Wednesday, February 27, 2019

San Jose






I thought I was going to have my easiest night of camping yet. I was cycling through a  valley of peach orchards that went on for miles and miles.  It was far enough south for the trees to be in glorious white-budded blossom, making a tent in their midst all the less visible.  Most of the orchards had strips of grass in the aisles between the rows and rows of trees, making them all the more inviting, eliminating the peril of rain turning a dirt corridor into a quagmire of mud.

But an hour before dark after the city of Tracy I began a climb into a canyon separating the valley from the Bay Area and the orchards gave way to fenced-in wind farms on the fully denuded slopes, some populated by grazing cattle.  There were periodic locked  gates to dirt roads to service the towering structures, but there was no way around them.  One that I stopped to investigate that I thought I might be able to slip through had a couple of guard dogs that I didn’t even notice in the waning light until they started growling. 

Rather than being able to pull off the road and camp wherever I pleased as I had been anticipating, I had to call upon all my wiles to find a spot to disappear into for the night, an all-too common occurrence on this trip. It has me longing for France, where there will be no stress or challenge finding a place to camp with pockets of forest everywhere and the slim chance of being discovered no concern, as if I am, I know I won’t be run off and castigated as a vagrant.

I was hesitant to pause and snoop at possibilities down embankments or behind buildings or in corrals until it got dark, as there was a bumper-to-bumper stream of cars on their return commute from Silicone Valley.  Hardly a car was headed my direction.  This torrent of traffic was another stark reminder of California’s terrifying car culture.  Cars are everywhere and generally in a hurry.  I would have to get an early start the next day, as I knew I would be camping somewhere in this canyon and the next morning would be subjected to everyone driving the opposite direction.

When I came upon a sign warning of trucks turning, the first side road in miles, I hoped it would provide the flat and secluded nook I was in search of.  It led to a huge dump up a winding road deeper into the canyon.  Before the guard house a dirt road ventured to just what I was looking for—a hedge of bushes that I could disappear into.  It wasn’t as quiet or secluded or as aromatic as a flowering peach orchard, but it sufficed.

Besides peaches, the valley had provided two Carnegies.  The first in Patterson was a subdued red-brick building with no flourishes other than two sets of three tall rounded windows on either side of the entry.  It was now a museum.  Its exterior had no plaques or anything identifying itself as a library.  Though a sign on the door said it was open, that was not the case, so I can’t report if there were any relics inside relating to the building’s past.

The Carnegie in Newman twenty miles up the road was now an office building and celebrated its connection to Carnegie calling itself the “Carnegie Professional Center.”  Its tenants included a lawyer, an auto insurance salesman, someone offering counseling and a driving school.  And there was room for more according to a “Vacancy” sign out front.   

A plaque let it be known the building was on the National Registry of Historic Places and that it was one of 142 Carnegies built in California, neglecting to include the state’s two Academic Carnegies. The  pleasant Prairie-Style building had bright orange trim that looked freshly painted.  The hallways within were adorned with historic photos from the town’s past. Another of the town’s pleasing features was an eight-armed roundabout just off the main highway. The new library was off one and the old library down another.  Adding to the French-theme of the roundabout was a branch of the French bank BNP Paribas with its flock of flying birds logo.

My sleep at the entry to the dump was interrupted periodically by trucks rumbling in and out.  Even getting an early start before seven I couldn’t avoid the rush of wage-slaves to work.  But with no cars coming from the opposite direction up from behind me, the stream of vehicles whizzing by me on the narrow, winding road could give me a wide pass.

It was ten miles to Livermore, another of many large sprawling towns in Californian that I’d never heard of. At least they generally havebike lanes, so I didn’t need to cringe at cars brushing too close.  It’s Carnegie was a gem,  another contender for the cover of a book on the state’s Carnegies.  It sat in the middle of a large town park that it had all to itself. The town expressed unrestrained appreciation and gratitude to Carnegie for his generosity, naming the park for him.  There were no less than four plaques on the building, now an Art Gallery and History Center.  One referred to the addition of a fountain and another was Bicentennial-related, stating “Andrew J. Carnegie Building, Constructed 1911, Beautified and Rededicated in the spirit of our American Revolution July 4th 1977.”  

One more canyon separated me from the Bay Area and the Carnegie in San Jose.  The direct route on an interstate was less than 30 miles.  The bike route was ten more.  The final twenty miles through the urban sprawl was once again tolerable on roads with bike lanes, some even with separators.  But with the temperature in the 50s, I was the lone cyclist, as has been the case in these travels other than in San Francisco.

I sped right past the San Jose Carnegie despite its stately columns, as my gaze was focused on the other side of the street looking for an address of 1105, when it was actually 1102.  Before I could stop and check the address when it wasn’t at 1105 I heard, “Hey George, over here.”  It was Hilary, another long-time friend from the Telluride Film Festival who lives in the Bay Area who had come to meet me at the nearest Carnegie to her.  

It was one of two Carnegie funded in this large city.  The other was the Main Library, which had been demolished in 1960. This stately Branch had a large glassy addition.  Two of the exterior walls of the original library were enclosed inside the new library.  The old library now served as a Family Learning Center, one room full of computers and another a small auditorium that also functioned as a classroom, as it was being used when we peered in.   The original entrance up a set of stairs, that Hilary had been sitting on when I zipped by, was closed.

After a quick look inside Hilary and I went in search of lunch. Going on-line she had discovered a Vietnamese restaurant two blocks away. With a large Vietnamese community in San Jose, she knew that would be a good choice.  But it was closed on Tuesdays.  Another google check showed a second Vietnamese restaurant two blocks to the other side of the library, but when we got there we discovered it had been replaced by another business.

There were a couple of nearby Mexican restaurants, but Hilary was going to be eating Mexican that evening with a friend in Sausalito on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge,  so to our good fortune we ended up at an Afghan restaurant, which we had all to ourselves.   We had a sensational hearty stew, which neither of us could finish.  There was almost enough left to fill my Tupperware bowl.  

It was going to be a long day of driving for Hilary, over an hour to Sausalito from her rural home on top of the more than thirty minutes to San Jose to meet me in the opposite direction, but driving long distances is so matter-of-fact it didn’t phase her in the least. Cinema dominated our conversation. Besides the Oscars she had also watched the Spirit Awards for independent films held the night before the Oscars, also in Los Angeles. 

Our friend from Telluride Barry Jenkins had won best director and best film for “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Hilary said that as usual Barry gave touching and heart-felt acceptance speeches.  He said he had been hoping Lynn Ramsey, one of three women in the best director category along with him, had won, as she had been very gracious to him when he had been in the student program at Telluride and she had spoken to the students. As usual, when we’re together we revel in our good fortune of being able to contribute to Telluride and always look forward to the next festival, not only for the films, but the wonderful camaraderie of everyone who attends year after year.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

Turlock, California









With a population of 72,000 and intersected by the Freeway connecting Sacramento,  Stockton, Modesto and Fresno, the sprawling city of Turlock offered a handful of motels for me to choose from to watch the Oscars.  I began the day camped in a vineyard outside of Lodi, the first of four Carnegie stops of the day.  With the Oscars starting at five, an hour before sunset, I hoped I wouldn’t be contending with a darkening sky before my day on the bike ended as has generally been the case.  
Turlock was about 80 miles away with the detours I had to make to Oakdale and Riverbank for their Carnegies before the finale in Turlock.  But the terrain was flat, the first day in over a week that I wouldn’t need my small chain ring, and the day was sunny and promised to be in the sixties, the warmest yet—an even greater day than usual to be on the bike.

Lodi’s Carnegie now housed government offices.  It was in pristine condition and its addition to its rear seamlessly blended in, enhancing its majesty.  It’s most distinguishing feature was a pair of dazzling ornate light fixtures with tentacles flanking its entrance and its pair of stately columns.  No vestige of its having been a library remained on its facade, but it proudly acknowledged its benefactor, now calling itself the Carnegie Forum.  The plain new library two blocks away expressed some flair with a bike rack featuring a large-headed bespectacled insect reading a book.

The Carnegie in Oakdale had gone to the private sector, home to Stickman Ventures, a software company.  It’s sign out front was happy to remember its past, identifying their offices as being in the Carnegie Building on its sign out front along the road.  “Pvblic Library” still graced its facade. A young woman was sitting on a ledge in front of the property eating her take-out lunch in a styrofoam tray when I pulled up.  She mistook me for being a member of the homeless clan that were hanging out at the nearby library and asked if I was hungry.  “Not really,” I replied. “I’ve been nibbling all day.”

“If you’d like the rest of my lunch, you can have it,” she said.  “I can’t eat it all.”

“I’d hate for it to go to waste,” I said. “Thanks.  I’ll just add it to my Tupperware bowl of ramen.”  This was my first offering of food, not coming until day seventeen of these travels, longer than usual on a tour in the US.  It included some lettuce and green beans, welcome additions to my diet.

Riverbank was just five miles down the road on the Stanislaus River.  It’s very modest bungalow-style Carnegie was now a museum, soon to be expanded.  Even though the plain wooden building blended into the neighborhood, it had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It was two hours until Oscar time and Turlock was twenty-two miles away.  There was no direct route so I had to pay attention to the turns.  I didn’t miss any, but with the many traffic signals slowing me down it was going to be close meeting my five o’clock deadline. The Carnegie had been turned into the Carnegie Art Center with enough art to have a huge glassy addition to its rear.  There was nothing on its exterior denoting it as a library, just a plaque stating it had served as a library from 1916 until 1968 and had placed on the NRHP in 1993.  

It was two miles to a Travelodge Motel, one of the two cheapest on bookings.com, and my choice since it offered breakfast.  I wasn’t checked in until after five and I had to delay my Oscar-viewing longer as the television in my room didn’t work.  The clerk said it was in the process of being changed and the man doing it would be there in five minutes.  

Usually the first award goes to the best supporting actor, but luckily it was one of the later awards this year, so I got to see my favorite, Mahershala Ali, win for his performance in “The Green Book.” His partner Viggo Mortensen was denied the best actor award by the “Bohemian Rhapsody” juggernaut, which won the most Oscars with four, but “The Green Book” won the most important, the Best Picture award, another that I could celebrate.  I didn’t get to hear all the acceptance speeches, as I had a rare evening opportunity to talk to Janina, who was back in Bloomington to give an artist’s talk on her work before taking it down the next day.  

It was a significant day for me too, as I went over one thousand miles on this trip and brought my total of Carnegies to fifty-one, my most ever on a single trip and more than thirty still await me. Of the two I saw the previous day, the one in Antioch had the most extreme bungling of the facts I’ve ever encountered on its plaque, even more outlandish than the one in Alameda the day before that said it was one of 3,500 built in the US. The number is actually 1,689 with 2,509 worldwide.  

Antioch claimed its Carnegie was just one of twenty-six still standing of the 2,500 Carnegies built in the US, way off on both numbers. There are over eighty still standing in California alone and over three-quarters of the 1,689 built in the US are still in existence.  Surely others have brought this to the attention of Antioch, but the library is now vacant and it would not be cheap to replace the metal plaque, so they let it be.  The simple stucco building had last been a church.  It had gone through a series of incarnations since it closed as a library in 1967—senior citizen center, city recreation department, historical center.  The drab building could encounter the wrecker’s ball next.

The Carnegie before Antioch in Richmond was another of the many that have morphed into being a museum, and also with an addition.  “Library” has been replaced by “Richmond Museum” on its frontside, though it’s columned majesty leant it the unmistakable look of a Carnegie.  

My Oscar-Sunday was also a productive day of scavenging.  I gathered a light-weight blue tarp with grommets, just what I needed for a ground-cloth for my tent, replacing the strips of plastic I had been picking up and that had to suffice for its maiden use on a muddy bank along a creek in a gulley.  I also found a bungee cord of the precise length of the two that had been snipped by the thief and the first license plate since the theft and a small satchel for it and the ones to come.  And I also picked up a few coins, including a rare quarter.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Oakland











As I was stuffing my sleeping bag into its sack hoping to be off by seven Luke came knocking at my door and announced that he had decided to call in sick so he could accompany me on my ride around Oakland visiting its six Carnegies.  That was great news.  It is always a joy when someone makes a pronouncement of freedom, and I was equally joyed to have Luke’s companionship.  He had his Surly touring bike with racks front and back he’d recently bought on Craig’s List ready to go along with an Ortlieb bag, a set of which front and back, that he’d also recently acquired used.  He was genuinely serious about becoming a touring cyclist.

Luke had never taken BART across the Bay, so we’d both be trying to figure it out.  I had already scouted out the process the day before, thinking it might be easier with a loaded bike to take a ferry, but a guy by the ferry terminal renting bikes and leading bike tours over the Golden Gate Bridge assured me the train was much faster and easier and that there were no restrictions on when one could take a bike on the train, unlike Chicago, where it is verboten during the rush hour.  The guy said there would be more passengers coming from Oakland in the morning anyway, and not that many headed in that direction, so there’d be plenty of room for bikes.

It was nice to take one last ride down Geary, four miles to the BART station on Market Street. We had to lug out bikes down a set of stairs, then figure out how to purchase a ticket. I put four dollars into a machine, but it refused to give me a ticket.  A clerk came over and said the machine was jammed and ran the process for me on the next one over.  

We had to descend another floor to the trains, but we could take an elevator for this descent.  We were told either the Antioch or Richmond train would take us to Oakland. The first train through went to Hayes.  The next said Pleasantville, but Luke inadvertently boarded.  Before he could escape the train door closed as he was shoving his arm in it and he was gone.  Two minutes later an Antioch train arrived.  I boarded, hoping we could reconnect in Oakland at one of the Carnegies.  As the train rapidly plunged for its descent under the Bay, my bike went flying before I could grab it.  With hardly any one aboard it didn’t cause any harm.  

I exited the train at the second Oakland stop just a few blocks from the Main Library.  I was able to use it’s WIFI to let Luke know my whereabouts.  He replied almost instantly, saying he’d soon be there.  And he was.  He had exited the train he took and got on the next one a few minutes later going the correct direction, right behind me, so there was no loss of time or complications reconnecting.  From the Main Library it was ten blocks through the quiet downtown to the Carnegie that had been the Main Library.  It was now the African American Museum and Library.  

It lacked the palatial majesty of San Francisco’s Main Library or even any of its branches, but it was still a monumental building, though in need of a good wash or sand blast.  It preceded the San Francisco Carnegies by two years, receiving its grant in 1899.  San Francisco may have wanted to outdo Oakland,  a recurring impression we had as we hopped from one Branch library to another, that all paled in comparison to those across the bay.  

Three of San Francisco’s libraries had authors inscribed on its exterior.  So did this one with Shakespeare given the position of prominence over the entry.  Homer, Virgil, Dante, Bacon, Milton and Lowell were the other honorees.  High above below the roof Oratory, Discourse, Science, Philosophy and Ethics were endorsed. On one side of the building Scvlptvre, Architecture and Painting were recognized.  On the other side it was Poetry, Literature and Prose. 

The Miller Branch was the first of the four branches we sought out.  But it was no more, having been torn down two months ago and replaced by eighteen one-room pre-fab shelters, the latest development in providing for the homeless.  They crammed next to one another like a tribal village. They had neither water or gas, just a communal spigot and port-a-potty. They were all occupied.  It was fenced in and off-limits to other than those living there. Luke was prevented from using the port-a-potty, though the person in charge was friendly about it

We took a slight detour to Alemada before the next branch to visit the Carnegie on the small island.  Luke said the last time he’d been on the island was when he was a teen repairing mimeograph machines.  His boss charged $60 to send Luke, for which he was paid ten dollars an hour.  He got so good at it, it could fix and clean a machine in five minutes, but his boss told him not to be so fast.  

The Alameda Carnegie outshone all those in Oakland.  A plaque said it was the third built in California and was one of 3,500 built in the US, getting the number wrong as happens from time to time, as it is actually 1,679,  though that refers to public libraries, as he also funded more than 100 academic libraries.  A chain and lock was wrapped around the inside of the front door.  Peering in we could see stacks of boxes, not particularly well-organized.  It didn’t look like it was more than a huge storage locker.

We left the island on a different bridge than what we had ridden over on as we headed to the Melrose Branch on Foothill Drive. It was finely designed to fit  on a slice-of-pie sliver of land between roads.  A terra cotta owl was perched on an open book over the door.  “Oakland Free Library” was high above.  Alameda likewise called itself a “Free Library” as did all the other Oakland branches.  They all dated to the earliest of Carnegie’s giving when free libraries were a rarity in the US, so these wished to emphasize it.  Later “public” was enough, though sometimes “free” was even added to “public.”

We proceeded to Mills College, an all-girls school founded in 1852, the first west of the Rockies.  It achieved another first in 2014 when it became the first single-gender college to accept transgender students.  Luke, a man with two daughters and no son, to his disappointment, pointed out that all we were seeing were women on the campus.  We had to circle around it to gain entry, as it was encircled by a high fence save one entrance.  The tattooed young women at the sentry box was very welcoming, asking if we wanted to cycle around the quiet, wooded campus.  We told her we had come to see the old Carnegie library, though we knew it no longer served as a library.  She gave us directions to Carnegie Hall.  It was more complicated than the left and the right turns she gave us, but we eventually found it.  Like most Carnegies on college campuses, it fit in with the campus architecture and didn’t distinguish itself, as the public libraries do.  

It was a long ride back on hilly MacArthur Boulevard, though not as steep as San Francisco, to a pair of Carnegies in Emeryville, the northern tier of Oakland.  We passed several schools with striking teachers on their first day of picketing.  The Temescal and Golden Gate Branches were both statuesque red-brick buildings with high ceilings and “Oakland Free Library” in large letters. Golden Gate, like Melrose, allowed patrons to borrow a kryptonite lock if they came by bike and didn’t have a lock.

Luke was craving a Subway Vegetarian Delight sandwich, as it was after one and he was so spontaneous about going for a ride with me hadn’t had breakfast. Our GPS revealed a Subway six blocks away across the street from the Emeryville Amtrak station, the end of the line for the California Zephr that I came out on.  It was a small, quiet station, serving a handful of trains a day, including the train that services the Pacific Coast from Seattle to San Diego.  Luke is already plotting taking it to Seattle with his bike and riding back. 

After our pause for lunch we biked two miles to the REI in Berkeley, where the legendary outdoor equipment company got its start.   It had the tent identical to what had been stolen from me, but not the duffle.  All its duffles were a much upgraded and much more expensive version to what I had bought at REI ten years ago, and without the same capacity, the most crucial thing. One came close, but its frills made it too costly, so I will take my search elsewhere, only returning to it as a last resort.  

Luke stayed outside to guard my bike, but mostly not to go inside and be tempted to buy things he didn’t need. We’d biked over thirty miles, the most he’d done in a while. He hoped his legs had enough energy the next day to ride the velodrome in San Jose, as he had been planning.  We bade each other farewell, fully confident there’d be more rides together in the future.

I’d had another farewell the night before with Doug, that was more of a “see you in a few months in Telluride” than a goodbye, as we go back over twenty years of spending several weeks together in the high mountains of southeast Colorado working for the film festival.  Doug was able to take a few hours from his Uber-driving to see a movie and have dinner. We met at the old-time single-screen Clay Theatre on Fillmore, part of the Landmark chain, to see one of the five Oscar nominees for best foreign picture, “Never Look Away,” a German epic spanning three decades of an artist’s life from his youth in Hitler’s time to his escape from East Germany, where he was an accomplished artist and had his acclaimed murals painted over after he fled the country.  It was good, but is no threat to Roma.  I enjoyed sitting in this historic theater with lush red curtains lining its side almost as much as the movie.  It is keeping alive “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” phenomenon with a screening on the last Saturday of every month.  

Doug was happy to see the film as he and his partner Tim, a college professor of film, will be attending a cinema conference in Hamburg this June and continuing on to Berlin.  It was nice to see Tim as well, as his teaching has kept him from Telluride the last few years. I had hoped I might spend the day with Doug in his front seat pretending I was an apprentice, really getting to know the city and fully catching up with him, but that is not allowed.

Instead I had a leisurely day visiting the three Carnegies I had missed the day before.  Two were branches just a mile apart—Noe Valley and Mission.  I unwisely approached Noe Valley on Castro up and over an insanely steep three-block climb.  It is no wonder that one sees an occasional sign on the back of cars warning “Stick Shift, Roll Back, Stay Away.”  The climb at least earned me a gradual descent to Mission.  Mission celebrated a handful of authors on its frontside including Dickens, Tolstoi, Hugo, Poe, Twain and Eliot, the last two the only ones with first names included, though Eliot’s was an abbreviated Geo.  But the best part of its exterior was a vinyl banner proclaiming “Life, Liberty, Libraries.”

The former Main Library was also adorned with the names of authors, probably puzzling those who knew the buildings now as the Asia Art Museum.  It’s original identity had been entirely erased other than these none Asian authors.  It was a Versailles of a building filling a full block right across from the even bigger new library and several other spectacular municipal buildings around a huge open square.  It was very grand and very European.  I returned to the Golden Gate Branch, near the Clay Theatre, to read before meeting up with Doug and Tim for our matinee.  A movie, some biking, a few Carnegies and seeing old friends—an optimum day.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

San Francisco 


All the glow that embraced me after biking over the Golden Gate Bridge in the early morning after camping in the Muir Woods five miles away evaporated in a flash when I walked out of the Carnegie Chinatown Branch Library less than an hour later to discover my tent and day-back had been filched off my bike. Never before in tens of thousands of miles of biking all over the world and leaving my loaded bike outside of grocery stores and libraries and museums had anything ever been stolen off my bike, though a thief had been thwarted in the act in South Africa.


This was bad, but it could have been a lot worse. My guardian angel may have had a lapse but at least he/she thwarted the thief from stripping my bike of all its gear or detaching panniers containing items that would have been a bigger loss. An REI in Berkeley will have the most crucial of the stolen items—the identical tent I have used for years and that I replace every three or four years and the duffle I use to put all my gear in for plane or train travel that was becoming tattered.

I have plenty of replacement day-packs back in Chicago.  That is something I can do without in the days to come. I’ll need a new duffle though for my train trip back to Chicago from Phoenix.  The day-pack was just a repository for the duffle and a few stray items—soap, a strap for my handlebar bag, a few plastic bags, a stash of shoelaces for tying items and a stack of license plates. I had collected six, all of California except one, and was at capacity. I’ll surely find more in the miles ahead, but probably not another from Oregon.

Looking further at the bright side of the theft besides being able to replace worn items with new, I was spared ten pounds of weight riding up the devilishly steep hills of San Francisco as I spent the rest of the day tracking down Carnegies, including one in the distant suburb of South San Francisco. The hills are brutal with grades of twenty per cent and more. I’ve endured small doses of comparable grades in Iceland and France and elsewhere, but never an all-day steady diet of them. If I were a local, I might know how to circumvent the worst, or minimize their frequency. I did eventually learn when I saw a steep ramp ahead, I could try going over a block or two to avoid it, but that didn’t always work.

I wasn’t wallowing as deeply in misery as I might have from the horror of the theft and the non-stop horror of the climbs, as I had the pleasure of meeting up with someone who has been reading my blog and had offered me a place to stay. He discovered the blog when as he approached fifty and thought he ought to become more of a serious cyclist than he was he googled “old people riding bikes.” He discovered an article about ten cyclists who were up in years from around the world who were still going strong. I was among the ten.

When Luke went to my blog he was most happy to see I had cycled Taiwan, as he is Taiwanese, though he immigrated to the US when he was five years old quite over forty years ago, and hadn’t been back until a few years ago when he placed his mother, who was coming down with Altheimers, in a nursing home, which was much cheaper than in the US. He returns a couple times a year to visit her, even though she doesn’t remember who he is. He hasn’t seen much more of his homeland than Taipei, and would like to repeat my circuit of the island when he gains freedom from his job as an electronics engineer. He likes his work, but he’s knows there’s more to life than that.

What he would most like is a several month sabbatical to take off on his bike and travel as I do. It will be a new experience, as he has never camped. He’s acquired a tent, but has yet to put it to use. We talked like old friends. He had the easy-going, gentle, kindly, self-assured manner characteristic of so many of the Taiwanese I met while biking the perimeter of the island.

He’s a few years from breaking away, as he has two teenaged daughters he must get through college. He’s been a long-time motorcyclist, but now feels the lure of the bicycle. He recently accomplished the Marin County century with a friend and is ready to take on touring and was happy to pick my brain. He said he had never contacted anyone cold through the Internet, but thought he knew me well enough from the blog to reach out. We were both glad he had.

He grew up six blocks from the Carnegie Branch in the Richmond neighborhood, just south of the Golden Gate Bridge, never knowing it was a Carnegie until now. Like all the Carnegie branches, it had no portrait of Carnegie, nor did it acknowledge his beneficence in any way. We arranged to meet there at four. I was late, as I confused its address of 351 Ninth Avenue with 351 Ninth Street, six miles away. I was running late anyway as I encountered more demanding hills than I anticipated returning from the library in South San Francisco, down near the airport.

Any time I go astray can be frustrating, but it always allows me to see things I might not otherwise. Confusing street with avenue took me through Golden Gate Park past Kezar Stadium where the 49ers used to play. A Nancy Pelosi Drive bisects the vast and picturesque park. There was an area designated for learning to ride a bike. No one was, otherwise I would have had to stop to watch.

Our evening together was a fine capper to ranging all over the city visiting five of its eight Carnegies, saving three for the next day. The first was the Golden Gate Branch, a magnificent white stone building on a steep climb from the bay. It had bands of ornamentation just under its roof and several feet above ground level and over its entry and around its windows.

It was just two miles to the fateful Chinatown Branch on a busier main thoroughfare that made the thief all that much more daring. But he/she was quick about the theft, snipping the two bungee cords that tightly held the stolen bags, leaving behind the sleeping bag that was also tied down. It was twenty-six steps up the curved entry to the library. A new entrance had been added to the side with an elevator. There was a large selection of material in Chinese and largely staffed and patronized by Chinese, one who spoke to me in Chinese when I tried the bathroom door and found it occupied.

I next went to the Main Library in the impressive Civic Center with a domed city hall comparable to a State Capital building. The library occupied a full block facing it across a large park. It was swarmed by the homeless in all manner of disarray with all manner of paraphernalia, making it look like a mob of refugees. I didn’t dare leave my loaded bike to go inside, so I couldn’t confirm that this Carnegie had been greatly modernized, as it wasn’t. It wasn’t until later I learned that the Carnegie was across the street and was now the Asian Art Museum, which I will have to return to.

Then it was cross town to the Presidio Branch, set back from the quiet residential street it was on with a mini-park in front, adding to its luster. My route to Sunset Branch took me though a vintage neighborhood with a sign forbidding tour buses and vans with more than eight passengers. It must not take much effort to get a municipality to post “Don’t” signs. In another town I saw a sign on a busy narrow road forbidding left-hand turns into someone’s driveway, as it could back up traffic interminably.

The Sunset Branch was an even grander temple than the first three I had visited. It listed names of authors engraved one on top of another in two small sections—Irving, Bancroft, Parkman, Stedman on one and Lowell, Bryant, Whittier and Bryant on another.

Then I took a long foray south to South San Francisco riding on Highway One while it was broken up by stop lights through the urban proper until it turned into a veritable superhighway. Then I had to do some improvising around the hills until I got on Hillside Boulevard, which took me to within a mile of the library. It stands on a hill overlooking Grand Avenue, earning it the not unjustified nickname of the Grand Library. It had an inoffensive addition to its rear and plaques inside and out acknowledging its heritage. Besides Carnegie it paid tribute to a school teacher who went around the town on his horse acquiring signatures on a petition to Carnegie. The displays included a photo of him on his horse. This was the only library of the day with the Carnegie portrait.

The long ride back into the city included a stretch on a bike path hugging 101. When I ventured off it when I reached the city proper, cyclists on the city’s huge fleet of motorized bikes for rent flew by me in the early rush hour. It was disheartening to reach 351 Ninth Street and not see a library there.

I’d had an equally disheartening moment two nights before when I arrived at the Jack London State Historic Park north of Santa Rosa right at dark to discover it did not offer camping and that a night watchman was on duty to make sure no one camped surreptitiously as I otherwise would have. The graves of London and his wife are on the premises, where he constructed a large trophy home that burned before he could move in, bankrupting him and leading to his death a year later in 1916.

He must be spinning in his grave whenever some hobo type is turned away from his shrine. The guard told me there was camping at another state park five miles away. It was already dark. I might have attempted it with a full moon, but there was a trophy house under construction half a mile away that I was able to camp behind. I set my alarm for 6:15 to be gone before the workmen arrived. I was gone by 6:45. One early arrival sitting in his pick-up drinking coffee let me be.

My early start allowed me to gather up five Carnegies before my six-Carnegie day in San Francisco. The first was in Sonoma, a gem with the town’s Central Park all to itself. It was now a visitor center. Petaluma’s much larger Carnegie was now a museum. “Free Public Library” adorned its facade. I stopped into the large city’s visitor center for a bike route to San Rafael twenty miles away down 101. The two elderly ladies were Carnegie enthusiasts. The museum had recently had an exhibit on all the Carnegies of California. They had to study a detailed map to find a way for me.

It was partially on back roads and partially on recently constructed bike paths along 101. Fortunately it was well-signed and even though being quite complicated I was able to find my way. It took over three hours though. I was hoping to do it in under two hours leaving me the possibility of reaching San Francisco that night. But with three more Carnegies to visit, I just fell short, ending up in the Muir Forest.

The San Rafael Carnegie sat on a hill and had had an addition. It was just two miles on a direct route to the Carnegie in San Anselmo. Its facade was graced with “Pvblic Library” just above, “The Gift of Andrew Carnegie.” It’s well-polished wooden floors and book cases looked as shiny as when it opened in 1914.

I had some climbing to Mill Valley and a final climb up the residential street to its Carnegie, a red-brick building now someone’s home hidden by trees. I could see a man standing in one of the large second floor windows on the phone. The Golden Gate Bridge was less than ten miles away, but it was too late to attempt it, so I turned onto Highway One and backtracked a couple of miles and camped amongst the Eucalyptus before my incursion into the sprawling dangerous metropolis.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Santa Rosa, California 

Two days of sunny skies and not a drop of rain, conditions nice enough that I’ve finally had days of over seventy miles. Dry though it may be, water has still been an issue, as all the rain of the previous days has left some roads that remain flooded. I nearly had to turn back when I went off on a lightly-traveled rural road for fifteen miles that the bike shop owner in Lakeport recommended as an alternative to the more obvious state road I intended to take. Two miles into it I came upon a “Road Blocked” sign. 



I’d ignored several of those the past few days and had been able to get through, so I continued on, hoping that the flood waters or mud slide that may have blocked the road had receded enough for the road to be passable. This was farm and cattle grazing terrain, no orchards or vineyards as had predominated up until now, with a farm house every quarter mile or so. There was no traffic coming in or out of them to reassure me that I could get through, only “Flooded” signs at the occasional intersection.


After five miles I came to the blockade—a deep and lengthy lake where the road had been. This required a ferry. Rather than immediately turning back I dug out my bowl of partially eaten oatmeal for a few bites. Before my sunken heart could revive, a guy miraculously pulled up on a small all-terrain vehicle with an open cargo space piled high with hay. “Toss your bike in, I’ll get you through,” he said. “I run 120 head of cattle down the road who don’t have anything to eat. I’ve got to take this load to them.” His sudden appearance was too startling to believe. My guardian angel was certainly being vigilant.

As we plowed through the water, it surged up through the floor. “Whoops. I should have told you to raise your feet,” he said. I had jerked them up in time to avoid a soaking, something I didn’t need in the cold. It was just 36 degrees and there had been a glaze of ice on puddles along the road, though none on this deeper water.

As we unloaded my bike, he told me there might be more water blocking the road just before I returned to the main road ten miles further. If so, he said to give him a call and he would come to my rescue. I told him I didn’t have a phone. He said I would then have to backtrack a bit and take a side road around it. As he was telling me that flooding had become commonplace the past few years due to forest fires denuding the mountain sides and allowing water to run off rather than soak in, a road crew came through the water. My benefactor knew them. They said the flooded section ahead wasn’t too deep and that I should be able to pedal through with no problem.

They were right about that. The water no longer even covered the whole road. Only one other car had passed me. Other than the pall of uncertainty, this was the most pleasant stretch of cycling of the trip, scenic and tranquil. As soon as I returned to State Road 20 I was once again besieged by the roar of a steady stream of traffic. I was in no peril with a decent shoulder, but I was once again made well aware that this is an auto-dominated world and that California is packed with them.

Ten miles further I turned onto 101, the Redwood Highway. The Redwoods didn’t begin for twenty miles until Willits, where I would turn back after paying homage to its Carnegie. There was actually less traffic on this four-lane divided highway than on many of the state roads I’d ridden, where there had rarely been a pause in the traffic whizzing by. So it was pleasant cycling through the wooded terrain that included a seven-mile climb to the just under two thousand feet, the highest point on 101, before descending into Willits, a mile off 101.

It’s small, but dignified, red-brick Carnegie was now home to the community television station. “Carnegie Library” remained chiseled over its entry under a white stone arch and ornate carving of an open book. A plaque on a rock in front of it under a large tree gave its history serving as the town’s library from 1915 until 1989. It had been placed on the register of National Historic Places in 1993. Next door was the town’s 75-year old movie theater still going strong.

I doubled back on 101 to just before where I had gotten on it and was able to ride on a road that paralleled it for fifteen placid miles to Ukiah, downhill all the way. It’s Carnegie now housed a real estate company. All evidence of its past had been erased, other than its grandeur. Ukiah with 15,000 residents was three times the size of Willits. It had a sizable contingent of transients hanging out in its park and in mini-encampments on vacant lots, including besides its Walmart along 101. It was time to be looking for a place to camp, but not amongst these folk.

Fences lined most of 101, so I had to turn off on a side road. I was able to disappear down a steep embankment and pitch my tent along a fence beside a vineyard out of view. Wine-growing isn’t restricted to Napa Valley. It was a quiet night other than the crackle of frost gathering on my tent. It was cold enough for the water bottle I left on my bike to freeze. For the first time, other than my 18-mile ride to the Amtrak station in Chicago and at night in my tent, I needed to wear my down jacket to start the day.

I have been very happy to have it as well as the heavy gloves that I needed for that ride to the train station in Polar Vortex temperatures, as my usual touring cold-weather gloves wouldn’t have been adequate on a few occasions here in California. It’s been colder than I expected. In January when I nearly set out, Sacramento had been experiencing 60-degree temperatures. I have been lucky to see 50 degrees so far.

I had one more Carnegie on 101 in Healdsburg. The classic grey building was now a museum and historical society, though “Public Library” with “Carnegie” below it still graced its facade. A plaque affirmed its status on the National Register of Historic Places. Befitting a museum, a giant millstone and bell, local relics, resided in front of it.

I continued on 101 to Santa Rosa, not to visit its Carnegie, as it was demolished in 1964, but to visit the Arlene Francis Center, a cultural community center that my friend Bruce, who I visited in Mali last winter helps administer. I didn’t expect to find him there, figuring he’d be back in Mali with his wife, but I learned that he had spent the winter In California and that I had missed him by two days. But I got the great news that just before he left he learned that Kafoune had at last been granted a visa to come to the US, something they had been working on for nearly two years. That was fantastic news, and means that she’ll be in Telluride this fall for the film festival.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Lakeport, California




After repeated “Bicycles Prohibited” signs on roads I wanted to take to reach Sonoma and it’s Carnegie, I decided to head north to the Carnegie in St. Helena in the heart of Napa Valley, then descend upon Sonoma after a couple of days of gathering Carnegies further north.

The detours were becoming increasingly frustrating as a road I was riding would suddenly ban bicycles despite a nice wide shoulder.  The agony was compounded with no viable alternative, forcing me to take long detours, prolonging my time in the rain.  I left one road that banned pedestrians and bicycles with motors, not realizing that didn’t apply to me.  When I later came upon a sign that banned both bicycles and bicycles with motors, I realized my mistake.

I was forced to go up to Napa in search of a bicycle-permitted road over to Sonoma around a mountain ridge and river that stymied a direct route.  While at its non-Carnegie library drying out and warming up and charging my iPad a police officer came in.  He’d been summoned by a scruffy itinerant who’d had his bicycle stolen by someone at a homeless encampment along the river through the town and was trying to get $40 for it.  He wanted the officer to help him recover it.  I was able to ask the officer if bicycles were allowed on Highway 29 up to St. Helena eighteen miles away.  He wasn’t sure, but he told be there was a bicycle path alongside it.  It was a little tricky to access.  The route he gave me through a church parking lot was blocked due to construction, forcing me to do some more circling around.

It had been a long day of being stymied.  I had gone into a McDonalds for a burrito, but mostly for some charging of my iPad.  It was another with no outlets available to the public, as all too-often is becoming the case. A semi-homeless guy heard me ask an employee if there were any outlets.  He told me the nearby Taco Bell had one just to the left of the door.  I didn’t mind another burrito, so ducked in there.  The outlet was there, but was now guarded by a locked cover.  Fortunately libraries haven’t yet stopped making electricity available, as is the case in some parts of the UK.
The sultry weather dampened whatever glamour the succession of small vineyards, which were shoulder to shoulder for miles, had to offer through the narrow valley of Napa flanked to the east and west by ridges.  Tastings were advertised at nearly all.  Camping was looking very iffy, especially with the ground so soggy.  I had been lucky to find some high ground the night before in a line of firs around a huge fenced-in electrical plant.  I suspected it might have had cameras around the complex, but no one responded to my presence.  

With wet feet and gloves, I was prepared to pay for a motel.  I had checked on-line back in Napa and most were two or three hundred dollars.  I thought I came upon a cheap one on the outskirts of St. Helena, but it was $150. The proprietor laughed when I asked if there was anything for $50 in the area, saying I wouldn’t find anything cheaper than what she was offering.  I asked about camping.  She said it might be possible at the fair grounds in Calistoga eight miles up the road.  I had just enough daylight to reach it.

But first I had to pay my respects to the Carnegie in St. Helena, my only one of the day.  It was a block off the bustling highway through the town on Oak Street. It had been a community center since 1979, a year after this Mission/Spanish Revival building had been placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings.  It retained its heritage, identified by “Carnegie Building” arched over its entrance.  One of the two plaques on either side of the entry said it had had a “seismic retrofit” before its rededication in 2010.

Three miles up the road that had begun climbing from the near sea-level of the valley I came upon a sign to a state park in the first forest amongst all the vineyards.  I had a moment to decide whether to continue on to the fairgrounds or to head up the road into the forest, even though a sign indicated no camping.  After asking, “What would Daniel Boone do,” I turned up the steep road.  I went all the way to the barricaded entrance, then turned into a parking lot for buses.  A small ditch around it was filled with fast-rushing water.  I lifted my bike over it and pushed into the squishy forest, further dampening my feet, with the moisture penetrating through the holes where my recessed cleats resided.  I found some fairly solid ground and quickly set up my tent in a lull from the rain.

This was easily my most isolated and genuine campsite so far.  I could light a candle for the first time and hang my socks over it to dry.  I had stockpiled some newspaper to suck the moisture out of my shoes.  All was semi-dry by the morning, though it wasn’t so easy to crawl out of the warmth of my sleeping bag, back into the cold and damp air.
The rain held off long enough for me to make a seven-mile climb over a 2,400 foot pass and complete its descent before I came to Middletown and made the turn to Lakeport the day’s only Carnegie. I had a second pass at 3,000 feet past acres and acres of fire-scorched trees.  Snow was mixed with the rain, not enough to gather, though snow did line the road from previous heavier storms.  It was more climbing than the previous eight days of this trip.  At least the rain was negligible, but the temperatures were the coldest, below forty. The rain of the night before was rushing down along the road seeking its own level.
The carnegie-libraries.org website, that is devoted to the Carnegies of California, has become an indispensable resource.  It contains much of the information that a book would have, two or three paragraphs on all the state’s Carnegies, even those that have been demolished.  It called the Carnegie in Lakeport the most scenically located of them all. It is certainly the best setting of the twenty-one I have seen since I arrived in Sacramento ten days ago.
It resides in a park on the shore of Clear Lake, the largest lake wholely within California.  Lake Tahoe is larger, but it is partially in Nevada.  Clear Lake has one hundred miles of shoreline and is nineteen miles long with a surface area of sixty-eight square miles.  It sits at 1,300 feet and has snow-tinged mountains in the back ground.

This Classic style library with Carnegie over its entrance was replaced by a new library in 1985 and has housed government offices since.  It’s beauty may not be my fondest memory of this town of 5,000.  It could be the small one-man bike shop, whose forty-year old proprietor, a tinkerer extraordinaire, figured out how to pry open the small attachment to my dynamo hub and reinsert the twin wires. 

He didn’t flinch at all when I presented him with the puzzle which he had never seen before, but dove right in with a razor blade and pliers.  After several minutes he went to the Internet and Shimano’s how-to page and voila, he had the final secret of how to pop it open.  He was so pleased to have solved the mystery, he didn’t want any lucre.  He was a hero and savior, reestablishing my ability to generate electricity, and sparing me of the  need to snoop around McDonald’s and Taco Bells for electrical outlets. 


Another of the day’s highlights was finding a California license plate, hopefully the first of several.  I was also gladdened knowing the mighty Redwoods await me in Willits, my next Carnegie town forty-four miles to the northwest on Highway 101.  Then I can complete this loop and head south through Ukiah and Santa Rosa back to Sonoma for its Carnegie and a handful of others with the the Golden Gate Bridge awaiting me into San Francisco Ford it’s bundle of eight and another of six across the bay in Oakland
. The forecast is for a respite from the rain until Thursday.  San Francisco had over two inches eartlier in the week, it’s most ever.  There have been mudslides and road closures and multiple feet of snow in the Sierras, but most are cheering this drought-busting windfall and don’t object to more.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Vacaville, California








Rather than a polar vortex coming down from Alaska disrupting the weather in California, it’s been a pineapple express originating in Hawaii bringing rain for hours on end.  It may be much needed, but it has also caused widespread flooding.  I had to dismount my bike and plow through fast rushing ankle-deep water multiple times that had taken over the road.  My feet have been soaked for days, so it was just more of the same.  


The rain allowed me a couple hours of extra sleep as I waited for it to dissipate from a hard rain to a mere drizzle.  It had begun in the middle of the night.  I didn’t think it could continue indefinitely, so I waited it out, even as the water gathered around my tent and began seeping in.  I was camped on somewhat high ground behind a fenced in power station beside the unlocked entry.  I had been tempted to open the gate topped with barbed wire and pitch my tent on a grassy expanse inside rather than on a half grass/half dirt patch outside it, but I feared that could get me in trouble if any of the passing cars had spotted me in the near dark leave the road and scamper up a muddy road to the power station and had put in a 911 call.  



All night long as the rain continued to pelt my tent I was dreading having to push my bike through the muck back to the road in the morning.  I was spared though, as I was able to cling to the higher ground along fence and only accumulated a modicum of mud in my brakes and on my tires and on my shoes that quickly washed away as I pedaled through puddles on the road. The flat terrain all around was turning into the countryside into a vast lake.  The rain was a light 50-degree drizzle when I began riding, though it occasionally intensified.  The conditions may not have been ideal, but I still felt the joy of being on my bike, especially after the concern of being stranded in my tent all day.



Unlike the previous rainy days of off-and-on precipitation this was a non-stop affair.  I was beginning to wish I had accepted those rain pants Tim had found at a Salvation Army in Grass Valley, but the rain never intensified for more than a short spell and my body heat warded off the wet that hit my tights and I was fine. My torso remained toasty dry as no moisture penetrated my beloved Arc’Teryx jacket during my 47-miles in the rain.  I was riding a stretch barren of places of refuge from the rain other than overhangs besides buildings.  



The first after sixteen miles was an unheated auto mechanic garage.  It had a picnic table I could sit at under an awning.  As I sat eating shredded wheat and chocolate milk, a Mexican mechanic who didn’t speak much English emerged from the garage with a can of sprite and some corn bread and a cookie wrapped in aluminum foil that looked like something his wife has sent him off with.  A few minutes later he returned and gave me a handful of pecans.



After forty miles I reached the small town of Yolo and it’s somewhat dilapidated Carnegie, a low frame bungalow, hardly resembling a library, let along a Carnegie.  As the Carnegie in Bayliss, it largely served a rural community, though it resided in an actual town. It had an even smaller grant from Carnegie than Bayliss, just $3,000. 



The paint was peeling on its wooden walls.  Despite its nondescript, sorry state,  it had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, probably before solar panels had been placed on its roof.  It’s WiFi was left on and didn’t need a password, so I was able to alert Tim as to my whereabouts.  He was seven miles down the road at the large Carnegie in Woodland, a virtual metropolis of over 50,000 people with a handful of motels to choose from, an absolute necessity this night, soaked as I was and with no end in sight for the rain.  



With no wind to contend with, and the rain not soaking my legs, I continued to enjoy being out on my bike.  If I’d been wearing rain pants, I would have been overheating.  There had been hardly any traffic on this stretch until I closed in on Woodland.  Though it’s address was First Street, a Carnegie Way led in to it.   It was a grand edifice whose three additions all in the Colonial Revival style added to its grandeur.  The last came in 1988 at a cost of two-and-a-half million dollars, doubling its size. It came as no surprise that it was on the National Register of Historic Places. After entering through its rotunda, I immediately spotted Tim at a table in front of a fireplace. Unfortunately the fireplace had long since been retired.



Tim had already scouted out the motels.  The cheapest were $60.  One was a Motel Six, which my Adventure Cycling membership gave a ten per cent discount to.  I had never used it, so was curious how readily it would be accepted.  But there was a closer $60 Econ Lodge that offered breakfast.  I can really fill up on those, so that was our choice.  It turned out that the $60 price was for smoking rooms.  Non-smoking went for $70.  



If the Motel Six hadn’t been over two miles away and with it still raining, I would have left for that.  I told the Indian owner that I’d take the smoking room.  After he took my credit card and started processing it, he said, “The smoking rooms are really very bad.  I’ll let you have a non-smoking room for $65.”  That may or may not have qualified for the day’s second act of kindness. 



Along with emptying out the damp contents of all my panniers on the bed we didn’t use, preferring to put our sleeping bags on the floor and lessen the risk of lice, I unrolled my soaked tent and damp sleeping bag and washed a few items, including myself.  I also had a flat tire to repair, my first of the trip.  I suffered it as I dashed to the Walmart for a two-pound container of macaroni salad (a 2,000 calorie feast I’m always happy for) and a half gallon of chocolate milk. It was by the Motel Six.  I hadn’t taken a pump or spare tube, so I had a two-mile walk back to the motel.



It was thrilling to see blue sky in the morning, but it didn’t last for long.  At least the rain was light and intermittent, though it persisted all day.  The flooding was even worse than the day before.  Evidently it’s not uncommon as, yellow “Flooded” signs warned of each.  I ignored a “Road Blocked” sign, and was able to pedal through not too deep water.  There were much worse stretches to come that hadn’t been barricaded.  Halfway through one with ripples in the water and a strong side wind I was forced to put my foot down and walk the rest of the way.  With soaked feet, I had no qualms about walking through several more perilous torrents that motorists were driving though.  



When I reached the day’s first Carnegie in Dixon, a smaller one in the Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival style that had had a couple of inoffensive additions, I wrung out my socks in its rest room and put newspaper in my shoes to absorb some of the moisture. It safeguarded it’s WiFi with a password of jaygatsby.  



Someone who had seen me photograph the now-closed former entrance, a rare one in California with “Carnegie Library” above it, asked if the library had brought me to Dixon.  She said she and her husband had been among those who had saved it from being torn down.  Even after the additions, the city wanted to level all of it and put up a new one. They were greatly relieved to have won that battle, though know it’s never fully won.  She asked how long I expected to be in town, as she’d like to alert the local newspaper of my story, but there wasn’t enough time for that.



I was on to the larger and more bustling Vacaville.  It’s Classical style Carnegie on Main Street in its Historic downtown was now the Community Center.  I stopped in at a bicycle store a couple blocks away to see if it’s mechanics were versed in dynamo hubs, as when I removed my front wheel to repair the flat the night before I forgot to detach the wires leading from the hub to the charging unit and had pulled them out of the small plastic attachment.  Neither Tim nor I could figure out how to open the plastic attachment to reinsert the wires, despite a YouTube tutorial.  It seemed to be too clogged for us to pop it open.  A simple pen inserted into a hole was supposed to do the trick, but not for us.



Tim said it was a rare item.  He had never seen it in all his years as a bike shop owner. He said I’d probably have to go to a few shops before I found someone who had the expertise to open it or had a replacement part.  So far he has been right about that.  Fortunately I spend enough time in libraries charging my iPad, I don’t really need to be charging with my hub, though it’s a nice back up, especially on Sundays.  A much bigger issue is trying to figure out how to post photos on the blog, as the method I had previously used no longer works.  



It was a day without Tim, as returned to San Jose to resume care-duty for his “sister-in-law” undergoing another dose of chemotherapy.  That will only be for a few days.  We could meet up again on the road or when I make it to San Jose for its Carnegie. Whenever, it will not be soon enough.