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

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

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

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

 

Ready to go.

 

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

 

 

 

 

We took a selfie.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

Moving further west the houses get even bigger.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

You could even watch TV while you peed.

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

 

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

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

 

 

There was a modernist fire & rescue headquarters.

 

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

 

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

 

 

And I discovered actual horse country!    Fences everywhere!

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I boarded the plane about 6:30 AM.

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

These Miami neighborhoods were a mix of rich and poor.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Inside the back gate was a small terrace.

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Occasionally the highway goes along the oceanfront.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

I biked through Chalmette neighborhoods with their razor straight streets.

 

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

Beyond Chalmette I passed the Meraux refinery.

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Just past Reggio I decided to turn around.

 

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

Just to see something new, I put the bicycle in the car and drove the Toyota Prius about eighty miles from my home in Chapel Hill to Centerville NC.  It is sixty miles northeast of Raleigh NC, or twelve miles northeast of Louisburg NC.

The population of Centerville NC is listed as eighty-nine, but they do have a Dollar General.  I parked the car and pulled my bicycle out.   There was only one other car in the Dollar General parking lot.  The area immediately felt very country.

How country was it?

Country enough that someone had just driven a four wheeler to the Dollar General!

 

Bicycling was relaxing along country roads with almost no cars.  I fashioned a big loop to bicycle around the area, including going through the seemingly under visited Medoc Mountain State Park.    This area is generally flat so the “mountain” is really just a hill.

 

 

Wood NC is really really small.   It evidently used to have a gas station and a store.

 

Hollister NC, population 674, has a modernist post office and an actual restaurant, Lynch’s Bar-B-Q and Grill.

For those of you not from around here, eastern North Carolina barbecue consists mostly of just one thing, chopped pork in vinegar sauce.    It is usually served on a bun, with a dollop of coleslaw.   Lynch’s has no inside seating, just an outdoor counter to order from.   There is not even a picnic table.   Everyone just eats in their car.   I try to do my meals “properly” so I took my sandwich and bicycled three miles back to a shelter at the state park, where I could read my Kindle while eating.   It was all very peaceful.

I picked a spot at the edge of a parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport and put the folding Bike Friday together, under the watchful eye of a cab driver.

Because I was already out west on a three day vacation to Las Vegas, I had taken a few more days to bicycle in Southern California.   The weather back home in North Carolina was terrible.

Bought in advance, a one way ticket from Las Vegas to LAX on Southwest was only  $44.00.  I had arrived early on a Saturday afternoon and had taken the ten minute hotel shuttle from the airport.   I had a reservation at that hotel the last night of this trip, five days hence, and they had agreed to watch the bicycle suitcase for me.

Contrary to popular perception, Southern California is not as hostile to bicycles as many areas, certainly not as hostile as my recent trip to the hinterlands around Savannah Georgia.

This was the first trip with my new set of expensive front and rear rechargeable bicycle lights that I keep turned on all the time, as a safety factor.

At 3:00 PM I bicycled off into Los Angeles, heading first towards the beach, then along the coast to San Diego, 140 miles to the south.  This first afternoon I hoped to get to Redondo Beach, maybe even Long Beach, by dark.

 

 

Looping around LAX airport and heading towards the beach, there were bike lanes and traffic was not heavy.

 

Parallel to the beach, Pershing Drive goes right by the end of the runways with airplanes from all over the world landing just above my head.

 

 

Soon I was able to take a right and bicycle right down to the Pacific Ocean.

To bike along the beaches of Southern California is some of the most scenic urban bike riding in America.  There are gaps, sure, and that is part of the problem and part of the adventure.   Arriving at the beach here about three miles from the airport hotel, it felt like paradise.

 

The bike path is right on the beach, this continues for miles and miles, all the way to Redondo Beach and a few miles beyond.   Surfin” USA by The Beach Boys lists these towns one by one, and I would be biking through almost all of them during the next three days.

 

It was about to get dark and there were only a few lodging options.  I found this motel in Redondo Beach on Pacific Coast Highway, about six blocks from the beach; low cost, no frills, but certainly adequate, not at all sleazy.

 

I had eggplant parmesan that night at Mama D’s, seemingly the best option that was within walking distance to the motel.  It was a little too family friendly, tons of kids running around as I joined all these people waiting in line for a table.  The management was very welcoming.  It was a Saturday night; what would you expect?   Despite the insane housing prices here, and L.A.’s reputation as being a multicultural stew, some of the beach areas seem almost 1950’s in their outward show of wholesomeness.

 

The next morning I biked past more evidence of this 1950’s vibe.

 

Biking south from Redondo Beach there is no beach bike path for about eighteen miles in and around Long Beach CA.    One just has to meander through residential streets, trying to stay off Pacific Coast Highway as much as possible.   South of Long Beach the delightful beach bike path would resume.

 

Inland from the beach the neighborhoods become more diverse.  It is insane that little houses cost about a million dollars.

 

But Just Say No to condos and apartment complexes!

 

My bike ride this day went right through Torrance CA, the childhood home of Jan & Dean.   This is just a few miles south of Hawthorne CA, childhood home of The Beach Boys.   I passed by an early sixties surfer van!  On second look, maybe this was not so romantic, was somebody living in this van, is that why the windows are blocked out?   I would see more egregious examples of this later in the trip.

 

It was Sunday and commercial truck traffic around the ports was negligible.    On a weekday I imagine bicycling this stretch would have been terrifying.

 

On this bright clear day with a temperature in the sixties, snow covered mountains rose in the distance.

 

On a side street near one of the ports I passed this place at 10:30 AM.    Despite my rule about always stopping for great food, I just was not hungry and I kept biking.   I’ll bet this is some of the best Mexican food in L.A.

While even older areas around Los Angeles still seem suburban, Long Beach feels urban, like a small city plunked down in the L.A. megalopolis.

The older neighborhoods of Long Beach have attractive hundred year old houses.

 

 

The Queen Mary has been parked in Long Beach since 1967.   I wished I had been able to bike this far the previous day, so that I could have stayed on the ship as a hotel.

Long Beach does have a beach, and a lovely bike path that extends south, with a couple brief interruptions, for a total of twenty miles,  through Seal Beach, Sunset Beach, and Huntington Beach almost all the way to Newport Beach.

I grew up in Virginia Beach and was a decent surfer for a while, although I was so uncool I never hung with the surfing crowd and I mostly surfed alone.   Huntington Beach is the home of the International Surfing Museum, which I did NOT visit.  I had lunch at a stylish place near the Huntington Beach pier; a California-ish healthy sandwich served by a young guy that looked like a caricature of a bleached blond surfer dude, except that he spoke with an English accent!

 

Back on the bike I passed through Huntington State Beach where the beach was enormous.   On this Sunday afternoon it was all staked out for organized athletic events, especially Ultimate Frisbee and Beach Volleyball.   Weren’t these sports invented around here?

 

 

The beach narrows down and the mountains come down to the sea just before Newport Beach, one of the wealthiest communities in America.   The bike path on the beach stopped.  For a while I cycled along the backside of oceanfront homes, and then through the streets of Newport Beach.

 

 

 

It is eleven miles of mountainous coast south from Newport Beach to Laguna Beach.   Part of the way I had to bicycle on Pacific Coast Highway, which at least had a bike lane shoulder.    I later passed through Crystal Cove State Park, which has an off road paved trail.

 

Back home in Chapel Hill I have a good friend, songwriting partner, and blogging coach named Dan.   He grew up in Laguna Beach.  His son Peter, who grew up in Chapel Hill and was on the same high school cross-country team as my son Jack, is now in Laguna Beach, living in part of an uncle’s house.   Peter works at a high-end oceanfront hotel called the Inn at Laguna Beach.  He very thoughtfully got me a super discount on a room.    I insisted on a selfie with him.

Yes, Dan says some of the rhythm of Laguna Beach has been lost since his childhood, since the odd wayfaring surfer can no longer afford to live there, or even eat or sleep there.  Still, I like Peter’s description of “shockingly beautiful.”   My description is “terrifyingly nice.”

I walked around just as the sun was going doing down, which it does in an artful way every afternoon over the Pacific.    Crowds stand around Heisler Park, just to soak in the feeling.  Sure, there were foreign tourists brandishing selfie sticks, but aren’t I a tourist also?

 

 

 

That evening I ate and watched the Chiefs / Patriots game at one of the few semi-affordable places to eat in Laguna Beach, surprisingly good shepherd’s pie at Hennessey’s Tavern.

 

The next morning I biked around Dan’s old neighborhood, which rises up from the ocean on a hillside on the south side of town.   Everything looked relaxed and low key.  Spoiler alert: these houses are all now worth millions of dollars.

 

 

 

People seem to want reminders of the Beach Boys glory days, like an early sixties van.

 

 

Next to someone’s restored Mercedes convertible, a Woodie.

 

I turned from this Laguna Beach neighborhood and stated biking south on Pacific Coast Highway.    It was still more than a day’s ride to San Diego.

 

Ten or fifteen miles south of Laguna Beach is the small community of Dana Point.  The Boujour Cafe seemed a nice local spot to snag breakfast.   Wrong.  Way overpriced and pretentious.

 

Satiated by my $ 28.00 breakfast I continued down Pacific Coast Highway through San Clemente.  There was a bike path pretty much the whole way.

 

 

Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine base, covers about eighteen miles of coastline, separating the southernmost part of the Los Angeles metro area with the northernmost points in the San Diego area.   On a bicycle coming from the north, there is no real fence where the military base starts.   The bike path along the coastline transitions into a pedestrian and bicycle path on a semi-abandoned highway between Interstate 5 and the beach.

 

This was too good to be true, an empty highway on a beautiful coastline with no cars, perfect weather and wind at my back.    Ten miles into this bicycle perfection the path abruptly ended at a parking lot, right at an exit for I-5.   Just beyond, in a third direction, was a military checkpoint.   No, the soldier at the gate would not let me bicycle further south without some kind of permit that takes more than a day to obtain.  The only way south was on I-5. There had been no sign warning me of this.   Twenty years ago Alex and I had bicycled this stretch without obstruction.

I was stuck.  I was not going to bicycle on I-5 unless absolutely necessary.  I called an Uber, who showed up right away and cheerfully took me and the folding bicycle the remaining eight miles.   He dropped me off in the streets of the beach town of Oceanside.

It was one or two in the afternoon, I had not had lunch yet, and it was still forty miles to San Diego.    I decided to stop for the night at one of the beach towns along the way south.   The lucky town turned out to be Encinitas.   Along the way, biking was on the main highway or on parallel residential streets.   Most of the way it was quite safe but a few stretches were dicey.

 

 

Encinitas, while not downscale, seemed not as deliberately upscale and self-important as some other beach towns along this strip.  I want to give a big shout-out to the EconoLodge in Encinitas.   A room there cost way less than a hundred dollars and was immaculately clean.   There was even a decent free breakfast.  The hotel was run by members of a southeast Asian ethnic group I could not distinguish.

The Italian restaurant a few doors down was not as affordable and the food not all that great.  The conversation at the bar, however, was lively.

 

The next morning it was only about thirty miles to downtown San Diego but there were several large hills and complicated neighborhoods to navigate in between.

 

I did cycled up a very large hill / small coastal mountain, the top of which was covered by groves of what I assume are torrey pines.

 

The famous golf course Torrey Pines, owned by the city of San Diego, is right near the highway.

I headed to the right off the main highway and descended a long hill into the wealthy beach town of La Jolla.   I imagine somewhere in here is Mitt Romney’s house with the car elevator leading to a four car garage.

 

 

 

Pacific Beach seemed much more democratic, as in democratic with a small d.

San Diego is unique in that its airport with only one runway sits right near its central city and on the waterfront.  I biked along San Diego Bay by the airport, heading towards downtown.

 

 

The downtown Amtrak station was built for the Santa Fe railway in 1914.    It is like going to church to take the train.

 

 

 

I had managed to get here in time to make the 1:35 PM departure, three hours to downtown Los Angeles.    I could wheel the bicycle right onto the lower level of the train car.

My bicycle suitcase was stored at an airport hotel near LAX, about twenty miles from downtown L.A.

I arrived by Amtrak to the downtown Los Angeles Union Station at 4:30 PM, coming up from San Diego with the bicycle.  Union Station opened in 1939 and exhibits Art Deco calligraphy.  It provides an interesting architectural contrast to the San Diego station built twenty something years earlier.

 

 

 

It was getting dark but I had only a short distance to bike through a surprisingly hilly downtown Los Angeles to a nearby Airbnb.

I passed near the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

 

To get to my side of town I needed to bike through quarter mile long tunnel!

My Airbnb was on the apparently still gentrifying side of I-110 in a newer large apartment complex.    I had one bedroom of a very neat and clean two bedroom apartment occupied by a twenty something guy.   This ended up being totally acceptable to me and cost less than a hundred dollars including taxes.  He gave me instructions to tell security at the front desk that I was a “friend” of the guy in 415.  There was a nice view out of the bedroom window.

 

Street life is at a minimum in this area on the edge of downtown L.A.  There were hardly any restaurants near my place.   At dinner hour I walked a few blocks down a hill towards Wilshire Boulevard for a purported “gastro-pub.”

 

I easily found the Plan Check Kitchen + Bar.  It was an interesting scene on this slow Tuesday night.

I arrived about the same time as two extremely tall and well dressed twenty or thirty something women.   One looked African-American, one white.  I was intrigued, who were these two tall and tastefully dressed women?   They both looked super fit, buff.   Was this just because we were is Los Angeles?   Were they WNBA stars?   Was this just my prejudice coming forward?  Where they just two normal people out for dinner together?  I felt like these were not the kind of people who I would meet back in Chapel Hill.  I sat at the bar and they took the remaining two seats.  They did small talk with the bartender and the three of them all seemed to be in the know about Show Business.  How L.A.!    There were a few other people at the bar as well.

 

 

I got the Aji Tuna BLT (how California! Seafood and bacon!) and a beer.  It was all very good.

 

The next morning I sat at a Starbucks across the street from the restaurant where I had been at the night before.   I plotted a route to bicycle back to my airport hotel and maybe see something of Los Angeles in the process.    I guiltily dismissed riding the most direct route because I felt uncomfortable riding through miles and miles of majority African-American neighborhoods like Crenshaw, South Los Angeles, and Inglewood.   I would ride instead a slightly longer route through Koreatown, Beverlywood, and Culver City.

I headed out on Seventh Street, going northwest.

 

 

MacArthur Park is melting in the dark / all the sweat green icing flowing down / someone left the cake out in the rain / I don’t think that I can take it / ’cause it took so long to bake it / and I’ll never have that recipe again!

 

 

Homeless people were all over the place.   Southern California seems like a perfect storm for homelessness; agreeable weather year-round and out of control housing costs.

 

Mostly later in the day I was repeatedly confronted with a trend I had not previously been aware of but was confirmed by a quick Google search:  housing is so expensive that people live in RV’s parked on the streets of Los Angeles.  I guess they move them around when hassled.

 

 

I continued on through the area known as Koreatown.  It has been listed as a prime up and coming area, hipsterish even.   It seemed to be full of all kinds of ethnicities, not just Korean.

I was surprised that most housing this close to downtown was still single family houses.   I am generally a big fan of historic preservation, but with the cost of housing here,something has to give.  I am not sure where this is headed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was not yet lunch time but I was ready for lunch.    Myoung Dong Kyo Ja was already half full at 10:55 AM.   At $ 11.95 this was one of the cheaper entrees of this whole trip and probably the best meal.    Their English translation menu listed this as “Korean chicken noodle soup.”  It was a big bowl of flavorful broth and big slurpy noodles, dressed with several dumpling-like things and bunches of crunchy vegetables and kimchee.

While there were patrons of all ages, all Korean looking.  I noted several groups of middle aged women who seemed to be enjoying each other’s company.

 

Moving further west the neighborhoods became more pristine, certainly more expensive and less diverse.    I bicycled many miles through prosperous neighborhoods.   I stopped for a coffee in this place just south of Beverlywood.

 

The further I travelled from downtown the more the street grid consisted of dead ends and cul de sacs.   It became more and more difficult to bicycle on residential streets as opposed to major four lane thoroughfares.    I was lucky to find the Ballona Creek Bike Path, which extends several miles towards the ocean and took me very close to the airport.

 

In the late afternoon I did indeed bicycle right up to the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport.   My suitcase was still there.   After checking in I took it and the bicycle up to my room and put it all together, for my homebound flight at 7:00 AM the next morning.

We did not come to Las Vegas to bicycle around.   I came with Tootie and her sister Kathryn for a three day vacation.   Still, I brought the Bike Friday in a suitcase so I could maybe noodle around Vegas.  (Southwest Airlines does not charge for luggage!)  Later I would I use this opportunity while out West to bicycle five days in southern California.   More about California in the next post.

The Strip is a conglomeration of high rise buildings several miles south of the original Las Vegas downtown.   We stayed in The Bellagio, a high rise with Italian themes, across the street from Paris, a hotel/casino with a French theme. This was the view from our Bellagio hotel room window. It is all so over-the-top; the Eiffel Tower sexually mounting some chateau, with a Haussmann styled high-rise behind it.

 

The same view at night.

 

This was the view out the same window thirty degrees to the left.    At the bottom of the photo are Roman columns in the outbuildings Caesar’s Palace, with an ad for the Donny and Marie show on the side of the The Flamingo, Ferris wheel in the back yard.

One afternoon I decided to bicycle around Las Vegas.    First, I had to somehow get to the street.    Las Vegas hotels are set up so one as to walk through the casino to enter or leave.    I had put the folding bicycle together in the hotel room and then walk the bicycle right through the casino.

 

The craps tables were in full swing.

 

Walking with the the bicycle, the casino transitions into a small shopping mall lined with pretentious stores like Prada and Gucci.    If someone makes substantial money at gambling the casinos entice their customers to blow their winnings on a multi-thousand dollar woman’s handbag.   The mall ends at a pedestrian bridge that crosses the 8-10 lanes of  Flamingo Road.  On the other side, near the back door of Caesar’s Palace, there is an escalator that descends to street level.   From there I could put the bicycle on the highway and ride off without having to make a left turn.

When staying on the Las Vegas Strip and planning to bicycle, (if anyone ever does this again!) the first three blocks are the worst.   I mostly biked on the sidewalk for about a quarter mile down Flamingo Road as it passed over Interstate 15 and mainline railroad tracks.    Once I could take a right turn onto a “normal” street, everything calmed down with a wide two lane street with a shoulder.   It was suddenly quite pleasant.

Las Vegas is mostly flat and built with a street grid.   I rode all over the west side of Las Vegas for about two hours.  Somehow I had expected the residential areas of Las Vegas to look exotic.  Not.    It is still America.

 

 

After biking around west side neighborhoods for quite a while I headed east towards the older downtown.   There was a bike lane!

 

I have heard that Las Vegas has put serious effort into drawing people to its downtown, maybe even regular people, not just tourists.   I stumbled onto this Cleveland Clinic research building built in 2010.  I guessed but could not believe it was Frank Gehry.  Later I checked and found that it really was designed by Gehry, about the most famous architect in America.

Fremont Street has been the main drag of downtown Las Vegas for a hundred years or more.  The street is closed to vehicular traffic and is now covered with a mesh rooftop.  The whole street feels like a room, even though it is still outdoors.  Compared to the huge hotels out on The Strip, downtown is much more democratic feeling.  Aberrant behavior is permitted.  The casinos have much lower betting minimums.  This is my kind of Las Vegas.

 

 

 

 

There are “outdoor” bars along the street.  I walked around with my bicycle.

 

 

I biked the three or four miles back south our hotel,  The Bellagio out on The Strip.    Closer to our hotel, this tower sat by itself, one of many, clearly not one of the big draws.   Only in Las Vegas could such a huge building seem insignificant.

 

I did make it back to the hotel safely, but I did not venture out on the bicycle again.