Monday, December 31, 2012

2012's Third Merckx

Not to be outdone by a pair of rival English publishers, who each put out an Eddie Merckx biography in 2012, VeloPress, America's premier publisher of cycling books, issued one of its own, "Merckx 525," the translation of a 2010 Belgian book.

It would make a fine companion to either of the two equally worthwhile English offerings, "Merckx, the Cannibal" and "Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike," as it is largely a book of photographs.  It also includes year-by-year tables, unlike the other books, listing every one of Merckx's 525 wins beginning in 1961 when he was sixteen.  Every chart is given its own page in this chronological documentation of Merckx's career.  There is some text, but it is very much secondary to the sterling photos in this coffee table-sized book with some of the photos spread across two pages.

Merckx provides an introduction to the book, authenticating it with his approval, in contrast to the other two books, which he had no hand in, not even agreeing to interviews with their authors.  "Merckx 525" doesn't have the breadth or depth to be considered the definitive Merckx biography, but it can certainly be said to be the final word on certain events in his career.

When he is quoted as saying that finishing fourth at the 1973 World Championships, losing in a huge upset in the sprint to Felice Gimondi, Freddie Maertens and Luis Ocana, was the most crushing defeat of his career, so it must be.  When he is quoted as saying that the most difficult day of his career was at the 1977 Tour de France, his last, when he finished 20th on L'Alpe d'Huez, 13 minutes and 51 seconds behind Hennie Kuiper, so it must be.

Both these traumatic occasions brought Merckx to tears.  Twice the book describes Merckx as "going to pieces"--after that World Championship loss and also when he is informed that he tested positive for drugs in the 1968 Giro, one of the most famous crying episodes in the history of cycling, captured as it was by photographers who happened to be in his hotel room when he was given the news.  The book includes a different photo than what traditionally accompanies that incident, an effort the editors made with many of the book's photos.

Merckx is not bashful at all about admitting to crying.  In his introduction he wrote that when he had to leave his family to race it was "often with tears in my eyes and pain in my heart."  After his near fatal accident on the velodrome in Blois after his first Tour de France victory in 1969 he never felt the same on his bike and was often in pain.  Sometimes it was so unbearable, he said, "I sat crying on my bicycle."

Although this book doesn't recount Merckx's career with the same detail as the two other biographies, partially in recognition that its Belgian readers probably know it by heart anyway, it does offer specifics that the other books don't, heightening the impact of the novelistic prose of Frederik Backelandt.  It gives the exact minute (10:22 a.m.) when Merckx was informed of his Giro drug positive as he sat in his hotel bed.  It also gives the precise distance from the finish line when he was punched in the kidney by a spectator on Puy de Dome in the 1975 Tour--150 meters.  It also gives the exact date of his first win--October 1, 1961 in Petit-Enghien, the fourteenth race he took part it.

If one appreciates detail, there is much to be discerned in the large, mostly black-and-white, photographs that are the book's shining glory.  Merckx's raw thrilled emotion as he crosses the finish line in many photographs is matched by the ecstasy of fans cheering their hearts out as he passes them along the road.   The expressions of unfettered glee of the fans, especially women and children, truly capture the essence of the sport.  The explosion of jubilation of racers as they win and fans getting a close glimpse of their heroes is unlike that of any other sport.  A photograph of a huge plaza jammed with adoring fans celebrating Merckx standing on a balcony puts his popularity on a par with any hero.

There are also highly telling photographs of a more relaxed Merckx lolling on the ground with rivals, walking his Dalmatian with his wife, posing with the King and Queen of Belgium, meeting the Pope.   There is a photograph of his wedding as he and his wife walk under a canopy of bicycle wheels held up by friends outside the church.  No mention is made though that they made their vows in French, upsetting the Flemish half of Belgium.  There is also a photograph of Merckx being pushed by a pair of teammates, though not explaining that they are providing him locomotion while he answers nature's call.

Photograph after photograph is worthy of hanging, penetrating to the core of cycling's most monumental figure. They are fully absorbing, stirring the emotions and making it hard to turn to the next page. This collection full does justice to the man and his career.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Tears of Marty Nothstein

Early in his autobiography, "The Price of Gold," Marty Nothstein writes that growing up he was taught to never cry, as "tears are for the weak."  I feared this might be a warning to researchers such as myself, who seek instances of tears in the world of cycling, that we should set this book aside and look elsewhere.  I am glad that I didn't, as not only did tears flow here and there, but the book was also a most unflinching and quite well-written portrayal of racing on the track.

Though Nothstein only cites one crying episode of his own, when he fails to medal as an 18-year old at the 1989 Moscow junior world championships, he came very close to tears once again when he realized his all-consuming ambition to win the gold medal in the sprint at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  Before the podium ceremony he could feel his eyes welling, but he refuses to let himself cry, as he reminds himself that tears are a sign of weakness.  Tears do stream down his mother's face in the stands, not the only time she cries in the book.  Earlier he tells how tears would well up in her eyes when her husband would stay out late after work drinking, eventually resulting in their divorce.

For four years Nothstein devoted his life with a single-minded drive and determination to win gold in Sydney after finishing second in the Atlanta Olympics, failing to win gold on his home turf despite being the favorite.  He might have cried then, though he doesn't say so.  Instead, he physically punishes himself in the weight room and on the bike to get as strong as possible.  He trains and trains with hardly a break for four years, pausing only during the hunting season.  Nothing matters to him other than winning that medal.

The book's subtitle is "The toll and triumph of one man's Olympic dream."  The toll, he acknowledges, is allowing his narrow focus to transform him into an intolerable person to everyone around him.  He neglects his wife, a former elite track rider herself, and their two young children.  When he calls home during his long absences he can hear his children crying in the background, but his wife doesn't want to bother him with why.   He writes of her being in tears when she tells him she's pregnant before they have decided to marry two years before the Atlanta Olympics.  He's not upset, though he doesn't want it to disrupt his training.

He testifies that being at the birth of his son was the happiest day of his life, "a million times better than winning any bike race."  Only a few months before he had won his first world championship at the age of 23 and thought that was the happiest day of his life.

His compulsion to be number one, and with the number 1, so consumed him that whenever he pumped gas he would stop at $11.11.  When he traveled, he requested seats on airplanes and rooms in hotels rooms with the number 1.  Whenever he went on a training ride he made sure the mileage on his cycle computer ended with the number 1.  His wife caught him once circling around their driveway after a ride and asked him why.  He didn't tell her.  It was his own private motivational device.

Track racers, especially the sprinters, built up their chest muscles, unlike road racers.  They are big, tough guys, who show no weakness,thus is aversion to giving in to his emotions and crying.   He confesses to being a beast on the bike.  Before a match with an arch rival he writes, "We revert to our most hardened demeanors. I want to kill him.  He wants to kill me.  I ready myself for a cage match."  Riders are regularly disqualified for rough riding.  He once swerves a wheel into an opponent and shaves off a piece of his shoe with his bladed spokes.

He competed in more than 28 European six-day races, more than any American in the modern era.  He admits the results are always fixed, so only had one win in Moscow.  Matches are sometimes fixed too, or at least one rider bribes another to let him win. He once refused a pay-off from a German rival to let up at the 1995 World Championships even though he could have used the money as his long-time EDS sponsor had just withdrawn from the sport. The German initially offered him $8,000, then twelve and then fifteen just before the start.  The German won anyway.  It ended Nothstein's five year streak of winning at least one medal at the world championships.

But the world championships didn't matter as much to him as the Olympics.  He did not do any tapering to peak for the World Championships in that four year period between Atlanta and Sydney, using them as part of his Olympic training. And he has no regrets.  During his 15-year career as a cyclist he won 35 National Championships, four Pan-Am gold medals and three world championship titles and set numerous national, world and Olympic records.   He concludes that he would gladly trade them all for that lone Olympic gold medal, fulfilling a dream he had since he was a kid.

Drugs receive no mention in the book other than marijuana.  As a 17-year old he catches some of the older pro riders passing around a joint before a race at his home town Trexlertown, Pennsylvania track.  His mentor, former Olympian Mark "the Outlaw" Whitehead, was among them.  Whitehead grabs him and says, "Don't you ever fucking touch this stuff.  If I ever see you smoking this I'll fucking kill you."  He never does.

Nothstein and his co-writer, Ian Dille, a racer himself, offer a most honest portrayal of the sport, citing such incidents that a more rose-tinted biography might have skipped.  The book largely dwells on Nothstein's hard work and his triumphs, and only makes passing reference to his "neuroses," almost as if they felt they had to concoct some such thing to make his story more compelling.  This is not a book about a disorder, other than a deep commitment to being the best one can be.  He is not haunted by demons as are other cyclists in their autobiographies--Bradley Wiggins over his absent, alcoholic father, Graeme Obree by his suicidal tendencies, Davis Phinney and his Parkinson's disease.

The book hardly insults the intelligence of the well-versed cycling fan just explaining a few of the basics (a velodrome, BMX and rollers). But the editors there at Rodale Press manage to allow the spelling of this year's Tour de France winner as Wiggans.

The book also offers up a curiously paradoxical index.  It neglects Armstrong, but not LeMond.  Likewise, it overlooks Wiggins, but not Cavendish. Merckx makes the cut, but not Zabel.  But at least it does have an index, lending an extra degree of authenticity to the book.  It is a most worthwhile contribution to the literature on the sport.  It may have been late coming just published this year, six years after his retirement, but worth the wait.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Merckx

There can not be too many books on Eddie Merckx, or so thinks the publishing world, and me too.  Dozens were written during his heyday in the '70s and they don't stop coming.  Three more have been offered up this year to the English reading public.  I have read two of them and will gladly read the third as soon as I can get my hands on it.

The many exploits of his record-setting career make for an exhilarating read, no matter how familiar they may be.  Not only was he the greatest cyclist of all time, but one of the greatest athletes, finishing second to Michael Jordan in one poll selecting the greatest athlete of the past century.

We in America can only be dimly aware of what a phenomenon he was and how much he captured the interest of Belgium and the rest of the European cycling world, so much so that the King of Belgium made him a baron and the French anointed him a Commander in their Legion of Honor.  When he tested positive for drugs in the 1968 Giro d'Italia under very mysterious circumstances it caused such a furor in Belgium that the only bigger story during the decade was the assassination of President Kennedy.  When he was involved in a near fatal accident racing on a velodrome in Blois in 1969  after winning his first Tour de France, the King of Belgium sent a Pembroke military plane to have him brought home.

Daniel Friebe in "Eddie Merckx, the Cannibal" cites all these anecdotes and more to portray what a monumental figure Merckx was, many, many more  than did William Fotheringham in "Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike,"  which I read and reviewed last month.  Both expertly chronicle Merckx's career, Freibe with just a bit more passion and flair.

Friebe's book reads like the intimate memories of an ardent fan who lived  during the Merckx era, though he is in fact a 30-year old English journalist who simply thoroughly researched his subject, interviewing many of Merckx's teammates and rivals, more than did Fotheringham.  Neither though gained a sit-down with Merckx, as he aligned himself with the other of this trio of recent books, "Merckx 525," named for the number of his career victories, a book Merckx says is the first he has authorized and the "first truly complete record of my accomplishments."  Besides the abundance of interviews, Friebe's research also included "painstakingly poring over dozens of volumes written about and with him," books he regularly mentions.  Despite his scholarly thoroughness, the book lacks an index, which Fotheringham's doesn't.

During the '70s, when he was three times voted the greatest athlete of the year over Pele and all others, journalists from all manner of periodicals, even those who knew little of cycling, wrote profiles of him trying to understand what made him tick.  So insatiable was the public's  desire to read about Merckx, almost as insatiable as his desire to win, a Flemish newspaper sent thirteen journalists one year to cover his exploits in The Tour de France.

Merckx's wife Claudine could come up with no better explanation to explain her husband's greatness than that he must have been vaccinated with a spoke. Friebe's verdict is that cycling was his calling, that he was preordained to greatness as a cyclist, blessed with abilities and a drive never before seen, just as Mozart was to be a musician and Michelangelo a painter and Napoleon a general.

If the measure of how deeply a biographer probes his subject's psyche is the number of times he mentions tears, Friebe's book is three times as deep as Fotheringham's, citing nearly thirty examples.  Friebe describes not only the tears of Merckx, but also those of rivals and teammates and fans and sportswriters and his mother and a few others.

Merckx's most famous crying episode came when he sobbed uncontrollably in his hotel room in Savano, Italy after being informed that he had tested positive for drugs while leading the 1969 Giro.  A  photographer was present and the picture was plastered on front pages all over Europe.  Friebe says the crying did not end there.  When Merckx fled to Milan after being ejected from the race, he was still intermittently crying between threats to quit the sport.

All the world had been looking forward to Merckx's debut in the Tour de France less than a month away.  The president of the International Cycling Federation flew in from Switzerland to console Merckx and to try to resolve the issue so the sport wouldn't lose its greatest star.  He put his arm around Merckx and brought him to tears once again.  His penalty was a one-month suspension.  There was consideration of delaying the start of The Tour by three days so Merckx could ride.  That wasn't necessary.  The charge was dropped as there had been too many suspicions regarding the test.

One of Merckx's rivals at the time, Jan Janssen, a Dutch rider who won the 1968 Tour, looking back on the episode told Friebe that Merckx, "cried like a baby so they let him off."  Janssen wasn't so sympathetic, as he had tested positive for drugs himself three times between 1967, when testing was first instituted, and 1972, and was never let off.  Merckx himself tested positive two more times during his career.  It is a subject that Friebe tackles more head on than did Fotheringham, who doesn't even mention Merckx's third positive test towards the end of his career at the 1977 Flech Wallone.  Years later Merckx acknowledged that "riders who weren't caught that year were lucky," as they were surprised by a new test.  Merckx felt no guilt as the drug they were using, Stimul, he said was "no magic potion."

Merckx cried not only out of despair, but of pride, of having accomplished something that meant so much to him and that he had invested so much effort and emotion to achieve.  When he presented the King of Belgium with one of his Yellow Jerseys from the 1969 Tour de France there were tears in his eyes.

He could cry to in sympathy for others, crying when he learned his team manager Cinzenzo Giacotto had died during the 1970 Tour.  He cried too when he let down his teammate Davide Boifava in a two-man time trial, not being able to ride as hard as him, as he hadn't fully recovered from his horrific crash on the velodrome in Blois a month before.   Boifava came to be known as "the man who made Eddie Merckx cry."

Merckx made his mother cry on occasion for his struggles in school.  In 1961 at the age of sixteen he decided racing was for him and not school.  He failed every subject that year and had to repeat the year, inducing tears from his mother. He brought her to tears too on his seventh or eighth birthday when he asked the barber to shave his head so he could look like the convicts he'd seen on work detail in his town.

Friebe acknowledges, as did Fotheringham, that Merckx did not cry when he announced his retirement on May 18, early in the 1978 season, at a Brussels hotel, when it was clear to him that he was no longer competitive.  The only ones to cry were those in the audience.  And he's still capable of bringing fans to tears over his exemplary achievements.



Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Hollywood Rides A Bike"

Philadelphia film critic Steven Rea happened to have collected a few photographs over the years of Hollywood stars on bikes.  He created a website to share them and discovered there was a great interest in such photos.  It inspired others to send him some they had and sent him searching for more.  It resulted in the 159 page book "Hollywood Rides A Bike: Cycling With the Stars."  It contains 125 dazzling, most black and white, photographs, some of them taking up two pages.

Its a delightful array of stars on all manner of bikes--Vincent Price on a penny farthing (one of three penny farthings in the book), Nat King Cole on a stationary bike, Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth on a tandem (one of four tandem photographs), Barbara Streisand pedaling a cargo bike, Elvis being transported in a pedacab, Doris Day on a Stingray.  The Beatles fill a two-page spread hanging out with matching bikes.  Spencer Tracer pedals along with Mickey Rooney sitting on the rear rack clutching his waist.

There are photographs celebrating the great bicycling movies--"Breaking Away,"
"The Bicycle Thief," "6 Day Bike Rider," "Quicksilver"--and photographs of memorable cinema bike scenes--"Butch Cassiday and the Sundance Kid," "The Sound of Music."

There are photographs of people one would never expect to see on a bike--Alfred Hitchcock, Steve McQueen, Elizabeth Taylor, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, Shirley Temple, Robert Mitchum, Joan Crawford, Sean Connery.

Not all the photographs are of Americans. European sex goddesses Ingrid Berman, Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Jeanne Moreau, Bridget Bardot  and Claudia Cardinale join the peloton. 

The book reveals quite few movies with significant bicycle scenes--"Athena" from l954 with Debbie Reynolds and Jane Powell, "A New Kind of Love" from l963 with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, "American Heart" from 1992 with Jeff Bridges, "A Thousand Clowns" from l965 with Jason Robards, to name a few.

The book provides a pair of indexes---one of all the stars mentioned and another of all the bikes.  Unfortunately, there is not an index of the many movies.

Romance is a common theme, a man riding with a woman sitting uncomfortably on the cross tube of a bike--James Stewart and Grace Kelly, George Gobel and Diana Dors, Robert Goulet and Nancy Kwan.  There are loads of a man and a woman off on a bike ride with shining smiles.  And there are a handful of studio photos of young starlets in micro shorts showing a lot of leg, Betty Grable among them.

There are four photos of crashes, including one of Jane Fonda in her screen debut in "Tall Story" (1960) and another of Doris Day on a full-sized bike with a basket in "The Tunnel of Love" (1958).

Dogs also feature in four photos--one being pulled along on a leash, one in a box behind the seat, another perched on a pillow behind the seat and Rin Tin Tin sitting on a board mounted between the seat and the handlebars.

There is not a great deal of copy, just a short paragraph accompanying each photo, sometimes with a second studio blurb.  A photo of a young Lauren Bacall leaning against a bike holding a cup of coffee was one of those with a pair of paragraphs.  The studio copy promoted Bacall as someone who "prefers slacks, sweaters and bicycles to dresses, silk stocking and open cars.  She likes to be free and unencumbered."

May the day return when stars prefer bikes to autos.   The book is testimony to an era when it was fashionable for stars to be seen on a bicycle. They all look so happy and carefree, these photos will make anyone wish to get out and ride or see the movie they are promoting.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Grant Peterson's Racing Acumen

If there was a Review Board certifying the accuracy of a book's comments on The Tour de France and bicycle racing lore, Grant Peterson's "Just Ride" would not earn its seal of approval.

Despite being the long-time editor of the "Rivendell Reader," Peterson committed a host of serious factual blunders in his recently published slim volume of  bicycle advice.  Perhaps it was intentional, as Peterson expresses so much antagonism to racing, his purpose may have been to diss the sport by slighting some of its corner stones.  His disdain for the influence that racing has on the world of bicycling inspired his "book," which might be more aptly termed a "manual" or "pamphlet" or "booklet."

He proclaims in the very first sentence of "Just Ride" that his main goal is to "point out what I see as bike racing's bad influence on bicycles, equipment and attitude and then undo it."  He goes on to say that he "can't think of anything good that comes from racing," this despite admitting he uses a heart-rate monitor and that he raced for "about six years."  Nor does it prevent him from planting an endorsement for his pamphlet from Giro champion Andy Hampsten on its inside cover, along with ones from fellow iconoclast New York Bike Snob and Jan Heine of "Bicycle Quarterly."

Peterson is a self-confessed bike geek and just might still be recovering from his long-ago years as a racing cyclist.  He admits he used to time all his rides and has point-to-point times for dozens of rides in his vicinity.  He's obsessive enough to prick a finger ten times a week to check his glucose level to study the effect of food and exercise.  He says nothing about weighing his food, though he does say that bicycling isn't a very good way to lose weight.

Despite its inaccuracies and inconsistencies this is a bible, as David Eggers wrote in the "New York Times," for the non-Lycra cyclist unconcerned about the weight or appearance of his bicycle.  It is hard to argue with many of his grievances and recommendations, all summed up in the book's title.  "Just ride," he preaches, and don't worry about what you wear or shaving grams off your bike.  He argues for practicality--fenders and kickstands and baggy clothing and ponchos and utility, all alien to the racing mentality.

Despite all its credible advice, it is unfortunately another example of an American book dispensing faulty information on bicycle racing.  It gets wrong what are basic tenets to any European who has grown up with the sport and knows it as intimately as Americans know theirs.  No American baseball fan would get wrong the number of career home runs Babe Ruth hit, just as no European racing fan would get wrong the number of career victories of Eddie Merckx, the Babe Ruth of bicycle racing.  They all know he won 525 races. It is such a seminal number that Velo Press has just published a $60 coffee table book simply titled Merckx 525. Merckx sells a bike featuring the number 525. Peterson puts the number at "450 or so," though he does know enough to acknowledge that Merckx is the "winningest pro racer of all time."

An even more insulting bungle of the facts was his commentary on Eugene Christophe's legendary repair of his broken fork in a black smith's shop in the middle of a stage after breaking it on the descent of the Tourmalet in the 1913 Tour.  Rules at the time required racers to perform any repairs needed to their bike, whether a flat tire or a broken frame.  Christophe was penalized ten minutes, later reduced to three, for allowing a seven-year old boy to operate the bellows as he forged his fork.  This is one of the most storied events in Tour lore.  There is a plaque on the former black smith shop where it took place and the scene was reenacted on its 50th anniversary with Christophe and the boy. 

All European racing fans know this story as well as the story of Christmas, but not Peterson.  He wrote that Christophe, without naming him despite no doubt riding at some point in his career with toe straps bearing his name, was disqualified for accepting help.   That's not true at all.  Christophe was just slapped with a time penalty and continued on to Paris, finishing seventh despite losing over four hours to his mishap on the Tourmalet.  Peterson also wrote that he broke his frame not his fork.  Shame too on Maynard (Hershon?), who Peterson thanks on his acknowledgement page, who he said "read and improved early crummy drafts."

Maybe his mangling of this episode is a residue of his prejudice against The Tour de France for calling itself a "tour."  Its no tour Peterson says and refers to it as the "Big Old Race Around France." He gives it the acronym "BORAF," one of a handful of acronyms he scatters throughout his booklet.  One of the better is  "S24O" for "Sub-24-Hour Overnights," quick single-night bike tours within a few hours of where one lives.  One of his axioms is that no bike ride is too short.  Even a five minute ride can be fun and productive.  The same goes for tours.

As sensible as he can be, he all too often comes across as being cranky or eccentric, as if he's trying to be a provocateur.  He maintains that helmets aren't all that necessary if one just rides a little more carefully, though he usually wears a helmet at night.  He spells "derailleur" as "derailer," inspired by Sheldon Brown, a man of his ilk, who he also thanks in his acknowledgments.  He says he carries mace about 20% of the time, though doesn't specify when those occasions may be.

Though I can't be as enthusiastic as I'd like to be about this booklet, I did answer true to all ten of his final true-and-false statements to determine if one is an "Unracer," as he considers himself.  One needed only answer true to six of them to qualify.  If there had been more clarity to his final true-and-false statement, "I can name zero to five professional bike racers and their teams," by including the phrase "no more than,"  then I would have only answered true to nine of them.  Hell yes I can name five riders and their teams.  I can name practically everyone on several of the nine-man rosters from this year's Tour de France--Garmin, Sky, Radio Shack, BMC and assorted others and am proud of it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike"

One can often gain a fairly full understanding of the mentality and career of a racing cyclist based on the  various crying episodes his biography mentions.  So it is in the recently published "Merckx: Half Man, Half Bike," by the English author William Fotheringham.

One might not expect too many tears from the cyclist known as "The Cannibal," a man universally considered the greatest cyclist of all time, winning 525 races, nearly a third of all those he started, but tears do mark some of the significant events in his career.

His first Tour de France conquest in 1969 was a display of unparalleled dominance never before seen nor likely ever to be rivalled. For the only time in The Race's history he not only won the Yellow Jersey but also the mountain and points competitions.  Even while wearing the Yellow Jersey with an invincible lead he took off on Stage 17 on the Tourmalet and rode 81 miles alone to further pad his lead by eight minutes, one of the most audacious feats in Tour history.

Merckx rode The Race like a man possessed, incensed that he had been ejected for a drug offense in the Giro d'Italia the month before after the 16th stage when he was on the verge of winning it for the second year in a row.  He insisted that he had been set up, as the Italians wanted one of their own to win their race.  A couple of days before his positive test he had been offered a huge sum of money to let up.  He refused.

The photo of the devastated Merckx in his hotel room in tears upon learning the news of his ejection probably ranks number two on the list of the Top Ten photos of cyclists in tears behind Rene Vietto perched on a stone wall in the 1934 Tour after having given up his front wheel to his teammate Antonin Magne.  The Merckx episode has come to be known as the Savona Affair, named for the city where he learned of his expulsion.  It led to a diplomatic crisis between Italy and Belgium.  He was later cleared of the charge but it prevented him from becoming the only six time winner of the Giro.

It wasn't the only time in his career he tested positive.   Another was after winning the Tour of Lombardy, also in Italy, in 1973 after having won it the previous two years.  This charge he did not deny, rather saying he accidentally ingested the stimulant ephedrine in some cough medicine.  No tears reported this time.  Fotheringham does not mention a third drug positive in the final year of his career in 1977 at the Fleche Wallonne for pemoline, a stimulant that a test had just been discovered for, catching Merckx and a bunch of others.

As tough and single-minded as Merckx was throughout his career, as a youth he had a tender and sensitive temperament.  He cried when he learned from his younger twin brother and sister that Santa Claus did not exist,and he cried so uncontrollably on his first day of school, his teacher, who was a friend of his grocer parents, had to bring him home.

His parents were at odds over whether to allow him to quit school and  pursue a career as a racer.  His father wished to let him give it a try, saying if it didn't work out, "maybe he'll come back in tears."  His father understood tears.  Merckx recounted that he would be brought to tears by his early triumphs.

Early in his career he was so frustrated at losing the 1966 World Championship to Rudi Altig in his second year as a pro, due to all the riders ganging up on him as a young upstart, that he retreated to his hotel room and cried for two hours and didn't think he ever wanted to race again.  Sounds like Mark Cavendish at the Beijing Olympics, a man who wants to eclipse Merck's record of 34 Tour de France stage wins.  The book says he should have 35, as he finished third on a stage in 1977 that the first and second placed riders were disqualified for testing positive.  But since Merckx hadn't been given a drug test after the stage, he couldn't be awarded the victory.

Fotheringham records that Merckx broke into tears during the 1970 Tour when he learned that his manager Enrico Giacotto had succumbed to lung cancer.  He says nothing about tears though when Merckx attended Tommy Simpson's funeral in 1967, just that he was the only continental pro to attend.  They had been teammates.  Simpson was an established pro, eight years older than Merckx, when he began his career.

The book also mentions tears when Merckx set the hour record at Mexico City. It was such an emotional effort that Piero Molteni, the sponsor of the Italian team he rode for much of his career, who was at track side,  was crying.

Fotheringham offers one other instance of Merckx making an Italian cry--Felice Gimondi in the 1968 Giro when Merckx defeated him on a snowy stage.  Gimondi was the defending champion.  He apologized to his fans in tears for letting them down.  Merckx considers that stage win his greatest victory ever in the mountains of a major tour.  It was the first of his eleven Grand Tour victories, more than any other cyclist.

This is Fotheringham's sixth book on cycling.  He knows it well.  Two of his previous books, a biography of Fausto Coppi and a history of the English in The Tour de France also mention more than a few incidents of tears, about the same as in this book. He fully realizes they are a hidden code to understanding his subject and their sport.  He goes so far as to quote a L'Equipe reporter after Merckx struggled painfully on a mountain stage in the 1977 Tour, the final of his career, that there were "no tearful scenes," just acceptance, that it marked the end of the Merckx era.

I  have been reading so many books on cycling the past few years, I have come to develop a checklist for small but telling aspects of the sport  revealed in these books that may not seem so important, receiving just passing mention, but are indeed quite significant, almost the hidden backbone of the sport.  Tears is one of those items.  Others  somewhat less prominent that receive even slighter emphasis than tears are pay-offs between riders in a race arranging the outcome, fans pushing racers on climbs,  minor doping offenses,  the time limit rules being relaxed, broken collarbones, the use of tobacco.

All receive a check in this book.  Fotheringham manages to include rarely reported instances that all contribute to defining the Merckx story. Besides the alleged Giro payoff in 1969 he  mentions Merckx taking a wad of money to the 1964 Olympics to pay his teammates to work for him.  Unfortunately his wallet was stolen and he couldn't pay for their loyalty so they all raced for themselves, allowing an Italian to win. Later he says there is no evidence that Merckx was ever involved in race fixing, as is common, as he always raced to win and didn't need to pay to insure it nor would accept pay-offs not to win.

Even when Merckx raced in the '60s and '70s there were doctors who recommended smoking to wind down after a race.  Merckx would occasionally indulge.  One of his climbing nemeses, Jose Manuel Fuente, would light up at a stage start just to prove his individuality and would even smoke during a race.

As with all of Fotheringham's books, I was entertained as well as informed by all manner of minor and major detail.  He clearly loves his subject and loves the research.   I greatly look forward to his next.





Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Overflow of Tears in Tim Hilton's Cycling Memoir "One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers"

English cyclist Tim Hilton is a genuine devotee of the bicycle.  He has twelve bikes stashed in his garden shed, all of which he claims to use at various times of the year.  He witnessed cycling deity Fausto Coppi race in Paris in his teen-aged years.  He calls 1959 his year of dreams--the year Federico Bahamontes won the Tour de France.  He was a serious enough cyclist at the time to be shaving his legs and riding 300 miles a week.  He loved to race and to follow racing, but he understood that "the real goal of cycling is happiness."

In 2004 he published his cycling memoirs, "One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers."  It is an ode not only to his devotion to the bicycle but also to bicycle racing.  He writes as much about the character and accomplishments of cycling greats who have inspired him as he does about his own bicycling experiences as a club rider.

Hilton establishes early on in his book that he has a sensitivity to tears. He acknowledges that the bike can "make you weep, especially when you're a teen-ager and don't understand your body." He warns that when one "bonks," it can make one cry.

He is well versed in the capacity of the bicycle to bring pleasure and its power to bring people together and to keep one young.  So strong is its ability to elevate and to bond, that during World War II, he says, English cyclists who served in the military carried two photos with them: one of a wife or girl friend, and the other of their cycling club.

His memoir underscores the deep emotional commitment cyclists have to their riding, no better manifested than the tears it can bring.  His book abounds with mentions of crying from the personal to the well documented, such as those of Rene Vietto in the 1934 Tour de France  perched on a stone wall having given up his front wheel to his team leader Antonin Magne, forlorn over losing his chance of winning The Race.

As a fan of British cyclists, he recounts many of their noteworthy achievements.  The first Brit to ride in The Tour de France was Charlie Holland in 1937, though he didn't finish the race.  As he suffered up the Galibier, unpaved and muddy from melting snow, he passed one rider sobbing by the roadside, unable to continue. It was extreme heat in the 1955 Tour that had "brave men walking and weeping" on Mont Ventoux.

Tears were rampant in the 1967 Tour after the death of Tom Simpson on the Ventoux.  Earlier he wrote of Simpson crying after the 1960 Paris-Roubaix, devastated that he hadn't won after leading the race in a break-away only to be caught shortly before the finish.  It was the first time the race had ever been carried on television.  That immense publicity, he said, helped Simpson overcome his tears.

He devotes chapters to the great English woman time trialists Eileen Sheridan and Beryl Burton.  Sheridan was driven to tears towards the end of her record breaking 1953 ride the length of Great Britain from Land's End to John O'Groats. Her coach and nurse accompanying her had tears of their own, witnessing her heroism.  Burton confesses to tears in her autobiography determined to keep up with a male counterpart on a training ride.

In recounting the career of Coppi he mentions his struggles in the 1951 Tour, grieving over the recent death of his brother in a cycling accident, weeping and sometimes not even able to control his bike.  Coppi was so idolized by his Italian fans, they would cheer and weep over his extraordinary exploits.

He claims that the fragile and temperamental French three-time winner of The Tour, Louison Bobet, had a "tearful and petulant nature."  Before his prime when he was competing against Coppi, his younger intellectual brother, who also raced and went on to be a journalist, advised him to skip the 1952 Tour, recognizing that the Swiss rider Hugo Koblet would win it but then fade away.  "And who will weep for him?" he asked.
Towards the end of the book he writes about attending Britain's junior road championships in 2000 to see the young prodigy Bradley Wiggins.  He confesses to being prone to weeping fits at the time.  He would have been weeping with joy if he had known Wiggins would go on to win The Tour de France twelve years later.   When he published the book in 2004 only 51 British cyclists had competed in The Tour, with most of them being overmatched, as only 21 were strong enough to finish.  No Brit had ever been a threat to win The Tour.

He has enough material from the past few Tours with Mark Cavendish establishing himself as the greatest sprinter of all time and Wiggins' win and the emergence of Christopher Froome to write another book. With all the bicycle books being published, there is certainly a market for it.  There were three new biographies alone of Eddie Merckx published this past year. The biggest challenge for his sequel will be to come up with a title as distinctive as "One More Kilometre and We're in the Showers."

It will also be a challenge to match all the obscure trivia he manged to sprinkle in.  Anyone searching for bicycle trivia questions will have plenty of material.

Here are a few:

A--Which French cyclist was known as "Le Clown?"
B: Which Tour winner became a florist in later life?
C: What was the real first name of Belgium world champion Stan Ockers?
D: Of his many victories, what was Jacques Anquetil most proud of?
E: Who was the first foreigner to win the Giro d'Italia?


A: Roger Hassenforder in the 1950s
B: Ferdi Kubler
C: Constant
D: Winning a bridge tournament in Rouen
E: Hugo Koblet in 1950




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Caffeine and Tobacco in the Peloton/Dealing with the Pain

Bicycle racers freely admit to being caffeine fiends.  Training rides frequently begin at or are interrupted by stops at coffee shops.  When I ride stages of The Tour de France just after the riders, the first couple of miles beyond the feed zone are littered with mini-cans of Coca-Cola.  The same is true in the final miles of a stage.

Ex-doper David Millar mentioned his use of caffeine and its side effects in the September issue of the British magazine "Cycle Sport."  He said that if he takes a caffeine gel too late in a stage, before he can fully work it off, he'll be "gibbering nonsense."

So prevalent and matter-of-fact is caffeine, it was quite startling to read at cyclingnews.com the other day that Taylor Phinney refuses to take caffeine.  That was so earth-shaking I conducted a google search to learn more.  I discovered the original  interview where Phinney made that comment at velonation.com.  What Phinney said was that he refuses to take caffeine pills that are quite common in the peloton.  He still drinks Coca-Cola and will take caffeine gels, whose wrappers are another common site along the race route.  But he even has qualms about that.

For the past month it seems as if everything written about cycling has been drug-related thanks to the revelations about Armstrong's doping.  Thus it was refreshing to read a book about cycling that largely avoided the subject, when a friend loaned me Robbie McEwen's autobiography "One Way Road."  At last, a current biography that wasn't a confession, such as Tyler Hamilton's "The Secret Race," and David Millar's "Racing Through the Dark."

He doesn't bring up drugs until page 78.  I had been so lost in reading about his successes, first as a kid BMXer and then beginning as a professional in 1996 winning ten races in his first year, that the mention of drugs suddenly brought me back to reality.  I took a quick look at the index to see how much of it I was in for.  There were only five citations listed.  When he did bring up the subject, it was pretty much just in passing.   One of the trials of being a professional, he said, is people always asking if everyone is on drugs.  His response is, "No, apart from a few idiots."

He too has an intimate relationship with caffeine. He owns a coffee bar in Australia.   Towards the end of one Tour stage he was becoming delirious from fatigue and forcibly demanded a can of Coke from his team car even though it was beyond the 20 kilometers to go sign when racers are prohibited from getting food or drink from their team car as the intensity of the race heats up. A faltering Miguel Indurain was once penalized for doing the same on a Tour stage.

Caffeine isn't the only benign drug that McEwen mentions.  He reveals that a Swedish version of snuff, known as "snus," is also popular in the peloton, though he doesn't admit to using it himself. One puts a tea bag of it under one's lip. Tyler Hamilton's ghost writer, Daniel Coyle, mentioned that Hamilton had taken up chewing tobacco.  That was the first time I had come across a mention of present-day professional cyclists indulging in tobacco.  Now this.  What next, I thought?

I soon learned from the same "Cycle Sport" issue that reported on David Millar's caffeine use that Bradley Wiggins can occasionally be seen with a cigarette in his mouth.  Nothing new there.  Gino Bartali was known to indulge in a cigarette before he went to bed.  There is a well circulated photograph, turned into a popular poster, of racers in the '20s on a Tour stage riding side by side passing a cigarette.  Smoking was thought to open the lungs and make breathing easier.

McEwen's and Hamilton's books also shared some very penetrating descriptions of the pain racers endure, not only from pushing one's self to his limits to keep up, but also riding with injuries.  McEwen said that he early learned the "first and foremost lesson of cycling--that everyone suffers."  He says at one point that the suffering is such a daily occurrence that no one day stands out.  But later on he recalls going to such an extreme in a sprint at the 1999 Tour of Holland that he began "to see little pinpricks of light in my increasingly blurred vision...I could feel myself starting to black out."

Hamilton claims he can taste blood in his mouth when he is at his limit.  He says pain comes in different flavors.  He describes feeling flashes of pain all over his body like "so many strings of Christmas lights."  One learns to embrace the pain.  It becomes meaningful.  "It can even feel great," Hamilton says.  All their time on the bike gives racers ample opportunity to ponder their pain and articulate metaphors explaining it.  McEwen referred to a "three-course meal of pain" and being in the "hurtbag."

A racer's prime attribute is his ability to endure pain.  It would be impossible to measure who can suffer the best. Hamilton rode a Tour de France with a cracked collarbone and ground down eleven teeth.  McEwen was in such pain after a Tour crash that it was painful for his chiropractor to touch him.  Still he rode on.

McEwen's was a rare cycling biography without the admission of being brought to tears by a great triumph or extreme emotional moment.  Hamilton's is more typical with several mentions of tears.  Twice he shares a cry with Bjarne Riis, the first after he broke his collarbone on the first stage of the 2003 Tour, when he went into The Race in fine form and a threat to Armstrong.  They both cried again a year later when he told Riis he was leaving the team to go to Phonak.  Twice he brought his parents to tears.

McEwen  does admit to being near tears on the podium after the first of his twelve Tour de France stage wins in 1999 on the Champs Elysees.  In 2002 he won on the Champs again and also won the green jersey.  He said his team manager was crying.  But not him.  He was too "knackered."

The book is thick with Australian and English idioms--blokes, bollocks, blagged, chancers, once the duck has been broken, good on ya, took the piss, bag of spanners, really feel crook...  His favorite adjective is "bloody."  He is light on the f-word compared to Cavendish's book and even Hamilton's.  He claims that Cavendish once called him his idol, but not any more.  In Cavendish's rookie season as a pro he was intent on winning more races that year than McEwen had in his and managed to do it by one.

McEwen makes frequent mention of his "mates" and emphasizes the importance of "mateship" among the Aussies, a quality he hasn't seen among other nationalities.  He is certainly a proud Australian.  "Aussies are battlers and underdogs," he writes.  "We roll up our sleeves, get stuck in and do what we have to do.  Being Australian means being prepared to fight and work hard for the good cause."

He rode for several years with his fellow countryman Cadel Evans on the Belgian Lotto team before Evans went on to win The Tour with BMC.  He thought Evans could have won The Tour one of those years if he had been a more economical rider.  He accused him of wasting vast amounts of energy for not being able to ride tighter in the pack.  He'd be out on the fringes, fearful of crashing, riding into the wind and having to make constant minor accelerations to keep up. If he'd been conserving energy he would have been able to overcome Carlos Sastre's lead in the final time trail, but fell short, finishing second. He was also upset with Evans for once keeping his eight teammates waiting for half an hour on a rest day ride, something he said he would never have done.

McEwen also has criticism for Garmin's David Zabriskie for going out strong from the very start on a Tour stage in the Pyrenees.  He was tired and was dropped 100 meters into the stage, forcing him to struggle and suffer the whole day.  "I had a name for him at that point," he confesses, "And it started with an 'F.'"

The book is full of such juicy tidbits.  He is open and frank about deal-making in the peloton, offering riders as much as $50,000 dollars to let him win a race, knowing that the publicity from the win would earn him much more in appearance fees on the criterium circuit.  He could earn a 100,000 euro bonus from his team for winning five major races a year other than the Grand Tours, and he usually did.  He once was awarded a cow for winning a race.  He didn't know what to do with it so he sold it to Bernard Hinault for 1,000 euros, knowing that Hinault had a farm.

The friend who loaned me the book said she enjoyed it so much she had read it twice.  I could understand why.








Friday, October 12, 2012

Christian Vande Velde Meets With His Fans

Last night for the fifth consecutive year Christian Vande Velde made himself available to his hometown Chicago fans for a chat about his year.  Not once in his previous four appearances did  the subject of the sport's dark underbelly, drugs, come up.  That would surely be different this year, as he  was prominent in the news as one of eleven of Lance Armstrong teammates to indict Lance and admit to   drug use in a 1,000 page report released the day before.  He was also featured in a front page New York  Times story that very day telling how he was forced to take drugs and was threatened with being fired if he didn't.

More than fifty fans turned out to see Christian and his teammate Tyler Farrar at the Garmin store, the lead sponsor of his team, on Michigan Avenue.  Shockingly, his audience was too polite to ask him about the story that was front page news around the world, nor did Christian address the issue in his opening remarks.

It wasn't until after the session, when I had a chance for a private chat, was I able to broach the subject.  I too had been guilty of avoiding the issue, despite having the opportunity, getting in a couple of questions during the Q&A, preferring to focus on sunnier subjects as did everyone else--his great season, which included helping his teammate Ryder Hesjedal win the Giro d'Italia, winning the week-long Pro Challenge in Colorado and also finishing second in a stage at The Tour de France after being part of a six-man sixty-mile breakaway.

I had been eager to ask Christian about that breakaway ever since watching the prolonged French telecast in a bar along The Tour route as it was transpiring.  The motorcycle cameras remained on Christian and his companions with hardly interruption for two hours.  That was one of my highlights this past year of following The Race, wondering what was going on in Christian's head and knowing I'd be able to ask him about it.

Christian acknowledged that being in a breakaway is less stressful than being in the pack, though it takes considerable effort to get into the break.  He said he couldn't have done it without the help of his teammate David Millar, who gave an all out effort to bridge him up to it and then dropped back to the pack, utterly exhausted. "I owe it all to David," the ever humble Christian said.

Thomas Voeckler, the French rider who is a breakaway specialist, was in the break.  Christian said he took charge.  I asked if he was surprised that Voeckler didn't respond to the attack of his fellow Frenchman and former teammate Pierrick Fedrigo with three miles to go.  "Not really," he said.  "You never know what kind of deal they might have arranged."  Christian was the only one in the break to be able to keep up with Fedrigo, finishing second right on his wheel, 12 seconds ahead of Voeckler and another.

Though most of the questions were directed to Christian, Tyler fielded a few as well. Tyler, one of the sport's top sprinters, is one of two Americans to have won a stage in all three of the Grand Tours.  He said the Vuelta is his favorite of the three three-week tours, as The Tour de France is so stressful and the Giro a pain with all the long transfers from one stage to the next, the riders spending almost as much time in their team buses as on their bikes.

Thanks to my fellow Tour follower Skippy, I had recently learned that Farrar had first witnessed The Tour as a six-year old.  His father was an ardent racing fan and made The Tour his family's vacation when Tyler was a youth.  There is a picture on the Internet accompanying a story on Tyler's dad from that vacation of Tyler on the Galibier, one of the highest passes in the Alps.  I asked what memories he had of that occasion and what it was like to ride over the Galibier twenty years later as part of the peloton.  Christian blurted, "You did the Galibier as a six year old?"

"I didn't ride up it," he said.  "My mother drove me up it while my father biked."

Tyler said he had no memory of that experience, but that it had doubtlessly been part of what led him to becoming a racer.

More questions followed, all focused on racing.  No one was brave enough to broach the taboo subject of doping.  I was prepared to if I'd been afforded another question, but the Garmin representative moderating the program cut it off much too prematurely after half an hour.

Among the many things I would have liked to ask Christian related to Tyler Hamilton's recently published book "The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-Ups and Winning At All Costs."  Christian is mentioned six times, all in a positive light.  Hamilton describes him as "easy-going" on one page and on another as "a great guy" and later mentions he has "a sly smile."  Hamilton and Christian were teammates on Lance's first Tour winning team in 1999.   Hamilton said that only he and Kevin Livingston, the team's climbing specialists, and Lance were given EPO during that race. They had their own separate van to make the doping easier, while their six teammates had another.

Hamilton mentioned that Christian once irked Lance when he teased him about a pair of new Nike bicycling shoes he was wearing. I would have liked to have heard Christian's version of that.  Hamilton also brought up a training camp incident where Christian had higher blood values than Lance after a hard ride, a barometer on who was the better rider.  Those in the know conspired to keep it a secret from Lance, as they knew it would upset him.  I wonder what Christian had to say about that as well.  But that will have to wait for another time.

During Christian's autograph session I whispered in his ear.  "Are you presently serving a suspension?"  There had been conflicting reports in the media what sanctions Christian faced for admitting he had taken drugs. Some said he would be suspended for six months starting in September and ending in time for him to compete in the season's first significant race in March--Paris-Nice.  Christian said yes, that was the case.

"I'm surprised no one brought up the doping during up the Q&A."

 "Me, too," he said, "but that was somewhat of a relief."

"How are you doing?" I asked.

"I'm okay. Getting out like this helps."

"When did you give your grand jury testimony?"

"Two years ago."

"Wow, you've been waiting for this report all that time.  It must be a relief to get it over with?"

He sighed a "yes," then turned to Tyler and said, "Remember George? I introduced you to him at the team time trial a year ago."

We shook hands again and I asked, "How did the crowds in London at the Olympic road race compare to The Tour de France?" 

"It was fantastic.  The crowds were ten deep all around the course.  I've never seen anything like it."

There was a gleam in his eye, as there had been when Christian was recounting his proud moments from the past year. It was good to talk racing and not the other stuff.  Hamilton's book brightened, too, on those rare occasions when he departed from the drug-taking and commented on the beauty of the sport--the incomparable camaraderie cyclists have with their teammates, unlike any other sport or endeavor, the beautiful terrain they train and race in, the strategy and the effort they give.

Although it would have been interesting to hear from Christian first-hand the turmoil the drug-taking caused him, it will be thoroughly covered in the media in the months to come.  We'll be reading all too much about it.   In fact, today's New York Times has a full-fledged story on Christian. He also issued a four paragraph apology the day the report was released:

“I love cycling, it is and always has been a huge part of who I am. As the son of a track cycling Olympian I was practically born on the bike and my dream, ever since I can remember, was always to be a professional cyclist. I have failed and I have succeeded in one of the most humbling sports in the world. And today is the most humbling moment of my life.

“As a young pro rider I competed drug free, not winning but holding my own and achieving decent results. Then, one day, I was presented with a choice that to me, at the time, seemed like the only way to continue to follow my dream at the highest level of the sport. I gave in and crossed the line, a decision that I deeply regret. I was wrong to think I didn’t have a choice – the fact is that I did, and I chose wrong. I won races before doping and after doping. Ironically, I never won while doping, I was more or less just treading water. This does not make it okay. I saw the line and I crossed it, myself. I am deeply sorry for the decisions I made in the past -- to my family, my fans, my peers, to the sport that I love and those in and out of it – I’m sorry. I always will be.”

“I decided to change what I was doing and started racing clean again well before Slipstream, but I chose to come to Slipstream because I believed in its unbending mission of clean sport. Today, I am proud of the steps that I and cycling have made to improve the future of the sport that I love so much. I am proud to be a part of an organization that implemented a no-needle policy. I am proud that I published my blood values for all of the world to see after almost reaching the podium at the 2008 Tour de France; showing first and foremost myself that it was possible to and then, confirming it for the rest of the world. I continue to be proud of the strides the sport has taken to clean itself up, and the actions our organization has taken to help shape the sport that I love.”

“I’m very sorry for the mistakes I made in my past and I know that forgiveness is a lot to ask for. I know that I have to earn it and I will try, every day, to deserve it – as I have, every day, since making the choice to compete clean. I will never give up on this sport, and I will never stop fighting for its future.”

I look forward to seeing Christian at The Tour's start in Corsica next July and equally look forward to his appearance at the Garmin store after the season.  All can be assured that he will continue to do himself and his sport proud.




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bloomington, Indiana

I took advantage of the Katy Bicycle Trail for a few miles after crossing the Missouri River at Jefferson City, the capitol of Missouri.  The bridge, too, was bicycle friendly with a recently added bike lane attached to the side of the bridge, the only one for miles around. At 237 miles, the Katy Trail is the nation's longest rails-to-trails conversion.  It runs nearly the length of the state.  Its surface is crushed limestone.  It provided a tranquil alternative to the road, but after a few miles I realized I could be rolling along with a little less resistance on the highway alongside it.  There wasn't much traffic on it, and the scenery was no less picturesque, so there was no reason to shy away from riding along with the big dogs.

If it had been hotter I may have preferred the quiet and the shade of the trail's tree cover to the faster speed of the pavement, but I was still pressed for time to reach Bloomington by Saturday night, so being able to ride at sixteen miles per hour compared to twelve was much more attractive.  However, after about twenty miles the even railway grade of the trail drew me back when the highway ran into a series of steep climbs over a barrage of bluffs.

When the road turned flat once again as I neared Hermann, I once again abandoned the bikeway for the roadway. It would have been a very pleasant trail if I weren't under deadline.  It followed the route of Lewis and Clark for some of its miles.  I didn't encounter another cyclist.  There were periodic posts citing nine rules for cyclists.  They were all basic common sense. The first was, "Be courteous to all users."  Rule number two was "Wear a helmet."

The next morning, a few miles beyond Hermann, the river valley narrowed once again and the road turned into a roller coaster of steep ups and downs, three or four per mile.  Worse than the time loss was the punishment my legs were taking. They were quickly being drained of energy.  I had to average one hundred and ten miles a day for the next three days and that would be hard to do if the road continued to be so demanding.  The hills would have been great for training, but not for making time.  After seven miles of unrelenting sawtooth terrain with no outlet to the flat of the Katy Trail, I left the River route and took highway U to Warrentown, twelve miles north.  There was still some climbing to do before I escaped the bluffs, but  the road soon mercifully flattened as it headed east towards the Mississippi.

I had ridden over ninety miles when I crossed into Illinois at Alton less than an hour before dark.  I hadn't stopped at a library all day.  I had only passed through two towns with libraries, Warrentown and St. Charles, and both required a detour of a couple miles or more to reach their libraries, a sacrifice I wasn't willing to make.  I started towards the St. Charles library, north of St. Louis, but turned back when I saw a huge hill ahead.  I had visited the Carnegie library in Alton a year ago on my ride back to Chicago from the Ozarks and had to skip that one as well, as it too was out of my way, so I wasn't able to alert Dwight and Janina as to my progress.  I wanted to assure them that I was still within range of making it to Bloomington by Saturday night, though it was going to be close.  I was becoming more and more single-minded in my determination though.

This wasn't unlike trying to keep up with The Tour de France, except that I had a lot less day light with it getting dark by 7:30 now and earlier every day as the days shortened and I was one hundred miles further east of the setting sun every day.  France in July remained light until ten pm.  I was spending upwards of eight hours a day pedaling in the twelve hours or so of light available to me.  If I didn't have this goal it would have been closer to six hours.

It mostly meant I wasn't reading as much as I would have.  Nor did it allow me time for a breakfast of hotcakes.  I hadn't had a single restaurant meal in two weeks.  It was forcing me to listen to the radio for local color.  That wasn't so easy to come by with all the nationally syndicated programs dominating the air waves.  Often the only local insight I gained was from the commercials.  There was no need for political commercials, as most of the shows were non-stop commercials for the Republicans.  Some commercials though did have a political bent such as the one promoting a gun show.  It warned, "This could be your last chance to stock up on guns if the wrong man is elected president."

Along with the many commercials for firearms ("Buy your ammo from Hardware Hank"), there were quite a few commercials for funeral parlors and small businesses who urged "Buy Local" ("we've got our roots here, not our branches").  Many commercials referred to money as "hard-earned." A favorite phrase was "We've got your back covered."  At times I felt as if a time machine had transported me back several decades. Occasionally I'd catch a station playing old radio shows from the '50s or beyond.   The "Neon Beat" somewhere in Kansas featured Perry Como and Glen Campbell and Nat King Cole and Dean Martin.
 
I didn't much mind all the extra time I was spending on the bike, as that is where I most long to be.  I just wish I had been a little more conditioned to riding than I was after barely riding 150 miles during the month I was in Telluride. I ride at least 2,500 miles in the month before The Tour de France.  I wasn't riding any harder than I normally would. I'd tried to keep my exertion just below the point where my heart beat becomes noticeable. I was trying to hold myself to a speed that I could maintain for as long as I wished.  It was simply a matter of resting before I was tired and eating before I was hungry, two of Velocio's Seven Commandments for the touring cyclist.

The road signs weren't well marked through Alton and I went astray for the only time of the trip, costing me six miles and about twenty-five minutes of riding time.  Those could be crucial.  After backtracking and returning to route 140, I just made it out into the countryside by dark.  Once again I somewhat blindly pushed through the brush into a clump of trees for a place to camp hoping I wasn't rubbing up against any poison ivy.

Two Carnegies awaited me on my 150-mile swath across southern Illinois, one more than I came upon in my 300 miles across Missouri.  The Missouri Carnegie was in Jefferson City, just a few blocks from its grand, domed capitol building.  It was an equally striking building, limestone with four pillars flanking its entrance and a balcony above and a pair of gargoyles. It now serves as office space for the Cole County Assessor's office a block from the new glassy library, a much less impressive building that one wouldn't even give a second glance.

It was similar to my previous Carnegie, the last of the six on my route across Kansas.  It was in Ottawa and likewise was no longer used as a library and greatly upstaged the new dreary library housed in the basement of the City Hall.  As with all the Carnegies, Ottawa's was a building the community could be proud of and beckoned anyone who set eyes on it.  Its exterior had a grandeur that would make anyone wonder if its interior could match it.   It sat in the corner of a large park and could have easily been expanded, but Kansas had little sense of honoring or preserving its past.   At least Ottawa didn't tear down its Carnegie as had McPherson and Great Bend and Lyons.

The Carnegie in Greenville, Illinois was a classic beauty with a domed rotunda to one side of its entrance.  It had not been expanded.  Over the fireplace in the rotunda was an original painting of Carnegie with a book on his lap.  The building itself was branded with "Pubic Library" over its entrance.  A recently added sign out front identified it as a "Carnegie Library."

It was a day later that I passed my second Illinois Carnegie in Robinson, just before the Indiana border.  It was a rare Carnegie that now served as a private residence and also a business.  The owners sold dog food and archery equipment for deer hunting.  A stuffed deer graced its front yard.  The building was in disrepair, the paint peeling on its wooden trim and  weeds growing up along the limestone building.  It was ragged but still retained its magnificence.

I had two final Carnegies in Indiana on my run in to Bloomington and its Carnegie that I had visited the year before, now a historical museum.  The first was in Linton.  It now housed the Carnegie Heritage Arts Center, along with a driving school and a pair of music studios.  Rather than limestone, as is the construction of many in the region from the local quarries, it was constructed of red brick.  It may not have been as regal as some of the Carnegies, but it still had a distinctive, noble presence.


My final Carnegie in Bloomfield, the thirteenth of these travels (two in Colorado, six in Kansas, one in Missouri, two in Illinois and two in Indiana), was also constructed with red brick.  It still served as a library, though it had been doubled in size with a matching red-brick addition.  It was identified as "Carnegie Public Library" across its top with "Erected AD MCLIX" just below.  I reached it an hour before closing time.  I was able to email Janina that I was twenty-seven miles from Bloomington.  I had ridden nearly ninety miles already.  She was on line and emailed me back telling me where to find the key to the house she was staying at if no one was home when I arrived.

Though I had some wind assistance I still had some hills to negotiate.  I was running low on energy and had to stop half way for a snack, but at least I had no worries of having to push on after dark to meet my Saturday night deadline.  I could finally somewhat relax and not be concerned with having to squeeze as many miles I could into the daylight remaining.  I completely the 1,400 miles in less than fifteen days.  It was as joyous a hug as I have ever received when Janina answered the door.  I arrived just in time for a Greek stew she had prepared for her old college friends Michael and Susan, who would be leaving for Greece in less than a week and would be our hosts for the night before we moved on to Dwight's farm outside of town. 

We gobbled down dinner and then headed off for the last few acts of the nineteenth annual Lotus World Music Festival that had drawn Janina to Bloomington from Chicago.  The festival was started to honor the local musician Quinten Lotus Dickey, who died in 1989.  The three-day event was staged at six venues in downtown Bloomington--two were tents, two were churches and the last two were a movie theater and a large bar.  Hundreds of music fans could range from stage to stage to hear all manner of exotic music--Arabic urban rai, gypsy jazz fusion, Yiddish punk-folk cabaret, contemporary Finnish string music, Portuguese folk pop, Swedish hip-hop and swing, Quebecois a Capella, funky Balkan brass and much much more. 

The musicians were all quite exceptional.  It was hard to leave one act for another, but also hard to stay for more than three or four songs, knowing what else could be sampled. Even though I was utterly exhausted and depleted from my hard ride, I was fully energized by the music and my companions.  Michael had served as a county judge since 1992 and Susan had been a town planner for years.  They seemed to know everyone.  It was a wonderful community event.  Even though Bloomington is home to the 40,000 students of Indiana University, students were a small percentage of the audience.  It was mostly an older crowd.  Between the venues assorted street performers sang and danced.  There were also displays of art and stands selling food and other items. 

Scattered about town were twenty-two painted brain sculptures, Bloomington's version of Chicago's cows from over a decade ago.  They were too spread out for us to see more than a couple.  Even though Janina is an artist herself and reviews art for Chicago's "New City" and other publications, she had no desire to seek out the brains.  She wasn't even an enthusiast of the cows, not recognizing them as legitimate art.

Rather than doing a brain tour Sunday Janina gave me a mini-tour of the campus where she spent some seven years doing post-graduate work in the '70s.  We also took a hike through her favorite woods just outside of town before joining Dwight for dinner along with his girl friend Susan and his good friends Jeff and Marie. 

Dwight had introduced Jeff to bicycle touring.  Since I had introduced Dwight to it some fifteen years ago when he joined me for a two-week ride in Cuba, Jeff had long wanted to meet the mentor of his mentor.  I too was eager to meet Jeff.  He took his first bicycle tour with Dwight two years ago in Thailand.  He enjoyed it so much, he returned on his own the following year. They had gone off for two months, the longest break Jeff had taken from his work.  He is quite an entrepreneur.  He owns five restaurants and a catering business and a brewery and recently acquired a herd of water buffaloes so he can produce his own mozzarella cheese for his pizzas.    He was remarkably down-to-earth and personable and had much to share. 

We were up to nearly midnight remaining at the dining room table basking in the glow of lives well lived, one and all. Dwight is certainly a larger than life character.  He has been a fugitive and an award-winning professor and environmental activist.  He was recently featured on National Geographic's "Locked Up Abroad" series for escaping from Mexico City's maximum security prison in 1975.  But everyone else too had much to offer--Marie from her job at the Kinsey Institute and Susan from her social work and Janina from her teaching.

The great camaraderie spilled over into the next day at breakfast when Jeff returned with a Chinese house guest who had written a book about the Silk Road.  He also brought a slab of bacon from the hogs he raises.  It went nicely with the eggs we gathered from Dwight's chickens and ducks and potatoes from his garden.  The dinner was also largely food from Dwight's extensive gardens.   After breakfast Jeff took us across the street to see his water buffalo and pigs and brewery.  The buffalo were quite curious and were happy to eat sweet grass we handed them from the other side of their electrical fence.

Dwight also gave us a full tour of his farm, starting with his Communist Plot, a few acres of garden that he shares with friends from in town.  It was such a full weekend my previous fifteen days of complete submersion into riding my bike and getting to Bloomington before Janina had to be back in Chicago to her students at Columbia seemed a distant memory. I've had nearly a dozen such visits with Dwight in Bloomington and as always look forward to the next.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jefferson City, Missouri

I don't ordinarily stop for copper coins along the road, just the silver-colored ones.  But when I saw a huge heap of pennies not long after I entered Missouri, those I had to gather.

I had an immediate flashback to Brazil 1989 when I was wrapping up a six-month, ten thousand-mile ride about the continent.  The country was in the throes of an economic crisis that makes that of Europe seem insignificant.  I regularly saw piles of coins discarded along the road--cheap, aluminum coins made worthless by the latest huge devaluation.

The currency in Argentina had been in a free fall as well.  A State of Siege had been declared. All laws had been suspended for a month.  Mobs of the desperate and hungry stormed supermarkets.  Peru too was in anarchy.  The Maoist Shining Path guerrillas had a strangle-hold on the country.  They were holding up buses left and right on the Pan-American Highway that I biked for over 3,000 miles and were blowing up bridges and buildings.  They let me be, though I was mugged by a couple of feral young men in broad daylight in a small city when I was strolling about without my bike.

Though the political and economic situation was very unsettled, perhaps even more alarming and calamitous than what is going on presently in Europe and the Islamic world,  I was very little effected by it.  So it is hard to get riled up by all the right wing ranters (Limbaugh, Beck, Hucklebee, Hannity, Dr. Laura, Dennis Miller) that dominate the radio waves out in rural America, who maintain the world is collapsing all around us and only Romney can save it.  They've totally taken over.  There's hardly even any country or gospel stations left.  There's not a voice on the left to be heard, even though all these right-wingers maintain that the media is dominated by them.  With all the propagandizing it is a wonder that Romney isn't ahead in the polls by double digits.

As I scooped up the coins I was happy to have a South America revery to lose myself in.  Not long before a memory lane had taken me to Morocco, the memories triggered by a tin of tuna I had just eaten. I was possessed by the urge to pitch it off into the sun, as I had witnessed a Berber shepherd do in the Sahara Desert.  He was my escort on a week-long camel trek.  I was appalled that he so blatantly littered, until a while later when we came upon another tin laying in the sand.  He gave it a kick and it instantly disintegrated having baked to a crisp in the intense desert sun.  I resisted tossing my empty tin here in Missouri, but I was happy to be off on a prolonged Moroccan revery.  So I joyfully occupy myself some of the many hours I spend as I pedal along when I'm not distracted by the radio or looking forward to meeting up with Janina and Dwight in Bloomington this weekend.

I was somewhat regretting that I had stopped for the pennies, as I didn't realize how heavy a couple hundred of them could be.  I already had an extra pound or so of license plates I had gathered along the way for Dwight to add to his barn-wall collection.  I had four from Colorado, one for every 100 miles, but only one from Kansas in 400 miles.   There wasn't much litter at all to be seen in Kansas.  Maybe its related to tourists.  I was afraid I'd be shut out in the license plate department for Kansas as I didn't find the one I did until I had nearly crossed the state.  That was a happy moment but it wasn't the highlight of the day.  Rather it was coming upon a round-about a few miles later, eight miles west of Louisberg, the last town in Kansas on route 68 before crossing into Missouri. 

It is the only round-about I have encountered in 1,000 miles, quite a contrast to France where they are everywhere.  It is scandalous that American traffic engineers remain in the Dark Ages, refusing to recognize the practicality and sensibility of the round-about.  Telluride installed one about a decade ago.  It was highly controversial, but it is now widely celebrated and embraced. So much so the town was just breaking ground on another when I left, three miles before entry to the town.

It was a sign of hope that at least one round-about has been introduced to Kansas.  They are such a rarity in the US that there was a sign warning of the round-about ahead with a diagram of its five arteries.  If I hadn't been so pressed for time I would have plopped down in the middle of it to revel at its beauty and cheer each vehicle as it entered and give it a thumbs up, celebrating the constant flow of traffic, no one having to stop and having the pleasure of a having a bend to negotiate rather than piercing straight ahead after perhaps having to come to a halt at the intersection. 

Immediately upon entering Missouri two days ago the terrain turned hilly.    Its nice to have some variety, but I fear the twisting and turning and climbing rural roads may be adding mileage to my distance to Bloomington, which mapquest will only compute by putting me on the more direct interstates.  I am more than half way across the state.  I will be able to follow the Missouri River for the next day before crossing the Mississippi into Illinois north of St. Louis in Alton.  Then it will be 150 miles across Illinois and a final sprint of 50 miles to Bloomington.

Janina will have a copy of New City for me, a special edition naming the 50 top artists in Chicago.  She contributed the profiles of five of them, including one on Jeanne Gang, the world's only female architect to design a skyscraper.  If you're not in Chicago and can't find a copy check the New City website.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Osage City, Kansas

Where oh where are those westerlies that are said to prevail across the plains?  This is day ten of my 1,400 mile gallop from Telluride to Bloomington, Indiana that I was hoping to complete in fourteen days to arrive in time for Bloomington's annual Lotus Music Festival.  I was counting on some strong tail winds to get me there in time.  So far I've only had three hours of the wind at my back.  It was on day four from Canon City to beyond Pueblo just after I exited the mountains and hit the flatlands.  That was exactly what I was expecting.  I was effortlessly romping along at nearly twenty miles per hour, but then the winds died and switched from the south and so they have pretty much persisted ever since.  At least I've only had one day of head winds.

I've averaged one hundred miles a day the past three days, but I'm still one hundred miles under the one hundred mile a day average I was shooting for--800 miles in nine days.  I knew I'd have to be satisfied with only about eighty miles a day the first several days through the mountainous Rockies.  I also sacrificed several hours of riding time on my first day, delaying my departure until eleven a.m. to watch the annual seventeen-mile Imogene Pass run from Ouray to Telluride over the second highest road in North America crossing a 13,114  foot pass.  I was rooting for Ralph to break three hours.  He fell on the descent and arrived seven minutes beyond his goal with a bloody knee.  Still he finished 79th out of 1,200 runners and beat his time of last year by eighteen minutes and finished fourth in his age group.  He would have podiumed if he hadn't taken a tumble.  But he is inspired for next year.  It was well worth sacrificing several hours of riding time for this event.

I was anticipating a series of wind-assisted 120 plus mile days across the plains to make up for the lesser days at the start, but the winds haven't cooperated.  It was similar to last year when I returned via Route 2 across northern Montana and North Dakota.  I at least had two days of hearty tail winds, but then had to battle southerly breezes as I headed down to Chicago.  Southerlies, rather than westerlies, seem to be the norm for this time of the year.

Among the radio stations I've been listening to across Kansas is KFRM, AM 550, "The Voice of the Plains."  It is nothing but news and information for the farmer.  It has constant weather reports.  It says that September is the least windy month of the year in Kansas.  The relative calm has allowed  me to average close to fourteen miles per hour.  KFRM was about the only station I could pick up yesterday, NFL Sunday, that wasn't broadcasting a game or reporting on football.  I welcomed a good dose of sports news, but I was happy to have KFRM to fall back on for an occasional break, even for a show called "Gun Talk."  The topic for the first hour of the show was safety on the gun range.  Caller after caller had stories about idiotic behaviour.  One told of a friend being robbed of his gun when he left it behind went he went to retrieve his target.  The host said that never would have happened to him as he always keeps a pistol on his hip.  He said, "I'm regularly asked, 'When do you carry?'  I say, 'Only when I am awake.'"

 All the radio stations are full of commercials for gun and ammo shops.  Even Hardware Hank advertised its selection of ammo.  I pass many gun shops through the small towns, some simply identified as "Guns"  with an American flag as background.  KFRM was amazingly upbeat despite the drought that has wiped out many farmers' crops.

One of the more alarming stories was about feral swine, giving me some pause about my camping.  I've been riding until dark each night and have had no difficulty finding a secluded spot to pitch my tent when that moment arrives.  It has been as easy as camping in France.  It became even easier when I passed the mid-point of Kansas and pockets of forests began to appear.  I welcomed camping among trees as it minimized the heavy dew that had soaked my tent a few nights.

The best radio so far was a three-hour Saturday morning show called "Bob Shop" on KXXX out of Colby hosted by a Dr. Demento character who played the hits from the '50s and '60s and beyond interspersed with parody songs and deranged asides.  At one point he commented, "Someone just called and asked if I was drunk."  I was wondering the same myself.  He said he was just high on caffeine.

He had a hard time restraining from singing along with his rollicking favorites.  After "Barbara Ann" he apologized, "Oops, you caught me singing.  That's highly unprofessional."  But he encouraged everyone to sing along with his next selection, the theme song of the White Sox, "Na Na Goodbye."  "Just remember that bouncing ball that Mitch used to use," he advised.

He dedicated some odd fast-paced electronic song to his brothers, who were hunting prairie chickens.  Many on his play list were old favorites of mine that had my legs propelling me a couple miles per hour faster than they would have been.  One that I'd never heard was "Leader of the Quack," a parody of "Leader of the Pack."  It was sung by a woman complaining about her doctor who regularly gave her the wrong medicine and was notorious for bungling operations.  It was as hilarious as Bob Shop.  He said it was possible to stream his show on the Internet. He has been one of the great discoveries of these travels.

Another was learning that I was following the old Santa Fe trail.  There were historical markers and signs indicating where ruts from the old trail could be seen.  The town of Council Grove was full of history.  Near its center were two statues, one called "Guardian of the Grove," of a Kanza warrior, from whom the state took its name, and one called "Madonna of the Trail," a memorial to the "pioneer mothers of the covered wagon days."  One of the town's museums was its former Carnegie library, a statuesque red brick building without any additions, with the single word "Library" still adorning it just below its second floor eve.  Its cornerstone identified it as a Carnegie Library.

It was the fifth town on the Santa Fe trail that I passed through that had once had a Carnegie library.  Those in Great Bend, Lyons and McPherson had all been torn down and replaced by bland, generic structures without any character.  I twice rode past the library in Great Bend without recognizing it as the library, impossible to do if it had been a Carnegie.  The librarians there couldn't even tell me where the Carnegie had once stood, other than it was nearby as when the new library replaced it in the early '70s a chain of citizens passed the books from the old library to the new.

Only the Carnegie in Herrington still stood and was still used as a library.  It was easily the most impressive building in this sad, painfully depressed town of more boarded up businesses than open ones.  It stood proudly on a corner lot in pristine condition with Carnegie Public Library spelled out prominently below its roof line.  A cornerstone reiterated, "This library gift of Andrew Carnegie."  It also listed the eight directors and construction company.  It was beautifully landscaped with flowers and bushes and a sculpture of three girls reading and a bench with a plaque "in loving memory of our mother Shirley Koepsel Wendt, who loved to read."  I was there Sunday, when it wasn't open. I'm sure its librarians would have been radiant with pride, as they certainly cared about maintaining their library  It was a true oasis in a town that didn't have much else to offer.

 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tribune, Kansas

All across eastern Colorado yesterday everyone was celebrating the first significant rain fall in months.  The inch that was recorded in Denver was the most it had received since last October.  I wouldn't have minded the rain so much if it hadn't brought along a head wind that reduced my average speed to a mere ten miles per hour, five miles less than the day before. Pushing into the wind all day, not once did I exceed fifteen miles per hour.

The rain also dropped the temperature thirty degrees to the mid-50s.  Rather than guzzling 32-ounce cold drinks whenever I came upon a service station oasis, my fingers were so cold I could barely pull off my cycling gloves the first time I stopped for some food after the rain started.  I had to switch to my wool gloves to keep my hands warm.  When its hot those super-size ice cold drinks are my saviour.  I won't want to go touring through New York City in the summer months with the just passed ordinance forbidding the sale of soft drinks larger than sixteen ounces. 

When I left the mountainous terrain in Canon City the landscape was desert chaparral fit mostly for cattle.  It was one hundred miles before I descended to terrain that was marginally suitable for agriculture.  Then  the effects of the drought were clearly evident with miles of  brown, withered corn and occasional pastures of sunflowers gone dead. The most alive vegetation were occasional "volunteer" wild sunflowers at the road's edge.  They were all facing east  in the direction I was headed, so I couldn't fully appreciate their shining yellow faces.  Janina had told me what a hardy plant they are.  She knows of a patch in an abandoned industrial site near her home in Countryside outside of Chicago.  When she recently made a detour to pluck a few to brighten her house, she was followed by a police car suspicious of her activities.

Perhaps the most striking evidence of the drought was the Black Canyon reservoir in Colorado.  It was fifty-eight feet below its normal height, the lowest it had been since 2002. It is expected to drop at least another thirteen feet before the winter snows.   During yesterday's rain a farmer hanging out in a small general store in Haswell said he was eager to go home and sit on his porch and enjoy the smell of the falling rain.

As withered as the crops, so were many of the small towns I passed on 96 across Colorado.  There were often more boarded up or abandoned homes and businesses than ones in use.  With the rain still coming down steadily last night near dark when I was ready to camp I slipped into an empty service station in Eads, right across from its laundromat.  Its roof was badly deteriorated.  Rain dripped in all about me, but I was still able to stay much drier as I set up my tent than if I had been out in the open.

I chose route 96 as it was midway between the main east-west routes in southern Colorado, Interstate 70 and State Route 50.  There wasn't much more than minimal local traffic on 96 other than the occasional "Wide Load" trucks. The French designate such trucks  as "Convoi Exceptional."   "Wide Load" implies obesity, something that isn't so common in France.  "Exceptional" is typical of the French inclination to take pride in even their "over-sized loads."

One of the aspects of touring in the US that I prefer to the French though is the self-service large cold drinks with as much ice as one would like.  The French have no such thing, nor does just about anywhere else in the world except Thailand. The Thais may appreciate ice more than Americans.  Even small cafes without refrigeration would have coolers full of ice cubes.

The towns along route 96 were so small, only two in nearly two hundred miles had libraries, and I passed through both during hours when their libraries weren't open.  Neither were Carnegies.  I've only encountered two in five hundred miles, one in Salida and the other in Canon City.  Both had had additions but still maintained their charm and majesty.  The addition to the one in Salida even included pillars to its new handicapped-accessible entrance to match the original pillars at its former entrance, now closed as it was up a set of stairs.  Both libraries fully acknowledged their benefactor.  Carnegie was chiseled into the facade over the entrance to the Salida library, while the Canon City library had a plaque over its fireplace reading "This building is the gift of Andrew Carnegie."  It also had a sign over its computers warning "Use of profanity = loss of Internet privileges."  Thanks to the warning, I restrained expressing my frustration with the slow and, at times, uncooperative computer I was on.

I was lucky to be the first one on the computer, as I didn't read the sign that the library didn't open until ten am.  I walked right on in at 9:45.  The librarian explained that they opened earlier when there was a farmer's market out front, though few people realized it. 

I have had just a single one hundred mile day in my first five days on the road.  I now need to average one hundred and ten miles a day if I hope to reach Bloomington by next weekend.  If the winds return to normal its not impossible.  I do end my days exhausted, but I'm adequately recovering with ten hours of sleep to keep at it.  It helps that I've been out of bear country the last few days and can once again stock honey  and can make a sandwich in the middle of the night when I wake up hungry.