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.

 

This is a fascinating forty-nine mile loop.   Bike one direction from central Raleigh to Clayton along the Walnut Creek / Neuse River bicycle path.  Drink a coffee in downtown Clayton then bicycle back to Raleigh along Old US 70.   There is a lot of new and old North Carolina spread along this route.

I drove our car with my bicycle in the back the half an hour from our home in Chapel Hill to the near side of Raleigh.  Exiting I-40 onto Wade Avenue,  just after passing Whole Foods on the left I took a right on Dogwood Lane and parked the car on that street in a wooded neighborhood.    I pulled the bicycle out of the back.   This was my bike ride.

 

Raleigh’s real estate market is booming and has been so for thirty years.   A lot has been written about gentrification where young white people are moving into African-American neighborhoods.    The New York Times recently had an article that used Raleigh as an example of this trend.   What was not discussed is a parallel teardowner trend, previously “affordable” 1960’s white neighborhoods of inside-the-beltline Raleigh where “normal” houses are being replaced by much larger mini-mansions.

Homeowners and developers are tearing down houses that look like this:

 

and this:

The torn down house is replaced by houses that look like this:

and this:

The above photos were all taken near where my bicycle ride started, in the Dixie Forest and Forest Hills subdivisions.    The parallel trend on the other sided of town is the one The  New York Times was covering.   I biked east along Hillsborough Road, then through downtown and then through mostly African-American neighborhoods south and east of downtown.   Houses that look like this:

and this:

are being replaced by usually wealthier young white people  moving into newly built houses like this:

and this:

and even very attractive but expensive modernist row houses like this:

I biked past these neighborhoods into the greenway system.   In these same past thirty years Raleigh has developed what has to be one of the best systems of greenways in the America.   Most follow stream beds and sewer lines.  Only one of many greenways in Raleigh starts in the mostly African-American southeast side.   One can bike on greenways first along Walnut Creek, then along the Neuse River for almost twenty miles on perfectly paved and manicured greenways, ending in the town of Clayton in Johnston County.

 

When biking on public thoroughfares one has to learn when to ignore signs.   The first part of the Walnut Creek trail was “closed.”   What could I do?  I had nowhere else to go.  I did not want to bicycle on busy roads during a weekday.   I just ignored the signs, the trail was fine.

 

The Neuse River Trail ends about a mile from downtown Clayton.   From the trail parking lot  take a left on O’Neil Street, bicycle up the hill.

I have bicycled over many parts of America.  In past five – ten years I have noticed that locally owned coffee houses are opening up in previously vacant downtowns, functioning as a “third space” for all sorts of people.  They are opening in towns that one would not think would have a coffee house.  Maybe Starbucks has awakened a market.  On my previous trip to Boulevard in Clayton the barista was wearing something you would not see in Chapel Hill or Durham; a hat and shirt professing his Christian faith.  On the other hand here in Clayton at 10:30 AM on a Monday another barista was pouring a round of mimosas into champagne glasses for a group of middle aged women who were clearly celebrating something!  I got a soy milk latte and read The New Yorker on my kindle.

 

If you include I-40 there are about four parallel highways covering the seventeen miles from Clayton to Raleigh.   Main Street in Clayton is part of the oldest, the original US70.   On the newer routes these seventeen miles into Raleigh are mostly a continuous line of Walmarts and strip malls.   Nevertheless Old US70 from Clayton to downtown Raleigh is a trip back in time and a very nice bike ride.   It has very little traffic, even on a weekday.

 

 

For those interested in historic gas stations, (what you are not?) Old US70 has several.   The first is right here is Clayton.

 

Notice the prerequisite old men sitting on the bench out front.

I told these guys that this was the oldest looking gas station I had ever seen that still sold gas.   The guy on right seemed to know a lot about it; he knew the names of the current and past owners.   He claimed the building is from the 1920’s.   If so, that is a very old gas station.

Here are three other gas stations I noticed on Old US70.

 

 

There is also this modernist car wash.

About halfway to Raleigh I was confronted again by a closed road.    There is construction where Old US70 crosses I-40.    I ignored the signs and soldiered on.  It certainly reduces the car traffic!   Crossing the overpass through the blocked road on a bicycle was not a problem.

I passed these interesting buildings.

 

 

 

Old US70 approaches downtown Raleigh from the African-American side of town.   Likely because of the intrinsic racism of the commercial real estate market there are very few stores close to downtown when coming from the southeast.  Near downtown the road passes by metal recyclers and other waste industries.   One can bicycle right into downtown with hardly any traffic.   Downtown Raleigh and its adjacent warehouse district are booming.

Even with all this new development it is striking how much of America’s downtowns was built in the 1920’s when money was flowing freely.  The Sir Walter Raleigh, currently being redone.

 

It was just a couple miles further past downtown to my car parked on a residential street.   I passed by the NC State Campus fronting Hillsborough Street.   It has a long recognized architecture school.   A lot of 1950’s-60’s modernist public buildings survive around here.   I got back to my car and was home in Chapel Hill in time for a late lunch.

 

 

This is the second time Tootie and I have toured Holland together by bicycle.   The first time in 2014, if you remember, we made a big deal out of being able to ride our bicycles away from the airport, never taking any kind of taxi or public transportation.   This trip we wanted to see other parts of the country which necessitated getting a jumpstart by train.    There is only one major airport in Holland, Schiphol, which is fifteen miles south of Amsterdam.   The airport has its own train station, so one can take trains directly from the airport to destinations all over the country and beyond.

We flew into Schiphol on a Wednesday.   American Airlines did not charge any extra fee for Tootie’s oversized bicycle in a box, although both coming and going the airline attendant seemed unsure of the airlines own regulations about charging $ 150.00 each way for a bicycle.   (“They keep changing these rules!” they would say.).  Our other bicycle was my Bike Friday that fits into a suitcase.    We put the bicycles together after arrival to Schiphol airport and checked the empty box and suitcase at the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport, where we would be staying the final night in the country, seven nights hence.

We were able to wheel the bicycles onto the train.   We had chosen the medium sized city of Zwolle as a starting point on our bike ride, but less than an hour into the train ride the otherwise perfect Dutch rail system had some kind of problem.    We were stopped at the train station of the also medium sized city of Amersfoort, forty miles southeast of Amsterdam.  Why Zwolle anyway, we thought?   Let’s just start our trip in Amersfoort, a place neither of us previously knew anything about.  Rather than sit on a stopped train waiting for something to happen, we just got off the train and started bicycling through the city.  We bicycled up to a central square where people were sitting around enjoying the late afternoon.   I imagine the long dreary winters here encourage people to sit in the sun while it is available.   We got beers.

 

We found a nice hotel room with a very friendly proprietor right here on this square.      We had some dinner later on in the same area, then took a walk around.

Our general plan, if you call it that, was to bicycle over five or six days  to the northern city of Groningen, maybe a little beyond.   This is how our trip turned out.

The first day out we wanted to go all the way to the supposedly scenic city of Kampen, almost sixty miles north.    This was to be our longest cycling day.   Leaving central Amersfoort we passed through a city gate.   Tootie uses yellow and black Ortlieb panniers on the back of her bike.

 

The cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands is so vast and comprehensive that it is hard to accurately describe.   Any street busier than a minor residential street is equipped with a bicycle path.   In America, as well as the Netherlands, we of course expect every street and highway to have signs and signals to direct where a car or truck is supposed to go.    In the Netherlands there is a parallel and separate system for every road directing where bicycles and small motorcycles are supposed to go, including essentially every intersection in the country.   It is all designed to make a bicyclist feel safe.   We saw this as we cycled north from Amersfoort.

 

And people bicycle everywhere, with no helmets!   Families!   The cycling family in front of us was not at all unique, we saw this kind of thing many times.  The woman had one child in a hooded Spiderman outfit on the back of the bike (you can see the back of his little red head in the picture.)  She had another smaller child in her front carrier, which you cannot see in the picture.   She has a folded blue stroller sticking out of her back pannier.   And she has a third child riding his own bicycle, in a hooded alligator costume!

In the town of Harderwijk, where we stopped for lunch, this father was carrying all sorts of stuff on the bicycle.

 

They were having some sort of street market.

Much of the final portion of the ride into Kampen was on a dike that paralleled a canal.

 

Kampen, population 44,000, like many Dutch cities looks like what we think of as Amsterdam, narrow tall townhouses lining canals.


There were no conventional hotels available, we booked an Airbnb in one of these old houses lining the canals.   We got drinks at a table on the street overlooking the canal.   We walked around.

 

The next morning we biked north out of town.  Bicycle traffic was stopped at the red light crossing the bridge.    The other side, we looked back at Kampen from across the river.

 

 

We cycled north towards the city of Meppen.    This woman had one child on the back of her bicycle plus two following on their own.

It was a Saturday night and hotel rooms were scarce.    Northwest of Meppel in an area called Blauwe Hand there are a series of campgrounds on inland waterways.   European campgrounds are just different than American, the campground experience here is much more communal.

 

 

This trailer was for rent for US$ 88.00 a night including fees on Airbnb.    It was hot outside, the windows of the trailer had been completely shut, there was no air conditioning, and we had arrived in the heat of the day.   Initially at least, Tootie was not pleased!

 

She felt a little better later on when we bicycled a quarter mile down the road for early evening drinks at Elly’s Beach en Bistro, with its Caribbean / Hawaiian themes.    Little kids were playing in the sand but we had been bicycling outside all day in the sun.  We sat inside at the bar.

 

Refreshed, we went back to our trailer and chilled before walking to a restaurant at another campground across the road.    What American campground would boast of the quality of its semi-fancy restaurant?   This was likely the best meal we had in the Netherlands.    We ate outside to watch the sun go down over the water.    I got steamed mussels as an entree.

The next morning we cycled north a few kilometers to the town of Giethoorn.    There was a bike path along a canal.

Giethoorn is indeed a lovely town.  It describes itself as Little Venice.    When they were built these houses were only accessible by boat.

 

I now realized that for the two and a half days since we had left Amersfoort we had not seen anyone who physically looked African or Asian or Middle Eastern nor had we seen more than two vehicles with something other than “NL” Netherlands license plates.    (At the campground I saw two SUVs with German plates.   Germany is less than fifty miles away!)

We had no inkling that Giethoorn is a genuine tourist attraction.    As we bicycled into the area on a Sunday morning there were large groups of Asian and Middle Easterners renting boats.

 

We found a place to get our morning coffee and a croissant.    We propped up our bicycles against a fence.

 

Some of our cycling later that day was through forests.    It was nice to get out of the sun.   Of course there were bicycle trails on all the roads.

 

We had chosen our day’s destination to be the smaller town of Dwingeloo, from a recommendation from a guidebook.    We were determined to have a picnic lunch and stopped at an Aldi supermarket to stock up.    Just like in the USA the Aldi prices were super low and selection was limited.   Their fresh bread was actually quite good.   Totally unlike the USA, in this small town where there looked to be plenty of parking spaces, the Aldi supermarket had many more bicycles than cars parked out front.

Dwingeloo was actually a lovely town.  Instead of a town square it had an uncharacteristic town common, a green space at the center.

We found a nice hotel in the even smaller town of Lhee, just a mile from the center of Dwingeloo.    The next morning we decided to make one long push all the way to our destination Groningen, a distance of forty-something miles.    We passed through the mid-sized city of Assen, whose main claim to fame is being home of a huge pro motorcycle race once a year.    The center of the city was fetching.

Later on and out of town we stopped along the canal for a picnic lunch.

 

Groningen is population 260,000 including about sixty thousand students at two major universities.   Bicycling through the suburbs on the south side on a hot day, this family was headed towards the water.

There were other families cycling as well.

We ended up staying two nights at the Martini Hotel shown above.   Later that night we walked around.   There was a carnival going downtown.

 

It was really striking that after five days in rural Netherlands we had really not seen more than one or two African / Asian / Middle Eastern faces.   Rural Netherlands is like rural areas in many countries, not very diverse.   Once we came into the college city of Groningen, the ethnicity of faces changed dramatically.

Some have written that Groningen is the most bicycle friendly city in the world.  There are very very few cars in central Groningen, but I did not see a light rail system either. There are indeed buses, but almost all of the traffic is bicycles.   I surmise that the government has made the rules for driving a car on the streets in central Groningen  so onerous that people just give up and travel by bicycle.  What if there was a user-friendly bicycle path between Durham and Chapel Hill NC?  What if it allowed motorized bicycles as well?  This would cost much less than the proposed four billion dollar light rail.   Meanwhile, it was fun to just watch people on bicycles in Groningen.

 

 

We were leaving Groningen in mid-afternoon for the train back to Schiphol airport near Amsterdam.    That final morning we bicycled a twenty mile loop in the countryside northeast of town.    Bicycle paths are cut across the flat countryside.

Back in Groningen we had time for a nice lunch at a sidewalk cafe before boarding the train for the two hour ride back to the airport.    It was easy to store the bicycles on the train.

Would rural Quebec would be something like rural parts of the USA, but everyone speaks French?    With my friend Lyman and I set out to discover Quebec in eight days of cycling.

In planning this trip I discovered a basic fact:   Quebec has been built as a collection of settlements along the St. Lawrence River.    Quebec City stands at the point where the river narrows at a mountain range, offering an early seventeenth century military planner a perfect place for defending the river.   Two hundred miles further upstream, Montreal was built at the fall line, the limit, at least four hundred years ago, where ocean going vessels could go.   This map shows the bicycle ride we ended up doing.   Quebec City was about halfway.   After the bike ride we returned from Rimouski to Montreal in a rental car.  

 

Air fares to Canada tend to be expensive, and driving with the bicycle saves advance planning and causes less global warming.   With my Bike Friday in the back I drove our 2005 Toyota Prius up from North Carolina.   My friend Lyman had flown in from Austin TX and I picked him and his Bike Friday up at Baltimore’s BWI airport.  We then overnighted with my sister Betsy and her husband George in Princeton NJ.    She was not going to bicycle on this trip but she rode with Lyman and me in the car six hours up to Montreal so she could use my car to noodle around Quebec on her own.     We stopped for a beer at a brewery in Plattsburgh NY, just south of the Canadian border.

 

The three of us had a fine Moroccan dinner that night in Montreal.     The next morning Lyman and I fitted up our bicycles and headed out.  By Quebec standards it was going to be a hot day, high about ninety.    This turned out to be the hottest day of the trip.

 

Betsy was going to fly back home three days hence and leave the Prius for us at a lot near the Montreal airport.  This first day Lyman and I bicycled from the downtown hotel northwest through Montreal streets, heading downriver along the  north shore of the St. Lawrence.   It is about 200 miles from Montreal to Quebec City, and we hoped to make it in four days.

Quebec urban apartments have a consistent theme, steep outdoor staircases to second floor apartments.   In America the stairs are normally inside, not that I had ever thought about it all that much.   It is one of those things in a foreign country that remind you:  not everybody does everything just like Americans.

 

 

 

 

Quebec has a province-wide bicycle route system called La Route Verte (The Green Route)  I have not seen a state in the USA that has anything quite so well arranged for long distance bicycling.   (New York State and the Erie Canal route comes close.) Its design seems typically Canadian, not expensive but well thought out.   It spoke of a government that is trying to solve a problem and create something, rather than be at war with itself.   On La Route Verte you just have to follow the signs.

 

For the first four days we bicycled La Route Verte no. 5, which follows the north shore of the St. Lawrence river.  In urban areas it leads a bicyclist through webs of residential streets, but connecting those when necessary with mostly paved bike paths.

 

In rural areas La Route Verte is mostly just signage showing a bicyclist the safest routes, sometimes on rural back roads.

 

and much of the time on lightly used highways, virtually always with a wide shoulder.

 

On occasion Route Verte uses a design I do not approve of, a two way bike path along one side of a conventional street.  (I do not think it is safe going through intersections bicycling the wrong way against traffic.)

On this first day out we biked through the northeastern side of Montreal which is clearly the poorer industrial side of town.   Later on, a bike path followed along the St. Lawrence River with its ocean going vessels.

We rode a long way that day (59 miles), especially considering that the first part included constant stopping and starting through neighborhoods, and that it was about ninety degrees outside, and both of us are in our mid sixties.

There are not a lot of motels on this stretch of the north side of the river.   We exhaustedly pulled into this place at about five in the afternoon.

It is a Friday night in July, the height of the summer season.   Complet!    No rooms!   What do we do now?

The young woman at front desk of Villa D’Autray Motel spoke virtually no English and could not have been nicer.   While she turned us down for a room she invited the two of us to come swim in their pool while we sorted out our situation.

Lyman and I took the desk clerk up on her offer and we hung out for a while in the pool, in our bicycle shorts.

A couple of guys drinking beer in the pool were playing Appalachian / Irish sounding music, with French words, on their boombox.  I had vaguely heard of that Celtic music from Brittany sounded similar to American Appalachian and Irish music.   There are no words in this particular recording but when there were words, they were totally in French.

Still wet from the pool we got back on the bicycles.   I located a Days Inn three miles up the road in Berthierville, the only other hotel in the area, and I booked it on my phone.    The Villa D’Auhtray Motel we had not been able to say in was on a lovely two lane highway along the St. Lawrence River.  On the other hand, the Days Inn de Berthierville is next to the freeway where most of that town’s commercial buildings had transplanted themselves, just like in America.

Near the Days Inn there were no restaurant restaurants, just a collection of fast food places.   We got a to-go bottle of wine and ate outside at a chicken place, not sure if that was legal or not.   The dimly lit “lounge” of the Days Inn had gambling machines, just like those one sees in “Internet cafes” in obscure parts of North Carolina; we stayed clear.   The free breakfast the next morning was in the same lounge.

The Musee Gilles Villeneuve was almost next door to the Days Inn.   We stopped by when it opened at 9:30 AM.   We were the only visitors.

 

Yes, I had vaguely heard of Gilles Villeneuve.   He really made it to the big time.  Like so many Formula One drivers, he had died young in a fiery crash, him at age thirty-two in 1982.    He clearly was the young man from Berthierville who had made good.   Were the two people working the counter were Gilles’ relatives?

 

Before he got to Formula One Gilles had started racing snowmobiles, which up until this moment I had never known such racing existed.  How Canadian!  Apparently Gilles drove whatever he drove insanely and recklessly fast, until the danger ultimately caught up with him.

 

The museum had a slot car track, Lyman and I enjoyed racing each other.

photo by Lyman Labry

Back on the road, we headed northeast downriver, north side, on La Route Verte no. 5, on roads small and large.   We were dodging rain showers.

 

 

photo by Lyman Labry

 

Some of the towns were picturesque.

 

In this stretch the St. Lawrence River widens into Lac St. Pierre; it looks like an ocean.   We had seafood stew at Sea Shack.

We had had to stop several times to keep from getting wet, including about an hour on the porch of a semi-abandoned farmhouse.   The weather was finally clearing as we pulled into Trois-Rivieres, population 140,000, the largest city between Montreal and Quebec City.

Wikipedia describes Trois-Rivieres as a factory town struggling with closed factories.    This entire region seems to have been very much into paper and newsprint.   Arriving downtown Trois-Rivieres we looked around for a bar.  The Billie Jean sure seemed to be the place to be.  Everyone was drinking pitchers of Bud Light.   Les Quebecois clearly like to get outside the few days of the year that the weather is nice.   The waitress spoke no English but understood enough to bring us two local IPAs,  We looked for a hotel on our phones.

 

 

We found a nice hotel a few blocks away and biked over there along the riverfront.

 

Later on we went out to dinner to Le Buck just a few blocks in the other direction, in the historic part of town.  Almost all these towns along the St. Lawrence were settled by the French in the 1600’s.

It was a different vibe from the bar scene at Billie Jean.  Le Buck is a fancy restaurant with outdoor seating where both of us got steak frites, no appetizer, and a shared bottle of the lowest cost red wine.   It may have been the best meal of the entire trip.

 

 

 

 

Quebecois food is not French any more than American food is British.    In the major cities of Quebec there are certainly fancy restaurants that mimic fancy French styles.   Elsewhere the Quebecois eat in their versions of chain restaurants and diners.   In general, average Quebecois restaurant food is better than average American restaurant food.  The most famous Quebecois dish is poutine, a decidedly blue collar pile of French fries on a paper plate covered in gravy and cheese collards, something to cheaply warm the bones in typically freezing weather.

The next morning we biked through the streets of Trois-Rivieres before leaving town north on the highway along the river.   I suspect almost no one has air conditioning, people were hanging outside.

 

It was still two days cycling to reach Quebec City.     La Route Verte routed us mostly on the Quebec highway 138 (already paralleled by a freeway) but when possible on the even older road that passed directly through small towns.

 

Les Quebecois are heavily into motorcycles, RV’s, SUV’s, and muscle cars.    We had pizza for lunch at a restaurant advertising specifically for motorcyclists but it had a much fru-fruier vibe than the average biker-friendly place in America.  It was all very nice.

We stayed that night at an Airbnb in the small town of Portneuf.   This personable woman rents out bedrooms in her suburban house, her enormous but friendly dog lying all about the place.   The dog slept outside our room at night, as if to guard it.  Lyman and I were able to walk to a small restaurant.

 

The next day we cycled again on La Route Verte 5, which is mostly Quebec route 138 along the north shore of the St. Lawrence.

The terrain had gotten challenging, steep hills for the first time.   Lyman here is wearing his hooded Patagonia sun protection bicycle jersey.  The temperature was in the upper seventies with a really bright sun.

The Quebec City suburbs on the south side along the north shore of the river are clearly the ta-ta side of town.  We bicycled past miles of tract mansions, just like in America, except the occupants speak French!

 

Coming into Quebec City a serious bluff blocks the riverfront.  To stay on the bicycle route we had to push the bicycles up these stairs, which connects to a bike trail.

Bicycling further into the city it still looked like the average American neighborhood, even though it was not.  (We are in French speaking Quebec, right?)   We tried to keep up with this young woman as we all followed La Route Verte signs.

After biking in rural Quebec for four days, arriving Old Quebec is somewhat shellshocking.    Other than Campeche, Mexico, Quebec City is the only walled city in North America.

 

To quote Lyman, Old Town Quebec City is like the French Quarter in New Orleans, except here they actually speak French!

 

 

We had booked an Airbnb in but had to wait for the “owner” to show up and let us in.   It was an apartment in Old Town.   We got a coffee next door.   The neighborhood was full of summertime tourists, although it seemed like relatively few were Americans.   We watched people go by our open cafe window.

The Airbnb representative finally showed up and let us in.   She was colorful.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

The view from the back deck of the Airbnb apartment was in many ways as interesting as the front.

The view out the front window.

 

On this Tuesday night in July restaurants were busy!    My friend Joe back in North Carolina had recommended we eat at Le Lapin Sauté, but tables were unavailable.  On the phone a place called La Buvette did not have a table but could seat us at the bar at 8:30 PM.   It was hip and expensive and delicious and pretentious but somehow not totally memorable.   It might have been because I felt we did not get enough to eat!   (Lyman had gotten the “mozzarella foam” appetizer!)

 

 

 

Lyman (rightfully) was interested in the history of the city.  The French had not only walled the city, they had built a fort (the Citadelle) atop the hill that the city sits on, where the river narrows.   It seems like a perfect place to defend one’s territory.   In 1759 the English somehow lured the French out of their position and defeated them on the Plains of Abraham, a flat low spot just below the town.  That was the end of the French rule over Quebec.  The next morning Lyman and I walked up to the Citadelle.

Looking down the skyline is dominated, not by the Citadelle but by the huge hotel Chateau Frontenac built in 1890 by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

 

About lunchtime we checked out of our Airbnb and rode our bicycles to the ferry landing at the riverfront of Old Town.    We got a surprisingly good pasta lunch among the tourists and souvenir shops.

 

 

We were about halfway through our bicycle trip.    The next four days would again be along the St. Lawrence, but this time on the south shore.  North of Quebec City the north shore becomes mountainous while the south shore is more of a flood plain, sometimes with lovely views of the mountains on the other side of the river.  While there is a bridge near Quebec City we chose to cross by ferry, which leaves from Old Town.   We could join the crowd of people wheeling their bicycles right onto the boat.  The crossing took about fifteen minutes.

 

 

 

Starting here for the next four days we bicycled about 200 miles north of Quebec City along the south bank of the St. Lawrence River.   This region is now my favorite part of Quebec to bicycle.  Leaving the Quebec City suburbs there was a bicycle path along the river for several miles.

Eventually we bicycled north on Quebec route 132, also labeled as La Route Verte no.1.

 

La Route Verte signs sometimes diverted to the old road through towns.  The town of St. Jean de Bellechasse looked cutesy and properous.   We stopped for ice cream.

 

Maybe it was the weather but this whole stretch of road gave off a wonderful vibe, as La Route Verte meandered along the riverfront on a thin road with almost no traffic.   A few miles further there was an outdoor barbecue stand fronting the river, the mountains lining up on the other side.   We skipped the barbecue but got beers.    Eventually we started chatting with a nice couple also there enjoying the afternoon even though we barely understood each other’s languages!   They are from Quebec City, they drive out here sometimes just to enjoy the view.

 

 

Just a mile or two further, in an area called Bertheir-su-Mer we stopped and got a room at a motel that the couple had told us about.   In America this place might have been creepy, an aging motel on the riverfront with a faded sign along a two lane highway.   Here there is nothing creepy about it;  the rooms are clean and a nice locally owned bar and restaurant is attached.

We had a nice simple dinner watching the sun set over the river.

 

The next morning we had breakfast at the same restaurant, the Mont Sainte Anne ski resort visible across the river.

Maybe it is just me, but in America a menu might offer “two eggs any style with toast, hash browns and choice of bacon or sausage.”   Here they say the same, in French, except that they say  “bacon, sausage or cheese.”    Cheese?   So I got cheese.   This is a low cost restaurant but unlike America plastic utensils are nowhere to be seen and the bread is fresh.

 

All day La Route Verte no. 1 mostly followed Quebec highway 132 as we biked about fifty miles along the riverfront in lovely sunny weather.

 

 

There were a lot of other bicyclists on La Route Verte.   Most were not carrying luggage so we assume they were locals but there were lots of them.    We ran into this guy, English speaking Canadian from British Columbia, he had been riding for about a week starting in Ottawa.   He said he was going all the way to Newfoundland.   Unlike us, he was going on the cheap, camping every night, sometimes sleeping in the weeds,  and expected to be biking for weeks.   He said he was responsible for no one, he only had to text his daughter every few days to show he was still alive.

Quebec has lots of locally owned hamburger and ice cream joints they call a Casse-Croute.    Note that we were not the only bicyclists eating lunch there.

I saw his poster about the upcoming Chicken Festival while eating hamburgers at the casse-croute.   There are indeed parallels with rural America, even if people here do not speak English.   Demolition Derby!   Escape Games!   La Grande Debauche Gala de Lutte NSPW!  (professional wrestling!).   Polker Tournament!   Musical Gala!  Smoke Show!  Rooster lunch!   Flea Market!  Derby de la Releve! (I think another kind of car crash thing). 

 

We spent the night in a motel out by the highway next to the town of La Pocatiere.  Dinner was at the adjacent restaurant Mikes.  Mikes is a regional chain based in Montreal.   Breakfast was at the Tim Hortons next door.   Tim Hortons (“Always Fresh”) is named after a hockey player and is like the Dunkin Donuts of Canada.

 

 

Quiz question:  why do both Mikes and Tim Hortons not have an apostrophe after their name?

Answer:  BECAUSE IT IS ILLEGAL.   Public signs in Quebec must be in French, and French does not have an apostrophe.   According to Wikipedia, McDonald’s gets away with it because they are, well, McDonald’s.

Quebec has a well funded government office that English speakers derisively refer to as the “language police.”   This office goes over things like restaurant menus.   Restaurants in Quebec cannot use the word pasta, because that is Italian, not French.  Seriously.

This underscores the stress of trying to preserve French language culture in a democracy without being draconian.   Before the language laws were passed in the 1970’s French speakers felt like a persecuted majority, surrounded not only by the English speaking hordes in Ontario and the U.S.A., but bossed by an English speaking elite in Quebec.   Now, big cities like Montreal and to a degree, Quebec City, both look multicultural and multiracial and are populated with immigrants from French speaking places like Haiti, Algeria, Morocco, Cameroon, and Vietnam.   The rest of Quebec, not so much.   Outside of Quebec City and Montreal over eight days I saw a total of about four people of color or Asian.  I also saw over a hundred real estate signs and I started keeping tabs.   Only ONCE was did the selling agent have a last name (“Baker”) that was not obviously French.   Using real estate agents as a non-scientific sample, the overwhelming majority of people in rural Quebec have French language surnames.

I applaud les Quebecois for preserving their language.    But this does underscore how difficult it becomes, with often the devil in the details.

Most people in rural Quebec seem to be from Quebec.   In eight days in Quebec north of Montreal, with the hundreds and hundreds of cars that passed me on the bicycle I saw less than ten cars with license plates from other parts of Canada like Ontario or New Brunswick.   I saw a total of two cars with USA plates.  Two.

Leaving La Pocatiere we continued cycling northwest along the St. Lawrence River.   La Route Verte directed us through towns, along the highway, and along parallel bike paths., some of them paved, some of them fine gravel.    We got an early start.

 

 

 

By early afternoon we had completed 80% of the mileage for the day and we felt comfortable stopping at this microbrewery.   It sat by itself on a lightly travelled highway.   On this sunny Friday at 2:30 PM it was packed with people.   We sat indoors at the bar but the locals seemed to enjoy sitting in the sun.

Since I am from North Carolina and our state government practically shut down on this issue, I bring up public toilets in Quebec.   They seem much more forward thinking of this subject than in the USA.    Almost all public toilets in restaurants and gas stations were marked as being for both sexes.  Many places (like this brewery) had a shared sink with stalls open to all, a setup I have hardly even seen in the USA.

 

Back on the bicycles we cycled up to Riviere du Loup (population 24,000) which along with the upcoming Rimouski is one of the two larger towns in this area.   Both are college towns.  The Riviere du Loup downtown sits up on a bluff above the river.

We had no idea why these streets were blocked off.  It turned out it was for go-kart racing.  They were loud.

From the Hotels Dot Com website we had found the lowest cost accommodations on this trip; US$ 32.00 per night including tax for a university dorm room right across from the go-kart track.  Thankfully, the racing noise stopped by 6:00 PM.   Caveat: there was no air conditioning and the shared bathroom was down the hall, just like in college.  Unlike my actual college only a few rooms were occupied and the hallway was clean and quiet.  I guess it is summer break.

 

We had to bicycle uphill to get there but downtown Riviere du Loup on a summer Friday night was hopping.  They had a heavy metal band performing on the street downtown during the dinner hour, cover songs in English and a few originals in French.   We walked around before the music started.

 

 

 

 

We ate outside at a restaurant called L’innocent.   It was a few blocks up the hill from the heavy metal action; we could hear the music while eating but the sound was not overwhelming.   We also people watched.

 

The next morning we got breakfast at Cafe Van Houte which I later learned is a Montreal coffee chain.  There are a couple key differences from Starbucks.  These differences were true at every other coffee place we visited in Quebec, both chain stores and locally owned.   The croissants were absolutely fresh and delicious and were served on actual china plates with real silverware.

 

 

We bicycled out of town.

 

 

A few miles outside of Riviere du Loup we met a guy on the highway who on Instagram goes by the name Unicycle_Dave.    He lives in Toronto and had started unicycling 2000 miles west in British Columbia.  His custom made unicycle has a 36 inch wheel and a two speed gearbox.   It is a fixie, he cannot coast, he has to always keep pedaling.  He had been on the road 49 days and wants to go all the way across Canada to St. Johns, Newfoundland.   He regular job is in video production and despite the fact that he had little room to carry anything, he had all sorts of complicated photography equipment, including a video drone, which he said he used occasionally.   He wants to make a documentary movie about his journey.   With his I-phone Lyman filmed me riding with him down a hill, as well as a still shot of the two of us.

 

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

 

We continued to bicycle along the riverside.    The St. Lawrence was now so wide that you couldn’t see the other side, it was like the ocean.

 

 

We had decided to spend the night in the small town of Trois Pistoles, halfway between Riviere du Loup and Rimouski.    Being on the waterfront it is very much a vacation town.

 

 

The next day would be our final day of cycling.   We were headed to Rimouski where we had a reservation for an Enterprise rent-a-car to drive back to Montreal.

These forty something miles were the wildest of our trip, the flatness of a flood plain on the south bank of the St. Lawrence evolved into rocky outcroppings reminiscent of pictures I have seen of places like Nova Scotia.

 

 

 

About ten miles of the ride is through Parc National du Bic.   We had smooth high pressure bicycle tires not well suited for off-road.   These gravel trails were not as challenging as we feared, the riding was actually quite nice.

 

 

At a mini-mart we ran into Graham Rush, a retired Canadian foreign service office living in Kingston, Ontario.    He was on a month-long solo bicycle ride, camping most of the time.   He has toured by bicycle all over the world.

 

Rimouski (population 48,000) is a surprisingly large almost sophisticated feeling place with  a waterfront bicycle path.

We dodged the rain just in time to haven a late lunch at this crepe restaurant where we had to wait for a table on this Sunday afternoon.

That evening we walked around downtown Rimouski where some kind of summer festival was going on.

I heard what I thought was live music, it turned out only to be a guy singing through a karaoke machine.    Still, the crowd all knew the chorus.    I have been playing and singing City of New Orleans on the guitar for forty years; obviously someone turned this around into a new song (in French!)

(click on any letter above)

The next morning at 7:00 AM I bicycled by myself through Rimouski to Enterprise Car Rental in the suburbs, right next to the Walmart.   Even in Canada the Walmart is safe harbor.   Just like in the USA people know that Walmart does not mind you parking there.   There were about forty camping vehicles that had stayed overnight in the Walmart lot.

We had four hundred miles and a six hour drive just to get to the New York State / Canada border!   I easily got the car and drove back to the hotel to pick up Lyman and his bicycle.

 

Image  —  Posted: August 16, 2019 in Canada trips

This trip had been on my bucket list of many years, to ride the length of Long Island.   To a Southerner,  Long Island seemed this exotic place, its New Yorkedness accentuated by its physical isolation.  (Those living on Long Island essentially have to go through New York City to go anywhere else.)   Was this idea true?

To find out, from my home in Chapel Hill NC I drove by myself up to Richmond VA and took Amtrak from there to New York City.  Amtrak regulations allow a folding bicycle and I have taken my Bike Friday on Amtrak many times.   On previous trips I was always able to put the bicycle in a set of luggage shelves just inside the railcar entrance.    This time these shelves were already full.  I just put the folded bicycle in the overhead rack!   No one said anything.

I arrived Penn Station in Manhattan just before four in the afternoon.   Most of the station is underground.

I hauled the bicycle down from the overhead and hauled it the very short distance out the train door and onto the Penn Station platform.   In a few minutes I had assembled the bicycle and strapped my trunk bag onto the back.   I could wheel everything away up into the Big Apple that lurked above.

I pushed the bicycle up an escalator and then through the maze of crowded hallways lined with stores that comprises Penn Station.

My brother Alex lives in Park Slope Brooklyn, about nine miles from Penn Station.   My son Sam has been living in Brooklyn as well.   To get to Alex’s place I first had to bicycle down Manhattan’s crowded Seventh Avenue.  (Mick Jagger: “I can’t give it away on Seventh Avenue!”)  This is what it looks like in front of Penn Station.

 

 

Bicycling in traffic in Manhattan is exciting but not as crazy as one would think    I cut over to Second Avenue, then to the Williamsburg Bridge to Brooklyn.   I looked back at lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.

I had brought my own bicycle but New York City did institute bicycle sharing in 2013 and calls it Citi Bike.  I had predicted that bicycle sharing for New York was possibly a good idea but it would be a bloodbath of tourists getting run over.  I was wrong.   There are currently 62,000 public shared bicycle rides in New York EVERY DAY.   It was four years and millions of rides before a woman was run over and killed by a bus.    You see these bicycle stands all over the city.

New York also now has bike paths.  From 2007-2013 the NYC Transportation Commissioner was someone (now somewhat famous) named Jeanette Sadik-Khan.   She discovered that she controlled almost no money or power to build things like bicycle trails, but had almost unlimited power to direct how existing New York City streets were PAINTED.   She directed the painting of bike lanes as she saw fit and did this with abandon across the five boroughs of New York.   Among many streets she had a bike path painted to narrow a prominent street in Brooklyn called Prospect Park West.    Living on this street was and is Senator Chuck Schumer and his wife Iris Weinshall,  herself an important politician.   Iris Weinshall hated this bike path and used her considerable political influence to try to kill it.   It made news to bicycle supporters all over the country that Chuck Schumer was trying to axe a bike path in front of his apartment.   He failed; Sadik-Khan won, and I thought about that as I biked on that very path on the way to Alex’s apartment, Prospect Park on my right.

I had a wonderful sushi dinner that night with Alex, his teenage son Max, my son Sam, and my nephew Danny.   I slept on Alex and Kristi’s sofa and parked my bicycle in their living room.   In addition to Max they have a one year old daughter named Eleanor Claire.

The next morning I headed out.    First I stopped by Sam’s apartment in the neighborhood of Bushwick.  He is in the process of moving out, going to Vietnam.

 

My four days of cycling out Long Island ended up looking like this:

 

On my first day out  I would cycle across Brooklyn, over to the Rockaways and Rockaway Beach, then Long Beach before turning back inland to Freeport.

Brooklyn has neighborhoods of lovely brownstones.

 

In the poorer neighborhood of East New York this guy was bicycling with his dog in one of Sadik-Khan’s bike lanes.

I followed two other bicyclists as we rode by the enormous field of apartment “towers in the park” Spring Creek Towers, formerly called Starrett City.

 

 

 

On the water side of Shore Parkway there is a quite nice bike path along Jamaica Bay.   A bicyclist here feels divorced from the city.  It was quite peaceful if you could ignore the scream of the cars and trucks on the parallel expressway.

 

 

The path leads a bicyclist by the former airport Floyd Bennett Field, now a park.    I rode on a narrow pedestrian walkway across Marine Parkway Bridge that separates Brooklyn from the Rockaways.

 

 

It’s not hard, not hard to reach.   We can hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach.

All I really knew about Rockaway Beach was the Ramones song released in 1977.   I have been listening to that song for over forty years but had never been to Rockaway Beach.   I always felt the song was tongue in cheek, sort of making fun of the New York beach.   But maybe not.  I recently heard a version recorded in about 2012 by the all-female Japanese band Shonen Knife from their tribute album Osaka Ramones.   Here it is performed live.   Listen for a minute, it grows on you.

 

 

I have never much thought of New York City as a beach town but it really can be, apparently.   On this Friday the 31st of May in Jacob Riis Park the lifeguards were out but the summer had barely begun.

 

The residential area of Belle Harbor it could almost pass for my mother’s neighborhood in Virginia Beach.

Eventually there was a boardwalk to bicycle on.

 

It is interesting that while beach real estate in and near New York City can be expensive, it is certainly not THE most expensive place to live in New York.   In a few places on or near the oceanfront there is public housing, subsidized housing for the poor.  Fascinating.

Big airplanes landing at JFK airport passed overhead,  There were coming in from far-away places.   The first photo in an Airbus 380, the largest passenger aircraft.  The second photo is an almost as big British Airways 747.

 

 

I threaded mostly on the oceanfront through various municipalities collectively known as “The Rockaways” until I came to Atlantic Beach Bridge onto the next barrier island, which contains Atlantic Beach and Long Beach.  For cars there is a $2.00 toll on this very short bridge.

 

 

The preponderance of tolls in New York reminded me of the longest book I have ever read, a 1300+ page biography of Robert Moses; The Power Broker, by Robert Caro.

OK, who is Robert Moses?   He was never elected to any office, yet he was so powerful that even President Franklin Roosevelt was sometimes afraid to take him on.   He controlled much of New York City and New York State from about 1928 to 1968.   A major basis of his power was obsession with legal details, especially bond issues.  He personally wrote the fine print for the bonds sold to build stuff like this Atlantic Beach Bridge.   In most cases he hard-baked into the project these tolls and made them impossible to remove.   He made himself director of the Authorities that controlled the toll money.    Robert Moses was instrumental in building many of the nation’s first freeways, New York state parks and “slum clearance” projects.  He got involved nationally in projects to promote what we now call suburban sprawl, tearing down inner cities and building freeways.  Much of the public infrastructure, both good and bad, in the New York area, has the fingerprints of Robert Moses.   On this bike trip I was always looking for Robert Moses projects, his 1930’s freeways and art-deco public buildings.  The toll plaza above and this 1930’s looking traffic sign were among them.

 

On this trip I passed many of Robert Moses’ cloverleaf intersections, some built as early as the 1930’s, to Parkways that prohibit trucks and bicycles.

I walked the bike across the bridge to Atlantic Beach, then started biking east.   For about a mile covering the oceanfront was a series of beach clubs.   Each had the same schtick; “members only” and valet parking.

Another factoid:   Sonny and Vito Corleone lived in Atlantic Beach and Long Beach, adjacent towns.  The location of the the Corleone gated compound is not mentioned in the movie but is in the book.  The scene where Sonny was rubbed out was supposed to have been at the Long Beach Causeway toll plaza.

In downtown Long Beach I had lunch at a “Mexican” bar / restaurant.    It was quite good, in its own way.   Who I assume is the owner stared at me all during the meal.

There was only one other table occupied.

 

 

I biked through Long Beach and the adjacent towns.  They did not look at all Godfatherish, just a beach town look.   For much of the way I could cycle on the boardwalk.

 

 

A Robert Moses legacy was that he loved to build Parkways.   These were freeways that prohibit trucks and buses.   I made it easier for him to keep public transport (and poor people) away from his glorious Jones Beach State Park.   I wanted to but could not bicycle to Jones Beach and see the famous Art Deco bathhouse planned and built by Robert Moses.  Loop Parkway that connects Long Beach with Jones Beach prohibits not only trucks but bicycles.     Ocean Parkway along that beach also supposedly prohibits bicycles.

For this night and the following night I had already reserved and paid for rooms at Airbnbs.    This first night would be in the “town” of Freeport.    I put that in quotes because western Long Island is filled with continuous urbanism but politically divided into a series of towns.  Freeport looks all-American.   Compared to Long Beach, which looks all-white, it took me a while to realize that everyone in Freeport, at least everyone I could publicly see, was either Hispanic or African-American.

 

This is the house of my Airbnb.

 

My room was the front upstairs bedroom.   It was clean and tidy but you clearly were staying in someone’s house.   I shared the bathroom with the family, and at night when I walked out of my room to the bathroom I could see the open door to the seventy-something host couple’s bedroom.   They spoke little English but were super nice and accommodating.  Compared to a cheap hotel, it was totally NOT sleazy.

I am now safe to say that this neighborhood is majority Dominican, as in the Dominican Republic.   A few blocks away I walked into a restaurant.  I had never been to a Dominican restaurant before.

It was brightly lit. There was a bar in one corner.  Being Dominican, they were watching, what else, baseball, or in this case women’s college softball.

I wanted something simple and a seven dollar bowl of chicken soup really hit the spot, accompanied by a side dish of rice and a side dish of beans.

 

This was my route the next day.

 

My ideal schedule when bicycling is to get up early, ride ten or fifteen miles, then stop for coffee and a light breakfast.

The streets in this part of Long Island are relatively well connected so I could bicycle for miles on minor mostly residential streets on this peaceful Saturday morning.  I had come to Long Island expecting, I dunno, the home of My Cousin Vinny.   Instead it all looked pretty normal.

 

 

 

New York Beanery in Amityville had a good almond milk latte and a superb egg and avocado toast.

 

I did see several mega-diners, we certainly do not have these in North Carolina.   I consider these real cultural icons, nowhere else in the world (except maybe New Jersey!).

 

 

Note the two luxury cars in front of this one, a Range Rover and a Lincoln.

Plus this place, not exactly a diner.

I passed by a Saturday morning lacrosse practice.   At the college level lacrosse is an exciting sport to watch.  My alma mater Washington College in rural Maryland had and has a very competitive team and some of the most exciting sporting events I have ever seen were Washington College lacrosse games in the seventies.   I learned then that a huge percentage of great lacrosse players came from either Long Island or the Baltimore area.

Apparently lacrosse is still a big deal on Long Island.    I do not think most areas would have organized lacrosse for very young girls.   How old do they look, about eight?

 

Is was able to bicycle on minor highways and most had pleasantly wide shoulders, almost like a bike path.  In North or South Carolina the highway below would have stopped at the white line.   Maybe in the Northeast wide shoulders are needed for snow removal.

 

 

My accommodations that evening were nice but really unusual.  In an area where motels were expensive this Airbnb cost a low eighty dollars, tax included.   Vectoring off the main road I biked through a normal looking upper working class neighborhood with ranch houses; pickup trucks and RVs in the driveways.   Near the end of the road, in contrast to the other houses were a couple of much larger lots with wooded front yards and long driveways.   I checked the address again and hesitated.  Was I in the wrong place?   The gate and driveway did not look well maintained.  I called my Airbnb contact but no one answered.  The woman finished her voice mail with mas salam malek kum, which I know to be an Arabic greeting.   Whatever.  I took a deep breath and bicycled up the driveway.

 

 

There were a couple of cars that looked like they had not been driven in a while, including a Lincoln Navigator.

 

I walked up to the front door.   The trim was peeling paint and there was a old plastic water bottle on the door sill.

 

I sucked it up and rang the bell.    Thirty seconds of silence. It was answered by a South Asian looking guy, sixty something.   He smiled and said in accented English, yes, he was expecting me.   Come on in.  He walked me through sparsely furnished or totally empty living / dining rooms to a bedroom at the back of the ground floor.   The room was huge.   I took this picture after I had already messed up the bed; the room was clean and well furnished, with the kind of enormous master bathroom one would expect from such a giant house.   The carpet was spotless.   He had left three fresh oranges on the table.   I ate one the next morning, it was delicious.

If you look at the top right of the photo above you will see water stains where the roof had been leaking.

There was a recently used looking pair of slippers on the floor, size small.

There was a large walk-in closet full of women’s clothes.   Are these Middle Eastern or South Asian garments?

Being nosy, I opened the nightstand drawer on left side of the bed and it contained nothing but a freshly printed stack of paper having something to do with medical school tests or applications.

The nightstand on the other side had only the TV remote and a copy of the Quran.

Because I left early the next morning I was not able to talk to the guy again.  I left the key under the mat.  Regretably I never learned anything more about these people.

I did need to go out to dinner.   After showering and and changing clothes I biked about a mile back to the main road and La Volpe Ristorante, which sat by itself on the highway.   Sophie Loren and other famous Italians had their portraits on the walls.   I love to cook and my current obsession is Italian.   We do not have many good Italian restaurants in North Carolina.

 

I had a nice seat at the bar.  The guy next to me commented on my Southern accent.   Fascinating.  Yes, I am from Virginia Beach and live in North Carolina but I never thought I had any kind of accent.  In the South I am practically a Yankee.   Only on Long Island, I guess.  The bartender who served us was a real pro.

 

I love clams and especially prefer those from colder water in the north.   The further south you go clams apparently get worse.  My buddy Lyman from warm water New Orleans has an innate fear of clams.  At La Volpe in the town of Center Moriches NY fresh cavatelli pasta with clams, mushrooms, beans, and arugula was the best meal of this entire trip.

 

The next morning I slipped out early.   This is a map of my third day out.   My destination was Montauk, the last town near the end of South Fork.

Out on the road on an early Sunday morning it was peaceful and slightly foggy.

 

 

Quite soon I started cycling through The Hamptons.   Towns are named Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton, Hampton Bay, Bridgehampton.   On and on.  Clearly real estate is worth more if the word Hampton is included.

Westhampton is the first Hampton.  Almost ten miles BEFORE the actual town of Westhampton the name game begins with this development.  One can tell the neighbors: “We bought a house in The Hamptons.”

 

In the same area, likely undocumented workers stood around waiting for a job.

 

In the next three hours I passed dozens of fancy houses that are probably only occupied a few weeks per year.   Most do not have water views.    People are apparently willing to pay millions of dollars for the privilege of having a house in The Hamptons.

I could see more detail when I bicycled off the busy main highway and onto side roads.  Yes, these houses really do cost millions of dollars each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Past East Hampton there actually is quite a bit empty pine barren.   Much of this is public land like Napeague and Hither Hills State Parks.

Montauk NY.  Just because of its location I have been wanting to come here for a long time.   On the map it has that aura of Provincetown or Key West, a town at the end of the road.  It really is just a small beach town.   My friend John Soehner says Montauk is a great place.   I should have brought him along to show me around.

 

I stayed in Daunt’s Albatross Motel.

 

The restaurants in Montauk are expensive.    I grew up in a beach town and know that spending a lot on fancy food might not get you that much.   I ate in a pizza joint, listening to two Catholic priests at the next table loudly talk shop, problems at their work, one an older white guy, the other younger and black, with an African accent.

The next morning I was really ready to get out of town, back to some kind of less touristy America.

There is an hourly ferry to Connecticut at the tip of the other fork, the North Fork, at Orient Point NY.   That would be my destination this fourth day out.

 

I first cycled back fourteen miles back to East Hampton and and got breakfast at Starbucks.   Starbucks seemed like one of the few gathering places in East Hampton for all social classes.   It was a weekday, there were guys who could have been electricians alongside some very tall and skinny blond women talking some language I did not recognize.

 

The rest of the downtowns in The Hamptons are mostly sanitized, many storefronts turned into real estate offices advertising multi-million dollar houses.

I turned north towards the town of Sag Harbour.   It looks less cutesified that The Hamptons but I now know that it is almost as expensive.

To get to the Orient Point Ferry towards Connecticut I first had to take two smaller ferries,  to the south shore of Shelter Island and then from the north shore of that same island.  It was a beautiful day.

 

It was something of a relief to arrive into the town of Greenport, that last real town going out east onto the North Fork.   Compared to The Hamptons and the rest of the South Fork, Greenport looked and felt like a real town.   I got a sandwich for lunch at Goldberg’s Famous Bagels.

 

It is nine miles further out the North Folk to the tip, Orient Point, where the ferry leaves.

On the side of the road was this beautiful saltbox house, built in 1656.   It did have a historical marker but otherwise I think it is just somebody’s house.

At the end of the road there is a ferry terminal and a small marina / bar / restaurant.   I stopped in for a beer.

The ferry ride to New London CT took about an hour and a half.

 

I had a place to go when I arrived New London CT, an Airbnb booked online.