Friday, April 15, 2016

Back Home

With a favorable breeze I had already biked eighty miles when I reached the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore at four in the afternoon.  I had initially planned on making that my campsite for the night, putting me within fifty miles of home.  But with four hours of light left and the riding going so good, I couldn't resist pushing on home, giving full confirmation that my legs were ready for France in less than two weeks.  I knew I'd have to ride the final hour in the dark, but it would be on illuminated roads that I knew well.  It was hard to forgo one final night in my tent, but the lure of returning to Janina a day early won out.

I stopped at a McDonald's just beyond the Dunes to take advantage of its WIFI to alert her of my early arrival.  She said she'd cook up a chicken for a late dinner. This was after I'd already ordered a McChicken sandwich, but that was fine.  What wasn't so fine was this was a rare McDonald's that did not offer self-service on its drinks, preventing me from filling my water bottle with ice.  It was too close to Gary for it to trust patrons from taking advantage of all the soft drinks it had on offer.

I had ridden through Gary to or from Chicago many a time, so it had no surprises for me nor caused me any concern.  The first time was forty years ago, my first tour, a ride from Chicago to Detroit to visit my grandmother as a trial ride before going coast-to-coast the following year.  The biggest lesson I learned on that trip was that I needed more teeth on my freewheel than what came on my Peugeot PX-10 racing bike.

I had no Carnegies to stop at on my home stretch, as I'd previously visited the one in Whiting and Hammond's had been torn down. I had visited three more earlier in the day bringing my total to thirty-two for my eight-day 556-mile trip.  Only fourteen still served as libraries, but whether library or not, they were all historic and significant and stirring, if not breathtaking, buildings.

A case in point was the stately Carnegie in Niles, my final of eight in Michigan before crossing into Indiana.

It is now the Four Flags Area Chamber of Commerce, but the limestone above its entry still bears the words "Free to the People" and "Donated by Andrew Carnegie," two rarely seen inscriptions. 

It was just the second of the Carnegies on this trip to use the world "Free."  The other was the Broadway Branch in Cleveland.  That is the usual percentage, less than ten per cent, but it is a reminder that when Carnegie began building libraries it wasn't a given that they were free.  The more common manner of letting the public know though that it was welcome and need not pay was to identify the library as "Public Library," as at least a dozen of the thirty-two on this trip did.  The Niles Library may be the first of the close to five hundred Carnegies I have visited to use the phrase "Free to the People." Generally the phrase is "Free Public Library" or the more simple "Free Library."  

The Chamber of Commerce sign referred to Niles as the "City of Four Flags."  The flags are those of Spain, France, Great Britain and the United States, the four countries that at one time made this region their territory. It is just twelve miles north of South Bend in Indiana.  There was no Carnegie there, but I had the pleasure of passing through it on my way to Mishawaka and its Carnegie.  

It was my first time in South Bend since 1970 when I served as a manager for Northwestern's football team and was on the sidelines for a close loss to the Fighting Irish.  It was our final game before our Big Ten schedule.  It gave the team the confidence to win six of its seven conference games and to finish second behind the Ohio State team of Jack Tatum, John Brockington and Rex Kern, coached by the legendary Woody Hayes, and considered at the time one of the greatest college teams ever. 

We were actually leading the Buckeyes 10-3 at halftime in Columbus.  All were chanting "Rose Bowl" in the locker room, but Mike Adamle, who went on to be the Big Ten's MVP, fumbled the second half kick-off, and the Buckeyes prevailed.  I had no memory of South Bend other than its football stadium and dingy visiting locker room, so I felt as if I was getting to know it for the first time.  One of its more splendid offerings was its minor league baseball stadium, home of the Class A Chicago Cubs.  It looked like a fine place to watch a game.  Billboards throughout the town linked businesses to the team.

Mishawaka was just east of South Bend along the St. Joseph River that intersects both.  The Carnegie in Mishawaka on Hill Street overlooking the river was the lone Carnegie on this trip that is now a private residence.  A mailbox and a snow shovel flanked its front door.  The lucky people living there get to walk through four pillars and under the inscription "Public Library" whenever they enter their cavernous home.

Highway 20 west of South Bend to New Carlisle and its Carnegie included two round-abouts.  I'd had the pleasure of negotiating just one other in over four hundred miles, just west of Marshall, Michigan.  I'll probably average three an hour while I'm in France other than when I'm in the Alps and Pyrenees.  Before I reached New Carlisle a forty-year old man jumped out of his car and waved me down.  I was moving along at a good clip and was already contemplating the possibility of making it all the way home, so wasn't all that eager to stop.  But not wishing to antagonize a motorist who could come after me, I obliged him and stopped.

His first words were, "What are you riding on this road for?  There are county roads that are much nicer."  The traffic wasn't bothering me, but I just told him I was headed to New Carlisle, just a couple miles up the road.

"What do you want to go there for?"

He was headed to the town's new library to use its Internet and didn't realize there was a Carnegie in the small town.  Of course it turned out he was a cyclist who had some touring experiences to share. He'd just returned from Costa Rica where he keeps a bike.  He flies there every so often for dental work.  He was also a Warm Showers host, but had hosted only three cyclists in seven years as he only checks email a couple times a week and by the time he does, cyclists find another of the ten or so hosts in the South Bend area.  He was a gregarious fellow.  We could have talked indefinitely if I hadn't had a wind to take advantage of and a goal to get home a day early.

The New Carlisle Carnegie was right on Highway 20 and was now the Town Hall.  It had no markings or plaques acknowledging its past.  A plaque on the lawn in front was solely devoted to the history of Highway 20, an early transcontinental automobile route known as the Lincoln Highway established in 1913.  The Carnegie came four years later, towards the end of Carnegie's library giving.

I didn't seek out the town's new library, not wishing to be reambushed or to lose any time.  I continued speeding along at a steady pace to Gary and into Chicago.  It was dark by the time I reached Midway Airport and had jets passing over me.  I still had ten miles to go to Janina in Countryside.  This was my first US tour in several years that I hadn't been pulled over by a police officer wishing to run a check on me to see if I was wanted for something or if I posed a danger.  Even though I had lights on my bike, there was still a chance I might be stopped, even if to warn me I was riding through a dangerous part of the city.  But I broke that string.  

I arrived at Janina's a little later than anticipated.  She was about to go to bed, figuring I must have stopped to camp, as I told her was a possibility if I ran out of energy or if I were halted by darkness. I was still going strong when I arrived.  It was such a pleasant evening I didn't want to stop riding and invited Janina to join me for a ride through the neighborhood.  But then I realized I was famished, having not eaten anything except the last of my fig bars and halva the last five hours.  I feasted on roasted chicken and vegetables and rice and conversation for better than an hour before fatigue hit.  Still it was hard to sleep after an extra exhilarating day on the bike. 


dworker said...

132 miles. Not bad at this time of year, with the day length. Keep on rolling.

T.C. O'Rourke said...

Welcome back, buddy!