Archive for the ‘Central North Carolina trips’ Category

It was two days after Election Day and the Presidential race had still not been decided. Totally unrelated to politics I decided to drive over to Winston-Salem and just cycle around. Why not just start bicycling and see what I see? Winston-Salem is is my wife Tootie’s hometown and I have been coming here for almost forty years. Because of family obligations every time I had come here I had hardly left the family bubble to see what else was in town. On this daylong bike ride I made a concerted effort to bicycle through parts of town that I had never visited. It had taken me an hour and a half to drive from Chapel Hill to the Waughtown neighborhood of east Winston-Salem, an area I had never visited or even heard of. I parked outside the Waughtown branch post office. It was a post office, would anyone care if I park here for six hours?

Tootie, like everyone I have ever met from Winston-Salem, grew up west of downtown. There clearly is a divide between east Winston-Salem and the west. Suburban sprawl moves much further out on the west side than the east.

I bicycled through this east W-S neighborhood, passing small houses and an abandoned factory.

I had always thought that to grow up in Winston-Salem as a kid one would rarely ride a bicycle. It is just too damn hilly. Winston-Salem now has an impressive system of paved greenways that follow stream beds and floodplains. These greenways serve both the wealthier west and the poorer east. Because they are surrounded by steep hills these greenways only serve a small portion of the city and are more useful for exercise than for actually allowing someone to bicycle from place to place. I bicycled over to the greenway a few blocks from the Waughtown post office, then I bicycled through woods on a lovely fall day.

The greenway passed under freeways and a rail bridge.

I cycled on the greenway the several miles that ended at the Old Salem neighborhood which sits just south of downtown. I turned north to cycle on city streets. The tallest building in town is thirty-three stories; a postmodern design by famous architect Cesar Pelli. I once heard a local refer to it as The Penis.

The Penis was built in 1995 as the headquarters of hometown hero Wachovia Bank, an arrangement that only lasted for six years. In 2001 Wachovia merged with First Union and they moved their headquarters to Charlotte.

I bicycled around other tall buildings. Here is the twenty-nine story previous Wachovia headquarters now called Winston Tower. It was the tallest building in North Carolina when built in 1966.

The Nissen Building, from 1927.

The first Reynolds building, Art Deco from 1929.

I turned west and cycled down Fourth Street, then First Street.

Just few blocks west of the traditional downtown is a hilly neighborhood of large circa 1900 houses clinging to the side of a hill; this is Winston-Salem’s first rich people neighborhood, West End. I whizzed down a steep hill on the edge of West End as I looked for Country Club Road that would take me further west. Meanwhile this more middle class neighborhood was off to the left.

This early 20th century apartment building was on the right. It would look better if they had kept the original windows.

I cycled west on Country Club Road, bicycling by, well, the Forsyth Country Club. It is almost ten miles west from downtown to my intermediate destination, the Muddy Creek greenway. There were miles and miles of post WWII suburban brick houses. Country Club Road was pleasant to cycle as long as it was two-lane-with-a-central-turning-lane. Soon Country Club Road became four lane and felt dangerous to cycle, about the time I passed this car wash. What am I missing; what is so urgent that all these people wait in line to get a car wash?

I found residential streets to cycle on.

In the middle of the upscale Cedar Trail neighborhood pictured above I located a short connector to the north-south Muddy Creek Greenway. I turned to a relaxing cycle on the paved path.

It was lunchtime. Almost immediately I came upon a set of rocks that seemed hospitable. I sat down to eat Weaver Street Market bread with peanut butter and jelly. One of the discoveries I have made during this pandemic is that bringing one’s own picnic is usually better quality (and cheaper) than any food you could have bought along the way.

The greenway is about three miles long, running south to north. When the trail ended I turned back east, first onto streets that led me to Robinhood Road, then Milhaven Road and finally Polo Road. Polo Road stretches across the north side of metro Winston-Salem. Several miles directly north of downtown Winston-Salem sits Wake Forest University. I found a pleasant coffee house in a former gas station on Polo Road just north of the university. I stopped for an almond milk latte. I sat peacefully for quite a while, reading. I was a sunny afternoon.

Refreshed and relaxed, I got back on the bicycle and continued cycling east. The scenery changes dramatically in the mile or two after Polo Road leaves the University area. Before, most of the buildings were suburban, brick, and prosperous looking. The landscape had really spoken of country clubs. Relatively quickly I crossed several sets of railroad tracks and the freeway US-52.

The area looked more industrial and lower income. This included a pre-WWII gas station with a faded sign advertising itself as a church.

Texas Pete! North Carolina barbecue, in its classic sense, is frequently garnished with Texas Pete, a red vinegar hot sauce slightly less intense than Tabasco. Texas Pete has nothing to do with Texas other than its name. It comes from Winston-Salem NC and I was thrilled to stumble upon the surprisingly small building where it is made.

Smith Reynolds Airport is just northeast of downtown Winston-Salem. It was the birthplace of Piedmont Airlines, which later merged into USAir and then American Airlines. Smith Reynolds Airport had had scheduled commercial airline service until the year 2000. Travelers from the Winston-Salem area now have to drive to airports in either Greensboro or Charlotte. Smith Reynolds Airport continues to serve general aviation and is named after the troubled heir to the R.J. Reynolds fortune who was an aviation enthusiast. He was fatally shot in 1932 at age 21 in a drunken party at his Winston-Salem estate. No one was ever charged; many claim the family hushed up the whole affair. (Factoid: my father told me he sat next to Smith Reynolds in French class at the boarding school Woodberry Forest, class of 1930!).

The airport terminal is very old-school compared to modern airports.

I was startled to see that American Airlines has chosen this airport to store dozens of bright new huge Boeing 737’s. I do not know if this storage is because of the pandemic or because of the safety grounding of the model 737 MAX. I biked around in circles, trying to find the best spot to get a good photograph.

I turned the bicycle away from the airport, riding south on North Liberty Street, passing this boarded up piece of modernism.

East Winston-Salem looks physically so very different than the country club look of the west side of town.

There was a historic sign marking the significance of a group of houses. The sign noted that Bowen Park, built about 1952, was the first suburban housing development of Winston-Salem built specifically for African Americans.

I found the greenway that would lead me under the US-421 freeway and back to my car parked at the Waughtown post office. These east side greenways are generally well maintained although in some places it feels as if they are rarely used. At one point I had to step over an obstruction.

I bicycled through an industrial area north of Waughtown.

I found my car. I loaded the bicycle in the back and drove the hour and a half back to Chapel Hill.

I parked the Prius on Pierce Street on the edge of the Dilworth neighborhood, about a mile south of downtown Charlotte NC.    I had been a two to three hour drive from my home in Chapel Hill NC.

I have had this idea about bicycling to Rock Hill SC since hearing years ago the Chuck Berry song Promised Land.   There is a famous Elvis version.

Left my home in Norfolk Virginia

California on my mind,

straddled that Greyhound and rode it into Raleigh

and all across Carolina.  

Stopped in Charlotte, bypassed Rock Hill and we never was a minute late,

till we were ninety miles out of Atlanta by sundown, rolling cross Georgia State.

It was 9:30 or 10:00 AM during a pandemic when I started bicycling from Charlotte NC heading towards Rock Hill SC, twenty something miles to the south.   Dilworth is said to be the blueblood neighborhood of Charlotte.   My friend Suzanne lives there; if she is reading this my apologies for not stopping by!   A cat was crossing the road.

Charlotte was not all that big a city eighty years ago so there are not the usual miles and miles of 1900-1930’s houses. Real estate developers are trying to expand the Dilworth footprint by doing teardowns on the northwest side of the neighborhood.   Little 1940’s houses are being replaced by monsters.

While many in the Raleigh/Durham area like to make fun of the place (interstate rivalry!) Charlotte is a national star in creating urbanism without starting with the usual urban fabric.   Their light rail system is a model for other cities.   As I crossed the tracks I could see Uptown (their word for downtown) in the distance.

There is a nice bike path that follows a light rail line heading south southwest from Uptown.

Central urban areas of many U.S. cities have become more bicycle friendly.  The problems for bicyclists arise in the newer suburban areas. Bicycling tends to get more and more dangerous the further from downtown one cycles.   Heading south from central Charlotte, after the bike lane ends there nevertheless is room for a bicycle on the lightly travelled Old Pineville Road as it continues to parallel the light rail line, passing what looks like a refinery.

On the same trajectory I bicycled through this neighborhood.

On the busy Nations Ford Road there was a bike lane, until there was not.

Just a few miles further I crossed the state line into South Carolina.    The South Carolina landscape was a mixture of lovely farms and new housing subdivisions.   The first subdivision had this pretentious name.

They say North Carolina is an island of humility between two mountains of conceit; Virginia and South Carolina.   When cycling in NORTH Carolina one NEVER sees signs for former plantations.   Within a couple miles of arriving into South Carolina I passed a historic sign for the former Springfield Plantation.

It was a Sunday morning.   Onward during this pandemic I passed outdoor worship in a rural area.

I then was able to cycle off the highways by threading through a huge Del Webb real estate development called Carolina Orchard that sits in the South Carolina exurbs of Charlotte NC. I looks a lot like Agrestic, the fictional California town on the TV show Weeds.

I was biking on Business US-21/Old Nation Road and noticed a delightful complete lack of traffic. There was a bridge out; the road was closed. I ignored the signs and continued cycling and was able to bicycle right across this closed bridge.

I bicycled into Fort Mill SC. Just before downtown is this interesting older modernist office complex of the textile company Springs Global.

There is a park next to the Fort Mill SC downtown; I sat on a bench and ate my lunch; peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

My day’s destination, from the Chuck Berry song Promised Land, was Rock Hill SC; only eight miles further. I was already skittish with cycling in heavy traffic. All roads to Rock Hill funneled onto a bridge over the Catawba River. It felt physically risky to keep going. I decided to skip Rock Hill. I turned around and headed back towards Charlotte.

Earlier while cycling through the huge Carolina Orchards development I had seen a high rise by itself a mile or two in the distance. What was a really tall building doing out here? I decided to detour and find out what the skyscraper was doing here.

It was surrounded by a huge parking lot sprouting weeds. I counted twenty-one stories in the building, clearly abandoned and shedding its siding.

On the other side there were a few cars in the lot, parking for an adjacent building.

I now have learned that this abandoned building was a hotel, a remnant of Heritage USA, the Christian theme park opened in 1978 by TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker. It closed in scandal in 1989. Whoa. The buildings next door are now used by the religious group Heritage International Ministries.

I bicycled onward, all the way back towards my car parked in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte NC. As befits such a neighborhood near my car I found a delightful coffee shop.

I bought an almond milk latte with one packet of sugar, to drink in the car on the 2 – 3 hour drive home to Chapel Hill.

I parked the Prius at a Walmart on the southern fringe of Greensboro, just off the “new” I-85.  It had been an hour’s drive from my home in Chapel Hill.

This was to be a day trip, bicycling south towards Randleman NC, a town I had never visited.   I had heard that area was the birthplace and home of eighty-three year old NASCAR legend Richard Petty.   Maybe I could see something about him.

By bicycle I headed south.  Walmarts have lots of mindless impervious surface.


I cycled back over I-85.

Most of the day’s ride was on Randleman Road / US-221 although I veered off the highway whenever possible.


Randleman Road / US 221  used to be a principal highway but it has been bypassed by the newer Interstate from Greensboro heading south.  I saw many older highway businesses; some still operating, some not.


Word salad


On down the road.

Richard Petty went to Randleman High School but he really grew up in the settlement of Level Cross NC, eight miles north of Randleman NC.  To my Chapel Hill readers, Level Cross is really small, a crossroads like Calvander.  The Petty compound is about half a mile from Level Cross.


I read that Petty and most of his extended family live on their compound outside of Level Cross NC.

I bicycled up and parked the bike.   I doubt they get many visitors by bicycle.



There was not much activity here at 9:45 AM on a Monday morning.

The museum was open!   An older woman immediately apologized for not wearing a mask; she did stay socially distant and there were signs asking visitors to wear a mask.   Admission was twelve dollars.  I was the only visitor.




In addition to his cars there were Richard’s possessions, especially his guns.    I will let my readers make their own conclusions about this stuff.






There was his wife’s doll collection.


There were pictures of Richard with every president since Nixon including Obama and Carter but not Clinton.  I am not sure what to make of that.



I said my goodbyes and got back on the bicycle, heading toward Randleman.   I passed this house where people were sitting outdoors.


Randleman (population 4,000) is a former mill town, built originally around a waterfall on the Deep River.   As I crossed the river heading towards downtown this mill looked at least semi-operational.   Sometimes these old mills have been repurposed to other industries.



Randleman is a reasonably attractive town.   Downtown had the usual mostly empty storefronts.




In front of the offices of the local cable provider there was a bench.   I chose to do my lunch here.  There were a couple restaurants in Randleman but in this coronavirus I hate to take chances.  I chose lunch of mixed nuts and Starbucks, both bought at the downtown CVS.   (I love these Starbucks mocha drinks but there is too much sugar; I usually drink half and then toss the remainder.)    I sat on the bench and read The New Yorker on my Kindle.



I eventually got back on the bicycle and rode the seventeen miles back to the south Greensboro Walmart.

I was home in Chapel Hill by late afternoon.

I drove the Prius forty miles from our condo in Chapel Hill and parked it at a feed and hardware store just outside of Yanceyville NC.   Everything was closed on a Sunday morning at 8:30 AM.   Nobody would care if I park here for a few hours, right?  I pulled the Bike Friday out.


Here is the forty-five mile long ride I took that Sunday


Yanceyville (population 2,000) is only served by two lane highways, which is unusual in over-highwayed North Carolina.   Yanceyville’s grocery and drug stores are now a half a mile out of town in strip malls on one of those highways and the downtown has essentially no retail.   An exception is North Road Bicycle Imports, run by an avid reader of my blog.   He sells mostly multi-thousand dollar eccentric English bicycles Pashley and Moulton.

Yanceyville has a few pre-Civil War looking buildings, including the Caswell County courthouse, from 1861.


Yanceyville modern.   Art Deco?   (Yanceyville streamline moderne?)

Enough of Yanceyville!   It was time to cycle down the road, which in this case was NC-62, a stretch of highway that I had never cycled on, heading towards Milton NC, a town that I had never visited or even heard of.


tobacco fields.


Ridin with Biden.




There were a lot of old tobacco barns plus various empty buildings.






I stopped to pee in a patch of woods.   Fifty feet from the highway I was confronted by this empty house with the front door missing.


A Black church was having a service with the parishioners staying in their cars.


Most of North Carolina, especially the western two-thirds of the state, seems to have fewer significant buildings built 1750-1850 than do neighboring Virginia and South Carolina.   Much of North Carolina during the early years of the nineteenth century seemed to have been a backwater.  I have lived in North Carolina for thirty-two years so “discovering” a place like Milton NC was surprising.    Milton (population 166) sits on a bluff overlooking the Dan River and is less than a mile from the Virginia line.

These five buildings all date prior to 1860.



Fairview, built in 1783, the oldest house in Milton.   It was someone’s driveway so I could not get any closer than this.

Downtown Milton NC.


I then biked away from Milton and across the Dan River, where just after was the Virginia state line.   Danville VA (population 41,000) is only thirteen miles from Milton NC.      The poorer suburbs of Danville started sooner.


I saw a lot of Trump flags and signs on this bike ride, much more than Biden.   A demolition-derby car flying this flag was on a trailer was parked in someone’s driveway;  Trump standing on a flaming tank.

I have been following the city of Danville VA for years.    It is a faded tobacco and textile town whose inner-city has slowly been redeveloping.   There is a nice bike path along the Dan River which crosses the river on an old rail line.

There are several historic districts in Danville.  The brick warehouse district was virtually abandoned fifteen years ago; now it seems mostly occupied by apartments and offices but not obviously booming either.


The warehouse district and downtown are in a flat area along the river but Main Street runs uphill.  I am not sure how occupied these tall buildings are; Danville is another city where the tallest extant buildings were completed in the boom 1925-29.


About a mile uphill is a district of late 19th century mansions along Main Street.



Churches were letting out; crowds surged from the closed indoor sanctuary of one with no one wearing a mask; one guy had on a tee shirt with the word FREEDOM on the back.   Almost no businesses were open in central Danville on a Sunday during a pandemic; the one exception was Crema & Vine.  I stopped for an almond milk latte and a slice of their peach and raspberry crumble.  I could sit outside and keep a reasonable distance from anyone else.



I was physically tired; enough that I could actually relax.,   The sugar and coffee buzz was wonderful.   Suddenly on this coffee house PA was a song that almost brought me to tears, a song I had not heard in a long time.  Sure, Lake Charles and Danville have little in common but this one moment was enriching to the soul.   Maybe because of this song Lake Charles LA is still on my to-do bicycling list.   In about 1981 Tom Constantine and I could see the lights of the Lake Charles refineries as we passed by on I-10 in his Datsun pickup truck between New Orleans and Houston.    As I am writing this Lake Charles is being devastated by a hurricane!

After a significant chilling out at Creme & Vine I got back on the bicycle.   I would be about eighteen miles back to the car in Yanceyville NC.   First I bicycled through the neighborhood right behind the coffee house called Old West End, lovely affordable old houses.


This house was for sale.  Built in 1914; 2100 square feet.   I do not know its condition.  $ 69,000.00


I bicycled back downhill through the warehouse district.


Tobacco is still being processed around here.  Bicycling alongside these nondescript warehouses the smell of tobacco was intense.


Virginia stops and North Carolina starts at the Danville VA city limits.   Rather than taking the main road NC-86 I took the back road, most of which is called Old North Carolina Route 86.



My car was still there at the Yanceyville Ace Home & Building Center.  I was able to have a very late lunch back home in Chapel Hill.