It is about seventy miles and an hour and a half drive from my home in Chapel Hill NC to Biscoe NC. I had guessed the area was likely to be free of car traffic. I had never been here before. Biscoe (population 1,700) and the surrounding Montgomery County (population 28,000) are in a remote part of the North Carolina Piedmont, about halfway between Raleigh and Charlotte but NOT on the busy I-85 corridor.

Tractor Supply is a national chain that seems to target rural areas. Country music plays on the sound system inside the stores. I parked our Prius in a Tractor Supply just off the big highway on the edge of Biscoe NC and pulled out my Bike Friday.

Here is the twenty-nine mile loop I bicycled on this Monday, with temperatures in the forties and low fifties.

North Carolina transportation policy is to build wide highways, all else be damned. Downtown Biscoe NC as an urban space hardly exists. The downtown’s center is where two four to six lane roads combine.

At that same intersection, the one to-the-street urban looking building I saw in all of Biscoe NC

Biscoe is a factory town that I am sure has seen a lot of closings in the past fifteen years.

I bicycled out of Biscoe NC towards the county seat of Troy NC; eleven miles away if one takes the back roads through mostly pine forests on gentle hills. There was hardly any car traffic.

After miles of piney woods, just before Troy the road passed over NC state route 27, apparently now upgraded to freeway status but there were hardly any cars.

Troy NC (population 3,100) seems more prosperous than Biscoe. The carpet manufacturer Capel Rugs is headquartered here, as well as a large lumber mill.

It was 12:40 so the courthouse clock is 19 minutes off. Or is it permanently stopped at 12:21? The building is from 1921.
Hotel Troy is a nice building but according to Wikipedia it has not had guests since 1970!

I admit I have a weakness for certain types of gas stations.

Pine trees at the sawmill stacked like matchsticks

It was too cold to stop for lunch outdoors and it is a pandemic, so while I noodled by bicycle around Troy NC I ate the peanut butter sandwich I had brought. I then headed out of town on empty state roads through more piney woods.

The “town” of Okeewemee seemed to me to be just a few houses along the highway; the state sign having been defaced with a Trump sticker and then the sticker spray painted over.

It was six miles further to Star NC through the Little River basin.

I cycled into the town of Star NC (population 876).

I found Star NC fascinating. Planes, Trains and Automobiles! I love all those things and Star NC checks the boxes.

Automobiles: There is a shop here that apparently restores older British cars.

Their yard is filled with ghosts of MG’s and Jaguars; it revealed to me a sad truth: when a shop restores an old car to like-new condition, frequently others must die.

1960’s Jaguar sedan and early 1970’s Triumph TR-6
1960’s MG Midget and MG-B
More MG-B’s
1960’s Austin Mini, the very small car that the current larger Mini on our American roads is stylistically copied from
1950’s-early 1960’s Jaguar XK
1960’s Triumph TR
More 1950’s-60’s Jaguars
1960’s-early 70’s Volvo P1800
late 1960’s Chevrolet Corvairs

Star NC has trains! Within walking distance to the old 1960’s cars is an independent repair shop apparently working on railroad short line locomotives and rolling stock.

Line of locomotives, presumably for repair
A 1950’s dome car is stored here.

It is not that far a walk in Star NC (if you were walking) to airplanes! One can bicycle right onto the runway at the Montgomery County Airport.

I scoured the internet to try and find what kind of plane here was slowing devolving into the pines. Is this a Twin Beech, manufactured from 1937 to 1962?

Rear view, same aircraft

Also in Star NC; an old school building converted what I take to be an art studio that focuses on this region’s strong tradition of ceramics with the addition of glassblowing.

Leaving Star NC is was only six miles back to Biscoe NC and my car in the Tractor Supply parking lot. I was home in Chapel Hill by late afternoon.

Sussex County Virginia has not grown much over the years. Its population in the year 1790 was 11,000; population 2021: 11,000. It is near enough to my home in Chapel Hill NC for a day trip.

I drove up two and a half hours and 145 miles up I-85. The Sussex courthouse and other municipal buildings sit out by themselves in the countryside. I parked our Prius near the courthouse.

Cycling in the winter is challenging. It had been twenty three degrees when I left home. By the time I arrived here the sun had warmed the temperature up to the mid-forties. Here is the ride I took this Thursday.

The original courthouse was completed in 1828.

Sussex County courthouse, circa 1828
Across the street from the courthouse, the building looks really old

I started cycling down State Route 40 to my first intermediate destination; fifteen miles to Waverly VA, a smooth road with hardly any traffic. Timber and peanuts are the big businesses her. There are miles of pine forests.

I passed through wetlands as well

Waverly VA, population 2,100, is the largest town in Sussex County.

outskirts of Waverly VA

Waverly’s two block Main Street has several actually functioning businesses, as well as the usual empty storefronts.

Just a few hundred yards further are the actual main drags of Waverly VA, the parallel four-lane-with-no-center-divider highway US-460 and the railroad: a double track main line of the Norfolk Southern (formerly Norfolk & Western), both stretching the about sixty mile straight shot between Portsmouth and Suffolk VA (near Norfolk) and Petersburg VA (just south of Richmond). Waverly is about halfway. When I was a child my father used to claim that this stretch of rail track was one of the longest straight stretches in the world.

On the Big Highway US-460 is the apparently now closed but unaltered looking mid-century modernist Melody Inn Motel.

One of my rules of thumb on both bicycle and car trips is that when one stumbles upon a privately owned museum in some obscure area, one should always go to that museum, even if one thinks you are not interested in its subject. A couple of hundred yards down the big highway US-460 was a museum I had not heard of.

The grounds themselves looked like folk art.

Children’s Garden?

The museum is really just a house and I did go on the porch and ring the bell. No one answered. Leaving to cycle onward, across the street this sign explained the situation more fully.

Example of Carpenter’s art, taken from Google Images

The other side of US-460 and the railroad tracks from downtown is the clearly wealthier side of Waverly.

Pre-WWII gas station

My next intermediate destination would be the town of Wakefield VA, nine miles down US-460 from Waverly. Instead of the big highway I could bicycle to Wakefield on lovely parallel back roads. I do not think I was passed by a car even once. I had brought a peanut butter sandwich that I ate it while cycling; it was too cold to stop.

I am sixty-five years old and grew up in Virginia Beach. I have known about Wakefield’s Virginia Diner my entire life. I still have never eaten here. There is a pandemic. I did briefly go inside to the gift shop and buy Tootie a can of peanuts as a souvenir.

The peanuts, after I arrived back home in Chapel Hill

It is twenty-one miles on back roads from Wakefield back to Sussex courthouse where I had parked my car. I first cycled through Wakefield (population 975) and then through miles and miles of pine forests, farms, and the occasional wetland, with hardly a car in sight.

Wakefield VA

My car was still there in the Sussex courthouse grass parking lot. I was home in Chapel Hill NC in time for dinner.

It’s not as outrageous sounding as the actual town of Intercourse PA but who knew there was a Climax NC? Fifteen miles south of Greensboro? I needed a starting point for an afternoon’s bike ride. Climax NC is only ten or twelve miles from Liberty NC, so this made for a nice rural thirty mile bicycle loop on a Friday afternoon with temperatures in the forties and fifties. I drove west about an hour from my home in Chapel Hill NC and parked right at the center of Climax. Climax is hardly a town, really just a crossroads, a couple of gas stations and a Dollar General.

I pulled the bicycle out of the car and started cycling from this parking lot.,
Dead strip mall, Climax NC

I set out in the direction of Liberty NC through the rural Piedmont of central North Carolina. If a bicyclist takes the most remote roads, one can usually find lovely smooth rural roads with almost no traffic.

There were lots of animals!

These are buildings I thought looked interesting.

Liberty NC (population 2,600) felt like a real city compared to Climax NC.

Kettle Corn downtown, about the only business open
At least pre-COVID the theater looks very much in use
No bicycles?

I bicycled back to the car in Climax, taking a longer circular route, enjoying the rural character.

My car was still there at the Dollar General in Climax. I stopped at the Starbucks in south Greensboro on the way home, a latte to drink while driving.

The one stoplight in Climax NC

I drove the half hour over to Raleigh from my home in Chapel Hill. I like looking at buildings. I street parked on the near side in the neighborhood off Wade Avenue, just behind Whole Foods. It was cold outside, I had gloves and a hood.

I started biking around, taking pictures of modern buildings in the brilliant light.

Apartment complex in west Raleigh

NC State has had an esteemed architecture school for many decades and the modernist spirit seems to effect many or most of NC State’s buildings. Classes were on winter break so I biked through campus with almost no one around. Even parking garages can be fetching.

The campus was quite open for bicycling.

I was hardly aware that the NC State Centennial Campus existed until quite recently. It is physically separate from the older main campus, built just recently southwest of the existing campus, the other side of railroad tracks and the big highway Western Boulevard.

Another relatively new building in this same area is the Catholic cathedral for Raleigh: the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, opened in 2017. Clearly conservatives were in charge of picking an architect. The cathedral seats two thousand and sits in the middle of a giant parking lot. Couldn’t they have been more original than this?

I enjoyed cycling around the new NC State Centennial Campus, looking at the pretty buildings.

For the rest of the bike ride I did a big loop east towards downtown Raleigh. Off Dorothea Drive just southwest of downtown a developer has built a brand new neighborhood that recalls, I dunno, Charleston SC? Raleigh never had old neighborhoods that looked like this but I like it just the same.

I biked all along Fayetteville Street through downtown, then turned back cycling west and back to my car for the thirty minute drive home.