Archive for the ‘Central North Carolina trips’ Category

Barbecue is delicious but so are healthier alternatives. Before leaving home I had a breakfast of avocado toast, Weaver Street Market french bread drizzled with olive oil, then spread with ripe avocado, sea salt, a few drops of sriracha hot sauce, and a sprinkling of diced arugula. A very non-barbecue breakfast! It was so succulent I had to take a bite before photographing. The dish gives barbecue a run for its money.

I drove a little over an hour west to the town of Thomasville, once chair capital of the world. I parked our Ford Escape on a downtown street and pulled out my Bike Friday.

The Chair monument is still here!

My mission this day was to cycle the twelve miles to Lexington NC, self proclaimed Barbecue Capital of the World. Leaving Thomasville I passed an abandoned factory and decrepit housing.

The old road to Lexington was a pleasant and calming ride, mostly free of traffic. There were two old-school likely pre-WWII gas stations.

Lexington (population 19,000) makes a big deal about its barbecue. Barbecue joints never seem to be in a downtown, always on the periphery. Maybe it is because locals do not want the smoke in their neighborhood.

North Carolina traditional barbecue can be extremely dogmatic, with rules like a religion, like: Barbecue is Only Pork. Lexington barbecue differs from Eastern North Carolina barbecue in that Lexington barbecue uses tomato in its sauce, and the chopped pork barbecue sandwich is dressed with “red slaw” rather than a mayonnaise-based coleslaw.

There are close to ten major barbecue restaurants in or near Lexington. I went to the one aptly titled Lexington Barbecue.

The classic barbecue lunch is a chopped pork sandwich accompanied by sweet iced tea. I had “half and half”, half sweet tea and half regular. It was still really sweet.

There is a pandemic. Why would I want to eat indoors in a crowded restaurant on a lovely day, especially in an area where vaccine levels are likely to be below average. I got my lunch “to go.” Half a mile from Lexington Barbecue I could cycle up to this park which I had it all to myself. There was a covered picnic area.

The barbecue sandwich is not much to look at; a low-impact sweetish gooey bun with sweet red slaw. You could taste the smoke in the chopped pork. I was very impressed; it was all quite delicious, fabulous, really. But so was my avocado toast.

Inside the barbecue sandwich

What for dessert? I cycled onward towards downtown Lexington.

Downtown Lexington is prosperous looking.

I stopped at the locally owned Perfect Blend Coffee Shop for an almond milk latte, one pack sugar.

I sat outside and chatted with a local bicycler. Afterward I got on the bicycle and rode back to Thomasville, part of the way on a different route. I then put the bicycle in my car and drove home to Chapel Hill.

Many of you know that my son Sam Marshall died on April 24, 2021. He had been living in Vietnam, teaching English. It has been a difficult time for me, my wife Tootie and our son Jack.

Sam and I did not take many bike trips together but we had done other stuff instead. I did take a bicycle trip with him in South Florida in 2013, riding from Fort Lauderdale to Key West.

I do not think that I grieve in a way that one walks around being sad or overwhelmed. I really need to keep my mind moving. Bicycling is the best way I know to do the exercise that absolves my soul. Yes, I am seeing a grief therapist, but the bicycling is fundamental to my sanity.

I have been cycling around pretty much every day the two months since April, Most days I take one of the loops around my town. Except for very short rides around the Carrboro/Chapel Hill downtown, Chapel Hill is not a very good urban bicycling destination. There are steep hills. Except for a few streets, most paved roads are either huge arterial highways or dead end residential areas. One has to look to find local rides. I have constructed a few loops around town that are both safe and interesting, connecting residential streets. My biggest complaint is that I get bored with taking the same rides over and over. The shorter loop of about an hour and a half I have dubbed The Meadowmont Loop, named after the faux-ville (New Urbanist development) that that the ride intersects. My most common longer ride of 3 – 4 hours I have dubbed The Paco Loop, from Chapel Hill to Durham and back, in one direction first to Southpoint Mall, then to Durham on American Tobacco Trail. I like coffee houses away from home, I can get a coffee in Durham, read a little, then bicycle home, mostly on Old Chapel Hill Road.

Immediately west of Chapel Hill and Carrboro there is world class cycling on lovely rural smoothly paved country roads, usually with sparse traffic. I have cycled out there many times in the past two months including a route that for years has been dubbed The Tootie Loop. Cyclists often refer to the area as “Dairyland”, named after Dairyland Road. I enjoy cycling out there but I admit that I have a preference for cycling through more interesting urban feeling neighborhoods.

At least once during this time I rode to Mebane, which is essentially a ride west to Dairyland, but ones keeps going, a little over twenty miles each way. There is a nice coffee place in downtown Mebane. Side story: A friend of a friend has lived his whole life in California. Retiring, he and his wife looked and studied all over the USA where to buy a second home, somewhere on the East Coast. Before even visiting there they had determined that Mebane NC was the place, somewhere most people in North Carolina have hardly noticed.

Sometimes I put the bicycle in the car and drive somewhere, to mix things up. One day recently I parked our car half an hour’s car drive from home, near the Whole Foods off Wade Avenue in Raleigh, then bicycled the twenty miles each way to Clayton and back.

Garner Road, also called Old U.S. Highway 70 is a pleasant cycle as it meanders the sixteen miles from downtown Raleigh to Clayton. Perhaps because it passes through the least trendy side of Raleigh it remains a road stuck in the past, a rarity in the fast growing Raleigh diaspora. One can see several historic gas stations.

Mid century modern!
This is the only likely pre-WWII gas station I have seen that still sells gas.
VFW hall
used appliances

In its small downtown Clayton NC has a great local coffee house, the Boulevard West. I drank an almond milk latte, two sugars, then headed back to Raleigh.

The southeast side of Raleigh is traditionally the African American side of town. Gentrifiers, presumably young and white, are moving into these neighborhoods, building boxy contemporary houses.

Almost within walking distance of downtown Raleigh

On May 20-21 our friends Lyman and Gillian were in town from Texas to close on the house they have bought in Durham. Lyman and I stole away for twenty-eight hours to take an overnight tour. We drove the now-fixed Prius an hour and a half north to the obscure Virginia hamlet of Sussex Courthouse. We would cycle from there the thirty miles to Petersburg VA then cycle back the next day. We parked in the municipal lot and pulled our two Bike Fridays out.

Lyman loves historic courthouses; he checked this one out. It was built about 1830.

Sussex Courthouse VA

The land in the entire sixty or seventy miles from the North Carolina state line along I-85 north to Petersburg VA is very sparsely populated. Nothing seems to have changed out here for generations. It is lovely cycling as we passed through miles of timber, hardly any car traffic.

Petersburg VA is an underappreciated small city 25 miles south of Richmond VA. There are historic neighborhoods full of eighteenth and nineteenth century houses.

Petersburg VA
1830’s row houses, Petersburg VA

We arrived in Petersburg and found a bar and got beers at an outdoor space. We had both been vaccinated but still felt more comfortable in the open air. We sat near two women from the U.K.; one of them protesting loudly when she heard me talking about some now-forgotten subject, interrupting when she heard me describe the Scottish as “gentle and forgiving.”

That night we stayed in an Airbnb, Lyman sleeping on the bed and I racking out on the sofa in the front room. For only about a hundred dollars total I would recommend this Airbnb to anyone, it has all the details right. It is described on Airbnb as “Historic Home C.1869 English Basement Apt.” Its owner living above is a Dutch guy who says he had been living in nearby Richmond for thirty years before moving recently to Petersburg. There are Dutch language books on the shelves.

Halfway back cycling the next day I felt an urgent need to play music. It was the middle of nowhere. I have a cheap ukulele that I sometimes bring on these trips. I had been singing this song in my head all morning, from an obscure 1973 album by the band Wilderness Road. I had not played the song ever, or at least in the past forty years. I was a little off key and I could not remember all the words. Video by Lyman.

Lyman and got back to the car with no problem and we drove home to Durham and Chapel Hill. The next day I was up early again, cycling around Chapel Hill, trying to keep my sanity.

Is there too much traffic on a week day for safe bicycling on rural roads anywhere near I-85 in central North Carolina? The hundred and sixty miles of I-85 between Raleigh and Charlotte is rapidly becoming one big city, an I-85 megalopolis.

I parked our Prius in the U.S. Post office of Whitsett NC, less than a mile from Exit 138 of I-85, about halfway between Durham and Greensboro. I had driven over from my home in Chapel Hill NC in slightly less than an hour.

Whitsett NC (population 590) is not much of a town, really.

Here is the three hour bike ride I took on this sunny but cold Tuesday in February.

Gibsonville NC (population 6,400) is only about about three miles north of Whitsett, but for some weird reason does not show up on the map above. Gibsonville is the red dot just to the west of Elon and to the north of Whitsett. Gibsonville looks the quintessential American small town.

Gibsonville now has a locally owned coffee house! The Daisy May Cafe.
Like much of central North Carolina, Gibsonville was built as a factory town

The North Carolina Railroad, a state owned line running Charlotte / High Point / Greensboro / Durham / Raleigh / Morehead City runs right through the center of Gibsonville. There are three passenger trains a day speeding through Gibsonville; unfortunately none of them stop here; quoting Linda Ronstadt channeling Warren Zevon “Well the train don’t run by here no more, poor poor pitiful me.” Fortunately Gibsonville does have the Gibsonville Garden Railway, a miniature (toy) rail line for all to gaze at. It sits right next to the mostly unused but full size Gibsonville train station.

Gibsonville’s population has been increasing, being near I-85. I bicycled past multiple newer subdivisions.

I bicycled for more than two hours north of Gibsonville. A bicyclist is constantly looking for roads free of car traffic. While most rural roads this close to I-85 are busy and dangerous feeling, if one just meanders on whatever road looks empty, one can bicycle out here quite peacefully. It is still a pandemic, I do not feel comfortable in indoor restaurants. I ate my peanut butter sandwich while cycling.

I cycled a total of about thirty miles, bicycling back to the car that had been sitting in the dirt parking lot of the post office in Whitsett. With the bicycle in the back I drove the car back over to the Daisy May Cafe in Gibsonville, to get an almond milk latte to drink on the drive home.

It is about seventy miles and an hour and a half drive from my home in Chapel Hill NC to Biscoe NC. I had guessed the area was likely to be free of car traffic. I had never been here before. Biscoe (population 1,700) and the surrounding Montgomery County (population 28,000) are in a remote part of the North Carolina Piedmont, about halfway between Raleigh and Charlotte but NOT on the busy I-85 corridor.

Tractor Supply is a national chain that seems to target rural areas. Country music plays on the sound system inside the stores. I parked our Prius in a Tractor Supply just off the big highway on the edge of Biscoe NC and pulled out my Bike Friday.

Here is the twenty-nine mile loop I bicycled on this Monday, with temperatures in the forties and low fifties.

North Carolina transportation policy is to build wide highways, all else be damned. Downtown Biscoe NC as an urban space hardly exists. The downtown’s center is where two four to six lane roads combine.

At that same intersection, the one to-the-street urban looking building I saw in all of Biscoe NC

Biscoe is a factory town that I am sure has seen a lot of closings in the past fifteen years.

I bicycled out of Biscoe NC towards the county seat of Troy NC; eleven miles away if one takes the back roads through mostly pine forests on gentle hills. There was hardly any car traffic.

After miles of piney woods, just before Troy the road passed over NC state route 27, apparently now upgraded to freeway status but there were hardly any cars.

Troy NC (population 3,100) seems more prosperous than Biscoe. The carpet manufacturer Capel Rugs is headquartered here, as well as a large lumber mill.

It was 12:40 so the courthouse clock is 19 minutes off. Or is it permanently stopped at 12:21? The building is from 1921.
Hotel Troy is a nice building but according to Wikipedia it has not had guests since 1970!

I admit I have a weakness for certain types of gas stations.

Pine trees at the sawmill stacked like matchsticks

It was too cold to stop for lunch outdoors and it is a pandemic, so while I noodled by bicycle around Troy NC I ate the peanut butter sandwich I had brought. I then headed out of town on empty state roads through more piney woods.

The “town” of Okeewemee seemed to me to be just a few houses along the highway; the state sign having been defaced with a Trump sticker and then the sticker spray painted over.

It was six miles further to Star NC through the Little River basin.

I cycled into the town of Star NC (population 876).

I found Star NC fascinating. Planes, Trains and Automobiles! I love all those things and Star NC checks the boxes.

Automobiles: There is a shop here that apparently restores older British cars.

Their yard is filled with ghosts of MG’s and Jaguars; it revealed to me a sad truth: when a shop restores an old car to like-new condition, frequently others must die.

1960’s Jaguar sedan and early 1970’s Triumph TR-6
1960’s MG Midget and MG-B
More MG-B’s
1960’s Austin Mini, the very small car that the current larger Mini on our American roads is stylistically copied from
1950’s-early 1960’s Jaguar XK
1960’s Triumph TR
More 1950’s-60’s Jaguars
1960’s-early 70’s Volvo P1800
late 1960’s Chevrolet Corvairs

Star NC has trains! Within walking distance to the old 1960’s cars is an independent repair shop apparently working on railroad short line locomotives and rolling stock.

Line of locomotives, presumably for repair
A 1950’s dome car is stored here.

It is not that far a walk in Star NC (if you were walking) to airplanes! One can bicycle right onto the runway at the Montgomery County Airport.

I scoured the internet to try and find what kind of plane here was slowing devolving into the pines. Is this a Twin Beech, manufactured from 1937 to 1962?

Rear view, same aircraft

Also in Star NC; an old school building converted what I take to be an art studio that focuses on this region’s strong tradition of ceramics with the addition of glassblowing.

Leaving Star NC is was only six miles back to Biscoe NC and my car in the Tractor Supply parking lot. I was home in Chapel Hill by late afternoon.