Archive for the ‘Coronavirus Diaries 2020’ Category

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.


Is there some way to take a safe overnight trip and not contribute to the pandemic problem?

Also, it is too hot to bicycle most places close to home during early July.   I even thought of driving up into Pennsylvania or Ohio to bicycle but temperatures there were also predicted to be in the nineties.

At elevation in the North Carolina/Virginia mountains there is cooler summer weather.   The major problem with bicycle touring on the Blue Ridge Parkway is that it is devoid of services.   Even drinking water is not always available.   The Parkway was specifically built to give automobile passengers an experience of being outside of commercial culture.   While it is not a problem for a car traveler that most motels and restaurants are several miles off the parkway, usually down a long hill, that can be challenging on a bicycle, especially when you have already been pedaling up and down hills all day.

I did find one small inn just north of the Virginia line that was near the Parkway and I booked a room for one night over the phone.  There would be no restaurant or grocery stores so I had to bring my own food.   On a recent morning I drove three hours up from Chapel Hill NC and parked at the Smart View Recreation Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, elevation about 2500 feet.  It was not near any town but the closest ones are Floyd VA,  Hillsville VA and Meadows of Dan VA.  It would be a forty mile bicycle ride south on the Parkway to my inn.    I brought a change of clothes, two water bottles, lunch, dinner, and breakfast, and my ukulele.


The Blue Ridge Parkway is a delight to bicycle.   In this section there were stretches of ten or fifteen minutes between seeing a car.  Sometimes it felt like a giant bike path.  About half of the vehicles passing me were motorcycles.  The Parkway was built at a time when going for a car ride could be a liberating experience.  Who thinks like that now?   On a bicycle the weather was cool and the scenery lovely.





I stopped for lunch at the Rocky Knob picnic area.   I think it used to be a campground.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is funded and maintained by the National Park Service.   The picnic tables were totally falling apart.

If we are the richest country in the world why do we have to beg for donations?


I had said there were no stores on the Parkway but at the Meadows of Dan interchange within sight of the Parkway was this touristy store with real coffee.   I sat on the porch in a rocking chair and had my usual mid-afternoon cup of joe.


It had been a long but nourishing bike ride when I pulled into my motel at about 5:00 PM.

I was their only guest, but she said they were going to be full the following night. The Inn portion was like a suburban house divided into about eight rooms. Sixty-nine dollars including tax is a good deal.  The very welcoming proprietress apologized for the room decor which she said was too feminine.  She said she had a masculine-themed room that was not available. (!)



There is a great YouTube video of some guy with an English accent who cooks a chicken dinner in a motel room, using the coffee maker, iron, and hair dryer as heating units.   Here I had more tools than that.  This motel room had a microwave plus dishes and utensils, but no stove or pots and pans.   I have almost no experience in cooking solely with a microwave.   Can you boil pasta in a microwave, using a large coffee cup?  Apparently you can.

These were my groceries before leaving home in Chapel Hill, stuff I already had in my pantry.  I packed it all onto the back of my bicycle.    1/4 of a bag of Pisgsah Crunch mixed nuts trail mix, 1/4 of a box of pasta, the most expensive sardines I could find, one peanut butter sandwich for lunch, one piece of local Eco Farms squash, one unshucked ear of corn, 1/2 cup of plain raw oatmeal for breakfast, one chunk cheddar cheese, 1/4 of a box of local cherry tomatoes, Tupperware containers of olive oil and salt.  One lime.


Despite my lack of experience cooking in a microwave with no pots and pans it really worked!   I had corn on the cob as an appetizer course, then the main course of noodles with cheddar cheese and tomatoes with sardines on the side.   I have recently learned that good sardines are really delicious.  (Kudos to Bob from Tampa on his recent email to me about finding quality canned Spanish and Portuguese seafood.)


After finishing the pasta I sliced up the squash on the plate and added olive oil, salt, and lime juice and then microwaved it.   I had opened the window to the motel room, it was nice to have fresh air without the noise of an air conditioner.  Nevertheless eating in the room was too hot.  I took everything outside onto the porch.   There was a lovely view in the cool evening air.


It is really quiet out here, I could relax with the window open at night and listen to the silence.   I woke up the next morning, watched Morning Joe on TV, then prepared my oatmeal in the microwave.   Next to the coffee maker there were sugar packets; I added a packet on top of my oatmeal.

The woman who runs this place has interesting yard art.

On the bicycle I headed back out the way I had come the day before.   The Parkway was again lovely.


Stopping at the one gift shop/restroom building that I passed there were not a lot of masks or social distancing going on, although this was outdoors.


My car was still there and I made it home to Chapel Hill in time for dinner.




I really like Richmond, which is a two and a half hour / 166 mile drive from my home in Chapel Hill.  I can drive up there for the day.   On this trip I wanted to see the condition of the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.   I drove off the freeway and looked for a place to park on the south side of town, across the James River from the main part of the city.    It was a neighborhood of trucking terminals and empty industrial spaces looking like a good place to dispose of a body.   On this Sunday morning no one was around so I figured my car would be OK for a few hours.  (Our 2005 Prius is full of dents and not really worth all that much!)  I pulled out my bicycle.  I had brought the Surley because fatter tires would be more comfortable on bumpy streets.


I bicycled towards the James River and the rest of Richmond.   This sketchy industrial wasteland only lasted about three blocks before I saw the first sign of gentrification, a former industrial space that has been converted to upscale housing.


On this trip I discovered thriving and growing urban neighborhoods south of the Fan that I had not biked through before.  Many of the late nineteenth century houses are smaller and some made of wood.   The Southside of the James River neighborhood of Manchester was typical.


In between older areas that had been torn down there was new construction going up all over the place.

Three of my four great-grandfathers fought for the Confederacy but I realized many years ago that their cause was wrong.   My first introduction in Richmond to Confederate “heroes” was passing over the James.


Earlier I had seen this while driving.


Most of Richmond is on the north side of the river.   I again passed through neighborhoods I had not seen before and I was impressed, thriving urban spaces south of I-195.


North of Cary Street I entered the large neighborhood called The Fan.  Houses were built bigger and fancier.

Monument Avenue runs along the north side of The Fan.   As a street and a piece of urban planning it is lovely.   Richmond has become a happening cosmopolitan city and to advance further as a city it might not be able to accept what these Confederate statues represent.   Bob Lee is the oldest and largest, erected in 1890 as part of the real estate development that was Monument Avenue.   It looked peaceful when I took this photo of the statue in October 2019.


This is what it was like on Sunday June 14,  2020.  It felt like the Berlin Wall is coming down.




The atmosphere was festive and friendly at 11:00 AM on a Sunday morning.  A group was performing some kind of dance routine.  This video is only twenty three seconds long.


African Americans were taking pictures of each other standing at the base of the graffiti covered statue.  They appeared to be proud to be there with their children to record this event.



“Give me liberty or give me death” was quoted by Patrick Henry in 1775 only about a mile away from here.



I bicycled up and down Monument Avenue on a delightfully unseaonably cool sunny day.   People. that I assume include residents of this upper class neighborhood were out in force, including picnickers.








The Jefferson Davis memorial is Monument Avenue’s most egregious; it honors less the man (who was not a Virginian) than the cause and the ideology.  This is what it looked like when I photographed it in October 2019.  The relatively small statue of Davis stands at the center.


The statue of Davis is gone now.  It was torn off by a crowd about a week ago.





The other three Civil War era statues were all covered in graffiti but not otherwise damaged.

Stonewall Jackson


Matthew Fontaine Maury


J.E.B. Stuart




The Arthur Ashe statue stands further west and was untouched on this Sunday morning, although I have since heard that a contrary group has defaced it slightly.



I stopped and took a break for my lunch (vegan chicken salad from Weaver Street Market in Carrboro NC on seven grain bread, carried with a gel pack to keep it cool) at the tiny but peaceful Scuffletown Park.


I turned to bicycle back to my car.   I passed through the Byrd Park neighborhood, another area that I had not previously bicycled through.

I crossed the James River on the Boulevard toll bridge.  The James River provides white water action right here in the city.


Back in the Manchester neighborhood near my car I got an almond milk latte to drink during the drive home.   Brewer’s Cafe is a locally and African-American owned coffee shop.

I was back in Chapel Hill NC about 4:30 PM.

About two weeks ago a friend emailed and asked if I could do my next bike ride to Chase City VA and document it.   This was a first.  How could I refuse?  He is an old friend and has been an enthusiastic reader of my blog.  He really wanted to read about Chase City.  It helped that Chase City is not too far from my home in Chapel Hill NC.

I have known Tom since we were five years old.   As teenagers we did all sorts of stuff including extensive bike rides.  Later, Tom was a high school teacher on an American military base in Germany for thirty years until his retirement last year.   He continues to live in Europe in a rural area where he and his wife can keep their own horses.

Tom and I grew up about a mile apart in Virginia Beach; his father was a dentist; his mother a housewife.  Both Tom’s parents were originally from Chase City VA and both his parent’s families went back many generations in Chase City.  When I visited Tom’s house in Virginia Beach as a child his parent’s talk frequently was about Chase City.  Other than Tom I do not know anyone who knows anything about Chase City VA; I had otherwise never heard of the place.

Chase City is in the heart of a region of Virginia called Southside.   With the exception of a few areas in the mountains Southside is the poorest and most remote part of Virginia.  After college in the late 1970’s both Tom and his older sister separately moved to Chase City and its environs.  Tom lasted five years teaching at minimal pay in a middle school before he quit to take the Germany job.   He described life for a single guy in Clarksville VA as bleak and hopeless.   His sister lasted much longer living in Chase City but moved to Charlottesville when she and her husband’s daughters were entering high school.   The consensus was that Chase City was just too remote.

Chase City (population 2,500)  is indeed remote.   The closest major cities are Richmond VA one hundred miles to the north and Durham NC seventy miles to the south.   Chase City is not on any major highway.   I started my bike ride in Clarksville VA (population 1,100) is seventeen miles south of Chase City.

During this coronavirus pandemic I do my bicycle rides so I do not have to physically get near anyone.   I bring my own food and water.  The summer had arrived; it was going up to ninety degrees this day.  My ride would have to start early to beat the heat.   I left our Chapel Hill apartment at 5:45 AM on a Sunday morning for the 75 minute drive to Clarksville VA.    At 7:00 AM I parked our car at a Hardee’s on the northern fringe of Clarksville, just three miles north of the North Carolina line.





Here is the bicycle ride I took.


I first biked through central Clarksville.


Virginia used to have matching state liquor stores all over the state.   They had glass bricks and double doors.  As a small child in the early 1960’s I used to ride with my father to the liquor store on Pacific Avenue in Virginia Beach.  In his Madmenesque persona he went to buy supplies for his nightly scotch and soda.  The store in Virginia Beach is long gone but here in Clarksville this must be one of the few of its type left.



The one attraction that seems to bring people and money to otherwise remote Clarksville is Kerr Lake.   Constructed 1947-52 by damming the Roanoke River, the lake straddles the North Carolina / Virginia Line and comes right up to downtown Clarksville.


I biked on US-15 as it crosses the lake.

I bicycled toward Chase City, first on US-15 then on state route 49.

I did not see any tobacco growing but there are a lot of old tobacco barns out here.




State route 49 had almost no traffic.





I had arrived at Chase City!



I noodled around by bicycle through the downtown.







Compared to other places I have visited Chase City is keeping up appearances.   Yes, most storefronts were empty but there was a real CVS downtown and the “city”  did not look completely dead.     Some civic organization had set up picnic tables right downtown.  It was still only 9:00 AM, time for breakfast!   I stopped and took out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and read the Sunday NYT on my cell phone.



I am sure my friend Tom knows of houses of (mostly dead) relatives all over town.   I do not know which houses they would be so I took pictures at random.





It seems very Virginia to put all this detail into a historic preservation sign.

It was getting hot and I still had to bicycle all the way back to Clarksville.   Heading out of Chase City I passed THREE pre-WWII gas stations within a block or two of each other   The one with the fake Gulf sign has a plaque saying it was built in 1920.



On the way back I took a different route on smaller roads with even more pleasant bike riding.

I passed through the “town” of Skipwith VA.

I passed the county high school Bluestone High School (mid-century modernism!).  It sits by itself confidently in the countryside despite being in what seems to be the middle of nowhere.

As I passed back through downtown Clarksville on the way back to my car I saw this junk lying between two buildings.

I made it back to my car by 11:30 AM.   I was able to drive home in time to make a delicious lunch for myself at the apartment back in Chapel Hill.

I parked at a gas station/mini-mart just to the north of town.   There seemed to be plenty of spaces so maybe no one would care if I left our car there for 3 – 4 hours.


I was about a mile north of downtown Laurinburg.   Laurinburg (population 16,000) is ninety miles south of Chapel Hill near the South Carolina line.   This is the farthest I have driven for one of these same day trips, where I take a bike ride and stay socially distant.  I came down here mostly to see the unique airport that is south of Laurinburg.

I biked into town through what must be the poorer side.    Wikipedia says Laurinburg Institute is a historically black boarding school.   Because of COVID I could not tell if it was open or closed.  There was grass growing around the parking lot.


I biked onward toward downtown Laurinburg.





I bicycled out of town towards the airport.  A lot of people just looked poor.

Smithfield, now owned by a Chinese company, is the largest pork producer in the world.  Just forty-five miles away in the tiny town of Tar Heel NC (population 117) is the world’s largest pork processing plant, where the they kill over 30,000 pigs per day.    I saw Smithfield signs all over the Laurinburg area.   This particular facility was on the east side of downtown Laurinburg.

I biked out of town onto the flat landscape and saw other signs indicating Smithfield.



The flat swampy landscape extended as far as the eye could see.

The Laurinburg-Maxton airport was built as an Army training base during World War II with a 6500′ runway.   There are today two or three companies in the California and Arizona desert where hundreds of older passenger jets are lined up to be scrapped.   For some reason a minor player in the jet junkyard business is here in humid Laurinburg.   I have been coming out here for several years and most of the same jets have been here the whole time.  This is a Northwest Airlines DC-10.


The airport is only lightly fenced.  About ten years ago I was here on bicycles with my late friend Dave Latowsky.   He was always much more brazen than me, he encouraged me and we rode our bicycles through an open gate and out underneath these jets.   But that was then, on a Sunday.   Here today on a weekday I just had to look at these giant 747’s from the road.


This former Southwest Airlines 737 is a relatively new arrival.

I bicycled completely around the airport on flat smooth roads with so little traffic that it felt uncomfortable.   There is other weird shit out here.   This airport is not a military base but it sometimes seems that way.   I learn from the web that the Gryphon Group is a private company that does combat training for the military.   Warriors apparently only drive pickup trucks.


From the road you could see several of its combat training grounds including a fake bombed out Middle Eastern looking town.


I biked back to Laurinburg on Business US-74.   Truckers for Trump.


The opioid epidemic is underreported.  I saw a lot of signs about pharmacies and drugs.

There were several cool looking commercial Mid-Century Modern structures that I saw in the Laurinburg area.

The south side of Laurinburg can be quite nice.   I did not go as far south as the six hundred student St. Andrews University.    Searching for a place for my picnic lunch I found Hammond Park.  It was surrounded on all sides by a residential neighborhood and had a picnic shelter.  Peanut butter and jelly.    I tried not to touch anything as I read The New Yorker on my kindle.

I saw almost no efforts of people attempting to social distance or wear masks in Laurinburg.   These kids were playing on the playground.

I biked the half hour back to the car north of town and drove home.   I got there in time to cook dinner for Tootie and me.   I had tried to stop at the drive-in Starbucks in Aberdeen on the way but the line was too long.

Where to go now?   How about the area south of Sanford NC, on US15-501?   I chose Carthage NC (population 2,200) which is fifty miles and a one hour car drive from my home in Chapel Hill.  I parked our Prius at a farm store.    I figured no one would care if I left the car there a few hours.   This would be another bike ride where I would totally stay away from people.   I brought my own food and water.

I pulled out the bicycle and started riding towards Pinehurst.   Here is the route of my bike ride.

Across from the Farm Supply this modernist restaurant sign likely from the 1960’s was flying above what is now a Mexican restaurant next to the local gun store.


At the end of the day I took a photo from the other side.   It is missing one of its four wings.  That is a white horse in the center.


It was just a mile or so bike ride to downtown Carthage.   I think downtowns should look like downtowns.   North Carolina is about the only state where the design, building, and maintenance of a large percentage of the roads are under state rather than local or county control.    Because Carthage’s main street McReynolds Street is considered a state highway (even though it is really not all that important a highway) the NCDOT has made sure that Carthage’s main street is so wide and efficient that it provides no intimacy to the downtown.   Carthage is the county seat of Moore County but downtown Carthage mostly looks like a highway.   This trend goes on all over the state.


The historic courthouse sits in the middle of the road.

Across the street sits the newer actual courthouse.   I usually like contemporary architecture but this place gives me the creeps.


There were a few signs of life downtown.



I guess no one but me cares that the town hall of Carthage is out on the highway one or two miles from downtown.


I cycled southward out of town into the Sandhills which stretch south for at least a hundred miles from North Carolina into South Carolina.    North of Carthage the forests are primarily deciduous hardwoods.   In the Sandhills it changes to almost exclusively pines.


This is not snow, this is white sand, at least a hundred miles from the coast.

I biked through mostly pine forest for the first ten miles south of Carthage.   Miles from any house a white cat crossed the road in front of me.



All by itself at a crossroads sat this place.

Pine forests in sand are likely not great farmland so back in the day (and maybe even now) land here was cheap.  It turned out to be a great place to build golf courses.  In the 1890’s a Boston developer purchased land right on a main north/south rail line for $1.25 an acre and built a hotel and a golf course.  Even then one could take the train here overnight from the Northeast.

I knew I was getting close to Pinehurst when I passed the first housing development.


Among Pinehursts there is Pinehurst (the village), Pinehurst (the resort), and Pinehurst (the country club).   The entire Pinehurst/Southern Pines/Aberdeen area now has a whole bunch of resorts and country clubs and golf courses.  By itself Pinehurst (the resort) has NINE golf courses.  Number 2 is supposed to be the best.   My ride into town passed a gate for Pinehurst No. 8.   The gate was open so I biked into it to have a look around.



During a pandemic I thought the solution was for each golfer to have his or her own cart and then stay a social distance from each other.   I am not sure these guys were totally playing by the rules of Coronavirus; it was hard to tell.


Frederick Law Olmstead died in 1901 at age 81,  America’s most famous and original landscape architect.  He had designed Central Park in Manhattan.   I learned from Wikipedia that in about 1895 he designed the winding streets of Pinehurst village.   Olmstead’s designs mostly started with empty land but make the landscape appear natural, like it was always that way.   By bike I noodled around Olmestead’s curvy Pinehurst streets and looked at houses.


I do not consider the weather in Pinehurst to be an attraction.   There are real winters and the summers are unbearably hot.   Pinehurst is more than an hour’s drive from any of the major cities of North Carolina.   I have always wondered: who lives in these places?


On these bike rides in populated areas during a pandemic with restaurants closed one unanticipated problem has been that there is nowhere to go to the bathroom!   In historic Pinehurst I found the Carolina Hotel, built in 1901.  There was almost no one around but it appeared open.  I walked inside to use their restroom.  There was a bellhop and a desk clerk, neither was wearing a mask.  I thought someone would question me but it seems an older white guy with decent manners can get away with a lot.





I decided to bicycle onward to the town of Southern Pines, six miles to the southeast.   There was an almost continuous progression of golf courses, housing developments, and cemeteries(!), including Pinehurst Country Club and Country Club of North Carolina.  There were lots of golf carts, even on the streets.





Stuff I saw on the way to Southern Pines.



Southern Pines has an attractive downtown with restaurants and gift shops.   I parked the bicycle and found a picnic spot on this bench in front of the post office.   With my peanut butter and jelly sandwich I read The New Yorker on my kindle.


I had to bike fifteen miles north back to my car in Carthage.   As I left downtown Southern Pines I saw lots of what looked like family groups walking around.   There were no masks.  In fact, I only saw four or five people all day that wore a mask.   All but one were African-American.


I got back to my car and was home in Chapel Hill by about 4:00 PM.   On this whole trip I had not gotten physically near anyone and had not touched anything.


Tootie and I had a free place to stay so why not escape for a couple days?    My late mother’s house was sitting empty.   We could still keep to ourselves and social distance.  We brought our own food and drove the four hours from Chapel Hill to Virginia Beach.

I have always had a soft spot for Bruce Springsteen because like me he grew up in a beach town, hanging around the boardwalk.    “as the wizards play down on pinball way on the boardwalk way past dark…you know this boardwalk life for me is through.  You know you ought to quit this scene  too.” 





Bruce may have hung around the boardwalk but I did not hear from him sing about bicycles.  For me the boardwalk was always about bicycles.   My friends and I rode our bicycles up and down that boardwalk.  Back and forth. We rode bicycles to our jobs working at various hotels and restaurants.   We rode bicycles to the amusement park Seaside Park so we could play skee-ball.

On this recent Coronavirus Sunday morning there were two bicycles sitting in the beach house garage.  Tootie and I started at 83rd street to ride down to 1st Street and back.


All the streets north of 40th are zoned residential.   Atlantic Avenue heads south and the streets tick off one by one.   There is a pleasant side street along Atlantic Avenue that locals call the Feeder Road.   For forty  blocks it functions beautifully as a path for walking and bicycling.



South of 40th street (the South End) the scenario changes abruptly to hotels and the boardwalk begins.   The boardwalk is just its name, it has always been made of concrete.   Hotels line the oceanfront for forty blocks.


In my sixty-four years I have witnessed the complete teardown of these hotels twice.   The photo below is from the 1940’s.   When I was a child in the early 1960’s the older wooden oceanfront cottage hotels had not changed much since this 1940’s postcard.


One by one starting in the late 1950’s with exactly one exception every single cottage type oceanfront hotel shown above was torn down and replaced by a motel.   The new ones had catchy names like the Gay Vacationer.   The old pictures below are taken from the internet.

Or this


By the mid 1970’s I had moved away and I only came back to visit family.  Over the past forty years almost every one of the Googie Mid-Century Modern architectured 1950-60’s motels have themselves been torn down, one by one, to be replaced by flat higher rising hotels along the oceanfront.

Tootie and I continued bicycling down the boardwalk strip heading south.   Back in my day there was not this bike path and the bicycles had to mix with pedestrians on the concrete boardwalk.


The boardwalk ends at 1st Street and Rudee Inlet.   Tootie and I turned around and headed back north.  Where we live in Chapel Hill and in some parts of Virginia Beach people cautiously keep social distance and wear face masks.   Here at the south end on a sunny but chilly Sunday morning people did not seem to care.


We biked back north, this time on the street Atlantic Avenue.   In the 1970’s my friend Steve used to work at the Schooner Inn motel.

I had said that every single wooden oceanfront cottage hotel in the South End had been torn down except one.  The De Witt Cottage was owned by three elderly sisters when I was a child.  They went to our church.  One of them used to baby sit for us.   Their home has been saved as a museum which sits forlornly between high rises.

This shows Tootie biking north on Atlantic Avenue.

The 1950’s-1970’s Mid-Century Modern motels are now historic structures and in Virginia Beach on the oceanfront only two or three remain, including the Seahawk Motel.

On less expensive non-oceanfront land there are other remaining motels, including the Cutty Sark and the Royal Clipper.

We bicycled back to the beach house.   It was almost lunchtime.

It was another beautiful spring day during a coronavirus pandemic.   I had to stay close to home so that I could  bike ride in just a few hours and still drive home.  I had to do the entire ride without stopping to buy food or water and not talking to anyone.  (Keep social distance!)

Just a couple of blocks behind the Whole Foods on Wade Avenue on the northwest side of Raleigh I parked our car on a residential street.  It had been a half hour drive from our Chapel Hill home.   I pulled out the Bike Friday.


I will keep this report simple.  I just want to show pictures of buildings.  I have said on previous posts that Raleigh has an impressive system of paved greenways that follow stream beds, where one can walk or bicycle without traffic and without even climbing hills.   On more recent rides during this pandemic on Raleigh greenways I have felt uncomfortably close to too many people.   Social distancing was difficult.  On this day I decided to ride through residential streets where there were fewer people.   There were lots of steep hills.

I have also spoken before about inside-the-beltine-Raleigh’s trend of teardownerism.  It was fun looking for a newer gaudy house next to a much smaller house, which likely looks much like the house that used to be next door before it was torn down.


I cycled downtown.   The North Carolina State Legislative Building makes me proud to be a North Carolinian, even if the current occupants are majority Republicans.   It is one block from the 1833 classical State Capitol building which had become overcrowded.   Completed in 1963 and designed by architect Edward Durell Stone in cooperation with the local firm Holloway-Reeves, this building speaks optimism.   I daresay Virginia or South Carolina never would have built this building.   North Carolina in 1963 was excited about its future and not held back by the past.   I think the building has aged really well.

I biked back to the car in northwest Raleigh.   I was home in Chapel Hill for lunch.