Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Albion, Michigan

As I approached Toledo I found myself thinking about Hanoi, not that any of my surroundings bore a resemblance to Vietnam, but that as with Hanoi, Toledo had a strong set of connotations and was a place that I never imagined myself at upon my bike.  I had days of anticipation as I neared Hanoi.  It has left a strong impression.  Toledo, as a minor industrial city, had no seeming appeal, but thanks to a trio of Carnegies, there I was about to make its acquaintance.

I wasn't entering Toledo along Lake Erie as I would have preferred, as I had been diverted from the Lake Coastal Route by the Sundusky Bay.  There is a long bridge across it, but bicycles, and even motorcycles, are prohibited from crossing it as it is prone to such high winds that trucks get blown over on it.  The long detour around the bay made it much shorter to head directly into Toledo from the interior rather than returning to the coast.

As I became swallowed up in Toledo's sprawl riding past closed-down malls and empty lots and vacant stores I was suddenly waved down by an older guy who had jumped out of his car as if to warn me to turn back.  

"I'm a touring cyclist too," he excitedly blurted.  "I've ridden across the country ten times.  I couldn't help but stop to ask you where you're headed."

When I explained I was doing a short four hundred mile from Cleveland to Chicago with a detour up to Battle Creek to visit a friend and I was passing through Toledo to see its Carnegie Libraries, he burst with even more glee.  "My daughter lives in Dunfermline.  I've been to the small house where Carnegie was born.  I've got a photo of it on my phone."

"Carnegie's first library grant was to Dunfermline," I said.  "How did your daughter end up there?"

"She's a Baptist missionary."

"In Scotland? Why isn't she in Africa?"

"Scotland is full of pagans."

With that I switched the conversation to Carnegies, asking if I understood correctly that I had to turn a mile up the road to reach the Locke Branch.  He said he would be happy to lead me there and that he'd wait at the intersection by a U-Haul rental place. From there is was another mile.  When we arrived he pointed down the block to a house where his father was born in 1919.  He too grew up in the neighborhood and had many fond, fond memories of time spent at the library.  He hadn't been back in years and was surprised how run-down the neighborhood was and the library too.  It was closed down and some of the windows boarded up.  There was  a large For Sale sign out front.  He took a photo to send to his sister.

I wanted to know more about his cross country rides.  His first was in 1967, ten years before mine.  He went with a group of college friends with a sag wagon carrying all their gear.  This was well before touring bikes and quality panniers.  He rode a Schwinn Paramount with just ten speeds, similar to the Puegeot PX-10 I rode, top-of-the-line racing bikes at the time.  All his rides were west to east.  His next ride will be in a year-and-a-half when he turns seventy.  He would have led me to the next Carnegie three miles away, but he had an engagement he had to get to.

I had to cross a high bridge over the Maumee River.  It put me on to Broadway lined with murals of an African American theme including portraits of King and Mandela. South Branch Library was large and grand enough to be the city's Main Library.  Unfortunately it was closed down.  Preservationists far and wide ought to be keeping their eye on it and trying to put it to some use.

I followed the river four miles north through Toledo's downtown lined with one closed storefront after another to the Jermaine Branch, another stately building.  It was now a Baptist Church.

As on three of the four days of my ride so far I had been inflicted by off-and-on precipitation all day.  It wasn't cold enough for it to be snow.  Since it was helping to melt the snow, I was hoping to find a clear patch in a forest to camp, but when the rain intensified as evening approached I resigned myself to another night in a motel.  I found a string of them on the north side of the city near a race track, even cheaper than the night before.  

With a TV to watch I had a first hand view of Jordan Speith's calamitous Masters.  But no station made a mention of Tom Boonen's almost equally devastating day coming within inches of becoming the first to win Paris-Roubaix for a fourth time.  That would have been the biggest sports story all over Europe, but not even ESPN bothered to mention it.

My early morning departure was delayed waiting for someone to show up at the office so I could reclaim my key deposit.  Only the cheapest of motels still use keys rather than cards.  The day began with a misty drizzle that finally ended by the time I crossed into Michigan.  It was thirty miles to the Carnegie in Adrian.  It was now the Lewanee County Historical Museum with a statue of the ardent abolitionist Laura Smith Haveland who had lived nearby.

The Jackson Carnegie also honored a local woman with a plaque in one of its large, high-ceilinged rooms--the cornetist Anna Teresa Berger Lynch, 1863-1925.  The wooden floors of the library and softly painted walls made it an exceptionally warm and comfortable place to linger.  It had had only one small addition over the years.

On the way to Jackson I passed the Tecumseh Carnegie on the four-lane wide Chicago Boulevard lined with mini-mansions.  The library was now the Carnegie Preservation League and had a cluster of statues guarding it under a large tree.

Beyond Jackson I found a perfect place to camp in a soft pine forest that had fully absorbed all the precipitation of the past few days and had my best sleep of the trip.  It was too nice to want to go to sleep and too nice to leave in the morning, but I wanted to make it to Kirk in Battle Creek early enough in the afternoon to spend some time exploring with him before dark.  On the way I had the early morning treat of the Carnegie in Albion as the sun rose behind it.  A sign on the door said its new hours were noon until eight, so I could only enjoy its exterior.


dworker said...

Keep on rolling. We are back in indiana now.

Bob Hogan said...

So that spring snow storm did not stop you? Guess I'm a fair weather friend. This weekend I'm headed to Lynchburg VA.to visit grandson Abe.( by jet)