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.
Today we visited Eugene Public Library in Eugene, Oregon. We have always been big fans of Eugene and planned to spend a couple of rest days in town, visiting with our nephew and niece, Jason and Kaverii. The library is centrally located in downtown Eugene in a four-story building built in 2002. There is a beautiful courtyard outside the children’s library and an abundance of bicycle parking.
In May, Alec Chunn, Youth Services Librarian, contacted John and me and invited us to visit the library when we arrived in Eugene. We are sorry to have missed the chance to meet Alec (seems he is moving into his new house!) but we were welcomed by many of the other library staff members. We had a fabulous visit including a tour by Miriam and Lynda, plus a lunch attended by seven library staff members. During the tours, we had the opportunity to meet many of the people that work in the library, including behind-the-scenes visits to technical services (my people) and circulation.
In touring Children’s Services with Miriam, we were struck by many things. Top of my list is their Language Center, offering support to households that speak a language other than English and to several language immersion schools for French, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. In signing up for the summer reading program, children can select and take home a book to keep! We were entertained by the library displays created by children on different library-related topics.
Miriam also showed us the Maker Hub, a great example of public libraries providing access to technologies and creative spaces. Resources include a 3D printer, button makers, sewing machine, electronics kits, and an embroidery machine. Next door to the Maker Hub is the Media Lab, a place for recording and editing sounds and images. Upcoming workshops in August are available for recording/editing music and an introduction to virtual reality.
As we’ve traveled through the United States, we’ve had the opportunity to discuss different topics with library staff. One interesting discussion we had over lunch today was about balancing the services for community residents with services provided to non-residents. At the Eugene Public Library, to use the computers, one must have a library card, pay three dollars an hour, or limit use to 15 minutes at one of open-access terminals. In our travels, this is the most restrictive policy thus far. In talking with library staff, they felt that there was such a high demand for the computers, that allowing anyone free access may have a detrimental effect on assuring access for the community members.
We also discussed the challenges faced by a centrally located public library in a mid-size city with a homeless population over 3,000 people. Strong universal support was voiced in keeping the library available and welcoming to all. And one way to do this is to contract with a security company to be aware of activity outside the library, so librarians can focus their attention on what’s going on inside the building. Another amazing service offered at the library is a storage unity near the library where people can securely leave their belongings while using the library. Several people remarked on the library’s role in helping with social services, most notably partnering with White Bird Clinic to provide information about housing, food, showers, and other services.
We were very touched by the hospitality of the Eugene Public Library and for Alec reaching out to us. We are grateful for the conversations at lunch--speaking on topics that add to our overall picture of public libraries, their resources, and the challenges they may face. Thanks to you all for your time, especially Alec, Miriam, and Lynda.
It’s getting hot up here in Oregon! Today we went through Hells Canyon and hit temperatures in the triple digits. Made it to Halfway, Oregon, just after noon. Ate a massive lunch and then took refuge at the Baker County Library, Halfway Branch. What a treat to step into air-conditioning, find a comfy chair, and pull out my laptop for a while. Wifi openly available with a water fountain and bathroom nearby.
After working for about an hour, we introduce ourselves to Lourdes, the one and only library staff member at the Halfway Branch. She was busy boxing up books for tomorrow’s Library District book sale in Baker, proceeds to support the beautiful garden outside the library, maintained by the Friends of the Library (see photos below). The garden looks great today but Lourdes tells us it is amazing in springtime when the flowers are in bloom. It features two picnic benches and a table and chairs where people can relax and/or use the wifi. John and I took advantage of the garden, its shade, and the wifi, after the library closed at 4pm (beats going back to the hot campground).
Next Thursday will be the fourth and final program for the Summer Reading program in Halfway. Lourdes has a strong group of 10 kids that attend the program, a good number for a town with 300+ population. The upcoming program will play on the national library theme, “Libraries Rock!,” by focusing on the geology of Oregon. Lourdes’ ten-year-old grandson will be bringing in his rock collection and a guitarist will play music. The kids will also be painting rocks, one to take home and one to hide in the community for someone else to find.
In speaking with Lourdes, she tells us how residents support the library, even those that don’t use it. Many people do not have access to a computer or the internet, so the library fills a vital role here in Halfway. And the library itself, with its garden and welcoming space, is central to community life. We certainly enjoyed and appreciated it! Thanks Lourdes and thanks Baker County Library District!
We had an early start this morning in New Meadows, Idaho. We rode about 20 miles and ate a second breakfast In Council, Idaho. Most days we eat first breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, a meal we call 'ice cream,' and dinner. Food is fuel and it's what keeps us going.
Arrived in Cambridge, Idaho, around 1:30pm and visited the museum, went to the city park to set up our tent (and bathe in the sprinklers), and headed to the Cambridge Community Library. We spent about an hour using the wifi to read emails and social media while sitting on a cozy couch and charging our devices in air-conditioned comfort.
After we had saturated our minds with the internet, we spoke with the library director, Lorrie, about the town and the library. Right now the big thing for the library is the upcoming budget hearing, scheduled for August 1. The requested budget has been published in the local newspaper and a notice of the public hearing is posted on the library's front door. Lorrie says they usually receive what they request and she is feeling optimistic. I've included the budget from the newspaper below.
Lorrie works hard to bring kids and young adults into the library. They just wrapped up a successful Summer Reading program for the community. A lot of the FFA and 4H kids use the library computers to complete projects and the library recently held a pizza parties for the teens and a pajama party for the little ones. And something I have not seen at any other library, Cambridge Community provides books for kids to take home (to keep, like forever!!) Lorrie loves books and reading and says she will do anything to promote them.
The Cambridge Community Library has an interesting history. It began in Maude Donart's store in the 1950s, where Maude provided a rotating collection on loan from Boise Public Library. In 1973, a group of volunteers (led by John Mount) constructed a building to serve as the community library. As the collection grew and Cambridge needed a larger library, the former library director, Nina, called local businessman Robert Stinnett and asked him to donate a vacant downtown building. Stinnett agreed and the library moved to its current location.
What a wonderful thing- a public space where we can just relax, think, and get out of the heat (at no cost). Plus, we learned something about the local history. Thanks Lorrie and Cambridge Community Library!!
Today we rode up and up and up. A really demanding day with over 3,000 feet of climbing, plus sun, heat, and wind. Two things made the day pretty special, an A&W Root Beer restaurant waiting for us at the end of the ride in New Meadows, Idaho, and the company of another cyclist, Bryant. We met Bryant at Lolo Pass and have been riding with him for the past three days. He's done a lot of touring in the past 15 years and is a very interesting fellow, with knowledge about farming, nutrition, bicycles, and beekeeping. He left us this evening to head home but we plan on staying with him and his wife later in the trip.
After we ate/drank our root beer floats, John and I went to visit the Meadows Valley Public Library. One of the first things we saw at the library was an Adventure Cycling TransAm sticker in the front window. That made us feel very welcome. Kayrene, a library staff member, greeted us with a hello as we entered and we talked about the town and the library. New Meadows received its name when the original town (Meadows) moved west a few miles to be closer to the trains. About 500-600 people live here, many making their living in the cattle business. The library has been around "forever," moving into the current building about ten years ago.
In addition to the TransAm sticker in the front window, we also saw a display with information about the Adventure Cycling Association and free copies of their magazine, Adventure Cyclist. Kayrene told us many cyclists come through New Meadows to use the computers in the library. All they need to do is read and sign an agreement about appropriate computer use. There is no wifi available in the library since appropriate use cannot be assured. I must say, I've never heard of this being a concern in other libraries and wonder as to the origin of the policy.
The Summer Reading program is in full-swing. 39 kids were in the library earlier today for a program consisting of a 15-minute science program, a story, and a craft (making wind chimes). Participants earn tokens for reading and they can use the tokens to enter drawings for big prizes or trade-in their tokens for smaller prizes. All the prizes were purchased with donations from the community, the donors' names listed along the wall. In addition to the children and youth's Summer Reading, 28 adults have signed up to participate. They can use their tokens to enter a drawing for a Kindle reading tablet.
Thanks to Kaylene for her time. We enjoyed speaking with you. And thank you to Meadows Valley Public Library for being so welcoming to bicycle tourists. It is very much appreciated!
We've spent the last three days traveling from Missoula, Montana, to White Bird, Idaho. We either seem to be climbing or coasting downhill. Yesterday was one of the easiest days of riding (all downhill) while today was one of the most grueling, with two passes and about 3,500 feet of climbing. We didn't know what to expect from this part of Idaho. Growing up, I thought Idaho was all flat potato farm land. Obviously I didn't know much about Idaho. I've included some photos below of the scenery. Really gorgeous.
Right now, we are sitting outside of the White Bird Community Library, in White Bird, Idaho. The library is a community effort and staffed solely by volunteers. The library is closed but provides 24 hour wifi (The WiFi Zone) and outdoor seating. So although they are only open nine hours a week, they supply wifi around the clock to the community and tourists passing through. And in a place where our cell phones have a limited connection, it is very much appreciated!
We’re taking a rest day in Missoula after two days of relative easy riding. Staying with a Warm Showers host that makes his home available to bicycle tourists--last night nine cyclists were staying in the house. Such generosity is very much appreciated. Yesterday we also visited Shali Zhang, Dean of Libraries at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library at the University of Montana. Shali and I have worked together with the International Relations Round Table (ALA) for years and it was a great treat to see her and visit the Library. She took us out to dinner at the university's all-you-can-eat dining room--and we can eat a lot, further demonstrated by our visits to the Farmers Market and a French bakery this morning. Many baked goods were purchased.
After baked goods, we rode to the Missoula Public Library First thing we saw at the library was a bicycle tool stand and a tire pump, both provided by Mountain Line, a local bus and transit service. Cycling is a big deal in Missoula, maybe due to the natural beauty of the area. Plus, the headquarters of the Adventure Cycling Association and the University of Montana are here. Library staff told us that the library has a tricycle that serves as a mobile library and is out and about today at Missoula’s three Farmers Markets. Hopefully John and I can locate it and check it out.
For programming, the library offers the Libraries Rock!! summer reading program, with activities scheduled throughout the summer and an end-of-summer party on July 31st. They have two teen Writers’ Groups, two adult book groups, and five computer classes scheduled in July. I was very impressed with their movie schedule which includes numerous film series: World Wide Cinema; Cheap Date Night; Summer Family Movies; The Great American Read Film Series; and Summer Movie Matinees.
Inside the building there is a lot of information about the new library building, ground-breaking scheduled for August, 2018 (next month!). Currently the library only has seating for 38 people while more than 1500 people visit each day. For every book added, one needs to be removed. And a very interesting statistic, one in four Missoulians do not have access to the internet. Missoula Public Library is the busiest library in the state of Montana and has over 700,000 visitors a year. In 2016, Missoula County passed a 30-million-dollar library bond, with the new building scheduled to open in 2020. The bond passed with over 60 percent of the vote, displaying amazing community support for the library.
We want to thank Stephen for taking the time to speak with us and congratulate Missoula County on their new library!
Tuesday, we spent the day in Dillon, Montana (population 4000+). We usually try and take one day a week off of the bikes, mostly to get a bit more sleep, do laundry, and catch up on writing letters and email. We usually wake up around 4:30am, so sleeping until 6:30 is a real treat.
After breakfast and coffee, we headed to the Dillon Public Library. We spoke with Edna, library staff member, and she told us a bit about the history of the library. The library is a beautiful Carnegie building built in 1902, complete with four gargoyles and a turret. The library building is included in the National Historical Register of Buildings. The driving force behind obtaining the Carnegie funds was Mary Perkins-Hooker, a Dillon resident and great-niece of Harriet Beecher-Stowe. Perkins-Hooker was also a member of the second oldest book club in Montana, the Shakespeare Club, which still exists today in Dillon.
We also got the chance to speak with the Library Director, Lori Roberts. What an inspiring librarian! In times of budget cuts for Montana libraries, Lori has written and received 6-8 grants this past year for the Dillon Public Library. Lori told us about several of the resources/services that are available with grant funding. The backpack program provides backpacks that include binoculars, fishing poles, park pass for Glacier National Park, and various maps. The grant funds will also allow the library to offer media workshops to teenagers to develop skills with movie making. The library will furnish an instructor, go-pros, a drone, and laptops with media-making software.
While speaking with Lori, she told us of two library programs taking place that very night: the Teen Top-Chef Cookout and an outdoor concert featuring Jack and Kitt, an Emmy-award-winning musical duo. She invited us to the community potluck, same time and place as the concert. We did go and had a fabulous meal while watching children dance to the music of Jack and Kitty. A wonderful evening. Thanks to Lori and the Dillon Public Library for inviting us!
One of the best things about this trip is all the pleasant surprises along the way. Monday morning, we left Ennis at about 5:30 am and spent the next three hours heading up a steep climb (this was not a pleasant surprise). But after the uphill we had a glorious downhill that passed through the town of Virginia City, Montana, a town like no other. Part of the town was a restored mining town, with different businesses fashioned to represent 19th century Virginia City, a booming mining town. Doors were left open for tourists to check out the stores, complete with mannequins and an amazing number of wares from past years. I mean, like dozens of pairs of long johns, a store full of groceries, a tailor’s shop with about fifty men’s coats and vests. Someone put a lot of effort and forethought into collecting these things and while it all was a bit eerie, I really enjoyed it. And since it was still early in the morning, we had the place to ourselves.
We knew that we would be on the bikes for many hours today due to the long climb and 71 miles. We were looking forward to stopping at the Two Bridges Public Library to relax and talk with the library staff. Two Bridges, Montana, was built around two bridges that cross the Beaverhead River. The Beaverhead, Ruby, and Big Hole Rivers converge to form the Jefferson River in Two Bridges, making this small town (population 400-500) a pretty big deal in fly-fishing circles.
On the outside wall of the library is an amazing mural painted by local artist, Jim Shirk. It combines local history/attractions with cowboys, fly fishing, and spine labels. Inside we were surprised to find a stuffed lion. Edith, the library staff member on duty, told us that the lion originally belonged to a doctor in Two Bridges that liked to big-game hunt in the 1920s-1940s. The library has many more trophies housed upstairs and is trying to raise money to create a display open to the public.
The library sees many bicycles tourists passing through. The library allows use of the internet and wifi, plus offers free coffee and tea to all visitors. A big stand near the front door features pamphlets of local attractions, plus they have two large book collections of interest to tourists: the Fishing Collection and the Montana Collection. Nick, a fisherman from Asheville, North Carolina, was visiting the library looking for books and maps of the Madison River.
Edith, along with three additional volunteers, will be teaching Spanish language classes beginning soon. The library also offers computer classes, children’s reading program, and a movie night once a month. In addition to their book collection, they offer inter-library loan with county library partners, expanding the collection. Local residents often help with couriering the books from library to library, as they travel within the county.
Thanks to Edith for her time and the great conversation. We learned a lot about Two Bridges and very much appreciated the uniqueness of this library and surrounding area.