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.

I wanted to leave my house and bicycle somewhere, but had no idea where to go or when to go there.  I had no agenda.  Early Sunday morning I just left, by bicycle.   Just in case, I took along my bicycle “trunk bag” with one night’s change of clothes, in case I wanted to spend the night someplace.

Tootie was reading the paper when I left the apartment about 7:45 AM

 

I keep my bicycle in a rack on level P1 of our condo building Greenbridge.

I looked back at the building from the street.    Our apartment is on the top level of the tower on the left, at the center of the photograph.

 

For those of you not from Chapel Hill, it is a relatively nice town.   The main drag is Franklin Street, which looked really empty on this Sunday morning.

One block later Franklin Street passes along the northern boundary of the University of North Carolina campus.

Until two weeks ago, a statue colloquially known as Silent Sam had stood about thirty feet to the right of the above photo.   Put up in 1913, it is of a Civil War Confederate soldier.  To quote my friend Andy Jones:  Silent Sam…was never silent. He shouted at every person of color that walked onto that campus. The photograph below is taken from Wikipedia.

 

A large group of students and others surrounded Sam three weeks ago and pulled him down.     The Republican appointed University administration does not know what to do about the situation; it is currently dithering.   On this Sunday morning I biked by Sam’s pedestal.

 

 

There had been a small riot here just the night before, two weeks after the initial tearing down.  Hundreds of anti-Sam demonstrators seemed to be picking a fight with scores of police who were protecting a tiny group of Rebel flag carrying pro-Sam demonstrators.    Sam has been controversial for years; I am not sure what there is to demonstrate for or against since Sam is gone.  I cannot image the riot that would ensue if they tried to put him back up.

At 8:00 AM the morning after the police were still here.

 

Just a few hundred hards away I passed by Old East, from 1793, the oldest state university building in America, and Old West, from 1822.

 

Lacking somewhere else to go, pointed the bicycle towards Raleigh, about thirty miles to the southeast.   After descending the hill which Chapel Hill sits on, there is a bike path along NC 54.

 

I turned down Barbee Chapel Road.

I have bicycled past this house on Stagecoach Road many times.  The house is hidden behind a fence.   The house and compound are less than ten years old, fronted by a yard much larger than is shown in this picture.     There are other large outbuildings in the same Gone With The Wind style.   I got off the bicycle, walked up to the fence, and raised the camera over my head to take this picture.    There are so many liberals in Chapel Hill and Durham that this guy must feel insecure.    Back in 2016 he had huge Trump signs on his fence.

I eventually ended up on the American Tobacco Trail greenway.

 

I could have taken the Tobacco Trail much further but instead I headed off towards Raleigh, weaving through miles and miles of subdivisions.   Many but not all are in the city of Cary.

This looks like Georgetown but these houses are less than ten years old, built on former scrub woods and abandoned tobacco farms.

The newer neighborhoods of Cary are a lot more multicultural than Chapel Hill or even Durham.    I stopped in a Starbucks to refuel and about half the people in there were Asian.

 

Later on I was weaving through this neighborhood of expensive tract mansions and these two dark complexioned women were speaking a language I could not recognize.

 

 

I crossed over NC 540, an almost new toll road to nowhere.   The road was recently written up as being “successful” in that it the tiny levels of traffic were still enough for it to make its bond payments.

 

On the western edge of the Raleigh city limits I biked by the state fairgrounds, including Dorton Arena, a modernist gem from 1952.   I was disappointed with the photo I took so I lifted this one from Wikipedia.

 

I was early for lunch but one should never pass by really good food.   Neomonde Bakery, near Meredith College in Raleigh, has the best Middle Eastern food in the Triangle.    Hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed grape leaves, pita bread, and tabouli salad all exuded freshness.

 

What to do now?   I spent quite a while lingering over my lunch and reading The New York Times on my I-phone.   It was already thirty miles back to Chapel Hill.   Should I keep going further on?  Naah.

I left Neomonde and biked back to Chapel Hill.

 

 

Chapel Hill is not exactly sea level but it is near enough to sea level that the heat of the summer is oppressive.   There is a reason the wealthy used to spend months “summering” in The Mountains.  (Some still do!).    Elevation cures the illness of hot weather.  Because we could not really go outside here in Chapel Hill,  Tootie and I went to the mountains for one night.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the great bicycle rides in America.  However, to spend the night or even eat a meal,  a cyclist almost always has to descend about a thousand feet to a town of a much lower altitude.   At an elevation of 3500′ Little Switzerland NC is one of the very few spots on the entire 469 mile long Parkway where a bicyclist can stop, spend the night and have dinner right on the Parkway.   Neither of us had ever been to Little Switzerland before so we wanted to see what it was like.

This would be an up and back one night bike trip.   Leaving early, we drove our Prius three and a half hours to the Parkway and then up to an elevation of about 4000 feet, a spot on the Parkway near the town of Linville Falls.  We parked in a place that looked reasonably legal to leave our car for twenty-four hours.   We unloaded and headed out by bicycle, carrying with us all the luggage we would needed for one night and to have a picnic lunch along the way.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway in the summer is glorious.    Even at this peak season there is not that much car traffic.   The weather was sunny but refreshing, with temperatures in the seventies.

 

 

 

At lunchtime we could not find a picnic table so we ate while sitting on a guard rail.

 

Two or three hours after starting we pulled into the Switzerland Inn where we had made a reservation.

 

I really like this place.    Clean rooms, lovely view, good food, even a decent bar scene. They have lawn games out front.    A nice cross section of America was staying there, including a sizable contingent of sixty-something motorcyclists.

 

When there is a view this big everybody just stares at it.

 

 

We walked around.   Dinner that evening was really old school; we split a $ 33.00 chunk of meat entitled “King Cut Prime Rib au jus 14 0z.”    Delicious.

The next day we bicycled back to the car.     The views were stunning.

 

The Parkway went up and down, but the last seven miles were straight uphill from 2700′ to 4000′.   Tootie is turning sixty in a few months and she does not bicycle all that much.  She was very proud to have completed such a sizable climb!

 

 

 

I drove up to Danville VA on a recent Thursday, just to get out of town and to see somewhere that feels different from North Carolina.    Danville is only fifty-five miles north of Chapel Hill and I can drive there on two lane roads in about an hour.     The city limits of Danville abut the North Carolina / Virginia line.

About a hundred yards into Virginia I parked the Prius and took the Surly out of the trunk.

 

I have bicycled around Danville several times before, including about a year ago when Tootie and I drove up to Danville on a Sunday morning and then bicycled around, a trip that was not previously mentioned on this blog.  On that other trip over a year ago, Tootie and I both were temporarily insane (judgmentally challenged!) for about two hours.

We were so taken by the lovely large old houses in Danville, and their low prices, that we decided we needed to buy one.    We live in a condo in Chapel Hill on the seventh floor.   Like many people our age, we fantasize about moving somewhere or buying a second home somewhere.   Why not, instead of a beach house or a mountain house, why not buy a Danville Virginia house?   We could invite all our Chapel Hill friends and family up for long weekends!   We could host dinner parties in Danville!

OK,  we were temporarily insane.   We got over the idea.   On this current trip I did not really dream of buying Danville real estate, but I did enjoy biking around Danville and its several distinct historic neighborhoods.

While Danville is north of Greensboro and Durham, North Carolina, it is much more Southern than either of those places.   Danville had enormous textile mills that have pretty much all closed.  Danville has a significant wholesale raw tobacco business;  this too has declined.  Danville has not boomed like the nearby Triangle cities in North Carolina.   In 1920 Durham, Raleigh, and Danville were about the same population at about 21,000 each.    Now Durham is 260,000, Raleigh 465,000, but Danville is now just 43,000.

I biked from the Food Lion down a steep hill.  Danville is full of steep hills.   To get off the main road, I bicycled first through a poor neighborhood.

 

 

 

Coming up from the south, I then biked into a previously wealthy neighborhood that is  remarkably intact.   I would call this the southeast side of town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This red brick house is for sale, $ 154,900 for 4376 square feet, seven bedrooms, five baths,  and it looks to be in pretty nice shape.

check out the real estate listing.

https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Danville-VA/79104692_zpid/31172_rid/globalrelevanceex_sort/36.58504,-79.396794,36.578165,-79.405355_rect/16_zm/

Just north of this neighborhood is the downtown, then a warehouse district.   Five or ten years ago most of these brick warehouses were empty, now they are slowly coming to life.   It is certainly not hipsterville but it is making progress.

 

 

 

 

Five years ago I would not have believed that Danville would have a coffee house.   They do not have Starbucks yet, but they do have the Crema and Vine.  I stopped for my afternoon latte.

 

I bicycled across the Dan River and through hilly middle and lower income neighborhoods on the other side.

I like mini-golf, which is easier to play than the real thing.  This place looks really old school.  I wish I had had someone to play with.

 

 

Back on the south side, I bicycled across a steep ravine to the relatively prosperous west side of Danville, the area near Averitt University.   This is another historic neighborhood.

 

Further west is what remains of the huge Schoolfield textile mill of Dan River Inc.    This is what it looked like back in the day.Image result for schoolfield mill

 

It closed in 2006 and was sold off brick by brick; the used bricks being one of the few things of value.    They left one concrete building and the smokestacks.

Whatever I was going to find on this bike ride, one thing was almost certain:  the temperatures would be cooler than North Carolina.   It seemed like a no-brainer.

My idea for this trip would be to bicycle from Chicago to Cleveland, a distance of about 400 miles.    My good friends Jan and Gordon live near Cleveland.  It would take me about a week.

 

As some of my readers know,  my folding bicycle broke in half back in April, with me on it.   I have needed since then to recover from my injuries.  Yes, yes, I will be buying a new bicycle, probably a folding one.   But I could not seem to make a decision.  There are so many choices…

Meanwhile, I had also managed to drop my six year-old camera just enough times to make it unusable.   For some reason I felt more excited about spending money on a camera than a bicycle.  I put off a new bicycle for a while and spent $950.00 on this Sony RX-100V.   It is small, has a very good German lens, has lots of up to date electronics, and I can pull it from my handlebar bag, turn it on,  and take a picture all with one hand.  I would no longer have to use two hands to take off a lens cap or log into a cell phone while on a moving bicycle.    The salesman in the DC camera store said he uses this same camera to take pictures while motorcycling full speed!

 

For this trip I would use my existing backup bicycle, the Surly Long Haul Trucker.   It is sturdy and stable but really heavy.  I had no alternative so it would have to do.  My friend Tom was driving from Florida to Wisconsin and he graciously agreed to transport me and the bicycle from North Carolina to Chicago.   Just before leaving I loaded it up and checked it out in the stairwell of the seventh floor of Greenbridge,  Chapel Hill NC.

 

I saved Tom some mileage by riding Amtrak from Durham to Charlotte.   Tootie offered to drive me the twelve miles to the Durham Amtrak station,  but I insisted on bicycling there.  North Carolina intra-state Amtrak uses its own refurbished 1940’s rail cars that are nicer than the normal Amtrak.   Even at twenty-five years on their second life, they do not seem old.

 

 

North Carolina Amtrak also has a nice no-extra charge bicycle carrying service, you just hand your bicycle to the guy in the baggage car.   At destination, in Charlotte, I walked up and he just handed it down to me.   The rest of Amtrak does NOT operate as easily as this.

I bicycled a mile or two over to I-77 in Charlotte, where Tom pulled his car over at a downtown exit.    Driving up to Chicago we stopped for a delightful two day visit with our friends Dave and Gail in the cool Virginia mountains near Blacksburg.     We eventually arrived the Chicago area in late afternoon rush hour traffic.  To minimize the traffic and help Tom get moving to Wisconsin, he dropped me off in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst IL, about twelve miles from the Chicago Loop.   He and his dog Frida posed for pictures with my bicycle.

 

 

And he took a picture of me.

 

He drove off.    I bicycled about a mile to the Elmhurst Metra station, of the Chicago-area commuter rail system.  I could wheel my bicycle onto the lower level of the double decker cars.  It took about half an hour to go downtown to Union Station.

 

On arrival I walked the bicycle through a glittery Union Station and out to the street.

I do not know a huge amount about Chicago.   I had bicycled through the more prosperous north side on previous trips.   My cycle route this time headed south.  During the car ride I had found on my phone an Airbnb for less than a hundred dollars total, on the north side of the south side, near what they called Little Italy.

It would be about a five mile late afternoon bike ride from Union Station to the Airbnb.   Starting out there was a bike path along Clinton Street going south.

Chicago has lovely buildings.

 

Eventually the neighborhoods got more residential and lower rise, and more Hispanic.   I bicycled under an elevated rail line.

 

My Airbnb was to be in a couple’s two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of this house.

 

At first I was taken aback by the messiness and lack of privacy, but it was fine, sort of like being the young couple’s actual guest.   The woman worked in academia, there were leftist and environmentalist posters on the walls.   My bearded host cordially offered me breakfast the next day (“You want some cereal?  We have blueberries in the fridge.”).

Despite the current Hispanic vibe of the neighborhood, the one-block Little Italy really was just around the corner, where I went looking for dinner on this Monday night.    There were three Italian restaurants all in the same block.

 

I chose Bruna’s, at the end of the block.   The interior was dark, really old school.   There were just three or so other tables with people eating.

I got a radicchio salad followed by delicious lobster ravioli.

 

For dessert I got a Sambuca.

I left the restaurant about 9:00 PM as it was starting to get dark.

I walked around the neighborhood.

 

 

Back in my bedroom I turned off the noisy air conditioner and opened the window.  The next morning I enjoyed my bowl of cereal with blueberries.   I bid farewell to my host couple and bicycled off into the huge area which comprises Chicago.    It would be about three miles east to the bike path along the lakefront.  I gently weaved through residential streets.   I saw a fair number of other bicyclists.

 

 

Just before the lakefront I could see the tall buildings of the Loop, as seen from the south.

 

 

I biked under a couple pedestrian underpasses, and I arrived at the bike trail that goes north-south along the lake.   This is looking left, looking north, although I was turning right.

This is the view looking back north, after I had biked a mile or two.

I had worried about bicycling south from downtown Chicago, as the South Side is currently, in parts, the Murder Capital of America.   Taking cues from the book  ‘Round Lake Michigan, a Bicyclist’s Tour Guide by Harvey Botzman, I bicycled mostly along the lakefront bike trail, then along streets in the very southeast part of the city.   It was fine, I never felt out of place.  I did not even have to ride in especially heavy car traffic.

Some of the way the bike path was between a freeway and Lake Michigan.

 

After the lakefront trail ended I followed a series of streets and bike paths.   These houses built on narrow lots look uniquely Chicago.

 

There clearly used to be a lot of heavy industry along this lakefront.   Some of the land is completely cleared; there are miles of essentially vacant land, especially in the southeastern part of Chicago as it blends into Hammond and Gary, Indiana.   In parts there are bike paths heading north / south.

I crossed the Illinois / Indiana state line near Hammond.   Hammond did have some modernist touches here and there.

 

But downtown Hammond looked pretty rough.   I looked like one of those cities such as Trenton NJ or Bridgeport CT, where the middle class has completely fled and there are huge vacant areas.

 

I hadn’t decided whether to continue ten miles east to even poorer Gary, Indiana.    My decision was made when I saw how nice the Erie Lackawanna trail was.  The trail heads off from downtown Hammond going southeast and skirts south of Gary.   I would have to skip the birthplace of Michael Jackson and the subject of that catchy song in The Music Man.   I guess I had already seen enough poverty.

 

As the suburbs got more prosperous the trail became better maintained.

Right on this rail trail was the story of American slash and burn urbanism.  It says something about race and class in this country.   Just a few miles south and east of the essentially abandoned cities of Hammond and Gary, new neighborhoods were being constructed in former cornfields.

 

I had bicycled thirty-something miles already and had not had lunch.  In what seemed the middle of nowhere, in a new-something looking strip mall, was The Toast and Jam.  At 12:30 on a Tuesday, you had to wait in line for a table.   There were religious signs on the walls.  The food was quite good, bacon and something on rye.

 

 

 

I still had about twenty miles to reach Valparaiso IN, which I knew had motels.   Part of the way I bicycled on this major highway.    Because the shoulder was so wide it was not particularly unsafe, but it certainly was not pleasant.

I found a quite nice chain motel in Valparaiso and later biked into town for dinner.   Stacks Bar and Grill was certainly the busiest spot on a Tuesday night in downtown Valparaiso.

There were people waiting for tables.    To get a seat at the bar I had to stand around for ten minutes waiting for a woman to finish eating.

Blackened salmon on risotto with asparagus, as $ 15.95 bar food in the out-of-the-way place of Valparaiso, Indiana in 2018, says a lot about how far American food has come in the past forty years.    “Blackening” was only invented in the 1980’s by one chef in Louisiana, and he certainly never “blackened” salmon, a fish native to nowhere near Louisiana.    Hardly anyone in America in the 1970’s had heard of risotto, which is an Italian dish.    Fresh asparagus in the 1980’s were only available a few weeks a year.   Who in even the 1990’s had heard of IPA, an obscure English style beer?    Today it all was really delicious here in Valparaiso Indiana at the Stacks Bar and Grill.   And all Americans should be thankful for that.

 

The next morning I biked back through downtown Valparaiso.

 

I was heading for my day’s destination:  South Bend, Indiana, about sixty miles to the east.     I would have to cross a lot of corn and soybean fields.

 

Restaurants are not always available in rural areas so in Laporte, IN,  Christo’s Family Dining (“Highest Quality / Great Value / Large Portions of Food / Since 1982”) was ideal for a late breakfast / early lunch.  Their special of the day was porch chop and eggs, $6.49.   There was Fox News playing on the TV.  I read The New Yorker on my kindle.

Laporte IN is a pretty town.  Very neat and clean.

 

 

For about eighty miles, really since Hammond IN I had seen no minorities.   And everything had been orderly and prosperous but somewhat bland.  The moment I passed into the city limits of South Bend (population 101,000) everything changed, almost immediately.   I saw black and brown faces and decrepit and abandoned buildings.

 

South Bend, with U of Notre Dame,  is clearly not as depressed as a place like Hammond.    There is stuff happening here.  It reminds me of Durham NC twenty years ago.

The Studebaker brothers made wagons in South Bend from about 1870 to 1910 and then started making cars.   The car factory and the company folded at last in 1966.   I biked up to the Studebaker museum and went inside.

 

I had booked an Airbnb in South Bend that morning before leaving Valparaiso.  It is the best Airbnb deal I have ever encountered; $ 26.30 including tax for a very clean and private room with cable TV, shared bath.   There was only one other room occupied.   It was in a nice neighborhood, walking distance to downtown.   The owner uses the whole house as an Airbnb, he manages it from afar by giving his customers codes to unlock the building and the individual rooms.

 

 

Later on I biked into downtown and then across the St. Joseph River to eat at the bar of an Italian restaurant.   Eggplant parmesan.

 

It is 160 miles from South Bend to Toledo, the next real city I would visit.   If I wanted to bike there in three days I would need to plan carefully, as there are not many motels out here in corn country.     Before leaving South Bend, I broke my own rules and actually planned, picking my stops for the next two nights.   The first night would be the small town of Lagrange IN,  the next night Bryan OH, just over the state line.

The metro area of South Bend stretch east for about thirty miles, through Mishawaka, Elkhart, and Bristol.

 

Leaving the built up area in Bristol IN, there is a rail trail for about ten miles before arriving in Shipshewana.     On this bike path I saw several Amish / Mennonites on bicycles, each time dressed in their distinctive old-time garb.   I forced myself to be polite and not take their picture!

Shipshewana IN is a weird place.      Population 650, it serves as a center for Amish / Mennonite tourism.   Apparently non-Amish / Mennonite people drive here to buy Amish / Mennonite gifts and take carriage rides in Amish / Mennonite wagons.  I got lunch.

 

 

 

 

Lunch finished, I headed out of town for the twenty something miles on country roads to LaGrange IN.      I did see several Amish / Mennonite carriages.

Amish also rode bicycles.

 

There is only one place to stay in LaGrange IN;  it was a dump, but at least at $ 45.00 + tax it was a low cost dump.  It was of course run by people of apparent South Asian descent, probably Indians named Patel.

The LaGrange post office has the Ten Commandments out front, and a POW/MIA flag.

The weather was turning against me, and I left the Dump Motel the next morning at 6:30 AM, trying to bicycle as far as possible before the expected thunderstorms began.

 

My weather luck ran out, and at 9:00 AM I was subjected to torrential rains in the middle of cornfield nowhere.

My strategy for rain while on bike trips is to not bicycle in it.   However, if I have nowhere to seek shelter and the temperature is above about sixty-five degrees I do not use a raincoat.   I choose to just get wet even if it means being totally soaked.  I do, however, make sure that my change of clothes and my camera, wallet, and cell phone are safely in the front or rear carriers, double protected by plastic bags.

I was able to bicycle the entire 58 miles to Bryan OH, arriving there mostly dried off at about noon. I shivered and recovered with a delicious latte and an omelet at a coffeehouse in downtown Bryan.    There were Christian posters on the walls.

 

I had to wait until about 2:30 PM before I could occupy my Airbnb, about two blocks away.

The Airbnb is part of a micro-brewery and restaurant called Father John’s Heavenly Devilish Brewing Company.    Its shtick is the complete opposite of the pious statements I had seen in the coffee shop.   In fact, I cannot remember a commercial establishment that so openly mocked religion.    It occupies a former church in downtown Bryan OH.

 

I had dinner that night sitting at the bar, which is in the former church basement.   The menu was full of snidely sacriligious jokes.

 

 

 

It rained heavily that night, and the next morning it was still threatening rain.    I got an early start so I could (hopefully) beat the rain in bicycling to the Big City of Toledo, about sixty miles away.

Rural bicycling in these northern regions of Indiana and Ohio is quite pleasant, although sometimes boring.   Absolutely straight farm roads lattice the landscape.   I would see a car only about every twenty minutes or so.

 

I have a Bluetooth speaker that I sometimes attach to my handlebars with a large rubber band.    This day I was listening to Elvis Costello’s second album on Amazon Music.

 

Google Maps is not always foolproof.   Their map shows the Wabash Cannonball Trail following a straight line for about twenty miles in the area southwest of Toledo.   What Google Maps does not show is that about the first five miles the trail is not really a trail, essentially unrideable on a conventional bicycle, looking something like this:

 

I cycled around instead on a longer route on conventional roads, where I crossed the Wabash rail-trail again.    Now the path was paved and therefore glorious, looking like this:

 

I had heard that Toledo has a problem with sinking housing prices, as its population continues to decrease and industry has closed.   Young people are moving to other states.    Fifteen miles outside of downtown, however, new housing is being built on what looks to be previously unbuilt land.

 

Toledo is built along the Maumee River, near where the river empties into Lake Erie.   First in the suburbs and then in Toledo itself, I biked parallel to the river towards downtown through leafy neighborhoods on the pleasant River Road.

 

Getting closer to downtown the neighborhoods declined.

 

This piece of modernism needs some love.

Downtown Toledo seems to be doing, uh, O.K., which is my opinion on how the entire city of Toledo seems to be doing.  Stuff is happening, things are getting redeveloped.  It is not Flint MI or Bridgeport CT but there are still a lot of empty buildings.

The downtown area around the stadium for the minor league Toledo Mud Hens was lively.  I had completed my sixty mile bike ride by about 1:00 PM.   It had been cloudy all day but had not rained.  I went directly to the crowded Ye Olde Durty Bird, for a delicious chicken wrap and beer.

 

I stayed around the corner at the high rise Park Inn.    My room had nice views, including the  former Holiday Inn next door that has been stripped to the bones

That skinny brown thirty story building to the left of the dead Holiday Inn has an interesting story.  It was built in 1969 as the headquarters for Owings Corning Fiberglass.   They moved out in 1996 and it been completely empty for the last twenty-two years.     Someone has recently purchased the building; condos and office space are now available.   We’ll see.

 

This is the view a little more to the west.   I really like the Art Deco PNC Bank building.

 

Much later in the afternoon I walked out to look for the evening meal.   I eventually settled on a seat at the bar of this Italian place.

 

 

After dinner, in the early evening twilight, buildings looked different.

The Mud Hens were playing and you could walk right up to the outfield fences.

 

The next morning I needed to bicycle east towards Cleveland.  But first I wanted to see an area of Toledo I had heard about:  Old West End.  It would require me to backtrack west for a few miles.

The neighborhood abuts the Toledo Museum of Art.    A quick check of Zillow shows these houses are insanely affordable by national standards.   A fixer upper is way less than $100,000;  a completely renovated designer showcase with 5,500 square feet is $ 290,000.  The neighborhood goes on and on.  Most of these houses were built between 1875 and 1915.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After checking out these neighborhoods, I bicycled back across midtown Toledo towards downtown, across the Maumee River, then on this Sunday morning across miles of depressed Toledo suburbs.     Eventually I found myself back on straight and traffic-free farm roads across the flat landscape.

 

I was heading just south of the Lake Erie shoreline.   After this I would only have two day’s ride to Cleveland.   This day’s destination was the “resort” town of Port Clinton OH.    Although somewhat faded as a resort, Port Clinton is the jumping off point for tourists going to the Lake Erie Islands.   Its motto is “Walleye Capital of the World.”

Because I had started so early from Toledo, hoping again to bicycle before expected afternoon thunderstorms, I had arrived Port Clinton in time for a nice late Sunday brunch at a restaurant downtown.   These guys across the bar seemed to be having a good time.

 

 

After lunch I biked around the town and the lakefront.

 

I stayed that night at a pleasant but cheap motel in Port Clinton.   I had two days left in my journey to Cleveland.    The Port Clinton area sits on a peninsula, and there is only one bridge, a limited access freeway that prohibits bicycles, from the end of that peninsula to the mainland.   I decided to bicycle the five miles east from Port Clinton to the beginning of the bridge, and then seek some alternate way across.    Online I looked for taxis, and I found this interesting guy with a limo to drive me and the bicycle the six miles across that bridge for twelve dollars.    We chatted and found common ground.   He told me his daughter is going to UNC law school!

I started bicycling again the other side of the bridge.    Marshes along Lake Erie can be quite wild and beautiful.

 

 

I biked through several Ohio towns along Lake Erie.

 

 

 

 

I turned slightly south of the Lake towards a town that seemed like it might be a nice place to spend my last night before arriving Cleveland.   Oberlin, Ohio’s principal industry is Oberlin College.   Both the town and the college have embraced progressive causes from way back.   Oberlin played a big part in the abolitionist movement.    Oberlin was the birthplace of the Anti-Saloon League, which successfully lobbied for Prohibition.   (Can you believe prohibition was once a progressive cause?).  Oberlin College has been in the news more recently, pushing stringent and specific rules about what “consent” means in sexual encounters between students.   (“Is it OK if I unclip your bra now?”) Oberlin College must be a very good college; I have two (smart!) friends that went there; my brother-in-law George and my good friend Gail from Blacksburg.

As a college town that seems mostly college,  Oberlin OH perhaps is what Chapel Hill NC was like fifty or sixty years ago, when pretty much everything revolved around the college.

I ate a baba ghannouj and hummus for a late lunch downtown at this excellent Middle Eastern restaurant.

 

I stayed at a crummy Airbnb on the outskirts of town, housed in this trashy building.

I waited for the rain to stop and biked back into downtown for dinner.    I had this place’s version of eggplant parmesan, eaten while talking to interesting people at the bar.

 

The next day I only had about thirty-five or forty miles left to get to my goal for this trip, the lovely city of Cleveland, Ohio.    Gordon and Jan live in Brecksville, Ohio, about fifteen miles southeast of downtown Cleveland.   Gordon works as a computer consultant for various locations of the Cleveland Clinic.   His current posting was at their largest location, located in mid-town Cleveland, about six miles east of downtown.   We agreed that I would bicycle to his work site and be there when he got off work at 3:00 PM.   From there we would put my bicycle in his car and drive back to his house.

Heading out of Oberlin, there is a nice rail trail for about ten miles in the direction of Elyria,  the North Coast Inland Trail.

 

Elyria has a civil war monument, just like the ones you see in almost every Southern town, but it was for the other side!

 

There was the interestingly modernist Elyria Baptist Church, right next door to the Elyria Historical Society building.

 

 

One of the slowdowns of bicycling through an urban area like the suburbs of Cleveland is that I normally have to stop and look at Google Maps every five or ten minutes, carefully looking for a route that stays off major roads.

I lucked out on this trip; Detroit Road was never particularly full of traffic and I bicycled it for over twenty miles, all the way from the outskirts of Elyria to the center of downtown Cleveland.

 

 

 

Yes!!!!

Cleveland is huge.  Even though I was now in the city limits, it was would be about six miles to downtown.   Later, after many miles through the city, I could finally see downtown off in the distance.  I was still on Detroit Road.

 

 

There is a nice bike path on the bridge across the Cuyahoga River.

Like Chicago, Cleveland has amazing buildings.

I had time to kill, so I stopped in a downtown coffee house, and spent almost an hour sipping a latte.     Things felt so much more cosmopolitan than they had just a couple of hours and five miles earlier.   “Elvis Costello” sat off in the corner.

 

 

There is a six mile gap between Downtown and the University Circle area, where Gordon’s job was located.    University Circle is home of not only Case Western Reserve University, but also the Cleveland Clinic, and Severance Hall;  home of the Cleveland Orchestra.

I had bicycled this six mile stretch back in about 2004.   Then it was almost all semi-abandoned heavy industry, sort of frightening, really.   Since then it has radically changed.  It is now either vacant land or Big Medical.    The Cleveland Clinic stretches for more than a mile.

Thanks to cell phones Gordon and I found each other easily.   We drove to his house in Brecksville and I spent two days hanging with him.   His wife Jan and son Thomas were out of town.  We looked at birds through his Leica binoculars.   On the second morning he dropped me off at a rental car agency near his house, from where I drove back to my home in North Carolina.   Gordon posed for a picture with my bicycle.

Many of you remember seeing pictures of me on the blue bicycle with small wheels. I bought this new in 2002 for about $1800.00, custom made by Peregrine Bicycle Works of Chico, California.

This bicycle was fun to ride.   It performed almost as well as many conventional “road” bikes; it only weighed 22 pounds; it felt stiff and fast.  I had ridden it for so long that I was used to its eccentricities.  I rode it even when I did not need its folding capabilities.

 

It would fit in a suitcase for air travel.

 

On Amtrak I could just fold it up and lug it onboard without a case.   Getting off the train, I could reassemble it in less than a minute and bike away from the platform.

I have been in quite a few foreign countries and many states of the USA with this bicycle during the past fifteen years.   While I own a couple of other bicycles, this one has always been my favorite.    I have had a lot of maintenance done to it over the years, but I never would have predicted what happened three weeks ago.

I was out for a fifteen mile spin on country roads near my home in Chapel Hill NC.     Three fourths of the way into the ride, the bicycle started feeling “funny.”   The frame felt slightly wobbly.    I stopped about three times, shaking the bicycle and looking for problems, but could not find any.

Going slowly because it was uphill,  on Dairyland Road coming back towards Chapel Hill, just before the turnoff to Union Grove Church Road, the bicycle suddenly snapped in half, dumping me on the road.    I may have passed out for a moment, I remember thinking that I was now on the road and my shoulder was messed up.

Luckily no car ran into me and a couple cars stopped to help out.   One turned out to be my friend Brian Stapleton, who scooped the bicycle and me up.   We called my wife Tootie on the phone and she met us at our apartment and we drove to the urgent orthopedic clinic.

I have a nicely broken clavicle (collar bone), broken ribs that have been extremely painful, and a substantially bruised hip, which has resulted in swelling called a hematoma.   The hip may take months to completely heal.   Three weeks later I am walking around but still in pain.

My bicycle guru Gordon Sumerel says that this kind of structural failure should not happen ever, anytime, on any bicycle.  It was not something that I should have anticipated.   Am I angry at the manufacturer?   I have trouble getting angry at people, so not especially.   This was a hand built machine by a small business that no longer makes this kind of bicycle.   I get the impression he is almost a one man shop.   I am a small business person myself so I can understand his situation.

 

I have not decided what type of bicycle I will get to replace this.   I want to think about it for a while.

For the moment I can reminisce about just some of the places this bicycle went with me.

With Henry in the Netherlands 2006

 

 

The Netherlands 2007 (photo by Henry)

 

Northern Italy 2014

 

Rioja Valley, Spain 2015

 

with bikers in rural Spain, 2016

 

rural Spain 2016

 

 

outside Nancy, France 2017

 

Indianapolis 2016

 

rural Indiana 2016

 

Maine 20152620 Trapp Avenue, home of Tootie and Paco 1983

Outside our 1980’s apartment in Miami FL 2014

 

 

Assembling the bicycle on the streets of Paris, France 2017

 

Rural Northeast Pennsylvania 2017

 

Along the Rhone River, France 2017

 

My sister Betsy in Grand Central Station, New York City, 2017

 

Detroit MI, 2017

 

With my friend Lyman and my son Jack outside a Walmart, just south of Miami FL 2014

 

Just north of Fort Lauderdale FL, 2018

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In front of Trump’s Mar a Lago, Palm Beach FL 2016

Among the bikers, near Daytona Beach FL 2012