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 saunter along 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 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 two rules were, "Be courteous to all users" and "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 energy was ebbing, and I needed 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 when 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 had been branded 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 peanut butter and honey sandwich in the middle of the night when I wake up hungry.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Salida, Colorado

I have been a little more cautious than usual wild camping since leaving Telluride three days ago, as the bears in these parts have been less wary of humans in their final push for food before they go into hibernation.  The drought conditions have reduced their normal food of berries.  There have been increased reports of bears invading towns foraging in dumpsters and garbage cans for the 20,000 calories they need a day as they fatten up.   And there is the odd story of a bear breaking into a home or business.

Though I didn't have any bear sitings myself during my month in Telluride working for its film festival, many of my friends did.  Nothing serious, just the fright of seeing one of the big woolly creatures ambling along late at night.  Last week the "New York Times" had a story on the bear invasion, mentioning Telluride and Montrose.  My friend David, who I  biked around Turkey with two years ago and lives in the woods outside of Telluride during the summer in his tent, had to set up an electric fence for the first time around his tent to fend off an overly curious bear after it had trashed three of his tents.

I camped ten miles beyond Montrose my first night after leaving Telluride.  It was just beyond a rest area at a road leading to Black Canyon National Park.  The garbage can at the rest area did not have an extra secure bear-proof top common in these parts, so I did not have a great concern of bears. The terrain was semi-desert, not the best habitat for those carnivores.   Earlier in the day I met a touring cyclist who left Fort Collins, north of Boulder,  and had been on the road ten days riding part of the route I would be taking.  He had been wild camping, or "stealth camping." as he phrased it, and hadn't had any bear problems.  The night before he had camped outside of Ridgeway.  There were notices of active bears in the area.  He just made sure to hang his food, but no bears were drawn by it that he was aware of.

Lat night I camped in the weeds along the road just before the climb over 11,321 foot Monarch Pass on the Continental Divide.  It was along a stretch of cattle farms.  I had passed two recently hit deer, bloated and rotting.  If they hadn't attracted bears, I had little reason to think my packs of Ramon and Luna bars and peanut butter would be much of a lure.  I had no place to hang them other than on my bike, probably not high enough to thwart a hungry bear.  The only noise I heard during the night was the howling of coyotes.

The bears have to be a little wary themselves, as bear hunting season is now on.  I may have more reason to be concerned about hunters than the bears.  Twice in New Zealand I was shot at by hunters while wild camping.  I wasn't their target, but rather game they thought they had seen in the vicinity.
I've had an increased bear consciousness this year as the Film Festival poster, designed by David Eggers, featured a bear behind a camera filming an elk in the style of a National Park poster.  Eggers is better known as a writer.  He's had several best selling books, the first "A Heartbreaking Tale of Staggering Genius," but he is also an accomplished graphic artist.

He was one of five authors attending the festival who all had book signings at the festival Memorabilia Shop.  It made for an extra busy year in my shipping department with all the books pouring in.  Errol Morris and Salmon Rushdie were among the authors, along with guest director English critic Geoff Dyer and Jack Garfein, an older Czech director whose two films from 1957 and 196l were screened.   His first film, "The Strange One," featured Ben Gazzara in his first role.

That was just one of many older films.  Another was "The Intruder" from 196l starring a young William Shattner.  It was part of a tribute to Roger Corman.  It was the lone serious, socially-conscious film Corman directed of the over 500 films he produced, and reputedly the only one that lost money.  When critic Scott Foundas introduced the film he said that when he interviewed Corman five years ago for the "LA Weekly" he asked Corman if that story was true.  He said it was until it was made available on DVD.  Now it has finally turned a profit.

Along with the many obscure, "lost", films screened there were the North American premieres of some of the best films from Cannes: the Palm d'Or winner "Amour," "Rust and Bones" starring another of the tributees Marion Cotillard, "The Hunt" starring the third tributee Mads Mikkelson, who won the best actor award at Cannes, "Paradise:Love," "The Sapphires" and a few others.

There were also a handful of films that will be opening at the multiplexes in time for the Oscar season: "Argos" starring and directed by Ben Affleck and "Hyde Park on the Hudson" with Laura Linney and Bill Murray.  All three were in attendance.  Sarah Polley also was on hand with a superlative documentary on her family history unearthing her biological father in "Stories We Tell."  She introduced it holding her young baby and then talked about it for nearly half an hour after a Monday morning screening in the sold-out 500 seat Galaxy theater.  It was a treat that the Toronto audiences will not have this week, as the material is so sensitive she has said that she will not be talking to the press about it there.

Among the many highlights of the festival,  was seeing once again on a big screen Tarkovsky's masterpiece "Stalker" from 1979 and the breathtaking travel documentary "Baraka" from 1992 and the visually stunning "Beau Travail" from 1999, three of Dyer's six selections.  Also up there was the new film"Wadjda," the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and also the first film directed by a woman from Saudi Arabia.  It was the story of a quite feisty 11-year old girl who wants a bicycle so she can race against the boys.  It is unheard of for a girl to have a bicycle in Saudi Arabia.  It is also unheard of for a woman to direct a film in Saudi Arabia.  The director, Haifaa Al Mansour, said she had to direct the outdoor scenes from inside a van, as it wasn't appropriate for her to be out amongst the men.  There were considerable references to the secondary role of women in Saudi society.  Even if the movie didn't center around the girl's desire for a bicycle, this would have been an exemplary film with all its cultural detail.

As always, my thought will be much preoccupied during my bike ride back to Chicago reflecting upon and reveling over all the cinema and socializing of the past month in the utopia of Telluride,  reuniting with friends, some of whom go back more than two decades, and also glorying in new friendships.  One of them was one of my condo mates who went to high school in Washington state with Tyler Farrar, Garmin's Tour de France stage-winning sprinter.

This year I'm making my most direct ride back to Chicago, as I'm hoping to meet up with Janina and Dwight in Bloomington, Indiana the weekend after next for an annual music festival.  It will be a challenge as I need to average nearly 100 miles a day for 14 days straight to make it.  I've only managed 80 miles a day my first three days through mountainous Colorado with all the climbing over pass after pass.  But once I hit the flats, if the winds prevail from the west as they should, I have a good chance of making it.  It won't be easy, but it will be worth it if I can pull it off.