The Coronavirus Diaries: Part two; North Raleigh Loop on the Neuse River Trail; March 19, 2020

Yes, I was out in the fresh air but I honestly did not touch ANYTHING outside of my own stuff during these five or six hours except the elevator buttons in the Greenbridge condo building where I live.   I used the sleeve of my jacket to touch those buttons.

During these five hours I talked to two random people for about twenty seconds each time, but in both instances I was overcompensating with social distancing; practically having to shout at the person because I was so far away. Is this the new normal?  I hope not.   I did bicycle zoom by lots of people on the Neuse River Trail but always at speed.,

I put the Bike Friday in the back of our Prius and drove a half hour east to the northern edge of Raleigh.   Much of the growth of the Raleigh area in the past twenty years has been on the north side but still within the Raleigh city limits.  North Carolina state laws are particularly advantageous to this.   In many U.S. states cities cannot easily annex land as new housing developments are built, and dozens of tiny municipalities mushroom.  (St. Louis County in Missouri has eighty-six separate “towns” most with their own police and parks departments.)   That the newer housing developments on Raleigh’s north side can continue to be in the Raleigh city limits contributes to the fiscal health of the city.   Raleigh can use its size and fiscal health to build things like its greenway system.

To get to those greenways I parked our car in the huge empty parking lot of a Kohl’s store, just off Falls of the Neuse Road.    This is the route I took by bicycle.

I started biking at a point that is on a straight shot twelve miles from downtown Raleigh.  I bicycled even further out, cycling on the bike path along Falls of the Neuse Road.


4 – 6 story apartments like these are becoming the new normal, the architecture of the 2015 – 2020 period and beyond.   They are furiously being built in all parts of cities, all over America, right now.  I am not sure if I like them or not.  It is what it is.


Further on I rolled into a development called Bedford at Falls River.  Subdivisions like this used to be novel but now they are ubiquitous; “towns” built by developers with a retro look and an actual commercial center mimicking an old fashioned downtown.  They normally use architecture inspired by the set of The Music Man.   My friend Tom calls them “faux-villes.”   My brother Alex constructed a big piece of his career as a writer by specifically criticizing them, saying they were not actual towns, they were just real estate subdivisions.

Bedford at Falls River was quite nice, actually.  Despite the coronavirus it seemed idyllic.  There were lots of kids on the streets on a beautiful day when the schools were closed.   Bedford is quite large, it went on for blocks and blocks, maybe even miles.  The “town” looked genuinely retro, its “downtown” seemed commercially surviving.   The whole area was woods and farmland prior to 2002.


Mimicking the faux-ville Southern Village in Chapel Hill, which mimics the actual historic city of Charleston were rows of houses with Charleston style front porches, a front door to nowhere.

The Neuse River Trail is part of the Raleigh Capital Area Greenway system, a quite impressive network of something like one hundred miles of greenways in Raleigh, most of them along wooded stream beds.   For example, from Bedford at Falls River there is a lovely paved path along the Neuse River that goes all the way south past central Raleigh to Clayton NC, a distance of twenty-eight miles.

The Raleigh area can be quite hilly but almost all of this greenway was absolutely flat on smooth pavement, a bicyclist’s dream.

The Neuse River is not much of a river, really.   Even though we have had a reasonable amount of rain recently it is not much bigger than a creek.   It certainly is not navigable.  Maybe this is why much of North Carolina did not urbanize until after about the year 1900; we lack navigable rivers like the James and Potomac in Virginia.


At about fifteen miles I stopped at a bench along the trail.  I sat alone, ate my peanut butter sandwich, and read The New Yorker on my kindle.   One old guy with two beagles stopped by and tried to be sociable.   I smiled but was resistant.  He walked on.  It was peaceful.   I had bicycled on the Neuse River Trail for close to twenty miles before taking a right onto another similar path, the Crabtree Creek Greenway.   The greenway follows (obviously) Crabtree Creek through flat wooded bottomlands surrounded by development on all sides.    I did not go quite far enough to run into the famous Crabtree Valley Mall.   Instead, I took another right, up a series of steep hills into 1960’s residential areas of a district called North Hills.   These residential areas are gradually being overtaken by commercial and multifamily development.

There theoretically is a bike path along Falls of the Neuse Road.   It is not nice, not peaceful, and not smooth.   Whoever put this in forgot about roots that would crack the surface.   Boneshaking.   I rode instead on the actual highway whenever there was a big break in the traffic.


I rode about eight miles north to just past I-540 where was car was at that Kohl’s parking lot.  The ride was done.  I felt comfortable going into this Starbucks.   They had closed it for seating and no one was in there except two employees.   I realized that if I paid with my credit card I did not even have to touch anything.   The staff was very cordial and I got an almond milk latte to drink in the car on the drive home.

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