Saturday, October 20, 2018

Kewanna, Indiana

If the quartet of Carnegies in Garrett, Angola, LaGrange and Albion in the northeast corner of Indiana were stars in the celestial sky, they would form a crown sitting atop the other 145 Carnegies in the state.  They made for an appropriate climax to these travels, bringing me to within one library of my completion of the entire slate of Carnegies, with the last in Kewanna, one hundred miles away back towards the center of the state. With my arrival in Angola, I had reached all four corners of the state in this three-week 1,500-mile excursion, which began with the pair of Carnegies in East Chicago in the northwest corner.   My route hasn’t stuck to the state’s  perimeter, though many of the miles have been along it, especially beyond Mount Vernon six hundred miles ago in the southwest, where I began following the Ohio River.

Corn fields and forests were the predominant geographical feature top to bottom, and also my usual camp site.  I nestled into a corn field on the coldest night of the ride when I awoke to ice in the water bottles I left on my bike.

The sleeping bag I brought, not anticipating such wintry temperatures, was only rated to forty degrees.  I needed my tights and sweater that night, but they weren’t enough as I awoke at one a.m. feeling a slight chill on my chest.  I pulled the bag’s extended flap tighter around my head.  I failed to return to sleep, even using Tony Kornheiser’s remedy for insomnia of listing all fifty states in alphabetical order.  Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press and weekly guest on Kornheiser’s podcast giving football picks, said he puts himself to sleep by running through all one hundred senators state by state.  There can’t be too many people who can do that.  Few can probably even name their own two senators.  

None of these reveries put me to sleep, nor was I warming up, so I put on a vest.  That worked, but I woke up cold again three hours later.  I added my wind-breaker to my layers, knowing I still had a lightweight down jacket in reserve.  That got me through the night.  The sun was shining bright in the morning.  It’s direct rays warmed me until I started riding through the frigid air.  I needed plastic bags over my gloves to keep my fingers from going numb, but otherwise I had enough layers to be fine as I closed in on Angola.

I had paid my respects to the Carnegie in Garrett the evening before, arriving after it had closed.  It was the last of these travels unencumvered by an addition.

The Carnegie in Angola had had two additions.  The first to its back side wasn’t enough.  With no more room to expand behind it, Angola settled on the extraordinary measure of enclosing the Carnegie within its second, much larger addition, turning it into a virtual museum piece.  It’s bricks walls and original entrance are inside the library.  So is the fountain that used to stand in front of the library.  

It now serves as the reference library and is overseen by a woman by the name of Margaret who patronized the library as a child and is now nearing retirement.  She feels very fortunate to spend her days behind a desk in the Carnegie she grew up with.  She had vivid memories of the liberian during her formative years, Vera, who ruled the library for 47 years.  She was the stereotypical small town librarian, unmarried and a stern taskmaster, hushing any one who spoke out of turn and monitoring what people read.  

She wouldn’t let Margaret check out books that she didn’t think were appropriate for her age.  She was reading above her age level, having gotten an early start with a mother who taught at the local college.  Her mother had to come in and attest to her reading capabilities to Vera before she’d allow her to check out what she wanted.  While we talked, another librarian came in who was aware of my interest in Carnegies and asked if she could take my picture and put it on the library’s Facebook page.  I should have stood under the portrait of Carnegie in the room, but didn’t care to rise from my comfortable chair,  resting my legs for the battle ahead with a strong headwind.

It was twenty-two miles due west to LaGrange through Amish country.  One-third of the county’s 37,000 residents are Amish.  There are 1.2 million Amish scattered around the world in 63 countries, and this is one of its largest concentrations.  I shared the road with a few horse and buggies and saw another parked in front of the library.

This library had a large addition to its rear.

The pair of tri-globed lights at its original entrance don't receive as much appreciation as they deserve, since the entrance is no longer used.  It was the first library in a while that required a password to use its WiFi and also the presentation of ID.  

I completed the final leg of the crown by turning south twenty miles to Albion.  It’s Carnegie had been replaced and now served as the prosecutor’s office.  It faced the towering courthouse in the center of the town.  It closed at four, after I arrived, so I couldn’t gain entrance to confirm that it had been the Carnegie.  It had been greatly marred by bunker-type additions to its front and rear, turning it into an unseemly fortress and rendering it virtually unrecognizable as a Carnegie.  I had to duck into an antique store on the square to verify its previous existence.

Large glass windows had been inserted into its sides.  Only a close look at its original intricate brickwork, compared to the generic new, gave a hint of its former glory. 

The eighty-mile ride to my final Carnegie in Kewanna took me past the home of the last Indian chief in the area, Papakeecha of the Miami tribe. He died in 1937 shortly before the forced removal of the Indians from the area.  

Kewanna took its name from the Potawatomi chief Kee-Wan-Ney.  Kewanna announced itself as “A Small Town with a Big Heart.”  Half its stores were boarded up, a rare site in Indiana.  With just a population of 613, it seemed to be a small enough town that I had hopes that its Carnegie would be in its original state, unmarred by any additions, making it a fitting finale for me.  No such luck.  It had had an addition to its side in 2012 that now served as its entrance.  It at least had “Carnegie” chiseled above “Public Library” over its original entrance, and also had a Main Street address, as did about a quarter of Indiana’s Carnegies.  It radiated the usual quiet dignity of a Carnegie and stood out as the most significant building along Main Street.

The town had never had a population of more than 728, so it was remarkable that it had an addition.  One wall of the original library had been knocked out, making for a large extended room.  It had been fully modernized.  A trio of boys sat in a corner at a table on their computers.  Another sat in a comfortable chair speaking in a hushed voice into his phone.  There was no mistaking which century I was in.  But I was in another Carnegie and that made me feel good.

It’s now 120 miles back to Chicago.  It will be a triumphal ride. The winds will dictate whether I make it back in time for the most anticipated Bears game in a few years against the Patriots.  It has been another fine, fine ride despite the vagaries in the weather.  At the start I had concerns of having enough water to drink in my tent at night.  Lately I had to hope my water didn’t freeze.   I haven’t had a single flat tire or encounter with the law.  But I did accumulate a bounty of neckerchiefa and bungee chords, fully authenticating a ride through rural America. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Warren, Indiana

It was the wet and the cold that forced me into a motel outside of Franklin, though it might have been the subconscious concern of the many ghoulish creatures on the loose during the Halloween season.  I checked to find a cheap motel that included breakfast, as I knew that I could stock up on food for the day.  Franklin, twenty miles south of Indianapolis, with a population of 23,000 and intersected by Interstate 65 had plenty of motels to choose from, many with breakfast, though none were specific about what it might include.  I was happy my choice was one that offered waffles, a not-uncommon feature of motels these days.  Some enterprise has made a fortune selling do-it-yourself waffle-makers.  

Franklin was also large enough to boast of two colleges—Franklin College and one of the forty Ivy Tech Community Colleges scattered about the state.  I’m always surprised by the amount of “higher education” going on that I come across in small-town America.  It may be concentrated at the massive name colleges, but there is plenty more.

I had been drawn to Franklin for its Carnegie, long abandoned for a much larger library.  It had been divided into two condos.  It fully acknowledged its heritage, not buffing out the “Franklin Public Library” on its facade and mounting a portrait of Carnegie in the hall separating the two units.  

The front had been embellished with patios and shades over its windows, but it remained as stately as when it was built, magnified by the flourishing vegetation surrounding it.

I bypassed Indianapolis to the east passing through Shelbyville to check on the site along the Big Blue River where a friend from Chicago, Michael Helbing, would be erecting a forty-foot high sculpture of intersecting tubes next month.  He had won the $150,000 competition that attracted an international field.  He was a most fitting recipient, as he grew up in Shelbyville.  Janina has written about Michael’s work and also about the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago that he helps run, as a Vietnam vet.  Michael’s wife Wendy is also an artist and ardent hiker having soloed the Appalachia Trail.  She and Janina regularly hike together.  She has also joined Janina and I on a couple of mini-bike tours.  We will most definitely be on hand for the unveiling of his latest work.  Chicagoans who would like a sample of what he does can go to Wicker Park in Wicker Park to see a thirty-foot tall stainless steel tree of his that he erected this past July.

Michael’s Shelbyville sculpture will face the Highway of the Vice Presidents, Highway 9, that runs for 196 miles in eastern Indiana from Columbus to the Michigan border.  It passes through the home towns of four of the six Vice Presidents from Indiana—Columbia City, home of Thomas Marshall, who served under Woodrow Wilson, Shelbyville, home of Thomas Hendricks, who served under Grover Cleveland,  Huntington, home of Dan Quayle, who served under the first George Bush and Columbus, home of Michael Pence, presently serving under Donald Trump.  Indiana’s two other Vice Presidents were Schuyler Colfax, who served under Ulysses S. Grant and  Charles Fairbanks, under Theodore Roosevelt.  Of the 48 Vice Presidents, fourteen went on to become President, but none of Indiana’s.  Pence has the chance to be the first if the Democrats take over Congress next month.  Indiana might be known as the state of Vice Presidents, but eight were born in New York and three others considered it their residence when they were elected.

I had visited Shelbyville’s Carnegie, one of the most preeminent in the state, four years ago on my first ride to the School of the Americas protest, but was happy to pay my respects once again.  The same with the Carnegie in Greenfield to the north on Highway 9, that has been repurposed as an upscale restaurant called Carnegies.  I turned east from there to Knightstown, whose simple, but solid Carnegie hadn’t changed much in its one hundred years.  I was concerned that a sign in the window saying “Grant Recipient” meant that it was going to have an addition.  There was no need for alarm, as the librarian said that the grant was just going for furniture for the chidlren’s library in the basement.

Along with the Read posters there were other urgings to read posted on the walls—“Just keep reading,” “To read is very wise”—and most wise advice from Dr.Seuss—“The more that you read, the more things that you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  That could be by new slogan.  The library retained most of its original features, including a vintage lamp on the circulation desk.  It may not have been adorned with columns or a dome or stained glass windows, but it was as regal as any Carnegie.

When I told the librarian the next Carnegie on my agenda was in New Castle, twenty miles away, she didn’t realize it was a Carnegie.  That was understandable, as it has been overwhelmed by a huge addition, increasing its size ten-fold.  At least it wasn’t like the abomination in Lawrenceburg that smothered the original Carnegie.  This was just added to the side with the original entrance turned into a patio and the original library rendered a large reading room.

Back into the northern half of the state, the forests were minimal and the camping more of a challenge. I could have stayed at the Steve Alford All-American Motel, named for the star guard in the Bobby Knight era, outside of New Castle. A giant sneaker in the UCLA colors, where he is presently the head coach, was out front and the marquee said “Go Bruins,” the UCLA mascot.  There was nothing about free breakfast, but there was still an hour of light left, so I wasn’t tempted.  

I ended up behind an abandoned farm house overwhelmed by vegetation.  The thick, unmown grass made for a soft mattress.  It was cold enough, below 40 after dark, to necessitate my wool cap for the first time.  My tent was encrusted with frost in the morning.  I needed two layers of socks and two layers of gloves until mid-morning. The weather continues to be most unfall-like.  The first week was in the high 80s, twenty degrees above normal, and now it has been ten to fifteen degrees below the normal of 65.  It is quite a contrast to last fall when the weather was so perfect all October I couldn’t stop riding, extending my ride week by week. 

 It was a fifty mile jump to the next Carnegie in Elwood. It was in the upper echelon of Carnegies, constructed of limestone rather than brick, and bigger than the smaller town one-room school house style, but it had been outgrown and replaced by a new bland library across the street twenty years ago.  It was presently vacant and in disrepair with a few broken windows.  The last tenant had tried to turn it into a museum, but couldn’t raise the funds to do it.  What will become of it, the librarians didn’t know, other than that there was no chance that this monument would be torn down. 

The small town of Warren had an unaltered Carnegie akin to the one in Knightstown.   

It exhibited its pride with a standing plaque out front, as every Carnegie should have, emphasizing its significance.

I had the chance to correct the address and status of the Carnegie in Rising Sun on Wikipedia.  I wasn’t able to change the coded color of green to yellow, indicating that it no longer served as a library, but a day later someone else had tended to that, renewing my faith in this great resource that is much more right than wrong and continues to be indispensable.  

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Osgood, Indiana

Halloween and fall decorations are competing with political signs as the most predominant roadside feature on this ride around Indiana.  The campaign signs invariably come in clusters.  Of those driven to erect a sign for a candidate in the upcoming election none seem committed to just a single race but weigh in on at least half a dozen contests for clerks and sheriffs and assessors and congressional seats and more.  Pence signs abound as the Vice President’s older brother Greg is running for Congress in the southeast portion of the stage  to fill a seat long-held by a Republican. It’s the first time this former marine has run for office.  After his military career he went on to sell antiques. He has a Chicago connection having attended Loyola where he majored in philosophy and religion.  He’s all in with his brother in making America great again.

After a couple of days riding along the the Ohio River Scenic Byway at the bottom of the state I turned north from Corydon to Salem and its magnificent Carnegie, perhaps the plum of the trip so far.  It was highlighted with a dome and a wide variety of intricate ornamentation—on its columns and wooden staircases and star-patterned mosaic and stained glass window in the dome and carved  scrolls surrounding the dome.  The town had spared no expense in its construction, spending an extra $200 for iron clay bricks of Roman form.   It’s million dollar addition in 2000 only added to its luster.

Under the Carnegie portrait over an antique roll-top desk a brochure detailed the library’s history.  Up until 1903, when the Fortnightly Club applied for a Carnegie grant, the town’s library amounted to a reading room.  It had been established in the 1840s from a grant given out by the will of William Maclure, an early-day Carnegie, who had lived in the utopian community of New Harmony, one hundred miles to the west on the Wabash River.  I had passed by the town not realizing its significance.  Maclure had established a Workingman Library there in the 1820s that still serves as a library, and offered grants of $500 to other communities to establish what  was considered a library in those times—a room with some books, such as what Carnegie took advantage of as a youth in Pittsburgh.  I’ve stumbled upon a few utopian communities dating to the 1800s in my cycling around the US.   With no present-day utopias to search out, I consider myself a traveling utopia—self-sufficient without much dependence on others, free of guile or presumption, cognizant of the common good and wrapped in contentment. 

The Salem brochure described the opening of its Carnegie in July of 1905 as a celebrated event attracting more than 3,000 people for their first look into the grandest building in the county.  The brochure offered a strong endorsement for libraries saying more people visit libraries in a year than attend movies and sporting events combined.  It said there are more than 16,000 public libraries in the US, with 282 in Indiana.  Carnegie provided the funds for 167 libraries in Indiana, of which 98 still serve as libraries.  They were so well-constructed, all but eighteen of the 167 still stand.

From Salem I turned east back to the Ohio River Scenic Byway fifty miles away and three more Carnegies in towns along the Ohio.  In Madison in front of its courthouse  I spotted one of the 200 Statues of Liberty scattered around the US that were provided by  the Boy Scouts of America in 1950 to celebrate its 40th anniversary in a program called Strengthen the Arm of Liberty.  It’s the second I’ve come upon in my travels, the first last year on my circuit of Illinois.  Wikipedia lists about 150 of them.  There are five others in Indiana that I might be able to add to my itinerary.

Madison had a fine old library, but not a Carnegie.  The next was in Vevay.  I arrived on Saturday as it was celebrating its Fall Festival with carnival rides and vendors selling food and all matter of items—bird houses, crafty art, Halloween costumes and decorations along with pumpkins and gourds.  When I asked a pair of young women the whereabouts of the library, they couldn’t tell me as they said they weren’t from around there.  

The library was down Ferry Street near the river.  It had replaced the Carnegie, which was now the City Hall.

Facing it was an arts and crafts store that drew attention to its self with a bike sculpture.

It was thirty miles to the next Carnegie in Rising Sun on a winding road following the Ohio.  I passed a couple of campsites catering to Recreational Vehicles, many of which looked like permanent habitations, where I could have camped if it weren’t so easy to slip into a forest.  As elsewhere along the river, there was a large casino complex and large factories belching billowing white clouds.  Much of the traffic was pickup trucks. 

The address Wikipedia gave for the library was wrong and also the information that the Carnegie still functioned as a library.  The address given was for new library on 2nd street.  It closed at one on Saturdays, after I arrived, so I couldn’t ask about the Carnegie.  Rising Sun, as other towns along the Ohio trying to attract tourists, has a visitor center.  The guy tending it had lived his entire life there but could only give me a general idea  where the library had been, though he patronized it up until it had been replaced a little more than a decade ago.  He just knew it was up the next road and down a ways.  He suggested I go to the History Museum a block away to find its exact location. The guy there could direct me to it’s precise location at the corner of Main and High.

The building was vacant and no longer bore any designation on it of having been a library.  An old-timer across the street was conducting a yard sale.  He didn’t approve of the new library—“They would have been better off to have kept it.  I like the old stuff.”

It was thirteen miles to Lawrenceburg, a veritable city where the Ohio River turns south from Ohio twenty-five miles beyond Cincinnati and commences being the boundary between Ohio and Indiana.  It’s Carnegie had been ignominiously swallowed up on three sides by a huge addition.  All that could be seen of the original building was its roof and a side wall.  It was closed when I dropped by.  I had to confirm with a police officer at the station a block away, that it had indeed been the original library.

Then it was west into the setting sun to Osgood, thirty miles away.  I had so many options for camping I could wait until just before dark to duck into a forest.  With the temperature not much above fifty all day I was able to buy a half gallon of chocolate milk early in the day for a lunch time bowl of shredded wheat and then another first thing in the morning.  No need to stop at McDonalds the past two days for its one-dollar unlimited cold drinks.  It was a relief to be freed of the craving for ice-choked cups of soda.

Osgood’s Carnegie had an addition to its back, which had become its new entrance, closing the original front-side entrance with Carnegie Public Library chiseled above it.

The next Carnegie is in Franklin south of Indianapolis, then its up to the northeast corner of the state for a cluster of four with three others on the way and a couple more afterwards on my return to Chicago.  Ten to go and I’ll have completed my mission.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Corydon, Indiana

My route to Mount Vernon at the toe of Indiana, not far from the the confluence of the Wabash and Ohio Rivers, took my through Fort Branch, a town with an abundance of Halloween skeleton decorations and a Carnegie library that I had visited in April of 2015 on my ride back to Chicago from Alabama where I helped Jim Redd find the grave of his mother on Easter Sunday.  I well remembered the Carnegie portrait in the entry as it peered down upon a retired card catalog and another relic atop it—a typewriter.  

I arrived at the library shortly before noon.  A closed sign hung on the door, but I could see a couple of ladies standing beside the circ desk.  The posted hours said the library opened at eleven on this day. The door was unlocked. When I entered, I asked if they’d like me to flip the closed sign to open.  They said they were just about to do it, but it wasn’t quite eleven yet.  

“Oh, are you on Central time here?” I asked.  They were indeed, as was the southern part of the state along the Illinois border and also along the Kentucky border almost as far east as Louisville. That didn’t effect me other than allowing me an extra hour to get to a library if it closed at five or six.  I had four ahead along the Ohio River beginning with Mount Vernon, which I hoped to get to this day if the wind from the south keeping the temperature near 90 didn’t get any stronger.

I had no pressing need to gain entry to the Mount Vernon Carnegie, as it was now the City Hall.  When I first spotted the grand, yellow-bricked, four-columned building I thought it must be a church, but Carnegie Public Library remained chiseled on its facade and Alexandria Free Library below it just over the entry.  The new antiseptic single-story sprawling library serving this city of 6,000 named for George Washington’s estate sat across the street.  

A four-lane highway connected Mount Vernon with the much larger Evansville, also on the Ohio, fifteen miles to the east.  I had previously visited its two Carnegies, so I could pass right through this sprawling metropolis.  The highway gave no glimpse of the Ohio, but beyond Evansville a five-mile bike trail hugged the shoreline of this mighty artery as far as a dam outside of  Newburgh.  The only craft I saw on the river was a huge barge.

I welcomed the tranquility of the bike path after the roar of traffic on the highway.  At least the highway had a wide shoulder giving me a better buffer than I had enjoyed on the two-lane roads.  Some had a narrow shoulder, but all too many were rendered useless to cyclists with rumble strips, a distinct hazard that one could be blown in to by passing 18-wheelers.  Indianas’s bicycle lobby doesn’t have much say allowing such unfriendly, perilous conditions.

My month of cycling around Illinois last October finishing off its slate of over one hundred Carnegies became Lincoln-themed as much as Carnegie-themed.  There were plaques and statues and commemorations of Lincoln  all over the state. I thought I might come across some of that in Indiana as well, since Lincoln spent his formative years in Indiana.  But all I saw of Lincoln for five hundred miles was a billboard with his image erected by the Foundation for a Better Life that erects billboards all over the country featuring significant figures such Mandela and Malala and Oprah and Shakespeare and John Wayne accompanied by an inspiring quote.  It’s website doesn’t indicate any political affiliation, but one’s initial assumption is that it would be right-wing, since billboards are a favorite means of it getting out its message, especially via the plague of anti-abortion billboards.

The dearth of Lincoln acknowledgements came to an end in Rockport, the southernmost city in Indiana, fifty-miles east of its westernmost, Mount Vernon.  In the 1930s Rockport erected a Lincoln Pioneer Village replicating the nearby farm Lincoln grew up on from 1816 to 1830, leaving for Illinois when he was 21.  A couple blocks from Rockport’s Carnegie Library was the first of a sudden rush of  plaques acknowledging Lincoln.  It was placed at the site of a tavern Lincoln stayed at in 1844 on his first return to Indiana in 14 years while campaigning for Henry Clay, the Whig Party presidential candidate.

The Carnegie, which came seventy years later, had a large addition, but one could still climb the steps to its original entrance.

Beyond Rockport, on the now two-lane highway, the Ohio could be seen.  At a small park beside the river a plaque stated that Lincoln ran a ferry service there and that he even once took a load of cargo all the way to New Orleans.

The town where he lived less than twenty miles away had been renamed Lincoln City.  It was also the home town of recent Chicago Bear quarterback Jay Cutler.  If this had been a driving trip with Janina, we would have zipped up to see it.  I might have detoured to it on my bike if I didn’t have to be back in Chicago in less than two weeks for a visit from Ralph, flying in from London.

The small Carnegie in Grandview, one of the few towns I’ve passed through with a motto (“A nice place to live”), had a Lincoln plaque out front stating that he had traveled this way hauling hoop poles.  Though Grandview hadn’t grown much since its Carnegie was built in 1918, it had an addition behind it linking it to a senior center.

Fifteen miles further around a loop in the Ohio was the last Carnegie in this stretch before I headed north away from the river in Tell City.  With 7,000 residents, double of what it had been when it’s Carnegie was built, it was large enough for a McDonalds and a Walmart and a new library.  It’s rather run-down Carnegie was now the Tell City Historical Society, open only on Sundays from two to four.

On my way out of town I passed the high school, whose teams are known as “Marksmen,” maybe due to the town’s name being taken from William Tell. The terrain had been forested and flat along much of the Ohio. I had a good climb leaving it, but the terrain remained mostly forested, providing one of my quieter campsites down a grassy, little-used road into a forest.  The temperature dropped over night by more than thirty degrees returning it to normal fall temperatures. A north wind was to blame.  I’d had three days of biking into a southern wind.  When it came time to turn north the wind switched.  It meant an extra hour of riding time to Corydon, fifty miles away.

Corydon was the first capital of Indiana, replaced by Indianapolis in 1825.  It was half the size of Tell City, but had grown enough to have also replaced its Carnegie. It was now the Frederick Porter Griffin Center for local history and genealogy, just behind the new library.  It was well maintained and had grounds to match, almost enough space behind for an addition.  It was nice that it has been left in tact, a genuine pleasure to behold.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Hilly Hundred

The day before I arrived in Bloomington for the 51st annual Hilly Hundred weekend of back-to-back 50-mile days of killer hills I noticed on the event’s website that volunteers were still being solicited.  Having ridden The Hilly several times over the years, I was willing to sacrifice some riding time to hand out apple cider or ice cream bars or some other task for the opportunity of a fuller immersion into the event and also to earn privileges I haven’t enjoyed in the past.  

It was a most inspired choice, as I was assigned the simple task of guarding one of the doors leading to the high school gymnasium where registration took place Friday evening. I just had to contribute five hours before the ride began and then I was a full-fledged rider, a $90 value, plus I earned vouchers for breakfast the next two days and dinner that night and the next as well as camping privileges, plus a Hilly Helper t-shirt.  Volunteers, or Helpers, as they are known, are exceptionally well compensated, and fed, as the rider’s pass includes a generous amount of food, including pumpkin donuts, at the three rest stops on each day’s ride. 

The buffet breakfast was a feast—oatmeal, hot cakes, eggs, sausage, yogurt, toast, a banana, apple sauce and coffee, milk and orange juice—enough calories to get one through a mountain stage of The Tour.  There was so much food available all day that I felt as if I were back on the Queen Mary feeling the obligation to keep stuffing myself.  For the first time on a visit to Dwight I had extra food for him rather than vice versa. 

As good as the food feature was the opportunity to gain the friendship of other Helpers, a most dedicated and devoted crew.  One was a father of 22-year old quintuplets who comes down from Kokomo to participate.  I told him I had a small sense of what having quintuplets must have been like, as Janina has five cats running around our abode after taking on her daughter’s three cats from Beirut, as she just moved back to Manhattan and at present is living in a space that can’t accommodate even a single cat.  Raising quintuplets had been fun my new friend said, and it hadn’t bankrupted him as he had a good job as an engineer in the automotive industry.  

His duties at the Hilly were to take photographs.  One he took of me over breakfast turned up on the screen preceding Saturday evening’s variety show.  He didn’t mind riding just one day and photographing on the other. He wasn’t an ardent cyclist, not even knowing Jan Ullrich,  the lone German winner of The Tour de France in 1997, even though he was of German heritage and had the same first name, but he greatly enjoyed riding the Hilly and being part of this cycling community.

One of  the guys I shared door duty with wasn’t riding at all, as he had an emergency order for his woodworking business and had to work all weekend.  He could have bowed out of his volunteer duties, but cared enough about The Hilly, that he still wanted to spend Friday evening at the door getting a dose of Hilly enthusiasm from those arriving from all over, most of whom had been doing it for years.  Not a one complained to us about having to watch the safety video once again before being allowed to pick up their registration materials.  All were in good spirits, even with the unseasonably and unreasonably hot temperatures that reached 90 on Sunday.  There were fluids aplenty at the rest stops—apple cider, as well as water dispensed from a truck.

The shady stretches were welcome corridors of relative cool.

The quality of the riders has evolved over the years from the causal to the hard corps.  The ride has lost its aura as a must-do happening for anyone in Bloomington and cyclists in the Midwest to participate in to an elitist, almost corporate event for those with excess disposable income.  It would need to cut its entry fee by half or two-thirds to once again appeal to the common cyclist who helped make it a rollicking good time.  Sometime-cyclists don’t care to pay nearly $100 for a weekend of pushing their bikes up hills despite the badge of honor they earned by conquering the hills in some manner or another.

There was a high level of fitness among the current riders.  In the past every hill had a steady procession of people walking their bikes.  Now only a handful walk and mostly just on the extreme climbs such as the notorious 24-per cent Mount Tabor, which came towards the end of Sunday’s ride.  The vast majority of bikes were sleek, super-lightweight, high-end thoroughbreds, all with clip-in pedals.  Not even one in a hundred of the bikes went back to the toeclip era, which in  the not so distant past was the indication of a serious cyclist.  Now the site of a toe strap dangling off a pedal is as jarring to the eye as an untucked shirt at a wedding.

Even rarer than toe clips were racks.  I was riding with clip-in pedals, but I was among the tiny
minority on a bike capable of carrying gear and serving as a beast of burden.  And not even one in ten of us with racks were putting them to use carrying a pannier. I was the anomaly of anomalies. I didn’t care to be without my rain coat or tools or book or Tupperware bowl for extra food and also carrying capacity for what I might find along the route—a license plate for Dwight, and three water bottles, including a deluxe Camelbak insulated bottle, as I scavenged last year.  And I couldn’t be without my handlebar bag either, another glaring encumberment, stocked with snacks to nibble.

I was delighted to spot a sturdy, uniquely designed rack on a young woman’s bike.  I resisted complimenting her on her rack knowing the temper of the times and with Kavanaugh at that very moment being voted on by the Senate.  

I was content to ride at a steady, leisurely pace, slower than most, allowing many to pass me, who seemed to be more interested in getting in a hard training ride than having a sociable time. I’d occasionally latch on to a pace line for a few miles and fly by all those who had previously passed me, or flex my muscles and gallop up a climb, as if I were doing intervals, but mostly I saved myself for the days ahead of circling around Indiana gathering Carnegies.  I did manage a couple of conversations, but mostly I just caught fragments of those zipping by if they weren’t parroting the “On your left” mantra they were programmed to spit out, along with “Car back” and “Car up.”  

I took heed when I heard someone say, “I wiped out my truck on this bend when I was at IU.”  I took heart when I heard someone say, “You ought to become a Bears fan.  They’re going to be great this year.”  I didn’t know how to react to the comment, “You can hate Trump or you can love Trump, but you got to admit he has the economy humming.”  And there was the usual bike talk—“I should have been riding my gravel bike”...”When my heart monitor gets to a certain point, I get off and walk”...“I’ve been a bike addict since I was a kid.”

A common refrain was the complaint over the declining number of participants.  There used to be five or six thousand. Last year, despite its being the 50th anniversary, there were only 2,000 and this year even less, some saying the smallest number in years raising fears that this could be the last one.  Someone speculated that there were 500 less registered riders than anticipated, a loss of $50,000. There are a considerable number of interlopers, maybe one in five, riding unregistered, obvious without a tag on their back, many of them students from Indiana University wearing jerseys betraying their affiliation.

Hoosier-oriented jerseys predominated.  Most were bland and generic stirring no recognition or interest.  If this were France there would have been a variety of Tour team jerseys from the past and present and polka dot jerseys and others that gave its bearer a sense of identity and endorsement of their pleasure and would have given me a jolt of delight.  Rare did I spot one here that made me want to give a thumbs up.

I wore my usual touring polyester-blend shirt the first day and then my Garmin jersey the next, to see if it would spark conversation.  Not a soul was moved to comment at the site of the jersey of the American team that won the team award at The Tour de France ten years ago and had a pair of fourth place finishes around that time. With my name pinned on my back, I  received a random, “How’s it going George,” from someone riding past who never slowed to find out.  

Despite the minimal conviviality, it was still a pleasure to be part of the ride.  It is very tempting to add it to my calendar of annual events along with Cannes and The Tour de France and Telluride and Traverse City, if only as an opportunity to catch up with Dwight. Even though I camped on his farm five miles from the starting point,  we didn’t have much time together as he was attending the annual Heartwood  environmental conference south of Bloomington.  This year was its last, so he’ll be free to ride The Hilly next year once again, all the more reason to return.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Greencastle, Indiana

Rather than continuing south from Earl Park along Indiana’s border with Illinois down route 41 to the Carnegie in Kingman, I zigged halfway across the state to Kirklin for its Carnegie, then zagged back to Kingman, as I continue my sweep of the state gathering up the stray Carnegies that have eluded me over the years of biking through Indiana.  In the past I haven’t detoured much from whatever route I may have been following for a Carnegie, as with their great abundance, there were always plenty to visit.  But on this trip, fully focused on Carnegies, I am prepared to go out of my way, even one hundred miles, as I put a wrap on Indiana, the third state I will have completed after Illinois and Colorado.

Kirklin’s Carnegie was at the intersection of the two main highways bisecting the town—30 and 421.  It had a Main Street address and an addition to its rear that didn’t detract from its stature.  Nor did the addition’s alternate entrance close the original entrance, as happens all too often.  It didn’t have Carnegie on its facade, just Public Library, but Carnegie’s portrait hung in the vestibule, facing that of George Washington, a most admirable duo.  A quilt hung above the new entrance and a rocking chair faced it, enhancing the library’s small town aura.

I felt the lure of  Indianapolis, just thirty miles south, as it has a pair of Landmark Theater multiplexes.  I have a pass to this chain of art theaters, which I have used in Dallas, Manhattan, St. Louis and Milwaukee, as well as Chicago on a weekly basis when I’m in town.  One of the theaters in Indianapolis, which I had previously visited with Janina, was playing two movies that hadn’t been playing at Chicago’s two Landmarks, and I wished to see—”White Boy Rick,” which had its World Premiere in Telluride and “Crazy Rich Asians,” one of the year’s biggest box office hits.  There was a hostel just three miles from the theater, helping me make the decision to enter the metropolis.  I had already visited it’s three Carnegies.

As I cycled across the northern periphery of the city I met a cyclist who told me about a bike path that would take me within a block of the hostel.  The Monon Trail was a former rail line that ran north and south into the city through woods and past a few outdoor cafes. It was full of joggers running hard as if in final preparation for the marathon in Chicago this Sunday.  I  reached the hostel at 6:45, less than an hour before my first movie, not quite enough time for a shower.  The hostel was in a house in a residential neighborhood.  It had 40 beds, divided between dorms and single rooms.  Two of the rooms were named for prominent locals—Kurt Vonnegut and David Letterman. It would have been an honor to sleep in either, but with only one other person in the six-bunk dorm and at less than half the price, a bunk sufficed.

I was able to backtrack on the fabulous Monon Trail that I had ridden my final five miles to the hostel to within a mile of the theater.  “White Boy Rick” was the true story of a teen in Detroit in the ‘80s who gets mixed up with black drug dealers.  His father, brilliantly played by Mathew McConaughy, deals in guns and is known to the FBI.  The feds enlist Rick to go undercover for them, buying and selling crack. People weren’t overly enthusiastic about it at Telluride, but for me it was a fine indulgence after 80 miles on the bike.  The crowd-pleasing filthy-rich Asian Cinderella-story movie equally so.  Nearly everyone who wanted to see the movie had seen it, as I had the 9:30 screening all to myself.

Biking back to the hostel near midnight I had the streets to myself.  I bypassed the forested dark bike trail and stuck to city streets.  My route took me past an enlightened Aldis.  Beside its dumpster sat a tray of food on a post.  I took back a bag of potatoes and baked myself a few in the microwave. But first I connected to the WiFi (password “trotter317” combining a glorified term for travelers with  the city’s area code) to get the result of the Cubs/Rockies wildcard game at Wrigley.  I was shocked to see it was the 11th inning and the score 1-1.  It took two more innings, making it the longest playoff game ever, for the Cubs to end their season, giving me one less thing to be concerned about in my travels ahead through the World Series.  But it means our great Telluride compatriot Casey, who we have spent a month working with in Shipping the past eight years, won’t be coming to Chicago, as she promised if the Series boiled down to the Cubs and her team, the Bosox.  

It was seventy miles nearly due east to Kingman for my next Carnegie.  I am nearly far enough south into the state to be in the Bible Belt with witty sayings on church message boards—“Faith is the postage stamp on our prayers,” “Are you part of God’s harvest?”—keeping me entertained. A strong wind from the west that had helped me reach Indy in time for the double-feature the day before now held me back from reaching Kingman before its library closed at five.  I camped a few miles outside of town in a thick forest.  I was lucky I went off into the forest rather than camping in the open strip between a cornfield and the woods, as at three a.m. I was awakened by the sound of a sudden downpour on the forest canopy above.  I hadn’t bothered to put up my rainfly.  I scrambled fast as a few drops began to penetrate to put on the fly before the rain started penetrating in earnest.  If I had been out in the open my sleeping bag and everything in my unshielded tent would have been instantly soaked.  When the rain did start pounding down I feared my tent might be swallowed by a torrent of water, but the forest floor absorbed it all.  I did have muddy puddles to penetrate in the morning alongside the corn field to get back to the road.

I delayed my arrival to Kingman until nine, hoping that might be when the library opened, but the library didn’t open until noon on this day.  The library had only limited hours to serve its small community, small enough that the library hadn’t been expanded since it was built over a century ago.  If the wind hadn’t been so adversarial the day before I might have been able to camp in Turkey Run State Park or in Raccoon Recreational Area down the road from Kingman.  I was at least able to take on a pint of chocolate milk from Gobbler’s Knob general store before the state parks on my way to Greencastle  and its pair of Carnegies.  Dead deer preceding the hunting season that would thin their numbers were a common site in this thickly forested stretch.

I had passed through Greencastle on another trip and had visited its Carnegie, but didn’t realize there was a second on the campus of DePauw University, one of two academic Carnegies in Indiana.  I remembered the town Carnegie was a little bit more majestic than most, as it was built with more than twice the usual $10,000 grant. It was also one of the rare Carnegies in Indiana that wasn’t identified as a mere “Public Library,” as the first five I had visited on this trip had chiseled on their facades, but as a “Carnegie Public Library.”  Greencastle has grown considerably since its Carnegie was erected, so has had a significant addition to its side and rear.

Just a few blocks down College Avenue as one enters the DePauw campus one is greeted by its grand Carnegie Library funded by a $50,000 grant.  It is now an Art Gallery and admissions office. It looks out on a huge grassy expanse.  Its upper facade refers to it as “Emison Museum of Art,” in honor of the family that funded its transition from a library in 1958.  Though “Library” had been buffed out above, “Built by Andrew Carnegie 1908” remains chiseled into the stone on the side of the building at street level.

It’s over one hundred miles to my next new Carnegie at the bottom of the state in Mt. Vernon on the Ohio River.  It will be several days before I reach it  as I will take a weekend hiatus from my Carnegie-quest to participate in the 51st annual  Hilly Hundred in Bloomington, one of the premier cycling events in the US.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Earl Park, Indiana

Never has the road beckoned so strongly.  It’d  been two months since I’d had a ride of more than twenty miles.  It wasn’t a broken collarbone or some other calamity that had derailed me, but rather a pair of film festivals and the choice of driving to them.  The first was in Traverse City.  The day after I returned from The Tour de France at the end of July Janina and I drove up to Michael Moore’s film festival as we have five of the past six years.  

This year, rather than returning to Chicago and taking the train out to Colorado, we made a drive of it, continuing north another hundred miles,  then cutting across the U.P. and on through South Dakota to the Badlands and Standing Rock and Wounded Knee and a few other noteworthy places, camping all along the way. It was a nice immersion into the West, though I would have much rather have been on the bike.  One of the highlights was stopping at the top of a climb in Wyoming in 90-degree heat to give a touring cyclist a cold drink.  We had a cooler with several cups of ice, a cyclist’s best friend on such a day.  The cyclist was a young woman from Seattle on her first tour.  She had that touring cyclist glow of ecstasy with not a whimper of complaint.

After a month in Telluride we took two weeks to drive back to Chicago with a detour through southern Utah visiting its great National Parks—Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion, Monument Valley and Hovenweep. The parks were packed, even post-Labor Day with kids back in school, though there were some who were being home-schooled.  The biggest surprise was all the Europeans.  A German couple even asked us if Americsns visited their National Parks. We were able to do a little bicycling along the way, but  hardly enough to satisfy.  It was a lot of driving, several hours every day.  It is surprising how tiring sitting behind the wheel can be.  

We also sprinkled in a few Carnegie libraries along the way, eight on the way out and four on the way back.  The first was in Petoskey, north of Traverse City, where Hemingway summered as a youth.  It was followed by two in the U.P. (Ironwood and Ishpeming, both still serving as libraries), the vacant former main library in Superior, Wisconsin and two converted libraries in Duluth, Minnesota across from Superior, and  a pair of charming ones in Charon, Nebraska and Lusk, Wyoming.  On the way back we stopped at three in Kansas I hadn’t been to yet—two that were still libraries, one in Peabody, home of long-time friend Laura who now lives in Vermont, and Sterling, which had a small campground we would have stayed at if Janina weren’t alarmed by the ZZ Top-types encamped there, and one that was now the local headquarters for the AFL-CIO in Hutchinson.  We also managed one in Utah, bypassing several that weren’t quite on our route.  The one that wasn’t was in Panguitch, between Bryce and Zion.  It now housed a resale shop and a barber shop, the first of the more than six hundred I have gotten to with a barber  pole out front. 

We were barely home a week before I unshackled by legs and allowed them to head out for a several week ride around Indiana to finish off its slate of Carnegies, the most of any state with 167.  Only eighteen have suffered the wrecker’s ball.  Over the years I have gotten to 122 of those still standing, leaving me 27 to go, mostly along its southern and western borders. Somehow though the two in East Chicago had evaded me.  I’d been to the ones in Whiting and Gary, flanking East Chicago, but hadn’t been cognizant of the pair in East Chicago.  

Rather than finishing my circuit of Indiana in East Chicago, I decided to head there first and get the urban maelstrom over with.  I set out on Sunday morning when traffic would be at a minimum. There was still a fair amount on 95th street once I reached the city proper after fifteen miles coming in from Countryside out in Chicago’s southwestern suburbs. I was too thrilled at the prospects of a thousand mile ride ahead of me to mind the traffic, knowing that by the end of the day I’d be out in rural America and would be camping off in a forest or a cornfield without having to check in with anyone, camping as I prefer.  Only once were Janina and I able to camp in a National Forest without having to attach a receipt to  a post by our campsite, and it was by far our most idyllic site.  We could thank the campground on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for being filled and a ranger telling us about camping down a dirt road ten miles out of the park.  

There was no sign welcoming me to Indiana or any need to inform me that I was in a different time zone as northern Indiana remains on Central/Chicago time, in contrast to the majority of the rest of the state.  I only knew I was in Indiana when I came upon a huge casino.  It wasn’t too much further that I turned left towards the lake to East Chicago.  The first Carnegie on my route was a branch in a residential neighborhood that was now the East Chicago Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.  The well-maintained brick building had an expansion and a fence around it.

It was three miles from there to the center of East Chicago and its main library.  It was greatly expanded with the original entrance now blocked.  The new grey brick expansion didn’t quite match the original brick, but one had to look closely to notice.

It had been thirty miles to East Chicago and then another twenty miles of urban sprawl back out as I headed south down Indianapolis Boulevard into the hinterlands.  I had gathered enough coins, though no bills, along the road to pay for a one dollar “any-size drink” at a service station by an interstate on-ramp.  Though I had started my ride in tights and several layers on my torso, it had warmed enough to have shed the tights and all but one-layer above to go for the 44-ouncer.  I was seeing almost as many tire weights as coins. 

 I stooped for them if I were stopped at an intersection, thinking that Dwight might have a use for them on his farm, maybe melting these lead objects down for something as a sculptor friend does.  I was looking forward to staying with him over the Hilly Hundred weekend.  I was also gathering the heavy duty black rubber bungee cords for him and other straps.  The scavenging was great.  I also added a couple of shoe strings to my collection from the stray shoes that dot the roadside.  No license plates yet though.

I supplemented my roadside scavenging with peeking into the dumpsters of several Aldis on my route. They all abounded with slightly blemished pumpkins, just as the Aldis around Janina that had given us a jump on our Halloween decorations. 

I was loaded with food that Janina had sent me off with (banana bread, macaroni, oatmeal), but I had room for a few bananas and two packages of slightly damaged graham crackers and, best of all, a gallon of cider, replacing the water in my bottles.

Two Carnegies awaited me the next day in Kentland and Earl Park.  Kentland (A Wonderful Place to Call Home) was a thriving town of nearly 2,000 residents, big enough to have a McDonalds and to warrant a significant addition to its library that rendered its original entrance into an emergency exit.

Earl Park with a declining population of just 348, almost half of what it was when the library was built in 1913, had been spared of an expansion.  It was a town that would never have had a library without Carnegie.  Even though it’s population had never exceeded 1,000, it could lay claim to at least one citizen of significance—Matilda Moisant, the second woman in the United States to get a pilot’s license in 1911, just after her friend Harriet Quimby.

Unlike Kentland, Carnegie’s portrait hung in a position of prominence over the circulation desk.  The librarian said when her grand children first visited the library they asked, “Who is that old man?”  I was there late in the afternoon anxious to use its WiFi to activate my iPad to see how the Cubs had fared in their playoff game against Milwaukee.  The password for the WiFi was donkey13.  The librarian had no idea why.  But it didn’t matter, as the WiFi wasn’t functioning.  I had to resort to one of the two regular computers. In many small town libraries they’d be packed by school kids, but the librarian said there aren’t many children in Earl City.  Her primary clients are farmers checking out audio books to listen to as they work in their fields.  She’s an avid user too, as she recently moved and has a 90-minute commute.

Beyond Earl Park I passed through a vast wind farm, the first in Indiana, established in 2010.  I ended up in a corn field later that night that was part of the agriculture school at Purdue.  All the patches of forest, as I had camped in the night before, were too near farmsteads.  I was leery of someone seeing me disappearing into the forest and calling the police.  I was lucky to find a patch of grass for my tent.