Thursday, September 6, 2007

Rest Day Grab Bag

Today I'm kicking back in the wonderful Monroeville library, a new edition to the community. Let me say it now and for all time: Libraries and librarians are the best. My students, of course, need to spend more time with these places and people. For me, especially on this journey, they have been of immense value. The bibliophiles have all been warm, supportive people with access to all the crucial information I need. The facilities help me keep in touch and provide some escape from the often challenging weather conditions--islands of calm and repose in the ever-changing world of the nomadic cyclist. A blessing on all of them!

I'll be in the library most of the day as there is nothing else going on in Monroeville. This is small town rural America. This new library is one of the biggest things to happen in a while, made possible by dedicated tax dollars that go only to libraries. In most of the rest of the country it seems to be a battle royal for public funds, librarians going to the ropes with fire fighters, the police (who have guns), and other necessary public services. Indiana had the good sense to acknowledge the value of the free public library. Well done.

Chris, the main librarian, related a humorous story of how the library was constructed. There was an old building next door to the soon-to-be constructed library that needed to be taken down. The town, working on some kind of draconian budget, hired a blind demolitionist, "Blind Bruce" they called him. He drove a bulldozer and truck--obviously not too far, but that he was allowed behind the wheel at all leaves one wondering, eh? Chris informed me that the entire two-story structure was taken down by hand, sledge hammers and crowbars. Pounding and yelling would issue fourth from the site day after day. A crash! Someone yells in pain. His co-worker yells back: "Shake if off, dude, shake it off." Finally, OSHA showed up, put hard hats on the workers and took the keys away from Blind Bruce. The building finally came down without any serious injury.

So today is going to be a mixed bag, rants and raves, tech reviews, forays into the twisted mind of a bent cyclist left alone to his own devices with a continent to cross. Proceed at your own risk. Lock the children in a darkened room. Helmet and kevlar vest recommended.

Tech Time:

I'd like to say a few things about my gear because many readers or gearheads like me, and some are thinking of long-distance touring. Here's a run down of some of the main equipage at this time:

The bike: As I expected, the Street Machine, set up so expertly by Dana and Fernando at Bent Up Cycles in Van Nuys, California, has been a nearly flawless performer. I've had only two ultra minor problems: 1) The rear wheel developed a tiny squeak that I could only hear during slow speed climbs when there was almost no other sound. I'd be grinding up some killer hill, trying to "Zen-out," and this little squeak, squeak, squeak would pierce my lactic acid enhanced meditation. In Palmyra, NY, Jeff, the son of my hosts Dale and Nina, Dale and I took off the wheel, and Jeff checked the tightness of this and that, cleaned off some gunk. After we put Mr. Wheel back on, no more squeak. Sanity restored. 2) The kickstand poked through the rubber tip so that it was rendered useless. Now, on grassy, soft or tilted areas, I place a squashed beer can under the foot of the stand. I'll carry that can across the country. I can recycle it when I get home AND I got to consume the contents before giving it a second life. Can't beat that. Other than those two things, no problems in almost 1,400 miles. No flats on the solid Schwalbe Marathon tires (new version--not the racers). The wide (1.5 in) tires and suspension of the bike have been superb assets. I'm hitting chuck holes, ratty pavement, errant barnyard animals, you name it, and the bike stays solid. I'm especially happy when I've got to cross railroad tracks, which I do frequently. Thump, thump, and it's all over. By the way, God, Shimano, and HP Velotechnik have yet to invent shifting/steering/ergonomic bliss better than my under seat bars with bar-end shifters.

Camping gear: The alcohol stove continues to be one of my favorite pieces of gear. Easy, fun, silent. Go make one. My tent, a Sierra Designs "Light Year," has been perfect for little ol' me. Just three stakes and she's ready for the storm (likely scenario tomorrow, by the way). This model is especially nice because I can sit up to change clothes, read, arrange my life. When the bugs are swarming or the rain coming down, that means a lot. Sleeping in these hot, humid conditions has been a challenge, however. In the closed space of the tent, the temperature is even higher and the air, mostly still in the evenings, doesn't seem to move. Indeed, it seems to have left entirely, maybe vacationing in Pismo Beach, who knows? So I lie there, sweat pouring off me, and try to relax. Slowly, bit by bit, the conditions ease, and I can drift off to sleep. When it's bad, those first 30 or 40 minutes are just plain nasty. I question my sanity and look forward to the arid West in the fall with a passion you might well call immoderate, excessive, pick-yer-adjective-get-me-the-hell-out-of-here-now intense. Adversity provides spice to the journey, but sometimes you just choke on that fistful of minced jalapeno. Gimme bland, bland I tell you! I want white bread and mayo--okay, maybe not, but you get the analogy.

Monroeville, Indiana:

It's hard to overstate what this backwater place means to long distance cyclists. They roll in from all over the country, all over the world and find refuge from the rigors of the road. Joe Clem, who recently passed on, was a founder of the cycling-only refuge. He enjoyed talking to all the different people and had a huge, giving heart. This same energy is found in the whole town, friendly people who are just happy to see you and give whatever help they can. Warren Fluttrow and Jennifer Yoquelet are two other key players in the refuge, but it's supported by the park service, too. Cyclists, free of charge, get access to air conditioning, full shower and laundry facilities, full kitchen, cots, access to the library and everything else in town within a few minutes walk. For a couple of nights, I'll get a bug-free, sweat-free sleep. I can lock my bike in the living area and walk around. Also a tradition in the center is to invite any cyclists to whatever functions might be going on in the hall adjacent to the living area. Mostly the building serves as a community center, housing weddings, family reunions and the like. We need more places like Monroeville.
One interesting exchange I had occurred at the local market (minimal resources here, so don't expect fresh veggies). A fine old gentleman, standing straight, was hanging around the front of the store, and we got talking a bit about my travels and such. It turns out I was having the honor of talking to Harold, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge. Evidently, he survived. Considering the battle was over 60 years ago, he was doing quite well. He said the army always made sure they had tobacco: "They gave us cigarettes before they gave us food!" He was a member of an armored battalion, and his tank had a tread blown off when they hit a landmine. They stuck with the tank and kept firing, providing cover for the advancing infantry. "We fired every last round of ammo!" he said. Feeling humbled by this man's service and experience, I bid him farewell and trundled off to the library. Encounters like this will not be possible in the near future.
That's all for now. Since I can now upload photos and video more easily, you'll be seeing more visual additions. Looks like some wet work for tomorrow, but the heatwave is set to break. I'll be looking at a long string of days in the 70's and nights in the 50's. The World Champion Recumbent Cyclo-Tourist lives again. Your correspondent signing off from the frontier of eastern Indiana, Monroeville, a haven for the wayward, pedal-powered lunatics on the backroads of the Great American Outback.

1 comment:

veglandia said...

Scott, I sure enjoy your postings. I am with you in spirit and am glad that you are having such an awesome ride. Great photos as always - Randy