Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chillicothe, Illinois

Friends: As I sat in my tent last night I was feeling more pleased than usual at my resourcefulness and good fortune at having sniffed out a most noteworthy campsite under the most dire of circumstances. Adding to my great good cheer was I had been fully reconciled to having to spend the night in a hotel.

I had been rained upon all day, even delaying my start a couple hours.  I actually considered spending the day in my tent hidden by a row of six foot tall bales of hay if the rain didn't let up. The temperature was barely forty and the wind was blowing from the north, making it feel even colder, not the most inviting of circumstances to get out on the bike. Once I did though, as always, I discovered the conditions weren't as bad as I imagined, or at least that infallible joy of being on the bike made it seem so.

I needed plastic bags over my wool gloves to keep them from becoming fully saturated and to keep my hands warm. The booties over my shoes kept my feet somewhat dry, though the holes in the bottoms to accommodate my cleats allowed enough water to seep in to dampen my shoes and socks. My feet were more cold than warm. My torso was fully dry, but not my legs.  My tights were wet, though they were of such a quality that my legs didn't feel cold.

I had retreated to the warmth of indoors only three times all day. The first at a Casey's General Store just long enough to buy a burrito and a quart of chocolate milk, which I nibbled and guzzled as I pedaled along. Then the Carnegie library in Delavan, a town of 2,700, just double what it was when the library was built in 1914. It is a rare Carnegie that hasn't had an addition. There was no sign for the library, forcing me to stop to ask. No one was out and about in such conditions, so I ducked into the local laundromat where I saw a woman reading. "It's just down the street," she pointed. "Its the nicest building in town. I've been going to it since I was a little girl."

The three ladies tending the library were equally enthusiastic and kindly. The head librarian explained it was called the Ayer Library, as a Mr. Ayer at the time of its construction donated over $10,000, more than the Carnegie grant, for its operation. She said the library was on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Then she pulled out a book on all the Carnegies in Illinois, "The Carnegie Library in Illinois" by Raymond Bial written in 1991, a book I had never come across. It had a full page photo of the eighty-five still standing at the time and a one page history of each.

I wasn't fully dried out when I went back out in the rain, headed to the Pekin library seventeen miles away, my third and final refuge from the wet. Its Carnegie had been torn down and was replaced by a large, glassy building that will never end up on the National Register of Historic Buildings, as many of the Carnegies have. From Pekin I followed the Illinois River for ten miles to Peoria. It was less than an hour until dark. I figured I could find a cheap hotel in Peoria, what with Bradley University and Catepillar based there.

But I wasn't counting on the low overcast making dark come much sooner than anticipated. Most cars had been driving with their headlights on all day. I only made it halfway to Peoria, not feeling safe at all on the two-lane highway with no shoulder in the near dark. Much as I had been looking forward to a warm hotel room to dry out all my gear, when I saw an abandoned gas station off the road down towards the river, I decided to give it a look. As I approached I noticed a series of factories that looked closed down as well.

It was an industrial wasteland, a genuine oasis for me. One factory was surrounded by barbed wire and signs warning "No Trespassing," but another was unfenced. I was looking for a secluded overhang to pitch my tent when I discovered a door next to its loading dock was open. There were a few lights on, but there was no evidence of anyone being around or it being in use, other than rows and rows of pallets of plastic tubing wrapped in plastic stacked to the ceiling filling about half of the warehouse/factory.

I pedaled around looking for a hidden spot to pitch my tent. I found a dark corner several rooms down from the entry. At the entry was a stack of cardboard sheets, just what I needed to insulate me from the frigid concrete floor and also to absorb the moisture in my tent floor. How lucky could I be. I was still reveling at having Another Memorable Night in My Tent after Another Great Day on the Bike, when at nine p.m. I heard a golf cart patrolling the premises. My heart slightly plunged, but then I thought "this ought to be interesting." Would this be a kindly security guard or would he kick me out or even worse call the cops. His headlight swept past me, but not on the tent. He circled around and let me be, leaving me with a feeling of relief but also of mild disappointment.

Later, George

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