Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ridgetop, Tennessee

After the initial perfunctory conversational parryings the friendly old-timer with a braided beard, who had initiated the conversation as I sat drinking a pint of chocolate milk outside the Dollar Store in Ridgetop, Tennessee noticed the hammer strapped atop the gear on the back of my bike and asked, "What ya doin' with a hammer?"

"I found it along the road and was looking for someone to give it to.  Could you use it?"

"I sure could.  I'm fixin' to tear down a shed. It'd be perfect for that."

"Its all yours.  I've been carrying it for a couple of days and it may have gotten me in trouble with an officer yesterday, so I'll be glad to let it go."

He was my second happy customer of the trip.  The first was Don Jaime.  He was willing to lug a wrench I had found, saying he could use it back at his Bed and Breakfast, little knowing that he'd need it sooner than that--to remove the pedals from his bike at the Amtrak station in Birmingham so it would fit in a box for the trip he decided to take to New Orleans after we went our separate ways.

Though I was happy to lighten my load of the hammer, I was becoming attached to it. It brought back memories of a friend who advised that I take along a hammer when I biked up to Alaska a while ago.  He wasn't sure if I knew of the many challenges of the road, and if I truly ought to be attempting such a ride. Books had been written for motorists about how to outfit themselves for the highway.   It hadn't been paved back then and was over a thousand miles of dirt and gravel.  The gravel thrown up by passing vehicles shattered windshields.  Sudden downpours washed out bridges.  There were only a handful of towns on the route.  Mosquitoes and black flies were voracious.  Bears roamed freely.  When I told him I knew all this, he was astounded I still wanted to do it.  "If you want to really to make it tough on yourself, you ought to take along a hammer and hit yourself on the head every so often," he suggested.

Besides the chuckles of that memory, having the hammer also gave me a minor degree of comfort, that I didn't really need, in my tent at night.  I have spent hundreds of nights camping wild over the decades and not once  would a hammer have defended me from an attack, not even the night a wild boar charged my tent in France.  It might have made me feel a little less concerned as it circled my tent after the charge trying to decide what to do, but the hammer wouldn't have made any difference.

Never have I had to fight off a critter attracted by the food I always have in my tent, other than in bear country when I find a place to hang it. It may be good advice not to have food in one's tent, but my experience has been it is a myth. What isn't a myth is that a camp spot of my own devising awaits me every night.  If I didn't have that  faith I would have been in a motel last night.  I was caught by pitch dark before I had escaped the sprawl of Nashville.  I passed several budget motels but pushed on fully confident that a wooded area or abandoned building or church yard would eventually present itself.  Before one did, I came upon a vast military cemetery, as good a campsite as I could ask for.  Its far end, nearly half a mile from the road, abutted a forest, so I didn't have to sleep among the tombstones, as I have on previous occasions.  No ghost has haunted me, nor did I expect one this night, but silly as it was, that hammer gave me a sense of security as I zipped myself into my tent. 

I was caught by the dark as I dared to intrude upon Nashville as evening approached, drawn by my Carnegie lust.   I hadn't seen any all day and knew that the four remaining Carnegies in Nashville lay along a ten mile stretch pretty much on my route through the city.  Rather than cutting short my day and camping before I reached the city, I thought I could see them all within an hour and then have time to get back out into the countryside.

The first two were on university campuses, Vanderbilt and Fisk.  I had addresses for them, but like most Carnegie libraries on campuses they are in the middle of quads with no discernible addresses and weren't readily identifiable.  I wasted valuable minutes on both campuses floundering a bit before I pinpointed the object of my search.

I had to confirm with a young librarian on the Vanderbilt campus that her library had been funded by Carnegie.  She didn't know and had to look it up.  The library was originally part of Peabody College, a women's teacher school, that was eventually absorbed by Vanderbilt.  It was large enough that it could still be used as one of the college's libraries, a rarity among the academic libraries that Carnegie funded, most of which now serve as administrative buildings.

It was just fifteen minutes to Fisk, a largely black college.  The Wikipedia address for the library was simply the intersection of two streets in the middle of the campus that were blocked to motorized traffic.  A towering grand building that had a sign welcoming new students and their parents seemed like it could be what I was looking for. A plaque out front said it had been built in 1878, before Carnegie began funding libraries.  There wasn't any other likely building nearby,  There was no one in the building to ask if Carnegie had later funded an addition to this castle of a building that served as a library.  I circled around, then noticed a building in the quad that had the bearing of a Carnegie.  Indeed it was, though it was now an administrative building and had no Carnegie marking on it, just a plaque out front stating that it had been funded by the "philanthropist Andrew Carnegie" and that its cornerstone had been laid in 1908 by the future President Howard Taft.

It was just a mile to a branch Carnegie that still served as a library.  It stood gallantly on a corner lot in a largely black residential neighborhood.  "Carnegie Library" was chiseled over the entry of this building that remained fully true to its origins with no additions.

My final Carnegie was another branch library fifteen minutes away on the road that would take me north out of the city.  I passed under the state capital building on a hill and then crossed the Cumberland River, turning on to Main Street.  The Carnegie was on a rise itself just after Main Street turned into Gallatin Road, preventing it from being another Carnegie on Main Street, by far the most popular Carnegie address.  Like all the remaining Carnegies in Nashville, one could fully appreciate its beauty without the distraction of an added wing.

I thought I had plenty of time to get out into the countryside before dark, but the all too common ugly gauntlet of franchises blighting larger American towns and cities went on and on for miles.  I didn't mind the added miles, as it gave me a chance for my first century of the trip.  I was two miles short when I came upon the cemetery.  My legs could have easily biked to one hundred and beyond, but this was a campsite I couldn't say no to.  I set up my tent extra aglow with all these extra miles as each adds to the exhilaration of being on the bike all day.

1 comment:

Tim Furlong said...

Hawks vs. Predators in
first round. New bike shop opens in Evanston. I'm the first customer.