Archive for April, 2020

On these coronavirus rides I drive my car somewhere and take a bike ride of just a few hours.  I keep totally away from people.  I do not stop at any establishments.  I bring my own food and water.

My son Jack’s girlfriend Mary Hannah is now is in graduate school at UNC but was originally from Stoneville NC, a place I had never heard of.   I had to check Stoneville out.   It is just over thirty miles north of Greensboro near the Virginia line.

It took about ninety minutes for me to drive the ninety miles from Chapel Hill to Stoneville.   On a Sunday morning I parked in a church parking lot and took out my Bike Friday.   There were three other cars in the lot.  I guess the church was trying to preach remotely.

 

My ride would take me from Stoneville (population 1,200) to the much larger town of Eden (population 15,000.) I would seriously noodle by bicycle around Eden, then ride back to Stoneville.   

A lot of North Carolina towns look terrible with commercial downtowns that have been essentially abandoned.  Stoneville is not like that; they are definitely keeping up appearances.

 

A main line of the Norfolk Southern runs right through the middle of town.

There is a mid-century modern post office.

 

Biking on Sunday mornings during this pandemic I have seen various ways in which Christians seek to connect without physically connecting.   Here on a stage in downtown Stoneville NC this woman was singing to an audience of exactly zero, at least until I got there.   She was accompanied by a young man drumming who appeared to be about twelve years old.   Maybe she is broadcasting this on Facebook; maybe she is just fulfilling her need to get the gospel music out.   The music sounded much better live than it does on this recording.   I found the music quite moving

I biked out of town on the older highway eastward towards Eden.   Although I knew Eden would have many abandoned textile mills there is still some textile manufacturing going on in North Carolina.  On a country road just outside of Stoneville NC Sans Technical Fibers was very much in operation even on a Sunday morning.

 

 

There were a few interesting things along the highway from Stoneville to Eden, including tobacco barns.

 

 

 

Wikipedia is changing the world.   I can so easily learn all sorts of factoids that I otherwise would never have known.   For example, who would have known that Eden NC (which I had definitely heard of) was created as a town in 1967 as a result of the merger of three towns: Leaksville NC, Spray NC, and Draper NC.  All three were the site of large textile mills, all within three or four miles of each other.

On the outskirts of the city of Eden was a drive in movie theater.   At least pre-coronavirus it seems still fully functional.

 

 

 

I first visited the former Leaksville, one the three towns that combined to make Eden.

 

I pedaled through neighborhoods towards its downtown.     It looks like a factory town.

 

 

 

 

 

Downtown Leaksville seems to function now as the downtown Eden.

 

 

 

former armory

 

recording studio

 

Down the block from these downtown buildings is the Karastan carpet mill, which seems very much in business, although it was not working on a Sunday morning.

 

The modernist offices of the carpet mill.

 

I biked downhill east from downtown.   This lot had about twenty or thirty original Volkswagen Beetles.

Eden sits at the junction of the Smith River and the Dan River.  There must have been a waterfall or steep set of rapids here on the Smith River.   Historic signs pointed out that power has been generated here since 1813 and cloth has been woven by this power since 1836.   Cloth for Confederate uniforms was made here.   There are the remains of at least three huge mills, none of which seem to be operating now.

 

 

 

There was one more area I had to visit, the original town of Draper that now comprises the other half of greater city of Eden.   Draper is four miles farther east and also has mill type housing.

The principal street of the area is Fieldcrest Road, presumably named after the towel manufacturer that used to be here.   The street runs into a large former textile mill, now used as a trucking terminal.

I was out by myself during a coronavirus pandemic and it was time to turn around and head back towards my car.  Two miles west is the municipal complex for the town of Eden.  In the 1960’s there must have been farmland between the Draper area and the former Leaksville downtown.   All the textile mills surely were running at full tilt.  With the optimism of the era Eden NC  on this farmland built a complex of mid-century modernist civic buildings, schools, and a city park.   I stopped for lunch in parkland in front of what I believe is the police station.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of nuts and chips.

 

 

The Osborne Baptist Church is so close to the police station that at first glance it looks like they are connected.

 

Across the street is this high school.

Behind it is this middle school.

After lunch I got back on the bicycle and rode the ten miles back to Stoneville.  It took about an hour.   Here is one last shout-out to prewar gas stations I had seen on this day.

This region clearly has many Trump supporters.  Their passion is terrifying  This person cannot walk out his front door without stepping around this banner.   It was faded, it has been flying there a long time.

This was another bike ride where I touched nothing and neither talked to or allowed myself to be near anyone.  Although I could have started biking directly from my apartment I chose to drive the first few miles and then leave the car at a mall parking lot.

 

You may remember that a week or two ago I parked at the largest mall in Raleigh.   This time I parked in front of the other giant mall of the Raleigh/Durham area:  Southpoint Mall, on the freeway between Chapel Hill, Durham, and the airport.  The mall is a ten or fifteen minute drive from our apartment and was pretty much totally shut down.  There was plenty of parking.

 

My mission on this ride was to see as much of Cary NC as possible.   Cary’s original downtown is nine miles from downtown Raleigh, halfway from Raleigh to the airport.   For many years it was just a tiny town.  In 1930 the population of Cary was 909; in 1970 the population 7,700.   The current population is 170,000.   Huge subdivisions, many of them upscale, have been built in the past thirty years.  There is a substantial population of well-to-do Asians as well as many professionals who have relocated here from everywhere on the planet other than North Carolina.

The American Tobacco Trail is a twenty-three mile long rail trail that runs right by the mall.   I biked from the parking lot and then turned down the trail.

 

With the trail I could reach the western fringes of Cary in about six or eight miles.  Cary is difficult to bicycle through because most neighborhoods are deliberately designed with dead end cul de sac streets.   My plan was to just get lost in Cary residential neighborhoods and see what happened.   I got off the trail at O’Kelly Chapel Road.

 

 

 

 

 

I bicycled a quarter mile down the country road to the first Cary subdivision.

 

These houses were built in the past ten years by the company Del Webb.   It is called “Carolina Preserve at Amberly.”

 

 

 

The next subdivision which is also part of the faux-ville Amberly tries to look like Georgetown.

 

 

Right down the street were apartments that resemble many being built all over America right now.  Here I could see the detail on how this low cost building is done;.  They first build a wood frame, then cover it with styrofoam and then cover that with thin stone siding.

 

 

 

I biked across the major highways 540 and 55, and then came upon the”town” of Carpenter NC.  When I used to drive through here in about 1989 Carpenter was only this tiny collection of buildings surrounded by tobacco fields and woods.

 

Now a quarter mile away Carpenter gives the developer a name for his new subdivision;  “The Estates at Olde Carpenter.”   I bicycled through the gates.

The latticework of streets led to other subdivisions with the Carpenter name.   There are some big houses around here.

 

 

I crossed over Morrisville Parkway to the next big neighborhood called Preston.   The NCDOT has built giant roads like this all over North Carolina.   There is nothing intimate or picturesque about this street.  Cary is a collection of major state funded streets like this that connect pods of dead end residential streets.

 

Preston is a real estate development started in 1993 by the man who also started the very successful software company SAS.  It has mushroomed into a large set of neighborhoods, some centered on a golf course, each neighborhood with its own name.   As far as I can tell the name Preston was just some word they made up.

On a sunny weekday during a pandemic there were lots of golfers out.   It does seem logical to let golfers play, if they keep distance and each golfer takes a separate cart.

 

 

Biking through the Preston area it became clear that I could play a name game.   Sort of like bird watching, I could “score” each time I photographed a neighborhood entrance sign with the Preston name. (How do they think all this stuff up?)  I scored big.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stopped for lunch at a pond likely reserved for Preston residents.  There was a bench and no one around.   I sat and ate the lunch I had brought;  avocado, sun-dried tomato, and leftover asparagus sandwich.

Here was the sandwich in my kitchen four or five hours earlier.

After lunch I noodled by bicycle around more Cary neighborhoods.   Not all houses were this big but the big ones are more interesting photographs.

 

I eventually started meandering around back in the direction from which I came; I got back on the American Tobacco Trail.   Here is the total ride, a little more than forty miles total.

While Chapel Hill is considered part of the Triangle of Chapel Hill / Durham / Raleigh;  Greensboro, population about 300,000 and the third largest city in North Carolina is not that far away to the west, especially from Chapel Hill.   It is forty-six miles from my Chapel Hill condo to downtown Greensboro and there are hardly ever traffic delays driving to Greensboro, something that cannot be said about driving the thirty miles to Raleigh in the other direction.

On Easter Sunday morning during a coronavirus pandemic it took about forty minutes to drive our Prius the forty-three miles to Gateway Research Park on the eastern fringes of Greensboro.  I was going to take a bike ride without stopping to talk to anyone, without touching anything other than my bicycle.

Look at the map above.  Downtown Greensboro is between the “s” and the “b” of the word Greensboro.   Look how off-centered the downtown is on the city limits of Greensboro.   Greensboro sprawls from downtown west and north, not to the south and east.   Almost all of the retail and restaurants of Greensboro are downtown and to the north and northwest of downtown.  As you might imagine this situation has everything to do with race.    I am not picking on Greensboro.  I like Greensboro.   It is just an example of the racial patterns in suburban sprawl.

I drove from Chapel Hill to the Lee Street exit on I-40.    This spot is only four miles from downtown Greensboro.  Where is the Walmart?   In Greensboro all the shopping malls, Walmarts, Starbucks, fancy restaurants and bars, even McDonaldes are to the north and west of downtown.  On the west side this stuff sprawls out for more than ten miles.  Here at the Lee Street exit there is almost nothing,  just a couple gas stations and some cow pastures.  These photos were taken from my car.

 

No supermarket.  No Walmart.   In fact, there is just one real grocery store (a Food Lion) on the entire east side of Greensboro.   There are almost no restaurants or retail outlets of any kind on the east side.

The government is doing its part to rectify this by putting money into infrastructure on the east side.   The state government sponsored Gateway Research Park buildings are on the right.   This is just beyond the freeway exit.   But private commercial development hardly exists.

This provided me an easy place to park. I pulled out the bicycle.

 

 

Crossing over Lee Street there were a couple more government and nonprofit buildings recently built: a YMCA and a city park called Gateway Gardens.   It seemed very nice but it felt weird that there were no privately funded businesses.  There was not even a fast food place.

 

Florida Street runs for six miles through the mostly African-American southern part of Greensboro, a part of town I had never visited before.    There were miles of neighborhoods of 1960’s brick houses.

 

 

I passed several modernist churches.

On Easter Sunday during a pandemic this man was preaching with a loudspeaker in the parking lot, his apparent parishioners sitting in their cars.

Florida Street passes by the city-owned Gillespie golf course.

Even at major intersections I saw almost no active businesses.  There was this dead mini-mart.

I bicycled through public housing.

I continued bicycling along Florida Street until it ended at Holden Road.   As befitting the title I have given Greensboro as having the least bicycle friendly streets of any city I know, Holden Road is insanely wider than it needs to be.  It was built to encourage fast car travel.

I bicycled back in the direction of my car but staying in the southern part of town, noodling through residential streets.

 

 

There was one entire block of mostly mid-century modernist houses.

Greensboro has always been a city of manufacturers; originally tobacco and textiles.   There were industrial buildings sprinkled through these neighborhoods.   There still were very very few restaurants or retail stores

 

 

There are two HBCU’s on the east side of Greensboro.   The state-run NC AT&T seems to be booming, new construction was everywhere.

Bennett College, a woman’s college of less than five hundred students is struggling.   About a year ago they had their accreditation pulled but I think they have worked out a solution at least for now.

 

Turning back within walking distance to downtown there is a small area Southside where the neighborhood has gentrified dramatically.  Many buildings were in vivid colors.

Downtown was quite empty on a pandemic Easter Sunday.

North of downtown the company that used to be called Wrangler (as in the blue jeans) has a new name and an impressive mid-century modernist headquarters.

 

Fisher Park is the name of both an early twentieth century neighborhood and a park just north of downtown.    I like the look of the neighborhood so much that I find myself wanting to move to Greensboro just to live in Fisher Park!   Not all the houses are as big as these two; many are small bungalows.

 

I found a spot to eat lunch in Fisher Park (the park).    No one was around.  Sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich.

 

There are large parts of Greensboro to the north and west but they will have to wait for another bike trip.  Fisher Park extends west – east for several blocks, ending on the east at North Church Street and a set of railroad tracks.   Across those tracks are the much poorer east side neighborhoods.  I would have biked around these but it was starting to rain.   I still had at almost an hour’s bike ride back to the car.   I passed this plaque along the way on McConnell Road in eastern Greensboro.

I wanted to bicycle (for once) on a road or trail that I had never cycled on before but was also near where I live.  This is the eighth part in a series of bicycle rides that are done alone without touching anything, not going to a store, not talking to or getting near anyone.   I noticed the Bicentennial Trail the other day on Google Maps.   Like many greenways and rail-trails the Bicentennial Trail starts in the middle of nowhere, this one on the far western edge of the Greensboro city limits.

Before leaving I needed to fuel up.  Breakfast at home in Chapel Hill was avocado toast with a side of cheese toast.  In these challenging times for small business I always want to give a shout-out, so it was local raw milk cheese called Hickory Grove, by Chapel Hill Creamery, Seven Grain Bread from Weaver Street Market, arugula from Lyon Farms, Creedmoor NC.

The start point for the bike ride was fifty-seven miles away, right off exit 211 near the Greensboro airport.   The drive by car took exactly one hour mostly on I-40 and was totally painless.   (Quote from my late father, native of Norfolk, Virginia, spoken in about 1968: “those folks down in North Carolina have been driving sixty miles to play bridge for FIFTY years.”)

I assumed no one would care if I parked for a few hours in a warehousing complex.

 

 

 

The starting point of the trail was inauspicious; no sign, nothing.   I only knew about the trail because of Google Maps which said it went all the way more than twelve miles to near downtown High Point.

The paved trail winds along a stream bed.   Less than a mile along it was in very poor condition.

I found that the trail gets better.  The one small stretch was the worst.  The northern (first) half is bumpier, sometimes with steep hills.   It is not a trail to be done on a road bike.   The southern half south of Penny Road the trail is very well maintained.   Whether the pavement is smooth or not, the trail goes almost entirely through lovely wooded areas.

 

At about the halfway point, north of Penny Road, you have to take the bicycle up stairs.

 

South of Penny Road the trail is newer and better maintained.

 

 

 

High Point University is surrounded by a fence but this trail has an opening that allows it right through the middle of campus.  If beamed down here from another planet and also at UNC Chapel Hill, an alien might pick High Point University as the more impressive looking campus.   I think most of the buildings are very recent.  My cousin Nancy’s son Patrick recently graduated from here.   Nancy if you are reading please send me his cell phone number.

The older neighborhoods of High Point lie just beyond the University.   I will save lengthy comments about High Point for another blog, coming soon.   I did see this apartment building on Main Street, next door to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, at the sort of gateway to one of the nicer neighborhoods.   My good friend and photography coach John Ripley lives on Maple Avenue in Carrboro NC, within walking distance to my Chapel Hill apartment but John grew up in High Point.   In the late 1940’s his parents moved into one of these apartments.   John was born when they were living in this building.

High Point still claims to be the furniture capital of the world, a title that may now be debatable.   Housing seems really affordable.  This house was just a couple blocks away.

 

 

 

I turned around and rode back the way I came, back on the trail.    I found a bench along the way.  When sitting and eating my lunch I took special care not to even touch the bench with my hands!   Peanut butter and jelly.  The same Weaver Street bread.

 

I spent an hour or two bicycling back to the car.   After finding my car and driving home I decided to break all my rules and buy an almond milk at Starbucks in suburban Greensboro, to drink in the car.    It was open for drive-through only.

 

I sat for a minute or two but the line was moving too slowly.   I blew it off and drove home.