Where to go now? How about the area south of Sanford NC, on US15-501? I chose Carthage NC (population 2,200) which is fifty miles and a one hour car drive from my home in Chapel Hill. I parked our Prius at a farm store. I figured no one would care if I left the car there a few hours. This would be another bike ride where I would totally stay away from people. I brought my own food and water.
I pulled out the bicycle and started riding towards Pinehurst. Here is the route of my bike ride.
Across from the Farm Supply this modernist restaurant sign likely from the 1960’s was flying above what is now a Mexican restaurant next to the local gun store.
At the end of the day I took a photo from the other side. It is missing one of its four wings. That is a white horse in the center.
It was just a mile or so bike ride to downtown Carthage. I think downtowns should look like downtowns. North Carolina is about the only state where the design, building, and maintenance of a large percentage of the roads are under state rather than local or county control. Because Carthage’s main street McReynolds Street is considered a state highway (even though it is really not all that important a highway) the NCDOT has made sure that Carthage’s main street is so wide and efficient that it provides no intimacy to the downtown. Carthage is the county seat of Moore County but downtown Carthage mostly looks like a highway. This trend goes on all over the state.
The historic courthouse sits in the middle of the road.
Across the street sits the newer actual courthouse. I usually like contemporary architecture but this place gives me the creeps.
There were a few signs of life downtown.
I guess no one but me cares that the town hall of Carthage is out on the highway one or two miles from downtown.
I cycled southward out of town into the Sandhills which stretch south for at least a hundred miles from North Carolina into South Carolina. North of Carthage the forests are primarily deciduous hardwoods. In the Sandhills it changes to almost exclusively pines.
This is not snow, this is white sand, at least a hundred miles from the coast.
I biked through mostly pine forest for the first ten miles south of Carthage. Miles from any house a white cat crossed the road in front of me.
All by itself at a crossroads sat this place.
Pine forests in sand are likely not great farmland so back in the day (and maybe even now) land here was cheap. It turned out to be a great place to build golf courses. In the 1890’s a Boston developer purchased land right on a main north/south rail line for $1.25 an acre and built a hotel and a golf course. Even then one could take the train here overnight from the Northeast.
I knew I was getting close to Pinehurst when I passed the first housing development.
Among Pinehursts there is Pinehurst (the village), Pinehurst (the resort), and Pinehurst (the country club). The entire Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen area now has a whole bunch of resorts and country clubs and golf courses. By itself Pinehurst (the resort) has NINE golf courses. Number 2 is supposed to be the best. My ride into town passed a gate for Pinehurst No. 8. The gate was open so I biked into it to have a look around.
During a pandemic I thought the solution was for each golfer to have his or her own cart and then stay a social distance from each other. I am not sure these guys were totally playing by the rules of Coronavirus; it was hard to tell.
Frederick Law Olmstead died in 1901 at age 81, America’s most famous and original landscape architect. He had designed Central Park in Manhattan. I learned from Wikipedia that in about 1895 he designed the winding streets of Pinehurst village. Olmstead’s designs mostly started with empty land but make the landscape appear natural, like it was always that way. By bike I noodled around Olmestead’s curvy Pinehurst streets and looked at houses.
I do not consider the weather in Pinehurst to be an attraction. There are real winters and the summers are unbearably hot. Pinehurst is more than an hour’s drive from any of the major cities of North Carolina. I have always wondered: who lives in these places?
On these bike rides in populated areas during a pandemic with restaurants closed one unanticipated problem has been that there is nowhere to go to the bathroom! In historic Pinehurst I found the Carolina Hotel, built in 1901. There was almost no one around but it appeared open. I walked inside to use their restroom. There was a bellhop and a desk clerk, neither was wearing a mask. I thought someone would question me but it seems an older white guy with decent manners can get away with a lot.
I decided to bicycle onward to the town of Southern Pines, six miles to the southeast. There was an almost continuous progression of golf courses, housing developments, and cemeteries(!), including Pinehurst Country Club and Country Club of North Carolina. There were lots of golf carts, even on the streets.
Stuff I saw on the way to Southern Pines.
Southern Pines has an attractive downtown with restaurants and gift shops. I parked the bicycle and found a picnic spot on this bench in front of the post office. With my peanut butter and jelly sandwich I read The New Yorker on my kindle.
I had to bike fifteen miles north back to my car in Carthage. As I left downtown Southern Pines I saw lots of what looked like family groups walking around. There were no masks. In fact, I only saw four or five people all day that wore a mask. All but one were African-American.
I got back to my car and was home in Chapel Hill by about 4:00 PM. On this whole trip I had not gotten physically near anyone and had not touched anything.