Month: August 2022

Co-founder of Little Free Libraries, in Princeton, Illinois

8/11/22

So, the other day I mentioned a phone call I had had with a fascinating person. That person was Rick Brooks, and I am excited to report that I am staying with him and his wife Sarah tonight and tomorrow, here in Princeton, Illinois (population 7,589).

You’ve probably heard of—and quite possibly seen—Little Free Libraries. Years ago, when I started seeing them in Portland, I assumed they were a homegrown Portland thing. (Similar libraries had indeed begun in Portland in the late ‘90s, courtesy of the also-amazing Mark Lakeman’s City Repair Project.) But no! As it turns out, the Little Free Libraries were the brainchild of (the late) Todd Bol and Rick Brooks. They placed the first library in Hudson, Wisconsin, in 2009, and now there are more than 150,000 of the tiny libraries in more than 110 countries around the world. (Regular readers may recall that I was surprised to find one in an unexpected place in Virginia, back in early May.)

I learned of Rick at the Kalamazoo train station a couple of weeks ago, when I disembarked my bus from Grand Rapids, and met an intriguing fellow named Will Juntunen. He took great interest in my rig, taking some video with his phone to post on a Facebook reel to his followers later. I gave him my card, and he messaged me through my site later to suggest I contact Rick, because “the two of you share a wish to restore the American commons.” I was a bit nervous to reach out to Rick, as a complete stranger, but I know that such risk-taking and edge-pushing are a big part of my “mission” in life, and especially on this journey, so I sent him a text… and next thing you know, a few days later I was boarding an Amtrak train to Princeton.

First I bade a fond farewell this morning to my wonderful Warrenville hosts Terri and Jim (and the three of four cats in the household who weren’t cowering in fear of humans) and took off on my rig to reach the train station in Naperville, about six miles south of Warrenville. (I stopped for lunch at that amazing sushi place we visited the other night in Naperville, but unfortunately it seemed much less magical as a daytime takeout experience.)

On the way to the station, about half my route took me through more of the Warrenville area’s beautiful greenways, including one park with a freshly paved bike path—a dream!

The Naperville station had a cool tunnel to reach the westbound side of the tracks, which gave me some cool midcentury/Kubrick vibes.

When the train arrived, it was a Superliner! My first Superliner since New Orleans, back in early March. I love those trains, and it did not disappoint. And, I got to sit next to an amazing woman named Carol, an avid cyclist in her 80s who is one of Rick and Sarah’s neighbors! (Hi, Carol, if you’re reading this!)

We laughed at the small-world nature of it all (this train runs from Chicago all the way to Los Angeles, so what are the odds?) and then Rick met us both at the station, where he maintains an office.

The station was housed in a cool old building, and his office was cool, too. (The office even contained several large giraffe sculptures, made by a South African artist, and we chatted about how he might be able to use them to promote Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication in town. The giraffe is a symbol of NVC, a heart-centered language, since the giraffe has the largest heart of any land mammal.)

Rick and Sarah had moved to Princeton (her family’s hometown) in 2015, after several decades in Madison, Wisconsin. Ever since their arrival here, Rick has jumped headfirst into community projects and organizing. I have quite possibly never met anyone with as wide-ranging and deep-reaching visions—coupled with effective action!—as this man.

He founded a nonprofit called Midwest Partners; please click through to the site to see what I mean about the breadth of his vision and endeavors.

He gave me a brief tour of Princeton while we waited for our Thai food to be prepared at the truck where we ordered it.

First, in his office, he invited me to look at all the posters celebrating local businesses and community members. Princeton is located off Exit 56 from Illinois Highway 80, so he had the idea to highlight 56 “reasons we love Princeton.”

It was really cool to look at the various posters, including one for The Bike Place, another of Rick’s brainchildren. It is a bike shop where the workers receive new and used bikes at little to no cost (donations from individuals, and unused inventory from Walmart that would otherwise be destined for the landfill) and then sell and donate them after fixing them up. Rick showed me their existing shop, but was also very pleased to point out to me the site of their new shop, where they will be relocating next month. The new shop will be in much better structural condition, and it will also have a pollinator garden outside, and a community space for concerts and other gatherings.

Then we walked over to the town’s main street, and he showed me two new alleyway plazas that he played a large role in creating. One of them contained outdoor furniture covered in mosaics made by local residents, using pieces of their families’ dinnerware and china, so that they could preserve the memory of it in a public space where people could also take wedding or prom photos.

Afterward, on the way to the house, we passed some beautiful old homes, including a lovingly restored purple one with a custom-made matching Little Free Library right outside it. (Sadly my photo of the two of them didn’t turn out because of the setting sun, but I managed to capture the back side of the library.)

Then we passed by the house of a local resident couple with solar panels on their roof, an amazingly lush and bursting summer flower garden, and a Little Free Library (first pic in this post) with its own “green roof” on top.

There was much more we discussed—including over our al fresco dinner at their homestead, topped off with a breathtaking Sturgeon moon that upstaged the magical fireflies—but I should wrap this up.

I’m looking forward to spending tomorrow here in Princeton, too. What an unexpected gem on my journey.

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Morton Arboretum’s magical trees

8/10/22

Today—my last full day in Warrenville—I decided to return to Morton Arboretum. (Fun fact: this arboretum was founded by Joy Morton, of the Morton Salt family, and her father was the founder of Arbor Day!) When Gill and Jeremy and I went there the other day, we drove through the “main route” all around the place, after we had spent some time walking in the center. I was so taken by that loop during our drive that I wanted to experience it again on my bike.

The arboretum is about nine miles away from the house, so I got some good cycling in today, getting there and back and also enjoying the arboretum itself. The ride there and back took me back once again through the beautiful forest preserves that are so plentiful around here.

One thing that really surprised me is that my host Terri, who grew up in this area, told me some of those forest preserves—complete with lakes—used to be garbage dumps! I would never have guessed. What a wonderful community decision to make a “rewilding” transformation like that.

After I got back to the house, I spent a bit more time with their foster cat Linaria. She is so cute! If you happen to know anyone in the Chicago area who might be looking to adopt a cat, this one is very sweet and affectionate. (I can put you in touch with Terri if you’re interested.)

I’ve had a wonderful time in Warrenville these past six days. Tomorrow, I will be hopping on a train to go 87 miles southwest of here, to a town called Princeton, Illinois. I’m looking forward to exploring it!

Do you have your own dream or project, and would like some support or collaborative brainstorming about it? Use the green “contact” button above to schedule a free one-hour phone or video call with me!

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Want to support my vision financially? I am in the process of manifesting $50,000 in lieu of a “salary” for the year of this journey. You can make a one-time or monthly contribution, or even become a Fairy Godfunder! (Heartfelt thanks to all my patrons and supporters!)

Fermilab… and bison!

8/9/22

Yesterday it rained pretty much all day, so I stayed inside and took care of many overdue administrative and communications tasks.

Today, however, northern Illinois showed me that it is indeed capable of near-perfect weather. I took full advantage, and visited a unique place, just a few miles away from my hosts in Warrenville.

From Wikipedia: “Fermilab (Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory) is a US Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics.” (Please click the link to learn more about it; I cannot summarize it, but it’s pretty interesting.)

In addition to the physics research they do there, they have a theater/auditorium that they opened up for public use some years ago (in that distinctive building that gives me Radiohead OK Computer vibes); paved bike paths throughout; a village where people actually live; an on-site bike-share program; and perhaps most amazingly, a herd of bison. (Again, please click the link for more info on the history and details of the herd, which has been on site since the lab’s founding in 1966.) I counted at least 35 head this afternoon. One of them was “wallowing” repeatedly, which was quite a sight to see. I was glad to learn, after the fact, that it is not a sign of distress or illness.

When I arrived, the security officer posted at the entry checked my ID, and issued me a sticker authorizing me to be on site for the day.

After meandering through the cornfields and other natural sights of Fermilab for about an hour, I returned home and had an incredibly interesting and wide-ranging “magical meeting” phone call with a fascinating man in Princeton, Illinois, about 87 miles southwest of here. (More on him later, I believe.)

Then I spent some time with Terri’s new foster cat, Linaria, who—unlike the other three reticent cats in the household—was very affectionate and eager to share her light-colored fur with me and my black shirt.

After the feline cuddle session, I headed out again to visit another nearby park, Cantigny, where there were amazing colorful sculptures throughout created by Mexican artists. I was especially impressed by the octopus.

On the way back home in the evening, I was once again completely wowed by the light in the trees on the bike paths through the local nature preserves.

This is a special place.

Do you have your own dream or project, and would like some support or collaborative brainstorming about it? Use the green “contact” button above to schedule a free one-hour phone or video call with me!

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Faerie festival, and amazing sushi

8/7/22

Today was another multifaceted day. Gill and Jeremy picked me up (in a very warm rain) early this afternoon, and we headed out to a “faerie festival” in South Elgin, a town about 15 miles away. On the way, we met up with Erin, a woman Gill provides caregiving for. Erin loves fantasy fiction (both to read and write) and she and Gill love to attend the festival each year.

The rain had mostly stopped by the time we arrived, and the park was lovely, right on the banks of the Fox River. We checked out the various booths, listened to some traditional music, enjoyed seeing the oversized soap bubbles people were creating, and chatted with a few fellow attendees. The experience was out of the ordinary for me, and I had fun.

When Gill and Jeremy dropped me back off at Terri and Jim’s place, the latter two took me out to nearby Naperville to have a sushi dinner at a very popular restaurant with a separate vegan menu. We had to wait almost an hour and a half to be seated, but we took the opportunity to stroll the adjacent river walk, which was pleasant.

Once we got in and the food appeared on the table, it was wonderful! I am not generally a big fan of sushi (and a lot of vegan sushi is simply plain cucumber or avocado rolls) but this was amazing: very creative, flavorful, and filling. For dessert, we had the vegan chocolate torte with raspberry sorbet, which was also wonderful.

Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy again for the first part of the day, but in the afternoon I plan to get out and explore some more bike paths and nature parks; this area is chock-full of them!

Do you have your own dream or project, and would like some support or collaborative brainstorming about it? Use the green “contact” button above to schedule a free one-hour phone or video call with me!

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Want to support my vision financially? I am in the process of manifesting $50,000 in lieu of a “salary” for the year of this journey. You can make a one-time or monthly contribution, or even become a Fairy Godfunder! (Heartfelt thanks to all my patrons and supporters!)

The Morton Arboretum, and a bicycle event

8/6/22

Today it was hot and humid again (see weather screenshot below; check out the “feels like” temperature at 7 pm) but I saw lots of beautiful sights, and got to hang out with my friend Gill, and meet her partner Jeremy.

I stayed inside the air conditioning all morning, making some phone calls and such. (Learned/confirmed that the US Postal Service hasn’t been forwarding my mail since March 10th. Oops. Gotta figure that out in time to get my ballot in November and other such important mail…)

Then in the early afternoon, I pedaled about a mile and a half to a local bike fair. (It was part of a larger event with a car show and live music and food, held at Warrenville’s City Hall complex.)

I got to see some interesting bikes, including a couple of penny-farthing replicas! I talked to the cyclist in the pic, who seemed to thoroughly enjoy his bike.

After that I continued down the main street until I reached the cute cottage of Gill and Jeremy and their elderly, affectionate pit bull Barley. We chatted for a while, and then headed out to the nearby Morton Arboretum, which is a huge place. (I didn’t realize how large it was until we had walked around for more than an hour, then hopped back in the car, but before driving away, Gill drove us around the perimeter of the place. It seemed to be miles of beautiful woodlands; I’m now wondering if I can go back in a few days and bike that perimeter, to better savor the beauty of it.)

Then they took me to the local vegan restaurant Manna, where they treated me to a club sandwich and the better part of a large slice of chocolate cake. It was a nice café with a nice feel and friendly staff.

Afterward, I picked up my bike from their place and meandered back to Terri and Jim’s place via a couple of bike paths Gill pointed out to me. The ride was beautiful in the early evening light, and I stopped on a bench for a while to rest and enjoy the music still spilling over from the City Hall celebration.

Tomorrow I’ll meet up with Gill and Jeremy, and their friend Erin, to attend a fairy festival! This will be a new experience for me. I hope the festivities will keep my mind off the weather: high of 81 predicted, with a 60% chance of thunderstorms.

This Midwestern weather does have a benefit, though. Today, Facebook reminded me of my posts a year ago, which were of my third and final “practice trip” of the summer before I embarked on this journey in September. I had biked 50 (hilly!) miles out from my home in southeast Portland to Stub Stewart State Park, to stay a night in a cabin. I enjoyed the ride, but it was also in 90-degree weather. But, since it was Oregon, it was a dry heat… and you could really see that in the photos I posted. There was none of this lush green I keep sharing in photos this summer; the trees and fields were dry and crispy-looking, which is what happens in the Northwest in late summer. All the Midwestern humidity and summer rain/thunderstorms keep this area beautifully lush and green.

Tradeoffs…

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Cycling Chicago to Warrenville… in the heat

8/5/22

Today was… multifaceted, I guess. I didn’t really enjoy the first half (two-thirds? three-quarters?) of the day, but then the last part was really cool.

I departed my Chicago Servas host Steve’s place about 10:30 am. The route ahead of me was only about 33 miles, but I didn’t arrive at my new hosts’ place until 7:00 this evening. Mostly this was because I stopped and rested a whole lot.

It was a pretty hot day, and I felt it for many hours. Chicago’s high was only to be about 82 today, but humidity was (I’m guessing) around 50 percent, so it felt hotter. And, as I traveled west—away from the lake—temperatures rose. Based on my checks of my phone’s weather app throughout the day, I think it’s accurate to say that some areas I biked through hit 87 or 88.

It took a couple hours on Chicago city streets to reach the Illinois Prairie Path, which I then followed for a good chunk of the rest of my ride. When I did get onto the path, I saw what my friend Gill had told me: it is not a very shady path. It was nice to be away from auto traffic, to be sure, but I would have enjoyed more leafiness on a day like this.

However, I plodded along, and eventually it did get shadier. At one point, I took a short detour to stop for lunch at a Whole Foods, and after that, Google routed me away from the IPP and into several adjoining nature preserves instead, and that is when things really turned around and got beautiful.

The sun and air temperature remained hotter than I would have liked, but it did seem to have cooled down a bit from the peak of the day, especially after some dark clouds threatened to open up on me. (They didn’t, but the air got noticeably cooler.) Meanwhile, the “heavenly” light from the sky was breathtaking.

As I moved from lake areas to forested areas within the nature preserves, the goldenhour light descended and made everything even more magical.

I finally arrived at Gill’s friends Terri and Jim’s place, and they treated me to some deliciously cool sweet tea, while we chatted and I met two of their three cats. (I’m hoping the third, Braeburn, will show his face tomorrow, but I’ve been warned he may not.)

It’s kind of funny how a day can start out rough and become so beautiful in a matter of hours. Good thing to remember in life.

Tomorrow, I’ll meet up with Gill and her partner, and we will explore the local arboretum, which should be a good place to be on a day with a 91-degree high.

Do you have your own dream or project, and would like some support or collaborative brainstorming about it? Use the green “contact” button above to schedule a free one-hour phone or video call with me!

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Want to support my vision financially? I am in the process of manifesting $50,000 in lieu of a “salary” for the year of this journey. You can make a one-time or monthly contribution, or even become a Fairy Godfunder! (Heartfelt thanks to all my patrons and supporters!)

Multifaceted Chicago

8/4/22

OK, I’m back! I had a lovely little “mini vacation” with my friend Zack for a few days in Chicago, after I arrived on the train from Kalamazoo on Sunday. Zack and I did many fun touristy things, such as visiting Millennium Park and The Bean, riding the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, and taking a sunset cruise on the lake. We also ate lots of delicious food and enjoyed many delicious cocktails.

Yesterday he flew back home to North Carolina, while I pedaled about five miles northwest to the cool co-op home of my new Servas host, Steve. That ride was unfortunately not very pleasant: very hot and sticky weather, busy roads with lots of auto traffic, poor travel surfaces such as freshly poured tar and alleyways littered with shattered glass… and a looming thunderstorm!

When I reached Humboldt Park, about two miles south of my ultimate destination, I managed to duck under a narrow roof on a locked building just barely in time to avoid most of the deluge. The rain poured, lightning flashed, thunder clapped, and the wind blew the trees pretty dramatically. Nearby children squealed as they ran for cover.

A couple of down-on-their-luck fellows joined me in the barely adequate shelter, and we chatted for the better part of an hour while we waited for the sun to return. Bouts of rain kept coming back, and my rig and my pants got pretty well soaked at one point.

Thankfully, all that synthetic material dries pretty quickly once the sun does come out again, and the sky and flowers and trees were beautiful in the aftermath.

Fearing more rain in the next few hours before Steve got home, I sought out a larger shelter, and found it elsewhere in the park in the scenic boathouse. Around that time, I got a call from my friend/former Warmshowers St. Petersburg host Kathleen. (Kathleen, hi if you’re reading this!) It was fun to catch up with her a bit, and talk travel and bicycling and future plans.

I met up with Steve in the evening, and it was great to talk with him also about travel, Servas, Chicago, his co-op building (including his family’s beautiful unit, which he completely renovated decades ago) and related topics.

This morning he took me to the Handlebar Café for breakfast, which was cool—a bike-inspired vegetarian place.

Later, I took the train/subway down to the Hyde Park neighborhood, and enjoyed all the aesthetics of transit and cycling on that round trip. On the way back, I stopped at the fabled Chicago Diner, and savored a huge vegan Caesar salad for dinner.

Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to biking the Illinois Prairie Path, about 30 miles west to Warrenville, where my friend Gill and her partner and some of her other friends live. She’s got lots of fun plans for my time there!

Do you have your own dream or project, and would like some support or collaborative brainstorming about it? Use the green “contact” button above to schedule a free one-hour phone or video call with me!

Want to be notified of future blog posts? Use the green “sign up” button to subscribe!

Want to support my vision financially? I am in the process of manifesting $50,000 in lieu of a “salary” for the year of this journey. You can make a one-time or monthly contribution, or even become a Fairy Godfunder! (Heartfelt thanks to all my patrons and supporters!)