Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Eldon, Iowa

When I entered the Carnegie Library in Leon I was greeted by the librarian, who handed me a sturdy cloth bag with the library's name on it and the slogan, "Branching to the future, Rooted in the past."  He said, "We're celebrating going electronic today and we're giving out these bags to the first fifty people to enter the library.  Help yourself to the home-made cookies and lemonade over there and take a pen too."

"My goodness.  You've actually still been using a card catalogue up until now?"

"We have.  And if you'd like it, you're welcome to participate in our silent auction."

"Do you have any books on RAGBRAI," I asked.

"I don't think so, but I'll check."

While he did, I gave a quick glance to the 796.6 section.  There wasn't a single cycling book, nor were there any on RAGBRAI filed elsewhere.  I was becoming accustomed to such news.  I had recently heard the author of "Rumble Yell," a first-person account of riding across Iowa with thousands of others, interviewed on the Outspoken Cyclist podcast.  I was hoping to read a chapter in each Iowa library I stopped at.  I had yet to read even a page of this 2013 book.

Even though Iowa is celebrated for and somewhat defined by this huge cycling event that dates to 1973, I had yet to meet anyone who had actually ridden it. This is the second year in a row I've ridden across Iowa on my return to Chicago from Telluride and the second year where I hadn't met a RAGBRAI veteran.  It seems as if a good percentage of the 15,000 who join in on the ride every year are non-Iowans even though it was originated by a couple of Iowa journalists to celebrate their state.  I have no recollection from when I rode RAGBRAI thirty years ago how many locals were on the ride, only that we were treated very well by all the locals.

That hasn't changed.  Iowans have been significantly more friendly than those in Nebraska and most other states I have bicycled through.  I was pretty much ignored in Nebraska, but here in Iowa people are regularly approaching me for a word or two.  During my next break after Leon, as I sat eating a burrito at a service station, an older guy wanted to share some of his bicycling exploits with me, including riding in RAGBRAI in its second year.  At last, I finally met someone who had ridden RAGBRAI.  He enjoyed it, but never rode it again, preferring other bicycle adventures, including a ride to Alaska with a friend.  With typical Midwest non-chalance he commented, "I'm not bragging, but I was a little stronger on the hills than he was.  I found that if I let him lead the way, he'd ride harder than if I went ahead."

I wasn't able to scan the book shelves of the Mount Ayr Carnegie, as it only had week-day afternoon hours and I was there in the morning.  I would have liked to have seen if its interior had any extra touches similar to the tile mosaic of Public Library on its exterior.  It gazed upon the county courthouse in the town center from a corner plot of land that hadn't allowed for any additions.

I couldn't gain entry to the Corydon Carnegie either, though it didn't matter much, as it no longer served as a library. It was right next to the high school and had been appropriated by it after being replaced by a new library several blocks away.  Like Leon's library, it had Carnegie chiseled into its front facade.

As I stood gazing at it, a guy with a bandana on his head told me I ought to check out the mural in the post office across the street. "Its famous," he said. "It was one of those New Deal paintings."  It was painted in 1942 by Marian Gilmore, a student of Norman Rockwell.  It was entitled "Volunteer Fire Department." She had earlier won a nation-wide competition for a mural in another small town in Iowa.

Further down the road as I entered Bloomfield I came upon a series of homes brandishing "Trump for President" signs with the slogan "Make America Great Again," the first politicking, other than the many anti-abortion billboards, of these travels.  One Trump supporter was also flying the Confederate flag.

The Bloomfield Carnegie was adorned with an intricate ramp.  Few Carnegies are handicap-accessible as they generally have a symbolic set of steps that one must climb as if mounting one's self to higher realms.  The librarian told me that if I returned next year there would be an addition, its first significant alteration other than the ramp. The library did have National Historic status, so had to comply with certain regulations to make the addition.

The librarian in Eldon said she had been trying to raise funds for years to enlarge her one-room library but hadn't succeeded.  Her library had "Free" engraved in its facade, adding extra emphasis that I was going back in time when I entered this century old library.  "Carnegie Library" was  chiseled in the corner stone and his portrait hung above the book shelves.  The bathroom was down a steep staircase accessed from the librarian's alcove behind the majesterial circulation desk. I was the only patron during its final forty-five minutes up to closing time at 5:30.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Bedford, Iowa

Even though Andrew Carnegie provided the funds for 1,689 libraries in the US, doubling the number of public libraries in the country during his era of giving between 1890 and 1920, not every town in the country has a Carnegie, though they could have if they met his simple criteria of providing a parcel of land for the library near its center and passing a bond issue to maintain it amounting to ten per cent per year of his contribution for the construction of the library.  He didn't even give away half as much money as he wanted to for libraries.

Still, there are so many of his libraries that when I pass through a town without one, I wonder how they could have missed the boat.  The town of Nebraska City on the Missouri River had a good excuse--a local benefactor had already provided them with a most substantial library.  Nebraska City was the home of Julius Sterling Morton, a newspaper publisher who was a strong advocate of tree planting and  the originator of Arbor Day in 1872.  He went on to be the first Secretary of Agriculture in 1893 under President Cleveland.  His son founded Morton Salt in Chicago and became someone of great wealth.  He funded a grand library in his home town in 1895.  It has been added on to and is grander than ever.  It screams for attention, unlike the quiet, assured dignity of a Carnegie. It had the ostentation that Carnegie discouraged, though one could hardly argue that an abode for books could be too nice.

Nebraska City made for a fine farewell to Nebraska, though the forty miles leading to it were on a four-lane divided highway with a non-stop din of traffic reverberating in my ears, the least pleasant stretch of my ride across the state, harkening me back to my ride along Colorado's Western Front.  I had a good, wide shoulder to ride on, but it didn't provide a distant enough buffer for me to even listen to my wealth of podcasts.  I had no viable alternative, as I ducked below Lincoln, having visited its set of Carnegies two years ago.  There are few bridges across the Missouri River.  I needed to cross at Nebraska City to begin my series of Carnegies along the southern border of Iowa.  

My final of seven Nebraska Carnegies came in Crete, seventy miles before leaving the state.  Its librarian gave me a brochure detailing its history and the services it offered.  It had had a large addition that blended nicely into its original red brick exterior.  

Among its amenities was a collection of 120 cake pans for borrowing.  "Is that a common feature of Nebraska libraries?" I asked.

"No, I think we're the only library in the state that does it," the librarian replied.

I didn't burst her bubble and tell her about the library in Arapahoe with a similar quantity of pans for its patrons.  Instead, I asked, "Are they popular?"

"They are, especially during the holidays."

My route from Crete towards Lincoln included another unexpected stretch of gravel for five or six miles.  At least it was hard-packed and had virtually no traffic.  But I had to stop and add air to my tires as I had slow leaks in both of them after another encounter with goatheads the night before.  When I returned to the road from my cornfield campsite both tires were studded with the pesky little balls of small darts that can leave the barest of pinpricks in one's tubes.  I thought I had patched all the punctures, but unfortunately hadn't.  No bike shops remain in rural small-town American, but, miraculously, Walmart sells the not so common presta valve tubes, such as I needed, and also patch kits.  The first Walmart I came upon was out of the narrower tubes that I prefer, but the slightly wider ones it had in stock sufficed.  I thought I had left the goatheads behind me by the time I reached Nebraska.  Hopefully they haven't encroached upon Iowa.

I crossed into Iowa over the Missouri River after descending from the bluffs of Nebraska City and a Lewis and Clark park. I had dropped three thousand feet in my four hundred mile ride across the state. It was flat riding through a valley for six miles before turning south for nine miles on the shoulder of a bluff to the town of Hamburg a couple miles north of Missouri and my first Iowa Carnegie of these travels.  It was unmarred by additions and stood alone in full small-town glory with the sun setting behind it.  It was closed, but its WIFI required no password, so I was able to catch up with Janina on FaceTime.  She had the good news that she had completed her Telluride Journal and posted it at

Ten miles down the road I burrowed into a cornfield for the night.  I couldn't sitatute my tent to allow the sun to hit it in the morning and dry the dew, so had to roll it up damp.  It was fifteen miles to Shenondoah and its Carnegie.  

As I sat on its steps with it closed on Sundays, drinking a chocolate milk and eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich, reading a book since its WIFI was blocked, an elderly woman walked by and asked, "Where are you riding to?"  After I told her, she said she had walked the Appalachia Trail over twenty years ago when she was sixty. She's not the first such person who I've met in my travels who had accomplished the feat and knew I was someone who would appreciate it. "I did the whole thing and I did it on my own," she added.

"That's impressive," I said.  "I know a lot of people try, but not very many complete the whole trail."

"Yes, I'm a tough country girl."

"Do you bike?" I asked.

"I used to, but not since I got a pace-maker.  I'd like to talk some more, but I'm on my way to church. Sorry to ask you where you're going.  I know its none of my business.  I was just curious."

"Not at all.  Thanks for telling me about your hike.  Its always nice to meet someone who has accomplished that."

"God bless you."

The Carnegie in Clarinda had been converted into a first class art museum by a couple who had grown up in Clarinda and went on to a successful career in aviation in Lincoln, less than one hundred miles away.  The library had played an important part in their life's and they were happy to rescue it when it came up for auction a few years ago.  The current exhibit included an incinerated Citroen out front, the work of an Argentinian artist that represented the series of car bombings in his country during its years of unrest.

I reached Bedford and its Carnegie as the full moon that would be eclipsed in a few hours began to rise from the horizon in front of me.

With no signs for the library I stopped at the downtown Casey's General Store to ask its whereabouts and also to fill my water bottles. It was across the street on the corner of Jefferson and Madison.  It was a perfect example of a Carnegie--eighteen steps up to its entrance flanked by a pair of white globes not yet turned on.  Over the entry was "Public Library" and just below the word "Free."  Up above was 1916.  A plaque acknowledged it as a National Historic Place.  To the left was a flag pole.  It had no additions other than an air conditioning unit to its rear and a book return box out front.

I pedaled five miles down the road towards the moon until dark and slipped into a little gulley beside a corn field and behind a cluster of trees.  An hour later when I was eating my second bowl of ramen and creamed corn I heard a car stop along the road and then saw a bright spot light trying to penetrate the trees.  I opened my tent door for a better look.  There were actually two cars.  Then I heard a voice shouting, "Is anybody down there?"  They hadn't actually spotted me, but evidently I had been reported.  The officers seemed reluctant to approach me, so I climbed up to the road to face the consequences.

"I'm traveling by bicycle," I explained.

"We know," the young, non-threatening officers responded.  "We've had a couple of reports on you.  We heard you were at the Casey's in Bedford.  People around here are suspicious of strangers. A hitch-hiker passing through here a couple years ago shot some people. Do you have any ID?"

I had it at the ready.  As I handed it over I asked, "Do you know how the Bears did today?"

"They we're losing 3-0 at the half."

"Could you ask how the game ended when you call in my license?"

While one officer retreated to his car the other said, "Keep your hands out of your pockets if you would."

"What's the story on the hitch-hiker?" I asked. 

"He was an escaped convict from the Clarinda Correctional Facility.  He broke into somebody's house and got their guns and used them.  He actually shot my partner in the shoulder."

We had the eclipsing moon to watch while we waited the verdict on whether I was wanted.  The officer left with me said he thought it would be cool to ride one's bike across the country.  He hadn't ridden RAGBRAI, but had many friends who had and knew he'd do it one of these years.  When I told him I went to Bedford to see its Carnegie, he said his partner's wife was the librarian there and she was busy getting ready for its 100th anniverary next year.

When the other officer returned he said, "They lost 26-0.  You're clear."  Then he told his partner they had a domestic dispute to tend to.

"Sorry to put you guys out," I said.

"That's okay.  Have a good night."

During the interlude the moon had nearly disappeared. I saw much more of it than if I had been in my tent.  

I'm getting used to being checked out by the police.  Last year it happened five times in five states--Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Illinois and Indiana.  Like finding neckerchiefs, bungee cords and license plates along the road, its not an official tour until my driver's license has been called in.  I just wonder how more frequent it would be if I were another color or wore a turban.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Geneva, Nebraska

Last winter in Oman I camped night after night in great expanses of sandy deserts.  Across Nebraska I've been able to disappear into vast expanses of corn fields for the night.  I've pedaled right up to dark knowing that I'd be able to slip into a nook amongst the head-high stalks when the light ran out.   Sometimes I've found a secluded open patch right along the road, and other times I've had to pedal a ways down a narrow dirt tractor path until I found space enough for my tent.  I've had no concern about being discovered.  Many of the towns I've been passing through have less than a hundred residents.  That doesn't mean they don't have character or characters.  One of the handful of those in Holstein, population 48, surrounded his home with sculptures of scrap metal including bicycle parts.  The centerpiece of his front yard was a pedestal of four bicycle wheels with cups to catch the wind.

He utilized a bicycle fork to concoct a creature that he perched atop a replica of an oil rig.

If he lived in the larger town of Arapahoe, the librarians would have had to keep a close eye on him to make sure he didn't try to appropriate any of their vast array of cake pans that could be borrowed for baking.

It wasn't a Carnegie.  There were only two Carnegies in the first two hundred miles on route 6 along the southern border of the state heading east from Colorado.  The first was in McCook, which I've already reported on, and then Holdrege, before a tight cluster of six of them.  Holdrege hardly counted as a Carnegie, as an addition in 1964 totally obliterated its character, actually knocking down its front facade and pair of pillars to extend the library out to the street.  

A framed photograph inside honored what it had once been.  

The librarians didn't seem distraught about the desecration of their library.  Rather they were proud that a local had donated a million dollars for its expansion.  Not only had the library been expanded to the front, but the rear as well.  Before I left the librarian who had googled a route out of town for me to avoid some road construction wouldn't let me leave until I had seen a giant stuffed dragon in the children's section in the back that was over thirty years old.  The woman who created it now lived in England but had returned a few years ago to restore it.

The most magnificent of the set of six Carnegies fifty miles up the road was in Hastings, a city large enough to have a Walmart.  Unfortunately, it had been torn down years ago and replaced on the same site with just a library.  Sutton, thirty miles further, was another of the eleven Carnegies of the sixty-nine built in Nebraska that had been demolished, a higher percentage than most states.  Only seven states though had more Carnegies than Nebraska.  It is one of the few states, along with Illinois and Indiana, that has had its Carnegies documented in a book--"A State of Readers--Nebraska's Carnegie Libraries," from 2005.  It was on prominent display in the Clay Center Carnegie, a classic one-room library that had not been added on to.  The librarian said the board had investigated the possibility, but didn't have the funds to do it.  

It was a rare Nebraska town with about the same population, 861, as when the library was built in 1915.  It was a pleasure to linger in the library, soaking up its century of satisying generations of the town's folk, reading about the state's Carnegies.  Most noteworthy was learning that someone had written an appreciation of James Bertram, who oversaw Carnegie's library program.  The American Library Associatin in Chicago has a copy of this book written in 1936.  It will be the first book I'll seek out when I return to Chicago, even ahead of the recent biography of Luis Ocana, the 1973 winner of The Tour de France.

The town of Harvard, nine miles away, had shrunk from 6,000, when its Carnegie was built, to 998 today, of which twenty per cent are Hispanic and not all English speaking according to an elderly jogger I stopped as I approached the town to ask the way to the library.  I also asked him if the library was open, as the one in Fairfield only had afternoon hours three days a week.  He said, "I ought to know, as I'm on the board,  but I can't tell you."  It had an odd set of hours, three to eight on Tuesdays,  one to six on Wednesdays and Thursdays, nine to two on Fridays and ten to two on Saturdays.

Even odder were the hours of the library in Fairfield, thirteen miles away.  The most direct route between Fairfield and Harvard was on a dirt road for ten miles.  That truly gave me the sense of being out in rural America.  With a population of less than five hundred, Fairfield's library was only open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1:35 to 5:25.  I was there at nine a.m. hoping to find a cafe serving hotcakes.  The town did have a deli and a restaurant, but neither opened for breakfast.  I had to make do with a pint of chocolate milk and corn flakes from the town's small grocery store.  I hoped I could take advantage of the library's WIFI as I sat on its front steps under a plaque that said it had been designated a National Historic Place in 2001, but it required a password.

I asked the friendly librarian at Clay Center about the unusual hours of the Fairfield Library.  "We think there is something strange in their water there," she said.  "They make the librarian punch a time clock at the city hall before she reports to duty.  She signs in at 1:30 and then opens the library a few minutes later, and then closes up a little before she signs out at 5:30."

I concluded my day of Carnegie-hopping in Geneva, a veritable metropolis of 2,000 residents.  In 1995 its citizens raised $650,000 to quadruple the size of their library built in 1912 for $9,750.  They were proud to do it without any federal assistance through church groups holding soup suppers and the sale of $100 bricks and other donations.  The locals seemed to have a history of independent-thinking.  The local newspaper published a letter shortly after the construction of the library that didn't totally embrace Carnegie.  It read, "However much Mr. Carnegie may be censured for his methods of money making, we certainly cannot but commend him and congratulate ourselves for one method he is using to spend a portion of his vast accumulation."  The seamless red brick addition to its rear didn't diminish its stature.  

Just one more Carnegie in Nebraska on my route and then another dozen or so across Iowa.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

McCook, Nebraska

A sign on the outskirts of the tiny town of Briggsdale, Colorado warned it was sixty miles until the next gas station in Sterling.  The gas station attendant said I might find food and water before then at a cafe thirty miles down the road, but that it wasn't always open. I had food enough--a loaf of bread and peanut butter and honey and a few packs of Ramen.  I only needed to top off my four water bottles to be set if I didn't make it to Sterling before nightfall.  It was only noon.  If the wind remained calm, I ought to make it.  The terrain was flat and not always fenced as I entered the Pawnee National Grasslands.  I had been on a gradual, imperceptible descent for the past fifty miles since leaving Fort Collins.

Luck was with me when I reached the even smaller town of Buckingham.  Its cafe was open and it served breakfast at all times, and like an increasing number of these small cafes, it offered WIFI, though it didn't advertise it.  I could fuel up on a stack of hotcakes.  That gave me more than enough energy to reach Sterling before dark.  I didn't need to search out its Carnegie, the first since Fort Collins one hundred miles away, as I had made its acquaintance two years ago. Sterling is on the Platte River. On my last visit, it was bracing for a surge of flood waters headed its way from Boulder.  I followed the Platte, staying ahead of the surge by a day, as communities all along the river were putting out sand bags.  This year I would stay south of the Platte following route 6 going through a different series of towns across Nebraska with a Carnegie.

Just as two years ago, I happened to be in Sterling on the weekend of its annual town party.  There was music in its central plaza and tents with vendors selling food.  And all about town were bike sculptures similar to those I see along The Tour de France route.  The first came as a surprise at a car lot.

Along the downtown streets were a series of mannequins on bikes.

I didn't have time to search for all of them in the waning light.  The Platte River flowed through the outskirts of the Sterling. Along its banks was the Overland Trail Recreational Area.  It offered picnic tables and some trails.  There were no marked camp sites, nor signs prohibiting camping.  I found a quiet nook amongst driftwood on a sandy bank that suited me fine.  When I pushed my bike through the weeds the next morning, my tires were full of small burrs known as "goatheads" when I reached the parking lot. My front tire had picked up the majority of them.   I couldn't simply brush them off. I had to extract them one by one, hoping they hadn't penetrated to the tube.  I didn't hear or feel any air seeping out.  But two miles down the road I could feel my front tire going soft.  Later when I submerged the tube in water I quit counting after five tiny punctures in just a quarter of its diameter starting from the valve.  A couple hours later my front tire went flat again. The wind had blown a goathead onto the road.  I was riding in great peril, down to just one spare tube.

But as I closed in on Nebraska, the Cornhusker state, fields of corn began lining the road, driving out the weeds that produced the goatheads.  After camping besides a bale of hay next to a corn field the next morning I awoke to a semi-soft rear tire, a super-slow leak from a goathead the day before.  I didn't need to patch it then, rather pumping up the tire until I was in need of a rest later to replace the tube.

Now that I was in Nebraska, towns gave their population rather than elevation, though I knew I had dropped over one thouand feet from Fort Collins to under four thousand.  The small towns every twenty miles or so were more dead than alive.

It was eighty-six miles from the border until I came to a town large enough to have a Carnegie, McCook with a population of four thousand.  It was now a wing of the town's High Plains Museum, though it still proudly proclaimed itself a Carnegie Library on its exterior, unlike any of the fourteen I had just seen along Colorado's Western Front.  

The new library, built twenty years ago, was two blocks up the brick-lined street, Norris, between First East and First West.  Night was coming on, so I didn't take the time to give it a look.  If I had known about the free camp site less than a mile away, complete with free showers, I wouldn't have been in a rush to get out of town to find a field to camp in.  Four of the five campsites were occupied by retirees in RVs.  It wasn't the first town along route 6 that offered such camping, but the first I had come upon with showers.  The town park in many of the towns are their chief feature with covered picnic tables and rest rooms and sometimes the invitation to camp.  Even though it was communal camping, I didn't object for this night.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fort Collins, Colorado

After Denver I continued north along the Western Front to the Carnegies in Boulder, Longmont and Fort Collins.  The din of the relentless, often bumper-to-bumper, traffic had me longing to start heading east away from the mountains into the wide-open spaces of the Plains that extended to the horizon off to my right even if it meant the Carnegies would be few and far between.

The rugged mountains affirmed this was the West, but the traffic was more like the eastern seaboard. This wasn't the quiet rural America that I was seeking.  The desert terrain on the fringe of the mountains was packed with housing developments for over 150 miles from Colorado Springs north.  "Colorful Colorado" is not only a popular place to visit but also to move to.

The traffic was so thick through the college towns of Boulder and Fort Collins, bicyclists were banned from their main thoroughfares.  Boulder at least had a fairly decent bicycle path alternative, but Fort Collins just offered meager sidewalks that didn't always go through.  These towns were catering to motorists rather than obliging or encouraging the more sensible means of transportation.  Colorado is not as enlightened as one might think, though it does utilize the round-about more than most states.

I was on the sidewalk along Broadway through the heart of Boulder when I came to Pine Street and a prominent sign that pointed to its Carnegie Library off to the left, half a block down the residential street.  It is no longer the city's main library but rather a research library for local history with only limited hours.  A plaque acknowledged Carnegie for donating $15,000 for its construction in 1906.  That was fifty per cent more than his usual grants, allowing for an extra degree of magnificence.  The plaque implied Boulder deserved it, as it was known as the "Athens of the West."

The bike rack out front was as noteworthy as the library.

The city of Longmont twenty miles to the north was another burgeoning town that had greatly outgrown its Carnegie.  It had been replaced by a huge two-story building with large glass windows all around that was more aesthetically pleasing than many such newer libraries.  It gained extra points with a superb collection of bicycle books including a recent biography of Tour winner Luis Ocana, one of the handful who committed suicide, and also Tim Moore's second cycling book, "Gironimo!," on the 1914 Giro d'Italia, in which only eight of its eighty-one starters finished.  I would have loved to have stayed and read them both, but I already had them on reserve back in Chicago.

The former Carnegie was right next door.  It now housed a local radio station and cable television station.  Though it was greatly dwarfed by the new library, it was certainly the more distinguished of the two.

I had thirty-five miles more of nerve-jangling traffic to Fort Collins before I could head off into the peace of the flatlands.  Half-way there I was treated to an array of public sculptures in Loveland.  There was a tacky strain of hearts painted by local artists, another imitation of the Cows of Chicago, but also some most worthwhile original sculptures as well.  The centerpiece was a monstrous "Seawitch" with a price tag of $96,000 on it.

Fort Collins had also outgrown its Carnegie, which was now the "Community Creative Center."  It was in a large park where the new library, similar to the one in Longmont, now resided.  The old and new made nice companions, though there was no comparison of which had the greater dignity.

My route out of town away from the setting sun was just a couple blocks over on Mulberry.  I continued my battle with the traffic for four miles until I crossed over Interstate 25 and then suddenly I had the road all to myself, my first tranquil cycling since coming down out of the mountains into Colorado Springs.  There were a few fields of corn ready for harvest that I thought I could camp amongst, but the ground was hard and rutted.  Mostly the landscape was grasslands of dried and withered vegetation barely fit for a few stray cattle.  I strained to spot the buffalo that once dominated the landscape, but they were long gone. The only trees were around the occasional homestead. 

Just before dark I was fortunate to come upon a strand of trees along a creek that provided the privacy I was seeking.   They were beyond a barbed wire fence, but a gate had no lock on it nor a "No Trespassing" sign.  I only needed to lift a loop of wire over a post to gain entry to another perfectly fine place to rest my bones for the night.  There were dried cow patties in the field, but no cows to be seen, just a few squawking magpies in the trees who were either welcoming or protesting my presence.  They soon quieted and I had a solid, uninterrupted sleep.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Denver's Nine Carnegies

After nearly a week of riding through the mountains of Colorado I spent the better part of a day prowling about the state's largest metropolis tracking down its nine Carnegie Libraries, five of which still function as libraries.  Three of the four former libraries have been converted to residencies, a not very common use for these mostly one-room, high-ceilinged buildings.  Ordinarily they end up as an office or business of some sort, such as the Carnegie in Littleton just south of Denver that is now a restaurant, The Melting Pot, specializing in fondue.

It made for a fine appetizer bright and early in the rising sun before my feast in Denver, as I broke camp just as dawn broke after sleeping in Littleton's large cemetery not much more than a mile from the former Carnegie, which still identified itself as a library over the entry into the restaurant.

was up early not wishing to startle the cemetery caretaker.  Someone other than a watchman did cycle by me in the evening dark, but may not have seen me hidden behind a large tree.  I chose not to camp outside of the urban sprawl, as I knew I'd have a full day cycling to all four corners of Denver and wished to get an early start on it.  I was serious enough about an early start to be willing to stay in a motel if I happened upon one.  Dark had descended before I found one.  The fenced-in cemetery presented itself before any urban wasteland that I might have disappeared into.  Fortunately I could slip past a barricade at one of its far corners.

My entry into Denver from the south took me past two still functioning libraries before my first of the inhabited Carnegies and the pleasure of meeting one of the lucky folk who has the privilege of living in one.  The Decker Branch sat on a corner of a large park in a quiet residential neighborhood.  It was built in 1912 and refurbished in 1993, and had been superbly maintained ever since.  Its recessed forty-five degree entrance with wings extending from either side and bright green roof asserted an air of distinction.

The Byers Branch was on busy Santa Fe Drive lined with shops and across the street from a tattoo parlor with the motto "Obey None, Defy All."  It was looking a bit worn, but still added some dignity to the neighborhood.

I passed the football stadium, now known as Sports Authority Field, on the way to the former Dickinson Branch on Hooker Road.  The stadium was adorned with a large painting of quarterback Payton Manning.  Guys all over the city were wearing his bright orange number 18 uniform.  This was game day, as the Broncos had a Thursday night game against their arch rival in Kansas City, where they hadn't lost in over a decade.  One fan took his devotion a step further than wearing a mere jersey with a mannequin of Payton in front of his house flanked by a couple of cheerleaders.

A dog tied up out front of the former Carnegie on Hooker began barking when I pulled up.  The front door opened and out stepped a husky fifty-year old man in a plain t-shirt.  He confirmed that yes indeed this had once been a Carnegie, as did a plaque beside his door.  It had closed in 1954. He had been living there the past eleven years.  The previous owner had gained National Historic status for it for tax purposes.  He was glad to take advantage of it himself.  He could get a tax credit for any improvements he made, even giving it a coat of paint.

He said he had an occasional Carnegie pilgrim such as me, and if he had known I was coming he would have cut the grass, though it was mostly weeds like most of the other yards in this run-down neighborhood.  He thought he was making a joke.  I didn't tell him that this past spring when I'd taken my Carnegie quest across Indiana a library had been forewarned of my arrival and had put up a  welcome on its message board.

He was a Carnegie enthusiast himself, though he had no bookshelves nor many books in his house.  He just borrowed books, trying to read a book a week.  When the library opened in 1914 there had been a fuss that there were no women authors, just men, engraved in the wooden interior of the library, and Harriet Beecher Stowe had to be squeezed in.

This branch was less than three miles from the main central library, also provided by Carnegie, in the center of the city in the shadow of the golden-domed capital building.  The grand multi-pillared building was as regal as any of the state buildings.  It no longer serves as a library, but rather as a Civic Center hosting art exhibits and other exhibitions. As I gazed upon it, an officer on a bike stopped to check me out.  When he ascertained I wasn't a transcient, he advised me to lock my bike if I cared to enter the Civic Center as this was a heroin district.  "They'll steal anything for their next fix," he warned.

I continued east down Colfax, the main avenue bisecting Denver, to the Park Hill Branch in an affluent neighborhood.  There was a steady stream of young mothers pushing baby carriages up the long ramp to the library on a rise.

A few blocks further I picked up Martin Luther King Drive which took me to the former Warren Branch, also in a residential neighborhood.  It fit in as it had been converted into four premium lofts with wooden decks behind it and a well-watered lawn and fence surrounding it.

It capitalized on its heritage, promoting itself as the Carnegie Library Lofts.

Further north was the third Carnegie residence. On the way there I stopped at a small Mexican grocery store that advertised tamales. I had my choice of vegetarian or meat. The nearby former Elyria Branch had been fully converted to a house with sky lights installed in its roof and upraised flower beds in its narrow front yard.  A giant RV was parked beside it.  Only the large curved windows belied its former incarnation.

The final two Carnegies to the west and north on my way out of the city to Boulder were both in large parks and had lost none of their magnifcence.  The Woodbury Branch on busy Federal Avenue had a second story and beds of flowers out front.

The more modest Smiley Branch had just one room along with a basement and a faux fireplace flanked by a pair of den-type chairs that I might have fallen asleep in had they not been occupied.  It was late in the afternoon.   Boulder was twenty-five miles away and I hoped to make it there before dark.  There were eight tennis courts nearby and a lagoon, none of them being used despite the ideal fall weather.

It had been a long but eventful day battling the hectic traffic and trying to find my way.  At least Denver was flat enough that I didn't need my small chain ring for the first time in a week. And the city had a sensible grid system, though the grid was broken at times by arroyos and interstates and railroad tracks.  The ten Carnegies were more than a quarter of those in the state and the most I had ever seen in a day.  My previous best was the seven of Louisville last November.  I have yet to take my quest though to Philadelphia or New York City, who both have much larger collections of Carnegies.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Manitou Springs, Colorado

Rather than continuing east to Salida and its Carnegie Library after crossing the 11,317 foot Monarch Pass as I ordinarily do on my ride home from Telluride, I turned north towards Buena Vista so I could descend upon Colorado Spriings from the west instead of climbing back up to it from the south as I did two years ago when I was caught by a millennial deluge that wiped out bridges and roads all along the Western Front.

I had some unfinished business in Colorado Springs.  I had visited its two Carnegie Libraries between downpours two years ago, but not the one in Manitou Springs on its western fringe.  Though I had to do some extra climbing by approaching Colorado Springs from the west, it was a much more lightly traveled route and allowed me to pass by Pike's Peak.  By the time I reached the Carnegie in Manitou Springs, I had cycled nearly three hundred miles from Tellluride and crossed seven passes, three before Monarch and three after.  Not one of Colorado's thirty-six Carnegies had been on my route.  There had been other libraries, including the large modern library in Montrose and barebones libraries in the small communities of Hartsel and Lake George.  None came close to the grandeur and majesty of a Carnegie.  

The 105-year old Carnegie in Manitou Springs resided on a hillside overlooking the town's central street lined with motels and boutiques catering to tourists headed to Pike's Peak and the ski resorts and all the other outdoor activities deeper into the state.  The simple, stately brick building was partially covered with vines.

Nothing on its exterior identified it as a Carnegie, but the standard Carnegie portrait hung in its foyer gazing down upon all who entered.  It was just above a plaque celebrating its heritage.

Not only were my miles to Mamitou Springs bereft of Carneigies, they were equally free of touring cyclists.  I was the lone traveling cyclist enjoying the magnificent scenery and roads.  And there was little evidence that others had preceded me.  I found two water bottles laying in the weeds from the Jelly Belly racing team on Trout Creek Pass, unclaimed from the world-class week-long USA Pro Cycling Challenge Race a month ago. It was shocking that no other cyclist or other passerby had happened upon them in all that time.  I was delighted to add them to my collection, especially since Danny Van Haute of Chicago, someone I raced against decades ago, is the team director.

The climb over Trout Creek Pass on route 24 was part of a seventy mile stretch between highway 285 and the town of Divide with such minimal traffic that I could lapse into reveries imagining that I was an early explorer being among the first of the white-skinned to lay eyes on the stunning scenery.  Until then the roads had been abuzz with a steady stream of RVs and trucks and pick-ups that kept my thought in the present allowing me little time to reflect on another fine dose of cinema at Telluride.  

As usual it was a superlative mix of films I'd seen at Cannes that I was happy to see again and new films and old, rarely screened films.  The very first film screened was a five-hour silent film from 1924 by Fritz Lang that had never been shown in its entirety in the US---"Die Nibelungen."  Beer and brats were offered for free during the intermission--a typical Telluride touch.  The Guest Director, novelist Rachel Kushner, included two rarely screened films among her six choices--"Cocksucker Blues" on the Rolling Stones from 1979 and "The Mother and the Whore" from 1973 by Jean Eustache.  Seeing any of these would have made the festival an extraordinary experience.  

Meryl Streep was in attendance with "Suffragettes"'about women fighting to gain the right to vote in Great Britain.  Michael Keaton was on hand with "Spotlight," playing a reporter for the "Boston Globe" who was part of a team that exposed the Catholic Church's complicity in covering up sexual abuse by priests.  Laurie Anderson was there with a documentary reflecting on her life.  Her hour-long converation with Peter Sellars in the Courthouse was as extraordinary as her film.  So too was the Courthouse conversation among novelists Kushner, Michael Ondaatje and Don DiLillo.  Janina will have a lengthy discourse on all these events and more at her website in the near future.

Though I passed through a few National Forests and cycled along an extended man-made lake, barbed-wire fences lined most of the road, making the camping a challenge. Several of my campsites hugged a fence where I had the shelter of trees.

I was biking right up to dark at 7:30 and then taking my chances of finding a place to pitch my tent.  One night I camped behind a bank of solar panels on the grounds of a river-running company whose season had ended.  Such panels are not uncommon in Colorado, though one rarely sees wind turbines.  They await me in Iowa, where they provide a remarkable thirty per cent of the state's energy needs.

More than ever people seem to regard me with a wary eye and a degree of pity, not recognizing my ride as an adventure and an affirmation of the bicycle's ability to transport one to wherever one might care to go.  After I told a woman that I was bicycling to Chicago, she asked if I were doing it out of necessity.  In a sense I was, but not in the context of her perception. Rather than trying to explain that I'd had a life long compulsion to ride my bike and if I didn't I might fall to pieces and that I had spent a good portion of my life pedaling all over the world and this was my fifth such excursion in the past year, I simply replied in the negative, saying I was doing it for the fun of it.  

She seemed relieved and agreed that it sounded like a fun thing to do.  It wasn't quite fun yet though, as I hadn't done much cycling during my month in Telluride looking after the shipping department for the film festival and my bicycling muscles had gone slightly dormant.  I certainly got my exercise unloading UPS and FedEx deliveries and shuffling heavy boxes, but I had ended my first few days back on the road quite exhausted, needing ten hours or more of sleep a night to recoup.  I know that once I leave the mountains and hit the Plains, my muscles will be back and, rather than looking forward to my campsite, won't want my days of pedaling to end.