Friday, October 3, 2014

Millington, Illinois

A mural and statues and plaques in Ottawa's central park fully bring to life the first of the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates held on that very spot in 1858 to an audience of over 10,000, just slightly less than the present population of Ottawa.  Slavery was the central issue.  Lincoln may have been the better orator, but he lost the senatorial election he was contesting with Douglas, who retained his seat. Two years later though, Lincoln prevailed, becoming the sixteenth president.

Those seven debate sites must have top billing among those on the trail of all the "Looking for Lincoln" plaques scattered around the state. They are more common than Carnegie Libraries, of which Illinois had 111, exceeded only by New York, Indiana and California.  I'll soon have visited all of those remaining in Illinois and then can turn my attention to Lincoln as a means of gaining a further intimacy with Illinois on my bike.  Each plaque Is a story unto itself, urging me to research it and join the tribe of Lincolnphiles, not that I need another obsession, having yet to exhaust my fascination with The Tour de France.  Even as I've been biking along I've been listening to a Les Woodland audiobook on The Tour and also reading a Kindle book about a group of English cyclists who followed the 2012 Tour.  

Woodland has written over twenty books on cycling, most devoted to The Tour.  He is another of a vast fraternity who have been totally absorbed by the rich and colorful history of The Tour and its wide array of characters that goes well beyond those who have ridden it.  France is full of guys who have collected huge amounts of Tour memorabilia and have opened museums or make their collections available in public places when The Tour passes near them.  There are quite a few French writers, like Woodland, who have devoted their careers to The Tour.  The most prolific is Jean-Paul Ollivier, who has written fifty some books on cycling.   Woodland quotes him on occasion along with many other writers.  

Woodland is a voracious researcher and will devour anything he can get his hands on relating to cycling.  Though he is English, he now lives in France, no doubt to make his research all the easier.  He even now identifies himself as being French.  His latest book on The Tour, "The Inside Story: Tour de France, Making the World's Greatest Bicycle Race," is full of stray anecdotes that other Tour histories don't include.  The book is almost a stream-of-consciousness commentary on The Race, somewhat chronological, though it jumps all over the place and doesn't mention every edition as the standard histories of The Race do.  

He inserts interesting and telling nuggets that he's picked up from reading biographies of many of the sport's principals.  He mentions that the autobiography of Jacques Goddet, the second director of The Tour after Henri Desgrange, does not explain how he allowed the Nazis to use his velodrome as the roundup point for over 10,000 Jews in Paris during WWII. He makes a case that he had to have been a collaborator, though he refused to stage The Race during the war despite the urgings of the German occupiers.  

He ventures off into stories on the wife of Desgrange and an American from LaSalle, Illinois who preceded Boyer and Mount and LeMond to the European peloton.   He calls it a myth that Rene Vietto worked as a bellhop at a luxury Cannes hotel.  The book abounds with odd little footnotes that he has stumbled upon that he just has to share.  And I am delighted with each.

But as much of an authority as he is on The Tour, he quite frequently bungles the facts.  This, as with many of his books, is in desperate need of a cycling-savvy editor.  He comments that it took the Americans more than sixty years to make their mark on The Tour.  Eighty years would be a more accurate figure.  He states that Poulidor was a better time trialist than Anquetil, when that was Anquetil's strength.  He says Armstrong had a positive drug finding in his first Tour in 1999.  Its true he tested positive for cortisone in that Tour, but it was not his first Tour, just the first that he won.

He states there were twice as many fans as usual along the road in Monaco when Lance came out of retirement and made his return to the sport after a three year absence.  I was there and that's not true at all.  Not all that many fans, especially the caravaners, showed up, knowing how expensive and compact Monaco was.  He also gets the location of one of the most storied events in Tour history wrong.  He wrote that Bahamontes stopped at the summit of the Galibier for an ice cream cone in 1954, when it was on the Col de la Romeyere.  And he gets the year wrong on the year the British team ANC competed in The Tour.  It was 1987, not 1989.

There were much fewer errors in the Kindle book, "One Day Ahead: A Tour de France Misadventure" by Richard Grady, mostly because the book didn't comment much on The Tour.  Grady is also English.  He is one of five members of a support crew, including a masseuse, driving two camper vans for four English riders who are attempting to ride The Tour route "one day ahead" of the peloton.  The book hardly mentions the riders.  It largely concentrates on the the support crew and how difficult their job is, much more difficult, he claims, than actually riding the route. 

It is mostly comical, but he does have genuine grievances with others on the crew who want to do some riding and not do their share of the work.  They have to find water and places to dump their sewage and buy food and find places to set up their encampment every night.  It wasn't glamorous in the least.  The author is continually complaining.  The wife of one of the riders, who shares his sentiments, tells him that when he sits down to write his book, if he can't remember what happened any particular day, all he need write is, "It was shit," which he agrees with.  The actual Race only gets a couple paragraph mention at the end of each chapter, told stage by stage, even though it was the first time The Tour was won by an English rider.

He does insert some Tour history and insights in what its like to be in France during The Tour.  He knows cemeteries are a source for water and greatly appreciates the course markers, though only once does he mention the decorations along the route without being as enthusiastic about them as he should be.  One thing I learned that I have been oblivious to is that there are road signs for campers to dump their sewage, not that it is something I need to know. I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed this book as much as I did if I weren't reading it in small doses during my breaks and in my tent at night or if I were reading it as a real book, and not just on my iPad.  Still, it was nice to marginally relive a Tour I had ridden starting in Liege with Andrew from Sydney.

Having Tour books to read and listen to as I've ridden along has made me less in a hurry to return home.  I've wanted to prolong my series of days on the bike and nights in the tent.  I have made this a longer ride than it needed to be, extending it by nearly five hundred miles to 2,000 miles with detours to Carnegies and friends.  The last Carnegie on my route came in Streator, fifteen miles south of Ottawa.  It was a larger town of over 10,000 people and had an exemplary Carnegie, making it a fine one to end with.

A representative of Streator paid a personal visit to Carnegie and was able to convince him to give more than three times his usual $10,000 grant.  It enabled the town to erect a two-story building with a rotunda that had murals on three of its sides, the fourth open to the grand, oaken staircase that led up to it.  The murals each feature a literary figure--Homer, Longfellow and Shakespeare.  The one with Longfellow paid homage to his writing on native  Americans.

The Carnegie in Wyoming, fifty miles to the west of Streator, was a classic single-room library with its original wooden tables and circulation desk and a long-time librarian who cherished every aspect of her historic building.

She was saddened that the Carnegie in Toulon, less than ten miles away, had recently been replaced, even though the town, with a population of not much more than a thousand, didn't really need a new library.  It was presently empty, with windows boarded up, awaiting the local Genealogical society as its new tenant.

The Carnegie in Farmington was two days from closing, also replaced by something bland and new, even though it retained its full stature and dignity on the main highway leading through the small farm community.

As I began my home stretch from Streator, rain threatened for the first time in days.   I was racing to reach a state park along the Fox River thirty miles upriver from where it joins the Illinois at Ottawa.  A drizzle started less than an hour before dark, five miles short of my target, when I came upon a large wooded cemetery that I couldn't resist.  I went off to a far corner and set up under a tree in the light rain.  I could ask for nothing better.  It made for a final wonderful night of camping where no one had likely camped before, just like every other campsite of my past month.  


Dud said...

Andrew said...

George a pleasant reminder of our ride from Liege. Those poor souls driving the caravan. So much harder than riding the route.