So many things have happened since my last blog post on July 2! And since I am a born list-maker, here are some bullet points of our adventures since our last post....
*Instead of hitching a ride with Heaven to Jackson to fix my bike seat, Cowboy Jim, who works maintenance at Lava Lodge, fixed my seat with a simple bolt. He is the great-great grandson of John Wesley Hardin, gunfighter that killed 22 men. Read more in the book, Life and Times of John Wesley Hardin.
* For the second time in two years, we got to cycle around the Tetons. Same area as the photo on our website. Downhill and gorgeous!
* Spent the Fourth in the town of Ashton, Idaho. Great parade—went down mainstreet, turned around paraded back! Lots of kids, no tanks.
* Arrived early in the day at the hotel in Lima, Montana, and watched marble-size hail fall outside of our room. Jack and Dink show up in the hotel room next door! Next morning, rode ten miles to eat at the historic Yesterday’s Calf-A, a cafe with home cooked food, housed in a former one-room schoolhouse. Started the day with cherry pie.
* Camped at the Bannack State Park campground. Bannack, Montana, is a well-preserved ghost town. I love abandoned buildings and really enjoyed walking through the houses, hotel, and Masonic Lodge.
*Next day, a short ride (26 miles) to the Elkhorn Hot Springs. We stayed at the lodge, with complimentary entrance to the hot springs and breakfast buffet the next day. The hot springs was basically a big concrete pool and we loved it. And guess what! Steff and Quentin showed up in the room next to us. Funny how you can stay with the same lovely people throughout a tour.
* After next morning’s great breakfast buffet at Elkhorn, we tackled Fleecer Ridge on the GDMBR. Someone said a 38% incline. As Adventure Cycling says on the map, a ridiculously steep hill. John and I had to throw off our panniers to get our bikes up. I was literally moving my bike four inches at a time. Process: plant feet firmly in sandy soil; use arm strength to push bike four inches uphill; continue. Don’t look up to gauge progress too often. Cuss frequently and well. At times I couldn’t push hard enough to get my front tire over an inch-high rock. Steff and Quentin were also going uphill and as true Trail Angels, helped us with our panniers. Quent even pushed my bike a bit. Ridiculously steep, indeed.
*And now we have a day off in Helena, Montana. I really like this town. Beautiful buildings with stonework; good bakery; cheap hotel with bathtub, fridge, and microwave.
* And things have changed a bit for me, mentally. Really enjoying the trip and will be sad for it to finish in 600 miles. I really believe I could live this cycling life for years as long as I had the opportunity to see family and friends. Missing loved ones.
Looking forward to getting back on the bike tomorrow to ride to Barbara Nye’s Llama Farm! We have the cabin reserved and everything! Xxoo
Starting with a positive spin: we’re getting stronger. And with strength, the riding is even more fun. Staying completely in the moment, not planning for the future or mulling over the past, as is my habit. The scenery is amazing, especially as we near the Tetons. The wild camping is so convenient and I love our evening ritual of setting up camp, cooking dinner, talking about our day, and snuggling in our cozy tent.
We’ve met other cyclists along the route. I appreciate getting to talk with other people that share our interests in cycle touring and traveling. We’ve been leap-frogging with four other cyclists, Steff and Quent from France, and Dink and Jack from the Netherlands. Fun group of people with different attitudes about the ride. I love Steff and Quent’s manner of touring. Quent describes themselves as “tourists,” off to experience the people, activities, and towns along the way.
We also met two Appalachian State students riding the GDMBR. Sam is a big fan of the university library where we work and it was actually at the library that Bryson talked Sam into riding the GDMBR. But not surprising as cool people and libraries go together. They are very strong riders and have the minimal race bike setups. Will probably complete the route in under 40 days.
And now... the story arch goes to the two main characters and how they resolved conflict along the way. Remember how, in the last blog posting, John’s derailleur blew up due to mud? And how we learned a lesson about NOT riding in the mud? Well, Beth blew up her derailleur the second morning out of Steamboat. Same exact situation. While wise cyclists were staying dry inside hotel rooms, we went for it. Luckily the incident happened near the Ladder Ranch and they were so very helpful. We stayed in one of their small cabins for a couple of nights, borrowed a Jeep BACK to Steamboat and Orange Peel. And here I’m gonna go all fan girl—at the Orange Peel I saw fricking Lael Wilcox! And she smiled at me! (She smiles at everyone).
As always, the disaster turned out to be a high-point of the trip, with the stay at Ladder Ranch, hanging out with the other cyclists that arrived after the sun came out, and eating breakfast with the O’Toole family.
Another evening we were wild camping and began to slowly notice our scalps were becoming itchy. It got more intense, soon it felt like my scalp was on fire. Couldn’t concentrate. Could it be lice, chemicals? Would we need to go to an emergency room? But we are in the middle of nowhere. When I couldn’t take it much longer, I heated up water and washed my hair. Temporary relief but itch returned after my hair dried. John looked at my scalp and my hair was full of gnats/horsefly critters! Super ick, ugh, yuck. I shook out my hair best I could and dove into the tent. Relief. Feels so good when the irritation stops.
We hope to make it to Tetons National Park today. Yesterday the bolt that attaches my saddle broke in half so I finished the last nine miles standing up on my bike. Again, a kind person is offering us a ride to Jackson (66 miles) to get my bike fixed. I do get frustrated when my bike breaks. A mix of sad and disheartened. But always aware that this is the most memorable part of the trip, overcoming obstacles and difficulties to reach the goal.
Hoping to take a rest day on the Fourth in a small town along the way. Nothing beats celebrating Independence Day in a small western town. Xxoo
Hoo-hoo! What a ride!
It all began smoothly. We left Frisco on Monday morning (thanks again Jeff and April) and rode 46 miles to Williams Fork Reservoir. Climbed Ute Pass and had a welcomed downhill to our campsite. First (but not last) day of substantial rain. Next day, we rode to Route National Forest, only 38 miles but earned every inch of it. Some climbs so steep, it made me believe ACA would have never included these roads if they had considered those traveling north. Difficult route but the best scenery thus far, sweeping views of green valleys and snow covered mountains. The rain didn’t bother us so much... until we hit the MUD. This is the mud that all GDMBR and Baja Divide riders fear. Described as “peanut butter,” it clogs up your chain and cassette. Adds 10 pounds to your tires. At some point, you can’t even push your bike because it is so heavy, your feet are slipping, and you are sucked into the tar pit, only to be found thousands of years later.
So, are we having fun? I have asked myself this and my answer is, most of the time. I had a good and long conversation with myself about why I am doing this and made the following conclusions: I am pursuing the unexpected memorable event or encounter; being outdoors with all of its physical and emotional benefits; accomplishing a goal; testing myself, both physically and mentally; and keeping fit in an effort to avoid the cost and other consequences of additional needed healthcare. I would have included the economic benefits of living cheaply on the road without any debt and few expenses but honestly, we’ve had so many unexpected costs, this isn’t reality.
On Wednesday morning, John’s derailleur decided it had enough and decided to end it. His derailleur self-combusted right before Rock Creek. It blew up real good. Luckily, John is bike-repair savvy and was able to shorten his chain and turn his bike into a one-speed, enabling him to reach pavement. We caught a couple of rides into Steamboat Springs, where we left the bike with The Orange Peel bike shop and went to stay with our WarmShowers host, Rich. Rich is awesome and kind. Thanks for a dry and welcoming place to sleep. Keep living an amazing life.
Thursday we we did lots of zero-mile stuff like hanging out at the public library, drinking coffee and eating delicious baked goods at Smell That Bread, and waiting to hear from the bike store. We saw that the weather forecast for the next day was rain and more rain. And rain is okay. We can do rain. The fear factor comes from rain and COLD. Or even worse, rain and COLD and MUD. So, we booked a room for 2 (two) more nights in Steamboat’s finest and cheapest hotel, with a full kitchen.
Best damned decision ever. Honestly, I admire those GDMBR riders plugging along, regardless of weather. But that ain’t me—today. Reality is we woke up not to rain but to snow. Snow on the first day of summer. Welcome to Colorado 2019: the snow and flooding episode. But we get to spend the day walking around a winter wonderland and eating cereal with cold milk/baguette with butter and jelly/yogurt/and salad in a bag. We are hanging out once again in the public library, may go to the Old Town Hot Springs this evening. Already feeling energized and looking forward to heading out once again in the morning. Because we’re doing this. In our own sweet time and John/Beth manner. Gratitude abounds.
Lots has happened since our zero-mile day in Del Norte. We forgot a charger in the middle of nowhere and were contacted by a CDT hiker that found it the next day. By chance, John had left our Librarians on Bikes business card in the case. We told the hiker to keep it or pass it on to someone who needed it. We wild camped among a herd of angry cows in San Isabel National Forest. We rode up Marshall Pass, a pleasant 16-mile railroad-grade ascent followed by a welcome and memorable 25-mile descent into Salida. We spent the night at the Salida Hostel and bought a NEW STOVE (earlier fix didn’t stay fixed) and now have hot food once again.
The last three days have all been short mile days. Riding out of Salida was a brutal 14 mile uphill, so we stopped at 2pm, after only 22 miles. Pulled out our chairs and made camp in Long Gulch among the cows (these seemed much happier than previously mentioned cows). Wrote letters, made notes, played some cards, and made bean-noodle soup for dinner. Next day was a quick 44 miles into Fairplay, CO, where we beat the cold rain and spent the afternoon eating good food, grateful to be cozy in our tent and sleeping bags. Went off-route due to snow pack at Boreas Pass and climbed Hoosier Pass for the second time in two years (part of the TransAm Route). I think I can say that today has been the best day of the trip so far-a fitting Father’s Day tribute to John. We made it to Frisco early, had some good coffee, and headed over to April and Jeff’s townhouse. Upon arrival, Jeff told us we had about 20 minutes to shower before “a big surprise.” Best surprise ever, he had arranged for us both to get hour-long massages! And this was John’s first ever massage. We also had a wonderful dinner, did our laundry, and are sleeping in a real bed tonight.
The plan is to keep riding for another six days before our next zero-mile day in Rawlins, WY. We will be staying with a Warm Showers host in Steamboat Springs but otherwise there aren’t many towns between here and Rawlins. We’re well-stocked with supplies, sleeping well tonight and heading back out in the morning. Until next week!
Yesterday we entered a new state—Colorado! Good-bye New Mexico and thanks for all the beautiful scenery, wildlife, fascinating abandoned ranches and houses, and wild camping. We’ve passed the 800-mile mark, averaging about 45 miles and ten hours of riding a day, and guessing between 4,000-5,000 feet a day climbing. We stop often during the day to eat, filter water, and take Ibuprofen. The climbing (often on foot, pushing my bike) is what makes this so very different than past touring. We have never rode any route as challenging but also rewarding in so many ways. We really appreciate the wild camping in our national forests: beautiful and remote sites, cheap, and you get to pick when to stop for the day. When your legs say stop, you can stop. The remoteness means no one cares about how dirty you are. And we are nine-days out with one change of clothing dirty. Each night’s bathing consists of three handy wipes, no more, no less.
We’ve seen many antelope and elk. One day we passed a herd of elk with a small baby calf, legs still wobbly. We also saw a cow giving birth! We’ve ridden past mesas, plateaus, volcanic plugs, and steep arroyos reminiscent of the Baja Divide. The scenery changes throughout the day, from open valleys with big sky amazing views to mountain aspen groves to desert ravines.
A couple of days outside of Grants, we met Rani and Bob and their horse Chirpas. Bob is providing support to Rani and Chirpas as they travel the GDMBR with a small Amish wagon. They travel about 20-25 miles a day. Rani remembers reading an Adventure Cycling article about the GDMBR many years ago and is finally making her own adventure traveling from Mexico to Canada. Very cool people (and horse).
A couple of days ago we were riding past the Lagunitas campsites close to the Colorado border when things began to get interesting. With the big snowfalls this winter, the snowmelt had turned the gravel road into a fairly large stream, Mud included. We were feeling quite proud of ourselves, finally doing the “oh no, look at how much mud is on our tires, we must be REAL GDMBR riders,” when we noticed that the Continental Divide hikers had started passing us. Than we hit the snow. Again, REAL GDMBR riders hike through snow. Then the Five Four-Wheeler Riders of the Divide (Clint, Matt, Randy, Casey, and Everett, all from Texas) came across our path and advised us what was ahead. Snow above the knees. River crossing with water four feet deep and strong current. Our best option, they said, was to backtrack seven miles and head off-route to Antonito, CO. Backtrack!? Horrible thought. To my great relief, the 4-wheelers volunteered to put our bikes in their vehicles and drove us back to our turnoff. Plus, they made us hot coffee and fixed our camp stove! No more cold instant coffee and cold-soak ramen for us. It’s the small things that give so much pleasure on the GDMBR.
Sad to miss Indiana Pass (highest point in the GDMBR) due to the snow and high water but secretly was so, so very happy to ride the 80 miles to Del Norte on a relatively flat road with the wind at our backs. Don’t tell anyone about my love of easy riding because I may lose my GDMBR status if word got out. Recharging today doing all the usual zero-mile day chores and treating ourselves to a hotel room, shower, restaurant, etc. Talked with our kids and family, wrote some letters, and downloaded new books and movies. Ready to begin the Colorado ride!
We’ve finished our first nine days on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Nine days. 410 miles. One shower. Zero laundry. Just enough food. Tent and stove wearing out, sleeping pads with slow leaks (as usual). And blissfully happy to be on the road, living the simple and rewarding life of bike touring.
We began the trip with a van ride from the El Paso airport to Columbus, New Mexico, on Wednesday, May 22. We stayed with old but worthy habits and visited their library. John had a great conversation with Gordon, longtime library volunteer. Spent the night at the Los Milagros, a wonderful place with two adorable and well-dressed dogs, Minnie and Bonbon. Headed south the next morning to begin our trip at the Mexico/US border.
We hit gravel road on the second day of cycling. Only one car passed us for 45 miles. Desert wildflowers in bloom, temps in the 70s. Headwinds but not as bad as some we’ve encountered. Third day, as we were leaving Silver City and I was engrossed in a podcast while riding my bike, a rattlesnake crossing the road in front of me had the common sense to stop, rear up, and make some noise in order to get my attention. And she did get my attention. Thought process when encountering rattlesnake: oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, should I go back and take a photo, no, snake is probably already gone, don’t want photo, go, go, go.
On days three, four, and five, we rode through the Gila National Forest. Beautiful mountainous scenery with many steep and long climbs. Many times pushing bikes up gravelly roads. But that’s why it’s called “bikepacking.” Many times you are carrying or pushing your bike. And no one can shame me when I push my bike, I know my limits. 55 year-old woman with asthma riding the GDMBR. Doing it.
But at the end of these days my legs just quit. They told me when they were done. I knew I had to stop and was grateful for the many opportunities to wild camp. Beautiful spots all to ourselves and at no cost. We had groceries, water, stove and fuel, camp chairs (worth every ounce), tent, sleeping bags, and enflatable pads and pillows (leaky but nice). I also have my phone with Netflix and Prime downloads, ebooks, music, and podcasts. This is the good life.
Another thing that added to our happiness on the road were the trail angels. Anthony Hawkins, NFS firefighter, gave us cold Gatorade on day five and warned us of upcoming strong headwinds. Helped us get through the three hours of 25mph northerly winds. And one house that provided free water and food for GDMBR riders. Because of their generosity we were able to dump the green water we had collected from a cattle tank and resupply with potable water. And their cookies, peanuts, and apple sauce got us through to Pie Town. We learned a valuable lesson about grocery shopping in remote areas—count the calories in the food. Simple math: we each need at least 4,000 calories a day. Multiply by number of days. KIND bars don’t cut it.
PIE TOWN!! A magical place. The vision of Pie Town kept me going during lean and steep times. We arrived Wednesday, May 29, around 2pm. Headed straight to the Gathering Place restaurant and ordered a cherry pie with ice cream, coffee, and coke. Continued with chicken enchiladas, beans & cornbread. Finished with root beer floats. Went back the next morning for breakfast and coffee. These calories go a heck of a lot further than instant oatmeal and pop tarts. Zoom!!! Feel the power in your legs.
And today, after two relatively easy days of cycling through beautiful scenery, including the El Malpais National Mounument, we are in a hotel for two (TWO) nights in Grants, NM. Bathed. Laundry done. Food in the fridge. My birthday present to myself. Blissed out due to good clean living.
Why hit yourself in the head with a hammer? Because it feels so good when you stop.
We've been in Kansas for the past ten days, recovering from selling our house and getting rid of stuff. We spent a lot of time tromping around eight acres of Kansas farm land we plan to buy and hanging out with family. We begin the Great Divide Mountain Bike Ride Thursday, planning on taking 70 days to complete the route. After we finish the GDMBR in July, we'll be bicycle touring Yellowstone with friends and hanging out with Emma in Chelan, WA.
After six more days of riding, we completed our Baja Divide tour, Mulegé-La Paz.
Memories: reaching asphalt just in time for our entry into Ciudad Constitucion, avoiding the mud but arriving at our hotel sopping wet; the beauty and solitude of the Sierra de Giganta; making camp in the evening with our deluxe chairs, sleeping pads, pillows, and cookstove; cresting the last ravine to see the Sea of Cortez and a 1800 foot descent; meeting Dang and trading bike touring stories; our own private campsites along the coast; beating the rain into La Paz and later walking through the flooded streets; receiving the email in a VIPs restaurant in La Paz, telling me I received the NYC Loft Director position.
I’m already planning to come back and ride the complete Baja Divide. I’ll give myself 2 months—FYI, the record is eleven days. I really enjoyed the technical aspects of this type of touring. Very little traffic and good distance from the tourist industry. The required mental processes in technical riding help quite my monkey mind and I was surprised by my courage in descending the ravines, especially in consideration that I began the tour with a knee injury from skiing. My younger self would be pleased by what 55 year-old me can accomplish.
Most of all, I enjoyed being here with John. We had so much fun and it was a constant joy to be here with my special person. As we get older, I cherish our good fortune to have our health and one another. It’s a cycle: gratitude adds to my happiness, my happiness adds to my gratitude.
Ten days into our Baja Divide tour. It has been quite an adventure. To begin the story... the bus ride to Mulege. Our poor bikes, they were tossed in with the cargo below the bus. Good things—our bikes no longer looked new and we gained more experience in bicycle repair (like adjusting deraileurs).
Next morning we caught a boat ride across Bahia Concepcion with Pablo and his son. First day riding kicked out butts! Some single track, thorns (the miracle of tubeless tires saved the day), and learning to use our new GPS devices and apps. We are having to readjust our expectations for miles ride in a day, 30 miles is quite respectable, 45 miles is a very good day.
Sometimes I worry during the night about sufficient food and water but the days are spent in wonder at the solitude, beauty, and fun. It is tough going but so very rewarding to test ourselves, build our cycling skills, and regain some muscle after a rather sluggish semester behind a desk.
Heading out again today after three days rest in Ciudad Constitucion. Our plan is to ride 6-8 hours a day, enjoy all this food we are carrying, and absorb all the wonderfulness surrounding us. Days of happiness and calmness, so much gratitude for these opportunities.
The following is our unedited article that later appeared (edited) in the Oxford University Press Blog, July 19, 2018.
After working for 26 years as academic librarians, we have reached a point in our careers where we are right-sizing professionally and personally. This year we requested and were granted a nine-month contract, enabling us to pursue our dream of cycling across the United States, from Washington, D.C., to Astoria, Oregon. Along the way, we are visiting public libraries, taking photos and making notes about library services and programming, and in particular, services available to bicycle tourists and other non-resident patrons. Although our careers have been in academic libraries, we are big supporters of public libraries. We believe them to be one of the few welcoming and safe spaces that offer services to the public at no cost. Serving as advocates for public libraries, we are writing about our library visits, sharing photos, and tracking our progress cross-country on our website: librariansonbikes.com.
Why travel by bicycle? Now that we are in our 50s and 60s, cycling provides health benefits that will contribute to our well-being as we grow older. We enjoy camping and the slower pace of bicycle travel that allows us to see things, smell things, and hear things you would not experience in a fast-moving car. We have been bicycle touring since our 20s and have completed many bicycle tours in the last ten years, most recently a 1,000 mile journey down the Baja Peninsula (San-Diego, California, to La Paz, Mexico) last winter.
When we travel on our bicycles we carrying everything we need: a tent, sleeping bags, stove and cookware, extra clothes, basic tools, food, and plenty of water. As self-contained cyclists we make frequent re-supply visits to grocery and convenience stores, occasionally eating at local diners and restaurants. We appreciate time off the bicycles to visit museums and local points-of-interests but most often we are stopping at public libraries. Fortunately, public libraries are still found in small towns across America, even in towns that no longer have a local grocery store or place to eat.
As bicycle tourists, libraries provide a refuge and a personal connection. Crossing Kansas and Eastern Colorado, with 102-degree afternoon heat, the library was a wonderful place to get out of the high temperatures, spend time working on the computers, or log in to the library wifi to conserve our data. In talking with the librarians throughout our trip, we create a personal connection with the towns, learning so much more about the local history, the people that live there, and services and programs provided by the library.
Currently our route follows the Adventure Cycling Association’s (ACA) TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, a route that originated in 1976 as the Bikecentennial Route. On their maps, ACA lists amenities (camping, hospitals, grocery stores, etc.) for towns situated along the 4,240-mile route. Around 2001, cyclists traveling on the route requested that ACA include sites providing internet access. ACA recognized potential problems with listing internet cafes due to their transient nature and decided the logical place for connectivity was public libraries. Since that time, ACA has included more than 1,500 public libraries on their maps.
As of late June, we have visited over 20 public libraries, and bicycled 2,300 miles. The libraries are always very welcoming, happy to see you, and ready to help you. Our approach is to introduce ourselves to library staff, ask them questions about library services for bicycle tourists such as ourselves and other non-residents that may stop at the library. We still are uncertain if they are more surprised (excited too!) that we are bicycling across the country or that we are both librarians.
Surprised by how many libraries would be willing to give non-residents a library card, we soon became interested in other issues such as library programming, staffing at the library, and support for the library by the local community. We’d like to highlight a few of the services and programming provided by the libraries we visited, but to read a fuller description, please visit our library blog (librariansonbikes.com/library-blog):
Many of the libraries along our route provided services to bicycle tourists passing through their towns. The Kiowa County Public Library in Eads, Colorado is situated on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail and created a visitor guide specifically for TransAmerica cyclists with all kinds of useful information such as where to eat, shower, and camp, where to find ice cream, the grocery stores, and the swimming pool. The Council Grove Library in Council Grove, Kansas has created a Local Information space, a corner of the library that highlights the history, attractions, and businesses of the area. They serve as a second Visitors Center for the community, particularly since the library is open more hours.
And two groups that provide educational travel opportunities—by bicycle, will be hosted by libraries. In Kansas, the Newton Public Library is hosting the MITSpokes in early July, 2018. MITSpokes is a group of eight MIT students that share their love of Science-Technology-Engineering-Math with local youth during stops at selected sites during their cross-country cycling trip. In Missouri, the Augusta Branch of the Saint Charles City-County Library (Augusta, Missouri) is expecting a group of ROAD Scholars to stop by this summer as they cycle the KATY Trail.
We were impressed by the ease of access to computers and wifi for non-residents. An ID was never required in all 20 libraries and many provided access with only a signature or by picking up a slip of paper with a login. At least four of the libraries allowed anyone, regardless of residence, to obtain a library card with full borrowing privileges. All that is necessary is a government-issued ID and a piece of mail with your address. So even two bicycle tourists from North Carolina could have checked out books or downloaded ebooks onto our personal devices.
All of the libraries that we visited had engaging summer programming, welcoming spaces, and personable staff. Here are just a few examples of how these libraries are doing an amazing job:
In Hartsel, Colorado, a town of only 60 people, the community created the Hartsel Public Library in 1999. Books were donated and the library is staffed entirely by volunteers. The library is housed in a historic 1899 building, surrounded by a picket fence. The library recently received a grant to renovate the interior, creating a cozy and friendly space for community members and visitors.
Brownstown Branch Library in Brownstown, Illinois (population 750) houses its library in an old bank, using the vault as a children’s reading area. The library employs two part-time staff members. They each hold two jobs: one is a librarian/firefighter and the other is librarian/Mayor of Brownstown.
In 2018, the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library in Pueblo, Colorado, received both the National Medal for Museum and Library Service (IMLS) and the Leslie B. Knope Award (community favorite/social media award). In winning the Knope Award, Pueblo beat out Beth’s hometown library, Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas, during the final four voting. Having visited both of these libraries this summer, we have to say we were blown away by the library buildings and outdoor spaces; their creative and plentiful programming, and the obvious love and support they received from their communities. Both of these libraries are outstanding examples of library as the heart of a mid-size city.
We also visited communities that would greatly benefit from new library buildings or more support for library staff. The Kiowa County Public Library is housed in the basement of the County Courthouse, which limits its space and hours of operation. The Newton Public Library, suffering from water leakage and limited space, has been advocating for a new building since 2006. Many of the libraries we visited limit library staff work hours to avoid the cost of providing health insurance and other benefits. We were surprised that in one town (population 3,000+), even the Library Director was part-time.
And libraries are not immune from the challenges faced by communities, in fact, they are often an important resource for connecting people in their community with services and support. In speaking with public librarians, we heard about the opioid problem, lack of jobs, and food insecurity among their patrons. One librarians told us they fear that one day medical intervention will be needed in the library or come too late for addicted patrons. Many libraries provide resume writing clinics and help patrons submit job applications online. Other libraries are providing free summer lunches to youth, age 1-18.
Perhaps it goes without saying that the most appreciated services we found for bicycle tourists and other non-residents in the library were the simple things often taken for granted: a welcoming space with air-conditioning; electricity to charge our devices; internet connection; and the hospitality demonstrated by the library staff. One particularly hot afternoon, we witnessed a couple of other bicycle tourists camping at the city park. As we passed the park several times that day, on our way to the swimming pool, the library, and the soft-serve ice cream, we were puzzled why anyone would choose to sit in 102-degree temperatures while there was a wonderful library only three blocks away. Now, whenever we meet other bicycle tourists in town, we let them know that a wonderful library is just minutes away.