Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hillsboro, Ohio

Friends: Tomas sent me off from Greensboro six days ago with two pounds of nuts, some dried mango and three tubes of Shot Bloks, electrolyte chews with caffeine from Clif Bar. I immediately began nibbling on the nuts and the mango, but set aside the latest energizer from Clif Bar for an emergency, or at least an occasion when I needed an extra boost.

That came on my second day out of Greensboro when I began a five-mile, 1,200 foot climb to 3,400 feet out of Wytheville, Virginia that the woman at the Visitor Center doubted was bikable. It was steep and windy, but would have been a mere Category Two climb if it were included in The Tour de France. The supplements were hardly necessary to get me over it, but I had to use them eventually, if only to lighten my load. I didn't explode with energy as I rationed out the six bite-size gelatin tablets mile by mile, but I at least didn't feel any waning of strength as I made the climb.

I used the second of the Shot Bloks yesterday for even less of an emergency. I was flying along at twenty miles per hour with a rare strong tailwind just after I crossed into Ohio from West Virginia. I was following the Ohio River to Portsmouth for forty miles on a busy four-lane highway. Not knowing how long the wind would last, I wanted to make sure I could stay on my bike as long as possible to take full advantage of it, so I began downing more of the caffeine gels. I made it non-stop to Portsmouth, but had to give up the wind for a spell to search out the Portsmouth library, as it was a Carnegie, one of 105 scattered about Ohio, one of the most of any state.

Like so many of the Carnegies I have visited over the years, it was a building of such majesty and magnificence that it looked staggeringly out of place, upstaging all the other buildings around it and throughout the town. It deserved vast and well-manicured grounds, as if it were a chateau or a cathedral, so one could fully appreciate its beauty. These libraries do bear a small-scale resemblance to the cathedrals the French built centuries ago, many of which have been declared World Heritage Sites. I would like to hereby nominate our Carnegie Libraries as a World Heritage Site.

Despite its size, the United States lags behind France and Italy and a few other countries in the number of sites that have been deemed World Heritage worthy. Many of ours are natural wonders, such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. We don't have many man-made sites, in contrast to other countries. These Carnegies would certainly qualify. They are well worth seeking out. Hardly a one fails to elicit my usual reaction at my first glimpse of a World Heritage Site--an immediate gasp of wonder and then the drop of my jaw and a slight loss of breath. Yes, they are positively breath-taking.

The Carnegie in Portsmouth, like the one I visited in Huntington earlier in the day, was an early Carnegie, built in 1903, before Carnegie began to tone down their extravagance, so it was extra spectacular. It included a dome with an interior balcony, though it was presently off limits. Unlike the Carnegie in Huntington, this one was still used as a library, as it wasn't confined by other buildings and could be expanded to accommodate the town's growth. Additions had been tastefully added to its two sides and rear in 1995. They blended in, only embellishing its grandeur.

When I left the library, I still had a tail wind as I turned onto highway 73 slashing diagonally across the middle of the state, but it only last for 20 minutes as the skies darkened and it clashed with a wind from the north bringing on a sudden torrent of rain. I was lucky to have a rural volunteer fire station to duck under for the fifteen minutes of its initial fury, before settling into a slight drizzle. I still had an hour-and-a-half of light to ride in. If the tail wind had persisted I was gunning for my first century of this trip and the first century ever for the Surly I inherited from my friend Gary last summer. This is the third trip I've ridden it.

The first was last fall from Charleston to Chicago. I could tell then it took a bit more effort to ride than the Trek I've been touring on for decades, though it gave a smoother ride, thus justifying its reputation as a deluxe touring bike. Its most distinguishing feature is its stability on fast descents. My Trek starts shimmering at thirty miles per hour. I can hit forty on the Surly and still feel as if I've yet to hit thirty. It rides like a Cadillac, and like a Cadillac is a bit hefty. I wouldn't dream of trying to keep up with The Tour de France on it.

I also gave the Surly a ride in Turkey this past winter as I wasn't going to be pressed for time. That confirmed that it took more effort to climb than my Trek. Since this present ride is simply a training ride for Europe, I went with the Surly once again. I can't wait to hop on the Trek in less than two weeks when I leave Charles de Gaulle Airport for Cannes. It will feel like a Ferrari. I could have had my first one hundred mile day on the Surly yesterday even with the loss of the tail wind, but I stopped after 95 miles with half an hour of light remaining to take advantage of an ideal campsite in a state park on a thick bed of pine needles. I feared muddy camping otherwise.

Though I had the state park to myself, I was awoken shortly after dawn by the sound of a jet revving up for take off. I was out in isolated rural Ohio. It didn't seem as if there would be an airport for such big aircraft anywhere near. Every ten or fifteen minutes I heard another roar of a jet. When I began my ride I heard more such sounds, but saw no aircraft in the sky. A few miles down the road I came upon a side road with a sign saying "General Electric Testing Area." What they were testing I can't imagine.

Later, George

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