Archive for October, 2019

I set out to walk Richmond, Virginia from one end to the other.   This was not a bike ride.  If I do many more walks instead of bike rides I will have to start a new blog!

Richmond VA has a genuine city feel and is close to home.   This was an urban hike:  point to point.   We started in Church Hill, a Richmond neighborhood east of downtown, the site of St. John’s Episcopal Church,  where Patrick Henry gave his famous 1775 “give me liberty or give me death” speech.    I am from Virginia Beach and my father grew up in nearby Norfolk.   We had always snickered at the supposed snobbishness of the Richmond elite.  “These” people have traditionally lived on the west side of town.  Why not walk from Church Hill on the east side, to the temple of the upper class on the west side, the Country Club of Virginia, a place I had never seen?   This would be our route, starting in the bottom right corner of the map below.

 

Accompanying me was my friend John Ripley.   Among his many talents is that he has been a successful professional photographer for forty years.  John gives me photography advise sometimes.  The pictures in this blog are mine, as you can see from the incorrect focus on the picture below.   Even on his own time John cannot stop himself from taking pictures.  He brought his super-expensive camera.

We live near each other in Chapel Hill / Carrboro NC.    We chose to drive to Richmond in less than three hours, take our walk, and drive back, all in the same day.   We parked the car on the street in Church Hill.

Richmond Walk Oct 2019 003

Yes, I agree that Confederate monuments are morally and politically problematic, but if someone tries to take down all the Confederate monuments in Richmond it is going to be complicated, to say the least.    Here in Libby Hill Park on Church Hill we saw our first.

The park sits on a cliff above the James River.   Richmond has gradually and quietly become a very cool place.   Whom I guess to be VCU art students were taking pictures of themselves wearing various outfits; they brought along a portable changing room.

John took pictures of the view of downtown.

 

Church Hill is a lovely older neighborhood, kind of off to itself.

 

As we walked down the steep hill towards an area called Shockoe Botto.  Some historic homes have survived.

 

 

Main Street Station has been visually assaulted ever since I-95 was built in the 1960’s but the station still looks good on a sunny day.

 

 

John tried to capture the same photograph.

From Shockoe Bottom we walked uphill towards downtown.

My brother Alex has counseled me that iron front buildings were the first stage of the skyscraper revolution in the latter half of the nineteenth century.  I had not known Richmond had one of these.   We walked by the Stearns Iron-Front Building, from 1869.

 

The Virginia State Capitol, designed by Thomas Jefferson, completed in 1788.   The side wings were added in the early twentieth century.

 

This is John photographing my namesake, built in 1929.  I am not related to the famous Chief Justice.  Although the owners kept the famous sign, it is now apartments, not a hotel.

 

A fascinating novel about Richmond is The Shad Treatment, written in the early 1970’s.   Along with lots of Virginia politics, it describes the places in Richmond where its elite congregate.  The novel changes all the names.   We walked by the Commonwealth Club, a downtown club that is well, just a club.  No golf course.   In The Shad Treatment it is called it the Confederate Club!

Further uptown walking towards VCU there is a mix of the old and the not-so-old.

Very much like what was done with Moore Square in Raleigh, Monroe Park in Richmond has been recently redone.   It looks very nice, surrounded by attractive buildings on all sides,  including this 1920’s theater.   It used to be politically incorrectly named The Mosque, now renamed after a tobacco company, The Altria Theater.

 

VCU, or Virginia Commonwealth University, has been mushrooming all over surrounding neighborhoods.   John and I stopped for lunch at this coffee house. We found the menu to be all-vegetarian.  We split a tofu based sandwich;  delicious.   John took a picture of the place while I photographed from the other side.

 

 

A large area spreading west of the VCU campus is colloquially called The Fan, miles of late nineteenth and early twentieth century row houses.   John stopped to take a picture of this artfully growing vine.

I have a heavy coffee table book called Great Streets, one author’s selection of his favorite twenty urban streets in the world.   It includes parts of Paris, Barcelona, and Rome.   Amazingly it includes Monument Avenue in Richmond VA.  It is indeed a lovely street.  Statues of Confederate “heroes” appear every two blocks.  On the eastern end it begins with J.E.B. Stuart.

Two blocks later rides in Robert E. Lee

In the current discussion of whether to remove Confederate statues, I do believe there are gray areas; discussions of tone, place, and content are appropriate.  Two blocks after Robert E. Lee the monument honoring Jefferson Davis crosses the line further than any Confederate monument I have ever seen.  Every time I come here I am shocked at the extended creepy verbiage about the valiant lost cause and Davis’ underhanded full arm salute.

John and I were so grossed out by Jefferson Davis that we headed off Monument Avenue for a parallel street.   Before leaving we admired and photographed this row of houses.

The walk continued.   There is actually street life in The Fan.

The further west we walked the newer the buildings became.   I guess these houses are 1930-40’s.

We walked across I-195 and as the houses became newer they were more set back from the street, with larger yards.

 

Owning a 1990’s Volvo station wagon makes a certain kind of style statement.  John my co-walker owns three, if you include the one he passed down to his adult son.    Here in Richmond we passed by someone who evidently also owns three, and chooses to park them on the street!

 

The further out we walked the less pedestrian friendly these wealthy neighborhoods became.   There were many spots where there were no sidewalks.   There are lots of dead end streets.   Walking became difficult at times because there was nowhere to walk.

John was not tired.  He can walk all day at high speed.   He was confused, however.   “Why are we doing this?” he asked.  Walking on a narrow near-highway was not fun.   I encouraged him to press on. We finally found better streets to walk on.  We had set out with a goal, we had to complete the mission, to walk to the Country Club of Virginia.

Just before arriving at our destination we passed St. Catherine’s School.   I had heard of this place all my life but had never seen it.   It was, and probably still is, where the elite of Richmond send their daughters.   It is definitely referred to in The Shad Treatment, I cannot remember what the author changed its name to.

 

We had to hustle across some traffic filled streets but finally found a dead end road that led to our destination.   We had arrived, we had completed our ten mile walk.

One inspiration for this Richmond walk was a conversation I had had six years ago on one of my bicycle trips.  I had found myself eating dinner at the bar of the nicest restaurant in Staunton VA, about a hundred miles from Richmond VA, talking to a man who was maybe just a few years older than me who was overnighting on a business trip.   Unprovoked by me he started baring his soul, talking about regrets in his life.   He described himself as a successful lawyer in Richmond.   He had lived in Richmond for thirty years but was originally from New England.   He loved golf.   He expressed regret that he had spent the prime years of his life in Richmond because he said he was never accepted there by the locals.   The worst stain was that he had never been asked to play golf at The Country Club of Virginia.   Not even once.  What could I say?  I just listened.

 

 

John and I walked inside the club for a brief moment, then called an Uber.    The Uber guy took us back to our car on the other side of Richmond.   We were home in Chapel Hill NC in time for dinner.

Starting in the northern tip of Virginia near Winchester VA there is a stretch of the Shenandoah / Cumberland valley where you can pass through four states (Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland / Pennsylvania) in a forty mile stretch.     In modern terminology this would be described as part of “the I-81 corridor.”

A few months ago on another trip I flew over this area while flying westward on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore on a clear day.  Most mountainous land seen from the air has the shape of crumpled paper.   Instead, the Shenandoah Valley area looked of long lines of distinct sharp ridges lined up in a northeast / southwest direction.  Within these ridges the land looks (and is) comparatively flat.

The Shenandoah / Cumberland valley was a big deal in the American Civil War, where Southern armies marched north to try and conquer Yankee territory.   Both Gettysburg and Antietam are right around here.

This is an area frequently on the news because it is a notably Trump supporting region within an easy drive of Washington DC.  Media can come out and see what the other America is thinking and still get back to D.C. in time for cocktails.  Much of this region has been economically left behind.

Maybe my readers will remember my trip here two years ago, when I bicycled north starting in Winchester VA.   This trip I wanted to push further north into Pennsylvania.

It took a little less than six hours to drive our Prius from Chapel Hill NC to the Walmart on the south side of Hagerstown MD.   Once again I assumed that Walmart did not mind me parking here for twenty-four hours.   I pulled the Bike Friday out of the trunk next to someone’s religiously labelled minivan.

 

My self-appointed mission was to bicycle to Shippensburg PA, spend the night and ride back the next day, using a different route each way.

 

Hagerstown (population 40,000) greets a visitor like me with the kind of early twentieth century houses that North Carolina lacks.  I love this look.  This was not a wealthy neighborhood.   Most of Hagerstown looks somewhat run down.

 

 

I continued on, cycling straight north through both sides of downtown.

Out of town US11 is wide enough for pleasant cycling.

Contrary to popular notion the Mason-Dixon Line refers to the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland.   When I crossed there were no special signs or businesses that made issue of this line.

 

Eventually I did see some signage.   Some of these signs were over twenty miles into Pennsylvania.   Every commercial sign I saw about Mason-Dixon was in Pennsylvania, including the one with a rebel flag.

 

 

 

For a time a was able to find a parallel route off the busy US11.    The countryside was beautiful.

On station wagon trips as a child, my mother told us to look at Pennsylvania barns, that they were bigger and stronger than the houses that accompanied them.   She was right.  North Carolina does not have barns like this.

 

 

I have been trying to get to Chambersburg PA (population 21,000) for quite a while.   I am not a particular Civil War buff.  I am more attracted to Chambersburg because I thought its  architecture would look exotically Yankee and it is an easy drive from North Carolina.  During the Civil War General Lee’s army used Chambersburg’s accessibility for other ends.  There is no point in romanticizing this conflict.  My great and great-great grandparent’s cause was wrong.  Chambersburg PA was raided and occupied by Southern forces three times.  The third time the town was burned mostly to the ground.   Free African-American citizens of the town were abducted and murdered.    As a result, for a time the Union used a battle cry “Remember Chambersburg.”

About Chambersburg today, whoever wrote the Wikipedia page about Chambersburg and its surrounding Franklin County said the following.  (Note my previous comment on what an easy drive it is to Chambersburg for journalists like New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks!)

From Wikipedia:

Journalist David Brooks in 2001 used Chambersburg and Franklin County to typify Republican “Red America.” According to Brooks, there is little obvious income inequality and people don’t define their place in society by their income level. They value the work ethic and are anti-union, anti-welfare, pro-free market, and religious social conservatives.

The joke that Pennsylvanians tell about their state is that it has Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. Franklin County is in the Alabama part . . . . The local culture owes more to Nashville, Houston, and Daytona than to Washington, Philadelphia, or New York . . .

The conservatism I found in Franklin County is not an ideological or a reactionary conservatism. It is a temperamental conservatism. People place tremendous value on being agreeable, civil, and kind . . . They value continuity and revere the past.[75]

I am not sure I agree.  Note this was written in 2001.   Is Trump “agreeable, civil, and kind?”

I biked into Chambersburg late in the afternoon.

 

 

Chambersburg did seem a pleasant place.  It has a small college Wilson College.  For various reasons I decided to continue on thirteen more miles to the next town, Shippensburg PA.

Like Chambersburg, Shippensburg PA looks on the surface like the quintessential American small town.

 

Shippensburg (population 5,500) is home of Shippensburg University, a public university that is part of the Penn State system.   There is a Quality Inn chain hotel right in the center of downtown.   The front desk staff was quite cordial and fascinated with my bike ride.   I checked in and changed clothes.

In a college town there are usually lots of places to eat; not so much here.   The hotel restaurant seemed the best place to eat.  I sat at the bar.   The menu was very old school: choice of meat with two sides.   I got salmon with mashed potatoes and broccoli.   It was quite delicious.  There were five or six mostly older men eating alone at the bar, sitting one or two seats apart.   None of us talked to each other, which did not really bother me.   We did all talk to the bartender.   She said she was from Philadelphia.

 

 

At the free breakfast the next morning it was NOT Fox News on the wall, it was the local station.   Still, one cannot escape this man.

 

Once back on the road the morning light was lovely as I bicycled first through Shippensburg and then back south towards Chambersburg, this time on back country roads.

 

 

 

 

I made it back into Chambersburg.

The rest of the ride back to my car was uneventful but pleasant.   On the outskirts of Hagerstown I passed new multi-family housing being built, even though one mile away Hagerstown clearly has a dearth of housing waiting to be used.   In many parts of American, people want to live in NEW housing, damn the older neighborhoods.   Slash and burn urbanism.

 

I bicycled back through Hagerstown MD which was a couple of miles before arriving to my car at the Walmart.  I wanted to get a Subway sandwich to eat in the car while driving home on I-81.    I needed to get back to Chapel Hill NC by 6:30 PM (for a dinner engagement!).   In an older neighborhood of Hagerstown I lucked into Hartle’s Subs.  (The Best Since 1955!). Was the sandwich better than Subway?  Absolutely, it was really good.  On the other hand, Subway does not have Fox News playing on the wall.

In my final stretch before the Walmart I passed through other, nicer, areas of Hagerstown I had not previously seen.   Hagerstown has a lovely City Park.   It has a neighborhood on the top of a ridge with nicely restored older homes.

 

My car was still there at the Walmart.   I arrived back home in Chapel Hill NC about 6:00 PM.

Yes, I have done this bike ride before.  Bike thirty-five miles from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, take the 3:00 PM half hour $ 9.00 Amtrak from Raleigh to Durham, then bike fifteen miles home to Chapel Hill.    What’s not to like?

I had parked the Bike Friday on my seventh floor stair landing while I pumped up the tires and lubed the chain.

 

I got an early start in order to ride as much as possible before the temperature crept into the middle eighties.

I bicycled the mile from my apartment to the UNC campus, then down the Laurel Hill Road hill.

I crossed over the NC 54 bypass, then through the UNC Finley golf course.

I took a right on the bike path along NC 54, then another right on Barbee Chapel Road.

 

I bicycled a mile or two further, then took a right on Stagecoach Road, and then took a brief left onto NC 751 for only about a quarter mile.

With a right on Massey Chapel Road I accessed the American Tobacco Trail.

 

This paved trail continues south another ten or fifteen miles, but I got off after about five miles, bicycling through a subdivision in western Cary and Morrisville called Amberly.    Much of it is what my friend Tom Constantine calls a “faux-ville”, Georgetownish townhouses here in these exurbs, built on recently transformed cow pastures.

Just a little further on just before crossing NC 55 new apartments are rising up.

 

McCrimmon Parkway ends at the wide four lane NC55.

 

I did NOT bicycle on NC 55.   I jumped across to Good Hope Church Road, which leads to Morrisville-Carpenter Road.    There is a Starbucks at the cross with Davis Drive.  I stopped, got an almond milk latte and sat and read my Kindle.  While these exurbs looked uniform and preplanned the people at this Starbucks were multicultural looking, lots of South Asians and Asians.   Continuing on, Morrisville-Carpenter Road does not have much traffic,  has a wide shoulder and feels pretty safe most of the way.   The NCDOT builds these roads insanely wider than necessary.

This road goes all the way to Morrisville, near RDU airport.   I took a right on NC54, then an immediate left into the Weston Estates neighborhood.   There were large tract houses.

With a couple more rights and lefts I found Dynasty Drive, which along the way changes its name to Electra Drive.    For several miles this street takes a bicyclist up and down hills through Beaver Cleaver residential neighborhoods.

 

Electra Drive dead ends on Trinity Road.   If you take a left on Trinity this leads you into the Raleigh city limits.    Trinity Road is really wide but normally has little traffic.   It passes by the NC State Fairgrounds and Carter-Finley Stadium, home of NC State football.

If a bicyclist takes a right onto Blue Ridge Road and a left on Beryl Road we have made it.  We are actually in the real Raleigh!    The NC State campus is on the right.   I bicycled down Clark Avenue through early twentieth century neighborhoods.  In the area called Cameron Park I had not realized how nice these neighborhoods are.

 

Raleigh is economically booming and lots of people want to live close to downtown.   Clearly some of these people have money.    Near St. Mary’s school these seventeen townhouses are just being completed, surrounded by small circa 1910 houses.  The sign says prices “start” at 1.1 million but a check of the website shows most cost close to two million.

 

 

 

Bicycle riding feels safe and easy in the older neighborhoods of Raleigh, and within its downtown.   There are a lot of new apartment buildings downtown, some with pretentious names.

Among the tall buildings I had lunch at Bida Manda Laotian Restaurant.   It was jammed at lunchtime with trendy looking people who look like they have some kind of trendily important job, most likely in tech.   Red Hat headquarters is around the corner; they were just bought out by IBM.

Chicken fried rice for $ 11.75 seemed a safe choice.   It was only just O.K.

 

 

The restaurant is across the street from Moore Square park.   The city just spent a bunch of money re-doing the whole park with a seeming objective of making it less full of homeless people.   The re-do is quite nice and the few homeless looking people on the benches do not seem to detract from the public space experience.   I sat in a spot in the shade and read some more of The New Yorker on my Kindle.

 

The train to Durham was scheduled for 3:00 PM.   At 2:30 I bicycled over to the new Union Station, about five minutes away.    On the way, near the station in the warehouse district I passed the newly opened two-level Weaver Street Market, named after the street in Carrboro, thirty-five miles away.   There is finally a grocery store downtown.

I arrived at the station in plenty of time.   The new Union Station is a beautiful facility.

 

In the first minute of the train ride it passes right in front of the state prison.

 

The intra-North Carolina Amtrak trains have a baggage car space where you can hand them your bicycle, no extra charge.   I arrived into Durham in half an hour, no problems.

The bike ride back home to Chapel Hill from Durham was also no problem.   This has never been a particularly pleasant bike ride.   It has gotten much better just this year when Old Chapel Hill Road was repaved and widened with a bike lane.