The cold wet weather that dogged me much of this ride put a final stamp on my home stretch run, but for a change it included a brisk tailwind as if giving a blessing to my three-week, 1,500 miles of pedaling that took me to forty-five Carnegie Libraries. It propelled me to one-day best for this trip of 122 miles, allowing me to arrive home a day early. I didn’t quite make it back before dark, but those final miles were on roads I had ridden many times.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the tiny Carnegie library in Waterman at three after seventy-two miles in a misty rain with a temperature that never exceeded forty-two degrees that I was I confident I could make it all the way home. It was then that I alerted Janina that if the wind didn’t lapse, I could well be back a day early. The wind persisted, but it was somewhat blunted once I entered Chicago’s suburban sprawl beginning with Aurora twenty-five miles further. My speed also diminished having to contend with traffic lights and stop signs, but my legs remained strong, despite only two rest stops all day at the Carnegie library in Sterling after twenty-three miles, then the one in Waterman forty-nine miles later.
I didn’t pause for the Carnegies in Aurora or Naperville with the need to push on in the final stretch, but I had made their acquaintance in year’s past. The same could be said of Sterling and Waterman, but on both of those occasions on a spring ride in 2013 I had visited them during hours when they weren’t open. So I at last had the pleasure of spending some time inside their friendly confines.
Sterling’s Carnegie sits in a small park and had an addition to its backside and a long ramp added to the front leading to a new entrance. It’s interior had been modernized with several sets of cushy den chairs and a long row of stool-like chairs facing a narrow desk looking out the new rear window with a strip of electrical outlets. It was nice not to have to hunt for an outlet as I had to do in the tiny Waterman library that wasn’t much different than it had been when it was built in 1913 other than the addition of computers and dvds.
I commented to the Waterman librarian that the library had to be in one of the smallest communities to receive a Carnegie. She didn’t lay claim to that, though she could have, as the town only had a population of 400 when it was built, 100 less than Merom, Indiana,and 400 less than Laurens, Kansas, who both make such a boast. Instead she said she thought her library was the last to be funded by Carnegie in Illinois. Many librarians in states across the country like to distinguish their library with such an assertion. According to Wikipedia there were at least two built after the Waterman Carnegie in Illinois.
Before I crossed the Mississippi I visited one last Carnegie in Iowa in Maquoketa. It was a fine finale for my rounds of the state. It boasted a set of six columns on the outside of its entry and another eight inside encircling a pale blue dome. The mantle over its fireplace was graced by a photograph of the first librarian standing in front of the circulation desk. The Carnegie portrait hung in a history room in the large addition to the side of the original that replaced the entrance through the columns. It was my forty-second Iowa Carnegie in three weeks.
I didn’t fulfill my hope of completing the entire menu of Iowa’s still standing ninety-seven Carnegies, falling eighteen short, largely thanks to riding on a crippled rear hub for four days and being forced to backtrack to Des Moines to find a bike shop large enough to have the rare replacement cartridge of ball bearings. I was on my way to Council Bluffs when I had to turn back.
All but one of the Carnegies I missed were in the northwest quadrant of the state. One other in Fayetteville, west of Dubuque, would have required an extra sixty miles of pedaling, which I didn’t think I had time for if I wished to return home in time for Sunday’s marathon, one of the premiere in the world attracting 45,000 runners from everywhere. It is always a spectacular event. I’ve missed it the last couple of years and wanted to break that streak. I especially looked forward to scavenging discarded gear with Tim, who I hadn’t seen since March in California on that Carnegie circuit.
From Maquoketa it was thirty miles east to cross the Mississippi just north of Clinton, over a bridge I had never ridden with a single narrow lane for pedestrians and cyclists. A fine ride some year would be to bike the length of the river crossing ever bridge bicycles are allowed on. I’ve been over many, but far from all.
That would be an easier endeavor than getting to all the Carnegies or all the Boy Scout Statues of Liberty or state capitols or national parks or highest points in every state or any number of other potential bike tours. There are an infinite number of possibilities. If I hadn’t been away for six months and needed to catch up on the sedentary life a bit, I’d hop a train to Omaha after the Milos Stehlik tribute on Tuesday and get those remaining Carnegies in Iowa or take a train to Toledo and start in on Ohio, one of the six states with more than one hundred Carnegies.
I’ll have to go through some tent withdrawal now. My final campsite in Illinois was in one last cornfield, my predominant night spot in Iowa. Iowa is almost as much a pork state as a corn state. The most popular food on RAGBRAI isn’t pie, but rather pork chop sandwiches. As I cycled the state my nostrils were continually assaulted by the stench of pigs emanating from large warehouses they were confined to. I never saw a one in the out-of-doors. I was very careful not to camp near one of these pig prisons. I don’t know how anyone can live in their vicinity.
The title of the book I read on RAGBRAI, “Rumble Yell,” came from another of the banes of cycling in the state—all the rumble strips along the highway to alert motorists they’d gone astray. The shoulders of the roads were very erratic, some had strips and some didn’t and some allowed a few feet of unrumbled pavement for cyclists and some just a few inches. Those narrow bands could be like walking a tightrope. Sometimes there was no shoulder at all, making it even more perilous. Iowa may be the most rumbled state in the state. It also has maybe the smallest percentage of undeveloped land with only 1.5 per cent given to nature. But all the corn fields provided ample refuge for camping. A state with nearly one hundred still standing Carnegies certainly puts it in the upper echelon of places to cycle.