Thursday, January 22, 2015

Richard Halliburton and the Bicycle

For twenty years during the 1920s and 1930s Richard Halliburton rampaged the world, masquerading as a traveler with a "guardian-devil" as an accomplice tempting him to do one outrageous stunt after another--swimming the Panama Canal, crossing the Alps on an elephant, making a winter ascent of Mount Fuji, stowing away on a ship, sneaking into Gibraltar and taking forbidden photographs, spending the night at the Taj Mahal and making a moonlit swim in one of its pools, tracking down in Siberia the assassin of Russia's Czar, spending a year hopping around the world in a small plane, acquiring a couple of slaves in Timbucktoo, traveling with a monkey and an organ-grinder in South America, making an attempt on Mecca.

He wrote seven best-selling books, one that lasted for over two years on the list.  He was a huge attraction on the lecture circuit. He became a household name and was often parodied and a subject of cartoonists.  He was an ardent self-promoter, the Kim Kardashian of his time. His biographer Jonathon Root proclaimed in his book "Halliburton, The Magnificent Myth," that "he was the recipient of more praise, adulation, contempt and ridicule than any other public figure of his time."  When he was lost at sea in 1939 sailing a Chinese Junk from Hong Kong to San Francisco for its World's Fair, it was widely believed to be another of his publicity stunts.  It wasn't until seven months later that he was officially declared dead at the age of 39.

Despite his relentless quest to distinguish himself as the greatest traveler of all time (he considered titling his first book "Ulysses Junior"), only once in all of his travels does he utilize the bicycle as a means of transport.  He did not embrace that caveat that the getting there is more important than the destination for the genuine traveler.  He was a destination-oriented traveler and hardly dwelled on the actual travel.  Though he did dabble with traveling by bicycle at the start of his career, he was not won over and failed to recognize that there is no better nor fulfilling way to travel nor a better means of gaining an understanding of a place and its people.  

Halliburton had that intution, as he intended to make his first big adventure a bike trip around Europe. 
He had just graduated from Princeton.  His parents offered him a graduation present of three-months in Europe. That wasn't enough for him.  His desire was to spend a year or more traveling the world and writing a book about it.  He knew the conventional, office-bound life wasn't for him.  His goal was to become the world's most traveled person and to write about his travels.  He had already had an article published in "Field and Stream" about a trip out west and had served as editor of a Princeton publication. He had previously been to Europe as a 19-year old and was fully infected with a lust for travel and adventure.

After graduating in 1921 he and a friend found work as deck hands on a ship sailing from New York to Germany.  When they arrived, they bought two bikes and set out to explore Europe.  They only made it as far as Rotterdam, where they sold the bikes after just a couple of weeks.  In his book about those travels, "The Royal Road to Romance" published in 1925, Halliburton doesn't explain why or even offer much commentary on their biking other than they rode very leisurely from village to village and saw lots of people on bikes in Holland.  The most poignant observation on his biking was in a letter to his parents published in a book of his letters after his death.  He wrote from Amsterdam after 175 miles of biking, "I never got such complete satisfaction out of anything before and am happy every minute of it."  He did concede however that they hadn't managed more than sixty miles a day and implied that there had been struggles but that they were becoming more accustomed to the effort it required.  But there is not a peep extolling his love of the bike in his book.  Nor does he exalt their efforts or celebrate all the difficulties they conquered as he does of other of his efforts.

Halliburton went on to Paris on his own and after a couple of weeks of giving dancing lessons bought another bike.  He offers no explanation why he decided to resume the cycling, as if it might indict him for quitting earlier.  He bicycles through the Loire Valley, spending more time lingering at the many chateaux than actually biking.  When he can't decide where to go next, he resorts to taking a train to Bordeaux with his bike, planning to venture into Spain.  

He only remains faithful to the bike for a few days more to Carcassone. He sends the bike on to Marsailles while he continues on alone to Spain.  This was before he realized that he needed to manufacture adventure rather than letting it come to him, otherwise he could have cycled into the Pyrennees and attempted the great climbs of The Tour de France that had been introduced to The he Race only a few years before in 1910.  He could have ridden the "Circle of Death," four of its most intimidating climbs, and tackled the Tourmalet and recounted the agonies of The Tour riders, and the epithet of The Tour winner Octavio Lapize, who called Tour officials at the summit of the Aubisque "assassins" for inflicting such punishment upon them.  Or he could have reenacted Eugene Christophe's legendary repair of his fork after crossing the Tourmalet in the 1913 race.

But Halliburton was still a novice at the travel writing business and didn't realize he needn't to add drama to his travels to separate them from the rest.  It took him two years to find a publisher for his first book and considerable rewriting, purging his book of philosophizing and injecting as much action into it as he could. As it was, no major publisher accepted his book.  He had to settle on a concern in Indianapolis run by a fellow Princeton alum.  

He was often criticized for exaggeration and fabrication, especially his moonlit swim at the Taj Mahal.  Critics claimed the pool was only three inches deep and couldn't be swum.  He was so galled by the criticism that he returned to the Taj on his around the world plane trip some ten years after his first visit to repeat the swim.  When he jumped into a Mayan well in the Yucatan as recounted in his third book, he knew he needed proof so returned the next day with a photographer and repeated his leap.

His first book not only took him around Europe and on to India and Japan, but also included Cambodia, where he was among the first Americans to visit the recently discovered ruins of Angor Wat.  There is no disputing Halliburton was a most committed traveler seeking out rarely visited, isolated places and his capacity to rough it.   But he did not travel purely for the pleasure and joy of it.  From the very start he considered it a job.  He was clearly driven by fame and fortune.  In his letters to his parents on that first trip, he complained, "I've always heard the writer's life is calm and independent. Its not true.  No bricklayer ever worked any harder than I am doing...Its no vacation, its no postgraduate year, its serious business."

One of the reasons he may have given up on the biking is that it exhausted him too much.  In a letter to his parents he said he only had energy to write 500 words at the end of the day rather than his usual 1,000.  He disposed of his bike on that first trip in Monaco, less than 200 miles from Marsailles, where he had resumed his cycling along the Mediterranean. Never again in the next 18 years of his travels did he take advantage of the bicycle, despite the countless possibilities it could have provided for adventure and also to accomplish something out of the ordinary. Instead he specialized in swimming--along with the Panama Canal and the TajmMahal, he swam across the Hellespont, as did Byron, and the Nile and a few other bodies of water, though not the English Channel.  Nor did he attempt Niagra Falls in a barrel, though he did visit it and mentioned that others had. 

He could have made a bike trip of many of his escapades, such as the 230 mile route that Cortez took to Mexico City when he conquered the Aztecs or the escape route of John Wilkes Booth after shooting Lincoln.  In book after book he could have enriched his adventure with the bike, but stuck to standard means of travel, even when he was short of cash and had to evade conductors on trains.

His second book kept him in Europe as he retraced the wanderings of his hero Ulysses. He imagined himself a modern-day Ulysses and considered entitling his first book "Ulysses Junior."   He called his Ulysses book "The Glorious Adventure," adopting his favorite adjective, a word that turns up sixty times or more in some of his books.  Surprisingly not once in any of his books or his collection of letters does he utilize the other favorite word of travel writers--"ubiquitous."  It is a word that almost authenticates a travel book, as any writer with a keen eye will find something out of the ordinary that turns up with uncommon frequency in a new land.  Those critics of Haliburton who found him ridiculous and inauthentic could add this as further evidence to their case.  

He does provide a variation on at least one of travel writing's cliches.  It is quite common for travel writers to speak of a "guardian angel" looking out for them.  I have had that sensation my self.  Bettina Selby mentions a guardian angel in nearly every one of her nine cycle touring books.  Haliburton, too, comments from time to time of a guardian angel, but more often he refers to a "guardian devil" whispering in his ear to do something that might get him in trouble with the authorities or could cause him harm.  Usually he goes along with it.  He was a student of travel literature.  Before he found a publisher for his first book he took a stroll through Brentano's book store in New York and acknowledged there were dozens of authors doing what he was trying to do and that he had to do better.  He didn't want his book to be described as "the trivial diary of a globetrotter," as the "London Times" reviewed one such book.

His third book, "New Worlds to Conquer," subtitled "America's most dashing 1920s adventurer explores South America,"  is packed with authentic adventures, including his ten day swim of the fifty mile length of the Panama Canal through the locks and all.  It held the number one spot on the non-fiction best-seller list for nearly two years.  He hit his stride with this book.  It had less silliness than his previous books, and though it still had its share of contrived adventures, there was at least some merit to them.  His next book, "The Flying Carpet," about his flight around the world, he likewise manages to keep the contrived to a minimum and find interesting and out of the ordinary stories and places, including the training grounds of France's Foreign Legion in Africa.

After four consecutive best sellers, magazines and newspapers were throwing momey at him to contribute stories.  His publisher told him to "go any place in the world you choose, and write whatever pleases you."  That resulted in "Seven League Boots."  He went to Cuba and Russia and the Greek Penisula of Mont Athos that is comprised of twenty communities of monks and forbids females, even of the four-legged kind.  This was more a book of reportage than adventure, though it concluded with his crossing of the Alps on an elephant, duplicating the feat of Hannibal in 218 B.C.  As with his Panama Canal swim this brought him world wide attention.  Hundreds of people, including reporters and photographers, flocked to the road to see this stunt.  The Parisian circus elephant he rented became "the most photographed, admired, discussed, described elephant in history," just as he wanted to be himself.

He was becoming more and more hard-pressed to top himself.  He took some time off to build a monument of a house on a cliffside in Laguna Beach, California and to write two books for a juvenile audience that were a compilation of his favorite places in the world.  They were titled "Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels: The Occident," and "Richard Halliburton's Second Book of Marvels: The Orient."  The books were laced with photographs and retold many of his adventures--swimming the Panama Canal, climbing Mount Fuji, visiting Angkor Wat.  These was no mention of his bicycling in Europe, nor any encouragement of utilizing the bicycle as a means of travel.

After he completed these books he went to Hong Kong to build a Chinese Junk to sail across the Pacific.  It wouldn't be just another adventure for a book and his lectures, but also a prime attraction at the World's Fair in San Francisco that he could sell tickets to board.  He also planned on making money selling souvenirs.  He was ever the enterpreneur.  He had all sorts of problems building it.  His departure was delayed by two months, as changes had to be made after various test sails.  He and his drew disappeared in a typhoon less than three weeks after setting out.  No debris was ever discovered.

Though he is largely forgotten, he is commemorated by a large bell tower at Rhodes College in Memphis.  His parents provided $400,000 to build it in 1962.  

A publisher specializing in classic travel books reissued his first book on the centennial of his birth in 2000.  One can also visit his grave in Memphis, as Janina and I did last January.  His life is another lesson in how much better it could have been had remained true to the bicycle rather than forsaking it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A Potpourri of Cycle Touring Books

Now that I'm pretty much caught up on the latest batch of books devoted to the racing side of cycling, I've had a chance to turn my attention to a strain of books on touring that I've recently come upon, some that I discovered in libraries on my ride to Georgia last month, and others that I found along side them when I sought them out in a Chicago-area library.

There is a seemingly bottomless reservoir of touring books out there from small publishers and the self-published that don't receive much distribution and are pretty much unknown and unread.  One never knows where one might turn up. Its always a pleasure to make such a discovery, but I'm slightly hesitant to plunge into such books, knowing how lackluster and formulaic the writing can be, as they're generally written by someone with limited writing credentials who has been deluded to think their long bike ride is worthy of a book.  Some are, but not all. Occasionally I discover an actual gem, such as Margaret Logan's "Happy Endings," a most literate and poignant account of a mother and daughter cycling across France that a friend alerted me to a couple of years ago after meeting the author years after she wrote her book.

Another such gem turned up in this recent plunge into books on touring--"Once Upon a Chariot," by Iris Paris, the daughter of Norma Jean Belloff, who bicycled from San Diego to Baltimore to visit her grandmother and then back in the late 1940s as a nineteen-year old.  Her return trip in 54 days set the woman's coast-to-coast record at the time. The majority of the book though is devoted to her long ride east that took her to Florida and then up the coast to New York.

Paris didn't learn of her mother's feat until 1989, seventeen years after her death, when she was given five trunks of her belongings by her aunt. The trunks included the journals and newspaper clippings of her exploit.  Her mother succumbed to mental illness four years after Paris was born and never told her about her bicycling.  Paris was nineteen herself when her mother ended her life by her own hand.

Thirteen years passed after Paris received the trunks before it came to her that she ought to make a book of her mother's journals, doing "what God required of me," as she phrased it.  God figures prominently in Belloff's writing as well.  She traveled with a Bible.  She occasionally quotes a passage, but is no Bible-thumper nor proselytizer unlike another of these books, just someone trying to cope with life and turning to the Bible for comfort and guidance, such as when a snake slithers past her campsite.  She grabs her Bible and starts reading Psalms to remind herself that God is mightier than the snake.  When she encounters a hurricane in Florida, she thought, "Why should I be afraid?  This hurricane is God's creation."

She traveled with a sleeping bag, but not a tent.  She camped, stayed in YWCAs and would ask people if she could sleep on their porch or in a spare bedroom.  One night out in the middle of nowhere she stayed with a cowboy in his humble one-room shack.  She felt no fear for her safety, reasoning, "If a horse would trust a cowboy, why couldn't I?  Perhaps viewing too many western movies had created my delusion, but I have to trust him, trust God, if He exists, for protection."  She was likewise brave enough to camp in New York's Central Park and another time in a cemetery.  She had a hard time falling asleep amongst the tombstones, wondering if she was courageous or insane to be camping in such a place.

She submitted stories of her travels to her home town newspaper, the "Ocean Beach News," and was written about quite frequently by newspapers in towns she passed through, some who had been alerted by her mother.  She supplemented the ten dollars per week she earned from her writing with work along the way--packing lettuce, waitressing, as a caretaker for an elderly woman and more.  When she was particularly low on funds she asked a woman if she could help her with her weeding in exchange for a meal.

Not only did the subject matter make this a pleasure to read, but so did the quality of the prose, written with flair and polish. It went beyond being a story of a bike ride, as she had more on her mind than simply riding her bike and finding a place to spend each night.  She set out with just $25, wrapped in wax paper and hidden in her brassiere.  Earning money along the way was a large part of the first half of the trip, as she found funding for the trip back, when she set her record.   Recurring side stories included her alternately warm and contentiousness relationship with her mother, concerns over a boy friend she left behind and concerns over a younger brother who had problems with the law.  It was sad to know, though, from the forward on, the unfortunate conclusion to the story.

"Trail of 32" is another remarkable record-setting bike adventure resurrected from the past.  Paul Rega recounts years later his bike ride as a fifteen year old from Chicago to Florida in 1972.  He was one of 27 Boy Scouts aged 11 to 16 and five troop leaders who accomplished the longest organized bike ride in the history of Scouting--1,253.7 miles.

The first half of the book is devoted to the Scouts' preparation and fund-raising.  Each scout needed $265 for the ride--$40 for a Sears Free Spirit bike, $51 for a plane ticket back, and $174 for food and other expenses.  They didn't have to worry about paying for camping, as the governors of all the states on their route had waived their camping fees.  

They were quite a spectacle, all in uniform and sporting a crew cut their 31 year old troop leader required of them just before departure.  They rode in a set order and within a few bike lengths of one other, except on mountain descents when they separated themselves by minutes rather than feet to avoid crashing into one another.  

Their story, too, captured quite a bit of attention at the time.  Before their departure they rode in their town's Fourth of July parade. During their thirty-day ride the Scouts would take turns appearing on a popular morning Chicago radio show.  Chicago television reporters greeted them on their return to O'Hare airport.  They were given a police escort the final ten miles to their hometown of Wood Dale.  And, of course, there was plenty of newspaper coverage. The book is as much a tribute to Scouting as to the bicycle trip. Though the writing seemed to be slanted towards a teenaged audience, it was still an enjoyable and inspiring read.  I was glad a friend had recommended this Ebook.

"Going Somewhere"  is another book that breaks from the standard bonds of the bicycle touring book genre.  It is the story of a young couple who meet while traveling in Central America, fall in love and decide to return to the US for a bike ride from Wisconsin, the home of the guy, to Portland, Oregon, the home of the girl.  It would be their first long bicycle ride, something the girl had long dreamed of doing.

The author, Brian Benson, is an aspiring writer.  He doesn't complete the book until several years after  their trip and he has honed his writing skills and gone on to teach creative writing.  The book reads as well as a novel, with well-developed characters, descriptive writing, genuine dialogue and sex every so often, a subject generally avoided in such books.  I was fortunate the book was filed among bike books, otherwise I would not have stumbled upon it.

Benson doesn't shy from profanity, writing in a casual vernacular, tossing in phrases such as "I shit you not," and "couldn't give a flying fuck." It is more a piece of literature than a travelogue and is the only one of the seven books I'm reporting on here that didn't include self-congratulatory photographs of their authors dipping wheels into oceans or standing at summit signs, as do most cycle touring books.

Benson and his girl friend are full of youthful zest and a genuine spirit of adventure.  They thrive on all the fresh stimuli in the first days of their ride.  They stay with friends and friends of friends and are the frequent beneficiaries of kindnesses from strangers, at times asking one other if it is for real.  But when they reach South Dakota and have to contend with head winds, the glamour of the experience begins to wear off and their rapport is put to the test. Benson writes with a steadfast honesty, unlike his journal.  When he rereads it later, he admits he had been trying to maintain "the lie that Rachel and I were still living our big romantic story."

He embraces the many challenges and hardships and uncertainties, aspects that Rachel came to hate, feeling at times that she would rather be anywhere than where she was.  He tries to encourage her, rhapsodizing about the scenery and the many exemplary people they have met, but to no avail.  She only wants to talk about how tired she is.  But they endure to finish their trip, helped by a week's sojourn at Glacier National Park.  Benson loved the experience so much that he rode their route a few years later on his own going in the opposite direction.

The remaining four books I've just plowed through were all typical fare--older guys, fifty and beyond, fulfilling a dream of riding coast-to-coast and putting something on the record to pay testament to their feat. Edward Wright at 62 is the oldest of the lot.  He rode from San Diego to Hilton Head in 1990.  Seven years later he published a 150-page book, fifty of which are photos, two to a page, and called it "The Great Bicycle Caper."  He didn't bother to train for his ride, thinking he would save all his strength for the trip.  Early on he realizes that may not have been the best strategy.  He tries to make his struggles easier by sending home his tent and sleeping bag and sticking to motels, some quite shabby, one of which he "wouldn't check his mother-in-law into."  

This is one of those accounts that proves one doesn't have to be an accomplished cyclist to ride a bike across the country.  He knew so little about bikes that he he refers to his tire valve as "presto" rather than "presta."  When a dog chases after him he threw his "speed lever into overdrive."

Paul Stutzman was another non-camper.  He stayed in motels from the very start of his trip, diluting the full sense of freedom and independence that makes the touring experience much more authentic and enriching.  Even though he undertook a slightly more ambitious route than most, setting out from the northwest corner of the country in Washington to its southeast corner in Key West, he simply titles his book "Biking Across America."  He undertook his trip in 2010, two years after hiking the Appalachia Trail, which he also wrote a book about.  God revealed to him to take the hike shortly after the death of his wife.  Her loss is a feature of this book as well.  He tells whoever he can that one should cherish their loved ones, as one never knows when one might lose them, and also that they should take Jesus into their life.

There is no warning on the front or the back of the book that it is an unabashed religious tract.  Only once does he identify himself as being a Mennonite, and not until page 82, but he continually asserts that he listens to and is guided by God in all that he does.  Wright in his "Caper" once mentions that he asks for The Lord's protection every day before he sets out, but he doesn't bludgeon his readers with religion, as does Stutzman. 

Everything that happens to him he credits to God.  After meeting one particular person, as he could have said of everyone he met, he wrote, "This was one of the folks God had in mind when he sent me out on this ride."  Heaven and hell are so real and meaningful to him he takes offense to the bumper sticker "The party in hell has been cancelled due to the fire."  He's alarmed that many in the world think hell is a joke.  He tells a hitchhiker he must let Jesus into his life and if he doesn't it will effect him for all of eternity. 

Bill Hannock's "Riding with the Blue Moth" is another God-driven and God-inspired book.  Hannock had no intention of writing a book about his 2001 coast-to-coast ride, even telling an RV park owner who asked if he was writing a book that he wasn't, as "authoring was for professionals and I was just a regular guy out for a simple adventure."

He may have been a regular guy, but he had an irregular job--the director of the NCAA Final Four, allowing him to name drop Mike Krzyzewski and quite a few other basketball dignitaries.  He had planned on biking across the country to celebrate his 50th birthday, but tabled it when his son was  killed in a small plane crash that took the lives of all ten passengers.  His son was the sports information director for Oklahoma State University and two of the passengers were members of its basketball team.  They were returning from a game.

Hannock and his wife were devastated.  Their lives became smothered by the "blue moth of despair."  Several months after the accident he decides to go through with his bike ride in hopes of escaping the depression that had him on the verge of suicide.  Still that blue moth accompanies him all the way.  His wife tagged along driving an RV, arranging camp sites for them each night, often picking him up when he tired at the end of the day and then returning him to the spot where he quit.  The minimal amount of gear he carried on his bike included a shampoo bottle of water from the Pacific Ocean and a sign he could put along the road for his wife if he left the route he was supposed to be on.

Four years after completing his ride he felt compelled by "The Lord" to write a book to help "others deal with the blue moths in their own lives."  He doesn't overwhelm the reader with religion as does Stutzman, but he does affirm that he is an instrument of an all-powerful God.  Despite his belief, the book is sodden with his tears and those of his wife and his daughter-in-law and many others. This book wins the award by a landslide for the most mentions of movies, with over thirty, in this set of books.  He cries every time he watches "Its a Wonderful Life," a favorite movie that he mentions seven times. "Field of Dreams" receives five mentions and also brings him to tears. 

Baseball is a favorite metaphor.  After he suffers two flat tires within a few minutes of each other, he's so incensed that "all the balls and bats came out of the dugout."  He undertook his ride in July and August.  The heat was so intense that it "rolled like a baseball-stadium tarp over the countryside."  

He maintains a detailed account of everything he eats, giving an exact number of his daily consumption of Fritos.  He acknowledges that he was once a nerd. When he began dating his wife at the age of sixteen, a year older than her, they were "the beauty and the geek."  He didn't bike in high school as it would have been too geeky.  He didn't take to the bike until late in life when his knees were worn out from having run fifteen marathons.  He loved his 2,746 mile ride across the country so much that he followed it up with a 1,700 mile from bottom to top two years later with his wife once again driving along in an RV.

The honor of having the longest, though not necessarily the most ambitious, of the rides in these seven books goes to John Triggs, who pedaled 17,300 miles through the 48 contiguous states.  He was 52 when he set out from his home in Kansas City in June of 1993.  He weighed 260 pounds and continually breaks spokes.  He suffered more mechanical woes than all the other riders combined, though Benson too had a rash of broken spokes early in his trip.  Triggs broke a rim, an axle and his chain several times.  He flies an American flag from his bike and  occasionally has to backtrack when he forgets it.  He also manages to lose his sunglasses, a pannier and his address book.  

But he's the only one of the older set to camp, though he does occasionally resort to a motel.  He wild camps, but will also ask to camp on people's property.  He has learned the less tidy the yard, the more likely he will be given permission to camp.  Those with well-manicured yards are inclined to regard him as a blot upon their property.

He spent twenty years in advertising, so does add some wit to his account otherwise bogged down with dwelling on the tedious travails of the touring cyclist--rain, wind, climbs, mechanicals and showering.  He mentions occasional encounters with other touring cyclists, including my friend David Brankley who I cycled with in Turkey in 2010 and Bruce Webber of the New York Times on the first of his two coast-to-coast rides. He rides for a week with a woman who had worked as a bicycle messenger.  He was on the road for over a year.  His trip was padded by seven weeks when he had to return home for seven weeks to recover from a broken arm.

His was one of three of these books to commit that common faux pas of misspelling "pedaling" as "peddling," as did "The Great Bicycle Caper" and "Once Upon a Chariot."  Like most of the authors he comments on roadside litter.  He thought it was one of the least romantic parts of the trip.  Belloff, the lone woman author of the group, on the other hand, regarded road kill as "bits of art, splattered on a canvas of grey pavement." Hancock was enthralled by the great variety of lost and discarded items he spotted along the road--enough to start "a decent second-hand store."  Stutzman referred to the road's shoulder as a "department store" providing almost everything necessary for survival.  

The authors may become bogged down with the mundane and trivial at times and their laments may become tiresomely repetitive, but they all succeed in conveying at least some of the strands of pleasure provided by going off on one's bike for weeks and months and thousands of miles.  Each are writing of an accomplishment they are proud of and that brought them great satisfaction.  Anyone who has shared that experience will be happy to have it rekindled by reading of another's.  Even after this recent glut of reading I am not sated.  I'd be delighted to wake up tomorrow with another to read, though not nearly as much as I'd like to be off riding one of my own.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Phil Gaimon's "Pro Cycling on $10 a Day"

Unlike those books explaining how to travel Europe on ten dollars a day, Phil Gaimon's "Pro Cycling on $10 a Day" isn't full of tips and tricks on how to race on the cheap, but is rather a lament on how poorly treated and how little racers on the lowest rungs of professional racing in the US are paid.

When he graduated from college in 2009 and began racing for the Jelly Belly team, the oldest of America's Divison three teams, he received a salary of $2000, which amounted to a monthly pay check of $166.60.  After his first season, despite some success, he was offered no raise, so he shifted to the Kenda team and a salary of $15,000.  Neither figures add up to ten dollars per day.  Gaimon no doubt took a creative writing class or two as an English major at the University of Florida, and puts more emphasis on catchy writing than on being so precise about monetary matters.

Gaimon was a good enough student for a professor to encourage him to stay on at school in a fully supported master's program.  Though both his parents were college professors, academia did not call him.  Racing his bike meant more, so much so that he skipped his graduation ceremony to take a training ride, though he did dangle a tassel from his helmet as he rode, or so he says. He has been making use of his degree with writing for "Bicycing" magazine and more lately with a monthly humor column for "Velo."  There is no shortage of humor in his book, though in contrast to his column, it is much more concerned with portraying the harsh reality of the sport than making wisecracks.

He describes in detail his less than honest salary negotiations with his first two team directors, Danny Van Haute of Jelly Belly and Chad Thompson of Kenda, and also questions their capabilities as strategists and the basic running of a team, particularly riling Thompson.   In part two of a most worthwhile podcast with Gaimon, former racer and first-year director Michael Creed, who knows the ins and outs of the sport as well as anyone and is mentioned a couple of times in the book, told Gaimon that he heard that Thompson suggested to Van Haute that they sue Gaimon.  Van Haute declined, saying that everything he wrote was true.  Gaimon had not heard the story, but was not surprised.  He said he held no grudges against Van Haute and "tried not to crap on him too much," but he had no sympathy for Thompson.  "He would lie to your face much worse than Van Haute," he told Creed.

He also told Creed that the Velo Press lawyers went over the book with a fine tooth comb and eliminated quite a bit that would be hard to substantiate.  Under their advisement,  he also toned down some of his rhetoric, such as using the word "dishonest" rather than "a crook."  Gaimon was no stranger to lawyers, as he had once been contacted by representatives of Lance Armstrong to stop selling "Liveclean" cycling jerseys.  

He has no respect for Armstrong.  His biography made him nauseous.  Gaimon dedicated his book to Armstrong's  missing testicle and Tyler Hamilton's phantom twin.  He is so adamantly anti-drug that he had a bar of soap with the word "Clean" tattooed on his inner arm so it would be visible when he raised his arms in victory.  He inspired quite a few other racers to do the same.  He had a close encounter with the drug mentality of the sport at his initial Jelly Belly training camp when the team doctor suggested he might be asthmatic, which would entitle him to take the drug Albuterol that many racers take.  He declined, partially inspired by a teammate who likewise was appalled by the doctor's invitation into the shady world of performance enhancing drugs.  Viagra too was known to make one a better racer.  At the Tour of Qinghai Lakes in China many of those Gaimon was riding with sampled the easily available local version.

There's little in the way of advice on how to survive on $166.60 a month.  Selling jerseys and writing were two of his ways.  He does advise that one should always carry duct tape.  It came in handy once when he and several of his teammates were driving recklessly to a race in a company vehicle that had been loaned to them by a friend.  Not only did it have his company on the van, but also its phone number.  When the owner started receiving phone calls complaining about whoever was driving his vehicle, they covered up the phone number with duct tape and sped on their way.

He admits that he was a disruptive smart-aleck in high school.  In the Tour of Californina one year he mouthed off at Tom Danielson when Danielson reprimanded him for sprinting ahead of the peloton when Levi Leipheimer in the Yellow Jersey stopped for a pee break.  Danielson didn't know that he had been given permission by Leipheimer to take the lead for a while to give his small team some attention.  After explaining this to Danielson, he concluded, "Fuck off Christian," to further incense him, making him think that he didn't know who he was, mistaking him for his higher profile teammate Christian Vande Velde.

He and Damielson later became very good friends in spite of Danielson having been a doper.  They trained together.  Danielson respected his abilities as a climber enough to recommend him to his  Garmin team director, Jonathon Vaughters.  The book concludes with Gaimon receiving a contract from Vaughters at the end of the 2013 season.  He is so over enjoyed with the opportunity to move up to the big leagues after five years in the minors struggling on starvation wages that he immediately agrees.  "How could I be expected to negotiate through tears of joy," he wrote.

Tears also punctuate his first place finish in the 2012 Redlands stage race, his most signifcant victory.  After he sewed up the win in the time trial he wrote, "I teared up in my aero helmet." It meant so much to him that he told Creed, "When I typed that I was crying, and every time I edited it, I would tear up."

Gaimon is so intent on giving a full picture of his life in the racing world, that he unnecessarily lapses into the scatalogical.  His judgement on what is worthy of mentioning becomes highly questionable.  Do we need to know that a teammate would masturbate as a pre-race ritual or that another was trying to get his girl friend to try anal sex, but would cry whenever he made an attempt?  

He thinks it so hilarious that an Italian teammate doesn't know what "blow job" or "come on my face" means, that he is brought to tears.  The same teammate demanded that he always flush the toilet when they were roommates.  Gaimon would purposely not to upset him.  Another teammate would never do a number two in a public restroom, and after going at home would always take a shower,  He shocks a female masseus when he takes a break during the middle of a massage and returns with Nutella smeared all over his ass.  After a fellow racer sent him a research study that suggested that direct sunlight on one's testicles would increase one's testosterone levels, he and his teammates texted one another photos of their naked sun bathing.

At least when he tells about taking a piss in his shorts during the Tour of California he includes Thor Hushovd in the story.  The pace was too fast to stop, so he just dropped to the rear of the peloton for a leak on the bike.  It was a cold day.  As he peed, he was joined by Hushovd, who commented in a thick Norwegian accent, "Much warmer now, eh?"  One of the highlights of the week-long tour was  crossing the Golden Gafe Bridge at a parade pace and being able to stop and take a piss off the bridge.

Not too many anecdotes included prominent names in the sport, as he rarely raced against them.  The Tour of California was one of the rare opportunities.  He and a teammate had some fun throwing water bottles againste  road signs.  The sound startled European racers unaccustomed to the prank, thinking there had been a crash.  Tom Boonem was so impressed he gave it a try and then sent a teammate back to the team car for more ammunition.

Gaimon doesn't dwell on the pain and suffering of racing, as do many such books.  He acknowledges the toll the hard effort extracts without glorifying or savoring it as did Chris Foome in his biography "The Climb."  Froome repeatedly comments on his love of suffering and is rhapsodic as he reaches pure and exquisite pinnacles of pain.

Gaimon simply says, "I feel pain, but it doesn't bother me: looking around, I always feel like the toughest man in the room."  He cites two occasions of extreme pain though. The first was after a supreme effort at Redlands to just barely retain his lead.  He wrote, "I couldn't speak for close to an hour.  I'd never been in so much pain in my life."

Later at the Nationals he was in a solo break for 45 minutes.  He occupied himself by thinking of friends and supporters, allowing him to "dig deeper and suffer more than I ever had."  He was caught 500 meters from the finish.  He was heartbroken, but the next day he received the offer from Vaughters.

He had a year to exhilarate riding for the Garmin team, but that sadly came to an end.  Despite winning his first race with Garmin, stage one of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina and finishing second overall to Nairo Quintana, who went on to win the Giro, his contract with Garmin was not renewed for 2015.  He'll be back racing for a small domestic team, Optim-Kelly Benefit this time, in 2015 hoping for another offer from a World Tour team.  Even at the age of 29 he clings to the dream of riding in The Tour de France and having a Yellow Jersey to hang on the wall of a palatial estate. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Étape" by Richard Moore

With "Étape" Richard Moore returns to the formula of intimate interviews in the homes of cycling luminaries focusing on a specific race that worked so effectively in his masterpiece "Slaying the Badger," and produces another gold-nugget of a book that will thrill anyone who enjoys insights into the nitty-gritty of the sport and its principals.  Moore once again demonstrates he is part-master conversationalist, part-confessor figure and part-incisive inquisitor. He makes his subjects feel so at ease that they reveal previously unreported telling details that fully bring to life and illuminate the stories he is writing about.

While "Slaying the Badger" concentrated solely on one race, the 1986  Tour de France won by Greg LeMond, "Étape" devotes a chapter each to twenty significant stages of The Tour de France between 1971 and 2012.  Moore declines to go any further back, as the crux of his book are his penetrating interviews, knowing how fascinating it was for him and his readers when he was able to sit down with Hinault and LeMond and others in his previous book, resulting in a captivating and incisive understanding of the first of LeMond's three Tour wins.  

LeMond and Hinault are involved in four of the twenty stages recounted here, but none from 1986, since he already so thoroughly covered it.  The 1989 time trial when LeMond overcame a fifty second deficit to Laurent Fignon on the final stage to win by eight seconds, the closest Tour ever, was one of the obvious choices to include in the book.  Likewise was the 1992 stage to Sestriere dramatically won by Claudio Chiappucci, holding off a fast-charging Miguel Indurain.   

That 1992 stage was also noteworthy for LeMond finishing fifty minutes back.  He was one of eighteen riders who missed the time cut, eliminating him from The Race.  Just two years before LeMond had won The Tour.  This was one of the early indicators of the advent of EPO into the peloton.  Moore doesn't bring up drugs when he interviewed the flamboyant Chiappucci sitting on a couch in his villa surrounded by pillows adorned with his face and trophies and trinkets and photographs of himself, including one with the Pope.  He did ask him, though, if he felt sympathy for LeMond.  Not one bit.  He still harbored ill will to him after their battle in the 1990 Tour, won by LeMond.

Moore is such a respected writer Lance Armstromg agreed to be interviewed by him as long as he stuck to the two stages he wanted to talk about for the book--his first Tour stage win in 1995 after the death of his teammate Fabio Casartelli and the stage in 2003 when he was dragged down by a boy's musette bag in the Pyrenees.  But Armstrong felt so comfortable with Moore when he visited him in Austin, even driving with him to a golf course, that he brought up his antagonism towards Travis Tygaart, the investigator who brought him down, and his many haters.

Armstrong was most frank, providing one of many superb interviews.  He described Casartelli as very jovial and fun-loving, and added, "He didn't act like all the other Italians.  He was less serious, he whined a lot less.  A lot of the other Italian guys, I always considered them to be whiners."  

During his long breakaway on the 18th stage of the 1995 Tour, his team director Hennie Kuiper kept driving up to him to tell him how far ahead he was of his pursuers, as this was before the introduction of radios to the peloton.  Armstrong didn't want to be told and grew irritated.  "Hennie was kind of an annoying guy anyway," Armstrong told Moore, "but finally I told him, 'Hennie, don't come up here again.  They're not going to catch me."

Moore was able to include Shelley Verses, one of his favorite interviews from his earlier book.  She was the first female soignieur in the European peloton in the 1980s, causing quite a stir.  She was the masseus for Jean-Francois Bernard during the 1987 Tour that he lost to Stephen Roche.  He fell out of Yellow on the 19th stage in the Alps. After he crossed the line four minutes after Roche, he fell into the arms of Verses in tears.  Even on the massage table later he was still crying.  "Every time a tear came out of his eye, I just dabbed," she recounted.  Verses, who was briefly married to Phil Andersen, is a great wealth of fascinating details.  Moore should make his next book her biography.  He got a good start on it with a nine-page profile of her for Rouleur magazine.

Bernard's weren't the only tears in "Étape."  Chiappucci admitted he was cracking and nearly in tears on his breakaway to Sestriere.  Fignon said he cried for the first time since he was a child on the podium in 1989 after losing to LeMond.  And LeMond acknowledged tears during the 1989 Giro when he was struggling, yet to regain his form after his shooting accident two years earlier.  After losing seventeen minutes on one stage he called his wife in tears and told her, "I can't do this any more.  Get ready to sell everything."   But the tears were the emotional release he needed.  He finished second on the final time trial and realized that there was hope and that he might have a chance in the upcoming Tour, which he went on to win.

Two chapters are devoted to Mark Cavendish, a notorious crier.  Moore describes him as "highly sensitive, he would burst into tears and declare his love for his teammates."  One of the stages in the book describes his struggles climbing the Tourmalet in last place accompanied by his teammate Bernie Eisel, who is prodding him to make the time cut.  Cavendish is pissed at him and they ride parallel to each other on opposite sides of the road, not even drafting.  Cavendish tosses aside his radio and sunglasses to eliminate weight to seemingly make it easier.

Cavendish refers to the series of cols he had to cross that day as the "Ring of Fire."  Moore correctly identifies it as the "Circle of Death."  He also corrects Hinault for saying he never rode Paris-Roubaix again after he won it in 1981.  Hinault hated riding the cobbles and boycotted the race.  Enough chiding made him go and do it proving he could win it and be done with it.  He likes to say he never rode it again, as he tells Moore.  But Moore points out he rode it again the year after winning it and finished ninth, something he would prefer to forget.  

As thorough and knowledgeable as Moore is, he's not immune to mistakes.  He wrote that when LeMond first met Armstrong, he told him he looked like a soccer player.  Moore is English, and he must have been confused, knowing the rest of the world refers to soccer as football.  Armstrong had a bigger upper body than most cyclists from his years as a swimmer and triathlete before focusing on cycling.  To LeMond he had the physique of a football player.

Moore includes a rest day as one of his stages so he can interview and tell the story of the Swiss rider Urs Zimmerman, who wrote a semi-autobiographical, obscure novel, "In the Crosswind," about a cyclist contending with depression. He had an aversion to flying, so rather than joining all the other riders on a transfer flight during the 1991 Tour, he drove several hundred miles with the team mechanics.  It was mandated that all riders fly on the same plane, so none could have the advantage of traveling by private jet.  His drive was actually more draining than flying, but The Tour authorities kicked him out of The Race for breaking the rules.  The peloton protested, and he was reinstated.

A chapter on Eddie Merckx focuses on three stages during his 1971 Tour battle with Luis Ocana.  Moore reveals that Ocana named his dog Merckx, so he could accustom himself to being in command of a Merckx.  It didn't work.  His lone Tour win came in 1973 when Merckx wasn't competing.  Moore only had Merckx to interview, as Ocana is no longer alive, so dug up the dog story from another source.  

Both Armstrong and Bobby Julich speak with great respect and affection for Jan Ullrich.  Julich finished third in the 1998 Tour, just behind Ullrich. Pantani won the overall and cemented his victory on stage fifteen in the Alps, another of Moore's choices for his book.  When Pantani attacked on the Galibier, he turned around and  looked back with a smile on his face that Julich said he'll never forget.  Earlier in The Race, Julich had admired the watch Ullrich was wearing, a Tag Heuer.  Ullrich told him he had an extra and to come around his room and he could have it.  Julich never did, even though Ullrich reminded him several times more.  In Paris after The Race Ullrich saw him once again in the lobby of his hotel and told him to wait and ran up to his room for the watch.

Moore tells a similar heart-warming story about David Millar in his chapter on the stage Millar won in the 2012 Tour.  During another Tour Moore noticed Millar giving a gendarme a team jersey after a stage outside the Garmin bus just as Christian Vande Velde did for me in Corsica.  Millar told Moore that the gendarme had shepherded him through the crowds clearing the way on a stage when he had had a bad day and was way behind everyone else. He greatly appreciated his efforts, helping him make the time cut.  

Hardly a page passes without such untold, insightful glimpses into the world of professional cycling.  There is not a better book on cycling than "Slaying the Badger."  I can't recommend it highly enough.  And this book is a very worthy companion to it.


Monday, November 24, 2014

The Vigil Concludes

 For two hours on Sunday, bringing the School of Americas protest to a singularly moving conclusion,  the couple of thousand who had gathered for this three-day Vigil marched to the barricaded entry to Fort Bragg holding white crosses bearing the names of mostly Hispanics who had unjustly been killed while a handful of musicians sang out their names.  As each name was sung, the masses responded with a "Presente" and raised their crosses aloft.  It was a sacred procession that carried the weight of centuries of religious tradition.

The marchers circulated several times up and down the four lane highway leading to Fort Bragg, where many inserted their crosses into the temporary fence that had been erected to keep them from the Fort.

The fencing was crammed.

But the people kept coming and coming despite the steady rain.

Some carried banners along with a cross.

Others bore simple signs.

Many of the younger set adorned their face with a temporary tattoo, while others made a statement with their t-shirt--Peace is Patriotic, We Will Be Heard, I Hate War, Stop the Insanity--Start the Peace...

Before the march began there was a final series of speeches and songs from the stage.  Father Roy, who was introduced as "Our number one trouble-maker," and the man who launched these demonstrations twenty-five years ago and lives across the street from where the stage was set up, assured all "that we will never be silenced."  Even though the numbers of protesters has plummeted over the years to one-tenth of what they had been at its peak, he said, "We're not going away.  We're keeping our hand on the plow." All stood in solemn attention.

The group of fifteen who joined the Buddhist-led four-day walk from Atlanta, one hundred miles away, to Columbus, took to the stage for a chant.

The puppetistas put on another performance as they had they day before with the forces of good triumphing over evil.

Overlooking them and the proceedings was an elevated booth with an officer monitoring one and all.

A forlorn line of police stood behind the fencing that quarantined the protesters to the highway, lest anyone trespass upon the Fort.

Officers also stood in clusters looking bored and not flinching at the constant refrain from the many speakers and singers and masses, "Close the School, Close the School."

Father Roy has convinced seven Latin American countries to no longer send students to the school and will be leading a delegation to Chile to meet with its president to push the cause. Still the school thrives.  A class of 1,700 had just graduated this weekend, the same number coincidentally as the number of immigrants presently detained at a detention center thirty miles away, where a thousand of those gathered here marched Saturday morning.  Five were arrested for civil disobedience.  They were cheered on each occasion when their names were read from the stage.

Though it may be unrealistic to think the School of Americas will go away, those in attendance keep coming as they can't help but be revitalized by the experience to pursue the innumerable causes that give them a raison d'être.  It is an annual reunion for political activists from all over the country.  Over fifty workshops were presented at the downtown Convention Center Friday and Saturday until late in the night on immigration and labor issues, the political situation in many Latin American countries, youth movements, nuclear power and on and on.

Most were overflowing with deeply concerned citizens sitting on the floor and standing in the back.  They were exchanges of information by deeply committed people.  At a talk on drones led by Brain Terrell, who had served six months for trespassing on the Whiteman Air Force base in Missouri, more than two-thirds of the eighty people in attendance raised their hand when he asked how many had participated in drone protests and made significant contributions to the program. One wore a t-shirt reading "Fly Kites Not Drones."  Most politely raised their hand half-high to make a contribution and often deferred to someone else when called upon, saying, "That person had their hand up first."  Terrell said that he no more trespassed on the drone base he was arrested at than does a stranger who barges into a burning house to rescue a child.

At a presentation on the four most prominent of the nine ALBA countries--Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador--half the audience raised their hand when the moderator asked who had been to Cuba.  Only one other beside me had been to Venezuela and I was the only one along with the moderator who had been to Bolivia.  He rattled off statistic after statistic (health care, minimum wage, unemployment, economic growth) that implied all four countries were better places to live than the United States. He was particularly heartened at the recent political stability in Bolivia and Ecuador, countries that had previously been marked by regular coups.  A large part of the discussion centered on how those who hadn't been to Cuba could get there.  The easiest way was to go on a sanctioned trip with a religious group, though that didn't allow one much freedom.  He stated that the UN regularly condemns the US blockade of Cuba.  When it is put to a vote the only country that sides with the US is Israel.

The workshops were so worthwhile I skipped a concert of many of the musicians who had performed on the outdoor stage.  There were two seminars at the same time on the disappeared in Mexico.  The one I chose was conducted by a most passionate young women who was an active participant in the massive upheaval throughout her country over the 43 students who disappeared nearly two months ago.  Her power point presentation included a two-minute video of the 43 the day before they were kidnapped as they frolicked on an agricultural project.

I had locked up my loaded bike by the door on the second level to the Center and periodically went out to it for some food or drink.  Whenever I did someone came to ask how far I ridden.  Rarely have I attracted such sincere interest.  Many wanted to take a photo of the bike with its pilot.  A woman from The Farm in Tennessee, the legendary commune that goes back to the 70s, invited me to stop by on my return.  She was part of a contingent that attends the Vigil year after year.

Others offered me a ride back to Chicago.  I had already arranged one though with a bus from Minneapolis led by a group of four Vietnam Vets.  The majority of their passenger were young women from three different Catholic organizations.  There were also two high school boys and two gray-haired nuns.  On the ride back everyone aboard used the microphone to reflect on the experience.  All spoke with genuine passion and acknowledged they had been enlightened on a number of issues and had been transformed by the experience.

Our route went through the heart of Illinois on Interstate 39.  The bus driver stopped to let me off when we intersected highway 30, leaving me with a final 75 mile ride to Chicago.  It had been raining all night and it was still raining when we reached the drop-off point on the exit ramp three miles from the nearest town at six a.m. just as a hint of light began emerging in the cloud-shrouded sky. I was fortunate the driver on duty took a wrong turn on 74 taking us to Peoria, forcing us to double back and prolonging my time on the bus an extra hour.  If I had been unloaded at five, it would have been pitch dark and I would have hardly been able to ride.

I was only able to bid farewell to my seatmate (one of the Vietnam vets) and a couple of others, as all were asleep and no one dared venture out for a piss beside the bus as would have happened in a third-world country.  Our farewells were a "Hope to see you next year," as had been the case all weekend.  And I would gladly make a bike ride of it once again, with or without Tim.

It was cold and, rather than warming, it grew colder and colder until the rain turned to sleet.  My gloves and shoes and wind pants were soon soaked.  A strong wind at my back didn't allow me to generate any body heat.  After two hours when I came to Hinckley, I knew it would be folly to continue.  Not only would it take forever to dry my wet clothes, the road was becoming treacherous.  The sleet was coming down horizontally in the strong wind.  I hated to do it, but I called Janina to come to my rescue.  Luckily she has no classes on Mondays and was just forty-five miles away.  I found refuge in the town's lone small diner and had a final hotcakes breakfast before Janina pulled up ninety minutes later apologizing for the delay as she had been caught in a white out.  The conditions were truly murderous.  Though it would have been far preferable to complete my trip, even from Columbus, via pedal-power, I was happy to be home in time for Thanksgiving with Janina and other friends. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Vigil Begins

Tim, Maria, Ruthie and I were on guard duty Friday night at the barricaded Stone Gate entrance to Fort Benning where the stage had been set up that afternoon for the weekend of activities remembering the six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter who had been murdered in El Salvador in 1989 by soldiers who had been trained at Fort Benning's School of the Americas.

Tim and Maria set up their tent on the stage, while I stuck to the grass under the giant flag at the Fort entrance.

While Vigil volunteers erected the stage, military personnel erected fencing topped with barbed wire across the entry to the Fort and fencing on both sides of the four-lane wide road leading to the Fort for several blocks from Victory Road.  They also greased the lower part of the flag pole to prevent anyone from climbing it.  And cameras had been mounted to monitor the Vigil, the largest annual anti-military gathering in the nation.

While we began the Vigil, workshops and a concert were being held at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center five miles away in the heart of the city.  I had stopped in that afternoon on my way out to the Fort south of the city.  Tables were being set up with literature by various groups mostly about injustices relating to Latin America.

Before this entrance had been closed the Fort I biked on in to give it a look. I passed a vast parade grounds complete with tanks named for Senator Daniel Inouye.

Adjoining it was a memorial park with many monuments to soldiers who had distinguished themselves, including one to a Vietnam War vet who died in the World Trade Towers after rescuing a large number of people and going back to rescue more.

 When I reached the official check-point a mile further I was greeted by a soldier with the words, "Welcome Home," evidently assuming I was among the many thousands serving there.  ID was necessary to enter.  I gave him by driver's license.  He scanned the bar code on the back and gave me a sheet of paper that said, "No demonstrations, marches or organized political activities of any type will be permitted on Fort Benning."  It went on to warn that anyone violating this will be subject to fine and imprisonment.  Two of the women helping set up the stage could attest to that.  Ruthie had served six months in 1996 and Mary six months in 2001 for trespassing on to the Fort, fully knowing the consequences.

The soldier directed me to a bike path that wound through forested terrain to the heart of the Fort.  It ended up near an Infantry Chapel with services in English and Spanish and blocks and blocks of suburban-type homes and also a baseball stadium and track.  After half an hour of uninterrupted exploration I returned to the bike path and followed it for over ten miles out of the Fort back to Columbus, where the path is known as the RiverWalk.  There was no check-in point on the path.  It granted one free access.  It joined up with the Chattahoochee River, which forms the border with Alabama here.  Signs warned of "Alligator Habitat." 

Earlier in the day I crossed the Chattahoochee from Alabama just two blocks from where its Carnegie Library had stood overlooking the river.  It had been torn down more than fifty years ago. It had been such a significant building that its entry arch with Carnegie chiseled into it still stood.

Just behind it was the Mott House, an antebellum mansion that had recently suffered a fire and was barricaded.

It was of historical importance, as a Union general had appropriated it during the Civil War and used it to direct the final battle of the War on an Easter Sunday, not realizing the War had ended.  The young librarian who told me about it still took it personally, saying, "The Union came in and massacred us."  I felt as if I ought to apologize.

I had swung over to Alabama to visit a Carnegie at Auburn University, thirty miles to the west.  As I cycled down to Auburn after entering Alabama I finally felt as if I had reached the South passing one small rural Baptist church after another, each with a message board with a Biblical quotation or sermon title and witty homily--"Wrinkled with burdens?  Come to Jesus for a faith lift," "If your day is hemmed with prayer, it is less likely to unravel," "Be a blessing, not a turkey, this Thanksgiving." I also encountered the first cotton fields of the trip.  If it had been the day before when it was below freezing, I might have thought I was seeing snow.

As I meandered about Auburn's campus I swung by the football stadium on Heisman Road.  Three of its football players have won the most coveted award in collegiate sport--Pat Sullivan in 1971, Bo Jackson in 1985 and Cam Newton in 2010.  It had some significance to me, as I came to know Sullivan when he spent three weeks in Evanston with the College All-Stars preparing to play the Super Bowl Champions.  I served as a manager for the team and lived in the Orrington Hotel with them, shuttling them to their practice facilities at Northwestern and running around the field with them.  Sullivan was a genuine southern gentleman, one of the nicer guys I got to know during the four years of my College All-Star experience while I was at Northwestern. 

Auburn's Carnegie was now an administration building and had been renamed Mary Martin Hall, in honor of its librarian who served from 1912 to 1949.

The only indication on the outside of the building that it had been a library were the words "Letters, Art, Science."

At the entry though were two large framed photos from 1950 picturing the library as it had been.

There was also a most dignified portrait of Martin.  Many small-town librarians honor their long-time librarians with plaques or photos or paintings, but few rename their libraries in their honor.  But that is the way of the South.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Arctic Georgia

It hardly seems the South with night-time temperatures in the teens and day-time temperatures not much above freezing.  No one is sitting out on their porches or hardly walking the streets.  When I spot a rare pedestrian who I can ask directions of, they can barely speak through their chattering teeth.  Folks in these parts are not accustomed to such cold and don't know how to cope with it, shuffling along as fast as they can with hunched and shivering shoulders.  One of the few indications I'm in the South, with all the usual franchise businesses dominating the towns, are signs advertising boiled peanuts and odd ones such as, "Free labor for a place to hunt."

When the temperature bottomed out at fifteen two nights ago, even I felt the cold.  I was warm enough when I turned in keeping my tights on, but as the temperature inched downward I was forced to put on my sweater as well.  I could feel the stab of cold air here and there where the down in my thirty-year old sleeping bag was a little thin. By morning ice had formed in my three water bottles I'd brought into the tent, but at least they hadn't frozen solid, though the Ramon and peas left over from my dinner, that I had intended for breakfast, had.  

A thick frost encrusted my rain fly.  I hadn't thought to place my tent where the rising sun could catch it.  I shook as much of the frost out of it as I could, but I still couldn't roll up the tent tight enough to fit in its sack.  Fortunately it was a sunny day.  I laid it out at my first stop in Bremen after twenty miles of riding, and it was soon dry.  I had had a quick briefing with Tim earlier in the day.  He was parked along the road awaiting me after spending the night in his car behind a warehouse near some railroad tracks, a typical sleeping site for him.  

It would be our only encounter of the day, as it was time for him to return to Kentucky to fetch Ruthie and bring her down to Fort Benning.  He'd had a good two days of snooping around rural Tennessee and Georgia while keeping tabs on me.  One of the highlights was finding a library with the New York Times, the first since Louisville a week ago. He'd also found the book "Chasing Lance" for a penny at a resale shop.  It was a gift for me.  I'd read it long ago, but was happy to add it to my library.  And I had a gift for Tim, a Jack Daniels bandanna, the first bandanna I'd found in a thousand miles, way below average. 

Tim was looking forward to returning to the bountiful dumpster he had discovered in Middlesborough, twenty miles from Ruthie's home. Knowing he'd be stocking up there, he left me with with some pastrami, cheese, gorp and cereal.  Perhaps his best contribution was some matches the day before.  Mine had become damp and I was unable to light a candle in my tent.  It was fortunate I couldn't, as it was the next night when I really needed it for a few degrees of warmth as I ate and read before submerging myself in my sleeping bag.

I had to bike nearly seventy-five miles in Georgia before I came upon a Carnegie in Rome.  It was no longer a library, but it most strongly remembered its past, a common sentiment in the South.  In five different places Carnegie was acknowledged as the library's benefactor.  The building was identified as "Carnegie Library" on its facade above the four columns at its entry.  The rock out front also reminded any passerby that it was a Carnegie building.

A plaque on the building referred to Carnegie as an immigrant and philanthropist and that he was responsible for twenty-four libraries in the state.

A sign posted on its lawn referred to it as a Carnegie Building and listed the present tenants.  

The fifth mention of Carnegie was on a plaque outside the entry to the huge new glitzy library on a hill two blocks away.

The next Carnegie in Newnan, nearly one hundred miles south, was similarly proud of its heritage.  As I was circling around trying to find it, a distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman came to my rescue.  It was just a block from where I was and he was happy to walk me over to it and let me know that it was the only Carnegie library that had been decommissioned as I library, serving as local government offices including a courthouse for twenty years, and then had returned to being a library.  

He was the pastor of a nearby church and invited me to a Thanksgiving dinner there that evening.  "I'm sure it will be the best meal you've had in a while," he added.  I had been eating very well thanks to Tim, but he was probably right.  If the invitation had included a place to sleep, I might have considered, but there were two hours of light remaining in the day and I had hoped to get another twenty miles down the road, so I could make it to Fort Benning the next day and maybe even swing into Alabama for a couple of Carnegies, so had to decline.

An African-American driving a Baptist church van the previous day had stopped at the top of a hill to offer me a ride to the next town six miles away.  There was less than an hour of light left in the day.  If he had thrown in a meal and a place to stay, I might well have agreed to it, if only for the cultural experience.

The Carnegie in Newnan honored Carnegie with a copy of a portrait painted by the noted Scottish painter John Young Hunter who spent time in Taos, New Mexico with Mabel Dodge Luhan, legendary benefactor of D. H. Lawrence.  It hung over a fireplace and was flanked by a Scottish scarf and a children's book extolling Carnegie and a pair of one-page biographies on easels of Carnegie and Hunter.

On the opposite wall was a Carnegie quote--"No man can become rich without himself enriching others."

The library had a prominent corner location facing Newnan's central plaza.

The plaza was populated by painted horses similar to the long-ago Cows of Chicago.  Louisville had also been decorated with painted horses, though in gallop.  The town of Calhoun in northern Georgia was scattered with decorated rolls of hay, though rather tackily compared to the much more artful constructions of The Tour de France.  They were promoting an upcoming Farm Week.  And the weather promises to cooperate with seventy degree temperatures forecast starting Sunday.  That is almost too good to be true.

But even forty degrees today under sunny skies made for great riding through the vast woodlands of Georgia.

I could keep riding right up to dark with nothing but premium camping at my fingertips.  And as fine cell phone reception as if I were at the Marriott.  Janina had the great news of just being given an extra class to teach winter quarter at Columbia.  And it was at two p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so she won't have to get up at the ungodly hour of five if it had been at nine as this present quarter.