Raleigh is at least thirty-five miles by bicycle from my home on the Chapel Hill / Carrboro line.   Sure, I have completed that 70+ mile roundtrip once or twice during the past thirty years,  but such a ride is a stretch, especially on a route that involves lots of stops and starts and turns.   Why not bicycle to Raleigh, take the Amtrak from Raleigh to Durham, and then bicycle the fifteen miles home from downtown Durham?

It was almost 11:00 AM before I left Chapel Hill on a Monday morning.   The wind was at my back.

It has taken me years to work out a somewhat safe bicycle route from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, a route that lets one bicycle mostly on residential streets or bike paths.   It shows the ineffectiveness of our state government that we have to figure this out on our own, or that this is the “safe” route.    Those uninterested in these weeds can skip to below the map.

From Franklin Street, go through the UNC Campus down the hill on Laurel Hill Road.   Cross over Bypass at the light and continue by Finley Golf Course.   Take a right on the bike path along highway 54, then take a right on Barbee Chapel Road, then Stagecoach Road, then left on highway 751 for about 200 yards before right on Massey Chapel Road to get on the American Tobacco Trail.   Take that paved trail about five miles to O’Kelly Chapel Road, where you go left.  In about a quarter mile, take a right on Del Webb Avenue through the Amberly real estate development.  Continue straight and the road changes name to McCrimmon Parkway .  This ends at the four lane highway 55.     Go right and bike about 100 yards, then jump the median to Good Hope Church Road.   Take that to the end (about a quarter mile) then left on Morrisville Carpenter Road.

Morrisville Carpenter Road is mostly safe and wide for the several miles to downtown Morrisville and Highway 54.   Go right on 54 for about a quarter mile, then left on the residential street Keybridge Drive.   Immediate right on Kalvesta Drive, then left on Glenspring Way, then right on Weston Estates Way.  After this crosses Weston Parkway it changes name to Sheldon Drive and ends at Cary Parkway.   Go left for only about a quarter mile on that busy road, then right on Winfair Drive.   Take this a few blocks to Evans Road, go right for about a quarter mile, then left on Dynasty Drive.   Dynasty Drive changes name to Elektra Drive, but this residential street continues for several miles up and down hills through quiet neighborhoods, all the way to the intersection of Trinity Road.

Left on Trinity Road and you are almost at the Raleigh city limits.  Trinity Road goes by the State Fairgrounds and Carter-Finley Stadium.  Right on Blue Ridge Road, go down the hill and across Highway 54, immediate left on Beryl Road.

By now you are in Raleigh at Hillsborough Street near NC State.   There are several ways to downtown from here, take your choice.

 

 

 

 

The train was scheduled to leave at 3:00 PM; I had arrived downtown Raleigh with time for lunch.    Sosta is a really nice sandwich shop and coffee house I discovered by pedaling around downtown.    A tuna sandwich with sides of couscous and tabouli had real spark.   An interesting looking group of likely Red Hat employees sat at the other occupied table.   A little search on the internet shows that the owner is from Avignon, in southwestern France.

I must have been the city of Raleigh that decided to invest in a new train station.   I am sure Amtrak did not have enough money to pay for all this.   It opened less than a year ago.   It is really a lovely facility, right in the center of the warehouse district, just a few blocks from the main downtown drag Fayetteville Street.

 

To get to the tracks one walks down this modernist ramp.

There are four Amtrak trains a day from Raleigh to Durham.  Sure, the trains are old school, not glitzy like the Raleigh station.   But the train ride is very clean and peaceful in the half hour journey, stopping on the way in downtown Cary.   All these trains continue on to Greensboro, High Point, and Charlotte.    You can load your bicycle directly onto the baggage car, zero hassle.  Amtrak in other parts of America does NOT always treat bicycles so well.

The train put me in downtown Durham on time at 3:30 PM.    I still had an hour and a half of daylight left to bike the fifteen miles home.   The NCDOT is widening Chapel Hill Road in Durham county, it is getting safer to bicycle.  (Chapel Hill Road, to University Drive, to Old Chapel Hill Road to Pope Road to Ephesus Church Road)

I was home in Chapel Hill before five o’clock.

Savannah GA is supposed to be a nice place.   I wanted to visit there by bicycle, but I made the mistake of trying to bicycle into it from thirty miles out.    I discovered how difficult and dangerous it is to bicycle into Savannah from outside the city.   Like a lot of port cities on the East Coast, Savannah is surrounded on several sides by water and swamps.   To bicycle to Savannah one has to either cross bridges that prohibit bicycles, or thread through narrow and dangerous busy highways.

This bike ride was so dangerous I have promised myself I will never do this kind of ride again.   We’ll see if that promise holds.

Savannah did end up being a fascinating cultural experience.  More on that later.

I had studied Google Maps and picked a spot to start riding.   I drove six hours south from Chapel Hill mostly on I-95, and parked the Prius on the street in the tiny town of Springfield, Georgia; thirty miles from downtown Savannah.  I pulled the bicycle out of the back.

I bicycled east on a two lane highway with no shoulder.   It was Sunday afternoon and traffic was light.

Unfortunately that road ended after about seven miles, and the only way towards Savannah was on Georgia Route 21, a four lane highway with rumble strips down the side.  If a large pack of cars approached, I jumped off the highway and stood in the grass while I let them pass.   This continued for about five unpleasant miles.

A little over halfway to downtown I was able to find relief by turning left into the Savannah port complex.   The roar of the traffic ceased immediately.  On this Sunday afternoon it was peaceful.  The road was empty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After passing alongside the port complex I realized this narrow road must have once been the main route into Savannah in the 1950’s.  Stuckey’s, right?

 

I consider the Alamo Plaza Motel a real find as there are hardly any motels like this left in the whole country.   I am not the only fan of this stuff, somebody wrote a whole Wikipedia page about the Alamo brand!

 

The Talmadge bridge rose in the distance, with a giant auto-carrying ship parked underneath.

 

I biked across a much smaller bridge and I suddenly was in Savannah!   The first neighborhood I saw was a 1940’s public housing complex.

Soon after, on Bay Street, I stopped to regroup in a crowded Starbucks.  Savannah has changed a lot during the past twenty years due to the growth of Savannah College of Art and Design, or SCAD.    This young woman waiting in line in Starbucks must have been a SCAD student, she was obliviously taking candid pictures of everyone with an expensive looking camera.   I returned the favor.

 

The previous day I had booked an Airbnb somewhere in central Savannah.   After drinking coffee and reading a while in Starbucks I biked off to look for my lodging.   Savannah is really beautiful but I find the fake trolly buses tacky.   People wandered around, or drove their Austin-Healy 3000’s.

 

 

 

 

This Kroger in Savannah is an example of how to build an urban supermarket with style.  The building comes right to the street.   There is a full parking lot across the street, fenced, and surrounded by shrubbery.  It was the one place I saw in Savannah that seemed to be patronized by all classes of people.

 

My Airbnb was the second bedroom of this two bedroom apartment, occupied by a former SCAD student.    It is just over the edge from the “historic district” and into the apparently gentrifying African-American neighborhood.   The building containing the Airbnb apartment is not very old, inside it seemed cheaply-built 1980’s.

The lodging was more than adequate and a good deal at $ 77.00 including tax.   The sad truth:  cheap hotels can feel gross but I have never felt that way in an Airbnb.   Sure, Airbnb’s are all over the map, sometimes they are small or dark or have lumpy beds or almost zero privacy, but none have felt dirty or sleazy or unsafe.   I theorize that the credit card and personal profile requirements for Airbnb filter out the poor and the needy and the unstable.  Another way to divide America, I guess.

My meal that evening at an Italian restaurant called Cuoco Pazzo.  It was also quite good, except my dinner cost about the same as my “hotel” room!

At Cuoco Pazzo I ate at a three seat bar in the same room as a quite capable jazz duo; bass and guitar, playing instrumentals of Christmas music.

 

The other patrons were mostly grey haired and well dressed.    The $ 19.50 lasagna was indeed delicious but it did not even fill me up.   So I got bean soup that was also very good, at $ 10.00 a bowl.   Wine was $11.00 a glass.

I cannot help but compare it to more or less the same meal I got four months ago on another bike trip; Scaffidi’s in a Steubenville OH strip mall, where the lasagna was just as delicious, but it had cost $9.50 INCLUDING A SOUP FIRST COURSE.    And wine there was $5.50 a glass, exactly half the price here.

As I was leaving Cuoco Pazzo the base player and guitarist were sitting at the bar, I guess they get free drinks.   I wanted to ask them if they got paid for this gig, but I demurred.

On the way walking back “home” I passed this store clearly not intended for the people eating at Cuoco Pazzo.   As in many cities it seemed like central Savannah was just for the rich and the poor and not a lot in between.

 

The Victorian era houses in this part of Savannah were lovely at night.

 

The next morning, just a few blocks from my “hotel” I found this place called Mate´ Factor.  They operate as a regular coffeehouse but also specialize in yerba mate´, a tea-ish drink popular in South America.

I got one of their custom lattes, a mix of yerba mate´, coffee, hot milk, and spices.    Paired with a home made almond scone it was my kind of breakfast.

I biked through town again.   I thought a lot about another city, Norfolk VA, my father’s hometown and right next to my hometown of Virginia Beach.   Norfolk and Savannah were about the same size in 1900.   Norfolk had been there since before 1700.   If Norfolk had not been so aggressive with federal government funded “redevelopment” (i.e., tearing down huge sections of “slums” in the fifties and sixties) could it have ended up like this?    Or did Norfolk never have the city pride and joie de vivre that allowed Savannah to blossom?   Savannah was indeed lovely on this Monday morning.

 

 

I still had about thirty miles to bike back to my car.     I took a different route from the way I came but it was not much better.   Traffic from the port of Savannah dominated.

I know from my work life that ocean container trucking has the worst paid drivers in trucking, using the worst trucks.   This is a national disgrace yet to become a scandal, but I thought about it a lot as these beat up trucks zoomed by me.

 

I promised myself I would never put myself in such a position again; I should have just stopped and taken an Uber.

I did sometimes get to jump off the main road and ride on residential streets.

I see these Share The Road notices all over America.   The state highway departments assuage their tiny degree of guilt by putting up these ridiculous signs.

The last half of the ride was on gentler country roads.  When I left the main highways it was like hitting a switch, all of a sudden all the truck noise stopped.   This donkey walked up to greet me at a fence.

I had one close call with a truck on a two lane road, but I did get back to my car in Springfield GA.    I drove home to Chapel Hill in time for dinner.

This is a story of a bicycle (Schwinn Typhoon) and a neighborhood (New Orleans’ Ninth Ward.).

I have been taking longer distance bike rides for over fifty years, starting when I was about twelve years old.   These first trips were on the bicycle I then owned, a Schwinn Typhoon. My friends and I rode to places all over Virginia Beach, especially daylong trips to rural areas like Pungo and Princess Anne Courthouse.  We called them Bike Hikes.  They always involved Twinkies from the Seven Eleven, or buying hamburgers somewhere.   Our biggest obstacle was our parents, who constantly tried to stop us from riding on two lane country roads, saying that it was toooo dangerous.

My final Bike Hike on the Schwinn Typhoon was with the late Steve “Slice” Johnson. At fourteen we both wanted a job and we both could not find one.    We had seen an ad in the newspaper for a cafeteria opening up at Military Circle Mall, just over the line into Norfolk,  fifteen miles away.   I guess we had no idea what we would do if we actually got a job there.   Anyway, the two of us biked out there fifteen miles in the July heat and interviewed for a job we did not get.   In those days we did not know anything about bike locks.    We walked outside the mall after the “interview” and the Schwinn Typhoon was gone.   Stolen.   His red Peugeot bicycle for some reason was still there.

We had to call his parents to come get us, and that was the end of my story with the Schwinn Typhoon.   The bicycle I got to replace it was my first ten speed, a much much better bicycle for my Bike Hikes.

Let’s fast forward about forty-nine years.   Tootie and I love to visit New Orleans, and we keep two bicycles in the crawl space underneath our friend’s house in Uptown.   Tootie’s bike there is an updated 1970’s Schwinn that is perfect for city cycling.  The streets of New Orleans have huge potholes and are consistently patched and bumpy.  Our other bicycle there has been an old ten speed that has always felt a little unstable in these conditions.  Several friends my age have hurt themselves recently on bicycles, and every one of these accidents involved falling after hitting obstructions in the road, like potholes or speed bumps.  I decided that at my age I needed a more stable bicycle to use on the unstable streets of New Orleans.

Miracles do happen; on Craigslist, only one block from our friend’s house, for $150.00, was a Schwinn Typhoon!   And it is in perfect shape, hardly a scratch even though it is no newer than the mid 1970’s.    This is an original Schwinn made in Chicago.   Anything made after 1982 is not an original Schwinn, it is just a brand name.   Tires were fully pumped up, it was ready to ride.   The drink coozie on the handlebars came as part of the deal.    By modern standards it is astonishingly heavy.   But that is less important because New Orleans, like Virginia Beach, has no hills!

 

The second part of my story involves the Ninth Ward, the trendier part of which is now often called Bywater.     In a recent wire story in our North Carolina newspaper I was shocked at its inclusion as one of the Best Places in America.   The Bywater, really?

 

 

When Tootie and I lived in New Orleans 1981-88 the Ninth Ward, parts of which are also called Bywater, was a source of local jokes, a working class community that was stuck in time.   Nothing more symbolized this than the weekly cartoons Vic & Nat’ly that came out Sundays in the Times-Picayune  during the 1980’s.   We still have a book of these cartoons by local artist Bunny Matthews.  The cartoons centered on an elderly couple that spoke in the neighborhood’s unique patois.  These New Orleans accents sound more Brooklyn than Southern.

Bunny’s book even has a map.  The Uptown short term rental we have currently been staying in is just above the letter E in “RIVER” in his drawing below.   The French Quarter is just to the right of the letter S in the world “NEW ORLEANS.”

 

 

On this recent early December day Tootie and I biked from our apartment to see Bywater again, and how much it had changed.    It is about five miles through solid city.    We biked through Uptown, then the Warehouse District.

At the end of Canal Street we parked the bikes in front of Harrah’s casino, to see if they had any $10.00 craps tables.

Tootie likes to play craps if the stakes are low enough.  I do not gamble.  Unfortunately the tables were $ 25.00 minimum, so we got back on the bikes and headed through the French Quarter.    As always, it is lovely.

 

 

 

We turned down Esplanade Avenue,

Then went left on Burgundy Street, taking us through Faubourg Marigny.

 

Faubourg Marigny eventually transitions into Bywater.  The Upper Ninth Ward.   There are miles of double row houses like these.

Part of the reason that the National Media might have chosen Bywater to be The Next Great Place is that young people (artists!) from all over the country have been moving here, so much so that real estate prices have zoomed up.    I theorize the real artists are already moving to the next gentrifying area of New Orleans, wherever that is.  New Orleans is big enough that for now there is always going to be a next-area-to-gentrify.    For example, are these real artists or just young people or does it matter?  What about the locals who are being priced out of their own neighborhood?  There are a lot of out-of-state license plates along these streets.

 

 

We reached the end of the line at Poland Avenue.    One cannot bike further without crossing the Industrial Canal Bridge.    The other side of that bridge is the now-famous Lower Ninth Ward, which flooded severely after Hurricane Katrina.    Tootie and I turned the bikes around and headed back towards the French Quarter.   We first looked back down Poland Avenue as it meets the Mississippi River.    Bywater is separated from the river by railroad tracks and a levee.   One forgets how close this river really is.    The Cape Kennedy shown in this photograph is a ship sitting in the river!

It was about cocktail hour and we headed towards one of our favorite bars in New Orleans, Bar Tonique on Rampart Street, on the edge of the French Quarter.   They make their own tonic for the gin and tonic.  They have an enormous selection of drinks at low prices, and a cat that sits on the bar.

 

Tootie and I have developed a rule: only drink one cocktail.    The second is never as good as the first.   We climbed back on our bicycles in the now darkness and biked back the several miles to our rental apartment.   One the way we stopped to pick up groceries at Rouse’s on Howard Avenue.

 

Yes, we made it back safely.   New Orleans has become a much more bicycle friendly place.

Hardly anybody from Chapel Hill goes to Myrtle Beach anymore.  Snobbism has taken hold.   This is too bad because Myrtle Beach can be a fascinating place, and it has a beach!   It is a string of beach towns that are marketed as The Grand Strand.  I wanted to go somewhere for one night.  In Chapel Hill the weather was going to be very cold.  I needed to drive south before I started bicycle riding.

I had considered going to more rural areas of South Carolina.  I often am in the mood for country rides on narrow South Carolina highways.   These sometimes include scary close-passing pickup trucks.  For some reason today I was not in the mood for that.

I have biked through strings of beach towns on a large portion the East Coast.  I grew up bicycling all over a beach town, Virginia Beach.  Biking in a beach town off-season is nice for two reasons:

One, if you follow the ocean it is impossible to get lost.

Two, there are usually residential street grids that follow the beach, and continue for many miles.

If you bicycle in the off-season with hardly any traffic it can be interesting, safe, and pleasant.   Longer beach rides I have done that are quite nice include Sandy Hook to Seaside Park NJ, Atlantic City to Cape May NJ,  Fernandina Beach to Jacksonville Beach to St. Augustine to Daytona Beach FL, and Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale FL.  Fort Lauderdale to Miami Beach to Homestead FL is a great bike ride but occasionally there are dicey traffic situations.   Of course bicycling from Key Largo to Key West is almost perfect, but I cannot really consider that beach town riding.

Myrtle Beach SC is only just OK for bicycling.   The Grand Strand is at least thirty miles long.   One can bicycle on long stretches of pleasant residential streets following the ocean, but these are broken up in about four places where a bicyclist has to go out to the major highway US17 for short stretches.   There are lots of workarounds, including riding briefly on the US17 sidewalk.

I drove about four hours from Chapel Hill with my new Bike Friday in the back of our Prius, and parked in a municipal boat launch in Cherry Grove Beach, about the northernmost part of the Strand.    I pulled the bicycle out.

 

I just started bicycling down the beach road, following the line of motels and summer cottages.     There was a big crowd at the Cherry Grove Fishing Pier.

 

What makes beach town cycling nice is miles and miles of roads like these.

My favorite buildings Myrtle Beach are the modernist 1950-60’s motels.  In my hometown of Virginia Beach these are more or less completely gone.   Other resort cities have chosen to highlight these places.   Apparently not here.  There are a lot left in Myrtle Beach but every year there are fewer and fewer.

 

 

 

 

 

Another one bites the dust

 

 

Anyone who wants to see more pictures of motels, look at my blog from five years ago.    Some of those motels are still here; some, sadly are not.

https://www.citybiketrips.com/category/modernist-motels

On this current trip I spent the night at the Surfside Beach Oceanfront Hotel.   It is quite nice and cost less than a hundred dollars, at least in November.

This was the view from my balcony.    One does not ever see that POW-MIA flag in Chapel Hill.

 

 

I ate dinner across the street at Bubba’s Fish Shack.

Although people were waiting for a table I was able to sit at the bar.

One does not see couples dressed in cammo in Chapel Hill either.

Bubba’s has good food for low prices.    Fried calamari with pepper jelly had a lot of subtlety for a dish costing only $ 6.99.

The next day I more or less doubled back the way I came, passing through downtown Myrtle Beach.

I like the vibe of older parts of Myrtle Beach.

 

For a late breakfast I sat at a Starbucks, stared out the window, and then read The New Yorker on my kindle.

I biked back to the car and was home in time for dinner.

Wilson and Rocky Mount NC are similar cities twenty miles apart.   Rocky Mount initially was based on textile manufacturing and Wilson on raw and bulk tobacco.

 

I parked the Prius in a Walmart parking lot two or three miles from downtown Wilson.

I bicycled through the more prosperous and woody residential neighborhoods on the east side of Wilson.   This house is NOT typical but I do like its style.

 

Closer to downtown the neighborhood was less upscale.  Does this count as Modernist?

 

I had no idea that this day, Saturday November 3rd, was the day of the Whirligig Festival!      A folk artist named Vollis Simpson lived near Wilson and had compulsively been creating whirligigs for years.    When he died in 2013 the city of Wilson appropriated an abandoned piece of downtown as a park for his whirligigs.   I had visited here about three years ago and the “park” did not look like much, a few whirligigs on barren dirt surrounded by vacant buildings.    It has really improved, with even a restaurant now facing the whirligigs.  While downtown Wilson is still largely vacant, this park is actually becoming a place.   There were crowds and live music this sunny Saturday.

 

 

 

I eventually got back on the bicycle and rode the twenty miles to Rocky Mount, across flat open fields, often lined by pine trees, with the occasional abandoned farm building.

 

I had visited downtown Rocky Mount two weeks earlier and it appeared even more abandoned than downtown Wilson.   I had not noticed The Prime Smokehouse, which sat on an otherwise unoccupied downtown street.   An African-American run restaurant, it has a much more varied menu than the traditional North Carolina barbecue place.   I got shredded beef sandwich and green beans.

 

After lunch I pedaled through the south side of Rocky Mount, and then back to Wilson.

I put my new bicycle in the back of the Prius and drove a hundred miles east from Chapel Hill NC to Rocky Mount NC.    I found a parking lot downtown where I could leave the car for a few hours.  There is plenty of parking in downtown Rocky Mount.

 

 

Yes, I have a new bicycle!    It is a Bike Friday made to order in Eugene, OR, somewhat like my PBW that broke in half six months ago.  I will try to be more careful this time.   On the new bike I chose an eleven speed rear cog with no front derailleur, skinny 20 x 1.1 115 psi tires with Schraeder valves, and drop down handlebars that separate into two pieces when packing the bicycle in a suitcase.   I had had it about a week when I took this ride.   It is taking me a little time to get comfortable on it.    Of course it feels much lighter and faster than the Surly Long Haul Trucker.    I will keep the Trucker for occasional use.

Rocky Mount, population 55,000, despite its name has almost no rocks or hills.   It was built at the site of one small waterfall of the Tar River, which provided power for textile mills.    It sits in the vast coastal plain of Down East.   Its downtown is quite vacant, but there are a few signs that life is springing up, here and there.

 

 

 

The NCDOT “thoughtfully” designed the principal road through downtown as a one-way, to handle the vast amount of traffic on this workweek day.   Not.

 

Two blocks over is what used to be Rocky Mount’s principal shopping street.   It sits with the main line double track New York to Florida CSX railroad running down the middle of the street.

 

 

One can travel easily north / south from Rocky Mount by rail, to places like Richmond, Washington, and New York, from a nicely restored station Amtrak station. The size of this station says that in about 1912 Rocky Mount was an important place.

 

I decided to bicycle over to Tarboro, about twenty miles to the southeast.

 

This would take me first through the south and west side of Rocky Mount.

 

Eventually I found myself on razor straight country roads.

 

 

 

I have been told that Tarboro, population 11,000, has a highfalutin sense of itself.   It is one of the prettiest towns in North Carolina.  Its newspaper, until it closed quite recently, was the Daily Southerner.   Locals will tell you that like Boston, Massachusetts, Tarboro has a Common, a parklike space in the center of town, between the residential area and the commercial strip of downtown.  Of course (of course!) there is a Civil War statue on the Common.

 

 

Downtown Tarboro does have some vacant storefronts but it certainly looks more in-use than downtown Rocky Mount.  I  had vaguely heard about a restaurant downtown called On The Square.   It was lunchtime.

At lunchtime at On The Square where one orders at the counter there was a small line of men in khaki pants.   Khaki pants are popular in The South.

Another Man in Khaki had stepped out on the sidewalk to take a call.

 

My lunch was the special of the day, ham and cheese sandwich with a side of tomato soup.   I read The New Yorker on my Kindle.

 

What else to do but bicycle back to Rocky Mount?   I took the same route, it luckily had been almost traffic-free.   That kind of bicycling route is hard to find.

 

 

On this six day jaunt myself and two friends managed to visit Richmond, Baltimore, Lancaster and Philadelphia all in a six day bicycle trip.    This trip put our relationship with our work life in focus.   Careerwise the three of us have completely different work situations.  Lyman, an architect, is proud to say he is retired.   Myself, I work,  but as little as possible.   I do not use that that R word, so I prefer to say I am head a of a small shipping company, working with my son Jack.  The Don is semi-retired, and Jack is in charge of the family business now.   I do take multiple phone calls from Jack every day.

My friend Connie is a lawyer working in Florida.  He has a big job, a partner in a law firm.     Connie would have the biggest work-related struggles on this trip.   Could he do a bike trip and still keep up with his important corporate clients?

 

Air fares to Richmond VA were quite low and Richmond is just less than three hours north on my drive up from North Carolina.  With two bicycles on the back of my Honda I picked up my two friends at the Richmond airport.    Lyman had flown in from Austin TX with his folding Bike Friday in a suitcase.   Connie had met Lyman connecting in Atlanta and they both arrived Richmond early afternoon on the same Southwest Airlines flight.   They had clearly started partying on the plane.   For a late lunch I drove them over to En Su Boca on the fringes of the Fan District in Richmond.

 

Following the plans I had made, after lunch we drove three hours up to Baltimore and stayed in a downtown Baltimore Embassy Suites.   We would leave my car in Baltimore for five  days.   I love Baltimore.   Red brick houses with white stone steps.

We set out by bicycle the next morning.   Putting our bicycles together and strapping all our gear on the back, we biked a few blocks west to a stop of the Baltimore Lightrail, for a fifteen mile train ride north.   We could just wheel the bicycles on the train.

We had considerable issues making the ticket machines work properly.

 

 

 

On the train on this Sunday morning we met interesting people.   This woman was traveling to a crab festival where she was doing volunteer work.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

We got off at the end of the line in the north Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley.    From there we would only need to bicycle about a mile or two to the start of the North Central / York County rail trail, which runs forty-one miles straight north, all the way to York, PA.

The weather was overcast, chilly and damp.

 

 

It was only predicted ten percent chance of rain but it rained anyway for at least two hours.   We had raincoats but still got wet and the bicycles were filthy.

 

We stopped for lunch at a pizza place.  The countryside was beautiful.   There were lots of hills but our path plowed right though them.

The trail passes through Howard Tunnel, in use since 1838, the second oldest rail tunnel in the U.S.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

 

 

The trail deposited us right into the middle of York PA.

We had booked a downtown Airbnb;  the downtown hotel I had stayed at in previous trips to York was closed for renovations.    York is a fading factory town.   Does it have any pizzazz left?

Small breweries now seem a key part in the revitalization of American downtowns.   York’s Gift Horse Brewing Company was in a small storefront but with a big selection, including some really creative ales.   We all three had a vanilla pumpkin porter.    The owner and brewer was staffing the bar.

Across the street is Rockfish Public House.  I did not have big expectations about the food but it was about the only restaurant choice in downtown York on a Sunday night.   But it was quite good, some of the best seafood I have had in a while.  We split an order of mussels then got a fish entree each.

 

Walking back to the Airbnb, I noticed that York continues a trend I have seen all over America.  The newest looking and and probably largest building in downtown York is a combination jail and courthouse.   Depressing.

 

It was cold walking in the dark.   Our Airbnb was the rear of the ground floor on the row house in the center.

 

I know Connie likes to wake up early.   At about 6:15 AM he was hard at work on legal documents.

At about 8:30 AM he was still hard at work.   His ability to focus is impressive.

We prepared to push off.    Our destination this day would be Lancaster PA.  In the backyard of our Airbnb in York Connie was doing some warmup exercises.

We biked through York.    I like coming here because it looks so different from North Carolina.

 

Once out of town it was pleasant cycling over rolling hills, on a lightly trafficked highway with a wide shoulder.

Connie commented that he did not realize how big the Susquehanna River is.

Soon after crossing the river Connie ran over a large screw which not only gave him a flat, but pretty much destroyed the tire.   You could see a flathead screw sticking out!   We always carry spare tubes and a pump but were not prepared for the failure of the tire itself.

 

Connie has done a lot of bicycle touring, he knew what he was doing.

photo by Lyman Labry

Luckily we were able to triage the tire enough that we could bicycle four miles to a bike shop.   The staff at Trek Bicycle Lancaster were quite gregarious and we ended up buying all sorts of stuff!

 

John Dunkle has been my friend for thirty years.   Our children grew up together in Carrboro/Chapel Hill.  We have always played music together.   In the last five years he has returned to his hometown of Lancaster PA.   His profession is home renovation, and he and wife Suzanne purchased a large house just outside of town.  They have fixed it up and run part of it as an Airbnb.   We arrived in the afternoon just in time to avoid the rain, and circled around to the back entrance.

 

 

John and I played some music, he showed me some of the new songs he has written.  In his early sixties he is at the top of his musical game.    He use to be just a harmonica player.  The singing and the guitar and the songwriting have all come in the last ten years.    

 

 

 

That evening after dinner John walked us around the older inner city part of Lancaster.   He plays in several music groups and has connected with the arts community in Lancaster.  Lancaster Marionette Theater had no show that evening when we walked by.  John told us he had gone to high school with the puppeteer.   John explained that the theater is on the ground floor,  the puppeteer’s mother (and the ticket taker) lives on the second floor, and the puppeteer lives on the third floor.   John called the puppeteer on his cell phone.  The guy sheepishly waved at the four of us down at street level.

 

 

 

I had not seen it when the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote a long article back in July 2018 about Lancaster, how it is an example of a fading factory town coming together and bipartisanly picking itself up by its bootstraps, much more than have nearby and similar sized York, Harrisburg, or Reading.    Lancaster encourages things like the Marionette Theater.  Energetic people like John Dunkle are moving here.  Things do seem to be happening. I would add that one key advantage is that Lancaster is on a main Amtrak line; it has about ten direct trains daily to Philadelphia and New York City.

We now had two days to bicycle the eighty miles from Lancaster to Philadelphia.  Connie was up early doing legal work on his computer.   John and Suzanne fixed us a nice breakfast before we pushed off.   Pretty much this whole day was through Amish and Mennonite country, lovely farm vistas.

 

 

 

photo by Lyman Labry

We passed by an apparent Amish school.   There were no cars parked here but school was in session.  Everybody including the teachers apparently got there on foot or by bicycle.

 

We passed through various small towns.

Biking into Coatesville we first biked past a huge steel works which looks mostly abandoned.      We all separately came to the same conclusion: “Deer Hunter.”

 

It was lunchtime, we had been bicycling all morning and we really needed to sit down and eat.   The population of Coatesville looks poor,  mostly African-American and Hispanic.   Restaurants all seemed take-out only.    We finally found a place that let us set up camp in the back.     We had extremely low expectations but the chicken and/or ham sandwiches were quite good, sort of one’s ideal Subway sandwich, in a store that looked vaguely Hispanic.

 

 

 

Connie had several important sounding work phone calls, he walked around on the sidewalk in front of our take-out joint, talking legalese.

 

After a few more miles of cycling, we spent that night at a Holiday Inn Express in the center of a complex of huge parking lots and strip malls in Exton PA.   Walmart was nearby.   Luckily there was a chain tap room and restaurant next door, within walking distance.    I took Lyman’s picture as we left to go eat.

 

The cycling the next day was almost entirely on flat paved rail trails.   Coming from several different points, the last thirty or forty miles into Philadelphia from the west is one of my favorite urban bicycling situations in America.    From Exton we first cycled on the Chester Valley Trail for about twelve miles.

 

We then cut through some neighborhoods.

We cycled across Valley Forge National Historical Park, on narrow bike paths.

 

I now realize why General Washington camped out in Valley Forge: it does not look like a valley at all, rather it is the highest point in the area, one that would be militarily advantageous.  About the time the three of us biked to the top of the hill, Connie received an important work phone call from, I kid you not, Sao Paulo, Brazil.     Lyman and I stood around and enjoyed the view while Connie took his call.

The Valley Forge park overlooks the Schuylkill River.    There is a beautiful new bicycle / rail trail bridge across that river.

 

From this point the Schuylkill River Trail goes nineteen miles along the Schuylkill River, all the way to Center City Philadelphia.   There is no car traffic and it is a near-perfect paved path.

 

Philadelphia has great restaurants.   As we got into the city we pulled off the trail and found a noodle place, run almost entirely by one Japanese-looking guy.

The bike path delivered us right into the city.   To get to our Airbnb in the Spring Garden neighborhood we got off the bike path where it runs by the big art museum.

That evening we walked from our Airbnb to our friends Colleen and Dev’s home, carrying bottles of wine as gifts for our hosts.   Philadelphia is a sea of row houses.

 

 

 

Colleen and Dev have moved to one of these Philadelphia row houses from Durham NC just in the past year after Dev got a really good job in the New Jersey suburbs.  They cooked us an amazing meal.

 

The neighborhood has all sorts of walkable places, including an Irish bar called The Black Taxi about fifty feet away.    After dinner we walked over for a nightcap.

 

The next morning we bicycled the mile or two from our Airbnb to 30th Street Station, for the Amtrak back to Baltimore.    Out of about fifteen trains a day in the Northeast Corridor, only two or three allow a standard bicycle loose and unboxed.   The art deco station is beautiful.

 

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

The train to Baltimore took a little more than an hour.

We bicycled the two or three miles from Baltimore Penn Station to my parked car.

 

We put all the bicycles on and in my car and drove three hours south to Richmond VA, getting to Richmond about lunchtime.   Connie was flying home that afternoon; his job needed attention.

Lyman and I spent the night at an Airbnb in the Fan District of Richmond.   We bicycled around the next morning before both heading home.

Monument Avenue in Richmond is a beautiful street, late nineteenth century design, major monuments every few blocks.   Some monuments are more offensive than others. This is General Lee.

 

The Jefferson Davis monument is positively unforgivable in the modern era.   I find it offensive.

 

 

Richmond has miles of row houses.

 

It has a state capital building designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Lyman had been told to look for this in Richmond, a unique inner city overpass in Shockoe Bottom,  where four modes of transportation cross at the same place, a canal, two railroads, two highways, and a pedestrian path.