Where to go next?   “Normally” in January I take short furious bike rides in the cold, because I know once warmed up I will get the chills if I stop.   Sometimes I have taken the airplane to Florida in January for brief trips because biking in sixty and seventy degree temperatures is a delight.

These two January days the weather home in Chapel Hill NC was predicted to be Florida without the airplane ticket.   Friday and Saturday were predicted the be both sunny and warm with a high temperature of about seventy.   The world might be coming to an end but why not enjoy it on a bicycle?

Three hours car driving northeast into Virginia the temperatures were predicted to be just as warm.   Early on Friday morning I put the Bike Friday in the back of the Prius and set out, not really knowing exactly where I was going or what route I would bicycle.

On the way I settled with the almost non-place of Charles City VA because it sits at about midpoint of the very nice and almost new Virginia Capital Trail; a fifty-two mile long paved bike path between Richmond and Wiliamsburg.   I had bicycled the Richmond end of the trail with Tootie a couple of years ago.   This time I would bicycle the Williamsburg half, and then maybe beyond to Yorktown, somewhere I had essentially never visited.

 

At the Charles City Courthouse municipal complex I parked the car.   There were lots of spaces; I correctly assumed no one would care if I left my car here for thirty hours.

I set out east on the bike path.   I parallels the two lane Virginia route 5 along the north bank of the James River.

 

Only thirty miles from downtown Richmond; Charles City County is strikingly rural and unpopulated.

From Wikipedia: Charles City County;  population in the year 1790 was 5,600;

in 1960: 5,500;

in 2019: 6,900

Despite the low population the area is dripping with history.   Two presidents (John Tyler and William Henry Harrison) come from this small county.   From all sorts of eras (Jamestown and Pocahontas, Revolutionary War, and the Civil War) important things happened here.   The state historic signs are ubiquitous.

 

 

Part of my aversion to all this history is what is leaves out.    It is a huge step forward that this next sign was prominently situated next to the Charles City County courthouse.  In a town this small any gathering of 75 people probably included anybody who was anybody.

 

 

The first ten or fifteen miles of bike path passed by several “plantations”  with pretentious names, most dating from the 1600’s, where high value crops like cotton and tobacco had been planted and harvested by mostly slave labor, then exported by the deep water access of the James River.  In 2020 it is mostly woods; quiet and peaceful.  For now there were no tacky subdivisions.

 

I was almost all the way to Williamsburg when, after crossing into James City County, the bike path finally started to pass subdivisions, gated communities, and golf courses.

 

 

Bicycling into metro Williamsburg from the west on Monticello Avenue, there were miles of newer commercial sprawl, Food Lions and Old Navys.   One normally would expect a courthouse to be in the downtown center.  Not here.  Mixed right into the strip malls was Williamsburg’s new courthouse; one of the strangest looking municipal buildings I have seen in a while; putting the “colonial” touch on courthouse utility.

 

A mile or two further I arrived into the part of town normally referred to as Colonial Williamsburg.  It features the state university that is The College of William and Mary and the restored colonial town.

 

 

 

Backed by private money particularly from the Rockefeller family and starting in the 1920’s, the restored town is not so much historic preservation as historic re-creation.  Over fifty percent of the buildings in the historic area are reproductions.  Costumed actors are hired to look the part.

I grew up an hour away by car in Virginia Beach and my parents took my siblings and me to Williamsburg many times.   They wanted us to know about our country’s history.  Maybe because of all those visits I find this historic re-creation annoying and I have only been back here one other time in the past forty years.  I cannot think of a concrete criticism, so I will pass this as my personal quirk.   It certainly was not a right / left – conservative / liberal thing back in the day. (My mother voted for George McGovern!). But it seems to be like that now.

 

I had a nice almond milk latte at Aromas Coffeehouse, then biked out of town towards Yorktown.   On the edge of town I was impressed by this modernist motel.

The Colonial Parkway connects Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, towns that were significant around the year 1776 or before, but the road is much more derivative of parkways inspired by the designer Frederick Law Ulmstead and the bureaucrat Robert Moses.   Begun in 1930 and completed in 1957, the Colonial Parkway was built when car travel still had the now unimaginable promise of being a relaxing and scenic experience.

The Colonial Parkway has freeway-like overpasses and a tunnel beneath Colonial Williamsburg, but a speed limit of mostly 35 or 45 MPH.   I is quite pleasant for bicycling.

 

Intentionally bumpy road surfaces and brick overpasses under the I-64 freeway do not evoke George Washington but are indeed attractive.   This day there were repairs.

 

The second half of the parkway to Yorktown parallels the York River.   US Navy installations line the river as well, as these areas are accessible to ocean going ships.   I learned that is why British general Cornwallis used this area as a landing spot for the battle he ultimately lost to George Washington’s army.

The village of Yorktown is at the base of the York River Bridge.

I had not realized that Yorktown was so small.   Current population is 190, and it was not much of a town even back in the day, although now suburban sprawl and military bases are nearby.   There are two or three bars and restaurants on the waterfront.   I stopped by the Yorktown Pub for a beer.  Not touristy at all, the other patrons seemed to be all talking about boats and fishing.

 

Sitting at the bar I searched on my phone for somewhere to stay.    The best deal seemed to be an actual B&B, not an Airbnb, the Marl Inn, just a couple blocks uphill.   I called them on the phone.  Yes, they had a room.  I biked up there, they had patriotic decorations outside.

 

The room was clean, spacious, and comfortable.   There were lots of patriotically labelled things lying around.    Also, when I turned on the TV it was already tuned to Fox News!

Dinner was back at the Yorktown Pub; I bicycled down the hill in the dark.  Tootie and I go to New Orleans a lot and places like the Yorktown Pub have been disappearing down there;  loud, informal, and reasonably priced small family run seafood restaurants.   Here is Yorktown I came back to the same seat at the bar while there were people waiting for tables.   I started with clam chowder. Virginia is far north enough for clams, and I love clams.   A bowl costs only $ 1.50 more than a cup, so why not?

 

Rockfish is common around the Norfolk area but I had not known of it until my sister Jane introduced me a couple of years ago.   Here they allowed for half orders and I got it broiled, with a side of rice.  I came with a plastic thing of tarter sauce (old school!)

I was still a little hungry and here they had gumbo!   It is NOT a typical Tidewater Virginia dish but here it was spicy and delicious for $ 6.25 a cup.

The bartender was a real pro.  It was fun watching him work while I ate.

 

I skipped dessert but ate some chocolate covered nuts in my room.    The next morning I biked around the tiny settlement of Yorktown.   They are trying to make a mini-Williamsburg of this.

 

Among a very small number of businesses is a nice locally owned coffeehouse.   I got my usual light breakfast; roll and a coffee.

 

I’d like to say a took I took a different route for the forty miles back to my car, rather than just doubling back. However in suburban areas, outside of the street grid of major cities bicycling can be dangerous.   I did not want to bicycle, even on a Saturday, on crowded four lane highways.   Except for one portion through Williamsburg I bicycled back the same way that I had come, on Colonial Parkway and then the Virginia Capitol Trail.   It was all good.

One final note:   Bicyclists bring business.  Charles City County Courthouse, where I had parked my car, is not even a real town.   It is a newer municipal office complex in a rural area adjacent to a major bicycle trail. There is a restaurant occupying an old house.  On this warm Saturday at 2:00 PM that restaurant was completely filled with bicyclists.  Many were eating outside.

 

 

My car was still there.  I drove back to Chapel Hill in time for dinner,  stopping at the Starbucks in Petersburg VA for something to sip while on the road.

About thirty years ago I had an air freight client on the outskirts of Clinton NC;  a manufacturer of high-end glass panels.  I used to drive down there for sales calls.  The factory might still be there although companies now change names every few years as they get bought and sold.   I recently realized I had never seen downtown Clinton, which is sixty-five miles south of Raleigh, part of that great expanse of flatness North Carolinians call Down East.

On the day after Christmas I put the Bike Friday in the back of our car and drove down I-40.    I chose to start my bicycle ride from the smaller town of Faison NC (population 961), about twenty miles northeast of the larger Clinton NC.   Faison NC is at the top right of this map.

 

Here is Faison NC.

 

In an otherwise mostly empty downtown Faison NC, Hispanic immigrants have opened new businesses.

I pulled the bicycle out of the back of the car and headed west towards Clinton NC.   Faison NC actually has a few distinctive buildings.

 

There was not much traffic as I bicycled out of town.

In the fifteen or twenty miles to Clinton NC there was a plethora of rural abandoned buildings.

 

 

I passed lots of industrial agriculture, including this set of barns holding thousands of what I think were turkeys.

Clinton (population 8700) feels positively urban compared to Faison.   I appears about that about a generation ago many retail businesses in Clinton moved from their downtown out to the US-421 Bypass.

 

Now a lot of that retail on US-421 is also vacant, as the older sprawl is replaced by the further-out Walmart and its attendant shopping center.   I bicycled toward downtown,  passing a tractor dealer along the way.

There is life here!   A long-time town doctor had donated his historic home for use as an arts center.

 

Downtown Clinton is not all empty, unlike many such North Carolina towns.

 

On the other side of downtown the entire street smelled of bacon as I bicycled by an enormous Smithfield pork processing plant, right in town.   It was apparently just breaking for lunch.

Soon I was out of town, heading east towards the town of Warsaw,

 

across significant wetlands.

I passed another Smithfield pork processing plant.   Clearly employees drive mostly pickup trucks!

I hit the second point of the day’s town triangle by arriving near the town of Warsaw (population 3000).

My brother Alex wrote an entire book about the fact that urbanization clusters around transportation modes.  While there are almost no restaurants in the actual town of Warsaw, there are at least eight restaurants (mostly fast food chains) at the I-40 interchange, two miles away.

I had to eat, despite my food snobbism.   Smithfield’s is a regional barbecue chain; maybe I could find something there.  It was packed; I got in line.

 

What to eat?   My doctor has suggested I cut down on animal fat and red meat.   Brunswick stew was the healthiest looking thing I saw; only by the pint: $ 5.99.   The young woman at the counter offered their special of a second pint for only $ 2.00 additional.   (No wonder Americans are fat!)  I declined, what would I do with another pint of Brunswick stew?  I brought my own beverage (my water bottle!)

The stew was warm and comfortable, I ate it slowly while gazing at the parking lot.

Back on the bicycle, it was only eight miles to complete the triangle by bicycling back to Faison NC.    I arrived on the other side of town and bicycled to my car for the two hour drive back to Chapel Hill.

 

High on my bucket list was to bicycle to Columbus, Indiana to see modern architecture.  More on that later.

Searching for a way to Columbus IN without taking the airplane, the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati OH are an eight hour five hundred mile drive from Chapel Hill NC, about my limit for a car ride.   This would give me a starting point where we could bicycle the hundred miles further to Columbus IN.     Also, I had barely ever been to Cincinnati, I was sure there would be something to see there.

My favorite retired architect, Lyman, from Austin TX really wanted to go on this trip.   Purchased a month in advance, Lyman got a ticket from Austin TX to Cincinnati on Southwest Airlines for $ 134.00 round trip, luggage included, changing planes in Baltimore.  Amazing.   Some kind of fare war is going on.   Air fares are all over the map these days but that is an amazing deal.

It was a little late in the season to be bicycling in Ohio and Indiana but we had to hope that the weather would cooperate.

I got up early and left Chapel Hill NC before 6:00 AM, driving our Prius mostly through West Virginia with my Bike Friday in the back.   I picked up Lyman at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport at about 2:00 PM the same day.  (He had gotten up even earlier than me; his flight had taken off from Austin at 5:35 AM!)  We drove a few minutes to an airport parking lot where we would leave the car for a week.  He had already put together his folding Bike Friday which he had brought in a suitcase.    We left his suitcase in my car and pedaled away from the parking lot towards the Ohio River, about two miles away.   At the top of a hill we could see the river below.

Although we were only about ten miles from downtown Cincinnati the landscape felt like a backdrop for Huckleberry Finn.

We took the privately owned Anderson Ferry across to the Ohio side.  It costs five dollars per car, one dollar for a bicycle, cash only.  They claim to have been doing this since 1817!  The crossing takes about five minutes.

 

 

Once on the Ohio side the landscape became urban fairly quickly.   While Cincinnati is still a large city, back in 1850 it was the sixth largest city in America, right behind New Orleans.   Cincinnati has miles of nineteenth century buildings, including some here upriver before we had even gotten to the city limits.

We crossed into the city limits.

It was an industrial area along the river.

In that same area we stumbled onto our first big architectural find, the 1931 Cincinnati Union Terminal, done in the Art Deco style.

On several occasions in the late 1960’s my mother took her four children by train from Norfolk VA to Texas to visit family, each time changing trains at this station in Cincinnati.    I do remember the building.  It was nicely restored in 2018,  having been converted to the Cincinnati Museum Center, as well as serving the few Amtrak trains that still call.   We biked up to the building and walked around inside.

 

We were impressed.   Back on the bicycles, it was two miles further to the Over the Rhine neighborhood where we had booked an Airbnb.  On the way we passed through several modernist public housing complexes.  In talking to locals later I learned that much of Over the Rhine was semi-abandoned until as recently as 2009.  I do not know the effect the current gentrification has had on the lower income people who are being pushed out.

 

 

Even now, the northern part of the neighborhood is still undergoing renovations, seemingly block by block.   I have learned it is one of the largest concentrations of intact mid-nineteenth century buildings in America.

 

This was the block that contained our Airbnb, sitting across from Washington Park.

 

For less than $ 150.00 per night including tax we got a stylish two bedroom apartment, accessed by an intricate interior staircase.

 

By this time it had gotten dark, bicycling for the day was over.   We went out for a drink.   Just around the corner in this newly trendy neighborhood there was a pretentious place with $12.00 cocktails.  Why not?  Just one.

 

Finding dinner was more problematic.   There were lots of restaurants but we could not seem to find something that looked appealing.   We ended splitting a big hamburger seated at another newer bar, it was all quite good.

The next morning we headed out by bicycle, destination Columbus, Indiana.  We hoped to make it in two to three days.  First we had to cycle through older parts of Cincinnati.

 

Because of our route heading west we were skipping huge parts of the uptown parts of the city, such as the area around University of Cincinnati, the upscale parts of Cincinnati.  Instead we headed through several miles non-gentrified areas.

 

 

Just before crossing Mill Creek we passed this place.   It was not lunchtime and we did not stop.  Cincinnati chili is the most famous local dish.  On further reading I understand it is NOT the Tex-Mex dish eaten all over America.  It is more like tomato meat sauce, often eaten on spaghetti.

 

Cincinnati was originally built around the flood plain where where Mill Creek enters the Ohio River.   Once we crossed Mill Creek and a sea of railroad tracks the land quickly breaks into steep wooded hills, much of it the public park known as Mount Airy.  We climbed further uphill through rugged terrain and then through Ohio exurban countryside.

 

It was time for lunch as we approached the suburban town of Harrison just before the Indiana state line.   Businesses sometimes pay folks to stand on the sidewalk and wave a sign.   In the rows of strip malls we passed this guy.   Greek food, something vegetarian sounded great.   And it was!

 

After lunch we headed back on the road.   The town of Harrison OH was obviously not wealthy but attractive.

We crossed into the state of Indiana just beyond Harrison.   The countryside was lovely.

 

 

We had set as our destination that day the supposedly tourist town of Metamora IN.    We had cycled a long way that day and ten miles before Metamora we arrived in Brookville IN.  We found Coffee On Main off on a side street, in the lower level of a building functioning as a church.  Small independent coffee houses have been cropping up all over America.

The proprietor was friendly and professional, she runs the place with her three daughters, all of them working part-time while holding other full-time jobs.  I got my usual almond milk latte but she gave us free samples of her sweet coffee drinks.   There was Christian music playing on the video and the Boy Scout Oath on the wall.

We hung out a while enjoying the chairs and the coffee.   We pushed off because we needed to arrive at our day’s destination of Metamora IN before sundown.   We cycled through the darkening countryside.

Metamora IN bills itself to be a tourist town, the site of a nineteenth century stop on the Whitewater Canal.  It is a tiny town, lots of schlock gently spread around.

 

The Airbnb was right in town in an old building with an old fashioned decor.   What does a picture of a plantation home have to do with Indiana?   We got separate rooms; this was Lyman’s.

There were unusual reading materials on the shelf in my room.

 

There were only two other guests at the hotel, both of them bow hunters looking for deer.    The friendly father son team had driven from far upstate New York in their black Ford pickup, looking for different hunting grounds.

 

On the map this town of Metamora showed several restaurants, we found out on arrival that none are open after about 3:00 PM.   I had to bicycle in semi-darkness a quarter mile down the highway to a MiniMart for some sandwiches which I brought back to the hotel.

We were lucky that Lyman had brought along a bottle of expensive Scotch.   We broke that open and sat outside on the porch with our sandwiches.  It was raining outside.

 

The next morning it was cold and rainy.  The proprietor was going to cook us breakfast but we volunteered and cooked eggs and bacon for ourselves, using ingredients from her refrigerator.    We forced ourselves to go back to bed for most of the morning, waiting for the rain to stop.  I did some reading on my Kindle.

About noon the weather indicated we could push on and so we did!   Because of the rain we set our sights low, just somehow get twenty-five or thirty miles to the larger town of Greensburg where we knew there were actual motels.

The first part of the ride was climbing again through heavily wooded terrain, mostly uphill.  Eventually the land leveled out on what I presume is the start of the great American flatness.

 

 

 

Greensburg had a Quality Inn out by the highway with a very reasonably priced room with two double beds, so we settled in to get out of the cold.   We wanted to eat in downtown Greensburg that evening out of principle rather than eat near the motel at a chain restaurant.   We would have to bicycle a mile or two in the dark cold but it seemed worth the effort.   I have a new set of rechargeable bicycle lights that seem almost like those on a car.

 

The only restaurant open downtown that had anyone eating at it was the Beach Tiki Bar and Grill, in a turn of the (19th-20th) century building and nowhere near the ocean.  It fronted the courthouse on the main square, Greensburg IN.

 

We sat near the back at the bar.   I ordered their supposed specialty, the fried fish sandwich.   It was quite good, one of the best tasting pieces of fried fish I have had in a while.  I asked about its provenance, they queried the kitchen and were told it was Vietnamese catfish.

 

There were two other guys who sat alone at the bar.   The bartender, Lyman, those two guys, and I communally watched Family Feud on the TV, without the sound.

 

The next morning the rain had totally stopped but it was COLD!   Twenty-four degrees and sunny;  the weather was going to continue to be an issue.

Lyman is originally from New Orleans (not cold) and then moved to Austin TX (also not cold.)   He seemed mildly freaked out as he put on everything he had to stay warm.

 

 

The whole point of this trip was to visit Columbus Indiana, thirty miles to the west.

Columbus, Indiana is a small city (population 44,000) forty miles south of Indianapolis and a hundred miles west of Cincinnati.   It is the home of Cummins, a homegrown Fortune 500 company that is one of the largest manufacturers of Diesel engines in the world.

The man who brought Cummins into prominence was Irwin Miller (1909-2002), born and raised in Columbus IN but educated at Yale and Oxford.   As a hobby for fifty years, from the 1940’s to the 1990’s he funded the architectural fees for almost any public building in Columbus as long as the builder chose from his short list of world-class architects.

Columbus consequently has dozens of public buildings: schools, churches, bank branches that were designed by famous architects like I.M. Pei and Eero Saarinen.   People are now coming to Columbus IN from all over the world just to see the buildings.

Lyman and I biked off from Greensburg IN across mostly flat rural Indiana towards Columbus IN, trying to move quickly so we could stay warm.

At the Columbus city limits surrounded by strip malls we came upon our first distinctive building, this fire station designed in 1967 by Robert Venturi in early postmodern style.   It is notable enough that the building has a whole Wikipedia page written about it!

 

 

The largest concentration of interesting public buildings is in the downtown area.   My first shock was thinking about what was torn down so that these mostly modernist buildings could take their place.    This is one block that still exists.

 

This church across the street.

These are other notable buildings in the immediate area.

 

 

My personal favorite downtown is likely the first church built with contemporary architecture in America, the First Christian Church, from 1942; designed by Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero.

 

The Cummins corporate headquarters, designed by Kevin Roche, from 1984.

 

 

Later on after checking into the hotel and resting we walked away from downtown, looking for somewhere to eat.   We passed this interesting bank.

We had beers at a brewery pub surrounded by friendly locals.

 

The beer was excellent but we wanted different food.  We walked back towards downtown and ate an an excellent Thai restaurant.   In a town otherwise 90% white, many customers in the Thai restaurant looked South Asian, as in Indian.

Eero Saarinen was the Finnish-American architect who designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch, Washington Dulles Airport, and the JFK TWA Terminal.  On the way back to our hotel we passed this Eero Saarinen design from 1954, the Irwin Bank, likely the first glass encased bank in the world.  It is now used as a conference center.

 

 

The next morning I was impressed that our otherwise very normal Hotel Indigo downtown had a dog who had been living in the lobby for thirteen years, a much longer tenure than anyone on the office staff.

 

We biked several miles from downtown through a 1950’s looking suburban area.

Our destination was the North Christian Church, designed by Eero Saarienen, from 1964.   In this open area the building really awakens, I could see God in this.

 

The building was unlocked because of for some kind of church event and we were able to walk around inside. The sanctuary has essentially no windows.

It was time to leave Columbus IN.   Did the semi-suburban nature of Columbus’ downtown sour me on contemporary architecture?   Absolutely not.  It did underscore how completely wrong the city planners of the 1950-60’s had been with their idea that dense downtowns should be REPLACED by suburban looking ones.   Contemporary architecture needs to fit in with existing buildings.

The day we left Columbus IN the weather was almost perfect, sunny, with wind at our backs and a high temperature near sixty.   The day after that SNOW was predicted followed by temperatures falling into the teens.   There was clearly only one full day left of decent bike riding; we should bike as far as possible.  We would be heading back across Indiana towards Cincinnati but taking different roads.

Leaving Columbus IN we cycled through conventional neighborhoods sprinkled with Modernist school buildings and churches.

 

 

 

Out of town we bicycled across flat landscapes.

We stopped for lunch in Greensburg but kept going on a long successful day, all the way to the town of Batesville IN, population 11,000.

 


Batesville seemed like a North Carolina textile town except that it looked prosperous; not full of abandoned buildings.   The secret is apparently its major industry Batesville Casket Company.  The business of death.

 

Likely because of the health of its businesses Batesville has a downtown hotel and restaurant called the Sherman House, a rarity in almost any small town.  It celebrates the town’s German heritage.  It has a large bar in the back where we met the hotel’s most recent owner, an actual German guy who followed his Batesville-born wife back to her hometown.

He let us store our bicycles in a former factory that backs up to the hotel.

 

 

 

The next day we had a couple of hours to take a ten or fifteen mile bicycle loop before the snow started.   I had bicycled in the Netherlands the previous summer and suddenly it felt just like that, bicycling on an empty road across flat fields with absolutely no car traffic.   We even saw this poetic looking crossroads.

About noon we bicycled up to an Enterprise rental car office near Batesville and got a car for the drive fifty miles back to Cincinnati.  It started to snow while we were driving.   We spend that night once more in Over the Rhine.  The next morning we drove to the airport, looking at the snowbound landscape.

 

I made it home to North Carolina in time for dinner the same evening.  It had turned cold there also.

 

 

 

I set out to walk Richmond, Virginia from one end to the other.   This was not a bike ride.  If I do many more walks instead of bike rides I will have to start a new blog!

Richmond VA has a genuine city feel and is close to home.   This was an urban hike:  point to point.   We started in Church Hill, a Richmond neighborhood east of downtown, the site of St. John’s Episcopal Church,  where Patrick Henry gave his famous 1775 “give me liberty or give me death” speech.    I am from Virginia Beach and my father grew up in nearby Norfolk.   We had always snickered at the supposed snobbishness of the Richmond elite.  “These” people have traditionally lived on the west side of town.  Why not walk from Church Hill on the east side, to the temple of the upper class on the west side, the Country Club of Virginia, a place I had never seen?   This would be our route, starting in the bottom right corner of the map below.

 

Accompanying me was my friend John Ripley.   Among his many talents is that he has been a successful professional photographer for forty years.  John gives me photography advise sometimes.  The pictures in this blog are mine, as you can see from the incorrect focus on the picture below.   Even on his own time John cannot stop himself from taking pictures.  He brought his super-expensive camera.

We live near each other in Chapel Hill / Carrboro NC.    We chose to drive to Richmond in less than three hours, take our walk, and drive back, all in the same day.   We parked the car on the street in Church Hill.

Richmond Walk Oct 2019 003

Yes, I agree that Confederate monuments are morally and politically problematic, but if someone tries to take down all the Confederate monuments in Richmond it is going to be complicated, to say the least.    Here in Libby Hill Park on Church Hill we saw our first.

The park sits on a cliff above the James River.   Richmond has gradually and quietly become a very cool place.   Whom I guess to be VCU art students were taking pictures of themselves wearing various outfits; they brought along a portable changing room.

John took pictures of the view of downtown.

 

Church Hill is a lovely older neighborhood, kind of off to itself.

 

As we walked down the steep hill towards an area called Shockoe Botto.  Some historic homes have survived.

 

 

Main Street Station has been visually assaulted ever since I-95 was built in the 1960’s but the station still looks good on a sunny day.

 

 

John tried to capture the same photograph.

From Shockoe Bottom we walked uphill towards downtown.

My brother Alex has counseled me that iron front buildings were the first stage of the skyscraper revolution in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  I had not known Richmond had one of these.   We walked by the Stearns Iron-Front Building, from 1869.

 

The Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, completed in 1788.   The side wings were added in the early twentieth century.

 

This is John photographing my namesake, built in 1929.  I am not related to the famous Chief Justice.  Although the owners kept the famous sign, it is now apartments, not a hotel.

 

A fascinating novel about Richmond is The Shad Treatment, written in the early 1970’s.   Along with lots of Virginia politics, it describes the places in Richmond where its elite congregate.  The novel changes all the names.   We walked by the Commonwealth Club, a downtown club that is well, just a club.  No golf course.   In The Shad Treatment it is called it the Confederate Club!

Further uptown walking towards VCU there is a mix of the old and the not-so-old.

Very much like what was done with Moore Square in Raleigh, Monroe Park in Richmond has been recently redone.   It looks very nice, surrounded by attractive buildings on all sides,  including this 1920’s theater.   It used to be politically incorrectly named The Mosque, now renamed after a tobacco company, The Altria Theater.

 

VCU, or Virginia Commonwealth University, has been mushrooming all over surrounding neighborhoods.   John and I stopped for lunch at this coffee house. We found the menu to be all-vegetarian.  We split a tofu based sandwich;  delicious.   John took a picture of the place while I photographed from the other side.

 

 

A large area spreading west of the VCU campus is colloquially called The Fan, miles of late nineteenth and early twentieth century row houses.   John stopped to take a picture of this artfully growing vine.

I have a heavy coffee table book called Great Streets, one author’s selection of his favorite twenty urban streets in the world.   It includes parts of Paris, Barcelona, and Rome.   Amazingly it includes Monument Avenue in Richmond VA.  It is indeed a lovely street.  Statues of Confederate “heroes” appear every two blocks.  On the eastern end it begins with J.E.B. Stuart.

Two blocks later rides in Robert E. Lee

In the current discussion of whether to remove Confederate statues, I do believe there are gray areas; discussions of tone, place, and content are appropriate.  Two blocks after Robert E. Lee the monument honoring Jefferson Davis crosses the line further than any Confederate monument I have ever seen.  Every time I come here I am shocked at the extended creepy verbiage about the valiant lost cause and Davis’ underhanded full arm salute.

John and I were so grossed out by Jefferson Davis that we headed off Monument Avenue for a parallel street.   Before leaving we admired and photographed this row of houses.

The walk continued.   There is actually street life in The Fan.

The further west we walked the newer the buildings became.   I guess these houses are 1930-40’s.

We walked across I-195 and as the houses became newer they were more set back from the street, with larger yards.

 

Owning a 1990’s Volvo station wagon makes a certain kind of style statement.  John my co-walker owns three, if you include the one he passed down to his adult son.    Here in Richmond we passed by someone who evidently also owns three, and chooses to park them on the street!

 

The further out we walked the less pedestrian friendly these wealthy neighborhoods became.   There were many spots where there were no sidewalks.   There are lots of dead end streets.   Walking became difficult at times because there was nowhere to walk.

John was not tired.  He can walk all day at high speed.   He was confused, however.   “Why are we doing this?” he asked.  Walking on a narrow near-highway was not fun.   I encouraged him to press on. We finally found better streets to walk on.  We had set out with a goal, we had to complete the mission, to walk to the Country Club of Virginia.

Just before arriving at our destination we passed St. Catherine’s School.   I had heard of this place all my life but had never seen it.   It was, and probably still is, where the elite of Richmond send their daughters.   It is definitely referred to in The Shad Treatment, I cannot remember what the author changed its name to.

 

We had to hustle across some traffic filled streets but finally found a dead end road that led to our destination.   We had arrived, we had completed our ten mile walk.

One inspiration for this Richmond walk was a conversation I had had six years ago on one of my bicycle trips.  I had found myself eating dinner at the bar of the nicest restaurant in Staunton VA, about a hundred miles from Richmond VA, talking to a man who was maybe just a few years older than me who was overnighting on a business trip.   Unprovoked by me he started baring his soul, talking about regrets in his life.   He described himself as a successful lawyer in Richmond.   He had lived in Richmond for thirty years but was originally from New England.   He loved golf.   He expressed regret that he had spent the prime years of his life in Richmond because he said he was never accepted there by the locals.   The worst stain was that he had never been asked to play golf at The Country Club of Virginia.   Not even once.  What could I say?  I just listened.

 

 

John and I walked inside the club for a brief moment, then called an Uber.    The Uber guy took us back to our car on the other side of Richmond.   We were home in Chapel Hill NC in time for dinner.

Starting in the northern tip of Virginia near Winchester VA there is a stretch of the Shenandoah / Cumberland valley where you can pass through four states (Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland / Pennsylvania) in a forty mile stretch.     In modern terminology this would be described as part of “the I-81 corridor.”

A few months ago on another trip I flew over this area while flying westward on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore on a clear day.  Most mountainous land seen from the air has the shape of crumpled paper.   Instead, the Shenandoah Valley area looked of long lines of distinct sharp ridges lined up in a northeast / southwest direction.  Within these ridges the land looks (and is) comparatively flat.

The Shenandoah / Cumberland valley was a big deal in the American Civil War, where Southern armies marched north to try and conquer Yankee territory.   Both Gettysburg and Antietam are right around here.

This is an area frequently on the news because it is a notably Trump supporting region within an easy drive of Washington DC.  Media can come out and see what the other America is thinking and still get back to D.C. in time for cocktails.  Much of this region has been economically left behind.

Maybe my readers will remember my trip here two years ago, when I bicycled north starting in Winchester VA.   This trip I wanted to push further north into Pennsylvania.

It took a little less than six hours to drive our Prius from Chapel Hill NC to the Walmart on the south side of Hagerstown MD.   Once again I assumed that Walmart did not mind me parking here for twenty-four hours.   I pulled the Bike Friday out of the trunk next to someone’s religiously labelled minivan.

 

My self-appointed mission was to bicycle to Shippensburg PA, spend the night and ride back the next day, using a different route each way.

 

Hagerstown (population 40,000) greets a visitor like me with the kind of early twentieth century houses that North Carolina lacks.  I love this look.  This was not a wealthy neighborhood.   Most of Hagerstown looks somewhat run down.

 

 

I continued on, cycling straight north through both sides of downtown.

Out of town US11 is wide enough for pleasant cycling.

Contrary to popular notion the Mason-Dixon Line refers to the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland.   When I crossed there were no special signs or businesses that made issue of this line.

 

Eventually I did see some signage.   Some of these signs were over twenty miles into Pennsylvania.   Every commercial sign I saw about Mason-Dixon was in Pennsylvania, including the one with a rebel flag.

 

 

 

For a time a was able to find a parallel route off the busy US11.    The countryside was beautiful.

On station wagon trips as a child, my mother told us to look at Pennsylvania barns, that they were bigger and stronger than the houses that accompanied them.   She was right.  North Carolina does not have barns like this.

 

 

I have been trying to get to Chambersburg PA (population 21,000) for quite a while.   I am not a particular Civil War buff.  I am more attracted to Chambersburg because I thought its  architecture would look exotically Yankee and it is an easy drive from North Carolina.  During the Civil War General Lee’s army used Chambersburg’s accessibility for other ends.  There is no point in romanticizing this conflict.  My great and great-great grandparent’s cause was wrong.  Chambersburg PA was raided and occupied by Southern forces three times.  The third time the town was burned mostly to the ground.   Free African-American citizens of the town were abducted and murdered.    As a result, for a time the Union used a battle cry “Remember Chambersburg.”

About Chambersburg today, whoever wrote the Wikipedia page about Chambersburg and its surrounding Franklin County said the following.  (Note my previous comment on what an easy drive it is to Chambersburg for journalists like New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks!)

From Wikipedia:

Journalist David Brooks in 2001 used Chambersburg and Franklin County to typify Republican “Red America.” According to Brooks, there is little obvious income inequality and people don’t define their place in society by their income level. They value the work ethic and are anti-union, anti-welfare, pro-free market, and religious social conservatives.

The joke that Pennsylvanians tell about their state is that it has Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. Franklin County is in the Alabama part . . . . The local culture owes more to Nashville, Houston, and Daytona than to Washington, Philadelphia, or New York . . .

The conservatism I found in Franklin County is not an ideological or a reactionary conservatism. It is a temperamental conservatism. People place tremendous value on being agreeable, civil, and kind . . . They value continuity and revere the past.[75]

I am not sure I agree.  Note this was written in 2001.   Is Trump “agreeable, civil, and kind?”

I biked into Chambersburg late in the afternoon.

 

 

Chambersburg did seem a pleasant place.  It has a small college Wilson College.  For various reasons I decided to continue on thirteen more miles to the next town, Shippensburg PA.

Like Chambersburg, Shippensburg PA looks on the surface like the quintessential American small town.

 

Shippensburg (population 5,500) is home of Shippensburg University, a public university that is part of the Penn State system.   There is a Quality Inn chain hotel right in the center of downtown.   The front desk staff was quite cordial and fascinated with my bike ride.   I checked in and changed clothes.

In a college town there are usually lots of places to eat; not so much here.   The hotel restaurant seemed the best place to eat.  I sat at the bar.   The menu was very old school: choice of meat with two sides.   I got salmon with mashed potatoes and broccoli.   It was quite delicious.  There were five or six mostly older men eating alone at the bar, sitting one or two seats apart.   None of us talked to each other, which did not really bother me.   We did all talk to the bartender.   She said she was from Philadelphia.

 

 

At the free breakfast the next morning it was NOT Fox News on the wall, it was the local station.   Still, one cannot escape this man.

 

Once back on the road the morning light was lovely as I bicycled first through Shippensburg and then back south towards Chambersburg, this time on back country roads.

 

 

 

 

I made it back into Chambersburg.

The rest of the ride back to my car was uneventful but pleasant.   On the outskirts of Hagerstown I passed new multi-family housing being built, even though one mile away Hagerstown clearly has a dearth of housing waiting to be used.   In many parts of American, people want to live in NEW housing, damn the older neighborhoods.   Slash and burn urbanism.

 

I bicycled back through Hagerstown MD which was a couple of miles before arriving to my car at the Walmart.  I wanted to get a Subway sandwich to eat in the car while driving home on I-81.    I needed to get back to Chapel Hill NC by 6:30 PM (for a dinner engagement!).   In an older neighborhood of Hagerstown I lucked into Hartle’s Subs.  (The Best Since 1955!). Was the sandwich better than Subway?  Absolutely, it was really good.  On the other hand, Subway does not have Fox News playing on the wall.

In my final stretch before the Walmart I passed through other, nicer, areas of Hagerstown I had not previously seen.   Hagerstown has a lovely City Park.   It has a neighborhood on the top of a ridge with nicely restored older homes.

 

My car was still there at the Walmart.   I arrived back home in Chapel Hill NC about 6:00 PM.

Yes, I have done this bike ride before.  Bike thirty-five miles from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, take the 3:00 PM half hour $ 9.00 Amtrak from Raleigh to Durham, then bike fifteen miles home to Chapel Hill.    What’s not to like?

I had parked the Bike Friday on my seventh floor stair landing while I pumped up the tires and lubed the chain.

 

I got an early start in order to ride as much as possible before the temperature crept into the middle eighties.

I bicycled the mile from my apartment to the UNC campus, then down the Laurel Hill Road hill.

I crossed over the NC 54 bypass, then through the UNC Finley golf course.

I took a right on the bike path along NC 54, then another right on Barbee Chapel Road.

 

I bicycled a mile or two further, then took a right on Stagecoach Road, and then took a brief left onto NC 751 for only about a quarter mile.

With a right on Massey Chapel Road I accessed the American Tobacco Trail.

 

This paved trail continues south another ten or fifteen miles, but I got off after about five miles, bicycling through a subdivision in western Cary and Morrisville called Amberly.    Much of it is what my friend Tom Constantine calls a “faux-ville”, Georgetownish townhouses here in these exurbs, built on recently transformed cow pastures.

Just a little further on just before crossing NC 55 new apartments are rising up.

 

McCrimmon Parkway ends at the wide four lane NC55.

 

I did NOT bicycle on NC 55.   I jumped across to Good Hope Church Road, which leads to Morrisville-Carpenter Road.    There is a Starbucks at the cross with Davis Drive.  I stopped, got an almond milk latte and sat and read my Kindle.  While these exurbs looked uniform and preplanned the people at this Starbucks were multicultural looking, lots of South Asians and Asians.   Continuing on, Morrisville-Carpenter Road does not have much traffic,  has a wide shoulder and feels pretty safe most of the way.   The NCDOT builds these roads insanely wider than necessary.

This road goes all the way to Morrisville, near RDU airport.   I took a right on NC54, then an immediate left into the Weston Estates neighborhood.   There were large tract houses.

With a couple more rights and lefts I found Dynasty Drive, which along the way changes its name to Electra Drive.    For several miles this street takes a bicyclist up and down hills through Beaver Cleaver residential neighborhoods.

 

Electra Drive dead ends on Trinity Road.   If you take a left on Trinity this leads you into the Raleigh city limits.    Trinity Road is really wide but normally has little traffic.   It passes by the NC State Fairgrounds and Carter-Finley Stadium, home of NC State football.

If a bicyclist takes a right onto Blue Ridge Road and a left on Beryl Road we have made it.  We are actually in the real Raleigh!    The NC State campus is on the right.   I bicycled down Clark Avenue through early twentieth century neighborhoods.  In the area called Cameron Park I had not realized how nice these neighborhoods are.

 

Raleigh is economically booming and lots of people want to live close to downtown.   Clearly some of these people have money.    Near St. Mary’s school these seventeen townhouses are just being completed, surrounded by small circa 1910 houses.  The sign says prices “start” at 1.1 million but a check of the website shows most cost close to two million.

 

 

 

Bicycle riding feels safe and easy in the older neighborhoods of Raleigh, and within its downtown.   There are a lot of new apartment buildings downtown, some with pretentious names.

Among the tall buildings I had lunch at Bida Manda Laotian Restaurant.   It was jammed at lunchtime with trendy looking people who look like they have some kind of trendily important job, most likely in tech.   Red Hat headquarters is around the corner; they were just bought out by IBM.

Chicken fried rice for $ 11.75 seemed a safe choice.   It was only just O.K.

 

 

The restaurant is across the street from Moore Square park.   The city just spent a bunch of money re-doing the whole park with a seeming objective of making it less full of homeless people.   The re-do is quite nice and the few homeless looking people on the benches do not seem to detract from the public space experience.   I sat in a spot in the shade and read some more of The New Yorker on my Kindle.

 

The train to Durham was scheduled for 3:00 PM.   At 2:30 I bicycled over to the new Union Station, about five minutes away.    On the way, near the station in the warehouse district I passed the newly opened two-level Weaver Street Market, named after the street in Carrboro, thirty-five miles away.   There is finally a grocery store downtown.

I arrived at the station in plenty of time.   The new Union Station is a beautiful facility.

 

In the first minute of the train ride it passes right in front of the state prison.

 

The intra-North Carolina Amtrak trains have a baggage car space where you can hand them your bicycle, no extra charge.   I arrived into Durham in half an hour, no problems.

The bike ride back home to Chapel Hill from Durham was also no problem.   This has never been a particularly pleasant bike ride.   It has gotten much better just this year when Old Chapel Hill Road was repaved and widened with a bike lane.

I had always wanted to bicycle to Martinsville VA, just to see what was there.   I do know that it is a fading textile and furniture manufacturing town.   Greensboro as a starting point put me sixty miles closer to my destination.    With the Bike Friday in the back I drove a little over an hour west from Chapel Hill to Greensboro.   I did not know where to safely park for three days, so I just chose a residential neighborhood where people were already parking on the street; a neighborhood slightly northwest of downtown.   I pulled the bicycle out the back.   Martinsville was fifty-five to sixty miles away, almost straight north.

This was the bike ride over three days.

The first part of the ride was through Irving Park, which surrounds the Greensboro Country Club.   Some people still like having a huge house opening onto a golf course.

 

 

Courtesy of work by the NCDOT in the 1950’s and 60’s, Greensboro may be the worst bicycling city in America.   One can bicycle through individual neighborhoods, but these neighborhoods are isolated by huge freeway-like arterial roads with fast moving traffic.  Think Wendover Avenue, Battleground Avenue, Friendly Avenue.   They go on and on.

Greensboro has recently tried to make amends to bicyclists.   There are now a decent number of greenways including the Atlantic & Yadkin rail trail, which extends for about ten miles straight north from north central Greensboro.

 

 

North Carolina calls itself “the good roads state.”   I bicycled over this freeway under construction across north Greensboro.   I think I have my facts straight on the outer loop issue.   The NCDOT probably intentionally makes their actions obtuse.  Back in the late 1980’s the NC General Assembly,  pushed by Charlotte real estate interests, passed a gas tax increase where the proceeds were specifically limited to funding only a list of outer loops around the largest North Carolina cities.   This tax continues and the building goes on.    Insanity.

After the A&Y trail ended I could continue on country roads.   Even though this was a weekday the traffic was light and the cycling pleasant.

 

North Carolina wrote the book on suburban sprawl.    Housing subdivisions continue for miles and miles north of Greensboro.   Eventually the housing petered out and I was bicycling through former tobacco fields and abandoned tobacco barns, and the occasional tobacco crop.

Thirty miles north of Greensboro is Madison NC.   I was impressed Madison has its own locally owned coffee house, but I was not in the mood for coffee.  I wanted lunch.

 

Lunch would be barbecue at Fuzzy’s.

I always get the same thing at these kind of places, barbecue sandwich with slaw on top and a small Brunswick stew.   The whole meal was less than five dollars.

 

Martinsville was still almost thirty miles further.   Leaving Madison the terrain got progressively hillier as I rode north.    The final push was all uphill, as Martinsville sits on a bluff above the Smith River.  Little of downtown Martinsville warranted photographs; it was something of a letdown.

I was really tired.  This had been a long ride and the last part had been uphill.   There was at least was one place open downtown, the Daily Grind.   I collapsed into a chair to drink an almond milk latte.

 

There was no place to stay overnight downtown.   I would have to go back down the hill to the motels along the older highway.    Yes, there were a couple restaurants downtown for dinner this night, but rain was predicted and there was no way I was bicycling back up that hill.   I coasted downhill.

If one reads Trip Advisor and Hotels.Com reviews carefully one can sometimes find a cheap old motel that is NOT dirty and depressing.   Just like the reviews said, the Scottish Inn is owned by a South Asian family who seems to care about details.   The bed and other furniture were new, as were many of the bathroom fixtures. $46.00 including tax is a good deal.

 

Also a good deal was Los Norteños Mexican restaurant across the street.   This area is not pedestrian friendly; I had to run quickly across this highway.

 

I ate at the bar.

I had just been in New York City a week earlier and was shocked that even “affordable” restaurants were charging $ 14.00 or more for a glass of wine.    This is only a theory but I’ll bet the two restaurants in downtown Martinsville charge $ 8.00-10.00 for a glass of wine.     Three miles away on the highway at Los Norteños an imported beer costs $ 2.75.     In Greensboro sixty miles away or in Chapel Hill it is easy to spend, with drinks, way more than $60.00 per person for dinner.   Here I ordered exactly what I wanted and WITH two drinks the total bill, before tip, was $ 15.66.   I also ate a ton of chips and salsa for which there was, of course, no charge.

 

I walked and ran back across the highway to my motel room.

 

The next morning I started early, to beat the heat.   This guy was having a smoke.

At 7:30 AM I passed this nice piece of commercial modernism.   These Martinizing buildings used to be all over Virginia.

 

My bicycle ride today would be thirty something miles over very hilly terrain to Stuart VA.   This area is all not technically part of the Appalachians, it is the Foothills.   The crest of the Appalachians is only a few miles to the west as my ride paralleled the ridge.  Martinsville and nearby Bassett are very industrial with textile and furniture factories, many or most permanently shuttered.

 

1962 Falcon

 

 

 

 

 

I entered Stuart on a back road where this completely abandoned lumber factory sits next to downtown.

 

Stuart VA (population 1,400) was renamed in 1884 after the Civil War general, who was born nearby.

At the Stuart Family Restaurant, on the site of what looks like a former Wendy’s my breakfast-as-lunch (two eggs over easy, bacon, grits, whole wheat toast, coffee) was delicious and included as many cups of coffee as I wanted.  There was no rush.  It cost $ 4.67.

Stuart at population 1400 has two downtowns, Uptown and Downtown.   It is quite a hike uphill between the two.   Uptown has the courthouse, two hotels, and a locally owned coffee house.

 

Just a block uphill from the coffee house was the Uptown Suites of Stuart, unusual in that someone is actually using the second story of an old downtown building in its initial use as a hotel.  My room inside seemed all new.  I believe the owner has other interests in town and there is not a full-time desk clerk.  There was great TV.

 

 

 

For dinner that night I walked down the steep hill from Uptown even though it seemed as if very few locals ever walk this route.  I ate at Tony’s which on a Saturday night had only one other patron.    Eggplant parmesan was delicious, and with a first course salad and one beer cost $ 10.83 total.

 

 

The next morning I got up and bicycled sixty miles back to my car in Greensboro.    The early morning light made the countryside look vivid.

 

 

Fifteen miles south of Stuart VA I had breakfast at Pinto’s Cafe which sits by itself on a two lane state highway in northern Stokes County NC.    It felt very “out there.”   Total bill was $3.80 for eggs, bacon, grits, toast, and coffee.

 

Back in Greensboro, my car was still there, although the guy whose house I parked in front of came out and talked to me.   He was really nice, he just wanted to know whose car that was!   He congratulated me on my bike ride.