Once a bicyclist gets north of South Hill, US-1, which parallels I-85, is amazingly empty. For many stretches cars would come by only every five minutes or so. Some of the way it was four lane divided, but mostly was three lane. When I was a kid in the 1960’s my Dad used to talk a lot about three lane highways in Virginia. They were designed with one center lane for passing in both directions. He said Virginia built hundreds of miles of them before realizing it just caused a lot of head-on collisions. On these stretches of US1, which I think are among the very few three lane roads left in Virginia, they now stripe the lanes so that each direction alternates between one and two lanes.
This being US-1, in some ways it might be like Route 66, which covered the very early years of long distance car travel. I really think I saw the remains of a few pre-WWII motels along the way.
I bicycled along US-1 for miles feeling like I had to road to myself. However, the town of Alberta, VA has been bypassed by US-1, a highway that has almost no traffic! I pedaled the mile or so off the highway to see what this town would look like. It has people living there is perfectly normal looking neighborhoods, but the commercial downtown on a Wednesday afternoon is from another era.
Further down the road I was reminded of V.S. Naipaul: 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.
There is almost nowhere to eat on this road. Fifteen miles further on, the Nottoway Motel & Restaurant is very old-school, the kind of place we used to stop at in the 1960’s before there was much fast food. The $ 7.95 special of two pieces fried chicken and two sides was delicious. There were religious books for sale at the checkout counter.
Three guys in Harley-Davidson colors stopped to chat with three sheriff’s officers.
There were many more miles of US-1 before I pulled into Petersburg about five in the afternoon. I have been visiting Petersburg on and off for almost twenty years and it remains a work very slowly in progress. There are blocks and blocks of pre Civil War and even eighteenth century buildings; some buildings occupied and some not, some fixed up beautifully and some decaying.
Petersburg has a Central Park with nineteenth century houses fronting it on all sides.
Knowing that there would be nowhere else to stop, I had booked a Petersburg B&B the night before. There are lots of cheap motels in Petersburg, but all are out by the highway, which makes it difficult at night when you are on a bicycle. This place was nicer anyway and really about the same price.
Claudia runs the Ragland Mansion B&B, circa 1855. Living in D.C., she says her mother bought the place on a whim back in the 1990’s and now she has inherited it (and its constant maintenance issues!). She says her place hosts a lot of events like wedding receptions. Claudia is originally from Madagascar, of all places.
I have been to Petersburg enough to know there are really only about four restaurants to go to at night. I had seen the Brickhouse Run before, and now I know it is the best place in town.
Shepherd’s pie was done in a near-gourmet way, with care, precision, and quality ingredients. People were waiting in line for a table. I ate at the bar and talked to all sorts of interesting people. Those three guys in the middle are genuinely British, talking in a Welsh accent that I could barely understand. I think their presence in Petersburg had something to do with the nearby U.S. Army base.
Claudia had told me the downtown restaurant strip was “only about four blocks.” It was really about ten blocks, and walking back by myself after dark on vacant commercial stretches felt creepy.
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