Saturday, October 15, 2011

2822 Miles, 35 Days, $252. 51

Friends: For the record here are the official stats for my Telluride to Chicago ride:

Thirty-five days, 2822 miles through nine states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois) at a cost of $252.51 ($7.21 per day or 11.1 cents per mile).

The bulk of my diet consisted of seven gallons of chocolate milk, twenty-seven cans of baked beans, eleven loaves of bread, eleven burritos, sixteen bananas and sixty-two packs of ramen noodles.

I had two meals in restaurants--hotcakes for breakfast--and camped wild each night.

I picked up $2.87 in loose change and had one  flat tire.

I passed fifty-six anti-abortion signs (Jesus Once was A Fetus Too) and  fifty-eight stray bungee cords.

I read five books ("We Need To Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver, "A Map of the World" by Jane Hamilton, "Napoleon" by Felix Markham, "The Elephanta Suite" by Paul Theroux, "The Matter of Wales" by Jan Morris) and searched out twenty-eight Carnegie libraries (one in Idaho, eight in Montana, four in North Dakota, nine in Minnesota, five in Wisconsin and one in Illinois).

Here are the day by day stats--where I camped, distance traveled, miles per hour and money spent (all on food other than one dollar on a book and two dollars to use the Internet):

Sept. 10 after Uravan, Colorado 72 miles 15.32 mph $3.86
(pint chocolate milk, can baked beans, can of spaghetti)

Sept. 11 after Fruita 97 miles 13.69 mph $8.19
(bread, baked beans, two cans spaghetti, yogurt, can of ravioli, Fanta, burrito)

Sept. 12 before Rangely 74 miles 12.08 mph $4.89
(two yogurts, half gallon apple juice, hot dog, soda, chips)

Sept. 13 after Vernal, Utah 63 miles 12.85 mph $15.27
(2 qts. choc. milk, peanut butter, honey, baked beans, ramen, burrito)

Sept. 14 after Manila 62 miles 10.24 mph $9.23
(burrito, bread, ramen, baked beans, grape soda)

Sept. 15 after Carter, Wyo. 63 miles 12.67 mph $7.43
(book, burrito, tortilla chips, 3 yogurts, baked beans, ravioli, 2 ramen, grape soda)

Sept. 16 after Cokeville 78 miles 12.11 mph $11.39
(3 lbs macaroni salad, qt. choc. milk, baked beans, 2 hot dogs, soda)

Sept. 17 after Alpine 87 miles 12.83 mph$7.57
(2 qts choc. milk, corn flakes, 2 cans baked beans, ramen, burrito)

Sept. 18 after Idaho Falls, Idaho 87 miles 12.57 mph $5.27
(bread, oatmeal cookies, 2 bananas, Dr. Pepper)

Sept. 19 after MacKay 81 miles 12.11 mph $4.54
(2 qts choc. milk, baked beans, 3 ramens)

Sept. 20 before Salmon 87 miles 13.43 mph $4.63
(potato salad, 3 ramens, baked beans, ginger ale)

Sept. 21 before Darby, Montana 79 miles 13.07 mph $8.08
(hot cakes, 3 ramens, baked beans, qt choc milk)

Sept. 22 before Lolo 61 miles 14.60 mph $16.72
(hotcakes, bread, honey, baked beans, burrito)

Sept. 23 after Bonner 30 miles 13.27 $5.76
(6 ramens, 2 boxes pop tarts, baked beans, 2 bananas)

Sept. 24 before Sims 105 miles 13.51 mph $2.75
(baked beans, spaghetti, Shasta cola)

Sept. 25 before Big Sandy 121 miles 15.58 mph $14.46
(peanut butter, 12 ramens, baked beans, cookies, burrito, 32 oz soda, 44 oz soda)

Sept. 26 after Harlem 91 miles 15.94 mph $6.08
(qt. choc. milk, bread, creamed corn, 2 baked beans)

Sept. 27 after Glasgow 111 miles 15.63 mph $5.44
(qt. choc. milk, banana, potato chips, Dr. Pepper)

Sept. 28 before Bainville 114 miles, 16.12 mph $5.66
(qt. choc. milk, baked beans, tamale, banana, Pepsi)

Sept. 29 before Stanley, N. D. 96 miles 13.56 mph $7.26
(2 qts. choc. milk, bread, pop tarts, cookies, 2 cans baked beans)

Sept. 30 after Minot 78 miles 11.19 mph $2.00
(Internet Minot library)

Oct. 1 before Devil's Lake 94 miles 14.28 mph $6.69
(qt. choc. milk, 4 ramens, baked beans, hot dog, juice)

Oct. 2 before Grand Forks 91 miles 12.83 mph $8.69
(qt. choc milk, baked beans, ramen, grape jam, burrito, Dr. Pepper)

Oct. 3 before Fertile, MN 56 miles 11.50 mph $6.65
(qt. choc. milk, bread, 2 bananas, corn puffs, juice)

Oct. 4 before Detroit Lakes 69 miles 10.56 mph $8.33
(qt. choc. milk, 12 ramens, Dr. pepper, cinnamon roll)

Oct. 5 before Motley 74 miles 12.26 $5.18
(bread, coconut cookies, 2 cherry pies, tortilla chips)

Oct. 6 before Richmond 71 miles 10.98 mph $3.46
(2 yogurts, baked beans, 2 bananas, sport drink)

Oct. 7 before Hutchinson 49 miles 8.18 mph $6.91
(qt. choc. milk, macaroni salad, ramen, creamed corn, peanut butter)

Oct. 8 before Mankato 70 miles 10.80 mph $12.19
(choc. milk, bread, honey, corn, 3 bananas, lemonade mix, burrito)

Oct. 9 before Hayfield 82 miles 12.07 mph $9.36
(2 qts. choc. milk, 2 lbs macaroni salad, 2 baked beans, 12 ramens, Dr. Pepper)

Oct. 10 after Rushford 83 miles 12.20 mph $7.11
(qt. choc. milk, bread, banana, cookies, cheese puffs)

Oct. 11 before Richland Center, Wis. 88 miles 12.7 mph $4.43
(qt. choc. milk, four muffins, burrito)

Oct. 12 before Belmont 70 miles 11.96 mph $9.65
(qt. choc. milk, salami, 2 lbs macaroni salad, 2 baked beans, 2 bananas, cookies)

Oct. 13 after Rockford, Ill. 108 miles 14.13 mph $3.03
(qt. choc. milk, burrito)

Oct. 14 Chicago 80 miles 14.82 mph $4.35
(qt. choc. milk, bread)

I gained a few extra calories, though not many, from occasional offerings from others and found food along the road and dumpster diving.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Marengo, Illinois

Friends: The best laugh I get every day is whenever I see a sign for camping. That's hilarious. There is camping everywhere. Two nights ago it was in the cemetery of Belmont, Wisconsin, the state's first capital. Cemeteries are usually a last resort and so it was this night.

It had been a day of rain, though it had finally let up. Another night in a corn field amongst the tall withered stalks seemed my most likely camping spot until I happened upon the cemetery. The corn field would have been muddy and soggy.  The cemetery offered a well-drained grass mattress, much preferred, and a few towering pine trees for shelter in case the rain resumed.

Cemeteries are my prime source of water when cycling in France. Rare is it to find a water spigot though in American cemeteries. The French cemeteries are all concrete and crammed with graves, not conducive at all for camping. They are quite picturesque, invariably surrounded by a distinctive high stone wall that can be seen in the distance, immediately alerting me of an oasis ahead, as if it were a well in a desert surrounded by date trees. American small town cemeteries are quite drab in comparison, a scattering of mundane, stubby tombstones with little character and not very well maintained. They at least offer grassy expanses for camping. One of the reasons the French cemeteries offer water is that relatives pay regular, almost weekly, visits to spiff up the graves of loved ones, all monuments of a sort that they take pride in.

My final campsite of these travels last night was behind a closed down factory on the outskirts of Rockford, the third largest city in Illinois with 150,000 residents, just behind Aurora. I was caught by the dark. The full moon was late in arriving over the trees in the distance, so I couldn't quite make it out into the countryside. But the camping was as fine as if I were in an isolated forest.

Rockford offered my final Carnegie of these travels, number 28, seven less than one a day. It dated to 1902 and wasn't recognizable as a Carnegie at all with a grandiose glass expansion in 1966 totally swallowing up the original library. The third floor historical research room had a magnificent large painting of the original library. If it hadn't been getting dark, I could have spent a couple hours reading up on its history. Like many of the towns I have passed through, downtown Rockford was appealing enough to tempt me to return.

Twenty-five miles north, just across the border, the college town of Beloit once had a Carnegie, but no more. When the city outgrew its Carnegie and couldn't expand it, the library took over the town's post office for a few decades. When it outgrew that, it moved into a former JC Penney's department store in a mall on the outskirts of the city, one of the most interesting libraries I have encountered. It was huge with lots of large windows letting in tons of light overlooking the Rock River.

Platteville is another town with a Carnegie that, like Rockford, had a charm that had me thinking I wouldn't mind hanging out there for a few days pretending I was a resident. The library now houses the architectural and engineering firm Southwest Design Associates. Not unsurprisingly it has superbly maintained the strikingly beautiful Tudor style building with intricate brickwork. Like just about every Carnegie, it is not just another building. It is on a corner facing the town's large park. Scattered all over Platteville are historical markers. Sixty of the town's buildings have been declared historical landmarks. On one is a mural of nine significant figures in the city's past. One of them is Walter Payton, in remembrance of his time spent there when this university town of 11,000 residents was the site of the Bear's pre-season training camp.

Darlington, 25 miles east of Platteville, also had a Carnegie built in the Tudor style. It is now the Lafayette County Historical Society, though retaining "Carnegie Free Library" on its front. It too faces a large park. Right next door is the Johnson Public Library, built in 2000. Benches at its entry are dedicated to its donors Erwin W. and Phyllis K. Johnson. Just beyond the large park is the majestic County Court House, an extravaganza comparable to the most grand of French City Halls. The French would also appreciate the picnic table on its front lawn.

The last few days many of the small towns I have passed through have had murals on the sides of buildings. Many are so detailed that I have to stop and give them a closer look. They are another of the many delights of pedaling-paced travel. My heart is continually buoyed by such small discoveries. I paused to sit on a bench a farmer had placed a little ways off the road that had a spectacular view of the hilly countryside. Included in the view were a cowboy cut-out and an eagle on a pedestal and a bird-feeder he had added to his panorama. He and his wife and others had doubtlessly spent countless joyous hours gazing out and contemplating the wondrous scenery.

Later, George

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Muscoda, Wisconsin

Friends: As I closed in on the Mississippi and the mythical dividing line between the Western US and the Eastern, I had one final flurry of flashbacks to my previous incarnation as a Pony Express rider as I romped along as if I was desperate to make it to the next outpost and a fresh horse.

I can't be certain that I was among the couple hundred or so young men who served as riders for the short-lived service, but I do know that I would have wanted to have been one. It is as good an explanation for the present life that has chosen me as any, only wishing to be out all day riding my bike long distances in wide open spaces. It could well be that the taste I got of it wasn't enough, when the telegraph put an end to the service in October of 1861, less than 18 months after it started.

There were 120 initial riders covering the 1,900 mile route from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California with outposts every ten miles, the distance a horse could ride at a full gallop. It took ten days for a packet of messages to complete the route. We riders couldn't weigh more than 125 pounds. We rode 75 to 100 miles at a time. Our pay was a fantastic $25 a week, considerably more than the dollar a week the average laborer earned in those days. As with the bicycle messengering, I didn't care what I was paid. It only mattered that I got to be astride a horse all day riding all out. What I did after the service was curtailed I know not, but I am having a great life this time around reliving that experience.

Crossing into Wisconsin was almost like crossing from one culture to another.  Suddenly there were businesses everywhere catering to the tourist culture--antique stores and bed and breakfasts and quaint cafes. The small towns were dotted with shops for souvenir hunters.

Lacrosse is such a beer town that one of the breweries had a statue out front of the man known as the inventor and king of beer--the Belgian Gamrinus. He was adorned with a crown and a bright red robe holding a sword in one hand and a stein of beer in the other, upraised, toasting all those who came by. A sign on the brewery proclaimed, "We don't aim to make the most beer...only the best."

I have encountered even more friendliness in Wisconsin than on the other side of the Mississippi. Out West people always seemed a tad wary at the approach of a stranger. In other times their hand would be drawn to their pistol until they were certain the desperado on the bike or horse came in peace. But the West also offered a more overt friendliness from those who recognized me immediately as an unthreatening sort and were curious to learn about me, frequently offering a gift.

As I circled around Richland Center this morning in search of its Carnegie Library no one cringed when I closed in on them asking for directions. I had pleasant conversations with a bicyclist, a woman retrieving her road side garbage can, a man in camouflage walking his dog and a woman on her porch drinking a cup of coffee. It was Rockwellian small-town America at its finest.

I needed guidance as the Carnegie had burned down a few years ago. Joni Mitchell could write a song about it, as it is now a church parking lot. It had already been replaced as the town library and was vacant when it burned down.

The day before I had another disappointing Carnegie experience. The Carnegie in Viroqua had an addition that made it completely unidentifiable as a Carnegie. At least the interior of the old portion retained its majesty with the high ceilings and fine wood work and original long wooden desks and the original checkout counter complete with tiny drawers. Along side the standard portrait of Carnegie paging through a book on his lap was a painting of the library as it had been in all its magnificence.

Muscoda does not have a Carnegie library, but the municipal building it shares is adorned by a mural with bicyclists and canoeists. My last library in Minnesota, in the small town of Houston, also was graced with an eye-catching mural of bookshelves. There was no mistaking it was the library. Quite a few other non-Carnegies have had personalities and peculiarities that made them a delight. The New Ulm library in Minnesota, a river town, rented life jackets.

Next up is the Carnegie in Platteville, forty miles south of here, former pre-season training camp for the Bears. I will relive another of my lives there, my time as a football fanatic. I biked there in 1986 from Chicago on my way up to the Boundary Waters for a week of canoeing with several friends, back before I was a Carnegie fanatic.

It will be less than 200 miles back to Chicago. With the full moon I could make it in one go. I rode into the dark last night with its bright illumination and easy forest camping whenever I felt the inclination. A pair of Amish families in horse carriages added to the ambiance. They had headlights they could turn on when traffic came along. The full moon shined its full approval, not wanting me to stop riding.

Later, George

Monday, October 10, 2011

Preston, Minnesota

Friends: No worries for the citizens of Mankato confusing their renamed Carnegie Art Museum with its first incarnation as a library, as a thick growth of vines covers the front of the building, covering up the "Public Library" over the entry, unlike many of the Carnegies with "Library" still on prominent display though they no longer serve such a purpose.

The Carnegie isn't the only place to go to see art in this large college (Mankato State University) and industrial city on the Minnesota River, a tributary of the Mississippi.  One can take a stroll along an art sculpture tour through the city's downtown. A sculpture right around the corner from the library is made up a bike parts, largely handlebars, shaped into a cube, and is entitled "27," a cubic yard of space.

I have been on a stretch of Carnegie libraries that do not prominently and proudly acknowledge Carnegie on their original facades as most of those in Montana and North Dakota did.  Some communities were reluctant to accept funds from the steel magnate, not caring for his treatment of his workers, but begrudgingly took the money. Carnegie did not care if they put his name on the library or not. He in fact preferred they didn't.

The library in Hutchinson didn't have "library" anywhere on the outside of the building. When I spotted the building in the center of a large park in the very heart of the town I though it was the city hall, though it had the unmistakable majesty of a Carnegie, including a pair of pillars. The park in front of it featured a large fountain and a network of walkways with benches. It was clearly the town's centerpiece. It had a sizable addition to its rear that did not mar its appearance in the least. A plaque beside the original entry identified it as being on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Carnegie in Mapleton, a town of less than 2,000 residents, also has an entire block to itself in the very heart of the town. It had no "Carnegie" on its building and spelled "public" with a "v." The town probably hasn't grown much in the hundred years since the Carnegie was built. It is a rare one that hasn't needed an addition. It looks as pristine as if its grand opening was last week. It is a fine example of a Carnegie in its original state with a pair of inset columns and four sets of three tall magnificent windows.

No one was out and about in Mapleton early Sunday afternoon nor on the roads either, as the Vikings were doing battle on television. When I ducked into a Wal-Mart for groceries mid-morning in Mankato nearly every shopper was wearing a Viking jersey. The most popular was Favre. My fifteen minutes of provisioning was the only time I spent indoors all day. I relish all my hours in the out-of-doors.

The wind has slackened but is still blowing from the south and keeping the temperatures warm. I was happy to take advantage of the fifty-cent sodas in these small town's soft drink machines. At Mapleton I was finally able to start heading directly east, so the wind was less of a nuisance than it has been.

It was nearly one hundred miles on highway 30 to the next Carnegie in Chatfield. No Carnegie on this one either, just "Public Library" in white lettering against a green trim over the entry. This library had had a seamless brick addition. It also serves as the Chatfield Historical Museum.

Fourteen miles south the Carnegie in Preston had been desecrated by a garish bright green canopy over its entry. At least it was open on Columbus Day. Most of the libraries I have visited the past two weeks have had notices saying they would be closed, some due to budgetary restraints. Though Preston still has only 2,000 residents, its library has been greatly expanded, though more tastefully than the canopy would imply. No "Carnegie" on the building, but his portrait hangs in the addition.

I passed through the tiny town of Fountain on my way to Preston from Chatfield. It is the self-proclaimed Sink Hole Capital of the U.S.A. due to the prevalence of karst topography. It is also the starting point for a bike trail that is prominent enough that the town's water tower has a bicycle on it and the town's welcoming sign features a penny-farthing.

Preston is my last Carnegie in Minnesota. The Mississippi is less than fifty miles away. I'll cross at LaCrosse tomorrow morning and then have less than 300 miles back to Chicago. I don't have to feel any let down about a trip coming to an end as I already have plans to join up with Don Jaime for a ride through the Ozarks shortly after I return.

Hopefully I will be able to pick up the Bears game tonight in my tent. They are playing the undefeated Lions in Detroit. It is a huge game for all of Detroit--its first Monday night game in over a decade. The Bears are two and two, trying to figure out how good they are. Tonight's game will be a big test. If I were watching it on television I would be hoping to see the Super Bowl Chrysler commercial.

Later, George

Friday, October 7, 2011

Litchfield, Minnesota

Friends: For much of its length the Mississippi River forms a dividing line between states. It doesn't begin serving that purpose though until after it meanders through the middle of Minnesota on over to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul near the state's border with Wisconsin.

I met up with the mighty Mississip near the center of the state in the small town of Little Falls. I was able to follow it for ten miles on its western bank, past the home of Charles Lindbergh, where he lived a Tom Sawyer-youth building rafts to cross the river with his dog and playing in the woods. The house he grew up in is part of the 110-acre Charles A. Lindbergh State Park, the family's former homestead, established in 1931, four years after Lindbergh's historic flight, in honor of Lindergh's father, a five-term Congressman from 1907 to 1917. His home has been largely restored, as it was greatly vandalized by souvenir hunters in the first months of his great international celebrity. He was Time magazine's first Man of the Year and remains its youngest, narrowly retaining the distinction over last year's honoree--Mark Zuckerberg.

Lindbergh was only two-years old when Little Falls dedicated its library in 1904--a Carnegie that still serves its intended purpose, though it has been swallowed up by a huge addition in 1999. I didn't even notice the original building until I asked the librarian if the old library still stood. "Its behind you," she gestured. And indeed it was, its brick walls forming one of the rooms of the library. The old library contains a "Lindbergh Room" for special events. On the wall is a 45-star American flag that was discovered in the walls of the old library when the addition was undertaken.

The library stands on a large park-like parcel of land graced with large trees, explaining why I hadn't noticed the old library when I biked up. The new canopied entrance from local stone was also impressive enough to distract me from looking around and noticing the original building alongside it . A wooden beam above the original entry was etched with "Carnegie Library."  Just below, chiseled into the cement, was A. D. 1904. Beside the entry was a U.S. Department of Interior plaque designating it as a Historic Place.

I had expected to reach my next Carnegie in Litchfield about 70 miles south early this afternoon, but with the fiercest winds of the trip holding my speed to under eight miles per hour, I was lucky to make it before closing time. Litchfield has a new library, though it honors the old Carnegie with a painting of it in its entry and a Carnegie Room for special events.

The original library is several blocks away past a Burger King and is now privately owned. It has been renamed "Library Square" and is home to three businesses--Grand Concepts Hair Salon, The Work Connection Employment Center and Divine Home Care. It has a small glass addition that is an affront to the original building to accommodate them all. There is no Carnegie on the building, just "Library" above the double-pillared entry.

The winds blew all last night, a rarity, foreboding another all-day battle in the saddle. I was lucky to be camping in a gully protected from the wind, though the trees surrounding me shed twigs and leaves on me all night. There was no early morning lull in the wind, as is normal. This is the fifth straight day of strong winds from the southeast, quite uncharacteristic for this time of the year.

Leaves and corn husks and other debris have been flying past me on the road all day in a mad rush as if the apocalypse was nigh. A farmer in a pick-up flagged me down and commented, "You've got ten pounds of shit packed on a five pound bike. Can I give you a lift to the next town?" He seemed genuinely concerned for me pushing into the near gale force winds. I told him I had come over 2,000 miles already and that I could manage, but thanked him for his offer.

Road signs were shimmering in the wind as if they were kites wanting to go airborne. It was garbage day for this region and all the empty garbage cans out along the road had blown over. The wind was a deafening roar in my ears. Luckily the towns were just ten miles apart, almost an hour-and-a-half of riding between each. It sure will be sweet when the wind finally lets up and I can pedal along without having to give it all my attention and effort. My five days of tail winds across Montana are now evened up with the head winds of Minnesota.

At least it is good news for my roommate. Those tail winds of Montana made it look as if I would return much earlier than anticipated, disrupting her plans. She's had the apartment to her self for six of the last seven months. It is always an adjustment when the wanderer shows up and disperses his gear all over the place, not bothering to pack things away knowing he will be off again before long.

Later, George

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Perham, Minnesota

Friends: I have been dodging sugar beets along the road the last 150 miles fallen off trucks taking them to market. I haven't had to worry about being pelted by a beet falling off a truck though, as there is a temporary moratorium on the harvest with excessively hot temperatures in the 80s, twenty degrees higher than normal. The harvest is best when it gets down to freezing at night. The last two nights its been a balmy 58 degrees.

The moratorium put a young man rolling a cigarette I met outside the Carnegie library in Crookston temporarily on hiatus. He had bused in from Minneapolis, 300 miles away, for the work. He wasn't complaining though, as he was enjoying the quiet rural town of Crookston and its fine library and the movie theater across the street, the Grand, one of the oldest in the country, divided into two screens with $4 matinees and $5 evening features. The Carnegie building was now used as storage for the Historical Society. The new library was less than fifty feet away, but because the Carnegie was built on a bit of a rise, the new library could not have been added on to it.

Like most of these western Carnegies, "Carnegie" was engraved into the building along with the old style spelling of "Pvblic Library."  It was so traditional that the date of its construction, 1907, was accompanied with an "A.D.," though not so traditional as to give the date in roman numerals. The four-pillared building looked gallant sitting on its rise overlooking the small downtown. The concrete sides on the steps leading to its entrance were engraved with the mayor, the architect and contractor on one side and the library board on the other. It must have been a magnificent grand opening with all present.

The strong southerly winds gusting to 30 miles per hour have kept me under 70 miles the past two days. Yesterday was one of the few days in these travels where I didn't pass a town with a library. I was on a lightly traveled secondary road known as the "Prairie Passage" with towns of less than 1,000. Now that I'm in more fertile terrain there are more towns and roads to choose from. Its not as forested as I would like with much of the land under cultivation--sugar beets and soy beans and corn and wheat. The occasional clump of trees temporarily blocks the wind, allowing my speed to spurt from ten miles per hour to almost fifteen, but not for long. I didn't even average eleven miles per hour yesterday.

I camped in a clump of trees last night on the White Earth Indian Reservation about ten miles north of Detroit Lakes. The local radio station was fully devoted to the harvest, giving advice and even interviewing the owner of the local hardware store on what products he had to help. There were commercials for fertilizers and seeds and crop insurance and a flat tire repair service that would come directly to the fields. I have to cover my face when I pass a field where a tractor is at work stirring up the dirt and crop fragments.

Detroit Lakes was on my route as it had a Carnegie, my second of Minnesota's 66 Carnegies, fourteen  more than in all of Montana, North Dakato, Idado and Wyoming. This one was on level enough ground and on a corner lot large enough that it could accommodate an extensive expansion. The former entrance looking out onto the town's main street was now closed and barricaded by a chest-high hedge. The front facade of the prominent yellow brick building was engraved with "PVBLIC LIBRARY" and "CARNEGIE" below it. A band of white stone beneath the roof was ornately carved. It too was a most grand building town could be proud of.

Not only do I now have a choice of many roads to choose from, I also have a much wider choice of radio stations to listen to at night before I dive into my latest book, a biography of Napoleon, a book I picked up at a library along the way. At the entry of nearly every library I've visited is a shelf or two of books for sale, usually about fifty cents for the paperbacks and sometimes for free. Whether I need a book or not, I always check the selection, though there's rarely much for my tastes.

I was desperate enough early in the trip to give an Oprah book a read, "A Map of the Heart" by Jane Hamilton. Its the first time that I've knowingly read one of her recommendations. I couldn't resist a book with "map" in its title, even though the blurbs on the book jacket gave no indication what it was about, only that it had made the top ten list of several publications for book of the year in 1994.

The book turned into a very good read, even though it had nothing to do with maps. It was written as a first person narrative of a husband and wife who are making an attempt at farming in Wisconsin outside of Racine. A neighbor's two-year old daughter drowns in their pond and then the wife is accused of child molestation on her job as the grade school nurse. She can't meet bail so spends three months in jail. There the highlight of her day is the Oprah show. The book warranted recommendation by Oprah even without this added assist, though Oprah waited until 1999, five years after the book was written, when the movie of the book was released, to add it to her book club.

Hamilton's first book, "The Book of Ruth," was Oprah's third selection in 1996, the year she began her club. She is just one of several authors to have been chosen more than once. Toni Morrison has had four books chosen, the most of any author among Oprah's list of 65 books. Bill Cosby and William Faulkner have had three each.

Last night for the first time since I left Telluride I found an NPR station. I occasionally pulled in a CBC station when I was closer to the Canadian border, a virtual NPR station, likewise commercial free. But my book always takes precedence over the radio.

Later, George

Monday, October 3, 2011

Grand Forks, North Dakota

Friends: For the last 800 miles across Montana and North Dakota towards the end of each day as the sun approaches the horizon behind me my shadow begins to grow longer and longer in front of me and my legs spin a little bit easier with a cycling companion to draft.

As the sun dips lower and lower, my shadow creeps further and further ahead of me, eventually even outdistancing 18-wheelers as they roar by. But I am determined to not let it drop me. Staying in its slipstream keeps my pace up and makes the end of the day cycling all the more glorious. No matter how far ahead of me he gets, I can still reach out and give him a pat on the back, letting him know I am doing just fine and not to let up.

The scenery all about takes on a golden luster. Its lines are drawn all the more sharper by the low-lying sun. When the pebbles on the road start having shadows I know I am about to lose my drafting partner. I ease up a bit in anticipation of being on my own and having to expend a little more energy.

When he is finally spent and falls off, disappearing at about the same time as the sun does, he has given me such a good lead out and respite for a few miles, I can continue the pace he has set, riding triumphantly and joyously for another 15 or 20 minutes until the light is nearly snuffed out, reluctantly ending Another Great Day on the Bike. I'll pass up spots that would be ideal for camping, enjoying the riding too much to quit. Its just like with the messengering, always wanting to make one more delivery and then another before having to end my day on the bike.

Last night I camped ten miles from Grand Forks in a patch of forest that adjoined someone's property. I was lucky they didn't have a super sleuth of a dog. It was my fourth Sunday in my tent since leaving Telluride and the first one where I could pick up a sports station, thanks to the nearby metropolis of 80,000 people, including East Grand Forks in Minnesota on the other side of the Red River. For once I didn't have to wait until Monday to find out how the Bears fared. The night before I listened to the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota hockey team in an exhibition game against a Canadian team. College hockey is the most popular sport in these parts.

And then today I cycled through the University of North Dakota campus in search of its Carnegie library. It was on the fringe of the 14,000 student campus, a block behind the new megalith of a library. Though the old Carnegie still has "Library Building" chiseled into its front facade, it is now known as Carnegie Hall and arranges campus visits and enrollment. Its cornerstone was engraved with 1907.  The Carnegie Public Library in down town Grand Forks was torn down nearly 40 years ago, though its metal fence and limestone facade with "Library" etched into it have been relocated to the new large library on the outskirts of this now sprawling city. A large Air Force base with a population of 5,000 contributes to the town's size and economy. I passed it along Highway 2 last night. A sign warned of low-flying air craft.

I began yesterday too with a Carnegie visit in Devil's Lake, a library that is now in private ownership, "An Elegant Affair," hosting and arranging weddings and events. Its phone number is 66 BRIDE. It was another mini-Taj Mahal of a building with a plaque besides its entry, as should all Carnegies, stating, "This property has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior." "Carnegie Library" is chiseled into its front facade. Just below, above the double door entryway are the numbers 19 on one side and 09 on the other. The modern new Lake Region Public Library is around the corner and a huge Masonic Temple, also available for weddings, is across the street.

The first of the four Carnegies I paid homage to in North Dakota in Minot was the first I've encountered in these travels that had pillars out front, a pair, a more common accoutrement in the eastern Carnegies. It was now a community center holding local events. "Public Library" was chiseled on its front facade with 1911 just below. It was nearly six p.m., but there was no sign on its saying closed or with its hours. I tried the door. It was unlocked, though no one was in the building. There were two large rooms, one with long banquet tables and chairs and the other with chairs lining the wall, ready for the weekend square dance. When I exited I noticed a small sign on the door saying, "Just close the door, don't try to lock it."

When I returned to my bike a white-haired gentleman was awaiting me. He was another ultra-friendly North Dakotan. "Would you like a piece of cake?" he asked. " I just left the Catholic church buffet and they sent me home with three pieces, more than I need." I gladly accepted. Then he unwrapped another plate with tin foil around it and said, "Have some garlic bread too if you'd like."

I heartily thanked him. He said, "I'd stay and talk, but my wife just left me and I've got to meet a friend who is picking me up to go to his house."

The next day, about halfway across the state I was welcomed to the town of Rugby by a sign stating it was the geographical middle of North America. Even though it was mid-day on a Saturday the visitor center across from the obelisk marking the spot right on the highway was closed and I couldn't ask when and by whom it had been established that it was the center. Several towns in France lay claim to being its center, each using different criteria. I've been to them all and they each have a very official looking marker.

Rugby's librarian couldn't answer the question either nor could the town's two local cyclists. One entered the library just as it was closing at two p.m., drawn by my bike out front. He was riding a quality Peugeot, though he said it wasn't his best bike. He also had a Colnago. He was a former racer and a former hippie. When he learned I had passed though Missoula, he said he was very interested in moving there and wondered how easy it was to find pot there. That I couldn't tell him. He asked if I needed a shower. I don't know if he could tell I was in need of one or if he just understood that is something that touring cyclists are on the alert for. He said the County Fairgrounds had free hot showers. He had camped there for three months until recently. I eagerly accepted his offer to lead the way.

As we talked outside the library the town's other cyclist passed by, a guy he had mentioned who had eight bikes and had done a bit of touring himself and was a member of Warm Showers offering free lodging to touring cyclists. Like his friend, he spoke with an authentic North Dakota accent, as thick as that of William H. Macey in the Coen brother's movie "Fargo" from 1996. Even if these guys weren't such interesting characters, it would have been highly entertaining just listening to them talk.

The touring cyclist had most recently spent a month in New Zealand and before that Iceland. He admitted that he, like every other cyclist I met while in Iceland except one, a Japanese fellow who was on too tight of a budget, had buckled to the winds at one point and resorted to the bus that circles the Ring Road around the island.

We talked for nearly an hour. I had to restrain myself from sharing too much, wanting to learn of his experiences and hear him speak the lingo. When the ex-hippie and I finally set off for the shower, he asked his friend, "What are you doing tomorrow?"

"There's a gun show in Bismark I was thinking of going to."

"If you decide to go, let me know."

Later, George