Lawrenceburg is now the Anderson County History Museum and the Carnegie in Somerset now serves as a Community Arts Center. The Somerset Carnegie only recently gave up its life as a library. Its still retains its book drop in the back of the building.

The four-lane wide highway 27 I was traveling on by-passed the old-business district of Somerset. I was happy to slip off it to search out the old Carnegie after passing the sign to the new library on the outskirts of the now sprawling city. It was a pleasant one-mile winding road, a much-needed antidote to the main highway. When I reached the downtown plaza and looked around, I immediately recognized the Carnegie with its regal six pillars a block away. As every Carnegie, it radiated an air of prominence.

As I circled about the library I was greeted by a portly fifty-year old gent with a flourishing gray beard, Bobbie Joe. He would have been my best friend in Somerset if I had chosen to make it my home for a spell. He was thrilled to meet a touring cyclist.

"I've always wanted to ride my bike across the country," he gushed. "I even bought the maps from Adventure Cycling a couple of years ago. They keep haunting me, but I just can't find the time to do it. Though that's not entirely true, as I rode my motorcycle up the Alaskan Highway all the way to Prudhoe Bay last summer. I met an English cyclist who was just starting out. He was headed to Mexico. We both rode the same bus the last twelve miles to the Arctic Ocean through the oil fields, as they don't allow commercial traffic on it. He was carrying his front wheel, as he wanted to dip it into the ocean before he set out. I followed his blog and he made it all the way. I kept wishing I were along with him. Seeing you inspires me to go home and start riding."

His enthusiasm was so contagious I was tempted to offer to stick around Somerset for a few weeks and help him train for the ride. I'd felt an affinity for Somerset the night before when I camped at its Twin Drive-in theaters. I had it all to myself, as it only screens films on weekends. The latest "Wall Street" was on one screen and "Machete" on the other. I set up my tent underneath the projectionist's booth in the middle of the field. It was littered with cigarette butts flicked out the window by the projectionist.

Danville was another Kentucky town that immediately captured my fancy with a daily all-you-can-eat $4.99 luncheon buffet. It ran from eleven to four, but I was too late for it. Its non-Carnegie library was so grand I thought it might have originally been a church. It was over 100 years old and had had three additions over the years. It had several reading rooms with comfortable couches in dark, high-ceilinged alcoves that gave the feel of a Scottish castle.

Whitley City also tempted me as a place to disappear to for a few weeks. It had a fine library, though not a Carnegie, and a discount food and thrift store that could have supplied all my needs. It was fifty cent Monday with a whole array of food items at a giveaway price. I stocked up on Triscuits, chocolate chip cookies, cereal and a half gallon of pomegranate juice--a ton of calories for just two dollars.

While I was at the library, it occurred to me that I might be able to find a transistor radio at an equally ridiculous price and be able to listen to the Bears-Packers game that night. Their cheapest radio though was five dollars and it could only be listened to with ear plugs. It didn't have an antennae, and wasn't strong enough to pick up any AM stations in the vicinity. A stronger radio could well have picked up the Bears station WBBM, news radio 78, less than 500 miles away, once the sun set.

If I weren't on a ten dollar a day budget, I might have splurged on a hotel to watch the game, but that would have kept me up too late. I'm presently somewhat pressed for time, trying to get back to Chicago by Monday to join Kathy at a luncheon featuring the Israeli ambassador to the US. I'll be visiting Israel again later this year after Turkey, so am extra eager to hear what he has to say.

I only need to average 80 miles a day the next five days to make it in time, but I will be distracted by all the Carnegies in Indiana, over 160 of them, more than any other state. I'm just 28 miles from Louisville, where I'll cross the mighty Ohio River into Indiana. It'd be easier to cross at Madison, but I crossed there three years ago and would like some variety. The Ohio is a wide river, and there aren't too many bridges across it. I'll be in trouble if the non-Interstate bridge in Louisville prohibits bicycles. Just across the river will be my first Carnegie. I could visit five or six a day if I wished.

Later, George

Monday, September 27, 2010

Oneida, Tenn.

Friends: For the second time in these travels I arrived at a friend's house while he was out and about. Brian, at least, had forewarned me he had an errand to run and might not be there when I arrived. It allowed me a pleasant couple of hours of reading on the porch of his stately "antebellum" home built in 1989 atop a heavily wooded hillside three miles from downtown Knoxville.

After I'd been there an hour a car pulled in. It was Brian's girl friend Emily, who was swapping her car for Brian's to go fetch him in Marysville, right next door to Alcoa, about 15 miles away, down Alcoa Highway. With the cheap energy provided by all the dams in the area Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America) had located there, as it requires a considerable amount of energy to convert bauxite into aluminum. Iceland with all its cheap thermal energy is another center for aluminum production.

Brian is one of the few people I know who has also been to Iceland, and Japan too. Brian had a period in his life when he would scan travel websites for ridiculously cheap fares, or fares that offered g. ridiculous amounts of miles. Occasionally he'd pounce on an airline's mistake. That enabled him to get to Iceland for less than $100. Brian is presently somewhat bound to Knoxville looking after the family home waiting for the market to improve so he can sell it.

Beside a compulsion for travel, we are similarly drawn to cinema and film festivals. Brian has worked for quite a few festivals--Chicago's International and Underground Fests, San Francisco, Palm Springs and others. His movie-viewing has pretty much been reduced to DVDs of late though. His last significant cinema experience was driving 180 miles to Nashville to see Harmony Korine's latest. Nashville is Korine's home town. He introduced the film and was accompanied by Gaspar Noe, a French director with a distinctive vision well out of the mainstream just like Korine. Both have strong cult followings that overlap. I am one of those. Brian said Korine announced that Noe was in need of some female companionship. After the film Brian drove past the theater and noticed that Korine's announcement had worked.

Though I converted Brian to the bicycle when we were roommates in Chicago, the hills and four-lane Alcoa Highway back into Knoxville, that actually has a sign prohibiting non-motorized vehicles at its entrance in Knoxville, which I ignored, has discouraged him from biking of late. I was hoping he might accompany me on my way out of town yesterday morning, but it was a solo venture.

I was lucky it was a Sunday, otherwise the Kingston Pike I took out of Knoxville would have been suicidal on a bicycle. It had no shoulder. Its four-lanes would have been clogged with hurrying traffic. It took me past an array of churches, mostly Baptist, but a good sampling of others. The Christian Science and Seventh Day Adventist churches faced off against each other. A synagogue was a little further down the road. Though Knoxville isn't known as a great metropolis, it was 18 miles down the Pike before I escaped the gauntlet of franchises and development and slipped into rural countryside.

Brian recommended a road other than the Kingston Pike, but the Pike led to Harriman, the only town in Tennessee within my range that had a Carnegie. Knoxville at one time had three of them, including one built for "coloreds," but they were all long gone. It was a little tricky to get to Harriman. We had to zoom in on googlemaps to find a road to it from Kingston without going on interstate 40. My Triple A map didn't show a road, but there was indeed a way.

Harriman's Carnegie celebrated its 100th anniversary last year and still had the anniversary banner draped across its entry between its twin pillars. I asked a police officer on the outskirts of town for directions. He was happy to learn that I had come to see it and proudly proclaimed that it was well worth seeking out. It was just behind the town's fire department on Walden Ave. A historical marker in front of the fire department called Harriman a "Utopia of Temperance." It had been established in 1891 as "an ideal industrial city, an object lesson for thrift, sobriety, superior intelligence and exalted moral character, where workers would be uncorrupted by Demon Rum." One of the town's founders was a member of the national temperance party.

The white brick library had lost none of its majesty. The two story building stood alone on a grassy lot just a block from the main street. I felt no disappointment that it was a Sunday and I couldn't go inside. Seeing it from outside was more than enough.

From Harriman I picked up route 27 north to Kentucky, which will lead to a couple more Carnegies once I cross the border. The temperature has finally cooled thanks to a cloud cover and a bit of a drizzle. Its not even 60 degrees today, barely warm enough to eat outside.

Later, George

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Knoxville, Tennessee

Friends: I arrived in Knoxville early this afternoon amongst throngs of orange-clad football fans flocking to Neyland Stadium for Tennessee's game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the lesser of the Alabamas. I hadn't seen so much orange since this past July when I was in Holland during the World Cup.

There was a much greater variety of orange jerseys here and quite a variety too of woman's wear--skirts and assorted dresses and wraps. Many fans were carrying orange T seat cushions and/or orange pom-poms. Cars had been passing me all day with window flags and cars plastered with orange T's. The T was prominently splattered on clothing as well. As I circled the stadium, I was offered tickets by a handful of scalpers. I lingered for a spell at the main entrance hoping someone might offer me a ticket for free, as I can count on at Wrigley Field, but no such luck.

Charity car washes are a popular item in Knoxville. Once I crossed the city line, I passed at least half a dozen organizations offering a wash--service organizations and athletic teams. Most had women in scanty outfits trying to attract attention. If I had a car needing a wash I would have chosen the girl's rugby team. They looked as if they would have given it a good vigorous scrubbing.

I arrived in Knoxville a little earlier than anticipated as the terrain moderated significantly once I crossed into Tennessee from North Carolina yesterday afternoon. I had several steep two-mile climbs between Marshall and Hot Springs that wore me down considerably. I lingered in Hot Springs for several hours to recover and to wait out the mid-day heat and to take a swim in its river and also watch the trickle of hikers doing the Appalachia Trail.

The small non-Carnegie library in Hot Springs had a sign forbidding backpacks in the library. The sign-up sheet for the Internet also forbade 'trail names,' as most hikers adopt. There was no sign forbidding concealed weapons though, as I had encountered in a few of these southern libraries.

The hikers were all well-tanned and well-traveled. One needlessly had a cardboard sign lashed to the back of his pack proclaiming "Appalachian Trail." One had two dogs on leashes, each carrying saddle bags. Another had a guitar strapped to the back of his pack. They all looked quite content and aglow, doing something that was giving them great satisfaction.

The Hot Springs library was a warm and friendly place in a small house of a building. It had the personality and character of one's favorite well-worn shoe. The library in Marshall, fifteen miles away, was a strikingly new building a mile out of town on a hill overlooking the river. It had four or five times the space of the library in Hot Springs, but lacked any local flavor. It has been heartening to see so many new large fully modern libraries, but they are almost as sterile and homogeneous as the fast food franchises that have taken over the land.

As I go in search of local flavor and Americana, it is harder and harder to find. The four-lane highway I traveled for more than 100 miles from Greenville, South Carolina through Asheville, North Carolina on to Knoxville was almost as generic and heavily trafficked as an interstate, lined with Waffle Houses and Pizza Huts and Midas Mufflers and Family Dollar Stores. The Blockbusters had yet to be boarded up, despite their recent bankruptcy.

I search out country stores hoping for something that lets me know I'm in the South. All too many of them are owned by Indians, and not Native Americans, who are brusque and impatient, and sell the same line of food and drink as all the rest. I welcome their ice dispensers and 99 cent hot dogs, but always appreciate something a little different, like the stores that offer chili and coleslaw to scoop on the dogs along with the standard condiments. I'm happy for the flavor and the additional calories. After discovering potato wedges for a quarter, I go into every store hoping for more.

As I head west from Knoxville, the population should thin and I should be luckier in finding less traveled roads and less homogeneity. The camping has been as easy as ever, though one night when I was caught in the sprawl of a town I didn't realize had such a sprawl, I pitched my tent behind a cluster of pre-fab sheds for sale, a big business in the South. They all advertise, "No Credit Check," as they are an easy item to repossess. It was a quiet camp site, other than having to put up with the barking of a pack of dogs on the other side of a gully. I don't think they were reacting to me, but rather to coons and other night critters that may have been casting shadows in the full moon.

I may be sleeping inside tonight, as I am set to connect with former roommate Brian, who lives on the outskirts of Knoxville. He had an errand to run this afternoon, so I will have time to explore downtown Knoxville a little more and partake in the throngs leaving The Game in an hour or so, before heading out to his house off Alcoa Highway.

I have had three roommates the past ten years allowing me to travel as much as I have. I will have visited all three of them now in my travels--Julie-Ann last year in China, Debbie in Seattle, indeed rescuing her from a boy friend gone bad and reclaiming her as a roommate, and now Brian.

I met Brian through Chicago's Film Festival, as I did Julie-Ann. We will have a lot of catching up to do, as we share many mutual friends, and he is well-tuned into the world of cinema. One of his claims to fame is programming Gasper Noe's "I Stand Alone," for a Knoxville art house many years ago. Noe's latest provocation, "Enter the Void," just opened this weekend in New York and Chicago after debuting at Cannes 16 months ago. It was one of my favorite movies last year. I hope it is still playing when I return to Chicago in ten days or so.

Later, George

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hendersonville, North Carolina

Friends: I am once again on the trail of Carnegie libraries. Two of South Carolina's eighteen were built in towns on my route of 200 miles across the state, route 178, until I picked up 25 to Greenville. I stuck to 25 north out of Greenville, rather than taking a less busy and more scenic road, as it took me through Hendersonville, site of one of North Carolina's ten Carnegies.

Unfortunately, only one of the three century-old Carnegies I have sought out so far still serves as a library. That was in Honea Path, the smallest town in South Carolina with a Carnegie. The small red brick building in a residential area could have passed as someone's home. I missed it when I passed by it the first time, not even noticing the book drop out front. It has been magnificently preserved, and, like all Carnegies, stands proudly as an architectural gem. Its high ceilings and spacious interior made for a most comfortable retreat.

Honea Path still has a modest enough population to make do with such a small library, unlike Hendersonville and Greenwood, the other city in South Carolina that was on the Wikipedia list of towns in South Carolina with a Carnegie that was on my route. Both these towns have grown into sprawling cities. Their Carnegies have long ago been replaced by huge County libraries. The Carnegie in Greenwood has been torn down, but the one in Hendersonville on the corner of Fourth and King now houses a development company.

Greenwood was in the process of moving from the library that replaced the Carengie in 1957 to a new location. I caught the movers in action at 8:30 yesterday morning. The movers knew nothing about the former Carnegie, but a librarian was able to fill me in on the details. She didn't know though if the Carnegie still stood in Honea Path, 25 miles away. "That's in Anderson Country," she said. "I can't rightly say."

The head mover was a typical Southerner of great friendliness. After we had chatted for a couple of minutes he asked me my name and introduced himself, a customary practice in the South. He told me that if anybody in the news business should happen to do a story on me before I left South Carolina to be sure and mention his moving company, Rapney and Sons, as he could use the business.

I was on the alert for the next hour down the road awaiting a reporter to pull up alongside me, as happened to be in Louisiana in January of 1986 when I was on my way to the Bears' Super Bowl. Someone I had talked to called the local TV station and sent a reporter after me. The next day a few people told me they saw me on the news that night. It didn't get me a ticket to the game though.

Like quite a few others these past days, Mr. Rapney couldn't fathom why I would want to be riding my bicycle in this 90 degree heat. I explain that though it is hot, the breeze I create dries the sweat, and it sure makes the cold drinks I stop for all the more welcome. Every gas station has a soft drink dispensing machine that also dispenses ice. I fill the 32 or 44 ounce cups with ice and after I drain it of the soda or Gatorade, as they occasionally have, I keep adding water until the ice has melted. I am taking great advantage of my insulated water bottle to preserve the ice a few extra miles down the road.

Not everyone I talk to would choose to spend their discretionary time in any place other than the shade, but I try to convince them it is quite satisfying, if not exhilarating, to be able to spend the day rolling along on my bike seeing what there is to see and meeting so many friendly and curious people and not having anybody telling me what to do or having to make demands of anyone myself. I can almost forget that the economy is in the pits and that so many people are struggling to get by, despite the many closed down businesses. Almost as common as "for rent" signs on shops are signs that say "under new management."

I couldn't even find a bicycle store in the large city of Greenville. Both that I was sent to were closed down. I wasn't in need of anything bike-related, just information on the National Professional Bicycling Championships held there the previous weekend and for the past several years. Banners still hung on posts in the downtown featuring local George Hincapie.

A couple of cyclists on top-end racing bikes sitting at an outdoor cafe were able to tell me, though, that the finish line was right across from where they were sitting on Main Street and that the route went north out of town to Paris Mountain for four circuits. The two guys were visiting from Miami. They also knew where George Hincapie lived, in a development north of the city that was on my route. They knew that neither Leipheimer nor Hincapie, the two favorites, won the race. Some 21-year old they didn't know riding for the Trek-Livestrong team won by over a minute. Twenty-year old Taylor Phinney just nipped Leipheimer in the time trial the day before.

I had no problem finding Greenville's baseball stadium, not far from downtown, thanks to its towering light fixtures. I entered Greenville on route 123, Shoeless Joe Jackson Memorial Highway, which took me to the ballpark, Flour Field. The field was an exact replica of Fenway Park, complete with the Green Monster, though it only seats 5,000. On Friday and Saturday nights one can buy a ticket for $25 that entitles one to as much soda and food as one can down.

Charleston is the Class A affiliate of the Red Sox. Across the street was the Shoeless Joe Jackson Museum in the house he grew up in, which had been moved to be alongside the stadium when it was built five years ago. It was only open on Saturdays from ten a.m. to two p.m. There was a large banner on the outside with a photo of Jackson and his proclamation of innocence--"God knows I gave my best and no man on earth can truthfully judge me otherwise."

Jackson was one of eight members of the Chicago White Sox banned from the game for throwing the 1919 World Series, even though he had twelve hits during the Series, the most ever, and was the only member of the White Sox to hit a home run and had no errors. He would have been one of the all-time greats if his career hadn't come to an abrupt end. He hit .408 in his rookie year in 1911, a record, and his lifetime average of .356 is third best ever. He is a great cause celebre in Greenville, his home town. There is a statue of him in the downtown half a mile from the park.

One county I passed through boasted of being the home of two Alamo heroes. There were signs in Hendersonville to the vacation home of Carl Sandburg, now part of the National Park Service.

Later, George

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Batesburg-Leeville, South Carolina

Friends: Despite being car-free for much of my life, I have had a considerable number of long-distance car road trips over the years. I am a traveler and a car is a means of travel, not my preferred means, but it still takes me places I'd like to go. I'm not hesitant at all to take up the offer of driving a car a long ways, whether solo or with another.

Thus when Lyndon first asked me a year ago if I'd be interested in driving a car he'd bought from Albuquerque to South Carolina, I didn't think twice about doing it, not even concerned that it was a forty-year old car. I was eager to do it when he first brought it up and just as eager when he was finally ready to take delivery of the car.

Kerouac romanticized the road trip in "On the Road." I've taken advantage of drive-away cars as he and Cassady did--to Seattle to take the ferry up to Alaska, to Phoenix to bike up to Flagstaff for a Grand Canyon rafting trip, to LA for the World Series, to San Francisco to launch a bike ride to Guatemala and a few others. I have also driven quite a few cars for friends, particularly snowbird retirees. I once drove three cars to Florida in a ten day span. I have driven U-Hauls for friends to Connecticut and Phoenix and Tucson.

I have also joined friends on long distance road trips all over the country and beyond. Crissy and I drove deep into Mexico to Puerto Escondido several times. I also made the trip with Siegi in his van a couple of times. Lino and I drove to Colorado Springs for the cycling World Championships the only time they've been held in the US. Umpire Dave and I made a habit of driving to the World Series in the late '70s--Boston one year, New York another, and LA a couple of times, along with Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. We drove to Sundance one winter. A year later I did it with Joan, which led to several Joan trips to the Toronto Film Festival and a drive to Manhattan to visit friends and to do New York's Five Boroughs Ride.

Dave and I had a number of other baseball trips--to the Cubs Opening Day in Montreal one year that was snowed out, to the All-Star game in Philadelphia, and a few trips to St. Louis and Cincinnati. One of our most epic trips was an eastern swing that concluded with attending a twi-night double header at Shea Stadium and then driving through the night to get back in time for a noon double header at Wrigley.

Dwight too has been a multiple road trip companion. He and I drove to the Olympics in Atlanta, a wedding in northern California, back from an Earth First Rendezvous in Virginia that I had biked to and Toronto for a flight to Cuba. Bike Shop Tim and I drove to New Orleans with a van load of bike parts for a bike co-op a year after Katrina. We also drove to Pittsburgh on another bike shop mission, this time to buy parts.

This past January I made my longest non-stop drive ever from Orlando to Seattle with a friend and his two dogs in a van. But my latest trip from Albuquerque to Charleston in a doddering 1971 VW station wagon may be my most noteworthy drive ever, certainly the most nerve-wracking, even more so than a drive to Manhattan in a rental truck with Ken641 with a faulty gas gauge. Twice we ran out of gas, but fortunately we had bikes in the back of the truck. I ought to quit drudging up these memories, as I may find I have had more long-distance trips by car, than by bike.

Ordinarily I have to keep a wary eye on the speedometer to make sure I'm not exceeding the speed limit. With this VW relic my eyes hovered on the speedometer more than ever making sure I maintained a minimum speed. It took all the VW engine's might to get up to fifty. When the road turned upwards the speedometer took a plunge, sometimes all the way to thirty. I kept a vigilant eye on the rear view mirror making sure the hard-charging trucks and SUVs didn't gobble me up. When I saw a police car my foot didn't let up on the accelerator, as it has been conditioned to, but rather pushed on it a little harder.

I provoked a few perturbed horn toots, but not a single siren. I figured most drivers took pleasure in seeing such a relic on the roads. I certainly attracted quite a few admiring comments and offers to buy the car whenever I stopped for gas. The car was spotted with rust. There were those who didn't think I deserved such a car since I wasn't maintaining it. I had to explain it wasn't mine and that I was simply delivering it. Still people offered me their phone numbers in case Lyndon cared to part with it.

With the car straining I was relieved that I had my bike with me in case it gave up. Lyndon, too, had a nervous couple of days fearing a call from me at any moment reporting that the car had broken down. Fortunately the car was equipped with a decent radio, even though I had to hear quite a bit about the Tea Party from Limbaugh and Dr. Laura and Beck and Levin and Hannity, who were nearly inescapable up and down the radio dial.

There was also a lot of football--a Texas high school game played in a brand new 60 million dollar stadium that seated 18,000, a talk show with the reigning national champion Alabama coach Nick Saban and the betting line on all the NFL games from a multitude of stations. One morning show had a feature "Fight Song Friday" of pep songs from various colleges. Lots of country music too, giving the flavor of rural America. One song paid tribute to the three Johns of country--Cash, Wayne and Deere.

It was a mighty relief when I pulled into the driveway of Lyndon and Stephanie and 16-month Sullivan and their frisky dog Jaspar in Summerville, 25 miles north of Charleston. Even though it was in the mid-90s I was eager to go for a bike ride. It was four miles to the local library. It felt much cooler biking under a canopy of moss-laden trees than sitting in that un-air conditioned car.

I was off early Sunday morning for the 25-mile ride down Heritage Corridor, the Discovery Route, into Charleston past assorted plantations, including Drayton Place where Stephanie conducts tours. It paralleled the Ashley River. The Ashley along with the Cooper River frame the two sides of Charleston, almost as Manhattan is bordered by the Hudson and the East Rivers. Along the way was an estate with gardens designed by Andre Le Notre, architect of Versailles. The manor on the property included a silk copy of the Declaration of Independence and a note from Lincoln. Sheep and other animals roamed the grounds. There was also a crop of Carolina Gold--rice.

The Charleston area is rich with history from the Revolution through the Civil War and loads of tourists being transported in horse-drawn carriages and pedicabs along the Museum Mile. Lyndon and Stephanie and Sullivan met me at Marion Square, a ten-acre field in the heart of Charleston. John C. Calhoun, the great orator and former vice-president, stands atop a high pedestal in the park. Young women from the nearby college were sunning in bikinis.

We took a stroll to a restaurant along the three block long covered-market for lunch. I had shecrab soup and they a fish sandwich. On the sidewalks and in the market women sold baskets woven from sea grass that grows in the marshes. Anita, friend from Chicago and the art director at Telluride, told me they were the one thing I ought to see when I was in Charleston. She had paid a visit several years ago, not to see the city's many mansions that most come for, but to see these magnificent works of art that the slaves from Africa first began making there three hundred years ago. Teen-aged boys were weaving small hearts from the long reeds for sale as well.

In my search for Marion Square I stopped at a fire station with a ceramic dalmatian curled up out front to ask the way. Stephanie knew the fire station well. It is one of Charleston's several hundred historic sites. She said its doors are too small to accommodate modern fire engines, but in the spirit of historical preservation, it is supplied with specially designed trucks.

Charleston is exceptional in maintaining its past, with only a handful of buildings approaching ten stories--hotels facing Marion Square. One modern edifice, though, that had become a signature of Charleston is the towering five-year old, two-mile long Ravenal Bridge over the Cooper River. It is a stately edifice. Stephanie recommended a ride over it for a view of the city and the bay. There were quite a few cyclists and joggers and walkers on its wide sidewalk despite the mid-day heat.

I had a fabulous 70 mile ride on my unloaded bike about the area, as always the best way to see a place. In the morning the locals were flocking to church. There seemed to be one on practically every corner, often with message boards advertising the day's sermon. Many came close to luring me in--If You Can't Stand the Heat Believe in Jesus, Wal-Mart is Not the Eternal Saving Place, He Who Throws Dirt Loses Ground, Worry Is Interest Paid on Trouble Before It Is Due. I look forward to the many awaiting me down the road. I was perpetually entertained by them three years ago when I biked to Lyndon and Stephanie when they were living in Winston Salem. They are just one of the many allures of bicycling in the South.

I might have returned to Lyndon and Stephanie's place a little earlier than I did to load up my bike and begin my ride back to Chicago in the relative cool of the early evening if I didn't need to stock up on maps at the local AAA first thing the next morning. That done, I'm now one hundred miles down the road, about half way to Greenville, home of George Hincapie and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Stephanie, baseball fan and historian, says I will find a statue and a museum devoted to the man banned from baseball for being implicated in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

Later, George

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

San Antonito, New Mexico

Friends: Going off on my bike for a thousand miles or more makes for a good wind-down from a film festival. There is always lots to digest and reflect upon after a deep, multi-day immersion into the realm of cinema. Though Telluride's four days is just a third the length of Cannes, it is no less rich and intense, with a much more varied program and a much more intimately shared experience with many cinephile friends, some new, but quite a few more of long-standing.

My initial film withdrawal plan was a three-week, 1,500-mile ride back to Chicago through the mid-west. That plan was slightly altered when one of my long-time festival pals Lyndon offered me the opportunity to drive a 1971 VW station wagon he bought a year ago to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. It had been sitting in the driveway of another festival friend, Ross, in the mountains outside of Albuquerque. Lyndon is a man of great generosity and goodwill who would do anything for anyone, so I was happy to be able to do something for him.

I would still have a 1,500-mile bike ride but it would be broken into two segments--300 miles to Albuquerque, interrupted by an 1,800 mile drive, and then 1,200 miles through the eastern third of the country. I had no complaints with that, especially since my route from Telluride took me through Durango, home of another festival stalwart and great friend, Mark, an ardent bicyclist and outdoors man who has been encouraging me to visit for years.

Durango, population 15,000 at an altitude of 6500 feet, has long been a hotbed of cycling--road and off-road. It has been the home or base for many world class cyclists, including legends Ned Overend, Missy Giove, John Tomac, Tom Danielson and Bob Roll. Mark has ridden with all of them on Durango's weekly Tuesday night training rides that are virtual races and has been feeding me inside stories for years.

Fort Lewis College in Durango, known as "Colorado's Campus in the Sky," fields one of the best cycling teams on the collegiate circuit. Rebecca Much of Chicago, a junior world silver medalist, who was coached in Chicago by friend Randy Warren, raced for the college. Durango's relationship with cycling goes back to the 1800s. One of the several art galleries Mark and I ducked into as we walked about town had a large framed photo from 1895 in its window of a gathering of cyclists, male and female, posed on a rustic bridge in a nearby canyon. It was propped on an easel mounted on a vintage bicycle.

There were even more bike shops than art galleries in this semi-tourist town whose narrow gauge railroad attracts visitors from all over the world. Durango may have the most bicycle stores per capita of any city in the world. The walls of the largest of them was lined with several dozen framed and signed jerseys, many of them of world or national champions. The huge banner from the first Mountain Bike World Championship hosted by Durango in 1990 filled one corner of the shop. There was also a shelf of trophies contributing to make this shop a virtual Hall of Fame.

Coffee shops included cycling magazines among their reading material. Mark always has his choice of a number of places to watch the Tour de France on television. The recently published book by the blog superstar bikesnobnyc was on prominent display at the checkout counter of one book store on Durango's main street. The Snob competed in the Single Speed National Championships held in Durango a year ago. His caustic blog has a huge following in Durango.

Just a few blocks from Mark's bike and ski cluttered corner lot, not far from the center of town, is the legendary Horse Gulch mountain bike trail. It starts out as a steep jeep trail and quickly turns into rugged rock-strewn single track as it climbs high above Durango. Mark loaned me one of his light-weight front suspension mountain bikes, by far the best mountain bike I've ever ridden. I couldn't have managed the trail on anything less. It was still a harrowing experience riding through flood washed tracks barely a tire's width wide up grades that would have had Contador trembling. Mark just pranced along while I cringed fearful of toppling. I put a foot down all too often to remain upright.

The most harrowing bike episode came the next morning though when a police officer pulled us over on Durango's main street. It was early Sunday morning and there was no traffic to be seen. We were doodling along at a leisurely pace, still sight-seeing on our way to a pancake breakfast. We paused at each stop light and stop sign, but proceeded through a red light when there was no traffic either left or right nor seemingly behind us.

We expected a lecture from the young cop and perhaps a warning, but he said he had a "zero tolerance policy" for traffic offenses by bicyclists after witnessing a cyclist writhing on the street with a broken femur after running a red light. He was no doubt one of the young hotshots who zip around town. The officer acknowledged we weren't being reckless, but he remained firm in giving us a ticket. Initially he was going to give us both $105 tickets, but Mark accepted full blame, saying he was the one who encouraged me to go. I had been surprised how cautious Mark had been in our riding about town, much more so than I would have been. Mark intends to take the case to court. The street was a virtual pedestrian mall with side streets blocked due to a beer fest. A simple warning would have gotten Mark's attention and made him ride with respectful restraint for weeks to come.

After breakfast Mark accompanied me for twenty miles out of town on a secondary road parallel to the main highway. It was just a little further to New Mexico. I was greeted by a huge billboard proclaiming "Election Day, Nov. 4, Throw the Trash Out." I was hoping for more such rhetoric the next 200 miles through the arid countryside and Native American Reservations, but that was it. There was a billboard, though, advertising the Big Texan restaurant in Amarillo several hundred miles away that offers 72-ounce steaks for free if one can get it all down in less than an hour.

It took a little while to get over the $105 traffic ticket before I could let my thought drift to the movies. Telluride's program offered up two must sees for bicycle enthusiasts. One was "The Illusionist," an animated feature by Sylvain Chomet, director of the bicycling masterpiece "The Triplettes of Belleville" from 2003.

Though the program notes didn't indicate there would be any bicycling in this movie, I knew its style alone would harken me back to the vivid images of "Triplettes." But it did have a second gigantic hook drawing any devotee of the bicycle in cinema as the story was based on a lost script by Jacques Tati, whose first film, "Jour de Fete" from 1949, featured himself as a bumbling and acrobatic bicycle postman. "The Illusionist" portrayed an animated Tati in his trademark brown trench coat as a magician embarking on a trip to Scotland.

Though there was no bicycling, not even on a unicycle, Tati did not fail to delight. If there weren't so many worthwhile films demanding to be seen during the festival, I would have squeezed in a documentary on Tati at the Backlot, which only had two screenings. That was one of quite a few films I wish I could have seen, but couldn't, more than I can ever recall at any film festival I've attended.

One of the highlights of "The Illusionist" was the introduction of the film by one of its producers. He commented that he was a "long-timer sufferer of film festivals" having attended them for 45 years. He said this was his first time to Telluride though and it was a most refreshing experience with its "total lack of cynicism." That was but one of many sincere accolades heaped upon the festival by film-makers who fully recognize the uniqueness of Telluride.

Critic Kent Jones, who co-directed "Letter to Elia" with Martin Scorcese commented, "I really love this festival. Its always an honor to be here." Darren Aronofsky, director of "The Black Swan," was awed by the idyllic nature of the town. During a conversation he was part of in the County Courthouse, it suddenly dawned on him where he was. He asked, "Is this a courthouse? What kind of crimes get committed in Telluride."

But back to the films. The program notes for "Here's Your Life," the first film by the Swedish director Jan Troell in 1966, promised a bicycle love scene. The film played at the festival two years ago as part of a tribute to Troell, but the film was so well liked by this year's guest director Michael Ondaatje, author of "The English Patient," it was one of the six films he was allowed to program. This nearly three hour long film about a young man in his late teens working in various jobs was one of Ingmar Bergman's favorites. The young man teaches a girl how to ride a bicycle and is rewarded with his first kiss.

That was about it in that film and the rest of the films that I saw as far as the bicycle was concerned, but I had no shortage of strong memories from the festival. I heard there was a significant bicycling scene in "127 Hours," Danny Boyle's movie about the hiker who had to cut off his arm when it was trapped by a boulder in Utah. I very much would have liked to have seen this film, but I held off, knowing I would have ample opportunity in the months to come. There were just too many one-time only events to see and rare screenings of lost or forgotten films, such as the 1926 documentary "Moana: A Story of he South Seas" by Robert Flaherty of "Nanook of the North."

As always, the three tributes were standouts. Laura Linney presented Peter Weir with his silver medallion on the Opera House stage after a series of clips from his films, including "The Truman Show" with Linney. Werner Herzog gave Claudia Cardinale her medallion, as he directed her in "Fitzcarraldo," which received its world premiere at Telluride in 1982. Todd McCarthy conducted a sensational interview with Colin Firth during his tribute.

A conversation between documentarians Errol Morris and Charles Ferguson moderated by Scott Foundas may have stolen The Show. Though Ferguson earned a PhD at MIT in political science and didn't make his first documentary, "No End in Sight" on the Iraq war followed up by this year's "Inside Job" on Wall Street, until 20 years later, he said he always wanted to be a film-maker. Foundas interjected, "I'm sure that's true of you too Errol." Morris retorted, "I never wanted to be a filmmaker and I'm not sure if I want to be one now." He said he had worked as a detective for several years investigating wrong-doing on Wall Street. That perked up Ferguson. He was surprised to learn, too, that he had the same agent as Michael Moore, Rahm Emanuel's brother. For an hour they fed off each other, thrilling the fifty or so of us in attendance at this rare event.

Just a dabbling of the multitude of memories.

Later, George