For my regular readers I have a couple of news items: Many of my blog posts feature the white 2005 Toyota Prius that I inherited from my late mother Eleanor. Thankfully just AFTER I recently finished driving the Prius 900 miles each way from North Carolina to New Orleans and back: the main battery failed. It needs to be replaced at a cost of thousands of dollars. We are examining our options; it might be time to replace the car.

The other item is that Tootie and I have purchased a second home, a one bedroom condo in a historic house in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans.

View of our condo building from the outside

By myself I drove the Prius down from Chapel Hill to New Orleans, one way twelve or thirteen hours, done over two days. My mission was to get the apartment down there set up, to have a bed and sofa brought in, to get the internet working. While there I had time to do some bike riding.

Most side streets of New Orleans are insanely bumpy from potholes and their slipdash repairs. I have kept a 1970’s fat tired Schwinn Typhoon down there for several years at my friend Kirk’s place. I really enjoy cycling through the New Orleans residential streets but even on that bomber bicycle one finds oneself looking not for the shortest route but the smoothest pavement. I used the Schwinn to bicycle back and forth to grocery stores and the Walmart and Harry’s Ace Hardware, picking up items to set up our new household.

My 1970’s Schwinn Typhoon in the stairwell of our new place
The Schwinn

I bought a cheap pot at Walmart and made some red beans; a New Orleans favorite. I don’t go all-health all the time, but on this day I chose brown rice and Beyond Meat sausage, with New Orleans’ own Crystal hot sauce, and (not pictured) some stir fried curly mustard greens.

I enjoyed biking around the city on the Schwinn. For longer rides I had brought along my Bike Friday. With tiny twenty inch wheels it is deceptively fast. Over three days on the Bike Friday I did three thirty plus mile bike rides.

Metro New Orleans is surrounded by levees. Governments have gotten it together in recent years and put paved paths on many or most of these levees, they make for perfect bike paths. On the first day I cycled about ten miles on New Orleans city streets before I reached the paved path that follows the levee fronting Lake Ponchartrain. The path starts in New Orleans before passing along the Metairie lakefront in neighboring Jefferson Parish.

The levee is so high you cannot see the houses in the city behind it.

lakefront bike path in Metairie, Jefferson Parish.

Suburban Metairie residents clearly pay extra for waterfront property fronting Lake Ponchartrain, but one cannot see the lake as the levee is too high!

Typical of the houses whose backyards front Lake Ponchartrain, just the other side of that grassy space.

There is a reason this coronavirus will not away, some people are not trying hard enough to beat it. Dining at restaurants works if people eat outdoors. It was a reasonably warm day with temperatures in the sixties. I had heard there were good oyster poor boy sandwiches at R&O’s in Bucktown, lakefront near the Metairie / New Orleans line. I passed by there about 11:00 AM and there was a huge outdoor seating area with lots of empty tables. Satisfied that this looked safe, I continued biking along the lakefront all the way to Kenner and back, returning to R&O’s about 1:00 PM, ready for a great outdoor lunch. These outdoor tables were now all filled, but filled with people waiting for a table at the INDOOR restaurant. Apparently R&O will not let you eat outdoors, which is insane. I biked on.

all masked up but not eating, waiting for an indoor table at R&O.

Dejected and hungry, I bicycled back the hourlong ride through the city back to my condo for leftover red beans and rice.

That night I bicycled around my new neighborhood, the Lower Garden District. Our condo is only one block from Urania Street, the first in of a row of nine streets in New Orleans all named after Greek muses. (Urania/Polymnia/Euterpe/Terpsichore/Melpomene/Thalia/Erato/Clio/Calliope.). Near where my friends Tom and Steve had lived in the 1980’s there is a statue of Terpsichore. It was a dicey neighborhood back then, it has gotten safer in the past thirty-something years.

Terpsichore Street

A couple of days later I cycled on a different levee. Starting in Uptown New Orleans near Audubon Park one can now cycle continuously on the Mississippi River levee about thirty miles upriver towards Baton Rouge. I first had to cycle on the streets through four or five miles of continuous older city, mostly nineteenth century wooden houses. Even poorer neighborhoods in New Orleans are stunning to look at.

I joined the Mississippi levee path near the Riverbend Carrollton area of Uptown New Orleans. I have been following this bike path for years and only recently has it been so complete. You can now bicycle on a smooth paved path along the Mississippi River for over thirty miles upriver, starting in Uptown’s Audubon Park, then into Jefferson Parish, past Kenner upriver all the way to Norco.

On this day I set my goal as the Luling/Destrehan Bridge, about twenty-five miles each way. In many areas the river is obviously at a higher level than the land surrounding it.

Just beyond the New Orleans/Jefferson Parish line, with Oshner Hospital on the right.
Ocean going ships on the river on the left

There were indeed a few places to eat and drink within sight of the path, but this one had no outdoor seating even on this sunny day. I did not stop, I had carried a peanut butter sandwich which I ate while cycling.,

Port Side Restaurant in St. Rose LA, upriver from Kenner LA, covers all the food groups.
The levee path went underneath facilities built for bulk loading ocean going ships on the Mississippi River.

Twenty something miles out I arrived at the Hale Boggs Bridge over the Mississippi. The bridge was completed in 1983.

Almost underneath the bridge and right next to the levee is Destrehan Plantation house, from 1790.

I turned around and cycled back towards New Orleans.

On the way back I passed back underneath that other Mississippi River bridge, the Huey Long Bridge, opened in 1935. The buzz is that Huey Long hated the big city of New Orleans so much that he insisted the bridge be built not in New Orleans but about ten miles upriver.

That night back in the apartment I had a to-go roast beef po-boy from Zara’s, a small supermarket Uptown.

I did one final ride the next day, this time on The West Bank. There has always been a ferry across the Mississippi from the foot of Canal Street near downtown and the French Quarter. The ferry is now smaller and faster than before as it now takes only pedestrians and bicyclists. The area across the river from downtown is called Algiers.

Biking from my new place to the Canal Street Ferry

View of the New Orleans central business district from Algiers, the other side of the river. The building in the center, the one with the round rooftop restaurant, was designed by Edward Durell Stone, the same architect who designed the North Carolina State Legislative Building. The New Orleans building, from 1962, formerly the World Trade Center, is being converted to a Four Seasons hotel.
View from the bike path on the West Bank

Most of the West Bank of metro New Orleans is suburban sprawl but a few areas of the West Bank mimic the “real” New Orleans, with 19th century wooden neighborhoods. This is especially true in the older part of Algiers, called Algiers Point.

neighborhood in Algiers Point

The West Bank of the Mississippi has a nice paved path along the levee, where you can watch the ships coming into New Orleans.

Algiers to Gretna

A few miles upriver from Algiers is Gretna, which developed back when there was the Jackson Street Ferry from Uptown New Orleans. Gretna also has a small 19th century residential neighborhood.

older part of Gretna LA

I found the River Shack in downtown Gretna, a bar / restaurant with outdoor seating during a pandemic. For once I was comfortably able to sit down and enjoy a restaurant lunch, in the breeze. I would have gotten the oyster po-boy, but they only had one size, large, and that kind of sandwich does not travel well. I instead got the small cheeseburger with fries, and a beer. It was all delicious.

I spent the rest of the afternoon biking around suburban areas of the West Bank before riding back to Algiers and taking the ferry back to central New Orleans, and then biking back to my new (second) home.

Is there too much traffic on a week day for safe bicycling on rural roads anywhere near I-85 in central North Carolina? The hundred and sixty miles of I-85 between Raleigh and Charlotte is rapidly becoming one big city, an I-85 megalopolis.

I parked our Prius in the U.S. Post office of Whitsett NC, less than a mile from Exit 138 of I-85, about halfway between Durham and Greensboro. I had driven over from my home in Chapel Hill NC in slightly less than an hour.

Whitsett NC (population 590) is not much of a town, really.

Here is the three hour bike ride I took on this sunny but cold Tuesday in February.

Gibsonville NC (population 6,400) is only about about three miles north of Whitsett, but for some weird reason does not show up on the map above. Gibsonville is the red dot just to the west of Elon and to the north of Whitsett. Gibsonville looks the quintessential American small town.

Gibsonville now has a locally owned coffee house! The Daisy May Cafe.
Like much of central North Carolina, Gibsonville was built as a factory town

The North Carolina Railroad, a state owned line running Charlotte / High Point / Greensboro / Durham / Raleigh / Morehead City runs right through the center of Gibsonville. There are three passenger trains a day speeding through Gibsonville; unfortunately none of them stop here; quoting Linda Ronstadt channeling Warren Zevon “Well the train don’t run by here no more, poor poor pitiful me.” Fortunately Gibsonville does have the Gibsonville Garden Railway, a miniature (toy) rail line for all to gaze at. It sits right next to the mostly unused but full size Gibsonville train station.

Gibsonville’s population has been increasing, being near I-85. I bicycled past multiple newer subdivisions.

I bicycled for more than two hours north of Gibsonville. A bicyclist is constantly looking for roads free of car traffic. While most rural roads this close to I-85 are busy and dangerous feeling, if one just meanders on whatever road looks empty, one can bicycle out here quite peacefully. It is still a pandemic, I do not feel comfortable in indoor restaurants. I ate my peanut butter sandwich while cycling.

I cycled a total of about thirty miles, bicycling back to the car that had been sitting in the dirt parking lot of the post office in Whitsett. With the bicycle in the back I drove the car back over to the Daisy May Cafe in Gibsonville, to get an almond milk latte to drink on the drive home.

It is about seventy miles and an hour and a half drive from my home in Chapel Hill NC to Biscoe NC. I had guessed the area was likely to be free of car traffic. I had never been here before. Biscoe (population 1,700) and the surrounding Montgomery County (population 28,000) are in a remote part of the North Carolina Piedmont, about halfway between Raleigh and Charlotte but NOT on the busy I-85 corridor.

Tractor Supply is a national chain that seems to target rural areas. Country music plays on the sound system inside the stores. I parked our Prius in a Tractor Supply just off the big highway on the edge of Biscoe NC and pulled out my Bike Friday.

Here is the twenty-nine mile loop I bicycled on this Monday, with temperatures in the forties and low fifties.

North Carolina transportation policy is to build wide highways, all else be damned. Downtown Biscoe NC as an urban space hardly exists. The downtown’s center is where two four to six lane roads combine.

At that same intersection, the one to-the-street urban looking building I saw in all of Biscoe NC

Biscoe is a factory town that I am sure has seen a lot of closings in the past fifteen years.

I bicycled out of Biscoe NC towards the county seat of Troy NC; eleven miles away if one takes the back roads through mostly pine forests on gentle hills. There was hardly any car traffic.

After miles of piney woods, just before Troy the road passed over NC state route 27, apparently now upgraded to freeway status but there were hardly any cars.

Troy NC (population 3,100) seems more prosperous than Biscoe. The carpet manufacturer Capel Rugs is headquartered here, as well as a large lumber mill.

It was 12:40 so the courthouse clock is 19 minutes off. Or is it permanently stopped at 12:21? The building is from 1921.
Hotel Troy is a nice building but according to Wikipedia it has not had guests since 1970!

I admit I have a weakness for certain types of gas stations.

Pine trees at the sawmill stacked like matchsticks

It was too cold to stop for lunch outdoors and it is a pandemic, so while I noodled by bicycle around Troy NC I ate the peanut butter sandwich I had brought. I then headed out of town on empty state roads through more piney woods.

The “town” of Okeewemee seemed to me to be just a few houses along the highway; the state sign having been defaced with a Trump sticker and then the sticker spray painted over.

It was six miles further to Star NC through the Little River basin.

I cycled into the town of Star NC (population 876).

I found Star NC fascinating. Planes, Trains and Automobiles! I love all those things and Star NC checks the boxes.

Automobiles: There is a shop here that apparently restores older British cars.

Their yard is filled with ghosts of MG’s and Jaguars; it revealed to me a sad truth: when a shop restores an old car to like-new condition, frequently others must die.

1960’s Jaguar sedan and early 1970’s Triumph TR-6
1960’s MG Midget and MG-B
More MG-B’s
1960’s Austin Mini, the very small car that the current larger Mini on our American roads is stylistically copied from
1950’s-early 1960’s Jaguar XK
1960’s Triumph TR
More 1950’s-60’s Jaguars
1960’s-early 70’s Volvo P1800
late 1960’s Chevrolet Corvairs

Star NC has trains! Within walking distance to the old 1960’s cars is an independent repair shop apparently working on railroad short line locomotives and rolling stock.

Line of locomotives, presumably for repair
A 1950’s dome car is stored here.

It is not that far a walk in Star NC (if you were walking) to airplanes! One can bicycle right onto the runway at the Montgomery County Airport.

I scoured the internet to try and find what kind of plane here was slowing devolving into the pines. Is this a Twin Beech, manufactured from 1937 to 1962?

Rear view, same aircraft

Also in Star NC; an old school building converted what I take to be an art studio that focuses on this region’s strong tradition of ceramics with the addition of glassblowing.

Leaving Star NC is was only six miles back to Biscoe NC and my car in the Tractor Supply parking lot. I was home in Chapel Hill by late afternoon.

Sussex County Virginia has not grown much over the years. Its population in the year 1790 was 11,000; population 2021: 11,000. It is near enough to my home in Chapel Hill NC for a day trip.

I drove up two and a half hours and 145 miles up I-85. The Sussex courthouse and other municipal buildings sit out by themselves in the countryside. I parked our Prius near the courthouse.

Cycling in the winter is challenging. It had been twenty three degrees when I left home. By the time I arrived here the sun had warmed the temperature up to the mid-forties. Here is the ride I took this Thursday.

The original courthouse was completed in 1828.

Sussex County courthouse, circa 1828
Across the street from the courthouse, the building looks really old

I started cycling down State Route 40 to my first intermediate destination; fifteen miles to Waverly VA, a smooth road with hardly any traffic. Timber and peanuts are the big businesses her. There are miles of pine forests.

I passed through wetlands as well

Waverly VA, population 2,100, is the largest town in Sussex County.

outskirts of Waverly VA

Waverly’s two block Main Street has several actually functioning businesses, as well as the usual empty storefronts.

Just a few hundred yards further are the actual main drags of Waverly VA, the parallel four-lane-with-no-center-divider highway US-460 and the railroad: a double track main line of the Norfolk Southern (formerly Norfolk & Western), both stretching the about sixty mile straight shot between Portsmouth and Suffolk VA (near Norfolk) and Petersburg VA (just south of Richmond). Waverly is about halfway. When I was a child my father used to claim that this stretch of rail track was one of the longest straight stretches in the world.

On the Big Highway US-460 is the apparently now closed but unaltered looking mid-century modernist Melody Inn Motel.

One of my rules of thumb on both bicycle and car trips is that when one stumbles upon a privately owned museum in some obscure area, one should always go to that museum, even if one thinks you are not interested in its subject. A couple of hundred yards down the big highway US-460 was a museum I had not heard of.

The grounds themselves looked like folk art.

Children’s Garden?

The museum is really just a house and I did go on the porch and ring the bell. No one answered. Leaving to cycle onward, across the street this sign explained the situation more fully.

Example of Carpenter’s art, taken from Google Images

The other side of US-460 and the railroad tracks from downtown is the clearly wealthier side of Waverly.

Pre-WWII gas station

My next intermediate destination would be the town of Wakefield VA, nine miles down US-460 from Waverly. Instead of the big highway I could bicycle to Wakefield on lovely parallel back roads. I do not think I was passed by a car even once. I had brought a peanut butter sandwich that I ate it while cycling; it was too cold to stop.

I am sixty-five years old and grew up in Virginia Beach. I have known about Wakefield’s Virginia Diner my entire life. I still have never eaten here. There is a pandemic. I did briefly go inside to the gift shop and buy Tootie a can of peanuts as a souvenir.

The peanuts, after I arrived back home in Chapel Hill

It is twenty-one miles on back roads from Wakefield back to Sussex courthouse where I had parked my car. I first cycled through Wakefield (population 975) and then through miles and miles of pine forests, farms, and the occasional wetland, with hardly a car in sight.

Wakefield VA

My car was still there in the Sussex courthouse grass parking lot. I was home in Chapel Hill NC in time for dinner.