Archive for the ‘Central North Carolina trips’ Category

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.

It’s not as outrageous sounding as the actual town of Intercourse PA but who knew there was a Climax NC? Fifteen miles south of Greensboro? I needed a starting point for an afternoon’s bike ride. Climax NC is only ten or twelve miles from Liberty NC, so this made for a nice rural thirty mile bicycle loop on a Friday afternoon with temperatures in the forties and fifties. I drove west about an hour from my home in Chapel Hill NC and parked right at the center of Climax. Climax is hardly a town, really just a crossroads, a couple of gas stations and a Dollar General.

I pulled the bicycle out of the car and started cycling from this parking lot.,
Dead strip mall, Climax NC

I set out in the direction of Liberty NC through the rural Piedmont of central North Carolina. If a bicyclist takes the most remote roads, one can usually find lovely smooth rural roads with almost no traffic.

There were lots of animals!

These are buildings I thought looked interesting.

Liberty NC (population 2,600) felt like a real city compared to Climax NC.

Kettle Corn downtown, about the only business open
At least pre-COVID the theater looks very much in use
No bicycles?

I bicycled back to the car in Climax, taking a longer circular route, enjoying the rural character.

My car was still there at the Dollar General in Climax. I stopped at the Starbucks in south Greensboro on the way home, a latte to drink while driving.

The one stoplight in Climax NC

I drove the half hour over to Raleigh from my home in Chapel Hill. I like looking at buildings. I street parked on the near side in the neighborhood off Wade Avenue, just behind Whole Foods. It was cold outside, I had gloves and a hood.

I started biking around, taking pictures of modern buildings in the brilliant light.

Apartment complex in west Raleigh

NC State has had an esteemed architecture school for many decades and the modernist spirit seems to effect many or most of NC State’s buildings. Classes were on winter break so I biked through campus with almost no one around. Even parking garages can be fetching.

The campus was quite open for bicycling.

I was hardly aware that the NC State Centennial Campus existed until quite recently. It is physically separate from the older main campus, built just recently southwest of the existing campus, the other side of railroad tracks and the big highway Western Boulevard.

Another relatively new building in this same area is the Catholic cathedral for Raleigh: the Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, opened in 2017. Clearly conservatives were in charge of picking an architect. The cathedral seats two thousand and sits in the middle of a giant parking lot. Couldn’t they have been more original than this?

I enjoyed cycling around the new NC State Centennial Campus, looking at the pretty buildings.

For the rest of the bike ride I did a big loop east towards downtown Raleigh. Off Dorothea Drive just southwest of downtown a developer has built a brand new neighborhood that recalls, I dunno, Charleston SC? Raleigh never had old neighborhoods that looked like this but I like it just the same.

I biked all along Fayetteville Street through downtown, then turned back cycling west and back to my car for the thirty minute drive home.

Where to bike ride next? It was cold outside; winter has arrived. I wanted to ride but did not want to contribute to the pandemic by warming up inside a closed space like a coffee house or restaurant. I would have to do the bike ride in one fell swoop without rest stops. I drove our Prius just a little over one hour west from Chapel Hill and parked on the street in downtown Thomasville NC (population 25,000.) Here is the bike ride I took.

Thomasville writes its town motto on the downtown public trash cans.

And just a block away was what locals call Big Chair, which has been in the central square of Thomasville NC since 1922.

Big Chair is very big; for sizing see my bicycle in the lower bottom corner of the photo.
On the left is City Hall with the motto In God We Trust

Downtown to downtown, Thomasville NC is only eight miles from the much larger High Point NC. Both cities grew up around the furniture industry, which has declined precipitously in the past twenty years. On this bike ride I saw evidence that this industry has declined but there is still a lot of furniture manufacturing going on. High Point remains a major furniture exhibition site.

I started cycling northwest towards High Point, following the railroad tracks.

Downtown, right across the tracks from Big Chair you can buy your guns.

On the ride to High Point I was able to find relatively minor roads to bicycle on. Thomasville clearly used to be prosperous.

This lovely house is outwardly a mess but the original style continues.

I passed many older brick industrial buildings.

Some that looked like they are used for manufacturing, some as retail, some abandoned, mixed with the occasional auto junkyard.

I passed several manufacturers very much in business.

Future Foam makes foam for the furniture industry.

Thayer Coggin makes modernist sofas

I cycled right by the factory for Thomas Built Buses, whose name I remember from riding the school bus fifty years ago. Thomas Built Buses have all been made here in High Point NC. It is the same company which built the still in use New Orleans streetcars back in the 1920’s.

It is now owned by German-based Daimler.
It is unusual to see a UAW union flag here in North Carolina.

Passing vacant industries on the way to downtown High Point, it sometimes felt creepy. It was a weekday but no one was around.

Downtown High Point has huge exhibition halls for the wholesale furniture trade. Because these buildings are only used a small portion of the year, it felt like a neutron bomb had gone off, killing all living things. Hardly any people or even cars could be seen on this Wednesday afternoon.

Looking up Main Street, High Point NC
This looks like a shopping mall but it is for wholesale furniture just during furniture events.
Just to be sure I got off the bicycle and checked the door. All was locked, no one was around.

Several miles past downtown I cycled towards the Emerywood neighborhood; green lawns and shaded curved streets with early and mid twentieth century houses, It was the only part of High Point that I saw that looked like it was not under stress. My Chapel Hill friend the photographer John Ripley grew up in Emerywood in this house. He recently described this house to me (accurately!) as “halfway between the Episcopal Church and the High Point Country Club.”

John’s childhood home in High Point

I gradually started cycling back towards Thomasville, taking a different route.

I was a decent ride through more industrial areas. Just before I arrived back at my car in Thomasville I passed a pre-WWII gas station.

The gas station has been converted to selling tombstones!

I arrived back at my car on the street in downtown Thomasville and I drove home in time for dinner. I stopped at the Starbucks in south Greensboro for a latte to drink while driving.