Most people I know would love to ride Amtrak but there are only a few destinations from the Raleigh/Durham area where Amtrak service makes sense. One is Jacksonville, Florida, if you had some reason to go there. The train leaves Cary NC (ten miles west of Raleigh) at 9:25 PM and if you can sleep on the train you wake up at 6:30 A.M. in Jacksonville. Amtrak accepts the folding bicycle with no fuss. I made plans to go down to Jacksonville to meet my friend Lyman, who would be coming in by airplane from Austin, Texas with his folding bicycle. We were going to ride along the beach for three days.
To make it more interesting I decided to bicycle the twenty-five miles from our home in Chapel Hill to the Cary Amtrak station. I did not want to bicycle in the dark so I left home at 4:00 PM. I could kill time by having dinner in Cary. I keep my bicycles in the level P1 parking of our building Greenbridge. I strapped my small trunk bag on the back.
We live on the seventh floor.
I rode the bike through the streets of Chapel Hill, down the big hill from the university.
I biked over to near Southpoint Mall and then south on the American Tobacco Trail.
Near downtown Cary I stopped at a Starbucks to read The New Yorker on my Kindle.
I still had time to kill, and I eventually ended up around the corner from the Amtrak station at the Crosstown Pub. This friendly place had a different atmosphere than what you would find in Chapel Hill, with police badges behind the bar.
Dinner of tuna, rice, and green beans was all delicious.
I hung around until just before nine when I went over to the train station. The train departed on time. I mostly slept the next nine hours. It was just getting light when I pulled the bike off the train in Jacksonville, Florida.
Lyman had flown in the previous evening and I was going to bike the ten miles from the Amtrak station to his motel near the Jacksonville airport. Both the Amtrak station and the airport are on the north side of downtown, which is known as the poorer side of Jacksonville. Friends in Jacksonville were surprised I would do this; they said the north side was unsafe. I had read something that described the north side of Jacksonville as “urban.” There was nothing urban about it unless one takes that as codeword for “African-American.” There was even a bike lane, at least for a while.
I bicycled through neighborhood after neighborhood. It was all very suburban looking. I assume these neighborhoods were all black.
Maybe it is obvious to other people but I had never thought of this before. I had heard that the average net worth of an African American family in the United States is about one-tenth of a white family. It struck me that part of this is due to what I will call unintentional group racism. The gain in net worth for many American families comes from buying a home and the appreciation of its value. Yet if a neighborhood is mostly African-American, the home values go up hardly at all. Most white Americans, probably including myself, would hardly consider buying a house in an African American neighborhood. This aversion leads to lower housing appreciation and is probably is a huge part of this wealth gap in America.
And businesses such as grocery stores are quite scarce in these neighborhoods. There was this fascinating 1960’s looking liquor store/strip club.
I eventually found my way to Lyman’s motel near the airport. He had rented a one-way car to drive our us and our two folding bicycles the thirty-five miles to Fernandina Beach, near the Georgia border. From there we would bicycle south along the beach 120 miles to Daytona Beach over the next three days before driving another rental car back to Jacksonville.
That first day we stopped for lunch south of Fernandina.
Ocean front lots are expensive real estate, and over the next three days I saw many interesting houses filling those lots, some attractive, some gaudy and ostentatious.
We crossed the Timucuan Ecological Preserve.
We spent that first night at the Seahorse Motel just north of Jacksonville Beach. The motel looked worn out from the street but had a pleasant view from the balcony.
My old friends Tom Whiting and his wife Kim live near here and drove over to have dinner with us.
The next day we biked through the fancy neighborhoods of Ponte Vedra Beach and then the highway opened up as it headed south along the ocean.
Our second night was in St. Augustine, billed as the oldest city in America.
We stayed in a cheap motel that was a short bike ride in the dark from town. We drank beer and watched the sunset from our balcony which not only had a lovely water view but also overlooked the main line of the Florida East Coast Railway, which I found even more delightful.
St Augustine is part historic town with buildings from the eighteenth century, part tourist trap, and part cool place, such as The Ice Plant where we went for its delicious designer cocktails.
At our motel was an impromptu convention of Santa Clauses, men of a certain age and physique that let them be Santa without any makeup. Even though it was February most of them wore Christmasy clothing.
When we got up the next morning for our free breakfast the Santas were still around.
It was about sixty miles the next day south to the Daytona Beach airport where we would get a rental car to drive back to Jacksonville. The state of Florida has done a super job accommodating bicycles on Highway A1A along the coast; there is a bike path or bike lane along almost all of it the five hundred miles from Fernandina Beach to Key West. In some places it even veers off-road.
Daytona Beach is known for its motorcycle culture. South of St. Augustine Beach we stopped at a mini-mart for a bottle water and paused to chat with this guy. He said his 2001 Yamaha was just a better motorcycle than a Harley.
Daytona Beach is a depressed looking city but seems proud of its motorcycles and it stock car races.
The Daytona International Speedway overlooks the Daytona Beach airport where I biked up to to get the rental car to take us to my friend Tom Constantine’s house in Jacksonville. After his delicious dinner Tom drove me later that evening to the Amtrak station. I got off the train in Cary NC at 8:30 AM the next day.
On this Sunday morning I was home in Chapel Hill by noon.