Thursday, September 18, 2014

Greensburg, Kansas


When I came upon a vast array of eccentric metal figures lining highway 400 to the west of the small town of Mullinville, it was obvious that this was a notable creation, but it wasn't until I stopped in Greensburg, eight miles down the road did I learn it had been designated one of the twenty-four "Artistic Wonders of Kansas".  No one I talked to in Mullinvale expressed any enthusiasm for it, rather just shaking their heads more in scorn than in pride over this "Wonder."  

No one cared to give its creator, M. T. Liggett, a word of praise.  One woman described him as having "a screw loose."  Another called him an ornery old man who always hassled her when he came into her business. The proprietor of the town's service station said he had asked him to provide pamphlets describing his work, as people were always asking about it.  He didn't care to, as he said they'd just blow away.

But when I asked the woman looking after the visitor center in Greensburg down the road, she hauled out a book listing all the wonders of Kansas and opened it to the page devoted to Liggett. Greensburg was at the forefront of the book, as it "Big Well," the world's largest hand-dug well, had been designated as one of the top Eight Wonders of the state.  It was 109 feet deep and 32 feet wide and had been dug in 1887 to provide water for the railroad.  It had also served as the town's source of water until 1932.  The new visitor center had been built over it and one could walk down in to it.

The book broke the wonders in to nine categories of twenty-four each with eight top wonders and then sixteen honorable mentions.  The categories were Overall, Architecture, Art, Commerce, Cuisine, Customs, Georgraphy, History and People.  Among the people were Amelia Earhart, George Washington Carter, James Naismath and Buster Keaton.  The visitor center also had a map of the locations of the 216 Wonders with clusters in Wichita, Kansas City and Topeka.  All of a sudden I have much more than Carnegie Libraries to search out.  It was a big surprise though that not one of the fifty-two still standing Carnegies made the list, even though forty-two of them are on the Department of Interior's Registry of National Historic Places.

The last I'd seen in Dodge City was a particularly exemplary building, highlighted by a dome and stained glass windows and a striking corner location on brick-lined streets.  Behind it was a small garden with benches donated by the founder of the town's newspaper, The Daily Globe, whose offices were next door.  It had to be the equal of various mansions and churches and hotels and court houses that had made the "Wonders" list.  The Carnegies en masse warranf recognition as a general category, just as there is a category of Old-Fashioned Soda Fountains and another of Post Office Section Art scattered around the state.  Hell, a Ball of Twine in Cawker City made the list as did a Shoe Tree in Wetmore and the Widest Main Street in the US in Plains all made the list. 

Greensburg merited top billing on the list not only for its Well, constructed in 1887 mainly to provide water for the railroad, but also for its recovery from one of the fiercest, most powerful tornadoes in history that struck the town in 2007 destroying 95 per cent of its homes and businesses and all four of its churches.  Remarkably only twelve people were killed, including a state trooper in his car.   The seventy year old lady at the visitor center lived through it.  It struck just after dark and only lasted fifteen minutes, including a short lull when the eye of the tornado passed by.  The roof of her house blew away as she huddled in a hallway with her cats. It was the only tornado she had ever experienced, as the last to hit Greensburg was in the 1920s.

The town has entirely been rebuilt with many solid brick buildings, many with an emphasis on green technology utilizing the incessant winds to provide energy and collecting rain water and making use of natural daylight.  Its new hospital is the first LEED Platinum Certified Critical Access Hospital in the United States.  The town was a contrast to many of the small towns I have passed through with most of the small businesses on their Main Street boarded up.  As a loaded up on hotcakes in one small town several ladies at a nearby table bemoaned that their town was dying.  Its bowling alley had recently closed down and now there were rumors that the country club was going to close as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Garden City, Kansas

Unlike previous years when my ride home from Telluride has taken me along the Pony Express route or the Oregon Trail or the route of Lewis and Clark or the Mormons or Route 66, there has not been a great abundance of historical markers on the Santa Fe trail giving its history and detailing significant events.  Like the other trails though, there have been spots where one can see the ruts left by the wagons of those early settlers and pioneers.

The southern Santa Fe Trail was more prone to Indian attacks than the others, as it cut through territory inhabited by the more war-like Comanches and Apaches. This was more of a trade route than an emigration route.   In the more dangerous stretches those on the trail would drive their wagons four abreast so they could quickly circle their wagons to defend themselves.  The stretch I have followed for the past 150 miles follows the Arkansas River, which in the early days of the trail formed the US border with Mexico, not hundreds of miles further south along the Rio Grande.  Its not much of a river this time of the year.  Its bordered by a narrow band of scruff that in the spring is covered in water.

The road doesn't hug it very closely.  The only times I have seen it have been the three times I have crossed it, all in Colorado, so far, in Las Animas, Lamar and  beyond Granada.  A historical marker in Granada mentioned that it had been the site of one of ten internment camps for Japamese civilians during WWII.  It was established in August 1942, eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  At its height it hosted 7,318, mostly from Los Angeles.  All that remains of the camp is one concrete building and the foundations of many  of the others.

Sunday has been the only day when the temperatures have been above seventy.  The river would have been inviting if it had any depth and was at all accessible.  Instead I had to settle on town park water faucets to douse myself and service station self-serve fountain drinks to cool myself.  A 32-ounce drink with as much ice as I want is a true delight. I haven't had enough experience with them this year to gauge how much ice to put in the cups to get that right balance of keeping the soda ice cold and maximizing the amount of soda.  I give high priority to having enough ice, but I don't want to overdue it either.  

The first tail wind of the travels blew me into Kansas Sunday.  I took advantage of it right up to dark.  I was following a railroad track with a steep embankment and periodic clumps of bushes that I knew I could camp below when it became too dark to continue cycling.  The wind was still blowing when I set up camp.  When it stilled sometime in the night I was awoken by the acrid smell of a nearby field that the wind had been blowing away from me.  At least it wasn't as strong as the stark feedlots that have dotted the way and force me to hold my breath and wonder why the society for prevention of cruelty to animals isn't picketing these sights.

Later in the night the wind resumed, but this time from the northeast, dropping the temperature and also inflicting me with a headwind.  After effortlessly flying along at eighteen miles per hours the day before, I was straining to push the bike at nine miles per hour.  Fortunately, I have no deadlines, at least yet, on this trip, so I didn't need to fret and could simply appreciate being on the bike and gaze about at the wide open scenery, some of which was being planted with winter wheat.   It wasn't until I was thirty miles into Kansss that I left the Mountain Time Zone.  It isn't defined by the border with Colorado in this central section of the state.

I was nearly seventy miles into Kansas before I came upon a Carnegie Library in the thriving and sprawling agri-business town of Garden City, the largest I'd come upon since Durango with a population of 26,000.  It was no surprise that it had outgrown its hundred year old library and had built a new one.  The Carnegie now serves as home to the local NPR station.  It was a magnificent and well-maintained four-pillared building, shaded by large trees on an old-fashioned brick-inlaid street.  I arrived just before dark, so the lamp post out front, a feature of many Carnegies, symbolizing enlightenment, had been turned on.

I rode into the dark, making it as far as the town's cemetery, several miles before its airport, before I found a place to camp. Once again it was a cool night, but now that I'm down to under 3,000 feet, not as cold as it had been in Colorado when I was camping at over 8,000 feet.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rocky Ford, Colorado

One last pass awaited me thirty-five miles beyond Alamosa before I left the mountains and descended to the Plains--the gently graded 9,414 foot North La Veta Pass, 2,000 feet higher than Alamosa.  Sixteen miles beyond Alamosa I passed a turn to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument nestled up against the Sangre de Cristo Range.  During the winter they are one of Joel's skiing options, though his preference is Wolf Creek, which receives more snow than any other of Colorado's ski resorts.  I had visited the Dunes myself back in my youth when I attended summer camp in Buena Vista and could well remember sliding down them in the summer months.

If my legs weren't still recovering from all the energy they expended getting over Wolf Creek in the rain, I might have added one more pass to the six I had already climbed after the relatively undemanding La Veta and detoured seventy miles south to Trinidad over the more intimidating 9,941 foot Cucharas Pass on a secondary road to visit the southernmost Carnegie Library in Colorado, but I would have to save that for another time.  It was well that I didn't, as more inclement weather moved in the next day and it would have been a truly hard ride.

As it was, I shivered most of the next day on flatter terrain in a cold misty rain that had moved in during the night.  It was barely above freezing and wet when I broke camp behind a closed-down roadside cafe.  I dug out my tights and booties and wool cap for the first time and wore a neckerchief, bandito-style, pulled up over my nose.  Still it wasn't enough to keep my warm on the day's initial sixteen-mile gradual descent to Walsenburg.  Not could my wool gloves keep my hands warm.  I had to alternately put one behind my back out of the wind, balled up into a fist, to keep them semi-functional and unfrozen.

An hour in a cafe filled with bow-hunters in camouflage as I ate a stack of hot cakes barely warmed me up.  It was only when I resumed riding on terrain that had leveled off when I could begin exerting myself did I ward off the chill that had penetrated to my bones.  The temperature never got above fifty nor did the mist that hugged the landscape ever lift.  In one way I was fortunate, as I was engaged in a 63-mile stretch between towns from Walsenburg to Hawley.  If it had been hot I would have been worried about running out of water.  In these conditions my concern was staying warm during my rest breaks.

It was a challenge too finding a place to camp without have to hop over a barbed wire fence that lined most of the treeless terrain that had just barely enough vegetation for a scattered few cattle.  A was lucky to come upon a mini-stockyard for loading cattle after fifty miles as night closed in.  It didn't provide total privacy, but there was so little traffic only two or three pick-ups passed before total dark.

I awoke to a clear sky, though it was still cold enough for tights, though not a wool cap or booties.  I continued ten miles to the dot of Hawley.  I still had plenty of water left, so could continue on to Rocky Ford and its Carnegie, six miles to the north, before stopping for food or drink.

The first person I asked about the location of the library said it was just three blocks away and she was head there herself.  It was a new library, but the old Carnegie was in the same large park and was now a museum.  It was by far the much more majestic of the two buildings.

The new library was so understaffed and underused that a bell sounded whenever someone opened the door to the library, whether entering or exiting.  One also needed a key to use the rest room.  Still it provided a welcome oasis.

It is the last of the Carnegies I'll visit in Colorado.  There had been one in Lamar, sixty-five miles east on my route along the old Santa Fe Trail following the Arkansas River, but it had been torn down in 1975. It'll be further into Kansas before my next Carnegie.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Alamosa, Colorado

Dark, gloomy low clouds hovered in the valley beyond Pagosa Spring obscuring the road ahead to Wolf Creek Pass.  It was a gradual climb of not much more than one per cent for nearly fifteen miles before the road rose sharply eight miles from the summit.  The clouds began dripping a light drizzle shortly before the road became a steep ramp.  

Before long the drizzle had increased to a steady, then a hard, rain. It was cold and unpleasant, but I wasn't concerned that it would last long or amount to much, as this is a semi-arid region whose annual rainfall isn't much more than ten inches.  I'd suffered a similar rain two days before on the twin passes beyond Silverton that didn't last longer than half hour, though it included several minutes of hail.  

The road was three and four lanes wide and had an ample shoulder, so what traffic there was could pass me with enough distance to avoid spraying me with additional water.  The most significant spray came from the occasional sudden waterfalls spilling over the cliff sides to my right.   Snow plows were on the road to clear fallen rocks.  I was happy to stop and clear them myself to give my legs some respite and let my heart rate return to normal and to gain some good karma.

If it hadn't been raining I would have stopped every two miles or 500 feet gained to eat and rest and read a bit, but I had to keep moving to stay warm. My Goretex jacket was keeping my torso dry, but I was still quite chilled.  I paused to rest my legs after half an hour, but remained in motion, pushing my bike to ward off a deeper chill, trying to put as much weight on my arms as I could to rest my legs.  It was raining too hard to dare to shed my raincoat and put on my sweater.  

After another half hour of riding, gaining another two miles, reaching the half-way point of the eight-mile climb, the rain was still pelting down.  It wasn't the deluge I experienced a year ago when ten inches fell in an hour while I was climbing to Colorado Springs and was rescued by a rancher, but I still thought someone might stop and offer me a lift.  If they had, I would have just asked to sit in their vehicle long enough to put on my sweater and warm up a bit.  But no one stopped, even when I paused to put on my wool gloves and struggled to remove my cycling gloves.  I had to put my hands under my arm pits for a spell to regain feeling.

Another mile later, after nearly an hour-and-a-half of a steady hard rain, it relented enough for me to quickly take off my rain cost and don my sweater.  But my hands were so cold I couldn't pull the zipper back up on my raincoat.  I had to stand a couple minutes at over 10,000 feet with another 800 to climb hunched over with my hands under my arm pits again to regain enough feeling in my fingers to make them functional.  At least I didn't need my fingers for braking on the descent.  I could apply enough pressure with my palms to control my speed.  Still I wasn't looking forward to a descent on a road covered with a sheet of rushing water while being pelted by a cold rain.  I was prepared to seek refuge at the ski resort a mile below the summit.

But after nearly two hours, the rain finally quit a few minutes before I reached the summit.  I desperately needed the sun to warm up, but there was no sign of blue sky, just thick clouds.  I kept my speed under 20 miles per hour, about half of what it would have been had the road been dry.  It was a scenic descent of over ten miles following the creek the pass takes its name from through a narrow, thickly forested canyon.  I eventually regained the sun, but it didn't provide as much warmth as I needed.  I had to keep on my jacket and sweater and switch into dry gloves.  The descent continued all the way to South Fork, where Wolf Creek joins up with the Rio Grande River on the eastern side of the Continental Divide.

I passed the South Fork library built in 2008, which advertised itself as a Carnegie even though it wasn't funded by Carnegie but is a branch of the Carnegie in Monte Vista.

Monte Vista's library, thirty miles down the road, is a classic dignified Carnegie that has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, as have seven others in Colorado.

Its addition to the back has solar panels on its roof.  The four counties in this valley beyond the Continental Divide has the highest percentage of homes and businesses with solar panels in the country.

On the same property as the library is the town's tiny original library built in 1895, now serving as a museum.

Monte Vista is also a rare American town with a thriving two-screen Drive-In theater, the town's only option for big screen viewing as its downtown theater closed less than a year ago when it couldn't afford digital projectors.

If residents wish to see a movie on a big screen during the winter months they have to drive to Alamosa, seventeen miles away for its six-screen multiplex that took the place of the town's two old downtown theaters.  My friend Joel, a retired physician, who has been attending the Telluride Film Festival for more than twenty-five years, offered to rent one of the theaters to play something other than the Hollywood fare that the multiplex restricts itself to, but the owners didn't want the competiton, so the two theaters remain dormant.

Joel has solar panels on his house that date to the 1980s.  His house also has a dike in its backyard, holding back the Rio Grande, though its only a meandering trickle this time of the year.  It hasn't flooded since 1926.  A bigger concern is the proliferation of deer.  Nearly the first question Joel asked me when I arrived was if I had seen any deer in his residential neighborhood.  I had indeed, though I had at first thought they were statues.  Joel says he has deer in his backyard 365 days a year. We saw several groups meander through in the early evening.   In the distance is one of Colorado's fifty-three 14ers--Mount Blanca, the fifth highest at 14,357 feet.

Joel protects his tomatoes and bees and a few of his other crops with a high fence.

He supplements his garden with produce from two community gardens a couple miles from his house, one that he helped establish thirty years ago.  We took a nice meandering ride about this community of 9,000 people in the early evening.  Up to World War II it was fifty per cent Hispanic.  Now it is about eighty per cent white.  Like Durango it has a narrow-gauge railroad for tourists, though the scenery in the high desert valley doesn't compare to the mountainous terrain of the more famed Durango-Silverton line.  

We had a fine evening recounting the two weeks we spent together at Telluride.  Joel arrives a week after I do in time for the Mushroom Festival, then pitches in at the shipping department.  He has traveled the world, including a seven-month meander around Africa. The walls of his home are covered with art from his travels.  I learned that he is also an accomplished cook, preparing a delux pasta sauce with tomatoes from his garden.  My only regret was I couldn't linger, especially with the local college hosting a film festival the upcoming weekend.  And also that its Carnegie Library had been torn down fifty years ago.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Durango, Colorado

Rather than taking the easier, less strenuous route from Telluride to Durango around the back side of the San Juan mountains, as I did four years ago on my way to Alburquerque, this year I took the far more demanding route tackling the San Juans head on, subjecting my legs to four high mountain passes so I could visit the Carneige library in the old mining town of Silverton.

Never have I put so much effort into seeking out a Carnegie.  Nor have I been so uncertain as to whether my legs were up to the task after four weeks of minimal cycling while I looked after the shipping department for the Telluride Film Festival.  I got plenty of exercise hoisting and dispersing boxes, but I spent little time on my bike other than making short deliveries and commutes in this town of 1,500 that is just several blocks wide and barely extends a mile from end to end in its cosy box canyon.

As I made the arduous thirteen-mile climb from Ouray over the 11,000 foot Red Mountain Pass to Silverton my thought was transported to the Philippines where this past February I had made an even greater effort going one hundred miles out of my way over a rough mountain ridge on an unpaved road to visit the isolated beach town where the surfing scene in "Apocalpse Now" was shot.  I was most glad to have made the effort and knew I would feel the same once I reached Silverton.  

"Apocalypse Now" was on my mind as Telluride gave it a special tribute with it being its 35th anniversary.  Not only was Francis Ford Coppola on hand, but so were many of its principals--screenwriter John Milius, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, editor and sound designer Walter Murch, producer and casting director Fred Roos, and also Dennis Jakob, who Coppola brought in as a consultant to help on the editing and the script, particularly with whether Kurtz should live or die.  

Jakob was a classmate of Coppola's at UCLA's film school along with Jim Morrison.  At one point Coppola intended for Morrison to provide the entire soundtrack for the film, but instead only used  "This is the End" for its opening.  The classical music he settled on for the helicopter scene is so emblematic, that it has been adopted by helicopter pilots to announce their arrival in wars ever since.  Jakob said that when he joined the shoot in the Philippines, there were only two sane people on the set, one of whom was the cook.  He didn't like being there at all and said, "Don't ever go to the Philippines."    I was sitting three rows away from him in the Courthouse where he was in conversation with Errol Morris and Guy Maddin discussing the movie and could have offered a contrary opinion, but didn't care to interrupt the fascinating conversation.

The Opening Night Tribute to the film in the Opera House, hosted by director James Gray, who saw the film as a ten year old in Times Square inspiring him to become a film-maker, was one of the many highlights of the film featival always jam-packed with once-in-a-lifetime moments.  After one of the clips from the film, Gray commented to his wife in the audience that he was going to retire from film-making and become a substitute teacher, as he could never hope to match such artistry.

As I pedaled away climbing higher and higher amongst the rugged mountain peaks all around my mind also wandered to my summer in France and the added coincidence of paying a visit to Jim Morrison's grave in Paris with Janina.  It was almost as if I had had a subconscious premonition that "Apocalpse Now" and Morrison would feature prominently at Telluride this year. 

Nine of the fifty-plus films on the Telluride schedule had played at Cannes, all of which I had seen and were worthy enough to see again.  The Palm d'Or winner, the Turkish film "Winter Sleep," however did not make the cut, undermined somewhat by its three-hour running time.  But there were seven former Palm d'Or winners in attendance--Mike Leigh, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Volker Schlondorff, Francis Ford Coppola and the Dardennes brothers.  Adding to the "Apocalpsye Now" theme was that  Schlondorff's "The Tin Drum" shared the Palm d'Or with it in 1979.

Saturday's Noon Seminar in the park included all of them except the Dardennes, who are slightly hesitant to speak English.  It may have been the most august panel in Telluride history.  Also on the panel was Ethan Hawke, on hand with the documentary he had directed--"Seymour," featuring an elderly Manhattan piano maestro who had abandoned his career to teach.  When he introduced his film shortly after the seminar, he said he had just had the most incredible experience of his life being a part of that panel, a sentiment that those he in the audience sitting on the grass could echo.

It is no wonder that Telluride is considered the Crown Jewel of film festivals.  It will leave me plenty to think about as I pedal the 1,500 miles back to Chicago hopping from Carnegie to Carnegie.  Silverton's was not the first of these travels, as I stopped off at the one in Delta on my way to Telluride a month ago on my 128-mile ride from Grand Junction after taking the train from Chicago.  Grand Junction once had a Carnegie, but it is one of five of the thirty-five Carnegies built in Colorado that has been torn down.

Delta's Carnegie has been doubled in size with an addition to its backside, but its front retains all the nobility it had when it was constructed over a century ago.

Inside, mounted on a wall, was a newspaper clipping detailing its history.

Silverton boasted a much more modest, though no less distinguished, Carnegie with a magnifcent mountain backdrop.  It was a block off the town's main street, on a dirt road, as were all the town's streets other than its main street, which was lined with restaurants and outfitters and stores catering to tourists. Though Silverton is 9,300 feet and has the highest Harley Davidson shop in the world, its Carnegie is not the highest.  That honor goes to Leadville, at over 10,000 feet, one that I have yet to visit.  The library was closed, it being Sunday, but while I was there, two people came by to take advantage of its WIFI.  I was fortunate, as they could tell me the password--Colorado.

Beside the entry was a small plaque acknowledging Carnegie. 

It had been a ten-mile descent to Silverton from the summit of Red Mountain Pass, but continuing south to Durango I was immediately confronted by a seven-mile climb out of the town over the Molas Pass, just under 11,000 feet high.  After a four-mile descent the road climbed three-miles over Coal Bank Pass.  A storm had moved in and I was pelted by hail as I made the climb.  Blue sky ahead took some of the bite out of the storm, and it had fortunately passed by the time I could begin the long descent to Durango, thirty-five miles away.  I closed to within twelve miles of Durango before dark closed in and I found a clump of trees to camp in off the road.

The next morning I passed the narrow-gauge train packed with tourists that makes the run from Durango, at 6,300 feet, to Silverton.  It gave me a toot and many of the passengers waved and pointed their cameras at me.  As I entered Durango I asked a cyclist where I could get a hefty stack of hot cakes.  He recommended the downtown Durango Diner, just a couple blocks from its Carnegie Library, now home to a cluster of city offices, though it retains its Carnegie heritage with a rather bland entry tacked onto to the original building.

Its original walls are far more pleasing, though shrouded by trees.

The next Carnegie awaits me in Monte Vista, over one hundred miles away on the other side of the forbidding Wolf Creek Pass.  It is relatively flat going for sixty miles from Durango to Pagosa Springs, where the climb will begin.  It will give my legs some time to recover from the demanding three-pass day into and out of Silverton.  And after Monte Vista I will have the pleasure of a visit with Joel,  a long-time friend from the film festival who lives in Alamosa, another of the five towns in Colorado who tore down their Carnegie. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Stage Twenty-One

Early in the afternoon I realized the quiet road I was biking, along the fringe of the Massif Central, was only taking me through small villages, none large enough to have bars that would have a television for The Tour's final stage on the Champs Élysées.  I'd have to make a detour at some point to a larger town.

It was an early evening finish, around seven p.m., so at six p.m. I turned east to la Souterraine, six miles away.  I knew by the distant towering cathedral that it was large enough to have restaurants and bars.  None were open, though, on this Sunday evening in the center of the town.  I kept riding and hoping until I came to a kebab restaurant a few blocks further with a few occupied tables out front.  I ducked in and cheered at the sight of a television, and cheered again that it wasn't showing soccer, something that is not always easy to switch from.  It was only a music show and no one was watching.  

Thirty-two kilometers remained in The Race.  Richie Porte and two others were the token breakaway, twenty-three seconds ahead, no threat whatsoever.  They were easily gobbled up and the sprint trains began their torrid rush to the finish early in the final four mile lap that included the Arc de Triomphe and the ultimate of round-abouts. No bikes were dangling from it.

Kittel reminded everyone he was still in The Race, after being pretty much absent for more than two weeks, just barely overtaking Kristoff to win his third stage this year, in a much less dramatic fashion than last year when he propelled himself past Cavendish and Gripel, all three riding as if their hair was on fire.  Gripel again was a non-factor, finishing fourth.

The standings remained the same as after the time trial.  There was no shuffling of the Top Ten as a few years ago when Vinokourov attacked and moved up to sixth from seventh, overtaking the non-plussed Levi Leipheimer, caught off-guard by Vinokourov violating the gentleman's agreement that the final stage was ceremonial and just a final showcase for the sprinters.   Leipheirmer said he didn't care, seventh or sixth did not matter, only the podium slots.  But it was another example of the slippery and shady ways of Vinokourov.  

Being the front man for Nibali's Astana team does cast a shadow on his victory.  Vinokourov is notorious for doing whatever it takes to win, not unlike Lance.  He remains unrepentant over his two-year suspension for blood doping during The Tour in 2007. He was accused of paying off a breakaway companion to let him win Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  The story only came out when the rider who Vinokourov made the deal with leaked emails between the two of them when Vinokourov wouldn't send him the money he agreed to pay him.  Vinokourov has now so desperately wanted a Tour victory for Astana, he reportedly offered Nibali a million euro bonus for winning The Tour.  

Money does motivate.  Van Garderen said he was not disappointed withhold fifth place fifth even though he came into The Race with podium aspirations.  His teammates and team staff certainly had to be, as they would have shared in those winnings, as much as twenty-five thousand euros each if he had finished second.  One of Laurent Fignon's teammates admitted to wanting to wring Fignon's neck when Greg LeMond overcame a fifty second deficit on the final stage of the 1989 Tour knocking Fignon from first to second, costing him twenty-five thousand euros.  He had been excitedly to be able to buy his dream car, and then he couldn't.  

At least Van Garderen said he still wants to win The Tour, something he hopes to accomplish within the next ten years of his career. He did rebound significantly from last year when he was perhaps the year's biggest disappointment, falling considerably short of the promise he had shown the year before when he finished fifth and won the White Jersey.  A true competitor would have been saying that he was disappointed in not making the podium, or even winning The Race this year.  That would have been the fighting spirit of a Hinault or a Merckx.  

Neither he nor Talanksy have done much to capture the fancy of American race fans.  There were virtually none to be seen along The Tour route, unlike the Lance years when there were legions.  There was a three year dry spell, but when Lance made his comeback in 2009, they were back.  The Race experience is so sensational, attending shouldn't hinge on needing one's countryman to be contending, but that is the case.  The Australian contingent has dried up after hoards lined the race course when Evans was a factor.  The different flags flying along the course adds to the festivity.  There were a few Japanese the year there were two of their countrymen in The Race.  I didn't notice any Chinese flags this year to celebrate the first Chinese entrant ever.  He held on to the Lantern Rouge, though he did finish ahead of two others in the time trial.  Anyone who completes The Tour can be proud.  He must certainly feel so, though whether he will be celebrated in China, considering he finished last, is another question.

My usual fare for sitting and watching The Tour is the price of a menth a l'eau.  The kebab place served no such drink.  Instead, my item of purchase to sit and watch the television was some solid calories, if frites can be considered such, plus my choice of sauces--mayonnaise or ketchup.  The restaurant also had a self-serve cold water dispenser, the first I've encountered in France.  I drank glass after glass and felt lucky that none of the bars in the center of the city were open.  The food and drink and my final dose of The Tour kept me riding for two more hours until dark.  I felt as if I could have kept going all the way to Paris, two hundred miles further.  My minimal miles yesterday had rejuvenated my legs.  No worries about having the energy now to make my flight home.

Stage Twenty

My first order of business for the day was to find the Big Screen and determine where I wished to sit and watch it for the last couple of hours of the time trial that would be going on for nearly six hours.  It wasn't even noon, but the race course was mobbed and the first riders were on their way.

The caravan had already done its business and a good many people were wearing the yellow and the red polka hats that it distributes.  I had slept in, prizing a few extra hours of much needed sleep over the spectacle of grown men and children of all ages scrambling for the caravan goodies.

It was hard to tell where the shade would be in front of the Big Screen.  If there wasn't any to be found, I had the possibility of three smaller screens all between the 50 meter and the 150 meter signs to the finish, with the Big Screen at the 200 meter to go mark.  No grassy field to plop down in here, just concrete sidewalks and side streets.  At least I would have a quick getaway less than a block from the road I wanted north out of the city to Limoges.

With several hours of free time I went in search of a supermarket and then a place to do some charging.  The library was two blocks from the finish line, so was closed for the day.  Second choice was a cathedral.  That was easy enough to find, just a couple of blocks from the vast fenced-in complex catering to the media and sponsors and VIPs.  As I was circling around it, I noticed someone through the fence in a grey t-shirt and jeans holding a sheaf of papers who bore a resemblance to Christian.  Before I could get closer to see, his face lit up, recognizing me before I could confirm that was what he looked like in his new profession as an NBC commentator without his make-up.

"I was hoping I'd see you before The Tour ended," he said.

"Me too.  Usually we've had an encounter long before now.  I thought I might see you out on the course.  I heard you were riding some."

"That was early on.  I had to give it up.  You know how hard it is."

"Your credentials didn't help with the gendarmes?"

"Not much."

"Its a shame Van Garderen had that jour sans the first day in the Pyrenees.  If he'd been in contention for the podium today, that would have been good for your ratings."

"He can still do it.  I was talking to him this morning and told him in '08 I took four minutes out of someone who was ahead of me."

"Its not impossible.  Two years ago he caught his three-minute man, Basso, in the final time trial."

We talked a bit more about Talansky and Garmin's great win yesterday before Christian gestured to the giant fold-out truck behind him and said, "That's my office.  I've got to get back to work.  Good to see you."


When I returned to the Big Screen a few hours later I was able to find a patch of shade by slipping in between two bikes that were leaning against a railing.  The owner of one of them snapped at me for touching his bike.  He was an English dude with tattoos on his arms and a tight Lycra jersey accentuating his protruding belly.  He and his two friends were showing no consideration for others by placing their bikes where they did, blocking a ledge where people could sit.

"You could move your bikes over there with those others so people could sit here," I said.  

"I've been here for hours.  This is our spot," was his nasty response.  

That he preferred to stand for hours in his cycling shoes when he could be sitting said all one needed to know about his sense.  It was a somewhat welcome hot, sunny day and shade was at a premium.  People sought it wherever they could find it.

Many were wilting from their long day at The Tour.

But they were still persevering until the end when the French trio of rides vying for the podium would be among the last five riders to leave the starting gate thirty-four miles away.

The riders passed one by one at intervals of a minute or two or three depending on how well they were doing with the fans cheering and  pounding the boards lining the course.

It took the riders a little over an hour to complete the course.  There would be fifteen or so on the course at any given time, each preceded by a gendarme on a motorcycle and followed by a cameraman on a motorcycle and a team car.  The action on the screen was continually switching from rider to rider, while trying to show each rider leave the starting gate and cross the finish line.  When the Time Trial World Champion Tony Martin of Germany, and favorite to win the stage, was on the course, he was on the screen for nearly his entire ride, allowing the fans to get the full flavor of the course.  It was packed the whole way with cheering fans.  

The vast majority of riders had nothing at stake, nor had more than a glimmer of a chance of a high placing.  Their only concern was riding hard enough to make the time cut.  I was hoping they didn't have to suffer too much pushing themselves and could enjoy their Saturday ride through the beautiful rolling and wooded countryside and small towns, and appreciate how well it had been decorated by  everyone along the route and also have their hearts warmed by the thousands of people who had come out to cheer them.

Other than Martin's ride about an hour before the six main contenders took to the course there really wasn't much at stake.   The only reason to be paying the screen any attention was simply to glory in the beauty and grandeur of this event so deeply ingrained in French culture.  It was a joy to gaze upon the thousands of people on the screen and all around me each playing their part.

For fifteen minutes from 4:12 to 4:27 when the six main contenders (Van  Garderen, Bardot, Valverde, Peraud, Pinot and Nibali) took to the course in three minute intervals, the screen focused primarily on each rider as he entered the starting ramp with a look of intensity on his face and was given the countdown before being released.  Each began with grim determination.  Much was at stake for all of them, though Nibali with a seven minute lead shouldered the least amount of pressure.  He just needed not to embarrass himself with a half-hearted effort unworthy of a champion, or lose concentration and take a spill.  There were four significant climbs on the course, each followed by high-speed descents that could spell disaster if one's attention wavered.

Nibali fully honored the Yellow Jersey, or skin suit that clung to his body.  He only had the fourth fastest time, beaten by three time trial specialists, including Martin, who won the stage, but he had the best time of the six main contenders.  Second best time of the contenders was turned in by Van Garderen, good enough to move from sixth to fifth overall by just two seconds, thanks in part to a flat tire by Bardot, who began the day two minutes and eleven seconds ahead of Van Garderen.  The second and third place riders also swapped positions, but they were both French, who rode better than Valverde, who had the worst time of the six, but remained in fourth.  

It would have been a different race of Moviestar had brought back their young Colombian climbing sensation, Quintana, who finished second last year, preferring to give their Spanish veteran Valverde a chance and not put Quintana under pressure with heavy expectations, which he did not have last year.  But he proved by winning the Giro this year, he can handle pressure.  Wait 'til next year.  It will be a doozy if Froome, Contador, Nibali and Quintana are in top form. 

There was no superhighway near Perigueux heading north, so the entire Tour entourage had to take the two-lane highway that was my route for sixty miles to Limoges, where it could pick up the Autoroute for the final three hundred miles to Paris for the next day's stage.  It gave me a continual jolt of pleasure to be part of this mass migration, though I wouldn't complete it until Wednesday, while everyone else would be done by midnight.  We were quite a grand parade of Tour-decaled trucks, vans and cars.  People along the way sat out in lawn chairs to watch us go by, some waving and eliciting horn toots.

As I climbed a hill a car slowed alongside me and I heard a voice I recognized ask if I'd like some water.  It was Christian sitting in the back seat of a car with Bob Roll at the wheel and two others filling the car, leaving no room for me.  It was seven p.m., ninety minutes after the stage had been completed.  They had done a quick wrap to be on their way already, but they had a long drive ahead of them.

"You're not flying up with the riders?" I asked in surprise.

"No, we get to make the drive.  Do you need anything?"

"You don't happen to have a spare water bottle.  Look at this.  Its got a crack in it rubbing against the water bottle cage."

"All I have is this," he said, showing me a large plastic Vittel bottle.  "Come by the house when you get back.  I'll fix you up."