Friday, April 15, 2011

Huntington, West Virginia


Friends: I included Huntington on my route across West Virginia as it was one of only three cities in the state with a Carnegie Library and the only one that wasn't out of my way. The library isn't the only notable attraction in this sizable city on the Ohio River. It is also home to Marshall University, named for an early Supreme Court Justice. The main street into town was Hal Greer Boulevard, a basketball star from the 1950s, who went on to star in the NBA. Not only did he attend Marshall, but he grew up in Huntington. He's not the only Marshall athlete to make a significant splash in the world of professional athletics. Randy Moss, the notorious NFL receiver, also attended Marshall. Nothing has been named for him yet.

Marshall is also known for the 1970 crash of a plane that killed all 37 members of its football team and its coaching staff and a number of supporters. It is memorialized by a tulip-shaped fountain behind the student union. It is turned off every year at the moment of the crash and not turned on until the following spring. The visitor center had a poster of the 2006 movie "We Are Marshall" about the team's revival.

I saved my visit to the Carnegie Library until I had a good meander around this appealing college town. It was one of the first of the Carnegie's built in 1904 and was one of those lavish emporiums that made Carnegie later more closely review architectural plans for his libraries, restricting the use of his funds more for books rather than for looks. This two-story stone building was a virtual palace with four pillars marking its entrance and names of great writers chiseled on three sides just below its roof line--Plato, Socrates, Shakespeare, Homer, Schilling and more. Though the building is no longer used as a library, it has lost none of its grandeur, overshadowing the present much larger library across the street in the heart of Huntington at 5th Street and 9th Avenue. The Carnegie is now home to Huntington Junior College.

The weather has been cool enough of late that I'm back to wearing my tights and long-sleeve jersey, at least to start out the day. I can wear them with extra pride with the Garmin rider Johan van Summeren winning the Paris-Roubaix race this past Sunday, the greatest win in the team's history according to its director and founder Joanthan Vaughters, greater even than winning the team time trial at the Giro d'Italia a few years ago, allowing Christian Vande Velde, my benefactor, to wear the pink jersey for a day.

The cashier at the check-out counter at the local Foodland supermarket in Chapman yesterday recognized me as a cyclist. Even though I only had three items--two pounds of potato salad, two pounds of chocolate milk (a quart), and a can of spaghetti--she asked, "Would you like me to put your items in two bags for you?"

"One will do," I said.

"I just seen by the way you was dressed that you was on a bike and thought it might be easier fer you to carry your stuff in two bags, one for each hand. Where you biking to?"

"Chicago."

"Chicago! Are you messing with me."

"It's the God's truth. I started in Washington, D.C., so I'm gaining on it."

Here I am into my fourth decade of biking all over and people are still incredulous to learn one can ride a bike further than the corner store. I knew better than to tell her any more about the extent of my travels. I'd learned my lesson the day before. I made the mistake of telling another such unenlightened soul that this was just a little warm-up trip for three months of biking in Europe and that in the past eighteen months I had biked across China, around Lake Victoria in Africa, and all over France and Turkey.

"That's crazy," he replied. " You got to be crazy to think I'd believe that."

"I kid you not. That's been my life for nearly 35 years, biking all over the world."

"Like I said, that's sounds mighty crazy to me. Why would any one want to do that."

"It's a great way to get around. Some people like to row a boat. I like to ride a bike."

"Yeah, I know. But to China. Crazy, man, crazy. I ain't heard nuthin' like it. That's quite a story you have. I ought to call the local paper to do a story on you. Are you going to be around a spell?"

I'm accustomed to people responding to how far one can travel on a bicycle as "amazing," but not as "crazy." I was beginning to become suspicious of his familiarity with the word "crazy." He spat out his words a little too rapidly and his eyes had the glazed look of someone who might not be all there. He appeared as if he might have spent a bit of time with crazies himself and could well be a refugee from the local loony bin. I had no idea who he might be calling, so I told him I needed to be on my way lest he might be calling some guys in white suits with butterfly nets. I also resolved to be a little more careful about who I shared the extent of my travels with.

Later, George

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