Friday, November 14, 2014

Across Kentucky

Tim and I were all set to spend the night in an abandoned house on a trickle of a dirt road that headed into the hills.  We didn't fear anyone driving by, as the road was covered with leaves and turned sharply upwards past the house.  It didn't look as if it had been driven for quite a while.  We were well off the main road and even felt it safe for Tim to park his car right alongside the house as if we were the proud owners of this debacle.

I had brought my sleeping bag and panniers in and brushed the debris from the room we intended to make our sleeping quarters for the night.  A few empty cigarette packs and beer cans and packs of condiments littered the floors, indicating someone had occasionally used it as a refuge, but not for awhile.  No furniture remained nor was there evidence of any bedding.  With the temperature near freezing, there was no likelihood of anyone dropping in to hang out.  

Then I heard an urgent call from Tim, "Come look at this."  Tacked to the wall was a paper plate with the inscription in red magic marker, "If I see you I will shoot you muh fucka."  

That gave us pause.  When we saw another identical plate laying on the floor in another room, we figured that was fair warning and maybe we better find somewhere else to spend the night.  We had twenty minutes before dark to find something better.  First we decided to see where our dirt road led.  I pushed my bike up, confident we'd find something, even if it meant venturing off into the forest.  The road flattened out on a ridge line.  An open-sided barn surrounded by weeds was nearby.  A very dirty sleeping bag and collapsed tent that hadn't been used in weeks lay in one corner.  We noticed no warning signs, so agreed this would suit us.  Tim went back for his car.  

Ten minutes later Tim was back saying it was too steep for his car.   There was no place nearby he felt comfortable leaving it, so for the first time, after camping jointly seven straight nights, we were on our own.  Tim thought maybe he would just sleep in his car in the next town.  It would be the second night in a row he would have forsaken his tent, as the night before we accepted the invitation of the very friendly proprietor of the Pioneer Playhouse campgrounds to put our sleeping bags down on one of the communal buildings at her complex, whose primary function was a venue for outdoor stage shows during the summer months. 

Rain threatened, and freezing temperatures.  No one else was tenting at her compound and she didn't think we really should either.  Only one bathroom with showers was open, making it unisex, as is the custom in Europe, though the squeamish had the option of locking the door, as the four shower stalls didn't provide much privacy.

It was our second night in seven of sanctioned camping, something I rarely do, preferring to place my head on ground that maybe only a deer had previously slept upon, not wishing to absorb the bad dreams that could have seeped into the ground from previous campers.  Campgrounds do have their amenities, not only the luxury of an actual shower, rather than improvising in some manner or another, but more importantly, they allowed Tim and I to be more sociable in the evening hours.  When we've been wild camping in the cold that has afflicted us, we confine ourselves to our tents.  If they are close enough, we can still maintain a conversation, but its not as convivial as at a campgrounds where we can sit at a fire or at a table. It was too wet and windy for a fire here, so we sat at a table and ate our dinners together.

Tim has been surprised at the universal positive reaction he has received from everyone he tells that he's tagging along with someone on a Carnegie Library quest.  Until he learned of Carnegie's unparalleled philanthropy and began seeing his libraries and how warmly they are embraced in their communities, his immediate reaction to Carnegie was "robber baron" and "exploiter of the workers" and "murderer of workers during the Homestead strike" and he thought others would have a similar response. But Tim had never read anything about the true nature of Carnegie and that he was simply an extraordinary businessman and that he made a concerted effort from the beginning of his wealth to put it to a positive use for the betterment of man.

Tim could be accused of being an exploiter of workers himself.  Though he was as considerate of his workers as a boss as one could be during his years of owning a bike shop, one could certainly find those who would say he could have paid his workers more and treated them better and that he didn't need to take as much of a profit as he did.  Anyone who truly knows Tim would never say such a thing, because he has always been, and continues to be, generous with his time and his money.  Those in charge and with more money than others have always been and always will be a target of some, and sometimes with justification.  Carnegie may not have been a saint, even though he has been called the Patron Saint of Libraries, but in many respects he had the inclinations of a saint and it is wonderful to see how positively regarded he is by so many, including Tim now.

If I didn't know Tim as well as I do, I might be suspicious that he has been shadowing me to verify that my life as a touring cyclist is legit, that I'm actually biking the distances I claim to be and that I'm not staying in hotels and feasting on hearty meals in restaurants. He's repeatedly tempted me with offers of a lift or carrying my gear or to take me on a side trip and then return me to my route, as if testing me.  When he does, I hold up my fingers in a cross to fend him off. However, offers of food I do not turn down.  If nothing else, he has been impressed by the quantity of food that I put away,  as I'm constantly munching, even in libraries where eating is prohibited.  He provided a lemon and a pecan pie, compliments of Trader Joe's, this evening.  He had to put them aside before I polished them off.

We haven't been seeing as much of each other during the day since Louisville, as the Carnegies are few and far between in Kentucky.  Besides the nine in Louisville, there were only eighteen others built  in the state, three of which have been razed.  None of the five on our route to Pineville at the eastern end of the state still functioned as libraries, so couldn't really serve as meeting points.  

The first in Lawrenceburg had been transformed into the Anderson County History Museum in 1996, a perfect use for this historic building.  Its simple dignity retained a frontier aura.  Its peeling white wooden pillars heartened back to its roots.  It wasn't open, so I couldn't ask if its bricks were originally painted white or if that came later.  It stood alone across the street from the town barbershop.  
The young, long-haired barber didn't know. Carnegie had been chiseled into its lower left corner and Piernian Club, a local service club still in existence, was chiseled into the opposite corner with the year 1908.

My route to the next Carnegie in Danville took me through Harrodsburg.  A local guest house advertised rooms starting at $75 a week.   When I reached Danville I passed a string of women on the Centre College cross country team running at a good clip all with bobbing pony tails. We were all caught at the same red light and they could give me directions to the former Carnegie Library on their campus.  A wooden sign dangled over its entry identifying it as "Old Carnegie."  Chiseled into its facade was simply "Library," though it had been replaced in 1967.  A plaque stated it dated to 1913 and had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was now inhabited by the Center for Global Citizenship and the Center for Career and Professional Development.

Tim awaited me at the local library, open on Veteran's Day, unlike the library in Lawrenceburg.  He was on his bike and led me to the Pioneer Playhouse campground in the waning light, where he had left his car and arranged our evening's accommodations.  The temperature had plunged during the night. For the first time I wore wind-breaking pants over my tights. My feet were slightly chilly, but I held off on wearing booties, saving them for the 20s to come.

It was a one-Carnegie Day, another academic library at Berea College.  I swung by Richmond to give Eastern Kentucky College a look and make it a trio of colleges, knowing small towns with colleges all had a vibrancy to them.  Besides the noteworthy theater outside of Danville, it had a significant art gallery with a bicycle sculpture out front.

I had to ask the whereabouts of the Berea College Carnegie at its present library.  I had biked right past it and surmised that it might be the Carnegie, but it didn't have anything identifying it as such other than its majesty.  It is now a building of classrooms.

It was late afternoon and I hadn't intersected with Tim all day nor had we any communication.  The Internet was down at the Berea public library so we had to resort to our cell phones once again.  Tim had gone exploring down the road and was driving back towards me.  We met shortly before five.  Tim had noticed a county road a little ways back that he thought might lead to camping.  It was a little earlier than I prefer to stop, but since we weren't pressed for time, agreed to give it a look.  And that's where we found the abandoned house with the threat of gunfire sign.

My night on my own was the coldest yet.  I awoke with a lining of ice in my water bottles. In the first town I came to a bank gave a temperature of 27 degrees.  A few stray snow flakes were falling.  It didn't rise above freezing all day, as indicated by snow along the road and on rooftops of abandoned, unheated homes.

The hilly terrain kept me warm.  I could even pare down to a lighter pair of gloves after starting the day with my hefty semi-arctic gloves.  The roads were a geologist's dream with many cuts through the hils revealing many layers of rocks formed over the eons.

The day's lone Carnegie came in Somerset.  It was the only Carnegie ever built attached to a school.  An historic sign out front stated that the town mayor at the time resisted the library, as he feared it would "appeal to the classes rather than the masses."  Inscribed above the entry was the same quotation inlaid in the floor of the Shelbyville library, "Advancement to Learning," that now also applied to the high school students who now entered through its door to their school.

The large current library near the town center, like all the Kentucky libraries, was sparse on bike books. At least it had a couple, as some of the libraries had none.  I sign above the urinal in the men's room, discouraging the spitting of tobacco, reminded me I was I tobacco country.  Out west in gun county it is common to see signs forbidding firearms.  Now every Chicago public library has such a warning.

My final few hours of the day were through the Daniel Boone State Park, where I camped upon leaves with a smattering of snow.

My final Carnegie in Kentucky was less than ten miles away in Corbin.  It was across the street from a Baptist church which had appropriated it for a food pantry, open only one hour per week.  I peered in and saw tables lined with large paper bags filled with food.  The new library was just a block away.  It didn't open until ten.  It was too cold to sit outside and wait for it to open so I treated myself to a stack of hotcakes at the Dixie Diner on Main Street.


Dud said...

The violence led to a longer term preference for:

Anonymous said...

George you are enspiring me to atempt a winter time tour .

Is Tim your friend that follows Collingwood in the AFL

george christensen said...

Vincent: No that's another friend. Tim is not a sports fan at all.