Archive for January, 2020

Where to go next?   “Normally” in January I take short furious bike rides in the cold, because I know once warmed up I will get the chills if I stop.   Sometimes I have taken the airplane to Florida in January for brief trips because biking in sixty and seventy degree temperatures is a delight.

These two January days the weather home in Chapel Hill NC was predicted to be Florida without the airplane ticket.   Friday and Saturday were predicted the be both sunny and warm with a high temperature of about seventy.   The world might be coming to an end but why not enjoy it on a bicycle?

Three hours car driving northeast into Virginia the temperatures were predicted to be just as warm.   Early on Friday morning I put the Bike Friday in the back of the Prius and set out, not really knowing exactly where I was going or what route I would bicycle.

On the way I settled with the almost non-place of Charles City VA because it sits at about midpoint of the very nice and almost new Virginia Capital Trail; a fifty-two mile long paved bike path between Richmond and Wiliamsburg.   I had bicycled the Richmond end of the trail with Tootie a couple of years ago.   This time I would bicycle the Williamsburg half, and then maybe beyond to Yorktown, somewhere I had essentially never visited.

 

At the Charles City Courthouse municipal complex I parked the car.   There were lots of spaces; I correctly assumed no one would care if I left my car here for thirty hours.

I set out east on the bike path.   I parallels the two lane Virginia route 5 along the north bank of the James River.

 

Only thirty miles from downtown Richmond; Charles City County is strikingly rural and unpopulated.

From Wikipedia: Charles City County;  population in the year 1790 was 5,600;

in 1960: 5,500;

in 2019: 6,900

Despite the low population the area is dripping with history.   Two presidents (John Tyler and William Henry Harrison) come from this small county.   From all sorts of eras (Jamestown and Pocahontas, Revolutionary War, and the Civil War) important things happened here.   The state historic signs are ubiquitous.

 

 

Part of my aversion to all this history is what is leaves out.    It is a huge step forward that this next sign was prominently situated next to the Charles City County courthouse.  In a town this small any gathering of 75 people probably included anybody who was anybody.

 

 

The first ten or fifteen miles of bike path passed by several “plantations”  with pretentious names, most dating from the 1600’s, where high value crops like cotton and tobacco had been planted and harvested by mostly slave labor, then exported by the deep water access of the James River.  In 2020 it is mostly woods; quiet and peaceful.  For now there were no tacky subdivisions.

 

I was almost all the way to Williamsburg when, after crossing into James City County, the bike path finally started to pass subdivisions, gated communities, and golf courses.

 

 

Bicycling into metro Williamsburg from the west on Monticello Avenue, there were miles of newer commercial sprawl, Food Lions and Old Navys.   One normally would expect a courthouse to be in the downtown center.  Not here.  Mixed right into the strip malls was Williamsburg’s new courthouse; one of the strangest looking municipal buildings I have seen in a while; putting the “colonial” touch on courthouse utility.

 

A mile or two further I arrived into the part of town normally referred to as Colonial Williamsburg.  It features the state university that is The College of William and Mary and the restored colonial town.

 

 

 

Backed by private money particularly from the Rockefeller family and starting in the 1920’s, the restored town is not so much historic preservation as historic re-creation.  Over fifty percent of the buildings in the historic area are reproductions.  Costumed actors are hired to look the part.

I grew up an hour away by car in Virginia Beach and my parents took my siblings and me to Williamsburg many times.   They wanted us to know about our country’s history.  Maybe because of all those visits I find this historic re-creation annoying and I have only been back here one other time in the past forty years.  I cannot think of a concrete criticism, so I will pass this as my personal quirk.   It certainly was not a right / left – conservative / liberal thing back in the day. (My mother voted for George McGovern!). But it seems to be like that now.

 

I had a nice almond milk latte at Aromas Coffeehouse, then biked out of town towards Yorktown.   On the edge of town I was impressed by this modernist motel.

The Colonial Parkway connects Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, towns that were significant around the year 1776 or before, but the road is much more derivative of parkways inspired by the designer Frederick Law Ulmstead and the bureaucrat Robert Moses.   Begun in 1930 and completed in 1957, the Colonial Parkway was built when car travel still had the now unimaginable promise of being a relaxing and scenic experience.

The Colonial Parkway has freeway-like overpasses and a tunnel beneath Colonial Williamsburg, but a speed limit of mostly 35 or 45 MPH.   I is quite pleasant for bicycling.

 

Intentionally bumpy road surfaces and brick overpasses under the I-64 freeway do not evoke George Washington but are indeed attractive.   This day there were repairs.

 

The second half of the parkway to Yorktown parallels the York River.   US Navy installations line the river as well, as these areas are accessible to ocean going ships.   I learned that is why British general Cornwallis used this area as a landing spot for the battle he ultimately lost to George Washington’s army.

The village of Yorktown is at the base of the York River Bridge.

I had not realized that Yorktown was so small.   Current population is 190, and it was not much of a town even back in the day, although now suburban sprawl and military bases are nearby.   There are two or three bars and restaurants on the waterfront.   I stopped by the Yorktown Pub for a beer.  Not touristy at all, the other patrons seemed to be all talking about boats and fishing.

 

Sitting at the bar I searched on my phone for somewhere to stay.    The best deal seemed to be an actual B&B, not an Airbnb, the Marl Inn, just a couple blocks uphill.   I called them on the phone.  Yes, they had a room.  I biked up there, they had patriotic decorations outside.

 

The room was clean, spacious, and comfortable.   There were lots of patriotically labelled things lying around.    Also, when I turned on the TV it was already tuned to Fox News!

Dinner was back at the Yorktown Pub; I bicycled down the hill in the dark.  Tootie and I go to New Orleans a lot and places like the Yorktown Pub have been disappearing down there;  loud, informal, and reasonably priced small family run seafood restaurants.   Here is Yorktown I came back to the same seat at the bar while there were people waiting for tables.   I started with clam chowder. Virginia is far north enough for clams, and I love clams.   A bowl costs only $ 1.50 more than a cup, so why not?

 

Rockfish is common around the Norfolk area but I had not known of it until my sister Jane introduced me a couple of years ago.   Here they allowed for half orders and I got it broiled, with a side of rice.  I came with a plastic thing of tarter sauce (old school!)

I was still a little hungry and here they had gumbo!   It is NOT a typical Tidewater Virginia dish but here it was spicy and delicious for $ 6.25 a cup.

The bartender was a real pro.  It was fun watching him work while I ate.

 

I skipped dessert but ate some chocolate covered nuts in my room.    The next morning I biked around the tiny settlement of Yorktown.   They are trying to make a mini-Williamsburg of this.

 

Among a very small number of businesses is a nice locally owned coffeehouse.   I got my usual light breakfast; roll and a coffee.

 

I’d like to say a took I took a different route for the forty miles back to my car, rather than just doubling back. However in suburban areas, outside of the street grid of major cities bicycling can be dangerous.   I did not want to bicycle, even on a Saturday, on crowded four lane highways.   Except for one portion through Williamsburg I bicycled back the same way that I had come, on Colonial Parkway and then the Virginia Capitol Trail.   It was all good.

One final note:   Bicyclists bring business.  Charles City County Courthouse, where I had parked my car, is not even a real town.   It is a newer municipal office complex in a rural area adjacent to a major bicycle trail. There is a restaurant occupying an old house.  On this warm Saturday at 2:00 PM that restaurant was completely filled with bicyclists.  Many were eating outside.

 

 

My car was still there.  I drove back to Chapel Hill in time for dinner,  stopping at the Starbucks in Petersburg VA for something to sip while on the road.

About thirty years ago I had an air freight client on the outskirts of Clinton NC;  a manufacturer of high-end glass panels.  I used to drive down there for sales calls.  The factory might still be there although companies now change names every few years as they get bought and sold.   I recently realized I had never seen downtown Clinton, which is sixty-five miles south of Raleigh, part of that great expanse of flatness North Carolinians call Down East.

On the day after Christmas I put the Bike Friday in the back of our car and drove down I-40.    I chose to start my bicycle ride from the smaller town of Faison NC (population 961), about twenty miles northeast of the larger Clinton NC.   Faison NC is at the top right of this map.

 

Here is Faison NC.

 

In an otherwise mostly empty downtown Faison NC, Hispanic immigrants have opened new businesses.

I pulled the bicycle out of the back of the car and headed west towards Clinton NC.   Faison NC actually has a few distinctive buildings.

 

There was not much traffic as I bicycled out of town.

In the fifteen or twenty miles to Clinton NC there was a plethora of rural abandoned buildings.

 

 

I passed lots of industrial agriculture, including this set of barns holding thousands of what I think were turkeys.

Clinton (population 8700) feels positively urban compared to Faison.   I appears about that about a generation ago many retail businesses in Clinton moved from their downtown out to the US-421 Bypass.

 

Now a lot of that retail on US-421 is also vacant, as the older sprawl is replaced by the further-out Walmart and its attendant shopping center.   I bicycled toward downtown,  passing a tractor dealer along the way.

There is life here!   A long-time town doctor had donated his historic home for use as an arts center.

 

Downtown Clinton is not all empty, unlike many such North Carolina towns.

 

On the other side of downtown the entire street smelled of bacon as I bicycled by an enormous Smithfield pork processing plant, right in town.   It was apparently just breaking for lunch.

Soon I was out of town, heading east towards the town of Warsaw,

 

across significant wetlands.

I passed another Smithfield pork processing plant.   Clearly employees drive mostly pickup trucks!

I hit the second point of the day’s town triangle by arriving near the town of Warsaw (population 3000).

My brother Alex wrote an entire book about the fact that urbanization clusters around transportation modes.  While there are almost no restaurants in the actual town of Warsaw, there are at least eight restaurants (mostly fast food chains) at the I-40 interchange, two miles away.

I had to eat, despite my food snobbism.   Smithfield’s is a regional barbecue chain; maybe I could find something there.  It was packed; I got in line.

 

What to eat?   My doctor has suggested I cut down on animal fat and red meat.   Brunswick stew was the healthiest looking thing I saw; only by the pint: $ 5.99.   The young woman at the counter offered their special of a second pint for only $ 2.00 additional.   (No wonder Americans are fat!)  I declined, what would I do with another pint of Brunswick stew?  I brought my own beverage (my water bottle!)

The stew was warm and comfortable, I ate it slowly while gazing at the parking lot.

Back on the bicycle, it was only eight miles to complete the triangle by bicycling back to Faison NC.    I arrived on the other side of town and bicycled to my car for the two hour drive back to Chapel Hill.