It was cold in North Carolina in December. I made plans to drive south for warmer weather before starting my next bicycle tour. Wake up Mama, turn your lamp down low. Statesboro Blues was one of the inspirations for this adventure starting on a Sunday morning. I got my Bike Friday ready in our seventh floor living room overlooking Chapel Hill and Carrboro NC.
I loaded the bicycle in the back of our Ford Escape Hybrid and drove south for six hours in the direction of Statesboro GA. After three hundred and twenty miles, just past Augusta GA, I parked the car near the center of Millen GA (population 3,100). It was early afternoon. Would anyone care if I parked our car in the lot of a rural hospital for a few days?
Millen is the county seat of Jenkins County GA. There are only 8,300 people in all of Jenkins County. Now on the bicycle I stopped in front of the courthouse, just around the corner from where I had parked my car. Johnny Reb stood guard.
The Confederate monument was placed in 1909. A plaque on the ground in front of the statue was placed a hundred years later in 2009, seemingly to protect the original statue from modernists who would have it taken down. It included the insane statement “And to those men of color who joined ranks in their armies and navy, both free men and those in bonded servitude who fought not to keep their brothers in a state of slavery but to defend from the invader, the only home they had ever known.”
I was certainly in The South! I had a bike ride to do! Statesboro GA was thirty miles to the south. I started pedaling. This was the bike ride I would take over the next three days.
I had already eaten my peanut butter and jelly sandwich during the car ride so I stopped the bicycle a few blocks away at a Subway, whose sandwiches make nice portable chow. Sadly they did not have my usual Subway whole wheat bread. White would have to do. I strapped the sandwich on the back, in my HEB bag. Downtown Millen GA was having what looked like a farmer’s market on this Sunday afternoon.
Once out of town I quickly was absorbed by the rurality of this part of Georgia. It felt both safe and mildly creepy, as there were almost no cars on the road, no one around, really.
I was able to stay off off busy highways by connecting through rural roads. In one stretch Google maps gave no inclination that one three mile stretch would transform into a road of Georgia sandy clay.
Befitting The South, there were cotton fields.
I ate a late lunch on the steps of this church, even spending a few minutes on my current re-read; The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe.
I then cycled on the highway as it passed through the woods and swamps, also the tiny town of Rocky Ford GA.
Rural America has Trump signs everywhere. I did see less Trump regalia here in rural Georgia than I had seen a few months ago in rural Pennsylvania. On the outskirts of Statesboro GA these guys are keeping up their faith.
Most of us know of Statesboro GA from the song Statesboro Blues made most famous by the Allman Brothers Band. Theirs is a ferocious soulful performance from the album “At Filmore East.” My older sister Jane had the good taste to buy the record just after it was released in 1971. As happens with siblings, by the mid to late 1970’s her copy of that double album ended up in MY collection, where it still sits, now at my son Jack’s house in Durham NC.
The original song was written and then recorded on solo acoustic guitar in 1928 by Blind Willie McTell, who referred to Statesboro as “my real home.”
There is a statue of McTell and his twelve string in front of the Statesboro Visitor’s Bureau.
Those hipper than me would have already known that the Allman Brothers likely did not learn the song from Willie McTell; the Allmans took it almost note for note from a much more electrified 1967 cover and re-work by the New York City born and Massachusetts raised musician Taj Mahal as it appeared on his debut album, including slide guitar parts similar to Duane’s by the Native American guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. Musicians should and do copy from each other; it is part of their art. Taj at age eighty is still touring and playing, as he did in this performance of the song revised again, from 2014. Give it time, it starts to cook after the first few bars.
Statesboro GA (population 33,000) benefits from what I have seen to be the biggest predictor of municipal health in cities and towns in America, the presence of a college or university, in this case the 26,000 student Georgia Southern University. Gliding into the city at about sundown I found Eagle Creek Brewing Company. It’s Miller Time.
I enjoyed chatting with my bartender.
Sipping my beer I found a hotel room using my phone. I cycled over and checked in to the Quality Inn. Fox News played in the lobby.
I had chosen this motel because it was walking distance to a restaurant called Gnat’s Landing that was open on a Sunday night. COVID has waned somewhat but I still feel more relaxed eating outdoors when it is available. Here that meant the second floor deck.
By this hour the temperature was dipping into the fifties and I needed to keep my head warm. I had bought this hat a year ago at a Dollar General when nothing else was available. Cammo is somewhat out of place in Chapel Hill but it seemed totally natural here in Statesboro. Several young guys sat across from me and we all chatted with the young female bartender.
Dinner was cheeseburger and one choice of one side: salad or fries or cheese grits. Cheese grits? I had never heard of cheese grits as a substitute for fries.
Back at the motel when I turned on the TV up popped the series Yellowstone. I had not seen it before. It’s quite well done but blatantly political. In this episode his daughter dramatically pitched to Kevin Costner’s character, a wealthy landowner, that he needed to be on guard, he had to always assume the government was ultimately coming for his land.
Waking up the next morning I surveyed the free hotel breakfast. Like most hotels in America it was all prepackaged and unappetizing. From home I had brought half a loaf of bread, jelly, and peanut butter so I could assemble sandwiches for the road. At the last minute back in Chapel Hill I had also snatched one small ripe avocado. In my hotel room, using the salt and hot sauce borrowed from the hotel breakfast spread, and a hand towel as my plate, I assembled an impromptu breakfast of avocado toast, except the bread was not toasted!
That, plus a bowl of oatmeal prepared from an overly sweet packet from the hotel buffet, and a banana, fixed me up well into lunchtime. I loaded up the bike to leave. Light rain was possible. Normally I do not deliberately bicycle into a cold rain but today seemed worth the risk.
In the fog I cycled through the older parts of Statesboro.
Both dead in the carport; 1970’s Jaguar XJS and 1960’s Chevrolet pickup
It would be thirty-five to forty miles through the foggy near-rain to the next major town, Swainsboro. Once out of town there was not really anyone around.
I had never heard of deer potatoes.
I sat on a bridge railing and ate lunch, peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
In the early afternoon I pulled into Swainsboro GA (population 7,400).
Small town independently owned coffee houses are America’s new treasure. In downtown Swainsboro GA I ducked into Leanna’s (since 2020!) just as the rain started to fall. Leanna’s is a coffee shop, breakfast place, pizza joint, and dessert bakery. I got a large oat milk latte with two packs of sugar, plus a slice of spinach pizza. I continued to read The Right Stuff on my Kindle.
This appeared to be a woman-run business and the busiest place in town. Almost all of the female employees wore normal modern looking clothes including varying colorful skirts but all conspicuously at ankle length. They had varying small patch buns in their hair. Near the restrooms there were a bunch of certificates on the wall. All had the last name Stoltzfus.
I love Wikipedia, it is there to answer all my questions. From Wikipedia: Stoltzfus is a surname of German origin. It is common among Mennonites and Amish. All American Stoltzfuses are descended from Nicholas Stoltzfus (1719–1774), an Amish man who migrated from Germany to America in 1766.
I hung in Leanna’s for quite a while, reading my book, sipping my coffee, and waiting for the rain to stop. Where would I stay that night? There was one bed and breakfast in town but they would not return my phone calls. Airbnb had nothing. The three or four motels in Swainsboro were all in an area two miles from downtown out on a four lane highway. The Rodeway Inn looked old and worn but had good online reviews.
While low priced, way under a hundred dollars, the room was indeed clean, with newly installed modern fixtures. There were business cards at the front desk and I was reacquainted with another American subgroup. I read somewhere that something like a third of the motels in America are owned by someone named Patel.
I would have guessed in this part of Georgia would have few immigrants, but my motel was run by an Indian-American and the only place to eat at night that also served alcohol was Mexican. I had chosen my motel on the map in part because it was almost next door to that Mexican restaurant. I discovered there was no sidewalk on the four lane road, and I had to walk almost a quarter mile at night in the grass, while trying to see through a misty rain.
Dinner was fine; mainstream American Mexican. Frozen margarita; what’s not to like? Of course there were unlimited free chips and salsa. You could order exactly what you wanted; I got two chicken enchiladas plus rice and refried beans. After finishing that I was still hungry and ordered one beef taco. The other patrons were colorful; one guy came in with a cammo cap and only a ripped t-shirt, even though it was cold and rainy outside.
I had no illusions about any free breakfast at the Rodeway Inn but I enjoyed watching Morning Joe. I would need a hearty morning meal to power me through a long bike ride. I left the motel and cycled back to the coffee place Leanna’s for a delicious dish called a grits bowl.
My plan was to cycle that day the almost fifty miles to the next similarly sized town Waynesboro GA. I would spend the night in Waynesboro and then end the trip by cycling back at my car twenty something miles further the next day.
Almost the entire forty-odd mile ride to Waynesboro GA had very little traffic. On one thirty-two mile long stretch, on something called Herndon Road, the pavement was smooth and delightfully peaceful. I saw cars only about one every ten or fifteen minutes.
In this kind of rural environment being chased by a large dog can be a problem. I carry two types of dog protection in my front bag, a pepper spray that I have had for ten years and have never used, and a dog horn that is much less confrontational, I do use the horn, probably setting it off it once or twice a year. When in doubt just make some noise.
This day I did get chased by a pretty large dog on Herndon Road. I set off the horn for one loud half second and the dog backed off immediately, with his tail between his legs.
Later on I stopped for lunch at a guardrail, to serve as my picnic table, peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
In Waynesboro GA (population 5,700) both on the seal on their dumpsters and on a mural downtown the town billed itself as “The Bird Dog Capital of the World”
The newest of the three motels in town was already full. Instead I found lodging was at a Quality Inn under renovation. A South Asian looking guy with a thick accent showed me to my room, dodging construction debris in the hallway. He bragged that I was the first person to sleep there since its “renovation.” The beds were fine but details were missing (the fire alarm was just a jumble of wires, and other stuff). There was a filthy chair off in one corner.
The only non-chain or fast food restaurants open this Tuesday night in Waynesboro were both ethnic; Mexican and Japanese. The Fuji Sushi and Steak House was friendly and popular. A local newspaper article proudly posted on the wall inside stated that its owner is not Japanese but of Chinese heritage and was undocumented for many years. I ordered hibachi steak.
I cycled back the mile or so to the motel in the dark. I passed this fancy house.
The next morning I got an early start, breakfasting on peanut butter and jelly, with questionable coffee from the machine in the room. It would be a little over twenty miles to my car parked at a hospital in downtown Millen GA. Once again there was almost no car traffic on these back roads.
I had heard there is an issue in much of the southeast with feral pigs but I had never seen one. This monster was dead on the side of the road, looking to weigh many hundreds of pounds.
I cycled into Millen GA.
Our car was still there. I loaded the bicycle in the back and was home in Chapel Hill NC in time for dinner.