14. Golconda: Stand Down

Golconda Public Library Monday afternoon, 3 Oct 11 I rolled into Golconda late yesterday afternoon, found all the amenities I was looking for, and made up my mind to stand down here for a day or two. I found an attractive place to camp in a large section of hilltop woodlands on the north side of town. I could see patches of the Ohio River below, through the trees. On my way in, I encountered a couple of younger fellows coming out to hunt at dusk with their compound bows. These guys get first shot. Then the gunpowder gang rolls in. This will be a factor to keep in mind as I – now ever more cautiously – continue my eastward journey. I made common cause with the hunters, proclaiming that I was a bowman also, that I owned two take-down recurves in New Jersey … but that I’d never actually hunted with them; I only shot them for target practice. They related how they’d seen another cross-country cyclist on this same gravel road two weeks earlier. Evidently, there is something absolute about a good place to camp, which the eye and instinct of seasoned travelers agree upon. This morning I took it real slow and easy. For the first time in almost three weeks, I unpacked all of my bags, went through all of my gear, separated a couple more items I’ll mail home – probably tomorrow from the post office across the street – together with the Nesta Webster book, which I expect to finish today, and another handful of maps. I got all my dirty laundry bundled up. Oiled my chain and tightened up my saddle a bit. I packed up all the things I’d bring into town with me this morning. I took down my tent, sorted my gear and hid it carefully in the bushes. I enjoyed a leisurely meal at the town’s only diner, just catty-corner here at the crossroads. After breakfast, the library was empty – except for the librarian, Maxine, a gal about my age. She’s on Social Security too, but unlike me, she has a job to supplement her benefits. She and her husband also own two pieces of property in the area. Their 2-bedroom house in town is selling for around $34K. She says farmland around here is pricey, but houses in town are cheap. Maxine explained that many folks build “pole sheds,” also known as “pole barns” or “storage sheds.” You can get a contractor to put one up, or do it yourself, to one degree or another. You can start with something modest and add on later. Maxine and her husband built a rather luxurious one – on land they bought out in the country 12 miles from here – for about $15K. They insulated it, heat it with a propane stove, have a decent but not excellent Internet connection. They love the quiet and solitude. Maxine described relations she visited in eastern Kentucky as a child. They fetched water in buckets from a creek. They all drank out of the same ladle. They slept on straw mattresses and could look outside through slits in the wall. She said it was a wonderful place to be, and shares my view that more than a modicum of money and fancy props have very little impact on one’s ability to live happily. Maxine also appeared to understand perfectly my “survivalist” outlook and my corollary interest in regions of the country such as this. In fact, Joel Skousen lists this southern tip of Illinois in his book North American Guide to Safe Places. I didn’t photocopy the page with his little thumbnail rating of this particular area, because I didn’t expect to view it seriously. I’d guess he gave it about a B-. I’ll verify this when I get back home. It’s very pretty here … good soil, friendly people. There are trade-offs in all of this. Skousen gives a large patch of the highland Rockies a straight A. But it’s so far from all amenities. Water is scarce, the climate harsh. Those drawbacks are an advantage in that they act as a filter to invasive elements – e.g., what another writer has referred to as “the golden horde,” desperate survivors who will flee the cities in a catastrophe, appropriating anything along their way that will keep them alive. Maxine cited relations of hers who talk and think just like I do, in terms of where we see the country going, and what’s coming at us – at some point, sooner or later – just up the road a ways. I’m glad I’m doing this reconnaissance. I’m more than ever persuaded that strategic relocation is the proper course for me – and whatever fellow travelers there are who want to share my way. As economic and social conditions worsen, the big metro areas and will engender the harshest conditions of life. Maxine and her husband pay $350 a year in property taxes on their town house and about four times that on their main, rural home. I know people in Clifton who pay more in property taxeson their homes than Elizabeth and I pay in rent for our apartment. The government here used to tax “sheds” very low or not at all. Then, when they got wise to the fact that people were living in them, they upped the rates. Maxine and her husband own two vehicles, a pickup and a large-sized car. Auto insurance isn’t cheap. I think she said they pay $1100 per year for both cars. Insurance companies know the people out here have to cover miles to do their shopping, and there are issues with hitting deer on the road. Speaking of which, the region also draws a lot of hunters from the cities at this time of year, and a good bit of tourism generally.  I was surprised how much traffic I heard from my hilltop perch last night, even fairly late. Golconda, with a population of around 700, has a dentist, a laundromat, a small grocery store. For major shopping, once or twice a month, Maxine and her husband drive about 25 miles north to Harrisburg, or just under 40 miles south to Paducah. The old buildings here in Golconda have a lot of charm and character. The Ohio River looks real nice, but the fellow who rang up my purchase at the grocery store said it was “kind of filthy” for swimming. Here’s my latest load of photo impressions …

  • #8138 – On Highway 146, in the heart of Vienna, Illinois. Sunday morning, October 2nd. The sign with the racing dog evokes a twinge of nostalgia. But another, handwritten sign on the door says that Greyhound don’t come by here no more. 
  • #8141 – Looking up at the courthouse. Off to the left, lettering not visible, is the building of the Vienna Times. I don’t know whether that venue, like the Greyhound station, is defunct now too. 
  • #8142 – Postcard quality. Two gloriously weathered old buildings. Note the German beer sign, discreetly visible on the left. 
  • #8143 – One side of the main square in Vienna. Such profligacy with unoccupied urban space is stunning to someone who’s seen a lot of New York City over the past dozen years. 
  • #8152 – As I was peddling out of town, this guy about my age in a black pickup screeched to a halt and hollered at me, “Hey, can I talk with you for a minute?” ¶ “Sure, why not?” I smiled at him. Wouldn’t you know, another cross-country cyclist. ¶ We chatted for a good half an hour. Jonathan Voelz (pronounced “volts”) is the name. He rides a Trek 720 and – small world – did the Katy Trail not long ago, starting in eastern Kansas. ¶ Jonathan is retired, owns a 15-acre farm, which he just leaves fallow, and offers hot showers to anyone coming cross country on a pair of human-powered wheels. He is in the later stages of planning a lengthy bike route crossing the Midwest – and put out a call for test pilots. He told me about a website I could have posted my travel journal on – http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/ – and related a couple tales he’d read from there, including one of a family with children who rode all the way from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. ¶ Jonathan told me this was the poorer of his two pickup trucks. I’d never have noticed, much less complained or criticized him for it, but the left rear fender is dented. Some people sure are fussy. I probably mentioned to him – as I do to most people who get into it with me – that I haven’t owned a motor vehicle in almost twenty years … which is the principle reason I’m not broke, and am therefore able to indulge myself in creative recreation of this nature. 
  • #8147 – I’ve asked a number of fellow wayfarers to record my passage, but this shot by Jonathan is the first on this trip that anyone has taken of me while I was actually in motion on my bicycle. 
  • #8153 – The “crazy guy” website Jonathan referred me to posts “fully loaded” shots of two-wheeled traveling machines like mine. So I set this one up for their hall of fame. ¶ That’s one thing about serious bicyclists, crazy or not – all are individualists, self reliant and resourceful. No two bikes and outfits, no two riding styles are alike. Note the versatility of my collapsible walking stick, serving here as a kick stand. The front wheel is kept from pitching to the side by a Velcro band, the kind sold as watch bands in athletic stores. Note the modified plastic tubing, covered in black and brown duct tape and tilted slightly forward. It was originally a $4 piece of plumbing from the Home Depot near where I live. I think of it as a scabbard. I telescope my walking stick and keep it in there. I’ve probably been chased ten or twelve times by dogs so far on this ride. I can whip that stick out in a flash. It’s my second-to-last line of defense. I don’t know why dogs respond the way they do to crazy guys like me on bicycles. They look on motor traffic with nonchalance, but let some guy peddle into view on a bicycle, and you’d think it was a rabbit or a fox. The stick works like a charm, however. All they have to do is see it, and they lose their interest in getting very close. There’s something atavistic to a dog about a stick in a man’s hand. Jack London made note of this in one of those marvelous adventures – Call of the Wild, perhaps – that I read as a boy. My stick is a wonderfully versatile item. I carried it all over Patagonia with me six years ago. Since it collapses to less than a yard in length, it packs and travels well. I always have it with me when I’m scoping out new terrain, e.g., exploring a potential camping area of an evening. I love to hike, and find my stick an almost indispensable prop. I sleep with it beside me in my tent. 
  • #8154 – Front view. 
  • #8156 – Jonathan poses with my Surly. 
  • #8157 – The first person I saw as I was rolling into Vienna rather early on a sunny Sunday morning was this lady named Doris, out walking her little white dog. The creature barked at me furiously, straining at the leash. Doris assured me that he was friendly and only wanted me to pet him. Sure enough, he calmed down immediately, and even seemed to enjoy it when I stroked his nose and ruffled him behind the ears. Actually, I had stopped Doris to ask if there were any decent eating places in town. She said I ought to go a mile up the road, where I’d see a McDonalds off to the right, but turn left instead right past Kaegle’s gas station. Soon I would encounter Jumbo’s Restaurant. I asked if they had wifi Internet there. “Sure,” said Doris. “They have everything – pancakes, biscuits and gravy. I eat there every day.” As a matter of fact, they did’t have wifi, but I enjoyed a hot breakfast there, and I sat at a table next to an electric outlet where I could recharge my laptop and edit my latest posting. Good as her word, Doris soon came up to my table – not with the dog this time, but with a friendly gentleman named Bill, her husband I would presume – and greeted me warmly, asking again how far I was traveling and extending heartfelt wishes for a safe journey. 
  • #8158 – Another roadside relic. 
  • #8163 – First hint of autumn color in the very south of Illinois. One spring in the mid-1970s, I bought a two-month bus pass that was good anywhere that Greyhound went in the US and Canada. It was dramatic how I left Ottawa one night, St. Louis bound, with the autumn well underway in the north. But when the sun rose over the Midwestern US countryside, now some ways to the south on the following day, the season lagged far behind. 
  • #8167 – More color from Nature’s prolific palette. The modest yellow petals on the lower right brought to mind the mustard highlights on California’s verdant hills, in the summers of my middle years. The sights, smells, solitude and exertion on a bicycle journey have a way of producing ardent moments of nostalgia. 
  • #8171 – Yesterday afternoon, the sky was such a pure and luminous blue. This picture captures only the merest suggestion. 
  • #8173 – The Ohio River. From the levee at Golconda. Early afternoon. Yesterday. That’s Kentucky on the other side. 
  • #8176 – Late afternoon picnic. On the central square of Golconda. Nothing fancy. Just a bag of chips and a jar of hot sauce from the local market. With the last of the crumbly white cheese from Schnuck’s in Cape Girardeau, and the second apple I’d bought there. I started another bottle of $5 Missouri red wine, which I’d just picked up. It wasn’t too much to my liking, though – too sweet. 
  • #8178 – Main Street, Golconda, Illinois. Looking away from the river, with my picnic spot off to the left. The laundromat where I’m sitting as I write – the library closed at five, and I had to move along – is two blocks behind where I snapped this shot. 

Last night I dreamed I was returning to an airport whose approach resembled the route into New York’s La Guardia. Scott Summers was beside me. The way all of the passengers were packed in rows across the belly of the plane, facing the rear, reminded me of a military flight I took from Bien Hoa to someplace around Quang Tri just after Thanksgiving in 1969. Scott and I were sitting towards the port side in the aft section, near where the belly of a military transport craft drops down like a ramp to let the passengers in and out. I fell asleep as the plane was approaching the airport. When I woke up, everyone had disembarked. I noticed that all of my carry-on belongings were gone – someone among the departing passengers must have stolen them. This included principally my hallmark green Timbuktu bicycle messenger’s bag and all of its valuable contents. Maybe I still had a few minor items with me in a belly pouch or something, but this was a distressing loss. I couldn’t determine what had happened to the baggage I’d checked. The place we arrived at was a normal civilian airport – much like La Guardia. The flight crew was on their way out. Nobody showed any concern when I tried to explain what had happened to me. I got the same impression from people on the ground, associated with the airline. There was nothing to be done. I felt the devastation and helplessness that occurs when something has been taken away like this. I also got the sense there was some connection between the flight I was debarking from and other flights going to the Far East, Southeast Asia perhaps. Even after I woke up, I had this lingering aftertaste of losing something irreplaceable. It took me a while to sort things out. No, it was “only a dream.” I hadn’t lost anything concrete. All of the possessions I brought with me on this – bicycle – trip are within easy reach and accounted for. I am back in my tent now, wrapping up for the day. After the library  closed, I checked out the Golconda marina. I was too late; the facility had closed at 5. But Maxine was right. I can get a hot shower there for $3 – anytime after 6 o’clock tomorrow morning. I have the iPod alarm set for six. That’s early enough, but I have a long list of tasks to do in town tomorrow, so I don’t want to be moving any later than that. Day after tomorrow, I’ll hit the road early. I hope to charge across most of Kentucky – 5, 6, 7 days – not slowing down till I’m 50 or 80 miles east of Lexington. I need to use the library Internet tomorrow to plan a good route through West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland, as I don’t have any physical maps at all of those states, and I don’t want to purchase any. I did my laundry at the end of the day. By the time I was finished, though, it was almost completely dark. Fortunately, I didn’t have any trouble finding my way back up the steep hill and into the woods where I’d stowed all my gear in the underbrush. Now I’d like to finish Nesta Webster’s Secret Societies & Subversive Movements … if I can stay awake that long. When I woke up in the middle of the night last night and couldn’t fall asleep again – which has been happening practically every night – I just turned on my headlamp, opened my book, and read patiently … but with excitement, as the closing chapters have gotten very interesting. Tuesday morning …

  • #8184 Placid Golconda Marina yesterday shortly after it closed at 5 p.m. 
  • #8185 – Laundromat office and dinner on a wobbly table. Crackers, peanut butter and beer in a bag. There was no wifi, but I found juice behind the Coke machine for my offline business. 
  • #8191 – Shoving off for a day in town. Predawn view of the approach to my campsite, down off to the right. Ohio River is over the hillcrest, then steeply below. Seen from my wooded hillside to the right, after dark, the lights of Golconda sparkle like the sylvan mockery of some great metropolis. 
  • #8196 – Golconda Marina at dawn. A hot shower at last … Hot dog! 
  • #8197 – “What it will be Questioned,” writes Blake, “When the Sun rises do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea O no no I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight I look thro it & not with it.” 
  • #8213 – Finished at breakfast, and soon to be mailed back home. Along with superfluous articles in the white plastic grocery sack, and beside it the stack of maps I no longer require.                          ¶ I’m a slow and plodding reader … but dedicated and persistent as well. Reading is essential to the examined life, to growth and apprehension. I am not referring to pulp fiction either. ¶ I go through cycles where I read intensely. But I reach points where I can’t absorb any more and have to do other things. This expedition has been such a time for me, when in any case my cycling and journal posting has not left much room for study. ¶ This book is worth emphasizing, however. I’ve already mentioned it at least once – Secret Societies and Subversive Movements, by Nesta H. Webster, originally published in England in 1924. ¶ The early sections were obscure to me and hard to credit – except in a global, intuitive manner, at which level they sounded plausible enough. The many sources she cites were almost all unknown to me. ¶ There is a lot of complexity, a lot of conjecture, a lot of missing pieces in the case that she makes. But Webster is not dogmatic. She’s an erudite and savvy investigator. The origins of the phenomena she studies are in the ancient Middle East. Significant elements, at least, were imported to mainstream European civilization at the time of the Crusades. ¶ The book really came together for me, with tremendous impact, in its closing chapters. Questions I’ve had, troubling and perplexing observations I’ve made – through the lens of my “truth” movement studies over the past half dozen or so years – suddenly took on a sharper resolution. In fact, the last few score pages were so filled with memorable, mind-clinching statements that I wanted to reread and record many of them for anyone who’s following my progress on this quest. But to do that properly would cost me another day in the library, which I can’t afford. I will limit myself to a couple of Webster’s central conclusions:

…there are at the present moment five principal organized movements at work in the world with which ordered government has to contend, that may be summarized as follows: 1.    Grand Orient Freemansonry. 2.    Theosophy with its innumerable ramifications. 3.    Nationalism of an aggressive kind, now represented by Pan-Germanism. 4.   International Finance. 5.    Social Revolution. (p. 352) . . . . …in reality each aspires to the dictatorship of the world. Besides this, it will be noticed that not only these principle movements, but also the minor subversive movements described in the last chapter, have in the main (1) a pro-German tendency – none at any rate are pro-French nor do they encourage British patriotism, (2) all contain a Jewish element – none, at least, are “anti-Semite,” and (3) all have a more or less decided antagonism to Christianity. (p. 353)

I spoke with two other local women in the library this morning, both about my age. One was born here … left, returned, then left again since there was no work. Finally, in retirement, she came back for good and claims to be very happy. The other lady moved to Golconda two and a half years ago from outside Milwaukee. She lives up on the hill at the south side of town, where she rents a house with a yard (suitable for gardening, though she doesn’t garden) – for all of $250 a month. She loves it here. In the winter, when the foliage has dropped from the trees, she enjoys a view of the river. She also says there’s plenty to keep her busy. Volunteer work is her thing. Sitting on the board of the library was one of the occupations she mentioned. So it’s pleasant here, wholesome and serene … and it’s cheap. Anytime after I get 50 or 80 miles east of Lexington, I’ll look for another little burg like this to linger in for a couple of days. I agree with Skousen that that region is more promising as the kind of refuge I’m in the market for. He gives the Daniel Boone country a straight A.

  1. braindew says:

    If bicyclists traveling on wheels, proper roads and with hotels motels and restaurants within reach are crazy, what we can say about this:


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