Saturday, October 23, 2021

Milwaukee



I was delighted to spot a large sign in the window of a MacDonald’s on the other side of the road as I entered Columbus, seventy-five miles west of Milwaukee, announcing its dining room was open, the first I had come upon in three weeks. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as I’d been riding in a cold, misty rain for much of the day and needed to dry out and warm up.  I didn’t really need to fill my water bottle with ice, but I did out of habit.  No one else joined me at the many tables, despite a steady trickle of people coming in to order face-to-face rather than subject themselves to the impersonality of the drive-up window.

Even though the MacDonald’s was adequately staffed to have indoor service, it still had a “Hiring” sign out front, though not with a bonus as many businesses offer, as much as $1000.  All the ‘Hiring” signs dominated the landscape from the start to the finish of these travels.


I was hoping to tally at least eighty miles for the day to close within thirty-five miles of Milwaukee so I could be sure to catch the 1:05  train to Chicago and to have ample time to stuff all my gear into the duffle I’d brought along.  There were other departures at 3:00, 5:45 and 7:35, all taking one hour and twenty-nine minutes.  If I made the early train I could make it to Countryside, sixteen miles from Chicago’s Union Station, well before dark and before the rush hour traffic.

I was looking forward to the luxury of relaxing on the train, gazing out at the scenery,  spared of having to negotiate the miles and miles of urban sprawl traffic and regular red lights in the final fifty miles home.  I was already dreading the transition from simple, functional small town homes to the pretentious and ostentatious and all-too-big homes of suburbia.  There was little evidence of people in small towns trying to outdo or upstage their neighbors, except maybe with their Halloween decorations.  The homes all look lived-in and livable and could be maintained without a crew of Mexican gardeners and Polish maids.  The were homes, not statements.

My final campsite was just past Hartford on the fringe of Kettle Moraine a little over thirty miles from Milwaukee.  As is frequently the case when I have to clear a rough spot for my tent, memories of Craig and our several tours in France were triggered, as he was ultra-fastidious in smoothing out the spot he had chosen for his tent so he wouldn’t be surprised by any rocks or roots when he laid down.  I’d invariably have my tent half set up while he was still grooming his site. 

It’s always a pleasure to be reminded of Craig and his attention to detail and facility for figuring things out.   He’s come to my rescue many a time, including earlier in the day when he pointed out I’d referred to Carnegie as a “steel magnet” not “steel magnate” in my last post.

The Craig trigger of memories is just one of many that can get set off at any time.  At the end of the day Waydell and her comment after a three-day mini-tour over Thanksgiving, “I feel as if I’ve accomplished something,” often comes to mind, echoing my sentiment for the day. Bungee cords can launch Lyndon and his trick of knotting them to adjust their length.  Pop tarts resurrect a messenger friend who introduced them to me as a cheap energy bar, regular fuel for me when I’m touring in the US. Apple sauce, another regular source of calories, summons a German cyclist I met one year following The Tour who filled a water bottle with the potion and regularly squirted it down his throat.   

A dime on the road transports me to Israel and the many dime-sized shekels I found along the road, as the Israelis were trained not to pick up stray items as they could set off a bomb.  Mention of Muslims can transport me to Morocco and the Moroccan who told me, “You’ve got a white heart, you’d make a good Muslim.”   A youth on a bike in a small town brings up the lad who asked, “Are you running away from home?”  Or the kid who asked, “Are you a stranger?  I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.” 

A snake flashes up Vincent, the Aussie who at our first campsite together when following The Tour the year it started in Monaco asked if he needed to be wary of snakes, a legitimate concern in Australia.  When I plop down on the concrete outside a store for a snack and drink I’ll recall the woman who commented, “Rest is where you find it.”  My orange Tupperware bowl resurrects Andrew of Sydney, another Tour compatriot, who recognized it as one of my trademarks. When the going is tough, I might remember my mother’s comment before I set off on my coast-to-coast ride when I was twenty-six and had yet to submit to a conventional career path—“You never had to go to war like your father.  This could make you want to settle down.”  Any of those memories can send me off on a train of thought that can take me anywhere, as just happened.  I have to put in the earplugs and tune to a podcast to bring them to a halt. 

My final campsite was the coldest of the trip, the first to encrust the tent with frost. It hadn’t gotten warmer than forty-five all day and was thirty-seven when I retreated into my tent and ten degrees colder when I woke up.  I burned a candle for the first time and with my body heat got the tent up to fifty degrees.  I also dug out my wool cap for the first time, but resisted stripping down to put on an extra layer of long underwear.  I tried to sleep with my down vest draped over my torso, but that wasn’t enough.  I had to put it on along with my sweater.  

I was able to supplement my final dinner of ramen with some turkey franks from an Aldi’s a couple miles from where I camped. The only other salvageable item of the meager dumpster offerings was some milk, which I could use for the last of my Cheerios.  I further jazzed up my ramen with some crushed tortilla chips from a previous Aldi’s and also a few ketchup packs from the MacDonald’s.  It made for a tasty stew, which tasted all the better eating it in my tent rather than in a motel.

I was hoping I hadn’t made a mistake passing up the Silver Bell Motel a few miles back in Hartford.  If I hadn’t pretty much dried out all my garb other than my heavy gloves it would have been a necessity.  WiFi, Thursday Night Football and a shower all beckoned, but I wanted one last night in the tent, and,  besides, the Aldi’s was a couple miles past the motel on the outskirts of town.  As always, I was happy I opted for the tent, even when I struggled to collapse my tent poles in the morning, as several joints had frozen as had the water bottles I left on my bike.  If I’d given into the temptation of the Silver Bell I wouldn’t have had the glorious sight of a near full moon over the tent as I took it down.


There was minimal rush hour traffic heading into Milwaukee, and minimal congestion in the city.  The last few miles were on Doctor Martin Luther King Junior Drive, which took me past the stadium where the NBA champs Bucks play, adorned with the faces of their starting five.


I felt as if I were completing a circuit of the state, as the second Carnegie on my itinerary, after Beloit on the Illinois border, was in West Allis, a southern suburb of Milwaukee.  I was able to join up one more time with Lake Michigan.  It gave me the usual uplift to look out upon a great expanse of water. We’d last met in Escanaba in the UP.  I’d connected with it several times in these travels, including a long stretch along its shores in Door County.  I’d had some equally exalting miles along Lake Superior and the Mississippi River, the three great bodies of water that define three of the meandering borders of Wisconsin.  The other is the straight slash of its southern border with Illinois.


Despite the wintry temperatures there were a few sailboats out in Lake Michigan within sight of the sailboat architecture of one of the city’s several art museums.  From the lake it was a mile to the Amtrak station past a couple more museums and large hotels. There were only a handful of people in the relatively new Amtrak/Greyhound station and no line for the three masked ticket-sellers behind glass.   

None of the eight slots for bikes on the one o’clock train had been reserved though the train was at near capacity.  I spread out my frost-flecked and thickened tent to dry so I could roll it tighter to make it fit into the duffle with all my gear.  The security guard came over to make sure I had a ticket and urge me to hurry with my packing.  It was my lone encounter the past month with someone wearing a badge.

It was a rare trip that someone more official hadn’t questioned me in some manner.  And rare too finding just one neckerchief in 2,181 miles.  The license plates more than made up for it though with a record eleven and from three states.  Get ready Dwight.  


One thing that remained consistent was the paucity of cyclists.  I saw considerably more horse-drawn carriages than people transporting themselves by pedal-power.  It  will make The Tour de France start in Copenhagen next July all the more thrilling with the enlightened prominence of the bike there.

The thirty-eight Carnegies that I added to my life list, thirty-four in Wisconsin and four in Michigan, brings my total to 957.  Of that 915 are in the US, with the other forty-two sprinkled around six other countries (France, Belgium, Great Britain, Ireland, Guiana and South Africa).  A good hunk of the remaining 500 Carnegies in the US that I have yet to visit are in the Northeast including seventy-five in New York (fifty-seven in the boroughs), twenty in Philadelphia and thirteen in Baltimore.  I have completed nine states—Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Michigan and Wisconsin, and am close to finishing off a bunch of others.  I have gotten to Carnegies in thirty-five of the forty-eight states that have one.   The end isn’t quite in sight, but I am most certainly gaining on it.  With forty-three to one thousand, I should start plotting which should have that honor. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Elroy, Wisconsin

 



The last three of the forty-five Carnegies I’ve visited this past month came on a forty-mile stretch between Sparta and Elroy, endpoints of the first rails to trails conversion in the US, inaugurated in 1967, a very popular cycling route. Both Sparta and Elroy are further distinguished as homes to Carnegies. The third in this batch was in Tomah, “Gateway to Cranberry Country,” east of Sparta and not on the trail.  

I’d ridden the trail forty years ago with friends, so wasn’t disappointed that my route to Tomah diverted me from it.  It wasn’t that appealing anyway since it was crushed limestone and a bit soft from all the moisture, though it’s three tunnels would have spared me some nasty climbs. I was surprised to learn that one now had to buy a pass to ride the trail, though this time of the year it wasn’t likely that anyone would be enforcing the regulation I was told. 



All three of these final Carnegies were still functioning as libraries and had additions that nicely blended in.  Elroy’s was the most noteworthy, as the library had to raze three homes for its addition.  Two were donated by an elderly woman, but the third the library had to purchase.  


The librarian was happy to give me a tour of the library, taking me downstairs to a meeting room and offices.  The room was known as the “Railroad Room,” as it had served as a reading room for rail passengers waiting for trains at the station across the street up until the line closed in 1964.  The railroad paid a subsidy for the use of it.  When the room was no longer needed for rail passengers, it served as Elroy’s City Hall for a couple of decades.  Back in the early days of the library a second room in the basement was reserved exclusively for men where they could smoke and talk above a whisper.  

A large scrapbook tracing the history of the library was open on a table by the entrance.  It had a two-page spread on each librarian, most of whom served twenty years or more.  Edna Roberts was the first when the library opened in 1908 earning $25 a month.  There was a photo of her as a sprightly young woman in a flowing white dress and large hat standing on the steps of the library and another from her retirement party in 1951.


The Tomah Carnegie was on Superior Street, as was the one in Antigo, a popular street name in Wisconsin towns, just as Walnut is in Indiana.  The Sullivanesque architecture was partially obscured by large trees.  A sign on the door warned it had no rest room.  All the tables and chairs, other than a few at the row of computers, were stacked in a corner, as it didn’t want patrons lingering in these Covid times, though masks weren’t required.  I was told if I wanted to use the WiFi I’d have to sit on the steps to the entry of the library, as was a teenaged boy who showed up on a bike.  


I arrived at the grand Sparta Carnegie before it opened with its flag at half-mast for Colin Powell.  A plaque out front identified Carnegie as a “steel magnate” rather than the usual businessman or philanthropist. It was across the street from the former Masonic Lodge, another striking building, built after the Carnegie.  


It was now the Deke Slayton Memorial Space and Bicycle Museum with an effigy of Slayton in space suit out front. Slayton was born in Sparta and was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts. An exhibit traces the evolution of transportation from the bicycle to aviation, giving a nod to all the cyclists drawn to Sparta to ride its 32-mile trail to Elroy. 


Elroy too had a museum relating to the trail.


The night before this final trio I camped alongside a cornfield outside of Sparta.  Earlier in the day a hunter in camouflage saw the gear on my bike and surmised I’d been camping and wondered if I’d seen any evidence of bears.  He said there were a few in the vicinity who’d been forced out of their more natural terrain to the north by territorial bears. He said farmers don’t appreciate them because they can make a mess of their cornfields.  I was glad to see none of the corn where I was camping had been marauded.


I had in fact seen no evidence of bears this entire trip, not even signs warning of them. I suspected this hunter was hyping something that wasn’t anything to be concerned about, just like the media likes to do.  I was cognizant that bears inhabited the UP and the north of Wisconsin, so was mindful of my food.   I was confident enough that I had left their domain that I bought a roasted chicken a couple of days ago.  I stripped all the meat from the carcass, so I didn’t have to worry about disposing of bones at my campsite, and had a feast of a meal.

Whatever bears there may be, they must be adequately fed as none have chowed done on the frequent road kill deer I come upon.  There are a lot of roadkill raccoons as well. The hunter said that along with deer he hunted and trapped coons, as there is a market for their skins.  One can also sell squirrel tails, as they are used in making fishing lures, but there isn’t much money in them, just ten cents a tail.  I had seen a sign offering to buy them.  I hadn’t seen many, figuring those signs produced a lot of business.


Now it’s on to Milwaukee for a train home and my re-immersion into packed humanity.  But only for a short spell, as Janina and I will drive up to northern Michigan to meet up with cyclist Rick for his final few days at his cottage on Lake Otsego.  If the weather allows we’ll leave the car in Traverse City and bike the final seventy miles to Rick so Janina can experience the luxury of cycling in the northern woods as I’ve been doing.  What a joy it will be to share the experience with her and hopefully on her new carbon fiber bike if we can come up with a rack to extend from the seat post as the frame won’t accept a rack for panniers. 



Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Black River Falls, Wisconsin


 Maybe thanks to the good word the pastor in Neillsville put in for me, I had the blessedly good fortune of coming upon a motel in the small town of Mondovi seventeen miles before the much larger town of Durand, that had been my initial destination for finding a motel for my weekly shower and some NFL.  I had been riding into a headwind all day making it a bit iffy for me to arrive in Durand before dark.  I was also not certain that I would find a motel there, so I was quite relieved at the site of the Sunrise Inn as I headed into the setting sun.


I didn’t arrive in time for the Bears/Packers game, but I did get to see a prolonged interview with Aaron Rodgers on the Packers’ post-game show.  He was refreshingly frank and articulate, an elder statesman.  I didn’t learn the Packers prevailed over the Bears until I turned on the TV in my room. A while after the game ended at three I started asking people I saw along the road it’s outcome, but no one knew, not even the woman who checked me in at the motel. I thought Packer football was a religion in Wisconsin.  It was shocking to find so many football atheists.  And the preacher was among them.  I asked him if the game was a noon or a three o’clock start. He said he wasn’t a sports fan and didn’t know.


I was at least able to watch the end of the Patriots/Cowboys game, a thriller that went into overtime.  The Cowboys scored a touchdown on a long pass to take the win and keep their record of being the only team this year to beat the spread in each of their six games, as they had only been a three-point favorite.  The Cowboys’ offense was in high gear racking up 567 yards, the most that any Belichik defense had ever given up, even going back to his days as a defensive coordinator.

And there was that telling number 567 once again.  It had turned up twice during the day as I went through a series of Geraint Thomas/Luke Rowe podcasts (Watts Occurring), a couple of Welshmen who are long-time stalwarts of Team Sky, now Ineos Grenadier.  They contributed to seven Tour de France wins for the team, Thomas winning one of them.  Their podcasts offer much insight into the mindset of elite cyclists and life in the peloton.

Their Irish agent Andrew McQuaid was a guest on one show.  He said the top junior riders have 5, 6, 7 World Tour teams chasing after them, a recent development hyping the intensity of the sport.  He as an agent now has to try to sign them up too.  On another show ranking the top ten sprinters of the past two decades Thomas and Lowe initially included the young pint-sized Aussie Caleb Ewan, but then remembered they’d forgotten the retired Tom Boonen, so knocked him out, apologizing to Ewan, who is a buddy of theirs, saying, “Give us 5, 6, 7 years and you’ll be there.”  

When Ewan was a guest they introduced him saying they couldn’t get Cavendish or a couple of other sprinters, so they had to settle for him.  Ewan well knew their sense of humor so didn’t hang up.  Nor did he snarl when their first question was, “How tall are you anyway?”  He went along with it saying, “Wikipedia says I’m 1.65 meters, but I’m actually 1.67.”  Lowe and Thomas give each other the piss all the time as well.  Thomas will occasionally preface some remark with “When I won the Tour de France,” to which Lowe always replies with an incredulous “You won the Tour de France?” 

They are always entertaining and informative.  They’ve got a catalogue of 54 podcasts over the past two years.  They conclude each show asking their guest what three people, living or dead, they’d like to have for dinner.  No one yet has picked any of my choices.  Andrew Carnegie would  have to be one of them and Henri Desgrange, founder of the Tour de France.  That third spot is a tough choice between John Muir, Paul de Vivie, Dervla Murphy and Ian Hibbel.

Having stayed in Mondovi and not pushing on to Durand Sunday gave me the opportunity to gain entry to the Carnegie Library in Durand Monday morning.  It now houses three tenants—a law firm, the District Attorney and a title service.  The interior reflected the Cottage architecture, making it a most comfortable and amiable setting, like plopping down in someone’s living room. The “Public Library” on the facade was interlaced with a network of vines covering the front of the building. 


From Durand I followed the Chippewa River south for fifteen miles until it merged with the Mississippi, then biked along it for fifteen miles to Alma then Cochrane before turning east to the next Carnegie in Arcadia.  I had two climbs of five hundred feet, each covering a couple of miles, the longest and most strenuous of the trip, as I left the Mississippi basin for farm land, camping alongside a cornfield five miles before Arcadia.


The front door of the Arcadia Carnegie was open to a construction site.  The library had recently been replaced and was now being converted into an accountant’s office.  Wikipedia needs to be updated once again.  The building hadn’t been altered in its hundred years retaining all its charm and dignity.


Then it was forty miles east through more farmland to Black River Falls and it’s Carnegie, now the local Historical Society Museum.  It was only open Fridays  and Saturdays from ten until two. It too had not had an addition and stood preeminently along the town’s Main Street.  


I’ve been seeing Amish here and there the past few days, usually zipping by in their one horse carriages. Today I passed a barefoot man with the distinctive hat and beard walking along the road, maybe to a nearby farm.  


Only three Carnegies to go and I’ll have completed the state.  They are clustered together, so I could finish them off tomorrow and will then have the dilemma of biking home or taking the train, either from Wisconsin Dells or Milwaukee.  Amtrak isn’t making it easy with it hard to get information on whether stops have baggage service or provide bike boxes.  If the wind persists from the south, I will make every effort to take the train, but if it switches from the north,  that would make for a fun final two hundred miles with a possible century to top off these travels. 



Sunday, October 17, 2021

Neillsville, Wisconsin

 



As I venture from the northern reaches of Wisconsin, the forests no longer predominate, though there are still plenty mixed in with the cornfields and pastures of bovines.  With camping no longer instantaneous I’ve had on occasion to go down dirt roads in search of a place to disappear to, partially because there would be little concern of a vehicle coming along before I could fully slip into the forest.  


Last night after I’d gone a little ways down a dirt road and was about to head into the forest an older women in a bright orange jacket entered the road from a driveway I hadn’t noticed just beyond me.  I was going to turn around and try the dirt road on the other side of the highway, but then thought I’d ask her if it was okay to camp in the forest, permission I rarely ask.  She quickly replied, “Its not my property, so I can’t say.”  

Rather than inviting me to pitch my tent on her property, she politely told me there was a campground on the way to Merrill.  I asked her how far away it was with no intention whatsoever of staying there, especially since it was the opposite direction I was going.  She said six miles.  It was nearly dark and I hadn’t turned on my head light or flashing rear light. I hardly looked equipped to be biking in the dark, but that made no difference to her. 

I told her of my Carnegie quest and that the next one was in Medford, twenty-four miles away.  That didn’t win her favor or alleviate whatever fears she had of letting a stranger camp on her property.  So off I went and two or three minutes later I was pushing my bike through the brush and through some swampy ground to a perfectly suitable campsite happy, but saddened I didn’t have an example of frontier hospitality to report on.

It would have been a dilemma if she had been truly welcoming and invited me to sleep in her guest room, as the night before the temperature was the coldest yet, thirty-three degrees, forcing me to put my sweater on during the night and then later to drape my down vest over the torso portion of my sleeping bag.  I was fine other than a couple of bouts of cramps, one on the inside of my right thigh and the other in my left calf, the first in awhile.  I could actually feel the veins bulging in my calf as I masssaged it.  And I’d had a banana for dinner, but evidently hadn’t drunk enough during the day in the colder temperatures.

The night wasn’t as cold as the night before.  It was forty-one when I awoke, thanks to the low spot where I had camped with the warmer air gathering in the forest.  When I began pedaling on the road, the thermometer on my Garmin cyclometer had fallen to thirty-five degrees. 

The Merrill Carnegie the day before was a bit of a mystery, as it was identified as the T.B. Scott Free Library, and the plaque out front made no mention of Carnegie, giving all the credit for the library to Scott, the town’s first mayor who established a library in the city hall in 1889 until he solicited funds from Carnegie for this library that was built in 1911.  The plaque added that the original library was the first public library to offer English classes to immigrants starting in 1905 and was further distinguished as one of the few traveling library in the state beginning in 1898.


I couldn’t ask a librarian about Carnegie being overlooked, as the library closed at one p.m. on Fridays.  I at least was able to find an electric outlet on the large addition behind it to charge my iPad as I took advantage of the WiFi. Several people dropped off books while I was there, disappointed that the library was closed. 

The Carnegie in Antigo, now a museum, had a sign at its entrance stating it had originally been a library and had been provided by Carnegie.  I was relieved that the building had been a library, as it’s Grand Manor architecture was so uncharacteristic of a Carnegie I feared Wikipedia had sent me to the wrong place.  


The building was so spacious with room to spare that the upper floor of the two-story building had headquartered the local college and later the Red Cross from its very opening.  The library could have easily been expanded on the large property it had all to itself, but the community chose to build a new one several blocks away.  

The museum was as packed as the Door County Museum with local artifacts relating to the pioneer days and logging and the three Indian tribes who’d inhabited the region and were now concentrated on a reservation north of the town featuring a casino. Outside was a train car and other large objects.  The curator said people still make offerings to the museum, but at this point it is very selective about what it takes. 

The Carnegie in Medford was cozy and compact with no alterations other than it becoming the town’s chamber of commerce.  The prairie style building was still identified as “Public Library” though a sign out front gave its new identity. There was no possibility of expanding it on its tiny plot of land overlooking the Black River.


I was happy to turn south from Medford to Neillsville fifty miles away after pushing into a strong westerly wind for all too long. With the forests being replaced by pastures and fields of grains there was little to block the wind.  Since the temperature was falling I was hoping for a more northerly bent to the wind, but there were so few northerly percentages to its angle that it didn’t give me much of an assist.  But at least I wasn’t fighting it.


The Neillsville Carnegie had blocked its original entrance with a cluster of firs.  The addition to its side mirrored the original.  The red-bricked building was less striking than most Carnegies though a plaque by the entrance stated it had been declared a Historic Landmark in contrast to the usual National Register of Historic Places.  A plaque out front didn’t relate to the library, but rather honored General Clarence Sturdevant, a local, who was the chief architect of the Alaskan Highway built during WWII as an escape route from Alaska in case the Japanese invaded it.  I have a strong affection for the Alcan.  I gained a great intimacy of it riding from Chicago to Fairbanks in 1981.  It is one of my most significant rides. It used to make me choke up a bit when I’d recall that momentous moment of finally reaching Alaska and pavement after over a thousand miles of dirt and gravel through British Columbia.


When I turned from reading the plaque a man in a black suit holding a book was standing beside my bike.  “Looks like you’re traveling,” he said. I told him what I was doing and that my next Carnegie was in Durand.  “That’s about seventy miles away,” he said.  I asked if there was a motel there.  He said there was, then asked, “Can I pray for you?”  

He was the pastor of the church across the street and had a Bible in hand.  He put his hand on my back and went on for a minute or so asking the Lord to look after me down the road and to provide for all my needs.   I thanked him and then again a couple minutes later when I stopped at an IGA dumpster on the outskirts of town and found a load of frozen food (spaghetti, egg rolls, garlic rolls stuffed with cheese) right on top.  It gave me extra incentive for a motel besides all the NFL games, knowing it would have a microwave, though the food would still be perfectly fine simply thawed.



Friday, October 15, 2021

Rhinelander, Wisconsin





If there were a Hall of Fame or Nobel Prize to acknowledge those who have performed an exemplary deed serving or saving a Carnegie Library, Pat and Marty Reynolds of Ladysmith, Wisconsin would be a shoe-in for either.  Not only did they save the Ladysmith Carnegie from the wrecker’s bell, they restored it and turned it into a luxurious bed-and-breakfast, Carnegie Hall ( A Novel Bed-and-Breakfast Experience).


The library had stood empty for six years after it was replaced in 1993 and was on the verge of being turned into a parking lot, when Marty, an eight-time mayor of Ladysmith, though not at the time, went into action.  He tried to recruit various local businesses, including the dentist, into relocating into the historic building to save it.  All declined fearing the expense of rehabbing.  

So the Reynolds, who had grown up in the area and had patronized the library from their earliest years, and had a deep-seated attachment to it, stepped in and bought it.  Marty was a plumbing and heating contractor and Pat a kindergarten teacher.   They spent three years transforming the building into their home and a six-room bed-and-breakfast, each room with its own bathroom.  

Two months later a tornado took the roof off the building and filled it with water destroying all they had accomplished.  Undaunted, they spent another three years re-restoring it to a magnificence beyond anything it had previously enjoyed.  It has the full flavor of a former library with shelves of books in every room.  More than three thousand books fill its many shelves, ten times the number the library started out with in 1907.  

The six guest rooms are all themed with books to match.  They are named for Teddy Roosevelt, who was president at the time of the library’s construction, Jane Austen, Sherlock Holmes, the Civil War, and the Titanic.  A room with a hot tub and a balcony overlooking the Flambeau River is called The River Room.  None were occupied, as the bed-and-breakfast has been closed for eighteen months since the onslaught of Covid, though the Reynolds did accept some regular guests, just one roomful at a time, during the summer months.

I was fortunate to catch Marty in the parking lot returning from an errand, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the privilege of a tour and the remarkable story of the library still being there.  Only two items original to the building remain, the Carnegie portrait and a sink. Everything had been sold, including the circulation desk and the portrait.  He was able to track down both of them, but the new owner of the desk didn’t want to part with it, as he had turned it into a table in his workshop.  Marty replicated it for his check-in desk.

Anyone on a Carnegie trek could do no better than visiting the bike shop Carnegie in Hayward, fifty miles north, and this one.  One can learn more of what accommodations they might have at www.Carnegiehallbedandbreakfast.com.  One could not have a more affable host.  I didn’t meet Pat, but one could be sure that someone who served as a small town kindergarten teacher for twenty-seven years would be a charmer as well.  He said that the average owner of a bed-and-breakfast lasts seven years.  They have endured twenty and can’t imagine doing anything else.


I couldn’t gain entry to the new library, as it was only providing pick-ups in its lobby.  It was closed due to only twenty-seven per cent of the county being vaccinated, the lowest rate in the state, and one of the lowest rates in the country.  It was twenty miles east to the tiny town of Hawkins to the next open library, a non-Carnegie.  It was the first of this trip that not only required a mask but the sanitization of one’s hands as well. 

Then it was seventy miles to the next library in Rhinelander.  The road was dotted with picturesque run-down and abandoned buildings. 



The overcast day prevented my solar lamp from charging enough to provide me more than thirty minutes of illumination in my tent that night.


After the dazzling new incarnations of the Hayward and Ladysmith Carnegies I was almost disappointed that Rhinelander’s Carnegie still served as a library. It had had a large addition to its side and rear in 1984 and was due for another.  Among its distinguishing features were two fireplaces and a tile mosaic outside the entrance. A matt covered most of it, as it was in the process of being restored. There was no portrait to be seen and the librarian didn’t know where it had disappeared to.


Rhinelander offered the first Aldi since Green Bay nearly two weeks ago. It’s dumpster had only a few bags of refuse, but they provided enough for a dinner of bean and guacamole dip, a slab of ham, two bags of chips, six bagels and a couple of bananas.  The quick food-grab saved me the bother of going inside and expending a valuable ten or fifteen minutes, enabling me to get an extra two or three miles down the road before dark.  I just hit eighty miles for the day, my sixth such effort of these travels, along with falling two miles short twice.  I’m approaching two thousand miles for this ride zigzagging across Wisconsin and into the UP.  Not likely to get a century or even a ninety-mile day with the ever shortening days.



Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Barron, Wisconsin

 



I have a new answer to that question, “What’s your favorite Carnegie?”  It had been the Carnegie in the tiny town of Merom, Indiana (population 218) on the Wabash River along the Illinois border in the southern part of the state. It had put “Welcome George Christensen” on its message board having been alerted by the librarian in the Vincennes Carnegie, thirty miles south, that I was headed that way.  I can still feel a tingle of emotion at the shock of seeing my name as I approached the library, especially since it is a rare library that has a message board for posting notices.




I received an equally unexpected thrill yesterday that nearly took my breath away when I spotted the Hayward, Wisconsin Carnegie and discovered that it was now a bicycle shop. I’m always happy to see a bike shop under any circumstances, especially in small town America where they are an extreme rarity.  But to come upon a Carnegie that was now a bike shop was beyond imagining.


I might have wished for such a thing, as Carnegies have become homes to a wide range of enterprises (restaurants, law offices, real estate offices, a used car dealership, churches, doctor and dentist offices, banks, a barber shop, a yoga center, bed and breakfasts, private homes, a book store, a police station, a driving school, a beauty parlor, a radio station along with many museums and chamber of commerces and city halls), but it never occurred to me that one might have been transformed into a bike store. I would have just set myself up for continual letdowns when I came to a Carnegie that was no longer a library hoping that it might have been converted to a bike store.  Better to be happy with the magnificence of the building and not care what it had become.

Hayward’s Carnegie is well-established as a bike shop having been in the 
Carnegie for ten years and at another location before that.  Hayward may only have a population of 2,300, nearly double of what it had been when the Carnegie was built in 1903, but it has a steady stream of tourists to take advantage of the fishing in the many lakes in the area and other outdoor activities. It hosts the Birkbeinner cross country ski race, the largest in North America with 13,000 participants, and the Chewuamegen mountain bike race, the largest in the US with 2,500 participants.

Along with bikes the shop sells skis and a wide selection of sport wear.   The tall windows and high ceilings and wooden floors make it a most pleasing emporium.   Racks of clothes fill a large part of the upstairs with just a small portion devoted to bike gear and skis.  The lower half is solely bicycles and related gear and a repair station.

With Wisconsin the home of Trek, that is its prime brand. Along with road and mountain bikes it sells an increasing number of e-bikes. The shop used to have rentals, but with the bike shortage the past two years, the owners felt bad about having bikes that weren’t being used regularly when there were customers desperate for a bike, so they sold all their rental bikes.  I was sorry my tires weren’t in need of replacing or that I didn’t have any other needs so I could have left with a sales receipt as a souvenir.  

I walked out of the shop so exhilarated I almost felt I could bring my Carnegie quest to a close having discovered the ultimate Carnegie.  I had found something I didn’t even know I was looking for, though maybe that is what was behind this quest.  All these years of biking to Carnegies had culminated with this one in the woods of northern Wisconsin.  If it had been the thousandth that I had visited, that would have have truly validated its significance and verified some sort of divine guidance, but I’ve only reached the mid-nine hundreds.  

It speaks to the lack of a Carnegie consciousness or of any on-going purveyor of the status of the 2,509 Carnegie libraries all over the world that not a single Carnegie librarian or aficionado who I’ve encountered over the years was aware of the Carnegie that was now a bike shop. I should have been asked time after time, “Have you been to the Carnegie that is now a bike shop?”  How could this not have happened? 

Whatever whisper I may have had of thinking this was the pinnacle and that any Carnegie after this would be meaningless was quickly suppressed.  It only made me all the more eager for the next Carnegie in Cumberland and the ten more after that in Wisconsin that I had yet to get to. Six were still libraries.  Could there possibly be another bike shop among the other five?  Or what other surprise might await me of what one had become—a tattoo parlor, a florist, a pet store, a dance studio, a mini-neighborhood Walmart, a funeral home, a Dollar Store, a jewelry store, a gun store, a laundromat, an ice cream parlor, a cannabis outlet, an abortion clinic, a MacDonald’s?  The possibilities are now endless.


The Carnegie in Cumberland was still going strong as a library.  It had a large addition behind it that was now the entrance. The Carnegie portion up front was so dwarfed by the addition that it was referred to as the “Carnegie Room.”  That was the place to be with a sofa and the Carnegie portrait.


The road from  Cumberland to Barron took me past the first cornfields I’d encountered in over a week, though forests still predominated. Barron’s Carnegie had an even bigger addition than Cumberland’s. It extended behind it and to its side.  The original was branded with a larger than usual “Carnegie Library” over the now closed entry.  His portrait was in the new portion behind the circulation desk greeting all who enter.  


A wagon load of pumpkins was out front donated by the Kiwanis Club and free for the taking. The startling site of a flamboyance of flamingos added to the charm of the library.  And a tree farm down the road provided the best mattress of the trip.








Monday, October 11, 2021

Superior, Wisconsin



 October is living up to its reputation as an optimum month for bicycle touring, not too hot and not too cold, with crisp, invigorating morning temperatures, warm afternoons and colorful foliage.  Even as far north as this trip has taken me, I’ve only once needed gloves in the morning and none of my emergency cold weather gear.  It’s a relief not to have to worry about wilting from the energy-sapping summer heat.    I’ve been fortunate to have had just a couple of day-time sprinkles, as many as during the night.   


The scavenging though, a vital feature of touring, has been somewhat lackluster. I’ve gathered six license plates, three Wisconsin and three Michigan, and my usual quota of five bungee cords, but only one neckerchief and a mere penny during the initial stretch through Wisconsin, other than clusters of coins outside the MacDonald’s drive-up windows.  But in the UP, where copper and iron mining once flourished, coins started turning up and of all denominations, highlighted by one stash of $2.63 strewn on the shoulder amongst other debris.  

The camping has been superlative.  I know my dinner will taste a little bit better, whatever it may be, when I push into the woods and come to a small clearing for my tent that brings a spontaneous “How lovely” to my lips.  It’s been happening with regularity lately. It is an instant serum of well-being, just as those spontaneous “Wows” of truly exemplary Carnegies.  



I could have had a double dose of those “Wows” in the small towns of Washburn and Bayfield out on Wisconsin’s northernmost peninsula jutting into Lake Superior if the last Carnegie in Ironwood hadn’t been similarly majestic.  They were just more of the same, though in dramatically smaller towns, adding to their luster. 

Bayfield, with a population of 470, is the smallest city in Wisconsin. It’s population peaked at 1,689 when it’s Carnegie was built in 1903.  It was incorporated as a city and remains so even though the present requirement for city status is 1,000 residents. It had once thrived on lumbering and fishing. It’s prime industry now is tourism with an abundance of bed and breakfasts, restaurants and boutiques. It is the prime ferry port to the twenty-one Apostle Islands.


It was hard not to express a “Wow” that such a small town would have such a grand library.  It would stand out as an architectural gem in a city of any size. The residents of this out-of-the-way town had to have been immensely grateful to a steel tycoon based in New York City for bequeathing them such a grand edifice.


And the same for the residents of Washburn, twelve miles down the coast.  It too had been a lumbering and fishing town on the banks of Lake Superior and had transitioned to tourism.  It’s population likewise was at its highest when it was granted its Carnegie, the same year as Bayfield.  It had had 3,800 residents and had dwindled to a little more than half that.  It’s Carnegie was in a residential neighborhood with four picnic tables surrounding it.  Above the entrance of the red-stoned building was “Free Public Library.” A “Meditation Center” was the next building over across the park.  There must be a demand for such activity in the region, as Ironwood had a “Serenity Center” near it’s Carnegie.

After the pair of coastline Carnegies I had a seventy-eight mile ride through nothing but forest broken by several small clusters of residents masquerading as a town before the large city of Superior across from Duluth on the other side of the large-mouthed St. Louis River.  My first hour of Sunday morning riding was car-free and included several miles of dirt.  

I was counting on Superior to have a cheap motel so I could have a shower, wash my clothes, watch the marque Sunday football game (the Chiefs and the Bills) and re-charge all my batteries.  Two of the last three days in the back, back country I’d been unable to take advantage of electricity for re-charging and the next day would be more of the same. My generator hub can’t quite keep up with my charging needs, so I needed to top off my five batteries.

There were a handful of motels, but none were a bargain as rates were high due to an influx of workers still repairing a huge oil refinery explosion in 2018 that required a mass evacuation of residents within three miles of the explosion. When I asked the clerk at the Econ Lodge, which wanted one hundred dollars for a room, if there were a cheaper locally-owned motel she could recommend, she hesitated and slightly turned up her nose before suggesting the Budget Motel, as if I might regret staying there. 



Rather than heading there directly I first stopped at the two Carnegies in Superior. On my rounds I checked out a raggedy several story hotel in the city center and another chain motel, also with inflated rates, before ending up at the Budget Motel, just what I was looking for.  It had one available room, just vacated.  The Indian owner said he’d have it ready in half an hour, giving me time to make a dash to a supermarket a mile away.


Neither of Superior’s two Carnegies still served as libraries.  The Main Library in the city center was being converted to a museum.  It’s interior was in disarray, but it’s exterior remained as prominent as when it was built.


The East Branch Carnegie, four miles away, had been converted into a community center and was fully decorated for Halloween.  The red-stoned building may have been in need of some sprucing up, but it still leant an air of prominence at its corner location.

The next Carnegie is seventy miles south in Hayward in a final stretch of little civilization and probably no WiFi or re-charging possibilities.  If I hadn’t been in a motel Sunday night it might not have been until Tuesday that I learned the Bears and their rookie QB beat the Raiders or that Kansas City fell to 2-3 losing to the Bills Sunday night, greatly putting into jeopardy their return to the Super Bowl for the third straight year. I didn’t watch the last quarter as for the second time this year a game was delayed by lightning, this coming during halftime adding an hour to the length of the game.