Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rochester, Indiana

Friends: I had stopped to fill my water bottles at a park on the outskirts of Rochester, Indiana. When I turned back to my bike a man with a flourishing gray beard and a huge camera was approaching me.

"Mind if I take your picture?" he asked. "I'm with the local paper. I was out here photographing an eagle nesting out beyond the lake. Touring cyclists are about as rare around here as eagles. Where are you headed?"

"I'm on my way to Chicago. I'm on a 400 mile loop to Fort Wayne and back. The Fort Wayne library has the best collection of cycling books in the mid-west. Its the only library within 200 miles of Chicago with biographies of Fausto Coppi and Bradley Wiggins. After Wiggins won Paris-Nice a week ago, the first major bike race of the season, I thought I'd pay homage to him and take advantage of this summer weather and take a ride to go read his biography. I'm also in search of Carnegie libraries. I'm here in Rochester because you have one. Can you tell me where it is?"

"Its now a private residence, but you can't miss it."

"I was just in North Manchester, twenty-three miles back, and I was told the same thing about their Carnegie. Its now a law office, but like all the Carnegies, they may be one hundred years old, but they are still magnificent buildings that truly stand out."

"Ours still has Carnegie Library chiseled into its front. Its a block from the main square at 8th and Jefferson. The new library is just a couple blocks away."

"How often does your newspaper publish?"

"We're still a daily. We have the smallest circulation of a daily in Indiana with about 8,000 subscribers."

He handed me his card. It had his name on it, Mike Kenny, and "The Rochester Sentinel, The Voice of Fulton County's People Since 1858."

He was right about the Carnegie being easy to spot, right on the corner across the street from a church. It still had an original three-gloved light fixture out front. When I stopped to take a photo, a large dog appeared at the doorway and began barking. It was the tenth Carnegie I had visited on this quick dash of a trip, with a possible three or four more. It was the second one I had visited with a four-legged critter on the premises. A cat patrolled the Pierceton Carnegie, contributing to its small town feel. It had had a slight addition, but still retained its original aura.

Perhaps the most striking of the Carnegies was the first one I visited in Whiting, just across the border from Chicago in steel mill country. It had had an addition but it was hidden behind the original building that featured a pair of statuesque towers. The Gary Tolleston Branch library, built by Carnegie, was still in its original state but is presently closed down. The Carnegie in Hobart is now the town's Historical Museum.

Two of the ten on my itinerary were no longer standing--those in Valparaiso and Fort Wayne, with the new libraries built on the spot of the old one. Fort Wayne's had been the largest in Indiana thanks to the largest contribution for an Indiana library from Carnegie--$90,000. Most were built on not much than $10,000. The Fort Wayne Carnegie had been replaced by a huge county library. Along with its seven shelves of bicycling books it has the second largest genealogical collection in the U.S. after Salt Lake City.

I had a pleasant two days at the library polishing off a pair of superlative cycling biographies. The Wiggins bio, "In Pursuit of Glory" was written in 2008 just after he won two gold medals at the Beijing Olympics for individual and team pursuit, bringing his total of Olympic medals to six over three competitions, tied for the most by a Brit. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the book about his year riding with Garmin and Christian Vande Velde, as that was his 2009 season.

Garmin was his fifth professional team after Francaise des Jeux, Credit Agricole, Cofidis and HTC-Highroad. Now he is with Sky gunning for a Tour de France title, though he says in his 2008 book that the best he could ever hope for in a Tour was perhaps a stage win. He has developed as a road cyclist considerably since then, finishing fourth the year he rode for Garmin. He wrote that it would be one of the great moments in British sports history for a British rider to be wearing the yellow jersey on the Champs Elysees, never imagining that it might be him.

There have been more books written on Coppi than any other cyclist. This one was "Fallen Angel, The Passion of Fausto Coppi," written by William Fotheringham in 2009. His previous book was "Roule Britannia," about the Brits in the Tour de France that I read last month. He knows his stuff, though he did stumble saying that Bobet was the first person to win The Tour three times and implies that Bartoli's win in the 1948 Tour was his first Tour win. Coppi's career, like Jacques Anquetil, was marred by leaving his wife for a doctor's wife. It was even more scandalous in Italy, than France, as adultery was a crime in Italy until 1968. Coppi and the doctor's wife were put on trial and convicted, though their sentences were dismissed. The Pope refused to give a blessing to the 1954 Giro when it set out from Rome as it contained "a public sinner."

I would have been out of Fort Wayne half a day earlier if I could have found a benevolent librarian willing to let me borrow the books overnight. I pled my case to four of them in four different departments, but there wasn't a kind-hearted one in the lot, not even the woman who had grown up in a small town in Iowa with a Carnegie library and was impressed by what an authority I was on them.

But neither she nor any of the others were impressed enough that I had bicycled 170 miles from Chicago in less than two days just for these books to let me slip one out for the evening. Nor could I win any of them over by knowing their library resided on the spot where a Carnegie had once stood and that I had visited nine others in the past two days and all that I knew about them, much more than any of them knew. I asked if they ever loaned books to Chicago on inter-library loan. They did. I offered them my Chicago library card and anything else in my wallet as a deposit to borrow either one of the books for the evening. What I could read that night and the next morning before the library opened at noon would be invaluable to me. They each patiently listened to my spiel, but none were willing to oblige me. I'd make a lousy salesman or con man.

Nor could I find a bicyclist in the library who might have checked them out for me. If I'd thought of it then and had a little more time, I would have searched out a bike shop. I know I would have found a sympathetic soul there who would have loaned me a library card in exchange for some collateral, perhaps as simple as my honor. It was frustrating, but hardly calamitous. I arrived at the library an hour before closing on Saturday, then returned on Sunday when it was open from noon to five, and was back at nine on Monday. I had completed my reading by six and was able to get 30 miles down the road before dark.

I camped two nights in Fort Wayne in a forest along the St. Joseph River just three miles from the library on the outskirts of the city. On the other side of the road up on a hill resided the private burial spot of Johnny Appleseed. He spent the last fifteen years of his life in Fort Wayne, dying in 1845.

I was hoping the library might have a bunch more of cycling books I didn't know anything about, but the only ones it had that I hadn't already read were several of the Velo Press/John Wilcockson books on The Tour de France from the years 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007. They are not essential reading.

This has been such a nice ride, I may make another up to Wisconsin next week for another rare cycling book by a Dutch sociologist called "The Sweat of the Gods."

Later, George

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