Instead, I could feast my eyes on the dazzlingly lit skyline of the city of Big Shoulders, taking special satisfaction knowing that I had been in every single one of those downtown buildings as a messenger and considered each a friend. I knew all their lobbies and elevators and special features. It made for a grand finale to another wonderful three weeks and 1,350 miles on the bike. Small-town America makes for as fine cycling as anywhere.
I made the ride to visit a few friends and also to condition myself for next week's six hundred mile ride from Paris to Cannes. A century finale proved that not only are my legs ready for it, but for The Tour de France as well, as 120 miles is the average length of most of its twenty-one stages. I'll lose a bit of my conditioning watching movies all day for twelve days, with my only biking being the three mile ride in from the campground I'll be staying at and back and the occasional dash about town to a distant theater, but I'll have five weeks to fully recharge them once I'm done with the cinema extravaganza before the start of The Tour the first week of July.
France was well on my mind as I cycled. I began prepping my tongue for France by asking librarians for the "toilet," as the French call it, rather than the American euphemism "bathroom" or "restroom," despite the sometimes startled looks I would get for using the somewhat gauche term Americans like to avoid.
I also brought along two books on France to read. One was Lonely Planet's 500-page cycling guide to France, the initial 2001 edition with all the prices still listed in francs. It was the second cycling guide Lonely Planet published, after New Zealand, and just one of several in its vast library of travel guides. I wasn't in search of roads to ride, rather interesting and odd sites that have escaped me during my past seven summers of biking all over France.
I succeeded in finding a handful. One is a giant sculpture of a cyclops at Fontainebleau just south of Paris. Another is the cemetery where Van Gogh and his brother are buried north of Paris. And I'll search out Le Sportsman, a sports book store in Paris with a huge cycling section. I'll also have a wealth of museums to check out.
The back cover of the book promised to explain the Tour de France. It devotes eight pages to it early on and scatters mentions of it and its heroes throughout the book. It is fairly well-versed in its machinations but doesn't get everything right. It says Van Impe was the King of the Mountains ten times (p346). It was six. It says Anquetil beat Poulidor on the Puy de Dome (p336). Poulidor prevailed by forty seconds, though Anquetil kept the yellow jersey. It says there is a statute of Bobet and Coppi at the top of the Col d'Izoard (p346). There is a plaque to the two of them a couple miles from the summit. These are all storied, significant events in the lore of The Tour, that any true fan of the sport knows as well as his parent's birthdays.
And there are the usual index oversights. It includes the book's mentions of Anquetil and Poulidor and Merckx and Hinault and DesGrange, but not the mentions of Armstrong, LeMond, Bobet, Fignon, Indurain and Pantani. Index inconsistency is one of my favorite pet peeves. At least it does acknowledge Mont Ventoux and the Col de Galibier and L'Alpe d'Huez.
France is famous for its museums, not only in Paris, but all over the country. They can pop up in the smallest of towns and be devoted to any odd topic--berets, the postal service, the Resistance, postcards, wine, corkscrews, skiing, perfume, cartoons and the usual museums of art and those devoted to a famous individual. There are hundreds of them. Unfortunately, it didn't reveal any bicycle museums I hadn't visited. In fact, I knew of several the book didn't mention. It did mention a couple of plaques to The Tour de France that were new to me, though it failed to include quite a few I knew of. It had the usual faux pas concerning The Tour, but was more race savvy than many books.
The Carnegie in Crown Point was overwhelmed by its huge addition in 1973 behind it that made no attempt whatsoever to blend in with the original building. The original building is now the administrative office for the library and is off limits to the public. It is a quite gallant red brick building most worthy of the National Historic Registry of Buildings if it isn't already on it. It dates to 1908. A vinyl banner beside the new entrance celebrated the 2008 centennial of the library.