Archive for the ‘Coronavirus Diaries 2020’ Category

Here is the bicycle ride Tootie and I took late one afternoon in September 2020.

From the southern tip of the Sandbridge Beach neighborhood of Virginia Beach there is no public road for cars on the barrier island all the way to the North Carolina state line and then a few miles beyond that. When I was in high school in Norfolk/Virginia Beach in the early 1970’s my friend Steve Johnson and I used to bicycle to various political meetings, especially city council sessions. We all thought it very interesting. One of the most impressionable of these early 1970’s events was a public hearing held at the Virginia Beach Dome where adults got really, really upset. The hearing covered a proposal to prohibit most cars on the beach south of Sandbridge, that area of the newly established False Cape State Park. At that time there was a large car-centered culture of driving four-wheel drive and similar vehicles on this remote beach, twelve miles south to the North Carolina line and fifty or sixty miles south to Nags Head NC. It was the Wild West down there. I had gone on such Jeep trips once or twice. That remote beach was like a freeway with thousands of vehicles a day. The beach buggy thing came crashing down with laws in about 1972 prohibiting most vehicles on the beach at the new False Cape State Park. The Trumpian grievance and anger I saw that early 1970’s public hearing is still palpable. Speaker after speaker berated the do-gooders taking away all the fun. No one appeared to care about sea turtles. An elderly woman from a bird watching group was shouted down.

I have lived elsewhere the past forty-something years but I had heard from various sources (especially my friend Patrick Masterson) that False Cape is a great bike ride. I have learned that False Cape State Park is the only state park in Virginia that is essentially non-accessible by private automobile.

It was mine and Tootie’s thirty-seventh anniversary. We got delayed and we did not start riding until after five in the afternoon. It would get dark soon. We parked at the lot of the Back Bay Wildlife Refuge, took our two bicycles from out of the Prius and started riding south, first through part of the wildlife refuge, then into the state park.

We hung at a boat dock overlooking Back Bay.

It was beautiful and silent. Most of the trail is a gravel path a few hundred yards inland from the beach, on a barrier island about a quarter of a mile wide. We saw only two or three other people the whole time we were in the state park. We were just single digits in miles from the North Carolina line but darkness was approaching. We turned around and bicycled back to our car. In the car it was a forty minute drive to my late mother’s house in Virginia Beach where we had a delicious dinner.

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.

Where else to go during a pandemic?   In our home town of Chapel Hill NC we have friend named Connie (married to a guy named Mark).  Connie is originally from Rich Square NC (population 958).   Connie and Mark’s daughter Hadley was our baby sitter back in the 1990’s.    I think Hadley currently lives in Los Angeles CA.  Despite being from Rich Square, Connie has lived in Chapel Hill for at least thirty years.

Thinking about Connie and Rich Square has always made me want to visit that area.   While Connie is white Northampton County is one of several in northeastern North Carolina counties with an African-American majority, a part of eastern and northeastern North Carolina that is truly quite remote.   By car Rich Square NC is two hours from the beach but also an hour and a half east of Raleigh.   Rich Square in an hour and a half both from Richmond VA and Norfolk VA; three hours north of Wilmington NC.   Northampton County has not grown much since the American Revolution.  (population in the year 1800: 12,000; in the year 2020: 19,000)

The weather was predicted to be cooler than the previous days but I still wanted to get an early start.   At about 6:00 AM at home in Chapel Hill NC I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.   Out there in Northampton County during a pandemic I wanted to bring my own food.


It would take slightly over two hours drive to Rich Square even if there was no traffic.    I stopped for coffee at a Starbucks on the east side of Raleigh, forty minutes into the drive, arriving Rich Square at about 9:00 AM.

This is the day trip bike ride I took on this sunny but pleasantly cool Saturday.  

There is no Walmart in Rich Square.   I parked at Rich Square Market, the town’s only grocery store.


I pulled the bicycle out of the car.   Signs pointed to one growth industry out here.


I bicycled south out of town.   The land here is coastal plain; totally flat except an occasional slight hill.


I passed through two small towns, Roxobel NC and Kelford NC, first Roxobel.   It did not look much like a traditional town, just a few buildings interspersed along a highway.  One was the Roxobel Grill.




On this Saturday morning there was some kind of small flea market or farmer’s market going on.

Just two miles from Roxobel,  Kelford NC was even smaller.


This house stood several miles past Kelford.   I speculate that it is really old.

Along the highway also were many trailers.



I had not seen any business that could possibly have employed more than ten people.   It was a surprise to suddenly come up on a huge plant that processes what I assume are chickens.  There were dozens of cars in the parking lot on a Saturday morning.



I circled around the factory on the bicycle before bicycling down the road towards the next town.   It must have once been two towns but is now called Lewiston Woodville NC.   The total population of 549 is not likely not enough to support two downtowns.   The former downtown Woodville just stood by itself on a soybean field.

About a mile away is the former Lewiston NC, now Lewiston Woodville.   There are several actual businesses, including this mid-century modernist bank, along with an abandoned grocery store.


The real commercial action in Lewiston Woodville is now the gas station, just around the corner.


I pedaled through the rest of Lewiston Woodville.

I shared the road with a tractor before heading out of town north on State Highway Eleven.


This road had more traffic than those I had been on previously.


Lacking a picnic table I sat on a guard rail where the highway crossed a swamp and ate the first half of my peanut butter sandwich.  I highly doubt there are alligators around here but I still mildly thought about them being down there.

To get away from traffic I angled off on what the NCDOT calls “Business” Route Eleven.    It was delightful to bicycle since I saw a car only every ten minutes or so.

Another small town!  This time I bicycled through Aulander NC (population 888).   There was a mid-century modernist post office.


Aulander was slightly more put together than the previous three towns but still was not really picturesque.



I only saw two retail establishments in Aulander; a gas station/mini-mart and a Family Dollar.

It would be twelve miles farther back to the town of Rich Square where my car was parked.   For the first time this day I pedaled through tobacco fields.


I had only eaten half my sandwich.   It was time for my second “lunch.”      Once again I sat on a guard rail along the highway.  There was essentially no traffic.

Back on the road

I was back in Rich Square!    I had not seen much of the town when I had left it earlier in the day.


Rich Square has half a dozen retail businesses including a restaurant called Claudine’s.  They had set up tables outside in hopes of attracting customers during a pandemic.   I had already eaten lunch so I had to pass.

I got back in the car and drove two hours home to Chapel Hill.

Who in North Carolina goes on vacation to bicycle around Cincinnati OH?   During a pandemic?   Tootie and I wanted to get away to somewhere cooler while still staying safe and socially distant.   I had never been on the seemingly nice bike trail that connects downtown Cincinnati with much of Ohio;  I only had been to Cincinnati for essentially the first time less than a year ago.   By car Cincinnati would be an eight hour drive:  from Chapel Hill NC I-40 to Winston-Salem then I-77 through Charleston WV, then I-64 West, then Kentucky route 9.

We threw two bicycles in the back of the Prius and left home about 7:00 AM on a Saturday morning.   I took the Surly Long Haul Trucker, Tootie has a Cannondale.   We stopped for coffee at the Starbucks at the Elon College exit on I-85 and the drive was quite painless.  Newport KY is directly across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati.  Reser Bicycle Outfitters in downtown Newport had helpfully advised me by email that parking downtown was free, even for several days.  They advised we were taking our chances parking in this somewhat poor neighborhood.    Whatever.   Our 2005 Prius is not worth much.  We pulled in about 4:00 PM.


We had bags on the back of the bicycles with our changes of clothes.   For the first night we left the car in Newport KY and set out to bicycle the short distance across the river to Cincinnati, then through downtown to an Airbnb.

This is essentially the bike ride we did in one full day and two part days.

Newport KY is almost as old a town as Cincinnati.




We bicycled across the Ohio River on this former rail bridge, originally built in 1872.  It was redone several times before being converted to pedestrian only use in 2001.

Over The Rhine neighborhood is just north of downtown Cincinnati.    Poor and decrepit until relatively recently it has lovely nineteenth century buildings.

We pulled the bicycles up to the address of our Airbnb on a delightfully urban block.    Tootie watched the bicycles while I used the key code we had been given to go inside and check it out.

Once inside the Airbnb one bedroom apartment was quite nice but first we had to carry the bicycles up a steep set of stairs.   It felt very nineteenth century.





A little later was strolled around the neighborhood, looking for a safe space to order a drink.  We found a bar/restaurant that was selling drinks out of the window and where we could sit, spaced out, on the sidewalk.  It was fun to watch the world go by.


On the way back to the Airbnb a mini-mart was closed to normal sales but was selling tacos outside on the street.  We thought about getting some but passed.


There were a few restaurants that had some kind of outdoor seating but we felt safer, and thus more comfortable, watching TV in our Airbnb eating Middle Eastern takeout from the Ohio chain Alladin.

Thankfully our bedroom was in the back and away from the street.   Until the early morning hours there was always something noisily going on across the street at a mini-mart.

The next morning I walked five blocks to Coffee Emporium on Central Parkway and got a cafe au lait, an almond milk latte, and a blueberry muffin and walked them back to the apartment.  Somewhat later we carried the bicycles downstairs and loaded up to head out.


Our destination for the day would be the small riverside town of Milford OH, maybe twenty miles away.   We wanted to get there by threading through the often hilly city streets.

Downtown Cincinnati and the Over The Rhine neighborhood are on a flat area near the Ohio River.   The rest of Cincinnati, even many older neighborhoods, are in the steep hills north of Downtown.




This area is called East Walnut Hills, a streetcar suburb from the late nineteenth century.


We stumbled onto a delightful east-west rail-trail several miles long, the Wasson Way.


We passed through several more neighborhoods and towns like Evanston, Oakley, and Madisonville, with startlingly different economic situations in each; some rich, some poor.


The hills were becoming unpredictable and oppressive so we turned south to finish our ride to Milford along the Little Miami River and its attendant bike path.   We stopped for lunch at the Fifty West Brewery and Burger Bar.  It is interesting to see some restaurants actually doing well during this pandemic.   Fifty West has a huge lawn including multiple beach volleyball courts that have been converted to socially distanced seating.   There were hundreds of people here but it seemed reasonably safe because it was so spread out, and everything was outdoors.    We split an Ohio Burger; cheeseburger with Cincinnati chili,  plus an order of fries.  I got an IPA, she got root beer.


The Little Miami Scenic Trail comes right up to Fifty West and we bicycled the four miles further upstream to Milford OH, population 2,000 and likely to remain that, because the town in wedged in between the river and steep hills.   It seems to function as a touristy getaway.

It had several antique gun stores.



There was a store selling lawn ornaments.


Our Airbnb was quite nice, an inexpensive clean and modern two room apartment above a downtown store called Harvest Market.   Later on we walked down the street to Little Miami Brewing Company, another establishment that has enough outdoor space to accommodate a large crowd that can stay socially distant.   We watched overweight people on kayaks on the river below.

We enjoyed our beer but had had enough of even the idea of crowds.   We walked back to the apartment and ordered takeout pizza from a place called Padrino; we set up a nice dinner in the apartment which had a table and real plates and silverware.

The next morning we headed back towards our car in Newport KY.   First we biked south on the Little Miami Scenic Trail, part of the statewide Ohio to Erie Trail system.



Google Maps shows a continuous trail to Downtown Cincinnati along the river.   On the ground it is more complicated, the trail stops and starts.   We bicycled by Cincinnati’s general aviation Lunken Airport.

Much of the way into Downtown Cincinnati was along Highway 52 along the Ohio River, passing through industrial areas.

Interesting new public school, specially designed for the Ohio River floodplain.

There is a park on the riverfront in Downtown Cincinnati, people were playing pickleball.


Riverfront construction

The pedestrian bridge over the Ohio River to Kentucky was once again a delight.

Our car was still there in Newport KY!   We left about 11:00 AM and got home to Chapel Hill NC in time to make a late dinner.

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.

I was staying with Tootie at my family’s house in Virginia Beach and I drove the car less than an hour north to take a solo three or four hour bike ride on the Eastern Shore.    This involved crossing seventeen mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, one of the longest in the world.

The Eastern Shore (also called the Delmarva Peninsula) even now can be one of the most remote places on the East Coast of the United States.  Here is the bicycle ride I took that morning.

Press the minus sign on the map above, look how this tip of Virginia ends at the water.   Imagine how isolated this area was before the Bridge Tunnel was completed in 1964.   With the toll on the bridge $14.00 each way, the area is still not visited all that often.

I left the Prius right near the end of the bridge at a parking area for a rail trail in the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge.   The five mile long rail-trail parallels the main highway US13.

I bicycled north.   There was no one around, it was peaceful.



The smooth paved bike path on a former rail line continues for five miles both starting and ending at essentially nowhere, ultimately depositing a bicyclist on lovely empty country roads that pass through a flat landscape.




I passed this small post office.  Capeville VA 23313.



Almost every house out here had at least one boat in the yard.




I passed through the town of Cheriton VA, population 487.

I think they were saluting the flag at 8:30 AM, I am not sure.



I bicycled onward the four miles to the largest town in the area Cape Charles VA (population 1,000.)    Just outside of town I passed a perfectly preserved gas station of the brand Pure.  I think somebody now uses this as a residence.  I used to see these stations all over as a child when my family was on car trips.


In central Cape Charles I saw another former Pure station.

Despite being three miles from the main highway US-13 Cape Charles appears prosperous.  Apparently the town has become a destination unto itself.   Founded as a planned community by a railroad in the late nineteenth century,  Cape Charles was the endpoint of a rail line that ran the length of the Delmarva Peninsula, where rail cars were put on ferries to Norfolk.   Cape Charles was also the loading point for the car ferry to Norfolk.   This business went away after the Bridge Tunnel was completed in 1964.   Today Cape Charles preserves its turn of the twentieth century appeal.



Now there are actually a few new condos being built in downtown, as well as a brewery and restaurants.


There is a small beach.  It looks like the ocean but there are no sizable waves because it is the Chesapeake Bay.

Near the waterfront the older houses are larger.

On the way bicycling out of town I saw people social distancing while waiting in line at a pastry store.

It would be about seventeen miles back to my car in the wildlife refuge, cycling a different route through flat rural landscapes.


This crop duster had no fence around it, I was able to bicycle right up to it.


I passed through a small village called Cheapside.



I arrived back at my car by noon; I was able to have lunch back at the house in Virginia Beach.

I follow the weather obsessively on my I-phone.  I had just bicycled in the mountains of North Carolina.  Where else could I bicycle tour during a pandemic with cooler weather?  It seemed just plain hot everywhere.  How far north would I have to drive to find weather not so oppressive?   What type of 2 -3 night bicycle tour could I take in cooler weather during a pandemic that would entail minimal risk either to myself or to others?

I picked a spot on the map ten miles south of the New York State line, a Walmart parking lot on the north side of the town of Warren PA, on the northern edge of the huge mountainous forests that cover northwestern Pennsylvania.  Here is the bike ride I did over 3-4 days.

It had been a ten hour drive from Chapel Hill NC.  At four in the afternoon I pulled the Bike Friday from the back of the Prius in the parking lot of a Walmart in Warren PA.   Other people there did not seem to notice.  I was making a big assumption that Walmart would not care if I left our car here for 3-4 days.


After the long drive I needed to do some bike riding to clear my head and loosen my body after sitting for so long.   It was eighteen miles north on US-62 to the small city of Jamestown NY.   The temperature was eighty degrees, about ten degrees cooler than North Carolina.


In ten miles I bicycled across the New York state line.   Once in New York the two lane road had a shoulder even wider than Pennsylvania’s, making for less stressful bicycling.   Geography fans take note:  this area is nowhere near New York City.  It is 400 miles from New York City, almost as far as the 560 miles back to Chapel Hill NC.


Jamestown NY is the birthplace of not only Lucille Ball but also the band 10,000 Maniacs and their lead singer Natalie Merchant.  I have always found far upstate New York fetching;  to me it just seems exotic, so unlike my native South.   A factory town, Jamestown was the birthplace of the Crescent wrench.   Jamestown used to claim itself Furniture Capital of the World but the city was more run down than I had expected.   It has been losing population for years.  (Its population in 1910: 31,000; in 1950: 43,000; in 2019: 29,000.)



Entering Jamestown I saw an attractive small house for sale:  $64,000.00

Other houses were not as well kept up.   In a region where many buildings do not have air conditioning there were lots of people hanging outside in the early evening.


I was a little worried that my Airbnb might be also in a sketchy neighborhood but the vibe improved just a block or two before I biked up to the house listed as my Airbnb address.

It was about six thirty in the evening.   During this pandemic where and how to enjoy food safely while on a bicycle tour becomes a major hurdle.   I was not interested in a crowded restaurant even if there had been one to go to.  Having found the specific location of my sleeping accommodations, before checking in I bicycled a mile downhill to downtown to look for some kind of dinner.  Many restaurants downtown were closed but a few were open for takeout including an Italian place called Sauce.   I phoned in an order for eggplant Parmesan, to go.   They said it would be ready in twenty minutes.   While waiting I noodled by bicycle around downtown Jamestown.   Sights included the Lucille Ball Museum and their new hopeful attraction, the National Comedy Center.   Jamestown also joins my list of cities where the tallest building even now was built during the 1920’s building boom.










My to go dinner was ready.



Balancing a styrofoam container of eggplant-with-cheese-and-penne-pasta-and-tomato-sauce on the handlebars of a bicycle is challenging but I managed to cycle the one mile uphill back to the house where a couple slightly older than me Airbnbs their spare bedroom.   I met the man in his driveway at a distance.

The house has an attractive front porch on which I laid the styrofoam container of  eggplant.


This Airbnb turned out to be quite nice, but after leaving the next day I resolved to do better next time, to be even more vigilant at keeping physical distance.

On arriving I told the man I wanted to take a shower and then could I eat on their porch?    I put on my mask before we got close and entered his house.  He told me not to bother with the mask but I kept it on anyway.   I made sure not to get close to him and his wife, especially indoors.    I had wanted to eat alone on their porch.  When I finished my shower and came outside he or his wife had picked up my eggplant in styrofoam (without asking me) and put it on their porch dining table, inviting me to eat and talk with them outside while he and his wife played a board game similar to Scrabble.    Because of the pandemic it made me uncomfortable but as they were nearly six feet away, across the table, and it was all outdoors, I decided to stop being uptight and enjoy the evening.   I talked to them for about an hour; they were very friendly. She was born in Sicily.  He has worked mostly in construction.  They have three grown sons who all still live in Jamestown; the oldest is fifty.  For thirty years they lived just outside of Jamestown in a house with a large yard but they moved into this city house three years ago.  Our conversation danced around the political situation.  I think he is a Trumper but he never said so explicitly.

Keeping an Italian-American tradition, my fried eggplant and pasta portion from the restaurant was huge;  enough for about three people.   My hostess encouraged me to put it in their refrigerator and “save it for lunch tomorrow.”    During a pandemic that is not such a bad idea.

My room upstairs was fine.  With a window unit it was the only room in the house with A/C.


In contrast to the other decor in the room, maybe because Jamestown used to be Furniture Capital of the World, the dresser in my bedroom was mid-century modern, probably an original from the 1950’s-60’s.    I really like it.

My hosts had both departed the next morning at 7:30 AM leaving their house to me, telling me to just to lock the door on the way out.   At about 8:30 AM I packed up my stuff.   After putting my trunk bag on the back of my bicycle, on the way out I went to the refrigerator, got the container of leftover eggplant parmesan, and strapped it on top.  Lunch!

For breakfast I cycled downtown and found coffee (almond milk latte) and oatmeal at the locally owned Crown Street Roasting Company.   I could sit on the sidewalk and be socially distant.  It was very pleasant, totally relaxing.  It made me want to sit there all day.


I got back on the bicycle and started cycling westward along the southern shore of Chautauqua Lake, which is seventeen miles long and up to two miles wide.  I realized pretty quickly that the residential money and energy of Jamestown had been transferred to the lakeshore, starting with Celoron NY, adjacent to Jamestown,  which claims to be the REAL birthplace of Lucille Ball,.


As I biked along the shore I could see Chautauqua Lake between the houses or on a dead end street.


I had first heard of the Chautauqua Institution from my late mother, maybe ten or fifteen years ago, when she was in her late seventies or early eighties.  She was going with a friend to some kind of two to three day event at this place, quite a long distance from her home in Virginia Beach.  Chautauqua Institution was started by Methodists as an adult education movement over a hundred years ago.   It is a now a tony summer resort that has “serious” events such as lectures and concerts.   I had assumed I could just noodle through on a bicycle.   I had not expected an almost military level of security which appears to pre-date this pandemic.


I did not want to get involved in any personal contact, even if they might let me in.   I just biked on, occasionally looking through the fence.

In the next town Mayville NY I found a park with nice empty picnic tables under a shelter.   I pulled out the eggplant parmesan.   I assumed since there was no meat it was fine even though it had been out for several hours without refrigeration.

water skiing

It would be another twenty something miles to my day’s destination of Dunkirk NY where I had booked a hotel room.   Mayville NY has a nice paved bike path along the north shore of Chautauqua Lake.


I then bicycled through the New York State countryside.



I saw quite a few horse drawn vehicles used by what I assume are Amish.


As I neared the Lake Erie coastline there were enormous fields of grapevines.   I saw them both this day and the next.   I wondered, what kind of wine is made here?   This sign answered the question; Welch’s Grape Juice.




I had never heard or thought of Fredonia NY before, but it seems a nice town, home of State Univ of NY at Fredonia.   Following a trend I have seen all over America, where “normal” towns usually look worse for wear “college” towns almost always appear prosperous.    Fredonia looks much more put together than the Jamestown I had left that morning.

Fredonia and neighboring Dunkirk NY are pretty much one continuous town in the four miles from downtown Fredonia to the Lake Erie waterfront in Dunkirk.   The previous evening I had booked this hotel which fronts Lake Erie.


Where to have dinner without getting near anyone?   There was a quite good Mexican takeout across the highway from the hotel.   I got two tacos plus beans and rice, all to go.   I had bought a bottle of wine earlier in the day.


The hotel’s restaurant was closed because of the pandemic and the outdoor seating clearly had not been used since the previous summer. I found a spot among the empty chairs and tables and had waterfront al-fresco dining by myself from styrofoam containers.   It was nicer than it looks, very relaxing.

After dinner I strolled around the Lake Erie waterfront at sunset.



I was paranoid about germs on the remote control so I used a tissue when watching TV.    The room was nice; unlike most mainstream hotel rooms in the South, up here they have windows that open, with screens.     I could listen to the lake at night.    At first I thought clucking sounds were of birds, it turned out the repeated noise was the boats knocking into the piers with the gentle waves of the lake.

It would be about fifty miles the next day along the Erie lakefront north to the big city of Buffalo NY.    I booked an Airbnb in South Buffalo and headed out from Dunkirk .   Because of the pandemic the hotel did not have their normal breakfast buffet; instead they had to-go paper bags each with an apple and a packaged granola bar.   And coffee.   It would have to do.

I rode through various towns along the lake.

A Great Lake is amazing, it seems like the ocean.    Along Route 5 one could occasionally see Lake Erie through someone’s yard.




There was one point where the highway came right along the lake and this old guy had stopped for a swim.   He was talking on the phone.

I passed this place; statues for sale.

Highway 5 runs through the Seneca Nation for several miles.


This was at an American Indian-run gas station.  I had thought these caricatures were considered offensive.


Twenty-three miles south of Buffalo is the small lakeside working class community of Angola NY.   I remember from 1988-92 watching Duke basketball on TV and a figure that many UNC supporting friends consider sent by the devil himself.   At the start of each Duke game at the announcing of the lineups “from Angola New York Christian Laettner.”    Angola is mostly residential but has a couple of beach-town looking bars opening onto the lake.

Also in Angola was the kind of grocery store we hardly have in North Carolina;  a locally owned grocery store that has an Italian deli selling submarine sandwiches.

In the South we have all sorts of ways of excluding people but uniquely Yankee is the practice of using stickers and badges to denying access to public parks to those who does not live in that specific town or county.  I ignored the sign and set up an outdoor lunch of the delicious sandwich from the grocery store.  People usually do not bother people on bicycles.  (on the sign “No Bikes”)  It was peaceful, no one else was around.



I chilled for a while in the park but eventually got back on the bicycle for the final stretch into Buffalo.   After a few miles I rumbled to a stop with a flat tire.    There was a bench on the edge of someone’s yard next to the highway where I could sit in the shade while I pulled off the wheel and patched the tube.


Starting in the late 1800’s Buffalo’s elite started building big summer houses fronting Lake Erie on Lake Shore Road.



I bicycled by the entrance to a large house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that is usually open to the public but was closed due to the pandemic.   A fence and hedges blocked the view.   Here is a photo taken from the internet.

At a park called Woodlawn looking in one direction you could see downtown Buffalo in the distance.

In another direction it just looked like the ocean.


Slightly further on was this interesting public library building.


I am not sure what to say about this house.  It was trashier looking than the photo indicates.


I was getting close to my Airbnb in South Buffalo.    It is startling how many Catholic facilities one passes in the Buffalo area.

In an otherwise nondescript suburban area surrounded by gas stations I stumbled onto this impressive place of worship, Our Lady of Victory Basilica.    Completed in 1928, it was built mostly due to the lobbying and fundraising by one man, Father Baker.   I think the architecture looks a little Mussoliniesque but it is more likely that Fascists copied church architecture than the other way around.

This is the neighborhood of my Airbnb.

My Airbnb took up the entire first floor of this house.


It was larger and more expensive than I needed but it was the only Airbnb I could find that was totally accessible by key code.   In this pandemic I did not have to interact with any human and I had the whole space to myself, a lovely and very clean early 20th century two bedroom apartment decorated with all sorts of posters promoting Buffalo.


What to do about dinner?   There were several restaurants within walking distance but most were Irish pubs or similar types of bar food, mostly for takeout only.   I had been eating out greasy meat for three days and craved vegetables.  I had just bicycled fifty miles and was really hungry.    A nice grocery store was within easy bicycling distance.   The apartment had a fully equipped kitchen including a few staples, like olive oil.   I could cook for myself!

Biking to the store I enjoyed looking around this Buffalo neighborhood by bicycle.









After going to the grocery store here is what I came “home” with, total cost $ 8.32.   A roll, a small head of broccoli, one ear of corn, a package of sliced portobello mushrooms, a package of three uncooked hot Italian sausages, and one head of garlic.


These ingredients were available in the kitchen.  (Someone must live here when not Airbnbing!)


I made this up as I went along.    I first cut the stem off the broccoli and cut each floret into bite sized pieces.


I boiled a saucepan of water and boiled the broccoli for about three minutes, then drained it and rinsed it with cold water.

The store did not sell less than three sausages so I conceded that I would have to leave two sausages unused here at the Airbnb.   I took out one sausage and cut it in half.


I took the half of a sausage out of the casing and squeezed it into a frying pan.

After a few minutes I took the sausage out to a plate and then added the sliced mushrooms and garlic with a little olive oil.

After the mushrooms had reduced by half I cut the corn off the cob and added this to the mushrooms.


I put the cooked broccoli and cooked sausage pieces back in the frying pan, keeping it all cooking for a few more minutes.

For a moment I panicked because I realized this kitchen had no SALT.    Luckily they had this steak seasoning which added a lot of zap.

I cut the bun in half and put it in the toaster.



I cooked the other half of the piece of sausage in another frying pan.


I still had the wine from the previous day.





The next morning I had a plan.  It would start with a fifteen mile bike ride, from my Airbnb to downtown Buffalo, then through Buffalo’s trendier districts in the north of the city, before turning east and cycling to the Buffalo/Niagara airport, where I had reserved an Enterprise Rentacar.   I would drive the car two hours back to an Enterprise office in Warren PA, drop the car off and then cycle the two miles back to my Prius that I had left at the Warren Walmart.    I would then put the bicycle in the car and drive home ten hours to North Carolina.    It was a lot to do.  I had to start early.  (I always wake up early anyway!)   I bicycled out onto the street in South Buffalo at 6:15 AM.   It was a lovely cool morning.


The city of Buffalo has lost half its population in the last sixty years.    Obviously there are going to be empty buildings somewhere.   Once out of the Cazenovia Park neighborhood where I had spent the night and got closer to downtown Buffalo, I started to see more empty buildings.


I had no idea Buffalo has a huge Tesla factory, it makes solar panels and cells at the site of a former steel mill.  I just stumbled onto this by bicycle at 6:45 AM.

Even closer to downtown Buffalo, which to an alien-from-another-planet should be the most valuable real estate in the city, I watched the sun rise over streets that must have formerly had houses and were now sitting empty.  The collective racism of our real estate market?

Here is a Trump flag in the window in a nearby desolate neighborhood.

When I lived in New Orleans with Tootie in the 1980’s we were taught the racist idea that a white person should never go anywhere near public housing.   Those ideas are dated and wrong.  In 2020 I biked passed a Buffalo project at 7:00 AM.


I know how to solve the urban problem!  Let’s build a casino!   Buffalo must have bought the same consultant’s  report as many other cites.  I biked past their casino just immediately south of downtown.


In the casino parking lot was a Covid-19 test site.


Downtown Buffalo has some lovely tall buildings.


North of downtown are some attractive residential neighborhoods.

I turned right and started cycling eastward towards the airport.   The neighborhoods got poorer.



These were definitely sketchy neighborhoods but I never felt threatened bicycling through them, certainly not at 7:45 AM.   I really did not see many people.   I eventually arrived at the Buffalo airport, which feels like it is right in the urban fabric.   In this pandemic the airport parking lot was nearly empty.

It really was not difficult to bicycle right up to the airport terminal.    I got a car (Mini Clubman!) with no problems.   It was only 8:10 AM when I started driving.   Chapel Hill NC was more than six hundred miles to the south.    I first had to drop the rental car off two hours south in Warren PA.  The Enterprise Rentacar office was near downtown Warren.    I had to bicycle two miles out to the Walmart where I had left my car.  I was surprised how attractive Warren PA was, a place I had never heard of prior to this trip.

I got home to Chapel Hill at 9:00 PM, in time to eat dinner at home.

There’s a pandemic and it is hot.  What to do?  Whatever bike riding one does, it has to be done early.   I left home at 6:45 AM and drove the white Prius thirty-five miles from Chapel Hill NC to the northern edge of Sanford NC.  I skipped breakfast and coffee.   Sanford (population 28,000) is by government statistics considered part of the Raleigh/Durham area, although far off to the west and south.  Sanford is geographically in the middle of North Carolina, forty-two miles west of Raleigh and sixty miles southeast of Greensboro.   It seems to always have been a factory town.  It is the seat of Lee County, which I just learned today was formed as a county only in 1907 and named of course for General Lee, just at the height of the stirring up of memories of the “lost cause” and new state laws restricting African-Americans.   Robert E Lee was NOT from North Carolina, as if anyone needs to be reminded of that.

Sanford is also “Brick City” because it sits in an area where the red clay of the North Carolina Piedmont meets the Sandhills.   There are several brick making facilities here.  I stopped on a Sunday morning at 7:30 AM at the parking lot of Lee Brick & Tile, about five miles north of downtown,   It seemed a good place to leave the car; who would care if I parked on a Sunday?   There were brick samples in the yard in front of the office.




I headed by bicycle south towards downtown.   The last few miles into Sanford are on a stretch of the original Maine/Florida US-1.   Back in the late eighties/early nineties I used to drive repeatedly to Sanford for air freight sales calls.  I am struck how by how little has changed in this stretch of road in thirty years.  All these signs and buildings look the same.





Dodge Trucks are now just called Ram.


I saw several pre-WWII gas stations.

This one is now a mini-mart and a church!

These two are more likely postwar but I like their style.



I continued on towards downtown.




Sanford is a factory town that is also a railroad town.  (Amtrak’s NY to Florida train comes right through here but does not stop.)




Mid-century modernism!



Sanford is one more town where even today the tallest building in Sanford was built during the 1920’s real estate boom.  The Hotel Wilrik of 1925 has been senior housing for many years.



I biked much further to the south and east as Sanford sprawls towards Fayetteville.


I am not sure what this means.

The St. Luke UMC is an impressive piece of modernism.

I had been biking around Sanford for over two hours.   It was getting hot.   I biked back to the car and was home before eleven in the morning.


Like everything else in the pandemic, this trip was put together at the last minute.  My frequent riding partner Lyman lives in Austin TX.  We wanted to get together to bicycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A friend of his suddenly had a family emergency in Hendersonville NC and the friend decided to drive the 1,100 miles from Austin TX.   Who wants to fly anymore?   Lyman caught a ride for himself and his folding bicycle.  The guy let Lyman off early in the evening at a cheap motel on the fringes of Asheville NC.   The following morning I drove the four hours from Chapel Hill NC to Asheville.    We used the motel parking lot as a starting point for a three day bike ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway.    I parked my car and pulled my bicycle out of the back.   Lyman circled around on his Bike Friday.


The Blue Ridge Parkway stretches for 469 miles  through North Carolina and Virginia.  We obviously would be cycling only a small portion.  During a covid-19 pandemic what would be a way to overnight on the Parkway without putting ourselves or anyone else at significant risk?   Twenty-four hours before I left home I had reserved two rooms at the Pisgah Inn, elevation five thousand feet, one of the very few hotels that are right on the Parkway.   From the Asheville motel it was thirty miles of road and three thousand feet of elevation gain (uphill!).  We could then use the Pisgah Inn as a base for more cycling.

As a covid-19 mitigation effort Lyman and I decided it would not be that difficult for us to stay socially distant from each other for the entire trip.  We bicycled out into Asheville suburbia.    The Parkway was about three miles away.  Once on the Parkway it was up and down for about four miles.   After crossing the French Broad River the Parkway started climbing seriously.    It was an overcast day.  Pretty quickly it felt like we were lifting up into the clouds.



Yes, it was all uphill but if you put the bicycle in the lowest gear and kept pedaling the bicycle indeed kept moving.    My shirt was soaked in sweat even though the temperature was in the sixties.  We pulled over repeatedly.


I had made some peanut butter sandwiches.   We stopped and ate those while sitting on a guardrail in the mist.   About four in the afternoon we finally pulled into the Pisgah Inn.   It sits by itself in the wilderness at five thousand feet, overlooking mountain ranges to the south and east.


We got separate first floor rooms next door to each other.   Each had a large wide balcony overlooking the stormy sky.    Occasionally the sun would poke through.


We had checked in across a plexiglass screen.  Pisgah Inn seems to be taking the mask and social distancing thing seriously but they did not have outdoor dining.  They do have indoor dining with tables spaced out.  If you are going to worry about catching some disease how much fun would dinner be?   When asked Pisgah Inn will let you take your dinner with real dishes and real silverware back to your balcony.



Elsewhere in North Carolina it was a punishingly hot summer day.  Here at five thousand feet it was pleasantly chilly and drizzly.   Comfort food like homemade chicken pot pie and red wine really hit the spot.   We ate on Lyman’s balcony, outdoors and socially distant.  Delightful.

The next morning the view out our balconies was brighter.  I could poke my head around the barrier and see what Lyman was doing next door.

After breakfast we left for a daylong up and back bike ride further south.   The hotel sells to-go sandwiches in the gift shop and we bought one to carry with us to split for lunch.   South of the Pisgah Inn the for the first six miles the Parkway edges mostly downhill.  It then starts mostly uphill for miles and miles, peaking at the highest point on the Parkway, sixty-one hundred feet.





There were a lot of motorcyclists.   At one overlook this guy was using a selfie stick.


To get to sixty-one hundred feet we would have had to descend somewhat and then climb again.  We turned around at fifty-five hundred feet.


There are picnic areas along the Parkway and we stopped at one to have our lunch.  Hardly anyone was around.  Later we passed an overlook where cars park for the quarter mile walk to a popular waterfall, the Skinny Dip Falls.   It was startling to see so many people.

I am sure the waterfall is beautiful.   While many were wearing masks and it was obviously all outdoors, during this pandemic we had no interest in joining any kind of crowd.  We cycled on.  Part of the time we were in the clouds.


The rhododendron was lovely.


We eventually made it back to the Pisgah Inn.    Later on we ordered dinner and carried it back to our room.  Lyman got mountain trout with blueberry butter, me pasta with grilled chicken.


We again ate seven feet apart outdoors on the balcony, enjoying the view and the vibe.


The next morning we “cycled” back to Asheville.   I put that in quotes because so much of the way involved just piloting the bicycle downhill, it was like riding a motorcycle.    At one point I stopped and looked back at Lyman heading towards me.


The Parkway does a good job of always appearing to be in the wilderness.   Once we left the Parkway near Asheville we quickly realized we were back suburban America.    We cycled through the tony neighborhoods of Biltmore Forest, then the Biltmore Forest Country Club.

We cycled uphill into downtown Asheville.


We sat far apart but shared a hummus plate at an outdoor table that sat pleasantly lonely at an establishment called Foggy Mountain.     We then bicycled back to the car.   I drove Lyman to Hendersonville before driving home.   Just to finish our social distancing, for the half hour car trip we both wore masks and rode with the windows down.