This is a story of a bicycle (Schwinn Typhoon) and a neighborhood (New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.).

I have been taking longer distance bike rides for over fifty years, starting when I was about twelve years old.   These first trips were on the bicycle I then owned, a Schwinn Typhoon. My friends and I rode to places all over Virginia Beach, especially daylong trips to rural areas like Pungo and Princess Anne Courthouse.  We called them Bike Hikes.  They always involved Twinkies from the Seven Eleven, or buying hamburgers somewhere.   Our biggest obstacle was our parents, who constantly tried to stop us from riding on two lane country roads, saying that it was toooo dangerous.

My final Bike Hike on the Schwinn Typhoon was with the late Steve “Slice” Johnson. At fourteen we both wanted a job and we both could not find one.    We had seen an ad in the newspaper for a cafeteria opening up at Military Circle Mall, just over the line into Norfolk,  fifteen miles away.   I guess we had no idea what we would do if we actually got a job there.   Anyway, the two of us biked out there fifteen miles in the July heat and interviewed for a job we did not get.   In those days we did not know anything about bike locks.    We walked outside the mall after the “interview” and the Schwinn Typhoon was gone.   Stolen.   His red Peugeot bicycle for some reason was still there.

We had to call his parents to come get us, and that was the end of my story with the Schwinn Typhoon.   The bicycle I got to replace it was my first ten speed, a much much better bicycle for my Bike Hikes.

Let’s fast forward about forty-nine years.   Tootie and I love to visit New Orleans, and we keep two bicycles in the crawl space underneath our friend’s house in Uptown.   Tootie’s bike there is an updated 1970’s Schwinn that is perfect for city cycling.  The streets of New Orleans have huge potholes and are consistently patched and bumpy.  Our other bicycle there has been an old ten speed that has always felt a little unstable in these conditions.  Several friends my age have hurt themselves recently on bicycles, and every one of these accidents involved falling after hitting obstructions in the road, like potholes or speed bumps.  I decided that at my age I needed a more stable bicycle to use on the unstable streets of New Orleans.

Miracles do happen; on Craigslist, only one block from our friend’s house, for $150.00, was a Schwinn Typhoon!   And it is in perfect shape, hardly a scratch even though it is no newer than the mid 1970’s.    This is an original Schwinn made in Chicago.   Anything made after 1982 is not an original Schwinn, it is just a brand name.   Tires were fully pumped up, it was ready to ride.   The drink coozie on the handlebars came as part of the deal.    By modern standards it is astonishingly heavy.   But that is less important because New Orleans, like Virginia Beach, has no hills!

 

The second part of my story involves the Ninth Ward, the trendier part of which is now often called Bywater.     In a recent wire story in our North Carolina newspaper I was shocked at its inclusion as one of the Best Places in America.   The Bywater, really?

 

 

When Tootie and I lived in New Orleans 1981-88 the Ninth Ward, parts of which are also called Bywater, was a source of local jokes, a working class community that was stuck in time.   Nothing more symbolized this than the weekly cartoons Vic & Nat’ly that came out Sundays in the Times-Picayune  during the 1980’s.   We still have a book of these cartoons by local artist Bunny Matthews.  The cartoons centered on an elderly couple that spoke in the neighborhood’s unique patois.  These New Orleans accents sound more Brooklyn than Southern.

Bunny’s book even has a map.  The Uptown short term rental we have currently been staying in is just above the letter E in “RIVER” in his drawing below.   The French Quarter is just to the right of the letter S in the world “NEW ORLEANS.”

 

 

On this recent early December day Tootie and I biked from our apartment to see Bywater again, and how much it had changed.    It is about five miles through solid city.    We biked through Uptown, then the Warehouse District.

At the end of Canal Street we parked the bikes in front of Harrah’s casino, to see if they had any $10.00 craps tables.

Tootie likes to play craps if the stakes are low enough.  I do not gamble.  Unfortunately the tables were $ 25.00 minimum, so we got back on the bikes and headed through the French Quarter.    As always, it is lovely.

 

 

 

We turned down Esplanade Avenue,

Then went left on Burgundy Street, taking us through Faubourg Marigny.

 

Faubourg Marigny eventually transitions into Bywater.  The Upper Ninth Ward.   There are miles of double row houses like these.

Part of the reason that the National Media might have chosen Bywater to be The Next Great Place is that young people (artists!) from all over the country have been moving here, so much so that real estate prices have zoomed up.    I theorize the real artists are already moving to the next gentrifying area of New Orleans, wherever that is.  New Orleans is big enough that for now there is always going to be a next-area-to-gentrify.    For example, are these real artists or just young people or does it matter?  What about the locals who are being priced out of their own neighborhood?  There are a lot of out-of-state license plates along these streets.

 

 

We reached the end of the line at Poland Avenue.    One cannot bike further without crossing the Industrial Canal Bridge.    The other side of that bridge is the now-famous Lower Ninth Ward, which flooded severely after Hurricane Katrina.    Tootie and I turned the bikes around and headed back towards the French Quarter.   We first looked back down Poland Avenue as it meets the Mississippi River.    Bywater is separated from the river by railroad tracks and a levee.   One forgets how close this river really is.    The Cape Kennedy shown in this photograph is a ship sitting in the river!

It was about cocktail hour and we headed towards one of our favorite bars in New Orleans, Bar Tonique on Rampart Street, on the edge of the French Quarter.   They make their own tonic for the gin and tonic.  They have an enormous selection of drinks at low prices, and a cat that sits on the bar.

 

Tootie and I have developed a rule: only drink one cocktail.    The second is never as good as the first.   We climbed back on our bicycles in the now darkness and biked back the several miles to our rental apartment.   One the way we stopped to pick up groceries at Rouse’s on Howard Avenue.

 

Yes, we made it back safely.   New Orleans has become a much more bicycle friendly place.

Hardly anybody from Chapel Hill goes to Myrtle Beach anymore.  Snobbism has taken hold.   This is too bad because Myrtle Beach can be a fascinating place, and it has a beach!   It is a string of beach towns that are marketed as The Grand Strand.  I wanted to go somewhere for one night.  In Chapel Hill the weather was going to be very cold.  I needed to drive south before I started bicycle riding.

I had considered going to more rural areas of South Carolina.  I often am in the mood for country rides on narrow South Carolina highways.   These sometimes include scary close-passing pickup trucks.  For some reason today I was not in the mood for that.

I have biked through strings of beach towns on a large portion the East Coast.  I grew up bicycling all over a beach town, Virginia Beach.  Biking in a beach town off-season is nice for two reasons:

One, if you follow the ocean it is impossible to get lost.

Two, there are usually residential street grids that follow the beach, and continue for many miles.

If you bicycle in the off-season with hardly any traffic it can be interesting, safe, and pleasant.   Longer beach rides I have done that are quite nice include Sandy Hook to Seaside Park NJ, Atlantic City to Cape May NJ,  Fernandina Beach to Jacksonville Beach to St. Augustine to Daytona Beach FL, and Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale FL.  Fort Lauderdale to Miami Beach to Homestead FL is a great bike ride but occasionally there are dicey traffic situations.   Of course bicycling from Key Largo to Key West is almost perfect, but I cannot really consider that beach town riding.

Myrtle Beach SC is only just OK for bicycling.   The Grand Strand is at least thirty miles long.   One can bicycle on long stretches of pleasant residential streets following the ocean, but these are broken up in about four places where a bicyclist has to go out to the major highway US17 for short stretches.   There are lots of workarounds, including riding briefly on the US17 sidewalk.

I drove about four hours from Chapel Hill with my new Bike Friday in the back of our Prius, and parked in a municipal boat launch in Cherry Grove Beach, about the northernmost part of the Strand.    I pulled the bicycle out.

 

I just started bicycling down the beach road, following the line of motels and summer cottages.     There was a big crowd at the Cherry Grove Fishing Pier.

 

What makes beach town cycling nice is miles and miles of roads like these.

My favorite buildings Myrtle Beach are the modernist 1950-60’s motels.  In my hometown of Virginia Beach these are more or less completely gone.   Other resort cities have chosen to highlight these places.   Apparently not here.  There are a lot left in Myrtle Beach but every year there are fewer and fewer.

 

 

 

 

 

Another one bites the dust

 

 

Anyone who wants to see more pictures of motels, look at my blog from five years ago.    Some of those motels are still here; some, sadly are not.

https://www.citybiketrips.com/category/modernist-motels

On this current trip I spent the night at the Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel.   It is quite nice and cost less than a hundred dollars, at least in November.

This was the view from my balcony.    One does not ever see that POW-MIA flag in Chapel Hill.

 

 

I ate dinner across the street at Bubba’s Fish Shack.

Although people were waiting for a table I was able to sit at the bar.

One does not see couples dressed in cammo in Chapel Hill either.

Bubba’s has good food for low prices.    Fried calamari with pepper jelly had a lot of subtlety for a dish costing only $ 6.99.

The next day I more or less doubled back the way I came, passing through downtown Myrtle Beach.

I like the vibe of older parts of Myrtle Beach.

 

For a late breakfast I sat at a Starbucks, stared out the window, and then read The New Yorker on my kindle.

I biked back to the car and was home in time for dinner.

Wilson and Rocky Mount NC are similar cities twenty miles apart.   Rocky Mount initially was based on textile manufacturing and Wilson on raw and bulk tobacco.

 

I parked the Prius in a Walmart parking lot two or three miles from downtown Wilson.

I bicycled through the more prosperous and woody residential neighborhoods on the east side of Wilson.   This house is NOT typical but I do like its style.

 

Closer to downtown the neighborhood was less upscale.  Does this count as Modernist?

 

I had no idea that this day, Saturday November 3rd, was the day of the Whirligig Festival!      A folk artist named Vollis Simpson lived near Wilson and had compulsively been creating whirligigs for years.    When he died in 2013 the city of Wilson appropriated an abandoned piece of downtown as a park for his whirligigs.   I had visited here about three years ago and the “park” did not look like much, a few whirligigs on barren dirt surrounded by vacant buildings.    It has really improved, with even a restaurant now facing the whirligigs.  While downtown Wilson is still largely vacant, this park is actually becoming a place.   There were crowds and live music this sunny Saturday.

 

 

 

I eventually got back on the bicycle and rode the twenty miles to Rocky Mount, across flat open fields, often lined by pine trees, with the occasional abandoned farm building.

 

I had visited downtown Rocky Mount two weeks earlier and it appeared even more abandoned than downtown Wilson.   I had not noticed The Prime Smokehouse, which sat on an otherwise unoccupied downtown street.   An African-American run restaurant, it has a much more varied menu than the traditional North Carolina barbecue place.   I got shredded beef sandwich and green beans.

 

After lunch I pedaled through the south side of Rocky Mount, and then back to Wilson.

I put my new bicycle in the back of the Prius and drove a hundred miles east from Chapel Hill NC to Rocky Mount NC.    I found a parking lot downtown where I could leave the car for a few hours.  There is plenty of parking in downtown Rocky Mount.

 

 

Yes, I have a new bicycle!    It is a Bike Friday made to order in Eugene, OR, somewhat like my PBW that broke in half six months ago.  I will try to be more careful this time.   On the new bike I chose an eleven speed rear cog with no front derailleur, skinny 20 x 1.1 115 psi tires with Schraeder valves, and drop down handlebars that separate into two pieces when packing the bicycle in a suitcase.   I had had it about a week when I took this ride.   It is taking me a little time to get comfortable on it.    Of course it feels much lighter and faster than the Surly Long Haul Trucker.    I will keep the Trucker for occasional use.

Rocky Mount, population 55,000, despite its name has almost no rocks or hills.   It was built at the site of one small waterfall of the Tar River, which provided power for textile mills.    It sits in the vast coastal plain of Down East.   Its downtown is quite vacant, but there are a few signs that life is springing up, here and there.

 

 

 

The NCDOT “thoughtfully” designed the principal road through downtown as a one-way, to handle the vast amount of traffic on this workweek day.   Not.

 

Two blocks over is what used to be Rocky Mount’s principal shopping street.   It sits with the main line double track New York to Florida CSX railroad running down the middle of the street.

 

 

One can travel easily north / south from Rocky Mount by rail, to places like Richmond, Washington, and New York, from a nicely restored station Amtrak station. The size of this station says that in about 1912 Rocky Mount was an important place.

 

I decided to bicycle over to Tarboro, about twenty miles to the southeast.

 

This would take me first through the south and west side of Rocky Mount.

 

Eventually I found myself on razor straight country roads.

 

 

 

I have been told that Tarboro, population 11,000, has a highfalutin sense of itself.   It is one of the prettiest towns in North Carolina.  Its newspaper, until it closed quite recently, was the Daily Southerner.   Locals will tell you that like Boston, Massachusetts, Tarboro has a Common, a parklike space in the center of town, between the residential area and the commercial strip of downtown.  Of course (of course!) there is a Civil War statue on the Common.

 

 

Downtown Tarboro does have some vacant storefronts but it certainly looks more in-use than downtown Rocky Mount.  I  had vaguely heard about a restaurant downtown called On The Square.   It was lunchtime.

At lunchtime at On The Square where one orders at the counter there was a small line of men in khaki pants.   Khaki pants are popular in The South.

Another Man in Khaki had stepped out on the sidewalk to take a call.

 

My lunch was the special of the day, ham and cheese sandwich with a side of tomato soup.   I read The New Yorker on my Kindle.

 

What else to do but bicycle back to Rocky Mount?   I took the same route, it luckily had been almost traffic-free.   That kind of bicycling route is hard to find.

 

 

On this six day jaunt myself and two friends managed to visit Richmond, Baltimore, Lancaster and Philadelphia all in a six day bicycle trip.    This trip put our relationship with our work life in focus.   Careerwise the three of us have completely different work situations.  Lyman, an architect, is proud to say he is retired.   Myself, I work,  but as little as possible.   I do not use that that R word, so I prefer to say I am head a of a small shipping company, working with my son Jack.  The Don is semi-retired, and Jack is in charge of the family business now.   I do take multiple phone calls from Jack every day.

My friend Connie is a lawyer working in Florida.  He has a big job, a partner in a law firm.     Connie would have the biggest work-related struggles on this trip.   Could he do a bike trip and still keep up with his important corporate clients?

 

Air fares to Richmond VA were quite low and Richmond is just less than three hours north on my drive up from North Carolina.  With two bicycles on the back of my Honda I picked up my two friends at the Richmond airport.    Lyman had flown in from Austin TX with his folding Bike Friday in a suitcase.   Connie had met Lyman connecting in Atlanta and they both arrived Richmond early afternoon on the same Southwest Airlines flight.   They had clearly started partying on the plane.   For a late lunch I drove them over to En Su Boca on the fringes of the Fan District in Richmond.

 

Following the plans I had made, after lunch we drove three hours up to Baltimore and stayed in a downtown Baltimore Embassy Suites.   We would leave my car in Baltimore for five  days.   I love Baltimore.   Red brick houses with white stone steps.

We set out by bicycle the next morning.   Putting our bicycles together and strapping all our gear on the back, we biked a few blocks west to a stop of the Baltimore Lightrail, for a fifteen mile train ride north.   We could just wheel the bicycles on the train.

We had considerable issues making the ticket machines work properly.

 

 

 

On the train on this Sunday morning we met interesting people.   This woman was traveling to a crab festival where she was doing volunteer work.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

We got off at the end of the line in the north Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley.    From there we would only need to bicycle about a mile or two to the start of the North Central / York County rail trail, which runs forty-one miles straight north, all the way to York, PA.

The weather was overcast, chilly and damp.

 

 

It was only predicted ten percent chance of rain but it rained anyway for at least two hours.   We had raincoats but still got wet and the bicycles were filthy.

 

We stopped for lunch at a pizza place.  The countryside was beautiful.   There were lots of hills but our path plowed right though them.

The trail passes through Howard Tunnel, in use since 1838, the second oldest rail tunnel in the U.S.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

 

 

The trail deposited us right into the middle of York PA.

We had booked a downtown Airbnb;  the downtown hotel I had stayed at in previous trips to York was closed for renovations.    York is a fading factory town.   Does it have any pizzazz left?

Small breweries now seem a key part in the revitalization of American downtowns.   York’s Gift Horse Brewing Company was in a small storefront but with a big selection, including some really creative ales.   We all three had a vanilla pumpkin porter.    The owner and brewer was staffing the bar.

Across the street is Rockfish Public House.  I did not have big expectations about the food but it was about the only restaurant choice in downtown York on a Sunday night.   But it was quite good, some of the best seafood I have had in a while.  We split an order of mussels then got a fish entree each.

 

Walking back to the Airbnb, I noticed that York continues a trend I have seen all over America.  The newest looking and and probably largest building in downtown York is a combination jail and courthouse.   Depressing.

 

It was cold walking in the dark.   Our Airbnb was the rear of the ground floor on the row house in the center.

 

I know Connie likes to wake up early.   At about 6:15 AM he was hard at work on legal documents.

At about 8:30 AM he was still hard at work.   His ability to focus is impressive.

We prepared to push off.    Our destination this day would be Lancaster PA.  In the backyard of our Airbnb in York Connie was doing some warmup exercises.

We biked through York.    I like coming here because it looks so different from North Carolina.

 

Once out of town it was pleasant cycling over rolling hills, on a lightly trafficked highway with a wide shoulder.

Connie commented that he did not realize how big the Susquehanna River is.

Soon after crossing the river Connie ran over a large screw which not only gave him a flat, but pretty much destroyed the tire.   You could see a flathead screw sticking out!   We always carry spare tubes and a pump but were not prepared for the failure of the tire itself.

 

Connie has done a lot of bicycle touring, he knew what he was doing.

photo by Lyman Labry

Luckily we were able to triage the tire enough that we could bicycle four miles to a bike shop.   The staff at Trek Bicycle Lancaster were quite gregarious and we ended up buying all sorts of stuff!

 

John Dunkle has been my friend for thirty years.   Our children grew up together in Carrboro/Chapel Hill.  We have always played music together.   In the last five years he has returned to his hometown of Lancaster PA.   His profession is home renovation, and he and wife Suzanne purchased a large house just outside of town.  They have fixed it up and run part of it as an Airbnb.   We arrived in the afternoon just in time to avoid the rain, and circled around to the back entrance.

 

 

John and I played some music, he showed me some of the new songs he has written.  In his early sixties he is at the top of his musical game.    He use to be just a harmonica player.  The singing and the guitar and the songwriting have all come in the last ten years.    

 

 

 

That evening after dinner John walked us around the older inner city part of Lancaster.   He plays in several music groups and has connected with the arts community in Lancaster.  Lancaster Marionette Theater had no show that evening when we walked by.  John told us he had gone to high school with the puppeteer.   John explained that the theater is on the ground floor,  the puppeteer’s mother (and the ticket taker) lives on the second floor, and the puppeteer lives on the third floor.   John called the puppeteer on his cell phone.  The guy sheepishly waved at the four of us down at street level.

 

 

 

I had not seen it when the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote a long article back in July 2018 about Lancaster, how it is an example of a fading factory town coming together and bipartisanly picking itself up by its bootstraps, much more than have nearby and similar sized York, Harrisburg, or Reading.    Lancaster encourages things like the Marionette Theater.  Energetic people like John Dunkle are moving here.  Things do seem to be happening. I would add that one key advantage is that Lancaster is on a main Amtrak line; it has about ten direct trains daily to Philadelphia and New York City.

We now had two days to bicycle the eighty miles from Lancaster to Philadelphia.  Connie was up early doing legal work on his computer.   John and Suzanne fixed us a nice breakfast before we pushed off.   Pretty much this whole day was through Amish and Mennonite country, lovely farm vistas.

 

 

 

photo by Lyman Labry

We passed by an apparent Amish school.   There were no cars parked here but school was in session.  Everybody including the teachers apparently got there on foot or by bicycle.

 

We passed through various small towns.

Biking into Coatesville we first biked past a huge steel works which looks mostly abandoned.      We all separately came to the same conclusion: “Deer Hunter.”

 

It was lunchtime, we had been bicycling all morning and we really needed to sit down and eat.   The population of Coatesville looks poor,  mostly African-American and Hispanic.   Restaurants all seemed take-out only.    We finally found a place that let us set up camp in the back.     We had extremely low expectations but the chicken and/or ham sandwiches were quite good, sort of one’s ideal Subway sandwich, in a store that looked vaguely Hispanic.

 

 

 

Connie had several important sounding work phone calls, he walked around on the sidewalk in front of our take-out joint, talking legalese.

 

After a few more miles of cycling, we spent that night at a Holiday Inn Express in the center of a complex of huge parking lots and strip malls in Exton PA.   Walmart was nearby.   Luckily there was a chain tap room and restaurant next door, within walking distance.    I took Lyman’s picture as we left to go eat.

 

The cycling the next day was almost entirely on flat paved rail trails.   Coming from several different points, the last thirty or forty miles into Philadelphia from the west is one of my favorite urban bicycling situations in America.    From Exton we first cycled on the Chester Valley Trail for about twelve miles.

 

We then cut through some neighborhoods.

We cycled across Valley Forge National Historical Park, on narrow bike paths.

 

I now realize why General Washington camped out in Valley Forge: it does not look like a valley at all, rather it is the highest point in the area, one that would be militarily advantageous.  About the time the three of us biked to the top of the hill, Connie received an important work phone call from, I kid you not, Sao Paulo, Brazil.     Lyman and I stood around and enjoyed the view while Connie took his call.

The Valley Forge park overlooks the Schuylkill River.    There is a beautiful new bicycle / rail trail bridge across that river.

 

From this point the Schuylkill River Trail goes nineteen miles along the Schuylkill River, all the way to Center City Philadelphia.   There is no car traffic and it is a near-perfect paved path.

 

Philadelphia has great restaurants.   As we got into the city we pulled off the trail and found a noodle place, run almost entirely by one Japanese-looking guy.

The bike path delivered us right into the city.   To get to our Airbnb in the Spring Garden neighborhood we got off the bike path where it runs by the big art museum.

That evening we walked from our Airbnb to our friends Colleen and Dev’s home, carrying bottles of wine as gifts for our hosts.   Philadelphia is a sea of row houses.

 

 

 

Colleen and Dev have moved to one of these Philadelphia row houses from Durham NC just in the past year after Dev got a really good job in the New Jersey suburbs.  They cooked us an amazing meal.

 

The neighborhood has all sorts of walkable places, including an Irish bar called The Black Taxi about fifty feet away.    After dinner we walked over for a nightcap.

 

The next morning we bicycled the mile or two from our Airbnb to 30th Street Station, for the Amtrak back to Baltimore.    Out of about fifteen trains a day in the Northeast Corridor, only two or three allow a standard bicycle loose and unboxed.   The art deco station is beautiful.

 

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

The train to Baltimore took a little more than an hour.

We bicycled the two or three miles from Baltimore Penn Station to my parked car.

 

We put all the bicycles on and in my car and drove three hours south to Richmond VA, getting to Richmond about lunchtime.   Connie was flying home that afternoon; his job needed attention.

Lyman and I spent the night at an Airbnb in the Fan District of Richmond.   We bicycled around the next morning before both heading home.

Monument Avenue in Richmond is a beautiful street, late nineteenth century design, major monuments every few blocks.   Some monuments are more offensive than others. This is General Lee.

 

The Jefferson Davis monument is positively unforgivable in the modern era.   I find it offensive.

 

 

Richmond has miles of row houses.

 

It has a state capital building designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Lyman had been told to look for this in Richmond, a unique inner city overpass in Shockoe Bottom,  where four modes of transportation cross at the same place, a canal, two railroads, two highways, and a pedestrian path.

 

 

 

 

 

I have been married to Tootie for thirty-five years.  I have been to her hometown of Winston-Salem (twin city!) more times than I can count.  I can honestly say it is almost a second or third home to me.

Everything I ever did in Winston-Salem was on the west side.  Everything.  The west side is a land of surburban houses, Whole Foods Market, Wake Forest University, golf courses, and country clubs.  I have always thought that Winston-Salem is one of the most segregated cities I have ever visited.   Not everyone on the west side is rich, far from it.   And clearly not everyone on the east side is African-American and poor either.   But there seems to be a huge cultural gap.

Winston-Salem has been recently successful with Wake Forest University in turning a huge former tobacco factory on the east side of downtown into a center for biotechnology, a sort of urban Research Triangle Park.   I wanted to bicycle around this redeveloped neighborhood.   But first I would bicycle south of downtown, an area I really had never visited.

The historically African-American Winston-Salem State University is on the southeast side of downtown.  I had never seen any part of it, not even on a drive-by.  This Wednesday afternoon I parked the car in student parking, pulled out my bicycle, and started riding.  The tall buildings of downtown were visible in the distance.

 

I biked off heading south, passing through the campus.

 

If you go down a steep hill from WS State you can get on Salem Creek Greenway.

I biked west down the greenway for a mile or two before turning south on Main Street, which is also called Old US 52.

 

In the area south of NC School of the Arts was an attractive early twentieth century neighborhood I had never seen before.

From there I decided I would bike fifteen miles south to the town of Welcome NC, where the map indicated some kind of stock car racing museum.   I would have to check it out.

On Old Highway 52 there were well-preserved pre-WWII gas stations.

The further out I biked from Winston-Salem the more I felt I was leaving one planet and arriving at the next.   Increasingly the traffic passing me was predominantly pickup trucks.

This guy’s boat has twin banners, a blue TRUMP, and the Confederate stars and bars

 

I realized several years ago that some of the best museum experiences in America are in privately owned and operated museums.   I recommend always stopping and visiting these places, even if you do not think you have an interest in their subject.   These museums frequently display a passion not always present in a public museum.   (Tip: go visit the Hank Williams museum in Montgomery Alabama.)   For some people Richard Childress is a big deal, a huge player in the stock car world.   I confess I had never heard of him.  His Wikipedia page describes him as “one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina.”   I do not follow stock car racing.   To me the word “racing” means high school cross country running, or horse racing.   But in Welcome NC “racing” means stock car racing.    With the over 55 discount I paid $8.50 to visit the Richard Childress Racing Museum in Welcome NC.  The young women at the front desk were friendly and helpful.

There were dozens of actual racing cars artfully arranged.

 

 

Except for one elderly couple I was the only visitor on this weekday.

 

Even more, uh, interesting was the other stuff.   Richard’s former office was on display.

 

There were two or three rooms just to display all the animals that Richard Childress had killed.

 

There was his tribute to the NRA.

And of course, what stock car museum is not complete without a display honoring the music of Brooks & Dunne?

I had wandered around this surprisingly large space for almost an hour.   I had to get out of this place.    I got on the bicycle and headed back towards Winston-Salem, looking for a place to eat lunch.

In about seven miles was Cagney’s Kitchen.

It is a popular place.

 

Meat loaf, mashed potatoes, green beens, one quarter sweet tea.  The meat loaf was a little too soft and chewy for my taste.

 

All along Old US52 are prime examples of bungalow architecture.

 

 

 

A rounded top building, the tallest in the Winston-Salem skyline, was built as Wachovia Bank headquarters just before management sold out and moved to Charlotte in 2001.    As I approached the city on South Main Street / Old US 52 I could see the Big Penis rising off in the distance.

 

 

 

Just before downtown I biked up a steep hill through Old Salem.   Yes, it is wonderful that they preserved buildings dating back to the late 1700’s.  But these buildings should be used in a modern context.   Maybe it is because my parents were always dragging me to Colonial Williamsburg as a kid, but trying to re-create the year 1800 in exact detail gives me the creeps.

 

 

 

I biked through downtown, looking for a place to get a coffee.    I love the look of the Nissen Building.   It has nothing to do with the Japanese.   Nissen, based in Winston-Salem, was one of the country’s largest wagon manufacturers.   The Nissens managed to sell off the wagon business in 1925 before the Depression, and built this office building in 1926-27 with the proceeds.   The building was recently renovated into apartments.

I found the coffee shop Sweet Aromaz on Trade Street.  It makes a decent oat milk latte.    I sat around, read my Kindle, and soaked up the vibe.

I had read about Innovation Quarter in an article I read about two years ago in Politico Magazine.   The headline was How Tech helped Winston-Salem Quit Tobacco.   The North Carolina city was once a major producer of cigarettes in the country; now it’s manufacturing human organs.   The article describes how a group of influential people of Winston-Salem were watching their city decline economically.   They put aside their personal differences and worked with Wake Forest University to create this technology center.

More than fifty years ago in another part of North Carolina 100 miles east of Winston-Salem, locals changed the world by creating Research Triangle Park.  Research Triangle Park sold itself for its rural nature, a high tech campus in the piney woods surrounded by major universities.   Their first big client was IBM.  While that was all a big success, tech firms in 2018 want a more urban setting.   Young technical talent now want to live in cities.

https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/10/winston-salem-technology-tobacco-town-214377

While there was not a lot of street life on this weekday, and there are huge surface parking lots,  Innovation Quarter still looks like an impressive achievement.

 

 

 

 

I loaded the Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycle in the back of our inherited 2005 Toyota Prius and started driving north and northwest from Chapel Hill at 6:45 AM.     I had plotted that I could drive on Interstate highway all the way to Wheeling, West Virginia in about seven hours, mostly on I-77.     About an hour into the drive, somewhere near Winston-Salem, not using the brakes,  I noticed that a bunch of warning lights were on; how long had these been on?   BRAKE / ABS / VSC, what does that mean?

I got off the highway and pulled the owner’s manual out of the glovebox.    The instructions for each of these lights was pull over to a safe place, stop the car, and call your Toyota dealer.    The warning lights were something to do with the brakes.    The brakes seemed to work fine.  On the Interstate I would hardly use the brakes at all.   It was a Saturday morning, if I turned the car around now my trip would have to be cancelled.   What would I need brakes for?   So I crossed my fingers and drove on.   (Spoiler:   I completed the bicycle ride and drove back home three days later with these warning lights still on.    I dropped off the car at Auto Logic near my house in Chapel Hill.  It is an expensive problem with the ABS anti-lock braking system, not the brakes themselves.)

 

 

Founded as a frontier outpost of the state of Virginia on the Ohio River in the 1769, Wheeling is across that river from the state of Ohio and only eleven miles from Pennsylvania.   Today it clearly it is more tied to the Pittsburgh area than the rest of West Virginia.   I drove around the Wheeling Island neighborhood looking for a place to park the car for a few days.    This spot looked as good as any.

 

It was across the street from a Chinese restaurant.

Wheeling is a place of faded glory.  Its current population is 27,000,  fewer than the 30,000 who lived here in 1880, and much fewer than the 62,000 in 1930.   I first biked around Wheeling Island, which sits opposite downtown.

 

 

 

 

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge crossing the Ohio River from Wheeling Island to downtown Wheeling was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1849.    I am amazed that it still allows cars to cross.

 

 

Downtown Wheeling is largely abandoned, with a few spots of life.

 

 

 

 

I biked around downtown a little before heading north along the Ohio River, on the West Virginia side.   There were more older residential areas.   In this one block these houses are stunning.

 

Other areas looked a little worse for wear.

 

 

 

Eventually the city thinned out and I was heading north along the Ohio River, pointing towards the similar city of Steubenville, Ohio.   I had not planned on it but found a delightful bicycle trail along the river almost all of the twenty five miles from Wheeling to Steubenville.

 

 

I passed through a couple of small towns.   These people gathered in a Baptist church parking lot.

 

 

Arriving into Steubenville, I bicycled back across the Ohio River.

Forty-four years ago in the early seventies when I was about nineteen years old I worked as a bellhop at Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in Virginia Beach.   A desk clerk named Bob was older, maybe twenty five, higher in the pecking order and thus something of an authority figure.   He told me numerous times he had grown up in a place that I succinctly remember him describing as “the armpit of America”; Steubenville Ohio.   He said it was the worst place in the United States.   I have had that memory stuck in my head all these years; now I could cross this bridge and see what it would be like.

Like Wheeling, the downtown was mostly abandoned.

 

 

 

Further on there were attractive nineteenth century homes in a leafy neighborhood north of downtown, other than some of the houses were boarded up.    There is one bed and breakfast there and surprisingly they told me over the phone that they were full.   I would have to find lodging elsewhere.

The decrepit downtown sits near the river and behind it a steep hill rises to newer neighborhoods.    Most likely Steubenville’s one growth industry in 2018 is Franciscan University, a two thousand student Catholic college apparently specializing in religious conservatism.   It is in a suburban location halfway up that steep hill.   I spent the night at a brand new Best Western that sits opposite the college.   The Best Western must have been co-sponsored by the college as there were religious slogans on the walls.

In the strip mall by the Best Western there was a pizza place.   I walked over to check it out and I just could not get excited about eating there.   I could do better, I thought, as my map indicated a nicer sounding Italian restaurant called Scaffidi’s in the newer part of Steubenville.   To get there I would have to bike up the steep hill in near darkness, circle through some neighborhoods, and then after dinner bike back to the motel in complete darkness.   Sure, why not?

I had showered and changed clothes at the motel.    At least there was a sidewalk to bicycle on when biking up and down that steep hill as it was just starting to get dark.

 

 

At the top of the hill I turned left and biked through neighborhoods for about a mile.

 

 

The restaurant was at the back of a strip mall.

 

 

 

I sat at the bar with a bunch of other old guys.  The one next to me was talking to various friends about his upcoming 1970’s high school reunion.   He seemed like someone who had lived in this town all his life.

One key difference between Steubenville and my usual part of America is the price.    The lasagna for $ 9.95 includes first course choice of soup or salad; the wedding soup seemed homemade.    Wine is $ 5.50 a glass.

 

 

It was all delicious and I enjoyed just sitting there awhile, soaking up the atmosphere.  I eventually climbed back on the bicycle in the dark and headed back to the motel.   I stopped along the way in a neighborhood just to stand there and feel the night.

The next morning I checked out of the motel and continued my ride.   My original plan had been to bike along the Ohio River.    On Google Maps this morning I discovered a rail trail starting just across the river from Steubenville that extended east away from the river, straight across the foothills for 29 miles, two thirds of the way to Pittsburgh.    It seemed too good to pass up.   I emailed Airbnb to book a low cost place that evening in Pittsburgh.

To get to the bike path, I first biked back across the Ohio River and through the grimy industrial town of Weirton, West Virginia.

 

The Panhandle Trail is a delight.   The West Virginia portion is gravel.

 

About the time it crosses into Pennsylvania it becomes paved.

 

 

 

 

Further on it passes through small towns.

 

 

It was all good, and the trail ended just before the Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie.   It was 1:00 PM on a Sunday, time for lunch.

LeoGreta in the rough looking town of Carnegie is a fancy place, but the gourmet-ish roast beef sandwich is a good deal at $10.00.   It was garnished with pieces of pickled cauliflower.

 

After Carnegie it was biking on city streets for ten miles further into Pittsburgh.   There were a lot of steep hills.

 

My  Airbnb was in a neighborhood called Mexican War Streets, because the streets are all named after battles in the 1835 Mexican War.   I find WMS attractive because it is clearly gentrified but also still partly working class and African-American as well.   It is beautiful nineteenth century housing, close to downtown, but in the un-cool direction from downtown, not near the other more upscale areas of Pittsburgh.

There is street after street of unspoiled mid-nineteenth century row houses.

 

My Airbnb was on Alpine Street, near the top of the hill.   It is the house on the left shown below, the house before the striped awning.   Room with a private entrance and bath, $54.00 including tax.

 

The MWS neighborhood still has space for the artsy and the weird, like Randyland, whatever this is.

 

I ate that night at a newer food court called Federal Gallery.   Nice setup, a shared bar area surrounded by four or five independent food vendors.    This ambitious dish was invented by the chef who cooked it, a young man who was happy to talk with me about it.    Blackened swordfish in a tomato broth with fresh corn, sausage, and tomatoes.

 

I walked back to the Airbnb in the dark.   It felt much safer than this photo seems to suggest.

 

It had been a fascinating two days but I decided to cut the trip because hard rain was predicted for the next three days.    The rain did not start before I was able to bike around Pittsburgh for a couple hours in the morning.   I would the pick up a one-way rental car in downtown Pittsburgh to drive back to Wheeling.

I had to cycle through all sorts of clutter to get the half mile down the hill to the riverfront.   There were other bicyclists as well.

 

 

Because it is at the juncture of three rivers, there is a lot of riverfront in Pittsburgh.  I followed a bike path up the Allegheny River for about eight miles.   Steep cliffs soared above the riverside.

The paved bike path eventually turned into gravel, then into double track.

 

The double track turned into single track.

 

I really thought this path would go all the way to the town of Sharpsburg, but the path just stopped.  I had to turn around and go back the way I came.

I bicycled through a Pittsburgh neighborhood called the Strip District, then into downtown.   These 1960’s parking garages were interesting.

I had heard that Pittsburgh was ground zero for testing of self-driving cars.   On at least three occasions I saw these blue Fords.   They went by so fast I was not able to see if any person was in the car or not.

 

The young woman at Enterprise in downtown Pittsburgh was helpful.  Wheeling WV must not have a great reputation around here as she snickered when I said where I was going.   She helpfully and for no extra charge gave me a minivan so I would not have to take the bicycle apart.

 

An hour or two later I turned in the car at Enterprise in downtown Wheeling.  Wheeling is one of the poorest looking American cities I have ever visited, yet on the street downtown was a group holding out buckets to collect money for the Red Cross, to donate to my home state of North Carolina that had been devastated by a hurricane.

I dropped a ten dollar bill into a guy’s bucket, then bicycled back across Wheeling Suspension Bridge to my car, for the drive home to North Carolina.  It was just starting to rain.