Archive for the ‘Maryland trips’ Category

The Maryland / Delaware / Virginia Eastern Shore is also called the Delmarva Peninsula. I wanted to tour some of it by bicycle with my friend Lyman. Back in 1974-78 I went to college on the Eastern Shore: Washington College in Chestertown MD. Chestertown is a quaint eighteenth century town on the northern part of the Eastern Shore. On this current trip we ended up skipping Chestertown. I advocate that many of the best travel experiences are when you and your travel companion discover new people and places; going back to somewhere you have gone before I find often to be a letdown. This trip focused on places neither of us had ever visited, especially the towns of Easton MD, Cambridge MD, Berlin MD, Lewes DE, and the beach towns of Rehoboth Beach DE and Ocean City MD.

This is during a pandemic! Should we even be out here doing this? I do not want to get sick, certainly, but I also want to be a good citizen. I do not want to get anyone else sick. Lyman is slightly less paranoid than me about covid behavior but both of us tried to be as careful as possible. Both of us were not in favor of indoor dining, for example. What to do about the virus during the car ride from the airport? We decided not to mask in the car but we did leave the windows mostly open. We would have separate hotel rooms on this trip and try to stay six feet apart.

I picked up Lyman at BWI airport about noon. He had taken an early morning nonstop on Southwest Airlines from Austin TX. I had driven up five hours from Chapel Hill NC. We drove together in the Prius a little over an hour further; across the Bay Bridge to a prearranged motel in Easton MD. Instead of the pandemic, during the car ride we talked about food. “You should eat coconut oil” he advised. Hmmm.

Here is the bike trip we did over six day.s. To make the map more precise I separated it into two parts

Here is the second half of our tour.

Just off the highway on the edge of Easton MD in early afternoon I parked the car at the Quality Inn. We decided to take an afternoon bike ride, first through Easton then out to two towns I had heard were picturesque before returning to the motel. As you can see from the maps above, the western (left) side on the Eastern Shore peninsula is lined with “rivers” which are actually estuaries of brackish water. In the 1700’s ocean going vessels could tie up directly at towns like Easton, St. Michaels, and Oxford. We headed out by bicycle through downtown Easton MD (population 16,000) Downtown Easton looks like what I imagine an English country town would look like.

We bicycled ten miles to the small town of Oxford MD, the departing spot of a fifteen minute ferry ride to Bellevue MD. We were never far from the water.

Oxford MD

The Oxford – Bellevue Ferry claims to be the oldest privately owned ferry service in America, from 1683! It crosses a piece of the estuary Tred Avon River.

photo from Wikipedia

The boat ride takes just a few minutes. Lyman and I and our bicycles were the only passengers. After getting off the ferry the scene was delightful for bicycling; completely empty country roads on a flat landscape. It would be eight miles to St. Michaels MD.

St Michaels MD is a lovely town but completely touristed and cutesified; somewhere to tie up one’s yacht, directly across the Chesapeake Bay from Washington and Baltimore. Because we did not want to bicycle on the highway in the dark we had to hurry and only had time to briefly loop around St. Michaels.

It was late in the afternoon when we left to bicycle the eleven miles back to Easton MD. We arrived back in downtown Easton just as it was getting dark. We decided we would have a beer. We had no interest in hanging in any enclosed space like a bar. Outside one place was an empty outdoor table and we walked (masked) inside to get a beer. Several guys at the bar were not practicing social distancing. We got our beers and walked outside.

Lyman and I enjoyed sitting outside on the sideswalk, looking at this old-seeming town and watching cars go by.

I take a lot of random street photos. One of those guys in the bar was giving me a hard time for taking his picture. I walked back inside for just a second, in order to respond. It was all in good fun. I talked to them not more than thirty seconds. I had a mask on; they did not. I felt totally guilty afterwards for talking to unknown unmasked people in an indoor setting, even if for just a minute.

photo by Lyman Labry

Ultimately we had to bicycle (in the dark) back to the motel on the highway, a distance of about a mile.

Eating on the road during a bicycle tour during a pandemic is problematic. We did not want to gather indoors but we wanted good food in a restful setting (I take dinner and its setting very seriously!) This first night we had the advantage of a car. We used that car to drive two miles to an African-American owned barbecue place. We got takeout. Maryland is not as dogmatic as North Carolina about barbecue; there were a variety of cooked meats. (North Carolina barbecue is strictly only pork!) We both ordered variations of beef brisket and took the dinners back to the motel. We ate outdoors at chairs that sat out front, probably put there for smokers. The space was actually was quite nice and the barbecue was delicious.

The next morning we cycled about one mile back into Easton and to an independent coffee place. They had outdoor tables. The weather was perfect, it was going to be a nice day.

The Eastern Shore is mostly rural and agricultural. It is the home of Perdue Farms, the chicken factory farming conglomerate. This first full day of cycling was the longest of the trip, sixty something miles all the way across the peninsula.

We passed through the small town of Federalsburg. My college friend Dave was from this town, I wonder if he still lives here. This turn-of-the-twentieth-century bank in Federalsburg has a fascinating modernist addition. A clash of styles. Lyman and I are both eccentric enough that we both noticed this immediately. We stopped and photographed it from all angles.

photo by Lyman Labry

We biked out of Federalsburg towards the countryside and the Delaware state line.

About six miles later we crossed the Delaware state line. The sign at the border had the state motto “The First State.”

Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution in the 1700’s. Riding a bicycle gave me time to think about this. The current political situation more fully explains the importance of the motto, even though it has likely been Delaware’s motto for many years. OF COURSE Delaware rushed to ratify the Constitution. Delaware was awarded TWO senators, the same as the much larger Virginia and New York. Delaware now the same number of senators as the much larger California and Texas. Furthermore, Delaware then was a slave state and they were allowed to count slaves who could obviously not vote, although only as three-fifths of a person. The government of Delaware got a helluva deal! We are still trying to live this deal down more than two hundred years later. Delaware’s current population is 982,000, about half of the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill CSA.

Twenty something miles further we stopped for lunch in the larger town of Georgetown DE (population 6,500.) We looked for a place to get lunch and still feel safe. Because of the pandemic the options in downtown Georgetown were not great, several restaurants were closed. The town has done its part to help downtown restaurants by setting up outdoor seating areas but they looked unused. Low and behold we found a taco truck! Actually a Mexican (or Central American?) food truck specializing in pupusas. We realized pretty quickly that there is a large Spanish speaking population in Georgetown. Waiting in line with us at the taco truck were two guys in FM radio promotional outfits. As they bought tacos they tried to sell the taco truck guy on the virtues of radio advertising. We took the tacos and pupusas back a few blocks to the town’s public tables. Afterward Lyman took his usual twenty minute nap while I plotted our next move.

We had made our day’s destination the town of Lewes DE, fifteen miles further. The highway to Lewes was full of traffic but had really wide shoulders. Maryland and Delaware highways have consistently MUCH wider shoulders than Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

Lewes DE is almost on the coast but fronts the Delaware Bay, just a few miles from the open ocean. Here is a big shout out to the Beacon Motel in Lewes DE. It is walking distance to downtown, has balconies for each room overlooking the marsh, low prices, and clean rooms with colorful bedspreads.

Lewes DE is touristy but I find it still really compelling. I wish I had taken more pictures of the downtown. This one is from the internet.

Later we walked back to downtown and found an Italian place, the kind that serves wood fired pizzas that serve 1 – 2. With the pizza they sold us a bottle of wine and a slice of carrot cake. We took it all back to Lyman’s room and sat outdoors six feet apart on his balcony looking at the night. It was very pleasant.

The next morning we bicycled downtown to get coffee and breakfast at Notting Hill Coffee Roasters, sitting outside on the sidewalk. They make their own baked goods.

We then started our day’s ride. It began by riding through Delaware’s Cape Henlopen State Park. We then rode south along the beach, first Rehoboth Beach DE, then down to Ocean City MD, about forty miles to the south.

The paved bike trail through the state park was calming. It reminded me of First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach where I had grown up.

North Shores DE, just north of Rehoboth Beach DE

We cycled (slowly!) south along the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk.

My brother the writer Alex Marshall has complained that America no longer builds great public works, writing that our bridges do not look as impressive as those being built in other countries. The Charles W. Cullen bridge on Highway One along the beach in Delaware is majestic as it crosses the tiny Indian River Inlet. I guess it needs to be high enough for boats to fit underneath.

A few miles past the bridge was Matt’s Fish Camp, a concrete block structure along an otherwise residential stretch of highway on the north side of Bethany Beach DE. It was after 1:00 PM so we were certainly ready for lunch. Matt’s had several inviting empty outdoor tables surrounded by a fence in the back. We ordered beers and twenty something dollar entrees. I am suspicious of beach town restaurants but this place really shone.

Lyman got a fancy salmon dish.

I got what the menu called “fish camp stew”, I would call it Delaware bouillabaisse. The clams had a wonderful flavor and there was a great mix of seafood. 4 – 1/2 stars out of five.

What a lunch, what a lunch. We (of course!) had dessert and coffee.

It was still eight or ten miles south to the Maryland state line and thirty miles to Ocean City MD, a place I had heard about but never visited. The pleasure of the day’s ride pretty much went downhill from here. After crossing into Maryland the highway along the beach got wider and wider and the buildings taller and taller. In most places there was no other place to ride a bicycle other than the highway.

We also had had no warning that this October weekend had been designated “Endless Summer Crusin,” a yearly event where visitors blast around in 1950’s and 60’s cars with loud engines. Crowds (mostly unmasked) lined the main highway to watch. It was a terrible bicycle ride but certainly interesting.

Eventually by bicycle we had almost reached the end of the barrier island, the southern part of Ocean City. We needed a place to stay. The land/road side of Ocean City had been a really unpleasant place both to look at and to ride bicycles. The boardwalk covers the southernmost part of town and is somewhat nicer.

We found this hotel Harrison Hall which fronted the beach and the boardwalk. They said they had their last two rooms available. We were so glad to get out of traffic.

Sometimes this blog seems like my coming-of-age-novel. In the late 1960’s when I was in elementary and middle school growing up in Virginia Beach I used to hang with my friend Chip at his family’s oceanfront hotel. That hotel was very much like Harrison Hall in Ocean City. The Virginia Beach hotel was sold and subsequently torn down in the 1970’s, replaced by a motel. I have more recently noticed that the replacement motel was torn down in about 2010 and replaced with an even larger hotel. But Harrison Hall in Ocean City MD in 2020 is still here. Built in 1951 and surrounded by high rises I am not sure why Harrison Hall continues. Virginia Beach had dozens and dozens of these places and they are all gone, replaced by high rises. Harrison Hall in Ocean City MD is NOT fixed up in some kind of fancy historic preservation way. I find the stains on the carpet somehow charming and there was nothing sleazy about the place.

Much later we walked outside to look for somewhere to eat during a pandemic. We wanted a dinner we could bring back and eat outside on the open air porch.

We had had a big lunch but we still needed some kind of dinner. Beach towns are not known for great food. There is a pandemic. We had gotten really lucky at lunch a few hours earlier. The pizza takeout joints near our hotel looked so unclean as to look unsafe, the kind of place that might make you sick. There was a clean bright CVS right around the corner. What kind of healthy light dinner can you buy at a CVS? After browsing the CVS I came up with the idea of sardines on a bun. (Lyman also got something at the CVS but I cannot remember what!) Eaten outside on the porch facing the boardwalk and the ocean it was actually pretty good.

The next morning we knew we needed more fuel for the bicycle ride so we went large for breakfast at the outdoor terrace of a neighboring hotel.

Lyman was all-in.

I got their “breakfast veggie bowl with eggs and potatoes.” I had never had brussel sprouts for breakfast before. I rate the dish as only semi-successful but it least it was filling. The brussel sprouts were not cooked enough.

Lyman and I had a bigger problem which was weather. The remains of Hurricane Delta was approaching from the gulf and we knew there would be rain for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. We got started early after breakfast and hoped to bicycle the ten or twelve miles inland to Berlin MD before the rain started. We theoretically could keep bicycling in the rain but why would we want to do that? We first cycled south on the Ocean City boardwalk before turning west.

Berlin MD is the ying to Ocean City’s yang.

The tiny inland town Berlin MD (population 4,500) has become a cutesy antique shop and bed-and-breakast destination.

About noon we booked rooms at Atlantic Hotel which appears to mostly function for its high end restaurant on the ground floor. We figured we would just have to wait out the weather.

I had been in touch with my sister Betsy who lives two or three hours north in Princeton NJ. She wanted to drive down and visit; why not? She arrived around five in the afternoon and we sat outside on the porch. She ended up getting her own room and spending the night also.

The three of us had a delightful dinner on that same porch; fancy food at a fancy restaurant. I got scallops. It was still raining the next morning and the three of us just hung around; extending the checkout time. Betsy and I did walk around Berlin a little in the rain. About 1:30 PM Betsy got in her car and drove back to Princeton and Lyman and I set out for Salisbury MD by bicycle, twenty-five miles to the west. The rain looked like it was stopping. The rain (of course) only stopped for about ten minutes. Lyman and I rode in pretty much continuous rain all the way to Salisbury.

Salisbury MD (population 31,000) is traditionally the largest city on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It looks like a working class town with a struggling downtown. We stayed at the one downtown chain hotel, a La Quinta. The La Quinta was a dump. My hot water did not work and the place smelled. I say this as a person who is not picky about hotel rooms. On the other hand, every person we talked to in Salisbury was unusually friendly and helpful.

We ate that night at Evolution Craft Brewing, walking distance to our hotel. The drizzly rain continued and their outdoor seating was not covered. The restaurant/brewery was largely empty, a former warehouse with high ceilings and large distances between tables. For the only time on this trip, we ate inside. (I felt guilty about it!). After dinner Lyman and I cheered on the New Orleans Saints. Lyman is part of a group of Austin TX Saints fans that watch every game together. (Lyman is originally from New Orleans.) Tootie and I lived in New Orleans 1981-88 and remain Saints fans as well.

The next morning we cycled through downtown Salisbury.

Add Salisbury to the list of cities whose tallest downtown building was built in the roaring 1920’s.

Within a block is the Olde Towne Deli Cafe and Coffeehouse, run by this guy who was there by himself. He makes excellent fresh made breakfast sandwiches and takes Polaroid photos of his customers. We are proud to now be on his wall. We ate our breakfast outside on the sidewalk.

We biked through the northern part of Salisbury.

Just like the day before, our weather reports indicated that the rain was stopping, In downtown Salisbury at the coffee shop it was not raining. Once out of town OF COURSE it started raining.

It was not a hard rain and we soldiered on. In the middle of nowhere we stopped to look at the map on our phones and this horse wandered over to say hello.

If the horse was looking for food we had none to give, so we bicycled on. We briefly crossed into the far southwestern corner of Delaware before returning to rural Maryland. There was almost no traffic yet the roads still had wide shoulders.

We passed this chicken farm. You could definitely smell it.

We later stopped to rest at a drawbridge over Marshyhope Creek. The concrete structure of the bridge gave us somewhere to sit down. Like much of what we saw this day, there was no one around, not even car traffic. The silence was palpable. It does not appear that this bridge has been opened in years.

We cycled into the very small town of East New Market MD. There was only one store in town.

Lyman said “Let’s go inside, the sign sign says Deli.” I said “Lyman that’s ridiculous, that is not a real deli.”

I was so wrong. We split a turkey sub. I often go to the chain Subway when out of town. This sandwich was like Subway but better in every possible way. Better meat, better bread, better cheese, better relishes. Crunchy lettuce. We ate outside at the town park. Like everything this day, there was no one around.

Lyman did his traditional afternoon nap. I read The New Yorker on my Kindle.

Our day’s destination was Cambridge MD (population 12,000). Cambridge is an old town, a former port that now is a yacht and pleasure boating destination. In my freshman dorm at Washington College in 1974 a good friend was Jay, from Cambridge MD. When we gave out nicknames to those on the hall, his was a derogatory word used to make fun of the Southern working class. He spoke with a pronounced Southern accent and had wide sideburns. Jay did not come back for sophomore year, I am not sure why. He had seemed happy and doing well in college.

Lyman and I biked into Cambridge.

Earlier in the day I had stopped at an empty stretch of highway in the drizzle and had telephoned one of the three bed-and-breakfasts shown in Cambridge MD on Google maps. I cut to the chase and asked if there was any way they could give us two rooms for two hundred dollars total. A woman with an English accent took a long pause. “I would be losing a hundred dollars from my regular price of one hundred fifty.” Pause. “But I suppose so. What time would you be arriving?” The bed and breakfast was this house. Only after arriving did we find out the price included a fancy custom cooked breakfast.

When we arrived at about three or four in the afternoon, we met the owner, a trim British woman likely in her seventies. She asked “would you like coffee?” Me, I just wanted to get into the room, close the door, take a shower, and do some reading. But Lyman of course said “coffee would be great.” She made a quite fancy coffee setup and the three of us sat down on her fancy porch for thirty minutes. She wanted to hear all about us. And she did.

She had gone to a lot of trouble to make the place “nice.” The bed was indeed very comfortable and the towels fluffy. There were lots of extraneous decorations. Cute stuff. These two mice that were greeting me on the bed as I entered the room. Hmmm.

Much later on Lyman and I bicycled in the dark the mile or two back downtown. We found Ava’s Pizzeria and Wine Bar with empty outdoor picnic tables. It was all delicious and relaxing, no one else ate outside. We first had a portion each of tomato bisque. We followed that with their pizza of the day, a pizza that did not include tomato sauce.

Our hostess had asked what time we wanted breakfast. I froze and looked to Lyman for an answer. “8:30 AM” Lyman answered. Why didn’t I say something? I really would have rather eaten earlier. But I failed to speak up!

She prepared us an enormous feast, including poached eggs with cream sauce, all served indoors in her small dining room. She is a good cook although everything was heavy and rich. Halfway through the meal she came and sat down perpendicular to us, about three feet from each of us. She was maskless and she wanted to talk politics. It would have been easy for me to ask her to put on a mask but I froze. I still regret that because it put us all at unnecessary risk. I should have had more social courage.

She said she was a British citizen from the tony west side of London and was once married to an American naval officer from Virginia. She has children living in other parts of America. As a Brit she could not vote but in the upcoming election wanted to know what WE thought. Fox News had been playing in her living room the afternoon before. Many of her ideas seemed baked by Fox News. She politely listened when we told her what we thought and overall it was an interesting discussion. An unusual idea of hers was that one should strictly judge women political candidates by their appearance. (“I guess that makes me old fashioned” she said.) The only women politicians she judged unattractive were all Democrats and mostly nonwhite. I remembered that in England the upper classes had never traditionally been advocates for the American idea of universal equality! We both bit our tongues.

We got our stuff together and packed our bicycles to leave from her front porch.

Lyman had a flight leaving BWI airport that afternoon and we still had about twenty miles to bicycle back to my car parked in Easton MD.

We bicycled back through Cambridge, then the long causeway across the estuary Choptank River.

Across the bridge we first cycled on the main highway US-50 but eventually found parallel smaller roads.

A few miles before Easton is the tiny settlement of Trappe MD. We stopped for an almond milk latte at independently owned The Coffee Trappe.

We bicycled back to my Prius in the motel parking lot on the northern edge of Easton MD. My car was still there. I had to wait while Lyman took his Bike Friday apart and put it in the travel case. We loaded up and drove just over an hour to BWI airport where I dropped Lyman off. I drove five and a half hours home and was able to have a late dinner back in Chapel Hill NC. This is a photo taken when we were leaving Cambridge MD that morning.

Starting in the northern tip of Virginia near Winchester VA there is a stretch of the Shenandoah / Cumberland valley where you can pass through four states (Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland / Pennsylvania) in a forty mile stretch.     In modern terminology this would be described as part of “the I-81 corridor.”

A few months ago on another trip I flew over this area while flying westward on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore on a clear day.  Most mountainous land seen from the air has the shape of crumpled paper.   Instead, the Shenandoah Valley area looked of long lines of distinct sharp ridges lined up in a northeast / southwest direction.  Within these ridges the land looks (and is) comparatively flat.

The Shenandoah / Cumberland valley was a big deal in the American Civil War, where Southern armies marched north to try and conquer Yankee territory.   Both Gettysburg and Antietam are right around here.

This is an area frequently on the news because it is a notably Trump supporting region within an easy drive of Washington DC.  Media can come out and see what the other America is thinking and still get back to D.C. in time for cocktails.  Much of this region has been economically left behind.

Maybe my readers will remember my trip here two years ago, when I bicycled north starting in Winchester VA.   This trip I wanted to push further north into Pennsylvania.

It took a little less than six hours to drive our Prius from Chapel Hill NC to the Walmart on the south side of Hagerstown MD.   Once again I assumed that Walmart did not mind me parking here for twenty-four hours.   I pulled the Bike Friday out of the trunk next to someone’s religiously labelled minivan.

 

My self-appointed mission was to bicycle to Shippensburg PA, spend the night and ride back the next day, using a different route each way.

 

Hagerstown (population 40,000) greets a visitor like me with the kind of early twentieth century houses that North Carolina lacks.  I love this look.  This was not a wealthy neighborhood.   Most of Hagerstown looks somewhat run down.

 

 

I continued on, cycling straight north through both sides of downtown.

Out of town US11 is wide enough for pleasant cycling.

Contrary to popular notion the Mason-Dixon Line refers to the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland.   When I crossed there were no special signs or businesses that made issue of this line.

 

Eventually I did see some signage.   Some of these signs were over twenty miles into Pennsylvania.   Every commercial sign I saw about Mason-Dixon was in Pennsylvania, including the one with a rebel flag.

 

 

 

For a time a was able to find a parallel route off the busy US11.    The countryside was beautiful.

On station wagon trips as a child, my mother told us to look at Pennsylvania barns, that they were bigger and stronger than the houses that accompanied them.   She was right.  North Carolina does not have barns like this.

 

 

I have been trying to get to Chambersburg PA (population 21,000) for quite a while.   I am not a particular Civil War buff.  I am more attracted to Chambersburg because I thought its  architecture would look exotically Yankee and it is an easy drive from North Carolina.  During the Civil War General Lee’s army used Chambersburg’s accessibility for other ends.  There is no point in romanticizing this conflict.  My great and great-great grandparent’s cause was wrong.  Chambersburg PA was raided and occupied by Southern forces three times.  The third time the town was burned mostly to the ground.   Free African-American citizens of the town were abducted and murdered.    As a result, for a time the Union used a battle cry “Remember Chambersburg.”

About Chambersburg today, whoever wrote the Wikipedia page about Chambersburg and its surrounding Franklin County said the following.  (Note my previous comment on what an easy drive it is to Chambersburg for journalists like New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks!)

From Wikipedia:

Journalist David Brooks in 2001 used Chambersburg and Franklin County to typify Republican “Red America.” According to Brooks, there is little obvious income inequality and people don’t define their place in society by their income level. They value the work ethic and are anti-union, anti-welfare, pro-free market, and religious social conservatives.

The joke that Pennsylvanians tell about their state is that it has Philadelphia on one end, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in the middle. Franklin County is in the Alabama part . . . . The local culture owes more to Nashville, Houston, and Daytona than to Washington, Philadelphia, or New York . . .

The conservatism I found in Franklin County is not an ideological or a reactionary conservatism. It is a temperamental conservatism. People place tremendous value on being agreeable, civil, and kind . . . They value continuity and revere the past.[75]

I am not sure I agree.  Note this was written in 2001.   Is Trump “agreeable, civil, and kind?”

I biked into Chambersburg late in the afternoon.

 

 

Chambersburg did seem a pleasant place.  It has a small college Wilson College.  For various reasons I decided to continue on thirteen more miles to the next town, Shippensburg PA.

Like Chambersburg, Shippensburg PA looks on the surface like the quintessential American small town.

 

Shippensburg (population 5,500) is home of Shippensburg University, a public university that is part of the Penn State system.   There is a Quality Inn chain hotel right in the center of downtown.   The front desk staff was quite cordial and fascinated with my bike ride.   I checked in and changed clothes.

In a college town there are usually lots of places to eat; not so much here.   The hotel restaurant seemed the best place to eat.  I sat at the bar.   The menu was very old school: choice of meat with two sides.   I got salmon with mashed potatoes and broccoli.   It was quite delicious.  There were five or six mostly older men eating alone at the bar, sitting one or two seats apart.   None of us talked to each other, which did not really bother me.   We did all talk to the bartender.   She said she was from Philadelphia.

 

 

At the free breakfast the next morning it was NOT Fox News on the wall, it was the local station.   Still, one cannot escape this man.

 

Once back on the road the morning light was lovely as I bicycled first through Shippensburg and then back south towards Chambersburg, this time on back country roads.

 

 

 

 

I made it back into Chambersburg.

The rest of the ride back to my car was uneventful but pleasant.   On the outskirts of Hagerstown I passed new multi-family housing being built, even though one mile away Hagerstown clearly has a dearth of housing waiting to be used.   In many parts of American, people want to live in NEW housing, damn the older neighborhoods.   Slash and burn urbanism.

 

I bicycled back through Hagerstown MD which was a couple of miles before arriving to my car at the Walmart.  I wanted to get a Subway sandwich to eat in the car while driving home on I-81.    I needed to get back to Chapel Hill NC by 6:30 PM (for a dinner engagement!).   In an older neighborhood of Hagerstown I lucked into Hartle’s Subs.  (The Best Since 1955!). Was the sandwich better than Subway?  Absolutely, it was really good.  On the other hand, Subway does not have Fox News playing on the wall.

In my final stretch before the Walmart I passed through other, nicer, areas of Hagerstown I had not previously seen.   Hagerstown has a lovely City Park.   It has a neighborhood on the top of a ridge with nicely restored older homes.

 

My car was still there at the Walmart.   I arrived back home in Chapel Hill NC about 6:00 PM.

On this six day jaunt myself and two friends managed to visit Richmond, Baltimore, Lancaster and Philadelphia all in a six day bicycle trip.    This trip put our relationship with our work life in focus.   Careerwise the three of us have completely different work situations.  Lyman, an architect, is proud to say he is retired.   Myself, I work,  but as little as possible.   I do not use that that R word, so I prefer to say I am head a of a small shipping company, working with my son Jack.  The Don is semi-retired, and Jack is in charge of the family business now.   I do take multiple phone calls from Jack every day.

My friend Connie is a lawyer working in Florida.  He has a big job, a partner in a law firm.     Connie would have the biggest work-related struggles on this trip.   Could he do a bike trip and still keep up with his important corporate clients?

 

Air fares to Richmond VA were quite low and Richmond is just less than three hours north on my drive up from North Carolina.  With two bicycles on the back of my Honda I picked up my two friends at the Richmond airport.    Lyman had flown in from Austin TX with his folding Bike Friday in a suitcase.   Connie had met Lyman connecting in Atlanta and they both arrived Richmond early afternoon on the same Southwest Airlines flight.   They had clearly started partying on the plane.   For a late lunch I drove them over to En Su Boca on the fringes of the Fan District in Richmond.

 

Following the plans I had made, after lunch we drove three hours up to Baltimore and stayed in a downtown Baltimore Embassy Suites.   We would leave my car in Baltimore for five  days.   I love Baltimore.   Red brick houses with white stone steps.

We set out by bicycle the next morning.   Putting our bicycles together and strapping all our gear on the back, we biked a few blocks west to a stop of the Baltimore Lightrail, for a fifteen mile train ride north.   We could just wheel the bicycles on the train.

We had considerable issues making the ticket machines work properly.

 

 

 

On the train on this Sunday morning we met interesting people.   This woman was traveling to a crab festival where she was doing volunteer work.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

We got off at the end of the line in the north Baltimore suburb of Hunt Valley.    From there we would only need to bicycle about a mile or two to the start of the North Central / York County rail trail, which runs forty-one miles straight north, all the way to York, PA.

The weather was overcast, chilly and damp.

 

 

It was only predicted ten percent chance of rain but it rained anyway for at least two hours.   We had raincoats but still got wet and the bicycles were filthy.

 

We stopped for lunch at a pizza place.  The countryside was beautiful.   There were lots of hills but our path plowed right though them.

The trail passes through Howard Tunnel, in use since 1838, the second oldest rail tunnel in the U.S.

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

 

 

The trail deposited us right into the middle of York PA.

We had booked a downtown Airbnb;  the downtown hotel I had stayed at in previous trips to York was closed for renovations.    York is a fading factory town.   Does it have any pizzazz left?

Small breweries now seem a key part in the revitalization of American downtowns.   York’s Gift Horse Brewing Company was in a small storefront but with a big selection, including some really creative ales.   We all three had a vanilla pumpkin porter.    The owner and brewer was staffing the bar.

Across the street is Rockfish Public House.  I did not have big expectations about the food but it was about the only restaurant choice in downtown York on a Sunday night.   But it was quite good, some of the best seafood I have had in a while.  We split an order of mussels then got a fish entree each.

 

Walking back to the Airbnb, I noticed that York continues a trend I have seen all over America.  The newest looking and and probably largest building in downtown York is a combination jail and courthouse.   Depressing.

 

It was cold walking in the dark.   Our Airbnb was the rear of the ground floor on the row house in the center.

 

I know Connie likes to wake up early.   At about 6:15 AM he was hard at work on legal documents.

At about 8:30 AM he was still hard at work.   His ability to focus is impressive.

We prepared to push off.    Our destination this day would be Lancaster PA.  In the backyard of our Airbnb in York Connie was doing some warmup exercises.

We biked through York.    I like coming here because it looks so different from North Carolina.

 

Once out of town it was pleasant cycling over rolling hills, on a lightly trafficked highway with a wide shoulder.

Connie commented that he did not realize how big the Susquehanna River is.

Soon after crossing the river Connie ran over a large screw which not only gave him a flat, but pretty much destroyed the tire.   You could see a flathead screw sticking out!   We always carry spare tubes and a pump but were not prepared for the failure of the tire itself.

 

Connie has done a lot of bicycle touring, he knew what he was doing.

photo by Lyman Labry

Luckily we were able to triage the tire enough that we could bicycle four miles to a bike shop.   The staff at Trek Bicycle Lancaster were quite gregarious and we ended up buying all sorts of stuff!

 

John Dunkle has been my friend for thirty years.   Our children grew up together in Carrboro/Chapel Hill.  We have always played music together.   In the last five years he has returned to his hometown of Lancaster PA.   His profession is home renovation, and he and wife Suzanne purchased a large house just outside of town.  They have fixed it up and run part of it as an Airbnb.   We arrived in the afternoon just in time to avoid the rain, and circled around to the back entrance.

 

 

John and I played some music, he showed me some of the new songs he has written.  In his early sixties he is at the top of his musical game.    He use to be just a harmonica player.  The singing and the guitar and the songwriting have all come in the last ten years.    

 

 

 

That evening after dinner John walked us around the older inner city part of Lancaster.   He plays in several music groups and has connected with the arts community in Lancaster.  Lancaster Marionette Theater had no show that evening when we walked by.  John told us he had gone to high school with the puppeteer.   John explained that the theater is on the ground floor,  the puppeteer’s mother (and the ticket taker) lives on the second floor, and the puppeteer lives on the third floor.   John called the puppeteer on his cell phone.  The guy sheepishly waved at the four of us down at street level.

 

 

 

I had not seen it when the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote a long article back in July 2018 about Lancaster, how it is an example of a fading factory town coming together and bipartisanly picking itself up by its bootstraps, much more than have nearby and similar sized York, Harrisburg, or Reading.    Lancaster encourages things like the Marionette Theater.  Energetic people like John Dunkle are moving here.  Things do seem to be happening. I would add that one key advantage is that Lancaster is on a main Amtrak line; it has about ten direct trains daily to Philadelphia and New York City.

We now had two days to bicycle the eighty miles from Lancaster to Philadelphia.  Connie was up early doing legal work on his computer.   John and Suzanne fixed us a nice breakfast before we pushed off.   Pretty much this whole day was through Amish and Mennonite country, lovely farm vistas.

 

 

 

photo by Lyman Labry

We passed by an apparent Amish school.   There were no cars parked here but school was in session.  Everybody including the teachers apparently got there on foot or by bicycle.

 

We passed through various small towns.

Biking into Coatesville we first biked past a huge steel works which looks mostly abandoned.      We all separately came to the same conclusion: “Deer Hunter.”

 

It was lunchtime, we had been bicycling all morning and we really needed to sit down and eat.   The population of Coatesville looks poor,  mostly African-American and Hispanic.   Restaurants all seemed take-out only.    We finally found a place that let us set up camp in the back.     We had extremely low expectations but the chicken and/or ham sandwiches were quite good, sort of one’s ideal Subway sandwich, in a store that looked vaguely Hispanic.

 

 

 

Connie had several important sounding work phone calls, he walked around on the sidewalk in front of our take-out joint, talking legalese.

 

After a few more miles of cycling, we spent that night at a Holiday Inn Express in the center of a complex of huge parking lots and strip malls in Exton PA.   Walmart was nearby.   Luckily there was a chain tap room and restaurant next door, within walking distance.    I took Lyman’s picture as we left to go eat.

 

The cycling the next day was almost entirely on flat paved rail trails.   Coming from several different points, the last thirty or forty miles into Philadelphia from the west is one of my favorite urban bicycling situations in America.    From Exton we first cycled on the Chester Valley Trail for about twelve miles.

 

We then cut through some neighborhoods.

We cycled across Valley Forge National Historical Park, on narrow bike paths.

 

I now realize why General Washington camped out in Valley Forge: it does not look like a valley at all, rather it is the highest point in the area, one that would be militarily advantageous.  About the time the three of us biked to the top of the hill, Connie received an important work phone call from, I kid you not, Sao Paulo, Brazil.     Lyman and I stood around and enjoyed the view while Connie took his call.

The Valley Forge park overlooks the Schuylkill River.    There is a beautiful new bicycle / rail trail bridge across that river.

 

From this point the Schuylkill River Trail goes nineteen miles along the Schuylkill River, all the way to Center City Philadelphia.   There is no car traffic and it is a near-perfect paved path.

 

Philadelphia has great restaurants.   As we got into the city we pulled off the trail and found a noodle place, run almost entirely by one Japanese-looking guy.

The bike path delivered us right into the city.   To get to our Airbnb in the Spring Garden neighborhood we got off the bike path where it runs by the big art museum.

That evening we walked from our Airbnb to our friends Colleen and Dev’s home, carrying bottles of wine as gifts for our hosts.   Philadelphia is a sea of row houses.

 

 

 

Colleen and Dev have moved to one of these Philadelphia row houses from Durham NC just in the past year after Dev got a really good job in the New Jersey suburbs.  They cooked us an amazing meal.

 

The neighborhood has all sorts of walkable places, including an Irish bar called The Black Taxi about fifty feet away.    After dinner we walked over for a nightcap.

 

The next morning we bicycled the mile or two from our Airbnb to 30th Street Station, for the Amtrak back to Baltimore.    Out of about fifteen trains a day in the Northeast Corridor, only two or three allow a standard bicycle loose and unboxed.   The art deco station is beautiful.

 

photo by Lyman Labry

 

 

The train to Baltimore took a little more than an hour.

We bicycled the two or three miles from Baltimore Penn Station to my parked car.

 

We put all the bicycles on and in my car and drove three hours south to Richmond VA, getting to Richmond about lunchtime.   Connie was flying home that afternoon; his job needed attention.

Lyman and I spent the night at an Airbnb in the Fan District of Richmond.   We bicycled around the next morning before both heading home.

Monument Avenue in Richmond is a beautiful street, late nineteenth century design, major monuments every few blocks.   Some monuments are more offensive than others. This is General Lee.

 

The Jefferson Davis monument is positively unforgivable in the modern era.   I find it offensive.

 

 

Richmond has miles of row houses.

 

It has a state capital building designed by Thomas Jefferson.

Lyman had been told to look for this in Richmond, a unique inner city overpass in Shockoe Bottom,  where four modes of transportation cross at the same place, a canal, two railroads, two highways, and a pedestrian path.

 

 

 

 

 

About two years ago I read the 2007 book Deer Hunting with Jesus by columnist Joe Bageant.   Joe grew up poor white working class in Winchester, Virginia.   His book is about rediscovering Winchester after living elsewhere.   While Joe’s politics, at least on the economic front, are quite leftist, ten years ago he described how cultural cluelessness by liberal Democrats left his friends and family in Winchester nowhere to turn but to Republicans.   The book talked a lot about the pugilistic worldview of the Scots-Irish who have been in Winchester for over two hundred years.  Joe essentially predicted the arrival of Donald Trump.

Winchester (population 27,000) is the northernmost city in Virginia, about eighty miles northwest of Washington DC.   Winchester is at the northern end of the Shenandoah Valley, which today might also be called the I-81 Corridor.   I had been intrigued because north from Winchester I-81 passes through four states (Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland / Pennsylvania) in less than sixty miles.   Because of its Mason-Dixon Line location, significant Civil War battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg, happened in this area.    I decided to drive up there, park the car, and bicycle around the area for three days.

Donald Trump is connected to this area in other ways.   During the recent campaign the national media was always looking to explain the attraction of this seemingly buffoonish candidate.  During last year’s presidential campaign, when the media wanted to interview Trump voters, they drove to the easiest part of Red America to get to from Washington DC; the northern I-81 Corridor.   I heard all sorts of interviews of folks in this area during the recent campaign.  And even though the election is over, Trump still campaigns here.  Last Sunday, the same day I crossed over by bicycle into Pennsylvania, President Trump was speaking to a rally of his “base” just seventy miles further up I-81, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

I was further influenced by books I have read about Virginia politics.   Winchester was the hometown of Harry Byrd Sr., a virulent racist who was obsessed with balance budgets.  He led the Byrd Organization, a political machine that ruled Virginia for forty years.  He had national influence as well.  From Wikipedia: Byrd served as Virginia’s governor from 1925 until 1929, then represented the Commonwealth as a United States Senator from 1933 until 1965. He came to lead the “conservative coalition” in the United States Senate, and opposed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, largely blocking most liberal legislation after 1937.   

To check it out I drove four and a half hours north from Chapel Hill and parked our Honda in the lot of a Walmart on the south side of Winchester.   I pulled the Surley bicycle out and pedaled off, heading north.   It was already two in the afternoon.   My destination for the evening was Hagerstown, Maryland, about forty-eight miles north.   I would have to cross the Panhandle of West Virginia to get there.

Winchester (founded around 1759) seems Southern in attitude but looks somewhat Northern architecturally.   Houses are close together in the older part of town.   There is nothing very hip about this place.

 

 

 

 

 

Oh yeah, the other famous person from Winchester is country singer Patsy Cline.   I go to pieces. Crazy.

 

I would have a chance to see more of Winchester two days later on my return.   Going north on the “old road” US-11 that parallels I-81, the three lane road was a reasonably safe cycle and had lots of fun things to look at.  The West Virginia state line is just ten miles north.

 

There are lot of public displays of patriotism around here.

 

 

Twenty-five miles north of Winchester is Martinsburg, WV, population 18,000.   It used to be a big B&O railroad town.   The population in 1930 was almost the same as it is now.

 

 

 

 

 

While the older parts of Martinsburg look gritty, it is “only” seventy-eight miles from Washington DC.   The DC sprawl seems to be creeping up here.  Martinsburg is the end of the line for MARC commuter trains that go all the way to Washington DC.  All along this bike ride I saw new housing going up, especially near Interstate Highway interchanges.

 

From Martinsburg it is was another twenty something miles up US-11 to Hagerstown, crossing the state line into Maryland about halfway there.

I am currently watching my son and a some of my friend’s offspring move to Durham NC; they all want the urban experience; live in a city where they can walk places.   But Durham does not really have many older dense residential areas like row houses.    If only it could all be transported to Hagerstown MD (population 40,000), where there are miles of older homes, probably available for a pittance.

 

 

 

 

I found a room for only sixty-eight dollars plus tax in a fairly nice 1980’s looking hotel, not actually downtown but within a short bike ride.   There are really only three decent looking restaurants downtown,  all on the same block.   One is a German place that has been there for years, with waitresses in fraulein outfits.   I ate instead two doors down at a place called 28 South where the food just OK, but the bartenders were friendly.

Next to my hotel in Hagerstown this piece of commercial modernism is essentially unused.  I am probably the only person who worries that this may be torn down soon.

 

The next day, for the first half of the day, I biked a big loop up into Pennsylvania.  The state line was about ten miles north.    Most people forget that the Mason-Dixon Line is mostly the Maryland-Pennsylvania border.   This auto auction was in Pennsylvania.

I did see a few Trump signs still around.  This guy built his own private monument; Trump must have answered his prayers.   Around the other side of his house, there was a No Trespassing sign saying:  Intruders Would Be Shot.

 

I bicycled through two pretty Pennsylvania towns, Greencastle and Waynesboro.    Compared to small North Carolina towns of similar size, these two towns seem so much more sturdily built,  probably because 100 years ago they were relatively more prosperous.

 

 

The countryside was beautiful.

 

 

I looped back to Hagerstown for a late brunch at a place next door to the restaurant I had eaten in the previous night.    Their version of eggs sardou.

 

Believe it or not, there really are liberals around here, because outside the restaurant an anti-global warming demonstration came marching down the principal street of Hagerstown

In walked outside to take pictures.

 

The other two guys at the bar were perfectly nice about it, but one shook his head and said that with all the problems so apparent in a town like this, global warming seemed a problem far away.

The majority of people I had seen in the past two days were white, overweight, and unhealthy looking.   Maybe it was a coincidence but the demonstrators looked healthier than the general public.

On that same vein, at that same restaurant was this special on the bar menu:

 

The rest of the afternoon was weaving through pleasant country roads towards my night’s destination of Shepherdstown, on the Potomac River that divides West Virginia and Maryland.  I passed by Antietam National Battlefield.   I had toured that battlefield by bicycle several years ago so this time I stopped only briefly.  22,000 Americans were slaughtered at Antietam on one day in 1862.  Unlike today, the military then was organized by groups that started in geographical locations, so one served with men from one’s home town.   Several hundred men from one particular Philadelphia neighborhood died together in about ten minutes.   The terrain here was steep small hills.

 

I spent this night in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, home of Shepherdstown University, a West Virginia state university.   All over America college towns just look more prosperous.  At this point on the trip I had bicycled through about fifteen small towns.   The downtowns of almost every one of those towns had looked commercially vacant, with poor looking people standing around.   Shepherdstown looked very different.   It had an elitist Main Street with gift shops and expensive restaurants.

 

Continuing to notice the red/blue divide, while the expensive restaurants looked a little stuffy, Blue Moon Cafe reminded me of Durham or Chapel Hill.   It was the first place I had visited in two days that had an obviously counterculture staff.   You could really feel the difference.   One review on Yelp viciously criticized Blue Moon for being full of “hippies.”    But it was relaxed and comfortable, at least for me.  I got their version of eggplant parmesan.

 

 

The next day I left early with about forty miles to get back to my car at the Walmart in Winchester.  For the first fourteen miles I cycled on the C&O Canal towpath, a beautiful trail that parallels the Potomac River.

 

I had been hoping to find somewhere to eat breakfast.   Even after I left the trail and climbed a big hill there was nowhere.  Finally about 10:00 AM  I stumbled on this place like the Holy Grail.

Since I am now over sixty, when I am on the road I start to feel camaraderie with other men of a similar or older age, regardless of their backgrounds or political beliefs.   Three old guys were sitting at a booth in the Mountain View Diner, loudly praising Trump but I could not get close enough to hear all the details of what they were saying.

After breakfast the scenery was again beautiful.

 

 

Back in Winchester I was able to see their downtown.   They have done an unusually good job of closing it off to traffic and making it a pedestrian mall.    At lunchtime on a Monday it had lots of people eating outside.

Back in the Walmart parking lot our car was still there.   I was home in Chapel Hill in time for dinner.