This trip had been on my bucket list of many years, to ride the length of Long Island.   To a Southerner,  Long Island seemed this exotic place, its New Yorkedness accentuated by its physical isolation.  (Those living on Long Island essentially have to go through New York City to go anywhere else.)   Was this idea true?

To find out, from my home in Chapel Hill NC I drove by myself up to Richmond VA and took Amtrak from there to New York City.  Amtrak regulations allow a folding bicycle and I have taken my Bike Friday on Amtrak many times.   On previous trips I was always able to put the bicycle in a set of luggage shelves just inside the railcar entrance.    This time these shelves were already full.  I just put the folded bicycle in the overhead rack!   No one said anything.

I arrived Penn Station in Manhattan just before four in the afternoon.   Most of the station is underground.

I hauled the bicycle down from the overhead and hauled it the very short distance out the train door and onto the Penn Station platform.   In a few minutes I had assembled the bicycle and strapped my trunk bag onto the back.   I could wheel everything away up into the Big Apple that lurked above.

I pushed the bicycle up an escalator and then through the maze of crowded hallways lined with stores that comprises Penn Station.

My brother Alex lives in Park Slope Brooklyn, about nine miles from Penn Station.   My son Sam has been living in Brooklyn as well.   To get to Alex’s place I first had to bicycle down Manhattan’s crowded Seventh Avenue.  (Mick Jagger: “I can’t give it away on Seventh Avenue!”)  This is what it looks like in front of Penn Station.

 

 

Bicycling in traffic in Manhattan is exciting but not as crazy as one would think    I cut over to Second Avenue, then to the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn.   I looked back at lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I had brought my own bicycle but New York City did institute bicycle sharing in 2013 and calls it Citi Bike.  I had predicted that bicycle sharing for New York was possibly a good idea but it would be a bloodbath of tourists getting run over.  I was wrong.   There are currently 62,000 public shared bicycle rides in New York EVERY DAY.   It was four years and millions of rides before a woman was run over and killed by a bus.    You see these bicycle stands all over the city.

New York also now has bike paths.  From 2007-2013 the NYC Transportation Commissioner was someone (now somewhat famous) named Jeanette Sadik-Khan.   She discovered that she controlled almost no money or power to build things like bicycle trails, but had almost unlimited power to direct how existing New York City streets were PAINTED.   She directed the painting of bike lanes as she saw fit and did this with abandon across the five boroughs of New York.   Among many streets she had a bike path painted to narrow a prominent street in Brooklyn called Prospect Park West.    Living on this street was and is Senator Chuck Schumer and his wife Iris Weinshall,  herself an important politician.   Iris Weinshall hated this bike path and used her considerable political influence to try to kill it.   It made news to bicycle supporters all over the country that Chuck Schumer was trying to axe a bike path in front of his apartment.   He failed; Sadik-Khan won, and I thought about that as I biked on that very path on the way to Alex’s apartment, Prospect Park on my right.

I had a wonderful sushi dinner that night with Alex, his teenage son Max, my son Sam, and my nephew Danny.   I slept on Alex and Kristi’s sofa and parked my bicycle in their living room.   In addition to Max they have a one year old daughter named Eleanor Claire.

The next morning I headed out.    First I stopped by Sam’s apartment in the neighborhood of Bushwick.  He is in the process of moving out, going to Vietnam.

 

My four days of cycling out Long Island ended up looking like this:

 

On my first day out  I would cycle across Brooklyn, over to the Rockaways and Rockaway Beach, then Long Beach before turning back inland to Freeport.

Brooklyn has neighborhoods of lovely brownstones.

 

In the poorer neighborhood of East New York this guy was bicycling with his dog in one of Sadik-Khan’s bike lanes.

I followed two other bicyclists as we rode by the enormous field of apartment “towers in the park” Spring Creek Towers, formerly called Starrett City.

 

 

 

On the water side of Shore Parkway there is a quite nice bike path along Jamaica Bay.   A bicyclist here feels divorced from the city.  It was quite peaceful if you could ignore the scream of the cars and trucks on the parallel expressway.

 

 

The path leads a bicyclist by the former airport Floyd Bennett Field, now a park.    I rode on a narrow pedestrian walkway across Marine Parkway Bridge that separates Brooklyn from the Rockaways.

 

 

It’s not hard, not hard to reach.   We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach.

All I really knew about Rockaway Beach was the Ramones song released in 1977.   I have been listening to that song for over forty years but had never been to Rockaway Beach.   I always felt the song was tongue in cheek, sort of making fun of the New York beach.   But maybe not.  I recently heard a version recorded in about 2012 by the all-female Japanese band Shonen Knife from their tribute album Osaka Ramones.   Here it is performed live.   Listen for a minute, it grows on you.

 

 

I have never much thought of New York City as a beach town but it really can be, apparently.   On this Friday the 31st of May in Jacob Riis Park the lifeguards were out but the summer had barely begun.

 

The residential area of Belle Harbor it could almost pass for my mother’s neighborhood in Virginia Beach.

Eventually there was a boardwalk to bicycle on.

 

It is interesting that while beach real estate in and near New York City can be expensive, it is certainly not THE most expensive place to live in New York.   In a few places on or near the oceanfront there is public housing, subsidized housing for the poor.  Fascinating.

Big airplanes landing at JFK airport passed overhead,  There were coming in from far-away places.   The first photo in an Airbus 380, the largest passenger aircraft.  The second photo is an almost as big British Airways 747.

 

 

I threaded mostly on the oceanfront through various municipalities collectively known as “The Rockaways” until I came to Atlantic Beach Bridge onto the next barrier island, which contains Atlantic Beach and Long Beach.  For cars there is a $2.00 toll on this very short bridge.

 

 

The preponderance of tolls in New York reminded me of the longest book I have ever read, a 1300+ page biography of Robert Moses; The Power Broker, by Robert Caro.

OK, who is Robert Moses?   He was never elected to any office, yet he was so powerful that even President Franklin Roosevelt was sometimes afraid to take him on.   He controlled much of New York City and New York State from about 1928 to 1968.   A major basis of his power was obsession with legal details, especially bond issues.  He personally wrote the fine print for the bonds sold to build stuff like this Atlantic Beach Bridge.   In most cases he hard-baked into the project these tolls and made them impossible to remove.   He made himself director of the Authorities that controlled the toll money.    Robert Moses was instrumental in building many of the nation’s first freeways, New York state parks and “slum clearance” projects.  He got involved nationally in projects to promote what we now call suburban sprawl, tearing down inner cities and building freeways.  Much of the public infrastructure, both good and bad, in the New York area, has the fingerprints of Robert Moses.   On this bike trip I was always looking for Robert Moses projects, his 1930’s freeways and art-deco public buildings.  The toll plaza above and this 1930’s looking traffic sign were among them.

 

On this trip I passed many of Robert Moses’ cloverleaf intersections, some built as early as the 1930’s, to Parkways that prohibit trucks and bicycles.

I walked the bike across the bridge to Atlantic Beach, then started biking east.   For about a mile covering the oceanfront was a series of beach clubs.   Each had the same schtick; “members only” and valet parking.

Another factoid:   Sonny and Vito Corleone lived in Atlantic Beach and Long Beach, adjacent towns.  The location of the the Corleone gated compound is not mentioned in the movie but is in the book.  The scene where Sonny was rubbed out was supposed to have been at the Long Beach Causeway toll plaza.

In downtown Long Beach I had lunch at a “Mexican” bar / restaurant.    It was quite good, in its own way.   Who I assume is the owner stared at me all during the meal.

There was only one other table occupied.

 

 

I biked through Long Beach and the adjacent towns.  They did not look at all Godfatherish, just a beach town look.   For much of the way I could cycle on the boardwalk.

 

 

A Robert Moses legacy was that he loved to build Parkways.   These were freeways that prohibit trucks and buses.   I made it easier for him to keep public transport (and poor people) away from his glorious Jones Beach State Park.   I wanted to but could not bicycle to Jones Beach and see the famous Art Deco bathhouse planned and built by Robert Moses.  Loop Parkway that connects Long Beach with Jones Beach prohibits not only trucks but bicycles.     Ocean Parkway along that beach also supposedly prohibits bicycles.

For this night and the following night I had already reserved and paid for rooms at Airbnbs.    This first night would be in the “town” of Freeport.    I put that in quotes because western Long Island is filled with continuous urbanism but politically divided into a series of towns.  Freeport looks all-American.   Compared to Long Beach, which looks all-white, it took me a while to realize that everyone in Freeport, at least everyone I could publicly see, was either Hispanic or African-American.

 

This is the house of my Airbnb.

 

My room was the front upstairs bedroom.   It was clean and tidy but you clearly were staying in someone’s house.   I shared the bathroom with the family, and at night when I walked out of my room to the bathroom I could see the open door to the seventy-something host couple’s bedroom.   They spoke little English but were super nice and accommodating.  Compared to a cheap hotel, it was totally NOT sleazy.

I am now safe to say that this neighborhood is majority Dominican, as in the Dominican Republic.   A few blocks away I walked into a restaurant.  I had never been to a Dominican restaurant before.

It was brightly lit. There was a bar in one corner.  Being Dominican, they were watching, what else, baseball, or in this case women’s college softball.

I wanted something simple and a seven dollar bowl of chicken soup really hit the spot, accompanied by a side dish of rice and a side dish of beans.

 

This was my route the next day.

 

My ideal schedule when bicycling is to get up early, ride ten or fifteen miles, then stop for coffee and a light breakfast.

The streets in this part of Long Island are relatively well connected so I could bicycle for miles on minor mostly residential streets on this peaceful Saturday morning.  I had come to Long Island expecting, I dunno, the home of My Cousin Vinny.   Instead it all looked pretty normal.

 

 

 

New York Beanery in Amityville had a good almond milk latte and a superb egg and avocado toast.

 

I did see several mega-diners, we certainly do not have these in North Carolina.   I consider these real cultural icons, nowhere else in the world (except maybe New Jersey!).

 

 

Note the two luxury cars in front of this one, a Range Rover and a Lincoln.

Plus this place, not exactly a diner.

I passed by a Saturday morning lacrosse practice.   At the college level lacrosse is an exciting sport to watch.  My alma mater Washington College in rural Maryland had and has a very competitive team and some of the most exciting sporting events I have ever seen were Washington College lacrosse games in the seventies.   I learned then that a huge percentage of great lacrosse players came from either Long Island or the Baltimore area.

Apparently lacrosse is still a big deal on Long Island.    I do not think most areas would have organized lacrosse for very young girls.   How old do they look, about eight?

 

Is was able to bicycle on minor highways and most had pleasantly wide shoulders, almost like a bike path.  In North or South Carolina the highway below would have stopped at the white line.   Maybe in the Northeast wide shoulders are needed for snow removal.

 

 

My accommodations that evening were nice but really unusual.  In an area where motels were expensive this Airbnb cost a low eighty dollars, tax included.   Vectoring off the main road I biked through a normal looking upper working class neighborhood with ranch houses; pickup trucks and RVs in the driveways.   Near the end of the road, in contrast to the other houses were a couple of much larger lots with wooded front yards and long driveways.   I checked the address again and hesitated.  Was I in the wrong place?   The gate and driveway did not look well maintained.  I called my Airbnb contact but no one answered.  The woman finished her voice mail with mas salam malek kum, which I know to be an Arabic greeting.   Whatever.  I took a deep breath and bicycled up the driveway.

 

 

There were a couple of cars that looked like they had not been driven in a while, including a Lincoln Navigator.

 

I walked up to the front door.   The trim was peeling paint and there was a old plastic water bottle on the door sill.

 

I sucked it up and rang the bell.    Thirty seconds of silence. It was answered by a South Asian looking guy, sixty something.   He smiled and said in accented English, yes, he was expecting me.   Come on in.  He walked me through sparsely furnished or totally empty living / dining rooms to a bedroom at the back of the ground floor.   The room was huge.   I took this picture after I had already messed up the bed; the room was clean and well furnished, with the kind of enormous master bathroom one would expect from such a giant house.   The carpet was spotless.   He had left three fresh oranges on the table.   I ate one the next morning, it was delicious.

If you look at the top right of the photo above you will see water stains where the roof had been leaking.

There was a recently used looking pair of slippers on the floor, size small.

There was a large walk-in closet full of women’s clothes.   Are these Middle Eastern or South Asian garments?

Being nosy, I opened the nightstand drawer on left side of the bed and it contained nothing but a freshly printed stack of paper having something to do with medical school tests or applications.

The nightstand on the other side had only the TV remote and a copy of the Quran.

Because I left early the next morning I was not able to talk to the guy again.  I left the key under the mat.  Regretably I never learned anything more about these people.

I did need to go out to dinner.   After showering and and changing clothes I biked about a mile back to the main road and La Volpe Ristorante, which sat by itself on the highway.   Sophie Loren and other famous Italians had their portraits on the walls.   I love to cook and my current obsession is Italian.   We do not have many good Italian restaurants in North Carolina.

 

I had a nice seat at the bar.  The guy next to me commented on my Southern accent.   Fascinating.  Yes, I am from Virginia Beach and live in North Carolina but I never thought I had any kind of accent.  In the South I am practically a Yankee.   Only on Long Island, I guess.  The bartender who served us was a real pro.

 

I love clams and especially prefer those from colder water in the north.   The further south you go clams apparently get worse.  My buddy Lyman from warm water New Orleans has an innate fear of clams.  At La Volpe in the town of Center Moriches NY fresh cavatelli pasta with clams, mushrooms, beans, and arugula was the best meal of this entire trip.

 

The next morning I slipped out early.   This is a map of my third day out.   My destination was Montauk, the last town near the end of South Fork.

Out on the road on an early Sunday morning it was peaceful and slightly foggy.

 

 

Quite soon I started cycling through The Hamptons.   Towns are named Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton, Hampton Bay, Bridgehampton.   On and on.  Clearly real estate is worth more if the word Hampton is included.

Westhampton is the first Hampton.  Almost ten miles BEFORE the actual town of Westhampton the name game begins with this development.  One can tell the neighbors: “We bought a house in The Hamptons.”

 

In the same area, likely undocumented workers stood around waiting for a job.

 

In the next three hours I passed dozens of fancy houses that are probably only occupied a few weeks per year.   Most do not have water views.    People are apparently willing to pay millions of dollars for the privilege of having a house in The Hamptons.

I could see more detail when I bicycled off the busy main highway and onto side roads.  Yes, these houses really do cost millions of dollars each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past East Hampton there actually is quite a bit empty pine barren.   Much of this is public land like Napeague and Hither Hills State Parks.

Montauk NY.  Just because of its location I have been wanting to come here for a long time.   On the map it has that aura of Provincetown or Key West, a town at the end of the road.  It really is just a small beach town.   My friend John Soehner says Montauk is a great place.   I should have brought him along to show me around.

 

I stayed in Daunt’s Albatross Motel.

 

The restaurants in Montauk are expensive.    I grew up in a beach town and know that spending a lot on fancy food might not get you that much.   I ate in a pizza joint, listening to two Catholic priests at the next table loudly talk shop, problems at their work, one an older white guy, the other younger and black, with an African accent.

The next morning I was really ready to get out of town, back to some kind of less touristy America.

There is an hourly ferry to Connecticut at the tip of the other fork, the North Fork, at Orient Point NY.   That would be my destination this fourth day out.

 

I first cycled back fourteen miles back to East Hampton and and got breakfast at Starbucks.   Starbucks seemed like one of the few gathering places in East Hampton for all social classes.   It was a weekday, there were guys who could have been electricians alongside some very tall and skinny blond women talking some language I did not recognize.

 

The rest of the downtowns in The Hamptons are mostly sanitized, many storefronts turned into real estate offices advertising multi-million dollar houses.

I turned north towards the town of Sag Harbour.   It looks less cutesified that The Hamptons but I now know that it is almost as expensive.

To get to the Orient Point Ferry towards Connecticut I first had to take two smaller ferries,  to the south shore of Shelter Island and then from the north shore of that same island.  It was a beautiful day.

 

It was something of a relief to arrive into the town of Greenport, that last real town going out east onto the North Fork.   Compared to The Hamptons and the rest of the South Fork, Greenport looked and felt like a real town.   I got a sandwich for lunch at Goldberg’s Famous Bagels.

 

It is nine miles further out the North Folk to the tip, Orient Point, where the ferry leaves.

On the side of the road was this beautiful saltbox house, built in 1656.   It did have a historical marker but otherwise I think it is just somebody’s house.

At the end of the road there is a ferry terminal and a small marina / bar / restaurant.   I stopped in for a beer.

The ferry ride to New London CT took about an hour and a half.

 

I had a place to go when I arrived New London CT, an Airbnb booked online.

Arriving into New London CT by ferry the steeply gabled houses and rocky coastline immediately screamed “New England.”

New London CT is not a fru-fru place.   While not a complete wreck like Bridgeport CT or Trenton NJ,  New London looks like a working class town just trying to get by.   I find it exotic.  Its big employers are the U.S. Coast Guard and the large submarine construction base in Groton, just across the river.   My ferry landed in downtown New London.   I biked off the ferry and headed towards the address of an Airbnb.

 

 

 

This is the house of my Airbnb and the proprietor’s bumper stickered Volvo station wagon.  I had no idea what to expect.   It was an unusual Airbnb.

 

Her living room.

The Airbnb was a portion of an upstairs bedroom.    Most of the bedroom was my hostess’ art studio.

The opposite side of this small room was for me.   We shared a bathroom.

We found we had a lot of common interests and she was a pleasure to chitchat with.

That evening I biked the mile or two back to downtown New London to look for somewhere to eat.    There is not a huge selection of restaurants in New London anyway and on a Monday night many places were closed.   Thames Landing was only just OK.

 

The next day I bicycled east towards Westerly, Rhode Island.   This was my day’s route.

On the way out of town Muddy Waters Cafe in central New London is a really nice place for my kind of breakfast.    Those from Durham NC take note:  there was a Merge Records sticker on their front steps!

 

I crossed a high bridge over the Thames River.

I then bicycled east mostly on small and curvy roads, frequently with short bursts of very steep grades.

 

 

Brick walls were are ubiquitous.   I cannot imagine all the work in earlier generations hauling these stones out of the ground to enable trying to eke a living out of this rocky landscape.    You see these walls for miles through otherwise wooded areas, indications that these areas were once farmland.

 

I was still on the lookout for great clam chowder.   Clams and especially lobsters are pretty foreign in North Carolina.   Right near the Connecticut / Rhode Island state line there was a takeout seafood store with two chairs and one table for those who wanted to eat-in with plastic utensils.   After polishing off a bowl of clam chowder I ate $ 8.70 worth of amazing lobster salad, also sold by the pound.

 

 

I bicycled a long way through surprisingly wooded and remote-seeming land.    I was quite tired in the late afternoon when I pulled into the charming town of Wakefield RI.   There was a place called Brickley’s with very good house-made coffee chip ice cream.

I had not completely planned this bicycle expedition through Long Island and New England.  I had had vague ideas about going all the way to Boston.   One advantage with Amtrak is that it is relatively flexible.    I had had a great trip but I had spent enough money and I was ready to go home.  I haggled a deal over the phone for a quite nice (fru-fru!) conventional Bed and Breakfast in that same town Wakefield RI.  I booked Amtrak to leave the Kingston RI station at 7:11 AM the next morning, taking me all the way back on one train to my Toyota parked in Richmond VA.  I would be home in Chapel Hill NC by 8:00 PM that same evening.

Leaving at 6:15 AM I bicycled the eight miles to the station, almost all of it on a rail-trail bike path.

 

 

I have a special shout-out to TLC Coffee Roasters in West Kingston RI who I found at 6:55 AM.  They had, “to go” a large decaf coffee, refrigerator oatmeal for breakfast, and a quite good pastrami sandwich for lunch.    On Amtrak you should always bring your own food.

Tootie had a delicious dinner waiting for me in Chapel Hill when I got home.

 

I am originally from Virginia Beach VA but have lived in North Carolina for thirty years. North Carolina, it is said, is an island of humility between two mountains of conceit; i.e. Virginia and South Carolina.    I enjoy bicycling in central Virginia and looking at all the history signs along the road, even if I perhaps irrationally get annoyed with the weight of the past, the traditions that Virginia seems inundated with.

My idea for a two or three day ride was to drive two and a half hours north from Chapel Hill, park the car in suburban Richmond and bicycle somewhere from there.   I chose Mechanicsville as a starting point, nine miles northeast of downtown Richmond.   At about 11:00 AM I parked our Prius at the Mechanicsville Walmart and pulled my folding Bike Friday out of the back.     Apparently anyone can park in a Walmart parking lot for any length of time.  Many Americans associate freedom with freedom to park.  Freedom!  After parking the car I bicycled up to the store, locked the bike, and went inside to buy a toothbrush.    Maybe I do not get out much,  but the Mechanicsville Walmart seemed like the largest store interior I had ever seen.

I honestly had expected to be able to bicycle away from Mechanicsville into the rural Virginia countryside.   Instead, I found myself bicycling through miles of non-connected exurban housing developments and strip malls.   I tried to cycle on minor roads but they kept bringing me back to the same general area in the northern Richmond suburbs.   There were a lot of people eating at a restaurant in a strip mall so I stopped for lunch.

By late afternoon I had bicycled over thirty miles but really had not gone anywhere.  I was disappointed.  It was my fault, I had not done enough planning.  I thought about biking back to the Walmart,  putting the bike in the car and driving home.  Instead, I biked fifteen miles further over to Ashland VA, home of Randolph Macon College, a town whose claim to fame is the CSX and Amtrak main line that runs down the middle of its Main Street.  There was a low price at a Motel 6.   Motel 6’s are usually OK but this one seemed sleazy, with junk spread around the lobby.   If I may generalize, South Asians usually do a good job of running motels.  Not here.

 

With the current state of television, hotel TV’s are now particularly useless because one has to be old school and watch what is playing at that time, with ads. Instead,  I sat in the weak and lumpy bed and watched the legal drama The Good Fight on my phone.

 

 

Later on I bicycled downtown to the tracks and sat at a bar/restaurant called The Iron Horse.  I had meatloaf while the bartender and I watched the trains go by.   The place was mostly empty on this Monday night.

 

 

I had thought this trip was a washout, but it got better!   The following day, riding towards Fredericksburg, the bike riding immediately became much more relaxed.  North of Ashland car traffic almost ceased and I found myself bicycling on lovely country roads through either forests or horse country, where the land is chopped up into large residential plots.  I saw very little actual farming.  I started seeing signs marked US Bicycle Route 1 and started following them.

 

 

Being Virginia, there are, of course, lots of historical markers, even on back roads.   I find this one creepy.  I’ll never wash that pitcher again.

 

The circuitous but scenic Bicycle Route 1 crossed actual U.S. Highway 1, which is the older highway that parallels Interstate 95.    Washington is the closest really big city to where I grew up, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.   Both my parents had horror stories about driving on US-1 between Richmond and Washington before I-95 was built.  Mom talked about driving with me and my siblings in our station wagon on this four lane road in the 1960’s with no center divider and jammed with high speed heavy trucks.  Mom said she had nightmares about it.    Dad said he had lost several friends to traffic accidents during the 1930’s-1950’s on what he claimed was called “Bloody One.”      The highway looked physically the same as my 1960’s memories but with clearly not as much traffic.   I was just bicycling across.

The final miles into Fredericksburg were through the national battlefield park.

I was ready for a break at fifty-six miles when I pulled into Sammy T’s in downtown Fredericksburg.

On these bike trips of mine I rarely cycle more than fifty miles per day.   On this trip, maybe it was the wine, but I started thinking:  I had already bicycled fifty-six miles, it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, the wind was at my back and I wasn’t at all tired.   Why not bicycle a Century, one hundred miles in a day?   I hadn’t done this in years.    I finished lunch and headed off towards D.C.

I bicycled through the older parts of Fredericksburg with the Strava app still set on my phone. I now had a goal: one hundred miles in a day.

As I biked across the river.  I learned this day that Fredericksburg marks the fall line, the highest navigable point on the Rappahannock.

 

I continued to follow signs for Bicycle Route 1, which guided me on smaller country roads.  Unfortunately, the suburbs of Washington DC start at Fredericksburg, sixty miles out.   Roads had more and more traffic.

And despite the sunny weather predictions, it started to rain; hard, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by lots of traffic on a two lane road.   There was nothing to do but soldier on.   My goal this day was a mileage, not a specific destination.   An hour or two into the ride I must have missed a  Bicycle Route 1 sign.  I was off the route.  I just kept bicycling until I reached a strip of motels outside of the U.S. Marine Base in Quantico VA.    The mileage on my Strava app read ninety-six miles.  I continued on, circling around a residential area for half an hour trying to add four miles but Strava refused to move!   True fact:  I had not turned on the Strava app until half an hour into the start of the ride that morning.   I was not going to be a slave to some computer application.  I am confident I did somewhat over one hundred miles.   Really.   Here is a screen shot of my phone.

 

I booked a room at a Quality Inn next to US1 and I-95.   After a rest I walked across a sea of parking lots to the chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday.    The military is quite diverse, there was an interesting multiracial group of people sitting at the bar.   Salmon cooked rare with hickory bourbon sauce was healthy and delicious.

For the next day, to bicycle the safest and most pleasant route it was still at least fifty miles further north to Union Station in downtown Washington DC where I could take Amtrak back to Richmond.   After my experiences six months ago in Savannah I swore I would never bicycle again on an openly dangerous road.  For the first few miles through the Marine base there were few options.  Because there was no easy route other than the six lane US Highway 1, I took an Uber the first seventeen miles, from Quantico to Lorton.   North from Lorton the Mount Vernon Trail goes all the way to central D.C., first along the highway, then along the Potomac River.

 

Around President Washington’s Mount Vernon the Potomac River is much more of an estuary than a river.

Too much history.    Tour buses lined up outside Mount Vernon.

On my phone I keep a list of future bicycle riding destinations.    “Hollin Hills-Alexandria VA” has been sitting there awhile.  It comes, I think, from an article I read in the Washington Post about a development with dozens off 1950-60’s modernist tract houses.   Maybe Palm Springs CA is such a big modernist destination because houses show off better in the desert.    On the East Coast houses are hidden behind trees.

 

 

 

I bicycled through old town Alexandria.

 

North of Alexandria the Mount Vernon Trail circles Reagan National Airport.

 

 

The bike path then crosses the Potomac on the Fourteenth Street Bridge arriving into the District right in front of the Jefferson Memorial.

 

It was a pleasure to bicycle Washington crosstown to Union Station, where only an hour in advance I had booked Amtrak leaving at 3:30 PM for Richmond.    There are several ways to take a bicycle on an Amtrak train but it is often complicated.   It is not complicated with a folding bicycle.   You just lug it on any train, no case required.

I arrived into Main Street Station in Richmond that evening and spent the night downtown.   In the morning I bicycled through downtown Richmond and then out to the Walmart in Mechanicsville.  Our car was still there.

 

Three sixty-something guys went cycling for eight days through Italy, more or less Florence to Rome. The trip turned out to be much more of an athletic event than expected, with some of the steepest hills I have ever cycled.   Also, I had heard that Tuscany was over-touristed.  Could we, on bicycles, discover the real Tuscany?

This trip began as a vague idea.   Lyman and I had been searching for the next big bike ride in Europe, preferably Italy, Spain, or southern France.   Lyman’s friend (now also my friend) Randy Greenberg, a computer professional, taught Lyman some tricks when searching online for air fares.   We needed a low price to anywhere.

I live in Chapel Hill NC. The closest airport is Raleigh/Durham.   Lyman and Randy live in Austin TX.   Using Randy’s suggested apps we found round trip on American Airlines RDU airport to Rome airport in early April for only $ 533.00!!     Short flight to Charlotte NC, then nonstop to Rome!!     Only $633.00 round trip Austin TX to Charlotte to Rome!!   Lyman and I could go most of the way on the same airplane!!

These deals were too good to pass up.  As it turned out, these prices were only available for a few days.   Lyman and I agreed to fly to Rome in early April.    A few days later Randy agreed to join us.    We hurriedly bought the tickets while the price was still low.   We could work later on the details.

The flights going over had issues.  There were thunderstorms in Charlotte that delayed me twenty-four hours.   Due to that same weather Lyman and Randy were transferred by American Airlines to British Airways who subsequently lost Lyman’s luggage (i.e. bicycle) for an even longer amount of time.    We were two days behind schedule when at 12:45 PM on a Thursday we stepped off the high speed rail line at Santa Maria Novella station in central Firenze (Florence).   It had taken us from central Rome to Florence in under two hours.  Disclaimer: I have great friends Mandy and Iano who live in Florence.  With all the hassles we had been through we wanted to start bicycle riding immediately.  My apologies to Mandy and Iano for not calling you up while in town.

In the Florence train station we put together our folding bicycles, all Bike Friday brand.  We would make a good commercial for them.

 

 

 

Randy Greenberg

 

 

Lyman Labry

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

 

 

Over the next eight days we would cycle most of the way back to Rome, taking a circuitous route.

 

Otherwise from random we picked the town of Empoli for the first night because it was about twenty-five miles from central Florence.  We knew nothing about this town.

Finding a bicycle route out of Florence was challenging.   Larger Italian cities have confusing layouts.  Streets change names.  Roads change one-way directional status seemingly every block.

Finally we did break out of Florence.  Heading towards Empoli that first afternoon we were being chased by rain storms.  There was a gravel bike path along the Arno River some of the way.

 

Randy is very outgoing.    Despite the language differences he managed to start a conversation with this couple and convince them to pose for a picture   They were out picking rapa, a type of edible greens.    You can see the dark rain clouds in the background.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

 

Eventually the bike path ended and we cycling on conventional roads with the traffic, threading along the Arno River.  As it was getting dark and as rain started we luckily made it into central Empoli and under the shelter of an awning.

Empoli does not seem at all touristy but very Italian.

We got drinks and snacks at a table on the street and watched the locals go by, or stand around our bicycles.

 

The rain eventually slowed down and I called a hotel just a couple of blocks away.   Asking in broken Italian, I was able to secure a room with three beds for eighty-five Euro, breakfast included.   What’s not to like?

After checking in and showering we looked for somewhere to eat that evening.   The only real restaurant open in Empoli was the fanciest looking restaurant we ate at our entire trip.     The food was delicious and really not all that expensive.

First course was one portion each of tagliatelle with artichokes.   I believe artichokes are in season in April.

For the main course I got tuna, seared rare.   The vegetables in the center were as delicious as the fish.

 

Randy got mixed fried seafood.

 

Lyman got another fish entree whose name I cannot recall.

 

 

The service was friendly and helpful.   At the end this guy poured us glasses of some kind of dessert wine, on the house.

 

The next morning I was impressed by the minimalist decor at the hotel breakfast.

We picked as our bicycle destination this second day somewhere we had indeed heard of, the hill town of San Gimignano.   We would once again have to dodge the rain.

Leaving Empoli we cycled through the streets of town.

 

 

Eventually we transitioned to pleasant country roads.

The bike riding this day varied between steep rural roads with little traffic, and relatively flat roads along the valley floor that teemed with large trucks.  After a few hours we parked our bicycles in front of this place for lunch in the town of Certaldo.

In this working class town we talked to two guys about our age on on the street before entering the restaurant.  They told us what to order: they said to get pasta meccanica followed by codfish cakes.    Following a practice of old Roman families I read about somewhere years ago we all got the same thing, which was what those guys suggested.

 

 

We had coffee but skipped dessert.  Just we were leaving it started to rain.   We ducked over to a covered outdoor cafe to wait out the rain with post-lunch beers.      We sat in this cafe for over an hour until Randy’s very handy use of cell phone weather maps indicated (correctly it turned out) that the storm was going to pass just to the south of us in our ride to San Gimignano.   As soon as the rain let up we biked off with still threatening clouds in the distance.

 

 

San Gimignano is a true hill town, visible from miles away.  This day it was surrounded by storms, sitting at the top in a defensible position with its distinctive medieval towers, threatening those who would attempt to bicycle up that steep hill.    The roads got steeper as we got closer.

 

 

 

We had taken a back road to avoid traffic.   The scenery was lovely and the pavement smooth. However, in all my bicycling I had never seen a grade so steep.    I have always prided myself on not walking my bicycle.   I did make it up this hill, but I cannot remember being so winded.   My sixty-three year old lungs were burning bright.    Lyman, Randy, and I were all windedly making jokes about having heart attacks.

Lyman approached the entrance to the walled city of San Gimignano.

 

The center of town is, or course, at the very top of the hill.   We found a nice hotel on the main square.  This was the view out the hotel window.

 

That night at the hotel we had ribollata, the Tuscan vegetable soup.    We walked around the town after supper.

 

 

According to Wikipedia tourists have been coming to San Gimignano since the late nineteenth century.     We walked around after breakfast the next morning.   Our fellow tourists were out in force.  Many had just arrived by tour bus.  Sure, there were some Americans here.  There were also Asians; Chinese.   There were French, Germans, British, and Italians from other parts of Italy.   Many came with with Selfie sticks.

 

 

In our modern world we all stare at our phones, or take pictures of everything.

 

On this Saturday morning there was a small farmer’s market.   Artichokes indeed are in season.   I bought Tootie a jar of honey.

 

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

From the back side of town you could just enjoy the view.

 

Our bicycle destination this third day would be the larger city of Siena.   We wanted to make our bicycle route as scenic as possible, on roads with the fewest cars.

Google Maps has a defect that has plagued me here in the USA, it does not differentiate between paved and non-paved roads.   At one point this day we found ourselves pushing our bicycles through the mud.

 

 

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

Stuck in the mud I advocated turning around.    I was outvoted.   The road luckily did improve dramatically just over the ridge.

By the time we had found a larger main road it was already past time for lunch.    We were on the outskirts of a town called Colle di Val D’Elsa, which sat, of course, up on a hill.   On the outskirts, down on the principal two line highway was Pizzeria Osteria 900.   A sign out front advertised two course pranzo (lunch) twelve Euro, wine and coffee included.

We were the only customers.   It turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip and certainly the best value.    The apparent owner was a thirty-something looking woman who later told us she had moved to Italy twenty years ago from Albania.   The waiter, her son,  looked about twelve years old.

Once again we all got the same thing.   First course was pasta with what she described as homemade ragu.  Delicious.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

While we were eating the pasta we could hear in the kitchen the woman pounding to flatten chicken breasts.     Second course was lemon chicken and we each got a contorno (side dish) of carrots.   Italians do NOT like to mix different kinds of food on a plate.

 

It was all wonderful and we pressed her to accept more money for additional wine as we each had quickly downed the included one glass.    She charged us six Euros for an additional half liter.

Woozily back on the bikes still had another fifteen or twenty miles to Siena.    On the way we chose a short but steep climb to get a coffee at the medieval walled town of Monteriggioni.

 

There were a lot of tourists in this small town.  More local was a was a Catholic procession on this day before Palm Sunday, accompanied by strumming guitars.

 

Shops sold leather goods, a product of this region.   I pondered whether I could show my face in Chapel Hill wearing shoes like this.

 

Back on the road we cycled further on towards Siena, mostly uphill.

Compared to the hill towns Siena (population 54,000) felt like a real city.     It is about the same population now that it was in the year 1350.   I am sure there are a lot of tourists but they did not seem to overwhelm the place.

 

 

We biked into the central city and stopped for a beer, to ponder our next move.

photo by Randy Greenberg

We found a somewhat shabby but low cost hotel room with three beds.  After supper that night we walked around the city in the dark.   Just a couple of blocks from the hotel is the Piazza del Campo where they have been staging the annual Palio horse race for almost four hundred years.

 

The next morning this was the view out of our hotel window.   The second photo is Randy’s bicycle on that same street.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

 

We biked out of Siena on this Palm Sunday morning.

 

 

For quite a distance we shared our route with a footrace, likely at 10-k.

 

Our destination this day would be the hill town of Montalcino.     From more than ten miles away you could see Montalcino looming in the distance at the top of a hill/mountain.    The hill appeared larger and steeper the closer we got.

 

 

 

 

 

We fought our way up this mammoth hill, arriving central Montalcino just as it was begining to rain.   To celebrate our ascent we bought a bottle of relatively high-end wine, a Brunello di Montalcino.

Because of the rain we ended up spending that night in Montalcino at this hotel, Albergo il Giglio.   It was all quite nice.

 

The next day was another beast of a climb, first riding east to the hilltop town of Pienza, then turning south to the hilltop town of Montepulciano.

This is the three of us after admiring the view from Pienza.

Halfway up some hill, Lyman and Randy paused to scope out the situation.

 

Some workers were thinning the olive trees, then burning the branches.

 

Yes, there are a lot of towns around here whose name starts with Monte.    Montepulciano was another great hill town, requiring another huge sweaty climb.

The hotel we found here was run by a woman about our age who clearly had artsy tendencies;  I wish I had taken her picture.  That evening we wanted a lighter evening meal.    We first sat down at an informal pizza joint but loud Lynyrd Skynyrd music convinced us to leave before ordering.  At a restaurant down the street a woman indicated they were open.    When we entered, she walked into their dining room and turned on the lights.   Obviously we were the only customers.

Pici is a form of homemade pasta frequently seen in Tuscany.   We had it several times.

 

Each strand is made by hand.  Traditionally this was peasant food, and the noodles contain only flour and water, no eggs.  Dough is rolled thin on a flat surface, then cut into strips.   Each strip is then rolled by hand into a tubular shaped.    They are then boiled and combined with sauce.  This younger woman and who I assumed was her mother were the only ones there.  They invited us into the kitchen after the meal and showed where they were making pici.

On the way out the older woman wanted to pour us a complimentary sweet liquore but for some reason we declined.   I am still not sure why.

The next day we bicycled about fifty miles, including some major hill climbs.  In mid-morning we stopped for a cappuccino at a gas station bar.    European gas stations frequently have nice bars.   No paper cups here, unless you ask.  That is Randy’s hand and water bottle on the right side of the picture.

 

After a serious climb we ate a sandwich for lunch al fresco in a small hill town, San Casciano Dei Bagni.   We chatted with two twenty or thirty-something Australian guys who were quite nice but ultimately seemed like clueless idle rich.   They had flown over in Business Class to be in Europe for several months but did not really have a plan.

Although that town had been seemed to be on a hilltop, after lunch we climbed even higher.   I looked back at the town.

 

The afternoon cycling was delightful along roads with no cars and surrounded by silence.    Sure, the hills were steep but at least the road was paved.    Until it wasn’t.   Cycling on gravel roads is trickier.    We pressed on.

 

 

We finally cycled into a river valley and along smoother, flatter roads with more traffic.    We had now left Tuscany for Umbria.  Our destination that evening was to be the town of Orvieto.  We really had no idea what to expect, and could not believe what we saw ahead of us.  Orvieto is built on almost vertical cliffs.   It was astonishingly formidable, especially after having cycled all day long.    Fourteenth century invading armies would certainly have been intimidated.

We somehow got up that hill and collapsed into a cafe to order a bottle of wine!   The bartender provided some nice free appetizers.

 

Dinner that night was at Trattoria La Palomba.    I had called an hour or two earlier for a reservation.  Italian restaurants like to be called, even on short notice.   It was packed but they had a table waiting for us.    This place is a little higher end than most other restaurants we ate at on this trip.

There was strangozzi (shoelace) pasta with shaved truffles.

 

 

It was followed by delicious meat main courses.  I got palomba, a type of dove.   The excess sauce was spread on toast.

 

Lyman ate roast lamb.

Randy got cinghiale, stew of wild boar.

 

And my favorite, a contorno of chicory greens.

 

 

We also split a dessert.

It was all wonderful, really.  Eating at places like this is what I like to do.

 

The next morning we walked around the vibrant city of Orvieto.

 

 

This included the cathedral with its distinctive multicolored marble.

 

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

Lyman, who is an architect, has a good eye for details, like noticing this door hinge.

 

This was to be our final day of bicycle riding.   Our flights home departed the next day from Rome airport.    Our biking destination this final day was to be the small city of Orte.

Of course this bike ride began with a steep downhill from hilltop Orvieto.   First we had to bicycle through the city gates.

 

We cycled along a river valley.

About 11:45 AM we were passing by a small town and Randy announced that he was running out of gas, he really needed to eat something.   We were not ready for lunch yet, so he went into a cafe by himself to refuel while Lyman and I waited outside.   In America this would have been done at a Mini-Mart.   Here in Italy they have much more style.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

 

The downhill “road” from that small town was so steep that we had to walk the bicycles.

 

An hour or two later in a dingy, flat, and drab looking town we had lunch at a motel/cafe/pizza place.   I am always on the lookout for great vegetable dishes.   Here to accompany the pasta was vignarola, the Roman stew of braised spring vegetables, especially artichokes and fava beans.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

After lunch we still had about fifteen or twenty miles to Orte, our train station.   The cycling turned out to be much more challenging than expected.   Along the Tiber River the narrow flat valley was consumed by a rail line, an autostrada (freeway), and an older highway packed with trucks.   Google Maps also showed a network of smaller roads more amenable to bicycling.   Some of these roads were flat and well paved.

Sometimes the roads were much worse.   To our dismay these smaller roads frequently zigged at steep angles up the cliffs lining the river.    Sometimes the pavement just stopped and the roads became rutted gravel.   These were some of the steepest grades I have ever experienced.

 

 

 

Sometimes when things go bad they actually get better.  The roads improved.   Our destination town of Orte, we discovered, sits on a cliff overlooking the Tiber River.

The rail line does not actually go to Orte, it goes to something called Orte Scalo, at the bottom of the hill by the river.    We thought this meant we would not have to climb that hill, but got so lost in finding Orte Scalo that we ended up at the top of the hill anyway!  We arrived at Orte Scalo train station about five in the afternoon.   Orte Scalo is the end of the line for an hourly Rome area commuter train that, with seventeen stops, goes all the way through Rome then beyond to terminate at Rome Fiumicino Airport.  We took our bicycles apart and carried them onto the train for the two hour ride.  From there we took an Uber to an Airbnb near the airport.

Fiumicino is a beach town and has at least one really good seafood restaurant, Ristorante Sfizi di Mare.   If you ask they will serve, for a flat charge, a meal of seafood appetizers, dozens of dishes brought one after the other.    Sicilian seafood salad was just one of many.

 

It made a pleasant final Italian meal before our outgoing flights the next morning.

 

 

For the past few years l have been hearing about Kentucky from mine and Tootie’s Chapel Hill NC friend Maxine Mills, who hails originally from the Bluegrass State.    Previously all I had known about Kentucky were caricatures from the media.   The first forty seconds of this upcoming clip are the best.

My friend Dan and I knew very little about Kentucky when we wrote this song two or three years ago, words and tune by Dan Anderson, musical arrangement and guitar accompaniment by me.

Tootie and I had been very cordially invited to accompany Maxine and her relatives to a high-end horse race in Lexington, KY the first week of April.    I used to opportunity to fly to Lousville four days early and bicycle by myself across the middle of the state, from Louisville to Lexington.

I bought a one way ticket, checking my Bike Friday folding bicycle as luggage.   I took the advice of my friend Harvey Botzman and used a disposable cardboard box.  At 11:00 AM on a Monday morning I put the bicycle together in the baggage claim area of the Louisville airport.

 

Ready to go.

 

I cycled away from the airport and into the city.   My first stop was to visit a first cousin that I seldom see.    Dawn McMillion and her husband Paul recently sold their restaurant in Seattle WA and moved to Louisville KY.  They bought into a business that has a distillery and Prohibition museum with a separate bar next door.

 

 

 

 

We took a selfie.

 

Dawn and I walked down Baxter Avenue for lunch.   Taco Luchador definitely had its game on and we had a great time catching up with each other’s lives.   After lunch we walked back to the bar and I left Dawn to bicycle Louisville.   Unfortunately the cold, or something, that I had caught a few days earlier was really wearing at me.   I was sick, I needed to lie down.    This break ultimately helped me out;  by the afternoon of the next day I felt almost normal again.   I cycled over to my Airbnb a few blocks away.

It was in the back of a shotgun house.   For $ 72.00 including tax the owners had really gone all out.  They even provided me all sorts of food for breakfast, including fresh fruit and homemade jams.

 

I collapsed onto the bed and chilled for several hours.   Ultimately I got up and walked to find dinner.  My Airbnb was on the Wrong Side of the Tracks from anywhere to eat.   I had to walk through an underpass.

 

A place called Hammerheads is in the basement of a house and specializes in what I would call hipster barbecue.   I got something called a pork belly BLT.  I asked for wine, which they do not have, only beer, but a huge selection.    The sandwich was greasy but delicious.

 

It was all good and I walked “home” in the semi-darkness.   I was already starting to feel better.

 

The next morning I cycled around the western side of Louisville before heading further out of town.    Louisville was a relatively large city in about 1900 and has its own architectural style.   Like New Orleans, there are block after block of shotgun houses, many with what New Orleans calls a camelback, a larger second story in the rear.   Unlike New Orleans, many of the Louisville shotgun houses are built of brick.   These three photos were all taken on the same street as my Airbnb.

 

 

Further west, away from downtown, the trend continues in the more prosperous neighborhood called Highlands.

In Highlands there are shotgun houses but also larger Victorians.  These houses go on block after block.

 

 

Maxine’s brother Russell Mills is a building contractor, sculptor, British car enthusiast, and all around good guy.   He lives on one of these blocks, the house at the right side of this photo.

 

Moving further west the houses get even bigger.

 

The house on the right is for sale for $ 880,000.00

There was a traffic circle that stylistically reminded me of Monument Avenue in Richmond VA.   This all must have been built about the same time, 1890-1900.   There was even a large statue of Confederate war “hero” John Breckinridge Castelman.   (Remember, Kentucky was supposed to have been on the side of the Union in that war!)   The statue has apparently been recently defaced.

 

I biked west. Louisville suburbs go west for almost twenty miles.   In the “town” of Hurstbourne, there are houses obviously built about 1960 with street upon street named from Robin Hood themes.   I mention this because both my wife’s hometown of Winston-Salem NC and my almost hometown of Norfolk VA have a Sherwood Forest Elementary school, surrounded by houses and streets of the same period with the same Robin Hood theme; houses in that early sixties style I really dislike: “colonial ranch.”   Here in Hurstbourne KY it was the same.

 

Up to this point I had seen nothing in Kentucky that indicated that horses were an important thing.   Passing through the Louisville suburbs into the countryside I started to see horse statues that anywhere else in America would be written off as kitsch.

 

 

I spent the night “in” Shelbyville KY, but really in a motel on the highway, three miles from downtown Shelbyville.   There was no place to stay in downtown Shelbyville, not even an Airbnb.    This Best Western was clean, spacious, and low cost, but the four lane highway vibe did not feel accommodating to a bicyclist.   There was a Waffle House across the street.

 

I had a decision.   Meals are important to me.  Really.   Should I bicycle three miles into downtown Shelbyville for a likely just O.K. dinner at a local restaurant, and then have to bicycle back on a highway in the dark?   Or should I bicycle just three quarters of a mile the other direction to the chain steakhouse at the Interstate highway interchange?    Yes, I am a food snob.   But after showering and recovering from the day’s ride, I chose the chain restaurant at the Interstate highway with a Texas theme: Cattleman’s Roadhouse.

It is easier to eat at the bar when solo dining.   The bar area of Cattleman’s Roadhouse was almost all guys.   There were lots of TV’s to watch.

You could even watch TV while you peed.

The dinner at this chain restaurant was almost perfect.  Salmon, cooked rare like I asked but not at all smelly or slimy, topped with a sweet “bourbon” sauce, and rice pilaf and green beans.   All delicious.   $ 17.95.    I could not have asked for more.   The local cable channel right-wing news accompanied my dinner.

 

It was mostly dark when I bicycled back to the motel along the highway.   I felt good, relaxed.

The next morning I bicycled further west and finally got to see downtown Shelbyville KY.

 

 

There was a modernist fire & rescue headquarters.

 

There was a perfectly preserved 1940’s-50’s gas station, just waiting for someone to adapt something to it.

 

In a dramatic change from the day before, this day’s cycling was chill, on country roads where a car would pass only every five or ten minutes.

 

 

And I discovered actual horse country!    Fences everywhere!

 

 

I am not knowledgeable about horses.  I thought they always stood up.   I guess not.

Frankfort is a small city that also happens to be the capital of the state of Kentucky.   I bicycled into Frankfort in time for a late lunch at Kentucky Coffeehouse Cafe.  I got their bean soup and chicken salad on croissant.

 

 

I stayed that night in the only hotel in downtown Frankfort and caught up on some reading.   Right near the place where I had eaten lunch I went out that evening to a combination fancy wine store, liquor store, and bar called Capital Cellars.   There was a convivial scene at the bar, and they encouraged me to buy takeout Mexican chicken down the street and bring that back for dinner.

There is obviously a lot of discussion in Kentucky about bourbon whiskey.  I waited until dessert to partake, when I sipped straight a half a shot of a higher end bourbon that the bartender recommended.

 

For my bike ride the next day I would need to be in Lexington KY by late afternoon to meet my wife Tootie and friend Maxine at her uncle’s house.    Because it was not very far I chose the circuitous route Frankfort /  Lawrenceburg / Lexington.

I first biked by the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Kentucky, from 1910, on a otherwise regular street in Frankfort of houses from that same era.

 

Out in the country just south of Frankfort, on a side road, I passed the privately run Josephine Sculpture Park.  Open to the public.

 

Once again biking was excellent, on seldom used back roads.

 

I had a nice lunch in Lawrenceburg.    Later in the afternoon I headed out for the final twenty miles to Lexington.   There were all sorts of interesting things along the way.

 

 

Lexington and its surrounding county clearly have strict land use controls, as the final twelve miles to Don Mill’s house were all through pristine horse farms.

I am not going to attempt on this blog to document everything we did in Lexington with Maxine, her uncle Don Mills, brother Russell Mills, and all their relatives.    They showed us wonderful hospitality.   The next day Friday was the opening day at the Keeneland race course in Lexington.    Everyone was dressed up.   We all had a great time wagering, eating, and drinking.   It was fun to walk around and look at people.  These photos are of people I do NOT know.

 

 

The next day Tootie, Maxine, my bicycle, and myself all drove seven hours back to Chapel Hill NC.

$148.00 round trip nonstop (including luggage) from Raleigh/Durham to Fort Lauderdale on a decent airline (Southwest) was too good a deal to pass up.   It had been cold and rainy in North Carolina.   I could have two full days of bike riding down there with only one night in a hotel, because the departure flight was early in the morning and the returning flight was not until the evening.   I find South Florida fascinating but I prefer it in very small doses!

Also, I love trains.  I wanted to go to South Florida to check out Brightline.   No one but me seems excited about Brightline, which is in the process of changing its name to Virgin Trains.   While I am a big supporter of Amtrak, riding Amtrak is depressing.   Maybe because conservatives have been trying to kill Amtrak for forty-five years, workers and management seem exhausted.   With constant budget fights long range Amtrak financial planning is almost impossible.  When riding Amtrak the whole system seems befuddled.

Brightline is trying something else; an intercity passenger rail line done completely as a private business.    Their plan is to make this train financially viable the way railroads did in the nineteenth century, with side deals in real estate.    Because of this I question whether Brightline’s model will be duplicated elsewhere.  Brightline is a spinoff of Jacksonville based Florida East Coast Railway.  FEC owns and operates high quality tracks from Miami north to Jacksonville.  A hundred years ago the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach were essentially built around these tracks, and FEC apparently still owns a lot of prime real estate.    Because those three downtowns are currently in a building boom, Brightline is using its inner city location as selling point.   Live in downtown Fort Lauderdale without a car!   The plan is to operate trains all the way north to Orlando, which would require building a small section of new track.  The first portion, on existing track, has been operating ten trains a day Miami / Fort Lauderdale / West Palm Beach for about one year.   The FEC/Brightline tracks are parallel but better located than the tracks used for the existing Tri-Rail commuter trains that I have taken in the past.

I hatched a plan to fly into the Fort Lauderdale airport and upon arrival bicycle south twenty-five miles to Miami.   I would then take the Brightline that same afternoon from Miami north past Fort Lauderdale all the way to West Palm Beach.   I would spend the night around West Palm, then bicycle the next day the fifty miles south to Fort Lauderdale, and then fly home that same evening, without the opportunity to take a shower.   Press the plus sign to zero in on more detail.

 

The plane from Raleigh/Durham was scheduled takeoff at 6:50 AM.    I left mine and Tootie’s Chapel Hill apartment about 5:00 AM with the Bike Friday in a suitcase for the half hour drive to the airport.

 

I boarded the plane about 6:30 AM.

The plane arrived on time but it sat on the ground for a while, waiting for a gate to open up.   The luggage also took longer than necessary to show up.   I then walked with the suitcase down to the Delta terminal where there is a luggage storage business.   I spread my stuff around and put the bicycle together before checking the empty suitcase.   It was about 11:00 AM when I was able to bicycle away from the airport.  The weather was perfect, it felt great to be alive and outdoors.

 

I bicycled through the north Broward County towns of Dana and Hollywood, riding on residential streets as much as possible.  I passed by these interesting buildings.

 

 

 

 

I bicycled east across a causeway to the skinny north/south barrier island that comprises not only Miami Beach but a bunch of other “towns” with names like Sunny Isles Beach, Bar Harbour, and Surfside.

I followed Route A1A / Collins Avenue along the beach.  Sunny Isles Beach appeared mostly void of human life, even in the high season of early March.   There were very few stores or restaurants.  Does anyone live in these places?

 

 

 

I followed the Bicycle Route signs and decided to cross back across the bay towards downtown Miami.   The “bike route” includes the shoulder along I-195; a two mile Interstate highway across Biscayne Bay.    It was not really dangerous, but loud and very uncool.   I-195 dumps a bicyclist into the former slum that is now designated as “Miami Design District” just north of downtown Miami.    The pitch seems to be working and I give the powers that be credit for chutzpah, if nothing else.   There really are now all sorts of expensive looking designer storefronts.

A little further south must have been designated as a hipster district.  It all seems contrived but by Miami standards this building actually seems old.

 

I was still a mile or two from the Brightline rail station on the west side of downtown Miami, but I managed to see a Brightline train heading north as it passed through this grade crossing at an angle.

 

Brightline currently only stops at three places, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.   All three stations are brand new and use the same style of architecture, emphasizing these V shaped patterns.   I assume the railroad has a commercial stake in these tall buildings rising above the Miami station.

 

My journey to West Palm Beach would take an hour and fifteen minutes.  I could wheel the bicycle with me right onto the train.  I had bought a normal ticket for $ 25.00, but they offered me an upgrade to their business class for only $5.00 additional, and this included an alcoholic beverage and a snack.  Unlike Amtrak, you get an assigned seat.  The staff was helpful.  What’s not to like?

 

 

The first part of the journey ran through the same inner city neighborhoods that I had just bicycled through.   I am reminded of the difficulties high-speed rail faces in America.   The tracks had constant grade crossings (street crossings with gates).   The tracks are not fenced off at all.   I could see people standing along the tracks waiting for the train to go by so they could then run across them.   Walking on the tracks has already caused several people to be killed by Brightline.

These Miami neighborhoods were a mix of rich and poor.

 

Once out of the central city the train moved faster.   A fellow passenger determined from an I-Phone app that we went as fast as 80 miles an hour.

 

I had no complaints when the train pulled into West Palm Beach.  Brightline is a well run operation and a pleasant experience.   I have not taken a train in America so clean and futuristic looking.   I still had a three mile bike ride to my Airbnb but had to hurry as it was getting dark.

 

The only drawback to this trip was that lodging in West Palm Beach was expensive.  I did find an Airbnb for $ 88.00 with tax.   It had good recommendations on the website but clearly was not in the toniest neighborhood.

As I biked away from downtown some kind of event letting out.   I liked these people’s Palm Beach sense of style.

After cycling for a while through poorer areas I pulled up in front of the house that matched the address from Airbnb.  I saw only a front porch stacked with junk.

 

I called the guy and he said that I need to walk to the building around back.   There were dead Ford pickups parked in one corner.

 

 

Inside the back gate was a small terrace.

The owner had left a key on the table by the lamp.   Once inside it was quite nice, like a renovated tool shed with the interior ambiance of a 1950’s mobile home. (Dave and Gail: it was like the inside of your trailer!)  Everything was very tidy.  Really.  He had left the air conditioner going.   I turned it off and opened the window.    The breezes were pleasant and I did not hear a sound outside all night long.

With only a bicycle I was somewhat remote from restaurants.   I have a new lighting system and was comfortable biking a short distance in the dark.    About a mile or two away over residential streets were a few restaurants, including the Rhythm Cafe.  Built out of an old drugstore almost thirty years ago it seems to be a place where the upper crust of Palm Beach can go slumming.    With $ 25.00 entrees it certainly was not cheap.   My very helpful and friendly bartender (an ex-lawyer now working mostly on LGBQT issues) told me that people have to get reservations there weeks in advance during prime March dates.  I luckily got a seat at the bar.   In contrast to Miami where things look multicultural to the extreme, here it looked like a Midwest well to do country club or retirement home.   The guy to the left in the picture below asked for a glass of milk halfway through his meal.

 

 

The dinner was delicious, butternut squash soup followed by some Florida fish covered with roasted onions, accompanied by New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

The next morning as I started off early this was the view across the street from my Airbnb.

 

I bicycled south along the western shore of the bay, across the water from Palm Beach proper.  Even on this side of the bay the scene was ritzy, including having this Ferrari parked outside someone’s house.

At Lake Worth, just a few miles south of where I had stayed the previous night,  I turned east and crossed a causeway over to the barrier island that is Palm Beach.    This thin island stretches all the way south more than forty miles to Fort Lauderdale Beach, passing through Boca Raton along the way.

I keep coming down to South Florida because this is such a super bike ride.  Highway A1A has mostly slow moving traffic and a shoulder.   If you do this ride, I recommend planning carefully so that you take the Brightline against the the wind and only bicycle with the wind at your back!

Occasionally the highway goes along the oceanfront.

This ride is a guilty pleasure, looking at rich people’s gross excesses all along the way.

In one “town” there were these signs posted about every 100 yards.  Someone was freaking out that someone might raise someone’s taxes.    There clearly is not money enough in this town.

 

I pointed the bicycle back across the bay towards the mainland for a late breakfast but the drawbridge was open.  I stood around and watched the boats go by.

 

At 9:45 AM I had quiche and grits at the East Ocean Cafe in Boynton Beach.

 

The rest of the ride south to Fort Lauderdale was a mix of residential streets and high rises along A1A.

A year ago I had had a memorable alternative take on salade Nicoise at a restaurant in downtown Fort Lauderdale called Foxy Brown.   I excitedly got there this day about 2:30 PM but the server said that they had taken that item off the menu just last week!   Still, a poke bowl with raw salmon, avocado, pickled onions, garbanzos over faro was quite good.

 

There is a lot of building going on in downtown Fort Lauderdale.   After lunch I biked over a few blocks to a coffee house.   I could read and stare at the frenzied construction across the street.

The Fort Lauderdale airport is actually quite easy to reach by bicycle.   You can bike there from downtown in about half an hour.   At the airport I retrieved my suitcase, disassembled the bicycle, and made my flight with no problems.

Tootie and I have been staying more and more frequently at our friend Kirk’s place in New Orleans.   It is relaxing just to hang out there.   This time we stayed in the upstairs unit.    It looks out over the street.

Kirk allows us to store bicycles in the crawl space under her house.   We took them out on our arrival and kept them in her side yard.   We rode frequently around the city.    In addition to Tootie’s blue Schwinn, I have two bicycles there now, my Schwinn Typhoon for city use, and an older ten speed for longer trips

Kirk’s house and and its adjoining units are most impressive looking from the front.

 

Early one Sunday morning I took a day long bike ride on my Lambert framed ten-speed.   I bought this bicycle used in Virginia Beach in the fall of 1974 but have replaced every part of it except the frame, which itself has been repainted more than once.   I would hate to throw the bicycle away so it stays stuffed underneath this house in New Orleans.

 

 

I was headed out to “the bayou.”    I chose as a destination an end-of-the-earth place east of New Orleans that had been named in a Bob Dylan song back in the seventies.  Yes, there is all sorts of amazing New Orleans music but this Dylan song has stuck in my head.   If you are in a hurry push forward to the 1:37 – 1:45 point in the video.

It has taken me thirty years to realize that Louisiana mostly does not have a defined coastline.    Rather than a beach that defines the end of land and the start of the Gulf of Mexico, in Louisiana the marsh gradually devolves into open water.   The amount of land lost to water over the past hundred years has been significant and it continues to erode.

My bike ride would take me downriver first through downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter, then Bywater and the lower Ninth Ward, then the suburbs of Arabi and Chalmette.   Beyond that it was a series of two lane roads that peter out into the marshes.   Press the minus sign on the map below and scan outward to look at the big picture, how the coast is disappearing.

 

New Orleans has so many historic areas that it makes my head spin.   On this trip I chose to take the less scenic but more direct route following the Mississippi along the docks on Tchoupitoulas Street.  The cranes on the right side of the picture are on ocean-going ships in the river.

 

An ignored piece of modernism is the Jackson Avenue Ferry terminal, built sometime in the sixties or seventies and abandoned when the ferry to Gretna was discontinued.    I like its style.

 

It was the beginning of Mardi Gras season.   Along Tchoupitoulas Street floats were being prepped for parades later the same day.

 

Five years ago in my blog I said that Bywater in New Orleans was the coolest place to live in America, for those to whom coolness is a factor.   It remains a nice place but soaring real estate prices have made it less accessible for struggling artists.    I still like its style.

 

 

I stopped for breakfast at this place on the Arabi / Chalmette line, near the border between New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish.    This is where the suburbs begin.

I spent some time chatting over bacon and eggs with an older guy with a distinctive accent.   He had lots of complaints about the V.A. health care system.   The New Orleans Times Picayune recently ran an article bemoaning the slow death of the New Orleans “yat” accent.   A New Orleans accent is certainly not Southern, it sounds more like Brooklyn than anything else.    As a parallel, because of its physical isolation, Long Island is culturally an intensification of working class New York City culture.  In the same way Chalmette is a prime stronghold of the “yat” accent.   Until about twenty years ago the only way in and out of Chalmette was to drive back through the New Orleans Ninth Ward.    Chalmette, like going to the swamps of Delacroix that lay past Chalmette, felt like biking to the end of the earth.

I biked through Chalmette neighborhoods with their razor straight streets.

 

New Orleans had a big influx of Italian immigrants in the first part of the twentieth century.   Rocky and Carlo’s (“Ladies Invited”)  was closed when I passed it at 9:30 AM.  New Orleans proper used to be full of reasonably priced Italian-American-Creole restaurants, where one could get an oyster poor boy but also spaghetti and meatballs.  These places are now mostly in the suburbs.   At Rocky and Carlo’s their speciality is macaroni and cheese.

Beyond Chalmette I passed the Meraux refinery.

 

Eventually things opened up as I headed east out into the bayou country.

In a few remote places of the bayou country of Louisiana there supposedly are people still speaking French.  On the other hand, in this far eastern part of Louisiana, in St. Bernard Parish,  Canary Islands Spanish of the 1700’s was spoken here until quite recently by people called Isleños.   The road passed by their graveyard that had Spanish names like Acosta, Deogracias, Gallardo, and Nunez, some with nonstandard spellings, like the name Goutierrez.

 

Past the town of Poydras there is a newer highway.   The old road, running parallel about a quarter mile south of the new highway, is refreshingly free of traffic and perfect for bicycling.     The Parish used a blunt instrument in keeping cars from using the old road as a throughway.   I easily walked the bicycle around the barriers.

 

 

Even this far south, the winter is still, well, the winter.   The temperatures were in the mid to low sixties.   This did not seem to stop these kids from swimming in the bayou.

While the map labeled certain areas as “towns,” human settlement pretty much just lined the two lane road, which followed along a bayou.   Counterintuitively, the highest ground here is along the bayous, next to the water.   This sign below was encouraging, even though I had not yet arrived at the area that the map called Delacroix.

 

The road passed by the Kenilworth plantation house, from as early as 1759.

 

Just before the area called Reggio, I passed through this huge floodgate.   Beyond I imagine there is no stopping the water in any shape or form.

 

Beyond that gate the road continued, but the water seemed even closer, the land more precarious.

Many buildings were vaulted into the sky.   I imagine Hurricane Katrina wiped out about everything else.

 

Just past Reggio I decided to turn around.

 

The road continues about eight miles further to a dead end that the map labels as Delacroix.   Years ago I went there in a car and the houses and the terrain look about the same as they do in Reggio.   I wanted to return to New Orleans at a reasonable hour.   I got back to Kirk’s in Uptown in time for the late afternoon Mardi Gras parade.