I had always wanted to bicycle to Martinsville VA, just to see what was there. I do know that it is a fading textile and furniture manufacturing town. Greensboro as a starting point put me sixty miles closer to my destination. With the Bike Friday in the back I drove a little over an hour west from Chapel Hill to Greensboro. I did not know where to safely park for three days, so I just chose a residential neighborhood where people were already parking on the street; a neighborhood slightly northwest of downtown. I pulled the bicycle out the back. Martinsville was fifty-five to sixty miles away, almost straight north.
This was the bike ride over three days.
The first part of the ride was through Irving Park, which surrounds the Greensboro Country Club. Some people still like having a huge house opening onto a golf course.
Courtesy of work by the NCDOT in the 1950’s and 60’s, Greensboro may be the worst bicycling city in America. One can bicycle through individual neighborhoods, but these neighborhoods are isolated by huge freeway-like arterial roads with fast moving traffic. Think Wendover Avenue, Battleground Avenue, Friendly Avenue. They go on and on.
Greensboro has recently tried to make amends to bicyclists. There are now a decent number of greenways including the Atlantic & Yadkin rail trail, which extends for about ten miles straight north from north central Greensboro.
North Carolina calls itself “the good roads state.” I bicycled over this freeway under construction across north Greensboro. I think I have my facts straight on the outer loop issue. The NCDOT probably intentionally makes their actions obtuse. Back in the late 1980’s the NC General Assembly, pushed by Charlotte real estate interests, passed a gas tax increase where the proceeds were specifically limited to funding only a list of outer loops around the largest North Carolina cities. This tax continues and the building goes on. Insanity.
After the A&Y trail ended I could continue on country roads. Even though this was a weekday the traffic was light and the cycling pleasant.
North Carolina wrote the book on suburban sprawl. Housing subdivisions continue for miles and miles north of Greensboro. Eventually the housing petered out and I was bicycling through former tobacco fields and abandoned tobacco barns, and the occasional tobacco crop.
Thirty miles north of Greensboro is Madison NC. I was impressed Madison has its own locally owned coffee house, but I was not in the mood for coffee. I wanted lunch.
Lunch would be barbecue at Fuzzy’s.
I always get the same thing at these kind of places, barbecue sandwich with slaw on top and a small Brunswick stew. The whole meal was less than five dollars.
Martinsville was still almost thirty miles further. Leaving Madison the terrain got progressively hillier as I rode north. The final push was all uphill, as Martinsville sits on a bluff above the Smith River. Little of downtown Martinsville warranted photographs; it was something of a letdown.
I was really tired. This had been a long ride and the last part had been uphill. There was at least was one place open downtown, the Daily Grind. I collapsed into a chair to drink an almond milk latte.
There was no place to stay overnight downtown. I would have to go back down the hill to the motels along the older highway. Yes, there were a couple restaurants downtown for dinner this night, but rain was predicted and there was no way I was bicycling back up that hill. I coasted downhill.
If one reads Trip Advisor and Hotels.Com reviews carefully one can sometimes find a cheap old motel that is NOT dirty and depressing. Just like the reviews said, the Scottish Inn is owned by a South Asian family who seems to care about details. The bed and other furniture were new, as were many of the bathroom fixtures. $46.00 including tax is a good deal.
Also a good deal was Los Norteños Mexican restaurant across the street. This area is not pedestrian friendly; I had to run quickly across this highway.
I ate at the bar.
I had just been in New York City a week earlier and was shocked that even “affordable” restaurants were charging $ 14.00 or more for a glass of wine. This is only a theory but I’ll bet the two restaurants in downtown Martinsville charge $ 8.00-10.00 for a glass of wine. Three miles away on the highway at Los Norteños an imported beer costs $ 2.75. In Greensboro sixty miles away or in Chapel Hill it is easy to spend, with drinks, way more than $60.00 per person for dinner. Here I ordered exactly what I wanted and WITH two drinks the total bill, before tip, was $ 15.66. I also ate a ton of chips and salsa for which there was, of course, no charge.
I walked and ran back across the highway to my motel room.
The next morning I started early, to beat the heat. This guy was having a smoke.
At 7:30 AM I passed this nice piece of commercial modernism. These Martinizing buildings used to be all over Virginia.
My bicycle ride today would be thirty something miles over very hilly terrain to Stuart VA. This area is all not technically part of the Appalachians, it is the Foothills. The crest of the Appalachians is only a few miles to the west as my ride paralleled the ridge. Martinsville and nearby Bassett are very industrial with textile and furniture factories, many or most permanently shuttered.
I entered Stuart on a back road where this completely abandoned lumber factory sits next to downtown.
Stuart VA (population 1,400) was renamed in 1884 after the Civil War general, who was born nearby.
At the Stuart Family Restaurant, on the site of what looks like a former Wendy’s my breakfast-as-lunch (two eggs over easy, bacon, grits, whole wheat toast, coffee) was delicious and included as many cups of coffee as I wanted. There was no rush. It cost $ 4.67.
Stuart at population 1400 has two downtowns, Uptown and Downtown. It is quite a hike uphill between the two. Uptown has the courthouse, two hotels, and a locally owned coffee house.
Just a block uphill from the coffee house was the Uptown Suites of Stuart, unusual in that someone is actually using the second story of an old downtown building in its initial use as a hotel. My room inside seemed all new. I believe the owner has other interests in town and there is not a full-time desk clerk. There was great TV.
For dinner that night I walked down the steep hill from Uptown even though it seemed as if very few locals ever walk this route. I ate at Tony’s which on a Saturday night had only one other patron. Eggplant parmesan was delicious, and with a first course salad and one beer cost $ 10.83 total.
The next morning I got up and bicycled sixty miles back to my car in Greensboro. The early morning light made the countryside look vivid.
Fifteen miles south of Stuart VA I had breakfast at Pinto’s Cafe which sits by itself on a two lane state highway in northern Stokes County NC. It felt very “out there.” Total bill was $3.80 for eggs, bacon, grits, toast, and coffee.
Back in Greensboro, my car was still there, although the guy whose house I parked in front of came out and talked to me. He was really nice, he just wanted to know whose car that was! He congratulated me on my bike ride.