Almost as soon as I got here, I started to ask myself “Why I am doing this?” I guess I have not gotten over that overwhelming compulsion to tour an area that I have never been to, and then write about it. It is getting harder and harder to find new areas to visit. And I have bicycled this general area of Virginia several times over the past forty years. It has a reputation as a lovely rural area inundated with history and views of the water. It is sometimes that way. The name refers to one of the several “necks” of land that stick out into the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, east of Richmond.
It does start being picturesque once one gets beyond the Walmart strip outside Tappahannock. I had driven three and a half hours from Chapel Hill. I looked for a safe place to park a car for 28 hours, and put our Honda in the lot of a giant Lowe’s store. I pulled the folding bike from the trunk and pedaled into the colonial town of Tappahannock, before crossing the Rappahannock river to the Northern Neck.
I expected the bike ride to be dicey across this narrow two lane bridge, built in 1925. What I did not expect was that for about three miles after the bridge, there was not an alternate route to the four lane highway, which had no shoulder. As urban and suburban areas add bike lanes and other accommodations to cyclists, rural areas like this have gone the other way. Car traffic over the years has increased, but no one thinks to make a road any wider than necessary, much less add a bike lane.
Out here I could sense the polarization of America; you could feel the redness in the air. (While driving I had had my lunch at a Chick-Fil-A in suburban Richmond.) Coming from Chapel Hill, one rarely sees this stuff, and not just the Donald Trump signs I saw around here. You have to admire the passion of these folks. I do not know any liberal who would have the gumption to spend all the time necessary to make these signs (there were several of them). They were holding their already conservative U.S. Representative to task for not being conservative enough. It is especially sad since intercity rail is severely underfunded, and we need MORE money for it. Our country has to find a way to achieve common ground.
There is so much history here that it could get on one’s nerves. State history signs were everywhere, Pocahontas era, Revolutionary War, Civil War, even War of 1812. It all happened here. The main road is called History Highway. If you lived here, you would eventually just think “so what?” Private industry also advertised its attractions.
This church built in 1737 sat more or less by itself in the countryside.
After just a few tense miles of traffic, the road widened and traffic lessened. The situation got even better when I got onto small rural byways. Now my biggest fear was dogs, although that turned out to be strictly in my head. I have a pepper spray that I have carried for years, but have never used. The roads were indeed mellow, the cycling relaxing.
I did see someone walking the highway, although this woman looked impoverished, as if walking this road was her only means of transport.
I had not left Tappahannock until after 12:00 noon, and it was almost fifty miles to my intended overnight in Kilmarnock. I would have to keep a good pace to arrive before dark. In the final two or three miles before Kilmarnock, I got back on the main road, which was narrow and two lane, busy with traffic.
I passed a Walmart strip before entering its somewhat cutesy downtown. There are certainly rich people around here. I think many have second homes here, or come in their yachts, since this area is prime for boating. The only place to stay downtown was a small inn, which had its own restaurant. I walked in and negotiated a deal for the night. I was at first repelled by the gaudy decor. If one can get past the tackyness, the Kilmarnock Inn is a nice place. Americans rarely see a small hotel or motel that has its own restaurant. In the European fashion, they had about ten rooms and a somewhat expensive restaurant.
Dinner that night was their clam chowder, followed by beef short ribs, filling and delicious. The wait staff was friendly and accommodating. This woman had a vaguely Eastern European accent.
Breakfast was included was included with the the room rate, and I ate as much as possible, to power me back to the car near Tappahanock. I chose a different route, in a similar area to the previous day. The Southern landscape reminded me again of that VS Naipaul quote; It was a landscape of small ruins. Houses and farmhouses and tobacco barns had simply been abandoned. The decay of each was individual, and they were all beautiful in the afternoon light.
I was also reminded; don’t 1970’s cars look ridiculous now?