Monday, September 30, 2013

A Police Escort on the Home Stretch

I wasn't overly surprised when a car pulled off the road near where I was camping on the outskirts of Victoria, Illinois and I heard the heavy step of someone approaching my tent with a high-powered flashlight.  As I feared, someone had summoned the police.

When I had disappeared off the road to set up camp a half hour before in virtual pitch dark, a car had just happened to be passing and seemed to slow a bit to give me a look.  This was isolated rural America, where someone evidently took issue with a stranger lurking in the vicinity.  

I emerged from my tent before the officer ordered me out.  I was confronted by a husky, boyish-looking young man, who seemed like he wanted to be a nice guy but knew it was his role to be stern. He asked if I knew I was on private property.  It wasn't clear that I was, as I was in a clump of bushes on the other side of a village limits sign.  I told him I had been caught by dark, as I had been, and didn't think I was trespassing on anyone's property and that I would be gone first thing in the morning.  

He said he'd had a complaint from the person who owned the property.  He could recognize that I posed no threat to anyone, and said he would call the complaintant to see if they would let me stay.  Then he asked me my name.  I asked if he'd like to see some ID.  He responded almost with embarrassment that he hadn't thought of that.  When he saw my address, he assumed that I no longer lived in Chicago, as it was nearly 200 miles away.  It was beyond his conception that I would be biking there and that I had already biked over 1,300 miles from Colorado.

He called in my particulars to his dispatcher and learned I wasn't wanted for anything.  Then he called the property owner and gave her my story.  He couldn't convince her though to let me stay.  He apologized and said there was a state park just up the road that he would lead me to.  It was so small that it wasn't on my map.  It had no official campground, but that was of no concern to me or the officer.  It was nice to get a little further down the road, as I was in a final hard push to make it back to Chicago in time to join Janina for a dance performance at the old Shakespeare Theatre put on by her dance instructor from Hubbard Street Dance.  I didn't care so much about the performance, but I did care about pleasing Janina, who I hadn't seen in nearly a month after a fabulous two weeks together at Telluride.  If I hadn't had that deadline, I would have camped a little earlier in one of the many cornfields I had been passing.  The camping was so plentiful, I had no qualms about riding until the final few drips of light remained in the sky.  

Despite my deadline, I did not let that prevent me from stopping at a handful more Carnegies, including two I had visited two years ago on my way back from the Ozarks before I had a digital camera.  I was nearly twenty-five miles into Illinois before I came to my first in Monmouth.  It wasn't the local library, as it had a fine library already, in fact the first in the state, established in 1868, well before Carnegie started providing them.  But Monmouth College accepted funds from Carnegie for its library in 1905.  It didn't stand out as most do, as it was designed to fit in with the rest of the campus architecture.  It was still a fine, sturdy building, but long ago supplanted as the university library by a much larger facility.  It has been renamed Poling Hall and now serves as an administration building.

Monmouth also takes pride in being the birth place of Wyatt Earp.  I didn't take the time though to detour to his home.  Twenty miles up the road I likewise bypassed the home where Carl Sandburg was born in Galesburg, saving that too for another visit, and limited my site seeing to its Carnegie.  Unfortunately it had burned down in 1958 and been replaced by a non-descript one-story building without a speck of character.  I biked past it without recognizing it as a library.  That would have been impossible to do if the Carnegie with its pillars and majesty had still stood, as is the case with the majority of Carnegies.

My post-dawn start the next day brought me to Galva and its Carnegie before eight a.m.  

It was in a quiet residential neighborhood.  As I sat at its doorstep trying to tap its WIFI, a woman next door emerged from her house.  She was the town librarian and was coming in to work early.  She gave me the password for the WIFI, a series of numbers that began with my bicycle messenger number, 567, and let me take a peak inside.  The library had been expanded, almost doubling its size with an addition that was a near replica of the original.  She told me it had been done in 1929, twenty years after the library had opened, thanks to a donation from a local.  The town's population hadn't grown much since then, and the current size of the library was perfectly adequate.  I asked to see where they had hung the standard Carnegie portrait that had been provided to all the Carnegie libraries in 1935 to commemorate his 100th birthday.  Not all the Carnegies have it on display.  Galva's was just around the corner from its entry.  As some do, she said they vary where they hang it, so he doesn't get bored with the same view all the time.

The larger town of Kewanee was granted such a large library with a $30,000 grant in 1908 that it hadn't needed to be expanded over the years.  It is a grand, stately building that would be the pride of any town of any size with a beautiful domed ceiling over the central part of the library.

The small town of Sheffield, with less than 1,000 people, was given just $4,000 for its library, that likewise has not needed an addition.  No where on it does it even say its a library, leaving that to a posted sign to the side, that also said, "Having fun isn't hard, when you have a library card."

After Sheffield my final one hundred miles was on a diagonal that I had previously biked when I was in a race to make it home by Thanksgiving past Carnegies in Spring Valley, Peru, LaSalle and Marseilles. I didn't have to make a detour of even a block to renew acquaintances with the Carnegie in LaSalle

and the Carnegie in Marsailles.

The next time I'm in Marsailles, its Carnegie will have new blinds, thanks to a just completed fund drive.

It was the final of forty-two Carnegies I visited in twenty-two days and 1,500 miles.  As always, it is nice to be home, but as each trip does, it reinforces how wonderful it is to be out and about exploring on the bike, seeing the new and the familiar, spending the better part of each day pedaling away in the great out doors, not only exercising my legs, but all my mental faculties.  It never grows old. When I return, I am eager to get back on the road.  

I don't have to wait long as Janina and I have a weekend trip planned to Midewin State Park, repeating a ride we made last January that included a visit to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery for veterans, where her parents are interred.  We'll have the fall foliage to look forward to as well as more daylight and much warmer temperatures than we experienced in January.


T.C. O'Rourke said...

OK, so you knew about Wyatt Earp. Did you know Kewanee is the Winnebago word for "Prairie Chicken"?

george christensen said...

And Mendota, Illinois is the home of Wild Bill Hikock and a Carnegie that I visited in April: