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 signifcant 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.















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 University 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 Massachusetts via Megabus to Knoxville, then bicycling 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 Worker 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, Massachusetts 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.