Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Across Tennessee

As I was repairing my first flat tire of the trip by an auto repair garage on the outskirts of Chattanooga, the owner came out and offered his compressor to inflate my tire.  "I'm a cyclist too.  I know it takes a bit of effort to pump it up," he said.

He asked the usual "Where are you headed?" and "How far have you come,?" and then the increasingly common "Have you ever done this before?"

"Yes, I've been all over the world," I told him.

He was one of those who said he'd always wanted to travel by bike, but he couldn't find the time, plus he was concerned about the danger of traffic.  He advised me from continuing on the road I was on and told me about a bike trail along the river just a mile a way that he biked all the time and that would take me to the heart of the city where I was headed for its Carnegie Library

I was fortunate to have had the flat where I did, as it led to a nice relaxing ride along the Tennessee River complete with some bike sculptures, though I had more views of industry than the river.

Before I left I asked him if he knew of anyone who might have lost a hunk of money along the road I had been biking, as I had found $121.70 the day before scattered in the weeds.

He hadn't heard of anyone losing such a sum, and was impressed that I had been so lucky.  It was enough to make him ride the road rather than the trail.  I told him it wasn't the first time I had found a hundred dollar bill, but usually I only found coins.  In fact, it was a quarter that caught my eye and made me stop.  Then I glimpsed a one dollar bill.  Any bill is a rare find, so that gave me a thrill.  When I went for it, I noticed the backside of another bill, thrilling me even more.  I thought it might have been a twenty, but was disappointed that it was only a ten.  Such a response could have jinxed me, but then I saw the hundred.  I wasn't sure if it was real at first, but it was.  Then I began a thorough search.  I quickly spotted another ten, but found no more, other than another quarter and two dimes.  Such a haul of coins would have made my day.  Everything else made for a once-in-lifetime bonanza. 

Only minutes before I had been humming along with a light heart reveling in my circumstances, gliding like a winged creature on a lightly-traveled road with the temperatures creeping into the sixties for the first time on this trip. A light breeze was at my back.  My legs were spinning without effort.  I was ten days into another wonderful ride full of rich experiences that only the bike would have granted me and closing in on my destination.  I knew that in some respects it might have been a frivolous expenditure of time to be biking this distance when it could have been accomplished in a day by car, but felt that my lack of hurry and my self-reliance had to meet the approval of whatever governing force there might be.  I wondered if those bills could have been such an endorsement.

My joy in this present endeavor had also been heightened by a book I had brought along, "Bike Tribes," by Mike Magnuson, who had earlier written "Heft on Wheels," about how he lost over one hundred pounds by taking up bicycling.  He is an accomplished writer who has taught creative writing in the MFA program at Pacific University and writes regularly for "Bicycling" magazine.  He is a genuine enthusiast, who is a member of at least two tribes--cyclocross racers and "jolly fat guys" who have become "jolly fast guys."  

Of the many bicycling tribes, from hipsters to commuters to century riders and messengers and critical massers and the many types of racers, he put touring cyclists at the pinnacle, calling them the gurus of cycling and the purist of the pure.  He applauds their Independence and resourcefulness, and asserts, "They are unique in all of the sport of cycling, because at least to others, they have nothing but good things to say."  He also gives a strong approval to commuter cyclists, writing, "Next to the touring cyclist--which we have to phrase in a sort of cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness way--the commuter cyclist is the person all cyclists most want to be."

He speaks many truths.  The one quality that all the tribes of cycling share is that they wouldn't be happy without cycling.  He heaps high praise on the independent bike shop owner astutely saying they are "loved and respected by their cycling communities in ways that few business people are ever loved."  He regards "roadies" (road racers) as grotesquely self-important and the "official complainers of the cycling world."  He tried very hard to offer intimate detail on the many tribes and sub-tribes he describes and gives a lengthy list of advisers in his acknowledgements.  He mostly gets it right, though a harsher editor might have reprimanded him for his occasional lapses into sappiness trying to lend a phony feel-good veneer to some of his vignettes.

Only two of Tennessee's eighteen Carnegies were on my top-to-bottom route across this long state.  I had previously visited the one in Harriman five years ago.  It was a rare Carnegie Library with his dictum, "For the good of all," posted out front.  It was in keeping with the founding principles of this town.  It was established in 1891 as a Utopia of Temperance advocating "thrift, sobriety, superior intelligence and exalted moral character, where workers would be uncorrupted by Demon Rum."

The fire station was in the lot next to the library with a cute little sculpture smaller than a fire hydrant.

My other Tennessee Carnegie was in downtown Chatanooga.  Two plaques celebrated its significance.  One declaring it a National Historic Place and the other identifying it as "An Original Carnegie Library Building."  It had been converted into an office building in 1968 and its Library markings had been buffed off its facade.  It looked more noble on the inside, with a chandalier and fine furnishings, than it did on the outside.

Downtown Chattanooga in mid-morning seemed deserted.  There was little traffic on foot or in vehicles and certainly not on bike.  Like every self-respecting city these days it had joined the rental bike craze.  I passed several racks of them, but, as in Cincinnati, didn't see a one in use.  Their neglect was a dreary, depressing site.  

It was less than ten miles to Georgia through a gauntlet of the franchises that choke most American cities.  Then began my home stretch run of two hundred miles to Fort Bragg and Columbus.  There would be no Carnegies to add  to my life list as the only two on my route I had visited last year.  I could concentrate my attention on yard art instead, which continues to pop up.  An elderly woman ran me off her property when I encroached upon it for a closer look at the figure guarding it.

It was far more intimidating than a stick figure not much further down the road.

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