Monday, September 29, 2014

Hannibal, Missouri

White picket fences abound in Hannibal, Missouri, Mark Twain's boyhood home, paying homage to the celebrated incident in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" when Tom convinces his pals to do his painting job.  There is even a bucket with a couple of paint brushes beside one of the fences.  The bi-monthly publication of the Mark Twain Association is called "The Fence Painter."  The annual National Tom Sawyer Days, that has been going on for fifty-eight years, includes a fence painting contest.


Huck Finn's house and Mark Twain's boyhood home and his father's law office were all painted a picket fence white.



Hannibal calls itself "America's Hometown."  Norman Rockwell might agree, as fifteen of his paintings are on display in Twain's home, paying homage to Twain's heroes.  So too might the religious, as Hannibal is home to fifty-three churches, including one a block from its old non-Carnegie library that holds its services in a former movie theater.  The town recognizes its heritage.  Many homes have signs out front announcing they are being restored to their original state dating to their construction in the 1800s.

There are tributes to Twain all over this river-side town--streets and businesses named for him, including a taxi service. Twain's family moved to Hannibal in 1839 when he was four.  Twain began his newspaper career when he was thirteen, dropping out of school after his father's death to help support the family.  He remained in Hannibal until he was eighteen. 

A ceremonial lighthouse was erected in his honor on a bluff overlooking the town and a bridge over the Mississippi, also named in his honor.  It is a 244-step climb up to the lighthouse from a statue of Tom and Huck.  The lighthouse was unveiled in 1935 on the centennial of Twain's birth.  It was turned on by President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he pressed a gold key that had been hooked up by telegraph wires.  The Tom/Huck statue preceded the lighthouse by nine years and is said to be the first American sculpture to depict fictional characters.



Many businesses take their name from one or the other.  The town's information phone number is 1-TomandHuck.  Becky Thatcher is also prominent about town.  The path up to the light house passes Becky's Butterfly Garden.  Not far from a house named for her is a Becky's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor and also Becky Thatcher's Third Street Diner.

The town was rather quiet on this late September Sunday despite the balmy eighty degree temperatures. There were only a handful of others wandering the few blocks of the historic district a couple blocks from the Mississippi, hidden by a high dike.  Many of the visitors had arrived on motorcycles, traveling the scenic Great River Road  that I would follow for thirty-two miles south to Louisiana and its Carnegie and bicycle-friendly bridge, despite warnings that it was very hilly. The lone bridge in Hannibal was the start of Interstate 72. It had replaced the original bridge by the lighthouse in 2000. I may have been able to ride it, though the woman at the tourist office couldn't say for sure.  She'd never had a bicyclist ask.  But the Carnegie in Louisiana beckoned.  It'd be my eleventh in Missouri on this trip, one-third of those in the state.  

Bicyclists remain a rarity. There wasn't a bicycle to be seen in the town.  No surprise.  I am a virtual species unto my own.  Not only have I not encountered a single touring cyclist since I left Telluride three weeks ago, I've hardly noticed anyone on a bicycle anywhere I've been in the 1,500 miles I've covered.  I've long ago given up being concerned about such matters.  I am simply happy that my allegiance to the bicycle has not waned nor been diverted all these years.  Though there is a glimmer of bicycle-enlightenment in some urban areas, it is still on a very small scale.  It is not something I expect to see in my lifetime.

None of the three Carnegies on my Saturday route were open when I visited them. I was too early for the Carnegie in Moberly.



The cosy Carnegie in the small town of Shelbina only had nine to noon hours on Saturday.  I was three hours late. At least it had a drinking fountain out front, but it was out of order.  A young woman in the park in front of it saw me try it.  She told me the library was unlocked and I could go in and use its drinking fountain.  She came to lead me in, but was surprised to discover that the door was locked.



It was no surprise that the library in Monroe City was closed when I arrived after six.  The former Carnegie was now the town's City Hall with the new library adjoining it.  I was at least able to use its WIFI, unlike the day's other two Carnegies.  I downloaded a couple more episodes of Democracy Now and a couple of ESPN shows for my listening the next day if I couldn't find an NFL station.



I had half an hour of light before I had to end my cycling day.  I exited the four-lane wide highway 36 fifteen miles short of Hannibal and camped alongside a corn field on a side road to Mark Twain Lake.  








Saturday, September 27, 2014

Huntsville, Missouri

Even before I reached Springfield and its several Bible colleges, I knew I was in the Bible Belt.  Churches old and new, many with catchy sermon titles and other promotions vying for attention, dotted the road.  One had a large "Skeptics Wanted" banner out front. Another, calling itself the Church of Living Water, advertised "relationships, not tradition."

Besides their entertainment value, the churches also provide a last resort as a place to camp.  They are  often off on their own and have no one around, a perfect place to pitch a tent, as I did on the outskirts of Sedalia.  The town was a little bigger than I thought.  I didn't have enough light to get beyond its outskirts after arriving just in time to photograph its stunning White House of a Carnegie in the waning light.


It was easily the most spectacular building in another town in serious decline, the all too common plight of small town America. A sign along the highway skirting the town pointed towards its "historic downtown."  All too often the word "historic" used in this context means "forsaken" or "derelict."  I didn't notice a Walmart here to blame for all the closed down businesses and dilapidated buildings.  Amazon and the Internet share the lion's share here.  The highways are full of a continual stream of UPS and Fedex trucks making deliveries.

About the only businesses that remain are barber shops and beauty salons and Dollar stores and banks and tattoo parlors and liquor stores and resale stores and maybe a pawn shop and an occasional oddity, such as the tanning salon in Warsaw, Missouri aptly called The Fakery.  

My route north from Springfield took me over the Missouri River and its neighboring Lewis and Clark Trail.  On the way I passed through Bolivar.  Its Carnegie now housed the Polk County Genealogical Society. It faced the town's central plaza.


The Carnegie in Fayette still served as the town library.



A sign in front proclaimed the good fortune of Fayette being just one of thirty-three towns in Missouri to have a Carnegie.  It was a thousand short though on the number of libraries Carnegie funded around the world.



As with Fayette and Sedalia, I had to detour from the highway to go to Huntsville and its Carnegie, another dandy that still functioned as it was intended.



I pitied the towns I passed through that hadn't taken advantage of the Carnegie offer.  They too could have had a distinguished library rather than the plain and dumpy buildings that presently serve the purpose.  It wasn't as if Carnegie exhausted his funds.  He wanted to give away his entire fortune for the construction of libraries, but didn't even exhaust half of it.






Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Springfield, Missouri

I angled south across Kansas, taking a less than direct route back to Chicago, not so much for a corridor of Carnegies, as I could have headed straight across the state and connected with just as many, but to put me in line with Springfield, Missouri, where my long-time bicycling and travel buddy  Dwight had just moved in June from Bloomington, Indiana to resume his teaching career at Missouri State University's business school after a several year hiatus.

I had no qualms about adding more than a hundred miles to my ride, even with many of them into a strong southerly wind, as Dwight is easily one of the more extraordinary people on the planet--an idealist whose Vietnam war protests earned him a several hundred page FBI file and a man wanted in half a dozen countries for his various escapades, some on behalf of the Sea Shepherd Society sinking a whaling ship and a drift netter, and also for escaping from Mexico City's maximum security prison, one of only two people to manage the feat along with Pancho Villa.  

Dwight has also made his mark in academia, winning countless awards for his exuberant teaching style.  He had retired from teaching several years ago to devote more time to his writing and traveling and farm.   It was a difficult decision to leave his farm and take a break from the writing (two exhilarating autobiographical books in the past two years) and his vast network of friends dating back to his student years in the '60s, but he couldn't resist the call of the classroom.

It wasn't a typical career move for a financially-set 67-year old, but there is nothing typical about Dwight. He is an authority on computer security and loves imparting his knowledge.  It was no surprise to see that he is thriving back on campus, not only teaching but in getting around on his bicycle in this flat, sprawling metropolis.  With a population of 160,000 it is the largest of the thirty-some Springfields scattered around the US.  An added attraction for me was that it also has a Carnegie Library, a grand edifice with a large, matching addition to its backside. 


It was my third Carnegie in my first seventy-five miles of Missouri.  They each elicited a spontaneous "Wow" when I spotted them in the distance, each strikingly majestic and an upgrade on the predominantly brick, though still distinguished, Carnegies of Kansas.  The first was in Webb City, a suburb of Joplin, which has its own Carnegie.  Janina and I had been through Joplin in January on our way back from Texas, and had swung by its Carnegie, but didn't take the time to zip up to Webb City, as we were somewhat pressed for time.  The Joplin Carnegie was of the large urban class, though closed down and surrounded by a fence. It was magnificent enough to visit again, but I resisted, saving myself a few miles.



The Webb City Carnegie though was very much alive and had a timeless brick style unto its own in a quiet residential neighborhood.



Its beauty added to my exhilaration of being in Missouri, closing in on Dwight.  Missouri had a vitality that was lacking in Kansas. Crossing into the state was akin to crossing from a downtrodden country into one of more affluence, such as from Cambodia to Thailand or into Colombia from Ecuador.  I hadn't realized how burdened and dispirited were so many of the Kansans until Missouri and the people were so upbeat and outgoing.  The Kansans were nice enough and hardly hostile or outwardly sullen, but they certainly weren't as imbued with the positive energy of those in Missouri.  I hadn't sensed that two years ago when I stuck to the central part of the state before crossing into Missouri, but it was most pronounced this year even though the farmers had been drought-ridden two years ago and should have been deeply depressed.  It was almost as if they were putting on a brave front back then and were expressing a solidarity against their woes.

The Carnegie in Oswego, Kansas was representative of the Kansas I experienced this year, somewhat rundown and short on funds, not even open on Mondays.  A cardboard sign out front advertised cans of soda for fifty cents to raise money for the library.



My final Carnegie in Kansas was fifteen miles down the road in Columbus, shortly before the border.  It had Monday hours and was as regal as any. 



Just inside the door was the standard portrait of Carnegie along with a plaque acknowledging his gift.



Missouri further perked by spirits as I joined up with historic Route 66 in Webb City.  The forested terrain was also a welcome change from the predominant Plains of Kansas.  Signs at the entry to towns gave their population rather than their elevation or year of founding.



Along with the official road signs promoting 66 were countless businesses named for the route--diners, cafes, laundromats, sports bars and even a movie theater in Webb City that was still offering "The Rocky Horror  Picture Show."



I followed Route 66 to Carthage and its magnificent domed Carnegie gleaming in the setting sun.



The next day I continued on 66 for sixty miles to Springfield.  It was fully rural with no towns big enough for a grocery store.  I had to settle for a couple of service stations for water and food.  I passed two groups of motorcyclists in tight formation heading west, one of twenty and the other of eight, who no doubt were on a dream trip following the route from Chicago to California.  I peered closely to see if I could detect their nationality, knowing it is a popular undertaking for Europeans, but no telling details or features betrayed where they might be from.  It was exciting though to know that whoever they were, they were most certainly all thrilled to be experiencing this legendary road, just as I was.

But I would leave it in Springfield, heading north for a series of Carnegies, rather than continuing along a route I had already ridden to St. Louis despite the allure of a handful of friends there that I'm always happy to visit.








Monday, September 22, 2014

Cherryvale, Kansas


I haven't had any armadillos come nosing around my tent, but I have been dodging their road-side carcasses for the last couple hundred miles along the southern border of Kansas.  They outnumber dead skunks and raccoons and snakes by at least ten to one.  Rarely do I go more than a mile without seeing one. They are either very dumb or are in great abundance, though I have yet to see a living version.  Its only in the last decade that they have invaded the state, moving northward from their native Texas and Oklahoma with the warming climate.

Even well into September the temperature has been creeping into the nineties, sapping my energy and welcoming the armadillos.  Hundred degree temperatures in the summer months are so common that along with the influx of armadillos, there has been an influx of ice-dispensing outlets.


The heat may be a contributing factor as well to the declining population of human critters in rural Kansas.  I have camped behind abandoned farmsteads the past few nights.  Abandoned homes and businesses are a common small town site.  Cedar Vale, just south of Highway 166, looked like a frontier town that had suffered an epidemic or nuclear fall-out with all the wooden homes and businesses that hadn't had a coat of paint in years and the many homes that were boarded up or had all their windows knocked out with front doors swung open and rubble piled amongst the surrounding overgrown weeds.  

It was sad and unsettling biking past all this disarray down a narrow residential street to the town park to fill my water bottles and give myself a wash. It was as if a band of outlaws had taken over the town and driven all the good folk out.  Whoever remained hid in their homes.  The town didn't look as if it had ever thrived, but it brought to mind the once prominent river town of Cairo, Illinois at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, that Janina and I passed through last January.  It was in a similar state of decline, more dead than alive, half or more of its residences vacated.  All those who remained in either town could offer a heart-rending commentary on what life had been before and what kept them there.

The Carnegies in the region too are in disrepair.  The Carnegie in Arkansas City had been replaced and was closed down, waiting for its next reincarnation.  It was as magnificent as any building in the town and had a prominent, central location, but clearly needed some tending to.



The same could be said of the Carnegie in Coffeyville.  It was presently a photography studio, but was falling apart, one side of the front steps in collapse and maintenance needed all round to restore it to its full former glory.



The Carnegie in Winfield had also defected to the business sector, but its two tenants, a dance studio and a dentist, seemed committed to maintaining their building's majesty.



Less than twenty miles north of Coffeyville, the Carnegies in Independence and Cherryvale, just eleven miles apart, still served as libraries.  The larger town of Independence had built a huge addition to their Carnegie, a whole new building alongside it.  The majestic original entrance, up the steps through a pair of pillars, was no longer in use.



The Carnegie in the much smaller Cherryvale was much as it was when it was built, other than its designation as a storm shelter with a special entrance to its lower level in the back.  It had also had an old mail box placed at its entrance for book returns and new wiring added to its lone light post out front, the Carnegie symbol of enlightenment.  It was a quaint library in a quaint town with cherries stenciled on sidewalks throughout the town.



I'm less than sixty miles from Missouri, with just two more Kansas Carnegies on my route.

My Sunday riding was enhanced by listening to the broadcast of the Dallas/St. Louis NFL game. The Topeka radio station station was part of the Cowboy network.  It took a while to become accustomed to the broadcasters continually referring to their team as "The Boys."  They had plenty to be excited about with "The Boys" overcoming a 21-point deficit to win the game, the largest margin they'd come back from in team history.  The Monday night game is the Bears and the Jets.  I've already been able to pick up the Bears station WBBM once the sun has gone down and the radio waves carry for hundreds of miles.











Saturday, September 20, 2014

Wellington, Kansas

Many of the 1,689 libraries Andrew Carnegie funded in the United States are now privately owned.  They have been converted into law offices, homes, churches and an assortment of businesses, including a restaurant, a book store, a real estate office, a car company, a travel agency, a hair salon and more.  And another of these historic, noble edifices is available for purchase--the Carnegie in Anthony, Kansas, south of Wichita, down near the Oklahoma border.

The For Sale sign out front did not list a realtor, just a phone number--316 641-1800.   It is a fine brick building on a large corner lot with the usual Carnegie features--a staircase to its entry, high ceilings and large windows, a lamp post out front and a hundred year history and an aura of majesty radiating the goodwill and positive energy it has accumulated from its thousands of patrons over the decades.


It also has a unique plaque honoring Carnegie next to its entry along with "CARNEGIE LIBRARY" inscribed high above. 




It would make a fine residence in this quiet, small town that has seen better days.  It is only a few blocks from the plain new library on the outskirts of the town.  I could have spent the night in the Carnegie, as its front door was unlocked and it was near the end of the day.  But it was too hot and musty after a ninety degree day, so I found a field to sleep in besides an abandoned shed a few miles down the road.


It was my first two-Carnegie day of these travels.  I am half-way across the state, into its more settled eastern half with the towns not so far apart and the fields more green and productive. The other Carnegie came in Kingman, thirty-five miles to the north.  Its Carnegie was still thriving, and a hub in the community.  It had an undetectable addition to its backside that doubled its size a few years ago.  It was the third Carnegie on my route across Kansas, and, like the other two, resided on a brick street.



The librarian told me that when they put the addition on the library they were concerned about the quality of the original bricks of the building, as some of the brick buildings in the town had been constructed with inferior bricks and had started crumbling.  Fortunately, the library hadn't been short-changed.  It was a warm day with temperatures predicted to reach ninety.  The library serves as a retreat from the heat for some.  It wasn't such a hot summer this year.  Not once was the electrical bill over one thousand dollars for a month, unlike the past couple of summers.

While I glanced at a book about the Carnegies of Kansas that the librarian pulled down for me, a husky, soft-spoken guy a few years younger than me  asked if I was the bicyclist.  He had seen my bike out front.  He had never met a touring cyclist and had always felt the urge to give it a try.  He had a farm twelve miles down the road and did a little biking.  He had just returned from a trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  He had taken along his bike and did a little exploring but never more than twenty miles at a time.  

He was so genuinely interested in my experiences, I was reluctant to turn the conversation to his life as a farmer, much as I would have liked to.  He was most amazed that I camped off in the brush every night.  He didn't think that would be safe at all.  He kept guns and would be concerned about other gun-toters coming upon him if  he were camping in undesignated places.   I told him I had camped wild thousands of times over the years and the ease of it was one of the great joys of cycle touring.

After half an hour or so, as he kept wishing to prolong our conversation, he asked if I followed The Tour de France.  Little did he know what he was in for, but when he learned that I had actually biked its route the past ten years, he said, "Golly, gee whiz, I sure am happy I asked you about The Tour.  I don't really have any friends who are interested in it and there's so much I wanted to know."  He loved watching it on television, especially all the helicopter shots of the beautiful French countryside.  He also enjoyed Christian's commentary, though he didn't know he was a Chicagoan.  

He'd tape the morning broadcast of each stage while he was out working in his fields in the relatively cooler morning temperatures and then watch it later in the heat of the day when he didn't want to be outside. Our conversation went on and on, neither of us wishing to end it, though we both needed to get down to our business for the day. He has had the urge to go to Colorado to watch the annual August week-long race there, and now will do it next year for sure.  

If he weren't on his way to a larger city to the north to pick up some much needed supplies, he would have gladly accompanied me down the road despite the twenty mile per hour headwind from the south and its accompanying heat.  I didn't mind letting the conversation go on and on knowing the conditions that awaited me.  I only regretted that I didn't divert the conversation to his life on the farm, especially with the record high yields this year that are driving prices down.  But he had such an even and amiable temperament, I doubt I would have gotten a negative word out of him.  

The next day was another two-Carnegie day.  It was great to have that wonderful anticipation of the next Carnegie shortened after having to go a day or two for the next during the first ten days of these travels.  The Carnegie in Caldwell was closed down and was being used for special events by the school across the street from it.  As I circled around it, a guy in a pick-up truck stopped and told me the new library was a few blocks away on the main street through the center of Caldwell.  He said he had been the maintenance man at the library and had done the same work at this one.  He added that he didn't miss at all going up and down the steps to its entrance.



The Carnegie in Wellington, thirty miles away, still served as a library.  It had an addition to its rear that didn't detract in the least from its grandeur.  Like all four of the Carnegies of these two days it was prominently identified as a "Carnegie Library" over its entry.



It was also embellished by the addition of a sculpture of girl reading a book by its entry. 



I hadn't even found a socket to plug in my iPad when the librarian informed me the library would be closing in fifteen minutes at five pm, it being a Friday.  I needed more time than that to cool down from the heat, so had to resort to the shade under one of the large trees out front.  Fortunately the water from its drinking fountain came out ice cold.

If the winds aren't too contrary I will continue to have two or more Carnegies a day for the next few days until I get into central Missouri.  As always, each is a unique and genuine treasure that never fails to make my day.










Thursday, September 18, 2014

Greensburg, Kansas

 

When I came upon a vast array of eccentric metal figures lining highway 400 to the west of the small town of Mullinville, it was obvious that this was a notable creation, but it wasn't until I stopped in Greensburg, eight miles down the road did I learn it had been designated one of the twenty-four "Artistic Wonders of Kansas".  No one I talked to in Mullinvale expressed any enthusiasm for it, rather just shaking their heads more in scorn than in pride over this "Wonder."  




No one cared to give its creator, M. T. Liggett, a word of praise.  One woman described him as having "a screw loose."  Another called him an ornery old man who always hassled her when he came into her business. The proprietor of the town's service station said he had asked him to provide pamphlets describing his work, as people were always asking about it.  He didn't care to, as he said they'd just blow away.




But when I asked the woman looking after the visitor center in Greensburg down the road, she hauled out a book listing all the wonders of Kansas and opened it to the page devoted to Liggett. Greensburg was at the forefront of the book, as its "Big Well," the world's largest hand-dug well, had been designated as one of the top Eight Wonders of the state.  It was 109 feet deep and 32 feet wide and had been dug in 1887 to provide water for the railroad.  It had also served as the town's source of water until 1932.  The new visitor center had been built over it and one could walk down in to it.



The book broke the wonders into nine categories of twenty-four each with eight top wonders and then sixteen honorable mentions.  The categories were Overall, Architecture, Art, Commerce, Cuisine, Customs, Geography, History and People.  Among the people were Amelia Earhart, George Washington Carter, James Naismath and Buster Keaton.  The visitor center also had a map of the locations of the 216 Wonders with clusters in Wichita, Kansas City and Topeka.  All of a sudden I have much more than Carnegie Libraries to search out.  It was a big surprise though that not one of the fifty-two still standing Carnegies made the list, even though forty-two of them are on the Department of Interior's Registry of National Historic Places.




The last I'd seen in Dodge City, now an art museum, pwas a particularly exemplary building, highlighted by a dome and stained glass windows and a striking corner location on brick-lined streets.  Behind it was a small garden with benches donated by the founder of the town's newspaper, The Daily Globe, whose offices were next door.  It had to be the equal of various mansions and churches and hotels and court houses that had made the "Wonders" list.  The Carnegies en masse warrant recognition as a general category, just as there is a category of Old-Fashioned Soda Fountains and another of Post Office Section Art scattered around the state.  Hell, a Ball of Twine in Cawker City made the list as did a Shoe Tree in Wetmore and the Widest Main Street in the US in Plains. 

Greensburg merited top billing on the list not only for its Well, but also for its recovery from one of the fiercest, most powerful tornadoes in history that struck the town in 2007 destroying 95 per cent of its homes and businesses and all four of its churches.  Remarkably, only twelve people were killed, including a state trooper in his car.   The seventy-year old lady at the visitor center lived through it.  It struck just after dark and only lasted fifteen minutes, including a short lull when the eye of the tornado passed by.  The roof of her house blew away as she huddled in a hallway with her cats. It was the only tornado she had ever experienced, as the last to hit Greensburg was in the 1920s.

The town has entirely been rebuilt with many solid brick buildings, many with an emphasis on green technology utilizing the incessant winds to provide energy and collecting rain water and making use of natural daylight.  Its new hospital is the first LEED Platinum Certified Critical Access Hospital in the United States.  The town was a contrast to many of the small towns I have passed through with most of the small businesses on their Main Street boarded up.  As I loaded up on hotcakes in one small town, several ladies at a nearby table bemoaned that their town was dying.  Its bowling alley had recently closed down and now there were rumors that the country club was going to close as well.





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Garden City, Kansas


Unlike previous years when my ride home from Telluride has taken me along the Pony Express route or the Oregon Trail or the route of Lewis and Clark or the Mormons or Route 66, there has not been a great abundance of historical markers on the Santa Fe trail giving its history and detailing significant events.  Like the other trails though, there have been spots where one can see the ruts left by the wagons of those early settlers and pioneers.



The southern Santa Fe Trail was more prone to Indian attacks than the others, as it cut through territory inhabited by the more war-like Comanches and Apaches. This was more of a trade route than an emigration route.   In the more dangerous stretches those on the trail would drive their wagons four abreast so they could quickly circle their wagons to defend themselves.  The stretch I have followed for the past 150 miles follows the Arkansas River, which in the early days of the trail formed the US border with Mexico, now hundreds of miles further south along the Rio Grande.  Its not much of a river this time of the year.  Its bordered by a narrow band of scruff that in the spring is covered in water.



The road doesn't hug it very closely.  The only times I have seen it have been the three times I have crossed it, all in Colorado so far--in Las Animas, Lamar and  beyond Granada.  A historical marker in Granada mentioned that it had been the site of one of ten internment camps for Japanese civilians during WWII.  It was established in August 1942, eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  At its height it hosted 7,318, mostly from Los Angeles.  All that remains of the camp is one concrete building and the foundations of many of the others.

Sunday has been the only day when the temperatures have been above seventy.  The river would have been inviting if it had any depth and was at all accessible.  Instead I had to settle on town park water faucets to douse myself and service station self-serve fountain drinks to cool myself.  A 32-ounce drink with as much ice as I want is a true delight. I haven't had enough experience with them this year to gauge how much ice to put in the cups to get that right balance of keeping the soda ice cold and maximizing the amount of soda.  I give high priority to having enough ice, but I don't want to overdue it either.  

The first tail wind of the travels blew me into Kansas Sunday.  I took advantage of it right up to dark.  I was following a railroad track with a steep embankment and periodic clumps of bushes that I knew I could camp below when it became too dark to continue cycling.  The wind was still blowing when I set up camp.  When it stilled sometime in the night I was awoken by the acrid smell of a nearby field that the wind had been blowing away from me.  At least it wasn't as strong as the stark feedlots that have dotted the way and force me to hold my breath and wonder why the society for prevention of cruelty to animals isn't picketing these sights.



Later in the night the wind resumed, but this time from the northeast, dropping the temperature and also inflicting me with a headwind.  After effortlessly flying along at eighteen miles per hours the day before, I was straining to push the bike at nine miles per hour.  Fortunately, I have no deadlines, at least yet, on this trip, so I didn't need to fret and could simply appreciate being on the bike and gaze about at the wide open scenery, some of which was being planted with winter wheat.   It wasn't until I was thirty miles into Kansas that I left the Mountain Time Zone.  It isn't defined by the border with Colorado in this central section of the state.

I was nearly seventy miles into Kansas before I came upon a Carnegie Library in the thriving and sprawling agri-business town of Garden City, the largest I'd come upon since Durango with a population of 26,000.  It was no surprise that it had outgrown its hundred year old library and had built a new one.  The Carnegie now serves as home to the local NPR station.  It was a magnificent and well-maintained four-pillared building, shaded by large trees on an old-fashioned brick-inlaid street.  I arrived just before dark, so the lamp post out front, a feature of many Carnegies, symbolizing enlightenment, had been turned on.



I rode into the dark, making it as far as the town's cemetery, several miles before its airport, before I found a place to camp. Once again it was a cool night, but now that I'm down to under 3,000 feet, not as cold as it had been in Colorado when I was camping at over 8,000 feet.  




Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rocky Ford, Colorado

One last pass awaited me thirty-five miles beyond Alamosa before I left the mountains and descended to the Plains--the gently graded 9,414 foot North La Veta Pass, 2,000 feet higher than Alamosa.  Sixteen miles beyond Alamosa I passed a turn to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument nestled up against the Sangre de Cristo Range.  During the winter they are one of Joel's skiing options, though his preference is Wolf Creek, which receives more snow than any other of Colorado's ski resorts.  I had visited the Dunes myself back in my youth when I attended summer camp in Buena Vista and could well remember sliding down them in the summer months.

If my legs weren't still recovering from all the energy they expended getting over Wolf Creek in the rain, I might have added one more pass to the six I had already climbed after the relatively undemanding La Veta and detoured seventy miles south to Trinidad over the more intimidating 9,941 foot Cucharas Pass on a secondary road to visit the southernmost Carnegie Library in Colorado, but I would have to save that for another time.  It was well that I didn't, as more inclement weather moved in the next day and it would have been a truly hard ride.

As it was, I shivered most of the next day on flatter terrain in a cold misty rain that had moved in during the night.  It was barely above freezing and wet when I broke camp behind a closed-down roadside cafe.  I dug out my tights and booties and wool cap for the first time and wore a neckerchief, bandito-style, pulled up over my nose.  Still, it wasn't enough to keep me warm on the day's initial sixteen-mile gradual descent to Walsenburg.  Not could my wool gloves keep my hands warm.  I had to alternately put one behind my back out of the wind, balled up into a fist, to keep them semi-functional and unfrozen.

An hour in a cafe filled with bow-hunters in camouflage as I ate a stack of hot cakes barely warmed me up.  It was only when I resumed riding on terrain that had leveled off when I could begin exerting myself did I ward off the chill that had penetrated to my bones.  The temperature never got above fifty nor did the mist that hugged the landscape ever lift.  In one way I was fortunate, as I was engaged in a 63-mile stretch between towns from Walsenburg to Hawley.  If it had been hot I would have been worried about running out of water.  In these conditions my concern was staying warm during my rest breaks.

It was a challenge too finding a place to camp without have to hop over a barbed wire fence that lined most of the treeless terrain that had just barely enough vegetation for a scattered few cattle.  I was lucky to come upon a mini-stockyard for loading cattle after fifty miles as night closed in.  It didn't provide total privacy, but there was so little traffic only two or three pick-ups passed before total dark.


I awoke to a clear sky.  It was still cold enough for tights, but I could forego my wool cap and booties.  I continued ten miles to the dot of Hawley.  I had plenty of water, so could continue on to Rocky Ford and its Carnegie, six miles to the north, before stopping for food or drink.

The first person I asked about the location of the library said it was just three blocks away and she was headed there herself.  It was a new library, but the old Carnegie was in the same large park and was now a museum.  It was by far the much more majestic of the two buildings.



The new library was so understaffed and underused that a bell sounded whenever someone opened the door to the library, whether entering or exiting.  One also needed a key to use the rest room.  Still it provided a welcome oasis.

It is the last of the Carnegies I'll visit in Colorado.  There had been one in Lamar, sixty-five miles east on my route along the old Santa Fe Trail following the Arkansas River, but it had been torn down in 1975. It'll be further into Kansas before my next Carnegie.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Alamosa, Colorado

Dark, gloomy low clouds hovered in the valley beyond Pagosa Spring obscuring the road ahead to Wolf Creek Pass.  It was a gradual climb of not much more than one per cent for nearly fifteen miles before the road rose sharply eight miles from the summit.  The clouds began dripping a light drizzle shortly before the road became a steep ramp.

Before long the drizzle had increased to a steady, then a hard, rain. It was cold and unpleasant, but I wasn't concerned that it would last long or amount to much, as this is a semi-arid region whose annual rainfall isn't much more than ten inches.  I'd suffered a similar rain two days before on the twin passes beyond Silverton that didn't last longer than half hour, though it included several minutes of hail.  

The road was three and four lanes wide and had an ample shoulder, so what traffic there was could pass me with enough distance to avoid spraying me with additional water.  The most significant spray came from the occasional sudden waterfalls spilling over the cliff sides to my right.   Snow plows were on the road to clear fallen rocks.  I was happy to stop and clear them myself to give my legs some respite and let my heart rate return to normal and to gain some good karma.

If it hadn't been raining I would have stopped every two miles or 500 feet gained to eat and rest and read a bit, but I had to keep moving to stay warm. My Goretex jacket was keeping my torso dry, but I was still quite chilled.  I paused to rest my legs after half an hour, but remained in motion, pushing my bike to ward off a deeper chill, trying to put as much weight on my arms as I could to rest my legs.  It was raining too hard to dare shed my raincoat and put on my sweater.  

After another half hour of riding, gaining another two miles, reaching the half-way point of the eight-mile climb, the rain was still pelting down.  It wasn't the deluge I experienced a year ago when ten inches fell in an hour while I was climbing to Colorado Springs and was rescued by a rancher, but I still thought someone might stop and offer me a lift.  If they had, I would have just asked to sit in their vehicle long enough to put on my sweater and warm up a bit.  But no one stopped, even when I paused to put on my wool gloves and struggled to remove my cycling gloves.  I had to put my hands under my arm pits for a spell to regain feeling.

Another mile later, after nearly an hour-and-a-half of a steady hard rain, it relented enough for me to quickly take off my rain cost and don my sweater.  But my hands were so cold I couldn't pull the zipper back up on my raincoat.  I had to stand a couple minutes at over 10,000 feet with another 800 to climb hunched over with my hands under my arm pits again to regain enough feeling in my fingers to make them functional.  At least I didn't need my fingers for braking on the descent.  I could apply enough pressure with my palms to control my speed.  Still I wasn't looking forward to a descent on a road covered with a sheet of rushing water while being pelted by a cold rain.  I was prepared to seek refuge at the ski resort a mile below the summit.

But after nearly two hours, the rain finally quit a few minutes before I reached the summit.  I desperately needed the sun to warm up, but there was no sign of blue sky, just thick clouds.  I kept my speed under 20 miles per hour, about half of what it would have been had the road been dry.  It was a scenic descent of over ten miles following the creek the pass takes its name from through a narrow, thickly forested canyon.  I eventually regained the sun, but it didn't provide as much warmth as I needed.  I had to keep on my jacket and sweater and switch into dry gloves.  The descent continued all the way to South Fork, where Wolf Creek joins up with the Rio Grande River on the eastern side of the Continental Divide.

I passed the South Fork library built in 2008, which advertised itself as a Carnegie even though it wasn't funded by Carnegie but is a branch of the Carnegie in Monte Vista.


Monte Vista's library, thirty miles down the road, is a classic dignified Carnegie that has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, as have seven others in Colorado.



Its addition to the back has solar panels on its roof.  The four counties in this valley beyond the Continental Divide has the highest percentage of homes and businesses with solar panels in the country.



On the same property as the library is the town's tiny original library built in 1895, now serving as a museum.



Monte Vista is also a rare American town with a thriving two-screen drive-In theater, the town's only option for big screen viewing as its downtown theater closed less than a year ago when it couldn't afford digital projectors.



If residents wish to see a movie on a big screen during the winter months they have to drive to Alamosa, seventeen miles away for its six-screen multiplex that took the place of the town's two old downtown theaters.  My friend Joel, a retired physician, who has been attending the Telluride Film Festival for more than twenty-five years, offered to rent one of the theaters to play something other than the Hollywood fare that the multiplex restricts itself to, but the owners didn't want the competition, so the two theaters remain dormant.

Joel has solar panels on his house that date to the 1980s.  His house also has a dike in its backyard, holding back the Rio Grande, though its only a meandering trickle this time of the year.  It hasn't flooded since 1926.  A bigger concern is the proliferation of deer.  Nearly the first question Joel asked me when I arrived was if I had seen any deer in his residential neighborhood.  I had indeed, though I had at first thought they were statues.  Joel says he has deer in his backyard 365 days a year. We saw several groups meander through in the early evening.   In the distance is one of Colorado's fifty-three 14ers--Mount Blanca, the fifth highest at 14,357 feet.





Joel protects his tomatoes and bees and a few of his other crops with a high fence.



He supplements his garden with produce from two community gardens a couple miles from his house, one that he helped establish thirty years ago.  We took a nice meandering ride about this community of 9,000 people in the early evening.  Up to World War II it was fifty per cent Hispanic.  Now it is about eighty per cent white.  Like Durango it has a narrow-gauge railroad for tourists, though the scenery in the high desert valley doesn't compare to the mountainous terrain of the more famed Durango-Silverton line.  

We had a fine evening recounting the two weeks we spent together at Telluride.  Joel arrives a week after I do in time for the Mushroom Festival, then pitches in at the shipping department.  He has traveled the world, including a seven-month meander around Africa. The walls of his home are covered with art from his travels.  I learned that he is also an accomplished cook, preparing a deluxe pasta sauce with tomatoes from his garden.  My only regret was I couldn't linger, especially with the local college hosting a film festival the upcoming weekend.  And also that its Carnegie Library had been torn down fifty years ago.