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 steet from where the stage was set up, assured all "that we will never be silenced."  Even though the numbers of protestors 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 raisin d'ĂȘtre.  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 Missoiri, 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, unenemployment, 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 lfrom 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 drivr 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 Invantry 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 Thankagiving." 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 thougt 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 bandana, the first bandana 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 fhe 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.  Louisivlle 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 beging 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.














Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Into Georgia

I was surprised when a couple drops of rain splotched on my tent as I was taking it down.  I knew rain was on the way, but I wasn't expecting it quite yet.  At least I was able to break camp before the heavy overcast began seeping a misty rain that eventually became a day-long light drizzle. I put on my booties for the first time, which don't entirely keep my feet dry, but do prevent them from becoming soaked.  Still they were cold, though I was somewhat able to otherwise ward off the chill of near freezing temperatures by the exertion of the occasional climbing on the way into Knoxville and then out.  I wasn't toasty by any means, or particularly reveling in the ride, but I can say I found some  warmth from the pleasure to be out braving the elements.

I had only one Carnegie to track down in Knoxville, as two had been torn down, including a branch library for African Americans.  The lone standing Carnegie was on the Univeraity of Tennessee campus, located on Circle Drive, a prestige address.  Though I had been riding in the rain for most of the two hours from my campsite, it had avoided this corner of the campus.




The library was now a psychological clinic, as had become the Carnegie in Jeffersonville, Indiana.  A historic plaque nearby didn't comment on Carnegie's gift, but rather gave a brief summary of the desegregation of the university.  In 1952 a federal lawsuit opened enrollment to African Americans in graduate and law programs.  Eight years later under threat of a lawsuit, three African Americans gained entry to undergraduate studies. 

Thanks to Tim's research I headed to Bearden Bikes to replace the cleat that had broken off one of my shoes, the first time I had suffered such a mechanical.  I knew I'd have to soon replace it,  as it was so worn that I'd occasionally kick out of the pedal, but I never expected it to break off as it did.  It had me wondering if that is another spare part I ought to carry with me.    The shop was beyond the downtown district of the university out in the suburban sprawl. After several miles I was concerned that I may have missed it and stopped a jogger to ask.  He only knew of a shop called the Bicycle Zoo and said that it was closed on Sundays.  I dug out my iPad and checked the map and confirmed I was just a mile away from the shop I was seeking.

When I told the owner of Bearden Bikes that a jogger didn't know of his shop, just the other, he said he'd only opened a year-and-a-half ago and though the other shop was better known it wasn't very customer-friendly, not opening on Sundays and not giving the best of service.  Many of its customers were now his.  He certainly won me over going to considerable effort to pry out the two screws in the bottom of my shoe that held the cleat and whose heads had been worn down by thousands of miles of pedaling.  

I felt renewed to be able to clip into the pedal after nearly a hundred miles of haphazard pedaling.  My heart was light as if I'd rediscovered the joy of being on the bike in spite of  the rain. That didn't last too long.  By mid-afternoon when it became clear that the forecast of rain all day and through the night probably was right, I made the decision that I would have to find a motel for the night.  I knew my tights and shoes and booties wouldn't dry in the tent and that it would be near suicide to put them on in near freezing temperatures the next morning.  My spirits perked up knowing I'd spend the night in a dry, warm place and have a shower and could wash some clothes. 

At 4:30 I asked a police officer in Loudon if there was an Indian-run motel in the vicinity.  He said the nearest motel was five miles away up along Interstate 75, but that it was a Best Western.  I knew that would be nice, but what I wanted was basic and not so expensive. He told me I could find what I was looking for in Philadelphia, the next town seven miles down the road.  

The Sunrise Inn had fifteen rooms and catered mostly to residents paying a weekly rate of $180.  Rooms for a night went for $31.35.  It was no surprise that there were no non-smoking rooms.  When I opened the door to my room I was nearly knocked over by the stench of tobacco smoke.  The room was cold as a window had been left ajar to give it some ventilation.  That was a luxury I couldn't afford.  I've suffered such conditions before, so just turned the heater on high and began draping all my wet belongings on chairs that I snuggled up to the heater.  After I washed my socks and a few other items I made a clothes line out of my bungee cords.

I didn't notice the smell of tobacco again until I laid my head on the bed's pillow.  I had to replace it with one of my own devising.  I next inhaled the stench of tobacco the next day when I wiped my nose with my neckerchief.  Even though I had washed it, as it tried on my clothes line it soaked in the tobacco particulates in the air.  But I regretted in no way my refuge.  I could have survived a night in my tent, but I'm not sure if I would have survived putting on my wet clothes the next morning.  I did have some dry clothes in reserve that could have gotten me to a warm place, but they weren't clothes I'd want to bike in for any prolonged distance.

Vincent, one of my Australian pals who has biked The Tour de France with me, and follows my travels, wrote and asked if it could be "fatal" to be caught in my tent in plunging temperatures, as he isn't accustomed to such cold.  So far my down sleeping bag has been more than adequate.  I have yet to need more than two layers on my torso and none on my legs to stay warm when I've wrapped myself into my sleeping bag for the night.  I could  bundle up considerably more if the temperatures drop.

My gear wasn't entirely dry after my night in the motel, but since it was still raining it didn't much matter.  The rain was forecast to stop by noon, but then the temperatures would plummet.   I rode non-stop thirty-four miles in the rain to Etowah and its Carnegie.  And awaiting me there was Tim, who had driven 150 miles that morning to check in on me.  He knew how miserable the conditions had been the day before, doing a little hiking with Ruthie, and thought I might need some dry clothes. He also had several containers of pea and chicken salads and some pumpkin muffins that he had harvested from a dumpster.  Those I greatly welcomed not to mention the pleasure of his company.



The Etowah Carnegie had had no additions, but it had had its ceiling lowered and fluorescent lights added and flowery wall paper plastered to its walls.  From a distance they made the Carnegie portrait seem larger than normal.  The heating vents were all in the ceiling.  I was hoping there'd be radiators so I could dry and warm my booties and gloves.  The rain  had stopped and a few patches of blue intruded upon the heavy overcast that prevented the sun from providing any warmth.

My original plan had been to head west to a Carnegie in Chattanooga, but with severe cold blowing down from the north, I opted to head south into Georgia.  Ten miles before the border someone slowed alongside me.  At first I thought it might have been Tim, but it was a local who loved nearby and invited me to come stay for the night.  It was only three and I intended to bike another twenty-five miles, so I reluctantly declined.

As I closed in on Chatsworth, where I was to meet Tim, he drove past from the opposite direction and circled back with an update. The owner of a nearby campground said with temperatures expected in the teens tonight he didn't think it was save to camp and wouldn't let us stay.  I had been passing through thick forests that offered premium camping, so I was of no mind to camp where it was authorized anyway, even if it included a heated restroom. The trees were magnificent and inviting.


I was already exhilarating at the prospect of spending the night in my tent despite the cold.  After Chatsworth I turned off the four-lane highway I had been following all day onto a minor two-lane road, where the camping was even more plentiful.  Tim too was enticed, but he had the problem of what to do with his car.  I found a perfect spot just off a rough farm road in a smattering of trees ten minutes before dark.  I stopped the moment I hit 83 miles for the day, equaling the most I had had of this trip, but far from my best average speed.  It was under twelve miles per hour, but it had been a good seven hours of riding.  I gave Tim a call to let him know where I stopped, and that there was plenty of room for another, but he regretfully opted for another night in his car.






Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tennessee

Having spent the night indoors I didn't know how cold of a night it had been until I went outside and discovered my bike covered in frost and the one water bottle I left on it frozen solid. A thermometer gave a temperature of seventeen degrees.  But the sun was shining after a two day absence and there was no wind, so it didn't seem as cold as it was, and I had no hesitation of loading up and getting on down the road.


I had arrived at the childhood home of our friend Ruthie right at dark the night before, just hours after she had arrived after over twenty-four hours of travel from Massachusettes via Megabus to Knoxville, then bicying a bit before being transported the rest of the way by Tim.  I was a little late in arriving as it was further to her home from Pineville than I realized.  Fortunately Ruthie's father happened to drive past me on the outskirts of Pineville and let me know I had a thirteen mile ride, rather than the two or three I anticipated, once I turned onto highway 190.  If I hadn't known I would have been moaning, "How much further can it be, how much further can it be," as the sun sank lower and lower and the terrain dealt me one steep climb after another.  At a certain point I might have deducted that the addresses were in increments of 1000 to each mile and their address in the 13,000 range meant I had thirteen miles to ride in all, but I'm not sure about that.

Knowing how far I had to go, instead of worrying if I could make it before nightfall, I could enjoy the Kentucky backwoods on the snaking, hilly road through rugged terrain with ridges to my right and left.  If dark caught me, I'd have a fine campsite in the woods.  But I needn't have been concerned, as two miles before I reached my destination Tim drove by coming to rescue me.  I was close enough that I didn't need to avail myself of his services, though I did appreciate his concern and also his thoughtfulness in marking the turn-off by parking his car at the point and turning on the flashing red light of his bike perched atop his roof rack to guide me as if it were a lighthouse.

It had been nearly two decades since I had last seen Ruthie back when we were fellow bicycle messengers in Chicago and she lived at the Catholic Woker House in Uptown where Tim had also lived, but there was no mistaking her distinctive bright smile, even in the dark.  Her home was even more idyllic than I imagined, with a small pond and a herd of goats and peace and tranquility all round.  

Ruthie continues to make a career as a bicyclist transporting goods, but it is now mostly of the larger sort.  In 2002 she moved to Northamptom, Massachusettes and co-founded the Pedal Power cooperative, a trash and hauling service exclusively by bicycle.  It has grown into a crew of sixteen servicing 600 clients, including the town of Northamptom emptying its 80 downtown trash cans.  Their trailers can haul as much as 300 pounds. Her operation has received national attention, including articles in the Boston Globe and Sierra magazine.

She'll be driving down with Tim to Fort Benning for next weekend's 25th annual protest of the School of Americas.  Its been a few years since she last attended, though she has long been an ardent supporter.  In 1995 she was among those arrested for pushing the protest on to the base.  She was given a suspended sentence and ordered not to show up again.  She returned the following year and once again crossed the line on to the base defying the authorities, for which she served six months in prison. She has no regrets and says prison was a worthwhile experience.

I had been hoping she might have wanted to bike at least some of the 400 miles from Pineville to Fort Benning with me, but she prefers to linger with her parents and her young nephew and niece in Pineville until Thursday.  Tim will remain too, so I am on my own for the rest of the way, or so I thought. Tim said he would be on call if I had any emergency.  I noticed the day before I had broken one of the four attachment points of my rear rack to the frame of my bike.  I wasn't overly concerned, but Tim thought I should try to find a replacement part for the piece that had broken.

Twenty miles down the road Tim was awaiting me.  He waved me down with an object in his hand.  I thought I must have left something behind, but couldn't imagine what it was.  Instead, he had gone to a hardware store and found the part I needed, another exemplary act of generosity.  Could one possibly have a better friend?

Shortly have the repair I climbed to the Cumberland Gap Tunnel on the Kentucky/Tennessee border.  Bicyclists are not allowed through. A pick-up truck is on standby to give cyclists a lift through the half-mile tunnel that has a perfectly wide shoulder.  I was the second bicyclist of the day, the other a local who is a regular bicycling from Harrogate to the larger town of Middlesboro and all its stores including a Walmart. Middlesboro once had a Carnegie but tore it down.  

Harrogate is unique in having a Carnegie on its Lincoln Memorial University campus that is still used as a library.  The vast majority of Academic Carnegies now serve another purpose.  The library had been greatly expanded, but at least it still remained a library.  It had been adequate until the 1960s.  It looked out on the spacious quad of the small campus.


By noon the temperature was a balmy forty.  For the first time in three days I no longer needed wind pants over my tights and I could shed my down vest.  I could also put my solar panels to use for the first time in days.  I acquired them just before I left and have been experimenting with them.  They haven't been a necessity with all my access to electric outlets, so am still learning how much energy they will provide me and how fast they will charge my iPad and phone and auxiliary battery.  When I lay the panels across my tent and sleeping bag on the back of my bike as I ride along the sun doesn't hit it as directly as when I take my breaks, but it does charge some.  


Later in the afternoon I received an email from Tim with information on a bike shop in Knoxville open the next day on Sunday.  That very morning I  had broken the cleat on one of my shoes.  I could still manage, but it would be easier with a cleat.  Tim had called the shop and confirmed they had the cleat I needed and that they opened at noon on Sunday.  I camped twenty-five miles outside of Knoxville behind a wall of logs that were isolated enough that I could end my day with a call to Janina who was likewise experiencing sub-freezing temperatures in Chicago.









Friday, November 14, 2014

Across Kentucky

Tim and I were all set to spend the night in an abandoned house on a trickle of a dirt road that headed into the hills.  We didn't fear anyone driving by, as the road was covered with leaves and turned sharply upwards past the house.  It didn't look as if it had been driven for quite a while.  We were well off the main road and even felt it safe for Tim to park his car right alongside the house as if we were the proud owners of this debacle.


I had brought my sleeping bag and panniers in and brushed the debris from the room we intended to make our sleeping quarters for the night.  A few empty cigarette packs and beer cans and packs of condiments littered the floors, indicating someone had occasionally used it as a refuge, but not for awhile.  No furniture remained nor was there evidence of any bedding.  With the temperature near freezing, there was no likelihood of anyone dropping in to hang out.  

Then I heard an urgent call from Tim, "Come look at this."  Tacked to the wall was a paper plate with the inscription in red magic marker, "If I see you I will shoot you muh fucka."  



That gave us pause.  When we saw another identical plate laying on the floor in another room, we figured that was fair warning and maybe we better find somewhere else to spend the night.  We had twenty minutes before dark to find something better.  First we decided to see where our dirt road led.  I pushed my bike up, confident we'd find something, even if it meant venturing off into the forest.  The road flattened out on a ridge line.  An open-sided barn surrounded by weeds was nearby.  A very dirty sleeping bag and collapsed tent that hadn't been used in weeks lay in one corner.  We noticed no warning signs, so agreed this would suit us.  Tim went back for his car.  

Ten minutes later Tim was back saying it was too steep for his car.   There was no place nearby he felt comfortable leaving it, so for the first time, after camping jointly seven straight nights, we were on our own.  Tim thought maybe he would just sleep in his car in the next town.  It would be the second night in a row he would have forsaken his tent, as the night before we accepted the invitation of the very friendly proprietor of the Pioneer Playhouse campgrounds to put our sleeping bags down on one of the communal buildings at her complex, whose primary function was a venue for outdoor stage shows during the summer months. 

Rain threatened, and freezing temperatures.  No one else was tenting at her compound and she didn't think we really should either.  Only one bathroom with showers was open, making it unisex, as is the custom in Europe, though the squeamish had the option of locking the door, as the four shower stalls didn't provide much privacy.

It was our second night in seven of sanctioned camping, something I rarely do, preferring to place my head on ground that maybe only a deer had previously slept upon, not wishing to absorb the bad dreams that could have seeped into the ground from previous campers.  Campgrounds do have their amenities, not only the luxury of an actual shower, rather than improvising in some manner or another, but more importantly, they allowed Tim and I to be more sociable in the evening hours.  When we've been wild camping in the cold that has afflicted us, we confine ourselves to our tents.  If they are close enough, we can still maintain a conversation, but its not as convivial as at a campgrounds where we can sit at a fire or at a table. It was too wet and windy for a fire here, so we sat at a table and ate our dinners together.

Tim has been surprised at the universal positive reaction he has received from everyone he tells that he's tagging along with someone on a Carnegie Library quest.  Until he learned of Carnegie's unparalleled philanthropy and began seeing his libraries and how warmly they are embraced in their communities, his immediate reaction to Carnegie was "robber baron" and "exploiter of the workers" and "murderer of workers during the Homestead strike" and he thought others would have a similar response. But Tim had never read anything about the true nature of Carnegie and that he was simply an extraordinary businessman and that he made a concerted effort from the beginning of his wealth to put it to a positive use for the betterment of man.

Tim could be accused of being an exploiter of workers himself.  Though he was as considerate of his workers as a boss as one could be during his years of owning a bike shop, one could certainly find those who would say he could have paid his workers more and treated them better and that he didn't need to take as much of a profit as he did.  Anyone who truly knows Tim would never say such a thing, because he has always been, and continues to be, generous with his time and his money.  Those in charge and with more money than others have always been and always will be a target of some, and sometimes with justification.  Carnegie may not have been a saint, even though he has been called the Patron Saint of Libraries, but in many respects he had the inclinations of a saint and it is wonderful to see how positively regarded he is by so many, including Tim now.


If I didn't know Tim as well as I do, I might be suspicious that he has been shadowing me to verify that my life as a touring cyclist is legit, that I'm actually biking the distances I claim to be and that I'm not staying in hotels and feasting on hearty meals in restaurants. He's repeatedly tempted me with offers of a lift or carrying my gear or to take me on a side trip and then return me to my route, as if testing me.  When he does, I hold up my fingers in a cross to fend him off. However, offers of food I do not turn down.  If nothing else, he has been impressed by the quantity of food that I put away,  as I'm constantly putting food in my mouth, even in libraries where eating is prohibited.  He provided a lemon and a pecan pie, compliments of Trader Joe's, this evening.  He had to put them aside before I polished them off.

We haven't been seeing as much of each other during the day since Louisville, as the Carnegies are few and far between in Kentucky.  Besides the nine in Louisville, there were only eighteen others built  in the state, three of which have been razed.  None of the five on our route to Pineville at the eastern end of the state still functioned as libraries, so couldn't really serve as meeting points.  

The first in Lawrenceburg had been transformed into the Anderson County History Museum in 1996, a perfect use for this historic building.  Its simple dignity retained a frontier aura.  Its peeling white wooden pillars heartened back to its roots.  It wasn't open, so I couldn't ask if its bricks were originally painted white or if that came later.  It stood alone across the street from the town barbershop.  
The young, long-haired barber didn't know. Carnegie had been chiseled into its lower left corner and Piernian Club, a local service club still in existence, was chiseled into the opposite corner with the year 1908.


My route to the next Carnegie in Danville took me through Harrodsburg.  A local guest house advertised rooms starting at $75 a week.   When I reached Danville I passed a string of women on the Centre College cross country team running at a good clip all with bobbing pony tails. We were all caught at the same red light and they could give me directions to the former Carnegie Library on their campus.  A wooden sign dangled over its entry identifying it as "Old Carnegie."  Chiseled into its facade was simply "Library," though it had been replaced in 1967.  A plaque stated it dated to 1913 and had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was now inhabited by the Center for Global Citizenship and the Center for Career and Professional Development.



Tim awaited me at the local library, open on Veteran's Day, unlike the library in Lawrenceburg.  He was on his bike and led me to the Pioneer Playhouse campground in the waning light, where he had left his car and arranged our evening's accommodations.  The temperature had plunged turning the night and for the first time I wore wind-breaking pants over my tights. My feet were slightly chilly, but I held off on wearing booties, saving them for the 20s to come.

It was a one-Carnegie Day, another academic library at Berea College.  I swung my Richmond to make give Eastern Kentucky College a look and make it a trio of colleges, knowing small towns with colleges all had a vibrancy to them.  Besides the noteworthy theater outside of Danville, it has had a significant art gallery with a bicycle sculpture out front.



I had to ask the whereabouts of the Berea College Carnegie at its present library.  I had biked right past it and surmised that it might be the Carnegie, but it didn't have anything identifying it as such other than its majesty.  It is now a building of classrooms.



It was late afternoon and I hadn't intersected with Tim all day nor had we any communication.  The Internet was down at the Berea public library so we had to resort to our cell phones once again.  Tim had gone exploring down the road and was driving back towards me.  We met shortly before five.  Tim had noticed a county road a little ways back that he thought might lead to camping.  It was a little earlier than I prefer to stop, but since we weren't pressed for time, agreed to give it a look.  And that's where we found the abandoned house with the threat of gunfire sign.

My night on my own was the coldest yet.  I awoke with a lining of ice in my water bottles. In the first town I came to a bank gave a temperature of 27 degrees.  A few stray snow flakes were falling.  It didn't rise above freezing all day, as indicated by snow along the road and on rooftops of abandoned, unheated homes.



The hilly terrain kept me warm.  I could even pare down to a lighter pair of gloves after starting the day with my hefty semi-arctic gloves.  The roads were a geologist's dream with many cuts through the hill s revealing many layers of rocks formed over the eons.




The day's lone Carnegie came in Somerset.  It was the only Carnegie ever built attached to a school.  An historic sign out front stated that the town mayor at the time resisted the library, as he feared it would "appeal to the classes rather than the masses."  Inscribed above the entry was the same quotation inlaid in the floor of the Shelbyville library, "Advancement to Learning," that now also applied to the high school students who now entered through its door to their school.



The large current library near the town center, like all the Kentucky libraries, was sparse on bike books. At least it had a couple, as some of the libraries had none.  Above the urinal in the men's room was a sign I had never seen before, discouraging the spitting of tobacco.  Western libraries once were unique with signs forbidding firearms.  Now every Chicago public library has such a warning.



My final few hours of the day were through the Daniel Boone State Park, where I camped upon leaves with a smattering of snow.



My final Carnegie in Kentucky was less than ten miles away in Corbin.  It was across the street from a Baptist church which had appropriated it for a food pantry, open only one hour per week.  I peered in and saw tables lined with large paper bags filled with food.  The new library was just a block away.  It didn't open until ten.  It was too cold to sit outside and wait for it to open so I treated myself to a stack of hotcakes at the Dixie Diner on Main Street.