Spring time in the mid-west is notoriously windy. It is tornado season and even in areas that aren't prone to them, the aftermath of their winds can feel like a virtual tornado. So it is no surprise that I've had winds to battle on my current five hundred mile circuit into the middle of Illinois and over to Indiana on a quest for three more rare bike books in three different libraries.
Even my road side scavenging had a wind emphasis to it. For the first time ever I found a kite beside the road. It was trapped in some weeds, pitifully heaving and throbbing like a fish out of water gasping for life. I stopped to rescue it. It took some effort to fully untangle it as it clawed and fought. The gusting wind didn't make it much easier to tie it to the barbed wire fence just behind it. But once attached, it breathed back to life, fluttering as it was meant to. It wasn't the full freedom it would have liked, essentially reduced to being a gold fish in a tiny bowl, but at least it could attract the attention of someone who might adopt it and grant it once again its true destiny, such as the bicycle allows me.
I was feeling deprived of my full freedom, pummeled by the fierce, punishing headwind, the last gasps of tornadoes that had just done a number in Oklahoma. I was heading south and a bit west along Route 66 to Bloomington, Illinois for one of the bike books I was after.
I was into the second day of the 140 miles to Bloomington, battling head winds all the way, though much worse on the second day, with my average speed plunging from eleven miles per hour to seven. I didn't overly mind, as this was the final training ride for my summer in France, commencing in two weeks, making it an extra good workout. The wind was somewhat blunted at the start of my ride as I tried to anonymously slip out of town early Sunday morning on Ogden Avenue with its Historic Route 66 signs. I was passed by a couple of lycraed cyclists who said hello and asked how far I was going. A couple miles later I caught up to them where they were waiting with a third cyclist. One asked, "Is your name George." When I confirmed that it was, he said, "I read your blog." I suddenly felt like Josie Dew, who I had just been reading. I just hoped it didn't extend to people calling me "my lassie" and "me petal."
My route took me past my friend Janina's house in Countryside. I stopped to say hello and attach a rack on her bike so she wouldn't have to use her car to pick up kitty litter. I was happy to make it possible for there to be "One Less Car" on the road for at least that errand. She sent me on my way with a batch of banana muffins made with bananas, flour and eggs liberated from her Dominicks dumpster the week before.
She lives just a couple miles from the I and M Canal and its accompanying bicycle path. I welcomed its forested shelter from the wind and the company of other cyclists out on a Sunday morning amble. It wasn't Route 66, but it took me the next twenty miles to Joliet and its Route 66 museum. I was mostly interested though in its library. Worldcat.org reported it had a copy of a book on the 1949 Giro d'Italia, featuring the legendary battle between Coppi and Bartali. Unfortunately the library had eliminated the book from its collection and worldcat.org hadn't updated its record. A library in Carmel, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis also had it in its collection. I was somewhat headed in that direction for a Samual Abt book, so I didn't mind at all having to make that detour, especially since the Carmel library was a Carnegie, unlike Joliet's. The Joliet library was still a beauty, designed by Daniel Burnham and built in 1903, though greatly expanded since. I always scan libraries for "Read" posters I've never seen before. On the stairway to its second floor was one of a little girl on a fireman's lap with the heading "Read To Your Hero."
Unable to sit in the library all afternoon reading I was able to get a jump on the one hundred miles to Bloomington. I left route 66 for a spell taking route 53 so I could go by the Midewin Tallgrass Nature Preserve that Janina had recommended. It is a recently restored 20,000 acre park that had formerly been a military armory. There were plenty of trees to camp in, but it was too early in the day for that. I made it just short of Dwight, seventy-eight miles for the day, where I camped in a small forest that protected me from the wind and the evening rain.
When the temperature dropped I had hoped it meant the wind had switched from the south to the north, but I had no such luck. It was even nastier from the south. It took me three hours to bike twenty-one miles to Pontiac, from one prison town to another. Lawns on homes in both towns were adorned with signs saying "Save Dwight's Prison." Pontiac had a Route 66 Visitor Center and abounded with murals celebrating the Route 66 era. When I stumbled into its non-Carnegie library for refuge the librarian blurted, "Are you on a bicycle? I could barely even walk in this wind."
After an hour break the wind had altered a bit so it was somewhat from the west as well as the south, enabling me to increase my speed to nine miles per hour. It was another forty miles to Bloomington and Samuel Abt's "Pedaling for Glory--Victory and Drama in Professional Bicycling Racing" about the 1996 racing season. If the winds hadn't been against me, I could have arrived at the library by two or three in the afternoon, just enough time to finish off the book before the library closed at nine.
I was wondering if I'd even make it to Bloomington that day. But with the slight shift in wind, I made it to the library by six, found the book and immersed myself into the 1996 Tour, won by Bjarne Riis, breaking Miguel Indurain's reign. Lance dropped out of the race on stage six, three months before he learned he had cancer. It was also the race that his future director Johan Bruyneel, riding for Rabobank as its leader, suffered a serious crash in the Alps falling into a ravine. It can be viewed at youtube.
On the way to the library I had been scouting out places to camp. There was a nice clump of trees and bushes along a river between the sister university towns of Bloomington and Normal just a mile-and-a-half from the library that I wouldn't have recognized as a place to camp in the dark. After a quiet night I was back at the library first thing in the morning to finish off the book. If I weren't pressed for time I would have lingered to read "Lance Armstrong, Historic Six-Time Tour de France Champion," a collection of stories and photographs from Lance's home town newspaper, the "Austin American Statesman." It will beckon me back.
I left Route 66 and headed due east on Highway 9 with the wind at my back. It wasn't as strong as it had been the previous two days, but it provided a welcome assist. For fifteen miles I passed through a vast wind farm with hundreds of wind turbines. They were pleasing to the eye at first but after a while they became a blight on the countryside. The librarian in Paxton said that the turbines were quite controversial, though she was all for them.
The farmers are most happy for the money, as they earn more per acre from them than they did from their crops this past year. The librarian said they were particularly beautiful at night each adorned with flashing red lights. I had seen a sign for a viewing stand, but didn't care to detour to try to find it. She said she had gone off in search of it herself, but never found it, though she had a nice drive on back roads looking for it.
The wind turbines don't seem to be contributing much to church attendance judging by the notices on a couple of church message boards in Gibson City and Paxton right in the thick of it. One read "Now Open Between Easter and Christmas" and another, "If you're gong to sleep somewhere on Sunday, it might as well be here."
I also encountered some grumpiness in Hoopeston when I asked a hefty older guy in overalls with manure on his boots where the library was. After he gave me directions, he said, "I've never been, but lots of folks go there to loaf and git books and stuff."
After two nights in forests, I spent last night in a barn behind an abandoned house just across the border into Indiana. There was a bit of straw left that made a fine mattress.
I've added four more Carnegies to my life list. The one in Paxton is featured on the cover of the book "The Carnegie Library in Illinois" by Raymond Bial. It was magnificent with a rotunda and wood floors and built-in book shelves and a magnificent curved circulation desk. With a population of 4,100, Paxton was not much larger than it had been when the library was built in 1904, so no addition was needed. It is a rare one in its original state. At its 100th anniversary a time capsule was placed beside the flag pole to be opened on its bicentennial in 2104.
The Carnegie in West Lebanon, Indiana, a town of just 800, had had a small addition to its back in 2005 to provide a handicapped entrance and space for computers. Otherwise it too maintained its original flavor. It was a rare Carnegie with a bust of its benefactor as well as a portrait. The bust was significant enough to be included in a book written on the Carnegies of Indiana by Alan McPherson
The Carnegie in Covington, Indiana had a lithograph of Carnegie unlike any I've ever seen. It was located in a residential neighborhood and was adorned with a plaque saying it was on the National Register of Historic Places.