Sunday, October 31, 2010

Göreme, Turkey

Friends: David and I have been following one of the oldest trade routes in the world since leaving Konya two days ago across the grassy steppes of Anatolia--the Uzun Yol (Long Road) or Silk Road. It has been transformed into a four-lane wide divided highway wıth a nice shoulder most of the way. Much of what little traffic that passes us acknowledges us with a horn toot, more than I have ever experienced other than in India, where it is a law to toot one's horn when passing another, whether it be a car or tractor or bicyclist or pedestrian. That was true cacophony, making these Turkish horn toots much more tolerable than they might otherwise be.

Though the terrain has been mostly devoid of trees, recently planted trees line long stretches of the road, struggling to take hold in the inhospitable terrain and cold winters and hot summers. The relatively flat, wide open scenery has been a pleasant contrast to the mostly up and down terrain of our first four hundred miles. With seven mountain ranges, Turkey is 69% mountainous. Still, there has been a fair amount of agriculture. Sugar beets are a huge crop. We passed one monstrous factory converting the beets into sugar with tons of the recently harvested beets piled around it and dozens of trucks lined up to deposit more.

A few of the old way-stations, known as karavanseries, dot the way. They were magnificent castle-like fortresses, two stories high, constructed of stone with just a single entrance, offering the caravans a safe haven. They were built twenty to twenty-five miles apart. Most are long gone. The few that remain vary from piles of rubble to some that are tourist attractions restored as much as possible to their original state.

We camped just half a mile from the karavansary six miles east of the large city of Aksaray last night. With our new style of riding until just before dark, making it less likely that a farmer or shepherd or outlaw might stumble upon us as he heads home for the night, we were rewarded with one of our better campsites of the trip in a quarry protected from the wind and the noise of traffic. Though it lessened the wind chill we experienced the previous nıght, we woke up wıth frost on our tents for the first time. The upper third of a towerıng volcano in the distance was covered in snow, quite a beautiful sight.

Though we try not to dwell upon it, the subject of our robbery still comes up from time to time, partially because David has yet to write about it for his column in Telluride's daily newspaper, "The Planet." He wants to get all the facts right. He didn't remember shouting out, "Ow, that hurts," the first words I heard after I was startled awake by my bike being hurled into my tent, as he was being hit in the head by a mallet.

He didn't realize that I emerged from my tent to see what was going on before having the shotgun thrust in my face, as he never escaped his. When I heard one of the bandits shouting "Money, money," I fled back into my tent to rummage some money from my wallet so İ'd have some ready to give. Unfortunately, one of the guys caught me getting the money out and took the whole wallet, while David got away with only having to give up a couple of bills totaling about twenty-fıve dollars. They got ten times that from me.

The worst of having my wallet taken was losing some personal papers including addresses and phone numbers and a photo of dear departed Crissy straddling her bicycle overlooking Lake Atitlan in Guatemala from a bike trip of ours ın 1980. The photo was worthy of a magazine cover between her beaming smile and spectacular scenery with the lake below and a volcano in the background. She had done some modeling and if she had wished to stick with it this could have been exhibit A in her portfolio.

David and İ try not to speculate on what we might have done differently, though David did say, "İ would have liked to have grabbed that guy who was hitting me by the ears and introduced my knee to his groin." The Swiss bicycling couple had a two foot long stick strapped to the back of Martin's bike that they picked up in Bulgaria to beat off dogs, though they hadn't needed it in Turkey. İf İ had had such a thing in my tent, or my Kryptonite lock, it would have been tempting to whack the guy without the gun, but such retaliation would have been curtains for the both of us.

As we entered Göreme late this afternoon, we encountered a Polish couple on bikes just leaving. They've been ın Turkey for three weeks and have been wild camping most nights without incident, further emphasizing our bad luck and easing our qualms. They recommended a camp ground as well as some hikes through the outlandish scenery of fairy chimneys and spires and beehive thrusts of stone, some with caves that people live in and some that have been turned into hotels. It is a World Heritage Site that attracts thousands of tourists. There are quite a few businesses offering balloon trips and even a Club Med. The scenery is a surreal cross between the Badlands and Arches National Park that Gaudi might have had a hand in designing. We stopped a dozen times on our descent into Göreme for photos. We'll spend the better part of tomorrow exploring.

Earlier in the day we ventured into one of the thirty or so underground cities in this region, also a boggling experience. We were lucky to come upon one of the more distant ones from the tourist hub of Göreme and had it all to ourselves. They were all constructed centuries ago for the locals as refuge from passing marauders. They could live in them for months if necessary.

It ıs a relief to have discovered the alternate "i" on the Turkish keyboard so I can now access my email account and post these dispatches on my own, though it will be a little while before I have trained my right little finger to go to the appropriate "i." At least the keyboard is only one letter different and not five or six like the French keyboard.

The Turkish alphabet actually has six additional letters. The other five are the letters g, u, o, s and c with a squiggle above or below. They are all off to the side of the keyboard, as is the letter i. Oddly enough the Turkish i without the dot on top is in the position of the the normal i. If it had only been off to the side as well, I would have been spared my difficulties, or if I had more closely examined the keyboard.

Later, George

Friday, October 29, 2010

Konya, Turkey

Friends: Two days after our robbery David says he is still discovering bumps on his head from the mallet that one of the robbers pounded him with after bashing in his tent. My ribs, too, remain tender from the kick to the chest I took as I was crouchıng in my tent, and my shirt still bares the muddy imprint of the thief's boot, as I haven't had a chance to wash it in the rainy weather, but neither of our injuries have slowed us. They are just reminders of something we'd just as soon forget.

We were able to repair David's broken tent pole wıth the sleeve that REI provides wıth their tents and also some tape provided by the Swiss couple we met the morning of the robbery. We ended up camping with the Swiss, though we didn't immediately begin riding together. We played tag for several hours along the road, as we continued at our own pace after first meeting, stopping at different places and catching up with one another, hesitant to team up. It wasn't until our fourth encounter in mid-afternoon that we realized the cycling gods were working their damnedest to bring us together. They must have been getting mighty frustrated that we refused to respond, and then have to go to the effort to unite us again and again.

Our first encounter after our initial meeting along the road came at a water spout where David and I stopped to thoroughly clean the mud off our bikes and to refill our water bottles. One of the biggest surprises of Turkey is the frequent springs with water freely flowing out of a pipe that is perfectly drinkable. We have yet to use our water filters. I would have been leery to drink from them if David hadn't assured me that he knew from past visits to Turkey that they were fine. I would have eventually realized it after noticing locals occasionally filling up bottles at them.

When the Swiss joined us at the water spout they too needed water. They mentioned that Katrina's front hub seemed to be a little loose. They were first-time touring cyclists and were concerned about their bikes holding up. They were regularly checking them to see if anything might be amiss. They were very sharp to notice the slight looseness in the hub, but didn't have the experience to know it wasn't something to be too concerned about. Nor did they have the tools or mechanical skills to do anything about it. I said it would only be a concern if it got worse, but that I might have the tools to tighten it.

My lone cone wrench was the right size allowing me to tighten it. It was the second time on the trip that I had a tool or part to attend to another's mechanical need. The first was for a truly dire emergency--a seat post clamp for Davıd's bike. He forgot to pack his. It would have been quite an ordeal biking twenty miles into Athens from the airport on a bike with the seat way too low trying to find a bike shop with this not so common part. It was a veritable miracle that I had packed such a thing and that it was the right size for David's bike.

David wasn't overly upset about his oversight. He said he once forgot to pack his pedals on one trip. Another time he forgot his wheels. He says he relies on "dumb luck" to guide and rescue him. I'm just the opposite, plotting and planning and bringing spare parts and tools for a variety of eventualities. David has greater language skills than I do and is more gregarious with the locals, so we're making a good team. He keeps his humor about everything, accompanying many of his comments with a slight snicker. It is no wonder the lone book he brought was by the humorist/travel writer Bill Bryson.

It was nice to have a second encounter with the Swiss couple to ask them a few things we'd wished we'd asked at our first meeting, but we weren't prepared to commit to one another just yet and say "let's bike together." David and I were still cleaning our bikes, when Martin and Katrina were done with their business, so they set out before us. We caught up to them an hour later at a small grocery store in the next town. We chatted some more, but once again we were all too bashful to say let's make it a foursome, not trusting that our cycling speeds would be compatible.

We lingered at the town to use the Internet, but caught up to them several hours later, spotting them alongside a lake bathing. We didn't wish to intrude upon them, but stopped a couple miles further on a hill overlooking the spectacular Egirdir Lake, the most popular of the several lakes in Turkey's lake district. I commented that it brought to mind Bolivia's high altitude Lake Titicaca with the mountains on its opposite shore and minimal vegegation surrounding it on this high plateau. David said he was about to say the same thing, but since he hadn't actually seen it and I had, he was hesitant to say so, fearing that I might contradict him.

While we ate and reveled in the majesty of the scenery, the Swiss couple joined us once again. At this point we decided to see how compatible our cycling speeds were. Martin tore off at a fast clip of 17 miles per hour while the three of us formed a draft line behind him. It was considerably faster than David and I had been riding and I was soon working up a sweat. I was desperate to shed a layer, but didn't wish to say "uncle" to his pace. He slackened a bit and we were able to ride side by side and chat.

A while later we came upon another natural spring and stopped to fill our bottles. David and I dıd a little bathing as well. Martin asked if he and Katrina could camp with us. We were delighted to have their company. We figured if we didn't find a secluded enough campsite we could form a circle with our four bicycles as the homesteaders did in the west wıth their wagons to fend off the Indians. But we found a well isolated spot a mile down a dirt road and then up on a hill, allowing us to camp with a sense of relative security.

We each prepared our own dinners then ate together in the dark. I couldn't refuse the left-over pasta from Martin and Katrina's three liter pot. Though they were a generation younger than David and I, they were quite accomplished travelers having spent four months in India backpacking and quite a few other prolonged adventures. It was a wonderful evening.

We knew we weren't going to continue on together the next morning as our routes would soon be diverging and we had different departure schedules. David and I ordinarily break camp at first light by seven, while their preference is to have a leisurely breakfast hitting the road around nine. David and I were a bit delayed as we awoke to a light drizzle. We waited for it to abate before setting out, but not before David was able to coax a cup of coffee from them, saving us from having to find one down the road. Coffee is not as universal as tea in Turkey and can be a challenge to find, though not as hard as beer.

The rain returned a couple hours later and continued the rest of the day. It was a cold rain, making for a rather miserable day. Our one bonus was missıng a detour sign to Konya and ending up on a recently paved road blocked to traffic other than a few interlopers who knew the road was passable. It saved us at least 15 miles and allowed us to reach Konya before noon today so we could have ample time to visit the tomb of Mevlana, a 13th century Sufi mystic and poet who is known as the Shakespeare of Islam.

His tomb is at a former monastery of his followers. Islamic monks are known as dervishes. Mevlana's sect whirled, spinning around until they reached a state of religious ecstasy. The dervishes were banned in 1925 by Ataturk, Turkey's first president after World War One, revered as the father of modern Turkey.  He transformed Turkey from a medieval Islamic state into a secular European style Republic. The dervishes continued underground, resurfacing in the 1950's when the religious restrictions were relaxed, also allowing the five times a day call to prayers to be recited in Arabic once again rather than Turkish. They only give performances here in Konya once a year during a week-long festival, though there are places in Istanbul where they perform on a regular basis for tourists, somewhat demeaning the purpose of their whirling. Their performance is an intense ritual, as they whirl around in four ten minute intervals.

Their former complex here in Konya is the premier Muslim pilgrimage site in Turkey. It was mobbed this afternoon, mostly by Turks, interspersed with a handful of Westerners. One room had a dozen or more mannequins in dervish garb. They were all bearded and wearing towering hats. We had to wear coverings over our shoes to enter another larger buılding with several rooms containing the tombs of Mevlana and his father along with an array of art work and musical instruments and quite a few books.

We had more rain today. The forecast calls for rain for the next week, though the man at the tourist office said maybe not, as "Only Allah knows." Both our sleeping bags are damp and so are much of our clothes. We may have to resort to a hotel to dry our gear if this persists. Hopefully not, as David warns me he is a loud snorer. We have only pitched our tents close enough once so far for me to have heard.

I have yet to figure out how to access my email account here in Turkey as my password has the letter "i" in it and the "ı" on the Turkish keyboard is different from the standard "i" without a dot above it. It has also prevented me from accessing my blog, what with the "i" in "cyclist." Luckily I have a backup email account wıth a non "i" password that I have been sending these out on. I am relying once again on Robert to post these to the blog. It is much appreciated.

Later, George

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Uluborlu,Turkey

Friends: I've been jarred awake when a wind has blown my bike over near my tent as I've slept, but never before have I had my bike crash into my tent with such force as this morning an hour before sunrise. It instantly awoke me from a deep sleep. I knew instantly that it couldn't have been the wind, but that David and I had intruders, and someone had turned my bike into a wake-up alarm, hurling it into my tent.

The attack wasn't a complete surprise, as a couple of guys had discovered us just as we were setting up our tents the evening before as a storm blew in. They warned us that this wasn't such a safe place to camp and invited us to come to their home out of sight over the next rise. We declined their offer, not wishing to race the coming storm and also counting on the storm to limit the possibility of anyone else being out and happening upon us, though these two guys had made a determined effort to find us, either seeing our tracks up the dirt road we had taken or perhaps spotting us from a distance before we had disappeared among the bushy terrain.

We had pushed our bikes up a steep dirt road and across a field to reach our campsite, evidently not being as discreet as we should have. It wasn't a campsite I would have chosen, but David was determined to camp high above the road for a good view and to be above what he called "the fetid smells of the valley." Not only were we exposed for too prolonged a spell pushing our bikes up the dirt road, but it was better than an hour before the six pm sunset, making it easier to be spotted in the light, especially with people still out and about.

The two guys who discovered us as we were setting up our camp had come up the road on a motorbike and then rushed about trying to find us.  I could see them below us through the bushy terrain. I didn't like their sense of urgency at all, but after speaking with them, neither of us felt concerned that they were a threat or that we were at risk of being discovered by anyone else.  In all of our wild camping experiences all over the world we have camped in many iffy spots but have always been protected by that sense of grace that envolopes the touring cyclist.

In my groggy morning state I at first thought that our intruders had accidentally stumbled upon us and were just overly forthright in awakening us with the bicycle thrown at my tent. When I emerged from my tent to see what was going on, I heard one fiercely shouting "MONEY, MONEY," at David, the only words of English he seemed to know. My pulse quickened and I quickly ducked back into my tent to hide the bulk of my money. David tried talking to them, but to no avail. Then I heard a gunshot. I quickly opened my tent door to see what was going on, hopıng Davıd hadn't been the target of the shot.

When I did I had the barrel of a shot gun thrust into my face. My first thought was "this is it," but I was only inflicted with the demand of "MONEY, MONEY," myself. I hurriedly thrust a wad of bills from my wallet out the tent door. I had already removed the credit cards from my wallet. When the thief saw the wallet he stuck out his hand for it. I tried to remove the hundred dollars I had hidden, but he gave me a hard kick in the chest and then reached in again. I dıd not hesitate handıng it to him.

While this was going on I heard a second gun shot, as Davıd resisted the other assailant. David had gıven him a couple of bills but was beıng harassed for more. The guy was hitting David over the head with a mallet of some sort and bashing in his tent. I heard him say, "Ouch, that hurts." The guy dealing with me saw how much he had gotten, which was evidently enough, and called off his partner and they fled in the dark.

David's tent poles were slightly bent and one broken, but otherwise our gear didn't appear to have suffered any other damage, though I later discovered a bent tent pole myself. My chest was sore from where I had been kicked and hurt a bit when I breathed in deeply, but I didn't seem to have broken any ribs. We hardly said a word as we packed up in the pitch dark with the aid of our headlamps.

Our thoughts have been on Frank Lentz, an American cyclist who disappeared in eastern Turkey in 1894 on an around the world bicycle tour and is the subject of a recent book, "Lost Cyclist," by David Herlihy. We thought we might venture to the town where Lentz was last seen over a century ago. David commented that this further bonds us wıth Lentz. He also remembered that Dervla Murphy, the Irish cyclist who wrote the book "Full Tilt" about cycling from Europe to the Himalayas in 1962 had also been robbed in Turkey. David added that this was a first for him, then added, "But you're stıll one up on me," referring to my robbery at knife-point along the road in South Africa two years ago.

It had rained hard during the night, turning the dirt road back to the highway into an unrideable muddy quagmire. When we reached the paved road just as the sky was lighting up, it took us several minutes to scrape clean the mud that caked our tires and clogged our brakes. We were still in a state of semi-shock from our robbery, but our thoughts were mostly on how lucky we were that we had only lost a couple hundred dollars and suffered only minimal damage to our gear and just a few bruises to our selves.

They could have swooped in with machetes and hacked our tents to shreds or taken the machetes to us and done us in. They could have stolen our bikes or grabbed any of our bags. They could have demanded our cameras and watches. We were fortunate, too, that they waited until shortly before daybreak, allowing us a full night's sleep. If they had come in the middle of the night, we couldn't have stuck around after being robbed and would have had to get going then and there.

A couple hours later we saw a pair of touring cyclists up ahead along the road preparing to begin their day, the first we had seen. We anticipated that the first we'd see would be German. Their Ortlieb panniers seemed to confirm it. David cycled up to them and spoke German. They understood, but they were Swiss.

They'd been on the road for two months, wild-campıng most of the time too, as they had just done. They'd had no problems. Their only complaint was a bad flat tire day the day before with four. They hadn't encountered any other touring cyclists until they reached Turkey two weeks ago. They'd met a Norwegian traveling on his own and a French guy and a German guy traveling together. It was heartening news that the perils of Turkey couldn't be too pervasive to have scared off cyclists. We'd like to assume that our assault was an aberration, though we will be much more careful when camping in the future.

We had been rather brash in this choice. Even though the campsite was isolated from view, we were exposed to eyes way too long in reaching it and stopped to camp more than an hour before dark, a little too early, greatly increasing the likelihood of people still being out and being able to spot us.

It was unsettling enough of an experience that David said that if he were on his own he might be tempted to just head back to Rhodes, his favorite Greek island, where he has spent several winters painting portraits and landscapes for the tourists and where he intends to spend a couple of months after we end our travels together, but we are not to be deterred just yet.

I had the same dilemma after being assaulted in South Africa two years ago. I survived a further month-and-a-half, though with diminished enjoyment, as I was continually on guard, prepared to hightail it home if I had been attacked again. It will take awhile for us to shake this off. We will now be traveling under a dark cloud of suspicion and wariness, despite the many warm and hospitable encounters that have predominated these travels.

Later, George

Monday, October 25, 2010

Denizli, Turkey

Friends: Istanbul is the standard gateway to Turkey for most travelers.  That would have been my choice too, but I deferred to the preference of my traveling companion David.  He likes Greece, and in particular its islands. He proposed we fly into Athens and then take a ferry across the Aegean Sea to Bodrum and let that be our entry into Turkey, the first leg of a three-month bicycle tour about the region and into the Middle East.  Since we'd be purchasing round trip tickets, that would allow us to finish our travels on one of his favorite islands, where he has spent a few winters painting, before flying home.

Both of us prefer rural to urban, and small town to big town, so when we arrived at the Athens airport, well out of the city, we had no desire to linger. It was past dark, so we did as we always do, biked a few miles and found a place to pitch our tents under some trees past a runway.  At first light we were up and on our way to the ferry port in Piraeus, about thirty miles away.  We knew there was much to see in Athens but we could save that for the end of our travels.  We were eager to commence biking.  We had been looking forward to this occasion ever since we had met three years ago in Telluride, Colorado, where David lives and I spend a month each fall working for its film festival.

Day three and 150 miles into Turkey. My traveling companion, David, and I flew into Athens five days ago and then took a ferry across the Aegean Sea to Bodrum, an ancient Turkish port and popular tourist town. Entering Turkey in Bodrum allowed us to avoid the maelstrom of Istanbul, 500 miles to the northwest and also gave us a leg up on reaching Syria before it gets too cold. Rather than following the coast, we headed into the heart of the country to pick up the Silk Road and to experience the "Real Turkey.".

The oddest sight we've encountered so far are heads popping out of passenger windows of passing cars shouting an exuberant greeting. We're overcoming years of conditioning expecting such a verbal assault to be some slur or epithet demanding us to get off the road. Rather than cringing and preparing to respond with a middle digital, we now know to feel a jolt of positive energy and can respond with a full-handed friendly wave. If nothing else, we are learning that the Turks are unrestrained in their excitement at seeing a pair of travelers on bikes.

Drivers on both sides of the road regularly toot their horns and give a vigorous wave with eyes nearly bulging in wonderment. People along the road likewise respond with an exuberant wave. The daily onslaught of waves almost rival the number I received when bicycling through Thailand, perhaps the world's friendliest and most welcoming place--The Land of Smiles, as Thailand is justifiably known.

This is a different strain of friendliness. The Thai friendliness is gentle and natural shared with all, while that of the Turks is a sudden assertive burst, as if they've been caught by surprise and jerk their hand up quickly as if they're drawing a gun to fire before being fired upon. The Thais give a casual wave that might be a pat on the back, while the Turks flap their hand with the vigor of a slap to the face.

The friendliness continues when we're off our bikes. Men want to shake our hands and offer us tea and hover about us looking for a way to offer us assistance, even though few speak any English.

This is David's third visit to Turkey on his bicycle. The first was in 1992 on an around-the-world journey. He returned a few years later when he was island-hopping in Greece. The roads of Turkey have improved considerably since David's last visit. We've experienced just a few stretches of not so smooth pavement that remind Davıd of what it was like the previous two times he bicycled here. There is considerable road construction, widening highways to four-laners and improving others, as Turkey strives to make itself EU worthy. There has been so little traffic, we've been able to ride side by side most of the time.

So far this three-month journey to the Middle East has been more about getting to know one another better than getting to know Turkey. David and I met ın Telluride three years ago and have hung out together the past three falls for the month I've been in Telluride workıng for its Labor Day film festival, Roger Ebert's favorite, and mine too. It is only natural that we would have struck up a bond, as David has been bicycle touring almost as long as I have. His first tour was in 1979, three years after my first. He too has bicycled all over the US and a fair amount of the world.

We've both had so many travel experiences, we'd only been able to share a small fraction of them until this trip. Now we're both fully learning the extent of each other's travels. There is no lull in the stories as we're constantly reminded of places we've been, not only from the passing countryside, but by some tale one of us shares.

David is continually revealing a chapter of his life I knew nothing of, immediately grabbing my attention with some introductory phrase as, "When I was workıng as a waiter on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon," or "When I was living ın Germany, washing dishes on a US army base," or "When I was workıng on a kibbutz in Israel," or "When I was arrested on Rhodes trying to make money as a portrait artist." Then for the next few minutes it is hard to remember that I'm in Turkey as I'm transported to another corner of the globe.

David spent ten years as a Mormon, converted by a missionary when he was 17 growing up in Pennsylvania. He served as a mıssionary himself not long after his conversion and before attending Brigham Young University. He was assigned to Arizona and Nevada. While in Las Vegas his team averaged five conversions and baptisms a month, among the best anywhere.

He was engaged to marry a BYU classmate, but called off the nuptials three days before they were due at the altar. He was staying with the family of his fiance in Oakland when he made his announcement. They didn't promptly order him out, but allowed him to linger as he prepared for Plan B, a bicycle trip to Santa Fe--something that was truer to himself than spending the rest of his life betrothed. While his fiance and her parents were devastated, he felt as if a giant weight had been removed from his back.

"I was walking around the house singing and humming," he said. " You know how it is, the excitement before a trip, while everybody else was seething with despair and anger. It was like hanging out in a morgue. If murder were legal in California, I would have woken up wıth an ax in my forehead."

Listening to David reminisce has been akin to reading a rivetıng memoir that I don't want to end and without having to turn the pages.

Davıd thrives on the camping aspect of bicycle tourıng as much as I do, maybe more. He has as much experience finding places to camp as anyone. He wild camps for six months of the year outside of Telluride on Forest Service land. A friend made a documentary on his wild-camping called "Woodsie" that played at the Telluride Mountain Film Festival this past Memorial Day weekend and was a bıg hit.

David is a devotee of the camp fire, something that I have never indulged in. He couldn't make a fıre our fırst night of wild camping under an olive tree alongside a runway of the Athens airport, but we've had a fire the past two nights after we ferried over to Turkey from Greece. When I asked if I could toss some paper scraps into the fire, he absolutely refused.

He is very particular about what he burns. He holds fire in high esteem, something to be greatly respected. Sitting beside the fire smoking his pipe at the end of the day is almost a sacred ritual for him, made even better if he is imbibing a beer. He also warned me to never spit in his fire or even to piss while facing his fire no matter how distant I may, just a couple of his superstitions. Though I did share his campsite a couple of times outside of Telluride, this side of him I did not know. I eagerly look forward to what more he might reveal and also to equally acquaint myself with Turkey and the other countries on our itinerary.

This is the second Internet cafe I've tried ın Turkey. Neither would allow me access to my blog or my email account, so I'm relyıng on Robert once again to post it. Hopefully I wıll have better luck ın the future.

Later, George

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Back in Chicago

Friends: I left Charleston fourteen days ago with sizzling mid-summer temperatures in the 90s and arrived in Chicago with winter nipping at my heels. The message board outside McCormack Place along Lake Michigan gave a temperature of 48 degrees late yesterday afternoon as I passed by. The temperature in my tent last night was truly wintry--in the 30s. I've needed tights and gloves the last two days.

I wouldn't have minded the cold so much if it hadn't been accompanied by a brisk northerly wind, the exact direction I was headed up the western border of Indiana for a last few Carnegie libraries. Saturday's wind bringing the plunge in temperature was well-nigh gale-force, holding me to eight to nine miles per hour. I actually quit riding with 90 minutes of daylight remaining after managing just 60 miles, unable to pass up a rare clump of trees in the wide-open farm country of northern Indiana. I quit early hoping the wind would abate the next day and also to conserve energy.

The wind relented a bit, but it was still a battle to average eleven miles per hour for my final 93 miles. It was my longest day on the bike since I left Telluride over three weeks ago. I put in eight-and-a-half hours of riding time over eleven hours--two hours more than any other day of these travels. If I hadn't been intent on getting home in time for my luncheon with the Israeli ambassador, I would have taken an extra day.

But still, it was a most satisfying final day on the bike, especially riding in to the city from the south along the Lake Front bike path. It is the most glorious way to arrive in Chicago, bar none. Once one turns on to the bicycle path around 72nd street, it begins a fabulous ten-mile stretch along Lake Michigan with a towering forest of skyscrapers in the distance. It is as fine an entrance to any city anywhere. The parkland along the lake was in exceptional form, dotted with long stretches of re-introduced indigenous prairie grasses flourishing as they once did well before white man despoiled the scene.

For once I did not object to urban sprawl. It couldn't come soon enough, as I knew it would somewhat blunt the wind. The sprawl began in Cedar City, Indiana, 29 miles before I began my ten mile jaunt along the lake, turning off at Navy Pier for the final four miles inland to my apartment, cutting through the northern fringe of the downtown, my stomping grounds during my nearly two decades of bike messengering. It gave me another adrenalin rush of fond memories.

Sunday was just a one Carnegie day after hitting eleven the previous three days. The finale came in Brook, twelve miles beyond my last campsite. I entered Brook from the east on highway 16 after turning off 55. There was hardly any traffic or anyone out and about early Sunday morning. Brook was a small enough town, I had no fear of not being able to find the library on my own.

As I approached the town's couple block business district my heart gave its usual leap of delight when I spotted a majestic building up on the right on a corner lot in a park that had to be the Carnegie. There was no sign nor the usual "Library" or "Public Library" or "Free Library" or "Carnegie Library" chiseled into its front facade, but it had the solid, stately stature of a Carnegie. It was only when I took a ride around the building and saw its addition did a sign confirm that it was what I was looking for. The addition was of the same brick as the original, a perfect match.

The same couldn't be said of Fowler's addition to its Carnegie that I visited the afternoon before along route 55 after Attica. Its unsightly glassy attachment was at least hidden from the street side view of the library, now known as the Benton County Library. Its original cornerstone acknowledged the building as a "gift of Andrew Carnegie." Not too many of the Indiana libraries put Carneige on the exterior of their building, though most have his portrait hanging somewhere inside.

The town of Oxford, ten miles before Fowler, hadn't grown enough to require an expansion to its humble Carnegie across from its town park in the center of town. The library did not want to be used as a babysitting service. A sign on its door warned, "Children under the age of seven must be accompanied by an adult or responsible teen fourteen or older."

There was little Sunday traffic on the tiny rural roads until it was church time. It was still very minimal, as the churches have greatly thinned out since leaving the Bible Belt a couple days ago. For 800 miles or so through the Carolina's and Tennessee and Kentucky I passed a church every few miles. Their competition for customers was reflected not in two-for-one deals or 99 cent specials, but in their witty sermon titles on their message boards.

I have missed them, having to rely instead on the usually mundane town mottoes for my amusement. With a paucity of fresh sermon titles to occupy me I reflected back on some of my favorites. Two of them were airline related, something I appreciate--"If God is Your Copilot, Switch Seats" and "All of Our Seats Come With a First Class Service." Word play and puns are quite common--"A Church is a Gift from God, Assembly Required," "Having Truth Decay? Brush Up on Your Bible." There was a whole slew of Internet related titles--"Prayer, the Original Wireless Connection," "We Need to Talk, No Texting Allowed," "God Sent the First 'Text' Message, It's Called the Bible."

As in my previous rides through the Bible Belt I have marveled at how clever and original these sermon titles can be. I know that country preachers are known for their homespun, down-home wisdom, but I remained suspicious that someone other than these small town preachers were coming up with these titles. It seemed likely there must be some sort of think tank or Christian World advertising agency like a Leo Burnett or Hallmark Greeting Company employing a team of writers concocting and distributing them.

The marvel is that I have never seen the same title twice in the thousands of miles I have biked through the Bible Belt seeing hundreds of titles. The lack of duplication only added to my suspicions that those who distribute them are very careful to parcel them out over a long enough period of time and distance to prevent one from seeing the same title. If there weren't a well-coordinated distribution system, it would seem likely that preachers would be stealing or sharing titles. So many of them are simply too good for a one-time use only.

As I pondered many of the titles I realized that a surprising number of them had a ring of familiarity to them. It finally dawned on me that they had been filched and adapted from "The Cyclist's Coda," a secret, supposedly divinely inspired book about the bicycle as the messiah, detailing the coming carmageddon and how the bicycle will be man's salvation and embraced by all. It is divided into chapters from Genesis to Revelation, tracing the history of the bicycle and how it will ultimately save mankind. I have never actually seen a copy of the book, nor even met anyone who has, just a few other ardent cyclists who have heard about it.

I first learned about it from a Japanese cyclist in 1989 high in the Andes of Peru. He hoped I might know of it, as he was in search of it himself. He quoted quite a few passages from the book that carried the certitude of the beatitudes and commandments. The next time was five years later in Nepal from a German cyclist. He too, as the several others I have met who know of it, could enthusiastically quote chapter titles and assorted assurances, but like the Japanese cyclist his knowledge was only a sketchy third or fourth hand. Meeting someone who has actually seen the book, or might even have a copy, is what keeps me roaming the world on my bicycle, though simply knowing that it exists is enough, and provides all the inspiration I need to have given myself up to the bicycle.

But someone in one of these Christian sermon title factories must have come up with a copy of "The Cyclist's Coda," or have better than second-hand information about it, as many of the sermon titles have been adapted from it. "Seven Days Without Prayer Makes One Weak" was taken from "Seven Days Without Riding Your Bike Makes One Weak." "Get on Your Knees and Fight Like a Real Man," was originally "Get On Your Bike and Travel Like a Real Man." "Autumn Leaves, Jesus Doesn't" was "Autumn Leaves, Your Bicycle Doesn't."

"Forgiveness is God's Command," was taken from "Riding Your Bike Is God's Command." "Home Improvement, Take Your Family to Church," is, of course, "Home Improvement, Take Your Family on a Bicycle Ride." "Directions to Heaven, Turn Right and Keep Straight," is an adaption of "Directions to Heaven, Get on Your Bicycle and Ride Everywhere." "If You Can't Stand the Heat, Believe in Jesus," was originally "If You Can't Stand the Heat, Ride Your Bicycle." "Warning: Jesus is Coming, R U Ready," came from "The Day of the Bicycle is Coming, Are You Ready." "Jesus Saves" was taken from "The Bicycle Saves."

There are quite a few more, but I'll leave it at that. It was nice to have solved one mystery, but not the mystery that keeps me bicycling. Carmageddon is not likely to happen in my lifetime, though it is assuring to know that it will.

One of the things I was rarely able to take advantage of in these travels was a hearty pancake breakfast in a small town diner. Most small town diners have gone the way of the do-do. The few that remain rarely served breakfast. A stack of flapjacks provides me with enough energy to get through the day, supplemented with snacks, until I retreat to my tent for the night and ingest another huge dose of calories.

As much as the food, I missed the conversation of locals complaining about the weather and politicians and the economy and flirting with the waitress. I would have liked to have heard the rant from the farmer who had a sign posted in his field decoding Obama as the acronym--One Bad Ass Mistake America. I would have asked those local diners about the sermon titles and if they had any theories on where they came from.

Maybe I'll be luckier on my next trip into the American heartland and find more local morning cafes. The only two I stumbled upon were an embarrassment. I was fed a Belgian waffle in a trendy little place and was bothered through the whole meal by a classic empty-headed, whiny Southern woman who defined obesity and kept asking me about my travels as I was trying to read a book.

In another, as I dined on a paltry plate of biscuits and gravy, a 40-year old Mexican gauchely teased the 50-year old waitress. "What color is your hair?" he asked. "Didn't it used to be darker."

"Leave my hair alone," she snapped. "I've been up since 1:30."

But he wouldn't leave her hair alone and persisted enough that I almost intervened. I wanted to hear authentic locals talking about genuine issues, not phonies trying to make conversation.

But as always, I found refuge on my bike and will continue to. I have barely two weeks to regroup and then its off to Turkey and the Middle East with David from Telluride. Not only will we visit Turkey's Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark is believed to have come to rest, but we will continue on to Mount Sinai in Egypt where the Ten Commandments were delivered. We will no doubt learn much along the way.

Later, George

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Attica, Indiana

Friends: The Carnegies continue to give me a gasp of delight and wonderment when I round a bend and spot another. Part of it may be the miles of anticipation and the cumulative memory of all I've seen, but each is a stand-alone beauty and marvel. The one here in Attica is framed by a pair of fountains. A statue of a World War I soldier stands between them on the promenade to the entrance lined with bushes and trees. A two-sided plaque out front recounts the library's construction in 1904. Its interior is equally wonderful.

It registered nearly as high a wow-factor as the limestone Carnegie in Brazil the day before. It stood magnificently on a rise just outside the town's business district on a residential street. My first glimpse truly took my breath away.

The Carnegies are certainly well worth seeking out, not only for their architecture, but also to honor their importance, paying homage to what a significant event it was for each town to acquire a library back in the days when libraries were a rarity. Well before Carnegie's funds ran out constructing nearly 1,700 libraries around the US, Carnegie was responsible for more than half of the libraries in the country.

He established a library consciousness in the United States that is unrivaled anywhere else in the world other than Scandinavia and Iceland, regions of short winter days where reading is a great pastime. The Icelanders actually have a saying, "Better to be barefoot than without a book." That speaks volumes, as Iceland is a country with year-round inhospitable weather and geography. To be without shoes there would be an unimaginable hardship.

Carnegie's writings about the importance of libraries contain equally telling remarks about the essential nature of a library to a community. He wrote, "There is no use to which money could be applied so productive of good, as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support it." He considered the library "a never-failing spring in the desert."

He has inspired others to contribute to the construction of libraries. The huge county library in Hendersonville, North Carolina that replaced its Carnegie was funded by an anonymous grant of one million dollars. The expansion of the Carnegie in Worthington, Indiana was largely funded by a local benefactor. Various librarians have mentioned how the locals raised the funds for improvements to their libraries.

Telluride's extraordinary library, worthy of a community ten or twenty times its size, was funded by a bond issue that passed by just one vote, but now not one of those people who voted against it would want to admit it. It is the hub of the town, not only lending books and DVDs, but bicycles, and hosting innumerable lectures. There is a continual day-long stream of people taking advantage of it. Durango, too, has an exceptionally fine new library that is the pride of the community, though as with Telluride, the vote to raise the funds to construct it just narrowly passed.

Most of the Carnegies have the same portrait of Carnegie hanging, usually in the entryway, often at near ceiling level, keeping an unobtrusive vigil, as he would prefer it. The Rockville library has it on more prominent display above its checkout desk. The Rockville library had a warm and welcoming residential flavor, a block from its town square. It was greatly overshadowed by the grandiose limestone county building in the center of the square, comparable to the most lavish of French town halls. I took a slow ride around it to take it all in, and then did it again I was so awestruck. It alone warranted a visit to Rockville.

Though the Carnegie libraries of southern Indiana are a great attraction, there are other reasons to visit. Brazil was hosting its eighth annual Popcorn Festival this weekend in honor of Orville Redenbacher, born on a nearby farm in 1907, living until 1995. There is a present no-burn policy in effect, so no fireworks this year. One of the most popular events is the Redenbacher look-alike contest.

Coal City has an annual "Grouch Festival," where the town elects a grouch for the year. One is welcomed to the town by a sign that says "A town full of happy folk and one old grouch." The election is conducted during the Grouch Festival, a penny per vote. It is such an honor to be elected the grouch, that the present grouch drives around with a car that advertises himself as the town grouch.

Coal City concocted their town motto in retaliation to nearby Clay City proclaiming itself the "Mayberry of the Midwest," inspired by the Andy Griffith Show's mythical Mayberry in North Carolina, the idyllic American small town, and one of the highest rated TV shows during its run from 1960-1968. The Andy Griffith of Clay City plopped down beside me as I sat on the sidewalk drinking a fifty cent can of Dr. Pepper from a nearby vending machine to welcome me to the town and to learn about my travels.

He told me Clay City had a small all-volunteer library, only open three days a week and without computers. The Brazil Carnegie was 20 miles to the north. He raved about the Brazil library almost as if it was his own, boasting of its limestone beauty. He told me the coal in the region was mined out five years ago, but there was still plenty of limestone, though not as easily accessible as it once was.

He said truck loads are presently going out headed to St. Louis for the construction of a church. It is the biggest limestone project since 9/11 when the Pentagon had to be rebuilt. He mentioned a business that had limestone carvings up ahead. I asked if they had statues of Bobby Knight. "I don't think so, but it would be a popular item if they did. A lot of people around here think he can walk on water."

As I biked out of Clay City the backside of the sign welcoming people to Clay City as the "Mayberry of the Midwest" said "Thanks for Visiting Clay City--Small Town/Big Pride." It is a motto that could apply to just about every town in Indiana, and not without justification.

Later, George

Friday, October 1, 2010

Worthington, Indiana

Friends: If I were a hunter I would have had venison on the grill the past two nights. Both nights I've had inquisitive deer nose around my tent shortly after I set it up just as night fell. I could hear them tentatively approach, gently crunching the recently fallen leaves. One set returned to munch on the banana peels I tossed out after my dinner of peanut butter and honey and banana sandwiches.

I wasn't able to push on to full dark last night, as I was closing in on Bloomfield and its Carnegie. I stopped three miles south of town, venturing off on a dirt road that ran between a field of brown corn stalks and a forest. A minute down the road, I could slip into the forest, ending my day with 75 miles, a bit less than I would have liked thanks to a head wind from the north and visits to four Carnegies.

The first in Paoli had recently closed, just as the first I had come upon in Indiana the evening before in New Albany, just across the border from Kentucky. New Albany's library is now a Carnegie Center for Art and History. Paoli's has yet to find a new incarnation. It was so recently replaced that a hand scrawled message was taped to the door giving the address of the new library four blocks away and that its hours were the same.

It had a prime location in the corner of the typical small town Indiana square with a monumental limestone town hall standing solitarily in the center surrounded by a grassy expanse. When I asked a white-haired gentleman out walking his dog directions to the library he told me about the new one first, saying it was necessary, as the old one had too many steps to walk up. There were only a dozen or so, but steps up to its entrance are indeed a feature of many Carnegies, enhancing their elevated, exalted air.

Crowded in by other buildings, this Carnegie was more quaint and charming than majestic. The red-brick building with a green awning and matching green gutters and trim had been well-maintained. If it had been on its own private lot, as most Carnegies are, it could have easily been expanded, as have three of the five Carnegies I have visited since, including this one in Worthington. The expansions have ordinarily been down so seamlessly, that it is barely detectable.

Just eight miles north of Paoli I came upon the Carnegie in Orleans. It resides in a wooded lot right along the town's main street and hasn't needed to be expanded. When I started asking about the library, the librarian pulled out "Temples of Knowledge, Andrew Carnegie's Gift to Indiana," by Alan McPherson written in 2003 about Indiana's 164 Carnegies. There is a photo and a page devoted to each of them. George Bobinski and Theodore Jones have both written books about the 2,500 Carnegies scattered around the world, but this was the first book I had found about a particular state's libraries. I would think that every Carnegie library would have these books on their shelves, but surprisingly, few do.

The Mitchell Carnegie, seven miles north of Orleans, didn't have the cathedral/bank emporium look of many Carnegies. I asked the librarian who the architect was. She didn't know, though she said she had heard that Carnegie got upset when towns began to embellish their libraries with unnecessary grand features. Carnegie considered them a waste of money, wishing his contributions to go to more functional aspects of the library. The Mitchell library was a later Carnegie, built in 1917. It celebrated its 90th birthday and will have a gala 100th celebration when that comes around. The librarian proudly pointed out the original lights and check-out counter. It had rose buses along one exterior wall.

After three Carnegies in 15 miles, it was 20 miles to the next in Shoals. It was small enough to have been a one-room school house. It had high ceilings and a very pleasant wooden interior. I wished I had more time to linger.

I hit two more Carnegies in the first hour today, Bloomfield and Worthington, both expanded and going strong. Now I have a long stretch of 35 miles to the next in Brazil along quiet country roads. It is a sunny cool day with the leaves just beginning to show their fall colors, as fine a day as one could want to be out bicycling.

Later, George