Archive for the ‘Eastern North Carolina trips’ Category

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.

About thirty years ago I had an air freight client on the outskirts of Clinton NC;  a manufacturer of high-end glass panels.  I used to drive down there for sales calls.  The factory might still be there although companies now change names every few years as they get bought and sold.   I recently realized I had never seen downtown Clinton, which is sixty-five miles south of Raleigh, part of that great expanse of flatness North Carolinians call Down East.

On the day after Christmas I put the Bike Friday in the back of our car and drove down I-40.    I chose to start my bicycle ride from the smaller town of Faison NC (population 961), about twenty miles northeast of the larger Clinton NC.   Faison NC is at the top right of this map.

 

Here is Faison NC.

 

In an otherwise mostly empty downtown Faison NC, Hispanic immigrants have opened new businesses.

I pulled the bicycle out of the back of the car and headed west towards Clinton NC.   Faison NC actually has a few distinctive buildings.

 

There was not much traffic as I bicycled out of town.

In the fifteen or twenty miles to Clinton NC there was a plethora of rural abandoned buildings.

 

 

I passed lots of industrial agriculture, including this set of barns holding thousands of what I think were turkeys.

Clinton (population 8700) feels positively urban compared to Faison.   I appears about that about a generation ago many retail businesses in Clinton moved from their downtown out to the US-421 Bypass.

 

Now a lot of that retail on US-421 is also vacant, as the older sprawl is replaced by the further-out Walmart and its attendant shopping center.   I bicycled toward downtown,  passing a tractor dealer along the way.

There is life here!   A long-time town doctor had donated his historic home for use as an arts center.

 

Downtown Clinton is not all empty, unlike many such North Carolina towns.

 

On the other side of downtown the entire street smelled of bacon as I bicycled by an enormous Smithfield pork processing plant, right in town.   It was apparently just breaking for lunch.

Soon I was out of town, heading east towards the town of Warsaw,

 

across significant wetlands.

I passed another Smithfield pork processing plant.   Clearly employees drive mostly pickup trucks!

I hit the second point of the day’s town triangle by arriving near the town of Warsaw (population 3000).

My brother Alex wrote an entire book about the fact that urbanization clusters around transportation modes.  While there are almost no restaurants in the actual town of Warsaw, there are at least eight restaurants (mostly fast food chains) at the I-40 interchange, two miles away.

I had to eat, despite my food snobbism.   Smithfield’s is a regional barbecue chain; maybe I could find something there.  It was packed; I got in line.

 

What to eat?   My doctor has suggested I cut down on animal fat and red meat.   Brunswick stew was the healthiest looking thing I saw; only by the pint: $ 5.99.   The young woman at the counter offered their special of a second pint for only $ 2.00 additional.   (No wonder Americans are fat!)  I declined, what would I do with another pint of Brunswick stew?  I brought my own beverage (my water bottle!)

The stew was warm and comfortable, I ate it slowly while gazing at the parking lot.

Back on the bicycle, it was only eight miles to complete the triangle by bicycling back to Faison NC.    I arrived on the other side of town and bicycled to my car for the two hour drive back to Chapel Hill.

 

Just to see something new, I put the bicycle in the car and drove the Toyota Prius about eighty miles from my home in Chapel Hill to Centerville NC.  It is sixty miles northeast of Raleigh NC, or twelve miles northeast of Louisburg NC.

The population of Centerville NC is listed as eighty-nine, but they do have a Dollar General.  I parked the car and pulled my bicycle out.   There was only one other car in the Dollar General parking lot.  The area immediately felt very country.

How country was it?

Country enough that someone had just driven a four wheeler to the Dollar General!

 

Bicycling was relaxing along country roads with almost no cars.  I fashioned a big loop to bicycle around the area, including going through the seemingly under visited Medoc Mountain State Park.    This area is generally flat so the “mountain” is really just a hill.

 

 

Wood NC is really really small.   It evidently used to have a gas station and a store.

 

Hollister NC, population 674, has a modernist post office and an actual restaurant, Lynch’s Bar-B-Q and Grill.

For those of you not from around here, eastern North Carolina barbecue consists mostly of just one thing, chopped pork in vinegar sauce.    It is usually served on a bun, with a dollop of coleslaw.   Lynch’s has no inside seating, just an outdoor counter to order from.   There is not even a picnic table.   Everyone just eats in their car.   I try to do my meals “properly” so I took my sandwich and bicycled three miles back to a shelter at the state park, where I could read my Kindle while eating.   It was all very peaceful.

Wilson and Rocky Mount NC are similar cities twenty miles apart.   Rocky Mount initially was based on textile manufacturing and Wilson on raw and bulk tobacco.

 

I parked the Prius in a Walmart parking lot two or three miles from downtown Wilson.

I bicycled through the more prosperous and woody residential neighborhoods on the east side of Wilson.   This house is NOT typical but I do like its style.

 

Closer to downtown the neighborhood was less upscale.  Does this count as Modernist?

 

I had no idea that this day, Saturday November 3rd, was the day of the Whirligig Festival!      A folk artist named Vollis Simpson lived near Wilson and had compulsively been creating whirligigs for years.    When he died in 2013 the city of Wilson appropriated an abandoned piece of downtown as a park for his whirligigs.   I had visited here about three years ago and the “park” did not look like much, a few whirligigs on barren dirt surrounded by vacant buildings.    It has really improved, with even a restaurant now facing the whirligigs.  While downtown Wilson is still largely vacant, this park is actually becoming a place.   There were crowds and live music this sunny Saturday.

 

 

 

I eventually got back on the bicycle and rode the twenty miles to Rocky Mount, across flat open fields, often lined by pine trees, with the occasional abandoned farm building.

 

I had visited downtown Rocky Mount two weeks earlier and it appeared even more abandoned than downtown Wilson.   I had not noticed The Prime Smokehouse, which sat on an otherwise unoccupied downtown street.   An African-American run restaurant, it has a much more varied menu than the traditional North Carolina barbecue place.   I got shredded beef sandwich and green beans.

 

After lunch I pedaled through the south side of Rocky Mount, and then back to Wilson.