I am originally from Virginia Beach VA but have lived in North Carolina for thirty years. North Carolina, it is said, is an island of humility between two mountains of conceit; i.e. Virginia and South Carolina.    I enjoy bicycling in central Virginia and looking at all the history signs along the road, even if I perhaps irrationally get annoyed with the weight of the past, the traditions that Virginia seems inundated with.

My idea for a two or three day ride was to drive two and a half hours north from Chapel Hill, park the car in suburban Richmond and bicycle somewhere from there.   I chose Mechanicsville as a starting point, nine miles northeast of downtown Richmond.   At about 11:00 AM I parked our Prius at the Mechanicsville Walmart and pulled my folding Bike Friday out of the back.     Apparently anyone can park in a Walmart parking lot for any length of time.  Many Americans associate freedom with freedom to park.  Freedom!  After parking the car I bicycled up to the store, locked the bike, and went inside to buy a toothbrush.    Maybe I do not get out much,  but the Mechanicsville Walmart seemed like the largest store interior I had ever seen.

I honestly had expected to be able to bicycle away from Mechanicsville into the rural Virginia countryside.   Instead, I found myself bicycling through miles of non-connected exurban housing developments and strip malls.   I tried to cycle on minor roads but they kept bringing me back to the same general area in the northern Richmond suburbs.   There were a lot of people eating at a restaurant in a strip mall so I stopped for lunch.

By late afternoon I had bicycled over thirty miles but really had not gone anywhere.  I was disappointed.  It was my fault, I had not done enough planning.  I thought about biking back to the Walmart,  putting the bike in the car and driving home.  Instead, I biked fifteen miles further over to Ashland VA, home of Randolph Macon College, a town whose claim to fame is the CSX and Amtrak main line that runs down the middle of its Main Street.  There was a low price at a Motel 6.   Motel 6’s are usually OK but this one seemed sleazy, with junk spread around the lobby.   If I may generalize, South Asians usually do a good job of running motels.  Not here.

 

With the current state of television, hotel TV’s are now particularly useless because one has to be old school and watch what is playing at that time, with ads. Instead,  I sat in the weak and lumpy bed and watched the legal drama The Good Fight on my phone.

 

 

Later on I bicycled downtown to the tracks and sat at a bar/restaurant called The Iron Horse.  I had meatloaf while the bartender and I watched the trains go by.   The place was mostly empty on this Monday night.

 

 

I had thought this trip was a washout, but it got better!   The following day, riding towards Fredericksburg, the bike riding immediately became much more relaxed.  North of Ashland car traffic almost ceased and I found myself bicycling on lovely country roads through either forests or horse country, where the land is chopped up into large residential plots.  I saw very little actual farming.  I started seeing signs marked US Bicycle Route 1 and started following them.

 

 

Being Virginia, there are, of course, lots of historical markers, even on back roads.   I find this one creepy.  I’ll never wash that pitcher again.

 

The circuitous but scenic Bicycle Route 1 crossed actual U.S. Highway 1, which is the older highway that parallels Interstate 95.    Washington is the closest really big city to where I grew up, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.   Both my parents had horror stories about driving on US-1 between Richmond and Washington before I-95 was built.  Mom talked about driving with me and my siblings in our station wagon on this four lane road in the 1960’s with no center divider and jammed with high speed heavy trucks.  Mom said she had nightmares about it.    Dad said he had lost several friends to traffic accidents during the 1930’s-1950’s on what he claimed was called “Bloody One.”      The highway looked physically the same as my 1960’s memories but with clearly not as much traffic.   I was just bicycling across.

The final miles into Fredericksburg were through the national battlefield park.

I was ready for a break at fifty-six miles when I pulled into Sammy T’s in downtown Fredericksburg.

On these bike trips of mine I rarely cycle more than fifty miles per day.   On this trip, maybe it was the wine, but I started thinking:  I had already bicycled fifty-six miles, it was only 2:00 in the afternoon, the wind was at my back and I wasn’t at all tired.   Why not bicycle a Century, one hundred miles in a day?   I hadn’t done this in years.    I finished lunch and headed off towards D.C.

I bicycled through the older parts of Fredericksburg with the Strava app still set on my phone. I now had a goal: one hundred miles in a day.

As I biked across the river.  I learned this day that Fredericksburg marks the fall line, the highest navigable point on the Rappahannock.

 

I continued to follow signs for Bicycle Route 1, which guided me on smaller country roads.  Unfortunately, the suburbs of Washington DC start at Fredericksburg, sixty miles out.   Roads had more and more traffic.

And despite the sunny weather predictions, it started to rain; hard, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by lots of traffic on a two lane road.   There was nothing to do but soldier on.   My goal this day was a mileage, not a specific destination.   An hour or two into the ride I must have missed a  Bicycle Route 1 sign.  I was off the route.  I just kept bicycling until I reached a strip of motels outside of the U.S. Marine Base in Quantico VA.    The mileage on my Strava app read ninety-six miles.  I continued on, circling around a residential area for half an hour trying to add four miles but Strava refused to move!   True fact:  I had not turned on the Strava app until half an hour into the start of the ride that morning.   I was not going to be a slave to some computer application.  I am confident I did somewhat over one hundred miles.   Really.   Here is a screen shot of my phone.

 

I booked a room at a Quality Inn next to US1 and I-95.   After a rest I walked across a sea of parking lots to the chain restaurant Ruby Tuesday.    The military is quite diverse, there was an interesting multiracial group of people sitting at the bar.   Salmon cooked rare with hickory bourbon sauce was healthy and delicious.

For the next day, to bicycle the safest and most pleasant route it was still at least fifty miles further north to Union Station in downtown Washington DC where I could take Amtrak back to Richmond.   After my experiences six months ago in Savannah I swore I would never bicycle again on an openly dangerous road.  For the first few miles through the Marine base there were few options.  Because there was no easy route other than the six lane US Highway 1, I took an Uber the first seventeen miles, from Quantico to Lorton.   North from Lorton the Mount Vernon Trail goes all the way to central D.C., first along the highway, then along the Potomac River.

 

Around President Washington’s Mount Vernon the Potomac River is much more of an estuary than a river.

Too much history.    Tour buses lined up outside Mount Vernon.

On my phone I keep a list of future bicycle riding destinations.    “Hollin Hills-Alexandria VA” has been sitting there awhile.  It comes, I think, from an article I read in the Washington Post about a development with dozens off 1950-60’s modernist tract houses.   Maybe Palm Springs CA is such a big modernist destination because houses show off better in the desert.    On the East Coast houses are hidden behind trees.

 

 

 

I bicycled through old town Alexandria.

 

North of Alexandria the Mount Vernon Trail circles Reagan National Airport.

 

 

The bike path then crosses the Potomac on the Fourteenth Street Bridge arriving into the District right in front of the Jefferson Memorial.

 

It was a pleasure to bicycle Washington crosstown to Union Station, where only an hour in advance I had booked Amtrak leaving at 3:30 PM for Richmond.    There are several ways to take a bicycle on an Amtrak train but it is often complicated.   It is not complicated with a folding bicycle.   You just lug it on any train, no case required.

I arrived into Main Street Station in Richmond that evening and spent the night downtown.   In the morning I bicycled through downtown Richmond and then out to the Walmart in Mechanicsville.  Our car was still there.

 

Three sixty-something guys went cycling for eight days through Italy, more or less Florence to Rome. The trip turned out to be much more of an athletic event than expected, with some of the steepest hills I have ever cycled.   Also, I had heard that Tuscany was over-touristed.  Could we, on bicycles, discover the real Tuscany?

This trip began as a vague idea.   Lyman and I had been searching for the next big bike ride in Europe, preferably Italy, Spain, or southern France.   Lyman’s friend (now also my friend) Randy Greenberg, a computer professional, taught Lyman some tricks when searching online for air fares.   We needed a low price to anywhere.

I live in Chapel Hill NC. The closest airport is Raleigh/Durham.   Lyman and Randy live in Austin TX.   Using Randy’s suggested apps we found round trip on American Airlines RDU airport to Rome airport in early April for only $ 533.00!!     Short flight to Charlotte NC, then nonstop to Rome!!     Only $633.00 round trip Austin TX to Charlotte to Rome!!   Lyman and I could go most of the way on the same airplane!!

These deals were too good to pass up.  As it turned out, these prices were only available for a few days.   Lyman and I agreed to fly to Rome in early April.    A few days later Randy agreed to join us.    We hurriedly bought the tickets while the price was still low.   We could work later on the details.

The flights going over had issues.  There were thunderstorms in Charlotte that delayed me twenty-four hours.   Due to that same weather Lyman and Randy were transferred by American Airlines to British Airways who subsequently lost Lyman’s luggage (i.e. bicycle) for an even longer amount of time.    We were two days behind schedule when at 12:45 PM on a Thursday we stepped off the high speed rail line at Santa Maria Novella station in central Firenze (Florence).   It had taken us from central Rome to Florence in under two hours.  Disclaimer: I have great friends Mandy and Iano who live in Florence.  With all the hassles we had been through we wanted to start bicycle riding immediately.  My apologies to Mandy and Iano for not calling you up while in town.

In the Florence train station we put together our folding bicycles, all Bike Friday brand.  We would make a good commercial for them.

 

 

 

Randy Greenberg

 

 

Lyman Labry

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

 

 

Over the next eight days we would cycle most of the way back to Rome, taking a circuitous route.

 

Otherwise from random we picked the town of Empoli for the first night because it was about twenty-five miles from central Florence.  We knew nothing about this town.

Finding a bicycle route out of Florence was challenging.   Larger Italian cities have confusing layouts.  Streets change names.  Roads change one-way directional status seemingly every block.

Finally we did break out of Florence.  Heading towards Empoli that first afternoon we were being chased by rain storms.  There was a gravel bike path along the Arno River some of the way.

 

Randy is very outgoing.    Despite the language differences he managed to start a conversation with this couple and convince them to pose for a picture   They were out picking rapa, a type of edible greens.    You can see the dark rain clouds in the background.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

 

Eventually the bike path ended and we cycling on conventional roads with the traffic, threading along the Arno River.  As it was getting dark and as rain started we luckily made it into central Empoli and under the shelter of an awning.

Empoli does not seem at all touristy but very Italian.

We got drinks and snacks at a table on the street and watched the locals go by, or stand around our bicycles.

 

The rain eventually slowed down and I called a hotel just a couple of blocks away.   Asking in broken Italian, I was able to secure a room with three beds for eighty-five Euro, breakfast included.   What’s not to like?

After checking in and showering we looked for somewhere to eat that evening.   The only real restaurant open in Empoli was the fanciest looking restaurant we ate at our entire trip.     The food was delicious and really not all that expensive.

First course was one portion each of tagliatelle with artichokes.   I believe artichokes are in season in April.

For the main course I got tuna, seared rare.   The vegetables in the center were as delicious as the fish.

 

Randy got mixed fried seafood.

 

Lyman got another fish entree whose name I cannot recall.

 

 

The service was friendly and helpful.   At the end this guy poured us glasses of some kind of dessert wine, on the house.

 

The next morning I was impressed by the minimalist decor at the hotel breakfast.

We picked as our bicycle destination this second day somewhere we had indeed heard of, the hill town of San Gimignano.   We would once again have to dodge the rain.

Leaving Empoli we cycled through the streets of town.

 

 

Eventually we transitioned to pleasant country roads.

The bike riding this day varied between steep rural roads with little traffic, and relatively flat roads along the valley floor that teemed with large trucks.  After a few hours we parked our bicycles in front of this place for lunch in the town of Certaldo.

In this working class town we talked to two guys about our age on on the street before entering the restaurant.  They told us what to order: they said to get pasta meccanica followed by codfish cakes.    Following a practice of old Roman families I read about somewhere years ago we all got the same thing, which was what those guys suggested.

 

 

We had coffee but skipped dessert.  Just we were leaving it started to rain.   We ducked over to a covered outdoor cafe to wait out the rain with post-lunch beers.      We sat in this cafe for over an hour until Randy’s very handy use of cell phone weather maps indicated (correctly it turned out) that the storm was going to pass just to the south of us in our ride to San Gimignano.   As soon as the rain let up we biked off with still threatening clouds in the distance.

 

 

San Gimignano is a true hill town, visible from miles away.  This day it was surrounded by storms, sitting at the top in a defensible position with its distinctive medieval towers, threatening those who would attempt to bicycle up that steep hill.    The roads got steeper as we got closer.

 

 

 

We had taken a back road to avoid traffic.   The scenery was lovely and the pavement smooth. However, in all my bicycling I had never seen a grade so steep.    I have always prided myself on not walking my bicycle.   I did make it up this hill, but I cannot remember being so winded.   My sixty-three year old lungs were burning bright.    Lyman, Randy, and I were all windedly making jokes about having heart attacks.

Lyman approached the entrance to the walled city of San Gimignano.

 

The center of town is, or course, at the very top of the hill.   We found a nice hotel on the main square.  This was the view out the hotel window.

 

That night at the hotel we had ribollata, the Tuscan vegetable soup.    We walked around the town after supper.

 

 

According to Wikipedia tourists have been coming to San Gimignano since the late nineteenth century.     We walked around after breakfast the next morning.   Our fellow tourists were out in force.  Many had just arrived by tour bus.  Sure, there were some Americans here.  There were also Asians; Chinese.   There were French, Germans, British, and Italians from other parts of Italy.   Many came with with Selfie sticks.

 

 

In our modern world we all stare at our phones, or take pictures of everything.

 

On this Saturday morning there was a small farmer’s market.   Artichokes indeed are in season.   I bought Tootie a jar of honey.

 

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

From the back side of town you could just enjoy the view.

 

Our bicycle destination this third day would be the larger city of Siena.   We wanted to make our bicycle route as scenic as possible, on roads with the fewest cars.

Google Maps has a defect that has plagued me here in the USA, it does not differentiate between paved and non-paved roads.   At one point this day we found ourselves pushing our bicycles through the mud.

 

 

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

Stuck in the mud I advocated turning around.    I was outvoted.   The road luckily did improve dramatically just over the ridge.

By the time we had found a larger main road it was already past time for lunch.    We were on the outskirts of a town called Colle di Val D’Elsa, which sat, of course, up on a hill.   On the outskirts, down on the principal two line highway was Pizzeria Osteria 900.   A sign out front advertised two course pranzo (lunch) twelve Euro, wine and coffee included.

We were the only customers.   It turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip and certainly the best value.    The apparent owner was a thirty-something looking woman who later told us she had moved to Italy twenty years ago from Albania.   The waiter, her son,  looked about twelve years old.

Once again we all got the same thing.   First course was pasta with what she described as homemade ragu.  Delicious.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

While we were eating the pasta we could hear in the kitchen the woman pounding to flatten chicken breasts.     Second course was lemon chicken and we each got a contorno (side dish) of carrots.   Italians do NOT like to mix different kinds of food on a plate.

 

It was all wonderful and we pressed her to accept more money for additional wine as we each had quickly downed the included one glass.    She charged us six Euros for an additional half liter.

Woozily back on the bikes still had another fifteen or twenty miles to Siena.    On the way we chose a short but steep climb to get a coffee at the medieval walled town of Monteriggioni.

 

There were a lot of tourists in this small town.  More local was a was a Catholic procession on this day before Palm Sunday, accompanied by strumming guitars.

 

Shops sold leather goods, a product of this region.   I pondered whether I could show my face in Chapel Hill wearing shoes like this.

 

Back on the road we cycled further on towards Siena, mostly uphill.

Compared to the hill towns Siena (population 54,000) felt like a real city.     It is about the same population now that it was in the year 1350.   I am sure there are a lot of tourists but they did not seem to overwhelm the place.

 

 

We biked into the central city and stopped for a beer, to ponder our next move.

photo by Randy Greenberg

We found a somewhat shabby but low cost hotel room with three beds.  After supper that night we walked around the city in the dark.   Just a couple of blocks from the hotel is the Piazza del Campo where they have been staging the annual Palio horse race for almost four hundred years.

 

The next morning this was the view out of our hotel window.   The second photo is Randy’s bicycle on that same street.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

 

We biked out of Siena on this Palm Sunday morning.

 

 

For quite a distance we shared our route with a footrace, likely at 10-k.

 

Our destination this day would be the hill town of Montalcino.     From more than ten miles away you could see Montalcino looming in the distance at the top of a hill/mountain.    The hill appeared larger and steeper the closer we got.

 

 

 

 

 

We fought our way up this mammoth hill, arriving central Montalcino just as it was begining to rain.   To celebrate our ascent we bought a bottle of relatively high-end wine, a Brunello di Montalcino.

Because of the rain we ended up spending that night in Montalcino at this hotel, Albergo il Giglio.   It was all quite nice.

 

The next day was another beast of a climb, first riding east to the hilltop town of Pienza, then turning south to the hilltop town of Montepulciano.

This is the three of us after admiring the view from Pienza.

Halfway up some hill, Lyman and Randy paused to scope out the situation.

 

Some workers were thinning the olive trees, then burning the branches.

 

Yes, there are a lot of towns around here whose name starts with Monte.    Montepulciano was another great hill town, requiring another huge sweaty climb.

The hotel we found here was run by a woman about our age who clearly had artsy tendencies;  I wish I had taken her picture.  That evening we wanted a lighter evening meal.    We first sat down at an informal pizza joint but loud Lynyrd Skynyrd music convinced us to leave before ordering.  At a restaurant down the street a woman indicated they were open.    When we entered, she walked into their dining room and turned on the lights.   Obviously we were the only customers.

Pici is a form of homemade pasta frequently seen in Tuscany.   We had it several times.

 

Each strand is made by hand.  Traditionally this was peasant food, and the noodles contain only flour and water, no eggs.  Dough is rolled thin on a flat surface, then cut into strips.   Each strip is then rolled by hand into a tubular shaped.    They are then boiled and combined with sauce.  This younger woman and who I assumed was her mother were the only ones there.  They invited us into the kitchen after the meal and showed where they were making pici.

On the way out the older woman wanted to pour us a complimentary sweet liquore but for some reason we declined.   I am still not sure why.

The next day we bicycled about fifty miles, including some major hill climbs.  In mid-morning we stopped for a cappuccino at a gas station bar.    European gas stations frequently have nice bars.   No paper cups here, unless you ask.  That is Randy’s hand and water bottle on the right side of the picture.

 

After a serious climb we ate a sandwich for lunch al fresco in a small hill town, San Casciano Dei Bagni.   We chatted with two twenty or thirty-something Australian guys who were quite nice but ultimately seemed like clueless idle rich.   They had flown over in Business Class to be in Europe for several months but did not really have a plan.

Although that town had been seemed to be on a hilltop, after lunch we climbed even higher.   I looked back at the town.

 

The afternoon cycling was delightful along roads with no cars and surrounded by silence.    Sure, the hills were steep but at least the road was paved.    Until it wasn’t.   Cycling on gravel roads is trickier.    We pressed on.

 

 

We finally cycled into a river valley and along smoother, flatter roads with more traffic.    We had now left Tuscany for Umbria.  Our destination that evening was to be the town of Orvieto.  We really had no idea what to expect, and could not believe what we saw ahead of us.  Orvieto is built on almost vertical cliffs.   It was astonishingly formidable, especially after having cycled all day long.    Fourteenth century invading armies would certainly have been intimidated.

We somehow got up that hill and collapsed into a cafe to order a bottle of wine!   The bartender provided some nice free appetizers.

 

Dinner that night was at Trattoria La Palomba.    I had called an hour or two earlier for a reservation.  Italian restaurants like to be called, even on short notice.   It was packed but they had a table waiting for us.    This place is a little higher end than most other restaurants we ate at on this trip.

There was strangozzi (shoelace) pasta with shaved truffles.

 

 

It was followed by delicious meat main courses.  I got palomba, a type of dove.   The excess sauce was spread on toast.

 

Lyman ate roast lamb.

Randy got cinghiale, stew of wild boar.

 

And my favorite, a contorno of chicory greens.

 

 

We also split a dessert.

It was all wonderful, really.  Eating at places like this is what I like to do.

 

The next morning we walked around the vibrant city of Orvieto.

 

 

This included the cathedral with its distinctive multicolored marble.

 

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

Lyman, who is an architect, has a good eye for details, like noticing this door hinge.

 

This was to be our final day of bicycle riding.   Our flights home departed the next day from Rome airport.    Our biking destination this final day was to be the small city of Orte.

Of course this bike ride began with a steep downhill from hilltop Orvieto.   First we had to bicycle through the city gates.

 

We cycled along a river valley.

About 11:45 AM we were passing by a small town and Randy announced that he was running out of gas, he really needed to eat something.   We were not ready for lunch yet, so he went into a cafe by himself to refuel while Lyman and I waited outside.   In America this would have been done at a Mini-Mart.   Here in Italy they have much more style.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

 

The downhill “road” from that small town was so steep that we had to walk the bicycles.

 

An hour or two later in a dingy, flat, and drab looking town we had lunch at a motel/cafe/pizza place.   I am always on the lookout for great vegetable dishes.   Here to accompany the pasta was vignarola, the Roman stew of braised spring vegetables, especially artichokes and fava beans.

 

photo by Randy Greenberg

After lunch we still had about fifteen or twenty miles to Orte, our train station.   The cycling turned out to be much more challenging than expected.   Along the Tiber River the narrow flat valley was consumed by a rail line, an autostrada (freeway), and an older highway packed with trucks.   Google Maps also showed a network of smaller roads more amenable to bicycling.   Some of these roads were flat and well paved.

Sometimes the roads were much worse.   To our dismay these smaller roads frequently zigged at steep angles up the cliffs lining the river.    Sometimes the pavement just stopped and the roads became rutted gravel.   These were some of the steepest grades I have ever experienced.

 

 

 

Sometimes when things go bad they actually get better.  The roads improved.   Our destination town of Orte, we discovered, sits on a cliff overlooking the Tiber River.

The rail line does not actually go to Orte, it goes to something called Orte Scalo, at the bottom of the hill by the river.    We thought this meant we would not have to climb that hill, but got so lost in finding Orte Scalo that we ended up at the top of the hill anyway!  We arrived at Orte Scalo train station about five in the afternoon.   Orte Scalo is the end of the line for an hourly Rome area commuter train that, with seventeen stops, goes all the way through Rome then beyond to terminate at Rome Fiumicino Airport.  We took our bicycles apart and carried them onto the train for the two hour ride.  From there we took an Uber to an Airbnb near the airport.

Fiumicino is a beach town and has at least one really good seafood restaurant, Ristorante Sfizi di Mare.   If you ask they will serve, for a flat charge, a meal of seafood appetizers, dozens of dishes brought one after the other.    Sicilian seafood salad was just one of many.

 

It made a pleasant final Italian meal before our outgoing flights the next morning.

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Ready to go.

 

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

 

 

 

 

We took a selfie.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

Moving further west the houses get even bigger.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

You could even watch TV while you peed.

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

 

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

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

 

 

There was a modernist fire & rescue headquarters.

 

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

 

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

 

 

And I discovered actual horse country!    Fences everywhere!

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

I boarded the plane about 6:30 AM.

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

These Miami neighborhoods were a mix of rich and poor.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Inside the back gate was a small terrace.

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Occasionally the highway goes along the oceanfront.

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

I biked through Chalmette neighborhoods with their razor straight streets.

 

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

Beyond Chalmette I passed the Meraux refinery.

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Just past Reggio I decided to turn around.

 

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

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

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

How country was it?

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But Just Say No to condos and apartment complexes!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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