My plan, thought up a couple days before departure, was to bicycle from my house in Chapel Hill NC to Lynchburg VA. Why not? It has never been done, at least by me.

Chapel Hill is part of the booming Raleigh/Durham area. People are constantly moving here, new businesses are starting up, construction and growth, both good and bad, are constant. I knew that heading straight north from Chapel Hill I would be leaving this boomtown behind, heading into an area where life moves slower. This was the bike ride I eventually took.

The ride started in my kitchen on the seventh floor of the Greenbridge building in Chapel Hill. It has been only about a month since I received my Bike Friday back from a complete overhaul by the factory in Oregon, including a new blue paint job. I made two sandwiches for lunch (one tuna salad, one almond butter and strawberry jam) and strapped them on the back in a “reusable” HEB bag.

Down the elevator and onto the street! The heaviest car traffic of the entire day was a two or three mile stretch of new NC-86 just north of Chapel Hill, and even this was not much of a problem.

I turned right on New Hope Church Road.

Soon it was a left on NC-10, then a right on Lawrence Road. Weaving through back roads like this I headed further north, bypassing the trendy Hillsborough NC. A huge amount of tech-related wealth has been created in the RDU area in the past thirty years, and that money has to go somewhere. The countryside north of Hillsborough has become ground zero for monster “farms.”

As if tripping a switch, eight or ten miles north of Hillsborough the wealthy looking countryside suddenly ended, and “real America” begins. Houses still lined the country roads, but they were no longer for rich people. The countryside was lovely, car traffic almost nonexistent.

I stopped and ate lunch sitting on a guardrail

The factory town of Roxboro was my next intermediate destination.

Roxboro NC
Roxboro NC
downtown Roxboro NC

Roxboro NC does not have a Starbucks but it does have the locally owned Tricia’s Expresso, downtown facing the courthouse. I got an oat milk latte (one pack sugar!), and sat outside on the sidewalk.

Rested, I headed north towards the Virginia line. It was quiet and peaceful as I cycled on a state highway that parallels the US15-501.

I crossed the state line into Virginia and the landscape changed into just woods.

South Boston VA (population 8,000) as a town is not particularly old by Virginia standards but somewhere that grew rapidly in the late 1800’s around the tobacco industry. Population growth has leveled off or even declined in recent decades. Even though South Boston culturally is much more Southern than the Raleigh/Durham area to the south, South Boston to me looks physically more northern, in that houses in the older part of town are closer together than those in North Carolina towns.

There are several motels around South Boston but they are all out on the highway. A cyclist without a car does better staying in town. I found a room as the only guest of the Charles Bass House B&B.

The accommodations were delightful; great TV (where I watched the PBS Newshour), great bathroom, even white Terry robes I didn’t even put on.

Where to eat dinner after cycling over seventy miles? The Four Oaks Restaurant & Lounge seemed the only decent place open in-town. It was less than a mile away, up a down a few hills by bicycle. I would have to cycle back in the dark.

The Four Oaks is very old school. Restaurants in Chapel Hill no longer have salad bars. Because of COVID I still am not truly relaxed in an indoor setting but here I had no choice, so I sat by myself a couple of tables away from a woman sitting next to a man in cammo.

There was salad, then potato soup from the salad bar, then the $21.95 eight ounce ribeye including one side and salad bar. I chose garlic mashed potatoes. I have high cholesterol and usually do not get large pieces of red meat but I was really hungry today.

Everything was delicious, especially when accompanied by two or three glasses of wine. The restaurant staff were very nice. I skipped dessert and climbed onto the bicycle to get back to my room for some sleep.

The proprietor of my B&B is named John and is about my age. He is divorced and his kids have moved away. He is retired from his engineering job . The next morning he made me a lovely breakfast which included real maple syrup. He says he does everything in his B&B, not only the room cleaning and cooking the breakfast, but ironing the breakfast placemats and napkins!

After breakfast I cycled away, heading north. I passed some larger old homes north of downtown.

Not keeping up appearances: note the missing window on the third floor

Crossing the big highway I realized where most of the commercial activity of South Boston VA really happens. There is a Walmart, of course; and a McDonalds.

The development stops quickly on leaving South Boston and for most of the day I hardly saw car traffic as I meandered through Virginia country roads. The region is sparsely populated. My destination this day would be Altavista VA; forty something miles to the northwest.

Growing tobacco clearly used to be a major deal here, both north and south of the Virginia/North Carolina line. What I assume are tobacco barns were ubiquitous. Frequently I cycled by them every quarter mile or so, sometimes in clusters. There seems to be very little agriculture going on now, tobacco or otherwise.

cow
abandoned farmhouse

Both this day and the day before I saw several pre-WWII gas stations.

Altavista VA (population 3,500) seems a working class town with several prominent factories.

factory and a Dollar General

There are a couple of motels on the fringes of Altavista but also an Airbnb that looked promising, at least online. The guy messaged me a code to get in the basement door. Staying there was a mistake. I had to share a bathroom with some guy and I could hear people walking around on the floor above from my low-ceilinged basement room.

The Airbnb building
My entrance was through the lower left basement door

Altavista is not an upscale town. I was very lucky that there was an engaging local place to eat dinner; the Two Sisters Tap Room & Deli. It still also functions as a gas station and convenience store. I could choose from a big selection of local beers and my turkey sandwich on homemade bread was quite good. I got a hot dog for dessert. The restaurant is popular. Indoors was crowded, with a bar and lots of indoor seating but In these COVID times I could sit outside, although no one else seemed too concerned about the disease.

A political note: We are always looking for cultural and political cues. To my Chapel Hill eyes the Two Sisters looked hippy-dippy, with the stickers and slogans “BUY LOCAL.” “Never sit at a table when you can stand at the bar – Ernest Hemingway”. As a deliberately messy gas station/restaurant/bar with an attitude the Two Sisters looks exactly like the Saxapahaw General Store back home near Chapel Hill NC, which I have always considered hippy-dippy and left wing. But the Two Sisters also proclaimed “Don’t Tread on Me” above the entrance and even more egregious, instead of sports, Newsmax TV News was playing at the bar, Fox News apparently not radical enough.

checkout counter; bar to the right
above the entrance of the Two Sisters

The next morning I wanted to get out of that nasty Airbnb as soon as possible. I cycled down the hill to downtown Altavista for the Main Street Cafe & Coffee (isn’t that repetitive?). There were bible verses on the wall.

A friendly attitude served up an oat milk latte with one pack sugar, plus a ham and cheese croissant, flattened and warmed on the grill. I could sit safely outside and watch the world go by, while also reading The New Yorker on my Kindle.

As the crow flies downtown Lynchburg is only twenty-something miles from Altavista but bicycling from there I faced numerous obstacles including huge hills and traffic laden major highways. I had plenty of time so I wanted to make the bike ride safe and pleasant by taking a longer route if necessary.

For the first fifteen to twenty miles from Altavista the country roads were delightful cycling.

uphill through Altavista VA
Proud To Be American, Altavista VA
north of Altavista VA

The final miles into Lynchburg were terrible cycling. You really do not want more detail. The city and its immediate suburbs funnel all traffic into major four or six lane highways. Minor residential streets that would be good cycling are almost all dead-ends, usually including steep hills.

That aside, I love Lynchburg, at least the physical appearance of its older city. Lynchburg (population 79,000) is part of my designated Three Historic and Crumbling Southern Virginia Urban Spaces That Need To Be More Loved. (The other two are Danville VA and Petersburg VA.)

Approaching Lynchburg from the northwest I could see Lynchburg’s current big growth industry Liberty University. Leaving aside any socio-political discussion, my hunch was confirmed by talking to a couple of locals, that Liberty’s explosive growth is confined mostly to its suburban location and it has not done much to help revitalize Lynchburg’s historic core city. These social conservatives apparently are not urbanists.

LU on the hill above Liberty University

In that difficult to cycle area between Liberty University and the downtown I stumbled onto a fetching outdoor taco stand. Time for lunch!

I finally cycled into downtown. One of Lynchburg’s nicknames is Hill City. Both the commercial downtown and historic nineteenth century neighborhoods seem ready to slide down a precipice.

After my sleazy and low cost Airbnb the night before I threw caution to the wind and booked the nicest and most expensive hotel in downtown Lynchburg, the recently renovated Virginian.

Late in the afternoon I walked around downtown. Like most American cities now there are several locally owned breweries. One of them was open to the street. I stopped in for a dark porter.

I ate that night at the Skyline, on the roof of the Virginian hotel. Sure, it’s just Lynchburg but it felt very cosmopolitan. Everything was open to the springtime evening.

I think this guy was a waiter.
poke appetizer with a side of fries

The next morning I was to cycle about eight miles to a Hertz office to pick up a rental car to drive back to Raleigh/Durham. Cycling in the city of Lynchburg is terrible except where it is great. Some of that bicycle ride to Hertz was on a converted rail line called the James River Heritage Trail. It is one of the most scenic of such paths that I have seen.

start of the trail, bottom of the hill along the James River, downtown Lynchburg

The trail ended and the final couple of miles cycling on busy roads was scary but I got my rental car. I drove it and the bicycle home to Chapel Hill, arriving by mid afternoon.

I do love hiking in the great outdoors (mountains! forests! wildlife!) but too little is said about urban hiking. I indeed have been bicycling around New Orleans but you see so much more when you walk. This past Sunday I did an almost day-long ten mile stroll through a big part of New Orleans, starting at our condo on St. Mary Street. Dare I call it flaneuring? This time I skipped the popular Uptown and headed instead for the Central Business District, the French Quarter, Treme, Esplanade Ridge, and Mid-CIty.

Tootie, our dog Rosie and I have been doing an about thirty minute walk every morning, going up to the statue of “Margaret” near the freeway, and then returning. This morning I started off with Tootie and Rosie, with plans to separate halfway through the walk. The three of us left our place and walked down St. Mary Street, a street of pre-Civil War mansions, decaying old buildings, and newer rentals.

We walked alongside Coliseum Square Park. In the 1980’s crime was so bad we were terrified to even come to this part of town. The park is now peaceful and lovely. Neighbors come out on their own and pick up bits of trash. There are lots of people with dogs.

f

About a half mile from our condo we arrived at our usual turn-around point, the statue of the nineteenth century philanthropist Margaret Haughery “Bread Woman of New Orleans and Mother of the Orphans.”

Rosie definitely likes Tootie more than me, but she still freaks out when the three of us do not complete our three “person” walk as a group. Rosie looked back anxiously as I walked away by myself, heading further downtown. I first had to walk underneath the freeway which is the onramp to the bridge over the Mississippi River.

Just past the bridge was Lee Circle and its vacant pedestal. It was known as Tivoli Circle until 1883 when a statue of Robert E Lee was erected here. I would support just calling it Tivoli Circle again but the name remains a point of contention. The Lee statue was taken from the top of the pedestal in 2017 in the dead of night under police protection. Earlier this year a smaller sculpture by the Black female artist Simone Leigh was put next to the pedestal, but only for a scheduled six months.

New Orleans was originally settled by the French and Spanish, but “Americans” began moving here in droves after about 1820. During the 1820-1860 period New Orleans was at the zenith of its economic status as the fifth largest city in America. The “Americans” kept a distinct culture from the local Creoles, including their architecture. The wealthiest Americans built wooden Garden District mansions. Almost all nineteenth century housing in New Orleans is built of wood, but in the area of town near Lee Circle many of those Americans built brick row houses similar to the ones in Brooklyn or Philadelphia. They must have been especially hot in the half of the year that is the summer here. Many were semi-abandoned by the 1970’s when this area was New Orleans’ Skid Row. Most of the existing such houses have been rehabilitated.

Julia Street, wiki photo by Jim Steinhart

Further downtown I slowly gained on the skyscrapers.

The New Orleans office downtown is called the Central Business District. Jobs there have declined in the past twenty years and office buildings have been converted to hotels. Tourists now wander around the CBD.

This hotel was formerly headquarters of Hibernia Bank

I arrived on Canal Street, which separates the CBD from the French Quarter. On this Sunday morning tourists lined up at some place called Cafe Beignet.

Across Canal Street was the French Quarter. Before the 1980’s while New Orleanians had been eating artful cuisine for generations, in almost everywhere else in America a fancy meal was just steak and baked potato. I walked by two of the old school restaurants that have been in the French Quarter for over a hundred years.

Galatoire’s, where the local blue bloods still gather for Friday lunch that becomes a party and extends through most of the afternoon.
Arnaud’s, (since 1918!) and its adjoining French 75 bar. Both were closed on this Sunday morning but I could take a photo of the bar through the window. The bar looks relatively commonplace, which shows how much this actual 1920’s decor has been copied by bars all over America.

I continued walking down-river through the French Quarter, mostly on Dauphine Street.

I reached the end of the French Quarter at Esplanade Avenue, and I turned left.

Corner Esplanade and Burgundy
I had never noticed this building before at 1020 Esplanade Avenue: Unione Italiana also called Italian Hall, site of many early jazz concerts. Built 1835 and heavily altered and expanded in 1912; it is now residential condos.

I walked on Esplanade across the wide Rampart Street heading towards the neighborhood of Treme, New Orleans’ oldest African-American neighborhood. It sits opposite the French Quarter, on the other side of Rampart Street. I veered left on North Villere Street into Treme. Pre-Civil War New Orleans had a large community of free-persons-of-color.

My intermediate destination was Treme Coffeehouse. I ordered an oat milk latte, twelve ounce, with one pack sugar, and sat outside and read an amazing The New Yorker article about thousands of boomers moving to Jimmy Buffett themed communities in Florida.

New Orleans is changing, just like places everywhere change. Two young women on the other table were talking about a friend of theirs who recently moved to New Orleans from Harlem NY because “she said a voice was calling for her to live in New Orleans.” Entitled? Sure, but compared to when Tootie and I lived here in the 1980’s New Orleans is much more cosmopolitan. A city like this needs new energy moving here. Young people from somewhere else are ubiquitous. I sense many come here knowing that they will have to create their own jobs if they do not want to work in restaurants. I now know several people living here because they can work remotely. Maybe New Orleans is finding itself as a place that people move to, just to be here.

Refreshed, I left to walk on. Long time residents of Treme are having issues with gentrification, especially Airbnb. The City has recently passed regulations that make Airbnbing more difficult. I crossed under the Claiborne Avenue overpass, then out Bayou Road.

about to pass under I-10, which covers North Claiborne Avenue

Gentrification is not inherently bad or good, it just is what it is, depending on the situation. At the corner of Bayou Road and Esplanade, between Claiborne Avenue and Broad Street, a coffee house was festive at eleven-thirty on a Sunday morning; Tangled Up In Blue by Bob Dylan. The video here is only twenty seconds long.

I walked further out Esplanade Avenue, across Broad Street, then turned a soft left onto Bell Street into a neighborhood I have always called “Dave and Gail’s Neighborhood” even though they have not lived here for thirty-five years. Everyone else calls this area Esplanade Ridge.

Esplanade Avenue and Bell Street both terminate near City Park and Bayou St. John. I walked along the bayou then crossed on the Orleans Avenue bridge.

After the Treme coffeehouse my second intermediate destination for this walk was an outdoor bar called Wrong Iron, a beer garden that I had repeatedly seen on my bike rides but had never actually visited. Why not now? It was just after noontime on a Sunday. I am not all that worried about catching COVID but I still find indoor settings tense and being entirely outdoors like this just more relaxing. The garden was less than half full. Lots of people sat with their dogs.

In recent months restaurants in New Orleans, like the rest of America, have been shorthanded and crowded. I frequently found it easier on my bike rides just to bring my own food and have a picnic, usually at a bench in a park. This beer garden only sells food by third party vendors. I decided to break the rules a little. I ordered a local porter from the bar and looked for a spot where I could eat inconspicuously. I read some more of The New Yorker, this time about how Putin and rich Russians are playing the English.

I had brought two sandwiches, one of avocado and cooked mustard greens with lots of olive oil and sriracha sauce, on whole wheat (much better than it sounds!) and the other peanut butter and jelly. The beer was delicious. Coverage from Jeddah of the Formula One Saudi Grand Prix race was playing on the outdoor TV. The race was at night and appeared to have no spectators. The whole thing looked like a video game, even though it is obviously real. What is the point?

I was very happy sitting here, really. Why not sit here all day? I could call Tootie to drive over here and pick me up!

I did not want to be a deadbeat so after a while I looked at my phone and plotted a course walking home, three and a half miles, this time mostly on Canal Street.

Across the bike path from the beer garden is a 1970’s looking hospital which has been totally abandoned since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, stuck in Louisiana political muck. Locals seem to like the graffiti; it is even lit up at night!

The most famous New Orleans streetcars are on St. Charles Avenue. Canal Street, on the other side of town, lost its streetcars in about the year 1960. They were put back relatively recently. I applaud this but am skeptical about the design honesty of building new streetcars specifically designed to look old.

Lining Canal Street for about a mile is a new medical complex built in the past ten years. While the area where the hospitals were built was not upscale it still involved tearing down many many historic houses, a battle which preservationists fought and lost. Part of the pitch to get this built was that multiple medical establishments would be more efficient if grouped together in new buildings. I guess it was impressive to see a government actually finish something in such short order. Big medicine speaks. As you walk down Canal Street the huge buildings go on and on.

The medical complex ends near where Canal Street runs under I-10 and Claiborne Avenue. Off in the distance, closer to downtown one can see the now totally vacant giant 1930’s art-deco building of Charity Hospital, commissioned by Huey Long. It has sat empty since 2005. There are plans for repurposing it but I am skeptical.

On Canal Street below Claiborne I considered myself back in the Central Business District. The part of Canal Street just below Claiborne has been quite dingy in past years and it is encouraging to see new signs of life. The seventeen story Modernist former Texaco Building from 1951 had been abandoned for years but has recently been renovated into apartments.

Further down Canal Street I took a right on St. Charles Avenue and starting walking uptown. My condo was now a little more than a mile away. On the way I passed through Lafayette Square, which is surrounded by courthouses; federal, state, and local.

Does the Hale Boggs Federal Building qualify as the architectural style known as brutalism?

I walked back under the bridge overpasses, then into my neighborhood. I arrived home at about four in the afternoon.

My friend Lyman and I wanted to go bicycle in Florida, somewhere warm. How about Orlando? I had no specific plan what to do or see there but Orlando is arguably the number one tourist destination in the WORLD. The Orlando airport has nonstops to almost everywhere, including Europe, Brazil, and Dubai. Theme parks! Disney World! Golf! Of course, I was not interested in any of those things. But still. There must be something to see there while bicycling.

I knew from past trips and Google Maps that the area southwest of Orlando around Disney World is a non-starter for cycling; freeways dead-ending into parking lots abutting theme park gates. On the other hand I also knew that other parts of the Orlando area have rail-trails that looked inviting, as well as picturesque older neighborhoods. What could possible go wrong?

I fly airlines all the time, but reluctantly. I hate turbulence. Also, flying with my Bike Friday on an airline requires significant disassembly of the bicycle to make it fit into the suitcase. Amtrak has become more bicycle friendly, both for full size bicycles and even more for folding bicycles.

I find trains totally relaxing. Amtrak is only worth taking in the few instances where the trains go when you want them to go, at decent hours. Cary NC is ten miles southwest of Raleigh NC. If on schedule, you board just before ten at night in Cary and arrive Jacksonville FL seven in the morning, Orlando about ten-thirty. Of course, many times there are delays; “issues.”

Amtrak coach is very low cost; the sleepers are expensive. Nevertheless, I booked a round trip first class sleeper car from Cary NC to Orlando FL. I am still COVID nervous. In normal times I often travel the much cheaper Amtrak coach but who wants to sit and attempt to sleep with a mask on for thirteen hours? The Amtrak roomettes seat and sleep one or two people. You can shut the door, pull the curtain over the glass on the door, and take off your mask in your own little pod, watching the world go by out the window.

The Cary NC train station is great with free parking right next to where you get on the train. You only need to arrive at the station about five minutes prior to train arrival. I had a nice dinner at home in Chapel Hill NC with Tootie, then drove myself and the Bike Friday in our ancient Honda the half hour to the station.

Amtrak southbound arrived Cary exactly on time and I was soon maskless in my private compartment. I asked the porter to put down the bed. I like the top bunk because it has less train noise.

lying down for sleep on the top bunk I soon turned off the blue “night light”

I slept quite well. The next morning I relocated downstairs and stared out the window. We had just crossed into flat Florida landscape. The folded bicycle occupied the opposing seat, the bunk above my head.

Every Amtrak train seems to have a different bicycle policy. I found out the policy on this train has gotten easier. On my northbound return a few days later I paid the twenty dollars to put the unfolded and fully assembled bicycle in the baggage car.

Arriving in the Orlando area I got off the train half an hour early at the Winter Park FL station, fifteen miles before the downtown Orlando station. I was ready to start cycling. It was a beautiful day, and warm! I stepped off the train and dumped the folded bicycle on the ground.

folded bicycle and the train, Winter Park FL

Where was my co-conspirator Lyman? He had taken a 6:00 AM nonstop on Southwest Airlines from Austin TX to Orlando, $138.00 round trip for a two hour and a half hour flight and no charge for a suitcase containing a bicycle. Lyman had been on the ground in Orlando about half an hour when I stepped off the train. He was going to pick up a rental car and drive the half an hour to Winter Park. I put my bicycle together and cycled around upscale Winter Park. I was all ginned up to do massive exercise and bicycle somewhere but by the time Lyman arrived and put his bicycle together it was eleven thirty. My enthusiasm for exercise had waned. Why not do lunch? Winter Park has nice outdoor restaurants.

The government of Florida has been acting like COVID doesn’t exist but I insisted that every public meal on this trip be outdoors and I was always masked when indoors in public places. Even though it was only a Tuesday, at Armando’s in Winter Park people seemed to be settling in. Here were Ladies Who Lunch. Italian food! We got an outdoor table. There were men with loafers and no socks, a look that Tootie heard JFK first popularized.

Lyman with his spaghetti and meatballs

When lunch was over we were ready to start cycling! We left the rental car parked on the street in Winter Park. This first afternoon we took a big thirty mile loop through the northern part of the Orlando area, most of it on the Cross Seminole rail-trail. The trail started not far from Winter Park. It had impressive overpasses and tunnels to get around major highway intersections.

We cycled to the end of the trail then meandered back towards Winter Park on regular residential streets, through miles and miles of neighborhoods. These looked like areas where people seemed to have moved in the last thirty years, seeking their version of Florida “paradise.” Both the state of Florida and Orlando can be bicycling paradise and bicycling hell. The rail trails are numerous and nicely paved and maintained, but they are disconnected from each other. They only go where they go. A huge swath of the Orlando metro area is comprised of giant highways with complex interchanges, surrounded by neighborhoods with unconnected dead end streets. We would find out the next day that depressingly the best rides around Orlando were to haul our bicycles in the tiny rental Ford Fiesta to a trailhead and then bicycle and up-and-back on a rail-trail.

We had booked for two nights an Airbnb in a less-than-upscale part of Winter Park; a very clean and modern two bedroom/two bath house for about the cost of one hotel room. We sat on the front porch at twilight sipping beers.

I had seen a healthy looking restaurant in downtown Winter Park during the day.

We went back to this low cost and unassuming Turkish restaurant that night and had a really nice dinner on the sidewalk; several mezze appetizers like baba ganoush and hummus, then lamb kebobs. Glasses of red wine.

The next morning we cycled back to downtown Winter Park and the informal Barnie’s Coffee and Tea. I had an oat milk latte (one pack sugar) plus an avocado toast. Lyman got something more substantial. We listened to two very well put out guys talk at the next table and wondered what they were discussing. Lyman eventually figured out they were discussing how to sell financial stuff. One was doing most of the talking. Hardly anyone dresses like this back in Chapel Hill.

We cycled off towards downtown Orlando and older neighborhoods. Orlando is supposed to have more than one hundred lakes in the city limits.

We cycled from these older neighborhoods into the tall buildings of downtown Orlando. Especially in downtown the cycling was only just OK. To be safe we realized that in metro Orlando we needed to cycle on bike paths. It seemed like we were wimping out but we cycled back to our rental house. We loaded the two folding bikes in the tiny rental car and drove twelve miles to a trailhead northwest of the city.

The Seminole Wekiva trail is a delightful paved path on a former rail line that runs fourteen miles north and west through the northern Orlando suburbs. We would do an up-and-back.

The state has constructed impressive tunnels or overpasses over or under where the trail crossed major highways.

bicycle underpass

I was a nice bike ride, warm weather, fascinating scenery, including these huge birds next to a supermarket parking lot.

We ate that night outdoors at a brew pub. The temperature was in the upper fifties; borderline cold. We had had enough of Orlando. That night we planned for a drive the next morning to Tampa and then bicycle Tampa to St Petersburg.

Breakfast the next day at the local and delightful Foxtail Coffee Company. Since it was about sixty degrees outside the Florida people wore heavy coats.

Orlando to Tampa was about a hundred mile drive, totally on the freeway. We exited near the Tampa airport and looked for a place to park the car for two days. We wanted to access the bike trail across Campbell Causeway. This maps shows the bike ride we did this day, Tampa to St. Petersburg, about forty miles.

Lyman thought this LabCorp facility wouldn’t care if we left our rental car there. I guess we would find out.

We took the bikes out of the car and cycled off. Campbell Causeway is eleven miles long across Old Tampa Bay. This is one of my favorite short stretches of bike path in America.

Typical of the State of Florida, this lovely and very safe bike path abruptly ends at the opposite side of the bay, and we were dumped into unpleasant cycling; the street grid of Clearwater FL and surrounding communities. The bike riding was sometimes safe, sometimes not. We eventually found an east-west bike path.

Cycling by a mobile home park, Clearwater FL

It is about seven miles east-west across the peninsula before we crossed the north-south Pinellas Trail, a delightful paved former rail line that takes a bicyclist the entire twenty-two miles further to downtown St. Petersburg. There are bridges across both bodies of water and where the trail crosses major highways.

The Pinellas Trail crosses Long Bayou

Downtown St. Petersburg faces the bay on its west side. As we cycled in from the east we saw older commercial neighborhoods of St. Petersburg that are slowly revitalizing. There are several breweries occupying large industrial spaces including Cage Brewing. We stopped and got beers and sat in the yard.

We got two rooms that night at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, a 1920’s structure that is still mostly intact; small rooms and reasonably low prices but also clean and safe.

Downtown St. Petersburg has some nice older structures

Around the newer waterfront condos there seem to be more parking garages than buildings. I saw this pattern repeat both in downtown Tampa and downtown Orlando. Do Florida building codes require one parking space per bedroom?

That morning we cycled around the St Petersburg neighborhood called Old Northeast

We stopped for a coffee at a local coffee shop

We chose to take the ferry across Tampa Bay, back to Tampa near where our car was parked. I was fascinated that the boat was named “Provincetown III.” I discovered that the boat and the entire crew were from Massachusetts. The boat sails Boston MA – Provincetown MA part of the year and sails here in Tampa Bay in the winter. We carried out bikes on board. The boat ride was a little over an hour. We docked in downtown Tampa.

Our friend Bob lives in Tampa and we arranged to meet him for ice cream. We then biked along the Tampa waterfront.

Amtrak changed my schedule due to a snowstorm up north so I decided to go home one day early, leaving on otherwise the same train as I had planned but starting instead in Tampa. Lyman would fly home from Orlando the next day. I biked up to the Tampa station. The train would be leaving at about six that evening.

Outside the Amtrak station in Tampa

Once again it was delightful to have an enclosed private space. I had bought a bottle of wine at a Publix supermarket. I opened it up and poured myself a glass.

It was nice looking out the window as we passed through central Florida at twilight. An hour or two later downtown Orlando seemed to be all parking garages.

Later on, sleeping on the top bunk it was a little unsteady as the train creaked and swayed all night long. I drifted in and out of sleep as we passed through Jacksonville FL, Savannah GA, and Columbia SC. I kept thinking of the line from the Dire Straits song Tunnel of Love

and I’ve been riding on a ghost train / where the cars they scream and slam

I got off the train in Cary NC at eight in the morning. I walked down to the baggage car and retrieved by bicycle. Our 2004 Honda Accord was still there a few hundred feet from the train.

This two or three hour bike ride started in Bracey VA, a little more than an hour by car north of Durham and Chapel Hill NC. I-85 runs the hundred fifty miles from Durham NC to Richmond VA. North of the Virginia line the region feels like a step in the past. The area’s only economic engine currently appears to be real estate and tourism, centered on Lake Gaston, created in 1963 when the power company dammed the Roanoke River, flooding the land along the North Carolina/Virginia line. The blue line below shows where I cycled.

Four miles into Virginia with my bicycle in the back of our Ford Escape Hybrid, at Exit 4, I steered off I-85 and parked within sight of the Interstate, in front of a Huddle House Restaurant. I had not seen a Huddle House in a while but their website says there are 339 of them. Who knew? There was lots of parking so I assumed no one would care if I left our car here for a few hours. Bracey VA does not appear to be much of a town, it is mostly the several gas stations and restaurants surrounding the I-85 crossover.

I cycled east from I-85 on the Bike Friday on a two lane road.

There are apparently lots of second homes facing the lake. I bicycled down one side road until its dead end. There was an attempt at exclusivity, a gate of a gated community. I did not go around the gate; why stir trouble?

I soon cycled into Brunswick County, Virginia, current population 16,000; about the same as the population of Brunswick County, Virginia in the year 1800; 16,000. Its big claim to fame is that everyone (except those in Brunswick, Georgia) considers it the birthplace of Brunswick stew. There were vacant and semi-vacant old buildings strew across the landscape.

Many of these semi-abandoned looking houses have mowed lawns around them, and I must assume that the owners live in single wide or double wide manufactured housing on adjacent property.

sometimes a house gets so old it just falls down

I had brought lunch but could not find a picnic table. Ebony VA is marked on the map as a town, but it seems mostly to be one gas station and store at a crossroads . They had a picnic table in their side yard! I went in and bought a Starbucks iced milk coffee, and ate my peanut butter sandwich in the sun, reading The New Yorker on my Kindle.

The ride back to my car followed even smaller back roads. It was quite delightful. When you stopped the bicycle you could not hear a sound.

When I got back to Bracey VA the car was still there. I got in it and drove home.