Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Across Indiana

"I'm a bicyclist too," one of the librarians at the Waterloo Grove Carnegie in the northeast corner of Indiana told me.  It was the second of the six Carnegies on my route across northern Indiana on Highway 6.

"I hope you were able to get in a ride yesterday," I said.  "At last some warm weather.  It was the first time this year I was able to ride in shorts."

"I sure did," she replied.  "It was a perfect way to spend Easter.  My partner and I rode 62 miles.  We're training for the 101 Lakes Ride on May 10.  It passes through three states and is 110 miles.  And later in the year he and I are planning on doing the Ride Across Indiana, known as RAIN. Its a one-day, 157-mile ride from Terre Haute through Indianapolis to Richmond."

"How many Carnegies does it pass?"

"I don't know, but I'll have to look it up.  I search them out myself.  I've got a doll I take along and take a photo of at each library."

"I've seen nearly twenty in the last few days biking from Pittsburgh.  Searching them out makes for a good bike ride."

"Anything makes for a good bike ride," she wisely corrected me.

We talked biking and Carnegies awhile longer at the bike rack outside the red-brick classic building until she had to excuse herself to tend to the construction going on at the library.

It had celebrated its 100th anniversary the year before.  It was in the process of being rewired and having its boiler replaced and getting an addition.  Despite her enthusiasm for Carnegie libraries, hers had no recognition of Carnegie on the outside of the library, just his portrait hanging in a corner inside.  I thought maybe the 100th anniversary banner still hanging over the entry might cover something relating to Carnegie, either his name or one of the phrases often seen on his libraries reflecting the era when they were built--"Free Public Library" or "Open to All"--but all it covered was brick.  There was nothing inscribed on the building identifying it as a library, though there was a recent sculpture out front of a boy and a girl each enjoying a book in their own way.

My first Carnegie of the day in Butler, just across the border from Ohio, had "Butler Carnegie" over its entry despite no longer serving as the town's library.  It is now the DeKalb County Museum, open on  Fridays and Saturdays noon to four, though closed for the month of May.  It was right on Highway 6, known as Main Street through the town.  Four of the Carnegies on my route across Indiana had "Main Street" addresses, not unusual, as one of the few stipulations Carnegie gave to a town requesting a library was that the library be built within a block or two of the town center on land provided by the town.  Such a central location was often intersected by a "Main Street."

Kendanville's Carnegie had likewise been replaced by a new library.  It was now a vintage furniture and curiosities shop, though not doing so well, as a sign on the door said it was closed until further notice.  It was a block off the town's Main Street in a residential neighborhood.  The intricately bricked, Prairie School-influenced, building could easily be converted into someone's home, as have a handful of the libraries.  There are no inscriptions on its exterior that might be confusing to passersby if it did turn into someone's dream home. 

The Ligonier Carnegie was closed and undergoing a significant renovation and addition.  Even with the construction going on, it had a most stately presence. It had more than a full block to itself, surrounded on all sides by grass and trees, with no other buildings diminishing its dignity.  "Carnegie" in bold gold lettering was directly over the entry flanked by columns and above that "Public Library."  

Flanking the stairs to the entry were a pair of griffins, a mythical creature known for guarding treasures.  The librarian said they are also a symbol of knowledge.  They had been added about fifteen years ago.  The stairs too are a symbol--of one's elevation by learning.  The stairs were one of the requests of Carnegie for all his libraries, along with a lamppost or two out front, symbolizing enlightenment by learning.

Of to the side in a nicely landscaped garden was a touching sculpture of a barefoot girl reading a book entitled "Booked for the day," almost as worthwhile a way to spend one's day as riding one's bike.

The temporary library in a small shopping mall only had a portion of the library's holdings, but it did have the Carnegie portrait hanging.  I am always happy to give him a nod. 

I was denied that part of my Carnegie ritual at the other two of his libraries on my route.  I was told he hung in the office of the director at the Syracuse library.  He was gone for the day and his office was locked.  The library had had two additions, one in the front and the other in the back.  I at first thought it was a new library, as the additions, especially the one tacked on to the entry that took away the steps, made it no longer look like a Carnegie.

It doesn't deny its heritage though, as it had a stack of very worthwhile glossy twelve-page brochures entitled "Syracuse Public Library, 100 Years in the Making," free for the taking, tracing the history of the library.  It included a portrait of Carnegie and acknowledged him as the "Patron Saint of Libraries."

was sent to the basement of the Carnegie in Milford to give Carnegie a greeting, but his portrait was not to be found and the two librarians on hand didn't know where it had disappeared to.  

It wasn't that the library was ignoring its roots, as by the original wooden curved checkout desk, that was a magnificent work of art itself, hung a photo of the library shortly after its construction without any of the trees that now surrounded it, and a photo of the first librarian, wearing a bonnet, sitting around a table with the members of the original library board.

The cornerstone did have "Carnegie Public Library" engraved on it, but not the date of its construction in 1918.  

A seamless expansion to the rear of the brick building in 1995 more than doubled its size.  It included an elevator, the first in this town of 4,000 residents.  It was the only one of the Carnegies in Ohio and Indiana on my route that required a password to access its WIFI--"springhassprung."

"Do you keep that password year round?" I asked.

"No we change it every few months.  We don't allow anyone under eighteen to use our computers, so we have to have a password.  We change it to keep it from becoming too well known.  We don't want teenagers coming around the library after it closes and accessing the WIFI."  

I didn't know it at the time, but I was on the fringe of Amish country, perhaps explaining the sensitivity of underage use of the Internet.  It was growing dark and as I pedaled along a county road a couple miles south of Highway 6,  I was passed by a couple of horse drawn carriages with bright headlights.  And that evening in my final night in my tent in a soggy forest I heard the rapid staccato clatter of horses pulling a cart passing by.

The next morning I was joined on the county road by children bicycling to school, some accompanied by their mothers, all wearing reflective vests.  I was ending my journey as I had begun it, with a touch of Amish.  As usual there had been a scattering of Amish at Chicago's  Union Station at my departure point, and a handful too on my train.  They all looked rather stern and sullen, and those out of their community a bit nervous, out in the world of materialists. None of the bicyclists responded to my waves or dared even to look over at me.  It was a pleasant sight though biking past farms without a car or truck or tractor in sight.

Another of the distinctive joys of being out in small-town, rural American are the local ice cream parlors, the anti-Dairy Queens, with a character of their own.

So too is tuning into non-big city radio stations.  Their on-air voices are less regulated and molded by the corporate interests trying to draw as big an audience as possible so they can charge as much as possible for commercials.  They are allowed to have a personality of their own, and don't sound like all the rest of those on the radio dial in the metropolises, who seem as cloned as the franchises taking over the world.

An older guy on a station out of Akron kept saying, "Things today aren't like they were in the '50s."  But he didn't agree with a recent article by Phyllis Schlafly that men should earn more money than women. She argued that equal pay would make it hard for women to find husbands, as men don't want to marry women who earn more money than they do.  He said that wasn't true in his case at all, as having a wife who earned more money than he did allowed him to continue his career in radio.  He was an entertaining old coot with many regular callers.  He began his show with a gigantic sigh saying, "We made it to Friday," an all too common sentiment in the world of wage-slaves.

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, I picked up a young woman out of Canada with a refreshingly wholesome chirpy outlook who spoke a Canadian version of Valley Girl, gleefully and giggly blurting "fer sure," "no way," "how cool," "neat stuff," and on and on.  The only distraction was her having to give the temperature in Fahrenheit and Centigrade.  A story that grated on her was a petition by Americans to send Justin Beiber back to Canada and to take away his green card.

The most entertaining commercial of the trip was a drill sergeant barking to his troops to keep them in step promoting a metal recycling company in Cleveland, not a business one often hears advertised on the radio. His spiel was: "Who pays more for your scrap?  Steel, copper, aluminum.  West Side Metals, we pay more."  It was a ten-second spot that turned up every half hour or so on a sports station.  

I also supplemented my listening pleasure with an audio book on my iPad of the "Fifty Craziest Stories in Cycling" by the prolific English cycling writer Les Woodland.  Many were about the Tour de France, but one was about a contest by a British cycling magazine challenging its readers to see who could bicycle the most miles in a year.  The first record holder did 34,666 miles in 1911, which included 332 centuries.  The record stood until 1937 when someone did 36,007 miles.  Five years later an Australian did a staggering 62,657 miles.  But even more staggering was someone doing 75,065 miles in 1939 and then continuing on to see how much longer it would take him to get to 100,000 miles.

I thought I was doing well to average nearly 90 miles a day for my six day ride from Pittsburgh to Chicago, culminating with a final 115-mile effort arriving at my apartment at 9:30, passing up a final night of camping on the outskirts of the city in Indiana's Dunes.  I hadn't lost much of the conditioning I had gained in the Philippines.  I will have no worries about my ride from Paris to Cannes next week.  I won't have to make it as direct as possible, but can swing over towards the Alps and preview a bit of the upcoming Tour de France route.  Target number one will be Oyonnax, 267 miles from Paris north of Lyon.  It is one of nine first time Ville √ątapes.  Five of the nine are in England, where the first three stages will be conducted.  By the time I'm in Oyonnax it will be two months until the start of The Race. It was exciting when the countdown reached one hundred days a month ago.  To be on The Race route checking on the preparations will be even more exciting.  I'm ready.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Across Ohio

This could have been a football-themed ride if I'd wanted it to be, beginning with the Steelers stadium along the riverfront in Pittsburgh and continuing to hometowns of famous players in Pennsylvania and across Ohio and other football shrines.  Beaver Falls, hometown of Joe Namath, has a Carnegie Library and was just a bit north of Pittsburgh and not too far from the town Mike Ditka grew up in, Aliquippa, but neither were on my most direct route back to Chicago, so will have to wait for another time.

It was sheer happenstance that I visited the town where Mike Ditka was born, Carnegie.  I didn't even realize it until after I had left and was reading up on the town.  Later when I was telling the librarian at the Carnegie Library in Midland, the last of my Pennsylvania Carnegies, about the various Carnegies I had visited so far on this trip, I mentioned that among the things I had learned was that Ditka was born in Carnegie.  An older guy sitting at a nearby table leaped to his feet and said,"That's not true.  He's from Alliquipa.  I knew his parents."

"Yes, I know," I replied. "I'm from Chicago and I know the Aliquippa connection.  I was surprised myself to learn he was born in Carnegie."

But the guy would not hear of it, angry that another town would try to steal Ditka, even in a small way, from his town.  I shut up lest we be ejected from the library.  I was having too nice of a conversation with the librarian for that.  He said they were beginning to prepare for the 100th anniversary of their library the next year.  Their library had less of the classical design of the later Carnegies and more the fortress/castle look of the early Carnegies even though it was of the latter era.

Just across the border in East Liverpool I came upon the first of the eight Carnegies on my 250-mile route across Ohio, some of it hilly, but most of it flat.  I initially followed highway 30, part of the Historic Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental road across the US from Times Square in New York to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.  It was established in 1912 and was 3.389 miles long.  The highway 30 segment of it started west of Pittsburgh  and continued across Ohio and Indiana to Aurora, Illinois.  I stuck to it for one hundred miles before angling north at Wooster, a town on my Carnegie quest.

East Liverpool was one of a trio of Ohio towns along with Sandusky and Steubenville that received the first grants in Ohio from Carnegie in 1899.  Eventually there were 112 built in the state, exceeded only by New York, Indiana and California. Illinois and Iowa also are in the one hundred Carnegie library club.  A plaque out front stated East Liverpool had a place in Carnegie's heart as he used to visit relatives there in his youth.  He gave a larger than normal $50,000 grant for a building grand enough to be a state capital.

The football theme came acalling again in Canton the next day fifty miles down the road after a pleasant, but cold, night in my tent in a forest.  The Canton Carnegie was another of large proportions.  "Open To All" was chiseled over the entry and above that below the roof line "Canton Public Library."   It is now a law office, with a good location for its business across the street from a penitentiary.  

Canton is home to the professional football Hall of Fame.  It was on the outskirts of the city, too far out of my way for a detour, especially since I had paid it a visit in 1977 for the induction of Gale Sayers. A week later Ernie Banks was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  I had intended on attending that as well, but the person I was traveling with let his job interfere, something I'm sure he regrets to this day.

Just west of Canton is another significant football town--Massilon, whose high school team has won the state championship 22 times.  If Columbus hadn't been south and well off my route I could have completed a trio of the great football towns of Ohio, other than of course Cincinnati and Cleveland, home to the state's two professional teams.

I arrived in Wooster at dusk.  Wikipedia had no address for its Carnegie, unlike most.  I thought I had found it, but the double-pillared building was the headquarters for the Masons.  I learned from a couple of pedestrians that the Carnegie had been torn down years ago.

I camped a few miles out of town in another forest.  Like the night before I had to push a little deeper into the forest than usual for full privacy, as there weren't even buds on the trees with spring very late this year, so late that the fields hadn't been planted yet.

As so often happens, I spotted the Carnegie in New London the next morning from a block away, not even knowing I was on the road where it resided.  There is no mistaking their striking features and the warm magnetic power they transmit, something that the Masonic building in Wooster lacked.  It was built in 1914 and had no inscription on it whatsoever.  Only a sign out front indicated it was a library, if one could not otherwise discern it.  The Carnegie portrait welcomed all who entered, looking down upon the entry from a far wall, the first thing one would notice after mounting the last few steps and entering the library.

The Carnegie portrait in Norwalk's Carnegie, twenty miles away, hung above the check-out desk, bidding all a farewell as they left, if they could drag themself away from this magnificent domed building with a stained glass ceiling softly filtering the light in.  

Carnegie resided in Belleveu's genealogy room, part of a huge addition to the library, protected from having to look at the former entrance now barricaded over which was chiseled "Free Public Library."  The front of the library faced a busy four-lane highway, a good reason to move the entry to the side, besides making it handicap-accessible.

The Clyde Carnegie, seven miles away, was on the quiet residential Buckeye Street.  Ohio is the Buckeye State and many businesses and products carry the name, just as in Nebraska many things are named Cornhusker.  Ohio even has a Buckeye vodka.  Clyde's Carnegie was an A-plus in every respect--its location, its architecture with a domed cupola, its well-groomed grounds, a plaque on the outside of the building acknowledging Carnegie, the string of authors chiseled on three sides of the building under its roof line, a seamless stone addition, its maintained original entrance, the light fixture outside the entry and also WIFI that I could access sitting outside the library as I arrived Saturday evening after it had closed.  Its exterior was so exceptional, it is one I will gladly return to, certain that its interior would be equally magnificent.

After camping in a yet to be planted field besides a patch of trees I had a final two Carnegies in Ohio the next day along Highway Six, the road that would take me across Indiana and almost all the way to Chicago.  The first was in Napoleon along the Maumee River that empties into Lake Erie.  Its Carnegie, with "Carnegie Library" over its entry, is now a storage facility for the new library just behind it.  The red brick building with two columns was somewhat blocked by a beginning to bud grand magnolia tree.

The Bryan Carnegie had a huge addition behind it, with the front entrance unceremoniously blocked, slightly tainting its white-brick elegance with two inset Doric columns.  It acknowledged Carnegie on its exterior with "1903 Carnegie" chiseled just under its peaked roof. 

I could access its WIFI, but it wasn't strong enough to connect with Janina through our Apple FaceTime feature, as I so easily did from the Philippines.  I'd had no success on this trip, and we had much to catch up on, especially her first smelting outing along Lake Michigan at Montrose Friday night with our friend Tim, who has twice biked with us to Midewin National Prairie.  She was on line.  I went in search of a pay phone that she could call me on.  I spent twenty minutes meandering around Bryan and asking whoever I saw, pedestrians and dog-walkers and joggers, and going into the local movie house and a liquor store, and could find no one who knew of a pay phone.  They have gone the way of the dodo.

It being Easter it seemed appropriate that I camped behind a church just across the border into Indiana, not far from Butler.  I could have pushed into a forest behind it, but the church's gardening shed was far enough from the road to offer all the privacy I needed and spared me from having to push my bike through a furrowed field and then some brambles.  Though it wasn't particularly rustic, it was still Another Great Night in the Tent after Another Great Day on the Bike. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Pittsburgh--Ground Zero for Carnegie Libraries

I could have spent a couple days tracking down all the Carnegie Libraries in and around Pittsburgh, but with only limited time I had to restrict myself to just the more prominent of them.  I had just a week to bike the 550 miles back to Chicago on my annual pre-France training ride, and knowing the vagaries of spring weather eighty miles a day could be a challenge.  But this was less of a training ride and more of a tune-up, having returned from a 2,000-mile ride around the Philippines a month ago.  Plus I'd had a 180-mile ride two weeks ago to Starved Rock and back with Janina and our friend Wendy (in the foreground in front of the Marseilles Carnegie Library).

That was a cold ride, as evidenced by how bundled up they were.  We camped in sub-freezing temperatures, but they were troopers and whimpered not, even in the rain.  It was Janina's longest ride and Wendy's first.  Wendy had hiked the Appalachia Trail in its entirety on her own two years ago, so there was no denying her capabilities.  She acknowledged, though, the ride was tougher than she anticipated.  She bowed out after 130 miles with sore shoulders, unaccustomed to sitting on the bike for five or six hours a day.  Still, she is eager for more, and Janina too.

It was ten-and-half hours by train to Pittsburgh from Chicago.  It was an overnight trip.  I had a seat to myself and slept most of the way.  There were two other cyclists on the train, a couple from Portland who planned to cycle the Great Allegheny Passage to Washington D.C. They had no idea they had arrived at Ground Zero of Carnegie Libraries.

Pittsburgh is where Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in the steel industry after immigrating in 1847 from Scotland with his family as a twelve-year old. He was immediately thrust into the steel mills working twelve-hour days six days a week as a bobbin' boy earning $1.20 a week. His book learning from that time on was restricted to reading books borrowed from a benefactor, who opened his private library to the young boys working in the factories who were deprived of school.

Thus was born Carnegie's devotion to libraries and his desire to fund as many as he could.  Libraries molded him into the man he was and he wished to make them available to one and all.  Not all libraries were open to the public then.  Many of the libraries he established had "Free to All" chiseled into their facade.  He eventually established over 2,500 of them all over the world, including 1,689 in the US, doubling the number of public libraries in the country during his era of giving in the early 1900s. The first he subsidized was in his Scottish home town of Dunfermline.

After that he began funding libraries in and around Pittsburgh.  The first was in Allegheny, the city where his family first settled, right across the river from Pittsburgh.  It was closed as a library in 2006 when lightning struck its bell town.  It now serves  as a police station and senior center.  Allegheny was long ago incorporated into Pittsburgh, and its new library is part of its 19-library system.

Like many of his early libraries it also had space for a theater or meeting hall.

It took several years for the government to approve Carnegie's behest, as it included the stipulation that the government provide the funds for its operation.  Before it was finished the steel town of Braddock fifteen miles down the Monongahela River gained the distinction of being the first Carnegie  Library opened in the US in 1889.  Like the Allegheny library it was designed in an eclectic medieval style.

The town was so proud of its library, it named the street its on Library Street and commemorated it with a painting across from the library in a small park.

Three miles back towards Pittsburgh on the opposite side of the Monongahela is the sixth library Carrnegie funded in the US in Homestead sitting high on a hill.  It was opened in 1896.

The full sprawl of this French Renaissance building is better represented by a painting in the library.

It was large enough to include a swimming pool and a bowling alley.  The swimming pool was the training grounds for a handful of Olympians and is still in use, but the bowling alley has been converted into batting cages for the local baseball teams.  I wouldn't have known about the batting cages unless a librarian at the Pittsburgh main library, who used to work at Homestead, had told me about them, as they are well hidden in the basement of the library and not promoted.

The third library Carnegie gave to the city of Pittsburgh is its main library, a monumental building endowed from a million dollar grant that also included funds for eight branch libraries.  Carnegie knew that a city couldn't have enough libraries and wished to make them easily accessible to all.

The main library had huge rooms with high ceilings, providing a most comfortable atmosphere for reading and study. 

The only one of the branch libraries I was able to include in my travels was the South side branch on my way from Homestead to the town of Carnegie.  It was still in its original state with no additions, as were also those of Homestead and Braddock.

The town of Carnegie, five miles south of Pittsburgh through steep hills, became the seventh US Carnegie Library after changing its town name to Carnegie. It too sits on a high hill.  Adjoining it is an 787-seat auditorium.  Carnegie is also known as the birthplace of Mike Ditka, though his family moved to Aliquippa north of Pittsburgh shortly after his birth.

Over its fireplace was an original Carnegie portrait, not the standard one that was issued to all the libraries in 1935 on the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Throughout the town were many businesses bearing his name.

Not every Carnegie Library is identified with his name, but that of Carnegie could hardly avoid it.  It was the final Carnegie in my half day of biking around the environs of Pittsburgh, a surprisingly enjoyable ride on roads with a minimum of traffic thanks to the struggling local economy.  It was a pleasant  urban environment, especially the older parts of the city with narrow streets and small local businesses. The only negative was a lower than customary library-consciousness.  Not everyone I asked knew where the downtown library could be found.  When I began my meanderings around the city at seven a.m. the first four people I asked didn't know it's whereabouts.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Nine Cycle Touring Books of Bettina Selby

My Telluride bicycle touring friend David, who rode along with me in Turkey three years ago, enjoys travel writing as much as I do.  He lets me know from time to time of a book or author he has recently read that he thinks I would enjoy.

The latest was Bettina Selby, an Englishwoman who wrote nine books about traveling by bicycle in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe from 1984 to 1996 until old age caught up to her.  She didn't begin her traveling life until she was 47, after raising three children and serving as a primary school teacher in London.  Somehow or another neither of us had stumbled upon any of her books or had heard of her.  

David discovered her while reading up on the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage route across northern Spain that he intended to ride this winter.  She had written a book about bicycling it in 1994, the eighth of her nine touring books.  David was also pleased to report that another of her books that he had gotten his hands on, "Beyond Ararat, A Journey Through Eastern Turkey," recounted roads we had ridden and experiences similar to ours being set upon by dogs and stoned by kids and chased by mobs of teens.

Chicago's public library had her book on the Camino.  It had eluded me when I read up on it before riding it in 2008, as it was filed amongst the large type books and not on the shelf with the handful of books on the Camino, including one by Shirley MacLaine.  For her other books I turned to my  Northwestern University librarian friend Elizabeth.  They could all be found at various universities, including Northwestern, as her writing has a sheen of academia to it, with a little more commentary on history and culture than most travel books.  They are still mostly personal recollections of the travel experience, but with a school marmish temperament.  She scolds and reprimands behavior that she deems rude and inappropriate, sometimes getting her in trouble.

In her third book, "Riding the Desert Trail," bicycling from Cairo to Uganda following the Nile River for awhile, she rather harshly asks some partiers at a hotel she is staying at to quiet down.  They are so incensed at her demands they charge up to her room calling out, "Where you white woman?  Come out of there sister, we going to pull you apart."  Luckily they couldn't find her room.

In India on her first trip, a 4,000 mile ride from Karachi, Pakistan to Kathmandu, she is knocked off her bike by a mob of young men.  She was paralyzed by fear, but rose up "so incensed by rage, I could have done murder." She gathers her wits and "icy calm and authoritative, as though I was addressing a class of fractious eight-year olds, said, 'I am going to fetch a policeman.'"  That stilled the mob and she managed to ride on.

Later, on the same trip in Nepal a group of school children enthusiastically greet her chanting, "Hello tourist."  She found that disrespectful and "sternly told them that this was not a suitable form of address for a female visitor of mature years."

She regularly has to fend off unwelcome advances by men, once even chasing after a young man who pinched her bottom as she slowly passed him on a climb in Jordan.  She is sustained by an indomitable spirit and an optimistic nature.  In nearly every one of her books she comments that travelers are optimists at heart.

She likewise makes mention of a "guardian angel" looking after her.  In "Fragile Islands, A Journey Through the Outer Hebrides" she continually battled winds.  One day when a particularly malevolent blast had reduced her to a standstill, a blue van came to her rescue.  She wrote, "I was convinced that it was another instance of the Hand of Providence intervening in an hour of need."

In her final travel book, "Like Water in a Dry Land--A Journey into Modern Israel," Selby returns to one of her favorite cities, Jerusalem, starting in Cyprus and passing through Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.  At the outset she assures her readers that she sets off with little worries as, "I have come to believe that I have a guardian angel who looks out for me when danger does threaten."  A while later in thick traffic in Beirut she acknowledges, "My guardian angel had his work cut out."

Another one of her defenses is tears.  She would prefer not to be driven to tears, but there are occasions so dire, she cannot help herself and they wheedle her out of trouble.  She wrote that if she hadn't given in to tears at the Israeli/Jordan border in "Riding to Jerusalem" her second book, after being kept waiting for hours by the Israelis, she didn't think she would ever have been let in.

The shedding of tears were a constant feature of her first trip before she realized she had a guardian angel, one of the few books that she doesn't mention such protection.  Another is "Riding North One Summer," where she rides around England and hardly needs one.  But in Pakistan and India she cried so often it worried her until she met other female travelers who had the same proclivity.  "Tears were almost impossible to avoid," she wrote, "because of life being so difficult and frustrating for women in that male-dominated world."

Most of her books include several pages of photos, but rarely one of her. The photos of her first Africa book were mostly of people. There were no photos of bare-breasted woman, but one of males baring their genitalia.   She reveals little of her personal life.  Her husband and children rarely merit more than a single mention.  In her book on bicycling around England she reveals her husband is involved in the film industry.  She acknowledges she is a grandmother and that her son is an ardent traveler too.  Of her two daughters we know nothing other than one was traveling in South America during her first trip and one, who may have been the same, helped her pick out her wardrobe for that trip.

She comes across as very prim and proper.  The worst part of fixing a flat tire for her is getting her hands dirty.   She turns her nose up at grimy linens.  She likes to finish her day with a good shot of whiskey.  When she lists all her gear she includes whiskey among her luxury items, but then corrects herself, calling it a virtual necessity as "a universal catholicon for all manner of ailments."  She mentions having a drink at the end of a day more often than getting a shower or bath, which is much more frequently referred to in most touring cyclist books.

Though she is easily irritated, there is no denying her toughness and fearlessness and daring spirit.  She even had the audacity to enlist as a bicycle messenger in London at the age of fifty before her ride down the Nile to get in shape for the ride.  She loved it, despite never working so hard for so little monetary reward.  She gained the fitness she needed and also enhanced her riding skills.

Before her first trip she sold her car so she could buy a first-rate bike and equipment.  That was the only one of her trips where she didn't have a name for her bike.  As an ardent cyclist, she is inclined to disparaging remarks about the automobile, even in her only non-cycling book that she wrote five years after her final touring book.

"Two Cats Walking" is the narrative of two cats who abandon their owners, upset with them for forcing them to move from the home they have become accustomed to.  After being on their own for awhile they begin to miss their owners and set out on an odyssey to return to them.  They always hated being transported by car and escape from their owner's car on the way to their new home in rural Wales.  The cats are perplexed by "this perverse generation of humans who both worship the motor car, but at the same time crave peace and quiet."  They are relieved to be back on foot, "as you don't find that kind of magic on a car journey."

Selby's books have been translated into Dutch, German and Japanese.  Some have been made into documentaries.  Though her writing can be a bit dry and impersonal compared to other travel writing, she captures well the travel experience and fully endorses the bicycle as a means of travel.  She should be better known than she is.  She ranks right up there with the two more prominent and equally prolific women touring cyclist writers from the British Isles--Dervla Murphy and Josie Dew.  Murphy preceded her and no doubt was an inspiration, but curiously not once does she pay her homage.

Riding the Mountains Down     1984
Riding to Jerusalum        1986
Riding the Desert Trail     1988
The Fragile Islands        1989
Riding North One Summer       1990
Frail Dream of Timbuktu       1991
Beyond Ararat         1993
Pilgrim's Road        1994
Like Water in a Dry Land     1996
Two Cats Walking        2001