Archive for November, 2013

Gazing at the map south of Chapel Hill, Aiken, South Carolina seemed as good a place as any for a one night bike trip.    I knew nothing about it, other than one of our vendors from work,  the multinational UPS, had chosen this place to centralize their customs brokerage operation.    Since this is a service traditionally done at large port cities, I assumed that they chose this place because they could hire all sorts of low wage clerical workers.   A pink collar ghetto.    I google mapped Aiken, and saw two hotels downtown, plus lots of inviting restaurants restaurants within walking distance.   Aiken turned out to be a nice place; it has been a wintering spot for many years.  It has Southern charm.   Really.  Just don’t talk politics.

I drove south from Carrboro early, and left the car at a Methodist church parking lot in Leesville, South Carolina, about forty or fifty miles away from Aiken.   I had wanted do some bike riding before stopping to eat, but I could not resist the sign I saw immediately: Jackie Hite’s Bar-B-Q  in Leesville.   Some say that Southern cooking is America’s only true homegrown  cuisine.  If French cooking is finding creative ways to stuff butter and fat into everything, this place takes a similiar tack.   Among the best things in the buffet:  green beans, cooked cabbage, fried chicken,  fried pork cracklings, and pork barbecue with South Carolina mustard sauce.  All were gloriously fatty, but prepared with subtlety and care.  The only eating option is the $ 8.99 all you can eat.   Because the restaurant is so small and busy, food at the buffet gets replenished frequently, and in small quantities.   This may be one factor in why it is so cutting edge delicious.

Jackie Hite's B-B-Q

Jackie Hite’s B-B-Q

Pickup trucks are popular around here

Pickup trucks are popular around here

I have said before that because of the state DOT ,South Carolina towns physically retain more charm than North Carolina towns.   Neither Leesville nor Johnston, which are twenty miles apart,  has service by a four lane road.    But both are towns of substance.   In North Carolina, the state DOT would have ploughed a four lane road through  the middle of both towns, plus probably built a bypass as well.

Johnson SC, Peach Capital

Johnston SC, Peach Capital

Johnston, SC

Johnston, SC

Modernist post office, Johnston SC

Modernist post office, Johnston SC

On the way from Johnston to Aiken, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, I passed a huge gathering in a field.   It looked like twenty somethings, dressed in medieval costumes.  They were hitting each other, it sounded like.   Later, my twenty something staff told me that this was larping, or live action role playing games.  They surmised that these events are held in the middle of nowhere because the participants are ashamed to be seen in public doing this.  It looked like a good time was being had by all.

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Bring your own beer

Bring your own beer

Arriving Aiken just as it was about to turn dark, I found a low cost room at the Hotel Aiken.   The hotel has a big bar scene, but I skipped it to go to Casa Bella Italian Restaurant.    It features old school Italian-American food, with very good Eggplant Parmesan.  Sinatra and Dean Martin play in the background.  It is clearly the fanciest, or near fanciest place in town.   I ate at the bar with a long line of other fifty and sixty year old white guys in oxford button down shirts.  One big group had just come from a golf outing.   I met some interesting and friendly people.

The next day I rode back out of town, taking pictures as I went.

old train station, Aiken

old train station, Aiken

The countryside between Reidsville NC and Danville VA makes for a pleasant Sunday bike ride.    Reidsville is a struggling factory town, best known for cigarette, textile, and furniture factories.   Since there has apparently been little new construction downtown and near downtown in the past fifty years, there are all sorts of modernist commercial structures.   I took all these pictures by bike in about twenty minutes.

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New Mexico is a fascinating place.   The Native Americans have been living here for thousands of years, and Hispanics have been living here at least since about the year 1600.

Henry and I flew out to Albuquerque in late October, and Lyman joined us from Austin TX.   The weather was generally stunning; low in the thirties, high in the sixties.   Just before biking off,  we visited El Santuario de Chimayo, built around 1800,  and is revered by pilgrims as a healing site.

Chimayo, NM

Chimayo, NM

The ride on the High Road towards Taos was visually stunning, and we did not realize it would all be uphill!   The eight miles from Chimayo to Truchas gained 2500 feet in altitude, from 6000 to 8500 feet!   The town of Truchas looked full of artists, and had a mix of the charms of an Alpine village, a Spanish colonial town, and an Appalachian trailer park.

Henry in Truchas NM

Henry in Truchas NM

Truchas NM in October

Truchas NM in October

Later that day we drove back to our Hampton Inn in Santa Fe, and prepared for the bike ride from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, to be done in two days by a back road.    Leaving Santa Fe, we passed through its suburbs.   Santa Fe has a very strict building code, everything has to be built to look like it is made of adobe.

Suburban sprawl on the fringes of Santa Fe

Suburban sprawl on the fringes of Santa Fe

We spent the night in the former mining town of Madrid NM (pronounced MAA drid).  It was a mining town until the mines closed in the early fifties.   In the seventies, hippies and artists started moving in.   Wikipedia says its current population is 149, but it seems like more than that.   There are lots of small stores selling arts and handicrafts.   It has two bar / restaurants.   The restaurant The Hollar is excellent.   Shrimp and grits in New Mexico, if you can believe that.  Before that, we had a drink at the bar across the street.

Lyman in Madrid NM

Lyman in Madrid NM

One night apartment rental in Madrid NM

One night apartment rental in Madrid NM

The next day’s ride to Albuquerque was over fifty miles, and included a couple of very hard mountain passes.   Still, the scenery was amazing.   We arrived in downtown Albuquerque about five that evening.   We all had flights home at 6:00 AM the next morning.

ten miles outside Madrid NM

Lyman, ten miles outside Madrid NM

These are recently discovered old photos from my trip with Bill & David Consolvo, from San Francisco to Virginia Beach, in July / August 1974.  It includes a great shot of a typical sleeping arrangement; under an interstate highway overpass!

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